marcopantella

———– Writer / Music re-views / inter-views / and my points of view ———– The GROUND Magazine / HungerTV

Month: July, 2013

THEM & US / Hunger TV / Interview /

Read it on HUNGER TV

Words / Marco Pantella

Photography / Fabio Esposito www.fabioesposito.co.uk

 

Ami Carmine is a singer, producer and DJ who from the age of 16 was already a session singer for the likes of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, before touring as leading vocalist with Basement Jaxx and working with KT Tunstall.

Lee Potter, aka Killa Kela, is as Pharrell Williams once stated, ”one of the finest multivocalists and beatboxers on the planet.” He has been sharing stages alongside Busta Rhymes, Prince, N*E*R*D and opened the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2010.

Ami may come from Venus and Lee from Mars but together as a band they find a common ground where their identities create a bittersweet recipe made of ethereal vocals and sharp beats, produced by James Rushent (The Prodigy).

We catch up with the duo to peak inside the twisted fairytale world of Them & Us

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HOW DID THEM&US COME TO LIFE?

LEE – It came about quite organically, we were finishing our own projects and through that it just felt like the right time to start working on a project together. I was asking her if she wanted to do something on my project and vice versa so people would see us together a lot, you know? Whether or not they knew we were a couple…

AMI – Everyone else knew before we did!

LEE – Yeah and they started associating us together and making assumptions like “oh you must be working together ’cause she sings and you are a writer”. This was four years ago…

AMI – The first two years were just a relationship and now it’s a double relationship!

WHY “THEM&US”?

LEE – We were sitting there in two different creative artist modes so we thought “that’s Them now and together we could be the Us”. Symbolically there are two different alter egos and as things moved on we realised that people getting into the idea of Them&Us were seeing “Them” as people who do certain kind of things and “Us” as these two guys who do something different. This created quite a following of pro-Them&Us.

WAS IT DIFFICULT TO MERGE YOUR DIFFERENT MUSICAL BACKGROUNDS?

AMI – I’d say we do have similar tastes but our paths have kinda gone on different ways. I grew up listening to all kinds of music and I am very beat driven, just like Lee.

LEE – I think we are very clear about the style and sound we are looking for. We’re not influenced from what we are familiar with, it’s more like having a new white canvas and experimenting with new things that may come a little bit out of our comfort zones.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC AND INSPIRATIONS?

AMI – I like to think otherworldly, this is one of the reasons why I love films like “The Neverending Story”, “Chronicles Of Narnia” and everything with a fairytale feel to it. It is inspiring to me because these things take us away for a little bit to a nice place to be.

LEE – And this makes it easier to make music that is far broader than what people may be doing now. There may be a hint of dubstep, hip hop and dance but when you have an ethereal orchestra behind it and a great hook in a verse… Well it turns everything into something very moving and powerful. Something else.

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HOW DOES YOUR BEATBOXING AND DJING BACKGROUND INFLUENCE YOUR MUSIC?

LEE – I’ve been beatboxing since I was 16. It came fairly instantly to me even though I was more into graffiti, rapping, and that hip hop competitive side. On every new project you take, everything you’ve developed in the past come back to you to be applied in a deeper way. I do all these sort of different things within the project that I don’t feel like I’m stuck at being just a beatboxer.

AMI – When you are a musician you kind of need to experiment with every angle in music. This is how I started DJing, I took an hour lesson once and I just went on practicing, bought some decks and three years later I was ready! There is a little bit of everything in my DJ sets, they can be quite slow, there’s a bit of hip hop in there, Filthy Electro and the Moombahton of course.

YOU RECENTLY OPENED FOR KELIS AND YOUR GIGS INVOLVE HUGE WINGS ON STAGE, MASKS, DANCERS… HOW DO YOU PUT A SHOW TOGETHER?

AMI – The visual aspect is very important because we see our music as a journey. You have these heavy beats and dark-looking dancers but there’s also a more theatrical attitude entwined in it. You can see a juxtaposition between light and dark in everything we do. I found those wings online and in my research I came across Loie Fuller, one of the first contemporary dance artists. She does this Serpentine Dance with a huge cape on and it inspired me having flowing wings for the show.

LEE – The mask is some sort of “Beauty And The Beast”, the hard and the soft, dark versus light. This is what we are trying to celebrate in our songs. The drops are always heavy and hard but the journey is floating.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR DEBUT VIDEOHAPPY NEVER AFTER, SHOULDN’T A COUPLE NAME IT “HAPPY EVER AFTER”?

AMI – As for the song we had an idea of the bassline and we worked on it with our producer. It starts off with a very playful mood to become more melancholic, more… “fuck another Monday morning!”. The main idea for the video was to have a fairytale-ish atmosphere, so we called upon our friends who are video directors and they totally got the idea and really expanded on it to make it more crazy.

LEE – Super Massive, they were really great!

AMI – Absolutely, they were really fun to work with despite the long hours shooting outside in minus five degrees in a dress. It was freezing cold but they kept our spirits up!

LEE – When we were writing it there was not a feel that this could be about our relationship but in the same breath we got tweets from people on Mondays saying “Fuck another Monday morning”. We didn’t even think about the context of talking about Mondays!

WHAT ABOUT WRITING TOGETHER?

LEE – Ami is the main visionary towards particular songs, she’s almost a filter of the ideas we put together when writing cause she is a commercial songwriter and she knows her voice because she’s predominantly singing.

It gets tough and rigid at times but at its source and from the beginning it is an organic process.

AMI – And it is always different, our song “Oh My God” on the other hand starts off very ballad like and it’s ethereal before storming out.

You always learn along the way and I feel happy about where we are now, it feels right for me and for us.

YOU SPENT YOUR LIFE IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT?

AMI – Personally I see it as an experiment of my own creativity and a place where I try to keep myself intact in an industry where you can get broken very quickly. You start out at a level where you don’t get paid for what you are doing and you do it for passion, so as long as we are being sincere we can express ourselves and have people understand us.

LEE – There are obviously times when tactics and strategy comes in but we’d be going against our name if we were to do it just to get along.Also, we are really into all sorts of mediums, not only music-wise. I love art, Ami loves fashion and if you believe in what we believe, we are not averse to work with like-minded artists.

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THE DREAM COLLABORATION WOULD BE WITH…?

AMI – That would be with Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro who’s got that fairytale thing again but with a dark twist. Björk is also a big inspiration for me, her music is timeless, I can still listen to her old albums and feel so inspired.

LEE – I am a very big proper rock fan so that would be someone like Slash. Working with him would be… awesome! And Lemmy from Motörhead.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THEM&US?

AMI – We are working on other tracks, we are constantly writing. It takes time especially because we want to make sure that what we are doing has substance and feels right for us. We are working on our first EP and it should be out pretty soon.

LEE – We actually had more songs that were ready to go, but very much like the first tune we want to make sure the video has its own characteristics as well. We are also doing a lot of road testing to see how people respond, which is very important. So far it has been awesome and it’s nice to feel how things are coming together.

WHAT DO YOU THINK AN ARTIST SHOULD ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND?

AMI – Be true to your art and what you want to do because as a human being your instincts are usually always right when it comes to art. You have to be true about your art because you will not be happy with the end result if you are not sticking to where your feelings reside.

LEE – Also, just don’t be an arse! Skills, practice, style, moments of artistic enlightenment, that’s all important, but being nice, well that’s everything! This is why Peter Andre is famous I guess, right? Ok, seriously, the point is: be cool!

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?

LEE – I have an appetite for destruction!

AMI – My hunger lies in just trying to always live my life at its fullest potential.

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Catch Them & Us LIVE at The Underbelly of Hoxton Square, London. August 10, 2013

Official Websitewww.themandusofficial.com

Soundcloudhttps://soundcloud.com/themandusofficial

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Phlo Finister / A Conversation with the Poster Girl / The GROUND Mag

Read it on The GROUND Magazine

It is yet another rainy summer day in London when I head inside of the Soho House to meet with Phlo Finister and the moment I see her, sitting in a corner waiting for me, I suddenly feel like Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris”. As she walks through the crowd in search of a quiet spot, I feel like time is running backwards.

I knew this young Californian artist, who is set to release her very first EP “Poster Girl” this month, found a strong connection with the Youthquaker movement of the 60′s and “Mod” sensibility but as I follow her, dressed in a Felder Felder black beaded mini dress and Prada shoes, the noise around me disappears and what I hear is modern jazz, British R&B, and The Who. Phlo Finister instantly walked me through the day and age she embodies in her style and music, and I’m about to find out why she deserves to be a Poster Girl just like Twiggy, Penelope Tree, and Edie Sedwick.

© EP Album, ‘Poster Girl’, Phlo Finister,

Born in Oakland to half Portuguese and Irish parents, Phlo strikes me with her sparkling smile and though she only has a hint of Egyptian blood, when you look into her eyes you immediately feel the Cleopatra glamour.

“There is a lot of history in my blood, just like in my tattoos”, the way she laughs is real, funny, and young but from singing in a church choir to being a singer, Phlo’s ride towards the definition of “self-made American” was not an easy one. Her debut EP is inspired by her spiritual mother Diana Vreeland, the iconic and groundbreaking Vogue Editor of the 60′s, who first coined the term “Youthquaker” to convey this cultural movement where teenagers dictated the fashion and music scene. This is why on the cover of the EP there is the date 07.16.65 but Phlo wants to embody the Poster Girl combining simplistic, progressive, industrial beats with a new R&B wave.

“TLC and Destiny’s Child had a big influence on me but in my music you can hear it only in the melodies as the production is totally different. I think more of Portishead and industrial beats. I work on production as well, I am so hands on and I literally stay for hours drowned into different sounds until I find the right one. I have to be a bit freak about it otherwise I don’t feel like it is mine”.

She has already been compared to Lana Del Rey but instead of merely singing about dangerous liaisons, Phlo is more explicit in portraying a bad girl. In “Coca Cola Classic” she sensually sings about money, abuse, and Jack Daniel’s shots while in “Hotel Miami” she says, “Baby I should be your call girl / meet me at the top floor room 2012.”

“It was 2012, I was in London and I used to watch “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” the one starring Billie Piper. I watched it for hours, I loved the British style and feel to it but I was in Miami when I recorded it so I got influenced by that as well. As an artist you can get hooked up by anything and create it according to your vision. The song is just a story for me, being a call girl and making money got me thinking about being alone and trying to make my way into the business.” As we cheers to that with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc I ask if her music is a way to rebel to her past where she was banned from listening to hip-hop and R&B. “Definitely, my ethereal side is to be found in my childhood when I was singing in church and training as a ballerina but regarding my dark side, well… I get really dark, I need it and this is why I tell stories.”

Coming from California, the tale of Phlo has a chapter called Hollywood, full of extravaganza, excess, but also broken dreams that helped her staying focused on her career. “Can you imagine growing up there? It is unreal, seriously! People come from all over the world with a dream that fails to become true and you see them walking up and down Hollywood. I was privileged because I grew up in California and I saw every part of it, from Beverly Hills’ lifestyle to the poorest places. This made me more cultured in a way but when I traveled to London I realized how much culture and art history there is in Europe. We don’t have that in America and you see it, everything is so new but growing up I was really able to see through everything and understand certain things.” The most important of course was not to be seduced by the alluring lights of the city and remind herself, “Don’t get caught up because you saw it and you can really end up that bad!”

It is clear to me by now that Phlo is everything but naive and when asked about her decision to become a singer she surprises me once again,”I had a master plan all along! I did all these things in preparation so that when I was going to be 18 I knew I was going to be Phlo, an entertainer.” Her mother left her when she was 15 and growing up without parents only pushed her to survive and create. Instead of wasting time she knew she was on her own and determination never failed her, “I worked as a stylist for a while and when the time to make my own decisions finally came, I wanted to put everything I was putting into styling other artists into myself. I knew I had more talent so I did it and the rest is history!”, she jokes humbly but with a deserved hint of satisfaction.

The next step in the making of Phlo was her admiration, or obsession, for Diana Vreeland but how can a modern girl be so nostalgic? “I am because we don’t have these sort of cultural movements anymore, picking up a Vogue back then was so relevant, right now everything is so accessible. I loved what Diana did with the magazine, she was aware of the influence Youthquakers had and this movement of fashion and music was amazing.” She tells me about Penelope Tree and Edie Sedwick but when I ask her about any inspiring women at the moment she sadly gets silent, “Today?! No one I am sorry. I like Fiona Apple, she is amazing and ultimately I admire everyone who is really dying for their art.” In this cultural crisis at least fashion is still giving some hope, “I am obsessed with Miu Miu and everything Italian like Dolce&Gabbana and Prada. They always hit the spot and it’s amazing how they can be so classic and edgy at the same time, just like my music.”

Phlo Finister – Hotel Miami (Official Video)

“America’s Most Wanted” opens her EP and Phlo sounds like the girl of a mafia gangster who is on the run. We follow her along the dangerous and seductive melodies but isn’t she scared at all about being a woman in this business? “I try to have that voice that won’t be compromised by labels and budgets. I’m not at that point yet but when it is going to happen, it will at my terms. A lot of people compromise for success but to me success is not fame. I want to be iconic, I want to be remembered and do something good.” Phlo does not seem to take things for granted and she is also aware of the impact she may have in the future on her fans but most importantly on her brother, “I also think about my family and I do it for him, I don’t want to be commercialized, I want to be the girl that makes you see reality for what it is. Certain people dismiss the responsibility of being a role model but you just can’t when you have millions of people who look up to and analyze you. You have to be a positive influence when you have that power and think about the next generation.”

“Last Winter” is her most romantic track since she often speaks from a male perspective, saying things that women won’t usually say. “And that’s power! I don’t like labeling people, especially women but let’s say I am a masculine woman, it is the best way to put it.” Behind her strong façade, it is not a weakness that the song is about love, “Love has always something to do with this, I am not gonna lie. Love is the root of everything, thank you for pulling that out of me!” and since there’s no more inhibition I ask her if she’s in love. “I’ve been in love for the past six years but I just wrote about it. Let’s say it was a silent thing.” After laughing on this she continues, “Music helps me to survive but what makes me really happy is having a normal life and people who I truly care for. This is the best thing and being in love makes me happy.”

© Phlo Finister live in London

“Music played, and people sang / Just for me, the church bells rang” is a line from Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang, Bang” that Phlo covers to open her intimate set at the Soho House few days after our interview. She is excited about her upcoming gigs at London’s Wireless Festival, Germany’s Melt, and shooting the video for “Coca Cola Classic”, “I think you guys deserve a video, it is about time! I will work on that.” On that rainy day, as I was leaving the venue, I was back in 2013 from the 60′s. The rain had stopped and despite an extremely fun conversation, I hadn’t quite figured Phlo out, just like the unpredictable weather. It took me a second though to realize that she fulfilled her intention all along. “When people think they had me figured out, I am already working on the next thing and… you’ll never figure me out.”

Phlo Finister releases her debut EP “Poster Girl” on July 29

Night Beach www.nightbeachrecords.com

Phoenix / Bankrupt! / Review

Read it on Chasseur Magazine Issue 5 / page 6

Phoenix-Bankrupt

 

It took four years to Phoenix to release the follow up to their incredibly successful “Wolfang Amadeus Phoenix” and this comes as a surprise since from the very first time you listen to “Bankrupt!” it sounds effortlessly fun. A feel good album that could have easily come out of a jamming session, but these French guys are perfectionist as vocalist Thomas Mars stated, and their new work is a wonderful reinvention of the 80’s, full of synths and unafraid to experiment with electronica.

 

As the title of the opening track and single suggests, “Entertainment”, we are in for a psychedelic and releasing album that makes you want to move along the shimmering guitar and  mind-boggling synths. It gets better and better thanks to a very specific style that grows and acquire a distinctive and colorful attitude up to the second 360 uptempo single “Trying To Be Cool”. Mildly emotional but never dramatic the album becomes more organic when title-track “Bankrupt!” kicks in; a six minutes journey with an intriguing minimal intro that adds texture and depth to this work.

 

“Drakkar Noir” feels slightly Daft Punk-ish but by now Phoenix’s album is a creature with its own personality, “Chloroform” sounds young, fresh, and contemporary while “Bourgeois” may just be the most passionate one. It creates a universal atmosphere, bold like a revolutionary generation that just wants to be understood. Closer “Oblique City” somehow feels a bit out of space but it is integral to this album that finishes in style.