Hey Underwater Sunshine Fest, it’s Charlie - I’ve got the high-stakes privilege of introducing the final band before the festival: Kid Sistr. The group, composed of bassist Sara Keden, drummer Rebecca Webster, and guitarist Sabel, is a dynamic trio of women who have each already begun to make names for themselves independently: Keden’s debut EP Everything came out in August, with Sabel on vocals, and Sabel’s debut Mirth Drive came out in April, both to a pretty spectacular degree of success on streaming services.
Hello friends! Katie here. I guess we’re all doing the same thing right now: we’re all choosing our favorite rock shirts, making sure we can find that seatbelt belt we just bought, getting ready to start standing in line in front of the Rockwood two or three days early like this is the ‘90s and Ticketmaster is the only place selling tickets, and they’re doing it through Kroger—
The opening track, “For Worse, For Better” starts off with Maria in her classic form, sonically placing her hand on your shoulder and whispering soothingly into your ear. She’s got pills that are tough to swallow in her other hand, but she reminds us first of the relief to come, the work that was done to create something beautiful and comfortable. Beginning with something resembling a nuptial organ call, it twists the traditional wedding vow around, and Maria’s version ends on the positive, high note. Instead of “for better, for worse,” it’s “for worse, for better.”
Katie here, and I have the exciting job of introducing you to Haley Grant [lead vocals, guitar] and Kaylee Jasperson [bass, harmonies] of The Harmaleighs— which is partially fun because I’ve gotten to watch some of their growth and changes throughout the years as an early fan, courtesy of the Outlaw Roadshow, but partially because I don’t remember the last time I picked up a record and enjoyed the song titles so much. (That might seem like faint praise, but again, I’m a creative writing teacher: I look at every single word. This was one of those rare occasions where I wanted to download all ten tracks into my knowledge base immediately.)
The band has an interesting line-up. In addition to Emma Cole, Wildermiss consists of Josh Hester on guitar, Seth Beamer on guitar, and Caleb Thoemke on drums. What’s missing here? Well, nothing. Which is strange because they do not have a bass player. Now I’m sort of a traditionalist when it comes to my rhythm sections. Drums and bass go together like chocolate and peanut butter but somehow I didn’t miss the bass at all (Sorry all my bass player friends. I really do love all you guys even if it’s not quite enough to help you haul that 8x12 Ampeg speaker cab up and down that huge flight of stairs at the venue.) Caleb is a capable and tasteful percussionist and he’s more than able enough to drive the music and hold down the rhythm while Seth and Josh manage to make use of the space left by the absent bass to weave guitar parts in and out and around the drums and the vocals to create this lovely symphony of beautiful atmosphere.
Before I ever knew I would write for a music festival— teach a class about music— meet my idols— write a blog— I was just a bookish kid in a back brace with a big Texas attitude and absolutely nothing in my 4’11” frame to back it up. I know TV and movies make being a nerd with prosthetics look really cool, but in my case, you’ll be shocked to hear I found those things to be slight impediments toward being “cool” and making “friends.” I never felt lonely or bored though, especially out on those bike rides, because I had too much to think about. I was already an obsessive reader and I memorized music and lyrics like it was a job (that’s just how I roll). The first record I remember knowing every single word to— from the first line of “Carlotta Valdez” to the last line of “Radio Silence”— was Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? And you know Merrymakers, too. Here. Let me remind you.
If the frontman looks familiar, he should: Van Goose is Marcy Playground drummer Shlomi Lavie’s other band, and it utilizes his ear for rhythm in ways that capitalize on both the sounds of New Wave, R&B, and even some eighties synth sounds. The lyrics and words are often used as percussive devices, too, which is just to say that they’re often stand-ins for something that feels like it hits just right.
Hey friends, Katie here! It’s probably for the best, too. I have spent the week completely obsessed with three or four lines (depending on where you put the line break!) from a Built to Spill song, and though I have told literally everyone in my zip code, it remains a one person obsession. Better I be here, telling you about another band that plays— and when I say that, I mean they experiment, delight, enjoy— music. Today, I’m introducing you to Wild Pink, who we’ve been lucky enough to have before— but now that we know exactly how impressive they are live, we can’t wait to have an encore performance.
Katie here, and I can’t tell you how happy we are to welcome Underwater Alum Jordan Klassen back to the stage in November! His forthcoming record, Tell Me What To Do, is a stunner, and deepens the well Zoe talked about in her initial artist profile of Klassen last year— she used the phrase “grounded Sufjan Stevens,” and I’d say that still applies, but I’m also starting to see shades of Conor Oberst, Dylan LeBlanc and Gregory Alan Isakov: he’s become or is becoming the journeyman storyteller that knows how to use a folkier sound to enhance lyrics, instead of writing lyrics specifically trying to fit into genre.
Friends, enemies, and neutral parties! (As my wife likes to address people these days.) It’s Andy back again and it’s been too long but after a long summer it’s good to be back with you. I’m excited to be introducing to you lovely Underwater Sunshine people to the latest addition to our November line-up, The Accidentals.
Teddy Thompson is a musician I’ve had more than a passing interest in for well over a decade. I’ve seen him with Rufus Wainwright, I’ve seen him with the Old 97’s, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him up close and personal playing his Garden Session. I bought the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack because of his work on it (particularly his version of “King of the Road”), and because of that, I learned I love Gustavo Santaolalla and his film scores— which was an entire genre of music I had largely ignored. I’m telling you this for a reason: when you become a Teddy Thompson fan, what happens is you actually become a bigger music fan.
It’s an understatement to say that Keenan’s voice is beautiful but the most phenomenal quality in his singing, to me, is how he is able to use different parts of his voice to become either percussive or at times almost slippery, gliding in and around his melodies like a woodwind. His high range almost always clips a phrase in a way that gives a sharp point, like the line or word has been chopped in half.
Hey Underwater Sunshine fans, it’s Charlie, here to tell you about an act that has a special significance for me. Mikaela Davis and the Southern Star played the first Underwater Sunshine Fest, and for that reason her act is important to more than a few of us—but her Garden Session just happened to be starting as I walked through the door for the first time. It was already overwhelming to work with all of these incredible musicians, producers, writers, designers. Almost a year ago I walked into a thoroughly intimidating setting as an intern, feeling totally unqualified for the position, and was almost immediately confronted by an enormous harp sitting in the middle of the room.
Last October, I said he would probably be one of your favorite artists too, and after watching him play a set in a jam-packed room at the Bowery Electric, I’m pleased to say I was right. Seán is an expert at leading a crowd: his energy is that of David Bowie and Stevie Nicks’s love child— but beyond that, his music is meticulously, beautifully crafted, which makes perfect sense once you get to know Seán: that radiance, joy, and sense of humor— that’s who he is on and off the stage. I got in the habit last year of looking around every time someone made a joke to see if I could find Seán because I knew he was going to top it. Listening to his music, there’s that same electricity. Once you’ve seen or met Seán, you keep looking around the room— any room— just to see if he’s there.
The landscape of American musical history has been so irrevocably shaped by Canadian artists, and somehow we never remember that many of the artists we love, like Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Neil Young are all Canadian. So I want to lead with the fact that Wintersleep, a Juno award-winning folk-rock group that just signed up to play the festival this fall, is originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia—and I don’t know if “winter” and “sleep” have different connotations up in the Great White North, but their music can hardly be encompassed in the standard American connotations of those two words. I opened Spotify and searched for “Wintersleep,” expecting sweet, soothing, perhaps even dark music—and at times Wintersleep can be all of those things, like in “Into the Shape of Your Heart,” from their most recent record, In the Land of— but what I got was one of the most versatile groups I’ve ever encountered, working without regard to genre, trope, or tradition.
The act I have the pleasure of introducing today, The Suitcase Junket, isn’t a metal act— far from it— but one-man band (literally) Matthew Lorenz sprung to mind immediately when I sat down to think about the concert I’d just seen. He’s a master of using levels to his advantage, and he’s followed blues and folk greats when it comes to songwriting and tone. That talent necessitates an understanding of levels— the ability to take your audience by the hand and lead them through a story or a moment.
Katie here, and I have a special privilege today: I get to introduce you to hip-hop duo Blackillac. Underwater Sunshine Fest has always tried to bring in as much variety in musical styles as we can, but Blackillac’s performative, percussive vocals up against their clever, engaging lyrics make them a hip-hop act you can’t miss.
Clayton Johnson of Paper Compass - like Andre - has the kind of unpracticed but easygoing, natural vocal ability that, paired with Elliott-Smith-inspired vocal layering and delicate reverb, emphasizes its own vulnerability without pageantry. Despite the years separating them, when I hear Paper Compass recordings, I can’t help remembering the beautiful lo-fi, natural quality of Andre’s songs (the ones I’m referencing were recorded over 10 years ago) and how they reflected the intimate, bedroom-recording nature of their conception. That special quality of intimacy in Johnson’s music, combined with his masterful fingerpicking, vocal layering, and his whispery, confessional voice, takes the music to a distinct, familiar world.
Hey Underwater Sunshine fans, it’s Charlie again. The act I’m here to tell you about this time is a little different from most of the groups playing the festival—in fact, they’re a little different from most groups, period. A relatively new act, D.Light & the Intergalactic Ear Orgy Orchestra is the brainchild of Delano Montgomery (the “D.Light” of the band’s name) and boasts Underwater alum Mikaela Davis as part of the aforementioned orchestra, as well as members other well-known Brooklyn based bands like August West, The Cutouts, and Salón. While a name like “Intergalactic Ear Orgy Orchestra” suggests that the group would have some kind of futuristic electro-pop sound, it doesn’t suggest what is possibly the most appealing aspect of the Intergalactic Ear Orgy Orchestra’s sound: underlying all of the futuristic, synth-heavy music is an intimate retro element that roots you in the familiar sound of artists like Bowie and the Talking Heads while pushing you to accept the outrageous.
Hello everyone, Katie here, and I am bringing news from the front that is almost too exciting for me to process. If you’re a Podcast listener, you’ve heard about the first time August Cinjun Tate played a Garden Session. I almost missed it. The team needed to be down at the club to get set up and make sure everything was going as it should be, and Adam asked me if I was going to stick around and see Cinjun. I said I couldn’t, but something about the name pulled at me.
Hey everyone, it’s Charlie, and this week I’m excited to tell you about The Hunts, an indie-folk alternative group out of Virginia. The group is seven brothers and sisters, and I would ordinarily call their music something out of this world - but I’m going to argue instead that their music is distinctly of this world, and that’s precisely what makes it so remarkable.
Katie here writing another essay for Underwater Sunshine Fest and feeling incredibly privileged that I get to share such special musicians and art with you. This one is a little bit different for me, though, because I’ve already written about the band— Marcy Playground— when they played our inaugural festival last October. In my first article, I wanted to make the point that any band that has survived, thrived, and gotten better over decades is a hell of a lot more than one song. So, having written last time about how they’re not just “the guys who sang ‘Sex and Candy,’” let me tell you a little this time about what they are.
Our musical landscape needs more artists like Claire Morales. Her songs are weird. And great. But weird. The baritone flutter in her voice, the chordal structure and spatial arrangements, the lyrical prophecy of something like “too rare so far / you can't remember what you are / you need someone to show you what / this cosmic dust is doing here”.
I was going to write this about how Fairhazel was one of the most exciting bands to come out of April’s Underwater Sunshine, because...well, they were. I loved them the first time they sang through my headphones way back when the year was still new and cold. Then they came and turned The Bowery Electric upside down and inside out with a live show that somehow both accentuated their quiet solemnity and, more surprisingly, showed their sharp teeth, as they knifed into these lush gorgeous songs and just made them bleed out in the room. Hugh Macdonald knows how to put a live band together, no question about that. Fairhazel’s music actually blooms when you hear it live.
Hello friends and family, Katie here again! This time, I won a bit of an arm wrestle and I get to introduce you to Onliest. Toward the end of the first loooooong 12hr day of the spring festival Garden Sessions— also known as Thursday night— we were all, to stick with the “underwater” theme, a little waterlogged. My guess is everyone’s had the experience of going to a great concert and either crying, being completely overwhelmed, or just not knowing how to process it, not because it was BAD, but because SO MUCH GOOD happened at once? (I’ll admit I once cried the entire was from Indianapolis back to southern Indiana after an Old 97’s concert and I still think it was just too good for me to be ready to leave.)
I listen to a ton of new artists so, for someone to catch my ear, they need to hit my musical trifecta. I knew Town Meeting was great from that first video because the music, the voice, and the lyrics all worked. Town Meeting has not one amazing lead voice but three! The Condon brothers are all songwriters. Sometimes they sing their own songs and other times the four of them write together and the person taking the lead just happens. Luke couples singing with guitar, Russ with cajon or drums and Babe with harmonica and tambourine. Tim adds depth and color to their voices with his rotation of bass, mandolin, acoustic, electric and tenor guitar, and now banjo!
You came to hear about Skout, the guitar-playing duo comprised of Laura Valk and Connor Gladney, whose website describes them as “indie folk with an edge,” who opened for Underwater Sunshine alum Eric Hutchinson in 2015, and whose music, if you’ve given it a listen, is somehow both arresting and electrifying. But I’d like to argue for a moment that Skout and gravity have a lot in common.
I wrote the profile of Matt for the inaugural Underwater Sunshine Fest in October. It’s only been a year but, when I went to “update” my work for this fest, I was blown away by everything Matt has accomplished since then. He never, ever stays still. Among other things, he toured all across the country, released a brilliant LP in Thousand Dollar Dinners, and even filmed a performance at the Paste studio. So while some of this essay might sound similar, my guess is what you’re picking up on is largely tone: how can you write about a man who beams like Matt Sucich without picking up some of the radiance and glow yourself?
Here’s the thing: Hugh Macdonald, the man behind Fairhazel, is tapping into something special. It’s clear that Hugh is a writer’s writer and a storyteller’s storyteller. He just also happens to be a talented musician with an ear for melody and a gift for building simple, restrained parts that layer together to form a perfect, complementary bed for his stories to inhabit. This combination of tight, purposeful prose wrapped in meticulously crafted, lush melody is the hallmark of Fairhazel and it’s why Fairhazel is one of the bands I’m most excited to see play the Underwater Sunshine Festival the first weekend of April…
It’s the kind of magic that happens often in New York. Maybe it’s bound to, by virtue of the magnitude and diversity of the population here. New York is a place where a Robyn dance party erupts out of nowhere in a subway station and where a rodent can be seen hauling a whole slice of pizza. And it’s the kind of place where one of my late-night walks through Harlem was interrupted by music that stopped me in my tracks, and led me down into the speakeasy-esque basement at Silvana’s…