“Ork Records: New York, New York” album review

Ork Records: New York, New York album review

Elmore Magazine - Ork Records- New York, New York


From The Sing-Off to the Paradise City: An interview with Kevin Olusola and Kirstie Maldonado of Pentatonix

PTX Group Close Up by Ryan Parma 2012sm

Pentatonix (Photo credit: Ryan Parma)

In recent years, a capella singing has seen a significant rise in popularity. Thanks to television shows like FOX’s Glee and NBC’s The Sing-Off, numerous singers are discovering the possibilities presented by combining their voices with others to create impressive walls of sound. And perhaps the biggest a capella group of the moment is Pentatonix.

As the season three winners of NBC’s a capella group singing competition The Sing-Off, the five-piece band – featuring members Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola – came to fame by utilizing diverse musical genres like hip-hop, dubstep, and electro to create re-imagined covers of popular songs. Now, after recording and releasing two successful EP’s, Pentatonix is hitting the road for its second headlining tour. And on February 23rd, the group is rolling into the Calvin Theatre in Northampton.

During a recent phone interview, the Northeast Underground had the chance to chat with Olusola and Maldonado (pictured above, second and third from right), who were checking in from Los Angeles, and asked them their thoughts on performing a capella music live, how they protect their voices on tour, and what fans can expect during Pentatonix’s stop in Western Massachusetts.

Underground: Obviously your group is most well known for its appearance on NBC’s The Sing-Off. What was your first impression upon learning you had won the competition, and how has the show shaped the course of your career since that moment?

Maldonado: I think we were all really excited initially. Going into the show, we just thought, “Why not? Let’s do this for fun. We love what we’re doing.” [And] I think steadily along in the competition, we formulated our own sound and gained a confidence in ourselves, where we [thought,] “Oh man, we really want to take this, we really want to win. It would be amazing. This would be a dream come true.” And fortunately it happened.

Now we’re just doing what we love. [Winning the show] definitely shaped all of our careers for the better. We all wanted to do something in music, or in the business. I think it’s been amazing for all of us. And I think it’s gone, not better than we expected, but the feedback we’ve received from all our fans, who are amazing, has been incredible. We definitely wouldn’t be where we are without them today. It’s been awesome.

How would characterize the experience of going from performing on television to touring the country and playing live 90-minute concerts?

Olusola: It’s been absolutely incredible. This entire experience, from winning The Sing-Off to where we are now, has been a dream come true. After we won The Sing-Off, we went straight into recording a record, which did extremely well. It was PTX Volume One, and we got to number 14 on the Billboard charts. And after that we started our first tour, which wasn’t really what it is today.

Our first tour was very minimal. We kind of just got on stage and sang, but it was still a sold-out tour and it was great to connect with our fans and figure out what our performance style was like. I think we take a very Mumford & Sons approach. It’s very chill. We kind of want everyone to feel like family, and have a good time getting to know us on stage. We get to feel the audience’s energy.

On this tour, we still maintain that. But it’s definitely a bigger show. We have lights. We have staging. We have choreography. We have an amazing sound guy. I think the show has just been an upward trajectory of learning who we are as artists. I think our first album shows that. I think the second EP will show that. Eventually we’re going to put out an original record, hopefully in 2014. It’s going to be fun. It’s been a great trajectory. It’s been a lot of fun.

Watch Pentatonix perform a cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” available on PTX Volume One here:

What is the hardest part of performing vocal music for such an extended period of time on stage? Do either of you follow a special regimen to keep your voice in shape?

Maldonado: I think in general the best thing you can do for your body is go to bed early, drink a lot of water. You don’t stay up late, you eat right. All those things really help out. And now we have a tour bus. Before when we moved to different cities we had to get up in the morning and drive there, but now [our drivers] drive there in the nighttime. We can just sleep as long as we want, and I think that’s really helped.

We all just take care of each other, and remind each other to eat better or not stay out too late or anything. It’s been a learning process, but now we’re all a lot better at it. It’s not as stressful as it was before.

So we’re not going to be hearing about Pentatonix as one of those hard-partying bands that is always in the headlines for the wrong reasons?

Maldonado: [laughs] No, never.

Olusola: Never. Not once in our entire careers [laughs].

Kevin, you mentioned earlier that the environment at your concerts is very “chill.” What has the reaction from crowds been like during this tour? Have you noticed anything specifically?

Olusola: When I say chill, I don’t mean the performance is chill. Our interaction with the fans is what’s chill. We really try to be very calm and conversational on stage. And I think the audience really likes that. They really get to know us. They get to see that we have personalities, we’re not just some sort of pop machine that comes out and performs and is very robotic. The sounds we might make might be like very electronic, robotic sounds, but we have personalities behind all the music that we make.

People have really enjoyed it. We see it on our Facebook a lot. A lot of people have said, “Wow, that’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my entire life.” So that’s the kind of standard I think we’ve created for ourselves, and we’re going to continue that standard as we go forward.

Maldonado: I think another thing that’s really cool about our fan base is that we have a wide variety of everyone because on the show we did a wide variety of music, and it’s just pulled in a lot of different crowds. But I think the majority of them are all music lovers, and [they] are all really talented.

We do this thing in our show, where Kevin and Avi have the audience sing with them, and it’s always so amazing that the crowd becomes this amazing big choir and they’re all music nerds. I think that’s the coolest part because we were all just like them. So to have everyone sing together, it just feels really awesome. I think that’s another thing that’s really special about our fans.

Olusola: Agreed.

pentatonix (Iheg)

Pentatonix (Photo courtesy of Iron Horse Entertainment Group)

What can fans expect or not expect at your show in Northampton, Massachusetts on February 23? Are there certain songs you will sing that will be familiar to the audience?

Maldonado: They better start warming up [laughs]. We definitely address some of our old songs that we know people still want to hear, but we are sprinkling in some new ones. We’ve been writing originals.

I think with all the added stuff we’ve put in, we have choreography now, we have lights. Before we just kind of stood on stage and just jammed. It was really casual. Now it’s more of a production. Visually and audibly people will be wowed hopefully. Kevin anything else?

Olusola: That’s pretty much it. I think just expect some old songs, some new songs, the same Pentatonix sound, which I think is really the most important thing of all. And people will really get to know who we are on stage.

How familiar are either of you with Western Massachusetts? Have either of you been through the area before?

Maldonado: No I actually haven’t. I’ve only been to Boston and that area. I’m excited though.

Olusola: I wish I had been there. I used to live in Andover, Massachusetts. I went to boarding school at a place called Phillips Academy. I went there the last few years of high school, so I know Boston kind of well. I know Andover pretty well and some of the surrounding cities like Lawrence, but not Northampton. Forgive me [laughs].

What are some future projects/ recordings you have planned? I understand a second album has been in the works.

Olusola: Sure, I want to say it like this. I think 2012 was us getting our feet wet in terms of figuring out what our sound was going to be like on a recording. We really didn’t know. And I think we started figuring that out with our first album, which did pretty well. We’ve also continuously tried to build our fan base with YouTube. I think 2013 is us now trying to figure out what our original sound is.

We are putting out a new album, a new EP with a lot more originals. There are some covers, but we’re going to try and hone in on the originals. We are writing with a lot of different people. The songs have been great. I think that the first record we did because it did so well on the Billboard charts, a lot of co-writers have been interested in working with us. They’ve been like, “Wow, I’ve never heard an a cappella sound like this, be so edgy. But it works, and we’re really interested in working with you guys.”

There’s also going to be a lot more touring this year. This tour right now is kind of us upping our game in how we tour. That’s pretty much it. Those are the two main projects this year working on a second record, etc. Working on an original album, that’s what we are going to be mainly doing all fall, a lot of writing. So yeah, we’re doing an album and touring. I’m pretty proud of our live show.

Maldonado: He pretty much summed it up [laughs].

Watch Pentatonix perform a cover Ryan Lewis and Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” here:

What is your songwriting process like?

Olusola: Kirstie you want to tackle that one?

Maldonado: I think last year we saved writing the songs for the end of our album. It was more of a stressful procedure because we had never written together as a group before. We all have our individual styles of writing, and I don’t think they fit well for the sound of our group, which just didn’t make sense. But now I think we’ve just been steadily writing throughout the year even when we weren’t consciously working on PTX Volume Two. So I think our writing styles in general have just gotten better. We’ve already presented a couple originals, and already they’re miles ahead of where the last ones were when we presented last year.

I don’t know if there is necessarily a certain procedure that we go to. I feel that as people get inspired they just write, and in general everyone knows what our sound is now because we’ve been together longer. I think it just immediately goes better with what we want. Does that make sense? [laughs]

Is there any question or topic I should have asked about but didn’t? If so, what would you like to talk about or maybe elaborate on?

Olusola: Gosh, I can’t really think of anything else. That was a pretty thorough interview.

Maldonado: Come to our show [laughs].

Olusola: Yeah, come to our show everybody please [laughs]. We want to see your beautiful faces.

Maldonado: I think if people had come to our shows previously, it’ll still be very new just because of all the elements we’ve added to it. I really think it’s a show that everyone can enjoy. It’ll be a good time.

Pentatonix performs Feb. 23, 8 p.m., $25, Calvin Theatre and Performing Arts Center, 19 King St., Northampton, (413) 584-1444, http://www.iheg.com/calvin_theater_main.asp.

For more information on Pentatonix or to see more tour dates please visit http://www.ptxofficial.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/Pentatonix.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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“Girls” soundtrack just wants to have fun

Girls soundtrack vol 1Various Artists

Girls – Volume 1: Music From The HBO Original Series

(Fueled By Ramen)

In the interest of full disclosure, I must reveal that I have not watched a single episode of the popular HBO series “Girls.” I’m aware of the show’s existence of course. The creator and star of the series Lena Dunham has been honored by multiple awards shows for her work, and has appeared time and again on various other programs, where she has been interviewed regarding the show and its content. However, I still haven’t hopped aboard this particular television bandwagon. But now I may have found a reason to do so.

Featuring songs by such bands as Tegan & Sara, Fleet Foxes, The Troggs and more, Girls – Volume 1: Music From The HBO Original Series has been dubbed the “musical companion” to the series, whose second season recently debuted on January 13. Opening with the track “Dancing On My Own” by the Swedish dance-pop artist Robyn, the release is an instant immersion into the world of not just fictional female twentysomethings, but also a certain pop culture swimming pool that prides itself on diverse musical taste and a good time in equal measure.

“Music is such a huge part of my creative process,” Dunham says in the press materials that accompany the album. “I make playlists to write by and listen to as I head to set in the morning, and I experiment in editing with songs that the characters would love and that accurately reflect their struggles. “Girls’” music supervisor Manish Raval and I are crazy about everything from the pop that teen girls devour to the niche indie rock from days of yore.”

Such non-discriminating taste shows in the way Volume 1 unfolds from one number to the next. The anthem-like “Girls” by reggae fusion artist Santigold appears just a few slots before the delicate indie pop of Belle & Sebastian, and elsewhere the piano-based musings of singer and songwriter Michael Penn is preceded by the even sparser piano ballad “Love is Won” by Hudson Valley artist Lia Ices (aka Lia Kessel).

When listened to as a whole, the cumulative effect of such a record is akin to the experience of listening to a friend’s mix-tape. Sure not every track will resonate upon first playback, but each surprise levied by the inclusion of songs like “With a Girl Like You,” “Montezuma” and even a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Fool To Cry,” is worth the experience. Plus you might even learn something. But first you have to push play to understand.

For more information on the HBO series “Girls” please visit http://www.hbo.com/girls/index.html.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Ragin’ against the machine: Valley rockers Doug Ratner and the Watchmen banned from returning to “Mass Appeal”

Doug Ratner and the Watchmen (Photo credit: Mary-Hope Beaulac)

Doug Ratner and the Watchmen (Photo credit: Mary-Hope Beaulac)

According to valley musician Doug Ratner, everything initially appeared fine during his band’s March 13 appearance on the locally produced television show “Mass Appeal.”

His group Doug Ratner and the Watchmen had just finished performing the single “Bomb in the Backseat” from the band’s new record Lessons Well Learned as the first half of a scheduled two-song set on the program, and were warming up for the next number when suddenly the gathered musicians received some unexpected news.

“There was a glimpse of one of the hosts getting something on her earpiece, sort of making a face and then saying when we were getting ready to play again, ‘Oh guys, we don’t have time for another song. Sorry about that,’” Ratner says.

The reason for the abridged set was apparently WWLP’s negative reaction to its first half. You see, Doug Ratner and the Watchmen did more than just perform the song “Bomb in the Backseat” on “Mass Appeal.” The group punctuated the track by smashing a laptop live on air during one of the song’s instrumental sections. And that incident, coupled with station higher-up’s alleged interpretation of the song as negative in content and message, was more than enough to earn the erstwhile rockers a ban from ever returning to “Mass Appeal” in the future, or so the band claims.

“We’re banned from the show,” says Ratner. “Clearly they were very offended. They didn’t like the references to the bombs, and to the explosions, and the negativity that it [the song] was implying. They won’t release the footage online, and our fans are pretty upset with the whole thing.”

When reached for comment the supervisor for the “Mass Appeal” program professed ignorance of such a ban on Doug Ratner and the Watchmen actually being in place, but a quick perusal of the show’s website proves that all evidence of the band’s performance has been wiped clean. In fact, the only proof of the incident’s existence is a bootleg video on Doug Ratner’s YouTube page which shows the performance in its entirety.

Watch video of the banned Mass Appeal performance by Doug Ratner and the Watchmen here:

Ratner says, “When we decided to record the song ‘Bomb in the Backseat’ and make it a single off of our new release, we kind of knew that it might cause some controversy because history is plagued with people not looking deep enough into lyrics and thinking that something stands for something that it isn’t. Look at a song like ‘Jeremy’ by Pearl Jam. Someone who is not a music fan might take that the wrong way. [They] might think this is a rock band condoning violence and singing about an aggressive act. Metallica has been accused of that. And so many bands throughout the ages have been accused of condoning violence and promoting aggression and things like that, but in reality that is not what music is supposed to do. It’s just making a statement about society.”

Oddly enough, the statement being illustrated by Doug Ratner and the Watchmen during their performance on “Mass Appeal” was a statement about the extremes to which society has become dependent on technology and the ramifications such an attachment could result in.

“The funniest thing that cracks me up is that right before we played there was gentleman on the show getting interviewed about Google’s new privacy policies, how invasive they are, and how, technologically speaking, they’re diving into dangerous territory because they’re getting into the privacy of the user,” says Ratner. “So, what better song than ‘Bomb in the Backseat’ to state the fact that technology might be going too far with its ability to dive into the human psyche? Then we play the song, and they don’t like it.”

Watch the official video for “Bomb in the Backseat” by Doug Ratner and the Watchmen here:

While Ratner professes he is open to any communication from WWLP about returning to “Mass Appeal” one day, he maintains that it was never his intention to offend anyone in the first place.

He says, “They could have told us no. They could’ve told us, ‘Don’t play it,’ because I was singing it, I was warming up, we were going through it. They easily could’ve said, ‘Do something else.’ But they didn’t. So we played the song. And during the song I did my little ditty with the laptop, and I didn’t go crazy on it. But I threw it on the ground and I smashed it. I didn’t touch any of their equipment. I didn’t harm anything of theirs.”

“I guess the biggest thing that we want people to take away from this is it’s almost like the revival of rock ‘n’ roll,” he continues. “In the ‘70s, the ‘60s and even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you had rock bands making statements with their music. Rage Against the Machine. That is the perfect band. God, every song they had was a message right to the viewer. And that is sort of lacking right now in rock music, and even in mainstream music. We want people to realize that we’re not afraid to do this. We’re not afraid to take chances. We’re not afraid to write a song called ‘Bomb in the Backseat’ that makes statements about society. If people get very offended, we’re sorry that you get offended. We’re sorry if it’s controversial. But it’s reality. And if you don’t state things about reality then people are just going to be blind to it and ignore it for the rest of their lives.”

Remember: True rock ‘n’ roll never dies. And neither, seemingly, does the censorship of rock bands and musicians. To show your support for Doug Ratner and the Watchmen please visit the band’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dougratnerandthewatchmen and leave a comment. Also, if you wish to contact “Mass Appeal” or WWLP to voice your opinion on the situation please visit www.wwlp.com/subindex/mass_appeal for further information or email the station at reportit@wwlp.com.

For more information on Doug Ratner and the Watchmen or to see future tour dates please visit www.facebook.com/dougratnerandthewatchmen.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Hank Williams Jr. song pulled from Monday Night Football over controversial comments

Hank Williams JrAre you ready for some…Mike Tirico?

If the above statement confuses you, then you must not have watched ESPN’s broadcast of Monday Night Football this week.

Instead of opening the popular sports program with video of country musician Hank Williams Jr. performing his anthem “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Monday Night,” which has served as the show’s unofficial introduction for 23 years, the network skipped the segment completely and cut directly to broadcaster Tirico live in the booth as if nothing was different.

So why the sudden change?

Well, according to an article posted on Time.com the decision to cut Williams song came as a direct result of comments the singer made during an appearance on the television show “Fox and Friends” Monday morning.

While discussing the “golf summit” played this summer by President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner with the show’s hosts, Williams said the meeting was like “Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

Though later pressed by anchor Gretchen Wilson over why he would compare the current U.S. president to one of the most hated men in history, Williams replied that he was just “telling it like it is.”

In response to Williams’ words, ESPN quickly released the following statement:

“While Hank Williams, Jr. is not an ESPN employee, we recognize that he is closely linked to our company through the open to Monday Night Football. We are extremely disappointed with his comments, and as a result we have decided to pull the open from tonight’s telecast.”

And a one week ban may not even be the end of the story. ESPN also hinted that the pulling of Williams from the show may become permanent depending on “how contrite the singer-songwriter is in the immediate future.”

However if it’s a formal apology that ESPN wants they may have to wait awhile.

In a message posted on his official website, Williams seemed a little less than contrite when he said, “Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood. My analogy was extreme – but it was to make a point. I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me – how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will. I have always respected the office of the President.”

“Every time the media brings up the tea party it’s painted as racist and extremists – but there’s never a backlash – no outrage to those comparisons…Working class people are hurting – and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job – it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change.”

Yes, a change in this country is a must. Too many people are out of work. And the government often seems incapable of cooperating on even the most basic of issues. Still, to slip into the shameful rhetoric and hate speech that Williams did when describing our nation’s commander in chief is nothing if not in poor taste.

So unless a more polite dialogue can be reached, Williams may have very well earned his spot on the sidelines. Let’s hope he enjoys his time with Howard Cosell’s old blazer, Dan Dierdorf, and Dennis Miller on the heap of remnants from MNF’s past. If time spent in that company can’t teach a man contrition, I don’t know what will.

For more information on Hank Williams Jr. or Monday Night Football please visit www.hankjr.com and www.espn.go.com/nfl/mnf.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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They’re back…Beavis and Butthead prep return to MTV

The Beavis and Butthead ExperienceIt’s official. Two of the rudest boys to ever grace music television are back in business.

A mere 14 years after the airing of their series finale, Beavis and Butthead are making their long-awaited return to the airwaves with a new season of their cartoon misadventures set to debut on MTV later this year.

According to a recent Rolling Stone article, MTV president Van Toffler was inspired to bring the dynamic duo back after catching a late night airing of a Lady Gaga video.

“I felt like there was a whole crop of new artists — and what the world sorely missed was the point of view that only Beavis and Butt-Head could bring,” he said.

However, this time around the teenage hellraisers from Highland aren’t just limiting their criticisms to the latest hits from the Billboard charts.

Van Toffler said, “They’ll watch ‘Jersey Shore,’ UFC matches and user-generated videos from YouTube, in addition to music videos.”

While otherwise remaining true to the content of the program’s original ‘90s run, the addition of this more reality-based material should only fan the flames (“Fire, fire, fire!”) of interest in new and old fans alike.

Who wouldn’t want to hear Butthead’s take on such faux-celebrities as Snooki and “the Situation”? Or how about the infamous Cornholio daring to rip fighters like Brock Lesnar and Georges St. Pierre a new one? The possibilities are endless, and with other shows like “The Soup” and “Tosh.O” already engaged in a similar format it is time for the originators of the genre to show everyone how it’s really done.

So put on your best Metallica t-shirt and scrape off your bat for another round of “Frog Baseball.” It’s time to party like it’s 1995.

See Beavis and Butthead rant as the boys tackle Pantera’s “This Love here:

For more information on Beavis and Butthead and to read more news about their pending return please visit http://www.facebook.com/beavisandbutthead.

Local Idol Hopeful Dreams On

As a music writer, it is often hard enough to ignore the behemoth that is Fox’s American Idol.

Now entering its 10th season, the popular reality show has had an incalculable impact on the popular music landscape and given careers to such stars as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and David Cook. However, pushing aside the program’s media blitzkrieg is a task made even more difficult when the show’s impact extends all the way to one’s backyard.

While watching the season premiere last night, many fans in the Pioneer Valley got a special treat when it was shown that area resident Ashley Sullivan not only competed on the program but actually earned a coveted ticket to Hollywood.

After professing her wish to, “Be the first show-tune pop star,” Sullivan appeared to win over new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, who overruled veteran judge Randy Jackson in order to make the young woman’s dream come true. Tyler even went so far as to say that he personally would, “Work that [Sullivan] into something good.”

Watch video of Ashley’s performance here:

Though it is still too early to tell how Sullivan may fare in the latter portions of the competition, she was at least able to break the show’s mold of predictability and likely earned many new fans in the process. Her love of Britney Spears notwithstanding, Western Massachusetts may have its newest representative to shake things up musically on a national scale.

Meanwhile in other news, if you are a member of a local band that is playing at SXSW in Austin, TX this year. We’d be interested in talking to you. Please e-mail tsturm@valleyadvocate.com for more information. Mahalo.