Video Premiere: Kick the Robot’s “Supermassive Automatic

It goes without saying that Athens is one of the jewels of the Southeast when it comes to music, and My Athens is proud to count among our contributors so many people who help make it so. Last week, one of our team members, Alex Seibert, released a video that he shot and directed for Kick the Robot’s “Supermassive Automatic.” Check out the video and read a little bit about the making of it below!

Alex Seibert:  About two years ago, I met the members of the young, super high-energy Atlanta/Athens-based rock & roll band at their show at the Green Room here in Athens, Ga. At the time, I was shooting photos for the openers (The Broken String Band) and although I wasn’t familiar with Kick The Robot, I was immediately impressed, not only by their music, but by the band members as people.
Despite their considerable talent and skill, each member is laid back and has an infectious sense of humor. Soon after, we started working together and became great friends through the process.

In a word, this production was a whirlwind. It was quick and chaotic, and while a lot of it was up in the air, the pieces fell into place. Since we didn’t have a big budget, we had to squeeze all of the shooting into three days — half of what would be ideal. On top of that, I took on every role of production, including directing, camera work, lighting (excluding the house party) and equipment management, so getting the shots I wanted proved to be a challenge.

For the house party scene, we organized a secret show at my friends’ house wherein they put on an actual show so I could capture the real energy and enthusiasm from the crowd. Everyone came together and helped out where they could and were incredibly cooperative. Since then, we’ve had a ton of requests from the attendees to do it all over again, just for fun. Working with Kick The Robot has been surreal in a sense because we’re both sort of in the same stage of our career trajectory and that unity between us has helped and inspired our creative process. I can’t wait to work with them again.

“Supermassive Automatic” is their single from their upcoming LP, Black Magic Radio Static, expected to arrive sometime in September, and the band will follow the release with a tour. Until then, be sure to check out one of their shows (dates/venues on kicktherobot.com) so you can experience the magic for yourself.

AthFest: Kishi Bashi Interview

Words by Connor Gruver. Photos by Connelly Crowe.

AthFest 2016: Interview with headlining musician Kishi Bashi.

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Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the wickedly engaging Jill Helme, AthFest Executive Director and administrative champion, so that we could get a solid picture of the three-day music festival’s beneficent spirit. But logistics is only half the story, so Jill immediately connected us with someone who knows a thing or two about the music itself.

“Well, that’s what attracted people like Kevin. People just move here. Because they hear it’s a cool town; I think it’s a cool town. It’s cheap, and it’s pretty pleasant.”

K Ishibashi has been a fixture in Athens since he moved here in 2012 to play violin with psychedelic pop act Of Montreal during their tour that year. That was a little bit of a conversation that took place in K’s personal studio, which sits just behind the house where he lives with his wife and daughter.

K was telling me that bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52’s inspired many rising musicians, such as Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes, to take up residence here. He said that his tenure with Of Montreal had a heavy influence on his writing as he made the jump into recording as solo act Kishi Bashi.

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“Kevin was really trying to get me to do newer sounds… And I started realizing that the one thing I’m really decent at is the violin.”

However, the result of this partnership had an effect that — for both K and the Athens community — went beyond sound. After the dissolution of his indie pop project ‘Jupiter One,’ K made the move from New York City to Athens, where he began recording and touring.

“I mean, the musicianship and artistry level in New York City is incredible. It’s probably the best conditions in the world. But there’s so little time to just be creative because you’re so dedicated to playing in other projects and making rent. Every time I go back there, I see people and they’re so stressed out.”

Once he was settled in Athens, it didn’t take K long to gain recognition, and in 2014 he was invited to headline AthFest alongside acts like Reptar and Drivin’ N Cryin’. This year, Kishi Bashi will join Family and Friends as well as Mothers in leading the festival. K’s involvement with AthFest doesn’t end there, though.

“I love playing with kids. They’re like drunk adults.”

K was talking about his experiences playing for hundreds of students in what AthFest calls ‘classroom concerts’ at elementary and middle schools across Athens. He says he loves playing the violin for children in that age group and introducing them to what is, for many of them, a new form of creative expression.

“Music is so important on so many levels for kids, or even playing an instrument – socially, academically; there’s just so many benefits to it.”

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K is able, perhaps, to put more emphasis on childhood music education than most because his daughter is a student in the Athens public school system. When I asked him which aspect of the Athens community was most valuable to his family, he told me that an attitude of support has been refreshingly noticeable here.

“It’s really safe. Everyone is friendly and supportive. There’s always the mindset of just being creative and supporting local artists. I think that’s really important, and it’s kind of kept Athens the way it is. A lot of cities don’t necessarily have that as part of their way of thinking.”

He said that, for as hard working as people are in New York City, the support system left much to be desired “It’s a cutthroat community. I felt like it was a chore to go see somebody’s show. It was expensive. New York is crazy expensive.”

Fortunately, since relocating, K was able to visit New York, as well as Chicago and Atlanta, when he organized a national orchestral competition, sponsored by D’Addario Strings. Four high schools from these cities were chosen from a number of video submissions, and allowed K to provide workshops that were aimed at teaching and encouraging the young musicians who played there.

“The kids were awesome, and they were really excited.” K has undoubtedly fostered a passion doing something much bigger than himself. “It’s the kind of thing I want to do. I think there are two levels: I want kids who are thinking about playing music to start, and I want people who already play music to continue to be inspired.”

Kishi Bashi will play a free set at the Pulaski St. Stage on Sunday, June 26 at 7pm.

Dana Jo Cooley

Words by Steven Rounds. Photos Courtesy of Dana Jo Cooley.

Athens is undeniably a national music hub.  This rich, musically inclined culture is not only attributed to the musicians that live here.  Artists involved in every aspect of music production (from the creation of merchandise, to the set design and production, to the creation of auxiliary performance art) allow concert-goers to experience music in an enhanced way. One prominent local artist who has contributed immensely to the music-adjacent art space is Dana Jo Cooley.

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Photo by Ben Rouse

Continue reading “Dana Jo Cooley”

Community Spotlight: Emily Hearn

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Athens based musician Emily Hearn, who recently released her second full-length album “Hourglass”, is now promoting the album and touring the country with fellow singer/songwriter Tyrone Wells. We caught up with Emily in the midst of her busy schedule to learn more about what went into this album and why she loves to call Athens home.

Emily moved to Athens in 2008 to pursue a journalism degree at UGA and ended up discovering the future she had in a full time music career.

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“I feel like everything that I am as a musician came as a result of me living in Athens,” Emily explained. ” I’ve been so inspired here, learned everything I know about songwriting here, played my first show here, and met my husband and musical partner Michael Harrison here. Now having lived in Athens for seven years, I can’t pictured myself without it. It’s comforting to be in such an inspired town that is so supportive of local artists.”

The community really has rallied behind Emily, especially with regards to this second album. Her fan base completely funded the production of the album in 40 days through a Kickstarter project.

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“When I was looking to make a new album I asked my fans if they’d be interested in helping out in exchange for fun, exclusive rewards. They were so positive and excited,” Emily said.

The production process started with 35 songs which were then narrowed down to the amazing twelve that we see on the album. According to Emily, time in the studio started with the drums and built all the way up to the vocals.

“We just began tackling the songs, one by one, and tried to fully capture the emotion of each one,” Emily said.

The new album has a little bit different feel than her first. Although it still has the familiar peppy and upbeat sound of her first album, it also includes some more serious songs. Listeners will find themselves relating to the real life struggles that Emily sings about through out the album, from heartbreak to trying to figure out where your place in the world is.

“I really wanted and needed to experiment with writing more serious content. There are definitely songs that are upbeat or positive, but I desperately wanted to be able to put into these songs the emotion that I am currently feeling in my life–the desire to do the right thing and to grow up gracefully, but not having a clue where to go,” Emily said.

Currently Emily is having a blast on a nation-wide tour with Tyrone Wells. However, she is super excited to be heading out on her first-ever headlining tour this fall! Keep up with Emily at emilyhearn.com to find out when she will be heading home to the Classic City, and don’t forget to check out her new album!

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Written by Blythe Coker. Photos courtesy of Emily Hearn.

Community Q&A with Wesley Johnson

Meet the artist: Wesley Johnson

Check out his website: https://wesdaruler.bandcamp.com/

Tell us what you do: I’m a self branded beatsmith that goes by the name “WesdaRuler”. I mix 90s era boom bap/sampling with 90s ear video sounds. I also do traditional mpc style boom bap beats. No one really raps or seeks out this kind of production anymore so I recently started doing live shows where I recreate/remix my own beats live in a non-stop 20-45 min set.

Tell us about your history: Ex military brat. I was born in Warner Robins, GA. My mom grew up there. My dad grew up here in Athens and met her when he joined the Airforce. We have lived mainly in the south (SC/GA/FLA), but spent some years on in northern Cali. I came up in SC as the neighborhood “beat box” and was just called “big wes”. When I moved to Cali and got exposed to a different kind of music scene I became the street dj and was given the name “Wesdnile da Virus” (lol). From there I started making beats. I’ve always been a fan of 90s hip hop usually referred to as the “golden era”. I’ve also always been a huge chipmusic fan (8bit video game sounds) which ironically is considered the golden era of gaming. Listening to great producers like Pete Rock, Large Professor, and DJ Premier led me to Jay Dilla of Detroit. I became a huge fan of his productions and have adapted that style as my own. I’m also a big fan of Mr. Dibia$e/ Professa (darkerthanwax)/Phillipe Edision/Mndsgn. I’m also into photography and sometimes attempt to express the picture in a beat.

Tell us about the importance of your work: It’s important to me simply because I really love doing it. I could never clearly explain in words how I might feel one day, but I am able to take those feelings and vibes and turn them to a beat. It’s a way to express myself. I would love to help build the beat scene here in Athens. I’ve already done a few shows, and people seem to be into it. Any way to contribute to the overall scene and feel of Athens.

Tell us why you live in Athens: It’s a great town. A lot of my family is here and after growing up in the military it’s nice to finally be around. I also have a wife and one-year-old son, and would like to give him a stable environment. I have a good career at UGA. I love football! I love the food here, the music here and MOST of the people here (lol). Sometimes this lil’ town takes my breath away when I take a minute to just stop and look.

Describe your favorite things about this city: I like to old town feel of it. It’s historical, but not TOO historical if that makes sense.

 

Community Spotlight: Family and Friends

Meet Family and Friends–one of Athens’ most popular bands, known for their sincere music and energetic shows. They not only have a unique sound, but also an interesting set-up too with two drummers, an upright bass and multiple vocalists. Family and Friends is made up of JP McKenzie (guitar), Casey Harper (vocals and percussion), Mike MacDonald (guitar and vocals), Ryan Houchens (drums), Tuna Fortuna (bass and upright, guitar), Maria Kindt (violin and viola) and Alejandro Rios (drums).

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They are a large group with a big sound–and a big following.  They’re gaining recognition too. This year Family and Friends won Flagpole’s Music Award for start up and best artist of the year. Their music is joyful and carries truth. Even the name Family and Friends holds a meaning that speaks to their audience. When asked about the band’s name, Mike stated that it’s the “concept of what that invokes”, meaning that the band and the audience are joining together as family and friends–sharing in music.

“We want everyone to feel a part of it”, Alejandro said about their music. Their live shows are also a place for the audience to experience and participate. To say that there’s energy is an understatement. At Athfest this year, it was amazing to see the band and the crowd feed off of each other.

For Ryan, Athfest 2014 was the most memorable show, being on the mainstage with at least 1000 people was an incredible experience. For Casey, Alejandro and JP their CD release show was their favorite moment, especially JP who was so happy that he hugged Ryan mid-song.

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We were curious about the band’s structure and how they formed. Mike explained it as a sort of “universal phenomenon” or one of Athens’ serendipitous moments. He knew that he wanted two drummers and female vocalists, but he needed to find the musicians. Through a series of events, Tuna, Casey, Maria, Ryan, Alejandro and JP joined in and became Family and Friends.

Musical inspiration for these guys ranges from Typhoon to James Taylor. Alejandro “likes the way they [Typhoon] build their songs”. JP finds inspiration from ambient post-rock like Explosions in the Sky, while Mike prefers The Oh Hellos and The Head and the Heart.

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We asked the members to give each other superlatives just for fun and here’s what we got:

Ryan: Best Smile/Most Energetic

Tuna: Father Wisdom/Philosopher

JP: Best to Bring to Home to Mom/Nicest

Casey: Most Responsible

Alejandro: Most Spirited

Maria: Wildcard

Mike: Most Driven

Family and Friends has an upcoming show at the Georgia Theater on January 9th with Roadkill Ghost Choir and Semicircle. Be sure to check it out.. Also, their next EP will come out in a few months, as well their very own Jittery Joe’s roast called Love You, Bean It (based on their album Love You Mean It). Grab an EP and a cup of Love You, Bean It this spring!

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Written by Zelda Speight. Photos by Ella Ferguson.

Community Spotlight: Bob Sleppy of Nuci’s Space

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Nuçi’s Space was founded on love. Many don’t know the story of Nuçi’s Space or the extent to which it benefits our community. The non-profit began in 2000 by Linda Phillips—the mother of Nuçi.

Nuçi was diagnosed with clinical depression as a teenager. He came from a supportive family but struggled with the complications that mental illness often creates. He was a student in Athens and a locally recognized guitarist. Music was his gift, his outlet, and a coping mechanism. As he felt the negative symptoms of depression worsen, he sought help but was told he would have to wait for one month before seeing a doctor. Within that month, he took his own life—November 26, 1996.

An incredible tragedy as this shakes families, friends, and entire communities. Unfortunately, mental illness and other related issues commonly go unrecognized and often lack sympathy from individuals. It is a difficult realm of health to understand and even more difficult for the victim to live with. After Nuçi’s passing, his family sought to create an organization in honor of him and his devotion to music, while reaching others in a timely manner who are challenged with similar diagnoses.

I met with Bob Sleppy, the Executive Director of Nuçi’s Space, to learn more about the non-profit because I, like so many others, have a limited knowledge of the organization and mental illness. My time with Bob was not only educational but evoked compassion, a sense of humanity, and empathy. Ella (our photographer) and I both felt ourselves emotionally connected to Nuçi’s Space’s cause once we left. Bob was involved from the beginning. He was a student in Athens and also a musician. He attended one of the beginning fundraisers for Nuçi’s Space and he found himself with a desire to help. He had connections in the Athens music scene and also received his MBA—both very helpful to a non-profit. Eventually they were up and running and as he says, “I volunteered myself into a position”. They were creating an organization “for musicians by musicians” that would meet the needs of creative expression as well as mental health.

Today Nuçi’s Space is a resource center for counseling and doctors, a practice space, and hangout spot—essentially it’s a support center and much more. Their staff act as liaison to the appropriate resources, assist with payments, provide affordable practice rooms, and people who will listen—because don’t we all need someone who will just listen? They work with several small practices in Athens — the Athens Nurses Clinic, Family Counseling Services, and many other equipped individuals. When speaking with Bob, he spoke of the importance of investing in somebody and “letting them know that you are present”. I agree when he says that too often we forget the importance of relationships, and Nuçi’s Space strives to provide that. And from the looks of it, they’re succeeding.

Since their beginning, Nuçi’s Space has increased their funding and the individuals that they reach. Whether you’re looking for a practice space, for a counselor or doctor, or a friend, the folks at Nuçi’s Space will “be present”. Practice spaces are always available and if you’re in need of services related to mental or physical health, you are always welcome to pop in, email, or call. As for upcoming events, they host a summer camp for teens ranging from eleven to seventeen years old. At camp, they expand their music knowledge and talents, while increasing self-development, coping skills, and addressing issues that come with being a teenager and a musician. For example, Bob mentioned an exercise that they do at camp called “Survival Skills for Creative Minds”. Each day they address topics that may come up in the life of a creative and a teen. Topics range from embarrassing moments that could happen on stage to addressing drugs and alcohol. This is a two-week camp in the summer time where at the end of the second week, the kids get to perform on stage in front of their peers. Personally, this would terrify me to no end but Bob explained it as not only a time for the kids to gain experience but also a time to be “surrounded by encouragement so that there’s room to fail. It’s powerful”. When said like that, it does sound powerful and influential in not only the musicians’ creativity but also their self-image and confidence.

My experience at Nuçi’s Space and the feeling that I walked away with cannot be fully expressed in this article. The impact that this organization has made on so many individual lives in astounding and joyful. It’s an incredible feeling to see people who genuinely love what they do and are dedicated to the relationships built. Bob reflected on the Athens community for a moment mentioning that in Athens, “when someone needed help, we bind together”. The Athens community takes care of its own and Nuçi’s Space is essentially a center for that. So if you’ve never been to Nuçi’s Space or you’re curious about what they offer, drop by, grab some coffee, maybe play piano for a minute, and get to know some really kind folks. Check out their website at to learn more about their cause and how you can help.

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Written by Zelda Speight. Photos by Ella Ferguson.