E.T.: Positivity Over Persona

E.T. Nashville Rapper

“I don’t strive to be a famous rapper,” says E.T., the MC drawing out his mission statement via email. “I strive to bring good hip hop music, a positive vibe, a positive atmosphere, [and work with] positive people with positive messages who just want to be themselves and join in the celebration of hip hop music and all that it has to offer.” Rising up in the Louisville scene, the Kentucky-born rapper has done it all from break-dancing to producing, but what he strives for at this stage in his life is to promote positivity over persona. “‘Rap’ music,” he continues, “is sometimes given a very negative stereotype so I want people to see the difference between rap ‘music’ and the hip hop ‘culture.'”

E.T.’s introduction to hip hop came at an early age where he and his cousin, Manifesto, grew into the scene as young b-boys. “We both had a strong passion for music and dance most of our lives, so when we were about 10 years old we started a dance group called Inter-Fusion, and we would put together full dance routines with a combination of break dancing and acrobatics.” Two years later the duo began making their own music, building that new outlet into their performances. “It started out with two boom-boxes right next to each other, one playing music while we rap and the other boom-box recording it all. From there we graduated to a karaoke machine and thought we were really doing something.”

This passion for making music escalated for E.T. and, still in his teens, he became invested in the production side of recording. “At this time computer software hadn’t yet reached the level it is at now,” he continues, “so if you wanted to record and make music you had to actually go to a professional music studio. This was not cheap, but we made that next step and saved our money to do it. This drove me to want to do more. Not only did I want to make my own dances, write my own songs, I now wanted to learn how to record and produce these songs myself so that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to get things done.”

By the turn of the millennium, E.T. began to further develop his voice as an MC, later becoming involved with the Soul Factory Productions crew (“a collective of artists, dancers, DJs, rappers, producers”) and the rap group NDPNDNT. By 2004 NDPNDNT had taken off in Louisville, with their debut album The Next Testament receiving the “Best Local Album” award from Velocity Magazine. That year the group also found an unlikely role, writing music for a professional arena football team. “We had a song on our album called ‘Fire’ so we did a remix version of it that was for the Louisville Fire, and they loved it and bought the rights to it. It became the official theme song and was featuring at all of their events, on their television and radio commercials, and we also would perform the song at some halftimes in the arena.”

NDPNDNT performing at a Louisville Fire game

The momentum was short-lived however, and by 2006 NDPNDNT had broken up, with the group’s members going their own directions. E.T., himself, decided a change of scenery was needed, and the following year he landed in Nashville. “My first year here was spent working, and meeting other people in the music community and started to expand my network. Within a year I was putting on two weekly hip hop events in the city and helping bring awareness to other good artists in Nashville. It was during this time that I met Knuckles McGee, Albert J, and Big Cho, the other founding members of Underground Senate.” While they only recorded five songs together, Underground Senate found a solid audience and were nominated for Best New Group at the Nashville Independent Music Awards. Again, it wasn’t meant to be and the group ultimately disbanded, with E.T. returning to Louisville for the birth of his daughter.

Ever since he was young, an emphasis on collaboration has been at the heart of E.T.’s music. From growing up and working with Manifesto and B.Stille (of Nappy Roots), to Soul Factory and NDPNDNT, to Underground Senate, the promotion of community within the context of hip hop has been a hallmark of his work. After the birth of his daughter, it wasn’t long before E.T. returned to Nashville, where he has since re-emerged within the scene, building another chapter to his story with community still in mind. “Al-D and I have been working together a long time,” he says. “[W]e are friends, business partners, writing and producing partners and are always collaborating together.” Al-D and E.T. are now in the process of writing and recording their first album as a duo.

Looking ahead, no matter what comes of his music, the message is what E.T. hopes communicates most through his work. “I want to promote positivity, love, and togetherness and music has always been the best way for me to do that.” He continues, “I always say ‘Be yourself and nobody else’ and I truly mean it. I want people, especially people in rap, to realize it’s OK to smile every once in a while, everything doesn’t always have to be so hard core and negative. Enjoy life, enjoy people, and I promise you will be a much happier person.”

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Hear E.T. every other Monday as co-host of the Fringe Radio Show. Also, click here to read the Fringe’s complete Q&A with the rapper.

To connect with E.T., visit his website or friend him on Facebook.

Jeff Blaney: A Labor of Love

Jeff Blaney

At the time of his move, Jeff Blaney was playing in a pair of cover bands and an acoustic duo, while also holding down gigs as an open mic host, music teacher, and producer. “Moving to Tennessee made me realize that doing that much at once doesn’t really allow me to see any of [my projects] through, so I had to prioritize and let some things go.” In 2008 he landed in Nashville. “I was feeling burned out with my music and wanted a change of pace,” he continues, recalling the journey via email. “I wanted to grow as a songwriter and musician, and I knew that Nashville was a place that I could do that. Nashville made me realize that I had no idea what my musical aspirations were, and it took me a few years of getting my butt kicked to figure it out.”

Born in Hartford, Blaney grew up in Enfield, Connecticut, where interacting with music quickly became an integral part of his life. “I started recording as a kid with my mom’s karaoke machine. I found that I could record parts from one cassette onto the other, and I started tracking songs. I never stopped.” Blaney started writing music around the age of 15, when he got his first guitar. Once he was done with school, he hit the road.

Leaving behind his band Backtalk, he found his passion renewed with a move west. “When I got to California I loved the freedom of writing and performing by myself. I wrote a bunch, and sort of found my voice again.” By August of 2001 Blaney had ventured east where he settled in New York City, continuing to write and perform without a band behind him. “I fell into the AntiFolk scene and performed a lot at the Sidewalk Cafe in Alphabet City. I didn’t want to play in a band at that time because my music felt too personal to get anyone else involved.”

The five-track Caesar’s Palace EP captures music recorded in New York, recorded with Blaney’s brother Rob “at his little home studio,” as well as the songwriter’s first Nashville sessions, recorded at Sound Emporium. (The brothers have also recorded and performed together for years as the Blaney Brothers, taking on a style that’s distant from Jeff’s solo work. “We play traditional Irish music and some originals I’ve written in that vein,” he says. “It’s like getting to play a different role, so it’s really fun for both of us.”) “I had no idea how to release an album other than pressing CDs and selling them at shows,” he continues on Caesar’s Palace. “So it never got an official release. This is a perfect example of not following through. I just didn’t know what I was doing, other than making a record.”

By 2010 he was ready to record again and that year he issued Moonlight Waltz, an eight-track release successfully funded through Kickstarter. The recording is “a fabulous taste of what country music radio is missing,” wrote Larry Vanderpool of the roots music collection. In 2011 Blaney followed with the Blue Heart EP, featuring three originals and three blues covers recorded at the Art Institute of Nashville, while 2012 saw the “modern day troubadour” release the five-song Labor of Love EP. This year the lead track from Labor of Love, “Going Right Back Home to My Baby,” was featured in an independent horror movie titled Muck.

While having lived in Nashville for six years, Blaney’s still continuing to discover what his “musical aspirations” are. At this point in time he says he’s “realizing that I’m doing it for myself and myself only.” And while he’s in the process of developing another record, he’s slowly coming to understand what his true relationship with music is. “I honestly think I would be toys in the attic crazy if I couldn’t express myself musically. Both the intellectual process of songwriting and the physical exertion of playing shows allows me to blow off whatever steam has built up.”

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Jeff Blaney will be performing at foobar Friday, June 6. The free event also features the Danberrys. Music is at 9:00pm. Jeff also plays The Family Wash every Thursday from 6:30-8:00pm. Click here to read the Fringe’s complete Q&A with the songwriter.

To connect with Jeff, visit his website, follow him on Twitter, or like his Facebook page.

No Luck Needed: An Interview with Charles Butler

Charles Butler

“You aren’t a human,” begins one of the top comments on Charles Butler‘s YouTube cover of Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky.” “You are a Banjo god!” It’s one of nearly a thousand comments on the video, which has seen over 1.7 million views since it was uploaded a year ago. On the surface the rendition seems unlikely, featuring the traditionally bluegrass and jazz-focused musician taking on an electro-pop chart-topper, but in explaining the video via email, Butler says the cover isn’t much of a stretch. “I am a Daft Punk fan, and was excited when Random Access Memories came out. ‘Get Lucky’ was stuck in my head, so I had a feeling I could make it work.” It’s even less of a stretch when considering the sort of music the Youngstown, Ohio native grew up with. “I used to bounce on the couch to ‘Electric Avenue‘ and ‘Abracadabra,'” he says, reflecting on a childhood listening to his father’s sound system. “His enthusiasm for a good jam rubbed off on me.”

From an early age Butler took an interest in music, learning the mountain dulcimer at 12 before receiving a banjo for Christmas when he was 14. It was around this time that his family relocated to Vermont. A year later he “found a teacher and learned a few actual tunes.” While still attending high school in Burlington, Butler studied under the Emmy Award-winning instrumentalist Gordon Stone, but upon graduation he set his sights on The Big Apple. “I ended up studying at SUNY Purchase because they would take a banjo player into their jazz program. Actually, they created a major for me, and plugged Tony Trischka lessons into my curriculum, which was exactly what I asked for.” “It was a great time to be there,” continues Butler. “I used to play with Langhorne Slim and Regina Spektor. We all graduated together.”

After graduating, Butler looked for a change of scenery as an alternative to the cramped nature of living in New York. “I was curious about Nashville, so I drove down here and never left.” That was over a decade ago. Since moving south, the banjoist has developed a group of “interstellar bluegrass voyagers” who perform as Charles Butler & Associates, though it’s his role as a teacher that might have led to last year’s YouTube success. “If I remember correctly, my brother Henry submitted it to [Reddit’s banjo page], where my student saw it. My student then posted it to [Reddit’s music page], which is a much bigger pond.” That thread has received nearly 1700 up-votes since being posted last May, spurring numerous high profile outlets to pick the video up.

“Banjo player extraordinaire Charles Butler gave the electronic beat a little bluegrass twang with his surprisingly catchy banjo cover,” wrote The Huffington Post, two days after the Reddit posting. As Butler’s video took off, he teamed with Beats Antique to release another collaborative rendition of “Get Lucky,” blending his banjo with the Oakland-based collective’s electronic-fusion of Eastern and Western styles. “The final product was finished and posted online all of five days after my video,” says Butler. The resulting track has since been played nearly 300,000 times on Soundcloud.

As for how any of last year’s success has affected his career, “not much has changed, really.” Butler still teaches and continues to play live, moving forward with his enthusiasm for a good jam while having gained a newfound gratitude following his brush with fame. “There are so many musicians out there who don’t get recognition, for a moment the light shined on me and it felt great.”

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Charles Butler & Associates will be performing at The Building May 22. Click here to read the Fringe’s complete Q&A with him. To connect with Charles online, follow him on Facebook, watch more videos of his on YouTube, or listen to his past releases on Bandcamp.

A Beginner’s Guide to Touring with *repeat repeat

Repeat Repeat Tour

This past March, Nashville trio *repeat repeat set out on the band’s first tour together, covering 14 dates in a month, with 11 of those shows packed into 18 days across eight states; simply explaining the itinerary is a mouthful. Comprised of Jared Corder, Kristyn Corder, and Andy Herrin, the trio paired with el el for much of the tour, sharing in both the experience of playing shows together as well as the responsibility of executing on plan for the betterment of all. Plenty of bands tour — that alone isn’t especially remarkable — but what makes this tour worth discussing is that when *repeat repeat returned home to Nashville, they did so in the black.

What follows is a series of insights provided by Jared and Kristyn, who each offer guidance for those looking to hit the road, themselves. And if there’s one constant that runs throughout the planning for the tour and stories from the road, it’s to “be organized.” “Being an artist, you’re not expected to be organized,” says Jared. “But I think it sets you apart if you can be.” “These are tips if you’re trying to be a professional working band,” adds Kristyn.

1) Find Sponsorship

Last September the band teamed with el el and Ponychase for an event at The Basement, offering the first 75 people through the door a free sampler featuring new music from each of the night’s acts. Grolsch fronted the bill to have the CDs made up, and in return, received placement on the slipcases that enveloped the discs. “When you come up with something cool or creative for a sponsor,” says Kristyn, “you don’t feel bad being sponsored.”

The distance between CD printing and gas money is huge though, so when looking for actual financial backing, Jared says you must “take ambiguity out of it.” “Itemize what you’re willing to deliver for their partnership.” Here, it’s extra-critical to be organized. “A sponsor wants to see that you’re professional […] You want the sponsor to feel like it’s a no-brainer.” This means itemizing costs to show exactly why the band needs financial support, and explaining specifically how you’re providing value for the sponsor. In the case of those CDs, that meant tangible placement of an advertisement in the hands of 75 fans. If you’re already creating event posters or promoting via social media, you’re already creating avenues for sponsorship exposure. “There’s a way to do it tastefully,” says Kristyn.

It’s a bold statement, but as Jared says, “assume you’re not going to make money on the road.” Using that as your starting point, don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses in your own community that might be able to support you beyond simply handing over cash. “Look to a printshop for posters or t-shirt support,” says Jared. “Maybe they’re providing $200 worth of posters that you don’t have to pay for.” Whatever you do, try to put yourself in a position to succeed. “Months before the trip started everything was taken care of,” continues Jared. “So at this point, if we made no money from any of the shows, everyone was taking a 15 day vacation.”

2) Watch What You Spend

Every dollar that goes out is one more dollar you need to earn just to break even. That’s as true on the road as it is in life, and continuing the theme here, financial responsibility comes back around to being organized. As Jared explains, the tour hit locations that allowed the bands to crash with friends and family, “I think even before we had venues booked, we had places to stay.” But even then, it’s hard to avoid hotels, especially when you’re looking for a good night of sleep (or at least a night of sleep on an actual bed). That’s where websites like Airbnb or Couchsurfing can be handy. Or, if you’ve got a large enough vehicle to accommodate sleeping, you can plan ahead to crash for the night on a campground or RV park. At the very least, you can drive 15 minutes outside of a town to find less expensive hotel rates. Where there’s a need to spend, there’s usually an alternative that helps you save a little along the way.

This goes for food and drink while on the road, too. “If you do stay in a hotel,” adds Jared, “take advantage of it. There’s a coffee maker in every hotel room.” Before leaving home the band stocked up with bulk snacks that were both relatively healthy and inexpensive, especially when compared to gas station alternatives. They also made food that they could eat after their shows, and purchased water bottles that had built-in filters, so they could refill wherever they were for free. They thought ahead, assessed their needs, and planned accordingly.

3) Book and Promote with Purpose

There is a basic consideration to remain mindful of when booking dates: As Jared says, you’ll want “a good draw at least every two days, where you’ve got a base, or friends, or press.” He continues, “You don’t want to be top or bottom heavy,” where either the start of the tour is great and the back-half is poorly attended, or vice-versa. This is meant to not only help reduce the chances of burnout, but to also keep some semblance of momentum in check.

For their tour, *repeat repeat had guidance from a booking agent friend, but they also relied on Indie on the Move to help them connect with suitable venues in unfamiliar cities. From there, they looked to friends, Craigslist, and Google to find local bands who might be interested in sharing the bill. Once they were booked (which Jared and Kristyn recommend having locked down at least a month in advance), that’s when they started promoting.

For the tour Jared took the lead on promotion**, which he breaks down into four key segments: Print, Radio, Video, and Digital. For each city they were playing in, he reached out looking for advance coverage from local magazines, alt-weeklies, newspapers, college and larger radio stations, and local morning news programs. Beyond free promotion, however, both Jared and Kristyn espouse the need for social advertising. Through Facebook and Twitter, you can break down the demographics of your target audience so precisely that you’re only hitting people who are likely to care about your music. Because of this, they budgeted enough to promote a little on their own online in every city on the tour.

Jared and Kristyn Corder

4) Make Health a Priority

It’s difficult to set yourself up for physical well-being while crammed into van with all your gear, but there are a few things that can be done along the way to help reduce the blow your body takes. That filtered water bottle from before, for example? “When you have the water bottle you end up drinking more water,” says Kristyn. Beyond saving money, being prepared with your own food also helps keep you away from seductive gas station indulgences. “Of course I’m gonna get breakfast tacos,” says Jared of the band’s date in his hometown of Phoenix. But indulgences aren’t the rule, they’re the exception: Eat as clean as you can and try to stay away from drinking too much after shows, if only to make your life easier the day after. There’s a roll-over effect, adds Kristyn, where impact of a few too many drinks or bad meals, a couple nights in a row, can really wear you down.

Health has as much to do with emotional as it does physical, and much of the emotional health of the group was aided by — again — being organized. The band made an agreement, says Jared, to split up what they earned after they returned home, drawing expenses from a collective pot along the way to avoid constantly asking everyone to kick-in financially. “One of the easiest way to burn out band members is to nickel and dime everything.” Taking a load off the mind comes in many forms on the road though. Jared and Kristyn picked up extra work before the tour, for example, to make sure they weren’t going to be tight for money when they returned home. They also packed emergency gear including a gas can, a spare tire, jumper cables, a funnel, and basic tools just in case they found themselves in a bind. Every morning Jared gave their van a complete once over to prepare for the day, “getting gas went from taking 15 to 20 minutes to taking 30 to 40 minutes because I would check everything every day.” If you can afford a tune-up for your vehicle in advance of the tour, they recommend that in addition to emergency roadside assistance. “Even if you get it for two months and cancel it,” says Kristyn, “get it!”

One of the most important pieces of advice came prior to the tour’s kick-off from el el’s Ben Elkins, says Kristyn. “Think about what you can do to make someone else’s experience, day, or situation better. Think about what you can do for others while we’re on this tour. It’s not all about you.” On some level you have to roll with the punches, says Jared. Everyone’s going to be tired and cranky and uncomfortable, but you have to “expect that and be mindful of it.”

5) Plan for What Comes Next

If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on tour, hopefully you’re organized enough to make it home in one piece. “Touring’s not the end-all,” says Kristyn. For the band, the return to reality meant not only going back to their day jobs, but finishing out their tour plans and looking ahead to what’s next for the band. They sent out follow-up emails to venues and sponsors, with links and screen shots documenting their promotional work, demonstrating the group’s hustle along the way to make sure that if there’s a next time, they’ll have working relationships in place to get them back out on the road.

The band is already looking ahead to their next album, which will likely be followed by another tour. They’ll play one-off dates along the way, and will keep finding ways to reach out to their fans to maintain interest. For Record Store Day, as an example, that meant unveiling a cover of “Carrie Anne” by the Hollies, in addition to releasing a previously unreleased track. “You can always do more,” says Jared, “[but] there’s no harm in stepping back for a second.”

Reflecting a little, one of the key changes Jared and Kristyn say they’ll make for their next tour is cutting down drive-time in between shows. They agree that eight hours or less in between destinations would be optimal. Their tour saw a few spurts which exceeded that, cutting into time to decompress off the road and unwind a little along the way. While they were prepared with plenty of copies of their new album, Bad Latitude, they also learned to take as much merch with them as they can fit in their van next time they tour. “If you’re in the city, that’s when they want to buy it,” says Kristyn. Learn from the missed opportunities, says Jared, “but don’t forget to know when you’ve done something great.” “Know what you want,” he continues, which is every bit as important as “being organized” in terms of touring rules. Because without that, you won’t know when you’ve succeeded.

**Kristyn works at Apple Road, which specializes in “creative publicity for the brands you shouldn’t live without.” “For the sake of my clients,” and to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, she doesn’t do publicity for *repeat repeat.

Publishing Note: Nashville Fringe Festival was one of the sponsors of the Singles in September event at The Basement, and also of the spring tour.

Junkyard Brass: An Interview with Chris West

Chris West

“I wanted to play the saxophone, and had for as long as I can remember,” explains Chris West. Despite starting his musical journey with the trumpet in elementary school, “saxophone has always felt very natural to me,” he says. While always returning to his weapon of choice, West has always tilted toward establishing a broad musical foundation for himself; in the late-’90s he took up study of flute and clarinet at Belmont before seeking a masters in Jazz Studies, and later teaching at Western Kentucky University. Not bad for a sax-man.

Since 1998 when his song “Dreams” was nominated for a Nashville Music Award (NAMMY), West has also gained a reputation as a highly regarded live player — having performed and toured with acts ranging from Johnny Reid, Brenda Lee, the Dynamites, My Morning Jacket, and Brian Setzer — while simultaneously solidifying himself as a cornerstone of Nashville’s music scene through roles with the Guy Smiley Blues Exchange, Halfbrass, and the JunkYard Horns. While much acclaim for the player stems from his artistic dexterity as a live performer, it’s his ability to craft and hone music within the recording arena is something he has become increasingly fond of; a focus that perhaps dates back to the early influence of a key mentor.

After joining a jazz band program in his school, West decided to take lessons, “and that’s when I met Jeff Coffin.” A three-time Grammy Award winner who’s performed, toured, and recorded with numerous high-profile the likes of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, the Dave Matthews Band, and Umphrey’s McGhee, Coffin’s guidance introduced him to new concepts in and outside the realm of musical theory. “Jeff had a way of incorporating life lessons with music, in ways that helped me develop my approach to playing, and my musical concept/approach all together (not to mention, it helped me develop as a person).” In 2006 those lessons manifested in West’s debut album, Jazzmanic.

“I think my evolution as a player/musician in that time was based on a combination of my practice, schooling, and life experiences. I was lucky to get to study with Don Aliquo at MTSU as a grad student, and I really felt I took it to the next level, so to speak, as a player. I feel that Don really helped me to learn to enjoy practicing. Up until that point, it was something I just had to do to get better.” While he began writing the music that would land on his Surprise Trilogy back in college, the three albums he released in 2011 solidified West’s place as one of Nashville’s most promising young jazz players. The Nashville Scene praised the series through multiple articles that year, calling the Trilogya gumbo of top-notch jazz, blues and greasy New Orleans funk seasoned with a sprinkle of sly musical humor,” while adding that “West is establishing himself as one of the area’s top jazz artists.”

Much of West’s musical focus these days is split between the JunkYard Horns (“a 12 piece funk/jazz ensemble fronted by a 7 piece horn section“) and Halfbrass, which “mixes traditional brass band music with funk, jazz and rock.” “I think the main difference is that Halfbrass for me has boundaries,” he says. “When we create new music, we try to keep in within the style of New Orleans brass band (both traditional, or modern), but at the same time, making it unique with our sound. When I write for the JunkYard Horns, I don’t try to stay within any boundaries as far as melody and harmony. That’s not to say that it doesn’t fit into any category, so to speak, but I just write with no restrictions, so what comes out is my natural sound.”

With three years now standing between him and the release of his Trilogy, West has returned to the studio where he looks to once again challenge his range. “I have a couple of albums in the works,” he says. “I am about to finish up an experimental big band album, hopefully I’ll be releasing it towards the end of the year, and I’m also in the pre-production stages of a JunkYard Horns album, and possibly DVD.” When asked where he finds the most satisfaction, in the studio or on the stage, West says he’s finding more and more fulfillment from the compositional element of recording. “I love recording albums,” he continues. “And that’s something that I feel I will always do.”

*****

The JunkYard Horns will be playing a Nashville Fringe Festival show at the Building June 12. To keep up with Chris West online, follow him on Twitter or like his Facebook page.

[Click here to read our extended Q&A with Chris West.]

A Surf State of Mind: An Interview with *repeat repeat

repeat repeat band nashville

Within the spectrum of rock music, surf isn’t all that different from ska: the originals are the ones who did it best, and few who presently indulge in the genres tend to contribute little beyond imitation. “It was my musical mentor and our producer Gregory Lattimer (of Now Records) that really started to get me into this simple, catchy, cool rock sound,” explains *repeat repeat frontman Jared Corder, speaking to the band’s self-described “surf” branding. “[One] that was a throwback to that era without being a direct copy of the 60’s sound.” Within the group’s still-developing stable of tracks, “surf” might better represent a feeling more than an indicator of style though. And *repeat repeat are no surf-rock imitators.

Of the songs that have been released in advance of the band’s debut album, Bad Latitude, “History” comes closest to the advertised sound, flirting heavily with the “urban surf adventure in rockcandyland” idea teased on the group’s Facebook page. More so, however, it introduces a trend that is also heard through “12345678” and “Love That Never Ages,” painting *repeat repeat as a group pre-occupied not with beach-pop, but with making carefully considered reverb-heavy rock songs. “We’re not going for a lo-fi sound, we’re going for pop,” Jared told No Country for New Nashville last spring. It just so happens that the marketing of those pop songs thoughtfully leans on a singular noteworthy influence, used to help strengthen their position within Nashville’s ever-busy rock scene.

Bands are brands,” said vocalist Kristyn Corder last year in an interview with the Tennessean, speaking about artist development as a necessity for musicians looking for a roster spot with the increasingly popular East Nashville Underground. The quarterly festival — which Kristyn and Jared co-founded — has showcased dozens of local rock acts since 2010. It has also provided the duo with insight into what works and what doesn’t among the ranks of the local DIY scene, reinforcing the importance for self-definition within the context of their own band’s creation.

“We wanted something catchy and simple,” says Jared, explaining the origins of the name *repeat repeat. “I had this idea of reading directions on the back of a shampoo bottle or something where you would see an asterisk, then at the bottom of the page would say *repeat, repeat.” “It’s important to make good music, but these days you have to grab people’s attention with strong visual elements as well.”

While the trio came together in Nashville, their sound would seem a perfect compromise; Jared calls it “a culmination of our personal tastes and influences.” Kristyn’s Southern California roots have left her influenced by “beachy, harmony-driven 60′s rock,” drummer Andy Herrin’s musical history leans a little heavier (having backed-up St. Louis modern rock acts Cavo and Revolution One), and Jared fits directly in between, having played with indie rock-leaning local acts Oh No No and Frances & the Foundation. Out of that collective background comes tracks like “Chemical Reaction,” balancing hard-driving rhythms with the group’s softer influences.

Perhaps the surf label is only used out of convenience, but local bloggers have taken notice, covering the “familiar”-sounding “surf-influenced pop music” of “Dick Dale’s snot-nosed grandkids.” “I think there is an element of surf-rock that isn’t directly related to the actual sport. Surf rock has a 60′s cool feel to it,” continues Jared. “For me it conjures up the mod-Warhol-esque period too.” Here the genre-stamp would seem to be less an indicator of sound though, and more a jumping-off point; a foundation; maybe even a state of mind.

Simply because the group is conscious of what goes into a band beyond the actual creation of songs doesn’t mean their music is as formulaic as “surf,” rinse, repeat, however. “The music came before the branding,” adds Kristyn. “That gave us a jumping-off point and a clear direction for where to take the music.” And in the end, it’s the music — and allowing their music to grow — that the group cares about most. As Jared explains, “We’re not a Beach Boys cover band or something like that, so obviously we’re not limiting ourselves to a surf sound. These songs have been a labor of love for the past two years, [but] we are already writing new material, and letting our sound evolve accordingly.”

*repeat repeat will be hosting a release party for Bad Latitude March 11 at Grimey’s, which will be followed by a dozen-date tour that will take them through SXSW before returning to Nashville for an April 12 Mercy Lounge performance.

To connect with *repeat repeat, visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or like them Facebook page.

[Click here to read our extended Q&A with Jared & Kristyn Corder.]

Sounds of the Wild Frontier: An Interview with Jesse Lafser

Jesse Lafser Station Inn 2014 02

“It happened to me for a dark and frightening couple of years,” writes Jesse Lafser, sharing a story of creative drought in a new piece she calls “Muses and Canyons.” “But I have come to trust the stillness – almost as much as I love the canyon winds. Because the longer the land lays fallow, the greater the harvest that follows.”

While 2012’s Land in Sight served as what the St. Louis-born singer calls her “first real release,” the album also marked a shift in artistic tides, transitioning away from a period of personal introspection, it helped Jesse steer her focus outward. “I definitely use songwriting as an escape, and often times an escape from myself. There is so much freedom in putting yourself in another’s shoes to explore new perspectives and vantage points. You get to be an actor in your own movie.”

This sort of empathetic positioning helps Jesse’s music communicate as “folk,” despite the tag serving only as a convenient stand-in to describe her blend of rock and roots music. Beyond her songs however, Jesse also gravitates toward the social-centricity rampant in the heyday of The People’s Music, championing causes the likes of “Poverty is Real” and the Human Rights Campaign. Particularly in the last year this message has started to reach more people, as Jesse’s music has received coverage and recognition from media outlets ranging from CMT to the BBC.

Adding to the singer’s warmth is the familiarity of her visual aesthetic, which leaves her looking the part of one of her genre’s patriarchs. Dawning loosely coiffed hair and denims at her recent Station Inn gig, her look reflects the casual beauty of a young Bob Dylan. (Others have commented on the resemblance, as well.) “Dylan has been a main influence of mine through the years,” she explains. “He is a leader and a pioneer in many ways – a few trademarks of a true artist.”

Inspiration is never predictable and for Jesse the road to her new album began behind the wheel as she ventured west, discovering a new landscape while reconciling her past with her future. “There is a certain space to them,” she says of her new songs. “A certain sound of the wild frontier.” Set to be released later this year, this as-yet-untitled album is set to capture the essence of exploration, “Those times out there when it was just me and the desert and the mountains and the road… it meant so much to me. It’s really a large part of the whole inspiration behind the new record.”

And as Jesse assembles her new collection of stories, once again looking both outward and in, she continues to seek a balance within her music that allows for reflection while encouraging her to remain grounded in the present. “[The] new material I’ve been working on feels truer to me than anything I’ve written in the past,” she says. “The songs on Land in Sight are a little less gritty than these new ones and so, in that way, it is at times difficult to play the older stuff – only because it feels slightly less representative of the current side of me.”

“Ebbs and flows,” continues “Muses and Canyons.” “Ebbs and flows.”

To connect with Jesse, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her Facebook page.

[Click here to read our extended Q&A with Jesse Lafser.]

Play That Funky Music: An Interview with Andrew Muller

Andrew Muller

Already playing for the Deep Fried 5, as well as Nashville neo-soul outfits DeRobert & the Half-Truths and AJ & the Jiggawatts, Andrew Muller has long-since earned his place in the Nashville music scene as one of the city’s most prolific and dextrous funk-inspired guitarists. Recording and performing with his new group, the Grips, only goes to show that despite being stretched thin, he’s as passionate about music as ever.

For anyone familiar with DeRobert & the Half-Truths, the new band might look and sound a little familiar: Comprised of Nick DeVan (drums), David Guy (bass), Austin Little (trombone), Andrew Hagen (saxophone), and Muller on guitar, the group is the Half-Truths, minus the band’s lead singer. “We just don’t want to confuse people by calling ourselves ‘The Half-Truths’,” says Muller. “People might show up to shows and expect DeRobert to be there and be singing, and we don’t want to send the wrong signal.” Whether signals become mixed or not, the Grips continue the “smooth and creamy” sound set forth by their mainstay – a personal passion that evolved out of Muller’s pre-DF5 days, with the short-lived group Nuclear Toast.

By Muller’s own account the “jam-tastic-reggae-funk” band “really never went anywhere.” It did, however, lead to the formation of the Deep Fried Trio. “They played similar house parties as Nuclear Toast did, so I would show up and bring my guitar and amp and jam with them.” The vibe was right and the friends continued to bond. “After a few parties, they asked me to come start practicing with them. We started writing songs right of the bat and then a few shows later realized that we wanted to be a funk band, and that meant, we needed keys and/or horns.” The decision to expand led to the formation of the Deep Fried 5.

DF5 started playing “rich, soulful disco funk” shows together in 2008, and eventually released Saturday Night Funk / Sunday Morning Soul in 2010. It wasn’t long thereafter that Muller met, and began jamming with, another group of musicians that would become AJ & the Jiggawatts. “Shortly after, [Grips’ drummer Nick Devan] asked me to go on the road with DeRobert & the Half-Truths and Magic in Threes. The weekend went smooth and then I kept playing with them, our relationships grew, and we became tighter as musicians, together.” As a member of numerous groups on G.E.D. Soul Records, Muller had found his home.

This began Muller’s tight relationship with the label, where he would moonlight doing promotion and booking work. Through his various evolving groups, he would go on to open for Black Joe Lewis (w. DeRobert & the Half-Truths), Here Come the Mummies (w. DF5), and Cody ChesnuTT. “I’ve been on two separate tours with Myron & E (Stones Throw Records) with the G.E.D. Soul All-Stars,” he says. “The first time was of August 2012 […] The second time around was a 10 day tour in late-September/early-October, with us opening up for Cody ChesnuTT.” And if circumstances were different, Muller might have another full-time gig on his resume. “I love those dudes (Myron & E) and wish I could play with them more often, but [we] are separated by physical distance.”

Despite another new Deep Fried 5 album scheduled for release this year, Muller’s sights are currently on the Grips, who will be performing a free show Saturday, January 11 at The Basement along with Al-D, Swap Meet Symphony, DJ Rate, and Gummy Soul’s Wally Clark. And as if his schedule weren’t full enough, he performs “freelance with other groups that want some funky guitar” and is open to playing with bands that “need him for a night or two.” The passion never ends.

To connect with Andrew, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook.

[Click here to read our extended Q&A with Andrew Muller.]

The Milkman Cometh: An Interview with Fringe Radio’s Al-D

Al-D Free Delivery

“Between sampling local funk monsters DeRobert and the Half-Truths, conscripting The Boom Bap’s DJ Rate for cuts and scratches and dropping dope rhymes over dope beats, AL-D delivers the tru-school goods with this one,” noted the Nashville Scene of Al-D’s Free Delivery in honoring it as the “Best Hip-Hop Mixtape” of 2013. “[It’s] a must-listen for local hip-hop fans.”

“I spent about 18 months writing, producing and recording it,” Al explains, “and about six months working with DJ Rate on the cuts and turntablism.” “It was a huge relief to have it done,” he adds, looking back on the massive 25-track release that has helped guide what’s become a marquee year for the Nashville-born MC and producer. And in reflecting on his decade-long commitment to the scene that has helped guide him to this point, his sense of place is clear, “I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing.”

A founding member of the NIMA-award winning New Block Order crew, Al’s approach to Free Delivery was a largely communal one, collaborating with a slew of fellow MCs and producers for the release. “Music is absolutely a social endeavor to me,” he says.

While unveiling numerous projects throughout the 2000s (including an album produced for fellow N.B.O.-head 187 Blitz, and 2004’s Open the Mic – a collaboration with Knoxville-MC S.M.O.), it wasn’t until 2008 when Al’s place in the local hip-hop scene began to solidify. Performing regularly at Sound Therapy events around town, Al-D continued to find his voice by releasing more new material, including Charcoal Filtered with TN Jim, before breaking out with his Vitamin D tape, mixed by DJ Rate, in 2011.

“DJ Rate is one of my best friends and has been since high school. I have recordings on cassette tape of him deejaying and our friends freestyling in his bedroom at his dad’s house. He has recorded scratches on every single album I’ve ever put out.” The release show for the mixtape started a series of events for what would become The Milkshake, an annual DJ-focused showcase which has been previously housed at The 5 Spot, Mad Donna’s and most recently the Bohéme Collectif’, which has also served as venue Al’s “Meant for the Milk Crate” events. “Basically,” he adds, “the Milkshake is for the DJs and MFTMC is for the MCs.”

Following the release of Free Delivery, Al has returned his focus to a project that had taken a back seat to the mixtape – his band, Swap Meet Symphony. Free Delivery‘s opening track is a scratch-heavy blend of vocals and bass provided by Swap Meet Symphony, and despite clocking in under two minutes it’s still enough to give an indication of what’s to come when the group assembles in January, where they will debut their new material live on stage over a night that will also feature the Grips (of G.E.D. Soul), DJ Rate, and a few special guests including Al’s “Meant for the Milk Crate” co-host and MC, E.T.

Even while dedicating time to shaping what is to become of this new band, Al has remained consistent with his aim of maintaining music as a means of connection, recently assuming the position as host of the Nashville Fringe Festival’s Radio Free Nashville show. Naturally, Al’s focus is on hip-hop (“we have settled on having one show per month [the third Monday] dedicated to reviewing upcoming hip-hop events and featuring music of people in the hip-hop community who have events or album releases coming up) though he’s still going to keep the rest of the scene in his sights (“the other three or four Mondays are dedicated to checking out music and interviewing guests from bands of various genres who have been involved with Nashville Fringe Festival events in the past”). Upcoming guests include *repeat repeat (December 2), Oscar Utterstrom and Michael Whittaker (December 9) and DJ Rate (December 16).

Tune in to hear the Fringe Radio Show with Al-D every Monday night at 6:00pm on Radio Free Nashville or WRFN-LP Pasquo 107.1 FM, and follow the Nashville Fringe Festival on Facebook for regular show updates and event information.

More from Al-D: Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud | Twitter

[Click here to read the extended Q&A with Al-D.]