How Slipknot’s Clown Spends His Halloween

To see more of Shawn’s photos, check out @6cl6wn6 on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

His photos are a nightmarish mix of black eye makeup, crooked teeth and clown masks with blotched skin and mangled lips. Who takes pictures like this? More importantly, does anything scare the person who does?

“I live in my imagination almost 100 percent of the time,” says Shawn Crahan (@6cl6wn6), also known as Clown, the co-founder of the heavy metal outfit Slipknot and the man behind the most terrifying account on Instagram.

For a guy who plays in a band known for its ghoulish attire, Shawn is surprisingly frank about what freaks him out: simply speaking, it’s not what’s in front of his face, but what isn’t. Being scared of the invisible means a worst-case scenario where anything and everything can come charging out from the edge. It all stems back to Shawn’s days as a kid, particularly on Halloween, where he spent time wandering around his neighborhood and staring off into darkness.

“What I like more than anything is to walk around on Halloween and just interject thoughts in my own mind,” he says. “Yes, it’s Halloween. We’re dressing up. We’re going to walk around. But I like to step outside of the brainwashed minds and go deeper into the intriguing thoughts of why people choose to be what they are and the real essence of what Halloween is.”

For most of the year, Shawn chooses to be a clown — at least on stage. The drummer and percussionist has had several different iterations of the clown look over the years, but typically opts for one with white makeup and neon orange hair.

“I’ve never really tried to make Slipknot Halloween, because it’s Slipknot. It’s a rock and roll band,” he says. “But because we do dress up, it’s kind of like we do live Halloween all the time.”

Perhaps that’s why Shawn doesn’t typically jump into costume at the end of every October. The last time he did, he was dressed as a professional welder that had been in an accident and had his face melted off. Shawn is a cryptic person by nature, so whether he’s in disguise or not, the core idea behind Halloween goes hand in hand with his thoughts and mediations. Today, while the holiday feels more in your face — it’s all about showing off everything that is happening right now, in the moment — he prefers the slow burn.

“I can remember being a kid and just walking around and going, ‘Anything I can imagine can be in those woods.’ And that was always scariest,” he says. “So my plans are always to look in. I live for the glitches in life.”

— 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


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

@SapphicNerd: My 1 & only problem w/ #greatcomet is that @dave_malloy deprived us of seeing @joshgroban tying a police officer to a bear @GreatCometBway

@dave_malloy: we literally tried doing this scene in the first workshop. DIDN’T WORK. maybe someday animatronic bear tech will make it possible…

@joshgroban: To be fair, people in bear masks are hoisted during the ball so #consolationprize

@dave_malloy: and the bear paperweight with which we almost bash anatole is TOTALLY a callback to this! #deepcuts #backstory

@joshgroban: Also when Natasha sings about her “bare arms” Dave actually spells the word “bear”! #deepestcut

dave malloy: #calculatingthenumberofthebeast #itisthebear!


The Space Age Artwork Behind Logic’s New Album, ‘The Incredible True Story’

To see more of Logic’s photos and Sam’s artwork, check out @logic301 and @samspratt on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

For the cover of his second record, The Incredible True Story, Logic (@logic301) had a specific image in mind. So he recruited Sam Spratt (@samspratt), who he collaborated with on his debut album, to help bring it to life.

“Sam will give me exactly what I want, but sometimes make it better,” says Logic. “I just rap. This dude is the artist.”

The 25-year-old emcee was looking for an image that a) encompassed the record’s futuristic plotline and b) was inspired by a still from Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou — a wide shot of the film’s main characters sitting front and center in a submarine. Logic had come across the photo by accident after opening a book dedicated to the director.

“I swear to God, I took a book and I opened it — and it opened to that picture,” he says. “I was like, wow, this is amazing.”

After relaying the information to Sam, the artist got to work, creating something that felt true to Logic and the album’s storyline, which takes place in 2065 after Earth has been deserted and what’s left of humanity lives in a space station.

“A lot of it was just creating a still from a movie because the album itself is a cinematic experience,” says Sam, “and the art needed to reflect that.”

The final piece, which takes place inside a ship, has 12 characters, with the rapper sitting in the middle, along with members of his team and characters in the record’s story positioned next to him. (If you look closely, you’ll be able to see Sam himself peeking out from behind the shadows.)

“He was able to create a ship where, not everybody but damn near everybody that made this album what it was, was part of the cover,” says Logic. “And yet, because of the color of the flight suit, it draws the eye straight to me, straight to the middle, straight to what the consumer is looking for.”

Now, the finished cover isn’t just on the album, it’s been slapped on the side of a giant tour bus that Logic has been traveling across the country in, surprising his fans and playing them a few cuts from the new record.

“I’ve noticed every single place I go, the music is a big part of it, but the biggest part is the message and the actual lyrics. It’s an era where everybody is talking about the beat and the melody. So to know that they love the beat and the melody, but they [also] love the message, that is what drives them to listen to it, is insane. That’s why I’m excited.”

—Instagram @music


The Future Faces of Rock Are Three Home-Schooled Geeks from the Midwest

To see more of Radkey’s adventures, check out @radkeyrock on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

Dee, Isaiah and Solomon Radke, a trio of previously home-schooled, garage-rocking brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri, have enjoyed a meteoric rise since their band, Radkey (@radkeyrock) — a slight tweak on their surname — was invited to play Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival in 2012. But the journey really began when the guys were in grade school and had their minds blown by the Jack Black comedy School of Rock.

“That movie had a bunch of really good bands on the soundtrack,” says Isaiah, the group’s main lyricist and, at least in this interview, main spokesperson. “And watching it, it really makes you want to play. Bands like the Ramones, The Who, Led Zep. That got us into a lot of good music really fast.”

Along with all the traditional subjects they studied at home, the brothers (Dee is 22, Isaiah 20 and Solomon 18) spent hours a day pouring through their father’s massive record collection, learning all about the history of rock ’n’ roll and discovering their own tastes. They also began to learn how to play instruments, intent from the beginning on starting their own band. Dee had already begun playing guitar and Isaiah took to bass, leaving Solomon to climb behind the drum kit.

Songwriting soon followed, with tunes that mixed their classical influences and the fierce imaginations of young boys raised on geek culture and each other’s company.

“[The songs were] mostly about movies and anime and anything we could make up,” Isaiah explains. “Since we were home-schooled, we didn’t have a lot of real life experience to write about.”

They began gigging with their unique brand of geek punk in 2010, when Isaiah was 15. At first, their hometown wasn’t all that supportive; the club owners in St. Joseph, it seemed, were oblivious to the charms of a trio of precocious and prodigiously talented local kids.

“People wouldn’t book us for a long time,” Isaiah says. “We had to get booked in Lawrence and Kansas City; they would book us even though we were young. We wouldn’t have been a band if we weren’t getting booked there. Maybe it was the age, but it’s legal [to book kids] if a parent is there.”

It turned out to be the local clubs’ loss, as Radkey soon moved on to much brighter stages in much bigger music markets. The Afropunk set in New York led to a recording session at Entourage star Adrian Grenier’s recording studio, Wreckroom Records, which in turn led to an invite to play SXSW that same year.

“There were only maybe 12 people at that SXSW show. That did it for us,” Isaiah says. At that point, they were invited to play in the UK, and tours across both the United States and Europe have followed. Their first album, Dark Black Make-up, hit stores in 2015 — its songs clearly influenced by the guys’ heavy rotation of Metallica, Queens of the Stone Age and ‘80s synth rock bands like Duran Duran.

The ride has been exhausting, but also instructive, giving them the sort of life experience that brings depth to both music and lyrics.

“With that life experience that we now have, we’ve written about girls, who we’ve actually gotten to meet and hang out with,” says Isaiah, laughing. “[We do] more movie-inspired stuff, the nerdy sh–, with some more things that you could relate to in there. We wanted to dig into that. It’s cool because after each recording and big show, you just learn a sh–load. After this recording, I’m really excited for the next one.”

They’ve been home in Kansas City for a few months now, but plan to hit the road soon to continue to promote their album. One place they’re unlikely to play much in: St. Joseph’s, where it all began. Now that they’re an in-demand act, they can say no to the people who once kept them off stage.

“The one place we do play, the guy was honest and just said before that he didn’t want any kids at his place,” Isaiah says. “That’s fine, as long as you’re honest.”

— Instagram @music


Meet the Man Who Owns 1,373 Copies of the Beatles’ ‘White Album’

To see more from Rutherford’s “White Album” collection, check out @webuywhitealbums on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

The Beatles self-titled 1968 record, known affectionately as the “White Album,” is their most idiosyncratic. It had a mix of everything — the Cold War, a backwoods raccoon, drugs, whatever the hell “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” meant. Fittingly, its cover, a piece of white cardboard designed by Richard Hamilton, was just as interpretive. People would write love letters on it, put their addresses on it, paint it. Eventually the art would begin to age, and develop a dull gray ring on the outside, molded after the shape of the wax.

“The cover, being entirely white, it picked up all kinds of stains and drawings,” New York-based artist Rutherford Chang (@webuywhitealbums) tells @music. “That’s when I realized all of them would be unique objects. And that’s when I started collecting them with the purpose of getting as many as possible.”

Today Rutherford owns 1,373 copies (and counting) of the “White Album.” What first began as a mild fascination, picking up a copy here and there on eBay, soon turned into a full-fledged art project.

“I had an aim to make something with it,” he says. “I didn’t know exactly what, but I knew it was interesting material. And I just kept going.”

The project eventually turned into an exhibit — a record store set up in SoHo called We Buy White Albums. It looked exactly like your typical record store, except instead of selling music, Rutherford was there to buy more first editions to add to his collection. His own copies were also on display, each arranged by serial number.

In an added twist, Rutherford created a one-of-a-kind soundtrack for the event’s duration: one long track made up of every single copy of the “White Album” he owned playing at the exact same time (check it out here). He did it with the covers too, superimposing every one on top of each other then printing the results.

“When you layer 100 different tracks, they’ll start together, but they’ll actually change over the course of each set,” he says. “So it’ll start sounding like just a f—ed up Beatles record. And it’ll just gradually drift into like a noise, like totally psychedelic.”

Rutherford’s next move is to take the “White Album” exhibit on the road to Europe — and, in the meantime, look for more copies. The lowest numbered (aka the oldest) version he owns right now is 0003067 — though he’s been offered lowered, but declined due to the expensive price tag. That probably means that number 0000001, which previously belonged to Ringo Starr (he sold it this past December for $790,000 at auction), is off-limits. No matter. Rutherford may not end up with all 3 million first editions, but that won’t stop him from collecting what he can.

“I mean I don’t think it would work as well with any other album,” he says. “It’s the ultimate record to collect.”

—Instagram @music


Defeating Heartbreak with Nicole Bonasoro’s 100-Day Song Lyric Designs

To explore more of Nicole’s story, check out @nicolebonasoro on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

It took three and a half years to build Nicole Bonasoro’s (@nicolebonasoro) relationship, but only one day for it to vanish.

“We were living together, and it came out of the blue,” the 29-year-old graphic designer says about her last breakup. “I just hit rock bottom.”

Instead of wallowing in despair, the creative put her mind to work and found solace in a challenge, proving to herself and the world that something great could come from heartbreak. For 100 consecutive days, Nicole would freehand draw a fun and playful design of one inspiring song lyric. Biggie Smalls’ words came to life in bright blue and pink. Nicki Minaj’s ode to love was reimagined in the form of a pizza slice and the moon over Nicole’s home of New York City dared the world with Janet Jackson’s message of “No Sleeep.”

“There was still a part of me that wanted to dwell, and I was like, OK, you know what? I really need to hold strong,” she says. “That was kind of a turning point.”

The series as a whole plays out like a diary of pictures. Distracted by the daily grind and bolstered by praise, featured lyrics began to reflect her brightening spirits, and so too did her choice of medium. She made Pharrell’s “Happy” with Nerds candy. She put a pen cap on a Sriracha bottle and drew Talib Kweli’s “Hot Thing.”

“It was just really an incredible experience for me, because the more I did it, [the more] I was experimenting,“ she says. Some days though were tougher than others. “I’m a perfectionist,” adds Nicole. “There’s a time to stop, but sometimes it’s hard. You’re not there yet, but you’re like, OK, I need to put it up anyways. I got sick sometimes. I was staying up too late, and then I had to go to the doctor. It was crazy, but it was worth it.”

For Nicole, not giving up was the key. On the last of her 100-day challenge, she honored that dedication with a quote from Atmosphere’s “Lovelife”: “Remember it all / the beauty as well as the flaws.”

And then it was over, 100 days had come and gone. Suddenly, in an ironic twist on the dark feelings that spawned the project, she couldn’t let go.

“I’m the type of person that I can’t take days off, because then I missed it,” she says. “I was like, I’ve got to do something. I went to Boston this past weekend, and I did [a lyric] on the place coming back. I’m always working on something. Always.”

Today, Nicole’s 100-day series is a full-on side hustle. She sells her designs as prints, pillows and shirts at local fairs in New York, and has more orders for a soon-to-launch online store. She keeps all her original designs in a scrapbook, and one day, she hopes to compile them all into a portfolio to be passed around and given to prospective clients.

“I feel like the stars aligned for me during this whole process,” she says. “I just feel like everything happens for a reason now, and it’s crazy to get a great response from people. I know this is what I should be doing, and I’m just doing it. That’s it.”

—Kat Bein 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

wintershouse  asked:

forgive me if this offer only extended to the user you messaged but could i get recs for joanna live performances? shes my fave artist of all time but ive never really heard any live stuff

I am absolutely always ready to recommend Joanna Newsom live performances! here are some of my favorites. 

let’s start with a classic song and a consistent member of Joanna’s setlist. “Emily,” in 2010. it’s probably her most loved song, and the intricate arrangement and instrumentation of the studio version become really dynamic when live. that final chorus is a miracle. a miracle!! 

“Leaving the City,” in 2013. p4kfest! this isn’t in a technical sense her best performance of this song - she sounds kinda tired, and I think she even messes up the harp part at the beginning - but it’s a really magical one because i believe it’s the first time she performed it at all. these people are hearing it for the first time ever! as such, they are not remotely prepared for the chorus with its multiple rhyme schemes, contradictory meters, and her fingers doing fucking laps on the harp. they start cheering, as one does. it had to be awesome to be there.

“In California,” in 2016. this is mostly here because it’s one of my all-time favorite jnew songs, and she doesn’t perform it that often. also I think her dress is gorgeous. AND I HAVE TORN MY SOUL APART FROM PULLING ARTLESSLY WITH FOOL COMMANDSSS

“Cosmia,” in 2011. this one’s great because there’s some banter at the beginning. also, it’s just Joanna and her harp, which I LOVE for cosmia - the studio version, like most of Ys, is just so complex and multilayered in its arrangement and the number of instruments involved. but this is a song about loneliness and grief, and I find it gets a lot more intimate and chilling when it’s just her.

“Sapokanikan,” in 2015. this is one of her best performances vocally, imo. those high notes at the end are so clear and gorgeous. love it love it love it.

ok, so, now: Best Live Performance Ever. “Baby Birch,” in 2010. what makes this the best Joanna live performance of all time? the song builds and builds so slowly with just her and the harp, and then when we hit that cathartic climax, all the instruments and elements (violin! trombone! cymbal! electric guitar! vocal harmonies!!!) that have just sneaked in and out so far come in and carry us through. everything’s working together so well, and the outro is gorgeous. but what really makes this is how openly emotional Joanna is, both in vocals and expression. this is her most gut-wrenching song, and it’s all there. best live performance. 

(honorable mention for this #deepcut audio of “Only Skin” from before Ys was released. it’s on piano, not harp (!), and it’s an altered version of the song’s last couple of movements. it’s an early draft. I love it because it feels like a window into her creative process.)


It’s a Small World After All: Traveling the Globe with the Rapper Oddisee

To see more of Oddisee’s travels, check out @oddisee on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

A few years ago, Oddisee (@oddisee) was on his way to Heathrow Airport when his cab driver, a Turkish man, made a comment that had a profound effect on his worldview: “The world’s a big place and when you travel, you realize how small it is.”

Having performed around the world and paid regular visits to his father’s home country of Sudan, the Washington, D.C.-born, Brooklyn-based rapper has a love for experiencing new cultures and learning more about humanity along the way. “Through my travels I’ve learned that we’re not that different,” he says. “Whether it’s race, culture, creed, religion, most of us are fighting for the same things. The problems, the achievements, the trials and tribulations we face are happening around the world.”

That belief turned into the theme of The Good Fight, his critically acclaimed, thought-provoking 2015 album. As an avid photographer, he decided to document his months-long international tour behind the LP in a unique fashion. For each stop, he’d create a triptych — one black-and-white shot with the city’s name written over it, bookended by two color photos that create a cinematic montage-like effect for his feed.

“I wanted people to go back and look at the entire tour,” he says. “I wanted to find a way to let fans know I have been to their city, I performed there or I experienced the town in some way, shape or form. Someone would say, ‘Shame I missed you’ or, ‘Can’t wait for you to come back.’”

Oddisee originally got into photography six or seven years back, starting with a point-and-shoot and improving his gear as he grew more in love with the hobby. He makes sure his camera is “glued” to him so he can capture all the interesting things he sees while walking around before gigs or traveling from city to city. “We’ll look at where the venue is, where the closest river is, where the districts are and familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood. That way, when we jump out of the van, we can say, ‘Let’s go shoot something over here.’” Being the lead vocalist has its perks, too — Oddisee is the last to sound check, giving him more time to venture out for a “golden hour” of sightseeing.

That said, traveling the world isn’t always easy — particularly for Oddisee. As a Muslim (his real name is Amir Mohamed el Khalifa), he’s used to extra security screenings, and though he’s disappointed in Donald Trump’s recent remarks about the Islamic faith, he doesn’t harbor any anger. “I’ve been going through it since 9/11, man,” he says of airport hassles. “We laugh at it at this point. It’s our policy that’s to blame. I’m not mad at Trump or anyone else. If you truly take time to understand someone, you should be left with nothing but sympathy and remorse.”

And that all leads back to his battle to be more understanding, tolerant and empathic: “If you believe in it, if it’s your calling, it doesn’t feel like a fight in the first place.”

— Dan Reilly for Instagram @music


Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World: The Stylings of @nardwuar

To see more of Nardwuar’s interviews and style, check out @nardwuar on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

Universities, take note: If you’re looking to prep the next generation of great reporters, introduce them to Nardwuar the Human Serviette (@nardwuar). At 47, the Vancouver-based radio host and on-air personality is the world’s most sincere, enthusiastic and fashion-forward music journalist. And he has simple advice for anyone who wants to conduct great interviews: Do your research.

For Nardwuar, that means going online or even flipping through vintage publications to find out exactly what holds sentimental value to his subjects. Based on his findings, he collects a stack of pop artifacts to present to them.

“People are too lazy to find that information. They don’t want to take that extra step,” Nardwuar says, over the phone from Canada. “But I just think, what the hell? You might as well do it. If I can do an interview, anybody can.”

Pharrell (@pharrell) called Nardwuar’s interview “one of the most impressive” he’d ever experienced after the journalist pulled out one of the beat-maker’s favorite albums, Carl Sagan’s The Music of the Cosmos, on vinyl. The rapper Tyler, the Creator (@feliciathegoat) let out a trail of expletives when Nardwuar revealed that he knew Tyler’s mom was half-Canadian. And, the moment Nardwuar gave a rare issue of the fanzine Rocktober to Questlove (@questlove), the Roots drummer wondered aloud whether the man could have found Bin Laden before SEAL Team 6 did.

“I try to zero in on stuff people haven’t asked,” he says. “Maybe they thought, Oh, I am doing an interview with Pharrell, he’s been asked everything, what’s the point of trying to find new stuff? I guess I was able to break through that barrier because people had given up to find different questions.”


Nardwuar (born John Ruskin) is easy to spot. He is a walking, talking meme. Not only does he arrive with his gifts, he shows up in his standard outfit — red plaid pants, a multicolored sweatshirt and a tartan hat — a style that has been described as both an “exploded 1970s Soviet golf catalog” and “a sartorial no-man’s-land between first-wave punk and PGA Tour.” He also finishes every interview with a sign-off message –– “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a nod to Neil Young’s 1989 democratic anthem, and the end of the “Shave and a Haircut” jingle.

“I always looked to bands that dressed cool,” he says, about his style inspirations. “Like The Cramps, they always had a cool sense of style. And Poison Ivy, she looked pretty amazing. Even Jello by Biafra, of the Dead Kennedys, he had weird T-shirts. So I guess it was just looking at records and seeing what people are wearing and then you see it in the store and going, Oh, I will try to get that.”

Nardwuar got the tartan from his godmother, replacing a toque Sebastian Bach stole from him during a 1994 interview. The Skid Row lead singer later destroyed the only evidence of the crime — a VHS tape — because, Nardwuar says, Sebastian thought he was mocking him. Other artists thought they were being pranked by Nardwuar too. During a conversation with Blur, the band’s bassist Dave Rowntree stole Nardwuar’s hat and glasses. While interviewing Sonic Youth, guitarist Lee Ranaldo broke a rare 7-inch record the journalist had presented him.

“As long as the video camera is capturing what’s going on, I will be OK,” says Nardwuar, about these more aggressive moments. “Right now there’s no evidence of [the Sebastian Bach or Skid Row] interviews because they thought I was making fun of them, so they destroyed [the tapes]. There are situations where it does get scary and it does get intense. However, I am not scared if someone is documenting it.”

Nardwuar has been taping his interviews since high school. He remembers the date of his first one: September 26, 1985. He was president of his school’s student council, and therefore in charge of getting a band to play the school dance. He picked a group called Poisoned (not to be confused with hair metal gods Poison), fronted by Canadian punk rocker Art Bergmann. To mark the occasion, Nardwuar decided to ask Art a few questions. Two years later, Nardwuar landed his own local radio show at the University of British Columbia, which still broadcasts to this day.

“I tried to be an engineer and an accountant, but I just gravitated toward the radio station,” says Nardwuar, who also plays keyboard in his band The Evaporators. “I didn’t really think of pursuing anything. I am still trying to get to the top of the rock pile myself. I still have a long way to go. But it was fun to be able to live out these fantasies of being on the radio. I still can’t believe I have a radio show. People can actually hear me on the radio!”

Nardwuar would eventually get his chance to shine on television, with a freelance gig on Much Music in Canada. By then he had already become something of a cult favorite in his home country. What really propelled him to fame was the rise of the Internet, where people were able to view his work whenever they wanted. Still, he’s quick to remind you that not every interview he conducts is as revelatory as the ones with Pharrell, Questlove or Drake. Sometimes the conversations click, sometimes they don’t. He’s just there to try to make the discussion interesting.

“I still feel like I am doing my first interview,” he says. “I think that’s what makes me want to strike and find information on people, because a lot of times people show up to radio shows or video interviews, they think they know it all, and because they think they know it all, the interview turns out boring … Most of the time it’s pretty straightforward. I just want to have a fun conversation with somebody.”

—Instagram @music