11 Questions with… Kyleen Downes

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nIn our tenth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column, we are excited to feature Kyleen Downes. She is a gifted songwriter, singer, guitarist, pianist and ukulele player. We want to publicly thank Kyleen for taking the time out of her schedule to answer these questions for us here at YTAA!

Kyleen have been making some of the most open and energetic yet introspective music in the Dayton Music Scene. She has a clever way with words that inspires listeners while not feeling calculated to produce a particular feeling. Kyleen is able to turn a phrase in a way that is direct and welcoming. Her insightfulness allows a listener to see themselves and their experiences cast with an unfailing honest optimism and generosity of spirit that opens the heart.

a2299765261_10Kyleen has been making music since 2009 when she took inspiration from the social bond of those involved in the Dayton music community.  This sense of attachment and commitment led to 2016’s ‘Maybe Sometimes.’ This first collection of songs from Kyleen demonstrate her range as both a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist.  The seven songs on this album stretch across a continuum of personal reflection (‘Things Change‘) to the accessible optimism of finding those splendid moments with those you care about (‘Perfect Ending‘) and the percussive staccato of ‘Talk Like You Don’t Know‘.

a3999839670_10Kyleen’s next record in 2018 was the enthusiastic ‘Friends‘ EP. Kicking off with the driving ‘Exhale‘ and then flowing into the rocker ‘And So It Goes.’ An excellent One-Two punch. The upbeat attitude on ‘Goes‘ pulls one into a happy space. The next two songs, the confessional ‘Six Years‘ and imaginative ‘In Dreams‘, showcase creative guitar work and inventive lyrics. The album demonstrates her humor and continuing evolution as a songwriter. ‘Friends‘ marks Kyleen’s collaboration with producer extraordinaire Patrick Himes. Himes’ analog approach to recording allows the songwriting to stand on its own in a way that digital recording all too often interferes with. Instead of approaching recording the music in an overly serious manner or in a heavy handed way, Downes and Himes establish an accessible palette that still explores deep and real emotion. The delightfulness of the album is a strength. The partnership with Himes will lead her to the most recent album ‘Come On Sit Down.’

a1895125481_10Come On Sit Down opens with the community jam ‘Give Up The Ghost.’ The handclaps and percussion drive this sing along! The next song, the single, ‘Last Drop‘ demonstrates the strength of Kyleen and her band. They can move across genres, styles and arrangements surprisingly easily without feeling contrived. Authenticity is a rare pleasure in popular music. Kyleen’s background in music and as a guitar teacher/instructor are consistently illustrated on this record. The background vocals from a Dayton Power trio of vocalists — Khrys Blank, Amber Hargett and Heather Redman elevate ‘Last Drop‘ into a remarkably evocative ending. All My Life leads the record into personal reflection which is then followed by the poppy Keep Your Ways.’Tiny Little Table‘ courses with an electricity and humor that are distinctive to Kyleen Downes. The album closes with the meditation on thankfulness of In The Dark.’ Consistently, Kyleen’s lyrics are descriptive, accessible and deeply affecting. If you have had the opportunity to see her perform, you know that Kyleen’s stage presence is charismatic.

Kyleen Tiny TableDr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest album Come On Sit Down?

Kyleen Downes (KD): I had written a few new songs in 2018 and started working on them with the band.  I booked some studio time in November of 2018 and unfortunately, the band hadn’t had enough rehearsal prior to going into the studio.

I went to the studio solo and brought in two low-key songs, In the Dark and All My Life. I had initially thought of releasing a few singles but once the band started recording in 2019, the song list began to grow.  So I figured I’d hold out and do a big sha-bang of a full length LP to be released on vinyl (a first for me!) I really liked the idea of combining songs I worked on with the band, with the songs that I fleshed out in the studio with just myself and my producer Patrick Himes.

Dr. J: You worked closely with Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company here in Dayton, Ohio, what led to your recording with Patrick?

KD: Patrick reached out to me several years ago, just to say hi and introduce himself.  Which is a great example of just how cool Dayton musicians are! I knew of his work through Paige Beller when he worked on her live album, Live and a Person.  After seeing her show and hearing that recording, I knew once I had material to record I wanted to work with him.  It’s an added bonus that he records analog, or to tape, because that was a new experience I wanted to try!

Dr. J: ‘Myself’ is a personal favorite, so I am curious about it. The song is compelling and driving musically. Yet the lyrics seem to address loneliness. Did you set out to address the concerns and challenges of human connection when starting to work on that song?

KD: I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this question, it’s almost like you knew my state of mind when I wrote it!  I was spending a lot of time by myself and with my thoughts.  Even after spending time with others I was coming home to just me.  I had recently gone through a very challenging separation after a long relationship.  I was desperately trying to find security within myself, because I was realizing how it can be unhealthy to have it only come from someone else.

Dr. J: All My Life also addresses other connection – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and feel of the song? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address connection, love, and relationships or did the song evolve in that direction over time?

KD: That song came out of strumming chords in waltz time, which I wonder if that made me feel a certain sweetness about it when the lyrics started to flow.  It’s definitely rooted in the sense of connection you feel when you realize you’ve longed for a certain feeling all your life and now that you have it, you must not take it for granted.

Dr. J: How did Myself come together musically for you?

KD: Funny enough, it came to life after opening my front door and hearing a melodic squeak from the hinge.  I hummed it and went down to my basement to harmonize it on the guitar.  Then I let the lyrics flow.  I was so caught up in this song, I wrote some of it while sitting in my personal finance class, haha!  The song was originally an acoustic song, but when I was prepping to take it into the studio, I really wanted to play around with amping it up.  I started by playing it on the electric guitar and then adding some guitar parts.  I heard a song on the radio one day and used that for my drum inspiration.  I’ll be honest, it still feels like a puzzle to me, so I’m really happy to hear it resonates with you!

0019634116_10Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

KD: Through listening to music.  As a kid, I loved singing a catchy song or letting music transport my daydreams.  Then once I started playing guitar, the sound of it inspired me to create different musical ideas.  So often, I will come up with an idea after or while listening to music.  If I connect with the vibe, I like to channel my own version of it.  And undoubtedly if there is a guitar in my hands, I end up playing something that catches my ear and I want to start fleshing it out (which can sometimes lead to late bedtimes, ha ha!)

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Friends to Come On Sit Down)?

KD: I describe my music as sonically approachable.  As I’ve progressed, I’m getting more comfortable with taking risks and I feel/hope my music has become a little more candid since the beginning of my journey.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Come On Sit Down?

KD: I have several thoughts on future projects BUT I know I need to focus on the material first.  There are several songs I am excited to finish.  I think once the music comes to life, the projects will reveal themselves more clearly.  I’ve also lost a few songs along the way because they get pushed aside once a project starts.  I plan on finding them though! (They may have fallen under my couch, who knows!?)

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

KD: I LOVE performing Tiny Little Table, it has SO much fun guitar stuff. I have a looper pedal which allows me to layer different guitar riffs and solo.  I use my looper to harmonize vocals as well, which is a new skill for me.  When I am playing with my band, Six Years will forever energize and empower me!

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

KD: We are all human and we are only human.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

KD: I’ve taken this forced downtime to put effort into my website, creating a virtual store, and performing some livestream shows.  I’ve learned a lot about the different technology available that can help me be more creative and produce new content.  I’ve also been maintaining a consistent newsletter.  I used to get so overwhelmed about writing a newsletter, but now I’m so happy about being able to engage with people, it’s become a fun part of my month!

You can follow Kyleen Downes on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @KyleenDownes     Instagram at KyleenDownes

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kyleen for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Kyleen’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Kyleen Downes and Gary Mitchell.

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11 Questions with… Todd Farrell

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nIn our ninth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column, we are excited to feature Todd Farrell Jr of Benchmarks. Todd is the main songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the Nashville based band. We want to publicly thank Todd for taking the time out of his busy day to answer these questions for us here at YTAA!

Benchmarks have been making some of the most thoughtful and passionate rock and roll of the past several years. Lyrics that elevate the listener to personal introspection rather than confound. Todd’s lyrics about the past, community, connection and challenges of everyday life reached an incredible level with the band’s album Our Undivided Attention in 2017.  The band returned in August 2020 with the exceptional Summer Slowly.

Benchmark’s first album in 2015, American Nights, set the field for their energetic and reflective songs. The album included compelling narratives that were both relatable and organic. The record featured ‘Roman Candles,‘ ‘April Fire’, ‘American Nights’ and ‘Paper Napkins.’ The last song being revisited in 2017 on Our Undivided Attention. As Todd sings on ‘American Nights’ “It was a middle Tennessee Summer, It was 102 degrees, we had everywhere to go and nowhere to be, there’s a million ways for people, to get to where they go, some prefer a ladder, we prefer the road, let’s get out of here while we still can, lets get out of here while we are still alive.” Much like songwriters who capture the experience of being both free and stuck in place at the same time, Benchmarks have a way with feelings of alienation and connection. Their music recognizes that the bond we have between us is fragile and constricting at the same time. The songs on Benchmarks records realize the simultaneous dream and nightmare that comes from carrying along with us where we think we belong.

The band followed American Nights with the stellar Our Undivided Attention. The album opens with the evocative ‘This Year’ and launches into the poppy ‘Frames’ and then the other eight songs explores the emotional terrain of life, challenges of making and touring music and revisiting the ups and down of childhood and friendships. The album closes with the optimistic and impactful ‘Next Year’ with the chorus we need to hear: ‘I know next year, things will be better.” The lyrics are extraordinarily descriptive, clever and absorbing. Recognizing that we are our own worst enemies and coming to terms with that in a way that is not dismissive remains the lyrical superpower of this band. 2018 led to a split release with Bud Bronson and The Good Timers that included The Good Fight.’ Almost two years later, Benchmarks released their latest record, Summer Slowly.

With Summer Slowly, the band explore nostalgia, regret and memory using elements of punk and rock and roll to convey introspection and reflection without compromise. The swirl of the guitars, the passionate drumming, and innovative bass lines come together to musically support the themes and narratives that are the heart of the lyrics. The songs are not about stories, they are about feeling and understanding our experiences. A welcome indie rock sensibility emanates from this record.

Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest album Summer Slowly?

Todd Farrell (TF): I started writing this record before the last one (Our Undivided Attention) even came out. I was on the road with Two Cow Garage a lot, and kind of unsatisfied with much I was doing musically. I wasn’t very satisfied with the last Benchmarks record, and I felt like I was limited in what I could do with Two Cow. After walking away from that band, I took a guitar gig on a tour with my friend Sammy Kay supporting the Creepshow for 6 weeks in the US and Canada in the Fall of 2017. On about day 4 of this tour, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, which made an already long tour even longer. I did a lot of thinking and soul searching on that tour, trying to figure out what makes me happy, and what wanted to do, and what kind of father I wanted to be for my kid. Simultaneously, watching the continent change from Summer to Fall from a van window influenced a lot of the imagery and shaped the overall theme. I was also listening to a lot of music that may be outside the normal realm of what people probably associate with this band… lots of black metal, synthwave, dark pop, etc. I loved the textures and melodrama to it, and wanted to apply those moods and sounds to what Benchmarks does. I also wanted to embrace playing big dramatic guitar solos again. All of this sort of came together at the same time, and when I got home from that tour, I had a good outline of what I wanted to do with this record.

Dr. J: What is your approach like in the studio? What are your biggest challenges when creating new music? What is the biggest reward for you when making new music?

TF: Because we record ourselves in a very limited environment, the studio process can take… some time. We recorded the drums in a cabin west of Nashville, and the rest of it in Jack’s (drums, co-producer) bedroom. I know a lot of people joke about the DIY thing, but we literally built an amp box out of plywood and foam, and a vocal booth out of PVC pipe and moving blankets. Part of the studio approach was literally “making” a studio with power tools in my garage.

Because of this, our biggest challenge is probably knowing when to stop. Because everything other than the drums was an overdub, it meant we could add a thousand guitars to a part if we wanted to. We set some rules early on though… no more than 3 guitar tracks at once, unless it’s a guitar solo. The other challenge is just time. During the time we made this album, band members got married, had kids, worked their jobs, moved, changed jobs, not to mention going on tour and playing shows and dealing with other band and life related issues. Trying to be a good partner, parent, and friend while trying to handle making a record is incredibly challenging.

However difficult, finally getting this one out has been incredibly rewarding. There’s, of course, all the superficial stuff like blogs putting us in their “Top 10 of 2020” etc, and I would be lying if I said we didn’t read that stuff. We do, and it’s really amazing that people responded to the record in a way that influenced them to set it in such high esteem. More importantly, I’m very proud of this record because it very clearly captured a moment in time for me. This is something I will be able to show my children, if I never make any music ever again, and say “this is what your dad’s art sounded like”. I think I finally said (both lyrically and musically) what I wanted to say in a full record. The timing of its release was also interesting. The messages in the songs (very much about change) came at a time in this country where we’re dealing with the pandemic, experiencing a new surge in the fight for racial justice, and all the other socio-political issues happening all at once. People were able to relate and find comfort in the songs while dealing with a very real and at times terrifying reality, and I’m very proud and happy that people were able to feel some sort of sanctuary in it.

Dr. J: Technicolor is a powerful song for those who seek human connection away from the technology that we use every day; did you set out to address the concerns and challenges of social connection outside of screens when starting to work on that song?

TF: “Technicolor” is one of my favorite songs on the record for many reasons. Of course, the technology aspect is there. I was (and am still) having a love/hate relationship with social media and my phone. If I had the guts, I’d switch to a Nokia brick and go about my day, but I realize I have other needs and uses for a smartphone and all the things that come with it. I still don’t really have an answer, other than deciding that my happiness is not determined by how many Spotify plays my band gets, or how many likes a post gets, or even how many tour dates I’m able to post about. If I had a manager, they would hate to hear this, but I’m happy to just be able to make music and not feel the need to push it into people’s faces. If people like it, they like it. I’m not here to force my friends to consume my art just because they’re on the same digital platform that I am. I just want to make cool shit, put it out there, and hopefully it makes someone out there feel good.

Dr. J: Summer Slowly seems to address themes related to isolation and the vulnerability of community – whether self-imposed or a result of social lives that we do not stop and think about. I am thinking songs like The Good Fight, Technicolor, Our Finest Hour, Holding on to Summer, The Price of Postcards all raise questions about connection and community, would you say that a fair interpretation? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address how we are connected to one another or did the songs evolve from other concerns?

TF: Absolutely. I think we take for connections and relationships for granted in effort to achieve some sort of social status. I think we’re pretty conscious of it too, but we don’t really care because we’re all starved of true companionship and interaction, so we need the endorphin rush of the “like” button. As I said previously, I am certainly guilty of this too.

Dr. J: How did Our Finest Hour come together musically for you?

TF: “Our Finest Hour” started as an effort to write a Japandroids type song. I wanted something with a quick drum beat and a very anthemic chorus about good vs evil, etc. The key change guitar solo is one of my favorite moments on the album. I was playing it in my living room on an acoustic guitar shortly after the 2016 election, and the women’s marches and the immigrant marches were starting, and the lyrics sort of came from my thought process on what I want to say that might help the cause, and what I want to say that might actually hurt the cause because of who I am. I wanted to make very clear that as a straight, white, male person who wants to be considered an “ally”, I did not want my words to take the place of those who are less privileged than I am. I just want to try my best to fight, but be conscious of those I’m fighting for, and have conversations with them before I just open my mouth. It was difficult to construct the words to properly convey what I was trying to say, but I think I at least got close.

Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

It’s a cliché answer, but life and the human experience. I think the most interesting stories aren’t necessarily about these big and bold characters or events that everyone has heard about, but everyday thoughts and emotions. Lyrics usually stem from a conversation, or a phrase of some kind that I overheard and made me think about what it means. The music comes from an emotion or feeling, and wanting to fully unpack it into riffs and melodies.

Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Our Undivided Attention to Summer Slowly)?

TF: The band has a lot of inside jokes as to what kind of music we make, like “arena emo” or “blackened pop punk” or “post orgcore” etc. I think Our Undivided Attention is an interesting experiment in us trying to figure it out. I think half of that album fits nicely with what we do now, and half of it sort of missed the mark for what we were trying to do. At current, we’re a rock band because we play distorted guitars and bass and drums. There are pop elements, there are punk elements, there are Iron Maiden guitar solos and Taylor Swift hooks (I mean, we wish). With this album, we tried to sort of throw the parameters out the window and just make cool music.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Summer Slowly?

TF: At current, I think I’m going to take a break from Benchmarks. With the pandemic still in full force, there are no tours or shows to happen anytime soon, so I’m going to take the opportunity to focus on some different projects. I’ve sort of unintentionally started an internet melodic black/death metal band, so I’ve been demoing that. I have a lot of songs that don’t necessarily fit into the Benchmarks format, so I may try and put them together and release some solo material. After it took so long to construct this album, I want to try and do something completely different and just put out as much music as I can, as it comes up, regardless of how it fits together genre-wise. If I write a metal song, I’m going to record it and put it out there. If I write a folk song, I’m going to record it and put it out there. No sense of waiting anymore. Hopefully we all survive the next year or so, and maybe I’ll be ready to put together another full-length Benchmarks record.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

TF: This is a hard one, because Summer, Slowly contains so many of my favorite songs, but almost none of them have been performed live, and certainly not since the album has been out. On the Our Undivided Attention tour cycle, we often closed with “Next Year”, and it was really fun to have the anticipation build to the crescendo of that song. It’s a fitting parting song, and usually some of the other bands and members of the crowd would jump on stage with us and sing the lyric “I know next year things will be better”. It sort of captures the intention of that song. We’re here, and things are loud and noisy and messed up, but we’re all together.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

TF: What I hope we capture in our music is a sense of belonging and companionship. We’re not the best band out there, but we’re not in it to be the best. Whether it’s aggressive or contemplative, we just want to make music that makes us feel good, and hopefully makes the listener feel good too.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

TF: What I hope we capture in our music is a sense of belonging and companionship. We’re not the best band out there, but we’re not in it to be the best. Whether it’s aggressive or contemplative, we just want to make music that makes us feel good, and hopefully makes the listener feel good too.

You can follow Todd Farrell and Benchmarks on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @benchmarksmusic     Instagram at benchmarksmusic

Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Todd for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Benchmarks’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos and images courtesy of Todd Farrell/Benchmarks.

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11 Questions with… Kyle Melton

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nAfter a hiatus of a few months, we return with our eighth installment of ’11 Questions with…’ column. We resume these articles with an interview featuring Smug Brothers‘ songwriter, guitarist and singer Kyle Melton. We want to publicly thank Kyle for taking the time to answer these questions!

Smug Brothers have been a prolific and active band without sacrificing quality. The vision for Smug Brothers is reflected in the interests, lyrics and approach that Kyle Melton has crafted for the group. The development of this band parallels the songwriting focus.

Smug Brothers begin in 2005 with the exciting debut record, Buzzmounter. This record featured the driving Valentine Chapel. In the beginning the band’s music was written by Darryl Robbins [The Motel Beds, Overthought Musik‘s numerous side projects] and the vocals and lyrics were created by Kyle Melton. Over time, Smug Brothers transformed into a cohesive band adding several musicians and artists into its indie rock sensibility.  The eventual addition of Ex-Guided By Voices and Swearing at Motorists drummer Don Thrasher on drums and percussion and the departure of Darryl Robbins transformed the band. The addition of guitarist Brian Baker [Brat Curse] and then Scott Tribble added sonic texture to the group’s sound. Several talented bass players have participated in this project over the years including Marc Betts, Lurchbox’s Larry Evans and the current bass playing of multi-instrumentalist Kyle Sowash [The Kyle Sowashes]. While additional lineup changes have influenced the sound over the years, the vision for the project has stayed true to an imaginative concept for the most impactful and concise indie pop sound.

SBBMThe band has been incredibly active from 2005 – 2019, releasing several excellent Midwestern indie rock album including the fantastic On The Way to the Punchline, the powerfully inventive Woodpecker Paradise and the amazingly accessible and catchy, Disco Maroon. In a just musical world (do not hold your breath waiting!), Disco Maroon would have produced top 40 singles with ‘Hang Up’ and ‘My Little Crowd Pleaser.’

In 2019, with the record Attic Harvest the band released its first record on vinyl — which is an important achievement. The group also released Serve A Thirsty Moon in that same year which speaks to their productivity! And to add more fuel to the idea of productivity — in the past challenging year because of the pandemic — the band was still able to release two terrific EPs, Room Of The Year and Every Surface Under Heaven and the single ‘Flame Verbatim.’ 

Originally formed in Dayton, Ohio and then Smug Brothers HQ relocated to Columbus, Ohio, Smug Brothers  have released some of the most catchy, interesting and melodic Midwestern indie rock and roll in… well, the Midwest and beyond. 

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a2655189097_10Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing the latest album Room Of The Year?

Kyle Melton (KM): Much of Room of the Year, as well as ‘Flame Verbatim’ and Every Surface Under Heaven, was written between fall 2018 and fall 2019. I was working from home during that year and had a guitar handy a lot of the time. We whittled down a batch of about 100 songs to 30 or so that we liked best, then set to work recording in December 2019 and got the 12 songs that appear on these three EPs before COVID-19 hit and we couldn’t get together to work on any more.

Dr. J: What is your approach in recording? What are your biggest challenges when creating new music? What is the biggest reward for you when making new music

KM: For these three most recent single EPs, we stuck with our tried-and-true method of Don [Thasher] and I getting in a room together and hashing out a rhythm track to build off. With the COVID-19 situation this year, we had to figure out how to get [Kyle] Sowash to record his bass parts from where he is. Scott had done a lot of work from his place and sent it over with Serve A Thirsty Moon, so we had that dialed in. For us, the biggest challenge is making time to get things done. As you get older, there are a lot more obstacles to getting music done than when you’re 25. I think there are levels of rewards: when you know you have a good basic track with a good energy you can build up, when everyone’s parts get added and the picture becomes more complete, when you add the extra touches to flesh it out, when you have a final mix/master that is what is going out. The whole process is still just such a buzz, really.

Dr. J: Freshman Zephyr is a fascinating song. There are some of the classic elements of the band and some exciting experimentation. In particular, for me, the use of electronics/keyboards adds an unexpected dimension to the song. When I expect a guitar part to come into the mix, a keyboard/electronic part does instead. Did you set out to explore a more expansive sonic feel when starting to work on that song?

KM: We’re always trying to figure out how to expand what it is we sound like, so I think Freshman Zephyr is in that lineage a bit. Scott really turned us more toward adding keyboards in a way we didn’t previously, so that’s largely his contribution. We rarely set out to do anything more than whatever the song asks us to do, really. It’s usually pretty obvious if something is going to work for a song or if we need to push out past ourselves to figure out what the song needs. And we typically know when we’ve found something we all like.

Dr. J: Room of The Year seems to address themes of existence apart from the technology that we have become Sbrosso comfortable using without asking what it means to be so dependent. I am thinking Radiator One, Good To Know Your Axis and Freshman Zephyr lyrically raise questions about technology. Would you say that is accurate? What themes were you addressing?

KM: Sure, there are flashes of coming to terms with technology in a lot of what I write. I think it’s just so prevalent in our current lives, that kind of thinking is going to be part of what I’m talking about. I have a very love/hate relationship with technology, as I’m sure a lot of us do. But I think we’re all working to find where we strike a balance between the benefits and whatever our humanity is. Where is your axis, you know?

Dr. J: How did Freshman Zephyr come together musically for you? How does that compare with Good To Know Your Axis?

KM: I think those songs have very different base identities: Freshman Zephyr is more in the pop house and Good to Know Your Axis is more in the postpunk range. So, from that standpoint, we would work on them with very different ideas in mind; you can’t really do the same kinds of things with both of these songs. We built them up in a similar way, but the four of us have developed a good unspoken language of what different types of songs would ask you to do.

Dr. J:  Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

KM: I always have the itch to make music. The struggle is getting it down on the phone or on tape in a timely fashion. The inspiration is everywhere, really. Listening to what other people are putting out is always inspiring. Going back and digging on things I’ve heard countless times but finding one new nuance, that sets off an idea. Things people say on TV or the Internet or in a text message. All of it has potential to trigger me to get to work.

a0679371235_10Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from Attic Harvest to Serve A Thirsty Moon to Flame Verbatim and Room of the Year)?

KM: I have to feel some kind of energy from the connection between the words and music to get things going. I tend to write words and music separately, so when I try and put them together, I’m hoping there is a cool thing that happens. And there’s a big range, so that’s helpful. The biggest thing for how I work and how we’re able to function as group from Attic Harvest up through these new EPs is sharing demos in advance with the group that gives us a better idea of what we can work on and a sketch of an idea. When Don and I started playing together back in 2008, I would just throw a song at him totally cold and we’d come up with something. He has a little more advance idea now, which he says he likes a lot more. I think a lot of how I put songs together is fundamentally the same as I’ve done for a long time: pick up a guitar, throw some words out, and see what comes together. I raise the sails and hope for a strong wind to get us somewhere new and interesting.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after Room of the Year?

KM: It’s hard to predict what we’ll be able to do in the next year, as COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. We have some things we’ve already started working on, so we’ll have to see what we come up with next. I think we’re all game to approach things a little differently, since we’re just not really able to do things the way we normally would.

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

KM: Well, we didn’t get to do any shows this year, so this isn’t really a current view, but Investigative Years [from On The Way To The Punchline], Reminding Penumbra [from Attic Harvest], and Hang Up [from Disco Maroon] have always been very enjoyable for me. They all have different things going on, but they’re fun to sing and the band typically gets a good headwind going behind each of them.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

KM: I think there’s a hopefulness in this most recent batch of songs. Always keep looking for new ways to engage yourself and the world. Remain open to possibilities. The world is a lot more than most of us realize. Enjoy the ride, you know?

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

128173312_10157765610728404_8864351974159478428_oKM: Not playing shows has been a real bummer this year. First year since I started playing in bands in 1992 that I won’t do a single gig. But there’s always time to work on music and I’m grateful the four of us figured out how to work remotely to keep the ball moving. I miss “the Brothers,” but we did a Zoom call recently just to have a hang. That’s what band practice is like in 2020.

You can follow Kyle Melton and Smug Brothers on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @smugbrothers     Instagram at smugbrothers        Spotify    Bandcamp     YouTube

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kyle for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Smug Brothers’s Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos care of Kyle Melton.

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Brandon Berry’s Short Takes

Short Takes

Our Short Takes today comes courtesy of Brandon Berry of The Paint Splats. The band came on the scene with a blast of indie rock goodness with “I Gutted My VCR” which eventually joined nine other songs for the first self-titled record released on November 16, 2019! A split with Mike Bankhead, “Defacing the Moon” came out around the same time! Some of Brandon’s contributions to that shared record includes the heartbreakingly beautiful “Annie”.

a2463795233_10This past March, The Paint Splats released a terrific EP …With a Side of Fries. That continues the terrific indie pop and humor that The Paint Splats are becoming known for in the Miami Valley. As Brandon wrote about the project: “An unhealthy blend of power pop melodies that grew up listening to garage rock and the man shouting obscenities from the comfort of a street corner.”

Reaching out to Brandon to ask if he would give us a few ‘Short Takes’ of music that he is listening to lately was an easy call for us to make here at YTAA. Take a few minutes and review his excellent recommendations!

The Kinks – Sleepwalker

In my high school band, we attempted to cover the Kinks – “All Day and All of the Night” and our “Lola” parody, “Ebola” – but I just passed them off as another forgotten novelty spawned from, and muddled up by, the swingin’ ’60s. It wasn’t until I started taking chances at the record store that I discovered their massive catalogue of inventive tunes that would serve as major inspiration for my own songwriting. The early stuff will always be dear to me, but their late ’70s and early ’80s albums, like Give the People What They Want and Sleepwalker, stand out for the risk-taking, something they’ve been known for since the amplifier cabinet-slashing origins.


kink2Life goes on
It happens ev’ry day
So appreciate what you got
Before it’s taken away


I’m not sure if there’s a more apropos quatrain for this present moment.

Kurt Baker – Brand New Beat

Power pop never died; the arena has just been cluttered by artists who shouldn’t be included in the category. There is hope, though. Musicians like Kurt Baker are keeping the original spirit alive. I came to this guy fairly late, but after hearing “Weekend Girls” and “She Can Do It All” from Brand New Beat, I had to get the record. I wear my nostalgia on my three-quarter length sleeves. The album cover alone would’ve been enough for me to throw down the cash. With vocal fluctuations à la Elvis Costello, I can’t help but get sucked into Kurt’s expertise in the genre.

a3565109622_10The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin

When I write lyrics, I channel my inner John Darnielle. Destructive and off-putting sentiments with underlying sadness and regret over a major key chord progression. When I heard that he was recording a new album during quarantine, I had no idea the promo videos involving John and his sideways, trusty Panasonic tape deck would be the final product. Going back to his roots, he released the new batch of songs on cassette. I wasn’t around or conscious enough to consider myself an original fan, but I feel like I’m a part of something special now. I’ve been listening long enough that when a limited release such as this presents itself, I am to jump on the opportunity to be one of the few to have a copy. Though the cassette hasn’t been officially released, the lo-fi grain can be streamed online. Gather up your pagan crew. Do yourself a favor and listen to this record.

Various Artists

I have a playlist on Spotify called “songs that make me feel better,” which is comprised of mostly ’80s ballads and bops, like Mike & The Mechanics’ “All I Need is a Miracle” and “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister. You’d be surprised what else you can find in there. When I was a youngster, I discovered the Beatles and the Stones through my dad and the big haired ’80s through my brother, eventually blending and inspiring me to dive into genres from every era. During the time of mandated isolation (remember that?), I needed something positive to listen to, so I dug up the old playlist and added some new songs to the repertoire amongst all the Scandal and Wilson Philips songs:

YTAA MonsterI suggest you make a playlist like this, too, adding only tunes in the key of happy that you can dance to at the drop of a hi-hat. A dash of positivity never did any harm.

Many thanks to Brandon for sharing what he has been listening to with us!

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11 Questions with… Kailynn West

101714517_10163801825875154_1076073664824213504_nThe seventh installment of 11 Questions… comes courtesy of Kailynn West of Tiny Stills. It is difficult to separate Tiny Stills from her vision!

In 2015, after an unexpected situation left an opening on a national tour with Anthony Raneri and John-Allison Weiss, guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Kailynn West stepped in at the literal last minute to finish the tour with her power-pop project Tiny Stills.

LA-based Tiny Stills have released some of the most engaging and catchy emotional indie power pop beginning with a series of terrific songs and albums including the excellent “Falling is like Flying” from 2014 and the independently released “Laughing Into the Void” in 2018!  Recently, the band has released a series of compelling and catchy singles!

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104164797_1857630154373724_1517628563165917919_oTiny Stills arose from intense personal experience as a direct response to West’s experience being held up at gunpoint in 2011 and as a way to work through the inevitable social fallout that occurs so often after traumatic experiences.  Tiny Stills craft honest and intense songs with powerful guitars and inescapable melodies that pay homage to early ’90s and 2000s indie and pop-punk. At the end of the day, Tiny Stills and the music they make is an effort to remind you that even the worst days have a silver lining, that at the very least you are not alone in an overwhelming world.

a4066922409_10Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest released song, “Craigslist Bed“?

Kailynn West (KN): It started as inspiration after a most recent breakup. I had to move out of my apartment and start over. Specifically – I didn’t have a bed. The apartment I now live in (a garage, with a bathroom, literally.) came with a bed that the previous tenant left. I was otherwise going to look at craigslist beds because I didn’t have one at the time, but I ended up just keeping this one. It all worked out! But it was definitely the inspiration behind the song.

Dr. J: Tiny Stills evolved out of a personal experience for you, can you describe that experience and how it shaped the formation of the band?

KW: I was held up at gunpoint in about 8 years ago in Los Angeles. After that, I had a hard time relating to people and connecting. People couldn’t understand what I was going through, rightfully so, and I was dealing with coping with trauma and PTSD. I lost a lot of friends and my social circle during that time, and so I started writing music to try to work through some of the pain I was feeling trying to function. Tiny Stills was originally a solo project, that has morphed into a band. I’ve found that sharing
my story helps me connect with people, so I try to write honest songs.

Dr. J: “Craigslist Bed” is a meaningful song for all of us who deal with challenging relationship and the breakup of relationships; did you set out to address those concerns and challenges of when starting to work on that song?

KW: 100 percent yes. Particularly the bed, and do have a key ring with a million keys on it and I don’t really know which ones I need to keep at any given time.

a1000195355_10Dr. J: A previous song “Everything is Going Great” is a powerful song for the current moment we all find ourselves in today. Do you think that is a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics? Can they apply to the world today? Or would you say the focus should be more internal to the individual?

KW: I think songs are meant to be interpreted however feels best for the listener. For me, this song was about an internal battle of trying to pretend everything was OK, but I do think that’s a very universal experience, and definitely applies to today- mostly because the title of the song is sarcastic!

Dr. J:  How did “Everything is Going Great” come together musically for you?

KW: It came together pretty fast. I actually do a “song origin” on my patreon where I break down the different levels of demos- from the very first voice memo, with different lyrics and melody, to the demo we took into the studio, to the final version. It evolved pretty naturally, but it did start in a different place than where it ended up.

Dr. J:  Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?

KW: I have something I need to get off my chest.

a4048710410_10Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from the album “Laughing Into the Void” to the current single “Craigslist Bed“?

KW: I’ve gotten better at self editing. With “Laughing Into the Void” I wrote a song and it was done. Now I go back and I’ll rework the chorus multiple times until it says exactly what I want it to say, or until I can’t get it out of my head. “Craigslist Bed” originally had a completely different Chorus! I do a “song origin” breakdown of that one on Patreon too. I’ve just gotten more critical of my writing and where I want the song to land.

Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after “Craigslist Bed“?

KW: We have new music coming out basically every month. Our next two singles are coming out August 7 and September 25th. They are two songs that were meant to be on the EP we were originally planning on releasing on our EP in April 2020! The second single is called “Resting in Pieces” and the third single doesn’t have a title yet!

Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your
performances?

KW: My favorite song to perform right now is “Small Talk” because it’s a straightforward fun pop/rock song and when the band comes in live, we feel huge.

Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?

KW: That just because you’ve failed at something, it doesn’t make you a failure.

Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?

a2642919434_10KW: I’m spending time working on myself. It’s leveled the playing field – No one can tour. We only have our songs now. I’m honing my craft and trying to elevate my work so it’s more than just noise. I think you have to practice being honest with yourself, and this is one of those difficult times when no one can really ‘look away’ we can only look at the problems we’ve created for ourselves as a society. I don’t like saying that we’re going to ‘get a lot of good art out of this (quarantine/the COVID crisis)’ because artists are under the same kind of pressure everyone else is, and our industry was collapsing years before COVID. Touring was one of the last ways musicians could make money. Artists can’t survive on streaming royalties- please directly support the artists that you like if you want them to continue making music. Between the death of album sales and now touring, we sure could use a break. I just want to survive this in more ways than one.

You can follow Kailynn West and Tiny Stills on various social media including:

Facebook     Twitter at @tinystills     Instagram at TinyStills     Links     Spotify    Bandcamp

YTAA MonsterWe want to extend our sincere gratitude to Kailynn for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Tiny Still’s Bandcamp page! Thanks again! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at drjytaa@gmail.com. All photos care of Kailynn West.

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Today’s YTAA Playlist

The playlist today includes new music from Lydia Loveless, Al Holbrook, Bob Mould, Chris Forsyth, The Beths, Momma, Mike Bankhead and Tino, Waxahatchee, Speaking Suns, Rufrano, Nada Surf and more! Plus music from David Payne, Wussy, The Story Changes, The Typical Johnsons, Shrug, The Pullouts, Tim Pritchard, The 1984 Draft, The Nautical Theme, The Flamin’ Groovies, Me & Mountains, The Mayflies USA, Toxic Reasons, The Regrettes, American Werewolf Academy, Ass Ponys, Greg Dulli, Son Volt and Samantha Crain.

Some looking back indie courtesy of James, The Smiths, Graham Parker and The Rumour and Brainiac. And a live classic from The Replacements! We pay some small tribute to far overlooked songwriter Emitt Rhodes.

So give the playlist a listen or three!

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Interview Part 2 with Charlie & Amanda

It was a real pleasure to talk with Charlie and Amanda about their music! The new record ‘The King & Queen of Dayton Country‘ is available this Saturday! You can follow them on Facebook! Their CD release is happening this Saturday at the Yellow Cab Tavern. Check the Yellow Cab Tavern’s page for information regarding the social distancing requirements and policies.

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Interview with Charlie & Amanda Part 1!

Part one of our interview with Charlie & Amanda Jackson about their new record, ‘The King & Queen of Dayton Country,’ recording, songwriting and their approach to music. We can consider this record to be a powerful return to a classic country duet sound that has been missing for quite some time. Check out their Facebook page! You can find their music on bandcamp! They are playing a safe outdoor show at the Yellow Cab Tavern on Saturday! Please check the Yellow Cab Tavern’s page regarding their policies for a social distancing outdoor show!

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Dr. J’s Singles Club at Off Shelf

106799389_605906167029120_7523683373463049191_nEvery month Dr. J write a run down of 8 to 10 singles that came out the previous month.

The latest Singles Club column covers some pretty spectacular releases from June! Do yourself a favor and go check it out over at OffShelf.net!

Many thanks to the fine folks over at Off Shelf for giving us the opportunity to share some exciting new music every month! And you can listen to these selections by going to the spotify playlist each month as well. Its truly a win-win!

‘Slide It My Way’ – The Great Serpent Mound of Ohio

The Great Serpent Mound of Ohio Band has been hard at work on a new record. Today’s video of the day comes from this terrific Dayton, Ohio band! Their upcoming album “De Temporum” (2020) on WoodyFaz Records promises to be a compelling new release!

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Nick Leet’s Short Takes

Short TakesNick Leet is the principal songwriter of the excellent High on Stress who were initially known for playing with Tommy Stinson and Slim Dunlap. As the passionate vocalist for High on Stress, Leet gives life to their songs. The band came roaring back with the incredible ‘Hold Me In’ from this past April. The record captures both the energy of their musically legendary hometown of Minneapolis and the lyrical authenticity of that fertile ground that gave birth to The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du. There is realism in the songs without pretense or the sense of ideas being forced into predetermined catchphrases.

a2738656838_10It would be wrong to pigeonhole High on Stress, they pay homage to their city and at the same time transcend the categorization that comes from the label of Minneapolis music. Consider checking into their earlier records especially ‘Leaving MPLS’, ‘Living is a Dying Art‘ and Cop Light Parade.

Reaching out to Nick to ask if he would give us a few ‘Short Takes’ of music that he is listening to lately was honestly not a difficult decision. Check out his excellent recommendations!

20000000078234_(1)Jason IsbellReunions‘ – I’ve been listening to this one quite a bit since he just released it. He is one of the best writers we have out there right now. Standout track for me is the evocative ‘St Peter’s Autograph.’

Billy Pilgrim ‘Billy in the Time Machine’ is a great record that is about to be re-released.

Andrew Hyra & Kristian Bush were born to sing together. Also check out Andrew’s solo record ‘Spill‘. ‘Here I Am‘ and ‘Great Expectations’are killer tracks on that album.

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Jim Soule ‘Forget the Days’ [the record came out on June 5th] It’s Jim’s first solo record and is a great listen. Jim has a wonderful sense of melody and a big voice. Standout track: “A New Brand of Fiction.”

 

 

 

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Fig Dish ‘That’s What Love Songs Often Do’. This is a wonderful rock n’ roll record from the mid-nineties. They were a Chicago band with great hooks. The drums sound killer on here and every song is a knockout. Stand out tracks are “Bury Me” and “Quiet Storm King“. I can’t stop there…let’s add “It’s Your Ceiling” to the mix too.

 

Many Thanks to Nick for sharing the music that he is listening to right now!

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Joe Anderl’s ‘Short Takes’

Short TakesLet us take a moment and introduce our latest feature, Short Takes. We are asking musicians, artists, DJs, writers, spoken word performers and others involved in music and creative expression to write some short comments about what they are listening to right now. There are no rules regarding genre, style or year of release. What are people listening to now? What does it mean for them in a brief few sentences — hence the idea of a ‘short take.’

20992760_10159165029090537_2527313783301675441_nOur first ‘Short Takes‘ comes courtesy of Joe Anderl of The 1984 Draft. Joe is a kind, warm and thoughtful person who not only loves music, he feels it. His passion for music is inescapable in his current project The 1984 Draft. The ‘Draft are a phenomenal live band who capture the spirit of punk and post-punk melded with the introspection of the best music of the ’90s and beyond. 

The Draft’s last record ‘Makes Good Choices‘ was one of our favorite records of 2018!

The-1984-Draft-band-2018As quarantine and social distancing continue, as the world burns around us, and as I find myself filled with more and more rage over the ignorance and injustice in our county, I have found myself searching deeper in my music catalog for little nuggets of joy. Songs that remind of the past. Songs from simpler times. The thing is, there were never simpler times. Just different times. That being said, there can often be comfort in nostalgia, joy in discovering something new, and a new wave of emotions caused by a song listened to in a different phase of life.

These songs are the little nuggets of joy I have had in my life for the last couple weeks.

First, ‘Slackjawed’ by The Connells – I found myself watching a video on YouTube with the Best of 1993 from 120 Minutes. I particularly wanted to watch it as it included videos of the Afghan Whigs, Paul Westerberg, and Buffalo Tom.

R-2028725-1562522314-3760.jpegAs I watched all the videos and reminisced about wrapping tin foil around my boom box antenna to pick up 97X [modern rock radio station from 1983-2004], a song came on that I had remembered loving hearing every time it came on. That song was ‘Slackjawed’ by The Connells. I wondered to myself why I had never tried to purchase an album by them and why this song never found its way into my collection. That will change very soon as I have probably listened to it 30 times in the last week.

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Next, ‘Inside of Love‘ by Nada Surf.  I was a late adopter on Nada Surf. I heard ‘Popular‘ in high school and kind of wrote the band off as a one hit wonder. That changed some 20 something years later watching them headline at Midpoint Music Fest [Dr. J was there too! The band gave a great live performance and won over many music fans that day!] There is an absolute softness in the voice of Mathew Caws. His choice of words can often be so simple and telling in same moment.

When I listened to this song a couple weeks ago, I found myself so grateful that I live in a loving marriage, that I am on the inside of love. So much so I just keep listening to this song every time I need to remind myself how lucky I truly am.

Paul-Westerberg-Dyslexic-HeartLast but not least, ‘Dyslexic Heart’ by Paul Westerberg – What GenXer did not relate to singles in some way?

After spending the last few years of my life completely ravaging my Replacements catalog, I decided I needed to dive further into my Westerberg records. I started with something comfortable and easy. This song and ‘Waiting for Somebody‘ [also from the Singles soundtrack] have been every other day listen for me lately just to try and feel a little normal.

Thank you for a terrific ‘Short Takes’ Joe!

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