Kimberly Cummins

Living Hour: Winnipeg Dreamers with Ethereal Vibe

Touring the US and Canada in the confines of a 2003 Toyota Sienna doesn’t paint a very glamourous picture, but Winnipeg band Living Hour makes it work, and delivers astounding music along the way. The five-man ensemble brings with them dreamy soundscapes, full of evocative lyrics, superior musical talent, and a lot of future promise. With a strong vocal backbone from Sam Sarty (vocals, trombone, keyboard), musicians Gil Carroll (guitar), Adam Soloway (guitar, vocals), Alex Chochinou (drums), and Mischa Decter (bass) are able to shine. Just a few months after releasing their self-titled album, the group has hit the road for a six-week tour.

Across the board, Living Hour’s songs instill a sense of nostalgia, of hazy summer sunsets and picturesque days. “There’s some powerful moments, and it’s very emotional,” Sarty said. “We try to make it ethereal and atmospheric and there’s a pop undertone that some people call shoegaze.” While Living Hour has some definite shoegaze qualities, they’re hesitant to identify fully with the genre. Guitarist Gil Carroll noted that upon its inception, Living Hour was more straight forward indie-rock, but the addition of Sarty’s vocals transformed it into a dreamier, more “pretty” sound. “I still consider us a really young band, so our sound is changing all the time and continues to develop,” he said.

Despite the profoundly airy quality of their music, Sarty said that, for her, the band’s name derives from the feeling of being more alive than ever while doing what she loves. “I like to think that sometimes people are a little turned off and not living in the now or being present,” she said. “I find that when you perform, it’s one of the most present moments that you can be in. You’re living in the hour.”

Kicking off a live set at Elastic Arts in Chicago, the song “Nude” set the stage for a solid performance. Underlying bass tones give the feeling of waking up slowly and starting out the day, with pops of drum to liven things up. Slowly, Sarty’s vocals merge in and the result is a layered, strolling song that leaves the listener wondering how nine and a half minutes have gone by in such a wistful blur.

Later, “Miss Emerald Green” showed the full range of Sarty’s vocals, as well as the skill of guitarists Carroll and Soloway. Starting with the inviting warmth of a lounge singer, Sarty belts out lyrics like, “You’ve grown so tired of the same scene/ You’ve been living in.” The singer says that she pulls from many different places for the feeling she puts into the song. “One day I’ll relate that to growing up in a small town like Winnipeg, or the next day I’ll think about ‘Person X’ and feeling isolated.” With Decter’s bass lines throughout, there is a strong feeling of longing, but right before it gets too heavy, a pop of horn keeps things upbeat. It’s a fun song that conjures the memory of a high school dance coming to a close.

With all of the feelings that their songs evoke, the creative process for Living Hour can take some time. Carroll said, “We’ll start with one singular idea but then everyone will just do their own thing and eventually it comes together.” He went on to say that long tour schedules can slow down the process, but also help hone new material. “We have several new songs that we’re playing [on tour] that aren’t on our new album. We’re trying them out and seeing what can be better and what we like.”

One as-yet untitled song highlighted a beachy, surf vibe and would have anyone listening wishing that they were watching the sun set over a rolling ocean. With a huge rise at the end, the song called to memory that one last perfect summer evening, the one that’ll go down in memory for years to come. Living Hour’s ability to create such vivid imagery with music is hard to come by and sure to be one of their strongest assets as they gain more recognition.

Pulling from many genres for influence and texture, the band creates music that speaks to a wealth of talent and knowledge. Sarty began singing in choirs at a young age, while the instrumental side of the group met in school and bonded over a love of music. According to Sarty, Carroll and Chochinou started off like so many other musicians- jamming in a basement- before they added more members to the mix. Together, the laid-back group has enjoyed some international success, touring in the UK and Europe earlier in 2016 and appearing at the Le Bateau Festival in Champagne-Ardenne, France. While that show was Sarty’s favorite to date, Carroll enjoyed playing to their largest audience yet. “We played at Rough Trade in New York and it was one of the biggest shows we’ve played in terms of people,” he said. “There was a lineup of people to get in. We played really well, and it sounded great.”

Playing live has garnered Living Hour new fans, to be sure, but online streaming has also helped get their music out. “We’ve taken the [approach of] the more exposure, the better, even if we don’t see a lot of monetary gains,” Sarty said. “You’re still getting that exposure, which is a different kind of currency at this point.” Songs “Seagull” and “Steady Glazed Eyes” have a combined 54.4K listens on SoundCloud alone. Additionally, social media has helped Living Hour find other bands to tour the country with. “The best part [about touring is] seeing and meeting like-minded people, some of the most creative people I can even fathom,” Sarty said.

Looking ahead, Carroll hinted that the band has already amassed some new material for their next album. After the Fall 2016 tour comes to an end in Berlin, Living Hour will take some time off to relax, before setting out again in January to escape the Winnipeg winter. Location aside, the band is just happy to be making music. “We’re pretty stoked to be doing what we’re doing so we’re all smiles,” Carrol said.

Hillary Susz Brings the Romance with Striking New Album

With her new album, “The Heart Will Jump (With Nowhere to Fall),” Hillary Susz gives listeners a collection of love songs three years in the making. Through her mix of operatic rock and poetic songwriting, Susz has turned her attention to a genre rarely seen or heard in the music industry: lesbian love songs. “There aren’t a lot of love songs in the world about lesbian love, so just by nature of them existing is somewhat political,” Susz said. “It’s creating a space that hasn’t traditionally been there.” Tracks on the new album include “Pollution,” with a melodic and haunting opening that builds to highlight Susz’s vocals, as well as “Make Me Make You,” which the Boulder, Colorado based musician describes as “romantic” and “poetic.” Additionally, “Dead Stars” gives a feeling of celestical lightness, which is then broken by rock-inspired guitar riffs.

Drawing on her own six-year relationship, Susz is able to cover a range of emotions and experiences in this album. “We’ve been together since we were nineteen years old and just have grown up together,” she said. “So, it’s largely about two people growing up together and learning how to live together.” Susz collected the songs on her new album over the course of three years, while she was balancing an office job with her musical career.

Introducing lesbian love songs to the world has been a double-edged sword for Susz. While her voice helps to add dialogue to the discussion of queerness in modern music, she said it still makes some uncomfortable. Occasionally, people have walked out of shows, or yelled rude remarks, which she said is all too common for female performers. Susz admitted that the music industry is very tough and requires “a lot of self-perseverance, a lot of strength,” she said. However, artists like Susz are providing an increase in information and perspectives and, as she said, “More options are available to you. You aren’t just getting straight people’s love songs or one particular kind of voice in music.”

The depths to which Susz reaches on “The Heart Will Jump (With Nowhere to Fall)” highlight a writing process that takes time and a lot of insight. “I’m very patient with my songs, I have drafts and I try to play them many times and see how they can organically develop,” she said, explaining that everything from time and practice, to performing a song live can change how it will eventually be recorded for an album. She also said that she makes it a habit to return to old work and reimagine it. “I’m a big believer in recycling work, and these themes and motifs don’t really go away, you acquire new language or new music to express them.” Susz’s listeners benefit from this recycling, and are introduced to metaphor-rich lyrics, guitar samples with just enough grunge, and a wholly new voice in the folk-rock realm.

Susz’s ability to create deeply emotional verses stems from years of songwriting, and is also strengthened by her development as a fiction writer. “I’ve been writing songs longer than I’ve been delving into fiction and poetry, that’s a little bit newer for me,” she said. In between touring, writing songs, and putting out a new album, Susz is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder, while also teaching writing classes. For Susz, each setting calls for different focuses in her writing: “With music, its more immediate emotion, and with fiction its more cognitive and character-driven,” she said. With so much going on, Susz makes use of her breaks from school to tour, and will be out on the road with her new songs this fall and winter.

While in her classroom, Susz says she is able to give students advice from her own experience, and her students often discuss insecurities in their work. “I always just tell them to keep producing work; it doesn’t do an artist any favors to not have work. There’s no one in history that’s famous that has one painting or one book, one album,” she said. “Always just keep making things.” For Susz, it has always been important to keep creating unique work. While she said that she’s never made it a point to learn to replicate other artists’ work, she does follow other female singers and songwriters such as Angel Olson and Neko Case.

As Susz continues to grow and develop her unique genre, fans can expect to hear familiar themes in her music. “At the core – content-wise – part of me just thinks that it is the same record over and over again and you’re trying to make it more true,” Susz said. “Maybe I’m writing the same album over and over again, just trying to make it better.”

“THE HEART WILL JUMP (WITH NOWHERE TO FALL)” THIS FALL.

Prince Fox on his way to new music royalty

Just two years ago, Sam Lassner, aka Prince Fox, was a junior at NYU learning to create and produce music. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find him touring the festival scene and collaborating with the likes of Hailee Steinfeld (Ender’s Game, Pitch Perfect 2). Their first track together, “Fragile,” has over 800,000 Spotify plays in less than one month since it dropped. Having never worked together before, the two struck gold, with Steinfeld’s deeply layered vocals and Lassner’s instrumental-electronic hybrid sound.

“Initially it came about through Twitter between my friend Lil Aaron and I,” Lassner said. “He had the idea for the song so we brought it to the label and they really liked it and asked who I wanted on it.” After sending the song to Steinfeld’s camp, things moved quickly, with Lassner flying to LA to get work started. “It was amazing; she is an incredible vocalist. She was able to layer octaves over the track. The texture of her vocals is due to her really being proficient and being able to layer herself really well.”

Having many friends in the industry, Lassner has had the chance to work with several talented artists. “Fragile,” however, holds special importance. “I feel like all collaborations are unique and special in their own right but as far as my favorite track I’ve put out that’s probably it.” But hopefully, there are many more partnerships in the future. “I would love to write a song with BloodPop; I would love to work with John Mayer, Chance the Rapper, and A$AP Rocky.”

In the meantime, Lassner already has some interesting collaborations in the works; as he continues to travel around festivals for the summer, he’s making new friends along the way, including Australian DJ Allison Wonderland. “I’m supposed to be in the studio with her in less than a week, so I’m pretty excited for that.”

While his future collaborations are sure to be hits, Prince Fox has already started making waves in the music industry. In late 2015, Prince Fox released “I Don’t Wanna Love You,” an energetic, upbeat track featuring Melody Noel, which has garnered over 2 million listens on Spotify and another 1.56 million plays on Soundcloud.

Prince Fox’s music has a definite foothold in the realm of Internet radio and streaming services. “I’ve had more consistent success in the streaming world because it’s a lower barrier to upload it and be on that platform, whereas someone has to decide to put your stuff on the radio.”

With his tracks blowing up on the Internet, it’s no surprise that Prince Fox has hit the road and taken over the festival scene, as well. This summer alone, Prince Fox is headed to the Hangout Festival, Corona Electric Beach and Electric Forest, to name a few. With so much travel, though, it’s important to stay grounded. “Sometimes it gets overwhelming, sometimes it gets lonely when you’re in the middle of nowhere in a hotel room by yourself for eight hours,” Lassner said. “But I’m in it because I love to make music and I love to express myself, so any time I’m down or upset I have to remind myself that I get to do what I love. Through the ups and the downs that’s nothing to take for granted.”

Making music has been Lassner’s means to express himself for a long time. “I started playing guitar when I was in eighth grade,” he said. Through high school and into college, he taught himself how to produce his own songs, eventually studying music technology at NYU. “You look back two years later and you see how much you’ve grown,” he said. Between a natural talent for music and classic training Lassner is somewhat a self-taught musician and producer. “I’m a pretty obsessive person so I knew what I wanted and I didn’t stop until I was as proficient as I felt I needed to be.”

While Prince Fox’s blend of instrumental and electronic is uniquely crafted, Lassner keeps up on trends and integrates his own style. “I try to keep it very song-orientated,” he said. “It’s kind of a challenge to constantly upgrade every song but it’s a good challenge and it’s a fun puzzle when you’re finishing a track.” From start to finish, a new track can take him anywhere from a few hours to weeks to complete. “It’s just a matter of how much inspiration I have going into a given session.”

The personalization and effort that Lassner puts into each of his tracks for Prince Fox is apparent, and fans get to enjoy not only a great sound, but an overall experience. “You can go home and listen to any artist but what makes going to a show unique is getting involved and participating: singing along and interacting with the artist.” The artist also enjoys meeting fans face to face and seeing how his work effects them. “When you’re home on your computer and see streaming numbers or your followers, it’s cool and great to see numbers go up, but when you put a face to it, these people in this room are part of it.”

Of all the shows that he’s played, Lassner cites Audio San Francisco as his favorite, thanks to the fans. “It was insane, way over capacity two hours before I got on,” he said. “Wall to wall, everyone was into it; it was really amazing.” Months later when Lassner’s Austin show was cancelled due to weather, he had an unexpected opportunity to hit the stage, this time with many other artists. “It ended up that Kill the Noise invited me, A-Trak, Gorgon City, Amtrak, and Yung Wall Street to go back-to-back with him at his show. I met all these DJs that I either wanted to meet or looked up to or had been listening to for a while, all because I had a series of cancelled shows.”

There seems to be no stopping this up and coming artist. Moving forward from his previous collaborations and fateful live shows, Prince Fox has a lot for fans to look forward to.

Los Angeles fans can see Prince Fox at Skybar at Mondrian this Sunday, RSVP at findyourelectricbeach.com

Rolling Basslines with DJ Zebo

DJ, producer, professor… is there anything DJ Zebo doesn’t do?

With 15 years of history in the music business, DJ Zebo is still making new waves in the music industry after being recognized as one of Newcity Magazine’s Top 45 Musical Artists in Chicago. “It’s nice that after all the time, I can still get recognition from people and show them what I do,” Zebo said.  Fellow Chicago artists Kanye West and The Smashing Pumpkins also made the list.

Chicago’s rich musical history has been the inspiration for many artists, and Zebo is one of them. Using the city as an inspiration, Zebo is able to connect with locals while also opening Chicago up to new audiences. Taking part in one of Chicago’s biggest music festivals, Zebo played on Friday during Lollapalooza on the PlayStation stage.  “I try to push a little Chicago flavor, especially at a place like Lolla where a lot of people want to come in and experience Chicago,” he said.

Besides playing sets at both of Chicago’s big music festivals—Lollapalooza and Northcoast Music Festival—Zebo was recently asked to be resident DJ at Wicker Park hotspot, The Mid. But ask him to define his style, and you get one simple answer. “I just play good music. I try to just find different styles of music,” he said. “I think that’s part of what makes me successful is being able to do a bunch of different styles and play a wider range of events.”

From weddings to high-energy club parties, Zebo has pretty much done it all. But there’s a lot more to Zebo that playing music, he also teaches. With such a deep knowledge of music, Zebo has a unique opportunity to share his passion with others.  Students at Columbia College get the chance to learn from the master of the mixer in their two-part DJ class. And the learning goes both ways. “There are kids that show me cool new things all the time. It’s not just them coming in and learning from me, I learn from them too,” he said. “I’m getting older and older every day. It’s just nice to have a way to keep in touch with that market, especially the underground and emergent college kids.”

Experimenting with new styles and new talent is just one of many things that has kept Zebo inspired to create music. “You always give people songs that they know to make it fun but you try to incorporate some new stuff,” he said. His biggest inspiration, though, comes from everyday people pursuing what they love. “Kids that really get into new stuff and go out and aren’t just there to be at the party, I think they inspire me more than artists that I play.”