New York-based electro-rock act Year of the Tiger have been quietly making noise in a busy city. The duo have been crafting their brand with attitude-a-plenty, taking the best from influential figures like Karen O and infusing it with their own personality. They’re music savvy, industry intelligent and hungry to claw through the buzz-heavy capitol of the music world.
You can check out a stream of their brand new track, “Push”, at the end of the interview.
Year of the Tiger is a musical endeavor you do with…?
Sable: Henry is my BFF– we’ve been best friends since we happened to be neighbors our junior year at SUNY Purchase. I think for a while we were “married” on Facebook, which while endearingly cute probably just ended up cock-blocking each other. We always thought it’d be cool to do a musical project together and then we finally did (3 years later, natch) this past winter around the time we both lost our jobs and had the free time to do it.
The three bands that immediately come to mind for me are: Goldfrapp, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Peaches. Hot or cold with this assessment?
S: Hot, hot hot! We are so inspired by all three of those bands—I’m more so from the YYY camp than Goldfrapp and Peaches. Considering it’s just us—Henry on the computer/trigger board, and me with the microphone—it’s like front woman duty x10. And as far as stellar front women go, you really can’t top Karen O. She’s brilliant.
Henry: I really love elements from all three – the rock out, adrenaline fueling rawness of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the brilliant production and melodies from Goldfrapp, and the heavy, grinding, explicitness of Peaches. As well as the feeling throughout of total confidence – like they know exactly what they’re doing, and don’t give a fuck. And they all put on some badass shows. So yeah. That’s inspiration all right.
Is there an accurate term you’d want people to describe the music as? Electro-pop?
S: We’ve been called electro-clash, pop-rock, electro-rock, electro-grunge… I guess when I describe our genre I’d probably be most likely to say “electronic rock.” To me it doesn’t sound so pop, but to everyone else it seems to. It’s not as important to us that people can accurately label us so much as they enjoy what they’re listening to.
H: Christopher Weingarten (music blogger for the Village Voice) dubbed Rockit as “anthemic noise pop,” which I thought was interesting. I guess I don’t really know where we fit exactly; electro rock perhaps? Or rather, I don’t really care all that much.
How does the songwriting take place? Is there a natural process to it?
S: The backing tracks are all made using Ableton and Digital Performer and then come the lyrics. The words sometimes get changed or moved around when Henry shows the songs to me, but otherwise that’s as natural as it gets. So far I’ve only written lyrics for one song, “White Flag”, that Henry made the beats for afterwards.
H: Yup, that’s pretty much it. Though sometimes the lyrics or even just a generic idea comes first.
What are your instruments of choice?
H: A lot of guitar, a lot of chopped, gritty synths, and heavy drums.
S: Yelling. Mostly yelling. And wrath.
I’m really liking the up-tempo, harder hitting nature of “White Flag”- which artists would you say have been an indirect influence to your music outside of the electro realm?
S: Thanks! (That’s the ONE song I’ve written lyrics for so far) Well, I suppose this goes back to Karen O. She can pretty much do no wrong in my book. But otherwise we’re influenced by a lot of stuff when songwriting—David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Metric, The White Stripes, Quentin Tarantino, La Femme Nikita… pretty much anything badass that just doesn’t give a F**k.
H: For me, I find I get a lot of inspiration from anything that really captures a specific feeling or theme, regardless of media type. Not literally, but stylistically and emotionally. Whenever I write, I always try to do that. For example, rather than scream ‘I’m angry’ or something, I’d rather whisper fuck over the sound of a distorted siren or something.
This is an entirely DIY project thus far- how are you both approaching the idea of labels and the music industry? A positive or a negative?
S: When we first put our stuff out there this past February and emailed a handful of music bloggers for press, we actually had a really great reception, much to our surprise (and delight). We believed that our material was worth listening to so it was really encouraging that the internet was into Year of the Tiger as well. A label isn’t all that necessary for us as far as production is concerned. We piqued the interest of a major label very early on based off that initial press, but I think we’re much too new for them. I’m pretty sure majors want an up-and-coming buzz band with an established fan base that they can sort of “take it from there.” We’d actually prefer a booker or booking agent first rather than a label since they can get you on good bills to build said fan base. So we’d be more interested in courting those types at this point. We just want to play awesome shows! Labels will come when they’re ready for us and hopefully we’ll be ready for them when they do. So… positive until it’s negative?
H: Make awesome music. Get people who like it. Get big enough for label attention, license your music to them, give them a cut and let them do what they do best. Basically, I think labels are good for the business and technical end of things like tour management, publicity and promo, but as far as giving away rights, I think not. I’m not sold on the idea that the goal is to get ‘signed’ – that doesn’t hold much water for me. It’s what helps us get our music out, and makes it easier for people who like our stuff to get it.
What are your likely tour goals?
S: We’ve been toying with the idea of doing one-off weekend tours to neighboring cities like Philly or Boston to play shows. Only problem is we don’t know anyone or have any connections in pretty much any city outside NY. Bummer, right? I figure that’s the way to DIY, but we definitely wouldn’t be opposed to touring with a bigger band as a supporting act.
S: We’re always writing new material and recording (we do all the recording and mixing in Henry’s apartment in Brooklyn) and it’s coming along pretty well so far—we’re a pretty minimal operation thankfully making the whole process pretty efficient. We have our demo but we want to have enough songs so that we can sort of curate an album rather than just put the first dozen songs we recorded on a CD. So far I don’t think we’re even at one dozen yet!
H: We record all the time, and test our new stuff live. We like to make rough tracks, see if people are dancing at the show and how it’s received, and then decide if it’s worth keeping.
How friendly is the New York scene- do you see it as a great place to start music in 2010 and beyond?
S: As much I’m in love with this city (more of a love-hate maybe) and it’s been my home my whole life, it’s really not the most fertile environment for new bands starting out. The NYC scene is pretty full of itself and you have to work extra hard for the attention. And then once you get it you’ve still got to prove that you’re worth your weight. It’s a pressure cooker for anyone with grandiose dreams, which definitely weeds out the dilettantes and talentless hacks but at the same time, can be unduly discouraging. There’s a lot of attitude and bullshit you’ve got to push through to get your foot in but once you do, you learn pretty quickly whether or not you’ve got a good thing going, or else you just get chewed up and spit out. NYC has a pretty discerning eye for posers and generally does not take kindly.
The show-going culture in NYC is definitely much more apathetic than elsewhere and for the most part is pretty passive. I tend to chalk it up to the fact that there’s just so much going on every single night that every event’s got competition. Also, everyone’s either got their heads up their own ass or else is working their asses off in this city and probably too tired, stressed out and broke to go out. So on a weeknight at some dive venue, if you can get a crowd on their feet and rock their worlds, it’s doubly gratifying! New York presents a unique challenge in whatever you do just because of its insular nature, but it’s not without rewards. It gives back as much as you put in and it will work for you if you work for it. Which to me is just a thrilling and terrifying concept. It’s kind of like going to see The Wizard (of Oz, I mean).
H: I think it’s a challenge – we’ve been received great online, but it’s another thing to transfer that elsewhere. I love the atmosphere of NYC for music. I just find the scene a bit claustrophobic. We’re not big networkers, and we don’t schmooze, unfortunately… so it’s tricky as we don’t necessarily do that. You really have to party with/know the right people. It adds some extra steps and cold calling, but we’re doing ok so far. We’ve been finding some awesome people along the way who are really into what we do – not just waiting to see what happens. We figure it’s far better to be surrounded by a few genuine people who are great than a lot of people who are marginally interested. The whole point of our project was just to get people to dance, not give a fuck and feel something. Anything. It was never about networking or business! If it’s not fun, what’s the point? We just say fuck it – it’s true that if we can do it here, then we can do it anywhere, and that’s definitely motivating.
Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool
We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single
On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.
It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.
I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.
Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.
They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.
“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves– Jenna maranga, okay cool
Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”
“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?
Listen to “Back To You”
A New Tomorrow: An interview with Lee Resistant & The Lost
Lee Resistant & The Lost find life in old songs and a path to a new tomorrow
Sometimes you have to look into the past to find the future. It is a sentiment that UK transplant Lee Resistant understands quite well. Once a member of UK punk band Fletcher, Lee has found new life in old songs, revisiting material he wrote for his previous bands while giving them a new sheen for current times. With a solo career established, Lee Resistant formed his latest outfit, Lee Resistant & The Lost, during the close of 2017. He found that some of his old material not only held up over time, but still had much to give in way of connecting with new listeners.
Now with two EPs under their belts, Lee Resistant & The Lost are finding that sometimes looking back into your past is a great way to move forward. Their latest EP, Thirteen Years Gone By…, features reworked and re-recorded songs from Lee’s previous efforts, songs that are part of the catalyst that propels the band towards all new material on the horizon.
We spoke to Lee Resistant not long after the release of their new EP and talked the past, the present, and the future.
The EP has been out for a little bit now- you’ve been getting a good response to it- how does it feel?
It feels really good, the reaction we’ve had to it so far has been very positive. The songs themselves had a good reaction when they were originally released back in the day, so the issue for me was releasing re-recorded versions that I felt had to be better than the originals, otherwise what would be the point?
The lead track “Least Resistant” is a rework of a Fletcher track from back in 2003- are the other songs on the EP as well or were they songs you had written outside of the band?
“Least Resistant” and “Where Would You Run?” are from the 2003 Fletcher full-length My Revenge, and “Wishlist” is from the 2002 Six Track Sound EP. “For The Few” is a song I wrote for the band I started after coming to Canada, RUCKS, which was active from 2007-2009. Brian (bass) and Alex (drums) from LRATL were in that band too, so we have a long history of playing together now.
Share with us a little of your reasons why you’re looking at some of these songs you wrote and giving them a revisit and re-recording.
I’ve been concentrating on playing solo acoustic shows for the last few years but, really, I’ve always been a ‘band’ guy, so when I decided I wanted to end 2018 with a full band show it was a chance to dust off a few of my favorite songs from the back catalog, several of which I never actually sang back in those days! It was exciting because I genuinely never thought I’d get to play those songs in a band situation again, and I think they’re great songs that stand the test of time.
With regard to recording them, I’d been writing for a LRATL full-length, and the collection of songs I have for it feel like a more solid piece of work together, so I didn’t really want to cull a separate EP from it. Revisiting some of the older material seemed like a perfect way to bridge the gap between my musical past to where I’m at now, and also break the guys into my production process with a little less pressure! [laughs]
Tell us a little bit about your history with Fletcher- you guys were together from a few years from 2000-2005?
That’s right. We were signed to Deck Cheese Records in the UK at the tail end of 2001 and Pyropit Records in Japan in either late 2003 or early 2004. We got to do a lot of cool stuff and played with most of my favorite bands… I have really good memories of those days, and it felt like we were on the cusp of doing so much more when things pretty much fell apart. We were touring as much as we could while holding down full-time jobs at the same time, and things were basically at the point where the next opportunity on the table would have involved quitting our jobs and going on the road for three and a half months across North America and, from my viewpoint at least, that seemed like too much of a chance to take for the other guys.
Did it end on good terms?
For me, no it didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because I’m stubborn or a complete asshole, but Fletcher played our last show together on July 17th, 2005 and I walked out of the venue afterwards and didn’t talk to any of the others for ten years. For me, playing music has never been about being famous, or getting rich, or any of that bullshit, but I think the disappointment of seeing what we could have done together collapse was really hard to take at that particular time.
You’re originally from the UK- what prompted the move to Canada?
Hahaha, let’s just say MySpace has a lot to answer for, and leave it at that!!
How did Lee Resistant & The Lost get started?
LRATL actually started as a solo recording project at the end of 2017. I was writing songs that I was hearing in my head as ‘full band’ productions more than strictly acoustic material, so my aim was to put out a song on the first of every month for the whole of 2018. That was a pretty ambitious schedule at that time, so it ended up being a five-song EP called 42/43. I have the word LOST tattooed on the knuckles of my right hand, so I called the project Lee Resistant & The Lost, as it was basically me and my right hand doing everything! [laughs]
Putting the band together with Jakob, Brian and Alex for that 2018 show was a bit of a revelation, and I was like “this feels REALLY good!”, and it’s progressed from there.
So my favorite track on the new EP is “For the Few”- how did that song come together?
I think “For The Few” was written in late ’07/ early ’08. We were doing shows at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 28 in Chatham, Ontario, and there was a mural thing on the back wall with the Laurence Binyon poem ‘For The Fallen’ on it. That World War One poetry has always resonated with me for some reason, so it got me thinking about people of all walks of life who have laid down their lives or sacrificed everything they have, for something they believe in. I think there is no more honor in life than that, so “For The Few” is my humble tribute to them.
I really enjoyed the EP- but it’s not the most recent music you’ve released- as a solo artist, you co-released an EP with Curt Murder. How did that collaboration come about?
Yeah, I kinda screwed up my scheduling and both records were out within a week of each other! Curt and I have been buddies for a while and we’d been planning to do a split since August of last year, so once we figured out when we could get together I recorded it at my home studio in Chatham. Curt runs Reel Too Real Records, which is a DIY, cassette-based, limited run deal, so we released it via that and digital. The record is called Split The Difference, basically because we look like brothers! Haha
The song on there- “Over and Out”- it’s brilliant- evoking, haunting. Do you approach songwriting as a solo artist different to when you write for The Lost?
Thank you, I appreciate that! My approach to songwriting tends to stay the same… I’m not one of those people that records or writes down every single idea I ever have in the hopes of making something out of them. To me, that’s a recipe for utter crap! [laughs]
If ideas come to me I will keep them in my head, and if they’re good then I will remember them. Some songs come together pretty quickly, but others will make themselves known to me when the time is right. It’s a pretty fluid process for me, and I feel like more of a conduit than a ‘composer’ most of the time. I never force a song just for the sake of getting it done, I still have unfinished songs from 2011 or so kicking around in my skull.. they’ll let me know when they’re ready!
You’re currently working on new material for Lee Resistant & The Lost- how have these currently reworked songs helped shape the material and the direction for the new music?
It’s more like the new material helped shape the reworking of the old songs… I feel a bit more capable as a writer and arranger these days, and I find I ‘hear’ a lot more layers within songs but also have more of an ability to manifest those ideas too.
When are you hoping to have the new album done by?
The current plan is to have the full-length finished by the fall, and hopefully find a label willing to put it out early next year. We’re going to do a standalone single release in early September to keep things ticking over, and a video for ‘Where Would You Run?’ from ‘Thirteen Years Gone By…’ is in production at the moment. I’m also figuring out my next acoustic record, and I do everything DIY so there’s plenty to keep me busy! [laughs]
Lee Resistant & The Lost’s new EP, Thirteen Years Gone By…, is out now. Stream and purchase via Bandcamp. Photo by: Chris Forrest at Synicalist Photography.