Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Local Artist Speaks | ROBIN JACKSON

I had no idea.

Robin and I first met almost a decade ago when he was attending Evergreen State College. He was an intern at KBOO Community Radio for a few months while I was serving as station manager.  I remember him as a enthusiastic, creative whippersnapper - and now look at him!  He has grown into quite the talented musician and I was thrilled to hear him play his music on this charming album, Dust Diaries, which is his first solo effort. He's also a rascal with Vagabond Opera AND the March Fourth Marching Band.  Who knew?  I had no idea!

The CD is a sweet gathering of several tunes that capture your attention with the first word and takes you along for the lovely ride as the song progresses, very gently. I love the horns and the strings, too.  Some of my favorite tracks are: The Spring and Paper Bird.

Robin will have his CD release party on August 23 at Mississippi Pizza.  Details here.

Meet Robin Jackson......!

-- Dennise M. Kowalczyk, host of Trixie Pop heard on 1071 FM KZME Radio | Thursdays at 7 pm


How long have you lived in the Portland area?
I've lived here almost ten years! Oh my gosh...

Give us a brief history of your band/project:
There's not a lot! I just launched my solo band June 8th, with the release of my debut solo album 'Dust Diaries' at the Secret Society in Portland. I created an album first, before the band was fully formed and now am beginning to gig and give it life.  I guess you can say this project is a culmination of inspiration from playing in my other groups Vagabond Opera and the March Fourth Marching Band, as well as from a monthly songwriters night I hold at my house called the Songwriter Soiree. The soiree is an open mic night in my living room where songwriters share original music with each other. I used it as a kick in the butt to write music. That's where all the songs on my album came from. Oh, that, and heartbreak : )

What’s the first song you ever learned to play?
Oh, the really first? Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the violin at age 5.

What’s your favorite local venue to play? To see other bands? all honestly I'd pick Mississippi Pizza. I know, it's small and not a "big deal" but the intimacy is just lovely. It's where Vagabond Opera started out so it has a special place in my heart. I love the lighting and the feel of it. A close second is the Secret Society. What a great spot. They treat musicians great there.

Speaking of other bands, who do you like on the Portland music scene?
At the moment I'm digging some of my songwriter friends the most like Ben Darwish, Zak Borden, Christopher Worth, Patti King, The Midnight Serenaders, Hans Araki, and Y La Bamba...

Tell us about a recent “Only in Portland” moment you might have had.
Oh, that's easy...waking up this morning (and most mornings) in my vintage urban farmhouse (in the Mississippi neighborhood of course), saying "hi" to my 4 other roommates who are also self-employed and work at home...then working out in the "garden office" by the chicken coop (we have three chicks)...where I spent the day trying to work but being distracted by someone always doing yoga on the back deck and my friend bringing over homemade raw chocolate (which she sells for a living).   Oh, and then seeing the Mayor at the coffee shop by my house this morning. It's not always that ideal, but pretty often...only in Portland!

Finish this sentence: “I cannot live without: ___________ ”
At the moment the answer is Blues dancing!  (I's fun...wait, is this a personal ad?)

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Local Artist Speaks | ORPHAN TRAIN

Every so often, James Dineen (KZME music director) asks me to screen CDs for our library (can't have any bad words on the air, right?).  Recently, he gave me a CD that, well, knocked by socks off.  So much so, I almost made a digital copy but opted not to do that and will listen to KZME to hear tracks by my newest band crush:  Orphan Train.

Electric Junk by Orphan Train marks the 4th release from singer-songwriter & multi-instrumentalist, Aram Arslanian.  I first heard Aram a year or so ago when he performed at one of the Music Monday shows presented by the Gresham Arts Plaza (KZME was media sponsor). His performance at that time stayed true to his folk roots, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he is the talent behind Orphan Train which is all about one of my favorite genres: indie pop!

Astonishingly, both James and I agree that pretty much every track on the CD is downright delicious.  Well, I used that word, but you know what I mean.  I was so excited about the discovery of this CD, I found Aram on the interwebs and asked him to be my first guest in bringing back my blog, The Local Artist Speaks.  Blessed be, he enthusiastically agreed to do it.  -- Dennise Kowalczyk | Host of Trixie Pop, ArtclecticPDX and The Lunch Box.

Meet....Orphan Train!

How long have you lived in the Portland area?

almost 5 years. we moved from LA just after my son was born. Besides Portland being a great music town it also is a great place to start a family.

Give us a brief history of your band/project:

I started in Boston which is where I’m from. Played in a band called ‘Pulse 8’ which morphed into my solo project ‘Aram Island’.  Moved to LA to pursue a song-writing career and found myself working as a hired gun supporting other songwriters and bands both on the road in my studio ‘Kingsley Garden’. At one point I even found myself playing in a Lisa Marie Presley’s band!

I signed on with a little label in Los Angeles called Surprise Truck and released two records using just my 1st name ‘Aram’. The rhythm section I was playing with, Scott McPherson and Matt Fitzell, really helped to carve out a distinct groove for my, otherwise, pretty folky tunes and for the 3rd record I renamed the band and CD ‘Orphan Train’.
Electric Junk is pretty much a solo affair yet is the most rock and roll sound I’ve ever made. My wife who has her own project called ‘Ladytown’ sings a bit. I have squeezed the writing and recording of this record in between recording other folks in my studio in Vancouver.

What’s the first song you ever learned to play?

I plunked out the melody to Jesus Christ Superstar on the piano over and over again when I was 8 or 9. Drove my family insane with that! I think the 1st guitar song was America’s ‘Lonely People’ when I was about 11.

What’s your favorite local venue to play? To see other bands?

I play a winery in Battle Ground regularly call Heisen House Vineyards that is like a mini paid vacation every-time I play. Secret Society Ballroom is great all around for vibe, staff & sound. I love to see bands at the Mississippi Studios or Aladdin. The Tiger  Bar rocks my face off.

Speaking of other bands, who do you like on the Portland music scene?

I believe that they are on hiatus, but I LOVE ‘Kleveland’. ‘Old Light’ are amazing artists. Love ‘Don of Division’. ‘Drunken Prayer’...genius. Got a sweet spot for ‘Lincoln’s Beard’.

Tell us about a recent “Only in Portland” moment you might have had.

Got a call from a playwright seeking a composer for a musical he was developing called OMG Rock Opera... a story of Jesus and  the Disciples... except they all engage in pervy sex acts with each well as the farm animals. And YES I took the gig!

Finish this sentence: “I cannot live without_____”


Find more about Orphan Train:

Monday, August 6, 2012

DJ Klyph presents: The Movement

This summer has been kinda ridiculous so far considering all the great music that's been released in the local hip hop scene here in Portland. Once again it's been a blessing to connect with some great artists over the last several weeks. Let's begin where we left off last:

Stewart Villain came through a while ago with the Chill Crew as he's producing their next project and he promised he'd be back. We'll he did make it back through along with Frankly Esquire to talk about the Arcade Club project they're working on, sharing some exclusive material. He's also collaborating on a project with DJ Fatboy who you know from his visit to the station with Cool Nutz. The project is called Lean Team - brother is busy!

Stewart Villain on Welcome to the Neighborhood with DJ Klyph June 2012 from DJ Klyph on Vimeo.

OK, so here's me being a fan. On the second Friday every month, the Live and Direct PDX event brings together some of the best talent in the northwest. SlimKid3 of the Pharcyde, DJ Rev Shines of Livesavas/Shine Language, DJ Nature of L.A.B. Life As Beats, Starchile of Shadyville and the man behind the scenes Colton Tong. It's a dance party, but yet more than that. Three DJs doing live remixes of some of your favorite music with turntables and MPCs on stage and Starchile guiding you on the journey. It's an experience not to be missed for sure. Check out a clip of the guys at KZME!

Live & Direct Crew on Welcome to the Neighborhood with DJ Klyph July 2012 from DJ Klyph on Vimeo.

Green Team Official is G_Force and Lawz Spoken. They're kinda like a modern day Cheech and Chong (check for the promo video for the project - comedy). They we're cool enough to come by the station to talk about the project and the album release show that they partnered with We Out Here Magazine. They even played some exclusive material and G_Force gave a live performance - twice. Here's a peak:

Green Team Official on Welcome to the Neighborhood with DJ Klyph July 2012 from DJ Klyph on Vimeo.

I connected with Commenter-E a while ago after coming across some of his music and have been looking forward to having him on the show. He passed through with vocalist Danielle to talk about the upcoming project The Power of One. He's released visuals from the first single entitled Return to Shangri-La, plus a free download of This Is Portland, a track that's not a part of the album, but has been getting requests for airplay since we played it on the show. You can get it at as a free download.

Commenter-E - Return To Shangri-La from Commenter-E on Vimeo.

Sole Provider and I connected a couple of years ago, and you've heard several projects he's been involved with on the show. He came out to the station with producer Goodwill to talk about the latest with North Next Entertainment and the new project he and Goodwill are collaborating on, Scheme Work. It was a real good time with exclusive tracks being played, live rhymes in studio... Check out the podcast - plus a little video clip:

Sole Provider and Goodwill on Welcome to the Neighborhood July 2012 from DJ Klyph on Vimeo.

Serge Severe. MC, artist, all around good dude. The king of the Neighborhood made an appearance with producer Zapata on the day they released Silver Novelist, some of Serge's best material yet. It was a good time for sure, as it always is when Serge is in the building, and he was kind enough to show the world the skills and talent of a true MC live on KZME. Check the video below:

While Serge and Zapata where at the station, we had the opportunity to announce the line up for the NW Hip Hop Fest sponsored by KZME going down September 6th, 7th and 8th at Ash Street and Kelly's Olympian - the first night featuring the Welcome to the Neighborhood showcase with a line-up of the man himself Serge Severe, as well as Neighborhood residents Destro Destructo, who's been a great supporter of the show with his current collaboration with producer CashFlow, and the unofficial co-host of WTTN, the Humble Beast himself, Theory Hazit.

Be sure to stay tuned for more information on the NW Hip Hop Fest with more in-studio guests and line-up announcements leading up to the event.

Until next time, y'all be blessed!


Sunday, August 5, 2012



OK, let's get this out of the way straight off: a band like Dirty Projectors should not be popular. Peculiar jutting time signatures, drum patterns that splat and fade in spastic bursts, elliptical, often slyly biting lyrics. How is that a recipe for success in an age that sees Mumford & Sons rise to the top of the indie heap? (no offense; I like M&S but there's nothing too adventurous about them, you have to admit) I suppose, if you're going to 'blame' anyone for this anomaly, it would have to be Radiohead. They burst the dam of pent-up, oddly angular experimental rock music over a decade ago, down which sluiced the likes of Animal Collective, Mum, cLOUDDEAD and countless others. Dirty Projectors, however, just might represent the apogee of this trend. I'll get to the details in a moment, but I truly cannot think of a band currently active and anywhere near this popular - the Crystal is at capacity tonight - that consistently skims the uppermost edges of what's possible in the realm of pop music. Yes, I suppose, Radiohead would be another but seeing them live these days is a very rare and very dear prospect indeed. Fortunately, we have Dirty Projectors. But first, tonight anyway, we have Wye Oak.

Wye Oak are from Baltimore and are named after the honorary state tree of Maryland, a gigantic white oak whose originating acorn is thought to have been germinated in 1540. Wye Oak the band, while appearing to be considerably younger, put out a sound that is just about as massive, and they do it right off, which is a bit of a shock considering there's only two of them, blond guitar siren Jenn Wasner and drummer (for now) Andy Stack. Wasner's red Fender is being run through some kind of ringing treatment and it's simply a bloody marvelous sound, full in equal measure of clarity and muscle. Oh, and reverb, did I mention reverb? Not a drenching, shoegazey reverb, but just enough to let her solos carry mystery into the already steaming air of the Crystal. The hit I get from Ms Wasner is an updated indie Lita Ford with a hint of Chrissie Hynde's stage presence and no, I'm not exaggerating.

Four songs in Stack switches to bass and rather than the percussive playing I'd expected from a drummer we instead get virtuosic fret gymnastics worthy of White Denim's Steve Terebecki. As the song evolves into a kind of lilty drone, anchored by an 808-ish dancey beat, he's at the keyboard, bass abandoned while she lets off some melodic sheets of tremolo-ed guitar. A lovely moment, proving that in Wye Oak's case at least, two is more than enough.

Though their sound does in fact, on occasion, soar toward the edge of the shoegaze stratosphere, there's something too delicate about their melodies for it to ever get lost in there. So let's dub them neo-shoegaze pop, how about? The drums, by the way, are profound, a huge sound, think cannons. And in case I haven't gotten it across, the girl can play herself some guitar. Believe. Even the song mid-set that was marred by a steady current of feedback was surmounted by Wasner's authority over each of her six strings. Wye Oak's one of those duo bands whose sound is so giant you keep looking for the other band members at first but once you've convinced yourself there aren't any, you settle in to a kind of subtle amazement and let the songs spread over you like, yes, a legendary oak (you knew I was going to have to work that metaphor in there somehow).

This was my first time seeing Dirty Projectors and approaching the show I must confess to some apprehension. Swing Lo Magellan, the record they're touring at the moment, is, to a degree greater than even their previous, breakthrough album Bitte Orca, nothing if not a series of very complex set pieces, bendy and surprising and scrupulously arranged. In other words, songs that might struggle to come across in a live setting. To say that such thinking was misplaced is the greatest understatement of the year so far.

After opening with Swing Lo's title track the band venture into "Offspring Are Blank," the first track on that same album. It's as complex (that word again, it might show up a lot in this post) a piece of art-rock trickery on record as we've heard in some time and lo (ha!) and behold, it's exactly as impressive live, from the almost slave-spiritual background vocals it begins with that carry through the verse segments of the song (when not interrupted by a ferocious rocking explosion of a chorus) to the proto-typical Projectors chopped rhythmic structure. Just plain masterful and it shows very early in their set just how much at the peak of their powers they are.

This is, of course, David Longstreth's band, and it's run as more or less a benevolent dictatorship. The others - bassist Nat Baldwin, second guitarist Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle on keys and drummer Brian McComber - contribute ideas and make suggestions but the vision is Longstreth's alone and in its singularity I'm reminded of Captain Beefheart. Whereas the Captain trafficked in distorted, contorted blues motifs, Longstreth opts more for latent prog-pop strains flavored by messed-with Afrobeat guitar figures and rhythms and the aforementioned gospel-y touches, most often evident in crazed precise handclap patterns.

As for Longstreth's presence, it's unmistakably charismatic. Maybe it's just the almost-shoulder-length hair flying down around his face and the southpawness of his playing (he plays a right-handed guitar left-handed and upside down) but he can't help but remind of another leftie guitarist - this one from the Northwest - some 20 years ago: hugely talented, popular beyond expectation and a bit off-puttingly touchy at times in interviews. But he's got it, that it that defines pop greatness and from all indications he has the drive to keep making music this surpassingly great.

And oh dear, was it great. All but five of the sixteen songs in their set come from Swing Lo Magellan, with a smattering of Bitte Orca and Mount Wittenberg Orca, their collaboration with Bjork. "Socialites," off the new record, is one of those with the Afro-beat tinge to it, Longstreth's palm wine guitar bringing a North African Mediterranean breeze to Portland. That song and the next ("Beautiful Mother" off the Bjork record) are so beautifully, precisely executed that it has me scratching down in my notebook "a wonderfully challenging band, the dual female vox on "..Mother" are truly a thing of wonder, almost yelping but harmonic as hell. Hard to describe how effective they are, otherworldly yet grounded." And the hits to the wonder reflex just kept on coming.

"Gun Has No Trigger" is a skewed avant-pop soul masterpiece. Bitte Orca's "Useful Chamber" is one of their most complex songs (by now you know that that's saying something, yeah?), crazy with changes and tempo mash-ups but it comes off perfectly, perfectly, ending with a mad dash into a frenetic chaos that makes total sense. Astounding, and in the end, just plain joyous. Throughout the night, Longstreth's guitar playing is somehow both rather feral and exceedingly precise, J. Mascis if he were Pat Metheny. And special credit has to go to McComber, whipping out these bizarre rhythmic tropes with the confidence of a young Bill Bruford. And though perhaps a tad overused, the percussive handclapping is as unerring as I've ever seen it, and amazingly, in another sign of how beloved and innately understood this band is by their fans, the audience quite often joins in, not missing a fractured beat.

As the show progresses, the screen-projected, made-up heiroglyphics behind them increase in (here it is again) complexity, becoming a dizzying wall of indecipherable but intriguing script, and you can't help but believe that such was the intention, to reinforce the extent to which Dirty Projectors are able to create a joyous, intense, irresistible and compelling density that leaves the mouth agape, the brain spinning and the heart in love. As we were leaving, I said to my friend Chris how much my prog-pop friends on facebook are missing out. Dirty Projectors are a gateway back into modern music for anyone who feels that a certain intelligent adventurousness has been missing since the heyday of King Crimson or Kraan or fill-in-the-blank. Meanwhile, for those (overwhelmingly much younger) fans selling out venue after venue on this tour, well, they'll get to say, in twenty, thirty years time, "Yeah, I got to see Dirty Projectors live and they were AMAZING!"