Michelle Bacon

Schwervon! explores its identity in Kansas City

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
Though Matt Roth and Nan Turner had already been a musical duo for over 10 years, the word “Schwervon!” didn’t infiltrate Kansas City’s vocabulary until 2012. In fact, their appearance at Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest that year took place the weekend they moved to KC from New York.
 
Three years later, the pair has become one of Kansas City’s most beloved indie pop acts. Since building a foundation in KC, Schwervon! has released two full-length albums and has performed hundreds of dates around the world, including a two-week European run with The Vaselines last fall. In addition to its clever, captivating ‘90s-influenced brand of rock, the band has also become known for its live show, chock full of playful stage banter and wacky show antics.
 
“We've done a lot of US touring and a lot of growing as a band since we've moved,” says Roth. “I don't think we could have managed this while living in NY. KC has provided a soft landing for us to engage in, a vibrant local art scene, while at the same time motivating us to get out there and to grow.” For constant touring bands like Schwervon!, it makes sense to live in a central, less expensive locale with a smaller but thriving music scene. But being a band that is deeply rooted and established in a much larger city also presents its own set of challenges. “There’s great stuff to do in KC but we’re more isolated here, at least when it comes to the sort of DIY, arty, pro-feminist community that we love,” Roth mentions.
 
Regardless, Schwervon! has been able to carve out a distinct notch in local, regional, and national markets since moving to KC. In that time, Roth and Turner have had a chance to develop as artists, performers, and grow as a musical partnership. Their most recent LP Broken Teeth (released in 2014 on Haymaker Records; here’s our review on it) was their first acoustic album, which caused the two to examine the essentials of their songs. “As a two-piece band, you often hear the space in and around our songs. We're not afraid of space. And clarity, which I really like,” says Turner, who shares songwriting duties with Roth. “But to play softer and acoustically—it's even more eagle-eye focus on the song skeleton, and you notice quickly what works and doesn't.” Broken Teeth showcases Schwervon!’s music at its most basic level, and it succeeds in remarkable ways. Even in a studio recording, the band’s unmistakable charm shines through in catchy, sincere songwriting.
 
The two have also honed their performance craft over the past few years. “The shows are so much better when people engage with the music,” says Roth, who writes and recites a Beat-style poem at each show, while Turner performs an interpretive dance. They owe this move to their theatrical background, as well as their desire to keep the audience engaged in their art. Turner says, “I think the cool thing for the audience is that if you haven't seen us before—they're watching this theatrical thing in the middle of indie rock songs and whether they love or hate it, it's unexpected and just lives in that moment.”
 
If you haven’t had a chance to witness a Schwervon! show, you can catch them this Friday at Josey Records with The Cave Girls, Lauren Anderson, and The Sluts. They play at 6:15, and the show is free. Facebook event page.
 
 
--Michelle Bacon
 

Michelle is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands. 

HMPH! pushes musical boundaries with Headrush

Simply stated, the music of HMPH! could be described with a term like math rock or experimental jazz fusion. But these terms, while accurate, don’t paint a complete picture of the sounds created by guitarist Ryan Lee Toms and drummer Jonathan Thatch. “Just when you think you got the groove, we switch it up, add a few beats, or throw in a chord from another key,” says Thatch, whose mastery over the drum kit is jaw-dropping. And while rhythmically complex, progressive compositions have become a cornerstone of the math rock genre, HMPH! additionally incorporates elements of jazz, ambient rock, alternative, and metal.
 
On Friday, the duo will be releasing its debut album Headrush (Haymaker Records), a 36-minute instrumental effort that showcases HMPH!’s dedication to push the envelope while keeping its music interesting. Nine of the 10 songs clock in under 5 minutes, keeping a fresh, brisk momentum for the entirety of the album. The listener has a chance to delve in to each song, but is pulled out before it becomes indulgent or formulaic.
 
Many of the songs start with a basic guitar riff that is bent and twisted in multiple directions, meandering from its original shape but always returning to it. From a polite jazz lick to a climactic rising arpeggio, Toms designs unpredictable, jagged noises with his guitar. “The harder it is for us to wrap our head around a riff, the more fun it is to write and the more enjoyable it is to dissect as a listener.” His combination of intriguing guitar sounds with Thatch’s intricate drum work shows that they’re very much up to the challenge. “Sometimes it starts with a complicated polyrhythmic drum part from Jonathan and I’ll create a progression to that. Other times, I’ll zone out and write arpeggios while thinking of decrepit medieval castles that kind of remind me of all the video games I played as a kid. Then I bring them to Jonathan.”
 
At the same time, Thatch is creating his own variegated sounds with just a five-piece drum kit. He often provides a countermelody to Toms’ guitar, building upon dynamic layers with odd meters, polyrhythms, subtle dynamic shifts, and rhythmic intensity. “One quality we strive for is to keep people guessing,” he says. This even includes retooling songs on the spot. “Our songs tend to keep evolving over time. We might be playing a song live and try something new, and we like the new sound so we keep playing it that way. Sometimes we don't even talk about it; we just both know how it goes now.”
 
 
Join HMPH! on Friday at Harling’s Upstairs. They’ll be releasing Headrush through Haymaker Records. Vinyl and cassette copies of the album will be available for purchase. Preorder here. Facebook event page.
 
 
 
--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands. 

Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear celebrate a homecoming

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
The last time Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear took the main stage at The Midland, they were opening up for B.B. King in one of his final performances. At this point, last October, the mother/son duo was just being introduced to listeners not just around the country, but in their hometown as well. They had recently been signed to Glassnote Records after wowing a roomful of record executives in Muscle Shoals and playing a secret showcase at Third Man Records in Nashville during the Americana Music Festival.
 
Not long before that, Ruth and Madisen Ward were playing to small but enthusiastic audiences in and around their hometown of Independence. Ruth has been a musician for most of her life, playing the Midwestern circuit as a folk songwriter in the early ‘70s. She returned to music after her three children had grown, and her youngest son Madisen began accompanying her to coffeehouse gigs, sometimes joining her for a few songs. Like his mother, Madisen began writing songs as a teenager, finding his footing as a musician while accompanying Ruth on these shows. “The style we play is different than what my mom was playing in the ‘70s, and I came to music later, so I see it differently,” says Madisen, who has since fallen into the role of chief songwriter. “Eventually, my mom gave me the reins and told me to write.” While Madisen constructs a song's general melody and lyrics, his mom helps with song development, bridges, and harmonies. The two have found major success with this formula, creating a unique, moving brand of Americana music.
 
All of this is why their performance this Thursday is a bit of a homecoming. This will be Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear’s first major headlining show in Kansas City, after a slew of achievements that include appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and Later... With Jools Holland; opening slots for a broad scope of acts like The Pixies, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and The Tallest Man on Earth; and prestigious spots at events like Bonnaroo and Newport Folk Fest. They’ll also be bringing a full band with them this time, with Kansas City musicians Tom Hudson on drums and Brent Kastler on bass, as well as Larissa Maestro on cello.
 
But this sudden onslaught of triumphs—which also include a European tour (and another on the way, with Sufjan Stevens) and the acclaimed release of their debut LP Skeleton Crew in May—is not without its challenges. “Your creative routine has to be altered,”  mentions Madisen. “We used to be able to sit in the dining room and bounce ideas off each other. I still write when we’re on the road, but it’s a different dynamic that you have to learn to juggle.”
 
On the flip side, the two have found that success has great rewards. “The whole thing is the people,” says Madisen. “It’s a very personable career that really revolves around human interaction, and the energy of a room. All of these different people we get to meet have different stories.” Stories, perhaps, that will find their way into the duo’s music one day.
 
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear will be playing at  Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland with special guests Luluc, an Australian folk duo, on Thursday night. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.
 
 
--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is the editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
 
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Boulevardia hosts touring bands and showcases local talent

In only its second year, Boulevardia has experienced exponential growth as a music, food, and beer festival, curated by Boulevard Brewing Company and located in the historic West Bottoms district. Though its first year boasted a musical lineup of touring acts like The BoDeans and Catfish & the Bottlemen, this year exceeded expectations with J. Roddy Walston & the Business, Mayer Hawthorne, Atlas Genius, and more.
 
The festival also highlighted a bevy of local musicians on two stages, curated by Ink and 90.9 The Bridge. Among several others, the Greenville Acoustic Stage featured a Delta blues/gospel-inspired set from Kris and Havilah Bruders, one-man folk troubadour Nicholas St. James, and newly formed trio Lovelorn. Meanwhile, the Chipotle Homegrown Stage presented a diverse swath of artists, many of whom—such as The Architects, Hembree, and Making Movies—performed to a large, eager crowd singing along to their music.
 
Local groups also dotted the Boulevard Main Stage throughout the weekend. Outsides kicked off Boulevardia on Friday with a danceworthy set that warmed up the audience for In the Valley Below, MS MR, and The Mowglis. On Saturday, Captiva, Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds, and The Clementines endured strong sets in the sweltering heat before the evening’s headlining acts, which welcomed Boulevardia’s first sold-out day of 20,000 patrons. On Sunday, Sara Morgan and Hearts of Darkness warmed up a Father’s Day crowd for The Grisly Hand—who brought in a horn section to augment an already fully formed country sound—and Big Head Todd & the Monsters.
 
--Michelle Bacon
 
Here are some photos of the festival from Jaime Russell of Anthem Photography. To see more of Jaime’s shots from Boulevardia, visit her Flickr page.
 
Outsides
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hembree
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Architects
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Making Movies
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

May 2015's Artist of the Month: No Cave

Congrats to No Cave, The Deli KC’s May Artist of the Month! Having been a band for slightly over a year, No Cave has already made strides acrossLawrence with its groove-based psychedelic jazz rock sound. Just last month, the band beat out seven other semi-finalists in KJHK’s Farmer’s Ball competition. We talk with frontman and guitarist Ross Williams a bit more about the project.
 
The Deli: Down and dirty: one sentence to describe your music.
 
Williams: Dark Bandicoot Jazz.
 
The Deli: Give me some background on No Cave. How did the band come to be?
 
Williams: No Cave started a little over a year ago at this house James (Thomblinson) and I used to live at about 15 minutes west of Lawrence. We had about 80 acres of land, a 5-bedroom house, and a converted wood shop we used as a rehearsal/recording space and as a DIY venue. James and I had been having weird krautrock jams regularly for about 6 months before I asked Nick (Frederickson) to come over and jam. We knew immediately we were a band. I recorded our first jam! It didn’t just feel good, it sounded good too. Just recently we have added a member (Joel Stratton) to play bass with us, while James is going to move to synth.
 
The Deli: What have been your biggest accomplishments as a band?
 
Williams: We won this battle of the bands sponsored by KU a few weeks ago called Farmer’s Ball. That was big for us because it exposed us to the students of KU and the crowd of people who won’t come out for a show that starts at 11 pm. We also won a big cash prize, which is great for us. And you know, we won this reader’s poll! We found about this right after we won Farmer’s Ball, so I would say we got some momentum in the month of April from multiple sources.
 
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting?
 
Williams: We do a lot of writing together, so the camaraderie of hanging out with your best friends trying to have fun but think critically together and create something greater than the sum of its parts. There is so much instability in the world,; ust having friends that are on the same wavelength as you can make a huge difference in how you perceive your place in it all.
 
The Deli: You recently released your first EP, Eyes Brighter Then the Sun, in early 2015. What can we expect?
 
Williams: It’s 4 songs and about 20 minutes. We recorded it live as a band, and I mixed it and added some overdubs afterwards. I’m extremely proud of the fact that we did it all ourselves and made a recording that is of respectable quality. Stylistically, it’s rock and roll with the aforementioned kraut thrown in for seasoning.
 
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
 
Williams: Well, we are a local band, so it means supporting our friends and people who we like. But on a more philosophical note it means helping to grow something that is a product of its immediate environment. You’re empowering your community to be the best it can be, which benefits everyone. When you see someone you know doing something you like, you want to do it too! The more people pay attention and the more people do to support local culture the better it gets, and there’s a threshold where once a community gets enough continuous support it becomes a hotbed for talent. All it takes is the community getting together and actually interacting and helping each other for the sake of excellence.
 
The Deli: Who are your favorite local and non-local musicians right now?
 
Williams: Psychic Heat, Paper BuffaloMajor Games, The Conquerors, The Philistines (SLAYED at MidCoast Takeover), Expo '70, D’Angelo, Flying Lotus, Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
 
The Deli: What goals does No Cave have for 2015, and beyond?
 
Williams: KANSAS CITY. That’s where we want to play. Hit us up! We will play our asses off, show up on time, and promote. Let’s book a big show with lots of people and make sure everyone leaves having had an awesome night! I think we’d like to press at least a 7” as well. We’ve got a band fund, we’ll see when we do that.
 
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
 
Williams: It’s best if the high note is a leading tone, creating tension until the resolving chord is played in a lower octave.
 
No Cave is:
Ross Williams – vox, guitar
James Thomblison – synth, vox
Nick Frederickson – drums
Joel Stratton – bass
 
No Cave’s next show will be at The Bottleneck next Friday, May 22, with Major Games and Paper Buffalo. Be sure to check them out. Facebook event page.
 
--Michelle Bacon
 
Michelle Bacon is editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
 

 

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