INTERVIEW: TALKING SWEET MUSIC WITH BILLY PILGRIM 0 235

The quartet that make up Sweet Billy Pilgrim; Anthony Bishop, Jana Carpenter, Tim Elsenburg and Alistair Hamer, have been part of the music industry for over a decade, delivering song after song of what they describe as “Thrash Pastel” sound to ears everywhere. As they prepare to embark on an eleven date UK tour which begins in Manchester on September 2nd, together they agreed to chat with me and talk longevity, influences and future plans.

You’ve outlasted a number of bands and artists during your time together, what do you think is the key/secret to your longevity?

That’s easy. We get to do something we love with people we love, whether they be our fellow band members or the people who come to see us. Don’t get me wrong; it is hard work, and sometimes the rewards for that hard work seem all out of whack, but whenever it all gets a bit overwhelming we just remind ourselves how lucky we are. Our shows tend to be a conversation – both literal and metaphorical – between members of the band, and between the band and the audience. I guess the aim is to achieve something approaching a feeling of celebration in the end, so a shorter answer would be that we basically became hippies.

How do you think you’ve evolved and grown as a band since you started out?

We’ve learned to communicate better, and the songs have opened up sonically and lyrically as a result. We love the first two records, but they were the sound of a band always looking inwards, and shows were difficult because we just wanted to get the notes and the sounds right. It was only when Jana joined that, through her background in acting and improvising, we really discovered how to tell stories; how look outwards and invite people in. Yes, the notes and words are important, but now we share them, where – in the early days at least – we might have just performed them.

Have there been any difficult lessons you’ve had to learn along the way?

Just that, really. That most people are less interested in hearing an album played accurately live, and more interested in being connected with. That, and the more obvious how-to-keep-our-heads-above-water thing that most of the musicians we know are grappling with from day to day. Oh, and making sure that when we’re touring Jana gets caffeine and breakfast within 15 minutes of requesting them. Missing that deadline was a difficult lesson to learn!

Do you have any favourite memories so far?

Walking onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with a banjo and harmonium in front of a sea of very impatient people with feather cuts and fishtail parkas waiting for The Who to play ‘Quadrophenia’. That felt strangely liberating. We also did a house concert recently for a family where one of the parents was fighting cancer. It was humbling and joyous and emotional and drunken, eventually all at the same time.

You’re soon to embark on a UK tour in support of your latest album ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’. Is there any venue or city you’re most looking forward to playing?

All of them. We genuinely can’t wait to get out there and play the new songs to people. Our only regret is that – without an agent – we weren’t able to persuade some venues to have us, so there are certain parts of the country we’re not going to make it to.

If you could play any venue, anywhere in the world, that you haven’t yet, which would it be and why?

Anywhere intimate, beautiful and with great acoustics. Preferably in a city we’ve never been to before, with a day either side so that there’s time to explore.

Which four bands or artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share a stage with?

Sonic Youth circa ’Sister’, making an unholy racket… maybe we’d do some three-four part harmony singing with Gillian Welch, The Band backing Jana and I singing something and Robert Fripp in the midst of his Bowie / Scary Monsters screamy-guitar phase, soloing over one of our songs.

What do you think sets ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’ apart from your other, earlier material?

It was written to be played live. None of the previous records grew from that specific intention.

Has the song-writing process gotten easier or harder for you, or does it still depend on the subject matter you’re writing about?

It’s the same really. Drafting, redrafting, re-redrafting. Endless musical and lyrical possibilities whittled down, usually with some idea of a unifying theme at the backs of our minds as we move from album to album. We work really hard at trying to make albums that are a bit of a journey; that give you something back if you commit to them for 45 minutes. It’s a pretty old-fashioned idea, but we want to at least give people the option of listening to the music like that so that they get that sense of the sum being greater than the parts.

What, to you makes a good song, and which, in your opinion, is the greatest song ever written and why?

It’s got to have the hairs-standing-up-on-the-back of the neck moment.‘River Song’ by the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson is probably top because it seems to be entirely built out of those moments.

How necessary do you think it is for bands and artists today to be involved with social media? Have you found that it’s helped you?

It’s now an integral part of the relationship between the artist and the audience; another way to connect. We write songs; people weave them into their busy lives; people are curious about us; we’re curious about people… it’s a vital and almost always fun part of the to-and-fro.

You’re a Mercury Music Prize nominated band – how important is recognition like that to you?

Well, it doesn’t sell more records for a band like us, but it does open doors. It’s a great calling card.

Aside from your UK tour, what else do you have in store for the rest of the year?

Hopefully some European touring! We’re also working out how possible a series of deluxe reissues of the previous albums with bonus materials might be. That’s something we’d love to do because the label we’re with – Kscope – are so great at curating beautifully assembled and presented back catalogue stuff.

What’s your ultimate goal as a band? At what point would you be happy to say ‘yeah, that’s it, we’ve done all we wanted to. Let’s call it a day’?

Just to be able to keep doing this. Some of us aren’t great being ‘in the moment’ and so being on stage is probably the closest we ever get to that, so projecting forward sort of defeats the object! Just before work on this album began, there was at least one occasion where we almost gave in to cynicism and called it quits because the effort-reward ‘system’ seemed so out of balance. Then we soon realised that we weren’t going to stop writing songs, or recording them, or wanting to share them. That feeling never really goes away, so while we can still stand and carry our own amps we’ll be out there somewhere making music.

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DOREEN TAYLOR TELLS ALL ABOUT HER OFF-BROADWAY SHOW “SINCERELY, OSCAR” & LOOKS TOWARDS A VERY BRIGHT FUTURE 0 159

Doreen Taylor is no stranger to dreaming big. With two music and performance related degrees under her belt, an array of theatre production credits to her name and a successful career as a solo artist, she’s ambitious and not afraid of people knowing it. After her production “Sincerely, Oscar”, which she created and produced herself, had a successful run in Philadelphia last year, the show has now moved to New York and is currently undertaking a 14 week run at Theatre Row, Off-Broadway. In between shows, Doreen kindly took the time to chat to ThisIsTheLatest about the creative process behind the show, her memories of opening night and where Sincerely, Oscar might go in the future.

TITL: First of all, for those unfamiliar with you and your background, can you just give a little insight into your music and performing career? 

Doreen Taylor: I’ve been performing for many years now, and having earned myself degrees in both opera and voice performance, I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of some fantastic theatre productions including Robert Ward’s The Crucible, in which I played Abigail Williams, and Christine in Phantom Of The Opera. In terms of my music, I released my first album Magic back in 2012 while my latest album Happily Ever After has received great reviews and is to hopefully become an Off-Broadway musical in the next couple of years.

TITL: You’ve been pretty busy lately with your off Broadway show, Sincerely, Oscar, after a successful run in Philadelphia last year. How does it feel to know you’re working on the same streets and around the same venues as some of the biggest and most popular musicals and shows in the world? 

DT: It is pretty surreal. One of the very first musicals I starred in when I was just a kid was “42nd Street” and now here I am all these years later starring in my very first show I have written in an iconic theater on 42nd STREET! It is pretty amazing how life can just come around full circle and give affirmations that I have been on the right path all along. I guess the most amazing part is that the shows that we are honoring by the great Oscar Hammerstein all opened on Broadway within one mile of where we are performing “Sincerely, Oscar” now. That is a pretty humbling feeling!

TITL: You created and produced the show yourself – what is it about this particular show that made you want to bring it to life in the way that you have?

DT: It’s weird… I was busy working on my mainstream Adult Contemporary music career writing, producing and performing my own music and this opportunity came out of nowhere at a music video premiere that I was hosting. I was lucky enough to meet the grandson of Oscar Hammerstein and his lovely family at this event and we instantly hit it off. I felt a strong calling to use my talents to bring recognition to Oscar and help honor this iconic Broadway legend. I created the previous iteration of the show and debuted it in Philadelphia and we did so well that I wanted to bring it to the heart of Broadway. I worked for over a year and a half developing “Sincerely, Oscar” and am so proud at the finished product. It is truly like my child and I feel as though I have nurtured and loved it every step of the way.

TITL: Did you have any prior creative/production experience prior to this or was this project something you felt so passionately about you just had to give it a first time try? 

DT: I always have had a hand in producing my solo mainstream concerts that we have toured around the US, and even some of my music videos, but this is the first time I have written and produced something of this colossal size and importance on the theatrical stage. I feel so lucky that I have been given such a great opportunity right out of the gate!

TITL: Can you talk me through the creative process for the show? Where did your first ideas come from and how did you expand them over time to the point you realised you could make your thoughts and ideas a reality? 

DT: I think the most incredible achievement in the creative process of this show was the way we created the role of “Oscar Hammerstein” himself. Early on, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to do something unique and totally “out of the box” for his character. I had just visited Las Vegas and caught a Michael Jackson tribute show at Mandalay Bay where they had created Michael as a hologram and he interacted with the other performers. It blew me away and never quite left me. I wanted to be the very first to bring this technology to the NY stage and I never really let go of that idea – even when others said I was crazy! And now, here we are, being the very first production ON or OFF Broadway that has used this 3d holographic technology in a theatrical production. It is really quite stunning and impressive and I am so honored to be the one to pave the way for this new technology. Sure, there has been some blow back from purist critics who don’t believe in bringing this kind of technology to the theatrical stage- but I have news from them—like it or not, it’s coming and “Sincerely, Oscar” is living proof of it. You can’t stop progress.

TITL: Were there ever any days or times that you questioned or doubted what you were doing, or were you 100% committed to?

DT: Every. Single. Day. It would be weird if I didn’t occasionally doubt my creative choices- especially when you have to deal with ridiculous opinions from people who are afraid of the technology or of the advancement. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have changed anything and I am so proud at what has been created. I sometimes sit back while I am performing in the show and absorb the incredible audience response and feel a huge sense of pride that I am here and I am able to live out this incredible dream!

TITL: How did you bring the production’s cast/crew together? Were/are they friends of yours or did you put out a casting call? When did you know you’d found the right people for each part of the show? 

DT: A little of column A, a little of column B. In the case of my gifted director, Dugg McDonough, we had worked together years ago in several productions at Temple University as well as Des Moines Metro Opera Company. I immediately thought of him when I was creating this show and asked him to return to collaborate on this project. As for the rest of the cast and crew, most were hired from referrals and casting. One of the hardest parts of creating any new production is finding the right people to work on it. I can honestly say that in all my years of performing professionally, I have never worked on a show where I truly like and respect every person that is there. This is the first time I can say that. We have become like a family and we all look out and protect each other. It is a really wonderful thing.

TITL: What can you recall of the infamous opening night? Were you nervous or just buzzing and raring to go? 

DT: It went by SO fast! I can say that I am a little nervous before every show I do. That never really goes away and I am actually glad that those butterflies are there. I never get complacent or “phone in” a performance. Every show is like opening night to me. The party was a blast and we really had one amazing night celebrating this great success together!

TITL: Given that Broadway is typically considered to be more of a man’s world, how proud does it make you feel to know you’re proving yourself to be just as good as your male counterparts when it comes to putting on a successful production? 

DT: To be honest, I still feel there is a lack of support and respect for women creators/producers in this industry. While it is admittedly a lot better, there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done. I am really honored to be a strong woman voice out there creating good, commercial theater in an otherwise male dominated industry. It is so sad that in this #metoo era we don’t embrace more female voices attempting to create on the theatrical stage but I think there are more of us out there that will brave the storm and keep pushing the boundaries, regardless if we are always embraced or not while we do it! However, that being said- women need to start supporting women colleagues in theater more. Sad to say that some of the harshest critical voices out there are from other women. That has always baffled me. Trying to blow out the candle of another does not make theirs burn any brighter.

TITL: What advice would you give to anyone out there who has an idea that they’d love to see brought to life on a stage such as one on or off Broadway? What traits might you say they need in order to keep pursuing that idea/dream until it becomes reality?

DT: I would say that dreams can come true and I am living proof of that. However, set your sights with reasonable goals. Start small. Test the waters. People don’t usually wake up one morning and decide to have a show open on Broadway next week. It takes a long time of work, dedication, financial support and most of all- thick skin, to navigate this industry. There will be enormous sacrifices that will need to be made and there will be a lot more tears than laughs at times. But after all that is said and done, there is no greater joy than to see your creation brought to life by fabulously talented people each and every day and I truly feel blessed to have this opportunity.

TITL: Finally then, now that Sincerely, Oscar is proving to be a hit, have you thought about any other productions you might like to work on, or is all your time and energy focused on this for the time being? 

DT: Right now I am focusing on this limited engagement run at Theatre Row in NYC, but I would be lying if I said I am not looking to the future for what is next. I believe we have even bigger and better things in store for “Sincerely, Oscar” coming in the near future. Maybe it will be a national tour, maybe an international tour, or maybe a residency in Vegas? There has been a lot of buzz as to where this should go next… and right now the sky is the limit! I am just excited to see where this remarkable journey will go!

For more information on Sincerely, Oscar visit the official website. You can also keep up to date with Doreen via doreentaylormusic.com, or by following her on Twitter and liking her page on Facebook. Her latest album Happily Ever After is available now. Header photo credit: James Jackson.

LX MASON TALKS “DRINK ME GOODBYE” AND FUTURE ASPIRATIONS 0 86

Having earned considerable attention and a strong following on the back of his debut single “I Don’t”, which to date has been streamed more than 35,000 times on Spotify alone, the latest song by Florida born artist Jon Davis, AKA LX Mason, addresses the desperate attempts so many people make to forget long-term relationships. With plans for an EP in the pipeline, LX Mason chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about song-writing inspiration, his thoughts on social media and his long term artistic goals.

TITL: What makes LX Mason different from all the other acts out there? What’s your unique selling point?

LX Mason: I think I’m unique in the sense that I’m an African American pop artist who isn’t doing R’n’B or rap, but I don’t think that defines me. I think we’re all just out here trying to make what’s true to us. So my unique selling point is, I’m me. Get to know me a little.

TITL: Is there a particular story behind your new single “Drink Me Goodbye”?

LXM: Of course! My songs are a way of coping with things that happen in my world, so you can always count on there being some type of story. I had a falling out with a really close friend of mine years back, and it wrecked me for a little bit until I bounced back. However, I saw from a distance how that person was trying so hard to forget me and I’d say that was the part that hurt the most. We eventually mended things but if we’re being honest, a lot happened during that time and it hasn’t been the same. 

TITL: How did you come up with the concept for the video and is being creative in that way something you enjoy? 

LXM: I LOVE directing. For some reason I always have. And since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved music videos. I bounced some ideas off of my mates, and my co-director Jason Denison. We wanted to portray a story of the depths that someone has to go to in order to forget someone and actually recreate these happy memories but without the other person being there. 

TITL: In terms of your lyrics and general song-writing from who or from where do you find most of your inspiration?

LXM: Real life situations inspire me. There are some pop artists whose writing I definitely appreciate – Julia Michaels, Lauv, Lennon Stella to name a few – but I try not to let that influence my writing because I want to be as authentic to the story, and the emotion, as possible. 

TITL: How easy or hard do you find the song-writing process? Can it depend on the subject you’re wanting to write about or your frame of mind at the time? 

LXM: Yeah definitely depends on what song I’m writing. And if my head isn’t in the right place for it, I have to really push past everything that I’m feeling to get a song out. 

TITL: Is there an EP or album in the works?

LXM: I’m working towards an EP! But definitely a couple more singles out first. 

TITL: Do you have any performance or tour plans you can tell me about?

LXM: At the moment, it’s all about the writing and recording. But things could definitely change, and I’m always keen to perform.

TITL: If you could put together your dream show with four bands or artists, living or dead, who would you choose and where would you play? 

LXM: WHOA. Uhm. I would completely disregard genre and just have a really selfish line-up of people I love. 

TITL: Given that your debut single has already achieved in excess of 35,000 streams, what are your thoughts on social media? Are you someone who believes it to be a powerful and necessary tool in your business, and society in general, or can there be/are there downsides to being so “online” all the time? 

LXM: There’s no question that the abuse of social media has had an effect on mental health. We’ve seen it, and Instagram/Facebook has done a little bit of work to improve it for the user, but I don’t think it’s there just yet. I think there is an aspect of it where it is effective for business, and societally it does increase your world a bit – I’ve met some wonderful people through social media. But if -or when – it crashes, it wouldn’t bother me. Half the time whenever I post something I think about my caption for half a second, post it, and throw my phone across the room because I don’t care. 

TITL: What does the rest of the year have in store for you? 

LXM: More music! Releasing some more of my own, as well as writing for other people’s projects and potentially featuring on some tracks as well. 

TITL: Finally then, given how “full” the music industry is now with both new and established talent, how do you plan to make yourself stay current in the years ahead? What are your long-term aspirations as an artist and where do you see the music industry going/ being in terms of its shape and longevity, as time goes on?

LXM: I think, more importantly, I want to stay true to myself. If that’s current, then great. What’s “current” changes so frequently that if I were to base my artistic identity in that, I wouldn’t know who I am anymore. My long term aspirations is to get where I want to go making the music I want to make whenever I want to make it. I think for the music industry, there’s more of an inclination towards independence and honesty in music that can bring people the music they want to connect to. 

Check out the video for “Drink Me Goodbye” below and for more information on LX Mason, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.