Tuesday, December 8, 2009


When we last spoke with Toga! Toga! back in September, the indie/dance band from Montevallo was testing the waters of live shows and taking its first steps into the limelight. They wrote and recorded their first batch of songs, played shows at Eclipse Coffee and Books and at the now-defunct Alabama Coach Company, and slowly, but surely, laid the foundation for a consistently growing fan base.

Just a few months later, Toga! Toga! has redefined the term “overnight success,” at least in the local scene. They have recorded almost 30 songs, including fan favorites such as “Rulers of the Universe,” “Myself and Me,” “Your Girlfriend (Likes to Dance)” and “Now or Never.” They have also incorporated covers of MGMT’s “Kids” and (The) Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” As far as live performances are concerned, they have played numerous shows at Eclipse, a two-song set at Kids Got the Disco! (a monthly dance party at the Bottletree Café in Birmingham), and recently opened for DJ Nastique and Gil Mantera’s Party Dream at Bottletree. Finally, their song “1984” has received airplay on Live 100.5 for the last eight weeks, thanks to DJ Coco and his “Sunday Night Social” program.

The band, which consists of University of Montevallo students Jordan Barrios, Evan Mullins, and Ben Aslin, admits that their recent success seems almost too good to be true.

“ I think every time we all sit and think about it, it’s mindblowing how quickly we’ve evolved from a couple of friends just making dance beats on my computer to people wanting us to play shows at their venue. We’ve evolved from that to being played on the radio and we’re very pleased with that,” said Barrios who handles most of the vocal chores for the band and also plays keyboard and guitar.
Their journey started back in August with the members wanting to create something fresh, a band completely different from Barrios and Mullins’s acoustic and singer/songwriter roots. After bringing in Aslin on keyboard and implementing the style of such indie dance pioneers as MGMT and Passion Pit, the band started writing songs and searching for a definitive name for themselves.

Mullins eventually found inspiration from the 1978 college party film, Animal House. The name comes from the infamous pre-party scene where John Belushi yells “Toga!” as his suggestion for the final celebration in the movie. “When people think of togas, they think of the quintessential party at the university; the toga party. And we like to have a lot of fun and we like to party so it fits,” Mullins said.
“I think [the name] also shows the excitement we have,” added Aslin, referencing the all-important exclamation marks of the band’s title.

Though the band still acknowledges its early musical influences, they said that their tastes are constantly changing and evolving. Barrios said he has been listening to bands such as Friendly Fires and Chromeo; he also said that Ghostland Observatory has inspired his stage presence. Mullins’s early influences included “French electronic dance music” and he said he is now listening to 70s’ era dance and funk such as KC and the Sunshine Band and The Beegees. Aslin said he started with MGMT and Justice and has followed Mullins into the world of “funky beats.”

Aside from writing and recording, the band focuses a lot of their time on their energetic live shows, which are often populated by crowds of 30, 40, or even 50 fans. The members make a point to interact with and entertain the crowd every chance they get. “If we get the crowd going, if the crowd is smiling, if the crowd is involved the entire time, then that’s a successful show for me,” Barrios said.

“We have a lot of stage presence and a lot of energy but what really is the deciding factor for a good show depends on the audience. Their participation and the happy vibes that they’re giving off,” Mullins added.

As strange as the “indie dance” craze sounds to some music listeners, the genre is catching fire and Toga! Toga! seems to be leading the way in Montevallo and the surrounding areas. “I feel like that right now, across the world, there’re a lot of terrible things, a lot of decline and when you listen to rap and singer/songwriters you experience some of that decline…Bon Iver for instance is very sad and I think that dance music is happiness,” Mullins said.

The band said that their biggest break came through a chance encounter with the aforementioned DJ Coco. “We all made a cd with our first 8 songs on it. I went to a party with DJ Nastique and she was really thrilled. She listened to it and really liked two songs on it. At the next Kids Got The Disco, which is a monthly dance event that they have at Bottletree, she played two of our songs and I got onstage and sang with the track. DJ Coco, who’s on Live 100.5, was actually the guy next to me doing DJ work as well. Apparently he liked our stuff and he asked us for the tracks and played them. The other day, the station contacted us about getting a new song.”

Though not everything is set in stone, the band has some big things happening for them in the next few months. The band hopes to embark on a southeastern tour with DJ Coco this spring. Mullins said that they will keep fans posted about any new details.

They will also be playing at Bottletree with DJ Coco on December 23 for a free “Christmas with Coco and Friends” show. Their new single “Cutfire” will debut on 100.5 this week’s edition of the “Sunday Night Social,” which is on from 7 to 9.

With the whirlwind of success that has occurred, the band said they are constantly reminded of the fact that they could not do anything without their fans. “We love everyone who supports us and supports our music. We have a lot of fun with our fans. We’ve gotten to know a lot of them. They even play a lot of roles in what we do,” said Mullins.

“If it wasn’t for our friends and fans, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. A lot of them volunteer time to sell our merchandise and help promote us, like burning cds. We don’t mind you burning our cds. That’s a compliment,” Barrios said.

To hear the musical stylings of Toga! Toga! and find out more information about upcoming shows, visit www.myspace.com/togatogafunkyfresh or become a fan on Facebook.

Monday, November 30, 2009


On November 22nd, Jon Foreman and the members of the San Diego-based, alternative rock band, Switchfoot, played a sold-out show at Exit/In in Nashville.
The band was on tour to promote Hello Hurricane, the latest and seventh album released in their 13-year career. Posters of the album art covered the backdrop of the stage and plastic seagulls hung from the ceiling. The stage was large enough to hold the typical band setup- drums, keyboards, and an arsenal of guitars. The venue itself could be described as a smaller Workplay with a bar and balcony and was filled to capacity with a standing-room only audience of 160, who had come from such diverse locations as Illinois, Alabama, Ohio, Florida, and Kentucky.
The first set for each concert of the tour had been the same; play the new album from beginning to end. This effort could either fail or succeed depending on the participation of the crowd. Fortunately for Switchfoot, the crowd seemed to have memorized almost every lyric and sang along as if Hello Hurricane had been around for years.
Foreman and his bandmates even experimented with the musical stylings of these new songs by bringing out a mandolin for “Hello Hurricane” and album closer “Red Eyes,” a baby grand piano for “Always,” a cow bell for “Bullet Soul,” and an accordion, a harmonica, and a tambourine for “Yet.”
After a short intermission, the band came out for a “Greatest Hits” set. Before the concert, Foreman had sent out a message on the band’s Twitter account asking the audience if they had any song requests. The most popular requests played at the show included Switchfoot’s biggest radio hits (“Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move,” “Stars,” “Awakening,” and “Oh Gravity”) and fan favorites (“Let That Be Enough,” “On Fire,” “Learning to Breathe,” and “Twenty Four”).
Though Foreman consistently addressed the audience throughout the concert, he managed to bring his crowd interaction to a new level at the beginning of the second set. He borrowed hats and sunglasses from various members of the audience, used a man’s camera to film a video of the venue during “Awakening,” took out his own camera to snap a picture of the audience, and hopped off the stage several times to walk amongst the fans. He served as frontman and entertainer, as well as conductor for the orchestra of fans singing at the top of their lungs.
The most memorable moment of the concert happened during “Dare You to Move.” Foreman left the stage, walked up the stairs, and leaned on the edge of the balcony during the second verse and chorus. During the song, he looked as if he intended to jump from the balcony into the middle of the crowd. He soon realized there was not a safe place to land, ran down the stairs, and finished the song onstage, much to the disappointment of the audience and to the relief of his band mates.
The concert did have one imperfection. Foreman’s vocals cut in and out or at least seemed lower than usual during a few of the slower numbers. However, the band made up for it with their charisma and showmanship. Foreman made a point to make the show unique by including stories of how much Nashville meant to him and the band (he wrote “Let That Be Enough” at a Nashville hotel during the band’s 1999 tour). This night at Exit/In would mark yet another memorable concert for the band and their fans. Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, November 27, 2009


Riding the wave of momentum from their sophomore release, Armistice, the alternative rock/electronic act, Mutemath, paid a visit to the Magic City on November 2nd. The quartet from New Orleans has already built a loyal following in the Birmingham area with shows at both the Workplay Theatre and Soundstage; their last appearance was in November 2007.

This time around, the band took their act to the Alabama Theatre. Opening act, As Tall as Lions, failed to appear due to travel dilemmas so a D.J. filled in for the 8 o clock slot. Though the remixes of current and classic hits were enjoyable for the first half hour or so, the audience was anxiously waiting for Mutemath to hit the stage. Finally, the band started up their set with a high-energy performance of “The Nerve.” From there, the band proceeded to capture the audience with its unique mix of music, stage antics, and media.

The songs stemmed mainly from Armistice and their self-titled record and included renditions of “Spotlight,” “Backfire,” “Anymore,” “No Response,” and fan favorites “Typical,” “Stare at the Sun,” and “Reset.” The band incorporated several instruments in their set including an array of keyboards, guitars and keytars, an upright bass, voice modifiers, a full drum kit, and an extra bass drum that lit up when played; lead vocalist Paul Meany even used his piano stool as a percussion instrument during “Stare at the Sun.”

The backdrop resembled the cover of Armistice and provided the mixed media portion of the show. Live feed of the band as well as scenes from miscellaneous videos appeared on the screen for several songs and guided the show visually. The technical element of the concert also relied heavily on the lighting, which effectively set the mood and built suspense for the individual songs.

Known for their on-stage feats and acrobatics, the band was all over the stage. Meany did handstands on the keyboards, leapt into the air, and rushed into the audience, who rewarded him with a plethora of high fives and shouted admirations. Guitarist Greg Hill and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas participated in the chaos as well by moving to and from the different instruments throughout the show. However, they seemed to have been given the responsibility of ‘holding down the fort’ in order to maintain the tempo of the music, allowing the other two members to orchestrate more daring feats.

Drummer Darren King provided the most memorable moment of the evening. During the final song, King punched out the center of his bass drum, put it over his head, and proceeded to play blindly. One could only speculate the consequences of returning to the days of the instrument-smashing grunge era, but it proved effective for this particular concert.

Overall, the band put on a successful show, with the exception of a few lulls in the middle of the set; not to say that the theatrics were not entertaining, but the constant pulse seemed to be wearisome at times. Hopefully, Mutemath’s novelty will not wear thin and the forthcoming concerts will be even more extravagant.


As seen with Transformers 1 and 2 and G.I. Joe, taking a childhood icon and producing it into a full-length feature film carries an array of risks these days. Directors face the pressure of interpreting their own version of the toy, TV show, or book as well as keeping and promoting the original theme in order to satisfy audiences. The latest film in this category is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Viewers have swayed mainly between two positions; either the film impressed them or severely disappointed them. I’ve heard a variety of descriptions from my peers such as “hipster movie of the year,” “Where the Wild Things Angst,” “brilliant,” and “iconic.” I side with the ones who thoroughly enjoyed the film and walked out of the theatre with a smile.

For those of you who don’t know why the film has been so highly so anticipated, I’ll give you a bit of background. In 1963, writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak wrote an award-winning children’s picture book called Where the Wild Things Are. The 9-sentence, 338-word book follows the journey of a boy named Max. A wild thing himself, Max dresses up in a wolf costume, threatens to eat his mother, and is sent to bed without supper. In his room, he imagines that he travels to a far off land full of wild monsters, who eventually make Max “King of the Wild Things.” After a chaotic “wild rumpus” through the woods, Max begins to feel homesick. He leaves the Wild Things and returns home to find his hot supper waiting in his room.

After several animated adaptations of the book, Jonze (Adaptation and Being John Malchovich) and author Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and You Shall Know Our Velocity!) penned the screenplay for the live action version. Jonze directed and Maurice Sendak took on the role of producer. The cast includes an ensemble of new and veteran actors, including Max Records as Max, Catherine Keener as the mother, and James Galdofini, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose, Forrest Whittaker, Catherine O’Hara, and Chris Cooper as the Wild Things.

The movie follows the book fairly well, with some much needed additions to make it 102 minutes. Eggers and Jonze add several scenes in the beginning to reveal Max’s turbulent home life and to express his need for escape. Instead of going to his room, Max runs through the woods until he reaches the land of the wild things, who were made through a combination of puppetry and digital effects. He captures the loyalty of the creatures by threatening to reveal his magical powers and they crown him King. The main wild thing, Gandolfini’s Carol, entrusts Max with his vision to create the perfect dwelling, where all the wild things can sleep together in a pile and live together in peace

Bringing and keeping happiness seems to Max’s main objective as king, a task he finds very easy through events such “the wild rumpus” and a dirt clod war. These are the moments when the movie really comes alive, with the soundtrack (written by Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) pulsating in the background. Most people, including myself, probably wished for an extended rumpus, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

The screenplay adds an interesting psychological twist to the original story. Each wild thing’s personality possesses some element of Max’s emotions, including rage, insecurity, happiness, and loyalty. By seeing his feelings manifested in this way allows Max to reconcile his turmoil and come to a point where he can return home to the “place where he is loved the most.” Viewers will also be intrigued by the way Jonze presents one of the book’s most famous lines: “Please don’t go. We’ll eat you up. We love you so.”

Lovers of the book are now middle-aged and college-aged and personally I think these groups are the audiences with whom the film will most resonate. Not to say you shouldn’t take your kids or younger siblings, but be aware that Jonze wrote the film for both kids and adults, so some of the themes require some level of maturity; Eggers’ dark humor comes through several times throughout the movie. Overall, however, the film is a moving, heartfelt journey and allows us to see a childhood tale come to life in an unforge


Upon seeing the name and hearing a snippet of music from this San Diego, California-based, Americana and folk-laden group, you may be quick to stash them under the same category as say, The Avett Brothers. Acoustic guitars, banjos, pianos, and infectious harmonies. Seems so formulaic and predictable, right? Further investigation will reveal that with their incessant touring, energetic live shows (which can last up to 4 hours) and growing catalog of original songs, the Smart Brothers (Lou and Jay)are making a strong name for themselves.
Their journey as a band has brought them to several major cities across the United States including Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, New York, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Montevallo. They have garnered several nominations and awards during this time including San Diego Music Award nominations for Best New Act and Best Americana Act, Best of the (Gulf ) Coast 2009, and winner of the Songwriter Shootout at Eddie's Attic in Atlanta. They currently have two albums out; 2008’s self-titled EP and 2009’s My Baby.
I recently had a chance about to talk to Lou about the beginnings of the band, life on the road, and upcoming goals and projects.
CKD: Describe the musical journey of the band (how each of you got started in music and how the band formed).
LS: Well, we’ve been singing together since we were born. Then when I was 6 and Jay was 8 our grandpa taught us how to play the ukulele. He’s first generation from Portugal. We’ve played music and been writing songs together since then, in punk, metal, and indie acts. We started this group two years ago when we couldn’t practice with the volume turned up because we were living in an apartment complex. Our neighbors had just had a baby and we didn’t want to wake him. We traded our electric instruments in for acoustics and started playing on the street for money. We quit our day jobs and have been on the road ever since.
CK: When it comes to songwriting, to what common themes do you guys find yourselves returning?
LS: We pretty much write about anything that inspires us, which is usually love and all the things related to it. We don’t have any sad songs really.
3. What are some of your biggest influences?
LS: We like; The Beach Boys, the Everly Bros., Queen, Andrea Bocelli, Elvis, Tina Turner, Dion, and Jackie Wilson
CKD: What are some of your favorite cities and venues to play?
LS: Anywhere with nice people.
CKD: What is the name of your upcoming project? Describe the songwriting and recording process.
LS: We don’t have a title as of yet. The recording and writing process has been pretty different from what we’ve done before. We wrote all the songs that are going to be on it in about a month. The recording is much more minimal than our previous projects, much grittier and honest.
CKD: What song, out of your entire catalog, would you say means the most to you and why? Are there songs that never leave the set list?-
LS: We don’t really have a favorite song. Each song is like a child, special and unique. Each one represents a time in your life and it brings you and others back to that place each time you play it. We always change up the set list.
CKD: How do you feel you guys have progressed over your time as a band, both individually and collectively?
LS: The band has changes so much over the past two years. We’ve gone from street performers to touring musicians who can afford to do so. It’s awesome to do this for a job and we appreciate everyone who makes it possible. As people we have both learned more about each other and have grown closer. This job puts you under a lot of stress and in some crazy positions at times, and if we didn’t have each other we’d both be in some serious trouble.
CKD: What are some of your goals for the next year to year and a half?
LS: Our goal is to keep doing what we’re doing, we meet the best people through this band. Maybe go to Canada and Mexico too.
CKD: Any advice to offer fledgling songwriters and bands?
LS: Stay in school.
The band will be playing Friday, October 30th at Eclipse in Montevallo. The band says Montevallo is one of their most favorite places to play so expect a fantastic show. To sample their music, go to www.myspace.com/thesmartbrothers .

Friday, October 16, 2009

TOMS Shoes: University of Montevallo Club Interview

Entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie developed the idea for TOMS Shoes during a 2006 vacation to Argentina. He noticed that a large amount of the children lacked shoes, which meant the risk of a lymphatic-system destroying, foot disease known as Podoconiosis. The lack of footwear also meant children were not allowed to attend school. These factors led Mycoskie to sell his online driver education company and develop the now-famous “One for One” campaign; for every shoe sold by TOMS, they will deliver one to a child in need. To secure sustainability, Mycoskie has made TOMS a business instead of a non-profit.
Mycoskie and his team personally deliver the shoes through “drops” by going to individual countries such as the United States, Haiti, Argentina, Ethiopia, Uruguay, and South Africa. He has found partners through the Clinton Global Initiative, Element Skateboards, AT&T. Since their inception, TOMS has provided 140,000 children and youth with pairs of shoes (as of April 2009) and plans to give away a million pairs by 2012.
Randall Porter, a University of Montevallo junior, recently became a campus representative for TOMS. I talked with Randall about his involvement with TOMS, what events are being planned for the campus “TOMS Club,” and how other students can make a difference.
CKD: How did initially get involved with TOMS?
RP: This summer I felt as I wasn't doing anything with my life and I needed to do something. Something that could help make a difference in the world. Then I saw the TOMS commercial, went to the official website and saw how I could get involved and the rest is history. So I became a campus rep for the University of Montevallo.
CKD: What would you say is the main goal of the Montevallo chapter?
RP: To help the students of the university to get involved with something that not only helps others but helps them as well.
CKD: How can UM students get involved with the club?
RP: Well, three ways. 1. You can get involved by ordering shoes with the UM Discount and encouraging others to do the same. 2. Be a part of the staff, the UM TOMS Club, because you can create and give ideas about events. 3. Become a Campus Rep yourself. I don't have to be the only campus rep; actually the other day I got word that we have another person; [UM Student] Evan Mullins joined the cause too. Now we are partnering up on leading the school's club.
CKD: Why do you think college students should get involved with organizations such as TOMS?
RP: Because we students don't realize how much power we have to make a difference in the world. No matter if it’s big or small. You can make a change. As Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
CKD: How have you been personally impacted by working with TOMS?
RP: Honestly, I feel like I have become a better person. I'm realizing that everything isn't about me and that there is always someone less fortunate than me. However, by getting involved with organization like TOMS, I can help change that.
CKD: What events do you have planned or are planning for this semester?
RP: So far we just want to get the word out that TOMS is here. We will have a TOMS campus party on Oct. 16, 2009 during lunch. We will be giving out discount codes and door prizes.
For more information about TOMS, check out www.tomsshoes.com. Contact Randall at TOMSuniversityofmontevallo@gmail.com for more information about the Montevallo chapter.


“I grew up on Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys. I think Brian Wilson is one of America’s geniuses. Him and Aaron Copeland,” the dark haired and bearded Birmingham songwriter Jesse Payne said about his early listening habits. “I guess I also got into the Lemonheads. They led me down a path to A. A. Bondy and Duquette Johnston.” He also mentioned his current favorites which include, along with Bondy and Johnston, the White Oaks, another Birmingham-based alternative rock outfit. Though he admits his immediate family was not musically inclined, he picked up a love for the art from his cousins in Atlanta and eventually taught himself how to play guitar and piano.
When it comes to songwriting, Payne acknowledges relationships and “the dynamic of humanity” as the major recurring themes in his albums (2004’s Humming.the.tunes.of.luxury, 2006’s Ghosts.in.Mirrors, 2008’s Between the Leaves, and the recently released, Nesting.)
Several Chicago-based acts such as singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird and alternative country legend, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, provide the biggest influences for Payne. “I think those guys led me down a path to make me realize that music is not just a bunch of notes and sound manipulations. It’s gearing the ear towards where you want to go as opposed to letting the lyrics take the listener. I think they’ve been able to encompass not only the lyrical direction but also the color,” he said.
When he played at Eclipse last Thursday, I saw these influences come alive in a full wave of folk/rock Americana (if you want to put a label on it). A vocal range that encompassed Tweedy, Bird, and a dash of Five for Fighting lead singer, John Ondrasik, and a musical palate that echoed both the old and the new melodies of the American music tradition.
Payne played mainly tracks from his new offering, Nesting. He recorded the album at Capture Music, a Birmingham-based label/production company/studio, which is home to several other bands including The White Oaks
“I’ve been working on Nesting since Beyond the Leaves. I came into the studio with Beyond the Leaves,” Payne said. “Beyond the Leaves was supposed to be a sampler of Nesting and when I walked out of the studio, I decided ‘You know what? I’ve recorded these four songs. I’m gonna move on.’ I started late 2007 writing for Nesting. We were in the studio for 6 days but that was after countless demos, countless notebook pages of scratches.”
The album contains a total of 8 tracks, including “Yards of Paint,” “Manhattan Project,” and “Wes Anderson.” The last track mentioned holds a special place in Payne’s mind. He told me of his respect and admiration for the writer and director of such films as The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tennebaums. He said the director inspired him to acknowledge the “rough patches in my life” and allow the humor to “override the pain.”
Payne has also toured extensively throughout the Eastern United States and Midwest. He self-financed a two year tour that included shows in Boston, Virginia Beach, Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville. He’s opened for indie rock acts such as Tilly and the Wall, Gabe Dixon Band, and David Mead. Other successes include being featured on indie magazine, The Big Takeover’s “Top 40 Compilation” alongside Death Cab for Cutie and Band of Horses.
In the last few years, Payne has settled back into his place in the city of Birmingham, recording several demos and albums as well as gigs at Workplay Theatre, Urban Standard, City Stages, Charlemegne Records, and The Nick. “I think Birmingham has a great scene of musicians. There’s a lot of talent in this place. Not having a whole lot of music industry here to kind of pave the way made artists around town rely on their own innovations. I think everybody’s done a really good job,” Payne said.
Payne says his goals for the next year include selling some records and “sustaining the life of a musician,” a goal he feels is difficult if an artist does not discover and build on his own unique sound. “I think a songwriter has to find his specific sound and I think a lot of people will get out and have a hit record right off the bat and they can’t produce that again. I think it’s because they didn’t take the time and the steps to really hone in on who they are and what they’re trying to portray; what sound they want the listener’s ears to pick up on.”
He is slowly beginning to tour the Southeast Region again. Three upcoming Birmingham shows include a gig with Tim Brantley at Workplay on October 23rd, a free-to-the-public Capture Music showcase at Virginia Samford Theatre on October 29th, and a show with Live 100.5 favorite, Oceanship, at the Rogue Tavern on November 7th.
Finally, Payne urges appreciators of art and music to “learn how to listen” and not allow your favorite record or song to become meaningless background noise. “Because radios are always on and muzak is always going through the speakers of restaurants, people have just gotten immune to music and I think that’s a dangerous place to be in. Learning how to listen is a very hard talent to achieve I feel but it’s worth it once you get there.”
Check out Jesse Payne on his website www.jessepayneonline.com to listen to selections from Nesting and get more information about upcoming performances.
For the entire interview, check out the post below.


CKD: Describe your musical background

JP: My own musical journey? That’s a general question. I grew up on Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys. I think Brian Wilson is one of America ’s geniuses. Him and Aaron Copeland. I guess I got into the Lemonheads. They led me down a path to A. A. Bondy and Duquette Johnston. That brings us to date. I could list who I’m listening to now but I don’t know if you want that.

CKD: Go ahead if you want to.

JP : A.A. Bondy, huge fan of A.A. Bondy. Duquette, I’m a huge fan of Duquette Johnston. Etowah is a really beautiful album. Who else am I listening to? The White Oaks. Bon Iver, however you pronounce it. I think I’m gonna start going by Payne, is that how you said it?

CKD: Yeah something like that. So how did you get started playing music? Family, boredom?

JP: I think it’s in my family, but I don’t think my immediate family necessarily embraced it. My cousins played instruments. They lived in Atlanta and I seldom saw them, but I guess I picked up on their habits. And I pretty much had to teach myself for awhile. I got some guidance from a few people when I was young. I think my early childhood, I think I grew up in a society that was kind of geared toward another side of life. I think I was tricked into believing something else, and when I was old enough to realize that was a load of shit, I quickly fixed the situation.

CKD: As far as songwriting is concerned, what common themes do you find yourself coming back to?

JP: I think some songs are geared toward relationships, but when people say that it’s a relationship song, I think that’s a generalized assumption to a lot of music because relationships don’t always have to be between two people But I think the dynamic of humanity is the main theme I like to approach. And I think that’s all you can do is approach it.

CKD: Biggest influences?

JP: Jeff Tweedy and Andrew Bird. I think those guys led me down a path to make me realize that music is not just a bunch of notes and sound manipulations. It’s gearing the ear towards where you want to go as opposed to letting the lyrics take the listener. I think they’ve been able to encompass not only the lyrical direction but also the color.

CKD: What exactly is Capture Music? Is it a label?

|JP: It’s a production company, an independent label. It’s a number of things I guess. It’s a studio first of all. I was not apart of the label when I walked into the studio and I guess when I walked out, I was a part of the label.

CKD: Like a Johnny Cash sort of story?

JP: Very similar. I hope it has the same outcome without all of the drama.

CKD: So did you record “Nesting” at Capture?

JP: I did.

CKD: How long did it take and how long did it take to write songs?

JP: I’ve been working on “Nesting” since “Beyond the Leaves.” I came into the studio with “Beyond the Leaves.” BTL was supposed to be a sampler of Nesting and when I walked out of the studio, I decided “You know what? I’ve recorded these four songs. I’m gonna move on.” I started late 2007 writing for “Nesting.” We were in the studio for 6 days but that was countless demos, countless notebook pages of scratches.

CKD: Does the owl carry any symbolism?

JP: It does. Somebody told me that owls in the Native American world are angels. I haven’t done my research, but I thought that was a cool thing to hear. But the significance was that my father brought it out in my life when I was little. I think I’ve always seen life through night eyes, nocturnal eyes. I’ve embraced the nature of owls. It’s been a theme throughout my life; owls always seem to come up. When we were working on the artwork, me and Randy Penn, the guy who designed the cover, we were talking about the record “Nesting” and what it meant to me. It being a kind of homecoming, a seasonal thing, we just wanted to tap into something personal and dominant. I think birds of prey are spectacular because they can do everything in their habitat that can let them rule and fly. Every type of species, there’s that one dominant character and I think that birds of prey, the owl is definitely the dominant. I’m sure that can be debated. I’ve had many hours of lazy eye, thinking about all of this stuff. They can spin their head around. Hell if I could do that, I’d probably trust a lot more people or distrust a lot of people.

CKD: How long have you been playing with GreyHaven?

JP: I think we started playing on the second or third time around. We played three times in a row, then took off one, and played another one. We tend to go back and forth. It’s a fun thing to do and I think Caleb has put together a good group in Birmingham that’s starting to support the art and I think it’s very nice.

CKD: There were a lot of things going on the night you guys played GreyHaven. Sidewalk, the Greek Festival.

JP: And let’s not forget Taylor Hicks. I passed by Workplay going to Urban Standard. He had a long line of women standing in line. This was like five o’clock in the afternoon. My drummer got to GreyHaven and told me he had passed Workplay too, but he’d come from the 5th Avenue side. The funny thing was that Taylor was standing in the landing deck, just around the corner from all of these women who could have bombarded him. They didn’t even know. They were just gonna stand in line. If you explore, you shall find.

CKD: If we were to entertain the idea that Birmingham has a defined scene, how would your music fit into it?

JP: You want me to define the scene or insert me in it?

CKD: The latter

JP: I think Birmingham has a great scene of musicians. There’s a lot of talent in this place. Not having a whole lot of music industry here to kind of pave the way made artists around town rely on their own innovations. I think everybody’s done a really good job. I don’t know if I fit into the scene as much as enjoy the scene. I’m friends with a lot of people who are a part of the scene. It’s hard for me to be a part of it because I’m such a hermit. For two years writing this record, I stayed behind lock and key. So I don’t know if I fit into it, but I definitely enjoy it.

CKD: What song on Nesting means the most to you and why?

JP: “Wes Anderson” means the most to me. For everybody, if you put a span of two years on a human, there’s gonna be a lot of things that happen to that individual. During this time of writing, I think that song really sums up how my life was lived and approached. A lot of the subject matter…I think it’s the most personal song on the record. It’s not directly about Wes Anderson. I’m such a fan of that man. I think I try to draw from his creativity and intertwine it with my own life at the time. It almost helped me get through the time. There were a few rough patches. I make light of those patches in the song because of the inspiration Wes Anderson gave me because of the fact that though there’s a lot of serious subject matter in his movies, it’s so dry and humorous that it overrides the pain. I thought it was very interesting when I started going down that path of thought.

CKD: So I know you’ve pretty much toured the east half of the U.S. What are some of your favorite venues?

JP: Oh man I can’t think of the name of the place. It was up in Boston. We opened for a pretty big regional band up there. You know the singer/songwriter Blu? He was in the crowd and that’s the one memory I have of that place. Besides the guy outside who had to be a fisherman and you could barely understand him. I’m sure it was like someone from up north coming to very rural Alabama and having a hard time understanding people a little bit. It was a fascinating place and I wish I could remember it.

I can tell you my favorite cities because of the venues and because of the shows. Boston has to be up there. Virginia Beach, whatever venue it was in Virginia Beach. If you need the name of the venues, go to www.sonicbids.com/jessepayne.

Chicago is another one; not because of the venue. I just love Chicago probably because of Andrew Bird and Jeff Tweedy; just always looking up to someone from Chicago.

CKD: How long did you tour?

JP: I toured straight for about two years in a lot of those places mentioned. A lot of the places in the press kit were the bigger shows and there were a lot of shows in between. When you spend two years on the road, you take your computer and hope you’re gonna update it every time you have a new show. It just didn’t happen that way, partly because I was buddies with the people I was travelling with and there was so much to do while on tour. We’d go out for a month, then come for a week, then go back out for a month. Usually that month would entail us going up the east coast, then to Chicago, and back down 65. Usually when we hit Chicago, it was our last show. For whatever reason, I have no idea why. We never played any shows coming back home. Once we hit Chicago, that meant we’d already been up to Boston.

CKD: So was it independent?

JP: It was completely independent. I had to wait tables to save a lot of money and at the end of the tour; we’d have a lot of memories and not a lot of money. But it was fun and a good learning experience; I’m glad I did it. We’re about to embark on another tour, but this time around, we’re not gonna go so far up, but just tour regionally and let it cycle on out. But hopefully we’ll be back on the road for two years.

CKD: Where are you from originally, city-wise?

JP: I’m from Birmingham. I’ve lived in Atlanta but I guess Birmingham would the town that I would claim.

CKD: Any shows in the next month or so that you’d like to plug?

JP: There’s a Capture Music show on October 29th at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham. It’s a showcase and it’s free to the public. We’re also playing with Tim Brantley at Workplay on Octobe 23rd. Then we’re playing with Oceanship on November 7th at the Rogue Tavern.

CKD: Any major goals you would like to accomplish in the next year to year and a half?

JP: Sustaining the life style of playing music. I think that’s the trick that a lot of people have in front of them but haven’t really figured out how to do it. I’m not saying I have either, but I think to say any goal outside of that is more or less a dream. I think it’s hard enough to sustain a music career with only playing music. That’s really been my life goal since I can remember; just to play music. I’d like to sell some records; there’s a goal.

CKD: How do you feel you’ve progressed over the last five years, lyrically and musically?

JP: I think a songwriter has to find his specific sound and I think a lot of people will get out and have a hit record right off the bat and they can’t produce that again. I think it’s because they didn’t take the time and the steps to really hone in on who they are and what they’re trying to portray; what sound they want the listener’s ears to pick up on. Five years ago, when I was starting out, I don’t think I realized that. But I think that for whatever reason, I went down that path of just building and going towards the sound I knew wanted; I just didn’t know how to achieve. Which is one of the reasons Nesting is called Nesting. I feel like it’s a homecoming. I feel I went so far away from what I needed to be just to know what I came back to. I think over the last five years, I have been able to find the sound that I’ve been looking for. Hopefully, this sound will allow me to give more than I could have five years ago to my listeners within the next few years.

CKD: Besides trying to find your own sound, is there any advice you’d offer to people starting out?

JP: Learn how to listen. I think I can come across as egotistical and I don’t mean to come off that way. Listening is as much of a talent as playing an instrument, giving a speech, conducting an interview; it’s something you have to learn how to do, you know? I think I learned how to listen too late----not too late--- but later than I would have like, later than the ideal. Ideally, I would have born with three ears. But I think music is so readily available now that a lot of times you’ll be driving down the road- it happens to us all- and you’ll have on your favorite record. You’re listening to it and you’re kinda into it, but you’re not listening. There’s so much other stuff going on. Or you walk into a JC Penny’s and you hear a song you like but you’re shopping.

CKD: There’s that familiarity because you’ve heard it all the time. It’s just background music.

JP: Yeah. It becomes background music instead of an art. I think when somebody buys a painting, the only way to appreciate is to continue to keep going back and looking at it and analyzing it. I know that it’s impossible to analyze music all the time because there’s so much in life that people have to do and want to do. But I think it’s important that you take time during the day and during the week and make sure you take an album, put headphones on (or whatever makes you comfortable), and try to pick out the little pieces. Aaron Copeland said one time…some of his essays. I’m gonna butcher this quote but “A great piece of art, if it is a great piece of art, will mean something different each time you return to it.” For someone who has learned how to listen, they’re able to pick out different things each time instead of letting it wash over them as background music. I think people, not any fault of their own, but because of the way society is…because radios are always on and muzak is always going through the speakers of restaurants, people have just gotten immune to music and I think that’s a dangerous thing to be in. Learning how to listen is a very hard talent to achieve I feel but it’s worth it once you get there.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reviews and Recommendations Take One


REVIEW- FIVE CHANCES REMAIN HERS (2009, Self-released): Matthew Mayfield is returning to his roots. This 6-song EP kicks off with “Open Road,” a number that features lush orchestration including a full rock band set up (guitars, bass, and drums), as well as impressive violin work by Birmingham’s Jeanette Brabston. The lyrics explore the trials and tribulations of the touring lifestyle, as well as the emotions Mayfield has kept bottled up for the last few years. The song reaches its full potential in the climatic bridge (I’ve been deserted/my feelings perverted/by a ripped off and pissed off machine cycle circus/When we look in the mirror/it shatters with shame).
The rest of the album follows suit with Mayfield shining on the middle three songs (“Lives Entwined,” “Timeless Art,” and “Better”). The trio chronicles a relationship through the fights between Mayfield and a significant other, fighting for that person, and then Mayfield asking for reconciliation and change (“For you/for me/make me a better man”). Some fans may disagree with Mayfield’s return to the full band setting, especially those who thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of The Fire EP. However, Mayfield’s songwriting legacy and the affordable price of the CD itself ($4.99 at Barnes and Noble), allows you a chance to support local music and contribute to the thriving Birmingham “scene” that continues to grow with each new artist.
RECOMMENDATION- THE FIRE EP (2008, Self-released): Raw emotions and unrefined musicality populate Matthew Mayfield’s first solo EP. Written a few months after the demise of Moses Mayfield, he composes eight acoustic numbers that he records in a home studio for under $1000, an album where Mayfield “just let the mistakes stay…[the CD] feels more honest that way.” Standout tracks include “Razorblade,” Live 100.5 staple “Dead to You,” an acoustic version of Moses Mayfield’s “Element,” and two songs that I’ve heard at three weddings this summer, “By Your Side” and “First in Line.”
REVIEW- WILCO (THE ALBUM) [2009, Nonesuch Records]: “Are times getting tough/Are the roads you travel rough,” sings Jeff Tweedy on Wilco’s seventh full length studio album. The Chicago-based band has received an assortment of labels over their 15 year career, including, but not limited to “alt-country,” “experimental,” “avant-garde,” and most recently, “dad rock.” The fact that the first and previously quoted song “Wilco (The Song)” is basically an infomercial about the band (“Wilco will love you baby”) seems to affirm what Tweedy said to American Songwriter magazine in June; that (The Album) is just “a goofy pop record.”
Don’t let this statement fool you, though. Once you get into the middle of the record, the standout tracks become apparent. “You and I” features a duet with Feist, the singer/songwriter who brought the world the catchy, Sesame Street-friendly “1 2 3 4.” “You Never Know” points out the disagreements between religious groups about the end of the world. Tweedy explores his own spiritual journey in “Everlasting Everything” and “Solitaire”; the latter has Tweedy calling himself a fool for believing that there was nothing bigger than himself.
Finally, the somewhat controversial “I’ll Fight for You,” features a soldier fighting for the freedoms of an unaware rich man, to whom he addresses the song. In the closing stanza, the character compares himself to Christ (“I’ll die like Jesus on the cross/My faith will not be lost/if my love comes across”). Though many people may patronize this lyric, they must acknowledge the fact that several movies portray Christ-like figures and symbolism; Tweedy just happened to verbalize the idea in song.
RECOMMENDATION – YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT (2002, Nonesuch Records): Once upon a time, Warner Brothers subsidiary, Reprise Records, made a huge mistake. After listening to Wilco’s demos for what would become Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they claimed that the disc had no potential singles and essentially no commercial value. The band bought the tapes for a reported $50,000, transferred to their current label, Nonesuch Records, and released one of the most influential albums of the last 10 years, with praise littering the pages of several well-known publications. Standout songs include the string-soaked “Jesus, Etc.”, the conflict-themed “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the instantly recognizable riff of “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” the relentlessly catchy “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and the political “Ashes of American Flags.” The follow up, 2004’s A Ghost is Born, may have won the Grammy, but YHF remains the perfect introduction to Jeff Tweedy and Co.

Matthew Mayfield Interview 9/18/09

This summer, Birmingham singer/songwriter, Matthew Mayfield, released his second EP, Five Chances Remain Hers. Some may remember Mayfield as the frontman for Moses Mayfield, a Birmingham-based alternative rock band who was picked up by Columbia/Sony BMG in 2006. They toured the country for the next year, playing shows with Will Hoge, Switchfoot, The Fray, and Pete Yorn. However, corporate layoffs, including Moses’s Artist and Repertoire executive, left the band with an undetermined fate. Even with a promising debut LP, The Inside, Columbia dropped the band from its roster near the end of 2007. January 2008 saw the break-up of Moses Mayfield, and Matthew Mayfield took the emotions from this experience and wrote them into his first solo EP, The Fire. The album was well received by Birmingham music listeners and Mayfield began rebuilding his career, playing several shows at Birmingham’s Workplay Theatre, the Speakeasy, Barnes and Noble at Patton Creek, along with other local and regional venues. In April 2009, he went to Nashville and recorded Five Chances with producer Paul Moak. I had the chance to talk with Mayfield about the new release as well as his fall tour dates with Dylan Sneed, Needtobreathe, and Serena Ryder.
CKD: Describe the recording process of "Five Chances" compared to "Fire."

MM: Well the first solo record was mostly just me and my guitar for the most part. I loved that. It was completely bare bones--which was the move I wanted to make at the time. On 'Five Chances' I had a band playing with me--but we kept the live vibe by tracking it all in the same room and picking the take that felt the best. There was no slaving over the 'perfect' sound. We just played things til they felt right. The sounds on this record are incredible. We wanted to keep the focus on the vocal--but have some other elements in the atmosphere for texture. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

CKD: What's the story behind the album’s name?
MM: It's a russian roulette reference. 'One's locked in the chamber...and five chances remain hers'

CKD: Are the majority of the songs new material, or ones that you've been holding onto until the right moment?

MM: All of the songs on 'Five Chances...' were written way before we started recording with the exception of 'Lives Entwined.'. That one showed up while we were mixing. I kept playing it in the other room and one day Paul was like 'what's THAT?'. We cut it and mixed it the next day top to bottom.

CKD: What song means the most to you and why?

MM: It's tough to pick just one. I'd say 'Open Road' is my favorite. It's the most dynamically sound of all the songs and there's an unmatched urgency in the performances all around. The strings are gorgeous, the drums are heavy, the bass lines are ridiculous--pretty much all the things I can't take any credit for are the jewels in my eyes. :) That song takes the most out of me. It's a really triumphant song--which is rare for in my catalog. Afterwards singing or playing or listening-- I feel like I just ran the race...and for once, I won.

CKD: You explore themes of fighting and reconciliation in several of the songs, particularly tracks 3-5. Could you describe how you feel these concepts fit into love as well as relationships in general?

MM: Yeah--I suppose there is a yearning to fight and to be fought for all over this record. It's been a rough few years in a lot of ways relationally. When it's clear you're doing the majority of the fighting--it's hard to not feel mistreated. It took a long time for me to realize--but that's no way to live. You can't lay yourself on the line time and time again without getting something back...you'll crack. I did. We all do.

CKD: How has touring been? Do you still play mainly solo sets or do you have a band backing you up now?

MM: It's been great. I feel like the sets are getting better and better with time. I play with a band when I can--but most of the dates are solo acoustic. I dig both. I love changing it up...keeps me on my toes. We've got a full band show coming up in front of the Fray up at Big Spring Jam in Huntsville on September 26th. It will be our first time to play these songs full band on a huge stage. Should be a blast.

CKD: What goals do you have for this next year, year and a half?

MM: I'm gonna just keep riding this wave as long as it will take me. I've got some great shows lined up with Needtobreathe and Serena Ryder as well as some other dates in the works. It's just a day at a time at this point. I'm just trying to make it from Tuesday to Thursday. One foot in front of the other.

Matthew Mayfield will be playing at Workplay Theatre in Birmingham with Needtobreathe and Serena Ryder on October 3rd and 4th. His albums are available on Itunes, at Barnes and Noble in Patton Creek and the Summit, or you can pick one up at a show. Check out his Myspace at www.myspace.com/matthewmayfieldmusic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sunsets and the Economy of Mercy

I vividly remember the Pacific Ocean

As the evening tide crushed the turf.

The horizon expanded as we approached its depth.

This represented the first defining moment of my trip.

My friends and I made small talk as we walked along the shoreline

Introspectively anticipating the coming beauty.

Finally, the spectacle that is the California sunset

Cascaded itself down the dark blue

Transforming the sky into a plethora of color

Red, orange, purple, fire.

I sat down in the water, allowing the ocean

To engulf my feet.

As I languished in the middle of the sand and turf,

I realized these were the only things

Separating me from innumerable miles

Of liquid eternity.

Forty days later, I sit at my desk

Trying to recall every minute detail

So I can once again savor that natural majesty.

Thank God for digital cameras

And cameras in general.

I couldn't even imagine living in the era

Before each moment and image of our lives

Could be successfully documented.

A century and some odd years ago

There'd been solitary travelers

Who had transversed hundreds or thousands of miles

To gaze upon such wonder.

Their only methods of capturing and absorbing these things

Had been their memory

And the occasional journal entry.

I guess I'm realizing how lucky we are.

During the last month and ten days or so

I've experienced more frustrations than I expected for this semester.

However, even when the battle of a particular day seemed lost

I clung to the image of the sunset

A snapshot of brilliance

A beacon of hope

Something that fulfills the natural and innate desire to be satisfied

By something much greater than our human experience.

In addition to reminiscing about my spring break trip

I've also enlisted the help of some of my favorite albums

From high school, the ones that characterized my days at JCIB.

I echo Jon Foreman of Switchfoot as he cries:

"I'm lost without You here."

I cannot help but think about the irony of this lyric

At least in my own life.

You never left me.

I was the one who ran away

From Your hope and truth.

A foolish man trying to discover purpose on his own.

Instead of scolding me like a nagging parent

You patiently pursued me and whispered to me

How much You cherished me.

When I began to approach the point of no return

You shouted for me to come home.

You knew there was something much better

Than the path I'd chosen for the moment.

Finally, in my desparation I turned back to look at You for one last time

And discovered You were much closer than I'd imagined.

In that moment, exuberant rejoicing announced victory

Throughout the heavenly realms

As joy surged through my heart once again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Los Angeles: Day 1

7:30 A.M. (Central Time)- The alarm clock deafens me momentarily. That's what I get for placing it so close to my pillow, but I fell asleep expecting a text so its location was inevitable. I hit the snooze, banking on the fact that the text was indeed worth waiting another 8 minutes and maybe this final 8 would allow to complete one, last sleep cycle.
7:38- My eardrum is paralyzed once again, but I jump out of bed anyway and move stiffly to the hall. Halfway, I pause and walk back to check the message. 'Sounds good to me,' it read. 'Talk to you later.' Well confirmation is a prize in itself; it allows me to continue to the shower with a smile on my face and spring in my step.
8:45- I'm ready to depart. I bid adieu to my mom and dog, grab my carry-on and suitcase, and head to the car with my dad.  45 minutes later, after a trip to Wally World for some last minute supplies, we arrive at Birmingham airport.  Winding through the parking deck, we frantically (well maybe not so frantically) search for an open space. 5th level, row 2: success.
9:42- I'm checking my bags in. Eighty-three minutes until boarding, my stomach growls as my head swirls with excitement and my heart pounds with anticipation.  We start looking for the Mickey D's located about 500 feet away from check-in.  As we near its supposed location, we quickly discover that it no longer holds a spot in the terminal.  Instead "Charley's" has replaced it.  My stomach growls ferociously once again, so I settle for a steak hoagie and coffee; the former is most excellent, the latter, not so much.
11:02- My dad and I exchange farewells as I go through security.  I walk into Terminal B, gate 2 and sit by the window. I watch planes take off until they call my row.
11:30- The plane departs and I'm in seat 11A, a window seat all by myself.  I actually get the paradox of both window and aisle seat, a sign that this trip is starting off well.  I organize a playlist of The Shins and Matt Costa on my Ipod and begin my borrowed copy of Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller, which I highly recommend to each and every one of you, especially during travel.
2:06- I've made it to Houston and immediately head towards my gate in Terminal C.  I pass by a statue of George Bush, but fail to take more than a cell phone snapshot; I'm pretty sure it will still be in tact when I make my return trip.  
I have to ride one of those trams, where standing must be accompanied by gripping the suspended bar until your knuckles turn white to keep from tumbling all over the car.  Most, like myself, remain quiet and stare straight ahead; a bit diagonally if staring straight would mean eye contact with the man or woman across from them.  However, I overhear a few conversations in Spanish, though the speed of their dialogue prevents my mind from successfully translating. 
2:15- I find my gate. Now I need something to eat that's not too heavy.  I transverse the terminal shops, observing a variety of fast food and sit down restaurants, bookstores, and the occasional Fossil Watch shop.  I settle to purchase a pineapple smoothie from Smoothie King, which is quite satisfying.  I proceed to check out several bookstores.  However, the 8 novels in my carry-on prevent me from making a purchase; maybe next time.
3:20- I board the 737 plane that will deliver me to my final destination, the famed LAX.  This time I'm in 20D, part of a row of 3 seats.  I still reclaim an aisle seat, Hoohah.  Fifteen minutes later, I sacrifice my seat for family of three so the son can sit with his parents.  Though I must now be in the middle seat of another row, the stewardess rewards at first with the promise of alcohol had I been 21, but then supplies with a pair of free headphones that I could use to watch the in-flight movie.  When I discover that the film is the remake of The Earth Stood Still, I opt to use the phones to listen to my Ipod while I finish Donald Miller, a wise decision on my part.  For this trip, I choose Death Cab for Cutie, Fleet Foxes, Wild Sweet Orange, Johnny Cash, and the Triceratops to saturate my auditory canals.  I thoroughly enjoy the journey with Miller, as he himself is taking a cross-country trip, meeting a plethora of unique people.  Though I do not hold the advantage of road travel, I feel the trip that I am taking will serve as a chance for reconnection, rejuvenation, and hopefully, spiritual reconciliation. 
5:41 P.M. (Pacific Time)-  After spending 4 hours in the air, I am quite ready for a few days on solid ground.  I walk into the juggernaut LAX and begin my ascent into the great unknown, with a quick trip to baggage claim.  After contacting Josh, one of the two Bruner twins with whom I will be residing for the next 6 days, he advises me to find the FlyAway Bus stop and take the Westwood shuttle.  I obey and fortunately discover the post a mere 47  feet from my terminal.  Unfortunately, my wait for the shuttle is almost 60 minutes.  When it finally arrives, the driver alerts me that no seats remain and I can either stand or wait for the next shuttle.  After contemplating about my chances of seeing another FlyAway in the next 20 minutes, I decide that for both my time and health, standing wouldn't be so detrimental.  
7:30- The bus ride through LA is fantastic.  Though darkness keeps me from seeing a large portion of the city, the journey itself remains captivating. I've never seen this many palm trees in Florida. Near the end, I catch a glimpse of UCLA and its surrounding structures. 
8:00- I arrive at Westwood and immediately contact Josh to pick me up.  He gets to the stop in a matter of moments and takes me to his work, a local Italian delivery spot.  Inside, his brother Will is typing on his Mac and eating a slice of pizza.  We exchange greetings in the manner of old friends, with a hug and "Great to see you friend!"  We pile into their Honda and Josh drives us back to their Brentwood apartment; he will return at 9:45.  When he returns, we spend the rest of the night catching up and anticipating the week's events.  A few of their friends stop by, Brian Algeo, a Penn State grad who works mainly in post-production, and Danny Zucker, a producer and director, who shows us an interesting short film.  After several hours of conversation, I crash on the couch around 1 A.M.  It's only the beginning but what a day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Few singer/songwriters can command a crowd for an hour or longer with just a voice, a microphone, and an acoustic guitar; Birmingham’s own Matthew Mayfield represents this type of artist. The passion behind his voice as well as powerful strumming and a variety of melodic open tunings gives an accessible sound to the modern listener.

Though Mayfield is currently gaining airplay on the Birmingham radio station, Live 100.5, with his single “Dead to You,” followers of the local scene understand that Mayfield is no overnight success, but a journey several years in the making.

Mayfield began his musical journey at early age after picking up the guitar at 9. “I used to listen to my dad through the thin walls of my house--he'd play old Beatles, Neil Young, and James Taylor. He showed me some chords and got me into a few lessons,” Mayfield says. About a year later, he gave his first public performance as a fifth grader at the Crestline Elementary School Talent Show in Birmingham. “I played ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ I'm sure it was awful, but at the time, it felt like the greatest thing I'd ever done.”

He began composing songs at 12 when he realized that “everybody was trying to be the next great guitar player,” and to be different, he had to come up with his own style. Early and current influences sprang up from all over the classic and alternative rock map, including Peter Gabriel, Oasis, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Death Cab for Cutie, and Kings of Leon. Though he admits the original compositions were rough, nevertheless they begin to come together and formulate his repertoire.

Prior to his solo career, Mayfield fronted the Birmingham-based alternative rock out, Moses Mayfield, which included Mayfield as frontman, vocalist, and guitarist, guitarist Will Mason, bassist Hans Ford, keyboardist Matt Taylor, and drummer Will Drake. After releasing an independent EP (2003’s Unified) as well as a full-length disc (2004’s Enough to Let Go), the band signed to Epic Records in 2005, and eventually found themselves under the umbrella of Columbia Records and Sony BMG.

For the next two years, the band embarked on several nationwide tours, opening for and sharing the stage with such major bands and songwriters as Switchfoot, The Fray, Will Hoge, Pete Yorn, and Blue October. In March 2007, Moses Mayfield released their Columbia debut, The Inside, to generous response. The album included songs such as “A Cycle,” “Fall Behind,” and “Control.”

Despite their initial success, the band was unable to avoid the storm that was brewing in the major label music industry. “Moses was a great band. I'm still proud of the record we made and work we put in. We gave ourselves entirely to that music...and I think it paid off. We learned a lot of lessons, however, about the crumbling infrastructure of the major label model of doing things… as soon as a few folks got let go and a new CEO was in place at Sony, we were gone. It's just politics. It's unfortunate, but that's the way those guys work,” Mayfield says. However, he remains optimistic about the future of independent music. “The revolution is underway. Artists are taking the business back for themselves...me included.”

In January 2008, Moses Mayfield disbanded and Mayfield began the “pretty natural” transition from frontman to solo artist. “I was so burnt out on constant touring and the ups and downs with the label. Everybody started to go their own way and honestly, the wheels just fell off. But my passion and hunger to write great songs were stronger than ever. So once I'd taken a little time off, I got right back to work and put the EP out on my own. Tracked, mixed, and mastered in 30 hours for under $1000. No need to spend too much time nitpicking everything. I just left the mistakes stay...feels more honest that way.”

The resulting disc was the 8-song The Fire EP, which includes the aforementioned “Dead to You,” “Razorblade,” “First In Line,” and “Element.” Along with Mayfield on vocals, bass, and guitars, the record also reunites the songwriter with drummer Will Drake; Stewart Vann of the Birmingham folk/indie band, The Triceratops, and Emily Hooten provide background vocals. “It's a bit scattered, but I think the common thread is that sense of urgency in all the songs. I was drawing from all kinds of places for inspiration--and it was such a release to get it all out on record. That's a huge part of why I make music. There's no boundaries...you can go wherever you want to.”

In addition to recording, Mayfield has experienced a variety of success in the area of touring, playing major venues in the Southeast such as Workplay Theatre in Birmingham, The Music Farm in Charleston, The Pageant in St. Louis, and Exit/In in Nashville. When it comes to the crowd, Mayfield admits that he prefers one that contains fifty attentive listeners than a crowd of five hundred people preoccupied with other things.

As far as the Birmingham support is concerned, Mayfield believes that he has been well-received by his hometown. “I'd like to think that I've carved out a little nitch for myself here at home. The crowds here are always really supportive and encouraging. There's a lot of great music happening here. The Triceratops, Kate Taylor, The White Oaks, Wild Sweet Orange, The Great Book of John...the list just goes on and on. I'm honored to be a part of that crowd.”

Mayfield started 2009 with a packed Workplay show on January 24th that included big name local acts like The Kate Taylor Band, The Triceratops, and The Great Book of John. He plans to continue playing around Birmingham with shows at Speakeasy on March 7th with Kate Taylor and the White Oaks as well as an in-store performance at the Patton Creek Barnes and Noble in Hoover.

He also will be playing at Workplay on April 11th as part of the Blue Cut Robbery, which consists of Mayfield, Stewart Vann, and Will Drake. “[The Blue Cut Robbery] is just three guys who wanna have fun playing rocknroll. We aren't taking it too seriously, which I think makes us a better band. Once again, no rules. 5 minute guitar solo? Why not? 4 key changes in the same song? Yes, please.”

As far as recording is concerned, Mayfield will be heading to Nashville to start work on a new disc with producer Paul Moak. He hopes to begin the process in late April.

Finally, Mayfield offers this advice for any fledgling songwriters and bands. “I think trying to carve out your own sound is the challenge for all of us. Something fresh and something people will gravitate towards. As an artist, you wanna move people...make them feel things while the songs on and the windows are down. Songs can completely change the course of any given person's day. They can change the temperature in any given room. It's a powerful art form. I'm hooked. “

For more information on upcoming shows and to listen to tracks from The Fire EP and other demos, visit www.myspace.com/matthewmayfieldmusic

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sometimes I Feel Like Holden Caulfield

When J. D. Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951, the work resonated with controversy throughout the modern literary world. Shocked at its overtly vulgar content, the authoritative institutions- mainly those of the educational sort- sought fiercely to ban the book in order to protect the influential minds of future generations. However, like most taboo works, the banning of the book only sparked interest among readers, who longed to delve into the mind of Holden Caulfield and discover his “words of wisdom” for their lives. The Catcher in the Rye provided a literary outlet for adventure for many of its readers. The novel changed the lives of ordinary citizens, namely teenagers, who yearned for escape and possessed a desire to transcend their own seemingly mundane personal lives.

Even today, Salinger’s debut work still inspires hordes of people trying to find their purpose in this world, though one can argue that the often-nihilistic Holden sometimes denies a search for purpose and meaning. Fortunately for Salinger, public schools now allow his work in the classroom, often using it as required reading in high school English classes.

The summer before my sophomore year, my teacher assigned us this novel. Though my naïve mind, like most readers who peruse the work for the first time, was shocked and somewhat appalled at the content, I could not help but be intrigued by the story. During the first few weeks of discussion, I became enthralled with the influence radiating from Salinger’s work. The story of Holden Caulfield remains one of my favorite books of all time and I read it every summer.

I will be the first to admit that Holden Caulfield and I possess very different moral compasses. Despite these initial divergences, I still identify very strongly with his character and often see myself in his actions. Throughout the past five years, I have discovered the similarities more and more, our lives and personal traits colliding in more ways than one. When examining Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I notice that Holden Caulfield and I both acknowledge the occasional “phoniness” of people, the importance of maintaining and rebuilding relationships, and the inevitability of maturing and growing up.

In the first few chapters of the novel, readers realize the severity of Holden’s distrust in other people. Holden screams out “phony” so many times during the work, the reader gets to the point where he or she can predict which people Holden will label. Multiple groups receive Holden’s label throughout the novel, including his classmates, musicians, ministers, restaurant employees, and even his own family members. He often makes his judgments based simply on the tone of voice used by the different groups. For example, when he talks about the ministers, he wonders why they never use their natural voices because “they sound so phony when they talk” (Salinger 100). He reveals his immaturity through these statements because he refuses to give anybody the time of day if he deems them “phony.” By making up his mind about a person before they begin to speak, Holden inflates his ego and increases insecurity instead of decreasing it. Ironically, Holden admits to the reader that he is “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life”; however, he never acknowledges his own “phoniness” - a major character flaw in his life (16).

Over the past few years, I have discovered traces of this sentiment in my own life. Often times, I keep these feelings to myself and refuse to call out individuals for their “flaws” and “mistakes.” I utilized my insecurity, like Holden, to justify my thoughts of my peers. Also, I may have exhibited some distrust in the “popular crowd” or the ones who always seem to fix their eyes on a goal and found success in every step they took. Unlike Holden, however, I eventually discovered my own phoniness. For years, I was heavily involved in the First Priority Ministry at my high school. Inside the thirty minute window of our meeting, I talked about the love of Christ and how it should affect every aspect of our lives. When the meetings finished and I entered the halls of the school, my speech became a breeding ground for sarcasm and negative language. I soon saw my own flaws and vowed to correct them.

Though naturally suspicious and cynical of the world around him and the people who inhabit it, Holden still believes in maintaining and rebuilding relationships. He attempts to fool the reader into thinking he possesses a brash and nonchalant attitude towards life and what people think about him. The reader first notices his care for the opinions and company of others when he asks Ackley to play Canasta with him because Ackley was a “Canasta fiend” (Salinger 47). In the preceding chapters, Holden verbally deconstructs Ackley’s manhood, saying, “[he] was a virgin if ever I saw one,” ; yet, now he longs for Ackley’s companionship (37). Other examples include his attempts to contact Jane Gallagher (though he never follows through with them), as well as his reunion with Sally Hayes. These interactions show the paradox of Holden’s personality. He constantly discusses plans to flee from all of his problems, but at the core, Holden strongly realizes he must salvage his relationships because they are the only interactions keeping him sane.

In my own life, I consider the maintenance of human relationships to be highly important. I admit that I often kept to myself growing up. I hardly talked to anyone because I feared vulnerability and the criticisms of other, though I truly believe now that no one would have ever offered such harsh words. Despite my fear and doubts about these interactions, I constantly surrounded myself with strong groups of peers. I longed to be accepted by the world around me because I knew the impact that these relationships would have on my development. Holden and I share this trait of loyalty, though I believe mine is much more conspicuous and less cynical than his.

Finally, Holden Caulfield and I both acknowledge the inevitability of maturing and growing up. The theme of maturity resonates most clearly in Holden’s conversation with Mr. Antolini. Near the end of their interaction, Mr. Antolini quotes Wilhem Shekel: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one” (188). Throughout the work, Holden expresses admiration for people like James Castle, who never backed down from what they believed. He sees Castle’s death as the pinnacle point of his existence. He fails to see the irony of dying for a cause. Though noble, once a person dies, their legacy ends. They cannot continue to do great works for humanity. On the other hand, the men and women who perform anonymous good works show the most maturity. They continue these acts of service throughout their lives, making small, yet noticeable impacts on the people around them. At the climax of the novel, Holden finally realizes he cannot save everyone from losing their innocence. Though he longs to be the “catcher in the rye,” he knows he holds no key to fixing problems and stopping pain. He must live to discover his purpose, because an early death will prevent him from ever finding it.

When I was young, the actions of various Christian martyrs inspired me greatly. However, I acquired a misconception, like Holden, that greatness comes from death. Though I never denied the courage and the purpose of these missionaries’ deaths, I now realize that I might possess a different kind of purpose. Like Holden, I currently remain unaware of what my “job” on this world is supposed to resemble. Regardless, I want to see life in its entirety so I miss nothing. I long to impact others through simple acts of kindness because most people usually remember the personal acts more than the public acts.

Despite a slew of differences, time and self-reflection prove that Holden Caulfield and I possess several similar traits. We question the genuineness of certain individuals we meet, but we eventually acknowledge our own unreliability. We seclude ourselves from others for hours or days at a time, but recognize that the maintenance these relationships gives us a more well-rounded existence. During an era of rebellion, we embrace self-gratification and youthful pleasures, but time reveals that selflessness and maturity bring the ultimate joy. We may never protect others by being catchers in the rye, but we can help guide those who feel as lost and confused as we once were, and that act in itself provides true and unrelenting satisfaction.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


For Preston Lovinggood, lead singer of the Birmingham-based alternative/indie rock band Wild Sweet Orange, music and art have always existed in the very core of his being; he only had to discover the outlet in which to create it. As a young elementary school child, he would listen to his sisters practice piano in the den of his parents’ house. “I always remember hearing them play and having melodies come to mind, not necessarily lyrics, though I would sometimes sing lyrics,” Lovinggood says.

Though he has toured across the country and written several songs with Wild Sweet Orange (or “WSO” to fans), Lovinggood’s initial artistic outlet was not music, but theatre. “At a young age, I got into theatre. I love theatre and will always consider that my first love; I hope to get back into it and make movies.” As he approached middle school, he found himself at a crossroads. He felt he had to decide to which art he would devote his energy, acting or playing in a band. He chose the latter.

Musically, Lovinggood finds inspiration from bands and songwriters like the Beach Boys and Neil Diamond; an early influence includes church choir, where he met drummer Chip Kilpatrick. “More than anything, I’ve been influenced by the idea of reaching a lot of different people at the same time. Growing up in theatre, you try to do that as an actor. That’s what Shakespeare was trying to do, reaching all types of people and social classes at the same time, and I think that’s what pop music is. I think I’ve always just loved pop music. I just love something I can remember.”

After writing several songs, Lovinggood recruited guitarist Taylor Shaw to play with him in the local Birmingham scene. Kilpatrick, guitarist/keyboardist Garrett Kelly, and former guitarist Matt Parsons rounded up the lineup, and WSO was born. Often asked about the origin of the moniker Wild Sweet Orange, Lovinggood says that Parsons discovered the name from an unexpected source. “[Parsons] met an old guy at a coffee shop who made us a list of band names, and before the old man died, he gave Matt that list, and Wild Sweet Orange was on the list.”

The band soon began touring the coffeehouse scene in Birmingham and Homewood, including several shows at Cool Beans in Homewood and Moonlight Music Café in Vestavia Hills. Though the band had the opportunity to open for indie-rock group Tilly and the Wall at Cool Beans, Lovinggood admits his favorite show was opening for Chris Staples at Safari Cup in Birmingham. “For some reason that show was like the biggest show for me. There was like 50 people there, but I loved that show.”

After the band recorded some demos with producer Lynn Bridges, their song “Sour Milk,” found its way to the set list of Scott Register’s “Reg’s Coffee House.” “Scott Register is a friend of mine, a really good friend now. I didn’t know him at the time, but he was our magic moment, our opening into the music business. He is a true lover of music.” Register soon passed along the demo to Seattle-based radio station, KEXP, who began playing “Ten Dead Dogs” to generous response.

In late 2007, the band signed with Canvasback Records and began a heavy touring schedule that has lasted well into late 2008. The band has shared the stage with several well-known and independent acts such as the Whigs, Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, Sherwood, and the Counting Crows. In late 2007, their song “Land of No Return” appeared of the ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy. Their appearance in on CBS’s The Late Show with David Letterman, where they played “Ten Dead Dogs,” marked their official television and introduced the band to millions of potential fans. Finally, the summer of 2008 ended with an appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago, Illinois.

Still, Lovinggood has chosen to stay realistic about his expectations for the band. However, he still holds true to the rock and roll dream of playing for large crowds and packing out stadiums.
“Honestly, right now in the big scheme of things, we’ve experienced very mild, mild success. We’re sort of able to do it professionally. We’ve been on TV and stuff like and we’re so grateful for it. But I’ve just realized that I want to be a big star. I want to be huge and be in a huge band. I know a couple of people are weirded out by that, but I’ve just come to terms with the fact that is healthy for me to say, to have that desire and not care if people think it’s stupid.”

Lovinggood also admits that despite the generous support given by the Southeast, particularly Birmingham, the band itself has a lot of work to do on the road. “No one knows who we are. We’ve played 230 shows in the last year and a half. It’s crazy. It’s starting to feel like Safari Cup in about five other cities. We can go to Chicago and play at Schuba’s for 75 people and it’s a lot of fun. We just went to Portland and played for about 350 people. We can play in Seattle for 200 people and it feels exciting. We’ve played in Orlando, LA, and New York for that amount of people. There’s a lot of work to be done. It’s humbling and it’s so hard.”

As far as discography is concerned, the band has released 2007’s The Whale EP, which includes songs such “Wrestle with God” and “I’m Coming Home”, as well as their 2008 Canvasback debut, We Have Cause to be Uneasy, which contains the singles “Ten Dead Dogs” and “Either/Or.”

“I think growing up in the South and wanting to be an artist, it was really hard to take that risk and do something different. Everyone was telling me we were stupid and everyone was telling us we were wrong, so saying ‘We have cause to be uneasy’ is a way of telling people off in a way, but in a respectful way. I have cause to think these things and I have a right to let them play out. I’m going to be as angry as long as I need to be angry and forgive what I need to forgive. It’s sort of been a catchphrase for me, but I’m out of these things; I’ve forgiven and moved on. “

With almost a year and a half of touring and two recordings under their belt, the band has started writing new songs for their sophomore album. Lovinggood says that the songwriting process has been difficult because he does not want to create a “negative” album. He says that he does not want to write about touring and other factors in the lives of the musicians, but “songs about normal things that people can relate to.”

Currently, the band is on a three month break from touring and Lovinggood hopes to use that time effectively for songwriting. “Right now, I’ve made decisions to try and be creative every day. I think Hemingway said: ‘If a writer doesn’t write every day, he’s bound to create grave and moral evils.’ I think I’ve found that true for myself, so I think I need to be creative every day, whether I’m writing a song or whether I call someone to plan a band practice.”

For 2009, the band plans to record a five song cover EP, which includes some of Lovinggood’s favorite songs from the 1970’s. They will begin work on the new album, working with Jeffrey Caine, a member of another Birmingham-based rock band, Remy Zero, who garnered fame when they recorded “Save Me” for the television action-drama Smallville.

After their time in the studio, the band will hit the road sometime in March. “We hope to play with some bigger bands and write some better songs and keep working hard. Take a band like My Morning Jacket. They didn’t become a big pop band until their sixth record or so. So we’re just trying to have fun. Maybe we’ll never be a huge band, but we’re going to push it as far as it can go. We’re just going to keep touring, writing songs and making videos, and meeting people until we want to quit.”

For more information on Wild Sweet Orange, go to www.wildsweetmusic.com or visit their Myspace at www.myspace.com/wildsweetorange.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Explodes with the dawn

How magnificent is the passion of Your heart
You mesmerize the very core of my being
Calling, beckoning, drawing me near to the center of Your Grace.
Each morning brings a fresh coat that explodes with the dawn.
Not the creation of man, but the Creator of humanity,
You sing into our souls promises, truth, redemption, and justice.
We stand in awe, silent, because we know our limited vocabulary
Can never fully express the majesty of Your character
Mighty to save You delight in giving us everything we ever need.
Never holding back, You only ask a portion of this generosity from us.
Bring us into the brilliance and radiance of Your presence.
Let us raise our voices as one
As You capture our souls,
And let us forever be satisfied.