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.

MUSIC

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.

MUSIC

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.

Exactly.

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) www.youtube.com


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.

Why?

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?

Mercury.

Why?

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

Follow August 08 Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

MUSIC

Blick Bassy: Cultural Attache, International Activist, and Singer-Songwriter

Despite - or because - his songs are sung in the tribal language of Bassa, the singer-songwriter/guitarist's music communicates volumes. Look to his latest album, 1958, for his best work so far.

Blick Bassy's new album, named for the year a key figure in Cameroon's struggle to cast off the colonial yoke was murdered, reminds us that freedom, political stability, and material security remain elusive for many African countries.

While many of these countries are technically free from Western control, they continue to suffer from the effects of colonialism. All this and more is expressed in 1958, produced by Feist and Manu Chao collaborator, Renaud LeTang. From a mid-town skyscraper two days before appearing onstage in Central Park as a part of the "Summer Stages" concert series, Bassy spoke to Popdust about the album, his formative years spent living in the rainforest with his relatives, and the struggle to protect the integrity of his own artistic expression from outside pressures.


First of all, the new album is amazing. The production is unreal. Could you tell me something about how it was produced?

Before recording the album, I had kind of a general idea of where I wanted to go with it. The idea came during my last tour supporting my previous album: we did more than 200 gigs world wide, and when you play so much you have to make your songs sound a little different every time. During that two-year process, I also wrote about 10 new songs. Then, my band and I spent about 12 days together to arrange them.

So the new album grew organically out of the last one?

Yes. But also, you know, I'm from Cameroon, I meet a lot of people and listen to a lot of different music. It's made me what I am today. I'm an African living in France and also everywhere in the world, because I'm traveling all the time. So the album represents what I am today.

What are some influences you've absorbed living away from Cameroon?

First, traditional music from Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries - actually, I have a label in Cameroon and I'm producing a lot of new music from those regions and Cameroon.

What's it called?

BB productions. But as far as music outside Cameroon, I've been listening to James Blake, David Bowie, Prince. Apart from their music, they live outside of the norms that society says we have to follow.

Your upbringing in Cameroon seems a little outside the traditional, too. For instance, you were sent to live in the rainforest with your grandfather. Is that something a lot of people in Cameroon do, send their kids to the jungle?

It was very unusual, yes, especially because my father had a lot of money. He decided that we had to live as if the world was starting again, without anything. We had to go to villages and work on farms. And, yes, I lived with my grandfather and uncle for about five years. They wanted me to understand how the world works, and how the environment works. At the time I didn't want to do it, but it completely changed my life.

You were just a spoiled kid at first?

[laughs] Yeah. But later all this came back to me when I was living in Paris. I was feeling a bit lost, and I asked myself, "What can I show to the world, me, singing in a language [Bassa] no one knows. How can I survive?" And what I was taught in the jungle, self-reliance, helped me a lot.

So it was kind of a self-esteem exercise, living with your relatives?

Exactly.

Describe your journey from Cameroon to Paris. Because you were already established in Cameroon, if I'm not mistaken.

Correct, yes. After 10 years in Cameroon with my first band, I wanted to go further. I needed to meet other humans in others spaces in the world, and share my music. Because all the music of the world was coming to Cameroon, and I wanted our music to come to them! So I decided to leave. And since I come from the French-speaking part of Cameroon, I decided to move to France.

That makes sense. The linguistic aspect of the album I find very interesting, the fact that it's all in your native language, Bassa. Furthermore, there's a lot of conflict around language in Cameroon, especially with the English-speaking peoples of Cameroon. What's your view on that issue, or is that a touchy subject?

No, no. For me, it's clear that we were educated to see [English-speakers] as only half-Cameroonian. Because I have friends that come from that region. And when we were in school, if you dated a girl in the school who came from there, it was like, "Whoa, what are you doing?? Are you crazy? They are really bizarre!" At the time, we didn't realize this would become an issue later on. When they started asking for equal treatment, the government started sending police there and killing people.

The last track of the album has an English title, and a mix of Bassa and English lyrics. So you're obviously not taking the position that English is a second-class language.

No.

Back to Paris: what was it like getting established there?

It really helped me to find myself, moving to Paris. In Cameroon it was too easy for me: my band was famous, everything was easy. Moving to Paris brought me back to my roots as a black man living in France. It helped me to understand that I HAD to sing in Bassa. What I had in my bag of tricks was my roots and traditions. But also, trying to sing in English or French was nonsense, because if you sing the same melody in another language, it will change. So those melodies in Bassa were bringing something new to the ears of [Europeans]. Also, how can I survive as a musician here? How can I connect with people who don't understand what I'm saying? I realized that the universal language was the emotion, the vibration. Not language itself.

But on the other hand the new album is thematically very specific: it's about Cameroonian independence.

Yes.

One of that movement's central figures, Ruben Um Nyobe, how does he come into play on the album?

The whole album is about him. 1958 was the year he was killed by the French army.

Ah!

When I moved abroad, I understand we Cameroonians were living in a country called "Cameroon" but it wasn't our country. It was a country that was built by other people.

They imposed it on you.

Exactly. And now we're trying to survive this. And people still think about "my country." But we don't have a country! Also, we're very restricted as far as where we can go outside Cameroon.

You can't go to certain countries in Africa from Cameroon, then?

Some, yes, others, no.


So there's not that idea of geographical and cultural unification that partly exists in Europe?

No, but I think in the next five years we'll be able to travel anywhere we want.

That's an interesting issue, the idea of "One Africa." But the continent is incredibly complex, obviously. In the media, for instance, I'm sure you've been compared to, or conflated with, other African artists. Say, Fela Kuti. But throwing you in with Fela would be like categorizing Paul McCartney with Serge Gainsborough.

[laughs] Yes. But actually, they used to compare me to a singer from around here! He passed away very young. He had a wide singing range. I don't remember his name, though.

Going back to the Bassa language, how widespread is it in Cameroon?

Well, we have 24 million people in Cameroon, and about 3 or 4 million speak Bassa. It's one of 200-something languages.

So there's a lot of linguistic diversity. Is Cameroonian music similarly diverse?

Absolutely. Every language, every tribe, has their own music, their own food, dance, the way people speak French or English. This makes the country culturally very rich.

Because, really, it's many different countries.

Exactly. They used to say about Cameroon, that it's the whole continent of Africa in one small country.

A kind of a meeting point for different cultures?

Yes.

Where was the album recorded?

It was recorded in a studio in Paris and produced by Renaud LeTang, who's worked with Feist and Manu Chao.

It's a beautiful production, the cello and horn arrangements especially. Did you use a lot of longtime musical partners or did Letang bring in a lot of new people?

Before the recording, I and the guys I tour with stayed together for 12 days in a rehearsal spot and worked on the songs. Then we went into the studio with Renaud with what we had.

You have a very distinct guitar sound and style. Where does that come from?

When I arrived in Paris, I had the opportunity to go to a conservatory, but I decided not to. So I was self taught. That method has helped me do things in my own way. I don't even know the chords I play. "Is this an A, a C, or an O?" I don't care. I play what I feel.

So it's all by feel. Are there guitar players you look to as influences?

Absolutely. But it's not their technicality I find inspiring, it's the humanity, the feeling. And I admire musicians who have managed to be themselves. That's something hard to do in today's society: be YOU. How can we survive in this society as musicians, without worrying about what other people are doing? It's not easy, but when you can achieve it, it's amazing.

Yes, it's hard to resist commercial pressures, to conform to the ideas other people have about how your music should sound. Have you experienced that sort of pressure?

Yes, but it was more about the language: people were telling me I needed to sing in French or English, but I explained to them that the most famous contemporary French singer in Paris, he'll probably never go to perform in Sweden, say. And his counterpart in Sweden won't be performing too much in Paris. Meanwhile, I'm singing in my mother tongue of Bassa and I'm going to Sweden, Denmark, India, Japan, China.

You're singing in a language unknown outside Cameroon, so that allows you a greater freedom, in a way, to go wherever you want.

Yes. So why would you want to limit me to French?

Blick Bassy - Ngwa (Official) www.youtube.com

Why indeed. A couple of silly questions to end on: if you could name yourself after any object in our solar system, which would you choose? Which heavenly orb should be known as "Blick Bassy"?

The sun.

If you could jam with any dead musician who would it be?

Mmmm, Mavin Gaye.

Yes!! Anybody else?

Nat King Cole. And [blues legend] Skip James, of course.

Right! I keep hearing that second name associated with you.

My father listened to him all the time in Cameroon. And I was further introduced to his music when I became a musician. He sang with nothing but his own powerful emotions. I wasn't even sure it was in English; it felt really close to what I was hearing.

One more silly question: what is your desert island food?

It think it'd be something we call in my country "jazz." It's just beans cooked in the Cameroonian way, with plantain. It's amazing.

Are you going back to Cameroon soon or do you have a lot more touring to do?

  1. I would like to be, but I don't feel comfortable going there with the political situation as it is at the moment. I have a friend in jail, actually. His name is Valsero, a musician. He was protesting, speaking out against the government, and they put him in prison.

One last question: is there anyone you would really like to collaborate with on a future project?

Yes, sure. I really love [composer/bass player] Esperanza Spaulding. She's a good friend. I should give her a call. [laughs]

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MUSIC

Two Brothers, One Bedroom: Alt-Pop Bliss Courtesy of Chase Atlantic

Mitchel and Clinton Cave are straight out of the quiet suburbs of Queensland, Australia. Even when playing Lollapalooza, the trio (they added friend Christian Anthony to become Chase Atlantic), retain their remote Australian origins.

Born and raised in Queensland, Australia, brothers Mitchel and Clinton Cave grew up fiddling around with music in the safety and comfort of their bedroom.

While they've since moved most of their operation to L.A. and added a third member, longtime friend Christian Anthony, the group retains something of that early introversion. Mitchel, however, was extraordinarily forthcoming in his interview with Popdust from Philadelphia, where they're undertaking a tour in support of their sophomore album, Phases.

You're calling from LA I take it?

From Philadelphia, actually. We're in rehearsals for the first Philly show.

What's your impression of the city?

We've been here a couple of times, actually. We're in a sort of outskirts, body shop area of town. But I love Philly, in general. And the Philly Cheesesteaks especially.

Is there anything similar to a Philly Cheesesteak in Australia?

[laughs] Nah.

What is Australian food, to you?

It's very hearty. Warming. In general, what's cool is the pies. We have the best pies in the world.

The best pies?

Yup. In America, they try to make Australian pies, but they're just not the same, unfortunately.

So, before we start on the music, what exactly is an Australian pie?

I think it's mainly, like, gravy, sauce, and minced meat. A lot of the pies here are too dry. They're really saucy in Australia.

What part of Australia are you and your brother from?

We're from Cairns, Queensland, and Christian is from Sidney.

And you guys grew up with Christian?

We met when we were 14, 15.

It seems like from what I've read that you and your brother share a brain.

Yeah, more or less [laughs].

So how was it bringing in a third person who doesn't necessarily share a brain with the two of you?

Well, we didn't really "bring him in." We just met and realized we had a similar mentality. We didn't meet with the intention of working together; it just happened.

What brought you and your brother to music in the first place, before you met Christian?

Well, we grew up on classical music, and going to school, we were in jazz band, choir. Then, Clinton started recording his saxophone on Logic and getting into production, and he would record me singing. Ever since, I've been really into music production, as well. And when we met Christian, he was starting to get into it, as well. So it just clicked.

And what were you two listening to when you first started getting into music?

A little bit of everything, honestly. Our grandfather would play old French music. We listened to a lot of 80s records. Christian grew up with a lot of 60s stuff. And we all went through our punk and emo phases. That's kind of mandatory [laughs].

When I listen to "Phases," I kind of do hear an impressionistic vibe. Did that come from listening to Debussy, Ravel, those old French guys you mentioned?

Yeah, I think so. It's a subconscious thing, though. It creates itself, in a way. We just gravitate to what we think sounds good.

Who is the primary vocalist?

I do the majority of the singing, and Christian does some as well.

There's a phenomenon with [non-American] English-language singers; they end up sounding American. But I can hear occasional Australian inflections. Was that deliberate?

It's not deliberate at all. We don't put on any accent purposefully. There are few Australian artists who really put on the twang.

Who are those?

You wouldn't know them [laughs].

Speaking of Australia, I don't have a good sense of how the musical culture there is like.

There's not a lot of cultures behind the music, here. We're still a new country. I think in terms of people performing, it's very diverse. There's a very good underground culture, like Sticky Fingers, for instance. But for some reason, they haven't broken internationally.

Is there a breakdown along racial lines as far as what music is played by who?

Not really. We're very inspired by American culture because that's what we're fed growing up. All the movies, radio.

What about England? Do you derive inspiration from happens over there?

Not a whole lot, no. Maybe little hints. But mainly American culture.

It says you're from "humble beginnings" in the press materials. What does that mean? Like you grew up in some rough and tumble mining town?

[laughs] No, just a small town. The nearest city is Brisbane, but we grew up quite far from there. It was isolated. We were middle class, there. But it was still a beautiful place to grow up: tropical, rainforests everywhere. The Great Barrier Reef is there.

Where are you based now?

LA is our home away from home. We get a house there and live there for a while. It's where we record, it's where we have a lot of friends. It's an inspiring place to be.

How did you get there in the first place? How did you get out of the bedroom and into the studio?

It happened pretty quickly, honestly. We started picking up traction online with our work in the bedroom. And we got the attention of Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte.

And what did they do for you guys?

They flew us out to LA and into a studio, gave us resources to work with. We were really grateful for that. It all took off from there.

Was there a specific scene you tapped into there?

Not really. We're kind of introverted by nature. We just kind of fell in love with creating as a whole. We didn't want to restrict ourselves to being just another band. Because we produced our own music, we will always have a sound, but it won't limit us genre-wise.

Do you prefer festival gigs to other types of gigs?

It's kind of a toss-up. On the one hand, you have these amazing festivals on massive stages in the middle of the day. There's nothing like it. But not everyone there knows your music. Whereas, when we play our own shows, it may not be as glamorous as a festival, but audiences there are going to see you.

But you get known to a wider audience with a festival.

Yeah, it's tough.

What does it look like when you play live?

It's insane. Dude, you should see what the setup looks like in rehearsals. We've got this massive video and light rig behind us. In terms of sound, it's like double the energy you hear on the record. I think it's always good to up the ante for live gigs.

Are there live instruments, or is it all pre-programmed?

Two live guitars, live bass, live drums. Everything, but on steroids. There's five of us touring. We've got our friends Jesse and Pat, on drums and bass. We've toured everywhere together.

I see you've played Lollapalooza. Is there like an automatic "meet and greet" with Perry Farrell?

[laughs] No. We're pretty reclusive, except when we're on stage.

I just imagine that bands get taken into like a tent, and there is Farrell, with a robe and a crown.

[laughs] I mean, we met a bunch of cool people. We got to see a lot of artists we like. We just soaked in the whole thing.

The title track of the album, "Phases" it's got a beautiful texture. I was listening to the lyrics though, and I'm a little unclear as to what those "phases" are.

We want to keep the idea of phases as broad as possible. A little bit of vagueness is important. If you're too specific, people can't take away their own version. It can be phases of emotion, or phases of the moon and the stars: life phases?

Like menopause?

Yep. It's important to take away your own concept.

The phases themselves go through phases.

[laughs] Exactly. It's broad. Going to through a phase is a phase.

The other thing that struck me is that throughout the album there seems to be a lot of polar emotions. And those emotions are reflected in the titles: "Angels" is sort of positive. "No rainbows" is negative, unless you hate rainbows. And "Even Though I'm Depressed" is kind of both.

It's very deliberate. That last one in particular. All the songs are very anecdotal, true to how we were feeling at the time. It was very ironic, writing lyrics to such a happy chord progression. It's interesting to experiment with those polar emotions.

Like how The Smiths used to write these tuneful ditties, but they're about, like, killing your lover with an ax.

Right. In a sense, as well, it's negative,but there's hope.

How much longer are you on tour?

Well, we're about to start.

Where are you going?

Everywhere. Everywhere. [laughs] After the US, we have a month off, and then we go to Europe.

Where in Europe?

Um, everywhere as well!

What cities are you looking forward to visiting, or have you already seen most of it?

Philly will be amazing. New York, LA. Texas. I love Portland, Oregon. We don't really have a point to prove. We set ourselves to a certain standard and we can only improve from there. We're just looking forward to connecting with people and having fun. No bullshit.

FILM & TV

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.