Grace Bolyard: Seasonal Depression

grace bolyard 01by Chris Nunley
Staff Writer

One of the single most important inventions of the modern music era is the Tascam Portastudio. At the time of its conception, it was intended for musicians to record demo versions of songs that would later be fleshed out in a fancy commercial recording studio. But in January of ’82, Bruce Springsteen completely shifted this concept unintentionally with his solo masterpiece Nebraska.

Originally the songs recorded in his Jersey bedroom were to give the E Street Band a direction of where the follow up to The River was headed. The back story to the actual recording process is where the “happy accidents” occurred. Between the inexperience of his engineer trying to set proper levels, to the tape speed being set to it’s slowest, to the dirty uncleaned heads, to Springsteen carrying the cassette in his pocket without the case for weeks. All these small but important details gave the songs a raw, lo-fi, and emotional quality that critics hailed as his most haunting work.

Since the release of Nebraska, the Portastudio has evolved with the times in both size and use, never deviating from the maxim that “less is more”. They truly are the perfect machine to have at the ready when inspiration unknowingly strikes. And if there is only one rule in music to follow, it’s that you answer the call when the muse comes around.

But now, in the era of digital recording, near limitless tracks, and software plug-in effects that spit out products to be scrubbed and shined to a sheen of Borg-like perfection, the fun of limitations and the warm patina of tape hiss are becoming relics of days long gone. Hell, you can record a song on your bloopin’ and bleepin’ smartphone now! Oh the humanity! Where have you gone???

It’s depressing to think about, let alone relive with trips down memory lane. But… what if an artist placed limits on their digital splendor? More organic and less Miracle-Gro? THAT, I believe, is the next evolution in recording technology: binary boundaries.

When Seasonal Depression, the debut release from Grace Bolyard (Darling Sounds) landed on my laptop screen, it was like taking a happy pill to cure my woes of the modern world. Using nothing more than an internal microphone on her Mac, a handful of effects, and GarageBand to edit and arrange, this solo effort encapsulates the “less is more” approach with ease.

Building on a previous article from a fellow staffer, one of the most tedious tasks when recording in a commercial studio is selecting the right microphone for each instrument as well as a singer’s voice. Yes, the process can be arduous at times, and it can suck the creative energy and enthusiasm right out of the building. Whether it was by design or just dealing with the limitations when inspiration struck, the timbre of Bolyard’s voice is brilliantly captured with said internal mic and adds a lo-fi element where analog warmth would normally be heard.

Not to be overshadowed of course is the songwriting. Much more personal and playing out like a soundtrack to a film short (think Kimya Dawson covering the bullet points of Juno in 15 minutes), Seasonal can be heart-wrenching, but definitely not depressing.

The EP starts off with the endearing yet cautious “Strange Love”, an airy track that blows in with a gentleness reminiscent of Leona Naess’ “Lazy Days”. But it’s the following song, “State Fair Halloween”, where Bolyard starts to tug at the heart strings on whether a relationship that has become stagnant (“We’ve spent 5 years together / Are we getting better?”) can withstand the test of time and distance. The lines “Halloween’s my everything, but Thanksgiving is your favorite / I’ll make the green beans still, even though I really hate them” couldn’t be a more perfect sentiment to compromise and the small differences that a couple may have, yet tolerate.

“Tandem BMX” finds our chanteuse crooning tastefully with a hint of eager desperation (“I wanna get extreme with you / I’ll be your queen, your peach ice cream”) in a gem about the dirty deed that’s cleverly woven into a riff from the teen tragedy songs of the early ’60s.

The mark of a good release is when it’s over, you want more but can’t have it. Fittingly short and succinct with closure is the title track of this impressive EP, complete with harmonica embellishments that would make Springsteen weep and curiously optimistic lines of finding solace in the brutal Phoenician summertime. Have you lost your mind Ms. Bolyard???

It may not have been recorded to cassette…allowing the elements to degrade and taint the sound…but Seasonal Depression is a good record. Staying true to the environment in which it was born…warm and gritty, yet emotional and brilliant. This feels and sounds like Arizona, a land where sometimes less is more.

~

chris nunley 000Chris Nunley began writing for YabYum in the Summer of 2015 and his latest series The Noise Floor seeks to explore the outer limits of sound. When he’s not popping in for a local show or taking road trips, he devotes his creative energy to his evolving electronic music project, Sliide.

The Darling Sounds: Haunt

darling sounds 01by Mark Anderson
Senior Editor

I honestly had no idea what to expect with the release of local spook-pop band The Darling Sounds’ new album. Sure, we featured their video for “Chemistry”, but that was 2 years ago and I hadn’t heard anything from them in the meantime.

Now, I don’t normally go out of my way to seek the type of twee-indie-alt-rock the Darling Sounds produce, but I decided to spend sometime with their latest album, Haunt.

On that first listen, I felt the overall sound certainly isn’t bad and, these days, that’s saying something. Because we hear a lot of crap. On the daily. And the Darling Sounds are not that. They seem fun and innocent, perhaps there’s a little naïveté, and their music reflects that.

But on that second, more astute, listen, I really began to understand the strengths at play within The Darling Sounds.

Grace, Zach, and Cutter (see, how cute is that?) create the Darling ‘sounds’ with each member playing a variety of instruments including: keyboard doodles, cheese doodles (omg, they’re killing me), percussion, and depression (seriously stop you guys I’m dead). The instrumentation is solid and lively, setting the happy-go-lucky sound of the album. The lyrics tell a different, darker story, however.

“Whatever Happens, Happens” opens the album with an old-timey radio melodrama that continues throughout Haunt. This is interrupted with an indiepoprock guitar lick that kicks the song into full, alternative gear. The lyrics bring forth the first of many references to the supernatural whilst expressing feelings of personal pain and loss: “Pull a sheet over my head/suddenly an empty bed/can shake my faith/but rapture is a wraith and you’re not dead yet.” See, spooky stuff.

Of course, local rock critic Mitchell Hillman is correct in calling “2 Haunt 4 U” the “quintessence of the Darling Sounds in just over three minutes.” Not only is the music poppy and the lyrics brooding, the double-entendre on haunted houses and the echoing mice within reveal a graver layer – asking the questions “Who’s haunting who?” and “Do you really want to be here at all?”

Switching things up, “Slow Roots” lives up to it’s name, decreasing the tempo and cranking up the sweetness: “I watched you through a hole in the carpet/but telescopes can’t harvest a garden/I’ve got slow roots growin’ in your stardust.”

My favorite musical moment on the entire album appears on “Slightly Unsightly”. Maybe it’s because the song reminds me of such greats as Belle & Sebastian, but the refrain of “I like when people tell me secrets/it makes me feel important/but no one tells me secrets anymore” not only lyrically impresses me, the guitar only breakdown with tom-tom punches just works so well.

“Domestic Sounds” is an older Darling Sounds track and was the first single for Haunt. Showcasing more of the surf-rock sound of the band it features a fun guitar solo and the stellar chorus, “Can I listen to the sound of clinking cutlery?/’cause it’s the sound, it’s the sound of domesticity/I’m on the outside looking in at all this normalcy/and darlin’, I don’t know where to go.”

Closing the album is the vocal harmony, acoustic guitar, shaker, and tambourine only track “Laughing In Her Sleep.” This melancholy yet optimistic track is the perfect ending for the record, “She could sweep the cobwebs with her eyelashes/some nights I even dream of this/I wonder if she dreams about this too/As she’s laughing in her sleep you’re laughing in your sleep/and I’m home with you.”

It surprised me that the album is darker than it seems. I listen to albums several times over before I review them, but only when I sat down and was actually able to read the lyrics of the songs on Haunt did I catch the true nature of this record which explores the horror and fascination one feels when confronted with a mortal end.

Christina Cole’s cover art is apt: your own inner demons manifesting into a powerful force that permeates and controls your life.

Released on 11/11 of this year at Valley Bar I definitely recommend checking out Haunt by the Darling Sounds. It’s impressiveness was slow to impress upon myself but that’s probably just me!

~

For more info on the Darling Sounds check out their Facebook and Tumblr pages.

Girls Rock! Ready to Shake Up Phoenix

Girls Rock! - YabYum Music & Artsby Lenore LaNova
Senior Editor

The newly founded Phoenix chapter of Girls Rock! is hosting their first public event this weekend to help raise both funds and awareness about this exciting edition to the community. Girls Rock!, a national organization aimed at helping girls build self-esteem through music education and performance, supports summer camp programs around the globe wherein young women learn an instrument, form a band, write a song, and then perform at a showcase. An empowering experience for a young artist if ever there was one.

I asked Sarah Ventre, President of Girls Rock! Phoenix, what campers can expect of a week spent with Girls Rock!

Ventre replied, “Campers can expect the best week of their lives!! They will come in on the first day not necessarily knowing how to play an instrument or even having any kind of musical experience. By the end of the week they will have learned an instrument, formed a band, written a song, and played a showcase. They’ll also be attending workshops on topics like body image or self defense, and learning in the DIY tradition through activities like zine making and screen printing. And the entire week, they’ll see and hear women as role models — teaching them instruments, performing for them, teaching workshops, and running the technical side of things. By seeing women in roles that are often given to men, it gives girls an opportunity to see themselves filling those roles from a very young age. It also reinforces the idea that they can do anything they want to, and they don’t need a guy to give them approval to do it. And it creates a space where women and girls are lifting each other up — seeing one another as collaborators instead of competitors.”

Ventre first became involved with Girls Rock! while she was living in Washington D.C. when a friend of hers volunteered for a Girls Rock! camp in New York. She then decided to volunteer as well for a camp in the D.C. area.

I asked Sarah what made her decide bring the organization to Phoenix when she returned to her home turf.

“So many things!!! The music world is really male dominated, and Phoenix is no exception. I kept thinking about growing up in Tempe, and feeling like I didn’t have access to our local music community until I turned 21. Then when I did turn 21, I only saw a handful of local bands with any women in them at all,” she began.

“I also thought about what it feels like when you’re growing up as a girl…it’s hard to feel confident or empowered about anything. Our society constantly tells girls that we’re not enough and we’re not worthy. We’re taught to apologize for being who we are, and when we try to do new things and find outlets for our creativity and self-expression, we get put down a lot. I used to think I had to wait to perform until I was “really good” at playing my instrument. But through volunteering at rock camps and really beginning to understand the riot grrrl tradition, I learned that you don’t need anyone’s permission to form a band and make music. And if I had been taught that at a young age, it would have made a world of difference in my teenage years and through to my adulthood. Now it’s time to grow this kind of an empowering, supportive community of women and make it accessible to young girls in the Valley.”

Already, the Phoenix edition of Girls Rock! has some notable volunteers involved in the program which plans on hosting its first Phoenix summer camp in 2016. According to Ventre, “Several local musicians (including Grace Bolyard from The Darling Sounds, Amy Young from French Girls, Jenny Weintraub from Sister Lip, Amanda Schukle from Steel Cranes, Alexis Ronstadt from Larkspurs) are part of our organizing team, as well as women who work at local venues/art spaces like Andrea Pederson from Nile Theater and Laura Dragon from {9} The Gallery, and a bunch of other women who volunteer in lots of different ways. We’ve also received sponsorship for our upcoming fundraiser from Kimber Lanning, and from Charlie Levy, owner of Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar. Plus we’ll be working with Catherine Vericolli, owner of 513 Recording Studios to introduce girls to audio engineering.”

There’s still room for more volunteers for those interest in getting involved.

“For folks who want to volunteer at camp, we’re looking for women-identified, trans, and genderqueer or gendernonconforming folks who have an interest — no musical experience is necessary! We’ll need people to do everything from coaching and managing bands, to teaching instruments, to running workshops, to being roadies and moving gear, to helping with administrative tasks and organizing camp lunches! There’s a place for anyone who’d like to be there!!” Ventre stated in a message.

This coming Sunday, Girls Rock! Phoenix will be down at the Newton for a screening of Girls Rock! The Movie for folks interested in getting involved, showing their support, or just learning more about this worthy organization. Live music and a raffle are also included in the mix so don’t miss out! Tickets for the screening can be purchased here. Or, to learn more about the event, you can head here.

YabYum Music & Arts