What DJ Lily Vanilli Is Doing This Thursday

I have the pleasure of working with DJ Lily Vanilli on Thursdays at Hotel Chantelle. I spin for the dinner crowd on the enclosed roof before I go downstairs to rock the rockers. Lily spells me up there. I never know what she is going to spin but it always seems to be perfect. I spend a lot of time asking "why didn’t I think of that?" when she spins. I don’t worry too much because I learn as I go, and Lily Vanilli is the best kind of teacher. With CMJ looming, she is producing an event this Thursday that will shock and awe. I’m being bumped to 12:30pm to make way for Luc Carl who will surely wow them. I’ll oreo Sam Valentine, who’s going from 1:30am till 2:30am. You can keep up with all her events by following her on Twitter.

I asked Lily to tell me all about the event and her DJ philosophy.

Tell me about what’s happening this Thursday.
I’m turning Hotel Chantelle into a place of worship – our religion: live music. On two floors, all night long.  A total of 10 acts hailing from as close to home as Brooklyn, New York and as far away as Oslo, Norway will be performing, including rockin’ bands, soulful singers, beatmakers, hip hop emcees, and two very talented DJs: Mike Swing from Austin, Texas and Manuvers from Miami, Florida.  It’s going to be a glorious night for music. All the details are on the flyer, and here. Show starts at 7pm, and there is complimentary Balls Vodka from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, so get there early!

How did this come together?
It all came together in about four days. A band I love asked me if I knew of a place where they could play after they were finished with their official CMJ showcase, and Hotel Chantelle was my first thought.  My second thought:  why not more bands?

You’re one of the resident DJs at Hotel Chantelle. How did you become a DJ?
I have always had an ever-growing knowledge and curiosity of music, and I think that’s the foundation.  But honestly, I’ve always been a party girl in the most positive sense, and I think that’s how I really learned how to get a party poppin’. Before nightlife was my office, it was my playground, but I didn’t realize until later that it would also be my classroom, an education. Dancing all night with my girls, the adrenaline that pumps through you when you catch the first few bars of your favorite song on a sweaty, crowded, and lively dancefloor – that was where I learned about what makes an amazing night out. And the DJs were my professors. My closest friends were, and still are, some of the most talented DJs in the world.  

Several years ago, a friend invited me to a mixtape exchange event where DJs and producers swapped music and mixes, etc. I planned to go just to pass out my friend DJ Sober’s CDs.  Just for fun, I also put a mix together that morning and uploaded it to the Internet.The tracklist was a marriage of various tracks rotating on my iPod:  Eric B & Rakim, a Beatnick & K-Salaam remix, Mark Ronson, Fitz & The Tantrums, a David Rubato remix, The Private, MC Hammer and a nod to my Texas roots, Mista Madd, Big Moe, Slim Thug.  I went person-to-person at the event with my Blackberry emailing the link to everyone. The next day, my inbox was full of feedback, and the general consensus was “You should do this, you just need to learn how to spin.”  So, I learned. I was blessed because some of the most revered DJs in the game became my mentors. They taught me to respect the craft.  And never stop digging – in every sense of the word.

How did you get the name Lily Vanilli?
I started off going by Lilypad.  Just a childhood nickname, nothing special.  Lily Vanilli was born from a joke about those vinyl control records with the Louis Vuitton monograms imprinted on them (No, I’ve never owned them). The name stuck with me. People’s reactions when they ask me my DJ name is priceless.  It’s always a big smile.

As a female, do you think it’s harder to get gigs and respect?
Not if you don’t suck.

Where do you currently spin?
Thursday nights on the roof of Hotel Chantelle.  Best damn Thursday party in NYC; all three floors are alive. Every week since January, and still going strong. I’ve held residences all over the LES, including a stint last year at DJ Soul’s famed Big Fun party.  A new party is always in the works so stay tuned.  My events calendar on my website is helpful.

What is your game plan going into each gig?
The game plan: have fun. When you’re bored, so is everyone else. I make it a point to always try something new and grow my overall sound. Especially in the LES, people have discriminating taste. Cookie-cutter is not respected here.

Where do you see music played in clubs heading?
To all new astronomical heights, with intergalactic speed. There are kids producing hot tracks in basements all over the country; some of my favorites are right around the corner in Brooklyn. Their creative output is unparalleled, and pretty soon a lot of traditional producers are going to have a hard time keeping up. In my opinion, they are the future of music. The formats for DJing that we’re used to will soon be obsolete. I can introduce you to some of them on Thursdays.

Aside from your parties, what other projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
I recently became involved with Nine West, and we’re collaborating on a few projects together as the brand moves toward more entertainment and music-integrated content. My events calendar has been so full this past year, but now I’m finally working on a new mix that should be released by the end of the year. In a couple weeks, I’m spinning at Terry Urban’s renowned monthly, I Got 5 On It, in Cleveland. Also, my DJ collective Nana Chill is in the development stages of a big event for SXSW in March.

I read that you opened for Wu Tang Clan at SXSW.  What was that like?
Last year, I did a series of shows with Marz Lovejoy, a hip-hop artist from Los Angeles, in support of her debut EP. We made it onto the bill for the Village Voice/Frank 151 SXSW showcase at Austin Music Hall, which has a capacity close to 5,000 people. And it was packed. Others on the ticket were Erykah Badu, Yelawolf, Trae the Truth. It was really exciting to be a part of that event, but also surreal to be standing in front of thousands of people, not being able to see their faces, but knowing that they’re all staring right at you. Marz and I had practiced a fantastic call-and-response tribute to The Pharcyde for her closing. She had thousands of people singin’ “Passin’ Me By.” DJ JayCeeOh (who I think was touring with Wiz Khalifa at the time) and I took turns doing sets in between acts. I got to spin before Wu Tang took the stage. I think I played Outkast.

Leader Of The Pack: SISU Emerges From Dum Dum Girls’ Shadows

You may have seen Sandra Vu around before, as one of Dum Dum Girls’ black-clad 60s devotees. Now, she’s stepped out from behind the drumkit to lead her own band, SISU. The quartet recently released its debut album Blood Tears, a collection of dark, slyly twisted dream-pop gems. Loaded with New Order-inspired basslines, sparkling electronic flourishes, and reverb used as punctuation instead of a mask, it may be one of 2013’s best-kept secrets.

After hitting the road with Dirty Beaches, SISU will be playing a series of shows at NYC’s CMJ Music Marathon. I caught up with Sandra to talk songwriting and coming out of her shell.
So you got pretty experimental on this record, yeah?
This record, it’s partially experimental, but when you get down to it, I consider it a pop record. But since my singing isn’t very conventional, I think it sounds a little bit offbeat.
You worked with a lot of different recording techniques.
Yeah, we did it all ourselves. In that way, it was kind of experimental, because I don’t technically know if everything I’m doing is correct, I’m just kind of winging it half the time. I have friends who record and things like that, my friend Lars Stalfors mixed the record, and he’s a pro. So it’s kind of half and half winging it and professional, I guess.
Was experimenting with different sounds part of what helped you develop your own voice with this?
Yeah, totally. I don’t really have much of a structure for writing or recording or anything, so some of these songs start out with a drumbeat on a table or something like that. I don’t sit down with an acoustic guitar and record structure. It is verse/chorus/verse in a lot of ways, it is almost completely [like that], but I like to take that pop structure and make it kind of weird sounding. When I wrote it, I didn’t even set out to write a record or put it together as a record, so I was really just writing it for myself and experimenting and learning how to use the laptop to record.
What did you learn from the writing process?
I learned that the more I think about it, the less productive I am. So really, in general, I embrace my naïveté in the whole thing, because it’s more freeing that way. Once I start to sit down and think, "Oh, I’m going to write a record, and these are the songs that are going to be on the record"–which is kind of what I’m going through now–it’s a little more challenging, because now I have a little more pressure to make something cohesive. But I didn’t really think of it on this record, I just wrote songs for myself and recorded them and put them together.
Obviously, you get something different from that then you did previously with Dum Dum Girls.
Yes, completely. With Dum Dum Girls, Dee Dee writes the songs and works with producers to do the records, so it’s more of a touring outfit when it comes to the rest of the bandmates. We don’t have any creative input, really, except in the live show.
Did striking out on your own seem daunting at first?
Yes, it did. I’ve probably been [drumming] the most out of all the instruments that I play, even professionally, so I was much more comfortable with it. I don’t get nervous at shows. Singing up front is completely different. I’m standing up, no one’s blocking me ever. It’s definitely daunting, but it’s fun.
What helps you get over that?
Doing it a lot. We played so many shows this year, it’ll be around 60 shows for me. It’s probably not a lot for a touring band, but for me and for my project, it’s insane. I can’t believe I’ve done that many shows on my own. But that really helps, doing it over and over again. Practice makes perfect.
What was your biggest challenge in making this record?
It’s kind of funny, it was probably more challenging after the completion of the record to get it out, because of my schedule with Dum Dum Girls. I was so busy. The typical lead for press time is like six months and it just was really difficult, because Dum Dum’s schedule was also up in the air a lot of the time as well. Other than that, creatively, it was recording myself singing. As I was recording it, I was just getting over playing my songs for other people. It was a new thing. I’m over it now, I obviously have put it out there, but it’s the same way that performing them live is a little bit scary. But I’m doing these little steps and getting more comfortable with it.

What song on the record are you the most proud of?
I think probably my favorite song is "Electronic." It’s probably the most experimental one too, I guess. And that’s probably a good example of no structure leading to a song, the structure of the song is just one keyboard sound that’s played throughout the whole thing. I’m pretty proud of that, I don’t even know where it came from, but it just happened. And I love the bassline. So that’s one that I love, I’m pretty proud of that.
Did you find yourself doing that a lot, just surprising yourself with what you could do?
Yes, yes. Honestly, when I had these demos just starting, I don’t know really if I would have pursued it on my own, but I was pushed by my bandmate, Ryan. He really encouraged me to pursue it, saying, "These songs are great, you should record them and just do something with it." We had played in a previous band together, we have this rhythm section bond. He’s like my older brother, too, we’re really close. So it did surprise me, I was like, "Really? These are good? I don’t know." I mean, I obviously believe in them now. As a drummer, you don’t really expect people to take you seriously as a songwriter, maybe.
Bringing your band together must have really inspired you as well.
I was really surprised, honestly. It sounds so insecure and humble or something, but going from just being a drummer and supporting other people writing songs, I guess I didn’t really see myself in that position as a leader, where other people  support me. So really initially, it was really brave. I was surprised, but I still sometimes don’t believe that these people are helping me do this. It’s really great, yeah.
So it was difficult for you to see yourself as a leader at first?
Yeah, definitely. I had to learn a lot in that regard, because it’s not all about writing the songs, it’s about corralling a group together and making it a positive experience for everyone where it’s fun. And especially because I have experience as a drummer, I’ve been on the other end where sometimes it’s not the greatest. I just try to make up for that.
As a fellow Asian-American, it’s great that you and Dirty Beaches are doing this tour. I love that.
I love it, too. Alex (Dirty Beaches) himself is really inspiring to me. Because honestly, maybe that was one of the hurdles. Not only was I a drummer starting to write songs, a lot of people do that, but I didn’t know if people would really embrace a leading Asian-American frontwoman.
That’s not Karen O.
That’s true, she is, I guess she’s half, or something, right? She’s a big one.
You do get fixated on representation.
Oh, for sure. It’s always been part of me growing up, and I think that really did feed into my insecurity, like "I don’t know, will people get behind this?" And even when it comes to press photos, I’m the one that’s like, "Oh, should we have the other band members in it, because maybe people will be less scared to like it if there’s white people in the picture?" It’s a really weird thing to think about. I grew up being obsessed over the racial makeup of the room I walked into, things like that. I mean, I try not to, I’m not racist or anything. But definitely, in a positive way, that’s why I look up to Dirty Beaches, it’s like, "Wow, he’s doing this, it’s so cool."
Honestly, though, I want to say that so much of it is in my head, because my experience of it has been nothing but positive. I don’t really get called out for being Asian or anything like that. That’s been nice, and it’s been refreshing that people are open to it. So I think we’re in good shape, people are just listening to the music.

Lessons Learned From CMJ Music Marathon

Ah, the CMJ Music Marathon. Ahead of the circus of buzzbands, open bars, and impractical swag that took over NYC last week, I made a list of goals for myself that included things like “no puking,” “no crying,” and “no professions of love or hate.” (I like planning on having dramatic public meltdowns so that I Murphy’s Law my way out of them actually happening.) I’m proud to announce that I did not do any of these things, despite the stress induced by three different good bands playing at the same time in far-flung locations and having only consumed caffeinated beverages all day (#musicbloggerproblems). In between hating Pianos and mourning the closure of Brooklyn DIY venue Delinquency, I saw everything from Philadelphia rockers Free Energy to British YouTube comedians the Midnight Beast.

Five days spent away from being hunched over my laptop and interacting with the music industry in real life meant putting a microscope on what it is, exactly, that I do. I finally met a band that I’ve written about after seeing them for the fifth time in three months, and one of them said that he was aware of me “as an internet presence.” Several days later, I still have absolutely no idea of what this means, but if I’m memorable on the internet, that theoretically means I have some distinct viability as a blogger, right? For both of our sakes, let’s hope so.

In meeting so many new people, there’s also the pressure to qualify what you like and why you like it. I’ve taken to boiling my taste down to “French dance music and internet rappers,” though obviously I listen to music that goes beyond that. I’m trying to pin down why I’m so excited about Team Spirit when I thought my garage rock phase ended years ago; they have a higher production value and stronger pop sensibilities than some of their peers, and nothing can replace genuine good energy. That being said, it was also a pleasure to catch Gallic electro-poppers like Yan Wagner, Owlle, and Housse de Racket.

Other highlights included Citizens!, Avan Lava, We Were Evergreen, Conveyor, and the amount of grievously unhealthy food that I justified consuming. Gold Fields must be a very special band, because I stayed conscious for their 2:30 a.m. set on the last night of the festival. As much fun as CMJ is, it’s also pretty exhausting, so I’m going to keep working on recovering.

Anyways, here’s to the pursuit of vibes. Maybe you’ll catch me vomiting on Ludlow Street next year.

Miscellaneous other notes:

– Why did so many people ask me if I saw Skaters? (I wasn’t able to, though they were one of my picks for the week.)
– I also did not see Foxygen, one of the more hotly tipped acts of the festival. Based on their name, I’m going to keep assuming that they’re sort of glam rock and wear a lot of neon.
– Seeing Le1f at The Westway while it was packed with drunk bros was the second most uncomfortable I have ever been at a rap show.
– If someone figures out how I can join Icona Pop if I’m not Swedish and can’t sing, please let me know.
– Spotted so many dudes with great eyebrows. Keep up the good work, boys!


Follow Katie Chow on Twitter and Tumblr.

Around The World and Back Again: Taiwanese Pop Comes To CMJ

No one came to see Chemical Monkeys. Not that that there wasn’t anyone in the audience during the set of the Taiwanese trio, who sound like an earnest early ’00s pop rock act—picture, for example, a particularly turgid Linkin Park song sung in Mandarin—but that as their time on stage wore on, it became clear that no one was here specifically to see them. Friends chatted, drinks were ordered, and the small, glowing tubes and tiny pitchforks which everyone in the audience but me seemed to have been informed to buy via secret message—the garbage can just outside the venue was full of their bulbous cardboard and plastic packaging—stayed listlessly by everyone’s side.

No wonder their songs were so dour. There they were, one of three bands handpicked by their own government, flown around the world to New York City, to play a packed concert to a crowd of largely their own countrymen, people who should already be well aware of who they were, and they’re greeted with indifference. The other two groups were more fortunate. 831, five fresh-faced young men with boy-in-the-cubicle-next-door good looks whom it’s tempting to call a boy band, but who were described as an “Alternative Rock band” by the pink, teardrop-shaped fans handed out by perky volunteers standing near the venue’s entrance. The fans, a marvel of full-color printing, featured pictures and descriptions of each band (apparently, I’d missed that Chemical Monkeys’ songs “center[ed] on themes of Love, Peach, Strength & Friendship”). Finally, there was Da Mouth, whose name is something of a semi-intentional trans-language pun, “da” also meaning “big” in Mandarin (“Big Mouth,” “Da Mouth”—both good). These bands, and hundreds of their fans, packed into Union Square Ballroom toward the beginning of CMJ. It was one of the week’s stranger events.

First off, there was the venue. Despite spending nearly a decade attending shows in New York, I’d never been to or heard of it before. Its low ceilings and blue lights seemed more suited to a wedding reception than a pop spectacle. This turned out to be the case: the sound cut out several times while bands were on stage, and the sound mix was often wildly off, the instruments far too loud and the vocals far too soft.

Then there was the broader context. Why had these bands traveled the nearly 8,000 miles from Taiwan to New York? To conquer America? Ever since Korean artist Psy horsey-danced his way to having one of the world’s most-watched YouTube videos, America has been having something of an Asian pop moment. So, in a way, there could not be a better moment for pop groups from another small democratic, capitalist Asian nation to attempt to break into America. While the room may have been full (with a line to get in stretching around the block), it was full of Taiwanese and Chinese ex-pats, excitedly murmuring in Mandarin. The people who organized the show must have been expecting this, as they had raffles and quizzes in between acts entirely in Mandarin, making the entire evening basically impossible to access for anyone who didn’t speak the language. It was more than a little bewildering—why fly halfway around the world to play for your home crowd?

Perhaps, at least in part, to hold firm the wall that keeps K-Pop acts away from Mandarin-speaking audiences. Taiwanese music is largely sung in Mandarin, the officially encouraged language throughout much of Southeast Asia. Mandarin music (or “Mandopop”) is made, marketed, and wildly popular all over Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and, since the late 1980s, Mainland China. And K-Pop is gunning for its devotees.

Mandopop has more than a few advantages. Its bands don’t have to deal with the rigid strictures of dance, appearance, and general clean living imposed by K-Pop’s overlords, dubbed “cultural technology.” For all their playfulness, many K-Pop bands can often seem painfully stifled. Taiwanese acts, on the other hand, seem to be having a good time—flipping their hair, breakdancing, jumping around. A recent video from 831, for example, features dancers with their faces painted like Heath Ledger’s Joker, or wearing stormtrooper helmets. It’s not exactly Black Flag, but it’s pretty out there compared to the rows of identical girls and boys that make up most pop idol groups from Korea.

Da Mouth are also fun and fancy free in contrast with Korea’s bands of musical replicants. The group’s two-girls-one-guy lineup led the showcase’s organizers to call them “the Taiwanese Black Eyed Peas,” although their relentlessly thumping over-the-top dance sound, as in their song “Are You Afraid,” puts them more in line with modern Rihanna or Ke$ha, fellows in the extremely popular genre of “anonymous people shouting over dance beats.” They also know how to put on a show. They were dazzling to look at (one member wore his hair bleached a kind of straw yellow, styled straight up in the air, and held in place by a crown), and soldered on, unaffected, through some sound hiccups.

831 make some of my favorite videos, but they were more flummoxed by their sound problems. The band seemed disoriented for much of their time on stage, and kept saying they couldn’t hear themselves sing over their overly loud guitars. We in the audience couldn’t, either.

Judging from Seabrook’s description, K-Pop acts know how to put on a dazzling live show. This may be the only place they have Mandopop beat, as two of three bands were lackluster. Luckily, live performance might be the least important element of 21st Century multimedia pop stardom. Mandopop devotees have a little breathing room. Taiwan should feel free to stop flying its acts all over the globe, and just let them make some more fun videos.

Follow Chris Chafin on Twitter.

20 Bands I Might Have Seen At CMJ Music Marathon 2012 Based On Name Alone

I have a fun little tradition whenever CMJ rolls around: skipping CMJ entirely. Who needs to see that many up-and-comers striving to impress bloggers and record label reps? I even got an invitation to go interview a DJ as though that were some huge get for me and not a desperate appeal for any kind of press whatsoever. (You should hear how mad these people get when you tell them you’ll do a write-up for $20.) But all that aside, the thing about CMJ is it’s full of bands with eye-wateringly bad names. Which means the truly excellent ones stand out. Here are those actual groups and performers I perhaps could have brought myself to watch: 

Bertrand Burgalat

Chance The Rapper

Grape Soda

Harvey Eyeballs

Itchy Hearts

Osekre and The Lucky Bastards

Pissed Jeans


Radical Dads

Slug Guts

Speedy Oritz

The Disappointment

The Living Kills

The Orwells

The Toothaches

The Ugly Club

Vockah Redu

We Can’t Enjoy Ourselves

You Bred Raptors?

You Won’t

Anyway: better luck next time, bands with “Young,” “Bear,” “American,” “Ghost” or “Beach” in your name! You all sort of blurred together. 

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Live Band On the Prairie: A Q&A With Rah Rah

Get ready to cheer on Rah Rah, the folk-rockers from the prairies of Regina, Saskatchewan. On their new album The Poet’s Dead, out now digitally on Hidden Pony, it’s clear that they’re a band that knows what it’s doing, delivering tight performances with plenty of personality. It’s music that speaks to wide-open spaces, jubilantly delivered and unafraid of getting expansive. Opening track “Art & A Wife” evokes a rowdy country jam session, while “20s” gets introspective. There’s energy and character to spare.

Ahead of the Canadians’ trip to New York for CMJ, I talked to the very polite multi-instrumentalist Erin Passmore about her hometown, touring, and being a “Prairie Girl.”

You don’t hear of much coming out of Saskatchewan. How does emerging from a smaller scene impact how you approach things?

There’s good and bad to it. Coming out of Regina, I think we get a head start, there’s not a whole lot coming out of it. We have a pretty tightly knit music community, which is obviously a lot smaller than you’d have in a big city. Through that, we support each other. When we’re making our way outside of the province and such, we do our best to promote each other. So if we came out of Toronto, I think it would be more difficult, because there are so many musical people to make a name for yourself. It’s probably more challenging.

Who are some other local acts from your scene you’d like to recommend?
Jeanette Stewart, she’s got a pretty unique style. It’s a little bit grunge, a little bit singer-songwriter, but she can wail. There’s Julia and Her Piano out of Regina; she’s a pal of mine. She’s got an interesting style, and she’s incredible at piano. We’re kind of seeing this influx of harder bands, too. My sister-in-law is starting this sort of ’90s-inspired two-piece called The Spoils. It’s just really neat; there’s anything you could imagine. You just gotta look for it.

You’re all coming down to New York for CMJ. What are you most looking forward to?
Just being back in the city. We were at CMJ last year, and it was incredible. The city is obviously ridiculous and amazing, but CMJ itself felt like a sort of homecoming because all of our management is there. It just felt like a really nice sort of family party, but in an awesome bar with really cool New Yorkers. It’s kind of neat being from a small town and coming in to see the big city.

It’s about finding your place, even in a totally different environment?
Yeah, I think we’re pretty good at that now. We’ve been touring for so long, and I think we’re pretty good at finding a place for ourselves within our own little community. We’re basically like a family when we’re on the road, so it’s pretty easy to feel comfortable wherever you are. It’s a little bit of a nomadic life; you don’t really have your basic creature comforts. The van becomes your traveling home.

Your music has this sort of innately homey feel to it, too.
Yeah, I totally agree with that.

Do you think that comes with just being the sort of person who can bring that feeling out?
Over the past couple of years, we’ve just been experiencing what it’s like to go back and forth from home. I think through that we’ve really been able to analyze what that means for relationships and our hometown identity as we’re coming into these big cities. It helps you compare where we go and where we’re coming from. That inspires me in my songwriting, because you get this automatic outside perspective. Then you come home and it’s like, "Oh, right, things are completely different or completely the same here." Nothing’s changed.

How else would you describe Rah Rah?
I think we do have that sort of prairie identity, that’s at the forefront of my mind. In Marshall’s and Kristina’s songs, we all sort of touched on that prairie storytelling: talking about where you come from and where your family comes from and where you are now. My songs have a lot to do with the disconnect that comes when you’re away from home a lot and the good and the bad that comes with that. The good perspective that you get, and you almost feel like an outcast when you come home because either things are all too familiar, like nothing’s changed, or nothing’s familiar anymore and you don’t really have that sense of home. At least that’s what I’ve been exploring in my songwriting. I think that a lot of the songs on this record are about what happens when you travel, what happens when you devote yourself to something that seems a little insane and [being] willing to ride that out and just experience it in the present and not get too caught up in the what-ifs.

Can you talk a little more about the prairie identity?
Where we come from is not the smallest town, but in our own sort of community, around downtown Regina, pretty much everyone will know your business. It’s got that kind of small town aspect to it. From the prairie perspective, it’s less big city; it’s more finding peace in your surroundings. Which is interesting, because there’s not really any surroundings, it’s all just flat and you can see land forever. There are no huge buildings, there’s not a ton of people. The population is growing, but not on the same scale as a big city. As for the prairie identity, it’s this sort of relaxed way of being, I think. It’s a feeling like there are more important things than stressing yourself out as far as work or having to get someplace [goes].

What’s your favorite song that you’ve written?
I really like where "Prairie Girl" ended up. That song started out as a sad little folksy country song, and now it’s got these old school pop elements to it. That’s probably the most thematically important one for me, because it’s about coming from the prairies and trying to make it in the world. You want to keep that prairie identity, but you also see all the shitty things about it, small town ideals. Trying to grow out of that is a little bit difficult sometimes, unless you get out of the city. I really like where that song ended up, and I think it’s the most honest thing I’ve written in a while. I was a little bit afraid of that, because I didn’t want to offend anyone in my hometown, I don’t want to offend my parents or anyone who really cares for the province. Because I do, too, but it’s more about, how do you change with a community that doesn’t really change? How do you change within a community that’s evolving beyond what you want it to? It’s kind of weird.

Wow, you’re definitely reinforcing the polite Canadian thing here.
(Laughs) It’s purely by accident, I swear.

So that was a song where it was particularly exciting to watch it grow and change in the writing process?
Yes. It’s been really amazing for me to see how many people identify with it. It’s a little nerve-wracking putting something like that out there and explaining that you’re not 100 percent happy where you are. But seeing everyone that identifies with this—I don’t want to say anthem, but I know a couple of friends of mine totally agree—even people in Ontario, they were singing along to every word at this one festival that we played at. I was like, "That’s so cool! Thank you for understanding!" It’s really cool to see it grow like that.

What can people expect from a Rah Rah show?
We’re pretty energetic. We try to basically jump up and down and party onstage and really get the audience engaged. I think that’s one of the best things about our show; we love when people get into it and dance and we love interacting with them. We’ve got certain stage props; sometimes we have piñatas or balloons. We try to just amp it up a little bit, because we know that shows can get tedious. We try to go beyond that and make it really exciting.

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BlackBook Tracks #18: Ten Acts To Catch At CMJ 2012

It’s that time of year, when the music industry flocks to New York City for the CMJ Music Marathon. (It’s definitely not a sprint.) If you’re in town for the week, here’s a selection of acts to check out. Pace yourself.

Slam Donahue – “I Turn On”

A couple of Brooklyn everydudes put honest, relatable lyrics in weird pop contexts. It’ll make you feel better.

Avan Lava – “It’s Never Over”

These masters of futuristic funk put on an unforgettable show. Everything’s better with confetti cannons.

Le1f – “Yup”

Still going strong from the success of “Wut” this summer, the New York rapper has been continuing his upward trajectory on a tour with Das Racist and is set to play a number of high profile showcases this week, including MTV Hive’s and Pitchfork’s events. This song contains the line “The fabric of my life is a sexy fucking textile.”

Team Spirit – “Teenage Love” 

Team Spirit, led by former Passion Pit keyboardist-turned-garage rocker Ayad Al Adhamy, just signed to Vice Records–in blood. (They’re otherwise not particularly comparable to Joy Division, though.)

Skaters – “Fear Of The Knife” 

Skaters’ debut EP Schemers serves up some damn fine lo-fi rock. “Fear Of The Knife” suggests something bigger and brighter, a beach day song that still sounds good in the off season.

Osekre and the Lucky Bastards – “Why Are You Here?” 

With an energetic live show, the Afropop outfit has become a fixture on the Brooklyn scene. New single “Why Are You Here?” is catchy and immediately memorable.

We Were Evergreen – “Baby Blue” 

This London-via-Paris trio effortlessly charms with plenty of hooks and sweet harmonies. Indie pop doesn’t get much better than this.

Yan Wagner – “Forty Eight Hours”

This Parisian singer/producer punches up new wave influences to make sharp, resonant electro pop delivered with wit and wisdom.

Gold Fields – “Moves”

The rising Australian band makes driving electro-rock that’s set to take them far. The frenetic “Moves” showcases their sound.

Local Natives – “Sun Hands”

You loved this in 2010 and you still love it now, right? The LA indie rockers are back, and hopefully better than ever.

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CMJ Descends Upon NYC, Brings Along Bands With Silly Names

Ah, CMJ. It’s the colloquial term for the College Music Journal‘s annual music marathon, which is spread throughout Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn for a very long weekend in October. What does this mean? Well, there are a ton of extra young kids roaming around the city in tight black jeans and Chuck Taylors, for one, as every college radio enthusiast on the East Coast shells out a couple hundred bucks for a pass that will allow them to watch an up-and-coming band play a 30-minute set in the basement of a bar on Ludlow Street. But don’t forget all of the bands. THE BAAAANDS! What buzzworthy post-math rock / nu-punk-pop outfit will get discovered this week?!

This post will probably not help you find a new favorite music group, but if you’re the kind of person who judges bands solely by their names as one would pick a book according to its cover, you’re in luck! Here is a list of fifteen bands I am purposefully not seeing this weekend because their names sound like the lineup of a college improv festival.

Chateau Marmont 
Dad Rocks!
The Doppelgangaz
Hard Nips
Madison Square Gardeners
Mind the Gap
Moonmen on the Moon 
Man Shark?
Tropical Popsicle
The Twees
What Cheer? Brigade
Wheelchair Sports Camp
Whore Paint
You Say France & I Whistle

Congrats, the Twees, for making it two years in a row!

Exclusive: The 28 Best Bands of CMJ, Gallery & Interviews

Over three days during the musical marathon that is CMJ, photographer Jeff Fasano and reporter Matthew Shepatin lured 28 of the very best acts to private club Norwood for exclusive photo shoots and one-on-ones (“CMJ is a clusterfudge. Your sets are short, they’ re rushing you, the Man is giving you a hard time…But, seriously, it’s been exciting,” says Eric Schwortz of Milagres) before the bands were out the door and running to their next show, roadies in tow. What resulted is a whirlwind snapshot of the most exhilarating, exhaustive, and exhausting musical showcase of the year. Check out the best of CMJ after the jump.

Brahms (Pictured above- Brooklyn, New York) “The highlight of CMJ was the vegan Indian food cart outside the registration building. They’ve got this great crepe-like lentil pancake and don’t get me started about what goes on. When I grabbed that and some mango lassi after I picked up my badge, I knew it’d be a good week.”

image Cyndi Harvell (Bay Area, California) “I was walking up the street and I met some guy who asked me if I knew where to pick up CMJ badges. And then he said, ‘I’m in this band. It’s pop punk. We’re playing tomorrow.’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll check that out.’ Why not? Jump in and see what happens.” – Cyndi Harvell

image Dan Mangan (Vancouver, BC, Canada) “We played this amazing loft party for BrooklynVegan on Friday night and the vibe was incredible. Lots of wonderful people and great bands. Then on Saturday I told the audience that they had given me an erection. So. Sorry about that. How rude.” — Dan Mangan

image Deadbeat Darling (Brooklyn, New York) “In years past, I think we got caught up in trying to make something happen at CMJ. It’s the same with an event like SXSW. Everything is happening that week, everybody is shooting off fireworks. You’ve got to make a lot of noise to make any noise at all. So this year, we’re more relaxed. We’re going to play some great shows that just happen to be the week of CMJ.” – Joseph King of Deadbeat Darling

image Down With Webster (Toronto, ON, Canada) “As an artist there is something just a little extra special about performing in NY; it has been a dream of ours for such a long time, that we still can’t believe it’s happening.” – Pat Gillett of Down with Webster

image Eliza Blue (Twin Cities, Minnesota) “This is my first CMJ – and I lost my voice. So I’m experiencing it through a veil of silence. Standing in an elevator, hearing all these different accents, people from all over the world, it was neat. Maybe it will be my new thing, not talking.” – Eliza Blue

image Harper Blynn (New York City) “So far as the idea of ‘selling out’ because your song is on a TV show or in a commercial. These days there are so few access points for bands to make money that if you find one of them, congratulations to you. And anybody who thinks that’s selling out doesn’t make art for a living. Because if you did, you would understand that all you’re doing is trying to make a living so you can keep making art.” – Peter Harper of Harper Blynn

image Kaiser Cartel (Brooklyn, New York) “We had been a couple when we made our first album. We’re not in a relationship making this record. So we were on tour for a year and a half – breaking up. All the music we wrote is us dealing with that, and having to be together, stuck together in this little car, constantly in motion. We’d be bickering and then go on stage and the crowd has had no idea. People at the shows would be, like, ‘Man, you guys are going to do it tonight.’ And I’d be thinking, ‘Yeah, right.’” – Courtney Kaiser of Kaiser Cartel

image Lady Danville (Los Angeles, California) “We have three shows at CMJ – the Bowery, Rockwood Music Hall and the Panelist Show in this very room. I’m excited. I see this as a great opportunity, but I don’t feel any pressure to come out of this with a trophy.” – Michael Garner

image Left on Red (New York City) “We were psyched to play our CMJ show at The Bitter End, where our heroes once came to tread. You know who I mean, artist like Stephan Grappeli, Bob Dylan and umm…Lady Gaga” – Liah Alonso of Left on Red

image Loomis & the Lust (Santa Barbara, California) “There isn’t a lot of good Chinese food where we’re from in Santa Barbara. So I’ll probably go to Chinatown this week and grub.” – Will Loomis of Loomis & the Lust

image Men (New York City) “We have a single coming out November 1st called ‘Off Our Backs.’ We talk about it a lot – tops and bottoms.” – JD Samson of Men “But not strictly in a sexual position way.” – Michael O’ Neill of Men “More about how they operate in the world, how they interact with people.” – Ginger Brooks Takahashi of Men “For example, we often call ourselves a bunch of tops.” – JDS “Too many differing opinions.” – GB “Do we wish we had a bottom? Yes.” – JDS “Then there’ s the classification of a ‘bossy bottom.’” – GB “A bossy bottom wants to be on the bottom but have it their way.” – MO “There, like, ‘do it like this, no, do it like this.’” – JDS “Who is topping America, that’ s the question?” – GB “China is totally topping America.” – JDS Wait. America is a bossy bottom? “That’ s true.” – JDS

image Milagres (Brooklyn, New York) “CMJ is a clusterfudge. Your sets are short, they’re rushing you, the Man is giving you a hard time, you can’t get enough keyboard in your monitor, or too much. But, seriously, it’s been exciting for us.” – Eric Schwortz of Milagres

image My Dear Disco (Ann Arbor, Michigan) “The vibe I get with CMJ is that people hope to see something amazing but don’t expect to. When something does cut through it’ s potent because people – especially the New York-based music industry veterans – have written of the experience in their brain” – Robert Lester of My Dear Disco

image Murder Mystery (New York City) “I don’ t think there’ s a direct correlation between the number of CMJ shows a band plays and destiny to become the biggest band on earth. Phoenix is only playing one show, same as us. It’s safe to say that we are just as popular as Phoenix.” – Jeremy Coleman of Murder Mystery image The Narrative (New York City) “CMJ is not the Super Bowl. Opening for Radiohead in Madison Square Garden is the Super Bowl. It’s more like a really good tailgate.” – Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative

image New Collisions (Worcester, Massachusetts) “The panels are worthless for musicians. It may not be worthless for industry professionals or people who value networking. We don’t. I’ve heard stories of these A&R panels when bands rush them at the end with their demo disc. Ah, that’s disgusting. This isn’t how you want to live your life. I’d rather have a job than rush a panel. You want a record deal that badly? What’s wrong with you? Besides, everything is changing so quickly. What if six months from now the idea of being on a label is stupid? We’re constantly reevaluating based on our circumstances. Down the road, we might have to find some third-party financing, whatever that means in 2011.” – Alex Stern of New Collisions

“And that’s all a label is at this point. So little at labels are actually in-house. You hire out for your publicity. You hire out for your artistic development, your branding. Labels have become kind of product managers of all these third-party groups. So as a band you can get in there and start hiring those third-party groups yourself. The problem is, let’s say you hire a publicist, if you’re not on a label, most journalist don’t take you seriously. Bands have this buzz cycle. Surfer Blood is having this buzz cycle. West Coast is having this buzz cycle. They’re both recent signing to major labels which alerts the industry and press that they need to start taking this band seriously. So labels can give you clout but not all labels have the same cache.” – Scott Guild of New Collisions

image New Madrid (Brooklyn, New York) “The highlight of our CMJ was definitely playing on the Big Noyes CMJ Showcase at Parkside Lounge on Saturday night. The turnout was great, and the enthusiasm contagious. We also had a blast this week watching other bands like The Shake and Hank & Cupcakes.” – Erik Barragan of New Madrid

image Pepper Rabbit (Los Angeles, California) “We got a parking ticket here. I put money into that thing that spits out a receipt. I threw it on the dash — but upside down. Besides that, our CMJ experience has been cool. Where else can you see Surfer Blood and Local Natives both in 100-person capacity rooms? That was amazing.” – Luc Laurent of Pepper Rabbit

image The Shake (New York City) “I think bands are conflicted these days. On one hand, it’s popular for bands to say we can do it on our own and we don’ t need labels. We can do it like Arcade Fire. On the other hand, labels can open up doors. Yes, they might demand money from record sales, which could suck. At the same time, they can get you on bills and put you in front of people that you flat out wouldn’t have had the chance to get in front of. So this anti-label movement can be misplaced. If you have too much ego, you can end up playing the same bars for a year without advancing.” – Jon Merkin of The Shake

image Sydney Wayser (Brooklyn, New York) “When I try to write fast songs it doesn’t feel right. Then I slow it down and somehow the tempo of the music ends up the tempo I walk at. And it works.” – Sydney Wayser

image The Traveling Band (Manchester, England) “The second CMJ show we played was upstairs at Pianos, so it had a bit of a house party feel. At the end we did an acoustic number. We got rid of the PA system, went out into the crowd, and stood on some chairs. There was a group of people in the back of the room who were a bit noisy so halfway through the song we just went right over and got in their faces and sang it to them. It seemed to shut them up. They were all blushing.” – Joe Dudderidge of The Traveling Band

image Two Door Cinema Club (Bangor, North Ireland) “It’s the first CMJ we’ve ever been to. It’s always a bit weird when people say you’re a new British indie band. For one, being from Northern Ireland, we’re separate from the UK in that we’re really not part of England. And I’ve never really loved British indie music that much. A lot of our music, TV, and film actually comes from New York and America.” – Sam Halliday of Two Door Cinema Club

“I don’t think the Irish really get BritPop. We were more into American bands like At the Drive-In and Death Cab for Cutie. Bands like that are what really influenced us.” – Kevin Baird of Two Door Cinema Club

image Unicycle Loves You (Chicago, Illinois) “This was by far the best CMJ for us yet. The highlight would have to be meeting and talking with Cory McAbee, mastermind behind The American Astronaut, Stingray Sam, and The Billy Nayer Show. It’s not every day you get to meet a living cult hero, and come to find that he’s a great guy too.” – Jim Carroll of Unicycle Loves You

image Vanaprasta (Los Angeles, California) “On Friday night of CMJ we were walking all our gear about half a mile from one venue to the next and then playing an hour later. You’re constantly moving and shoulder to shoulder with perfect strangers and nothing ever stops, which is perfect for us because that’s exactly how our live show is.” Taylor Brown of Vanaprasta

image The Winterlings (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) “Being two singing fish in the luminescent reef of New York City as the music festival echoed through the dark, starry tide was exhilarating. It was like a chord strummed not only on our guitars but on our lives.” – Wolff Bowden of The Winterlings

image Xylos (Brooklyn, New York) “We played a CMJ showcase on Tuesday night at Spike Hill in Williamsburg. This awesome band Yost also played and we share a bass player with them. So he got twice as many drink tickets as everybody else. That means two.” – Eric Zeiler of Xylos

image Zowie (Auckland, New Zealand) “It’s my first trip to New York. Everybody is so cool. They kind of stick to themselves but they don’ t seem super judgmental, which I’ve noticed in a few other cities. I don’ t want to leave. The whole band doesn’t want to leave. We love it here!” – Zoe Fleury of Zowie

All artists photographed by Jeff Fasano at the Norwood during CMJ.