Alternative country and folk group American Aquarium has successfully navigated the independent music scene without the help of the “big guys” — and here’s what they have learned from their experiences.
In a sea of rock bands that are constantly pushing the line closer to pop, The Material prove that they’re here to stay in the alternative game. Being an independent band hasn’t stopped these San Diego locals from performing with the likes of Jimmy Eat World and My American Heart, and as I can tell from the interview we had at their CD release show earlier this month, it’s obvious that there’s even more rocking moments in store for them. They discussed everything about their new album, the interesting process of going into the studio and almost rewriting all of their songs, and what we can expect from them later on this year.
The entire band sat down with me at Soda Bar in San Diego and after comfortably taking up a whole booth, it was easy to see that this group of musicians has little to no problems working together. Colleen D’Agostino, the searing female vocals behind the Material’s music, had just the same edge as her male band mates, holding her own next to the guys as they discussed some of their experiences in the studio.
Guitarist John started off first, being very open and bright-eyed when he discussed some of the song writing and production processes of their latest album, Everything I Want to Say.
“Our previous producer, [Brian Grider], was San Diego based, … and we did our first few records with him.” John was referring to the Material’s freshman and sophomore releases, Tomorrow and full-length What We Are, respectively. “He’s super meticulous, super talented, and it was very production heavy, … adding strings, adding synths, adding electric drums.” But anyone who compares the album What We Are with the latest release can probably pick up on a braver approach to their rock sound. John continues to say, “This record [Everything I Want to Say] we did with our friend Kyle Black, … and he came in to do pre-production with us which was the first time we’d ever done that. We had all these songs we thought were done and he came in and started switching everything up.”
It was a process that attempted to throw the five musicians for a loop, but paid off in the end with what could easily be described as a well-rounded, energetic, and rock-heavy album that offers versatility in each song. The Material succeeded in avoiding the dreaded “rock riff” curse of creating a handful of songs that all sound like one another — instead, they were able to do re-writes that gave each song a unique and palatable sound to the ear.
Lead singer Colleen explains that it wasn’t necessarily an easy task. “We just spent six months perfecting this song, we’re not changing it. But ultimately we realized [producer Kyle Black] wants the song to be just as good as we do. Thinking back we’re definitely really happy we listened to him.”
The group was in good hands, since Kyle Black has previously worked with Paramore, All Time Low, and Neon Trees, with most of those groups coming back for more. I asked the band if they planned to continue on the Road to Rock, or veer into the pop sound that many artists have defaulted to in this age, and John notes once again that their powerful rock sound is here to stay.
“With Dave Grohl putting out the Sound City documentary, it’s super inspiring to be like, ‘let’s just go and sound like five people playing in a room together.'” John says, after the group saw the lead singer of the Foo Fighters speak at his conference at South by Southwest.
Colleen adds that even though she came from a pop background, it’s inspiring to have a concrete sound and direction for the group. “Every album that we’ve done until now has been kind of straddling the rock and the pop thing.” She adds that her electronic side project, With Beating Hearts, gives her the opportunity to taste the best of both musical worlds. “I’m kind of channeling the pop/electronic stuff in that direction so I can allow myself to just focus on rock in [the Material].”
The Material is more focused than ever, and they rounded up a rambunctious group of fans and followers at their Soda Bar CD release show earlier this month. The crowd eagerly head-banged along with Colleen and the band as they played songs from their new album. The energetic force of a band this size is just a heavy reminder not to underestimate the power of the indie band. As Colleen told me that night, “We’re all on board to do something big and different and amazing.” And amazing it shall be!
More Videos: Carolina Liar at the Griffin
I got the chance to sit down with Chad Wolf of Carolina Liar, and I don’t think it’s possible for this guy to have a boring tour story. Chad, along with band mates Rickard and Johan, have seen it all: from hoopties to out of control Midwest parties, the famous , and of course, an amazing city called .
You know an interview is getting off on the right foot when someone starts quoting Anchorman, and that’s exactly what happened when I asked Chad the very first question. He had nothing but glowing reviews for San Diego and the Griffin (Oh Mr. Wolf, flattery will get you everywhere and SD loves her compliments), and he reminisced about some of the most exciting moments that the band has had in other cities. Another notable tour stop on his list? Apparently, the Midwest. Chad noted that despite seeming like it should be a calm atmosphere, going to Kansas City is like “going to Vegas in the middle of the Midwest.” The lead singer told a hilarious story about one bar in particular:
“People just get crazy! The first time we played in Kansas City, we ended up in a bar … and it just turned into this full on free for all of just people and just madness. I remember reaching down to tap the waitress who was helping us out that night and she just grabs my face and starts making out with me. People were spraying water all over, it was turning into a wet t-shirt contest … and we were all just kind of looking at each other like ‘What is going on in this place?’ And Kansas from that point on has always been absolutely just crazy. One of our favorite places to play of course.”
The guys of Carolina Liar have even more miles on their agenda this year, including opening for Kelly Clarkson and the Fray. The band had just played at the Hollywood Bowl the previous night, and lead singer Chad was still glowing from the iconic experience. “The energy when you walk out [on stage], you just get the goosebumps,” he said about the famous landmark, which has welcomed artists like the Beatles and Aretha Franklin. “As you’re walking closer and closer to the front of the stage, you just feel the chills from the whole thing. It was amazing.”
The band is having a lot of fun playing songs from their latest album, Wild Blessed Freedom, (and of course sprinkling in tunes from their first album), and talking with Chad made me realize how much of an uphill battle it’s been for the group. Knowing the hard work and dedication that goes behind music can really add an appreciation to it, and that’s no exception for Carolina Liar. The group split amicably with Atlantic Records and decided to release their second album on their own label, and Chad mentioned it’s been a learning experience. “The difference between working for a major [label] and then working for yourself is the amount of time…things take.” But the group is pulling through it, and Chad stated that almost a year later, “now, this record is starting to get it’s own little motor behind it. It’s a wild ride.”
The album, which definitely touches on everything from power pop ballads to punchy, lyrical rhythms, has a mainstream sound that temporarily painted a very One Tree Hill-ish atmosphere inside the Griffin, which is actually a lot cooler than it sounds on paper. And each song, as the lead singer stated, has “it’s own little story.” Most of the songs seem to be a product of pure inspiration, teamwork, and….Thin Lizzy. “[Rick] and I were listening to Thin Lizzy like crazy at the time. No matter when or where we were at, it was all Thin Lizzy, all day long.” Take all of that into consideration, and you get this well-oiled ready to rock machine with songs that are both honest and ready for the radio.
If you want to hear even more about Chad and the rest of Carolina Liar’s experiences in San Diego, check out the video above! And if you’re not in San Diego, don’t miss these guys during one of their tour stops with Kelly Clarkson and the Fray.
Meet Australian pop rockers Tonight Alive, Warped Tour’s resident “foreign exchange students” as one guy enthusiastically yelled out before their interview, during their stop in San Diego, CA. I got to sit down with Jenna McDougall and Whakaio Taahi and discuss everything from their experience so far on Warped, to their first full length album, What Are You So Scared Of? For a band that is barely graduating from their freshman year in the game, Tonight Alive is quickly making a name for themselves and putting a few of the seniors in their place, too. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be the most humble, down to earth people from down under. And….. cue the unison “awww”!
Being a ‘female-fronted band’ in a typically perceived man’s world, Jenna and Whakaio had wise words to say about their music and the bands that share this rather broad category with them. Some people may argue that it’s easier or more difficult for a female-fronted band, but lead singer Jenna notes that Tonight Alive have had no special treatment, and “if you’re doing it right, it’s as hard as it is for everyone else.” Whakaio further adds that he doesn’t see the group as being a female-fronted band. “The thing about Jenna,” he states, “is it’s not because she’s female, it’s because she’s talented as a songwriter and as a vocalist.”
Talent is the first factor that catches your eyes (and ears) when listening to Tonight Alive. Another trait that is hard to ignore is how seasoned the band seems, even though they currently have released only one full length album. Whakaio accredits this to the band touring with each other for over 2 years now, making them a tight-knit group. Even so, Warped Tour is a whole other world and it’s obvious that the band is still riding on cloud nine. Whakaio adds that “It’s been two weeks and still it hasn’t worn off that we’re in this thing finally.”
Jenna’s face lights up when she mentions how excited she’s been for the entire experience and the fans that come out to the shows. “It’s nice to know that the people that are standing in front of us when we play are not waiting for the band that’s coming on next,” says Jenna, and she’s got a good point. For a freshman band to attract so much attention while on a tour with over 90 other musicians, I must say, it’s impressive.
The band has obviously put a lot of thought into their tours, their performances and their music, as Jenna and Whakaio describe the feelings behind their album, What Are You So Scared Of? Jenna states the album’s theme is a number of things, but mainly it hopes to ask others the question, “what’s holding you back?” For a first album, the idea of facing your fears head-on seems like the perfect theme. Whakaio adds that he wanted to “help those people that are…searching for something.” with Jenna adding in to “take chances.”
Maybe that’s why the album has been quite popular. It sounds like YOLO, only smarter and a little more relatable. And I’m loving that. What do you think?
Another reason why I like this band? They signed that poster that we’re giving away on the site! If you’re interested in winning it, make sure you check out the giveaways section.
Green room full of feather boas, stage lights and sombreros? Check. Oddly placed hanging decorations on the walls? Check. Contraband liquor smuggled in backstage? Check. When you’re hanging with local San Diego band Social Club, it’s never a dull moment.
Watch the Social Club Interview video. Click the HD button to watch in High-Definition.
I honestly never thought I’d see the green room of PB bar Typhoon Saloon (nor did I actually think that they had a green room), but I have to admit I’m impressed. The props that are stored back there make it an interesting place already, and after adding a few lights, me and my camera-savvy friend Thierry corralled all of the members of Social Club together for what proved to be a very interesting interview.
It’s so easy to relax and have fun around Thea and the three J’s (John, James, and Jeff — and yes I mixed up their names at some point that night.) And dubbed one of the “prettiest” bands on their label, they’re not too bad to look at, either. On stage or off, all of the band members have a unique energy: John with his searing emotions in each lyric and each point he makes about the band; Thea with her gentle mysteriousness; James and the famous faces he flashes on stage – when he’s not smiling brightly from ear to ear behind the scenes; and lastly Jeff, the energetic adventurer of the group who probably doesn’t need that double shot of espresso in the morning: he’s just naturally that energetic.
Yes, you’ll see the typical questions but one thing is evident; this band is full of unique and diverse personalities that show in their music as much as it shows in their personal experiences. Their sound is a huge catchall of everything good that just somehow makes so much sense. So basically, if Dr. Frankenstein had created musical life by adding a bit of punk rock, a bit of mellow singer-songwriter, some modern age hip hop influences here and there and sprinkled it all with a pinch of classical background, the creation would have been Social Club — only way more interesting and much more beautiful. Maybe they haven’t been compared to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein before. I swear that comparison made sense in my mind.
Don’t leave it up to me to describe their sound. Listen for yourself!