The Ally Coalition Talent Show
Wed, January 24, 2018
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 7:30 pm
New York, NY
Music’s biggest week calls for music’s biggest stars and The Ally Coalition’s Talent Show and after party deliver. Start GRAMMY® week off right by joining GRAMMY® Award Winner and current nominee Lorde, Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner from GRAMMY® nominated The National, Britt and Alex from GRAMMY® nominated Spoon, Bleachers, Shamir, GRAMMY® Award Winner Kacey Musgraves, Phoebe Robinson, and Aparna Nancherla (more TBA) as they lend their talent to shed light on inequality. Proceeds benefit The Ally Coalition, a charity founded by Jack Antonoff and Rachel Antonoff to end discrimination against LGBTQ people by highlighting systemic inequality and local LGBTQ-serving organizations and creating opportunities for fans and entertainers to advocate for equality. Follow The Ally Coalition for show updates and chances to win tickets!https://www.bowerypresents.com/event/1609968/
The New Jersey-born, New York-based Antonoff knew he needed to go home to the East Coast and build a studio. “It’s like you have to go sit in your bedroom and hear the music on the speakers you heard Graceland on the first time,” he says. “You gotta listen through the speakers you heard Smashing Pumpkins on the radio the first time. I had to get back to that space. So I did. I grabbed all this shit from my childhood bedroom in New Jersey and built a studio in my apartment in New York and I literally didn't leave it. I thought, ‘This album is going to sound like New York and New Jersey and the actual space I grew up in, in the most specific way. And that, to me, is the most I can offer.”
It was there in that room — surrounded by posters and flyers from punk shows he saw as a kid and his old baseball trophies and Star Wars figurines — that Antonoff created the epic, synth-driven anthems that appear on Bleachers’ second album entitled Gone Now, which is set for release on June 2, 2017. As a result, the album sounds like “the way the space looks,” he says. “It sounds like someone alone in their room, wrestling with their thoughts. It sounds like someone trying to create something very direct and simple amongst the chaos.”
Critics praised Strange Desire’s modern nostalgia and remarked that the ’80s-influenced songs could have served as a soundtrack to a never-made high-school-themed John Hughes film. On that album, Antonoff set emotional meditations on anxiety, depression, loss and picking yourself up after a tragedy (in his case, the death of his younger sister from a brain tumor when Antonoff was 18 and his struggled with a panic disorder in the aftermath) against a backdrop of earworm melodies and shouty choruses on songs like the gold-certified “I Wanna Get Better” (which topped Billboard’s Alternative chart) and “Rollercoaster.”
“The songs were about growing up and still sort of existing in the past,” Antonoff says. “The crux of the new album is my desperately trying to find a way to become some version of an adult, and not just be a giant child. I thought a lot about things like, ‘Where do I want to go from here? Do I want to be a person who has this extremely vibrant relationship with their art, but their life suffers in a million other places? Where do I want to go with my life?’”
Antonoff sought to answer those questions on every song on the album. On “I Miss Those Days,” he pines for a simpler time when “I knew I was fucked up and didn’t know why I was fucked up,” he says referencing the years he spent as a high-schooler touring with his first punk band, Outline, “driving around in a van and playing to no one. I was lost, but I miss those days because there’s a weight to having a purpose in something.” On “Hate That You Know Me” Antonoff realizes that when you build a life with someone and make plans for the future, “it makes you really exposed to the ways in which you’re a disaster,” he says. “There’s this accountability that is so intense. But it’s also about how amazing that can be if you’re willing to go there with someone.” Then there’s “Let’s Get Married,” which Antonoff wrote the day after Donald Trump was elected. “Marriage is such a wild, absurd concept, but the world was falling down into flames around my eyes, and I wanted to write this absurd celebration song that could play at weddings for the next hundred years.”
On each track, Antonoff searches for ways to illuminate humanity’s communal emotions, like the fact that no one is exempt from the experience of loss. “I think everything I do is always going to be rooted in that,” Antonoff says. “After my sister died, I started writing lyrics that weren't just angsty teen stuff. That’s when I started talking about very intense things. Fourteen years later, I’m still reflecting on that loss but through a different lens.” Antonoff’s current vantage point resonates on the song “Everybody Lost Somebody.” “At my worst moments, I see people on the street and think, ‘Which one of you motherfuckers voted for Trump?’” he says. “At my best moments, I see people on the street and I think, ‘Everybody has lost somebody.’”
On the album’s first single, “Don’t Take The Money,” Antonoff laments how our society has culturally lost the concept of what selling out means. The song was inspired by his buying a cut-rate phone charger at a Rite Aid when his phone died as he was running late to a meeting. “I got there and plugged the phone into the charger and I had this out-of-body experience where I could not believe how cheap the material was,” he recalls. “And I thought to myself, ‘That's the real problem.’ Whether you're making art or making a sandwich, you know when something could be better. Don't make it cheap. That's the last thing people need.”
As far as what Antonoff feels like people need from him as artist, he says: “I feel like they just need me to somehow capture the lightning in a bottle of what it’s like to be me, to grow up with loss, and then to try to move through the world within that. All I’ve wanted to do my whole life with my work is just take another step closer to myself.”
With an androgyne croon that recalls Nina Simone, Shamir rose from the suburbs of Vegas after sending demos to Nick Sylvester, who runs the GODMODE label out of New York. Together they made “Northtown,” Shamir’s debut EP (2014), and continued their working relationship for “Ratchet”, Shamir’s first LP for XL Recordings (2015). It’s an ecstatic dance-pop record that also has some dust and age to it, sparkling with the grit of a desert geode. The songs are about growing up in Vegas, though not the Vegas you think you know. The music is fun even when it’s mostly introspective, introspective even when it’s mostly fun. There’s an obvious fluidity to Shamir. He transcends boundaries – genre, gender, age, geography. If he feels solitary, it’s because there’s literally no one else like him.
"My hometown is pretty famous for its sweet potatoes," she says, "and every year, they hold the Golden Sweet Potato Festival. They crown a Sweet Potato Queen and a Little Miss Tater Tot for little girls. I only competed for Little Miss Tater Tot once, when I was about three, and lost mis-erably to a girl in a sparklier dress."
The pageant world, with its fake smiles and sky-high hairdos, wasn't the best match for Musgraves. She was more interested in songwriting, finishing her very first tune at 9 years old and learning her first instrument, the mandolin, as a pre-teen. Years later, though, the peculiarities of daily life in a small town - along with the places she's visited (and people she's met) since moving away- are back on her mind.
It's been years since Musgraves lived in Golden, Texas, her childhood home of roughly 600 people, but the whirlwind that followed Same Trailer Different Park - a debut album that topped the country charts, took home two Grammy Awards (including Country Album of the Year) and sent Musgraves halfway across the world on tour - made her think hard about where she came from. Pageant Material, her second album, pays tribute to those Bible Belt roots, shining a light on a hometown girl who's grown up, expanded her worldview and done a lot of livin' since skip-ping town. It's an album about where she's from and where she's going, full of autobiographical details that are humorous one minute and heartwarming the next.
"I really wanted this album to have a classic feel, like a lot of the records I know and love," says Musgraves, who name-checks artists like Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell and Ronnie Milsap as influences on Pageant Material's easygoing stride. "I intended on it having a laid-back yet lush, slightly kitschy, western vibe. And most of all, I wanted it to feel like me."
Appropriately, all thirteen of the album's songs were co-written by Musgraves, who teamed up with the same group of songwriters who'd helped bring Same Trailer Different Park to life several years earlier. Those names may be familiar - Brandy Clark, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, along with additions like Natalie Hemby and Ashley Arrison - but the songs are new, dreamt up during a songwriter's retreat in West Texas as well a handful of sessions back home in Nashville.
During the gorgeous "Late to the Party," Musgraves lingers with her boyfriend before a big get-together, knowing that he, not the party, is the real destination. She kicks back and enjoys life at a slower speed with "High Time," whose twangy chorus - punctuated by a whistled riff worthy of a high-lonesome cowboy - doubles as a nod to the childhood years Musgraves spent performing western swing music. On "Dimestore Cowgirl," she breezes through some of the more surreal highlights of her days on the road, from an early-morning European boat ride that took her band past the White Cliffs of Dover to a night spent in the same middle-of-nowhere motel where Gram Parsons spent his final hours. "I'm still the girl from Golden," she admits during the song's chorus, a reminder that no matter how big her career gets, she'll always be a small-town native. Later, with "This Town," she stresses the importance of staying pleasant in a cozy town where everyone knows you, and during "Biscuits" - a song inspired by her mother's advice to "kill 'em with kindness" - she explains some simple, yet important, things she's learned her 26 years.
Musgraves recorded Pageant Material in a unique way, capturing the songs during a series of live studio sessions. The goal was to harness the energy of her concerts, rather than build a record track-by-track and overdub-by-overdub. To lighten the mood, she decorated Nashville's historic RCA Studio A with fluorescent, life-size cacti and served fresh biscuits during breaks. She also brought a handful of plastic beauty pageant crowns into the studio and handed them out to her band, which included members of her touring lineup as well as pedal steel player Paul Franklin, drummer Fred Eltringham, and other top-tier players from the Nashville community. Musgraves pulled triple duty during the recording sessions, serving as singer, songwriter and co-producer on every track.
Since Pageant Material is such a personal project, it's only appropriate that several family members contributed to the album's creation. "This Town" begins with the voice of Musgraves' be-loved Memaw - grandmother Barbara Taylor - who worked as an ER nurse in Texas until her passing in December 2013.
"We always loved to get her going, telling stories about the crazy stuff she'd seen lately at work," Musgraves remembers. "One night a couple years ago, we were all sittin' around her in the living room and made her tell stories. I secretly pressed record on my phone. I just thought for some reason I should, never thinking I'd end up using it. This particular part of the record has been a source of sadness and happiness at the same time. I really miss her, but it makes me smile knowing that her voice has literally become embedded in my musical legacy."
Likewise, Musgraves' little sister, Kelly Christine Sutton, shot the photographs for the album, including the throwback cover art. On a record that deals so heavily with Musgraves' roots - where she came from, how she grew up, and what her small hometown looks like from afar - the presence of her relatives adds an authentic touch.
"Pageant Material lives in a western-tinged world, and the songs are like little stories," Musgraves says. "They set a vibe and a tone, and all make sense living in the same space. I think I'll always be affected by growing up in a small town, so it still inspires a lot of my writing. But there are some viewpoints on this record that I hadn't written from yet. More than anything, it's life and society, making mistakes and my relationships that continue to inspire me."
She is Ella Yelich-O'Connor, born and raised on Auckland's North Shore, and possessed of a singular ability to capture the majesty, and mundanity, of teenage life – in striking melodic snapshots that belie her age and experience.
Raised on a nutritious musical diet of Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, The Smiths and Nick Drake, alongside a smattering of soul food from the likes of Etta James and Otis Redding, Ella was definitely set off on strong melodic footing. Later she discovered artists like James Blake, Bon Iver, Burial, Animal Collective, SBTRKT and Drake – all of whom made an impact in their own, individual way. As vital and varied as those influences are, they don't really begin to tell the full story of Lorde's music, which melds concentrated, sharp-eyed lyrics and multi-layered vocals with crisp, 2013 beatscapes.
The decision to release her first EP, with plenty of mystery but no marketing or publicity, and just a simple, lifelike illustration, was Lorde's, and it was a masterstroke. Even after 60,000 free downloads on SoundCloud, The Love Club EP still shot to #1 on the New Zealand Album Chart, with Royals simultaneously occupying the top spot in the singles chart – without so much as a video on YouTube. Before any of that success, she was already the focus of a hotly contested bidding war, rapidly being signed up for the UK, US and other major territories, simply on the strength of her music and blindingly obvious potential alone. Tweeted about by everyone from Grimes to Sky Ferreira to Doomtree, and picked up by Buzzfeed, Perez Hilton et al – these are the beginnings of an impending roar, about an artist who is quite simply, cut from a different cloth.
Like most overnight success stories, the reality is considerably less glamorous, and more lengthy and involved. Working with Universal for three years prior to The Love Club EP, the sparks really started flying when she collaborated with producer and songwriter, Joel Little. In him she found someone who could really help in getting the songs out of her head and into yours, and a willing accomplice when she needs to spend the best part of a day making a hi hat sound more like an insect, or suchlike.
With a mother who is a celebrated poet herself, Ella was given an early grounding in the essentials from the likes of T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, Allan Ginsberg, Raymond Carver and Sylvia Plath. That combination of higher thought and word passion, taken with visual influences ranging from The Sopranos and Brick, through to Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, makes for a heady combination – but it's what Ella does with it all that is truly unique. Rejecting the trite banalities that are usually presumed to represent a 16 year old's outlook, the music of Lorde manages to capture the very essence of the frustration and freedom, the curiosity and confidence, and the plain old wonder of teenage life, in a truly unique way.
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