80/35 Music Festival Band Preview (part 2)

BY DI ARTS STAFF | JULY 02, 2009 7:20 AM

FLATFORM: Visual artists meet disc jockey

mp3 sample: Flatform


FLATFORM, a disc jockey and visual-art pair based in Des Moines, will close the 80/35 festivities on Independence Day at 11 p.m. on the Meredith West Stage.

Composed of Iowa State University alums Adam Ferry and John Solarz, FLATFORM traces its roots to 2001, when Ferry was studying graphic design and Solarz was studying architecture.

“After being introduced by a mutual friend, we spent a few early conversations talking about our influences and soon discovered a shared passion for the Bauhaus and Superstudio, as well as a healthy obsession with electronic music,” the FLATFORM members wrote in an e-mail interview.

Ferry and Solarz are solely digital in their art. Including such components as an Apple laptop, Ableton Live, turntables, and a Micro Korg keyboard, they also use a MacBook Pro, a Livid Union, an Akai MPD24, and a Toshiba 2500 lumen projector.

“The first projects [we did] together were inspired by visits to various Midwestern cities … collecting everything from architectural patterns found in … decaying structures to scenes [from the Iowa landscape],” the band members wrote.

The group’s presentation is an electronica light and sound show, evocative of fashion runways and European discothèques. With a uniquely urban feel and a distinct coastal sound, its tracks keep audiences moving and grooving to the created beats.

Heavily tied to the Iowa capital’s community, the two produce the quarterly Dance Party USA in downtown Des Moines’ Vaudeville Mews, and most recently, they played at the Des Moines Art Center Big Hair Ball Event. The pair’s future plans, however, are slightly more large-scale.

“We’d love to work with some serious interactive software designers to develop this into an even more dynamic dance party that can be toured to different venues,” the members wrote.

— by Ellen Harris

Poison Control Center: Spreading the good ‘poison’

Self-described “post-pop” band Poison Control Center will play on the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage on Saturday at noon at 80/35. The four-piece group started recording 10 years ago and played its first show in 2000.

“We have well over 200 songs and only one full-length,” said Patrick Fleming, one of the group’s guitarists and vocalists. “We just finished recording our second full-length, though.”

Along with trumpeter Devin Frank, bassist Joey Terry, and drummer/saxophone player Donald Curtis, Poison Control Center proves that Iowa produces some serious music while retaining a family-style feeling.

“When we’re in New York City playing and we say we’re from Iowa, someone’s always like, ‘Oh, I know someone from Iowa’ or ‘The potato state, right?’ ” said Fleming, whose bandmates live in Iowa City, Columbia, Mo., and North Carolina. “It’s a ‘whole’ thing, and because we’re all spread out, wherever we play in Iowa is a hometown show.”

Originating in Ames, where two of the members went to Iowa State University, Poison Control Center recognizes the musical force in Iowa but isn’t above being starstruck by the other bands at 80/35.

“It’s cool to have huge idols of yours eating hummus and chips 15 feet away from you backstage,” Fleming said. “It’s kind of surreal for us, and it just so happens to be in our backyard.”

Poison Control Center bends the rules of rock while still staying true to the essence that makes the genre timeless.

“I would really like to think [our music] to be described as pretty, but loud is what most people get from it,” Fleming said.

The members are excited about playing at the music festival this weekend and in the shows that take them beyond Iowa.

“Iowa has grown out of Iowa,” Fleming said. “We’re showing the rest of the world that we can make noise, too.”

— by Kristen Peters

The Envy Corps: Envious rock

Ames band the Envy Corps will play 80/35 on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. on the Meredith West Stage.
The Envy Corps is no stranger to big crowds — it opened for the Killers’ national tour in autumn of 2006. So 80/35 may seem like an easy gig for this Euro-rock band.

Shortly after that tour, a Mercury Records’ imprint, Vertigo, signed the four-member group. In April 2008, its full-length album Dwell became available exclusivly online. The band’s latest EP, Kid Gloves, which was released on June 9, came from its personal label, Tempo Club.

The Envy Corps’ biggest hit, a track titled “Story Problem,” was featured on the soundtrack for Run Fatboy Run, a 2008 movie starring Simon Pegg.

The group formed approximately seven years ago, based on former bassist David Yoshimura (brother Scott is still the band’s drummer) and Luke Pettipoole, a vox/guitarist/keyboardist. After stealing guitarist Brandon Darner from another Ames band, the Envy Corps quickly made him its frontman (a lucky break for them, seeing as he was their “in” to the Killers’ tour).

The indie band has spent most of the past year overseas in London, working toward developing its sound greatly influenced by ’90s British rock ’n’ roll.

— by Ellen Harris

Floodplane: More than jams

Billy Kearney wants people to know that Floodplane is more than just a run-of-the-mill jam band.

The band, consisting of Kearney, keyboardist Gwen Page, bassist Justin Karl, and drummer Todd Cumming, recently dropped the album Ready for Takeoff. Although the group releases studio recordings, Kearney said, the band’s sound comes across best in the live.

“If you were only to see us once, I’m sure it would be a good show and a good time,” Kearney said. “But, really, you see us two or three times, and you get a better idea of how varied we can be. No one show sounds the same, so you get a surprise pretty much every show.”

Kearney comes from a musical family, and he has been involved in many groups before and even some during his time in Floodplane. He is also playing with Mr. Baber’s Neighbors, which will also play at 80/35.

Kearney says the Floodplane has a surprise for all who attend 80/35.

“We might do a Michael Jackson cover,” he said. “One year for Halloween, we did ‘Thriller.’ We don’t know what we’ll play yet, but I wouldn’t tell even if we did, because we want it to be a surprise.”

— by Eric Andersen

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Origins of indie

Such names as the Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, and Vampire Weekend may not have shot to indie fame without predecessor Stephen Malkmus.

“Pavement [Stephen Malkmus’s first band] pretty much influenced the vast majority of what we would call indie rock right now,” KRUI general manager Nathan Gould said. “There seems to be a-dime-a-dozen bands now that are trying to emulate the success it had. It’s almost got the point where it’s tough to differentiate between the kind of stuff [bands now] are doing.”

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks will take 80/35’s Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage following Matisyahu at 7:30 p.m.

Malkmus is considered by some to be a legend of independent rock. Even Modern Skirts, a band also playing 80/35 this weekend, said it took its moniker from one of Malkmus’ old tracks.

“The name is actually a line from a Stephen Malkmus B-side [called] ‘Old Jerry,’ ” said Phillip Brantley. “I’m excited; he’s kind of a hero of mine.”

Malkmus’s experience may be a reason for the singer’s success.

“He has a longevity that most musicians don’t have,” Gould said. “I think he’s able to continue to be original while having a wide audience. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making good music and having a lot of people listen to it, which is where he’s at now.”

After Pavement went on hiatus in 1999, Malkmus formed his current band in 2000 — Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. The band has opened for acts such as Radiohead and created four studio albums, with the most recent being 2008’s Real Emotional Trash. Gould describes the group’s live show as having something for everyone.

“His on stage performance demeanor is surprisingly consistent,” he said. “He’s not showy … but he definitely still rocks. It will be a louder show. It will be more rock ’n’ roll, which will sit nicely with some of the other bands they have at the festival.”

— by Eric Sundermann

William Fitzsimmons: Wary of comparisons

Emotions control life — whether it’s from the frustrations of work, the passions of sex, or the heartbreak of loss. Sometimes, with music, rare gems emerge and capture those moments.

Singer/songwriter William Fitzsimmons’ sounds organically grew out of his mental defeat.

“Music was part of my life, it always had been, and for that reason I never had any real desire to be a professional musician,” Fitzsimmons said. “I never thought that was what I was made to do. It was a way to get the emotions out as a way to process what happened.”

Fitzsimmons will take 80/35’s Mediacom East Stage at 4:45 p.m. He carries hefty comparisons with the likes of Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine, and Sufjan Stevens. Fitzsimmons is grateful for the love but wary as well.

“I’m flattered, but comparisons tend to do a little more damage then they do good,” he said. “I think there’s a bit of posturing people try to do with it. That’s the part that scares me.”

Fitzsimmons has a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Geneva College in Pittsburgh, and he spent a couple years working as a therapist. He cites that job as a place he learned a lot about himself, and he was able to channel many emotions heard in his music today.

“I worked at a hospital in central New Jersey, not a pretty place by any stretch,” he said. “It was a pretty hard-core group of cliental that we had, and I was running groups, and I was doing a job I wasn’t prepared yet to do. I had people tell me they want nothing more than to take a nice big bottle of pills and call it a day, and when that’s your Monday to Friday existence, it can’t help but change you a little bit.”

Connecting with and helping people are Fitzsimmons’ music priorities, versus performing or entertaining.

“I very intentionally make that not the central part because I don’t think that’s why I should be doing it,” he said. “To me, the therapy part [is] the central part and why I do it.”

— by Eric Sundermann

Maps and Atlases: Mapping the math to pop

Math rock is usually characterized by abrasive and confusing sorts of songs that leave the listener in a sort of stupefied awe, but Chicago band Maps and Atlases manages to squeeze the intensity and complexity of the genre into a pop package.

The group will bring the math-rock crowd to the Mediacom East Stage on Friday at 6:45 p.m. at the 80/35 Festival. The band has toured in the United States, Canada, and the UK since its genesis in 2004, and it has developed a following in its native heartland.

“Being based in Chicago, it has a strong fan base in Iowa,” KRUI general manager Nathan Gould said. “Maps and Atlases is one of those bands that have the potential to break out to wider success.”

The group’s lineup includes Dave Davison on lead vocals and guitar, Chris Hain hitting the drums and bells, Shiraz Dada playing bass, and Erin Elders on guitar. Occasionally, Sandra Gordon accompanies Maps and Atlases for some vibraphone flavor.

While on tour, the band has played with other art- and math-rock bands such as Foals, Wild Beasts, and Deerhoof. While its exposure has spread far and wide, Maps and Atlases will change up its pace for 80/35.

“We normally play smaller club shows,” Elders said. “We haven’t really played Des Moines very much, so we are excited to get to be a part of such a great show.”

He had a hard time describing the sort of intricate guitar work and complicated, yet accessible song structures that the band creates, but he settled on the genre progressive pop. Whatever the label, the tight tunes that the band produces promise an interesting set.

“It is one of the bands that I’d look forward to seeing at the festival,” Gould said. “It should provide a fun show that people would be silly to miss.”

— by Ryan Fosmark

House of Large Sizes: Keeping it large

Rock author Joe Carducci described the sound of Cedar Falls band House of Large Sizes as “a succinct dadist approach to contemporary power-trio dynamics.” Singer and guitarist Dave Deibler, on the other hand, hears it a little more broadly.

“I’d say rock ’n’ roll or hard rock,” Deibler wrote in an e-mail interview.

House of Large Sizes will rock the Mediacom East Stage at 8 p.m. on Friday at 80/35. Prompted by the festival’s interest, the on-and-off trio has decided to do a four-show mini-tour in hopes of revving up Iowa’s music scene.

“Des Moines and Iowa need more events like this,” Deibler said. “The Des Moines Music Coalition is doing good work. It makes me proud to be an Iowan.”

The 23-year-old band has released seven full-length albums and more 7-inchers than Deibler could remember, but the group started as a humble college band trying to pass the time.

“We were all UNI students looking for something to do,” Deibler said.

Since then, House of Large Sizes has had a reported 10,245 fights and one breakup along with a slew of vehicles, musicians, and public appearances.

“We’ve had four vans and five drummers,” Deibler said. “There was a House of Large Sizes poster on ‘90210’ (The Peach Pit), and we had a T-shirt on the ‘Drew Carey Show.’ [Also,] House of Large Sizes music was used extensively in the ’90s on the TV show ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ ”

Over the years, House of Large Sizes has played far and wide, stretching its musical reach as far as Dublin, Ireland. Because of spending so much time playing and traveling, the Iowa natives have had the opportunity to rock-out with countless other bands.

“Memorable bands? Hmmm. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Frank Black [the Pixies], Foo Fighters,” Deibler said. “And this is stretching it a little, but we played on a bill with the Black Eyed Peas! Weird.”

— by Ryan Fosmark

The Autumn Project: Getting artsy

Be on guard when Des Moines band the Autumn Project sets up on the Meredith West Stage on Friday at 6:15 p.m. The trio is known for enticing a would-be audience with riffs and rock and then blowing minds with its masterful soundscapes.

“We consciously try to bring people into the room by playing nice and heavy music,” Mike Gustafson, the band’s drummer and keyboard player wrote in an e-mail interview. “And then we nail ’em by bringing it down later in the set and doing some crazy textural transition stuff.”

The instrumental trio, composed of Gustafson, John Huffman on baritone guitar and bass, and brother Jess Huffman on guitar, developed out of Gustafson’s solo project, which began in 1998. In 2000, the Huffman brothers joined and injected an all-new instrumental post-rock vibe to the project.

“Because it’s instrumental, we get the ‘post-rock’ label, but we really try hard to just keep it straight-ahead rock — we make music that we would like to listen to,” Gustafson said. “It seems like we are always chasing that ‘perfect album’ dream — not perfect by society’s standards but perfect by our standards.”

The Autumn Project just released its fourth album, This We Take With Us, and it has toured five times across the Midwest and the West Coast.

“Touring is great and the only way to really hone your craft,” Gustafson said. “Being alone in a van traveling the country is a life-changing experience. You become much more appreciative and professional as a musician.”

There will only be 106 copies of the new album, which will all be numbered, and each one will contain a different set of artwork. The Autumn Project is not a band made to sell T-shirts or CDs or stickers, but rather, it is in it for the art.

— by Ryan Fosmark

Occidental Brothers: Doing the international boogie

At 7:15 p.m. Friday, Occidental Brothers will blur genre and ethnic lines on the Meredith West Stage at 80/35. The group is an African dance band that specializes in the style of soukous and highlife and is made up of Chicago guitarist Nathaniel Braddock, rising Chicago saxophonist Greg Ward, Ghana-native trumpeter Kofi Cromwell, fellow Ghanaian Daniel “Rambo” Asamoah on drums and percussion, and Puerto Rican-born bassist Josh Ramos.

“Obviously, it’s not going be a straight-up African dance band if one guy’s from Puerto Rico, one guy’s from Chicago, and one guy’s from Michigan,” Braddock said. “It’s going to be something hip, but it’s going to be something larger in some ways. That’s one thing I like about the band is sometimes people see us playing and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, everyone’s up there.’ ”

After starting as a cover band, remaking songs by artists such as Mwenda Jean Bosco, Franco, and Bantous de la Capitale, Occidental Brothers found that its combination of sounds created uncommon and danceable original music. The band is a cocktail of different ethnic flavors with its Midwest/Motown players teaming up with African and Latino musicians. The mixture creates an unfamiliar sound that many people find irresistible.

“[Our music] is probably not like what a lot of people have heard before at the 80/35 festival, but people respond to it immediately and tend to love it even if they don’t have a point of reference for the music,” Braddock said.

Occidental Brothers plans to release a third album next spring, utilizing its soukous roots for slower, powerful grooves and unison singing. The members have already finished material for the album and have begun to favor the new material, suggesting that the quickly-growing and undeniably diverse Occidental Brothers has a long, productive road ahead of it.

— by Ryan Fosmark

DJ Diverse: All over the musical map

DJ Diverse lives up to his name both musically and geographically. Between floating through Iowa, California, and Arizona, DJ Diverse — a hybrid of his real name, Dustin Iverson — uses numerous types of music to influence his own “turntablism.”

“I grew up very musically influenced right from the beginning,” Iverson wrote in an e-mail interview. “A number of different artists and genres played into my life at different periods of time or in different life situations.”

Iverson’s sound is both organic and homegrown. He started young in Marshalltown, Iowa, playing with the odds and ends he found lying around the house.

“I think as most people who begin experimenting with turntables did … it all started with a few crates of the parents’ old records,” he said.

From there, Iverson developed into more of a hip-hop disc jockey, and he began his career in the West, where, he said, he gained some of his most valuable experience. He didn’t want to do what most newcomers did — rush into playing a few downloaded songs — he learned enough of the business to keep things interesting in Iowa.

He will be the first to admit that there is a lower standard of talent than in the major cities around the nation.

“I’m still able to find inspiration living here to keep up,” he said.

There is no format in Iverson’s music. He plays anything and everything he feels fitting, he said, while still playing what the crowd needs to hear. His music has matured and developed since his parents’ records, and he has mastered the art of the party. And, Iverson will admit, Iowa has had a helping hand in that.

“I feel living in Iowa has given me the ability to avoid some of the more mindless fads that have come around the years,” he said. “Things don’t have to be so current and repetitive here; good music can be good music.”

— by Kristen Peters

New Monsoon: New reign

Coming from California, New Monsoon has proven its musicianship for the last 10 years.

Originally from Pennsylvania, this self-described jam band will try to hit its peak at this week’s 80/35, where it will play Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage.
The band — made up Bo Carper, Phil Ferlino, Marshall Harrell, Sean Hutchinson, and Jeff Miller — has just released its latest live recording, aptly titled New Monsoon LIVE in 2009.

The drive from California to Iowa isn’t necessarily a pleasant one, given these difficult economic times. Despite that, the New Monsoon members make conscious efforts to stay green while they’re on the road.

“I’d definitely say we’re a socially conscious band,” said Miller, the band’s guitarist and mandolin player. “We’ve found a way to condense all of our equipment, and now we don’t use a trailer.”

But the band isn’t just helping do its part to preserve the Earth and keep land greener — the members are extremely conscious about conserving their talents and their time as well.

“We’re pretty picky about which shows and gigs we decide to play,” Miller said. “We don’t just jump at every opportunity to play. I think that has really made a difference in where we’ve ended up as a band in the last 10 years.”

The band has the feel of a Southern group that has made its way west, even though it comes from the Keystone State. New Monsoon uses nothing flashy on stage and relies on talent as well as the raw vocals of Carper.

New Monsoon may have been around since most of the students at the UI have been in junior high, but its music is timeless and relevant.

— by Kristen Peters

Broken Social Scene: Not at all broken

Canada is making its mark this year at 80/35 with supergroup Broken Social Scene.

Formed in 1999 by masterminds Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, the band boasts 11 members, making it one of the largest groups playing at the Des Moines festival this week.

Broken Social Scene has won two Juno Awards, which are given by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The band received the award in 2003 for Alternative Album of the Year, then again for the same category in 2006. Not only has the award-winning band stolen the hearts of Canadians, but it has had an effect on members of the KRUI staff.

“I’ve seen this enormous Canadian band three times now, and it always manages to surprise me,” said Brittany Hogendorn, who served as a disc jockey at KRUI for four semesters before graduating in 2008. “Not only do it have one hell of a family tree, but nearly all members are multi-instrumentalists.”

The band has been compared with the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” of indie pop — hence the extensive family tree.

The baroque pop music of Broken Social Scene — which will play at the Wellness Blue Cross Blue Shield Main Stage on Saturday at 7 p.m. — blends the sounds of guitars, horns, woodwinds, and violins while being able to capture the intimacy of lustful music.

Iowa uses 80/35 to put itself on the map of musical success. Rarely does one small state boast the likes of headliners such as Broken Social Scene.

“I am really looking forward to seeing [the group], because it has been a favorite of mine for a few years, and I really think it is amazing for it to come to Iowa,” said Brittany Brannon, a KRUI disc jockey. “And I was starting to get sick of watching live performances of [the band] on YouTube and being jealous of people at the shows.”

The band members, whose sound meshes the likes of Elliot Smith and the Postal Service (but does so with a handful of more characters on stage), exhibit individuality with their ambient and atmospheric rock sound.

“I saw [the group] earlier this year, and it played with some atypical recordings that very quickly silenced the audience,” Hogendorn said. “It must be seen.”

G. Love and Special Sauce: All you need is love

G. Love and Special Sauce has been making music since 1993, when Garret “G. Love” Dutton, drummer Jeffrey Clemens, and bassist Jim Prescott worked as a trio to produce a self-titled album that put their band in the spotlight, with the single “Cold Beverage” doing a heavy rotation on MTV.

The group has been making music that some critics call “sloppy,” but — without fail — it delivers original tunes that have been played anywhere from Davenport coffee shops to this week’s 80/35, where G. Love and Special Sauce will play the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield main stage at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“G. Love is sure to put on a good show as he always does,” said Mark Smith, a disc jockey at KRUI. “His type of laid-back summer grooves are sure to be a nice cool down in the hot sun.”

G. Love and Special Sauce has done well by its second release for Bushfire Records. Lemonade was a refreshing album full of jazz-infusions and interestingly soulful tracks.

“Mix blues, funk, reggae, a little rap, and hints of other genres and you get a ‘Cold Beverage’ of entertainment that will not be disappointing,” Smith said. “Listen for covers such as ‘Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?’ or ‘Gin and Juice.’ ”

The three-person alternative band is keeping busy — traveling from the Rothbury Music Festival in Michigan directly to the Des Moines festival.

“[G. Love & Special Sauce is] a must see at this year’s 80/35,” Smith said.

— by Kristen Peters

Mr. Baber’s Neighbors: Neighborly music

The members of the band Mr. Baber’s Neighbors: the Solar String Band self-proclaim themselves to be “urban hillbillies.” Lead vocalist and guitarist Jeff Blanchard was happy to take part in an interview while he was out on Easter Lake in Des Moines, fixing the motor of his friend’s boat.

Blanchard is an outdoorsman in every sense of the word.

“I enjoy hunting , and I love fishing,” he said. “I like to bull hunt and hunt whitetail — maybe turkey hunting in the spring.”

When the 39-year-old isn’t hunting, he enjoys getting the band together to play some bluegrass. Baber will play at 80/35 in its hometown on the Mediacom East Stage at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday.

Blanchard, standup bass player Jerry Hoehle, and banjo player Paul Perkins formed the band while jamming in the living room of Mr. Baber’s neighbor’s house. They soon decided to break out of the living room and hit the stage. Later, fiddler Billy Kearney and resonator-guitar player Charlie Formaro joined the band, further emphasizing the bluegrass sound.

“We’re a traditional bluegrass band that borders on the edge of insanity at times,” Blanchard said. “We do some old-time country, and we’ll do rock songs, but we try to stay on that bluegrass sound.”

The Baber members plan to enter the studio in the fall to record the follow-up to its self-titled début album for a release sometime later this year.

Blanchard guarantees that all who come to the show is going to have a good time.

“People come, and they like to get rowdy,” he said. “We try to get the crowd involved as often as possible, with team drinks and socials and all that.”

He believes that there is no excuse for people missing on the band.

“There’s nothing else to do, so come see us,” he said.

— by Eric Andersen

Audrye Sessions: Coffeehouses and Craigslist

Four-piece band Audrye Sessions of Oakland, Calif., has spent countless days traveling and has played in numerous coffee shops. And it even partly fell together through Craigslist.

The group will play 80/35’s Mediacom East Stage on Saturday at 2:45 p.m.

Ryan Karazija, the founder and vocalist for Audrye Sessions, teamed up with Alicia Marie Campbell (bass), Michael Knox (guitar), and James Leste (drums) in late-04 to form the band after spending years as a solo musician playing in local java stops.

“We just wanted to go and play coffee shops,” Karazija said.

The members came together through odd circumstances, with Campbell and Karazija dating and later finding Knox online through Craigslist.

“[Michael] had replied [to the listing] and said he was interested in playing with us, but he didn’t have any equipment,” Karazija said.

After Knox’s reply, Karazija brushed him off, but Campbell urged the vocalist to meet with the guitarist, and the two have been friends ever since.

Audrye Sessions has a self-titled EP along with a full-length album to its name. The album, released in February, was something the group had been working on for a long time.

“It was nice to finally have it come out, because we had finished that record a year and a half prior to when it was released,” Karazija said.

Audrye Sessions is no stranger to shows — after all, the band has played 120 concerts this year.

Despite the constant movement the members make throughout touring, Karazija enjoys frequently visiting new cities.

“It’s nice to kind of be in a different place every night,” he said. “It’s nice to kind of bounce around, it’s fun to play every night, and it’s fun to go to a place for a second or third time and see new people should up.”

— by Rachael Lander

Brother Ali: Defying the norm

Midwestern rapper Brother Ali had a lot going against him when he started out in the music business. The legally blind lyricist was born an albino, and his pale, pale skin and red eyes made him the ridicule of classmates when he was growing up.

Ali got into rapping in order to show everyone that he had something to offer the world, and the MC has been making waves ever since his début full-length, Shadows on the Sun, came out in 2003.
Ali will perform at 80/35 on Saturday on the Mediacom East Stage at 8 p.m.

The Minneapolis rapper is a Muslim, and he neither drinks nor smokes. Ali’s lyrics cover more serious topics than those of many modern rap artists, and he is known for his raw energy when performing live. Many of his songs are politically and religiously charged, and he often tries to make a statement, similar to rap groups from the days of old, such as Public Enemy.

As if Ali’s life wasn’t hard enough, in the period before recording his most recent album, The Undisputed Truth, he and his wife divorced and went through a custody battle for their son. He was homeless, living on the streets, but he eventually entered the studio to make a comeback.

On 2007’s The Undisputed Truth, Ali began getting more publicity than ever, landing MTV spots and feature stories in such magazines as The Source and Rolling Stone.

Ali is putting the finishing touches on the album The Street Preacher, due out this fall, which will see him using a live band and a string and horn section, as well as a gospel choir.

— by Eric Andersen

Paper Route: Not exactly delivering papers

It’s been a big year for electronic indie-rock band Paper Route. April 28 marked the release of its first full-length album, Absence, which hit the charts at No. 13 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart and saw the Nashville, Tenn., band garnering attention from MTV and other music media outlets.

Recently, Paper Route has toured with the likes of Paramore, Phantom Planet, and Jack’s Mannequin, and now, the group is getting ready to embark on a co-headlining tour dubbed the New Deal with indie rockers the Audrye Sessions.

Paper Route will kick off the tour at 80/35 on the Meredith West Stage on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Guitarist Andy Smith and keyboardist J.T. Daly perform vocals in the band, and bassist Chad Howatt and drummer Gavin McDonald provide the rhythm. Paper Route’s sound is heavily saturated with ambient electronica, keyboards, and layered vocals.

The band’s music is atmospheric and dreamy, which could be due in part to the band’s citing of insomnia as an influence in the members’ writing.

— by Eric Andersen

Girl in a Coma: Far from comatose

When San Antonio, Texas, rockers Girl in a Coma started out, the members were barely making enough money to fund the band, and touring meant sleeping in the van while parked in Wal-Mart parking lots or truck stops. Nine years later, the all-woman band is moving up.

“We Motel 6 it now,” said drummer Phanie Diaz. “Super 8 is fancy for us. Motel 6 is remodeling, though, so most of the places have flat screen TVs now — it’s kind of cool. They have wooden floors too. Yeah, those little things make us happy.”

Girl in a Coma will play in Des Moines on Saturday in the 80/35 music festival. The band will hit the Meredith West Stage at 3 p.m.

The group is on the road supporting the release of its second album, Trio B.C., which came out in early June through Joan Jett’s label, Blackheart Records. In the month since the album’s release, the band has frequently been the recipient of positive press, and more fans than before are showing up to hear the band play its energetic punk rock.

The rock ’n’ roll trio consists of vocalist/guitarist Nina Diaz, bassist Jen Alva, and drummer Phanie Diaz. The women are Latinas, and they often see people of all different backgrounds at their concerts.

“We used to have a lot of females going to our shows, I guess, maybe because we’re an all girl-band,” [WHICH ONE?] Diaz said. “Now, it’s a good mix. It’s pretty even; there are a lot of guys, girls, gay, straight, different cultures. It’s good to see all these people at one show.”

She said the band eventually hopes to play shows in Mexico and Japan, but at present, it sticks to touring across the United States and parts of Europe. She promises that Girl in a Coma will put on a high-energy rock show for all that are attending 80/35 over the holiday weekend.

“We’re old school rock ’n’ roll, and we just want to give you a good show,” she said.

— by Eric Andersen

Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos: Bringing whimsy to indie

Indianapolis-based indie band Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos formed as an eight-piece group in 2005, hoping to share the members’ whimsical view of the world.

The band will play 80/35 on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. at the Meredith West Stage.

“We just knew each other from other bands,” said lead vocalist Richard Edwards. “I had songs that I was going to record, and it was kind of friends helping each other out.”

The whole formation of the band had a rather relaxed vibe. Edwards said once Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos’ first album began garnering attention, the members stuck around to ride out the future.

The Epic Records band’s sound is driven by a persistent tambourine, a bright trumpet, a down-home harmonica, a lulling violin, and a quickly strummed guitar. Though the feeling of the band may be distinctly indie, Edwards said the band doesn’t like to classify itself. The members define the sound by the tunes they write.

“We don’t really think in terms of [genres],” Edwards said. “We just play music, and our influences are just what the band sounds like.”

Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos’ second album caused the musicians a bit of trouble — it’s a split work titled Animal and Not Animal, with Epic Records controlling the latter and the band desiring creative control of the first.

This summer, the band is taking it easy and performing less, which makes 80/35 special in that regard.

“Just doing a show [is exciting]”, Edwards said. “Especially when you’re not doing many in the summer, it’s exciting to just do one.”

— by Rachael Lander

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