Federale: Spaghetti Western and Beyond


Seven musicians crowd onto the stage at Mississippi Studios in north Portland–they’re dressed in cowboy hats and bolo ties, a hipster take on the wild west. The frontman, a guy with light brown hair that swoops across his face, all the way down to his chin, steps up to the mic. He looks to the ground, purses his lips, raises his slanted eyes to the crowd and unleashes a long, lonely whistle. A tragic trumpet sings. A snare drum crackles. And the band begins to play.

This is Federale, Portland’s premier spaghetti western ensemble.

The house is packed tonight. Some don corduroy vests and flat top cowboy hats; flannel shirts under beige vests with tight jeans and black leather shoes. The crowd is made up of excitable young kids and worn-out 30-somethings in groups of four–double dates or friends on the town, all here for a singular purpose: to see a good show.

And of all the shows in Portland on this particular Saturday night, this show promises to be the best. Promoted by the media powerhouse trio of The Portland Mercury, Willamette Week and The Oregonian, it’s easy to get carried away in the cyclone of hype that surrounds Federale. But who are they? Who are these weirdos playing dark, lonely cowboy songs in the 21st century Pacific Northwest?

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Interview with Of Monsters and Men

If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will soon enough. On Wednesday, Of Monsters and Men graced the home page of Pitchfork and Spotify with a massive banner advertisement for their debut album, My Head Is An Animal.  Animal hit as high as number two on the top-selling iTunes albums of the day, right behind the “queen of hip-hop” herself, Nicki Minaj.

So how the heck did a 6-piece band from Iceland get famous in America before even releasing a full-length album?

Even the band’s lead singer, Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, isn’t entirely sure.

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Hanging out with Pearl and the Beard

Gracing the cover of Pearl and the Beard’s excellent second album, Killing The Darlings, is a sweater made for three people. While this seems like merely a cute, simple way of pointing out that the band has three members, it is actually a completely definitive representation of the trio. Pearl And The Beard is truly a three-headed monster, with no lead singer and no head songwriter, but instead three unique personalities and people who started as strangers, then collaborated to make incredible music, and to become, as singer and drummer Jocelyn Mackenzie put it, “family.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Pearl and the Beard on Friday, just before their incredible show at the Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C. Due to the band’s charming personalities, it felt less like an interview and more like hanging out with friends. Jocelyn, Emily Hope Price, and Jeremy Styles were all gracious, kind, and willing to talk about anything. In our conversation, we discussed the band’s origin story, their songwriting process, and their reflections on the level of success they’ve achieved.

Pearl and the Beard – “Sweetness” [MP3]

Coming Together

Jocelyn met Jeremy at an open mic night in NYC. ” I heard people playing songs,” she said, “and I thought to myself ‘oh no, it’s open mic night, this is gonna be terrible, get me out of here!’ But then I heard Jeremy playing and he was fantastic.” The two talked and traded numbers, and soon started playing and singing together. At another open mic night they heard Emily sing and play the cello, and were “blown away.” Says Jeremy, “I literally said to Jocelyn, ‘I have to steal her.’”

“Stealing her” was a great decision, too – the ferocious sound of Emily’s cello has proven to be one of Pearl and the Beard’s defining elements.

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Record Store Day: Could it actually be bad for music?

Once again, April is upon us. Spring is rolling toward us full throttle, birds are back in the trees, the grass is looking a bit greener, and for music junkies, Record Store Day is right around the corner. On this day, we celebrate the joys of the independent record store with a host of exclusive releases, in-store performances, and a variety of other activities all centered on your local record retailers. For the last few years, Record Store Day has brought excitement to my usually dreary winter months. As I scan the Record Store Day release list for the first time I can feel the anticipation growing. Typically the list is littered with all kinds of new, reissued, unique and certainly rare recordings available only at your local independent record store. This year, the list is even provided in checklist form in case you need to collect them all. Once I finish reading through the list my feelings are conflicted. I have a strong love/hate relationship with this holiday that seems to get stronger with each passing year. I love it for everything it could be and hate it for everything it encourages and enables in certain people. How could something conceived with the best intentions, something designed to be a positive for all parties involved, have evolved into such a complicated, often frustrating venture?

For those of us who count ourselves among the music obsessed, Record Store Day is a can’t miss holiday that ranks up there with Christmas, Easter and the other greats. At Mr. Suit Records, in Lancaster, PA, owner Mike Madrigale also equates Record Store Day to Christmas. On the fateful day in April, Mr. Suit sees steady business from open to close, akin to a busy day during the holiday shopping season. The planning at Madrigale’s store starts about six weeks to a month before the big day with the ordering process. Stores are provided with Record Store Day sale lists from labels and distributors and given an order deadline. The store compiles their order and sends it in nearly a month before Record Store Day. In the weeks that follow, more releases are added to the list, sometimes making the ordering process a bit confusing and scattered as additional small orders are tacked onto the original. Finally, the big day arrives and only then do the stores and customers find out how much of the order actually reached the store.

At Iko’s Music Trade in York, PA, this process is one of several reasons owner Paul Hamilton has steered clear of Record Store Day, “I signed up for this under protest,” he said. Over the years, Record Store Day hasn’t generated much interest at Iko’s, but this year Hamilton, motivated by his longtime sales rep, and encouraged by a release list loaded with items his customers would be interested in, decided to participate. “What I’m seeing on this list are things that I’ll have access to four or five weeks before everybody else does. The Pearl Jam vinyl, the Eric Clapton Unplugged, those things are going to be available in May, but I’ll get to have them on Record Store Day. If I don’t get them I don’t care because I’ll be able to get them in May. It also means that they won’t be going for outrageous money on eBay in April, except for the very stupid and that’s their own fault,” Hamilton said.

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Interview with Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins interview

Three years ago, I caught a particularly memorable episode of The Late Show with Conan O’Brien. Yes, Coco told some jokes and interviewed Hulk Hogan, but it was pop noir artist Nicole Atkins who caught my attention with her performance of “Maybe Tonight,” the lead track from 2007’s critically acclaimed major label debut, Neptune City. I had missed the hype in prior months; Neptune City was the catchy, lush, atmospheric gem I was looking for.

In a recent half hour phone interview with Atkins, I learned that she thought the Conan performance “sucked.” She seems much more pleased, however, with her band, Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, and its heavily anticipated sophomore record, Mondo Amore. Atkins spoke to Knox Road about Mondo Amore, the recording process, b-sides, touring, and Twitter.

You can check out the lead track from Mondo Amore, “Vultures,” and b-side cover of experimental German rock group Can, “Vitamin C.” By the time you finish listening to these tracks, you might make it through this marathon interview.

Nicole Atkins – “Vultures” [MP3]
Nicole Atkins – “Vitamin C” [MP3]

With Mondo Amore coming out Feb. 8 and a tour starting next week (yes, it hits New York City AND Washington, D.C.), we naturally opened up our conversation on the topic of her “every show” dress, picked out with her guitarist Irina Yalkowsky.

Atkins: […]I just started wearing it. We just did a tour with The Black Keys and I think I wore it every single show. It required very little thought, although it was kind of hard to find places that do five-hour dry cleaning.

Knox Road: Oh I bet. I always wondered about that because you often see bands who like to wear suits and some are just casual, but I always thought you had a pretty cool fashion sense for your shows. It always fit the music in a way.

Atkins: I feel like if I ever wore jeans on stage, it wouldn’t feel like a show. When people go to work, they put their work clothes on, and when people get on stage and are going to entertain you, [they] put an entertainment outfit on.

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Ticket giveaway and interview with Greg Laswell

Greg Laswell is playing at the Rock & Roll Hotel in DC on May 24 on his first full band headlining tour. We have TWO free tickets to give away to a lucky winner — Email us at knoxroadblog@gmail.com and title your subject “Greg Laswell Ticket Participant: [your name]”. We will choose the […]

Interview with Sea Wolf’s Alex Brown Church

As you may or may not have heard, Sea Wolf has a new album coming out this Tuesday, September 22, called White Water, White Bloom. And, as you probably do know because you’re all such avid readers of Knox Road, we’re all big fans of the first released track, “Wicked Blood,” and have […]

Interview with The Blue Van’s Steffen Westmark

Coming off their latest album, Man Up, Denmark’s The Blue Van have been touring and promoting their music to make a mark in the U.S. After winning Knox Road’s coveted Most Promising Band at Siren 2009 award, frontman Steffen Westmark answered my burning questions about breaking the U.S. scene, going nuts onstage and escaping […]

Interview with Adrian Jewett of The Most Serene Republic


With The Most Serene Republic set to drop their newest effort, …And The Ever Expanding Universe, tomorrow, we thought it would be of interest to hear what lead man Adrian Jewett thinks about his musicianship, The Most Serene Republic in general, the new sound, and beyond. Good luck deciphering! Check out this previous post about The Most Serene Republic.

The Most Serene Republic – “Heavens To Purgatory” [MP3] (from …And The Ever Expanding Universe)

The Most Serene Republic – “Present Of Future End” [MP3] (from Population)

Knox Road: When and how did you get into music?

Adrian Jewett: My Dad is a huge vinyl fan and music connoisseur. Especially from that of the prog era of the early 70’s. He also had a panache for female singer-songwriters. (i.e. Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Alison Moyet) Through him, I got into music at a young age – bopping to Level 42 as a toddler and such. Once the seed is planted, it grows.

KR: How was “The Most Serene Republic” the artist created?

AJ: Friends getting together who needed a lot to keep them satisfied – burning on the inside to explode with communication. Excitement. The world. Our responsibility to make it our own and make it incredible.

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Knox Road interview with Exit Clov

exit-clov-at-public-assemblyWith great excitement I announce to you all that we recently had the wonderful opportunity of doing some q+a with a KR favorite, D.C.’s own indie pop darlings, Exit Clov. Fittingly, Exit Clov will be starting their East Coast tour in D.C. at the Black Cat on April 1 (as Jamie noted) and then right here in New York at Public Assembly (with Proud Simon, Milly Beau, Goodfinger and DJ jG) April 2. Go out and support them! If you get a chance to hit up Public Assembly, don’t be a stranger – I’ll be there. Come find me. Just yell out “I love Knox Road!!”

Fronted by twin sisters (again??) Emily and Susan Hsu, with Aaron on guitar, Brett on bass, and John on drums, Exit Clov plays some extraordinarily organic, enthralling pop. The Hsu’s vocals are precious, leaving you with a little sugary hangover after listening. That’s a good thing, my friends.

Oh and by the way. Exit Clov and KR have teamed up to give you a little treat: the MP3 of their latest hit single, from their batch of new material, “District Menagerie”! And for good measure, a cover of a Peter Tosh tune they did for a public service announcement in DC for children’s immigration rights.

Exit Clov – “District Menagerie” [MP3]

Exit Clov – “Steppin Razor” (cover) [MP3]

On to the good stuff…

KR: When and how did you get into music?

[Susan]: Em and I played violin and piano since we were really little, and played in orchestras, then taught ourselves chords on the guitar in high school. We were always singing and harmonizing around the house, so being able to accompany ourselves on piano and guitar (plus having two of us around) was already like being in a band. Listening to music was also a big part of growing up. We had an older brother and we were always going through his tape collections and finding cool stuff like Joy Division and Fishbone and Nine Inch Nails that our own peers were too young to know about!”

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