For The Prickly Pair, a pandemic-induced film immersion provided an instant gateway to 1950s-era New Orleans.
The Nashville, Tennessee alt-country duo of Mason Summit (vocals, guitars, keys) and Irene Greene (vocals) landed in the throes of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and penned their latest Southern Gothic single, “The Long Parade,” as an ode to Tennessee Williams.
“We actually wrote that song for a Tennessee Williams tribute my mom was putting on as part of her literary series, Library Girl,” said Summit about the 1951 film based on Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
“We often get inspired by dialogue or visuals in movies, and we were taking notes while watching the film adaptation of ‘Streetcar.’”
Throughout “The Long Parade,” The Prickly Pair become entangled in the heartbreak and betrayal of Blanche, Stanley, Stella and Mitch. Twangy lap steel, nonchalant acoustic guitar, strolling bass, somber keys, steady drums and glistening cymbals plead for serenity and closure.
Summit and Greene sing, “Pearls before swine/Pull the wool over my eyes/‘Cause I can’t tell the truth/From my own lies.”
“It’s more of an attempt to capture the overall vibe, but I think people see themselves in these characters,” Summit said. “I hope people can relate to the song in a similar way. I personally find the chorus very cathartic to play.”
The San Francisco cabaret psych-punk trio of Ellie Stokes (vocals, guitar, piano, synth), Jack Stancik (bass) and William Stokes (drums) celebrates creepy plastic cuisine, nervous guests and ghoulish mannequin hosts in their new immersive 360 video for “Neuroplasticity.”
“It’s all kind of weird CGI people, and you turn around and someone has a plate of eyeballs,” said Ellie Stokes about the interactive video. “The detail in it is amazing, and one guy sitting down has motor legs, and he keeps moving. You’re forced to look at people and figure out what’s going on in their heads.”
One step inside the “Neuroplasticity” characters’ collective headspace reveals the innovative mindset of Honeymoon Supply Co. Grooblen collaborated with the Los Angeles-based visual artist to direct and create the stunning video.
“I told her to include some stuff, but for the most part, it was just her and how she perceived the song,” said Ellie Stokes. “She was like, ‘Well, what about a dinner party?’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that would be so cool, and what if you included some creepy dish that could be misinterpreted?’”
Throughout the David Lynch-esque video, a pair of guests anxiously determines whether to sample eyeball appetizers, bloody cocktails and emerald gelatin molds. Their spooky hosts quietly observe as floors move below and flames erupt overhead.
“She was looking for creative projects, and it took her about a week to put it together,” said Ellie Stokes. “I love that kind of stuff, and I’m excited to put it out there.”
The video also perfectly reflects the spooky, haunting imagery depicted in Grooblen’s “Neuroplasticity” single, which spotlights the human brain and body’s resilience to heal and adapt from past traumas.
“‘Neuroplasticity’ is about how everything can change in a second and how our brains and bodies are so interlinked,” said Ellie Stokes, who was diagnosed with a rare optic nerve condition in 2020, but has since recovered.
“I wrote it from the perspective of the nerve in my brain telling me what was going on. It’s digging deep into this new part of myself that I hadn’t really thought about before.”
Joss Jaffe closely explores the emotions and experiences of the human spirit.
The Los Angeles chillwave singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist embarks on an invigorating spiritual odyssey filled with resilience and restoration on his latest metamorphic album, Sun Mountain Sea, via Be Why Music.
“From a spiritual perspective, even when you’re in love with someone and it doesn’t work out, you’re still sort of connected to that person. That’s what some of these songs are talking about … trying to see that from the highest perspective, even though you may never see them again. That’s kind of what it’s like to be alive,” Jaffe said.
“When someone dies, you’re just left with the memory of that and how do you process that? These songs aren’t really that heavy, there are a couple that deal with heavier and stronger issues, but they’re pretty light in general. The hopefulness is a good quality. It’s the kind of thing you can play during a road trip and just chill.”
With a relaxed foot on the gas and one hand on the wheel, Jaffe’sSun Mountain Sea instantly transports listeners to a carefree, windows-rolled-down headspace. Breathtaking waves of mystical electronic soundscapes, effervescent indie-pop sensibilities and lustrous instrumentation propel listeners across international scenic highways from Santa Barbara to Ibiza.
“It’s very honest, like the way a singer-songwriter would sing it. There’s an acoustic element, but it’s laid on top of these electronic beats. It’s been compared to The Postal Service and stuff like that,” said Jaffe, who also took inspiration from Foster The People, MGMT and Tycho.
“In my mind’s eye, I fantasized it would be like Ibiza-style, like Avicii or something. But that’s not me; I’m not really a big, electro-heavy guy. It has more of a chill-out kind of a vibe.”
“I got rear-ended by a tow truck right after The Shape of Things to Come came out, and it really destroyed my confidence for a bit … like I didn’t want to be online or even want to leave my house,” said Washington, aka Thomas Dunn, who’s now an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) alum.
“But I had this screenwriting course at EMU in which we analyzed movies from a screenwriting perspective, and I watched so many more of them because of last semester. I blazed through so many Rachel McAdams or Meg Ryan movies and also got really interested in a few K-dramas. I watched a lot of them while I played guitar at night and most of the new EP was written this way.”
While watching rom-coms and K-dramas, Washington also sought inspiration from another unlikely source, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s 2007 Academy Award-winning film, No Country for Old Men.
“I pictured the whole EP as an indie romantic-comedy soundtrack. Because the songs on the EP lean into a variety of emotions, I see ‘Life Is’ as a good example of both. It straddles the line between a cataclysmic sadness and an unwavering optimism to me,” they said.
“It’s funny because No Country for Old Men is such a dark film. I love how it sits within many genres and influences, yet is its own thing. The EP … pushed me to write songs that have multiple sides and angles. The songs have these dark and cinematic edges to them, but I hope they also feel kind of cheeky and cute.”
The indie rock singer-songwriter and guitarist explores identity, society and purpose on her latest philosophical concept album, Daeus x Machina.
“It is actually the outline for a novel that I’m working on … all I want to say is that it follows a protagonist in a new world, and that it’s science fiction-fantasy with elements of romance,” said Dee, who hails from Los Angeles. “It also contemplates mortality, myth, the idea of land ownership and immigration, cultural identity and purpose/destiny.”
Steeped in celestial, lo-fi soundscapes and intoxicating, psychedelic sensibilities, Dee’s Daeus x Machina provides a vulnerable journey of personal and societal transformation.
“It’s not that I set out to write about these things, but they’re so present to me in my daily life as we are watching this rapid transformation of our consciousness and society/systems,” she said.
“The idea of failing to control our consumption of resources on a planet that we evolved to exist on, but thinking that we could more easily establish life on a new planet … it’s just so ignorant and ridiculous to me, but it’s something that real billionaires and supposed geniuses are contemplating.”
The Stratton Setlist chatted with Dee about her ingenious album, past projects and releases, background and future plans.
Adam Kennedy unexpectedly became a globetrotter during the pandemic.
The Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K. music photojournalist ventured to Finland, the U.S., Australia, Russia, Israel, Italy, Japan and other far-flung locations to shoot established and emerging artists – all from the comfort of his own home.
In fact, Kennedy’s international photographic jaunts have occurred online as part of a successful virtual photo shoot project he launched in April 2020. To date, he’s conducted more than 570 virtual photo shoots with rock, metal, jazz and blues artists over Facebook, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and other online platforms.
“It’s just to create a feel of coming together online and being in the moment. After an hour, you usually have something cool. Every session has been completely different, and every artist brings something different to the table,” he said.
“Every environment is different because I’m not working in a studio. I’m predominantly working out of someone’s home, or a person takes me out on location. I’ve been in Los Angeles on the strip, in Sochi overlooking the Black Sea, in Jerusalem at a park and in Victoria near the Great Ocean Road.”
For LovelyOcean, a full-time focus on music will pay dividends for years to come.
The Los Angeles hip-hop singer-songwriter relishes the freedom and gratification of pursuing her emerging creative endeavors on “No Down Payment,” now available on all streaming platforms.
“I like to think of ‘No Down Payment’ as a form of background motivation. It’s like, ‘Yeah, this music isn’t paying any of the bills yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t someday.’ I think it’s important that we continue to work on things we love as to not get worn down by work, life and other bullshit,” said LovelyOcean.
“Up until this point, I had been working in the social work field, and it was killing my spirit. But it served as the biggest motivation to work on music so I could get out. I quit my job back in March, and I’ve never felt better.”
LovelyOcean celebrates her “No Down Payment” independence as shiny, cyclical synths, jumpy bass and gentle percussion smoothly glide alongside hypnotic, ‘90s-esque beats.
She reflects, “Just trying to break the mold/They warned me as a youth/Back when I played with dough/Things come natural/Need it off top/The world is gonna feel my flow/No static/We live from the radio/Tryna make it through/Ima shine like I was radial/And have a packed house/Up at SoFi Stadium.”
“Somedays I’m like, ‘Damn, I really wish this shit would pay off soon.’ It can be really discouraging to put your all into music, but no one is really fucking with it. I don’t like to have to ask people I’m close with if they’ve listened to the song. I don’t like begging for support,” LovelyOcean said.
“I’ve been using this time to recover and refocus so I can work on an album, but at this moment my songwriting waterfall is kinda dry. I’m glad I don’t feel stressed by work anymore, but I do feel more pressure to be artistic.”
LovelyOcean started co-writing her creative autonomy anthem with Chuck Chill in January. They recorded the track together in their magical closet studio and watched it quickly flourish over several days.
“It took about two days for the song to be written and probably two days to record it. I’ll spend one day recording it so I can get comfortable with it, and then I’ll record it another day so I can really solidify the vibes. Chuck Chill came up with the concept for the song and the majority of the lyrics,” she said.
“This is the first time I have ever let someone else take over the writing, but I knew he would do the song justice because he’s an excellent artist. Chuck Chill and I have collaborated on multiple tracks so far. He was featured on ‘Theta Waves’ on my last EP, and I’ve been featured on a few of his mixtapes.”
Gaucho Major keenly uncovers the duplicitous side of human nature.
The Los Angeles pop-rock duo of Max Espinosa (vocals, guitar) and Mike Pappas (songwriting, production) shines a jazzy, truthful light on “Blue Ribbon,” an eye-opening, witty new single that instantly challenges people to reveal their true identities.
“It’s basically a song about the American lie in privilege. There’s a lot that goes into that, and there’s a lyric in there, ‘Be happy that you’ve left where you’ve come from.’ While growing up in LA, I saw people come here from all walks of life,” said Espinosa.
“I noticed a difference with someone coming from Detroit, St. Louis or Cleveland; they just wanna erase where they came from. They’re happy to shed it. But when I go to New York, people are like, ‘I’m from Pittsburgh, or I’m from Ann Arbor,’ and they’re just proud about it. They’re past lives aren’t thrown away.”
Throughout “Blue Ribbon,” Gaucho Major elegantly retrieves those discarded past selves as thoughtful piano, soulful sax, mystical electric guitars, sauntering bass and cozy drums unearth the importance of living authentically.
Espinosa playfully sings, “Be happy to leave where you came from/There’s everything here under the sun/The crowd back there/They ain’t got much to go on/Careful where you step, son/We just did the lawn/It’s good to be on the board/Even if you’re a pawn.”
“The verses are very much like a parody and a caricature’s story. When I get to the chorus, I actually sing and do my normal voice. It’s a wink, a smile and a nod to what people expect in life, especially with the rise in social media, and people filtering out 90 percent of their real life to give you a 10 percent glimpse of the good times,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa and Pappas started delving into “Blue Ribbon’s” refreshing theme of uncovering inauthentic selves last summer. The duo received a songwriting prompt for the track from the KDC Guild’s Kristopher Malone, who will include “Blue Ribbon” on his upcoming multimedia concept album, Welcome to the Cise Pavilion.
“We basically brainstormed this certain segment of the story, and it was this long scene of what an ideal life would look like. It’s the notion of a trophy family and how you’re supposed to live in America, and I thought it was perfect for me to write about it. That was enough for me to get going on creating the soundscape and everything for the song,” said Espinosa, who’s influenced by Steely Dan.
To solidify the track’s first-rate, jazz-inspired sound, Gaucho Major invited a talented roster of musicians, including Kevin Hannah (drums), Kateri Lirio (piano) and Kapil Raman (sax), to collaborate remotely for “Blue Ribbon” over a six-month period.
“We started in July with the skeleton build to get the bones of the track, and that’s just the thematic elements of the song and not even the lyrics or anything. When it came to recording the parts, we did a rough demo in August to send out to our drummer,” Espinosa said.
“We picked Kevin because he’s got amazing gospel chops; he’s got groove. When we got the drums back, we decided to build everything on top of it. We ended up getting those back in late September and recorded everything else in October. And then we sent it off to get mixed in November.”
The Los Angeles heavy metal singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso slowly exhales after getting through another manic Monday.
“I’ve found that most people are tired and angry on a Monday. By Tuesday, they seem lost and ready to procrastinate again. I make it a point each Tuesday to escape a bit and visit a local hiking spot to get through the rest of the week,” said Ania Thomas, aka Ania.
Ania appropriately celebrates her favorite workday and weekly nature jaunt through a thrash-tastic new single, “Tuesdays,” now available on all streaming platforms.
Boisterous Black Sabbath-esque electric guitars, galvanic bass, propulsive drums, crashing cymbals, fuzzy synths and delicate strings instantly release inner workplace tensions and rejuvenate weary minds throughout the 4.5-minute therapeutic banger.
Ania calmly sings, “And the road, and you climb some more/To find that one path about you/Still shines down on you/Are you forgetting it?/Climb, climb to get to the road you once knew/Where it shines down on you/Stairs are up the way, you know.”
“I think ‘Tuesdays’ bring a sense of relief by sharing a positive message, especially through the lyric, ‘You’re gonna find a way.’ It’s all about wanting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and staying positive while living through our current times. For me, nature has always brought a sense of healing both physically and mentally,” Ania said.
“Romantic and transcendentalist poets created a movement in which freedom and emotion were favored over intellectual growth. True inspiration is beyond our human reasoning and intelligence can only take us so far as people. There is more to life than just intelligence, including freedom of self-expression, intuition, inspiration and the pursuit of truth. It’s really a matter of taking care of ourselves in a spiritual way.”
Along with director Joseph Cordova, Ania beautifully conveys the spiritual power of nature in a compelling video for “Tuesdays,” which features breathtaking overhead shots of Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon Park against a hazy city backdrop. A gold pocket watch slowly dangles in the video’s opening sequence to symbolize the gradual passage of time in an isolated world.
“Joseph and I went to one of my favorite places that I regularly visit whenever I feel down or need a break from the world. It’s my favorite hiking spot in Los Angeles,” said Ania, who climbs throughout the hills while shredding her green Ibanez.
“We used a pocket watch because I wanted to show the concept of time and how it’s always running away from us as creative people. At the same time, it’s also a social construct. It took us a year and a half to finish the video due to complications from the pandemic, but finishing this project proved to me that you have to keep going in spite of what else is happening around you.”
For VK Lynne, it’s simply a case of mind over matter.
The Los Angeles alt rock singer-songwriter triumphantly tackles lingering self-doubt and paralyzing anxiety on her uplifting new pop-fueled anthem, “Brain Waves,” out now via all streaming platforms.
“I wrote this song several years ago, and finally, this seemed to be the time for it. There are perceptions, expectations and stereotypes about ourselves that we sometimes unknowingly give into and allow ourselves to be held down by other people’s rules. When you finally work out that realization in your mind, your ‘brain waves’ goodbye to the ideas that don’t serve us. There is hope in that departure and freedom,” she said.
Throughout “Brain Waves,” Lynne proudly shares her personal sense of freedom as intermittent vibrant piano, rhythmic finger snaps, humming synths, fuzzy electric guitars, bouncy bass and pounding drums bolster her growing confidence. She soulfully sings, “As it always is/Ain’t how it’s gotta be/Crumpling the page and I’m aiming/For the basket next to me/I’m as empty as the can/Baby can you deal with the drama/Can you fill me up again/And we’ll hold our fire.”
“I usually write my songs in a huge heart-vomiting purge, and this one was no exception. I attempted to put together a production; I played bass, guitar and programmed drums and made the world’s worst mix right after I wrote it. But when I pulled it out this year, I decided that it deserved better,” said Lynne, who plans to release a new video for “Brain Waves” soon.
“My idea was to try something totally different. I’ve done blues, rock, metal and prog, but this had a feel that was decidedly unique to my catalog. I contacted my friends Alexx Calise and Dennis Morehouse of Batfarm. They came on to produce, and we gave this song an upbeat, pop-rock treatment that it seemed to want.”