An excerpt from our Austin360 Artist of the Month story in Friday’s American-Statesman:
Chantell Moody’s eyes lock resolutely with everyone at Empire Garage as she raises her fingers and begins a count-off. “One, that is what we all should be. Two, fingers in the air for peace. Three, words that mean everything: I Love You.”
The onstage focal point of eclectic electronic-pop band the Digital Wild, Moody is an immediately engaging presence, with boundless energy and charisma plus a background in dance that helps make her a riveting performer. Those words Moody recited to introduce the song “Plume” also appear in its lyrics. They’re a good measure of the message the band sought to deliver on their new five-song EP “Tall As Trees.”
“We wanted to make music that had beats you could dance to that were catchy, but we could still sneak inspiring things into people’s lives and help people feel empowered,” Moody explains.
Chelsea Seth Woodward, her partner in the Digital Wild since the band began in 2012, agrees. “Chantell and I love all types of music, but we definitely want to play music where we get to celebrate life every day that we sing it,” he says.
Read the full story on our Austin360 Artist of the Month for May 2017:
Kiko Villamizar, our April Artist of the Month, has been on tour for most of the month promoting his new album “Aguas Frias,” but he was back in town briefly this weekend, so we dropped by for a seasonally appropriate visit with his pet bunny, DJ Silver, a.k.a. Honey Bun Bun.
“This is the first time I’ve been in a relationship with rabbit,” Villamizar said last month when we met to talk about the album. His uncle raised rabbits, but they were farm animals and he knew not to get too attached to them. Along with two dogs, a cat and a hamster, this bunny is one of the creatures who inhabit the life he shares with his 6-year-old daughter Lola, his partner Natalie Lake and her 13-year-old son.
DJ Silver is a six-year-old cottontail rabbit, who actually belongs to Lake’s son.
“He’s not as cuddly as I expected him to be,” she said last month. The first time she held him, she cooed at him and tried to snuggle her face against his fur. He bit her nose.
These days, he’s cool with some handling as long as he’s on a stable surface, but like most rabbits, he’s a bit nervous. He eats a steady diet of rabbit food, supplemented by fresh vegetables. He’s a big fan of the green onions in the garden Villamizar keeps and he enjoys regular supervised hop-arounds in the front yard of the South Austin home Lake and Villamizar share.
Villamizar’s new album “Aguas Frias” was released online Friday. The title translates to “Cold Water” and he considers it a prayer for the water. While he was writing the album, he traveled in his native Colombia and joined pipeline protests West Texas and the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.
Most of the songs on the new release are built around traditional Colombian drum and flute (gaita, in Spanish) composition with “a few psychedelic dings” mixed in here and there. Villamizar’s powerful voice soars even as it aches, as he carries the emotional work.
After a busy South by Southwest that saw them playing six times in five days (including two official SXSW showcases), My Education — our Austin360 Artist of the Month — wrapped a busy March by playing two sets in one club on Saturday night to celebrate the release of their new album “Schiphol.”
Named after the international airport in the Netherlands, “Schiphol” is pronounced “skip-hole.” That seems appropriate for the band’s fascinating instrumental excursions, which sometimes feel like skipping through a hole in the fabric of space and time. They played all of “Schiphol” from start to finish on the patio stage at Sidewinder, highlighting a night that also featured sets both indoors and outdoors by more than a half-dozen other local bands.
“Could we get the lights turned down? Because we’re not much to look at,” bassist Scott Telles deadpanned as the six-piece group began just past 11 p.m., following a set by Megafauna. The darkness that shrouded them was occasionally punctured by bursts and textures of light; the band credits Skye Ashbrook’s live visual contributions as if he’s a member of the group, and it was easy to see why on this night, given how those elements enhanced the trancelike nature of the music.
My Education gravitated back and forth between loud and quiet passages, between distortion-driven damage from guitarists Brian Purington and Chris Hackstie and beautiful melodic passages from violist James Alexander and keyboardist Kirk Laktas. Telles, an energetic performer on bass, was as close to a bandleader as this egalitarian outfit has, coming to the mic mid-set to let folks know they’d reached the spot where “you have to flip the record” from side A to side B. Drummer Earl Bowers churned the rhythms behind them throughout, then came out during the last song to knock his sticks against Hackstie’s pedal steel guitar stand on the hushed closing number.
“We’re going to play another set of old favorites later on inside,” Telles announced as the set wrapped up just past midnight, revealing the structure of their ingenious plan to play on both of Sidewinder’s stages for this special occasion. Indoors, the art/dance band Total Unicorn, complete with unicorn-head costumes for all three members, were just getting started. What better way to support My Education?
The pairing of up-and-coming band with happening new venue was a good one. Grizzly Hall offers several perspectives for taking in a band’s performance: a decent-sized pit right up front, a bar area at the side, a raised platform by the sound board a little further back, and an upstairs balcony that offers a view from above. We took it in from all angles for our Statesman video compilation of a few songs from the band’s hourlong headlining set.
The group played “Lost in the Sound” from start to finish, capping an evening that also included performances by local bands Locket, Gold Steps and the Clastic. “Being in the Austin music scene is a tough gig because there’s so many good shows going on every night,” singer Brendan Radomski said midway through the set as he thanked the crowd for coming out to see Later Days. But if other Friday shows brought in big crowds elsewhere, it didn’t seem to hurt the Grizzly Hall draw much, as a good-sized crowd kept the place buzzing till the end of the night.
Next up for the five-piece group is its first out-of-state tour, starting next weekend. The band will hit cities including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cincinnati in a 10-day run that brings them back to Austin in time for South by Southwest. They aren’t playing an official SXSW showcase, but another Grizzly Hall appearance is in the works for March 19.
Longtime fans of David Halley jammed into the Townsend’s hidden-jewel hideaway, tucked behind the acclaimed new Congress Avenue bar’s main space, on Dec. 3 to hear our Austin360 Artist of the Month play his new record “A Month of Somedays” in its entirety.
Given that it was the first time Halley had released a new record in more than 20 years, it seemed fitting that he had a special unbilled accompanist: guitarist Rich Brotherton, who’d been a key player in Halley’s band before he went on to become Robert Earl Keen’s right-hand man. Brotherton joined Will Sexton, who produced the album, along with drummer Tom Van Schaik (also from Keen’s band), bassist Amy Lavere and backing vocalist Betty Soo in giving Halley’s songs first-class support.
Halley and Brotherton treated the crowd to a handful of duo tunes from his back catalog before and after the main set. Tunes such as “If Ever You Need Me” and “It’s Just As Well” reminded that Halley wrote some of Austin’s finest songs of the late ’80s and early ’90s, while cheers greeted the old crowd favorites “Rain Just Falls” in the encore.
The show started and ended with evocations of Halley’s Lubbock upbringing and early associations there with the Flatlanders: He opened with Butch Hancock’s “Ramblin’ Man” and closed with a beautiful rendition of Willie Nelson’s “One Day at a Time,” covered by the Flatlanders on their 1972 debut album.
As much as Halley is known primarily as a songwriter, he’s also left his mark as an interpreter. His version of the late Walter Hyatt’s “Motor City Man” was among the highlights of a 1997 “Austin City Limits” tribute concert to Hyatt in which Halley played alongside the likes of Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin and Allison Moorer. Hyatt, who died in the 1996 Valujet plane crash in Florida, also was the inspiration for the title track of Halley’s new album.
“’A Month of Somedays’ was written not long after Walter Hyatt died,” Halley explained in our recent interview. “The phrase had been in my notebooks, looking for something to be done with, for awhile. But when he when he was killed, suddenly it was like, ‘Oh, that’s what this for.
“Then when I got deeper into it, it was less targeted for him specifically. It’s really about the way that I would feel about any close friend dying, and the way that I talk about him — something about feeling, ‘Wow, here I am again, too late to really pay the homage that’s due.”
Hear Halley and his band perform the song in our Austin360 Studios:
One of the best shows by a local band we’ve seen this year was the record-release party for “Hey Come Back,” the debut album from our Austin360 Artist of the Month for November, Croy & the Boys. Held Oct. 29 at Hotel Vegas, the set featured leader Corey Baum and his band charging through all but one of the songs on the Adrian Quesada-produced album, one of finest country records to come out of Austin in several years.
Another rising star on the local country scene, Carson McHone, sat in with the band on “Woke Up in Love.” And a nice capper to the night was a cover of “Every Day I Have to Cry,” by legendary soulful rock ‘n’ roll songwriter Arthur Alexander. It’s telling that Baum seeks out such high-quality material when he supplements his original songs. We talked about some of his inspirations in our interview for the Artist of the Month feature story we published earlier in November. Read more: Croy & the Boys mix up country groove with Mexican twists on debut album
A big one for Baum was native Texan songwriter Guy Clark, who died earlier this year. Austin celebrated what would have been Clark’s 75th birthday on Nov. 6 with a tribute event at the Paramount Theatre. A couple of weeks earlier, Baum talked about discovering Clark’s music when he lived in Ohio, and seeking out Clark’s old haunts after moving to Austin.
“I had one other friend who was getting into this kind of music with me. He’d find a Steve Earle record and was like, who’s Steve Earle? And I’d listen to it and love it. And I’d find a Guy Clark record — who’s Guy Clark? All the stuff was just clicking, and I was moving further down that path. I definitely moved to Austin thinking I’d become a country musician.”
Baum says he realized quickly that Austin had a higher standard of appreciation for the music that had given him an identity back home. “I definitely had a healthy respect for the traditional country music,” he noted, “but in Ohio, just knowing Guy Clark’s name made me a country music aficionado.” Yet seemingly everyone knows about Guy Clark in Austin, which famously was name-checked in his song “Dublin Blues” and its opening line, “I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor Bar/Drinking mad dog margaritas and not caring where you are.”
“Actually I have a funny story about that,” Baum continued. “Not long after I moved down there, my friend came down and visited. And he was like, I’ve got two things I want to do while I’m down here. I want to eat a Texas steak and I want to eat Texas chili, at the Chili Parlor. So we go there and it says ‘mad dog margarita’ on the menu. And we were like, whoa.
“So the waitress comes over and I say, ‘We’ll take two mad dog margaritas.’ And I kind of explained to her, ‘Look, I’m sorry we’re really excited, but there is actually this song by this guy, Guy Clark,’ and I start telling her about the song. And she just rolls her eyes. She’s like, ‘I’ve been working here for 25 years. I think I know about the goddamn song.’ (Laughs) That was like one of those stupid early moments where I’m like, ‘Oh right.’”
Croy & the Boys’ next show is Dec. 3 at the Continental Club.
Soul siren Tameca Jones has been a fixture on the Austin club scene for the last decade or so, fans might be surprised to discover that her EP “Naked,” which just dropped last week, is actually her recorded debut.
“I didn’t have the mindset of getting in the studio and recording,” she told us last month, as she prepared for the release. Pulling the five-song collection, a sultry collection of pop and soul, together took significantly longer than expected, but she’s happy with the result.
But we’ve also spent some time checking out their shows this summer at the Continental Club and Continental Gallery, the flagship live music venues on South Congress. The band has been holding down the Thursday slot in the smaller upstairs Gallery space for a few months now. Every now and then, they also play on Sundays downstairs in the larger Club room. (They’ll be there again on Sept. 4.)
The band plays all original material recalling the glory days of classic crooner pop. Joining Warden are trumpeter Erik Telford, keyboardist T. Jarrod Bonta, drummer Mas Palermo and bassist Craig Pettigrew (with Brent Wilson subbing on occasion). Here’s a taste of what it sounds like at the shows:
Our Austin360 Artist of the Month for August is Monte Warden & the Dangerous few, who we featured in a full story earlier this month (and in the video above, shot at our studio).
Here’s a little more from our conversation with Warden, who also leads country band the Wagoneers.
Austin360: Do you want to keep the Dangerous Few and the Wagoneers repertoires entirely separate?
Monte Warden: No, no. At first I did. At first I was going, “Yeah, we want to keep this here, and this there.: But as Brandi and I were writing these things, I just went, OK, the Wagoneers could do “Here Kitty Kitty,” I can hear that. And the Dangerous Few could do “Take You There,” off the new [Wagoneers] record. But lyrically and chordally, there aren’t that many things that could cross over without just sounding forced, I think, in both situations. But one of the things I’m looking forward to, once we get a bit more established, is that I can certainly hear the Dangerous Few taking a turn at “Desperately,” because it’s been such a huge part of the Wagoneers live show.
That’s the song you co-wrote with Bruce Robison, which became a big hit for George Strait. When did the Wagoneers start playing it?
We started doing it quite on accident. We were playing a gig up in Montana, and a woman came up to Brent and said, “I know y’all write your own stuff, but do y’all do any George Strait?” And Brent came up to me and he goes, “Warden, do we know any Strait songs?” And I went, “Well, ‘Desperately.’ (Laughs) And he went, “Man, I’m sorry, I forgot!” So, we started doing “Desperately” in the show.
And the crazy thing about it is, in this age, when we do “Desperately” and I introduce it, the audience lights up, literally — their phones. I guess people look it up – they go, “that son of a bitch didn’t write a George Strait song!” Or something. (Laughs) We’ve started putting it earlier and earlier in the set, because it changes people’s perception. They go, “Oh, here’s a big ol’ hit that I know.” So I can certainly hear the Dangerous Few doing, taking a turn on that. The chorus to “Desperately” certainly lends itself to it, because it’s a very soaring male vocalist type of chorus.
And no matter where I’m playing, whether it’s the Wagoneers or the Dangerous Few, or a songwriter night, people always request “Just to Hear Your Voice” [from Warden’s 1993 self-titled solo debut]. And that musically would make sense for the Dangerous Few. But not yet. I just want to get a bit more established with this set of songs that people have not heard anywhere else. But, yeah, there’ll be some cross-pollinization, I’m sure.”
The first time I saw Mindz of a Different Kind was at a 2014 Freestyle Fellowship show at the North Door organized by Russell Manley a.k.a. DJ Notion. It had been about 15 years since the Fellowship had appeared as a full group in Austin, roughly the same amount of time Manley had worked with them, helping solidify a strong ATX-Cali hip-hop connection.
The show felt like an old school Austin hip-hop reunion. I wasn’t exactly working so I’d had a couple drinks while I kicked it with friends. Then MDK took the stage. They were young and hungry. They had the anarchic energy of Odd Future mixed with the unapologetic intellectual activism of Talib Kweli. At the same time, there was something about them that was Austin to the core. I have a distinct memory of that moment. I stopped in my tracks, suspended a conversation mid-sentence and booked to the front of the stage.
After their set I felt ecstatic. “We have so many conversations about who’s going to be the first Austin hip-hop artist to break out,” I gushed to Bavu Blakes, who happened to be standing nearby. “I want it to be them.”
The emcees were familiar, but it didn’t click til later that I’d met a few of them five years earlier when they were part of the high school hip-hop program, the Cipher.
For a period of about six years, the four emcees grew together. Twice a week they trekked to group meetings, often spending upwards of an hour each way on Capital Metro buses to get there. They were mentored by local artists including Chris “Gator” Ockletree, Saul Paul, Da’Shade Moonbeam and Zell Miller III.
“The most valuable thing about the whole Cipher was that (the young emcees) were introduced to everything that was going on in the city, that other artists and community organizations embraced them,” Shannon Sandrea, the social worker who co-founded the program said last month.
As a crew, Mindz of a Different Kind was nurtured by the ATX hip-hop scene, a phenomenon that continued when Manley’s company MusicNMind took over their management and booking.
From the beginning, Sandrea and Ockletree gave the students a strong foundation in hip-hop culture.
“They wanted to challenge the members to go beyond what was present in hip-hop culture, the negative elements, and they pushed them to be more creative and have a history of this culture,” said Miller, who took over as the group’s lead instructor in 2009. “When I started teaching the Cipher, I wanted them to understand that the gifts they were blessed with could be focused in a positive way.”
These days both Miller says he feels like a “proud poppa” witnessing how the students he worked with in the Cipher have grown into one of Austin’s most vital hip-hop crews.
Sandrea is equally thrilled.
“I’m so excited about everything they are bringing to our community,” she said. “They’re amazing people. I knew that even when they were very young.”
Here’s the original piece I wrote about the Cipher in 2009.
Schooled in hip-hop, changed for life – June 27, 2009
The air conditioning in Shannon Sandrea’s modest, midcentury Allandale home cranks away, but the stifling 4 o’clock heat still seeps into her lime-green living room, where seven members of the Cipher prepare tonight’s CD release show. Six young emcees, four male and two female, are in a circle, some sprawled on couches, others cross-legged on chairs. A third young woman sits beside a home entertainment system and plays DJ, pumping out beats from Sandrea’s iPhone. The atmosphere in the room is casual as the rappers run through their material. The sound is Southern, sparse, grimy beats laced with soulful melody and punctuated by the occasional slowed vocal or heavy artillery metaphor. Many of the songs share a central theme of uprise through struggle, articulated with surprisingly consistent vocal dexterity. These kids, ages 16 to 20, are no joke.
Founded by licensed counselor Shannon Sandrea and poet/rap artist Chris “Gator” Ockletree, the Cipher is a hip-hop empowerment project for East Austin youth.
After seeing the 2007 documentary “The Hip Hop Project” about a New York City nonprofit agency led by a formerly homeless youth who guided underprivileged high school students to write, produce and release a hip-hop album, Sandrea and Ockletree were inspired to re-create the project in Austin. The two drew together community partners including performance poets Zell Miller III and Da’Shade Moonbeam, musician/producer g.LeDaris and hip-hop artist Saul Paul, and developed a curriculum based on the tenets of old-school hip-hop culture.
Referred to the Cipher both through community and school counselors and word of mouth, the emcees have met twice a week for nearly two years. They usually gather after school at the Southwest Key East Austin Community Development Center, which now is closed for remodeling. Along with instruction on writing techniques and free writing sessions, hip-hop related workshops have covered everything from beat production to the Brazilian martial art form capoeira.
The young wordsmiths are unequivocal about what the project has done for them, including boosting their confidence and giving them a new sense of purpose. They began to think of themselves as a family.
“Even thinking about Cipher I went to school every day, never got no more referrals, stopped fighting and all that, ” says Chi-town (now Chi-Clopz), one of the emcees. He graduated from high school this spring and plans to attend Huston-Tillotson in the fall.
One striking thing about the Cipher is the group’s emphasis on gender equality. In contrast to a mainstream rap industry rife with misogyny and under frequent fire for bombastic sexism, this group of young hip-hop artists puts respect for women front and center in their guiding philosophy.
“We’re trying to bring the femcee movement back, ” says T-Fly (now Blakchyl), a tall, slender woman who is both soft-spoken and adamant. “We want the same respect that a male emcee would get. It doesn’t matter what sex you are; if you’re a lyricist, you’re a lyricist. That’s what we gonna change.”
It wasn’t always this way. In the early days of the Cipher, T-Fly and fellow female emcee Aroc kept to the sidelines. But over time the young women gained confidence and began to stretch their skills. In addition, the attitude of the group underwent a gradual transformation. In one class, they watched the documentary “Hip-hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, ” which examines sexism in the rap industry. It had a profound impact.
“This man was explaining what the difference was between a sista and then a b word, a female dog, whatever, and his explanations were so bizarre and crazy ” they weren’t legit at all, ” says Aroc, getting a little heated remembering it. “It was really disrespectful the way they were treating all these women. After we watched the documentary, we had a talk within the Cipher about what was acceptable. How are you supposed to talk to young women and how do you show respect. And what are we going to do about the disrespectful things that are going on right now.”
These kids have mad heart and infectious energy that’s hard to resist. When I ask them how far they want to take this hip-hop thing, they answer almost in unison, “As far as we can.” They’re on a mission to spit the truth, to save hip-hop, to change the game. Sit with them for an hour or so and you start to believe they actually might.