BBook x SXSW: Check Ya Later, Austin!

Despite the long lines on Thursday, my faith has been restored in the music at the festival due to one band, HAIM (pronounced Hi-yum). This sister trio from Los Angeles KILLED IT. If Patti Smith had started a band with her two sisters, this is what it would have sounded like. At the end of the performance each girl put down their instrument, picked up a drum stick and went at it on individual drums they had in front of them creating the SICKEST drum solo EVER! It was AMAZING! By far the best performance we’ve seen all week.

On a music high from the HAIM performance, Lorenna and I took the night by storm and headed out onto the streets to see what was up in the world of Austin. The crowds surprisingly seemed a little less intense then they have the whole week, which was a huge relief. But the ability to get into a show at night was still just as difficult. A friend of Lorenna’s texted her saying that Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine was holding an Occupy Austin event on the streets not far from where we were. We were intrigued and headed down there.

A small group of people formed in front of the Swan Dive bar where Tom Morello stood welcoming everyone to the event and introducing Outernational, the band who stood behind him. He then headed back inside and Outernational took the stage. The crowd grew a little bigger and out of the corner of my eye I saw a medium-sized march happening to my left. It was at this point that we had realized midnight marked the six-month birthday of the movement. The march was led by people carrying a huge banner that read “Fuck the Police.” Outernational screamed, “Tonight we sing fighting songs!” and encouraged people to raise their fists. I felt weary about the whole thing and once the crowd started chanting “Fuck the police” I started to feel sad.

The Occupy movement I knew was a peaceful one. The marches that I had been in were so beautiful they brought me to tears. We stood side by side with students and doctors: all of us equal, all of us understanding that something needed to change or we were in trouble. After all of the craziness that has gone down all over this country with police beating and abusing protesters, there is a part of me that can understand the “fuck the police” sentiment. But you don’t start there. You don’t start with hate. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” I don’t live in Austin, I don’t know their politics or their movements and I only have this one moment to base anything on. But all I saw watching that rally last night was a lot of angry people looking for a reason to scream at authority. That passion of peace, the passion of change, that wasn’t there. Choose love first. Don’t be angry just for the sake of it, it never gets you anywhere.

When we left the rally we decided we were going to attempt to get into a party or a showcase of bands we wanted to see. But the red lights and out-of-tune singing of a karaoke bar lured us in and there we found ourselves. Karaoke is the most underrated fun in the world. It is so hysterical and if it wasn’t so expensive in New York I would do it every night.

Our car was a million miles away and it was already after one, so we agreed to eat the expense and take a pedi-cab. This was only my second time being in one, and I am both terrified and exhilarated by them. For those of you who don’t know, a pedi-cab is a carriage seat attached to a bike. I have a hard enough time carrying my own ass on a bike, so I could not even begin to imagine toting someone else’s as well! Those kids’ thighs are rock solid.

Friday was an eventful and amazing day. We had three interviews with three amazing bands/performers: HAIM, Radiation City, and Illustrate. We’ll post those in a larger piece including our interviews with Spank Rock, The Drums, and Elizabeth and the Catapult. Every band/person we interviewed was so awesome, sweet, funny, intelligent, and insanely talented. I want to be friends with all y’all in real life, please!

During one of our interviews, we headed to this area in downtown Austin across the river that had a bajillion of the most amazing thrift/vintage stores. Our wallets are not so happy about what happened because of this, but our closets are super psyched. While standing outside interviewing my new favorite band/ladies HAIM, a bird pooped on me. As a result, I had no sweater to wear that night and was freezing, but I guess it means I’ll have good luck forever, right?

After spending too much money, we headed back downtown to see the band Radiation City play. Those of you who have been keeping up with our posts will understand how I feel about this band with just these few insights. They have two chicks on keyboards, multiple singers, and beautiful tuneage that I want to sing along to. I mean, I’m in love. Add in the fact that they also happen to be super awesome people just makes me want to have their musical babies.

We really lucked out with getting into really unbelievable performances yesterday. From Radiation City to Elizabeth and the Catapult my heart is filled with lady love. Elizabeth and the Catapult played at St. David’s, which is a giant church in the middle of downtown Austin. It was a pretty intense and amazing way to watch an artist like Elizabeth. Her voice and songs are so beautiful they make me cry and dance at the same time. In full disclosure, she is actually my sister’s roommate and a friend of Lorenna’s and mine, and we love her so much. They were having some sound difficulties and for some reason they couldn’t get her keyboard to turn on for the first half of her set. That poor girl handled it with the greatest sense of humor and cracked all of us up as she dealt with the ridiculousness of the situation. Did I say I love her yet? I love her!

We managed to get into the Flatbush Zombies show which was awesome, but by midnight a wall of exhaustion hit both Lorenna and me. St. Patrick’s day at SXSW lived up to its horror, and being out on the streets just proved to be a miserable experience. We were ready to get out of there. But not before spending another thirty minutes navigating our way through drunken pedestrian traffic with a car, which was just as awful as it sounds. We drove a friend of Lorenna’s (who is also a former editor at BlackBook) Nadeska Alexis (check her out at Rapfix) back to her hotel, and by the time we got home we were both so cracked-out that we could barely get out of the car because we were laughing so hard.

This experience has been equally as amazing and ridiculous as it was exhausting. I will never forget it for the rest of my life and am eternally grateful to have been able to do it along side my best friend in the world. In conclusion if you are going to make the trip to SXSW, be prepared. Know what you are getting yourself into, maybe only stay for a couple of days, and make sure to wear good shoes (my poor feet).

Hip-hop Trio Das Racist Take a Hazy Stroll Through Brooklyn

Does anyone have any volumizing product?” asks Himanshu Suri, a.k.a Heems (center), returning from a quick glance in his bedroom mirror and stepping out into the living room of the messy ground-floor apartment he rents in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. So I Married an Axe Murderer is playing on a flat screen. Clouds of smoke waft through the room. After running a dollop of mousse through his hair, the 25-year-old rapper decides on a gray snapback and lights a joint, offering it to his Das Racist bandmates Victor Vazquez (left) and Ashok Kondabolu.

Last month, Das Racist released their debut album, Relax, the official follow-up to their 2010 mixtapes Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. “Calling it an album and not a mixtape and then selling it for money will probably make people think of it as something more ‘real,’” says Vazquez. “But it’s not all that different from the music we’ve made previously.” That music, which includes the 2008 viral hit “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” and more recent singles like “hahahaha jk?” are part of Das Racist’s catalog of seemingly puerile pothead raps, which, when actually given a serious listen, tell stories from the perspective of disaffected American minorities. (Suri and Kondabolu, who went to high school together, are both of Indian descent and were born in Queens; Vazquez, a San Francisco native, is of Afro-Cuban and Italian heritage.)
“There are a lot of inside jokes in the music, but I think people like that—they seem to like feeling a bit confused,” says Vazquez. The title of their new album is a perfect example: “Heems and Dapwell (Kondabolu’s stage name) used to sell T-shirts at Coney Island that showed a joint smoking a cigarette, with the word ‘relax’ on them,” he says. “There was another one with a hot dog eating a hamburger and it said ‘fresh.’” Says Kondabolu, “We made 60 of each shirt, but we only sold one to a high Mexican dude from a biker gang.” Still, the joke obviously stuck, and now the image features in their cover art. It’s also become a laid-back mantra of sorts—something Kondabolu, Suri, and Vazquez proved while languorously and happily stopping in at a few of their favorite Brooklyn hangouts.
Das Racist 2
Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Avenue
Greenpoint, NYC – 718-383-0885
“Our friend Brooke Baxter co-owns Glasslands, where we used to play a lot of shows, but we’ve been coming here ever since she opened this venue. It’s basically the fancy version of Glasslands, plus a lot of our friends DJ here, and it’s in the neighborhood.” —HS
“We had mussels here with one of the dudes from the Lonely Island one time. The mezcal margaritas are very good here. I’ve been on acid in this place like four times.” —VV
Das Racist 3
Brooklyn Fire Proof, 119 Ingraham Street
Bushwick, NYC – 347-223-4211
“We filmed the video for our single ‘Michael Jackson’ across the street. We needed a warehouse area, and they had a big space, so we got a Michael Jackson impersonator and we reenacted the ‘Black or White’ video. We pretty much stole shamelessly from Jackson’s video, but anyway, we came here for lunch and had the lobster roll with bacon and avocado.” —VV
Das Racist 4
East River Ferry, Foot of India Street
Greenpoint, NYC
“You can come here at night and smoke, if that’s what you’re into, but I’m more of a get-in-trouble-for-open-containers kind of guy. I just come and sit here, and I’ve been meaning to bring my sketchbook. I once set a mouse free by the rocks, then I saw a cat a few seconds later. But when I got home there was a mouse in the apartment, so I think he followed us back.” —HS
Das Racist 5
New China Wok, 57 4th Avenue
Boerum Hill, NYC 718-638-1898
“North Brooklyn has terrible Chinese food, plus I don’t eat meat, so I can’t fuck with a lot of stuff people generally get at Chinese food places. I’m typically stuck eating eggplant or bean curd, but this family figured that they’re close enough to Park Slope that a lot of white people would be ordering non-meat food. They do tofu incredibly well—very crispy and not oily or fried, with lots of scallions and garlic sauce.” —AK
Das Racist 6
The Brooklyn Improvement Company, 360 Third Avenue
Gowanus, NYC 
“I like this building because it looks eerie. There was a dude named Edwin C. Litchfield who owned a lot of property in Brooklyn about 150 years ago, and the offices of his Brooklyn Improvement Company were in this building, surrounded by other very old, beautiful buildings that Whole Foods destroyed when they bought the lot next door. This is the only building left on the block. Across the street there’s half of the wall from a stadium that housed the Brooklyn Superbas baseball team. They’re called the Dodgers now.” —AK
Photography by Phil Knot

Zola Jesus Evolves on Her New Album ‘Conatus’

After conquering a bothersome case of performance anxiety, musician Nika Danilova, who performs under the pseudonym Zola Jesus, released The Spoils, the experimental 2009 debut she recorded in her apartment. She followed that up with last year’s Stridulum II, layering nearly a decade’s worth of opera lessons over haunting beats littered with ghostly echoes and pop-friendly hooks.

In September, the 22-year-old siren released her third album, Conatus (Sacred Bones Records). “Part of the fun is evolving as an artist,” she says. “I wanted this record to challenge me, so it was a lot of trial and error.” According to Danilova, an upgrade in production gave Conatus a “crisp” sound, making it easy to hear various elements throughout the album, from tribal drums to chanting.

The difficult part, she says, was pushing her own boundaries. “In order to grow and do things differently, you have to look at yourself in a very critical way, and it takes a toll after a while,” she says. “Some of the lyrics are a little dark because I was feeling so overwhelmed while writing them, but otherwise it’s one of my lighter albums.” Beginning this fall, Danilova will tour heavily in support of Conatus, but until then, she’s savoring her time—and her meals—at home in Los Angeles. “When I’m in LA, I try to eat a lot of sushi because there was no sushi and very little fish where I grew up,” says the Madison, Wisconsin, native. “I’ve tried just about every sushi restaurant in LA.” Among her favorites are Takami Sushi & Robata Restaurant and Okura Robata Grill & Sushi Bar, where items like sea urchin are fair game. “At first it seemed really strange to eat raw fish, but now I love it.”

Spank Rock Emerges from His Personal Dark Age with an Album That’s Even Darker

It’s nearing 100 degrees one afternoon in July when Spank Rock orders his first frozen margarita from the patio at Life Café, a casual restaurant in New York’s East Village. But even before the tequila hits his bloodstream, Spank Rock (real name: Naeem Juwan) proves to be loquacious and forthcoming, more than willing to discuss the setbacks that tempered the recording of his second album, Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar. (The Baltimore native and Philadelphia transplant is more private about his age, insistent that he’s as “old as the wind,” despite being only in his midtwenties.) Writer’s block, a failed record deal, and depression were just a few of the hiccups.

“I pushed myself so hard and I got some really special moments out of it,” he says of the new album. “But I will forever hear the darkness in it.” It’s difficult to reconcile the meek, soft-spoken man sitting across from me with the spastic performer and wonderfully filthy lyricist behind 2006’s YoYoYoYoYo, Spank Rock’s debut. Clothed in super-skinny black jeans and a loose-fitting tank, his wiry frame and bespectacled face—which appears in this fall’s T by Alexander Wang ad campaign—even give him a slightly nerdy appearance, which dissipates when he chronicles the sequence of events that led him to record his sophomore album. “I was really pissed off that I’d gotten pigeonholed as this sexy, dirty-mouthed rapper,” he says. “I’m not saying that’s not true—but I also put a lot of heavy, interesting content into YoYoYoYoYo and I challenged myself to rap over music that people weren’t trying before.”

Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar debuted last month via Bad Blood Records following a tumultuous three years that nearly ended with a scrapped album. After releasing his Bangers & Cash EP with producer Benny Blanco in 2007, Spank Rock hit a wall, unable to tap into the energy that fueled his debut, an album born out of his frustration with a music scene mired in nostalgia. “Our lives are so different now,” he says. “So why are we still talking about the same issues? I wanted to make music that feels the way I feel now, but people only got excited about the sexy party shit. The songs sound like one thing, but talk about another. I write in circles and maybe that’s why people miss the point in my music.”

This isn’t to say that Spank Rock intends to completely shed his wild-child image—“I could tell you about a party I just went to in London that was really crazy”—but it’s easy to pick up on the bitterness that colors his thoughts. “When you’re an artist, you’re packaged and manufactured and people want you to be only one thing,” he says.

In 2008, weighed down by pressures from his label, Downtown Records, he took up residence in a West Village apartment, but struggled to create music. “I was bummed out,” he admits. “I would leave producers in the studio waiting for me all day and go out all night, running around New York, trying to figure out where I wanted to start.” From there, his deal with Downtown unraveled quickly, leaving him with neither resources nor money. “They dropped me halfway through the writing process, but it would be unjust to be gossipy and point fingers, because the industry is suffering and major labels don’t have time for you to be who you want to be.”

Until now, Spank Rock has been relatively calm, speaking in even tones while doing steady damage to his margarita, but a mention of Atlanta rapper B.o.B.’s debut album gets him riled up, seemingly out of sheer conviction rather than anger. “When I first heard B.o.B, I thought, This kid’s kinda dope. Now I think he’s such a pussy,” he says. (Some critics panned last spring’s B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray as an ultra-pop version of his original textured aesthetic.) At the risk of sounding too jaded, he offers a short summary of the options available to musicians trying to dip their toes into mainstream culture: “Do you want to be a pop star, or do you want to be a musician? I made a decision not to participate in the pop music industry, so it took me longer to put out music. I’m always fighting to get to a point where I think I’m doing something cool enough to share with people. And then, I still have to figure out how to put it out.” image

With his record deal a thing of the past, Spank Rock continued to tour overseas with Mark Ronson in support of the Brit’s third album, Record Collection. His luck changed during a fateful encounter in Australia with Berlin-based producer Alexander Ridha, known professionally as Boys Noize. With Ridha’s encouragement, Spank Rock left Philadelphia and flew to Berlin in fall 2010 to complete his album. “It was wonderful to have someone in my corner, not trying to manipulate me, but I was scared to even share anything with him, because everyone said the music I made was shitty,” he says. “I had close friends who told me they were going to help out and then they started working on big, corny pop star music. I started to think something was wrong with me.”

His insecurities, coupled with his unfortunate habit of making producers wait, made the recording process a challenge for Ridha, who until then had never worked with Spank Rock. “He’d come up with the hook for a song in a minute, but then it would take him five weeks to write one word,” Ridha says. “If he wanted to go out to a bar and write, I let him do that, but sometimes I had to say, Let’s stay focused, or you’ll never finish the album.”

In Ridha’s joint studio and apartment space, he and Spank Rock created four original songs and revamped another four tracks on the album (including “#1 hit,” which Ronson helped produce), but the thrill of Berlin nightlife took a definite toll on the pace of his work. “It was his paradise,” Ridha says. “A lot of producers would have kicked him to the curb and taken a holiday, but I was patient and I had hope.”

Two weeks later, I meet Spank Rock again at a low-key listening session for Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar at Painkiller, a tiki bar on the Lower East Side. He abandons his seat at a table surrounded by a group of friends and walks over to find out what I really think of the album. I tell him that the sonic “darkness” he mentioned during our initial meeting is at least partly obscured by his manic flow, delivered over a series of rock-infused, club-friendly electronic beats—and, yes, I liked some of the filthy lyrics.

Spank Rock recently joined Ke$ha (“She’s a fun girl and not a total idiot, which you would expect her to be, given her music”) on a cross-country tour, which also gave him the opportunity to hit the central states. With the album finally out, he feels as if a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, but still, his discontent with pop culture is at an all-time high. “I don’t want to come across as this bitter diva in a cave, but this industry is fucking wack right now,” he says. “We’re oversaturated with musicians reenacting things from the past. The kids in America are fucking fucked because none of their favorite artists are pushing things forward.”

Needless to say, Spank Rock is realistic about what the future might hold for him, and it doesn’t include pop stardom on the level of B.o.B. fame. Instead, he’d rather compare himself to Sonic Youth, the iconic alt-rock outfit who endured living in the shadow of Nirvana for years, only to emerge as a classic band in their own right. “It’s my life, I’m a fucking musician, and no one matters except for me and the people I collaborate with. I’ll keep making music—I just won’t take so long next time,” he says, before ordering another round of drinks.



Photography by Christophe Kutner. Styling by Rich Aybar.

‘Boardwalk Empire”s Aleksa Palladino & Husband Devon Church Make Exitmusic

When Aleksa Palladino landed the role of Angela Darmody—the New Jersey housewife with dreams of moving to Paris and becoming a painter—on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the 30-year-old actor, along with her husband and music partner, Devon Church, leapt at the chance to relocate from LA to Palladino’s hometown on the East Coast. “I grew up in New York, where my friend and I used to sneak into the Chelsea Hotel looking for the ghost of Sid Vicious,” she says. “One day, we roamed the halls and came across some blood. Screaming, we ran out and went to go see a movie to calm ourselves down. I remember watching Christian Slater in Untamed Heart, all the while sure that Sid was sitting next to me.”

In October, Palladino and Church, collectively known as Exitmusic, will release their second EP, From Silence, via Secretly Canadian. According to the pair, who first met aboard a train in Canada, they’ve finally hit their stride on the record, eschewing sappy love songs in favor of captivating tunes that fuse Palladino’s powerful vocals—her mom’s an opera singer—with Church’s virtuosic guitar playing. “We don’t write love songs because we’re right there together,” Church says. “There’s no pining, at least not for one another,” Palladino adds, alluding to larger themes of loss and regret on the album. “We have a very similar view of the world and humanity. The album is experimental, with ambient sounds mixed in, but it’s also got a definite sense of urgency.” This exigency, Palladino says, creeps into both her acting and her music. “There’s some revelation of me in both,” she says. “Although I’m speaking someone else’s words, it’s my experience that guides the character. With music I have more control over saying what I want to say directly.”

The Spume Generation: S.C.U.M. Get Down & Dirty Underneath a Church

After igniting fans’ interest three years ago with their catchy single “Visions Arise,” the five members of London-based post-punk outfit S.C.U.M. will release their debut album Again Into Eyes on October 4, via Mute. The 10-track LP is a moody compilation reminiscent of the Cure—but its members are way too attractive to have that much angst.

Thomas Cohen (vocals), Samuel Kilcoyne (keyboards), Huw Webb (bass), Melissa Rigby (drums), and Bradley Baker (machines) wrapped a set of spring 2011 dates opening for the Kills, and now, with their lead single, “Amber Hands,” out for public consumption, the group is back on the road.“When we get booked for shows we want to go out and take on each city, but we’re only there for 48 hours,” says Cohen, recalling one particular after-hours adventure that followed a gig in Venice. “We didn’t have a place to sleep, so we decided the best thing to do was nap on the water buses, going back and forth, until service was terminated,” he says. “It was a nice way to see the city.” Although he admits that he doesn’t party too hard on the road, Cohen and his band mates have scouted a few low-key spots to unwind a er gigs, including one South London hangout hidden below a church. “There’s a place in Camberwell called The Crypt, where they have a theme night based on film soundtracks, which always provides a relaxing environment,” he says. “Normally, the places we end up are crowded and uncomfortable.”

Yelawolf & the Pop-Up Shady Museum at Brisk Bodega

Pop-up venues are all the rage these days since it’s rare to remain “cool” past six months, but this weekend Brisk opened the first pop-up bodega in NYC. Brisk and Eminem’s Shady Records label took over a warehouse space on Bleecker Street, converting it into a casual, chill out spot complete with snacks, beverages, and stickered walls (but no bulletproof glass). Inside, there was a museum-style display documenting ten years of Shady Records, and after museum hours Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse celebrated with a private performance.

Along the back wall of the makeshift venue was a neat spread of memorabilia—more than a few from Eminem’s popular music videos—that Shady aficionados would be able to identify instantly. Magazine covers, album plaques, and photos detailed the legacy of Shady Records artists such as 50 Cent and D12, but our favorite finds both happened to be from “The Real Slim Shady” video.

1. Eminem’s superhero outfit. image

2. The milk carton plastered with Dre’s face. (For reference: “And Dr. Dre said…Nothing, you idiots, Dr. Dre’s dead. He’s locked in the basement…”) image

The pop-up museum closed to the public around 5pm, but doors reopened later that night for a private show headlined by Yelawolf (who will drop his debut album Radioactive on Shady Records in October) and the rap quartet Slaughterhouse.

Yela, dressed in a button down and a beanie, opened the show with “Good to Go” from his popular Trunk Muzik mixtape. His 45-minute set also included “Pop the Trunk” and his new single “Hard White (Up in the Club)” featuring Lil Jon, but by the time he made it to the last song, he’d lost his shirt, giving the crowd a close look at his ink work (no complaints).

(courtesy of RapRadar)

Royce Da 5’ 9’’ (half of the duo Bad Meets Evil with Eminem) was the next Shady artist to hop onstage, where he was eventually joined by his Slaughterhouse groupmates Crooked I, Joell Ortiz and Joe Budden. Together, they performed some of their popular tracks including “Sound Off,” “The One” and “Microphone.

Meet Twin Sister, the Coolest Thing Out of Long Island Since Iced Tea

It’s a testament to the freewheeling nature of Twin Sister’s music that singer Andrea Estella and drummer Bryan Ujueta aren’t worried about releasing a less-than-polished record. Dissatisfied with the terms used to summarize their second EP (“dream pop” being one of the most prominent), last year’s Color Your Life, the Long Island–bred band are exploring new sonic terrain on their first full-length album, In Heaven. Expect more electronic elements and American frontier–style, guitar-tinged melodies.

“To be honest, I don’t know how cohesive the whole thing is,” says 23-year-old Ujueta. “It’s all over the place, and that might be the best or the worst thing about it.” The schizophrenic nature of In Heaven (“We tried various styles to prove to ourselves and to others that we could do different things”) was part of a conscious effort to color their music outside the lines of the indie pop and chillwave labels that they’d been filed under by music publications. “The album is a reaction to the genres that people were constantly boxing us into,” says Ujueta. “In the future there won’t be as much of a need to do that, and maybe then we’ll find a more cohesive sound.”

Let’s hope not. In Heaven’s artfully scattered composition takes listeners on a ride between funky, disco-infused beats on tracks like “Bad Street” and more mellow overtures of synth on “Kimmi in a Rice Field.” Sure, Estella, Ujueta, and their band mates—keyboardist Dev Gupta, guitarist Eric Cardona, and bassist Gabe D’Amico—were hoping to debunk expectations with this album, but they were also trying just as hard to impress themselves. “We started improvising and changing up sections of songs, just to show each other new things on the fly,” Ujueta says of the tracks that were penned last winter when the group lived together in a Hamptons rental house.

Estella, the shy and softspoken songstress who still wrestles with stage fright, adds that her contributions to the album were influenced by personal obsessions, including Japanese anime and childhood parties with her Puerto Rican relatives. These tidbits, she says, give the album a worldly feel. “The record ties a lot of places in the world together—at least, that’s what we intended for it to do.” It seems the road to Heaven is also paved with good intentions.