Monday, August 21, 2017

PREMIERE: Karen and the Sorrows -- "The Price of the Ticket"

I have been a huge fangirl of Karen and the Sorrows for, like, a while. They started playing around town shortly after I moved back after college and the intersection of queerness, Jewishness, countryness, and -- by complete coincidence -- sharing a high school alma-mater-ness obviously made me feel seen and heard. I'm very happy to have graduated from starstruck dork to starstruck stalker to still-starstruck friend and I couldn't be more thrilled that the band is getting the press it deserves from outlets like American Songwriter and Billboard. Once the dust settled from the all-day Another Country fest that Karen settled, she was nice enough to answer some questions from little ol' me. She also helped me write and record a song that you can find over on Patreon!

I'm also honored to premiere "The Price of the Ticket," a song that does a deep dive into white privilege and how that masks Jewish identity. It exemplifies all of the major themes of the album and what I'm trying to do with this blog in general.

For our readers' benefit, they should probably know that we happened to go to the same fancy prep school (though we weren't there at the same time). While it wasn't very conservative when I was there, it's not exactly an ideal campaign stop for Bernie. So what's a nice Jewish girl doing in a radical queer country band?

When I was there, it was much more conservative, despite a few progressive teachers that helped put me on my path. Still, it was always pretty clear to me who I was supposed to become: either a doctor, a lawyer, or an investment banker; married with two kids to a man who was also either a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker; and a dedicated donor to the alumni fund. So I guess I fucked that up.

You've written Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use it for Social Change, a book about using one's wealth and/or class privilege for radical change. How do you feel this relates to your music?

One of my favorite poets, June Jordan, said that you can’t write lies and write good poetry. I knew this meant that I'd never write anything good until I could tell the truth about my own life. For me, that meant confronting the contradiction between coming from a wealthy family and my social justice values. I did this by learning to organize where I came from, working with young people with wealth to move more money to social change, and committing to redistributing the bulk of my own inheritance through activist-led funds. I don't know if my writing ended up being any better for all that, but it has allowed me to to bring my full self to the table in everything I do. And country music is definitely a genre that demands that of you—it's all about truth telling!


I know that you and Elana met through other bands. Could you tell us a little bit more about those projects and about how Tami came into the picture?

I was singing in a punk band back in 2009, but I'd been secretly writing country songs and obsessively dreaming about the pedal steel. Elana was in the country band The Low & the Lonesome and we ended up on a bill together at a big show The Shondes were putting on. I decided it was the universe sending me a sign, so I got my band to include one of my country songs in our set, and I asked Elana to sit in. After that, there was really no going back! Elana was sharing a practice space with Tami's band Dolly Trolly and luckily I managed to lure them both into starting The Sorrows with me.

The Names of Things was really more about interpersonal relationships. I know you began writing some of the more political songs on The Narrow Place, like “The Price of the Ticket," well before 2016. What prompted you to write them? Do you feel that the impacts of the songs have changed now that we're in the Upside Down (a.k.a 2017)?

Songs usually come to me in little pieces of a melody or a lyric floating up from the back of my brain or sometimes from a dream. And, not to be too weird about it, but the songs tend to have their own ideas on what they should be about. So while my experiences and the places I come from, the people I love and my political beliefs always wind up in there in one way or another, the songs often resist any master plans I might have for them. I certainly didn’t set out to write a bunch of songs about Moses and the story of Passover, but somehow that happened! 

I believe that now is an urgent moment to resist. But I also believe that has and will always be true—it has always been an urgent moment to resist. I hope that the things I make can help contribute to or at least help nourish and sustain my communities in that resistance.
New York is a pretty welcoming space for Jewish people and queer people (most of the time.) Have you received flack for any of your identities on the road?

I wouldn’t say flack, but there are plenty of times when I’m more on-alert thinking about my band’s safety or the safety of those in our audience and the violence that always surrounds us, both on the road and at home in New York.

I do have a good culture clash story, though, about the time we were playing a show in New Hampshire in Elana’s hometown in this beautiful little chapel. I was about to start singing “The Price of the Ticket” and Elana was like, you should tell them what it’s about! Which I definitely wasn’t planning on doing, but Elana seemed to think it was a good idea... So I start talking about my grandfather and our Passover seder and family melodies and Jewish immigration and whiteness and the James Baldwin essay the song is named for. And everyone in the chapel is just staring back at me like I’m an alien. So I ask: is anyone else here Jewish? Everyone just keeps staring politely but blankly at me. Except for one woman. She is raising her hand and pointing excitedly at the man next to her, saying, “My husband! My husband is Jewish!” Meanwhile, her husband looks like he wants to crawl under his seat and never come back out. That was pretty awkward.
The Another Country festival raised $1000 for the Trans Justice Funding Project, an organization you helped get off the ground. Could you describe your role in the organization and what you do? 

I co-founded the Trans Justice Funding Project together with Gabriel Foster, TJFP’s Director, in 2012. TJFP is a community-led funding initiative that supports grassroots, trans justice groups run by and for trans people. We make grants annually by bringing together a panel of six trans justice activists from around the country to carefully review every application we receive. We center the leadership of trans people organizing around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions. And every penny we raise goes to our grantees with no restrictions and no strings attached because we truly believe in trans leadership. 

For TJFP's first three years, I volunteered as Administrative Coordinator, doing things like building our database and getting our grants out, until we were able to afford to hire the fabulous Marin Watts to take over for me. Now TJFP is staffed entirely by trans people of color and I just cheer from the sidelines, help get the word out, and help raise money.

I know that you've been busy putting the album and festival together, but do you have a sense of how making The Narrow Place has impacted your songwriting?  

I hope with each new album my songwriting gets stronger! For me, it’s really all about the writing. That’s what I love most. I already have a bunch of new songs in progress, so I’m excited for when I’ll have time to start working on those!  

You can preorder The Narrow Place at the Sorrows' Bandcamp. And obviously I will have way too much to say about it when it comes out this Friday the 25th.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Everyday Sinners -- Shakedown

The Everyday Sinners proudly marches in a long and distinguished lineage of British protest music that combine celebration with hard truth. The chug-a-lug of the bass and nimble rhythm guitars throw back to American roadhouses and gospel churches, but the lyrics are staunch reminders to hurl yourself against corruption. Lead singer Jack Cade's gravelly bass ties the exuberance together into a thunderous package. Jack Cade is in fact a stage name, borrowed from a 15th century protest against Henry VI.

In case you haven't noticed, the Everyday Sinners don't fuck around.

The songs borrow heavily from protest music of the 19th century, linking the struggles of our great-great-grandparents against the Industrial Revolution (and capitalism as we know it) to the fight against austerity measures today. They are, after all, two sides of the same coin: corporations and governments in bed together, seeking to squeeze humanity and dignity from the people in the attempt. After the week the US and Spain have had, "Hold On" is an appropriate song, reminding us that there is laughter amid the hopelessness. Shakedown is the album we all need right about now. 

The Everyday Sinners -- Official, Purchase from the Everyday Sinners, Spotify

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PREMIERE: Anna Volpe -- "Never Imagine"

Anna Volpe's "Never Imagine" is a touching tribute to her father, but it's also a whole lot more than that. You may recognize Volpe's dulcet tones from the background in Paisley Fields songs. Volpe's heading out on her own and this is her first song; I couldn't be prouder of her! As the song celebrates the minutiae of adulting, it's imbued with Volpe's pride as she brings her own voice to life. I can't wait for what's next -- "Never Imagine" promises great things to come!

Anna Volpe -- Official, Bandcamp, iTunes

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Zini -- Zini

This isn't quite like anything that's usually featured on Adobe & Teardrops, but it's so intriguing I had to share. Particularly on a week like this, Zini's blend of Middle Eastern music with 90s-style alt-rock is a reminder of the importance of cultural synthesis, using two seemingly disparate elements and making something greater. The album's opener, "Faison," is a guitar-heavy thrasher that introduces many of the musical themes heard throughout the album.

As the music unspools, we're treated to sonic explorations of gorgeous non-Western instruments like the oud, the digeridoo, the saz (a Turkish stringed instrumented), and duduk (an Armenian flute). The Stockholm-based collective wends its way through many genres. "The Purity of This" settles on brooding acoustic guitars and peaceful contemplation of this life. It just goes to show that a whole lot can be gained by merging -- not conquest, domination, or willful isolationism.

Zini -- Facebook

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Music Roundup!

1. Kid Davis and the Bullets starts off with the rockabilly scorcher "Wanted Man."

2. Lydia Rose's "Cold" brings gently weeping guitars to a shimmering folk pop confection.

3. "Moving Farther Than Before" by Talmont is not the sort of thing you might usually hear on here, but I enjoyed the trip-hop backing music and thought I'd share.

4. Yero's "Let Me On" is the real deal: soulful, warm, and sincere. This is old-time soul at its smoothest.

5. "Upper Hand" by Hadar Baron is reminiscent of the 90s greats: Dar, Liz, Tracy Bonham. Dig into the bass riffs and stay for Baron's triumphant vocals.

6. Sparkplug's "Red Wine Gossip" doesn't need more than one word: "beautiful."

7. The Sleepless Elite's "Both Sides" is far from a commentary on Trump (I heard the song about two months ago) but it certainly illustrates the frustration I feel.

8. "Up" by Ätsch is a soothing yet uplifting instrumental track that needs to be in your earholes.

9. Charles Walker's "All That You Need" is

10. Aayushi's "Prosaic Tales" You need to read the lyrics for this one on the Bandcamp page. It's an amazingly powerful set of lyrics that undergirds the gossamer structure of the song.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires -- Youth Detention\\\(Nail My Feet Down to the Southside of Town)

I had been planning to write about Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires this week regardless of current events, but with the tragedy in Charlottesville Youth Detention is even more urgent than before. If you're not familiar with the band, they've been staunch and proud anti-racist Southern punk rockers since the very beginning. A glimpse at the shows or the band's sprawling lyrics page is proof enough that Lee doesn't fuck around. This isn't a trend or an attempt to be topical on the band's part: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires are models for what engaged, critical anti-racism looks like.

I was lucky enough to see the band live in Williamsburg (more on that) last week. If the band is coming near you, they're not to be missed. Live, the band reminds me of a mix between a Cowboy Mouth show and an intense political discussion among my friends. (In other words, two of my favorite things.) Between songs, Lee delivers rapid-fire, sweat-drenched jeremiads about institutionalized racism, police brutality with the fervent passion of a snake preacher. Then, the band launches, body and soul, into blistering punk rock songs. The experience is downright spiritual. One hopes that Lee's message is falling on people ready to receive and act upon what he says -- not simply drunk dudebros who push people out of the way to get to the front while patting themselves on the back for liking a band that talks about this stuff. (If there was any band that would expand the "girls to the front" rule outside of riot grrl, it's these guys and I respectfully call on them to do so!)

But you don't need Lee's commentary to get the same content. Youth Detention is a sprawling, relentless album (I have yet to listen to the whole thing all the way through) that will raise the hairs on your neck while you're headbanging to the walls of distorted guitars, samples of the nursery rhyme "Crooked Letters," and protest chants of Assata Shakur's "we have nothing to lose but our chains" speech. Youth Detention does require a good deal of digging and your participation, however. Like the band's previous album, Lee likes burying his voice in the mix (which he did on his last album), and reading the lyrics while you listen to the songs are, in my opinion, mandatory.

From the outset the album grapples with growing up white in a poor neighborhood, straddling the lines between the narrator (Lee's?) neighbors and the wealthy white friends he went to school with, and, of course, the gentrification of Birmingham. In "The City Walls" Lee sums up how I've been feeling for years now about New York:

He grinds the butt under his boot, and breathes a white rope of smoke
    westward into the black sky,
Over the woods where Mama says Eastside kids used to could find arrowheads
    but have long since been bled dry.
And eulogizing that wild old city,
Where he had once found his peace,
He points the bottle like a cannon down from the ridge,
    and out into the sprawl.
"It's like they think downtown's cute, so they move in,
    and turn it into a god-damned mall."   

I don't want to live in a tiny kingdom.
            I don't want to live beyond the city walls.
            I don't want to hide in my sin in a tiny kingdom.
            I don't want to die beyond the city walls.

And yes, all of that fits into a take-no-prisoners punk beat. The song that gives me pause, the one that makes me feel recognized the most, however, is "Whitewash" begins as a powerful critique of how whiteness is constructed in the United States:

 I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    I don’t want to be an absence.
    I don’t want to be the great silence.
    I want to be—
    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    I don’t want to be nobody.
    I don’t want to be from noplace.
    I want to be—

As a Jew who can easily pass for Irish and coming from parents who are apathetic (my dad) and have converted to Unitarian Universalism (my mom), that sense of absence is really palpable for me. My grandparents weren't very invested in it, either. But that's what you needed to do to amass the trappings of a middle-class life, even in New York City: internalize the ideas of what a successful person should behave like (i.e., not even remotely Jewish) and reject the experiences of your forebears. Do what you can to trade the Jew card in for the white card. But at what cost? And now that I'm old enough to ask questions, nobody's able to answer them.

By the end of the song, Lee has turned to the future, addressing his unwilling participation in displacing the people of color of Birmingham:

I don’t want to be a whitewash,
    Turning places into sets,
    Turning people into objects.
    I want to be—

    I don’t want to be a whitewash.
    Don’t want power over anybody.
    Don’t want dominion over anyplace.
    I want to be—

It's worth noting that Lee never finishes that last line. While we can reject the things we know our wrong -- white supremacists, for example -- it's a lot harder to figure out what to keep instead. In the wake of Charlottesville, we (as white people) need to figure out what that dash should be and must be. What can we make of whiteness when it's so inherently broken?

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

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Asian Shoegaze Compilation Vol. 1

It's been a rough couple of days (more on that later today.) But if you need to unplug (and doing that sometimes is important! Just don't do it ALL the time!) then this is the album for you. Will Griffith of Nasty Wizard Recordings has brought together a few shoegaze bands from across East Asia for an album that enchants and soothes.

The first two songs are by Oiel, a Tokyo-based band that combines driving melodies with an ethereal wash of background noise. The now-defunct Shanghai-based The Pillow Man is a little more bubbly, and it's a shame to see them go. Sea of Tranquility from Hong Kong is a little more rooted in catchy melodies, but, true to their name, the background hum will lull you into relaxation. The last group featured on the album, Xi'an's Endless White, veers more into the same musical territory as Guiguisuisui: droning and experimental, the band closes out the album with a sense of the genre's future. While the bands come from vastly different parts of the world, they're united in the mastery of their music -- their sense of utter control even as the music spins out from under their fingers is something to behold.

Purchase the album and find out more about the bands over here.

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