Monday, August 11, 2014

Vandana Jain + Diane Birch – Recent Live, Review + Interview

Special performance events are moments we look forward to weeks and sometimes months in advance. When a recording artist releases music that both excites and fascinates, the opportunity to review, interview and/or cover their live show truly becomes a mission of purpose.

Having previously written a show preview and select track review of Vandana Jain's wonderful new album  Anti-Venus on Dingus, catching her next live appearance was a must.

On July 30, 2014Den Entertainment impresario Solonje Burnett presented SHE at The Highline Ballroom

A featured prime-time performance there by Vandana and her band presented a futuristic technical tour-de-force in both sight and sound.

Long-time bandmate, co-producer, sometime songwriting partner and fellow synth sound sculptor Yusuke Yamamoto once again helped bring this sonic vision to life.

Additional live synth and keyboards assistance from Ryan Casey completed the three point auditory initiative - filling a room designed for this kind of acoustics.

Listen to "Ecstatic"

The track emphasizes distant percussive mechanical clicks and whirrs recreating sci-fi atmospheres first touched on in the mid 1970’s via Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine.” Dark foreboding (yet warm) analog synth notes pulse and rise from distant ethereal mists. Recorded at Jain’s home studio, inspiration came in part by delving into Henry Miller’s classic novel “Tropic of Cancer,” and its embrace of “the grip of delirium.” “You freak – you make me ecstatic” becomes the central single line vocal hook. All semblance of repetitive listener fatigue is non-existent, however by virtue of varied intonated emphasis throughout each recitation.

Additional Anti Venus tracks like “Claw” are less instrumentally dense, allowing more space for expressive vocals. With a style reminiscent of Kate Bush’s penultimate work combined with the modern deeper vocal textures of British pop vocalist Sophie Ellis Bextor, Ms. Jain’s voice becomes an instantly appealing force.

While “Mask” is recurrently stark and minimal in places, the overall effect sounds incredibly big. Her seductive vocal delivery (and placement) makes for a delightful headphone listening experience. The subject matter focuses on the “mask” we all put on every day to function.

Molded to each of our points of view - which are often deceptive. Frequently presenting a “wicked smile” that can be “crooked and sideways” or “misleading.” Ultimately the mask will come off when looking in the mirror (because only you are there to see). This allows for an unguarded conversation with one’s own thoughts.

The brilliant light show added a dreamlike visual dimension to the sounds enveloping everyone.

A most impressive performance

Catching up with the artist after her show.

- - - - -

Earlier that evening the melodic folk stylings of Lily Virginia graced the stage.

Her gentle music is quite lovely, and as my fellow writer Andrew so eloquently wrote in this review on Dingus it “speaks from the heart” and ultimately “feels fully human.”

The cinematic foreboding of “Dreamtrain” and innocent uplift of “It’s You” nestle seamlessly next to percussive handclap propelled “Can’t Help Myself.”

* * * * *

At the end of 2013, introspective songwriter and vocalist Diane Birch released her second album “Speak A Little Louder,” which garnered a similar critical acclaim bestowed on 2009’s debut “Bible Belt.”

Establishing a permanent residency in Brooklyn (she's originally from Michigan, but she lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sydney, Australia before settling in Portland, OR) has afforded opportunities to collaborate with creative forces that better reflect her evolving sound. Daptones drummer Homer Steinweiss became that influential foil, producing and co-writing several tracks on the latest album. Though her primary instrument is piano (and her voice), many of her newer tracks feature analog sounding synths that have a decidedly retro feel, while her vocals - at times - embrace a similar synthetic sheen, giving it an otherworldy quality.

In anticipation of her August 2, 2014 headlining appearance for The Deli Magazine's 10th Anniversary show at Brooklyn Night Bazaar, I conducted a one-on-one interview with Diane.

The full text of that portion of the interview can be read online at The Deli Magazine here

In addition to that Q and A, Diane also answered a number of specific Equipment and Recording questions, which can now be read right here (along with photos from her mesmerizing performance at the Deli 10th Anniversary show).

How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?

All the recording for my albums was done in a studio, although I hope to make my next record in my bathtub.

What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?

Currently my Yamaha piano, a beat up old mic from the 1940's and Ableton.

If you use a studio, what do you record there and what do you record by yourself and why?

I like to record vocals at home because I sound and perform the best when I'm left alone. For live drums, bass, synths, etc I prefer a studio because I don't have access to all that gear at home.

Do you expect your next record to be self-produced, or would you like to work with a producer? If it’s the latter, who would you most like to produce your band, and why?

I love to produce my own stuff and will probably release some of that depending on what project I'm focusing on. I'm still dreaming of making an instrumental ambient record with Brian Eno and wouldn't say No if perhaps Nile Rodgers, Damon Albarn, Boards of Canada or Dev Hynes wanted to make a rek (to name a few…)

Check out this video for her song “Superstars” (which she included in her live set at the Deli show) – “we got life on mars, we’re superstars tonight” is the wistful sentiment.   Structurally the song starts out in the traditional dramatic piano ballad format.  As it progresses however, everything begins to filter through a David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust-like persona - especially the buzzy synth end out (which she employed masterfully more than a few times during the live show).  In fact an acknowledging nod is sent that way with the lyrics “Simple life, you look so good on paper" (an ironic truth) "They got Bowie playin' on the radio” -referencing the randomness of influences you become attuned to out in public.

Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?

I aim for spontaneity and free flow. I need to be impulsive and unquestioned until I've gotten whatever out I need to get out. Then I can determine if it's good or not.

Who determines the direction and style of your recordings? 

 From here on out, I do. 

 Is there a person outside the band that's been important in perfecting your recorded or live sound?

What other artists would you say have had the biggest influence in your approach to recording? Why?

Nina Simone for capturing emotion in the raw, Sade for listening to the things that happen when it's not ' the perfect take', Fleetwood Mac for their sonic mastery.

Would you say that your live show informs your recording process or that your recording process informs your live show? Both? Neither? 


Is there a piece of equipment that you find particularly useful on stage? 

Nord Stage keyboard.

With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band - fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.? Do you do these things yourself or is there someone that the band works with?

 The visual element for me is imperative with all aspects of the music from the live show, to the album art, graphic design etc... I am aesthetically very particular and involved with all aspects within my control.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?

The most challenging for me has been to acknowledge and proactively navigate through outside involvement and input regarding my vision when there is creative disagreement. The most rewarding is that moment when something magical happens and you get full body chills and a euphoric release of any pain and anguish that brought you to that moment.

The interviewer and the artist.

Find out more about Diane (including her upcoming tour dates) Here at her Official Site

* * * * *


Misty said...

since I too was at that Vandana Jain show, I can certainly vouch for how awesome it was! she makes incredible music. plus I love her style.

I'm also enjoying getting into the Lily Virginia music at the moment, and will dig deep into the Diane Birch catalog now too.

DaveCromwell said...

I was really impressed with the visual aspects of Vandana's show this time around. I already knew she *sounded* good - but the light show (especially the pulsating neon backgrounds) added an unexpected level of fascination. Glad to know Lily is hitting the mark for you as well. And by all means follow the path through Diane's musical lineage. It's definitely worth the trip.

Anonymous said...

Cool review, I like the photos.

The Midnite Rambler said...

Hanging out with all the beautiful women again I see, Dave! There's nothing like actually being there but your articles are the next best thing. Thanks I enjoyed reading and listening.

DaveCromwell said...

"Being there" provides the atmosphere - which in turn fuels the motivation - to capture the sights, sounds and feel of an event. Combine that with reviews of the artists recorded music - or a direct interview revealing intimate thoughts - all serve to spark this particular type of presentation.

Mirror said...

Lily Virginia retweeted:

@LilyVirginia makes an impression thru mutual association (creating mutual admiration) here @dpollackmusic #review

and commented:

@DaveCromwell thanks for the wonderful review :)))

DaveCromwell said...

@LilyVirginia You're welcome :) (and thank YOU for the retweet).

NYCDreamin said...

Having no prior knowledge of either artist, I'll go with Diane Birch of the two. She seems real and has a human emotion...the Vandana stuff is not something I could listen to. It's like 80's inspired, emotionless EDM or something - to me. Not ripping on anyone who likes it...just not my deal. I did also enjoy the return of your tech/equipment interview...that's always interesting no matter who the artist, whether you like them or not. And like Anouk said above, great always get those!

DaveCromwell said...

Thanks, 'dreamin. Somehow I manage to cobble together relatively decent photos (with a touch of post-production editing) even though I don't have pro cameras (and one is actually the HTC phone). Though I don't agree with you regarding Vandana's music (I'm definitely a fan) - I understand we all have our own personal preferences. Glad to know that Diane's music resonated with you.

Mirror said...

Solonje Burnett wrote:

Thanks so much. I was just over the moon about all that SHE came together. Complicated but a thrilling experience nonetheless. I definitely want to make this showcase and annual event!


Solonje (@soliemusic) retweeted:

Live Show + Music Review from #davecromwellwrites

DaveCromwell said...

Your SHE event was wonderful, Solonje. You have every reason to feel proud (and accomplished) about it. said...

This song by Vandana is totally moving, I'm really into the tone and the lyrics suck you right in!

William said...

Nice blog crommers! You were right I did really enjoy Diane Birch - the others were cool too but I thought Superstars was a nice track!

Keep on crommin and getting those photos with the babes


DaveCromwell said...

The accolades for Vandana and Diane continue to roll in - nice!

Mirror said...

Steve Goodman wrote:

Your Diane Birch piece is quite possibly the best interview exchange I've ever read that you've been connected with. Congrats, Dave!

DaveCromwell said...

I'm rather pleased with that one as well, Steve. And - as of this writing - some pretty good number views over on The Deli site for it - over 300 "Likes" and 18 Tweets!

Unknown said...

Diane Birch certainly has an impressive set of pipes. Amazing

Unknown said...

This is very nice Dave! I still in love with Vandana style, so cool songs, Ecstatic, Claw, Mask... Just wow. I am sharing some of them on my fb wall.
About Diane Birch, i like her lovely style! Superstars, sooo nice song.
I really enjoyed this review Dave, and of course, great photos!! :D

DaveCromwell said...

Not only is Diane's voice impressive, Andy - it's the soul in it that really shines through. Plus I love the experimental ambient side she is intent on pursuing. Paty, for sure I knew you loved Vandana's music (from previous features I'd include her in here) - good to know you are spreading the word about her great new tracks too!

Ivanka said...

really cool!!!
And very hot (and talented) ladies

Mirror said...

Den Entertainment writes:

The love for the beauties that graced the Highline Ballroom stage for SHE, our 2-year anniversary showcase, continues thanks to Dave Cromwell.

The thoughts on Vandana Jain and Lily Virginia - a big thank you from the Den.

DaveCromwell said...

Thanks for putting on the event, Den Entertainment!

It appears that an underlying theme of this feature here (along with the song reviews and interviews) is that two significant Anniversaries were celebrated.

Mirror said...

Vandana Jain wrote:

"Thanks for the lovely write up as per usual Dave Cromwell! Love the photos, and you are an excellent writer!"

Mr Smork said...

for me there are two different styles. though i prefer second one. but first one looks pretty as well. :)

fucking google......

DaveCromwell said...

My pleasure, Vandana.

Hey Mr. Smork - I understand completely your frustration with Google. Trust me, I've had my issues with them as well. But, I've learned to work around it. Anyway, good to know you are enjoying Diane's music there.

Mirror said...

Sharon at Magus Entertainment writes:

This piece is great, an interesting take on live shows.

Magus Entertainment (@magus_ent) retweeted:

New Equipment & Recording interview with @dianebirch (+ pics) online here: thanks @secretagentcho @magus_ent + Diane

Mirror said...

Chris Mills wrote:

Elements of Kate Bush and SEB sound intriguing.

These new artists are getting great exposure from your efforts.

Mirror said...

BrooklynNightBazaar (@BKBazaar) retweeted:

Live photos from recent @BKBazaar show featuring #dianebirch + new interview! #speakalittlelouder @NYCAreaMusic #love

DaveCromwell said...

Appreciate all the feedback and social network re-sharing, people. The airwaves are full of info, so somehow you've got to get your message through as well.

Mirror said...

Peter Skibinski wrote:

ecstatic is a very modern song, for me it is a trip hop with dub step.

Mirror said...

Steve Goodman wrote about Vandana Jain:

"nice! name dropping a famous novel, and I like "sound architect" and "notes...rise from distant ethereal mists""

The Grim Reefer said...

I guess its just me, but the first band up there at the top has a cold sound....not at all to my liking. But as luck would have it i have finally heard some Lily Virginia. She's got quite a fan base...(the uber hip) small, but devoted @ Brown U.
.....So once again you're there shining a light into possible futures.
....a job well done