Tag Archives: Greenville

Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Album Review – Future Islands’ “Singles”

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For a while, it appeared that the recent resurgence of ’80s-inspired synth-pop had fallen short, as if just having missed the dramatic mark that once tickled the edge of Broadway and blurred gender lines.

For those who grew up in the decade of neon-layered legwarmers, “Labyrinth” and Madonna’s negligées, this observation rang true — that is until Future Islands released its fourth album, “Singles,” in March. Throughout the 10-track album, Future Islands successfully delivers that theatrical element that had been missing this whole time.

While the band’s image does not necessarily match that of the ’80s, the attitude, sound and energy certainly does. With grandiose lyrical moves atop tight new wave beats, Future Islands proves to be a kinetic machine with enough stored energy to explode on the scene and cause havoc overnight—and that is exactly what the band did.

This explosion came in the form of a debut performance on “Late Night with David Letterman,” during which frontman Samuel T. Herring oscillated between deep squat air-humps and what appeared to be a gorilla mating dance that rivaled the moves of a young McDreamy in the 80s classic, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” After that performance, the world knew about Future Islands, and there was no turning back.

This now Baltimore-based trio got its humble start while studying art at East Carolina University, and quickly built a loyal following through relentless touring and one-of-a-kind live performances. Herring, along with William Cashion (guitar, bass) and Gerrit Welmers (keys, programming) have always approached their art with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Their hope was that listeners would decide to stick around and be moved to join the crazy carnival ride they created.

If not familiar with Future Islands’ sound, “Singles” may initially translate as a bit off-the-wall, but do not despair. After a few listens, the band’s charm and character start to sink in and penetrate the soul. Pair this with a few YouTube searches and it will all begin to make sense.

The album opener, “Seasons (Waiting On You),” is a modern day “Breakfast Club” theme—a beautiful anthem for lost misfits on the quest for love. “Spirit” follows with bouncy keys and punchy drums that lead into Herring’s Bowie-esque dramaturgical vocals.

Throughout “Singles,” the listener is presented with tracks that strike a balance between light and dark, hope and despair, old and new. Dripping with synth-crescendos and heavenly vocals, “Sun In The Morning” perfectly depicts the emotional tug of war that accompanies a lover’s early departure, while “Like The Moon” takes listeners on a more subdued dreamlike journey into a midnight fantasy.

Musically, “Doves” feels upbeat and happy, but with lyrics like, “Baby don’t hurt no more,” listeners are forced to search for deeper meaning despite the springy dance beats. The unassuming bass line and drum beat of “Back In The Tall Grass” beg for a simpler time — a time of childhood wonderment and play. As the song outros with echoing swamp sounds, “A Song For Our Grandfathers” fades in with a menagerie of audio as Herring pontificates about the changes upon him and taps into the wisdom of ancestors passed.

The melancholy rock ballad “Fall From Grace” leads in with cavernous xylophone tones, high-hat taps and bass drops before Herring emerges with deep, throaty vocals interrupted by guttural primal screams. Here, Herring’s vocal and lyrical range shines bright despite the darkness that blankets the track.

The album’s closer, “A Dream Of You And Me,” is an uplifting message-in-a-bottle delivered on a wave of hope and washed over with beautiful seashore imagery. Herring sings out the song with the lyrics, “I asked myself for peace and found a piece of me, staring at the sea,” as if sharing his daily mantra and life philosophy with listeners — a perfect way to end the album.

Overall, “Singles” offers a glimpse into the past while carving out its own place in time. This quality will appeal to a wide audience and continue to catapult the band to new heights. With Herring’s vocal front and center, undulating effortlessly between gravel and grace, the album is a refreshing departure from the norm. In the end, “Singles” soars with more performance arts flair than auto-tuned studio gloss, giving listeners a raw, emotional sill on which to perch and ponder life.

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Album Review – Rebekah Todd’s “Roots Bury Deep”

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Deep beneath the muddied surface of the Tar River and the sifted soil of tobacco fields lays the history of our state. Layered stories from past generations have formed the foundation upon which all other stories are told.

This month, local songstress Rebekah Todd adds her own stories to the thick NC bedrock with her first LP, “Roots Bury Deep.” Funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, this 9-track album proves to be a soulful folk gem with shades of jazz and funk that paints across the canvas of genres, all while maintaining a cohesiveness that keeps the listener engaged.

With this album, Todd enlisted some of the best that Greenville has to offer. Local musicians Demetrice Everett (drums), Chris Knuckles (saxophone), Evan Roberson (trombone), William Seymour (bass), and Brandon Shamar (keys) lend their talents and create a more textured auditory landscape that enhances Todd’s traditional folk sound. The final product takes listeners on a journey from the deep, dark corners of loss and despair to the wide-open, bright spaces of love and hope.

The album opens with “Devil’s Gonna Buy,” a ghostly, Bourbon Street bender flushed out with whiney trombone and eerie background vocals fit for the dark, gritty alleyways of New Orleans. This track jumps right into “Closer To Dead,” which shines with gospel undertones as the organ and saxophone emerge in line with the supernatural opener.

The catchy radio hit “On The Run” features a punchy cadence and baseline reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” While the title may imply runaway-bride-syndrome, this track is all about empowerment and drive — an important message for anyone who may need a nudge in life. The stripped-down acoustic “Thinking About You” takes a softer, day-dreamy glimpse into Todd’s past, where she opens up about the gripping realization that life is quite incompatible without love.

On “Tornado,” Todd channels her heartaches into powerhouse vocals and tempts the heavens, while reminding listeners that the only way to trump adversity is to face it head-on. “Your Smiling Face” is a toe-tap-clapper with a steam engine drum line fitted with enough spunk to become a crowd favorite.

Todd’s songwriting truly gleams on “Old Days,” a track that traces Todd back through time where she bears the pain of loss, but finds comfort in reliving memories and relishing in the little signs from above. The title track “Roots Bury Deep” follows, and proves once again this songstress’ lyrical prowess as she belts “Let me take you back to the rhythm/Back to the time when you felt only love in my arms/Let me take you back to the country where your roots bury deep/And the soil is rich for all.”

The album closes with “Wishing Well,” an eight-minute magical woodland wonder that captures Todd at a vulnerable crossroad, gazing into her reflection and foreshadowing her path. The horns on this track fade in gently to compliment Todd’s vocal tones and ride the song out as an instrumental. Roberson and Knuckles trade off leads, as if improvising a conversation between Todd’s yesterdays and tomorrows. This track is a beautiful tribute to the fragile nature of life and all of the events and decisions that guide its course.

Throughout “Roots Bury Deep,” Todd’s superb songwriting ties itself closely to the earth — the soil, the roots, the elements. In a world bogged down by technology and the next new trend, Todd keeps things clean, simple and organic, focusing on the most primal of emotions.

Todd’s poignant and powerful vocals reign supreme on each track, with the force to puncture even the toughest of exteriors. However, it is clear to any listener that the backing band elevates Todd’s signature sound to an entirely new level. The horns and organ pull out a speakeasy soul from Todd’s voice that was not yet fully developed on her 2011 EP “Forget Me Not.”

Overall, “Roots Bury Deep” translates as a potent collection of Todd’s most intimate stories. The album reveals that Todd has matured not only as a songwriter, but also as a performer as she displays a renewed confidence in her music. As with any artist, it is important to evolve and grow, and with this album Todd shows that she is capable and comfortable in her own skin, all while staying grounded by her roots.

“Roots Bury Deep” will be released officially February 18, 2014, and will be available on iTunes, Bandcamp, Amazon and more. For more information about her Greenville and Raleigh album release parties, be sure to keep up with Todd on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or at www.rebekahtodd.com.

Enjoy the title track here!

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Interview – Emily Minor

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“North Carolina is the best place in the entire world.  No matter where this job takes me, Carolina holds my heart.”

~Emily Minor

With a relentless loyalty to her southern upbringing, Wilmington native and East Carolina University graduate, Emily Minor epitomizes the idea that you can take the girl out of Carolina, but you cannot take the Carolina out of the girl.

Three years ago, after graduation and a life-changing experience on American Idol, Minor packed up her acoustic guitar and college memories and moved to the epicenter of country music–Nashville, Tennessee. With husband John by her side, Minor jumped into the country music scene feet first, with a big dream and nothing to lose.

Evolution of a Fan caught up with Minor recently to chat about life in Nashville, on the road, and what she enjoys most about being a musician.

EOAF: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age? 

I’m extremely lucky that I was raised in musically diverse home. Our radio played anything from Buck Owens to Stevie Ray Vaughn, from Billy Joel to Whitney Houston. I was always exposed to great music and artists.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?

It’s a lot like what I grew up on, a little bit of everything. I enjoy some of the new country on the radio today but I really love old country. It’s not unusual to find Merle Haggard or Brenda Lee on my iPod. 90’s country is great too, I love Brooks ‘N Dunn. It’s a broad spectrum–Hall and Oates, Aerosmith, and I love working out to Katy Perry.

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?  Do you tend to write the lyrics first or melody? 

Typically an idea for a hook comes to me first and I can usually sing it the way I would hear it in a song. Usually lyrics will come to me and then I’ll sing it back to my husband and together we’ll create a melody on our guitars.

EOAF: Do you play any instruments? 

I play acoustic guitar when I’m writing and learning new songs at home. I don’t play anything while I’m on stage and maybe eventually I will. I love to entertain and sometimes its hard to run across the stage and jump around with a guitar strapped to me. Not to mention, I play with a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians. I leave them instruments to them.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write? 

 I’ve been lucky to live a very uneventful, happy life so sometimes it’s hard to draw from personal experiences but every now and then I’ll write something that relates to my life. I find a lot of inspiration in whats going on with my friend’s life, whats going on around me, or something that has happened to someone I know back home. It’s a lot of fun to make up stories and write about them, create situations in my mind.

EOAF: Your EP has some really great songs on it.  What new songs are you testing on the road and when can your fans expect an LP?

Thank you! I have been writing a lot. At one point this summer it was like my creative juices were just pouring out of me and everyday there was a new song to write. I’m still writing a ton and now we’re in the beginning phases of choosing what songs are good enough to put on the new album. We’ll start the work for a new album this winter. I can tell you that you can expect more songs written by me and my co-writers and a lot of what you heard on the first album. Great, turn it up loud, sing-along songs and some tear-jerker ballads too.

EOAF: Where were you when you first heard one of your songs on the radio and how did it make you feel?

I was in a McDonald’s parking lot and it came on the radio. i had just finished and interview with the station and they were playing it right after the interview aired. I just sat there and listened. I close my eyes and just took in the moment and soaked it all up. And then I screamed and jumped up and down! You never really get used to hearing yourself on the radio. It’s always a treat to hear your songs played. It’s a very rewarding three and a half minutes.

EOAF: What have you learned about the music industry since moving to Nashville?

I’ve been in Nashville for three years now and my mind has been like a sponge. I just soak up everything I hear and read and try to learn as much as I can. For one, I’ve learned that there are so many talented people in town. You never know if you’re going to pop into a songwriter night and see the guy who wrote Eric Church’s “Springsteen” or hits for Diamond Rio. That’s awesome to me. I’ve also learned to be nice to everyone and to never speak badly about someone. You never burn bridges. You never know who someone is, who they know, and how it could come back to hurt you. You can’t make judgements in that town.

EOAF: How hard or easy has it been to connect with other songwriters and producers in Nashville?  

Networking is what Nashville is all about. You’ve got to shake hands–it’s just how the world turns there. It’s really easy to go into a writer’s round and hear someone great and approach them later about writing together. They’re just like you. They want to meet new people, broaden themselves as writers, and have something new to look forward to. Everyone is so friendly in Nashville, It just takes walking up and introducing yourself. Even the big time celebrities are down to earth and don’t mind stopping for a picture or to talk. I saw Vince Gill once and just walked right up to said hello. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met.

EOAF: I’ve read that you really enjoy being out on tour.  What are your favorite and least favorite things about being on the road?  

Of course playing to new people and being on stage is the best part, but I also just enjoy the riding time with my band. We’re one big family, they’re the brothers that I never had. We joke on each other, laugh, get into a little trouble. When you’re on the road for that long with the same people, you have no choice but to like each other and make the most of it. We have a great time. My least favorite thing would be missing out on friends and family things. I have to miss a lot of birthdays, weddings, family dinners–and sometimes that’s tough.

EOAF: What type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

It’s so hard to choose because they’re all great. I love to play a listening room or writer’s round because it’s very intimate and people are there to listen to your work. They listen to your lyrics, take it all in, and really hear the message you’re trying to deliver. Festivals are fun too because it’s family friendly and I love watching all of the little kids dance around and have a good time. It’s also a great way to meet the fans, hear what they have to say, and get your music in their hands. I really enjoy singing the National Anthem too and I’m always honored to be asked.

 EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

Nothing is better than being on stage. It’s a high for me. Every now and then we’ll take some time off to recharge or spend some time writing and after a couple of days, I’m losing my mind! I’m ready to get back on the road and play. the best part is watching people sing along to the songs you’ve written, or having them request that you play one of your own songs. That’s always the highest praise. My shows are always super fun but for the most part nothing crazy usually happens.  I once had two grandmas start fighting while we were playing. It was hilarious.

EOAF: Tell me a little bit about your backing band.  How did you guys get together?

We all met through mutual friends. That’s how it works out there. You start playing with people and then they’re unavailable for a gig so you call a friend of theirs who can do it and it’s all one big link. Right now I’m very fortunate to have some talented guys on the road with me. My guitar player is my husband, John, and with him we have a fiddle player, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, and occasionally keys. Not to mention they’re all super nice and down to earth which goes along way with me. You can be a really great player but if you aren’t easy to get a long with and friendly, it’s not going to work out.

EOAF: What is your favorite song to cover and why?

I love to do anything by Aerosmith. If I could die and come back as someone else in this world, I’d be Steven Tyler. I just love everything they’ve done. Right now we cover “Crying”. I saw Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood cover it and I thought, “I HAVE to do that!” I also love the song “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” by Heart. I watched my Mama sing along to it on the radio as a little girl and I love singing it now. I’m country to the bone but I’ve got a little bit of a rock ‘n roll heart too. I’d love to work some Fleetwood Mac into my set.

EOAF: What is your “must have” when you are on the road?

I always have my own pillow and blanket. I’m peculiar about hotel linens and their cleanliness so I always have my own blankets and pillows. I’d also be lost without dry shampoo for my hair.  It’s great for in-between days. Oh yeah, and my husband. He manages me and plays in the band so I probably shouldn’t leave him at home or I wouldn’t know where to go or what to play!

EOAF: How do you feel when you come back home (to NC) to perform? 

North Carolina, especially Greenville and Wilmington, have been so good to me. And even all of the little towns around. Everyone is so supportive and caring. I can always count of seeing some familiar faces in the crowd and someone is always wanting to feed us or offer up a shower and bed for a nap.

EOAF: What do you miss about Greenville?  How did your time at ECU prepare you for where you are today?

Greenville is so wonderful and near and dear to me. I grew up in Wilmington but in a lot of ways I feel like I really grew up and learned who I was in Greenville. The small town, the close-knit community, I just love that. I really miss Saturdays in the stand cheering on the Pirates too and tailgating with my friends. I majored in Education at ECU. I thought I needed a “real” career, but I started a band while I was in college. Getting my start playing around Greenville really taught me so much and prepared me to move the band to Nashville and take this more seriously.

EOAF: What do you do when your aren’t writing or touring?  Any other interests or charity work?

I’ve been blessed to work with some great charities over the past couple years. I’ve done some breast cancer and heart research events and I always appreciate being asked to join them. I try to spend as much time with my family any chance that I get. We are all very close and I miss them terribly. On normal days, I spend my time doing things like grocery shopping (my favorite place!) and laundry. I find them relaxing and it brings a sense of normalcy and routine to my life.

EOAF: What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to pursue a music career?

Start a band! Play! To anyone who will listen, it doesn’t matter if you make money. The money will come. Just start a band with really great musicians, practice, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. No one likes a big ego. And get on the road and play, get your music out there. It doesn’t hurt to move to one of the music capitals of the world,  Nashville, LA, New York. Atlanta’s music scene is really growing a lot too. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do.

It is clear that fame and recognition have not gone to Minor’s head.  She maintains her homegrown charm and light-hearted spirit, which translates into relevant music that keeps her fans coming back for more. Minor’s fall/winter tour is underway.  Check out her website and catch her as she blows through your town!

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Kickstarter to Watch – Rebekah Todd

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No matter how you feel about it, listener-supported music is here to stay.  Gone are the days of scraping pennies together to record and master an album in your mom’s basement.  Thanks to social media and websites like Kickstarter and PledgeMusic, independent musicians can call on their fans from across the globe to lend a hand in the recording process–at least the financial side of things.

For many fans, this new forum provides an affordable conduit to “back” a musician or band that they really love.  In return for their donations, fans  not only get to feel more connected to the music, but also typically receive some sweet personalized merchandise or experience from the musicians/bands.  From signed lyric sheets to house concerts, musicians have a chance to get really creative with the lists of “prizes” for their backers.  But here’s the kicker (no pun intended): If the project’s goal is not 100% met, backers get back their money and the musician gets nothing.  It’s all or nothing, folks!

As a fan who backs projects from time to time, there is something rewarding in making a contribution and following the progress of a campaign.  Checking-in to see how much money has been raised and what prizes have been snatched up, along with receiving updates from the musicians themselves, can really be fun.  Recently, I pledged $50 to Scott Miller and The Commonwealth’s new album, and was happy to learn that they have surpassed their goal, and I will be one of the first (among the other 334 pledgers) to hear the album once it is completed.

Currently, I am following Rebekah Todd’s Kickstarter campaign.  Rebekah is gifted singer/songwriter/guitarist out of eastern NC who is gearing up to record her first LP at the end of July.   I interviewed Rebekah last year, and learned all about her musical influences, which range from Susan Tedeschi to Lauryn Hill.  Her music is dripping with a muggy southern soul that speaks to the trials and tribulations of life, death, love, heartbreak, and everything in between.  There is an historic air in her songwriting that pays tribute to those who walked before her, as if perhaps she was born in the wrong century or recalling experiences from a past life.  From her 2011 EP, “Forget Me Not“, Rebekah’s songwriting and performing has evolved, and she’s found a keen balance between the ghosts that haunt her and guardian angels that protect her.  Her music–her voice–reaches into your heart and makes you feel not only her own joy and pain, but your own, as well.

For me, that is what music is about, and why I believe that Rebekah’s Kickstarter is one to watch.  Take a listen to her story, consider backing her project, and share with your friends.

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Interview: Rebekah Todd

A girl and her guitar

Thus far, the height of my musical “career” was winning first place at my elementary school talent show for singing I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.  I was five.  I was a complete ham, and wanted to be a star.  My older brother told me the only reason I won was because I was cute–fair enough.  Fast-forward almost 30 years, and I’ve realized that my feverish desire for stardom is much better served in the confines of my car and home, rather than on the main stage.  Instead, the main stage should be reserved for those people who possess that innate gift of musical creativity and mastery that inspires and makes us feel alive.  It was a pleasant surprise when I recently stumbled upon one of those people right here in eastern NC.

I was introduced to Rebekah Todd when she opened up for Paleface at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC a few months ago–a lone young lady on stage with just her acoustic Alvarez guitar and a mic.  She did a quick mic check, and politely introduced herself to the audience.  I watched and waited, thinking how brave she was to get up there and sing by herself.  I was envious and impressed before even hearing her voice.  And then she sang.  A boisterous yet angelic, soulful, bluesy voice filled the room, and I was floored.  Who had been hiding this homegrown gem, and why hadn’t I heard of her before?  She quickly captivated the crowd with original songs like  Jordan, Citizen, Gallows, Little by Little, and Walked Right Through Me.  That evening, as her powerful voice echoed off of Tipsy’s glossy, cherry red walls,  I was happy to tag along on her musical journey.

A few weeks after the show I sat down with Todd to talk about her music and big plans for the future.

Todd grew up in the small town of Benson, NC and was surrounded by music as early as she could remember.  At eight years old, she started formal piano lessons, but soon figured out that the structure of reading music didn’t quite fit her style of learning.

“I play by ear 100%, so I don’t read music unless you have a sheet with chords.  If it’s the notes on the staff I can’t do it at all.  When I was eight, I figured that out.  I remember my teacher was teaching me the Titanic theme song.  I was reading it on the paper and I got a note wrong, so I stopped looking at the paper and listened and figured it out.  She yelled at me and told me I had to read the paper, and she was really mean so I dropped it and never went back,” she recalled.

Soon thereafter, Todd’s father suggested she learn how to play the guitar.  She fondly remembered those early memories of her dad and his love for music.

“[My dad] was classic rock all the way.  It’s pretty cool because it really influenced me.  I am happy that I know all of these artists now because I meet people my age who say, ‘Who are the Beatles, or who is Bob Dylan?’.  He was musical and played guitar and he was the one who taught me.  He bought me this crappy Washburn guitar that was black, and when I was eight I thought it was awesome,”  she said with a chuckle.

Rebekah Todd @ Tipsy Teapot

She continued to laugh as she told me that the first song he taught her to play on the guitar was Wild Thing.  Todd and her father continued to play together at home until she started playing in different high school bands with her friends.  Over the years of playing with her dad and others, Todd pulled inspiration from a wide range of musical genres, which has shaped the music she writes and performs today.

“I went through the classic rock phase, and then I really got into people who had a soulful voice, like Lauryn Hill, who is one of my favorites.  I literally wore her CD out [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill].  Now I am into the more bluesy sound with singers like Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band.  I really admire artists like that,” said Todd.

Though she can cover songs ranging from Led Zeppelin to Katy Perry, Todd’s bread and butter is in songwriting.  To date she has recorded about 16 original songs, but admits that there are many more waiting the wings that need to evolve a bit before she will bring them into the studio.

“Sometimes I will be sitting and playing and [a song] will come then, and other times I will get a tune in my head and I will literally pull my cell phone out, hit video, hold it out, and sing into the video.  I used to carry around a tape recorder before cell phones.  I think that started because when I was really young my parents bought me a karaoke machine that I could put a tape in and record my singing and listen to it.  It’s funny how the steps that your parents take totally mold what you become,” Todd shared.

Songwriting for Todd is a very natural, organic, and “in-the-moment” process.  Her songs are passionate and moving because they are honest.  Like most artists, Todd finds inspiration in her life experiences and channels those emotions into her songs as well as her art.

Rebekah Todd

“One time I played with this band called Cool Hand Luke out of Tennessee and Mark came up to me and said, ‘I really like your music because you are honest with what you are going through and what you are feeling’.  Ever since he said that I took it and tried to apply it to everything I was doing.  I’ve come to find that people can relate to your stuff if you are brutally honest with your feelings because then they can say, ‘Oh yeah I feel the same way’.  With my situation now, with having a loss in the family, everyone can relate.  Sometimes it’s hard because you really have to go into your emotions and that can be painful.  It’s the same with art.  You pull it out and you put it on a canvas or put it into a song and hope that people can relate to it,” she revealed.

Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from East Carolina University, Todd is ready to hit the road and share her music with the world.  She’s completely devoted to throwing herself into writing and touring as much as she can, while maintaining a realistic outlook.  She knows that with a hopeful heart must also come a level head, and she’s willing to put in the time and work to pursue her dream.

“It’s tough as an acoustic girl to say, ‘I promise that I can bring it’.  It’s something you have to slowly prove and know the right people.  I am working on it.  It’s a weird road.  A lot of people say I should think about getting a band.  That could be cool, but I just don’t feel right with it right now.  I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can do it without the band.  I just graduated and I have all of the time in the world,” she said with a hopeful grin.

So far she’s got a great start with several club shows and festivals booked across the state, and hopes to add a small northeast tour towards the end of August.  In between shows Todd will continue to write songs and dabble in her second love, painting.  Though Todd admits to being very comfortable in the “opener” slot, I suspect she’s  going to be pushed out of her comfort zone fairly soon.  She wont be able to hide in the shadows of bigger acts for too long.  The main stage awaits her.

To learn more about Rebekah Todd’s music and upcoming shows, please visit her website.

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Them boys from the ‘Boro – Holy Ghost Tent Revival

So Long I Screamed

The buzz had gotten too loud to ignore any longer.  So, when Holy Ghost Tent Revival came through Greenville, NC for an encore show at The Tipsy Teapot, I decided it was time to see what the buzz was all about.

Prior to seeing them live, I already knew that they had some good things going for them.  First, being a loud and rowdy, harmony-heavy band of strings, keys, percussion and brass bodes well in these parts.  Second, their music has been previously described as a mixing of radio stations across the dial minus the static (Salisbury Post, 2008) indicative of a cohesive melding of eclectic musical styles and tastes.  They have also made quite an impression on what is believed to be one of the toughest fan bases to crack…The Avett Nation.  Best known for their unyielding devotion to The Avett Brothers and sometimes blind discrimination against anything non-Avett, these fans have adopted HGTR as one of their own, and have even gone so far as to create multiple Facebook pages to petition for the two bands to one day share the same stage.  So far, no dice but hope is still alive.

Since their inception in 2007, HGTR has embarked on a similar path to that of The Avett Brothers, busking on street corners, living out of a tour van, playing show after show and sharing their music with anyone who will listen.  Over the years, they have worked on polishing their sound while keeping the process as organic as possible.  In charting their course and expanding their musical wingspan, they have carved out a genre and following all their own.

A band of brothers in the figurative sense, most members of HGTR began playing together while attending  Greensboro College.  The remaining members were carefully hand-picked and tacked on over time to make the band’s sound complete.  To date, they have released three albums and an unmixed collection of songs entitled “The Living Room Sessions” which is only available at their live shows.  The song writing process is a group effort for HGTR, and the product is an evolving creature with characteristic sounds, ideas, and experiences from each band member.  Often times, what  is heard on the studio album matures into an even better version on stage.

Their sound is nearly impossible to define, and that is how HGTR prefers it.  In listening to their songs, one can pick up tones of rock, bluegrass, folk, punk, jazz, ragtime, Broadway, Motown, country, ska, and pop, just to name a few.  A box that fits that cornucopia of sounds doesn’t exist, which may be why they have yet to be signed by a major record label.  Unfortunately, music executives don’t tend to see dollar signs when they hear unique, well-written music.  Undoubtedly, HGTR’s time to shine is on the horizon, and the right record label will get a hold of these boys and let them do what they do best – write great music and put on frantic, unforgettable live shows.

Speaking of live shows…let’s head back to The Tipsy Teapot.  Because the of buzz around HGTR I decided to arrive with plenty of time before the show to grab a beer and get a good spot in the cafe’s side room.  My friend and I sat down and quickly noticed HGTR members wandering through the side room trying to find something to do before they went on stage.  I struck up a conversation with Ross (drums) and Charlie (trumpet) who were happy to chat with a potential new fan.  We talked about previous shows in eastern NC, recent sessions with the Live and Breathing crew, and the idea of opening up for The Avett Brothers in Greensboro in October.  As people began to fill in, Stephen (banjo, guitar, vocals) meandered through the crowd to visit with friends and fans, both old and new.

Before even taking the stage, these young men showed themselves to be down-to-earth, friendly, and grateful people who clearly enjoyed the band/fan interaction, as it added to their overall experience of the night.  Performing isn’t simply about going through the motions on stage, but rather feeding off of and contributing to the energy of the entire evening.  They give we take and vice versa.  Similar to their collective songwriting process, everyone contributes to the final product.

After Possum Jenkins Band finished their set, HGTR crammed themselves (minus Hank) and equipment onto Tipsy’s small stage.  Eager teenage fans with “Holy Ghost Tent Revival” scribbled in Sharpie on their bodies crowded the floor at the front of the stage.  The older fans, equally excited, were scattered through the crowd and congregated back by the bar.  One woman, likely in her 60’s, was so excited to hear HGTR again because she loves “good rock-n-roll and them boys from Greensboro know how to play great music.”  She continued to imitate them jumping up and down on stage.

“Just wait, you will see.  They jump up and down on stage.  It’s great!,” she said with a smile that beamed as if they were her own children.

I took my spot stage left and watched the performance as it began to unfold.   Kevin was on the keys, Ross on drums, Stephen on the banjo/guitar, PJ on bass, and Matt on guitar, and Charlie on trumpet.  Throughout the set-list of favorites like,  Hammer Fell, Lovinman, Walking Over my Grave, and Down the Street, the energy grew and sure enough the jumping began, so much so that I wasn’t sure the tiny stage could handle it.  Thankfully it held its own.

They sang and played while throwing their bodies around each beat, creating the image and sound of a runaway freight train coming straight at the audience.  HGTR pieced together snippets from all of the previously mentioned genres and turned out an upbeat and enjoyable sound that had fans, young and old, dancing and singing along.  The passion in their sweat drenched faces never waned as they connected over and over with the audience.

The word ‘harmony’ often conjures up images of something sweet and airy, but that is not the image that HGTR wanted to convey.  Rather, PJ sang harmonies so hard that his faces often turned various shades of scarlet, veins and muscle striations bulged from his neck, and he oftentimes appeared as if he were angry or even in pain.  Despite his strained appearance, PJ’s effortlessly added crisp harmonies that perfectly complemented Stephen’s lead vocals.

Overall, it was obvious that HGTR loves what they do, and they do it well.  They were successful in creating a jovial and eclectic musical experience unlike any other.  Stephen, PJ, and Kevin ended the evening with a powerful acapella performance on the back outdoor patio surrounded and supported by their appreciative fans.

That evening at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC the buzz around Holy Ghost Tent Revival grew a little bit louder.

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