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.”
For LovelyOcean, the right words bring a welcome songwriting sea change.
The Los Angeles hip-hop singer-songwriter poetically shares her innermost thoughts about authenticity, self-awareness, passion and growth on her vintage-inspired debut album, LovelyOcean Forever, which dropped Aug. 14 via all streaming platforms.
“Forever started off with the idea of manifesting how I wanted my 2020 to go. I wanted to speak my wishes into existence through music. Words are some of our most powerful forms of manifestation. The themes in this album just came naturally since they’re real experiences,” she said.
LovelyOcean beautifully turns the hip-hop tide through eight reflective tracks infused with shiny synths, slow jams, catchy rhymes, euphoric beats and palpitating electronic percussion. Forever serves as a modern underground mixtape to inspire emerging and established female hip-hop artists looking for a new musical shoreline.
It’s the type of cassette artists would pass back and forth to create a stronger sense of camaraderie, collaboration and community. The exquisite “Forever (Intro)” sets an ideal old-school tone as the mixtape instantly clicks into a worn boombox and compelling skits from “The Maury Povich Show” are interspersed throughout the brief track.
Quiet, thoughtful piano echoes LovelyOcean’s introversion and peaceful presence as she reflects, “I could try to be louder or extroverted, but there’s beauty in my silence. From my silence comes observation, awareness, a story, a song, a forever.”
“I want to say that I started writing in February of this year, but once quarantine started I put everything on pause because I was super uninspired. One day I woke up, listened to two beats and then just started writing. All in all, it took three months to get everything written, recorded and edited. We converted a closet in the living room into our studio so every track recorded was in the closet,” LovelyOcean said.
The Rio de Janeiro guitarist-bassist-producer strategically connects discrete audio pieces to create captivating film scores and soundtracks through Artigo Audio.
Together, those emerging instrumentals unfold a hidden classic-meets-alt-rock world filled with enticing people, places and experiences. With limitless possibilities and choose-your-own-adventure storylines, listeners travel to an undiscovered, intergalactic dimension, a drug-infested Edinburgh and a nocturnal-inspired Hollywood.
“I like to dismantle all the pieces that I put together, like a puzzle, and then dismantle them again to make the music neat and clear,” Hendrik said.
For his latest score, the forceful, driving “Russian Dance” jumps to hyperspace as charging, vibrant electric guitars, booming drums, throbbing bass and crashing cymbals provide a Black Sabbath-esque space jam.
Next, listeners instantly shift to Scotland as “Skag Boys” propels into an alt-punk rock frenzy with swift, crunchy electric guitars, pounding drums, banging cymbals and driving bass in an Irvine Welsh-like heroine culture.
After sonically leaving the U.K., a third Hendrik stop includes a late-night stroll down Sunset Boulevard on “Hollywood Moon” as bluesy, fuzzy electric guitars, shimmering cymbals, delicate drums and thoughtful bass echo along the concrete jungle.
“I have an inclination for making soundtracks, especially because Hollywood has this feel of a classic place. If you see the buildings, it looks like you’re in the ‘50s, and the people you see on the street are totally different. It’s like you’re in a time warp,” said Hendrik, who studied audio engineering abroad at Los Angeles’ Musicians Institute in 2016.
“I put myself in the shoes of somebody who’s delusional walking around Hollywood searching for something that may fulfill their delusion. Sometimes I would go to Jameson’s Irish Pub, and if I got loaded, I would leave the whiskey bar and start walking around Hollywood to talk to everybody.”
“Hollywood Moon” also features Hendrik’s mesmerizing instrumental collaboration with Ania, a Los Angeles heavy metal singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso, who beautifully shreds throughout the haunting psych rock track.
“I found her online during social isolation. I was building my website for my production company, and I started reaching out to people saying, ‘Hey, do you want to produce or record something?’” he said.
“I was on Facebook, and I added Ania because I saw she attended the same school I that did in Hollywood. After we had a conversation, I realized she was just like me, a musician who wanted to record. It was amazing because she brought me results within a week.”
Whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, there’s a new bunch of tasty tracks ready to sample.
The July edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will whet your musical appetite with shimmery pop-rock, upbeat country, mesmerizing post-rock, metalized modern rock, steamy blues rock, soulful folk, spunky hip-hop, groovy R&B and more freshly-squeezed tracks.
Throughout their latest uplifting single, “Sailors,” the Monterrey, Nuevo León pop-punk trio of Adrian Garth (vocals, guitar), Eduardo Guajardo (guitar) and Pablo Gonzalez (drums) energetically chronicles encountering rough waters en route to uncovering a buried musical treasure outside Mexico.
“The chorus says, ‘We are the sailors who don’t leave this ship.’ Well, the ship is the band and our dreams. I know for every band it’s super difficult to make it and have success, but I find it extremely more difficult to be in another country and try to make it in a scene that’s not in your country or in your hometown,” said Garth, who wrote “Sailors” in February and co-produced it with Mauricio Colunga.
“We were talking about that right before we got on the plane to LA for the music video for ‘Break Me.’ We were like, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s difficult, and it’s not going to get easier anytime soon, but it doesn’t matter because we want what we want, and we’re gonna get it no matter what.”
All At Once’s admirable determination surges throughout “Sailors” as reverby, crunchy electric guitars swirl amid echoey background vocals, exuberant bass, humming synths and pounding electronic drums. About 20 seconds into the track, the trio erupts into a Blink 182-esque, sea-faring fury as driving electric guitars, rhythmic bass and thumping drums bounce listeners from one sonic wave to another.
While moving full-speed ahead, Garth enthusiastically sings akin to Owl City, “The warmest lights are here right now/We’re shining bright up in the sky/Together we can touch the clouds/We’ll sail this boat until the end/We are the captains once again/Roller-coasting our way.”
“The ‘captains’ part is about us handling ourselves and not letting anyone else interfere with us, but I really like the lyric that says ‘Roller-coasting our way.’ I love roller coasters, and this was something that took me a long time to figure out – everything you do no matter what it is has its ups and downs, so that’s what I meant about it. It’s gonna be good, it’s gonna be sad, and I’m gonna be angry sometimes, and I’m gonna be super happy, but I’m going to be crying sometimes,” Garth said.
All At Once beautifully captures their optimistic outlook through a “Sailors” companion lyric video, which features an 18th century-inspired ship coasting along a pink turbulent ocean in a pastel neon dreamscape.
“We decided to include the lyrics on the screen with these really cool movements from side to side that mimic a ship on the water. My bandmates really liked it, and we couldn’t wait to release it,” said Garth, who created the lyric video.
As summer kicks into high gear, get ready to test-drive a new batch of tunes from emerging local and regional artists.
The June edition of “The Stratton Playlist” will gain traction with grungy alt rock, lo-fi jazzy soul, inspirational pop rock, indie folk, bouncy pop punk, dancy pop, melodic prog rock, bouncy pop punk and uplifting country.