Every so often a mesmerizing young beauty emerges from the downtown music scene of New York City and catches our eye. A few years back we stumbled upon a band that was managed by the legendary Andy Animal, dubbed Animal Show.
Every so often a mesmerizing young beauty emerges from the downtown music scene of New York City and catches our eye. A few years back we stumbled upon a band that was managed by the legendary Andy Animal, dubbed Animal Show.
Lew Phillips is the young, 23 year old Canadian musician that we stumbled upon a few years back, and since then we’ve been captivated by both his music and personal style. There are the many photographs of the handsome young singer in 50s clothing with his trademark cigarette dangling out of his mouth. At 17 he put out his first release, and shortly after he had a 45rpm with the highly popular Wild Records from California, as well as a follow-up album with Rhythm Bomb Records. Phillips has now gone on to consistently self-produce his own singles. We caught up with the performer to inquire about his background, as well as the evolution from his early rockabilly style, to his more 60s inspired, self-described, “Preppy Voice”. All photographs courtesy of Lew Phillips. https://www.reverbnation.com/lewphillips https://soundcloud.com/lewphillips https://www.instagram.com/lewphillipsmusic/?hl=en
PONYBOY: Lew, we first saw a video of you on YouTube a few years back and thought for sure it must be a Buddy Holly cover. And since, we’ve followed your music career. Tell us about your Canadian roots.
LEW PHILLIPS: I actually wrote the song “Your Love” even though I was heavily influenced by the great, late Buddy Holly. I did do a cover of a Buddy Holly number during the Wild Weekender in Santa Ana, California in 2013. I grew up in a small Canadian town of Quebec’s Province called Joliette. I am basically from French-Canadian and Scottish-Canadian descendants. As a kid, I used to be sick very often and my grandparents used to babysit me all the time. That’s where I got my first “so called” musical education. My grandparents being too old for rock’n’roll, they were from the Country music generation; so the first singers I heard were Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Hank “LaRiviere” Rivers, etc…
PONYBOY: Tell us how you first got into playing music.
LEW PHILLIPS: As a kid, I loved to grab my grandpa’s acoustic guitar and sing along with him. So, I guess we could say that’s where it started. I thought I could become a professional hockey and baseball player, but when I finally became a teenager, I realized that was wasn’t going to happen and that I sucked anyway. So, I realized my dream to become a professional singer, songwriter and recording artist and that was it!
PONYBOY: Your inspirations might be obvious to some, but tell us what musicians inspire you when writing and playing music.
LEW PHILLIPS: I guess you’re not only talking about the lyrics, but the melody as well. So, here’s the ones which I think are my biggest influences, not just because they’ve been highly proclaimed and called geniuses over the years, but mostly because they helped me shape and develop my own songwriting technique. I’d say even when I was a teenager who wanted to pursue a rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly career, I was listening to a lot of Beatles music from their Hamburg period through the Rubber Soul album. There’s something about them and their music which I can’t explain, but love it. They were using non-conventional chords for the early 1960s. When I look at Lennon and McCartney’s songs and hear them, I feel like I’m with them and know what they had to say. Each time I listen to them, I’m like, God, they knew how to write perfect lyrics with amazing melodies. So that’s why they’re very important to me. Then, there is Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. Do I need to explain why? I mean this guy had the whole thing in his head. He could hear the whole damn song with all the instruments in his head even before he started recording it. That helped me a lot, because I’m now able to do the same thing. There’s also Phil Spector, even though he wasn’t a musical composer, but in terms of musical production he was the best. Neil Sedaka and the whole Brill Building team are also among my biggest influences, because contrary to nowadays composers in pop culture, they knew how to write some real good pop music. Finally, the great, late Buddy Holly is a guy of his own class. Just like Paul McCartney once said, he was writing his own songs, played guitar, did the solos and sang at the same time. So, if he can do it, why couldn’t we?
PONYBOY: How would you describe your sound?
LEW PHILLIPS: I would describe it as nostalgic music with contemporary lyrics. But if you wanna get more specific, I’d say it’s modern vintage pop music with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll, vocal harmonies and a country music beat in the back.
PONYBOY: When we first became aware of your music, you had a single on Wild Records, and then recorded with Rhythm Bomb Records. You now self-publish your own music, correct?
LEW PHILLIPS: That is absolutely correct! In 2015, my contract with Rhythm Bomb was about to expire in a few months and I was supposed to be making a second album for them, but I was now at a point where I felt like I no longer recognized myself in this record label. They wanted me to make a rock ‘n’ roll album and I wanted to explore and go on a personal musical journey; and they didn’t accept it. They even publicly spoke negatively about me and my decisions and they even tried to sue me. But that’s their problem. I’m doing music because that’s my reason to live. So, at first I thought I’d find another label, like a commercial one in Canada or in the United States. Then I found out life was happening with it’s reality. Nothing was happening. I wasn’t making any money. I was broke. So, finally in 2017, I decided to create my own record label just so I’d have a label to put on my records and started recording in my apartment, but still, there was a lot to learn about. Not only did I find out it was much harder to make a great sounding recording, but also that it was much harder to promote yourself and do all the things that a record label normally does for you. So I started studying and studying about recordings and social media marketing and all those dirty jobs you have to do yourself. Finally, last Spring, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore without any financial support. My fiancee told me she was going to leave me if I didn’t get a steady job to pay the bills. I got hired in a supermarket in my neighborhood and started releasing digital singles and evolving as singer, songwriter, recording artist and producer. I bought myself a new little guitar amplifier (a very cool 60s Vox reissue) and I started to think like a modern artist, because the whole game’s changed. The only similarity with the 50s or 60s is that the only way to make music is to play gigs and tour. So, I started to do my research and try to find some promoters, considering I wanted to tour the US. But I found out you somehow had to have some connections and that maybe I should do it on my own, but it takes money. And my steady job at the supermarket wasn’t paying so well, so I applied for a job at a beer company called Molson, which is the very first brewery in North America (Sorry fellas, hahaha) that a guy named John Molson founded in 1786 and they are still brewing in the same old building. So I guess the rest will be history, eh!
PONYBOY: Your music and style has evolved from that 50s sound and look you had when you first started out. Would you say that you’ve lost some of the fans that first had an interest in you, the rockabilly crowd?
LEW PHILLIPS: Definitely! Which is sad, but I can’t force anyone to like what I do. I’m for freedom of speech and expression, so if they don’t like what I do anymore, there’s nothing I can do. That’s just life. I mean, it happens, but life goes on. I just want to make people happy with my music, that’s all.
PONYBOY: And what is your style of dress now? You describe yourself as “The Preppy Voice”. Do you wear primarily vintage? Are there any menswear designer’s/labels that you tend to like?
LEW PHILLIPS: Yes! I don’t wear vintage clothes anymore. I got sick of buying old and expensive clothes only to find out months later they were good for the trash. And I don’t like the fact that some grandpas or whatever you wanna call them, wore those clothes and might have had a little accident in those pants. I know it shocks, eh! Some will say, yeah, but we wash the clothes anyway. I typically reply, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re old and used to be someone else’s clothes. So I decided I’d change my wardrobe and get some at the “Canadian Macy’s” (Hudson Bay Company) to get some brand new and cool clothes and find my own personal style. I’m a big fan of British brands like Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, Topman, but I also love brands like Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, G.H. Bass & Co., etc. I love classic labels that offer classic clothes with a bit of a vintage touch.
PONYBOY: Tell us your thoughts and frustrations with the music industry.
LEW PHILLIPS: I think it’s mostly when it comes to booking and gigging. I mean, I can’t speak for everywhere, but in Montreal, the music scene sucks. If you’re not in some privileged gang, they won’t let you play their bars. They won’t even reply to your emails. But, eh, no need to cry like a baby. Instead of doing so, you wash your bloody hands, get your head off the sand and work harder and try to get booked in let’s say Ontario. So then when you succeed you can show those people who refused to give you a chance that you proved them wrong. And that is what I’m planning to do.
PONYBOY: How many records/singles do you have as of now?
LEW PHILLIPS: I’ve released an EP on my own before Wild Records, then “Mister Colter/Silent Love” on Wild Records, and then my first album on Rhythm Bomb Records. As for on my own record label called Barking Puzzle Records, my first single was “Dreaming About Summertime”, then “Give Up”, and then “Don’t Cry”, then “Big Wide World” and finally my newest one (for the moment) is “A Taste Of Love”, which by the way you can all listen to on YouTube, bandcamp, Reverbnation and Soundcloud.
PONYBOY: We’ve seen in some of your social media posts that you have a home based music/recording space. What does your recording process consist of?
LEW PHILLIPS: I’m working with a soundcard, one single microphone, a couple of free plugins and the room where I’m recording as a natural echo. I don’t use any effects on guitars or any other instruments, except reverb and delay for the final mix. I do overdub tracks. I do all the instruments, except for the drums. My drummer is the session player for the drums part. Isn’t it amazing that nowadays we can do more with a computer than George Martin with The Beatles in 1964!
PONYBOY: Being based in Montreal, do you have a fan base there? Is there a “scene” for your kind of music?
LEW PHILLIPS: Here’s the funny thing; there is no existence of any scene related to what I do and I think it has its pros and cons. It makes my music very original, since nobody else is doing the same stuff I do. But it also means it’s very tough to get people to know me and see me play. I think it’ll take time to make it happen, but I do think at the end it’ll be worth it.
PONYBOY: What modern day musicians do you have an affinity for?
LEW PHILLIPS: I basically love Nick Waterhouse, Leon Bridges, Allah Las, The Molochs, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats. I think they all have something to offer to the world and it makes me happy to see these guys enjoying some success and popularity among the pop culture. It makes me dream and gives me hope that someday this could also happen to the young Canuck man that I am.
PONYBOY: Does being a Canadian make touring in the US difficult? Do you have any plans to tour the US or Europe in the near future?
LEW PHILLIPS: You want me to be honest with you? Look, I love the United States. In fact, I’m a huge fan of your country. A bunch of humble men got together to build a strong and free nation. You created the modern show business industry, you can do anything you want, and you can be anyone you want to. But we, as Canadians, your northern neighbors, we have always been into the shadow of the USA. We have always had to work harder than anyone else in the music industry to prove to you that we can make it too. Now, we are starting to get more recognition from you which I’m very grateful for. But some things never change; what I’m talking about is when it comes to touring. It costs $800 for Canadian musicians to get a visa and be able to tour your country. But, on the contrary, it doesn’t cost a dime to US musicians who want to tour. All they have to do, is to sign some form and show the merchandise they want to bring with them at the Canadian borders. But, that is mainly due to the fact the Canadian government has never had any balls whatsoever, so I guess there’s nothing we can do about that other than following the rules and do the right things legally. But it definitely ain’t your fault. I am definitely planning to tour the USA and England. My two favorite countries in the world, after my own country, my dear Canada.
PONYBOY: Finally, what plans do you have in store for your music career in the future?
LEW PHILLIPS: I’m taking it easy. Step by step. So, now my plans are that I want to release as many singles as possible. I’m already releasing one new single each month. I also wanna grow my audience in Canada, the US and England. I want to tour Canada and the US. The final step would be to quit my steady job and make my music a living, not necessarily being a millionaire, but just being able to live a decent life and making music my main and only job.
Musician Brian Hill’s debut album ‘And The Noh Starrs’ was recently released via Modern Sky USA. Brian was photographed in New York City on July 31st, 2017. Photography Alexander Thompson. Men’s grooming Ahbi Nishman. https://www.modernskyusa.com/
You’ve probably seen or heard something about Nick Waterhouse, the talented West Coast musician – you know, the one with that terrific voice and sound, harking back to another era. However, the California native puts his own modern twist on things and gives it his own distinct signature style. Part of his allure is that great, late 50s/early 60s clean cut preppy style of dress – the kind that makes you so jealous that he can pull it off oh so effortlessly. Well, if you haven’t heard, this artist and dj just released his third album, Never Twice, on the Innovative Leisure label. And we’re just ecstatic over it! We caught up with the man-on-the-go for a quick photoshoot and some questions for our readers. Photography Alexander Thompson. Menswear stylist Antonio Abrego for Dated Vintage NY. http://nickwaterhouse.com/
PONYBOY: Hello, Nick! Let’s start off talking about your most recent record, Never Twice, your third release. You must be super excited. We just love the energy and sound.
NICK WATERHOUSE: I’m really happy to see it finally hit the public’s ears. It’s been a year since we cut it in the funny little ghost room of ex-Wally Heider in San Francisco, so a lot has happened since.
PONYBOY: How would you say this album is different than your first two releases?
NICK WATERHOUSE: I would say this is a continuation of a cross section of my friends and influences. It has a sort of ‘dream team’ aspect to it in terms of players and atmospheres, and there’s a lot more of a jazz approach to letting players move through my tunes as opposed to tight composition and ‘head arrangements’ for horn lines. I really enjoyed pushing everything. Additionally, the raw production aspects of my first record finally get to function with my advancement as a band leader and conceptualist.
PONYBOY: What about your recording process? Do you follow the old school ‘lo-fi’ method? Or would you say you’re all about modern technology?
NICK WATERHOUSE: We record to tape through mostly tube and a few transistor instruments. There were no computers used.
PONYBOY: Interesting. It gives for a great sound. Your personal story is intriguing. You were a dj and also worked at record shop in San Francisco. You then made a 45 with some musicians, and it quickly took off from there. Is this correct?
NICK WATERHOUSE: Yes, that’s correct. I have always been a musician, since I was about 13 years old, in my first (literally) garage bands. I then started djing in San Francisco because of the economy and the lack of people to play with really. The dance scene was much more vibrant, social and interesting than any live music scene to me at the time. It is in large part the reason I ended up playing music again.
PONYBOY: We’re sure you’ve had both highs and lows with your career as a musician. Tell us what you consider your greatest musical achievement so far to date.
NICK WATERHOUSE: Playing Montreux jazz festival, developing actual personal relationships with musicians I respect, and getting 10 records I’ve worked on done before I turned 30, I would consider my achievements. Accidentally hearing yourself on the radio as you drive into a city definitely meets a youthful fantasy as well.
PONYBOY: What would you say has been the toughest part of being a musician?
NICK WATERHOUSE: The kafkaesque nature of the business of content.
PONYBOY: You’re obviously influenced by past generations, specifically the 50s and 60s. Would you say that you get dubbed as a retro musician?
NICK WATERHOUSE: I would say I get dubbed as such, but would disagree heartily.
PONYBOY: Part of the the allure or attraction of Nick Waterhouse is your personal style, the way you dress, which of course we love at Ponyboy. How would you describe your style?
NICK WATERHOUSE: I think my style is the poetry of natural fabrics and modern sensibilities.
PONYBOY: Do you collect and wear vintage clothing?
NICK WATERHOUSE: Yes, I do.
PONYBOY: What tailors or designers do you prefer? We actually first stumbled upon you a few years back from designer David Hart’s website, who we are also big fans of.
NICK WATERHOUSE: I like Jon Minor of San Francisco quite a lot. In Los Angeles, Richard Lim tailors things for me. Brooks Brothers is forever providing my button down shirts. And yes, David Hart and Scott Fraser Simpson are some very, very talented young designers.
PONYBOY: Where do you hang your hat these days? Are you still Los Angeles based?
NICK WATERHOUSE: I split my time between LA and San Francisco.
PONYBOY: We saw a photo of your home online recently, and it was much different than the mid-century aesthetic that most people might expect that you would have. How would you describe it to our readers?
NICK WATERHOUSE: Just like my style – classique, but oblique.
PONYBOY: Back to music, we follow you on Instagram and see that you still dj. Would you say it keeps you in tune with what people want to hear and what they want to dance to? Does it give you an upper hand, so to speak?
NICK WATERHOUSE: I would say it’s a habit I can’t break. It’s a really nice excuse to block out several hours of my life to force me to focus, so I’m not forever dealing with the business of being an entertainer.
PONYBOY: And finally, we have to ask about the song, Katchi, the terrific collaboration with musician Leon Bridges. We just love it! How did this come about?
NICK WATERHOUSE: I was staying with LB in Fort Worth and we were actually with Rambo (a very talented photographer who shot both my record and Leon’s cover) at her home. Leon and I are always improving stuff walking down the street, riding in the car, wherever. It’s part of what I love about the man and we just kept vamping on “she give me katchi!’. That track was cut at 3AM after a gig in Venice Beach where me and leon drove cross town and just free-styled it on the microphone. Really, really great band on that – killer saxes from Paula Henderson and Ralph Carney!
Breanna Barbara is a new voice on the downtown New York City music scene. The Ridgewood, Queens resident is sure to make her sound known all over the world, touring to promote her recent release, Mirage Dreams. Her killer looks cannot stear you away from a very haunting voice with powerful bursts of energy and twisted lyrics. It’s somewhat unsettling, yes, unsettling. Perhaps it’s a balance of good and evil? Who knows. We just love what she’s doing. And we’ll be sure to keep an eye and ear on this beauty, and watch her take over the music world. Photography Alexander Thompson. Hair/makeup Kate Carretta. https://soundcloud.com/breanna-barbara
PONYBOY: You’re a girl from Minnesota. How did you get those Southern roots that we hear coming out of your music?
BREANNA BARBARA: I am! Well, I was born there and then started moving around a lot with my mother – first Wisconsin, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and then finally Florida. I was able to travel to a lot of the southern gems while growing up there. Eventually, I landed in New Orleans and fell in love. The southeast is definitely where I began my journey in music.
PONYBOY: Tell us about your recent LP release this summer, Mirage Dreams.
BREANNA BARBARA: Mirage Dreams is a collection of songs I had written as far back to when I was 18, all the way up to 26. I had been hanging on to some demos and eventually sent them to a producer I had really admired named Andrija Tokic. He invited me down to Nashville and we made the record in about two weeks in December 2014. The release has been amazing with so much support and love. It feels so good to finally have it out into the universe.
PONYBOY: Tell us about the recording process with Andrija Tokic.
BREANNA BARBARA: It was a dream. I had never been to Nashville before, so I had no idea what to expect. I packed up my van and drove down by myself; I think I made it in a day and a half. As soon as I arrived at the studio, we hit it off and I met one of the main musicians on board named Matt Menold. Every morning we’d meet in the studio with the group for the day and go over the demo, give our ideas and visions for the songs and just go for it. I never once was unhappy with the way it came out. Andrija and everyone on board were the best fit for what I had imagined for this album.
PONYBOY: Your songs are dark, with haunting/moody undertones. Where do you find your inspiration?
BREANNA BARBARA: I had been struggling with a deep, deep depression after my father passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. Some of the songs come from after that period. But in all honesty, I think I’ve always written sort of depressing songs (ha,ha), which is why i’m also drawn to write songs that make me want to move and dance because I’ve come to realize that these emotions and this darkness is just a part of who I am. It’s a blessing and a curse all at once; I know I wouldn’t feel things the same without them, but I also know I will be in contact with it for the rest of my life.
PONYBOY: Do you always write all of your own lyrics?
BREANNA BARBARA: Yes, I do.
PONYBOY: Tell us about the first song, Sailin’ Sailin’. It’s our favorite on the record. Those lyrics are probably the darkest of them all.
BREANNA BARBARA: Ha,ha! Yeah, they are pretty dark, huh? That’s actually the most recent song I had written on the record. When I came up with the lyrics for Sailin’ Sailin’ I had the image of streaming through life after a loved one dies, similar to drugs in a system. And although I have seen my Mama cry and my Dad did die, this one is a little less about my experience and more a sonic one. The rhythm is more upbeat and the yodels are pretty relentless. When I sing it, it’s about empowerment. After you’ve been through some shit you feel more powerful because of it. Yes, it’s terrible that these things happened, but if it weren’t for these experiences, you wouldn’t be half the person you are today.
PONYBOY: Mirage Dreams has that angst at the end of the song, with the howling. What’s that single all about?
BREANNA BARBARA: Have you ever been so in love with someone so much that you really deep down sometimes hated them, too? Ha, ha! Maybe it’s just me. But honestly, sometimes in the deepest love you get to know the insides of someone so much that maybe they can disappoint you or hurt you in ways that you’ve never felt before. But they are equal. The only way you can blame someone for giving you that amount of pain is to credit them for giving you that amount of love. The song is about an expulsion of that feeling.
PONYBOY: Another favorite song of ours is the dreamy ballad, Wood Demon. Your voice is mesmerizing. Of all the songs on the LP, which is your favorite and why?
BREANNA BARBARA: Thank you! I’m so happy you made it that far! That’s one of my favorite songs, too. It reminds me of the past. When I sing it, I feel like I’m in a different time or body. It’s weird. Another one of my favorites is Daddy Dear. It’s been a dream to play live with my band because they hit it really hard at the end. For a minute, it feels like I’m in a doom metal band, and I love it.
PONYBOY: You tour with another favorite band of ours, The Mystery Lights, who we recently featured on our site. The lead singer, Mike Brandon, just so happens to be your boyfriend. Do the two of you collaborate on musical projects as well?
BREANNA BARBARA: Yes! The almighty Mystery Lights! Call me bias but they will forever be one of my favorite bands of all time. They’re just so good! And they are some of the sweetest, most genuine guys you will ever meet. I think I’ve danced to their set almost 100 times now and I still have yet to get sick of it. It gets better every single time. And that lead singer, what a dream boat! Mike and I have recorded a couple demos for this side project we started a little while back. It’s really different from my stuff and his stuff, but that’s what’s so fun about it. I think Mike described it as like old Debby Harry stuff. I love it because I get to really play around and the songs are light and sexy. One of them is called Searching for a Unicorn.
PONYBOY: What music or artists have motivated you over the years to make music?
BREANNA BARBARA: Oh man, so, so many over the years. Dating back to my first house show in Saint Augustine, FL where I was exposed to so many amazing traveling musicians like Paleo, Super Famicom, Attica Basement, and then to the greats like Hank Williams Sr., Bessie Smith, Jesse Mae Hemphill, all the way up to women like Holly Gollightly, Angel Olsen, Hurray for the Riff Raff. That’s a mere drop in the ocean of people. Mainly anytime I see or hear someone singing from their soul, I am infected with inspiration.
PONYBOY: How would you describe your personal style of dress? Do you wear vintage? Are there any designers that you favor?
BREANNA BARBARA: Anything vintage. I’m a chameleon based on my mood. I mostly shop at second hand stores and try to find gems, maybe a crazy fabric I’ve never really seen before. Sometimes I want to wear my skintight gold long dress and other days I just want to just put on a t-shirt and jeans. I don’t really favor any designers in particular; but if I’m feeling good in it, I’ll wear it, especially Gucci.
PONYBOY: What’s next for Breanna Barbara?
BREANNA BARBARA: We have a US tour planned this October on the East Coast and one in Scandinavia & UK this upcoming summer of 2017. And this winter I plan on focusing on writing. I am so excited on what I already started. I can feel myself changing musically and it feels really good to know that I’m going to continue to grow in music. I want to keep the music interesting to me.
C.W. Stoneking is a gifted Australian musician. It’s difficult to describe his music, as it’s a jambalaya of different musical genres, both from the past and present. The only thing that we can say at Ponyboy is to buy his new album, Gon’ Boogaloo. Oh, and run, don’t walk, to the next C.W. Stoneking show in your city, as it’s an opportunity not to be missed. Really. Photography Alexander Thompson. http://www.cwstoneking.com
PONYBOY: C.W., we recently saw you perform at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, New York. Your performance was quite mesmerizing, to say the least. Simply put, it was just out of this world.
C.W. STONEKING: Thanks very much. The band that you saw is a new lineup I put together here in the States, a condensed version of the type of band I’ve been using most recently in Australia and Europe. I have Jessica Lee Wilkes from Kentucky on bass (double and electric) and backing vocals, Kendra Kilkuskie from Oakland on drums and backing vocals, and Moist Paula Henderson on baritone saxophone. Having the instrumentalists handle the backing vocals seems to give some more urgency to the overall sound, which suits me.
PONYBOY: We read that you discovered blues and jazz as a child. At what age did you know you wanted to be a musician?
C.W. STONEKING: Well, I started playing the guitar as a kid and was pretty hooked on it from the get-go, though not specifically attached to one particular style of music. In my late teens I started playing music with a group of people who were more specifically into playing 20s and 30s blues music, and over a course of years that music formed a sort of backbone to my musical journey, both as a player and as a listener. Probably the reason it held my attention so well was the broad, eclectic styles encompassed or touched upon by that early recorded blues music.
PONYBOY: How would you label or describe your music for someone who’s never heard you before?
C.W. STONEKING: Well, I was speaking with a DJ in Belgium last night, DJ Blue Flamingo. He’ll often slip some of my songs into his DJ set alongside his 78rpm Blues, African, and Caribbean records. And he says it sounds old. But in his collecting and listening to old records, he doesn’t find anything that sounds exactly like it. It contains elements of rock ‘n’ roll, old blues and jazz, Caribbean and African music, Hawaiian, hillbilly music, as well as small details I pick up from hip hop or pop music that I hear being played.
PONYBOY: You get dubbed as a retro musician, yet we feel you’re so much more. Tell us your thoughts on this label. Is it annoying to you?
C.W. STONEKING: My interest in what gets called retro music doesn’t stem from a longing for a ‘bygone era’. I’m always looking for rhythms and harmonies that excite me, as well as unique singers and instrumentalists that unlock hidden chambers of my imagination and also challenge me as a singer and musician. It’s a vital, immediate experience for me. I wish to create the same reaction in the world with my music.
PONYBOY: We’re just nuts for the Calypso inspiration in your music. It’s just so different. What is it about this music that you like?
C.W. STONEKING: I like the rhythms, the instrumentation used, the mingling of Spanish and African sounds, the simultaneously high-flown and colloquial language employed and the theatre of the Calypsonians themselves with their fantastic names (like King Radio, Lord Executor, The Roaring Lion, Attila the Hun etc…) and larger than life status.
PONYBOY: Your guitar playing is incredible. Did you teach yourself how to play guitar?
C.W. STONEKING: Yes, I’m mostly self-taught. I took some lessons for a couple years as a young teenager, but mostly I’ve learned from working stuff out from records (cassette tapes usually) and just many, many years fiddling around on guitars.
PONYBOY: We won’t ask you to name your favorite musicians, as we’re sure there must be so many and you probably get asked that question all the time. But if there is one musician that you would say was the most monumental in the making of C.W. Stoneking, the musician, who would you say it would be?
C.W. STONEKING: There was a guy I kind of knew through some other people when I was 19 or so. He would’ve been mid to late 40s and played fantastic guitar on a Gibson Kalamazoo archtop guitar. He was also was a great singer. I only met him maybe 6 or 7 times, but he was a great inspiration to me at the time and made some kind of familiar benchmark in my mind for me to aim for through my 20s when I was really into learning a lot of old blues songs. His name was Ken Pedlar, not a professional musician. I think he was a truck driver, but a great musician all the same.
PONYBOY: As far as recording your music, is it what one would expect? Bare to the bones, lo-fi recordings?
C.W. STONEKING: The latest album Gon’ Boogaloo was like that, all recorded on only 2 microphones, straight to a 2-track tape machine, no overdubs, just everyone around a single mic, with me singing into the second mic. The previous album, Jungle Blues, was much more involved, a lot of overdubs and a lot to manage in the mixing stage, although I had a very strong vision with that album which made it a lot of fun to make, hearing the ideas solidify into a recording, Jungle Blues and my first album, King Hokum, were recorded using pro tools on a computer, albeit with some very nice ribbon mics and tube preamps.
PONYBOY: Has it been a tough road, as far as finding your niche and sound, playing the streets, touring, etc…?
C.W. STONEKING: I wouldn’t say it was real tough. I’ve always enjoyed playing music, whether I was busking in the street, playing in small bars or doing what I do now out on the road touring. There sure have been some bad gigs along the way, but on the whole, it’s been a lot of fun. I never actively went seeking a niche. My audience found me mostly via my albums when I began to make them. The toughest part for me is writing songs to a standard that I’m really happy with. It’s a challenge and doesn’t seem to get easier for me.
PONYBOY: When would you say the turning point was for you, as far as your music career is concerned? Was it when people started noticing you and acknowledging your talent?
C.W. STONEKING: Once I started putting out my albums, then interest began to spread, and I was able to tour outside of my hometown at the time (Melbourne, Australia) and to take a band on the road. Before that I mostly played solo. Any money I got I put into the music, taking my band through the UK and Europe, and now in the US. It’s a slow process when you do it independently, but there’s always something happening.
PONYBOY: Your voice is quite unusual, not just when singing, but speaking as well. It’s as if you’ve lived a hundred years. Does this eclectic voice come from years of interesting experiences and stories?
C.W. STONEKING: Well, I have an ungainly voice. It’s always been that way I think. I think it’s at it’s best when I’m turning it loose on a song. But in normal conversation, I think it’s ungainly, like I got a heron folded up in my throat, croaking away in there.
PONYBOY: You’ve got such personality, both on and off stage. Have you ever acted or been approached to be in a movie? It seems as though you’d be a real natural, quite intriguing to watch on film.
C.W. STONEKING: No, I don’t like acting. I did a voice for a cartoon character once, but don’t really like to act. I find it very different than playing music or singing. I think it doesn’t suit my personality.
PONYBOY: You just released your first US album on June 3rd. Is it on your King Hokum label?
C.W. STONEKING: Yes, correct. Gon’ Boogaloo is my first US release, and it’s out on my own label, King Hokum Records. It’s been released already in Australia, but as I said, things take a bit more time sometimes when you’re an independent operation. I have my US band and will be touring all over the US in support of the album release through 2016. You can check my tour dates on my website http://www.cwstoneking.com if you wanna catch a show.
PONYBOY: How is this new album different from your past releases?
C.W. STONEKING: I play the electric guitar and I use a lot of female backing singing in the songs. Those are the 2 main differences. The music is a bit more rock ‘n’ roll sounding.
PONYBOY: You’re touring endlessly to promote this new release. Do you go home to a family? Or are you the traveling musician with very little roots, always on the go?
C.W. STONEKING: I have a wife and 4 kids in Australia, but I’m always traveling. Sometimes I’m off the road for a long stretch. But this year, and probably next year, I’m going be out playing a lot.
PONYBOY: You have a great style of dress. We just love the white shirt and trousers with bow tie. Is it primarily your stage wear, or how you dress daily?
C.W. STONEKING: I dress like that all the time, It’s one less thing I gotta think about.
PONYBOY: Do you wear vintage clothing? Are there any men’s clothing designers or labels that tend to fit with your sense of style?
C.W. STONEKING: I don’t really wear vintage clothing. I used to in my 20s and 30s, but the good stuff I used to find has dried up. My favorite shirts are made by my friend, Christophe Loiron, at Mister Freedom. I have a bunch of shirts from him and also some of his jeans that I wear round the ranch when I’m fed up with keeping whites white out in the dust. I pick up bits and pieces here and there, sweaters from North Sea Clothing, sometimes a jacket from Wrangler or LVC or somewhere. I get repro pure cotton WWII white sailor pants from one joint in California, and have been getting them for close to 10 years. Nos British Naval officer white shoes. The only vintage stuff I really wear all the time are my bow ties.
PONYBOY: Tell about your aspirations, as far as your music career is concerned?
C.W. STONEKING: Pretty much, I’m just trying to surprise myself musically, to make something with a strong foundation, but that can blow my mind a bit when I make it. If I can keep doing that and have a broad touring network of cities and countries to visit and perform in, that’s all I really want. I guess the more well known you get, you can get more places, do a song with Kanye. I don’t know.
Kacie Marie is the young, beautiful brunette that you may have seen at a New York City rockabilly event, dancing the night away in a full-skirt and saddle shoes. Or perhaps you’ve seen her in a magazine or on instagram, posing for a photographer’s camera. Always radiant, glowing…full of energy that just knocks them dead! What some don’t know is that this gorgeous beauty is also an accomplished singer who is paving her way in the music world, with her talent and strong determination.
Our fashion editor, Xina Giatas, pulled some glamorous and sexy vintage looks for Kacie, to dazzle your eyes out. Take a look! Photography by Alexander Thompson. Stylist/Fashion Editor Xina Giatas. Stylist assistants: Christopher Owens and Leslie Medlik. Special thanks to Severely Mame.
PONYBOY: Kacie, at what age did you start singing?
KACIE MARIE: From my earliest memories, I would sing along to my favorite 50s tunes. The radio was one of my greatest escapes.
PONYBOY: What is your background?
KACIE MARIE: Growing up as a Pennsylvania girl, I often ventured into the woods to explore and find inspiration for myself, as well as for my art. I continued creating as I went to school for painting and then quickly found the darkroom. Photography became an instant passion. As my interest in photography grew, I lent myself as a subject in front of my own camera, as well as other people’s lenses. Modeling and photography went hand in hand, and I loved creating different characters. I did all of the hair, makeup, styling and set design. When I discovered video, I couldn’t help but be in awe at the chance to make my visuals and creations move!
This creative journey has helped me evolve the way I think about making music! Every time I write a song, I envision and write a video to go along with it. To me, it’s just as important as the song itself. I like to reach for all of the different medias that I can, to be able to paint with my music. I’ve actually been in one band or another since I was fifteen years old, playing guitar and singing. I also enjoy tinkering on all of the different instruments, the drums being my favorite.
PONYBOY: We first became aware of you as a pin-up model. Do you identify more as a musician or a model?
KACIE MARIE: I identify as an artist, first and foremost. I never actually considered myself as a model, for reasons unknown. I was never truly pursuing modeling as a career, but was rather interested in making photographs and creating characters. In my experience, photography and modeling can be very psychologically explorative, within the tones that are revealed. Plus, the thought that many years from now, a couple of photographs of me might still be floating around is extremely thrilling.
As a musician, I’ve found the process to be honest, raw, and potentially the most vulnerable of the arts for me. Those notions in particular keep me intrigued in pushing the limits for myself and the music I’m involved in. I have found music to be a psychological thrill.
PONYBOY: Do people sometimes overlook you as a musician, because you’re also a model as well?
KACIE MARIE: In this modern day society, I believe all the artistic platforms are linked in one way or another, and only strengthens the experience of the listener/viewer.
PONYBOY: Your recent music release, Girls from Mars, made it into the top ten on ReverbNation charts. Tell us about this release.
KACIE MARIE: As of today, I am number five on the ReverbNation charts! I have been live on ReverbNation for about six months or so, and I’ve found that it gives a lot of opportunities to submit to all different kinds of exciting potentials, via film scores, music contests, and platforms to reach more music fans!
The making and release of Girls From Mars was completely independent and was my first solo album. The EP Girls From Mars can be found on Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, ReverbNation, etc.
PONYBOY: Do you write all of your own lyrics?
KACIE MARIE: Yes, I write all of my own lyrics and melodies. Thus far, the only time I haven’t written is if I was performing on someone else’s record.
PONYBOY: What musician’s have been the most inspiring to you?
KACIE MARIE: It’s hard to name all of the musicians that have and will continue to inspire me, as the list grows and changes with the wind. To name a couple: Billie Holiday, The Chantels, The Shangri-las, Johnny Cash, Mazzy Star, Velvet Underground, Julie London, Chelsea Wolfe, Sam Cooke, Patsy Cline, Etta James, and the long list continues.
PONYBOY: As far as your personal style, do you tend to wear vintage for the most part?
KACIE MARIE: My style fluctuates with my moods. I do tend to be most attracted to vintage style clothing. However, I always mix and match, and I’m not focused on brand names. Brands play very little clout in my heart. I like what I like, regardless of it’s history or lack there of. I’m most happy when I’m thrift shopping, pouring through all of the randomness, finding that one gem of a poodle skirt, country blouse or that extra tight little red sweater.
PONYBOY: What decades, as far as dressing are concerned, do you tend to favor? Any designer’s that you like?
KACIE MARIE: If I had to pick one, I feel the most nostaglia with the 1950s because of the music I grew up listening to, and the movies that I most adored.
PONYBOY: What can we expect from you in the future, in regards to your music?
KACIE MARIE: You can expect to see my explorations of different genre’s and collaborations, and my efforts to transform these experiences into the different multi-medias, productions, and platforms.
Kelsy Karter. Rebel. Runaway. Hollywood singer. Music’s newest star? Perhaps. But don’t look for this young lady to fit the manufactured “mold” dictated by mainstream record labels and agents. Or to catch her on any of those ridiculous TV shows like American Idol or The Voice. Yes, of course, she’s talented. Oh, so talented. And such a beauty. However, this singer prefers switchblades and greasers to frilly designer dresses and makeup. A self-proclaimed tomboy, with gorgeous eyes and hair, she very much resembles a young Angeline Jolie. And this gal belts out her own tunes, throwing her bluesy soul into every song. Look out! We see big things for this one. Photography AlexanderThompson. http://www.kelsykarter.com
PONYBOY: Kelsy, we read that you were born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, and that you now reside in Los Angeles.
KELSY KARTER: Yes, I sure was. My dad is from the U.S., so I am one of those annoying two passport people. It’s awesome.
PONYBOY: Tell us about your upbringing as a young girl in Australia. What was life like for you?
KELSY KARTER: Life was always weird, and always wonderful. I come from a family of very creative and intense people, so life was never boring. And I have a special needs brother, so even though I’m the baby, I would often play the big sister role. But life was great. I was a theatre kid, and the biggest tomboy ever! So by day I would get dirty with the boys and by night I’d do my thing on the stage.
PONYBOY: What brought your move to America, primarily Los Angeles. You pretty much ran away at the age of seventeen?
KELSY KARTER: I’m an impulsive person. Some may say I’ve done a lot of stupid shit, and I’m among those people. Ha! And ‘running away’ to America was one of those things. But it was possibly the most bold and most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. Most people spend their lives feeling less than satisfied, wishing they’d lived more, or fulfilled their dreams. I refuse to be one of those people! I never really felt like I fit in, living in Australia (although it is my home and I love it). I always felt like an outsider, spiritually and creatively. America was always the plan. It was always my path. Los Angeles? Well, it’s a colorful, strange city. And, listen, I still don’t really feel like I belong. But I’m cool with that. I like that feeling now. It’s exciting. My next victim is New York!
PONYBOY: Tell us about Kelsy Karter’s music.
KELSY KARTER: I was brought up on so much great music. Soul, Motown, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, the kind of stuff that isn’t always popular with my generation. The music I make reflects that. My music is my own little mix of musical wonder. And, lucky for me, it’s coming back around. Real music is ‘in’ again, at least getting there. Ha! Rock & Soul is the best way to put it, I guess. I sing with my soul. It’s my first language.
PONYBOY: Tell us about your most recent EP release, Kiss the Boys.
KELSY KARTER: Yes! So, I just released my first official EP “Kiss The Boys”. I’ve never been so proud in my life. I finally get to call the shots, make the music I was meant to make, and this record is a depiction of that–stories, entries from my life and my soul. It’s not what you’d expect. It’s all about rebellion, love, heartbreak, breaking hearts, loss–very theatrical and colorful. And, it’s pretty heavy at times. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process, it’s that I was born to sing the blues!
PONYBOY: Do your write all of your own lyrics?
KELSY KARTER: I do. I refuse to sing anything I didn’t write. There’s something phony about that to me. I wrote this record with some wonderful, talented people. It’s hard for me to trust other people with my work. But, when you can find people that do get it, and get you, then collaborations can be magic.
PONYBOY: You’re a bit of rebel. What are you rebelling against?
KELSY KARTER: I don’t know–myself, society. I hate the thought of being ordinary. But it’s not like I’m on a constant mission to do what I’m not supposed to. It’s just instinct. Growing up, I would find myself getting into a lot of trouble, and I sort of loved it. It’s almost therapeutic for me. It heals me. I like doing what most people wouldn’t. But I wouldn’t call myself a rebel, I just have a rebellious spirit. But, people like to label you, and apparently I’m a rebel. So now I use it to my advantage. I’ve made it ‘my thing’.
PONYBOY: You’re very much into the 50’s aesthetic, though you don’t really dress or sound like it. You love greasers, switchblades and Ponyboy.
KELSY KARTER: My voice was 100% made for another time. Give me any Elvis or Stevie song and I will crush it. Gimme a Britney or Selena song and I won’t know what I’m doing. My whole life I had people telling me I sound like an old singer, and luckily that’s what I am into. As for fashion, I consider myself a female James Dean. I’m a greaser. I’m an outsider. I live in jeans, a white tee, and leather jacket–always has been me, and always will be. Don’t get me wrong, I like to get get girly now and then. I’ll throw on a babydoll dress and some lipstick, but then how am I supposed to jump fences? Ha!
PONYBOY: If you could only pick one musician to name as your ultimate idol, who would it be?
KELSY KARTER: Sam Cooke and Amy Winehouse.
PONYBOY: How would you describe your personal style? Are there any designers or labels that you like?
KELSY KARTER: James Dean meets Anna Karina meets Joan Jett.
PONYBOY: Do you have plans to tour?
KELSY KARTER: Yes! Big plans. I couldn’t be more ready for that life.
PONYBOY: And our last question for you, what kind of musician do you not want to be?
KELSY KARTER: A forgotten one.
Nikki Hill. Beautiful badass mother fucker onstage, and the sweetest gal offstage. We first saw this rock ‘n’ roll musician perform at Viva Las Vegas a few years back, and have followed her style and music evolution. We could go on and on about her fantastic style, in those high waisted 70’s style jeans and rock t-shirts, with that big afro – it really is an incredible visual. But the reality is that it’s more about how she belts out tunes, as if she were the love child of Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, with a cup of Little Richard thrown into the stew. She is accompanied onstage by her extremely powerful guitar playing husband, Matt Hill, who is very much a southern gentleman. The duo make incredible rock ‘n’ roll magic, very much like Ike and Tina (minus the wife beating!) We anticipate very big things for the constantly touring couple, who drive and jet all around, bringing their southern charm and music to the masses. Look out world! Get ready to fall in love with Nikki Hill. Photography by Alexander Thompson. http://nikkihillmusic.com
PONYBOY: Nikki! You’re traveling everywhere with your band, just constantly touring. You must be exhausted!
NIKKI HILL: We’ve been doing a lot of traveling! But, I worked a lot of physical jobs before this. So I’m feeling really, really lucky to still be doing this, no matter how tired we get. I’ve never had exhaustion that felt so fulfilling at the end of it all. And that’s a lot more than most people can say. The best thing to do is just find your flow with it. If you don’t find some sort of comfort in all of the chaos, or something for yourself, you will burnt out and drive yourself or the people around you crazy! It’s a learning experience for sure, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything! My mama said do it while I’m young and still have the energy for it! I think I’ll listen to her.
PONYBOY: How did you get started in music as a profession?
NIKKI HILL: When Matt and I were dating and started living together, I would sing along to him playing guitar at home. He thought that it sounded really cool. I thought it was a little bit of bullshit, and he was just saying that because he thought he had to! The most similar thing I had really done before was singing harmonies with a friend of ours honky tonk band. But it was never about me being upfront and singing. By the time we got married and moved, Matt started bringing me up to sing during his gigs. And a lot of people reacted the same way he did. So I thought maybe it wasn’t bullshit and I should give it a try. I can’t say I knew what “it” was supposed to be. At the time I really didn’t have anything to lose, as we were both doing what we needed to get by. And if it meant I got to spend even more time with my new husband, I thought that sounded great either way! And so I just went for it. I figured it would go no bigger than maybe some local duo shows and maybe a band of friends sometimes. You know, we could have fun and get free beer and maybe make some tips. And that pretty much did happen, off and on, for some of 2011 and 2012.
Then YouTube videos popped up. That brought on requests for records and out-of-town shows. I started trying to write songs. And in-between my jobs, I was working on booking shows and planning things. I asked Matt to come with me to California. I had booked a few gigs, and then he booked a few to fill it in, and we came up with this nice little tour. It was my first time driving West, and the planning was crazy, but we went out and had a blast. It was successful for what we had done, enough that we wanted to try again.
We scraped money together so I could record an EP and have music to take on the road. We then used that money to go back on the road, this time with a rhythm section. By that point I had overseas interest for records and shows, and connected with my now manager to help me out with booking. More gigs came in, and it just never stopped. I quit my day job while we were on that second tour, and threw myself fully into trying to continue musically. And more and more the nights onstage were feeling like that’s what I needed to do. I learned quick, and hard, and I’m still just trying to soak it in. I’m a lucky motherfucker, that’s for sure!
PONYBOY: Tell us about your early years.
NIKKI HILL: I grew up in a single parent household with my mom and two older sisters in Durham, North Carolina. My mom worked all the time, so my sisters mostly watched me while growing up. Things were definitely rough here and there. We moved around a lot. The four of us shared a bed often times in a one bed place. The neighborhoods and things happening around us weren’t always great, but my sisters did a great job of keeping me out of trouble and away from a lot of things. We didn’t always have a lot, but we were fine. I also spent some of my time going to my dad’s house, who lives in the country of North Carolina. It was very different than the way I lived with my mom. I’ve always said my dad is the first troubador I’ve ever known. He never really took the time to sit still and was always in the middle of some kind of bizarre hustle. He was driving trucks when I was a kid, so he was gone a lot on his work assignments. I later found out that he was bouncing between truck driving and being in and out of jail, as well as odd jobs. But out there I could play in the woods and do that kind of thing. So, I got a little country life mixed into the city life, in a bit of a strange way. Then as a teenager, I found punk rock. That was the gateway to a lot of what I love now.
PONYBOY: When did you meet your musician husband Matt Hill?
NIKKI HILL: We met probably ten years ago? We’re both from North Carolina and had mutual friends that introduced us. He was also playing guitar, leading his own band in town. I always enjoyed his music because he can put on one hell-of-a rock n’ roll show! I thought he was a little immature for anything romantic at the time though. At one point we tried to go on a date, and it was just no good on that end. But we had fun hanging at shows and talking music, doing things like that. We just ended up going right back to being friends. A couple of shitty relationships later for both of us, and time seemed to change it all. I’m so glad we had a chance to get to know each other that way! By the time we were together as a couple, it felt like the best thing. Our friends almost didn’t even care, “Duh. Of course you guys are together. That took long enough!”
PONYBOY: And what’s it like touring and working with each other?
NIKKI HILL: I love it. We love it! The beginning of working and touring together was a pretty selfish attempt by both of us to spend more time together, so we definitely got what we asked for! We just support each other. Together and individually. We can be silent in the same room. We can talk for hours. Something as good as this relationship is worth whatever it takes to make it work, so that’s what we do! There’s no better feeling than looking over onstage and seeing the love of your life up there sharing the same experience. We don’t even have to speak. It’s unreal.
PONYBOY: How would you describe your band? To someone who’s never heard your distinctive sound?
NIKKI HILL: I usually just say we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think it leaves room for a lot of sounds, and I think that’s just great, as things continue to develop and we see where we go with the music. I dig bands that are hard to describe, but I feel like descriptions are better coming from the people that actually hear it. It’s great hearing the interpretations. I love the different things people say after they have seen a show of ours or listened to the records. Rock n’ roll seems to come up the most!
PONYBOY: How was your music changed since you first started singing?
NIKKI HILL: Well, I hadn’t written any songs when I first started. I was having fun, and just practicing with melodies and styles that I liked, from artists like Little Richard, Otis Redding, Irma Thomas, LaVern Baker, Barbara Lynn, Otis Rush, and others. And learning a lot! Singing roots taught me so much about music, patterns, counting, phrasing, dynamics, and so much more. I just learned it all onstage, and then when I wasn’t onstage, I would study it.
When I first started writing, I was really using those influences to form my songs. It helped me get more comfortable with what I wanted to do, and that’s what I’m still working on. But, with the comfort, I’ve been able to push into trying other sounds. I love the artists I’m influenced by, but now that I’m in this, I want to work on really putting myself in it, more and more. I don’t want to be a jukebox. Just look at me, I’m not Mick. I’m not Little Richard. I’m not Janis. I’m not Tina. I’m not British. And I wasn’t alive in the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. I can’t tell their stories. I can interpret them, I can relate to them, and I can love them. But I want to be a musician, so it takes more. I can pay tribute, and I love to, but at the end of the day I have to be myself. I think that’s the part you’re figuring out forever. You never learn everything about music, but you never stop trying! I’m glad most people appreciate that and are supportive of how we develop, and are enjoying watching our progression. I’ve never been much of a purist about anything, so I’m not starting now!
PONYBOY: Who were your musical influences growing up?
NIKKI HILL: I started getting into discovering music that was away from the radio and MTV when I was a teenager. I checked out some of my parent’s old records, as well as making friends with people that were into the live music circuit going on in The Triangle in North Carolina. It was a great way to see and hear so many different bands. Getting into punk rock as a teenager really opened the doors for discovering roots music. Before that, I listened to everything, so I never fell hard into listening to only one thing at a time. But rock ‘n’ roll and blues really had the energy and vibe that became a constant for me.
PONYBOY: If you could share a stage with any one musician/band, past or present, who would it be?
NIKKI HILL: This might be the most cruel question ever! Ha! I can’t even answer this one. I’m gonna answer this one how I like! So many. Otis Redding, Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, AC/DC, the Staple Singers, Eddie Hinton, Motorhead, Jerry Lee Lewis, Barbara Lynn, Johnny Thunders, Lauryn Hill, Prince, Ike and Tina Turner, The Blasters, Los Lobos, Nick Curran, the Rolling Stones, Link Wray, Fishbone. See? I told you!
PONYBOY: We noticed that your individual style has also evolved, from when we first saw you a few years back at Viva Las Vegas. We just love your 70’s vibe with the afro, rock t-shirts and jeans. What brought that about?
NIKKI HILL: Calling it evolution is giving me a lot more credit than I need! Anything that is noticed has been purely by default and necessity! I wish I could say I planned it all, but I really didn’t. Viva Las Vegas is where you get to wear your fancy, fun 40’s and 50’s clothing. So I had a great time with that the couple of times I went. When I performed at Viva in 2013, I wore this silver lurex drop waist amazing dress. Why not? It was super fun, and fun to wear! Then I sold it, as I needed the money! I hadn’t been performing much before that, and I was at first taking from the artists that I was covering, and wearing stage attire to go with it. But then, I started moving more onstage, as the sound was evolving. Then my vintage shit started tearing, disentegrating, heels breaking! That sorta thing. And I didn’t have money for a separate stage wardrobe, so that made me nervous – I knew if I kept wearing my vintage clothing, my closet would disappear! It was fun and all, but I also didn’t want to be stuck with having to dress up to be quite honest. Also, once we started touring, I had zero room in the minivan for multiple suitcases. I’m just not the type to figure out how to take more clothes, because as much as I like style etc., my mind is just 1000% on the tour. I’m the bandleader, so I’m already carrying merch, paperwork, all kinds of extra bullshit. I didn’t want to add a garment bag. Whatever. By the time I bought a bigger van, I was still not into carrying more.
So, I switched the heels out, and the jeans were just the other things that I had in my closet. And they felt good onstage. I have some skirts that I can wear too, with wide belts. And now, I still have my vintage in my closet for enjoying when I’m home. I’ve collected pieces from the 40’s to 70’s for a while, so I’m glad I can switch it up! I can throw on a vintage top or accessories or boots to wear onstage which is awesome. The more I’ve gotten into vintage, I’ve discovered cool pieces, and different ways to style things. I just can’t limit myelf. I dig simplicity, but I do like having unique pieces that make people wonder “Where did you get that?”, no matter what era. As far as my hair is concerned, it really was just more of taking the scarf off. The scarf wasn’t even a fashion statement, it’s something I’ve grown up doing on and off, especially during awkward length phases. And laziness. I didn’t realize it was a ‘thing’, until people started mentioning it in interviews and write ups. I’m shocked anyone notices anything I do! And I still definitely wear it. That’s how you know I’m in the last couple weeks of a tour and haven’t washed my hair!
PONYBOY: Are there any clothing designer’s that you favor?
NIKKI HILL: Sure! I love designs by Lilli Diamond, Shaheen, Ceeb of Miami, Alix of Miami, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Tadaschi, Estevez, stuff like that. I’m not very knowledgable with designers, but I have some friends that I can turn to that are really keen into identifying my unlabeled pieces!
PONYBOY: And finally, if you weren’t singing rock ’n’ roll every evening, what do you think you would be doing as a profession?
NIKKI HILL: Well, I have a degree in exercise science, and I was doing personal training before playing, so I would probably do that again. Anything to help people and make them feel good about themselves. That’s what I’m into!
Pokey LaFarge is a very accomplished and multi-talented musician who is bringing his fusion of jazz, ragtime, Western swing and country blues into the forefront of mainstream America. His cover of the Hank Williams’ song “Lovesick Blues”, (with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks) for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, stands on its own. He tours all over the world and opened for musician Jack White. LaFarge dominates the stage, not only with an incredible voice, but with his bold showmanship and terrific vintage menswear style. Portraits by Joshua Black Wilkins. Stage photography by Alexander Thompson. http://www.pokeylafarge.net
PONYBOY: Pokey, you were born and raised in Illinois. What was your upbringing like?
POKEY LAFARGE: Pretty simple. Mom, Dad, Step Mom, brother, sisters. We took a lot of road trips. Dad liked to travel. Baseball was always most important. In some ways, it still is. Then I discovered music and marijuana around thirteen. But, my first creative outlet was writing.
PONYBOY: We read that you discovered blues music as a teenager. Was this life changing for you? Did you know at that point that you wanted to be a musician, centering on the Americana genre of music?
POKEY LAFARGE: I never have considered myself centered in the Americana genre. Blues music was, indeed, a part of my foundation though.
PONYBOY: You also hitchhiked throughout the United States at a young age playing music on the streets. Tell us about that experience and what affect that had on you and your music.
POKEY LAFARGE: Well, at the time it was a necessary means for me to eat. Also, it was the easiest place to play. You didn’t have to book your own gig. Looking back, I see that it was an essential step in me getting here because, well, that’s what I did. I did what I had to do.
PONYBOY: Fast forward to present day, you have seven albums under your sleeve and have toured the world extensively. Did you ever think that you would accomplish as much as you have?
POKEY LAFARGE: No, but I didn’t think that I wouldn’t.
PONYBOY: You have extraordinary stage presence. Have you always been a “showman” of sorts?
POKEY LAFARGE: I’d like to think I’ve always been a bonafide ham.
PONYBOY: Your last album, Something in the Water, is incredible. We just love it. We’re big fans of the talented Jimmy Sutton, who produced this album. What was that like, recording at his Hi-Style Studio?
POKEY LAFARGE: An accomplishment in itself. It really has a good vibe. It is a tremendously creative working environment.
PONYBOY: And what was it like working and touring with Jack White?
POKEY LAFARGE: Inspirational. Informative. Eye opening.
PONYBOY: Do you feel that being featured on HBO’S very successful Boardwalk Empire series helped to thrust your name into mainstream America?
POKEY LAFARGE: In a way, sure. But I would say touring with and recording with Jack did just as much.
PONYBOY: We can’t help but ask about your terrific vintage style. Have you been dressing like this since you stumbled upon jazz as a teen? Where do you find your clothing?
POKEY LAFARGE: My Mom got me into antiquing, junking, and curb shopping since I was a kid. My passion for fine quality and unique attire started there. It was certainly influenced by my love for early styles and enhanced by my own eccentricities. I wear mostly new stuff now.
PONYBOY: What’s life like for you now? It seems as though you are constantly touring. What do you do in your downtime in St. Louis?
POKEY LAFARGE: When I’m free, I go to baseball games, excercise, write, read, and more.
PONYBOY: What can we expect from you in upcoming months?
POKEY LAFARGE: What the people will see is a lot more touring through the end of the year. Then, I’ll be taking a lot of time off next year and I’ll try to write a new album.
JD McPherson, the gifted Oklahoma born musician, is spreading his love of all things Americana by touring the U.S, promoting his most recent release, Let the Good Times Roll. We first stumbled upon this talent a few years back, and have been passionately attached to everything he does. So it was to our great surprise that we were granted permission to photograph McPherson, his legendary upright bassist Jimmy Sutton, as well as the other members of this terrific ensemble, Jason, Doug and Ray, before a sold-out show in New York City. An interview followed, as we were extremely interested in JD’s background, his thoughts on the making of the creation of this second release, and whatever else he would be willing to answer for our readers. Photography Alexander Thompson.
PONYBOY: JD, what was your upbringing like in Oklahoma?
JD MCPHERSON: I was raised on my parents’ cattle ranch in beautiful Southeast Oklahoma. People from there don’t say what community they’re from, they say “I’m from Southeast Oklahoma” or they might get more specific and say “I’m from Pushmataha County”. I grew up in an area between Buffalo Mountain and the Potato Hills, affectionately referred to as “The Tater Hills”, right next to Sardis lake.
We raised registered Brangus cattle, which is a breed comprised of Black Angus and a Brahman lineage. Growing up in this rural, isolated environment afforded me quite a bit of freedom to listen to music, play guitar, draw, read, and run around in the woods. That’s pretty much all I wanted to do.
PONYBOY: When did you start getting into music?
JD MCPHERSON: At around age thirteen, I started getting interested in what my older brothers were listening to, which was primarily guitar-heavy classic rock, meaning bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. This is what got me interested in guitar, and becoming an active listener to rock music in general. I discovered punk rock through rock magazines and what little information was available to me from visits to Tulsa and Fort Smith, Arkansas. There were no record stores where I grew up, so I would save my money and buy music when we visited the city. Punk rock opened up a whole world to me. I really ended up working hard, probably harder than I ever have since, on making and recording music and artwork. It was a very prolific time. I call punk rock a “gateway music”, so you’ll ultimately start getting into other things as well. I got into early rock ‘n’ roll in my late teens. It had all the energy and attitude that I found in the Ramones, but had a little more finesse and sophistication in the musicianship than punk did. I could also identify a little more strongly with the musicians, singers, and writers from the South than I could with four guys from Queens, or a band from the UK.
PONYBOY: How did the band JD Mcpherson form?
JD MCPHERSON: It took a while to get the lineup solid, but it began when we started playing shows after making our first record. Jimmy Sutton is the only member of my band who has been there since the beginning. We’ve played with a lot of musicians, but with the evolution into the current lineup of me, Jimmy, Jason, Ray, and Doug, we’re finally hitting on all cylinders.
PONYBOY: Jimmy is an incredible musician. Tell us a bit about your affiliation/collaboration with the great Mr. Sutton.
JD MCPHERSON: Jimmy and I worked closely together on the first record. He enticed me to record at his studio, with all the guys he knows in Chicago, and we all hit it off immediately, both personally and musically. Jimmy is, in my opinion, the coolest upright bassist on the planet. He cares about tone, gets a great sound, and he’s got a really tasteful technique. I never worry about what he’s going to play. He’s an incredible performer, as well, and an asset to the live show. One thing I like about Jimmy’s performing is that he avoids the typical upright bassist’s bag of stage tricks – the “spinning move”, the “two handed slap” etc. He just focuses on playing well. That’s what you want in a bassist.
PONYBOY: You’ve recorded both your records at Hi-Style’s analog recording studio in Chicago. What is the recording process like?
JD MCPHERSON: Just to be clear, the first record was recorded at Hi-Style. But the new album was recorded in Valdosta, Georgia, at Soil of the South studio, with Mark Neill and I co-producing. Some supplemental recording and overdubs were done at Hi-Style, as well as at a couple other studios in Tulsa.
The process can be very simple, or very complicated, depending on the song. The song might practically record itself, or it may take work to bring the song into the finish line. The main idea is to always have at least the rhythm section and a guitar record together in the same room, so it has a “spark”. I enjoy using time-tested, classic equipment because of the qualities that these pieces bring to recorded music. I also enjoy the vibe of them just sitting around. However, it’s important to be pragmatic, and to take advantage of every option available. The digital realm has really moved to a cool place in the last few years.
PONYBOY: Your debut album Signs & Signifiers was released in 2010 to rave reviews. How was your vision different for this follow-up record, Let the Good Times Roll?
JD MCPHERSON: I took a lot more chances in the writing on this new record. The songs are much more personal, and the music and sound is a bit more experimental. I was so nervous about the personal nature of the new material, that I didn’t play the demos to anyone, not even the producer, until we got to the studio! It took a lot of trust on the part of all parties, but I’m very happy with the result. I do think that the “drop and go” nature of the recording added a kind of raw energy to the songs. The new material wasn’t working with our old process. It became more and more apparent that they needed a different treatment – bigger, more billowy hifi sounds. I was listening to a ton of Link Wray and Irma Thomas. I think the new record is a bit of a mixture of their records.
PONYBOY: Your first leg of this tour has had sold out shows everywhere. What is touring like for you on a personal level?
JD MCPHERSON: I love the ebb and flow of record, perform, record, perform. Playing gigs is where you make a connection with people, and it’s incredible. I’m a pretty shy person, but somehow the stage feels like a very comfortable place for me to be. I love hearing folks sing along with the songs, it’s the most rewarding part of the whole thing.
PONYBOY: What bands/musicians would you consider to be your musical influences?
JD MCPHERSON: My favorite artists are Little Richard, The Clash, The Ramones, Bo Diddley, Irma Thomas, Ken Boothe, Bad Brains, Levon Helm, Big Sandy & the Fly Rite Boys, The Smiths, Astrud Gilberto, Mickey Baker, Fats Waller, and Link Wray. There are so many, and the list changes all of the time. I’m also a big Madonna fan, and I’ve been listening to a ton of Teenage Fanclub.
PONYBOY: The band has a big following with the rockabilly crowd, and you’ve been dubbed a revivalist .What are your thoughts on this?
JD MCPHERSON: We love all those folks, as we are a like-minded collective. And as far as being a revivalist, I don’t know how that can be avoided, or why it would be a negative. I just love rock ‘n’ roll so much. I remember as a kid reading an article with Nirvana (one of my favorite bands ever), and Kurt Cobain mentioned that he felt it was his responsibility to introduce bands like Black Flag and Flipper to the mainstream. I definitely feel that if I caused a couple of kids to check out Bo Diddley and The Johnny Burnette Trio, I’ve done good work.
PONYBOY: How would you describe your personal dress style?
JD MCPHERSON: I like classic style, style that will never disappear. Vintage American style is always going to be a constant. I tend to be much more comfortable in clothes that aren’t flashy, but rather rugged and utilitarian. I always thought Desi Arnaz was the coolest looking cat, with his two-tone gabardine suits. However I could never pull that look off – believe me, I tried! I find the style of working class artists like Jackson Pollock and the Beat writers to be much more accessible. I love the photos of Pollock in his Levis and work boots creating his paintings, and the photos of Jack Kerouac in a beat up pair of high-waisted chinos and a PT sweater. You can’t beat a pair of five pocket jeans, and some clunky boots. I have a few good, quality pieces, and I wear them out.
PONYBOY: What is family life like for you, with touring so extensively?
JD MCPHERSON: We’re getting used to touring, but it’s really tough. It’s the only downside to being a musician. I am so in love with my family. I have to say that if it weren’t for video calls like Skype or FaceTime, I wouldn’t be able to do it. The first year we were out was incredibly difficult on all of us. However, the shows are growing in quality and occurring with less frequency, so I’m finding a better balance.
Mary Simich is a twenty-one year old tan and tall beauty on the Wild Records label. She stuns when she walks into any room. She is California – a fresh faced athletic girl who swims and sails. Her smooth voice and elegant stage presence draw you in. She’s a best dressed, always in dramatic ensembles created by her older brother Chris Simich, with whom she also shares the stage in a musical side project known as Tiny & Mary. You always notice Mary Simich. She carries herself with a mature confidence and beauty, considering her young age. She’s a unique mixture that is reminiscent of Grace Kelly.
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: Mary, what was your upbringing like? Where were you raised?
MARY SIMICH: I was born and raised in Orange County, California (the part of Southern California that is not Los Angeles). I am a California girl through and through–a lover of sand, sea, and sunshine. My parents have been together for nearly forty years and I don’t think they’ve ever loved one another more. I am the youngest of five kids and was a total surprise! Born ten years after my four older siblings, it was like having six parents. I was raised in a house where being teased is a sign of affection. My family is very affectionate. You learn to laugh at yourself or, well, you just better learn to laugh.
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: How did you get into playing music and singing?
MARY SIMICH: One note at a time. I was surrounded by older siblings, all with varied musical tastes. I listened to all different genres of music growing up and learned to appreciate all different kinds of music. My older sister accompanied the congregation at church on Sundays and my brothers were always in a rock-n-roll band. I was no stranger to participating in music. At the age of seven my mother put me in piano lessons. I begged her to stop under the condition that I would continue to play the piano. I continued to play the piano and at twelve my parents got me a guitar for Christmas. I picked around on it, but never really played it too much. It wasn’t until fourteen when my dad became ill that I really began to play guitar. I started writing music all of the time! I wrote tons of music and became fearful that I would forget all that I had written so I began making really simple recordings of the songs. When playing back the recordings I was able to hear for myself how awful my voice was. I was not a natural born talent by any means. I always wrote thinking that maybe one day somebody would sing my songs—never did I think that it would be me. Practice made me better but far, far from perfect. One night some friends were having a little jam session at a party and they asked me to sit in. I thought that meant play guitar with them, but right then and there they put me on the spot to sing in front of everyone! The old jazz standard Ain’t Misbehavin’ was the first song I sang out loud for a room full of strangers. Even right now reading this response back to my mother, she said, “You were a terrible little singer!” She was a fan then; I think she means it now.
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: Currently you are a student. Tell us what daily college life is like for you. Where do you attend school and what are you studying?
MARY SIMICH: Ponyboy! Alice Cooper and I would like to inform you that “SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER!!!” The last week has been full of beach camping, hiking, snorkeling on Catalina Island, sailing, surfing and all kinds of fun! But come autumn, I go back to studying music and transfer to a University in the spring.
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: You’re on the Wild Records label. How did Reb Kennedy discover you?
MARY SIMICH: In a dark alleyway one night in Burbank, CA–seriously. I had heard he was holding auditions and thought to myself, I really have nothing to lose at all. I was drawn to Wild Records because I saw their artists traveling a lot. I thought maybe the songs I had written could be my ticket to places I had never seen before. I wasn’t really planning on doing much with my music at that point, except maybe sell songs I had written to other artists. But I thought I should at least try. I knew that I wasn’t really like anything else on Wild, so I thought the audition would be chalked up to nothing more than just a good experience. I was hesitant to go to the audition seeing as how it was being held at a practice space in an industrial area in Burbank, CA. So, I brought one of those older brothers with me. Turned out they were nice folks and I had nothing to worry about!
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: You’re not the expected Wild Records act. What’s it like being on the label?
MARY SIMICH: We have a lot of fun and the label mates are very supportive of me! I feel like I am the exception to the rule when it comes to Wild! We have a joke going that I am actually on the made-up offshoot of Wild Records called Mild Records. I do not drink, I do not lie on the floor, I do not scream, I do not hoop and or holler, but I still manage to have a great time with all of those crazy kids!
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: We saw you play at Viva Las Vegas and liken you to a modern day chanteuse. We love your beautiful voice!
MARY SIMICH: Aww, thanks for coming! It still surprises me that people show up to come see me play! I’m surrounded by the nicest folks!
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: We think in twenty years you’ll be performing in beautiful sequin gowns in fancy nightclubs. Ha! Do you see yourself still on stage in twenty years?
MARY SIMICH: Hahaha! That is the only way I see myself performing in twenty years! In twenty years I would still love to be performing because there is something so raw about getting a reaction from an audience over songs you have written. However, I would love to perform at my leisure, and have the bulk of my work come from scoring films. I have always been interested in writing and scoring. Music can so drastically change our interpretation of what we see and how we feel. I think it would be so neat to be able to enhance a visual experience by creating the right sound for a scene. Music is so powerful.
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: We love your personal style. Tell us about your brother who makes all of your fabulous stage wear.
MARY SIMICH: My brother Chris (aka Mr. Tiny) is ultra talented in every way. He cooks, he sews, he draws, he dances, he sings (way better than I do), he is incredibly thoughtful and he is hilarious. He just oozes creativity. His talent seems to know no bounds. He designs and makes the majority of my clothing. He is a huge reason why I am the way I am. He taught me to appreciate beautiful thing and he would always include me in trips to the museum, the theater, art exhibits, and stops at old abandoned buildings. He taught me that silly is also beautiful. And I learned to appreciate things that were a bit goofy. After years of living what he has coined the “Wacky Tacky Lifestyle,” he now writes a lifestyle blog called “Wacky Tacky” where he documents the neat roadside things we find, the funny outfits that he creates, our music, the delicious and goofy food he makes—really, just all things Wacky Tacky. I am grateful for his influence in my life and grateful that I get to sing with him in our brother-sister harmony act called “Tiny & Mary.”
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: You wear clothing so well with that long lean model type body. We met your boyfriend at Viva and he has model good looks as well. He performed with you on stage. Is he now part of the Marcy Simich Experience?
MARY SIMICH: Am I a whole Experience? Wow! We both have multiple musical projects of our own to keep us busy, but who knows what the future holds. We always have a good time while playing together and I am sure we will grace the stage together as a team again sometime.
PONYBOY MAGAZINE: Whom would you say your musical and style icons are?
MARY SIMICH: Oh my, what an exciting question! Right off the bat, I’d say Julie London and Tim Morgonare are my icons. Julie London sings a song called ‘Saddle the Wind’. It has become my family’s anthem, and has become a signature song to perform for Tiny & Mary. There is something so rich and lovely and sexy and powerful about her voice. With regards to Tim Morgon, I will say this, “I LOVE California. I love the beach. I love to be outside. I love the sun. I love swimming. I love bonfires. I love teenage Beach Blanket Bingo-esque romance–and Tim Morgon is just that.” I mentioned before that music can be incredibly powerful, and Tim Morgon was the soundtrack to some big moments in my life. Another artist who I try to emulate is Roy Orbison. I like that he is a little bit rock-n-roll, but more than anything he is dreamy. I am drawn to very ethereal music and Roy Orbison is just that. As for style, I have always appreciated the glamorous movie stars at home, or at the ranch, or on vacation. I like the designs of Edith Head. They are simple, sophisticated and highly dramatic, and all the while accentuating the female form.