amber riley’s cover of “macarthur park” by donna summer honors the queer roots of disco

amber riley’s cover of “macarthur park” by donna summer honors the queer roots of disco

It’s the start of pride month, and there’s only one form of music most synonymous with the queer experience: disco! The genre’s resurgence in popularity has only been growing in recent years, likely helped by pride’s more mainstream acceptance (well, by form of rainbow capitalism or not) and the fact that so many of those original disco hits are just that good.

When making dance music inspired by the golden ages of disco and house music, it’s important to acknowledge the genre’s origins to show you’re respectful of its history and creators. This is something Amber Riley and Micah McLaurin hit the mark perfectly on in their new cover of “MacArthur Park”, originally by disco goddess Donna Summer in 1978.

…well, okay, technically not originally. It was first performed in a more baroque style by Richard Harris and written by Jimmy Webb in 1968, then covered by Summer ten years later on her Live and More album.

Their version is obviously indebted to Summer’s cover by its disco flavorings, but it also captures the melodrama of Harris’ original by way of the theatricality of Riley’s voice. If you don’t know, Amber Riley (of Glee and several screen/stage musical productions, including Dreamgirls) is a monstrously talented performer, and I went into the single expecting a quality performance. Yet she goes full broadway on the track and sings her heart out, creating a dramatic buildup to when the song transitions from a modest but soulful rendition of heartbreak into a breathtaking blast of disco excess.

If the opening captures the icy cabaret of Harris’ original, the rest of the song recreates the loose and free-spirited energy that the best of Donna Summer’s singles had. Micah McLaurin’s mixture of dance-pop and orchestral music (by way of members of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) is the perfect complement to Riley’s vocals. McLaurin provides a dreamy piano solo in the second half, and the other musicians provide a sweeping string and horn section and a thumping four-on-the-floor disco beat that never lets up.

It works really well as a great way to kick off pride month, successfully honoring queer history by way of a killer dance party. Amber Riley and Micah McLaurin’s cover is available now, in both a 3-minute radio edit and a 6-minute full version.

yellowcard’s ryan key talks catching the performance bug, self-awareness, and 20 years of ocean avenue

yellowcard’s ryan key talks catching the performance bug, self-awareness, and 20 years of ocean avenue

Emo children of the aughts rejoice, because one of our favorite live bands is making the rounds again, and they’re bigger than ever before. Pop-punk bad boys Yellowcard delivered a kiss of surf pop, a hint of nostalgia, and a whole lot of energy every time they took the stage. So when I had the opportunity to interview Ryan Key, Yellowcard’s lead singer, Star Wars aficionado, podcast host, and content creator extraordinaire – I snapped it up.

One of the first things I say, after promising myself not to bring it up? “I spoke to you in 2006 and it was to ask you to sign a t-shirt for my friend and I was too nervous to say anything else.” Cool. Word vomit.

“Oh, I was such a little shit in 2006 too,” Key immediately admitted, laughing. “So, it should be a way better encounter this time, I promise.”

Key’s self-awareness eased us into a conversation that ran the gamut. From our shared love of Star Wars (Though I haven’t quite expanded into podcast territory yet), being driven by bitterness through some tough times, how it feels coming off the biggest tour Yellowcard has ever experienced, and reflecting on 20 years of Ocean Avenue.

Yellowcard’s rapid-fire return fueled a “Celebrating 20 Years of Ocean Avenue” tour that took on bigger venues than they’ve ever played. The band’s welcome back was far from polite, with screaming fans more dedicated to the art form, acceptance of the music, and enjoyment during shows to fuel the energy.

From theatrical beginnings…

Admittedly, Ryan didn’t do much with music growing up. He took piano lessons for a couple of months, hated it, and quit. He wasn’t much for musicals, either. He was much more attached to the idea of the theater. An idea – it seems – that may have stemmed from his first role as Tiny Tim in none other than A Christmas Carol.

“It’s two lines,” Key admits, laughing. “But being on stage at 6 years old in front of enough people, I can only imagine shaped me, changed me forever. Having that moment happen on your impressionable little 1st-grade mind. It’s like, yeah I want more of this. You get that dopamine hit of being on stage and the adrenaline of that, you want more of that. And you don’t know why but I think as a kid, after that, I was just dead set on being on stage however I could.”

In 10th grade, Key was accepted to Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville and his pursuit of acting and theater got really serious. He was super involved at school in the shows and the deep, specific education. “We were studying Stanslovsky and real heavy stuff for high school kids,” Key says.

…to stress-reducing hobbies.

To help blow off steam in his -very limited – free time? “I had a band on the weekends,” he explains. “I got my first guitar when I was 11 or 12 years old and I played it and I wrote really crappy songs and had some friends that I played with but that was never gonna be something that I did professionally. I never even had it in my mind. I didn’t really enjoy singing, to be honest, very much. It’s still not my favorite part of my job. I was the lead singer of the band but I think that comes from that sense of wanting to be an entertainer, wanting to be a performer.”

This fact can be hard to believe, as Key’s vocal range is impressive and wide-ranging in its pop-punk glory. And his life performance tactics? Energetic to this day, at a level most people aren’t entirely capable of even at their peak. “It was never in my mind as something I wanted to pursue as a career,” he shrugs. “I just didn’t get into college where I wanted to go.”

When one door closes…

Ryan never let his rejection to the Theater Program at Boston University – twice, unfortunately – go. “I got into school in Boston but I didn’t get into their BFA program. My parents were like, ‘We’re not going to spend all that money for you to go to a private school in Boston if you’re not in the program that you want to be in.'”

While reasonable, it can be difficult to recover from something like that so early on in one’s career. From that bitterness was born a focus. Admittedly – and fairly – Ryan was spiteful about what had happened and chose not to complete the BFA program he started in Florida. He dropped out of school, leaned hard into music, and eventually began singing in Yellowcard.

To hear an artist admit to leaning into something in that anger is very refreshing. You often hear about heartache and heartbreak in everyone’s work, but it can be difficult to address the times of anger and instances when you feel things didn’t go the way they perhaps should have. Having a creative outlet to pour himself into was clearly the way to go, and is something so many of us should embrace as a healing mechanism in times of trouble.

Celebrating 20 Years of Ocean Avenue

Ryan says the band really appreciates the fact that the fans have weathered the storms alongside them. He credits this grand musical journey to the fact that fans have been patient and forgiving.

I have, personally, been a fan of Yellowcard’s since I was an adolescent, so getting a peek into their tour dynamic was ideal. When asked about the “Celebrating 20 Years of Ocean Avenue” tour, Key was almost gushing. “I feel like my favorite part of the tour was the energy between the band itself. I don’t think we’ve ever gone on a tour that was so lacking in negativity as this one. This tour was so full of happiness and positivity that it felt like an alien world, almost, compared to the Yellowcard that I’ve known for the past 20+ years.” 

What Key refers to – this feeling of a more in-sync crew and better touring environment and experience – has been echoed by artists the world over since the pandemic triggered larger conversations around mental health and balance in the music industry. Tours are being approached in a more holistic manner, and it’s been a reinvigorating time in the music industry. He went on:

I think we all felt that way. Which compounded each other aspect of the tour. The shows and interaction with fans, on-stage and off, and the support I think that we had from our crew every day felt stronger and better. I think that’s because there was a sense of peace and calm on the road.

We’ve never had that. Yellowcard has historically been a bit of a chaotic and tumultuous bag of personalities that have not created the best environment to work in. So this was, you know, jarring in the best possible way, to get out there and get a couple weeks in and realize, Oh, everything is just OK. And we can just let that be.

Pausing to reflect

It was almost spiritual, the way that he described it. Key’s acute awareness of the dynamic of the band made me wonder, aloud, how long it took in his career to come to this acceptance of who he is and his identity in the band.

I think it started, for me personally, during the final chapter of it all, at the end. You know, in 2016, 2017. Realizing that I was going to lose it forever because, at the time, it truly felt like that was going to be the case. It started with, I think, just a simple idea of really wanting to enjoy that tour in 2016 and 2017 and the international stuff we did.

That whole experience, as much as I tried, was sort of tinged with the reasons we were stepping away from it. The metrics that you use to quantify success, right, started to say “This is on the way down. We’re on the backslide.” Let’s end this before it goes too far so we can end it on our own terms and make it something special for fans and for ourselves. 

It went a lot deeper than that because it did go into the personalities and the inner workings of the band and things that we keep pretty close to the chest. So, as much as I tried to really enjoy it all, there was still an air of sadness and kind of negativity that had carried into that from all of the reasons we decided to step away in the first place. 

It wasn’t until I got home and started to have to figure out how to make my own way [that the self-awareness set in.] And the pandemic, really, was huge. A good friend of mine from high school was stopping through to stay with me. I had moved back to Los Angeles – which didn’t work out because the pandemic hit and we couldn’t tour or work so I was only there for about 6 or 8 months and then I left to come back east – but I had gone out there to kind of re-establish myself there and start working on film and tv music and things I want to do, too, as I get older.

My friend stopped through and it was only going to be for a week but it was the week that the lockdown happened in California. So he ended up staying with me for an entire month. During that time, he sort of opened my mind to meditating and starting to truly figure out what was going on with myself and work on the reasons why I had ended up where I was. I had never taken a minute to look that far inward, I don’t think. So it really wasn’t until 2020 that I started to kind of forge the path that has led me back here, now, where I am. 

As if to echo this spiritual, self-reflective sentiment, he notably wrapped the tour wielding a lightsaber, a symbol that the force is strong. While he claims that he brought the saber to make his nephew happy, we know there were probably additional motives here. (Because, really, who doesn’t want to have a lightsaber on tour with them?) For those of you wondering, yes, he does have a lightsaber lying around. In fact, he has multiple.

Embracing creative outlets

Besides his lifetime love of the franchise, Key has had the opportunity to connect with the franchise on a different level since the pandemic. “I’ve been really lucky the last 3 or 4 years to intensify my connection with Star Wars through hosting the Thank The Maker podcast with my friends,” he almost gushes. “I think Star Wars reminds you, at 43 years old, if you just give in and let yourself love it the way that I do, it reminds you how to play. That’s something that adults just don’t do.”

At this point, Key doesn’t realize he has hit a home run and we dive into a conversation about what being a “Disney adult” means in certain circles and some of the symbolism involved in Star Wars. We agreed that a certain level of play is encouraged to truly live a full life, especially as we age. “I’m a big fan of my wife for allowing me to just embrace that side, that childhood side of me, and letting me dress up in costumes with my friends and swing lightsabers around, you know?” he says, almost in amazement. “It’s really been a beneficial thing.”

Embracing change

As for if anything has changed for the band over the years – aside from the deep, self-realizations and occasional weaponry – Ryan says writing with everyone has become much more simplified. Explaining that the technology just wasn’t there to support quick changes to tracks and production fixes when they recorded their first albums, Key said the process now is just so much more accessible. “We can get right into ProTools, create the demo, program the drums so that we can change those around – we can try all the different options.”

The great part about having home studios is being able to control the sound as you build it. This way, you have more of an actualized recording that more than likely will sound much more similar to the final product. “It’s way more inspiring to have a good-sounding, ripping demo to steer the direction of the melody and the lyric that I’m going to put over the music.”

But the way Yellowcard writes? Pretty much the same. And super focused on the instrumentals. “It’ll start with usually a guitar riff. Shawn also has brought plenty of ideas on the violin or ideas for the structure of a whole song. He’ll have like a motif or a chord progression he will bring in that we will then build riffs and things around that.”

But you have to remember, Ryan is one with The Force. “I get middle-of-the-night ideas sometimes. I’ll wake up or I’ll not be able to sleep, one or the other. And it’ll just happen and I’ll take out my notes app on my phone and start plugging stuff in.

The title track from their latest release, “Childhood Eyes,” actually came to be that way. “I woke up with that chorus melody in my head and I started to put words to it. I could hear it happening in my head. And when I got to Austin for pre-production, I had an idea for the verse and the chorus in my notepad but I had never picked up a guitar to put music to it. So I just said, ‘Hey I have these lyrics and I have sort of a cadence and a rhythm for them.’ And we wrote the whole song in 15 minutes.” 

Looking forward…

In the coming weeks, Key will be working from his new home studio. When asked about his plans for the space, he perks up immediately. “I’m doing the whole room black,” he says. “Ceiling, walls, floor. A lot of wood grain and a lot of green pops in the room. The vibe is super Scandinavian, and I love that. I’m a big fan of Iceland, Sweden and Denmark. I love that part of the world so much. So we have a lot of this [look] in our house.”

Even more than the initial planning and execution of the project, this room will hold so much more meaning for Ryan as an artist, as he explores new podcast-related projects, and films content, pursues long-term goals (like music supervision and composition), and writes new Yellowcard songs for us to enjoy. It will also hold space for Ryan as a new father, viewing movies and creating art in this space with his family.

You mentioned we met in 2006. I wouldn’t want to meet me in 2006, you know? It’s just not even comparable, the headspace I’m in now and the tools that I have now to kind of prove my reactivity and try to stay positive. Things I was just incapable of doing for the better part of my career in Yellowcard until now. So, in the end, stepping away from the band and having that time was probably the best possible thing that could happen to me, personally. Because the perspective that I’ve come back to the band with is just so wildly different than it’s ever been before.

Yellowcard has, once again, taken a front seat in Ryan’s life. Check out an upcoming performance near you throughout 2024.

twin bridges’ “carbon & dust” musically blurs the line between life and death through a hybrid of folk and chamber music

twin bridges’ “carbon & dust” musically blurs the line between life and death through a hybrid of folk and chamber music

Zach Gerzon of Twin Bridges is an up-and-coming songwriter and self-taught cellist, breaking into the music scene with a distinct mix of folk and instrumental chamber genres. The project’s latest single, “Carbon & Dust”, puts instrumental chamber music through an indie filter, mixing traditional orchestral instruments with wistful vocals. Durnis Markov’s animated music video is as heart-wrenching as it is breathtaking, providing context for the song as well as eye candy visuals.

While self-teaching, Gerzon experimented on his cello, incorporating playing it on its side like a guitar and using a looping pedal. He brings this experience into “Carbon & Dust”, incorporating a plucked cello motif as the crux of the piece. Its ambling tempo resembles how the characters in the music video lumber through a forest aimlessly. The music video’s description elaborates that the song “explores a conversation with a loved one who has passed… Slipping between a dream and reality, the lines get blurred from reality, the afterlife and reliving trauma / tragedy.” 

Along with cello and vocals, “Carbon & Dust” includes a trumpet, bass clarinet, bassoon, clarinet, and saxophone, creating a mini symphony. Each drastic change in instrumentation accompanies the events in the video. When a car crashes in a head-on collision—recalling the moment the mourned person passed in this tragic accident—the winds suddenly break into the song. The wail of strings and blast of winds juxtapose Gerzon’s forlorn voice, encompassing the simultaneously agonizing and gloomy experience of grief.

“Carbon & Dust” is only the beginning of Twin Bridges’ exploration into folk-chamber pop, as the lead single to the upcoming Fertile Ashes full-length debut, out on 10/27. With a strong start, Twin Bridges and animator Durnis Markov helm the sail of an exciting new genre.

Does a new future of folk-chamber pop lie ahead of us? Find out below!

yellowcard ignites sparks @ pier 17 in nyc

yellowcard ignites sparks @ pier 17 in nyc

When we heard Yellowcard was bringing in the big guns for their Pier 17 show in New York City, we knew we had to be a part of it. After six years away from touring, the east coast got to celebrate with the band as they honored 20 years of Ocean Avenue — a street many Brooklynites are familiar with. (Yes, we know many places have streets called “Ocean Avenue,” but we choose to claim it when we can.)

Joined by pop punk heavyweights Mayday Parade and Story of the Year, Yellowcard captivated the city crowd with their talent on stage all evening, as the lights slowly dimmed over the city. Their musicianship re-ignited a purity and interest – a spark – in music that had been feeling a little murky lately.

What an unbelievable experience, what a beautiful night.

Setlist
Way Away
Breathing
Lights and Sounds
Believe
Rough Landing, Holly
Fighting
Five Becomes Four
Holly Wood Died
One Year, Six Months
Hang You Up (with Derek Sanders)
Empty Apartment
Play Video
Childhood Eyes
Light Up the Sky
Always Summer
Awakening
Back Home
Encore:
With You Around
Only One
Ocean Avenue

carver commodore found free parking at sxsw 2023, and we demand to know how

carver commodore found free parking at sxsw 2023, and we demand to know how

The ever-charming and talented alt-rock outfit Carver Commodore – comprised of guitarist and vocalist Payton Pruitt, guitarist Phillip Blevins, drummer Noah Freeman, and multi-instrumentalist Clayton Christopher – took time out of their schedule to take over our Instagram account during SXSW 2023. We caught up with them post-takeover – and post-fest – to see how it all went down for them. Lead singer and guitarist Payton Pruitt’s words below.

an interview with Payton of carver commodore

iF: What was the first song or album that you remember hearing, and does that work of art have any influence on how you approach your music today?

Carver Commodore (CC): One of the first songs I remember hearing is “That Smell” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I have a core memory of slamming my finger in the door of my dad’s El Camino and rushing to the doctor as my finger gushed blood and “That Smell” played over the speakers. I was probably 4 years old. I still love that song, and I’m 100% sure it has crept into my songwriting at some point. The Lynyrd Skynyrd “triple guitar assault” is definitely something we draw from as a band!

iF: Tell us a little bit about what got you started in music, and how this project came to be.

CC: I started playing music around 11 or 12 years old because a friend of mine played guitar and we both got into AC/DC at the same time, so I wanted to play those songs with him. I started singing and writing songs around 15 years old, and a few bands later, Phil (our guitarist) and I started Carver Commodore together after being in a folk rock band together.

iF: What did the road to SXSW look like for you, literally or figuratively?

CC: We’ve been trying to make it out to SXSW for years. We were booked for a few unofficial shows in 2020, but we all know what happened there. Couldn’t get on in ’21 or ’22, and finally made it in ’23. Played a few great shows with our boys in a band called Brother Moses on our way out this year and loved it.

iF: What has the experience been like? I’d love to see it through your eyes, as first-timers!

CC: Honestly, super chaotic when it comes time to play shows! Parking & Load-in kinda sucks, but that’s just part of it I guess. We had a few great shows and a few not-so-great, but I’m glad we finally got to experience it. It was a learning experience if nothing else! Would also be nice if SXSW would give artists water!

iF: Best showcase, besides your own?

CC: Hermanos Guiterrez at Stubb’s.

iF: What was the most magical thing you found in Austin?

CC: Free parking

iF: What’s your absolute favorite word right now, and why?

CC: “Mode.” No idea why – everything is just on “__ mode” (ex: “SXSW is on $30 parking mode”)

iF: If you had the ability to tell the future, would you like it?

CC: Probably not. Would just give us more to worry about or anticipate!

iF: What’s coming up for you next?

CC: We’re releasing a new EP called “If Nothing Happens” on August 15th! The first single is out April 11th and it’s called “Drown Me in Emotions”. Very excited for people to hear these songs.

iF: That’s amazing! We can’t wait.

CC: CAR-VER COM-MO-DORE! Thanks for letting us be a part of this!

___

Keep up with Carver Commodore here.

lizzy mcalpine + carol ades absolutely dazzled in philly at the turn of the month

lizzy mcalpine + carol ades absolutely dazzled in philly at the turn of the month

On September 23rd, Lizzy McAlpine and Carol Ades took the stage at the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia. Photographer Jay Lindblad was on-hand to experience the magic of the evening. He was enamored by the vocal nuances of each artist, who displayed live performance tactics that would indicate music industry experience far beyond their years. The mood of the evening was blissful despite the “sad girl” ambiance, and we got some snapshots to prove it.

dreamy lyrics carry new track release by vulnerable singer-songwriter duo lowertown – “seaface” – to another level

dreamy lyrics carry new track release by vulnerable singer-songwriter duo lowertown – “seaface” – to another level

Lowertown, the duo comprised of Olivia Osby and Avsha Weinberg, are excited to release their new single “Seaface”. This is the first song from their upcoming EP The Gaping Mouth. Osby and Weinberg spent time in London recording the EP “that they call their most honest, interesting, and mature work to date”. “Seaface” is a tune that combines dreamy lyrics with music that builds from a single guitar to a full mix.

Pick what you want to be,
It can be anything.
If you close your eyes,
It’s fun to imagine 
Another body, another life.

Despite the constraints of the pandemic, 2020 proved to be a productive time for the pair of 19-year-olds – they graduated high school (where they met in math class), signed to label Dirty Hit and released their EP Honeycomb, Bedbug. 2021 looks like it could be as big a year for Lowertown.