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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

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.”

Big Joanie // Photo: Michael Coleman

Friendly Priests, Weed Rice Krispies + Seven Eclectic Acts: First Night at SXSW 2019

You know you’re back at SXSW when within an hour of wandering through the music festival showcases, you’re offered weed-infused Rice Krispies bites and greeted by a rock ‘n’ roll-loving priest.

Sounds about right, and it’s good to be back.

SXSW 2019 marks my second consecutive year covering the music festival, and I’m coming back with a little more insight into what to expect – and how to embrace the unexpected – than last time. It seems only fitting that our first evening in Austin was spent with absolutely no game plan – no itinerary, no showcase wish list, no expectations. Within a five-hour period, we stumbled upon one DJ and six bands across six venues. Not bad for night one.

We started off at SXSW’s last official DC-centric event – we had to pay homage to the motherland, after all – EventsDC’s Levels Unlocked: House of DC Heroes at Trinity Hall. The bass reverberating from DC-based DJ Farrah Flosscett’s set was more than my 31-year-old ears could handle, but the younger millennials totally dug it. In fact, the esports-themed event itself seemed right up the alley of a 20-something, inviting a fresh-faced crowd to try their gaming hand at NBA 2K and Super Smash Bros. (the latter in oversized beanbag chairs, no less).

But the real draw for me was Drink Company’s Austin cameo, with a mini-version of one of their wildly popular pop-ups – detailed installation and all – in full effect, including a set of signature cocktails like I Call Yoshi (a sake, cucumber melon, green chartreuse and lemon concoction made lime green thanks to Midori and complete with flashing lights and a marshmallow garnish).

After saying hey to a few DC friends, trying some cotton candy and watching my colleague M.K. gracefully squirm her way out of an uncomfortable set of pickup lines – including, “What’s your oldest memory, like when you were a baby?” – we motored on to navigate the streets of downtown Austin, where we encountered some super enthusiastic stoners passing out edibles from little baggies that looked like they belonged in my two-year-old’s after-school snack.

Next stop: Venezuelan food truck Four Brothers (my best friend from SXSW 2018) where we inhaled chicken and pork bowls (literally dreaming of the next one, which I will consume later today) and then Barracuda to see lo-fi pop darlings Barrie. The mellow vibes emanating from their set were the perfect way to kick off an evening of very eclectic sounds, and my respect level for the eponymous lead singer went way up when she shared with quirky candor that her band had had a long travel day – and some of them were not wearing any underwear.

From there we made our way to St. David’s Historic Sanctuary to see the lovely Edie Brickell (Paul Simon’s bride) and her New Bohemians. I had been intrigued by all the shows I kept seeing pop up at local churches last year, and felt perhaps more excited to sit in the pews after a warm greeting from one of the St. David’s priests than to actually catch her set – because what’s tripper than watching live hippie folk rock in a church, especially when you grew up Catholic? Okay let’s be real, Catholic light – but still.

We didn’t make it through the whole set, as we were amped up and ready to check out some lesser-known names, so sadly I missed the chance to relive my youth (so many of my parents’ cocktail parties were soundtracked by “What I Am”). But Brickell’s pipes are just as smooth and her band’s sound is tighter than ever, and I thoroughly enjoyed being in a room of more seasoned music lovers truly appreciative of the perks of a seated show.

Next up was my personal favorite of the evening: London-based Big Joanie, who liken themselves to “The Ronettes filtered through 80s DIY and riot grrrl with a sprinkling of dashikis.” I mean, how could I resist? The trio made their U.S. debut at the BBC-hosted British Music Embassy pop-up at Latitude 30, and I was immediately smitten with their polite witticisms via thick British accents paired with their fierce style. So the second they started playing dissonant, complex chord progressions and pulsating drums – think Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, The Raincoats – set to lyrics exploring both the challenges of (and empowerment in) being black women, I was completely captivated. They hands-down won the badassery award for the evening.

Onward we rode to Speakeasy, where I was chomping at the bit to see Peruvian dream pop band Mundaka (because South American surf // garage rock is for sure in my weird little niche wheelhouse). Instead, we walked into the second half of Cuban artist Cimafunk’s set, which I would liken to a sweaty, sexy, underground Afro-Latin dance party that was equal parts Dirty Dancing and Havana nightclub. Best people watching of the evening, for sure. Erik Alejandro Rodriguez’s partially unbuttoned, silky shirt was soaked through with sweat and together with the rest of his supergroup – including a brilliant female singer who busted out her trombone on one of the last songs – brought more energy to the stage than all the acts we’d seen that evening combined.

At this point, we decided to divide and conquer – Mike couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch alt-country legends The Waco Brothers at the iconic Continental Club. Meanwhile, M.K. and I searched for Mundaka. After climbing the stairs at Speakeasy – where the super sweaty, still out of breath members of Cimafunk’s band were downing craft cocktails set to the backdrop of a vintage mini-bowling alley (all I could think about was the milkshake scene in There Will Be Blood) – we caught the end of the surf rock quartet’s set on a smaller stage from the balcony (apparently we were in a VIP spot but were too lazy to move, whoops).

The guys played upbeat, garage rock-laden tunes in tropical-themed boxer shorts – M.K. pointed out that the drummer was sporting a Troll Doll earring, cause why not? – and we tapped our tired toes from the comfort of a couch meant for Rodriguez and his band (sorry guys, thanks for sharing). As they wrapped up their set, we realized it was nearing 2 a.m., and we decided to call it knowing that we had three more days of the delightfully unexpected in store.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Waco Brothers Keep Crowd Alive During Late Set

The clock crept toward 1 a.m. Thursday morning after a long day at work and a full night rocking SXSW.

Sleep beckoned, but the pesky festival app on my phone wasn’t having it.

At 12:45 a.m., the app dinged and reminded me the Waco Brothers – cowpunk pioneers and Bloodshot Records legends – were due onstage in 15 minutes at the Continental Club, perhaps Austin’s most revered live music venue.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Walking in the door of the venerable institution on South Congress south of downtown, a blast of guitar-fueled adrenaline shot straight through my fatigue. Onstage, Waco Brothers were swinging electric guitars, accordions, mandolins, and even legs and arms as they blasted into their Hank Williams-meets-the-Ramones sound. Jon Langford, a Welshman and founder of punk legends the Mekons, launched the Waco Brothers two decades ago.

The guys may be grayer, but they show no sign of slowing down. Langford announced the Waco Brothers first played Austin in 1996, a time when some in the audience hadn’t even been born. This band was about to show the kids how it’s done.

“Had Enough,” a drum-thumping call-and-response tune about reaching the end of your rope, somehow played like an inspirational anthem. “Harm’s Way,” a propulsive country-rocker, revealed the Brother’s sharp songwriting skills and ability to infuse punk and country – two parts loud and one part melody.

Halfway through the set, a raven-haired woman in shorts and cowboy boots jumped onto a platform on the side of the stage a few sets in and started wind-milling her arms, exhorting the already enthusiastic crowd to make even more noise. Done!

The late-night crowd’s engine revved even higher when indie rocker Ted Leo joined the Brothers onstage for a couple of jams. You just never know what will happen onstage at a SXSW showcase. With that, I made my way to the exits, a weary smile plastered on my face and the exuberant sounds of the music ringing in my ears.

For more information about the Waco Brothers, click here.

Photo: Michael Coleman

Barrie Has the Best Time at Ground Control Touring Showcase

The first set I caught upon arrival in Austin, Texas happened to be Barrie, and I regret to inform all the bands I’ll see in the future, that they have big shoes to fill. I’ve only been keen on Barrie for about three weeks now, thanks to the modern miracle of the Spotify algorithm. While I much prefer finding music organically, every now and then the robots (are they robots? What IS “the algorithm?” a column for another day, perhaps) prove that they know me better than I know myself.

I’d been on a kick of lo-fi pop, mostly in an effort to summon the weather I associate with this kind of music: breezy, 70s, driving with my windows down. It must have worked, because I hear back home in DC you’ve had such fortune. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to the music! That’s why we’re all here, right?

Much in the vein of No Vacation or Hana Vu, Barrie bring an 80s bedroom-pop vibe to the ever growing alt-pop table. They’re more than welcome here, though, because their camaraderie oozes from their sound and made me want to go home and hug my friends (hey guys, I miss you!).

Bassist Sabine’s clearly having the best time, riffing her silvery lines off Barrie’s (the band’s namesake) guitar playing. Guess what? Now I’m having the best time too. This band’s proof that with the right group of people you can do anything, and anything can be fun. I hope they stick with each other and keep summoning the feeling of spring weather forever.

Photo: Michael Coleman

DC Locals Gather at WeDC House in Austin

On the opening weekend of Austin, Texas’ international musical extravaganza known as SXSW, DC was definitely in the house – the WeDC House.

Some of DC’s hottest musical acts joined city officials, unofficial city ambassadors and hundreds of curiosity seekers for a three-day party celebrating not only the unique musical identity of the nation’s capital, but also the city’s reputation as an emerging hotbed for technology and innovation.

The DC crew set up shop at Bangers, a hip, indoor-outdoor space on Rainey Street, the epicenter of SXSW. Located on the eastern edge of downtown Austin with glittering views of the global tech hub’s rapidly expanding skyline, the District party jumped off Sunday with a distinctly DC Funk Parade theme featuring Cautious Clay, Innanet James, Sneaks, Malik Dope Drummer and DJ Mane Squeeze. Monday’s showcase was a who’s-who talent including Dubfire, SHAED, RDGLDGRN and Will Eastman.

Innanet James’ banging set was a highlight of Sunday’s party, and closed with his feel-good jam “Summer,” which had the crowd on its feet. Afterward, the Silver Spring native told On Tap he was honored to be a part of the DC-branded event, and even prouder of the music scene percolating in the nation’s capital.

“I’m real proud of it, you know what I’m saying,” James said. “It’s so good to see the number of artists coming up. I’m happy for everybody to be finally getting our stamp. It’s cool because the door isn’t all the way open but with everybody coming up next, we’re kicking the door open.”

While the WeDC House celebrated DC music, city officials – including Deputy Mayor Brian T. Kenner – were working the crowd, chatting up tech executives and selling the city as America’s “capital of inclusive innovation.”

After Sneaks’ laconic and mesmerizing rhymes further captivated the audience, Kenner took the microphone and hyped DC as a tech and innovation center to the influential crowd. Then the enthusiastic deputy mayor – brimming with excitement about possibilities for his hometown – sat for an interview with On Tap, in which he explained the city’s mission at SXSW.

“We’re pitching,” Kenner explained. “A couple of weeks ago we were in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland talking to technology companies who were thinking about expanding and asked them to think about Washington, DC. Now we’re in Austin and we want to remind people why they should think about [DC].”

While the Rainey St. event and cutting-edge music drew crowds and matched the party theme of SXSW week, Kenner said city economic development officials were all about business. Indeed, On Tap spied Keith J. Sellars, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership, deep into a long conversation with one tech executive during Cautious Clay’s intense and eclectic set.

“What you see here is the front of the office,” Kenner said gesturing toward the party. “But the back of the office is meetings and tracking of all the engagement we have coming in here. It’s a story we’re trying to curate here. We want people to know we’re a cool city and the word is getting out.”

Editor’s Note: Though the above story isn’t solely about SXSW’s music, the majority of our coverage this week will indeed focus on the tunes. Hope you enjoy! Follow our adventures on Instagram @ontapmagazine, and for more be sure to follow our music troops on the ground: @monicaclarealford, @mkkoszycki and @colemancoversaustin