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Surrealist Artist Dom Dirtee Thinks Both Sides Are Drinking the Kool-Aid

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

It was a boiling-hot day in Brooklyn when I strolled by a dull gray electrical box and glimpsed vivid shades of red, purple and blue. The square black sticker pasted onto the box contained a blue angelic figure with red wings kneeling in prayer beneath a bizarre hodgepodge of images depicting the decrepit state of America today: pills—possibly a nod to the opioid epidemic—logos for Fox News and Vice, Facebook and Twitter social media icons, an iPhone, an AK-47, an Amazon box, and an array of dollar bills upon dollar bills. Scrawled in tiny white font beneath the image were the words Dom Dirtee.
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Lovehoney Believes Sleazy Blues Rock Can Take Over the World

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

Lovehoney is here to make you care about rock and roll again, and they’re doing a pretty damn good job of it. Band members—vocalist Alysia Quinones, guitarist Tommy White, drummer Tom Gehlhaus and bassist Matt Saleh—may not presently live in Brooklyn—though Alysia grew up in Bushwick—but their home base where they rehearse is a local fixture. The Sweatshop, which lies off the Montrose Avenue L stop, offers space to many rising New York artists. As we’re chatting, the whirring of a machine and other banging noises periodically disrupt our conversation. Tommy smiles wryly and says, “The perks of having a rehearsal studio in a warehouse.”

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Crystal Moselle Talks Skate Kitchen And Bringing the Girl Skaters of the LES to the Big Screen

(Images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Director Crystal Moselle, who traced a family of Lower East Side shut-ins with her documentary The Wolfpack, is back in the public spotlight. This time, she’s touting a feature film instead of a documentary and hanging out with a feisty group of teen girls tearing up the skate parks and streets of the Lower East Side. Her new film, Skate Kitchen, depicts a fictionalized version of the lives of real skateboarders who captivate their 70,000-plus followers on Instagram with viral videos of skating tricks and gnarly wipe outs.

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‘Store Front’ Photographer Karla Murray Races Against Time to Document ‘Fun and Funky’ NYC

(Photo courtesy of James and Karla Murray)

Longtime East Village photographers James and Karla Murray installed a structure in Seward Park recreating the Lower East Side’s Cup and Saucer, which closed after more than 70 years in business. Now, they’ve set up a gallery show featuring photographs from their “Store Front” books just a few blocks away at The Storefront Project (70 Orchard Street). The exhibit, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York,” pays homage to the mom-and-pop shops of the Lower East Side and will remain open through August 12. Bedford + Bowery chatted with Karla Murray about her hopes and thoughts on the changing neighborhood. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

I hope the opening reception went well.

BB_A(1)We got a lot of love and support from our friends and store owners as well. The granddaughter of Moe Albanese [of] Albanese Meats & Poultry on Elizabeth [Street]. Really the last butcher in Nolita. A neon sign fabricator who created the sign for Trash & Vaudeville and refurbished the Russ & Daughter’s sign was in attendance as well.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

Tell me about your hopes for the Orchard Street exhibit.

BB_A(1)The majority of the photos relate to the Lower East Side. You know, to relate back to the neighborhood that the gallery is in. We also have a smattering from our so-called other “favorite” ones, mostly departed stores like Zig Zag Records and the Ralph’s that you saw in the window. We included some others but concentrated on the Lower East Side because we wanted to continue our story. ‘Cuz certainly the Lower East Side has changed a lot with gentrification and different people moving in. Unfortunately, a lot of mom-and-pop stores have closed. Buildings have been knocked down—it’s not only the stores. They’ve destroyed a lot of old tenement buildings [that] have been replaced with newer developments. When that happens, what replaces them on the ground floor as far as retail [goes] is a massive space that usually doesn’t lend to a mom-and-pop store leasing it because it’s just too expensive.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

Are you mainly trying to preserve the legacy of these buildings or do you think there is some hope for activists to see your work and get inspired?

BB_A(1)Oh, of course. The way we’ve always thought of it is a celebration of the businesses that are still around. We always photograph vibrant, lively businesses. That’s why we always put the address with the cross street because we want people to be able to go to the stores and shop at them. That’s really the key to their survival, [which] is that they need customers.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

And how many businesses did you end up photographing as part of this project?

BB_A(1)It’s countless. Thousands of photos. There’s over 325 stores just in our first book. And we have three books on the subject. Too many to count and interviews with the store owners as well. It’s over twenty years now [that] we’ve been documenting these mom-and-pop stores.

BB_Q(1)

You [and James] have been East Village residents for how many years now?

BB_A(1)We’ve lived in the same apartment for 22 years now. So it’s been a long time. It’s changed a lot in the time that we’ve been there. To be honest: we wish we had photographed more. There’s many, many small businesses that we remember fondly, but frankly we didn’t ever take a photo of [them] because we didn’t think they would ever close. And then it was too late. It’s always been a race against time to document them because they seem to be closing almost on a daily basis. For the most part, if they don’t own the building they’re located in, with the cost of new real estate going up, the landlord will triple, quadruple [the rent]. One business, they increased the rent 15 times. I mean, no small business can absorb that kind of rent increase, so then they’re forced to close.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

BB_Q(1)

So how do you feel about new developments like the Target in the East Village? Do you feel that kind of bodes ill for the mom-and-pop businesses?

BB_A(1)We live on that street.That was all mom-and-pop stores. We documented them on film in the ‘90s. There was a pizzeria. There was a Permacut [Beauty Salon]. There was an old dive bar. Blarney Cove. There was a little bodega. There was a 99 cent [store]. There was a whole strip of store after store after store. Mom-and-pop places. They knocked all that down and built that development. I mean, you can go anywhere and shop in Target. You don’t have to be in New York City. That doesn’t make a neighborhood. To us, it’s the mom-and-pop stores that define a community. The very reason we moved to the East Village years ago [was] that we thought it was fun and funky and had a lot of cool and interesting shops. When those types of stores close, the fabric of the neighborhood suffers.

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

James and Karla Murray will lead a walking tour from their Seward Park installation to the Orchard Street exhibit on Saturday, August 4th from 1-3 p.m. Check their Instagram and Facebook for further details coming soon.

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How Kiefer Stopped Being a Jazz Snob and Started Making Boundary-Breaking Music From the Heart

Photo by Eric Coleman

About halfway through our conversation, Kiefer Shackelford launches into one of his favorite jokes: “Can you imagine Duke Ellington teaching a piano lesson and going, Now remember, son, make sure they always think what you’re doing is jazz? That’s got to be the most idiotic thing I’ve heard, and yet we’re so stuck in that.”

A UCLA-trained pianist who records under his first name, Kiefer’s light jabs at jazz snobs are in-bounds, since he admits that was once his mindset. But after seeing MNDSGN at the late-lamented L.A. showcase The Low End Theory in 2015, he dived headlong into the city’s bohemian, genre-fusing scene as a producer, earning co-productions with the likes of Kaytranada and Anderson .Paak.

While last year’s debut, Kickinit Alone, was an instrumental travelogue through the wake of a break-up, HappySad (released Friday on Stones Throw Records) takes more of an overview of an artist trying to balance a scale of ambition and anxiety. Beneath the accessible speckling of MPC-inspired rhythms, cool jazz noodling, and molasses-slow G-funk that play under the soft-white vinyl hiss of the record, one might not catch the looming uncertainty– or true reverence for American composers–Kiefer demonstrates on each track. HappySad’s hip-hop readymades establish his foothold in Stones Throw’s unsinkable roster of beatmakers, upholding a jazz heritage while envisioning its boundary-less future.

“Your job as a musician is not to be the smartest, most esoteric, eccentric or artistically superior person out there,” Shackelford said. “You can develop those cool harmonies and rhythms, but your job first and foremost should be for the purpose of encouraging people and making their lives better.”

Ahead of his New York debut performance at Elsewhere on Friday, Kiefer caught up with B+B to chat about HappySad, the link between education and jazz, and the freeing feeling of “abandoning” art.

BB_Q(1)Kickinit Alone doesn’t start in the same place it ends emotionally; it takes listeners from a dejected mood to a optimistic one. Did you go into HappySad thinking it would have a similar emotional arc?

BB_A(1)Definitely. I think at a certain point I realized that although writing about sadness is particularly potent, I wasn’t as emotionally distraught as I was when recording the previous record. This one’s more of a hodgepodge, but it’s consistent in that I’m writing with the same mindset all the time. It’s emotional journaling, and [HappySad] is my journal for 2017. A lot of songs are about my anxiety, being ambitious and having dreams and trying to follow them, romantic feelings. A lot of songs are about ego and trying to control that. I think it’s about an emotionally complex person who’s … just a got a dream [laughs] and just trying to make it work and balance my emotional life with my musical aspirations.

It seems like these records are a pretty distinct snapshot of where you are as you make them. Was that BB_Q(1)always a natural path for you? Many artists try to shy away from wanting people to think of their music as diaristic.

BB_A(1)It’s definitely natural for me. I’ve been playing piano since I was very little and learning how to improvise from day one. Being an improviser offers you the chance to write for the moment; being able to make music extemporaneously allows for me to put down whatever I’m feeling in that instant. Usually every single song I do [starts by] sitting down at the piano for 60 seconds or so, and then I think about the most emotionally captivating thing in my life at the time. Over the next 20, 30 minutes I’ll have the basic idea finished and I’ll put it away.

BB_Q(1)

When do you know when the recording is complete?

BB_A(1)It’s kind of a cop-out answer, but it’s an artistic decision when to stop. I’m of the belief that no art is finished. Michelangelo once said, “All art is abandoned.” At some point you just have to stop and be content with it not being done. Even Kanye West with The Life of Pablo, he’s still updating that shit and re-uploading it to Spotify. I just read yesterday that Bob Dylan is always rewriting his greatest songs that a lot of people have deemed as “perfect.” But we have such a reference for musicians, sometimes, that we forget that songs are not necessarily finished with they’re recorded.

We try to get as close to perfection as you can within reason, but for me it’s more about being real with myself. I find that a feeling only visits you for so long, and as an improviser I’m trying to channel those constantly changing emotions very efficiently. If you have aspects of your technique that are blocking you from getting that out, that’s something that you need to work on.

BB_Q(1)

What aspect of your technique do you think you’ve spent the most time working to un-block?

BB_A(1)I think the biggest one was mixing and understanding how to use software. The laptop is quite literally an instrument, a tool for creative expression, and learning how to see my computer as a part of my process as opposed to just the piano has been an essential part of this new art form I’ve been trying to develop.

BB_Q(1)Earlier this week, L.A.’s influential music event series/showcase Low End Theory announced it would be ending. Did you have any experiences there?

BB_A(1)That was a huge fork in the road for me, actually. In August 2013, Mndsgn played, and he became one of the most irreplaceable presences in my musical career, because had it not been for watching him perform and really loving what I’ve heard, I would have never considered this as a career path. I used to be one of those jazz snobs who only wanted to play jazz, but then I saw this jazz-influenced type of thing that I suddenly became very interested in, and that was all at Theory.

BB_Q(1)

You’ve spoken before about the importance for jazz musicians not to get in this mindset of I only can play jazz music. What’s some stuff that you’ve been listening to that helps get you out of that bubble?

BB_A(1)I love a lot of my contemporaries. I love Kaytranada, Knxwledge, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick. I listen to a lot of Brazilian music, but that’s still kind of jazz. I think especially in this day and age, jazz musicians dedicate ourselves to tradition, we think it’s really important. But the irony is we’re ignoring a huge part of the tradition, which is that a lot of the great jazz musicians throughout history were not playing [what we call] “jazz” at the time. Think about Duke Ellington; he called his music “American music.” Miles Davis called his “social music.” Same goes for John Coltrane. Even Robert Glasper is doing things he doesn’t even consider jazz all the time.

BB_Q(1)Outside of producing/performing, you’re also a piano teacher. Who was one of those older musicians that affected your approach to music?

BB_A(1)I think a favorite person that I have taken the most influence from in recent years was my teacher, Abraham Laboriel, who’s played bass on Stevie Wonder records, Quincy Jones records, Michael Jackson records, everything. Something that he reminded me to do all the time is most fundamental thing of all: play from your heart. Don’t ever touch your instrument if you’re not doing that. Even if you play one note, if you put your heart into it, your stresses and your self judging, any insecurities start to go away. You’re less concerned with “Are people judging me? Am I doing this the right way? Oh man, I sound terrible.” Those thoughts kind of subside.

“HappySad” is out now on Stones Throw Records. Kiefer’s record release show at The Del Monte in Los Angeles on July 12.

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Sons of an Illustrious Father Navigate the Fame Matrix With an In-Band Life Coach

Sons of an Illustrious Father. (Photo: Bradley Spinelli)

In March, at the altruistic Bed-Stuy venue C’mon Everybody, the band Sons of an Illustrious Father delivered a blistering set for a rapt audience. It was the smallest venue I’d seen them in, after three shows at 2016’s SXSW and another last summer at the Knitting Factory. Their sets swerve enjoyably between savage and tender, and this intimate look stood out as a milestone. Their multi-instrumentalism was on display and working better than ever, the band’s affable personalities and unique chemistry shone through.The fans seemed steadfast and loyal—and not just because of the inevitable fanboys/girls who stick around after the show hoping to meet Ezra Miller, also an actor best known for his turn as Flash in Justice League.

Their new record, Deus Sex Machina, or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla, dropped June 1, along with new videos and a cross-country tour to promote it, including a 16-and-up show at Elsewhere on Tuesday. The slew of new interviews prompted me to continue our backstage-at-Stubb’s conversation by asking them what THEY wanted to talk about. Josh Aubin said it was “something we’ve never been asked in an interview”; Lilah Larson quipped, “Nobody cares what we want to talk about”; Ezra Miller said, “It’s honestly overwhelming,” and asked for some parameters. The following 45 minutes included a lot of laughter and encouraged Miller to say, “I can’t wait for whatever the piece [is] that comes out of this, where you’re like—I had an entire conversation with [the band] that is off the record, that I can’t tell you anything that they said—but it was all mildly amusing.” Here are some excerpts we can print; the debate about the most famous Star Wars line has been redacted for common decency.

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Kat Cunning Is A ‘Curvy, Curly Queer Weirdo’ Ready For Pop Stardom

(photo: Chris Miller)

We know that Kat Cunning has a recurring role coming up on HBO—and we know what the show is—but we’re not allowed to tell you.

Last month, at the swanky, faux rich-person’s-living-room venue the Norwood Arts Club, Cunning hosted a private showcase for a rapt (and packed) crowd. Cunning’s voice is eerily specific, and with the moody, slow-danceable music, Ellie Goulding would be a quick comparison (and not a terrible one), but one could easily see her giving Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers a run for her money, or sitting in with The Hot Sardines and trading licks with Elizabeth Bougerol. It’s that shift from ’20s-style back-of-the-throat to searing, modern hook head voice that keeps you on your toes and gives her music a moving, cabaret feel that feels a few carats richer than average pop. Keep Reading »

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The Skinny On ‘Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story,’ Kicking Off the LES Film Festival in June

The Schlep Sisters. (From Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story)

The 2018 Lower East Side Film Festival is announcing its opening night film, Getting Naked: A Burlesque Storywith this exclusive from Bedford + Bowery. The documentary is about the wild and ever-changing burlesque revival in New York. It premiered at the 74th Venice International Film Festival and played at DOC NYC 2017 prior to its scheduled showing at the LES Film Festival on June 7.

We chatted with the film’s director, James Lester, about burlesque in New York and the inspiration behind his feature documentary.

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Sweetbitter Author and Series Creator Stephanie Danler On Being ‘Hungry’ For New York City

Stephanie Danler

Lots of television shows mythologize New York City. But few succeed in depicting the city’s magnetism and allure as precisely as Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter, adapted from her 2016 debut novel of the same name. Premiering last Sunday on Starz, the new series centers around Tess (Ella Purnell), a 22-year-old small town transplant pursuing a job as a waitress at a high-end Manhattan restaurant in 2006. Though the story is fiction, Danler — who is the series creator, writer, and executive producer — based it on her own experiences as a recent college grad navigating New York’s high cuisine scene. Nowadays, Danler spends the majority of her time in Los Angeles, but she still has a soft spot for the city — even during summer weeks like this one, when a stroll down the block can feel like “swimming in a thick soup.”

Bedford + Bowery chatted with Danler on the phone this week after the Sweetbitter premiere last Sunday. We talked city life, oysters, and how she can tell which of the season’s six episodes were directed by women.

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Musician Rafiq Bhatia On Throwing Out the Manual to Make His New Album, Breaking English

(Photo by Seth Hale)

For the past five years, Rafiq Bhatia has been pushing out from the style and instrument that has made him a highly coveted collaborator.

A virtuoso guitarist that quickly earned a pedigree in the jazz world, Bhatia began to feel weighted down by the patterns he’d been adhering to on his debut album Yes It Will and EP Strata. His pair of 2012 releases gestured at times towards the warped soundscaping that define his newest album Breaking English, but was orchestrated within ensemble-minded compositions familiar to jazz listeners.

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Turntablist Legend Kid Koala On Venturing Into Video Games and His ‘Totally Bonkers’ Live Show

(Photo: Corinne Merrell)

It’s hard to imagine now how groundbreaking Radiohead’s Kid A was. I’d seen Radiohead in a small Dallas club when “Creep” was hot, and ran to see them all-grows-up at MSG in 2001—but equally jaw-dropping was the opening act, Kid Koala. For music dorks-slash-turntable geeks, Kid Koala executed skillz that were technically mindblowing, while playing actual music that was swoonable for audience members who weren’t hawk-watching the camera trained on his decks.

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