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Tuesday, Mar 13, 2012
Following the devastating tsunami that ravaged Japan last year, Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino wanted to do something about it, rounding up in-progress, yet-to-be-finished works by many of her famous musician friends and releasing the whole thing as a charity album. She tells PopMatters all about it.

One year after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tokohu coastal region, the people of Japan have made significant progress in rebuilding both their buildings and their communities. However, experts estimate that longer-term recovery may take five years or more. In response to this situation, Kazu Makino, the Japanese-born frontwoman of the band Blonde Redhead, put together We Are the Works in Progress, a benefit album that was released earlier this year.

We Are the Works in Progress is unique both creatively and as disaster-relief effort. All of the tracks are either rough or even incomplete cuts. Also, both of the non-profit organizations receiving proceeds from the album have an eye to the future: The Japan Society currently uses it’s Japan Earthquake Relief Fund to the address country’s long-term humanitarian and economic needs, and Architecture for Humanity works to provide sustainable, design-oriented responses to disasters and social problems.

Kazu recently sat down with PopMatters to talk about We Are the Works in Progress. In the process, we also discussed Japan, the musical process, what’s in store for Blonde Redhead, and more ...

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Tuesday, Feb 14, 2012
She's a pianist, a singer, and a part-time punk bandleader who managed to garner interest from the likes of P. Diddy and more on her quest for true soulfulness. Sitting down with PopMatters, Brown tells us all about her journey towards getting here.

British singer V.V. Brown has gone through a lot to get to the release of her sophomore album, Lollipops and Politics. It’s the second offering of what she refers to as “odd pop”, which is a mighty declaration coming from a Northamptonshire girl who studied piano, violin, and classical voice training prior to joining punk bands creating a unique hybrid sound that has gained her worldwide attention. It was surprising to learn that one of the secret ingredients in her odd pop sound is her strong church-singing background and her affinity for gospel singers.  This time around, V.V. is moving away from the retro sound and is exploring all that her voice and look can create, sitting down with PopMatters to tell us all about it ...

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How would you describe the sound of Lollipops and Politics?

I find it really difficult to describe my music. I’m just a real lover of things. I think my trademark sound is based on my consumption. It’s just the fusing of so many things. That’s why I call my music “odd pop” because I can’t quite explain the sound. Even though this album sounds quite a bit different from [debut album] Traveling Like the Light, the one consistent thing I have been saying is that it is quite an odd fusion. So that’s the one thing that I would say, this album remains to be odd pop.

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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2012
Hundreds of disposable cameras? Alter-egos known as "Captain Tipsy"? Determining what makes a Tickhead? All in a day's work for Deer Tick, who tells PopMatters all about it while still basking in the critical glow of its latest disc.

Deer Tick: transmitter of Lyme Disease or a brotherhood of musicians with a penchant for rock ‘n’ roll and cheap beer? It may have started off as a disease, but since 2004 Deer Tick has represented singer/song writer John McCauley of Providence, Rhode Island. Originally a solo project specializing in East-Coast Americana rock with an indie-folk glaze, Deer Tick has gradually evolved into a full five-piece band with somewhat of a split personality.

Deer Tick’s first three studio albums carried alt-country tones complete with guts, grime, and a knack for solid songwriting. Live the group became a raucous rock band whose music grabbed fans by the collar to kiss them, then spray in the face with beer. Then in 2011 Deer Tick released its fourth studio album Divine Providence, which encapsulated everything from its past mixed with its live rambunctious self.

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Wednesday, Jan 4, 2012
Maria Taylor (Azure Ray, Bright Eyes) speaks to PopMatters about her new solo record, Overlook, and why going home to the South can be good for the creative soul.

Maria Taylor has been at this game a while.  She formed her first band, Little Red Rocket, when she was 15 years old. Since then, she’s performed in Azure Ray and Now It’s Overhead, collaborated with Bright Eyes, Moby, Crooked Fingers, and more, and released five solo records under her own name. In other words, Taylor knows what she’s doing. Nevertheless, even with 20 years of recording behind her, her new solo album, Overlook still feels distinctive and fresh to her. “It’s the first one that I’ve ever fully produced,” she explains, “and I did it all in a week; I usually take way longer than that.” Taylor speaks with a hint of the Southern drawl that reveals her Alabama roots. Overlook has a connection to the Heart of Dixie, as well, as Taylor moved home to Birmingham from Los Angeles to write and record the material. Being in her hometown afforded some easy opportunities for musical accompaniment: “My dad has never played on any of my records,” Taylor says, “and he played on this one, and so did my sister and my brother.” That’s Taylor’s father playing mandolin and singing backup on “Bad Idea”, and those are her brother’s basslines reverberating throughout the album. When Taylor speaks of her musical family, she seems as excited for the chance to work with them as any of her other more famous collaborators. It’s contagious—call it Southern charm.

“My parents gave me this little playhouse when I was three or four, and I turned it into a studio,” she says, laughing. “I put a microphone in there, and they say I’d just sit in there for hours until the tape ran out, just singing and singing.” Music has come naturally to Taylor since her earliest memories, though Overlook took shape only after a long dry spell. Taylor hadn’t written a song in over a year. Then, holed up in her old bedroom in Birmingham, she broke the spell by writing “Happenstance”: “Beginning to end—thirty minutes,” she says. After that, the songs kept coming. “I just sat in my room and literally didn’t leave for two weeks. I had bottles of wine and food and my friends seemed worried ... ” she laughs, trailing off. Taylor recorded Overlook‘s demos straight to her own computer, and you can still hear some of those original backing tracks on the album. When it came time, though, to fill out some of the songs with bigger instrumentation, Taylor drew on Birmingham’s musical community in addition to her own family.

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Thursday, Dec 15, 2011
His father ran a gambling ring outside the back of a cigar shop. His songs have been featured on just about every major TV show on the air right now. From what Mat Kearney tells PopMatters, however, it sounds like he's just getting started.

Whether you know him by name or not, Mat Kearney’s soulful voice has been one of the most recognizable on the airwaves as of late. He’s found success by having his songs featured in some of the most popular shows on primetime television over the last five years—Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and The Vampire Diaries to name a few. His 2007 debut album Nothing Left to Lose  unearthed melancholy pop and spoken word stylings came at just the right time when airwaves were congested with folk-a-likes such as Daniel Powter, Teddy Geiger, Jason Mraz, and Howie Day. Soon after, Kearney used song licensing—the music industry’s best adversary or best ally (depending on how you look at it)—to gain traction, and his fan base bloomed which resulted in touring with the likes of John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Train, amongst others. 

What set Kearney apart then and what sets him apart now isn’t just his acute sense of beat and stylistic prose (though that doesn’t hurt), but more so it’s the musician’s will for self-reflection. Frankly put, he’s not afraid to reveal himself to an audience and take the artistic journey with them. It’s what’s kept Kearney churning out an evolution of unique sounds with each album he releases, from the bare bones of Nothing Left to Lose, to his Kerouac-y road stories on City of Black & White, to his new chapter with Young Love. For the first time we hear Kearney’s structure his sound in the form of one big poppy love letter, for it’s a concept album that he wrote while falling in love with his wife. Its upbeat tones and fluid structure of storytelling is reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and on first listen there’s no mistaking the evolution of his sound, especially on the bubble gummiest of them all, his latest single, “Hey Mama”. While the songs are peppered with simple up-tempo beats, there’s enough lyrical substance and bold narrative with songs like “Rochester” and “Ships In the Night” that the listener won’t confuse Kearney’s authentic artistic integrity for someone else’s style.

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