Brooklyn’s Violet Sands are sort of an indie “supergroup” – featuring as they do members of French Horn Rebellion, Savoir Adore and Mighty Five. Their dreamy pop reveals the influencers of the likes of Peter Gabriel, Cocteau Twins and The Cure – the latter shining through particularly on the breezy, wistful new single “Drive,” which BlackBook premieres here.
Singer Deidre Muro’s vocals are full of longing as she tells of “moments in the lamplight” and longs to “get my second chance,” over mellifluous, echo-y guitar melodies that remind of Robert Smith’s cheerier moments (“Friday I’m in Love”).
“This song was started while [band member] Derek [Muro] was still living in California,” she recalls, “and it kept a lot of its warm, desert highway vibe as it traveled to Brooklyn. It’s about someone who is resolved to move on – even in the face of self-sabotage and getting stuck in the past, she armors herself in a number of ways to get through it. There’s always been some magic in the catharsis of a long car ride…”
A full album is coming in June on the cleverly monikered new label YouTooCanWoo. They’ll also be playing a special show (with French Horn Rebellion) at NYC’s Mercury Lounge on March 31.
With a vital, exciting new album, Spirit, released this week, Depeche Mode once again prove that they are post-punk’s most enduring and relevant act. Not to mention one of the most influential. Worldwide ticket sellouts for their Global Spirit tour confirms that they are also the most popular,
Here we revisit a strikingly visceral and revealing 2009 BlackBook interview with godlike singer Dave Gahan and the frontman of one of their most successful musical progeny, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
Brandon, how have you been influenced by Depeche Mode?
BF Before I ever thought of myself as a musician, I was personally affected by Depeche Mode. Some Great Reward and Songs of Faith and Devotion shaped me as an individual before I even wrote a song. So they mean a lot to me… [laughs]. God, this is surreal.
It’s interesting that you bring up Songs of Faith and Devotion. I’ve always seen Depeche Mode’s work as being about exploring guilt, perversity and sexuality as a reaction to society’s ideas about religion and morality.
DG The three subjects that you mentioned and that Depeche Mode write about are the keys to wanting to be a part of something, and wanting to be able to be intimate, and ultimately having some sense of peace within yourself. For me, I can’t get that from somebody or something else. You have to feel it within, that there’s something that the universe is offering; but we often seem unable to grasp it.
Brandon, there also seems to be a search for moral and spiritual grounding in your songs.
BF It’s been a constant struggle for me. Growing up in Las Vegas really prepared me for this. There’s so much that goes on there that is taboo everywhere else, and it finds its way into our songs. I’m trying to come to terms with the reality that I’m a believer, and I’m getting more comfortable with it as I get older. Sometimes it’s a weird contradiction with what I do, I know.
DG Not really. It takes a lot of courage nowadays to actually come out and say that. I think we all want to believe in something.
The lyrics to the songs “Kingdom” and “Miracles” on your solo record Hourglass deal directly with the struggles of being a non-believer.
DG Yeah, it’s a constant search for hope and faith that there is a higher power that has a better eye on things—because, obviously, we’re not doing a very good job of it.
Well, the Killers’ “Are we human?” is a big, poignant, existential question.
DG Through music, you’re able to express that, whether lyrically or atmospherically. I hear it in the landscape of the Killers’ songs; I can hear the search.
I think it was Wagner who said that if you want to find God, look for Him in music.
BF They say that making your own music can be the closest thing to a religious experience. When I do go to church, the hymns are what always suck me in. I can be having a day of doubt, but as soon as I hear the right gospel song, it’s over. There’s no more doubt.
Dave, you were a part of destroying everything that the music industry had become comfortable with. It was punk, it was electronic music and the bands did it. Now, technology is changing things for the bands, rather than the bands being in control of the revolution. How are you both dealing with it?
BF I’m paranoid all the time because of YouTube [laughs]. But the great thing about technology is that it allows you to make an amazing sounding record in your kitchen.
You could argue that Daniel Miller took the first step down that road. He said that a guy, alone with his synthesizer, was the most punk thing ever. And he made this incredible club hit, “Warm Leatherette,” as the Normal, with just himself and his machine.
DG Yeah, that was pretty radical at the time. We had that as our template for the kind of music we wanted to make. Coming out of punk, we knew we weren’t going to blag our way through guitar, bass and drums. But we could just plug our three synthesizers into a PA, and we could play all these little clubs in London. At the time, it was not considered “real” music.
Brandon, you’ve derided the lack of ambition from the general music culture, and with the latest Killers record, you seem to be reaching for grandiosity. U2 had The Unforgettable Fire and Depeche Mode came out with Music for the Masses. Are you consciously preparing for that next step?
BF Well, in talking about all the blandness, I think it’s a fear of just going for it. All the bands I grew up listening to, they went for it. Now, we’re finally feeling comfortable enough, and we’re not going to be afraid of it.
DG That’s right. You have to go out there and embrace it. We just made another record that was produced by Ben Hillier, and he said to me that he’s never worked with a vocalist who works as hard as I do. But a lot of discipline goes into maintaining any kind of ongoing success and ongoing growth. It’s not something you just pull out of the air. You have to believe in what you’re doing.
What do you want to give people with your music?
BF There’s never been a song that we put out that I don’t want to sing. It’s inevitable that someone else is going to feel that same feeling that I have, that transcendence. For instance, no matter how dark a Depeche Mode song might be, there was always something uplifting about it.
DG I’ve never quite understood why people think our music is so depressing. We’re making music that relates to life. I could be singing about hiding away within myself, but the music takes you to a higher place. It’s that human contradiction. There is a lot of black comedy in our music that I don’t think people really get.
BF The last song on Black Celebration, “But Not Tonight”… [sighs heavily in adoration]. The line, “My eyes have been so red I’ve been mistaken for dead / But not tonight.” Those are the moments I’m talking about—in all the dark, there’s optimism.
Our love for all things David Lynch has never been a secret. So it’s hardly a surprise, we’ve also fallen hard for his current and always stunning muse Chrysta Bell. The ethereal vocalist and songwriter has regularly collaborated with the modern Renaissance man, including the gorgeous recent single and video “Beat the Beat.”
Leading up to the quite anxiously awaited release of her new album We Dissolve, produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey), as well as her starring role in Showtime’s equally anticipated new Twin Peaks series, we asked the lovely Mlle. Bell to give us a peek into her current creative mindset…and also to share some insights into where she goes to seek sustenance and inspiration in her new adopted home of Oakland, California.
Chrysta Bell on Her New Music
The new record has a lot of the same darkness and tension of my music with David Lynch, but with some radio-friendly aspects as well. I venture into some “goth soul” territory, which comes pretty naturally with my most prevalent artistic motifs of the life/death/life cycle, the Great Unknown and Ultimate Transcendence. The lyrical matter is still pretty heavy and twisted… death ballads/murder ballads/obsession/passion/escapism. In the music I always want to convey that there will be a final and total peace, but the record romanticizes the trip of humanness, being trapped in a feedback loop. In the song “Over You’ I want to get over you but I don’t want to get over you. In “Heaven” I’m calling a dead lover and leaving phone messages.
On Why Oakland Inspires Her
Oakland is the most raw, exciting, brutal, depressing, vibrant and inspiring place I have ever lived. The plight of existence and the will to overcome adversity is everywhere. The duality of the organic ice cream shop next door to a tent community of homeless is commonplace. There are signs of life, death, struggle, survival, compassion and courage on every block. I have been undeniably enriched and expanded by my time living here.
The line out the door will not be an issue once you taste this bagel. As you wait you’ll be sufficiently entertained by the stellar people-watching due to its location in the young, alternative and vibrant Temescal neighborhood. I always get the everything breakfast bagel with braised greens. The coffee is a standout as well.
The food at this vegan spot is simple, wholesome and extremely tasty. The atmosphere is super chill and it’s a great place for having a thoughtful conversation with your dining companion. There’s only one thing on the menu (it changes daily) and it comes with soup and all-you-can-drink hot tea that is earthy and satisfying. There is a selection of after-dinner treats and I always indulge.
Geta is a tiny sushi joint serving traditional Japanese fare. Get the special of the day even if you have never tried it or even heard of it. Prepare your mouth for some of the freshest, most exotic and tastiest fish of your life; it’s the closest to an authentic Tokyo sushi experience as I have found in California. I love to order a carafe of hot sake and a beer and sit at the sushi bar; when the beer comes, ask for an extra glass and pour the sushi chef a beer. They love it and it’s a great and enjoyable way to bond.
This boutique of expertly curated spirits, wine and beer is what would happen if an art gallery and an upscale liquor store had a baby. The interior is all white and chic, and the elegant presentation of the wide range of liquors, liqueurs, bitters, and exotic mixers (you name it) includes handwritten information about flavor profiles and origins. I love looking at all the creative bottles, labels and packaging and imagining how a bouquet from the farmer’s market will look in the bottle once the spirits have been enjoyed. The free Saturday “tastings” offer opportunities to expand your palate and meet locals.
If you have a chance to see a band you love at Fox Theater, TAKE IT. It’s an architectural marvel built in 1928 that is beautifully maintained and features state-of-art sound and light packages – so the shows sound and look incredible. This venue will make a great performace from one of your favorite artists into a life event. Killer spot. An Oakland treasure.
This dive bar is the right mix of grime and personality. The owner is a great guy and somehow that shows through in the atmosphere. I filmed my music video for “Beat the Beat” at Eli’s, and he plays one of the bar patrons. A great place to meet friends who live close by, you feel lucky if this bar is your local hang. As David Lynch would say “it’s got a thing.”
SXSW has been arguably overwhelmed with corporate-sponsored events and parties. But what if someone tried to get it back to its essence: bringing together musicians to celebrate creativity?
And so it was that innovative music networking site Treble (check out the Treble app) organized the fittingly named Treble House, sponsored by JBL Audio and Shure, this past week in Austin – which turned into, well, a massive house party. We caught up with Founder Matt Bond for a chat about it.
What inspired the SXSW Treble House?
I hatched the idea a month and a half ago with our friends from Ear2Ground, Babes Only, Just Chicago, and a few other grassroots collectives we love working with. We just wanted to create a place where artists could feel at home. During SXSW, there’s no where in Austin where artists can step away from the overcrowded masses 6th street and just hang out with each other and create. And thats what Treble is all about.
Back in New York, we have this amazing growing community of artists and musicians on the platform. Our “users” sit beside our developers and designer in product meetings. They organize and run our live events. There’s a really unique energy, a true family atmosphere within Treble, and I think those vibes are very needed at SXSW.
The House Party was very wild. Everyone was blown away by The Skins’ performance. My personal highlight was watching all up and coming artists on Treble thrive. Cliche, Riz La Vie, Sol, 88th Key, Kaisson, J Factor. These guys have been supporting our platform since day 1, so to have them come out to Austin with us and tear it up on stage and in the stu alongside big name artists was a blessing. Made me feel like a proud dad.
What is Treble’s overall “mission?”
Right now, the ground floor of the music industry is a massive, fast-growing pool of people and talent resources with no real infrastructure to connect them. Treble’s goal is to create that infrastructure. We want to help artists easily discover collaborators, find talent resources, and navigate the global music-making world. And we’re just getting started…
Natalie Portman has always been America’s sweetheart but she recently became a second-time mommy. Earlier this month, she gave birth to a baby girl.
But before giving birth, she took full advantage of her prenatal glow and starred in James Blake’s video for “My Willing Heart.” The black and white video features the expecting muse in lingerie as she lounges in bed, holding her tummy. Other shots show her silhouette, submerged in water.
Watch James Blake’s “My Willing Heart” video below:
This year’s Lollapalooza will bring together pop princesses (Lorde), dance-goth overlords (The xx), alt-rockers (The Killers, Phantogram), Britpoppers (Liam Gallagher), hipster godheads (Arcade Fire) and hip-hop innovators (Chance the Rapper, Run the Jewels).
Dance geeks were not unconsidered: Justice, Kaskade and Crystal Castles (minus Alice Glass) are all on the bill. As are veteran singer-songwriters (Ryan Adams) and buzzworthy newcomers (Rag’n’Bone Man).
In its 13th year in Chicago, the unstoppable festival will take place August 3-6 in its usual Grant Park locale.
Where to Stay
The Virgin Hotel is just blocks from the festival grounds, and draws a steady parade of mediarati and musicians – who can be found schmoozing it up in the hotel’s super hip Commons Club.
If the term “supermodel” still has any cultural capital, Karen Elson surely would be counted amongst that extremely elite group – with her striking countenance gracing so many magazine covers and advertising campaigns these last two decades as to make her instantly recognizable. But in truth, she’s just a kid from Manchester with a big heart, a remarkably disarming outward warmth, and a great deal of music in her soul that needs to get out.
You know the big public story. She married rock god Jack White in 2005, they had two children together, and then divorced in 2013. In between, she launched a music career with the gorgeously stylized 2010 album The Ghost Who Walks – and with hubbie Jack at the production controls.
But the tumult of the split had left her at once unable to summon her creative muse, yet also determined to tell the new story of Karen Elson. That story has at last arrived in the form of the stunningly visceral new album Double Roses, out April 17.
For the job, she gathered an incredible collection of accomplices (Laura Marling, Pat Sansone of Wilco, Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers, producer Jonathan Wilson), and the result is a record that is as musically accomplished – “Call Your Name” recalls Fleetwood Mac at their best – as it is courageously and movingly soul-baring. One need only to listen to stirring lead single “Distant Shore” to understand what a deeply cathartic experience it must have been for her.
We caught up with her for a remarkably honest and revealing conversation.
The last record was a bit more “storytelling.” This is a much more personal album?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s been seven years since I made a record. The elephant in the room is that I got a divorce. That obviously shifts your perspective.
Well, you’re suddenly split in two…
It’s something very personal; and when you’re in the worlds that Jack and I are in…you’re thrust into the public spotlight. And I felt very protective of myself, I didn’t want people asking me questions. Now all that is somewhat in the distance.
And sometimes you just need time ponder things.
There’s absolute truth in that. But not just regarding my divorce – there were so many things in a state of turmoil in my life. So I had to step back to be able to reflect upon myself and upon my choices.
That brought you to making this record?
I knew I needed to crack into the vulnerability. During the writing, on any given day, I didn’t know if I was going to be “wild and stormy oceans” or a “calm sea.” When I tried to mask my feelings of insecurity, the songs would kind of suck. When I embraced the vulnerability within the writing process, there was something that was way more connected. I got real with myself, and dug into that deep, intricate part of myself.
Some of the lyrics are very honest and vulnerable…and melancholy. You write, “Hey love, it’s the end of an era” – but also, “I am alone / I am free.” Did writing and recording these songs help bring you to a new sense of emotional freedom?
Well, the songs were written over a long period of time, there’s a sort of arc of these turbulent times in my life. A lot of people focus on this being a breakup record; yet there are a lot of other life experiences that color it. But those are not the ones mentioned in the tabloids.
The public wants...
Well, I don’t think I know anybody who’s been through a divorce and said, “That was so fun!” Me and Jack are friends and he’s a wonderful father. But it doesn’t negate that there is real pain and emotional upheaval.
Did you find that you’ve discovered who is Karen Elson is now?
Yeah, definitely! Well, first, I’m a complete and utter daydreamer…
Gee, who would have guessed that about you?
But I do feel a lot more stable than I did a decade ago.
The music seems less stylized on this album, more complex.
I worked really hard on the songs – on the lyrics and on the music. With my first record I was still figuring it out. At that time I was married to such a formidable musician, and always in the back of my head I felt people were thinking that Jack actually wrote all the songs.
But you’ve noticeably moved on from his particular influence.
With this one, I wanted to show myself, I was tired of hiding behind this veneer, being so many women but myself – even as a model. I was also going through an identity crisis, reconfiguring who I am. What I needed in my life to feel vital was to strip myself of all the things that have been put upon me.
Well, modeling is about hiding behind a façade, of course.
And as a model, the fun of it is that I get to go to work, dress up, and become this character for a day – and have my photograph taken. Yet slowly but surely it sinks into your psyche. I started wondering, “Who the hell am I?” I’m not this person in the magazine, but I’m also not the illusion that I was painting on stage. I had this intense desire to simply just be myself. And maybe because of my unique circumstances, weirdly, just being myself was very difficult to accomplish.
The album artwork sort of reflects that. Like you’re trying to emerge from a dark place…
That was me and a friend swimming in the ocean. I was really going through a dark time, it felt sort of hopeless. She just snapped the picture; and I look at it now and I can see all of that in my face. That’s the accurate description of this record, cast out to the stormy sea and trying to find my way back to the calm shore. But I’m no damsel in distress!
How do you balance the worlds of music and fashion?
It’s a strange world, the music business. But then I’ve never even sussed out the fashion business really. As a model, you can have a million people telling you how to look, how to act, how to be. But I’ve not had a normal career at all. I don’t go to fashion parties, I don’t hang out on the scene. I don’t even follow fashion – I don’t look in fashion magazines to follow trends. I have always been a bit of an outsider. I don’t want to be front and center, I want to be on the periphery.
Is that partly due to coming from Manchester?
I have no idea! I think it’s just my personality, at once an extrovert and an introvert. I’ve always been a little bit of a mystery to myself. Duality is a lot my life, I’m a twin. And my twin sister is my best friend.
You’re much more vulnerable making music, of course.
I have worked with amazing photographers, who have this uncanny way of seeing into your soul with a picture. But standing up on stage is so much more vulnerable, yes. Whereas a photograph is just an image of you.
One profession is about holding back emotion, and the other is about diving down into the depths of your emotions.
There’s been so much emphasis on the way I look. But I don’t really like that. I don’t look in the mirror and go, “Oh, look at me, I’m a model!” It’s not to dis the fashion industry, I love the people that I work with. But it is a mindfuck to be put on a pedestal for how you look. Especially when how you looked was what made you miserable as a kid, because everyone fucking tortured you for it. And it also isn’t a real reflection of who you are fundamentally.
But this record certainly is.
Yes, and I’ve come out of it a lot stronger and more hopeful. This record is about being who I am, and standing up for who I am.
His streak as producer and writer has been impressive, to put it mildly. Platinum singles for Jason Derulo, Pitbull and Fifth Harmony; recent projects with Meghan Trainor and Phantogram; and an upcoming collaboration with Kesha. The apparently very busy Ricky Reed also fronts the Oakland-based act Wallpaper, who have become noted for their cheeky parodying of the vagaries of pop music.
This year he added “Grammy nominee” to his CV. So we can add him confidently to the “ones to watch” list.
But despite his pranksterish history, he plays is pretty straight with the alluring, almost ethereal new solo single “Joan of Arc,” released this month (and co-written by Charli XCX, Mark Foster and James Fauntleroy). The dreamlike song, with its gossamer guitars and languid beat, is exuberant and restrained at once, with a catchy chorus full of clever wordplay (“Dress me in your coat of arms / I will be your Joan of Arc”).
Its attendant video shows him strolling pensively through the woods, before encountering a random cadre of dancing accomplices. If only life could be so.
Art and commerce seamlessly merge in the work of New York-based Australian artist CJ Hendry; indeed her latest work was created in collaboration with legendary French shoe designer Christian Louboutin.
The fittingly titled Complimentary Colors debuts March 21st at the Anita Chan Lai-ling Gallery at the Fringe Club in Hong Kong, Hendry’s first time showing in Asia. The artist’s fascination with material and pop culture has previously translated into her signature large scale, photorealistic black-and-white drawings of consumer goods. But this time around she’s turned her focus to an unmitigated celebration of color.
Specifically highlighting the color red as an homage to the iconic Louboutin soles, Hendry’s meticulously rendered, mesmerizing wax pencil drawings of thick oil paint dazzle in their vividness.
“I find drawing very intimate, as opposed to other mediums,” Hendry explains. “Drawing allows you to get very close to your craft; and I can reach that new level of detail in each piece. Pencils are very different from my usual medium: ink.” The artist by her own admission has OCD, so messy oil paints were actually never really a reasonable option.
Christian Louboutin by Paolo Ferrarini
Cj Henry by Matthew Kelly
This isn’t the first time she’s been inspired by Louboutin’s designs. Her series The Trophy Room in 2016 (her debut New York show) featured a So Kate heel dipped in bronze, before becoming the focus of one of her ink sketches; it was that work that caught the attention of Louboutin. Noting the obvious synergy between the two, he gushes, “There is something I love in her work that is very playful; and you can feel the artisanship.”
Since 2013 Louboutin has chosen the week of Art Basel Hong Kong to showcase emerging artistic talent. Hendry enthuses, “[Louboutin] is a force whose work I’ve admired for many years. For me, the brand represents what it is to be a strong female – they started with and maintain such a strong product: a high heel. I also love how colorful and playful they are, something I find really engaging. And I appreciate that they are willing to support a young artist like myself.”
Thoughtfully, she stops to reflect and shed light on her apparent obsession with brands: “I don’t think it was intentional to start. It was something that came from a very true place of where I was at the time. I’m interested to see where this new direction will take me.” And so are we.