For those of you who hold onto antiquated ideas regarding country music, this month’s edition of Localized will make you rethink your assumptions. Both The Folka Dots and Triggers & Slips have been around the Salt Lake scene for a couple of years now, and on Oct. 13, they’ll deliver a night of music filled with everything from country-rock to bluegrass, folk and blues. The music starts with the folk-informed doo-wop of Bullets & Belles at 9 p.m. at the Urban Lounge (21+), and just $5 gets you in.
The Folka Dots
When The Folka Dots originally formed nearly two years ago as a trio made up of Marie Bradshaw, Kiki Sieger and Corinne Gentry, they used the band as merely an excuse to hang out with each other and have a good time. With the additions of Brian Manecke and Bronk Onion, the quintet have created an increasing amount of buzz around the local scene over the past year, which will likely continue to grow with the release of their second album this fall. Before forming The Folka Dots in late 2010, Bradshaw was playing in her own group, the Marie Bradshaw Band, but began to feel that it was becoming more of a job. “I started getting a little bit more into country music, bluegrass and folk, so I started a little country cover band,” says Bradshaw. “Kiki, who’s my sister, [and I] have been singing together for a long time, so I asked her to come sing with us. We were just doing Patsy Cline and Hank Williams covers, and then it evolved to where we were writing our own music.”
After Manecke and Onion joined the band the following spring, the group quickly hit the studio and released their debut album, Down Below, in May of 2011. Although it’s easy to hear the band’s influence from early country groups such as the Carter Family, The Folka Dots have a 21st Century flair to their sound, with Bradshaw playing instruments such as the ukulele, as well as Manecke’s unorthodox banjo playing. “I think I play the banjo a little strangely,” says Manecke. “What I try to do is play little hooks and licks that add to the song, but they aren’t in your face either.” In addition to the banjo, Manecke also plays guitar and switches off bass duties with Onion, who adds another unique sound with his resonator guitar. “I think our style has vastly grown. It started out as something pretty specific, and it’s kind of snowballed into something where our music is anything from blues to folk, to country and Americana,” says Gentry, who plays violin in the group.
Aside from the instruments they play, The Folka Dots are impressive with their voices, singing three-part harmonies, reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. “It comes surprisingly naturally,” Seiger says with a laugh. Bradshaw and Seiger say they grew up singing with one another, which, in turn, has made things a lot easier when it comes to singing in harmony. The group says the hardest part isn’t necessarily the actual singing, but rather just sorting out which part, low or high, each person takes. “There are times when we have to sing a capella and figure out what we’re all doing,” says Bradshaw. Gentry adds, “It’s kind of like you trust each other with the harmonies. We listen to each other and it locks in.”
Some of the highlights for the band, so far, include opening for musician Neko Case in June, as well as appearing on KUER’s RadioWest. The band cites the latter as having been especially helpful in attracting new listeners to their music. “We still hear people [say they first heard] us on RadioWest, so we were really grateful for the opportunity to do that,” says Sieger. Even though the band appreciates the exposure they received from their appearance on the radio, it doesn’t compare to the feeling of playing in front of a live crowd. “One of the best things about playing music is seeing other people enjoy what you like and what you have to offer,” says Gentry. “We give every show our all, but when there are good vibes [from the audience] and you can tell that they’re enjoying it, it makes you want to give even more of yourself and play harder.”
The Folka Dots have also been busy in the studio, where they have recorded a bunch of new material. “It’s turning into a double LP really quick,” Manecke jokes. Bradshaw says the new songs feature more of an upbeat style, along with a heavier influence of country music than their debut record. “When we recorded our first album, we had only been playing together for a few weeks. We love the way it turned out, and we’re really proud of it, but we’re excited to see the new album come together,” says Gentry. With the release of the upcoming record, the band is planning a short tour in September, including stops in Arizona and New Mexico. However, Bradshaw says The Folka Dots remain focused on building their growing reputation in the local scene. “Right now, I think we have to keep it close to home so we’re not gone for long stretches of time. But eventually, that’d be really fun to get out there and be gone for weeks at a time.” With the wave of momentum the band is currently riding, it probably won’t be too long before they do just that.
When most people come down with a fever, the tendency is to seek refuge in the comfort of bed, load up on meds, and call in sick for a while. For musician Andrew Bird, a 102-degree temperature is no reason to cancel shows or take a break. In fact, despite being under the weather for most of 2009, Bird not only managed to stay committed to a relentless touring schedule of 165 shows, he also commissioned indie-filmmaker Xan Aranda to direct the aptly titled documentary, Fever Year.
In the new film, which makes its Utah premiere at the Salt Lake City Film Festival on August 13, Aranda puts the musician on display in a way never seen before onstage. Both heavily involved in the Chicago scene, she has known Bird for a decade, in which time she collaborated with him on music videos for the songs “Imitosis” and “Lull.” Fever Year gives audiences a front row seat to Bird’s multi-instrumental skills and his distinct looping technique, wherein he layers his violin and guitar playing, over his whistling and singing.
The 80-minute film features live performances taken from a two-night stand at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater in October 2009. A three-piece band made up of Martin Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker and Michael Lewis joins Bird on-stage, but this is no ordinary group of musicians. Bird spent approximately five years assembling the group, and therefore wanted to document their final show of the tour, which Aranda does beautifully. Thanks to Fever Year, there now exists great footage of Bird performing live, instead of cheap YouTube videos from fans’ camera phones
or a brief set on the Austin City Limits TV show.
The movie also provides rare, behind-the-scene glimpses of Bird making preparations for the shows at the Pabst Theater, including an intimate rehearsal with Annie Clark of St. Vincent. There is also archival footage of Bird’s early days as a musician, as well as clips of him just hanging out on his large family farm three hours outside of Chicago. In a recent phone interview, SLUG talked to Aranda about filming the endeavor.
SLUG: Fever Year was your first attempt at making a music documentary. What was your initial approach to the project?
Aranda: Knowing that Andrew is not someone who’s going to be part of a film that’s like an E! True Hollywood Story or something really statistics-based, I knew that we would have to provide a lot of mood and transparency with him for 80 minutes rather than stats. Those are the things that inspired us: making a film about a multi-instrumentalist who plays with multi-instrumentalists.
SLUG: How was this experience different from the music videos you previously made with Andrew?
Aranda: This project was so much larger, and it’s also a lot more personal. [Fever Year] actually turns the camera on him, so there was a big difference there. He knew that he was going to have these final shows with the band and he wasn’t going to play with them again, but he really loved what they were doing.
SLUG: When you first started filming, did you know that he had been sick for a long time and that it would be part of the film?
Aranda: I’d often talk to him in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, and he’d say that he’d been sick for weeks. When he arrived at the Pabst Theater, I’d seen him two weeks previous in Indianapolis and he was fine. At that point, there was no way that we weren’t going to include it in the film in some way. In the middle of the show, he started riffing about what to call the [film], and that was kind of an invitation to explore it deeper. People have asked me before if I was afraid for him or worried. It may sound callous, but I wasn’t. I was probably the least afraid out of most people because I understand what that’s all about and the fever wasn’t mysterious to me. I was freaking out during the shows about not blowing it. It’s a lot of money and a lot of humans, and I just wanted it to go well.
SLUG: When you watch the film, are you happy with it or are there parts you wish you had done differently?
Aranda: I don’t always watch the screening because I’ve seen it so many times. But if I see it with an audience, I’m not sure how they’re going to react, so I’ll usually watch it with them to see what they’re getting from it. Filmmaking is choices, and there’s always something to see if you’re watching it with new people’s eyes. I recently watched it in Mexico City and I hadn’t seen it in a month, but I watched it because they had subtitles in Spanish. I speak Spanish, so I wanted to see what kind of choices they made for the subs, and also just to see if the tiny handful of jokes in the movie translated. You just have to let go of the movie at some point. I took it as far as I can, and I truly exhausted myself and gave it everything that I had. I’m very much at peace with the film.
SLUG: How involved was Andrew in deciding what to include in the film? Was it easy to work so closely with him?
Aranda: The first cut of the film we did was … all interviews. He kept refusing to let us follow him places and observe him, but that’s the kind of stuff that gives the film breathing room. He had a lot to think about and work on, and it’s scary to let people come shoot you recording your new album. You don’t want to screw it up. For me, I didn’t want to go there and mess up the recording of the new album, so it was kind of this little delicate dance that you do. There’s no script. You can make a plan, but it takes a while to sift through all of it. After that phase we would check in with him every once in a while—it was kind of like this long, massaging process. He didn’t really let go of the process until he started making his new album.
SLUG: As the director, how do you feel about Andrew owning the rights to the film? Did that make you reconsider whether or not to do it?
Aranda: I always knew that he owned the film, since he commissioned it and mostly financed it. I paid for a portion of it. The reason I took it on was because of two things: One, I had a strong opinion for many years on how it should be made. And two, I was in the middle of making another film (Mormon Movie) but I knew that [Fever Year] would be a great learning opportunity for me. I’m not known for taking projects that I know how to do. I’m known for taking projects that I really want to do and have the resources for.
If you can’t make it out to the Utah premiere of Fever Year on August 13, the film will also screen at the DocUtah: Southern Utah Intl Documentary Film Festival at Dixie State College on September 8. The film truly does a great job capturing Bird’s live act, but if you want to see him live for yourself, he will be in Salt Lake performing at Red Butte Garden on Aug. 14. For tickets, check out redbuttegarden.org.
When a band says they play “folk” music, you probably imagine them sitting around in a circle playing banjos, acoustic guitars and violins. For local band Matteo, though, their foreign-sounding name hints that something is different about the instruments they use. The four-piece group—made up of husband and wife Eric and Brinn Chipman, Jordan Riley and Luke Williams—blends traditional Asian instruments, such as the zither, horse-headed fiddle and Chinese violin, with more common, American folk instruments, like the standup bass and violin. Throw in some nice vocal harmonies, and you get Matteo’s unique sound, which is unlike anything else coming from other local bands.
Wanting to record an album, sightsee and get some in-depth lessons on their foreign instruments, the band recently took a six-week trip to the Sichuan province, which is located in the southwestern part of China. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, the band raised enough money ($6,434) to also bring over two videographers to document a portion of the trip. Now back home in Salt Lake, the band plans on releasing an eight-song EP they recorded in China, along with some accompanying videos shot by Matt and Julie Walker, a husband-and-wife team that runs a local company called Tiger in a Jar.
It wasn’t too long ago that those same Chinese instruments Matteo now play were just sitting around the Chipmans’ house for aesthetic purposes, not intedned for playing. Brinn says, “[The Chinese instruments] weren’t bought with the idea to be played in a band, but more just for novelty, and to hang on the wall. I kind of gave up on the Chinese violin because it sounded really bad, and I just felt like I wasn’t going to take it seriously enough.”
Eric—who is a full-time graduate student and could not make this interview—and Brinn both served LDS missions in China, where they learned to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently, as well as make connections with the local people—something that would come in handy during their recent travels. Similar to the Chipmans, Riley served a mission in Taiwan, where he also found traditional Eastern instruments highly appealing. “I went to Taiwan and picked up a Chinese violin, and I took lessons with elementary school kids—like a bunch of seven years olds and I was 21. When I came back, I met Eric, and [we] became roommates [at Utah
State University],” Riley says. “I had collected a few different [Chinese] instruments, so Eric told me, when I move back to Salt Lake, ‘You should join our little band.’ He said, ‘You’ll just sit in the corner with Chinese instruments and just add Chinese [parts] to all of the songs.’ And so far, as it turns out, I don’t play any Western instruments in the band.”
Then there’s Matteo’s bass player, Williams, who utters the following statement when describing himself: “I’m recently completely unemployed and, like, homeless and stuff.” In his defense, however, Williams just graduated from the University of Utah in May, and he also had to quit his job in order to go on the China trip. Even though he mostly plays the upright bass, Williams is a multi-instrumentalist, just like the other band members, and he has adapted to playing the Eastern instruments. “I think, in the back of [Eric’s] head, he did imagine that I might learn the zither. But when I showed up, I brought a banjo, a mandolin and a drum and bass. I learned a bunch of his songs, and, at first, I thought I would just be backing up this singer-songwriter as a bass player, because I was doing that a lot. I knew he was married, but I didn’t know that [Brinn] played violin,” he says.
With a solid quartet of musicians playing together, the group came up with a plan last year to trek overseas to China and record an album. However, the Chipmans learned they were expecting their first child, and therefore put the road trip on hold until this summer. “We didn’t end up going last year, which for all sorts of reasons ended up being better that we went [this year]. We had lots more experience playing together. We kind of just made up what we wanted to have happen, and then just made it happen. There were lots of amazing things that ended up coming together,” Brinn says.
When the full band finally convened in China on May 22, the group spent around four weeks at Sichuan University, where they worked around a schedule that consisted of music lessons in the morning and afternoons spent rehearsing and recording. “We sort of had two weeks [to record], and we had nothing at that point. Writing it surprised me how fast it came, but even more so how good it sounded. I didn’t have a bass over there, so we couldn’t write the way we usually do. This was a much more collaborative process,” Williams says. “We knew [the recordings] were going to be looser. There’s some background noise, because we were just recording in a dorm room, so there’s some footsteps and door slams.”
Aside from their four-week stay at the university, the group also spent some time traveling around the Chinese countryside, where they picked up some memorable stories to tell. “During our road trip, about two or three days in, it was starting to get dark and we weren’t really close to a big city,” Brinn says. “This guy showed up on a motorcycle saying, ‘You need to come stay at this house.’ We obviously didn’t know him, but he talked to our driver and we ended up going to his place. It was raining and it was dark and we couldn’t really see, but it ended up being this really cool house. When we woke up, we went downstairs and all the townspeople were just sitting out on the sidewalk talking, and we played a little show for them, but we didn’t play extremely well.” Or as Williams delicately puts it, “Worst Matteo show ever.” Brinn continues, “It was just one of those moments where you felt like ‘Wow, I could never have imagined that I would be here doing this right now.’”
Those kinds of moments, however, would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the band being smart with their money and launching a Kickstarter campaign. “When we get paid to do things, we don’t take it for ourselves, we just put it in this box with the idea that we’re going to do something really cool with it. We wanted to learn about the instruments, but we also wanted to put ourselves somewhere where we were going to have a really interesting experience writing music. We had a goal of recording an EP there, which we did, and we wanted to play in China, which we had never done before,” Brinn says. One of the main goals of their Kickstarter was to hire professional videographers, Tiger in a Jar, to capture a few weeks of their trip. “We all understood that this is a big, fun, amazing thing that we’re doing, and we wanted it to be recorded in as many ways as we could. Just taking pictures, we knew we weren’t going to do it justice,” Brinn says. “We had this idea that we wanted to bring videographers, but it wasn’t until we actually saw what Tiger in a Jar does, and how good they are, that we all got really excited about giving them plane tickets to China and bringing them over. Once we found them, we were like, ‘Oh, they have to come.’”
At the time of this interview, the group is planning to release the videos by the end of August, around the same time as their EP. “Pairing the music we made with the films that they’re going to make, I’m as excited to see it as anybody. We feel like the more they can do their thing, and we can stay out of it, is probably better. They want our input and they want to make something we like, but we trust them a lot,” Williams says.
Although the unique sound of Matteo, with its mixture of Eastern and Western folk instruments, may seem like an odd concept at first, once you hear them play, you suddenly realize how well they blend all the different sounds together. With their recent trip to China, which resulted in an eight-song EP, it appears Matteo has nowhere to go but up. To find out the latest news about the band, check out their website, matteomusic.com.
If you’ve been hanging around the local scene for a while, chances are you’re already familiar with Jesus or Genome, while Color Animal and openers Nathan Spenser and Dylan Roe may be exciting, new flavors. Whether it’s scene veterans or the new kids on the block, one thing is for sure—there will be a great variety of folk, indie and garage rock sounds bellowing out of the Urban Lounge at this month’s Localized on July 13 for just $5 (21+).
Jesus or Genome
Every Wednesday night, you can find Mike Cundick playing at Poplar Street Pub under the name Jesus or Genome. Music is his biggest passion in life, but Cundick has a bigger picture in mind. He never intended to be much of a local activist, but he now uses his solo acoustic project as a vehicle to help support causes he cares about, such as Artists for Local Agriculture, which he founded earlier this year. “I believe that humankind is very innovative and there’s a lot that we can do to solve the problems, but people need to disconnect from the TV and media a little bit, and start to really look at situations and try to reconnect with themselves and with the Earth,” says Cundick. “I think the way I can do that at the moment is through Artists for Local Agriculture. I think it’s a great cause and will help bring awareness.” AFLA is a non-profit organization made up of musicians and activists working to support sustainable, local food production.
In years past, Cundick has toured around the country in LOOM with bands such as the The Used, playing huge shows for thousands of people. Now, armed with just his acoustic guitar, Cundick is keeping most of his attention on the local scene. The birth of Jesus or Genome occurred in the fall of 2010 when Cundick, whose family has a history of bipolar disorder, suffered from what he calls a “manic episode,” in which “reality can get very warped.” Cundick randomly shouted out the three words to a group of kids who were asking him weird questions. “I had no idea what in the world it meant, but I just went with the name. It’s an interesting name to go with because it definitely gets a reaction out of people,” says Cundick.
His Bob Dylan-esque songs do not specifically talk about sustainable, organic products. His lyrics are more about his personal feelings, ideas and views, which is the main reason he started Jesus or Genome. The 26-year-old musician has been in multiple bands, most notably LOOM and Worst Friends, since moving to Salt
Lake about eight years ago. However, he admits that playing solo makes it easier to connect with those listening to him play. “I love my band, LOOM, and I also like my side project, Worst Friends, but the acoustic stuff has been really rewarding, particularly lately,” says Cundick. “I feel like I’ve been able to get out a more passionate message that people can really hear [in] the lyrics. It pops out, and it seems to affect people a little bit more.”
The songs Cundick sings often feature in-depth lyrics meshed with engaging acoustic guitar playing, creating a dynamic style of folk rock. There is no strict philosophy to his songwriting method, though. “The songs I write will come so quickly that there’ll be a couple months without anything and then, in one or two days, I’ll have a brand new song,” says Cundick. “It’s just when the timing’s right. I’m very much a believer that most of my best ideas come from an outside source.”
Although playing in a bar every week may not be the ideal environment to promote the growth of local agriculture, Cundick enjoys playing at Poplar and often invites other local musicians to play with him. He aims to get more gigs at all-ages venues where people will be able to listen to his music more closely. “There are some weeks where I feel like the crowd is very stoked on everything I’m doing, and other weeks there’s a lot more distractions. The energy changes all the time. You never know how things are going to go, but it’s been a fantastic gig for me to have something consistent for my music,” says Cundick.
Cundick has already put out an EP on Sacred Plague Records and will debut a new full-length Jesus or Genome album this July. He is planning a mini-tour of the Northwest this summer to support the album, but after years of touring all over the country in other projects, Cundick would like to keep his focus on the local scene as much as possible. “My big passion is seeing Salt Lake become more united with itself and have more of a respect for its local artists, musicians and food producers, too,” says Cundick. Although he has his criticisms of the public’s obsession with mass media and social networking, Cundick does admit that the Internet has its benefits, such as making it easier to get his music out to people, which, in the end, is a good thing for the local musician and activist.
Make sure to head down to Urban on July 13 to catch Jesus or Genome’s unique brand of thoughtful and intricate acoustic music.
Summerteeth = The New Pornographers + Phoenix
After putting out their EP How I Got in the Room last December, Summerteeth apparently made a quick trip back to the studio, as they released their second full-length album, Lurking Danger, this past February. The ten-track album is a nice mix of folk-rock, with the group’s strong vocals blending well with their talented musicianship. The album opens with a great tune called “Evening Star Rising,” which sets the stage nicely for the rest of the album that features more of the same. Another strong tune is “More Than Ever,” which comes halfway through the record and breathes some new life into the album. With each song being less than four minutes in length, the album is a quick and enjoyable listen. Even though the band has been together for just over a year now, their sound is tight, and Lurking Danger is another step forward for the local group.
Lady & Gent
To Death In Delta
Lady & Gent = The Avett Brothers + The Folka Dots
This debut album from the five-piece Provo group features a plethora of pure folk music—lots of singing along with acoustic instruments. Made up of brothers Garrett and Ben Williams, Jeff Adams, Dana Sorensen and Chris White, Lady & Gent demonstrate how the Americana genre is done. As with most folk bands, the songwriting is the main focus on this record, with most of the songs being dominated by the lyrics, with a lack of any soloing, aside from the occasional harmonica break. The 10-song record spans nearly 45 minutes, and each song typically follows the same mellow, acoustic style. The only traces of a heavier sound come on the tune “Hope To Hold,” where, toward the end of the track, Williams gives a punk-esque shout of “One, two, three, four.” Although this album could have benefited from a bit more energetic tunes to keep my ears engaged, it’s a decent debut overall from the local group.
South of Ramona
South of Ramona = Mumford and Sons + Black Angels
Aside from the cheesy 25-second intro that kicks off this five-song EP, this record is made up of some pretty good tracks from the local four-piece group. Although the first couple of songs, “Carnival Court (Step Inside)” and “Purple Sky,” feature a punk reggae vibe, the remaining tunes are different in style. When the song “Lonesome Soul” begins with a banjo and acoustic instruments, it’s hard to imagine that the soft, folk sound is coming from the same band, which now sounds like the Avett Brothers. The band’s sound changes styles again for the final two numbers, “I, Narcissus” and “Shangri-la,” as it adopts more of a psychedelic feeling, resembling the sound of CCR at times. All in all, there are some good tunes on Step Inside, but with the multiple styles found on the record, it seems like the relatively new band are still figuring out their own sound to settle on.
Standing in the living room of Eli Morrison’s Salt Lake home, one of the first things that catches my eye is his large and well-organized collection of vinyl records. Probably in the neighborhood of around 1,000 records overall—a quick skim reveals everything from Black Flag to Sonic Youth, as well as newer groups like Black Moth Super Rainbow. When I stop and take a closer look at the large section of Sonic Youth albums, Morrison notices, and he pulls out several rare, first-edition copies, such as the 1983 EP Kill Yr. Idols.
Days of Innocence
Markham Sound = Dave Matthews + Tenacious D
At first, I didn’t know if this was a serious attempt to create an album, but I quickly realized it’s some kind of blend between comedy and music. The album opens with the tune “Mom & Dad,” with a chorus that rambles off a list of bands, “Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Seals and Croft, Three Dog Night, Chuck Berry, Sly and the Family Stone.” The next tune, aptly titled, “The Led Zeppelin Song,” is comprised almost entirely of the band’s song titles. Near the end of the album is the Pete Seeger-esqe folk song, “Don’t Blow Up Yourself,” which begins with the line, “This one goes out to the terrorists,” and the lyrics go on to say, “I heard that you’ve been thinking about blowing yourself up, but I got some advice before you do. Please could you do it way over there so nobody blows up with you.”