Genre Archives: Folk

Medicine Tribe Presents Nahko – My Name Is Bear

For fans of Trevor Hall, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Citizen Cope, Dispatch, Xavier Rudd

Some people go a lifetime without knowing their mission in life, without feeling they have true calling, and without knowing why they even do what they do. Nahko is not one of them. And that calling and mission has never been clearer than it is on Nahko and Medicine for the People’ s third full-length album, HOKA (SideOneDummy Records).

On HOKA, Nahko’s voice is strong. His mission is clear. The mandate has been thrown down. “Hoka is a Lakota word, an indigenous tribe from the Great Plains, it is a call to action. It’s what Crazy Horse would say when he went into battle, ‘Hoka, hey!’ My call is to put action to the words that I speak and the lyrics I sing. Not just to talk, but to do,” says Oregon-born singer/songwriter Nahko, who is of Puerto Rican, Native American (Apache), and Filipino descent.

“This is the soundtrack of the movement for a better planet,” he continues. “I want to challenge myself and others to make a change.” “Hoka,” which is the intro to the first track, “Directions,” is one of the album’s many song intros used as a way to round out the storytelling on the tracks. “On this intro, my uncles are chanting the lyrics to ‘Directions’ in Lakota, and the three female voices include a clairvoyant, an astrologer, and a friend who all had important messages for me that are a big part of my story,” he explains.

It’s been three years since the Los Angeles, California-based Nahko and Medicine for the People’s last record, Dark As Night. That release reached No.4 on Billboard’s Top Alternative New Album, No. 6 on the Heatseekers album chart, No. 36 on the Top Independent Album chart, and No. 7 in Australia on Triple J’s Top 10 Roots Albums of 2013. Nahko and Medicine for the People gathered more members of their global tribe of like-minded fans as they spread their powerful and impactful musical message on tour with such acts as Michael Franti, Xavier Rudd, SOJA, and Trevor Hall, and on festivals including Outside Lands, Electric Forest, Wanderlust, Bumbershoot, California Roots Music Festival, Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival, and many more.

Critics have praised the group’s worldly blend of rock, hip-hop, and alt-folk. OC Weekly called the group – which also includes Chase Makai (lead guitar), Justin Chittams (drums), Pato (bass and kora),Tim Snider (violin) and Max Ribner (horns), “empowering” and “powerful. “The Huffington Post called Dark As Night “beautiful and stirring,” and compared Nahko to Bob Marley and a “musical prophet.”

That prophetic nature comes through even stronger on HOKA, which was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucero, Dropkick Murphys) “Over the last three years, I’ve been cracked open so deeply in my own healing to really give this record my all,” explains Nahko. “My style of writing and my intentions with how I put things together has evolved a lot. I’m able to better paint the picture after time on the road, seeing first-hand the emotional state of the people of the world, of how sick people are, and how much healing they need.”
The personal healing that he refers to, is based on the fact that he is product of a mother who was just 14-years-old when she was forced into human trafficking. He was adopted at 9- months-old and in his 20s, learned about his family’s tragic backstory. This is the inspiration for his life’s work and music.

To that end, “San Quentin” is a pivotal song in the telling of his story. It was inspired by Nahko’s visit with the imprisoned man who murdered his father – a father he had never met. “It’s about forgiveness,” says Nahko. “I went there to forgive this man and in forgiving him, I freed myself. It only hurts yourself to hang onto hate. Forgiveness empowers you to create change. I believe everything happens for a reason – good and bad. People are put in your life for a reason, and you need to turn that pain into something positive to make the world a better place.”

“Make a Change,” which features singer/songwriter Zella Day, represents the heart of this record. “I was challenging myself to take action on what’s important, to not make the same mistakes over and over, and continue to evolve. It’s aimed at the youth, in a sense, because we as the youth have to be the ones to get out of the vicious cycle of negativity,” he explains.

Another pivotal song is “Tus Pies (Your Feet),” which was inspired in part by Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda. “It’s about friendship and being an anchor for someone. Pies is the Spanish word for ‘feet.’ At the end of that poem, Neruda says a line I cherish: ‘I love your feet for how they walked on the mountains and through the rivers and through the valleys until they found me.’ I’ve always loved that picture of how we find people in life and all of the intricate twists and turns that it takes for someone to arrive.”

“It Is Written” tells the story of how Nahko finally got closure on his past, giving him even more motivation to continue on his musical path and social mission. “This song is the story of the clairvoyant, who speaks on ‘Hoka,’ who reached out to me to tell me some very important things. She said, ‘I talked to your dad and he’s really sorry for what he did. I talked to your [Indian] grandma and she’s gathering the nations for you. It is written. Don’t push your destiny. Just let it happen.’ This was a big step in my healing process and the first real step to letting go. They are my guides.”
Other guests include Trevor Hall, Xavier Rudd, Rising Appalachia’s Leah Song, and the female trio Joseph on both “Directions” and “The Wolves Have Returned.” Hawane, a Hawaiian singer, and Pua Case, one of Nahko’s spiritual teachers and Hawane’s mother, appear on “Ku Kia’i Mauna.”

The album cover, by artist David Hale, sums up the theme as well. Nahko explains, “It’s a warrior dancer. The warrior needs to be strong, and the dancer represents grace. Through the merging of the two you get change through peace. You get Hoka.”

 

The Ballroom Thieves

For fans of Jared & The Mill, Mipso, Caamp

Life on the road for a burgeoning band is easily glamorized: The joy of playing a show, the wonder of encountering new places and people, the stories that amass. Yet the lifestyle can also be a trying one: The suffocating isolation of a van, the misery of being separated from home and loved ones, the unspoken grievances that stack tensions high. If you’re unprepared, this life can become your downfall. For Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves, it became their sophomore album, Deadeye.

Owing to the success of their harmony-rich 2015 debut, A Wolf in the Doorway, guitarist Martin Earley, cellist Calin Peters, and drummer Devin Mauch have spent the last two years in a sustained state of touring that took them all across the country and to venerable stages like the Newport Folk Festival. As prepared as the trio was for the sudden lack of a sedentary existence — even packing their Boston apartments into storage units — it wasn’t long before nearly nonstop touring rendered any preparation inadequate.

“I think all three of us underestimated how mentally and physically taxing it would be to uproot our lives completely in an effort to jump after the wild and unlikely dream of becoming a successful band,” explains Earley. As the stability of home faded along the relentless road, fresh anxieties came into focus: depression, financial burdens, illness, the breakdown of relationships. With the luxury of hindsight, things could have been handled better, but instead of addressing their personal issues, they doubled down on the band.

“I think if you give everything to something for long enough, you have nothing left for you,” Peters says, “and then you break down.” Playing through the pain started to warp the band’s dynamic. Darkness took over their days as anger boiled over and burned edges that were already frayed. Resentment built, and the end would have been a very real concept if not for, ironically, the one thing that had caused all the strain in the first place: the road.

“Often the only thing that would bring us back together at the end of a hard day was to step on stage and play our music together,” recalls Mauch. “That’s something we could almost always agree on. We love to play. We need to play.”

That need led the Thieves to begin toying around with new songs, ones written in the midst of all their bitter feelings. What went unspoken between band members was turned into the fiercest and most mature material they’d ever written. “It was as if we were trying to find peace and clarity from putting everything out there in the open,” Mauch says. “It forced us to face those things that were so heavy on the mind, which in itself is healing and therapeutic.”

Then in January of 2016, the band took their first multi-week break from touring in what felt like a lifetime. Even with the downtime, they still had no plan to resolve their dilemmas — they only had a bunch of new songs and some studio time.

Months of pent up energy was transmuted into a heftier, expanded sound. “If you have a rough, heavy time, you might end up with a couple rough, heavy songs,” Peters notes. You can feel the weight of the last few months on the beaten dirge of “For Mercy” and the thick grunge of “Pocket of Gold”, tracks bristling with both regret and resolve. Once nervous to take lead, Peters’ voice sears with confident fire on “Blood Run Red”. Even their love songs are gruffer, as on the bluesy romance of “Anybody Else”. “Noble Rot” kicks like a tethered mule, as if the instruments are expressing every heated thought that had crossed the musicians’ minds.

The doubt that arose as the struggle of the road overwhelmed is conveyed in lyrics like those in “Sea Legs” (“And if risk leads to ruin/ My heart would forgive me”) and “Bees” (“This is not the place that I was born in/ But that doesn’t mean it’s not the place where I belong”). You can even hear Peter’s growth as a songwriter as she tackles the same conflicts in “Trouble” when she sings, “Trouble, you’ve found me again/ I struggle to stay away/ But I fit so nicely in your hand.” These are the songs The Ballroom Thieves needed to write.

“For me, recording this collection of songs in the dead of a New England winter, while maneuvering through the fragile atmosphere we’d created for ourselves, was the perfect way of capturing a mood that bespeaks the bleak content of the songs themselves,” Earley says.

Although they’re not proud of how they’ve grappled with these issues, they’re immensely proud of the music that has come as a result. Rough times have helped them explore the darker corners of their sound — which is why they’ve chosen to forgo the standard label release cycle to put out Deadeye on October 21st by themselves. Sharing it now is exposure therapy, letting their fans pay witness to these hardships and the resulting creative evolution while simultaneously helping the band move on. The struggle is still very real, but these songs are a reminder that for this band, there is but one course, and it is forward — not playing or performing together is not an option. Whatever comes next, these songs are here in 2016 where they belong, and the band is determined to overcome their challenges and continue on. Deadeye captures the band at a time when they were at their absolute lowest, but it may also prove to be the album that saves The Ballroom Thieves.

 

The Strumbellas

For fans of Houndmouth, The Head and the Heart, Coin, The Wind and The Wave, Blind Pilot

When a crowd is feverishly singing along with the last chorus upon first listen, you know it’s a song that connects. This is what happens when The Strumbellas play “Spirits” live for the first time, the first single from their new album, Hope (released April 22, 2016). That experience embodies the essence of what has been attracting fans from across North America to this six-piece Lindsay, Ontario-bred band.

The Strumbellas got their start in 2009 with their eponymous EP release, which was peppered with accolades from Toronto weeklies and prompted a proclamation from the CBC that they are a “band to watch.” Since then, the group has been on the road earning their stripes through sold-out residencies at different clubs in Toronto, as well as several cross-country tours and summer festivals.

In 2012 the band released their debut album My Father And The Hunter, an album full of haunting lyrics fused with infectious and danceable melodies that won them both fans and critical recognition across multiple genres of music. Earning them a coveted JUNO nomination, the album offered a beautiful, harmonious dichotomy between melancholy heartbreak and blow-the-barn-doors-off spunk, a sound that would become synonymous with their music.

A year later, The Strumbellas followed-up with their sophomore album We Still Move On Dance Floors, which earned them six awards, including their first JUNO award. In May 2014 they laid claim to the SiriusXM Indies award for Folk Group Of The Year and in June they earned the title, Polaris Music Prize nominee, when the album nabbed a spot on the prestigious prize’s coveted Long List. Later that year they won the Ottawa Folk Festival’s Supernova Rising Star Award and nabbed the Canadian Folk Music Award for Contemporary Album Of The Year. They capped off the year by winning CBC Music’s Rising Star award in December.

2014 was a year of touring. There was no fixed address for the six-piece as they crisscrossed North America from New York to Austin to Vancouver Island, up to the Northwest Territories, across the prairies and beyond!

In early 2015, The Strumbellas, off the road and ready to go into the studio again, set up shop at downtown Toronto’s Lincoln County Social Club to record the new album with LA Producer/Engineer Dave Schiffman (Johnny Cash, Haim, Weezer). During three recording sessions in the first half of 2015, Schiffman and the band harnessed a vivid alternative rock sound that was itchin’ to get out of them. Bigger. Bolder. Beckoning.

It’s a two cents democracy when it comes to The Strumbellas. Case in point — there’s always one line in a Strumbellas’ song that causes an internal crisis. It’s the way in which these six winds blow in from different directions that make the discussion most interesting. It doesn’t really matter what the line of the song actually is. Simon will bring forth to the band his Simonisms as the band has come to call them. The line makes sense to him because it sounds pleasing to his ear. That’s what he’ll use to plead his case, “it sounds good.” David generally puts on his English Masters Degree hat and takes Simon to task on whether or not the line will make sense to anyone other than Simon. Usually he stands on principle when making his argument. Isabel will ruminate and use another artist’s work as a reference to decide if she will stand on Simon’s side of the line, or David’s. Jeremy will usually suggest everyone take a break and talk about something else. Jon will put his finger in the air in an attempt to try to figure out which way the wind is actually blowing. And Darryl, he’ll consult with everybody individually and come back to the band with a detailed pie chart of some sort that comes up with the best scenarios.

No one is ever really sure which wind is going to prevail but they each end their argument with ‘that’s just my two cents’ and whether everyone agrees or learns to live with the disagreement, at the end of the day they ride on together.

The Strumbellas:

Simon Ward – vocals, acoustic guitar

David Ritter – piano, percussion, vocals

Jeremy Drury – drums, percussion

Isabel Ritchie – violin, vocals

Jon Hembrey – electric guitar

Darryl James – bass

With Noah Kahan

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