WXJM’s Music Director Morgan Schaffner got the opportunity to have a chat with Reese Donohue of Painted Palms, one of the bands currently in rotation at the station. Painted Palms are a duo comprised of Chris Prudhomme and Reese Donohue, whose bright, jangly psyche-pop tunes might just be the summer-tinged album to help get you through the winter.
WXJM’s Morgan Schaffner recently sat down with booking agent and WXJM alumnus Justin Bridgewater.
It’s comforting and exciting to see that students involved in the Harrisonburg music scene can and have become music industry professionals with the knowledge and experience they’ve gained here as JMU Duke. Justin Bridgewater, a 2004 JMU SMAD and Music Industry alumni, currently is a booking agent under an international booking agency, The Agency Group. A few of the artists under Bridgewater’s roster currently are: Four Year Strong, Dads, Murder by Death, mewithoutYou, Fake Problems, The Lighthouse and the Whaler, and Killer Mike.
Bridgewater, having been a student DJ at WXJM during all four years of his stay at JMU, was also Assistant Program Director and Business Manager of the station. Something that may have prepared him most for a career in the music industry however was working on the committee in charge of running MACRoCk (Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference) and gaining experience as Label Expo Coordinator, Talent Booker, and Conference Coordinator through his involvement with the still-thriving music conference.
Believe-it-or-not, Bridgewater helped coordinate the bookings of artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, Dashboard Confessional, of Montreal, and Mates of State at Harrisonburg’s very own MACRoCK. These experiences helped Bridgewater realize that working in “the industry” after finishing school was what he really wanted to pursue.
With that, through dealing with booking bands for MACRoCK, Bridgewater was able to develop strong relationships with various agents, one being Nick Storch, who by the time Bridgewater graduated, was looking for an assistant. After a few years of working as Storch’s assistant, learning the ropes and skills needed to be a successful booking agent, Bridgewater was promoted at The Agency Group in New York City as a full-on agent in 2009, where he currently is in his career.
When asked if there was any advice he’d like to pass on to an aspiring music industry professional, Bridgewater suggests to always act professional and treat everyone with respect, specifically sighting that you never know when someone who you used to work with (and possibly even was in a position under you) could excel to a position of being your boss.
He adds to this advice with “It’s a very small industry, so anything you say about other people would definitely get back to them.”
Bridgewater’s own experience with how small the music industry can be, shown by how he worked at WXJM and MACRoCk booking bands with agents Nick Storch (ICM) and Trey Many (Billions). Then, while at JMU, he had a summer internship running shows for a woman named Jacki Becker (Eleven Productions, Lawrence, KS) through the recommendation of Tray Many. Today, as an agent Bridgewater sell his bands to Jacki, his former boss. Then, as he applied to be Nick Storch’s assistant, Jacki Becker highly recommended him to Nick, and he then hired Bridgewater. If you were able to follow that, amazingly enough now he is an agent and peer of both Nick Storch and Trey Many.
Bridgewater, reflecting on what the best part of his job is, eventually settles on the fact of being able to see the results of the tours he books. He says, “When you go out to a show and see the fans and the band performing, you really get a better understanding of why booking agents are essential to an artist’s career. Growing up going to concerts, there were so many good times I spent [at them] with my friends, so to be able to create these experiences for new fans is extremely rewarding.” Rewarding indeed; so with this insight, don’t fret fellow dukes aspiring to work in the music industry, Bridgewater exemplifies that hard work that goes in now can certainly pay off down the road.
Ross: I know you must get this question a lot so forgive me, but how was growing up in Halifax? What is the music scene like there?
Ryan: It was pretty fine! I can’t complain too much about anything, it’s not like a big city or a cultural hub. Just chill, lots of universities so there’s lots of kids. But not lots of cool venues or clubs for whatever reason. I stuck to playing video games with friends and sitting in my basement finding music on blogs, and recording myself. The city doesn’t give much opportunities or have much of a following for electronic or weirder music. There’s pockets here and there, and there’s definitely people that care about it. But I felt like I had to leave to catch any attention. That’s how it works for artists in a lot of cities like Halifax, I think.
Ross: Most people don’t know that you studied journalism in college and almost became a music journalist. Where do you see that side of your life with your recent success in music, if at all?
Ryan: Not sure! I studied journalism because I wanted to write about music. I’ve always preferred listening over talking haha and I guess the struggle is similar between music and writing. I just enjoy being around people and hearing their stories. My favourite pieces are always when an artist interviews an artist, maybe I’ll do some producer vs producer features some time. That’d be fun.
Ross: What got you into the world of producing? Was it a friend, a certain artist, etc.?
Ryan: My older cousin Matt got me into guitar and on the right track with music, but it was genuinely the combination of being bored, being on my computer, and having enough quiet time to just start recording myself. And then I started playing with it and editing, I’ve always enjoyed Photoshop and messing with video in Final Cut, so I think an interest in editing lead to producing. It’s all in the same realm.
Ross: Your new album Guilt Trips features a lot more live instrumentation compared to your previous releases. Why did you decide to do this? Also, what software did you use when creating the album?
Ryan: I use Logic on my MacBook to produce, edit and mix my music. I’ve started bringing back guitar and live instruments and some of my own voice into songs because club music can get really boring sometimes. Everyone has a laptop now, everyone has the same programs, the same VSTs, the same drum kits. So you’ve got to work harder now more than ever to stand out. Focusing on imperfections and mistakes is now my bag. This is what was always beautiful to me in music and I’m realizing now how important it is.
Ross: What made you decide to name your album Guilt Trips? Is there any meaning behind the name?
Ryan: The material was made mostly while on tour, away from home. I guess I get attached to people easily so it sucks when you can’t see certain people for months at a time or whatever. Touring forces you to meet a million people and become friends with people for a night and then you don’t see them again, so that’s just the weird ups-and-downs I was feeling while working on this music.
Ross: You also have a lot of collaborations on the album. How did you meet up with Sinead Harnett and Lofty305? Also, how did you become friends with Kitty?
Ryan: Their parts were all recorded on their own, in their homes or at their little studios. I’m trying to just stay in touch with everyone I can when I’m on my computer. I just love to communicate like that and love that it’s possible to keep up with a million people at the same time. Lofty’s and Kitty’s parts were both recorded on their MacBook microphones I think. I’ve heard some of the songs be called “lo-fi” and stuff, which is awesome to me. Because I grew up on The Microphones and Pavement and all that stuff that’s like the pinnacle of lo-fi. I got to hang out with Sinead in London for a couple days and work on new stuff, she’s a sweetheart and hilarious. Kitty’s also a sweet pea.
Ross: Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet you would like to collaborate with?
Ryan: Sia, Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World, Cornelius, Future, tons.
Ross: When making the album what musical influences came into play? More over, what music have you been listening to lately?
Ryan: Since working on that material, and the stuff I’m working on now, I’m kind of just going backwards with my influences. Listening to Sigur Ros and Beck again, emo stuff, just music that has textures and heart and sadness and love in it that you can feel. The biggest struggle with making music on a laptop is trying to convey those emotions, that’s my goal.
Ross: How did your relationship with the Wedidit crew develop? Do you have any future plans coming up with them?
Ryan: Just through starting to talk with RL Grime a couple years ago, he showed my stuff to Nick Melons and Shlohmo, and we kinda grew from there. It’s really a huge crew out in LA, outside of just the names you see on the website. Everyone is hilarious and good friends, makes me want to move to LA sometimes and get away from the cold for good. There’s going to be lots of good Wedidit stuff happening this year, compilations, EPs, I’m excited.
Ross: You just finished up The Feelings Mutual tour with Cyril Hahn and over the summer teamed up with RL Grime, Baauer, and Jim-E-Stack for the Infinite Daps tour. You’ve been touring with some of the most creative people in electronic music. How did you find these experiences and do you have any favorite stories or memories from these tours?
Ryan: It’s amazing and I’m lucky because they’re all friends and great people. The tours all differ quite a bit musically, but being on the road with people like Jim-E Stack and Samo Sound Boy is a luxury because they’re such honest, down to earth people. Touring can be exhausting in every way, mentally physically creatively, so it all comes down to who you surround yourself with. My absolute favourite tour moments are after the shows talking to people, and then going to a hotel or wherever we’re staying and watching a shitty pay-per-view movie with Samo or one of those guys.
Ross: What could we expect from your upcoming Dogs Get in For Free tour? Is there anyone you’re bringing along with you? Will there be dogs?
Ryan: haha I’m worried/hoping that someone actually sneaks in their dog or something. I don’t even have a dog as much as I really really want one, not home enough to give it the proper lovin’ it would deserve. This is the first run of shows where I’ve had the freedom to choose everyone I play with in each city, and I’m going to bring some special guests to as many shows as possible. The supporting acts are all producers and DJs I just want to personally see live and think other people would love. And it’s also nice to just have this freedom as headliner to do whatever I want, not having to cater to someone else’s crowd. Scary and exciting.
Ross: Can we expect any new projects from you in the near future? Also do you have any plans on working on things outside of the world of music?
Ryan: I’m working on a new EP right now. Trying to let as much of my love for post-rock and shoegaze bleed into the new songs. Focusing on original stuff this year, chilling on the remixes a bit. Outside of my own stuff, I’m also just trying to figure out how to continue putting my friends on and artists who aren’t getting the shine they deserve. I don’t know if it needs to be a “label” because everyone has a label now, but I want to figure out something cool to just give out free, new music with a big platform.
Ross: I heard you travel with a stuffed Pikachu given to you from a fan on tour. What’s your favorite Pokémon? Also, do you mess with Digimon at all? Greymon was pretty cool.
Ryan: haha the Pikachu was from LIZ the Mad Decent artist. But I actually gave it away to someone in DC the last time I was there. Maybe they’ll bring it back this time and I can hear about its adventures. Nah, I never really got into Digimon. Monster Ranchers was so tight though.
Derek: This is Derek Niver from WXJM Harrisonburg sitting here with Martin Doherty of CHVRCHES at the National in what appears to be some sort of green room or waiting room…?
Martin: Yeah, it’s at the end of one of the many corridors or labyrinth-style rooms they have here at this venue, which actually is quite lovely.
Derek: So from what I understand, you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Scotland? How was your first?
Martin: Um yeah, yesterday, we did it. Kind of classic style, we went out for dinner at the hotel and had a nice sit down Thanksgiving experience. Then got drunk and watched a bunch of football on TV.
Derek: [laughs] Classic American Thanksgiving. So you’ve been in town for two days, is this your first time in Richmond?
Martin: It is, yes! I’ve actually never been down to Virginia before. We were in Norfolk, 3 days ago and we had a couple days here, really lovely.
Derek: What’s your take on all this Black Friday craziness?
Martin: We were kind of harboring plans to go to the mall last night and of kind of see if its as crazy as everyone says it is. Or as crazy as it gets reported, you know in the UK all you ever see of Black Friday is shots of people fighting each other to grab 20% off something, but yeah… I’ve not really sure I’m that kind of guy, I’m more of an online shopping guy. Rather just sit in my house and not get involved.
Derek: Not get trampled, or have to kill for a tv?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah I’m not in the business of killing for consumer products.
Derek: So you’ve got Thanksgiving and Black Friday under your belt. What so far has been the biggest cultural shock for you so far experiencing the US and our weirdness?
Martin: You know there’s not so many differences between here and the UK. I mean I’ve grown up on American culture. You know food and TV and American movies. So there’s not, I feel there’s not so much of a leap as if you’re going to mainland Europe or Japan or somewhere like that, because we share so many of the same tricks and that makes it a lot easier for me. It’s a lot easier to tour here because there’s things that actually remind you of back home everyday and that’s fine. I mean there is the occasional time, where you happen upon a town that’s really small and you kind of assume that your customs will be the same, because you speak the same language, but then ultimately, when you think of the size of America, it’s pretty diverse. Much more diverse than you might realize…
Derek: So many different sub-cultures.
Martin: Yeah, I just try and take in as much of it as possible actually, and just enjoy it as much as possible.
Derek: When you’re on tour and go into the next town, what’s your first priority for food? Is there any food you consider yourself the connoisseur of? That you have to try everywhere?
Martin: Well.. yeah it kind of works with localities, you know, if I’m in Texas I’m going to try and get BBQ, if I’m in California, I’m looking for tacos, or tex-mex. The different sort of local delicacies are what we are usually after. And you’ve these amazing applications these days that just sort of tell you where is good, instantly. So we always eat well. And there are those days where we just kind of wander off somewhere and make a huge mistake.
Derek: So I think I speak for a good amount of WXJM when I say your first album, The Bones of What You Believe, is one of the best of the past year. Im currently compiling our station’s top 10 albums for the year and at least for our staff writers, it’s on everyone’s list. Aside from being lyrically smart and melodically addictive. One of the things I love most about it is there is not a bad song on it, you know it is very much a complete album, not just a couple singles and some filler.
Martin: That’s a really nice thing for you to say, because we really worked on it in that way. We could have easily held back a few singles and then just filled out the record and hoped some of the songs connect- like a lot of people seem to do these days. But that was never what we were going to be about. We don’t believe that the album was a format, instead we believe that it is the best way to get an idea of where people are coming from musically and still listen to it for the record. And we spent a lot of time making sure every song was right and every song was good enough- at least in our eyes, you know. It’s a nice thing for you to say.
Derek: So when you all go into production or start tinkering with how to put together a song, do you all have a certain role amongst yourselves or is everyone kind of chipping in with writing lyrics and everything else?
Martin: Yeah it’s kind of a democracy, in that respect. There is a lot of pitching in and a lot of changing, but again we each play to our strengths. Mine would be the writing of melody and of production, Iain and I share a lot of strengths in those departments. Lauren handles most of the lyrics these days, but it’s not like no one can challenge each other’s input and i think that’s why it works. It’s important to be able to tell people when they’re going off on a tangent or when something trips your radar that’s not good enough and maybe we should explore other avenues. That’s a big part of the creative process.
Derek: Where do you most readily find inspiration- dreams, or just from parts of everyday life…?
Martin: No, umm… Inspiration for songs, or melodic ideas really comes from… they kind of just come in a specific moment. I never just start humming a specific melody and take it to the studio. It’s usually formed by an interest in a loop or an idea that we got going on in the studio that will instantly become… you know just takes your brain to a unique place in terms of melody and its all sort of spontaneous. And the bones of a melody or a skeleton of a tune can form very quickly after you get that first loop or that first idea and you can go… and the melodies for these songs can often come out by accident and its like a moment of excitement and panic as everyone tries to grab for the mic and record it down on tape before you forget it! That’s kind of, that’s a cool thing and I think 90% of the music we recorded was never really studied. You know, what should we do here? What should we do there? It’s all just very spontaneous and in the moment and that’s just very cool.
Derek: From what I understand you and Iain first met back at University almost ten years ago right?
Martin: Yeah… It was back in… 2005, so yeah something like that, almost 8 years ago. Iain was lectured in computer music and I came through as a student and we became friends. He was one of those guys that did so well in his courses, they just gave him a job as soon as he graduated. So there wasn’t that much in terms of age between us, but we agreed on a lot of the same things. He was in a band that I really respected at the time and we became friends very quickly. We would play off each other’s ideas and come up with things to the point where he got me to come work on the final album that their band made. That was the first record that I ever made and we always talked about doing something, where we were the principle songwriters. Because neither of us had been that in the previous bands that we had been in and like 5 years past or something like that where everyone was busy doing their own things. And finally we sat down for fun and actually found Lauren and started working with her and then things really started to snowball in the beginning, or well towards the end of 2012 really.
Derek: CHVRCHES really sort of had overnight success on the internet, but you all had been working on these songs for well over a year before you released your first single Lies, right?
Martin: I think we had started writing in October of 2011 and then the first time we ever put a song on the internet was in May 2012, so we spent those months writing and writing and writing, making sure that our house was in order and if anyone was interested in what we doing, we wouldn’t get caught short. We wanted to have a lot of material we were excited about before we let anyone know we were doing anything. Anytime somebody asks me my advice about how to move forward, I can tell them all of the mistakes I have made. And the one time I got it right was- don’t let them know anything! Don’t do anything. Don’t play a show, don’t tell anyone about it, don’t boast about it in the pub when you’re drunk- just do your thing in a very, very quiet way. And when you’re completely ready, then you can move on. And that’s how we did it.
Derek: Solid advice. When you all are out of the road, what’s your favorite past-time or hobby? I heard ya’ll did a little cover of The Game of Thrones theme song, are ya’ll big fans?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah we just did that in the studio for fun one day and it ended up getting reported by every website in music and we were like- oh shit, maybe we should think twice about- well I don’t know, I think everyone could tell we were just having fun, it was just a little joke.. Um.. but I spend a lot of time, either working on DJ mixes or working on songs. When I’m not doing that I’m playing table tennis, mostly.
Derek: Nice, you have table tennis on the bus?
Martin: Well we bring out the table with us, so I can whip the crew’s butts everyday. [laughs] No but its gotten quite competitive recently. It’s a good way to pass time. Oh, also this thing called T25, it’s like an insane workout.
Derek: Is that like P90X?
Martin: Something like that, like Insanity and all of those things. Exercise is important and its just a 25 minute a day workout that you can do in front of your laptop and doesn’t require that much floor space and it can get pretty intense. But you gotta get your exercise on the road somehow, right?
Derek: So you all are gearing up to leave the United States and head on a world tour right? I think I saw Singapore and New Zealand are some of the first stops. Can we expect CHVRCHES shirtless with killer abs?
Martin: [laughs] Yeah well… we’ll see. we’ll see… We’ll be in Japan and Australia, yeah Singapore and New Zealand, that side of the world in late January, early February and then come back to UK and smash out a European tour. And then we’ll go straight back here and hammer out as many shows in the US as we can, because this is where we feel the connection is strongest with this band, that the people we can see every night with ticket sales and how everyone are at the shows. It seems like a very special territory for us, this is the fourth time we’ve been here this year and we’ll be back as much as possible next year. You know it feels like we’re kind of right on the edge of something right now and we’re sooooo close to tip it over… and then it will really go. But we’re in such good spirits and we sort of take this thing as sort of a privilege. And we’re just going to have the best of times, you know?
Derek: Well thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!
If there is one consistent quality in Canadian rock group Arcade Fire’s music it is their inconsistency; Arcade Fire has a knack for releasing albums that sound so strikingly different from one another, while still always sounding just like Arcade Fire. The group’s latest effort, Reflektor, moves the band’s sonic focus towards more rhythmic style dance music that is seemingly inspired by disco and Haitian dance beats. This double LP comes in at just over a whopping 75-minutes, with most tracks averaging in over 6 minutes in length, making this Arcade Fire’s longest and densest release to date.The two discs have a definite tonal split between them: the first disc is an infectious, lively celebration of sorts, while the second is a darker, heart-wrenching love story.
The first part of the album opens up with the self-titled single “Reflektor”, a real mood-setting song burning with a disco fever and a disdain for the disconnection technology really creates between us. In the opening verse, Butlers sings about “the reflective age,” the idea that the digital age of constantly staring at screens and obsessing over social networking is really isolating us all more than we think. This concept is explored throughout the entire album, however it’s presence is the strongest on the first half. For example, when frontman Win Butler groans out “What if the camera really do take your soul?” on the track “Flashbulb Eyes,” there’s a suggestion that there’s a sort of emptiness in all the pictures that fill our iPhones. “Here Comes the Night Time” is a chaotic party of a song that begins with the sounds of Carnival. The pace quickly changes to a slower, bass, drum, and bongo driven Caribbean style dance beat, only to break into a high speed mess of drums and guitar minutes later. For a song that Arcade Fire seems so unable to decide what to do with, “Here Comes the Night Time” is an undeniable high point for the entire album, and is without a doubt the centerpiece of the first disc.
The rest of the first disc probably resonates a little easier with Arcade Fire fans, since the songs more resemble standard indie rock numbers. “Normal People” has the lyricism and tone of a rebellious 15-year-old, however the guitar riffs during the chorus give the song an anthemic quality, making the anti-normies song not feel ridiculous for a band that has been firmly established for almost a decade. “You Already Know” and “Joan of Arc” are the two safest tracks on the album, both having a similar sound to songs like “Ready to Start” off of their previous album The Suburbs.
Then comes the second half of Reflektor, opening with “Here Comes the Night Time II”. The second “Here Comes the Night Time” is the polar opposite of the first; while the first song presented the night as a celebration, this time around the night time brings with it some pain. Butlers’s flat delivery of “I hurt myself again, along with all my friends” is accompanied by swirling strings and piano and an extremely heavy bassline. It makes for the perfect introduction to the next pair of tracks, which incorporate the mythological love story of the sculpted couple, Orpheus and Eurydice, which appear on Reflektor’s album art. The tracks “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and ““It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” lyrically are a retelling of the classic Greek myth through the lenses of Arcade Fire. The first is from the perspective of Orpheus, and the second from Eurydice. The songs detail Eurydice’s attempted escape from Hades, where Orpheus is unable to turn around and face his lover while the two journey out of the underworld; if he does, Eurydice will be lost to him forever. Then comes “Porno,” which just absolutely gets in the listeners face with its heavy lyrics and catchy synth ridden beat. The sheer desperation in Butler’s voice as he cries “Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me” is the perfect setup for the climax of the album, “Afterlife”, which the band premiered online with a lyric video set to 1959 film Black Orpheus.
At its surface, Reflektor has an excessive amount of ambition that at times is countered by the its sheer density. There’s a lush amount of detail to be found in every song, which of course producer James Murphy most likely had a heavy hand in. A lot of songs on Reflektor aren’t going to click with a few casual listens, which is may be a turn off for a lot of long time fans. The band didn’t do themselves favors with the girth either; a lot of tracks should have been cut down or maybe even removed completely. “Flashbulb Eyes,” for example, isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t really do much for the album as a whole. While as songs like “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” or the final 11 minute track “Supersymmetry,” carry on perhaps just a bit too long.
That being said, however, Reflektor also includes some of the best songs and musical ideas Arcade Fire have ever produced. Songs like “Afterlife,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” and “Reflektor” are great examples of why Arcade Fire are as revered in the music world as they are. On top of that, there’s just so much here to delve into and that’s the beauty of the Reflektor experience in a way; it’s an album that rewards listeners with a little more each time they decide to dedicate 75-minutes of their life putting the headphones on, and turning the volume way way up. It’s fun, it’s long, it’s chaotic, and at time’s it’s absolutely heart breaking, but without a doubt Arcade Fire have once again done what they do best: create a beautifully crafted album around a set of central ideas that not every listener will connect to. At least not at first glance, anyway.