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At first glance, this story might seem more suited to Brooklyn, Compton, or even Dublin than Copenhagen, Denmark. There’s a community in the center of Copenhagen called Christiania. In this 30-block radius, there are no cars, streetlights, or police. A personal toilet and running water were considered luxuries in the early nineties. Dogs roam the cobblestone streets without leashes, and plumes of smoke billow out of the windows. However, people are happy, and they help each other out.
Lukas Graham calls Christiania home. It’s why he makes the music he does. It’s why he is who he is.
“We were those kids who were always dirtier than the other kids because our scope away from home was so huge,” he explains. “We weren’t poor. We just didn’t have enough. When you grow up like that, you end up showing more than you need to. I do that in my music. Instead of making up a pretty little love story about some girl I like, I end up singing about my boys in jail and how I feel. It’s easier for me to be honest about who I am than to start making up some fairytale.”
Mom worked nightshifts cleaning, while dad repaired and refurbished antique stoves and ovens. In a tiny house where he was “encouraged but not pushed to perform,” Lukas fondly recalls a family tradition that shaped his ear.
“One of the big things was the musical kitchen and dining room,” he says. “When you were cooking, cleaning, or washing the dishes, you could choose your favorite album and play it almost as loudly as you wanted to. We had everything from The Beatles and Rolling Stones to Gregory Isaacs, James Brown, Al Green, and The Prodigy.”
At eight-years-old, Lukas joined the Copenhagen Boys’ Choir and developed not only an appreciation for classical music but a finely trained voice. He honed that instrument touring the States and Europe in the years to follow. In between, he became fascinated with his father’s Irish roots and the country’s folk music. Coupled with hip-hop—as he admits, “Dr. Dre’s 2001 changed my life”—he began to architect a singular style that transcended international barriers and cultural boundaries.
“Folk music and classical mixed with soul, rock ‘n’ roll, and rap would be my main base of operations,” he says. “What I can do is make you laugh, dance, and cry within 60 minutes of a show, if you let me. It’s a mix of poorer musical styles. We get down and dirty, and we talk about all the little things.”
After spending six months in Buenos Aires to clear his head and get away from the darker side of his hometown, Lukas brought that sound back to Christiania in 2010 where he joined forces with his writing team Future Animals [Stefan Forrest & Morten Ristorp]. Writing lyrics first and telling stories, the style felt alive. It defined his 2012 self-titled first full-length album, which would go quadruple-platinum in Denmark and yield three smashes—“Drunk In The Morning” and “Better Than Yourself” would go #1 and “Ordinary Things” peaked at #2. All in all, cumulative single sales in Denmark would surpass 150,000 with nearly 40 million collective streams.
That success translated to the rest of Europe. In Germany, “Drunk In The Morning” became a staple and the record reached #1 on iTunes. “Happy Home” would give him his third number one in Denmark in 2014 and went multi-platinum in Norway and Sweden. Also known for a phenomenal live show, he’d go on to play countless sold out shows and earn festival main stage spots alongside his “boys” in the band, Mark “Lovestick” Falgren, Magnús “Magnúm” Larsson, and Kasper Daugaard, becoming the most popular live act in Denmark. Christiania is always on his mind though.
“I made it out,” he sighs. “I did something with my life. When my father passed, instead of just mourning, I built my mom a house. I got myself an apartment a block from Christiania. All of the same plumbers, carpenters, and gangsters meet me at that local bar. I’m not going to a fancy club and buying champagne.”
Sighing, Lukas interjects, “That’s not to say I haven’t done that, because I have. I maxed out my credit cards, and I was stupid with the money that followed the fame. I was lucky to quickly realize that wasn’t the goal.”
He has no problem being candid and admitting mistakes. That kind of honesty and heart attracted the attention of Warner Bros. Records who signed him after a 2013 Los Angeles showcase. His upcoming U.S. release, already a hit in Scandinavia, captures the spirit that turned everyone into believers in the first place and serves as his proper introduction stateside.
First single “7 Years” begins with his emotional delivery and a soft piano line. He looks back over his life and what’s ahead.
“I couldn’t go any further than 60 because my father died at 61,” he admits. “I need to pass it to believe it. It’s a song about growing older. I’m also coming to a realization that being a father is the most important thing. My biggest dream is not to be some negative old dude, but to have my kids’ friends say, ‘You’re going to visit your dad? Say hi! He’s fucking awesome.’ I had a perfect father. When he died, all of my friends were like, ‘It’s hard for me to feel bad for you, because I just lost one of my best friends.”
“Mama Said” begins with a children’s choir and bright production. As the verse kicks in, Lukas weaves together a confessional narrative that culminates on a striking and soulful refrain.
“One time, the kids in school made fun of me because I was wearing the wrong jeans,” he recalls. “I bought them with my own money, and I was so proud. My mom said, ‘Don’t listen to those rich kids. We’ve got a bed and food. Imagine how many children don’t have that.’ My dad told me, ‘You’re going to be laughing at them one day, but don’t point back. Don’t get even or mad. Keep walking and smiling.’ I never want to lose sight of my roots. I know where I’m from. I’m also not going to forget where the fuck I’m going.”
Dad would be proud, because his son’s story has the power to change lives. “I want people to walk away becoming music lovers,” Lukas leaves off. “A lot of artists want the riches and the fame. I want to tell stories you can put into the context of your life.”
Brendan James’ latest EP, The Howl, finds the singer-songwriter steering into new territory, discovering courage to release a brave new sound, while staying respectful to his meaningful history of lyric and message.
From the opening declaration of “Bring My Love Home” to its conclusion, it is clear James has out done even his own expectations.
For those who have followed Brendan James from his 2008 major label debut, to his current ranking among today’s top troubadours; the journey has been a pretty remarkable one.
Born in New Hampshire, schooled in Chapel Hill, signed by Capitol Records by the age of 25, and road tested with 1,000 shows to date, James’ has certainly lived the troubadour life. His songs have landed spots on over 15 major television shows and feature films, as well as achieving the #1 Singer Songwriter spot on ITunes, multiple times. He has formed relationships with music legends Carly Simon and Cat Stevens, enjoyed on stage experiences with the likes of John Legend, John Mayer, and Paula Cole, and recently been asked to give a TedTalk on gun violence, love songs, and simpler societies.
Now, after 2 years of touring in support of his 2012 release, Simplify, James embarks on a new sound all together. His new EP, The Howl, set for release in the summer of 2015, is bigger, badder and dancier than anything he’s attempted to date. In his words, ‘The Howl’ is “…a reflection of my years on the road, my dreams broken and reformed, and my growing addiction to the upbeat and the feel good.”
He chose the name after reading a review of his last album, in which he was described as an artist holding back a howl.
So howl he will do. Bigger songs, bigger shows, and bigger goals.
The Howl is the bold next step in the evolution of an artist.
The musical journey of Brendan James continues…
Native New Yorker Tor Miller is endearingly vague when asked to explain the source of his singing voice. He grew up, he says, with a dad “who was part of the Glee Club at university, and he’d sing all the time at home, all these old college drinking songs. But my mum can’t sing to save her life. My parents always say that I would sing around the house all the time, too, but I don’t remember that. I do know that they would go to parent evenings and ask my teachers about my participation in music, and the teachers would go: ‘What? He never contributes.’ I’d sing along to the radio, but I never thought anything of it.” (one can easily lose count of the great singers who will give a similar answer when quizzed about their talent. How cool must it be to be able to shrug in explanation -oh, the singing? I never thought anything of it.)
As Tor tells it, it took a major upheaval in his life to kickstart his conviction and self-belief, and turn him from someone who would “sing around the house all the time” into an artist on a mission. When he was 12, his parents moved from Manhattan out to New Jersey and six months later, Tor enrolled in a new school. It was those six months, and the two years that followed, that would shape him both as a singer and as a songwriter. Each weekday he and his mother would do “a 90-minute commute. She would drop me off and I’d sit for about half an hour, waiting for school to open, listening to the music she had given me – Ziggy Stardust, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac. I listened to those records pretty much nonstop, up and back. And that was the point when I started writing my own songs.”
As is so often the case, a great teacher proved another catalyst. “I had this piano teacher at the new school who would just let me play what I wanted to, so I’d play him these songs and sing along really quietly, and one lesson he said: ‘You have a really good voice. Next week, instead of just working on the piano part, we’ll learn the vocal as well. And the week after, we can try writing something.’ So it was all thanks to that one teacher.”
The music lessons aside, Tor’s new school was, for a long time, not a place he was happy to attend. “I was a complete outcast; I didn’t talk to anyone for about two years. But I was getting confident in my music, and wrote my first couple of songs, so I decided to perform at the eighth-grade talent show – and at that point, no one had really ever heard me even speak. I was so mad about moving schools and leaving all my friends, so I hadn’t participated in anything, but I got up there and performed a song I had just written, and immediately after, people suddenly wanted to talk to me, I got all this attention – especially from girls! It propelled me to keep going, and I started booking shows, open-mic nights in places like The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. I went to high school, and joined a jazz band there, and some of the guys in that joined my band, and we just carried on playing shows. But it all came from that first performance in eighth grade.”
The songs “began to pour out, most of them about isolation and loneliness,” Tor says with a wry laugh. “I felt that I’d been taken out of the city and away from a life I loved, and thrown out on a horse farm in New Jersey. And here, suddenly, was something I liked – and I didn’t like anything at the time.” The bug had bitten him and, when he took up a place studying music at NYU, Tor dived right in. “The moment when it felt properly real was in my first semester at college, when I was writing all these songs. There was this room in the basement of my dorm building, next to the laundry room, it could reach 100 degrees in there, but I’d be in there three or four hours every day, writing away, skipping class, and I really felt that I was coming into my own. My attitude was, ‘No, fuck the classes, you need to be working on your music’.
Glassnote Records – home to artists such as Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, Childish Gambino and CHVRCHES – picked up on the buzz about Tor, and last year, he signed to the label. Which led, he admits, to a slightly tense family summit with his mum and dad. “I’m supposed to be on this two-year leave from college at the moment, and I think my parents both fully expect that I’ll be going back there at the end of it. It was an incredibly awkward conversation when the deal came about. I had to say: ‘Because of this, I don’t think I’ll be going back to college next year.’ That was pretty nerve-wracking.”
Headlights, the title track of Tor’s EP released in February 2015, includes Hold the Phone, a song from Tor’s dorm-basement days that he recorded on his i-Phone, and which first gained traction when Zane Lowe named it as the Next Hype on his R1 show and Now and Again which has a swagger Ziggy would have approved of, and a sonic eclecticism that recalls Lindsay Buckingham’s multilayered production mastery. But it is Midnight that most captures Tor’s impassioned musicianship – and his abiding, imperishable love for the city he was forced to abandon temporarily as a teen.
In the midst of the release of his new single Carter & Cash, Tor is working to complete his debut album at London’s Eastcote studios with the producer Eliot James (Noah and the Whale, Two Door Cinema Club, Plan B, Bloc Party). Tor describes the recording environment as “a bit dilapidated, which is exactly how I like it. And Eliot is a producer who really drives the recordings, and captures the grit in a song. It’s a huge relief to finally find the right match.” He’s determined not to play it safe, he says, or smooth off the rough edges in his songs. “Risk-taking is rare in music. When I wrote some of these songs, I’d listen to some of the lyrics and think, ‘Fuck – do I really want to be saying that? Do I really want to let everyone know how I feel?’ But I think that’s something you have to do if you want to produce work that is honest.”
The key moment in Midnight is when with the backing vocals rising to a tumult behind him, Tor sings “Calling out, calling out for something true.” The most thrilling thing about Tor Miller – though he may not have realized this yet – is that he’s found it.
A dusky-voiced 20-year-old singer/songwriter from deep in the mountains of Arizona, Zella Day makes electrocharged, guitar-driven indie-pop that’s steeped in a magic of her own invention.
After teaching herself to play guitar at a young age and writing her first batch of songs in her teens, Zella began honing a songwriting style rooted in real-life stories but shaped by her infatuation with everything from desert mystique and old spaghetti westerns to the psychedelic culture of ‘60s California. Lacing her lyrical storytelling with sunlit melodies and heavy beats, the L.A.-based artist now delivers her full-length debut with KICKER—an intimate but gorgeously expansive album. Zella explains, “The music’s spiritual resonance is clearly influenced by the Northern Arizona mountains that sheltered my creative energy from any outside implications of city mentality. The creatures I encountered while exploring the depths of my mind and the small town full of secrets all hold great importance to the characterization of this record. One of the most important characters that embody this story is KICKER.
“I was a young girl beginning to understand what my existence meant to the world around me, and KICKER was the ranch horseman that was coloring my imagination with the legends of his native culture. I look back now with a realization of how perfect the timing was when he came in to my life; little did I know I was being presented with a divine guidance that led me deeper into the interworking of my creative visions that contribute to my artistry today. The name of my album is in honor of the person who ignited a flame in my dream realm.”
Revealing her own power to bend reality into something much more enchanted, KICKER arrives with Zella having already racked up nine #1 Hype Machine singles and drawn raves from the likes of Interview, Vice, Nylon, and Soma, who note that “There is an incandescent quality that Zella Day possesses… it resonates throughout her songs with flawless grace.”
In bringing the album to life, Zella worked closely with her longtime collaborators Wally Gagel and Xandy Barry (a production/songwriting duo known for their work with Best Coast) to weave in lush yet hard-hitting electronic elements that deliver a dreamy intensity —as well as the stunning string arrangements that Zella recorded with an orchestra at the legendary Capitol Studios. Featuring lead single “Hypnotic” (a brash but breezy track that hit #1 on the Alt Nation Alt 18 Countdown at the start of 2015), KICKER matches that richness of texture with an emotional intricacy that makes each song instantly captivating.
Throughout KICKER, Zella uses her songs to explore toxic relationships and breakups and broken homes, love and lust and fascination of all kinds. Thanks to her poetic sense of imagery, magnetic vocal presence, and otherworldly sound, the album blurs truth and fiction, dark and light, beauty and pain.
With its title referencing the old Arizona mining town where her parents married, the gloriously pain-drenched album-opener “Jerome” offers an imagined portrait of the coal miner’s wife who became Zella’s namesake (“It’s about the ghost of Zella and my idea of what her life was like,” she explains. “I think of her as a girl getting married off by her family and going crazy in the cage that was now her life”). Built on a mesmerizing arrangement of strings, trumpet, piano, and infectious beats, “The Outlaw Josey Wales” gives a nod to Clint Eastwood’s 1976 Western of the same name. And in its wistful vocal work and lilting melody, “1965” achieves a different kind of time-warping as Zella sings of longing to live in a more charmed time.
Elsewhere on KICKER, Zella touches on the trouble that comes with growing up and getting older, with the fierce and chilling “Sweet Ophelia” taking a bravely nuanced look at loss of virginity and “Mustang Kids” (a synth-soaked hip-hop-tinged track featuring Florida-bred rapper Baby E) giving a gritty glimpse at “what it’s like to be a bored kid in a small town with nowhere to go and nothing to do,” as Zella notes. On the bittersweet and breathtaking “High,” she reflects on a toxic relationship where the only connection comes from indulging in self-destructive behavior (sample lyric: “As long as we keep getting high/Keep burning like we’re never gonna die”). Also proving herself skilled in laying down a gut-punching love song, Zella channels her raw emotional energy into tracks like “Jameson,” a stripped-down and soulful number that illuminates the heartbreak of loving someone in the depths of despair. And in naming her favorite song on KICKER, Zella chooses the hushed and lovely piano ballad “Compass,” a serenade to her tiny hometown of Pinetop, Arizona. “When I was living in Pinetop, all I wanted was to get out,” she says. “But now that I can look back on where I came from, I realize more than ever how much that place is a part of me.”
At age 14, shortly after getting her start playing music at a nearby coffeehouse owned by her grandmother, Zella recorded an album of her own material. With buzz building after the album’s release, she then began making frequent trips to Nashville to join in songwriting sessions with musicians like John Paul White from the Civil Wars. But while working in Nashville went a long way in sharpening her songwriting craft, Zella envisioned her music taking on an edgy sonic atmosphere that departed from the Nashville aesthetic. Soon enough, she landed a deal with LA tastemaker label B3SCI, who released Zella’s debut self-titled EP on limited edition vinyl last fall. From there, she created her imprint Pinetop Records in partnership with Hollywood Records, and set to work on creating the ethereal and electronic-enhanced sound that makes KICKER so dynamic.
Fresh off a West Coast tour—and gearing up to play major festivals like Lollapalooza this summer—Zella is awaiting KICKER’s release with a fluttery anticipation. “Sometimes I have to close my eyes when I’m listening to these songs, because I feel like I’m telling everyone all my secrets,” she says. “But at the same time I’m proud that I was able to be that fearless and not hold back from putting so much truth into the album.”
Ben Rector is bringing sincerity to pop music. The singer-songwriter’s latest album Brand New, shows Rector going back to his beginnings, penning 12 sincere and humble songs brimming with a youthful spirit. The album is a slice of Rector’s real world – honest ruminations on life and love and the latest step in a journey he began as a teenager playing guitar in his Tulsa home. Then, every song was a discovery – something magnetic and new – and making music was about the thrill of songwriting; turning those songs into a career was only a dream. Now, two years after his first entry into the Top 20 on the Billboard 200 Chart, the 28-year-old has independently sold over 250,000 albums and 2 million single-song downloads. His four studio albums and 2014’s Live In Denver have repeatedly put him on top of the iTunes charts, leading to sold-out shows and fans who sing along to every word in theaters across the country. Recorded in his adopted hometown of Nashville, and partially in Norman, OK, Brand New was produced by Rector and Ed Cash, Cason Cooley, and Chad Copelin. In each setting, Rector explains, “the goal was to capture a performance rather than build a performance.” Rector’s development as a songwriter and musician is clear here; the album displays his deft grasp of the tools of his trade and his strength as a dynamic live performer. Making this album has energized Rector, an independent musician who has realized success on his own terms. Brand New shines with the charisma of a seasoned artist and the joy of a teenager writing songs for the first time.
Los Angeles-born, New York-raised recording artist Andy Grammer has gone from hustling street performer on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade to multi-platinum selling recording artist. His debut top 10 hit singles, “Keep Your Head Up“ and “Fine By Me,” are certified platinum and gold respectively. Andy’s critically acclaimed sophomore album Magazines or Novels, continues his disarming success with his triple-platinum #1 single “Honey, I’m Good.” and “Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah).”
Born in New York City and raised by her mother, a sculptor, and her father, a classical composer, Ingrid Michaelson has artistry in her DNA. At four she began taking piano lessons but it wasn’t until after she graduated college with a degree in musical theatre and was touring the country in a theater troupe that she began to write the dreamy, pensive-but-poppy songs that would connect with millions. Her music taps into universal themes like self-doubt, betrayal, and of course love, but her spirit is fiercely indie; all of Ingrid’s music is released on the label she founded, Cabin 24 Records which has sold one million albums and over 6 million singles to date.
In the past year, Ingrid has vaulted from overachieving indie-pop sweetheart to a bona-fide pop star. Her fifth studio album, Lights Out (Cabin 24/Mom+Pop), was her highest charting debut yet, bowing at No. 4 upon its release and building on the successful debuts of her two previous records, Human Again (No. 5), in 2012 and Everybody (No. 18), released in 2009. Lights Out’s debut single “Girls Chase Boys” spent 20 weeks on Billboard’s Top 100, became her first Top 40 hit and introduced her to a whole new audience.
Ingrid is currently working on writing & producing her own sitcom, recording her next studio album, and writing songs for film.