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Somerset: Box Full of Sharp Objects

What started out as a side project has evolved into something much greater for Minnesota’s Somerset.

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What started out as a side project has evolved into something much greater for Minnesota’s Somerset. After several line-up changes, they have finally found the right members to get things moving. On August 9th, the band released their debut full-length album, Pandora on Punknews Records, an up-start label that believed in the band from the beginning. The band recently took some time to answer some questions about the friendship they forged with Punknews Records, their politically inspired lyrics, and what is next in line for a band just getting their feet wet.

In being the first band signed to Punknews Records, do you guys feel you are setting any type of standard for their label?

Claudio Rivera: Well, we’re just extremely grateful that they picked us to be their first release and whatever standards there are, that’s for the label to determine. We’re excited for papa Punknews to birth us some siblings real soon.

How did the band form a relationship with Punknews Records [Punknews.org]?

JT Viele: Claudio met Scott [Heisel] when their bands played a show together. We’ve all been fans of the site for a long time and we just kept in contact with Scott and formed a really close bond, especially after he gave us a super nice review of our first EP. We’ve spent Thanksgiving and Easter with his family and it’s just really sweet that he’s cared for us like family, from the start. When they [Punknews.org] told us that Epitaph wanted them to start a label that they would distribute, we were super stoked for them, and when they followed it with “and they want Somerset to be our first release” we could hardly believe it. We’re happy to be a part of something new, yet aligned with such an established powerhouse, like Epitaph.

Was having Punknews distributed by Epitaph a huge selling point in you guys signing with them?

JT Viele: It wasn’t so much that we had to be sold on them, as it was that they were the only label that stuck with us after we went through some rough stuff with band member changes. Distro by Epitaph is just a shitload of icing on an already tasty cake!

So with your debut full-length, Pandora, out in-stores, what should those unfamiliar with your music be excited about?

Matt Broadbent: We’re always excited to hear about new music. Hopefully, there are others out there that have an equally open mind. Lyrically and musically, we feel like we stand out from the pack.

Speaking of the lyrics, I personally think a lot of Pandora has a very political and even religious undertone to it; a fair assessment?

Forrest Olsen: We’re not a religious band, but I use religious archetypes metaphorically and satirically. We are strongly opposed to the Bush agenda and we hope that the lyrics will stir political thought and conversation and raise awareness to the real problems in the world.

So when your not pulling inspiration from politics and religion, where else does the inspiration come from?

Forrest Olsen: Inspiration for the lyrics comes from personal and global struggle and the desire and frustration of trying to remedy them. Musically, there are thousands of bands that give us advice, through their sound.

Is there an underlying theme to Pandora?

Forrest Olsen: I wrote the lyrics to be open to the interpretation of the listener, so that they could finish the art themselves. However, there are definitely recurring themes that were laid out intentionally so.

You worked with acclaimed producer Chris Fudurich on Pandora.

Claudio Rivera: Chris is a great engineer and he got us the exact sounds that we wanted for this album. He’s super easy to work with and doesn’t mind letting you literally take control of the session. However, he won’t hesitate to call you on mediocrity that might slip in there.

What kind of touring plans do you guys have lined up for the rest of the year?

JT Viele: We have a pretty long tour coming up from August 12th until October 2nd, if our van can make it, that is. Basically, we love to play any kind of show and our motto has always kind of been if you book it, we will play it. There are a couple really cool, bigger possibilities for the winter, but it is way up in the air.

If you could tour with any band right now, what band would that be and why?

Matt Broadbent: I think we’d all pick a different band. Anything from Bad Religion to Jimmy Eat World, but there are so many great bands from the past that would be incredible to reincarnate in full rock glory.

Are there any areas where you feel that band needs to improve on to get exactly where you guys want the band to be?

Claudio Rivera: We will always try to be better in any way we can. We also want huge pectoral muscles.

So besides building up those muscles, what are the long-term goals for Somerset?

Claudio Rivera: The long-term goal is to not have to come home to regular jobs, when we go broke from touring. Ideally, we’d be on the road for as long as we possibly could. The only way to get there is to continue to let ourselves be heard and keep our fingers crossed.

Interviews

Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist

Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.

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Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.

We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.

Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?

We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.

How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?

The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process.  We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.

Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?

I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing. 

Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?

It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP.  To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.

You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?

Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area,  so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.

Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?

I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.

What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?

Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.

And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?

We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.

You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?

We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.

I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?

Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!! 

I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.

What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?

We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!

Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.

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Interviews

Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool

We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single

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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”

Okay Cool’s new single “Back To You” will be available July 10th on all streaming services. You can find more Okay Cool on their website, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

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