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All posts for the month October, 2016

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By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

A great perk to following a local music scene is the undoubted authenticity of hungry musicians. At nearly every turn, in every local venue, there are new and unique artists, experimenting with the future or improving on the past. Those who put in the blood, sweat and tears, especially while maintaining a family and a day job, is nothing short of impressive. But it’s the passion that keeps the scene alive.

Such passion can be unlocked in the music of Spy Convention. As one of the Valley’s most intriguing newcomers, Spy Convention consist of two local doctors, Asif Khan and Zafar Sheik, who, by near accident, decided to take their passion for music to the next level.

“We met by chance at a school function for our kids about 3 years ago, and one day Zafar came over with his family,” said Khan. “There was a guitar sitting in the house, he picked it up and started singing. I was totally impressed and shocked! I had no idea he could sing. We only started writing together in January of 2015, and wrote ‘You Are Not Alone.'”

Featuring a refreshing blend of Post-Punk and early Goth/Darkwave, tracks like “Baltimore” and “Gravity” channel The Psychedelic Furs and Echo and The Bunnymen, while “You Are Not Alone” hints at Interpol’s more updated Indie sensibilities.

With their first batch of singles, Khan and Sheik carve out a unique sound that’s both reminiscent of the past yet feels like the present.

“We both have influences that are quite varied. However, we think everybody has a connection with the music they grew up with and, being of a certain age, that 80s sound resonates with us. It’s kind of in our minds so it naturally comes out in the songwriting process,” said Khan.

Khan indicated that both Indie and Alternative music have both played a crucial role in their musical development.

“As fans of music in general, we have a tendency to search out new music, and there’s always lots of great music being made. We’re fans of indie and alternative bands so all those sounds we’ve heard from the 80s to the present is just a part of us,” said Khan.

With the music of Spy Convention relying heavily on atmosphere, covering such music depth as a duo can get tricky. However, Khan said that both him and Sheik have found a rhythm to crafting their sonic structures.

“We do everything ourselves, drums, guitar and bass primarily by me, and vocals synth by Zafar,” Khan explained. ” Zafar writes the music and lyrics as an idea for a song. We get together and start throwing more ideas out, very simple piano lines for example, and it starts to blossom from there. Our approach is to layer instruments together to get a full sound.”

He also indicated that it’s important to be their own worst critic and to keep it honest in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

“Occasionally we will scrap an entire song and start over if need be. This happens rarely but needs to be done if we don’t like it. We also made it a point to criticize without any ego involved. If something is horrible, we say it,” said Khan.

Asif Khan of Spy Convention. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Zafar Sheik of Spy Convention. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

He added that most importantly, they have to be having true fun in order to keep it worthy of their efforts.

“We started the project first as a diversion with no real expectations. We still really don’t have any expectations. It’s fun, and ZERO pressure. We have kids and lives that demand our attention, so music is purely an escape,” he said.

With the Post Punk Revival of the last decade or so, artists as diverse as Interpol, The Killers and Death From Above 1979, along with relative newcomers like Cloud Nothings, Health and Soft Kill, have in their own unique way, channeled the likes of 80s greats such as The Cure and Joy Division, but have expanded on those ideas to varying levels of success, both artistically and commercially. Spy Convention have focused on, if not perfected, the atmosphere of the era while giving it a new spirit.

Khan said it’s the impact of the song that transcends both genre and era.

“It’s not a style or genre necessarily, but the song itself. If you connect with the song, that’s what really matters,” Khan said. “We both love Interpol and The Killers. We don’t really focus on longevity of bands, but we appreciate the song. The song is what stands the test of time. There have been one-hit wonder bands and everyone latches on to it because it’s a great song. Nothing else, more or less.”

He explained too that what he found in the music that inspires him also had the ability to move him, and that good music lasts because of its ability to do so.

“What is it about that music that connects with people? Maybe it’s the simplicity of the music, like the driving bass line, or a well written vocal line that allows everyone to participate, sing along. Was it the production? It could have been current events. It’s hard to say, but for a song to move millions of people is quite amazing, and powerful,” he said.

Heading into 2017, Spy Convention looks to hit the stage, and is currently in the process of auditioning live members to round out a live lineup.

“We have desires to play live and are currently auditioning musicians,” said Khan. “Ideally, we’d love to play live in 2017; we’ll see what happens. We aren’t looking for much, but all the attention is great. We are grateful people like the songs and we’ll just keep writing as long as we can and have fun doing it.”

A full-length release is in the works for the next year as well.

“Our next phase is to complete an album of 7-10 songs,” said Khan.

Spy Convention have released a slew of singles, some of which have been in regular rotation on The Homegrown Show on 93.3 since August 2016. Those tracks, along with a cover of INXS’ “Don’t Change” and Rush’s “Time Stand Still,” can be streamed exclusively on the band’s official Soundcloud page by clicking here.

Mercury's Antennae. Photo Courtesy of the band's Official Facebook page.

                                      Mercury’s Antennae. Photo Courtesy of the band’s Official Facebook page.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

The mid-2010’s have proven to be a very exciting period for Alternative and Indie music. With the Post Punk Revival and Shoegaze Revival in full effect, the lasting influence of these illustrious sub-genres has broken down musical barriers never-before imagined (i.e. the fusing of metal and shoegaze with blackgaze and heavaygaze) and have continued to reach new fans through innovative reinventions that have allowed these sounds to flourish nearly two or three decades after their inception.

That being said, some of the most celebrated musicians of the Shoegaze/Dreampop scene have came together as Mercury’s Antennae!

Originally formed back in 2010, the Projekt Records act consisting of vocalist Dru Delmonico formerly of This Ascension), bassist Cindy  Coulter and multi-instrumentalist Erick Scheid, pull together a healthy combination of whirling Shoegaze guitar, Dreampop atmospheres and a unique ethereal-Goth sensibility reminiscent of This Ascension and classic Projekt acts. After creating a buzz across the West Coast and through the now-thriving Shoegaze Revival scene, Mercury’s Antennae are now ready to hit the studio to lay down their third release.

However, with such a lush and complex sound, it’s almost unfair just to slap any simple label on Mercury’s Antennae, as they really strive to push the boundaries of the music they love. The members weighed in on how they hear these sounds and formulate them into their own unique piece of art.

“I would describe our music as the soundtrack for two lovers in the middle of the ocean,” said Scheid. “Esoteric Shoegaze-Ritual Darkwave and Ambient Electronica with elements of noise, folk and Dreampop. For me personally I always have been drawn to create music that had a sense of space, atmosphere and shifting moods. A sound that is vulnerable, otherworldly, emotional and hopefully thought provoking. It sounds possibly cliché and overused in the adjectives but I guess that’s the truth. And like all artists, what has led me to create music is LIFE itself and all that it is or isn’t… the tension between the light and the dark.”

Delmonico added that the moodiness of bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode helped shape her creative angle.

“Coming of age in Southern California we had two modern rock stations that were pretty big at the time. While I wasn’t exposed to anything super obscure, I started to follow Depeche Mode, The Cure, Ultravox, a lot of so-called New Wave. Then I moved to a small town on the Central Coast where I could only pick up Classic Rock and Top 40. While I liked some of this too I missed the alternative ‘more weird’ stuff and a friend in L.A. would send me mix tapes to keep me up-to-date. I loved the moodiness, the artistic expression, the somewhat hidden aspect, although DM and The Cure both went on to be so big they sold out huge stadiums,” said Delmonico.

Earlier this year, the band released Beneath the Serene, their most sonically developed record to date. The record Beneath the Sereneis full of lush soundscapes and dreamy/ambient textures, yet also includes the somewhat traditional sound structures of popular music.

Beneath The Serene was an exploration into the questioning of all things of Beauty and realizing that Beauty and whatever that definition is, can be illusive and even toxic. Also I was questioning what connection/isolation means to me,” said Scheid.

“Most of the tracks were somewhat in tact by the time I was asked to join the band permanently, although they were largely in demo format,” continued Coulter. “I think as an artist there’s nothing more thrilling than having a blank canvas with which to work to create something that speaks to you and that you want to put out into the world. Erick and Dru have certainly provided me that in inviting me to collaborate with them. Erick has always kind of had the approach of ‘just do what you do.’ I think our arrangement works quite well and am excited at the prospect of making more music together.”

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Despite having an experimental edge sonically, Mercury’s Antennae, and Delmonico in particular, are not afraid to shy away from a good hook to help take a song to a whole new level.

“With Mercury’s Antennae, I feel like drawing out phrases more, repeating more. I think it’s okay to have those ‘pop’ elements, some of the music is genuinely hooky and catchy and it’s great. There have been a couple times with our music though that I have been stumped as to what to do. It’s forced me to sing in new ways and styles that aren’t in my normal comfort zone, which is good for an artist. That’s what happened with the title track Beneath the Serene–nothing was working at all, and it was the last track I had to put vocals to. I’d totally procrastinated ’til the last minute. But somehow something came together and while different  for me vocally, it’s really special,” said Delmonico.

In recent years, bands like True Widow, Nothing and A Place to Bury Strangers have helped bring Shoegaze back onto the scene in a big way. And since 2013, the reformation of genre pioneers like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Lush have only furthered the excitement among fans. However, Mercury’s Antennae, though akin to these movements, are forging their own path regardless of what’s in fashion. Still, they’re happy to see it where it is and believe that there is a real demand for it.

“I don’t feel like Shoegaze ever really went away. But, I think part of it is that the folks that were really into that music back in the day, are a little older now (present company included ;))  and saw those bands when they were popular the first time around. Certainly there’s a desire there now that these bands are reuniting. Couple that with some of the newer Shoegaze bands like The Joy Formidable, Seasurfer, Ringo Deathstarr, Tamaryn, Beach House, and the like, and it’s not too much of a surprise that Shoegaze is getting some new interest from old school fans a and making new ones in the process as well. It’s an exciting time,” said Coulter.

“We are longing to hear music with depth and also with a sense of spaciousness and atmosphere. With all that is changing in this world we desire to hear/witness music that is real and honest again, even if it sounds like clouds in the wind, we all want to be romanticized. At least I do… sonically that is. Shoegaze represents that in lots of ways. Also I think ‘Shoegaze’ music fuses the feminine and masculine in subtle ways and music lovers out there want to embrace that,” added Scheid.

Mercury's Antennae performing live in 2015. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Mercury’s Antennae performing live in 2015.    Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Mercury’s Antennae are part of the unique roster of artists featured on Projekt Records. Owned and operated by Sam Rosenthal, the mastermind behind not only the successful label but the iconic group, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Delmonico recalled working with Rosenthal going all the back to her days with This Ascension.

“I’ve know Sam for years through This Ascension. Projekt was one of the first distributors we worked with and that was hugely beneficial relationship for us; this was before most people were on the web, which is hard to imagine now. Later, Projekt was also our label when he re-issued TA’s catalog after Tess closed. Sam was the first person I thought of when Erick and I started creating our first album. Happily for us he found it interesting, so released it as well as our latest. He’s been super supportive,” said Delmonico.

Despite having the backing from a great label, the music industry is still in a state of limbo, as distributors are often unsure the of the best platform to market their artists. Often times, it’s up to the artists to utilize unique ways to reach fans such as social media and crowd funding, depending on their individual goals.

Delmonico said that despite this disorder, there are more befits to music fans now than ever before.

“I think the changes in the industry have been a dual-edged sword. There is this wonderful openness and access to music now that is unprecedented. Just this morning I discovered John Fryer (Depeche Mode, Love and Rockets, This Mortal Coil, Nine Inch Nails) has an ongoing music project with various vocalists and musicians called Black Needle Noise, and I can listen to them all instantly on Bandcamp. It’s a great time for music fans,” she said.

She also explained that success in the industry can be achieved through hard work and smart/innovative decisions.

“As creators, bands like us were doing better in terms of financial success in the 90s. I think more artists are going to need to take regular and freelance jobs to continue to make music. There is this expectation now that people shouldn’t t have to buy music. Even good friends of mine think this. I’ve known bands signed to major labels that have trouble keeping their bills paid, but also independent artists who can make their living with a successful blend of touring, merchandising, creativity and some good fortune. It’s very hard though,” finished Delmonico.

Mercury’s Antennae just wrap up a slew of dates on the West Coast and are set to work on new material for their next release. Be sure to check back to their official Facebook page for all updates and live dates.

Annihilate performing at Freestock 2016. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

                                                    Annihilate performing at Freestock 2016. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

Since its inception over three decades ago, Hardcore music has utilized extremity to take a stand. Through Hardcore, the voice of a misanthropic youth was given a primal yet intellectual platform, to rage against a society gone mad. And through this blast of angst and energy, a message of hope and empowerment is brought to light.

Such is the tradition of this extreme extension of Punk Rock, a tradition proudly carried forward by the likes of Mahoning Valley’s newest powerhouse, Annihilate!

Annihilate began roughly a year ago as its members began searching for something they just weren’t getting from their previous bands. It wasn’t until these individuals came together and begin making noise, that a clear path was to be set.

“This band is more or less the product of two previous bands breaking apart. It started off as The Event Horizon which only Billy (Russell, vocals) was a part of at the time. One day he messaged me on Facebook telling me he liked my drum covers and that he wanted me to be their new drummer and that was about it,” said drummer Andrew Blose of the band’s formation.

Blose also said that it wasn’t until co-founding member Nick Cavicchi jumped to lead guitar that Annihilate really found it’s stride.

“Nick was actually playing bass with us for a while. It wasn’t until Annihilate that he started playing lead in the band. As ATI we were still having problems with writing music as well as other personal problems between members so we made the decision to let go of one of our guitarists, rewrite all of our songs and change the name to Annihilate. This was when we made the decision to start writing more Hardcore-driven songs,” said Blose.

Of the music of Annihilate, Cavicchi said that it was very akin to the classic Hardcore bands of the 80s, like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys for example, for rallied against the establishment and emphasized the ideas of individuality and empowerment.

“The music we write is in my own opinion pretty true to the OG Punk bands as far as the meaning goes. It’s about staying true to yourself and your friends. It’s pretty much like how Dead Kennedys said ‘fuck you’ to the establishment and the weak-minded people around them. What I think it means to be a Hardcore/Punk band these days is about just being yourself,” explained Cavicchi.

Annihilate vocalist Billy Russell. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

Annihilate vocalist Billy Russell. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

He added that the band is more concerned with it’s message of unity and keeping in step with those who seek it, rather than fame or glory, or the multitude of negativity from those who perpetuate such negativity.

“This band was founded around being friends and playing shows to our friends. Personally, I’m not in this for fame or anything like that. I’m in it to make a stand. I’m in it to write against racism and all the bullshit fascist mentalities people have. If people don’t like how we have songs against racists and weak people who bully people, then they can fuck off,” said Cavicchi.

Interestingly enough, 2016 has proven to be a big year for extreme music, particularly Hardcore. Rightfully so, bands such as Nails and Full of Hell have been in the national spotlight being featured in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone and Vice. The members of Annihilate feel that this is an exciting time indeed to see this music begin to flourish.

“I feel like it is a huge time for extreme music. You see more and more fans of heavier styles of music showing up left and right and it’s a great feeling. We’ve kind of been the ‘black sheep’ of the music scene for decades so it’s definitely awesome that metal is becoming more accepted in our culture. The music we know and create is making a huge impression on people,” said vocalist Billy Russell.

However, they are unsure as to whether or not they would fit in with it completely.

“We don’t really know if we fit into the scene or not. We’ve never really thought about it that way,” said Russell.

“Deciding whether or not we fit into a scene is kind of funny when you think about it,” added bassist Graham Kirk. “The whole rise of Punk rock was based on the idea of not fitting in and that idea stayed true when it evolved into Hardcore. But if the entire Hardcore scene is just a bunch of misfits looking for a purpose then you can count us in.”

Cavicchi explained that although this scene is taking off nationally, and regionally, it’s yet to catch on in their hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.

“Our local scene in Youngstown is not so great for Hardcore music and fans. Regionally it’s alright, but Cleveland is where it seems to shine. Most venues here in Youngstown aren’t the biggest fans of the energy hardcore brings but I can see their angle. Cleveland, on the other hand, is pretty good for bands like us to play. Personally I’d like to see more venues open-minded to Hardcore and Punk bands playing even if the shows get wild. Those are the shows people remember for years,” said Cavicchi.

Annihilate guitarist Nick Cavicchi. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

Annihilate guitarist Nick Cavicchi. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

He also expressed the important of house shows and more DIY situations where the fans can be more directly involved.

“So for me, 2017 should be a year of more bands playing in Youngstown. Hell, even new bands can play house shows and not worry about what people think. Most bands around here are out for personal gain and I want to change that. We should come together and support each other. That too should be a big change made within the next year,” Cavicchi said.

More so than almost any other genre of music, Punk and Hardcore artists have always maintained a direct and somewhat personal relationship with their fans. The members of Annihilate are fully embracive of this practice and utilize social media to its maximum potential.

“Social media is definitely a great tool for gaining more of a following. We have all of these resources like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. at our disposal to connect with people from all around the world. They didn’t have that opportunity before the Internet crawled into the mainstream, so I’d say we’re pretty lucky to be a band in the generation we’re in as far as publicity is concerned. And I think shows should have a huge impression on the audience,” said Blose.

However, they indicate that a strong live show will leave the longest lasting impression on fans above all else.

“You want to captivate them in that moment and have them leave with something that isn’t tangible,” said Blose. “It takes more than standing in one spot and running through the motions to accomplish that. I’ve seen bands play that have impressed the fuck out of me musically, but they had one or two people watching them because they weren’t doing anything. They weren’t moving around, they weren’t interacting with the crowd; they just looked down at what they were playing the whole time and walked off stage when they were done. You’re only as good as you make yourself look.”

“As far as live shows go, I remember playing with Hatebreed and Acacia Strain when I was in Cherry Poppins and talking to Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed. He gave me advice on how to get fans to show more support and what it means to be a part of this scene and what he told me has stuck to me since. He said, ‘I remember playing in front of a crowd of 10 people. Going, setting up and performing, not knowing what is going to happen next, but it didn’t matter what happened next. All we wanted to do was give a message to people that we didn’t give a fuck what people think. Just go out there and make them want more every single fucking time.’ I remember that clearly because that showed me that the bands I look up to have been in the spot we are in and we have the potential of doing something great,” added Russell.

Annihilate has some big plans moving forward into 2017. As of October 2016, they’ve began work with Billy Duganne at Legion Productions on recording their debut EP, which the band hopes to release by year’s end. In the meantime, you can listen to Annihilate’s debut single, “3:15,” by clicking here.