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Stars in the Streetlight: An interview with Aree and the Pure Heart

Aree and the Pure Heart are a rock n’ roll band shining amongst the current crop of great American songwriters.

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Aree Ogir is a man of many hats- father, husband, artist, musician. But we only really get to see a few of those labels. Ogir writes and performs under the name Aree and the Pure Heart; a rock n’ roll band shining amongst the current crop of great American songwriters writing the next page of Heartland music.

The new album, Never Gonna Die, is 9 songs of pure rock n’ roll bliss. Beautiful songs, heartbroken songs, contemplative songs, all songs about being alive and living. But as we spoke to Ogir about the album and what went into writing it, we find out that he is indeed a man of many talents. But we found out that his most important ones are the ones closest to him, that of father and husband, the side we only see partially through his music. We are lucky then, that we have songwriters like Ogir, who amongst all the undertakings that devour time, has found the days, months, and years it took to create Never Gonna Die. Sometimes when we search for clarity and understanding amongst the stars, we find that the words we’re looking for are here, down amongst the streetlights.

Congrats on the album. How does it feel?

Thank you! It feels pretty good to see it finally float out into the world. It took a long time to make it happen. I actually started recording the LP in 2016. I wrote a few dozen songs and recorded a handful of them at a different studio. I essentially trashed the whole first attempt at a record, because it just wasn’t right. I went through a very rough patch of personal problems that I brought on myself, which further just slowed down the whole process. Finally, I pitched the project to Joey Jones who did the Heartsongs EP and he agreed to do it. Thank God, because he is a true wizard and made the record what it is.

How did you celebrate on release day?

Nothing at all. Ha! I was teaching all day, and then just checking up on the response online. Nothing fun or fancy.

Did you expect the record to be this good?

Well, thank you so much. I honestly start to feel a sort of distance from the songs once the recording process gets going. What I mean is that I start to realize along the way how the songs have an intrinsic trajectory and energy and that I just happen to be along for the ride. I really do believe that I don’t have much ownership in the creation process. I’m just a willing participant in a bigger picture. Plus, I’m outnumbered. There is one of me and many listeners. At the end of it, it belongs more to everyone else than to me, and I’m just happy people are enjoying it!

Never Gonna Die

How did you first get into music- your first records, bands that made you become a musician?

The most pivotal moment in that story is me buying Dookie in 1994. That record set it all off. From there I discovered Lookout! Records, and then started writing letters to all my favorite punk labels. I feel very privileged to have caught that last wave of pre-internet music culture. It was a beautiful experience just pouring over xeroxed catalogs and guessing what bands might sound like.

Aree and the Pure Heart
Photo by Nicole Kibert. Click to enlarge.

Do you have a favorite song on Never Gonna Die? (Mine is maybe an unconventional choice- but I love “The Feeling I Get”)

Wow. Thank you. Quite a few people have brought that song up. It was a last minute addition to the record. I originally had 8 songs going on the album, and then after that was done, I couldn’t get “The Feeling I Get” out of my thoughts. I felt that it really needed to go on the album to balance it out. I think my favorite is probably “Crash Into The Sun” or “Tiger Champagne”.

What’s the story behind the song (“The Feeling I Get”)?

I wrote a different version of that song about 5 years ago. It was inspired by my wife. The chorus was the main idea that I used to rewrite into this song. It is just an ode to the fact that real love can’t be shaken. Regardless of the circumstances, you will always be coming back to that truth that you can’t escape it when you really love someone.

How do you normally write a song- like “The Feeling I Get”- it’s just you and the piano- was this similar to how you wrote the other songs or was the process different?

I write all the songs on an acoustic guitar. A lot of them go through various forms before they get to the album version. My process doesn’t really change that much from song to song. I wrote a lot before this album, and I could’ve easily made this album a lot longer, but I felt that it took so long to get this far, that we needed to just get it out there.

In our review, I talk about how your work and music closely resonates the way The Gaslight Anthem’s music does. How do you feel about these comparisons?

I hear that a lot. When Heartsongs came out, almost every reviewer brought Gaslight up. Prior to that, I had never heard anything at all from them, or Springsteen (other than his big songs). After the comparisons, I went and listened to most of the Gaslight discography, and I couldn’t hear the likeness. [laughs] A lot of people seem to really love them, though… so I’ll gladly accept it!

Where does the inspiration for your music come from- travel, books, people, or?

I don’t ever think too much about it. Just to give a few examples…

“Tiger Champagne” was inspired by a story my friend told me about when he and his wife got wasted on champagne and listened to Heartsongs over and over. “Fifty Dollar Bottle of Wine” was inspired by me seeing an expensive bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s. “Gasoline Heart” and “Work for Your Love” are songs about my kids. “Under a Streetlight” is about me and my best friend falling in love with punk rock as young teenagers.

So it is just all over the place.

Wiretap Records have a pretty great roster of bands- how did you connect with Wiretap?

Rob is like a ninja. I should probably ask him, but I am not sure how he even heard Heartsongs in the first place, but he was one of the first people to reach out to me after I put it out. He told me from the beginning that he wanted to put out my music. I’m not sure how he keeps so on the pulse of upcoming bands, but he does. He’s an amazing guy.

Name two things Aree and the Pure Heart want to do in 2019.  

In 2019… I wish I had some cool plans, but I don’t. I’m quite focused on developing my visual art interests and on becoming the best father and husband I can be.

Aree and the Pure Heart’s new album, Never Gonna Die, is available now via Wiretap Records. All photos by Nicole Kibert.

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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