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Leaders of the New School

When talking to kids half your age about music, it’s easy to become a disillusioned oldie or an impatient curmudgeon when faced with their lack of knowledge (how dare they not know the 1991 debut from Basehead?) Or, you can become infinitely tired of the unreachable hope that youth will master pop music and save [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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When talking to kids half your age about music, it’s easy to become a disillusioned oldie or an impatient curmudgeon when faced with their lack of knowledge (how dare they not know the 1991 debut from Basehead?)

Or, you can become infinitely tired of the unreachable hope that youth will master pop music and save us all.

I will forsake the member from Stems who instantly proclaimed his desert island disc to be a selection from the Red Hot Chili Peppers—that’s just wrong.

But I suppose these are facts we all must live with.

Fortunately, for the most part, Stems know their roots, or have cut them, finding the spark of creation and invention that very few “high school” bands find when they are simply, and quite literally, experimenting in the lab.

At the Arts and Preparatory Academy (or ACPA) in Columbus, on-the-pulse, upstart bands are becoming a regular thing. In this high school, it’s a part of the curriculum that you start a band, book your own shows, and develop your own following. For Stems, the class known as “Band Lab,” (coincidentally enough taught by Corbezzolo’s Noah Demland), was an easy A—the class they couldn’t wait to become seniors in order to take.

“The first week of Band Lab you don’t play at all,” says Stems guitarist Mickey Shuman. “You brainstorm some names, and you have a couple of show-and-tells where you write about songs that really inspire you, and then finally you pick who’s in your band.”

But, knowing full and well about the concept of Band Lab, the kids in Stems already had their lineup preconceived. There was little thought into what it would become, just hopes that in spontaneous combustion a live hip-hop conglomerate would become an alternative to the norm. The very thrifty quartet, including Kendall Martin as emcee, Shuman as guitarist, Dante Montoto on bass and Zach Pennington on drums, knew their function from the outset. It just sounded like an airtight solution to stale ideas in the music world—an arena from which to be ambitious and actually think outside the clichéd box. And it worked.

“I think, as corny as it sounds,” says the band’s incredibly confident lyricist Martin (who moonlights on Soundcloud as Kid-Naps), “we knew we had something special.”

“The best thing about that class—because it’s a class—” remembers Shuman, “is you can’t quit your band. If you’re not into it you can’t quit your band because it was, like, your grade. You had to navigate through differing opinions to make something happen.”

Conceptually, Stems were unashamedly aiming to copy The Roots—hence the name Stems – though most of the members admit to never listening to The Roots before starting the band. Though the idea may have started in innocent jest, the execution was dead serious, a melding of bold riffs, jazzed beats, and abstract, backpack rhymes. It’s uncomfortable for those who aren’t ready for the unexpected; namely, very studied grooves interrupted by oblong lyrics, party-stopping refrains, surf-n’-Nerf, and long diatribes about dating Malia Obama.

“It was kind of wobbly, crinkly, and sometimes crusty,” says Shuman. “We didn’t really model it after anything. We just wanted to rip off what we liked, which are things that don’t go together. In the end, we passed the class. We wrote the songs and got the grade we wanted from Noah. He would give us a lot of constructive criticism though. To make what we were doing better. So it kept going.”

Nearly a year graduated from ACPA, the band has recorded and will release their debut, Out of Fear, this month. In all respects, it’s earnest, ambitious, and awkward at the same time – the essence of teenage/adulthood purgatory. For a moment, as on Martin’s autobiographical “Momma’s Crib,” it’s painfully honest, then it’s invigoratingly post-modern, in the Mac DeMarco-meets-jazzbo-meets-Rage confluence of “Fast,” and despite any green faults or minor-league mistakes, it feels like a step into the future.

“People wanted to call it jazz-hop, and there’s a lot of great jazz and hip-hop, but that’s not who we are,” says Martin.

The conversation then devolves into just exactly where Stems fit at the present moment. Jazz-hop? Bassist Montoto is headed to Northwestern in the fall on a mechanical engineering scholarship, the classically trained Pennington could easily sit in with combos the world over (and currently backs up Counterfeit Madison), Shuman is lamenting the on-again-off-again relationship of his once white-hot band Inner Mikey, and Martin just keeps writing. In a lot of ways, Stems feels like a stepping stone, or that lightning in a bottle that you have to cherish completely in the now. Then again…Stems just want to have fun—a mode where they can take it all in stride and call it whatever they want.

“I saw Kid Rock once,” says Pennington. “My dad went through a phase where he liked Kid Rock a lot, so I was there to support him.’

And such is the problem, or perhaps, the remedy that is youth. They know the danger, and it’s good for the common good to dream, and like Icarus, they are entirely alright with flying too close to the sun.

Badwitaba. Amen.

Stems will celebrate the release of Out of Fear on Friday, March 23 at Kafé Kerouac. Visit wheremyzootsuit.bandcamp.com for music and more information.

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(614) Music Club: Joey Aich

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Photo by Zak Kolesar.

Every week, (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist consisting of songs that have inspired their sound, tracks they’re currently jamming out to, guilty pleasures, and favorite Columbus musicians. They also stop by to answer a few burning questions and plug any upcoming performances or releases.

This week’s playlist is brought to you by hip-hop artist Joey Aich. Originally from Woodmere, Ohio, Aich has called Columbus home since 2017. Since then, Aich has observed a city going through growing pains. His thoughts are present in his original work and even more poignant in his June 2020 release, Open Treehouse. The retro, introspective nature of the album shines through on his playlist selection and through his answers, both of which you can find below.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0HAmWoTgLUo3hhsGh8QKjj?si=CZoCOG1STyi3_qSefVLKJA

Can you talk a little bit about some of the songs you selected for your playlist and how they may have shaped your music career?

The way I crafted the playlist is into three sections: current, Columbus, and classics. 

The current section (consists of) songs that describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have dealt with amidst the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery due to police brutality and racism. One moment I’m crying in bed listening to Marvin Gaye hoping the violence stops, and the next moment I’m full of rage, and proud, scrolling through social media and seeing peaceful protests along with protests that include people burning cars and looting stores to make sure their voices are heard. Music has helped me during this time and these songs reflect where my head has been. 

The Columbus section includes songs from the Columbus-based artists that are featured on my upcoming album, Open Treehouse. Outside of them being featured on the album, they are incredible friends and amazing talents who push me to be better. Dom Deshawn, Trek Manifest, and Sarob are my “carried by 6 brothers,” and I’m glad we were able to make more music together. 

Classics! These are a few songs that will forever be in rotation for me. Believe it or not, I wrote a book for a class assignment in elementary school, and the title was “Living my Life Like it’s Golden,” because I loved (“Golden” by Jill Scott) when I was a kid. I have a personal attachment to these songs and each artist has had an impact on my genre choice, rapping style, and approach to music. 

During the past few months, how have you been able to stay creatively busy? Did you pick up any new skills or hobbies?

It’s been tough but I’ve enjoyed it. Since I’m in the middle of an album rollout I’ve had to scrap a lot of plans and figure out new ways to make it happen. I told myself I don’t want to come out of quarantine without testing my creative abilities or learning a new skill. Quarantining has stopped a lot of my writing process because I write off of experiences, and being in the house with roommates isn’t that exciting, to be honest. But I’ve found other ways to fuel and channel my creativity. 

I’ve been sipping wine and painting as a way to free my mind and put thoughts to canvas. I was inspired by my friend and Columbus legend, Hakim Callwood, to start painting a while ago, and I challenged myself to take this time to get better and keep myself at peace because I find it to be very therapeutic. 

With a lot of my plans, including music videos, being axed, I’ve been filming music videos on my phone and editing them in iMovie. The process is hard and a bit of a headache, but I’m proud of what I made and my progress with it. I’m glad I stuck with it because now when I work with a videographer I can bring some new ideas to the table. 

Overall, I think I’ve been having a good time with my creative process. I love the challenge of having to work with the situations at hand and make the best of it. 

What do you think separates the Columbus music scene from major industry hot spots like New York and Nashville?

Definitely not the talent. I believe the talent is here, but the infrastructure isn’t as solid as the other big cities. Oftentimes artists here in Columbus and even Ohio as a whole have to go somewhere else and get some type of name recognition before being accepted here in Ohio. I also don’t think that’s technically a bad thing as long as Ohio gets its respect as a place that breeds talent. 

How do you think the Columbus hip-hop scene can carry the momentum it had going into 2020 and turn a positive spin on the latter half of this year?

Continuing to do what we have been doing, but amplified and more polished. Again, I believe the talent is here, but we just have to take the next steps...I subscribe to the “trial and error” method of attempting to do things and learning how to do it better the next time.

To turn a positive spin on the latter half of the year, I think we should continue to be creative and adapt to the new normal because we don’t know how long quarantining will last and what normal looks like after. Maybe we don’t have shows until mid-2021, (so) let’s figure out how to still be effective whether it be live streams or create a novel way to bring the experience to the audience. I like where Columbus hip-hop is headed. I think we have a good group of artists that are right there and at any moment lives can be changed. 

Aich’s latest album, the June 18 release Open Treehouse, is available to listen to on all streaming platforms and available to purchase on Bandcamp here.

Here is where you can find Aich on the Internet:

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Rockin’ in a F-150

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Truckbound concert series reaches the city’s most vulnerable with music

The chances are, you’ve seen live music performed in venues of all sorts. From the historic Pabst Theater, to outdoors on the shore of Lake Michigan, to a sweaty mosphit in your second cousin’s basement.

Somewhere most of us have likely never seen live music though, is in the bed of a pickup truck while it’s parked outside your front door. But the Curbside Concert Series is trying to change that.

Organized by Can’t Stop CBUS —a group that formed this March with a viral tweet and aims to connect and better the city of Columbus through a series of community projects— the series brings 10-15 minutes performances to the homes of elderly Columbus residents in order to foster community spirit and unity in those who may need it most.

According to a statement from Can’t Stop CBUS, the goal of the series is “To create much much-needed moments of levity and connection for our elder neighbors,” for older Columbus residents “Who might not connect with others online through video chats or live events the same way that the digital natives of younger generations do.”

Friends or loved ones of elderly Columbus residents can request a concert online for a couple or individual they believe would benefit, and if selected their home (or assisted living facility) will be included as a stop on the four hour concert shifts musicians undertake Friday through Sunday every week. Those requesting a concert are even able to request a specific style of music and add a personal message that’s delivered from the performer

And for Curbside Concert musician Amber Knicole those moments of levity are very real indeed. “There’s a moment where you can actually see people light up. They’re so grateful,” she said. “There’s so much going on in our lives right now, and to see people let some of that go for even a few minutes is amazing.”

Knicole — who also serves as the vocalist for Columbus neo-funk group Mojoflo—actually began her tenure with the concert series as a driver before taking on performances as well. “I’ve always been familiar with larger vehicles, so I was able to step right in.” 

Musicians are carted throughout the city on the flatbed of a glossy, slate-gray Ford F-150 donated by Ricart Automotive and fully equipped with a battery-powered speaker system. And while this allows the music to quite literally show up at your door, according to Columbus artist Steven Paxton, it presents a unique set of challenges as well.

“You’re always trying to find the right spot to park, because that matters,” Paxton said. “And last week it didn’t rain so everyone was outside mowing their lawn. That kind of stuff can get in the way.”

He ultimately sees the truckbound performances as being able to reach Columbus citizens in a unique and compelling fashion. “One elderly lady was confined to her bed and she wasn’t able to come outside, so we pulled up right beside her window.” And it’s moments like this where he says the spirit of the series shines through at its brightest.

“The response we get is great, people just light up. They’ll often come out of their houses or the houses nearby, or out into the parking lot. It seems like everyone is just glad to have the interaction.”

Last weekend, Paxton even got to put a show for one of his biggest fans: his own Dad. “It was nice, this last week we ended our set earlier and was close to where my Dad lived, so we stopped by and did an extra show for him in Groveport,” he said. 

And while there’s not much you can do in the bed of an F-150, the series has been able to show off a nice cross-section of musical talent. While Paxton sings and plays keyboard as accompaniment, others will bring a guitar. Fisher only performs vocally, but she finds a way to make things interesting by singing over pre-recorded backing tracks to songs. “I try to find the ones that are the least amount of cheesy,” she says laughing. “But sometimes with covers you can find a track that really presents the song in a different way, which people appreciate.”

And the Curbside Concert Series benefits more than just those who hear the shows. One of the sponsors of the concert series, the Great Columbus Arts Council, pays artists for their performances.

“Being a full time musician means you need to have about six part time music jobs. Now, most of the venues are closed, so anything like this we can find  is even more important,” Paxton said. “It really is a blessing.” 

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Celebrate Juneteenth by patronizing these local black artists on Bandcamp

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, Bandcamp took things into its own hands to elevate the voices of artists struggling without gigs. 

The #BandcampFriday campaign waived the company’s revenue share so that 100 percent of music and merchandise sales went directly to the musicians. On March 20, fans spent $4.3 million on Bandcamp, 15 times more than a typical Friday. On May 1, people showed up even more, spending $7.1 million.

This #BandcampFriday is a little different, however, with the rise of protests fighting for equality in the Black Lives Matter movement popping up all over the country the last two months. With Juneteenth—an American holiday celebrating the end of slavery—being celebrated today, Bandcamp is changing its mission slightly this month and for every Juneteenth moving forward.

From midnight to midnight Pacific time, Bandcamp will be donating 100 percent of its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Bandcamp will also be allocating an additional $30,000 per year to partner with organizations that fight for racial justice and create opportunities for people of color.

To double up on Bandcamp’s promotion today and in honor of Juneteenth, check out the list of Columbus-based black musicians below that you can patronize for Bandcamp’s Juneteenth celebration.

Paisha Thomas

One of the most powerful voices in Columbus, Paisha Thomas weaves passion, politics, and history into her potent R&B style. Purchase her track “I Am Here” below.


Mistar Anderson

One of the smoothest, in-the-pocket Columbus bands to pop up over the past five years, Mistar Anderson blends jazz and hip-hop while also bringing in influences such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. You can purchase its EP below.

T.Wong

One of the most fierce musicians and entrepreneurs in Columbus—as well as one of the top-rated business and corporate attorneys in the capital city—T.Wong is at the intersection of soulful R&B and provocative rock. His album, The Upside Down, is a perfect mixture of those sounds and can be purchased below.

Counterfeit Madison

Counterfeit Madison (vocals, piano), along with Adam Hardy on bass and Seth Dailly on drums and percussion, has been delivering show-stopping performances for almost a decade now. The group’s music has a sense of urgency to it, a reflection of the tumultuous 2010s. You can stream a re-created performance of Sade covers below.

Joey Aich

Joey Aich, originally from the Cleveland area, started making an impact on the Columbus music scene as soon as he started calling Columbus home. His introspective hip-hop is a creative lens into the makeup of our community. And what perfect timing! Aich’s latest project was released on Thursday. You can purchase the fresh album below.

MojoFlo

Amber Knicole, the lead singer and show leader behind, has the energy to get the room moving and the vocal power to leave the same room speechless. MojoFlo has long been one of Columbus’ cherished musical treasures. With plans to release an album this year, show some support by purchasing the group’s 2014 EP below.

Learn more about Bandcamp and its efforts here.


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