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A Chat With: Sarah Potenza

With yesterday being International Women's Day, this feels like the perfect week to have chatted with the fierce and fiery Sarah Potenza. During her set on Saturday night at Daytrotter Downs, Sarah slayed us all with her powerhouse, soulful vocals, which some of you may remember from Season 8 of The Voice. After her set, I complimented Sarah on her incredible performance, and that lead to an impromptu interview backstage at Daytrotter. In our chat, we talked about being badass boss ladies, moving to Nashville, being on The Voice, other great singer-songwriters, and more. Get to know more about Sarah Potenza now...

The Powerhouse: Sarah Potenza   Photo Credit: Jeremy Ryan

The Powerhouse: Sarah Potenza 

Photo Credit: Jeremy Ryan

ANCHR Magazine: Can you start by telling me a little of your story, like your background and how you wound up in Nashville from Chicago?

Sarah Potenza: I’m from Rhode Island, moved to Chicago in 2003, and then I moved to Nashville in 2012. That’s pretty much it. I moved to Chicago pretty much because I got in a car accident, and I got $3000 for my old car. So I decided to move there on a whim, I was like Chicago, I don’t know, I like Rosanne…

AM: So what’s been your favorite city so far?

Sarah Potenza: I really love Nashville so far... I mean I love Chicago. It’s weird, when you move somewhere, you feel like you have multiple homes. Like Rhode Island will always be my home in my heart, but I will still long for certain parts of Chicago. For certain things, like Chinatown...being able to get what you want to eat at any hour. Ethiopian food at 2 in the morning...the dude on the corner in a wheelchair who barks at you. Chicago has these amazing things. When I was in my early 20s, I posed for a naked painting in Chicago. Things that you wouldn’t do at home or Nashville, which is more conservative. It’s the south. Chicago was a little more wild... I got pretty wild in Chicago. Nashville is more peaceful because I rent a house, I don’t have an apartment on the third floor in Chicago in Humboldt Park. It’s a different kind of environment. I really enjoy that it’s like a suburban city in a way, but I wish they had more eggrolls, They don’t have a lot of great food [in Nashville]. They have good food, but not Chicago food.

AM: So what about the venues, what are your favorite Nashville venues?

Sarah Potenza: I’ve gotten the opportunity to sing at the Grand Ole Opry a lot, which has been amazing. That has been just a dream come true for me. When you sing on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium...

AM: Ahh, I haven’t even been there yet but its on my list to go!

Sarah Potenza: Oh my god, you should! People are in the pews and the moonlight comes in from the stained glass windows and you feel the presence of like Loretta Lynn, and Patsy Cline. You just feel it, it’s incredible. I sing a lot at the Bluebird which I love. There’s a place called The Basement that I really love. There’s a of great places. 

AM: So then who are some of your influences? I know you just mentioned Loretta Lynn.

Sarah Potenza:: Lucinda Williams is a big influence, I love her music. 

AM: That was an awesome cover by the way [Sarah covered a Lucinda Williams song during her Daytrotter Downs set]

Sarah Potenza: I also really love Bette Midler, the kind of gaudiness and the showmanship like [sings example]. You know, I love that kind of energy and that kind of shiny jewelry and crazy everything. Definitely as a songwriter, Lucinda Williams. Somebody who throws down, Charles Bradley and Mavis Staples. The soulfulness. Really it’s just a mish-mash of different kind of things.

AM: Yeah for sure. So I have to ask, you were on The Voice. So how was that experience?

Sarah Potenza: It was actually a great experience because when you’re on a stage of that magnitude, it’s very challenging because you’re being scrutinized by people on your voice. So it’s not so much the energy and the performance, like tonight when there’s a live crowd and you’re performing for the spirituality of it, as much as it’s an execution of perfection. Even down to emotions, so you challenge yourself to execute things on a higher level and things you think you can’t do. You go out there and you do it in front of 20 million people and it helps you to grow. So it was really a great experience in that regard.

AM: Do you still keep in touch with any of the other artists that were on the show?

Sarah Potenza: I do! My friend Meghan Linsey lives in Nashville and I never would have met her if we weren’t on The Voice because she is a very polished pop singer [and] pop performer. She’s just like a sister to me and we’ve become such good friends. Seeing a different side of the industry and the way that she approaches songwriting, melodies, and approaches her look...it helps us each to grow, I think. When you’re around a lot of the same, you kind of do the same. So when you’re around people that are different you pick up different things from them. We’ve become really good friends. She’s the one I’m in the most touch with.

AM: What other artists are you really into at the moment?

Sarah Potenza: I’ve really gotten into Parker Millsap, who I recently did Cayamo with, which is a cruise. Like a songwriters cruise. Brandi Carlile...Buddy Miller, all these people who were on it that are amazing. I got on there, and I was so lucky to get on there. Parker Millsap was on it, and I assumed that he was gonna be more folk. He was like blues-rock, but not like cheesy, dad-jeans blues rock...blues rock that you wanna hear, like modern, indie blues. It was really refreshing and I really enjoyed his music.

AM: Anyone else?

Sarah Potenza: I also really dig this guy called Aaron Lee Tasjan. He was also on that, he’s a Nashville guy. I’m really digging his music. I’m also really getting into more pop stuff in a weird way. I really became obsessed with Lemonade, but like who didn’t? It was so empowering as a woman. To watch somebody show what it meant to be from the South, to be black, to be a woman. The problems that women have in relationships, in their job. It’s so interesting to see that even fucking Beyonce has those problems, so being a woman isn’t something you can escape. So no matter how high up you go. Like what happened with Clinton, you encounter these obstacles. It’s discouraging in one way because it’s like my god, even Beyonce has these problems, but it’s enlightening in a way to see somebody express these problems and be like goddamnit... and empowering women. To deal with those problems that we all deal with as women. It kind of blew my mind.

It’s so interesting to see that even fucking Beyonce has those problems, so being a woman isn’t something you can escape. No matter how high up you go
— Sarah on the obstacles women face

AM: Speaking of that when I introduced myself, you said you love supporting women in the industry, so do you have any advice or experiences you’ve learned from?

Sarah Potenza:  It’s really important for women to lift each other up. To support each other and not knock each other down. For example, there is another really amazing soul singer in Nashville named Alanna Royale. We’ve become really good friends, and in my youth perhaps I would have been jealous of her or vice versa. As you get older you realize there’s room enough for everyone. Women kind of have this mentality where they wanna be the only one getting attention. Because we’re raised that way, because society treats us that way. It’s so important that we stick together. That we say 'hey listen, I got a deal from Mac Makeup, they’re sponsoring me, how about I hook you up?" or "hey I got this gig, it’s really great, I can’t make it, wanna do it?" Instead of keeping all these secrets to ourselves just because you don’t wanna see someone else rise.

AM: Yeah, I feel like the more you help people, the more you’re gonna get that back. It’s Karma…

Sarah Potenza: It’s so important. It’s Karma, and it also just encourages a behavior in the industry. I'm in the Americana Music Association, and I did a gospel show. I chose to pick all women, and I’ve done a bunch of lineups where I pick all women. Because we do get overlooked. I look at record labels..there are record labels in Nashville right now, and I won’t name names, but there are labels that have 7 women and 49 men. This is routine because women don’t sell as much as men, and there aren’t as many female musicians. It’s so much harder for us because it is a boy’s club. I learned to play guitar because I couldn’t get any guys to let me be in their band. I was like fuck it, I’m just gonna do it on my own. It makes a difference when I walk into a room, into a rehearsal, for me to be able to say it’s in this key, or no, do it like this. And to show what I’m trying to do on guitar... to talk about the chord progression.

AM: Yeah, and even your email address has "big boss" in it.

Sarah Potenza: It’s important for me. I like to be...I’m the boss. As a woman, that can be seen as oh well, she’s a bitch, she’s a diva. But if I was a guy, people would be like oh, that’s so sexy. So I don’t care. I’m doing my thing, you know.

AM: So how did you get this opportunity to play here?

Sarah Potenza: My publicist from my last record had hooked me up with Daytrotter to do a session. Then my booking agent just happened to have Gaelynn Lea playing [the festival] and I told them I really wanna do because I thought it was cool. A lot of times I do these gigs that are really great, but they’re not like the it, happening thing. I wanted to do this because it’s the happening thing.

AM: So you said earlier you don’t know a lot of these bands, but--

Sarah Potenza: I don’t know a lot of these bands, but I’m listening to them and it’s been great! I’m going to listen to my friend Lawrence Peters with his band tonight. It’s a new band...Velcro Lewis Group. I’m gonna go see them because he's a friend of mine from Chicago who used to be in band called The Lawrence Peters Outfit, which I think he still does. But it’s more country so this is something new for him.

AM: Cool! Lastly, what else is in store this year for you?

Sarah Potenza: I'm working on writing more, cause I love to write. I feel like I wrote my old record and got all that stuff out. I’m ready to write my next one. So writing, traveling around the country playing as many shows as I can. Getting my music out to as many people as I can. Writing and Traveling, that’s pretty much it.

AM: Do you record in a certain place?

Sarah Potenza: In Nashville, with Joe McMahan. It was the first time I used a producer and that was game changing for me because I didn’t know the things that I had to change to really get the best out of myself for the songs. Cause I’m so in it.  So having a third party say, "this is too long, we need to drop a verse" or "what if this was a fast song and not a slow song?" You know? It was so worth every dollar. Game changer. 

Make sure you keep up to date with all things tour and new music on Sarah's Facebook Page. You can also listen to her album Monster now: 

Catching Up With In Tall Buildings

On Day 2 of Daytrotter Downs, the Chicago-based group In Tall Buildings played a beautiful afternoon set. Afterwards, the man behind In Tall Buildings, Erik Hall, sat down with me to talk about what he's been up to since the release of his second album Driver, which he released in 2015. We chatted about what's next for 2017 as far as music and tour, working with other bands, Chicago venues, the art of recording and producing your own music, and more. Here are 7 things I learned from catching up with In Tall Buildings...

Photo Credit: Caleb Condit

Photo Credit: Caleb Condit

He Has A New Album Coming Soon

During In Tall Buildings' Saturday afternoon set at Daytrotter Downs, Erik mentioned that they were trying out some new songs during the set, which was only their second time trying them out live. "[Tomorrow Never Knows] was the first time I played a couple of those new ones. Tonight we kind of brushed them off and tried them again," Erik revealed when I asked about the new material.  "There’s a new album that’s practically done. It will be coming out, later this year," he continued. 

Along with the album, we can also expect a tour from In Tall Buildings. "We'll certainly do some playing once this record is out. I'd like to do some dates in the Fall, and then maybe let the record exist for a while. Maybe go out again in the Spring next year. Nothing’s on the calendar, but we’ll definitely do some touring," Erik says. Since In Tall Buildings has never played on the West Coast, Erik also mentions one of their goals for the new album is to make it out there. 

The new album was recorded at his home studio, as usual, but there's one thing that's different...

For Erik's previous two records as In Tall Buildings, In Tall Buildings and Driver, he recorded them at his home studio as the artist, engineer, and producer.  For his third album, he enlisted in the help of another Chicago-based producer. "The main difference is that with this album I’m working with a producer. He’s been working with me at my place, at my home studio. This record includes his input. In terms of just kind of getting the songs to the finish line, and shaping the sounds...and also just the kind of honing the song themselves, the song craft," Erik says. 

Elaborating on his righthand man for this record, Erik says, "His name is Brian Deck. He’s in Chicago as well. He’s worked with Modest Mouse, Califone, and Iron and Wine a bunch. So it’s been really cool, it’s been really fun, and just kind of a load off to have somebody else make some of the decisions." 

The songwriting style of "Album 3" is a departure for Erik, but not a drastic one

"There’s not any drastic change in where I’m driving influence for my songs. It’s just the main change with this new record is I'm trying to really reduce the amount of time between when I start writing a new song and when I finish that new song. So, not letting myself sit for so long with a song in progress. And just really trying to act on impulses, and not be so utterly precious with every single decision that needs to be made. It’s kind of a serious leap to take," Erik says.

Although it's been a big leap, Erik says he thinks it worked out well. Continuing on that subject, he says, "I’m psyched about the record... I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it sounds different from Driver. I don’t know if people will necessarily think that it’s such a departure, but for me it is."

Balancing his time between In Tall Buildings and his other projects has been surprisingly easy

Erik is involved in a few other bands, but the main one he works with is Wild Belle, who are also from Chicago. Despite touring with Wild Belle, Erik was able to complete the next In Tall Buildings album fairly easily. "It’s actually amazing how well it works to have both projects...that are so different and that take such different energy on my part. I’ve made my last two records now while also being on and off the road with Wild Belle. I think if I didn’t have those tour dates creating structure in my schedule, I don’t know if I would have gotten a record done," he says.

Erik continues on to say he's found a really great match with Wild Belle, adding, "Luckily there haven’t been a whole lot of times where there’s actually a conflict of schedule. They, being my best friends, and Quinn, who’s in both bands with me... it’s just so easy to coexist."

He also says he'll be heading out to Austin with Wild Belle to play one show as Wild Belle, so if you're heading down there as well, make sure you check it out!

He's out of the loop with Chicago bands, but he's a pro when it comes to Chicago venues

When I asked Erik if he had any new favorite local bands, it kind of stumped him. "I’m so out of the loop with Chicago bands. The amount of bands that are here [at Daytrotter Downs] that are from Chicago that I’m discovering is just staggering. I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that question. Part of it is that I’m just blanking, but honestly a big part of it is that I just am kind of a hermit when I’m in town. When I’m home, I just don’t pay enough attention of what’s going on around me. I stay home a lot. My wife and I just love our home life," he says. Given the fact that he's been working on a new record between touring with another band, we'll let him off the hook.

When talking about Tomorrow Never Knows, Erik mentioned that he loves playing Lincoln Hall and Schubas. "I love them both. Love The Hideout. Those are all rooms where I feel very much at home. The Metro lately has been so fantastic to play with Wild Belle. We just played at the Aragon [Ballroom] with Wild Belle. We opened for Band of Horses. That was a venue that I grew up going to shows. I was remembering while we were there that I saw Metallica with my brother. Then practically the next time I went there was to play there. So It was kind of surreal," he continued. 

Between all of his bands and projects, Erik has played such a variety of venues around the city, so he was able to shout out some of the smaller venues in town, as well. "I also just love some of these smaller stages in town that we’ve really made quite a home at. I don’t know if you know, The Whistler has a record a label and they put out my first album. Absolutely love playing The Whistler. It’s just such a good, cool space and such good vibes. Billy, the owner, is a good friend and I just love what they’ve done. Also Quinn, Elliot [Bergman], and I have another group called Metal Tongues, that’s more of an experimental, instrumental, kind of psych, noise, jazz. It’s hard to describe. But we’ve been playing a lot lately at the California Clipper. Which is fantastic. It’s super warm and kind of dim, and the cocktails are great. The stage is in the corner and it’s nicely elevated. It’s just this really cool kind of old school place," he says. 

Producing his own work can get difficult, but luckily he has a mentor

As mentioned, Erik has his own home studio where he records everything for In Tall Buildings. He's been into recording since 13 years old. Talking more about his start with recording, Erik says, "I was given a 4-track cassette recorder by my dad for my birthday. That was the dawn of my love for recording. Just the ability to record one part and then add to it and record more parts, was just the coolest thing to be able to do. Just so exciting and so engaging. It’s kind of a classic tale, but literally that was when it started and I just never stopped. I’ve had a few different systems since then, now of course it’s much more elaborate. But it’s still just contained within my home." 

As for being his own producer when he's also the writer, Erik says it can be difficult, but he's been able to do it by listening to his work in a new light once it's recorded. "I was actually just recently reading this interview with Brian Eno, where he just hits the nail on the head. He says you’re a completely different person as a maker as you are as a listener. And it couldn’t be more true. That’s why in the past, I’ve been very deliberate about getting out of my studio to listen to what I’ve been working on in a different environment. To take some time away from it at times. To listen with fresh ears. It can be very hard to do that all yourself, but I’ve liked doing it myself," he says. 

Erik also says he was able to find a mentor who inspired him as an artist and producer. "Our old band NOMO, we were recorded by a guy named Warren Defever. His band is called His Name is Alive, and he’s been putting out records since 1991 I think. He is a good friend and mentor in terms of audio and recording of all kind. He recorded and produced all of the NOMO records. Between those experiences and being a part of some of the His Name is Alive records, I would say that he’s kind of the biggest influence in terms of learning about recording and kind of how to not only capture the best sound and manipulate it in good ways, but also just running a session. And working with other people, working with bands. He was a big influence."

His advice for getting into making your own music is...

Given the amount of work that Erik has done with a number of different bands, I had to ask if he had any advice for an artist looking into making and recording their own work. "I would say it’s easy to think you need way more stuff than you actually do need. My advice would be...advice that I myself am trying to follow lately, which is to really listen. Actually listen. And not just apply tools that you like that you think sound good that you think you need to apply. Often times something just sounds best completely naturally, just as it has been recorded. And not manipulated. I’m realizing this more and more and it’s so freeing. Because then the work is already done! If it sounds good then the work is done," Erik advised. 

As of now, there's still official word on the release date or title of the third In Tall Buildings record, but make sure to stay up to date on In Tall Buildings Facebook page. While you patiently wait for new music and tour dates, listen to 2015's Driver in full...

Get To Know: Seasaw

Harmonies. Sparkles. Friendship. Those three words come to mind when I think of the folk-pop duo Seasaw. After their wonderful and quirky set on the Daytrotter stage on day 1 of Daytrotter Downs, I sat down with Meg Golz and Eve Wilczewski to find out more about these Madison-based musicians with a magnetic stage presence. The pair released their third album last summer and they are currently on tour for the next two weeks, playing in major cities like DC, Chicago, and New York. During our interview, we chatted about their fateful meeting, the process behind the album, their love for Karen O, choreographed dancing, and more.  Get to know Seasaw now...

Photo:  Scotify

Photo: Scotify


They come from a music-saturated background

"I grew up in a musical family," Meg Golz says about her start in music. "I started playing piano in grade school, and I just couldn’t focus on it. I started the cello in 5th grade. I played that until I was a junior in high school...I was just never very good at it, I decided to try choir for a year," Meg continues. She even went on to take a percussion course after she didn't make varsity choir, which got you out of gym class. Luckily, she made the drum line and that got her out of gym class. "That’s where I learned to play the drums," she says. In addition to piano, cello, and drums, Meg says she eventually picked up the guitar when she went away to college. 

As for Eve Wilczewski, her family wasn't as into creating music, but they were always very appreciative of it. "My mom did play piano, my dad did play the accordion, but they both let it dwindle and didn’t really follow through. They both are like huge music fans and took me to shows and concerts all throughout my childhood," Eve says. She continues on to say that her mom got her into playing music at a young age. "I've played violin since 2nd grade. That was really awesome cause I had a head start before the regular public school, which starts usually at 5th grade. I did violin all throughout high school. I still play, but I don’t take lessons anymore. I also did guitar in high school and continue to play that. Guitar was kind of just because I was tired of playing classical music and wanted to learn the things that I listened to. I love the violin but all the teachers I had wanted to only do classical and I wanted to do gypsy music, or jazz music, or bluegrass...," Eve recalls. "I wanted to do that so I could incorporate more of the stuff that I love," she says about playing guitar. 

An Italian restaurant brought them together

As Eve and Meg tell the story about how they get together, I can tell it's one that's been told many times, but they tell it in a very authentic, genuine way. Meg starts the story, saying, "I went away to college, but I hated it. So I came back after a semester to try to figure out where else I wanted to go. I started working at an Italian restaurant that I had worked in while I was in high school, and they took me back." Eve interjected the story to say, "We’re 6 years apart. So we never met in middle or high school. I was with Meg’s brother and sister, but I never met her. So it was lucky that we met at this restaurant. We met by chance."  As fate would have it, they both had started working at the restaurant, often on the same shift. "We kind of got to talking and realized that we listened to the same type of music, and we had the same sense of humor. We knew we both played music cause I knew [Eve] was in orchestra with my brother and sister," Meg says. 

"We would just be talking and laughing and almost be getting fired our entire shift because we were secretly making fun of stuff and laughing. There would be no one there on our shift," Eve recalled. Despite the good times they had working together, Meg says she had to court a friendship out of Eve for months. "I kept asking if she wanted to hang out with me and she’d be like 'hmm I gotta hang out with my mom'. I always thought she was like joking...She was actually hanging out with her mom. I realized as I became her friend that she wasn’t actually playing me that whole time," Meg reminisced. 

They recorded and produced their third album themselves

Seasaw's record Too Much of a Good Thing was the first one they were able to fully take their time on. "Meg recorded it in the basement studio that we have in Madison. Meg mixed a lot of it, and engineered it, and we were able to spend as much time as we possibly could. Before this album, I was living far away in La Crosse, WI. So the other two albums that we’ve done have been basically nickled and dimed on weekends. This is the first one where we actually got to be engrossed in the product from start to finish without relying on other people," Eve says. 

Meg picked up her craft of engineering and producing when she went away to the Madison Media Institute. Fate also played a hand in this record's production when Eve moved into a house that coincidentally had a basement studio. "We just insulated it ourselves and did the recording in there," Meg says about the basement studio. Continuing to talk about recording experience, she says, "It was an awesome learning experience all around and allowed us to have the product we were really passionate and happy with. Also we were able to really study what we were creating, and build the concept of what songs we were including." 

Eve's artistic background plays a hand in their style

During their performance, Meg and Eve were rocking some amazing, coordinated outfits. And they had a bedazzled drum kit, so naturally I had to ask them where they get their style inspiration. "Eve is really into fashion," Meg says. After Eve interjected to say she's not that into fashion in "normal life" and it's more for the stage, Meg continues, "She has a painting degree so she has the most amazing eye for color. So she puts things together that I normally wouldn’t and then I’m able to like match my outfit to go with that. I don’t love dressing myself and it’s good when she takes the lead."

Eve elaborates on their stage style, saying, "I think part of it for me, is when I go see a performance, as an audience member, it takes a lot of effort for me to get my body in the building. Like I put in effort to look nice because it’s a special thing and I’m spending my money and time to go see something. And I think as a performer, because we were both trained as dancers and musicians in orchestra and choir...you always want to create that whole package, like I’m putting in effort and I look nice for you. Or like I’m looking at least interesting or thought-provoking. Also bands have been doing this forever, like The Beatles and The Beach Boys all coordinate. I think it goes along with my painting degree, like the aesthetic of what we’re putting together. It’s important to me. And also when I go out and see bands, it’s a choice to look one way or the other. And I think [Meg's] right because I am a painting major that I notice that. It’s very forefront for me." 

Meg and Eve also channel their creativity and unique style into their music videos. Their most recent video for "Into the White" features dancing and balloons, and it was shot in all one take. Meg and Eve also came up with the concept themselves. Talking more about the video (which you need to watch), Meg says, "I [had] been dying to do a dancing video. That’s one of the things I love most about Eve. I can do the worst and most awful dancing in any scenario and it will always make her laugh. It’s just the best sound in the world and it encourages me to do this thing I’m not very good at."  

Karen O and diverse artists inspire them

As far as their style (and sound) influences, both Meg and Eve agree that Karen O (from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) has inspired them. Meg says what she loves about Karen O is "her power on stage as a performer and the things that she’s passionate about, and what she does for the general community as well as the music community." Eve says they also appreciate her diversity, and Meg mentions that they were in a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover band. Continuing the discussion about diversity, Eve says, "We don’t really like to have two songs that sound the same.I just get bored really easily. We are attracted to artists who do diverse things. Cause like even The Beatles almost every song is completely different."

Eve also gives a nod to another artist for inspiring her. "Someone that I really love is an artist named Buffy Sainte-Marie. She’s an artist that was an activist and a folk musician back in the 60's.  Her music was very anti-Vietnam War and pro American-Indian movement, so she got blacklisted and a lot of people don’t know about her music. She’s made music though the whole time, she’s still making music... and she’s 70. She’s really into fashion, she’s got a beautiful figure. She’s a visual artist, she’s gorgeous and she keeps creating relevant things about like the oil industry and XYZ," Eve gushes. "Buffy has this like amazing voice and very diverse work, cause she does all these social songs, but there’s love songs or it’s like rock or folk. So both of these women [Karen O and Buffy Sainte-Marie] are like very powerful women and prolific. They both haven’t stopped making. We both also love the White Stripes. And I think all these artists have a rawness. I don’t like it sounding too polished," Eve continued.

They love the Madison music scene

While talking to Meg and Eve, they just radiated vibes of love and positivity between each other, and it quickly became clear that friendship makes up the foundation of their band.  In addition to the bond between them as a band, they also have a lot of love for their home-town music scene. 

"Madison is a very nice community, like the musicians there are very nice and welcoming. Like I didn’t know anyone in Madison and some of the first people I met were bands that invited us to play. So I don’t know, it’s unique because everyone just wants everyone to succeed instead of being competitive. Like everybody lifts each other up. We had four or five local musicians from all different bands play with us [at our record release show]," Eve says. 

"We premiered our video that night and we also had all the guests who had played on the album come join us and we played with a full band. We don’t usually do that, that’s the first time we’ve ever had a full band on stage," Meg chimed in about the album release show. "We come from a community where there really was no music scene so it’s really just unique to be now put into that and being in such a welcoming spot," Eve adds. 

Meg and Eve also shouted out some of their fellow Madison musicians playing Daytrotter Downs, like The Hussy and Vanishing Kids. 


As far as what's next for the dynamic duo, Meg and Eve say they plan on doing a couple more videos for this album, and they're even releasing an exclusive track on a compilation LP for Record Store Day. "[It's] called the Wisconsin Vinyl Collective. So this LP is gonna be a collective of all Wisconsin artists.  The standout ones is the BoDeans and Emperors of Wyoming," Eve says. They also hope to be playing festivals throughout the summer, but for now, check them out on tour. Chicago, Seasaw plays The Beat Kitchen on March 15th. Grab tickets here.

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Get To Know: Mountain Swallower

One of the greatest things about Daytrotter Downs Festival was the amount of local and regional acts on the line up. While most of the 47 bands on the line up are based somewhere in the Midwest, so many talented bands from the heart of the Quad Cities took part in the two day event in Davenport. One of those bands, Mountain Swallower, even had a headlining slot on Day 1...or as they put it, they were just playing last. Hours before their midnight set (which had the craziest crowd response of the night), the guys sat down with me to talk about their start as musicians, their goals, and the local music scene. Get to know Mountain Swallower now...

Mountain Swallower is Garrin Jost, Mark Leveling, Steve Maule, and Kirby Calamari

Mountain Swallower is Garrin Jost, Mark Leveling, Steve Maule, and Kirby Calamari


Community College and Craigslist brought them together

Talking about their start as a band, Garrin Jost says, "Steve and I used to play together in a band like 8 years ago. At that point, I wasn’t really writing songs much at all. We were in a band and neither of us really wrote for that band. I kinda got the bug from there and then started writing and did like open mic stuff for a long time with loop pedals. Then finally just started the band. We craigslisted up Kirby." 

Kirby Calamari first start playing guitar in 6th grade back in Danville, IL, where he's originally from. While Mark Leveling is originally from Aurora, IL, Garrin and drummer Steve Maule are native to the Quad Cities.  "That was the best part of community college. I found Garrin," Steve said. Garrin credits the years after community college as one of his most creative periods, saying, "I worked, but didn’t really work that hard. So I had a bunch of time to write. Lots of times I just try to consume a bunch of bands that I like and map out songs and just kind of regurgitate that form. It’s a lot of just ripping off bands that I like and listening to weird things and finding a middle ground." 

They structure their songs on influences like Nirvana, but say they've topped Nirvana in one aspect...

When I asked who their influences are, Garrin says, "A bunch of bands that are way better than us. Like Jeff Buckley and Nirvana." When he talks about his song writing process, Garrin credits those bands for inspiring the structure of his songs, saying, "I’m not a super educated guitar player. I used to play trombone a lot so that’s like my background. But as far as guitar is concerned and writing, I’ll just like think 'How can I touch this guitar in a way I’m not used to doing' and then I’ll find something that’s like oh that’s cool and pull on that thread until something comes out of it. Then form-wise, just ripping off Nirvana and Bob Dylan. Like a bunch of people I really like." 

Garrin also sees another similarity between his band and one of their influences, Nirvana. "We’re like a shitty meta-Nirvana," he says. "Their big thing was like total nihilism, like whatever, nevermind... we don’t care, but we’re really good actually. Whereas like we don’t care and we’re actually not good. We got one more step on your, Nirvana!"  Despite what they say about not being good, the crowd at Daytrotter Downs definitely didn't agree with that, so they're even more similar to Nirvana than they think. 

They're fans of Australian bands and bands that promote unity 

While the band were discussing their influences, Steve says their tastes are varied, but there's a common theme. "We’ve got a wide range. We like bands that are always changing. They might have a weird edge or something unique about them, but at the end of the day I feel like the common thread for the bands we like...they’re bands that bring people together. They’re bands that make you feel better after you see them, hopefully. They have a message that promotes togetherness and unity."  

Garrin says they'd love to play in Australia one day because they "have a crush on all these Australian bands." Kirby says his favorite bands include The Dune Rats and Stick Fingers, while Garrin mentions Tame Impala and Pond. Steve also mentions Wolf Alice, saying, "They’re not Australian, but that’s a shared band that we all really like." Steve also credits their location for bringing them lots of great new music, saying, "That’s a good part of the Midwest. You get stuff from both coasts." 

They're short-sighted, but they've come a long way

"We’re really short sighted as a band in a lot of ways. We’re just like when’s our next show, how do we get ready for it?" Garrin says while talking about their plans for playing live this year. Although they don't have any plans to tour across the country any time soon, Mark says, "The good thing is the phone calls keep coming [to play local shows], so we’ve never really gotten to a point where it’s like OK we’re not playing for the next couple of months."  

The band do notice that the reception of their audiences have been growing though. Steve talks more on this subject, saying, "We’ve all had bands where no one would come. There were many years where the reception wasn’t as good, but we had a blast still. So no matter what, we still do it. Now considering the response has been better, it put fire under our butts. We’re really thinking of the goals to improve and get better." Garrin adds, "It’s cool. We’ve played in bands before and we’re finally reaching this point where we’re like equally authentic and relatable. So we’re not having to give up anything and people still seem to like it so it’s like as long as we can do that, we’re good to go." 

Throughout their years of playing music, they've also learned some important lessons. "You have to be vocal," Garrin says. "I feel like we’re fairly democratic. Even though the songwriting stuff is dictatorial, I feel like we’re all vocal about how we feel. We don’t ever leave the stage ticked off. Definitely in other bands there were times when I was like 'I did not enjoy this.' There’s nothing worse when you’re halfway through a set and you’re like 'I am not digging this,'" he continued. Steve elaborates on the process of being vocal with Garrin's songwriting, saying, "I feel like we shape the songs as a unit and add our own stank to them." Steve also says that they've learned to be more aware of what they're getting into, after having a weird experience playing at a benefit show. The most important lesson that Steve has learned, though, is that friendship comes first. "At the end of the day, I feel like we’re friends. We might not be the best band in terms of playing or we might not have some strengths that some bands have, but that stuff doesn’t really matter considering our goal is to learn and grow," he says. 

We might not be the best band in terms of playing or we might not have some strengths that some bands have, but that stuff doesn’t really matter considering our goal is to learn and grow,
— Steve on the importance of being friends with his bandmates

They're proud of the QC music scene

Since Daytrotter Downs was actually my first time taking a trip to Quad Cities, I asked Mountain Swallower for the inside scoop on the best bands and venues.  "We gotta rep Condor &Jaybird. They’re the band closest to us as far as bands we’ve played with the most," Garrin says, while Kirby shouts out local venue Rozz Tox as being the best place to play. 

"I’ve heard it called a renaissance for Quad Cities lately," Steve says. Continuing on that subject, he says, "There really is a big upswing of creative people coming together. Years back when Garrin and I played and before that there were peaks and valleys for a while... it didn’t seem as cohesive or connected as now. But with Daytrotter and Rozz Tox, there’s so many bands that have snowballed into a community now. There’s a band called Closet Witch, they’re playing tomorrow. There’s so many...Archeress. All of these bands are worlds apart as far as how they sound, but it doesn’t matter because we’re all a community. We all do what we love to do."

Get to know the band even better by listening to their two releases, both self-titled. (I asked if there was a story behind having two self-titled albums, but they say a lack of a story got them there). 

Also make sure to catch a live set from Mountain Swallower if you can!

Also make sure to catch a live set from Mountain Swallower if you can!

Catching Up With NE-HI

This past weekend I headed out to Davenport, IA to catch an amazing line up at Daytrotter Downs festival, featuring one of my favorite Chicago bands, NE-HI. The band have just released their sophomore album Offers on February 24th, but in the past few months, they've been all over the place.  Not only did NE-HI play a sold out album release show at The Empty Bottle, but they've recently performed on the legendary JBTV stage, they've done in-store performances at record stores, and they're booked to play SXSW in the middle of cross-country tour. Prior to their 10PM slot on the Daytrotter stage, they sat down to talk about the craziness that accompanied the album release and what's next for them. Here are five things I learned when I caught up with NE-HI: 

NE-HI is Jason Balla, Alex Otake, Michael Wells, James Weir  Photo Credit: Bryan Allen Lamb

NE-HI is Jason Balla, Alex Otake, Michael Wells, James Weir

Photo Credit: Bryan Allen Lamb

Nothing gives them more joy than just playing shows

When asked how their week has been since Offers dropped, drummer Alex Otake says, "It's been really good. We had a release show at The Empty Bottle the day it came out and it was awesome. We had one of our friends make visuals for it...he did like a TV installation."  

Although they've gotten to do lots of sessions and other forms of promo for the album, Jason Balla echoed Alex by agreeing that there's just something about playing a good live show that's impossible to top. "The show [at Empty Bottle] is pretty hard to beat. It was this amazing time. So many people that we knew and so many people we didn’t know. The Empty Bottle has a place in all of our hearts, so that’s pretty hard to beat. Playing the Audiotree thing was really fun. We also played a Chirp session in this warehouse that they have. That stuff is  always fun, but playing shows is where the joy is for me," Jason says. 

James Weir chimed in that his favorite part of the record release has been "people giving their respect in the music world and family giving praise and showing love," also adding, "We worked so hard on that record and it’s been a beautiful experience." 

Their least favorite part of releasing and promoting an album? Alex says taking pictures, while James says waking up early. Jason agrees, saying "Waking up early is actually the hardest part of it. You could get away with getting to bed early, but we don’t seem to have figured out how to do that. We were in Omaha yesterday and if you go to Omaha, you have to go to Brothers Lounge afterwards!"  The waking up early seemed to really affect Michael Wells, who was a man of very few words during the interview. 

They recorded Offers in two installments

The two installments took place between January and March of last year, but James reveals they scraped most of what they recorded in January because of "self-imposed pressure".  Jason agreed, saying, "Yeah we got signed....I don’t even know exactly like when that all went down, but for that first batch of stuff we were working on, we were kind of like overthinking a little too much. We were like 'Oh now we have like this label deal, we gotta really do some good shit.' That kind of mentality winds up making doing good shit impossible. So we kind of noticed [that] once we did those first songs in the studio." 

Alex also agreed, saying that on the first batch of material they were "just overthinking and then overwriting." He adds, "[We were] not writing like how it came naturally like when we wrote our first record."  Luckily, they were able to overcome their self-inflicted pressure for their recording sessions it March. Jason revealed, "It kinda took a little bit to shock us out of that mentality. Once we started having fun, it started coming really fast and like through this one, the big difference is that we got a lot better at editing and being critical of ourselves. We would like have a lot of fun and write the songs, and then when we had the songs written we would be like OK what actually is necessary for it to exist basically."  

Offers  Album Cover

Offers Album Cover

They'd like to score Hot Tub Time Machine 3

The group originally got together to score a friend's film, which unfortunately never even got released. However, James has requested it be known that they'd really like to do the score for the third installment of Hot Tub Time Machine, should it ever be made. Jason adds, "That would be great. And we also want Cusack back. Bring back the Cusack. We’ll only do it if he’s on board."  The band's love for Hot Tub Time Machine runs so deep that Alex even revealed that they tried to start a rumor that Offers syncs up to the film, saying, "We had this idea for when this record was coming out to say that like you know when you watch Wizard of Oz and you put on Dark Side of the Moon? We were going to say that our record would line up with Hot Tub Time Machine perfectly."  

On a more serious note, the band revealed some of their other favorite film scores. "The score for Moonlight was really good. I just listened to this interview about it and it talked about how the movie is set up in three acts basically. For each act the tone got a little bit darker, so the composer like dropped it an octave. It’s pretty cool," James said. Alex says he's a fan of Italian horror films from the 1970's and anything John Carpenter, while Jason gets a kick out of Chef's Table. "Have you ever seen the show Chef’s Table? It’s like a food documentary, but it’s set to classical music," he says, continuing, "It’s the most epic shit. It’s like someone is just putting an oyster on a plate and it’s like [dramatic music]."  

They stay entertained on their van by making up alien alter egos

Since the band are touring cross country in a van, naturally they've got to come up with unique ways of staying entertained. Besides listening to true crime podcasts, which Alex revealed are his favorite, they also put their imaginations to the test. "We have a lot of jokes in the van," Jason says. "I just got these sunglasses and they kind of like acquired an alter ego. I mostly annoy everyone in the van. So you’d have to ask them how they put up with me more than anything. There’s not really any name for that guy. He’s like an undercover sort of alien robot. Basically it’s like this character who is undercover trying to pass as a human, but he’s like always making mistakes."  

As far as their favorite places that they're traveling to this tour, Jason says, "North Hampton is one of my personal favorites. I used to hate New York but I like it a lot now. There's ones that are obviously fun cities to go to, but my favorites are like the sneaky ones. Like North Hampton is so sick and like Pittsburgh is one of our favorite places to go."  

They're supporters of the Chicago music scene 

NE-HI are really excited to be heading down to Austin to play some SXSW shows, but they're also excited to catch some fellow Chicagoans perform at the festival.  "We’re actually playing a really tight show with Wand and my friends White Reaper, and another Chicago band, Post Animal," Jason says, also shouting out NoName, a rapper from Chicago. 

As for other Chicago bands that they're into at the moment, Alex says, "Cafe Racer, Deeper. Both of those bands we got to play with at our release show. They’re amazing. There’s tons of stuff."  He added "We’ve talked about it a lot, but it’s really awesome, healthy competition. Because so many people are making really amazing music, so we don’t want to be the one band making shitty music. Like 'we like you, but your band’s not that great.'"  

While they've got love for Chicago musicians, they also have a great relationship with the independent record store, Shuga Records. Offers is currently available on clear vinyl, exclusively at Shuga. When I asked how that deal came about, Jason says, "I like their vibe a lot, but they’ve been incredibly supportive of NE-HI and other projects that we play in. So I would just go over there to sell them records of our first record and I’d always get to talking with the people that work there. They actually did an exclusive of our first record and that one was going well, so they were like we wanna do one for this one. It’s really cool to be able to do something special. And it’s really neat when it’s exclusive to one store. We played an in store with them too which was really fun!"  


There you have it.  Make sure you go see NE-HI and their alien alter egos on tour...you can check out all of their tour dates here. Listen to their sophomore album Offers here: