Monday, March 19, 2018

TREEFORT 2018—L.A. to Boise

Meanwhile, from that "other" city in California, Treefort has booked 32 musical acts for this year's festival. I figured I could recommend at least 10 of them so here goes, alphabetically.

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Jherek Bischoff / L.A.—And now for something completely different, or at least what might not be expected at the Treefort Music Festival: the alternative compositions of Jherek Bischoff whose music at times seems effortlessly beautiful and downright jubilant. Rather than leaning into the discordant with experimental excess, Bischoff remains an accessible classicist whose melodies are lifting and harmonic. In his 2012 release Composed, his melodies were sung by the likes of David Byrne and Caetano Veloso, amongst many other noted vocalists. I can only imagine how perfect his compositions will fly around the interior of the First Presbyterian Church: unexpected, unusual birds in flight.

Photo: Unknown, courtesy of the artist.
Treefort bio: Jherek Bischoff is a Los Angeles-based composer, arranger, producer and multi-instrumental performer. In his 30-odd years, he has collaborated with the likes of Kronos Quartet, David Byrne, Neil Gaiman and Robert Wilson and has performed in venues and festivals around the globe, including Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Adelaide Festival and Tasmania’s MONA FOMA. His work as a composer has garnered commissions from Kronos Quartet, Lincoln Center, and St Ann's Warehouse and has been performed by Seattle Symphony, Adelaide Art Orchestra, Wordless Music, Stargaze and yMusic.

His critically-acclaimed releases include Cistern, Composed, and a co-release with Amanda Palmer—Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute. In August of 2016, Bischoff was the artist in residence for Times Square’s Midnight Moment, where his video for "Cistern" was broadcast every night on Times Square's electronic billboards, culminating in two live performances in the middle of Times Square.

Bischoff’s work for film and television includes the documentary Thank You For Coming, Starz' Blunt Talk and Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Bischoff’s theater work includes Robert Wilson’s "Der Sandmann", "Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer" for Theater Basel and "Johnny Breitwieser" for Vienna’s Schauspielhaus. Currently, Bischoff is developing two theater productions, working on a collaborative release with Kronos Quartet, and is releasing new music via Patreon. He plays Treefort on Thursday, March 22, 2018, 8:20PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Bischoff’s compositions can be listened to on his Bandcamp page.


Photo: Unknown.
Dark Rooms / L.A.—Dramatic, at times frantic, music obsessed with haunting themes lends Dark Rooms' music a cinematic overlay that plays to the spectatorial mind. The songs are certainly written, performed and choreographed with the eye through a lens. Lead vocals are petlulant, sexy, and often soulfully forlorn and the beats offer opportunity for spiteful if spirited resistance.

Treefort bio: Dark Rooms is the name that Daniel Hart conjured up after years of touring and recording with bands like St. Vincent, Other Lives, The Rosebuds, Broken Social Scene, John Vanderslice, and The Polyphonic Spree. He became obsessed with photography, and wrote songs honoring that obsession. The band formed in Dallas, Texas, and now resides in Los Angeles, California.

Dark Rooms makes music influenced by their heroes, from Sigur Rós, to Four Tet, to Zapp, to The Delfonics.

Distraction Sickness is their newest album, following up their 2013 debut self-titled release. Distraction Sickness features “I Get Overwhelmed” from A24’s A Ghost Story. Their songs have been played on KCRW, KXT, The Adventure Club and various other radio stations and programs around the world. Dark Rooms play Treefort on Thursday, March 22, 2018, 10:00PM at the Neurolux. Distraction Sickness can be heard on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown.
De Lux / L.A.—As a child of the disco era, it's heartening to remember that some things—whether in or out of fashion—continue to exist despite critical or popular opinion. Such as, for example, young blood needing to hit a dance floor to work it all out. That never seems to get old, even though the young do. Even so, most of the songs on the latest album by De Lux, More Disco Songs About Love, get me up to dance and party smart. Forever.

Treefort bio: After establishing a sound on their debut Voyage and establishing an identity with the revelatory Generation, L.A. disco-not-disco duo De Lux took a moment to re-center and come back leaner, sharper, clearer and deeper on their new More Disco Songs About Love. Now that co-founders Sean Guerin and Isaac Franco know how to play and what to say, they’re ready to just get lost in the music. As the band puts it: “We like to say Voyage was our baby, Generation was our baby all grown up and More Disco Songs About Love thinks growing up sucks and just wants to party smart."

Their 2014 debut Voyage revealed De Lux as an outfit matching post-punk sentiment and the-sociopolitical-is-personal perspective to joyfully indulgent analog synthesizer soundscapes and a deliriously transportive musical joy. 2015’s Generation added an almost-documentary aspect to their dance music, delivering clearly personal stories of anxiety and aspiration. And 2015 also saw their first major festival appearance at Bonnaroo, the prelude to their hotly tipped Coachella debut in 2016 and then sharing a bill with Arcade Fire at New York City’s Panorama fest.

Now More Disco Songs is a stream-of-consciousness tour through De Lux’s reality. (With New York City dance-punk legend Sal P. of Liquid Liquid and the Pop Group’s maniacal Mark Stewart as guests, of course.) Though the title might seem like some kind of clever reference, it’s really simple and direct. The disco is the sound—in the most innovative way, of course—and the love is the sentiment: “It's all literal to us but we realize that it might not be for others,” they say. “We like the idea of giving listeners something to question. But there's love in there.” De Lux plays Treefort on Saturday, March 24, 10:00PM at El Korah Shrine. Their music can be listened to at Bandcamp.


Photo: Marc Ollivier
Hanni El Khatib / L.A.—Even though I know myself pretty well, Hanni El Khatib's music still makes me want to act out. Raucous, driven, mordant, Hanni El Khatib's songs make me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. His undeniably catchy drum rhythms give me a chance to dance and figure it all fucking out. Particularly infectious is his "Paralyzed" from his latest album Savage Times.

Treefort bio: On his 2011 debut Will The Guns Come Out, Hanni El Khatib tried something he'd never tried before—making a bedroom-style recording of his then stripped-to-the-skeleton guitar-and-drums rock 'n' roll mostly for the sheer joy of making it. For his ferocious 2013 follow-up Head In The Dirt, he tried something new again, showing up at producer Dan Auerbach's analog-dreamland Nashville studio with nothing but the clothes on his back and an open mind.

But after Head In The Dirt's release and almost a year of relentless touring, Hanni knew he needed to go past "unpredictable" all the way to "unprecedented." He needed isolation, time and the chance to experiment. So after 30 days locked in hand-picked L.A. studio The Lair, the result is the album Moonlight—the rarest and most welcome kind of album, made at that perfect point in life where confidence, experience, and technique unite to help an artist do anything they want.

That's why it starts with a song that sounds like a Mobb Deep beat under a Suicide-style synth drone and ends with an ESG-meets-LCD Soundsystem gone italo-disco song about life and death. That's why it collides crushing crate-digger drumbeats that'd be right at home on a Can LP or an Eddie Bo 45 with bleeding distorto guitar, bent and broken barroom piano and hallucinatory analog flourishes. (In fact, some smart producer is going to sample the drums from this album and complete the circle of life.) And that's also why Moonlight feels like the album he's always wanted to make: "What would it sound like if RZA got in the studio with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits?" he asks. "I don't know! That was my approach on everything."

It's a personal album in the most primal sense, put together in any way that worked. Iggy Pop and David Bowie did this kind of thing on The Idiot, the Wu-Tang Clan did it on 36 Chambers and the Clash did it three times over on Sandinista. And now it's Hanni's turn, across 11 new lightning-struck songs, each written and recorded in its own flash of inspiration. It sounds like an album made by an endless list of collaborators, but really Moonlight was more like the first do-it-almost-all-yourself music Hanni ever made, except after six years recording and touring, he'd learned to do so much more. Hanni El Khatib performs at Treefort on Friday, March 23, 2018, 10:15PM at El Korah Shrine. His EP Savage Fix is available for listening at Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown.
KOLARS / L.A.—Incorporating the novelty of a drummer tapdancing on her bass drum, KOLARS goes above and beyond in satisfying a need to comport one's body with the beat. As such, they are probably the main act in the Treefort line-up whose music will make me swing, sway and/or even swirl. Please, lay no bets. I am super excited, though, about hearing them play "One More Thrill" live.

Treefort bio: KOLARS is a band of two members. Rob Kolar sings and strums his rollicking guitar, Lauren Brown uses her whole body as a percussive instrument. KOLARS has created a sonic world that straddles self-described genres such as Desert Disco, R&Beyond, Space Blues, and Glam-a-billy. Rob produces, mixes, and writes the material. His studio experimentation is incorporated into the live show. Lauren has invented her own drumming style. She tap dances rhythms with her feet atop a bass drum while simultaneously playing a stand-up kit. She uses this dance to transform beats into natural extensions of her movement. The two perform with energy, sweat, and excitement, thrilling audiences with their unabashed exuberance.

As members of glam-folk band He's My Brother She's My Sister, Rob and Lauren toured the U.S. and Europe extensively and sold out venues in every major city across the states, playing Bonnaroo, Summerfest, Voodoo, Firefly, Secret Garden Party, and Austin City Limits, and performed on late night television (Craig Ferguson). The band has taken their influences and experiences into a new futuristic realm with KOLARS. KOLARS plays Treefort on Friday night, March 23, 2018, 'round midnight. KOLARS can be listened to on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown.
La Louma / L.A.—Queer solidarity has just entered the room. I'm one of those gay guys who has listened to lesbian music since my early twenties, beginning with Holly Near. So I'm always excited by strong advances in representation. There's a strong First Nation vibe to La Louma, hinting at a warrior standing her feminine ground.

Treefort bio: For Lauren Ross, it took multiple breakdowns, lots of physical therapy, anti-depressants, and a move across the country before the clouds began to part, the music began to come, and La Louma emerged. On her debut, Let The World Be Flooded Out, she explores heavy subject matter in an upbeat atmosphere, merging her classical training with her DIY queer punk ethos.

Meticulously handcrafted over hundreds of hours of solitude, La Louma’s palette includes thickly melodic woodwinds and brass, electric guitar and bass, impatient drums, tremolo vocal undercurrents, and metaphor-laden lyrics. The LP’s tone repeatedly shifts unexpectedly from dramatic desperation to quiet contemplation, from a determined sprint to utter immobilization. Musically mirroring La Louma’s vagabond mind, each of the album’s richly transportive scenes are colored by carefully chosen modalities, timbres, instrumentations, and arrangements.

The opening track “The Decline of Nations” crashes through as a fist-raising call to “stay until you try to make things right”. As La Louma’s voice wails and breaks into a pointed and beautiful howl, it feels as though she could be singing to government officials, movement leaders, or even herself. Falling drum sticks and a slinking clarinet introduce "Candy", a mythology-driven song in which she vows to protect a narcissist from drowning in their own reflection—no matter the cost—while the more straightforward storytelling of the subtly Middle Eastern tinged "Just Wanna Love You" culminates in symphonic catharsis. The album's sonic anchor, "Tin Roof Now", makes use of nearly every instrument in La Louma's studio as she pleads for the simple sound of a heavy rain to "drown out [her] senses" and "let the world be flooded out". This album is a thematic whirlwind with a musical hurricane to match, but isn’t that what life often feels like? La Louma plays Treefort on Friday, March 23, 2018, 9:00PM at Boise All-ages Movement Project. La Louma's debut Let The World Be Flooded Out is available for listening on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown.,
raener / L.A.—It's vocals front and center for me with raener. These young men's high voices are committed to desultory tunes that seem at times ambient and other times like very sophisticated jazz.

Treefort bio: raener is Daniel Fox, Will van Boldrik, Zach Bilson, and Daniel Vanchieri. raener began in 2015 as an experiment in a dewey garage in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles when the boys decided to make music with their hands and voices. Drawing on a number of influences across genres, raener puts their foot in the door of uncharted sonic territory. raener plays Treefort on Sunday, March 25, 2018, 9:00PM at Boise All-ages Movement Project. raener's music can be listened to at Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown.
The Regrettes / L.A.—This mainly all-girl (+ 1 guy) punk group deliver sass, spite, and admirable punches of reflexive humor. They banter with sexual expectation, and play out the fantasies they don't feel compelled to fulfill. Most of all, they rock!

Treefort bio: Perfectly imperfect—that’s one way to describe LA based punk act, The Regrettes. Writing songs that proudly bear a brazen and unabashed attitude in the vein of acts Courtney Barnett or Karen O—with a pop aesthetic reminiscent of 50’s and 60’s acts a la the Temptations or Buddy Holly—the LA based four piece create infectious, punk driven tracks.

Lead by outspoken frontwoman, Lydia Night, and comprised of Genessa Gariano on guitar, Sage Chavis on bass and drummer Maxx Morando, the group have left the LA rock scene floored, managing to capture the hearts of jaded rock critics while opening for acts like Kate Nash, Jack Off Jill, Bleached, Pins, Deep Vally and more. With nothing but demos available online, the group are already beginning to generate hype, from outlets like NPR, and with NYLON already heralding them them as a “punk act you should be listening to”.

From the opening moments on a track by The Regrettes, we’re greeted with a wall of guitars, infectious melodies and a wistful nostalgia that continues right until the final notes. Taking cues from acts like Hinds and Hole, there’s a wistful sense of youth and vulnerability that lies at the heart of each song.

A song by The Regrettes is, essentially, a diary entry into Lydia’s life. “My music is a spectrum of every emotion that I have felt in the last year, and you can hear that when you hear the songs. Everything that is happening in my life influences me. It’s everything from boys, to friends, to being pissed off at people, to being really sad. Just everything.”

The most intoxicating draw of The Regrettes is their bashful, heart-on-your-sleeve temperament—writing urgent and fast-paced pop songs with a punk rock mentality. “The way that we write, it’s all based on honesty,” muses Lydia on the group’s punk aesthetic. “If I finish a song, I’ll just leave it—I won’t really go back to it. I like things to feel in the moment and I don’t want it to be perfect. If I work on something too much I lose it and get bored and I want to do the next one.”

Lydia’s not afraid to have her feelings on display. “I am not scared of anyone judging me, I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck if someone doesn’t like what I have to say. For every person that likes you, there’s a person that doesn’t like you. No matter what, if people can relate to the music then it’s worth it. That’s what is cool for me.” And at the end of the day, isn’t that what punk music is all about? The Regrettes play Treefort on Friday, March 23, 2018, 11:00PM, at Boise All-ages Movement Project. You can listen to The Regrettes on Soundcloud.


Photo: Unknown.
Sego / L.A.—I really dig the slack, bad-boy vibe in Sego's infectiously pop songs. Their last three singles alone have risen right up to my listening queues, especially last September's "Whatever Forever" and it's truly sexy video (offered below). Hearing that tune live will be a Treefort dream come true.

Treefort bio: Sego's Spencer Petersen and Thomas Carroll were both birthed in the burgeoning Provo, Utah music scene. However, finding inspiration in the dissonance that the towering structures and bustling city offers over the mountains and relative quiet of Provo, both relocated to an old pasta factory in downtown LA. Through various projects together, both founding members uncovered their distinct sound: lazy, grungy guitars with digital overlays and refreshingly honest lyrics. The band’s debut album surprises with angular guitars, complex arrangements and musings from an 80’s kid contemplating the void left from the misguided hope of our youth. Sego plays Treefort on Friday, March 23, 2018, 8:20PM at The Knitting Factory (Main Room). You can listen to Sego's music at their Bandcamp page.


Photo courtesy of the artist.
Dave Stringer / L.A.—Of course music is not always about driving beats, catchy riffs or angry vocals. Stringer's music incorporates Eastern modalities to complicate his songs of spiritual belief, which come across sincere, heartfelt and often soothing.

Treefort bio: Dave Stringer is a Grammy®-nominated producer, singer, composer, writer, and teacher who has been widely profiled as one of the most innovative artists of the modern Yoga movement. Stringer’s sound connects the transcendent mysticism of traditional Indian instruments with the exuberant, groove-oriented sensibility of American Gospel and the ringing harmonies of Appalachia. His work engages the traditions of yoga philosophy, chanting, and meditation with the language and methods of neuroscience, translating them into modern participatory theatre, open to a multiplicity of interpretations and accessible to all. Dave is an articulate and inspiring public speaker, and is featured in the upcoming film Mantra: Sounds Into Silence. He has toured extensively, leading concerts, workshops and retreats all over the world. Dave Stringer plays Treefort on Thursday, March 22, 2018, 5:30PM at the First Presbyterian Church. His music is available on Bandcamp.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

TREEFORT 2018—Bay Area to Boise

The musical corridor between the Bay Area and Boise strengthens with succeeding editions of Treefort. This year there are no less than 21 musical acts represented from San Francisco and Oakland, with an added handful from nearby locales. I've already profiled Field Medic and Madeline Kenney, but here are ten more favorites; five from SF, and five from Oakland.

Let's start with the East Bay and Oakland's thriving independent creative scene, whose population has increased in recent years due to corporate encroachment and co-option in San Francisco proper that has forced artists of all stripes to relocate for affordable housing and creative community.

Photo: Andrew Zhou
La Misa Negra / Oakland—What kind of representation would come out of the Bay Area if it didn't joyfully express San Francisco and Oakland's ethnic diversity? Oakland's La Misa Negra joyfully insists that Treeforters shake the dust off their cumbia moves and sweat it all out in rivulets of pure gold, lime green and tangerine.

Treefort bio: La Misa Negra is a 7-piece band from Oakland, California, known for their unique blend of heavyweight cumbia and high-energy, Afro-Latin music. On stage, they deliver an electrifying performance that explodes with infectious dance grooves and punk rock energy, powered by horn and accordion-driven riffs, a fierce rhythm section, and a vintage-inspired sound. Since their live debut in the fall of 2011, La Misa Negra has toured the country, sharing stages and festival bills with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Thievery Corporation, SZA, Mon Laferte, Julieta Venegas, Ana Tijoux, Bomba Estereo, George Clinton, Antibalas, Budos Band, and Ozomatli. On the strength of their wild and one-of-a-kind shows, they have gained a reputation as one of the most exciting live bands to emerge from the Bay Area in recent years, garnering a diverse fan base that transcends musical, cultural, and generational divides. They play Friday, March 23, 2018, 6:50PM at the El Korah Shrine, and then again on Saturday, March 24, 2018, 10:10PM at Hannahs. You can sample their music on Bandcamp.


Photo: Emalyn Lopez
The Seshen / Oakland—Accompanying La Misa Negra in satisfying Boise's readiness for ethnic multiplicity (plus a shot of Afrofuturism) is The Seshen.

Treefort Bio: The Seshen is a San Francisco Bay Area-based six-piece led by singer/lyricist Lalin St. Juste and bassist/producer Akiyoshi Ehara. Their forward-thinking sound combines synthesizers, drum machines, live percussion, and entrancing harmonies to create an unmistakable fusion of R&B, synth-pop, and electronic music. St. Juste and Ehara are joined by four remarkable bandmates to create their multidimensional music: drummer Chris Thalmann, keyboard/synth player Mahesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman, and sampler Kumar Butler. They take inspiration from across the musical spectrum; their individual influences range from recognizable artists (Erykah Badu, Jai Paul, James Blake, Radiohead, and Broadcast) to genres and eras that don’t initially appear to fit together (hip hop, indie rock, early electronica, and 70’s dub). Their unique alchemy of seemingly disparate sounds has led fans and critics alike to describe the band as defying categorization. They play Friday, March 23, 11:30PM at Hannah's, with a repeat performance on Saturday, March 24, 3:10PM on the Main Stage (which will provide plenty of room to carry on). You can sample their music on Soundcloud.


Photo: Natalie Somekh
Mt. Eddy / Oakland—Mt. Eddy's ten-track debut album Chroma (on Uncool Records and available for listening on Spotify) is a rousing introduction to the considerable talent among these kids—there I've said it—who have been rightfully included in Treefort's prescient All Ages Movement Project. There's not a single track on Chroma that doesn't physically involve me with rebellious inspiration.

Treefort Bio: "Hailing from Oakland California, Mt. Eddy features brothers Chris and Enzo Malaspina on drums and guitar, Jakob Armstrong on guitar and vocals, while Kevin Judd plays bass. Armstrong's older brother Joey plays drums in SWMRS and had previously assisted with the early releases from Jakob Danger. Aside from helping launch Mt. Eddy's new label, the older Armstrong served as assistant engineer on their first release, Chroma." They play on Friday, March 23, 7:00PM at Boise All-ages Movement Project.


Photo: Cara Robbins
Dick Stusso / Oakland—Stusso's act strikes me as hypnotically persona-driven. Now and again he reminds me of Treefort Alumni Alex Cameron. His are songs I would sing outloud when drunk out in the middle of nowhere with no money in my pocket for a cab ride home. What do you do? Sing louder and stumble forward. Philosophy in search of a dawn.

Treefort bio: That old blues hound dog Bonnie Raitt probably sang it best and most lucid in her timeless, pedestrian hit "Nick of Time": "Life gets mighty precious when there's less of it to waste." And so now, her wise lyrical turn seems to be ringing true for Oakland muso Dick Stusso. When we last caught up with this Bay Area BBQ gaucho on his debut, Nashville Dreams, he'd hit that special zen layer of loserdom. He'd thrown up his hands into the folly of failure. He was the affable, bumbling red-cheeked drunk lurking around the edges of the cookout—bumming smokes, putting down all the white wine and cocktail shrimp he could get away with. But now, a couple years on, that early-30s existential dread has crept its way into Dick's purview. With his sophomore long-player In Heaven, Stusso's numbered human days are on his mind. Without stumbling into pomposity, Dick has taken back the wheel on his life and is doing a bit of hotdogging. In Heaven is available for listening at Napster. Stusso brings his world-worn tales to Treefort on Wednesday, 10:15PM at The Olympic, following Madeline Kenney, which is a lovely bit of pairing.

Photo: Unknown, courtesy of Battlehooch.
Battlehooch / SF—George Harrison would have been proud of his thumbprint on Battlehooch's "Carry Me Upstream", off their 2014 Wink EP. While their earlier music reminded of hectic if celebratory street music for an unspecified ethnicity, their sound has developed into a more fluid, harmonic and mellow mindtrip.

Treefort bio: Battlehooch is the kind of band you thought went extinct with landline phones & cassette tapes. In one sense they’re a band from another, sturdier era: a band that releases consistently quality material on a consistent basis, a band that doesn’t sacrifice creative drive for commercial interest, a band that grows and evolves with each successive release. From the beautiful madcap mess of debut LP Piecechow to the more refined yet still quite zany jams on Hot Lungs to a cool, polished psych-rock sheen on 2014’s Wink EP, Battlehooch has proven itself as a band built to last. They may possess an old-school mindset, but their music is weird & diverse enough to fit into this wild new century.

Formed in San Francisco, the birthplace of psychedelia, it’s fitting that the six-piece collective echoes the city’s tie-dyed past in its own compositions. However, the group isn’t content with becoming a mere tribute to a time period they never lived through. Instead, Battlehooch updates the sound of psychedelia for a new generation, one that can now access dozens of genres & millions of songs with a few clicks on their iPhones. Battlehooch reflects this modern trend of manic music consumption: on any of their many releases, the listener will be treated to a sonic smorgasbord, bouncing from hard rock to dance-pop to cartoony head trips to flirtations with electronica & jazz & Afrobeat & everything else in between within the span of a few minutes, sometimes even seconds. Battlehooch plays Treefort on Saturday, March 24, 2018, 7:30PM at The Olympic. You can sample their music on Soundcloud.


Photo: Sam Yang
Tino Drima / SF—Following their EP Smoking with their first official album Her Kind of Man on the Friendship Fever label, Tino Drima has rapidly become one of my favorite sounds. Their vocals are on an eerily veering detour from Martha Davis, Chrissie Hynde and Amy Winehouse.

Treefort bio: Tino Drima is a cauldron of then, now, and what will be. There is grease, there is friction, there is high harmony, there are ripping beats, there are charmed humans parading onstage and in studio. There is a radio playing on the other side of the wall and Old Man Cooper has not left his apartment in over a month and it stinks. But this music does not, this music exudes class and classicism, and lifts you up and places you smack dab in the middle of newly decorated living room filled with Hummel figurines, a comfy couch, and the sound of dishes clinking and clanking in the kitchen sink just past the dining room. You want to stay, and you want to listen to the music, and you want to hang out, and you will stay up for as long as it lasts and maybe even longer, because it sounds so good and it smells like bacon over in that room now.

Tino Drima consists of Gregory DiMartino, Rob Mills, Mackenzie Bunch, Henry Baker, and Scott Huerta. Their names sound oddly like items of food.

Like most of us, they are fascinated by metadata. That is why the music they perform has been called Psyche Doo-Wop Hell Croon. It is a genre they respect, that they have pioneered, that will only get bigger and broader with time. Sort of like people. Tino Drima plays Treefort on Friday, March 23, 2018, 7:00PM at The Olympic. You can sample Tino Drima on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown, courtesy of The Foxxtones
Foxxtones / SF—Sometimes you have to go away to come back. Sometimes you're forced to leave and then receive an invitation to return. There was never any question in my mind that Cassie Lewis was Boise's best female vocalist with a range that allowed her to sing anything from jazz to country and western and so it was with great sadness that I saw her leave after Boise's indiscriminate hive stung her one time too many. Jealous, envious bees. She belonged to the universe anyways. And we're blessed to have her back with her den for a night.

Treefort bio: The Foxxtones has been aptly described as Cosmic Americana delivering a swirl of dulcet velvet heartache, personal hell and a hot mess of truth...

Simple, strong storytelling written from the life and mind of Cass, the proprietary member and mother of the den, reveals intricate experiences, deep feels, wailing pain, and self actualization...

"The muse meanders like smoke through a keyhole. I follow her where ever she grows. The lens she holds transforms my eyes into kaleidoscopes, observing the sweet moment between silence and sound, birth and decay, and all of the beauty therein... Waiting to be seen." The Foxxtones play Treefort Thursday, March 22, 2018, 6:00PM at Pengilly's Saloon. You can listen to The Foxxtones on Bandcamp.

Photo: Unknown, courtesy of Treefort.
Killer Whale / SF—As synopsized by Do the Bay, San Francisco: "Killer Whale is a project undertaken by Thomas Johnson, a Baton Rouge, LA native, that mixes the histories and melodies of the South with the Bay and the result is something surprisingly reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s, complete with drawbar organs, introspective lyrics, and guitar riffs that soar above a churning rhythm section."

Treefort bio: The music I make is just a reflection of what I've soaked in throughout my years of moving back and forth from Louisiana to California and other spots along the south. It's a reflection of my love hate relationship with where I'm from and where I might go. It's a reflection of being raised by a mother who played piano in Mississippi Baptist Churches and a father who's main connection with me was a deep love for the blues. It’s the conflict of running away from your roots but finding a deeper love for them far away from home, and in the end learning so much more than I had ever dreamed of. It’s about laughing about all the dumbass shit that’s thrown your way all the damn time.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn't hooked on music and the way it made me feel. It has always been a medium to express my search for some peace, connection, humor and beauty within the constant fluctuations of life. In the end…’s just really fun. Killer Whale plays Saturday, March 24, 2018, 9:30PM at Grainey's Basement. Johnson's project can be listened to on Bandcamp.


Photo: Unknown, courtesy of the artist.
Ill.Gates / SF—If I had my way, it would be me, a man or a woman on a guitar, some songs we sing together and that would suit me fine. But the musical world is much too diverse to be so self-limited. Ill.Gates fascinates me for the recognizable signature he adds to dubstep, electronica and hiphop sets. A good set to catch just as you're coming on.

Treefort Bio: ill.Gates is a San Francisco-based composer, performer and educator. Over the past 16 years, he has established a global fanbase and a reputation as one of the most dynamic electronic music artists around. He regularly tours across North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Gates has headlined at such festivals as Burning Man, Shambhala, the World Electronic Music Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

His first full-length release, Autopirate (Muti Music, 2008) charted and continues to sell strongly. His groundbreaking triple album, The ill.Methodology and accompanying online course are highly received. Gates was recently selected as one of the Next 100 by URB Magazine.

Many of his contemporaries cite ill.Gates as a key artistic influence and inspiration in their music. While on tour, Gates frequently teaches workshops to grateful and attentive audiences, in which he shares his highly effective approach to producing quality finished music as well as insights into the mentality and strategies necessary to succeed in the music business. ill.Gates appears on: Muti Music, Amorphous Music/Child’s Play/Om Records, Addictech, Noodles, Innerflight, Low Motion, Made In Glitch, Tube10 & Chi & Recordings. He plays Treefort on Friday night through to Saturday morning, 12:30AM, at Fatty's. ill.Gates work can be heard on Soundcloud.

Photo: Unknown.
Sonny Smith / SF—Treefort bio: For years, Sonny Smith has built his own brand of indie-folk and rock & roll, growing into a cult favorite along the way. To those who know his work, he's an incredibly prolific creator, with a dozen albums to his name and a handful of related projects—including multiple stage plays, a full-length musical and his nationally-recognized art installation, "100 Bands"—under his belt. A longtime fixture of San Francisco's arts scene, he's managed to fly just beneath the mainstream's radar for decades, while still releasing a string of acclaimed records with labels like Fat Possum and Polyvinyl.

On his newest record, Rod For Your Love, he gets back to basics. Produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach and recorded in Nashville, Rod For Your Love roots itself in old-school, guitar-fueled rock & roll. These are love songs built for the garage and the dance floor, with big-hearted melodies and thick harmonies. It's the stuff you might've heard in the 1960s, back when groups like the Kinks and the Velvet Underground were making left-field pop songs that celebrated the form while still bending the rules. With stacked vocal harmonies that sweep their way throughout the track list, Rod For Your Love nods to the past while still moving forward. It's a classic-sounding album that still belongs to the 21st century. 

Released on Auerbach's new label, Easy Eye Sound, Rod For Your Love was recorded at the end of a cross-country tour. Smith and his band were firing on all cylinders, their rough edges sanded down by weeks of nightly shows. Meanwhile, 10 new songs had been written. Smith, who'd fallen in love all over again with his roles as a bandleader and frontman, didn't want to produce the tunes himself in a home studio. He wanted to focus on the music. Having heard that the Arcs, Auerbach's side-project, had covered one of his own songs during their own tour, Smith reached out to the Black Keys singer. Connections were made, studio time was booked, and Smith wound up finishing that countrywide tour in Nashville, where he and his road band tracked the album at Auerbach's studio.

The goal? To shine a light on the songs and the band, without many overdubs or assorted clutter.

"I think a lot of albums are made in reaction to the one that came directly before," says Smith. "My last record, Moods Baby Moods, was very layered and used a lot of drum machines. I was making weird sounds with synths. By the time we got to Nashville and began working with Dan, I was thinking 'Let's just make a fun, guitar-driven record. I don't want to have any extracurricular stuff here. I just want it to be really pure.' " The lyrics follow suit. A personal album filled with heart-of-sleeve songwriting, Rod For Your Love looks inward. It's autobiographical. Fittingly, it's also Sonny Smith's first solo album in years, following a string of records billed under his band's name, Sonny and the Sunsets. "I'm writing about myself now, and not the people around me," he explains. "It felt right to make it a solo record." Sonny Smith plays Treefort on Sunday night, March 25 into Monday morning, March 26, 2018 at the Linen Building. You can listen to his work (as Sonny & The Sunsets) on Bandcamp.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

TREEFORT 2018 / Bay Area to Boise—Madeline Kenney (Oakland)

Photo: Unknown.
I was quite taken by the strength and confidence of Madeline Kenney's performance when she opened for Dent May at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco back last August. Her voice, at turns halting with emotion, nonetheless communicated clearly, and achieved deft articulations through incorporations of pedal harmonies. As she was breaking down after her set, I made a point of telling her she should try to get into Treefort and am delighted to find her on the line-up. She's in the first wave of performers to open Treefort, playing Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 9:15AM at The Olympic.

03/18/18 Update: I've just learned that Kenney will be performing live at The Record Exchange in conjunction with Boise State Public Radio on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 from 5:30-6:00. If you don't have a Treefort pass, this is a free performance to take advantage of.

Her bio for Treefort reads: "Madeline Kenney is a renaissance woman. She has a degree in neuroscience, is a skilled artist, painter and knitter, was a baker for over 9 years, and makes ends meet by nannying during the day. One might wonder where she finds the time for music, but not only has she been a musician since the age of three, but she also writes and records her own material, currently teaches voice and piano lessons, runs a small record label and is learning how to produce and engineer at the Women’s Audio Mission—the only women-built and run studio in the world.

"Kenney moved to the Bay Area in 2014 to pursue a career in baking, but ultimately found a supportive local arts community that inspired her to return to her musical roots. A chance encounter with Toro Y Moi’s Chaz Bear resulted in her debut EP Signals, which was produced by Bear and released on his label Company Records. Immediately after its release, Kenney began working on her debut album. As with Signals, Bear was on hand as producer, but with Kenney as the writer, arranger and key creative force. Kenney also appears on a track on Toro Y Moi’s latest album Boo Boo.

"An accomplished full-length debut, Night Night At The First Landing is a cohesive record balanced by serene beauty, cathartic breakdowns, Kenney’s powerful voice, and masterfully complex and emotional lyrics. Night Night is unavoidably dreamy, dipping into sweet fuzz while sailing through smooth, crystalline production. Though Night Night At The First Landing is technically her first full-length, music has always been a key part of Kenney’s life. Singing came naturally to the bold-voiced Kenney and she was singing loudly before beginning to study piano at the age of five. To call this record a 'debut' is something of a misnomer, as those who know Kenney best might note: she’s always made music. And for the sake of music lovers, she hopefully always will."

More of her music can be sampled at Soundcloud and I'm happy to share these videoclips from her Rickshaw Stop performance.

 Madeline Kenney / Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, California / Wednesday, August 23, 2017 / No. 1 ("Rita"):


 Madeline Kenney / Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, California / Wednesday, August 23, 2017 / No. 2 ("John in Irish"):


 Madeline Kenney / Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, California / Wednesday, August 23, 2017 / No. 3:


 Madeline Kenney / Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, California / Wednesday, August 23, 2017 / No. 4:


 Madeline Kenney / Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, California / Wednesday, August 23, 2017 / No. 5:


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

SFFILM FESTIVAL 2018—Michael Hawley Reviews the Early Announcements

SFFILM Festival, which was known for 60 years as the San Francisco International Film Festival, is gearing up to celebrate its 61st edition from April 4 to 17. When the full line-up is revealed at the press conference, SFFILM's programming team will have their work cut out for them. That's because in the dozen years I've blogged about the fest, never has so little been announced in advance. While it might not be easy topping last year's 60th anniversary extravaganza, I'm encouraged by what's been divulged thus far. What follows is a close-up look at what we already know, followed by some just-for-fun speculation and wishful thinking about what the rest of the festival line-up might hold for Bay Area cinephiles.

Out of all the films which premiered at Sundance this year, none aroused more personal anticipatory excitement than Boots Riley's feature filmmaking debut, Sorry to Bother You. Now I'm completely over the moon that it'll be our festival's 2018 Centerpiece, with near-simultaneous screenings happening at both the Castro Theatre and Oakland's Grand Lake Theatre on Thursday, April 12. Oakland-based Riley is best known as one-half of the iconic, revolutionary hip-hop duo The Coup, whose songs include such full-mouth titles as "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Grenada Last Night," "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethingCrazy" and "5 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O." The group gained considerable notoriety for the original cover art of 2001's "Party Music" album, which depicted Riley and Coup co-conspirator DJ Pam the Funkstress (1966–2017 R.I.P.) blowing up the World Trade Center. The cover was created before the events of 9/11 and delayed the album's release by several months.

Sorry to Bother You is a scathing socio-politico satire set in the world of telemarketing, with a dystopic, gentrified Oakland as a backdrop. Rolling Stone magazine simply called it "a hundred thousand watts of fuck you." The plan on April 12 is for Riley to introduce the film at the Castro and then head across the Bay to introduce it at the Grand Lake. Riley and special guests (co-star Armie Hammer perhaps?) will then do a Skype Q&A for the Castro audience, followed by a live, in-person Q&A for the Oakland audience. Not incidentally, Sorry to Bother You received considerable funding and creative support through SFFILM artist development programs, FilmHouse Residency and the SFFILM/Rainin Filmmaking Grant. Be advised that the Grand Lake screening sold out less than 24 hours after tickets went on sale.

Oscar®-winning actress Charlize Theron will be feted with a SFFILM tribute at the Castro Theatre on Sunday, April 8. After an on-stage conversation during which she'll discuss her formidable career (Monster, North Country, and most fabulously in recent years, Max Max: Fury Road), the festival will screen Tully, Theron's new film from director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Tully is a third-time collaboration between Reitman and Cody, and is their second outing with Theron in the lead, following 2011's Young Adult. Oscar®-nominated writer/director Reitman (Up in the Air) will join Theron for an on-stage Q&A following the screening. The movie is slated for general theatrical release on April 20.

Ten narrative features will compete in the festival's 2018 New Directors Competition. I can highly recommend Rungano Nyoni's I Am Not a Witch, a top favorite amongst the 30 films I caught at this year's Palm Springs International Film Festival. Nyoni's movie premiered in the Director's Fortnight sidebar at Cannes, and is an empathetic, visually striking and acerbically funny satire in which a young village girl is suspected of sorcery and sent off to live in seclusion with other witches. The only other competition film already on my radar is Hlynur Pálmason's Winter Brothers, which won a Best Actor prize at last summer's Locarno Film Festival. This idiosyncratic Danish film is set in the environs of a remote limestone factory and has been compared to the Greek "weird wave" films of Yorgos Lanthimos and others. The eight remaining New Directors Prize entries include works from Cape Verde (Djon África), Sweden (Ravens), Georgia (Scary Mother), France (The Sower), Kyrgyzstan (Suleiman Mountain), Switzerland (Those Who are Fine), Argentina (Tigre) and the USA (Jordana Spiro's Night Comes On).

Ten films will also compete for the Golden Gate Awards McBaine Documentary Feature Competition. I'm especially looking forward to RaMell Ross' Hale County This Morning, This Evening, a filmic tone-poem centered on an African American community in rural Alabama which garnered terrific reviews when it premiered at Sundance. Two of the doc competition films, Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink's Rescue List and Denali Tiller's Tre Maison Dasan will also be screening as part of SFFILM's "Launch" initiative, which aims to seek out distribution for non-fiction films that are SFFILM Festival world premieres, as well as "represent the values of our city and region" and "advance a culture of change." Rescue List takes on the issue of forced child labor in Ghana, and Tre Maison Dasan follows the lives of three boys who share the common hardship of having incarcerated parents.

* * *

When speculating on which other films might make the SFFILM Fest roster, I first look at what's scheduled to pop up in local cinemas during, or shortly after the festival. This year's batch of April releases with potential for fest inclusion are Aaron Katz' Gemini, Chloé Zhao's The Rider, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here, Andrew Haigh's Lean On Pete, Ferenc Török's 1945, and last but not least, Sophie Fiennes' Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. I also suspect that a number of films I saw in Palm Springs could also be making SFFILM Festival appearances, including such likely candidates as Laurent Cantet's The Workshop, Xavier Legrand's Custody, Léa Mysius' Ava and Léonor Serraille's Montparnasse Bienvenue.

Monday, March 12, 2018

TREEFORT 2018—The Evening Class Interview With Field Medic (Kevin Patrick Sullivan)

Photo: Michael Guillén
I first met Kevin Patrick Sullivan (aka Field Medic) when his band Rin Tin Tiger was invited to play Treefort a few years back. I was walking by the Bouquet and the timber of his voice pulled me into the venue to listen to their gig, which enthused me to introduce myself and to ask if we might find some time once back in San Francisco to talk about his music? That opportunity kept eluding us until a few weeks ago when we met for breakfast at Kate's Kitchen on Haight Street. The timing couldn't have been better. Having recently signed with Run for Cover Records, Kevin was about to be sent out on a national tour to promote his first album for them, "Songs From the Sunroom", a compilation of his favorite lo-fi songs released earlier on his self-distributed EPs, in anticipation of his first album of original material for Run for Cover, releasing in late Summer or early Fall.

His tour wraps up at Treefort, where his bio reads: "Field Medic is lo-fi bedroom project of Kevin Patrick. Field Medic began recording songs to cassette in his house in 2013 and has released a handful of EPs and a full length album. Drawing inspiration from Joni Mitchell, Fionn Regan, Nick Drake, and Bob Dylan, Field Medic makes freak folk/post country with emphasis on fingerstyle guitar & lyrics." He plays Treefort on Saturday, 11:00 at The District and again on Sunday at 3:45 at The Linen Building. Over crab benedict and cheddar bacon pancakes, I asked Kevin to recount his transformation from Rin Tin Tiger to Field Medic.

* * *

Photo: Unknown.
Kevin Patrick Sullivan: Rin Tin Tiger used to be called Westwood & Willow when I graduated from high school. It was a solo project. Then my brother joined me. Then we got a drummer. With the addition of the drummer, the sound became more rock and less folk. We became Rin Tin Tiger, for whatever reason; but—when we were changing our name from Westwood & Willow to Rin Tin Tiger, like six years ago—I wanted to call the band Field Medic. They decided it sounded too singular and the purpose of the name change was to make it plural, I guess, for everybody involved. We played for a long time and I had these folk songs that I wanted to put out, but we as a band wanted to be democratic where everyone was involved in choosing every song.

So, instead, I started playing as Field Medic in 2013 slowly on the side. Even by the time we played Treefort as Rin Tin Tiger, I had put out a couple of Field Medic releases. As I kept putting out music, I started my own tape label out of my house when I lived in San Francisco. People became interested in the Field Medic music and I was enjoying more at that time than the band. I don't particularly like to rock. That's just what happened at a certain point because we were a band. I told the boys that I needed to take a break from the band in the middle of 2016. Then, in 2017 I moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of January. So Rin Tin Tiger is on hiatus. We're not officially broken up but I'm focusing more on Field Medic.

I wound up getting really lucky with the people I was meeting at the time. This time last year I did a short living room tour with Evan Stephens Hall from Pinegrove and this girl Alex from Thin Great Grandpa. Then I started hanging out with this band called The Neighborhood and a band called Bad Sons in Los Angeles and they helped me get some cool shows there. Somehow I ended up getting signed with Run For Cover, which is crazy. I got very lucky.

Michael Guillén: Well, luck usually abets talent. I believe you're very talented. 

KPS: Thank you.

Guillén: You're a great wordsmith. You have a little bit of anarchic romanticism in your writing, which I like. Field Medic, however, is still affiliated with the Bay Area? 

Photo: Unknown.
KPS: The Valencia Street song is specifically Bay Area; but, a lot of people don't realize that I've left the Bay Area. I do feel that I am still Bay Area though. It's definitely still where I'm from but I don't always live there. I'm pretty much there half my time.

Guillén: You're being billed as "new folk", and yet you remind me of old folk, a little bit of early Dylan, and there does seem to be a protest element to some of your music. 

KPS: The Valencia Street song got a lot of press because it was super aggressive and relevant....

Guillén: Well, you were talking about slashing tires. 

KPS: That's really one of my only protest songs. Most of my songs are about love and confusion and anxiety. They might be using "new folk" to describe me, but to me they're just songs. Some people have called my music "freak folk" and others say it can't be freak folk because it's not psychedelic enough. It's been called DIY, which it actually is, though it's interesting that DIY is used as a genre to classify a certain type of band. But my music is fully DIY because I write everything, record everything, make my own videos, do all my own shit. My shit is DIY in the literal definition of the word. Though I just call my music songs, there's some weird connotation with the singer-songwriter that's kind of corny.

Guillén: As an older guy, I have a great respect for the singer-songwriter. I don't think it's corny at all. Singer-songwriters created the music that I grew up on. But I understand what you're saying because it does seem to be perceived as a mark against a musician these days. Like no one's supposed to single themselves out. When I first moved to Boise and listening to music in clubs, my first reaction and complaint was that I couldn't understand anything anybody was saying. No one would articulate their lyrics. I'd get excuses that the words were incidental and that they were only in service to sonic texture, which I considered one of the silliest rationalizations I'd ever heard. How would you describe the newest album that you're taking out on tour, "Songs From the Sunroom"? Talk to me about how that was set up.

KPS: The new album is not necessarily new. It's a compilation of a bunch of tracks from the EPs that I released when I was unsigned and living in San Francisco. It's called "Songs From the Sun Room" because I lived in a sun room and that was where I recorded everything. We decided to put out a "best of" selection to let people find out about my music before we put out the new album, which should come out in the Summer or the Fall. Right now I'm touring the reissue, I guess you would call it. It's cool. It's a dream of mine. I always loved the lo-fi stuff I was recording and I didn't want to re-record it. The label agreed to put it all together and that's really chill. The tour is going to take me to Washington D.C., New Jersey, then Philadelphia, then New York, and then I have to fly back to San Francisco to play Noise Pop, and the day after Noise Pop I fly back to Chicago. Then I tour for two weeks through all sorts of crazy places, hella places I've never been, I can't even remember where we're going.

Guillén: I presume the label arranged the tour for you? 

Photo: Unknown.
KPS: I have a booking agent now who is actually the one who introduced my music to the label. He found out about me through somebody else. He was excited about the music and sent it to them. I actually have him to thank for all of this. He organized the first part of the tour because we had an offer for a college show in Madison, Wisconsin and then just at a certain point this other band contacted us to be support for the second part of the tour that starts after Chicago. I didn't arrange it. I didn't do anything. I just have to fly around. I'm definitely a little nervous because I'm alone. A lot of bands go out and they have each other, but I'm going to pull up alone.

Guillén: Keep in mind the old traveling proverb: "One meets two; two meets three." You're never really alone. You'll meet people wherever you go. 

KPS: That's true. I'll have friends everywhere. I just don't like flying with guitar. I'm always worried my guitar is going to be broken by the time we land. It's too big to put in overhead. Oftentimes I can store it in the closet, but there have been a couple of times that I've had to check it at the gate.

Guillén: Can you wrap it in bubblewrap?

KPS: I don't wrap it in bubblewrap, I just detune the strings because when the pressure changes it could really break your guitar. Also, if it's under the plane it gets really cold.

Guillén: Are you only playing your guitar on tour? You're not taking your banjo?

KPS: I've never really toured with the banjo because I don't drive. I'm surprised that I'll be covering so much ground without driving.

Guillén: All that matters is to stick to your guns because no matter what decision you make, you will go in and out of fashion. Like, I notice your finger polish doesn't match. But it doesn't matter. It's who you are.

KPS: I just do whatever, y'know? 

Guillén: I like your song about fashion and going into thrift stores.

Photo: Unknown.
KPS: "OTL." That song's funny because I didn't think anybody was going to like it. I wrote it really fast one day. I thought it was just funny.

Guillén: It's funny, but this is where—when I describe your music as protest music—it's more of a romantic protest and less a political one. You're protesting how hard it is to find someone to love.

KPS: It is hard.

Guillén: And it seems to be getting harder all the time. I can't even imagine what it's like for a young guy these days with so many sexual allegations being levied right and left for even looking at someone the wrong way. Don't get me wrong: I think it's great that women are speaking up for themselves and defending themselves, as they should. But I came from a youth culture of free love and loving the one you're with if you're not with the one you love: attitudes that are simply not politically acceptable nowadays it seems. But I enjoy the forlorn romanticism in your writing. I'm glad that you found yourself a girlfriend because I was thinking, "This poor kid...." 

KPS: My experience with women has always been that I've always been able to find people that I liked but—perhaps because I have red hair and weird interests—I've never been that kind of guy where girls are like, "Oh my God, I need to fuck that guy." So no problem with sexual allegations.

Guillén: Let's talk about Treefort. How did Eric Gilbert first find you as Rin Tin Tiger? 

KPS: Through a guy named Greg who has a blog and lives in Boise. He had been reviewing Rin Tin Tiger since the inception of the band. He's the one who put forth our music to Eric. When we first played Treefort, our band was an acoustic-driven folk rock experience and there was more hype about us and people were pumped to see us. I just remember playing Treefort was so much fun! It was at the end of one of our tours as well. I still use the Treefort water bottle that I got in my swag bag for artists that year.

Guillén: When I was listening to your music this morning, I found it melodically diverse. I know it's an intuitive thing and difficult to describe, but how do you hear these melodies? Do they arrive as snippets in your mind which you then try to find on the guitar? Or do you hear a snippet and then try to use your voice against it? Can you speak to your songwriting process?

KPS: What happens for me is that I write all the lyrics first. I don't write a chord progression and then sit there and think, "What should I sing over it?" I write stuff all throughout the day. I write little observations or poems. I write a lot of haiku.

Guillén: So you consider yourself a poet first?

KPS: Yes. I only started writing music so I could make a living doing poetry. I love words. I'm a big fan of lyrics. I listen to a lot of rap music because they're both vocally and lyrically centered. For me, the lyrics themselves tend to write the melodies. I practice guitar. I sit there and finger pick and maybe I'll write a little something but I'll store it away. Then there will come a point when I'm overwhelmed with these lyrics that match a feeling that I'm also overwhelmed with, so I'll sit down with the guitar and maybe cycle through whatever weird things I've just written on the guitar and just start singing them until they match. But I would say, yes, the lyrics write the melodies.

Guillén: Do you play covers? 

KP: Never done them. I've learned a couple—Bob Dylan, John Prine, Joni Mitchell—songs. But I've never done covers, ever, other than for myself. I like to write so much that I would just rather play my own stuff. Some people talk about learning how to play music by playing other people's songs; but, I just taught myself. I needed to sing. I made my own vocabulary musically. My dad bought an acoustic guitar when I was 15 and so I would play with it because it was in the house. Do you remember that song "Collide" by Howie Day? It was a radio hit where he was just strumming. I taught myself to strum that song by ear. I took those chords I learned and wrote a bunch of songs. Then when I moved to San Francisco at 18, I started going to City College. My brother was living with me and he had a job already. He was working at SF State until three in the morning every night. I would go to City College during the days, Sundays I didn't even have class, and I had no friends, I was all alone, and then I bought a book about finger picking because that was my goal. I love Tallest Man on Earth and Fionn Regan, old Bob Dylan, travis picking stuff. Then for an entire six or seven months, I chilled in my room alone and taught myself how to fingerpick. But I've never had official training. I taught myself. For me that's the only way to learn. You do it because you need to.

Photo: Ben Decastro.
Guillén: You also have a strong online visual presence. You have several videos on YouTube that you share freely. Like myself, you seem very persona-driven. One of my favorite photos of you is a gender-fluid pose where you're wearing a dress and looking just this side of delicate.

KPS: Am I wearing a polka-dotted blouse?

Guillén: I enjoyed its playful, carefree attitude. Do you have any particular image, or persona, that you feel Field Medic is trying to fit?

KPS: My whole life I've always liked to dress weird or to have a weird inclination. I got in trouble at the old school for having orange shoelaces because we had a uniform. But I had to wear orange shoe laces for some reason. I've always been inclined to dress weird and I don't know why. When I moved to San Francisco during the Rin Tin Tiger years we had a cowboy aesthetic. We were wearing bolo ties on denim shirts or pearl button western shirts. I do like that cowboy aesthetic as well. But then when I started to hang out with a few friends in L.A., I was noticing their fashion sense. These guys dress hella crazy and they don't give a fuck. I'm a big thrift shopper and I had all these crazy pieces already so that when I embraced my Field Medic project, I embraced these crazy fashions. Part of my bit early on was looking super crazy—I would have, like, tons of layers, super tight pants, wearing lipstick, earrings, hairspray—because I wanted to roll up to the songwriter show and have people be, "Who the fuck is this guy dressed like a crazy rock star?" I like being ridiculous. It's not about being fashionable. It's more about people reacting,"Who does he think he is? Why would he do that?" When I started wearing exactly what I wanted to wear, I felt empowered. I felt really good going as redic as I wanted to go.

Guillén: You want to be noticed.

KPS: Yeah, I want to pop. In L.A. I crash on my friend's couch and in SF I live at my girlfriend's house so I had to destroy a lot of my fashion when I moved out of SF. That's been a major blow to my speed. I have a very limited closet now because I live out of a suitcase. Especially on this tour to the East Coast, all my suit case is full of merch. All I have is one extra pair of pants, two shirts, socks and underwear. Fashion is taking a back seat for these winter tours. I keep telling myself that once I "make it" or get to a comfortable place, I'll have all the fashion I want.

Guillén: You don't feel that you've made it yet? 

KPS: I do feel that I've made it in a lot of ways, yeah. The only thing I'm missing is financial security.

Guillén: You and five million others, brother.

KPS: Yeah, right? But I want to get to a place where I can afford to rent a room of my own. Although it's great that I have people to stay with, I do miss my own personal space.

Guillén: I'm aware that busking has been an important aspect of your music. Can you speak to that?  Why you did that? Did you have to? Was it the only way you could get your music out there?

KPS: We started busking with the band in 2011. It was the drummer's idea. He said, "We should go busk on Market Street." We started doing it and it was going well. We'd sell a lot of CDs and make a lot of fans, honestly. A lot of the gigs that we got early on were because people saw us busking and all of a sudden we were getting paid gigs to play at people's parties or larger outdoor events in San Francisco. When we first did it, it was because we had to. My brother and I were both unemployed so we were busking five days a week and that money was paying the rent. At a certain point we both got jobs. We'd still busk but the police were cracking down harder than before and we started getting shut down. We'd lug all of our shit, set up, play for like 20 minutes, and then have to leave, which was a bummer.

Guillén: They wanted you to have a license to perform? Is it illegal in San Francisco to busk on the street?

Photo: Unknown.
KPS: Most of the time you can get away with it; but, for whatever reason, we were just hitting a lot of bad luck with that. We would busk on Powell Street at Market. We had tiny amps so we could break through the noise. But then we slowed down from busking. I started busking alone in the BART station because if you're in the tunnel it's chill for the acoustics. I did it to supplement my income because I only worked three days a week. I made maybe $120 a week in busking, so it paid off. But also, I just really liked it. I never played any cover songs so it was a good way to see if people responded to my own songs. If I was playing a new song and somebody turned and smiled, or put in a dollar or whatever, it was sort of good way to gauge that. The mantra I always told myself while I was busking was that I was the benevolent friend to all. People were coming off work and they were tired and angry and I just wanted to sing songs to them and connect with them, but in a non-committal way. It's not like they're at a concert where they're expected to listen. They can just walk by or they can choose to stand and listen or they can put in a dollar or maybe just give me a quick smile. A ten-second interaction. For me, it was a good energy to put out there, to just be chilling. Nobody hates a busker. I feel everyone appreciates when they see somebody making music. Busking is great that way.

Guillén: Would you ever busk in unfamiliar cities on tour?

KPS: I've definitely thought about it. I've always had a dream of being super successful and secretly showing up to busk at a BART station. Let's say I was as big as Prince, and everyone recognized me. I'd show up and cause a scene. But I would do that even without being that successful or recognizable. I busked as recently as a couple of months ago. What I learned with the Field Medic stuff was that it important for everything to be free. Everything on Bandcamp is still free. That's what I learned with poetry and songwriting too. People get caught up with, "Oh, this poem is so good. If I put it out, someone's going to steal it." But if they stole it, that would actually be chill. I feel that you honestly have to give everything away for free all the time. You have to. If it's that good that someone's going to steal it, it will get back to you.

Guillén: It's what I would call mutual indebtedness. We all owe each other what is the most creative within ourselves. If I can give you a good breakfast, I'll do that. You need fuel in your belly to be creative. For me it's important to bless the young, to feed them, to encourage their creativities and that draws me into the domain of love, which I believe is unconditional. I'm not buying you breakfast today because I'm trying to get something from you. I'm doing this because I want to know that at least at one point in our lives we can intersect and I can bless you and tell you your music is strong and beautiful. I'm excited for you that you're going on your first national tour and I hope you send us notes from the field.

KPS: Yeah. I get spooked out about getting "big" because it's what I've always wanted but now that I'm on the cusp of it—it may be happening? Who knows if it does or it doesn't?—but, it's making me a little afraid now.

Guillén: You have to watch out. You have to not want fame. Fame will happen to you. It's like fashion. Fame will happen and then it goes away. But with or without it, you remain who you are. The singer-songwriters who I have admired since I was young are those who have gone through, and often been robbed by, agents and recording labels, but ultimately found their own source of production, grabbed the creative reins of their careers, and continue to do the music they are meant to do whether they are famous for it or not. If there is true poetry, it will always persevere.

KPS: I just want make a living, dude. That's my goal. If things go well, I think music can allow that. But it's also the only course that I have now. I better hope that it allows it.