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Don’t Let Her Be Misunderstood

Nuance. “That’s been my word of the year,” says Sharon Udoh from a table at Kafe Kerouac, her favorite hovel to dwell—and think. “Social media is not working and it’s causing a huge disconnect. I’m not saying it’s not cathartic or that it shouldn’t be happening, but Facebook and Twitter have removed nuance, and story, [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Nuance.

“That’s been my word of the year,” says Sharon Udoh from a table at Kafe Kerouac, her favorite hovel to dwell—and think.

“Social media is not working and it’s causing a huge disconnect. I’m not saying it’s not cathartic or that it shouldn’t be happening, but Facebook and Twitter have removed nuance, and story, and background.”

It’s that perspective, and no doubt a concentrated understanding of nuance, which have placed Udoh and her music as Counterfeit Madison as the gold standard in the Columbus scene and beyond. During her tenure in the city she has given herself plenty of identities; the “angry fucking black person,” the mercurial friend who is “empathetic to everyone, everything, and every side,” a “diversity educator” to students at the Arts and College Preparatory Academy. Not to mention an unashamed prodigy with perfect pitch and synesthesia.

But of all her self-proclamations, be it with love or deprecation, the one that stuck out on this day was the phrase “way base.” Indeed Udoh could charge her songs with the preoccupation du jour or rant religiously, but instead she focuses on the simple things that bond us as humans—the emotional ingredients in all of our DNA.

Opposable Thumbs, the title of Counterfeit Madison’s third release (at the Wexner Center, NBD), is as basic a sentiment as Udoh can conjure and the most ambitious and pure recording of her career. Full of big beautiful ballads that could appear on an Adele blockbuster or during the credits of a Disney animated fairy tale, Udoh possesses a voice that is unparalleled and can hardly be contained by tape. The other half provides levity with the floor-shaking electricity indicative of Udoh’s live performance, a polyglot of styles that highlight her range, from blues and funk to adorable indie and folksy piano playing.

It’s a duality that wildly veers between a side that wants to do nothing but express and get her music to the world, but also a side that is introverted and has a “desire to retreat” because of an incongruence between “appearance and personality.” It’s universal because it’s genuine.

“It’s talking about the human experience, it’s our thumbs that make us all humans,” says Udoh in complete earnest. “It’s how we hold and how we function—it’s a very human thing. I’m very simplistic. I wouldn’t call myself intelligent, but I think I’m emotionally intelligent. I know about sadness, longing, snarkiness, sassiness, jealousy … it’s all over the place.”

In a conscious move to evolve her sound, Udoh formed a full band and took to camping in Musicol Studios with engineer Keith Hanlon for the last two years. As a “composing maniac,” she challenged everything she’s made in the past and wrote parts for horns, other guitarists, other piano players, filling the record with complex melodic layers. With a core of Adam Hardy on bass and Seth Daily on drums, there are guest spots from a cavalcade of Columbus musicians including Way Yes’s Glenn Davis, Van Dale’s Joe Camerlengo, Dane Terry, and Val Glenn, making for a momentous, almost epochal, album.

After a few listens, it’s hard to imagine that Opposable Thumbs almost never happened, but after receiving over 80 rejections from labels, local Anyway Records swooped in and plans to release the record this month.

2017, though, wasn’t just about the journey to produce a definitive statement like Opposable Thumbs for Udoh, it was also the year that she performed as Nina Simone to a sold-out crowd. Comparisons to Simone have always followed Udoh, but she never thought of it as something that needed to be done until recently.

“The reason I first did it was because of the biopic, and how they cast fucking Zoe Saldana who looks nothing like her,” says Udoh, half-joking and half-serious. “You could go to any corner in Brooklyn and find a girl who can actually sing. I’m just sitting here like, ‘I can do this.’ Her music has pulled me through a lot of hard times. It felt like a coming of age for my black self.”

The show was a resounding enough success that she was asked to play another sold-out performance, this time at the Hattiloo Theater in Memphis, a city where the issues Simone rallied against are still very palpable and many in the audience were witness to both the MLK assassination and Simone singing those songs for the first time. It made Udoh think even deeper about the parallels the oppressed and the oppressors are going through in the now.

“I hate to sing about empathy because I don’t want to sound like I’m so much more advanced than everyone else, but I’m nothing but empathetic,” says Udoh. “I sing about the lowest-common denominator, so I think what is going on in Washington is very similar to things that are going on in our real life. I just think those boys in Charlottesville are just scared, they don’t have a lot going for them, they have really low self-esteem. But I write songs about low self-esteem. I’d rather talk about the roots of problems. I don’t want to talk about specific political things because in my mind political problems are just as much emotional problems.”

Whichever side you’re on, and whether or not you think Udoh should be a mouthpiece for social justice or simply a musician and poet singing about the balance of our basic human needs, overcoming the thick fog of fear that has divided America is the one metric for success that Udoh strives for with Counterfeit Madison.

“I just see fear. I myself have a lot of fear right now,” concludes Udoh. “So I would like to give people a chance to experience some fearlessness through my music—fearless enough to tell someone you love them, or that you hate them, or be fearless enough to know when to be loud and know when to be quiet.”

And in that fearlessness, in order to lead a full life according to Sharon, you no doubt need the nuance, whether it’s cooking a curry, dancing interpretatively, or just in having a conversation with the other side.

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Arts & Culture

Watch: “World’s largest mural” in Short North is more than meets the eye

Regina Fox

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At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.

Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7PRvBxpBkI/

Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.

In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.

To learn more about The Journey AR Mural, visit shortnorth.org.

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Undercover: Unique music festival showcases Columbus music talent this weekend

Mike Thomas

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Since beginning in 2018, Columbus Covers Columbus (CCC) has grown into a signature event in the thriving local music scene. Now in its third year, this unique festival is centered on the concept of local musicians playing sets comprised entirely of music from other local acts.

CCC is the brainchild of Columbus music promoter Tony Casa, who wanted to create a showcase for a supportive community of local artists to share their mutual admiration for each other's music.

As entertaining as the event is for spectators, CCC doubles as a valuable networking opportunity for local entertainers and creatives.

"There are great local merchants, games, and tons of networking opportunities for everyone in the community," says Casa. "This isn’t just a great show, it’s like a proper festival—but in the winter."

Since its inception, the event has expanded to include stand-up comedy, poetry readings, burlesque performances, live podcast recordings, and more, all in the spirit of promoting and celebrating the Columbus creative community.

CCC will take place from January 17-19 at Classics Victory Live at 543 S High St. The event is 18+, with tickets available at the door for $10. For more info including a full list of artists and vendors, visit Columbus Covers Columbus on Facebook.

Cover photo by Catherine Lindsay photography.

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Columbus band snarls is bursting with promise on debut LP

Mike Thomas

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As the decade that birthed the fidget spinner and basically nothing else of note drew to a close, music blogs large and small dedicated astonishing amounts of digital ink to their inevitable “album/song/artist of the decade” rankings.

Usually restrained to a totally undaunting 100 items, these lists surveyed the topography of a ten year span that saw the legacy of rock music as we know it (straight, male, and horny) continue its gradual and unceremonious slide into irrelevance.

From relative newcomers like Courtney Barnett, Snail Mail, and Julien Baker, to established voices such as the Breeders, St. Vincent, and Sleater-Kinney, rock music in the 2010s was revitalized by female artists who enjoyed a larger portion of the spotlight in this decade than ever before.

Columbus-based alt-rockers snarls are firmly situated on this new wave, but the rapid success the group has enjoyed since forming in 2017 is entirely due to their own hard work and astonishing creative powers. Consisting of Chlo White on guitar and lead vocals, Riley Dean on bass and vocals, and sibling duo Mick and Max Martinez on guitar and drums respectively, snarls is the capital city’s contribution to the future of rock—and they won’t be contained to the 614 for long.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

Originating in the local DIY scene, snarls got their start playing house shows, eventually moving on to established venues throughout the city. The group’s sound incorporates influences from ‘90s grunge, to the emo stylings of bands like American Football, to the pop sensibilities of Halsey and Kesha. The result, as White puts it, is music that coalesces into a “melting pot of teenage angst.”

In the summer of 2019, snarls was propelled to a new level of notoriety when the video for the group’s single, “Walk in the Woods”—a glittering anthem of unrequited love sung over chorused-out guitars and with a hook more infectious than meningitis—premiered on the music blog Stereogum. The track also made the cut for the site’s “100 Favorite Songs of 2019” roundup.

“We didn’t even have a tripod, the camera was set on like four books and the backdrops kept fucking falling,” White recalls of filming the video, which the group self-produced.

“That song not only has given us more streaming, but has brought us so much press and cool shows,” Mick says of the track, which has accrued almost 40,000 streams on Spotify at the time of this writing. “I don’t think the Sleater-Kinney thing would ever have happened if that song wasn’t out. It’s crazy that just that one song alone has brought us so much opportunity.”

The Sleater-Kinney thing? That would be snarls opening for the legendary Pacific Northwest rockers at the Newport Music Hall on their recent tour stop in Columbus. While it was easily the biggest show in the young group’s career thus far in terms of profile and audience size, the members of snarls were up to the challenge.

“For me, it’s easy to switch between playing a house venue and playing the Newport,” Dean says confidently of the band’s milestone moment. “It’s still just a stage. It’s still just people watching me play my music. One’s just bigger.”

If the release of the group’s breakthrough single is any indication of snarls’ trajectory, it’s safe to assume big things are on the horizon. “Walk in the Woods” is just a taste of the group’s first full-length LP, titled Burst, which is planned for a Spring 2020 release. To help achieve their artistic vision for the album, snarls tapped Jon Fintel of Relay Recording to handle production duties.

“Jon has played a really important role,” Mick says of Fintel’s contributions to the recording process. “Not only does everything sound high-quality because of him, but even when we brought demos to him, it was like ‘let’s scrap this song because it doesn’t quite fit in, and I know that you guys can do something better.’ And then we wrote one of our favorite songs.”

For established fans, the description that snarls teases for their new release should come as no surprise: expect a long emotional arc cast across tracks that alternate between “perfect for dancing,” and others better suited to crying. For snarls, the completion of the recording provides a profound sense of accomplishment.

“I make a lot of art. I’m always making a photo, or doodling, or writing. But this is one of my—our—finer- crafted pieces of art that I am just really proud of, regardless of what happens with it, or if it goes anywhere,” says White. “If it just sits in a dark corner for the rest of my life, I’m still content. I’m just really proud of all the work that we collected in this little ten song record.”

Find snarls on all major streaming platforms. For tour dates, merch, and more, visit snarlsmusic.com

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