Tag Archives: Indie Rock

Rozwell Kid Explore the Profundity of the Mundane

Rozwell Kid

Photo by Emily Dubin.

Jordan Hudkins, the frontman for West Virginia band Rozwell Kid, is sitting at a lengthy wooden table, flanked by bassist Devin Donnelly, drummer Sean Hallock, and guitarist Adam Meisterhans. He’s been busy putting up a series of gig advertisements on his Instagram page. All of them are obnoxiously-watermarked photos of different dogs wearing headphones and looking at laptops, with the show details pasted crudely on top. “Do you want to see the picture I made for tonight’s show?” he asks me at one point. “This dog is reading a newspaper article he is not happy about,” he reasons. “‘The tax on dog bones is going up.’” His bandmates chuckle uncontrollably.

Meisterhans turns to me with a grin: “Are you enjoying the peek behind the curtain?”

Rozwell Kid

The band has reason to be giddy. Their sophomore full-length, Precious Art, on California label SideOneDummy has been a long-time coming, and it’s tied up in a bit of personal history for Hudkins. The first rock show he ever attended was Suicide Machines on the tour for their album A Match And Some Gasoline—which was also released by SideOneDummy. The circularity is fitting; Precious Art is a record on which Hudkins often revisits and recontextualizes his childhood.

Lyrically, Precious Art addresses adolescent anxiety, growing up, friendship, displacement, and heartbreak, but it’s littered with references to MadTV, futons, boogers, and Michael Keaton’s turn as Batman in the 1989 film. Hudkins writes in relatable specifics; he repurposes unremarkable objects or pop culture touchstones as vehicles for conveying grand human emotion. At first pass, the songs scan as humorous, and while that’s not entirely untrue, they also highlight the fact that humans are socialized to express serious matters in self-deprecating ways. When we hear these goofy references as genuine, sincere sentiments, we open ourselves to understanding different ways of getting at emotional truths. Is it just a cute photo of a dog, or is he mad about the impending bone tax?

After we finish our coffees, we head over to Everybody Hits, a Girard Avenue institution. Though it’s mostly occupied by batting cages, Everybody Hits also hosts shows. (Hallock, who lives close by, says that he played bass in a No Doubt cover band here.) The owner’s dog is sprawled on a picnic table in front of the cages, and Hudkins asks his bandmates which bat he should use. He runs his fingers over the helmets hanging on the fence, and takes pictures of the guys at bat. Revisiting one’s childhood, indeed.

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Roya’s Crisp, Swaggering Indie Rock Examines a World on the Brink

Roya

Released earlier this month by Burger Records, Roya’s self-titled full-length debut features 11 songs powered by taut, chugging guitars, the crisp drumming of Hamish Kilgour of The Clean, and Rahill Jamalifard’s coolly-detached vocals. Though its roots are in garage rock and the steady bop of late ‘50 rock ‘n’ roll, Jamalifard’s lyrics are set squarely in the now. Spurred on by the political climate both in the U.S. as well as in the world at large, Jamalifard writes songs that explore the upside of apathy (“Scum Rise”), toxic relationships (“Rich Kid”), and the pitfalls of capitalism (“End Times”). The album was recorded at the former Brooklyn DIY venue Death by Audio just weeks before it was razed to make room for the offices of Vice.

We spoke with Jamalifard about her experience as a translator during the travel ban, coping strategies in the face of mass injustice, and her love for the series Master of None.
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Album of the Day: Big Thief, “Capacity”

Adrianne Lenker’s music is an engaging diary of her hardscrabble life, from her candid lyrics to the personal photographs that grace her albums. On the cover of her new release, Capacity, with her band Big Thief, Lenker’s uncle holds her as an infant. His piercing stare correlates tangentially with lyrics from “Mythological Beauty,” her most straightforwardly autobiographical song to date. “I have an older brother I don’t know / He could be anywhere.” She casts outward, hoping for a reconnection that grows more distant with each passing day.

On a recent interview for the NPR All Songs Considered podcast, Lenker speaks to host Bob Boilen on how making music assists with her coming to terms with the past: “I feel like my capacity for loving and understanding who I am, where I come from, my family…is always growing through the songs.” This is a distinct progression from Masterpiece, Big Thief’s first LP that largely presented her ruminations on unique people (“Paul,” “Lorraine,” “Randy”), places (“Vegas,” “Interstate”), and entities (“Humans,” “Animals”). No longer sufficed by one-step-back storytelling, Lenker takes on the demanding process of revisiting her childhood on Capacity, but chooses to meet the painful moments with a emotional strength born from empathy.

The bracing manner of her retelling an assault on “Watering” finds her regaining control over trauma. Elements of mortality appear throughout: tears, blood, oxygen, skin, sexual fluids. Lenker’s perspective changes from storyteller to active participant, speaking as her present self: “And you know that I’m there / As you soak in my stare.” As “Watering” finishes on a tender note, Lenker relieves her younger self of the pain and guilt that has festered for too long.

Big Thief attunes their music to fit the finer details, as on “Shark Smile,” where a harrowing tale of losing someone in a car accident is met with classic rock gravitas. The entire song plays like The River-era Springsteen, sparking with the insistent riffs of a midnight road trip as Lenker’s escapism runs into reality: “It came over me at a bad time / She burned over the double line / And she impaled as I reached my hand for the guardrail.” Her last lines spark with a hint of regret, but abruptly let go with the track’s hard stop.

As the album concludes its excavation of Lenker’s past, the atmosphere on the later songs becomes solitary and therapeutic. The necessary determination of electric guitars and painful recollections dissolve into acoustic instruments, subtle rhythms, and meditative serenity. Accented by organ hum and solo piano, the chorus on “Mary” works as a focused mantra, sweeping away bitter remnants with lilting elegance.  For the whole of Capacity, Lenker and Big Thief firmly take the wheel of each song’s narrative, spinning together threads of memories and events, weaving them into newfound empowerment.

—Matt Voracek

Chastity Belt on Bro-Trolling and Growing Up (Sort Of)

Chastity Belt

All photos by Chona Kasinger

Every band begins with a mission. Some yearn for fame, others for fortune; many are just looking for a way to pay the bills, and a few want to make art for art’s sake. The Seattle band Chastity Belt also grew from a shared purpose; the quartet came together when they were sophomores at Whitman College, in neighboring Walla Walla. The catalyst? An intense desire, fueled largely by pure boredom, to troll Beta Theta Pi, one of four fraternities on campus.

It was 2010, bandleader Julia Shapiro tells me over the phone, and the brothers’ annual “Battle of the Bands”—a bacchanal dominated by Axe, weed, and body odor—was fast approaching. As such, the ladies—Shapiro (guitar, vocals), Lydia Lund (guitar), Annie Truscott (bass), and Gretchen Grimm (drums)—figured it’d be pretty damn funny to invite all their friends, storm the dudebros’ fortress, and hopefully, come out on top.

A short while later, Chastity Belt hit the stage for their first-ever performance, dressed as punks, faces smeared with garish makeup (“I was wearing so much red eyeliner it looked like my eyes were bleeding,” Shapiro recalls). They performed a single song: “Surrender,” a five-minute ode to angst, youth, “stealing your mom’s cigarettes, and wearing dark eyeliner.” To the band’s surprise, the mass of friends gathered to watch the set significantly outnumbered the Betas. Not that Chastity Belt needed to sway anyone; according to Shapiro, some of the group’s friends stole the voting slips intended for partygoers and stuffed the ballot boxes, rigging the competition in the band’s favor. “We didn’t really win anything,” Shapiro says, her deadpan voice dripping with mock disappointment.

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Honolulu’s Honest, Diverse DIY Scene

The Bougies

The Bougies.

It’s a warm Friday night in Honolulu’s Chinatown, and local punk band Smoke Free Armstrong are playing their final show to a packed crowd at the Downbeat Lounge, a venue that, in recent years, has been ground zero for the city’s DIY punk scene. Between songs, guitarist and singer Steve Tanji grabs the mic to offer a sincere tribute. “I just want to thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart, for letting us play for you,” he says. The crowd of kids gathered in front of the stage cheer in response. “We’ve been playing for two years, and I want to thank you all for coming out and supporting the scene.”

There is a certain poignancy to Tanji’s words. By the usual musical standards, two years isn’t a long time for a band to exist—but, in Honolulu, it’s rare to find bands who last more than a few months, let alone years. Being a punk band in Honolulu is a lot more challenging than it would be on the mainland. First of all, there’s the location—“literally in the middle of nowhere,” says longtime promoter Jason Miller, who has been booking shows in Honolulu since the mid ’90s, and currently books under the name 808shows/Hawaii Express. “It’s so much [money] up front just to get somewhere for exposure. People can go on tours, but they’re not able to do it every summer, or during spring break. They can’t just jump in the van.”

Other problems: Hawaii is by nature a transient place. People come and go from the islands constantly, making it difficult to sustain a musical project for a long period of time. The state has an extraordinarily high cost of living, on par with that of the Bay Area or New York City, but with a far smaller population, and musicians need to hold down two or three jobs just to scrape by. Instruments and amps are more expensive because everything is imported—and forget about PA systems. Nobody owns property and basements are non-existent, so practice spaces are difficult to find and pricey to rent.

As far as places to play, there are currently no DIY venues on the island, and even if there were, the owners would still have to contend with the strange-but-true fact that sound travels farther in moist air than in dry air, making noise complaints inevitable, and house shows nearly impossible in Hawaii’s tropical climate. Generator shows in skate parks and on the beaches occasionally happen, but they can be stressful to execute—especially when it suddenly starts to rain, as it often does in Hawaii. To say nothing of the fact that the laid-back nature of Hawaiian culture isn’t exactly the most amenable to punk rock.

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