All posts by Caroline Edgeton

Caroline is a North Carolina native who is a newbie to Philadelphia. She is generally seen riding her bike around the city or checking out different restaurants, coffee shops, and music venues. She really enjoys writing, watching movies, reading, going to shows, and cooking.
No Reservations at Adrienne - High Res 2 by Plate 3 Photography

‘No Reservations’ About This Holiday Farce

Ready for a Christmas miracle? While I’m not sure audiences can fully prepare for the hilarity that ensues in Joshua Piven’s No Reservations, it is without a doubt a wonderful gift we Philadelphians can receive this holiday season.

Internationally recognized for co-writing the New York Times (among other Times publications) best selling Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series, local author, television writer, producer, speechwriter, and now playwright Piven has oh-so wonderfully created a modern adaptation of the Christmas story us Western folk know so dear.

“I thought it would be interesting to examine such a traditional story that most people know a little bit; they know the general story. You know, the nativity and Mary and Joseph showing up at the inn and getting turned away and the baby’s born in a barn,” Piven said. “I thought it would be interesting to revisit it with some modern themes and, also, to change the perspective a little so that it’s told from the perspective of the innkeepers rather than the people who are visiting the inn.”

The play is not only a retelling of the Christmas story, it is also a satirical production that, of course, humorously analyzes the hashtag, Yelp, Perez Hilton, TMZ, and pop culture in general.

“I knew I wanted to cover some of the themes of the early twenty-first century like reality television and the cult of celebrity, social media, Twitter, Facebook, how we share things all the time. I thought it might be fun,” Piven said.

Directed by Allison Heishman, No Reservations begins by introducing the audience to Mr. and Mrs. Harris, a couple who purchased an inn, the Speckled Partridge, off “the Turnpike” somewhere between Lancaster and Bethlehem, PA. Due to a crappy economy and subsequent real estate market, Mr. and Mrs. Harris are not exactly experiencing the best of times financially speaking. While the sassy and mischievous Mrs. Harris, played by Wendy Staton, attempts to come up with ways to raise money for the inn, her good intentions are not matched with fruitful results. Her dry witted, hilarious husband Mr. Harris, played by Jared Michael Delaney, stands idly by in hopes of a brighter future. Also, he hopes to get laid again.

As luck would have it, a pregnant woman who resembles a celebrity shows up at the inn’s doorstep. Yep, that’s right. Our Mary character in the play is actually a young woman named Marie (Mary Beth Shrader) who is traveling back home to Bethlehem with her partner, Martha (Colleen Corcoran). While they are initially asked to leave because it’s Christmas Eve and Mr. and Mrs. Harris are expecting their daughter, Katie (Chelsea Drumel), to be visiting home from college, Mr. Harris caves in and lets the gals stay the night. After Mrs. Harris gives it a bit more thought, she realizes that their pregnant guest of honor looks exactly like a famous singer named Brittany Star who has been missing for about nine months. Star also happens to be a Bethlehem native.

“Mrs. Harris has these different schemes to try and make money… so when this woman shows up who Mrs. Harris thinks is this famous singer who has gone missing and is now pregnant, a lightbulb goes off and she thinks, ‘Oh, we can take pictures of her and put them on the internet and make money by exploiting her celebrity,’” Piven said.

No Reservations at Adrienne - High Res 2 by Plate 3 Photography

Exploitation and being internet-famous are all themes that are explored within the Christmas setting in No Reservations. The title itself not only reflects the lack of reservations at the Speckled Partridge, but it also suggests the notion that we as internet users lack reservation ourselves.

“One of the themes I display in this play and in another play I’m writing is sort of the Facebook imperative now…What’s interesting to me is how people have this need to share things on Facebook. They want the likes; if they put something up and they don’t get the likes they don’t get the affirmation,” Piven said.

“It’s also people wanting to be famous. I kind of feel like Facebook came around at just the right time because of the reality show phenomenon. The Real Housewives of New Jersey can put their whole life on Facebook anyway and become a Facebook reality star and have a lot of followers. It’s the same thing, really. Those are the things that interested me but I wanted to do it in a funny way.”

To further along this play’s ambition, traditional Christmas story characters are doubled. For example, the Joseph character is actually an inn employee named Joey (Andrew Carroll) who happens to be the only overtly Christian aspect of the story. There is also a Gabriel character, Ángel Gabriél (Brandon Pierce), who is a big shot television producer for TMZ-esque programming. Instead of three wise men we have Tom Wiseman (Brian McCann), a reporter for the New York Times modeled after Tom Friedman. You may interpret these doubles as you wish.

“Basically, what happens, it gets put out by this TMZ type of show that this famous woman who everybody thinks is missing and is now pregnant is staying at this inn and once that gets out into the blogosphere everyone is trying to converge there and take advantage of it for their own personal uses,” Piven said. “There are carolers in the play, also. They add some music – I took the traditional Christmas carols and rewrote them. [The carolers] are comedic and sarcastic, almost like a modern Greek chorus where they move the plot forward and explain certain things.”

Pennsylvania folks, listen up. Because this play is set in southeastern Pennsylvania there are plenty of little references that will make you feel right at home. The Eagles, Comcast, and scrapple are all included, among many others.

Overall, according to Piven No Reservations is a Christmas story and a has a very Christmas feel to it. While there is no Jesus Christ in the play and there are no religious overtones presented, the subject of the story is pretty obvious.

“...It’s clear what the story is. It doesn’t poke fun at the [the Christmas story], it just uses modern themes to explore a more traditional story,” Piven said.

If you are ready to laugh your ass off, this is definitely a play for you. However, if you are expecting a family-friendly tale about the birth of Christ, you’re going to be really surprised. As I was leaving the performance a woman stopped to ask what I thought of No Reservations. I was very happy as my appreciation for pop culture references and risque jokes was completely fulfilled. The woman, on the other hand, did not seem to care for the “blasphemy.”

No Reservations is playing at the Adrienne Theatre until Dec. 15. For tickets and more information about the production visit here.

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Old Monk

Interview: Josh Carrafa of Old Monk on Making Music, Not Trying to Save the World

Photos by Caroline Edgeton

Brooklyn-based band Old Monk recently paid Philly a visit by playing a pretty kickass show at The Fire in Northern Liberties. The three piece project consisting of Josh Carrafa (lead vocals/guitar), Ian Burns (drums), and Tsugumi Takashi (bass) played to a small, but fully engaged, audience.

Playing songs from their first full length titled Birds of Belize, the band really showed everyone how much fun they have. What’s interesting about Old Monk is that they play music that’s a bit different from other acts these days. It’s definitely rock ‘n roll at its core, but with a fast paced and tightly knit structure. The lead singer sounds a whole lot like Stephen Malkmus of Pavement (and that is hard to overlook); however, the band keeps things really interesting and exciting by providing unexpected shifts and delays, slowing the song down like it’s about to end and then bringing it back in loud and clear. And, to top it off, they have these great, super fun 8-bit/Atari style music videos that Carrafa makes on his computer. Check out this one that he made for “Fowl and Foe” (there’s some Monty Python referencing in it).

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Before the show, two.one.five had a chance to chat with lead singer Carrafa about the project and what to expect from Old Monk in the future.

two.one.five: So, what’s been going on with you guys recently?

Josh Carrafa: Oh not a lot. We’re playing a lot of local shows, recording a bunch, and making some videos. Okay, so I guess that’s a lot. We just did two videos: one came out in March and one came out last month. Just finished one that should come out in September.

two.one.five: I really like the videos. What made you guys want to go with that 8 Bit, sort of Atari style? Who makes your videos?

JC: Thank you. I do, actually.

two.one.five: Did you go to school for animation or design or graphics or anything like that?

JC: One day I was messing around with photoshop and just sort of figured out how to do it. I started drawing these little gifs and I put ‘em up on a website. It’s called musichistoryingifs.com.

two.one.five: It definitely makes your music videos really fun and interesting.

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JC: We’ve done a couple videos in the past that have been traditional video/film. The kind where you just stand around and look awkward. They’re boring and not that interesting to me. It’s awkward for me to do it and watch, you know? Like, there’s no reason for you to bring all of your equipment and play on top of a roof somewhere.

two.one.five: A lot of music videos don’t make that much sense to me. There’s not that much of a point to them unless it’s unusual or different, I think. I would imagine recording most videos would be really awkward.

JC: It definitely can be.

two.one.five: I really love the Monty Python references in the video.

JC: Yeah, that’s something we really like, too.

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two.one.five: So, I read you and Ian were pretty far away from each other when you first got this project started. How’d you link up in the first place?

JC: We met each other at the University of Colorado at Boulder; we had a college band in there. Ian stayed in Colorado and I moved to New York. In our college band we weren’t the song writers, we just played whatever we were told to play. We both seemed to have similar taste and styles of music, so we just kept in touch over the years. When I moved to New York, we’d just record stuff and send it to each other online. When we were really getting something concrete I convinced Ian to move to New York and we’ve been playing together for about 3 years now.

tow.one.five: So, other than recording with your previous band, this is your first album you’ve recorded together?

JC: Yeah, it was just me and Ian for the first one. Tsugumi kind of came in a little later. We actually went into the studio with no intention of making an album. We didn’t know how much time we would have, we didn’t really have a plan. We just booked a space with the intention of making a demo or like 4 songs maybe. We wound up working really fast got through 12 songs in one day, one session. We were like, “Well, I guess we may as well just make this an album.” It was weird how it just jumped up on us.

two.one.five: Based on that experience, what lessons are being carried over into your next album?

JC: Well, it’s a lot less spontaneous. The first one had that spontaneity vibe that was more of a “just go with it” style. This time we’re taking a little more time recording and actually thinking out the technical stuff. We’re definitely more ready this time than the first go round. Having Tsugumi on board helps a lot; she’s great.

two.one.five: When is the new album coming out?

JC: It should be out early next year.

two.one.five: How did you come up with the name Old Monk?

JC: I don’t know, just words. We just needed a name for the band and it just kind of came to me. It’s not really anything all that important or deep; we’re just playing music, not saving the world or anything.

two.one.five: What kind of music do you guys like to listen to?

JC: We like all sorts of stuff. Been listening to a lot of Black Sabbath recently. We’re also huge Pavement fans; the proggier stuff like Yes and Rush. Also really like The Joggers and newer, indie stuff like Deerhoof.

two.one.five: What are your day jobs?

JC: Ah, nobody likes to talk about their day jobs. Ian works at a restaurant, Tsugumi works at a studio, and I’m a lawyer.

Old Monk

two.one.five: A lawyer, really?

JC: I do boring, corporate busy work. It’s not very stressful, I’m not litigating huge cases or anything. I just read and send a lot of e-mails.

two.one.five: You should make a music video where you’re using that stereotypical court room scene that everyone thinks of when you say the word “lawyer.” I’m thinking, like, intense drama, the judge banging the mallet down yelling, “Order! Order!” and he’s wearing a big white wig. But that’s just me.

JC: Yeah, I’ll have to work on that one. That’s a good idea.

two.one.five: Ah, anytime.

Ulrich Schnauss

Interview: The Astmospheric Beats of Ulrich Schnauss

Photo provided by Last.Fm

If you have an affinity for electronic music, especially within the atmospheric realm, then you have more than likely heard of Ulrich Schnauss. This German-based producer began his career in Berlin in the ’90s after growing up in a small town called Kiel. His interest in ’90s shoesgaze really inspired him to create electronic music with other likeminded producers. In 2001, Schnauss released his own solo debut titled Far Away Trains Passing By and has since continued to keep the attention of and influence listeners.

In his solo career he is known for creating textually rich, atmospheric instrumental pieces that evoke a somewhat upbeat mood. While he may somewhat disagree with this notion (see interview below), Schnuass seems to continue to focus on a theme that involves movement and travel. It’s hard to determine whether it’s the music or the titles of the songs that clue us into this; however, one thing that remains clear when listening to Schnauss’ music is that you always know you’re listening to him. His style doesn’t change drastically, but it’s the subtle changes that make him so interesting.

In January of this year he released his fourth solo record to date titled A Long Way To Fall. He is currently on tour promoting the album.

two.one.five had a chance to chat with Schnauss before his Philadelphia performance. He’ll be playing Johnny Brenda’s tonight with Telequanta. Doors at 8pm, show starts at 9:15pm. Tickets can be purchased here.

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two.one.five: What drew you to create electronic music?

Ulrich Schnauss: I grew up in a pretty remote area of northern Germany where it was impossible to find people with a similar taste in music. Electronica provided a way of realizing my ideas without relying on a band. Besides that I was already fascinated by the sonic possibilities the synthesizer offers as an instrument. Discovering Tangerine Dream in particular convinced me that I could create the music I imagined using a sequencer-based set up.

two.one.five: How much of your music is composed on real instruments vs. digitally?

UR: I compose everything on ‘real instruments’ – mainly piano, sometimes synths. I never write on the computer.

two.one.five: What did you do differently in writing and recording this album compared to the last?

UR: My music taste changes every eight to 10 years as it seems — after a longer time where I was interested in the idea of transferring an ‘indie’/shoegaze aesthetic into an electronic context, I somehow rediscovered my love for more straightforward synthesizer sounds that are not disguised by tons of reverb. I think the most recent album reflects that, and it’s a direction I’m gonna continue to work in.

two.one.five: How do you come up with the titles to your songs and albums? They seem to evoke a somewhat melancholic feeling.

UR: Quite a few people perceive my music as ‘optimistic’ or even ‘happy’ – that’s fine, but in reality I just try to create a utopian counterpart to a reality I perceive as dark and hostile. So, the titles may reflect the sentiment out of which the actual music emerged while the music itself wants to provide an escape.

two.one.five: What are your current influences, musical and non-musical?

UR: I think a lot of interesting contemporary music can be found within drum&bass and dubstep or ‘bass music.’ Among many others, I enjoy the works of Frederic Robinson, Synkro, Clarity, etc. Also listening to a lot of japanese electronic classics from the late ’70s and early ’80s at the moment – an amazing amount of great music produced by Haruomi Hosono (besides the main Yellow Magic Orchestra albums) for instance. Also started reading more again this year – currently going through a number of extremely fascinating essays by Herbert Marcuse.

two.one.five: How did growing up in Germany influence your music?

UR: I think it made me even more determined and committed — if you live in a place that makes you unhappy and you almost feel strangulated by the political, social, and cultural environment that surrounds you, then you will really invest all your energy in trying to escape from there.

two.one.five: Have you played Philly before? If so, do you like playing here? Are there any places you want to see before you leave?

UR: I’ve played in Philly two times before – once supporting M83 and once with Mahogany and Soundpool. I had a good time, but the traveling schedule didn’t allow to get a more detailed impression of the city. I hope that’s gonna be different this time.

 

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Flaming Lips Announce Show in Philly with Tame Impala

 

Psychedelic favorite The Flaming Lips just announced extra dates to their 2013 tour. Promoting their most recent release, The Terror (video), the guys will make a welcomed appearance at the Festival Pier on Thursday, October 3. Joining them will be Tame Impala who released their critically acclaimed album Lonerism just last year. Tickets will go on sale this Friday, June 28!

Check out the video for Tame Impala’s  “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”.

Source: Philly.com

Alicia DiMichelle

Interview: Alicia DiMichele-Garofalo of East Passyunk’s Addiction Boutique

While she may have turned down an appearance on VH1’s Mob Wives, she certainly didn’t turn down venturing into her own success. Alicia DiMichele-Garofalo, owner of Cherry Hill’s Addiction Boutique, has decided to open up a second location right here on Philly’s thriving East Passyunk Avenue. Situated in what used to be the Bronze Bar tanning salon, across from popular spots Plenty and Birra, there is now a new, bold, and sassy neighbor on the block.

The first things I noticed at Addiction were bold colors, funky patterns, jumpsuits, flowy dresses, plenty of accessories (jewelry, clutches, home decor items, etc.), and only a small hint of animal print. What surprised me the most about the store was how it blended outside of the box options with more classic, subdued pieces that anyone could add to their wardrobe. To top it off, nothing was more than $100.

Just over the weekend Addiction Boutique had its grand opening. It was quite the party with beats from DJ Ebro, appetizers provided by Stogie Joes, black and white balloons throughout the store, spiked iced tea, and a red carpet to boot. DiMichele-Garofalo was looking fly and fierce with a lacey top, black bra, leather skirt, and black headband.

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two.one.five had a chance to chat with DiMichele-Garofalo about opening up shop here in Philly, her shopping addiction (hence, the name of her store), and the importance of looking good and rocking your own style.

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two.one.five: When did you decide you wanted to go into the fashion industry? When did you really first think to yourself, “This is what I want to do?”

DiMichele-Garofalo: I have always loved fashion and, of course, shopping. When I first met my husband, who is originally from Brooklyn, he used to take me shopping in all these cool little trendy boutiques in New York, and that’s when I officially became ADDICTED!  There was nothing like these boutiques where I live in Marlton, N.J., and I knew that this is what I wanted to do, to feed my addiction.

two.one.five: Where do you draw inspiration from? Is there perhaps a way you can categorize the type of style you like to promote? Or even a decade or area of the world?

Alicia DiMichelle

DG: Dressing to me is like drawing a piece of art, you are your own canvas. My style varies from rocker chic, glam rock, boho chic to girly girly. I tend to catch people off guard with my look because I am never consistent. My inspiration comes from the feeling I want to project for that day in what I’m wearing, whether it’s power and confidence, fierce and sexy, or cool and laid back.

two.one.five: On that same note, is there an individual or individuals who inspire you to do what you do?

DG: My inspirations are my three beautiful sons because everyday I try and show them that no matter what life throws at you, if you stay true to yourself and what you believe in, you will without a doubt thrive to survive…my only agenda is success. I have always been fascinated with self-made, successful woman — they are also an inspiration.

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two.one.five: Do you plan on spending a lot of time up here in your Philly location?

DG: I plan on spending a lot of my time in my Philly store meeting the new customers, making sure that the store is up and running perfectly, and to make sure that everyone in South Philly gets addicted!

two.one.five: What made you hone in on the East Passyunk location?

DG: I wanted to open my second location on East Passyunk because a lot of my customers would drive from Philly to my store in Cherry Hill to shop. I knew that East Passyunk has been up and coming and wanted to help make it thrive by adding my boutique to the mix.

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two.one.five: Do you have plans to continue expanding beyond your New Jersey and Philly locations?

DG: It is absolutely in my plans to open more stores and spread the addiction!

two.one.five: What separates your boutique from other boutiques in Philadelphia? In your opinion, why should someone shop at Addiction as opposed to a competitor?

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DG: Addiction Boutique stands out from the rest with our very unique styles that you will not see anywhere else; they’re all very reasonably priced and under $100. Our loyal customers know to check in often because our inventory is limited. We receive orders twice per week, and once it’s gone it’s gone for good.

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two.one.five: How excited are you for your new location?

DG: I am so excited to have another store and venture into a new location and to embrace the people and businesses on East Passyunk Avenue.

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City Hall Presents: Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and Make Music Philly Day with Norwegian Arms and the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra

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This week during our summer City Hall Presents series, CHP has got a little something extra coming your way. Tonight, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts will be putting on what will most definitely be an awesome show. Everyone loves a good acrobat, am I right? This will take place from 5:30-6:30pm in the City Hall courtyard. Reserve your spot here.

While the series traditionally only takes place on Wednesday nights during the summer, an extra performance has been added for this coming Friday. As a way to celebrate Make Music Philly Day, the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra and local favorites Norwegian Arms will be putting on performances you do not want to miss. Reserve here. PJO will play from 5-6pm and Norwegian Arms will play from 6:30-7:30pm in the City Hall courtyard.

Aside from the fact that these performances are absolutely, 100% FREE, we’ve decided to run a fun interview we had with Norwegian’s Arms’ lead singer Brendan Mulvihill to help further pique your interest.

Voted the Best of 2012 Emerging Philly Artist by the Deli Philly, Norwegian Arms consist of Mulvihill (vocals/mandolin), Eric Slick (drums/percussion), and Andy Molholt (everything else). Their unique, stripped down, complex, weird folk pop style of music is nothing short of awesome. Check out two of their songs “Wolf Like a Stray Dog” (the title track of their 2012 debut album) and “Tired of Being Cold.”

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Photos by Mark Likosky

two.one.five: So, the last time we chatted you guys were getting ready to head out on tour and play South by Southwest. How was that?

Brendan Mulvihill: It was just a really nice positive experience, really nice to get out of town. Played a bunch of shows with Grandchildren and Dangerous Ponies. SXSW was wonderful magical madness. It was great because I was there for my job and as a performer; there was professionalism mixed with debauchery. It’s the first time we’ve broken beyond the east coast. It was really nice to see places like Texas and various other states that I’ve never visited before, even if it was just for a night.

two.one.five: Have y’all started working on anything new?

BM: Yeah, we’re slowly putting together some new music.We’re finally assembling different parts of different songs which is exciting. I sort of experience this lethargy where I don’t actually work on songs for a while, but I’ll have pieces of songs that I’ve recorded or written. We’re hoping to have put together one or two completely new songs by Friday, but we’ll see. Definitely aim to roll more songs out through the summer. We recorded some stuff in March that we’re currently mixing. Maybe we’ll be able to put out a 7″ by late summer. Definitely striving to being the recording process for the new album by the end of the year. That’s a rough plan, but it’s what I’d like to do ideally.

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two.one.five: So Norwegian Arms is your baby pretty much, right?

BM: Yeah, it’s my baby.

two.one.five: How long have you been working on music for this project?

BM: Well, I guess it really didn’t start to take any sort of form until the summer of 2009, but at that point I wasn’t playing in any bands. I had at that time just broken up with the high school/college band I had played with for a while. You know how everyone has one of those bands from their late teens into their early twenties. Yeah, I had one of those. So, that band ended and I just thought, “Okay, I’m just not going to do that for a little while,” but I was still writing songs. Eventually, I met Eric Slick at a party and we were like, “Yeah, we should hang out and make music together at some point.” We started doing that and then the songs just started to take form. We only played about 2 or 3 shows in 2009, but shortly after we started playing together I received a grant to go to Russia for a year. So that’s where the bulk of the current material comes from, from that year while I was gone. I wrote a bunch of a songs while I was in Siberia and Eric joined Dr. Dog in that time and, once I came back, we got back together and started putting together what eventually became the album.

two.one.five: I think that’s so cool you were able to spend that time in Russia and continue writing. Weren’t you a Fulbright scholar?

BM: Technically yeah, I got a little Fulbright thingy. I got to go to Siberia which I don’t regret at all; that’s an irreplaceable experience. At the time when I was there, though, I did kind of hate everything about it. You know how it is, when you’re in one place you want to be in another, and when you’re in that other place you want to the other one. I consider Russia my nemesis a bit at this point because there are these things about it I can’t stand, but at the same time I admire and love those same things. It was awesome to have steady pay and the hours I worked were pretty flexible so I had a fair amount of time to myself. I also lived in an apartment by myself for the first time in my life; I had just moved out of a DIY art space called the Ox that I started with my friend. So, I basically went from this massive communal living experience that was a weird experiment with my friends and immediately got put into this town of half a million people but felt so isolated, especially socially. I’ve lived abroad before – I lived in Germany for a little while – but this was something I wasn’t prepared for; it was really the first time I ever experienced a culture shock. I wouldn’t say it was as much of a shock as it was me being slightly confused and really curious. In another language I always feel like I’m a different person. You could have an IQ of a hundred billion, but if you don’t know the language you sound like a stuttering idiot. I always find that amusing. I guess all those feelings crept into the material on the album.

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two.one.five: One of the songs that I really like is “Tired of Being Cold.” I mean, when I think of Russia I think of really, really cold temperatures. I mean, I would think if I were going to write a song about living in Russia that’d probably be one of the first songs I want to write.

BM: Yeah, you know, the funny thing is it really doesn’t get that much colder than Fargo, N.D. I mean, once you get into those landlocked, no bodies of water areas it’s about the same. I mean, when it’s 30 degrees here I feel just as cold as I did there. I guess the only difference is the duration and intensity of it. It’s funny because a part of me kind of resents that song a little bit because I’d definitely say it’s the most direct experience on that album, everything is kind of like a vignette to me on it and everything is based on a certain series of events; everything is a little more indirect in a way as an attempt to make the whole experience a little more universal. For example, on the song “Easy a Lover Goes West,” that song is about the two weeks I got to spend away from Siberia and I went to Europe: Berlin, Italy and Poland. It was so different and so refreshing. It wasn’t meant to be like, “Oh yeah, I went to Italy and it was fucking sick!” I wrote something about a more universal experience of being somewhere new. I like “Tired of Being Cold” but at the same time, I don’t know.

two.one.five: It was too obvious or something?

BM: Yeah! I remember the day that I wrote that song. I used to write everything on these sheets of printer paper, like 8.5 by 11, and I remember coming home from a class I taught that day. I stopped at a cafe where I’d meet with some friends – it was the only place in town where you could get coffee brewed with actual coffee beans, everything else was Nescafe mixed with hot water. It was March or April and it was a month where it shouldn’t be cold anymore, as far as my experience went. The snow started in October and it was long. I was just like, “I am so fucking over this.” I used to go home and write in red pen on these sheets of paper and tape them to my wall. I probably looked like an insane person, but when you live alone you can do this kind of stuff because you live by yourself and nobody cares. One of my Russian friends who now lives in Philadelphia came over to my place and said, “Is this your new song?” and I said, “Yeah?” He was like, “I can tell this is terrible because I can understand the lyrics.” It was really funny and we got into some weird argument about that.

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two.one.five: It may be one of the more obvious songs, but I think each song on the album is unique and memorable in its own way. Your sound is so unique, too. I can’t really think of a band that sounds anything like you. It’s very interesting and very different from what other people seem to be doing. It’s stripped down but there’s a lot going on. How did this come to be your style?

BM: There was a point when I had one of those epiphanies where I wanted to be classically good at the instrument I played. I studied mandolin for a long time and became very technically oriented. That sort of carried over into the music, but it eventually became less about how well you could play or how fast you could play and more about how you could create sort of swabs of textures. I brought my mandolin with me to Russia because it was the most portable instrument I could carry with me; I hadn’t played for like 5 or 6 years. Basically, the idea was to re-imagine my approach to the mandolin. Also, the fact that I was by myself you sort of have to fill the space. You can’t just sit down and play a melody and feel completely emotionally fulfilled. What it came down to is that I still like polyrhythm and I still like complexity but I really like good pop song writing. So, the idea was that I wanted to write songs that were accessible yet a little left of center. At the same time, I want to make music that makes you feel a groove. I feel like music is a social thing; it wasn’t invented for one person to keep all to themselves. It was a collective, tribal experience — it’s meant to evoke a certain emotion and move you in some way. For me, I think that’s very important. When things lock in, it feels really good. I don’t want to be Taylor Swift or anything, as much as I like some of her songs…I have a big soft spot for “We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The more I try to own my love for Taylor Swift in front of other musicians, the more they become open about it, too.

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two.one.five: Yeah, we’re all there with you.

BM: So, basically, yeah, I wanted to create rhythmic space that kind of has a weird elasticity. When I would write the songs, I really had a solid idea of what I wanted the end result to sound like. Obviously, Eric is an insanely talented drummer and has been able to take it far beyond anything I had ever imagined…but yeah, the biggest influence definitely was me wanting to approach playing the mandolin differently. I don’t want to say non-traditional because that makes me sound like some sort of douche bag or something, but the way I play it now is different. It may be because I’m an idiot for playing it the way I do now, but who knows. It’s definitely not for purist who love playing mandolin and have a very rigid perspective toward the instrument. I kind of want to give those people a hug.

Be sure to also catch Norwegian Arms perform on Wednesday, July 10, at Morgan’s Pier. They’ll be playing a free show with Work Drugs. For more information, click here

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Interview: John Clancy and Brian Grace-Duff of Brat Productions’ ‘The Last Plot in Revenge’

Brian Grace-Duff‘s The Last Plot in Revenge is a play unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It is a spaghetti western musical with raw grit, blood, sweat, actual spaghetti, and puppets. How does that grab you? Well, let me tell you, when you get yourself out to Lucy’s Hat Shop at 247 Market Street to check out this gem of a show you, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.  

The show will continue to go on at Lucy’s in the archive space until June 29. For tickets and times, check www.bratproductions.org and bratproductions.ticketleap.com. Also, make sure you’re not faint of heart as there are some sudden loud noises, crashes, and fights that turn realistically violent (and bloody). If  you know anything about Brat shows, they are not trying to hold much back.

This epic story is about two feuding families, the McGruels and the Scrapfields, fighting over the last cemetary plot in Revenege, Mont. Following the spaghetti western narrative, there is one character with a chip on his shoulder lurking in the shadows patiently waiting to act on a personal vendetta. In addition, you’ve got a couple of worn out prostitutes just wanting to keep a meal on the table and to catch a break. One of which is also dealing with an unfortunate case of lockjaw (which is wonderfully portrayed by Sarah Schol).

Directed by Obie-award winning, critically acclaimed off-Broadway director John Clancy, The Last Plot in Revenge is full of unexpected twists and turns (and gunshots, stabbings, fighting, yelling, laughing, and singing). This is all beautifully put together through a truly phenomenal cast and a gorgeous, original score written by Peter Gaffney. And, just when you think this play is already awesome, what makes this experience even better is during intermission you get a bowl of spaghetti with some garlic bread, compliments of Nick’s Roast Beef and Espositos.

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What’s more interesting is the fact Grace-Duff wrote it while he was Brat’s Artist in Residence with the help of Clancy, Gaffney, and the cast, to name a few. It’s truly a collaborative play that demonstrates a sense of cohesiveness that is quite challenging to achieve. Due to the very nature of that collaboration, we are able to see successful and believable portrayals of a group of people struggling to survive and fight for what they think is theirs in a tumbleweed filled, coyotes howlin’ world. By the way: what is possibly one of the more impressive aspects of this production is there are 16 roles and only 8 actors on stage the entire time. Yet, somehow, each cast member is able to successfully and convincingly change into different characters and costumes rather quickly. The talent in this show is quite astounding. 

While I could talk on and on about everything else I enjoyed, I’ll let Grace-Duff and Clancy provide a little more background. two.one.five got the opportunity to have a fantastic chat with them both prior to their wildly successful opening weekend. 

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two.one.five: Can you describe the play in your own words?

Brian Grace-Duff: It’s a tricky play to summarize. One of the biggest challenges and what is something we have continued to discuss as a group is how does film translate on stage. Not in the traditional way, though, but how does it actually have a conversation with the audience that’s cinematic and live. It’s an interesting challenge to put on stage. You have this place called Revenge, Mont., and you have these two families fighting for what they believe is rightfully theirs. Then you have this mysterious gunman called Fossors who has a dark past that’s coming across the landscape; this provides a crossroads of a larger scale fight and personal feud. It all comes down to one moment, one final showdown.

John Clancy: One of the specific challenges of the show is that it’s a spaghetti western and it’s all live. How can you create it all with lights and puppetry and music and this incredible score written by Peter Gaffney. There are these beautiful songs that the actors sing; there’s accordion, harmonica, cello, guitar…it’s just very cool. That’s the big challenge, you know, making something that’s larger scale on a small stage…we also have the actors changing character and moving props around and adjusting the set. I feel like you should never waste an actor’s presence. I don’t like to keep people waiting in a green. This group is more like a band than a group of cast members.

two.one.five: How did you get involved with Brat?

BGD: The company selected me as the artist in residence a year ago. They really just took a chance on me. When I started coming up with the ideas for this play, it just felt like it fit the aesthetic. Once I started having these very specific ideas for a play, Brat assembled this skeleton crew of John, Peter, and I as the lead artists. They also put me and John together in a mentorship program where John was my mentor…the show really does fit in with their aesthetic. It’s very rock ‘n roll and keeps you on the seat of your pants. It’s bending genres where it can’t be pinned down yet it’s still theatrical and still very much an event to experience.

JC: Brat wanted to pick a piece that makes a great evening out. What you end up watching was very carefully put together. Their artistry is very particular and very thought out and thorough. It’s a great deal of fun. It’s an environmental piece of sorts. Brian and I talked in the very early stages of what this play could be and we both shared a very similar aesthetic. What’s really interesting about the Artist in Residence program is they had a lot of applicants. They didn’t go with a crazy post feminist, they went with this weird married guy. When Peter came in with his ideas for the music, it was amazing how extraordinarily we meshed. It’s very rare that a writer, director, and composer spent a majority of the time working together on a play…many companies have this unhealthy hierarchy where the writer comes up with something then the director says yay or nay and the designers can’t even speak until tech week. As opposed to Brat where, as a writer, you can get your ideas out there to everyone involved. We’ve probably had the upwards or 30 or 40 or 50 people weigh in on this play.

BGD: I only had a half page summary of what I thought it would be initially; we weren’t sure if this could be produced at first. I started to write this in a very conscious and unconscious way because I wound up having to write it so fast in order to get the script together. I’d go from image to image. I had problems with the first draft because I had created over 45 different characters, had no music, and it would have lasted about 3.5 hours. It was great working with the other cast members because people would latch onto these ideas in the story and say, “I want more of this.”  For example, I decided that there needed to be a character with lockjaw. Everyone agreed we needed to keep that. We were so fortunate that we could find an actress who could nail that. She’s not able to speak, yet she has the freedom to say whatever she wants. It was important to me to have someone demonstrate what that could mean in a town like this.

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two.one.five: This is for John: What draws you to the off-Broadway spectrum? What do you look for in a play? What makes one worthwhile, in your opinion?

JC: I like to have fun.  We all decided to work in the theater, not in an office, not on a construction site.  We’re allowed and in a way charged with providing entertainment, fun, excitement and sometimes a little craziness for everyone else who doesn’t work in the theater.  So I look for projects that make me smile and laugh.  Also, anything that I have no idea how to do.  Projects that force me to learn new techniques, new tricks.  And beneath that, I like to sit with shows that are dealing with larger issues, things that can’t be spelled out, things about us, our country, our ethos, how we behave, who we are.

two.one.five: Is this your first “rodeo” with the western genre? Sorry, I had to.

BDG: It is my first genre play…. what struck me as I worked through the writing is that I assumed it would be different, but so much of it was the same as how I write. It’s still that world of character, objective, obstacle. That never changes for me. Some of the methods the characters used was different. But not that different, just bigger. intimidation becomes deadly, that sort of thing. The other thing that I do as a writer is let these images or thoughts float and find a home. For a western, rather than conceiving of those images myself I used classics from the genre: the showdown, stalking across the wilderness, the campfire.

two.one.five: For John: what really convinced you to go forward with this play?

JC: Well, it was a job, which was great. It was also a challenging script. Brian and I talked a bit about it and wound up hitting it off quickly. He eventually handed me this script that was just epic and massive. Of course, my initial reaction is how much needed to be cut, but it was still epic and extraordinary. It was truly a challenge, which, as an artist, I’m always looking for things like this. I just really fell in love with the town and the world that Brian had created and the authenticity of this play. Most people thing it’s easy to parody cowboy stuff. You’ve seen that a zillion times. Brian didn’t go down that route. I really loved the challenge of scripting away a lot of the clichés of our past and of the myths associated with cowboys and the old west and get down to the hard reality of it. These people were some incredibly brave, tough people with a great deal at stake and they had to fight for it. I like to do stuff that has a lot to do with this country. The ambition of the piece and its unique take on this country really spoke to me…and it’s funny! We have some absolutely classic lines that just kill you. We have lines that you hear in every action movie you’ve ever seen. It’s just great!

BGD: Yeah, it really just takes you…our goal is you should feel like you might have walked into the wrong bar. But yet, at the same time, there’s some really funny stuff that allows watching this harsh realty worthwhile…This follows the spaghetti western in big moments: the anti-hero with a mysterious past, the town torn in two, the showdown. But I it’s think how we get to those icons or tent poles of the genre that’s pretty specific to this show.

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Janelle Best and her Desert Stars

Janelle Best decided to take a keyboard home with her a few years ago. Instead of paying for it, she found it in a trash can on her way home. According to Best it was “rich people trash,” so the keyboard was in pristine condition, of course. During this time, she also had decided to make a commitment to quitting drinking and drugs and was in the market for a new hobby. Little did she know that this trash to treasure scenario would provide the foundation for Desert Stars, a project Best started with a friend of hers.

While Best plays the keys and sings in her band, she is no stranger to making music. She grew up playing in orchestras and taking violin lessons starting at the age of 2. The groundwork for Desert Stars began with Best and a friend of hers, then a few more friends of hers, and then a few more jumped in. Five years and many members later, the band– Best (lead vocals/keyboard), Carrie Ashley Hill (guitar/vocals), Eric Altesleben (guitar), Tim Edgar (bass), and Gregg Giuffré (drums/percussion)– has gained a following in Brooklyn (where they are based) and recently recorded a full length album. Their debut album, Habit Shackles, will be released on July 16.

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The music has a dream pop quality to it that can be likened to Beach House, early Doves, and My Morning Jacket through atmosphere, harmonies, and looped, repetition driven mellowness. Tracks like “With the Bears” and “Boys I Like” are great examples of these aspects. Best and Hill provide gorgeous harmonies while Edgar and Giuffré lay down the foundation to the songs. Then you have Altesleben chime in with some killer, pedal fused, shoegazey style guitar playing that’s pretty awesome.

two.one.five magazine had a great time kicking it with Desert Stars at PhilaMOCA just last week. The band provided an intimate performance under low lighting and had stock footage from a music video they made recently projected in the background. Their friends Heaven provided a fantastic set beforehand.

two.one.five: So, how did Desert Stars come to be?

Janelle Best: It started about five years ago with a friend. I was cleaning up my act and I quit drinking and doing drugs so I got really anxious and my friend told me to get a hobby. I actually played classical violin for about 17 years and my family had a piano and organ in my house growing up, so I was like, “I guess I could start playing music again.” I played in orchestras and all that. So I was walking up a street one day and there was this pile of rich people trash, which in New York it’s all over – rich people always throw away useful shit– and there were just these printers and a keyboard in the trash. So, I thought, “Holy shit, I bet that works since it’s in a pile of rich people trash.” I just pulled it out, got the little cord, and it totally worked. I’m not a pianist or anything, but I just locked myself in my room for two or three months and seriously started writing some music because I was going through some serious mental shit, you know? I got some friends to come play along and most of them were non-traditional musicians who were just winging it, like, dumpster diving music where you’re going to make something sound good out of an old tire iron or something. That’s how we got started, we got shows and it started attracting other musicians who were beginners. Eventually our line up shifted to what it is now.

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two.one.five: I really love that story.

Best: Yeah, we just recorded a fucking album, I can’t even believe it. We played Bowery Ballroom which is the mecca of all the music I go to see. When we got up on stage I seriously teared up. That’s the place where I get to see all the bands that I love so when we got up there I was really emotional.

two.one.five: You got your time to shine on that stage — that’s really exciting.

Best: This is our first time playing in Philly. I went to college at this place north of Pittsburgh called Edinboro University; they have a really great art program there. I moved there from Macon, Ga. Before that I went to College of Charleston for a little bit. Carrie is also a southerner from Texas.

Carrie Ashley Hill: Yeah, I was coming from a similar place before the band…I was just going through a hard time. I had written a couple of songs right before I started hanging out with Janelle and then we realized I could harmonize well. Now I’m playing guitar, too. It’s been great because the band gave me a chance to learn I could actually play. Desert Stars began with a lot of girls who weren’t really trained as musicians necessarily but really liked music and we just started playing music we liked. And then it morphed and the guys joined. Gregg is so good at drumming – it really just takes having a great drummer to lay down the foundation. We played a show at Webster Hall with him and we were blown away. We were like, bam! We turned into a real band.

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two.one.five: With your classical training, do you like to follow any particular type of theory?

Best: No. There are a lot of things I like about classical music – lately that’s all I’ve been listening to. I like composers who use a lot of repetition. I like to include lots of harmonies too, so when Carrie came into the picture we were able to include that more…I played violin for 17 years and I also played cello and viola when I was in art school, but that doesn’t transfer to the piano. I know what a chord is when I hit it and I just build from there. I’ll bring the band in when I put something together and it gets a little frustrating sometimes because they’ll be like, what chord is that? And I’ll be like, I don’t know!! You tell me!

two.one.five: So when you make songs you come up with the idea and the band chimes in later?

Best: Yeah, I’ll start something and bring the band together to jam on it and we just roll from there. It’s really laid back and we just have fun with it.

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two.one.five: Do you have any particular influences you like to note?

Best: I mean I was a kid of the ’90s so I listened to a lot of radio, especially radio in Atlanta. Macon was a dead place. My dad used to live in Philly so I’d come up and visit when I was a kid and he’d take me to Tower Records and I’d get all the indie magazines and read about the bands that sounded fun. This was before the Internet and all that shit. I’d send a check to these bands and get an album sent to me – mostly bands from Washington state and that area. I collected a really wide range of albums and artists that a lot of people even today wouldn’t even know. I had obscure taste but I also really love your shoegaze, blissed out, reverb washes – I think that stuff sounds beautiful. The whole goal when I write music is to write something that I want to listen to. I really think when our guitar player Eric rolled in, who is the pedal master, the sound changed…playing with these guys has been really awesome. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Low/Photo by Kate McCann

Just Announced: Low at World Cafe Live Friday, June 21

Photo by Kate McCann

Minnesota-based band Low, consisting of Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker, and Steve Garrington, will be making a welcomed appearance to the downstairs area of World Cafe Live on Friday, June 21. Tickets will go on sale this Friday, April 19, starting at 10am. Tickets can be purchased here. $25.

The band formed in 1993 through husband and wife Sparhawk and Parker. Their music has been described as “slowcore,” but this is not a description the band really digs. They are better known for their sparse arrangements and dense, gorgeously harmonized vocals. It is somewhat difficult to categorize them; however,  Allmusic.com describes them in a way that I find incredibly appropriate: “…delicate, austere, and hypnotic, the trio’s music rarely rose above a whisper, divining its dramatic tension in the unsettling open spaces created by the absence of sound.”

Low released their most recent LP The Invisible Way just this past March. It was produced by Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy.

The band was in the area in mid March to play an in-store concert at Main Street Music in Manayunk. The video for their live version of “Waiting” can be seen here.