Author Archives: andrewegli

Featured Musician: Seabright

Seabright is a one-man musical project that seamlessly fuses electronic with live instrumentation. Lots of reverb, near-unintelligible vocals, and layers upon layers of majestic pop hooks form the basis of Seabright’s sound. Its creator, Justin Morales of the South Bay Area, was gracious enough to accept both an invitation to perform at Neon Nature and to provide the answers for this very interview. Let’s get to know him a bit better, shall we?

Artlarking: When I googled the word “seabright,” my first results were a brewery, an insurance company, and a city in New Jersey. How, exactly, did you come to settle upon the moniker?

JM: Seabright is the name of a beach that I used to go to a few years back. At the time, I was just getting back into making music and I needed a name. I’ve always been pretty much obsessed with the beach. So Seabright just made sense and I went with it.

Artlarking: Your newest release, Dark City, is listed as an EP on various websites, and yet there are 11 songs on it. What gives?

JM: Haha, yes. When I started working on Dark City (October 2010), I didn’t know what it was going to be. I was just making songs, and I guessed it would be an EP. But then it really got crazy and I started finishing tons of songs. I decided to finish as many as I could up until January 1st, 2011. It’s an EP only in name, but I didn’t want to change it.

Artlarking: What led you to form Seabright as a solo venture? Also, there only appears to be one other musician on Dark City – who is Sunyoung Kim, exactly?

JM: When I first started Seabright, it was while I was finishing grad school (2005). All my old friends that I used to make music with were either in different cities or not making music anymore. So I just decided to utilize all the new recording software and do it all myself. Sunyoung Kim is my girlfriend and also a really good singer and piano player, so sometimes I convince her to make music with me. 🙂

Artlarking: I understand that you’re a schoolteacher by trade. How do you balance your daily obligations with your artistic pursuits?

JM: Yeah, teaching takes a lot of time and effort, so during the semester, I can really only make little beats and try little ideas. Then, during my breaks, I will record and do all the big work. As far as shows, I usually just play locally, so it’s not too big of a problem. I was able to do a little mini-tour to LA this spring during my spring break though.

Artlarking: What do you think about sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc.? Have they helped independent musicians to thrive or are they simply cluttering the internet?

JM: I love all of them. I was really devastated when Myspace fell off because that was my main site, but now I realize that it was a blessing. Soundcloud and Bandcamp in particular are really essential and exciting developments that let independent music reach the masses. I’ve found some amazing stuff on Bandcamp just as a listener. I’m still warming up to Twitter, but it is obviously essential too. I’m curious about what new websites will pop up next. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure them out too.

Artlarking: Which older “classic rock” acts do you model yourself after? Or alternately, which newer, more recently emerging acts do you model yourself after?

JM: My ‘classic’ rock influences are definitely the Beach Boys, Kraftwerk, the Velvet Underground and Neu! Then I’m really influenced by 80’s new wave and synth pop, then 90’s indie rock, ambient and trip hop, and finally by lots of other bedroom/laptop musicians like myself. It’s great to be part of a scene and to see other musicians who have been able to take so many styles from the past and put them together, almost DJ style, and create something new and fun.

Artlarking: I understand that you have an active fascination with the sports world. Will the Giants repeat as world champions for the second year in a row? Who do you predict will win the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks or the Miami Heat?

JM: Hahaha. Yes, I love sports! I would love for the Giants to repeat, but I’m a little worried about our injuries (get well soon, Buster*!). For the NBA Finals, GO MAVS! It would be great to see a team like the Mavs, with so many awesome old players, win a ring.

(*Buster Posey, the Giants’ starting catcher, broke his ankle on May 25th of this year, effectively sidelining him for the remainder of the season – ed.)

Artlarking: You reside in the East Bay. Which San Francisco venue has been your favorite to play thus far?

JM: Actually I’m from the South Bay, but I would say that the Elbo Room and the Knockout were my faves, along with Epicenter Café!

Artlarking: Good answer, and sorry for the geographical flub! Which 5 *South* Bay acts would you most like to promote? Most of our readers live within the city limits, so it’d be nice to know some good up-and-comers to look out for.

JM: I really like Ugly Winner, Sour Patch, Guests, Doctor Nurse, and from Santa Cruz, Atlantic at Pacific.

Seabright plays early in the evening at this Saturday’s “Neon Nature and the New Currency” event; make sure and be there no later than 6 PM in order to catch the entire set. Also, big thanks to Justin Morales for his insightful answers and timely response!
AME

“Neon Nature and the New Currency,” a free event hosted by Artlarking.com and MAPP, will be held at the Box Factory at 865 Florida at 21st in San Francisco, CA. It begins at 5 PM and ends at 11 PM. Other performers and artists include Uncle Rebel, Cartoon Justice, Anna Ash, Shantell Martin, Kristin Farr and Richard Parker.

Radio Killaz: the Collaborative Nature of Popular R&B

Popular R&B is arguably one of the most collaborative genres of music, and yet, much of the population doesn’t seem to consider it so much as a contender.

Because of the way it’s portrayed on television, in websites and magazines, and on the radio, the general public tends to think of R&B as a genre of music that focuses on individual performers. Take, for example, the Billboard’s current* “Top 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Singles” list. All ten tracks appear not on a GROUP but on a single artist’s record:

1 – Chris Brown – “Look At Me Now (Feat. Lil’ Wayne & Busta Rhymes)”
2 – Kanye West – “All Of The Lights”
3 – Nick Minaj – “Did It On’em”
4 – Nicki Minaj – “Moment 4 Life (Feat. Drake)”
5 – Lil’ Wayne – “6 Foot 7 Foot (Feat. Cory Gunz)”
6 – Trey Songz – “Love Faces”
7 – Wiz Khalifa – “Roll Up”
8 – Marsha Ambrosius – “Far Away”
9 – Miguel – “Sure Thing”
10 – Jennifer Hudson – “Where You At”

Now, look a little closer. Three of these Top 10 feature one or more “guest artists,” and one of the remaining seven – Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” – is such a collaborative clusterfuck that none of the other artists on the track (Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, and M.I.A., just to name a few) are even credited.

And this is just barely scratching the surface. For the past ten years, producers such as the The-Dream and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart have quietly been crafting pop perfection for artists other than themselves. These guys work almost 100% behind the scenes (The-Dream has pursued a modest solo career, but hasn’t reached anywhere near the level of success that he’s had writing for other artists). And yet, both of them have made more money in the past 100 radio spins than you or I will see in an entire lifetime.

Why is this, exactly? Well, The-Dream and Stewart have together been responsible for dozens of smash hits, including Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” and Rihanna’s career-defining “Umbrella.” In between they have written and produced records for artists such as Usher, Mariah Carey, and Britney Spears. Let’s face it, these dudes are practically bajillionaires – and neither of them is even over the age of 40.

Funny enough, The-Dream’s solo material is far and above his best work (check out 2009′s Love vs. Money for a stellar introduction). But in all likelihood he will probably always remain something of a cult hero in the R&B world, and will be best recognized for his collaborations with other more well-known artists.

And since we’re on the topic of R&B, one of 2011′s great records so far has surely been the House of Balloons mixtape from Toronto-based The Weeknd. While The Weeknd’s spacious, haunting approach doesn’t quite gel with the crossover hits previously mentioned in this article, House of Balloons is still a very, very good mixtape, worth checking out if not for the Beach House-sampling “The Party/The After Party” and “Loft Music” alone.

So, do it. Even if you’ve never considered it before, go out and listen to some R&B – and then think about the collaborative efforts that have resulted in what you’re hearing. It might just be worth your while.
AME

*One could almost certainly apply the same rule of thumb to the Billboard Top 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Singles list from any given week – at least 40% of the week’s songs are bound to feature one or more guest artists. Try it, I dare you: http://bit.ly/16N5wR

Barista Power: Through the Music

Working at an independent café, like any other job, comes with its upsides and downsides. And one of the greatest upsides is that you’re able to play whatever music you so choose.

Sure, your boss will occasionally veto a particular artist, or tell you to turn the volume down. But for the most part, being a hip, young “barista” means you’ll have free reign over the music selection. Empowering, no?

Being able to choose what’s playing in the background grants you a certain degree of control over the customers’ collective experience. You can put R. Kelly’s 12-Play on and watch all the singles in the room glance awkwardly at one another. Or you can jam Nine Inch Nails and see how everyone gets really pissed off while waiting in line for the bathroom. It’s your pick!

Vaguely ethereal, mostly inoffensive indie-rock tends to garner the most approval from the “Custies.” Baltimore-based Future Islands have gone over well in my experience, even though vocalist Sam Herring sings with a guttural, whiskey-drunk bark that rivals that of both Tom Waits and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.

Local group Thee Oh Sees have also been played to excess in the café, and their salt-of-the-earth desert jams seem to go over well during both lunch rushes and hungover, barren Sunday mornings.

I’ve played a lot of the Radio Dept., Real Estate, and Beach House in recent months, as well, although the latter band – who are so dreamy and majestic in their approach that a friend of mine reportedly fell asleep during one of their concerts – did manage to draw complaints from one especially testy customer, who said she “couldn’t focus” over it.

You can’t make everybody happy all of the time, can you?

Either way, it’s interesting to see how different music connects with a particular social set. If you too happen to work at a café, then you should give it a try – but if i may make a suggestion – leave the nü-metal at home. Nobody really wants to hear that in 2011. Oh, and one more thing. No harmonicas… just trust me.

AME

Music Industry Update: Cash Rules Everything Around Us?

Cash Rules Everything Around Us, in the music industry – or at least, it did up until about the turn of the century. Now that we are fully immersed in the “Digital Era,” we are seeing more and more emerging artists with lower budgets and less major label support. So is this a good thing or a bad thing for creative expression?

It was as recent at the year 2000 when record sales were at an all-time peak. This was the year of Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP, Britney Spears’Oops!… I Did It Again“, and, of course, ‘N Sync/*NSYNC’s blockbuster album “No Strings Attached”. Since then, in just over a decade, U.S.-based sales have dropped over 50% – a scary statistic to any members of the Mickey Mouse Club who were hoping for a career in the next big boy band. It’s as if the Internet has become the new century’s Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Many smaller artists have clawed their way into the public’s consciousness due to online publications such as Pitchfork Media (the now-Grammy winning Arcade Fire were reported to have gone out of print with their first record, Funeral, in the week following its review). On the flipside, sales have dipped for big artists like Eminem, whose 2011 release ‘Recovery’ – which was deemed a massive “comeback success” by most of the industry – sold roughly a million less copies in its first week than the aforementioned ‘Marshall Mathers LP’ did in 2000. Thing is, Em still ain’t hurting for cash, and relatively well-known, working-class indie rock bands such as the National and Arcade Fire certainly aren’t living in Hollywood mansions. The gap between the two has simply narrowed a smidge – which is as much as most up-and-coming artists can ask for in the newly-digitalized musical landscape.

Don’t get me wrong – when it comes to the record industry, pop music still reigns supreme. Take one listen to Justin Beiber‘s Top-10 hit “Baby,” or to Rihanna’s seemingly ubiquitous string of recent singles, and you’ll sense instant commonalities between today’s and the year 2000’s popular musical climate. The difference is simply that pop music is selling slightly less, and smaller, more experimental artists are getting a shot at the market. When it comes to making money, some artists with more condensed fanbases have found ways of marketing themselves that larger artists could only dream of. One such example is post-hardcore group Glassjaw, whose last full-length record, Worship and Tribute, was released for Warner Bros. way back in 2003. The band has since departed from Warner Bros.; they went into hiding for a short time, but in the past year quietly released five separate 7″ singles on vinyl. Hungry for new music from the band, Glassjaw’s audience snapped up the 7″‘s in a veritable heartbeat; the proceeds allowed the band to fund the pressing of a new EP, titled Coloring Book, which they have been giving away for free on a recent national tour (Glassjaw played the Regency on February 27th, 2011, to a near-sold out audience). It’s a lesson in marketing that up-and-comers can only hope to emulate.

Glassjaw at the Regency Ballroom, photo by John Tucker Stevenson

 

Also contributing to the prospect of a surging “working class” of artists are those with a certain degree of credibility, such as Animal Collective, who are willing to use their success in order to support their peers. The Collective – who have been releasing albums for roughly a decade, but only recently garnered mainstream acclaim for 2007’s ‘Strawberry Jam’ and 2009’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ – started their own label several years back, Paw Tracks, to which they signed Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. And in 2010 Ariel Pink responded with a landmark year of its own, releasing the excellent Before Today to rave reviews. This type of inter-scene camaraderie helps smaller bands reach a more widespread audience, therefore supporting independent music as a whole.

Overall, it’s tough to say whether having less money is helping popular music appeal to a more forward-thinking audience. Bands such as Radiohead are worthy of an argument in the opposite direction – while they are currently without the support of a major label, their fanbase is as thriving as it’s always been, and their per-album budget still knows absolutely no bounds. But for every Radiohead there seem to be a hundred Glassjaws – thriving, crafting incredible and intelligent music, and yet, staying within a reasonably maintainable budget. Only the future will tell which end will ultimately reign supreme. AME