David Wax Museum
"Suz and I started this band as friends," says David Wax, "but now we're married and have a child and have our family on the road with us. The stakes are different."
Those stakes are what lie at the heart of David Wax Museum's fourth and boldest studio album to date, Guesthouse (to be released October 16 on Thirty Tigers). It's the sound of a band reconciling the accountability of marriage and parenthood with the uncertainty and challenges of life on the road; of coming to terms with the limitations of the "folk" tag that launched their career and pushing past it into uncharted musical territory; of reimagining their entire approach in the studio to capture the magic and the bliss of their live show. In typical David Wax Museum fashion, the songs on Guesthouse are simplistic and sophisticated, elegant and plainspoken all at once. Rather than succumbing to the weight of the newfound responsibilities that landed on their doorstep, the band has leaned into the challenges to capture a brilliant portrait of the messy beauty of it all.
The roots of David Wax Museum stretch back nearly a decade, and all the way from New England to Mexico. As a student at Harvard, Wax began traveling south of the border to study and immerse himself in the country's traditional music and culture. Back in Boston, he met fiddler/singer Suz Slezak, whose love of traditional American and Irish folk music fused with Wax's Mexo-Americana into a singular, energetic blend that captivated audiences and critics alike. Their 2010 breakout performance at the Newport Folk Festival made them the most talked-about band of the weekend, with NPR hailing them as "pure, irresistible joy." They released a trio of albums that earned escalating raves everywhere from SPIN and Entertainment Weekly (who described them as sounding "like Andrew Bird with a Mexican folk bent") to the New York Times and The Guardian (which dubbed the music "global crossover at its best"). They earned an invitation to return to Newport, this time on the main stage, as well as dates supporting The Avett Brothers, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Buena Vista Social Club, and more.
It was on the road over these past few years as the band and audiences grew, though, that Wax could feel their exuberant live show evolving beyond its formative roots.
"I felt empowered to start the band because of my time in Mexico studying folk music," Wax explains. "In Boston, the term 'Americana' or 'folk' was just this catchall to describe what everyone was doing. It was helpful to use that to talk about our music at first, but we've found that our hearts feel most shaken, and the band fires on all cylinders, when we're putting on a rock show. What we've tried to retain about our folk origins is the warm sound of people playing acoustic instruments together in a room. But, by embracing more of an indie rock approach, we've colored this record with synthesizers, layers of percussion, and adventurous sonic processing. The mental shift of it helped us feel like we could do anything we wanted. There were no rules that we had to follow in terms of what was 'authentic.'"
Part of the inspiration for the shift was the presence of guitarist and producer Josh Kaufman, who sat in with the band on tour and added new sounds and textures that the they'd never experimented with before. When it came time to record Guesthouse, the band knew he had to helm it in the studio.
"The songs entered this Technicolor, 3D world with Josh," explains Wax. "Aside from his contributions to the arrangements, he really wanted us all to be in a room playing the music together live so that the groove would be central. We brought in two other drummers, and there was a real focus on having as much percussion happening at the same time as possible. We gravitate towards that naturally because of the Mexican influences, all of the syncopations and 6/8 dance rhythms and the energy that that gives us, but we really embraced it this time around."
That emphasis on groove sucks you in from the opening seconds of the kickoff track, "Every Time Katie," a whispered come-on that roils and pulses like an anxious heartbeat and features gorgeous call and response vocals from David and Suz. It's followed by "Dark Night Of The Heart," which pushes the sonic envelope further than any previous David Wax Museum track, blending chamber strings, psychedelic vocal filters, explosive drums, and swirling synthesizers.
Written partially in Mexico and partially in western Massachusetts, the lyrics on Guesthouse find Wax writing with more direct, personal honesty than ever before.
"I had felt really reluctant to talk about personal stuff in the past," says Wax. "I was writing personally, but there were lots of things I was obfuscating or filtering through a character to protect myself from putting too much out there. But it got to a point where it was taking a lot more energy than it was worth to maintain that privacy. When we had our daughter, Calliope, it felt like this sudden release because talking and singing about our lives was becoming more and more integral to what we were doing as artists and who we were as people."
The title track, which draws on several traditional Mexican songs for musical inspiration, is a tongue-in-cheek reflection on the life of a traveling musician hunting for a free place to crash, while "Lose Touch With The World" faces down the reality of living a life far removed from that of your friends and family, and "Young Man" is an earnest musing on growing older.
"It's about being a parent and coming to terms with what your ambition is," explains Wax. "What part of that is essential to who you are, and what part can you let go of? We have to check in with ourselves and ask what we're doing and why we're doing it more often now because we're not just us putting ourselves through the mental and physical sacrifices of touring anymore," he continues. "Now Calliope is going through it with us, and Suz's dad and my cousin Jordan are going through it with us on the road. And because we're constantly checking and making sure we're doing this for the right reasons, that we feel honest in our hearts about it, I think that's brought new life to what we're doing and a new energy and a new level of commitment."
It's a sentiment brought beautifully to life on "Everything Changes," as Wax and Slezak sing, "Everything changes / when two becomes three." The song was written in response to all of the good-natured warnings about what having a child would mean for the couple, the freedom and sleep and sanity they might lose out on. Instead, they choose to focus on everything they've gained: a beautiful daughter, a stronger bond with their families and fans than ever before, and without a doubt, the most exciting album of their career. For David Wax Museum, the stakes may be higher, but that just means the rewards are even bigger.
“Pesticide is used to kill pests. Fratricide is when you kill your brother,” explains Darlingside’s Dave Senft. “A former teacher of ours used to say ‘kill your darlings,’ which is to say, if you fall in love with something you’ve written you should cross it out. We like that idea and we thought a good name for it might be ‘darlingcide’, but we changed the ‘c’ to an ‘s’ because we’re not super into death.” The naming of the band reflects the arch humor, cryptic wordplay, and playful banter that the four close friends share on and off stage—but the music Darlingside plays is serious, cinematic, and deeply moving.
On Birds Say, the Massachusetts-based quartet’s wide-open arrangements are marked by the skillful vocal interplay of the four singers. When bassist Dave Senft, guitarist and banjo player Don Mitchell, classical violinist and folk mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist and guitar picker Harris Paseltiner gather around a single microphone and let their richly-textured voices loose, they splash their melodies with a sunny melancholy that brings their lyrics to vibrant life. Subtle musical shadings take cues from 60s folk, chamber pop, bluegrass, classical music, and modern indie rock, while aching harmonies are complemented by tones from the harmonium, frailing banjo, 12-string electric guitar, Wurlitzer, auto-chord organ, and grand piano. The result is a collection of quietly passionate songs that defy easy categorization.
“Each song and set of lyrics are created by all of us together, a sort of ‘group stream-of- consciousness,’” Harris says. “So we moved away from a single lead vocalist and started gravitating towards singing in unison, passing the melody around, or harmonizing in four parts through an entire song.” Live and on record, they present a unified voice by clustering around a single condenser microphone and blending their voices in the room before they hit the mic.
Darlingside assembled the songs that make up Birds Say over the past three years in their kitchens and living rooms, on cabin retreats, and while visiting each other’s childhood homes. They recorded at Dimension Sound Studios in Boston with engineer and co-producer Dan Cardinal during the city’s snowiest month in history, the streets empty due to travel bans.
Sparse notes from banjo, acoustic guitar, violin and grand piano punctuate the solemn “White Horses,” in keeping with the song’s themes of haunting nostalgia and bleak winter inertia. “Looking for a trace of our orchard underground / Growing in the basements beneath a brand new town,” Harris sings delicately while the others support him with high, mournful harmonies. Auyon, Dave, and Harris sing in unison to begin “The God of Loss,” a song that laments the inevitable clash of the narrator’s familial, cultural, and romantic loyalties. Auyon’s somber fiddle and the unadorned arrangement recall the isolated wail of an old Appalachian folk song, transplanted into a bed of churning guitars. “Harrison Ford” rides lightheartedly on an echoing hand percussion loop, goosed along by Don’s chattering banjo as he sings a lyric full of complex internal rhymes in a style that’s part vocalese, part sideshow spiel. The ensemble supplies bursts of fractured harmonies that mirror the action of the swordfight the speaker is having with a man who may, or may not, be Harrison Ford.
The title track “Birds Say” is a vocal tour de force, with layered nylon-string guitars, violin, and cello underpinning 12 multi-tracked voices that fill the sonic space with rich overtones and intertwining harmonies as they muse on the mysteries of communication and interconnection.
Brittle synthesizer-like sounds from Auyon’s mandolin seamlessly mesh with acoustic and 12- string Danelectro guitars for the folk rock groove of “Go Back.” The arresting a cappella intro features all four voices lifted in harmonies that recall CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young). The propulsive music shifts under the vocalists, fervent as they attempt to untie the knots that connect past and future.
“We wrote this record thinking about our childhoods, our transition into adulthood together, and the complexities of life that we all have to grapple with now,” Don says. Lyrically and musically, the band will follow a song wherever it takes them. “We don’t really think about genre,” Auyon observes. “We don’t see any limits except ‘no jazz,’ because none of us know how to play it.” And yet the band’s close harmonies and carefully crafted arrangements do occasionally spill into loose free-form outros, surreal dream spaces, and textural experimentation. “We started dipping into some psychedelic sounds with Dan,” says Harris, “re-amping our group vocals through a rotating organ speaker to give them a melting, wavering Doppler effect, or pushing an instrument through an Echoplex tape delay, which can make an acoustic guitar sound like a spaceship taking off.” Amid unexpected soundscapes, the songs remain familiar, looking backward and forward at the same time.
The members of Darlingside met at Williams College in western Massachusetts. “Auyon and I were paired as freshman year roommates,” Dave recalls. “We fought often, but we spent so much time together that we very quickly became like brothers.” They joined a singing group with Don, and Harris joined the same group two years later. From there, the four bonded over a shared interest in songwriting, despite a diversity of musical backgrounds and performance styles including chamber music, choral singing, Celtic session playing, and street busking. As soon as Harris, the youngest, graduated, the friends moved into a house on the Connecticut River in Hadley, MA. “We had ‘family dinners’ almost every night,” says Dave, “rotating cooking for one another, and we spent a lot of our free time out on a dilapidated houseboat that we called the ‘Shack Raft.’”
Darlingside first toured as a five-piece indie rock band with drums, but finding the right delicate balance of voices and instruments was a challenge early on. Then, in 2013, the band parted ways with their long-time friend and drummer. “In our first few shows without Sam, we felt naked,” says Auyon. Listening to the current quartet, you can hear fingers on strings, breathing in the singing, squeaks and pumps from a harmonium. The band now performs the songs the same way they practice and write them—seeing them live is like sitting in their living room. There are still vestiges of the rock format: electric guitar fuzz and ambient feedback creep into otherwise acoustic arrangements. But in the new format, voices and melody have shifted to the forefront—a shift that has become important to the band. Harris explains, “we try to write songs that exist out of the context we set them into, songs that can just be sung.”
After six years of playing together and a decade-plus of knowing each other, the band’s collaborative process has evolved side by side with their friendships. “We’ve become intimate with each other’s childhoods, families, fears, goals, insecurities and body odors,” Auyon notes. “That kind of closeness is typically limited to romantic relationships. It’s gotten to the point where we often mistake each other’s stories and memories for our own.” Birds Say is a patchwork of the artistic and personal visions of four equal songwriters—a mashup of their individual and collective experiences and dreams. “The process is so entangled,” Don says, “I sometimes can’t remember what I wrote, or what anyone else wrote. We don’t consider a song finished until we’re all satisfied with it. It may not be the fastest process, but we know that when we all agree on something, it’ll sound like us.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and filmmaker Haroula Rose has no problem finding a steady stream of inspiration. Having had success in both film and music, Rose is unlikely to be taking a break anytime soon with her sophomore album coming out as well as several upcoming TV and film projects.
Rose’s songs have been heard on a number of films or TV series such as "Still Alice," "How I Met Your Mother," For A Good Time, Call..., "American Horror Story," "Awkward," "Being Human," "Marry Me," and many others. To date she has released two EP’s, several singles and remixes, and her debut album These Open Roads to much critical acclaim. She has held residencies at the Hotel Cafe and Bootleg Theater in LA, toured nationally and across Europe and Canada, and collaborated with the likes of Kyp Malone, Andy Lemaster, Hood Internet, Mason Jennings, Orenda Fink, Peter Bradley Adams, and Jim White among others. She has also performed as a showcasing artist at SXSW Music Festival.
These Open Roads was recorded in Athens, GA with Andy Lemaster (Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, Maria Taylor), was praised by the likes of the LA Times, LA Weekly, Vice, Popmatters, Flavorpill, LA Record, American Songwriter, and many more. According to No Depression: “Haroula Rose sings with the spirit of a gypsy soul, always searching for meaning or a seed of truth in each fleeting moment. Her voice is at once intimate and solacing, its gentle inflections betraying a subtle, plaintive sway that enriches moments of guitar- driven folk with the pathos of classic country.” With Here The Blue River, she moves beyond the realm of folk and country into something more mysterious and exciting, wholly her own.
As a filmmaker, Rose has either written, directed, produced or acted in a variety of short films, documentaries, and feature films. In the year 2013 alone she wrote, starred in, and wrote music for No Love Song, which co-stars Rosanna Arquette and premiered at the Newport Beach Film Festival. No Love Song, now being distributed by TV4, went to festivals all around the world including Cannes the same year the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station, a film Rose associate produced and music supervised, was screened there as well. Currently Rose is developing a screenplay adaptation of the much beloved novel Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell which Rose will direct in 2016. Rose's script was a finalist for the Nantucket Screenwriter's Colony as well as the Sundance Writer's Lab.
There is an ease in Rose's directing and writing that’s intimate and effortless, as is the case in her voice and songwriting. The award-winning short film Wedding Dress, featuring Joshua Leonard, Abby Wathen, and Dominic Bogart has been compared to a country ballad or Raymond Carver short story. “Sure that feels great to hear. I like when things haunt me, and I can dig in and keep asking questions. I don’t want to be underestimated as a reader or viewer or listener. I want to tell stories that keep exploring our interconnectedness and complexity. And maybe if I’m lucky, someone feels solace in those same things too.”
Rose went to the University of Chicago for her BA and MA, and attended USC for her MFA but took a hiatus to work on music and her films. She is now part of the prestigious Warner Brothers Director’s Workshop, and creating new content for Time Warner. Rose was a Fulbright Scholar, was selected to be a part of Tribeca’s All Access program, and has guest lectured at Cal Poly Pomona, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and Sundance’s Film Forward program.