New Erasure Single ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’ Is a Hit of Joy When We Really Need It

 

 

For very good reason, it has seemed for the last week that solemnity and anger are a full time occupation. And as the nation splits apart, it is genuinely difficult to access any reasonable sense of hopefulness.

But we have found in the past that it helps in some measure at least to take a pause and dance the pain away, if only for the moment. And we couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief at the arrival of a brand new Erasure track, as their music has often felt like a hit of exuberance when we needed it most. And indeed, their latest single “Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling),” is another irresistible, modern synth-pop stunner, with its massive hooks recalling their ’80s classics like “Oh L’Amour.”

 

 

“Our music is always a reflection of how we’re feeling,” explains Vince Clarke. “Andy was in a good place spiritually, and so was I—really good places in our minds. You can hear that.”

To be sure, Andy Bell’s voice has rarely sounded so affecting and soulful, as he lyrically exclaims, “You’re my hot baptism of fire / And I won’t let that feeling go.”

“It was about refreshing my love of a great pop song,” he says. “I want kids now to hear these songs! I wanted to recharge that feeling that pop can come from anyone.”

The track is taken from their upcoming new album The Neon, which will be released via Mute this August 21.

 

ALMA Leaves Behind EDM w/ Genre-Bending New Album ‘Have U Seen Her’

 

 

Unless you’re Finnish, you might not yet know who ALMA is; but there’s a good chance you know her music. During her short career, the twenty-four-year-old rising pop star has graced the track listings of pop sensations such as Charlie XCX, Ariana Grande, and Miley Cyrus. Now, with her recently released and long-awaited debut LP Have U Seen Her, she’s teeing up to become a pop sensation herself.

In 2013, when she was just fifteen, she auditioned for Finland’s version of American Idol. After placing fifth, she returned to high school (she was still a teenager, after all). But not a year later, a judge from the show, rapper Sini Sabotage, asked her if she would like to come on tour and start collaborating together. You can surely guess what her answer was. 

 

 

Her first few singles, “Karma,” “Dye My Hair,” and “Chasing Highs,” set her up as a rising star in the EDM world, as hundreds of millions of streams racked up. But with Have U Seen Her (via Sony Music Germany/Republic Records) she has finally found her true voice. Dancey yet punky, glittery yet grungey, her genre-bending is surely part of her unique appeal. 

Still under quarantine, BlackBook hopped on the phone to talk with her about her complicated relationship with LA, her leaving behind EDM, and, naturally, that signature green hair.

 

 

 

 

Did you do anything to celebrate the release of your debut album?

Yeah, some of my friends threw me a small quarantine party. They baked me a super cute cake, and we just got a little drunk. But obviously, like six months ago, I thought I was gonna have a huge party. I thought I was actually going to be touring at the same time. But, you know, when this happened, it threw us. 

Have you been listening to a lot of music lately? 

I’ve been listening to old stuff I was listening to when I was a teenager. Like Gorillaz, MGMT, stuff like that. Also, someone I always go back to is Amy Winehouse. She’s such an inspiration for me. 

What role is music playing for you right now? Is it catharsis? Escape? Or something else?

It’s been a huge therapeutic thing. I haven’t been listening to a lot, but I’ve been making a lot of music. The first week that we were allowed to go outside, I went and got a studio set up for myself. I’ve been actually trying to learn how to produce, and it’s been a fun, therapeutic challenge for me. 

When did you start getting into music? I know that you were on the TV show Idols when you were fifteen, which is quite young. 

After Idols, I just went back to school. I was there for like a year. But then I started working with this rap label and was touring with this great female rapper (Sini Sabotage). And from there, I found producers to work with. I’ve always been singing in English, even though no one sings in English in Finland. Then, I don’t know how, but somehow people in Germany and the UK and America, they heard my tracks and suddenly everybody wanted to sign me; it was weird. 

Had you always wanted to be a pop star?

Uhhh… yes. When I was very young I had wanted to be a pop star. Then when I was a teenager, I kinda didn’t want to be anything. I just wanted to have fun. There was a point where I was like, “Fuck it.” But then I went to the studio, and I just fell in love with making songs. It just happened. 

 

 

Was there a moment in your life that really affirmed your skills and talent?

I think the first time I realized that I can actually make a career out of this was probably when Elton John played my track on the radio. Obviously for me, and for everybody, he is a legend. That was definitely a point where I was like, “Holy shit. People actually do like my music. There must be something good in me.”

You obviously write your own music, but you’ve also made a name for yourself writing for other pop stars. Is your songwriting process different when you write for someone else?

It’s not that different actually. I tend to write from my perspective. But obviously when I work with someone like Miley Cyrus, I try to talk about her life. Though I still try to mix my life in it; otherwise it’s very hard to write, if you don’t have anything through which you can feel the feeling, ya know? 

A lot of musicians have complicated relationships with touring. The highs of performing can be followed by some pretty low lows. What do you do to stay focused and sane on the road?

I wasn’t staying focused on my first two tours, I was being very young and stupid. My voice just couldn’t handle it. You can’t party and do tours. That’s just a fact. In the long term, it’s just not possible. I lose my voice if I go to the club after the show. 

Do you have a pre-show routine? 

Yeah, we kick each other’s butts. 

Literally kick each other’s butts?

It’s a bit weird, but we did it once, and now we’re paranoid if we don’t do it. 

It’s an interesting ritual. I’ve read that you used to get nervous before going on stage, I’m assuming this helps? How else do you alleviate that anxiety?

I was very anxious during the early stages of my career. The first two years that I was touring, it was very hard to go to the stage. But I was just doing it. I forced myself to the stage and then it just got better. That’s my secret. Just go and do it. It’s gonna take a little while to love, but you just have to jump where you’re scared.

 

 

 

You have this song, “LA Money,” which doesn’t talk about the city in an entirely flattering way. Can you talk about why you have a complicated relationship with LA? 

There are two sides of LA: There is the dark side of LA, when everybody is just super fake and they want to get something out of you; and then there is the LA where people are positive and encourage each other. I think the song is just about the other side. When I first went to LA, I’d never been that lonely. I’ve never been that scared or annoyed about a place and people. It’s about those times. 

You’ve mentioned that you feel pressure living in the public eye sometimes. How have you learned to cope with that pressure?

Obviously in Finland, my home country, I’m on a different level of fame. I’m really famous here and it can be hard to be on the streets sometimes. I’m not the best when it comes to coping with fame. I think that sometimes it’s weird that some people really care that much. When it gets to be too much, I just take a plane and go to a different city. 

Your neon hair is kind of your signature look. How’d you come up with it, and what does it mean to you? 

My sister dyed her hair green when she was fifteen. She’s always been the bravest of the two of us—we’re twins. When she came out of the shower, I was like, “Oh my god, that’s the craziest hair ever. I have to do it.” I have to say that I copied my sister 100%. And now, it’s so easy because all I have to wear are black jeans and a black shirt and people are still like, “Oh, you have a cool style.”  

Do you ever feel like changing it? 

Not really. If I were to change it, it would be weird. But, if I did, I would probably go with neon orange. 

Do you get people who tell you your personal style is incongruous with the music that you make? 

Yeah, but even though people think style is really important to me, it’s not. The only thing I care about in life is the music that I make. Style just isn’t important to me. If I want to wear something sort of punkier, I don’t see any problem with that. Same goes for genre. I love pop music because you can make punk-pop, you can make indie-pop, you can make R&B-pop…you can mix everything. 

You mentioned that Amy Winehouse has had a big influence on you. Who else has influenced you?

I was searching everything on YouTube. I could have literally been listening to Amy Winehouse and then the next thing I would be listening to was Prodigy, or something like that. During my teenage years.I was going to pop festivals; but then I would go to Germany and go to crazy punk festivals. I just love music. Music for me is not about genre, it’s about the attitude, and if it makes me feel something.

What do you want to say about your debut album?

I had to make a decision. Do I want to keep on making EDM style records that I’ve never connected with that much, even though I love them and they’re part of my journey? With this album, it’s always been clear—I wasn’t going to make a dance album. I can make singles that are dancey and feature on other people’s songs, but when it comes to my album, it has to be 100% me. It took a little time; I had to fight for it. 

 

BlackBook Premiere: New Elephant Stone Video Reflects on the Faded Hope of the ‘American Dream’

 

 

Life in these United States is sobering enough these days…not that we’re sober that frequently lately; but for an even more visceral take, talk to a non-American. From foreign business associates unable to even enter the country where they have offices, to expats seriously questioning why they’re here in the first place, those with less compulsion to pledge the allegiance are making no secret of their displeasure in the face of the barrage of violence and deadly decisions we seem to be facing down daily.

Montreal’s Elephant Stone’s incisive new track, from their eerily dystopian album Hollow (released in March) questions just that: how anyone can still believe in the so-called “American Dream,” when the reality is so…hollow.

 

 

Sitar and bass playing frontman Rishi Dhir puts it thusly: “Growing up in Canada, it was hard to not feel like an ‘also-ran,’ when you’re constantly sold the glitz and glamour of America. Over the years, many of my Canadian friends moved south of the border in search of the American dream, only to find that it really was just a dream. And now, with the dangerous path America is on, I wonder if my same friends are questioning their move and longing for home.”

The video for the track, which BlackBook premieres here, was, Dhir explains, “filmed in isolation in my garage with a green screen, my son, queue cards, and an obvious nod to Dylan. The video compiles archival footage of immigrants in search of that American Dream.”

The result is heart-wrenching but compelling, and yet another reminder of the “systems” that have done little to further the lives of the people they swore to support. Sigh.

 

 

Image by Bowen Stead

BlackBook Premiere: The Kickdrums’ New Single ‘The Power of Ideas’ Questions Our Perceptions

 

 

As producer to the likes of Kid Cudi, K Flay and Lana Del Rey, Alex Fitts has certainly spent his share of time bothering the mainstream charts. But he’s mostly known as The Kickdrums, under which name he has released six EPs and albums since 2009.

But dormant for the last five years, his alter ego is finally back with an incisive new track, edifyingly titled “The Power of Ideas,” which BlackBook premieres here (another EP is on the way this summer). Coming off like some mashup of vintage East Coast / West Coast stylistic ethos, with its sampled strings, languid beats and retro soul vibes, it’s impossible to pigeonhole—but it’s ultimately driven by some totally unstoppable hooks and melodies.

Lyrically, it’s an insightful meditation on how illusions shape and warp our view of the real, with Fitts earnestly entreating, “Would you still do your thing / Without the crowd / Without the limelight?”

“This track is about the perception of reality versus true reality,” he explains. “How easy it is to fall in love with the idea of something.”

In an era where manipulation of the information flow is at a worrying peak, what could be more worth pondering?

 

BlackBook Interview: Madame Gandhi on Gender Liberation, Touring w/ Oprah + Meditation During Quarantine

Suit, ruffle blouse, green bikini top, earrings: Vintage from LIDOW ARCHIVE, All other jewelry: Renato Cipullo

 

 

Fresh off her tour opening for Oprah’s ‘Vision 2020’, and the drop of her latest single “Freedom” ft. Trakgirl (Spotify EQL Session), electronic music artist, activist, and unapologetic feminist Madame Gandhi took the time to meet with BlackBook to share a bit of herself, especially insights on her music and her message. We managed to fit in an exclusive photo shoot just before her appearance at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere, and, incidentally, just in the nick of time before the COVID-19-imposed social distancing guidelines made such live gatherings verboten.

 

 

Whether onstage, or as she poses in front of the camera, you can feel her passion to perform. She is also a musician with a message, and she communicates it by any medium possible. The Georgetown and Harvard Business School graduate has actually been named a TED Fellow: “Young world-changers, academics and trailblazers who have shown unusual accomplishment and exceptional courage in their respective disciplines…who collaborate and share new ideas and research across disciplines to create positive change around the world.” We could not possibly more strongly agree.

As quarantine began to take hold around us, we dove into both her art and her message, as well as how to achieve some sense of Zen in the time of coronavirus.

(N.B. Madame Gandhi’s TED Talk is scheduled for release this July.)

 

 

 

There are empowering messages in your music. What influenced that?

Anything that I’ve learned about politics or history—about the walk or journey of somebody else’s life—has been through music. As a kid, growing up in Manhattan, I would listen to Nas or Lauryn Hill and be learning about somebody else’s journey just thirty or forty blocks north of me in Harlem. Being able to use music to pull somebody in because of the beat and the melody and then share with them my thoughts on gender liberation, my thoughts on happiness, my thoughts on personal wellness, my thoughts on empathy, are the kinds of strategies and tools that make music so effective.

You worked with M.I.A., who is notably outspoken. 

I worked with her, Thievery Corporation, and TV on the Radio as their drummer, and those three are so effective in making incredible music that inspires people, not only because it’s good, but because they’re saying something with that music. M.I.A is teaching about what she calls “third world democracy.” Thievery Corporation is teaching about corruption in the White House. TV on the Radio is teaching you about love and romance. So that is why I have chosen music as the medium through which I can communicate my views on gender; because I truly believe it is the most effective medium.

Tell us about your experience drumming for Oprah’s ‘2020 Vision’ tour. 

So for the first three months of this year, every Saturday we would travel to a stadium and open up the day of Oprah’s ‘2020 Vision’ tour with the Daybreaker group. Daybreaker hosts a morning sober dance party where from 6-7am you do yoga, and then from 7-9am you dance as if you were in a nightclub to DJs, drumming, and live instruments. It’s a nine city stadium tour and then Oprah comes on to the stage to talk about wellness, her own personal fitness journey, her journey about her being on her path, and to just inspire her audience to also live out their own 2020 vision. And for me personally, it was the first time I’d ever performed in a stadium, it was first time where I’d really felt seen by someone so successful in their career as Oprah. It felt like I was really serving my purpose by using my drumming and dancing to give joy to the audiences we were performing for.

 

 

How did the audience respond?

We took people out of their minds and into their bodies, which is an important and underestimated activity—especially as we all grow older and we tend to think that we can’t be in our bodies to the extent that we really can. And I thought that was really important and inspiring. On the last day of the tour, Oprah was getting ready to give her speech, and as she was approaching the little podium she saw me and she just scooped me into her arms and gave me the most extraordinary hug! I’ll never forget that moment because I felt really seen, and I will never forget the lessons I learned on that tour. I can’t wait to take them and practice them on my own touring opportunities after this whole [COVID-19] experience calms down.

Has your sound evolved or developed from the inspiration of artists who came before you?

Definitely M.I.A inspires me because she’s constantly evolving her sound, and yet you can always tell when it’s an M.I.A song. The same is true for TV on the Radio and Thievery Corporation. I think that’s really important to me to continue putting out music, so I really hone a sound. For me that sound is taking my vocals, my drumming and the message, then putting warmly produced electronics underneath it. I usually always have something to say with my lyrics, whether it’s being really vulnerable in my emotions, or being really empowered by my passion for gender liberation.

Does the music act as a kind of therapy for you?

Fela Kuti’s music, like we were blasting during the BlackBook photoshoot, is a constant source of daily inspiration. Not only do I feel like it’s good for my mental health, and chemically shifts my brain to feel happier and more productive with my day, but it also shows me how I can take my views and put them into a really sexy musical body of work, one that gets people dancing and feeling happy, while still opening up their channels to learn and receive new information.

What particular issues are you most passionate about?

I’m really passionate about people feeling their best and being their most empowered selves. I remember when I was younger, I would go through phases of feeling my best self and then feeling bullied by other people, and I never want anyone else to feel like that. I’m passionate about women and femmes and gender non-conforming folks and queer folks being able to feel the true empowerment of our spirit. I want us not to constantly talk about our oppression, but rather to use our gifts to operate in a space of joy.

 

Suit, Bracelets: Vintage from LIDOW ARCHIVE, Shoes: Repetto from LIDOW ARCHIVE, All other jewelry: Renato Cipullo

 

And making music inspires that joy?

I’m a big advocate for taking something you enjoy doing, whether it’s cooking, or in my case drumming and singing, and thinking “How can I use that to give back? How can I use that to make the world a better place?” The reason why I subscribe to that notion is that if you’re doing something you love, you’ll always have the fuel to give. If you feel like you’re just volunteering or doing somebody else a favor, I don’t find it as sustainable as the closed loop circle of genuinely enjoying the process of serving others.

You keep a rigorous schedule. What do you do with your downtime? How do you unplug?

That’s a funny question to think about in the time of corona. I’ve been definitely working out every day. I make sure I get eight hours of sleep and drink enough water. I love to make music, and just get ideas going. When training in “non-corona times,” I do love to box, surf, and go for a run. Right before things got pretty serious and it felt less safe to leave your home, I ran the perimeter of Manhattan and put in a 13 mile run, which felt really good. But I feel a larger responsibility to actually honor the self-quarantine process to prevent the spread of the virus. I also practice daily meditation. I meditate every day for ten minutes in the morning, and it’s a very structured meditation that helps me home in on my emotions, and allows me to stay zen and disciplined in the work that I’m trying to do.
Credits:
Madame Gandhi @madamegandhi
Photographer: Savanna Ruedy @savannarruedy
Stylist: Haile Lidow @lidowarchive
Hair: Stefani Annaliese @stefaniannaliese Assisted by: Kylie Lefkowitz @crownedbykylie
Makeup: Yui Ishibashi @yui_i
Production and text: Alfredo Mineo @alfredomineo

BlackBook Interview: Rose McGowan on Living on the Fringe, Finding Freedom & Traveling to ‘Planet 9’

 

 

 

When former Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on March 11, it represented not only justice in the specific cases brought against him, but also some measure of closure for all of the women he’d ever victimized.

For Rose McGowan, it marked the beginning of the end of a nightmare in which Weinstein was said to have had her followed by spies, and was rumored to have conspired with journalists to viciously defame her—in the process shutting down her once skyrocketing acting career, and even convincing the public she was suffering from some form of “insanity”…for lack of a better word.

The actress had become an it-girl extraordinaire in the late ’90s via the hit series Charmed and several high-profile film roles. Her well-documented relationship with Marilyn Manson (and that 1998 “naked” dress) only served to fuel the tabloid frenzy around her.

 

 

But her career began to spiral after an alleged sexual assault incident with Weinstein at Sundance in 1997—with the actress eventually claiming he harassed her for more than two decades after. It all led to her sort of incidentally becoming “the face” of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, which then led to Weinstein’s arrest and recent conviction. Her 2018 book Brave was her necessary catharsis, allowing her to begin to emotionally put her life back together.

And to be sure, she is a changed person, responding to the verdict not with a public show of “I told you so,” but by releasing her striking debut album Planet 9, which paints a picture of a woman seeking to re-engage the world with a sense of optimism and hope.

It’s actually a surprisingly accomplished work for the musical novice, with its aesthetic flag planted firmly in the heart of the 1980s. Indeed, the ethereal, new-agey synth-pop alternately recalls the likes of Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Depeche Mode, and, with its lush soundscapes, even Brian Eno, if you can imagine.

We caught up with her while quarantined at a secret Central American location, to talk about where she’s going, and what she hopes to leave behind.

 

 

 

With all that you’ve been through, your message on this album seems to be about positivity and possibilities.

That’s what I’m about. Brave was a tough book at times, but the last lines in it are ‘I know you can, I know you have it in you.’ Now Planet 9 is my hope for humanity.

With what’s going on now, do you think we’re even capable of making this a better planet?

I think right now we have a unique opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to ourselves and the world. Like the 2.0 version of ourselves. If you want to live on a different planet, just act like that on this one.

There’s a very Enoesque quality to some of the music. On “Lonely House” and “Rise,” the sounds seem almost not of this Earth.

Oh, I love that. It’s what I was really going for. I was like, What can take me emotionally where I need to go?

What were you influenced by while writing and recording this album?

I listened to the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Legendary Pink Dots, and some hip-hop. I also made the album at the same time I wrote the book. It’s really [about] healing.

 

 

 

One of the lyrics goes, “Are you lonely on our planet / Are you lonely on the fringe?” Have you often felt that you were out there with no one to join you on the fringe?

Oh yeah, I’ve always been on the fringe. I was raised in this commune that my father was the leader of, and I would watch him wire people’s minds in this really unique way. The kids were raised with these utopian ideals; the parents, because they were from the system, could never really be free of it, they adhered to the same power structure. We were raised for the first ten years without mirrors, and there was no race or gender. I didn’t know how to become a woman…I had no idea.

Someone recently said to me, “I think Rose McGowan ruins her message by the way she presents it.”

What message?

Well, you’re associated with the #MeToo movement now…

They associated it with me. The media don’t like what I say, and it’s inherent to their survival that they continue to portray women, and anybody that’s angry, as crazy. Harvey paid off journalists for 22 years to slander me.
The media called it the #MeToo “movement,” they built that up so that it seemed like there were thousands of women coming after men with pitchforks.

Ronan Farrow continues to defend you, arguing that you were written off as crazy because you didn’t fit any sort of feminist “victim” ideal.

I have a gift for making people uncomfortable. Even when I was a kid, adults wanted to get away from me, because I just told the truth. I had to shave my head as a declaration of war, so to speak. The side-effect was that men and women could finally hear the words coming out of my mouth for the first time – and I had been saying the same things for years.

Did you feel a sense of vindication? People were very divided on the verdict.

I actually thought he was going to get off. They could have chosen cases that were a lot more cut and dried. [But the] women who have been victimized by him…we feel like we have a 350 pound foot off our backs.

 

Rose McGowan in The Sound, 2017

 

 

The stories were pretty insane.

I thought about hiring a hit man, I really thought about it. But it’s not good to involve other people. Plus, I’m a really good shot, I’d do it myself. But I was really stressed, and I thought, “What if I just take one for the team?”

It doesn’t bring justice though.

I’m just not a killer. It’s a very common thing with people who have been raped, they really want to kill their abuser. Because that would mean they get to live again.

Do you feel like any of what’s happened in the last couple of years has actually moved us in a positive direction?

Yes. It was hard, but it was a ‘take your medicine’ time. We have a really damaged society; but one of the greatest things for women was to be like, “Oh, this isn’t normal actually.” Because it was so normalized. This is Hollywood, this is how it is, these are the rules, play by them. That message gets filtered down to everyone else.
The humanity is really what they take from us so young. They take your creativity, they take your soul…here’s your straightjacket, enjoy.

There’s a song on the album titled “We Are Free”—what do you want to think of as freedom right now, and what can we hope that it will be?

I think freedom is internal, and then it gets manifested by our actions. Sticking up for others, being kinder to people, understanding that everybody has trauma. We’re born free, it just got stolen from us; so we just have to find our way back to that core self.

What would you like to say in the wake of everything you’ve gone through? Do you feel like it’s finally behind you?

I have a RICO case right now against [Weinstein] and three of his conspirators. So I have probably have three to five years ahead of me. But I feel safe right now. Even in the darkest hour, if you know you’re telling the truth, and you’re speaking for others, you will in some way prevail. You can be free of the system, even if you have to work within the system.

 

 

Do you want to clear up any misconceptions about Rose McGowan?

It’s not really my problem, to tell you the truth. People ask if I feel vindicated, I don’t really give a fuck. Because I knew the truth. It’s not really my business what people think of me.

Ah, I think Gandhi said the same thing.

But it is vindication for all the people who have never been believed. I was always okay either way. It’s not fun being hated, but I can handle it. I’ll just keep making art and being weird.

You seem to be saying just that on “Green Gold”: “Only here to paint colors on the sun / Only here to see the fire run.”

We’re all meant to live a big emotional life. On top of the pain is freedom. The book was like giving birth to this dead thing inside of me. Planet 9 was the respite, like trauma therapy for me.

 

Kunsthal Rotterdam is Reopening With the ‘Extra Large’ Exhibition – Featuring Rare Tapestries by Louise Bourgeois, Miró + Corbusier

Pablo Picasso, Women at Their Toilette, 1971 – 1977

 

 

We’ve been reporting on virtual touring opportunities at European museums. But cities and towns are now beginning to open up in earnest, so we will shift our focus to physical museum experiences…cautiously.

Now, all but the most devoted art enthusiasts are likely to regard tapestry as an ancient art form, most often found gathering dust on the walls of drafty medieval castles or “classical” European museums. But a delayed exhibition, scheduled to open March 8, now opening June 1 at the Kunsthal Rotterdam, is intending to upend those stereotypes, and demonstrate how tapestry is still absolutely relevant.

Indeed, the new exhibition Extra Large presents a large-scale retrospective of imposing tapestries based on designs by Picasso, Le Corbusier, Miró, Vasarely, Alain Séchas and Louise Bourgeois. Created post-World War I, these little-known masterpieces represent a virtually unknown aspect in the bodies of work of these giants of modern and contemporary art.

Joan Miró, Composition No. 1 Woman at the Mirror, 1966

 

It turns out that since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the French State has been commissioning renowned artists to design tapestries that are brought to life in national weaving workshops. While the art itself originated for decorative purposes, the works often conveyed a sociopolitical message, or represented a historical revolution.

Although the French government may have been motivated to create these works to preserve the history and art of weaving, the complex designs of modern-day artists have resulted in technical innovation in technique and craft. For example, Picasso’s design, Les Femmes a leur toilette, was shelved for thirty years until weavers became experienced enough to begin working on the tapestry, which then took six years to complete.

 

Le Corbusier, Canapé II, 1963

 

The majority of the sixty-showcased works was produced at the historical institute Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris, and demonstrate the multi-dimensional aspects of the craft through the eyes of some of history’s most revered avant-garde masters.

Extra Large will be on view from June 1 through January 3, 2021 at the Kunsthal Rotterdam (just an hour by rail from Amsterdam), a museum which has in recent years gained international acclaim for its high-profile fashion exhibitions, including the recent Thierry Mugler: Couturissime.

 

From top: Alain Jean Messagier, The Uniformity of the Beautiful Weather, 1969 – 1971; Jean Lurçat, The Seasons, Summer, 1940-1941

BlackBook Interview: Powfu Rises From His ‘death bed’

Image by Ashley Buenrostro

 

 

If you follow the buzz on social media—let’s say especially TikTok—then chances are you’ve heard Isaiah Faber’s—AKA Powfu—breakout track “death bed (coffee for your head).’ 

Indeed, the lo fi, bedroom pop tune with hip-hop sensibilities spread like wildfire on TikTok and YouTube. Over four million videos have been made to the song, on the former platform, ranging from elaborate proposals, to breakfast in miniature. On the latter, “death bed” has accumulated 61 million streams. Its popularity earned Powfu the #4 spot on the Spotify Global Top 50, putting him amongst superstars like The Weeknd, Drake, and Dua Lipa; he’s now also certified gold in seven countries. 

But even after storming charts all over the world, the twenty-one year old is surprisingly down to earth. Aside from a new record deal with Columbia, things don’t seem to have changed that much; he’s still spending his days just skateboarding and making music. 

In anticipation of his new EP poems of the past, we caught up with the young chart topper sheltering at his home in Vancouver.

 

What kind of music have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to old punk bands. 

Right, I’ve read that your dad was in a punk rock band, Faber Drive. What was it like growing up in a musical household?

It was really cool. Obviously not a lot of people have a dad who was a rockstar growing up. He taught me the basics of all the instruments, and I got to see what it was like to be in the music industry.

Do you think that’s prepared you? The industry now is quite different from the one your dad was a part of. 

On the business side of things it’s different, but between the hard work and collaborating with other people—a lot of the basics he helped me with. He always encouraged me to work hard at it, and it paid off. 

When did you start making music?

I started writing music when I was thirteen. Then, in grade twelve, when I was seventeen, is when I started taking it seriously. 

 

 

What drew you to lo-fi hip-hop?

I was just into hip-hop at the very start. Then I started surfing Soundcloud, and I came across [these] lo-fi hip-hop beats, and I thought they sounded pretty cool; so I just started listening to them by themselves in my car. It seemed like not many people are rapping on these types of beats, so I [figured I] might as well try it. 

Who would you cite as your main musical influences?

There are definitely a lot. Yellow Card and Blink-182 are really cool punk artists that I listen to and get inspired by. On the hip-hop side of things, I’ll listen to a bunch: Kanye West, Jaden Smith, G-Eazy, a bunch of rappers. 

Speaking of Blink-182, I saw that they did a version of the song. How’d that come about?

Yeah it was crazy. I got signed to Columbia, and they asked me if there was anyone I would like to collab with…and I said Blink-182. They said, “Oh, they’re also signed with us.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s sick.” So then they told them about me and asked if they wanted to work with me, and they said yeah. They really liked “death bed” and wanted to remix it. 

“death bed” exploded on YouTube and took TikTok by storm. How’d you feel when you that happened?

I was just really excited. Even before “death bed,” seeing like a hundred comments on a song would make me happy. It’s the same feeling, but with more people. It’s inspiring. 

What are some of your favorite TikToks that people have made of the song?

There’re a lot; I like some of the Kobe ones. I like the ones where people confess their love to their best friends. And there’s another one where people are making miniature pancakes—I thought that was great. 

 

 

“death bed” is unexpectedly sad, you rap about not wanting to die yet. 

Most of my songs draw on pretty heavy topics, because that’s just what I feel drawn to write about. For “death bed,” the sample in the beat was talking about “not going to bed and getting a cup of coffee for your head”—so I was just trying to make a story around the chorus. I already had a song about sleeping, so then I went from the viewpoint of someone who’s dying.  

You’d been writing songs for awhile. But has TikTok effected the way you write now?

For the most part, I’m just trying to make music that I’d enjoy listening to myself. I have for one of my songs, “mind your manners,” aimed for a TikTok type of song. I wrote cheesy lyrics and a catchy chorus for it. But most of my songs are just my own style. 

Tell us about your new EP poems of the past.

I like EPs, because they’re short and simple, and I get to release my favorite songs. There’s six tracks on this one. I try to [include] a mix of genres. So there’ll be hip-hop songs and punk songs and lo-fi, bedroom pop stuff. So everyone has their own favorite song or sound on the EP. 

Now that you’ve signed with a major label and have a song in the charts, what do you want to do next?

I was looking forward to touring before all of this, and meeting fans. But other than that, making music is like my favorite thing to do. And now I get to collab with bigger artists…so just more of that. 

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Alexia Bomtempo Returns to Her Bossa Nova Roots

 

 

 

The child of a Brazilian concert promoter and an American mother, Alexia Bomtempo grew up splitting her time between two countries and cultures. Fortunate enough to experience live music at a young age, she spent her childhood immersed in Rio’s heady music scene. Fed a steady diet of performances by some of the world’s best musicians, complete with backstage access, she had no doubt that someday that would be her life.

Still, unlike many jazz musicians who begin their musical development very young, Alexia didn’t start her formal music training until her early twenties, when she studied with Brazilian voice coach Felipe Abreu. He become a mentor, and then a producer of I Just Happen To Be Here, her 2012 English-language tribute to Tropicalia legend Caetano Veloso.

 

 

The impact of her multi-cultural upbringing on her style is undeniable; there is no running away from the fact that she is as much an American artist as she is Brazilian. Beginning with her 2010 debut Astrolábio, on to the aforementioned I Just Happen To Be Here, and the indie-pop Chasing Storms and Stars, Alexia has cultivated a unique, confidently feminine sound. And it reaches new heights with her latest album Suspiro (Portuguese for “sigh”), which effortlessly brings divergent cultural nuances together in a gorgeous, and transportive collection of new songs, while returning decisively her to her bossa nova roots.

Suspiro was released April 24th, in the midst of this global pandemic—so we sat down with Alexia for a Zoom chat about the inspirations behind the album, and virtual “touring” while we all wait out the coronavirus crisis.

 

 

It’s an interesting time—you just released Suspiro and were planning to tour. I can imagine it’s frustrating knowing that you’re limited to Facebook livestream events. 

I was so excited to finally present this new material live with a full band. We have been playing together for quite some time and we had this whole concept for the show. For artists and musicians, there’s nothing that will ever substitute for the feeling of playing music in the same room. I think the music community is heartbroken with what’s going on, because we don’t know when society is going feel comfortable attending a live show. But virtual performances are the only choice we have right now and definitely what we are going to be doing for the time being. I really want to find a way to make them sound and look amazing and keep it interesting for whomever is watching, because people at some point are probably going to feel saturated with all the live content. We are still working out all the details, but I’ve learned that FB is the best platform in terms of sound quality. Whenever we do anything on Instagram, I try to keep it short, a couple of songs. There will be more coming.

This is your 4th album. Your debut, Astrolábio, was released in 2010, and is also a mix of songs in Portuguese and English. What inspired you to return to a similar mixed-language format for Suspiro?

It’s funny you say that, because I hadn’t thought of it in that way. It’s so exciting to see the album out there and how people pick up on certain things that I didn’t think about when I was making it. For Suspiro, I was determined to do something different than my previous record, Chasing Storms and Stars, which was more indie-pop and kind of folk-y, Americana; and I wanted to pay tribute to the bossa nova movement of the ‘60s. I had done a residency in Japan for a few months in 2017 and I was singing a lot of jazz and bossa nova standards. Suspiro really came from being deeply immersed in the world of bossa-jazz again.

It is a very transportive record, even down to the cover art. It made me feel like I was in an early ’60s nightclub in Rio. 

You know, it just kind of happened that way. We had a concept, and we wanted to pay tribute to this important era of music and culture in Brazil, but not in a throwback kind of way. This was an amazing movement, the sound of a beautiful, cultural, explosive experience and life that was happening in Rio in the ‘60s. We wanted to go back to those sounds and showcase these new, contemporary songwriters from Rio and bring some of my own songs into this sort of dreamy vibe. Everything was recorded live and we had so much fun with it. Looking back at how it came together…we achieved this goal without really planning it.

 

 

 

It’s an impressive list of people you worked with. How did those collaborations come about?

The Brazilian music community is very diverse and connected—we all know each other. Jake Owen, who is the other producer and also my husband, has a studio with Mauro Refosco, an incredible Brazilian percussionist who has played with David Byrne and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Stéphane San Juan, one of the producers on the record, was in the studio with his trio recording an EP when we were talking about doing this album, and he brought in the pianist and bassist from his trio, Vitor Gonçalves and Eduardo Belo, who were so incredibly crucial for coming up with the arrangements for the songs. Jake played guitar. Michael Leonhart was also Stéphane’s connection. It was so wonderful to see Michael work, it was just beautiful, his playing is just like poetry. Guilherme Monteiro is another Brazilian guitarist who has been in New York for years. He and Jake are former roommates and he is also a friend of Stéphane’s. We wanted Guilherme to play on one of the tracks as a special guest.

Which was “Les Chansons d’Amour”?

Yes, it was beautiful to see him take this song which was written by this phenomenal Brazilian songwriter, Alberto Continentino, and come up with the arrangement in, like, five minutes. So, yes, Stéphane was a big part of putting this together and connecting everyone; but it also would have never happened without Mauro and Jake.

You had this idea for this record, and when you got together with Stéphane, had you already written some of the songs? How did that process work and how long did it take you to make the record?

It was a very quick process in terms of putting it together, which is unusual for me. I took so long to finish all my other records. With Suspiro, we had the idea and we started digging through material for songs. I already had some that were written and I knew I wanted to do some covers, so I started researching songs. Stéphane started doing some research on his end and then we got these original songs from Alberto Continentino and Domenico Lancellotti; they sent us a batch of songs, we picked four and recorded in a week. Everything was recorded live. We were in the studio with the trio for four days, and then we did one day with Michael on trumpet and another day of overdubs. We did some editing here and there, but the recording process was only about a week.

 

 

You mentioned covers – there are a few on Suspiro and you’ve done covers in the past. I loved your interpretation of “Roxanne” from Astrolábio, and “I’m In Love Again” and “Grão” from the new record are stunners. What inspires your choices?

It all depends. With my first album I was experimenting with so many things. At some point, I had heard that “Roxanne” was actually written as a bossa nova. I don’t know if it’s true, but I started performing it like that and thought it would be really cool to record it that way. I Just Happen to Be Here, the Caetano Veloso tribute, is all cover songs, and I picked those that I connected with the most. Picking repertoire over the years, I have found that having a personal connection to the song, and a feeling that I can truly relate to the words and the music, is really important to me. It has to feel truthful—I can’t imagine singing something that I can’t connect with. For this particular record, I knew I wanted to revisit a not-so-obvious American standard and give it a Brazilian twist. I love taking a song to a different world, just completely transforming it. “I’m in Love Again” had originally been done as a ballad by Tony Bennett. People deeply connected to the American songbook would know it, but a lot of people don’t really know that song.

During your recent FB livestream event with Cole DeGenova, you mentioned that the track “Mais Devagar” is inspired by the Portuguese word “saudade,” which means a nostalgic feeling of longing, of missing something. What were you feeling when you wrote it?

“Saudade” is nostalgic, it can make you feel good and sad at the same time. It’s very deep. I was alone in Japan when I wrote the song, and even though I was working with other musicians and had friends, I was very far away from everything that I really knew. Jake and I weren’t married at the time, but he was here in New York and I was missing him. I was feeling nostalgic about many things, and the song is all about the feeling of longing, of needing, of missing something. The melody has elements of both sadness and happiness, which is so Brazilian; that’s just how we are. Even when things are sad and tragic, we are always going to find something to keep the positivity up. The song really captures that aspect of Brazilian culture and I really love how it turned out.

What are some of the differences between the Rio and New York music scenes?

I don’t think there is a music scene—especially in jazz—like there is in New York, and that’s why everybody comes here. I love Rio, it’s my town, and I love going back to visit; but the lifestyle is so different, it’s like a constant vacation. Life just has a different pace, which is a beautiful thing, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to be pushed, to feel challenged and inspired every day and have the opportunity to collaborate with incredible musicians from all over the world.
I don’t think I could make this record, which pays tribute to Brazilian music, in Brazil. It’s a very New York  record, influenced by jazz artists from all over the place.

Now that you have put out this beautiful record, are you thinking ahead to what you may want your next project to be like?

I want to do something similar to this again. Not the same, maybe different instrumentation; but I want to explore another volume of this. We are already talking about it.