On The Road With NPR Music: Jeremy Petersen At OPB Portland, Oregon

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place. This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Name: Jeremy Petersen

Member station/Regular show: OPB Music (from Oregon Public Broadcasting)
Producer/Blogger Host – “In House,” weekdays 2-5 p.m. PT

When people think of music in Portland, what do they think of?

It’s not really much of a secret – Portland is particularly noted for being a kind of indie mecca. It’s not exclusively the flavor, but the earnestly literate and melodic likes of Elliott Smith, The Decemberists and more recent transplants The Shins are some of the more recognizable names that have set the tone for many who have come after. The Rose City is also home to a number of indie labels that fortify the scene, homegrown and otherwise: Kill Rock Stars, Tender Loving Empire, Hometapes, Hush, amigo/amiga, Greyday, Badman, Dirtnap, Magic Marker, Fluff & Gravy and Marriage are but a few of those worth exploring.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

We try to shine a light on acts we’re truly excited about as fans. Of course we’re all over more established artists that people are more likely to know, and of course we try to connect the dots between what’s current and what came before it, but we also spend a large part of our time looking for what’s new and interesting and worth pointing out. That usually means some combination of airplay, presenting the music in a live showcase, and/or recording a session in our studios. These are often the kinds of artists that aren’t going to be getting air in most other outlets, either yet or ever.

How has the Portland scene evolved over the last few decades?

The history of pop music in Portland seems to begin with The Kingsmen and their party staple “Louie Louie.” That seems oddly apt given its idiosyncratic nature and unlikely combination of flavors. The local scene has been, and remains, healthily eclectic – folk, jazz, hip-hop and various strains of roots all enjoy vibrant pockets alongside the more well-documented rock variations. One thing that has definitely changed is the regard for Portland nationally and even internationally: a musician’s status as a Portlander seems to carry automatic caché in many circles.

As scrappy as the indie scene still feels here, to hear some of the old guard tell it, up-and-coming bands are generally more sophisticated now than a couple of decades ago. That means not only more performance-ready from their first show, but also more business-minded and with a better grasp on notions like self-marketing.

What would you say is the most unique thing about the Portland music scene?

I’ve heard musician after musician here talk about the camaraderie that exists in the scene, and these are often those who have lived elsewhere. You can see that kind of thing play out in a lot of different ways and it’s inspiring to see what can come of it. I think it clearly empowers creation and makes the work coming from the city that much stronger. It also makes it feel like a much smaller place.

One other thing – as a musician destination as of late, Portland is really interesting simply because of who happens to be around at any given time, whether that’s temporary, permanent or part-time. There’s always someone of note around working on a record: Other Lives, Deer Tick, Neko Case and Beth Orton are some recent examples. kd lang lives here now. Johnny Marr’s still a part-timer. Peter Buck is often around. Add names like that to the homegrowns and long-timers you’ve heard of and the ones you haven’t (yet), and it equals a rich and vibrant place for musicians to be.

What are three new up and coming bands on the Portland scene right now and what makes them distinct?

This easily could have been a list of ten.

Radiation City: I find them notable for a lot of reasons, the first of which are the vocals of Lizzie Ellison, who brings to mind Astrud Gilberto and sounds as comfortable covering Etta James as she singing the band’s own indie bossanova haze. They’re the rare young band with an ear for subtlety both on record and in performance and they’ve simply gotten better every time I’ve seen them. Look for their second full-length coming soon.

Shy Girls: It’s not often a band from the local scene can claim un-ironic influence from names like Bell Biv DeVoe, GUY and the Backstreet Boys – even less often still that they execute those cues well. Shy Girls, the band started as a one-man bedroom act by frontman Dan Vidmar, sounds transported from two decades back while still maintaining a freshness that rises well above novelty and recalibrating the notion of “neo-R&B” (it doesn’t necessarily come from 1972 anymore).

Aan: This is dynamic indie rock that succeeds largely on the pairing of lead singer Bud Wilson’s cathartic vocal gymnastics with twisting, turning, unpredictable hooks that keep the listener guessing. But it’s not chaos– the band keeps its avant-pop just avant enough while simultaneously daring you not to bob your head. Aan’s just been slated to open up for The Smashing Pumpkins on several of their dates later this spring, and have a full-length release coming later in the year.

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

Elliott Smith: “Ballad of Big Nothing”

Caleb Klauder: “Can I Go Home With You”

The Thermals: “A Pillar of Salt”

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside: “Danger”

Heatmiser: “Low Flying Jets”

Quasi: “It’s Raining”

TxE: “The Basics”

The Decemberists: “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect”

Menomena: “Evil Bee”

Onuinu: “Happy Home”

Listen to the playlist on Spotify.

[Photo credit: Inger Klekacz]

On The Road With NPR Music: Laura Shine At WFPK, Louisville Kentucky

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place.

This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Name: Laura Shine

Member station: 91.9 WFPK Radio Louisville, Kentucky

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Assistant Program Director, On Air Host M-F 3-6pm, Host of Live Lunch (Fridays at Noon), Local Music Liaison

1. When people think of music in Louisville, what do they think of?

My Morning Jacket and front man Jim James who have done more for the image of Louisville having a vibrant music scene than any other ambassador out there. Second to that would be Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy who has an extremely loyal following worldwide. His songs have been covered by a diverse group of artists from Johnny Cash to Deer Tick. Also, a band that is cited quite often as a major influence to many Indie rock artists is Slint, who disbanded after their second landmark album Spiderland in 1990. People think of mainstream rock to underground alternative mostly when they think of Louisville.

2. How do you help curate the Louisville musical scene?

My part in helping curate the music scene involves my role as Local Music Liaison for WFPK. I listen to all of the demos we are sent by local artists and choose what will go into rotation from there. Air-play is still a big part of a band’s exposure to an audience which translates to CD or download sales of their music, being booked into local venues, local venues asking us for recommendations for opening acts for national artists in town and the connections that grow from there.

3. How has the Louisville music scene evolved over the last few decades?

The Louisville music scene has always had interesting and diverse genres expressed through some amazing bands. In the 70’s the whole New Grass Revival sound evolved from this town with artists like Sam Bush, John Cowan and Bela Fleck taking the traditional music of Kentucky known as Bluegrass and adding different instrumentation to the mix and then taking it into completely new directions.

The 80’s saw lots of New Wave bands form then toward the end of the decade the dark heavy alternative rock of Slint, Rodan and Kinghorse took over. WFPK started our new format known as Adult Album Alternative in 1996 and since then we’ve seen My Morning Jacket take flight and several other bands and artists make waves nationally and internationally from the non-traditional bluegrass of The 23 String Band to the dance-electro pop of VHS or Beta. I would also like to add that we now have a growing festival on our waterfront each July called the Forecastle Festival which features not only national artists like The Black Keys and Flaming Lips and many others, but local artists too and is increasingly becoming a destination for music lovers.

4. What would you say is the most unique thing about the Louisville music scene?

The most unique thing about our music scene to me is how all of these very different bands, different from each other, are able to play side by side and draw so much support from the community and from each other. There’s a lot of cheering each other on, helping each other out. Once upon a time, especially in the 80’s and 90’s it didn’t seem as much of an inclusive community but it certainly does now and that’s really cool. Everybody wins when a band does good!

5. What are three new up and coming bands on the Louisville scene right now and what makes them distinct?

Houndmouth, Cheyenne Mize and Ben Sollee are the three that come to mind. Houndmouth is a young band with a very old sound, reminiscent of The Band incorporating a Southern Gothic feel to their music, great harmonies, good story telling. They’ve recently signed with Rough Trade Records and will be doing a home show in April at a large venue that is sure to sell-out.

Cheyenne Mize is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter and has a new album coming out soon on Yep Roc records. She has great appeal to differing age groups and people who like everything from folk to indie rock.

Ben Sollee is now signed to Thirty Tigers Records. He’s a brilliant cellist and songwriter and absolutely magnetic performer. Who else is singing and playing Cello and drawing thousands to their shows of all ages? Only Ben that I know of!

6. For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

1. My Morning Jacket – “Mahgeetah”

2. Cheyenne Marie Mize – “Among The Grey”

3. Ben Sollee – “The Globe”

4. Houndmouth – “Penitentary”

5. VHS or Beta – “Can’t Believe A Single Word”

6. Bonnie Prince Billy – “The Sounds Are Always Begging”

Catch our entire On the Road With NPR Music series here.

[Photo Credit: Credit: Jessica Erin Higgins Photography]

On The Road With NPR Music: John Vettese At WXPN, Philadelphia

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling; largely because music is a great way to get to know a place. This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Name: John Vettese

Member station: WXPN, Philadelphia

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Philly Local Show co-host on WXPN; editor, writer, photographer at The Key

1. When people think of music in your city, what do they think of?

A lot of things; different things. Some people think of the Rocky theme, or that Elton John song; ’70s Philly Soul is a big association people have with us, of course – and a good one to have. As far as artists active in present day, it’s not so easy to pin down. The most successful musicians that have emerged from Philly in the past few decades range from hip-hop (The Roots, Meek Mill) to psych-rooted, classic-rock-informed bands (Dr. Dog, The War on Drugs) to wild art-rock (Man Man, Kurt Vile) and singer-songwriters (Amos Lee, Melody Gardot), which, for me, covering the scene, is great – it keeps it fresh and exciting, and doesn’t make Philly music so easily reduced to a “sound.” You know, grunge/Seattle, garage/Detroit, psych/SanFran, punk/DC etc. Philly has all of those things; there’s no one single thing it makes people think of, musically – which I guess is the one common refrain you’ll hear.

2. How do you help curate that musical scene?

I stay open-minded. And I try to showcase a little bit of everything. For about three years now, I’ve produced a weekly series of in-studio recording sessions with Philly musicians – it airs on WXPN on Tuesday evenings and is released as downloadable audio on The Key on Wednesday mornings – and I make sure the artists I bring in for The Key Studio Sessions are, for the most part, representative of that range. This makes for some interesting and unusual week-to-week match-ups. In January / February, for instance, we had a traditional folk trio (The Stray Birds) one week, a rockin’ alt-country five-piece (The Naked Sun) the next, an aggro thrash band (Pissed Jeans) the next. We’ve had metal, hip-hop, experimental, electronic, blues … I’m recording my first Brazilian music band later this spring. I do often wonder, for instance, what the audience that tuned in (or went to the blog) for the emo-punk group the one week might think of the ethereal singer-songwriter the following week. But looking at the bigger picture, I feel like if it didn’t have that kind of range, it wouldn’t really be showcasing Philly.

3. How has that scene evolved over the last few decades?

Kind of like the music scene nationwide, it’s become a lot more self-reliant. Getting a label deal isn’t something bands are realistically expecting. They hope for it, sure, and many take the opportunity when it arises – The War on Drugs are on Secretly Canadian, DRGN King is on Bar/None, etc. But I’ve also heard stories of musicians turning down label deals because they are fine doing it on their own and don’t want to trade that freedom for restrictions or demands from an outside party (in exchange for better exposure, hypothetically anyway). Musicians are really learning to do things themselves – book shows, handle publicity, fund recording projects and put more care and artistry into their self-released products. When I started covering the scene in the late ’90s, self-releases were treated like demos – tossed-off, hastily recorded, quick and cheap things to get an artist’s songs out there, figuring that they’d rerecord them for real once they get signed. And while an EP released to Bandcamp is still, pretty much, a demo, I’m noticing they sound a lot more like finish products than any CD I received ten years ago. (When they go the extra step and press it to vinyl, even better.)

Other changes – the studio scene in Philly has boomed, and rather than a room or two monopolizing everybody’s recordings, there are now between a half-dozen to a dozen major players (in addition to the do-it-yourselfer basement studio types). I like this for a couple reasons – competition is good for business, of course, and it also gives more variety to the recordings that are making it out there, rather than one producer’s sound dominating all corners of the scene.

Live music venues in the city ebb and flow, as they are wont to do, but there’s more of a sense of stability than there was when I began covering Philly music. Johnny Brenda’s and World Cafe Live have been around for a solid six years; new small to midlevel rooms like MilkBoy, Underground Arts and Union Transfer are doing well for themselves; even our 3500-cap room The Electric Factory is pressing on amid somewhat tricky times and a bizarre split with promoter Live Nation that’s probably too inside-baseball to get into here. Suffice it to say, we’ve thrived as a live music scene, against (some) odds.

4. What would you say is the most unique thing about your music scene?

The variety that I mentioned before, which I guess might not be THAT unique – every city has a hiphop scene, a punk scene, a folk scene, etc. But what is unique is the way Philly’s variety is so embraced by the scene players and the scene supporters, and even leads to cross-pollination and collaboration. For instance – there’s an Americana band called The Lawsuits that’s been making a modest amount of local buzz for a year or two now, and they were on a bill last summer with a rap three-piece called Ground Up. Now, to qualify what I’m about to describe – this isn’t a scenario where the former is some sort of funk-based jam band and the latter is some hippie backpacker rap crew, so they were kind of close in sound and style to begin with. The ‘Suits are a very Dylan-esque group, very songwriting-oriented and very much on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from Ground Up, which is uncompromising, hard-hitting, rap-for-rap-fans. But at this show, facilitated somewhat by two managers who grew up together, the band played an opening set, and then stayed onstage to act as the house band for the rap crew. It was great, went over huge with the crowd, and led even further to some studio collaboration that’s so far only yielded a few YouTube videos, but a lot of folks – myself included – are stoked to hear the results.

5. What are three new up and coming bands on your local scene right now and what makes them distinct?

These are all “new” as in within the past five or so years. All unsigned, with strong local fan bases and making outroads across the U.S. and elsewhere.

Hop Along – Punk-informed, introspective and arty rock trio centered by Frances Quinlan’s songwriting. She’s got a unique, powerful voice – one local critic described it really well by saying her singing isn’t classically “lovely” but is gritty, passionate and carries a tremendous range of emotion – and the band’s songs are very expressive, explosive, structurally unconventional and way exciting. They released their latest LP “Get Disowned” last year, toured the U.S. in support of it, and are embarking on their first European tour this spring. Listen to Hop Along’s “Tibetan Pop Stars.”

Cheers Elephant – Zany, playful psychedelic pop/rock foursome with three solid albums, a great track record as performers and the smarts to realize that getting out there and hitting the road is the way to grow your band. They’ve mounted several successful national tours and back home, their past two album release shows have sold out the 800-cap World Café Live. Their latest LP is called “Like Wind Blows Fire,” and it came out last year. Listen to Cheers Elephant’s “Leaves.”

Chill Moody – Somewhat of a minor local celebrity thanks to his masterful knack at working the social media world, Chill Moody has dropped about three mixtapes a year since 2009 and is a true showman, the type who kicks his show off by walking from the lobby, through the crowd, then up onstage. His style is very throwback and easygoing, recalling A Tribe Called Quest and Pharcyde, but he knows how to be hard-hitting without being overly macho. His first commercial album, “RFM,” was released on iTunes this winter. Listen to Chill Moody’s “Cotton.”

6. For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

Aside from the above, here are six tracks that were performed live for The Key Studio Sessions, my aforementioned sessions series.

Gymnopiede 1.2″ – Lush Life

“Bathroom Laughter” – Pissed Jeans

Sugar Sand Stitched Lip” – Heyward Howkins

Saint, Don’t You Lie” – New Sweden

End it On This” – Ethel Cee

Winter Misser” – Bad Braids

[Photo Credit: George Miller III]

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