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Interview: We catch up with Erika Wennerstrom

Erika Wennerstrom has been known as "the voice" behind Austin's Heartless Bastards since their inception in 2003. The band garnered considerable success, released five albums and cemented their status as a live act of epic proportions.

Wennerstrom has since taken a plunge into the unknown, figuratively speaking, with the announcement of her solo debut Sweet Unknown.  Leaving the security of a well-known act, she has embraced her vulnerabilities to grow creatively and personally. The resulting album is spectacular in depth. Wennerstrom has faced her shadow self and emerged victorious with Sweet Unknown as a memoir of her lessons along the way.

We chatted with her about the emotional journey that resulted in the writing of Sweet Unknown, her influences, and her songwriting process as a solo artist.

Set the tone for us. How would you describe the sound on your new solo album Sweet Unknown?

I have a lot of influences on it. Pink Floyd, Harry Neilson, and The Band are a few. Its got some blues, folk, rock and roll, soul and a bit of country. 

Take us through your songwriting process. How has it differed in terms of being a solo artist?

My song writing process is still similar. It starts with melodies in my head, sometimes I have a full picture, and sometimes it slowly reveals itself, whether it be a few days, weeks, months, or even years.  Once i get the arrangement figured out I bring it in to work on. In the past with the band I would talk about the vibe and they would help me get there and they would make suggestions in arrangements or other ideas. I really value their opinions.  When the band wanted a break  I didn’t have my support system.  I really had to learn to fully trust myself and my instincts.  I found it very exciting to play with different people. There was a revolving cast over several different sessions. I felt the more the merrier. 

What do you consider to be the 3 albums that  have influenced you the most?

I have so many influences and sometimes it’s really that one song on an album that has changed my life in moments more than an entire album.  I’m just kinda making this up on the spot. Mazzy Star 'So Tonight I Might See', Led Zeppelin 'IV', and Bob Dylan 'Bringing It All Back Home'

The emotional journey that resulted in the writing of Sweet Unknown was influenced in part by a powerful experience using Ayahuasca. Renowned ethnobotanist Terence McKenna once said “Ayahuasca is driven by sound, by song, by whistling. And its ability to transform sound, including vocal sound, into the visual spectrum indicates that some kind of information processing membrane or boundary is being overcome by the pharmacology of this stuff. And things normally experienced as acoustically experienced become visibly beheld, and it’s quite spectacular.” As a musician, what are your thoughts on this? 

Yes I could see that. I’ve had visions that were enhanced by music in the experience. I would find it very difficult to describe. Every person experiences are different though. I’ve done it quite a bit and I’ve never had the same experience twice. Typically Icaros are sang by the Shaman in ceremony. There  are some traditional ones but most have their own songs that come to them during a dieta vision quest. 

Sweet Unknown is a deeply personal album, and has been described as “the Soundtrack to your soul”. You’ve also mentioned that writing music has been a helpful tool for your own self-healing. What is the most memorable response you’ve had to your music?

You know I’ve spent a lot of time being hard on myself, and I used to find it hard to take compliments. In the last several years I had quite a few folks tell me how I helped them get through a difficult time in their life and I really started listening to that. When I’ve had writers block in the past I felt like I would get stuck in my own head and I felt a little too self involved. I write from my heart and for myself first and foremost, but just thinking about the idea that someone else might find comfort in it has given me more of a sense of purpose. I think music brings us together and reminds us we’re not alone with our thoughts. 

Is there a song on the album that is a particular favorite, and why?

I think one of my favorites is 'Good to be Alone'. That song is the idea of being more present. I had a basic structure for the song, and wanted to trade off between my vocals and guitar, but a lot of it was add lib. It’s 10 minutes long and there’s a tempo change through the song. Since there’s no click track metronome, it had a be a solid take from beginning to end. We got it on the 3rd take! These days lots of songs are cut and pasted and spliced. Like, you get the 1st half of take 5 and the 2nd of take 1 for example. This was all in the moment. It was the most exciting song I’ve ever recorded. 

If you had to choose between never playing live again, or never being able to release music again… Which would you go for, and why?

I like the idea that a recording can reach people across the world even if you haven’t been to a particular place. I also love the energy of performing live. Touring can be hard on your body with all the travel though, and it can also be tough to be away from family and friends. I would probably give up touring. 

In your eyes, what is the most important quality for a musician to have? (Originality, adaptability, honesty, etc.?)

I don’t really have that answer. Sometimes when I like or dislike something I’m not even sure why. Somethings just draw you in more personally than others and for different reasons. 

If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would be your ideal collaboration?

Jimi Hendrix! 

Sweet Unknown drops on March 23rd via Parisan Records. Preorder here. Erika will be playing a string of live dates for Sweet Unknown. Tickets and info here.

 Follow Erika Wennerstrom on WebFacebook / Instagram / Twitter
Interview: We catch up with BRYNN

2018 has already been a whirlwind for alternative folk-rock quintet BRYNN. After opening for Incubus on their South African tour, the band will be releasing their highly anticipated debut album Querencia, alongside a string of events and live performances.

Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa,  BRYNN is the product of a few of South Africa's finest musicians: Jules Terea, Hezron Chetty, Eddy Kriel, David Van Vuuren and Alex Smillie (both Southern Wild). They have taken their high energy performance to a host of South African festivals since their 2017 inception, including Up the Creek, Smoking Dragon and River Republic.

We caught up with vocalist and rhythm guitarist Jules Terea to chat about the recent developments, their influences and some insight into the upcoming album.

To those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound?
We would describe our sound as Alternative/Soul Rock.

Your debut album Querencia will be released on the 14th of March. Can you take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting music together?
I wrote all the songs on my own or with Alex Smillie and then they were brought to the band to be workshopped together and we re-arranged and pull them apart until we found a place where they were working. It was a very collaborative, very open process and we all threw ideas around and thought about how to express what each song is saying and lyrically what it means. We tried to find a way to translate that properly through all of our instruments, styles and thought processes.

Studio work and music creation or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?
I think the two are very different processes, studio work is a creative outlet for us and we experiment a lot which we enjoy but I think we really come alive when we perform for an audience and that’s where we thrive.

You recently supported Incubus at Greenpoint Stadium. Can you tell us about the experience and the chemistry on stage?
It's of course a huge honour to open for a band that's shaped so much of the music we hear today and seeing them live was an incredible experience. To see a band of that caliber, with that kind of experience...it's hard to explain as a musician. It's everything you strive for. To operate on that level. So more than anything, the experience was inspiring.

Is there any gig you’ve done or performance you would prefer to forget?
Definitely not hey, I think even the ones that are incredibly difficult to get through sometimes end up becoming some of the ones you learn the most from. Some of my worst gigs have been the gigs that actually changed my everything - changed the way I approach music, changed the way I approach
performing and so forth. I think you have to stumble, you have to screw up, you have to embarrass yourself and you have to go through those things, I don’t think there is any other way to learn. You have to go through the motions and learn through experience, so I don’t think there is any gig I would
prefer to forget. I think you always learn and you come out alright as long as you have the right mentality, and I think we do.

Any new artists on your radar?
A new artist that’s on our radar is definitely Orah & The Kites, we think they are a wonderful band. They are three incredibly talented ladies who are making very delicate and heartfelt music.

If you could collaborate with, or perform alongside any artist past or present, who would it be? And why?
Nina Simone, Ray LaMontagne, Robert Plant, Ani DiFranco, Anderson .Paak or Benjamin Clementine. All artists that take bold risks for the sake of passion and expression and for the love of their art. Hugely inspiring artists to me personally.

Tell us about any upcoming shows or releases you have in the pipeline.
We have our official album launch at Mercury Live this coming Friday (9 March). Joining us on the bill is Southern Wild, Crimson House and Hezron Chetty & The ZugZwang. More details here. We will be releasing our debut album Querencia on the 14th of March on all major online platforms!

Follow BRYNN  on  Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud / Instagram
Interview: We catch up with Kings of Improg

Kings of Improg are a progressive rock band hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa. The band is made up of members Byron Muller (Bass / Guitar), Lloyd Mckeen  (Guitar / Bass), Chad Snell  (Guitar) and Slade du Randt (Drums).

With humble beginnings as a "jam session" in guitarist Byron's living room, the band has gone from strength to strength - and released their brilliant debut album Henosis in 2017.

The inspiration behind their sound was purely based on what transpired organically when they came together to play music. Thus, they initially named their project Kings Of Improv. This later evolved to their current moniker Kings of Improg blending the words "improv" and "prog."

We chatted to them about their upcoming slot at the Misty Waters Music Festival in Secunda, South Africa (28 April) and also gained some insight into their creative process.

To those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound?
The easiest category description would be Instrumental Post/Progressive Rock

We blend an eclectic mix of genres from hard alternative rock to progressive metal with blues, jazz & reggae influences, & everything in between, often describing ourselves as a progressive psychedelic instrumental blues rock jam band.

Which three albums have influenced you the most creatively?
Tool - Lateralus
Pink Floyd - Dark side of the moon
Karnivool - Sound Awake

Tell us about the key pieces of equipment that you use to define your sound?
Vox and Orange guitar amps add to our signature tone, Epiphone and Ibanez guitars are our axes of choice, and a Warwick 6 string bass brings the deep rooted low end that can be heard throughout our discography. Effects pedals make a big contribution as well, delay pedals add a lot of ambience to our sound, together with flange, phaser and tremelo effects.

Is there any "non-musical" ingredient that is essential to crafting your sound?
Beer and medicinal herbs

Studio work and music creation, or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?
Hard to choose, because both are awesome! But gun to the head, music creation and collaboration itself is a special thing. We really do love the process of getting together, all from different angles and perspectives and approaches to music, and putting together the riffs and the ideas we have, piecing the musical puzzle together in studio where after months of tireless work we have a completed product to present to the world, it's a great sense of achievement.

What has been your most memorable performance so far?
Our Album Launch for Henosis in May of 2017 at the Railways Cafe in Irene, South Africa, an intimate setting, packed venue, great fellow instrumental acts sharing the stage with us, awesome crowd response. Was an all round magical experience.

And which performance would you prefer to forget?
Playing to no one but the barman on a Tuesday evening at the other end of the province at a dead end bar called Smugglers.

Any new or emerging artists on your radar?
Fellow South African instrumental prog/post rockers Savage Lucy and OhGod

If you could collaborate with, or perform alongside any artist, who would it be? And why?
The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Do we need a reason?

If you weren't a musician what would you be?
Bounty Hunters

Trent Reznor once said "To me, rock music was never meant to be safe. I think there needs to be an element of intrigue, mystery, subversiveness. Your parents should hate it." What are your thoughts on this statement?
100% agree. Rock music is meant to steer away from the norm, delve deep into the unknown and present the world with something different and exciting outside of what the societal structures dictate. If your parents can be open minded enough to enjoy, then all the better, but if you're making music to please only the status quo, you're going about it all wrong. Unless you can sleep with yourself knowing you're selling out just to make a one hit wonder that the otherwise 'squares' of the world will enjoy, for a purely profit motive, then go right ahead. You won't find any respect or adoration here though.

Tell us about any upcoming shows or releases you have in the pipeline.
We have a festival slot at the Misty Waters Music Festival in Secunda, South Africa on the 28th April. We are in the process of writing our second album due to be recorded towards the second half of 2018, due to be released early in 2019.

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