BlackBook Interview: Greyson Chance on Fame, Joni Mitchell & His Cherished Friendship w/ Lady Gaga

 

If ever a star was “born,” it was on the fateful day of April 28, 2010, when a 12-year-old kid from Oklahoma belted out a shiver-inducing cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” (for a school talent show) and left a room full of onlookers gasping in awe. When the video of the performance was uploaded to YouTube, it became an instant sensation – and soon record biz honchos (including Guy Oseary) were beating a path to the door of a very young Greyson Chance.

The past nine years have brought a lot of highs (lasting friendships with superfans Ellen DeGeneres and Gaga herself), as well as some lows, with two album releases and the requisite touring leaving him with an impressively devoted fanbase. It also made him the artist he is now, the one who has finally made the record he’s always intended to make. Indeed, portraits was released by AWAL on March 15, and it’s the work of a songwriter who has genuinely found his voice, by learning from some of the very best – from Amy Winehouse to Joni Mitchell, Sylvan Esso to Brandi Carlile…and even, lyrically, a little Hermann Hesse.

Of course, growing up in public generally comes with its share of pitfalls – and he admits he’s learned some tough lessons about the music biz along the way. But he’s come out exhibiting a remarkable sense of self-possession, as well as a resolute sense of purpose.

As he preps for a run of live dates, we slowed him down long enough for a chat about where he’s been, and where he is now determined to go.

 

 

Were you initially shocked by how quickly your cover of “Paparazzi” went viral?

Absolutely, in every sense. It is funny, many people think I had a pre-conceived intention of posting that video in hopes of becoming famous, but that honestly was just not the case. I remember wanting to put it online so that my friends could see it, and that was my sole objective. It changed the trajectory of my life in every single way.

Were you a big fan of Lady Gaga?

Yes, I was a massive fan, that is why I chose “Paparazzi.” There was something so mesmerizing about the way she performed it, and I have distinct memories of losing my mind at the VMA performance – the one with the blood bag and the wheelchair. I think that was my main inspiration for why I wanted to play it. You watch her and instantly know that she is a rock star.

Gaga actually called you – what was that like?

That was amazing, but I’ve been more blessed for my friendship with her since starting out in music. We were signed to the same management and label, so Gaga made herself very accessible to me during the beginning when it was really chaotic. I think she understood and sympathized with how quickly my life was changing. We’ve shared some really intimate moments together; I’ve learned a lot from her wisdom and her guidance.

What did you learn during that time? What were your big takeaways?

My biggest takeaway from starting out in the industry at a young age was a quick understanding of how cruel it can be. The music industry is not a place for the weak-hearted or the thin-skinned; that was a lesson I learned early. Nevertheless, I believe that I also understood the blessing of it all from the beginning, which is something I owe to my parents. Regardless of how a record was or was not performing, how tickets were selling, etc., I got to travel the world at a very young age and see people from all different cultures and backgrounds singing along to my songs. What an amazing experience. That sort of thing still inspires me and keeps me going. The industry side of music is difficult, sure; but there is so much beauty in the creation and performance of music, it’s worth it.

Your new single “shut up” has a very soulful vibe. What have you been influenced by lately?

For the album, I was incredibly inspired by Sylvan Esso, Bon Iver, and Brandi Carlile. I studied all of their work, both from a production and lyrical standpoint; it really got me into the headspace of wanting to make an album that was captivating and vulnerable. At the moment, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, mainly Hermann Hesse and Max Frisch. I’ve noticed their writings have influenced a current turn in my lyrics.

 

 

 

The lyrics make a reference to Alex Turner – are you an Arctic Monkeys fan?

A big one. I find Alex so alluring and mystifying.

Your new album portraits is out this month. What can we expect, musically and lyrically?

I think people who have been familiar with my work in the past will be surprised by the album just because it feels much older. I also view this record as my debut, as I think it’s the first time I am presenting myself in a truly honest way, considering I wrote it fully; I didn’t cut any corners this time. portraits can be best defined as a journal [of] my life last year. I wrote it all from experience, which included my decision to pursue music again full time, a difficult breakup, and an evolution within my own life as an individual. I don’t know what to tell people to expect “musically” when they put on the album; I don’t really believe in genres anymore. Long story short, I made an album that I felt happy listening to; I hope people feel the same.

Do you feel like your songwriting has matured?

Absolutely it has. The songwriters that I most admire are the ones who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable in their work: Joni Mitchell and Amy Winehouse come to mind. What people on the outside do not realize, however, is that such expression of vulnerability through art isn’t a choice, but rather, it is the only way creatives know how to move through life. I studied a lot of Joni’s work this past year, and I began to see this and understand it. She portrays her journey in her lyrics in the same way she does in her paintings. It’s not a conscience choice, she just does it; it’s just what she knows. So, to answer your question, has my songwriting matured? Yes, but only because I have matured as a person.

You’ve got several live dates in March and April – will you be doing any of the spring and summer festivals?

I will be performing some festivals this summer. I am booked for a few Pride shows, and I am the most excited about those.

What will the live shows be like?

I do not want to reveal too much, but in the same way that I have been honest in my writing, I will be honest in my performance. Music moves me, and I want to show that. My biggest goal for myself has been to just have more fun with it all.

What do you still hope to achieve with your music?

Since music is so integrated into my life, I think my musical goals perfectly align with my overall goals for myself. I just want to be happy.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Brit Pop-Soulstress Jess Glynne Opens Up

 

Raw. Soulful. Organic. They’re words that the British pop sensation Jess Glynne used to describe a fellow star – but they are also easily applied to her. With her mop of fantastic, ginger hair, her sparkling blue eyes, an earthen purity of emotion to her voice and a purpose that transcends the ordinary, much less expected, it’s perhaps not a surprise that the 29-year-old North Londoner has managed to clinch more number-one hits than any female artist in the UK…ever. (That would be seven.) She’s also, remarkably, the only female to achieve a number-one album in her home country.

As far as rises to fame go, there are ones that are meteoric…and then there is Glynne’s – which could be said to be from another universe entirely. Her debut album, 2015’s I Cry When I Laugh, not only topped the charts and went triple platinum, but “Rather Be” also won her a Grammy for Best Dance Recording of the Year. Her collaborators have spanned from Rudimental and Ed Sheeran to Tinie Tempah and Macklemore, but Glynne in the middle always rings true.

She’s a girl, like any other, trying to find her way through life, romance, friendship and confusion. Never a victim and always a step ahead of herself, she strives to come out empowered. Her lyrics are both supportive and moving, and she never shies from sharing her vulnerabilities with what has become nearly the entire world. She certainly thrives where the average angel often fears to tread.

 

 

To her, it’s never been easy being a woman, much less in music; but it’s through the difficulties and often wild emotions that this shimmering diamond was cut.

In her own words: “I think I speak very openly and honestly and I’m not afraid to try anything.”

Glynne has just released her sophomore album, Always in Between, and is not only slaying the charts once more, but is also revving up to embark on a pair of very high-profile 2019 tours. The first will bring her stateside, sharing a stage with Leon Bridges; the second will see her on the bill with the one and only Spice Girls. It’s hard to say how to top the British pops more than she has, but give her time – there is certainly much more story still to tell.

We caught up with her as she prepped for her tour of America, to chat about insecurities, riding on horses with girls, and what we all have to learn about life through music.

 

You shell out number-one hits the way one may pistachios. Are you sometimes surprised by how it’s turning out?  

I don’t think surprised is the word. I feel like I’ve worked hard for a long time and that’s why people succeed. If you put the work in, at some point you’ll find success. I’m very grateful for it and I’m very blessed that it’s worked out the way it has.

Would the nine-year-old Jess have ever guessed she’d one day go on tour with the Spice Girls?

If you had told her that she would be standing onstage with the Spice Girls, she would have laughed in your face and said, “good one!” But if you told me it was true, I would have been running around the house screaming and telling all my friends!

How does the Jess Glynne of today feel on stage, compared to the one from 2015?

I know myself a lot better and trust myself more. I’ve grown. I’m a stronger performer. I’ve learned how to be onstage and really love it.

 


 

As a woman in music, how has the process been for you as you rose to success?

It’s not been easy at all. There are so many turns and so many put downs along the way. It’s genuinely harder as a female to connect and get people to believe in you. But you know what? I’ve enjoyed every minute of it because it’s been so amazing. It’s just given me determination and made me work harder. Every inch of success I’ve gotten along the way seems even better just knowing that nobody can stop me from doing what [I’ve done].

Many of your songs are a breath of honest, fresh air, with messages of self-empowerment. And everything from your body image to sexuality gets bravely explored in your music. Is it a genuine reflection of who you really are?

You’re absolutely right. The writing and creating process are about self-reflection for me. I reflect upon what I’ve been through – the highs and lows and what is in the current moment. It’s also to teach myself a lesson and remind myself of the things I forget constantly.

Do you hope that your listeners will perhaps take a cue and be more open in their self-discovery too? 

Yes, once I create those songs, it’s a really nice feeling to know that I can release [them] into the world and potentially help people. I always hope that when people do listen to my music that they listen to it from their own point of view. I want people to relate to the lyrics and let that make sense of their own lives. That’s what I do, I listen to artists who inspire me, and I listen to what they have to say and relate that back to myself. And that’s what’s so amazing about music – you can’t buy those feelings and you can’t buy those moments.

Your lyrics point back to insecurities…not wanting to have them, not wanting to admit that you do. Where are you today in relation to some of the feelings that were exposed on your last album?

Everyone has insecurities, it’s a part of life and growth. At the moment I feel like I’m in an okay place. I’ve had a lot of lows, but my insecurities have to be my friends at times. You have to learn to live with them, look at them as positively as you can, and learn to deal with them rather than push them under the carpet. That’s what the song “Thursday” represents.

 

 

What inspirations and experiences have gone into Always in Between? And what does that phrase mean to you?

It’s a story of emotions and a journey of everything I’ve been through over the past few years. My life has been in between for that long, through relationships, through work, through traveling, my friends, my family. Everything has been so in between in my life that I began to look at it in a negative way. I felt like I could never really find a balance. But I eventually came to realize that it’s not always about being one way, or being balanced. This is just where I am. I have my personal life and my friends and family and the people who really know me from that little girl growing up; and I have the people who know me through my music and my fame. And that essentially is my life, I had to come to a point where I accepted that.

Who are the girls you are riding horses with in the “I’ll Be There” video? Why are you riding with them?

The [Excaramuza] Charras girls. It’s a sport in Mexico. They all ride and do crazy things on horses. The reason I chose them for the video is that riding is a really empowering sport. I horse rode from a really young age, it was my lifetime hobby. It can come across as something quite masculine, but it can be truly empowering to see females on horses in control.

You’re touring with Leon Bridges, who BlackBook interviewed recently. How do you feel that your music intersects with his? What do you admire most about him? 

I love that he’s a raw, organic artist and that he has such soulful roots. He’s a really cool guy and a great performer, very inspired by culture and fashion – he does what he knows best works for him. He doesn’t follow trends, and I find that really inspiring. I’m very excited to go on tour with him!

 

 

 

 

BlackBook Interview: As a New Season of ‘Riverdale’ is Prepping, a Chat w/ Series Fave Mädchen Amick

Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper in ‘Riverdale’

 

Unlike most teen soaps, the parents of Riverdale go through just about as much drama as their teenage counterparts. Consisting mostly of young heartthrobs of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the grownup portion of the cast (including Luke Perry, Skeet Ulrich, and Molly Ringwald) has portrayed the likes of brothel madams, drug kingpins, gang members, and serial killers.

But perhaps the most complex of these is Alice Cooper, brought to life by the indomitable talent that is Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks, American Horror Story, Witches of East End). The type-A mother to Betty (Lili Reinhart), Alice has been the subject of a once-hot affair with FP Jones (Ulrich), an impostor claiming to be her abandoned son, a tumultuous marriage to a masked serial killer, and now the protégé of a charming cult leader. Why should teenagers get to have all the fun?

“Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa, creator of Riverdale] and I talked about the concept that Alice was a lot like Annette Bening’s character in American Beauty, where she’s trying so hard to be perfect, and she’s super uptight,” she tells BlackBook. “But she’s a complete mess underneath it all. The higher we build her up and the more you hate her, the farther she can fall, and hopefully the more you can feel for her about what her life circumstances are.”

 

Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper in ‘Riverdale’

 

As Season 3 was in full swing, and Season 4 has just been announced, we caught up with Amick at the Chateau Marmont, the historic Hollywood hotel/hangout, and a particular fave of hers.

“This used to be my home away from home when I wasn’t living in LA,” she recalls. “But this was before the big renovation when it became fancy again. It was super cheap and kind of rundown, but really cool.”

Admittedly, she’s still possibly most known for playing Shelly Johnson in the original Twin Peaks. One of her first roles, she admits she perhaps didn’t fully comprehend the opportunity to work with David Lynch so early in her career – but now understands how lucky she was to have the chance.

“I can look back on it now it’s more than rare – it’s one of a kind,” she said of working with iconoclastic director. “Then, I had another layer, going back to it 25 years later, after all the experiences I’d had since then, being able to appreciate how special of a set David creates, how collaborative he is with everyone.”

Amick indeed reunited with Lynch in 2017 for the show’s long-awaited return. It featured the original cast, including Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, as well as new faces to the series, such as Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, and Amanda Seyfried – who played Shelly’s troubled daughter.

Although originally reluctant about the idea of a Twin Peaks reboot, Amick did not hesitate to work with Lynch once again. The chance to return to the set proved to be an emotional trip as well.

“It definitely felt familiar for me because I was back in the diner in my waitress uniform,” she explains. “I was an emotional wreck the entire time. When I went to wardrobe for my fitting, I looked down and saw the initials they put into my uniform originally were still there. I was just bawling.”

 

Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson in ‘Twin Peaks’

 

Amick has discovered an intersection of her following that loved Twin Peaks and has also become fans of Riverdale, as well as vice versa for younger fans just discovering Lynch’s opus. Given the similarly dark stylized aesthetic of the CW series, the overlap isn’t all that surprising. Even the creators of Riverdale acknowledge the homage.

“It’s funny, I didn’t see or know the comparison at all until we filmed it and the critics started talking about it. And that’s when Roberto and [Executive Producer] Sarah Schechter admitted they were huge Twin Peaks fans, and they were paying homage. They didn’t tell me the entire time we were shooting the pilot.”

Three seasons in, Alice has evolved more than most characters on the show. Since finding out the truth about a son she once abandoned and the shocking discovery that her husband is a serial killer, her character has coped by joining what seems to be a cult. As the season continues to unfold and the cult’s charming leader (portrayed by Chad Michael Murray) is introduced, we’re still hooked on Amick’s masterful performance of such a complex character.

“The first season was fun to play as just an overbearing mother,” she smirks, “screaming at people, hitting people. And in the second season, we see all of her baggage behind the perfect red door and the skeletons in her closet from her past – and what emotional wreck she was, how heartfelt and passionate she was about her family and her children. It’s a nice journey to play.”

Amick’s personal experience with motherhood has been a completely separate journey. She and her husband chose to raise their now adult children away from the glare of Hollywood. Since then, their family has returned to LA, and she’s begun to include them in her career.

 

 

Still challenging herself, she made her directorial debut in 2016 with her daughter Mina Tobias’ music video for “Kings & Queens.” Most recently, they collaborated for the Destiny’s Child inspired video for “Another One (featuring Gabi DeMartino and Kai Lucas).”

She’s also producing a docuseries about mental health in America. An extremely personal project, it was inspired by her son Sylvester’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder, and the family’s struggle to find resources.

“I’ve been a reluctant celebrity my entire career,” she admits. “I never really wanted to be famous, and I always felt a little weird – though I knew it came with the job. But when we went through what we went through as a family, and knowing how hard it was to get our son help, I just immediately wanted to reach out to everyone else going through this to help them navigate. There’s no path, there’s no communication, it doesn’t even feel like there are resources. It just gave me a meaning behind my celebrity.”

 

Mädchen Amick at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood (Photo by Glenn Garner)

BlackBook Interview: Emily King On Leaving NYC, Sounding Like Queen, and Getting Tweeted by Prince

 

A girl from a humble bohemian upbringing on New York’s Lower East Side, Emily King had a major record deal at 19, and that same year (2004), guested on Nas’ album Street Disciple. By 2007 she had released her debut album East Side Story, nabbed a Grammy nomination for that same album, toured with John Legend, and opened for Alicia Keys.

She went sort of “underground” for awhile, not releasing her follow up full-length (The Switch) until 2015. But grabbed up by ATO in 2017, she escaped from Gotham to a quiet corner of the Catskills in Upstate New York, to summon new inspiration for her latest, which was released earlier this month. And indeed Scenery is a decidedly more personal, introspective affair – though it’s also her most adventurous effort to date.

The album opens majestically, with the lush gospel funk of “Remind Me,” betraying a remarkable musical maturity. No surprise, it deals with new beginnings: “Been asleep inside this dream / I’m trying to wake up / Waiting for something to come and rescue me / Give me a reason, yes.” Elsewhere, she sets an ’80s sounding R&B track to a calypso rhythm on “Can’t Hold Me”; and lays Brian May style guitars (!) over retro soul on “Look at Me Now.” But the most striking track is the stunningly confessional “Running,” for which she gives a chill inducing vocal performance, courageously professing, “I can stop running from all the things that I have done / And I can stop running from whatever I’ve become.”

Her voice has never sounded so confident, so attuned to emotional honesty.

We caught up with her as she prepped for a string of 18 tour dates throughout Europe and North America, kicking off at London’s Bush Hall on February 26, and ultimately ending up on a stage at Coachella.

 

‘Paste’ Magazine Session, February 5, 2019

 

You recently left New York City for Upstate – were there specific things about NYC that had ultimately disillusioned you?

I grew up in New York and stayed most of my life. When you live in the city, you almost feel like you never have to leave – or should [have to], because the whole world travels to you. So it can kind of keep you there if you let it. Plus there’s major FOMO whenever you try to leave. Especially if you have cheap rent.

Have you found a renewed creative inspiration in your new home?

Windows with big, bright light coming through them! It’s been such a peaceful experience to stare out at nature and instantly leave my own thoughts and join whatever outside is up to.

Your music is a little hard to pin down – what have been and are currently some of your top musical influences?

I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and R&B; when I was ten my uncle gave me a cassette of Nirvana’s Nevermind, and that kind of blew me away. I’ve always been drawn to catchy, melodic songwriting from all genres. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Slow Dancer, Michael Kiwanuka, Rick James, Shania Twain, Cochemea, Fleet Foxes.

“Look at Me Now” sounds like Marvin Gaye and Queen at once. How did you actually get that guitar sound?

Whoa cool, thank you. That’s J Most, my producer. He started playing that guitar line and it just lent itself to the Brian May type guitar harmonies. It was so fun hearing him record it, he’s such a great player. I believe we tracked that at Like!Minds Studio.

 

 

The lyrics are seemingly about running into an ex lover – did that really happen?

Ha, well…not necessarily. I think the lyrics were heavily influenced by social media. Instagram mainly. We all post that cute photo of us that we want somebody else to see, probably just one person in particular. It’s the highlight reel! Look how great I’m doing! Even if the truth may be slightly different.

“Remind Me” has the feel of ’80s R&B – but is also kind of gospel-ish. Is that indicating a forward direction for you?

I love gospel music and gospel singing, I think it’s the essence of true joy, love, sorrow, feeling. Straight from the heart, no filter. I guess I aspire to write music like that. I hope to write more songs with big, belting vocals that just soar freely.

Prince was a fan of yours – did you get to meet him?

I never got to meet Prince. He tweeted my songs a few years back. The first time he did, he deleted the tweet shortly after posting it…just as I was about to show all of my friends! Haha. The second time I took a screen shot so that I’d have proof. He invited us to play at Paisley Park, but passed away a few months before we were scheduled to go. He remains a mystical figure to me. Rest In Peace.

 

Santorini Chic: Vora Villas Is Greece’s Poshest New Island Hideaway

 

Surely among the most beautiful places on Earth, Santorini’s soaring cliffs, sweeping ocean views, and charming whitewashed villages are the antithesis of those gritty Athens streets. But while her breathtaking beauty is unquestionable, she’s become increasingly thronged with international tourists in search of those perfect Instagram opportunities. But we still believe the Aegean gem to be one of Greece’s “must” destinations – especially if you can find an out-of-the way spot from which to indulge her charms.

And just such a place is the newly built Vora (the newest member of Design Hotels), which offers three private luxury villas that have been artfully hand-carved into the caves and cliffs, and suspended dramatically above the sea. Secreted away in the quiet residential community of Imerovigli, the location is a hideaway for those who crave tranquility, but also want quick access to the buzzing cafés, tavernas, and shopping opportunities in Santorini’s capital, Fira – only five sunny minutes away.

 

 

Designed by one of the hottest Greek design firms of the moment, Athens-based K-studio, the villas were inspired by classic Cycladic architecture: think gentle arches, whitewashed cement exteriors, elegant lines, and strategically placed staircases. In a nod to Santorini’s history, volcanic rock dapples the exterior and is extensively used in the interior of the villas. A mix of custom-made furniture by local craftspeople and K-studio designers, give each space its unique aesthetic and character. All three boast a private terrace and infinity plunge pool, set against breath-stopping views of the Aegean Sea.

They’re also more reasonably priced than one might expect: rates start at approximately $700 per night and include breakfast, Wi-Fi, and other amenities. As per the norm with European villa rentals in these times, Vora will also coordinate private chefs, drivers, winery tours and exclusive local experiences.

 

 

Where to Go in 2019: Tallinn and Graz

Above: Tallinn Old Town

 

We were plenty busy in 2018, museum-hopping in Paris, flirting in Rome and clubbing in the Berlin Kreuzberg underground. But cultivated Europhiles that we are, we’re always feeling the call of some of our less-trodden, yet still favorite cities on the Continent.

Nothing beckons us to Europa quite like the turning of winter, with its exhilaratingly crisp evenings, stylishly scarfed locals, and those transcendently evocative fragrances that fill the air of each city (the latter a particular treat for those forced to breath the noxious fumes of New York and LA every day).

On our list of fave under-the-radar European cities, we last visited Antwerp and Maastricht. Next we head further east, to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and to Austria’s second city Graz.

 

Tallinn

 

Clockwise from top left: Hotel St. Petersbourg; Tallinn streets; Kaerajaan restaurant; Kumu Museum

 

There was a moment around say 2005 – 2007, when Tallinn, bolstered by the success of companies like Skype, became sort of the new Prague: a former Soviet satellite which was now drawing young dreamers from the US and Britain. Only this time they were tech geeks rather than boho literary aspirants.

Now, we would probably love the Estonian capital if only for the fact that it’s home to the Depeche Mode Baar (quick, guess the theme). But its Old Town is as strikingly beautiful and symmetrical as any in Europe – and just strolling the streets is reward enough in itself. There’s also a bright, gleaming modern city (the City Centre) right outside the medieval walls.

On the culture tip, the Kumu Museum is one of the largest in Northern Europe, showcasing two centuries of Estonian art (with an impressive collection of Socialist Realism), as well as special exhibitions of top international contemporary artists. Cold War enthusiasts should check out the KGB Museum, actually located inside the Hotel Viru.

Tallinn is also a notable epicurean city, with chefs drawing on the considerable bounty of the Estonian countryside (their local black bread is to die for). Art Priori is the avant-garde choice, focusing on creatively realized (mostly) vegetarian dishes in a stunning, art adorned space; MEKK specializes in inventive seafood plates, and its sophisticated bar is a bit of a scene; for something a bit more…Middle Ages, Olde Hansa cooks up wild boar, elk and venison, in an interior that could only be described as 13th-Century chic.

Stay in Tallinn: Both the Telegraaf Hotel and the Hotel St. Petersbourg combine classical elegance with cool postmodern design, and each has a notable restaurant (Tchaikovsky and Tabula Rasa, respectively.) The chic Three Sisters hotel has strikingly theatrical rooms – one even has its own grand piano.

 

Graz

 

Clockwise from top left: Island in the Mur; Graz City Hall; Hotel Wiesler; Kunsthaus Graz

 

After losing its Empire in the wake of WWI, Austria pretty much keeps to itself now, content to have traded influence on the world political stage for more, shall we say, sybaritic concerns. Yet the fact that right wing demagogues have been angling for power there does genuinely matter within the scope of the wider EU situation.

The country’s “second city,” Graz, is actually one of its bastions of left-wing ideology, home to more than 30,000 university students, out of a total population of 270,000. A UNESCO City of Design, its rather imperial looking city center, with its elegant baroque edifices, is complemented by some of Europe’s most radical works of contemporary architecture.

Indeed, the Island in the Mur is literally a steel island in the middle of the river of the same name that splits the city, with a designy cafe and amphitheater; the Chapel of Rest is a stunning minimalist cathedral by Hofrichter-Ritter Architects; and the Dom im Berg is a spectacular performance space carved literally into rock. The Kunsthaus Graz contemporary art museum (by British architects Colin Fournier and Peter Cook) is the city’s showpiece, and looks like a giant blue heart and valves.

Not much of a foodie destination, Graz is more of a cafe town – and you’ll find dozens of boho spots as you stroll the streets, many packed with students. Mitte is one of the artier ones, while Aiola Upstairs has a chic crowd and awe-inspiring views. Design junkies should hit the Kunsthaus museum’s namesake cafe. For nightlife, there’s great bar-hopping around the area nicknamed the Bermuda Triangle.

Stay in Graz: The Augarten Hotel (a member of Design Hotels) has stylish, loft-style rooms, and a pool that doubles as an art gallery. The Hotel Wiesler‘s Philippe Starck designed restaurant hosts a “soul brunch” every Sunday, while the rooms have a cool-minimalism and river views. And Hotel Daniel has affordable rooms, a lobby espresso bar and Vespas available for guests.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Peter, Bjorn & John on Melancholy, Climate Change and What They Love Most About Stockholm

Photo by Johan Bergmark

 

Despite their significant international success and recognition, Peter, Bjorn & John have always been dedicated supporters of the music scene back in Sweden, where they run the artist collective and label INGRID (even David Lynch and Lykke Li have been collaborators). And since their 2016 album Breakin’ Point, they’ve also been signed to that very same label.

The second such release under that arrangement is Darker Days, which is out this month. It’s a bit of a departure for them, especially in terms of the overarching mood. To wit, “Gut Feeling,” feels like somber, mid-’80s Cure; while “Velvet Sky” is chilling, melancholy noir, with lyrics to match (“There’s a sign saying ‘Don’t fear the reaper'”). But while the solemn “Heaven and Hell” sends a decided chill up the already tingling spine, “Wrapped Around the Axle” – with its more upbeat Sergeant Pepper psychedelia – at least attempts something a bit more sanguine, less bleak…to striking effect.

Proving their unending cleverness, they also released a special 3-in-1 video, which sort of pits each member against one another for attention. Spoiler alert: no one really wins. As well, they’ll launch a short, 9-date North American tour on November 19, taking them from Allston, MA to San Francisco on December 9.

We caught up for a quick chat with PB&J, and also asked them to tell us what they love most about their home city of Stockholm.

 

 

 

What was the reasoning behind releasing the 3-in-1 video for all three singles?

John: The total “band-consensus” method we used on our previous album nearly killed us. So, this time we split up the band in three parts. In every part of the process. We wrote, sang and produced our own songs separately. We even choose to wear our own clothes in the press-photos this time. And, the 3-in-1 video was a natural extension of this process.

So it ties in conceptually with the album itself?

John: With PB&J you always get three for the price of one; but this time it’s personal…

What were you influenced by when recording the new album?

John: Swedish winter darkness, American political darkness and private mid-life darkness. I’m selling this album pretty badly, aren’t I?
Peter: There is no shortage of darkness to inspire in the present day. The idea behind the title was indeed mainly the Swedish winters, originally. But Trump, Brexit, old Swedish Nazis forming the third biggest party here at home, and above all climate change and the possibility that we are actually getting near the end of the world thanks to our western capitalist lifestyle isn’t exactly cheerful stuff. And it’s stuff you constantly think about; so it’s hard to keep out of songs.

It does seem the title is telling in regards to the content.

John: Yes, you can expect Swedish melancholy, Stockholm break-up mysteries and some Ingmar Bergman indie rock. There are hints of light in between all the gloom. I think it might be one of our strongest albums so far.
Peter: The lyrical content takes in ten shades of different darkness, from politics to personal. And actually one very positive hopeful song as a counterbalance. Composed, laid back, desperate and anxious indie-pop. It’s all a mess, but a good one.

What inspires you most about Stockholm?

Peter: It’s so varied. You can take a one day holiday to a part of it you haven’t been to in a while and get a completely different vibe just by looking around you. We’ve got water, nature, archipelagos, green lush suburbs and parks. And it’s got everything that a common big city offers, too: great food, exhibitions, theater, arts, lovely architecture and historical places…and lots of concerts to see.

And the music scene?

Peter: It’s wide and varied; and if we’re talking music, I get inspired by seeing musicians in different fields perform live. But also love to just talk to them and discuss and learn and jump between genres and personalities.

 

 

Peter, Bjorn & John’s Stockholm Favorites

Peter

One of the best things and maybe the most unique thing about Stockholm is the nature.That its so green and that water is everywhere. That you don’t have to go far out of the city centre to experience wildlife. To me that’s the biggest sell. As a country boy, I get the best of both worlds.
In the suburb where I live, there’s even a huge nature reservation area, perfect for strolls and running; and I’m fifteen minutes from the centre.
If you have time, take a boat out to an island in the archipelago. Or at least take a walk round one of the half-islands, like the lush Djurgården. Lots to see and do there, too.
One area where I spend lots of time is the phonily called SOFO. (South of Folkungatan, sort of like a business idea from the boutiques in the area I think –  but it is a convenient name to throw around). Some of my favorite bars, restaurants and cafes are here – like the pub Harvest Home and the Waffleplace Älskade traditioner; and there’s also the lovely Nytorget square and Vita Bergen (“the white mountains”), as well as some great record shops in An Ideal for Living and Pet Sounds. So I would definitely spend an hour or two strolling round this area.

 

SoFo

Bjorn

If anyone is into sports, I recommend going to a game with Djurgården’s ice hockey team. Their home crowd is nothing but unbelievable. The best and coolest team of course is Skellefteå AIK…but they’re located in Skellefteå.
If anyone wants to come say hi to us in the band, your best bet is probably a café called Kaffebar – it’s connected to the INGRID Studios where we hang out a lot. It also has artwork from our Gimme Some album hanging on the walls.

 

Kaffebar

 

John

We are proud of our Swedish public libraries. Some are bigger than others, though, and the Stadsbiblioteket at Odenplan in Stockholm is big and worth a visit. Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund drew this simple but fantastic cylinder-formed library in the 1920s. The outside doesn’t look that impressive, but the inside is kind of magic. When you walk in there you feel like this: “So many books, so little time…”
Siv och Åke is a superb vintage store, conveniently located between the INGRID Studios and the INGRID label office near Mariatorget. Over half my wardrobe is filled with items from here. Not sure if that could be considered to be the best selling point….but…..anyway….nice place and a fantastic staff.

 

Stadsbiblioteket

BlackBook Interview: Leon Bridges on Style, Red Rocks + Playing Gil Scott-Heron Beside Ryan Gosling

 

Leon Bridges has a way of making it all feel so easy – as the soft-spoken Texas singer has managed to go from unknown dishwasher to twice Grammy-nominated fashion plate in less than a few years.

Fresh from LA to launch the limited-edition AHLEM sunglasses inspired by his sophomore album, Good Thing, he quietly glides between interviews, photo shoots, stage set-up and soundcheck as if he’s just sitting down to dinner. Today, the place is Missoula, Montana, and Bridges has managed to sell a packed stop on his tour, even here. He warmly smiles and stands against a wood-paneled trailer wall, casually talking about his role as Gil Scott-Heron in the new Ryan Gosling film, First Man. Directed by Damien Chazelle, it tells the story of the years leading up to and through man’s first walk on the moon.

 

 

Photo by Scott Hoeksema

 

The year is 1969. America is a country torn apart by extravagantly priced, questionable government agendas and deep social strife (sound familiar?). The Vietnam War rages on, set against deepening poverty, social inequality and of all things, the space race. From the perspective of the late, legendary musical poet Gil Scott-Heron, it was a blur of inspiration for his politically charged spoken-word performances, from drug addiction to a nuclear meltdown to the Detroit Riots.

Today, Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong, a man largely hailed as the hero who made history aboard the Apollo 11. And Bridges performs Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon,” during a protest, underscoring the unthinkable price that was paid for…a white man to walk on a planet far away from the issues that burned so deeply at home.

Bridges’ demeanor suggests that it is perfectly no big deal that his young career has culminated in an appearance in a film that is going to be, actually, a very big deal. And considering today’s political climate, Scott-Heron’s words ring truer than ever.

 

 

Wearing a vintage jacket he bought in London and black pants with a maroon side-stripe, Bridges leans back on the sofa and adds up how it all came together.

“I met Ryan while we were both on Saturday Night Live together,” he recalls, “but Damien had caught wind of me and felt I would be great for the part. I perform the piece during a protest scene; it was cool – they really let me just be myself. I didn’t even have to change my hair, which is in a freaking perm. I don’t even look like [Gil Scott Heron] – his hair was always in a fro.’”

And while he connects the dots in his nonchalant style, it’s even easier to forget how green Bridges is. He reflects back to the difficulties he had when his tour stopped at Colorado’s Red Rocks amphitheater. 

“I just have never performed in a venue that size,” he says. “I had to get a sense of what my show really was and how to fill it into a space that size.”

 

Photo by Scott Hoeksema

 

The 29-year-old is, of course, known as much for his trademark style as his music. Dapper, fresh, yet somehow effortless, his interest in fashion was born when he was still just a young child.

“Even as a kid, I was so into it. I just couldn’t afford to do exactly what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I studied dance in college. When we performed a Bob Fosse repertoire, African or even a jazz piece, we had to pick out outfits for dance. The costume shops were filled with vintage clothing, and that is where my love for vintage started. I would steal pieces from the costume shop and wear them.”

 

With Ahlem Manai-Platt at the AHLEM for Leon Bridges launch party, image courtesy of AHLEM Eyewear

 

Today, Bridges has broken into completely new ground in just one album’s time. Blazing past the sepia confines of hi ’60s, soul-inspired debut album Coming Home, his latest Good Thing is indeed a colorful, hi-fi affair and draws inspiration from influences as varied as ’70s southern country soul, to R&B, à la Jodeci. Each track is completely different from the next, yet each is still steadfastly rooted in Bridges’ personal style. The result of studio sessions he took to LA with producer Ricky Reed, he calls Good Thing a collaborative affair and shyly nods in agreement that it’s a glimpse into his true musical wingspan.

“I just knew that if I was to make another project similar to the first one that I’d be stuck forever,” he says. “I’ve been able to grab more of the attention of the black community with this album, which I really wasn’t able to do before.”

Looking a bit like David Byrne crossed with James Brown gyrating through his setlist, whatever box Leon Bridges may have been in, he’s popped right out of it. Comparisons to anybody, much less Sam Cooke, be damned. And he makes it all look and sound like the easiest breath of fresh air.

“I just like to live within the rhythm,” he adds. Just like that.

 

The Coolest European Cities You Don’t Know: Antwerp & Maastricht

 

We’ve been plenty busy in 2018, gallery-hopping in London, glacier-gazing in Iceland and eating our way across Croatia. But cultivated Europhiles that we are, we’re always feeling the call of some of our less-trodden, yet still favorite cities on the Continent.

Nothing beckons us to Europa quite like the turning of autumn, with its exhilaratingly crisp evenings, stylishly scarfed locals, and those transcendently evocative fragrances that fill the air of each city – the latter a particular treat for those forced to breath the noxious fumes of New York and LA every day.

When fall arrives, we can often be found beating a path to fashionable Antwerp (Belgium) and sophisticated Maastricht (The Netherlands). Take note, if you’ve yet to fall for the charms of the Benelux, a couple of days in each city will cure you of that straight away.

 

Antwerp

Clockwise from top left, The Jane Restaurant; Antwerp architecture; Hotel Julien; MoMu

 

If fashion has held a central place in your life and you haven’t yet been to Antwerp, you should readily acknowledge a slight tinge of embarrassment. From the Antwerp Six on to today’s new guard of Belgian design, the exalted Royal Academy of Fine Arts continues to turn out some of the most astonishing talent, whose creations can be found in the vanguard boutiques in and around Nationalestraat – where you’ll also stumble upon the hallowed flagships of the likes of Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester. Nearby, as well, is the MoMu, the city’s incomparable fashion museum, which, though currently closed for renovations, is still hosting MoMu Fashion Walks the first Saturday of each month. (Between boutiques, stop in for a de rigueur lunch at Verso Cafe, within the concept shop of the same name.)

Antwerp is also a place of staggering physical beauty, with its gothic-looking Flemish Renaissance cityscape and majestic harbor. The latter is now home to industrial-chic restaurants like Het Pomphuis (in a grandiose former pump house) and the sleek, Michelin-starred ‘t Zilte, on the top floor of the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom).

And speaking of vanguard, the thought-provoking M HKA museum, and independent galleries such as Valerie Traan, Stella Lohaus and Annie Gentils are central to Antwerp’s thriving contemporary art scene. If it’s architecture that sets you atingle, plan a leisurely stroll along the Cogels-Osylei, a street in the Zurenborg district where art nouveau, neo-Renaissance, neo-gothic and Tudor-revival styles (amongst others) all come together in a strange but elegant sort of harmony.

Antwerp nightlife, it must be said, is totally bonkers. Start with a glamorous dinner at The Jane, fitted into a stunning 19th Century former chapel; the 13-course prix-fixe menu is €140, but the upstairs bar has much more agreeable prices, and seats you closer to God. Continue on to the extravagant scenes at over-the-top dance clubs like Red & Blue, Publik and Cafe D’Anvers. Expect a significant degree of mind-altering.

Stay

Hotel Julien is a smart, mostly-minimalist guesthouse with an intimate subterranean spa; Hotel Banks is a stylish sleep amidst the best fashion shopping; De Witte Lelie is the joining of three 17th Century townhouses into a place of utterly ethereal beauty (and favored by notable fashion designers).

 

Maastricht

Clockwise from top left, Kruisherenhotel; River Meuse; Stijl boutique; Maastricht streets

 

Famous as the place where in 1992 the modern European Union and the euro were born (the anti-Brexit, if you will), Maastricht is actually a seductive mix of international college town and exquisitely cosmopolitan city. And seriously, nearly everyone seems to have a bloody great sense of style here. With its right and left banks straddling the majestic Meuse River, the ethereal setting might easily have you thinking it can’t possibly all be real – but it most definitely is.

Wedged almost covertly between Belgium and Germany (Cologne is just 70 km away), history and modernity play very well together in this comely Southern Dutch town. Roman cathedrals bookend narrow 17th Century streets, which are abuzz with urbane cafes, indie fashion boutiques and intimate contemporary art galleries. And to be sure, one of the vigorously recommended activities is just…walking around.

Remarkably, for a relatively small city, Maastricht packs in rather a lot of Michelin stars. Tout a Fait, Beluga loves you, Toine Hermsen, Au Coin des Bons Enfants and the glorious Chateau Neercanne, just outside the center, all boast at least one – and chefs can be wildly experimental. But there are also more bars per capita than even Amsterdam – so a jenever (gin) soaked night on the tiles requires little planning. Still, make sure to hit The Lab for more perception-altering cocktails, and Complex for bleeding-edge dance music.

Culture vultures should make time for the architecture and design gallery Bureau Europa, as well as the Bonnefantenmuseum, with its fascinating mix of Italian and Flemish Renaissance and baroque works, and brilliantly curated – Richard Serra, Sol Lewitt, Neo Rauch, Gilbert & George – contemporary collection.

Stay

The Kruisherenhotel (a member of Design Hotels) might literally be the most spectacular hotel in the known universe, fitted as it is into an awe-inspiring, 15th Century former monastery and cathedral; the Beaumont, right on the buzzy Stationsstraat, has minimalist rooms and the chic Harry’s restaurant; Hotel Dis is an artistic 7-room guesthouse with its own contemporary gallery.