When Oakland artist Michael Sneed returned home in 2017 from graduating college in Washington DC, he didnʻt feel all that celebratory.
Trying to sort out the next step, student loans clapping back harder than Twitter trolls, he began working as a Starbucks clerk in a Safeway. After completing his course of study, graduating, then being saddled with the financial burden of that achievement, amid pressure from family to find a “good” job made him disappointed with where he was in life. Maneuvering through that transition period was NOT a course offered in college. He hit a wall of post-collegiate depression. Itʻs a real thing. The average graduate can face a debt load of $38,000 and a competitive job market full of underpaid and non-steady work. So when a student leaves the university bubble, itʻs a cold fate without signposts, and plenty of feelings of isolation.
New grads put high expectations on themselves and when those projections do not become reality, itʻs tricky to process. Sneed relied on creative expression to deflect the smell of stale coffee and those yips. Keeping a knee-level profile for a year straight, he and his friends put in that work and made a mix tape. Wax Roof, a Bay Area producer, oversaw and housed the sessions. Days We Lost (Text Me Records) is the result of these articulated words and ideas.
The 10-song 30 min-hang is an intense, fun, and quirky introspective work that ponders ideas of what exactly success is, traits a boy can escort into manhood, and choosing the right path. Which generally is not on life’s syllabus. SneedEmceeʻs songs, filled to the brim with inner meter punch lines and similes, conveying a fertile mind, playful nature and wise-acre charm. Making time fly. His ability to come off as this endless flow of precocious energy, a free-wheeling nerd who can still give that Town smoke when motivated, remains the ticket worth admission… You wanna hear those “Lake Merrit” stories told only by him. Fact or fiction is not important. Sneed is holding court, serving fools when needed. Everybody wants to stick around for those sick burns.
Moving at a scattershot speed, this 20-something artist, who fiends equally off of hip-hop, jazz, soul, gospel, funk, folk, and Broadway musicals, found himself again. Tapping into that pool of creativity. His rambunctious 17-year-old self, who went away to college and made a name for himself as an artist in the open mic circuit, through warehouse performances and local venues and festival stages, woke up.
“Hop-Scotch” a stop and stutter track, coined as his own “Hakuna Matata” is a personal “venting off” mechanism, to a world poking at his spot in life. Running back in the day tales and things learned from his childhood gives perspective as he navigates the in-between, approaching maturity. Itʻs by no mistake at times the song worms in and out of nursery rhyme timbre, and Sneedsʻ vocals push back and forth against the beat, assembling this vision, eventually, of him surpassing the structure that at one time constricted his voice.
On the inspirational “Reinvent”, which features O. Slice and Rebecca Nobel, notions of broadening oneʻs horizons keep up the narrative.”You can reinvent yourself if you want to/Trees keep growing/World keeps turning” find Sneed’s sage chorus adorned over a melodic, graceful tempo, with drizzling horns and churchly organ providing a backbone. Signifying direction.
E da Boss, one half of Myron and E, aka Eric Boss, and Daniel Meisenheimer aka Trailer Limon, are the root basis, writing, and arrangers of The Pendletons: a boogie-funk, modern soul outfit created in San Francisco. Their deliberately pitched down 7-inch “Waiting On You” from 2010—a chopped and screwed intro from the 1980 disco hit “The Glow of Love” by Change, using a stretch that doesnʻt involve the iconic vocals of Luther Vandross—made a slow-mo groove that pleased dancefloors amidst the nascent stage of the 21st-century funk revival. (A movement instigated by the electronic music producer Dâm-Funk in the late 2000s.) The track famously stayed in rotation at the 80s boogie/ DJ night, Funkmosphere in LA and itʻs Bay Area off-shoot, Sweater Funk.
Those early days of the San Francisco party took place in the rustic, barely lit, austere basement of Li-Po Lounge in Chinatown. That mildewy, cement cellar, with its rambling acoustics, took an ingenious production idea and allowed the sound to double up in the space, propelling the throwback tomorrow jam into cult status. Since the theme of the party celebrated Disco and all the adjacent sub-genres, “The Glow of Love” got adoringly played. Add to the fact, well it’s Luther Vandross. Come on now, Son. The production value purposely sounds like the best Chic record never made.
Boss and Limon’s re-invention though, exploited a half-time tempo reduction, allowing this gallant disco emotion to get kaleidoscopic and trippy. It’s a moment that crystalized a theory that became reality by the late composer John Cage “in the future records will be made from records.” That creativity, a gentle suggestion to “catch up”, yanked at the ear of a new hip-hop generation, sending heads running…. to get their fingers into and out of various dollar vinyl bins for unremembered disco, boogie, regional funk, and abstract soul titles. The iconic and woozy 7-inch nowadays goes for a grip of cash when it resurfaces on Discogs.
Point is, even at their start, The Pendletons had freedom with their sound, a collective inventiveness with their Funk.
2 Steps Away, a nine-song muse on the scars, bumps, and bruises of life, the pursuit of mature love, and hopes of spiritual blessings for the world, coming out Fri/11 on Bastard Jazz, has ripened the group’s sound to a broader color palette.
As the Professor of Funk, George Clinton told me in a phone interview many years ago “Funk is the blues sped up, it’s anything it needs to be to save my life.” Boss and Limon have a millennial Hall and Oates type shorthand co-writing glueyness, their lyrics document the yin and yang, good and unfortunate, push/pull quest for deep affection. Blunt takes on the intricacies of relationships, shot through the patina of a classic soul boogie sound. With assistance this time around from guitarist Carl Locket of Shalamar and Rick James fame along with Star Creature recording artist Elive, it makes the arrangements lived in. Not studied.
This is the destination they’ve reached for. And that is no slight on the groupsʻ various EPs and releases over the past nine years. Shit. Gilles Peterson, the international DJ, tastemaker and label head released their 2016 track “Gotta Get Out” on his Brownswood Bubblers’ compilation. So that quality control hasn’t wavered. But THIS band flips and runs the gamut of funk adjacent moves without pause. It’s the musical co-efficient to their words: arrangements that come off addictively sweet, even when the subject is not.
“Blessing for the World” the lead track, emote the weight of existing in a challenging world, fulfilling your duty as a human. Boss carries that depth earnestly in his vocals over a slinky organ, distilling this hymn of passing love to others, independent of whether you feel able. “Life to Me,” is a reflective groove that vibes on the good change, peace of mind that enters your life once you can believe in that right person, and not just yourself. Limon, vocally, is the silent ninja or Klay Thompson of the group. A quiet dude, until he’s not. Expressing the heartfelt lyrics with clarity: “And now my world is shaken/ I canʻt believe/ and now it’s family making/ love and peace” while keyboards swirl, bass notes get to plucking and thumping and atmospherics billow. It’s a mood.
“Running Away”, vocally helmed by Boss, uses a lockstep alliance between keyboard synths and one-note in front of the other bass line encroachment-Soul Train ’80s glitter is the color, while squishy keyboard inflections throw stank face in the wind. It’s a bonny and measured stepper, expanding their head-nod soul legacy. Boss, watching love run out the door, tries to put a smile on his vocal delivery, making you root for the less than optimistic sitch. These two songs, which run back to back, are the best of the lot. By miles.
It’s a Thursday night at The Uptown in Oakland, and people are filtering in for the opening set. Six black women take the stage, and the crowd goes from zero to enraptured—pulled by sheer magnetism towards the stage—in about 60 seconds. A man in front of me shouts to his friend, “See, this is why I always come for the opener!”
I appreciate the sentiment, but I want him to know: The Onyx is not just some opener. You’re watching a super-group of Bay Area musicians who went from playing jam sessions to opening for T-Pain at the Black Joy Parade in just over a year.
The Onyx put out their first, self-titled EP last month, so they won’t fly under the radar for long. The EP packs a lot of the band’s riches into just three songs—including single “Black Girl Magic”—each written and performed by one of its three lead singers: Dan’Nelle Emerson, Yunoka Berry, and Maya Vilaplana. Richelle Scales on keys, Rhonda Kinard on bass, and Genesis Valentine on drums round out the group. You can catch them and their new music this Saturday at the 12th annual Life is Living Festival at Bobby Hutton Park in Oakland.
In Rhonda’s words, “We’re just spiraling up, up, up when we’re playing together.” The same might be said of the way they talk. Their two-hour interview ranged from laughter to tears as they described the chance encounters that brought them together, the freedom they’ve found, and their mission to share it with the next generation of young black women.
48 HILLS I heard that you all came together for the first time by chance at a jam session at The Starry Plough. What brought you all there that night?
RICHELLE SCALES (KEYBOARDIST) We had a friend that was moving to Louisiana, and she played bass, and she wanted to have an all women’s musician jam at The Starry Plough.
DAN’NELLE EMERSON (VOCALIST) We had already been playing together, a few of us, in different capacities, but it was making it official. I reached out to Yunoka, ’cause me and Yunoka had already been in conversation about singing together. And then, that night, we killed it. Once all those pictures and videos hit Facebook, it was like: this is what we’ve been talking about. Why not do this right now?
RICHELLE We were getting booked off of just that night! So we needed a bass player.
RHONDA KINARD (BASSIST) And that’s how I found out about the group. I’m like, “What are all these videos? And their bass player is leaving?” And it was all black women on stage, except for the bass player. So I literally reached out Dan’Nelle and asked if I could be in the band. Like, “I can come and audition, whatever you need. I can do this. I want to do this. Please let me do this.“
48 HILLS At that point, you already had two powerhouse lead singers with Dan’Nelle and Yunoka. Why did you decide you wanted a third?
DAN’NELLE It was a jam night the day after Thanksgiving: kind of a house band, but rotating singers. And we had never sang with Maya [Vilaplana], but she said she had a song, and we just backed her up, so naturally. We just found the pockets and got in them. That was like magic that day.
48 HILLS How do you tell the difference between a fun jam session and the kind of spark that means you need to form a band and really make a go of it?
DAN’NELLE I think we all realized how important our presence was in our community, in the music community—in every community that we all are part of.
RHONDA And contextually, you’re talking about the first year of the presidency that we’re currently in. We are all very good at what we do, and it’s revolutionary to own that, as women. It was incredible to be making that kind of statement just by showing up together and doing what we do, so well, in that political atmosphere.
YUNOKA BERRY (VOCALIST) Then our first real show was [at] Bar Fluxus.
RHONDA That’s where we got that magical reaction to “Black Girl Magic”. You had all the finance bros who were coming there after work and they’re singing, “No shade! No shade!” at the end of that song. They loved it. So, I’m like, “Okay, so if this isn’t actually our target demographic, and they are reacting this way, there’s something here.”
48 HILLS The lyrics of “Black Girl Magic” are all about affirming yourself, and then at the end, it flips, and you start repeating the words “No shade!” over and over. The first time I heard that, I thought, “Oh God, how awful.” To be singing about how amazing you are as a black woman, and then have to do the work of clarifying for a white audience: “But not to take anything away from you.”
YUNOKA I’m glad you caught that. That’s intentional. I’ve worked in a lot of spaces that were predominately white. And I think as I got older, I stopped code-switching and just started being exactly who I am. I can love myself and be black and proud, but that doesn’t take away from you or your beauty.
48 HILLS What does being in an all-black-female band mean for each of you?
RHONDA For me, it’s been amazing to exist in this space as fully who I am, without having to tamp down anything. It’s amazing for me to just to be in a room, regularly, with all black women. That’s something I haven’t experienced since I was sitting in my grandma’s kitchen getting my hair pressed as a kid.
YUNOKA I don’t think you should ever hide who you are, or where you come from. Like, if you from the ‘hood, you from the ‘hood—but we exist in other socio-economic spectrums as well. And I think this group brings that. I think it has helped us to relate and learn things about each other and learn what it means for blackness.
RICHELLE I moved here from Atlanta. I didn’t know anybody. I experienced this timeframe of loneliness, isolation. And so Onyx really brought a family for me here. Especially us as black women, we all have our own little introvert vibes. We’re a little weird, little nerdy, little geeky in our own little ways, but we’re allowed to express that.
DAN’NELLE: It was just a passion to have a band of all black women so people can see that we exist, we get along, even though we’re so different.
When I think of us, I imagine action figures or dolls. And imagine a little black girl gets to pick and choose which one of these six dolls does she want to get? We’re not like some of the older R&B groups where all of them kind of looked alike. It was like: “Everyone needs to be this kind of pretty, or very feminine.”
YUNOKA Or they gotta be all one skin tone.
GENESIS VALENITINE (DRUMMER) I saw this quote: “Be the person that you needed when you were younger.” Growing up, all I saw was Brandy—Brandy was my idol. I remember seeing Raven Simone in a movie, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, the black girl! That’s me!” And sometimes I feel like I wasn’t really represented.
DAN’NELLE I don’t think everyone understands how important it is for that little black girl to be like, “The black one. That’s me!” I remember bein’ that little girl. And [with] this band, they don’t have to say that because you can be all of us.
48 HILLS Going back to this image of you as a group of action figures, what does each one of you bring to the band—what’s your superpower?
RHONDA I think Richelle brings that Southern charm. Even when things get kind of heated, Richelle pipes up, and it’s like salve on a burn.
RICHELLE I’m also the oldest member of the group. So I’m just like, “You know, is it life or limb?” If it’s not, we can work it out.
RHONDA What are your musical influences, Richelle, just out of curiosity?
RICHELLE I love classical music. Beethoven is one of my favorites, obviously: heavy bassline. And just to segue into that: Rhonda, you’re a perfectionist—
YUNOKA Damn, bassline is just sick! It don’t make no sense, sometimes!
RHONDA I don’t solo—I improvise on the groove. That’s my thing. Gospel is a huge influence of mine, and anything Motown: James Jamerson, the bassist—unsung hero of so many Motown hits—is just my favorite musician of all time.
DAN’NELLE And then, when we all get a little scatterbrained, Rhonda’s the one who’s like—
YUNOKA “Guys, what are we doing? Because I need us to focus.” [Laughter]
RICHELLE I mean, your dedication. Your heart is so pure in this thing, and that makes you vulnerable, but that vulnerability really opens up the level of creativity that you bring.
YUNOKA I moved here from Chicago, and especially for me, coming from a hustle and bustle kind of place, meeting somebody that had the same drive and goals and dreams that I had—it’s just been a crazy ride.
DAN’NELLE As far as music-wise: like Rhonda, Motown was a big thing for me. Chaka Khan—and that really got me into a funk also. Also that R&B soul. And then energy on stage.
But I just love visuals, and in the day and age we’re in right now, it’s about more than just the music. If we could say anything to someone coming behind us, it’s like: take your music seriously from the jump, invest in yourself, and start your marketing early. Don’t wait until someone asks you for a picture. Have it ready to go.
RICHELLE Let’s just start with “Black Girl Magic”. That’s the one you brought to Onyx, and it became the Onyx theme song.
DAN’NELLE She’s just always writing—basically a true musician. When it’s like, “It’s time for us to write,” she has a song in her pocket already.
YUNOKA I mean, I got this new one if y’all want me to sing it….
RHONDA And she’s a wild woman onstage. I’ve never seen somebody be so fully themselves onstage the way Yunoka is.
YUNOKA I think a lot of that fiery energy comes from Millie Jackson. She was a bad girl, in her day! And I was really influenced by rock music. I’m a classically trained singer, and my degree is in music business. I’m really big on contracts and figuring out where our money goes.
RICHELLE Genesis, auditioned—we needed to find a drummer, right away. We had a recording date.
DAN’NELLE A friend of mine had a video, and I don’t even know how she found you, but she sent it to me and said, “This is gonna be your new drummer.” And when you play, everything from your little stick twirls—
RICHELLE The showmanship on stage!
RHONDA It was really hard before to be the only dorky person in the band. [Laughter] I feel a nerd kinship with you on a slightly different level than the rest of the band—as we should, as the drum and bass.
GENESIS As far as my influences, I grew up in church. My mom was a choir director, so she was like, “Okay, Genesis, you want to sing, or you wanna play the drums?” So then I learned to play when I was like five or six, and that was it.
DAN’NELLE Sometimesmyself and Yunoka’s energy could seem like a lot next to Maya. But Maya’s, it’s different than ours, but it’s still giving you her.
RICHELLE It’s captivating.
48 HILLS This question is going to become a regular feature of my columns: How are you making it as an artist in the Bay?
YUNOKA I live with an aunt and work a day job, and I’ll take on a bunch of other jobs: I work at a boutique, I go give an English test, I go give Postmates, I house-sit, I dog-sit. There’s no job that’s beneath me. I’ve been raised like that.
GENESIS Yeah, I’m the same way. I’m a full-time musician, so I’ve done so many different jobs. I just picked up a job doing window cleaning for these mansions in San Francisco. I’ve done busking, playing on the streets for money with my bass player. And it’s really cool because it’s like another way to market yourself.
DAN’NELLE [Gasps.] That’s how my friend—she said she saw you in San Francisco. She was getting on BART. She saw your Instagram, and then she sent it to me later.
48 HILLS And that, friends, is how you go from busking on BART to opening for T-Pain and releasing your first E.P. in less than a year.
THE ONYX Life is Living Festival Sat/12, 3pm, FREE Bobby Hutton Park, 1651 Adeline St, Oakland More info here.
UB40 (playing Sun/5 at The Mountain Winery) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. But that doesn’t mean it’s “happily ever after” for the British reggae-pop group best known for their hit single “Food For Thought” and smash covers of “Red Red Wine,” “I Got You Babe,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
In fact, there’s no love lost between the original singers, Ali Campbell and Astro and their former bandmates, since the pair left the group back in 2008 and 2013, respectively, and formed their own splinter group, UB40 featuring Ali Campbell and Astro.
“I was a fool all along for believing they were my mates,” Astro (born Terence Wilson) told 48 Hills.
But how did the band, which together sold over 70 million albums, including the number-one-charting Labour of Love and Promises and Lies, get to the point of brotherly betrayal, diss tracks, and cyberbullying?
I spoke to Astro, who’s currently on the 40th-anniversary tour with Campbell and their eight-piece reggae band, about the ongoing UB40 feud, their new album, A Real Labour of Love, and the supreme injustice of being linked in the press to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
48 HILLSIt’s fair to say that UB40’s covers have gotten more attention than the band’s original material. Which of your self-penned tracks have been the most overlooked, in your opinion?
ASTRO There are only three Labour of Love covers albums and another 21 self-penned albums out there, so we have a lot of great work. But I think the albums Who You Fighting For? and TwentyFourSeven, which I think is UB40’s finest work with the original lineup, are the best.
But TwentyFourSeven was an album that was greatly overlooked largely because of a stupid management decision to give the album away as a freebie in a Sunday newspaper and therefore it didn’t chart at all. It’s things like this that made the band start to unravel to the point where it was unbearable and people had no option but to leave.
48 HILLSSinger Ali Campbell left in 2008 and you waited five more years before leaving in 2013. Why did it take you so long to rejoin Ali?
ASTRO At the time, everything was unraveling and we knew that we were going to be made bankrupt, so if I’m going to be bankrupt because of band management decisions, then I’m not going to try to find the money for my court defense; that’s got to be a company expenditure.
The final straw was once I realized that they weren’t going to give my wife the money they owed her. I thought, “You could belittle me, but don’t belittle my wife and don’t cheat her,” and they chose to cheat her. So I had to stand by my woman and I left. It was the best move I ever made.
48 HILLSWhat was the fallout from your departure?
ASTRO They’ve shown themselves to be the people that they really are. I stuck with them through blind loyalty and thinking they were true friends. But after I left, from all the vitriol that was coming from their camp about me, I finally found out what they truly felt about me.
Now I’m back with Ali and it’s like those five years apart didn’t exist. It’s been smooth sailing since. There are no egos, and we have a great reggae band with us. It’s the hottest show on the road at the moment and it’s a pleasure to go to work every day now. I’m in a happy place.
48 HILLSFor Ali, I imagine that it’s more complicated since his brother Robin stayed in the band and then his other brother, Duncan replaced him as the lead singer.
ASTRO Well, there is no relationship with them. Before Ali left, he was upset with how the management was running things, but when he was inquiring about what was happening with the money and wasn’t getting any answers, he used to go to his brother for advice. His brother said that if these damn fools wouldn’t give him the information he wanted, he should leave.
Then Duncan phones him to say he’s replacing him as the singer, so you can understand why Ali doesn’t want to speak to Duncan ever again. He feels totally betrayed, and you can’t blame him, really.
But we’re not dwelling on the past. We’re just doing what we knew we were meant to do, which is carrying on promoting reggae music.
48 HILLSThe other UB40 released a diss track called “What Happened to UB40″ mocking you and Ali. Did you ever respond to it?
ASTRO No, because it’s a throwaway track and the lyrics are very juvenile. So it’s like throwing stones in the playground, and I haven’t got much time for it, really. And to me and the rest of the world, the remnants of the original band are just shells of their former selves. I’ve seen better tribute bands.
48 HILLSOn your 2014 Silhouette album, you included a track called “Cyber Bully Boys.” Was that directed at your former bandmates?
ASTRO Yes. That was important because of the betrayal coming from the others, which we called “The Dark Side.” A couple of the others were being very vicious to fans cyber-wise, threatening them with violence. They should have known better.
I think that’s part of the reason that our last album, A Real Labour of Love, came out at number two and their album came out at 92 and disappeared after a week. So I think the fans have seen through all their bullshit and see that they haven’t had anything to offer. That’s why they haven’t toured much. They spent five years getting Duncan up to performing live and that failed miserably. Duncan may be a Campbell, but he’s not a great singer.
48 HILLSOne of UB40’s founding members, saxophonist Brian Travers, announced that he had a brain tumor and would miss the other UB40’s 40th-anniversary tour. Have you reached out to him?
ASTRO I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say “Yes.” Because of how he’s behaving and behaved over the years and how he’s spoken to my wife and family, I haven’t reached out to him. I wouldn’t wish his illness on anybody, but I’m not going to lie and say I’m worried. In the same way, he wouldn’t reach out to me. But may he get through it…that’s all I’m going to say.
48 HILLSTell me about your latest release with Ali Campbell, the covers album, A Real Labour of Love.
ASTRO We called the album A Real Labour of Love to differentiate it from the original three volumes [of covers, each called Labour of Love], which were tracks we listened to growing up, which made us want to be musicians. The latest album is a collection of 1980’s reggae tracks—the massive dancehall classics from our contemporaries we listened to once we became a recording unit. It was an important time for reggae when electronic bass lines on keyboards became the norm.
It was number one on Billboard and iTunes reggae charts last year and it’s being re-released on Island Records in the US and can hopefully mirror the same success it had in the UK.
48 HILLSWhile A Real Labour of Love was making the UK charts, your band was making it into the US press after it surfaced, in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, that the then-Supreme Court Justice nominee had allegedly assaulted a man he mistook to be Ali Campbell at a bar, following a UB40 concert. All of a sudden, there were a bunch of memes mocking the incident on social media and Stephen Colbert even did a “Red Red Wine” parody, featuring Brett Kavanaugh on The Late Show. Was it odd to be linked to Kavanaugh in this way?
ASTRO We found out about this made-up story a year ago when it was all over the press. Maybe Brett wanted to make himself out to be a big man among his mates back in college, so he lied and said that he had been in a fight with Ali.
But we’ve been connected to things in the press over the years for various things and they’ve all been rubbish. But stuff like that, you don’t spend much time giving it any credence or dwelling on it. You read the first paragraph and know it’s nonsense and no need to continue reading.
UB40 FEATURING ALI CAMPBELL AND ASTRO Sun/5, 7:30pm, $49.50-$89.50 The Mountain Winery, Saratoga. More info here.
Any city worth visiting must have its own inventive quirk. Gotta be something unique about it, right? Cincinnati is known for its Skyline chili, a tasty Mediterranean spiced meat used as a topping for spaghetti. That’s er, resourceful. Buffalo’s “Bills Mafia,” a different type of spicy, are outlandish devotees of the city’s football team who, at times, hurl dildos out on the field of play. The prank, while completely out of context, is sex-positive.
San Francisco has many peculiar traditions. Walking through the city in a euphoric state tops the list.
In August, Kisura Kyoto and Aaron Joseph, both vocalists in the retro soul-pop outfit Midtown Social, released the all in one-day journey song “Fantastic Colors.” Co-written together, it depicts two San Franciscans, a candid snapshot of friends, in great need of taking a trip through the city’s neighborhoods, looking to keep up a connection to their city. Cause lets face it. With the increased visibility of electric scooters, income disproportion, homelessness—basically, all the indications of new-found wealth, flowing in just one direction—SF gets unfamiliar. Quick.
So then we hear Joseph put out there, “See I know this guy In the Mission who will show us how to fly,” over a moody, not pensive keyboard wash. Like that ’80s band, The Motels, making R&B moves. Sort of that type of filter. Lyrically he’s not making Uber/Lyft recommendations. It’s that old wink, nod, and handshake vibe. Something the city was built on.
They follow that up with, “These sunsets they seem to last for hours,” laying out the feel of a psychotropic “turnt-up Sunday Streets” expanse for those residents looking for their Mecca. A 7×7 fun-size town, which never longs for visuals. Lined up over mellow synths, lyrical guitar runs and mid-tempo drum patterns: Sunday Funday never sounded more blissful and loose. Euphoric moments such as these have become rare in local music, maybe on local streets It’s something you can celebrate. Maybe catching go-kart races near the beach. Gawking at the 16th Avenue tiled steps or meandering down the Vulcan stairway in Corona Heights. Shared experiences, not money, is the uniting force behind this band.
With a release date slated for Valentines Day in 2020, Fantastic Colors the 12 track album pulls at the heartstrings from real-talk situations that exist for anybody trying to survive in an ever-changing urban landscape by the bay. This is no joke.
“Savoir Faire”, the upbeat 80’s styled synth-rock mantra from the group, out September 28, champions putting down the devices, bypassing phone alerts and going out playing pool, darts, and dancing. With an opening that features guitar picking, liquid bassline activity, this call out of “contemporary cultures obsession with technology” pushes along the bands’ mantra for empowerment that comes with bringing together all ethnic groups consisting of all colors and persuasions through “inclusivity, authenticity, and acceptance.”
The Alameda indie-pop band (appearing Sat/28 at Slim’s, SF) was signed by the mega-label in 2014 after years on the Bay Area all-ages circuit and support slots for artists like Billy Idol. After signing, they were able to share stages with some of the world’s biggest names—Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, the Black Keys—and sell out venues like the Fillmore.
But their partnership with the label yielded only a re-release of their self-released Tears You Apart and an EP, When Night Becomes Day. They haven’t released a record in nearly four years.
“Our relationship with [Elektra] seeped its way into everything,” says lead singer Brendan Hoye. “I don’t know what it was, but they felt like they had to be there every step of the way and hold our hands.”
“We’d send them songs they wouldn’t approve of, then they’d hear the same songs six months later and be like ‘oh, this is incredible,’” says guitarist Alex DiDonato. “When you have your team not really supporting the songs you’re working on, it doesnt give you a lot of confidence.”
The band ultimately scrapped their planned major-label debut album twice before severing ties with the label in 2018. It’s a classic story: promising young band signs to massive label in hopes of success but finds the freedom afforded to an independent band is worth far more.
Finish Ticket formed in 2008, when the band members still attended Alameda High School, and quickly made a name based on their energetic live performances and natural charisma. Hoye is a true frontman, one of the few rock singers in the home-recording era who refuses an instrument and struts the stage hands-free.
Early on, the band rubbed elbows with Bay Area indie rock bands like Please Do Not Fight and Picture Atlantic. It helped that their sound—robust but friendly, dramatic but direct—helped them fit in with the big-budget indie rock bands of the early Obama years, like Awolnation and Young the Giant.
They self-released Life Underwater, their first EP, in 2009; Shake a Symphony came out almost exactly a year later, and full-length Tears You Apart came in 2013 before Elektra reissued it the next year.
When Night Becomes Day remains their only true major-label release, and unlike many bands saddled with the label, they remain an indie rock band in the strictest sense of the term.
Finish Ticket’s split with Elektra came after a year spend negotiating their ownership to the songs. The label wanted to keep them, while the band wanted to retain them.
Shortly thereafter, bassist Michael Hoye (Brendan’s brother) and keyboardist Nick Stein (drummer Gabe Stein’s brother) left the band. Per DiDonato, the split was amicable, and they simply “wanted to go back to normal life.” Michael now studies at UC Davis, while Nick remains as a touring member of the band without the “responsibilities” of full-time membership.
Independence has been good to the remaining three, who now live and work in LA.
“I think it’s great that once we’re all excited about a piece of music, it’s done,” says DiDonato of something most unsigned bands take for granted. “We’re leading the team now, which is great.”
In July 2019, Finish Ticket released “Dream Song,” its first piece of music in three and a half years. “Ceiling Won’t Break” came out a month later. Both are slated to appear on an upcoming release, whose final form has yet to be determined.
“On our last EP, it felt like the majority [of the songs] were big and rockin’, and we love that for our live show,” says Hoye. “But I think for this next record we had to push ourselves to have a well-rounded album that covered a lot of ground.”
It’s hard to say what to expect, but don’t hold your breath for Finish Ticket’s version of “Revolution 9.” The two songs so far are a little more muted than what came before, designed more for contemplation than arena-sized singalongs, but they’re still recognizably the work of the same band that haunted venues like Blake’s on Telegraph and Bottom of the Hill 10 years ago.
The band is currently touring behind the new singles and will wrap up their 11-date run with a show at Slim’s in San Francisco. But don’t expect them to stick around too long.
“We love it, we miss it all the time,” Hoye says of Alameda, where he hopes to snag a burrito at vaunted taqueria Ramiro & Sons. “But we’re all very excited to work on this new music, so we gotta get back down.”
Calling this new EP Rule of Thirds(Full Bleed Records)—the atmospheric, broken beat-centered project from the California-born-and-raised DJ-producer Alland Byallo—a comeback release, would just be a poor choice. No really. Stop it. For 15 years, Byallo has maintained a prominent career as a globe-trotting act,releasing music (more than 100 credited titles to his name) on respected labels like Third Ear Recordings, Housewax, and Release Sustain.
It’s work keeping up the double life as a freelance designer for dance music-related and corporate clients, and as a DJ-producer. At some point stepping away from the music game is just smart, especially when the business starts calling the shots, rather than your own artistry. Call it survival. Byallo now lives in Berlin, employed as lead designer for Beatport.
That influential party opened in 2005 at RX Gallery then in 2007 moved to the Endup in SOMA, where it remained home-based until the gig ceased in 2012. Byallo’s ongoing DJ residency there found him sharing the stage with Josh Wink, Matthew Dear, and Modeselektor on any given night. The seven-year run of guests reads like a directory of talent fueling many outdoor music festivals today.
[KONTROL] had its pick of the best underground house and techno artists during that time period. The platform respectfully buoyed Byallo into headliner DJ slots at Berlin’s Panoramabar, Watergate, Bar25, Cookies, and Tresor. It all goes back to those first Saturday nights, though, at the funky-ass intersection of 6th and Harrison. Peak time had the sound pushed, unfiltered, shooting heavyweight dubby organic house and dark minimal techno onto the 6am skreets.
[KONTROL] was the standard cities across the globe took cues from when designing their own techno and minimal scene. Like the drum ‘n bass phenomenon in SF a decade earlier: art brings commerce. MutekSF arrived in 2018. Do the math.
So now, after a few years off, the LA-born Byallo returns with a three-song release that overall deserves repeat playlist status. But the tracks that stand out lean in with that broken-beat hustle.”Stegosaurus,” leading off, uses its entire six minutes to incrementally build with warm key colors, and layout some float milieu, hovering in the background. Inner tempos get stepped up, patiently rolled out, with punched in vocal snippets adding density.
“Itʻs No Time,” a dance floor affair of shuttling and rattling heft, doggedly morphs into a full-out knocker show.With the backbeats literally clapping back, and liquid bass notes tossing vibrating speckles at the half-time shuffle, a wispy atmospheric slipstream makes a cameobefore the mid-song change flips everything max to percolating bump. Itʻs a mood, for sure.
Rule of Thirds is not trying here for some high-tech art cerebral mumbo snob statement. When I reached out for press materials, the candid producer let me know Berlin has not changed him a bit.
“As Iʻm not DJing anymore, or trying to ‘get somewhere’ re: career with this project, itʻs not at the top of my list to get people seeing my fucking 40-year-old face everywhere.”
So yes, this isn’t serious with a capital S. The core is meditative, not boisterous. Butstill fun. Less mental shit on the dance floor leads to greater appreciation of rhythm. Sure you can tag it as techno-jazz gone Berlin if you like. But itʻs just spacious groove, seeking your perspiration on a dance floor, or a head nod from the bar, comfy chair or in front of your computer set up or device of choice.
Rule of Thirds is not difficult to grasp, but so lovely, and easy on the ears. A difficult feat in the 2-0-1-9. Byallo may just have to get behind the decks once again.
Every time Leon “Kaleta” Ligan-Majek—known as simply Kaleta—uses that Fela meets James Brown grunt, leaping from the breadbasket, that’s a cultural signpost indicating “get ready.” It could be an upcoming horn line stretch, some deadpan funk groove, or Kaleta’s readiness to unleash some “tear innit” guitar solo you did not see welling up just seconds ago. Whatever the case, donʻt mistake it for swag. Thatʻs Africa talking.
Mèdaho which means “big brother” or “elder” or “teacher” in the native language of Benin, is the first full-length release from Kaleta & Super Yamba Band, who have been collaborating since 2017. This tribute to his brother, who passed in March, comes packed with sinewy organ frequencies, hallucinatory guitar strains moving about chuggy polyrhythms, and horn lines doggedly weaving throughout, carving space around vicious Fela-esque keyboard stabs. Released on the San Francisco-founded imprint Ubiquity—home to the Latin-jazz Cubop and rare-groove Luv Nʻ Haight series—Mèdaho is a really quick and tight nine-song run. Not just a tribute to the bands’ influencers…James Brown, Fela Kuti (one of Kaleta’s mentors), Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, El Rego and The Funkees. No.
This is a market correction, re-establishing tradition.
Afrobeat (or a reinterpreted, American version) runs through the Brooklyn Daptone label with their Budos Band and Antibalas outfits conquering dancefloors throughout the world. But Kaleta, born in the Benin Republic and then relocated to Lagos, Nigeria as a child, became a seasoned versatile musician in the late ’80s by playing in legend King Sunny Adeʻs touring group for three years.
“I was at church when I heard King Sunny Ade sound-checking one block away,” recounted Kaleta. “By the time church service was over Sunny Ade’s gig was in full gear. I infiltrated the gathering, snuck into the front row to watch the show.
“At the stroke of the last note, right before Sunny Ade disappeared, I went between him and his bodyguard and told him point-blank my want to play guitar for his band. He invited me to his house. I went the next day with a cassette containing songs and guitar riffs I wrote with him in mind. The rest is history.”
Recording four albums with the juju pioneer, Kaleta went on to sharpen his craft further during the ’90s, in Egypt 80, the renowned band of Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti. During this stretch, a master class in rhythm, his grip on the West African genres, highlife, juju, and true Afrobeat became lethal. That training flourishes here on “Gogo Rock,” a bullish jam with keen drum swing and cowbells. The only instrumental on the album serves as a ʻcatch up to what we doʻ introduction. With a Santana-like guitar solo by Eric Burns, it wastes no time establishing that wah-wah pedals will be making their presence known. Get familiar.
“Goyito” a push-pull, call and response work of art, showcases the bass guitar and keyboard locked on to a mid-tempo shuffle. This earworm groove, moving at an incremental stride, provides a minimal-plinking organ line laying the path for subtle accents of congas, talking drum, candombe, bells, and shekeres to meander about in. While a boisterous honking sax presence rises up, marching us into the sunshine. This feel, channeling the spirit of Felaʻs classic “Water Get No Enemy”, “Goyito” fortifies that sacred trinity of the drum, horn, and organ-moving simultaneously. Loose and precise. All at once.
Kaleta reminds us here why Afrobeat endures in time.
Ben Folds is not your average rockstar, so it’s no surprise that the genre-bending alternative, pop, and classical artist’s autobiography, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, is not your typical tell-all.
Instead of issuing yet another celebrity memoir teeming with lurid tales of sexcapades and drug abuse, the former Ben Folds Five frontman and multi-platinum-selling solo artist, best known for such cult classics as “Brick,” “The Luckiest,” and “You Don’t Know Me,” fills his 336-page bio with career lessons for artists, which he himself learned the hard way from his own successes and failures.
Folds, who serves as the first-ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, scores for film and TV, and hosts the ArtsVote 2020 Podcast Series of interviews on arts policies with current 2020 presidential candidates, is particularly suited to teaching readers such things as how to find their creative voice, think like an artist, and sustain a lasting and multidisciplinary artistic career.
The singer-songwriter is excited to impart even more lessons when he appears in San Francisco, in conversation with SF Chronicle pop music critic Aidin Vaziri, on his birthday (Thu/12 at JCCSF) and ice the cake with an intimate performance of some of his standout tunes.
But first, he chatted with me about his most valuable lesson for creatives, why arts education is critical, and why every single person should write their own damn memoir.
48 HILLSThere are a lot of lessons in your book for aspiring musicians and creatives in general. Which, in your opinion, is the most important one?
BEN FOLDS I would simply drop off the suggestion that human life is essentially creative at its core and separating art from life is not always an easy, possible, or smart thing to do.
People are inherently creative. I don’t know what lesson comes out of that. It’s just something to remember as people embark upon life, whether you’re selling insurance like Charles Ives, one of the great composers, was doing, or whether you’re shaking your ass on stage like Elvis was doing.
48 HILLSReading your book, I can see why you’ve become such a huge advocate for arts education and music therapy funding in our nation’s public schools. Why have so many been quick to abandon arts education?
BEN FOLDS Because I think in order to achieve the incredible things we’ve achieved, we have all become experts in our fields. So I think the compartmentalization into various expertise has given birth to the idea that creativity is only valuable if it’s the expertise—that which puts food on the table—when creativity is actually how we live, what we’re interested in, what brings us joy, and what makes us human.
The purest environment in which we really foster creativity is in the arts. So the reason that I’m really in favor of reestablishing the value of arts education is that it’s so good for everybody’s life going forward.
48 HILLSI know you’ve spoken to many Democratic candidates for president on your podcast to get their stances on this issue.
BEN FOLDS Such a number has been done politically on the arts as a frivolous thing to invest public funds into and in the course of that, we have devalued the very idea of art, and that’s a grave mistake.
But I’ve talked to plenty of politicians that are very for arts education that will be the first to tell me that they sucked at art and music and when they were in it didn’t understand why they were doing it. But they can now see the value when they make a good public speech and the cadence, rhythm, timing, and pitch they choose are all artistic decisions.
48 HILLSIn your book you describe how your Aunt Sharon was big on investigating and recording your family history for posterity. Since you have kids, I wonder if part of the reason you wrote your memoir was to get down a Folds family history for them.
BEN FOLDS Well, it is. But they know most of that stuff anyway. I think a lot of the things about my adult life, they won’t have known until they read the book, but I can’t honestly say that they’ve read the book.
I probably wouldn’t have read my father’s book till I was in my 40’s, had he written a book. So I don’t anticipate they’ve read it. That doesn’t mean that they don’t love me, but one day they may read it and go, “Oh, he did this and this and this before I was born. I had no idea because he didn’t talk about that.” So that could come in handy.
My daughter has become pretty interested in the Ancestry.com stuff, and so I’ve actually learned quite a bit.
48 HILLSSo are you related to anyone famous?
BEN FOLDS No, I don’t think so. There’s notably veterans up in the chain and a lot of mountain people in there who didn’t know that anything was going on outside of that. My grandfather was considered big stuff and famous because he was from the big city of Martinsville, North Carolina, and he sold tractors. So he was kind of the rockstar of the family.
48 HILLSYou’ve said that you hope that in the process of writing your memoir you eliminated some “badly filed memories.” What did you mean by that?
BEN FOLDS There’s another angle to that. I nearly called the book Write Your Own Damn Memoir and the joke of that was that I think that people in their 40s should actually take a sabbatical and write their own memoir. The reason I believe that after doing it is because you sometimes have memories that are not right because they’re false, filed like bricks in your memory by the people, say the 10-year-old, that you once were. But when you reexamine your life, you can take each bad brick out, so it doesn’t inform your life or decision making for the rest of your life.
48 HILLSYou’ll be at the Jewish Community Center of SF on your birthday. How do you feel about celebrating your birthday with us?
BEN FOLDS I like that people are buying my book and showing up to talk about it. I can’t imagine anything more generous.
48 HILLSHow do you typically mark your birthday?
BEN FOLDS By not announcing it. By not having my friends or family do anything about it if they would restrain themselves. I don’t need anything. I know it’s my birthday that morning. I’ll wake up and go, “Yeah it’s my birthday,” but it’s not avoiding it. I just don’t celebrate it.
BEN FOLDS: CONVERSATION & PERFORMANCE Thu/12, 7pm, $35-$65 JCCSF, SF. More info here.
After receiving four nominations in five years, ‘60s rock pioneers The Zombies (at Fox Theater Fri/13) began to wonder if they’d ever get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“So when I got a call saying The Zombies were inducted, it was an incredibly exciting feeling,” the band’s singer, Colin Blunstone told 48 Hills. “To get that kind of acknowledgment from the public and our peers and know that our work had been noticed and appreciated is a life-changing event.”
For the vocalist, the “icing on the cake” was getting to perform the band’s classic tracks “Time Of The Season,” “Tell Her No,” and “She’s Not There” in front of 17,000 people—including fellow inductees Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, Janet Jackson, The Cure, Def Leppard, and Radiohead —at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on March 29. Fittingly, The Zombies’ long-awaited induction took place 50 years to-the-day after the band’s unforgettable track, “Time of the Season” first hit no. 1 on the US charts.
“There was a real sense of occasion and it was very emotional for us, of course,” Blunstone said. “All your memories over the last 57 years rush back. All the people you’ve known, people no longer with us, it all comes back to you on an evening like that.”
To celebrate this incredible milestone, The Zombies are uniting past and present line-ups, including seminal members Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy and embarking on a 15-city North American tour with Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and former Beach Boys members Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
On what’s been coined the “Something Great from 68” tour, which hits the Bay Area this week (Fri/13 at the Fox Theater), the band is set to perform its seminal Odessey & Oracle album in its entirety along with other fan favorites through their latest Billboard-charting album Still Got That Hunger.
Blunstone spoke to me about the new tour, the making of Odessey and Oracle, and how the band still maintains its edge after nearly six decades.
48 HILLSYour current tour with Brian Wilson is called, “Something Great from 68,” which obviously references the release of The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. But the crazy thing is that your sophomore album wasn’t initially a hit with your record company and almost never came out?
COLIN BLUNSTONE For a long time, it seemed as if that album wasn’t going to be released. Then Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears had joined CBS Records as a producer and the first day he went in there, he went to [then president] Clive Davis, risking his job, and said, “Listen, we have to get this album—it’s brilliant.” Clive said they already owned that album and weren’t even going to issue it.
So we have a huge debt to Al Kooper because it’s only due to his persistence that it was released in the first place and our lives were changed forever.
48 HILLSWhat can you tell me about the making of Odessey and Oracle?
COLIN BLUNSTONE We only had 1,000 pounds to record the album—and even then that wasn’t a lot. But what we did was that we rehearsed extensively before we got into the studio, so we could then record Odessey and Oracle quickly.
48 HILLSI read that The Beatles had been recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the same studio at Abbey Road just days earlier?
COLIN BLUNSTONE Yes, which was breathtakingly exciting. Also, we had the benefit of all the technical advances that they’d made because we used the same engineers that worked on Sgt. Pepper’s. Particularly we were now able to record on more than a four-track machine because they didn’t have an eight-track, but had found a way of linking two four-track machines, which from memory actually gave us seven tracks for a technical reason. That was a huge game-changer for us because it meant we could overdub extra harmonies and extra keyboard parts.
When we first went into the studio, there were percussion instruments on the floor, tambourines and Maracas and things like that left by The Beatles. John Lennon’s mellotron was also left in the studio. If Lennon hadn’t left it, there wouldn’t be mellotron all over Odessey and Oracle. I’m afraid we didn’t ask; we just went ahead and used it.
48 HILLS“Time of the Season,” from Odessey and Oracle, would go on to become the band’s biggest hit in the US, yet the sad irony is that it blew up after the band had already broken up.
COLIN BLUNSTONE It’s kind of a strange story that the band finished in the summer of ‘67 and Odessey and Oracle wasn’t released till ‘68 and I think “Time of the Season” was the third single from that album. Of course, it went on to be the biggest hit The Zombies had ever had. But by then we were committed to other projects and there wasn’t even the slightest conversation about the band getting back together again.
In some ways, it’s a shame because it would have been nice to go out there and celebrate the success of Odessey and Oracle and “Time of the Season.”
48 HILLSOne of the most groundbreaking songs on Odessey and Oracle, in my opinion, is “Care of Cell 44,” a song about a man writing his incarcerated girlfriend.I doubt anyone else was writing about women in prison at the time.
COLIN BLUNSTONE When the album was finished, I felt that that was my favorite track and the most commercial one. But it was released as a single and wasn’t a commercial success. But even now when I listen to it, I think, “What a clever song.” The music is really sophisticated and the lyrics are really groundbreaking. I’m not sure that many people have written on that subject up to today. It’s so unusual and I really enjoy playing it even after all this time.
48 HILLSYour band name, which I know you didn’t like off the bat, is equally innovative—since zombies weren’t as talked about back in 1961 as they are today, with “The Walking Dead” and a slew of zombie movies and video games. With all the attention paid to zombies today, does the name seem like a fortuitous choice in hindsight?
COLIN BLUNSTONE I think it is. In music, you’ve got to be ahead of the curve and there was no zombie culture in 1961. So the original bass player just came up with it out of the blue and there was no deep meaning to it. It was just a catchy memorable name, and I’m not sure in 1961 that I knew what a zombie was.
With time passing, it’s become quite hip because there are now so many zombie TV programs, films, and magazines. So I think it’s become cooler as the years have gone by where it’s usually the other way around.
48 HILLSIt also gives your band a continued edginess, unlike other ‘60s rock bands with kookier names like, say, The Turtles, The Lovin’ Spoonful, or Strawberry Alarm Clock.
COLIN BLUNSTONE We’re fortunate to have some edginess, especially when you think our first record was released in 1964. We could be taking it very easy right now, just touring occasionally, rolling out the same old hits, instead of writing new songs and trying to make sure our performances are really energized.
But we really give it everything we’ve got and perhaps, in a small way, the name helps take us out of the 1960s bracket because it is a bit edgy. We’re still writing and recording new material that is quite sophisticated music, the result of people honing their craft over many years.
48 HILLS Is that why you named your most recent album Still Got That Hunger?
COLIN BLUNSTONE Yes, because we do still have that hunger. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be touring. You need a lot of tenacity, energy, and commitment to go on tour for two months and play nearly every night as well as write new songs and record new albums, and the band really has that commitment. In fact, we just started recording a new album last week.
48 HILLSIn one of my favorite tracks on your latest album, “Moving On,” you sing, “And I’m moving on to my dreams of tomorrow.” What are your aspirations for the future?
COLIN BLUNSTONE Rod Argent and I both understand that we’re in our mid-‘70s. In a way, this almost makes the whole exercise of writing, recording, and going on the road more intense since we realize that there are going to be physical limitations to how long we can do this. No one knows, but logic tells me that we might not be able to do this for many years to come. So my dream is to do this for as long as I’m physically able to.
BRIAN WILSON & THE ZOMBIES Fri/13, 8pm, $79.50-$229.50 Fox Theater, Oakland More info here.