Get to know a little more about acclaimed violinist/dancer Lindsey Stirling in this exclusive NoiseTrade One-on-One Interview where she discusses how she came up with her unique pairing of classical violin with hip-hop and electronica elements, how she started incorporating intricate choreography into her performances, and why her new live DVD Live from London is a fantastic way to experience the full scope of her artistry.
NoiseTrade: What made you first want to incorporate dance into your violin playing? Were you just curious to see if two of your passions could be incorporated together or was it something more intentional?
Lindsey Stirling: When I was preparing to go to collage I competed in a talent competition in order to win scholarship money. There were several violinist, one of which was the best in the state so I decided to fill my routine with charisma. I didn't want to just impress, I wanted to perform, I wanted to entertain. In the beginning it was extremely simple but the audience's reaction was electrifying. I'd never felt so charged and I knew that I'd stumbled upon my passion.
NT: When did you first start mixing your classical violin playing with elements of hip-hop and electronica? Do you remember what caused those first sparks of inspiration?
Stirling: I had gotten burned out on classical music. I just wasn't enjoying the violin anymore so in attempts to reinvigorate my passion, I started to play along with my favorite radio hits and I began to be excited again. After experimenting with different styles I found my sound and started writing.
NT: Is it possible to describe what is going on in your brain when you are simultaneously playing an intricate violin piece and conducting full body choreography?
Stirling: It totally depends on the moment and also how far into the tour we are. Sometimes I'm focused more on making sure my violin playing is precise, other times I'm focusing on my balance as I do a leg extension, there are moments when it am completely tuned in to looking into the eyes of my fans and connecting with the audience and sometimes my mind is just plain wandering and I suddenly am brought back to the fact that "oh my gosh focus, you're in front of 5,000 people."
NT: Do you ever feel that your recorded albums only show a portion of your artistry or are limiting in any way (being that they are only audio)? Do you feel that your new live concert DVD Live from London will help to present the full experience of what you have to offer?
Stirling: I definitely feel like my art is meant to be visual. The music is only half of the painting which is why I love live performing. I love being able to bring the music to life on stage and it's really exciting to have a live DVD that anyone can now experience.
NT: As you prepare to head out on your summer tour at the beginning of August, is there a special moment or two during the show that you are really looking forward to every night from a performance perspective?
Stirling: There are so many moments that I look forward to. There are several moments where the audience definitely gets surprised and every night I look forward to hearing the gasps and applause, and I love seeing the little kids pointing at certain elements in excitement. It makes the show new and fresh every night because I can see it for the first time through the eyes of someone else.
Jesse Harris has made quite a name for himself as a songwriter (even winning a Song of the Year Grammy in the process) for artists like Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, M. Ward and more. However, Harris has amassed quite the catalog as a solo performer over the last two decades as well. In our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, Harris looks back on his SXSW 2015 experience and reveals his favorite shows that he saw during the week’s festivities. He also breaks down some of the diverse influences for his songs on The Secret Sun Sampler and talks about his unique chemistry and years-long musical partnership with Norah Jones.
NoiseTrade: First things first, thanks so much for playing one of our SXSW Day Parties this year! How was your 2015 SXSW experience overall?
Jesse Harris: Rainy but fun. SXSW is such a frenetic environment that it brings out an intensity in the playing which I really enjoy, both as a performer and an audience member.
NT: How did this year’s SXSW festivities compare to years past for you? What sticks out as your most memorable SXSW experience this time around?
Harris: I played more shows. The more the merrier at SXSW. But my favorite thing about festivals is getting to see other bands all in one place. Things that stick out: seeing Thee Oh Sees, Delicate Steve, and Deerhoof, and hanging out on the East side having cold brew coffee at Cuvee.
NT: The Secret Sun Sampler features a handful of your back catalog songs that really showcase the sonic diversity and the seamless genre mix in your songwriting. What musical (and non-musical) inspirations do you find yourself being drawn to that feed into that aural assortment?
Harris: I get a lot of inspiration from the musicians around me. Star Rover influenced the sound and songwriting of this latest album, as well as some new songs I've been writing. In the past few years I've worked with John Zorn a lot as a lyricist. Along the way I've taken a look at how he uses chords in his compositions and I've tried to incorporate some of his tricks.
NT: One of the songs on The Secret Sun Sampler is “Rocking Chairs,” a shuffling ballad that features your oft-returned-to-musical-partner Norah Jones on background vocals. How did you first start collaborating with Jones and how would you describe the unique sonic chemistry you’ve both created together over the years?
Harris: I first met Norah in Denton, Texas when she was a student at UNT studying piano and voice. We became friends and she moved to New York not long after, where we started a group together and played many of the songs on her first album. Frankly, I think it would be hard for anyone not to have musical chemistry with Norah.
NT: “Miyazaki” is another stand out track from The Secret Sun Sampler that showcases the variety in your songwriting. Can you tell us a little about the track’s origin and the inspiration behind the eclectic instrumental?
Harris: Over the years I've written many instrumental songs that have appeared on various albums of mine. I've even recorded a whole album of instrumental music (Cosmo, on Tzadik Records). I wrote "Miyazaki" with a high fever in the midst of a bad flu last year. Each night I would watch a different Miyazaki film, so I named the song after him. Recently in Tokyo my friends took me to the Ghibli museum!
NT: Finally, I’ve always admired the score work you wrote for Ethan Hawke’s 2006 film The Hottest State. Can you describe the different approaches between writing for an album and writing for a film? Also, do you have any personal favorite film scores from other composers?
Harris: That was the only film I've scored and I was incredibly lucky to work with Ethan. He is a true music lover and really knows what he wants. We scored that film mostly with new versions of my songs by a host of celebrated singers. As for the instrumental parts, I emulated the technique in old films of using a recognizable theme repeated over and over in various styles. During the recording, we played while watching the film on a monitor and timed the cues to the picture. I do rue the days of the great film composers and how integral a film's music was to its overall identity. Composers I admire: Nino Rota, John Barry, Lalo Shifrin, and Ennio Morricone.
There’s no question that Third Eye Blind’s current run of shows with Dashboard Confessional has been one of the most buzzed-about tours of the summer. Recently, we got to chat with Third Eye Blind’s frontman Stephan Jenkins about the band’s newest album Dopamine, how the audience response has been to the brand new material, his incredible cover of Beyonce’s “Mine,” and what it will be like to close the tour in the band’s hometown of San Francisco.
NoiseTrade: Your brand new album Dopamine is your first since 2009’s Ursa Major. What’s the band been up to in the last six years?
Stephan Jenkins: First, we spent a good year and a half on tour for Ursa Major. It was our first album to go #1, so that took us all over the place. Then, we changed personnel. We brought Kryz, Alex Kopp, and Alex LeCavalier into the band and it takes a minute to develop real chemistry. But most of the time was really spent by me hemming and hawing over lyric choices. Kind of silly in hindsight, really.
NT: What let you know it was finally time to get back into the studio?
Jenkins: I think it was the excitement over the material and the enthusiasm we've felt from fans when we play festivals.
NT: Dopamine is the second album you guys have released under your own label Mega Collider Records. Was there anything that you learned with Ursa Major that made things any easier the second time around?
Jenkins: No, it's always uniquely hard in it's own way each time. I think though, I've been a lot happier in making this record. So, I had more fun!
NT: Dopamine was released in mid-June and you’ve been touring these new songs since the end of May. What’s the response been like to the Dopamine tracks in the live setting?
Jenkins: Everyone goes off to "Everything is Easy" because it was released early. "Something in You" went over immediately without needing to be heard. Now, towards the end of this run, everyone has the album. So things seem to go seamlessly. We tend to lean towards the more pulsing tracks live, but "Get Me Out of Here" goes off too.
NT: Appropriately enough, you guys are closing the tour with two hometown shows at The Masonic. What’s it like for you guys when you play San Francisco and have you got any surprises in store that you can tease here?
Jenkins: Oh, it's so much pressure and I like it. There are people coming from all over the country to those shows. So we will make the set list accordingly. As for a tease, well... We hope to record a live EP over those two nights.
NT: As a band who has successfully traversed the recording industry boom of the 90s to also find success in the current wild, wild west of today’s music scene, what advice can you offer to new up-and-coming bands that are just getting started?
Jenkins: Develop your intuition about your art and then stick to it. Then you'll have something authentic.
NT: Finally, earlier this year your incredible cover of Beyonce’s “Mine” gained quite a bit of buzz. What’s your approach when crafting a cover song?
Jenkins: When I cover a song, I look for what resonates to me and then I just sing to that. "Mine" is one of my favorites and thank you for your praise of it. I'm glad you like the version. I obviously love the original as well.
Reminisce about this year's SXSW with indie orchestra Mother Falcon in our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. In this exclusive interview you'll also get details about their previous SXSW experiences, their upcoming album Good Luck Have Fun, and their fantastic new music video for "Kid".
NoiseTrade: First off, thanks so much for being a part of our NoiseTrade SXSW Day Parties this year! How was your SXSW experience overall?
Tamir Kalifa: Thanks for having us! That show at the Blackheart was a lot of fun. Overall, we had a great time at the fest, which is par for the course. This was our 6th year as official performers at SXSW, so by now we've got the hang of it.
For the past few years, we've performed at least eight times and this year was no exception. We play the fest like a touring band trying to get the most out of their time in Austin, yet, we get to sleep in our own beds at night. So, the fact that we are local is one of the things that makes our experience unique. For example, most of us have jobs that we need to schedule around. Dusty (Bass) is a chemist that works at a local lab, Matt and Claire Puckett (both play guitar and sing) work at a juice bar, and Evan (pedal steel) is a live sound engineer and had to miss all but one show.
I'm a freelance photographer and ended up working for Esquire Magazine throughout the week. Through a feat of scheduling acrobatics and fast driving, I managed to shoot portraits of Wayne Coyne, Will Butler, Shakey Graves, Hippocampus, John Legend and Snoop Dogg without missing a single show. I cut it pretty close though - on two occasions I hopped on stage five minutes before the set started. Regardless of whether one holds down a job during the week or not, I think everyone in the band would agree that SXSW is a marathon.
NT: How did this year’s SXSW festivities compare to years past for you guys? What sticks out as your most memorable SXSW experience this time around?
Kalifa: Like running a marathon, playing at least eight shows in six days doesn't really get easier. You just learn to anticipate what is going to happen, plan accordingly, and brace yourself. Last year, we went way too hard. Mother Falcon played 10 shows as a band, a majority of us played an additional five shows as the backup band for our friend Kelly Pratt and his solo project "Bright Moments," and about half of that number played a single show with local band "Sip Sip." That put most of us, myself included, at 16. I think Sterling (tenor sax) won the gold medal: he played all of these shows and more, putting him at a whopping 22 shows. This year we only played eight times, which gave us a chance to actually enjoy the festival.
As far as memorable experiences go...For the past few years, Mother Falcon has kicked off SXSW by curating a show full of our friends' bands and bands we hope to become friends with. Last year we gave it an official name: All the Friends Ball. The idea is to get as many friends to play on a bill as possible. We invite our Austin homies, who we've played shows with and known for years, and invite bands we've toured with or met on the road. We also invite people whose music we love or are curious to hear. This year we had music on three separate stages from 35 bands including two Pakistani bands playing traditional music, a folk quintet from Alaska, a Sun Ra-style arkestra and every other genre imaginable. Seeing four traditionally-dressed Pakistani musicians sitting on the stage and performing inside at Empire Control Room, then walking outside to hear our friend Gina Chavez play incendiary Latin jams made me feel incredibly lucky to know all of these badass musicians and to live in the fine city of Austin, TX.
NT: You also shot an incredible music video for “Kid” that doesn’t seem like it was a very easy, laid-back process for co-lead singer Claire Puckett. How did you all conceive of the idea for the video and how did you convince her to go along with those underwater takes and cricket-covered scenes?
Kalifa: The music video for “Kid” was conceived as a meditation on the near-death experience that Claire had as a child. In the song she reflects on coming face-to-face with death and, later on that same day, killing crickets in the hallway with her friends. That cognitive dissonance that resulted from thinking about the fragility of life followed by casually killing crickets inspired the imagery for the video. Our goal was to create a feeling and evoke a visceral reaction rather than pursue a more literal narrative.
Believe it or not, Claire didn't really need much convincing to do any of this. She was totally game and enthusiastic from the beginning. I believe that because it’s an interpretation of her story, she was willing to put herself in more physically demanding circumstances to raise the level of emotional intensity. It also helped that the whole project was produced in-house. Matt Puckett and I came up with the idea, I directed, shot, and edited it, and band members and close friends stepped up as crew members.
Claire and I have known each other for seven years, so there was an element of trust and comfort that streamlined the process. Plus, for every scene that Claire is underwater, I'm in there with her. We did a handful of takes with the live crickets and after each shot, the crew had to run around the room catching and returning them to the bag so we could reuse them and avoid causing an infestation in our friend's studio. It was definitely a shared discomfort (that Claire bore the brunt of) but I don't think the video would be as effective if we didn't deliberately put ourselves in these gnarly situations.
NT: Along with “Kid,” Mother Falcon Summer Sampler also includes tracks from your previous albums and an extended version of “Waltz” that’s exclusive to this release. What inspired you to pick these specific songs to introduce the band to a new audience?
Kalifa: Because it is summer, we want to be there with you. To ensure that you won’t shrug us quickly, we wanted to give you the range of sonic elements we had to offer. For that perfect summer morning, trade your alarm clock in for “Fireflies”. Afternoons, as you sit in your car shaking off the heat with a little AC, treat yourself to textural baths of “Porcelain.” “Sleep” and many others offer you that late night magic that ensures this will be a summer like no other.
If you become hooked, this mix also gives you hope for what our new album could offer you. The exclusive “Waltz” gives a little glimpse into the second half of our new record - an instrumental suite dedicated to the lives of the Starcraft gaming community. Our single, “Kid” gives a hint to what might be into our next chapter, our slow dive into the groove pool. We are pumped that you have chosen to let us in those ears of yours. Enjoy and remember, this summer is all about good luck and having fun.