Painting Full-Throttle: The Art of The Kills’ Singer Alison Mosshart (@amosshart)

To see more of Alison’s paintings, head over to @amosshart on Instagram. For more music stories, check out @music.

Last year, Alison Mosshart (@amosshart) was looking for inspiration. Captivated by skid marks on asphalt, the lead singer of The Kills was determined to recreate them in her artwork. Her first idea was super rock and roll: drive her baby, a Dodge Challenger, through paint and over a ream of canvas, thus uniting her two loves of muscle cars and art. Unfortunately, it also would ruin her ride, so she nixed it. The second was rolling a spare tire around manually, a much easier idea to execute in her Nashville home studio. Then she realized without weight on the tire, she couldn’t get skid marks.

Which is how she found herself in a Toys R Us late at night, inspecting the treads and wheels on remote control cars like a fifth-grader composing a Christmas list.

“I got a bunch of monster trucks and went home. I turned into this madwoman driving a car around the studio, laughing to myself like, ‘This is the most fun ever!’” she says, while sitting in a booth at Los Angeles’ Café 101 and chewing on the straw in her iced tea. The finished tire paintings comprise much of her upcoming gallery show in New York.

Though Alison has been burning up stages alongside Jamie Hince in The Kills for over a decade, and Jack White in The Dead Weather since 2009 she’s been drawing since she was a little girl in Florida. Her mom, a high school art teacher, discovered she could plop Alison down with a packet of magic markers and keep her content for hours.

“I’ve been doing [music and art] forever — they feel like the same thing,” she says. “Painting and drawing is a part of waiting. I’ve been on the road touring since I was like, 14. Twenty-two years straight — so all my artwork is suitcase-sized.”

Until recently, her artwork was most prominently displayed in her mom’s attic. But when she bought her house in Tennessee, she designated a big room with lots of windows the “complete crazy chaos music and art room.” When friends visited and saw her paintings strewn on the floor, they told her she should start posting them. Within a week, she was offered her first gallery show in New York.

“I could not believe it,” she says. “This is insane. I just posted pictures of paintings!” She’s a prodigious poster, much to the delight of her fans, and even shares the stuff she hates.

“If I don’t like a painting, I’ll paint over it. My mom liked one I thought was so awful,” she says, pointing to a recent piece. “I posted it, still hated it. Painted over it and posted that and she was like, ‘Bring the other thing back!’ It’s too late, Mom. I hated it anyway!”

Her modesty is charming, but it’s not exactly a surprise that the art world, just like the music industry, has been receptive to her work. The inspiration for both comes from the same place. “The same feeling that makes me want to paint something is the same feeling that makes me want to write a song,” she explains.

With painting, “everything is really fast. Fast, fast,” she says, as opposed to her work in The Kills. “It’s a pretty long process with me and Jamie because there’s just two of us. Everybody has to do everything. It’s a lot of work,” she says.

That duality and state of flux play out in her drawings, too, many of which contain two or three or 23 faces, an eye bugging out here, a tongue sticking out there, as if different parts of Alison are fighting for the final say by way of brushstroke. “I can’t stop painting faces. That’s all that comes out,” she says. “There’s a lot of changing of the mind going on. That’s why things always have like three eyeballs.”

The one change she’s not so comfortable with is the lack of a place to retreat at her exhibit openings. “I’m quiet,” she says. That’s true in the literal sense — she speaks in such a gentle tone the diner’s lunchtime din nearly drowns out her voice. But her music, and now her art, is quite the opposite.

And with that, Alison drains her tea, smiles politely and ducks out the front door. Safe bet she left at least one set of tire tracks in her wake.

––Rebecca Haithcoat for Instagram @music


Makeup and Gypsy Jazz with Cirque du Soleil Cello Player @michaelcello

To see more photos of Michael’s work with Cirque du Soleil, check out @michaelcello on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

Michael Levin (@michaelcello) has backed Katy Perry, played in a Christmas show with Andy Dick and currently is in the band for Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, which is helmed by the director of Madonna’s MDNA tour. What’s garnered him the most attention, however, is a makeup tutorial.

Filmed in time lapse, his nightly stage makeup application is mesmerizing. He lines, powders and contours with the precision of Kim Kardashian West’s makeup artist, and then caps it off with a Kim K-worthy, kissy-face selfie.

“That’s probably the most plays on any video I’ve ever posted of anything. Go figure,” the 30-year-old cellist says over the phone from Denver. “To be perfectly honest, that was the part I was least excited about in the beginning. Now, I get why girls go so crazy over it and try to find the right products. I don’t know how many types of eyeliner I went through.”

Michael didn’t quite run off and join the circus, but his trajectory is pretty close. He grew up in Arizona, the son of two concert violinists. Within two years of studying at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, however, he realized there was no way he could follow in the footsteps of his mother, who is in her 40th season with the Phoenix Symphony.

“I wanted to be in a rock band! I wanted to utilize the cello in a modern way,” he says. He gave school one more shot at Arizona State, but chucked it before the semester was even over and moved to Los Angeles.

L.A. can be crazy-making for a creative person, but Michael thrived on the uncertainty. He posted on Craigslist, handed out his card at coffee shops and wandered around Guitar Center playing the pianos and chatting with customers. He met actress Shannon Woodward in his apartment complex, and she introduced him to her best friend, Katy Perry. (“I was playing with Katy Perry before Katy Perry was!” he says).

Meanwhile, he’d also auditioned for the Cirque du Soleil database in 2009. “In order to become an artist in one of Cirque’s shows, you first have to audition online and be accepted into their database. From there, they’ll pluck their talent. It’s the largest casting department in the world. It’s like Cirque NASA,” he quips. A talent scout called him right away, but Michael was “knee deep” in bands and told them it just wasn’t a good time for him.

A year and a half ago, though, his schedule freed up and he signed a two-year contract to play the “gypsy jazz, electro swing” music of Kurios. Set in 1900s Paris, Cirque’s 30th anniversary show has a steampunk aesthetic and takes place under a massive big top. It’s a city that has to be moved on the wheels of 65 semi-trucks.

Barring another circus beckoning him, soon he’ll have the option to re-sign.

“I imagine I’ll stay for a while. The show will go for 10 to 15 years,” he says. “I’ve always been a very nomadic person. It’s a great way to see the world.”

Besides, he continues, “I’m good at doing my makeup now.”

– Rebecca Haithcoat for Instagram @music


On the Road with Music Photographer Grizzlee Martin

To see more of Grizzlee’s music photography, check out @grizzleemartin on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

Before photographer Chris Lee Martin, better known as Grizzlee (@grizzleemartin), toured with bands like Sleeping With Sirens, even before he started taking pictures, he was a touring musician himself.

“I was in a few different bands,” he says. “But it kind of transitioned. Through the years, there were a lot of things that happened — some ups and downs, and I ended up taking a break from music.”

By then, Grizzlee was working at a screen printing company. That’s where he noticed his co-workers taking photos. Wanting to join in on the fun, he sold his guitar amp, bought his first DSLR and started shooting local concerts. “I put a website up, and then a few months in, people started contacting me saying, ‘Hey, what do you charge for this?’” says Grizzlee. “And I was like, ‘Wait, I can make money from this?’”

Eventually, he found himself back on tour, this time, armed with a camera instead of a guitar. In many ways, Grizzlee lives the life of an ultimate fan. He spends day after day following Sleeping With Sirens, one of his favorite bands. He stands in the front row at concerts and sings along to some of his favorite songs. Of course, he learns about the band because he lives on their tour bus. And when he sings along, he’s taking hundreds of stunning photos instead of waving his iPhone’s flashlight back and forth. “It’s a cool and fun experience, because you get to travel around and see different sights,” he says. “But it can be difficult at times, just because it’s a lot more work than a lot of people think. It’s basically like being in a summer camp, where you’re in a cabin with a bunch of people, except it’s a moving cabin. There’s twelve people on a bus together, so you have to be able to get along with everybody.”

For Grizzlee, getting along also means finding a way to make the artists feel relaxed.

“I get to not only hang out with bands that are some of my favorite artists, but I also consider some of them my best friends as well,” explains Grizzlee, who has also photographed Paramore and the Vans Warped Tour. “You’ve got to be able to be chill and make sure that you’re kind of like, from a photographer’s perspective, a fly on the wall, but you’ve also gotta be buddies with the band. Otherwise, they’re not going to be comfortable and they’re not going to be able to give you what you need to get photo-wise.”

While it might be the natural fan response to become starstruck when meeting a favorite musician, Grizzlee says it’s important to treat them like regular people. “You’ve just gotta realize that these people are just people that are producing music, even if it’s some of your favorite music,” he says. “If you treat them like people, they’re gonna respect that.”

—Instagram @music


Be Yourself: The Grunge Art of Illustrator LaKendra Huckaby

To see more art from LaKendra, check out @le_huck_badu on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

You could say LaKendra Huckaby’s (@le_huck_badu) art career began when she was a crying toddler. “Some parents will put you in a corner, but my mom was giving me paper, a pencil and some crayons,” says the Columbus, Georgia, native.

Encouraged by an art teacher, LaKendra would later work in the print shop of her local school district, eventually receiving an associate’s degree in multimedia design from the Art Institute of Atlanta. Currently, she’s enrolled at the Savannah College of Art and Design, while making a living creating her own digital prints, watercolor and acrylic paintings, sketches and even some custom clothing.

LaKendra describes her work as “grunge art,” something that elicits raw, human emotion while also exploring the themes of empowerment and self-expression. “I feel that in our society, a lot of people are walking around, not doing what they really feel they want to do,” she says. “In my art, I try to express fully how I feel about things. Grunge is just being you and not being afraid to show who you are in the rawest way possible.”

She gets a lot of that inspiration from Miguel, one of her favorite musicians. In fact, LaKendra was able to get a copy of the psychedelic, rainbow-like print she made of the R&B star into the hands of his drummer, who then gave it to Miguel, who then shouted her out on Twitter. “I cried,” she admits. “I’ve been in love with his music since like 2006.”

Then there’s the painting she did of Frank Ocean, which she drew on a paper bag she got after buying a Tyler, the Creator album. “There was a song that was playing when I was walking out of the store and it was ‘White’ by Frank Ocean,” says LaKendra. “I just felt inspired. I didn’t have a sketchbook, I didn’t have anything but the paper bag, so I took the CD out and said, ‘I guess this is my medium now.’”

For LaKendra, inspiration can also veer toward the more personal. In the “Catch,” she drew a beautiful, Afro’d woman, surrounded by different colors, cityscapes and Biblical phrases. The piece came at a point of career frustration, when she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford to travel and show her work at an art festival. “I guess you could say I thought all hope was lost,” she admits, noting the resulting piece is one of her deeper works. “I have words in that painting — words like ‘frustration,’ words like ‘love,’ words like ‘confused.’ The colors all reflect how I was feeling, because I have red in there for anger, but I also have blue in there for trying to stay calm.”

Whether she’s portraying them realistically in watercolor, or in a psychedelic, mystical way with acrylics, LaKendra’s images of black women are all marked with the tag #curvygirls.

“Throughout my childhood, I was bullied for parts of my body I couldn’t control,” she says. “Being a black woman, I’m curvy and people always talk about my lips because they’re larger. As I got older, I noticed that more women were going through this and it honestly infuriated me. These are women being discriminated and treated terribly because of their natural bodies — beautiful things that God gave us.”

One image in particular is called “Chill Wave,” which shows a woman sitting at the edge of a pool, enjoying her day as an “unbothered black girl,” as LaKendra puts it. It’s her way of sending a message, one that’s helped her become such an excellent, eclectic, promising artist. As she explains, you just have to “go out there, have fun and be yourself.”

— Dan Reilly for Instagram @music


From Trash to Treasure: Turning Leftover Wood Into Gorgeous Electric Guitars with @sustainablecomponents

For more of the craftsmanship behind Sal’s electric guitars, check out @sustainablecomponents on Instagram. For more music stories, check out @music.

As part of a film crew shooting at the San Pedro Harbor in Los Angeles, lighting technician Sal Cocuzza (@sustainablecomponents) was struck with the inspiration to make electric guitars and guitar pedals out of reclaimed wood. There he met a longshoreman who introduced him to mounds of leftover wooden beams that were previously inserted between shipping containers and were now for sale in the shipyards. “The wood comes from all over the world,” Sal explains.

Fascinated with the idea that the wooden planks he discovered could be used to make musical instruments, Sal began to design his view of the perfect electric guitar made of reclaimed wood. While unable to identify the exact type of woods used, Sal could determine the musical significance of the wood based on its density, selecting denser wood for the guitar neck and lighter wood for the body. “That is the whole premise. I have all these woods, I could probably only name five of them, but I know where in a guitar each piece will be the best-suited based on its characteristics.”

Sal learned to play guitar as a child, and cites his uncle, who made him a custom guitar when he was a teen, as an inspiration, “I worked with my uncle in a cabinet shop,” he says. “I was really good at it. My grandfather, uncles and my dad all work with their hands.”

In describing the perfect sound for his guitars, Sal explains that he is going for a workingman’s guitar, “It’s not going to sound the same as a true hollow body, but for versatility, it is the average of everything I thought was cool about guitars and what people want.” Sal has also designed his guitar pedals to replicate sounds he likes to play, including California surf and blues rock.

While Sal has dreamed up a list of people that he would like to try out his custom guitars ranging from soul and blues oriented Gary Clark, Jr. to indie rocker Adam Granduciel from The War on Drugs, he points to British hard rock band The Cult’s lead guitarist as being on the top of the list, “I would really like Billy Duffy to play one. When I’m making guitars I’ll listen to certain music and it will go into the guitar a little bit.”

–– Instagram @music


Kacy Hill Doesn’t Want to Sing Trendy Songs, Just Good Ones

To see more photos from Kacy, check out @kacyhill on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

Kacy Hill’s (@kacyhill) proverbial “big break” was being cast as a dancer on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour — which is ironic, considering she can’t dance.

“I’ve actually never been a dancer,” she says cheerily from her kitchen table in Los Angeles, where she’s sitting while chatting on the phone. “I went on tour with Kanye as a — I’m doing air quotes right now — ‘dancer,’ but actually they hired three American Apparel models to work with nine really incredible professional dancers. Basically, they wanted three people who could not dance at all. I fall in the category of ‘cannot dance at all.’”

Such a down-to-earth attitude is charming in a former controversial model and an about-to-be-a-big-deal artist, especially a 21-year-old singer that Kanye signed to his G.O.O.D. Music label off the strength of one (and at the time, only) single, “Experience.” But it doesn’t take more than a song to recognize that Kacy’s soprano is like a bird’s at dawn, bright, pellucid, insistent. Less than a year after he scooped her up, her debut EP Bloo is out and she now can hire background dancers of her own.

Growing up in Phoenix, Kacy played the saxophone and oboe and sang in choirs, but she also was so practical she didn’t think music was a viable career. Besides, she was “super” into school and the trajectory of her young life was toward attending a distinguished college. But when she graduated, she realized she didn’t have enough scholarships. “I just didn’t have the proper funding and I wasn’t really able to get myself into debt that young with student loans. I couldn’t support myself being in school and trying to work full time,” she explains.

She might be sensible, but she was still 18 years old. So she set off for L.A.

“I moved out here with $1,500 and my little ‘97 Camry,” she says, laughing. “I think the thing that was appealing is that [L.A.’s] still really close to where I’m from. There was always a safety net that if s— really hit the fan, I could drive home.”

Because she had very little cash, no job and no desire to live in a dump, she turned resourceful, sifting through Craigslist posts until she found a lady who was willing to rent Kacy her living room. One of her first pals in the city was a photographer who was friendly with the creative director of American Apparel. With her amber hair, roses-and-cream skin and the dusting of freckles across her scrubbed-clean face, Kacy was a no-brainer for the company. She was ecstatic, less because she loved to model than because she needed money.

Soon, her crew included creative sorts like Jaylien Wesley, who produced “Experience,” and Stephen Garnett, who directed its video. “I thought my voice was kind of weird. They initially created this spark in me to be like, OK, I think I’m half decent at this,” she says. “It was something that kind of fell into my lap and I decided to go for it in the biggest way I possibly could. And it worked out!”

Of course, after Yeezy heard “Experience” and set up a meeting with her, she wasn’t feeling quite so Kanye-confident. “I was definitely nervous. I couldn’t stop sweating,” she says.

Now that wooing Ye is out of the way, however, her biggest challenge is staying true to herself.

“At the beginning of recording, I was really focused on what’s ‘cool’ right now,” she admits. “I don’t think that’s the right way to write songs because at the end of the day, they’re just gonna go out of style. I don’t want anything to be trendy. I just want them to be really good songs.”

— Rebecca Haithcoat for Instagram @music


Norwegian Pop Singer @auroramusic Just Wants to Fly

To see more of Aurora’s pictures, check out @auroramusic on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

A few months back, rising pop star Aurora (@auroramusic) woke to find Katy Perry singing her praises. “Finally. New music that makes my [heart] flutter,” the pop singer wrote on Twitter. She proclaimed Aurora to be an angel, and linked to her haunting pop hymn, “Runaway,” which opens the Norwegian singer-songwriter’s debut EP, Running With The Wolves.

“It was all quite strange but very nice,” recalls Aurora (surname Aksnes, but she trades on a mononym) from her home in Bergen. “I woke up one morning and looked at my phone, and there were a lot of new fans and messages and notifications.”

Aurora, whose celestial songs fuse ghostly electronica, folk melodies and gorgeous pop, has been composing songs for half her life. “Runaway” was penned when she was just 11. “I started writing when I was nine, so that was quite a long time ago,” she says, now a veteran at the age of 19.

As with all of her shadowy-pop chorales, “Runaway” is a work of natural wonder: Its language is universal, concerned with the stars, skies, seas, lives and loves that pass in-between. From glorious electro-dirge “Under Stars,” to celestial R&B aria “Running With The Wolves,” to sublime piano lament “Little Boy In The Grass,” her fiercely personal yet resonant songs are defined by the elements.

“I’m very connected to nature,” says Aurora. “I think it’s the most beautiful thing we have on this earth. And if I’m trying to explain a big situation or emotion, sometimes it’s easier to talk about the ocean and the waves, the wind and storms and thunder. Nature is so expressive and powerful.”

Norway’s landscape, mythology and culture also inspire the picturesque backdrop of her music. “I live in between trees and mountains and oceans, and I think that plays a part too,” she says. She cites Norwegian folk art and traditional music as influences. You can sense the same Scandinavian echoes in her monochromatic photographs of trees, moths and artist portraits, along with the images of birds in-flight, in trees and protected by hands. Do they symbolize liberation? Or — in the case of one recent image, depicting a bird’s wings, bloodied and fallen — the loss of it? “Well, I think it’s kind of an escape, to be able to fly, isn’t it?” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing. I think birds are the luckiest animals in the world, because they can fly.”

That sense of longing for escape resonates with titles like “Runaway” and the rapturous, “Running With The Wolves,” and that’s no coincidence. “I think that, as humans, the closest we can come to flying is by running,” Aurora offers. “That’s why I write about running quite a lot, too. It’s a freedom as well, just to run very fast.”

But amid the giddy euphoria that courses through Aurora’s music, there’s a darkness too. It’s in the claustrophobia of exquisite lullaby “In Boxes.” It’s deep within the untold devastation of chamber-pop anthem “Awakening,” with its refrain, “behind the light / behind the light.” Her melodies are bright and beautiful, but often melancholic.

“Yeah, absolutely, I love that contrast,” she nods. “I think it’s just the way I have to make my music. I’m very drawn to write about something sad, to write a sad-sounding song — I guess that’s very Norwegian,” she says. “But I try to hide my stories in happiness. And that takes quite a bit of time.”

Katy Perry was right: Aurora looks (and sounds) very much like a bright star in ascent. “I become very happy every time anyone says something nice about my songs,” she says, laughing. She better get used to it.

– Nicola Meighan for Instagram @music


Now and Then: Going Behind the Scenes at @glastoofficial

To see more photos from this year’s Glastonbury Festival, explore the #glastonbury hashtag on Instagram. For more music stories, check out @music.

Let’s talk numbers: More than 100,000 music fans, 15,000 workers, 5,000 portable bathrooms and 10,000 hand-painted trash bins, dispersed throughout the grounds. It’s a far shot from what the Glastonbury Festival (@glastoofficial), which takes place every June in southwest England, was when it first started in 1970. The oft-told tale from that inaugural year: tickets cost one British pound and admission included free milk from its home on Worthy Farm. Things are a bit different now – there are more people, more bands (this year’s headliners include Kanye West and Florence and the Machine), more money and new exhibits. But the spirit has stayed the same.

“It’s never rested on its laurels,” says Emily Eavis, co-organizer of the festival – and the one standing in the middle of those bins up top. “Every year we dramatically add lots of things and take some things away and move it on and keep it completely fresh.”

–Instagram @music