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Photo: Scott Suchman

Michael Urie Pulls Double Duty in DC

To say Michael Urie has a busy summer planned is somewhat of an understatement. 

After hosting the Drama Desk Awards on June 2, the versatile actor jumped head-first into a series of projects, that involved acting, directing and producing. 

“I do say, ‘there are not enough hours in the day’ about once a day,” Urie says. “I’m so lucky though that so many things have worked out. I’m not one of those actors who sits around and waits for things to come my way. I like to make my own opportunities and when you spend enough time plotting those, sometimes they come to fruition at the same time.”

Urie’s about to return to DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company to play Hamlet for the second-straight year, this time as part of STC’s Free for All series, running July 10–21 at Sidney Harman Hall.

“Playing Hamlet for most people is once in a lifetime, so to get a chance to do it a second time, I wasn’t going to let it go,” he says. “I wanted to come back because you learn every night, and I certainly wanted to keep playing and exploring what this guy’s all about. Already in rehearsal, I am figuring out things I didn’t quite realize the first time.”

Of course, he was busy during the year away from the part as well, appearing in Torch Song on Broadway from November through January and filming several episodes of the hit TV show, “Younger.”

“Every once in a while, I would think about it, and see if I still knew the lines, and a few weeks ago I started really thinking about who Hamlet is to me now,” Urie says. “I’m a year older, the world is a year older and our country is a year crazier. Our Hamlet takes place in this authoritative state, where a new leader is making a lot of changes and I think we will really feed our audience. I get the sense that the DC audience is truly listening, truly engaged and want to know what’s happening.”

Hamlet was a bucket-list role for Urie and he still feels he is getting so much out of the part this second time through.

“The feeling of accomplishment is quite unlike anything else. Not only is it an enormous role with extremely taxing language, emotions and athleticism, you feel the shoes that have been worn by so many greats before you,” he says. “That is a pride that is tough to describe. To know you are speaking the words that have been spoken by so many legends, it’s extremely exciting and daunting.”

At the same time, Urie will also be directing Studio Theatre’s production of Drew Droege’s Bright Color and Bold Patterns, which is being staged July 9 through July 28. The one-man show, starring Jeff Hiller, was a critical darling when it ran Off-Broadway last year, and the play is about gay marriage told through the perspective of the worst wedding guest of all time.

“Drew is an old-friend and this was a show that he had created in Los Angeles and I told him this was far more than a comedy monologue, so I worked with him to create the production and flesh it out,” Urie said. “We put together the production in New York and it was a big hit, and when Drew stopped starring in it, Jeff Hiller replaced him, and he is fantastic in this role.”

The play takes place on a patio in Palm Springs the night before a gay wedding and there are four guys attending the wedding, but you only meet Gary, someone with complicated feelings about marriage and especially this particular marriage.

“He speaks with three other characters who you don’t see or hear, but are there in the room. He’s not crazy, you just don’t meet them,” Urie says. “You gleam who they are by what he says and does. It’s exciting to watch someone create a world on their own.”

And that’s not all. On an off-day, Urie joined a cast of Broadway greats to read the Mueller Report for 24 hours straight, and he just finished producing Pride Plays, a festival of play readings at New York’s Rattle Stick Theater.

“It was a five-day LGBTQ theater festival that engaged nearly 200 artists in 19 different play readings,” he says. “That took up a lot of my time but it was very exciting and I was so happy that audiences got the chance to hear all of these plays. It was a very inclusive and representative cross-section of LGBTQ theater artists and it was very cool to meet so many people and introduce them to one another.”

For more information about Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Hamlet, visit here. For information about Studio Theatre’s Bright Colors And Bold Patterns, visit here.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Photo: Michael Coleman

Australian Pop Artist Holiday Sidewinder on Owning Her Sound, Sexuality

Yes, Holiday Sidewinder is her real name.

Proclaiming “no gimmicks,” the Australian-born singer confirmed the authenticity of her moniker toward the end of her enthralling set at SXSW’s Australia House on Friday afternoon, surely answering at least one question on everyone’s mind.

Cloaked in an orange leotard, stilettos and a cheetah print overcoat, the platinum blonde does seem a bit gimmicky at first glance. But absorbing Sidewinder’s commanding stage presence and watching her deliver breezy but knowing alt-pop songs that reference artists as diverse as Madonna, David Bowie and the Beastie Boys, it becomes clear this is a woman of substance – fully in control of her artistic vision.

After several tours as the keyboardist in Alex Cameron’s faux-sleazy and fabulous lounge act – including stints opening shows for The Killers – Sidewinder has come into her own as a solo artist. From the 80s synth-pop vibe of “Casino” to the propulsive, dance-y “Trash Can Love,” to the sexual empowerment anthem “Leo,” Sidewinder ably borrows from her influences to make a sound all her own. As she sipped straight tequila on ice after her well-received set, Sidewinder sat down with On Tap to talk about her music, her upbringing and taking charge of her sex appeal.

On Tap: You come from a musical family. Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
Holiday Sidewinder: Yeah, I did. My mom’s a singer, my uncle’s a songwriter and my grandfather’s a songwriter. My mom recently showed me a drawing I did when I was five where I’d drawn myself and it says, “Holiday Spice,” and it has an airport banner and I’ve got a suitcase. I guess I’ve manifested that because I haven’t had a home in years. [Sidewinder calls Los Angeles home, but says she is “literally homeless.”]

OT: How’s Austin treating you? What do you hope to accomplish at SXSW?
HS: I’ve been here four times now. It’s such a cool town. I’m just having a great time. Everyone told me it was Hell on Earth (because of the SXSW crowds), but I have had an amazing time. I saw [funk rock legend and mega-producer] Nile Rodgers yesterday. I spoke to his manager, which was really cool. I have a lot of friends who are playing here and it’s a community thing. I think it’s for us all to get together with the film industry and come together and support each other in a digital age. We’re all here, we all love this and we’re looking for solutions to make it work for us financially.

OTLet’s talk about your music. You have a new album, Forever or Whatever, dropping this spring. I hear a lot of different influences in your sound. Where does all that come from?
HS: I referenced a lot of different things when we were writing this record. It’s Beastie Boys, New Order, early Madonna and Tom Tom Club. I have eclectic taste. I listen to a lot of Exxótica and weird sh-t like the Talking Heads. I just like keeping the energy high. I usually start with a rhythm or a beat or a groove. I feel if you have a good groove, the rest of the song will carry itself.

OT: Sexuality looms large in much of your music – and certainly your persona. Is that intentional?
HS: I figure if I’m going to be sold on my sexuality anyway as a woman, I may as well take control of it. I was kind of liberated a year and a half ago with a few books I read. My perspective really changed. I found it empowering. With gaining sexual agency, a lot of other good things come – especially for women. We live in a rape culture and women have been second-class citizens in the patriarchy, and I think gaining that power back is the first step in a way.

Learn more about Sidewinder here.

Photo: jaredandthemill.com

Jared & The Mill on New Music, Growing from Regrets and Embracing SXSW Chaos

When I met Jared Kolesar of Phoenix-based indie folk band Jared & The Mill, we were about 20 minutes behind schedule. I blamed our inability to share our whereabouts and locate each other on mercury retrograde. It’s also what I’d blamed for the great Instagram and Facebook outage earlier in the week, but Kolesar insisted “that was a big marketing scheme by us.” For reference: the band’s latest album, released last month, is called This Story Is No Longer Available, and the title fits all too well with the social media mishaps and miscommunications from earlier in the day.

“I like it because there are so many meanings you can pull from it,” Kolesar says of the title. “The idea that social media is this thing where if you want to peer into someone’s life, you have access to it. There were a lot of times where you could have no idea what was going on in someone’s life unless you were right there with them, and those days are far gone.”

The record itself isn’t just about social media, though. It’s about being a better person and the struggles to better yourself and gain understanding for those around you in the process. While it sounds heavy, it’s a positive message – and Kolesar is quick to explain that he sees making mistakes as a good thing in the grand scheme of growing into who you are as a person.

“I’m a big believer in celebrating the good things you have in life, and that you have to have things that you regret doing in order to be a good person so that you can empathize with people who also have regrets in life,” he says earnestly.

The band brings this optimistic message to SXSW hot on the heels of their record release. And while it’s their seventh time at the festival, it’s a special one because of how much they have to celebrate with their new music.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to here have said that this is their favorite album yet, which is awesome to hear,” he explains. “A lot of times people are suckers for early stuff. But they’re really excited to hear the new stuff. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

I can’t help but wonder if jumping into performing at something as intense as SXSW a mere month after releasing a new record is a lot, but as they’re no strangers to the madness that is the festival, they’re able to focus on connecting with fans and celebrating their new material live on stage every night.

“There’s no god at SXSW,” Kolesar says with a laugh. “You just kind of give it up and accept the chaos. It’s our seventh one, so we all knew what we were getting into.”

Jared’s SXSW Favorites and Must-Sees

Best Music:
“I saw Donna Missal at the VEVO House and she is rad – she is way too rad. I also saw KOLARS the other day, Rob and Lauren are good friends so it’s always good to check them out.”

Must-See Spots:
“There’s a lot of cool things that happen at Hotel Vegas and a lot of good food trucks around there.”

“There’s a really cool mezcal bar on seventh street attached to a whiskey bar called Seven Grand.”

Photo: Shervin Lainez

Honest Enough: Cautious Clay’s Rise to Stardom

Every so often, a singer rises through the ranks of artistry, swiftly reaching heights of stardom earlier than their peers. Think of artists like Alessia Cara or The Weeknd.

Another significant rising artist to watch is Josh Karpeh, also known as Cautious Clay. In the first year of his career, he already has a accumulated a varied list of accomplishments and accolades.

For those blessed with an HBO subscription, watchers of the hit show Insecure, created and written by Issa Rae, may have already heard the budding star and not known it. Apart from its comedic genius, the series has had a penchant for uncovering musical hits and in August, Cautious Clay was included among the recent pop sensations with his debut song “Cold War.”

In October, he was featured on NPR’s “Tiny Desk,” passing through as other influential artists like Erykah Badu, Yo-Yo Ma, Wu-Tang Clan and Florence + the Machine had in past iterations, generating praise from a broad eclectic audience.

Staying loyal to his roots and the inspiration behind his sound, Cautious Clay also performed on stage at BET’s 2018 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena in November, where he crossed paths again with Erykah Badu by sharing the same band. Continually marketing himself as a complex, multi-dimensional artist, not feeling a need to subscribe to one route or notion, Cautious Clay diverse abilities show no signs of slowing down.

Prior to the Cautious Clay moniker, Karpeh was working in real estate and advertising after graduating from George Washington University. Eventually, he took a huge leap of faith and quit his job to pursue a music career full-time.

“I never doubted [music] would be in my life. I never knew I could make a living out of it,” he says. “I never knew I would have a full functioning business model. That’s all very new and humbling and interesting for me.”

But stepping out on faith wasn’t a hard act for Cautious Clay.

“I’ve always felt confident in my abilities as an artist and a musician. I don’t feel like it was happens chance. But I feel like since a very young age, I’ve had a natural inclination for music, it’s kind of how I express myself in the most genuine way, it’s in my blood.”

His love of music is not only evident in his “genre-less” music, but in his dynamic skill set. Not only does he sing, write and produce music as an independent artist, but he also plays the saxophone, flute, and piano, among a long list of others.

Cautious Clay draws inspiration from all aspects of life. While he has a particular sound, which he characterizes as “melodic, percussive, thoughtful and ambitious.” He doesn’t allow himself to be boxed into one consistent narrative or style.

“I have songs that are more bright hard-hitting and I have more [acoustic] stuff. Melodies are probably the strongest aspect of my music, but then I also kind of reinforce it with the production, kind of fresh and different.”

Cautious Clay is a fascinating mix of humble and confident. His YouTube page displays a recent post, “Writers block doesn’t exist,” sparking users to urge him to elaborate in the comment section.

CautiousClay_YouTube_screenshot

 

Some asked if Cautious Clay was simply so talented that even writer’s block can’t slow him down? Quite the contrary.

“People don’t have writer’s block because writers’ block is just a fear of bad idea,” he explains. “People will have writer’s block because they don’t like their ideas. I don’t think a lack of ideas is necessarily possible. There’s always going to be something. It could be a terrible idea, it may not be a new idea but you could develop something.”

As an honest and self-aware artist, he pushes past the insecurities and swallows his pride to inspire fans.

“Being an artist is part being yourself and expressing that to your fans. [It’s] about being innovative in some ways; being creative and being an artist is synonymous.”

Cautious Clay will perform newly released single “Honest Enough” at a sold-out concert this Friday, February 1 at U Street Music Hall. For more information about Cautious Clay, click here.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Photo: Matt Hogan

Caroline Rose Dug Her Own Grave

I’m almost ashamed to admit that it wasn’t Caroline Rose’s music that first caught my attention, it was her powerful aesthetic.

When you’re doing the Music Picks at On Tap, and you don’t recognize a band, sometimes you make a judgement call on whether to give them a listen or not based on their artwork or images. For Rose it was a shot of her in a bright red tracksuit with a blasé expression and mouth full of cigarettes. It was one you couldn’t just scroll past.

You’ll notice in all her photos and videos she’s wearing that signature red, and that’s something I brought up with her when I got her on the phone in anticipation of her November 17 show at the Miracle Theatre.

“It’s just too far gone at this point,” Rose tells me when I ask her why she always wear red.

She’s speaks very down to earth and you can feel the humor.

“I’ve gotten rid of all my other clothes at this point, I’m in too deep,” she adds.

I press her on what the red makes her feel and she tells me that sometimes she’ll see a “very beautiful red and feel passionate,” but otherwise, she feels, “nothing.”

“I’ve dug my own grave,” she says laughing.

Rose’s music is much like the aforementioned photo, which is album artwork for her latest release, LONER. It’s funny, but also vulnerable. Her songwriting is a less weathered U.S. Girls, and not unlike Meg Remy too. She’ll inhabit characters, but never in a way that feels mean spirited.

The lead track off the album, “More of the Same,” gives a good example of the way her songwriting uses humor to make its point.

The second verse in particular: “I go to a friend of a friend’s party/ Everyone’s well dressed with a perfect body/ And they all have alternative haircuts and straight white teeth/ But all I see is just more of the same.”

Rose says there’s two stories to that song. The first has to do with a record label that didn’t trust her and had her constantly sending in demos of her music. The other is the one she often tells onstage, captured in that verse.

Sonically, the track is a hard turn from her previous release I Will Not Be Afraid. Until LONER, Rose’s music has been very much Americana.

On the 2018 release and in “More of the Same,” Rose moves into art-pop, making ample use of wobbly synths and other funky sounds, namely a range of samples from her apartment including “glass clops,” as she calls it. 

Over the phone, we talk a little bit more about the party.

“I was the only person dancing,” as she puts it.

That’s a succinct way of expressing a moment of displacement. She says the song is ultimately about how to be yourself when everyone is trying to make you fit in.

On tours, she and her band make a point of having some fun, so before or after the show look for them about town. Previous outings for the band include the movies, laser tag and Mall of America. Follow her on Instagram to catch up on the band’s latest shenanigans.

Also check out the production value on these the music videos for “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” and “Soul No. 5” on YouTube, they’re lush.

Caroline Rose plays with And the Kids at the Miracle Theatre on November 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Miracle Theatre:  535 8th St. SE, DC; 202-400-3210; www.themiracletheatre.com

Photo: Exploded View

Exploded View’s Anika thinks Berlin Winters are Rubbish

Anika’s (Annika Henderson) voice sits somewhere between Nico and Sibylle Baier: it has a classic, melancholic singer-songwriter bent. Unlike those two singers, she’s not from Germany, but from Britain, which may not be so apparent in the way she sings. The accent certainly comes across when she speaks. 

“Mexico City is the best place to escape the Berlin winters,” she says. “Berlin winters are rubbish.”

I’ve listened to her music since high school, when her solo record Anika (2010), was in a stack of CDs my sister gave me. To hear her voice on the other end of the phone tripped me up for a moment.

Since 2016 Anika’s been making music as Exploded ViewThe Exploded View material is quite different from the earlier stuff I grew up listening to, as her old music came prominently from a singer-songwriter tradition even if the instrumentation was post-rock.

For Exploded View, the post-rock experimentation comes to the forefront in both the sound and song structure, and folk comes through as an accent.

While Anika is based in Berlin, Germany her bandmates Martin Thulin and Hugo Quezada are based in Mexico City, Mexico.

Talking to both Thulin and Anika on the phone, I try to ask how they manage the distance. The answer isn’t clear, although I get a quick response as to why they play together. Anika tells me she was never able to find a band she really clicked with in Berlin, “surprisingly” she adds.

“It never felt right,” she says. “I’m looking for people who are just searching, who are not looking to create the next best record. People who are just looking to make music and see what happens. Music for me is about life and growth and it’s not about producing a record that will sell.”

When she went to Mexico to tour her solo material she found Thulin and Quezada while looking for a backing band. One day in rehearsal they were held up by a late fourth band member and decided to have a jam session while they waited. When they listened back on their jam session recording, they liked what they heard and Exploded View was born.

Fast forward to today and Exploded View is touring their latest release Obey, including the band’s first North America tour, which Thulin and Anika are excited for.

One of her favorite things about playing a show is seeing that spark of inspiration on a listener’s face, and she loves playing for those who are equally interested in learning. She says she doesn’t just perform for those who stand there cross-armed and “waiting for you to fail.”

“If you you look at a tree and think ‘oh I’ve already seen that before,’ that’s a sad attitude,” she says. “Of course you [have], but also you haven’t. They’re each their own.”

Exploded View plays with Brooklyn-based Forma and DC’s Luna Honey at DC9 Sunday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; 202-483-5000; www.dc9.club

Photo: Colin Medley

Dynamic Duo Partner Rocks DC

Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, better known as Partner, a Canadian rock duo with hilariously relatable lyrics and guitar chops for days, graced the DC9 stage Wednesday after making waves on the SXSW circuit in March. Ahead of their show, I sat down with the duo to talk inspiration behind their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, what it’s like working alongside a close friend, and how others can draw from their example to trust in their creative work.

Niles and Caron’s subject matter has an undeniable everyday appeal. With songs about making the most of weekdays off from a hectic work schedule on “Personal Weekend,” the paranoia that comes from being high in public on “Everybody Knows,” and the excitement of a new crush on “Play the Field,” listeners will find at least one relatable song on their first full-length album. The band says their inspiration for these songs comes from common threads amongst their lives.

 

Both on and off the stage, Niles and Caron have a palpable and cohesive energy that many duos spend entire careers honing. In addition to the two on guitar, an equally talented three-piece band joins them for live performances. While they were in college, Niles and Caron spent time in and out of different projects before they formed Partner in their post grad years.

“Everyone in the other bands moved away and it was kind of just me and Lucy. We were living together and it kind of was just exactly the right circumstances,” Caron says of the band’s eventual creation. “One day we were hanging out and there was this guitar beside me and I just started yelling words.”

“It was around when she was getting into weed, so we would just smoke and talk about childhood memories and stuff like that,” Niles adds.

Forming the band led to an eventual permutation of old friends, and with each tour and recording session, their relationship becomes deeper.

“It’s a really fast way to grow as people. I think our bond is stronger now,” Niles says.

Caron is quick to agree.

“We’ve been playing together pretty much since we met, casually at first, then we started touring together but not as seriously,” she says. “It just sort of built up, but we also live together so we’re together all the time anyway.”

While their sound is distinct and decidedly self-assured, Caron and Niles say they find their inspiration from a host of artists.

“It’s all over the place,” Niles says. “Sound wise, we’re influenced by Ween, obviously, because they’re pan-genre. We’re kind of more influenced by attitudes and energies or whatever.”

“[We’re even influenced by] people that aren’t known really at all,” Caron adds. “We love to discover.”

“Pretty much anybody that seems like they know exactly what they’re trying to say and… they sound like they’re free, that’s what inspires us,” Niles says.

The duo also draws inspiration from many non-musical places.

“We’re really obsessed with the Enneagram personality test,” Niles says.

“It’s kind of spiritual, so it’s like we’re on some kind of path,” Caron muses.

Niles agrees, adding, “We’re trying to improve ourselves and shit.”

Caron emphasizes that recently, reality TV is “for sure” a huge inspiration.

This attitude translated beautifully into Wednesday’s live show, where Caron impressively belted Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons” after telling the audience the recent Netflix documentary on Gaga’s life “changed everything” for her. They also covered Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and sang a new song that was inspired by a poem written by Caron’s boss. Both band mates smiled through the entirety of the song, as if no one in the world was ever going to have as much fun as they were in that momentexcept maybe for their audience.

One of the most refreshingly unexpected aspects of their album are the skits—seven in total—scattered throughout. Consisting mostly of recorded phone calls, the skits make perfect sense in a world of songs about the band’s everyday life. Perhaps the most hilarious are the ones including Caron’s supportive and funny dad. I asked her how she managed to get such great soundbites of her dad, and she tells me the band played a bit of a trick to get them.

“We knew we had to get him when he didn’t know he was being interviewed, and then we asked for his consent later,” she explains. “But it’s also my dad, and obviously from the record you can tell he really wants me to do this kind of thing.”

Niles adds that “We definitely would not have gone forward with it if he hadn’t been okay with it.”

The band knew they wanted skits to be a big part of the album, but the better parts of it came together later.

“We knew we wanted to have skits from the universe and stuff of our album,” Niles says. “We wanted people to feel like they were having a whole experience. We didn’t really have any ideas for a skit, and then we just smoked a bunch of hash.” 

Caron says the band “wanted to show our life and everyone who was involved in the record and everything getting made.”

Niles adds, “We definitely didn’t realize how the skits would be received. But then we came out with the skits, and a lot of people said that they loved them and a lot of people are like ‘we love your album, but we hate the skits’ so it’s like completely 50/50.”

While their subject matter and energy is carefree and playful, the powerful and positive example they set as talented women telling the stories of their everyday lives is not lost on the duo. I asked them for advice they would give to any young creatives who are afraid to put themselves out there.

“I don’t wanna say there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you deserve to be allowed to take up space if you want to. In that way, you don’t have to feel like you’re not allowed,” Niles says.

“I think that when you make something that you love, you can feel safe in your creation, and can look for that feeling of being supported by your art,” Caron says. “That will give you the strength and the momentum to  put yourself out there in whatever place makes sense for you. It’s really about finding your voice.”

For more information about Partner, click here