Archive | August, 2011

Scattered Trees is an Organized Collection of Artists

29 Aug

Scattered Trees want to stay free to be whoever they choose to be musically. Not wanting to commit to one particular genre, they are a tight sounding band walking the line of rock and folk, and the music is well-crafted, providing proof that this band is composed of some seriously meticulous artists. Singer Nate Eiesland’s voice is vulnerable and melancholic, drawing parallels to Duncan Sheik, Elliot Smith and even shades of Radiohead. On their new album Sympathy, Eiesland, lyrically, is not afraid to be vulnerable, and it particularly shows on songs like “Love and Leave” and “A Conversation about Death on New Year’s Eve,” the latter of which drips with sadness. On the track, Eiesland sounds as if he’s singing at someone’s bedside as they’re sleeping or perhaps, as the title may imply, dying.

Sadness and melancholy aside, Scattered Trees are also gifted multi-taskers. Not only are these Chicago-based indie rockers five talented musicians fresh onto the indie rock scene, they are also an eclectic brood of artists, business types, siblings and spouses. Well, almost all of them.

“Ryne’s the odd man out,” lead singer Nate Eiesland said about bass player Ryne Estwing. He is the only band member who doesn’t share a last name with anyone in the band: drummer Baron Harper and guitarist Jason are brothers while keyboardist Alissa Eiesland and Nate are husband and wife. Eiesland said of the situation, “It makes for a colorful road trip.”

And a road trip is on the horizon for Scattered Trees. They are about to embark on a 27-show tour over 30 days. “We love being out on the road,” Eiesland said, “but we’re living the dream so we don’t get worn out.”

He admits he and his wife have had to learn to strike a balance between being husband and wife and bandmates. “We’re good ‘sneakers,’” he said, alluding to trying to steal away for some alone time whenever they can. “We know there’ll be a time for normal.” he said, “Right now, we’re taking one for the team. It’s kind of like being married to five people, but it’s totally worth it.”

Though, no amount of Arrested Development, the band’s favorite show, can prevent tensions from rising when traveling the country in a small van. “We don’t get on each other’s nerves too much,” Eiesland said, “but when we do, it makes for a good debate.” However, the Eieslands, along with any sibling squabbles that may occur between the Harper brothers, have learned not to bring it into the band circle. “Everyone understands and gives the necessary allowances if need be,” he said, “We trust each other as artists inside the band, as well as outside the band.”

Eiesland is the only member of the group who functions solely as a musician. “I write music.” he said, “I threw all my eggs in that basket when I was 13.” At a young age, Eiesland chose songwriting, and only songwriting, not leaving room for failure. “And much to the torment of my parents.” he said.

His bandmates, however, all pursued other interests before coming together to make Scattered Trees a full-time project. The result is a melting pot of talent outside their musical abilities, allowing Scattered Trees to keep a lot of things in-house and economize at the same time.

Jason Harper, for instance, went to Princeton where he studied film and directs the band’s music videos. Estwing is a web and graphic designer and handles the website and T-shirt design for the band. Alissa Eiesland is also a graphic designer, which has helped pay the bills until the band could make enough money to play music full time, which is where Baron Harper’s business degree comes in. “Baron has been paramount in the past year.” Eiesland said.

According to Eiesland, he’s helped the band streamline the business aspect of being in a band. In the past, Scattered Trees has done what he calls “spot tours” where they’d go out on the road for short stints over a few weeks. This time around, Scattered Trees is doing things with a bit more efficiency.

Unlike the melancholy  vibe that plays throughout Scattered Trees’ music, Eiesland’s attitude, is far from desperate. He said,“There’s a jumping-off-the-cliff point, and you’ve caught us mid-air.” Despite the melancholic, even morbid, metaphor, there’s a refreshing sense of hope and the excitement of possibility in his voice that so often gets lost in the shuffle of cynicism and repetitive nay-saying from your peers. Eiesland says the band realizes they have to pay their dues, but they feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do what they love, which is playing music together, “We’re in it for the long haul.” So far, Scattered Trees seems to be headed down the right path.

This article was originally slated to appear in the August 2011 issue of Origivation Magazine,


Ellie Goulding: Happy to Be Here

29 Aug

Ellie Goulding believes in karma. “You should really treat others the way you want to be treated,” the British songbird said. “I use that as a general rule in my life.” Since breaking onto the music scene in 2010, Goulding knows how important it is to maintain a sense of graciousness toward the extraordinary life she’s currently living: “It seems my life is ever-changing.”

The last time she toured the U.S., both Goulding and her bandmates started to feel a little down. “We had been out for awhile, the tour was about six weeks long or so, and my voice had really reached its peak,” she said. “Being away for so long, we started to feel a bit homesick.”

Now she’s gained some perspective and is on the cusp of her second stateside tour in support of her debut, Lights. “I have all good memories, and I’m really excited to return.” she said.

Goulding hails from Hereford, England, and her lilting voice takes on a soft brogue when she sings. Most of her songs center around falling in love, being in love, then losing love. “Gossamer” is an adjective tossed around many a time by critics and fans when describing Goulding’s light and airy voice, and if it could be captured in one word, that would be it.

It is difficult, however, to relegate her sound to just one word. It is something that is very rare in the realm of pop culture–original. She somehow manages to combine pop, electronica and folk into a lovely blend that works well with her, admittedly, gossamer voice.

Goulding is present and aware, both in her songwriting and her daily life. Her writing takes on an old soul quality in the way she talks about loving whole-heartedly first, with the cautious optimism of someone who has had their share of heartbreak and emerged all the wiser as a result. She may be tip-toeing forward but both eyes are wide open, ready to devour the situation.

Her awareness of life is evident when she speaks about her music, and it’s obvious her feet are firmly planted. “I’m not the biggest singer in the world,” she said, “but I’ve been exceptionally lucky and amazing things have happened to me.”

In April, Goulding was asked to play the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, and while she’s unable to go into detail, she did dish that she and her band played a fourteen-song set. “It was awesome,” she said, “truly the biggest honor of my life.”

Another big honor was playing Saturday Night Live in May where she covered Elton John’s “Your Song,” which also appears on Lights. The song is about as stripped down as one can get – featuring only Goulding singing breathily as a piano plays along.

“Starry Eyed” is the first single off the album and conjures Bjork and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine over a Le Roux backdrop. “Animal” is heavy on the electronica and makes you want to get up and dance, while “Your Biggest Mistake” is more subtle and appeals to her folksy, singer/

songwriter side. This is a woman who is just scratching the surface of what she is able to do.

Her next album will see Goulding getting back into writing. After all, she says, that’s why she’s here. “[To get inspired] I like to be by myself with a couple of drinks, my laptop and my headphones, sitting in a dark corner of a bar,” she said.

Goulding applies that same level of attention to the music she likes, too. “I listen with such intensity right now,” she said. “When I find something [I like,] I have a long-lasting affair.” Goulding said she doesn’t move on easily and chooses to latch on, listening and connecting for long stretches of time rather than flit from one artist to the next. Plus,

listening to others with such intensity allows her creative side to really come out.

Smother by Wild Beasts is an album Goulding is immersing herself in at the moment. “The actual music is stunning,” she gushed. Goulding is enamored with the band’s dreamy falsetto, claiming that it takes her to another time period. “They’re able to capture the future and the past so well, which is important for me. I like that a lot.”

As Wild Beasts have the ability to meld the past and future, Goulding is hoping to take what she’s learned thus far in her career and use it to propel her into whatever the future has in store. She’s in the early stages of writing her next album, but she’s not sure of it’s direction, and she’s okay with that. Her approach to her music has remained constant in that she lets it evolve naturally.

When she started out, her sound came about in a very organic way, strumming away on her guitar in her studio bedroom. “I never planned on it being one thing in particular.” she said. In addition to getting more heavily back into writing on the next album, Goulding also wants it to have a heavier guitar sound to it, since that’s what she sees as the core of her sound. “It’s important that things start with a guitar.” she said. “I really enjoy the sound of it – it gives an album a certain feel,” she laughed, awkwardly trying to change the subject. “I could talk about this forever.”

Bottom line: the next album is going to be on Goulding’s terms. She said she’s trying not to think about it and is instead reveling in the freedom to do what she wants to do. “I want to trust my instincts and see where it goes.”

With all her talk about love, Goulding said her relationship status has little bearing on the vibe and subject matter of her songs. “I have so much stored away in my head.” she said. “I like to tell stories.” And that means drawing from other people, her own story and even fairy tales.

One fairy tale dream come true dream would be to collaborate with Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon. She calls Vernon one of her favorites of all time and gets a bit swoony when she talks about him, “There’s a certain soul to his voice – it’s something very special,” said Goulding. “I’d like to play with that.”

The way her karma’s stacking up, it would come as no surprise that Goulding would make the collaboration happen. “I feel lucky to be alive, healthy and do what I do,” she said. Do good things and good things will happen to you. Ellie Goulding is living proof of that.

This article was originally published in the July 2011 issue of Origivation Magazine,

Nikka Costa is Still Chasing the Thrill

29 Aug

After spending her childhood with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., R&B veteran Nikka Costa has made a career out of versatility, perseverance and hard-driving funk.

When we spoke, Nikka Costa was in the midst of coordinating rehearsals with her band, gearing up for her United States tour in support of her newly released EP, Pro*Whoa! The goal, Costa said, is to release a series of EPs rather than go the typical full-length album route. “For me, right now, this feels more exciting – it keeps the engines running,” Costa said. “Plus, it suits the ADD culture we’re living in.” She also thinks it’s good for the fans to give them little bursts of Costa’s funk and soul rather than unload her fierceness all in one huge chunk.

Mission accomplished. Pro*Whoa! is a tight collection of six songs that highlight Costa’s signature hybrid sound of rock and funk with a heavy dose of soul and a dash of hip-hop mixed in. She’s a true Gemini: uber-feminine, and even girly, but when she opens her mouth to sing, her voice explodes from your speakers. It’s easy to see where her influences lie. She’s Janis, Jimi, and Led Zeppelin all folded into the tiny package with a big, sultry voice that is Nikka Costa. And she’s not shy, nor is she afraid to get naked for her art. Costa recently appeared on her YouTube Channel, “Nikka’s Box,” standing topless with a letterbox over her bare chest, the words Pro*Whoa! splashed across, and asked “What’s a girl gotta do to get the word out?”

Perhaps the reason for the shameless promotion is due, in part, to the fact that Costa hasn’t quite exploded in the United States…yet. Her self-titled debut released when she was just nine years old, and through the years she’s found much of her success overseas in Europe. Hits like “Like a Feather” and “Everybody’s Got Their Something” penetrated the airwaves stateside, and she’s a bit of a soundtrack darling with songs appearing on the television show Grey’s Anatomy and the films Blue Crush and Blow. There was a time Costa even questioned whether she wanted to be a musician.

“I had been touring from the time I was eight until I was twelve,” she said. She’s the daughter of famed musician, conductor, arranger and producer Don Costa, best known for his work with Frank Sinatra, arranging and producing Sinatra and Strings, as well as producing hits for the Osmond Brothers, Sammy Davis, Jr. and his own daughter’s single “Out Here on My Own.” The two were planning a follow-up to the single when the elder Costa died of a heart attack.

Around that time, Costa said she didn’t want to perform anymore and lived a “normal” childhood. Once she finished high school and all her friends headed off to college, however, Costa realized being a musician was the path for her. Costa’s “college years” consisted of writing songs, traveling around in a van, auditioning drummers, hanging her own posters and learning guitar. “I was out there doing it,” she said.

And Costa never looked back. She went from “sitting in the laps of the real Brat Pack,” as she sings on the new EP’s title track, to rubbing shoulders with celebrities and collaborating with big name artists like Eric Clapton.

So being around famous people her entire life, it’s hard to imagine Costa getting star struck. “Madonna walked right by me once and I didn’t say hi—I couldn’t,” she laughs. Same with Stevie Wonder – the first time she saw him she was too in awe to say hello.

She’s sung with Prince on several occasions, but Costa said he still has a starry-eyed effect on her. “There have been a few times when I’m sitting across the table from Prince, and I’m thinking, ‘This is so surreal—I’m talking to Prince!’” In fact, Costa’s sound, at times, is very Prince-like, especially on Pro*Whoa!’s, “Head First.”

Costa recently collaborated with another artist walking the androgynous, glam-rock line, American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, and contributed a few songs for his sophomore album. “He’s great because you can throw anything at him, and he can sing it.”

Costa said it’s nice to collaborate and write for other artists, “It’s good to go into their headset and see where they are.” Costa said. “It’s fun for me, too, to be outside myself.” The challenge of writing for other artists creates challenges for her own songwriting. She can return to her own music with new perspective and fresh eyes.

Touring can also offer some fresh perspective and downtime gives Costa more time to get her life in order. On the road, Costa’s favorite pastime is organizing her computer, of all things. “I wind up doing things I can’t do at home because I end up cleaning.”

Things like deleting duplicate photos and learning how to use Garage Band help pass the time. Depending on the city, she loves checking out the scene once the sun goes down, but said the local park scene ranks pretty high on the list, too, especially when her daughter hits the road with her.

“It’s not good when I’m away from her for too long,” she said, her voice dropping an octave and losing a bit of its upbeat lightness. Now that her daughter is getting older, she joins Costa on the road. “She loves touring,” Costa said.

“We look at it as an adventure.” she said. “It’s really great for her. It gets her out of her schedule for a minute. Obviously, we’re always thinking of her first.” And the “we” is Costa and husband, Australian music producer Justin Stanley, who she said have been married for “a million years,” so the work/life balance is old hat for them. She said when they can’t get it together for whatever reason that’s when the balance becomes hard.

The Pro*Whoa! tour will find its way Philly on July 13 when Costa performs at World Café Live, and Costa said she loves heading to the City of Brotherly Love. “I love Philly, it’s an awesome city with its funky restaurants and tattoo shops.” Even though the venue tends to be one that is memorably on the chilly side, Costa said. “We’ll try to bring some heat. I love it when it’s a sweaty funk fest.”

Words to live by, Costa said, consist of only one, persevere. “I’m always telling myself to persevere.” After a literal lifetime of singing and eight albums under her belt, Costa is persevering quite well.

This article was originally published in the July 2011 issue of Origivation Magazine,

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