Long one of the Triangle's more popular young bands, Mandolin Orange is now taking a big step toward the national spotlight. In an announcement earlier this week via CMT Edge—the country TV station's online sounding board for alternative Americana—the Carrboro folk duo revealed that This Side of Jordan, the group's third album, will be released by Yep Roc Records, the N.C. label that claims such stalwarts as Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock. The album drops on Aug. 6. Lead single "House of Stone" is currently streaming here.
Arriving on the scene with the 2010 debut, Quiet Little Room, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz began as an intimate, stripped-back folk pair with hypnotic melodies and earnest wordplay. But Quiet Little Room's confines soon became too limiting. 2011's double-wide follow-up, Haste Make/Half Hearted Stranger, split the difference, setting aside one disc for the duo's standard acoustic prettiness, while using the other as an opportunity to expand into meditative folk-rock graced by patient bass lines, shimmers of electric guitar and unobtrusive drumming.
"House of Stone" finds Mandolin Orange becoming more comfortable with this full-band approach. The song starts with wisps of fiddle and calm picking, recalling the group's bare-bones beginnings. Skittering drums enter soon thereafter, joined by subdued bass and rich electric fills. The sound grows more robust as the tune progresses. Marlin and Frantz's harmonies find devils and dreams grappling for metaphorical space as her fiddle melts into tender guitar melodies. It's the most beautiful sound the band has yet to create.
A new digital series from PBS will shed some national light on one of the Triangle's more unique music initiatives.
In the fall of 2011, local producer Apple Juice Kid, otherwise known as Stephen Levitin, began teaching a class at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Called the Beat Making Lab, the course equipped college students with the skills and know how to produce high-quality hip-hop beats. In the spring, Mark Katz, the music professor who helped create the class and taught alongside Apple Juice, wasn't able to participate, so Pierce Freelon, a hip-hop scholar as well as the MC for Durham's jazz-and-hip-hop-bridging The Beast, stepped in to take his place. After releasing a compilation of beats from the Lab's students—all of which sampled music from N.C.-based artists—Apple Juice and Freelon took a more ambitious step: They traveled to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to set up another lab in collaboration with the non-profit Yole!Africa.
The success of those projects will be extended with Beat Making Lab, a weekly web series produced by PBS Digital Studios. New episodes will be uploaded every Wednesday to the Beat Making Lab YouTube channel. The 20-week series chronicles Freelon and Apple Juice's efforts in the Congo as well as similar two-week initiatives in Panama, Senegal and Fiji.
Per a press release:
During the month of May, Beat Making Lab will partner with Global Health organization Intrahealth and Speak Up Africa to set up all-female workshops in Dakar, Senegal. These sessions will showcase the talent of seven female MCs, singers and producers who, through their music, aim to spotlight various health issues in Africa.
Beginning in June, the real-time series will feature episodes from Suva, Fiji.
The first episode of Beat Making Lab is streaming above.
About a month ago, the INDY asked Ashlie White, the founder of Pet-Tich-Eye, why it was so important for the project's initial Kickstarter campaign to succeed. Pet-Tich-Eye was set up to foster collaboration between Triangle musicians, visual artists and community organizations. Its first endeavor is a 10-song compilation featuring one-off trios of local musicians, each contributing one song, paired with 10 pieces of original art and photos of each recording session.
The Kickstarter campaign sought $14,000 to defray the large debt—at least $12,482 plus the cost of 10 days in the studio—that White incurred during the album's creation. As with all Kickstarters, if Pet-Tich-Eye failed to reach its goal by the end of its 40-day campaign, it would receive nothing. The campaign also functioned as a de facto pre-order for the Record Store Day release; donating $30 for the vinyl LP and art book was the only way to purchase the collection outside of a record store.
But for White, Pet-Tich-Eye's Kickstarter success was crucial not because of the impact failure would have on her finances. "It will prove that people want this," she explained.
On Sunday, White got the confirmation she was looking for. With about seven hours to go, Pet-Tich-Eye achieved its goal, with donations totaling $14,499 before it was all over. The outpouring of support down the stretch was impressive. A week ago, the campaign had yet to break $7,000, but with the help of tickets to a collaborative chef dinner featuring some of the area's brightest culinary minds and a powerful push of donations, White and her cohorts got the money they needed—as well as the public affirmation that White was hoping for.
"What I hope this campaign achieved was more than just raise money to pay off a debt incurred to create the first release," White wrote in a Kickstarter update published shortly after Pet-Tich-Eye reached its goal. "I hope it raised awareness about this project and the vision we have for future collaborations and partnerships within the community."
Featuring members of Bon Iver, The Rosebuds, Megafaun and others, Pet-Tich-Eye will be available in local record stores on April 20. Motorco Music Hall will host a release show that night that will include a few of the album's collaborators recreating their contributions. The exact line-up has yet to be announced.
Listen up, Earthlings: Valient Thorr, the Venusian (by way of Raleigh) prophets of boogie-metal, are back. On June 18, the denim-vested headbangers will release their sixth album, Our Own Masters, a 12-track platter recorded in Athens, Ga. by Harvey Milk drummer Kyle Spence. That’s the backpatch-ready cover art above.
If Valient Thorr has proven anything across its catalog, it’s consistency. The band’s blend of classic thrash, punk tempos and New Wave of British Heavy Metal solos provides a perfect complement to the allegorical tales frontdude Valient Himself turns into gruff shout-alongs. Naturally, it’s even better on stage.
There’ll be plenty of opportunity to succumb to the Thorr’s mosh-bait when the band hits the road (as is their wont) for a month-long tour beginning June 12 in Charlotte and winding back to Raleigh for a July 6 gig at Kings.
And now, a directive from the self-proclaimed rock ‘n’ roll saviors from Venus: “Get ready. Get everyone ready ... Spread it, share it, push it to the brink of explosion, let it take a breath and then push it over the edge! Today is it. Now is when we shall act. Give them a reminder. We are OUR OWN MASTERS. See you all soon.”
If there’s such a thing as a lucky break, this might count: In February, Fidelitorium Recordings, Mitch Easter’s Kernersville studio, offered a free weekend of recording with Easter at the helm to “somebody awesome.” That somebody had to respond to a Facebook post requesting a description of “who you are and what you want to do and an mp3 of your current idea or something you've done in the past.”
The winner is Carrboro’s Henbrain, a self-proclaimed “post-metal, psychedelic rock band with two basses and female vocals.”
“Their bass-heavy organ freak out prog rock demo just made our jaws drop when we hit play,” The Fidelitorium posted in its announcement. “We can't really explain what they sound like but if you imagine Yes in 1969 with Grace Slick on vocals that will get you pretty close.”
For a band whose recording catalog seems only to include a handful of raw demos, and whose layered, retro-leaning sound indeed favors lush production, this studio opportunity would seem especially fortuitous. “We sent in our songs, waited with our fingers crossed and screamed like little girls when we got the news,” singer Erika Libero told the Indy.
For the less-lucky, have hope; Fidelitorium has promised a second contest this Fall.
Three clicks are all it takes for a musician to sign up and sell a song on ReverbNation. Now the Durham based music-marketing platform is making it just as easy for artists to donate to charity, too. Music For Good, a new e-commerce spinoff of the site, allows musicians to sell songs directly to their fan base while directing half the proceeds to a nonprofit of their choice.
Pre-approved charities include those working toward clean water, funding cancer research, righting injustice and poverty and spreading music education. UNC-Chapel Hill’s own Beat Making Lab, which fosters music creation internationally, is one of the partners, along with charities such as Oxfam America, Every Mother Counts, The Fender Music Foundation and Zac Brown’s Camp Southern Ground.
Music for Good is a 24-hour, 365-day stop for fans to engage with artists in making a difference. An eight-week beta launch just before Christmas resulted in more than 50,000 bands around the world signing up for the service. The platform-wide kickoff promises a big impact given that the main service reps a directory of more than 2.7 million musicians.
When Tess Mangum Ocaña left The ArtsCenter last December after a 10-year tenure there, many wondered if she’d land on her feet in a way that allowed her to stay in the Triangle and maintain her stellar track record as a music programmer.
Wonder no more: As Downtown Durham Inc.’s new special events coordinator, Ocaña is already at work planning a summer music series for the CCB Plaza. The series, to begin May 9, will run Thursdays through August from 7–8:30 p.m. and feature “live, free music that reflects Durham’s funky, cool diversity, and all entirely local bands,” Ocaña says.
“[Downtown Durham Inc.] really wants the best stuff. Fortunately there’s not a shortage to choose from … from blues to bluegrass to soul to Cajun,” she says. She’s still working out the booking details and raising funds, but she expects to announce the lineup in late March. In the meantime, anyone who wants to get their name in the hopper, either as a performer or event sponsor, can reach out to Ocaña at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’ve been checking out a lot of bands that were not really appropriate or feasible for The ArtsCenter, bands that I really never had an opportunity to book over there. This really does give me an opportunity to shine a spotlight,” Ocaña says.
Although she’s still, in her words, “hustling,” to make up for full-time employment through various part-time contracts, the Downtown Durham, Inc. gig represents a special homecoming for Ocaña.
“I live about two miles from downtown,” she says. “And now, living in Durham, and programming in Durham and for Durham, it’s really fulfilling.”
When it's used correctly, Kickstarter is a magnificent tool to get a project off the ground. The website allows users to post campaigns for stuff they would really like to create—new electronic devices, a Bicycle Bus, animated comics backed by big-time directors—and for the makers to solicit donations using rewards, which often include copies of the finished product.
One catch: Each campaign chooses a set period of time to reach their fundraising goal; if they don't make it, they get nothing. Obviously, this has been a boon for independent recording artists. Just yesterday, Chapel Hill's Some Army found success in a campaign to record its debut LP.
With this kind of do-it-yourself fundraising, specificity is key. Donors need to know exactly what they're putting their money towards and precisely what they can expect in return. Ambitious and well-intended projects can open themselves up to unexpected questions if they don't adhere to this principle, which brings us to Pet-Tich-Eye.
As local music Kickstarters go, this project is about as daunting and promising as they come. Members of many popular Triangle acts—Megafaun, Mount Moriah, Hiss Golden Messenger, Bowerbirds, The Rosebuds (big breath), The Love Language, Lost in the Trees, Hammer No More the Fingers, Horseback, Birds of Avalon, Airstrip—broke into 10 one-off trios, writing a song and then taking a day in the studio to record it. Each triumvirate chose a different photographer to document the session and a different visual artist to create individual album art for each song. All of this will be compiled into an album and art book, the product Pet-Tich-Eye's Kickstarter is hoping to fund. If your eyes weren't already bulging, the campaign's goal is a whopping $14,000. They have until Mar. 31 to reach that target.
The project's grandest ambition is also the part where this all gets a little muddy:. Each trio also paired with a community organization in a symbiotic relationship where the charity gets exposure. But they don't get any proceeds from the Kickstarter. Those funds will purely pay back the debt incurred by project organizers, a fact that isn't pointed out until the FAQ section at bottom of the campaign description. Thus, it would seem quite likely that people could donate to this project and still think that part of their money is going to charity. As local music fan Rachel Mills pointed out on a lengthy and smart blog entry about the project yesterday, there are other and potentially more sensible avenues for the project. For now, though, the Kickstarter page persists and is currently at a little less than 20% funding.
Such issues are a shame because—as anyone who tuned in Monday to check out an early stream of the album will know—the music is quite good. "East Coast/West Coast Time" imagines a more hip-hop-inspired version of The Rosebuds as the group's Ivan Howard and Mount Moriah's Heather McEntire blend their luxuriously twanged pipes over tense synthesizers and a hard-edged beat. "Somewhere in Between (Breathe)" displays a close relationship with its corresponding charity as Kane Smego from the Sacrificial Poets offers powerful spoken word about building a legacy over uneasy drone created by Megafaun's Phil Cook and Horseback/Mount Moriah guitarist Jenks Miller.
Here's hoping Pet-Tich-Eye works out their issues: I'd like to listen to this album without worrying that some might not understand where their money is going.
In eight years, Durham's Midtown Dickens transformed from a lovably amateur duo into one of the most purposeful and refined folk outfits in North Carolina. It was one of the more impressive transitions made by any local band in that time. But now, after three albums and a recent rise to some national recognition, Midtown Dickens is more than likely finished, taking an indefinite hiatus as its members move on to different projects.
"I'm really proud of us and what we accomplished last year with Midtown Dickens," says founding singer and songwriter Kym Register. She and longtime friend and creative partner Catherine Edgerton started Midtown Dickens as a DIY crash course in writing and singing songs. Their early work resonates with winning simplicity, shambling banjo and guitar strums accompanied by the homemade percussion of clinking spoons and drumsticks banged on metal chairs and club walls. But starting with the 2009 sophomore effort Lanterns and continuing with last year's starkly beautiful Home, Midtown Dickens grew into a tight-knit quartet, perfecting their playing within lush arrangements steeped in the sounds of modern Appalachia.
"I'm proud of what Catherine and I did just as the two of us," Register continues, "what we accomplished with that band, starting it eight years ago and our technical skill levels and our sort of indifference to that. I hold that really dear in my heart."
Home brought Midtown Dickens to new levels of success, garnering praise from national tastemakers such as NPR. The band hit the road with corresponding force, touring more than they ever had before. But by the end of a late-2012 run with Lost in the Trees, the players realized they wanted to pursue other projects. Jonathan Henderson wanted to be more involved with Kaira Ba, in which he helps back energetic Senegalese kora player Diali Cissokho. Register and multi-instrumentalist Will Hackney realized their chemistry as a duo and are forming Loamlands, a collaborative project gearing up for a busy spring, including an opening slot for guitarist William Tyler at Durham's Pinhook.
"We're all doing our separate things," Register says. "I don't like leaving out the possibilities of playing music with my friends. It'd be nice if we would play together again at some point, but we probably won't."
Last month, PineCone, or the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, and Raleigh archival folk label Old Hat Records joined forces to launch a campaign to crowd fund an anthology of bluegrass and country music from artists that performed on the Depression-era North Carolina radio program “Crazy Barn Dance.” The show took its name from Crazy Water Crystals, the snake oil elixir served as a sponsor, and aired Saturday nights on Raleigh’s WPTF and Charlotte’s WBT. During its time, it showcased roots pioneers like the Monroe Brothers, the Dixon Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys and Snuffy Jenkins.
Old Hat founder Marshall Wyatt highlights J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers’ 1937 recording on “Don’t Get Trouble In Your Mind” as a particularly interesting inclusion. Listeners may know it as a favorite of the Carolina Chocolate Drops or recognize the tune from Bill Monroe’s bluegrass standard “Molly and Tenbrooks,” though Wyatt feels the Mountaineers’ instrumentation is just as notable.
“J.E. Mainer's fiddle really puts the song in overdrive, along with Snuffy Jenkins' avant-garde banjo,” he says. “Let's not forget—this music is not just historically significant, it's highly entertaining to listen to!”
PineCone and Old Hat hope to release the two-disc collection of recordings and vintage commercials—titled Crazy Barn Dance: Bluegrass Roots on Carolina Radio 1933-1940—by September, which, in no small coincidence, is when Raleigh hosts its first IBMA convention. “Usually projects like this will progress gradually, as funds become available,” Wyatt explains, referring to the traditional sources arts councils might draw upon, like National Endowment for the Arts grants. “By pooling the resources of Old Hat and PineCone, we're hoping to expedite the completion of the project.” Crazy Barn Dance, like PineCone’s 2009 release Going Down to Raleigh: Stringband Music in the North Carolina Piedmont 1976-1998, will also contain extensive liner notes detailing the history behind the performers and the recordings.
Setting a goal of $2,500—specifically earmarked to cover remastering costs that are actually closer to $3,000—the organizations harnessed Power2Give, a crowd-funding platform created by the United Arts Council. “It was also timing, in that the Power2Give portal became available right at the time when we were considering ways to pull together funding for the project,” continues PineCone’s Jamie Katz. “The crowd-funding model lets us leverage more social media and, we hope, get the word out about the project as well as PineCone and Old Hat Records to folks who may not be familiar with these resources here in Raleigh.” Unlike Kickstarter and its many competitors, Power2Give requires that donor rewards be free of tax implications, which allows the donation to be tax-deductible but limits the conventional strategy of offering copies of the album as a reward.
Instead, the project offers tours of radio stations and recording studios, handwritten thank you notes from Carolina bluegrass artists or recognition in PineCone’s newsletter and website as potential donor benefits: “We purposefully chose experiential rewards so that the donor can maximize his/her deductions,” PineCone executive director William Lewis confirmed.
Though the rewards are unique, the campaign has plateaued recently. Today is the last day of the campaign, which ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8. The project is still more than 60% short of its goal. Fortunately for PineCone and Old Hat, projects on Power2Give receive all pledges, even when they aren’t fully funded, and Lewis says it is “one of several fundraising efforts underway to ensure the CD’s production.” Lewis also suggests that organizers may return to Power2Give to raise money for other steps in the process, such as research and writing of the liner notes, graphic design, manufacturing and distribution.
Listen to MP3 of J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers’ “Don’t Get Trouble In Your Mind” and the Monroe Brothers’ “Katy Cline” below, but don’t forget to also check out the Power2Give page for additional information and music, as well as to donate to the project.