Smartists: Charlene Kaye of San Fermin

Smartists: San Fermin’s Charlene Kaye

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls

Charlene Kaye has spent most of her musical career singing someone else’s songs. As a lead singer in San Fermin, Kaye sings the lyrics and music of bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone, setting aside her own original material as she dedicated herself to his creative vision. That time away from her own work was anything but futile, as her first solo EP in four years, Honey, released August 19th, was nurtured largely by the restorative, enriching time she has spent making music with San Fermin. Kaye is thankful for San Fermin and her continued work with the band, but is also ready to share her debut EP. She should be excited. Honey–a collection of bright self-love anthems–hangs in the air like sunlight, extending warmth in every direction.

“The last album I released was in 2012 and it’s 2016 now. In between, I’ve had the tectonic plates shift quite a few times on what I thought my identity was and what kind of artist I wanted to be. San Fermin surely played a huge role in that discovery process. I think San Fermin came along at exactly the right time when I was questioning whether I even wanted to continue doing music. It’s a tough industry and… it’s a constant hustle,” Kaye said.

Hustling is all Kaye’s been doing since she caravanned from Michigan, where she was in school, to New York with several musician friends. They were going to “make it,” she said. Quickly, Kaye found musical footing playing in other people’s bands and starting an all-female Guns N’ Roses cover band of her own called Guns N’ Hoses.

“That’s been a really fun side project, it was really started out as a party joke but it ended up being instrumental to my guitar education because I didn’t go to music school.  I was trained in classical piano because that’s just what my parents did—they shoved every instrument under the sun into my hands when I was young. So it’s kind of their fault that when I grew up and said I wanted to be a musician full time. They were like, ‘What? You don’t want to go to law school?’ And I was like, ‘It’s your fault!’”

Eventually, Kaye met and began playing with Ellis Ludwig-Leone. She was invited to sing for San Fermin, and the band has taken off in the last few years, touring internationally with acts like St. Vincent, National, Arctic Monkeys, and The Head and the Heart.

“San Fermin came along when I had spent about a year deliberately focusing on not focusing on my own music. I was letting things coalesce on their own. I did some freelance web design and taught lessons, tried to serve other people. San Fermin was also an experiment in serving other people, serving somebody else’s artistic vision… I’d always been like ‘I’m a writer, I have something to say,’ so it was a huge challenge to step back and sing somebody else’s words… But the band is made up of eight phenomenal musicians who’ve become some of my best friends. It helped me figure out why being an artist is important to me,” Kaye said.


With renewed sense of self and confidence in her own work, Kaye dove into writing this new batch of songs. “Honey”, the title track of the EP, is Kaye’s attempt to embody the opposite of what she was really feeling during a hard time, singing, “it’s okay, Honey/go your way.”

“[There are] studies that say that when you smile you actually send signals to your brain that make you, trick you into feeling happy. It releases endorphins. So even if you don’t feel happy, if you smile somehow, it’s a feedback loop for your body. Your body thinks you must be happy about something. This song was sort of a way to metaphorically doing that for my spirit: acting how I wanted to feel and letting [my] body follow. And it worked,” Kaye said.

She is hopeful that it reached other people, as well. Kaye thinks often about being a positive role model for her listeners. “I love the idea of my music being the soundtrack to someone’s healing,” she said.

Who she is, by nature of her ethnicity and gender, is also an inspiration. Chinese-American female pop stars aren’t common, and Kaye carries that burden consciously.

“I get casual, well-meaning, racist comments all the time on tour… I frequently get asked if I’m the violin player… The sound guy or girl will say, ‘oh, are you the violin player?’ It’s totally second-nature to them, it just does not occur to them at all that I could be the lead singer and that could be why there aren’t more Asian-American pop stars, because it’s hard to be what you don’t see… I think about that all the time—I want to normalize it, and I’m really excited by Asian-American artists like Awkwafina,” said Kaye.

Kaye plans to tour with Honey, her first solo tour since 2012. She is thrilled to be putting this part of herself out into the world, and hopes to continue working hard to put music, healing, and positivity into the world. As she said, “As long as I’m surrounded by music, I’m happy, in whatever capacity that means. I’m happy to be going for it.”

Check out the video for “Honey” below and for more information on KAYE and the new EP, visit here.

Bumbershoot Coverage for The Seattle Times

For these articles I shared a by-line with Paul De Barros in coverage of Seattle’s Bumbershoot Music Festival. Read about three jam-packed days of music here!

City Arts: Sex, Love and Soul Food

Over the course of 2015, Grace Love exploded onto the Seattle music scene, leading her band the True Loves from out of the soul-music underground and onto the city’s biggest festival stages. Fresh off the vinyl release of their debut, eponymous album, Love is launching her first musical, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Soul, with two shows at Vera Project this Saturday night. The one-woman show is basically Love’s biography set to music, exploring her journey through homelessness, the loss of her mother Nadine and her early career as a vocalist. Love plans to funnel the proceeds into her ongoing soul-food/community outreach project, Nadine’s Café. We spoke to her over the phone late last week as she ran in between rehearsals.

Have you done something like this one-woman show before?
No, this has been a work in progress for 10 years. It started out as a story and the story developed characters. Then the characters developed a dialogue. It was a stage play and a screenplay and everything in between. For some reason, I couldn’t find the right dedicated minds to donate their time so I put it in the back corner.

What revived the idea?
My trade is cooking; I’ve been in the food and beverage industry for a long time. Recently I decided I wanted to start a food cart. But I really need to make a large amount of money in order to facilitate this dream. Then a light bulb went off: I thought I could revive this musical that I’ve been trying to do for a long time [to raise the funds]. So I thought, fine, I’m going to take these 30 pages and make a one-woman show, with a choir and a backing band.

Do you have previous experience with theatre?
That was my secondary major in college, so yeah. And I was drama kid for four years in high school.

What do you hope to express with it?
It’s a coming of age story. The main part is that I lost my mom—suddenly. I’m just telling people my story, how and why I work the way I work.

Is it scary to put all that personal material out there?
It is, but for me, since I’ve been holding onto it for 10 years I’m excited just to let it go. I’m excited to be like, I don’t have to feel this way anymore. I’m done with feeling this way, you know? And I’ve been so, so so happy, to, every time we work through it, say, “OK, I’m that much closer to just letting this part of my life go.” I’m starting this new chapter of who I am. 

You’re backed by a choir in the show, a group you call the Dirty Dozen. How’d you choose them?
I just posted on Facebook, literally. I just asked if anyone was interested and there were 40 people who [responded.] Then it was all about trying to coordinate. That was back in November. Then there were 12 solid people I could count on showing up every week for the last few months. They’ve been involved and invested and they’re happy to help me raise this money. They work harder than anybody I’ve ever met in my entire life. They’re just a group of characters and we all have too much fun together.

Tell me about Nadine’s Café. You’ve been doing pop-up kitchens for a while, right?
I have had pop-up kitchens for the last year and a half. I was using Pike Place Market’s atrium kitchen and cooking private dinners.

So you decided to raise money with the show and find a more permanent location for Nadine’s?
Yeah. Right now, there’s a couple of locations where the [pop-up] could be. I’m really excited to share that news but I can’t do it until the papers are signed. It’s going to be an amazing spot when it all works out—hopefully in the next six months. There’s still a lot more money to raise!

Is Nadine’s Café representative of something you saw missing here in the Pacific Northwest?
Well, there are lots of places in town that say they do “soul food” and it pisses me off. There’s good food out here, don’t get me wrong, and we have a collective whirlwind of food, but there’s not true soul food out here. That’s the one thing I want to bring from my childhood and introduce people to flavors and things that they thought they would never want to eat.

Will it be all soul food? Where’d you learn about cooking?
Yeah, it’ll be my versions of stuff I grew up with. Typical staples, but my papa was a food truck guy before this whole food truck craze happened. He had a grill called Big Mama—a 100-gallon drum—and once a month we’re going to have ribs. Just so people can taste Memphis and Mississippi barbeque how it’s supposed to be. 

Will there be healthy stuff?
When people think of soul food they don’t think it’s healthy. But people I’ve either dated or am friends with, they’re vegan or vegetarian and it’s hard to do if you want soul food, but I’ve learned how to make jerk tofu and it’s pretty incredible.

Will you be the only cook? Or will you have a staff?
Well, for the first year I’m going to be a little OCD about everything—in a good way. But, I don’t want to be in my restaurant. [Eventually,] I want to work with at-risk youth and teach them how to cook.

So there’s an ultimate community service goal.
Nadine’s Café is going to be a catalyst for my nonprofit Nadine’s House, which is going to be dealing with at-risk youth that need to learn a skill. Basically, I’m going to be going to alternative high schools and LGBT community centers and finding the kids that are not given the proper opportunity and chance to do their art. Then, [I’ll connect them] with my friends in the community so the kids can shadow them. I have friends who are photographers, fashion designers, filmmakers. So, my goal is to encourage them [to explore their art] and also put money in their pockets.

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Soul runs at the Vera Project at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27. Proceeds go toward the creation of Grace Love’s soul food restaurant and community outreach center Nadine’s Café. Buy tickets here. 

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Smartists: Magda Giannikou of Banda Magda

Musician Magda Giannikou emanates joy. Even with a heavy accordion strapped to her shoulders, she flits about the stage, leading Banda Magda with the dance of her accordion bellows and girlish singing voice. A stylish marriage of Audrey Hepburn’s sophistication and Carmen Miranda’s vivaciousness, Giannikou has the look of vintage stardom about her. Add in her impressive musical talent, humor, and heart of gold, and it’s clear you’re witnessing a star on the rise.

Giannikou began her life many miles away from this American stage, in a suburb of Athens, Greece called Voula. Giannikou’s description of her childhood self seems so counter to her stage presence.

“I had a lonely childhood. I always felt strange, always had a hard time finding a sense of belonging while I was growing up. It was hard for me to connect,” she said.

Early on, though, she discovered solace and connection in music.

“My father is a great music lover and connoisseur of music and he would play for [me and my siblings] music from all over the world… I got into music because he nurtured me with it. Alongside that, my mother is a musician. She plays the piano and writes music for children, and she’s an architect and art historian,” said Giannikou.

Using the musical education her parents afforded her, Giannikou spent much of her childhood studying the intricacies of her favorite musical scores. “I wanted to be a composer, I wanted to write for films, that was my dream,” Giannikou said. She also learned many languages, accounting for her amazing ability to speak (and sing in) French, Spanish, English, a little Japanese, and her native Greek.

In her early twenties, after graduating with a classical piano diploma in Athens, she wrote music for TV. Then, she decided to pursue film and music at Berkelee College of Music. Once in school, she picked up the accordion and became the only accordionist at Berkelee at the time. The instrument opened her up to a whole new expressive experience.

“It’s almost like I’m playing a string arrangement. I control dynamics and I lead the band with accordion like I’m conducting. Because I’m a very dynamic personality—the fact that the bellow has so much dynamic ability I think fits so well with my music and personality,” Giannikou said.

The switch ended up being hugely transformative. Not only did it give her an increased sense of musical authenticity, but it rerouted her path.

“I won the Georges Delerue Award for excellence in film scoring, and [through it] I got to meet a famous composer and his wife in Hollywood. I told her, ‘I have this love for film but also this new passion about playing and performing live and I want to do both.’ She told me, ‘You can do both, but not at the same time.’… So, then it was a decision—what do I do?”


Instead of moving to Los Angeles for film composing, Giannikou chose to put that childhood dream on hold and move to New York and pursue performing.  At first, Giannikou thought she’d made a mistake.

“I was depressed for six months… I couldn’t find any gigs in the beginning.” Giannikou said. “And I was supremely jealous of people who were performing. One day I just decided, ‘Man, I’m going to do this.’”

With fiery intention, Giannikou formed her band, Banda Magda, made a short sampler EP of their material, and literally pounded pavement, giving the EP to any restaurant in New York that would take it. Only one restaurant got back to her—a little place in SoHo— but that made all the difference. Suddenly, Banda Magda had gigs every night and people began to know them. Then, they made a couple albums and were invited on tour with the internet-famous group Snarky Puppy.

“Snarky’s leader, Michael, has always been so supportive. Our new album will be recorded on his record label,” Giannikou says.

The new album, Tigre, is set to be released by September 2016. In it, Giannikou addresses directly her challenges with belonging and authenticity. Each song on the album, as Giannikou explains, is about all the different kinds of fear that keep you from being you.

“It’s so important—authenticity and uniqueness—and it’s easy and difficult at the same time, I feel, because by definition everyone is unique, so why can’t we just be? I get very disappointed when I see people that haven’t had the opportunity or capacity to tap into that power of really understanding yourself and your value,” Giannikou said.

Giannikou recommends finding the things you love and having the courage to pursue them. “I think it’s about failing and trying things and failing again—you toughen up and almost like an onion, you take off layers. And then you find out what’s inside,” she said.

Along with releasing and touring with Tigre, one of Giannikou’s future goals for Banda Magda is to begin further focus on educating people in world music traditions. She wants to change the current tour model so that she and her band can stay in communities for a few days, hold masterclasses, and interact more with local music students. Really, Giannikou is always looking to find new ways to celebrate the joy and sense of belonging that music has given her.

“My driving force is this deity that I have made up in my mind—the protector of the stage, of the performer, of the music. Because when I go up there I feel elation and belonging. I don’t know where it comes from—I love people, talking to people and connecting with people. I love this idea of prosperity by giving out positive energy.”

For more information on Magda Giannikou and Banda Magda visit her website. Below is a sneak peak of Tigre, as well as one of Banda Magda’s music video for “El Pescador” from their last release, Yerakina.  To support Tigre visit Banda Magda’s crowdfunding page.

What do you think of Smartist Magda Giannikou’s music? Tweet us or comment below!

City Arts: Every Night, Every Day

(Published in CityArts)

Underneath the iconic red Farmer’s Market sign, among flying fish, fresh-cut tulips, steaming cinnamon rolls and tourists with outstretched camera phones—that’s where you find “the spot.” Early every morning, Annie Ford wakes up to claim it before the other Pike Place buskers, schlepping her washtub bass by bicycle. There she meets Greg Paul and Joe Fulton, her cohorts in the Pike Place Revelers, a trio of banjo, fiddle and bass. Ford plants her foot on the overturned basin as they start into “Hey Good Looking,” her right hand plucking the taut rope, her voice echoing down the famous cobbled thoroughfare.

For more than ten years, four or five days a week, Ford’s busked at Pike Place Market, a recognizable face to visitors. The Revelers specialize in old-time music of the early 20th century, crooning in thirds and picking to classic folk tunes. An hour at a time, per the Market Association’s rules, they play in one of 13 spots designated with a painted music note. When this hour is up, the Revelers will move to another locale. For now, couples stop to listen, gleeful children dance and a woman drops a dollar into the banjo case.

This is Ford’s day job. When evening comes and the market closes down, Ford goes to work on her own stuff. Her songs for the Annie Ford Band are different than what she busks—rootsy Americana, frauht with personal storylines and stylistic risk.

Ford was first exposed to music by her mother, who sang to Beatles records and played a giant wooden pump organ, while growing up in rural Virginia. In 5th grade she picked up the fiddle, which she still plays, along with guitar, banjo, piano, ukulele, washtub bass and accordion. Though she’s only recently become comfortable with singing, her voice is sweet and clear with a touch of classic country gruff. There’s a sorrow in the way she sings, and in what she sings about.  She’s especially drawn to the vibrancy of darker stories and minor-key songs.

“Those songs are a deep well of suffering,” she says, “but also really beautiful.”

Later this spring, the Annie Ford Band will release an album of originals. The project is a processing of grief for Ford, who lost friends and collaborators in the 2012 Café Racer shooting. She and her husband Matt Manges were in groups with victims Drew Keriakedes and Joe Albanese, including the punk-klezmer Nu Klezmer Army and Circus Contraption, a one-ring vaudevillian circus. As Ford explains, “the boys” were essential in bringing her into Seattle’s musical fold.

“Crocodile Skin” is written in their memory. Ford sings with Manges in heart-wrenching harmony, “The sun drips into the scarlet sea/The starfish will light the way/To the sands of haunted shores/Where you can rest your weary souls.” The slow-lapping mood harshens into a fiddle-driven middle section, mirroring the tumult of grief. In the end, she finds her way to some peace, and the message, “I’ll meet you when the seas rise/When the burnin’ tears no longer fall.”

As she recounts the memory of writing the song, Ford fidgets in her chair. Her vulnerability is surprising, given that this is the woman who, decrying the all-male bill she was playing at the Tractor Tavern awhile back, bought a sausage and waved it around on stage. She’s infamous as Annie “Fuckin’” Ford, and yet she’s as tender as she is sharp.

Ford has four minutes until she starts busking again—just enough time to wash down our afternoon chat with a couple of Bushmills on the rocks. Then she hustles to the front of the original Starbucks, where a line of people stretches out the door and around the corner. Greg Paul is already waiting there, tuning his banjo. Ford sets down her washtub, clears her throat, and gets back to work.

– See more at:

10 Seattle Acts/Shows from 2015 That Floored Me But I Couldn’t Write About

Happy Holidays Everyone!

I want to start this post by saying that this has been probably the most successful year in my writing career yet and I extremely grateful to all of you who support me and have followed my career thus far. This year I really dived into music journalism in all its facets, so I was at shows pretty constantly. (I know, tough life, right?) I saw so many incredible shows and artists, but I couldn’t write about all of them, so I thought I’d give em’ a nod on here on my website in the good ol’ New Years list format.  If you get a chance to see any of these artists, GO, GO, GO! Maybe next year I’ll get the chance to write longer features on them (fingers crossed).

Now go stuff your face with pie and yell-talk with your deaf grandmother!


1)  Thunderpussy

I have to start here because have you seen one of their shows? These gals bring it from the second they’re on stage, and in leather short-shorts to boot. Singer Molly Sides is Janice Joplin with better pitch and physical agility, while guitarist Whitney Petty gets that low-end growl that burns right in the gut. Plus, they  reclaim the hyper-sexualization of women by just downright owning their scantily-clad bodies, their sexy background dancers, and sultry lyrics delivered in a way that’s got the whole audience quivering…if you know what I mean! I mean they’re called Thunderpussy for god sakes. Their bass drum says Pussy on it. It just doesn’t get any more badass than that.

2) Heatwarmer

This band gave a little master class at Cornish a few weeks back, and openly claimed the music from 90s K-Mart commercials as a major influence. I feel like that sums this group up pretty well–Luke Bergman, Aaron Otheim, and Evan Woodle are incredibly deep musicians, but they don’t take themselves or the music too seriously.  Luke’s songwriting is tongue-and-cheek and pays homage to schmaltz, while also showing his astonishing understanding of music. Heatwarmer blows my face off every time I see them (and that’s a good thing).

Heatwarmer – Rejoice from Heatwarmer Videos on Vimeo.

3) Gifted Gab

Her new track “Lady of Leisure” will not get out of my head. “These bitches runnin’ round tryin to be renegades…Bitch, I run the town.” Gifted Gab might as well run this town. I mean, I’d vote her in as mayor. My favorite thing about watching her perform is that she knows how to take up space, how to own the stage. It’s just her, her mic, and her DJ, but her big personality and  bring everyone in and her political, conscious rhymes rile them up.

4) Gregg Belisle-Chi

This guy is an amazing talent. His solo guitar playing is Bill Frisell but less spacious and more, as the jazzers would say, “out.” Gregg is not afraid of dissonance or tension, and will often reside there for much longer than the listener expects, making the resolution all the more satisfying. He also has some of the best technique on the guitar I have ever seen. He can achieve the most outlandish and difficult chord-melody ideas and make it look effortless. My jaw was on the ground the entire time I watched him play solo for his Tenebrae CD Release.

5) Corespondents

Psych-surf-shoegaze-gypsy-instrumental-spaghetti-western-reverby-music. I try not to define these guys by genre because they are so multi-faceted, and my mind gets tired of searching for adjectives, and my finger gets weary of typing dashes.  Corespondents music is  steeped in the spontaneous and the weird. It’s just downright sublime.  I am especially drawn to the way they morph that gnarly surf sound, and how it can be inverted, transposed and stretched. Sometimes they make me want to dance and then sometimes I fall into a trance, watching all those nimble fingers create something truly original. Also, their new album is called “lolcats.” I’ll just let you take in that awesomeness.

(All Up In My) Drug Rug from Douglas Arney on Vimeo.

6) Insistent Caterpillars

Being a self-diagnosed jazz nut, this group really cracks that nut open. Cameron Sharif is an surprising, uncanny improviser, then add in  Carmen Rothwell who walks bass like a motherf**ker, and the thoughtful stylings of drummer Evan Woodle and gee kids, you got a trio. Like Heatwarmer (you might notice Woodle is in both groups), they are playful, weird, and just a little off but balancing that with staggering musicianship.  Original compositions, based heavily around improvisation and interaction between friends. It’s a blast to hear and watch.

7) Dean Johnson and Lowman Palace

Ah, Dean Johnson. A kind and talented guy that more people need to know about…pronto. Admittedly, I didn’t know his music until just a short time ago, but I’m enamored with his earnest songwriting, and his warm, unaffected voice. His music’s like a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream. A warm down coat. An extra-soft pillow. A springtime day lying in the grass. OK, but anyway, he performs often with his band Lowman Palace, which is always quality, and when he recently sang harmony with Mindie Lind at The Sunset, it was one of the best things I’ve ever heard. Anyway you slice it, you’ll be enchanted.

One of my favorites:

8) Maszer

I love love this band’s inclusion of middle eastern musical influences like call and response, fluid and highly-ornamented vocals, overlapping rhythms, and that eerie Phrygian sound. The band comes by these influences naturally, having been founded by guitarist and singer David Rapaport (A.K.A. STITCX) who is originally from Tel Aviv, Israel. Add in lead singer Katie Blackstock and Joseph Braley and you’ve got quite the captivating group.

9) Jamie Maschler

I have a secret desire to play the accordion and a not-so-secret desire to go to Rio so seeing Jamie Maschler, an amazing, virtuosic accordionist who plays mostly Brazilian dance music, was pretty much heaven for me. Maschler focuses primarily on a kind of accordion-dominant  Forró dance music that is fast, pulsating and so exciting to listen to! This Brazilian classical music flows in movements (A, B, C sections), and the lead instrument, in this case the accordion, hardly has a moment to rest. The result is this incredible energy always pushing forward, with a strong, steady ostinato underneath. Maschler is an agile player and makes it look easy! 

10) RE:Percussion

I had the pleasure of seeing this hypnotic percussion duo in an intimate living room, sitting about two feet from them. As Andrew Angell bowed the slats of the marimba and David Solomon played beautiful four-mallet vibraphone, I sat there absolutely transfixed. The pieces they compose are meditative, calming and gorgeous, and I really appreciate the sort of skill and concentration it takes to create such a subtle mood. I know, many of us seek out live performances that will rile us up and make us want to dance, but I wish we paid more attention to this sort of music–the kind that can center us and quiet a busy mind.

City Arts: Fired Up

The last time Whitney Lyman performed at Barboza, the half-empty audience was freezing its collective ass off, fighting blasts from the industrial fans that the venue people were determined to keep on high. The irony was thick as Lyman belted out the song “Firebreather” as everyone stood shivering in their mid-July clothes. But Lyman’s dreamy folk-pop charmed the audience into docility, swaddled by her enchanting voice and creative vision.

Lyman writes music like a surrealist paints, layering the bizarre and the divine into one mind-expanding canvas. Drawing on an array of influences from Brandi to Queen, her stuff is the musical equivalent of a melting Dali clock. Her song “Laser Beam” blends the clear, precise vocals of ‘90s pop with intricate string parts and a floating triplet feel that lands surprisingly in fast duple, as she sings, “Crazy in love, like an ally-oop!” Lyman went to music school and knows how to flout the rules.

Lyman lives a life in motion. Among her close-knit Mormon family, she says she’s the black sheep. Most of her family still lives within a few blocks of each other in Pocotello, Idaho. It was unheard of for her to move miles away. But seven years ago, she felt a pull to Seattle and to Cornish College of the Arts, where she studied composition. As it turns out, she isn’t the first Lyman to write and record her own music.

In the 1970s, when Lyman’s mom was about 13, she and her family wrote and recorded an album as the Parish Sisters and that’s the first music Lyman remembers listening to. They sang covers of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and “What the World Needs Now” by Burt Bacharach that Lyman thought were originals.

At six years old, Lyman wrote her first song, inspired by the death of her brother’s pet gecko. “The hook was ‘Sometimes it’s so hard to say goodbye,’” she says laughing. “I still remember it.”

Whitney’s parents divorced when she was young, so she spent a lot of time in the car making the four-hour drive between her dad’s house in Boise and her mom’s in Pocotello. The car, subsequently, was the birthplace of her post-gecko work, where she made up songs and sang to herself during the drive.

Lyman’s dad exposed her to Queen, Journey and other bands she bands she describes as “dad rock,” infusing her songwriting with arena-rock grandeur and an awareness of orchestration. Around the same time, Lyman’s mom let her order CDs by Britney Spears, N’SYNC, Brandi, Mariah Carey and other ‘90s pop artists from a mail-in catalogue.

“I’d listen to that music all the time and sing along—I learned exactly how they did their inflections, singing along with Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey, and realized I could do it just like they did it,” Lyman says. Later, she discovered Swedish producer Max Martin, then in his mid-30s and the visionary behind much of the glossy pop of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.  “I realized that almost all of the music I was influenced by during that era was written by him. It’s fascinating that it was one person—of course it was the singers and their vocal abilities too, but [his] songwriting influences my songwriting.”

Her first band in Seattle, an Afro-pop quartet called Pollens, came straight out of Cornish in 2010 and made a deep impression on the local scene until they disbanded in 2014. She currently performs with and arranges for the Seattle Rock Orchestra and is about to release her second single with electro-hip-hop crew Theoretics and new singles with electronic producers Zoolab and Manatee Commune.

Beyond all that, Lyman’s second solo record looms on her horizon and the aforementioned “Firebreather” is its second single. The song is a ball of forward-moving fire, a fluid composition with countless moving parts. Its urgent lyrics incorporate her fascination with the Chinese zodiac—her sign in the Dragon—and the music is laced with Asian-inspired pentatonic guitar riffs, erhu-like violin. The song is about overcoming obstacles to achieve your destiny. In order to become the dragon, you have to defeat the dragon.

“I want to be different, but also better,” Lyman says. “Mostly, I want to be better than I’ve ever been before.”

Whitney Lyman celebrates the premiere of “Firebreather” with a performance at the Triple Door on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Photo by Sunny Facer. 

Fretboard Journal: An Interview with Margaret Glaspy

(Link to article, here.)

The first thing you notice is her voice. Singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy sounds both lilting and childlike, like some sort of cross between Joanna Newsom and Madeleine Peyroux. But Glaspy is hard to pin down: over the years this young musician has played everything from marching band trombone to Texas-style fiddle. She was a frequent participant of the Old Time Fiddlers’ Championships in Weiser, Idaho but once she settled on guitar, she was churning out her own folk-rock gems in no time.

Glaspy took some time away from recording her first full-length album to chat with the Journalabout her musical upbringing, her guilty-pleasure love for pop music and the memorable acoustic guitars (and her mom’s ­vintage Fender Princeton amp) that she grew up with. Glaspy may not be a household name yet but many guitarists in the know (including Nels Cline, who is currently lending her a guitar) have decided she’s a unique performer to watch out for.

Fretboard Journal: What got you into music?

Margaret Glaspy: When I was in the second grade there were fiddle players playing in our town at a community gathering. I saw some fiddle players playing and said I wanted to play the fiddle, so I got into a school program that started the next year. I played the fiddle from about the third grade until I was about 15 or 16. I was in band and played trombone for a while, too. I was a little nerd.

Then, I was playing Texas Style fiddle at the Old Time Fiddlers’ Championships in Weiser, Idaho. I went to Weiser for a long time, for about five or six years in a row and around my last couple years I started to sneak off and sing more than I played the fiddle. I was kind of getting out of touch with [fiddle]. Once I started singing I threw the fiddle out and started to write songs.

FJ: How did you start playing guitar?

MG: Are you familiar with Texas-style fiddling back-up? It’s really particular and there are lots of passing chords and sort of this “boom-chuck’ thing that happens, and I got hip to that. It taught me a lot because you have to learn all these passing chords, which is fun. It launched me into new territory, in terms of hearing and executing chords that way.

FJ: Funny that you’d go from fiddling in the front to the back-up parts to learn guitar.

MG: It was a very particular place to start. Now, I’m pretty far from that [kind of guitar playing]. I mostly play electric guitar now. I guess you could call it rock, for lack of a better term. What I do now loosely relates to the fiddle music because it’s where I came from, but listening to me now you wouldn’t guess I started there.

FJ: Is your family musical?

MG: Totally. My parents they are really creative, open-minded people that really love good music and always had good music on. My dad always had a guitar since he was young, and my brother played a guitar from a young age. My mom plays guitar and my sister plays guitar now, too. I’m not special in that regard as far as my family goes!

FJ: Do you play together?

MG: We always have. Whenever we’re all home, someone’s always playing something—there’s always a guitar in whatever room we’re in. It’s fun to go home, especially after making my way and becoming a professional musician, to look at the guitars I grew up with and think, “Wow… interesting.”

FJ: What were some of those “interesting” guitars?

MG: One of my favorites was a six-string Yamaha dreadnought that was around the house all the time. I love that guitar and played a lot on it. There were also two 12-string acoustic guitars. They were both some ambiguous brand. Often, they would be strung with six strings because we didn’t have enough strings. But there was so much sentimental value in the look of them. You’d look at the headstock and there’d be all of these empty [tuners].

FJ: What was your first guitar?

MG: My first guitar that I bought for myself, probably in conjunction with my dad, was an old parlor guitar. It was a really small beautiful guitar. I loved it and I played it for a long time and then I had to get it repaired. Unfortunately, when a guy adjusted [the neck] and put it back on he used all this epoxy! It was like permanent cement glue all over the neck. I dropped it off again after the repair and said, “This is wrong,” but it was irreversible. The only way you could get the epoxy off was by taking the guitar apart and it was such an old instrument that it didn’t make sense. So, that guitar kind of went out of style because it was branded with this crazy liquid cement on it.

I never used that guy again. I was really young and didn’t really do enough research. I was so new to the guitar world. I remember being mad, but not being as mad as I should’ve been. If I knew that guy now I would’ve given him a pretty rough phone call…  at least.

FJ: Speaking of repairs, what’s your favorite guitar shop these days?

MG: TR Crandall Guitars in Alphabet City in New York. They have the best selection, repairs and human beings!

FJ: When was it when you switched to electric?

MG: I [still] played acoustic guitar for a long time. Once I moved to New York, I decided to make that switch. The first guitar I bought for myself in that realm was a Harmony Stratotone Jupiter. I have two pickups on mine but the bottom one doesn’t work. I just use the top pickup. Harmony guitars are definitely having a heyday right now; they’ve become a hip thing to play.

FJ: Do you have any other electrics?

MG: I’ve been exploring other electrics. I’ve got a Silvertone that’s on loan from Nels Cline. I find that I like those kind of cheaper guitars from the Sears Roebuck catalog, though I’m always trying to find one that can stay in tune. The cool thing about these guitars is the pickups. At times, I do crave something that can hold up better on the road.

FJ: When you play electric, what is your setup like?

MG: My amp setup has evolved. I used to take whatever [a venue] had as long as it was a tube amplifier and medium-sized. As of late, I’ve gotten a real education. A musical partner of mine, Julian Lage, has had a huge influence on me in terms of teaching me so much about guitars and amplifiers. Nels Cline, another friend, has also been teaching me a lot. He’s such a wealth of knowledge.

Anyway, that’s a long-winded way of talking about my amp setup. I use different things for different scenarios. One is a tweed Fender Vibrolux. I really love this amp when I’m able to turn it up because it doesn’t crumble until around eight or so, but it’s so loud that you don’t use it there unless you’re playing a massive venue. Otherwise, it’s blasting behind you! When that amp doesn’t make sense and something smaller does, a little tweed Champ is rad. That’s an amp of Julian’s that he lets me use. It’s another one that’s a little hard because it distorts at about six, and that isn’t that loud because it’s got a much smaller speaker. If you set it on 3, it’s amazing for recording. When you set it at about three and dig in it starts to distort, so that’s where I love to have it. You just put up the volume in the studio and let the studio do the work rather than the Champ.

Nels has turned me on to a vintage Magnatone amp. The vibrato/tremolo on that amp is really great. I don’t get as much low-end from that amp because it’s not that big of a speaker.

FJ: Yeah, those Magnatone amps are highly sought after and have a great tone.

MG: Totally. My mom has a Fender Princeton amp at home—I didn’t realize how hip it was growing up. It was handed down to me through her great aunt, I think, and when I was about 15 I’d see it and think “cool.” I didn’t really play electric guitar then. Now I’m like, “Mom, give me that amp!” I want it… I really want it! She won’t give it up, though, because it’s a family thing to her.

FJ: You mentioned your roots are in fiddle music. Is that what got you into Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project?

MG: Jayme Stone asked me to be a part of that about two years ago. I kind of just jumped into it to see where it would lead. The project is kind of like where I started, in ways…it has a lot of folk influences. It’s all about Alan Lomax, his life and the recordings he made and archived. As a group we each chose three songs from the archive that we liked and worked to remake them and play them together. It was a learning process for me in terms of collaboration and style because often I’m in my own orb… I play my own songs.

FJ: Speaking of your own songs, do you have a writing process?

MG: I’ve really tried to make songwriting a study or like a job. I’ve tried to not make it conditional to how I’m feeling. The thing that sparks me to song write is it makes sense to me. I process life through songs, and I think that when times are hard I do get sparked, but I don’t like to orient myself around songwriting that way all the time.

FJ: Who are some songwriters that inspire you?

MG: Elliott Smith is a really big influence on me. He’s a big beacon for me. Also, Joni Mitchell—she’s incredible. Who else would be in the top? To me there are so many different regions of song writing that I think about. Weezer records like Pinkerton are still some of the most important records to me. I love that record so much. It feels kind of hard to go public with this, but I love pop music. I feel like it’s candy to me, so I try not to eat too much of it, but I love it.

FJ: Who specifically? Katy Perry?

MG: Honestly, it’s more of a sweeping thing. There are certain artists that pop out to me but it’s only because it’s more the machine than the artist itself. I can listen to Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, all these really, really Top-40 pop musicians and I love the arrangements and that they’re really focused songs. In pop music, there’s no guessing what the song’s about. It’s always clear and I love that about it.

FJ: I like how you said “the machine” because it’s clear you see it what it is and you aren’t pitting it up against the standards of other genres.

MG: Yeah, I suppose. I’m not sure. It feels like a different category to me, it’s not my top tier of stuff that I love. But, the songwriter in me just looks at everything equal. I look country songs and rap songs and pop songs and see what everyone’s done with them. It all matters to me and affects me. I just love how focused pop songs are.

FJ: In terms of pop songs, what do you mean by focused? Do you have a specific example?

MG: An example [of a focused pop song] is this sense that all the verses reflect the chorus. Everything runs through the chorus and there is not much ambiguity. Often, in pop songs and the pop canon—there’s a continuity about them, a sense that it’s all focused on this one thing, this one theme. I personally like to write that way. I like songs to be very cohesive. That might even be a better word for what I’m trying to explain.

As a younger songwriter, I was taking you through a maze and saying, “If you can get this, then you are special.”It was a little pompous in a way. It was easy to hide behind because I was making these little structures, they had cool words and cool metaphors but they didn’t make a cohesive song. As I get older and write more, I like to lay it out for people in a way that isn’t too hard. I like to just give them a good song that’s coming straight from me that isn’t shrouded in metaphor.

FJ: Has anyone ever come up to you and given you a comment about your music that has really inspired you or gotten you out of a rut?

MG: Anytime somebody says, “just keep doing what you’re doing,” or has some connection to the music I’m just excited, that’s enough for me. It’s a blessing to have people say that. I feel lucky to play music period. If there’s a show, I’m excited that it even exists. Every little bit really means a lot to me and I try not to take it for granted because it’s all special and absurd in a certain way.

FJ: What are some goals you have for the future?

MG: I’m making my first full-length record right now. We’re just about to enter the studio for it, should be released in the Spring 2016. It’s more of a rock record and based on a trio sound: electric bass, electric guitar and drums. That’s the big thing on the schedule right now.

Long-term, it’s just to make good music… I don’t need a lot of money. As long as I can pay my rent and get by I just feel like a queen all the time. As long as I can do what I do and write and play and learn every day, I’m such a happy clam. -Alexa Peters 

Above Photo: Sasha Arutyunova