INTERVIEW WITH…KATIE HERZIG!

by ALEX NAGORSKI

KatieHerzig ChairBlackOutfit HiRes Interview with...Katie Herzig!

Last week, singer/songwriter Katie Herzig released her fifth studio album, The Waking Sleep. On this record, the Grammy Award-nominated chanteuse abandoned her signature melancholy acoustic-driven sound in favor of matured and complex dark electronica layered with contemporary folk pop. The result? A near flawless compilation of music guaranteed to secure a prominent spot on the year-end list of anyone who gives it a listen.

I caught up with Katie about everything from her creative process, to what it feels like to be featured on so many film and television soundtracks, to plans about her current headlining tour.

KatieHerzig UnderMask HiRes Interview with...Katie Herzig!


AN: First of all, congratulations on The Waking Sleep. I have to say, it’s honestly one of the most gorgeous and remarkable records I’ve heard in a very long time. One of the things I love about it is that while it’s a new sound for you, it still remains true to the stripped down and raw feel of your previous albums. What triggered this desire to experiment in the studio?

KH: Wow, thank you very much! I think I’ve always felt the pull to experiment and layer in the studio, perhaps I just have new tools at my fingertips and new influences to help guide me.

I really love the way you layered in organic instruments with digitally programmed sounds. It created such a unique and refreshing final product. Is it safe to say that this is the direction you intend to continue making your music in?

I think so, yeah. I actually have been layering programmed stuff with organic stuff previous to this album, but not as boldly as this, and the further I go along, the more programming tools I seem to acquire. But you know, I wouldn’t rule anything out for where I’m headed in the future. But currently I am all about the marriage of these two things. I also should mention that my co-producer Cason Cooley is just as in love with combining the organic and synthetic sounds so we really went there together.

Tell me a little bit about your creative process. I can imagine that when mixing mediums like this, it’s significantly different than just writing a song on the ukulele and jotting down lyrics.

Yeah, for this record there are only a few songs I wrote start to finish on a guitar or something. I was building tracks and writing these songs as I built them. It was so much fun creating this way and it was really inspiring to write lyrics to these musical landscapes I’d created to write them in. But I promised myself that I’d still need to have these songs stand on their own without all the production around them, luckily they do. But the production is such a huge part of what I have come to love about them.

On The Waking Sleep, it wasn’t just the music that seemed to mature; your lyrical content did as well. The album feels less dominated by themes of relationships than your previous releases and instead seems to also focus on larger, global issues. What sparked this change in your songwriting?

You are correct. I think that’s just because the larger global issues were more present in my mind when I was writing this record. To feel real legitimate concern about certain things going on in the world is a very weighty thing and I think a lot of people are feeling that these days. So it was very therapeutic to write about it… and also very challenging… harder than writing songs about love.

What is the most obscure thing that’s ever inspired you to write a song?

Hmmm, good question. V for Vendetta. Not that obscure of a film, but I saw that movie and went right home and wrote a song. It’s still one of my favorites but I’ve never released it.

If you had to perform one of your songs every day for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

“Wish You Well.”

Whether it was in the Sex and The City movie or on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, many of your songs have been showcased on various soundtracks. Is it strange for you then to hear your music applied to these fictional narratives that are so removed from your songwriting process?

Yes, it is a very odd feeling. For the most part when a song is paired with something that feels really fitting it is very magical actually. Music can be such a powerful thing behind a good story or scene. So it really is the ultimate when they work well together.

Back in the ‘90s, Madonna released I’m Breathless, an album of original songs that also served as the soundtrack to the film Dick Tracy. As someone whose music has been so heavily featured in film and television, would you ever consider doing something similar and recording an entire album to be the backdrop of a singular movie or show? If so, are there any specific filmmakers, writers, directors, actors, etc. that you would want to work with?

I would love to do this, yes. Sophia Coppola comes to mind, Peter Hedges, Ang Lee… so many really. I admire composers like Mark Mothersbaugh and Gustavo Santaolalla. I think if I did all the music I’d rather not sing every song, but create musical pieces and themes that run throughout… kind of like Trent Reznor did with music for The Social Network. Maybe sing some of them. It’d be really hard work but really rewarding I think.

(Katie Herzig’s music video for “Free My Mind”)

In support of The Waking Sleep, you’re currently embarking on a headlining tour. How has the experience of playing these new songs live compared to the acoustic feel of performing your older material?

It’s crazy, it honestly feels like the new stuff is a whole new band, so it’s a challenge to weave them together. But a great challenge that I’m up for. I can’t wait to get out there and play these songs every night and start to figure out the best way to present them live. We’ve played a handful of shows already performing the new stuff, but we’re still pretty think-y about it. It’ll settle in and we’ll create some really great moments I think. These songs really lend themselves to having a show with lots of dynamics and exciting moments, mixed with really sparse beautiful delicate moments. I love both. Couldn’t imagine a show without both.

Are there any surprises fans can expect from this tour?

If someone has seen me before with my acoustic trio they will be more surprised than if they’ve already seen me with a full on band. There will be a lot going on onstage. Vibes, horns, toms, samples, lots of switching of instruments…

As someone who travels as much as you do, what do you find to be the first three things you HAVE to do whenever you return home after a tour?

Make a home-cooked meal. Laundry. Lots of yoga.

And speaking of touring, what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on your tour bus?

I got left behind once. It was the second bus tour I did with Ten Out of Tenn. It was the beginning of tour and I had just gotten back to the US from Germany so I was waking up super early in the mornings. One morning I got up really early and went to get coffee and the tour manager thought we were all still asleep on the bus so he had the bus take off early for Atlanta… when I got back to the bus they were already in the next town, 4 hours away. I had to hop in a taxi, rent a car and take a train to make it to the show.

Tell me a little bit more about Ten Out of Tenn. This is a touring troupe that takes 10 singer/songwriters from Nashville and puts them all on one stage to perform their music, both separately and together. What is it about the Nashville music scene that you think creates such different and talented musicians?

I think that music towns draw a lot of really talented people to them. When those people stick around and play out enough, you start to learn who the really talented ones are that people are talking about. With Nashville it’s become this really thriving scene of artists who aren’t country musicians. Ten Out of Tenn showcases that community, and takes it on the road. It really is a very supportive and collaborative community. Since Nashville is such a big co-writing town I think that feeds the collaboration.

What has been the most rewarding part of being involved with Ten out of Tenn? It seems like a very collaborative and inspiring environment to be part of.

It is. I am currently on maybe my 5th TOT tour. It becomes harder and harder to get solo artists schedules to line up for a couple weeks at a time, so it feels like a little miracle each night. Having so many talented solo artists on the same stage. It’s beautiful to see people who are used to carrying their own shows, supporting each other and being each other’s band. The most rewarding thing personally is just the life-long friendships I’ve made out of the experiences.

Thanks very much for your time, Katie. And kudos again on The Waking Sleep.

My pleasure, thank so much for digging the record and asking good questions!

 
Originally published on MuuMuse

BEYONCE OPENS UP WITH MOST PERSONAL MUSIC VIDEO TO DATE: “1+1”

by ALEX NAGORSKI

She’s had killer live performances on American Idol, The Billboard Music Awards, the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show and The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, among many others. But Beyoncé has not been able to secure her usual chart domination with the singles she’s released from her latest album, 4.

The record is to her what My December was to Kelly Clarkson or what Rated R was to Rihanna: a significantly less commercially mainstream compilation of vulnerable songs that serve more as aural diaries than club-banging monster-hits.

Beyoncé’s willingness to share her innermost feelings on 4 isn’t just limited to the lyrics. The music videos she’s released thus far from the record have been layered with intricate stories that remove the dance floor diva mask of “Single Ladies” and replace it with an artist on the brink of full emotional exposure. The latest and strongest offering? The just-released video for the album’s stirring opening track, “1+1.”

The video serves as a thesis on sex from a female’s perspective. Or rather, Beyoncé’s perspective of what she believes is the (somewhat essentialist) female experience of sex.

To Beyoncé, sex is not just about being physically intimate with a man. She places a strong emphasis on the emotional connection, which signifies the symbiotic relationship of love and lust.

This is most evident in the scenes where Beyoncé is dancing with her man, leaning on him for support and trusting that he’ll keep her safe. She’s fearless about falling, thereby allowing herself to be completely free when with him; her dance moves almost look like the “trust your partner” icebreaker game made famous by summer camp counselors across America. It is shots such as these and the close-ups of her crying from joy that really express Beyoncé’s conviction that love is as much of a part of sex as physical attraction.

Of course, there’s raw sexiness, too, with interspliced shots of B in tantalizing lingerie or suggestively wiping the sweat off her face. It’s the mix of tenderness, trust and sex that offers her definition of what it means to, in her words, “make love.”

Even the colors of the video showcase the merging of the physical and emotional. The shots in which Beyoncé is scantily clad in leopard print lingerie find her against a fiery red backdrop, the core of which burns like an ember and adds a layer of smoke to the room.

By contrast, the scenes that spotlight the aspect of trust and emotional connection are awash in a delicate indigo tint, providing a tranquil setting with a hint of vulnerability.

And when covered in gold, Beyoncé is basking in a glow of the after-effect of her and her lover’s coming together. Mixed in with the diamonds shimmering off of her skin, the gold symbolizes the lovers’ ultimate union that Beyoncé is singing about. She believes that making love removes a woman from her current dimension and transcends her to an ethereal state of being, as further evidenced by the golden aura and glimmering smile that closes the video.

During the musical bridge, the video revs up its sexual engine by framing kaleidoscopic shots of the indigo, red, and gold all crashing into one another. With this scene, the sensuality and vehemence of Beyoncé’s sexual experience is on full display.

The title of “1+1” also captures the concept of the video. The song is named after two individuals bonding together to become one, which is precisely how the sex is depicted. The video opens with Beyoncé by herself and continues to focus entirely on her, grounding her as the strong female character we’ve admired through previous works like “Independent Women” and “Run The World (Girls).”

A man does appear in the video, but only half way through and his face is not shown. The focus never shifts from Beyoncé; it’s her feelings that matter. Even in this collision of bodies and passion, her individuality remains fierce and intact – which is a big part of the message of the song.

Throughout her career, Beyoncé has delivered some of the most unforgettable music videos in recent memory (just ask Kanye!). But none of her earlier videos approach the intimacy level of “1+1.” Artistically brilliant and stuffed with intricate symbolism, the video is easily one of the most honest of the year.

“1+1” may not be the radio hit expected from Beyoncé. Its accompanying video, however, is a true testament to her artistry and fully exemplifies the rawness and personal exposure of 4 as a whole. Besides, it doesn’t hurt the eyes that she has never looked more gorgeous. Personally, I applaud Beyoncé for stretching beyond her comfort zones and creating such a masterful and exquisite piece of work.

Let’s just hope the little Embryoncé growing inside of her doesn’t figure out that this video was shot around the time of his or her conception.

Originally published on MuuMuse
All .GIFs courtesy of MTV Buzzworthy

MADONNA SPILLS DETAILS ON NEW ALBUM AND SHARES OPINIONS ON LADY GAGA … AND HYDRANGEAS

by ALEX NAGORSKI

When it comes to successful pop music, 2011 has sparked a striking resemblance to an all-female commune – meaning there hasn’t been a male sighting in quite some time.

Since their live performances at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, sales have skyrocketed for artists like Beyoncé. After the show, her album, 4, had an 87% sales increase, making it the first time its numbers haven’t dropped since its initial release.

Following her heart wrenching performance, Adele’s latest single, “Someone Like You,” has just hit #1. Meanwhile, her album, 21, continues to cremate the sales of basically every other release this year, as it has done since it set up camp on top of the Billboard charts upon its debut in February.

But the VMAs aren’t the only thing that’s made ladies take over the industry. Even good ol’ Christina Aguilera recently got her first #1 single since 2001’s “Lady Marmalade.” Due to “Moves Like Jagger,” Aguilera now has a #1 single in each of the past three decades. I’ll give away a free copy of Bionic to anybody who saw that one coming.

With new singles just released by acts like Leona Lewis, JoJo and Kelly Clarkson (who today dropped the stunning cover art for her new album, Stronger) and upcoming albums by the likes of Demi Lovato and Rihanna, it looks as though the female reign of dominance won’t be letting up anytime soon.

But while all this girl power would make even the Spice Girls proud, there’s been a significant lack of the older women who defined the pop genre. The ones who paved the paths for all the little Selena Gomezes of the world. Namely: Madonna. Well folks, that’s all about to change.

As we prepare for the Holy Madge to descend upon us once more, I invite you to please join me as I usher in the parade to welcome a new era of pop music. Something I like to call, “meno-pop.”

Madonna is currently in the studio beginning work on her 12th studio album. While in Venice this past weekend promoting her directorial film debut, W.E., she spilled some details about the upcoming release (her first since leaving Warner Bros. Records and signing an exclusive, lavish contract with Live Nation).

In addition to confirming the rumors that she’ll be reuniting with Ray of Light and “Beautiful Stranger” producer, William Orbit, Madonna stated that the album’s lead single would be released in either February or March, followed by the full record later in the spring. Warning: the 2012 apocalypse may now come a few months early to regain the spotlight it lost upon this announcement.

So what other collaborators can we expect? Rumors have been circulating about involvement from French DJ extraordinaire David Guetta, although nothing has been officially confirmed. Yet. But one contemporary “it” act you most likely won’t be seeing on the album is Lady GaGa.

GaGa has always been an open Madonna fanatic. So much so that her biggest critics fuel on the allegations that she does nothing more than carbon copy Madonna’s early career. And despite appearing on SNL together, Madonna too seems less than flattered at GaGa’s standom. Or at the very least, confused by it.

“As for Lady GaGa, I have no comment to make about her obsessions having to do with me because I don’t know whether her behavior is rooted in something deep and meaningful or superficial,” Madonna allegedly told French newspaper Le Soir. Ouch.

In her own little passive aggressive bitch-quit-tryin-to-snatch-my-wig way, Madonna’s comments essentially just prove that GaGa is nothing but a hydrangea in her garden of followers. Some might be attracted to it and consider it a favorite, but Queen M? Oh no, she will not stand for it. Don’t know what I’m talking about? See for yourself with this (already viral) video from this past weekend.

But GaGa’s feelings shouldn’t be hurt for too long. Cher is reading the release of her next album with a lead single (rumored to hit airwaves this month) that is not only written by but also features GaGa. See Lady G? You can still get your slice of meno-pop pie.

When she returns to New York this fall, Madonna will be working on completing her as-of-yet untitled new album through the end of the year. While all other details about the record would be nothing more than speculation, one thing is certain: nobody knows what to expect.

Madonna’s sound has evolved dramatically with each album she’s put out. But no matter what this new album will end up sounding like, the time to start getting excited is now. After all, a new album usually a means a new tour, right?

And I hope for Adele’s sake, she has a nice little country home to retreat to full of fond memories and things that make her happy. Because once Madonna is back, there’ll be no room to share the throne.

INTRODUCING … DAWES!

by ALEX NAGORSKI

It’s tricky being innovative when you’re a musician. If you play it safe and stick to an already successful sound, you risk fading into the background and/or being accused of unoriginality. If you experiment with a completely radical and brand new sound, there’s a good chance your stuff won’t be heard by many. So what is there to do? Both, of course.

The number of contemporary artists whose sounds pay homage to decades past is increasing rapidly. What makes these artists stand out, however, is not how well they emulate the musicians before them, but rather how they add their own unique twist to these sounds to make them their own.

Bands like She & Him blend ‘60s girl pop with Simon & Garfunkel-esque rock and contemporary indie folk. Adele continues to reign supreme at the top of the charts with her husky and bluesy Etta James-like voice, combining elements of old school jazz with modern pop. And representing the resurgence of classic rock are Los Angeles’ very own Dawes.
(Dawes’ music video for “When My Time Comes”)

Since the release of their debut album North Hills in 2009, Dawes has steadily built an incredibly loyal fanbase. And rightfully so. Their amalgamation of vintage rock ‘n roll with today’s folk music results in a clever twist of contemporary Americana in the same vein as bands like Mumford & Sons or Kings of Leon.

At the forefront of this generation’s addition to the legacy of the Laurel Canyon sound, Dawes is comprised of a pair of brothers and two of their friends. Together, their lush harmonies compliment the gritty, sometimes country-tinged feel of their California sunset-tinted music.

This past June, Dawes released their fantastic sophomore album, Nothing Is Wrong to massive critical acclaim. To further enhance their classic rock cred, Dawes enlisted help from old greats such as Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers (who also contributed to North Hills) and Jackson Browne. To do backup vocals and instrumentations. THAT is how good Dawes are. They can get veteran legends of the industry to not only ask to work with them but to not even be heavily featured.

“After two years of fine-tuning their live sound, all of the members of Dawes have become master musicians not only individually, but as a collective,” wrote Paste Magazine in their review of the record. “While many bands often succumb to the fabled ‘sophomore slump’ after an impressive debut (such as North Hills), Dawes appears to have never even heard the phrase,” they concluded.

Nothing Is Wrong came as a true musical evolution for Dawes. The band has clearly matured in the two years since North Hills. Their already evocative lyrics, for instance, have transformed into full-fledged poetry.

(Dawes performs “Time Spent In Los Angeles” on The David Letterman Show)

“But you got that special kind of sadness, you got that tragic set of charms that only comes from time spent in Los Angeles, makes me wanna wrap you in my arms,” the band croons in their lead single off of Nothing Is Wrong, “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” The song has so much vintage flavor you would swear it was an unreleased Neil Young track from his days of prime.

So if you find yourself perusing for new, smart, and emotionally charged music this fall, give Dawes a chance. I promise they’ll have your foot tapping one minute in. And if you can, be sure to catch the boys on tour now with Blitzen Trapper.

SARA BAREILLES PLAYS CENTRAL PARK (CONCERT REVIEW)

by ALEX NAGORSKI

I’ve been to quite a few concerts this summer and looking back, it’s funny to think about the differences in the crowds.

At Britney Spears, there were gay men in glittery eyeshadow and booty shorts all around me. At Jack’s Mannequin and Guster, the audience consisted of suburban white kids with backwards baseball caps, flip-flops and far too many popped collars. And at Sara Bareilles’ sold out show last night at Central Park’s outdoor Rumsey Playfield venue, the crowd was comprised entirely of hipsters in thrift store-purchased 500 Days of Summer-inspired floral print dresses and PBR-stained moccasins.

“How many of you are you listening to the show outside of the venue?” Sara yelled into her microphone. “This one’s for you!” she proclaimed as she started beating her tambourine and eased into an immaculate cover of Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man.”

The experience of a Sara Bareilles show is unlike any other concert I’ve been to. This is of course in large part due to the fact that Bareilles is a hypnotist of sorts who is able to manipulate the full spectrum of her audience’s emotions. While interacting with the crowd, she bursts with wit, sarcasm and dry humor. But when she breaks into song, her lyrics tell agonizing stories of loss and pain.

For example: one minute Sara will be singing the devastating “Breathe Again” (you know, the song that pretends its orchestration is not a carbon copy of the Titanic score), and the next minute she’ll be introducing what’s on deck by saying, “This song’s for those assholes who think they’re better than you. The ones who are like, ‘oh Sara, you drink too much,’ and you’re just like ‘FUCK YOU, MAN!’” Oh, and if you’re wondering what “this song” she’s referring to is, it’s “Basketcase” – a ballad with lyrics raw enough to be served as a tartare. Talk about emotional rollercoaster. Geesh.

But don’t get me wrong. Not all of Sara’s songs will have you reaching for razor blades. Throughout the duration of her 90-minute set, she sprinkled in animated upbeat tracks like the bouncy “Uncharted” the anthem-of-spontaneous-living, “Vegas,” and a funky cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” She also played bluesy-reworked versions of “Come Round Soon” and “Bottle It Up,” which enhanced the songs’ jazz undertones and flared them into smoky nightclub tunes to puff your cigar to on the dimly lit set of your own personal noir film.

During her acapella performance of “Gravity,” Sara allowed her truly stunning voice to take center stage. Even the drunk dude behind me (who was later escorted away by security during “Love Song” for being too belligerent…seriously) found a way to stop falling on strangers and be moved by Sara’s hauntingly beautiful voice. Sara really has the type of major pipes that few other contemporary female singer/songwriters can rival.

As part of her encore, Sara played a new track by the title, “Beautiful Girl.” Inspired by the tough experiences that some younger girls in her family are currently facing (as well as her own former issues), the song found the chanteuse plucking away at her ukulele with Jason Mraz-ish fervor.

While the message of “Beautiful Girl” is very much on par with the theme of self-empowerment that’s taken over the charts recently (i.e. P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect” and Selena Gomez’ “Who Says”), its lyrics make “Firework” fizzle out and completely abort “Born This Way.”

“So before you trade in your summer skin for those high heel shoes to make him want to be with you, let me remind you one more time that just maybe you’re beautiful, but you can’t see / So why don’t you just trust me they’ll see it too, you beautiful girl, you?” Sara gorgeously sang. Could a new album already be in the works?

To close the show, Sara played “Let The Rain,” my personal favorite track off of her #1 album, last fall’s Kaleidoscope Heart. If you haven’t heard this song, open the iTunes store and buy it right now. Seriously. If you don’t like it, then I think you and I should see other people.

And if you can, be sure to catch Sara on the remainder of her fall tour, now through the end of October. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Originally published on MuuMuse