Constant audio innovators Matmos are releasing a new album, Ultimate Care II, that was completely sound-sourced from their washing machine. For the release, their label Thrill Jockey had me work with them to create a series of promotional portraits. I have worked with Drew and Martin before and they are (of course) extremely creative as well as easy to work with, so I was really excited about this shoot. We played with some of things and tried to create a mix of images that ranged from your normal “band photo” to ones that were a bit more oblique or playful. Pretty happy with how this came out, and can’t wait for the album to be out – it’s really good!
Alex Ebstein, artist????? ?? ?????? ?????? ??????
Some recent portraits I’ve taken for City Paper.
This weekend, I headed out to scenic Sparks, MD for a photoshoot with my friends in Baltimore metal band Putrisect. It was a great time, featuring classic suburban fun like sneaking into an abandoned building, drinking beer next to cars and being harassed by local teens. You can check out all the photos HERE and check out Putrisect’s tunes at their BANDCAMP PAGE. As always, get in touch if you need some band photos or portraits taken.
Paradox owner Wayne Davis posted today that Paradox, the legendary Baltimore nightclub and after-hours spot, will be closing in 2016. Sad to see it go but after 25+ years, I imagine Wayne is ready to move on to something new. I took the opportunity to assemble some just a few of the photos I’ve taken there over the years…
Music has a long history of association with activism and politics but traditionally when it comes to the â€˜music businessâ€™ it seems that artists with a political agenda have struggled to find the support that their more mainstream contemporaries receive. Local activist and musician Ryan Harvey seeks to help change that with his new endeavor, Firebrand Records, and to help achieve it, heâ€™s working with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine – one of the few truly mainstream bands who also promote an overtly political agenda. Through the label, they aim to support a roster of diverse, political musicians. I spoke with Harvey at local pub Liam Flynnâ€™s Ale House about the new label, how it came to be, and itâ€™s goals.
Harvey has been involved in activism since the late 90s and music for over a decade, starting with the Riot-Folk Collective, a national group that started in 2004. RFC was heavily involved in going to protests and in his words, â€œwe were singing songs and we felt the politics were very sharp because we were actually involved in what we were singing about, or if we werenâ€™t, we knew about it in a real way.â€ Around the same time Morello, guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, had started a folk project of his own under the name The Nightwatchman. â€œHe got in touch with us and we kind of had an email friendship, so we met him a year later and we started collaborating.â€
In 2006, Harveyâ€™s childhood babysitter was killed in Iraq, which led to him working with the group Iraq Veterans Against The War. â€œThe first thing we did with them we did this tour for a month through the rust belt where we had veterans and student antiwar activists speaking every night and I was playing musicâ€¦ for the the final event in Chicago i had Tom fly out and do two concerts. He was really happy to be part of it,â€ Harvey recalls.
After a decade playing folk punk for other activists and like-minded people, Harvey had already started to realize that he was seeing the same faces in every town when he toured, but working with Morello and other mainstream artists like Eddie Vedder brought access to new people. â€œIt became a strategy of ours, using mainstream musicians and the forums that theyâ€™re able to create through their music to connect with people who might agree with the ideas that we were talking about,â€ he says, noting that â€œThe underground is cool, you kind of have the moral high groundâ€¦ but on the other hand you’re like – â€˜man, there are a serious amount of people youâ€™re able to access when you are in that mainstream world.â€™â€
While touring in 2011, Harvey started meeting artists from around the world who were not satisfied with their reach and the idea for a different kind of record label started to coalesce, one that would be designed to help artists gain more attention (and sales) without compromising their politics or ideals. Last summer, he brought the idea to Morello, along with a list of artists who had already expressed interest and Morello was instantly on board. Firebrand was officially a go.
To facilitate their mission, Firebrand started with the standard (and much maligned) industry instrument, the record deal, and rethought it. â€œWe took the regular recording artist agreements and we hacked them to pieces, trying to craft an artist agreement that underground artists want and need.â€ Harvey and Morello strove to end up with a record contract that protects the artist, which is the opposite of a normal recording contract which generally exists to protect the label’s interests.
One of their first signings was Son of Nun (aka Kevin James), a long-time Baltimore-area conscious rapper, activist, and former public school teacher. I spoke to James about signing to the label, which marks a return to music for him after a several year hiatus. â€œI donâ€™t have a lot of experience with contracts and record labels, but what I’ve heard that is different about what we’re doing is the flexibility in terms of what the artist can and canâ€™t do.â€ A consistent theme when James speaks about Firebrand is that he refers to the label as â€œweâ€, which is not how most artists tend to reference their record labels.
When asked what he thinks Firebrand is doing differently, James breaks it down for me: â€œhonestly, the main thing that keeps me plugged in and makes me excited about doing this project is the fact that its a label thats explicitly about supporting music that’s trying to change the world. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s about for me. And the fact that the people that are leading the label are artists themselves and have been in this movement for years lends credibility and a lot of trust on my part to their behalf.â€ He adds with a chuckle â€œI definitely read the contract, too.â€œ
Since Harvey and Morello are activists as well as musicians, they are also aware that sometimes artists want to release music as part of current events. As Harvey explains, â€œsomeone might write a song about Baltimore Uprising – and they donâ€™t want to wait three weeks for a promotion plan and for emails back and forth with their management and whatever. They might just want to upload it overnight.â€ Firebrand allows their artists the flexibility to release music this way, which also acknowledges the changing ways people discover music in 2015.
Though the goal for Firebrand is to spread ideas and viewpoints through music, Harvey stresses that â€œwe are trying to be a very real record company.â€ They have contacts with artist management through Morelloâ€™s ties to the industry, and are working with Anti-Flag records for vinyl pressing and distribution, though Harvey predicts most sales will be digital, and any vinyl releases will have modest volume to start.
The labelâ€™s first release, a sampler entitled â€œA New World In Our Songsâ€, is available now via their web site as well as iTunes and Soundcloud. It has tracks from Harvey and Son of Nun (his track,â€Itâ€™s Like Thatâ€ is the bracing highlight of the album), as well other Firebrand artists like bellâ€™s roar, Lyka Till, Built For The Sea and the Egyptian musician Ramy Essam, who was arrested by the Egyptian government, tortured and eventually driven to take asylum in Sweden as a result of his music.
Hopefully, the kind of support Firebrand plans to offer will translate into more musical output reaching more ears, as the ultimate mission of the label is to help the ideas and perspectives of their artistâ€™s reach a broader audience. Harvey feels the labelâ€™s support could be instrumental: â€œUnderground musicians can make money on tour, typically- you make t-shirts, you make CDs, you go on tour, you have a good time, you eat and drink, but once you get home you have to go back to work. What if we could sell even a couple thousand albums a year through digital promotion for these artists? That could be thousands of dollars that they werenâ€™t seeing before. That could pay for your recording. That could fund a tour.â€
Walked around Old Goucher/Charles Village and took some photos of my buddies in Dope Body.
PACKED house, right after the curfew was over… it was great to see so many people having a great time at this. Also cool to see Domo Genesis play, the first time I ever saw and met him was on the very first Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All tour.
Finally catching up on some photos from before Baltimore Uprising… the Buzzcocks have always been great, since the first time I saw them in 99 or so with the Lunachicks in New Orleans, they always put on a great show… fun seeing them in a big room again after the more intimate Ottobar show last time.
Consistently great metal shows at Baltimore Soundstage. I had never seen either of these bands before. Yob was a band I’ve heard alot and enjoy, thought they might have been a “relaxed” band life before I saw them, but the life show was good. Made me want to crank the albums up when I got home. Enslaved is a band I’d always heard a lot about, but wasn’t super familiar with – they were great! Amazing stage presence, with little to no ‘kult’ stuff that can sometimes be a little much with European bands. They loved the crowd and played to the crowd (and the photographers) perfectly, really great performance.
Government Issue, the legendary DC hardcore band fronted by John Stabb, played a surprise show at the Ottobar recently. Pretty cool getting to see them play just blocks from my house, on a icy Sunday evening.
Found these photos of a Noisem practice from 2013 lurking on my photo drive, never posted before. This Baltimore metal band has come a LONG way since these were taken…
THE SOFT PINK TRUTH (aka Drew Daniel)
Two of the most interesting people making experimental music today performed to a packed Metro Gallery last week. Pharmakon’s two full-lengths, Abandon and last year’s Bestial Burden, both made it to close the top of my best of lists in their respective years. She has a way of making challenging music that easily fits into the realm of noise but also is very listenable in a way that most music from that genre is not. “Listenable” is probably not the best way to describe the hellish soundscapes she creates, yet they are extremely captivating records that seems to be able to cross over to metal listeners as well as avant-garde/experimental. I’ve seen her perform three times now and each performance she seems to bring in new elements and work with the crowd aspect more and more – at Metro Gallery, she wound her way through the crowd, getting her microphone snagged on people and furniture, at one point the audience had to struggle and pull on the microphone cable en masse as she ascended back onto the stage – it was pretty interesting to watch.
Drew Daniel (of Matmos fame)’s the Soft Pink Truth project flew under my radar for many years, but when he announced that his most recent record would be a series of Black Metal interpretations entitled Why Do the Heathen Rage?, I took notice. It’s a really odd record, idiosyncratic electronic/dance versions of classic black metal tracks. And, lest you think Daniel is making fun of the genre… well, he is, sort of, but it’s the loving sort of jibe that comes from a true fan who has encyclopedic knowledge of his source material. The record won lots of accolades, including “Best Thing Ever” from the City Paper, and has led to several pretty amazing live performances, the latest of which is the one pictured above. Really unique artist that I recommend you go see if you have a chance.
BUY PRINTS HERE (including a few from this show)
Scaled down a little this year, but still a blast! I was only able to make it to half of the 4 shows that comprised this year’s event but still managed to catch a bunch of great performances, see some homies, and dodge some fireworks at Haymaker. Seeing them in that small, smoke-filled room was really a surreal highlight of my show-going so far this year.
Uploaded some odds n’ ends last night, among which were included the above: photos from Thomas Dolby’s (of she blinded me with science fame) first DJ performance, which was at the Paradox in Baltimore, and photos from a Birth (Defects) show at the Wind-up space, among many more. I still post photos on my Flickr, because of ease of use and the fact that I just have such a huge library already there, so if you want the raw feed, follow me there.
A note about the Dolby DJ set- it was pretty disappointing, I must say. Partially because so much effort was spent on presentation, so I was expecting something pretty cool. He had a DJ booth set up like a machine gun emplacement, with sandbags and walls and stuff, and a big projection thing going. But his DJ selections were just standard 80s fare… nothing too bad or anything, but the song selection just didn’t match up to his level of art direction.
ESMB = best band in Baltimore! It was good to see them with a responsive crowd – there were plenty of people really stoked to see them play a hometown show. When Yonatan Gat started I was like “uh-oh, this is NOT for me” but they managed to win me over, I ended up really liking their set.
Always amazing – one of my favorite bands of all time. So stoked to get to see them in my city. If you ever get the chance, don’t sleep. I almost skipped their Philly show in 2013 and it ended up being one of the best shows I have ever seen, and I see ALOT of shows. Classic band.
This was a fun shoot. Ed texted me to ask if I wanted to take photos of him and Kevin making ‘Cats on the Lake’ shirts for a City Paper story. Since that’s not the norm, the subject assigning you the photo, I cleared it with the paper and – yep – it was indeed a story. So one afternoon I went over to Kevin’s house/studio and hung with them as they joked, made shirts, and Kevin’s roommate made dinner. You can see his legs in a few of the photos.
Black metal legends Watain are always so good live. The times I’ve seen them before I was never able to get too close, either because of circumstances, fear of getting actual pig’s blood thrown on me/my equipment, or inebriation, but this time it worked out well. Blood was still there, but less than previous tours and you could still smell the scent of grave dirt as soon as they walked out on stage…
Last month, Doom icons Pentagram played Soundstage (which is really shaping up into a great venue for metal in Baltimore) along with The Pilgrim, Bang!, Kings Destroy and Radio Moscow. Pentagram shows are notoriously hit or miss, as anyone who was at their infamous Black Cat comeback show can attest, but this night they were on their A game. It’s also always great to see them with Victor Griffin, when he is back with the band everything seems to just run more smoothly and Liebling (the famously troubled frontman of the band) seems to hold it together more. They didn’t disappoint, one of the best times I have seen them (though not sure if that first time I saw them at Sonar can be topped).
It was great to see Bang! too, a band I had always heard about but never had the chance to see – they really seemed to have a great time on stage, the first half of their set especially killed. This was apparently one of the last shows for quite some time for The Pilgrim, one of my favorite Baltimore bands. Cool that they managed to get on such a sick bill.