As far as I'm concerned, pop music is the most exciting frontier for musical innovation. From the mainstream radio-friendly mash-ups of Beyonce, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber down to your favorite neighborhood indie pop band or danceable electronic act, pop music is encompassing of a wide world of sounds, full of ground-breaking firsts. Yet it's safe to say that in the current indie music climate, with its constant breaking and building of narrow-minded subgenres like dream pop, vaporwave, chillwave, and the like, oversaturation often leads to myriad bands which sound more or less identical. Of these, most lack a truly distinguishing spark that makes them stand out. Which is why I get really excited upon the discovery of pop bands who don't easily fit in anywhere, and are able to -- if not reinvent it -- at least give the wheel a furious and energetic spin. My latest and greatest finding lies in Royal Canoe, a group of musicians from the uncommon birthing ground of Winnipeg, Canada. While undoubtedly considered "indie pop" by any wide-casting use of the term, Royal Canoe aren't actually easy to define, especially with non-abstract terminologies. With two drummers, two keyboardists, and four vocalists, the six-member band is kind of all over the place stylistically -- yet somehow, it just works. Royal Canoe Band Interview After talking to Royal Canoe's vocalist and guitarist Matt Peters, I came to realize that what sets Royal Canoe apart from other indie pop bands is not exactly the genre tags they fall under -- of which there are many -- but their fascinating communal character. For a pop band, they are remarkably tenacious. They make a point of having extremely high standards for creation and performance, in service of being the best musicians they can be. Any self-imposed rules they have set for themselves are balanced by a willingness to share artistic duties, as well as an openness to inspiration and experimentation.
"I think everyone definitely has an appreciation for letting their voice be heard but also trying to reach a greater good..." -- Matt Peters

 

Los Angeles-based artist Rob Sato is more than a painter of fantastical watercolor dreamscapes. Challenging his own magnificent talent as a masterful visual creator, Sato is also a prolific consumer of culture. Profoundly influenced by historical events, dynamic music, and piles of life-changing books, he is able to channel many diverse creative explorations into colorfully horrific and disarmingly beautiful works of art; his work is an intriguing amalgam of childhood fantasies and literary consequence, adeptly bridging the gap between fantasy and reality.
"Writing feels like it comes from a separate part of the brain than where imagery generates from, so when I'm having trouble on a painting, I can turn to the writing to think about things from a different angle." -- Rob Sato

 

In the latest dubstep-inspired track by Brooklyn's The Mast, vocalist Haale Gafori took full directorial duties and turned scenes from her mind into a stark music video for public consumption. Covered with powder for a heightened ethereal effect, Los Angeles-based dancer Pandora Marie pop and locks her way in and out of Gafori's vocals, as monochrome simplicity eventually projects into full-color silhouettes that pulse in time with glitchy beats. In the brief Q&A below, Gafori describes the creative process for "UpUpUp" from start to finish, and you can expect to see this video in our upcoming Motion & Movement In Music Video panels for Bumbershoot and MusicfestNW.

 

 

In REDEFINE's first bi-lingual interview, we speak with Gabriele Ottino, director behind the acid trip visuals for Italian electronic artist TOMAT's latest track, "1984". Taking inspiration from George Orwell and a wide cross-section of human affairs, the video mixes archival footage of events between June 1st and June 6th, 1984, glitch and pixel elements, and modern day footage of the musician into a brightly-colored visual slideshow.
"The denser the number of events a second, the more we lose the facts itself, gaining objectivity but losing humanity." -- Gabriele Ottino

 

MUSIC VIDEO AND INTERVIEW CONTINUED BELOW Directed by Gabriele Ottino and produced by Superbudda Studio

 

"... All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome." -- George Orwell, London Letter to Partisan Review

 

Portland artist Ian Michael Anderson's latest collection of gouache paintings contrast earth tones and light pink hues with symbolic imagery, to powerful and striking visual effect. In Anderson's own words, his paintings aim to address chaos and conflicts in life as well as order, to help him gain insight into their distinct natures. He explains by saying, "... Dualistic narratives take shape [and] opposing forces are typically revealed: Life and death, good and evil, man and beast, predator and prey, war and peace. These dreamlike and often nightmarish fables reflect an outward and subconscious view of man and his destructive role in this world. Through this lens, my own place in these mostly impossible scenarios can be triangulated, and I am on my way to resolving the confrontation and understanding the need for such destruction." You can see these pieces in person on First Thursday, May 3rd, at Backspace Gallery and Cafe (115 NW 5th Ave) in Portland, and read a brief Q&A with Anderson below.

 

Chicago-based illustrator and artist Jacob Van Loon has recently taken inspiration from the films of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Two of Van Loon's latest pieces, The Moguls (Stalker) and Let Alone A Planet (Solaris) -- named after two Tarkovsky films of the same name -- are chaotic and multi-layered mixed media works inspired by the content, moods, and color palettes of those films. "I can't think of a director who has done more with film as a medium," says Van Loon of Tarkovsky. "I was dealing with the assignment of dense conceptual material during the painting process. I found it easier to speculate on the latent aspects of both films; the psychological confrontations posed by the pace, sound, and color." Though Van Loon readily admits that both films felt initially inaccessible to him, the Q&A below will show how repeat viewings led to the gelling of his artistic style with philosophical and psychological interpretations of Tarkovsky's themes.

(TOP) The Moguls (Stalker) Diptych 24"x40"; (BOTTOM) The Moguls (Stalker) Detail - Watercolor, graphite View entire Stalker Series On Jacob Van Loon's Website

 

Like a whale call bubbling forth from oceanic depths, Sister Crayon's 2011 release on Manimal Vinyl, Bellow, is an album dense with emotional weight. "When I think of someone bellowing, I just see a sad, really powerful thing coming out of someone," explains vocalist Terra Lopez. "Years of an... exhausting type of feeling." Bellow is an aural manifestation of such exhaustion -- a collective "bellow" from a group of Nothern California musicians who do not shy away from the fascinations which arise from darkness. Filled with trip-hop beats, soaring operatic vocals, distorted guitars, and delicate synth lines, the sonic universe of Sister Crayon is a varied and complex one. What holds consistent, though, is the band's fortitude, as they explore parallel emotional states through individualized experiences.

matt leavitt
Time permitting, Portland-based artist Matt Leavitt allows his imagination to run free by tinkering, inventing, and manipulating objects in the pursuit of fine artistic ideas. The fascination of his multi-disciplinary artwork can be found equally in the methodologies spawning them as in the finished products themselves; trial and error, as well as chance events, serve as stepping stones to reaching greater ends -- some predictable, some unpredictable. Leavitt creates with the mentality of sussing out his wildest artistic fantasies, all the while drawing equally from his knowledge in Civic Engineering and his experiences at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. In his experimentation, he has done things many would never consider. He has attempted to make ink from flowers petals; he has thrown melted candle wax onto frozen ponds; he has created sculptures from liquid clay. His interests flow in many directions, and these divergences are present when one looks at his entire body of work. The projects he undertakes are always well-detailed within his mind; every piece of every series falls in line with subtle stylistic rules yet deviates within a larger framework.

 

Jeremy Mangan makes paintings of barns. Barns are not in and of themselves fascinating subjects, and it's hard to escape the cliché imagery associated with them -- of wheat fields and bucolic pastures. But Jeremy Mangan makes barns magical.
jeremy mangan Mangan grew up in rural Washington but spent a number of years living in New York while attending graduate school at Hunter College. His interest in shantytowns and weather-worn buildings began with observations of his surroundings, and was later informed by the urban layering of New York City. "I think what [my interest] comes from is a combination of growing up here and always being attracted to these dilapidated old structures," Mangan explains over coffee. "And then in New York, the overbuilt stacking, the literal hierarchy -- where the higher up you are, the higher up you are. You look up and you see the penthouses, and then you look down and you go into a subway." When Mangan first began his explorations into rural Americana, he was working with a very unorthodox medium. "I was painting fairly realistic, naturalistic subject matter at that point, and I was frustrated, so I decided I would just use the dumbest material I could find -- something that wasn't meant for art making and wasn't so precise," Mangan explains. "So I just bought a cup of coffee from the local bodega and started painting with it."
"Music does something kind of like poetry does. We can access music and listen to music and it doesn't have the expectations on it that visual art does, to be important or meaningful or to have direct social commentary... There's just something visceral and direct about it that I want to be in my paintings also." - Jeremy Mangan
Looking at his work, it's hard to believe that Mangan managed to achieve such an impressive array of depth and tones using coffee, but he has always been a technically skilled artist. He attributes much of his painting technique to his time spent as an ice carver. While finishing his graduate degree, Mangan's studio shared a building with Okamato Studio, the ice sculpting business of Takeo and Shintaro Okamoto. "They knocked on my studio one day and said, 'Hey, I need to deliver this ice sculpture; I could use a hand with it.'" At first Mangan only helped with the deliveries, but he was gradually entrusted with more responsibilities. Eventually they let Mangan try his hand at carving. "They gave me a 300 pound block of ice and a chainsaw and said, 'Go for it.'" Mangan's experience with carving fundamentally changed the way he approached painting. "As a painter, I could look at a face as a mug shot, and then in profile, and imagine how I would render it and how the line should be, but ice sculpture made me think in terms of volume, and that took a while to learn." This sojourn as an ice sculptor led Mangan to many interesting situations, including one assignment making a giant reindeer for Martha Stewart's holiday party. "She seemed very... uh... composed. Like she was working. Very smiley, almost robotic. What you might expect." Although it was a day job that involved creating and working with his hands, Mangan ultimately felt that he needed to leave New York and make more time for the work he wanted to pursue. "I was working 40, 50 hours a week carving ice, and I didn't go that far away to become an ice carver. It was just a job. I wasn't painting... I joke that I needed to leave New York and move to Fife for things to really start coming together." jeremy mangan

Don't look now, but Secret Cities, a trio (now quartet!) of music makers hailing from the Midwest, might have made the most enjoyable album of the year. Their debut, Pink Graffiti, is a laid-back, charismatic indie-pop album in the best sense, joyously constructed without being overly dramatic. This band is all about layers: layers of vocals harmonizing in and out, layers of acoustic, analog, digital sounds, and layers of lyrics that stick in your mind with the utmost poignancy. We got a chance to talk to the trio just as they finished touring the US about their album, about songwriting via snail mail, about the fact/fiction behind the movie Fargo and about how Brian Wilson is kind of a jerk!
What's the story behind Secret Cities? How long have you been playing together? Charlie Gokey: MJ (Marie Parker) and I have been making music together since we were kids. We met at band camp around 2001, kept in touch through the internet, then eventually started exchanging tapes through the mail. Alex [Abnos] joined around 2005 when we toured for the first time. I met him on the internet, and fortunately, it turned out he's not a murderer or a 50-year-old pedophile. Right from the start, we've never really lived in the same place. I only see Al and MJ when we're going to tour or record.

Can you explain the concept behind the album I've been hearing about? Gokey: I kind of forced this on everyone like a jerk. It's not like the whole album is about any one thing. There are just a bunch of songs about the relationship between people and music, the relationship between people and other people, and those relationships getting kind of mixed up. That sounds like an absurd, pretentious thing, but that theme just sort of developed naturally. When we were just starting to record the album, my girlfriend and I split up. Shortly thereafter, I saw that Brian Wilson was signing his new record at a nearby Borders. I felt compelled to go see him because I had written a little about him in college, plus certain songs he wrote were pretty intimately tied up with this relationship I had just gotten out of. When I actually saw him and tried to talk to him, I was shocked by how old he looked, how little he cared that I was trying to say something to him, by the reality of his personhood. After that weirdness, Brian Wilson became the central figure in my writing -- sort of an easy place to start in sorting through the intense emotions of that breakup and the process of making music.

Listen to "Pink Graffiti, Pt. 1" - DOWNLOAD MP3