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Artistry That Refuses to Linger: Juan Wauters, June 19 at Rozz-Tox
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2015-06-10 11:58:45

Juan Wauters

Juan Wauters has been called “one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive songwriters in New York today” (by the New York Observer), “New York’s greatest songwriter” (by Impose magazine), and “one of New York’s most compelling singer/songwriters” (by Spin magazine).

That praise would suggest a few things about the native Uruguayan, none of which appears to be true.

The plaudits for his songwriting hint at something aggressively sophisticated and artful, but the songs on his new Who Me? are uniformly easy-going – simple, warm, and seemingly effortlessly charming. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the great notices; it’s just that they’re utterly devoid of pretension.

And as much as he’s identified as a New Yorker, Wauters has a fondness for the Quad Cities and institutions such as Ross’ and Harris Pizza.

Read More About Artistry That Refuses To Linger: Juan Wauters, June 19 At Rozz-Tox...

Harnessing Terror, Gently: Strangled Darlings, June 11 at Rozz-Tox
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2015-06-04 14:12:27

Strangled Darlings

If you read the bio of Strangled Darlings on the duo’s Web site, you’ll get a hint of tension between capitalized Art and something at the other end of the spectrum entirely.

First: “Jess and George met at party in 2009, with their spontaneous duet of the Prince song ‘Pussy Control.’”

Then: “The songs work with nontraditional subjects for inspiration. Some song subjects include: the works of great authors (Faulkner, William Blake, Gabriel García Márquez, Donald Barthelme, Anna Akhmatova) as well as witchcraft in the Civil War, the morality of Somali piracy, and the media impact of Neil Armstrong.”

Into that mix you can throw in a clear understanding of the crass realities of the decentralized modern music business – the need to get attention, and an acknowledgment that emerging bands have to tour relentlessly to build an audience.

All three of those basic elements are evident on the song “Kill Yourself,” from the upcoming album Boom Stomp King. It’s a bright, cheery ditty on the one hand, with the title and matching refrain designed to generate maximum curiosity.

In a recent phone interview, singer/songwriter/mandolinist George Veech acknowledged some less-than-pure motives behind the song. “The biggest fear of an artist is to not have an audience, to not be heard. I know damn well that saying ‘Kill Yourself’ is taboo in a lot of ways, and I’m not advocating [that],” he said. “It helps get attention. I got your attention now, and then let’s talk about the actual details.”

Read More About Harnessing Terror, Gently: Strangled Darlings, June 11 At Rozz-Tox...

A New Way of Seeing: Hey Rosetta!, April 24 at Rozz-Tox
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2015-04-17 18:20:13

Hey Rosetta! Photo by Scott Blackburn.

It’s not often you’ll hear a story about label interference making a record better, so let’s marvel at Hey Rosetta!’s Second Sight.

The band was twice short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and has been nominated for a Juno Award – the Canadian equivalent of the a Grammy – and Second Sight has been warmly received. described it as “a collection of profoundly beautiful and well-arranged songs that I’m sure will stand the test of time.”

Yet the story of its creation shows some of the opportunity inherent in a little adversity.

The Canadian septet had finished recording the album’s 11 songs, and the band’s label liked it, but ... the staff felt it needed a single, something to launch it. Singer/guitarist/pianist/songwriter Tim Baker – in a recent phone interview promoting the band’s April 24 Communion Tour gig at Rozz-Tox – said he disagreed.

“We thought we had a great record, and we had to go back in” to the studio, he said of the band’s frustration. Hey Rosetta! assented because they also wanted to make the album as commercially viable as possible, “to get it out to people.”

But writing to grab people’s attention is difficult, and something that was foreign to Baker as a songwriter. “I’d never written a single before,” he said. “We’d gotten this far just playing our sprawling tunes and touring all the time. If we were going to try to get something on the radio, then I really wanted it to be moving and really mean something to me. And hopefully be one of those songs that isn’t just skin-deep, kind of asinine music. ... A song that actually reaches past and does something to you. ...

“We took it as a challenge ... trying to write something short and catchy but meaningful. ... I think we got it, but it was a trial for sure.”

Read More About A New Way Of Seeing: Hey Rosetta!, April 24 At Rozz-Tox...

An Anything-Goes Tapestry: All Them Witches, February 15 at Rozz-Tox
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2015-02-06 11:54:04

All Them Witches hails from Nashville, and the combination of name and hometown gives you a pretty good sense of a split personality. The moniker hints at a band in thrall to Black Sabbath, and the Tennessee city hints at something Southern – although its debts are to blues and Southern rock and not in any way country. (Bassist/singer Michael Parks Jr. noted, however: “We have been known to just pop up on the street somewhere during tour playing bluegrass on the street.”)

But when the band returns to Rozz-Tox on February 15, it will be apparent that the quartet is far more expansive than that would suggest. All Them Witches embraces not just blues-based music but the blues themselves, particularly on “The Marriage of Coyote Woman” from its most recent album, Lightning at the Door. The elemental riffs of Ben McLeod have the heaviness of Sabbath’s Tommy Iommi but also the razor-sharp lyricism of Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme.

And, most importantly, there’s an experimental psychedelic core, a grounding in improvisation that allows each person in the band to bring a distinct personality to tracks that might go anywhere – including, to cite just one example, throat singing in the folk-ish and completely un-metal “Romany Dagger.”

And that anything-goes quality is the reason I was curious about this comment I read from drummer Robby Staebler: “As individual players we are more concerned and focused on our own playing. We are not focused on what the others are playing. We all do what we want. It’s why it works.”

Read More About An Anything-Goes Tapestry: All Them Witches, February 15 At Rozz-Tox...

The Whole World Opened Up: The Soil & the Sun, December 4 at Rozz-Tox
Written By: Jeff Ignatius
Section: Music

Category: Feature Stories

2014-11-25 19:25:09

The Soil & the Sun. Photo by Rotten Photography.

Given the expansive, spacious, and precise sound that Michigan’s The Soil & the Sun achieves on Meridian – the band’s third record – two things leap out from its history: that what’s now a seven-piece ensemble started as a duo, and that its first two albums were home-recorded by people who didn’t really know what they were doing.

Meridian – released in August – marks the first time the group worked with a producer, and the most obvious difference from its predecessors is in its choir-like group vocals, particularly on “How Long.” The band has retained its orchestral breadth and adventurousness, but with its soaring collective singing the album becomes something more celestial; songs dominated by gloomy clouds have given way to bright stars.

Working in a proper studio “was a little bit overwhelming, actually,” said frontman, primary songwriter, and co-founder Alex McGrath in a recent phone interview, promoting The Soil & the Sun’s December 4 performance at Rozz-Tox. “We had the whole world opened up to us, really for the first time. We had to exercise some restraint and not get too caught up in effects ... .”

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