Alexander 23

For Midwest native Alexander 23, it's been a fast trip from bedroom-recording obscurity to performing at one of the country's most prestigious music festivals.

Alexander 23 has only an EP's-worth of music under his belt, but he's nevertheless impressed industry big wigs enough to be invited to Perry Farrell's Chi-Town festival stalwart. His latest offering is "Sad," which will be accompanied by a video in the near future. He announced himself earlier this year with "Dirty AF1s," a track whose seriousness, in typical Alexander 23 fashion, is belied by its video's warped sense of humor. That odd interplay, between the solemn and the silly, has become something of his calling card. In addition to the upcoming appearance in Chicago (8/1), Alexander plans to fill out his summer opening for mxmtoon (8/19-10/31) and Omar Apollo (12/10-12/15).

Where are you from?

I'm from Chicago originally. I lived in New York for four years and moved to Los Angeles one year ago.

Cool. I just watched a video - I don't know if it's the official video - for "Sad." It was just a single, stationary shot of a rainy New York street.

Yeah, I was in New York two weeks ago, and I shot that on my iPhone, over on Perry Street in the West Village.

Give me, if you could, an idea of how you got into music.

My dad played guitar a bit, and when I was eight, I tried it; I hated it, and quit. [laughs] But then I picked it up again later, and it became an obsession: when other kids were playing video games, I was playing guitar. I've since branched out to piano, bass, drums.

And this is in the Chicago area?

Yeah, exactly.

I get the impression that you have a DIY approach to your music-making. Is that so?

Yes, I do all the production myself. It's just me alone in my house, trying stuff until it doesn't suck anymore.

Who were you listening to as a budding musician?

When I first started playing guitar, it was John Mayer. That was the original influence. Then there was the Chili Peppers. And recently, there are a lot of artists around my age who are super inspiring.

As I listen to you sing, one characteristic is immediately apparent: big intervallic leaps. Where does that come from?

That's a good question. My dad listened to a lot of progressive rock, stuff like Super Tramp. That stuff is full of melodic leaps. Also, I think that's where I get my kind of non-traditional song structure from.

Congrats on gaining traction earlier this year!

Thank you! The first song came out in March, "Dirty AF1". So it hasn't been too long, actually. And then I went on tour with Alec Benjamin, which was an enormous launching pad, playing these songs that no one had heard.

How did Benjamin become aware of your music?

We just had a ton of mutual friends in LA.

What do you think of LA?

I love it, even if I miss New York. LA has given me the mental space to process what happened to me in New York.

Tell me a bit about "Mars." The whole balloon love triangle motif in the video, in particular, is hilarious. Where did that come from?

A friend of mine growing up is a balloon artist, so I figured why not put that in? I'm always looking for ways to counterbalance the seriousness of the songs with something more lighthearted.

Yes, I noticed that especially in the video for "When I Die," where three versions of you–young, present-day and old–get into a variety of misadventures. There's a wistful tone to the video, but its also played for laughs. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to have honed in on humor combined with pathos.

I appreciate you saying that - it's super intentional.

So how did you get involved in Lollapalooza?

It's always been a dream of mine, being from Chicago. Growing up, that was my barometer for "making it." Now I understand that I have a ways to go. I'm just super grateful for the opportunity.

How many sets will you be doing?

Two, one at night and one during the day.

Any plans for an EP or LP after Lollapalooza?

Definitely. I'm not yet sure what form it'll take, though. But I'm definitely building towards a project in the fall. In any case, expect a steady flow of music. The idea of ever stopping is terrifying.


Singer JUJ Talks Her New EP, Brazilian and LA Culture, and Touring

The young musician moved out of the house at 17 to start her career, echoing the move her Brazilian mother made to the United States at age 18.


The story of JUJ's career might be best set to "Eye of the Tiger," perhaps because she's from Philadelphia.

The scrappy, youthful singer just released her debut EP, JUJ It's You. After working with producers like Julian Nixon (Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky), the singer sat down with Popdust to discuss the project's creative process and where she plans to go from here.

So what have you been doing lately? On tour?

I'm pressing for a tour right now, yes. Also, I'll be writing in London and New York for the next two months. And I'm going into rehearsals with my band for a North American tour in the fall and a European tour in the winter. I also have a song coming out in two weeks. So we're building up a promo of that.

Is that song part of your new EP?

It's "Mood" with Vic Mensa.

So he's putting his own flow over the track?

Yeah, so he's taking verse two. He's from Chicago, where I used to live. He moved out of his home at the same age as I did: 17.

You were born and raised in Philly, correct? Do you see any parallels between Philly and Chicago?

Yeah. The people are super tough in both places. Thick-skinned. More so than on the west coast. I feel like the work ethic out there, too, is stronger than here in LA.

That's ironic, considering LA is all about "making it."

Well, I think people are better off in LA if they come from somewhere else. People here become friends with somebody who is doing big things, and that makes them feel like they're doing big things: doing well by association. I have a lot of friends who have come to LA and then leave for New York, because they want to be surrounded by people who are hustling.

What does "JUJ" mean?

I was originally named Julia. My mom is Brazilian, and we went back there for a bit when I was young. "JUJ" is what they used to call me, and it stuck! Growing up in school, going to the doctors, I always introduced myself as "JUJ."

Apart from the abbreviation, does it have a specific meaning?

No, it's just what stuck. Also, I'm not really a "Julia." [laughs] Also, it fits into "jujitsu," the Brazilian martial art that I practice.

So I listened to the track "Hollywood." It's funny, because in the last few interviews I've done for Popdust, LA has been an important subject. So why do you think it fascinates people so much?

I felt like with a lot of songs written about LA or Hollywood paint it as a glamorous land of opportunity. But I knew that no one city was going to make it happen for me. When I first moved here, I was working full time as a nanny, and I was auditioning, performing my music, and finally met my first producer. Then I got Lyme disease. I spent a lot of time at a hospital in Beverly Hills and got very depressed. And then they told me the best option was for me to go back home. I felt like it would have [proven] all the [haters] right. Everyone has a time where something happens in the city that makes them feel like they don't belong. They don't write about that, because it makes them look weak, but I felt like there was something strong about being vulnerable about how I felt. The song "Hollywood" starts with doubts, and over the course of the song those doubts are turned into affirmations.

So it sounds like Lyme Disease had as much a disillusioning effect on you as the city!

It was more [about] all the people back home having told me I wasn't going to succeed. I was this little girl sick by herself in the big city. It was the whole circumstance.

How early did you start playing music?

I've been playing music my entire life. [laughs] I know that's super cliche, but it's true.

Were your parents musical?

Neither of my parents can sing to save their lives, but my mom, she moved from Brazil to America when she was 18 not knowing anybody. She wanted to move to New York and be a dancer, but she didn't have the means to make it; she just had to survive. That's in part what inspired me: do what she couldn't. And she met my dad while working at Chili's. She was a waitress, and he was a bartender.

That's oddly romantic.

[laughs]. Yeah. So, my mom was always playing Brazilian music around the house, while both of us were learning how to speak English. That's why I don't know how to speak Portuguese.

So she was more of an assimilationist?

Essentially, yeah. She also played a lot of English-language music around the house. Oh, also I should mention I've been doing musical theater since I was very young! I was aping the music to "Annie" before I could talk.

What's your favorite musical?

"Les Miserable." To be Eponine in "Les Miserable!"

How did you get into music, then?

Well, I'm very religious, and when I was young I asked my parents if I could join a choir. We found a Presbyterian choir (neither my family or I am Presbyterian).

So your parents were religious?

No, I found it by myself. I used to make my parents drop me off at churches by myself.

That's the complete opposite of what usually occurs.

I know! The friends of mine who were raised religious, now they're kind of disillusioned with it. When I first moved to LA, the first thing I did was join a church, for that sense of community.

So that led to the music, singing in choirs?

Then I joined the school choir. After that, I became obsessed with singing. I entered myself into competitions and all that. I got my first job was I was 12, with The Music Man at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. I was getting paid to do shows, eight shows a week.

Fast forward, then, to LA. How did that work? Did you have a plan?

After the Walnut Theater, I started looking for other theater jobs. Then I performed at the Apollo Theater and won the "Child Stars of Tomorrow" competition. Then after that, I was doing a lot of cabarets in New York, taking the Megabus from Philly. And then I got involved in a short film that made me fall in love with TV and film. So I figured I'd move to LA. But how to convince my parents?

It turned out, though, not to be a problem: My mom's parents had let her go to move to America. So I knew she'd be supportive. So I moved out, got a voice coach, and started doing open mics. One night, a producer attended an open mic and asked to set up a session. I had never done a real session with a producer. I ended up helping out a singer-songwriter with her song, and the songwriter for the session's manager liked my voice and got my info, etc, etc. Eventually, I signed with my current manager, Nathan, and we started really doing writing sessions, honing the craft. And then for the first EP, I didn't just want to write relationship songs. It would have been too predictable for a 17-year-old to come out with that. Instead, I wrote about my journey.

Who's your main producer now?

Sean Cook. He produced the first EP, and now we're working on singles together. He became one of the top two best friends of my entire life. We're like sisters. Well, not sisters, because he's a boy…It's just so easy to create with him because of the bond we have.

In the press material I read before this interview, phrases like "progressive outlook" and "be the change you want to see" jumped out. Are those themes you see reflected in the EP?

Yeah! Especially the "change" idea. We can complain all we want about what's going on in the world, but nothing's gonna change unless we are the change. Living in LA, there's a ton of people that complain, but let's do something about it! For instance, the song "Black Mirror" is about getting off our phones and experiencing the world around us.

The track I liked the most was "Barricade."

That's my favorite one, too! Everyone on my team, when we were putting the music out, they did not like it, and I was like, "Damn, that's my favorite one!"

I think it's cool because there are so many different textures and dynamics. There's a glitchy dub-step thing combined with a gospel vibe, for instance.

Yes!! That's like my thing! When I started the EP, I wanted to incorporate the gospel choir sound.

Can you give me some insight into how that track came together?

So with "Barricade," I wanted to write about obstacles, overcoming them in an empowering way.

And the music itself? There are so many different elements. It sounds like quite a labor.

Yeah! It kind of took a village. Sean, the producer, made a beat; we wrote to that beat, then he added a few different production elements and the guitar. And then after my vocals were recorded, a good friend of ours, Taylor, played keys. And that choir is real. I took a bunch of musician friends from around LA. They're the background vocals.

Is the EP paving the way for a full-length album?

We're pushing the EP hard, and I'm in the process of writing a lot of singles to follow it.

And is there a tour in the works?

Um, yes. Right now we're in rehearsals, but we're looking to do some support tours as an opener, around August and September.

Last question: Do kids still try and fix the crack in the Liberty Bell as a high school prank?

I mean, we've thought about it, but none of us have gotten away with it. That'd be badass.


August 08: From Postman To Superstar

The L.A. native has penned hits for DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne, among others.


August 08 is by no means an industry plant or label manufactured star, but nevertheless, he experienced what seems like a fairly rapid transition—vis-a-vis a small collection of songs posted to Soundcloud—from total obscurity to pop industry prominence.

The L.A. native has penned hits for DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne, among others. The latest evidence of his knack for writing hooks is a sadness-tinged summer single, "Simple Pleasures," put out by the label 88rising, where he is also a songwriter-in-residence. Additionally, a remix of the song will drop sometime in July.

He talked to Popdust about the very specific autobiographical provenance of both his latest single, and Father, the EP that preceded it.

Simple Pleasures

How are you?

Just chillin' at my house. How's New York right now?

it's miserable - rainy and humid.

That's terrible.

You're in LA?

Yeah, I'm from LA. I'm always here.

And you grew up in K-Town?

Nah. I don't know who said that shit. [laughs]

I think I read it in some DJ website.

Crazy. But I do live in K-Town now.

Ah, ok! Maybe I misread the article.

No, no, that's something people ask me all the time! But I'm from the east side of LA. Like Compton, Brentwood, Watts.

Sort of Southeast side.


Did that inform how your music evolved?

Absolutely. Actually, it's starting to have more and more affect on my music now. At first I thought it didn't but I really started listening to that stuff - and my culture and where I come from. And it caused me to examine my own style. There's three styles in LA: you can be super eclectic, you can be on some "Tyler" shit, or you can be on some dark shit. Tyler, the Creator is his own genre now. [laughs]

Interesting. Do you find yourself straddling those lines?

I find myself in that depressing, dark category. I'm always making depressing shit.

So why are you in K-Town. Is that where 88rising is based?

Nah. I moved there like four or five years when I first got my publishing deal. I've always loved it here.

Do you have any favorite Korean food spots?

I'm black, bro. I know nothing about Korean food at all. The thing about me is, I never lie and act like I know anything about Asian culture, even though I have a lot of Asian label mates.

Right! I've gotten the impression that 88rising is considered an "Asian" record label.

When I joined 88rising it wasn't pitched to me as an "Asian" label. As time went on, Asian culture was amplified more and more—which is great, because we all deserve a voice. The thing that has an effect is when people say, "88rising is an Asian label, why are they hiring a black guy?"

Prior to your involvement with 88rising, how did you get into music?

I was 21, working at the Post Office, making hella bank. But I hated it. I wanted to make beats, I wanted to be a producer, and I was always singing. One of my homies, Allen, he was like, "Yo, you know how to play the guitar, why don't we start writing songs?" So me and him and another friend decided we would start writing songs individually. So I was working at the Post Office and in love with this girl - and I made these three songs out of that. Then I hurt my ankle and I said, "Fuck this shit," and I quit the post office. And like a week later, I got hit up by Nils Atweh, a guy who was always looking for different sounds.

How did he find you?

Soundcloud. That's how he finds people. Anyway, me and my homie went down to North Hollywood to his studio. We made a song there called "Tears Falling Down" or some shit. And Nils' brother Nasri [half of production duo The Messengers with Adam Messinger] came in and was like, "Yo, I like what you guys are doing, keep it going." And they gave me the opportunity to go back to that studio to try and make songs. We were low on the totem pole at the time; the other guys had written songs for Pit Bull, Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber.

So all it took was three songs on Soundcloud for Nils to say, "This guy has potential."

I'm one of the OG kids to be discovered on Soundcloud, back when 100,000 plays was like 10 million Spotify streams.

So what came next after your introduction to Nils and Nasri Atweh?

Nils introduced me to another guy, Jerry Edouard, a Haitian dude. Me and him got a publishing deal, I moved to K-Town, and I started writing songs for other people.

Ok. And then how did that dove-tail into 88rising.

So a few years ago, I wrote two songs for this guy Kris Wu, this Asian pop star. During those sessions I met a couple of guys who mentioned that this company called 88rising were about to come in and document some shit. So they came through, and then one of them, Ali, said that if I was down he would hit me up about some songwriting shit. And I said, "Yeah, of course." About a year goes by, and my manager calls me and says, "This guy Ali hit me up asking if you'd like to do some sessions with [88rising label mate] Rich Brian. But I wasn't into it at the time and I told my manager to blow it off. Then, just a couple of days before the session, Ali asks me again, and I'm like, 'F*ck it, I'll do it.' The incentive for me doing the session was that Pharrell Williams would be involved.

AUGUST 08 feat. Smino - Blood On My Hands (Official Music Video)

So you got to work with Pharrell?

Something like that. He dropped off some beats and split.

Going back to "Simple Pleasures": The ad copy described it as a "feel-good summer" track. But it seems a little more complex than that, namely with the inclusion of a "the perils of a friends-with-benefits" theme. In particular, there's the line, "You had to go and get some feelings." Was that directed externally or at yourself?

Both. Before my partner and I wrote it, I was in love with this girl. I'm still kind of in love with her, to be honest. It was supposed to be just sex. [laughs] All my hooks and titles are straight to the fucking point.

That seems to be the case with the Father EP that came out in 2018. Does the fact that you were able to make a successful artistic statement out of that pain make your feelings toward your dad somewhat ambivalent?

100 percent. It forced me into a creative space. When my father left, I formed this emotional block. I went numb towards other people. I built so many walls around myself and I still don't trust people or let people in. The only way I can let people know I care about them is through music.

So that experience with your dad shook your faith in people in general, which you've had to rebuild to a certain extent? Has your art helped in the healing process?

Absolutely. Any good songwriter has to go cry for a second.

Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you start with a beat, a melody? How do you get the ball rolling?

We start with synth loops, usually. And I typically don't like to add drums until the end.


Drums, for some reason, are in the way. They're supposed to be complementary. So we start with a loop, and then lay on melodies - me and my writing partner, Barney Bones. He also writes a lot of stuff for 88rising, for Joji, Rich Brian.

Speaking of Joji, I saw he was doing the whole spicy chicken wing thing on an episode of Hot Ones. Any plans to appear on that show?

I'm down. I know [Hot Ones host] Sean Evans really well.

Do you like spicy food?

I love spicy food. We actually do a BBQ with Hot Ones every year for the 88 festival, and it airs on TV. It should be available within the next month.

You've written for a few big artists: DJ Khaled, Bieber, to name a couple. What's been your experience writing for that level of celebrity?

I've just been enjoying it man. That shit pays the bills.

How much do you interact with them?

The process is really independent of the artist himself. The last time I saw Bieber was like two years ago. But we always send stuff their way.

But you're often in the studio with your label mates?

I am.

You're like an in-house songwriter, then?

Yeah, exactly.

I like to end most interviews with a few featherweight questions. Here's the first: if you weren't a musician, what would you be doing, realistically and/or ideally?

Ideally, I'd still be working at the Post Office, because that's good bread, and saving up to buy a house. Realistically, I'd be selling dope. [laughs]

Where would Postmaster August have bought a house?

Probably Carson.

If you could name any of our nine planets after yourself, which would it be?



That shit is bipolar, astrologically. It's always fucking shit up.

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Songs That Capture the Spirit Of New York: Iconic Movie Moments

We list off a few of film's most iconic moments in the Big Apple, and the songs that accompanied them.

While it isn't the first art form to bind itself to music, cinema has arguably achieved the closest symbiosis therein. Because while musical scores for, say, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" or Wagner's "Ring Cycle" are routinely listened to independent of dramatization, very few subway playlist includes selections from "Jurassic Park 2."

The exception is the movie soundtrack consisting, mainly, of songs which exist entirely on their own. But such is the power of the movie medium that, while Tears For Fear's "Head Over Heels" may have once transported you back to hopeless crushes over elementary school lunches, it now instantly calls to mind a famous montage from cult movie Donnie Darko. The song becomes the image, and vice versa.

New York is one of the most musical cities in the world, and a prodigious producer of images, be they cinematic, photographic, or painted. When you shut your eyes and imagine archetypical New York music, a deafening multitude of genres meets the ears: Hip-hop, salsa, jazz, punk-rock...Russian techno.

As a result, pairing the feel of the city with a song has long provided filmmakers with a dazzling array of creative options. But it takes a discerning eye and ear to make of his/her selections more than mere sonic wallpaper; a canny filmmaker instead harnesses a given song to a scene for a specific intent, giving it something approaching agency.

"Fight the Power," by Public Enemy

Film: Do The Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)

This list isn't hierarchical, but the honor of opening it still goes to Spike Lee; since nearly all his narrative films are set in New York (and of those, the majority are set in Brooklyn), he could be seen as THE filmmaker for the five boroughs. Never one for understatement, Lee opened his breakthrough film to the tune of arguably the most declamatory political statement in hip-hop history. (The intro is also a study in the late-80s/early-90s sartorial and dance fad nostalgia for people of a certain age).

"Jumpin' Jack Flash," by The Rolling Stones

Film: Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese could easily merit his own article on the delicate art of melding popular music with movies. But while several entries in his vast oeuvre bear mentioning in that context, I'll focus on just one: Mean Streets, set in Little Italy.

The contrasting nature of Mean Streets' soundtrack (consisting of both Italian operatic arias and American popular music) serves as an aural metaphor for the chasm that divides Harvey Keitel's tradition-bound, dutiful gangster, and the force of rebellion and chaos that is Robert De Niro's Johnny.

An example of the latter half of that dichotomy is an early scene where Johnny enters a club all lit up in lurid, hellish red with a woman on each arm. Keitel, nursing a drink at the opposite end of the bar, watches with rueful envy as the trio swagger towards him in slow motion to "Jumpin' Jack Flash." (Scorsese and The Rolling Stones would go on to enjoy what is probably the most hand-in-glove relationship between any director and band in the history of cinema; just one of the group's songs, "Gimme Shelter" has been used at least three times by the director).

"Daddy Never Understood," by Folk Implosion

"Oh My God," by Tribe Called Quest

Film: Kids (1993, Larry Clark)

Speaking of piquant combinations of contrasting genres, Kids, a mid-90s controversy hive, combined noise-punk, indie-rock and golden age hip-hop, all of which are relevant to the world the movie's subjects move through: a New York of feral adolescents from various walks of life. Director Larry Clark's brutal, unblinking visual sensibility is neatly matched by his wincing musical choices. The opening scene, in which Telly, the film's teenage "protagonist," seduces and deflowers an even younger girl, is linked to the subsequent introductory credits by "Daddy Never Understood," a lacerating, churning punk track by Folk Implosion (led by Dinosaur Jr.'s Lou Barlow). Later, Tribe Called Quest's ebullient "Oh My God" is heard while Telly and Casper strut through Washington Square Park in search of weed and fellowship (the latter is consecrated by a brutal beat down of a hapless adult dumb enough to poke the hornet's nest).

"Stephanie Says," by The Velvet Underground

"Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard," Paul Simon

Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2000, Wes Anderson)

Journeying far, far away from the spontaneous naturalism of Larry Clark's Kids, we arrive at Wes Anderson's third movie, which more-or-less confirmed him in the public eye as a purveyor of all things hyper-orchestrated and impeccably manicured. Whatever you may think of his aesthetic, Anderson has a beautiful way with a song.

The wistful melancholy of a classic New York rooftop scene late in the film between Luke Wilson and Gene Hackman, for example, is hitched perfectly to Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says," and the exhilaration of a day shared by the elder Tenenbaum and his two grandsons matches perfectly to Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard."

"Fairytale of New York," The Pogues

"Flamenco Sketches," Miles Davis

Film: Basquiat (1997, Julian Schnabel)

A song about being lonely, drunk, homesick and heartsick in New York on Christmas, written by a troubled Irish genius (Shane Macgowen), is an unexpected, but apt, choice to emotionally underscore the story of a troubled, doomed American genius, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.

It's one of several ways that director Schnabel—himself a wildly successful painter prior to becoming a filmmaker—uses music to elegize his subject. The soundtrack also features "Flamenco Sketches," the last track on Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis (a hero of Basquiat's, if the film is to be believed).

The slow ballad functions, in fact, as one of the movie's reoccurring motifs, conveying the sublimity of solitude, so essential to the creation of art - and something that was increasingly denied Basquiat the more famous he became. New York, that beautiful succubus, drained the young artist dry and left him dead at 27.


Luna Aura Delivers An Angry, Fist-Pumping Rejection of Social Norms

Personal tragedy and a strict religious upbringing in Arizona form some of the grist for her debut album's artistic mill. Listen to single "Crash Dive" to get an idea of her unruly vibe.

After years of schlepping as a freelance songwriter in Los Angeles, the Phoenix-raised artist Luna Aura has produced a raw, unapologetically personal statement, produced and co-written by JT Daly.

Speaking to Popdust from California, Aura diagramed the personal experiences which led to the creation of Three Cheers for The American Beauty.

So, you're coming out with your first album. How did you go about recording it?

I was doing a lot of writing for television and film for other artists, and I wasn't sure what I was doing for myself. So one day I got sick of writing for something I didn't really care about, and I went into the studio and decided to create something really bratty because that's what I felt like writing. I wrote a song called "Baby Be Cool" with my friends Amit and Sam. It ended up getting passed around to a bunch of people, including JT Daly. He fell in love with the song (which was the most "me" thing I'd written in a long time) and my sound, and so we got together for about nine days and wrote nine songs.

Wow. A song a day.

Yeah, sometimes we did two a day.

That's a good work ethic.

We weren't fucking around. Also, he had a very busy schedule, so we only had a tiny amount of time.

You mentioned that song, and the album as a whole, as being more "you" than anything you'd done. What does that mean?

It's just…in your face. It's who I am as a female: very rebellious, a lot of sexuality. And when you see me on stage performing it, it's coming out of my veins. I've never felt this way about any music I've written.

You started writing songs at 14, correct?

Actually, I started writing when I was 11. I wrote a lot of melodies and lyrics.

What were those early songs like?

I'm sure I was listening to a lot of Kelly Clarkson, Jessica Simpson, and other bullshit. [laughs]

What year were you born?

That is SO rude. Age is for wine and cheese and I'm neither one of those! [laughs] I'm just kidding. I was born in 1993. I was listening to whatever was on the radio and trying to mimic that. And when I started moving into music professionally I was writing pop. And I still write pop!

What does "pop" mean to you?

I have a theory that every five years, pop changes into something totally different. You had the Mac Martin and Dr. Luke thing, with Kerry Perry, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and now you have Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, who have totally flipped pop music onto its head. They basically wrote all of Selena Gomez' last album.

So what was the dominant songwriting paradigm when you were getting started? Was it the Kerry Perry thing?

Yeah, it was something closer to that. But of course, I was still me, so it had my own twist on it. But I was also very young, making what I thought I was supposed to be making.

I've come across that theme many times interviewing musicians: they started out cutting their teeth as songwriters for hire, and it was a valuable experience, but it was a factory-like mindset, where you're pumping out all these tunes for someone else, and end up finding it unfulfilling. Was that roughly your experience?

Definitely, yeah. Also, I had dealt with the death of my brother when I was 22. He was very young, 15, and it was very traumatic for me and my family. I started asking myself a lot of questions about my own life, how short life can be, and what I was doing with it? If I had this talent, was I using it in the correct way? I took some time out to figure out what my voice was, and what it was I wanted to say, what my story was, and how to say it.

Crash Dive

And in terms of what to say and how to say it, who have been your biggest influences?

I was raised to be a very strong, independent woman, but at the same time, I was raised in America. For women here, it seems like if you're not a sexual creature as an artist, you're not interesting. So I always looked up to really strong female artists: Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, Janis Joplin, Gwen Stefani, Shirley Manson - huge female powerhouses. I wanted so badly to be that girl who did it better than all the boys, my whole life.

And you grew up in Phoenix, not the most liberal of places.

Yeah, well, I grew up nearby, in Gilbert, Arizona, this tiny little Mormon town. I was the only girl among a bunch of brothers and boy cousins. I was definitely a tomboy growing up. But at the same time, I was going to church, and the things the Mormon church teaches young women are incredibly skewed and close-minded. So my whole life I've been figuring out my identity as a woman.

Was there music during the church services?

Yeah, I sang in church all the time.

Did that influence your music in any way?

[laughs]. Um, no.

Assuming that you no longer adhere to the tenants of the Latter Day Saints, when did your transition away from the church happen?

It happened around the age of 19. I could see there was such a stark difference between how men and women were treated. There was no way that a woman would ever be as important as a man. Women in Mormonism are baby makers, homemakers. So, I had to leave.

Was that when you left for LA?

No, I actually stayed in Phoenix for a bit. I grew quickly as an artist in Phoenix and hit a ceiling very fast. Then I started going to LA because I had to. I had to bite the bullet and pay the giant rent and deal with traffic.

And you had to get humbled by jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool.

[laughs] Yeah, I'm not a toe-dipping bitch. I jumped right in.

So what was your entré in the LA music world?

I just started writing with more and more people, for myself, for others, pitching. And, eventually, it got overwhelming traveling back and forth between LA and Phoenix.

So it wasn't like you just packed up for LA, got off the bus with your bindle and a beat-up guitar. You had already made contact and established yourself there.

Yeah, I figured that was the smartest way to do it. Phoenix is so close to LA, so I figured that when I needed to be there I'd go there, and the rest of the time I'd be next to my family. It's the push and pull factor: if it was gonna pull me out there I would go. But I wasn't going to move blindly. I'm generally very strategic when it comes to my career.

Is Luna Aura your given name?

It is not, no.

You mention being strategic. What's the strategy behind your name?

It's basically…I have two sides to me. One is Angela (my real name) the girl who grew up in Phoenix, who loves to be with her family and do simple, everyday things. And then there's the other side of me, this monster of a being - strong, powerful, loud. If you see me live you definitely see it come out. It's basically my "bad bitch" side, one that I decided to slap a name on. But I eventually just started calling myself that, because I wanted to embody that more in my own life.

Sort of like Clark Kent deciding not to put the glasses back on and just remain Superman.

Exactly, yeah.

You mentioned your live show: listening back to the album, I hear a lot of analogue, but with plenty of electronica mixed in. What does your live show look like? Do you travel with a full band?

Yes, I do. But first of all, I want to say that JT Daly is the mastermind behind the whole production. He was able to take everything that was in my head and paint the picture properly of what I wanted to say. A lot of our mutual influences are people like NIN, Garbage, Rage Against the Machine. We really wanted to bring that energy back into music, because it's obviously missing right now…but anyway, the live show itself: I have a guitarist, a drummer, bassist, and me. Lil old me, five-foot-two. [laughs]

And you're purely a singer onstage?

Right now, yes. But eventually I'll be playing guitar onstage, and synths.

And then in the studio: what is your process like? Are you thinking in terms of your influences, or are you able to just let the music flow?

When I write and produce, I'm like a reference queen. I'm able to hear a sound and be, like, "That is so 'Toto'," or so this or so that. I'm able to recognize when certain sounds have been used before, but then take it and turn it into something new, and have it be something you've heard before - but haven't at the same time. That was the approach we took to the music side, but when it came to the melody and lyrics, that was all me.

Crash Dive - Live @ Valley Bar - Phoenix,

People are often nurtured by site-specific music scenes; was there anything like that for you in LA?

Yes, funny enough, the EDM scene! I met a lot of my best friends in that world. I was writing for EDM producers, as well. That's how I landed a song with a producer name 3LAU. I met a lot of people in the festival world, too.

What's your preference between playing festivals and clubs?

I love festivals. The way artists get treated at festivals, it's just….[makes kissing noise]. I would love to do just a festival tour. But I also don't mind playing little venues. It's almost more fun to play for five people because you really have to give it your all, whereas, with a ton of people, there's already so much energy that it's almost effortless.

Right. People come to festivals pre-primed to have a blast.

Yes. And the way the organizers treat the artists is always phenomenal. It's like they're competing with each other to see who can treat their artists better.

Are you planning a tour to support the new album?

Yeah. I want to hit the road with somebody I really like and who complements the project. We're still figuring that out.

What's your wildest dream of a matchup, that you could actually see happening?

That's a good question. I would love to tour with somebody like Grandson. Do you know Grandson?

I'm not familiar, no.

[gasps] Grandson is blowing up right now! Hobo Johnson is another one I'd like to tour with.

I've heard of him. Great fucking name!

I know! He's awesome. And then honestly, I'd love to tour with some of the incredible women EDM producer/DJs, like Whipped Cream. There are some EDM girls out there who're are producing the hardest shit.

An artist who comes to mind when you say all that is Grimes.

Yes! I don't know how that woman does what she does. I'd DEFINITELY tour with her.

Well, I'll give her a call for you.

[laughs] Thank you, I appreciate that!

Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. For more of his work go to

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Bass Prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld Steps Into Her Own Spotlight

The Australian virtuoso, who began playing with music industry giants like Prince, Mick Jagger, and the Allman Brothers, has released her first album as a vocalist.

Sydney native Tal Wilkenfeld has thus far enjoyed a wildly successful career backing up the biggest names in the business, many of whom mentored her songwriting.

She's taken what she's learned - whether while on the road, in the studio or at nightclubs - and channeled it into her first album as a singer, Love Remains. She talked to us about, among other things, being hired by legends of modern music (Prince, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Allman Brothers) before even knowing who many of them were.

I assume you're calling from L.A.?


I recently talked to Frenship, an L.A.-based band with a very love-hate relationship with that city. What are your feelings about it?

[laughs] It took me a while to find my circle of friends, here. It can be a pretty lonely town, but now that I have my people, it's great.

How would you compare L.A. to where you grew up?

Well, I grew up in Sydney, not far from Bondi Beach, so it's actually quite similar. Sydney is kind of a condensed version of L.A. Everything is flat, there are beaches, sunny weather, a little bit of rain in the winter, never cold. But the lifestyle is different, unless you're talking about Venice Beach, which I'd compare to Bondi Beach. Things move slowly and casually in Sydney. There's a lot of emphasis on coffee there, too. A lot of respect for a good barista.

Did you ever work as a barista?

No. I worked at a McDonald's, though.

Is that as highly respected a job as being a barista in Sydney?

Oh, totally. [laughs]

Did Sydney have something to do with your development as a bass player?

No, nothing, actually. I don't know what it was! It came out of nowhere. One day when I was fourteen I walked past a guitar in a shop window and decided I wanted to try it out. After I played it I decided that that's what I wanted to do forever.

So jumping forward from age fourteen to now: Love Remains isn't your first album, correct?

Well, It's my first vocal album.

What changed from 2007 [the year Wilkenfeld's first solo record, Transformation, came out] to now to make you decide to start singing and writing lyrics?

Back in 2007, I was still discovering my bass voice, so I wanted to keep the focus there. And for this album I wanted to express my other "voice," which is where I began; I started as a singer when I first picked up the guitar. And I kind of let that go for a while, while I was exploring the bass.

Did you go to school for music?

I did, for a very brief time. When I moved to America at 16 I got a scholarship to a guitar school in Pasadena. But I don't think i was a very good student. I missed out on on a lot of classes and just kind of did my own thing. I've always enjoyed picking the brains of the people around me to learn.

So you learned in a more old school way, like jazz musicians used to. All Sonny Rollins had to do was walk around the corner and ask Thelonious Monk, "How do I do this?"

Right. I moved to New York when i was 18, and that was why: I wanted to play in different jazz clubs every night, five times a night, like my heroes did.

Or comedians, where you just have to get out there and absorb everything by osmosis.

Yeah! Speaking of standup comedy, that's like my favorite thing in the world.

Right! I noticed you've done interviews on WTF with Marco Maron and Jeff Ross' podcast. So you're a comedy fan.

Huge comedy fan. I first got into comedy because I lost a lot of friends of mine in a very short period of time, and my grandparents as well. Everyone sort of left in a short period of time. Then one of my friends told me that I should come and see some live comedy. The first time I went I got hooked. It really helped with the whole grieving process.

There's always been a complementary relationship between comedians and musicians. Maybe because there's little competition between the two fields, but there's an artistic respect.

I think what's super appealing about comedy is on the one hand they have this material they spend their time working on, and then they also spend their time honing their skills as improvisers, and how to work with the crowd and change things up. That appeals to both parts of me as a musician, the composer and improviser. It's super fascinating to watch the same comedian do several sets in one night and have it be different.

That's the tough part of being a comedian I guess. It's not like Mick Jagger, (who you've played with). He could play "Jumpin' Jack Flash" five times in a row and he'd have the audience eating out of his hand.

It's great they don't have to do the same joke ten years later. But the negative part of that is the exact same thing. But some musicians I've spoken to or worked with, they don't want to play that same song they wrote 30 years ago, either.

So what kind of music were you playing in the beginning, and how did it develop into where you are now?

When I first got into music I was into Jimi Hendrix, Herbie Hancock and Rage Against the Machine.

That's a very interesting combination.

[laughs] Yeah. Then I moved to New York [from Pasadena] and was just listening to jazz. Subsequently, I made that first instrumental solo record and moved back to L.A. Then a few months later I got a gig with Jeff Beck. But I didn't know who he was! Then through Jeff Beck, I started playing with Prince, Mick Jagger, Billy Gibbons - but I didn't know who these people were. I was finding out who they were in real time, either while I was performing with them, or minutes before, or after. It's something I laugh about with my friends because it seems to be a rare experience to play with somebody without knowing who they were!

Um, yeah. Prince too??

No, I didn't know his music. I didn't grow up on that music, and then when I moved to New York I was just listening to jazz.

That must have helped lessen the intimidation factor, not knowing who they were. "This is just some old-ass man." Whereas I feel like I would hyperventilate if was onstage with Mick Jagger.

I don't know. I knew who Herbie was, but I was never any different with him than I was with Prince.

So you probably just have a preternatural ability to stay calm and collected, a low resting heart beat or something.

I think it has to do with what impresses me most about somebody, which is how they show up as a person, not as a musician. Like Herbie and Wayne Shorter, they're really into Buddhism, for instance. They're down to earth, balanced people.

So going back to my original question: how did you get back to singing after years as purely an instrumentalist?

When I was playing with Jeff Beck in Madison Square Garden in 2009 for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame event, I met Mick Jagger for the first time, and Jackson Browne. I didn't know [Browne's] music, but my dad had told me I should listen to him. I said to him, "My dad told me about you!" [laughs]. We had a really nice conversation, and I told him I had just started to write my own songs again. So we connected back in L.A. and I played him some of my music and he sort of started mentoring me. I'd play him songs I was working on and he'd gave me feedback. And I gradually segued back to being a singer-songwriter. Jackson Browne and [The Heartbreaker's] Benmont Tench were responsible for sitting me down and being like "Ok, Tal, we really got to play you the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan," and this person and that person. They gave me a real education, one that inspired me to no end. Now, Dylan is one of my favorites of all time, but I didn't know who he was then.

Have you ever been compared to, by virtue of both being women of color/jazz composer/bass players/singers, to Esperanza Spaulding?

No, not really! Not in an interview. I think somebody asked me once if I had heard of her, because she plays bass and sings. I often hear things like Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley, but not her.

Well, I'm glad to be the first to bring it up.

[laughs] Yeah, it's interesting. For all the women in the industry, it's always a touchy subject when you're compared to somebody just because you're women.

Well, it doesn't seem to me that there a lot of jazz virtuoso bass players who are fronting their own groups as singer-songwriters. Even among men that's not common.

Yeah, I hear you.

So you got some tutelage from Browne and Tench. How long after that did you start working on your new album?

Most of it was produced from 2014 onwards.

Ok. So it was a fairly long process?

Because I financed it myself, I recorded a bit, then went on tour, then came and did a little more, etc. At the end of 2015 I sent the album to Pete Townsend, after which I opened for The Who for almost all of 2016. And that was the year that I lost a lot of friends. And here I am!

Going back to New York: who were some of the bass players you rubbed elbows with there?

The reason I moved there in the first place is that [jazz guitarist] Wayne Krantz was playing every Thursday at the 55 Bar and [bass player] Anthony Jackson was playing with him. So when I started going there, Anthony started mentoring me. Every week we sat in his car and listened to records. Also there was Lincoln Goines, who also played with Wayne Krantz…[laughs]….oh, and Oteil Burbridge, who was playing with the Allman Brothers.

You've played with them, correct?

Yeah, thanks to Oteil.

What was that like?

It was like a 19-year-old standing on stage at the Beacon Theater, never having been on a real stage! [laughs]


Yeah! It was my first time on stage, aside from all these dive bars.

So the first time you played on a real stage was with The Allman Brothers! Did you know who they were? Because you had mentioned not being so familiar with rock and other non jazz music…

I didn't know who they were, no. But before I played with them I went to, like, five of their shows.

So you watched them, studied them and said, "Ok, I can hang."

Yeah. [laughs]

So when you're not backing up some legend or doing your solo work, do you like to get away from the music and recharge, or are you 24/7, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

I'm a workaholic. But I also, just the day before yesterday, got back from a silent zen retreat. So there are times when i just want to be silent and meditate and recharge. Those recharging times refuel the music, though. Meditating helps creativity flow. The more you meditate the more you realize that everything is a meditation. The silence is important.

It's what makes you appreciate the noise so much more.


Who are some of the notable musicians on the new album?

There's guitarist Blake Mills. He's becoming very well known as a producer and a guitarist.

There was one track where the guitar player is just ripping it. "Hard to be alone"?

Yeah, that's Blake. He's doing a lot of production these days, but he's also one of the best guitarists around. And then there's Paul Stacey, who produced the album, Benmont Tench, and Zack Rae, who plays keyboards for Death Cab For Cutie.

So you went out of your way to select players who have a similar poly-genre approach to the music as you do?


And you're doing a tour, is that right?

Yeah, I'm doing 12 days on the east coast and then Asia in the fall, the west coast at some point, Australia and Europe if I have time.

When you were recording these songs, how did being a front person change how you wrote bass lines? Did you find yourself simplifying things?

I don't think it matters if it's my song or somebody else's, because I've spent so much time playing under other peoples' songs, so it's just a mode of playing for the song, what's best for it. And then live, the bass becomes, sort of like the way the guitar did for Jimi, a call and response thing with the vocals.

As far as your lyrics, where do you derive inspiration? Where do you go for that? Because it's such a different muscle, I would think, than pure music.

Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon...Eliot Smith! Those are my guys. But in terms of what I'm writing about, I draw a lot of inspiration from real life events, whether it's my life or somebody in my life. And once the song starts manifesting, you start juggling and figuring out how best to convey the message of the song - and the story can change. It's not a matter of being strictly biographical.

It doesn't have to be so literal, then. You can mix the biographical with, for lack of a better word, the universal.


Two quick questions. Here's the first: is there such a thing as too much slap bass?

[laughs] Oh, yes.

When is it too much?

I think it has a very particular sound, and so it's really about if you're going for that sound or not. It puts you in a particular space, one I'm rarely going for [laugh]. But I'm not somebody like Anthony Jackson, who would literally walk away from a gig if he was asked to slap.

Here's the second question: of any artist that is no longer with us, is there one you'd like to talk to and pick his/her brain?

Yeah, Jeff Buckley.

Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to for more of his work.

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