Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy today announced his return to North America in 2016 with the ‘fire and the flood’ tour. The first headline run for Vance Joy since his 2015 global main support slot for Taylor Swift will start in Vancouver on January 13, 2016, first touching down in the U.S. on January 20 in Minneapolis, and wrapping in Boston on April 1. The tour will see Vance Joy perform a full headline set in clubs, theatres, and arenas across the continent, including some of North America’s most iconic venues, including Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and New York City’s Beacon Theatre.
The tour celebrates Vance Joy’s powerful new single, ‘fire and the flood,’ featured on the recently released special edition of his breakthrough 2014 debut album, dream your life away. In the U.S., the single was the #1 most added song at triple A and alternative radio formats, with early adds at KROQ and Sirius XM’s Alt Nation among others. Vance Joy will perform the song live on NBC’s “Today” on October 15. The companion video to ‘fire and the flood’ is quickly approaching 1 million views on YouTube and can be seen here: https://youtu.be/zKmWd8DPrEc.
In his native Australia, ‘fire and the flood’ was the #1 most added song at radio upon its release. This week it is the #1 most played and has already been certified gold. The song has claimed a #6 spot on the Australian ARIA charts, matching his breakthrough hit “Riptide.”
Today’s tour announcement arrives with a new behind-the-scenes video set to ‘fire and the flood’ that gives fans a peak into Vance Joy’s life on the road. The video can be viewed now at Vance Joy’s official YouTube channel, https://youtu.be/Zzd9mo8HCq0
Along for the ride are various hand-selected guests. January 13 – February 11 Calgary’s Reuben & the Dark will join the tour. Reuben and the Dark is a collection of instrumentalists and vocalists who make chilling emotive folk and soul driven by dark, introspective lyrics that explore the duality of misery and joy. Fearless songstress Elle King will join the tour February 17-March 12. King’s debut album, “LOVE STUFF,” marks the arrival of the young singer/songwriter/guitarist/banjoist as a pop force to be reckoned with. Seeing out the tour will be Portland’s Blind Pilot, whose sophomore album, “WE ARE THE TIDE,” followed the band’s grassroots break-out 2008 debut, “3 Rounds and a Sound.” The band is busy recording a new album, due out in 2016. Opening all shows from February 17 to April 1 is British singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson, the first signing by Ed Sheeran to the global superstar’s newly launched record label. Lawson’s self-titled album arrives on October 9.
Life is beautiful. The world is cruel. Music still matters. Metric have wrestled with these truths for 15 years, but their new album, Pagans in Vegas, takes them on in an entirely new way.
Six LPs into an inspiring career that's seen them collaborate with legends like Lou Reed, perform with the Rolling Stones, entertain the Queen of England, become the first band in history to score their first Top 20 commercial radio hit in the U.S. without the backing of an outside label, win a plethora of awards including Junos for Album of the Year and Artist of the Year, pen the theme song for Twilight: Eclipse with Howard Shore (for which the music garnered nominations for both an Oscar and a Grammy), release an interactive app directly to fans, and set up an esoteric toll-free number for their dedicated listeners to navigate the past and future of their music, Metric have their creative process on lock. But nothing about Pagans in Vegas, set for release in September 2015, came together like any other Metric record.
For starters, it was born during the band's scheduled year off, when frontwoman Emily Haines retreated to Nicaragua and found herself writing on acoustic guitar while guitarist-producer Jimmy Shaw became obsessed with his CS80 synth back home in Toronto. When it came time to start turning these explorations into an album, they turned to the band's go-to mixer, Grammy-nominated John O'Mahony, to co-produce alongside Shaw. "The songs that made it onto Pagans in Vegas weren't written with an overarching concept in mind," Shaw says. "Synthetica was about the battle between what's human and what's artificial, and integrating technology into our lives," Haines explains, referring to the band's — Haines, Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key — acclaimed 2012 LP. "And with this record we were making music for the joy of it. We're still in the game as musicians and people, although the game has gotten increasingly unrecognizable to us."
Irrepressible first single "The Shade" originated in one of Shaw's daily synth jams and Haines wrote the lyrics during sessions at Oscilloscope Labs (the studio the Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch built to record the group's later albums). "All the stuff that sucks and is beautiful — that's being alive," Haines says of the joyous anthem. "You get the sunshine and the shade, and if you're lucky you're going to feel everything."
On powerful opener "Lie Lie Lie," Haines is feeling the frustration of the pop machine, where female artists have finally returned to the fold, "but everyone is in their underwear," she explains. On trippy "Celebrate," she grapples with how the time of obliviously reveling in your own good fortune without paying any attention to what's going on around you is over. And on the alternately dark and buoyant "For Kicks," she flips the traditional breakup song on its head, singing from the perspective of the heartbreaker over a crush of synths.
In an effort to translate the gratifying experience of discovering an artist you love, Metric packed their new album with reverent references to artists who’ve inspired them, from Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure and Underworld all the way back to Kraftwerk. Haines explains it was about finding "the romance of another time without falling into nostalgia." (The concept is also perfectly captured on the album's cover, which features a shot of Memphis' Hotel Chisca, the spot where Elvis Presley did his first broadcast interview.) But despite a few glances in the rearview, Pagans in Vegas stitches together its acoustic and synthetic foundations with a crisp, unique now-ness that captures the quandaries of life in an age where bad news is unavoidable and great art is a life-saver.
Shaw sees the album's title as an apt meditation on "people with a conscience, for better or worse, playing around in the arena of unconscionable behavior" and notes how the album skillfully blurs the lines between genres. "We tried to be as bold as possible," he says. (Shaw also takes lead vocals on "Other Side," a vibey, silky track that announces, "All we want is to feel like all we got didn't cost us everything, even if we never win.")
Before "Fortunes" explodes into a euphoric chorus, Haines sings of a world that's magical, sinister and inescapable. "The way we hang out and fall in love and enjoy life — it's the essence of what makes people human," she says of the "pagans" in the album's title. "People have been playing with stones and dice forever, creating games and music and ways to connect. We may use a different medium now, but that's still who we are."
Within a year of releasing his breakthrough gold single “Cecilia and the Satellite,” singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon headed to New York City and found himself overwhelmed with new inspiration. “I’d write all day and then go out at night and experience the city in a way I never had before,” says McMahon, who’s lived in Southern California for over two decades. The songs took on the mood of what my life felt like in that time, everything from a beautiful sense of celebration to being completely exhausted and wondering when I was going to come up for air.”
Zombies on Broadway, the second album from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness echoes that emotional scope with a selection of songs both powerfully life-affirming and closely attuned to everyday tension and pain. The album’s brightly textured alt-pop builds off the anthemic yet nuanced sensibilities shown in McMahon’s 2014 eponymous debut, revealing a new level of sophistication and insightfulness within his songwriting. And thanks to McMahon’s intimately detailed storytelling and knack for crafting transportive melody, Zombies on Broadway ultimately creates the feeling of being wholly immersed in the kinetic energy of New York City.
While Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness came to life in the tranquility of Topanga Canyon, creating Zombies on Broadway in the heart of New York City proved just as conducive to the soulful reflection that shapes McMahon’s songwriting—and to the profoundly infectious joy that infuses so much of the album.
Here, in his own words, McMahon elaborates on the making of Zombies on Broadway:
“There is a thread of pressure, tension and uncertainty through many of the songs on Zombies. So much of this album was conceived with me in the midst of hoping, waiting, working and finally celebrating the success of the first installment of the Wilderness project. If Wilderness One was about starting over, Wilderness Two is about the fight to make that gamble pay. Songs like “Dead Man’s Dollar,” “So Close” and “Shot out of a Cannon” are about pursuing dreams and the insecurities and hope that go along with such a pursuit. I’ve never been one to do anything halfway, and in my search for a great song and the platforms that get them heard, I have been guilty of wandering down the wrong roads or putting space between myself and the people who care for me the most. A good portion of this album meditates on this theme. “Walking in my Sleep,” “Birthday Song” and “Island Radio” find me in various stages of some voyage away from and back to the life I’ve built for myself. Music tests the bonds that keep me earthbound. It’s a struggle that found me in more bars than I’m proud to admit throughout the creation of this set of songs, but the redemption found in “Fire Escape” and “Love and Great Buildings” might be what I was searching for all along.
This brings me to New York City; the backdrop for much of this album’s writing and recording. Years ago I found myself ill in a hospital near Central Park. Up to that point I had planned on making a home of the city and working there for the follow-up to Jack’s Mannequin’s very West Coast first release. The sidelines I found myself on temporarily, and the ghosts the city seemed to conjure in the aftermath, kept me from pursuing that destiny for more than 10 years. Consciously or unconsciously I began to toy with the idea of making good on that creative impulse and, in the summer of 2015, in the midst of a whirlwind tour and promotion schedule, I finally booked my ticket. That first trip gave birth to a wellspring of inspiration, the first single off the album and a collaboration that cemented my desire to return and finally make my New York album. The year I spent there working on Zombies tested me, and sent me packing for California before the last notes were written. At first I wondered if this was a failure, if the city had truly beaten me or if it had in fact done its work and done it well. Dancing around a back house in Venice Beach with “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me” coming to life over a breakbeat in a few short hours, I started to believe the latter. “Island Radio” followed shortly after, and somewhere in there the reality of what this record represented did as well.
I have always been two people: one in search of peace and the other in search of whatever makes my hair stand up and my heart beat faster. Ultimately time and taste will be the deciding factor in the success of this East Coast experiment. It’s funny how that works. Sitting at my computer looking over the track list and its short running time, I have to laugh about the sacrifices I’m willing to make in the name of popular music. Simply put, it’s the one drug I keep coming back to.”
Mainly produced by Gregg Wattenberg (A Great Big World, Goo Goo Dolls), Zombies on Broadway was also made in collaboration with producer/songwriters such as Jake Sinclair (Sia, Matt Nathanson) and Tommy English (BØRNS, Ladyhawke). For McMahon, forging those new creative partnerships went a long way in expanding his artistry and charting new sonic terrain throughout Zombies on Broadway. “I’ve spent most of my career writing in a room alone,” McMahon points out. “For this album it was exciting to work with other people and push my creative process, and really discover what could grow from that.”
Raised on the East Coast and in the Midwest, McMahon began writing songs at age nine, drawing inspiration from singer/songwriter/pianists such as Elton John and Billy Joel. While still in high school, McMahon co-founded an early incarnation of pop-punk band Something Corporate, whose 2002 major-label debut hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. In 2004, he formed Jack’s Mannequin and then—on the cusp of releasing the band’s 2005 debut—was diagnosed with leukemia at age 22. Eventually fully recovering, McMahon went on to release two more studio albums with Jack’s Mannequin, in addition to composing songs for the NBC series Smash (an endeavor that earned him an Emmy Award nomination in 2013) and established The Dear Jack Foundation one of the first Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) specific cancer foundations which advocates for and supports initiatives that benefit AYAs diagnosed with cancer.
In 2014, he released Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness which featured the gold certified single “Cecilia and the Satellite” a Top 5 hit across both Alternative and AAA radio, Top 10 hit at Hot AC and also climbed up the Pop chart. McMahon lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 10 years Kelly and their daughter Cecilia, for whom the hit song was penned.
Ask any artist about the creative process, and they’ll all agree on one thing—you can’t force it.
When inspiration gathers, you simply ride the wave and hold on for dear life. While writing Vikings, their third full-length album and first for DCD2 Records/Warner Bros. Records, the members of New Politics—David Boyd [lead vocals, guitar], Søren Hansen [bass, guitar, keys, programming] who came to the states from Denmark, and NY Native Louis Vecchio [drums]—embraced that spirit wholeheartedly. Without any deadlines or plan to speak of, the trio began writing songs for fun during 2014’s Monumentour with Paramore and Fall Out Boy.
“It wasn’t like anyone was expecting anything from us,” recalls David. “We would just go into the back of the bus and create songs. It came so naturally and fast that it was a blast. It took us back to when we were originally writing as kids. Back before we had no label or management or anything. It was simple.”
“We were together all the time, and everything was composed as a unit,” remarks Louis. “The vibe and the creative juices were flowing effortlessly on a daily basis.”
As soon as they got off the road, the trio chose to record a good chunk of the material in David and Søren’s Brooklyn apartment. That proved apropos in and of itself as the two Denmark natives had completely adopted a “New York State of Mind” after four years stateside and a myriad of crazy experiences.
“There’s so much energy in New York, and Brooklyn specifically” says David. “There’s so much to write about and relate to. There’s so much color. You meet people. You meet girls. You find romance in the oddest of places. There’s all kinds of culture from a dance scene to a hip-hop scene to a rock scene. It always gives you something to ponder. We finally became a part of the environment and are reflecting that musically.”
As a result, the new music threads together a patchwork of femme fatales who, as David admits, might be “crashing on my couch and barely wearing anything” like the vixen in “50 Feet Tall” or “choosing a girl instead of me” as happens during “Girl Crush.” The stories unfold in tandem with a soundtrack of danceable alternative that’s unafraid to pop or to rock for that matter.
Following the Brooklyn sessions, the boys hopped a plane to L.A. Under the palm trees and SoCal sun, they committed the other half of the album to analog tape in Butch Walker’s studio with longtime collaborator and Grammy Award-nominated producer Jake Sinclair [Weezer, Taylor Swift].
“Recording to tape gave it this authentic feel,” says David. “There’s a certain honesty and rawness you get from doing it like that. It was an amazing experience.”
The opening track and first single “Everywhere I Go (Kings & Queens)” juggles a handclap-propelled guitar riff with a stadium-size beat and robust refrain. “It’s a pat on the shoulder to our fans and our team,” the frontman continues. “We’ve stuck with the dream, and they’ve stuck with all of our nonsense! We’re in this together.”
“It’s a nice way of being like, ‘We did it! I told you so,’” smiles Louis. “It’s dedicated to everybody who stood by us in our corner and the fans who didn’t let go. We wanted to say thanks!”
Meanwhile, the follow-up single “West End Kids” tempers shimmering keys with a heavenly and hypnotic chant of, “We’re just some kids from the West End.”
David admits, “It’s the first chance we’ve had to reflect on this roller coaster. Soren and I started this project back in Denmark, moved to America, went through culture shock, spent every dollar we had, ended up with nothing, started from scratch once more, and built it all up again. Now, we wrote this summer party song that celebrates how far we’ve come and the part of Copenhagen (West End) that started it all.”
New Politics have certainly come a long way from Copenhagen. Developing his live persona and charisma as a young teen, David immersed himself in music by breakdancing as part of an internationally recognized touring dance crew. He naturally evolved into a singer, but never lost that kinetic spark while founding New Politics with Søren. If anything, he’s more likely to bust a move on stage now than ever. “I can’t help it,” he grins. “Music just makes me move.”
Relocating to New York, the group’s self-titled major label debut dropped in 2010 and featured the single “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” Its 2013 follow-up A Bad Girl in Harlem boasted the hit “Harlem,” which landed on multiple Frozen trailers as well as garnering placements for America’s Got Talent, Microsoft, and Taco Bell. Along the way, the group has toured with everybody from 30 Seconds To Mars and Neon Trees to P!nk and The Pretty Reckless in addition to selling out countless headline shows and hitting the stage on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!
Ultimately, the album title speaks to New Politics’ vision. “Soren and I always pick on Louis since he’s the only American, it’s two against one, and Louis started calling us Vikings,” chuckles David. “We keep reminding him. Now, we’re invading America, but not raiding it. We’re going to take over by love and sharing our music. We’re never going to force it though!”
On “Blood in the Cut” — the moody and magnetic lead single from her new EP Crush Me — K.Flay turns emotional damage into unlikely transcendence. “It’s about inundating yourself with feelings of pain and angst, and how that can be its own form of power,” says Kristine Flaherty, the L.A.-based artist who made her debut as K.Flay with a series of releases in 2010. “The songs on the EP revolve around the idea of a person or a force seeking to crush you or hold you down, but there’s a defiant energy to them — like, ‘Yeah, go ahead and try.’”
The first signing to Night Street/Interscope Records (an imprint helmed by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds), K.Flay instills that energy into a batch of songs highlighting her seamless flow and head-turning lyricism. But while Crush Me builds off K.Flay’s hip-hop background, the EP also channels her punk sensibilities and DIY spirit into a lush but gritty sound rooted in live drums and guitar. “My live shows always had the spontaneity that comes from working with more organic instrumentation, and I wanted to make sure that was really reflected on this EP,” notes Flaherty, who’s previously toured with artists like Passion Pit, Icona Pop, Awolnation and Theophilus London.
Equally inspired by the novels of Marilynne Robinson and Kid Cudi’s early records, Crush Me finds K.Flay delivering her most intensely intimate yet sonically expansive work so far. “My main imperative was to create something musically interesting and at the same time be completely honest and not censor myself,” she says. Throughout the EP, K.Flay spikes her lyrics with confessional barbs but never loses her breezy cool. On “Blood in the Cut,” for instance, lines like “Reading through your messages/My favorite way to die” slip right into the song’s stripped-down arrangement of bright beats and buzzsaw guitars. Named for a cemetery in the heart of Los Angeles, the darkly charged “Hollywood Forever” matches K.Flay’s commentary on the toxic nature of fame with her own personal revelations (“My father was a user/And I’m afraid I’m just the same”). One of Crush Me’s loveliest and most melancholy moments, “Dreamers” owns up to feelings of loss and regret but explores the redemptive power of creativity (“Suddenly I felt fine inside a mind so full of ghosts/The darkest nights mean you see the stars the most”). And on the hazy and quietly heartbreaking “You Felt Right,” K.Flay offsets her lovesick, ripped-from-real-life storytelling with the occasional self-effacing dig (“I should have known don’t trust a poet, ‘cause they can’t do the math”).
Though Crush Me endlessly reveals her easy grace as a songwriter and producer, K.Flay is quick to point out that she “fell into music very haphazardly” at the age of 19 — a decade after her dad first taught her to play guitar. “I was in an argument with someone and was challenged to make a song, which was really my entry point to music,” says Flaherty, an Illinois native who studied at Stanford University. “From there I started producing and playing house parties on campus, kind of as a release from the academic life. I liked that music was a window into a world with a lot of unpredictability and chaos; it was almost diametrically opposed to my very regimented day-to-day living.”
Upon graduating, Flaherty moved to San Francisco and kept up with music, making her breakthrough with the 2011 mixtape I Stopped Caring in ’96 and soon landing a deal with a major label. Not long after putting out her 2013 EP What If It Is (featuring a collaboration with Danny Brown), K.Flay launched her own label for the release of her full-length debut Life As a Dog (a 2014 album that “pairs spaced-out rap beats and chiming indie rock,” according to Entertainment Weekly). “I feel like I’ve somersaulted into everything that’s happened since I first started making music,” says Flaherty. “It’s like I kept slowly turning to the right and ended up doing this for a living, which is pretty amazing to me.”
In making Crush Me, K.Flay joined forces with Nashville-based producer/musician JT Daly, writing and recording in a converted carriage house deep in the Tennessee countryside. She also worked with LA based producer Simon Says.
Both collaborators helped shape the emotionally raw yet complexly layered terrain of Crush Me. “I remember I was leaving the studio in Tennessee really late one night and playing ‘Hollywood Forever’ super-loud in the car,” says Flaherty, looking back on the making of the EP. “All of a sudden I was jolted back to the first time I ever pressed my music onto CD, and to putting all the boxes of CDs in my trunk and saying to myself, That’s cool — I made that. It was this weird joyous feeling, and I’d completely forgotten all about it until that night in Nashville.”
For K.Flay, that weird joy surpasses “all the crazy adventures” she’s experienced since dedicating herself to music. “There have been a lot of really high highs and low lows over the years, but the experience of taking nothing and creating something makes me happy and helps me not be anxious or depressed,” she says. “In and of itself, just the act of making music is still so life-affirming to me.”
Over the course of their 15-year career, Minus the Bear have carved out their own unique musical world. This isn’t to say they’re impervious to outside influence. They’ve borrowed components from a wide swath of genres—the brainy clangor of New York’s proto-punk scene, the cerebral buzz of IDM, the poptimist evaluation of hip-hop and R&B, and the grandiose visions of prog rock—but always managed to defy classification. Throughout the first decade of their existence, every new album offered a new musical approach, as seen in the idiosyncratic fretboard gymnastics of Highly Refined Pirates, the glitchy loops of Menos el Oso, or the modernized Fripp-inspired wizardry of Planet of Ice. By the time the band entered our current decade, their knack for reinvention yielded to an emphasis on refinement. Albums like OMNI and Infinity Overhead searched for a middle ground where their myriad of stylistic approaches could all work within the context of a single record.
On their sixth album VOIDS, Minus the Bear started with a blank slate, and inadvertently found themselves applying the same starting-from-scratch strategies that fueled their initial creative process. “There was a lot of change and uncertainty,” says guitarist David Knudson. “I think the general vibe of emptiness, replacement, lacking, and longing to fill in the gaps was very present in everyones’ minds.” Change was everywhere. Keyboardist/vocalist Alex Rose took on a more prominent role in composition and handled lead vocal duties on songs like “Call the Cops,” “Tame Beasts,” and “Robotic Heart,” drummer Kiefer Matthias joined the fold, producer Sam Bell lent a fresh set of ears in the studio, and the band returned to their original label home at Suicide Squeeze Records. Minus the Bear were no longer swept along by the momentum that had driven them for the last fifteen years. Instead, they reached a point where they could recalibrate and redefine who they were as a musical entity. The resulting album VOIDS retains many of the band’s signature qualities—the hedonistic tales of nighttime escapism and candid vignettes of adulthood, the savvy up-tempo beats, the layered and nuanced instrumentation—while simultaneously reminding us of the musical wanderlust that initially put them on the map.
Album opener “Last Kiss” immediately establishes the band’s renewed fervor. An appropriately dizzying guitar line plunges into a propulsive groove before the chorus unfolds into a multi-tiered pop chorus. From there the album flows into “Give & Take”, a tightly wound exercise in syncopation that recalls the celebratory pulse of early Bear classics like “Fine + 2 Pts” while exploring new textures and timbres. “Invisible” is arguably the catchiest song of the band’s career, with Jake Snider’s vocal melodies and Knudson’s imaginative guitar work battling for the strongest hooks. “What About the Boat?” reminds us of the “math-rock” tag that followed the band in their early years, with understated instrumentation disguising an odd-time beat. “Erase,” recalls the merging of forlorn indie pop and electronica that the band dabbled with on their early EPs, but demonstrates the Bear’s ongoing melodic sophistication and tonal exploration. By the time the band reaches album closer “Lighthouse,” they’ve traversed so much sonic territory that the only appropriate tactic left at their disposal is a climactic crescendo, driven at its peak by Cory Murchy’s thunderous bass. Not since Planet of Ice’s “Lotus” has the Bear achieved such an epic finale. All in all, it’s an album that reminds us of everything that made us fall in love with Minus the Bear in the first place, and a big part of that appeal is the sense that the band is heading into uncharted territories.
Suicide Squeeze Records is proud to release VOIDS to the world on March 3, 2017 on CD, LP, and cassette. Nick Steinhardt designed the artwork and layout for all formats. The first pressing of the album is available on 5,000 copies of splatter colored vinyl and 5,000 copies of 180 gram black vinyl. The LP jacket features PMS inks, a die-cut cover with a printed inner sleeve and contains a download code. The cassette version is limited to 500 copies and includes a download code as well.
It's tempting to set up a grand introduction for Beth Ditto on the occasion of her solo debut after disbanding the Gossip, but this native Arkansan can say so much in a few swaggerful lines over a pounding kick drum and bone-rattling bass guitar: "Two sisters, four brothers/Hard worker, like my mother/Not bitter, so sweet/Strawberry ca-ca-canned peach!" Those lyrics (from the Jacknife Lee cowrite "Oo La La") contain the fundamentals of Ditto's album Fake Sugar: family strength, punky grit, unabashed Southernness and the rural-rags-to-rock-royalty story of our hostess, who here turns strive and strife into music that is honeyed and familiar. Over an overhauled mashup of driving blues, malt-shop pop, swooning rock and countrified soul produced by Jennifer Decilveo (Andra Day, Ryn Weaver), Ditto approaches love, loss, looking back and moving forward with all the sexiness, poignancy, power and beauty you'd hope to hear from such an iconoclastic artist.
To say Fake Sugar was born of change is understatement. "It's my divorce, isn't it?" asks Ditto. "I was going through a breakup with the loves of my life. Gossip was the longest relationship I'd ever had." At the same time, she got married, literally, to her best friend since she was 18. And while Ditto and her new wife did settle somewhat into domesticity at home in Portland — their two cats, Tofu and Butters, and Ditto's crochet habit are well documented on Instagram — the singer was busy doing much more than singing. Sure, she recorded with Blondie, disco legend Cerrone, and drumstep DJ Netsky, and even moonlit as a wedding singer with Cat Power, but Ditto also made strides into fashion. She launched her eponymous plus-sized luxury line with a Jean Paul Gaultier collaboration, posed in an Alexander Wang portrait series, modeled for Marc Jacobs on the runway and in print, and appeared in Tom Ford's Oscar-nominated Nocturnal Animals. "I don't think about that stuff like, 'This is good for my career.'" says Ditto. "It's like, 'This'll be hilarious fun.'"
But all that paved the way for the fierce voice and strutting presence that opens this album. On "Fire," Ditto intones "get up-up-up if you want my love," before belting the song's title across a grinding mass of guitar, drums and keys cut with psych-pop and dubby effects recalling the deft touch of Danger Mouse. Fake Sugar's obvious passion is what'd been missing from Gossip's attempts at a sixth LP. After 17 years of kicking out increasingly dancy garage-punk, "nobody's heart was in it," says Ditto. Cofounder Nathan Howdeshell moved back to Arkansas, and she found herself in L.A., alone, meeting with songwriters about the band's next move. For better and for worse, she knew she'd become the focal point of the group. "I felt like if we fail, it's my fault and if we succeed, it's my fault," she says of her predicament — it was time. "The decision was basically made for me."
She calls what came next "speed-dating," meeting with producers and writers to see what/who stuck. Some did, like Jacknife, but Decilveo became Ditto's main partner, someone to interpret her sonic vision and balance out her punk bias with pop flare and perspective. As Ditto puts it, "She was the rollerblades to my roller skates. We'd argue all day long and I loved it." They hired session players to sound out her ideas too. "I'm used to sitting there forever in a band trying to get it right," says Ditto. "With them, it was like performing miracles." She wound up with 80-odd songs, which explains Fake Sugar's lack of filler, and its range. There's "In and Out," a hip-shaker that sounds like a '50s girl group channeling Karen O on "Maps." And "Savoir Faire" with its disco stomp pushing Ditto's crackling rock vocal. Or "Go Baby Go," a tribute to Suicide's Alan Vega decked in black leather, racing down an interstellar aural highway. On "Oh My God," Ditto's rawness, quaver and cool splits the difference between Tina Turner and Bobbie Gentry.
"I wanted this album to sound more Southern than it does," she says, "but when I try for an idea and don't succeed, it usually ends up better." If her roots don't always show in the music, they're there in spirit more than ever. Ditto was raised rural and poor in a town of 2,000 called Judsonia. Her mom was superhuman: a nurse, single, raising seven children. "People ask me where I get my confidence," says Ditto. "Talk to my mother. She'll tell ya she hasn't s*** alone since she had her first child at 15.'" Her dad was a different sort of hero: a honky-tonk sound man who, when it was his weekend, would take her to work, hop her up on Black Jack gum and Cherry Coke, and teach her to two-step with her feet on his boots. And then there was Granny Ditto, who chopped wood for her stove, canned the food she grew and never once had indoor plumbing. Ditto was surrounded by badasses, but it wasn't so simple back then. She had countless reasons to light out of town at the first chance and she did, at 18, with her future bandmates to the musical hub of Olympia, Washington, where they joined a community of punks, queers and noisy weirdos.
"I was running away from the bad parts of Southern culture," says Ditto. "I'm old enough now and so grateful for my family that I can finally embrace the good in where I grew up." The lyrics of Fake Sugar are full of such allusions, from rhymes cribbed from schoolyard handclap games, to slang like "Yankee dime" (a kiss) and folkisms like, "I get so sick and tired of feeling sick and tired" — in other words, "s*** my aunt Linda Gail would say," says Ditto. A pivotal moment in the LP's creation came went she went to Graceland with her sister. Amid marital strife, she became obsessed of the Paul Simon album — you can hear its echoes in the breezy folk-pop of the title track which, incidentally, could sit comfortably on a trop-house playlist — and wanted to make a pilgrimage. It was at that local shrine to Southern flamboyance and music history, of all places, that Ditto reconnected with her past and found some of the peace and strength she needed.
Which brings us to the family Ditto is building out West. "The first year of marriage sucks and no one tells you that," she says. "We were best friends, so we had to re-meet each other as wives." It wasn't rosy. Touring took a toll, disconnection crept, trust broke down. Ditto's insecurities pour out on the sober, expansive "Lover," but the couple found their footing, and Fake Sugar paints a broader picture of love that's as indulgently romantic ("We Could Run" is a U2-level epic call for getting swept away) as it is tenderly realistic: "Love in Real Life," with its lush bed of eerie Gary Jules-style piano-pop, finds Ditto cooing, "What more could we ask for, some kind of fantasy? / When there's no one I want more, more than anything." She considered calling the album Music for Moms in joking reference to the Gossip's 2009 LP Music for Men and her own settling down. "This is adulthood baby," Ditto quips. "You fought for marriage equality, now you gotta live in it."
Of course, as our heroine herself points out, punk takes many forms: "To some people it's liberty spikes, to others it's Hot Topic. Some think Green Day, others think K Records. All are correct." To that, we'd add a few more definitions: marrying someone you legally couldn't just three years ago; bridging an old school upbringing to a progressive future; going it alone after spending your entire career in only one band; and delivering your own grown version of loud and proud badass weirdo rock 'n' roll to, potentially, the largest set of open ears you've ever faced. Basically, being Beth Ditto. "I've never been in the band that I'd love to listen to," she says. But, with due respect to her back catalog, perhaps the issue was that Ditto was confined to a band in the first place.
Two bearded Austin, TX musical misfits with an affinity for D.I.Y. electro-trap production, clever lyrical quips, and sticky alternative hooks, Missio regularly subvert expectations. Case in point, an upbeat lullaby-esque melody about, “Throwing middle fingers in the air” introduced the duo—Matthew Brue & David Butler—to audiences everywhere with the aptly titled breakout single, “Middle Fingers.” At the beginning of 2017, the track exploded on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation, and the band landed a deal with RCA Records. This signature style stands out as the product of their unique and undeniable union as well as years of dedication. Founded in 2014 as a side project for Matthew, longtime friend David joined him after one studio session.
“At the time, we were both coming out of other bands,” recalls Matthew. “I called him to play these demos I had. We were in the same spot musically, and we just related to each other."
“There’s no bullshit in Missio,” David declares. “It’s all from the heart and genuine. The balance between us is perfect. Matthew is more of a classic songwriter who will sit down and write melodies for hours. I bring my producer background. I love arranging, I love beats, and I love sounds. The marriage of those two worlds completes a puzzle.”
For all of the harmony between them, their respective backgrounds represent something of a Yin and Yang. Born and raised in Colorado, Matthew received classical piano training as a child and toured the world in a choir. In Houston, seven years his senior David “grew up in the least musical household ever” and didn’t pick up guitar until the age of 16. David escaped the Office Space-style corporate world in order to pursue a career as a producer and audio engineer, while Matthew spent a year living in a remodeled 1974 Airstream, “learning how to write better songs.” They had crossed paths many times in the Austin music scene, but their initial collaboration would prove life-changing—literally.
“When we were in the studio, we just started talking about our lives,” David goes on. “Completely unplanned, I mentioned that my wife and I were looking for a roommate...”
“I told him that I was thinking about moving out of the Airstream,” laughs Matthew. “We’ve been roommates for as long as the band has existed.”
David transformed the garage into a professional recording studio, ripping down walls by hand, tearing up the floors, constructing a control room, setting up iso booths, and designing a veritable creative hive for the band. He would handle the bulk of the production as Matthew penned lyrics and took on lead vocals. In between their SXSW debut in 2015 and tours with Australia’s SAFIA and K. Flay (for which David built Missio’s light rigs), they wrote and recorded countless songs. “I Don’t Even Care About You” landed at #7 on Spotify’s Top 50 Global Viral Chart after popping up on the Fresh Finds Playlist. As buzz grew, their music appeared on MTV’s Scream and Finding Carter, Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club, and in a Victoria’s Secret spot. With its keyboard boom, handclaps, and sweeping chant, “Middle Fingers” ignited their profile, rhyming social media-worthy lines like, “I am tired of seeing pretty people everywhere” and “I used to drink with whisky now I’m stuck with Perrier.”
“That was actually the very first song we sat down together and wrote,” says Matthew. “I felt like, ‘Fuck everything right now.’ When you hear something like ‘Middle Fingers,’ you would assume it’s a fuck you to the world. It’s actually not. In a way, it’s a song about unity. It’s not fuck you; it’s fuck this situation, which everyone can apply to their own lives. There’s no better feeling than seeing hundreds of people from different religious and political backgrounds forget about everything and raise their fingers together. Flipping the bird can unite us.”
Everything encases a powerful message for the guys. In Latin, Missio translates to “Mission.”
“Before we started the band, I got Missio tattooed on my wrist,” Matthew continues. “I have a history of addiction and being in recovery. It’s something I deal with every day. I fell in love with the word, because it helped me focus on being sober and having a mission towards that. It transitioned into this music.”
As Missio prepare their full-length debut Loner for release, Matthew and David are on a mission to connect with listeners everywhere.
“There’s a deeper side to Missio,” David leaves off. “We both love hook-y music and inspiring beats, but what we value most is honesty. I hope that comes across and can be something audiences rely on.”
“As a whole, all of the songs revolve around being in seclusion,” Matthew concludes. “There are so many people out there who feel that isolation. Being in a band with this sort of lyrical content, it’s all about reaching listeners, meeting them at shows, hearing their stories, and helping them feel like they can relate to someone. Maybe we can make the world feel not so alone.”
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