Photo: Michael Coleman

MC Bravado Raps for the Thinking Every Man

MC Bravado arrived in Austin for SXSW with one of the more compelling stories of all the artists pouring into the city for the biggest music industry event in the world.

Until just last year, Bravado was an English teacher in a Baltimore city school. After trying to break into the rap game while teaching kids their nouns and adverbs, Bravado realized he just couldn’t do both. He dropped the teacher job, landed a slot on the legendary Warped Tour and hit the road, selling smoothies on the side to make ends meet.

Today, Bravado’s rapping full-time and spending a lot of time in the studio, releasing last year’s critically-acclaimed “Like Water for Hangovers.” The hard work is paying off. The Charm City rapper is gaining notice in the hip-hop press and he scored a marquee Saturday evening slot at Mohawk nightclub’s hip-hop showcase at the SXSW festival.

We caught up with Bravado (real name Richard Croce) a few hours before his set.

On Tap: It’s cool that you spent some time as a teacher. Did your side gig as an MC help you win your students’ respect?
MC Bravado: Hip-Hop helped me bridge the gap with my students, both in terms of making it easier to engage and captivate them, but also in terms of showing tangible and meaningful academic connections to literary content. The idea is that one hand can wash the other and that putting real effort into being a better reader, writer and communicator will help you in whatever you do, entertainer or not.

OT: Was it a difficult choice to decide to leave teaching to pursue a dream with no guarantees?
MCB: I had an opportunity to go on Warped Tour this past summer. For the longest time I was thinking it through and straddling that line – do I want to go all in or not? Teaching is the kind of job where you need to give 110 percent. Music was pulling a lot of me and I said I’m not going to half-ass teaching.

OT: You came up in New York and earned your rep as a rapper there, then moved to Baltimore a few years ago. What was it like making that transition? How are the hip-hop scenes different?
MCB: I dove right into Baltimore scene. It’s wildly eclectic. The Baltimore scene coming from New York and what a lot of people would call the mecca, it was always highly competitive in the environment  in New York – the rap battle and freestyle rap culture. When I got to Baltimore and started doing more events down there like at the Bmore Beat Club, I didn’t get up there and freestyle the first night. I just wanted to sit up there and see who was formidable and who I had to worry about. With that, I learned the environment is wildly accepting and everybody supports everybody even if you’re a very different sub-genre. But I didn’t have to worry about outdoing anybody, that wasn’t the thing. That’s not to take anything away from the New York scene. But it was a pleasant surprise and they accepted me with open arms in a pretty short amount of time.

OT: For those who aren’t familiar with your body of work, how would you describe yourself as a rapper?
MCB: I consider myself what you would call bar-heavy, a lyricist type. I think I’m a story teller, and kind of like an every man. In my [songs] you’ll find the literary devices you learned in high school, internal rhyming, etc. It’s pretty complex – multi-syllabic and a lot of internal rhymes going on. That’s how I know to write. I try to say something prolific in a very simple way. I also want to combine it with more easily accessible gems. In today’s era, a lot of these artists want to look too cool for school all the time like they’re above everything or better than everything. I want people to see that it’s tough to do this on a shoestring budget, but you figure it out.

OT: What do you mean by that?
MCB: When I went out on tour this summer it wasn’t some glamorous thing. During the day I was slinging these push pops that were basically frozen smoothies and I’m working 10 hours in the heat and stopping only to perform. But it kept me on the RV all summer and allowed me to go on one of the most famous tours.

OT: One of the things I’ve really noticed in talking to all of the talented young artists here at SXSW is how hard you work! I’m really touched that you make so many sacrifices to share your art with us.
MCB: Thank you. Thank you. Sometimes, you see a friend getting married or paying off their mortgage, or doing X, Y or Z , and there is that small part of you that’s like “If I wasn’t doing this I’d have the ability to do that.” But I don’t believe in doing things just because society says your should. Do what you’re happy with.

OT: What else would you like our readers in DC, Baltimore – the DMV – to know about MC Bravado?
MCB: I want the DMV to know that I’m a rapper’s rapper with heart, who can be equal parts confident and vulnerable. The content is worth dissecting and getting to know. Hip-hop is poetry in its highest form and we need to uphold that standard more. Alongside the jewels, you will find relateable, every-man stories in plain sight. My music and live show are equal parts bard, rock star and regular guy, and I’ll never lose sight of that when we finally take this thing to the top.

To learn more about MC Bravado, follow him on Twitter.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Buck Meek Brings Solo Work to SXSW

Buck Meek, a Texas native who made his name as the guitar player for Brooklyn folk-rockers Big Thief, stepped away from the band momentarily last year and released his self-titled debut album.

We caught Meek’s acoustic showcase in midtown Austin on the final day of SXSW. A captivating songwriter with an unusual but inviting vocal style, Meek reeled off a half-dozen songs for an admiring mid-day audience, then he sat down for a conversation with On Tap.

On Tap: That was a quality set, Buck. Cool, intimate songs. So, you’ve lived in Brooklyn for many years now, much of that as the guitar player with indie rock band Big Thief. But you grew up near Austin, Texas in a town called Wimberly in the Texas Hill County. I’m hearing that Texas sound in your music and lyrics despite your East Coast educational pedigree. Is that intentional?
BM: I lived in Brooklyn for seven years. I grew up in Wimberly and left in 2005 to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was there for five years and it was a natural migration down to Brooklyn. A lot of people in my [musical] community moved down to Brooklyn. I made a lot of friends who went to Berklee to study jazz and ended up feeling disillusioned with the institutions of jazz and started joining punk rock bands or other methods of expression around jazz.

OT: You’ve been playing indie rock for years. What prompted the shift to a more folk, singer-songwriter oriented direction?
BM: This project is all my own songs whereas Big Thief is Adrianne [Lenker]’s songs and I’m the guitar player. There is a familial spirit with Big Thief but this project under my own name is all my own material and it’s a little more intimate and definitely more based on my roots here in Texas.

OT: Since we’re at SXSW in Austin – the epicenter of Texas music- tell us more about how this place informs your music.
BM: I try to be as honest as possible in my songwriting. Naturally, it [Texas] arises. I grew up in Wimberly, Texas surrounded by a lot of the outlaw country out there. Ray Wylie Hubbard and Butch Hancock from the Flatlanders. I saw those people a lot growing up. Have you ever been to the Kerrville Folk Festival [located in the Texas Hill Country about two hours west of Austin]?

OT: Unfortunately, no. But I have a feeling it should be on our bucket list.
BM: The campgrounds out there are just an incredible variety of some of the greatest songwriters on earth, most of which have never put a record out. They’re just blue-collar workers who come out to Kerrville every year and share songs around campfires at nighttime.  I’ve been going to the Kerrville folk festival since I was 13 so I was surrounded by a lot of good songwriters out there, known and unknown. That was my biggest influence as a songwriter but then I moved to New York and played all this punk rock and rock and roll and experimental music. This project is an honest reflection of all of those influences for me, I think.

OT: You opened for Jeff Tweedy of Wilco at his sold-out solo acoustic show at Austin’s Paramount Theatre earlier this month. What have you learned by touring with an Americana icon like Tweedy?
BM: Jeff reached out and I really respect how curious he is. He is always uncovering younger artists and reaching out and helping them – sharing his resources and insights. He’d originally reached out to Big Thief and we collaborated with him at the loft and developed a friendship from there. When he heard my record, he was really supportive and invited me out to be with him on the solo tour. I really look up to him and seeing him boil it down to solo with just an acoustic all by himself with just guitar and a microphone…and he’s funny. He’s so funny. And he’s playing a lot of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo songs, and solo songs, but just to hear them all in their bare form on an acoustic guitar, it is a masterclass for me. Hearing these songs naked away from Wilco on just an acoustic guitar as a skeleton of a song is so powerful.

OT:What informs that unique style and vocal phrasing of your solo work?
BM: Before I was writing songs, I grew up playing ragtime and the jazz music of Django Reinhardt, also a lot of Romanian music, New Orleans swing and Western swing. I grew up playing swing music and I think that syncopated sound is what really influenced my rhythmic phrasing in my songwriting, too, bending outside of the bar lines a lot which you here in jazz.

OT: What are you hoping to get out of SXSW?
BM: I just hope to swim every day that I’m here.

 

 

Photo: Michael Coleman

From Virginia to Vanderbilt, Amy Wilcox’s Star Is Rising at SXSW

Arlington, Virginia native Amy Wilcox always loved to sing. But when she got to college, she immersed herself in the craft and eventually commanded a prestigious residency at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley Bar & Grill – a breeding ground for up-and-comers. Garnering stellar word-of-mouth in Nashville’s competitive music scene, Wilcox landed opening slots on bills with country music superstars like Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Kellie Pickler. Then, Wilcox landed a starring role on A&E’s reality show Crazy Hearts, where the world got its first glimpse into the life of the burgeoning country music starlet.

The television show’s since been cancelled, but Wilcox carries on. She released her new EP in Austin on Friday, and then laid down a stripped-down set of country rockers including a choice cover of the Eagles “Heartache Tonight,” at a private showcase at the ROKA eyewear store downtown. Afterward, she spoke with On Tap about her career and making the most of SXSW.

On Tap: Great set, Amy! That was fun. You went to Vanderbilt on a soccer scholarship, but did you always have music in your plan?
Wilcox: I grew up loving music and doing as much music as I could, but was recruited to play soccer at college. I went to Vanderbilt, which was in Nashville, and it was the best of both worlds. I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to move some more music into my life.

OT: How did you begin to make that dream a reality?
AW: As the years went by, I started delving more into live performance and singing with bands in college. I got into an a cappella group and got addicted to that life. I sang in some cover bands and I really wanted to sing my own music, so I slowly started figuring out the songwriter world. I was always into writing [as a] journalism major, so it was a new outlet, a cool transition. Also, it’s amazing how many things I learned in sports that have transitioned into music. [Being] able to deal with disappointment and move on is one of them [laughs].

OT: You’re often pegged as a country singer, and that’s not off-base. But I’m also hearing some grit – rock and blues – that isn’t often apparent in the sound of a lot of emerging country stars.
AW: It’s working then! I grew up loving Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt – singers that were just gritty and cool. Sheryl Crow was part of that rocker lady contingency I admired. I definitely draw a lot of influence from female singers.

OT: Any comments on Austin and the whole crazy SXSW experience? Is there anything you hope to achieve by being here?
AW: I worked SXSW for two years to get a free pass and get a piece of the action, so it’s really cool to be back and have an artist badge and say, “Oh my god, I’m here now. It worked! I’m excited to connect with people and get the music out there.”

For more about Amy Wilcox click here.

SXSW 2019 – Friday

Chicks ruled Friday at SXSW. Whether it was the sensual alt-pop of Australia’s Holiday Sidewinder, the passionate country rock of Arlington, Virginia-raised Amy Wilcox, or the retro Motown soul of Austin’s own Charlie Faye & The Fayettes, the ladies in Friday’s lineup showed us that women often surpass the best male performers at Austin’s international musical showcase when it comes to musicianship, stage presence and ambition. Photos: Michael Coleman

SXSW at The LINE Austin

Much like its Adams Morgan counterpart, the LINE Austin provides a cultural hub with award-winning cuisine, craft coffee and cocktails in addition to being a hotel. The cavernous, grey design feels like an extension of the lake it sits on. It’s brightened by hanging gold air plants throughout and the low ceilings are offset by sweeping high windows and natural light. L.A.-based Alfred brings its famed matcha to Austin (don’t miss the $10 latte with locally made raw almond and cashew milk) and Arlo Grey’s craft cocktails and small plates by Top Chef winner Kristen Kish are a great choice for festivalgoers burnt out on taco trucks. You may even see a special guest or two – we spotted musician Andrew Bird wandering the bar leading up to one of his many SXSW showcase appearances. Photos: M.K. Koszycki 

Walker Lukens at SXSW

Austin native Walker Lukens energized a midnight crowd at the iconic Continental Club on Thursday. He lept around the stage and stared into the eyes of show goers, daring them to be anything but transfixed, surely waking up anyone with heavy eyelids from a long day of showcase-hopping at SXSW. His band’s incredibly tight sound laid the framework for Lukens’ soulful voice to shine through, pairing well with bandmate Mackenzie Griffin’s equally impressive vocals. While it would have been easy for Lukens to rest on the laurels of his retro-50s inspired sound, he previewed new songs from his upcoming album Adult that had a modern twist while still paying healthy homage to his musical predecessors. Don’t miss Lukens and company in DC at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe on May 1. Photos: M.K. Koszycki

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.”

SXSW 2019 – Thursday

Thursday, March 14, of SXSW festival started with a bang – make that an explosion – as DC’s Priests blew a packed lunchtime crowd away at Mohawk, one of a slew of outdoor venues in downtown Austin’s Red River entertainment district. A mesmerizing set by Philadelphia’s Japanese Breakfast followed. Marlon Sexton, son of Austin guitar hero and Bob Dylan bandmate Charlie Sexton, brought his crew, Marfa Crush, to Cooper’s BBQ downtown followed by rocker Jackie Venson, fresh off her win as Best Guitarist at the Austin Music Awards. Garrett T. Capps of San Antonio put on entertaining set of experimental country – he calls it NASA country – and Meghan Thee Stallion of Houston threw down a ferocious but short set of highly-charged sex raps at Cheer Up Charlies. Phenomenal music all day and all night – that’s what makes SXSW magic. Photos: Michael Coleman

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

It’s Broken Social Scene Versus All The Scooters at SXSW

I had a lofty idea in my head that I’d go on a mission to see Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene as many times as humanly possible at SXSW. The first and only set I caught, however, was so weirdly wonderful that I’m afraid a second stop would ruin the charm of the first. I found myself already in Container Bar, where the band was set to play, about three hours early to catch the tail-end of Japan’s magnificent CHAI (side note: they’ll be in DC with my faves Den-Mate on Monday. You should go. I’ll probably still be napping off a music hangover, but have fun in my stead).

A SXSW rookie mistake then occurred. I assumed I had time and hopped onto Rainey Street, in search of tacos and donuts (both of which I found, shoutout to La Sirena and the lavender pistachio almond donuts from Little Lucy’s). I wandered the street and did some people watching. Eventually I snapped out of my reverie and made it back to Container Bar, where a line snaking down the block had formed. As the line progressed and I was two people behind getting in, the fire marshals came to halt entries.

I get it, safety first, but everyone behind me erupted into a chorus of boos. A man parked himself in front of the bouncer, announcing to everyone he wouldn’t be moving until he was let in since “he was in here this morning.” While I’m new to all of this, even I know that’s not how any of this works. Fast forward an hour – including watching The Joy Formidable from outside the bar – and I’m in! I find a sea of tall people. Luckily the guy who was smack in front of me asked if I’d like to sneak in front of them so I could see better – the kindest thing any person under 5’6” can hear.

Broken Social Scene wins the award for longest soundcheck, clocking in at about 30 minutes. I guess when you’ve got about ten people in the band including a brass section, that kind of thing is understandable. As the band takes the stage to raucous applause, their founder, guitarist and vocalist, Kevin Drew declares, “this is a clusterfuck, but so is SXSW,  so let’s get started!”

So I’m learning, Kevin.

The group launches into their set, playing old favorites like “Cause = Time” and “Texico Bitches.” I was hoping for some “Lover’s Spit” (I’d love to see if there’s any correlation between Lorde name dropping that track and a whole generation of new Broken Social Scene fans forming) or “Sweetest Kill,” although I cry on cue as soon as I hear the opening bassline to that song, so its omission was probably for the best.

As their band operates as a rotating cast, save a few permanent members, there’s no Feist, Amy Millan of Stars or Emily Haines of Metric present today. However, there is Ariel Engle, who joined the band for their last album Hug of Thunder. She also records as La Force, and her voice is just as powerful blending into the background as it is leading the band in a breakout hit. A welcome addition, she fits in beautifully with the band and is a reminder of why these rotating cast setups like Broken Social Scene is so great. There’s always room for more, for new, and a freedom in fluidity.

Even with the lengthy soundcheck, the band encountered a few technical difficulties, to which Drew announced, “I’m getting my fucking ass kicked up here, ladies and gentlemen.”Despite this, the crowd was unflappable and thoroughly enjoying the music and banter. In fact, I think the highlight of my SXSW experience so far was Drew leaving the crowd with a speech on the evils of the scooters that have taken over the streets of Austin. No really, he’s right, they’re everywhere.

“We’re in our 40s and 50s and this broke us,” he joked. “Between this and all the scooters in the city, this is it.”