Soft Shoulder: No Draw

soft shoulderby Lenore LaNova
Senior Editor

Soft Shoulder has been making gritty, experimental music around the Valley for ten years now, chasing all those people who only think they’re into avant-garde music out of bars and into the reality that they’re nowhere near the edges of the industry.

At the heart of the project is James Fella, a soft-spoken sort of guy who exudes a disarming warmth. His music, on the other hand, is very confrontational; dissonant even and intentionally distant. Soft Shoulder might be his most user-friendly musical formation and, once you hear it, you’ll understand that Soft Shoulder isn’t trying to create radio hits. They’re exploring the outer reaches of sound and art.

Soft Shoulder is ready to release their new LP No Draw through Gilgongo Records on December 1st [but you can preview the album here]. Side A includes four tracks recorded in 2009 at the now-defunct Ye Olde Bike Saviors while Side B presents “Repeat #3”, an almost twenty-minute song recorded in 2014.

I had a chance to chat with James Fella about the new album and the shape of Soft Shoulder, past and present.

YY: Where did you record the album? 

James Fella: The A-side was recorded at YOBS with Gerald Biggs, who at the time I was recording with constantly (mostly solo material, but also Soft Shoulder). I enjoy recording on my own as much as possible, but Gerald is undeniably better at it. When we would do it, Soft Shoulder was usually just me, but in the case of this LP, Paul (Arambula) played drums and Stephen (Steinbrink) played bass – they were “the band” at the time before Stephen moved to Olympia and Paul to Berlin.

Side-B was recorded at home, and was an unplanned sort of thing. Ricky and Sean from Oakland band No Babies were in town, with another band, Human Behavior. (No Babies were on a 4 way split 7″ with Soft Shoulder and I released a 7″ with them on Gilgongo last year). They stayed the night and we ended up recording that track the next afternoon. It’s an extended version of an instrumental song that occasionally is used as filler in the live sets… not meant in a negative way, I love “filler” sort of tracks, ones that are allowed to go on and on. Playing with them was very natural feeling, the only portion we really discussed was the beginning and the rest just sort of unfolded on its own. When we finished, the track was something like 35 minutes long I think… so we had to edit it down to fit on that side of the LP.

YY: I noticed that the first four tracks were recorded in 2009 while the side B track was recorded this past year. How long has the band been together? How has the band changed since in the past five years between recordings? Part Two: It seems like during that time you moved further away from “accessible”. Is that an intentional move?

JF: 2005 / 2006, the first couple of 7″s came out in 2006 so that’s a fair “starting point” I guess. It’s hard to really chart any direction(s) the band has gone… earlier in 2015 there were 3 Soft Shoulder 7″s that basically swept up all of the unused tracks between 2009 and now, so in a way the LP was doing the same. Above all else, the band is inconsistent – which for some people (who may enjoy some of the material and not other) might be annoying, but for me, allows it to be an outlet for whatever it is I’m feeling like doing at the time. I would say that the most recent versions of the band, live anyway, have been fairly accessible, the only alienating aspects might be volume and repetition.

YY: A lot of bands attach the term “no-wave” but this is one of those times when I feel it’s being aptly used. What does no-wave mean to you?

JF: One of the first physical records I was able to appreciate was my father’s copy of No New York (a 1979 LP with several tracks each from James Chance and the Contorions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars and DNA – curated by Brian Eno which I assume is what sparked my dad’s interest in the record). If that is to serve as a reference point, there is plenty of inconsistency there but maybe an underlying factor of “free” playing – “free” being open-ended in some cases, but “free” also being free from conventional playing, guitar parts that are devoid of any inkling of harmony or even “notes”, vocals that are spastic or shrieking, rhythm that may be completely disjointed or relentlessly repetitive. I don’t know if that really answers the questions as far as what it means to me, and truth be told I don’t feel that every Soft Shoulder track meets my own criteria for this label by any means, but it’s without a doubt a driving force in how I approach writing and performing with the group – even if it’s not always that apparent.

YY: How does Soft Shoulder differ from your solo work? Do the artists that you work with help write or construct the songs?

JF: Solo work is formless, generally no melody or anything like that, not “song oriented” where as Soft Shoulder is “songs” when it’s at least somewhat weird or out there. I like playing normal guitar too – playing in Detached Objects has been satisfying in that regard lately!

I generally write the songs while recording them, it’s an all-in-one process. The A-side of the LP is songs I wrote while recording alone at Sound Kontrol a year earlier. That being said, when playing with others the songs can change, Stephen added so much to the bass parts, so it was nice to re-record them as full versions that had input from others. Like everything else I guess it’s inconsistent, but I’m always open for new things to happen to songs or improvised pieces when doing it with a full band.

YY: Who performs with the band at present? 

JF: The band right now is a rotating group, there’s no regular practicing or anything like that, basically whoever is able to make something work is who is in the group that time around… so in some ways right now Soft Shoulder is:

Paul Arambula: guitar or drums
Ann Seletos: drums
Jorge Garcia: bass
Jacob Howard: bass
Ryan Avery: drums
Mikey Henson: bass
TK Nicholson: tapes
James Fella: vocals, guitar, tapes

YY: What’s next for Soft Shoulder?

JF: Going to do a CD that compiles the LP, 3 7″s, and various other random things… hoping to record and put out more records pretty steadily for the foreseeable future – like a 7″ or two and hopefully LP each year… not sure… sometimes the band is very active and other times nothing for long periods of time.

I’m really enjoying the group of people who has been playing with me lately so hopefully we’ll play somewhat regularly.

Listen to No Draw by Soft Shoulder here and get your own copy on vinyl! You can also preview it below.

YabYum Seven: Jason Hugger

1. Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Jason Hugger and I am a surreal still-life painter. I work in oil and acrylic on canvas and panels as well as silver point drawing.

2. How did you get your start?  

I started drawing in perspective in my teens. After high school I received several scholarships to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. In 1995 I graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in Fine Art.

3. What inspires you?

Some of the things that inspire me are; the work of the surrealist artists, the deserts of the Middle East and Southwest U.S. Modern and ancient architecture, and any objects that are battered, weathered, rusty, or mysteriously un-identifiable.

4. What do you like about AZ? 

I love the weather, the job market, and the wonderful and diverse community of artists located here.

5. Where can we see you(r) work? 

"Watcher of the Skies Pt. 2"
“Watcher of the Skies Pt. 2”

My work can be seen here and I have shown at {9} The Gallery, R. Pela Contemporary Art and Monorchid.

6. What would you like to accomplish before you die? 

I would like to leave a legacy with my art during my life time and after I am gone.

7. What is your mantra? 

Paint on.

Building the Future
“Building the Future”
79a1eff4-9a10-4805-8b6a-76b81a86cebf
“Before the Storm”
"Distant Voices"
“Distant Voices”
4
“Monsoon”
5
“Warning Signs”

Radio Phoenix Podcast with Treasure Mammal

TMammal

The cast and crew of Treasure Mammal joined us at Radio Phoenix for Rise! They brought along an eclectic mix of music and an hour of rioutous good times. Check out the podcast here. The complete playlist can be found below. Tune in this coming Wednesday at 7pm to hear us live with The Sweetbleeders!

Complete Playlist:

Treasure Mammal “Missed Connections”

Mabson Enterprises “311 Calls Guitar Center”

Mabson Enterprises “We Just Talked”

Ghost Island “Tall Tears”

Happy Plaza “Don’t Hesitate”

Roar “Hope”

Lonna Kelley “Pretty Boy”

Glob “No You Aren’t Yes I Amethyst”

LiL PDF “Kingpull.pdf.mov”

Sweetbleeders “We Were Never Here”
Treasure Mammal “Did I Use the Word Divorce?”
Flaming Lips “Good Morning”
Recorded live on October 21, 2015.

5 Live and Local Music Videos

Foreign Language
“Oshima”

from The Trundle Sessions

Stephanie Dormann
“Sleepwalking”

from Sofar Denver

The Hill in Mind
“Spider-Shirt”

Live from Burns Hall

Steff and The Articles
“Call you mine”

fromT- Town Sessions

Ryne Norman
“Revival”

Live in Nashville

5 Eclectic Singles

Single 1Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold

Killing Floor

The Americana duo self-described as the “bastard child of rock, alt-country, blues, Appalachia, and bluegrass” has put out a foot-stomping single called “Killing Floor”. This lively number is the first single from their forthcoming album, recorded at Audioconfusion by Jalipaz and the late Dan Somers. If “Killing Floor” is any indication of what’s to come, I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album. This is bluegrass with some chutzpah. Give “Killing Floor” a listen here and then get out to catch Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold live. They have a show coming up on Dec. 12th at Valley Bar so mark your calendars!

single2

Dogbreth

Hoarder House

This single from Phoenix’s Dogbreth came out last Fall on the It Came From Plan-It-X 2014 compilation and has all the loveable “powerkindness” pop punk that has marked the band as one to watch on the local scene. “Hoader House” was recorded, once again, by Jalipaz over at Audioconfusion. Word has it that the band has new material in the pipelines that fans should be hearing in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted. Until then, check out “Hoarder House” from Dogbreth here. To hear the complete compilation, It Came From Plan​-​It​-​X 2014, head here.

Single 5Daryl Scherrer

(I Didn’t Come Here For) Your Honesty”

Daryl Scherrer is one of those artists whose music is so poignant it hurts your heart to hear. “(I Didn’t Come Here For) Your Honesty” delivers that same soul-baring candor that will twist up in your guts before letting you go. I highly recommend giving the single a listen here. And, while you’re at it, I aslo suggest checking out Scherrer’s other musical endeavor, The Blood Feud Family Singers, who released an album earlier this month. You can hear that here (and more on that to follow).

single3MRCH

Spin

MRCH, the Valley’s own electro-pop trio, have unveiled a new single that is already receiving quite the media buzz. “Spin” combines whispy vocals with an approachable level of synth fuzz for a radio-ready number. If you  go in for Chvrches or Passion Pit, you’ll dig MRCH. Give “Spin” a listen here. You can catch MRCH live in December at Valley Bar. The band has two dates (12/8 & 12/19) to play the new Phoenix hotspot so you have no excuse to miss out.

single4Holy Fawn

Amulet

The dreamscape meanderings of Ryan Ostermann (Owl & Penny/Sownbones) continue to take musical form through the works of Holy Fawn. The local fourpiece creates ethereal acid-indie perfect for initiating drift-mode in your mind. “Amulet” is the second single from this new musical project and I, for one, am eager to hear what the rest of their debut album contains. You can catch Holy Fawn live on Sunday, Nov. 29th, with Saddles and Hollowbodies at the Crescent Ballroom. Before that happens, you should give “Amulet” a listen (or two) here.

Good Friends Great Enemies: Cautiously Poptimistic

GFGEby Lenore LaNova
Senior Editor

I’ve been a fan of Good Friends Great Enemies ever since their 2012 self-titled debut, a release that went on to win our award for Album of the Year. Since their inception the band has continually pushed their own boundaries, exploring and incorporating different genres into their overall sound. Their most recent release, Cautiously Poptimistic, is the culmination of that effort; seamlessly fusing elements of classic rock, jazz, and psychedelia into a 15-track collection of genre-blending goodness. I think we once again have a serious contender for Album of the Year from the Good Friend Great Enemies’ camp.

I talked with Evan Bisbee about Cautiously Poptimistic and what’s next for Good Friends Great Enemies.

YY: Where did you record this album? Tell me about the recording process.

EB: We recorded most of the album at my house in Tempe before it was too late at night so my neighbors wouldn’t get disgruntled. Some of the shorter songs we did at the old band house a few years ago. A few of the tunes (tracks 6, 12, and 15) we tracked the rhythm parts at the currently under-construction branch of Crêpe Bar in Tempe. We got pizza from the place next door and they really got a kick out of us “having a show” inside the plaza.

The recording process was pretty drawn out. We recorded a number of the songs at the old house with different arrangements and recording styles etc. Random Happenings was meant to be a lot longer but we got impatient and released those four songs as an EP. Then I made a whole bunch of creative choices with the project that set us back a little but we figured it out! Re-recording songs was frustrating at times but the patience paid off, I’m happy with where the project stands now.

YY: Who performs with GFGE? Who appears on the album?

EB: Currently the band consists of me [Evan Bisbee] on guitar and vocals, Max Greenwald on bass, Bryce “Peasoup” Broome on drums, Zack Parker on lead guitar, and Eamon Ford on keys.

I play all the keys on the album, and Max and I switch between bass and guitar depending on the song. Max also plays the acoustic/nylon when they’re in the mix, and he played the mandolin on track 13. I do most of the auxiliary percussion, though Aaron Mortemore played aux on track 11. I do the vocals and harmonies and busted out the ol’ trumpet on track 11. Isaac Parker is on upright bass on track 7, and he also manned a guitar pedal on track 3. The most notable contribution on the record comes from our favorite tenor sax player, Joseph Amos, aka King Duck.

YY: This is my favorite album yet from the GFGE’s camp, which is saying a lot because the 2012 self-titled debut from the band still gets more than its fair share of air time down at YabYum HQ. Your first release drew a lot from classic rock influences. What do you feel has had a noticeable impact on your evolution of sound?

EB: The first release was definitely steeped in my then-recent discovery of all things classic rock. I still have a real soft spot for that style of music (thus the birth of Witch Cackle), but I have always had more influences than that. It was fun to write a verse-chorus type song and give Max the space to shred the gnar while we all rocked out. [It was] fun [at] live shows doing that too! With Random Happenings I was trying to write more nuanced songs, but still maintain the rock and roll. With Poptimistic I made the switch to guitar pretty much full-time and with it came different song structures and arrangements. There’s a lot of music out there, it’s almost overwhelming. I guess I’ve just tried to keep my ears open and work with elements of styles that I enjoy and can wrap my head around. Fusion is fun and challenging, but there’s also something to be said about having a clear aesthetic and shooting for it. We tend to flirt with both methods I think.

YY: Your sophomore effort, Random Happenings, was a collection of pensive, meandering tracks while your first album adhered to a more strident song structure. It seems as if you found a happy medium between those two modes on Cautiously Poptimistic. Do you feel like that is an accurate assessment of the GFGE evolution? What have you learned from previous releases and how has that informed your current release?

EB: I think you nailed it! I’ve maybe answered some of this question with the ones above, but certainly the other releases have informed and guided my choices. You better believe the next album won’t take 2 1/2 years to complete, I’m done with that kind of timeline! Better knock on wood…

More than my own music, it’s the other people I’ve worked with that have informed me. I’ve learned and grown as a musician and songwriter by working with Wavelengths, Elevator, Roar, Paper Knife, and everything in between! Everyone has a unique musical perspective, and no one is right or wrong, I love it. It’s like a never-ending conversation to be a part of.

YY: Let’s talk about the title. This album is more “pop” than previously releases (especially with the presence of the keys), but I wouldn’t call it “pop”. What are your reservations about pop music? Where does the “caution” come from? 

EB: It’s not so much that I have reservations regarding pop music than it is a lighthearted nod toward both the musical direction and the overall tone (lyrically and otherwise) of the album. The title hit me during the recording process and I really got a kick out of it. Not to mention both Peasoup and myself had some pretty intense car accidents while working on the album that set us back a little time-wise (and cemented our suspicion of the Good Friends Curse). I just like that the title can be read in a few different ways, depending on what you’re looking for in it. Puns abound, you dig?

YY: So, the band is cursed?

EB: I hesitate to talk about it, I’d hate to put you in harm’s way…

YY: Fair Enough. What’s next for Good Friends Great Enemies?

EB: I plan to take the band out on the road and get to recording new songs pronto!

Go see Good Friends Great Enemies live at Valley Bar on Wednesday, Nov. 25th. I also suggest checking out Cautiously Poptimistic here. You can keep up with Good Friends Great Enemies through their Facebook page here.

YabYum Seven: Craig Cheply

Cheply11. Who are you and what do you do?

[Craig Cheply] Self employed fine artist, scenic artist and muralist.

2. How did you get your start?

Doing large scale art projects in junior high and high school.

3. What inspires you?

Life in this 21st Century Arena…

4. What do you like about AZ?

The Southwest Region being unlike any other part of the USA, big sky, unique landscapes…

5. Where can we see you(r) work?

Just Google my name for worldly info and feedback and here. Also 10 permanent solo mural works at the AZ Museum Of Natural History and commissioned Public Art at the Tumbleweed Recreation Center in Chandler …

6. What would you like to accomplish before you die?

Equilibrium between the light and dark sides of civilization/humanity through the arts. ..

7. What is your mantra?

Create each day, observe as much as possible while trying not to be judgmental…

 

Cheply10 Cheply11

Cheply2 Cheply3 Cheply4 Cheply5

Songs From the Reading Room: Justin Moody

Arizona songwriter Justin Moody joined us at YabYum HQ to help create this latest installment of Songs from the Reading Room. Thanks to Burning Empire Media and Like Lightning Sounds Studios. To hear more from Justin Moody, I suggest checking out his album Bargain for a Bad Man’s Love here.