What's On The Hi-Fi Talks To...Jenn Grant

Recently, we caught-up with Jenn Grant, whose world is suddenly bustling with the release of her album Echoes released earlier this month on Six Shooter Records.  The Halifax, Nova Scotia - based singer / songwriter is riding a comet of well-deserved buzz which has landed her a showcase spot during Grammy Week in Los Angeles. Often departing from the whimsical and dreamy sound of her debut release, Orchestra for the Moon, Jenn's new release highlights her growing confidence as a songwriter. Moreover, the analog recording and mixing of the album provides her with the perfect platform to explore the natural brilliance and warmth of her voice and renders the songs all the more intimate and immediate. With her stellar sophomore effort, Jenn is ready to reach a broader audience, ensuring that she will no longer be one of Halifax’s best-kept secrets.

Could you tell us a bit how you approached making the new album Echoes?
When we were ready to record, the band and I met at an analog studio at a farm in Ontario. They learned the songs in the studio, and we recorded them live just after we came up with what felt right, so that the magical feeling of making music would remain.

The recording and mixing of Echoes was all done on analogue, lending the recording a particular depth and warmth. Was this part of the overall view of the new album?
Yes, the analog process was an important part of the making of Echoes. I really wanted it to feel less treated and more organic than any recording experience I'd had to date.

ou grew up on Prince Edward Island (eastern Canada) and later moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. How do these places shape your songwriting / music?
Always having lived close to the ocean, I have a very beautiful outlook on how the world can be. I crave open spaces and skies, and when I write, these are the kind of places I sometimes like to include in my writing.

You will be performing at the Grammy Week showcase this week in Los Angeles amid a growing buzz around Echoes. Are you having a great time?
I am having a great time! LA was amazing. That is a city I love. It was great to go to the beach and to perform at such a glamorous event. I am feeling very lucky for my life these days.

You are about to head out on tour for a few dates in Canada and then to England with Kevin Hearn (including 25 February @ the Macbeth in London and 27 February in Brighton (venue to be announced)). You are then back to play at SXSW on 19 March as part of the Six Shooter Records showcase. Are you ready to set out in support of Echoes? Any chance of a tour in the rest of Europe later in the year?
I hope so! I love Europe and my some of my best friends even live in England. I'm hoping to head over to France again as I really loved it when I toured there before with The Heavy Blinkers.

What’s on your hi-fi at the moment?
I love Fleet Foxes. I love the way it sounds. And I've always loved Radiohead, Wilco, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Jeff Buckley . . . to name just a few.

Jenn Grant (Official) | MySpace | Six Shooter Records

What's On The Hi-Fi...The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion
Self-Produced (January 2009)
Download: “Evacuate”
The Boxer Rebellion’s debut album Exits garnered justified critical success and led to slots opening for the likes of Keane and the Killers. In May of 2005 their label Poptones dropped the band. The band forged on and financed their own gigs, music production and enjoyed opening spots for Lenny Kravitz and Gary Numan.

With the release of their self-funded second album Union to the world in January 2009 the band have used their unencumbered status to craft a remarkable album that harkens back to early U2, Coldplay and The Doves.

From the first few bars of “Flashing Red Light Means Go” with its driving drum by Piers Hewitt and the sweet honey-tined voice of Nathan Nicholson you are drawn into a sweeping, glorious album. And make no mistake it is a full body of an album. One that is hard to find nowadays.

Much like U2 you can hear standout contributions from the whole band. Lead guitarist Todd Howe’s licks howl and wail in the wind, buoyed by Adam Harrison’s rock steady bass playing. Its American Nathan Nicholson and drummer Piers Hewitt who make you fall in love with the album. Nicholson’s vocals are inspired and you can’t help but feel Hewitt’s power on every beat.

Right now the album is available exclusively through iTunes and the lead single “Evacuate” peaked just behind King’s of Leon on the UK iTunes chart.

Call me hyperbolic but I could say now that this will be one of What’s On The Hi-Fi’s albums of the year come December. And we will definitely be watching out for The Boxer Rebellion for years to come.

The Boxer Rebellion (Official) | MySpace

What's On The Hi-Fi Talks To...Horse Feathers

Without hesitation, Horse Feathers’ second album House With No Home is one of our favorite releases of 2008. The group is led by Idaho-native / Portland-based Justin Ringle, who sings, writes and plays guitar, and he is joined by brother/ sister Peter and Heather Broderick on strings and vocals.

Justin writes songs which are delicately crafted and nuanced -- songs which on first blush may simply appear sparse until they build only fleetingly before (and often suddenly) disappearing. The tracks “Curs in the Weeds”, “Working Poor” and “Road to Ruin” are stand-outs of this ebb and flow style, each song slowly growing, layered carefully with textures of cello, strings and vocal harmonies. Other tracks like “This is What” and “Albina” bound along, pausing briefly, at a pizzicato clip. And suspended over it all are Justin’s vaguely weary and haunting melodies.

Horse Feathers has succeeded in creating an album which is best enjoyed as a whole, allowing Justin and his band to tell, in their time, their uniquely evocative and melancholy tale.

Justin talks with What’s On The Hi-Fi about the band’s new release, the move to Kill Rock Stars and his upcoming tour dates in Europe.

The overall sound of House With No Home appears to be more sweeping and broad than that of Horse Feather’s debut album Words Are Dead (2006). Could you tell us how the group’s sound has developed and how you approached the new album?
It was kind of a natural progression in a way from the first record. I really wanted to flesh out this record with more orchestration to fill in some of the spaces in arrangement from Words Are Dead. I had started playing with Heather Broderick since the first record and by having the cello being more of a consistent voice in the record certainly added to the broad sound you are talking about.

Could you tell us about the move to Kill Rock Stars (renowned Northwest US independent record label, notably home to some of the best 90’s underground indie / punk releases from the likes of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney)?
It is kind of a dream come true. I still pinch myself thinking that I really couldn't be on the same label that had put out so many great records that I had listened to growing up. I am originally from Idaho, and I was always keen on all of the Northwest regions labels since I was a teenager. It's kind of a home town pride thing especially now that Kill Rock Stars is based out of Portland. I really respect them and what they do.

Where does Horse Feathers’ music come from? What are your influences?
I don't really know precisely where it comes from. I pick up a guitar, and I sing and put ideas together. I play with accompaniment. In between those things, I swear it comes out from the blue. Past experiences and fictional accounts of different situations are usually my starting points.

I have definitely been influenced by geography, and I think where I live sneaks into the music on an emotional level. The Pacific Northwest isn't necessarily the brightest place, and for me that has had an effect on the music I write. I love words too . . . the way they can have such an impact as single ideas in a song interests me. Poetry has been influential for me as well, particularly, in how it can focus on the aesthetic function of language and words.

Your songwriting often takes on weighty themes, which sometimes only seem to reveal themselves upon closer listen, such as betrayal and alienation (“Curs in the Weeds” speaks of familial alienation; “Working Poor” which begins with the opening lines “We are young, we are weak / just as blank as we are bleak”). Could you tell us about your choice of subject matter and how you approach songwriting / arranging?

I try to put myself inside subjects and themes that draw me in emotionally. They are just ideas and threads of stories that make me feel something. I am just putting those feelings into the form of a song and not much more than that. Some things are autobiographical but in a round about way. I take memories and experiences and try to twist them around until I feel like there is something there on a visceral level that expresses something. If people relate to it and can somehow make it something subjective, in the end it makes it that much better, but I don't think about that while I am working on songs.

Have you been surprised at all by the critical and popular reception of House With No Home?
I have always been surprised by the reception of both of the records. When you take songs that you have written in your room and then put them out there, when people like it, yeah, it always feels surprising. I am glad people enjoy the music.

You are about to head out on tour for several dates in France, the UK and Belgium (including, La Maroquinerie in Paris on 24 February and The Luminaire in London on 2 March). You have been out touring for a while now -- are these the first dates for Horse Feathers in Europe? How did the European leg of the tour come together? Any stops that you are particularly looking forward to?
We did some UK dates this fall with Jose Gonzalez and one show in Brussels. I am really excited to do more continental dates this time around and to go to more places in the UK as well. I am excited for all of it really!

What’s on your hi-fi at the moment?
Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers
Neil Young’s On the Beach
Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger
I have been listening to the old stuff lately . . . .

MySpace | Kill Rock Stars

Sexy Liela And Her Fops

The Duke Spirit with the Mobius Band supporting
Music Hall of Williamsburg, NYC
16 February 2009

On President’s Day, What’s On The Hi-Fi had another night in Brooklyn at the always great Music Hall. It felt like most of the crowd was there to support the Mobius Band (Brooklyn natives) who didn’t hold their own from my perch at the bar. Once I slinked to the floor for a gander of these boys, the feeling was a little brighter but I still don’t think the tinker-toy screwing about with Casio keyboards makes for good music. It’s interesting in print but a blight to the ear.

Now as for The Duke Spirit, it is safe to say that Liela Moss is one of the best, undiscovered front people out there right now. She rolls and hangs on the mic stand with equal thunder and abandon. She leans like a sexual awning closing in on you and then drags the mic stand around stage like she was in a stadium opening for the Who. She shines on the bands two best songs “Lassoo” and “The Step And The Walk.” I kept thinking how much I missed the tambourine playing rocker and then she broke some decent blues harp. Now, here is the downside. Ms. Moss would do well to dump the band of sad-sacks that back her. The lack of light they brought was a black hole sucking the life away from this star on the rise. If they get to your town go and drink your beer. Liela’s got that bottle hiding behind her like the hyperion she is.

What's On The Hi-Fi...The BPA

The Brighton Port Authority
I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
Southern Fried Records (February 2009)

Download: “Island”

Seems every-time we are about to forget about Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) he creates a new window in your house. On The BPA’s I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat, he does that and more with help from such varied help as David Byrne, Iggy Pop, Dizzee Rascal, Pete York and Martha Wainwright. Although the cast he surrounds himself with fly from one end of the room to the other ripping off ambient sweetness to punk-pop ska and 60’s era Motown soul the whole quality and catchiness of the songs make for really a fun listen.

There are highlights from everyone. iggy Pop’s “He’s Frank” wriggles and purrs like the coolest of cats. Wainwright’s ska tinged “Spade” felt like Dolly Parton in Kingston missing a lover. And of course who could forget the odd pairing of Byrne and London two-stepper Dizzee Rascal on “Toe Jam.” What makes the album so good is that its held together by fresh new sounds and samples provide by the truly underrated Cook. Get this album now! Try it on your friends. You will hear it back from them after their independent discovery a few months later and you can remember its tough to be a musichead!

The Brighton Port Authority (Official) | MySpace

What’s On The Hi-FI…Sin Fang Bous

Sin Fang Bous
Morr Music / Kimi Records (December 2008)

Download: “Catch the Light”

Sin Fang Bous, is the solo project of Rekjavik’s Sindri Mar Sigfusson, vocalist of the folk-pop collective Seabear.

In keeping with the quirkiness of many of his more well-known compatriots, the name of Sin’s project is said to be an invented muddle of a truncated version of his name, his teeth and the way his music sounds. Bless.

Clangour sees Sin sidling away from the mellow, folk-inspired sounds of Seabear to having a whale of time experimenting with all kinds of electronic and organic sounds. Gone are the compromises (and the shared accountability) of the group dynamic.

The result is an intricate and playful mix of often dense layers and electronic snippets, held together by Sin’s uplifting vocals and catchy refrains. The songs evoke images plucked from a child’s imagination, from the rhythm of cowboys on horseback (“Catch the Light”) to the twists and turns of a gripping whodunit (“Poirot”) -- all lovingly and patiently cobbled together in his dad’s basement.

The video for the first release from the album is for the track “Advent in Ives Garden”, directed by animator Kjartan þór Trainer.