Interview

Starbenders // Interview

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STARBENDERS // INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW BY: Emily May

Atlanta-based pop band Starbenders has cultivated an impressive and passionate fanbase since forming in 2014, creating their own unique blend of pop, rock and roll, punk and glam rock. The band considers themselves a halfway home for wayward misfits and misunderstood and disgruntled members of Gen Y/Z and creates music that speaks of overcoming struggle and angst. They also do a lot of shows/events for charity, particularly addressing homelessness in their city. Consisting of Kimi Shelter (guitar/vocals), Aaron Lecesne (bass), Kriss Tokaji (guitar) and Emily Moon (drums), the band started working early on with producer Nico Constantine, Lady Gaga’s former music director and guitarist, and have released two EP’s, one full length, one 7-inch and six singles. The band has toured the US extensively over the years with bands such as Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s UNI, Rosegarden Funeral Party and Alice In Chains. They have toured Japan twice and signed a distribution deal last year with the Japanese Record Label BIJ Records for Japanese releases. The band will be releasing their new EP Japanese Rooms on April 19th and plan to tour extensively in support of the EP, with aspirations of touring Europe in the near future. Emily May spoke recently via email to Kimi Shelter regarding the new EP, touring Japan and what’s next. You can follow the band and stay up-to-date on all EP news and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links. Check out the video for “Never Lie 2 Me” below.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify | iTunes/Apple Music | YouTube | Deezer | Google Play

Starbenders has developed a partnership over the years with producer Nico Constantine.  Kimi, you have mentioned that he’s become a great friend, producer and mentor.  What do you feel that you have all learned from him over the years? 

It’s hard to say what he’s done for the band in just a couple sentences. Most importantly, he’s shown us the value of a team. It’s a huge asset to have a producer and mentor that you truly trust. Everyone in this day and age has an opinion. It’s really important to listen to the right people and put the right people in your corner. 

 

You have said that there were bands you were obsessed with in middle and high school and that you formed and started writing for Starbenders in the spirit of that music.  You have referred to this band as the most YOU thing you’ve ever done.  How do you feel that the band reflects who you are as a person and musician?

This band is the junction of all of our musical paths. It’s like some Captain Planet shit, “with our powers combined!”. So many people live their lives as unheard children and never really learn to have a voice. The band has allowed me to work through a lot of my past and make me feel truly whole. 

 

You consider the band a halfway house for disgruntled and misunderstood Gen Y/Z.  Have you had any especially memorable fan interactions or stories from those you have helped?

The people that showed me a better life and a better way when I was a kid I will never forget. I just want to return the gesture and be there as much  as I can for anyone who’s going through a hard time or needs support.  The stories aren’t mine to share, as I’m not looking for brownie points on someone else’s behalf. 

 

You’ve mentioned that when driving on tour, you have all gotten in the habit of getting each other into the music you’ve recently discovered.  Who are some artists you have discovered that you feel everyone should know about?

We’re about to tour with Palaye Royale, we really love the scene they’ve built! 

 

You had the opportunity recently to fulfill a dream and tour in Japan.  You have now toured there twice!  Why do you feel they have so much more passion and respect for music then Americans?  Did you have much free time to explore at all?  Did you enjoy the cuisine?

I don’t know that we can say they have “more” passion than Americans, as the fans here are incredible. What I will say is that the experience of going out to shows, physical record stores etc. is still culturally significant on a grander scale. We were able to explore through our tour and covered as much ground as possible. It’s truly incredible.  The cuisine is amazing. I believe Aaron ate something that was still moving. Haha! 

 

You signed a distribution deal last year with the Japanese label BIJ Records for Japanese releases.  What is your fan base and support like in Japan? 

They’re incredible! It’s such a big world out there and it’s so important to go and experience different places and people. We have to make our own experiences. 

 

Now that you have achieved your goal to perform in Japan, as well as a session with Audiotree Live, do you have any new or specific goals/milestones/touring locations that you are hoping to achieve going forward?

We’re about to hit the road when we get back from Japan. The goal is to tour as much as possible. I would love to get to Europe this next year. We’re all itching to cross the pond! I can’t wait to see Prague because I’m a vampy bitch. 

 

You have referred to the band’s current line up as a dream line up.  Why do you feel that the four of you mesh and play so well together?  

Not everything in this world can be quantified in specific terms, it’s called MAGIC. Love and chemistry is something that we can’t break down into a formula. You’ll have to come see a show to understand!

 

The band does a lot of work to support various charitable causes/organizations, recently doing a tour to support Children of The Night. Have you been involved with charities since starting the band and what are some of your favorites?  Do you tend to have a good response from the crowd towards the charities?  Do charities ever reach out to you or do you tend to reach out to them?

We’ve done work for Lost n’ Found Youth and My Sister’s House here in Atlanta. We also just did a show in Orlando called 11:11 fest. We personally address homelessness in our city as much as possible and are open to working with organizations that reach out to us as well. Selfless acts are what the community needs. We aren’t running for public office. 

 

You have done several music videos for your songs.  What is your process like in making your videos?  Do you usually have an idea in mind ahead of the filming for how you want them to look? 

We work with Dominar Films our of Athens, GA. They’re incredible and handle all of the treatments and logistics. I love their art and like to step to the side for them to interpret our songs however they see them. Goes back to trusting your team!

 

I read that you and Emily recently appeared on 6 episodes of Paradise City, the upcoming made-for-tv spin-off of the film American Satan.  How did that opportunity come about and what was the experience like like?  

The answer to this question will reveal itself in due time, but for now we must remain mysterious.  The experience itself was such a blast and we met so many people that were kindred spirits. It’s going to be the shit!

 

Your new EP ‘Japanese Rooms’ will be released on April 19th!  What can you tell me about the writing and recording process for the EP?  What inspired the songs? How do you feel it compares to your previous music?  

In the western world we live in excess. We have more things, more space, more more more. When you first go to Japan, you find yourself bumping into everything. You feel like a giant. What you will grow to realize is that we don’t need the excess, it makes us clumsy. You have to think about the space your occupying. Japanese Rooms is the humble offering from our hearts for the people we would become. The gratitude for the culture. 

 

You recently released a music video for “Never Lie 2 Me” off of the EP.  What can you tell me about the song and the making of the video?

We shot the B footage over the course of a week so it was really cool to see the video and be reminded of everything we saw and did. “Oh yeah that was cool!” and “Oh yeah remember that guy?!”. Shooting on the rooftop with the drone was sick and we ADORED the whole crew. We both looked at each other as exotic insects. 

 

What’s next for the band?

Well, I’m going to finish these questions. The gang is coming over in a couple hours and we’re going to rehearse. We’ll go around the room and share laughter. Then sweat it out. That’s the plan for the future, keep laughing and keep sweating it out. 

Thumpasaurus // Interview

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THUMPASAURUS // INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW BY: Emily May

LA-based quintet Thumpasaurus formed a few years ago after meeting at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School Of Music and have created an eclectic and unique sound. Initially a folk band called The Neighbors, they have transitioned over the years to encompass a sound that combines an eclectic mix of 70’s funk, heavy metal, free jazz, musical theatre, light opera and LA’s up-all-night electronic music in an effort to get people dancing. Comprised of Lucas Tamaren (guitar/vocals), Henry Solomon (saxophone), Paul Cornish (keys), Logan Kane (bass) and Henry Was, son of legendary producer Don Was (drums/percussion), the band considers USC’s famed underground performance venue YONI their home base, a venue at which they opened for artists such as KNOWER and Vulfpeck. The band has hit the ground running after their continual surge in popularity, including a sold out 12 show run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, sold out headlining and support shows last year and performing the live debut last year of their original rock opera, Where Does The Love Go? that included a 20-person choir. Last year, the band also recorded an EP with iconic house producer, Dirtybird’s Justin Jay, on his Fantastic Voyage label that consisted mainly of remixes of some of the band’s songs. Music from the EP has been played by popular DJ’s in the house and techno scene and members of the band accompanied Jay on tour in May of last year to support the release of the EP. In July of last year, the band released their self-produced debut album entitled The Book Of Thump. They returned to Scotland last August for the Fringe Festival with a headlining residency and to debut their rock opera. The band performed at this year’s SXSW Festival and have upcoming festival appearances at Firefly Festival, Peach Fest, Electric Forest Evolve Festival and Joshua Tree Music Fest. With a busy tour schedule and plans to release more music, the band is using their momentum to forge ahead into a busy 2019! You can follow the band and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music, via the following links. Check out their latest video for “Alien” below.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify | SoundCloud | YouTube | Bandcamp | iTunes/Apple Music

You combine several different genres to create your sound, which has a bit of funk, punk, soul and electronic elements.  You were initially a folk band called The Neighbors before you became Thumpasaurus.  What led to your transition from a folk band to your current sound?

The early days of the band were some of the most joyful. We would play all these house parties around the USC area and just see how hard we could make drunk college kids dance and have a good time. That is all we were interested, so we found ourselves in the most sweaty, intense show environments we’ve ever been in. Most of the time the sound was absolute dog shit but I think that taught us how to play well and listen no matter the environment. 

Has your approach/mission towards your music changed much since you first started the band, or do you feel it’s essentially the same, just on a larger scale?

I think it is more of the latter. I think we are a better band and are growing but the essential philosophy is and hopefully will always be there. No matter what we make or how it sounds, or what genre we always ask… Well.. Does it Thump? and if yes then we are happy about it. 

Henry- Your father is legendary producer Don Was.  What was it like growing up with his influence? You produce, mix and engineer Thumpasaurus albums in your home studio?  How much of an influence did your father have in your decision to become a producer yourself?  Did he give you any particularly helpful advice?

HW: My parents really inspired everything for me. My dad and my mom, who was a VP of A&R at Virgin Records, both had a huge impact on my decision to do music in the first place. My parents made doing music seem like the coolest thing in the world, and because I come from them, I’ve always felt like I could earn a place in that world too, someday. It wasn’t till my sophomore year of college that I started producing, and I immediately just felt this humongous door open. I felt like I had found my home for the first time, and that I had value beyond the number of hours I committed to a practice room. It could be from my dad, but for the first time with music I just had this calm, “I can do this” attitude when producing, and that really changed everything for me. There’s a lot of advice I’ve gotten from both of them over the years that applies directly to thump, but my dad also set me up with my first pro-tools rig and left me alone with it without explaining how anything worked. I’m really grateful for that opportunity to discover my own stuff before leaning how this or that “should” be done. 

You recently started a web series called Thump Thoughts.  How did the series come about?  What inspired you to develop it?

Thump thoughts gives us a low stakes platform to put out anything we want. We can kind of explore multiple sounds and genres without the pressure of it being our BIG album release. Also we are just trying to feed the content monster that is social media. 

What can you tell me about your partnership/collaboration with Justin Jay?  How did you meet and come to work with him?

Justin is a good friend from USC that also happens to be extremely talented. He has been coming to our shows and fits in perfectly with our philosophy of wanting to try everything. When he said he wanted to remix our songs we were stoked. We expect to keep exploring sounds with him as time goes on. He also comes from a very exploratory mindset and those kind of people are the best to work with. 

You were in the UK last year for 6 weeks where you premiered the THUMP OPERA collaboration with the professional touring “clown troupe” of Zuck Zacher, Viggo Ven, Jonny Woolley and Ben Benjamin, premiering it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!  What was that experience like?  How were your nightly residency shows?

Edinburgh is absolute insanity. It is both and artists dream and nightmare, but also the reality of trying to make art for the sake of art sometimes. Like, we made absolutely no money doing this (though we expected to) but also came up with the craziest show possible and learned so much about ourselves and our creative/collaborative capabilities. We put on an Opera from our music that was based on an evil Jeff Bezos that combined professional clowns and powerpoint style projections. It was incredibly stupid. 

You explore internet culture as a band and perform what you call “internet stunts”.  Can you talk a bit about this approach to performance and your thoughts on internet culture?

Thumpasaurus is a child of the internet age. So our art is totally influenced by how we grew up with the internet and the ways we interact online, as well as the style of internet content. We are aware that the way in which we communicate on the internet is totally embedded into the way people relate to each other and experience the world. So we take some of the internet stuff (memes, dogs, cats, dancing babies) and throw them into our live show projections. We find that people have been so conditioned by the style of the internet that a lot of these images hit in an immediate and visceral way when combined with our music. Internet culture is extremely cool and beautiful and also terrible at the same time. 

You recently released a 5 part Rock Opera, “Where Does The Love Go?”!  What was the idea/inspiration behind it and what was the experience like making it?  What has the response been?

WDTLG was inspired by us being excited about the idea of creating music that followed a spiritual arc and “hero’s journey.” We sort of chased down the music following our own life experiences of pain and growth and rebirth so we were basically just figuring out what that sounded like. For those who have seen the Opera the response has been awesome! Though, we are having trouble getting everyone to commit to watching a 17 min music video/dance Opera. Oh well!!!

You recently released your debut full-length album The Book Of Thump!  What was the process like in making the album?  You are currently in your The Book Of Thump US Tour!  What have some tour highlights been?

HW: The Book of Thump was an absolute labor of love. We’re really really proud of it, because it’s a real document of the band being born. The oldest song, “You Are So Pretty”, was recorded like two weeks after the band formed. The engineering was so crazy and reckless in retrospect. I didn’t even set up mics for the cymbals. We basically played the whole song into 2 room mics, with the exceptions of a few Channels. We had saxes and keyboard running through pedals and into amps and all kinds of crazy shit, and we just went for it and played as loud as intense as we could. Things grew from there, but we generally always kept that approach, reckless freedom, and taking the longer, crazier path wherever available. Flying by the seat of our pants. A bunch of the songs and the parts were written on the recordings. Sometimes during the take.

What’s next for the band?

We are working on a ton of new music! And are about to hit our first major festivals including Firefly, Electric Forest, Peach Fest, Evolve Festival and Joshua Tree music fest this summer. We have so much music we want to put out that hopefully it happens sooner than later!  

Iris // Interview

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INTERVIEW BY : Emily May

Singer Iris Belson, who simply goes by Iris, has recently embarked on a solo career. Previously a part of the popular indie rock band Linus Young, she decided to record material as a solo artist when the band called it quits. Born in New Jersey of Icelandic heritage, she lived for a while in New York and has since moved to Los Angeles with her husband, Grammy Award-winning producer Malay. She strives to enlighten and strengthen her listeners through her positive messages, which has gained her a large following on Spotify, and counts Parkinson’s Disease, positivity and equality some of the causes she is most passionate about. Inspired by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Van Halen, Iris was surrounded by music growing up. Her father always had music playing in the house and would often take drives and listen to music with her tagging along for the ride. Her involvement with school choirs and talent shows at a young age solidified her decision to pursue the path of music as an adult. Her debut single “Crazy” was recently released and was produced by Malay (John Legend/Frank Ocean) and Taylor Johnson and was co-written by Josh Hendrick. The song is set to be featured on an upcoming episode of the hit Netflix show Santa Clarita Diet. Her acoustic live video for “Crazy”, which you can check out below”, was released today. She plans to release an official video for the track later this month. You can follow Iris and stay up-to-dates on all upcoming music and events via the following links.

Instagram | Spotify | iTunes/Apple Music | Deezer

You were previously a part of the band Linus Young.  What led you to decide to embark on a solo career when the band called it quits?  What do you enjoy about being a solo musician?

I got to experience life on the road which I had never done before. Learning how to get myself ready in any place (sometimes there were no dressing rooms so it would be the bathroom of the venue). I got the chance to connect with people from all over and really reach them in new ways I never knew being on the road and playing shows could do. I learned to be consistent in my performances, that every venue sounds different, and you have to be prepared for any situation because you never know what you're going to get! :)


You recently released your debut single “Crazy”.  What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the song?  


"Crazy" is a song about how love doesn’t make sense. The thoughts that consume you and the things that you do seem out of character, but that’s what love can make you do. 


You worked on the song with the Grammy Award-winning producer Malay, whom you are married to.  What is it like to work together?  


Malay is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. He really understands how to help artists find their own unique sound. He is very easy going, and he really pushes you to be the best that you can be. 

“Crazy” was featured on Santa Clarita Diet.  How did that opportunity come about?  


My good friend Manny Marroquin had approached me about submitting the song to one of his friends that works at Netflix. They were looking for up and coming acts and I am so grateful that they picked my song to be a part of it! I love that show so much, especially Drew Barrymore! I've always been a huge fan of hers, so to be a part of something that she does is such an honor.  It was a great feeling to know too that what I was doing was connecting with people.  


You cite Parkinson’s Disease, equality and positivity as some of your most impassioned causes.  What makes these particular causes so special to you?  What can you tell me about your mission to enlighten and strengthen each of your listeners through positive messages and heart-wrenching lyrics?


I want there to be equality for all! I think it's super important to educate people on why this is so important and how our world would work so much more harmoniously if we all took a chance to learn from each other in spite of our differences. I also am a big advocate for finding a cure for Parkinson's disease. My grandmother was one of the most special people in my life and seeing her suffer was so saddening and a huge reminder that this disease affects millions every day and there's no cure. I also want to fight to keep music programs in the public school system. If it wasn't for music being in school, I don't know if I ever would have made it through. Those classes, teachers and fellow students kept me inspired and motivated. I think people don't realize that music has such a rich history and is behind a lot of political and cultural movements. I think it goes hand in hand with other things that we learn in school. 


What is your songwriting process?  Do you prefer to write alone, co-write with others or a little bit of both?  

It's different every time. Sometimes I'll have an idea ready, and other times it comes from a vibe from the music. 

Your sound is described as alt-pop with a rock edge.  How did you develop your sound?  Who would you count as musical influences?

I developed it through the time I spent being in Linus Young. Stevie Nicks, Mariah Carey, John Mayer, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse, and Led Zeppelin are some of my musical influences, to name a few.

You were raised in New Jersey with Icelandic roots.  What role, if any, did your heritage play in shaping you as a musician?  Did you grow up in a musical/creative household?

My great grandfather was a musician. He played piano and the accordion. I have some cousins in Iceland that play music and sing as well. My dad was always big into taking drives and listening to music, so he exposed me to a lot of cool rock bands at a super early age. 

Having lived in both LA and New York/New Jersey, how do you feel that the East and West Coast atmospheres and music scenes compare?  What do you love about both environments?  

I think the scenes just depend on where you're at. NJ in the Asbury Park area has more of a rock scene, but also they're super big on supporting local musicians and local acts, which I think is so amazing! I lived in Williamsburg for a few years, and there are some amazing venues there - tons of opportunities to see local music as well as the bigger acts that come into town. LA is always interesting to me because you never know what you're going to get and I think people underestimate LA people sometimes. There's definitely the "Hollywood" crowd, but there are also amazing, supportive people that stick with artists. I think, all in all, they're different in many ways, but there is a common hunger for good and new music. 


You’ve said that if you weren’t a musician, you’d be a fashion stylist!  How did your love for fashion develop?  Do you have a favorite designer?  What can you tell me about your own personal style?

I just love fashion! I guess growing up I always wanted to be different in the way I dressed. We didn't have a lot of money when I was young and my mom used to make my clothes a lot. She always inspired me to be creative. My grandmother was also super into shopping/fashion and would constantly bring me new clothes every birthday or holiday. I think clothes are a way to express your individual self and I guess I don't really have one style per se. I love things that glitter and animal print (Jersey girl things ;) ) but I love classic styles too. It depends on my mood and what I'm doing, in terms of what I want to wear, but my usual go-to is a band tee of some sort, and some kind of jean or cool printed pant with some boots.  Favorite designers I'd say are Gucci, Isabel Marant, Zimmerman, Ganni, Reformation (I love how they use recycled material and have the cutest designs) and House of Harlow. I'm obsessed with Madeworn band tees (they handmake them to make them look vintage which is amazing), L'agence and MOTHER jeans are my favorites. Of course, there's the classic Levi's as well. I'm more into shoes than clothes though! I have tons of shoes, and that's usually my worst addiction -  especially boots! 

What’s next for you?

I'll be releasing an acoustic live version of "Crazy" on 4/18 on YouTube. I'm also in the process of editing the official music video for the song as well, which I plan to release at the end of the month. I'm writing/recording and plan on doing shows in the very near future so follow me on IG @iris for all updates and announcements :)