Sound is the Word

A #MusicMonday shout out (loud) to Sweden indie pop darlings, Shout Out Louds, and their track that inspired the title of this blog.

I thought this was going to be a quick post, before realizing that this track only appears on the Scandinavian release of their album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (2005), and thus was impossible to track down on Spotify and YouTube. Luckily the good folks over at I Crave That Sound had the Soundcloud link available. Ahhh…and all is right with the world.

P.S. Sandy Hayashi, if you’re reading this, remember when we interviewed them for Visionz in 2007?

My Freshman Year Of Life

I just wanted to take a moment to give a huge shout out to Nathalie Cazeau over from the amazing website, My Freshman Year Of Life.

Earlier today, she reached out to me with the most heartwarming LinkedIn message I’ve ever received, which was prompted by my post from a couple days ago.

Seriously, I was on the verge of tears myself after reading this! So I took a look through her website, and saw what an incredible resource it is for those of you who are still on your journey to figuring out post-college life/your career paths (a.k.a. the dreaded quarter-life crisis). As she says in her About section:

This blog focuses on embracing the journey to your success. Whether you are pursuing your dream career, trying to build a business, or relocating to a new city, the first couple of months out of college are not easy. In fact, they can be downright unbearable. But don’t fret! The highs and lows of life make you stronger and they make the journey all the more memorable.

It’s definitely worth following, no matter if you’re unemployed or have already established a career path. There’s always room to grow, and to be inspired by what other people are doing in life. I dunno about you guys, but oftentimes when I hear about extremely successful people who are at the top of their field, I feel completely intimidated; like I’m personally not capable of achieving that level of success.

What sets My Freshman Year Of Life apart from other career-focused blogs, and what excites me the most, is that it’s all about being transparent about the struggles you have to endure to become successful, while simultaneously giving intelligent and manageable solutions to work through those struggles.

And to end this on a semi-unrelated note, I was listening to Porter Robinson while reading her message so I thought it’d be fitting to dedicate “Fresh Static Snow” to My Freshman Year Of Life :)

#StayFresh

Serge Pizzorno

#ThrowbackThursday: Interview with Kasabian’s Sergio Pizzorno (May ’12)

Serge Pizzorno (image sourced from http://www.kasabian.co.uk)

(Note: this interview was conducted in May 2012, originally for Band of the Day.)

As the famous Scout Motto goes, “Always Be Prepared” — which, oddly enough, applies just as much to writing a song as it does to starting a fire with nothing but two twigs. For the creative-minded individual, inspiration can strike at anytime. Think of how many writers you’ve seen whip out a tiny notebook to jot down a brilliant observation, or photographers snapping a candid picture when the light is just right.

For Kasabian‘s chief songwriter Sergio Pizzorno, one of the most useful devices in his scout kit is the voice memo feature on his mobile phone. The song “Switchblade Smiles,” from their latest album Velociraptor! started out as nothing but a few seconds of Pizzorno singing random noises that came into his head, and recording them on his phone.

“I can hear the whole song going around that 3 second thing…what is strange is that I know can fill in the gaps from something so tiny, and I’ve always been able to do it,” Pizzorno tells me during my interview with him before Kasabian’s headlining show at San Francisco’s Fillmore. Eight years have passed since Kasabian released their 2004 self-titled debut album and, supporting the 2011 release of their fourth and latest album Velociraptor!, the Leicester, England-natives are back on US soil.

Read on to find out what keeps one of the UK’s most successful bands excited about creating music and touring, and how Pizzorno sometimes wonders what audience members have eaten for dinner (it’s not delivery, it’s Pizzorno).

Amanda Van West: On your latest album Velociraptor, I noticed a lot of themes of escapism, especially with songs like “La Fee Verte.” Were you conscious of that theme, and where would you say music helps you escape to?
Sergio Pizzorno: I’ve always wanted to escape really. I suppose [making music] that’s when I feel the most free and the most happiest I think. I suppose rock and roll is a way of life, really. When you’re on tour you feel detached from anything, you don’t really feel a part of a society. You feel like you’ve escaped from that, escaped from real work. Artists always tend to do that.

AVW: Doing so much touring around the world since Kasabian first started, what still keeps you excited on the road?
Serge: I’ve directed all my energy into being creative, making little videos, putting them out on a website, doing music, just having ideas. While I’m away and missing home, I’m gonna concentrate on making the show incredible and coming up with new ideas to make people excited. And I think that’s when I feel most happy, when I’m making shit, that’s what I love doing; making tunes, making little films. I love making stuff.

serge live brixton

(image sourced from http://www.kasabian.co.uk)

AVW: When you’re playing a song live, is your mindset completely in the present moment, or does it wander? 

Serge: You know what? It’s weird…all things can happen when you’re [playing live]. Stupid things come into your mind when you’re playing.
AVW: Like what?
Serge: Like, “I wonder what she’s had for dinner that girl there?” Or “I wonder if that chandelier is gonna fall down?” I imagine it’s like being hypnotized. There are thoughts you can’t control, all that sorts of things come in your head and you catch yourself thinking ,“what the hell am I thinking about that for?”
AVW: Do you try to trace it back to find out what your original thought was?
Serge: Yeah, things like “I wonder if I left the gas on?” or “I can’t remember if the TV’s on,” and then I think to myself, “Shut up, I can’t think about that now, I’m playing! I’m playing the gig!” [laughs] It’s strange.

AVW: What would you say is the most unusual catalyst you’ve ever had for a song?
Serge: Well, it’s hard to say, there’s nothing really unusual about it but what probably is unusual would be how little the idea can be and you know it’s gonna be great. Like with “Switchblades” [“Switchblade Smiles”], I just had this idea, and I got my phone and went like [makes noises], and I can hear the whole song going around that 3 second thing, and I could play that to someone and they would be like “well that’s just you being weird, that’s just a weird noise”. What is strange is that I know can fill in the gaps from something so tiny and I’ve always been able to do it, I showed demos to people and they were going “yeah…that’s nice” and I realize, “Shit, they’re not hearing it out, and I’m hearing the end!”
AVW: It must be like when you write down notes for an outline of a whole essay before putting it together.
Serge: Yeah totally! I can’t draw but I’m sure it’s the same for artists, they’ll draw a few lines and they’ll know where to go. I can visualize what this is gonna be just like turning this voice memo into this huge tune.

AVW: Speaking about songwriting, how do you approach songwriting with Kasabian versus with someone like Noel Fielding [Pizzorno creates music for Fielding’s sketch-comedy show, “Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy”]?
Serge: I suppose it’s similar in the fact that I regard myself as much a producer as a songwriter. I don’t really write an acoustic and then go into a studio and 99% of the time it sounds how it did when I first wrote it. So I write with synths, I write with beats, I write with bass lines, so that’s similar. I write for Kasabian based on Tom being the singer, and having to sing these songs. Whereas with Noel Fielding, the great thing about it is that it’s comedy, and a lot of music you love is quite funny, and it gives you a license to do things [that are comedic], which is quite amazing, quite freeing, really.

AVW: How important do you think it is to maintain a good sense of humor with your bandmates, and just with music in general?
Serge: I think it’s what keeps us together, that ability to pull yourself out and from taking yourself so seriously, is so vital. I mean because we take it very seriously on one level and people tend to miss the jokes, which is kinda nice for us because we tend to get away with it a bit more and there is a lot more humor than people realize is going on.

AVW: What would you say is the very first meaningful music experience that you can remember having?
Serge: I’d put it back to [Chuck Berry’s song} “Johnny B. Goode.” My dad use to play and I remember thinking that guitar solo was one of the most incredible things. My dad had a guitar, but he couldn’t play because it had no strings so he always used to pretend to play. And that was the moment, the real moment, music touched me in a way that I had no control over, and I think that’ll remain forever.

AVW: Are you hoping your son will also get into music one day?
Serge: I think I am really. I say I’m not and I say I won’t try to influence him in anyway, but I do wish he will.
AVW: Do you play music for him?
Serge: Constantly.
AVW: Does he like it?
Serge: He does, and that’s gonna sound a bit weird but he does like our stuff. Every time it comes on the radio he goes mad, it’s well sweet! You start to feel conscious of yourself and he starts dancing and you go, “that’s incredible!” So maybe he just picks up a vibe. He does like things with a beat like techno. When he was really young, someone made a punk song and played them with a lot of baby sounds, like xylophones and stuff. Kinda like the Sex Pistols but on xylophone. He loved that.

AVW: What would you say you appreciate most about your other band mates?
Serge: I appreciate Tom’s love and care, he really looks after his brothers you know? He’s very special like that, he’s always got his eye on you, and that’s kinda rare for men you know? Tom senses, and that’s really amazing. When you miss people, he is always there. Ian’s insanity, I love him for that. He’s an eccentric Englishman. He’s like a proper sort of 60’s drummer, they are quite normal but then go absolutely mental and I love him for that. Chris is solid, if the plane was gonna crash you’d want him to be pilot in the plane. Ben’s sense of humor, he has the ability to make me laugh always and I need that. And then Jay, we have that thing where only the two of us get something on some weird level, and it’s great.

kasabian header

(image sourced from http://www.kasabian.co.uk)

[2015 Update: Since doing this interview, Kasabian have released a new album called 48:13. It’s rad.]

First tweet

Tweeted from the bottom now I’m here

 

4 years ago today, I sent a tweet that would become the defining point of my career.

But before I get to that story, I need to give you some context. It was early 2011, and I was an unemployed 24 year old living in my mom’s house in Santa Clara, California. This was the house I had lived in throughout most of my high school years, and the room hadn’t changed one bit since then — the walls were still painted a splotchy shade of turquoise, decorated with set lists peeled off of the stages of San Francisco’s concert venues and signed by obscure indie bands.

I had just moved back after spending a year and a half in London, where I did an MA degree in International Broadcast Journalism at Westminster University. After the initial excitement of catching up with family, friends, and getting thoroughly reacquainted with proper Mexican food, the dreaded quarter-life crisis came in like a wrecking ball. My student loan money was nearly all spent, and I had no job prospects.

At this point, a typical day was something like:

10am: Eat a bowl of cereal while transfixed by games of Plinko on “The Price Is Right.”

Afternoon: Halfheartedly scour job sites, anticipating rejection before even writing a cover letter because the job market was so grim.

Evening: Crap, dinner time already? Guess it’s time to get out of pajamas and take a shower…

That PJ life though…

Late night: Distract myself from thoughts of, “what’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you found a job yet? You had a stable job before, why did you have to give it up for London? Look at you now, you unemployed slacker!” by reading books, watching TV shows/movies, and browsing the internet until passing out.

So yeah…it wasn’t one of the happiest periods in my life. Luckily, the power of Craigslist and my mom’s instinct joined forces to get me out of this funk. She was also unemployed at the time and, while on her own search for work, came across a Craigslist posting that she thought I should take a look at. It was at a small startup in Mountain View, and they were looking for a summer music writing intern. Because I had been doing music journalism since I was 18, she thought it would be right up my alley.

Initially, I dismissed the posting because I thought that with a Master’s degree, I deserved a job way beyond internship level. Besides, it wasn’t supposed to start until summer and it was only early February. What would I do until then, even if I applied and managed to get the internship? But after taking the time to thoroughly read through the posting, everything that was written in it resonated with me. I remember feeling physically tingly with excitement while reading the tasks this internship would require. At this point, I decided it was worth it to dig a little deeper and to find out everything I could about this company, 955 Dreams. Mostly to make sure it wasn’t really a phone sex hotline (“for a good time, dial 955-DREAMS”).

In actuality, they had just built this cool iPad app called The History of Jazz, which was an interactive timeline of jazz history.

History of Jazz app

In my research, I found the company’s Twitter handle and saw that they only had a couple hundred followers. At this point in my job hunt, I was so jaded that I just had a “meh…I kinda don’t give a shit about anything right now” attitude. So instead of just sending a cover letter and resume like any sane person would do, I impulsively decided to tweet at them, “You can take down your internship posting now. www.linkedin.com/in/amandavanwest.” To my surprise, just a couple of minutes later I received the following DM:

First tweet

 

The next thing I knew, I was invited to their History of Jazz launch party, where I had to meet all of the founders and their closest friends, family members, and professional acquaintances before going through the formal interview process. Luckily my decision to stick to a two drink maximum (while encouraging other party-goers to imbibe more…) meant that I made it through the party without embarrassing myself, and I was invited in the following Monday for the interview. I was given an assignment to pick an up-and-coming band and write a short review on their music, so I wrote this review of The Vaccines self-titled EP. 

Shortly after, I was given an official offer and I became the company’s first hire.

Welcome to the family

Four years later, I’m now the most senior woman in the company, singlehandedly running our music discovery app Band of the Day. I’d like to think that my geeky inner 17 year-old Strokes/indie band fangirl would be proud if she could see me now.

It’s been an incredible learning experience, peppered with a heavy hand of surreal moments like judging a Battle of the Bands competition in the Bahamas, speaking on a music tech panel in Spain, and putting on a showcase during SXSW that resulted in tens of thousands of people wanting to get in.

Needless to say, I’m excited to see what this next year at Applauze (a necessary name change!) will have in store. Like any other tech startup, we’ve gone through our fair share of ups and downs, but I think our strength lies in how we’ve used the downs as learning experiences, and so that’s how we’ve managed to prevail.

I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom and the spambots reads this blog, but if you’ve somehow stumbled over here, feel free to leave a comment. Or, y’know, just tweet me.

The Obligatory “Amanda’s Top 14 Tracks of 2014″ Playlist

It’s nearly the end of December, which means my inbox is starting to explode with lots of “so what were your favorite albums of the year?” messages from friends and colleagues. So far I’ve ignored all of these messages (sorry, pals!) because my mind completely goes blank when I’m asked that question. Why? Because my music ADD is at an all-time high, and I actually rarely listen to full albums.

This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve been the sole curator of Band of the Day app for the past couple of years, which requires listening to an obscene amount of music in order to effectively choose the best bands to feature. To put it into perspective, that’s over 1000 bands I’ve had to choose, which is drilled down from at least 5-10 times that amount of music listening! But hey, if “I have to listen to TOO much new music” is the worst part of the job, it’s not a bad one to be in ;)

Right, back to the matter at hand – my personal list of stand-out tracks released in 2014. I’m too indecisive to rank them, so I’ve taken the lazy way out by posting them in alphabetical order. Hope you discover some gems from this list, and I’d love to hear feedback on what your favorites were (the YouTube playlist up there has every track).

1. Benjamin Booker, “Violent Shiver” – This is a song that had me going, “Whoa. Who IS this guy?” the first time I heard it. Bluesy, gritty, with just a hint of punk.

2. Dillon Francis feat. DJ Snake, “Get Low” – Oh hey, you didn’t realize I also like mainstream music? It’s dirty, ridiculous, and any song that causes such a mass dance floor frenzy every single time is a-OK in my book.

3. Fink, “Looking Too Closely” – Gorgeous vocals, heartbreaking melody, utterly captivating.

4. Hamilton Leithauser, “Alexandra” – Dude from The Walkmen. He’s still got it!

5. Johnny Stimson, “So.Good.” – For a panty-dropping good time, call Johnny Stimson.

6. Kishi Bashi, “Philosphize It! Chemicalize With It!” – I wish I wasn’t scared of trying ‘shrooms. Because otherwise I’d eat a whole bunch, listen to this song, and run around a psychedelic forest wonderland.

7. Michael Jackson, “Love Never Felt So Good” – there’s a 1 in 7 chance that if your song title has the words ‘so’ and ‘good’ in it, it’ll make my playlist (see: number 5).

8. Milky Chance, “Stolen Dance” – I can’t read their band name without thinking of the scene in This Is England when Milky gets beaten up (“Wake up, Milky! Milky, wake up!” cries the little kid). But I digress. Again. Anyway, it’s a song that’s gotten a ton of airplay this year, but one that I’m always happy to hear and never skip over.

9. ODESZA, “Say My Name (feat. Zyra)” - ODESZA is the perfect intersection between glitchy electronic pop and indie pop, and Zyra’s vocals are hypnotic as she sings, “I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance with you/So take a chance, take a chance”

10. Porter Robinson, “Sad Machine” – I still get chills from the opening melody of this song. Stunning!

11. Rich Aucoin, “Are You Experiencing?” - Hands down, one of my favorite live acts EVER (please watch the video to see what I mean!). And this song is pretty much the epitome of sonic serotonin: uplifting, makes you feel alive. <3 <3 <3

12. Terror Pigeon, “Girl!” – Another one of those ‘makes you feel so alive’ tracks. Starts out a little slow, but then builds up into an explosion of awesomeness. I can only imagine how much fun they must be in concert, and I’m hoping to catch them in 2015!

13. White Arrows, “We Can’t Ever Die” – One time a dude hit on me by asking, “do you #YOLO?” I wanted to say, “No sir, because that’s not grammatically correct!” But I didn’t. And now I’m guessing by the title of this song that White Arrows also don’t YOLO. #TeamImmortality #FTW

14. Yellerkin, “Solar Laws” – Love at first listen. Seriously, how could you not fall in love with those melodies and vocals?