Category Archives: international musician

Meet Lil’ Lyss, One Female Producer Making her Mark in Modern Music

Music Producer Diana D. aka Lil' Lyss
Music Producer Diana D. aka Lil’ Lyss

Drawing influences from super producers from the early 2000s such as Scott Storch (Beyoncé, Tupac Shakur, 50 cent, Nas, Lil Wayne), Timbaland (Jay Z, Drake, Rick Ross) and Dr. Dre (Eminem, Snoop Dogg, The D.O.C., Xzibit), Bay Area based music producer Diana D., a.k.a. Lil’ Lyss, has become a driving force of innovation and style in the modern music scene.

A Bulgarian native, Lil’ Lyss has been creating dope beats and producing music for other artists for nearly a decade now. She first rose to the upper ranks of the rap and hip-hop scene when she was invited to come in as a producer on rapper Ca$his’ album The County Hound 2. Sharing producer credits on the album with major rap staples such as 15-time Grammy Award winner  Eminem (one of the world’s best-selling artists), Rikanatti, Cin-A-Matik, The Punisher, R&D, 1Down, Steve E and Ca$his, who served as executive producer, Lil’ Lyss joined the all-star team as a producer on the album’s hit single “Imma Hustla” featuring Crooked I (from Slaughterhouse) and Sullee J. She also produced the track “Imma Hustla [W.C. Remix]” featuring Crooked I, Mistah F.A.B., Roccett and Goldie Gold. Lil’ Lyss clearly nailed the mark as both tracks were instant hits that were featured all over the internet, creating quite a buzz of anticipation for the full album’s release.

Shortly after The County Hound 2 was released, Lil’ Lyss was asked to come back as a producer on Ca$his’ album The County Hound 3, this time as a producer on the album single “A-Rod” featuring Emilio Rojas. From the zig-zagging synth melody, to the fast tapping open hats and rhythmic snaps, the music Lil’ Lyss came up with for the track creates the perfect hype and energy to drive Ca$his’ lyrics.

I usually prefer minors and syncopated drum patterns. Different sections and interesting arrangements. Every beat should stand out on its own and be complemented with creative lyrics, that makes a hit song that lasts for decades,” explains Lil’ Lyss about what makes a hot beat.

“Today they say this style of production is ‘too busy’ but that’s only because today’s ‘rappers’ have no talent, so they can’t handle a musical beat with changing drum patterns. And this is why I’m here to change that. I want to take hip hop forward and hopefully in the future create opportunities for the real talents out there. Most beats today are super boring, same 4 on the floor rhythm, same 3 chords, same 808s, I’m not a fan of that.”

Anyone who’s heard the tracks she’s produced knows that Lil’ Lyss’ work is the polar opposite of boring, she definitely knows how to craft music that supports the artist’s sound and keeps listeners engaged. Aside from her chameleonic style and inimitable skill, one of the factors that has set Lil’ Lyss apart from the pack and propelled her career forward is her drive to find new artists and never stop producing. After coming across Texas rapper Nique’s music on the internet Lil’ Lyss took the initiative to reach out and see if the two could collaborate.

“I heard his music on SoundCloud and I really liked his flow, so I contacted him right away and offered to work with him,” explains Lil’ Lyss. “He liked what I sent him and it happened pretty quickly. He told me what he wanted and we did it. He wanted a fun, simple hip hop track. In this case it worked perfectly because his style is very versatile and his flow alone could be a song on its own.”

In 2014 she produced Nique’s bangin’ track “Hold Something.” Referred to by many as an instant party starter, the upbeat track is one that, thanks to the combination of Lil’ Lyss’ brilliantly crafted beats and overall production, and Nique’s catchy lyrical flow, immediately draws listeners in and makes them want to move.  

 

While Lil’ Lyss has earned quite a reputation for herself as a gifted music producer for other artists, her solo work is nothing to be ignored. Earlier this year she was selected out of hundreds of producers from around the world to perform at the iStandard Producers Showcase in Los Angeles where her unique musical stylings caught the attention of both the crowd and the judges.

While most music producers remain the unsung heroes behind the scenes with the artist they create those stellar tracks for gaining all of the attention in the mainstream, the iStandard Producers Showcase gives the best producers in the business the opportunity to step outside the studio and put their talent on display for audiences across the states. The high-profile competition takes place in more than 30 cities across North America and partners with major festivals and music conferences such as SXSW, ASCAP EXPO, A3C Festival and others.

One of the five original tracks Lil’ Lyss played for the crowd was her new high-energy instrumental trap track “Beast Race,” which has been gaining traction with fans across the internet since its release.

Swiff D, one of the judges of the competition, said, “First, your automation game is crazy and second I don’t know what you’re using but I’ve haven’t heard such sounds in my whole career.”

A testament to the unyielding ardor of her drive, Lil’ Lyss is completely self-taught when it comes to the software she uses, which is rather surprising considering her unparalleled skill. While the internet has definitely made it easier for people to learn how to use software, producing quality music requires a whole lot more than simply knowing how to push buttons.

She says, “Everyone can learn how to use a certain tool but what are you going to make out of it? My strength is definitely the unique melodies even if they are simple, and the interesting drum patterns.”

One of the many reasons artists around the world are vying to work with Lil’ Lyss as their music producer is her innovative approach to creating music that not only fits their style and is strong enough to reach audiences in the mainstream, but also pushes the boundaries of the mainstream.

Up next for Lil’ Lyss is a collaboration with renowned Brazilian R & B star Angel B, who is known for the hit songs Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet ft. Marley Waters,” “Don’t Touch It ft Lorena Simpson,” “I Gotchu,” “Money” and others. Lil’ Lyss is slated to begin producing Angel B.’s next album later this year.  

About working with Angel B., Lil’ Lyss explains, “She wants something different for her next project that doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio, that’s why she decided to work with me. She knows that when it comes to creativity I’m the right person.”

 

DAHOV AND JEREMIH BRING MUSIC FANS TOGETHER

 

The Arts are often the key to a universal experience and language among all people of the planet. While the accent of different paintings, cinema, and music may reveal their point of origin, the ability of these mediums to convey emotion and a connection with others is often beyond the words and language they might contain. It has often been said that the work of an artist is that of bringing all peoples together by conveying the emotions we all share, regardless of our background. As technology brings the world closer, the assimilation of different cultures and their artistic contributions is clearly evident and results in a decrease of noticing the differences and an increase in the appreciation of what these differences offer to the collective global experience. The Canadian percussionist/drummer/entertainer knowns simply as Dahov performed at a concert with American artist Jeremih (Jeremih Felton) exciting the crowd at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal. Jeremih is a Chicago native whose multiple high charting hits like “Birthday Sex” and “All About You” broke into the top five on the Billboard charts. His legions of fans are based in the R&B/Hip Hop world while Dahov is a solo artist known for House, EDM, and various other musical forms with which he infuses Latin and Middle Eastern rhythmic ideas. While both artists share a love of percussion from their early teens, each of them has cultivated and evolved into their own style and brand of musical entertainment. Their performance together at the Olympia Theater shows how these artists brought their fan bases together for a night of thrilling entertainment, proving that we can appreciate the differences we have while recognizing a common thread.

For his appearance in Montreal, Jeremih and his management were seeking out a Canadian artist who would both be familiar to the crowd as well as be exciting enough to create a feverish tone for the concert. Patrick Farah (owner of Sky Entertainz) was consulted and he immediately suggested Dahov. Patrick and Dahov have worked together on numerous large scale entertainment events in Canada. Farah declares, “Dahov’s unique style and looks are definitely a selling point. With such passion in what he does, he sets the bar at a complete different level from others in this business! He is also such a wonderful person and he reflects his personality in his work ethic. He is the type of musician and entertainer who creates a special bond with his audience. Rather than setting himself above the audience, Dahov has an amazing ability to pull everyone in and making them feel as if they are in an intimate party, relaxed and able to have fun.”

STUDIO11 taken by ARA SASSOUNIAN (well known artistphotographer)

(Photo courtesy of Ara Sassounian)

This event featuring Jeremih and Dahov is a template for how different artists can create an experience for an audience that is eclectic and yet relative. While Jeremih is a singer/rapper, Dahov is a percussionist who does not sing. Both artists perform with DJ’s and/or tracks and, at least in this situation, both had dancers joining them onstage. Very similar production styles but very different content. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Dahov’s ability is that he is able to entertain the audience by playing a hand percussion instrument know as a Darbuka. This middle eastern “goblet drum” is the core and essence of his one-man band (supplemented by tracks). It is truly amazing to see how this talented artist can drive a crowd (in this case, the 700-member audience that packed out the Olympia) to a literal feverish pitch. His technique and musicality is mesmerizing while his ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and create the excitement equal to any outdoor EDM festival is…well, jaw dropping. The synergy between the artists’ performance was a great success but was not necessarily intuitive. At a meeting prior to the performance that night, Jeremih and Dahov discussed how to approach the differences in their musical styles in order to insure a cohesive quality for the crowd. While much of Jermih’s music is more relaxed in tempo (sometimes even romantic), Dahov is known for his upbeat party vibe style. Dahov explains his approach to manifesting the appropriate vibe for the evening, “We wanted to do something different than the usual upbeat show, so I used Arabic oriental techniques. This style usually calls for you to play for belly dancers and, even though there are faster beats, we performed the slower beats using the derbake percussion because it allows for very intricate and interesting rhythmic ideas. It was a perfect match to afterwards fade with Jeremih’s first song.” Dahov readily admits that, just as the crowd was exposed to different musical influences at this performance, the percussionist/entertainer himself also gained an even greater appreciation for his fellow entertainer. He notes, “Jeremih is truly an amazing talent. It’s always educational for me to see how another artist relates to the crowd, how they design the rhythm of their show, and how the crowd reacts to what they do. Anyone who has seen Jeremih perform has seen the evidence first hand of how great he is. I knew his music but seeing him live gives me a deeper understanding of his talent. I like Hip Hop and Rap but I am more into a club house, EDM, Latin kind of music. I love the feel of the beat, the melodies, especially when I perform to these kinds of music it feels like I am actually inside the music…producing it! I like Bachata, in particular Romeo Santos. Bachata is such a relaxing type of music. I enjoy listening to it whenever and wherever. It makes me feel like I’m somewhere down south sitting on the beach and watching the ocean! Another type of Latin music that I like is reggaetón. Reggaetón is all about the party; the positive mood and tropical paradise! EDM and house artists like Calvin Harris and Tiesto are my favorites. I have seen them both perform in Las Vegas and their music is on another level! Their collaborations with other artists are perfect! The melodies and sound samples they integrate enter your ears and gets your emotions jumping. I’m hoping to come to the US and pursue my own version of the path that these artists have forged. I have proven to myself and the people of Canada that a drummer can perform by himself and command the attention of sold out crowds. Performing and communicating with American artists like Jeremih has only made my desire to become a part of the great American music and entertainment industry even more attractive…and seem more possible.”

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REGGAE BY WAY OF NEPAL WITH JOINT FAMILY INTERNATIONAL’S MAGNETIC DRUMMER

One of the most effective way to influence a culture is through the Arts. For example, when the music of one region permeates the world on a global scale, it’s doubtless that this region “has arrived” as a worldwide focus. Reggae has brought attention to parts of the world which might have been overlooked, giving voice to the sounds and moods of its originators with great positive effect. Kathmandu is a long way from Trench Town in Jamaica but the Nepali band Joint Family International (JFI) heard the call of reggae and took up the mantle, to great success and acclaim. In addition to their domestic and international touring, JFI won three Hits FM Music Awards (Nepal’s equivalent of the Grammy) for: Best New Artist, Best Performance by Group or Duo with Vocals, and Best Pop Composition for their debut release One Good Thing. Perhaps the most intrinsic facet of reggae is its rhythm which is so unlike the European or American ones found in Jazz, Rock, R&B, and so many other modern musical forms. Sanjay Shreshta (JFI’s founder, bandleader, and guitarist) needed the most adept drummer possible to give JFI’s rhythm section authenticity. Sanjay knows quite a bit about drummers as he is also the drummer for the famous 1974 AD band. Sanjay’s enlisted Nepali session drumming ace/instructor at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory Kismat Shreshta. Sanjay proclaims, “Kismat is charisma personified when it comes to playing on the stage in front of an audience who wishes for an unforgettable musical experience. I’ve never seen anyone who has a better command of groove and blends so well with the music and Bass lines. Kismat has such a deep understanding and sensitivity of what the music needs…and when he solos, it’s a treat for his bandmates as much as the audience. I knew that having him behind the drums in JFI would be the spark that would propel JFI to greatness.”

Kismat has toured and recorded with a variety of successful groups including: Albatross (Band of the Year award winner- Radio Kantipur), Urjazz (playing to crowds of thousands at the World Village Festival held in Helsinki) and various others. As the only Nepali drummer to ever have been awarded a professional endorsement from an American company (Vater sticks and percussion), Kismat is more than a respected drummer in his homeland; he has become a drum hero. While the respect and praise of others might be the icing on the cake, this drummer is always focused on the music. JFI presented Shrestha with an opportunity to dig deep into reggae. As a longtime fan of the genre, it was a welcome challenge for him. He comments, “The general idea most people have about reggae drumming is that it is easy and that’s exactly what the great drummers of reggae want you to think. They want you to feel the lightness of the music and lyrics, without noticing how amazing they are as musicians. The more I researched and studied Reggae, the more I learnt about its specifics and differences, meaning that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. I listened to the best reggae drummers and taught myself about reggae music. During JFI rehearsals, Sanjay would show us a certain grove and feel of the music, which we then took home and internalized. I also researched more on the different styles of playing to allow myself to play this kind of music as authentically as possible. There are still parts of who we are all as players that crept in to the music, it’s inevitable. I have spent my life performing jazz and rock music. I think there will always be some of that in my playing.” The song “Netaji” from JFI’s debut recording is an example of this. “Netaji” spent 3 months as the number one single atop the Nepali charts. While the song exhibits the authentic reggae sound and hopeful attitude, the linear hi hat, snare, bass drum “licks” that Kismat subtlety weaves into his drum part give a hint that his proficiency is always slightly restrained to serve the groove.

 

JFI received international accolades and garnered fans in addition to those of their homeland. The group appeared at the 2014 Kolkata Peace Festival which took place in Calcutta, India. Invited by an organization named Bangla Natak which hosted this annual music festival in association with the US embassy, JFI performed to an estimated 5,000 concert attendees. In 2015, the band travelled to Thailand as part of the Global Battle of the Bands as well as the Kathmandu Jazz Festival in 2013. JFI has been the headliner band for the Sundance Festival (in Kathmandu) from 2010-2012.

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Kismat and his bandmates began JFI as a way to celebrate Bob Marley and also challenge themselves. The overwhelming acceptance of this band from Kathmandu playing music born of Jamaica has surprised them more than anyone. Kismat confirms, “Honesty, these awards came as a huge surprise for us all as we had never imagined a reggae band such as ours to receive awards and acceptance of this magnitude. The recognition we got through media and the like for winning these awards made all our efforts seem worthwhile. While we had started the band for fun’s sake, winning these awards made us even more inspired to move on.” One Good Thing is available on iTunes and multiple digital music formats.

THE STAR BEHIND THE ROCKSTAR

The throngs of adoring fans at concerts are almost always unaware of the professional workings of their favorite artist; the organizational and musical preparations necessary to create the inspiring events that they desire. Movies often show a romanticized and unrealistic scenario in which the artist calls some friends to play with them when, magically and immediately, everything falls into place. The musicians who live this amazing life will tell you it is magical for them but far from immediate. Any great performance takes talent, but it also requires preparation, professionalism, social skills, and a strong work ethic. The greats have earned this moniker through dedication as well as artistry. While many people have heard the title Musical Director, the specific duties required of an MD are vague at best in most individual’s understanding. Kieran Kiely is the respected musician who served as MD for Sinead O’ Connor from 2007 to 2012. As MD, he performed many roles to enable Sinead to focus on the expression of her music without being weighed down by the numerous other variables which might encumber an artist of her renown. At a certain level of fame, an artist’s career becomes similar to any other large and global pursuit. This means that artists such as Ms. O’ Connor and her peers require a musician whom they can trust to safeguard the integrity of the music and its presentation. A Musical Director is perhaps the most trusted advisor for any artist, meaning that the responsibility placed on them is reserved for the most valued and respected musicians.

In the mid 90’s, Kieran was playing in the Irish Celtic Punk group Shane MacGowan and The Popes. Kieran recalls, “One night while hanging at the Popes usual haunt, Filthy McNasty’s Pub in Angel, London, Shane asked me to go to a club with him, without knowing where we were going or whom we were meeting. When we got to the Club(The Atlantic Bar, SoHo) there was Sinead with Shane’s girlfriend, Victoria. I ended up chatting with Sinead. The next time I saw her was a year or two later when I was asked to play on a record. Somebody from the production recommended me for the session. It turned out to be a duet with Sinead and Terry Hall from The Specials, with Dave Stewart producing. This was the first time I met Dave. It took place at The Eurhythmics Church recording Studio in Crouch End, London. I played Low Whistles (Irish Flutes). Sinead loved the sound of those at that time. I continued to meet Sinead from time to time at gigs and festivals and she then asked me to play on her record Faith and Courage, and subsequently some of her following records.” Conflicting schedules prohibited a closer and more permanent working situation between O’ Connor and Kiely until 2007 when she asked him to assume the role of Musical Director for her. Largely known as a pop/rock artist, O’ Connor was intent on making use of Kieran’s mastery of Celtic instruments and their approach to her music. While he would add authenticity to the music that supported Sinead’s intrinsic Celtic vocal stying, Kiely would also be required to assume various roles as MD.

One of the most vital roles of an MD is to find the proper band members for an artist. It is not as simple as finding great players, although that is a requirement. Band members must be well versed in the style of music they will be performing but not void of other influences as they may be called upon to “stretch” or “flex” their approach. With touring artists, there is an understanding of the lifestyle which can mean long periods of time away from familiar people and surroundings. Touring musicians are the nomads of the music world. This requires someone whose personality meshes well with the sentiments of the artist they work with. It is similar in many ways to dating. There has to be a certain spark to the interaction. In his role as MD for O’ Connor, Kiely assembled a group of elite musicians respected throughout the world; an outstanding achievement for any MD. The band consisted of: British Session Drummer Ash Soan, Guitarist Dave Randall (recognized for his atmospheric sound), Yolanda Charles (renowned Bassist, praised as one of the best in the world), and legendary guitarist Robbie McIntosh. Sinead’s music is quite eclectic and emotional, requiring musicians who play at the highest level as well as those who listened intently to match the dynamic level and energy. Because these band members were so sought out, Kieran took an especially benevolent, yet professional approach. He states, “I like to try and create an environment where everyone feels very comfortable so they can be creative. In regards to parts, I was pretty specific. I knew Sinead’s material really well and created new arrangements of her songs that were sensitive to Sinead’s performance style. To achieve this, I had parts worked out for the players in advance. We also had a new album to promote and so had to be true to those songs. I wouldn’t say it was difficult though; when you have that caliber of musician to work with, it’s a pure joy.”

Rehearsals are always a good barometer for the mixing of skill and personalities but the real evidence surfaces when the artist and band tour. The incredible ecstasy of performing in front of thousands…even hundreds of thousands can be offset by the disconnect from familiar faces and places. Many musicians are defeated by the road. While Kieran is a veteran of the road and the studio, each new group introduces a number of variables. Early communication proved positive as he tells, “After I had taken on the role of MD and we did our first few shows, she sent me an exuberant text message, saying “who knew we were both so F**king amazing. She was very happy, which of course meant that I was happy.” Kiely continues stating, “You don’t just phone it in with Sinead, you have to be present, in the moment, and extremely sensitive to dynamics and tempo. She gives you everything you need in her voice; you just have to listen. On the intimate songs, I learnt to be comfortable with my playing being super exposed, where every expression and articulation could be heard. That sort of experience in front of 10’s of thousands of people over a period of time really hones your performance skills. Putting together a band that understood this in the same way that I did was a major achievement for me.”

While performing the role of MD was essential to Sinead’s live performances, Kieran was also a valued recording musician for O’ Connor. Selling in excess of millions of copies, Kieran recorded five albums with Sinead: Faith & Courage, Sean Nos Nua, Collaborations, She Who Dwells, and How About I Be Me. These recording are proof to Kieran’s masterful musical talent as well as O’ Connor desire for him to be a part of creating her sound. This desire was shared by others as Kiely relates, “She [Sinead] called me late one night to come play on a track. When I got there, she introduced me to Wyclef Jean, who was producing the song and said, ‘This is Kieran, he is the soul of my album. (Faith and Courage album).’
I later worked on Wyclef’s own record, Masquerade, at his NYC studio, and with his sister and brother.”

Kieran now resides in Los Angeles where he has taken to composing and orchestrating for film. His work creating the music for Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman proves that he is still using the sounds for which he is recognized to contribute to the success of artists. He still fondly recalls his time with Sinead O’ Connor and notes one obvious memory, “Nothing Compares to you was a highlight. It’s such a famous song. The audience are always waiting to hear it, so it’s a great moment for them. It wasn’t unusual to see people crying in the audience. ‘3 Babies also’. Sinead can conjure up such emotion when performing. What’s important to Sinead is that she connects with the song.” Kieran Kiely also connects to the song…and the art, in a very leading way.

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Singer/Songwriter Juvicsa Talks About Debut EP “Eyes to Land”

I recently had the chance to catch up with the uber talented singer songwriter Juvicsa Vela, who released her debut EP Eyes to Land produced by Federico Angel earlier this year. In our interview Juvicsa opens up about the new EP, her writing process and some of her musical influences.

Born in Peru, Juvicsa discovered her god-given talent for singing and passion for music at an early age, and when she moved to Sweden with her mother at the age of 12 her artistry really began to take root. Having lived all over the world, it’s not surprising that Juvicsa’s music exhibits traces of influences from many cultures.

Juvicsa Vela
Singer/Songwriter Juvicsa

Juvicsa first began working on the EP while living in Los Angeles where she attended the Musicians Institute, but in search of new inspiration and a change of scenery, she moved to Reykjavik, Iceland last year where she finished the album working remotely with her LA-based producer Federico Angel.

Eyes to Land can easily fit into the pop/rock category, but with R & B and Latin elements, not to mention Juvicsa’a powerful vocals and bittersweet lyrics, the EP eloquently defies genres.  

You can purchase Juvicsa’s debut EP Eyes to Land on Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. There’s also a limited amount of signed physical copies for purchase on Bandcamp. You can also find out more about her and get updates on upcoming shows through her website, Facebook and YouTube channel.

Juvicsa also wrote the popular theme song for an Indonesian adventure TV show sponsored by Mitsubishi called “Jonsson & Robinson Journey,” which premiered to millions of viewers across the country.

To find out more about Juvicsa and her new EP make sure to check out our interview below.

 

How old are you?

28 years young

When and how did you first get into music?

I must’ve been around 4 or 5 when I started to sing. I had this boombox with a built in mic and a lot of cassettes. I used to spend hours and hours and hours on the floor with my boombox, recording myself singing and creating harmonies over my recordings, I think that’s when I first created something musical. This was so liberating to me, a kid who was a rebel, always getting in trouble at school but when I went back home and locked myself in my room I’d spend hours singing and doing all those things I loved to do and that was my outlet. Then I started writing songs at the age of 15 with an old piano my mother got for me and a little MIDI controller.

When you say you were a rebel– what kind of trouble were you getting into?

As a very hyperactive kid, I didn’t really like to follow the rules at school so I got sent to the principal’s office very often for roughhousing and sneaking out of class to play with the older kids.

What do you think might have happened if you hadn’t found music as an outlet?

I already have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time so I think I would’ve probably lost my mind a little. I don’t think I would have been able to deal with the darkness and the difficulties of growing up. I would’ve possibly kept getting in trouble.

How long were you working on “Eyes to Land” before its September release?

It took me about a year from scratch to finished product, a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was in Iceland and my producer was back in the states, so there was a lot of going back and forth, time differences and work on both our parts. Lots of coffee, little sleep.

Can you give us a little back story on the EP and where you got your inspiration from?

I moved to Iceland a week after my grandma passed away, my grandma was more like a second mother to me, so the whole process of composing the EP was a very emotional one. I definitely think that both Iceland’s landscapes and nature, and being in a very emotional state, brought the EP out, especially being in a brand new country.  

Did you write all of the songs on the EP?

I did, along with my producer.

What is the writing process like for you?

I think the writing process was different for each song, I could get inspiration by sitting by the ocean in Reykjavik, being in the shower for another song, conversations I had with friends that sparked something in me and made me drop everything and write. I do spend a lot of hours alone in the beginning, I think that’s what works best for me and I’m more comfortable that way. After writing a song I’d call my producer and we’d go to the next step, more composing, polishing, re-recording and so on, all through FaceTime.

Can you tell us about your inspiration for some of the songs?

Well for example “High Tonight” was born out of a glass of wine and a late night conversation with a friend of mine. She was going through a tough break up at the time and she said a couple of things that really struck me. I dropped everything, went over to the keyboard and started writing it, it was written in a couple of hours. She actually doesn’t know about it yet!

For “Unaware” I had to dig a little deeper, it’s definitely a very personal song to me. My inspiration came from being in a toxic environment and feeling exhausted but still seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, still not being able to let go of that thing that can break you but can save you. The sound for “Unaware” is definitely influenced by No Doubt and Spanish music.

“Now” is the song about hope. Like I said, there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel and this is it, this is your saving moment, it’s you giving in instead of giving up. “Now” is kind of my full circle song.

What is your favorite song off of the EP right now?

My personal favorite is “Unaware.” I’m very emotionally attached to that one.

Why did you choose to name the EP “Eyes to Land”?

It’s a poetic play on words. This EP symbolizes a person trying to deal with death and rebirth at the same time. The name comes from trying to deal with the death of someone so close that in a way symbolized the death of a part of me, but also the rebirth, which for me was moving to another country. That in both situations you need guidance, you need eyes. If not your own, then someone else’s.

How would you describe the album to those who haven’t had a chance to hear yet?

A shoegaze and pop/rock mix with emotional but energetic vocals. With all kinds of raw ENERGY ranging from sad to sensual.

Did you play any instruments on the album?

I played the keys on the final product but I program different instruments when I’m in the writing process as well so that everything is the way we want it.

Do you have a consistent band backing you?

Not as of now I don’t. It’s hard to keep one consistent band with you when you’re traveling a lot.

Who else was involved in the making of your new EP “Eyes to Land”?

Federico Angel as producer and instrumentalist, the amazing Ro Rowan on cello, Dean Dichoso as instrumentalist, Dean Dichoso Productions for mix and mastering and Steinunn Osk Axelsdottir as sound engineer on vocals.

How did you choose Federico Angel as your producer for the album?

From the first day we started working together I knew there was something that clicked. It’s actually very simple, we’re both very straight to the point and he knows exactly what I want and how I want things to sound, sometimes even without fully explaining what I mean, he gets it. I mean it’s gotta be a good match when the artist is explaining a sound as a color or a metaphor and the producer completely gets it down.

You’ve had a pretty multi-cultural upbringing, can you tell us about some of the places you’ve lived and how they have affected your journey as a musician?

I was born in Lima, Peru but I moved to Lund, Sweden when I was 12, as an adult I moved to Los Angeles and as of last year I live in Iceland. All of these moves and amazing experiences with different cultures make my music what it is. Ultimately all I want is to unapologetically mix everything I know and write something I think will sound great and people will relate to.

Were your parents involved in music as well?

No, my parents weren’t but I have singers and artists in my extended family.

Can you tell us a little bit about Iceland’s music culture? Do you feel that it has influenced your work as a musician?

Funny thing about being like a sponge when you’re a musician, I sent my producer a demo during our Eyes To Land writing process and he thought it sounded Björk-esque, which obviously was a huge compliment that I most likely didn’t deserve but it really made me think about inspiration always changing and how it can be so related to where you are, I think it’s amazing.

I’m a really big fan of Icelandic music, coming from Sweden, I initially thought it could be similar but it’s really an art of its own. To me, the peculiar sound that Icelandic music has, has to do a lot with the isolation of the island and even modern Icelandic music has a characteristic sound with traces of the old.

Are you involved in any collaborations at the moment or are you mostly focusing on your solo career?

I’m working with a couple of artists at the moment for minor projects or songs I’ll be featured in but I’m mostly focusing on my solo career at the moment.

What five albums are you listening to most right now?

Garbage’s new album “Strange Little Birds,” Sia’s “This is Acting”, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and waiting impatiently for the New Lady Gaga album and the new Beth Hart album!

If you didn’t become a musician, what profession do you think you might have chosen?

I think I would’ve still been involved with the arts in some way, I would’ve been around music and art in any way I could. I always try not to let plan B distract me from plan A though.

JAPAN’S KENJI USUI IS PUSHING THE MUSIC SCENE FORWARD, ONE BAND AT A TIME

The music industry and the music scene in America are completely different from what it was even just ten years ago, and it is continually changing. Napster of course led to the upheaval of the music business. There is still conjecture about the result of this occurrence and whether it’s effects were beneficial or detrimental to the music world. One side insists that it was blatant piracy, a crime that deserves severe punishment. Others state that this “anarchy” leveled the playing field which led to a resurgence in the artists taking control from music industry executives and the birth of the DIY movement in the US. For quite some time now, the Japanese have been attracted to American bands and artists, taking careful note of it. One person who has done this is Japanese artist Kenji Usui. Usui is a prevalent part of the Japanese music scene who has also pioneered much of the ever growing Japanese independent music terrain. As an established Japanese artist, Kenji has made it his mission to increase visibility for the less established Japanese musicians as well as visiting foreign artists and bands.

With a long list of band credits and recordings that include; Blackjack, SPOON, Allies and Aces, Pororocks, and An Atomic Whirl, Usui has become weaved into the Japanese musical tapestry. He is highly recognized for his talent on multiple instruments (Vocals, Bass, Drums). As someone who climbed up from obscurity to become one of the most recognizable faces in the Japanese music world, Kenji understands how difficult a job it can be to simply gain a platform from which to express one’s own artistry. With that in mind, he set about to establish the opportunities for other artists to accomplish this.

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One of the most direct and successful means of Kenji helping to expose artists to the scene was as cofounder of Noise Union Japan Records. This label has been a way to connect bands from Japan and surrounding countries. Noise Union Japan Records is a way to promote bands and develop a network that will allow artists to grow and expand. Founded by Kenji Usui and Chikashi Gushiken, this label seeks to showcase the best artists from not only Japan, but also Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, and other countries in the region. Gushiken (Noise Union Japan Records co-founder) gives credit to Usui’s affable nature as well as his love of music for enabling the success of this record label, commenting, “Kenji has a knack for meeting people and finding a way to incorporate them into Noise Union Japan. Every time he goes to a show in Tokyo or travels to a different country, he comes back with multiple new contacts and new ideas for booking events or festivals. He is highly motivated and productive, driven by a genuine passion for growing the music scene.”

As a member of Anit-Clockwise Productions, Kenji helps to organize events around Tokyo. Whether it is a local band or an international artist touring Japan, Usui understands the necessity of having an experienced hand on deck. As a member of many different bands over the years (Anti-Clockwise Productions recently produced and shot the music video for “Sanlitun” by Kenji’s band An Atomic Whirl) Usui is particularly empowered to make the process much less cumbersome for bands from any location in the world. It has afforded him the chance to gain knowledge and insight, as he reveals, “The best thing about working with bands from other countries is the inspiration and new perspective it gives. For me, working and touring with bands from other countries has been the most rewarding part of playing music over the past several years and I look forward to doing more of this in the future. It seems that US musicians are very interested in Japanese music and culture. I am always impressed by the level of creativity and experimentation coming from US bands, and I think that there is very fertile ground for cooperation and collaboration between these cultures in the future.

The Tsuruginomai Festival in the mountains of Japan, showcases the deep underground of Tokyo’s music scene. Kenji has aided founder Kohei Noda with this festival every year since 2010, assisting with the production and booking, as well as performing with various acts each year. As an artist who has toured playing international festivals, Usui has been an essential part of helping to coordinate this festival and others to increasing success and attendance since its inception. Kenji confirms, “I regularly perform at the Tsuruginomai Festival with Pororocks, An Atomic Whirl, and Kissaco, as well as playing onstage with various friends’ bands. Being a performer gives me an immediate understanding of what the artists on the bill are experiencing. It’s important that I keep in touch with this to give both the bands and the audience a better concert experience. It is often difficult, but it’s also rewarding. Some of the best bands are the bands you never hear about; being a part of an event like this, you are exposed to these bands. There is always someone knew who is bringing a new idea or style to the music community. It’s exciting when you witness that.”

 

 

 

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BRINGING THE GREAT CONCERT HALLS TO CLASSICAL MUSIC FANS

Cadu Byington has been on tour and is ready to sleep in his own bed again. He is not playing in an indie rock band or the DJ for a famous rapper; Byington is the sound engineer/music producer whom Jakob Handel tagged to work with him to capture performances by classical and contemporary artists at some of the most famous and historic venues in Germany and Switzerland. Handel Classic Audio wanted to enable classical music fans to hear these famous ensembles in their home venues to pay tribute to the composer, artists, and the acoustics of these iconic acoustical structures. Jakob Handel (Grammy nominee, Latin Grammy award-winner, and German Echo Klassik award-winner) has the credentials that attract the elite of the international recording industry. Handel’s work with Sony / BMG record labels, Universal, EMI and several independent labels has empowered him to gain access to many historic venues for recording purposes. For his latest passion project, he wanted to gain access to some of his favorite venues in Germany and Switzerland, and he wanted Cadu Byington as the expert he trusted on this project in a very hands on manner. Jakob Handel explains the decision for this choice declaring, “Cadu is a very talented producer; over the past few years he has come to dominate all aspects of a production. He is also a great musician, a feature that I think is the most important for a music producer. One must think musically more than technically, and know how to convert this musicality with the available technical resources; this is the secret weapon to becoming a successful producer.” The recordings would require them to quickly access the personality and intricacies of each venue and tailor the recording process uniquely and efficiently to each performance. With a full understanding of the challenges and demands of this opportunity, Byington welcomed the chance to test his abilities and deliver a product up to the standards of the Handel Classic Music name. Handel and Byington had been associated since 1999 but this was a major undertaking on which the two would work together. To fully appreciate these recordings, one must understand the approach that was taken to attain them. At a time when recording software has made everyone feel that they are a true recording engineer, a glimpse into the process that Byington and Handel undertook gives evidence to true mastery of the recording process at its best.

For this undertaking, the recording process was different from both a studio setting and conventional live scenarios. Handel Classic Music wanted to record at three different venues; Rosengarten in Germany, KKL in Lucerne, and Tonhalle in Zurich. The acoustic identity of these locations as well as the ensembles famous for residing there are so lauded and respected in the classical music industry that Handel Classic Audio wanted to bring the experience of hearing them to the world. Music fans have spent so many decades listening to music produced in studios that they may have forgotten (or even not be aware of) the fact that many of the historic concert halls were designed by architects to create the optimal acoustic environment to deliver a moving musical experience. Today’s modern effects are based on the acoustic benefits of these historic musical venues. Modern concert sound systems are so ubiquitous that many audiences have never attended a performance without them. Handel Classic Music wanted to deliver a more purist experience. Byington states, “The approach is totally different. In a concert hall, we want to have the sound in its purest forms, without the interferences of PA systems, and with everyone playing at the same time, like a real concert. The halls were designed to “mix” the sound “’n the hall’. In a studio, you don’t usually have all these acoustical qualities, and you have to add artificial effects to emulate the hall sound. Besides, there are few studios that have room to fit a large orchestra.”  While operating a large sound system requires one skill set, recording a performance while delivering the unique qualities of an individual location is a completely different talent.

Mannheimer Rosengarten in Mannheim, Germany has hosted concerts by contemporary artist like Sting, Simply Red, and many others but, it is mainly home for the classic orchestras and operas for which it was designed. Cadu and Handel traveled there to record the opera Der Prinz vom Homborg by German composer Hans Werner Henze. This Art Noveau structure was built between 1900 and 1903. As a traditional concert hall, Rosengarten has beautiful natural acoustic qualities. These characteristics can be overwhelming or beneficial depending on the abilities of the engineer in charge of assessing them. Byington explains, “When you enter a new hall, you have to sit and listen for all its qualities. Listen carefully to the rehearsal, and “learn” the hall. If you have a profound knowledge of your gear, you will know what to do in order to have the sound. The halls have dampeners and baffles, but in much bigger proportions. Based on the style of the repertoire, you’ll base your approach on more or less reverb, more or less microphones. This means that the venue characteristics as well as the piece of music and style need to be factored in when making the choice of microphones and placement.”

KKL concert hall in Lucerne, Switzerland is both aesthetically and acoustically stunning. This world famous venue is home for the Lucerne Summer Festival. Cadu travelled there to record the performance of Turkish pianist Fazil Say who played Ravel’s Piano Conceto in G. For this recording, Byington needed to take a delicate approach which took advantage of the tremendous natural attributes created in Jean Nouvel’s impressive design. Byington describes, “We did a light set up with 12 microphones, using a main mic technique known as the Decca Tree. The Decca Tree consists of three identical microphones positioned in a triangular shape above the stage. It takes this name because of the DECCA RECORDS engineers who made it popular as a nice way to get the overall sound of the orchestra while at the same time having a nice stereo image. In addition to the Decca Tree, we used other spot mics placed close to sections (like strings, woodwinds, brass) and a pair for the piano solo. The hall has such a wonderful sound that using too many mics can result in eliminating the characteristics for which it is known and loved.”

The final recording took place in The Tonhalle in Zurick, thought by many to possess the best acoustics in Switzerland. Cadu was recording a production which partnered American rapper Saul Williams and composer Thomas Kessler. A mix of rap lyrics with classical music. This truly unique and modern pairing required an engineer with both traditional and modern sensibilities. It was further proof that Byington was the perfect choice for Handel on this project. For a number of reasons, the mobile approach was well suited for this situation as Cadu relates, “It is very difficult for a traditional orchestra to go to a studio nowadays. It is very expensive to have an orchestra inside the studio just for a recording, that’s why we record live and on location. For the recording in the Tonhalle, we did three days of recording. We had singers, and a full orchestra with a lot of percussion, which required a setup of around thirty microphones. The approach was very similar to KKL Lucerne, but we captured the audio with much more detail, closer positioning, and more mics. The piece was an orchestral arrangement for some Saul Williams texts ‘said the shotgun to the head’.”

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  The experience was quite demanding of Byington, Handel, and everyone involved. A myriad of microphones was required to cover any possible situation. The recording crew also needed to travel as lightly as they could, assess each venue quickly and accurately, and set up as efficiently as possible. While recording in a studio allows for multiple takes and splicing of takes, this recording project meant that each recording had to be perfect as there would be no multiple takes or overdubs. Although everyone spoke the universal language of music, the technical aspects of recording and the different locations often necessitated the musicians and engineers to communicate verbally in a language that was not their native tongue. It called for everyone involved to conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism. Byington feels that he grew in his abilities as well as his appreciation for the musicians whose performances he recorded. He notes, “I learned a new standard in my profession, the standards of Europe for classical music is the reference for the rest of the world.” The recordings themselves pay tribute to the honorable history of the venues, the talented musicians who performed the pieces, and the mastery that Cadu Byington used to deliver them to the world.