The Amazing Colossal Man: Life Lessons from Dave Hill
» We speak to the comic from Cleveland on the eve of his book release.
By Laura E. Marcus
Photo by Alex M. Smith

Despite his successes in comedy, writing and music, Dave Hill isn’t as proactive as you would expect. Sure he’s starred in his own television show, The King of Miami, regularly appears on NPR’s This American Life, and has written for The New York Times, but Hill’s approach to his career is more Lebowski than Zuckerberg. “I think I was able to do well in comedy early on, because I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I was just having fun and not thinking about what came next. It always goes much better when I don’t care about it, so I think the key is to not care about anything. You just have to do stuff – that’s all you have to do. If you care about it, it’s all over. It’s like dating: if you’re looking, you’ll die alone.” Hill’s career is taking a decidedly adult turn today, when his first book of collected essays Tasteful Nudes… and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation (St. Martin’s Press) hits stands.

Originally from Ohio, Hill is a proud Midwesterner who readily admits he always expected to make the move to New York. “I had relatives on the East Coast with these thick Long Island accents, and I always thought they were cooler than us. My favorite uncle from Cleveland moved to New York so I thought I’d follow suit. But I never thought ‘Aw man, Cleveland sucks,’ I always thought it was awesome. Although being from Cleveland, you gotta have an inferiority complex about it.” Hill’s modesty is often concealed by his onstage persona, but under the bold suits and Mod shag of a self-proclaimed rock god is a pretty bashful guy. “I guess it’s a cliché, but in a lot of ways I’m a total introvert. I like performing but I was never in plays when I was a kid – I didn’t want to be on stage and sing or dance. I never planned to go into comedy as a performer. Even playing in bands I was never the singer, I was always the bassist or something – I just liked to rock out. I like performing when I’m in the moment, but I really hate the idea of it and the other things associated with it. I just get anxious. I’m looking forward to doing the readings for the book release, but the shows freak me out.”

Hill’s comedic style is a reflection of his insecurities, coupled with his fantasies. Instead of masking his anxieties about being on stage, he embraced them as a part of his persona. “I just made no effort to hide that I was really uncomfortable and anxious, so that became a part of it early on. I think my persona is just a magnification of all my best and worst qualities. Things that I wish I had, like confidence. I mean I’m confident when it counts in real life – it’s a little window and it’s when I get stuff done – the rest of the time I can barely leave the house,” he says with a laugh. “Part of my persona is to be moronically confident. I like to think I’m suave, but the reality is I hate the sight of myself.” Hill’s attitude harkens back to the old school comedians he admires. Like Kaufman, Murray, Martin and Cavett before him, he doesn’t try to relate to the audience. He says there’s a part of him that “will always be like I hate all of you! Sometimes when I’m on stage I just think, ‘Ahhhh! What a horrible situation. I’m standing in front of all these people and I’m uncomfortable. Part of me is happy, and part of me feels like antagonizing the audience.”

Whether or not Hill is interested in relating to his audience is irrelevant when it comes to his writing. The anecdotal style of Tasteful Nudes is both charming and repellent. His stories are at times disturbing, but what good comedy isn’t? It’s hard not to be seduced by his honesty and humor. Like a modern day lothario in tight pants, Hill hoped to re-imagine the comedic novel. “I wanted the book to be funny, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be something somebody wanted to read – I didn’t want it to just be a bunch of dick jokes. That’s the next book.”

The Joy of Being Andrew WK
» Life through the lens of a perennial optimist

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith
Styling by Lauren Oppelt

Andrew WK is more than just the sum of his parts. His energy, attitude and fierce positivity have all participated in solidifying his status as a hard-partying rock star, but it’s been his unwavering loyalty to his fans and his overall mission that have brought him success in the worlds of music and business. “My music isn’t about communicating an experience; it’s more about trying to conjure up a feeling,” he explains. For Andrew, both his approach to music and the work itself come from a very personal place. “When you’re young you have all these emotions – anger, confusion, frustration – bad feelings. I wanted to find a way to not feel that way. I wanted to work on something that had ideals and hopes associated with it, that I could also be inspired by. Something that could build me up to be a bigger and better version than what I would have been otherwise. I had a mission, even if that mission was just making exciting music. Creating that kind of pure joy, which isn’t necessarily associated with any reason, is what I always liked most about music and art; this idea of pure energy. A feeling of possibility that wasn’t necessarily associated to an idea, an opinion, or a belief. An undeniably good physical feeling that you don’t need your brain to process – your body tells you by giving you the chills or butterflies in your stomach. I wanted to immerse myself in that, that physical sensation of joy.”

Growing up in Southeast Michigan, the son of a professor and a “super mom,” Andrew was encouraged to experiment with music at a very young age. By the time he was 4, he was enrolled at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, where he began training in classical piano. With no older siblings to guide his foray into popular music, he found other ways to satiate his curiosities. “I would hear something on the radio or see something on television, and my mom would really do her best to try and help me figure out what it was.”

Even without a musical lexicon, one of Andrew’s earliest musical attractions was to a “sort of funk guitar wah-wah sound, like the Shaft theme song.” He articulated what he could to his mother, and found himself with a Led Zeppelin record that didn’t really fit the bill. “I was expecting Barry White or Shaft and was confronted with this strange rock ‘n roll stuff – I didn’t like it all, out of sheer disappointment. A couple years later, I put it on again and it ended up being my favorite album. I was so thankful to my mom – she wasn’t sure if it was appropriate music for me to be listening to, but she never stopped me.”

When speaking about his parents, Andrew’s voice softens. His admiration is evident, and his approach to music was obviously affected by the lessons he learned as a child. “I don’t think a parent’s job is to keep their kids from being exposed to the world. I think it’s more about building the capacity and intelligence in that young person, so they can process those experiences themselves in an intelligent way. My mom would let me do anything, like draw naked lady pictures when I was young and not freak out about it! She made me feel like I was okay, and that the world was okay, and she trusted my judgment.”

It’s not hard to see how Andrew WK’s positive message and mission evolved – they were ingrained in him from the start. Like so many creative voices, Andrew had his sights set on New York City early on: “New York was made out to be so exciting in films and television. I liked the tall buildings, the energy. There didn’t seem to be a lot of people in New York that were doing what I was doing. It wasn’t based on one attitude or one shared opinion. New York seemed so volatile. I think I wanted to feel threatened in a way that would inspire me to work really hard. I respect the mindset that you don’t have to move anywhere to realize your dreams, but when your dream itself is moving to New York City it’s a no brainer. I didn’t think it would take moving here to do what I wanted to do, but it seemed more fun to me – it was a pleasure.”

It’s hard to pinpoint why some musicians drown once making the move to New York while others thrive, but certainly work ethic and drive are major components. For Andrew, it seems that his unrelenting positivity and openness to new opportunities have also played major parts in his success. His endless touring, and his willingness to collaborate with fellow musicians on events like the 2012 World Snowboarding Championships in Oslo, Norway, in which he is serving as a rock ‘n roll ambassador, are part of the puzzle.

Another important part of Andrew WK’s success has been his “party hard” message. Unlike other musicians who espouse the use of alcohol or drugs to heighten the party experience, Andrew’s message has always been about the high you get from life, unfiltered, unadulterated. What better way to capitalize on that appeal than to create a nightlife mecca where revelers from all walks of life can get down?

Santos Party House is a passion project between Andrew and a group of friends, who wanted to create the ultimate New York City destination. It opened in 2008. “I like clubs, but I usually can’t get into them,” he says with a laugh. “We all had very strong opinions, and a lot of experiences with venues, bars, clubs, sound systems and everything else. I think we really did achieve what we wanted, which was combining the best elements of all these things. We definitely went big with it. We didn’t want to settle or shoot lower out of fear, because it is a huge undertaking in a big space. It was also really important for us to do it in Manhattan, because there hasn’t been a new, proper dance venue downtown with a real cabaret license in over 20 years."

"The only way we were able to do any of it was with the support of the city and the people themselves, so creating a space to give back to the city which has given all of us so much was a great privilege and a real labor of love for everyone involved. It’s the most rewarding and the most magical thing I’ve ever been involved with!” Santos has been a success since its inception, and its appeal has extended beyond New York City’s borders. In February, when Andrew attends the World Snowboarding Championships, he plans to bring Santos to Oslo every night. And of course, the completion of a new record set for the end of winter means yet another year of touring is on the horizon. For Andrew, it’s a mission he’s overwhelmingly happy to accept.

Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields
» From seed to bloom

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith
Hair by Jessah Amarante
Makeup by Jessica Urbealis

On a crisp fall day in Brooklyn, Jennifer Charles, wrapped in a swath of black fabric, cradles a cup of lavender tea. Amongst the trees and vegetation, one could easily mistake the backyard oasis for a far more secluded location. Charles, one half of veteran rock band Elysian Fields, feels right at home. “I get most of my inspiration from the natural world, and I like to study other cultures, particularly primitive cultures.” Charles is chic, arrestingly so, and she owns the aura of a front woman. However, she also has an innocence, and an appreciation for nature, that can cast her as slightly childish within. “It’s important to think back to a time before we were so messed up, and what it means to take from nature and give back to nature; exploring how we integrate ourselves with other animals. It’s fascinating to me. In many cultures it’s natural to look to the animals and learn things. The music and art that moves and inspires me is always possessed of spirit. When something is completely infused with the essence of that spirit you can’t help but be swept up and moved by it.”

Since 1995, Charles and Oren Bloedow have been making music together as Elysian Fields, and their work has served as an exploration of Charles’ deepest passions. The daughter of a singer and a jazz disc jockey, Charles was exposed to music at a very young age. Her earliest musical obsessions were fostered by hit parade classics of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and her parents, whom she refers to as “great music listeners and lovers.” Her exposure to classic songstresses like Lena Horne and Peggy Lee sparked her creativity, and she spent many nights next to a portable radio anxiously anticipating the latest hits. Like most passionate singers, she’s convinced she was probably singing “at the same time, if not before [she] was speaking.” Her early passion for music later translated into a pursuit of theater, and it was during her studies at New York University that she met Bloedow, while working part time at the original Knitting Factory.

The songwriting process can be solitary, but through various stages, Charles' longstanding relationship with Bloedow has remained a constant. The duo has soldiered on since the end of their romance eight years ago. “It’s nice to have a writing partner because it keeps you in check. It pushes you to get the best, not just for yourself, but for the person you’re working with, because you expect the best from them as well.”

Though Elysian Fields has remained the main focus of their work, Charles and Bloedow have also created two albums for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, in which they explored traditional Sephardic songs through their decidedly unique lens. “They’re traditional songs many from the 11 through the 15th centuries, and most were passed on through oral tradition. When you hear interpretations of really early music, a lot of it is really liturgical and we wanted to bring it back to la tierra – these are wandering songs, people singing about being displaced, about love, loss, hashish. We wanted to really get at that and the spirit of that. We wanted to fuse a connection between the Sephardic Diaspora; these songs may have come from different cultures but they’re all connected. We also wanted to bring newness and relevance to them. So we asked ourselves, ‘what happens when you add the rock n roll spirit of today?’ Yes, we love this music but we also listen to Iggy Pop. We’re not going to abandon ourselves, so we wanted to speak to that through our interpretations.”

Although tackling songs in Arabic, Polish and Greek is a significant hurdle for anyone, it was the task of performing them live which posed the greatest challenge for Charles. “Some people get on stage and perform and they might as well be alone – they’re having their experience on stage, but the audience doesn’t exist. I think that it’s most exciting when you don’t know what’s going to happen next, whether you’re the one on stage or you’re the audience. It’s about what’s going on in the moment, and that’s why it’s such a beautiful and fragile thing – anyone can break that mood. I’ve been told that I demand a lot from my audience and it’s true, but I demand a lot from life and to me they’re the same.”

Edward B. Geida III and the triumphant return of Philly soul
» Talking to the An Albatross singer about his love of soul amidst a pile of records

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith

Most of America’s cities can, and will, boast about a singular phenomenon that shook the foundation and future of music. In Nashville, classic country grew into rockabilly and eventually modern rock ’n’ roll. There was the rise of Motown in 1960s Detroit, the San Francisco sound of the 60s and 70s, and the frenetic distortion of 1970s New York City punk. But some cities have held their musical history like a secret, which only the perennially curious and passionate can uncover. Philadelphia is one of those cities.

Even with Philly soul’s popularity in the 1970s, nowadays you’re more likely to hear it sampled in hip-hop tracks, rather than spun in its original form. The Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” peaked at number 14 on the U.S. R&B chart in 1968, but most of us are far more familiar with the heavily sampled and nominally abbreviated Fugees track released in 1996. There’s no doubt that Philadelphia soul is a difficult genre to dig into; the rarity of original records, and the influx of more mainstream forms of soul has made hunting down classics a real challenge. One would think that because of this, dedicated collectors and DJs would be on a mission to spread the gospel. Edward ‘Eddie’ Bernard Geida III is one of these men.

What started out as separate soul, funk, R&B, and mod parties in the early 2000s at Philadelphia’s Silk City Club, was revived as Turnaround vs. Immediate in November 2008 by Eddie and his gang of merrymakers. Gregg Foreman (Delta 72, Cat Power) was at the helm of Turnaround, while Eddie and his brother directed Immediate. The brothers eventually brought Russell Alexander (of Making Time) on board, and Turnaround vs. Immediate now hosts four DJs for their monthly parties. But vinyl isn’t the event’s only star. In the past Turnaround vs. Immediate has played host to live Soul acts like the late Herb Johnson & The Impacts, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, and The Mighty Hannibal.

Pumping obscure soul into the hearts of a diverse crowd may seem like a daunting task, but Eddie’s love for music knows no limits. An avid collector of vinyl, and in particular rare Soul 45s, Eddie has been at it for a long time: “I suppose I started collecting records when I was four years old, and I distinctly remember loving Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” when I heard it on the radio in the summer of '82.” About nine years later, Eddie began buying records on his own, and attending hardcore and punk shows; it was then that he dubbed himself a “vinyl guy.”

His musical interests span many genres, and even his work with experimental psychedelic band An Albatross plays a role in his DJing at Turnaround vs. Immediate. “The inspiration behind DJing Soul music and performing with An Albatross comes from the same musical passion and requires the same sort of energy,” he said. “I feel that in order to effectively DJ a rare soul or funk track, you need an intimate and thorough knowledge of the song - its physical structure, its history, its unspoken “vibe.” It requires a delivery from the DJ which exudes total confidence and a profound respect and love for the track.”

Eddie’s attitude towards music, and the execution of a good mix, is surely something that even an amateur mix-tape maker is intimately aware of. But genre sticklers may ask, how does hardcore and punk go hand-in-hand with Soul music? From Eddie’s perspective, it all makes sense: “I see a real synonymy between seemingly distant musical genres, one being the commonalities between avant-garde/lose-your-shit punk hardcore/underground music, and way off the beaten path soul and funk. The aesthetics, the presentation and the execution all come from the same musical gene pool.”

Eddie is on a constant hunt for 45s to spin during Turnaround vs. Immediate, and he’s always on the lookout for tracks that get “the right reaction on the dance floor.” He looks for certain qualities in records when snapping up purchases – soul cover versions of rock songs that will be relatively familiar to club goers, records produced between 1966 and 1972 with a “wicked, gritty Hammond B3 organ sound accompanied by an ultra-tight rhythm section,” tracks that mimic James Brown’s production between 1966 and 1972, and tracks that have lots of background noise or “in the studio party ambiance” which showcase the musicians’ affection for the song.

But what is it about vinyl that’s so special when technology tries to convince us it’s a dead medium? Is it the sound quality (or lack thereof), or is it the fact that so many of these records were never transferred to modern media and in many ways have remained hidden from potential new audiences? For Eddie, the beauty of vinyl is in its physical form as well as in its effects on the listener. “When you really break it down, vinyl is a tactile representation of a physical recording of an abstract concept (a song),” he opines. “What is particularly special about soul and funk music on 45rpm format is that it’s the medium in which the artists intended their music to be heard. The composition and recording of the music - from microphone placement in the studio, to backing vocals and overdubs, were all focused on creating a 2 to 3 minute piece of tape that would then be stamped onto pieces of plastic and subsequently broadcast in clubs, bars, radio studios, and bedrooms around the world.”

It’s not just the hunt for vinyl, or its later presentation, it’s the whole experience that matters. “I am a stickler for aesthetics,” Eddie says with a laugh, “I feel that hunting down a record sought for an intended audience, playing it through a proper sound system on turntables, and in the 45 format pays a very, very proper homage to the musicians who created the music 40 years ago. I envision the duty of the soul DJ to be one part archivist. He or she uncovers lost sounds, and creates a platform for those sounds to be appreciated for a new generation. It's a way in which we can retain and perpetuate the legacy of the artist.”

It is with that goal in mind, that once a month at Turnaround vs. Immediate, a beautiful piece of recorded history comes alive.


Lovett is a rambling man

» Trekking his own path for a Highway Collection.

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith

Born in rural Georgia, Ben Lovett boasts a rare mix of Southern charm and big city wit. He trekked across the country recording Highway Collection, his debut album, with the help of friends, family and strangers alike. In every city he tapped the landscape and locals for inspiration, resulting in nine songs that were recorded in sixteen different locations, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, very few tracks featuring the same players. This traveling narrative is at the core of the record.

Even with all the traveling, Lovett remains grounded by his family roots. Using his family name as a moniker seems like an obvious choice, but it became more emblematic after the passing of his grandfather. "When he gave me the blessing to do it, it felt right. I'm from the South, from the woods. My family has been in the same 20-mile radius for three or more generations, and I think it took living in major cities for 10 years to really appreciate it and learn about who I was and why I’m the way I am. I became much more of a Southerner living in California than I ever was living in the South." With that in mind, it makes sense that Highway Collection is a record anchored by introspection, and the epiphanies that can hit you when you’re far from home.

Spending much of his career producing the work of other musicians and scoring films, Ben finally decided to focus on his own work in 2007. After leaving a thriving business behind, he embarked on a journey across Europe and while on top of a mountain in Spain it became clear: Making his own record was "a necessity."

"I'd been spending all my time doing music, I had a production studio business and a really structured life with so much responsibility. My career was expanding but my life was shrinking, and I wanted to have more of the latter. I was getting busier and busier, but I wasn’t any happier. I had to get rid of everything that was anchoring me to that life, to figure out what the problem was. I realized I just hadn't made time to do the things I wanted to do. I had been standing in the river and resisting the flow, so I decided to give in."

Having sold all his belongings before his European expedition, Lovett returned to the United States with renewed optimism. From July 2008 to early 2010, he took to the road making his way from coast to coast while recording fragments of what would become Highway Collection. The process was challenging, but inspirational.

"Some songs are like a puzzle that comes into view, but you're never sure how many pieces are required to put it together," he says with a laugh. "I either knew from the get go or was constantly investigating ‘what is this song about?’ For a lot of them I had to figure out what I was trying to get at. You start building out the mood of a song, but sometimes you have to figure out what you're trying to say. And then sometimes you just know it when you hear it."

Lovett’s work ethic is evident—while recording Highway, Lovett scored two films and produced another musician's album, making back the money he was pouring into his own work—but it's his love of countless creative disciplines that drives him. Inspiration is found not only in the people he meets along his voyage, but also in those he’s known all along. When the addition of hand claps seal a song, who better to source than the folks across the street?

"Fuck it! Lets get the people from the bar to come over and do the hand claps, why not?" he jokes. But there's truly an underlying sense of community and human connection that laces it's way through Highway Collection. A man whose life has been spent collaborating with other artists is not prone to drop his habits so easily.

"[Writing the record] was a celebration of not having anyone tell me to do anything differently. It was an opportunity to work with the people I wanted to work with and just let it all roll out in front of me; it was a very liberating experience. I didn't necessarily know where I was going next, but people would just appear and offer their help to guide me. Sometimes the world really does conspire to help you."

The Many Faces of JG Thirlwell
» Talking to the avant journeyman as he hustles on to the next reinvention.

By Laura E. Marcus. Photos by Alex M. Smith. Styling by Ahnika Delirium. Location provided by House of Collection.

Super heroes aren’t the only ones with alter egos. Musicians have long used fantasy and reinvention as a way to explore new sounds and creative spaces. From David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to Nicki Minaj’s Roman Zolanski, expression becomes limitless through the power of reinvention. These reinventions often mark departures in both sound and genre. But sometimes, rarely, they build upon the groundwork of previous exploits. The musician tinkers with rejected ideas, revisits old ones and emerges with a sound that is thoroughly modern. JG Thirlwell embodies the frenetic energy of disparate perspectives, his dueling alter egos each elbowing each other for the perfect position. With a career as both a musician and composer, Thirlwell has let his passion for music guide him through a never-ending maze of sounds.

Like most musicians Thirlwell’s fixation with music started at a young age. His parents met at the Royal Academy in London, and early on he was encouraged to embrace music in all its forms. He played the cello, but never excelled at the technicalities that are essential in classical studies. “I was in an orchestra briefly, but I would get lost in the score,” he admits. Eschewing professional training for a personal notation system, Thirlwell spent much of the past three decades creating intense orchestrations under several pseudonyms including Wiseblood, Foetus, Steroid Maximus and Manorexia. Early projects like Wiseblood explored violence and machismo, but even then Thirlwell tapped into classical elements. Each new project was born out of a necessary evolution: “I tend to have ideas and stew on them for a long time before I do anything about them. Even early Foetus had symphonic elements; cinematic elements have always been there. It’s been narrowed down and focused since I’ve been working more in the classical world. Whatever rock elements have been in my work have been falling off over the years,” he says with a laugh.

Perhaps Thirlwell’s latest work was born from the clarity that often comes with age, or simply an attraction to new experiments. What’s clear is that his compositions haven’t lost their edge. Songs that once echoed with bass guitar and moans, have been replaced with the crescendo of a horn and the rattle of a drum. Sounds are layered upon each other, causing friction, forward momentum, tension, and release. “Maybe it’s true of a lot of artists, at least it was for me, but when you first start out there’s a rush of ideas that just flood out of you. There’s a certain naivety that comes along with that, and I think that’s true of my work too… it makes me cringe.” Thirlwell, like all prolific artists, sifts through his own work with the sharp tongue of a critic. “As time goes by, you go through what you’ve done, and you can see it objectively and see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t want to repeat myself or be that person that makes the same album over and over again. I’m trying to do different things all the time, and I get more and more self critical about what I’m doing over the years; it’s just part of the editing process.” From the outside, this self-taught musician has done what many only hope to do. He learned classical instruments without the aid of a teacher, figured out how to compose pieces using his own system, and in doing so has taken classical music to new spaces. But that’s not where JG Thirlwell’s output stops.

In 2003 Cartoon Network premiered its animated series The Venture Bros., with Thirlwell’s compositions in tow. Often demented, hilarious and action packed, Venture Bros. offered Thirlwell the perfect opportunity to explore the power of soundtrack. Threading together plot, and building on character development, Thirlwell who most often works autonomously, seems genuinely thrilled by the structure and deadlines he’s given to follow. “The first season was difficult,” he said. “Getting the musical character and identities fleshed out was tough at first, but now I get so many great challenges. The possibilities are just endless – I can take the same song and make it Hawaiian style, changing the theme will change everything.” The cinematic qualities of his music lend themselves to this kind of work, and Thirlwell, ever the explorer, can’t wait for his next adventure.

The Amazing Colossal Man: Life Lessons from Dave Hill
» We speak to the comic from Cleveland on the eve of his book release.
By Laura E. Marcus
Photo by Alex M. Smith

Despite his successes in comedy, writing and music, Dave Hill isn’t as proactive as you would expect. Sure he’s starred in his own television show, The King of Miami, regularly appears on NPR’s This American Life, and has written for The New York Times, but Hill’s approach to his career is more Lebowski than Zuckerberg. “I think I was able to do well in comedy early on, because I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I was just having fun and not thinking about what came next. It always goes much better when I don’t care about it, so I think the key is to not care about anything. You just have to do stuff – that’s all you have to do. If you care about it, it’s all over. It’s like dating: if you’re looking, you’ll die alone.” Hill’s career is taking a decidedly adult turn today, when his first book of collected essays Tasteful Nudes… and Other Misguided Attempts at Personal Growth and Validation (St. Martin’s Press) hits stands.

Originally from Ohio, Hill is a proud Midwesterner who readily admits he always expected to make the move to New York. “I had relatives on the East Coast with these thick Long Island accents, and I always thought they were cooler than us. My favorite uncle from Cleveland moved to New York so I thought I’d follow suit. But I never thought ‘Aw man, Cleveland sucks,’ I always thought it was awesome. Although being from Cleveland, you gotta have an inferiority complex about it.” Hill’s modesty is often concealed by his onstage persona, but under the bold suits and Mod shag of a self-proclaimed rock god is a pretty bashful guy. “I guess it’s a cliché, but in a lot of ways I’m a total introvert. I like performing but I was never in plays when I was a kid – I didn’t want to be on stage and sing or dance. I never planned to go into comedy as a performer. Even playing in bands I was never the singer, I was always the bassist or something – I just liked to rock out. I like performing when I’m in the moment, but I really hate the idea of it and the other things associated with it. I just get anxious. I’m looking forward to doing the readings for the book release, but the shows freak me out.”

Hill’s comedic style is a reflection of his insecurities, coupled with his fantasies. Instead of masking his anxieties about being on stage, he embraced them as a part of his persona. “I just made no effort to hide that I was really uncomfortable and anxious, so that became a part of it early on. I think my persona is just a magnification of all my best and worst qualities. Things that I wish I had, like confidence. I mean I’m confident when it counts in real life – it’s a little window and it’s when I get stuff done – the rest of the time I can barely leave the house,” he says with a laugh. “Part of my persona is to be moronically confident. I like to think I’m suave, but the reality is I hate the sight of myself.” Hill’s attitude harkens back to the old school comedians he admires. Like Kaufman, Murray, Martin and Cavett before him, he doesn’t try to relate to the audience. He says there’s a part of him that “will always be like I hate all of you! Sometimes when I’m on stage I just think, ‘Ahhhh! What a horrible situation. I’m standing in front of all these people and I’m uncomfortable. Part of me is happy, and part of me feels like antagonizing the audience.”

Whether or not Hill is interested in relating to his audience is irrelevant when it comes to his writing. The anecdotal style of Tasteful Nudes is both charming and repellent. His stories are at times disturbing, but what good comedy isn’t? It’s hard not to be seduced by his honesty and humor. Like a modern day lothario in tight pants, Hill hoped to re-imagine the comedic novel. “I wanted the book to be funny, but I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be something somebody wanted to read – I didn’t want it to just be a bunch of dick jokes. That’s the next book.”

The Joy of Being Andrew WK
» Life through the lens of a perennial optimist

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith
Styling by Lauren Oppelt

Andrew WK is more than just the sum of his parts. His energy, attitude and fierce positivity have all participated in solidifying his status as a hard-partying rock star, but it’s been his unwavering loyalty to his fans and his overall mission that have brought him success in the worlds of music and business. “My music isn’t about communicating an experience; it’s more about trying to conjure up a feeling,” he explains. For Andrew, both his approach to music and the work itself come from a very personal place. “When you’re young you have all these emotions – anger, confusion, frustration – bad feelings. I wanted to find a way to not feel that way. I wanted to work on something that had ideals and hopes associated with it, that I could also be inspired by. Something that could build me up to be a bigger and better version than what I would have been otherwise. I had a mission, even if that mission was just making exciting music. Creating that kind of pure joy, which isn’t necessarily associated with any reason, is what I always liked most about music and art; this idea of pure energy. A feeling of possibility that wasn’t necessarily associated to an idea, an opinion, or a belief. An undeniably good physical feeling that you don’t need your brain to process – your body tells you by giving you the chills or butterflies in your stomach. I wanted to immerse myself in that, that physical sensation of joy.”

Growing up in Southeast Michigan, the son of a professor and a “super mom,” Andrew was encouraged to experiment with music at a very young age. By the time he was 4, he was enrolled at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, where he began training in classical piano. With no older siblings to guide his foray into popular music, he found other ways to satiate his curiosities. “I would hear something on the radio or see something on television, and my mom would really do her best to try and help me figure out what it was.”

Even without a musical lexicon, one of Andrew’s earliest musical attractions was to a “sort of funk guitar wah-wah sound, like the Shaft theme song.” He articulated what he could to his mother, and found himself with a Led Zeppelin record that didn’t really fit the bill. “I was expecting Barry White or Shaft and was confronted with this strange rock ‘n roll stuff – I didn’t like it all, out of sheer disappointment. A couple years later, I put it on again and it ended up being my favorite album. I was so thankful to my mom – she wasn’t sure if it was appropriate music for me to be listening to, but she never stopped me.”

When speaking about his parents, Andrew’s voice softens. His admiration is evident, and his approach to music was obviously affected by the lessons he learned as a child. “I don’t think a parent’s job is to keep their kids from being exposed to the world. I think it’s more about building the capacity and intelligence in that young person, so they can process those experiences themselves in an intelligent way. My mom would let me do anything, like draw naked lady pictures when I was young and not freak out about it! She made me feel like I was okay, and that the world was okay, and she trusted my judgment.”

It’s not hard to see how Andrew WK’s positive message and mission evolved – they were ingrained in him from the start. Like so many creative voices, Andrew had his sights set on New York City early on: “New York was made out to be so exciting in films and television. I liked the tall buildings, the energy. There didn’t seem to be a lot of people in New York that were doing what I was doing. It wasn’t based on one attitude or one shared opinion. New York seemed so volatile. I think I wanted to feel threatened in a way that would inspire me to work really hard. I respect the mindset that you don’t have to move anywhere to realize your dreams, but when your dream itself is moving to New York City it’s a no brainer. I didn’t think it would take moving here to do what I wanted to do, but it seemed more fun to me – it was a pleasure.”

It’s hard to pinpoint why some musicians drown once making the move to New York while others thrive, but certainly work ethic and drive are major components. For Andrew, it seems that his unrelenting positivity and openness to new opportunities have also played major parts in his success. His endless touring, and his willingness to collaborate with fellow musicians on events like the 2012 World Snowboarding Championships in Oslo, Norway, in which he is serving as a rock ‘n roll ambassador, are part of the puzzle.

Another important part of Andrew WK’s success has been his “party hard” message. Unlike other musicians who espouse the use of alcohol or drugs to heighten the party experience, Andrew’s message has always been about the high you get from life, unfiltered, unadulterated. What better way to capitalize on that appeal than to create a nightlife mecca where revelers from all walks of life can get down?

Santos Party House is a passion project between Andrew and a group of friends, who wanted to create the ultimate New York City destination. It opened in 2008. “I like clubs, but I usually can’t get into them,” he says with a laugh. “We all had very strong opinions, and a lot of experiences with venues, bars, clubs, sound systems and everything else. I think we really did achieve what we wanted, which was combining the best elements of all these things. We definitely went big with it. We didn’t want to settle or shoot lower out of fear, because it is a huge undertaking in a big space. It was also really important for us to do it in Manhattan, because there hasn’t been a new, proper dance venue downtown with a real cabaret license in over 20 years."

"The only way we were able to do any of it was with the support of the city and the people themselves, so creating a space to give back to the city which has given all of us so much was a great privilege and a real labor of love for everyone involved. It’s the most rewarding and the most magical thing I’ve ever been involved with!” Santos has been a success since its inception, and its appeal has extended beyond New York City’s borders. In February, when Andrew attends the World Snowboarding Championships, he plans to bring Santos to Oslo every night. And of course, the completion of a new record set for the end of winter means yet another year of touring is on the horizon. For Andrew, it’s a mission he’s overwhelmingly happy to accept.

Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields
» From seed to bloom

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith
Hair by Jessah Amarante
Makeup by Jessica Urbealis

On a crisp fall day in Brooklyn, Jennifer Charles, wrapped in a swath of black fabric, cradles a cup of lavender tea. Amongst the trees and vegetation, one could easily mistake the backyard oasis for a far more secluded location. Charles, one half of veteran rock band Elysian Fields, feels right at home. “I get most of my inspiration from the natural world, and I like to study other cultures, particularly primitive cultures.” Charles is chic, arrestingly so, and she owns the aura of a front woman. However, she also has an innocence, and an appreciation for nature, that can cast her as slightly childish within. “It’s important to think back to a time before we were so messed up, and what it means to take from nature and give back to nature; exploring how we integrate ourselves with other animals. It’s fascinating to me. In many cultures it’s natural to look to the animals and learn things. The music and art that moves and inspires me is always possessed of spirit. When something is completely infused with the essence of that spirit you can’t help but be swept up and moved by it.”

Since 1995, Charles and Oren Bloedow have been making music together as Elysian Fields, and their work has served as an exploration of Charles’ deepest passions. The daughter of a singer and a jazz disc jockey, Charles was exposed to music at a very young age. Her earliest musical obsessions were fostered by hit parade classics of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and her parents, whom she refers to as “great music listeners and lovers.” Her exposure to classic songstresses like Lena Horne and Peggy Lee sparked her creativity, and she spent many nights next to a portable radio anxiously anticipating the latest hits. Like most passionate singers, she’s convinced she was probably singing “at the same time, if not before [she] was speaking.” Her early passion for music later translated into a pursuit of theater, and it was during her studies at New York University that she met Bloedow, while working part time at the original Knitting Factory.

The songwriting process can be solitary, but through various stages, Charles' longstanding relationship with Bloedow has remained a constant. The duo has soldiered on since the end of their romance eight years ago. “It’s nice to have a writing partner because it keeps you in check. It pushes you to get the best, not just for yourself, but for the person you’re working with, because you expect the best from them as well.”

Though Elysian Fields has remained the main focus of their work, Charles and Bloedow have also created two albums for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, in which they explored traditional Sephardic songs through their decidedly unique lens. “They’re traditional songs many from the 11 through the 15th centuries, and most were passed on through oral tradition. When you hear interpretations of really early music, a lot of it is really liturgical and we wanted to bring it back to la tierra – these are wandering songs, people singing about being displaced, about love, loss, hashish. We wanted to really get at that and the spirit of that. We wanted to fuse a connection between the Sephardic Diaspora; these songs may have come from different cultures but they’re all connected. We also wanted to bring newness and relevance to them. So we asked ourselves, ‘what happens when you add the rock n roll spirit of today?’ Yes, we love this music but we also listen to Iggy Pop. We’re not going to abandon ourselves, so we wanted to speak to that through our interpretations.”

Although tackling songs in Arabic, Polish and Greek is a significant hurdle for anyone, it was the task of performing them live which posed the greatest challenge for Charles. “Some people get on stage and perform and they might as well be alone – they’re having their experience on stage, but the audience doesn’t exist. I think that it’s most exciting when you don’t know what’s going to happen next, whether you’re the one on stage or you’re the audience. It’s about what’s going on in the moment, and that’s why it’s such a beautiful and fragile thing – anyone can break that mood. I’ve been told that I demand a lot from my audience and it’s true, but I demand a lot from life and to me they’re the same.”

Edward B. Geida III and the triumphant return of Philly soul
» Talking to the An Albatross singer about his love of soul amidst a pile of records

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith

Most of America’s cities can, and will, boast about a singular phenomenon that shook the foundation and future of music. In Nashville, classic country grew into rockabilly and eventually modern rock ’n’ roll. There was the rise of Motown in 1960s Detroit, the San Francisco sound of the 60s and 70s, and the frenetic distortion of 1970s New York City punk. But some cities have held their musical history like a secret, which only the perennially curious and passionate can uncover. Philadelphia is one of those cities.

Even with Philly soul’s popularity in the 1970s, nowadays you’re more likely to hear it sampled in hip-hop tracks, rather than spun in its original form. The Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” peaked at number 14 on the U.S. R&B chart in 1968, but most of us are far more familiar with the heavily sampled and nominally abbreviated Fugees track released in 1996. There’s no doubt that Philadelphia soul is a difficult genre to dig into; the rarity of original records, and the influx of more mainstream forms of soul has made hunting down classics a real challenge. One would think that because of this, dedicated collectors and DJs would be on a mission to spread the gospel. Edward ‘Eddie’ Bernard Geida III is one of these men.

What started out as separate soul, funk, R&B, and mod parties in the early 2000s at Philadelphia’s Silk City Club, was revived as Turnaround vs. Immediate in November 2008 by Eddie and his gang of merrymakers. Gregg Foreman (Delta 72, Cat Power) was at the helm of Turnaround, while Eddie and his brother directed Immediate. The brothers eventually brought Russell Alexander (of Making Time) on board, and Turnaround vs. Immediate now hosts four DJs for their monthly parties. But vinyl isn’t the event’s only star. In the past Turnaround vs. Immediate has played host to live Soul acts like the late Herb Johnson & The Impacts, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, and The Mighty Hannibal.

Pumping obscure soul into the hearts of a diverse crowd may seem like a daunting task, but Eddie’s love for music knows no limits. An avid collector of vinyl, and in particular rare Soul 45s, Eddie has been at it for a long time: “I suppose I started collecting records when I was four years old, and I distinctly remember loving Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” when I heard it on the radio in the summer of '82.” About nine years later, Eddie began buying records on his own, and attending hardcore and punk shows; it was then that he dubbed himself a “vinyl guy.”

His musical interests span many genres, and even his work with experimental psychedelic band An Albatross plays a role in his DJing at Turnaround vs. Immediate. “The inspiration behind DJing Soul music and performing with An Albatross comes from the same musical passion and requires the same sort of energy,” he said. “I feel that in order to effectively DJ a rare soul or funk track, you need an intimate and thorough knowledge of the song - its physical structure, its history, its unspoken “vibe.” It requires a delivery from the DJ which exudes total confidence and a profound respect and love for the track.”

Eddie’s attitude towards music, and the execution of a good mix, is surely something that even an amateur mix-tape maker is intimately aware of. But genre sticklers may ask, how does hardcore and punk go hand-in-hand with Soul music? From Eddie’s perspective, it all makes sense: “I see a real synonymy between seemingly distant musical genres, one being the commonalities between avant-garde/lose-your-shit punk hardcore/underground music, and way off the beaten path soul and funk. The aesthetics, the presentation and the execution all come from the same musical gene pool.”

Eddie is on a constant hunt for 45s to spin during Turnaround vs. Immediate, and he’s always on the lookout for tracks that get “the right reaction on the dance floor.” He looks for certain qualities in records when snapping up purchases – soul cover versions of rock songs that will be relatively familiar to club goers, records produced between 1966 and 1972 with a “wicked, gritty Hammond B3 organ sound accompanied by an ultra-tight rhythm section,” tracks that mimic James Brown’s production between 1966 and 1972, and tracks that have lots of background noise or “in the studio party ambiance” which showcase the musicians’ affection for the song.

But what is it about vinyl that’s so special when technology tries to convince us it’s a dead medium? Is it the sound quality (or lack thereof), or is it the fact that so many of these records were never transferred to modern media and in many ways have remained hidden from potential new audiences? For Eddie, the beauty of vinyl is in its physical form as well as in its effects on the listener. “When you really break it down, vinyl is a tactile representation of a physical recording of an abstract concept (a song),” he opines. “What is particularly special about soul and funk music on 45rpm format is that it’s the medium in which the artists intended their music to be heard. The composition and recording of the music - from microphone placement in the studio, to backing vocals and overdubs, were all focused on creating a 2 to 3 minute piece of tape that would then be stamped onto pieces of plastic and subsequently broadcast in clubs, bars, radio studios, and bedrooms around the world.”

It’s not just the hunt for vinyl, or its later presentation, it’s the whole experience that matters. “I am a stickler for aesthetics,” Eddie says with a laugh, “I feel that hunting down a record sought for an intended audience, playing it through a proper sound system on turntables, and in the 45 format pays a very, very proper homage to the musicians who created the music 40 years ago. I envision the duty of the soul DJ to be one part archivist. He or she uncovers lost sounds, and creates a platform for those sounds to be appreciated for a new generation. It's a way in which we can retain and perpetuate the legacy of the artist.”

It is with that goal in mind, that once a month at Turnaround vs. Immediate, a beautiful piece of recorded history comes alive.


Lovett is a rambling man

» Trekking his own path for a Highway Collection.

By Laura E. Marcus
All photos by Alex M. Smith

Born in rural Georgia, Ben Lovett boasts a rare mix of Southern charm and big city wit. He trekked across the country recording Highway Collection, his debut album, with the help of friends, family and strangers alike. In every city he tapped the landscape and locals for inspiration, resulting in nine songs that were recorded in sixteen different locations, from Los Angeles to Atlanta, very few tracks featuring the same players. This traveling narrative is at the core of the record.

Even with all the traveling, Lovett remains grounded by his family roots. Using his family name as a moniker seems like an obvious choice, but it became more emblematic after the passing of his grandfather. "When he gave me the blessing to do it, it felt right. I'm from the South, from the woods. My family has been in the same 20-mile radius for three or more generations, and I think it took living in major cities for 10 years to really appreciate it and learn about who I was and why I’m the way I am. I became much more of a Southerner living in California than I ever was living in the South." With that in mind, it makes sense that Highway Collection is a record anchored by introspection, and the epiphanies that can hit you when you’re far from home.

Spending much of his career producing the work of other musicians and scoring films, Ben finally decided to focus on his own work in 2007. After leaving a thriving business behind, he embarked on a journey across Europe and while on top of a mountain in Spain it became clear: Making his own record was "a necessity."

"I'd been spending all my time doing music, I had a production studio business and a really structured life with so much responsibility. My career was expanding but my life was shrinking, and I wanted to have more of the latter. I was getting busier and busier, but I wasn’t any happier. I had to get rid of everything that was anchoring me to that life, to figure out what the problem was. I realized I just hadn't made time to do the things I wanted to do. I had been standing in the river and resisting the flow, so I decided to give in."

Having sold all his belongings before his European expedition, Lovett returned to the United States with renewed optimism. From July 2008 to early 2010, he took to the road making his way from coast to coast while recording fragments of what would become Highway Collection. The process was challenging, but inspirational.

"Some songs are like a puzzle that comes into view, but you're never sure how many pieces are required to put it together," he says with a laugh. "I either knew from the get go or was constantly investigating ‘what is this song about?’ For a lot of them I had to figure out what I was trying to get at. You start building out the mood of a song, but sometimes you have to figure out what you're trying to say. And then sometimes you just know it when you hear it."

Lovett’s work ethic is evident—while recording Highway, Lovett scored two films and produced another musician's album, making back the money he was pouring into his own work—but it's his love of countless creative disciplines that drives him. Inspiration is found not only in the people he meets along his voyage, but also in those he’s known all along. When the addition of hand claps seal a song, who better to source than the folks across the street?

"Fuck it! Lets get the people from the bar to come over and do the hand claps, why not?" he jokes. But there's truly an underlying sense of community and human connection that laces it's way through Highway Collection. A man whose life has been spent collaborating with other artists is not prone to drop his habits so easily.

"[Writing the record] was a celebration of not having anyone tell me to do anything differently. It was an opportunity to work with the people I wanted to work with and just let it all roll out in front of me; it was a very liberating experience. I didn't necessarily know where I was going next, but people would just appear and offer their help to guide me. Sometimes the world really does conspire to help you."

The Many Faces of JG Thirlwell
» Talking to the avant journeyman as he hustles on to the next reinvention.

By Laura E. Marcus. Photos by Alex M. Smith. Styling by Ahnika Delirium. Location provided by House of Collection.

Super heroes aren’t the only ones with alter egos. Musicians have long used fantasy and reinvention as a way to explore new sounds and creative spaces. From David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to Nicki Minaj’s Roman Zolanski, expression becomes limitless through the power of reinvention. These reinventions often mark departures in both sound and genre. But sometimes, rarely, they build upon the groundwork of previous exploits. The musician tinkers with rejected ideas, revisits old ones and emerges with a sound that is thoroughly modern. JG Thirlwell embodies the frenetic energy of disparate perspectives, his dueling alter egos each elbowing each other for the perfect position. With a career as both a musician and composer, Thirlwell has let his passion for music guide him through a never-ending maze of sounds.

Like most musicians Thirlwell’s fixation with music started at a young age. His parents met at the Royal Academy in London, and early on he was encouraged to embrace music in all its forms. He played the cello, but never excelled at the technicalities that are essential in classical studies. “I was in an orchestra briefly, but I would get lost in the score,” he admits. Eschewing professional training for a personal notation system, Thirlwell spent much of the past three decades creating intense orchestrations under several pseudonyms including Wiseblood, Foetus, Steroid Maximus and Manorexia. Early projects like Wiseblood explored violence and machismo, but even then Thirlwell tapped into classical elements. Each new project was born out of a necessary evolution: “I tend to have ideas and stew on them for a long time before I do anything about them. Even early Foetus had symphonic elements; cinematic elements have always been there. It’s been narrowed down and focused since I’ve been working more in the classical world. Whatever rock elements have been in my work have been falling off over the years,” he says with a laugh.

Perhaps Thirlwell’s latest work was born from the clarity that often comes with age, or simply an attraction to new experiments. What’s clear is that his compositions haven’t lost their edge. Songs that once echoed with bass guitar and moans, have been replaced with the crescendo of a horn and the rattle of a drum. Sounds are layered upon each other, causing friction, forward momentum, tension, and release. “Maybe it’s true of a lot of artists, at least it was for me, but when you first start out there’s a rush of ideas that just flood out of you. There’s a certain naivety that comes along with that, and I think that’s true of my work too… it makes me cringe.” Thirlwell, like all prolific artists, sifts through his own work with the sharp tongue of a critic. “As time goes by, you go through what you’ve done, and you can see it objectively and see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t want to repeat myself or be that person that makes the same album over and over again. I’m trying to do different things all the time, and I get more and more self critical about what I’m doing over the years; it’s just part of the editing process.” From the outside, this self-taught musician has done what many only hope to do. He learned classical instruments without the aid of a teacher, figured out how to compose pieces using his own system, and in doing so has taken classical music to new spaces. But that’s not where JG Thirlwell’s output stops.

In 2003 Cartoon Network premiered its animated series The Venture Bros., with Thirlwell’s compositions in tow. Often demented, hilarious and action packed, Venture Bros. offered Thirlwell the perfect opportunity to explore the power of soundtrack. Threading together plot, and building on character development, Thirlwell who most often works autonomously, seems genuinely thrilled by the structure and deadlines he’s given to follow. “The first season was difficult,” he said. “Getting the musical character and identities fleshed out was tough at first, but now I get so many great challenges. The possibilities are just endless – I can take the same song and make it Hawaiian style, changing the theme will change everything.” The cinematic qualities of his music lend themselves to this kind of work, and Thirlwell, ever the explorer, can’t wait for his next adventure.