A Conversation with Emily May of Decadent West

Emily May is an artist who lives and creates screen prints in her home studio in Jamaica Plain. Check out Emily’s Etsy shop, Decadent West, to see some of her witty prints, t-shirts and koozies, whose messages ring so true to so many.

I recently chatted with Emily on a park bench in JP and asked her about where she finds inspiration for her pieces and how she manages her work-life-art balance. Our conversation below is lightly edited for length and clarity.

Gabi Mendick: What’s your background both generally and artistically?

Emily: I’ve lived all over the place. I went to school in Vermont and studied environmental philosophy, but still did a lot of art in school. Afterwards I moved out to Portland, Oregon and realized that the only thing I wanted to do was art, so I devoted myself to that. That’s when I first got turned on to screen printing as something that I knew I had to do to make my art more sellable. I had been doing a lot of watercolors, and you can watercolor for forever and nobody’s going to care most of the time. I thought it would be cool to learn this process and be able to mass produce my work.  After Portland I moved home and my parents were living in Michigan where I took classes at the Kalamazoo Art Institute, where I learned how to screen print. I basically moved into the studio and fell in love with screen printing right away. When I later moved to Boston, about five years ago, I started my own home studio and I’ve been doing that ever since.

GM: Why did you find screen printing more sellable or more appealing as opposed to digitally printing paintings?

Emly: I was thinking “how can I make art available to other people?” I guess it was the style of screen printing appealed to me the most.

GM: And with screen printing the process of the reproduction is also an art, and you’re working with your hands, rather than doing everything on a computer.

Emily: And I should be better at digital stuff and technology, but my thing is pretty analog. Which is kind of nice, because though having a lot of scale digitally can be really useful, sometimes I think that a lot of styles start to look the same when they’re overly processed, so I try to keep mine a little more raw.

GM: So what brought you to Boston five years ago?

Emily: I had to get out of Michigan, and my sister was living here, and I also had a friend who said “you can stay with me”- so I moved out here and lived in a corner of his living room and I’ve been here ever since.

GM: Do you have a day job or are you a full time artist?

Emily: I do. I work right up the street at Lincoln School where I teach at extended day. I do a lot of art with fourth and fifth graders; it’s super fun. One of my favorite things to do with them is experiment with different types of printmaking, even something as small as making stamps on the ends of corks. I try to go crazy and get as weird as possible with them and explore easy, different modes of printmaking with the kids.

GM: Do you ever make anything in the classroom that you end up finishing at home and selling?

Emily: Yes, I definitely do. I started doing linoleum block printing with kids and then went home and started doing my own rubber stamps. Or even different motifs that the kids come up with. I was doing a little stamping project and this kid took out black paper and white ink and started doing all this moon stuff, and I was like, “oh my god this looks so cool,” and I basically copied her. Sometimes doing art is a hard sell to kids because they equate doing art with art class where it’s an assignment, versus a space where they can just run free.

GM: Do you think Boston is a good place to live as a working artist?

Emily: I would say yes and no. I feel like in other cities there is just a higher population of working artists or creative people. On the other hand, because it’s a lower percentage of people who would call themselves artist, you can build more of a niche for yourself. When I was in Portland I kind of knew that the city did not need me. I mean, there were people with mobile screen printing trucks. They were so far ahead in so many ways as far as people making it as creatives and finding their niche. Portland is really inspirational, but in Boston people have approached me because I’m a screen printer and asked me to do a job for them. Because you’re not flooded with people doing this thing. People putting together events will also find me on Etsy. Verses a place where everyone is doing it and you have to claw your way up. I’m also not adept at self promotion, so I do kind of wait for people to come to me- which is my downfall, but I’m also fine with it. And being able to promote yourself as an artist is a totally different skill set from being an artist. And I put all of my time and energy into my favorite part which is just making the art.

GM: Is it hard for you to find time to make art?

Emily: That, I would say, is my other biggest struggle aside from self promotion. It is hard- balancing the work I do to get paid, plus time to make art, but also time for your social life. And I’m definitely not a loner, I’m pretty social; I need to spend a lot of time with friends. It’s definitely hard to balance, but I always come back to it. Deadlines keep me on track. And I like to remind myself that it is the most important thing to me, because that’s why I don’t have a full time, solid career job. I generally work pretty part time to make time for art. Even when I got out of college I was so afraid that I would be one of these people who works full time and then comes home and then is too tired to make art. And I could never do that. But luckily I’ve been out of school for ten years and it hasn’t happened, so I feel like I’ve avoided that. Which has absolutely been a worthwhile sacrifice.

GM: Do you hope you’ll be able to transition to being a full time artist?

Emily: Yeah, I do hope that. It’s funny because I spend so much time wishing that I could do that, but I do still like to think of art as something that I’m getting away with. I like to have a day job for something to complain about. I never want art to be the thing I complain about. I like that it’s an escape rather than something I have to do to pay the bills. There are also so many artists or writers who had standard careers so that they could be as weird as they wanted in their art. They didn’t have to do their creative endeavor to pay the bills, and the fact that they were freed from that is what allowed them to be experimental. So that’s what I like to remind myself of when I’m in the depths of “Why can’t I be a full time artist?!”

And sometimes when I have taken on freelance jobs, they have just ended up stressing me out because everything has to be perfect. But, of course, I still want it all.

GM: I’m really curious to hear about your Death By Eye Roll (pictured above) print and where that idea came from.

Emily: I think it came mostly from my three decades of being alive on this earth first and foremost. But, including being a DJ in college and afterwards- that’s a very male heavy environment, and having this idea of, "these are the bands I’m supposed to like,” and then getting out of that space and getting older and being like, “who’s telling me that I’m supposed to love Pavement?” At the end of the day, I don’t care about Pavement at all. And finally realizing that is very freeing. But it actually came to me when I was at a bar with two acquaintances, two men who were younger than me and talking about the Strokes. And I was thinking to myself, “I’ve been listening to the Strokes since before you were born.” They were chatting and didn’t bother to engage me, and I was just like, “I’m dead. Bury me here.” And that was the one hundredth instance of that happening. Or being friends with or in relationships with guys who are in bands and will talk at you about their music without ever asking your thoughts. I basically thought it was a funny inside joke with myself. It started out as an embroidery, I posted it, I had a bunch of friends who were like, “oh my god this is amazing,” and then one of my friends was like “you should make this into stickers or koozies.” And I didn’t know that anyone else would thing that was funny or relatable. I feel like I could write a PHD dissertation on this, because when I’m at a market, 99 out of 100 women that walk by say some version of “this relates to me on a spiritual level,” which I honestly never would have predicted. And it’s honestly also really funny to watch men’s reactions. One guy asked me, “Is it that bad?” My other favorite is when couples discuss it. And the woman will try to subtly be like, “Uh, this is you.” It is definitely heartening to see the reaction, it makes me feel less crazy. And I hope that for every woman who has been talked at and felt crazy for feeling bad about being talked at, she will feel like she’s not crazy, she’s not alone, and it’s a shared experience.

GM: So when did you make the first of that print?

Emily: Oh gosh, good question. I did this embroidery probably about two years ago and then had an aha moment of, “Oh, I'm a screen printer, I can mass produce this. I don't just have to make one embroidery and put it on my Etsy and see if it sells.” That's also what I love about doing shows is that people will say, “I don’t really use a koozie, but do you have this on a patch?” and I probably wouldn’t have thought to make a patch. It is a really nice type of test kitchen. In the past two years I was trying to hit on something that was mine and original but would be big.

GM: I was going through your Instagram earlier and came across your Westworld piece again (pictured above). When I first saw that I think I took a screenshot and sent it to five friends.

Emily: It's something that I think about a lot. I should make stickers or something out of that. I thought that everyone already thought that way, but the response on that was bigger than I expected, so I was like, “oh, maybe everyone hasn’t already thought of this.”

GM: I also really love the print of the woman taking a selfie- where did that idea originate?

Emily: I went to see an Egon Schiele show at the MFA, which was amazing, and his watercolors are so beautiful.  It inspired me; I basically sat around for the entire weekend experimenting with darker watercolors, because I tend to get too watery and too light. He uses dark tones and thick tones so well. I took a photo that I had taken of myself that had some shadows, and I tried to translate it into a really starkly toned watercolor. So, it started out as a watercolor, and then I ended up turning it into a screen print. Sometimes I get stuck in the same things, or I go back to prints I’ve done before that I like, but it was really fun to stumble upon something new and be excited about it.

GM: The figure of the nude woman that you use a lot is a different style from some of the wordy prints- when did you start doing those?

EM: I took a figure drawing class probably three years ago, and while doing the figure drawings I was thinking how fun it was going to be to turn it into a screen print. The drawings were successful and simple, so I made it into pillows, I put it on clothes, I just ended up putting it on everything. And then, I did other prints, and it was fun, because I never would have sold this figure drawing, but I played around with it and recreated it in so many other forms, and little did I know that the clothing with this nude on it would be popular. It’s a really fun way to be able to sell your drawings, or at least make them accessible. Because not everybody is interested in buying art to hang on their wall. Wearable art is super accessible and fun and I think that people right now are really interested in more custom, small batch items as opposed to something off the rack at H&M.

GM: And your work is super affordable as well, especially for people who may not have the disposable income to buy artwork.

EM: That is so important to me, because when I was just out of college and 23, I would see cool stuff, but I was broke. And I was just like, “why are these people gouging their audiences?” It is so important to me to have things that are affordable. And I do a lot to keep it affordable- I print on second hand garments so that I’m not spending $15 on a t-shirt that I have to turn around and charge $30 for.

GM: Any newer pieces you’re excited about or working on right now?

EM: One of the quotes from the Egon Schiele show, when he was put in jail for three weeks for basically hosting nude drawing sessions in his yard, and he was living with his girlfriend and they weren’t married, he did a self portrait and called it “Hindering the Artist is a Crime and is Murdering Life in the Bud.” And when I saw that title I thought, “I love how melodramatic this is, and this is how I feel everyday.” I could relate to it so hard and it was also hilarious, so I had to put it on everything.

GM: How did you come to start doing quotes and sayings and wordier pieces?

Emily: I’ve always done text heavy stuff. Even when I first started screen printing it was hard for me to just to do an image without words. I’m a big reader and writer and I love the idea of a digestible text or quote, they are so powerful. I’ve always been a quote collector so I love to repurpose them and put them back out there.

GM: When you are creating, are you thinking about something that is true to you, or are you thinking about the audience and the fact that these messages apply to everyone?

Emily: To be honest, I stick to myself first. And that’s the great thing about not having to make money off of it. I can think of myself first and I don’t have to pander. Because that’s the only way I can stand behind it is if it represents how I think and feel. And I always think, if I wanted to be a full time artist I would be making things with cats and mustaches on them. But if I was going to do that, I might as well be a banker- it’s the same thing to me. So if I think of a weird funny thing that I can laugh at, if anyone else likes it that’s great, and if not, that’s fine too.

GM: You’ve mentioned some, but are there any other artists who really inspire you?

Emily: I feel like I have a short list of artists, but a longer list of writers. As far as artists I definitely fell in love with Andy Warhol as a teenager. I think that for a lot of screen printers and graphic artists he is the gold standard. Another younger artist that I really love, whose show I just saw at the Whitney, is Laura Owens. She’s from L.A. and is a fine artist who does a lot of painting that can be serious, but there’s also a humor to it. It’s so subversive, especially as a woman to say, “take my art seriously, but I can still make it funny.” Not that I’m a fine artist, but I really love that audacity.

As far as writers, one of my number ones is Joan Didion- she was just so sharp and biting and true. Another of my favorites is James Agee who was a journalist who wrote about the great depression, he wrote this amazing book that is so emotionally rendered. And Lester Bangs is my other favorite, I love everything that he ever did.

GM: Any favorite spots for art shows around town?

Emily: I do love the ICA and I try to go there a lot. I live down the street from the Aviary, which I love, they put on awesome shows every month. I think last September I saw Solange at the Orpheum, and visually that was one of the most amazing shows I’ve seen- visual art or music, she was just incredible. That will set the bar for every show I go to in the future and I think nothing will come close.

 

Newport Folk Festival: Top Picks

Mira and Gabi are so pumped to be heading down to the fort for Newport Folk Festival this weekend. The lineup is completely stacked, but here are just a few of Mira and Gabi’s must see acts. Will you be there? Who are you looking forward to?

(Kristina is extremely jealous and wishes she could go and see Gary Clark Jr., Rachael and Vilray, and Brandi Carlile...as a start).

Mira’s Picks:

KAIA KATER- Saturday at 11:00am

I first heard Kaia Kater about a year ago and was mesmerized by her powerful voice paired with the tinny banjo, the only two elements at the beginning of “Saint Elizabeth.” I’m excited to see how she performs old-timey folk with her modern and strong female voice live on stage in the making during the “For Pete’s Sake” program this year.

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JENNY LEWIS- Saturday at 4:05pm

I hate to admit I haven’t listened to her much, but all the more reason to look forward to her set! Unlike many folkies, I’m not as familiar as with the folk canon as I would like to be, but that’s what Newport is all about - hearing people with a fresh perspective no matter if you’ve heard their whole repertoire, a couple singles, or nothing at all, it’s always an experience.

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JONNY FRITZ- Sunday at 2:45pm

What dancing shoes will J.F. be sporting this time? He’s usually wearing a sparkly pair of shoes with a funky fabulous shiny suit. Coupled with his wild hair and beard, he’s a hoot to watch. Don’t miss Jonnyboy.

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LANGHORNE SLIM & THE LOST AT LAST BAND- Sunday at 5:05pm

I have only seen him with his old backing band “The Law” so I’m excited to see this new chapter of music. I have always thought that Langhorne Slim is the most genuine and lively performer, capable of moving the audience to tears in “Song for Sid” and then smiling profusely in sheer happiness after. He is the most consistent performer, so I know that he will put on an unforgettable performance.

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DEER TICK & FRIENDS- after shows at the Newport Blues Cafe

These boys are a wild time. Gabi just saw the 10 years of Deer Tick film last week and I’m super jealous, so now I’ll see them this week! You never know what you’ll get from them, each set is a wild surprise. Listening to their gritty voices singing beautiful lyrics with the audience yelling “woah-oh-oh-oh, what a crying shame/what we became” in “Ashamed” can hardly be put to words.

Gabi’s Picks:

COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS- Friday at 12:00pm

Courtney Marie Andrews’ voice (and look) feels very reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt, yet her powerhouse vocals and simple, but beautiful messages are timeless. Listen to the title track of her latest album May Your Kindness Remain to truly understand what I’m talking about.

JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT- Friday at 6:15pm

Jason Isbell writes a killer love song, but, he also knows how to turn personal experiences into social anthems, which is why Isbell and his band are a perfect Newport headliner (check out the song “Hope the High Road”).   

VALERIE JUNE- Saturday at 1:50pm

Valerie June has such a unique sound- it’s a little folky, a little bluesy and completely groovy. Her music is perfect for blasting on long drives and for Newport Folk Festival.   

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COURTNEY BARNETT- Saturday at 4:40pm

Two of my favorite releases in the past year are from Courtney Barnett- Lotta Sea Lice, a collaboration with Kurt Vile, and Tell Me How You Really Feel, her latest solo album. There is something brilliant about Barnett’s deadpan tone and lyrics like, “He said ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup/And spit out better words than you," and her Australian accent tops it all off.

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BECCA MANCARI & BERMUDA TRIANGLE- Sunday at 12:35pm and 4:10 respectively

Bermuda Triangle, Brittany Howard (of Alabama Shakes), Becca Mancari, and Jesse Lafser, has only released three singles, but I’ve heavily and happily listened to each one. Each song is unique, and together the band has a new perspective, they had me at the first line of “Till the End of Days,” “Maybe god does exist.” I was also excited and relieved to hear that Becca Mancari will be doing a solo set on Sunday- I couldn’t make it to her show at Great Scott this past May and never got over it.

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A Conversation with Sam Talmadge

Sam Talmadge is a songwriter, fingerpicker, and occasional piano player based in Boston. With musical influences ranging from Beethoven to Elizabeth Cotten, Sam’s candid lyrics add a humorous flare that is uniquely his own. You may have seen Sam around town playing with his bands Ruthless Moon and DOGART.

But recently, Sam has also been recording and performing solo. After seeing Sam play a solo show a couple of months ago, I was struck by his set of the most mundane and depressing lyrics. It’s refreshing to hear songs that are relatable in an everyday sense. Sam has a way of both making meaning and finding humor in the routine. I chatted with Sam about how he wrote the songs on his new album I lived in a basement.

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Gabi Mendick: What does your writing process look like?

Sam Talmadge: It usually is pretty much the same every time, I’ll come up with a melody based off of the sound of what’s on the guitar or sometimes the piano. And there’s one moment that I’ll sort of be waiting for when the words will just kind of come. Not a whole song, for “Randall” it was, “Randall half man, half superstition,” and then I knew what the rest of the song was going to be about. And just from saying those words I knew this would be a fairy tale about this guy who’s a prick who will live in a castle, then he’ll die and go to heaven and then get sent to hell. That’s pretty much it; I have an idea in the beginning and I quickly in my mind sketch out what the whole song is going to be. I like writing songs that have a feeling of time passing, like writing stories as opposed to just writing vaguely about a moment. Most of the songs on the album are stories.

GM: Is “Randall” based on a real person?

Sam: It was. I don’t usually turn real experiences into something like a fairy tale. I usually just keep the real experience. But “Randall”- I was at my friend’s house and my friend’s brother was a Northeastern student that was getting a job at BP and he was reading a textbook that was part of BP’s internship program and it had some stuff about climate change and they were really stressing that it’s possible that it’s a correlation or how it’s an improvable thing, blah blah blah, that it’s not real. I got in an argument with him and we just yelled at each other for a long time about this. And then I went home, picked up the guitar, played a chord, and then said those words and it was like, “That’s it.”

GM: Is his name really Randall?

Sam: It’s not. His name isn’t really conducive to a good name to a song. I don’t know why Randall.

GM: It’s a good choice. Did you send it to him after?

Sam: I didn’t. I’ve played it for him. I don’t think he knows it’s about him. Well, I haven’t played it for him- he’s been at shows where I’ve played that song, and I don’t think he knows it’s about him. But “Randall” is definitely different for me; it’s one of like two political songs that I’ve written. I usually just like writing about stupid sad things that happen everyday.

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GM: Speaking of stupid sad things that happen everyday, where does that writing come from?

Sam: I don’t know, it wasn’t always that way. Two years ago I was writing songs that were very vague and kind of poetic or mysterious or whatever, but at some point I wrote one song that was about going into a coffee shop and really wanting to talk to someone but not talking to them and that happening over and over again. I did that once and I was like, “that felt really good. I feel like this is the best thing I’ve done,” so I kept doing it. Songs started happening faster because there are way more real life experiences that I have available to me than crazy, poetic, fantastic ideas. And so I wrote a song about that, and then one about breaking up with someone, one about being in a basement, one about being hungover.

GM: Are there songwriters who have influenced you to move in that direction?

Sam: The most influential songwriters in my life right now are the two people I’m in a band with that write songs, Caroline Kuhn and Elise Leavy. I’m not sure that they necessarily made me want to write things that are more realistic and specific to day-to-day life, but they definitely made me want to write songs that are more honest. I felt like I was writing a lot of songs that had nothing to do with my life. One songwriter that I based “Randall” off of is John Prine. The structure is based on the song Sam Stone, a song about a heroin addict dying after coming home from serving in Vietnam. He wrote songs about feeling alone, or about failing relationships, writing about the elderly and how they see the world. He was the big inspiration to write songs that are kind of funny and kind of tongue in cheek.

The songs I’ve been doing for a while have been very word for word, direct, and usually very accessible. I think things are changing a little bit right now. The ideas I’m having for songs are starting to move back towards writing a little more, not vaguely- I never want to write a vague song- but a little less direct. So, that’s exciting, I feel like this is a big phase. After I played all of those songs on Friday, I just wanted to start writing differently.

GM: Is that a natural shift that’s happening?

Sam: Usually some kind of life event happens that initiates some kind of transformation. There was one summer I was writing a lot of weird, poetic, almost literary and kind of dumb songs. I don’t like them anymore. But I wrote all of these songs and then I went on this really long road trip with a stranger all the way around the country from Burlington to Kentucky to Wyoming to Seattle and back. It was this really crazy thing that I did. I’ve never done anything that interesting, and after I came back my writing was completely different. Something about that trip made me want to write about mundane shit. And something is probably going to happen in the next few months that is going to make me do something different.

GM: It’s interesting that such a big event made you write in a more mundane way, not in a bigger way.

Sam: After that I just started writing differently. Before that my writing was kind of spiritual. I was in a place where I was really interested in religion and scripture. I was writing songs that were very wishy washy and about God and stuff. It was about this universal experience, the experience of everyone and everything. And then after this trip, you go to these small towns in Kentucky or Montana and you just meet people that work and they want to talk to you and tell you their story. It made me want to write smaller; I really wanted to narrow down what it was I wanted to say.

I’ve always been obsessed with just one thing, I get really obsessed and don’t do anything else until I’ve worn it out or some big life event happens. I feel overdue for a change, so I’m waiting for some big thing that will make me reevaluate everything.
 

Our First Year in Review!

I can hardly believe it, but today marks a year of Cornerscape. It has been a year of excitement, growth, hard work, great music and (of course) some challenges and setbacks. There were the highlights: creating fun events that give a new platform to artists, collaborating with incredible thinkers, working with artists who inspire us daily, and adding two people to the Cornerscape team. And then there were the challenges: first-year growing pains, tweaking what kinds of projects we focus on, the inevitable mistake here and there. A year in, I’m even more excited to keep growing this company, collaborating with other people and organizations, and bringing new creative experiences to the Boston area.

In honor of Cornerscape’s first year, here are some photos from the last twelve months, including a bunch from our first year of creative events:

Outside of these events, I've been working with artists to help them prepare for crowdfunding campaigns, booking music for some corporate events, and consulting with local arts organizations. This spring I started managing musician Mark Erelli, after working with him on his 2017 Kickstarter campaign. It's been a wide-ranging year, and each experience has helped me figure out where to best focus our energies. 

So what's next? 2018 will see way more original events, including Local Behavior Music Festival, a new, multi-genre music festival of all women artists coming this October. This spring we're launching Music on the Menu, a series connecting three of our favorite things: music, food, and conversation. And we've got some collaborations and partnerships in the works that I'm really excited about. :)

Year 2, here we come!

Cornerscape's Top Tracks and Albums of 2017

Alex Eggleston tells you what we've been digging

This past year was a pretty big one for me - I finished my Master’s degree in Music Business at Northeastern University, and just wrapped up a gig with Island Records in their A&R research department. The work was tough but awesome, and it felt like I was moving at a breakneck speed all year that mirrored the pace of the news landscape. Between ever-breaking scandals and perpetual political turmoil, it could be a challenge to stay on top of pop culture and musical happenings this year. However, there were quite a few gems, and I feel lucky to have gotten to dig some of them up as part of my job. Here are a few of the artists, songs, and albums we were digging at Cornerscape this year: 

Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the Alps
Kristina and I absolutely gush over this 23-year-old singer-songwriter’s debut LP Stranger in the Alps. A beautiful collection of delicate songs about intimacy and consequences that manage to feel at once conversational and deeply significant, Stranger gathers together the moments that make up a relationship, beginning to end and beyond. The nostalgic “Motion Sickness” is one of the loveliest breakup songs of 2017, and “Scott Street” is a rambling anthem of 20-somethingdom that I find completely bewitching. Check out the “Motion Sickness” video below.

Francis and the Lights - “May I Have This Dance (Remix)”
One of the most infectious and groove-able tracks of the year, this superb remix featuring 2017’s Certified Golden Boy, Chance the Rapper, “May I Have This Dance” is getting exquisite oddball producer, songwriter, and frontman Francis Farewell Starlite (performing under the moniker Francis and the Lights) some well deserved critical attention and airplay. Francis, with Chance’s help, enchants with frenetic professions of love and one of the most endearingly choreographed music videos of the year, which you have to check out.

SZA - CTRL
If I thought I had a pretty big year, SZA’s 2017 must have felt unbelievably massive. In the R&B singer’s first major label offering, SZA, born Solana Rowe, pushes the boundaries of her genre while pulling the audience into the emotional and messy intricacies of her love life. And this year, the whole world sat up and took notice. Taking on the late night circuit, a feature on Maroon 5’s “What Lovers Do” (which is never not stuck in my head, by the way), a headlining North American tour, and performing on SNL, SZA went from underground favorite to a member of the vanguard of a new, R&B-infused movement in mainstream pop. On CTRL, SZA turns inwards and mines her experiences in love and growing up for songs that combine stylistic influences as diverse as Mary J. Blige and Jimmy Eat World to create a grimy, effervescent, boundary-pushing album. Watch the video for “The Weekend”, directed by Solange, below.

Maggie Rogers - Now That the Light is Fading
Another delightful debut by a young female singer-songwriter, Now That the Light is Fading by 23-year-old Maggie Rogers is the culmination of a fairytale discovery story that began when pop producer extraordinaire Pharrell Williams first heard her song “Alaska” in an NYU listening session. Pharrell fell in love with it, and so followed a bidding war over the young performer that landed her at Capitol Records. Standouts from the EP are the ballad of self-discovery “Alaska”, and the cool and buoyant “Dog Years”. Watch the “Alaska” video here and check out Pharrell digging on an early version of it below.

HAIM - Something to Tell You
With this long-awaited follow up to their 2013 debut, the Haim sisters don’t just escape the sophomore slump, they leave any notion of it in the dust. The percussive melodies that drive this album and make it so easy to jam along are a nod to the fact that all three sisters got their musical start behind a drum kit, and the dreamy, poppy storytelling on tracks like “Kept Me Crying” and “Want You Back” tell of a diary kept via song. To me, HAIM is one of the most exciting bands to watch because of the way they so effortlessly belay the mantle of “girl band” - they are feminine, fiercely intelligent rock stars who write hooks so catchy they bounce around my head for days. Check out the entirely charming video for “Want You Back”. 

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
It seems like Kendrick can’t put out an album without it landing on almost every “best of” list around, and for good reason. Kendrick has proven himself as mainstream rap’s master storyteller, and this time around, the story he’s telling is his own. With a more personal lens than he used on 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar raps about love, loyalty, and what it’s like to grow up having to constantly defend yourself from the threats of your daily surroundings. He swings effortlessly from muted, crooney flows on songs like “LOVE.” to sharp, fast, punchy bars on “HUMBLE.” and “D.N.A.” DAMN. is a raw, emotional, gorgeous, and completely addicting statement of self. Check out the video that spawned a million snapchat copycats for “HUMBLE.” here, and the video for “D.N.A.” that’s really gonna put this Don Cheadle guy on the map below. 

Kristina speaks with Gender Avenger about Boston's Music Scene

A few weeks ago, I had the real pleasure of speaking with Jen Vento at Gender Avenger about the exciting (and sometimes frustrating) things happening in Boston's music scene these days. What Gender Avenger does is extremely cool - they work to make sure that women are equally represented in the public dialogue, and they use data to make their points. Speaking with Jen immediately put me at ease, as we discussed local festivals, my work, and how everyone can contribute to making sure artists are supported for their work. 

Her post, "The Boston Music Scene's Burgeoning Sisterhood of Badassery," is live now - give it a read and let me know what you think!

 

 

Hometowns: Worcester, MA

I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s a city of many names: "Heart of the Commonwealth," "Wormtown," "The Woo," and “Paris of the 80s,” to name a few. I loved growing up in Worcester, but learned quickly that most other people did not share my positive view of the city. Over the years I’ve become an expert at countering negative comments about Worcester with a bit of “Woo-town” trivia and a smile. 

 Union Station in Worcester, MA. Photo from Destination Worcester.

Union Station in Worcester, MA. Photo from Destination Worcester.

In Worcester, I was raised by a single mother who instilled in me a love for learning and a deep appreciation for the advantages I had been given. We didn’t have much money growing up, but my mother made sure that my brother and I had everything we needed for school, and supplemented that with lessons from Worcester itself. She would take us driving around the city to look at the historic buildings in town. We visited the Worcester Art Museum and went to summer concerts in the parks. When my mother volunteered to serve on the Cultural Commission, we learned about which buildings were being defended by Preservation Worcester. My high school was a microcosm of the city itself; it was filled with different languages and cultures from which I learned daily. Doherty Memorial High School, like Worcester itself, had a rough reputation but seemed to me a beautiful place once you looked past some of the dirt or faded paint.

When I arrived as a freshman at Harvard, I experienced a bit of culture shock. I did not know what The New Yorker was, or that Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg was a woman (quick tip: try not to accidentally reveal that in a constitutional law class). I had lived my whole life in Massachusetts and suddenly was surrounded by people who seen much more of the world than I had. Like the many others who have found themselves in this situation, I quickly learned a new vocabulary and began to settle in to new habits. Over my four years, I had a great experience at Harvard. I made wonderful friends, traveled internationally for the first time, and had my worldview broadened more than I thought possible. 

Over my years in Cambridge, I kept a lot of Worcester in my heart. Early in my time at Harvard, I heard the jokes my classmates made about Worcester as a put-down. I felt anxious that my family would make too much of a fuss over the University when they visited. Now it is strange to remember feeling that way. Contrary to viewing my background as a weakness, I view it as a strength. Growing up in Worcester taught me to see opportunity in raw spaces and be innovative with respect to education. Worcester taught me to seek out and celebrate diverse viewpoints and cultures. Worcester taught me how to reveal beauty to people where they can't yet see it. Worcester taught me that sometimes you can find the best things hidden in plain sight if you keep an open mind. 

Most days, I carry my things around in a Worcester tote bag. It serves to let others know where I’m from, but more importantly, it reminds me of these lessons and keeps me moving toward my goals in a Worcester frame of mind.

Posted by: Kristina Latino