K. Flay’s Triumphant Homecoming, Exploring Subterranean’s Brothel Backstory

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k. flay chicago

During this episode of Live Fix Radio, we explore the music of rapper, singer-songwriter and Chicago-native Katherine Flaherty (aka K.Flay). We first discovered K. Flay’s cunning blend of hip hop, pop, rock and humorous rhymes back in March at SXSW. We caught up with Flaherty before her show at Subterranean to talk about her Black Friday guilt, the emotional connection with her fans, what she’s learned since SXSW and the silly things she says while onstage.

During the show we also share how we discovered the curious backstory of Subterranean, the venue where K.Flay played. It’s a show packed with tons of great stuff like live post-show fan interviews and news about free live downloads and more as you’ll see in the show notes and links below.

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Show Notes:

Music from the podcast

News and links

Step Up To The Mic

What do you think about K.Flay’s mad rhymes and crazy songwriting skills? Got a question about Subt’s shady history? Want to know more about something we talked about during the show?

We invite you to share your concert experiences and thoughts about this podcast in the comments below, so they can be included in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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Why Do These Kids Rock, Jam and Amaze Us So Much?

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During this episode of Live Fix Radio, we explore the topic of teenage performers and how the live music experience impacts their creativity, inspiration and psychological development.

We’re excited to dive into this topic and share with you the music of 14 year-old singer-songwriter Kate Diaz and soul-blues-jazz-hip hop octet Kids These Days.

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Ever since we first saw Kate amaze us at the Metro we knew she was well beyond her years. And we had the chance talk with her before a recent show at the Abbey Pub and ask her about her favorite live performers and how she got started as a musician.

Even though they’re all under the age of twenty, Kids These Days is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in Chicago. And it was a blast talking to them at Lollapalooza about why they embrace making mistakes during their live show and how the WWF and James Brown influence what they do on stage. You’ll here why their debut EP Hard Times is one of my favorite of 2011. Note: A couple f-bombs do get dropped during the interview, but it’s for a good cause. It’s nothing to fear. I just wanted to let you know ahead of time, okay? 

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Show Notes:

Music from the podcast

DJ Mehdi – “I am Somebody”   (A musical tribute to the late French DJ who died last week and a continuation of our RIP grief experiment.)

Kate Diaz – “Kill the Question Mark”

Kids These Days – “Hard Times”

Links and info mentioned during show: 

Concert News and Experiments:

Step Up To The Mic

What do you think about teenage performers? Got a question about a topic we talked about during the show? We invite you to share your concert experiences and thoughts about this podcast in the comments below, so they can be included in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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Concert Preview: The Mesmerizing Polymedia Mythology of NewVillager

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Editorial note: Earlier this week our friend and Live Fix contributor Moira McCormick caught up with NewVillager before their gig in New York to talk about the story behind the band’s ambitiously esoteric and wonder-filled mythological live show — and what awaits Chicago fans tonight at the Empty Bottle

 

“What makes it exciting,” says Ross Simonini of his deliriously uncategorizable polymedia band NewVillager, “is that it’s pop music and esoteric ideas traveling together. Pop can hold esoteric ideas, and we like both – why can’t they be married?”

Simonini and musical partner/fellow visual and conceptual artist Ben Bromley, whose self-titled debut album arrived last month on the IAMSOUND label, are shortly appearing at downtown Manhattan’s snug, multicolored performance space Santos Party House, not quite a month into their North American tour – which brings them to the Empty Bottle tonight.

The Brooklyn-by-way-of-San Francisco duo, augmented live by drummer Collin Palmer and human sculpture Eric Lister, melds art (the visual and performance kind) with their rapturous pop-soul music, on scintillating display in the 10 tracks of NewVillager – easily one of the most jolt-you-out-of-your-complacency releases of this or any year.

Their press kit boasts as many features published in art publications as in music mags, and their performances are apt to take place in galleries – many of which involve actual art installations, such as the recently concluded “Temporary Culture” at Los Angeles’ Human Resources Gallery.

The 10-day exhibit centered on the band’s construction of a “shantytown” in which NewVillager lived, eating and sleeping and all; they ultimately performed in ten different constructed rooms, each room symbolizing a song from the 10-track album. The number ten figures prominently in NewVillager’s self-created mythology, a complex entity that, like Hindu, Greek, or any other cultural mythos, “can’t be summarized in two sentences,” as Simonini puts it: “Our mythology is not really a narrative. NewVillager’s mythology should be understood like art” – in that intuitive, gut-level, gestalt way that art is digested.

At the same time, Simonini acknowledges that serious art talk in the music world is often regarded as pretentious. And he notes with a laugh, “When people hear our ideas first, before our music, they think we must be a noise band, very abstract.”

Instead, NewVillager sculpts widescreen, kaleidoscopic, soul-infused pop – and if you listen to their album without knowing anything about them first, you’d swear you’re hearing a multi-vocalist, multi-instrument, multiracial ensemble. ‘We tried to make the album sound that way,” Simonini says modestly.

When you find out NewVillager is just two guys – two white guys – you’re impressed, if not incredulous. And you figure they must hire a phalanx of singers and musicians to recreate that sound in concert – or at least incorporate a whole lotta recorded tracks.

“No tracks,” says Simonini.

He does add that they’d like to tour with a populous ensemble some day, but that “financially and logistically” it’s not possible. Hiring drummer Palmer, however, made a significant difference in NewVillager’s live sound – and appearance.

“It used to be unruly,” says Simonini, “with just me and a guitar and a foot pedal, and Ben and keyboards and bass and a foot pedal.”

As for the aforementioned human sculpture, that would be one Eric Lister, a friend of Simonini’s since his San Francisco childhood, who’s previously taken part in NewVillager’s art-music happenings. In their current show, Simonini describes, “Eric’s in the center [of the audience], in his ‘Cocoon House’ state” – “Cocoon House” being the leadoff track on NewVillager, whose physical imagery is meant to suggest the gestational phase of an idea.

In fact, as NewVillager’s set begins in the Day-Glo-daubed, patchouli-scented, and cheerfully diminutive music room of Santos Party House, Lister has encased himself in a womblike fabric contraption – “a quilt made of our childhood clothing,” according to Simonini.

When the human sculpture emerges later in NewVillager’s set, those concertgoers who are in the know, but who aren’t in the cocoon’s immediate area, can only imagine the give-and-take that’s surely taking place. Before the show, Simonini said that the addition of Eric the human sculpture gave audience members a chance to interact with “the art aspects of the show;” though the interaction isn’t visible to whole swathes of people.

But if some of NewVillager’s visual-art components worked better in theory than in concert – at least in a bite-sized venue like this – the band pulled off something even more rewarding: just these two guys (plus drummer) recreated every delicious texture and nuance of their sheerly edible album. Simonini and Bromley’s vocals particularly amazed, especially the latter’s supple swoops from baritone rumble to soul-sweet falsetto, as in the stop-start strut of “Rich Doors” – and their harmonies struck a rich and satisfying vein, time and time again.

The end came too soon, literally; New Villager were a few songs short of performing their whole album, ending with an encore rendition of the exhortatory “Lighthouse” – with a genius snippet of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” tossed in.

“We’re always trying new stuff out,” Simonini had said before the show, referring in particular to their live set, and for NewVillager, that includes delving deeper into ways of bringing their audience into the experience.

He noted that concertgoers have lately been showing up at their gigs dressed as characters from NewVillager’s wildly artful videos (viewable at newvillager.com.) At their Philadelphia gig earlier this month, Simonini says they asked the costumed fans to interact with Eric – which they did, leading the human sculpture out of his cocoon.

This got Simonini and Bromley thinking that the myth-clad devotees might be willing to arrange with the band, in advance of a particular concert, to wear certain costumes and perform certain actions in the audience, perhaps cued by verbal or visual signals from the band – so that a continuous action would flow around the room. And all of this would be coordinated by a website Simonini envisions them setting up.
After all, he says, why go to a pop concert – indeed, why listen to pop music at all – “and not want to go deeper?”

Were You There?

Were you at the NewVillager show in NYC? Have you experienced the wonder and pleasure of their live show before? Let us know what you think and we’ll share your story during a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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How Do Women Experience Live Music?

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Massive Scar Era

 

During this episode of Live Fix Radio, we explore how the female brain, body and emotions are impacted by the live music experience. We also spoke with Egyptian hardcore band Massive Scar Era. And after seeing the female-fronted quartet perform live at Obbityfest 2011, Sherine (vocals/guitar) and Nancy (violin) told us about how the revolution in Cairo impacts their music and live show, what lead them to start the band in spite of cultural adversity, and what family struggles they had to overcome to play live and tour.

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Show Notes:

Music from the podcast

“God’s Country” – Ani DiFranco live at Carnegie Hall 4.6.02 (iTunes)

“Nothing” – Massive Scar Era

“Tribute” – Massive Scar Era

Live Music News

During the live music news segment, we talked about U2 and the Blind Guitarist Fan, rap concert riot at NYC, death at Rosklide Festival, hash candy at Electric Forest Festival and more. Read more about these stories in live concert news.

Websites, Articles and Books

During the show, we explored NIDA.com, On the Issues article: Female Music Critics Transcend Fan Culture and Louann Brizendine’s book The Female Brain(Barnes & Noble).

Step Up To The Mic

What do you think about women and live music? Got a question about a topic we talked about during the show? We invite you to share your concert experiences and thoughts about this podcast in the comments below, so they can be included in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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UPDATE: Live Interview with Chicago Rapper Lupe Fiasco on Vocalo.org

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Lupe Fiasco Vocalo
One of my favorite live performances in the last few years was seeing Lupe Fiasco at Lollapalooza in 2008. I had seen him the year before in 2007, and what made Fiasco’s set such a jaw-dropper was witnessing his maturation and evolution as a live performer.
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What Are Woodstock’s Most Important and Surprising Artifacts?

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Bethel Woods Woodstock Festival Experience
Last year Woodstock celebrated its forty year anniversary. And this summer, The Museum at Bethel Woods is inviting all Woodstock attendees and 1960s enthusiasts to be part of preserving history for generations to come.

Without a doubt, Woodstock is a major turning point and defining moment in the history of live music. But what do these newly released artifacts tell us about its legacy and lasting impact on the modern musical festival?

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The Real Story of Live Fix That I Haven’t Told You (Until Now)

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Usually I’m the one asking questions when it comes to live music culture, but this time Frank from Windy City Rock graciously flipped the script on me and asked some good questions about why I started Live Fix, how we mix social media with live music, and what the future looks like for concert fans. And I was surprised by what I had to say about our ambitiously pioneering live concert community.

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Massive Weekly Wrap-Up: Huge News For You!

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massive attack by Reza VaziriSometimes there are concerts that are so big, so huge, so monumentally massive that words can’t describe the impact that they have on fans and bands. Yes, I’ve been to a few concerts like that. And if I were to compare weekly wrap-ups to those mega concert moments, I would say that combining the last two weeks of posts in to one Super Duper Double Bonus Weekly Wrap-up would be pretty damn close to being just like those “big, huge..” life-changing concerts. So you better buckle up and brace yourself, before you click that Read More button.
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Concert Preview: Jakob Dylan At Morton Arboretum

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I often think that where you see a concert is just as important as who’s performing. And this Saturday Jakob Dylan will be playing at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. The venue is primarily a 1,700 acre outdoor museum of trees, shrubs and other plants. And like other unique outdoor music venues, it sounds like it’s the kind of place where a live show can really grow on you.
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Seeing the Light: An Interview with Matisyahu

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matisyahu live fix interivew concert review

Article previously appeared in Popmatters

As you enter the realm of Jewish rapper/reggae artist Matisyahu you quickly discover that his music is designed to simultaneously evoke the heavens and touch the inner most parts of your heart and mind. Since his first album Shake Off the Dust…Arise (2004), his eclectic array of influences—Hasidic faith, love for both reggae and hip-hop culture—has gradually put him on the mainstream radar.

His Live at Stubbs recording in 2005 and Youth in 2006 began generating buzz with both albums eventually going Gold and charting on the Billboard Top 40. But it’s the experience of the rapture of his live show—best captured on Stubbs—that demanded the attention of more listeners. That recording “put him on the preverbal map” while appearances at Lollapalooza and other major festival appearances showed audiences that his live show goes well beyond mere escapism.

Born Matthew Miller, in 1979, Matisyahu grew up in White Plains, New York where he was raised by Reformist Jewish parents. As he continued to practice his Jewish faith, he began to gravitate towards hip-hop and culture while attending Phish concerts in high school and college. Over the last several years, he’s continued to cultivate his uncommon blend of beats, rhymes, and a free-flowing jam-bands aesthetic into a sonic pallet that comes alive during his dynamic live shows. Part mystic, part shaman, he can command an awesome silence via his mighty talent for beat boxing. His goal, however, is not to have all eyes focused on him. He’s aiming to celebrate the occasion of the communal gathering championed by the great Jamaican dancehall toasters and Bob Marley.

It’s been nearly three years since his last album and after several pushed-backed release dates, Light finally dropped this past Fall. However, all delays considered, you could say that the timing was just right because Light’s lead single “One Day” was chosen to be the main anthem to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, with the track also getting a remix featuring platinum R&B artist Akon. But has the wait changed what fans have come to know, love, and expect from Matisyahu?

Fans will be disappointed if they’re expecting to hear the same Matisyahu on Light that they’ve heard on previous albums. He’s never one to keep things the same. And what’s different this time around is that he’s captured more of the live energy you feel on Stubbs. However, track to track, Light doesn’t have the same surreal lifting power of Youth’s or its hit track “King Without a Crown.” But that’s because the story he’s telling is of a different kind. The essence of Matisyahu remains, but what you hear is a new arrangement of pop, indie-rock, and electronic-based rhythms.

While on the road during his recent tour, he explained the reasons for Light’s delay and why this was the longest time he has ever spent making a record. For starters, he didn’t want to make the same record over again. He wanted to keep things fresh and spend the right amount of time to exploring a new songwriting style and vocal styles, switch up his approach to dub, Jewish worship, rock, pop, and hip-hop. It was also time to grow and dive deeper into his Jewish roots to discover the essence of why he makes music and loves to perform it live.

And as our interview unfolded, he told me what happened as he traveled down the road to find the right combination of influences and inspirations to convey a universal message of life, love and peace …

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With each new album it seems like you aim for a new sound and build on the previous ones. What did you do differently when making Light?

The process was different in terms of both music and the lyrics. What I’ve done up until this point lyrically is use stream of conscious mostly. Before I would work with a beat rhythm or melody and then I’d write the lyrics as we’re writing the song or when I’m listening back to it. And that process would be based more on stream of consciousness—kind of how a rapper would write lyrics. Some of my songs tend to be more of a visual trip. Then some songs are more based on a quotation from the Old Testament or The Psalms or Hebrew text. When I’m doing that type of songwriting I take inspiration from what I read versus what I create in my mind.

For each song on Light I was following more of process to develop specific ideas. I spent specific time working with my Teacher who been guiding me in my daily studies of the Torah and other Jewish texts. We started by doing a comparison between different Hasidic takes on godliness and existentialism. That process then led me to create songs based on The Seven Beggars, so each song has its own story that makes up the album’s bigger story. I used that framework as the underlying theme to develop the overall story of the entire record.

There’s not a specific song based on The Seven Beggars, but I started with an idea of from a story I read about two children that get lost in the forest. Then I tried to draw a parallel to a real-life story I heard about two child soldiers who escaped out of the camps and then voyaged across the desert. I took some liberties of that story and started to add my own ideas and mix in my own personal experiences with free association on how I felt.

Working on Light took a longer time because lyrically, I spent extra time in development crafting. So when we started recording I did a lot of revision to the stories [that] I wrote. That was different for me because in the past I just rapped off the top of my head as we worked in the studio.

I also didn’t have just one band that was pushing me in one direction. I was working with a group of different artists leaving much of the musical direction up to me. Whatever was inspiring me at the moment was where the album went. And for the most part it wasn’t reggae this time. It was more staple indie-rock, hip-hop, and electronic. Back in 2007, when I started working on the music, I called up many of my friends and started inviting people over to collaborate and start to make the record. I had a friend help program electronic beats. Then I had my friend and singer-songwriter Trevor Hall come in and help me with the songwriting and singing. From there I brought in a group called Fire Department who practiced downstairs from me. And those guys led me to Soul Live who helped me write “Struggla.” I then started turning my initial sketches into real and complete songs, [leaving] my producer David Kahne to put everything together.

Was it harder to work on songs in that way or was the change in approach a welcomed freshness to recording and producing?

It was cool to work that way. It was different, too. Every record I do is a learning process for how I want to do the next one. I loved working with different people on this one. When I listen to music there’s usually some aspect of that music that I like and that’s what I take and try to bring into my own music. Bringing in other musicians to collaborate with is a good way for me to test out new ways or make music that I might have not discovered on my own. I’m not an expert in instruments, beat programming, or electronics. For some people it’s all about doing it themselves. But for me it’s all about find the people that can help make my vision come true.

I loved working with David because he focuses on the vocal and the emotional range and all the things that can happen with the voice. And then he brings in the music as a support to the vocal performance. And that’s rare in most production because many producers work the other way around where they see the voice as just an afterthought or a secondary element to the music. As a vocalist, I really appreciated working with David. And then on tracks like “So Hi So Lo” or “We Will Walk,“ he knew that bringing in Fishbone was the right fit for that groove and beat.

I’ve seen you grow as a performer and build on the intensity from your first performances like Live at Stubbs or during festivals like Lollapalooza back in 2006. How does your spiritual life as a Hasidic Jew influence your live show and development as a performer? Is there something you actively or consciously do on offstage to make your live performance such a deeply spiritual experience?

There are so many things going on. It’s a holistic process for me during a show. I’m always focusing on the technical aspects of my voice. I try to make my voice do what I want. One big thing I do to improve on each show is to listen back to performances on CD while on tour. That’s something I do as often as possible while on tour. When I listen to the show the night before, most of the time, what I come away with is that I need to be quiet more. That’s such a huge challenge for me. I always need to be quiet more. For some reason, I have this feeling when I get on stage that I’m the centerpiece and that everyone is depending on to take them somewhere.

So each show the goal for me is to create this equal playing field where I’m able to slip out of that mode a bit and be there in the music with everyone else as a listener, creator and participant. I want to create one cohesive vibe. But when I’m on stage I’m constantly pulled out of that mindset, so there’s a big challenge to be quiet and not steer the ship, but let the ship steer itself. And a lot of that idea and mindset does come from my spiritual and regular meditative process offstage.

What do you do to prepare for that type of performance mindset? I imagine getting into that mental state is a very difficult to do night after night.

It’s a combination of practicing it offstage and then onstage during each show. But some nights it doesn’t go the way I want it to, so I try to analyze what happened. I practice daily by actively allowing myself to let go and feel comfortable onstage so I can just listen to and absorb the music. When I listen to the show recording of the previous night, there’s always a point where I’ll ask myself “Why did I feel I needed to fill up that space there and not comfortable with just being quiet? Why couldn’t I just let that musical moment happen why did I feel I needed to control that situation?”

Then there’s the offstage [mindset] that lets me reflect on what I do onstage. And, like I mentioned, the ideas based in the Torah and Jewish teachings give me balance when I take the time to practice them in my life. I take walks and do meditations and get in touch with the quite place within. During those moments of meditation I try to become part of the environment around me.

Do you use any type of guide for your meditations while on tour?

Actually, during the Light tour this will be the first time I’ll be doing specifically planned meditation while on the road. My friend and Teacher who helped co-write on Light will be with me for the next ten days. We’re starting to get in the specific work of Rabbi Nachman. We’re focusing on his book of stories called the Likutey Moharan. We’re going to study the text than turn the text into specific meditations. We’re thinking of taping our conversations and putting them up on the website so people can listen in if they want to.

Your live shows are very communal and deeply spiritual where the crowd seems to all move as one. Are there certain performers or bands that you’ve admired or draw inspiration from to create that type of environment?

Yes, I have a few influences that have all inspired me on different levels or at different points in my career.
First, early on, it was the classic reggae performers. Seeing videos of Bob Marley for the first time was big influence on me. I loved seeing the way he approached the stage and music. He would get so immersed in the music and the moment. I always think of his performance as being very royal. You felt like he was a prince or some kind of a king. It was almost mythic for me watching him. It’s hard to describe or put how I feel into words, but I would say it was like watching and listening to royalty.

Phish was also a big influence. During their show I paid attention to how the lighting wasn’t focused on the band. It made them look very small. Granted they were always playing in arenas, but the band always looked tiny. But somehow the audience looked massive. It was all about the crowd. And the focus wasn’t so much on them as a band as much as it was on the communal experience that was happening, you could feel this energy being the audience no matter where you were. All those things are things I try to bring in to my show in one way or another.

The next influence was Sizzla and other dancehall artists. I loved the way they would hype up the crowd. Those were some of the things I was interesting in the early days. But today I’m not so much interested in creating hype of direct intensity during shows. The final influence I’d have to say is my bass player Stu Brooks who’s also a member of Dub Trio. I saw him play at a hip-hop show playing live rhythms once and I loved watching him move and get into the music. It made me want to scoop him up as my own bass player. I learned a lot about movement from him, too. And I don’t even know if you knows that but I always learn things buy just watching him during shows. And right now Dub Trio is my backing band on tour plus two other players I’ve added to the mix.

In some way or another, I filter all those influences naturally but I don’t premeditate how I’m going to do a show. I just step on to the stage and take it from there. I don’t feel like any one show is the same. I try to go with what I’m getting from the crowd. It’s a balance between the internal and the external. I try to block the audience out at first, then once I’m in my zone, I start to interact with the audience gradually.

You’ve embraced social media platforms like Twitter to engage directly with fans during shows and while traveling on tour. Every artist uses the social platforms and interactive technologies in different ways. You’ve been using it for some time in creative ways to interact with fans. How has social media enhanced the relationship or deepen the connection you have with your audience?

It allows for a controlled interaction. Sometimes when you meet fans at show it’s overwhelming for them and for me. When I have the time I can just pull out my phone and start to read and answer people’s messages. It’s not the deepest interaction you can have. But that’s fine because you’re not going to have that deep connection when you first meet someone anyways. In that type of interactive environment there’s all kinds of cool stuff you can do. It lets you gradually getting to know someone.

For example, we recently got this new technology that allows us to do live streams where I can send out a Twitter message with a link. During a sound-check I’ll start to record and I can read fans’ messages at the same time. Sometimes fans have responded by saying ‘wow, that beat box is really [sick],’ or ‘Matis this is really boring, why are you doing this’ [laughs]. In those situations I can also say back to fans ‘…which way should I hold the camera so it’s better for you to see?’, or ‘what song should I play right now…?’

You mention that you have songs that inspired by children going on metaphorical journeys and being comforted when lost or wandering in the desert. What role does your family play when you’re making music or touring?

Early on my family would tour with me but not right now. For me the music and my family are two separate things. But one of the coolest moments I’ve had recently was with one of my kids. I was having a bit of a rough day while I was recording Light and I was putting my kid to sleep. He surprised me by asking me to sing one of my songs called “So Hi, So Lo” to him. So as I sang the song he started singing along to the lyrics. Then I started to realize that it was a good song because before he said that him, I was like “Okay, you spend so much time writing a song and then you get it out there and you don’t want to deal with it anymore.” Hearing him was sort of an awakening for me as I listened to him sing the lyrics. It was almost soothing for me to hear him. I thought “Wow, this song is really meaningful.” It was a deep moment for me. I realized the song wasn’t just for other people to enjoy. It was a very beautiful moment to have with the two of us.

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The Rhythm Of Playing Live At SXSW Music Festival 2010

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Ask anyone who’s been there before and they’ll tell you that playing and going to SXSW Music Festival is lots of fun. But there’s a little more to it than that. So let’s see how things are going so far at this year’s festival, and see what bands and fans can do to prep for next year.
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