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An interview with RÁJ

An interview with Raj

In September 2013, Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 debuted a track entitled ‘Ghost’, performed by LA-based singer-songwriter, RÁJ; in April 2014, the artist followed up with the song ‘Let Me Love You’. Both tracks are notable for their stark lyrical honesty, otherworldly atmosphere, and combination of traditional folk aesthetics with various degrees of brooding distortion. The artist has previously been lips-sealed on personal details of his life, background, and music, choosing instead to deliver somewhat-cryptic Twitter messages. That is, until now…

 There has been a scant amount of background information available on you. As such, would you be willing to provide some of the most elementary of these details? Perhaps your name, birthplace, or birth date?

Of course, my name is Raj, I was born in Westlake village, California, on July 22, 1993.

 To what extent has the hiding of your personal details been deliberate? Why might this be the case?

It hasn’t been important at all for me and the initial campaign. When I put out my first song “ghost” we released my name, my location, and a photo of myself. I’m fairly open actually, and pretty much willing to answer anything. My twitter is @rajnoise, ask away.

How important has social media and online distribution (including uploading and streaming services) been to the establishment of your own ‘identity’? 

I think that in today’s entertainment world, it is the only way for artists to stay relevant. Social media is SUCH a beautiful thing. I can let the world know everything I want you guys to know, when I want you to know it, and it’s coming right from my mouth. We “the entertainers” are controlling the information that is given out about us. Before social media existed we were being spoken for by companies and brands, like TMZ, who go out of there way to manipulate a situation for their benefit, regardless of what is the truth.

How did you become a musician?

I always knew I could sing. I would be sitting in the back of my car with my mom when I was little and would sing along to what was playing and I always remember her looking back smiling at what was coming out of my mouth. She’s an incredible singer, so I think I got a little bit of her gift.

Are there any non-musical influences that have had an impact on your attitude to being a musician?

Yes. Anyone, in any field, who is considered “the best”. Woody Allen is first who comes to mind. I don’t know a TON about Woody, and I haven’t seen all of his films, but what I do know is Woody sticks to his guns. He has such a distinct taste and style, and it wins. Seeing someone “win” time and time again by doing exactly what they want is so inspiring. And Woody is SO himself. It’s really amazing. Also Johnny Depp. He definitely isn’t the most well rounded actor, but what an amazing guy. Every role he takes, he makes his own. Everything he does is just an extension of Johnny Depp. That’s how I want to be. I want to go play and sing on old blues songs, and you guys can hear ME. I want go feature on Kanye West hooks and I want you to still hear ME. I want everything I do to just be an extension of the core of RÁJ.

How would you describe your sound? What other music was perhaps an influence on you, and would you be able to provide any comparable artists for those who may be unfamiliar with your work?

I’m still finding that out. It’s becoming much clearer to me these days. The only thing I can say I strive for is to be tasteful. It’s such a vague word but I think if you understand it, you know exactly what the word means. I’m really inspired by darker sounding music generally. Oasis is my exception there, but they even have their dark moments (“Wonderwall”, “Talk Tonight”, “Morning Glory”). Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Sidney Betchet, Jeff Buckley and Burial are my go to influences. They’re all such amazing artists.

Your music is quite open-hearted and introspective, and implements interesting usages of more typical folk instrumentation with heavy effects of distortion and reverberation. What is your approach to songwriting? What guides you in this process?

I don’t know anymore. There isn’t really a process these days, I just let it happen. In the past, I would generally start on guitar, write a melody, throw a couple words together, and then take it to the studio.

I had previously described your two tracks with some of the following terms: dark; minimalistic; brooding; ethereal; and melancholic. Yet, I had still referred to them as ‘pop’ tracks, atypical as they may sound for such a designation. Where might you stand in your approach to ‘pop’ music? Would you see yourself as a pop artist?

Yes, 100%. It is my goal, and I’ve just came to this idea recently, to be a pop artist. Not in the sense of production, but in the sense of being popular. I’m not saying I’m going to compromise my vision for what I think will do well, that’s the opposite of what I’m saying really. I’m here to take my abilities and write music for the entire world. For everyone’s home. I’m interested in writing songs your mother will love, and your super hip elitist brother or sister loved 6 months before you found it (classic art elitist). I want to make art that I like and in return the world likes. That’s my goal.

The video for ‘Let Me Love You’ contains some heavy symbolism of spirituality and religion. How central are these concepts to your songwriting? (And, perhaps by extension, your life?)

Songwriting? Not so much. I haven’t gone there yet. But in my life, heavily. “GOD” is an English word, and the concept seems Western to me. But the concept of “GOD” is rather worldly, or at least it should be. I believe there is a higher power that created all man. I believe Buddha, God, and Allah are all the same person (I know I’m missing a few). But it’s really been butchered. I don’t go to a specific church, and I don’t practice a specific religion. But I believe and respect in a higher power.

What was the impetus for having the video for ‘Ghost’ be one of a cinematic breed? Would you see it as being any less ‘personal’ than that made for LMLY (which is composed entirely of amateur footage of RÁJ walking around various areas of France)?

It was just fitting. I don’t know if it was so thought out to not have me in it. It just felt right though. In hindsight,  maybe it’s less personal to the viewer (me not being in it), but it’s still a moving video. I don’t think it lacks passion at all.

What can we expect from you in the near future? A full EP or LP release? A continuation of your current touring? 

I’m just writing right now. It’ll all come out eventually, I’m not sure if it will be an EP or LP, but I’m working hard at making it the best it can be. That’s my main focus. What comes after it, I have no clue.

And, finally… Have you caught World Cup fever?

YES! Love the World Cup. I don’t pay attention SUPER closely, but I have seen majority  of  the games. Predicting  Netherlands win.

RÁJ has most recently performed as part of KCRW’s Chinatown Summer Nights series on Saturday, June 14, in Los Angeles. 

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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Piano Piano – When I Was Not in Myself, No One Alarmed Me (Album Review)

Seattle's Piano Piano

Any form of experimental rock music (henceforth referred to by its ‘post-rock’ designation) comes with the status of being a double-edged sword. Its proclivity for densely layered instrumentation, erratic time signatures, complex rhythms, and extended song lengths can often encapsulate the discordant and fascinating lengths to which rock music can be molded and tinkered with. On the other hand, it can often result in amateur bands who use these very elements to mask a lack of understanding and the technical proficiency which bold post-rock necessitates. In other words, the best post-rock bands dazzle through their knowledge and execution of how to subvert typical rock tropes, pushing the envelope in regard to what these instruments were ‘originally’ intended for; meanwhile, the worst merely throw together a shitload of guitar pedal effects and call themselves a ‘post-rock group’.

Seattle newbies Piano Piano state their goals as clearly as possible: “The music explores a wide range of textures, emotions, sounds, and rhythmic motifs meant to provide the listener with a fully immersive listening experience that is rich with depth.” With this knowledge in mind, assessing the aims of their debut album, When I Was Not in Myself, No One Alarmed Me, becomes considerably more straightforward: How closely are these goals met?

Unfortunately, they aren’t. Despite the album’s clean production (save for some odd sound bridges between a number of tracks), the group’s instrumental abilities, and the occasional attempt to experiment with the basic tenets of rock music, it simply is not memorable or remarkable in any way.

One of the album’s primary issues is that it really isn’t all that experimental or ambient, with numerous songs actually being fairly straightforward in structure and sound. ‘Vivid Dream Ripped Out by the Hand of Nothingness’, while replete with a very cryptic, post-rock-esque title and spurts of guitar distortion, is a song functioning rather neatly within traditional rock structure, only without lyrics. ‘Talisman’ falls more into a grunge sound reminiscent of Soundgarden, and although the track attempts to come into its own through erratic (yet technically dexterous) drum patterns and a slew of guitar pedal effects, it still suffers from the problem of simply being too vanilla.

Part of the album’s shortcomings (and, by extension, failure to be truly ‘experimental’) also lies within the tracks’ relatively short length. While this may seem like a trivial matter, it can actually impact the underlying mechanics of post-rock to a greater degree than one might think. Have you ever wondered why a large portion of post-rock groups make their average track lengths somewhere between 7-9 minutes, often reaching well into the double digits? Bands like This Will Destroy You and Explosions In The Sky operate outside of popular music’s reliance on lyrics, which makes a narrative harder
to convey.

In concluding the ultimate reason why Piano Piano’s debut doesn’t work quite so well, it may simply be a result of them holding back too much. They are unsure about creating a purely instrumental album, thus falling back on awkwardly placed vocals where they are unneeded (‘Corah’, ‘Clouds of Milk and Bone’). Instead of pushing the limits with reverb, flanger, phaser, delay, and other such guitar effects, they fall back on sporadic bouts of acoustic guitar and piano in an effort to differentiate each track. Finally, instead of attempting to dismantle the underlying mechanics of rock music, they fall back on more standard verse/chorus song structures.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the album’s standout track is the fantastic closer, ‘Harmonics’, which evokes the feedback-heavy slam sessions of Sonic Youth by way of its hard, aggressive, and loud nature. The group takes a chance and it undoubtedly pays off. Such a song reveals the group’s solid potential. They just need aim for a brasher approach in the future. Guitar-driven post-rock like this should have a method to the madness; here, there’s simply too much method.


Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
Mogwai – Young Team (1997)
This Will Destroy You – Young Mountain (2006)

-Tim Nicodemo
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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Sons of Revelry – Born With a Bigga Goal (EP Review)

Brampton's Sons Of Revelry

Brantford’s Sons of Revelry have stormed their way onto the Canadian music scene with their debut EP Born With a Bigga Goal. A refreshing revitalization of the modern blues-rock scene, the EP brings together soulful vocals and upbeat rhythms reminiscent of the best music of the late 1960’s.

The title track “Born With a Bigga Goal” embodies Rock n’ Roll’s “stick it to the man” attitude:  a tribute to everyone who has ever been told by someone that they aren’t good enough. With powerful guitar riffs and vocals, the song sounds similar to early Kings of Leon (in the best way possible):

Sons of Revelry also aren’t afraid to switch up the timing of their songs, which creates interesting rhythms that keeps the listener engaged. This allows the band to rise above the standard, formulaic sound of power chords and basic timing that dilutes much of modern rock music.

The result is addicting.

“Whiskey” has an awesome bluesy tone that shows the band’s roots and lives up to its name. The song also displays the driving chemistry within the band’s rhythm section, showcasing talent on drums, bass, and rhythm guitar as they weave together amid the vocals.

The highlight of the EP is “Time”, which seems the best representation of the soulful lyrics and vocals singer Toby Black are capable of. The song symbolizes everything that Sons Of Revelry appear to be aiming to create through their music:  passion, sweat, love, and freedom. It’s one of our favourite songs of the year:

While only being three songs, Born With A Bigga Goal packs in enough raw energy, musical talent, and partying to feel like a full-length album. If their debut EP is any indication of what’s to come, Sons of Revelry could very well become one of the next big Canadian bands. Keep an eye out for their upcoming tour announcement, it should be one hell of a party.

-Micheal Vipond
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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HIGHS (EP Review and Show Preview)

Toronto's HIGHS

Toronto-based HIGHS released their self-titled debut EP earlier this year. Combining the best qualities of indie and pop, HIGHS creates a sound of hopeful nostalgia. Utilizing exceptional harmonies, the EP vibrates with excitement. The combination of vocalists Karrie Douglas, Joel Harrower, and Doug Haynes is utterly intoxicating. Besides the vocals, the sparkling guitar rhythms throughout provide depth and are supported by solid drum and bass sections, most noticeably heard on song “Harvest.”

“Summer Dress” is another highlight, with its vivacious opening guitar riff blending smoothly into a strong male/female vocal melody that carries throughout the song. The optimistic and romantic repetition of “if we meet again/ I hope you wear that dress / that you wore back then” make it hard for listeners to not have a smile on their face.

The band’s first single “Nomads” showcases more harmonies, a spirited drum rhythm and a buoyant guitar riff. The video, showcasing Northern Ontario, is one that is a beautiful reminder of visits to camps in Northern Ontario during my youth:

It’s clear that HIGHS chose their name carefully as the rush one feels after listening to this debut is one I’m still coming down from. The energy evident on the EP is one that needs to be experienced live. Check them out on Friday October 11th with Fast Romantics and The Bynars at The Garrison.

-Micheal Vipond
Katuwapitiya.com Contributor

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An interview with Caveman

New York's Caveman

Caveman‘s dreamy self-titled sophmore album warms with its atmospheric synthesizers and rich harmonies. Nowhere is that more apparent than on stand-out track “In The City” which quickly has become my favourite song of the summer.

Based out of New York, the band has a sound that will hopefully take them far. Though their strengths do often shine through, it is a lack of variety that holds back this most-recent album back from reaching that next level. With that said, there is a lot to love. Here’s our conversation with with lead-vocalist Matthew Iwanusa:

You played a show in Toronto last month! How’d it go? Any highlights?
Toronto’s great! I ate some amazing sushi. But I think the highlight was our good dude Mikey Jones playing with Snowden. They got added to the show so we got to see him. It was great!

I was surprised to see Julia Stiles in your slick video for “In The City”. How’d that come into being?
I met her through some friends. She likes the band and we thought it would be the perfect fit. I’m really happy she did it. It turned out great!

I saw you play at SXSW 2012. Since then, I feel your sound has broadened to an almost anthemic level, what’s precipitated that change?
That was a fun show. I remember my monitor was completely blown out so I could barely hear anything. We’ve played a lot since then. A lot of it has to do with the way we react to each other. Everyone gets excited about what each other plays. We care about a big sound.

What’s the inspiration behind the name Caveman?
They paved the way.

How have you felt like your past experiences in other bands have helped/hindered your progress as a unit?
Our other bands had a real drive just like this one. I think they helped us understand ourselves as musicians. We were all in bands that were at different levels so everyone brings something different to the table.

It’s hard to stand out in a scene like New York’s, how have you been able to overcome that?
Not really worry about it. There’s a lot of great music and musicians in NY. If you accept it, it works to your advantage. No reason to get down about it or over think it.

What are albums that you guys currently have on rotation while on tour?
Well we probably listen to the Stone Roses at least once a day. I’ve been listening to this Jacco Gardner record a lot and I love the DIIV record. Throw some Tears For Fears in there and you’re at the next city.

Freestyling is an important form of expression in hip hop. If you had to freestyle four lines about your new album, what would you say?
Listen to my shit.
It’s what you want to hear.
Then come hang after.
Help us load out the gear.

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