Exclusive Interview with Zach Callison

Interview, Music, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Fans might know Zach Callison as the voice of Steven Universe on the Cartoon Network show of the same name. Now Callison is branching out and releasing his own music. I got the chance to talk to him about knowing when he wanted to be a performer, the inspiration behind his single, “War!”, what he nerds out about and much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

Let’s just start at the beginning. How did you get into the world of performing and entertainment?

I really liked singing as a kid. My parents decided to put me in singing lessons at a local community college in St. Louis, where I’m from, when I was 7. That led me to musical theatre. I ended up auditioning for The Music Man, to play Winthrop. Did that with my dad. Then I spent a couple of years doing musical theatre and watching my dad perform in rock bands and such. Then I moved to LA to do the child actor thing, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years or so.

The inspiration for the music that is coming out now started about two years ago when I first got in the studio. I finally felt like I had something to write about, to use my piano and my singing for. That’s sort of where that came from.

Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew performing, both acting and music wise, was what you wanted to do for a profession?

Funny story. This was before I even did singing lessons. I was five years old, and we were on a company trip with my dad in Hilton Head, South Carolina. At the place we were staying, they had this children’s entertainer, who was this guy who played acoustic guitar and sang little songs like “Billy the Kid” and “Giant Purple People Eater” and entertained all the kids who were staying there. I went there one day, and I was totally enchanted by it. He asked kids to volunteer to come on stage and sing a song. My hand shot up in the air, and I was jumping up and down screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” I went up there, and I started singing the worm song, which is sort of a family tradition that was passed down from my grandfather…so I sang it. I got a bunch of applause and all the kids were laughing and enchanted. We were walking back to our room that night, and I told my mom I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. She asked me and I told her, “I want to be a star.” It’s super cliche and I have no memory of it, but I can point to that as the moment it all started.

I want to talk a bit about your music and especially your single, “War!”, I have to be honest when I say I’ve had it on repeat pretty much since it got sent to me. I think it’s so good. 

Thank you, thank you.

I’m just curious, what was the inspiration behind it?

That moment I was talking about, when I felt like I finally had something to write about, it came from being broken up with [my] first love…high school sweetheart. Not really knowing any other normal way that I could deal with that, I turned to writing songs. That basically became the small part of the wider concept of my EP that’s coming out ,and “War” is a big part of that. It was inspired because the person I had broken up with, she was also a singer, also had a bit of a public profile, and she was sub-tweeting me when I would call her. She would reject me, then tweet about it afterwards and get her friends to prank call me. Just all of this really childish stuff. I thought that the best way to respond was to get back up on my feet and write something calling her out for things. Particularly with “War!,” the fact that she was a singer, had been working on the same record for many, many years and hadn’t actually done the work to release it, it was sort of like a “Here is my music. Where is yours?” kind of thing.

I was also really inspired by the diss-track culture of hip-hop, people getting into battles, shooting tracks back and forth and seeing who could most eloquently get the upper-hand on someone. I wanted to release something that was so dominating, in that way, that it would be hard to top. As much as I would love to hear that, I don’t know if that will happen. [laughs]

Going off of being influenced by hip-hop culture, there is a lot of rapping on this track and you’re so good at it. Where did you learn to do that?

I’m most[ly] self-taught. The first song that I wrote for this project also has the first rap verse I ever wrote on it. I re-wrote it a bunch of times, so it is definitely not in its original form. When I first wrote it, it was not good. I ended up making tons and tons of song demos in my home studio and studying the greats from Kanye and Kendrick [Lamar] to old-school like 2pac and MF Doom, especially MF Doom. I love the way he does multi-syllabic rhymes and the advanced rhythm structure of his verses; it just blew my mind at what he could do and say in such a short period of time with his lyrics.

It was mostly study. I just had this fascination with the genre. I also had some friends around me that I discovered also had a love for hip-hop. My buddy, Noah Gary, who is an actor and makes a lot of hip-hop music as well, really got me into freestyle cypher culture and worked on that quite a bit, which helped. It was a combination of things, but really just the determination to not be bad at it and put in a record that I was comfortable with releasing.

As you mention studying different artists, this single features so many different styles of music. Beyond the hip-hop ones you just mentioned, who are some of your musical influences?

My favorite band of all time is Muse. Their older stuff for the darker, rock stuff and their newer stuff for the theatrical sound that they have. I really love the way that those two worlds meet. Twenty One Pilots is another big one. They were sort of my ambassadors to hip-hop. I didn’t really like rap and hip-hop before I listened to them. It was in sort of a way that I had never heard before, and it let me see what could be done with it outside of the genre of hip-hop. Once I heard them, I dived into actual roots hip-hop, and I found a love for it. There is some Red Hot Chili Peppers in there, there is some Stevie Wonder in the song. I really just love being a student of music, all genres, and really try to meld all the sounds that influence me into one, without any one being particularly recognizable.

You briefly mentioned earlier that, soon I’d assume, you’re going to put out an EP? 

Yeah.

Is it finalized enough to where you know how many songs are going to be on it and what fans can expect from it when it comes out? 

We’re mixing now. We’re pretty close to be[ing] done. It started out as a five track EP, and it still is, but it’s really evolved into this concept record. It’s less about a breakup and more about how someone deals with it in the scope of these two people have a public profile, people are watching this and how that changes things. I was really fascinated by the idea of a breakup being under that lens and also the responses to each others calls being in the public eye. Sort of like I mentioned with “War!”, and sort of the transformation that I underwent during that part of my life. It’s five full songs, but I’m also doing a lot of interlude tracks, so its coming out to be about 10 in the end, 30-90 second interludes that will help tell the story and flesh it out deeper.

It’s funny that you talk about it being a concept album because I had written down in my interview notes that on my first listen “War!” sounded like it could be a bigger part of a concept album. I think that’s cool that it’s actually going to be part of a concept EP.

Thank you.

How does that affect your writing process? When you wrote “War!”, was it first or did you write some of the other songs on the EP first? 

“War!” came later, actually. To give the fans a hint as well, “War!” is actually the final chapter of this story. I wanted to release it first because “War!” is the version of me that I’m living in now. The rest of the record is showing everyone how I got there and telling that part of my past.

[In regards to] the writing process, I love the idea of doing a concept record. I was really inspired by Kendrick [Lamar]’s last three albums, specifically because they get so specific. They dive into one issue or one part of his life, then flesh it out. I think he’s the greatest artist in the game right now and I wanted to do something like that. I just didn’t really know where to start, because I was so new to song-writing when I began. Once the songs started coming, I strategically picked certain ideas to work on because I knew they would feed certain parts of the story. I was still really focused on writing about one particular thing at the time, because it was all that was on my mind. The pieces of the puzzle came together later on and the interludes are sort of the glue that helps tell the story. The name of the record is A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak. It is, in the beginning, about the heartbreak, but the more important part is about the transformation of a person from one version of themselves to another. That was the story I wanted to tell.

It sounds awesome, seriously. Is it going to be a spring release or something later in 2018?

We’re thinking late spring. I just played my first show last night and got a really good response. We’re going to do some more of those beforehand and do some cool other sneak peaks for fans on my social media to get people hyped.

Was last night your first show ever,?

I’ve played quite a few shows. My bassist and I, actually, used to play in cover bands when we were 12 and 13. I had the musical theatre background too, singing and performing on stage. This was my first show playing my music, and it was my first on-stage live band show in six or seven years. It was definitely a coming of age for me in a special way. Overall, it went really well. I was nervous for it, but now I’m jazzed to do more of them.

Going off of finally playing your own music at your show last night, previously you’ve been featured on a number of soundtracks [including the Emmy-winning Sofia the First and Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume One]. How does that compare to putting out music that is all yours?

It’s amazing. It’s not just my first music, it’s my first project that I’ve written, produced, brought to fruition and promoted myself. As an actor, coming from that background, you’re always someone’s hired gun, working as their tool to finish their vision. There’s definitely room for personal expression , having fun, but ultimately it’s a collaboration. With this, I was really in the driver’s seat and able to rep my own vision. That’s all I want to do now. I mean, of course, I still want to work on other people’s projects,  collaborate, be an artist in that way, but I really want to make more of my own content, whether it’s music or television.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you some Steven Universe questions. 

[laughs] Of course.

There are new episodes coming out in April, right?

The timing lined up, didn’t it?

What can fans expect when the new episodes come out?

You know it’s a strange time on Steven Universe right now, because of all this home world drama that just happened. Nobody really knows exactly where it’s going and there are some strained relationships back on Earth. We did get to watch some of the final cuts recently with someone from Make-A-Wish and the Cartoon Network. That was cool. It’s not often that we get to all get together and watch the show. The episodes really are awesome. There are some that are particularly heartfelt, that are focusing on the relationships between the characters. I’m really excited for people to dig into that.

One of the cool things about Steven Universe is how it uses music as a narrative device. As someone who is now pursuing music on his own, what have you learned from producing and singing on those tracks for the past couple of years?

It’s been an incredible lesson. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rebecca Sugar’s influence on me as an artist. Mixing mediums so much, creating a cartoon musical like she has, it was really inspiring to see her breaking ground on something that, not only is breaking genre boundaries, but also social and cultural boundaries. I’ve always said being an actor and [essentially] a hired gun, sometimes you just walk into the studio and do your thing. With Steven, there’s never been a more artistically fulfilling project to work on for me as an actor. Working with Rebecca and her team has been very important. Watching her hustle, working nights and weekends, making sure not just everything with the show is in line as it should be, but the video games, the comics, the universe around the show is cannon and all feeds into each other. That’s been really inspiring to see as far as work ethic goes.

Have you gone to her for any advice about your music specifically?

Yeah, actually. The first song that I finished a demo for, about a year and a half, two years ago, I sent straight to her. She gave me a round of notes on it. She liked it, but she definitely had a lot of constructive criticism of it and it definitely needed it. I took a lot of that, changed up a lot of that song and now I have the version that’s going to be on the album. She messaged me about “War!” and we talked about it because we saw each other in person a few days after the release.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something you nerd out over?

Oh, man. A couple things. Within fandom culture and my connection to that with all these video games, I love Mass Effect. That’s my video game that I dive into when I want to pull the blinds on the windows and disappear for a couple of days. That’s my favorite science-fiction universe ever. Over Star Wars, over Star Trek. I just love how rich it is and the variety you get with a game like that from BioWare.

The other thing, that is not even, really, totally related, that I nerd out about is baseball. I’m of the opinion that its the nerdiest sport, because of the amount of math and statistics involved. That’s my fascination with it, the amount of rabbit holes you go down with comparing statistics, finding oddities and historical firsts that happen almost every week, because of how much crazy stuff you can get into with the math and because of the way the game is structured. I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan.

That was going to be my next question. Being from St. Louis, that makes sense.

More than any other city in America, I think, baseball is life to St. Louis citizens. Being a Cardinals fan is like religious doctrine there. It’s super important.

Were you a math person growing up? 

Funnily enough, no, not at all. I was good at math when I was in first grade, second grade. Then once multiplication got involved, something went haywire. [laughs] Even still, it’s more about statistics for me. I leave the math to the really talented statisticians who follow the game. I like comparing stat lines, lining them up against each other and looking at different stats to evaluate a player, because no one stat tells the whole story. There’s a whole new field of sabermetrics that are so advanced that you could just do it forever.

Sabermetrics blows my mind. I’m much more of an NBA fan, but I’m with you on liking stats and seeing trends. It’s become one of my favorite parts of watching sports.

For sure. You can do it with games like basketball too. With like exit velocity on throws, and hits in baseball or route efficiency. They can track how guys move across the court or across the outfield, if their lagging behind and making poor split-second decisions. It’s so bizarre how psychological these numbers can get.

“War!” is out now on iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music. You can follow Callison on Twitter and Instagram.

This interview has been edited for clarity.
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Exclusive Interview with Singer/Songwriter Maggie Schneider

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Singer/songwriter Maggie Schneider started 2018 with a bang as she released her EP, Tinted Glasses. I got the chance to talk with Schneider, who is as sweet as she is talented. We talked about how she balances her up-and-coming music career with her studies, what it was like to work with Rian Dawson, from All Time Low, on her EP, the story behind her single, “Chuck Bass” and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!

What age did you take the step into making and performing music?

I have been into music since a really young age. I was in theatre and started out with that. When I was four, I was in Annie. That was my first experience performing. I started performing more seriously around 15/16. Even before that I was in an acoustic duo and a ton of different bands. But early mid-teens is when I thought to myself, “No, I really want to do this and try and make some dreams come true.”

Going off of that, when you were 15/16, was there something or someone that pushed you into realizing then was the time to start making your dreams come true?

It is funny because it kind of happened in a spontaneous way. There is this venue called The Masquerade. They were looking for an opener for Allison Weiss, who is a great singer/songwriter from California. I had been listening to her for a little while and thought, “Huh. Well, maybe I should submit my stuff and see if maybe I could open for her.” I sent them my information, and they took a chance on me. That was kind of my first transition into playing more serious shows.

In general, though, what gave me the inspiration to play music and everything, definitely starting at a young age, the Jonas Brothers [laughs], Demi Lovato, all of the Disney Channel stars, and all of the music coming out there. All Time Low was a really, really big influence on me, they kind of brought me into the world of pop-punk and rock music. Once I heard them I was like, “Okay, I really want to make music like this.”

If I was reading correctly, you’re still in school right? 

Yeah, I am. I am a sophomore at Savannah College of Art and Design.

Oh cool! What do you study?

I’m studying writing. I love writing about music, that’s like another passion of mine. It’s really helped with song-writing, putting myself out there as a musician and being more creative, because it is an arts school and its a super creative environment anyway. At SCAD I have the chance to take visual arts classes, then I take journalism classes and fiction classes. All of that stuff really helps me as an artist. I love my school.

Have you found it challenging trying to balance your up-and-coming music career and school?

Luckily, I love staying busy. When I have a day to myself, not doing anything, I find myself thinking, “Huh. I’m a little bored.” It hasn’t been too overwhelming. I try to do my school work early, then on the weekends I can play shows, publicize my music and all of that stuff. It really adds more to my music, because I feel like its really influenced me as an artist, doing visual art and learning how to write in all different styles. It’s super great to go to school everyday, its so colorful, there is art everywhere…to be inspired in that environment.

Moving on to talk about your music. You just released your new EP, Tinted Glasses. How would you describe the EP’s sound? 

I think it’s on kind of the singer-songwriter side but also with a little bit of a pop-rock edge. I went to the studio with Rian Dawson [All Time Low], that was a great experience. I gave him 12 songs before I went into the studio. He really encouraged me to branch out of the pop-punk scene just a tad and get a broader audience with more pop/singer-songwriter songs. Frank Turner, I always say he’s kind of an influence of these new songs, then also Paramore and a lot of the female-fronted pop bands.

Talking about Rian, what was it like to work with him and how did that relationship come about?

It was really, really special. I went up there for a weekend to track another song, for another band who was working with Rian. I went up there for a couple of days, and on the last day he said, “You know, you should come up and record your own stuff.” Immediately I was like, “Really? That’s an option? You would like to work with me again?” Because I’ve looked up to them since middle school, so singing and playing piano for one of my middle school heroes was a huge deal. He was like, “No, come back.” A few months later I scheduled it with him, and I came back and recorded the tracks with him in the summer. I think in late June we did all four songs. It was great. It was such a cool experience. His studio is in Nashville. I love Nashville so automatically it was super fun and inspiring. He was just so supportive the whole way, he still is. I keep him updated on what I’m doing, and he’s super happy to be part of the EP.

You just talked a little bit about recording, but talk a little bit about the writing process. You mentioned how you gave Rian 12 songs before you started recording, so a) what was your process like for writing those and b) how did you pick the four that were going to be on the EP?

I started writing all of these songs last winter. I was feeling inspired. A lot of things were going on in my life. I tend to write songs in spurts. I don’t write when I’m not inspired, because I want the songs to be honest, real and relatable to me. I wrote all of the songs in a 2-3 month period. I really liked all of them, and I demo’d them out. I thought that Rian would really help choose the ones that were the most cohesive and had the strongest writing, because obviously All Time Low are fantastic song writers. I sent him all 12 demos in an email and told him to let me know his thoughts, because I really trust his judgement. He got back to me a few days before I went in. We talked about the ones he thought were the strongest. We agreed, so that was good. He was really helpful in choosing them. Luckily they were all cohesive, because at first we thought, “Well, should we just put one out now?” All of them really mesh well together.

Talk a little bit about your single, “Chuck Bass.” What was the inspiration behind it? I’m assuming that the title comes from Gossip Girl.

I wanted to write a positive anthem about the strength we have as women, and the importance of valuing honesty in relationships, because I’ve had my own experience with dishonesty in relationships. I wanted to write a more positive song to empower women and help them move past those things, because obviously we’re in a time now where there is a lot of stuff going on in the world. I think it’s important to highlight the negative things, but also find positivity in it. Find our voices, and find our confidence to say something.

Of course the name “Chuck Bass” is after the Gossip Girl character, because I’m a fan of the show. I thought his character is kind of the antithesis of honesty, no matter how charming he can be. In a lot of ways he’s the opposite of what we deserve as women, which is loyalty, honesty and integrity over wealth and someone’s social status.

I’ve been listening to your EP all week and I my favorite, hands down, is “Break” featuring Alex Crain. 

Thank you so much!

I was just curious: how did that collaboration with Alex come about and what’s the story behind this song?

Alex Crain is one of my best friends, and we started writing songs together last winter as well. We became really, really close friends. He brought the chorus to me and said, “Hey, would you like to finish this with me?” because he had had the chorus for over a year and just didn’t really know how to finish it. We both love duets and musical theatre and wanted to make something really powerful and kind of intense in a way production-wise. We sat down and wrote the song in a night. I think it was the first song that we wrote together. It was a really special song to us. It’s really about the highs and lows of relationships, wanting to hold on to someone so tightly and wanting to make it work, but there is distance between two people and how to deal with that, move past that. He’s fantastic, and he’s playing a lot more shows with me right now. Its fun to collaborate with him.

Is there a track, whether it’s one you have already released on this EP or one you have yet to release, that you feel best represents you and who you are and who you are as an artist?

It’s always so hard, because they’re all my babies. But I’ll say “695 North Avenue,” which is on the EP and has a lot to do with The Masquerade, which is the venue in Atlanta that I started playing shows at. That place is really my musical home, so that song really has to do with all the memories I’ve made there. I even met Alex Crain at The Masquerade. I’ve had a lot of memories there, met a lot of friends there and had some great experiences. I think that really highlights who I am as an artist, my optimistic view and also that I’m super thankful for all of the experiences that I’ve had.

On the more personal side, I would have to say “Tinted Glasses” is the most personal song on the EP for me. Once again, like “Break,” it has to do with the ups and downs of a relationship, wanting to stay, wanting to fix something, but unfortunately it doesn’t work out. I think those two specifically were the most fun to write and show who I am.

I just have a few quick questions left. Who would be your dream tour mate and why?

It’s between two. All Time Low, definitely, because I think that would be super fun. Their set is incredible and every song, I would dance to all of them every night. Also DNCE, just because I love them. I love their stage show and they have such high energy. Not to mention, Joe Jonas has been my crush since elementary school.

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not making music or studying?

I love getting coffee [laughs], which is a really small thing, but there are so many cute local coffee shops in and around Atlanta that I love going to. I love meeting friends there, going to record stores and hanging out with friends. Obviously going to concerts, because I’m a concert junkie. [laughs]

What is your go-to coffee order?

Right now it’s been a vanilla latte. It kind of depends on where I go, but right now I love my vanilla latte. I’m sad that Starbucks doesn’t keep the eggnog latte year round. I would drink it all year long. But yeah, vanilla latte for my warm order and a cold brew with cream for my cold order.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us — what do you nerd out over?

I love John Hughes movies.

Which one is your favorite?

Ferris Bueller.

Classic.

Oh, yeah. I can practically quote the whole thing. [sighs] So good. I just love those coming-of-age movies. Whenever I’m sick I’ll just put on Ferris Bueller or The Breakfast Club or something and quote the whole movie and feel comforted. I know what’s going to happen, and I know there is going to be a happy ending.

Last question: 2018 has already seen the release of your EP. What else can we expect from you music-wise this year?

I’m definitely playing a ton more shows. I like to play once-a-month or so in Atlanta. I’m playing a show in New York City in March, which is super exciting. It’s my first show in New York. It’s at The Bitter End, which is the oldest rock-and-roll club in the city. I’ve always wanted to play there, because Lady Gaga got her start there. I’m just going to continue to write songs, keep collaborating with Alex and hopefully record some more stuff with Rian over the summer.

Schneider’s EP, Tinted Glasses, is available now on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify.

To find out more information, check Maggie’s website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Exclusive Interview with HEGAZY

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Twins Leila and Omnia Hegazy are not only proving to the world that two is better than one, but also that music with a message can still be entertaining and fun. While they currently perform together as HEGAZY, they each have impressive music backgrounds of their own.

By her early 20s, Leila had already performed at several of New York’s most well known venues including SOBs and the legendary Apollo Theater. Her debut release, The Black and White EP, was recorded by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Joseph Ferry; her second, a full-length album called Looking Glass, was funded by fans on Kickstarter. She studied Studio Composition at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, where Regina Spektor and other renowned singer-songwriters recorded their first records.

Meanwhile, Omnia attended the Clive Davis Institute at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and played her way through the Lower East Side’s indie music scene. She became the more politically outspoken of the two sisters, inspired by American folk artists of 1960’s and the revolutionary musicians of the ongoing Arab Spring at the time. She released two EPs independently and a fan-funded music video with unapologetically feminist themes, garnering press from prominent media outlets in both the US and the Middle East, including Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

The two sisters reunited musically after their father passed away in the beginning of 2016. While working together was a great form of emotional support, they also chose to make music as a way to honor their father, who always insisted they were more powerful together.

HEGAZY took the time to answer a few questions and let our readers get to know them better. Keep reading to see what they had to say.

For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?

We are identical twin sisters who were previously solo artists and now we are a soul/pop duo. Leila is an R&B singer/songwriter and keyboardist and Omnia is more of a guitar-driven pop/rock artist. Hegazy is our last name: not a random word that we made up to sound cool. 🙂

What is it like working with your twin? Do you guys ever feel like you spend too much time together?

Haha, for sure. We rehearse almost every day and we live across the hall from each other in the same apartment building (we previously lived together), so you can’t get much more twin-y than that. Working with a sibling has so many layers to it – sarcasm, joking around, bickering, but also sharing hopes and dreams. It takes a lot of mindfulness and compromise to make the duo work, as well as remembering that we are sisters first and foremost.

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

Soulful, smoky, rhythmic, dirty, playful, groovy. We do a lot of dual harmony when we sing together so there’s often two melodies for each song, a lower melody and a higher one, both equally important. We are influenced instrumentally by bands like Alabama Shakes, and vocally by artists/bands like Emily King and Destiny’s Child.

Talk about the writing process. Do you guys write all of your own material or do you have co-writers? If you write your own stuff, which one of you does most of the writing? How much of a song is ‘finished’ once the band plays it together? Have you had to scrap songs that just didn’t work once the band started to rehearse them?

We both contribute to our material equally. One of us will come up with an idea for a song on our own and sis will finish it. Often the way we play each song as a duo changes completely when we play it with a band or go into the studio to record. We’ve definitely written songs we don’t love, as any songwriter does, and sometimes it takes writing a mediocre song to write a good one later. But we’ve found that taking our songs to a band usually rejuvenates our love for them.

Is there a track, whether it’s one you have already released or one you have yet to release, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?     

“Alive” showcases both of our individual talents really well, but “Here to Stay” speaks to us the most in terms of message and urgency.

Talk about your single that you just released, “Here to Stay.” I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s so good and so powerful.

Thanks so much! We wrote this song about xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the times of the Trump administration and all that comes with it (the removal of DACA, the Muslim Ban, the mainstreaming of white supremacy, and the prevalence of hate speech in politics). We are half-Egyptian and were raised Muslim in the age of 9/11, so we know what it’s like to be treated like “the other.” Immigrants have been scapegoated for generations, accused of taking jobs and resources away from American citizens and contributing to crime rates, and we wanted to make fun of this nonsense by listing all the common stereotypes and flipping them around to be empowering, which is not what the xenophobes/racists on the far right intended.

The music video for “Here to Stay” is just as powerful as the song itself. How was that concept decided on and who came up with it?

We both came up with the concept for the music video very early in the songwriting process. We knew we wanted a Muslim character and a Mexican and/or Latino character, since these groups have been the most targeted by Trump’s rhetoric. The intention was to describe how “scary” we [immigrants and children of immigrants] are, and juxtapose that visually with adorable children of all different nationalities, races, and religions, getting along and playing together. The boogeyman may be real, but it sure as hell isn’t us (we’re pretty sure it’s Trump and the white supremacists who are out in full force right now).

Word has it that your debut EP, Young, is set to drop in early 2018. Can you give us a little insight on it? What are you most excited about this album? Any particular track that you favor and are most looking forward to sharing with the fans?

Our debut EP is a fairly autobiographical coming-of-age story and chronicles being young and naive with big dreams and not a lot of money, pursuing those dreams anyway, and all the challenges that come with it (being in love, coping with bigotry, rising above financial uncertainty, etc). It definitely speaks to the millennial experience, and we’re excited to share this perspective. Millennials are very often accused of being lazy and complacent, but we this is an unfair analysis, as many of us are dealing with so much more than our parents had to deal with (massive student debt, lack of opportunity, etc.). We’re also super passionate about the singles and music videos we’ve released so far, and can’t wait for our audience to hear the rest of the EP, including the title track “Young” – we think any young person in college or post-college will really relate to this one.

Last question: we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out over?

Omnia: I nerd out over guitar pedals, which I love collecting. I also nerd out over classical music and orchestral instruments, because my first love was violin and I still play. I’ve gotten really into cello lately too (hoping to incorporate this more into Hegazy in the future).

Leila: I’m a music theory nerd for sure, and this has always helped me with my writing. I’m also a yoga philosophy nerd (I’m a yoga teacher), and the Yoga Sutras and like texts are magnificent to me.

Exclusive Interview with The Eskies

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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While I had never heard about the Dublin-based quintet known as The Eskies until I was approached to cover them, I have since grown a fondness for the group and the music they create. The members that make up the band include Ian Bermingham, Tim George, Steven Kearney, Rob Murphy and Sean O’Reilly. With them being a UK-based band and a group that I was unfamiliar with up until a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to chat with them to learn more about their background. The band’s drummer, Kearney, took time to answer my questions about how the band was formed, their process for creating new music and their second album, And Don’t Spare the Horses, which drops today.

For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what is now known as The Eskies? And what exactly is an eskie?

The Eskies, as we are known now, were formed after the failure of our attempt to unionize mini-disc manufacturing workers and fight the CD lobby. How could we have known it was a losing battle? When we formed six years ago, mini-discs were such a huge part of our lives, even if others had already stopped caring about mini-discs. It’s important to explain this, as we worked so hard on it and when we failed we turned to music as a form of therapy, and The Eskies was the resulting project.

An eskie itself is what a group of mini-disc manufacturing workers call themselves, like a gaggle, or swarm, its our tip of the cap. The mini-disc will rise again.

Your sound is so unique. There’s a mix of more traditional genres, like rock and blues, as well as some rarer sounds such as the Yiddish and the Kelzmar. What was the reason for adopting the sound that you did?

It wasn’t so much of an adoption of these rarer sounds in the beginning as it was discovering them and becoming excited about them, pulling them apart musically and finding out what makes them the way they are. And as for the more traditional genres felt in our music, a lot of us have grown up with rock and blues and more traditional roots music playing an important part in our musical upbringing, and by the time we got together we all had different sides of the same coins to show each other – then together we tried to push the comfortable into the uncomfortable.

Can you give us a little insight into your new album that is coming out? What are you most excited about with this album? Any particular track that you favor and are most looking forward to sharing with the fans?

This album is very exciting because in many ways some of the material is a departure from our first album, and in other ways it’s a more concentrated take on things and themes we had explored before. As far as insight goes, maybe I would say we have matured somewhat musically, but this maturity does not necessarily mean more retrained. Personally, I am excited for people to hear the track ‘Building Up Walls,’ as I think this track in particular is new space for us to play in, but all the same its very us. I also believe the song will hold a lot of different meanings for people and hearing what they might be is quite exciting to me.

Talk about the writing process. Who does most of the writing? How much of a song is ‘finished’ once the band plays it together? Have you had to scrap songs that just didn’t work once the band started to rehearse them?

Well we all write together, but often this stage of writing all together comes after somebody brings something as small as a riff or short passage of music all the way up to a more or less finished song. Ian and Sean took the lead on this album as far as the lyrical credit is due, sometimes collaborating. Again, they may bring something half formed and some input from somebody else is a good help in unsticking them from a point where they may have been struggling, so it’s nice to have everybody involved at all stages of a song in progress.

As far as finished goes, maybe songs are never finished entirely. They can change in the studio, or live after they have been recorded and maybe even just change over the years. Some songs are never finished in the sense that they are never finished at all, because some songs are crap.

When you are working on new music, who or what inspires you?

I take a lot of inspiration from films, both musically and in how they feel. Suspense, excitement etc. are all felt in films and are created in different ways, and all of the time with a different style, and trying to conjure these same feelings in music, with a style, is something I always draw inspiration from.

Is there a track, whether one that’s already been released or one that has yet to be released, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?

I would say the track that best represents us is ‘Im Not OK’ by My Chemical Romance. I’m not sure if you meant one of our tracks, but I think they said it better.

Some of the videos you have made are really entertaining. Who comes up with the concepts and do you have any plans to release another video for one of the songs on your new album?

We treat our videos very much like the songs themselves, we all have a hand in them, after an initial idea, which may have been minute. We have great plans to release great things for all the world to see, but even the best laid plans of mice and idiots often go awry.

You guys have a tour coming up! Why can fans expect if they come see you play live? Any plans to come over here to America sometime soon?

At our gigs there is an amazing amount of sweating and screaming, and hopefully the new album captures a bit of that, even the sweating. There’s a lot of energy and maybe some intensity. If you think this sounds like something you are into, then please talk with the powers that be stateside and help us accomplish our goal of absolutely coming to America and sweating and screaming all over it.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out over?

Well, seeming as we are all nerdy here I can safely admit that I have a vast knowledge of dog breeds and their histories. It may be off to some, but I find the unnecessary interference of unnecessary monarchies in the development of certain dogs blood lines all too fascinating, don’t you?

You can find The Eskies on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For more information about the band, please visit their website.

The Novel Ideas: Exclusive Interview and Concert Review

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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I think, at least for me, at least for our live shows, we’re constantly trying to connect with the audience. I’d like to think we’re not very different if you were to meet us on the street than we are on stage. And I think that comes through in our banter and how we talk on stage and it’s more of a dialogue. We have a sing-along at the end of the set often and we like to talk to people afterwards. In terms of the music, I think we’re pretty earnest and everything we’re singing is something someone has felt or experienced in their lives and if other people can relate to that, that’s the most ideal situation.

From the moment I met them, I could tell forming connections was something The Novel Ideas prided themselves on, both in their music and in how they interact with people as a band. I arrived early to their recent show in Washington, D.C. so I could interview them (which you can read down below). Our interview was super casual, as they let me ask questions while they set up equipment. In this way, it was different from any other interview I had conducted. Our conversation was just that: a conversation. There was laughter and jokes told, but they answered every question I threw at them.

The country-folk quartet of Sarah Grella (vocals), Danny Hoshino (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), James Parkington (bass, vocals) and Daniel Radin (guitar, vocals) called The Corner Store, a little brick house-turned-music venue  in Southeast D.C., their stage for the night. As soon as I arrived, I knew it could not be a more perfect space for the band to perform. It was cozy, but exuded feelings of warmth and familiarity, all things I felt the band would play off later that night.

But I have to be honest and say I felt a tad out of place, despite the welcoming venue, once the crowd arrived a few hours later. For the most part, the attendees, which filled the small house, were people at least twenty years my senior. I was surprised by the age gap, considering that The Novel Ideas aren’t an “older” band. Later I overheard many of them say they weren’t familiar with the group, but they loved the venue so they decided on a whim to check them out. While I definitely consider myself a newer fan of The Novel Ideas, at least I  was familiar with all the music they had put out prior to this new, self-titled album being dropped that same day. Fortunately, all of my fears about losing the connection I had felt with the band earlier that evening went away as soon as they started playing. Their 14-song set very much embodied what Daniel told me he hoped their music conveyed to the people who listened to it. In tracks like, “I’m Not Waiting” and “I Was Not Around,” I could definitely tell the lyrics were about something someone in the band had either felt or experienced in their lives. Personally, I related to these songs theme of how easily love and people can come in and out of your life.

The band began their set with “I’ll Try” and ended with “Old Ways,” the two singles that had been out for a couple of weeks to promote the new album. For “Old Ways,” the band made one request: sing along to the chorus every time it came around. After they taught the words, one more small request was made: “sing it with over-confidence.” Not only is “Old Ways” one of my personal favorite songs off the new album, but I feel its message about never holding on too tightly to the past is adaptable to many different facets of life. The sing-along was one of my favorite parts of the night and probably the coolest thing I have ever seen done at a live performance.

After non-stop applause, the band did one more song for an encore. Had I not already been convinced all night of how vocally talented this band is, this encore alone would have convinced me. Four of them, minus Pat, the drummer who’s joined them for this tour and had just finished his second live performance ever with the band, came out amongst the crowd for an acapella version of “Lizard in the Spring.” Not only was this surprise a great way to show the audience that they care about connecting with people, they really got to show off what I believe is their strength: their harmonies. I’m a sucker for a beautiful harmony and when Sarah, Daniel, Danny and James harmonize together, you can actually feel it in your soul, as cliche as that might sound.

I highly recommend checking out The Novel Ideas if they travel to your area. From their harmonies to their penchant for earnest songwriting, this band definitely has the kind of talent that shouldn’t be missed.

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For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?

Daniel: So the band kind of formed around an album that came out in 2012 and, in terms of band members, it started with just Danny and myself. Then James joined on bass. Sarah came, initially, to sing harmonies, but we soon realized that she should be singing lead because she’s better than us [laughs]. So she sings lead a lot more now, which you’ll hear on the new album. 

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

James: Ooh, that’s hard.

Sarah: Harmony-driven, emotional —

James: Earnest.

Daniel: Wait, are we looking for a sentence or just words?

Whatever you want.

Daniel: Harmony-driven, emotional, earnest, sadness.

Who are some of your musical influences, either personally or as a group?

Danny: James Brown.

Daniel: Yeah, our tastes run the gambit a bit. It’s like James Brown, James is named after James Taylor.

James: It’s true.

Daniel: All of Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen and Sarah’s number one and two are Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand.

Danny: 1a and 1b [laughs].

James: We grew up listening to a lot of it because of our parents. And we cover a lot of their music now too. 

Daniel: Except Barbara Streisand [laughs].

James: Except 1a and 1b, because they can’t be covered. They’re too good. 

Talk about the writing process. Who does most of the writing? Is it just one person or does the band write most of the songs together?

Danny: It’s a mixture. Some songs one of us will write almost entirely and then present it to the band and the band figures out the arrangement together. Sometimes we’ve written songs that started as just a chord progression that turned into a melody that turns into a song. And then a lot of times, one of us will write a verse or something and can’t come up with a chorus and another person’s like, I have this chorus but I don’t have a verse, why don’t we just try mashing them together and see if they work. 

Daniel: Sometimes they do not.

James: Yeah, sometimes they do not.

Daniel: But sometimes they do.

When you’re working on new songs, who or what inspires you? 

Sarah: Well, I like to joke that Daniel’s songs are about a few different girls, Danny’s songs are mostly about one girl and my songs are about me [laughs].

Daniel: So, also one girl.

Sarah: Yeah. So I think it’s just different for everyone. It’s mostly personal, the stuff that I tend to write about.

James: It seems that whenever one of you sets off to write something that isn’t personal, it ends up becoming about something that is personal, so I think it’s hard to avoid having something from your life influencing where the song goes. 

Daniel: I say, generally speaking, most of the songs are sad and are due to some sort of strife, emotional or —

Danny: I wouldn’t say that’s what we set out to do though [write sad songs]. It’s more just that’s what inspired us.

If you had the opportunity to do a collaboration with any artist or band/group, who would it be and why?

Sarah: Like anyone?

Yeah, anyone.

Sarah: Celine Dion [laughs].

Daniel: Can we collaborate with her?

Sarah: Yeah. 

Daniel: Hmmm. That’s a good question. I’ve never actually thought about it.

James: It’d be cool to have something orchestral —

Danny: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

James: I mean, we’re a pretty straight forward rock instrumentation, except for Danny playing pedal steel, so it’d be cool to add a lot of string elements. Even some of the older songs,Daniel produced and composed string parts for a lot of them. So it’d be cool to bring back that skill of his.

Your new album dropped today. Congratulations.

Daniel: Thank you so much.

But before that, you guys released two singles, “I’ll Try” and “Old Ways.” Can you guys talk a bit about the stories behind these two songs? Why were they picked as the singles?

Daniel: I think part of the reason we picked those two is because we have never released any version of either one on any previous album or live session or anything like that. So it was like new songs that people may have heard live, but aren’t really on the Internet, more or less. So that’s part of the reason. They’re probably two of the most… I don’t know. Why did we pick those two?

James: I think the other thing to note is we had a third single that was only part of the pre-order and that was “Broken Glass” and part of the idea was that we wanted to make sure that we were showcasing the fact that we have three different prominent singers in the band. So “I’ll Try” is a lot of Daniel, but also Sarah is part of the duet for the lead, “Old Ways” features Sarah and then “Broken Glass” features Danny. Although all three have different song-writing processes and different tambours of voice, it’s cool to showcase how we’re able to create this unique sound despite the three different elements they bring to the table.

Is there a track, whether it’s an older song or one from the new album, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?

James: I want to say “I Was Not Around.” 

Daniel: Yeah, I would agree.

Sarah: WHAT?

Daniel: Well the last track on the record [“I Was Not Around”] was one of the first songs that we arranged as a band together and ended up contributing a lot of the harmony parts together. It’s the first song Sarah shared with us.

Danny: It was the first song she sang lead on and wrote that she showed us. And I think that was kind of a turning point for us, where we went from the first album, Home, that was really just me and Daniel who had written it and recorded it together, to what this is like the band is going to be. 

Sarah: I also think it was the song that we’ve worked the most on the last couple of years.

Daniel: For sure.

Sarah: It has the most re-iterations.

Danny: But the first time we worked on it, we really did gel together and within the course of the one session working on it, that definitely felt like a good, nice moment in the band’s history.

What do you hope your music conveys to people when they find it?

Daniel: I think, at least for me, at least for our live shows, we’re constantly trying to connect with the audience. I’d like to think we’re not very different if you were to meet us on the street than we are on stage. And I think that comes through in our banter and how we talk on stage and it’s more of a dialogue. We have a sing-along at the end of the set, often, and we like to talk to people afterwards. In terms of the music, I think we’re pretty earnest and everything we’re singing is something someone has felt or experienced in their lives and if other people can relate to that, that’s the most ideal situation. 

Moving on to some more “fun” questions if that’s okay with you guys.

James: Sure, we love fun.

You guys are currently on tour, promoting the new album. What are some of your favorite cities to play?

Daniel: Most of the cities that we love to play in are based off the food we’ve eaten there.

Sarah: Austin.

Daniel: Austin. We’re not going to Austin on this tour, but we’ve played there quite a few times and it’s always easy to find a great place to eat…. Lancaster, PA. We’ve played in Lancaster like four times and that’s always been fun. 

Danny: Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Really?

Danny: Well [laughs], we had a really good show there and then the next, when we were leaving, we had an even better sandwich. And literally, another time when we were driving across the country, we took almost a major detour — 

Daniel: Like four and a half hours

Danny: Just to go back and get the sandwich. And we were like, “this probably isn’t a good idea.” But we were really close.

Daniel: I’m really looking forward to playing Asheville [North Carolina]. 

One of my favorite places.

Daniel: We never played there, but we’ve stopped for lunch. It’s a cool little town.

Danny: Actually this tour, and then we’re going to be touring more in October and November, and I think both of them are about playing in new places for us too, so that’s what I’m excited about. 

Is there one place in particular that you’re really excited about going to for the first time?

James: Walla Walla, Washington.

Daniel: [repeats] Walla Walla ,Washington.

James: In honor of Mike Birbiglia [laughs].

Daniel: Well, we’ve played in Berklee, but this will be the first time we’ve played in San Fransisco proper.

James: Or Portland.

Daniel: Or Portland, Oregon. Yeah, the west coast is exciting for us because we’ve only been there a couple of times, so that’ll be nice.

On an off day, what would I find you guys doing?

James: The rest of them will be creaming me at mini-golf [laughs].

Daniel: Mini-golf.

Danny: Antiquing.

Daniel: Yeah, we like to go find antiques and thrift stores. 

James: I like drinking multiple coffees, although that happens on show days too.

Are you guys Starbucks people or do you try to find independent, local coffee shops wherever you go?

Sarah: Dunkieeees. 

James: Yeah, Dunks [Dunkin Donuts].

Daniel: I like finding the local place, I think it’s kind of fun. I think we all do.

Sarah: I like finding the local Dunkin Donuts [laughs].

Daniel: Dunkin Donuts is my favorite too. It’s consistent. 

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what gets people excited and passionate. What is something you guys nerd out over?

Daniel: Ooh, this is a long list.

Danny: Well, very straight forward nerdy is I’m a huge Trekkie. My whole family is. 

Daniel: Lord of the Rings, that’s pretty big.

Danny: Yeah, a couple of our songs have Lord of the Rings, pretty vague references.

Sarah: Game of Thrones, for me. 

Daniel: I feel like that’s pretty mainstream at this point.

Sarah: Yeah, but they don’t nerd out over it. I read all the message boards.

Daniel: Okay. That’s pretty nerdy.

James: I’ve been getting really nerdy about beer recently. Yeah, craft beers, microbreweries. 

Daniel: Yeah, James takes a picture of every beer. 

James: Yeah, I do. I take a picture of every beer I drink on tour just to remember. Like how they use food to remember locations, it’s beer for me. 

Pat: Comedy. Comedy is a big source of nerdom for me. 

Who’s your favorite comedian?

Pat: Norm Macdonald. Easy. 

Very cool. And my last question is: what can fans expect from The Novel Ideas for the rest of 2017?

Daniel: A lot of touring. We’ve been working on this album for a long time and so we’re just trying to get it connected with as many people as we can. We’ve been not touring for two and a half years so it’s exciting to be playing a lot of shows again. We’re still getting used to the long hours in the car.

So you guys are driving everywhere you go?

Daniel: Yes, we’re not Taylor Swift level yet. She gets drove around on a UPS truck I heard.

James: What?

Daniel: You didn’t see the UPS-Taylor Swift sponsorship?

James: No, I completely missed that.

Daniel: Like only UPS is delivering her albums and they have her face on the side of UPS trucks.

Really?

Daniel: It’s really weird.

That is the weirdest sponsorship I’ve ever heard. Like why would that even matter, whether it’s UPS or FedEx? That is so random. Do you like Taylor Swift’s music even?

Daniel: Not her new album, not into it so far. But her old stuff, for sure. 

So going back and off of something you said earlier, if you guys have been working on this album for two years, was that just mostly refining it and getting it to where you guys wanted it to be?

Daniel: Yeah, that’s exactly it. We recorded it and just, we had played the songs live so much that it was hard to get them to point where if you saw us live, it would sound comparable to the album. So getting to that point was a learning process for us for sure.

Danny: It was a bit agonizing to have to wait so long to put it out, but it was worth the wait. We’re very happy with what we’re putting out. 

You can learn more about The Novel Ideas and where you can see them play next by visiting their website. You can also follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Exclusive Interview with SIR

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Denver-based trio SIR have quickly started to make a name for themselves. With their sound being described as a cross between Halsey and SEE, the group, made up of Sarah Angela, Kim O’Hara and Luke Mehrens, has a new and unique sound that allows them to stand out in today’s wide variety of musical offerings. I got the chance to talk with them about how their band got started, their writing process, and what’s coming up next for them.

For those who might not have ever heard of SIR, can you give me a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what is now known as SIR?

Each of us have all played music for the majority of our lives. We were all on separate musical journeys when we finally came together in Denver. It took some time to become the version of three we have now. Kim joined with Sarah first after some heavy pleading. Luke then joined a bit later to finally complete our trifecta. There were some trials with other members but we finally decided we liked it best just us three. We wrote the songs we play now and the album we’re about to release.

Where does the name SIR come from?

We needed a name that felt strong and sexy and rock, and we loved the idea of a female fronted band with such a masculine title.

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

Sexy, melodic, emotional, beat driven, music with lyrics that mean something.

Talk about the writing process. Who does most of the writing? How much of a song is ‘finished’ once the band plays it together? Have you had to scrap songs that just didn’t work once the band started to rehearse them?

It took us a while to figure out what works best for us, but writing together has been the key. Sarah writes most of the lyrics, and Kim and Luke write most of the music. We usually start with a bare bones idea and morph it into something together, but there have definitely been songs we’ve let go because we couldn’t nail down the idea.

When you’re working on new music, who or what inspires you?

Love, loss, life, death, fun, music. We take all of our experiences living, the good and the bad, and write something that was born in one of the those feelings. We have songs on this album about a tough breakup, about losing a loved one, about being at a music festival with friends. Each song tells a story.

Your latest single is called “So Cold.” What’s the story behind this song?

We’ve heard a lot of different stories of what people think this song is about, and it can apply to all of them! We wrote it about losing a band member in a pretty ugly way, so for us it was about recognizing that hurt, and also realizing how much closer and stronger we were because of it. That was the moment we really became a solid band, and we’ve never looked back.

Is there a track, whether one that’s already been released or one that has yet to be released, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?

It’s a little like choosing your favorite Game of Thrones character or favorite taco. They all mean something to us. We really tried to make music that we love and hope the world loves them too. There is a lyric from our first single “Go” that says, “So tell me how, how we found this perfect thing here now” and that really expresses how we feel about finding each other and being able to make music together.

Word has it that you guys might be dropping an album sometime soon. Can you give us a little insight on it? What are you most excited about with this album? Any particular track that you favor and are most looking forward to sharing with the fans?

We are! It comes out this November (date to be announced) and we are so excited about it. We recorded it in LA at Serenity West Studios. One of the songs we are excited about is “The Monster You See” which is unreleased but will be on the album. We enjoy playing it live and think people will relate to it.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what people are passionate and excited about. What is something that you guys nerd out over?

Without a doubt it’s Game of Thrones!! We are all probably a little too obsessed with the show. It might not be healthy. We dress up in costumes sometimes while rehearsing.

What can fans expect from SIR for the rest of 2017?

We have one more single we are releasing in October, then the album release in November. We’ll finish the year by heading out on tour for as much of November and December as we can! We love meeting new people, so if you see we are playing in your city, come say hi.

You can find SIR on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, iTunes, and their website.

Exclusive Interview with Symon

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Up-and-coming recording artist Symon is making waves in the music industry with her “off-center” pop stylings. Between recording her debut album, set to be released sometime later this year, and co-hosting SiriusXM’s Hits 1 in Hollywood, Symon has had an extremely busy year and has no plans of stopping any time soon. I caught up with her to talk about everything from her new music to her love of Hello Kitty and everything in between. Keep scrolling to read our entire interview.

First off, I love your name, especially its spelling. Where does it come from?

Symon is actually my mom’s maiden name and it’s spelled just like that. It’s our family name and I copped it, I took it.

What age did you take the step into making and performing music?

I actually started at a very young age. I always knew that this is what I wanted to do. In my first grade yearbook it says, “my dream is to be a pop-star.” [Laughs] School wasn’t easy for me, necessarily, when I was younger. I remember the second I stepped into my first music class in elementary that something was very natural about that for me; it was very organic. Music then became my escape, and I knew that I wanted to make that escape my reality. [After that] I just got my hands on any type of musical thing that I could such as music classes or vocal lessons, any type of school performances. Then I started getting every lead in elementary school, and then I started doing performances outside of school and getting leads with different theatre companies, and I was studying Shakespeare and musical theatre. Then in high school, I was getting every lead and I was like, “This is what I want to do. This is it.” When I was about sixteen, I started a pop-rock band in my garage with these two brothers, and we were called The New Officials. We had a lot of awesome success, but I ultimately knew I was destined to be a solo artist, to write from my perspective, from my heart and really dig deep into who I am and express that on a platform. That’s basically kind of how it all started.

Speaking of musical theatre, was there ever a moment you considered going that route instead being a recording artist?

Yeah, absolutely. As a kid, I was like, “Wow. I really love this,” and I was studying “The Great American Songbook” and all the Broadway songs. I was like, “Maybe I should go in to Broadway.” But there was just a calling in me, in a very young age. My first album I got was Britney Spears. I was so young, and I remember as a kid I would sneak over to the TV, and I would put on MTV and I would watch TRL. I would study the artists when they were hosting, and then I would study their videos. And they were like characters but they were just themselves, and everything was just so much bigger and you got to play characters in different songs, and it was just like “Oh my god. Wow.” I became obsessed with that whole thing. At a very young age I was studying pop artists, and I love pop music. I love Top 40 music. But throughout my journey, yeah, I’ve definitely played with the idea of “do you want to do musical theatre” and what exactly it was that I wanted to do. But by the time I was thirteen, I was honestly like, “No. I definitely want to be a recording artist.”

Speaking of your love for Top 40 music — what are you listening to on repeat lately?

Right now I am listening to a ton of Dua Lipa, a ton of Halsey, Diplo. They’re my vibes currently.

Going back to the start of your career, is there any experience you would credit as the moment when you knew making music was what you wanted to do for a profession?

I have to tell you, since I was so small I knew that’s all I wanted to do, so it has been in my brain forever. But I think one of the most pinnacle and incredible moments so far that was really just like, “Wow. Oh my god. This could happen” was when my first single, “Say,” came out and I heard it on the radio for the first time. That was just such a surreal, crazy moment. I was like, “This is it,” and it was all I ever wanted it to be.

On the topic of your music, you’re currently working on your debut album, right?

Yes, I am.

So what has the process been like?

It’s been amazing, it’s been heart wrenching, it’s been beautiful, it’s been scary, it’s been exciting. It’s just kind of everything. You are digging deep in yourself and, you know, I’m in my twenties and your twenties are really rough, whether it’s with dating or finding out who you are. There is so much going on, and that’s what I wanted to write about. So that’s what I’m writing about, digging deep into those things that so many of us can relate to. It can be tough, but it’s just been the most beautiful experience. You’ve got to be vulnerable. And I’m just so excited to put out a body of work that I’m proud of. I can’t wait.

How would you describe the sound of the music on the album? 

I would say it is pop, but pop with an edge, pop on its side. It has some EDM in there, it has some R&B in there. That’s the vibe. I would just say a little off-center pop.

I’m low-key obsessed with your latest song, “No Way (I’m F*cking You).” I think the thing that I really like about it is that it might sound like a lot of what “mainstream” pop sounds like, but it stands out because there is a message behind it. So I’m curious as to what was the inspiration behind this song, and how do you interpret the meaning?

So I went on this date with this guy, and honestly before he even gave a f*ck about what my last name was he just wanted to get in my pants. I was just like, “Seriously? Why are all these guys in LA like this?” Like I was saying before, my album is about my stories, and my life in my twenties, and I feel like it’s so impossible to find a quality person, and it’s like these guys are out for one thing. There’s so many people out there like that. When you’re a girl that’s dating a girl who’s out there f*cking around, gay relationships, straight relationships, people deal with this all the time — they just want to get in your pants. I was like, “Nobody is talking about that, and I’m f*cking sick of it.” I wanted to make a song that had a statement and was like, “No. You know what, buddy? I’m going f*ck you when I want to f*ck you on my terms.” And so I got into the studio, and I wrote this song.

I think that’s great. Literally everything you’re saying I’m like, “that’s so true.”

Right? It’s like, “Ugh.” It’s tough.

It is. I know you are also the co-host of SiriusXM’s Hits 1 in Hollywood [with Michael Yo]. That’s a daily show, right?

Yes, it’s a daily show. I’m on from 4-7 PM and it’s just kind of crazy. It’s amazing; it’s very cool to be an artist and to be sitting in that room and meeting artists that are coming in. It’s like this artist-to-artist relationship on the show that I hold as my position. It’s just fascinating because so long are the days where you can just be a recording artist or a touring artist. You’ve got to have a lot going on, you know? People are now big on many platforms, on YouTube and music and in films, and that’s the kind of artist I’ve always wanted to be. I don’t just want to be a recording artist — I want to be an entertainer. I want to be in film someday; I am in radio. I have a big appetite, and I think it’s cool to be able to see things from that other side and other perspective as well. It’s awesome.

What is the process like to prepare for the show each day?

I get to my studio about an hour early, and I just prep. Naturally, I have always been a person who is informed on pop culture, so it came very naturally to me. It’s very organic. I speak from my heart, I love the show, I love Hits 1, and I love SiriusXM. It’s just a great opportunity for me at this point.

I just have a few quick questions left. Who would be your dream tour mate and why?

Lady GaGa, hands down. She is a force to be reckoned with. She has been my muse for forever. She is hard working, so creative, so innovative and so inspiring; she can push anyone, and I would just love to be around her creative energy and learn from her.

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not making music or working on Hits 1?

I like to hang out with my family. I love to eat food; I’m a big foodie.

What’s your favorite food?

Italian, Greek, or Mexican. Give me a burrito, and I’m a very happy girl. [Laughs] But otherwise I just like laying low. I love seeing films, independent films, things that inspire me. Fashion, just immersing myself in art.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us — what do you nerd out over?

Hmmm… Probably Hello Kitty; it’s kind of odd. I just love Hello Kitty. And my roommate has such a problem with it because I have these big Hello Kitties on my bed, and she’s like, “get those the f*ck off your bed. You’re ruining the apartment vibes” [laughs]. I’m like, “F*CK YOU. I LOVE THEM!” [Laughs] I’m pretty nerdy with Hello Kitty.

Is it just Hello Kitty or is it all of the Sanrio characters?

No, it’s just Hello Kitty. I think I’m pretty nerdy with Japanese culture. I want to be a harajuku girl; like, I love that sh*t; I think it’s so interesting.

Lastly, what does the rest of 2017 hold for you?

I actually am releasing my newest single, which is called “I Never Do,” and it drops July 7. I’m bugging out, and my debut music video comes out the same day on Vevo. I’m just freaking out to finally have some video content out there and to finally have this song out there that I truly, truly believe in and believe in the message. I’m so excited about that; you have no idea. I also have a feature coming out with an incredible DJ/producer called London Future, and that’s coming out very soon as well. I’m going to be shooting that music video soon, going to be putting out my EP this year, going to be touring in January of 2018. But up until then I’ll be doing a bunch of one-off shows and radio shows and yeah, you’ll be seeing me all over the place.

You can follow Symon on Instagram (@officialsymon) or on Twitter (@officiallysymon).