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Interview with Sydney Leigh

Earlier this week, we had the chance to chat with Sydney Leigh, an emerging pop artist who made her way onto our radar. Though Leigh is only fifteen, she is already making a name for herself with an amazing combination of vocal and writing talents.

Originally from the small town of Lake Orion, MI, Leigh balances her musical aspirations with the life of a normal teen — honors classes, learning a second language, and of course making time for friends and family.  Over the course of the interview, we learned a lot about Leigh and the path that brought her to where she is today.

Sean Elliot: Would you say that becoming a musician is your dream or aspiration in life?

Sydney Leigh: Yes, absolutely. I have never had a moment where music hasn’t been at the center of my life. I started taking vocal lessons when I was 5 and have loved it ever since.

Sean Elliot: Has it always been that way for you?

Sydney Leigh: I started writing my own music when I was 10 and that is when I knew being a musician was all I wanted to do. I have never thought about something in my life I would want to be doing other than writing and making music.

Sean Elliot: Do you see yourself more as a performer or a writer, or both?

Sydney Leigh: Definitely both, writing is where I can put my emotions into a song, and write something I am proud of sharing. Performing on the other hand is way more fun, I get to share something I am proud of and have fun doing it.

Sean Elliot: How did you go from taking lessons and writing some of your own music to getting connected with people in the industry and recording your EP in Los Angeles?

Sydney Leigh: I posted videos on YouTube and was scouted by a well connected person in the music industry. From there he helped me by setting up a meeting with a music industry mogul who was able to help me meet the producers I worked with (Nolan Lambroza/Steve Daly) and with co-writers, photographers, and video directors.

Sean Elliot: What was your reaction when they contacted you?

Sydney Leigh: It’s funny because at first I almost deleted the direct message that was sent to my YouTube account. When you have a YouTube account you will receive a lot of spam and people saying that they want to work with you, or can help you “make it”. When I saw this email me and my mom were very timid and apprehensive because we didn’t know who it was or what their real motives were. After several months of talking and finding out what great people they are we were very excited to work with them!

Sean Elliot: Let’s talk music. In Crazy Beautiful, there are a lot of references to light/dark — is there a reason behind this and what was your inspiration for the song?

Sydney Leigh: For “Crazy Beautiful” I wanted to write a song that related to my age group and was fun to listen to but had more to it than just the track. When writing the lyrics me and my co-writer thought about real life experiences in my everyday life and wanted to focus on inspiring people to be confident in who they are. The reference to “light/dark” was a way to use imagery to allow the listener to think of something that would normally be viewed as an opposite like “good times/bad times” and showed how the two can relate to each other and good can come out of bad situations.

Sean Elliot: What was it like shooting the video?

Sydney Leigh: Shooting the music video was so much fun! It was my first real experience of shooting a video. When I was on set it was very surreal because there were tons and tons of people on a set at 2 in the morning just for me and my music. The video was shot for 20 hours straight, it was a lot of work but definitely worth it, especially when it started raining :)

Sean Elliot: That’s crazy! Pretty legit!

Sydney Leigh: Yes! It was very fun!

Sean Elliot: Wrong Way Home is completely different than the other three songs — how did this happen? What was your inspiration?

Sydney Leigh: Wrong Way Home is my favorite song off of the EP, mostly because I am such a sucker for ballads. The EP was very pop, which I love, but a more stripped down powerful song is always my favorite. It’s ironic because I have never actually been in a relationship before so when I was writing this song and recording it I was definitely playing more of a “role”.

Sean Elliot: I definitely agree — it’s a much more powerful song, both because of the piano and the lyrics.

Sean Elliot: Who are some artists that have inspired you?

Sydney Leigh: Christina Aguilera is the reason I started singing, she is my favorite artist of all time. I always mention her but I truly love all of her music! I even know all the lyrics to her Spanish music

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Saturdaze by Starcadian

I felt it necessary to take a listen to Starcadian’s latest, given that I still listen to Sunset Blood on the regular. Something about that album just makes it a great listen, whether it’s been a week or a month since I last heard it. Start to finish, it rocks. And now, Starcadian is back with a new 6 track accompaniment to Sunset Blood.

Saturdaze opens with “Ultralove”, a disco-inspired electronic cruise track. Much of what made Sunset Blood is still alive and well within the confines of this follow-up — this is a good thing. Plenty of guitar work, riffs, and throaty, digital vocals. At five minutes, one would expect the intro to drag on, but it never does. Screaming leads and nice breaks are interspersed throughout, ensuring that this one never lets up.

“Dance or Die” follows, owing its inspiration (theoretically) to the band from which it takes its name. The quirky mix of classical instruments, dance beats, and gothic-styled vocals that made Dance or Die who they were are here in spirit. Though Starcadian has certainly taken some artistic liberties, the 80s heart never ceases to transcend through everything he does.

“Money” is a nod to the marvelously gritty “Pompey Pirate”, with a healthy dose of minimalism (relative to other Starcdian tracks). This tune has some of my favorite synth choices, and really elicits a retro-nostalgia for me. YMMV, depending on when you were born (’82). The beat also managed to remind me of a hard disk error, repeatedly attempting to locate information that just simply does not exist. Obviously, there is a lot of room for interpretation within the album.

“Alien Victory” is what would happen if Top Gun and Life Force had a baby. Rousing and energetic, this is a story of triumph in the face of doom and despair. Plus, it’s got a riff that just won’t quit.

“Entoptica” vies for tops (along with “Ultralove”) for best original track of Starcadian’s latest offering. The pacing is phenomenal and builds a beautiful narrative arc in just a few minutes’ time. The arpeggios made me miss the longer, more cinematic Sunset Blood, but on its own, this album is still not to be missed.

Similarly, the Saturdaze remix of “Heart” made me nostalgic for the original, which is some kind of odd meta in that Sunset Blood is an album built on nostalgia. Weird. At any rate, Starcadian fans will certainly be happy with this latest set of tunes, albeit a bit sad that there simply isn’t more.

That being said, it’s better not to rush things, and I’d rather appreciate a slow trickle of fantastic music from artists like Starcadian in lieu of swaths of rehashed, unimaginative rubbish. You can grab Saturdaze over at Bandcamp for a buck a track.

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Hot Coals Cold Souls by Smoke Season

Though Smoke Season (Gabrielle Wortman and Jason Rosen) formed officially just over a year and a half ago, they have a poise and scope that reflects the maturity of a seasoned group. Perhaps it is for this reason that the pair have garnered acclaim from fans and critics alike following the release of their debut EP Signals last year.

To say that Smoke Season is a mash-up of sorts is a bit of an understatement. Pop, rock, electronic, Americana, and folk elements collide in an inspired way. Things kick off with “Badlands”, which reminded me at times of Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Civil Wars, and a handful of other artists.

Still, despite the influences that are at work in the music of Smoke Season, there is a flavor that is distinctly theirs. “Badlands” is a track with a lot of weight, and Wortman and Rosen push a lot of elements into this five minute journey. At the heart of things, though, is the American Southwest.

The pair switches gears with “Simmer Down”, which feels more inspired by the forward movement than a reflection of the Americana past. Kind of Celtic, with a dose of the 80s, and a hint of Bjork maybe? Smoke Season is certainly advocating for the power of the melting pot with tunes like this.

“Opaque” follows in a similar vein. 80s sounds coupled with modern day production and elements make this one another chronologically diverse piece. Wortman and Rosen impart a bit more focus into this one, however, making it a more emotionally-driven track than the meandering “Simmer Down”. Not without its surprises and twists, though.

Things close with the hidden track “Fools Gold”, easily the most experimental and cinematic of these selections. A warm fuzz echoes throughout, but there is a cool breeze blowing. Though the Southwest is alive and well in much of Smoke Season’s music, this one feels like the desert. Simultaneously hot and cold. A nice trek into the atmospheric.

In all, the winner here for me is “Badlands”. Hands down. Of the three genre cocktails offered up by Wortman and Rosen, this is the most balanced and rewarding. Not to say that there aren’t some really rewarding points in “Simmer Down” and “Opaque”, but “Badlands” is on another level. Powerful and true to the spirit of what makes folk music what it is, I’d love to hear more from these two like this.

EPs are for experimenting, for testing the waters, and for prefacing what’s to come, and with Hot Coals Cold Souls, Smoke Season has done just that, leaving us with four tracks that give us a glimpse into the forward-thinking minds of Wortman and Rosen.

 

 

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Ugly Heroes EP by Ugly Heroes

Another nice drop from the talented artists over at Mello Music Group. Ugly Heroes are Red Pill and Verbal Kent on the vocals and Apollo Brown on the production. Brown, a Michigan native, has built a sizable discography for himself over at Mello. Brown’s Thirty Eight that dropped earlier this year was just one more example of the seemingly limitless production skills this guy has.

Detroit native Red Pill makes up one half of the UH verbal assault, drawing heavily on the struggles and resilience that have made Detroit what it is today. On the other side of the coin, we’ve got Verbal Kent, who has been lyricizing about the many ups and downs of life for the better part of two decades. Kent’s out of Chicago, so this is a true Midwest package.

The first thing that Apollo fans will notice is that there is a pounding pulse to many of these tracks that is absent in other works. The soul-sampled vibe is here, but with a bit more punch. Definitely reminded me of Bink more than once or twice.

Kicking things off, “Legit Worthless” is a gritty look at the issues facing today’s youth. And when I say youth, I’m not talking about today’s teeny-boppers, but the youth of America that isn’t conforming to the standards and premises that have dictated what is to be expected of a “successful” American. The one word that stands out in the entire track — pressure — is exactly what this song is about. The pressure being exerted on an individual, the pressure that builds up inside of that individual, and the resulting release of that pressure.

“Good Things Die” trades the intimacy of “Legit” for something a bit more abstract. The themes are the same, but where “Legit” is experience-based and concrete, “Good Things Die” is all about analogy and the big picture. Though they lay down a lot of life lessons, these guys never sound preachy, which adds to their appeal.

Fellow Mello artist Oddisee contributes production work on “Low Seratonin”, a unique track that definitely switches the flow of this EP up about two thirds in. It’s kind of like eating candy, then eating something sour, then switching back to the sweets. Almost makes you appreciate both tastes just a little bit more than before.

“Me” is a favorite from this EP, with its minimal drum work and focus on lyrics. Really, this is a good analogy for this album as this track features a chorus that is poignant and easy to relate to and understand, and verses that are obviously relevant on a personal level to these guys. Plus, the chord progressions and instrument adsr is solid.

Overall, a quality addition to the Ugly Heroes discography. Between Apollo Brown’s pounding soul beats and the vivid pictures painted by Red Pill and Verbal Kent, almost every one of these tracks is a win. Oddisee’s feature doesn’t fit this puzzle, but manages to heighten the senses nonetheless. A very decent collab from a few of Mello’s hitlisters.

 

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hibernation by Sleep Cycles

[quote]my artist name is sleep cycles and it is me and a guitar and a microphone held between my legs because i lost my stand and some electronics[/quote]

This is how I was introduced to this album. When you get as many e-mail submissions as we do, it takes a special something to make an e-mail stick out. Something like this.

At times, it’s easy to believe that this album is really just a guy sitting on a bed with a guitar and a microphone held between his legs. There’s a lot of lo-fi and simplicity — the kind of simplicity that comes from just siting there and strumming along in your bedroom.

At other times, though, it’s not so easy to believe. Underneath the layer of lackadaisical whimsy that is at the forefront of hibernation, there is a lot of production. Reminds me of Beck in a lot of ways, just not as gritty and beat driven.

“cafe waltz”, the opening track is reminiscent of some more recent Thom Yorke stuff, though a bit more direct and cognizant. The melodies oscillate between melancholy stretches and percolating pops. This track is ultimately more inviting than much of the rest of this EP, so its placement is appropriate.

While the beats aren’t what make these tracks, they are often the icing on the cake. “chump” is fueled by the cyclical acoustic picking, but the dirty drums and triangle are a perfect accomplice. “just a couple” is in a similar vein — the rat-a-tatting of the percussion is a subtle but driving force in this tune.

Earning honors as my personal favorite, “pollen pickers” has the most substance of these eight tracks. Rather than becoming an extension of a concept like many of the other songs on hibernation, “pollen pickers” is a journey. Things work together well, the reverb is subtle, the silences not deafening, the beat submissive. “cafe waltz” lures you in, but this is the one to listen for.

In all, a nice album from Sleep Cycles. hibernation’s intensity isn’t immediately apparent, but is there if you have the ear and patience to find it. This is the kind of intensity that comes from limitations and the nature of expression that they ultimately produce from an artist. Name your price over at Bandcamp.

 

 

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Inbetween by Hold Fast For Now

Inbetween is a nice little follow-up EP for Adelaide-based duo Hold Fast For Now. We first heard from producers Darryl Bennett and David Rogers back in November of ’13 with their eponymous debut. There was a definite worldly energy streaming from the album, and with this five-tracker, Bennett and Rogers are back with more good, ambient vibes.

Things kick off with “Limbo”, which is punctuated throughout by the Morse Code-like tap of a soft synth. Parts are reminiscent of some old school downtempo, but what really makes this track is the cyclical feel of it all. Each instrument manages to loop around, either melodically or rhythmically, in a way that makes it really seem like a limbo of sorts. The track is simultaneously neither thematically bad or good, kind of just resting there, waiting. Nice execution by HFFN here.

“Amnesia” moves into a darker, less defined space. This is a bit more James Blake-esque (album link) than what these guys are used to, but it works for this track. The repetition is especially effective, given the song’s theme. Further, they make great use of silence and simplicity, really accentuating the stellar beat when it finally shines through.

The title track features multi-instrumentalist and singer Florence Lang (album link) on vocals, and is in many ways, the foil to “Amnesia”. What was repetitive is now an echo. What was dark is now lighter, though no less mysterious. “Amnesia” is a song about the past. “Inbetween” is a song about what is yet to come. Having these tracks back to back is really a nice move and, for me, the highlight of the album. Just a great juxtaposition.

The slightly genre-confused but still awesome “Trumps”, follows, deftly playing with tempos and timing en route to a very chill outro. And things close with “Cats and Dogs”, perhaps the most cryptic, staccato, and quirky of these five tracks. This one is laced with hip-hop and as a standalone is tops on this EP.

In short, more great stuff from these guys. And kudos to them for dropping this EP, which feels like it’s just the right length. Honestly, I’d love to see more in the vein of “Cats and Dogs”, but only Bennet and Rogers know where this train is headed. HFFN is graciously offering up Inbetween as a complimentary download over at their site. Get it while it’s hot.