Posts in SKOA Exclusive
[Interview] Goo Goo Dolls Bassist Robby Takac: "Life's Good In The Bubble, Man"
 Robby Takac @ Beacon Theatre 10/15/2018. Photo credit: Angela Cranford/MSG Photos

Robby Takac @ Beacon Theatre 10/15/2018. Photo credit: Angela Cranford/MSG Photos

After speaking with Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac the Friday before their show at Beacon Theater as part of their 20th Anniversary Dizzy Up The Girl Tour, I can confirm that he is indeed Some Kind of Awesome. The music community, not just Goo Goo Dolls, are truly beyond blessed to have someone so passionate about music the way that he is. In addition to his rhythmic duties in a band whose career spans across more than three decades, he's also been running the music non-profit Music Is Art and the boutique record label Good Charamel Records for over 15 years in addition to owning the recording studio GCR Audio in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. "You know, owning a recording studio is very akin to owning a boat," Takac jokes over the phone last Friday, "You do it because you enjoy it. It's not necessarily a cash cow, that's for sure."

Some people would find keeping themselves so busy to be exhausting, especially given the extensive amount of touring that Goo Goo Dolls do (including the tour they’re currently on), but it actually has the opposite sort of effect on Takac. "All these things, Music Is Art included," he explains, "helps to exercise parts of my brain, my emotions, my creativity, that probably might have driven me crazy to not be able to exercise." 

He went on to detail the beginnings of the Goo Goo Dolls from a business standpoint, " We did everything, you know, Johnny [Rzeznik] and I did 30 years ago. Everything. We had this hilarious briefcase that we used to carry around with us like all our papers, and it was pretty much our whole world was in that briefcase." As the band became more popular obviously the briefcase became an inefficient form of handling the band's business."Little by little we let started letting go of parts," he recounted, "It took many many years, but since then we found people who did it better (...) and all these people took a little piece of what we did in the beginning and started doing a much better job of it, but that didn't mean that those things weren't still inside me, you know, clamoring to be exercised, and so I think that that's why I still keep up with all of this stuff. Because it allows me to be better at being in the Goo Goo Dolls if that makes sense at all."

Of his three side passions, Music Is Art is by far his biggest focus outside of the Goo Goo Dolls. The most admirable part about his approach to the non-profit is his acknowledgement for the need for art/music comes from personal experience. As he shared:

"(...) There are some people (and I was one of them) whose lives could not be shaped correctly if they weren't exposed to these things because that's just where your mind operates. Their minds don't operate in the classroom all that well. You know, they're not debate team folks. They're not gonna star on the college basketball team or even be able to dribble a ball for that matter, you know? BUT, you put a paint brush or a guitar in their hand and they realize that they can move on. So they have that. I think if you rob young people of that then you're really doing an unbelievable disservice to a huge amount of kids out there." 

"(...) There are some people (and I was one of them) whose lives could not be shaped correctly if they weren't exposed to these things because that's just where your mind operates. Their minds don't operate in the classroom all that well. You know, they're not debate team folks. They're not gonna star on the college basketball team or even be able to dribble a ball for that matter, you know? BUT, you put a paint brush or a guitar in their hand and they realize that they can move on. So they have that. I think if you rob young people of that then you're really doing an unbelievable disservice to a huge amount of kids out there." 

To be clear, Music Is Art does incredible things for the music community. In addition to its yearly cornerstone event, the Music Is Art festival, which boasted 20 stages this year, they also organize a variety of battles of the bands both in corporate and public settings. Most importantly, they've been doing instrument drives and to date have donated a half of a million dollars worth of both new and refurbished instruments to schools and communities in the Maryvale School District in Buffalo, New York. While the organization never has an issue with finding volunteers from both musicians and the general public, even with it's rockstar affiliation they share the same struggles that arts-centered not for profits have when it comes to funding. "The hard part is actually keeping it going, you know," he admitted, "and all the realities that you have to face when you go to a lawyer or an accountant. As the festival grows bigger it becomes more and more of a responsibility."

It's not often that I get to speak with someone who has been in the business of music for as long as Takac has, so obviously the conversation drifted to technology. Like any music lover who was  actively collecting music pre-iPod, living in this new era of streaming services is the biggest change in music that has him buzzing with excitement. "(...)Coming from a guy who collected records when I was younger like that is MIND BLOWING man.(...)If you and I are talking about something I could play it for you right now just on my phone. That is MIND BLOWING. Seriously." 

He also had nice things to say about our friend The Algorithm™. He even shared that Discover Weekly had gotten him into The Heavy and Beach Slang recently. He raved, "(...) The ability for Spotify to build algorithms and like expose you to things that it's discovering that you might like, I think that's unbelievable." A kindred spirit, he too has mixed feelings about how algorithms like Discover Weekly are lessening the emotional connection that is made between people when they share music with each other. "(...)It's a little bit sad because I used to have those same experiences but I would have it with my friend Gary Sperrazza down at Apollo Records in Buffalo, or I would have it down at The Record Mine with my friend Dave, you know? It's sad that human interaction is taken from it, but I think the resources that are at hand with music is just unbelievable." 

Another big difference is obviously the way social media has shaken up the music landscape. To an extent Goo Goo Dolls were pioneers in the early age of fan interaction, dating back to the early America OnLine days. Now the band has amassed a massive online fan base, with over 3 million fans on Facebook at the time of print. When they started, fan engagement was primarily about promoting a single, album, or tour. These days Takac observed that having a digital presence has a different impact on musicians, specifically when it comes to access. "You know, we always laugh about guys like Jimmy Page, like you've got this image of Jimmy Page living in his castle somewhere, you know, like whatever," he observed, "Or this weird image of what Led Zepplin was like or all of these bands cause there was a mystique to them, but this current social atmosphere of immediacy, you can't really be that way anymore." He's also a realist when it comes to fans having their smartphones at concerts, as he noted, "It's all out there and it's all out there in unprofessional, unairbrushed, you know, like 'here's our pimples' kinda world. It's changed."

In Takac's mind the archetype for the modern day musician on social media is Kanye West. He further clarified: 

"Kanye makes some cool music but like it's not so much about that with him, you know? A little bit of it is, but it's more about everything else, you know it's about his social media. It's about his wife. It's about his wife's family. It's about their TV show. It's about his sneakers. It's about like all these things that the music is sort of in the background as something that he sort of does, you know? It's why he's such a big star, 'cause I don't think the music can make you that big of a star anymore... It's all this stuff, you know, that figures in now that, you know, didn't figure in when I was thinking about Jimmy Page in his castle. I never thought about any of that stuff with him. He was just that dude in Zepplin. That's what he did, you know? It's way more than that now."

I don't think the music can make you that big of a star anymore...

Things that are also very different than when Robby and Johnny started Goo Goo Dolls over thirty years ago: the two are both sober, with Robby over ten years sober and Johnny around four years sober. It's easy to assume that backstage while on tour is packed with opportunities to slip back into substance abuse, but Takac was quick to shut that fallacy down:

"It is what you make it," he said, "It's your bubble man. You're in a bubble when you're out here [on tour] but it's your bubble. Like we say 'life's good in the bubble, man'. You know, for a lot you get to choose what's there and what's not, you know? So we just kind of keep it sane back there, and there's not a lot of parties and that kind of stuff. Not that there's not but there's not a lot."

Like we say 'life's good in the bubble, man'.

While they've admittedly had a few decades to get heavy partying out of their system, it was refreshing to hear that there are legacy musicians that acknowledge their ability to be personally responsible for the toxicity level of their touring environment. These days Takac's number one tour essential is his teapot, which is his way to bring a piece of home with him while he's out on the extensive touring schedules with Goo Goo Dolls. "It's just you need those kinds of things to keep you warm, you know, keep you happy," he offered, "It's tough but you try to get a little bit out here." 

Make sure you catch Robby Takac with Goo Goo Dolls while they're still out on their 20th Anniversary Dizzy Up The Girl tour. I can attest that it is an energy packed night that you won't want to miss even if you're a casual fan. 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

GooGooDolls_20thAnniversaryTour_TourPoster1a.jpg
[Interview] Yuksek Just Wants To Make You Groove

The day that Yuksek's debut album, Away From The Sea, graced my ears back in April of 2009 was the day my standards for what an electronic album should sound like were raised to such an insanely high level that only a handful of artists/records have managed to meet since. 8 years, 12 EPs, 3 LPs, and a plethora of remixes and various other projects later, the French producer and DJ has firmly cemented himself as a staple in the dance scene by meticulously making music that will have you dancing until daylight. Literally. I was literally out until 3am last month at his DJ set at Le Bain a few hours after he graciously chatted with me at his listening party in SoHo for his latest album, Nous Horizon, which was released in February. 

"It's more the music drives me than me who drives the music,"

He explained that his approach for making albums is less intentional and more of the byproduct of constantly creating. "I'm not thinking, 'I'm gonna do this kind of record,'" he said, "I just sit in the studio every day. Sometimes doing production for others. I [also] started to make movie scores and stuff. In between I do some stuff for me, just like tripping on a synthesizer or playing bass or something." He went on to detail how this sort of creative process turns into an album, "I record and record and record a lot of stuff and then something comes together like a puzzle in a way." This may sound daunting for some artists, but for him it's an integral part of the process. "It's more the music drives me than me who drives the music," he said. 

While Away From The Sea and Living On The Edge Of Time were both more on the indie/pop spectrum of dance records, his latest endeavor, Nous Horizon, is definitely more disco-esque than anything he's released to date. Even so, there is one core element to all things Yuksek related: groove. "I'm good for that: making people groove," he noted. As he put it, at the end of the day his music is all about, "feeling good, enjoying yourself, and having a good time." 

Unlike his previous albums, you'll notice that this time around that some quality artists appear alongside Yuksek on Nous Horizon: HER, Monika, Juveniles, KIM, and Roman Rappak, vocalist of SKOA favorite Breton. These were more than just your standard features on dance tracks, mind you. "It's called featuring [on the track listing] but I think the word is not exactly accurate," he said, "[...] featuring is sometimes you make an instrumental, you send it to someone, and then like [they] do your shit. On this we did it really old fashioned. They came to the studio. We worked together on the songs as well."

The only criteria for working with Yuksek in any capacity is fairly straightforward: he has to like the artist both personally and professionally. It's something I've continued to admire about him. It's amazing that for such sophisticated music there's zero pretense to how he operates. This is especially the case for both his album and his label, Partyfine, which he started in 2013 as a way to elevate talent that oftentimes might slip between the cracks otherwise. "I thought about [starting the label] for quite some time. I like to produce music for other people and to make records," he explained, "Sometimes it's a bit frustrating to do it and then the project disappears after I finish mixing it or producing it. [With Partyfine] it's more having relationships with artists and to help them to reach the goal they have with their music."

Considering he's both an artist and a label owner, of course I had to pick his brain about streaming. While most people assume that a record will either be a hit or a dud immediately, he sees releases now from a different perspective, "[...] what you release now, I don't know about in 50 years, but in 3 years people can hear it still and you get money from that. Even if it's a small amount of money but it's here." Moreover, he thinks that streaming gives albums a longer shelf life than what existed prior to streaming. "In the past, when you just released an album on vinyl or CD in a shop, when it's not in the shop anymore it's finished. No one can buy it and so it's long term. That's what's interesting with streaming," he noted, "You create a catalog like you do with a publishing company. You know that [like a publishing deal that streaming is] long term because you [have] tracks that are maybe going to be in a movie or in something in 5 years. Streaming has to be seen in that way I think." 

Funnily enough, as I was writing up this interview I decided to refresh my memory of his earlier EPs, which resulted in me wandering to eBay to pick them up on vinyl. Thinking he might be on to something there.

As you can see, Yuksek is some kind of awesome. Be sure to pick up his latest album, Nous Horizon and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud. Oh! And check out his label Partyfine, which is currently prepping some upcoming releases as we speak! 

[Interview] Don Diablo Talks Anarchy, Family, The First Song He Ever Made
 Don Diablo @ Pier of Fear 11/1/2014. Image credit: Sprout Dr

Don Diablo @ Pier of Fear 11/1/2014. Image credit: Sprout Dr

At the end of the day the annual DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs list is just that: a list. Granted, it's a fairly good indication of the DJs and producers that are probably worthy of your eardrums as well as your dollars, but like every facet of the music business, lists like this also get muddied up with the DJs du jour that vanish from the scene maybe a year after the list is published. We’re currently in a bit of a crisis in music where the overall sentiment is that we aren’t going to have any “career musicians” to replace the ones who we will eventually lose. Who will be our next Radiohead, Beck, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bjork, Led Zepplin, etc.? At the current rate that we’re going, it feels like we’re all going to have to accept that these flavors of the week who are fighting for their 15 minutes are as much a standard part of the new music business model as our fairly newly crowned singles dominated sales model, or the reluctant acceptance of streaming for that matter.

When it comes to Dutch producer/DJ Don Diablo, this is not the case. He’s nothing remotely close to a fad. He is an artist that has put in the time to hone his craft, extend his family to include his ever growing fanbase, and gain the respect of the music community breaking all the rules every step of the way. Amidst the never ending swarm of momentary musicians that will come and go, we’ll at the very least have one powerhouse of a DJ that we will all happily grow old with.

Don Diablo and Steve Aoki in his "Back To Life" music video. 

Of course when he’s at the age (which is 90, for you kids at home) that he portrays in his music video for, “Back To Life”, who knows what Diablo will be doing? As we chatted backstage early November at Pier of Fear in New York City moments before his set, he confessed that music wasn’t his first love, but that filmmaking was. “[It’s] weird, right?” he chuckled, “We’re here at a huge rave tonight and this wasn’t even my dream!” His musical beginnings stemmed from the need to find the perfect song for a film that he had been working on with his friends. Since his search left him empty handed, instead of settling for second best, he took matters into his own hands and made music of his own. Although the song would eventually be what got him signed and releasing records at the ripe age of 14, he'll be the first to admit that the song was far from a masterpiece. “It was horrible!” he noted, “It sounded really bad. The production was horrible. I guess there were some ideas in there. A lot of it was based on samples.”

Now at age 34, Diablo has been creating music for 20 years. Things have certainly changed in the way music, especially electronic music, was made since then. “[Back then] it was a time where you really had to invest in making music,” he noted, “You had to buy equipment, learn how to work the machines. It’s different than nowadays.” Despite overcoming the technological hurdles, being a seasoned electronic music veteran who’s not exactly an old timer can have its disadvantages. “Some people think I’m really old.” he chuckled, “They think I’m an old fat German guy because they know records from me from like 15 years ago.”

Having a professional career that began in his early teenage years has made what he considers to be the status quo is pretty mind blowing. “My reality is pretty distorted.” he explained, “I have a pretty weird life in that sense. […] I just grew up living in hotels and planes and doing whatever the hell I want. Sleeping in. Not sleeping. I don’t have a weekend. I don’t have a week. I just do what I feel and I have no boss to account to.”

They think I’m an old fat German guy because they know records from me from like 15 years ago.
— Don Diablo

This unruly upbringing would have a profound impact on his approach to his creative process, which he is constantly hinting at very subtly by utilizing the anarchy symbol in his logo. This intentional little detail is his statement to both his fans and musical colleagues alike. “Anarchy means no rules so you don’t have to obey existing expectations or rules,” he explained, “For me, it means that you don’t have to make music in one genre. You don’t just have to be a DJ. [...] I try to break free of the rules and just come up with a different idea and in that sense to me it’s like anarchy.”

This credo of his is seen throughout his work everywhere you look. Most DJs aren't known for directing their own music videos, contributing lyrics or vocals for their songs, genre hopping, or designing their own clothes in addition to a handful of other things. They also most likely wouldn't choose to enlist their mother and grandmother for a photoshoot to encourage fans to vote for them in the Top 100 DJs list over hiring a publicist for a huge press blitz, but again, Diablo dances to the beat of his own machinedrum and no one elses. “I’ve literally been trying to destroy my musical career for years,” he said, “But every time I get more inspired and I get more ideas.” He never allows himself to get burnt out on making music or any of his other disciplines. “[...]When I’m not inspired with making music I get into other stuff,” he elaborated, “I start editing a video or coming up with concepts with videos. [...] You can do other things that are still creative and a part of you being an artist. So that’s how I found a nice little balance for myself so I can be creative 100% of the time.”

Since he’s always working on something, when the time comes for a song to come together, it can happen faster than you'd imagine. “I think the best songs I’ve done, I’ve done in one day,” he divulged, “Like let’s say, 'Anytime'. I finished it in 3 hours. It’s just boom boom boom. Obviously I already had the idea there for a long time. I created all the separate elements and had them in a folder. [...] The actual production only took a few hours.”

I’ve literally been trying to destroy my musical career for years, but every time I get more inspired and I get more ideas.
— Don Diablo

However unconventional his methods seem to be, they’re most definitely working in his favor. This past October for the first time ever he made his debut entry on the Top 100 DJs list at number 82. While it comes as no surprise to longtime fans like myself, as usual artists are their biggest critics, "I’ll be very honest," he confessed, "Most of my life I’ve been feeling pretty disappointed in myself. Like, I’ve never really been proud of anything that I’ve done. I felt like my life was a big failure, you know?" Those of us on the outside looking in can see his gradual climb, but Diablo hadn't noticed until it was blatantly obvious, "Yesterday I played in a club and I played like 90% of my own records and people went APESHIT," he gushed, "They weren’t just singing along to the lyrics of my songs, they were chanting along to the melodies. Like during 'Knight Time' they were like, 'dun dun dun, dun dun dun dunn' but in a choir. It really made me feel like for the first time in the last couple of months that everything is coming together. I’m proud of what I’m achieving now."

Every artist has a tipping point in their career. Unfortunately for Diablo, it all started shortly after his father passed away after a battle with cancer 2 years ago. “When my dad passed away I let go of every inch of fear that I had in my body and I also tried not to overthink things." It reinforced his creative process. "I do everything on feeling and out of my heart [now]," he said,  "Sometimes it’s a song that’s very personal, sometimes it’s just a cool tune. I don’t like to linger around too much. I just want to release music.”

Once he freed himself from fear, songs like "Starlight" would find their way out into the world. "Once I had that record," he explained, "I just realized, 'Wow. It’s really connecting with people on a worldwide scale.' Something just snapped in my head and everything I did before in all those years I basically set aside and I started over like I was a new artist." Songs like "Knight Time", "AnyTime", "Back In Time", and "Back To Life" would further propel him forward. As the play counts on Soundcloud and Spotify continue to soar and the dance floor becomes more tightly packed, his inspiration proportionately increases as well. "Right now I’m just insanely inspired," he gushed, "It goes up and down, but for the past 2 years I’ve been on an incredible high. I just had ideas that just go into the studio and music just comes by itself."

Up until recently he was prepping for a proper full length debut, which was tentatively titled, Respect Doesn't Pay The Bills. After an unfortunate series of hard drive failures earlier in the year, however, he took a step back to see what he could learn from the whole experience. "It opened my senses," he explained, "I lost all my music. I lost my whole album. But the album would have kept me on the same path." Throughout the majority of his career, Diablo has been an internet darling of sorts, getting so much love from music blogs that for a few years he was often Hype Machine's Most Blogged Artist, which he obviously is grateful for, but as his scrapped album was appropriately named, respect doesn't pay the bills in this industry. "[...] It’s cool getting good criticism and people on the blogs really loving you," he admitted, "[...] but I wasn’t getting any bookings. I really kind of saw it as a sign." After a month of soul searching he came to the conclusion that he would hold off on a full length for the time being. "I thought, 'Maybe this wasn’t meant to happen. I need to change my direction.' That’s when everything kind of happened for me. I broke through. All the things I’ve always dreamed about have happened straight after that. It really was an eye opener for me."

Instead, he chose to refocus on rebuilding his entire technical system so he could create more easily on the go as well as making the decision to take a singles based approach for the time being.  “I have the songs," he said. "I could release them tomorrow, but my record label and the people I’ve been working with have been saying, ‘Keep building this momentum’[...] I still really have a long way to go." While he estimates that we probably won’t see a proper full length until after summer of 2015, he did jokingly offer to put out one before then, "Maybe I should just start a poll," he chuckled. "[...]I’m gonna go on my Facebook and if I get 10,000 likes from people wanting me to do an album I’ll do an album before the summer of 2015."

That's the nice thing about Diablo, since he's been working on his art for such a long time it's easy for him to adapt to whatever his current situation may be. For example, if his musical career were to end today he thinks he could fairly easily transition back to his first love, filmmaking. “I’ve actually been writing on a couple of scripts," he admitted, "They’re all based around family life." For him, it's important for his art to have an impact on people, whichever discipline it may be. "[...]I’ve always wanted to touch people. Not just in their feet but also in their heart." Just like with his music, he hopes the movies he would make to impact people's lives. "My favorite movies have always been dramas," he noted, "You know, those movies that take you on that emotional journey and really make you walk out of the cinema with that feeling of, 'Wow I need to call my mother or my brother or my friend from back in the day.' It makes you think about life. It’s like art transforming life. It takes you one step further." He went on to detail how his ideal first documentary film would probably be at least partially about his family, who were immigrants from Indonesia. "There’s like a whole dramatic life story with my mother and her brother." he said.

The most important thing is that you leave [behind] a legacy. I always thought that the legacy would be music, but at the end of the day there’s only one thing that’s important and it’s family.
— Don Diablo

Family is something incredibly important to Diablo, moreso than anything else in his life. “The most important thing is that you leave [behind] a legacy. I always thought that the legacy would be music,” he admitted, “but at the end of the day there’s only one thing that’s important and it’s family.” I was heartbroken to hear that just two days prior to our interview that Diablo’s adorable grandmother that helped him campaign for the DJ mag list had passed away. He even admitted to the audience during his set that he almost didn’t perform that night because he was still very shaken from it. As seen in his latest video for “Back To Life”, you can see that mortality of man is something that has been impacting his art for awhile now, “[...] If you look at the time series I did (Anytime, KnightTime, Back In Time) they all kind of revolve around the concept of time,” he explained, ”I’ve lost a lot of people in my life in the last 2 years so it really made me realize like how precious and valuable time is.

For Diablo, his family extends past his bloodline to both his fans and his inner circle of friends. It’s seen in the way he interacts with his fans on social media and how hard he’s working to help his friends make their dreams come true as well. “I’m really working my ass off so hard right now and I’m making a lot of money right now, I’ll be honest,” he confessed, “I’m saving that money because I want to create good things for other people, you know? For my inner circle, so I can do things for them. I can help them achieve their dreams and they don’t have to wait as long as I had.” He revealed exclusively to Some Kind of Awesome that he will be starting his own label, which will be officially launching early next year. “It’s the first step to helping other people achieving their dreams.” he said.

Follow Don Diablo on Twitter, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

Make sure you download his latest single, "Generations"...NOW.

Check out the photos below of Don Diablo at Pier of Fear in NYC on 11/1/2014. Click here to view the full gallery in its full glory!

[Listen] Check Out Sunshine's Debut Self-Titled Album

On Tuesday (2/26) Vancouver indie outfit Sunshine are set to release their self titled debut album to the masses. We were lucky to get dibs on giving you all an exclusive preview of the album, which hopefully will bring some much needed sunshine to your day as it did for us! PUN INTENDED. The record is packed with dust covered gems like, "Showering With Wine", "Two Hundred Grand", "Arnprior", and our personal favorite, "Sundays Are For Cats". We predict that their carefree songs will be the soundtrack to many a summer adventure for sure. 

Have a listen to Sunshine below, be their friend on Facebook and Twitter, and let us know what you think of the album. If you like what you hear, make sure you pick of the album next week (2/26). 

[SKOA Exclusive Album Review] Gabriel Stark - 'GATSBY'

It has been almost exactly one year since I first met Gabriel Stark in person, the fresh-faced Bronx native with an eager attitude and subtle humbleness. We met in John Paul Jones Park in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn during CMJ Music Marathon, a calm day that perfectly emulated Stark’s relaxed demeanor, the same demeanor he carries through to his music. It was this first meeting that clarified how I would translate Stark’s music, as I fully understood the mentality of him as a musician, his striving passion to push forward without losing humility. He never misses an opportunity to progress, consistently experimenting and releasing new material, even recently wrapping up his first headlining tour throughout the East Coast of the States. Stark brings this passion and drive to his latest album, GATSBY, his second album of the year following January’s Starky F. Kennedy. The 10 tracks he delivers here draw from throughout hip-hop’s existence, blending old styles and new, nostalgic cuts followed by more electronic-focused tracks; Stark manages to juxtapose varying styles through consistent, socially conscious lyrics and top-notch production.

Lyricism has always been an important aspect of Gabriel Stark’s approach to music, with an intense focus on conscious lyrics that blend seamlessly with “dope ass beats”. As soon as GATSBY begins, our ears are met with a sound clip from 2004’s Daniel Craig-starring Layer Cake, the beginning of album opener “CAKE”. The clip instills a sense that Stark won’t be slowed down by the shit that life throws his way, instead delivering pulsating beats and slick verses. Right from the onset, “CAKE” hits hard. A raucous combination of pounding drums and brash horns, the song keeps your heart racing from start to finish. Following “CAKE” is the aptly named “Icing”, which ironically goes in a vastly different direction from the former. Sampling the Chordettes’ 1958 hit “Lollipop”, Stark’s interpretation is actually pretty damn good, a chill take on the upbeat original.

Great (individual) song pacing and solid production are skills that Stark continues to impress with, but GATSBY does pose one issue, that being the rapper’s juggling of influences and styles throughout the entire album. Each song embodies various aspects of hip-hop, past and present, such as “Melrose and Courtlandt”, which draws on West Coast hip-hop of the early-to-mid ‘90s, or the College Dropout era Kanye West-inspired “Danielle’s Song”. Next to that, though, are more electronic-leaning tracks, with “Lemonade Stand” being a fitting example. The song has a grimy, synthesizer-heavy production throughout, with an eerie atmosphere and sparkling notes dotting the soundscape. While each of the album’s ten songs are impressive on their own merit, the overall pace of the album is thrown off by the ever-changing style from song to song.

Despite the pace of GATSBY as a whole being off-kilter, Stark’s lyrics and the quality of his production make each song impressive in themselves. This is where his progression as a musician—in his lyrical style and production techniques—has paid off, as his passion truly comes out here. “Rumble Young Man Rumble”, for example, has Stark delivering heavy-hitting verses, one after the other, amidst a slick, New Orleans-inspired beat, carried along by rhythmic guitar riffs and an underlying, funk-laden bassline. “Kiddie Pool” is another moment where Stark’s production shines, sampling Cold War Kids’ chilling “Hospital Beds”. Stark uses the song to incredible advantage, grafting Nathan Willett’s vocals and piano keys seamlessly into this mellow, hip-hop soundscape. More than that, though, the lyrics evoke a sense of a more mature Stark, who is further learning from and examining the world—“I made a promise to my momma how I’d find a way one day”—and still learning from it.

This learning is what the whole album, inconsistent overall pacing aside, exemplifies, and what Stark continues to impress with. He is learning, every day, but what sets him apart is his insistence on utilizing what he learns. With every release, his production improves, as do his lyrics, yet he does so without an arrogant attitude found in many rappers. He strives to improve, all the while with a refreshing passion and reserve, pushing forward but capitalizing on the lessons learned from every previous experience. GATSBY represents the progression of Gabriel Stark as a person and a musician, his desire to take every opportunity and grow while understanding and respecting the past. From start to finish, the album is, through his lyrics and the influences present in each individual song, Stark’s way of exploring the history of hip-hop, a means of understanding how the genre is influenced by itself and other genres. GATSBY is a history lesson in itself, and Stark is your teacher.

GATSBY drops on October 31st, and below you can stream the lead single "Danielle's Song".

Recommended Tracks: "Melrose and Courtlandt", "Kiddie Pool", "Danielle's Song"

SCORE: 4.0 out of 5

[SKOA Premiere & Interview] Bedroom Debuts a Stream of His New Album 'Vivid' and Talks Instrumentation, His New Akai MPD26, and Favorite Movies

Bedroom, aka Noah Kittinger, has been a SKOA favorite since we premiered his Toys EP back in February, and since then our musician/blogger bond has grown much stronger. That isn't the only thing that has grown, as Kittinger's talent and abilities have come a long way over the course of five months. He has been experimenting in his bedroom, taking the sounds he established with his debut EP and tinkering with them, expanding them. The result is Vivid, the debut LP from Kittinger, who is now signed on Furious Hooves Records. The LP sees him exploring darker territory, delving into a myriad of instrumentation that evokes a sense of addictive tension. As a whole, the album is a captivating piece of work, one that finds thoughtful provocation in its simplicity, and we here at SKOA are pleased to premiere the debut stream of Bedroom's Vivid. Listen to the album in its entirety below, and make sure to head over to Bedroom's Bandcamp in a few hours to download it for yourself.

Along with the premiere stream of his new album, I took the opportunity to interview Kittinger, asking him a number of questions that have been on my mind these past few months. In the interview, he and I discuss his song-making process, the progression from his EP to his LP, the possibilities of live performances, as well as which movie in The Mummy trilogy is best. Read the interview in full after the jump.

Adrian: The Bedroom music project has always, to me, evoked a nostalgic quality. What is it that you want to portray in your music, and how do you achieve this?

Noah Kittinger: I just want an outlet for my thoughts and experiences. I write music about my thoughts or situations I find or have found myself in.  Other than that I just love making music and sharing it with people. I think I achieve that by just being honest with myself when I write. I don’t write something and think “oh is it too this or is it too that, Do I need to change this to make it sound like that” or anything. I just make everything the way I hear it in my head, I don’t try to make it sound a certain way. Music can be received in different ways for different people. For instance, you find my music to be nostalgic, which is awesome. Someone else might find my music to be completely different. It’s cool to see how people take in my music.

A: Each of your songs carries with it a certain mood, and it generally comes across in the instrumentation. What goes into your song-making process, and how much importance do you place on instrumentation as opposed to, say, lyrics and vocals?

NK: When I make a song, I usually start with a melody of some sort and begin to build somewhat of an instrumental, and I add in vocals later. Like for my song “Trees,” I had that done as an instrumental for like three weeks and one day found a vocal pattern I liked and wrote lyrics up on the spot and recorded them. That’s really how I do each of my songs. Some vocal patterns come easier than others, some don’t. My song “Cmptr” was intended to have vocals in it, but I felt it sounded better with none. I’d say both the vocals and instrumentations are at the same level of importance to me. I give each an equal amount of energy. My lyrics aren’t really that deep or anything, if anything they’re extremely simple and plainly put. Like I said, I write them on the spot and they come from whatever I’m dealing with or thinking of at that moment.

A: Your Toys EP is special in that, no matter what, it always reminds me of childhood, of simple times. Vivid, your debut LP, on the other hand, is much darker in its tone and sound. Describe the differences between the EP and the LP, and the progression of your music between then and now.

NK: I feel like the LP is more experimental than the EP. I tried a lot of new stuff on this album, such as recording techniques and even some field recording of people talking and stuff. I’d say the progression is pretty much just experimentation. Both releases were recorded in the same way, just me and some recording equipment in my bedroom. I think the EP was kind of just me finding my sound, and the LP is me capitalizing on it.

A: What went into influencing this new album? Whether it is life, friends, school, or other musicians, lay it all out there.

NK: A lot influenced the album. Hard to point them all out actually, but I know summer had a pretty big influence on it. The people I’ve sent it to say it has a beachy vibe to it. I dunno. But I also listened to a lot of electronic music while making it. There’s a label in Orlando called Relief in Abstract records, and they have some incredible stuff on there. XXYYXX, GRANT, and Fortune Howl. I got really into that whole scene during the recording of the album. I’d say that influenced me in some ways, to use more electronic sounding drum kits and stuff I guess.  

A: Now that the debut full release is out, what is it that you hope will come of it, and how do you hope fans and friends will respond to it?

NK: I hope this album just brings me more listeners and that people will really enjoy it. I made the album I wanted to make. I just hope people dig it haha. I have a pretty good feeling about this album, though.

A: I know you’ve been tinkering with the idea of live performances, even getting your hands on Ableton and an Akai MPD26. How will you be applying your music to a live setting, and what excites you about the idea of performing live?

NK: Yeah I got that. I’ve been practicing using it in a live aspect, and will hopefully play some shows soon. Like house shows and such, whatever I can get, I’ll take it. I’m excited to just take each song and re-create it live using my MPD. So far it’s working out pretty well.

A: If there is one goal you want to achieve musically, one major aspiration, what is it and why?

NK: I just want to tour and meet people, meet fans.  I think it’d be cool to tour and see the aftermath of what the internet does for me.

A: Growth is an important part of music, so if there is an area that you wanted to improve in or a genre or style you wished to explore, what would it be?

NK: It’s hard to say as of right now. I’m always listening and getting influenced by different types of music. I mean I could say in this moment that I wanted to make an acoustic based album, but over time I’d probably end up finding new artists and not be interested in making an acoustic based album anymore you know? So it’s really hard to tell. But, I’d like to make more beachy sounding music. (I’ve been listening to DIIV’s new record haha). I dunno. Time will tell.

A: Finally, just going to end on some quick-fire questions. Go. 

Favorite musician? Hmm.. Either Baths or Youth Lagoon. 

Favorite movie? Gummo or The Pursuit of Happyness.

Favorite TV show? Man, I’m not sure. I don’t watch TV much anymore. Like not much AT ALL. But, I do enjoy watching Adult Swim. There’s some funny stuff on there. I think it’s cool how they’re releasing music now too (laughs).

The Mummy 1, 2, or 3? 2.

[SKOA Christmas Premiere] Vesta - "The Voyeur"

Over the last year, Pittsburgh rock outfit 1,2,3 has has garnered the attention of the blogosphere as one of the most interesting and diverse surprises of the year. The band offered listeners a rock record that wasn't trying to create an identity for itself, it just wanted to give you ten awesome tracks that you'll want to listen to over and over. It was this carefree attitude that stood out the most on their debut album New Heaven, with each song evoking the passion and enjoyment that each band member had while recording it. It was simply an enjoyable album, one that you never wanted to put down; it was one of the bigger surprises of the year.

One of the best traits of 1,2,3 was the charisma and the positive attitudes of the band members, and this translates into incredibly fun music. Chad Monticue, 1,2,3's bassist and backup vocalist, has brought this exact attitude to his other band, Vesta, the project that was born out of the break up of Monticue's indie pop band The Juliana Theory. Over the past few months, Monticue and his bandmates Joshua Fielder, Josh Kosker and Justin Niedzwecki have been recording with the help of their friend and engineer Jonathon Gunnell. So far, the band are recording and perfecting a digital and vinyl set for release before summer of next year, with the song "The Voyeur" to be included on that album. According to Monticue, the track is a rough mix, but from the moment I pressed play, I was hooked. The song is our first taste of what the Pittsburgh outfit will offer up next year, and SKOA is proud to premiere "The Voyeur" on Christmas as a holiday gift for the SKOA readers and the 1,2,3 fans. The fantastic 'rough mix' of "The Voyeur" is available to stream and download for free below, and expect more coverage of Vesta and 1,2,3 in the New Year.

[SKOA Premiere] Vesta - "The Voyeur" by Some Kind of Awesome

[SKOA Exclusive] Sleeper Agent - "Love Blood" (Live At Tidball’s, The End, and The Manor)

Bowling Green's finest (and recent SKOA favorites) Sleeper Agent have put together this fun collection of live videos with the help of Yellowberri Creative Studios for their surefire toe-tapping number "Love Blood" from their debut album Celebrasion which you can grab over on Insound. The video was shot over the course of a few shows at The End (Nashville, TN), Tidball's (Bowling Green, KY), and The Manor (Bowling Green, KY). It's hard to say that the video perfectly displays their playful yet energy packed shows, but that's because we have been fortunate enough to witness them perform on multiple occasions, including our CMJ party a few months back at The Delancey.

Speaking of our CMJ party, The Audio Perv managed to get his hands on footage of the band performing "Get Burned" from that very show. Head on over to TAP to have a look for yourself.