The Music of Gray Scale

Written by Alexander Greco

September 29, 2020

Going by the moniker of Gray Scale, Gray is a rising musician from Atlanta, Georgia. Her style blends a mix of stripped down EDM or Electronica with a mellower, more somber R&B sound. However, Gray’s music also steps outside these and other related genres, into a very unique realm where Gray expresses moods and emotions dredged up from the depths of her mind, and exorcises demons in song-form. With her background in percussion and her hands-on production of her music, Gray is emerging as a highly talented and unique musician.

For this article, like the previous one with Daniel Blake, I try to step back a bit more than I usually do and let Gray do a large portion of the talking in her own words. However, there are a few parts I step in a bit more.

Background

While being raised in a music-rich environment, Gray herself began music with school band, and eventually transitioned into DJ’ing. Over the last few years, Gray has begun releasing singles, albums and EP’s. With these, she has grown various new skills musically.

“I was always a band nerd growing up. I taught myself a little music on my own but then joined the middle school band, high school marching band, and college marching band….

“I was on the drumline for 9 years, playing bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals, and being a drum major. In grade school, you are required to be in symphonic band, so I also know classical percussion techniques. Other than that, I am a very mediocre, self-taught piano player.”

When I asked about any influences or experiences Gray had that has shaped her music and musical career, she explained a bit about the environment she grew up in:

“I live in Atlanta, so we have a thriving music scene, especially Rap music. Because of my father’s friends, I was raised around the music industry, constantly in and around music studios and recording sessions, and around mostly rappers.

“I have anecdotes to why I am so particular about so many different aspects of my art. But as an example, I have had terrible experiences with audio engineers. I actually graduated college with the intent to set out and be an engineer. But after college, I was shut out and denied internships and opportunities to learn. I have been told ‘you don’t really want to do this’ to my face and been blown off. So that’s why it is important for me to now mix and master on my own.”

I then asked Gray a bit about her vocals, and then about her process of recording, mixing and producing music. To my surprise and admiration, I found out that Gray had been recording and producing music almost entirely on her own.

“Vocals are actually very new for me. I’ve only been doing them for a little over a year….

“[Deciding to sing] was a mix of wanting to connect with people better and also being underestimated (again). I was making beats for artists to use and I had one artist tell me ‘your music isn’t really for vocals, I only imagine it as background music.’ And I set out to prove her wrong. I also have such a logical brain that I remember learning in college Music Appreciation class that humans have an immediate and automatic connection to another human voice. So, the moment they hear it, their attention is snapped in. I wanted to bring that to my music.

“I hate the way my voice sounds, I’m no different from anyone else. I am not a trained vocalist and I can’t do anything spectacular. But mediocre voices can and do excel when everything else is around them is done properly. There are countless examples of this today. I keep telling myself that if these mumble rappers are out here ‘singing’ and winning awards in ‘Melodic Rap’ and having millions of fans, then I can do whatever the hell I want with my music and still have some fans somewhere.”

Gray Scale

So, next, I wanted to know a bit more about Gray Scale as an artist, where she got the name from and where she wants to go with her music.

“I actually had a sweet sixteen and I made everyone wear black, white, and gray while I wore orange. I called it “Club Grayscale”. My dad and one of my brothers DJed it. But the party ended up being very fun and very memorable. So then when I started DJing other high school parties, I just took that name since my own party was such a success.

“I started DJing when I was in high school and that was the stage name that I chose for myself. I continued to DJ in college and also began working at the college radio station, so I kept the name in use. Once I graduated and decided to become an independent artist, I saw no need to use a different name, so after 10 years, it’s still here.”

X: “What’s the intent behind the music you’re making?”

GS: “The concrete intent is to definitely have my music land on television or a video game. Anywhere within the sync music realm

GS: “The deeper, more ethereal intent is what any artist is striving for, and that’s to convey a message to the masses.”

X: “What kind of television series or video game would you hope to hear your music on? Like, if you could choose what TV/Web series and what video game series you got to make music for, what would they be and why?”

GS: “I personally love the young, sexy sci-fi shows with vampires, elves, and other mythical creatures. I would love to hear my music on Shadowhunters (which is about demon slaying descendants of angels) on Freeform, The Originals (vampires) on The CW, The Magicians on SyFy, or something like The Shannara Chronicles (elves and dwarves) which started on MTV and then moved to Spike.

GS: “There is an escapism that these shows offer me, and I used that same feeling to create some of my songs that aren’t talking about a specific man and the situation around him. Not to mention I follow the artist Ruelle and the types of moves she makes, because when I started this, she was the Billboard Top Synced Artist for the year. She has had placements on every single one of those shows, and on other big names in sci-fi like HBO.”

X “And do you have a message or messages you want to get out to people?”

X: “Yes. So many. There is so much in the world to worry about and speak on that it’s overwhelming. But I will just have to take it bite by bite. I don’t have one main platform or message. Dark Mind is about depression and Life Less is my commentary on predatory capitalism and its effect on the environment. But there are many more to come.”

Style

Delving more specifically into Gray Scale’s music, Gray’s music has a unique array of sounds that sets her music apart, but is still centered, focused on a particular vibe and manages to carry that particular vibe in different variations across her different songs.

Gray’s music employs sounds and styles from a variety of genres of music, and her musical toolkit seems to have grown rather impressively over recent years. Primarily, from what I can hear in Gray’s sounds, she employs styles and sounds from EDM or Dance Music, Hip-Hop, R&B, and a lot of the instrumental style of Electronica and Production-Instrumental music

The first key note to talk about is the rhythm of Gray’s songs. Being a percussionist for much of her life, Gray’s expertise in rhythm definitely comes out strong. While every song varies rhythmically, Gray often uses a hip-hop or dance style rhythm. This employs things like syncopated beats, or strong backbeats—something that’s also employed in a lot of R&B music.

Now, while Gray’s music is a bit stripped down compared to the endless piles of layers of stacks of music in EDM and other Electronica, she does layer her sounds quite effectively, adding things like piano, various forms of synth and more natural sounds to the mix. Keeping with our discussion of rhythm, Gray’s background sounds often either support or inform the rhythm quite well, while in other songs provide the rhythm.

As far as the mood or tone of Gray’s songs, there is definitely a melancholy tone to much of the music. In some songs there’s hints at a bitterness, in others a sense of listlessness or loss. Many of Gray’s songs are about relationships that have soured, whether romantic or personal, and others are about personal or internal states of mind or being Gray has experienced.

And this mood certainly comes out in Gray’s voice. She manages to express her emotions quite clearly, and, made especially impressive since Gray is the producer of her own music, manages to meld her voice with the instrumentals and the tone of the instrumentals very well.

Vocally, Gray steps towards a more R&B style, though taking her tone to a darker and more somber place than much of R&B often is.

The one criticism I might have in some of her vocals is that there are a few parts where I think I can hear a lack of confidence in her voice. Of course, I cannot know this, I can only go off of what I hear, and this is something I only heard in a few particular parts of her music. But, Gray is relatively new to vocals, and while her tone and the articulations of her voice are spot on as far as I can tell, sometimes her voice lacks a stronger force behind it.

That said, her vocals in “Retrograde” did possess a more confident timbre to them, so she is definitely capable of providing that extra umph to her sound. All the “pieces” are in place for her to evolve into a strong vocalist, and I think she might just need some more time to step into this role as a vocalist and become more comfortable with it.

Recent Releases

X: “And can you tell me about the EP you’re coming out with soon, Becoming? What is the intent behind this EP? And how will the music with this EP compare with other music you’ve made?

GS: “Becoming is the first time I am doing a fully lyrical project. I have released a few lyrical singles, but most of my body of work up until this point was instrumentals. Becoming is about constantly changing, and so it is parallel with the fact that when I first came out as an artist, I never would have even thought about writing lyrics, let alone singing them for other human beings to hear, yet here I am releasing a full EP doing exactly that.”

X: “Is there anything new to your style, your songwriting or your sound you’ve been developing with it?”

GS: “Besides lyrics, I took time to really school myself on the engineering side of the music. It has been almost a year since I’ve released new music and I have spent that time digging and grinding in to mixing and mastering more than anything. I have invested hundreds of dollars on new equipment and software. I have spent hundreds of hours watching tutorials, reading step by steps, tweaking and critiquing my mixing and mastering process. One of the songs on Becoming is a track that I originally released last year, but I have now taken the time to re-record, re-mix, and re-master it for this re-release.

“It is not just important to me, but it is crucial to the success of any musical project to have solid engineering. I am still not perfect, but I am in an unrecognizably better sonic space than I was in before, and so my music sounds exponentially better now. It sounds like a completely different artist than 2 years ago.”

X: “Now, since the article will be coming out after Becoming is dropped, and there won’t be any spoilers, are there any songs you’d like to give deeper insight to? Whether it’s the background of the song or why you made it, or even how you made it and what the process of making the different songs was like, what are some things you’d want people to know about the songs?”

GS: “I just think I have started to carve out my own styles. So if you have been a fan of my music, it’s going to be easy to pick out your favorite tracks. But for anyone’s first run in with me, here is the run down of some of the songs on the new EP.

“If you liked my previous single Retrograde, you’re going to like the first track Missing It. Both are about boys putting me in emotionally compromising situations and therefore have a little bit more of an Alt-R&B style.

“If you liked my previous release of Beast, then not only are you going to be pleased with the remixed/remastered 2020 release, but you will probably also dig Tormented. Both are dark, bass driven songs with spooky subject matters and some heavy drum passages.

“Lastly, if you liked Hope Like Water and my other orchestral pieces, I released Dark Mind as a orchestral song, just to play around with the composition of that piece.”

Parting Words

Being able to talk with musicians like Gray Scale, as well as other artists and creators has been quite a joy. I love getting to pick people’s brains on things, delve into their thoughts a bit, and connect with someone who’s talented, driven and experienced in their particular field or craft. Talking with Gray has been no different.

While Gray is still relatively new to music, her work so far has been quite excellent, and I think as she pushes forward, she will find—and we will find—her ability, her personal expression through her sound, and her toolkit of music creation will only expand. From there, I can only hope that the range of people who appreciate her craft expand as well.

Before I end with some parting words from Gray, you can find her music on all common platforms, you can find Gray on Instagram as @gray_scale_ and on linktree with https://linktr.ee/gray_scale_ .

And so, with these parting words, thank you for reading. I bid you adieu.

X: “Do you have any advice for musicians–or creators in general–who are largely independent/self-reliant and self-taught?”

GS: “It is tough being on your own. So, remember why you got started and why you’re doing it. That always jumpstarts my motivation. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. I am pretty bad at this but I still keep a small clutch of people/mentors that I go to for questions or just to talk and get new information from.”

X: “Any advice maybe for someone who is just starting to get their toes wet and might need some wisdom from someone further down the path?”

GS: “If you’re just starting out, try everything. It’s the time to experiment and to get out of your comfort zone. None of your plans are set in stone, so play around with your options when it comes to sounds and instrumentation, visuals and graphics, marketing, everything. You never know what will end up working because you don’t know what works at all, so there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The Music of Daniel Blake

Written by Alexander Greco

September 23, 2020

Photo Credit: @visionofele on Instagram

Born in Arizona, but currently residing in Los Angeles, Daniel Blake is an eclectic musician with roots in classic rock, old school and 90’s country and blues, and contemporary folk. Having released a number of singles, including his most recent, “Freeway”, and his EP, Circle Mountain, Daniel is quickly gaining recognition, with his music already being featured on a number of television shows and a Spotify-official playlist.

Daniel’s music immediately struck a spot in me, as it possessed the same calm yet haunting expressiveness of some of my favorite artists, Ben Howard, Bon Iver and Adam Granduciel, and the same simplified, emotive style of contemporary musicians like All Them Witches, Wild Child and Josh Abbott. Blending styles from across blues, folk, country and rock, along with the ambiance of synth and keys in the background, Daniel’s music echoes in your mind with calming yet soulful songs of love, life and a roaming freedom.

When Daniel and I first started talking, he communicated in a handful of 3-5 word sentences, and I thought, “Fuck, I’m gonna have to wring the answers out of this guy.”

However, despite Daniel’s laconic first responses, once he did open up about music, his answers were some of the most detailed I’ve received in interviews (even beating out a few writers I’ve talked with) and Daniel’s passion and experience with his craft became crystal clear.

And so, while I usually include much of my own thought in these sorts of articles, with this article, I let Daniel do much of the talking and step back more than I usually do.

Without further ado, here is my article/interview with Daniel Blake.

Background

We began our interview discussing how Daniel became involved with music and how he eventually arrived where he is now.

Xander: “So, to start off with, how did you get into music? How did you start singing and playing? Have you had any formal training in music, or are you self-taught? Have you been a part of any other bands or musical projects, and, if so, what were those like?”

Daniel: “My dad played music at church so there were always a couple of guitars lying around the house.  I eventually learned a few of the basic chords (G,C,D & EM) which gave me something to build off of.  I later took some lessons at a local music shop but wasn’t too involved in music at school.  I had tried forming a couple of punk bands when I was in Junior high and High-school.  However, they never amounted to much.  mostly just recording 15 minute instrumentals we would listen to while driving around town.  I didn’t really start singing until I was in my 20’s when I started singing at church.  From there I started messing around with an old 8 track recorder we had lying around the house.”

X: “How have you developed over the years? And how have you arrived where you are now in your career?”

D: “When I first started out I really had no clue what I should be doing. I pretty much just started recording music and uploading it to Soundcloud. It was sort of nice to work at my own pace to learn about the best ways to use my voice. I eventually had to step out and present it to the world, which is when the journey really began. It was difficult to find a venue that would allow me to do a set so I had to start at ground zero. Basically playing anything available which at the time was mostly open mics.  Like anything else, one door always leads you to another door until one day you look back and say, ‘man, that’s a lot of doors!’ haha.”

Influences

Next, Daniel and I delved into his musical influences. I knew about a number of them, and his songs possess the unmistakable echoes of voices and sounds still reverberating from the dawn of folk, country and classic rock (Dylan, Cash, Neil Young, etc.). I called Ben Howard the moment I heard his first song, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he listened to Iron & Wine. Still, Daniel’s catalog of influences was quite broad, and I enjoyed hearing about all the artists who’d left a mark on his music.

X: What other musicians, musical groups or eras of music have influenced you? How did early influences like Tom Petty, The Beatles, Van Morrison and others affect you? What about their music do you enjoy? And are there any contemporary artists you resonate with or find any inspiration from?

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: I love old country music (Hank, Willy, Waylon & Cash).  The songs remind me of my grandpa and his friends sitting around in a circle, telling stories and teasing one another.  It sort of feels like home I guess.  I’m also a big fan of a lot of 90’s country/blues music too (Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Bonnie Raitt, SRV, Dire Straits…).  All of these artists are a piece of me in one way or another.  The common thread for all of these artists is great songs.

D: However, there is something much deeper (especially for groups like the Beatles).  They constantly evolved and experimented with different ideas. they pushed the envelope and opened the world up to new sounds.  Every song didn’t need to be a love song.  It was okay to create something just for the sake of making something new.  As far as contemporary music goes, I feel like I may be a little behind, haha.  However, I have definitely been influenced by artists like David Grey, Ben Howard, Band of Horses, Iron & Wine & Postal service.

After this, we discussed Daniel’s influences in a more general sense.

X: Are there any cultural, social, religious, or other kinds of influences on your music or your songwriting? Are there any personal experiences that have shaped your music and songwriting, or even your outlook on making music?

D: I think that if you are an honest writer it is impossible to write something that does not somehow reflect the issues that are going on in the world.  At the same time, I really try to zoom in on a moment and tell a story.  It’s sort of like painting.

D: If you try and paint the whole world it would be impossible to include enough detail to really give anyone a sense of what it’s like to live here.  However, once you zoom in you can start to see more and more detail.  If you were to paint a doorknob you would be able to express all of the reflections and metal fibers.  People could determine if it is on a wood door or a glass door.  If it’s night or if it’s day.  Whether it’s on the inside or the outside of the building.  All of the clues on and around the doorknob help to give you a sense of the environment, just like the subject matter of a song.  I basically try to say it without saying it.

D: There are a few moments that really stick out as playing a major role in the way I approach songwriting.  I remember driving home from work listening to the radio when a Red Hot Chili Peppers song came on.  I realized that I don’t understand most of the lyrics.  However, the overall sound (melody/production/cadence) all flowed together in such a way that it didn’t seem to matter.  This memory stuck with me for a really long time. The foundation for any great song is always a strong melody and production.  This however sets up roadblocks that you must learn to navigate around.  In fact, it forces you to write better lyrics because you need to figure out ways to say what you want to say within the constraints that you have setup for yourself.”

Songs

Next, Daniel and I spent some time talking about his some of his specific songs, as well as a bit about the recording process for his recent releases.

X: Can you tell me a bit about your latest release, Freeway? What was the inspiration for it? How was the process of recording and producing it?

D: I’m originally from Phoenix, AZ.  Throughout the years I’ve made dozens of trips back home to visit family.  Whenever I would get to the middle of the stretch; I would look at the small clusters of housing developments and trailer parks.  I imagined what it would be like to grow up in a town like that where you constantly see cars passing by on the freeway.  I imagined that the freeway could become a symbol of hope, especially for a couple of kids growing up in broken homes.

D: The recording process was a lot of fun.  I worked with Bill Lefler; who had produced all of my previous work.  My good friend/guitar player Paul Redel came into the studio and laid down probably 100 different guitar tracks.  I stood at the doorway and watched as Paul would play a lick and Bill laid on the ground turning knobs on the pedals.  Each take was completely unique, magical and a mess at the same time.  From there, Bill had the task of sifting through all of the takes, cutting and pasting things together until it started to sound like something completely out of this world.  During an unrelated session, Bill had hired a horn player for something else he was working on at the time.  The horn player had finished the session a little early so Bill asked him to mess around with a few takes on Freeway, which sort of added a whole other element to the song. 

X: Can you tell me a bit about your other releases, like the Circle Mountain EP, Here With Me and The Ones You Love? What have been some inspirations or motivations for these songs and others?

D: I had eventually come to the point where I realized that you are extremely limited without having any music out in the world.  When you first start out in this industry you have a lot of unrealistic expectations about the way things work.  You imagine being greeted by some A&R rep the second you step off stage who signed you to a label.  The sad truth is that there are very few stages you can step off of if you don’t have any content, not to mention the fact that A&R reps typically go after people who are doing pretty well on their own.  I realized that the next step would be to release my music out into the world, even if it didn’t receive much attention.

D: I spent several months trying to record my music at home when I finally threw up my hands and decided I needed a producer which–was the smartest decision I ever made.  I met my producer Bill Lefler through a friend of a friend.  I was impressed with the artists he had worked with in the past and quite frankly I felt honored that he would be willing to listen to some of my homemade demos.  Bill really sold me on his enthusiasm.  He appeared to understand what I was going for and was excited to share some of the ways he thought we could get there.  We initially agreed to do the first track on spec; which is another way of saying “if you don’t like it then you don’t pay for it and move forward with someone else”.  However, it didn’t take much time into recording the first track that I realized Bill and I would be working together for a long time.

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: At the time, I had about 20 songs I had written which gave us a lot to work with as far as options.  I was open to Bill’s opinion because I wanted him to be excited about the songs he was working on.  I also figured that eventually all of the tracks would be released, each at the right time.  We decided to do 5 tracks and picked four that we were both excited about.  We left the last slot open for something new I would write based on the feel of the first 4 tracks which happened to be “All I Need”.  Overall, the experience was really great.

D: After releasing Circle Mountain, the EP had caught the ear of a music supervisor who asked me to record a cover of the Dido song “Here With Me” for the TV show “Roswell New Mexico”.  This was a major milestone in my career as up to this point I could only dream of having a song on TV.  “The Ones You Love” was a Christmas song that was mixed in with the other demos I had originally sent to Bill when we were working on the first EP.  I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to release an original Christmas song for the simple fact that there are too many covers floating around and Christmas songs typically get re-visited every year.  Bill liked the idea of doing a really stripped-down version to sort of give it that “Carpenters” sound.  Again, the recording process was a lot of fun and is something I will always cherish. 

In Parting

The last thing Daniel and I talked about was probably my favorite part of the interview. It’s really goddamn hard to make it as an artist, as a musician, as a writer, and so forth. While so many of us look up things like, “What is ‘so-and-so’s’ morning routine?” or “What does ‘Person X’ do to get motivated?”, I don’t think enough people take the time to listen to the actual advice and experience of people who’ve made it further down similar paths that we’re walking.

So, I’ve been trying to talk with people I interview more about what people actually need to do to be successful. The sad truth is that recording a beautiful song, writing a deep piece of fiction, or painting a stunning landscape is only the first step in an endless marathon to success. Luckily, with this knowledge, you can start learning what steps to take next.

While Daniel’s response here is more geared toward music, a lot of what he says can certainly be translated to other creative industries.

X: A lot of people who read the magazine are independent artists, musicians, writers and so forth who are trying to break into their respective fields, or are even just starting, and so I’m sure a lot of people would love to hear from someone who is a bit further down the path from where they are.

X: What do you think is important for aspiring musicians to know about the business? Do you have any advice for musicians trying to start their career? What are some things you wished you knew getting started? And do you have any advice for marketing music, getting your name out there and picking up traction with your music?

@ojodeloba

D: It’s a very difficult question to answer because no two artists’ paths are the same.  However, there are a few things that I think are key to being successful in this industry.  First off, it is extremely important to be a part of the music community.  Seek out local open mics or artists hangs and make as many friends as you can.

D: When you’re first starting out, the friends you make in the music community are often the only ones standing in your corner, pushing you to keep going.  It’s also a good way to expose yourself to any potential opportunities that may come up (“oh, you need a keyboard player? I know just the person”).  You will learn about the best producers, mixing engineers & mastering engineers.  You will learn who curates which events or which events are simply a waste of time.

D: Secondly, I think it is extremely important to have a balanced perspective of the world.  Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.  At the same time, you need these people more than they need you.  Don’t use your platform to complain about all of the struggles that come with doing this thing you chose to do.  Instead, make great content that can provide an escape for these people.

@where.is.rachel

D: Lastly, I would say that you need to work harder and smarter than everyone around you.  Figure out a way to make the best content possible.  As an indie artist, you are pretty much self-funding all of the services that would come with a record deal.  No one says, “This guy looks like a complete hack but I know he’s indie so I’ll give him a chance.”  You want people to look at the work you put out and assume you are already signed.  You may need to work a full-time job so that you can afford recording/marketing/PR fees on top of food, gas & rent.  The hard work doesn’t end once you have a mastered track.  In fact, often the hardest part is getting people to listen to your beautiful track.  This is in part why it’s so important to make as many friends who are proud of your work and are willing to pass it along.  Everyone you have in your corner (friends, curators, producers…) are all advocates for the work you put out to the world.

And here we’ve arrived at the end of my interview with Daniel Blake. It was great getting to hear from Daniel about his experiences creating and recording music, and he definitely gave some solid advice for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in their respective creative fields.

There’s one thing he said that stuck out to me: “Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.”

I could probably write an entire article just on this sentence.

If you’re out there trying to make it as an artist, musician, writer and so forth—if you’re out there trying to do the impossible—you might find yourself living a life that no one around you understands. As Elton John said, “It’s lonely out in space.”

Most people will never even put in the initial effort to try. Just taking the first step forward will set you aside from almost everyone else in the world. From there, the path forward is difficult. You’ve already set yourself apart from most other people in the world, and now you have to set yourself apart from all the people who’ve already set themselves apart.

But, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to at least put in the effort and say, “I gave it what I had.”

And, even if the path is an isolated one at times, know that you are not alone. Know that there’s others out there walking, hiking, crawling and climbing similar paths.

­-

I definitely had a great time hearing from Daniel, and I always love getting to sit down and enjoy new music. You can find Daniel’s music on Spotify (“Daniel Blake”), and you can find him on both Instagram and Linktree as @danielblakemusic. Give him a listen, and expect to hear more great songs from him in the future.

The Art of Maury van Loon / Fall~

Written by Alexander Greco

June 29, 2020

The more I delved into the artwork of Maury van Loon (artist name, Fall~), the more I was reminded of two books: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, and House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski; and I was reminded of two specific concepts from those books: consciousness as a feedback loop of infinite, mirrored reflections, and unconsciousness as a labyrinth, with our conscious egos/identities as the trapped Icarus.

Maury’s artwork really clicked for me when I saw in them these mirrors and this labyrinth.

And Then the Bubble Burst
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Making almost exclusively black and white ink art, though with a few notable pieces that include color, Maury mixes elements of surrealism and abstraction with influences from anime and similar art styles. Her artwork has wide range of content and subject, but the primary focus seems to be on identity: our identity in relation to others, and our identity in relation to ourselves. Maury does this with portrayals of faceless or featureless individuals, depictions of bodies disassociated from their faces, mirrored counterparts of either twin-like or dualistic individuals, and of people falling into vast or disintegrating spaces.

However, as Maury discussed more and more about her creative life, I discovered her interests and skills to be far broader than only visual art. In addition to surreal ink-work, Maury is active in music—including work on film scores—currently studies Japanese Language and Culture, and has worked off and on for a few years on a fantasy story. Though our interview focused on Maury’s artwork and the underlying themes of the artwork, our overlapping interests opened up a number of topics we only scratched the surface of.

“[…] I would currently describe my endeavors as an artist as ‘illustrator’, but I have a degree in music composition, and I’m currently studying Japanese which sometimes makes me feel a bit in Japanese I would say barabara, which means ‘in pieces’, as if I’m holding a handful of different identities and I am not just one person.”

Still, though Fall~ has a wide range of interests, art has been and remains a central part of their life.

Us
April 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“I have been drawing since as long as I can remember. It has always been a form of expression, as I had (and to a certain degree still have) trouble grasping the meaning and reality of my being. I think I started with illustrating, since it’s a very low-key form of art. Basically I can draw whenever I want, wherever I want, because I only need a pen and paper.

“I do believe all different forms of art have their own ‘language’ of expression – music or film can take you on a whole different emotional journey – and I am more than only an illustrator, as I have done a degree in music composition with a specialization in film and I’m currently doing a degree in Japanese Language and Culture with a specialization in Japanese film and animation. But making art is the one that seems most consistent throughout my life.”

Here, I completely agree with the idea that every form of art has its own sort of language, but I would also go on from that and say that every artist has their own variation of that language, with Maury being no exception to this. So, what is the language she speaks with her art?

We Live Inside a Bubble
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen and ink.

Maury speaks with sharp contrasts of black and white, swarming lines like black static, and blurred clouds of grey. Maury’s syntax is the human form, floating or falling into teeming mouths of the abyss, or into the vast emptiness of space. Faces especially are key in this language, whether they are emotional, blank, expressionless, hollow, or replaced with disconnected, celestial objects.

Many of Maury’s pieces depict twisting, knotting throngs of arms reaching out to or out from the piece’s subject, or other similar serpentine forms. In many pieces, there is a symmetry to them, either a mirroring of images or some other geometric translation, and many pieces also possess a yin-yang type of duality, strongly influenced by the black and white contrasts. In others, there is an almost anti-symmetry, a chaos of lines or ink static.

Circles are a consistent motif, some being the subject’s head, some being in or through the subject’s head, others being in the subject’s chest or abdomen, and others surround an individual or individuals. These circles—often comprised of circles within circles (sometimes within even more circles); and often ringed with jagged lines or objects, or with twisting, looping, knotting forms—recall the forms of the labyrinth, particularly the Classical Cretan labyrinth and the Medieval Chartres pattern.

However, the best example of this Labyrinth is not in any of the pieces with primarily circular patterns, but in “Lost in Thought”, which really shows this maze-like nature of the mind.

Lost in Thought
June 2020
A4 paper. Pen.

“This piece is about how far you can become separated from your true self, by trying to fit in or please people around you. It’s a recent piece, but it reflects back to a time when I truly lost myself and now I regularly evaluate my choices and how far I stand from things that matter for me, instead of trying to become the ideal of society (or rather, how I think society would like me to be). The further you get, the harder it becomes, so the line between body and brain becomes this maze-like thing and at some point, you will get stuck and lose (like in the Nokia 3310 snake-game).”

So much of Maury’s artwork relates to identity: either finding or rediscovering oneself.

How is it that the most difficult thing to find on this planet is yourself?

How is it that so many of our own thoughts can be so much harder to understand than the endlessly complex machinations of the external world?

How is it that our own minds—the place we ought to feel most at home, the place we ought to know better than any other landscape, the place we ought to feel safest can be the most frightening and cruel of landscapes; can possess the deepest jungles of the uncanny and unfamiliar; and, in times of great uncertainty, in moments of overwhelming depravity and in the darkest architectures of our Dreams’ wild cinemas, can our own minds be venues of such tremendous violence, disorientation and disassociation?

Let Us Catch You
February 2020
A4 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

There is also a recurrent theme of falling, though the movement of many subjects is ambivalent (in many pieces, individuals could potentially be perceived either as falling or rising). Paired with this theme of falling/rising, there is often an impalement or explosion from the abdomen, and in a few, there is another body emerging from the abdomen, implying something like a birth or a rebirth (similar in some ways to the emergence from a cocoon or chrysalis). This also carries on the ambivalence of rising/falling, as one body seems limp and lifeless, while another living body reaches up above it.

On this theme, Maury explained:

“It contains this sense of loss and despair, living in a world that doesn’t feel quite right. A world where you don’t seem to belong. When you long for something, someone, anyone, and reach out, but you can never really grasp it. Is it just an illusion meant for someone else? Are you not worthy?

“It’s a sense of the fear of not being in control yet at the same time it’s the realization and acceptance you’re not in control and that it’s completely fine. Maybe it’s not falling, but letting go.”

A number of pieces possess the motif of a wave-like object/figure which seems to be just about to crash onto the subject of the piece like crashing water of an ocean. This might be the internal ocean of the unconsciousness crashing down on the conscious ego, but this might also be the minotaur stalking that unconsciousness, overpowering the conscious mind.

The piece “Shadowself” puts a face to this crashing wave or cave minotaur, and Maury gives it a name.

Shadowself
March 2020
A4 paper. Pen and ink.

“My official artist name is Fall~ and the right character in this piece is the visualization of Fall~. It represents the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts that want to break out.”

Does this make the figure on the left Maury?

Is this Maury studying Fall~?

And Fall~ studying Maury?

And if Fall~, as depicted here, is the “Shadowself”, the unexplainable core of feelings and thoughts attempting to break out, does that mean the Minotaur stalking Maury’s mind is Maury’s own creativity? Is the Shadowself (Fall~) a rejection and repression of creativity—of ideas, talents and expressions not welcomed by society—and the projection of negative attributes onto oneself?

A loathing of something you love—of something that makes you unique—until it becomes a monster you must reconcile with?

But Maury, rather than flee as Icarus did, confronted this minotaur in her artwork, and it became Fall~.

Here, I think I’m actually reminded of Gandalf and the Balrog’s fall in the Mines of Moria, prompted not by the wizard fleeing, but by his confrontation. This fall—this confrontation—not partially parallels the Icarus myth (Moria being the Labyrinth, the Balrog being the minotaur), but also has the ambivalent duality of rising and falling. The two’s fall eventually led to a rise back up from the depths, where the battle finally concluded on top of a mountain peak. This of course led to transformation, metamorphosis and rebirth.

These complexities of identity, self-identity and self-transformation do not end here, however, and Maury had quite a lot more to say about both one’s self and one’s ego, as well as one’s self in relationship to others.

“I think one’s identity is relative and thus continuously changing. Without people around us and memories to mirror who we were, who we are, and who we do or do not want to become, there is no ego. There is a certain human connection to it, whether through a shared experience, a longing, or a realization that you have gone so far from your true self. By exploring these areas through art, I can identify, acknowledge and express things that are blocking me, but also things I couldn’t or wouldn’t say out loud.”

Here, I asked if this fluidity of identity was something inherent in being human, or if it was a contemporary issue of modernity, and also if there was any way of truly getting to know one’s self. Maury replied:

“It’s probably part of human nature, but I do think modernity has amplified our sense of self and our capability to manipulate our self-image. One reason is that we are now encouraged to become individuals and have our own opinion, and this seems to go hand in hand with a sense or a wish to be unique and different […] On the other hand, there’s social media and textual communication, which allows you to have a big control on how you represent yourself in your use of words, your looks, your identity. With which sub-culture do you associate yourself with?

“Maybe we have become a lot more self-centered, but maybe we also have become a lot more dependent on the approval people around us. We’re more fluid. And because upbringing and environment have such a huge influence on the development of oneself, I don’t think you could ever purely be your true inner self. Maybe if you live in a shack up a mountain in Farawayistan. I try to keep myself in check by really trying to listen to my belly-feeling (inner-universe 🙂 ) to feel if choices I’m making feel right for me and feel right for my moral-compass, and if my moral-compass is still moral enough, so I can keep going without self-doubt or regret.”

How do you go about defining yourself? And where do you plant your flag in saying, “This is ‘I’; this is what ‘I’ am and what ‘I’ believe”?

So many, if not all, of our own ideas and beliefs are ideas have been circulating throughout cultures and societies across history—evolving or adapting with each new age or era and growing into new ideas or spawning new fields of knowledge. So much of what we call our own mind are collections of ideas passed on to us through our parents, through school, through our friends, or through televisions, computers and phones. So much of our behavior is either instinctually or chemically influenced, or they are behaviors we’ve picked up from those around us, people we see on TV, characters in books, comics, movies or shows.

How much of “you” can actually be found amidst this carnival of “not you”? And how much of the “not you” has influenced and altered “you”?

Beyond this, “who we are” can be such a fleeting reality. We’re one person at one moment, then we’re angry or sad or scared the next moment, and suddenly we’re practically a completely different person. We may even change how we act depending on what we wear, who we talk to, where we talk to them. How different of a person are you if you’re having drinks at a bar compared to drinks at a friend’s house, or how different are you when you wear denim jeans and sneakers compared to shorts and flip flops, or when you’re at work compared to when you’re at home?

How different of a person might you be just based on the colors of the walls around you, the smell of the room you’re in, the expressions and body language of the people nearby?

Maury further explores the influences that others have on us and our sense of self, particularly the painful and at times frightening aspects of it, in the piece, “Kings”.

Kings
Summer 2019
A5 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

“’Kings’ kind of represents all the people around us that we feel are judging us (often with no good reason). It could be that guy in the train, or the woman in the store. They gang up, stare, judge. Them against us. There is a sense of power and arrogance in it, hence that they are self-proclaimed kings. I think it is also influenced by the growth of the importance of individualism, in which many are prone to believe they themselves are the most important, rather than the wellbeing of the community.

But obviously this judging only happens in my head, because 99% of the people you pass in the streets don’t even notice you, let alone care.”

An often overlooked or undervalued aspect of understanding someone’s creations is understanding where these ideas have grown from—the inspirations and influences of someone’s art, music, writing and so forth.

In addition to anime, Maury mentioned a number of other influences, including film and music.

“I have this peculiar habit of intensely loving only a few artists so much that their work is on repeat rather than exploring a quantitative amount of artists. My current repeat playlist (named “repeat”) consists of #2 by Nils Frahm and a handful of tracks from the Westworld soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi. I especially love films that are thought provoking, or take me on a journey and preferably have an amazing atmospheric original score. Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy kind of has become a yearly tradition, and I have become so familiar with the lines that I bought the Japanese dubbed version to use it for my language studies haha. Anime is also a huge influence, especially visual, since the Japanese seem to apply a lot of shots and poses that I find beautiful and my computer is full of screenshots that I use as reference.

“In the end I love the feeling these works give me, this feeling of inspiration, or they maybe even make me feel alive and that I’m allowed to live. That there’s more to life than only living. And that’s what I want to give back to the world. If the inspired-me can inspire someone else again, who then can inspire another and so forth… That would be enough.”

In discussing her favorite anime, Maury said:

“One of my favorite anime films is Ghost in the Shell, because it’s full of layers. As humans we are watching a drawn representation of human-like cyborgs, so there is this double sense of artificiality. The director Oshii Mamoru also uses a lot of visual symbolisms and mechanisms that confuse the spectator. This is even more noticeable in his other animation film Angel’s Egg in collaboration with illustrator Amano Yoshitaka, who also worked on the Final Fantasy series (which I love 🙂 also the soundtrack!). The themes in Angel’s Egg are about loneliness and purpose and faith, and it’s set in a very dark world where this girl wanders through a deserted town with an egg, until she meets a man of whom we never truly know if he is friend of foe. It’s on YouTube with subtitles if anyone’s interested.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist has been hugely influential, which I prefer over Brotherhood because I think the original is more dramatic. Although, both soundtracks are wonderful. The hands that are represent in my work definitely find their origin in this series. The parallel universe/time travel theory of Steins;Gate also had a very big impact on my own way of theorizing an approach to life choices. They have a timeline that breaks up in several timelines, and made it really visible. Nowadays, when I look back at choices I have made and how they lead me to where I am now, I imagine the choices being forked roads and every path is another Maury leading a different life.”

Welcome to My Mirrored World
Winter 2018
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

The influence of both Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist can be seen in Maury’s works, “Welcome to My Mirrored World” and “Let Us Catch You”.

Maury mentioned that a shot from the 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime film inspired “Welcome to My Mirrored World”, and though I don’t know specifically which shot this was, the scene I immediately thought of was one where the protagonist is rising to the surface of a body of water, and her reflection creates a sort of mirrored, parallel reality before she breaks the surface of the water. With “Let Us Catch You” and several other pieces, we see the inspiration of the long, tendril-like arms related to Truth and various scenes where certain types of Alchemy are performed in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Though we didn’t discuss her art process in as much depth as we discussed other topics, Maury did explain how she comes up with many of her ideas, as well as part of her process of using recurring motifs in her art:

“There are two ways. Way 1: I live life. Life gives emotional friction. This emotional friction finds a visual representation that I doodle in my book of ideas. Way 2: I watch film. Film merges with random thoughts and memories of other things and I doodle it in my book of ideas. When I feel creative or a necessity to deal with my thoughts and emotions, I open my book of ideas, pick a pre-sketch and start drawing the composition. A lot of times inspiration and this feeling of necessity happen in the same moment.

“Often, I already know what kind of textures I want to use, or I decide to use several, for example I make one with a universe background, while the other will get a tree growing out of somewhere. For this reason, I create a template for most of my designs so I can easily make several versions with the help of a light box. I kind of see it as a puzzle. I have several reoccurring textures and motifs which I keep switching around in new compositions. Sometimes new ones are added or old ones become obsolete.”

Along with discussing her art, Maury and I talked a bit about her music, film projects she’s been involved with and a story of hers she’s been working with off and on for a few years.

“I would love to compose a score for a Japanese animation. That’s definitely in the top three of my bucket list.

“During my music degree at Plymouth University I worked on the feature film Jannertown with director Guy Brasher, which was such an amazing experience. His film is presented in several chapters that all have their own genre, but everything is connected. So musically this meant working with several themes that could return in various ways ranging from elevator music to futuristic synth music and orchestral superhero music.

“More recently I have worked with Pim Kromhout on a performance theater act inspired by the painting “Golconde” by René Magritte. The act consists of four very tall men with umbrella’s and there is music coming out of the umbrellas. Although the four men look the same and the music sounds as one whole, every man has his own tune that symbolizes his individuality. Unfortunately, it’s on hold because of Covid-19.

“[…]

Chaos
2016
A4 paper. Pen, ink, coloured pencils.

“My art and my music come from the same inner-location, which I at some point started to see as a fictional world. In my art there are returning characters which were initially just personifications of emotions, but at some point, influenced by the endless amounts of binge-watched/read-stories, I thought I could try to make my own story. And I got as far as plotting the whole first part of a trilogy, including strange dimensional travel laws, gods and prophecies, geographical maps. It was supposed to get a soundtrack too, with themes for different locations and characters. There was a lot of longing and tragedy.

“Unfortunately, I’m not a very good reader, so I failed to read back what I had written and then I lost track of all the complexities and now we’re three years later. But with all the free time Covid-19 has given me I’m actually taking a different approach in telling the story in a visual novel style. (trying to.) (also giving me a temporary meaning in this meaningless existence.)

“The story is set in an unchanging world. Characters that do administration of administration of administration. They look like barcodes and every minute of every day of every day is planned out for them. The world has long ago reached a form of perfection and so they are in a state of preservation, because if there would be any change, Being would change to Becoming and he would carry the world back to Chaos. (this works better in Dutch). While this barcode-species called ‘Others’ are supposed to be like robots, the main character has this inside-universe that makes her set out into the world and then things happen and she meets all kinds of people and discovers all sorts of secrets.”

The fortunate and the unfortunate aspect of Maury and I’s discussion is that we had a huge overlap in interests and so much to discuss. There was a lot Maury had to say that I could not fit into the article, as well a lot I wanted to say about Maury’s artwork and a number of topics related to her artwork that I could not fit in. Nonetheless, it has been a pleasure going through her artwork and hearing her thoughts on many things.

Whaleoplane
March 2020
A3 paper. Pen, ink, gel pen.

Maury’s artwork spans across philosophical and psychological themes and subjects, but her artwork stands on its own even without these underlying themes. The stark contrasts of black and white captures your attention, pulling your mind into a reeling labyrinth of shifting identities, crashing emotions, and the enveloping hands and faces of a comforting, conforming throng of people. With every day being another trek through a maze of faces, words, beliefs, motivations, personalities, relationships—and all the twisting, knotted, overlapping, intersecting crossroads between them—how long can we avoid the minotaur we’ve kept imprisoned inside our minds?

How long until the walls come down? And all the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we keep bottled inside come surging out?

Maury’s art is able to show both the tension between ourselves and others, and the tension between ourselves and our own minds: the mazes and the mirrors we navigate every day.

If you would like to see more of Maury’s work, you can find her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/fallsomnia or @fallsomnia and @fall.in.progress. Her primary website is www.fallsomnia.com and her music can be found on www.soundcloud.com/fallsomnia. Please give her art as well as her music a look/listen, and if you enjoy it, be sure to follow her.

The Art of Gradi Nitert (Studio Sacre Bleu)

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2019

sa·cré bleu

/ˌsäkrā ˈblə/

1) The expression today is not used in the major French-speaking countries, France, Belgium or Switzerland, but in the English-speaking world it is well known from Agatha Christie’s books about the fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

2) A stereotypical French curse that is never used by real French people. Similar to the mustache and the beret—something only non-French people think is typical of the French.

Gradi Nitert

As with many artists, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly what makes Gradi Nitert’s artwork stand out from others’, but it is immediately apparent that her artwork possesses an original style. Yet, Gradi’s work ranges across a wide spectrum of subjects and technique so, what common thread brings her artwork together?

“I think I now deeply realize my deepest core desire or ‘why’ is creating worlds where others—and myself—can find wonder; be surprised by the estrangement and alienation.”

Gradi Nitert is a dutch illustrator, maker and creator from Zwolle, in the Netherlands. Her work spans across collages, paintings and digital artwork, and her art incorporates elements of surrealism, fauvism, and abstraction. Drawing inspiration from dreams, oddities, music and a sense of nostalgia, Gradi pushes the boundaries of conscious and unconscious perceptions, and creates small pocket-realities of memories, imagination and fragments of reality.

With this kaleidoscope of the unconscious, the strange, and the familiarity of the past, Gradi’s artwork stretches the walls of reality, until Gradi simply steps over those walls. Outside the confines of a prescribed reality, Gradi defines her own rules, shapes her own landscapes, and gives life to her own people and places. Yet, for all the absurd strangeness of her work, Gradi has managed to build a bridge between her imagination and the world we inhabit.

“Vision”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

“As a little girl, I started creating little worlds—sometimes with small, hidden moments in them that made me laugh. When making 2D or 3D work, I always want to create an ambience where people feel nice, and with every piece there is a journey of discovery. I love to get out of reality, stepping or crawling into a new world—not to escape reality, just to discover a new one. Creating new worlds is my passion, and in surrealism I can do that infinitely, with a sense of connection.

“The curious thing is that I often like a sense of nostalgia in my work—a hint to the past. So, again, by creating a new world, I don’t want to lose our connection to reality. With things from the past, I want to give my art a cozy, comfortable feeling. The past is like our own, personal collection. I love to collect old, curious and peculiar things, so that I have that comfortable sense of nostalgia in my personal life. Surrounding myself with nice things, it gives me space to create and simply be.”

From the start, I found Gradi’s connection to music quite interesting.

“Music is the oil that makes the ideas come out. For all my ideas I do first visualize them in my head, which sometimes is a problem because by experimenting you’ll find yourself in things you never thought of in the first place. I try to do both, pushing myself to experiment with materials, and ‘to just do it’ and make ‘mistakes’, but I think still 70% of my work I see in my head. How? I don’t know. Maybe the music is a trigger; maybe the ambience or mood creates unconscious links and triggers. I love instrumental music the best; classical music, music from movies, or orchestras. Orchestra plus rock or electronic beats and other mashups are perfect too. I love Rob Dougan, as well as big band music—music from the 20’s to 40’s.”

In music, like in art, meaning is formed from the relationships of small components, and the patterns across a piece. Chords harmonize from notes across a scale. Chord progressions and rhythms form a landscape of sound, with melodies and improvisations roaming across that landscape. Together, these things form a cohesive whole. Formed from the placement of many small parts, the composer creates their own, unique space within the sound.

In art, colors, lines and shapes harmonize into the fundamental forms of a piece. These come together into the images or symbols of the piece. The placement and composition of each image forms a relationship with the other images, and together they create a new world of the artists design.

What’s peculiar about Gradi’s artwork is that, despite the seeming arbitrariness of her art, she forms something cohesive and meaningful. Similar to jazz, orchestra, and other instrumental music, Gradi’s art doesn’t tell you what you should be thinking about, and yet it still feels familiar. The worlds she creates define their own rules, patterns and relationships, and it’s from these patterns and relationships that Gradi creates its meaningfulness.

“Decoupage”
Digital Collage/Illustration
2014

“I was asked by producer-duo Seven League Beats to create a cd-cover while they were finishing their music. I saw their process develop from “sketches of sound” to the final CD. It was an amazing project. They gave me very personal notes of why they created that CD, what drove them to make the music, and what inspired them. Since they were a duo, there were two experiences I had to fuse into one ambience-world. Listening and isolating myself with the music made me create the final design. Sound and music have always been a huge inspiration for me—it easily takes me into that ‘world’ in my head, and the creations flow out of my head onto paper. Some movies, I listened to over 200 times, and never fully watched them, just because the sound design and music is so inspiring.”

The two most prominent ways Gradi portrays her small worlds are with her choice of imagery, and her application of color theory. Gradi’s work achieves its dream-like effect by pairing random subjects and objects together, and by blending realism with abstraction. This is seen particularly in her collage-work, where she pairs together animals, people, plants, architecture, and other random objects.

Some of her work anthropomorphizes animals, or clumps odd arrangements of visuals together. Some of her work pushes towards more uncanny cliff-edges of the weird and strange, but never comes across as disturbing, or so strange or novel that it’s unpleasant to look at. By toeing the line between strange and familiar, Gradi pulls us into the worlds of her invention, and invites us into spaces created from her dreams and imagination.

“Weirdscape”
Collage
2018

With “Weirdscape”, from Gradi’s “Nation of Nonsense” series, Gradi combines three rocks, a planet, a bear, and a pathway of boxes. The bear is walking across the path of boxes, with a planet emerging from its body, and the rocks projecting up and out from the planet. It’s arbitrary, it’s random, it’s nonsense, yet it feels meaningful to look at.

There is an orderly placement of each object, with the direction of the bear, planet and rocks centered and perpendicular to the boxes, and there is a hierarchy of size with the objects. There is a single, small rock at the top, the bear and the planet at the center, and the endless rows of boxes at the bottom. Despite its apparent nonsense, there’s a pattern and an organization to the image.

Beyond the selection and arrangement of images, a major part of what gives “Weirdscape” and other pieces of Gradi’s meaning is her use of color. Much like the Fauvists of the modern art movement, Gradi uses color in a surreal, dream-like way. Rather than depict reality as we know it, Gradi colors her new worlds in muted tones and unnatural hues.

Though some of Gradi’s art appears to have random color schemes, Gradi’s use of color is just as organized and meaningful as it is dream-like and strange. She uses scales of complimentary and analogous colors, but also uses scales of values—from neutral tones to brighter, vibrant colors—to create dreamy, pleasing and cohesive color schemes.

In “Weirdscape”, she uses a light, muted purple as her background, with a dark purple bear and a light blue-purple planet at the center. The two uppermost rocks are colored with orange/red-orange and purple/red-purple, with a few hints of blue. At the bottom are the neutral-tan boxes, which contrast with the other colors, but also pair with the muted and lighter shades throughout the rest of the piece. Though the colors are strange and otherworldly, they’re arranged in a pleasing pattern, which clicks in our heads as something meaningful and familiar.

“Cult”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

Another example of this use of color can be seen in “Cult”. The background is a chalky black, which transitions into the dark, red-purple bodies of the figures. The heads range on one end of the color spectrum from red-orange to violet, and on the other end, blue-green to yellow. Despite the abstract use of color, the hues of the odd figures are tied together like notes along a scale, with the purple-red bodies grounded in the black background.

While “Cult” can be analyzed technically, this piece also ties back to Gradi’s interest in the unconscious—which is actually her inspiration for the color choice.

 “This is one of my paintings I made in response to some dreams I had. A period of my life I couldn’t sleep during the nights and barely stayed awake during the day. That period had some really inspiring visuals for me. The dreams were so complex, so deep, I had to recreate them. I even tried to make myself have lucid dreams, but I never really succeeded. The colors I saw were so consistently intense, it took me a while, but I managed to ‘catch’ them and transfer them on my canvas. That period was one of the darkest in my life, you can imagine lack of sleep is a real killer. When I look back at the works I created that time, I can still see and feel the darkness I sunk into.”

Across cultures and throughout history, humans have a fascination with dreams, and, since Freud and his contemporaries, there’s been a fascination with the unconscious parts of our mind. It’s become apparent to many that there seems to be some connection with the unconscious and art, music, or writing—with creativity and ingenuity in general.

This connection between dreaming and reality has been a major inspiration for Gradi and her art.

“I think I can analyze my work more and more after looking back at myself when I made the piece. Dreams are a way of processing. By not giving yourself time and rest to do so, it will be a mess starting with intense dreams. I don’t think dreams give you literal answers or views of your mind, but I think you can learn from them sometimes; maybe you have to think things over more. Maybe you have more difficulties with a subject than you thought. But also, the weirdness of dreams is amazing, right? It’s funny to think you sometimes dream unthinkable weirdness, but it’s still your head thinking it. That makes you think, don’t you think?

“I love how endless your brain can be, the unique ideas and images you can create, and how unfortunate 80% of the stuff we make looks like each other. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my dreams anymore the last few years—though, for me personally, I know that is a good thing. I have some peace—some rest in my head—but my unconscious is of course still influencing my work. In a good way, but also some times in a bad way.”

On her piece, “Dreamsight”, Gradi stated:

“Dreamsight”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

 “In the same series as ‘Cult’, is Dreamsight. Notably, I always hid the faces during that time. I think it’s an unconscious choice I made. I wanted to hide—trying to understand this intensely confusing feeling. I still often make my paintings like that.”

Dreams, daydreams, the unconscious, and the storm of thoughts that can invade our waking minds, can all be seen as a window to the soul, or to the Self. Yes, we must mediate between our personal selves and the selves we put out into the world, but we must do so without obscuring our inner realities, our inner selves. I think this might be one of the greatest challenges of the modern era—of rediscovering the things that made humanity, and that make each of our lives, meaningful.

Gradi shows this with her piece, “Block”.

“Block”
Acrylics on Wood
2015

“I think this is the painting that describes my most dominant and recurrent topic in my personal work and life. Trying to escape the mold of society. I painted myself stuck in the structure (I call ‘the mold’) and the pressure I feel very deeply in the Western world. We constantly get shown how we should live. People just assume it is the way you should go. And how simple the solution looks like, I still have to remind myself as an adult to follow my own path. It’s easy to float in the stream, you know.

“Stuck, oppressive, trying to get out. The world walking numb in circles around you.”

When I asked Gradi to explain this sense of pressure from society, she explained:

“I think it’s the unnatural overload of advertisement, the core of materialism and capitalism, and the acceleration and the growing presence of social media everywhere. The way ‘normal’ is portrayed, and the way it must be in your life is constantly rubbed in your face. It’s really a struggle, the jealousy (really nasty feeling), and thinking 10,000 people can do what I do better, so why should I make this stuff.

“What can I contribute to this (art) world? All slowly slipped in my mind. Good thing you can go offline—literally stop or unplug—but it had me, and I didn’t even know it… …it is just something that unconsciously slips into my life, and by not reminding myself, I will do and make stuff I don’t want.”

My favorite piece of Gradi’s—the beautiful, vibrant and expressive, “Silence”—expands on this idea.

“Silence”
Acrylics on Wood
2018

 “This one I made more recently. I think my style constantly develops. I also believe that experiment and development is crucial to your work and your own, personal development. I don’t want to stand still. I always try to find new, other, or better ways to express myself.

“’Silence’ is made with the feeling that you have to be your own explorer, instead of listening or looking at others. I think this is an important topic in my work. Look at ‘Dreamsight’. So many influences with the same eggs. Don’t create the same egg. Create your own.”

Let it out. Let yourself, your ideas, your creativity—your inner reality—flow out from your head, and into the world around you. Let the space you inhabit be your own, and don’t let the world constrict you so much that you lose sight of what’s important and meaningful—don’t let the world constrict you so much you lose sight of who you even are. Bring your own vision to bear upon the society that bears down on each of us.

When talking about developing her style, Gradi stated:

“I can’t remember not wanting to be an artist; it is my love, my why. It never was and still is not easy—to be an independent artist, to make art most of my time. To develop my own style, I always push myself to reflect my work and myself—reminding myself why I want to make art, what inspires me, and what has always driven me.

“After being ‘lost’, and not being true to myself as an artist, I slowly started making stuff I thought others would love to have. Since I had to make money, pay my rent, pay my bills, and not really have other degrees or skills, I HAD TO MAKE IT, I HAD to make MONEY. People had to love my work and pay for it so I could make art and not have to work elsewhere—elsewhere meant no energy or inspiration left to make art. Otherwise it was office jobs, and that would slowly dull me out. But I realized that I only want to inspire people, make people feel good a little bit by looking at my work.

“Not money. I just want to MAKE. And the only way to do so, is make what I love. Make what inspires me, only then can I give that spark to someone else. And so, I try to experiment, and also remind myself often why I make what I make. And that makes me go forward, and it makes me happy.”

The last piece of Gradi’s in this article, “Circus”, is a simple yet beautiful example of what makes her work unique. It’s like a photograph taken from a distant mindscape—possibly an image from a textbook on the geography of dreams and the unconscious.

“Circus”
Collage/Illustration/Paint

“Okay, after the previous works, I want to show you the other side of creating. The fun just drips off this work. It was made after I read Kafka’s ‘Ein Hungerkünstler’ [A Hunger Artist] (1924). Shuffling and combining collages and pieces of paper, until I created the right ambience of that masterpiece by Kafka. It shows my hints of nostalgia, my love of paper and oddity, and the experiment I always recommend.

‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.’

—a quote by Albert Einstein.”

I was a little surprised that the inspiration from this came from Kafka’s “Ein Hungerkünstler”, as it’s a rather dark read. It’s about an artist who starves himself in a cage for days on end for the entertainment of others. When the artist finally dies from starvation, they are replaced by a panther, which the crowd finds far more entertaining than the artist. However, I thought about this for a little while, and it began to make sense to me.

I don’t want to speak too much for Gradi’s interpretation of Kafka, but, relating it back to her other artwork, between the self-starving artist and the panther, the crowd found the panther far more enjoyable. Why? Because the original artist became a hollow husk for the sake of others’ pleasure, but the panther was something wild and true—something full of life, something that didn’t apologize for its existence, or seek to please others with its own demise.

Gradi likewise overcame her need to please others with her art, and became an artist as wild, true and full of life as the panther. We’re not searching for artwork that was designed to entertain, we’re searching for creations that emerged out of someplace deeper. Gradi’s art not only emerges from that deeper place, but creates a bridge for us to cross over and join her in the worlds of her creation.

If you enjoyed Gradi’s work, you can find her on Instagram @studiosacrebleu. You can purchase prints, original artwork, and other products of her design at https://www.studiosacrebleu.nl/. If you’re ever in Europe (or, if you live in Europe), her work can be found in a wide variety of shops (which you can find on her website), and—if you catch her at the right time—festivals, galleries and other events.

Praying to our own Beat: The Music of Clarissa Rodriguez

Written by Alexander Greco

May 13, 2019

Released Saturday, May 11th, Holy Kerouac’s first EP, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, is a nostalgic walk through our old emotions, dreams and hopes, and a bittersweet reconcilement with the world we live in now—the world that threatens what we once held sacred. Holy Kerouac is a solo project started by Clarissa Rodriguez, a member of Solace Sutra, and is Clarissa’s expression of deeper, more personal emotions and sentiments. The EP is about hope and hopelessness, the sacred and the absurd, and the journey to find meaning in meaninglessness.

When I interviewed Clarissa, she told me that this EP was more personal to her than her work with other musicians. It’s all at once an homage to her literary heroes—Ginsberg, Kerouac, and others of the Beat Generation—an exploration of sound and emotion, and an entirely self-made creation. From the music and lyrics to the recording and mixing, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is entirely a product of Clarissa’s imagination, design and effort. It’s three songs that say, “This is me, this is who I am, and this is what I have created.”

The first song, “Delirium” is a somber and dark track about depression and anxiety. It is at once a lucid, simple and arid song, and a distorted, dissonant and chaotic song; a song about clarity and a song about confusion. The song seems to be saying that what is most clear with our lives is how unclear our lives are. The simplest explanation of our lives is that they are complex. At our most lucid, we see how insane we are, and our rationality does little more than reveal our irrationality.

In this song, Clarissa combines steady, solid percussion with digital sampling, electronic distortion, and poetic lyrics to form a landscape of rumbling, rambling emotion. Clarissa’s lyrics borrow concepts and language from the poetry of the Beat Generation, though Clarissa seems to have identified her own, unique voice across this EP. She couples this with the beats and ambience of lo-fi, and the subtle psychedelia of

 “Delirium” is dreamy, haunting, and bittersweet. It is an homage to our past, a march toward our future, and a photograph of our present lives. It’s a remembrance of what we once were, of a life that felt sacred, and a questioning of who we are now, what is sacred anymore. It is the confusion of facing unsolvable dilemmas, asking unanswerable questions, and bearing arbitrary crosses.

The second song of the EP, “Oh, Little Bee”, is easily my favorite song on the EP. I kind of can’t get over this one.

Everything from the flow of the song (the rhythm, the pulse, the starts and the stops, the rises and the falls), the subject matter of the song, the layering and harmonization of the upper, mid, and lower range, and the haunting use of distortion, reverb and chorus effects.

The song stands on the edge of self-love and self-loathing, and drifts through old memories and spectral emotions. It explores the dissonance between our dreams and ideals, and the realities of our life. The song ebbs and flows between the tumbling events of our strange lives, and the breath-taking epiphanies that define our hopes and fears. The staticky reverb of Clarissa’s soulful croons ring like a choir of doubting angels, and blossoms in your ears like a moaning congregation.

I think this song best epitomizes the sentiment of this EP. It mixes the holy with the fallen. It mixes something pure and angelic with something broken and confused. There is a somber certainty mixed with an ironic doubt and cynical self-deprecation. It approaches the proposition of Ginsgberg’s Howl, that all is holy and nothing is holy, and asks, “Then what am I?”

And yet, there is a sense of bittersweet hope in the song. There is a feeling that perhaps the absurd can be sacred. Perhaps broken lives can give birth to powerful lives. Perhaps a cure for our doubts can be found in doubt itself.

The last song on the EP, “Picture of Health” has an almost bluesy feel to it, though it still uses elements of synth/electronica, lo-fi and pop-punk. Once again, the pacing of this song is half of what makes it great to listen to. The delivery of each line is impactful, and the steady rhythm of the song matches the relaxing melancholy of the upper-end.

The song is about the day-by-day journey of survival. It’s about the endless march we all take through our lives, and the dim hopes we cling to as we “get by”. It’s about the vast deserts of purposelessness we must cross as we search for some oasis of meaningfulness. It’s about the beating drum of our personal marathons, the reeling listlessness between one moment and the next, and the stumbling crawl of modern life.

Though the EP is short, it is dense with haunting vocals, a unique blend of lo-fi and pop-punk influences, and the enduring sentiment of the Beat Generation. Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is a glimpse from the bottom, a glimpse from the lowest of lows. It is glimpse from the bottom, which stares at the distant ideals of the divine far above us, and searches for the path forward, a path toward the divine. It is a beacon of light amidst the grey fog of suburbia.

Clarissa comes from a diverse community of musicians, which is reflected in both the style and the quality of her first EP. Not only has she been influenced musically by local artists like Mallgoth, 49th Octave, and the regional art-collective known as Gulf Coast Ghost, but she’s also been influenced by the attitude and the work ethic of these musicians. Clarissa told me she’s inspired by the urgency, the creativity and the personalities of musicians she plays with, and her music is influenced by the widely-diverse genres of these artists.

If you haven’t listened to Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a sign of good things to come, both metaphorically and literally. Clarissa is still working on her solo project, Holy Kerouac, and expects to have a full-length album coming soon. While this EP was sad and somber, Clarissa’s next album will introduce more energy and hopefulness.

Until then, go give the music of Clarissa Rodriguez a listen. It’s worthy of a few play-throughs.

The Rock Music of Argentina

Article Written by Alexander Greco

With Lucas Galeano

May 7, 2019

Stay until the end for a list of recommended music.

Argentine Crowd at a Pearl Jam Concert

I was hooked on Argentina when I watched a clip of Pearl Jam live in La Plata, Argentina. I’ve never seen anything quite like a few thousand Argentines losing their minds to Even Flow. I watched this, and realized there was something special about Argentina.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Lucas Galeano, a rock enthusiast from Argentina, with a rock broadcast page on Instagram. We talked at length over email, and I got to pick his brains on Argentine rock—its history, its influences, its passion, and where it is today.

“The musical culture of Argentina is very broad and has many influences due to the large number of migrations that came from different parts of Europe—it is a mixture that acquired its own identity. …there were many Spanish, Italian, French, German, Polish and Portuguese influences. They came from many different countries at different times, but culturally the strongest influences were the Spanish and Italian.”

Argentina was settled by the Spanish monarchy in the 16th century, and officially declared its independence in 1816. After years of civil war, Argentina emerged as a modern, federal nation. In the late 19th century, Argentina enacted liberal-economic policies, and promoted large-scale European immigration. By 1908, Argentina was one of the most prominent countries, and by the 50’s and 60’s, Argentina was booming with American rock music.

“[In Argentina] we are already talking about rock music in the 1950’s with the explosion of rock in the United States. The local bands had their first influences, but they just covered [the American bands]. In the 1960’s, there is a lot of influence of beat music. The bands that most stand out from that time are Los Gatos, Almendra, the beginning of Sui Generis, and Pappo. They all exploded in the 70’s.”

The Argentine Dictatorship of ’76 – ’83 was marked with violence, censorship, missing persons, and a decreased standard of living.

This explosion of music coincided with a military dictatorship in Argentina, which lasted until 1983. This dictatorship was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of thousands of people, and for the censorship of journalists and musicians.

“Argentina had a long time of the twentieth century dictatorships. It affects a lot in the psychological sense, since lack of freedom is not just damaging to a person; it is damaging to a country. At that time, it was a hard blow also for the disappearances that there were in the country… there was no freedom of the press. If you went out at night without authorization, they took you prisoner.

“It was a very hard blow for the country. Many musicians had to leave the country, and those who remained sent hidden messages in their songs to avoid problems with the regime. That was extremely risky. If [the government] found out, they were killed.

“The messages of the musicians are subtle in their songs. If they have noticed something, they censor the lyrics or, directly, they ban the song. The majority of rock of the 70’s Argentineans are letters in double sense. Everything they said had a different meaning. The Charly Garcia stands out first and foremost. The public song called ‘The Dinosaurs’. He said in the lyrics that the friends of the neighborhood can disappear, but the dinosaurs are going to disappear. The dinosaurs were a metaphor for the military, but they did not realize it.”

It was a boom of joy, and was represented in their songs. In the eighties the music was very happy. The lives of the people changed, but the economic present of the country was not good. It was hard to live every day, but the Argentine was happy.”

Los Gatos in their Early Years

…when democracy returned, [the country] felt a boom of joy that was transmitted in music.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this boom, the music that came from the late 60’s up to the early 80’s shaped Argentine music into something truly unique.

A Young Litto Nebbia

One of the first major original Argentine bands, Los Gatos, was formed in the late 1960’s. Their debut album was the first Argentine rock band to locally out-sell American and British records, and this has been considered the birth of Argentine rock. However, when a new dictatorship arose in 1976, Litto Nebbia, the lead singer of Los Gatos, fled the country and took refuge in Mexico. Eventually, Litto was able to move back to his home country, though it would not be for several years.

Other major Argentine bands of the time were Vox Dei, Sui Generis, and Almendra.

Vox Dei

Vox Dei (Voice of God) began in 1967, and is the first Argentine rock band to have created a concept album, titled “The Bible” (1971). Vox Dei produced 10 albums in the 1970’s, and a total of 19 albums between 1970 and 2015. They were also one of the first progressive rock and psychedelic rock groups, as well as the first Argentine rock-opera band.

Charly Garcia and Nito Mestre

Sui Generis is a folk and progressive rock band formed in 1971, and is considered one of the most influential Argentine bands of all time. Sui Generis was formed by Nito Mestre and the aforementioned legend, Charly Garcia. The band originally played experimental psychedelic music, but eventually found a voice in the folk genre.

Charly Garcia would go on to form other legendary Argentine bands, such as Seru Giran, La Maquina de Haver Pajaros, and PorSuiGieco. Beginning in the 80’s Charly Garcia became a highly successful solo act, and has put out several albums that experiment with jazz, folk, synthpop, lo-fi, and, of course, hard rock and experimental rock. Many of his albums are comparable to the musical experimentation of Radiohead, The Cure, and Beck.

Almendra

Almendra is another Argentine band of the 60’s to experiment with psychedelic rock, folk music and progressive rock. Almendra has often been compared to The Beatles, and though they broke up in 1970, their first two albums—Almendra and Almendra II—revolutionized the Argentine music scene. After splitting, members of the band formed new groups—Aquellarre, Color Humano, and Pescado Rabioso. The lead vocalist—Luis Alberto Spinetta—would go on to be another highly successful solo act.

These artists, and several others, changed music in Argentina forever. Just like the music revolutions of America and the UK, Argentine music began evolving in the 70’s and the 80’s, especially with the fall of the dictatorship in ’83. From this came new, dynamic artists, with influences spanning across American and British pop, classical European music, and Latin dance music (the Tango, in particular).

“You have many popular Argentine artists who were on e very popular artists throughout Latin America. Classics [I] would say Charly Garcia, Seru Giran Gustavo Cerati, Soda Stereo, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Pappo, Renga, the “Indian” Solari. Contemporary artists, very good bands that are already playing, [include] Las Pelotas, Divided, The Pills of the Grandfather, Ciro and the Persians, Babasonicos, You Point Me, [and] The Decadents, there are many.

“Today is difficult, because there are many very good bands, but I Stayed With You to Point out to Me, The State of the Motorized Police, the Plan of the Butterfly, [and] Crossing the Puddle.”

Las Pelotas (The Balls, or Bollocks!) began in the 80’s, and contains elements of hard rock, 90’s psychedelia and 80’s synth and FX. In addition, some of their songs use Latin rhythms and chord progressions, as well as elements of funk, blues, reggae, folk and punk. They’re an incredibly dynamic and fun band to listen to.

Las Pastillas de Abuelo Live

Las Pastillas de Abuelo (The Pills of the Grandfather) is an urgent, driving fusion of hard rock, latin music and jazz, and god damn did I like their music. This band may be one of the purest fusion of traditional Argentine music and influences, and the rock revolutions of America and Britain. Las Pastillas de Abuelo began in the 2000’s, and contains the experimental, post-rock vibes of the time. However, this is one of those bands that transcends the genres it was born from, and becomes its own, unique type of music. It’s all at once relaxing and urgent, driving you forward with fluid grooves and huge energy.

Babasonicos is another thoroughly unique band with a great sound. In some ways, they remind me of Muse or The War on Drugs, in other ways they remind me of Alt-J and The Flaming Lips, and they also remind me of a Latin crossbreed between Guns and Roses, Beck and The Beatles. In other words, they’re really difficult to pin down…

…but I love it.

They’re their own incredibly unique band, with their own eclectic mix of Latin-folk, electronica, classic rock, dream-pop, and psychedelia. They’re funky. They’re heavy. They’re psychedelic. They’re absurd. They’re deeply emotional. They’re overall fantastic. I highly recommend this band, they’re fucking crazy.

In addition to these bands, Argentina has a huge variety of contemporary artists who deserve a listen. I listened to at least a couple dozen contemporary Argentine bands, and I kind of loved every band I listened to. However, for the sake of time, I narrowed down my current five favorites (though there’s still a lot to explore).

archipielagos self-titled EP

archipielagos is a math rock band that experiments with all kinds of styles and sounds. Their music includes odd meter, dynamic and complex rhythms, beautiful polyphonic melodies, and experimental composition. While the songs are primarily instrumental, the vocals we do hear are gut-wrenching yells, dreamy, crooning laments, and lo-fi sampling. Their music is similar to bands like American Football, Hella, Foxing, and Tiny Moving Parts, though this band is already developing a distinct voice. They are a pretty fresh and developing band, and have the potential to be a truly unique group if they continue down the path they’ve begun.

Las Ligas Menores

Las Ligas Menores (The Minor Leagues) is a bittersweet mix of garage rock and dream pop. Their music maintains a driving yet not frantic rhythm, matched by calmly-energized guitar riffs that dance on the edge of clean and bright melodies, and big, heavy walls of distortion. They play with a youthful energy similar to bands like The Strokes and Florence + The Machine, but mix it with the synth and distortion of bands like New Order and My Bloody Valentine.

El Mato a Un Policia Motorizado

El Mato a Un Policia Motorizado (That Boy Killed a Motorized Police) is a pretty popular post-punk/rock outfit stylized by drifting, spaced out melodies and punk-infused noise rock. Their music is a carnival of shoegazing pedal-work and electronica. If you go far enough back into their discography, you find a heavier punk core, similar to the now-legendary sounds of Cap’n Jazz and Sunny Day Real Estate. Their newer albums however explore a wide breadth of sound, and broaden their compositional toolkit.

Harm & Ease

Harm & Ease takes a much different approach stylistically than the other bands I’ve talked about. Harm & Ease mixes hard, romping blue-rock with powerful, soulful vocals. This band is a mix of heavy blues, grungy, energetic soul-music, and a gritty folk twang. On top of this already-dynamic sound is a psychedelic veneer reminiscent of the Doors and the Flaming Lips. Harm & Ease is groovy, powerful and unique, and god damn, what a voice this guy’s got.

Riel’s Sueno Electrico album

Riel is an incredibly well-executed balance of 90’s indie rock, 80’s post-punk, and contemporary garage and blues-rock. Mixing the dissonant, heavy sounds of Sonic Youth and Nirvana, the jangling walls of 80’s reverb, and the stomping intensity of bands like White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys, Riel creates a landscape of churning, crashing noise one moment, then a drifting, dreamy river of reverb the next moment. Riel’s music is a sunny drive with the windows down, a waterfall of percussion and shredding, and a journey into the Great Beyond of distorted feedback.

Like I said, there’s a huge list of Argentine rock music that I’ve only just begun to explore. If you listen to these bands and enjoy them, by all means, do some exploring of your own. You’ll never know what sort of bands you’ll find.

Now, I wouldn’t be doing Argentina justice if I didn’t talk about their live music scene. It’s wild.

In addition to listening to hours and hours of Argentine rock spanning from the 1960’s to the 2010’s, I’ve also watched at least 2-3 hours of footage from rock concerts in Argentina, and it’s fucking crazy. Thousands of people are jumping up and down, and chanting, and singing. You can see the band members’ eyes light up when they play for Argentine crowds, and it has this massive effect on the band’s energy. Sometimes, the Argentinean crowds seem to take over the entire concerts, by beginning a song on their own, or singing so loudly they’re almost competing for volume with the band onstage.

As my friend, Lucas, explained, “The concerts in Argentina have a lot of adrenaline. And that adrenaline is from the beginning of the recital until it ends. Here we sing the solos of guitar, piano, saxophone, whatever. Sometimes the same audience invents songs for the bands that give life to the show.”

“I have seen many interviews with musicians from other countries, and they are fascinated by the attitude of the Argentine public in relation to artists. If you are a musician and want to record a video, the best place to go is always Argentina.

“Once I went to a festival here. I met a Peruvian and he said, ‘I can not believe the energy they have, I do not give more and you continue, I can not keep up with your rhythm’.”

There is a deep passion in Argentina for music and live performance. There is a love for the energy and the wildness of music. There is a love for the beauty and the complexity of music. There is a love for the craft and the showmanship of music; a love of playing, a love of experimenting, a love of coming together as a group, a love of the power music has on you, and love of the freedom of music.

Argentina is a nation with a history of struggling for freedom, battling for its sovereignty, and rising up as a nation of individuals. I’ve seen pictures of beautiful nations, and I’ve seen art from distant lands, but there’s something special about listening to music that feels entirely individualistic. When I listen to Argentine music, I think what drew me in the most was the sound of each, individual musician being empowered through their music. It’s beautiful to listen to.

To end this, here is my list of recommended Argentine musicians and songs:

For early music and classic rock:

  • Los Gatos

One of the first major Argentine bands to become popular. Their debut album out-performed American and British records in Argentina, and their first record is considered to be the birth of Argentine rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Seremos Amigos

  • Favorite Songs:

La Balsa

Quizas No Comprendan

Manana

  • Sui Generis

A legendary duo of two highly-influential Argentine musicians, Nito Mestre and Charly Garcia. These two would go on to start several other bands, as well as successful solo projects.

  • Favorite Album:

Vida

  • Favorite Songs:

Cancion para Mi Muerte

Rasguna Las Piedras

Confesiones De Invierno

  • Almendra

Considered by some to be the Argentine Beatles, though they have a sound and style that is quite distinct from the Beatles. This band revolutionized Argentine music.

  • Favorite Album:

En Obras I y II

  • Favorite Songs:

Color Humano

Ana No Duerme

Muchacha (Ojos de Papel)

For 80’s to the early 00’s

  • Las Pelotas

This band implements the best of 90’s rock, 80’s and 90’s synth/FX, Latin fusion, and elements of jazz and reggae.

  • Favorite Album:

Amor Seco

  • Favorite Songs:

Si Superias

Astroboy

Hola Que Tal

  • Las Pastillas del Abuelo

2000’s post-rock fusion band. They blend a wide variety of influences, including heavy rock, folk music, and traditional Argentine music.

  • Favorite Album:

Desafios

  • Favorite Songs:

Incontinencia Verbal

Viejo Karma!

Ojos de Dragon!

  • Babasonicos

A highly experimental 90’s and 00’s band. They mix hardcore rock with punk, psychedelic blues, electronica, and folk-rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Vortice Marxista

  • Favorite Songs:

Larga Siesta

Desarmate

El Loco

For contemporary bands:

  • El Mato Un Policia Motorizado

Popular 00’s and 10’s band. Roots in punk and hardcore rock, though they progressively experiment with more and more synth, psychedelia, space-rock, and dream-pop.

El Mato A Un Policia Motorizado

Guitarra Comunista

Mas O Menos  Bien

La Noche Eterna

  • Harm & Ease

Powerful and dynamic fusion of folk, funk, soul, punk and blues. They mix huge, stomping sounds with roaring vocals.

  • Favorite Album:

Black Magic Gold

  • Favorite Songs:

Run Back

Save Me from Myself

Cosmic Measure

  • Riel

Driving and dreamy mix of post-punk, psychedelic blues/garage rock, and 90’s indie rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Sueno Electrico

  • Favorite Songs:

Vertiginosamente

Nocturno

Merienda

Never Hungover Again

An Album Review by Zane Hughes

In 2016, after only listening to music that would be played on the radio, or from what CDs my parents had in their collection, my friends helped branch out my music taste by showing me artists that they enjoy and then mutual musicians in the scene. I had no idea that the world of music was as vast as it is and I was genuinely surprised with how personal and emotional it could truly become. I’m not saying that the bands played on the radio or the ones repetitively played through my CD stereo system were not expressive or “deep”, but based on my age and my setting, the artists I would consider all time favorites now, left a stamp on me unlike anything I’ve heard before.

And seeing these new discoveries in person was the main factor behind that. When a show was announced nearby that peaked our (me and my friends) interests, part of the discovery was checking out the other bands on the bill that we never have heard about. But from our collective tastes in similar genres, not only was there never a dull moment of seeing these fresh bands live as they tore the stage apart, but these shows were almost always energetic and fun as hell. Growing up I only went to festivals hosted by our favorite local radio station because my parents only saw value in seeing multiple bands at once. Mainly due to the economic point of view since the bands we listened to were highly well known and the tickets for them were too pricey for just the one off tour stop.

So catching 10+ bands for the price of one was perfect and since I was just starting to go to concerts, the extra open space helped me get comfortable with the bombastic sounds that a show could actually reach. Fast forward to high school and the gigs my friends and I would go to were in very tight and makeshift joints where the maximum capacity never exceeded 150-200 people. Imagine all of those individuals sweaty and simultaneously jumping, shouting, shoving, and sharing the collective love for the vibe as much as you were. Some of the best times of my life were at these shows. Some of my best friends were right there with me. And, of course, some of my all-time favorite bands came from these experiences. One of those bands is Joyce Manor.

Joyce Manor is a Californian indie/punk rock group who continue to tackle a wide variety of styles and subgenres of rock with each release. Even though they experiment with different sounds and subgenres, proudly flashing their influences on their sleeves, over the course of the past 10 years since they have been together, they’ve stuck to the same formula of building their songs around simple structuring. That formula is to have every song short and (bitter)sweet. Something they would become well known for by fans and the overall general scene. Going in order of newest releases to older, their most recent release at the time of listening to them was the 2014 pop-punk critical and commercial hit, “Never Hungover Again”.

Once I finished listening to their remaining discography, I couldn’t resist the urge to instantly put this record back on 2-3 more times. Truth be told I couldn’t tell you why that was. It’s not anything new or groundbreaking really. Just your average run of the mill pop punk record on first glance, but little to my knowledge though, “Never Hungover Again” implanted an ear worm cocoon so deep into my head that I wouldn’t come to notice it until I’d see them in person for it to finally hatch and come slithering out. Released under the belt of the highly regarded Epitaph Records, a first time “big” label company deal for the group (still signed to this day), and with the guidance of first time collaborator and mutual friend Joe Reinhart (producer, guitarist for the band Hop Along which they are pals with), “Never Hungover Again” is a flush rollercoaster.

With loops of polished energy, subtle sentimentality, and tight, ferocious turns of distress, the tracklist of only ten songs soar swiftly with a runtime of a mere 19 minutes. Aiding in the rapid tempo are some spectacular guitar riffs which are the protruding acne on this “teenage boy” of a record. Sticking out vividly from the remaining elements on this cut, each song on “Never Hungover Again” has it’s own “blemish” of a riff.

Half of the record tends to be more punk driven at its core, shown best on tracks like “Christmas Card”, which blasts off the record as the bouncy kinetic opener, or on the frantic “Heart Tattoo” where we get a full dose of pop punk nostalgia pumped directly into our veins. On the other hand, some riffs aim to be more formal with it’s approach towards a brighter tone, seen on tracks like “Schley”, “Falling in Love Again” and best in the closing track “Heated Swimming Pool”, a shimmering arrangement of 80s-esque grooves that has the album dipping its toes into unknown waters (no pun intended). Something we’d see Joyce Manor exploring more in later albums.

Put those two sounds together and you get that “teenage boy” sound reminiscent of early 2000’s pop punk that wears a pullover hoodie of modern indie cynicism. Over these guitars though are tuneful harmonies and the occasional expressive shout here and there provided by lead frontman Barry Johnson. In the latter half of the tracklist, we go from “In The Army Now” straight into “Catalina Fight Song” where you are whiplashed with concurrent energy from the instrumentals; but, Barry’s vocal work changes drastically from self contained emotion on the first, to all out angst on the follow up. Sprinkled throughout are well performed and infectious backup vocals done by bassist Matt Ebert and guitarist Chase Knobbe. And that’s mainly it for the record.

The two styles span over Joyce Manor’s discography but on “Never Hungover Again”, we’re seeing their full potential maxed out as a band. Every instrument compliments one another and they all fall victim under Barry’s voice and, not to forget, his poetic lyricism. And the word “Poetic” outlines “Never Hungover Again” perfectly. No song is in conjunction, but they’re thematically bundled together with overall playful wordplay with subdued serious undertones, which act as staples in this booklet of a record. Most tracks are easy to follow and you get behind him empathetically from the get go, while others are more hidden in metaphors. Some even are just pure emotion on a topic rather than knowing exactly what that topic may be.

On the surface level, tracks such as “Christmas Card”, a song written about a relationship that should be appreciated as much as you would appreciate a holiday card with some cash inside, “Schley”, written primarily around our protagonist smoking marijuana and having a case of really bad paranoia, and “End of the Summer”, a track showcasing a summer fling relationship that doesn’t seem to be going well once the next season comes around and Barry wanting it to last much longer than those couple of months, all are more hidden with their meaning than the easier to follow tracks.

Nothing too complex for the listener to understand though. You can pick up the energy of the songs just by how Barry performs his line delivery, not having the need to pull out a thesaurus to understand the message. But, on songs like “The Jerk” and “Heated Swimming Pool”, I still find trouble grasping its meaning by how creatively vast the setups are in each track. And by no means is that a bad thing. It’s pretty fantastic really. In contrast to the simpler songs, the mix of poetic writing on “Never Hungover Again” is commendable since the majority is a collective about the struggles and fantasies of modern relationships. But without grabbing your shovel and digging a little deeper under the grass, you would never know what is truly underneath the album as a whole.

The passion behind these scribbles are what drive the momentum forward and its greatly helped by how charismatic the band is with their instruments. Wild drum patterns are sludgy, breakneck, and euphorically dancy at times and other moments they’re more contained and simplistic while trying not to overshadow. Deep, growling bass grooves slap their way around, pissing on everything to let you know it’s claiming territory. And the guitars shine through the rough like turtle wax on a set of 4×4 off road tires.

Mixing them fluidly all together with some of the best production I’ve heard on a project like this before (props to Joe Reinhart with the amazing skill he has proved here), has you craving for more as the halting end feels like you were just given an ice cream cone then only to have it immediately taken away. I can’t crowbar these songs out of my skull, even if I wanted to. In my opinion it has everything a great album needs, and more. Cementing itself as one of the greatest albums ever made and a masterpiece in the genre.