Category Archives: 30Hz Music

The 30Hz music-related ramblings

Music, On a Communal Level: An Interview with Bahhaj Taherzadeh (We/Or/Me)

Bahhaj Taherzadeh - We/Or/Me

Music, On a Communal Level: An Interview with Bahhaj Taherzadeh (We/Or/Me)

originally published on Spill Magazine

by James David Patrick

We/Or/Me is Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a Chicago-based singer-songwriter that deserves your attention, but he’s pretty okay if he doesn’t get it. Of course, like any artist he wants to find a following that appreciates the work he’s doing, but there’s a grounded realism about his approach to writing and recording music – he understands that he’s one of many talented voices all vying for your fractured attention. 

I first corresponded with Bahhaj after posting a small write-up for his first full-length LP Sleeping City on my own music-related blog in 2011. He contacted me via Twitter and thanked me directly for the support. I appreciated the note. After all, I’d been a fan since the first few notes of his debut, the Ghostwriter EP. I just wanted more people to hear this music.

I read through his bio. An Irish-born Iranian. A husband. A father of two twin girls with a modest apartment a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Employee by day, musician by the wee hours of the night. I felt a kind of kinship. This was a regular guy producing extraordinary music, being compared to legends like Leonard Cohen and Scottish folker Bert Jansch. Bahhaj became an inspiration. He was a family man that endeavored to conquer the work/family/creative balance with which many artists struggle, myself included.

But it wasn’t just the endeavor that impressed me; it was also the music. There’s a common thread among critics to describe We/Or/Me’s sound as the music of life’s quiet moments. The songs are reflective and meaningful without forcing the listener to wallow in tales of soul-crushing burden and despair. It’s in his guitar. It’s in his voice. He’s soft-sung and soulful. So when I received notice of his Kickstarter campaign in my email box, I contributed immediately. He followed up with another message of thanks. I suggested an interview based on his experience with Kickstarter, once the whole process had come to completion – the money collected, the record released, praise received. I’ve always been curious how the artist perceives the process of collecting buy-ins from fans and how it changes the creative process. Thankfully, he was enthusiastic about the idea. I began scribbling notes and questions. The first question on my mind was pretty broad. I asked Bahhaj what had attracted him to Kickstarter to help fund his latest LP, and how the experience had benefited him as an independent artist.

“I think art is at its best when it cultivates some sense of community and forges meaningful relationships between people. Some record labels have been able to cultivate that in the past, and some still do, but the vast majority of us independent musicians are just out there doing our own thing so it’s important to find ways to reach out to the people that care about what you’re doing. The crowd-funding thing creates a very direct and personal relationship with the listener because they are committing to your record before hearing it, and that implies a certain level of trust and it elevates the relationship between the artist and the audience. At its most basic, Kickstarter is about money. I need X amount to achieve my goals, please help–but I found that was not really the aspect of it that excited me. The exciting thing was the sense of community that I got from the experience. I have lived in three different countries and I know people all over the world, and thanks to the Internet my music has traveled to a lot of places I’ve never been. When we launched the Kickstarter, and I saw my inbox fill up with all these names from all over the world – some I know, and many who I’ve never met but who have continually supported my music – it was a very moving experience and it was very empowering. So, for me, Kickstarter became a tool in the community-building process, and that was the most significant aspect for me.” Continue reading Music, On a Communal Level: An Interview with Bahhaj Taherzadeh (We/Or/Me)

The Essential 30Hz Christmas Albums

The holidays are the one time of year that we can and should embrace nostalgia and all of its gooey center. The holiday routines of my childhood remain some of the fondest and most pure memories. As I grew older, of course, those routines adjusted and changed and dissipated. Santa Claus and gift counting, weighing and measuring eventually gave way for the comfort of family, friends, food, the records that get dusted off every year — these things become our traditions. During a certain point I forgot the comfort of these things. It’s not until they’re gone and reappear that we realize the odd, irrational place they hold in our hearts. I hope to share a number of my holiday traditions, both new and old over the next few weeks. Maybe something I write stirs memories of your own favorite family traditions. I’d love to hear yours too. Here are the Essential 30Hz Christmas Albums. Not the best (because let’s be honest here, Christmas music isn’t necessarily around all year for a reason), mind you. Merely the ones I can’t do without.

 

Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album

Star Wars Christmas Album

I grew up a Star Wars geek. I’ll forever be a Star Wars geek but there are some irrefutable classics on this record such as “What do you get a Wookie if he already has a comb?” And these three minutes of perfection sung by C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2… seriously… perfection. Continue reading The Essential 30Hz Christmas Albums

30Hz Recommended: Forest Swords

It’s been awhile since I dished out a new music recommendation but this guy has forced my hand. I loved this record from the first listen, but my esteem has only grown for this debut LP from the Liverpool-based producer/artist Matthew Barnes. I had this record on during a workout the other day– I know, not exactly workout tunes but I couldn’t help myself — and I had to stop what I was doing to listen. How many records do you hear each year that force you to stop… and just get lost in the music? One? Maybe two?

Listen to the Forest Swords LP Engravings and you might just add another to that short list. It’s creeping, lush orchestration with accumulating layers of guitar, low-key loops and simple beats. It’s difficult to shoehorn into any particular micro-genre because just when you feel like you can pin down Barnes’ sound he shifts into something new. It’s glorious. Push play. Now.

Here’s Forest Swords: “Thor’s Stone”

Forest Swords – Thor’s Stone from Louis Legge on Vimeo.

Don’t look now but I also just happened to agree with heartily with a Pitchfork album review. *Gasp* Don’t get too used to the idea. I’m sure I’ll throw up some tirade about their obtuse writing style or championing of atonal noise any day now. Just give me the word, Pitchfork.

Franz Ferdinand @ Tower Theater: Upper Darby, PA

Live music is worth it. It just is.

Not all live music, of course. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of live acts that just don’t live up to the hype. I don’t need to relive my Mumford & Sons experience. Of course, that Mumford show lingered in the back of my mind when I committed to drive across the broad state of Pennsylvania to attend the Franz Ferdinand show at the Tower Theater. That’s 4 1/2 hours driving each way. That’s the cost of a hotel room. Plus whatever other unexpected obstacles would present themselves along the way.

My wife and I went back and forth for a week about whether to go. I waffled! I admit! And I’m the guy that’s been wanting to see Franz Ferdinand since he first saw the “Take Me Out” video on MTV, now almost a decade ago. That’s a long damn time to wait. I’ve written intermittently about the cathartic power of live music. All the what-ifs and worries shouldn’t have tormented me. Another night on the couch catching up on movies I’d DVR’d off TCM or Franz Ferdinand in Philadelphia? The choice should have been a simple one. Continue reading Franz Ferdinand @ Tower Theater: Upper Darby, PA

Savages @ Mr. Smalls 9/11 / Mumford & Sons @ First Niagara 8/29

A Tale of Two Shows

Mumford and Puns

If you follow me on Twitter at all, you might have noticed I went on a bit of a rampage regarding my experience at the Mumford & Sons show a couple weeks ago. I’d meant to write it up for the blog but every time I thought about it, I added more seconds to the “time I’ll never get back” counter. Instead I let bygones be bygones. The wounds have closed up but scars remain.

Here’s the rundown.

On a normal day, it would take me 45 minutes to get to the First Niagara Pavilion for a show. The day my wife and I went to see Mumford & Sons, it took us more than 2 hours due to concert traffic. After finally arriving, the teenage flag wavers ushered us to a parking lot in West Virginia. This made me miss the Vaccines entirely, a band that, quite honestly, I was looking forward to seeing more than Mumford. Their first album was a bit of a revelation. We arrived just in time to visit the restrooms and locate our seats before Mumford came on stage right at 9:30.

Mumford & Sons @ First Niagara

Mumford played a by-the-numbers set, which just means they ran through most of their songs with little deviation from the recorded versions. The played with energy and with the most impressive lightshow for a folky act I’ve ever seen. It was like… well, it was like Mumford & Sons fancied themselves… rock stars. I might have enjoyed the performance more had we not been surrounded by your typical outdoor-pavilion hooligans. I know you know the kind I’m talking about. The kind that maybe go to one or two shows a year, both at the outdoor pavilions. They drink too much terrible $10 beer and turn every song into an occasion for groping. I don’t know about you, but from my set I found at least four couples that probably used Mumford & Sons as their sexy-time music. One particular couple thought they’d take their Antique Grope Show into the aisle directly in front of me. The people behind me kept dropping their shit through the back of my seat and bumping me every time they picked it up. Once I’ll forgive. Two or three times will warrant a dirty look. When I lose count, what. the. fuck. are. you. doing? You’d think that because I had the front row of a section I’d have more room. But you’d be mistaken. Anyway, the last song of the set began, and the wife and I made the easy executive decision to make a break for the car. We arrived at our car when we heard the band come back on the for the encore. The thought of open highways and speeds exceeding 20mph caused my pulse to race. I frantically put the car in drive pulled out of the spot… and stopped… and still sat without moving… for two and a half hours. This would have been bearable in the backyard-camping-situation kind of way had we been able to access the Internet on our phones. Because of the mass of humanity crammed into backwoods Pennsylvania the network had long ago become overloaded. I don’t mean to be the unironic #FirstWorldProblem guy but THIS is the reason that streaming video on cell phones can be awesome. It makes people who are forced to wait in parking lots tolerable humans. There were many intolerable humans yelling at people to move their cars. I assume because they also could not stream Parks and Recreation while they waited. I could also not tweet my rage for therapy. Twitter wouldn’t work either.

Despite my assertions that we “would never f’ing leave this pit,” we eventually arrived home at 2am.

$160 worth of tickets. 6+ hours in the car. 50 minutes of music. Priceless.

Last night was my first show since “the Mumford Debacle.” Savages at Mr. Smalls. Now in my mind Savages are a big deal. They’re THE rock band of 2013. So when I walked in at the tail end of the opening act and saw a half-full Mr. Smalls my jaw dropped. Mr. Smalls clearly had not expected much of a crowd; they didn’t even tap the kegs. Bottled beer only. (edit: It seems that Smalls has dispatched with the taps entirely as they were again without taps at the Gaslight Anthem show.) I was dismayed. And then I remembered the Mumford debacle and how, no matter what, this was not going to be like that.

I drank my Great Lakes Eliot Ness and then headed straight to the stage. I stood four people back, front and center. And nobody even bumped into me. This is a testament to the space available rather than the cordiality of my fellow attendees – though, I’d take this crowd of lazy post-punk headnodders over the folk-rock freakers any day.

But to further explain my dismay… Watching Savages on stage I experienced a sense of timelessness. Every so often I will attend a show that inspires awe – the kind of awe that makes me feel like I’m a part of something historic. Like the guys that still talk about how they saw the Stones on their 1965 tour. Whether or not the Savages or any other band goes on to become the Rolling Stones is irrelevant. All that matters is that feeling. In that moment. Savages owned that stage last night and what did they see when they looked out at us? A half-empty floor with a bunch of people chattering at the back by the bar. I wanted to force everyone to the front. I wanted to say “We’re experiencing a moment here and you’re missing it!” But then they’d cease to be the crazy ones for just being casually interested in the band on stage, replaced by me, the madman raving about “moments” and “history.”

Frontwoman Jehnny Beth prowled the stage like the love child of Siouxsie Sioux and Gozer the Gozerian (pre-Stay Puft).

Savages @ Mr. Smalls

She’s slight, dressed in all black with gold stilettos. T-shirt. Pleated pants. Short-cropped black hair and drastic mascara, Corvette red lipstick. Her singing style could best be described tribal, intense. At times I swore she took turns catching each of our eyes, staring us down, daring us to look away. She pounded her fists with the beat and frenetic bass rhythm. She never spoke a word to the crowd (perhaps a couple of asides), but on two occasions stood on top of the stage barrier, teetering on those massive heels. Twice she used heads in the front row for balance to keep her upright. She, like those devoted fans in the front, she remained immersed in the moment, reveling in the beats and reverb. Nobody cared that she didn’t establish a report with the crowd or break contact with the wall of noise and guitar and drums… my god the drums…

Drummer Fay Milton beat those poor bastards like they had one day left to live. Watching her raise the sticks above her head as she pounded and thrashed proved to be a spectacle in and of itself. When I was able to tear my eyes away from Jehnny Beth, it was the sight of her flailing ponytail that drew my attention. Milton, Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson and bassist Ayse Hassan were all business. This music, it meant something to them. It meant something to us. Savages have consumed the post-punk genre, they’ve made it their own and the result is a live show that transcends the act of playing music itself. A good live show merely entertains. A transcendent live show makes you believe that the moment is bigger than you. That music means more than just a few chords and a beat.

When the Savages finished their set, they didn’t come back.

There was no need for an encore. And quite frankly, I didn’t want them to come back out. There was nothing left to say. Their last song, one of the few not from Silence Yourself, repeated the refrain “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.” And as I stood there, in awe, basking in the noise and flurry of F-bombs, cherishing the moment, I still couldn’t help but think of that Mumford show. And how cold the whole experience left me about attending live music. Don’t let the fuckers get you down. And then there was this show, one of those rare shows that keeps us coming back for the live experience, enough to redeem 10 trips to First Niagara.

I’m good now. Those wounds have healed. My faith in live music has been restored. Back at Mr. Smalls tonight for The Gaslight Anthem.

I’m still never going back to the First Niagara Pavilion.

Here’s a tame KEXP-studio sample of the Savages live show. But it definitely conveys the intensity.