Friday, June 29, 2012

Daytrotter Presents No.1 - The Civil Wars and The Lumineers

There’s a still a few days left to take advantage of Daytrotter’s sweet FREE vinyl membership sign-up campaign. If you sign up for (or gift) an annual membership at a cost of only $24 (that’s only $2 a month), you’ll get the first 12” record in their new Daytrotter Presents series for free! (In the spirit of full disclosure, you still have to pay for shipping.) The deadline for ordering is July 3. 

Billed as Daytrotter Presents No.1, the album will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl and hosts the amazing combination of The Civil Wars on the A side and The Lumineers on the B side. The Civil Wars’ session was recorded in August of last year and The Lumineers’ session was recorded only 2 months later. Here’s the tracklisting for both sides:

The Civil Wars (Side A)
1. Birds of a Feather
2. Disarm
3. C’est La Mort
4. Oh, Henry

The Lumineers (Side B)
1. Flowers In Your Hair
2. Ho Hey
3. The Dead Sea
4. Slow It Down

Not only do you get this killer, limited edition release (they’re only pressing as many as are pre-ordered), you get access to all of the fantastical things that Daytrotter offers on a normal everyday basis. In Daytrotter’s own words, you’ll get “Access to thousands of unique Daytrotter Sessions, unlimited HD streaming to your web browser or mobile device, free session downloads, free live streams of select sessions as they’re being taped, concert videos from Daytrotter’s favorite artists and big discounts on all merch sold in the Daytrotter Store.” Basically, that’s a ton of music from bands you already like, bands you should give a chance and bands you’ll discover you love after you hear their session! It’s a great deal for some amazing music and a super cool physical release thrown in for free.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Divine Fits - "My Love Is Real" (7" single)

Some more new music has made its way out of the Divine Fits camp and this time it's a full song! They are releasing their first single "My Love Is Real" on July 31 and you can stream it now from their Facebook page. You can also pre-order the 7" vinyl single from Merge Records. The B-side will be an exclusive, non-album track called "I Was Born In A Laundromat." Divine Fits is the new electro-pop super trio of Britt Daniel (Spoon), Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) and Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks). Their Nick Launay produced debut album is set for release on Merge later this year. Stay tuned!

Remember, You can keep your eyes and ears out for Divine Fits at the following places:

Twitter: @divinefits

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Welcome Wagon - Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Album Review)

(You can also check out a recent interview I did with Vito Aiuto here.)

While a church pastor and his wife forming a creatively eclectic musical duo specializing in well written originals, sacred songs and secular covers is an interesting enough story, this one’s made even better by the accompanying soundtrack. The Welcome Wagon has just released their second full-length release, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, and they’ve once again tapped in to the unique space they carved out for themselves on their debut album. Their inviting brand of acoustic-based folks songs are rounded out by a variety of horned, stringed and percussive instruments that continually entice the ears without ever being distracting. While some of the instrumental combinations might look odd on paper, the Reverend Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique are able to make them work together beautifully. In fact, more than a few parallels can be drawn between Vito’s musical mindset and his work as a pastor. The same way The Welcome Wagon makes beautiful music with seemingly opposing instrumental pairings, lyrical themes and song structures is the same way Vito approaches the blending of his church and his community. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices is full of songs that level the playing field for everyone involved and holds the door open to anyone who wants to join along. Whether written by an Irish monk in the 600s, a German Jesuit in the 1600s, a moody Englishman in the 1990s or a Brooklyn pastor in the 2010s, each song has an entry point and a connection point tying the album together and tying each listener to each other.

The Welcome Wagon writes in a variety of moods and tempos, but the bulk of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices exists in the folksy, laid-back feel of songs like “Would You Come and See Me in New York” and “Nature’s Goodnight.” Both songs are great examples of one of The Welcome Wagon’s coolest gifts. Their ability to seamlessly blend refreshingly uncluttered acoustic foundations with tastefully ornamental accompaniments is exemplified by the weepy pedal steel on the former and the swaying accordion on the latter. Whether trading off vocals or combining for a sweet duet, Vito and Monique compliment each other in both tone and vibe, creating a unique experience within each song. Their love for liturgical-based lyrics shows up in their own songwriting and in their choice of reimagined hymns, as heard in “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending,” “Draw Nigh” and “The Strife is O’er.” This lyrical bent is also heard in the impressive “My God, My God, Parts 1 & 2,” a two-part medley made up of a Monique-led, lo-fi, choral folk first half and a Vito-led, vintage country-flavored ballad second half. When they’re not covering songs from many centuries ago, their choices still show impeccable musical taste, as evidenced by their takes on The Cure’s “High” and David Crowder’s “Remedy.”

For all the reflective, introspective moments, The Welcome Wagon know how and when to throw a party as well. Whether by coincidence or intention, their community-focused songs are also the up-tempo moments on the album. “I’m Not Fine” opens the album with an inclusive, “we’re all in this thing together” lyric powered by acoustic guitar, big drums and a sweetly jagged, ‘90s college rock guitar solo. “Rice and Beans (But No Beans)” bounces along as a down-home country singalong that trumpets the need to rally around each other during the “miserable soup, slotted spoon” hard times. “God Be With You Til We Meet Again” serves as a nice closing encouragement that also boasts the biggest, melodic moments with its sunshine ‘60s organ, surf guitar electric lines, bubbling bass, dancing drums and Partridge-esque background vocals. Though it’s not the album’s closing track, it certainly captures all the best ingredients that The Welcome Wagon offers in one inviting, fun track of flower power goodness. With Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, The Welcome Wagon has created a beautiful album of really great music and purposeful lyrics that exists within a unique space of creativity and invitation. Precious remedies indeed.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Live After Deaf - Ryan Adams (Live Vinyl Box Set)

Ever the enigmatic troubadour, Ryan Adams has had his fans simultaneously drooling and scratching their heads over the past couple of days with his somewhat vague news of a new release this Friday. On Tuesday, Ryan tweeted, "Live after Deaf. Friday." with a pic of the box set. The title is a clever play on Ryan's return after his 2009 withdrawal from the stage due to his struggle with Meniere's Disease. Apart from the artwork and the fact that you could tell it was a box of something, there wasn't a lot to go on. However, with rumors of a "proper live release" being floated around for quite sometime and Ryan's recent successful tour supporting Ashes & Fire being his first were bootleg recording was actually discouraged, most assumptions were that this was going to be a live release of some kind. On Wednesday night, Ryan tweeted, "moar info? live acoustic. 15 LP's w a download card. 144 tracks on LP + 74 digital only. limited. buy 6/15 @ 1:30pm EST" Well, well, well. That's a lot of amazing music on a lot of wax. While suspicions of a live release were confirmed, I'm not sure anyone was prepared for the enormity of this box set. Not that we should really be surprised since Ryan hasn't exactly shied away from his prolific creative output. The man put out three albums (one being a double album) in 2005 alone. While Live after Deaf looks pretty amazing, it also looks amazingly huge. 15 records and 218 total tracks on a limited release box set for... well, I guess we'll find out Friday afternoon. 

Live after Deaf will be released via Ryan's PAX-AM Records website on Friday, June 15.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shovels & Rope - NoiseTrade Sampler

While most musical duos are steeped in the acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies vein of Simon and Garfunkel and Indigo Girls, there’s still a few duos who exist in the “generates more sound than just two people should be able to” vein of The White Stripes, The Kills and The Black Keys. You can definitely add Shovels & Rope to the latter list. Hailing from Charleston, SC, Shovels & Rope is the combined creative efforts of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, two solo artists who have found a certain type of musical magic together. Their sophomore release, O’ Be Joyful, is set for a July 31 release date and to help bring you up to speed, they’ve compiled an incredible 10-song sampler exclusively for NoiseTrade fans.

Filled with tracks from their debut release and some of their most recent solo albums, this Shovels & Rope sampler is spilling over with great backwoods country-flavored, garage-folk set to the tune of a couple of guitars, some harmonicas and a customized junkyard drum set. Cary Ann and Michael trade off vocals and instruments to create a unique sound that perfectly sells their songs of love gone wrong, deals gone bad, down and out characters, liquor-induced shenanigans and the peculiarities of Southern living. They even have a few songs covering my personal favorites of the country music sub-genres, murder ballads and train songs. No matter the topic though, they seem to sing every line with a sly smile and play each note with a bouncy sway. I love the songs they chose for the sampler and if you want to search out the albums they came from, “Gasoline,” “Boxcar,” “Magdelina” and “Hollowpoint Blues” came from their self-titled debut, “Hell’s Bells,” “The Thread” and “Who’s Gonna Raise These Babies” came from Cary Ann’s solo album Lions and Lambs and “The Winner,” “Bad Luck” and “When I…” came from Michael’s solo album The Winner.

In my opinion, “Bad Luck,” “Hell’s Bells” and “Who’s Gonna Raise These Babies” are great places to start when sampling Shovels & Rope. Cary Ann’s Loretta-like rasp and Michael’s smooth twang sound amazing on their own and when they sing together it gets even better. As Johnny and June, Dolly and Porter, Loretta and Conway and many more have shown us, country music was made for duets and Shovels & Rope continue in that grand tradition. Granted it’s in a more unpolished, ramshackle, distorted bullet-mic vocal kind of way, but it’s still just as beautiful. So go fill you up a mason jar with your favorite beverage, download the sampler and dance along to Shovels & Rope. Also, keep your eyes and ears out for their next album, O’ Be Joyful coming out July 31.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Welcome Wagon - The Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing [EP]

(Just catching up on some posts I did for the NoiseTrade blog.)

While most clergy are known more for their sermons than their songwriting, there's at least one pastor in Brooklyn who's extremely gifted in both areas. The Reverend Thomas Vito Aiuto, heads up The Welcome Wagon with his wife Monique and together, the two have formed an eclectic, folksy duo that combines original songs, hymns and some really tasty covers by the likes of The Smiths and Velvet Underground into a uniquely homespun sonic invitation. Their incredible debut album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was produced by Sufjan Stevens and was released on Asthmatic Kitty Records in 2008. They ended up recording more tracks than they needed for the record and the unreleased tunes ended up coming out the next year as Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, the swanky four song EP they’re offering up here on NoiseTrade.

Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing consists of three sacred standards and a Welcome Wagon original in embryonic demo form. The EP kicks off with “O Christ Our Hope,” a Latin hymn from the 600’s (no that’s not missing a digit, it’s actually from the 7th century) that’s filtered through gorgeous lo-fi electric guitars, bouncy drums, bursts of brass and a cozy choir of friends. The version of “Up on a Mountain” found here is a simple demo of the opening track off of Welcome to the Welcome Wagon that features Vito, Monique and Sufjan sitting around a kitchen table and just letting the song quietly unfold. “I Am Not Skilled” (another reimagined hymn, this time from the 1800’s) revisits the quirky, fun feel of the first track with its tasty drum, horn, guitar, banjo and choir elements. The EP closes out with a gentle take on the popular hymn “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” featuring just Vito and Monique handling all of the vocal, guitar, banjo and keyboard duties. Whether performing as an intimate duo or being supported by a cast of talented friends, Vito and Monique have created something really special with this compelling EP.

The Welcome Wagon will be releasing their new album, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, on June 12 via Asthmatic Kitty. Here's a cool video for the first single, "Would You Come and See Me in New York."

Friday, June 8, 2012

"45" Video - The Gaslight Anthem

Man, if my posts on The Gaslight's Anthem's new album, track list, artwork, tour dates and 7" single for "45" hadn't tipped you off yet, I'm way beyond super excited for Handwritten to come out July 24. Well, to continue the inundation, add a cool new video for "45" to the mix. My love for music videos runs deep and while MTV ain't exactly what she used to be, there's still a ton of cool bands who still appreciate the format and continue creating within it. As most Jersey boys are prone to do (see Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Bon Jovi, etc.), Gaslight has always shown love to their home state and the video for "45" contains more than a few iconic New Jersey references. After the gorgeously gritty opening shots, The Stone Pony (one of the legendary musical meccas) becomes the backdrop for the majority of the video. Catching glimpses of the line out front, the back stage area, the roaring crowd and most importantly, Gaslight blowing up the stage, The Stone Pony was the perfect choice for such a classic, no frills, performance video where the band and their relationship with their fans can take center stage. Gaslight appears to be having a blast doing what they do so well and the fans are definitely having a good time as well. To get the right mixture of shots for the completed video, Gaslight ended up playing a 15 song set for the crowd that day, with multiple repetitions of "45" spliced between some of their other songs. This type of video is a great representation of the things that are most important to Gaslight and with a song as explosive as "45," I have a feeling that Handwritten will be full of similar sentiments.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

SOLA-MI - NEXUS (Album Review)

Over the years, the term “concept album” has gotten a bit of a bad rep. Sure, you’ve got your masterworks like Sgt. Pepper’s and Ziggy Stardust, Pink Floyd and The Who kinda perfected the whole thing with albums like The Wall and Quadrophenia and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral and Jay-Z’s American Gangster were pretty good too. For the most part though, overzealous metal bands and certain pop punk groups have unfortunately devolved the idea with bloated conceptions, weak narratives and pretentious “rock operas.” Along comes an album that seeks to redeem the idea of the unified theme. Along comes an album that conveys diversity within its overall similarity. Along comes an album that transcends its perceived “albumness.” Along comes the NEXUS soundtrack by SOLA-MI. 
According to the SOLA-MI website, they are a self-described “concept band featuring Derek Webb, Josh Moore (Co-producer of Webb’s Stockholm Syndrome and Feedback albums), and Latifah Phillips (of The Autumn Film and Page CXVI), commissioned and inspired by Solomon Mente’s groundbreaking fictional narrative and film, NEXUS.” On the surface, the simple story is that Derek did the writing, Josh did the producing and Latifah did the singing. However, even just one listen through NEXUS will show that such a seamless and complementary collaborative work is far more than just a connect point A to point B and then attach to point C kind of operation. How does a singer properly convey lyrics they didn’t write? How does a living melody truly find its place within programmed beats, synthesized loops and vocal samples? How do you move from the first idea to a completed creative work? When you start asking questions like these, you’re not too terribly far off from being able to delve into some of the questions presented within NEXUS. “Where are you just before you wake from a dream?” “Where are you just before your first breath?”

The concept running through NEXUS is clearly presented in the opening track “Keynote.” The idea of singularity and machine self-actualization is alluded to with vocal samples from the film “Transcendent Man” based on Ray Kurzweil’s opinions and predictions on the future state of technology and machinery. As the voices end up mashing together over singular, bubbling tones, the track runs right into the opening strains of “Mother Mother.” The clever juxtaposition of a mechanized drum beat and what sounds like a heart monitor moving from death to life is a clever touch to convey the idea of a wakening machine. Latifah’s disembodied vocals on “Mother Mother” change back and forth from an echoey, almost robotic delivery to bursts of emotive, melodic flourishes. The last 30 seconds or so of “Mother Mother” sounds like a computer transmission ticked out over an ominous sonic backdrop. It’s thematic and moving to say the least. As the first movement of “The Naming” gurgles in, things start getting even more interesting. Broken into three sections (“Degustation,” “Certificate” and “Selection”), “The Naming” is a fascinating, mostly instrumental medley within the overall work. “Degustation” is quite active and agitated, “Certificate” is both breathy and punctuated and “Selection” is like an atmospheric announcement. As an added note of interest, “Certificate” features a cool sample of the song “New” by one of Derek’s talented friends, singer/songwriter Kate York.

As the album continues, “Crowd of Silent Strangers” implies the initial struggles faced once awake and features Latifah’s amazing vocals conveying the lonely observations, “this meaning is so meaningless” and “this feeling is so meaningless without you.” I’m pretty sure those lines are meant to be multi-layered and not just specific to the story presented here. There’s some great instrumentation and distorted beats on the outro of this one as well. “The Blessing of Being Bloodless” kicks in next with some really cool patterns and melodic lines. This is one of many downright danceable moments tucked away within NEXUS. There are also some more amazingly weighty lyrics in this one on the ideas of becoming and transforming. “Trust Falling” maintains an overall modern flare while having fun with some decidedly 80s keyboard tones. There are even some handclaps in this one! Who said concept albums can’t be fun? The chorus on “Trust Falling” sounds really incredible and again, the lyrics “I am letting go of everything, I am opening my mouth to sing” poignantly seem to be a little more than meets the ear. Good luck getting this one out of your head anytime soon. NEXUS closes out with “Silver Grizzly,” a rhythmic, airy conclusion that features another huge chorus and more piercing lyrics. As the track fades out, the heart monitor beep from “Mother Mother” returns. However, this time it moves in the more recognizable pulses of life to death, ending the album with the distinctive monotone drone of lifelessness.  

NEXUS achieves what a concept album, and more importantly what a genuine work of art, should. It has a gorgeous story arc, multiple entry points, significant statements, purposeful questions and creative moments that ebb and flow within themselves and within each other. If that all comes across as a little too much or more than you are usually looking for, just know it sounds really cool and has an incredible overall tone to it. No matter the level of depth or surface you choose to interact with NEXUS with, there’s something there for you. However, as good as the album sounds and as impressive as the songs are, the most mind-blowing part of NEXUS is that it is free. That’s right, free. As in, click a button, wait a moment, own an incredible album. You have zero excuses to miss out on this beautiful concept album (that contains an actual concept.)

SOLA-MI’s debut album, the original motion picture soundtrack for NEXUS, can be downloaded for free at
"Trust Falling" - SOLA-MI (NEXUS soundtrack)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Brandi Carlile - Live At Bear Creek (EP Review)

Brandi Carlile has got a new album, Bear Creek, coming out June 5 and to celebrate, she’s put together a cool little EP called Live at Bear Creek for her fans. The EP features alternate takes on three of the new tracks off of her forthcoming album and with Brandi’s powerfully fantastic vocals front and center, this one isn’t to be missed. Live at Bear Creek kicks things off with the bouncy “Hard Way Home,” a country folk singalong that has Brandi sounding like she’s singing through a smile and her long-time collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth sound as amazing as usual on background vocals. The EP closes with the quiet, finger-picked “A Promise To Keep,” showcasing all three voices seamlessly intertwining on the chorus with a gorgeous cello accompaniment to make things sound even more smooth and angelic. As always, in the spirit of full disclosure, this track does have some spicy language on it, so just letting you know. 

For my two cents, the show-stopper on Live at Bear Creek is “That Wasn’t Me,” a piano-led, heart-on-sleeve introspection that asks some tough questions and delivers a stirring resolution. The track is powerful in its simplicity and the Hanseroth twins offer some unbelievably tender, gospel-flavored background vocals as Brandi’s voice hits every emotional tone your heart wants her to. In songwriting, when someone tries their hand at the tricky “lyric switch around on the final chorus” technique, it can usually come off as forced or contrived. As you’ll find out on “That Wasn’t Me,” it absolutely works this time. The personal narrative is built up perfectly and the change from “whatever you see, that wasn’t me” to “whenever that’s what you see, that will be me” hits like a stone fist in a velvet glove. Live at Bear Creek is worth the download for this track alone, but feel free to put your feet up by the fire and stay for the other two as well. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

NEXUS Soundtrack - SOLA-MI (Derek Webb's New Project)

By now, fans of Derek Webb should be used to the unconventional twists and turns he takes in the creation, production and distribution of his music. The reasons we are used to it are because, (1) he is becoming increasingly more imaginative and innovative with them, (2) he intentionally wants to make sure things are not easily digestible or even easily accessible at times and (3) the results always, always, ALWAYS pay off in the end. By taking a look over his last few projects, one can easily see a steady distaste for the "normal" way of doing things. For example, giving away an album in exchange for a few email addresses (Mockingbird), completely revamping his approach to songwriting, musicianship and production (Stockholm Syndrome) and even creating an instrumental worship album based on The Lord's Prayer (Feedback) aren't exactly the way to maintain the musical status quo. But make no mistake about it, Derek isn't just coloring outside of the lines for the sake of being different. In fact, by choosing his own forms of crayons and lines, he has been able to start conversations, stir questions and inspire change, all while actually still creating beautiful art. With his next enthralling project's release looming on the horizon, I wanted to do my small part in helping get the word out. Especially to those who may not have sifted through all of the available info, online scavenger hunts and ridiculously in-depth pre-release shenanigans. So here's the big picture details:

Album: NEXUS (Official Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Band: SOLA-MI (Derek Webb, Josh Moore and Latifah Phillips)

Release: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 00:01 (1 minute after midnight Monday night)
Concept: According to, it was "commissioned and inspired by Solomon Mente’s groundbreaking fictional narrative and film, NEXUS"

Intrigued? As well you should be. Derek and Josh have both proven they've got their hearts, minds and fingers on the pulse of inventive, intelligent electro-pop and Latifah Phillips' incredible voice floats and soars over the beats and loops in a comfortable, confident way. To get somewhat of an idea of what this all sounds like, here's a quick, teaser video from their website with some cool song samplings.

So that's a super quick rundown of the overall umbrella idea of the release. If you also want somewhat of an idea of what NEXUS will be and who Solomon Mente is, you can also check out this hidden video interview from the aforementioned pre-release shenanigans:

For even more background info on what's been happening over the last few months surrounding this release (including but not limited to), tweets needing to be converted to ASCII, pictures of technological advancements with embedded binary codes, images of babies, musical notes, Pinocchio and more hidden in website source coding, hidden videos, coffee shop scavenger hunts, posters with tear-off strips, etc., etc., etc., please check out the hard-working efforts of Jonathan Guenther at his blog:

Stay tuned...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Interview with Vito Aiuto (The Welcome Wagon)

Pastor and musician, husband and wife, folksy acoustics and eclectic orchestration, inward heart and outward life, sacred hymns and 80’s new wave covers; The Welcome Wagon is all about blending together these things and more into comfy cohesions that produce beautiful results. The indie-folk duo comprised of the Reverend Thomas Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique are getting ready to release their sophomore album Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices on June 12 via Asthmatic Kitty Records and if you’ve not yet hopped on The Welcome Wagon, I’d like to (preciously) remedy that.

Here’s the cliff notes… Their stunning debut album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was released in 2008 and was produced by fellow kindred songspirit and longtime friend Sufjan Stevens. This impressive batch of quirky, melodic folk songs perfectly mixed hymns, originals and a few tasty covers into courtly bedfellows. They had a few extra songs leftover from the recording sessions and ended up putting out their Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing EP the next year. This four-song collection continued in the tones and themes of their debut and 100% of the proceeds went to Freeset, a ministry located in Kolkata, India that provides exploited sex workers with the opportunity to start a new life and regain their dignity within their community by learning a new trade and starting “a journey towards healing and wholeness.” Music and ministry, comfy cohesions.

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of interviewing Vito about The Welcome Wagon’s new album, his work as a pastor and the journey that merged those two roles together. I have to say, not only is Vito gracious with his time, he provided me with one of the most honest, well-spoken and thoughtful interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. If you weren’t able to hear his heart enough through his songs, his answers should certainly do the trick.    

Presbyterian pastor by day, alt-folk duo by night. How did this unique combination of roles come to be for you and how do you keep them comfortably existing together?

Vito: On the one hand, it’s not something we planned to have work out like it did, but on the other, these are two things we are passionate about so it makes sense that they are both a big part of our lives.  I love our church and I love being the pastor here and it’s a privilege for us to be able to serve here, and to be served.  But we also love art, we love music and creating things.  Monique is a visual artist, she has been painting and drawing and making stuff since she was a child.  So these are the things that our lives are made up of.  But we are always trying to figure out how much time and effort to give to these things and to balance it all with paying bills and seeing friends and cleaning the house and praying and making dinner.

Part of your story consists of moving from a self-described agnostic to planting Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn and serving as the senior pastor. What led you from point A to B and what have been some of the other influential points along the way for you? 
Vito: That’s been such a long path that it’s hard to identify just a few points that have been the most influential.  While I wasn’t always that involved, the church that I sort of grew up in, First Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Michigan played a huge role in defining who I am.  That’s where I was baptized, and the people took an interest in me and nurtured me and listened to my questions about the Bible, that kind of thing.  There was this family who taught Sunday School, and after church the dad would take me and a bunch of the other kids to play basketball on Sunday afternoons.  Years later when I was trying to sort my life out, I’m sure it was their love and care that ended up influencing me a lot.  So many stories from the Bible that were still banging around in my head, that influenced me a lot.  

Has your co-jobs as pastor and musician been a specific point of connection with your congregation? Has it ever been a point of conflict?
Vito: My view on that is that I’m just supposed to do the things God has called me to do and then God can sort out the rest.  We don’t make our music a focus of our church, and we almost never play there.  Sometimes we do, but our music does not define our church.  God’s love defines our church.  The fact that Jesus got raised from the dead defines our church.  But we just make our music and some of the people from our church like to come see us play, some of the people in our church play with us.  Others don’t care much about it.  But I try not to worry about it too much.  I just want to be a faithful pastor here, and I also want to try to make strong, beautiful music that people enjoy. 

As someone who has gotten some strange looks when I mention actually enjoying working with my wife, I love the fact that you and your wife Monique work together and create music together. What are some of the key things that help make that successful for you guys and what are some things you have to watch out for?  Vito: Whoa!  It can be a pretty difficult process, but it is worth it.  I love working with Monique, and our having band together is an intentional way for us to spend time together and create together.  We both came from artistic disciplines that are pretty solitary.  I’ve written poetry and she is a visual artist, and when you do those things you’re almost always working alone.  Making music allows us to work with each other, and with other people, and we like that.  Music is also usually enjoyed in a more communal way than poetry or visual art, and that’s something we like being a part of.

But having come from these solitary disciplines, it’s hard to then cede control to someone else when you make something.  So we have to watch out for pride, and we have to watch out for a desire to control things.  When I write a poem, I get to say where all the commas  and line-breaks go, I get to do whatever I want.  But when I write a song and bring it to Monique, it introduces this opportunity for conflict.  It’s a great opportunity for collaboration and compassion and generosity, too.  But it takes God’s help.

Having your debut album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, be produced by Sufjan Stevens and be released on Asthmatic Kitty, a label known for its championing of creativity and artistic freedom, is kind of a grand slam at your first at bat kind of opportunity. What did it mean to have the support of Sufjan and Asthmatic Kitty at such an early stage in your musical career?    
Vito: Well, first and foremost Sufjan is a friend of ours.  When we were making our first record it wasn’t as if we thought, “Which big-name producer can we work with?”  God just knit our lives together, and we were friends long before he even released Michigan or Illinois, and we started working on music together because it was a good way to spend time together.  Having a project is great context in which to build a friendship.  I remember when I was little, my dad and his friends, they would always be roofing each others houses, re-wiring each other’s houses.  They’d bring a case a beer over and someone would make food and they’d get this project done.  That’s kind of how we made the first record.

Having said that, having Sufjan’s support and getting to be on Asthmatic Kitty Records is one of the greatest blessings of our life. The label has been sort of unreasonably supportive and generous.  Sufjan is incredibly humble, and he’ll do just about anything for you.  He gave himself in a really generous way to our first record.  He’s helped us move about three times.  He’s very diligent.  He’s very good at schlepping boxes.  

Welcome to the Welcome Wagon was recorded over an 8-year span and your new album, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, was recorded in 5 days. What were some of the main differences within the two recording processes and were there any similarities?
Vito: Well, to be honest, Precious Remedies took longer than five days.  But all of the basic tracks were recorded in five days, and it was part of our ethos for this record to try and get it all down quickly, and let the limitations of time define some of what the record would be.  

For an acoustic guitar-led vocal duo, your songs are enhanced by a variety of ornamental instrumentation including banjo, horns, piano, electric guitar, harmonica, drums and more. Do you hear additional orchestrations in your head while writing/arranging your songs or are they just created naturally while recording? 
Vito: I’ve started hearing those arrangements in my head.  I didn’t always.  But I think I learned a lot of that from Sufjan.  He wrote a majority of the arrangements for the first record, and it was really instructive to see what he did to the songs we gave him.  When I started writing the songs for this record, I tried to begin to build things in my mind.  For a long time, I had 4-5 songs from the new record that I would play in my head while I was in the shower.  This is before they were recorded, and I was trying to imagine how they would sound.  And it was like there was a tape of them in my head and I’d play them and I’d try things out.  I’d add a horn part or I’d add a choir part and I’d sort of listen to it.  And if I liked it, then it sort of stayed on the tape in my head.  It was like ProTools in my brain.

But some of what you hear comes from the musicians we work with.  On this record, and on the last one, oftentimes I would go to our guitar player or our bass player or whoever and say, “I think this kind of thing would sound good, but I want you to bring what sounds good to you.”  Sometimes I would have a very specific part I’d want people to play and I’d say, “Play it just like this”, or “Play this counter-melody.”  But just as often we let people go where they felt led to go.

Your original songs fit perfectly, lyrically and thematically, alongside the hymns and sacred songs you cover. Do you feel an intentional drive to modernize these traditional songs and also to add your own new ones to the lot?
Vito: In terms of the lyrics and themes, I’m really only interested in writing songs about God and faith and doubt and relationships and how hard it is to love and how great it is.  I only want to write about important things.  So the songs I write match up with the hymns we cover because the content is the same.  But for any covers we do of hymns or other songs, I never feel like I am trying to “modernize” them.  I just want them to sound good.

Speaking of cover songs, in my personal opinion your taste is absolutely impeccable! What inspired you to reinterpret “Half A Person” (The Smiths), “Jesus” (Velvet Underground) and “Sold! To The Nice Rich Man” (Danielson Famile) on your first album and “High” (The Cure) and “Remedy” (David Crowder Band) on your new one?

Vito: Each of those songs came about for different reasons.  I’m not sure there is a common thread.  We ended up covering, “Rich Man” the way we did because I love the original, but I couldn’t figure out how to play it like the Danielson Famile does.  We covered, “Remedy” after David Crowder invited us to play a festival he put on in Waco, TX, and he just blew us away with his kindness and thoughtfulness.  I wanted to cover, “Half a Person” because I think the chord changes are so crazy.

The title of your new album, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, is based on a book written by Thomas Brooks in the 17th century. What is the correlation between the two and what do you hope listeners will draw from it?  
Vito: I’ve read that book on and off for years.  Sometimes it’s gone right over my head and other times it’s been really helpful.  It’s this devotional manual that is sort of like a spiritual how-to book.  It’s really practical, but it’s also really deep.  The whole thing is made up of these scenarios the author gives, like, “OK, if you are being tempted to believe God doesn’t love you, here are 6 remedies to consider for this spiritual ailment”, and then he gives 6 different thoughts on why we can know and believe that God loves us.  He’s basically saying that a failure to see how good God is and how much he cares for us is a sickness that needs a cure  Or he’ll give an analysis of what Satan does to attack us, he’ll say, “Here is how Satan tries to convince you that it’s just fine to ignore people in need around you, or ignore praying to God”, or whatever.  And then he’ll point you to these remedies from the Bible.

I’m not sure that our record has the same kind of value as that book.  Maybe it’s not greater or lesser, but it’s different for sure.  But we’re operating on the premise that we all have broken hearts and that we all need God’s presence and power in our lives, and we hope that our music might one way that God will help heal us.  

"Oh Christ, Our Hope" - The Welcome Wagon (Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing EP)