HARLEQUIIN TALKS “YOUNG ONE” & PREMIERES NEW TRACK “BANDIT” 61

Having already been a session musician for Paolo Nutini and others, artist and producer Rory Simmons, AKA Harlequiin, is no stranger to the music industry, and his own work reflects everything he’s learnt since he first starting playing instruments at the age of 10. With his third EP due out later this year and as ThisIsTheLatest proudly premiere his new track “Bandit”, he chatted to us about the artist he’d most like to produce for, his upcoming performance plans and his thoughts about the impact of social media in the music business.

TITL: Hi Rory. First of all, what would you say your unique selling point as an artist is? What makes you different from your many other artistic counterparts?

Rory (Harlequiin): I’m a musician who’s come from the jazz world as a performer, but now I really feel I fit into electronic music and alternative pop as a producer. But being an instrumentalist that brings perhaps a different dimension of live performance to the music I make as Harlequiin.

TITL: Has music always been your career plan or did you have other ideas and ambitions growing up? 

H: No, music has always been the thing for me really, as a young Cornish slip of a man, I basically just wanted to play in as many different environments as I could. I started playing brass instruments and guitar in local bands and school bands in the small town I grew up in and when I was 18, I got a place at Trinity College of Music in London.

TITL: You’ve been a session musician for the likes of Paolo Nutini and Blur among others, so at what point did you ultimately decide it was time to focus on your own musical ambitions? What did your time working/touring with those artists teach you?

H: Being on the road with any big successful artist is really interesting both in terms of the everyday workings of a large operation like that, i.e. all the different people it takes to keep it rolling, but also the way the artist and management approach the overall arc of their career. It’s really interesting seeing different audiences being cultivated and various territories being prioritised. Quite often this is a more sub-conscious thing; it’s not as if these are always first hand conversations being had with artists – being in that environment is a real eye opener I guess on how you become really successful in the music industry as an artist.

TITL: You’re both an instrumentalist and producer – which of the two did you get into first and is it hard or fun to juggle/work the two? 

H: I was an instrumentalist first. I started playing trumpet and guitar at about 10, and then only started getting into production and music tech at about 25. I’ve always been very much into writing but until getting my head into music software, it was always a pencil and manuscript that helped me channel that.

TITL: If you could produce music for any other band or artist, who would it be?

H: There’s an amazing kind of macabre country singer from the US I love called Lera Lynn, I saw her playing on True Detective a while ago and totally fell in love with her vibe. I’d love to do something a bit heavier and produced sounding with her….she lives probably 3000 miles away – but you never know, it might happen.

TITL: Is there a story behind your latest single “Young One”? Can you remember when and where you wrote it, and what made you decide it’d be a good choice for a single release?

H: I wrote “Young One” with an amazing vocalist called Amelka May who also features on the track, and we kind of wrote the track with another artist in mind – but it was languishing on my hard-drive and when I revisited it 6 months later, I felt like – “no, I’m keeping- this is meant to be a Harlequiin track.”

TITL: You’ve released 2 EP’s so far and are soon to release a third. What can you tell me about this latest collection, and how would you say it differs from its predecessors?

H: This third EP is maybe a bit tougher sounding than the others, and perhaps a bit more psych too.  I’m just trying to write songs and develop the production in a way that serves the song. I think this EP has twists and turns but still very much sounds like Harlequiin. Caribou, Jamie Liddell and Fourtet are still big influences, but I’m also trying to include as much live instrumentation as possible – as long as it sits sonically within the music.

TITL: You’ve received recognition and support from the likes of BBC Introducing and Wonderland, among others. How much of an impact on your career has such reaction/responses had, and which outlet/individual would you most love to hear praise you and your work?

H: It’s been great getting support from the people you mentioned of course – but really it’s people listening and connecting with the music that’s important. That might sound trite, but that’s what really connects for me. There’s something visceral and exciting about seeing Harlequiin tracks being DJ’d. The idea that people connect with the emotion of the song by moving or dancing is huge for me.

TITL: How do you feel about social media, and do you feel it is still possible for bands and artists to achieve success without being socially interactive with their fans/potential audiences?

H: Difficult to say. Probably if you are big enough, you don’t need to engage with those platforms to remain connected. However, a lot of those people that are big enough probably aren’t of the generation that naturally would use social media in that way. And for those artists it would feel contrived and un-natural. If Thom Yorke starts using Snapchat, I’m out….

TITL: Are there any tour or performance plans in the works? 

H: We are playing a show in Paris next month as part of Disquaired Day, and there are a couple of festivals coming up over summer too. We are also planning on a London headline show later in the year, along with another release…. a London headline show has been a long time coming!

If you could play one venue anywhere in the world with three other bands or artists who can be living or dead, who would they be and where would you perform?

H: The Filmore in San Francisco is a venue that I’ve already had a chance to play, but would love to go back there. It’s got so much history and it’s an amazing sounding room. It’s pretty difficult to choose 3 musicians, and I want to avoid saying Miles, Hendrix etc., so I’m going to say Slim Harpo, Captain Beefheart and Andy Stott, at the Filmore. That would be a weird gig – but hopefully quite fun!

Check out “Bandit” below and for more information on Harlequiin, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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MAX CHATS “LIGHTS DOWN LOW” & TOURING WITH FALL OUT BOY 46

With a flair for rather theatrical performances and a growing fan-base, especially in the US where his track “Lights Down Low” has been one of the biggest hits of the past year, MAX is a name more and more people are sure to become aware of in the next few months. Ahead of his opening slot supporting Fall Out Boy on their UK tour, ThisIsTheLatest met with him backstage at Manchester Arena to chat

TITL: For those as yet unfamiliar with you and your music, who exactly is MAX? How would you describe yourself in four words?

MAX: Energetic, soulful, glittery – it’s always hard to describe yourself – and slay. SLAYYYY – with a lot of y’s.

TITL: I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone use that word before…

M: Oh really? Awesome. I say it a lot!

TITL: What would you say your unique selling point is? What is it about you and your music that makes you stand out from your many other artistic counterparts out there?

M: That’s a tough question to answer on my own. I would say, for me, I try to bring a very theatrical show, while also having a very personal connection to my people, my fans. I like to be as personable as I can with my people, but also make them feel like they’re in another world when they come to a show of ours.

TITL: You’re signed to Pete Wentz’ record label DCD2. How exactly did he come to discover you and what was/is it about him and his label that made you feel that they were the right fit for you?

M: I’ve always been a Fall Out Boy fan, you know, “Dance, Dance”…every record. Patrick’s voice is unbelievable and he’s so kind. Being an OG Fall Out Boy fan, when Pete kind of naturally reached out after hearing some of my music when I was releasing independently, he invited me to one of their shows. I went along with two of my best friends who are also obsessive Fall Out Boy fans, and he brought me backstage; we kinda hung out for a little bit and I don’t know, I guess it was just nice to see how personable they are as people, and also just how hard they work. That’s how and why they’re still doing what they’re doing. So when he said he was relaunching Decadence, as DCD2, and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, it was an obvious no-brainer.

TITL: You’ve achieved phenomenal success in the States thanks to your track “Lights Down Low.” What do you think it is about that song that, for lack of a better word, has enraptured so many people?

M: It’s been really beautiful to see how people have connected with it. It’s the most transparent song of mine, I guess, that I’ve ever put out. I wrote it for my wife and I proposed to her with it. I love telling that story, and I think this song, even if people don’t know that story, they can connect with a piece of it, feel the energy behind it and I hope, and I think that’s why it’s connected more with people than any other song of mine, in a more global way, and I’m glad about that. The song portrays the message that love is love, and that’s what we believe in, no matter where you’re from.

TITL: How did you find the song having its own Snapchat filter for Valentine’s Day which was posted about by Kim Kardashian West, among others?

M: It was honestly the most unexpected thing that I probably have had happen to me. I guess some wonderful people, part of my team, were pitching this idea for Valentine’s Day, which is such a special day for us, and literally the night before, someone emailed me saying there’s a snapchat filter thing tomorrow and no one had ever done it like that before, I guess. They’re doing it a lot now wirh great artists which is so cool, but I guess we were kind of the guinea pig and I’m glad to have been the guinea pig. It was a wild time and it was so cool – they used my glasses and everything. I love that Snapchat is trying to make a filter that really represents the different artists that they’re showcasing. It was a cool surprise.

TITL: You just need your own emoji now…

M: That’d be wild! Emoji’s really encapsulate our lives so I’d love to be part of one.

TITL: Given that you’re currently on tour with Fall Out Boy here in the UK, have you noticed or are you noticing any differences or similarities between audiences here and back home?

M: My wife is from here so it’s kind of nice to come and visit her roots, hang with everybody. I’m loving it. Tour wise, this is our third show on the tour with the guys and it’s amazing. To play Manchester Arena is unbelievable – it’s so special to not only open for them, but feel the energy from the crowd. I think Fall Out Boy fans especially are so proud of the music they love that, even if they don’t know your music quite yet, if you reel them in just enough, then suddenly you feel a new energy which is just so amazing.

I think I would say UK fans really love music, especially live music, but I also think they might be a little harder to impress in a real way, which I really appreciate, especially as an opener, because it’s so rewarding when you get to a certain song and everybody is there. The best thing about UK fans, and European fans in general, is that as someone who loves to do a lot of crowd interaction, even if everybody’s not quite into it yet, they’ll get involved with every interaction I do and make. They’re doing that because they’re committed music fans and that’s the coolest thing in the world because it’s not at every show you get to see all the fans putting their hands up, clapping along, that kind of thing.

TITL: Do you have any headline shows of your own in the works for after this tour?

M: Oh yeah! I’ll be back here in January. I’m almost done with the second album and I’m hoping to put it out towards the end of summer, or early fall in the States and then come over here and hopefully people will discover us from these dates, and come out and see us again.

TITL: You’ve played some pretty big stages in your career so far but if you could play any venue in the world, which would it be?

M: Madison Square Garden, for sure. Being a New Yorker and just having it be such a special place in my life, getting to play there, or getting to headline the Garden, that would be a very massive accomplishment. Getting to play here, and to play the 02 is additionally pretty surreal.

TITL: You’ve had your songs streamed millions upon millions of times on Spotify and watched millions more on YouTube. With that in mind, how do you feel, both personally and professionally, about social media and technology, and the almost consuming power it holds for artists?

M: It’s so addictive and I’ve realised I probably spend a fourth or half my day, going through all the different social medias, trying to research different playlists on Spotify and things like that. It’s also such a connective tool that we’re lucky to have in this generation because, probably half of the collaborations that I do, I find via Twitter. Somebody like Matoma follows me on Twitter and the next thing, I’m talking to him then we’re meeting in person…the connective power it has is incredible, and not just between artists, but for fans too. It’s amazing to pinpoint one particular fan who is such an OG and get in touch with them to say something like ‘Wow, thank you so much for giving so much life and energy to this – do you want to be part of it more?’

With any incredible tool, there’s always going to be some crazy, negative aspect, and I think the addictive quality social media has is that aspect.

TITL: What’s next for you? Are there any plans or projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

M: I’m excited about the second album, and my next single, is a duet with my friend Noah Cyrus – I was actually working on the mix today; slay! Then another song after that called “Still New York” with Joey Badass, which is, obviously about my home city, but also about repping your roots and everything else. There’s a bunch of songs after that, a bunch of collaborations I’m super excited for which I can’t quite talk about yet, and then yeah, hopefully more touring, more shows and then I hope to just keep on going.

TITL: Finally then, what’s your ultimate goal when it comes to your music? What would you like to have achieved 5-10 years from now and musically, what do you most want to be remembered for?

M: That’s a great question and one I think about a lot. I would say, for the 5-10 years part, I want to have that same connective tissue between myself and the fans that I feel and have now. I hope for that to grow, and for us to keep doing what we’re doing now, but hopefully on a larger scale. I think you remember energies more than you remember things people say and whatever else, and I hope that we…I…leave behind an energy that is positive towards people. We’ll all pass away one day, we’ll all be gone, and very tiny remnants of our existence will matter, but I think if there’s any way just a little speck can be left to hopefully inspire other people to bring some positivity to the world, that’s really all I can hope for when it comes to my music.

Check out the video for “Lights Down Low” below, and for more information on MAX, visit his website or follow him on Twitter .

TAMI STRONACH REFLECTS ON ‘THE NEVER ENDING STORY’ & TELLS ALL ABOUT HER NEW PROJECTS 44

Catapulted to fame in the 1980’s thanks to her role as the Childlike Empress in The Never Ending Story, Tami Stronach is a name few film fans of a certain era have ever, or will likely ever forget. Having recently launched several exciting new projects, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Tami to find out how the Childlike role impacted her life and career, which one venue she’d most like to perform in and what’s left to tick off her bucket list.

TITL: How does it feel to know that The Never Ending Story is still as well loved now as it was back upon its original release?

Tami Stronach: It’s incredible. Obviously I am surprised by the staying power, very pleasantly. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated it. I think the story, which was translated from Michael Ende’s book, has these really powerful messages. All the whimsey and magical characters add to it, but underneath all of it, there really is a depth to the story. For me the film is about valuing the child within us…In really dark times, it is really our ability to imagine our way forward that is going to save us. Historically, I think that is always true. The people who can vision a better future and vision a way forward manage to see doors and openings that the rest of us don’t.

TITL: What do you think it is about TNES that makes it so timelessly appealing?

TS: This notion that in each of us resides the power to imagine a better world, a kinder world that we can actually manifest if we believe in our vision enough. That is a powerful message and I think it is one we all need to hear so we don’t give in to apathy.

TITL: Do you have any favourite memories from your time on set/with the cast and crew?

TS: I spent a lot of time with the make-up artists and puppet designers in beer gardens when we were not working. They were really fun adults to hang out with – creative and warm. I learned how to flip coasters and do all kinds of tricks because obviously I wasn’t drinking beer.

TITL: How did landing the role of the Childlike Empress ultimately impact your career? Would it be fair to say that the role is and was your career defining moment?

TS: It definitely is what I am best known for since film has the capacity to reach such wide audience and its very fun to be part of something that means so much to so many people. I view The Never Ending Story as a wonderful defining doorway into what would become a lifelong commitment to a career in the arts. Any opportunity I get to be creative is something I will jump at and I’m happy to do that across a lot of different platforms, dance, choreography, theater, music, puppetry, audio recording–in a small theater or in a massive one–on camera or off.

TITL: You’ve never truly ‘left’ Hollywood having then gone on to do dance and theater work in NYC, but you’re back now, having launched the Paper Canoe Company, which specialises in family friendly work. Where did the concept for it come from and what’s the ultimate aim?

TS: Paper Canoe was something that I founded with my husband after my daughter was born. We wanted to come back to family entertainment because we saw first-hand how impactful stories were to shaping our daughter’s worldview. Also it was something we could do as a team–pool our collective experiences in the arts and make stories that would be meaningful to our daughter, her friends and beyond.

TITL: You’ve also got several other projects in the pipeline including a series of collaborations with indie folk/rock artists in Williamsburg, which marks your first ‘return’ to music since your ‘Faerie Queen’ album in the 80’s. How and why did you decide/feel that now was the right time to work on the music side of your career some more?

TS: After 20 years of being a choreographer in contemporary dance it feels slightly mad to just dive into all this new terrain – but having a kid is a great chance to relive some of your childhood. I’m actually going back to my roots with singing and it is really fun. This project is about how music can be a unique kind of storytelling. No one is making narrative albums any more. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to make singles because everyone is streaming and shuffling playlists etc. But I’ve never been so into following the rules of what you are ‘supposed’ to do. Greg and Jake and I dreamed this. And we’re doing it. Beanstalk Jack has won a couple of awards. We’re really proud of it.

TITL: With so many projects ongoing and in the pipeline, how to you find the time to prepare and be part of them all? Do you try and plan as much of each day as you can or are you more of a ‘let’s wake up and see where the day takes me’ kind of woman? 

TS: You have to prioritize what project you will focus on when. I tend to set a goal for a three month block of time and then evaluate where to go next. It’s a lot of juggling for sure but it keeps things interesting which I like.

TITL: What can you tell me about the live theatrical experience you’re hoping to unveil later this year? Are you excited about getting back on stage and performing the new material/production to audiences and how far and wide would you like the experience to go in terms of locations and venues?

TS: I love performing for live audiences and I’m looking forward to finding out how to build some visual support for the musical numbers for shows in the NY area. But to be honest, I’m actually focusing more on digital content right now…making a video, recording an audio book, turning Light into a podcast….maybe even creating a short film.

TITL: If you could perform in one venue anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

TS: It would be BAM Harvey. There is something so magical about that theater. Whenever I go there I feel overwhelmed with excitement even if the show I saw in the space wasn’t my cup of tea. Some spaces just make us feel awe – this is one of them. It’s both majestic and rustic…Sometimes architecture has a way of holding a group of people that just encourages everyone to feel connected. Theater at its best is aiming for that same connection.

TITL: Given that you were thrust into the spotlight at a time when social media and the digital entertainment era was still just a dream, how do you feel about social media and the impact it has on the entertainment industry as a whole? Is it something you use much of or are you more traditional in the ways you prefer to interact with people?

TS: Like everything powerful, there are two sides to the coin. I think that on the one hand, social media has allowed people to connect in unprecedented ways that I really value. I met my press agent Clint on twitter, and have made some other great friendships there. Now there really is an opportunity to have more of a direct exchange with people who you are really curious about following.

On the flip side, I think some issues are genuinely complex and can’t be thoughtfully or productively discussed in soundbites, and there is also a temptation to be more cruel in a format where you don’t have to deal with the repercussions of how your actions are affecting someone else were they right in front of you. I worry about a world where we are looking to oversimplify everything and the cost of that. If social media can be used as a tool to bring people together so that there is genuine engagement and face to face time as a by-product of that exchange then I think we are heading in the right direction.

TITL: What advice would you give to those actors/actresses and performers who are just starting out and hoping to emulate the careers of their idols? Is there one piece of advice you were once given that you still reflect on today?

TS: I think it’s important to pursue your passions but to allow space for your career to unfold in ways that you may not have anticipated. There is a balance between being determined and rigorous and being interested in and open to unexpected avenues.

TITL: Finally then, having already achieved so much, are there any other plans and ambitions you want to fulfil? What’s left to tick off on your personal and professional bucket lists?

TS: One of the values I inherited from my mother was to prioritize growing and learning. There is always a sense that if you were fulfilled and interested, that was the most important thing above how much money the project garnered or how many people liked it. Of course those external accolades matter and can be a useful benchmark in terms of making sure what you are making is relevant to other people. I do think it’s challenging to stick to your own sense of purpose and to live an authentic life if the things you value are less mainstream.

What excites me in the industry right now is how good TV is getting. Netflix shows, HBO shows, and all the streaming content coming down the pipe has transformed kinds of storytelling we can expect from those platforms. I’m also excited to see more women producers and writers and generally new voices cropping up in the industry which are escaping formula and offering us some really exciting shows. After having been out of the commercial acting game for so long, I’d love to do another big film or two at this stage of my life and tick that off my bucket list. But more importantly, I hope I’m lucky enough to keep being creative on a daily basis and inspiring and encouraging others to be creative as well.

You can find out more about the Paper Canoe Company by visiting the website and to keep up to date with Tami Stronach, you can follow her on Twitter.