Thursday, November 05, 2009

David Benioff is pretty much my favorite author ever

I am so tired of authors like Elizabeth Gilbert (eat, pray, love) and Julie Powell (Julie and Julia) hogging the New York Times bestseller list. They sell a great product--overcoming an unsettling divorce by traveling the world, riding on only alimony and "self-worth" or following in someone else's shadow. Great Products. I'm not gonna lie, I read them both and loved them, however, I was disappointed that the New York Times Bestseller list is bombarded with Great Products but lack of literary masterpiece. I was yearning to find an author who was not only a great storyteller but a great writer.

Then I read City of Thieves by David Benioff. Amazing piece of literature with descriptive images that reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work. Then I read his other two books and I was officially a fan. I'm upset that City of Thieves hasn't made any notable book lists as it was first published back in March.

I had been so overwhelmed by my grad school applications that I completely forgot to tend to my novel, and now that I just finished "25th Hour", I'm now inspired to continue. I guess I'm also inspired by Benioff's life story. He was living in New York teaching English in a crappy Brooklyn high school while writing his first novel. There is actually evidence of a normal life before publication that I can identify with and that is what makes him my favorite author.

Looking at his books, I noticed that the dedication pages kind of represented his life and career journey:

25th Hour: For Mom and Dad
When the Nines Roll Over: For Amanda. I love you.
City of Thieves: For Amanda and Frankie.

and I thought of the struggle it took for him to write his first book. Did he know it would become such a success? Did he ever consider dedicating the first book to a girlfriend that he didn't realize he would lose? Is that what the whole To Mom and Dad bit is about? And then I thought of who my first dedication page would mention. There are a lot of people who I want to address:

To Mom and Dad. I told you I would finish it.

Kitty, I'm sorry for filling a pixie stick with white pepper before giving it to you, but seriously, biting me wasn't the answer.

Emily, thanks for letting me stay at your house in London for two weeks. I want to especially thank you for staying late with me that first night as you told me stories about China before my 3 days of sleeplessness. On that fourth night, my lucid jetlag-induced 12-hour dream led to my story.

Shilpa and Jasmin, thanks for supporting me, and as promised, I'm moving back to New York, although I would have preferred to fulfill my promise through winning the lottery.

Delevega, thanks for teaching me to become my dream, but you're still a douchebag.

To the girls in my high school who gathered on the stairs on the last day of school, wondering which student in our class would break free of mediocrity and become an outlandishly successful and inspiring person. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to think, 'that person could be me.'

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Starnes and Shah Choose Boston's Indie Music Scene

I recently sat down with Dania and Zilpha from the band Starnes and Shah, and they dished about their new move to Boston, their busy New England tour, and new record, ‘Pink, White, Blue, Green,’ which is releasing in May 2009. While chatting it up with the group over papaya martinis, I found out what makes Boston such a great indie music scene, and it’s not the groupies…

Liz: What were the beginnings of Starnes and Shah? What made you guys decide to make music together?

Dania: Starnes and Shah had started in 2005. I had played alone for a while since college. Zilpha and I went to the same school [Sarah Lawrence] but didn’t really know each other until after we graduated. I did a lot of coffeehouse shows in the city, open mics and little features. After I graduated, I was still working in Bronxville and needed a roommate, and Zilpha and I met each other through a mutual friend, and we ended up living together. For the first year, we didn’t play music together at all. I knew that she sang and played music but for some reason we never played together. Then we both moved to Queens, NY, and one day, I had written a song and heard Zilpha humming in the other room, so I said, could you indulge me for a second and sing along, and she did, and that was it. From that point on, I forced her to sing with me forever. [Zilpha laughs]

Liz: I’ve heard several of the samples provided on the website. Very creative stuff. How would you describe your sound?

Dania: I tell people it’s a vocal duo and usually people cringe when they hear that but really what we are is sort of indie/folk and now we’ve evolved into rock, but still a vocal duo. There’s no backup singer. There aren’t really any indie rock vocal duos out there.

Liz: What’s your process for writing music?

Dania: I write the songs. The basic lyrics and melodies. I see myself as the storyteller. And at that point, they’re half-cooked, but when Zilpha and I get together on them, they really come to life, because when I write songs the second voice is always missing. We come from very different musical backgrounds. I don’t know how to read music. I’ve never been trained to play anything. And Zilpha is a classically trained singer and musician, and had a music background in the church band and didn’t know who Zeppelin was when I met her. It’s been pretty educational in terms of the structured way to view and arrange music, which is really Zilpha’s strength. Each of our strengths is another one’s weakness and vise versa. It’s very collaborative.

Zilpha: The consistent thread for me [whether it be music or acting] has been relating to a story that’s already been created and trying to make other people present in the telling of that story. I want to complement the story, not compete or undermine or change it. It means a lot to me to be in a group and make music again with people who are receptive to what my strengths and interests are.

Liz: Have you guys been on tour a lot in the past, and how will this upcoming tour be different?

Dania: We were both working full time jobs in New York, so we weren’t able to go on tour, so we were a regional band at the time and played in New York, and we did a show in Austin Texas. We’re really looking forward to starting this Boston tour, because we’ll have some rock shows, some acoustic shows. The nice thing about living in Boston is that there are other cities nearby that we get to play at like Burlington, VT and Portland, ME. We have a radio show in New Hampshire and we’re setting up other performances there, and we want to continue to play in New York. We really want to extend our reach. Our goal is to be able to get in a van one day and go everywhere and anywhere.

Zilpha: I’m originally from Dallas, and I really hope that we can play a string of shows in the Dallas and Austin areas.

Liz: Is there a favorite venue that you’ve played at so far?

Dania: [without a pause] Our favorite music venue, I would have to say is Patty O’Reilly’s music bar in New York. This guy named Rick Johnson holds a great open mic there. He used to hold one at this famous club called the C Notes, which closed, but he arranges open mics around a feature act, which is great because the showcase interacts with everyone else, and the bar scene is great. We did it a few times with a full band. We’re definitely looking forward to discovering which Boston venue will be a favorite.

Liz: I’ve heard your previous record Summer in the Woodshed, which is available now on iTunes, and selected songs from your new record on your website [] and I noticed great similarities between you and the Indigo Girls. What are your musical influences and your response to this comparison?

Dania: I’m a huge fan of the Indigo Girls, and I dragged Zilpha to a few of their shows so she’s a fan too. My musical influences are scattered: I love Oasis, which I still get a lot of flak for, and I loved Pearl Jam. I still and will always love them. I love Tori Amos. She is a great singer/songwriter and she has a great band behind her. When we were performing in New York, I made it a mandate for the whole band to see her perform live. I love the band America and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My romance is vocal harmonies. Since we’ve been in Boston, I’ve heard some great stuff recently from the local band Faces on Film.

Zilpha: I grew up listening to a lot of country music, which would surprise everyone, George Strait, and Randy Travis, a lot of Randy Travis. I was a big fan of girl harmony groups like Envogue and Ace of Base and ABBA thus triggering my Swedish phase. I like to pretend I’m Swedish. My dad actually looks like one of the ABBA band members. [laughter] My biggest influence has been the people I knew personally that wrote and played music as I grew up.

Liz: What made you decide to move from New York to Boston?

Dania: New York is a great city, but it can be exhausting to pursue your art and pay the bills. We wanted to find a city where we could really tap into the artistic community, but at the same time, we didn’t want to go too far from New York. Boston has an amazing music scene, and other great music cities nearby.

Zilpha: I think that we were really fortunate when living in New York, because we had a “not New York experience.” We had a very intimate work environment at Turtle Bay Music School, where everyone knew that we did our music thing on the side, and that was our passion. And I don’t think we would’ve had the balls to move to Boston, if it wasn’t for our supportive workplace that believed in us.

Liz: Did the groupies follow you from New York to Boston?

Dania: Ha, well the groupies are PG-13, so none of that. But we’ve had some awesome people, who were friends, fans and supporters, period. We have some really dedicated fans across the country. It’s hard to make that commitment and move somewhere for art, and say I’m gonna give art a go, but we’ve had so many friends come out and say ‘we support you and good luck,’ and that’s why we didn’t want to move too far from New York, because we have a group there that support us and believe in us.

Liz: So what can we expect from Starnes and Shah in the near future?

Dania: I’m really excited. I know the band is excited. We have a bunch of shows all over New England. We’re gonna get a Zipcar van and just go, try and document all of our trip, and post snip-its on our web site, and then we have our CD release party in New York, which is very exciting. For us, we’re coming out of our 9 to 5 lives and dedicating our lives into this project, so we want to document all of it.

Zilpha: I’m very excited about the shows that we have. We’re going to play with the Bella Birds at the Lily Pad, and I think its great that we’ve already reached out to a local band. Similar to putting together a great mixtape for someone, I feel like we’re putting together a really fun evening of folk and soulful music. And we’re playing at Midway cafĂ© with one of the members of Hotel Universe, and we’re putting together a rock compilation to compliment his style.

Dania: I think the best part about it is being able to reach out to musicians in the area and form a community. We’ve been able to contact bands we like and say, hey, I like you sound, we should play a show together.

Liz: So I guess since you’ve come to Boston, you’ve been welcomed by other bands in the area and have already become a part of the local music community.

Dania: So far yeah. Right now, we’re ramping up about our first show on the 17th at Midway, but we’ve reached out to other bands and gone to see them play. Going to these shows makes me think, yes, indie music is alive and well in Boston. We couldn’t wish for anything better.

Liz: Fences the Plea is one of the songs off of your upcoming album, Pink, White, Blue, Green. The combination of the heartfelt lyrics and the strong build up sounded like an eclectic campfire for the advanced listener. Could you tell me what inspired the lyrics and music for this song?

Dania: Fences the Plea is a story of venturing into a new world. I visited Australia last summer. We both did. And I wrote this song before even going there, because Australia was a present place in my mind and my reality. The continent is so massive, and there’s something so open and wide about it, but in that space there are still people who feel trapped and encaged. And it’s a common love story, where someone feels a lack of freedom, but I thought it was really compelling to think of that in the context of Australia.

Liz: Pink, White, Blue, Green. It’s a very interesting title. Can you elaborate on where you got the title from?

Zilpha: We were discussing the title on one of our whirlwind weekends between Boston and New York on the Bolt bus [big plug, its great, it has wi-fi], and we were at Tick tock diner, and they have this retro table that was white with pink, blue and green speckles, and Dania asked me what the title should be and I said, pink, white, blue, green. And that also refers to the song Confetti [which has said phrase]. I always liked album titles that referred to a song in the album.

Dania: Pink white blue green is just about being all over the map at once and being in a small space at the same time, and bouncing crazily from one thing to the next, and to me that’s a metaphor for living in New York and trying to get out, but wanting to stay. We chose the album title because it was really representative of what we were feeling—unsure, all over the place, kind of loving it, a little bit scared, and it’s been an interesting ride and has been changing colors dramatically.

So, if you want to see Starnes and Shah live in Boston, watch them kick off their live tour on May 17th at the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain, or go to their web site for more dates. Keep a close watch for their record releasing in May 2009.

You Haven't Seen Enough of the Cold War Kids

The Cold War Kids have been ruling the indie music scene since 2004, and their newest album, ‘Loyalty to Loyalty’ is a sure indication that they intend to continue their reign. The band started this year off right with a major presence at the SXSW music festival in Austin, TX, and for the next few months, they will be on a world tour with Death Cab for Cutie. There aren’t any Boston dates set in stone yet, but with their early album success, you can bet that the tour will extend its way to Beantown.

I recently heard their new single “I’ve seen enough,” and it sets up a disappointing mood in the opening line ‘how’s it gonna feel when summer ends, out of money, out of friends,’ but the song is a beautiful reflection of experiencing a situation you don’t agree with and deciding to step in and take action. This song reminded me of the feeling I had when seeing the poor response to Hurricane Katrina on television. I was done watching people dying in the streets. I had seen enough and wanted to take matters into my own hands. Supported by strong vocals and lyrics that successfully carry out the singer’s frustration, this tune is on the track to be a Cold War Kids classic.

There’s currently a music video directed by Vern Moen found here, but the web site verifies that an official music video directed by Sam Jones will release on their web site and probably youtube by the end of April, and “aspires to shatter all molds of existing online music videos.” I’m personally looking forward to the shattering. Keep a watch on their web site for these updates, so you don’t miss out on Nate Willett’s urgency to clap along with his own songs and the new music video.

Fiction Family Makes An Impression

Two musicians from different family bands have come together to form a band cleverly called Fiction Family. They just finished their first tour following the January 20th release of their self-titled album. Before hearing the album, I wondered how the pop lyrics of Switchfoot frontman, Jon Foreman would mesh with the bluegrass sound of Nickel Creek guitarist Sean Watkins.

I was really taken by their first single “When she’s near.” If the song were in all major chords, it would have been chipper enough to be a mainstream top 40 hit, but the intentional change to minor and flat keys left an unfamiliar dissonance that made me want to curiously keep playing it over again. I listened intently as lyrics of celebration, written for a cheery upbeat melody, were hidden in somber undertones, as if they recorded it in Halloweenland from the Nightmare Before Christmas.

The rest of the album is laced with musical genius, spanning multiple styles of music and using various instruments. With rumors of upcoming albums and tours, Fiction Family is a band to watch out for in the future.

Mash-up Music Done Right

It’s late Friday night, and you’re driving home. Out of shameful habit you flip on Kiss 108 and hear two well-known hits spliced together in harmony known as Mash-up Mafia. Your first thoughts are, 'this is a great idea if they didn’t try and scramble this together five minutes before the show started.’

And due to strict copyright infringement laws, it was almost impossible to find a plausible professional mash-up artist, until now.

I recently heard the genius mash-ups from DJ Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk. I was immediately taken by his arrangements as my favorite slow jams were transformed into the ultimate workout album that encouraged me to stay on the treadmill for more than my patience alone would allow.

Girl Talk is one of those treasures ahead of its legal time, much like Napster was in 2000. It’s time to appreciate this gift with your head turned, until the authority reminds you that you are the only one being rewarded in this exchange, which is apparently wrong.

Known by the New York Times as “a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Girl Talk has released one of the best mash-up albums I’ve ever heard called ‘Feed the animals’. Go to the website, to hear the whole album, and if you want to buy it, pay as much as you think it’s worth.

I initially decided to buy it for $0.99, but when I realized that it was downloading before I even paid for it, I threw in a few more bucks to thank him for his altruism, the irony being that this is a combination of other artists’ work.

If you like Girl Talk’s album, and you want to hear the DJ live in Boston, before he gets sued, go to the link below and demand that Girl Talk stops here on his upcoming tour.

New Band Hockey Makes You Give a Puck

(Because I decided to stop posting Examiner articles, has threatened to erase my archives, so I'm re-posting them onto this website. After that, I have two new articles to share: one on my aspirations in the field of epidemiology, and the other on David Benioff, currently my favorite author)

the article...
After watching countless episodes of “Girls next door,” I came to the conclusion that good things come from Oregon, so when I heard Hockey’s first single “Too fake,” it didn’t surprise me that this energetic American wave band was from Portland.

Hockey’s approach to music introduces some new techniques, from the lead singers voice sounding almost conversational, to the half step increase within the chorus, giving an onomatopoeic feel to the song. The lyrics pompously discuss the singers’ admission of being shallow yet soulful, but the catchy riffs will have lost tweens rocking out, thinking there’s meaning to not giving a puck.

Hockey recently released their single in the UK last week, along with a long run of tour dates abroad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their songs, here in Boston. At the web page, you can hear songs from their upcoming album, including the first single “Too fake.” American iTunes doesn’t carry the single yet, but you can buy it for less than a British pound at

Hockey will release their debut album in the US on June 16th with a slew of tour dates to follow. This is a band to be on the lookout for. I predict they will be red hot by mid-summer, hopefully with a real web site.