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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




“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

Virtual Experiences bring culture to our couch




Now that we're all stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we could use some entertainment beyond hours of Netflix bingeing. And yes, Carole probably did it*

WOSU Public Media has come to the rescue by putting together a list of local, virtual experiences to enjoy from the safety and comfort of your bunker. Here's a list of just a few upcoming events ranging from music to the arts.

Sunday, March 29
Columbus Symphony’s Russian Winter Festival – The Columbus Symphony broadcasts its Russian Winter Festival ll concert, featuring masterpieces by Prokofiev, Borodin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky at 1 p.m. on Classical 101.

Columbus Goes Live – The Cyber Festival –  A virtual entertainment experience streaming across different pages to support local performers who are directly impacted by the critical shutdowns of venues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Join in and make history by supporting your favorite bands, comedians and performers in the Columbus area.

Why not a virtual bar?

Brewdog is even getting in on the act with its upcoming, Brewdog Online Bar. They plan to "open" for business at 6pm on Friday, March 27th. The bar plans to feature live beer tastings with our co-founders James and Martin and other beer experts, homebrew masterclasses, live music & comedy and more.

Brewdog will be sharing further details soon and a complete schedule of the events on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

*Carole, as in this Carole.

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Arts & Culture

Columbus band snarls is bursting with promise on debut LP

Mike Thomas



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

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Arts & Culture

Elijah Banks brings his worldview back to Columbus through new album




Near the end of “Tunes in My Room,” a song by local rapper Elijah Banks, samples of a affirmations from social media personality Amber Wagner kick in. “You are still surrounded by an abundance of love, you have joy around you, God is with you,” Wagner passionately evokes. “You gon’ be alright.” Though Banks proclaims sophomore album Spin as a love story, much like Wagner’s declaration, through nine tracks filled with soulful aptitude, Banks finds that self-love is the ultimate destination.

“On my first album [Progress, Not Perfection], I wanted to show people all the different routes that I could take,” Banks said. “Over time, I’ve realized that my true roots lie in what makes people feel good, [which is] self-love; that’s what this album is about. When you start loving yourself, you are forced to recognize and notice what isn’t for you.”

Born into a military family, Banks drew different perspectives of music through his upbringing in Germany, New Jersey and Atlanta before ultimately settling in Ohio. Being in the midst of trap-rap culture during his time in Atlanta, he says that if you’re looking for hollow autotuned rap, Spin probably won’t be the ideal soundscape. In fact, not fitting into mainstream standards is helping Banks weed out who his music isn’t for.

“At first, I wanted to aim for a more pop-driven record that could get lots of spins on radio and push myself out more in a regional manner,” he said. “Each song showcases a situation right before it spins out of control.”

Yet, Spin doesn’t sound as chaotic as Banks seems to lead on. In fact, it’s quite relatable, with intricate spoken word amidst a gentle piano (“Kev’s Interlude”), the all-too- common frustrations of working a full-time gig (“4 AM”), and anxiously wading through mall crowds (“Zooming Thru”). With an emotive songwriting process, Banks shares that his ideas are often spur-of-the-moment and generally based on production.

“Sometimes I’ll roll through 20 to 30 beats a day until I find one that matches my mood. Once I choose the beat that I like, I generally work on the rhythm and tones that I want to get across. Then, the focus on the lyrics comes,” Banks says. “I try to talk through relatable subjects with a pop culture modern twist. If you listen to “Zooming Thru,” the song is about my card getting declined at a high fashion store. I like to play with eye catching themes and turn them into great songs.”

While a remainder of songs that didn’t make the cut on Spin will be featured on an impending project titled Elijah Banks & Friends, the rapper values collaborating with fellow Columbus-based artists to stay grounded. Part of 14-member collective Rawest4mation, a group of artists that uplift community arts culture, Banks aspires to one day run an indie label.

With a structural team in place, Banks credits Spin executive producer Kevin Kesicki with piano instrumentation and the cohesive flow of the album, alongside DJ B Redi, Banks’ official DJ. With plans of one day throwing niche cultural events, Banks hopes to eventually test his walk on the runway, having previously modeled for local streetwear brand Good Behavior. Nearly two years after making a splash at Breakaway Festival, Banks is preparing to showcase his diverse instrumentation and creative material at his next show on Valentine’s Day in New York City, backed by his band The Balance. Though his music is leading Banks to spaces outside of Columbus, he says that these performances would be nearly impossible without hometown support.

“I asked myself at the end of last year what [2020] holds for me,” he said. “Many people say [Columbus doesn’t] have talent but honestly, I truly believe you have everything you need for the things to bubble, minus one thing: We need to cross support and take our consumers seriously.”

Though 2020 has just started, with an intentional feel-good sound on Spin, Banks has his sights set on finishing the year more consistent than he’s begun. It’ll be exciting to hear.

Elijah Banks’ music is available on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter @elijahwonbanks and Instagram @elijahbanksmusic.

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