Edward Burnett chats to Prague band Bottled Fish about their latest EP, methods of recording their songs in a pandemic and their favourite films of all time.
RNRR: Hi Bottled Fish, would you mind introducing yourselves to our readers unfamiliar with your work?
BF: Well, Bottled Fish is a indie-rock band based in Prague. We are mostly inspired by such bands as Radiohead, CCR, Joy Division, Depeche Mode and many others. I have formed a band a few years ago with a couple of friends, but most members have changed several times. The band members are bass player Nikita, our drummer Alex and me, Asya, lead singer!
RNRR: You talk of inspirations for the band there mentioning both Radiohead and Joy Division. Both bands have lyrics with very deep meaning and often depressing stories are documented in their music. Would you say that your music also goes to dark places when needed and manages to convey that same almost depressive vibe that is so unique to the few bands mentioned?
BF: Well, for me my music is not depressive but more sad maybe. The lyrics are full of reflection- many songs are about human behaviour, personal responsibility, politics, relationships. At the same time it is not too straightforward, so I am curious if people always get it right.
RNRR: Do you ever feel challenged to write music about something completely different? Or if the topic of the lyrics doesn’t change, are you ever tempted to mix up the genre somewhat?
BF: I never choose what I am writing about to be honest. I just get an idea and try to tell what I am thinking about at that moment. I do have some songs about love also (laughs)! Genre is also a big topic. Originally there were just two guitars, bass and drums. Now we try to experiment a little bit with electronic music. I had an idea of creating a fully acoustic album with piano songs. I hope all this will happen after we release our debut EP!
RNRR: That is a perfect segway to talk about the debut EP then now that you’ve mentioned it. What can you tell Rock N Roll Reports about it? How many songs do you plan for KT to feature and what does it mean to finally have your work out in the world as a fully fledged EP?
BF: Work on this EP was rather complicated. We recorded everything by ourselves at home and we really had to study a lot: mostly about technical part. We played a lot with sounds and samples. But I think that we achieved the goal - we wanted EP to be conceptual. It is. We had an idea to tell about and it is all about that idea.
RNRR: Was this technique due to the Covid outbreak? Would you have gone about the recording differently in a situation without the pandemic? Do you feel that in hindsight, recording at home has worked to your advantage?
BF: [Asya]: Well, I think that thanks to outbreak and quarantine I had more time for music. It is surprising how long does social contact take. [Alex]: I believe that every musician should learn to do at least some recording at home. It helps you to hear your music the way other people will listen to it and gives you a lot of control. It gives you room for experiment, and I believe it’s the easiest way to learn and practice orchestration that you need playing in a band. Answering the question, I think that we would’ve recorded most of our songs at home with or without the pandemic.
RNRR: So you think quarantine had a positive effect on your music then?
BF: I think it had positive effect on my productivity. It was like pause, so many people were able to take a break and focus on one thing.
RNRR: Who would you say is your all time musical hero? You cited Joy Division as an inspiration earlier, would you say Ian Curtis stands at the forefront for heroes for you?
BF: [Asya]: Well I have listened to Radiohead since I was 10 years old and since then I’ve listened to many bands but I would say this is my inspiration 100%. I think that they always tried to do everything their own way and they’ve had success doing exactly this. For me, that is marvelous.
RNRR: How about you Nikita?
BF: [Nikita]: I can’t say that Ian is a hero. I can’t divide him from the band, because when I am listening their music it a whole band deal. But after listening Joy Division I decided to make a band. There are a lot of interesting musicians I like to listen to but I can’t say they are my heroes.
RNRR: Finally yourself Alex?
BF: [Alex]: John Congleton (The Paper Chase, John Congleton And The Nighty Nite).
RNRR: What does the band get up to outside of making music? What do you do to take a break from writing new songs?
BF: [Asya]: Well, probably, on the contrary, we take a break from life and write songs (laughs)! When I need to relax I do gardening. It really calms me down. I love watching movies a lot as well as that I am real series maniac! Although I wouldn’t say I need to take break from writing songs. I never get tired of music.
RNRR: So Asya, what are your favourite films? Do you feel that films are as important as music in conveying emotions and morals to wide audiences?
BF: Yes surely! All arts are doing this - they show something and explain things on emotional layer. Well, it will be long list of films.. I would name Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish’ and ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’. The last is genius in a way it integrates images and music: you even feel cold when it is winter or when heroes are suffering. ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘Cloud Atlas’ are also in a list. These are movies that make me cry a lot!
RNRR: How about you Nikita?
BF: [Nikita]: For sure films are as much important as music. Maybe a little bit more important because a film gives one more dimension, a visual one.
My top 5 films are - ‘Brick’, ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘The Dreamers’, ‘The Wrestler’.
RNRR: Alex, what is your opinion on the matter?
BF: [Alex]: It will be easier for me to list my TOP-3 directors: Edgar Wright, Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle. I don’t know if it’s correct to compare these media, especially regarding the importance. Although I definitely think that films are much more powerful than music. An average movie will guide you through a coherent story, a ton of emotions. It will teach you to solve at least one problem, how music and emotions are related, and much more. An average song will mostly amplify your feelings. This is important as well, as it will help you live through the moment, but, as I said, it just works differently, and the purpose of this medium is different.
RNRR: Finally, we ask this question to every guest we have on Spotlight and it’s always a pretty big deal. If you’re going to be stranded on a desert island for the rest of your days with only one album to ever play again, what are you picking and why?
BF: [Asya]: That is so haaard, but just due to nostalgia I will choose Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ purely because it is my first favourite album. I listened to this for the first time when I was 10. Many songs are on here to cry out loud when you are alone (laughs). [Nikita]: ‘Stadium Arcadian’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers. There are all types of songs included, for dancing, for crying, for hot days, for lonely nights. Also it is a pretty big album with 28 songs! [Alex]: I'd prefer to be there without any music. Any song you set as your alarm quickly becomes the song you hate. The album you have with you stranded on a desert island becomes your requiem.
RNRR: Some varied picks there with really brilliant reasons as to why you chose them! Also very interesting to go with the no music option there Alex! Thanks for being on Spotlight and we will be sure to update the page with any news from your camp in the future!
If you would like to find out more about Bottled Fish and keep up to date with their news, the links to their social medias are below via the icons:
Edward Burnett chats to Canadian singer Michelle Treacy about her new song 'Time Off From A Letdown', her future career plans and the time she sang live with Lady Gaga.
RNRR: Hi Michelle! How are you doing? Would you mind describing what genre you perform for those of our readers unlucky enough not to have heard your songs?
MT: Hi Ed! I’m doing great. Most people know me as a pop artist but I’ve just recently released a new song called ‘Time Off From a Letdown’ that leans more psychedelic rock.
RNRR: Brilliant! You’ve teased us there with that new song of yours and we will definitely come back to that later on. However I’d like to first go back to the very beginning and ask you what your earliest musical memory was? What albums did your parents play to you as a kid which have stuck with you all these years?
MT: My earliest music memory is dancing and singing around in my underwear at 3 years old to ‘Oops I Did It Again’ by Britney Spears. My brother brought me up on Avril Lavigne, Madonna, Spice Girls, Paula Abdul, Amy Winehouse and Kyle Minogue. The list goes on.
RNRR: Some great picks there for sure. So what made you want to follow a career in professional music? Was there a tipping point when you decided that was what you were going to do and nothing else would suffice?
MT: I’ve just always known. There was no moment or point per say. I just had a gut instinct that this is what I wanted to do ever since I was a baby.
RNRR: That brings us round to the present nicely and of course we have to talk about that new single of yours that you mentioned! So what was the thinking behind ‘Time Off From a Letdown’, what do the lyrics mean to you?
MT: Thematically, the song represents the feeling of letting everyone down; however, the reality being that you are only letting yourself down by putting others first. It is about refocusing on yourself, as I have spent the last couple of years doing just that after going through such a dark time in my life. The cinematic video is a beautiful representation of this created by an all-female team. It is a piece of art in it's purest form, and I hope you take something from it.
RNRR: Was the process of creating this song lengthy in comparison to your previous singles or do you find that no matter the song, they all take roughly the same amount of time and care?
MT: There’s no set time or care per song. It’s all different. I care about each song I write. But the process is always different.
RNRR: With the pandemic, we’ve sorely missed live music of all kinds. What have you missed more, attending live gigs or performing your own?
MT: I don’t miss one more than the other. I miss live shows so much. I miss getting sweaty and screaming lyrics. I miss the ringing in my ears after a loud show. I miss people. I miss it all.
RNRR: While on the theme of live performances, you famously sang ‘Born This Way’ alongside Lady Gaga back in 2014. What does an experience like this do for a young musical artist? What was it like getting close with Lady Gaga?
MT: This experience changed my life and launched my career. After this I got signed and released Armageddon which landed on Billboard Hot 100 for 16 weeks. It was an absolute dream. Gaga is great. She is incredibly kind to me anytime I meet her. I’m grateful.
RNRR: For those that don’t know, you’re from Ottawa, Canada. What’s the best thing about Ottawa? Do you find your living environment affects your music in any way?
MT: I love Ottawa because it has a small town feel. I love the river and the bike path. I love the whole vibe of the city. It’s just so chill. This environment is great to make music in. It’s so laid back. Most people who do music live in Toronto tho which is why I’ve moved.
RNRR: What do you like to do outside of making and performing music? Do you have any interesting hobbies?
MT: I like eating food, teaching music and cleaning. Haha so boring!
RNRR: Where do you see yourself in two years time, post-Covid, as a musical artist? What do you hope to have achieved by then?
MT: I’m hoping to get signed to a label that really fights for me and loves who I am. I hope to have new music out and start touring. Who knows though with covid.
RNRR: Finally, here at Rock N Roll Reports we ask the same most important question at the end of each Spotlight interview as I’m sure you’re fully aware. The old famous desert island question. One album, for the rest of your days on said island, what are you picking and why?
MT: CTRL SZA. It’s my favourite album of all time. Good for any mood and always pulls me out of the worst places. I still can’t believe it’s a real album. What a gift.
RNRR: A brilliant choice there as it does suit any mood as you say. It’s been a pleasure Michelle and we’ll be sure to update the page with any news from your front.
If you would like to find out more about Michelle Treacy or keep up to date with her latest news, you can find links to all her social medias below via the icons:
Edward Burnett chats to Brighton rock band YONAKA's Theresa Jarvis about what the band's debut album meant to them, why it is so great to live in Brighton and why she now wants to pick up playing chess.
RnRR: Hi Yonaka! First of all, how are you doing Theresa? Would you say that you have been managing to deal with the pandemic and lockdown well?
YONAKA: Hello, I’m doing well thanks! Lockdown has its ups and downs, a lot of music has been made and also to have the time to really think was nice. Yet at the same time I’m so ready to play shows and see all our fans again.
RnRR: Going back to the very start, what is your earliest musical memory? What was the first song, album or artist which majorly influenced you at a young age?
YONAKA: My earliest musical memory was dancing and singing along to the Spice Girls, Tina Turner and lots of Motown. Then the first time I sang in front of an audience was in a school play and I was dressed as a mouse singing S Club 7’s ‘Never Had a Dream Come True’ [laughs]. As for influences it was Whitney Houston for me. I was obsessed with trying to sing her big notes which I for sure did not hit! Pink and Mariah Carey were also important artists for me when I was younger.
RnRR: So on May 31st 2019 you released your debut album ‘Don’t Wait ’Til Tomorrow’. What is your proudest achievement from doing this? How great was it to finally have an entire album of your own on physical copy?
YONAKA: This was super exciting for us to have an album, our first album, a big piece of work. The most joy we get from it is from the fans. To know that we’ve touched somebody’s life with music that we have written is incredible especially when it has a positive effect. In that album I talk a lot about mental health and my own struggles which I know is a topic that a lot of people relate to. Many share the same experience so to know that it could have potentially helped is BIG news for us. Also just people hearing it and the crowd singing it along with me at the shows.
RnRR: The album is an intense, energy-charged ride which encapsulates themes of commitment and underlying devotion. Was it always the idea to cover these sort of topics and are they influenced by your own life experiences?
YONAKA: Yes the album is about my own experiences and ones that I have found people who are dear to me go through also. I didn’t intentionally mean to write about this stuff but it was the only thing I could write about and it was consuming my life. I found when I wrote about other people’s experiences it made me feel better.
RnRR: All of us in the musical world are missing being able to attend gigs and festivals greatly due to the current COVID pandemic. What would you say was your best show before lockdown? A gig where you really connected with the crowd and everything just went right?
YONAKA: It was our last london headline show for sure. The energy was on fire and it just felt like magic. I mean that whole tour was magic to be honest. When the room is literally electric, aghhh! I can’t wait for it to come back.
RnRR: So the most important news coming from your camp this year is the preview of your new music we got this summer. ‘Ordinary’ debuted during your live performance on Twitch back in July. Is this going to be your next single to be released? The song is about getting away from a situation or time in your life which is no longer right and not settling for the norm anymore. What inspired this song and why did you choose to release it during this summer? Have you got more new music in the pipeline?
YONAKA: So ‘Ordinary’ isn’t actually the next single to be released, we just wanted to give a sneak of what we’ve been doing. We’ve actually got a big single dropping early next year and it’s just ahhhhhhhhhh my favourite! It’s so BIG and empowering! I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. ‘Ordinary’ is great we are just putting finishing touches on it in the studio. It is taking its time but we’re turning it on it’s head. We have so much music ready now!
RnRR: You recently covered Taylor Swift’s ‘You Need To Calm Down’ for Spotify. How was that to cover? Is there any other songs you’re desperate to cover either on record or when live music shows are resumed?
YONAKA: Ahhh yes Taylor swift is just AMAZING and that song was so much fun to cover! I have recently been working on a little ‘happy together’ by ‘the turtles’.
RnRR: So away from the musical side of things, what are your biggest interests and hobbies? Have you watched anything good while in lockdown?
YONAKA: I love to cook and actually I just watched ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ on Netflix so now I wanna learn chess so let’s see!
RnRR: With the group being based in Brighton in the UK, what would you say is the biggest charm to Brighton? There is the seaside of course but what else allows you to really call it home?
YONAKA: So yeah the seaside is the best, then The Lanes is super cute. I dunno it’s just nice it’s like chilled and fresh air. I really like that you can look out at the sea for miles and not stop, it’s so beautiful.
RnRR: Finally is the most important question we ask all our guests. If you were stranded on a desert island (which somehow has electricity!) and you can only play one album ever again, what is each member picking and why?
YONAKA: Ok so I would choose either ‘The College Dropout’ by Kanye West or Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’. For George it’s ‘Doris’ by Earl Sweatshirt. Rob has picked ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac. Finally Alex has gone with ‘Voodoo’ by D’Angelo!
RnRR: Some smart and varied selections there guys! Thank you for your time and I’m definitely not alone in saying that I’m very much looking forward to what comes next from you!
Photo Credits: Rory Barnes
If you'd like to keep up to date with YONAKA's latest news and releases then you can find the links to all their social medias via the links below:
Our Halloween themed week comes to a close with one final special feature, an interview with South-West London band Bosco Bosco. The guys talk to Edward Burnett about their origins as a band, their new Halloween single, ‘Witch Hunt’ and that one time Rachael dressed up as a candle...
RnRR: Hi Bosco Bosco, would you introduce yourselves to the Rock N Roll Reports readers who may be unfamiliar with your music?
BB: Bosco Bosco are a rock band from SW London experimenting with synths, nostalgia and a touch of 80's.
Formed of two siblings and their bass-slapping friend, the group create music through the influences of Bring Me the Horizon, Enter Shikari and Taylor Swift giving their songs a high energy, alt-rock sound.
RnRR: Nice to meet you guys! Now this high energy, alt-rock sound is becoming more and more popular these days on the main rock scene with bands such as Yonaka dominating. What do you feel is the reason for this surge in this genre of music?
BB: The great fact about alt-rock is that there’s variation between each band and their style. For many years now the indie and alt-pop scenes have been expanding- we feel it’s time for alt-rock’s moment. Woohoo! People love the energy and excitement of each track. Last year we actually went to see Yonaka perform in Brighton- they were so fun live and we look forward to seeing them and similar bands gig again soon!
RnRR: You mention wanting to see similar bands soon and with that comes my next question. Has the hardest impact from the pandemic been missing going to gigs or has it been a bigger blow not being able to perform your own shows?
BB: Both have been very difficult- going to gigs has always been one of our favourite things to do! We all had tickets for loads of crazy concerts this year- Taylor Swift, My Chemical Romance and Enter Shikari to name a few. So not going to gigs has been tough. We hate seeing what’s happening to the grassroots venues and how hard it is for them to stay open. We had our first headline show booked for April which had to be postponed. We were gutted as we had worked so hard for the last year in the studio. The gig poster is still up in the venue- it makes us sad whenever we see it but we’re determined to make the gig amazing when it finally happens!
RnRR: What was the last show that you managed to get to before the pandemic hit? While we are on that topic too, what your all time favourite gig or festival that you have attended?
BB: Oisin, our bassist, says the last gig he was able to get to was Crossfaith and Ocean Grove at Chalk in Brighton. Such a sick show! Matt saw Nile Rodgers, one of his guitar icons, days before we went into lockdown. He almost didn’t go because things were already starting to shut down but it’s now a great reminder of how good things are going to be once the live industry gets up and running again.
In terms all of time favourites- that’s a tough one. Rachel’s fave has got to be Don Broco in Paris- the energy was irreplaceable! Swinging her T-shirt around her head to ‘T-Shirt Song’ was not a moment to forget.
RnRR: Let’s talk about your music now, what’s the story behind you guys forming as a band?
BB: Matt and Rachel were jamming one day and wanted a bassist to play along. They had met their mate Oisin at youth music organisation, Groove Academy. Oisin was studying in Brighton and came all the way to London just to jam. It was only meant to be one jam session- they couldn’t get rid of Oisin after that!!!
RnRR: Your new single ‘Witch Hunt’ is seasonally themed around Halloween. Is Halloween an important season for you guys?
BB: With not being able to perform over the last few months, we wanted to do something a little different. As Halloween was coming up, we gave ourselves the challenge of creating a spooky EP in time for Halloween. So, it’s not Halloween itself that’s super important to us but it’s a fun time and a great excuse for some spooky tunes!
RnRR: What’s your best ever costume that you’ve worn at Halloween?
BB: Rachel's best Halloween costume was a candle. (She’s ginger and modelled her hair up to be a flame). She is very glad there is no photo evidence!
RnRR: Who would win in a musical fight between Rob Zombie and the entire cast of the ‘Thiller’ music video?
BB: Rob Zombie. No question.
RnRR: What does the future hold for the band following Halloween and as the pandemic restrictions hopefully lift?
BB: We’ve got a few secret songs up our sleeves that we cannot wait to share after the Halloween season. We also hope to gig as much as we can- we’ll no longer be sad when we see our gig-that-never-happened poster up in The Fighting Cocks.
RnRR: Where would you like to be as a band in 2 years time, realistically. Do you feel like setting goals this early on in your professional career is a hinderance or rather healthy competition with yourselves?
BB: We think it’s fairly important to set goals- they help with motivation and excitement. You can’t be disheartened however if goals are not achieved in the ideal timescale, especially at the moment. We hope to continue sharing music and expanding our fan base while hopefully getting some bigger gigs! We’ve all agreed to get band tattoos if we reach a certain number of streams….is that sad?!
RnRR: Finally, I ask this to all our Spotlight interviewees and is regarded to some as the hardest question of all time. You’re going to a desert island for the rest of your days but can only take one album with you to play. What are you choosing and just as importantly, why?
BB: If the whole band had to pick one album it’d have to be Automatic- Don Broco. This album inspired us as a band in our early creative days. We’ll never forget yelling the songs out of a car window as we drove through the Welsh countryside. We love it!
RnRR: Great choice there guys and thanks for your time! All the best for the future!
If you'd like to keep up to date with Bosco Bosco and their future releases, the links to all their socials are below via the icons:
Emma Furrier interviews The Soundtrack founder, Gemma Mastroianni, about grassroots music journalism in the age of digital media, embracing music as a lifestyle and her Halloween themed artist recommendations in this Shock and Soul Spooktacular edition of Spotlight! Join us in this conversation on women in music, BLM, and the importance of diverse representation.
RnRR: Hi Gemma! I think we should first start off by giving you the platform to introduce yourself. Who are you, where are you from, what do you do?
GM: I am Gemma of course, I work in PR by day. At night I do freelancing for a Toronto-based artist here. I do music PR, social media consulting, and here and there I will do some freelance projects with different artists. So I'll do press kits and things like that. By night I also run my blog and the concept is music as a lifestyle. For me, at the end of high school I saw the movie 'Almost Famous' and I was like "Oh my God, I want to do that!" and then in grade twelve, I decided I was just going to do it. I started doing interviews over Skype with random bands and then I worked my way up to Arkells. Max Kerman the singer called my house for it, my family home, and they were like, he'll call you at this time, and it was so weird 'cause I was still in high school. I was like, maybe this is a good sign, things are really going up. At the time, I was just posting these interviews on my Tumblr page. I started working with some Toronto-based outlets, moved to school, did show reviews, interviews and just kind of threw myself into it. I met a Toronto lifestyle blogger at a Junot Awards event. Junot Awards is like the Canadian Grammy's [laughs]. So, I didn't even know what lifestyle blogging really was but I was like, "that's sounds different from music, let's do it!" And then I kinda got into this whole influencer world and it happened very quickly. I got overwhelmed, and after a couple years after that, I was sick of it. I knew I needed a break from everything. I eventually decided to marry the two ideas because I knew I liked both things, but I didn't necessarily love the way I was executing them and I just felt like I wanted my own platform to do it, and do it the way I wanted to do it. So then, The Soundtrack was born.
RnRR: You mentioned how you're in Public Relations "by day" as an account executive. What’s that like and how does it influence your work with The Soundtrack?
GM: It helps me in terms of networking. I do influencer management, so I manage seven or eight different people across Canada, so it has given me a lot of networking skills and such. Learning how to interact with people, how to find contacts, all of that. Especially with brands, from that aspect, because I am starting to do a lot more of that. It also helps in terms of marketing. It keeps me creative working on different clients. I'll do anything from creating content, graphics, copy. I feel like I'm a jack of all trades [laughs] but it helps keep me creative and continue learning.
RnRR: You do really have to be in this field!
GM: Yes, totally! I could not agree more.
RnRR: Since The Soundtrack is a digital platform, spanning across various social media channels like Instagram, Spotify, your own website, blog, and podcast, where did that start? Was it originally created solely on one platform and then organically expanded into the others?
GM: So I started the blog and then I created social accounts for everything right away. I started it, but I didn't feel like I was ready when I started it. It was just like, "if I don't do this now, I am never gonna do it". So I just kind of did it to put it out there, then it took me a few months to find my groove, find a voice that I wanted to have on each platform. However, Spotify is a more recent thing. I can't even remember when I started it, because my timelines are all messed up because of quarantine [laughs].
RnRR: Cool! So where did your inspiration come from? Were there other accounts out there that inspired you, or was The Soundtrack created as a response to a lack of resources or public platforms in Canada for lifestyle and underground music blogging?
GM: Yeah, the thing is that I have always felt inspired by different music blogs that I worked with locally. Then there are also a lot of lifestyle bloggers that I have met in my time, that I am influenced by. However, when I look at the two, they were very much separate things and knowing that I am passionate and like to have fun with both, it just felt right to marry the two. It feels like there are blogs that do one or the other, or both but very separately, whereas I feel like you can make lifestyle content with music. And unfortunately, I wanted to do a lot of it around concert-going and I was really ready to dive into that this year, but I can't, so it's tough but it's still a thing and I think I'm still doing an okay job at it.
RnRR: After I found your account, I started discovering more pages, not that they were doing the same thing, but I could see how the influences of like— the music is your lifestyle for people who are so passionate about it. That is the life they live, and everything revolves around that such as what they wear, what they listen to, who they surround themselves with.
GM: Exactly! It's just not talked about enough and I want to continue that conversation more, and I just feel like there are somany fashion bloggers, so many makeup bloggers. In reality, I like all those things, but I don't wanna just talk about that one thing all the time. It allows me to balance between different topics about my life.
RnRR: And by combining the two as well, I feel like it makes you more of a niche market, so you can be marketable to both sides of it, yet you are still unique in your own way. That would attract an audience all in its own, because you're not competing with a million other accounts that are doing the exact same thing.
GM: Exactly, yeah, and I feel like it is a different audience. I feel like the people who follow my blog aren't necessarily following fashion bloggers or whatever. It's a whole new audience and sometimes brands have been kind of confused by that, but I guess it's just kind of niche, as you were saying. I'm just hoping to make it more of a mainstream realization, that music is a lifestyle [laughs], it sounds so cheesy.
RnRR: I myself draw a lot of inspiration from women in music. From your posts, I can tell you do as well. Whether that be the artists themselves or anyone in the industry: the writers, the photographers, even the fans. Women hold such an enigmatic power within the music industry, yet are so often overshadowed. Have you felt this in your own work? Can you share with us your experience being a young woman working in the music and entertainment industry? How have you felt that has impacted you?
GM: I can't say I have had any major negative experiences. I of course have noticed that in certain environments there are not a lot of girls around. Whether that be in the media tent at a festival, it is pretty male populated. I also interned at an artist talent agency, but it was pretty half and half. I can say that a majority of my audience is male, ever so slightly. I think it is 53/47.
RnRR: The #MeToo movement and the Black Lives Matter movement have caused a huge pivotal shift in what people are posting and talking about openly on their platforms. As well as living through COVID-19 now, how has your perspective or approach shifted when covering certain artists or songs, or even brands you promote on your page?
GM: When that whole thing happened, I realized that I was apart of the problem in a way. I looked at the photos I was sharing of artists, and it was all white people. I even just look at my podcast season, last season, I think I only featured a couple of different people of color. I really realized that I need to do a better job and I made an effort to look into the indie black musicians. There are tons of them, and unfortunately it is just not being marketed properly. It's about making that effort to go out and cover those shows, artists, all that. When things do go back to normal, I am definitely going to be making the effort to go out and do that, and discover more artists. I think it is also an issue with the way it is marketed. As consumers, especially an average consumer, they're maybe not going out and looking to find new artists. Maybe they're looking at whatever is being put in front of their faces. It's a really big issue.
RnRR: I have been thinking about that a lot too. Look at the Spotify algorithms, your Daily Mixes and recommendations. You're constantly being presented pretty much the same exact thing every single day. There is really no variety in it, and I feel like they could do a better job about that.
GM: For sure, yeah. And as someone who kind of goes and actively hunts for new music and now with this in mind, there is so much out there that isn't being shown. You bring up a really good point about Spotify algorithms, that is very true now that I think about it.
RnRR: Not even just Spotify, but digital media in general. Platforms such as The Soundtrack, Rock N Roll Reports and everyone else out there, the independent writers who are out there doing it just for the passion of music, I think that is one of the best things about it all: you go digging and looking for the artists that deserve recognition and for their voices to be heard.
GM: Yes, yeah I totally agree!
RnRR: What is your favorite memory from your work thus far at The Soundtrack? Is there a particular artist you have interviewed where you’ve had a pinch-me moment? I know you’ve had the opportunity to interview some amazing artists like Kurt Vile, Metric, and Taylor from Local Natives. How was that?
GM: It was amazing. Probably interviewing Kurt Vile, I didn't expect him to be so legitimately chill. You look at him and you're like, "oh, he's a chill dude, but when you talk to him he's probably not gonna be like that". He was literally just like the chillest, nicest dude and he poured out so much to me. He was talking about his insecurities performing. I was asking him about music festivals and those versus playing an indoor show, and he was like "Yeah, you know I like it but like I'm nervous 'cause I always mess up, and whatever" but it was such a raw, candid moment. He was also talking a lot about his struggles with alcoholism and stuff, and how his wife gives him natural cures. He pulled out this box of different oils and stuff, like it was just crazy. Then he told me he liked my hat and that was great. That was probably the most memorable thing right now.
RnRR: How do you create these opportunities? Do you put the work in yourself, reaching out to artist’s managers and agents directly, or slide into the DMs? Or have you experienced these artists reaching out to you themselves? If there’s a balance of both, how do you manage that and choose which to pursue?
GM: I get a lot of emails a day, like a lot. It's overwhelming sometimes, so I can't even always open all the emails. However, sometimes it is DM'd. For instance, my favorite band, The Antlers, I got an interview with the singer literally through just DMing him. However, when it comes to festival interviews like the one with Kurt Vile... the festival lineup drops, and I pretty much just start reaching out as soon as possible, or maybe as soon as media stuff starts going. I look at the lineup, I take note of everyone I wanna interview, I find out who their PR is and I just start sending out pitches. In short, just consistent communication.
RnRR: Since Halloween is right around the corner, what would you personally endorse as your Spooky Season jam? What song or artist really gets you in the Halloween spirit? Especially when it comes to witchy women, there’s such an archetype there. Do you find it overdone or empowering?
GM: I think it's cool, like why not? Why not embrace the season and I think music is such a good way to get into the Halloween season. I think "witchy women" is cool, let's keep it up [laughs]. My favorite witchy woman right now would probably be Luna Li who is Toronto-based. She's so cool. Another one I really like is Witch Prophet, who is also Toronto-based, name very fitting. For fall, I really like anything off the new Fleet Foxes album, I've been listening to that like every morning.
RnRR: What does the future of The Soundtrack look like? Is there anything exciting in the works that you can share with us?
GM: I'd say it's pretty TBD right now. I can't wait to get out back to shows and make a lot more content. I want to make content about what I'm wearing to the show, where I'm going to eat and have drinks before the show.
RnRR: The whole experience!
GM: Exactly! Exactly, yeah more in-person interviews, I'd love to get that up on Youtube. I'm starting my podcast back up this week. That's the future of it, but right now with quarantine, I'm just vibing, creating whatever I feel good about.
RnRR: Is there anyone you think we should be listening to? Do you have a favorite Canadian musician?
GM: Lower Dens, Steve Lacy, Teen Daze, The War on Drugs, Kid Bloom. In terms of a Canadian artist, I'm going to recommend Kay Tranada.
RnRR: With every Spotlight Interview that Rock N Roll Reports does, our very last question is always if you were going to be deserted on a desert island, and you could only bring one island with you, what would it be? What is your desert island album?
GM: Oh, it's gotta be the first Tame Impala record, 'InnerSpeaker'. It has all the ups and downs and in betweens, every feeling I need to feel. Lots of layers.
RnRR: Awesome, that wraps things up for us today Gemma, thank you so much!
GM: Thanks for having me. It's so kind of you to think of me!
RnRR: Of course! It was my pleasure. Plus, I feel like we are kind of the same person. Gemma and Emma. There we go.
GM: I couldn't agree more.
If you'd like to keep up to date with Gemma and The Soundtrack, all the social accounts are available below via the icons:
Edward Burnett sits down to talk to American powerhouse singer Valencia ahead of her new single release 'Amen'. She talks about her songwriting process, the pre-single release nerves and her love for travelling.
RnRR: Hi Valencia! How are you doing? Would you mind explaining your act and genre to readers that are unfortunate enough not to have heard your music?
VALENCIA: Hey, I’m doing fantastic! Of course not! My act/genre is Contemporary R&B. The base of it is R&B but you’ll hear a lot of different influences from sounds inspired by pop, soul, electronic, classical, and more! I love a good unique creative sound, it makes my soul happy.
RnRR: You mention that your music has many influences, who would you say were you’re biggest influences growing up and who inspired you to go professional on the music scene?
VALENCIA: Ooo, great question! I was influenced by so many dope individuals it’s hard to say. A lot of old school artists for sure like Prince and Chaka Khan. If I had to name just a few that I really obsessed over (laughs) it would be Solange, India Arie, and Janelle Monae! Also, the creativity that Missy Elliot exhibits so effortlessly visually, is so inspiring. As far as who inspired me to go professional on the music scene, first off I would definitely have to give a big shoutout to my group of loved ones who continuously encouraged me and still do even to this day. Finally, my vocal Coach Ametria Dock also, who a few years ago helped groom and build up my confidence which made me realize the direction I wanted to go in. I had never had that kind of mentorship before so it was so important for me.
RnRR: While we are talking about going professional, how did it feel when you got your first music out into the world? When it was official and you’d got your own published song out there, what was that like? Can you give any words of inspiration for artists and bands who are on that step currently, ready to make the jump or trying to?
VALENCIA: The first song I ever released was ‘Seasons’ and I don’t think words do justice to the feelings I had during the time of its release really. I was a ball of emotions and nerves. I was putting out a work that was now available for strangers and recognized faces to judge, possibly hate, or love! Yet at the same time, it was mine. My art that I had finally shared with everyone. Luckily, the feedback for the song was so overwhelmingly amazing that it encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing. What an amazing feeling. I encourage artists and bands to leap. You have to start! Feel your feelings, both nerves and excitement, but don’t allow them to tell you to quit or not to put out your work. Also, utilize the beauty of the digital world to your advantage and share your gift with as many people you can. And finally, take the time to learn and study how to best release your music. Be a master of your craft and know that I’m rooting for you!
RnRR: On the topic of upcoming artists, who have you been listening to recently that’s caught your ears in particular? Anything or anyone during the pandemic that you’ve been playing on repeat a lot?
VALENCIA: Ah, fun question! I think I’ve had Teyana Taylor and Victoria Monet playing the most as of late! Also, I’ve had ‘My Future’ by Billie Eilish on repeat! I’m obsessed. She’s definitely one of my favorites!
RnRR: Some great picks there from some talented women in the music industry. Let’s now move onto your music personally and more specifically your latest track, ‘Vibe’. The single recently hit 100 thousand streams on Spotify. What was the thought process behind this song and what does it’s lyrics and purpose mean to you as it’s creator?
VALENCIA: Oh my god yes, that was so exciting. The crazy thing is, as much as I wish there were this unique story and process surrounding the making of it, it really was just a matter of it made me feel good as I was writing the lyrics to the music. I pretty much freestyled it and BOOM, there was ‘Vibe’! I think I completed it in like 30-45 min, if that. The lyrics basically reminded me of good times, childhood memories, and happiness. The purpose definitely became to make the listener feel good inside.
RnRR: An incredibly short writing process for such a powerful song! With that in mind, would you say that the process of creating your fresh new single was the same? What does this song mean to you know that you’ve already got a budding discography to your name? Do you now feel settled as a professional and chilled in the real ease of music or do those nerves and that sense of anticipation never leave you?
VALENCIA: Thank you! Oh I kind of wish the writing processes were the same. But my new single, ‘Amen’ was the complete opposite! There was a story behind it, and it seemed like it took forever to complete. It was one of those songs that I had to keep coming back to before finally finishing. I began writing it 01/01/2019! And here we are well over a year later finally about to see it released on 16/10/2020. Writing can be so tricky sometimes! But the process is still one I’ll never not appreciate and love. This song means “bring on the challenge!” It’s runner up after ‘Vibe’, so I think the pressure is totally different for me. I feel more settled but I think I feel more of a personal battle with myself as a perfectionist and wanting to outdo what I previously did. I know this isn’t super healthy, but that’s where I am! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the “anticipation” feeling but the nerves I had when I first released a song have definitely evolved into more of an excitement feeling.
RnRR: After the release of ‘Amen’, what does the future hold for you? Are you planning any socially distanced gigs and shows or is ‘Amen’ going to feature in a larger project further down the road like another studio album or EP?
VALENCIA: I hope to start preparing more events (digitally and social distance approved) that will allow me to continue to connect and engage with my audience. They definitely deserve that. I do have a couple already lined up that I hope you’ll stay tuned for. As far as it being a feature on another EP or an album, I won’t get any hopes up but I will say, after its release I will be in complete writers mode! I have some super dope individuals I’ll be working with— so I’m pretty excited!
RnRR: Do you find that collaborations can be the most fulfilling of musical projects? What do you see as the pros and cons of working with other artists on songs?
VALENCIA: I think they are important for several reasons. I can’t wait to do more! When collaborate with other artists I feel like the pressure is on. It’s a challenge to want to do your best. A friendly competition almost but in the best way possible. I feel like it’s always a plus to feed off another creatives energy. Which is a pro in my opinion. Another pro is being able to be introduced to each others’ audiences! That’s so important if you’re looking to expand your fanbase. I think a con could definitely be possibly not seeing eye to eye, or having a different vision. But at the end of the day, it’s all a learning experience that’s more than likely needed.
RnRR: Now moving away from the music, what would you say your biggest hobbies and interests are other than songwriting? Have you mastered any new talents during lockdown amid the pandemic?
VALENCIA: I absolutely LOVE creative writing. That’s why I enjoy directing all of my music videos. But something totally outside of music that I absolutely love is traveling! If I weren’t an artist I’m pretty sure I’d be a traveler or vlogger. Ah, during the pandemic I’ve definitely locked in on growing in my craft. I’ve been studying a lot of music business but aside from that I’ve been practicing dancing more! It’s kind of embarrassing but fun (laughs)!
RnRR: What would you say your favourite country you’ve traveled to and why? Is there anywhere you’re yet to go to that you’ve been wanting to visit?
VALENCIA: I have a few favorites (the United Kingdom being one!) but the experiences I have had in the Netherlands, Amsterdam specifically, are just irreplaceable. I go pretty much every year for King’s Day! Such a beautiful place. Yes! I’m so ready to explore places in Africa. I also want to head down to South America too.
RnRR: Finally, the most important question which I ask all our Spotlight guests, if you’re deserted on an island and you can only ever play one album ever again for the rest of your days, what are you taking with you and why?
VALENCIA: Oh my god! This is literally the hardest question you could have ever asked me. (Laughs), yikes! I would bring a greatest hits of all time compilation album because listen, I have ADHD and I need a switch up from time to time! I’ll leave it up to the viewers to decide which one it’ll be.
RnRR: A good answer to make sure the music stays fresh even when repeated continuously! Thanks for your time Valencia and good luck for the future, we will be sure to update the page of any news or releases from your camp! ‘Amen’ is available now to stream via Spotify.
If you would like to keep up to date with Valencia or find out more about her and her music, the links to all her socials are below via the icons:
Edward Burnett chats to Keiko and Floss from London based, female trio BAXTR about their latest single 'Feathers', their musical heroes and the best things about living in the English capital.
RnRR: Hey BAXTR, how are you girls doing? How best would you describe your act to new listeners?
FM: Kitsch, flamboyant, geek rock meets alt pop, with a pinch of Brit Pop swagger and new wave theatrics. Made by 3 nerdy girls.
KJ: We are a positive breath of dreamspace pop. Three friends making music together that we want to share with you. Think of us as your best friends cheering you on one song at a time.
RnRR: How did all of you meet each other? Is it your friendship that drives the band forward or the collective aim to “make it” in the musical world?
KJ: It’s always been about our friendship and also (now this might sound a bit woo woo) but the energy and magic we feel whenever we play music together. It’s that feeling of utter joy that drives us forward.
FM: I don't think you sound woo woo, Keiko! There are definitely mysterious forces at work when us 3 come together.
Many moons ago we tried to make this work, but the timing was off and what started as band just rolled into us moving to London, living together, becoming best friends, occasionally making a riotous noise and never actually releasing any music! We all went away, honed our individual crafts and now, years later, the stars have aligned, we're two singles deep and we're feeling the alchemy more than ever. Never say never, as they say!
RnRR: What’s your biggest aim when creating new music? Your latest single ‘Feathers’ has a focus on the theme of body positivity. Do you always have a message in mind when it comes to your songs?
FM: For me, writing is about being a kinda storytelling Rumplestiltskin, weaving your experience and perspective, good or bad, into something (hopefully) of worth for someone else. We write because it's cathartic and fun, and if our songs can bring joy or give someone a musical lens through which they can make sense of their experience or world, then it all feels worth so much more. Some songs will be more cryptic than others but there will always be a kernel of truth at the centre of all BAXTR songs, and that kernel will almost always be sugar coated or shared in a joyful way, whether that means energetic arrangements and instrumentation, or optimistic lyrics. I've been through a lot of ugly stuff; we all have, and we want to purge that stuff and Rumplestiltskin the hell outta it all, both for ourselves and for you. Even if a song's message is a bit heavy, we'll never be shoe gazers, as nice as our shoes may be.
RnRR: Growing up, who were your biggest musical inspirations and who convinced you all to go professional?
FM: As a kid, The Beatles, Abba and Free. As a teen, Foo Fighters, Aerosmith, Damon Albarn, Ben Folds and Imogen Heap, to name a few. I'm very lucky to come from a supportive creative family who, for better or worse (ha!), never tried to talk me out of doing music professionally. My Dad is a songwriter and he taught and inspired me a great deal, but outside of my family the first person to really help make me feel I may be able to write professionally was my friend Charlie. He works in music, heard my shoddy early demos and really held my hand as I entered the industry, giving me some great opportunities and advice.
KJ: Michael Jackson - his showmanship and attention to detail always blew my mind. The realisation that I *have* to drum not just that I *like* to was a big sign that I wanted to go pro.
RnRR: What are your future plans? Do you have any new releases on the way
KJ: Yes! We are raring to go! We have lots of songs and so it’s just a case of getting them recorded . If we have it our way you may hear two more songs before the end of the year.
FM: We have so many tunes stacked up ready to be recorded! The next two singles will be the last 2 from this first batch of four, and that will complete the first EP. We'd love to plan more, but being in a band costs money so we are pacing ourselves and doing a lot of stuff DIY for now.
RnRR: Staying on the theme of the future, where would you guys like to be in a year’s time? What’s your goal for when normality resumes following the pandemic?
KJ: We would love to gig of course and put on some really special shows. In a year it would be great to think we might have released an album.
FM: BAXTR are itching to get out gigging and want to work to make our live shows tight, magical and almost immersive. We've only been a band since June and want to continue to pump out singles, but at the rate things are going I don't think an album release is out of the question for next year!
RnRR: Speaking of the pandemic, what have you all been up to during lockdown other than music? Have you learnt any new talents or gained any hobbies?
KJ: I have been investing in my home studios and have bought a few new mics so I can record from home as best I can.
FM: I've been writing my elbows off, but other than music, I have used lockdown time to learn a bit of Japanese, こんにちは! and have become an amateur Olympic biscuit eater. I also like to make art so have been getting into some colourful messes too.
RnRR: Yes I hear they're added that category to the next Olympic Games! You guys currently live in London. What would you say the greatest thing is about English capital city and does your environment ever influence your music?
KJ: I grew up all over the place but settled in south London when I was 11 and it was great being able to go and see gigs in my teenage years.
FM: I love how culturally diverse and vibrant London is. For me the best thing about being in a bubbling hub of creative industries is being able to access and work with so many talented fellow musicians, and absorb so much live music. People and their stories mostly inspire me, but they can be found anywhere! We all live in London but we meet and make music in a place that exists between asleep and awake - Dreamspace; a metaphorical place of creativity, friendship and safety. Kinda like an omipresent joy mathmos, that looks different to each band member, but feels the same for us all. We "go" there when we make music and the idea of Dreamspace definitely inspires a feeling, which is imbued in our music.
RnRR: Finally and most importantly, the Spotlight signature question. If you were all stranded on a desert island and could only play one album ever again, what are you choosing and why?
KJ: Oooh tough one. I think because I’m a big MJ fan I would have to say 'History'.
FM: 'Jagged Little Pill' by Alanis Morrisette - not because I think it's the best album of all time, but it feels like an old friend. It's a powerful time machine for me. When I hear the opening chords I'm immediately transported back to happy times. She covers a lot of emotional ground on that album and I feel like she's singing words that I could've spoken at some point. We want our music to be a friend to people. That album makes me feel the way I'd like to make people feel with BAXTR's music; comforted, reflected, and inspired to feel as if you can be whoever, or whatever, you want to be.
RnRR: Thank you for your time BAXTR and all the best for the future, we will be sure to update our page with any news from your side of things.
If you would like to discover more about BAXTR, their socials are all down below via the icons:
Edward Burnett chats to Ontario band Willy Nilly about the theme of existentialism in music, the band's songwriting process and their upcoming single 'Mystery Meats'.
RnRR: Hi Willy Nilly Band, would you be so kind as introduce yourselves to our readers?
WN: Sure so we’re an indie-rock/folk band from Kingston, ON that have been active for just over a year now. I always have a hard time comparing us to other musicians as we have a pretty wide range of sounds throughout everything we’ve written, exhibited even in the few we’ve released thus far. In the band is Owen Fullerton on guitar/lead vox, Max Tinline on lead guitar/backup, Reilly Donnelly on bass/backup and Devin Pierce on drums.
RnRR: Great to meet you all, so I guess we have to start with the origins of Willy Nilly. How did you all meet and why did you start this musical venture together?
WN: Well for me [Owen] I was working as a news reporter up north and had felt an increasing pull towards music. At that point I figured if I didn’t give it a shot then I never would so I looked into a couple music programs and landed on St. Lawrence College. All four of us met in that program. At that point I had only ever approached music as a hobby, so was a lot less experienced in putting together a song than the other guys. When I showed them stuff I was working on, they all liked it and when we started collaborating I realized pretty quickly some of the ideas they were bringing to the songs were a lot better than anything I could come up with, so we started to click pretty fast.
RnRR: Back to present day, how has the band been dealing with the COVID situation? Has the pandemic halted your creative progress as a group?
WN: In a lot of ways yeah. It felt like we were starting to gain some momentum locally in the months leading up to the pandemic and now not really having audiences to play to definitely puts a damper on that. On the other hand I was inspired to do a TON of writing early in the pandemic and once we started getting back together again we’ve been able to put together almost an album worth of songs that we really like. 5 of these songs will be on an EP released some time in November. I think recently it’s become more difficult than it had been early on. There’s still not a ton of opportunity to play shows, and as a band looking to establish itself it can be a little difficult not to be worried about the future of this industry. We’re just trying to stay inspired with new ideas and playing whenever we get the opportunity.
RnRR: On the topic of being inspired, which musical artists had an important impact on each of you growing up? Any acts in particular that convinced you to get into the musical world professionally?
WN: I think bands like Arkells, Hollerado and Kings of Leon are some of the biggest influences on our overall sound. Bands like Dr. Dog and Half Moon Run also in the sense our discography is very eclectic and one song can sound markedly different from the next. It’s interesting though because we come from some fairly different backgrounds. Devin is primarily a classics kind of guy especially bands like Guns N Roses and the Doors and Reilly is a country boy and is really into singers like Eric Church, Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers. We have all found a lot of interlap in our musical interest so we’ve made it work. For me personally my lyricism and writing is heavily influenced by Dan Mangan, Father John Misty, Gang of Youths and Frightened Rabbit. It’s the last one who really convinced me to get into music. After Scott Hutchison died I got heavily into Frightened Rabbit and some songs felt like he was articulating my thoughts and feelings better than I could do myself. Since then that has felt like something I really want to do.
RnRR: So moving onto music of the present, what would you say your aim is, as a band, when producing music? Is there any features you always have to ensure are present or any methods you guys employ which are unique when songwriting and jamming?
WN: I don’t know if there’s really a specific goal in mind and no reinventing of the wheel or anything. Normally the songs are written acoustically whether that be over the span of a few hours or sometimes as long as months. Then when we get together and jam them out they start to take shape pretty quickly. Our music sounds really different song to song, I think that’ll be exhibited on the upcoming ep and already has been on what we’ve released, so it’s really just about putting whatever we feel sounds right in the song for us.
RnRR: If you had to pick a current song that you’ve released that sums you up as a band well for a new listener, what do you recommend for our readers?
WN: Definitely our upcoming single dropping on October 2. Our last couple singles have been kind of stretching our range but I think the upcoming tune ‘Mystery Meats’ is really our sweet spot. There’s some songs on our first ep I would also say but we really rushed that one forward last summer just to have examples to send to venues and we’ll be re-releasing those 4 songs on our debut album.
RnRR: So that perfectly moves us on to your new music and upcoming release as you mentioned, ‘Mystery Meats’. Can you shed any light on the new single and what it’s about or are you keeping everything to do with it under wraps until it’s eventual release?
WN: For sure. It’s kind of just a broke man’s anthem haha. In a way like a cry of desperation reflecting on things being shitty but having a belief they will get better. Also kind of how trying to dive into music can be rewarding but also very demoralizing at times, more generally how trying to dive into something with everything you’ve got can really feel draining and overwhelming at times.
RnRR: Those are some very existentialist ideas. Would you say that existentialism is becoming a far more regular topic of discussion in the arts? This more profound wide scale with more and more music and films choosing to focus on that topic and themes similar with it. Why do you think such a suggested growth in this has occurred as creatives yourselves?
WN: Yeah I’d say you’re probably right about that. Hard to say why we’re seeing more of it, maybe we’re just seeing more of it come to light than we have in years past. I feel like the arts can kind of be a safe haven for weirdos a lot of time and now with everything being on the internet you don’t need to be radio friendly to make a mark. I mean frankly the old stories in movies and music have been told a billion times, I think for many they get boring both as a listener and an artist.
RnRR: Beyond existentialism, what other themes would the band be wanting to cover in future songs? Do you find the songs as a platform to talk about anything so that people can hear you loud and clear? Or would you rather say it’s to find a topic that your listeners can always relate to?
WN: I’m really just a write what I feel kind of guy. I’m not the most open person generally so I find the music can often act as a buffer to really be able to say what’s on my mind. I’m somebody who spends a lot of time in my own head and music feels like a good way to try to make sense of what’s going on. But I feel like the goal is to really find a sweet spot in between those two things you mentioned, I think we’ve touched on some pretty serious and important themes like drug dependency and depression on this EP but we try to make the songs sound as lighthearted as possible. While they are deeply personal at times, I try to walk that line where people can actually relate. It’s cheaper than a therapist I suppose!
RnRR: Moving away from the music now, what have you guys been during the pandemic and lockdown? Have you developed any new interests or honed different skills?
WN: I think we’ve all mostly just dove into the music a little more. All the guys have other music projects they’re a part of and Reilly is heavy into photography so enough to keep busy for everyone generally there. Other than that I imagine our lockdowns looked as uneventful as most!
RnRR: What are your plans for the future beyond the new single? Where would you ideally and realistically like to see the band in a couple of years?
WN: I mean we have a ton written already and we same to be currently running at a rate of two songs written per every song released. Our debut album was actually written and partially recorded before the pandemic but we decided to freeze it and work on some stuff that I had written early in the lockdown. I think realistically we can get a couple albums plus an EP or two out in the next couple years, and I’d really just like to be on the festival circuit around that time, assuming that still exists! So that’s really it I guess, it’s tough to say where I want us to be because I don’t even know where the music industry will be or what will change. If in two years we’re at a point where we can basically solely focus on creating music, I will be ecstatic.
RnRR: Finally the most important question that I ask everyone I interview on Spotlight. If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your days and could only play one album ever again, what would you as a band choose?
WN: (laughs) I don’t think we’d agree on one but we all are pretty big fans of KOL and Come Around Sundown is my fav album of theirs so let’s go with that.
RnRR: A great and democratic choice it appears then! Thanks for being on Spotlight and we will be sure to update the page with any news from the band.
If you would like to find out more about Willy Nilly and stay tuned for the release of 'Mystery Meats' then be sure to check out their socials below:
Edward Burnett chats to indie-rock act Howlin' Circus, aka Jafar Sandouk, about his motives for starting a musical career, his favourite food and his love for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
RnRR: Hi! First of all, would you mind introducing yourself to our readers and what you do?
HC: Hey, I’m Jafar from Howlin’ Circus. I sing, play guitar and write the songs.
RnRR: So where are you based and how does that, if it does, play into the music that you produce?
HC: I’m based in Toronto now. I moved from London, UK a few years ago. What I write and produce tries to connect to the core of the emotions that bind us, irrespective of place although it’s always grounded in the present. Toronto has an incredible music scene. So many good musicians pushing each other to improve.
RnRR: Yes, we’ve had a few guests from the Canadian music scene feature on Spotlight before showing the country’s knack for being the hub of quality indie-rock music. What’s your favourite thing about living in Toronto?
HC: Well during a pandemic it ain’t too fun. Yesterday I saw a grown adult woman taking a shit right onto the street just outside my window. I miss the good live music venues. The city has a lot of cool neighbourhoods which are all pretty self contained so you never need to venture too far for whatever you need.
RnRR: So how did you first get into music? What made you decide to do it for a living and not just as a hobby?
HC: There’s a lot in life that can’t be easily expressed. I always found it easiest to tune into my vulnerability with a guitar on my lap. Pain is that universal constant. You can’t really avoid it and I think music’s that one thing I’ve always been ok suffering for. It’s also a lot of fun obviously!
RnRR: Do you find other motivations other than pain when writing music? Does love ever factor into the process and your own personal experiences of this?
HC: Love and light are always there even in the darkest moments. And it’s always personal in some way. The very act of recognising the pain we suffer can be cathartic. It’s a recognition of some kind of truth that often goes unspoken. I feel like that’s what music is often about: tapping into the truths we so rarely feel comfortable acknowledging. And that includes “all you need is love”.
RnRR: So while we are still covering your earliest musical memories, what was your first ever guitar? What did it mean to you having the tool to create on a musical level?
HC: It was my sister’s acoustic guitar that she was learning on. It was one of those very cheap starter guitars. She gave up on learning years before and I found it in storage one summer and decided I’ll try to learn. It took me a long time to get any good at it. There wasn’t any moment where it all came together - I just kept trying and failing to get good at it and when I was ok on guitar I couldn’t quite sing with it. I’d lose hours playing it and nothing else really mattered when I got into it.
RnRR: On a similar vein, let’s talk about your musical influences. I know that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were a big one for you, tell us more about the impact their early albums had on your musical career. Also who else inspired you to follow suit and perform music professionally?
HC: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are a big influence for me. Growing up I was always looking for music that had honesty, heart and soul, whatever the genre. They can have a heavy rock song and a sweet acoustic folk song played on the same night. I was also into a lot of old blues. Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Etta James. That got me playing blues bars in London. I’d join these jam sessions every week to learn how to play with other musicians. Someone just shouts at the key and counts you in. I’ve always loved the spontaneity of music.
RnRR: Is Howlin’ Wolf where you got some inspiration for your act’s name? On this line of inquiry the occasional song of yours bares reference to B.R.M.C. with ‘Let Your Love Burn Out’ which is both similar in name and nature to ‘Love Burns’. Would you say this similar style of indie-rock has always been your end goal when it comes to genre aspirations?
HC: The name Howlin’ Circus was inspired in part by Howlin’ Wolf. I liked the idea of a circus. A sort of place where misfits and outsiders call home. I always felt a bit like an outsider. I liked the love songs that focused on regret, pain, that had a more real view. You can’t have incredible love and romance without that part too. I always appreciate honesty in music. Though as much as I’m inspired by the past I think we’re seeing across the board in art a desire to try new things and give a platform to new ideas. I’m trying to put my reality and experiences into my music as much as possible - and also the reality of the world as it stands today.
RnRR: Could you tell us more about your perspective of being the outsider and it showing in your music?
HC: As much as I can find a way to connect in a lot of the music I grew up with I didn’t really hear music from someone like me. Maybe that’s what ultimately got me into playing music. I’m the son of Iraqi immigrants who moved to the U.K. from Baghdad. That city has been bombed so often and that’s a big reason why anyone in the west even knows it exists. We’ve been demonised and considered less worthy than those we grew up around. I never really felt accepted as British growing up and I didn’t feel like I was fully accepted as Iraqi either. Art, be it music, TV, or whatever, is always richer when we get a new perspective on things. And some people out there might find it interesting to hear my perspective.
RnRR: So would it be fair to say you found solace in art when you felt rejected from the world? What are your plans moving forward with your music career as well? Any plans for new singles or gigs?
HC: Definitely. And it’s a way to find your place in the world. I’m working on new songs at the moment. I’m not sure when it’ll be possible to play shows. In Canada there’s talk of doing social distanced shows. There’s already been a few drive-in shows but if we can’t do it right then I’m happy to just wait it out. What’s positive about this period, if we can find something good in it, is it’s been a lot of time indoors, which has allowed me to just focus on the music and nothing else. I’m playing around more with different sounds, taking my time with it.
RnRR: So while we are on the topic of the future and your music, where would you like to be? Would you want to have a few albums released and be attracting larger crowds or is it more important to you to improve the music rather than fame? Aim in moderation or is the sky the limit in your opinion?
HC: All you can do is focus on the music. Once you start thinking about how people will receive it and if they’ll like it, share it, and all that, then being true to yourself becomes more challenging. Part of why we get drawn to artists is the authenticity. It’s hard to stay true when you’re thinking about whether or not this person or that person will like it. It’s definitely hard to keep your mind from going there. I guess we all want some sort of validation but you have to be content with your own.
RnRR: Let’s move away from the music now for a second, what would you say your biggest interests are other than music? Have you picked up any new hobbies or talents throughout this year’s lockdown?
HC: I’ve been reading a lot lately. Maybe it’s all the time spent at home. I’ve definitely got more patience to sit and finish a book in a day or two than I did before. Since lockdown restrictions relaxed a bit I’m back playing football (soccer over here). I’ve also been cooking a lot more. Making my own pasta from scratch and even pesto. There’s time for all that now but it would also be nice to go hug friends and family.
RnRR: What have you been reading? Are you a big football fan? Do you support a team in particular?
HC: 'Say Nothing' by Patrick Radden Keefe which is all about the Troubles. Unsurprisingly there was no mention of it when I was at school in London, so I really wanted to learn more about it. I also recently finished Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, which is about the effort to uncover Harvey Weinstein's many crimes. And most recently Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Music-related, I recommend Lizzy Goodman's Meet Me in the Bathroom, all about the early 2000s rock n roll revival in New York. I'm a big football fan but the kind that watches pretty much any team in the Premier League. I grew up supporting Blackburn Rovers because they had Alan Shearer, who was my favourite player at the time. I still try to catch their games but they're rarely ever on TV here in Canada.
RnRR: Staying on this break from music, what would you say you’re go-to meal is? Our last guest, Nina Anto, is a big fan of Italian food and especially pasta. Whereas other guests like Charity Shop Pop are more supporters of pizza. What’s your favourite meal?
RnRR: Great choice! So back to the music side, whats your next project, do you have something in mind, or is it a go as you come scenario? Any grand plans for delving into different genres or stick to what you enjoy?
HC: I’ve got a few songs in the works at the moment. I haven’t yet decided how I’ll be releasing them, whether it’s just singles, an EP or a full album. The process of doing it all at home during lockdown has given me the chance to delve into all kinds of sounds. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop lately, taking inspiration from the drums. I’ve been listening to old Arabic music, hearing some of the beautiful vocal melodies and string sections. With the home studio set up I’ve got in lockdown I’ve been able to play with all types of sounds. You might hear those influences on the new songs.
RnRR: I look forward to hearing them. I know indie-rock always benefits from a heavier presence of drums thanks to hip hop such as the first album released by the Arctic Monkeys. We’ve mentioned BRMC already but would you say that the Arctic Monkeys are also an inspiration in many of your songs?
HC: Maybe they were an inspiration by osmosis. I wasn’t a proper fan but they were always on the radio or a friend was playing their songs when I’d go over. You can’t always be certain where all your inspiration comes from but they’re a great band and if anyone thinks Howlin’ Circus sounds like Arctic Monkeys I’ll take that.
RnRR: So one of the biggest casualties that COVID has dealt the music world is the postponement of live gigs and festivals. How much have you missed both performing at and attending live shows and venues? What are your plans for returning to normality on this front?
HC: I’ve missed it a lot but not as much as being able to hug friends and family. Maybe normal wasn’t so great because independent venues were closing down even before the pandemic. But going out to see live music is so important. Hopefully this moment can help everyone appreciate that and figure out a way to bring back live music in a way that was even better than before and we can do more to protect independent venues. I’m trying to put it out of my mind for now because it’s impossible to tell when we’ll be able to all hug each other at a show and let loose and spread love rather than worry about spreading a virus.
RnRR: Finally, the signature Spotlight question and arguably, most important. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only pick one album to play for the rest of your days, what are you choosing and why?
HC: ‘Howl’ by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I’m actually listening to it right now. It’s got some blues and gospel influences, a lot of Americana and folk. From start to finish it’s beautiful. There’s not enough of that vulnerability in rock and roll. And it’s a courageous record, considering there was all this expectation on them to just release a loud punk rock record. I think it showed me you can be more than just one thing.
RnRR: A perfect choice which is befitting of your own musical act. Thank you for your time and we will be sure to update the page of news of any of your upcoming releases.
If you would like to find out more about Jafar and Howlin' Circus, all his socials, including his YouTube channel with his music videos, are below via the icons:
Edward Burnett chats to Warsaw-born singer Nina Anto about her time in England, the meaning behind her lyrics and her favourite pasta
RnRR: Hi Nina, would you introduce yourself and what type of music you make to our readers?
NA: Hi! I’m Nina Anto. I was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. In 2016 I moved to London to study vocals at British and Irish Modern Music Institute. I would label our latest release as indie-pop but usually, it’s hard for me to be stuck with one genre. I love experimenting, especially developing unique ideas together with my bandmates. We come from 4 different countries, which brings diversity to our music!
RnRR: So when did you first realise your love for music? What were your earliest musical memories and influences?
NA: It's a pretty funny story, my first memory when I realised that music is the most magical thing on this planet was December 2000 when I was 3 years old. My parents wanted to make me happy, so they decorated the Christmas tree with musical lights which were playing Christmas carols. The quality of the sound was super bad, but it made me realise that music is just something I connect the most with. I remember sitting on the stairs in front of this Christmas tree and listening to these musical lights. There was even a possibility of swapping songs! This is how the story started, later my parents bought me a keyboard, which I carried everywhere, and whenever they were taking me on a trip I was singing in the car all the way. When it comes to influences, hmm, my first musical inspiration was probably a Polish comedy group from the 50s and 60s called Elderly Gentlemen's Cabaret.
RnRR: A unique introduction to the musical world indeed then. So between these early musical memories and you moving to the British and Irish Modern Music Institute, when did you realise you yourself possessed a talent for music? What encouraged you to take the leap towards making your own songs?
NA: I realised that when I was about 5 years old and my piano teacher told my parents that I definitely should apply to music school. I got in and I spent 10 years being trained to become a classical pianist. This training was the hardest of my life. It cost me a lot, but I became extremely good at it. But one day, I realised that I don't want to become a classical pianist as everyone expected from me - my biggest dream has always been to become a singer, and I wanted to play modern music. At that point, I quit this classical piano career and started following my dreams. It was a big change for me: I had to swap from being great at something to being a beginner again. I was working my head off to reach a certain level with my voice, but it was worth it! After those years of training, British and Irish Modern Music Institute offered me a place and I started studying vocals in London! One of my biggest dreams came true! When it comes to songwriting, I wrote my first song when I was about 7 years old. It was a very simple song. I have never presented it to anyone - this song was very precious and personal to me and I did not want to share it even with my parents. This small experience made me realise that songwriting is a great way of conveying emotions. This is also how I deal with my feelings today! For example, our latest release 'Jestem' was written because my neighbours pissed me off...
RnRR: So that’s the perfect segway into what we are here to talk about, your single ‘Jestem’. You’ve began to say there what the general idea of the song is but can I push you further to discuss ‘Jestem’ and it’s origins and meanings to you?
NA: ’Jestem’ is about the duality of emotions. Shyness vs rebellion. I’ve always allowed other people to be who they want to be, but it was not always working in the other way around: people wanted me to think differently, be different, sometimes I felt that some people wanted to take my freedom away (this is also what my neighbours were trying to do - they hated me practicing in my room, they were telling me that I was walking too loud, talking too loud, in their opinion I was doing everything wrongly). At first, I was always apologizing. I was always in this fear mode. But one day I decided I will stand for my rights and that I cannot allow other people to take my freedom away. So this song is for everyone who is not feeling free or accepted. I believe It’s important to be kind to other people but it’s also important to respect ourselves. This last year situation with my neighbours wasn’t easy to handle, It made me feel sad and furious many times, but on the other hand, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my boundaries. Today I'm grateful I had such annoying neighbours, I wouldn’t have written this song without their ”help”.
RnRR: An interesting story behind ‘Jestem’ then. The lyric I find most interesting from the song is “I won’t let you close my mouth, I won’t let you stop my soul”. Given all that is going on in the world in current events, these words you write are bound to provide positivity and an important message to others, don’t you think?
NA: I hope so! These words are about an internal rebellion. For everyone... We need those internal rebellions to realize who we truly are, what’s our real identity, to start believing that we are important and that our voice matter, but also we should do it in the best possible way and never be violent towards other people! I’m happy that this time our song is in Polish so everyone in my country can understand not only emotions but also the lyrics, I think these words are needed there at the moment...
I hope this emotional message will encourage listeners around the world to search for their truest identity and will give strength to those who do not feel welcomed or accepted by others. I hope one day the world will become more tolerant and peaceful.
RnRR: That’s a powerful stance to take and one that has to be welcomed in this day and age. So let’s move onto your actual experience and enjoy ability when pursuing your musical career. Which do you prefer, playing live or recording in the studio and what are the perks of each for you?
NA: I prefer playing live! I love performing, especially when I know that my friends are in the audience and we can hang out after a gig. Performing in front of people when they are singing and dancing along Is such a powerful experience to me! when my band and I can give the energy to the audience and they are giving it back, I just love this energy exchange! When it comes to studio work is usually much more stressful than performing to me as It’s not only about going with the flow but there are many decisions to make. But when a producer is chilled and open-minded this process is also joyful and I usually enjoy it a lot. When I feel comfortable during a studio session I start experimenting and developing new ideas that I did not expect to have on a track before.
RnRR: So with an eye towards the future, what are your musical plans regarding the second half of 2020? Do you have anything in concrete during this difficult and unpredictable time? New music? Small scale gigs?
NA: I'm planning to go back to London in September as right now I'm back in Poland windsurfing and kitesurfing at the Hel peninsula, spending beautiful holidays surrounded by friends and family. My musical plans are to make ’artistic’ use of this remaining time in Poland and do some collaborations with musicians from here before I leave for the UK. From October on I’m planning to start gigging around London if venues reopen. Also, I will be doing my final year at BIMM studying vocals. Because this time seems to be unpredictable when it comes to performing, my goal is to release one song every 1.5 months... Let’s see if that’s possible but I have some material ready or almost ready and I cannot wait to share it!
RnRR: That’s exciting news that you’re sharing with us of your new music. Can you give us any further details about this new material, pre-release?
NA: I can reveal that one of my coming songs is called Necrosis, I'm singing in English on this track and I'm showing my piano skills a bit, finally! I also incorporated some delicate electronic sounds in it. The song is quite intimate, very honest, sad but beautiful. It’s my brother’s favorite one... I hope people will enjoy it as much as he does. As soon as I will have a pre-release link/material I would love to share it with everyone here!
RnRR: What made you change to singing in English for your coming tracks? Is this to achieve a more accessible audience? Are you a lover of electronic sounds in songs yourself? Do you feel electronic adds something to music that is unachievable using any other modem?
NA: Some songs come to me in English, some come in Polish. I always try to follow my intuition. I want to create music for people and sometimes I feel that my country needs some words so I compose in Polish, sometimes I feel it might be useful to do a song for a bigger audience so I try to sing in English. When it comes to electronic music I feel that we live in the 21st century and these electronic sounds are part of our times,
so it would be a pity not to include them in my music as well! Recently, I also started recording sounds of nature (I have recordings of birds, waves, forest, even a sound of my own heartbeat). I put them into the Ableton program and I try to add filters on it, so I can create my own sounds from scratch. Also about a year ago I bought a Nord stage 3 and some vocal effects, I love using those machines because they allow me to create my own soundscape, which I can present to others and invite everyone interested to be a part of it!
RnRR: So you mention the proposed use of natural noises and that leads me to a question more in tune with your personality rather than your music. Are you more of a nature, countryside type of person or do you prefer the business of a city? Wish so you find a more helpful environment for writing your music?
NA: It's pretty funny that you're asking me this question today! It's because today's night I spent sleeping on a beach. I was watching stars with friends and then we fell asleep. I was woken up by a paraglider flying 2 meters above me... Last two weeks of my holidays I spent doing kitesurfing and windsurfing and I was living on camping in a tent or a caravan. I love this kind of life but probably only when on holidays. When it comes to regular life I need both - a city and countryside. Actually the lockdown time I spent at my parents' house in Warsaw. They live in the city but in the more green area (suburban area) in a beautiful house surrounded by a well-tended garden. This was probably the best environment for me when it comes to songwriting. I had plenty of space, lots of musical equipment and a calm atmosphere. When I needed a vibe of the city (and the city reopened...) I could cycle there or take a car and reach the Varsavian city center within 20 minutes. When it comes to my London life - that's also an interesting place to live, especially because the music scene is amazing there, parks are beautiful, many cool parties are happening (obviously not during COVID pandemic) and there are plenty of amazing art exhibitions. But even when I am living in London I need to visit parks often. I am unhappy when my life is separated from nature for too long. Nature is amazing, and it's probably one of the biggest sources of inspiration for me recently!
RnRR: If you could live anywhere in the world for free and write music, where would you choose and why?
NA: I think I would choose Italy, I would stay in a villa somewhere not too far from the city. It’s my favorite country, I love the Italian lifestyle, I think people there know how to enjoy life. I’ve been there 15 times already and each time I’m amazed by their culture, cuisine, attitude, art galleries, nature (especially mountains, I love skiing). there is all I need in Italy, and It’s not that far from my hometown - Warsaw!
RnRR: Wow, 15 times to Italy? Is it the pizza or the pasta that has a bigger pull on you returning?
NA: Yes 15 times, or even a bit more. probably pasta!
RnRR: What’s your favourite type of pasta? And while we are on the topic of food, what would your ideal three course meal consist of?
NA: Gnocchi is my favourite type of pasta! Hmm I love unique food, the best restaurants for me are the ones that create their own combination, they experiment with flavours and create their own new dishes..
It’s hard for me to answer this question... as I am recently used to student dishes or camping life, It’s hard to imagine extremely good dinner now but I can tell you what other types of food I like which include sushi, pad thai, pierogi!
RnRR: Finally, there’s the matter of our most important question. If you were going to a desert island, and you only could play one album ever again, what are you picking and why?
NA: Oh wow, that's a difficult one! I'm a big fan of Yussef Dayes recently. His music unites my body, mind and soul. It brings harmony back to my life. Whenever I feel anxious, his vibes help me finding inner peace. Also, listening to his music just simply makes some moments of my life more beautiful... so probably I would go for 'What Kinda Music' by Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes. I love this album, it's beautiful and it enhances my creativity as well. With this music on a desert island, I would feel calm and interested in finding cool sounds around me. Maybe I would come back from this desert island with instruments of my own creation or if I could bring a recorder there I would catch some interesting sounds of nature which later I would incorporate into my music.
RnRR: That’s a nice and beautiful album you have chosen and great reasoning behind said choice. We will be sure to update our social media pages when your new music comes out!
If you'd like to find out more about Nina or the latest news on her coming releases, you can find links to each of her socials below: