CIVIC GREEN

Civic Green band photo

INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN

From South Yorkshire, Civic Green are an emerging four-piece – comprising of vocalist/guitarist Dan Hall, guitarist Matty Walker, bassist/vocalist Andy Lowman, and drummer Gav Darley – who play a sound that they personally describe as “loud as fuck indie rock n’ roll“.

So far, the band have mainly performed live shows around their local area, including a set at iconic Sheffield venue The Leadmill to full capacity, and having recently unveiled a new single – entitled ‘Sunlit Shore‘ – the quartet chatted to me about all of this and more, giving out some humorous answers along the way.

How did the band first get together?

It started back in 2016, when Dan and Andy (who have been mates since they were around four years old) finally found a drummer for the band they had been looking to form for years.

Three years, and numerous line-up changes, later, Gav responded to an advert online, and brought Matty in (who he has also been mates with for a number of years), and the line-up finally feels complete.

How did the name Civic Green come about?

Civic Green came from our first drummer, who used to get pissed as a 14-year old on the grass (green) outside the Civic in Barnsley, hence the name. We never got around to changing it when we left as a) We couldn’t think of anything better, and b) Quite frankly, we couldn’t be arsed.

What are the band’s main musical influences?

We’ve got a wide range of influences from different genres, ranging from 1950’s music to the present, and everything in between. We feel that gives us the ability to create tunes that are original, yet feel familiar. (Basically, we rip everybody off/people are too obscure to notice – we don’t wanna make it too obvious and get sued, although if they want to sue us for our earnings, then they’re fucking welcome to the £7 each we made in gig earnings)

What would you say was your approach to songwriting?

There are a few ways of coming up with ideas, but it always starts with the music and a melody, then progresses from there. It either starts at practice where someone comes up with a bit of a riff or a chord progression that turns into something more, or Dan will bring something in to work on, then we will slowly build on the idea.

The lyrics come last, and take the longest. Dan will go away to finish them, then do an acoustic demo for everyone when they’re finally done to use as a reference.

What inspires the band lyrically?

Various things inspire the lyrics, sometimes we’re not sure what they mean, but they make sense in a strange way, but the main theme of a lot of our songs seems to be escapism and looking towards better things, the prime example being our song ‘Better Days‘.

Some of the lyrics are based on real things, and some of them are stories and things that just sound good when put together.

Recently, you unveiled a new single – entitled ‘Sunlit Shore’. How was the recording process for that?

The recording process for ‘Sunlit Shore‘ was a really quick one. We recorded it with Alan Smyth at 2Fly Studios (the genius behind the first Arctic Monkeys album), and we did it in two takes, the first one we think we ended up using. It was mixed and mastered pretty much in one day, then came out within a week or so. Laughing.

And how has the response been to the track so far?

The reaction so far has been superb. In the feedback we’ve had, people have compared us to quite a few bands from a few different genres, so it’s encouraging to know that we’re appealing to audiences across the musical spectrum (Also, no-one has told us yet that we are shit, and to pack the band in). So far, so good.

The band have mainly performed live in Sheffield. How is the experience – for you all – of playing on stage?

Playing live can be quite a tumultuous experience, as one week, you’re playing to a packed out Leadmill, the next, you’re playing to three people (one of them being the sound engineer) in Barnsley, because the fourth person has been kicked out for throwing a chair through a window.

As for the actual playing on stage, it can be one of the best feelings in the world, when everything is just going right, and people are getting in to it, but equally, it can be one of the worst experiences and make you want to never pick a guitar up again, or wrap it around your bandmate’s head when you play a bad gig.

What are your plans for the near future?

Our plans for the future just involve playing as many gigs as we can possibly fit in, and to keep getting better as a band. Also, we want to record and release a new single with a snazzy little video to accompany it.

And lastly, what is the band’s long-term aim?

The long-term aim is to take the band as far as it can go, whether that is playing stadiums, or lingering about in boozers with the windows missing, because a quarter of the crowd has put them through.

Ideally for Dan, said stadiums would involve Oakwell [Barnsley], whereas the rest of the band would prefer Elland Road [Leeds United].

Civic Green Single Cover

‘SUNLIT SHORE’ – THE LATEST SINGLE FROM CIVIC GREEN – IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES:

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

INSTAGRAM

YOUTUBE

 

A CHAT WITH SMALL PLANETS

Small Planets band photo

by ZAK SLOMAN

Last month, Small Planets – an immensely-talented five-piece from Los Angeles, the capital of the US entertainment industry – unveiled a self-titled debut album, comprising of 11 well-crafted tracks drawn from a diverse range of musical influences, but rooted in post-punk and shoegaze.

The band’s first full-length offering represented another step in a journey which began in earnest when guitarist Jeff Love asked bassist Josh Spincic if he would be interested in collaborating with him on a new musical project.

Jeff already had a handful of songs when he asked me to join“, remembers Josh, “I listened to them, liked the musical direction he was heading in, and I thought I could add a lot to those tracks.

With Josh on board, him and Jeff searched fruitlessly for a drummer to complete the collective, until Josh thought of Phil Drazic, who he had played in a previous outfit with.

Phil was – and still is – one of the best drummers around, and so we brought him in.”

However, the now trio soon felt that something was lacking which would enable them to reach a higher level, and they decided that another guitarist and a vocalist was the way forward, but the process of finding the people who were the right fit was fraught with difficulty.

We actually went through quite a few, before we finally struck lucky with Ryan [Silo] and Jess [Hernandez].”

The bolstering of the band’s ranks with Ryan‘s guitar playing, and Jess‘s vocal tones, resulted in an evolution of a sound that effectively combined the swells of the Cocteau Twins, melodic richness of The Cure, and the darkness of Joy Division, and having already performed live across their home city, including at such iconic venues as the House Of Blues, The Viper Room, and the Troubadour, the five members decided it was finally time to put their songs to record.

It would take the Californian collective eight months to put together their debut album, but there was a good reason for the lengthy recording process.

We wanted to make the best possible record” explains Phil, with Josh adding, “Having the ability to take our time doing what was best for the songs really shows in the end product.”

The release was recorded at The Cave Studio, with a production team including people who had worked in the past with the likes of The Cure and The Jesus And Mary Chain.

It took a long time, and it was very detail-oriented, but [engineer] Josiah [Mazzaschi] really encouraged us to do whatever we wanted, and he was very patient with us.” says Jeff.

Once recording had been completed, the album was sent to the iconic Abbey Road recording studios in London to be mastered, before it finally came out to a overwhelmingly positive response from the quintet’s fan base, with Josh saying, “People seem to really get what we’re doing, and that is a great feeling to have.”

However, the band aren’t stopping to bask in the glow of all the plaudits heading their way, as they have already been working on a five-track EP, with Jeff teasing, “The EP will be more shoegaze-driven than the album, musically more mid-Cocteau Twins era on two of the songs with words, and all we need now is to just add some production into the mixes, some more guitar from Ryan, and we should be set.

The EP – entitled ‘Seasons‘ – will be unveiled at some point early next year, and after that, the five-piece will start work on their second album, so it looks set to be a busy time ahead for the ambitious Small Planets.

Small Planets Album Cover

THE SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM FROM SMALL PLANETS IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE BAND HERE.

 

DISTRICT 13

District 13 band photo

DISTRICT 13 (from l-r): Asen Milushev (drums/vocals), Jon Wild (vocals/guitar), Richard Vanderpuije (bass/vocals)

INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN

PHOTO by DARINA BONEVA

Taking influence from a diverse range of bands and artists, both classic and contemporary, London three-piece District 13 have created a unique combination of heavy metal, rock, and punk, along with dark lyrical content, which has seen the band make a real impact on the city’s underground music scene this past year, and their vocalist/guitarist Jon Wild spoke to me about such things as these, the trio’s acclaimed debut album ‘Soma‘ – which came out this July – future plans, and much more.

How did the band first get together?

District 13 began when Asen and Richard were holding auditions for a lead singer. I had previously been in a band called Romance, who were signed to Fiction/Universal Records. I turned up, we jammed a few covers, and we seemed to click right away on a musical level and personality.

As Asen explains, “We had loads of talented people apply, but when we heard Jon’s voice and awesome guitar playing, we knew then that he was the guy for us. We all clicked immediately from the beginning, it’s been awesome!

How did the name District 13 come about?

We were thinking of names for a while, and Asen suggested District 13. District 13 is from the area in ‘The Hunger Games‘ books/films where there is a positive chance of rebellion. We found the name to be memorable, and it also fit in with some of the lyrical topics in our songs.

What would you say was your approach to songwriting?

Our song ideas come about in a mixture of different ways. I have written the tracks for the ‘Soma‘ album, but some of the new material we have written together.

When writing a song, I often come up with the music first, and I wanted to create high-energy up-tempo hard rock/punk music that sounds like Black Sabbath meeting the Ramones.

However, on the album, we do have a couple of slower songs, for example, ‘Is This The Way‘ takes a different vibe to the rest of the album, as it was partially inspired by Simon and Garfunkel, and I decided to harmonise the lead vocal line throughout the song. We have recently shot a video to this track, and it will be released early next year.

What influences the band lyrically?

When writing lyrics, I try to steer away from typical lyrics of boyfriend/girlfriend etc…Our first single, ‘Wild Flowers‘, talks about being disillusioned by a lot of the media, politicians, and press, and not seeing the truth behind what people in power say.

Some songs take a more light-hearted/comical approach, however, as ‘Cantankerous‘ and ‘Sweet Talk‘ are more tongue-in-cheek, and talk about an explosive relationship.

The main lyric in ‘Is This The Way‘ is, “I look into the sky, but I don’t see the light today, is this the way, is this the way back now“, and this is about feeling lost in life, and never knowing whether you are on the right path.

Soma‘ is the last track of the album, and takes inspiration from one of my favourite books, which is ‘Brave New World‘ by Aldous Huxley. I find many parallels to our society in this book, and ‘Soma‘ reflects on some of this, but is not directly about the book.

This summer, you brought out a debut album, entitled ‘Soma’. How was the recording process for that?

We recorded the album in Bulgaria in four days. I created demos for all of the tracks, and Asen recorded his drum parts to the demos in just one day.

Richard then recorded his bass parts on the second day, I recorded all my guitar parts on the third days, and on the final day, I recorded all of the lead and backing vocals. It was a tiring process, but most tracks were recorded with two or three takes.

The mixing took longer, as our producer Georgi Stanev had a busy work schedule, so we had to wait a few months, but he did an excellent job, and we definitely want to work with him again.

And how was the initial response to the album?

The response has been great. It has received excellent reviews from various websites, and we were also reviewed in Powerplay magazine. There is a variety of songs on the album, and something for everyone. Our album is available on several digital platforms, including Spotify, Amazon, iTunes etc…and we also have CDs that we sell at our gigs.

Last year, the band played at the Hills Of Rock festival in Bulgaria, which was headlined by Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. That must have been quite an experience for you all.

Yes, it was a great experience, and we hope we can do it again next year, as it was a great feeling to be playing at a major festival, and we put on a high-energy show. We got an excellent review in which I was described as a cross between Kurt Cobain and Sid Vicious (laughs), and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden both put on a great show too!

And you have performed at venues across London, including Nambucca, the Dublin Castle, and The Rocksteady. How is it overall playing on stage?

We love being creative writing songs, but playing live is what we enjoy best, as nothing beats the energy and feel of live music, and we were happy to get to play at the Big Red before it closed, which turned out to be a great experience.

A few weeks back, we had shows at The George Tavern, and at The Rocksteady, which we had never played before. We go down very well with audiences, and we try to engage them as much as we can. One of the best shows we also played recently was at The Grand in Clapham as a support.

What are the band’s plans for the near future?

We have recently shot three new videos which we will be releasing in the near future, and we are also in the process of organising some European shows next year, but nothing has been confirmed just yet.

We also want to continue to push our album as much as possible, and to try and organise a tour, either as headline at club shows, or support for another band. Our next show in London will be at the New Cross Inn on December 8.

And lastly, what is your long-term aim?

Our long-term aim is to expand our audience as much as possible, and be able to do this full-time. We are all 100% committed to the band, and believe in the music that we play.

We certainly will want to record a follow-up album to ‘Soma‘, and we have already written a lot of the songs for that. The music industry is very competitive, but we will keep driving at it, and see where it takes us.

District 13 Album Cover

‘SOMA’ – THE DEBUT ALBUM FROM DISTRICT 13 – IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES:

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

INSTAGRAM

YOUTUBE

 

YOUTH ILLUSION

Youth Illusion band photo

YOUTH ILLUSION (from l-r): Tim Storey (drums), Matt Ungaro (guitar), Zach Almond (vocals/guitar), Rory Deans (bass/vocals)

INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN

For emerging London punk four-piece Youth Illusion, 2019 will go down as a productive year, as they brought out a debut single, performed at the Camden Rocks festival, and most recently unveiled their first EP, ‘Terms Of Submission‘, which was mastered at the iconic Abbey Road recording studios, and the band were happy to talk about all of this and more with me.

How did the band initially form?

Zach and Rory met through Gumtree, and it went from there. After a couple of line-up changes, we met Tim, also through Gumtree, and Matt contacted us around the same time about adding a second guitar…that was around April this year.

How did the name Youth Illusion come about?

It’s a bit of a play on the fact that we are a bit older than most bands trying to break through. Zach suggested it, and it stuck.

What would you say was your approach to songwriting?

Zach writes most of the songs, and Tim has started contributing music too. We bring an idea or a bunch of parts to a rehearsal, and we just play them through and change them up to make songs.

Zach then goes away, and comes up with the lyrics…and it doesn’t always come about quickly…we play a couple of songs now which we’re sure will have different lyrics by the time we record them.

What inspires the band lyrically?

Most of our songs so far have been about toxic relationships, but it’s starting to evolve a bit with the new tracks.

Earlier this year, you brought out your debut single – entitled ‘Better Off’ – to an overwhelmingly positive response. How was the reaction for you all personally?

It was amazing finally having something out there so people could hear what we were doing. The reception was great, the feedback has been really positive, and it lets us know we are on the right track.

And the track was taken from the band’s recently-released first EP, ‘Terms Of Submission’. How was the recording process for that?

It was long, but it was a great experience. Looking back, we were a bit naive about it, and weren’t as prepared as we could have been, but we struck gold with our producer (James Curtis-Thomas), as he really helped us build these songs into something we are very proud of.

The record was mastered at the iconic Abbey Road Studios. That must have been quite an experience for you all.

Zach was like a kid in a sweet shop! Rory was a bit more focused on getting the job done, but it was amazing to experience it, and actually be in the building. We know how lucky we are to have had the opportunity to visit the studio, but it’s even better that we managed to get our record mastered there.

And for those who have yet to hear the EP, what can they expect from it?

It’s four tracks of guitar-driven punk rock, fast-paced and upbeat, and we hope that everyone enjoys listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it.

You have supported the likes of Crosslight and The SoapGirls, and you also played at this summer’s Camden Rocks festival. How were they as experiences?

We’ve had so much fun! Shows are our favourite time, and getting to play with those bands was great, and we have been lucky enough so far to meet and play with a lot of awesome bands.

And how is it overall – for the band – performing live?

So much fun. We like to enjoy ourselves, and our shows are like nights out for us, as there’s beer, sweat, loud music…what more could you want?

Now that the EP has come out, what are your plans for the near future?

We are hoping to play as many shows as possible, and we are also looking at a potential tour in the new year, as well as maybe a new single in time for next summer. Also, we definitely want to do as many festivals as possible!

And lastly, what is the band’s long-term aim?

It’s the same as most serious bands. We want to do it as much as we possibly can, and maybe at some point, we will get the opportunity to do it full-time.

Youth Illusion EP Cover

‘TERMS OF SUBMISSION’ – THE DEBUT EP FROM YOUTH ILLUSION – IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES:

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

FACEBOOK

INSTAGRAM

YOUTUBE

MITCHEL EMMS – ‘Vertigo At History’s Edge’ TRACK-BY-TRACK

Mitchel Emms photo

PHOTO by LAUREN STANTON

Vertigo At History’s Edge‘, the debut solo album from singer-songwriter Mitchel Emms, finally came out last month, and has so far had an overwhelmingly positive response from critics and fans alike.

In this feature, Mitchel looks back on the process of writing, recording, and mixing the recent release, and what each of the 10 tracks that make up the album mean to him personally.

I put the album together with the idea of having the album be a holistic musical journey from start to finish (so I assume that makes it a kind of concept album!)

Although there are many autobiographical elements involved, the overall themes are of awakening, dealing with loss, and confronting the future in an age of anxiety, and because it’s such a personal record, it’d take me forever to explain every single meaning and detail behind why everything is the way it is, so I’ll take influence here from ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away‘ from David Bowie‘s album ‘Blackstar‘, and I often write in a way of letting ideas flow in a stream-of-consciousness way that I make sense of afterwards, but I’ll give an overall summary of what I was going for with each song. 

However, I like the idea that art and music can mean different things to everyone. Although it might have meaning for me in my own way, it’s open to interpretation from the listener through the lens of their own life experiences and perspective, or to just enjoy for music’s sake.

‘INTRO’

I left the title of this as just ‘Intro‘, as I think it’s something that I can’t really put a definition on. I had this melody in my mind for a long time whenever I was feeling mixed emotions, and when I recorded it, I thought it was a perfect fit to open the album.

For me, it starts the record off from a place of nostalgia, familiar yet otherworldly, soothing but poignant, kind of like a lament.

‘A TRUTH INSIDE THE LIE’

This was the song that really helped the direction of the album take shape, as I knew from the get-go that this would be the opening track.

The lyrics are kind of cryptic on this one, but it mainly deals with being at a crossroads in life, going through an awakening of sorts, and wanting to know a deeper meaning to it all.

Musically, I was super happy with how it all came together, especially how the first section of the song expresses a rise from a distant foreboding into a moment of euphoria, and it was fun to get a bit experimental and add mellotrons (essentially sampled lo-fi reels of tape of real string recordings) and synths into the sonic pallette of the album to give it the cinematic vibe I was going for.

‘THAT SINKING FEELING’

I wrote this song when I was 19 for a band I was in (MisterNothing), and it never got used. However, I always loved the song, and in 2018, I found it related to it more than ever.

Re-recording it and adding new parts and dimensions to it really helped the song take on a new life and identity as part of this album, making this the definitive version of it.

The track deals with the way I think a lot of my generation feel at the moment: the anxiety, and the constant struggle to find motivation to keep going when everything seems stacked against them. 

Also, from a mixing standpoint, I absolutely loved using phase modulation effects in part of the song that helped add emphasis to the metaphor of sinking into water. 

This one also took the longest to finish mix-wise as there was so much going on in it instrumentally that it was an exercise in carving out places for everything compositionally and sonically to fit in, however, I was very happy with the result of it. 

‘RIVERS OF ICE’

I released this back in 2018, and at the time, it was a turning point for me with my songwriting, as a lot of the demos I’d been making that year felt like it was lacking something, but when I recorded this, I felt like I had found a new musical direction and approach, and it was a cool experience making a song that slowly developed from a quiet moment into a huge wall of sound, with plenty of space to breathe in between.

The feedback from that kick-started me into making this album, and the meaning of it for me is kind of a summary of a lot of songs I was writing at the time, so to be able to sum them all up in one track was a bit of a “aha!” moment. 

This song, especially, comes from my own reflection of everything I was up until that point in my life, and some of the archetypal things that people go through that can end up with us feeling depressed and not fully appreciating ourselves and our individuality.

‘NO MORE PAIN’

This one is kind of hard to explain, but it deals with growing up, realising the tragedy of life, and how people can fall victim to isolating themselves, living lives of meaninglessness and empty comfort, and not fully realising their own potential, but coming from a place without judgement.

This song came about from me noodling an early Genesis-type thing on guitar at around 2am, during which I ended up making this really interesting chord progression that I recorded right on the spot, and that take is the same one as on the finished track. 

The mellotron strings make a return here, as well as the lo-fi bells at the beginning of ‘Rivers Of Ice‘ at the end, to tie the two songs together. 

‘MESSAGE FROM THE WATER’

There’s been times where I haven’t felt my best, and I’ve gone into full “hermit mode”, shutting myself off from everything, not out of spite to anybody, but just purely because I felt I wasn’t worth having around, and being a bit burned out. This song comes from my own experience of it, and it’s a track for anybody who has ever felt the same. 

Musically, I was drawing a bit of inspiration from shoegaze and post-rock with this track, and I feel that, for me, when it fully kicks in during the latter half of the song, it encapsulates the melancholic juxtaposition of being filled with passion despite being withdrawn.

Also, as a guitarist, there’s barely a guitar solo on the album, as I wanted to just stick with great guitar melodies over self-indulgent soloing, but I felt this was crying out for a passionate one towards the end of this track. 

‘THE RAIN’

This one is a response to the previous song, in that it’s about trying to encourage someone to not isolate themselves and reach out. It was actually one of the last tracks I wrote for this album that ended up replacing a song that I felt didn’t really fit in, and this felt like it wrote itself, as it was finished within a day, and I was really happy with how it turned out.

The track also references the sort of disconnection we have at the moment, what with the influence of social media and the internet, with an example being the line “…with black mirrors in hand, distracted from this broken land”.

I messed around a lot layering distorted guitar feedback over the last third of the song, multi-tracking it, reversing it, and generally manipulating it in interesting ways, which was a lot of fun to do. 

‘HISTORY’S EDGE’

The title of the album, ‘Vertigo At History’s Edge‘ is based on a talk by Terence McKenna, and ‘History’s Edge’ is a song that addresses one of the meanings behind why I chose it. I recorded the acoustic guitar and vocals on my phone one evening, which I then used in the actual track.

It’s really hard to put into words what this song is personally about for me, but overall, I think I can sum it up as being about finding out a seemingly unspeakable truth that almost everyone is blind to, and you’re left wondering what the hell you’re going to do with that information, and how to move forward in the face of it all. It’s a musical moment of introspection, alienation, and loneliness. 

‘SEASON OF REGRET’

This song is difficult to explain, because it comes from a place of so many complicated emotions and thoughts, all at the same time.

When I was making the album, there was a lot going on in my personal life, and I finished writing this track shortly after a friend of mine had passed away, which ended up having a huge impact on the meaning of the entire project,

The lyrics are what came out of me in a moment during that time, and I can say overall that this is a song about realising that nothing lasts, regretting the moments you took for granted, and being at a loss with all of that. 

Musically speaking of where this track comes in on the album, I like to think of it as the moment of opening the door to the outside after a solitary dark night of the soul. 

‘FINAL FAREWELL’

This started life as an instrumental piece, inspired by JRPG game soundtracks I loved as a kind such as ‘Chrono Trigger‘ and ‘Final Fantasy VI‘.

However, the more I worked on it, the more I realised that I was actually making the outro to this album, which I wanted to end on a positive, upbeat, and reflective note after some of the more melancholy and dark moments on the record, and I wanted to let loose a little bit musically and creatively with it, and do something different than the other songs on the album. 

Lyrically, it’s the shortest, but it’s about continuing to tackle life head-on in the name of something or someone that once was, as an act of acceptance or dedication, and choosing to carry a memory of something you loved as inspiration to carry on rather than as just a reminder of better times that are now long gone. 

Having the intro used here as the outro completes the journey of the album, bringing you back to the music you heard when you came in.

Mitchel Emms Album Cover

‘VERTIGO AT HISTORY’S EDGE’ – THE DEBUT SOLO ALBUM FROM MITCHEL EMMS – IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND ALSO DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT OUR INTERVIEW WITH MITCHEL HERE AND HERE, AS WELL AS OUR FEATURE ON HIM HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

SMALL PLANETS

Small Planets band photo

SMALL PLANETS (back, from l-r): Phil Drazic (drums), Ryan Silo (guitar) (front, from l-r): Jeff Love (guitar), Jess Hernandez (vocals), Josh Spincic (bass)

INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN

From Los Angeles, Small Planets are a five-piece who take pride in being completely independent of the influences of record companies, leaving them with the freedom to produce a sound that is very much influenced by post-punk and shoegaze, and effectively showcases the best of their creative talents.

Having unveiled a self-titled debut album last month – which the quintet had spent eight months working on – I spoke to them to find out more about that, and a host of other band-related subjects.

How did the band first get together?

JOSH SPINCIC (bass): Jeff had a handful of songs when he asked me to join. I really liked the musical direction he was heading in, and I thought that I could really add a lot to those songs.

We tried a couple of drummers after that, but nothing worked out. Phil and I had been in bands before, and he’s one of the best drummers around, so I brought him aboard.

We went through quite a few singers and guitar players before getting lucky with Ryan and Jess. They both brought the level of songwriting and musicianship up to the next level.

How did the name Small Planets come about?

JEFF LOVE (guitar): I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, and as I was researching one of the ‘Sandman‘ storylines, and the two words kinda evolved. Band names are really hard to come by, as everything seems to have been taken, so in a way, I think we got lucky with this one.

What would you say was your approach to songwriting?

JOSH: Musically, it’s all about the riff. It has to be something catchy and meaningful.

PHIL DRAZIC (drums): We all have a different approach to songwriting, but for me, I like to put my idea down as a full song, complete with drums, guitars, bass, and share it. The goal for me is to share my vision, see what the others like and dislike, and build it out from there.

JEFF: For most of this album, one of us would come in with a demo, and we would sit in a room and work it out.

What inspires the band lyrically?

JOSH: For me, it’s that age-old theory that you write from the heart.

JEFF: Getting the words right for each song was an important step, and I’m quite proud of the words on this album, and in some ways, we aligned certain themes. A perfect example of this can be found in the opening and closing lines of the record.

The album opens with “Just hold on, I can feel your grip slipping, slipping away from me“, and closes with “And don’t you see, we’re not the same“. It opens with the struggle to make something work, to care so much you fight for it, and then 45 minutes later, we close with “That’s it, we tried but, in the end, it didn’t work“. It’s fucking tragic.

Last month, you brought out a self-titled debut album, which you spent eight months working on. How was the recording process?

JOSH: Amazing. Our engineer Josiah Mazzaschi at Cave Studios makes the creative process easy, and it helps that he knows the genre, and can see the direction we want to go in. Having the ability to take our time doing what’s best for the song really shows in the end product.

PHIL: The process was long because of our schedules and wanting to make the best possible record, but I always enjoy the studio because you hear the songs in a different way, and hear parts that sometimes get lost in the rehearsal studio.

JEFF: It took a long time, and it was very detail-oriented. Josiah really encouraged us to do whatever we wanted, and was really patient with us. We then sent off the mixes to Abbey Road Studios, and Andy Walter mastered for us.

And how has the response been to the album so far?

JOSH: It’s been positive. People seem to really get what we’re doing, which is a great feeling.

JEFF: For the people who have heard the album, the feedback has been great. The trick is, with so much competition, how to jockey for position is key, as it requires an insane amount of time, dedication, and drive.

If you’re not driven, you’re going to get pushed to the side and overlooked. You literally need to be relentless, strategic, and not take your foot off the gas.

The band have performed live at venues across Los Angeles, including The Viper Room and the House Of Blues. How were they as experiences?

JOSH: Each show is a learning experience. To focus on what worked, and what didn’t. Every time you play, it makes you a better band.

PHIL: To be honest, they weren’t the best shows for us, but as Josh has just mentioned, they were a learning experience. Those shows were in the early period of the band, so we were still feeling out the songs and each other.

We built upon those early shows, and when we played The Troubadour with the Twilight Sad, for example, we had become a much more cohesive unit.

JEFF: I remember the House Of Blues show being really good. It was in a beautiful room, and we only had a few weeks to prepare, but it came off really well. We had a few key people in the audience who are brutally honest with me, if we sucked, they would have let me know.

The Viper Room was great, because it’s a historical landmark venue, but I don’t think it’s my favourite place to play.

The Troubadour was my favourite place so far, the pressure was intense, most of it being self-induced, but in the end, the care for what we do showed.

And how is it overall playing on stage, for you all?

JOSH: It’s the best. One of the reasons why I play music is for that live connection with a crowd.

PHIL: Comfortable. It’s funny because I don’t like large crowds or large groups of people, but I’m most comfortable on the stage. Maybe the stage is my safety blanket.

JEFF: Playing live shows could be a key differentiator for us. Between this and the unreleased EP, we could make a very interesting and engaging show. We have just enough diversity in our catalogue of music to really draw the audience into something really special and memorable. I think it’s utterly pointless otherwise.

And lastly, now that the album has come out, what are the band’s plans for the near future?

JOSH: We have an EP in the works. We also want to play live as much as possible, and work on a second full-length album. Oh, and world domination.

PHIL: Planning a vinyl release of the record, and playing live. I would love to hit the road for some short stints on the west coast, but we shall see what the future brings.

JEFF: We strategically recorded an EP of five songs that are more shoegaze-driven, musically mid-Cocteau Twins era on two on the songs with words. We just need to add some production in the mixes, some more guitar from Ryan, and we should be set.

Since we are without the financial support of a record label, we need to be really creative in how to leverage cross-functional marketing opportunities while giving our fans enough content to stay with us for the next 10 months as we work on the second full-length.

Small Planets Album Cover

THE SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM FROM SMALL PLANETS IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES:

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

INSTAGRAM

DJO – ‘Twenty Twenty’

(Self-released)

Djo Album Cover

REVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN

Prior to landing his breakthrough acting role in 1980’s-set Netflix show ‘Stranger Things‘, Joe Keery was already showing off his musical talents as part of Chicago psychedelic outfit Post Animal.

Having left the band last year, Joe decided to embark on a solo career – under the moniker of Djo – and ‘Twenty Twenty‘ is his debut album.

The release – which Joe discreetly worked on in between filming – is comprised of 12 tracks that has the listener being taken on a musical journey with plenty of twists and turns.

Showtime‘ – which is basically 48 seconds of a slowed-down, distant guitar riff, and a distorted voice speaking the song’s title for the most part – provides the album with an effective avant-garde opener, which is subsequently followed by the toe-tapping ‘Personal Lies‘, and at times fantastical ‘Tentpole Shangrila‘.

Fourth track ‘Just Along For The Ride‘ is a strong combination of honeyed vocals, dominant guitars and synths, and lyrical content that deals with relaxing and not letting the trials and tribulations that life can bring get to you.

Following the rather melancholic and gently-paced ‘Chateau (Feel Alright)‘ is ‘Roddy‘, a story of self-reflection and personal insecurity accompanied by a sound that shifts with ease from what is almost an atmospheric lullaby to something altogether more synth-based with a liberal use of distorted sound effects.

In comparison, ‘Ring‘ is a guitar-dominated number containing a noticeably deeper vocal delivery.

Joe then follows up the synth-heavy ‘BNBG‘ with ‘Mortal Projections‘, a track that has a dream-like quality to it with a soft, melodic, and at times haunting, sound.

Total Control‘ is pretty much an extended and more relaxed version of ‘Showtime‘, while ‘Flash Mountain‘ edges more towards heavy indie-rock than psychedelic rock with its faster pace and chunky riff, and ‘Mutual Future (Repeat)‘ brings the album to an effective conclusion with a gentle acoustic guitar riff that soon gives way to a synth-based composition before ending in mostly the same way as ‘Showtime‘ with an avant-garde mix of distorted vocals and distant guitar riffs.

In conclusion, ‘Twenty Twenty‘, with its unique, lovingly-crafted, and eclectic sonic approach, along with heartfelt vocals and lyrics, has to be one of the strongest debut albums I have ever listened to, and showcases a man who is just as immensely-talented a musician as he is an actor.

(4/5)

TOP TRACK: ‘Roddy