Sometimes I forget that the Twin Cities has long history of RnB and a shorter but deep history of Hip Hop, especially positive Hip Hop. Then I get a chance to see a band like iLLism and I remember that Minneapolis brand of RnB is world famous for a reason. They released their new album illuminate at the Amsterdam.
We walked into a crowded, swaying room. Envy and Fancy, the duo known as iLLism are on stage with a full band, nearly too full for the physical space and pleasantly abundant sounding– horns, drums, keyboard and more. And it is hot. It’s a smooth funk with rap entwined. Envy has a solid, cool rap and Fancy has a sweetness in her voice that broadens the appeal. They share a sassy vibe between the two of them that’s very fun to watch. The crowd broke out in what I can only call a line dance, in sync, in step. Such a fun atmosphere!
BLK Magic is a song for the times. (In fact I plan to the Women’s March MN podcast later this week.) It’s an important message wrapped up in a lot of sugar. It’s a tribute to a friend who died. Despite the solemn theme and reason it sounds like a celebration. The horns are great. The song starts cool and ends like an anthem. It’s the combination of rap and smooth sweetness that gives the songs a quality that feels like it’s going to be big.
iLLism was top three finalist at the Paisley Park Battle of the Bands. The polish of Paisley Park is evident. They’re tight. It is clearly commercially viable, it has a wide appeal. It build on the history of the music of the area but it brings a freshness too in the pairing of Envy and Fancy. They’re a band for the times! I suspect Bet will be an album highlight. It’s very dance-able; their voices really mingle and blend so smoothly. Again, very positive message – about betting on yourself.
I had a great conversation today with Tina Schlieske (of Tina and the B Sides & Genital Panic). I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve always enjoyed her music but she became a hero to me last year with Genital Panic, her all female punk band that focuses on a politics and social commentary. I grew up listening to Tina and by that I mean, we’re the same age and she was living the life I wish I lived. That was never truer than it is right now – although I’m pretty happy with the life I live too.
Tina started Genital Panic in reaction to Trump and so much that he stands for but she also started it in her late 40s as a reaction to realizing that while the music industry might find a woman invisible, it’s a good time for women to speak up for themselves. It was a perfect storm. In producing and performing songs, such as Pussygrabber and Lick My Impeachment, Tina found she wasn’t alone. She has heard from many how the music speaks to and for them – both women and men appreciate her art.
I will be listening to Tina and Genital Panic on the soundtrack for Women’s March on Saturday – with any luck I’ll bump into her too.
We were delighted to meet up with Haley (Bonar) to talk about Women’s March and her experience in a post March world. She marched in DC in 2017 where we was re-energized and she plans to march in DC again this year. I’m delighted to know that she’s there representing for Minnesota women. She’ll make us all look good and by that I mean sound smart!
We talked with Haley about changes in the music industry – how musicians are being defined less by their gender. We spoke off camera about how Haley has called out event hosts for inviting her as a token female – especially when she was the only female and the bill lacked people of color. That is a bold action to take and I applaud her for it. For a long time I think, out of desperation, women clung to those token positions.
It sounds like in the last year, Haley has really taken control of her music and the business of her music. She has found her (business) voice and is doing what works for her and again I applaud the gumption and confidence is takes to do that. She’s a role model for other women.
And her music has taken a change her latest album Pleasureland is instrumental with a much heavier techno vibe. I love it. I loved Bad Reputation too but appreciate the new direction. I am a fan of many of Haley’s projects, perhaps Gramma’s Boyfriend most. I like to see how she reinvents herself. I like to see how the visual and production are part of the music; the reinvention cements a deeper interest. It was fun to talk to her and see a little bit into the thought process that makes it work.
I am so pleased to include music from The Nightingale Trio on the Women’s March playlist. They bring old stories to new light in songs from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I enjoyed my conversation with Sarah Larsson from the band. We talked about the impact of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement on life in and out of music. We both agreed that we grownups are really learning a lot from the next generation – especially some very powerful young women of color. Our job may be to set the stage for them.
It was also fun to talk about where we are in women’s history. Sarah told me about Na Dvore Dozhd, a Russian song of solidarity among women about being married off. Traditionally women were married off and moved to the towns of their betrothed, often very far away. The chorus translates into when it rains, it pours. There’s a resignation in the sentiment that we wouldn’t see today. We may have a long way to go – but we’ve also come a long way!
Saturday night was a cozy night at the Aster Café with Vicky Emerson and Annie Fitzgerald. The room was full of musicians and music lovers.
Seeing Vicky and Annie is like eating crème brulee – sweet but in different ways. Annie is like the sweet sharp top of the crème brulee and Vicky is creamy base. A great combination together in part because they are both such good storytellers.
Vicky started with Long Gone, a song that always has a hint of an Irish lilt to me. It might be the violin, it might be the toe-tapping darkness. She played several songs off her new CD, including one of my favorite covers ever, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. So sophisticated when you hear it as a kid. Not quite as much when you listen as an adult. But her torchy version brings back the sophistication. It rivals one of my long standing favorite covers, Eleni Mandell doing Don’t Touch Me by Jeannie Sealy.
I was also thrilled to hear The Reckoning, a song that will be on the playlist for Women’s March Minnesota for the March on Saturday. Vicky’s voice sounds like hot chocolate feels.
Annie’s voice has a lightness; to use her own song title, her voice Feels Like Summer. She goes from cheerful imploring on Listen Carefully to a sassiness in Black and Blue. Annie’s voice sounds like lemonade tastes – sweet and refreshing.
I know that Jason Chaffee is a great guy from our conversation when he visited the Mostly Minnesota Music radio show. We had the great pleasure of having him do an in-studio performance but it was even more fun to see him play with his full band to a full room at the Aster Café.
Jason is a rocker hearkening back to the days of John Cougar Mellencamp, maybe even a little Bruce Springsteen. It’s undeniably masculine with a comfortably gruff voice, loud music, heavy beat but the songs are so emotive. The storytelling is honest and touching. And the full band was great. They look like they’re having a good time together and they seem to feed off each other on stage.
He played Going Home, which is one of my favorites. There’s a country undercurrent with a distinct but easy beat. There’s a familiarity in the themes and the tune. On the opposite side of emotion he played, Lost it All. It was a softer start and a compelling story and while there’s still a hint of country, it could also be shelved under rock ballad.
The unveiled video was Un Momento about the butterfly effect – very clever. We’ll have to keep an eye out for the online debut.
We are working with Women’s March Minnesota to create a playlist and podcast for the March on January 19. You can check out the growing playlist any time. In the next two weeks, we’ll be interviewing musicians for a podcast that we will compile and will play on WMCN once Macalester College is back in session.
Corine Caouette, Pamela Laizure and Kim Mancini of the Black Widows
Last night we had the distinct honor of talking with Corine Caouette, Pamela Laizure and Kim Mancini of the Black Widows. They play awesome old school garage surf music. It’s retro girl band at it’s best with heightened feminist themes in the lyrics. We discussed a few of their songs specifically – Mummy Mama Boogie, about an ancient age when women were silenced for speaking their mind. The song has specific historical references – and we’re hoping that everyday we’re getting farther and farther away from the theme.
One comment that struck me was the increasing focus on women working together in the music industry – despite differences. I think to move forward we need to continue to get better at that and that the Women’s March is the time and place to renew that pledge.
Sam Stahlman from She Rock, She Rock
The Black Widows were playing a benefit for She Rock, She Rock so we got an opportunity to speak with Sam Stahlman, Co-Director of the organization. She Rock is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls, women, trans and nonbinary folks through the art of music. They have music lessons and camps for all ages and have for 13 years. Sam was involved in the first year as a student. Anyone I have ever talked to about She Rock has loved it. Almost makes me wish I were musical. (But I think I’ll stick to dance!)
Also joining the show and shown below are the Bloodies, who are rooted in resistance and Getting By, who list smashing the patriarchy as an interest.
We are working with Women’s March Minnesota to create a playlist and podcast for the March on January 19. You can check out the growing playlist any time. In the next two weeks, we’ll be interviewing musicians for a podcast that we will compile and will play on WMCN once Macalester College is back in session. In the meantime we’re going to post interviews as we can starting with (drumroll please)…
Jenna Enemy of The Von Tramps
We saw The Von Tramps at Mortimer’s. I was wowed. The band is co-ed but decidedly led on stage by Jenna. It’s a ska punk band, which is right up my alley. I have to admit though it was the Dolly Pardon themed songs that really drew me in. There’s a feminist version of Jolene. Who doesn’t love the music of Jolene and who has been angered by the singer groveling to Jolene not to take my man? The Von Tramps turn that around. They also do I Will Always Love You. That Jenna girl can sing. That’s all I’m saying. Which takes us to our Women’s March pick from the Von Tramps – Bitch from their album The Future is Female. Hear a bit about it and Jenna’s take on post-March music industry below.
Now that the holidays are nearly over, Heather and I are back working on the Women’s March Minnesota playlist. You can access the growing playlist on Spotify. We have a few songs nominated that aren’t on Spotify. We will include them in the podcast, which we’ll post and plan to air on the Mostly MN Music show on WMCN. We are also looking to interview artists that are on the playlist for the podcast.
If you have a song or artist you think we should add – please let us know. The video below goes into greater detail and also mentions the upcoming fundraiser for Women’s March MN (RBG-O – drag queen bingo at Tin Whiskers) and upcoming shows of former guests of the Mostly MN Music radio show!
Everyone should end their year bobbing and weaving to The Big Wu. A jam band that goes back to the early 90s, they slowed down for a while to have families and pursue other passions and now much to the delight of their fans they are back with the first album in 14 years – We are Young. We are Old. They introduced the new album at the Fine Line on Saturday night, including a bunch of old some school favorites as well. It felt like a festival or all ages college campus. OK – maybe like parents’ weekend on the college campus if the school was smart enough to have a band such as The Big Wu to tears down the generational recreation walls.
They played a few of my favorites such as Red Sneakers. Live it’s the ultimate jam song – so many strings on stage, so many solos. You can just feel every person in the audience imagining themselves on stage taking their turn with a solo. It’s not a jealousy; it’s an optimism. Again, that is part of what makes The Big Wu such a great end/start of the year show.
They played We Are Trees from the new CD. There’s a levity to the song that raises it to almost anthem heights. There’s a great balance of guitars, bass, keyboard and drums. It’s like an awesome stew where all of the food is flavorful and the mix is just perfect. And the audience seemed to love it.
Finally I have to mention Tom Sawyer. They play a terrific version of that song. The keyboard is very 70s space age sounding. Mark Jospeh sings accompanied by every single person in the building – smiling and singing.