Album Review: Past Lives (Against the Current)

Back in 2012 I came across Against The Current on YouTube watching random music videos of artists covering Taylor Swift songs. Then I came across Chrissy Costanza, and when I first heard them do a rock cover of a Taylor Swift country song I was hooked. Before they signed their record deal with Fueled By Ramen they were a small pop-rock band out of upstate New York that energized their music with rock driven guitars.  Now, they are charging their own course with a changed sound.

Their sophomore album Past Lives takes the forms of many current pop-rock bands before them. All the guitars have been slowly drowned out by the techno edge that has engulfed the music industry. It has made music sound stale and robotic. What happened to the guitars? The edge that I first fell in love with in your early EPs?

The 80s electric pop is definitely coming back to the music scene and every artist is jumping on the band wagon.  The new album isn’t all bad and this isn’t going to be a blog post full of down and out on how I miss the old music days because lets face it, without change we are all dead.  Past Lives is a mix of 80s electric pop with side of techno.  The guitars have been replaced with music machines, electronic pianos, and stronger drums.  One of my favorites off the album is “I Like The Way.”  The song seems like a memory or a dream as the music has numerous overlays of voices with a wave of sound that is crashing over a heavy clap beat.  It reminds me of never growing old.  We all have to grow up, but to continue the youth that we are born with we need to remember all the things we love about life.  In the second verse it goes:

“I found a burnt CD-R in your visor
From back when you were in a band
You laughed so hard it hurt
But I like how that guitar looked when it was in your hands”

“Voices” is one of the few songs on the album that has a rock tone.  With a powerhouse guitar phrasing that is linked throughout the upbeat tempo of the song.  It is an interesting concept to have it be upbeat since the song is about negative thoughts taking over your own sanity.  The music video a little out there but this song reminds me why I fell in love with Against The Current.  Their forceful bass-lines, compelling vocals, and dynamic song writing continues to improve year after year.  No, I don’t think they are sell outs for continuing to grow and change, it all goes back to what I said before.  If we don’t change, we die.

 

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Choreographing to Music or Without? Which is Better?

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Photo Provided by Dance Teacher Summit

As a Conference Manager of a Dance Teacher event, I am constantly looking at trends of other events, reading blogs/Facebook posts, and gathering one-on-one feedback that gives me insight on what dance teachers need to continue to improve their educational outlook.  One of the conversations that I keep seeing are requests on song suggestions.

It is an interesting concept to start with music before developing the choreography/movement phrasing.  Of course there are benefits to both creating with music and creating without. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons as well as what is really important in the choreographic process.

  1. Story line – If you have a theme for your recital or performances, having dedicated songs that have the story line built in could help in the creative process of setting the scene for your audience.  If you do not have a set theme, it could pigeon hole you to choreograph to the words of the music instead of developing unique and cohesive phrasing that fits with what your dancers are capable of doing.
  2. Phrasing – One of the greatest things I loved about going to college for dance was my composition classes.  In class, we developed our own choreography as well as learned how to develop work that could expand into more than just a small movement phrase or even longer than a 2-3 minute piece.  We learned about inversions, speed changes, repetition…etc.  Each step/phrasing doesn’t need to be different or a trick or connected to a word.  It needs to be intertwined to what already has been created.  Ask yourself what are your building blocks in the choreography?  This will help you to develop the work without music.
  3. Emotion – What is the emotional connection?   Music has the power to invoke feeling, but the real question is can the choreography stand on it’s own, or is every piece of emotion in the music?  When you are choreographing a piece, record and watch it in silence.  You will be surprised to see what affect a piece of music can do to your phrasing.  A song can help blossom your work to a new level, or it can carry your piece and be the only thing the audience remembers. Remember this!
  4. Dancer Connection/Artistry – Coaching and directing is an important part of teaching choreography to your dancers.  It is vital that they feel connected to the piece.  As discussed previously, music can draw emotions out of people.  A song can help dancers relate, remind them of a personal experience, or inspire them.  Can your choreography do that?  Have you explained the meaning of the piece to your dancers?  Have a discussion about this.  If you have choreographed to specific music, the music can be a guide for the dancers.  If you are just working with phrasing, explain the story to them.  Ask them how they can connect.  This in turn will drive a personal connection to the piece for your dancers and help them to invest in your vision.

Music verse no music?  At the end of the day it can be either.  It just depends on your approach.  How you choreograph as an individual.  It is about the four items above – story line, phrasing, emotion, and artistry.  Connecting your dancers is vital to the process.  Every movement, piece of music, facial expression, and dancer should be invested in the best interest of the performance of the work.

The Greatest Showman – A Story of Risk, Belief, and Dreams

As the entertainment industry is drowning in its own turmoil and scandals, it is movies like The Greatest Showman that reminds us why we work in this industry.  The ability to bring to life a story that makes you fall in love, can take you on a journey in someone else’s shoes, and remind you that you should hold on to the million dreams that keep you awake.  Director Michael Gracey spent the last eight years perfecting his vision, finding the right lyricists, piecing together the eclectic and talented cast, and hiring the right choreographer that gave the film the magical flare of the golden age of musicals back to the big screen.

Gracey introduces the audience to P.T. Barnum, beginning with his childhood struggles to starting the circus, but the story is more than one man and his life.  The Greatest Showman brings you into Barnum’s world that transcends into a dream, shows you all the people that he affected, lives he intertwined, the loyalty he created, and the essence of forging your own path and how it is never easy.  In musicals, it is the songs that carry a large part of the story.  The original soundtrack was written by Oscar and Tony Award-Winning duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of critically acclaimed La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen.  Pasek and Paul developed an 11-song soundtrack that brings dramatic drums, staccato horns, melodic pianos, and lyrics that pull at your heartstrings.  In the early scenes, you are introduced to P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) starting as young children into adults as they daydream through a song called A Million Dreams.  It is through the start of this song you see the bigger than life vision that P.T. Barnum has for his family and the career he longs for:

“I close my eyes and I can see
The world that’s waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one’s been before
But it feels like home”

One of the lines Jackman says is “no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”  This song sets the tone for the rest of the film by bringing you into an adventure of something that never existed and formed a show that made the freaks the extraordinary.  The bearded-lady (Keala Settle) character does exactly that.  She makes you feel for someone that has been shamed and made fun of her entire life.  We all have those moments where we feel like we aren’t worthy, or that you just don’t fit into the status quo:

“I am not a stranger to the dark
Hideaway, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Runaway, they say
No one’ll love you as you are”

At some point, we finally just stop caring what everyone else thinks and realize that being just who you are is enough.  That doesn’t happen for everyone.  In the end, it is about your support system.  The people that have your back.  One of the beautiful parts of this story is the loyalty you witness through the mistakes and betrayals that Barnum makes as a human.  The greed that takes over his better judgment.  The love and hope of change from his family, his partner (Phillip Carlyle), and the circus people who truly forgive his betrayals and mistakes.  The faith that we can have for humanity when one person believes that someone is special just as they are. Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) and Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), two star-crossed lovers kept apart because of status and race, but feel that they are a perfect fit.  In the song Rewrite the Stars it is like you are looking through their eyes and falling in love too.  The emotion that these two actors have captured your heart in every action.  The smile that Anne Wheeler gives Phillip Carlyle when they first meet is magic.

“What if we rewrite the stars?
Say you were made to be mine
Nothing could keep us apart
You’d be the one I was meant to find
It’s up to you, and it’s up to me
No one can say what we get to be
So why don’t we rewrite the stars?
Maybe the world could be ours”

Even if musicals aren’t your thing, the story will be well worth the hours spent watching this film.

Artist Promotions – Times They Are A Changing

dont-ever-let-someone-tell-you-that-you-cant-do-somethingRiding the metro in Los Angeles you see talent and some people who are just beggars.  Yes, there is a difference between an artist and a beggar.  An artist doesn’t have to say “we are coming around with a hat and dream” after a performance in public.  An artist does what is necessary to improve their art on a daily basis.  It is not about gaining fame, money, or validation, but about crafting their skill.

This past Tuesday, a violinist and a guitarist were playing on the redline.  From the looks of these two young (20-something) African-American men they had just been riding up and down the redline playing popular songs such as The Fray (How To Save A Life), Michelle Branch (Everywhere), The Beatles (Here Comes The Sun).  Their honesty, conviction, and dedication to their harmonies and musical stylings had the train clapping after each song and numerous train riders giving them donations in their beat-up guitar case.  They didn’t ask for donations after each song; they just continued to play consecutively throughout the 30 minutes I road from the North Hollywood station to the 7th Street Expo Line connection.  This on the ground marketing isn’t a new thing, in fact, it was something that was designed before marketing was even considered a job.

So what is it about artist promotions that really creates a superstar like Taylor Swift?  Selena Gomez?  Mandy Moore?  Travis Wall?  Is it timing?  Is it having talent?  Is it hard work and dedication?  Is it having the right branding, marketing or promotions team? Working in event marketing the last few years, I’ve learned that you need a mix of things to make magic happen.  Here are my top five tips to bring your promotions to the next level:

  1.  Advertise Without Advertising – This goes for everything you do as an individual and as a company.  If you are an individual artist you want to show people why they should watch and pay attention.  You shouldn’t need to give a speech before your performance.  Let your talent speak for itself and let the curiosity of the audience make the choice to stop.  If you are a company promoting an event it should be about the people associated with the event (the talent), the people who have attended and their experiences as well as the business relationships you have with sponsors.  Each of these aspects always draws more attendees because they feel like they are missing out, or a new business who sees their direct competition tearing into another market that they haven’t touch yet.  Fear of missing out is a strong promotional tool and it is vital to show that in an advertising campaign.
  2. Be Active On Your Social Media – Yes posting regularly on your social media is important, but when I say be active on your social media I’m talking about interaction.  Following people or businesses that could increase your promotions on other platforms or bring you to the next level as an artist.  Also, interacting with your followers from Q&As to comments to videos that ask what they want to see from you.  As the saying goes, give the people what they want.
  3. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Lots of promotional photos and videos are important.  It helps to develop marketing strategies, strong branding, and a cohesive platform on who you are and what you do as an artist or company.  Sit down and figure out what you want to show and present to the world and how you want to be represented.  Set-up photo and video shoots to stage promotional materials and constantly have someone dedicated to social media at events to get live shots and reactions from the audience and participants.  This is what is going to develop that concept of “fear of missing out” to drive attendance in the future.   Think about Coachella, LalaPalooza, or any awards show.  Each event has live streaming/broadcasting, they are constantly posting about the people at the shows and the talent that is performing.  It is always about showing someone something that could be their experience.
  4. The Personal You – Society is obsessed with people’s personal drama.  Think about Keeping Up With the Kardashians or The Bachelor.  The one thing about these types of shows is they help you invest in the people as they are sharing personal aspects of their lives to the audience.  Granted all of it is not real and probably a lot of it is staged, but the point I’m trying to make is let people get to know who you are – what you like (i.e. music, films), your friends and family, your favorite places…etc.  People want to feel connected especially if they are investing time and/or money.  Show them more than just your talent.
  5. Attraction – This may sound a little crazy, but bear with me.  No, I’m not talking about how attractive you are as a person, but what individuals are drawn to.  Think about when you see someone saving an animal that is in danger.  You are attracted to someone’s kindness.  Think about a new headshot with colors that make your features pop.  You are attracted to someone’s beauty.  Think about a big open space with no one around but nature.  You are attracted to the freedom.  Promotions are all about attraction.  What makes your audience tick?  What will get them to see the next show?  What will get your next follower to commit to what you put out?  Your audience is comprised of all different people from all walks of life.  You have to know who your audience is to make the impact you are looking for in this world.

In the words of Chris Gardner (Will Smith’s character in the Pursuit of Happyness), “If you want something, go get it.  Period.”

Before The Sun Goes Down – An Album You Need In Your Life

31175If you haven’t heard of The New Respects you need to get on Spotify now and check out their latest album Before The Sun Goes Down.  This family band comprised of siblings Darius, Alexandria and Alexis Fitzgerald, as well as their cousin Jasmine Mullen, was listed as one of the top 10 artists you need to know in 2017 by Rolling Stones Magazine.  Their sound takes you back to the 70s with their electric grooves like Led Zepplin, soul like Aretha Franklin, and catchy lyrics like The Beatles.  Creating a new music genre all their own, they are breaking the mold and rules of what music can be in the 21st century by combining rock, soul, and pop music with acoustic lyrical overtones.

Recently signed to Credential Recordings, the Nashville-based group is making waves with their family affair by taking their positive views on life as well as reaching into society to bring back songs that have heart and meaning from the music to the lyrics.  These refreshing, hard-hitting lyrics are more than catchy pop, but send out messages about strength, challenges, and the push we have to give ourselves every day to be the best versions of us.  In the pre-chorus of their single, “Before The Sun Goes Down” it says:

“Maybe we won’t find the answers every time
But I wanna find a little peace of mind
There ain’t nothing wrong with working over time
So let’s make it right”

Another song that really stood out to me was “Come As You Are.”  It is a slow-moving lyrical wonderland that makes you feel like you are the last person on earth, but that one person who has your back is following you as someone to hold you up when you feel like falling down.

“I’ve been telling you for some time now
You’re not a burden, not weighing me down
So fight that voice that says you’re on your own
You don’t have to do this thing alone”

If you are looking for your music to have a little meaning, a lot of soul, and a dash of a groove, The New Respects have you covered.  Check out one of their videos below to help you get over the middle of the week.  It will have you energized in no time.