GUEST BLOG: Xylo Aria (Music Production For Women)

Xylo Aria is the Founder of Music Production For Women (MPW), an online platform that encourages women to start producing music for themselves. After the success of her first FREE work-shop in London, we asked this inspirational woman to write about her thoughts on the music industry, and what fuels her creativity and generosity.

 

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about why we kill ourselves to be in the music industry, which from afar looks to be an unforgiving, self-centered being which really couldn’t care less about you. I’ll be honest, even at proximity it’s probably much the same, although I’m not sure I’d consider myself on the “inside” by any means. Still, I have to say as frustrated as I get by it sometimes, I still am in love with it.

This is for many reasons. Firstly, my project that’s so extremely close to my heart, MPW (Music Production for Women) as cheesy as it sounds gives me a very strong reason to wake up in the morning. Although it was launched not a lot time ago, the message seems to be spreading slowly but surely, and I often get lovely messages from women all over the world, something along the lines of “I’m so glad I found this, and have been looking for it for a while. It’s very encouraging to see and if there’s any way I can support it I’d love to!”.

This obviously puts a giant smile on my face. If my project helps reduce the self-doubt and lack of control over one’s music that I experienced in anyone else, then it’ll be the best thing. In saying that, it is a struggle. Although I love what I’m doing more than I’ve ever enjoyed anything, it’s a constant battle trying to stay afloat in many ways including financially and (although I feel I’m getting better at this) mentally when you’re trying to set something up from scratch, not having any clue what the outcome will be a few years, or even a few months from now.

And then of course, there’s the actual music side of things. There seem to be a million routes which you can take as an artist these days. Self release, pitch to small labels, pitch to bigger labels, try for publishing (I still don’t really understand what this is if I’m being honest) try for synch, release monthly to keep the flow, release periodically to keep people wanting more. etc. In some ways, it’s the best time to create music because we have so many options available to us; but it’s also enough to overwhelm any sane individual. Whether we are sane, fighting tooth and nail to work so hard to be in an industry which is doing so fine without us is another matter entirely.

Although it seems I’m straying from the point I’m trying to make – and yes there is a positive point – there is a clear reason why we do this. To say we love it seems to be an over-used cliche when it comes to the arts, but for me I guess it’s more the euphoria I get when I’m creating something I believe to be beautiful, as well as when I feel I’m helping people through MPW in a unique way which I somehow have the perfect skills in my opinion to do, is like nothing I get from anything else. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. You can be fighting every minute, and be getting beaten down but know you’re ALIVE while you’re doing it, or you can take the comfortable option and be dying a little every minute because what you’re doing has nothing to do with what you’ve been given the unique skills to do.

Thanks to Xylo for writing this piece for GIHE. Follow Music Production For Women on Facebook for more updates.

FIVE FAVOURITES: TONI&MASH

Berlin-based duo TONI&MASH are on a mission to create 80s inspired, electro-pop bangers. They recently released their debut single ‘LTGFU’ through Black Diamonds Records this summer which stands for “‘Love to Get Fucked Up” – a direct and self-explanatory tune designed to fill the coolest of dance floors.

With influences ranging from Abra to Patti Smith and Grace Jones to The Sugababes, they’ve been active on the DIY music collective circuit in Berlin for the last few years. In addition to TONI&MASH, the duo are involved in a multitude of projects, including directing, shooting and editing videos for themselves and other artists in Berlin’s hip hop and R&B scene.

We think one of the best ways to get to know a band is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with TONI&MASH to ask about their “Five Favourites” – five albums that have influenced their songwriting techniques. Check out her choices below, and make sure you listen to their track ‘LTGFU’ at the end of this post.

1. Abra – Rose
I (Toni) remember the first time I heard Rose – I was so enthralled by the 808 drum combo with Abra’s catchy and emotional hooks. I must have listened to this album 20 times over in the first week I got it. It came out in 2015, a time when I was still developing my full badassness, I remember hearing her vulnerability and rawness in what very often women have been scolded for; expressing her needs and desires so openly. Well done Abra, big ups for being a voice for young women navigating mad lusts and relationships in this world, an creating a beautiful record at the same time. I still return back to ‘Rose’ every few months, the sign of a great album!

Toni showed me (Mash) this album  and it was right up my ally – of course! Dramatic melodies, over layering vocals and 80´s sounds in nu-r&b form – that is what dreams are made of! I´m especially in love with her lyrical style and surprising melodies. I strongly relate to every songs message. This album has a fierce female energy while being boss-ass and not too sweet or girlish. A lot of the songs seem to talk about power dynamics in relationships and as a psychologically interested person, that totally hits the sweet spot for me. Songs about feeling and relationships that are hermetic and not completely on the nose are hard to write and lovely to listen to. Although all the songs have a similar style they are all very distinct and individually beautiful. Whenever we do a TONI&MASH related mix, we make sure there is one track of Abra in there, since she is such a musical influence to us.

2. SBTRKT – SBTRKT
The first album that TONI&MASH ever bonded over. Knowing each other for only one week and on set for an Ämsi Maasname video shoot, this album came on and before the first chorus even hit to ‘Wildfire’ we were both singing every lyric, word for word. And from that the beginnings of a beautiful musical friendship was born! It was a record I (Toni) also fell in love with at uni, just a year or two before moving to Berlin. It manages to overlap that wonderful bridge between pop and electronic dance music with tracks like ‘Hold On’. Sampha’s hypnotic and somewhat UK homesick inducing accent hold the perfect singalong, ass shaking session together. ‘Pharaohs’ also dropping a mega strong vibe on this record. Feel like this album really represents what was happening with the UK pop/dance music cross over in 2011/12. We still love it until this day. A formative album for many.

I (Mash) remember the look on Toni´s face when this German girl knew all the lyrics to all the songs of this great album and that I was very proud of making an impression on her. When this album came out, I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t crazy about it. It seemed so ground breaking at the time. The beats, the lyrics, the melodies, the content – it all felt so new and fresh and never heard before. Although I am not such a big fan of instrumentals, I even loved the songs without lyrics, which has to be a good sign. I especially loved all the collaborations – that was also always my dream, was I to make music on my own – a loooot of collaborations since they spark the most inspiration for me. My two favourite songs are definitely ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Hold On’.

3. OutKast – Aquemini
Toni and Mash found out early, that they both are big OutKast fans. Andre 3000 and Big Boi are musical geniuses – period! At a time where most American rap seemed to be gangsta rap and very repetitive, OutKast managed to produce rap music that was beautiful, deep, conscious, without being preachy or boring. While east coast and the west coast were comparing dick sizes and rapping about money and bitches, the south reinvented the game and managed to do so by leaving those topics out and making sociocritical music that was still cool. And even when they rap about having sex with groupies in ‘Mamacita’ they stay respectful and make sure it’s consensual.

Songs like “Da Art of Story Telling” show off their excellent skills in exactly that – the art of storytelling. I love the fact that they are a duo, just like us. Coming from a background of 80´s music, punk and rap, I always got inspired by their quick change of flows and the non-chalant switch from rapping to singing to rapping. We love to make that shift in our own music as much as possible. Favourite tracks are ‘Aquemini, ‘SpottiOttieDopaliscious’, and ‘Liberation’ featuring Cee-Lo and Erykah Badu, but every song on this album is a banger and good to bang to.

4. Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE
Omg, I think this album changed my life and how I look at music (for the better). I love everything about Frank Ocean. His voice, the fact that he´s openly gay in a scene that’s still very dominated by male toxicity and that he came from a songwriting background and then started making music for himself.

The first song I ever heard of him was ‘Thinkin Bout You’ and I just melted. Never has a song portrayed the feeling of longing for someone more accurately. Songs like ‘Super Rich Kids’, ‘Sweet Life’ and ‘Crack Rock’ are outstanding in storytelling and are sharp observations of society by a woke mind. I was listening to nothing but this album when it came out and I showed it to everyone who didn’t jump up the tree quick enough.

I also loved the fact that almost none of the songs had the traditional “song-form” of verse-hook-verse-hook-bridge, etc. Songs like ‘Pyramids’ which is almost 10 minutes long seemed bold and like he just really made the piece of art he wanted to make. So what it´s like two different songs in one? It´s like a dark nu-r&b musical track and it all makes sense. ‘Bad Religion’ is also an all time favourite of course, speaking to anyone with a broken heart. I can´t tell which song is my favourite, I don’t want to diss the others!

5. M.I.A. – Arular
This album came out when I was 18 years old and going out every weekend. I grew up in a smaller city than Berlin in NRW and I knew the DJ of my main club and would always ask for songs and he would play them for me because i´d always be the first person on the dance floor and break the ice. M.I.A. was always on top of the list. Usually I went for ‘Bucky Done Gun’ or ‘Galang’ and totally lost it. She was such an icon to me!

A badass woman that produced her own music, invented a whole new style and was successful without getting her obviously sexy body naked. She always produced her own videos (in which she also appeared without make-up), made art and was multi-dimensional talented while at the same time being very outspoken politically, never taking comfort in her stardom, always out using her voice to do good and change the status quo which is depriving so many people from leading good lives. I obsessed about her and sucked up any information I could get. I was so excited to see the documentary about her last year!

This album just blew my mind, I had never heard music like that. ‘Pull up the people’ and ‘Sunshowers’, are definitely favourites – I also love the music video to ‘Sunshowers’ which touched my heart and showed me that women in pop don’t always have to get their tits out to sell their music.

Thanks to TONI&MASH for sharing their favourites with us. Follow the band on Facebook for more updates.

FIVE FAVOURITES: Stainwasher

Swedish artist Stainwasher is not one to shy away from darker states of emotion. Her 2018 debut EP What Did I See, was a sonic journey through personal fears and unsettled thoughts, and her new single ‘Drying’ flows in a similar vein. She explores both the good and the bad in the world through soaring synths and tentative vocals, believing that it’s “easier seeing life as an experiment, rather than something absolute.”

We think one of the best ways to get to know a new artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Stainwasher to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that have influenced her songwriting techniques. Check out her choices below, and make sure you listen to her new track ‘Drying’ at the end of this post.

1. Mazzy star – Among My Swan
Hope Sandoval is for sure my favourite singer, and it seems that every track she sings on instantly becomes magic. This album is amazing. It’s mysterious, beautiful and very inspiring to me. This album is actually the biggest reason I use tambourines, sliding guitars and organ in my music, which says a lot about my feelings for the album. The track ‘Umbilical’ is so stunning it makes my thoughts blurry, which is very nice sometimes, and the track ‘Happy’ is just perfect with its perfect chords mixed with perfect vocals. I love CDs and have most of my favourites on CD, including this. The best way I enjoy this album is to listen to it on speakers while lying on the sofa, smiling and thinking that if we lost everything, we would still have Hope Sandoval!

2. Portishead – Third
The biggest reason for mentioning this album is the track ‘The Rip’, which I usually call my all-time favourite song. I’ve got a thing for songs that build up and slowly explode, and this song does it so well! The first times I heard Portishead I had a difficult time listening to them because I genuinely got scared by the creepy music and spooky voice, but when I heard Third, I was hooked and got used to the weird but pleasant feeling they left me with. I think the most inspiring thing about this album – and their music in general – is the structure of their songs, and how making surprising changes seem so natural.

3. The Knife – The Knife
I’ve loved this duo since I was like 13, and it is impossible to get tired of their music. This was the first full album from them that I heard, by borrowing the CD from my dad. I remember being so fascinated by their music, even though it was catchy, it still was super special. I can’t say exactly how this album inspired my own music, I think The Knife always have been in the back of my mind when making music, perhaps I wanted that uniqueness they have. The anonymous part of Stainwasher is most likely influenced by The Knife. If I wasn’t so scared of playing live, I bet my shows would be very inspired by their live performances as well, except that tour where they do aerobics since I hate sports.

4. Nordpolen – På Nordpolen
Where do I begin. This guy saved my teenage years and still saves me from time to time. I didn’t like going to concerts when I was younger due to panic attacks, but I knew I HAD to see Nordpolen live, so he became the reason I faced those fears. However the most special memory I have with his music is when he played at Emmaboda (a Swedish festival), and I was not there. I was in bed crying and listened to his album from start to end pretending I was there. Nordpolen is also the biggest reason I started making music. It sounds a bit cliché, but he had helped me so much with his music and I thought if I could help or induce some kind of emotion for someone with music, I would be so grateful. In this album, he uses a lot of synth-choirs, which inspired me to try that as well. His lyrics are very straight-forward, something I love and also try to achieve. Even though the lyrics are sad, this album leaves me with a streak of hope.

5. Hazelnut ice-cream
I have a hard time making my last choice, no album feels right. That’s why I’ll tell you about my favourite ice-cream flavour, hazelnut. I was seven years old the first time I tried hazelnut ice-cream which was in Italy on a vacation with my family. I was immediately stuck and that was pretty much my diet for the rest of the vacation. The flavour is an amazing mix of salty, fat and sweet, and I can eat a lot without getting tired of the taste. Whenever I eat something really nice I become quiet, I want to absorb what I’m eating and it bothers me when people distract me, or even worse, want to taste from my plate, so I prefer eating ice-cream alone. To me, eating hazelnut ice-cream on a warm day is like hearing Hope Sandoval’s voice; soothing, pleasurable and makes me believe that there are still good stuff in the world worth fighting for.

Thanks to Stainwasher for sharing her favourites with us. Follow her on Facebook for more updates.

Photo Credit: Ebba G Agren

Premiere: Freja Frances – ‘Catching Fire’

Following her debut EP Ghosts back in 2015, Freja Frances is now set to release her debut album next month. Having previously charmed ears at a number of Sofar Sounds gigs, she has now shared a poignant new taster of what to expect from the upcoming release.

Flowing with an emotion-strewn splendour, ‘Catching Fire’ showcases Frances’ talent for creating bewitching soundscapes with a stirring ethereal beauty. A truly heartfelt offering oozing delicate melodies and the majestic subtle power of her vocals, it’s a slice of twinkling folk-pop that will pull at the heart strings in all the right ways. Of the track, Frances explains:

‘Catching Fire’ was the first song I wrote for this album, it sets the theme of a struggle with depression and a difficult relationship. It’s about finding someone who I felt able to relate to in the sense of mental illness for the first time, but also getting scared of the intensity of the relationship and constantly trying to pull away. My feelings at the time were a strange combination of both comfort and danger – we understood each other but we weren’t good for each other.”

Listen to ‘Catching Fire’, for the first time, here:

 

‘Catching Fire’ is out on Saturday, 31st August. And The Funeral, the upcoming debut album from Freja Frances, is out 13th September via ShimmerSun Music. Catch Freja live at her album launch at The Malborough, Brigton, on on 14th September.

Mari Lane
@marimindles

FIVE FAVOURITES: TWEN

Nashville-via-Boston duo Twen are gearing up to support Seattle rockers TacoCat tomorrow night at Hackney’s Moth Club (29th Aug), and we’re convinced their celestial, angular sounds will impress their London crowd. Comprised of Jane Fitzsimmons and Ian Jones, Twen came to life over the space of two years as the duo toured the Boston DIY punk scene. Now, they’re getting ready to share their debut album Awestruck, which is set for release on 20th September via Frenchkiss.

We think one of the best ways to get to know a band is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Jane to ask her about her “Five Favourites” – five albums that have influenced her songwriting techniques. Check out her choices below, and make sure you listen to Twen’s track ‘Baptism’ at the end of this post.

1. Central Heating – Heatwave
This is a classic that has stayed with me since I was 14. Before streaming, I would check out CDs at the library and rip them into my iTunes library. I found Heatwave while trying to listen to every funk/disco band I could find (thinking I could somehow listen to the whole genre). This whole album has a playfulness that packs some serious joy. The title track is the star of the show; the vocals are so strangely melodic but carry major rhythmic weight. I just love the concept of making people groove out with a vocal melody rather than the beat. Also the most silly and beautiful intro and outro I have yet encountered. James Guthrie (of Pink Floyd The Wall fame) produced this album, which I don’t really care about but something to note.

2. Bibio – À tout à l’heure 
I put this song on a mixed CD I made for Ian when we were sophomores in college. We would make so many mixes for each other, a different type of language than our early awkward convos. I would meticulously decorate them with sharpies and would spend hours deciding how to make the perfect “flow”. This was a song I found out he loved too, and he even knew how to play them to my amazement. The beyond beautiful and intricate finger-picking is so delicate but this song is a BANGER. The beat and funky bass line pair perfect with the acoustic layers and nonsensical lyrics (“À tout à l’heure”, French for “see you later”). There is such emotional and hypnotic value to this song, without making logical sense of it. Bibio still and always will have the best production sounds on the block, mixing analog and digital to make more of a sound tapestry than just a mere song.

3. Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Los Vegas
I found out about Cocteau Twins through my friend Matt, who DJ’d a college radio show called “Folk U” with me for two years. We had inherited the show and both slowly started to move out of the genre till Death Grips was playing. He played ‘Cherry-colored Funk’ and I nearly lost my damn mind, I had never heard anything so perfect. I read once that Elizabeth Fraser’s voice was ‘the voice of God’ and I don’t dispute it. Her ingenious melodies put me in a trance and make me feel like I’m understanding something outside words. Also, I have sweet memories with this album since it was one of the few albums I brought with me on an iPod on a trip to Iceland. I had gone by myself after college to camp 10 days in June when it’s daylight 22 hours a day (the only way I felt safe to camp by myself). I brought an old ass iPod that only had room for a few albums and this one of them. So, I listened the shit out of it while looking at the insane Icelandic landscape and I still love it.

4. Lijadu Sisters – Horizon Unlimited 
I had first heard the Lijadu sisters while working in a vegetarian restaurant in St. Louis, where I’m from. I had just moved back home for a quick quarter-life crisis. The owner and chef, Bay would sometimes make the playlists for the restaurant and loved blasting Lijadu Sisters. Being surrounded by an inspiring woman with a fountain of culinary creativity and listening to this album most days made a hard time a little less unbearable. The power of music. The beats and melodic riffs will make any day great and the two sisters feel exponentially BIG singing in unison. I really enjoy listening to music in different languages, it makes me notice the melodies better and the variety of vocal sounds possible that aren’t even used in English.

5. Mercyful Fate – Melissa 
I’m not super metal literate, but Mercyful Fate is THE metal band in my little world. On a tour probably a year ago (I only remember it was cold outside, they all start to blend together) a sound guy played this in the venue after the lights went on, probably to make everyone leave. A classic move. It made me want to STAY and to find out everything. Better known as King Diamond, this was his first band and Melissa is their first album. The vocal range is inhuman and the diversity of sounds that merely one person can make is an inspiration. Also I was raised Catholic, so hearing about covens and satanic rituals brings me a twisted joy.

Thanks to Jane for sharing their five favourites with us! Follow TWEN on Facebook for more updates.

Photo credit: Alexa Viscius

Five Favourites: The Paranoyds

Set to release their debut album next month, LA band The Paranoyds have been treating our ears to singles such as ‘Carnage Bargain’, ‘Hungry Sam’ and ‘Trade Our Sins’ throughout this year, cementing us as firm fans who cannot wait for the full length release. Delivering striking grunge-fuelled anthems filled with scathing lyrical observations and languid, insouciant vocals, we just can’t get enough of The Paranoyds’ raucous rock grit and sunny, punk-pop energy.

We think one of the best ways to get to know a new band/artist is by asking them what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with Lexi, Staz and Laila from The Paranoyds to talk about her ‘Five Favourites’ – five songs or albums that have influenced their songwriting techniques, or simply take them back to a specific feeling or time. Check out their choices below, and make sure you watch the band’s latest video for ‘Carnage Bargain’ at the end of this post.

Built to Spill There’s Nothing Wrong with Love
We love Built to Spill! Staz and I went through a huge phase of non-stop listening to them in 2014. This album is so good, the songs are so friggin’ catchy. I think it’s impossible to listen to it and not belt out the lyrics. I love that indie, strat tone and how the guitars complement but also play off with each other. The tracks are misleading too, on the surface they seem like simple, straight-forward songs, but there are a lot of layers. Favourite song, ‘Car’
– Lexi 

X – WILD GIFT and UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN
Every track is a banger on both of these iconic albums. I would throw Los Angeles, X’s first born in a lineup of legends, but I want to give these other records some love. You will always remember the time and place you got into X. These records forever hold that time in your life captive like a spell. I put on ‘The Once Over Twice’ and there I am 13 years old in my friends exhausted bedroom wondering if I’ll ever make anything that’ll sound this good and last this long, coming to life as soon as the right circuits touch. Those perfect imperfect harmonies, Chuck Berry guitar licks making sense with vulgar lyrics. And those keys! Good god! Some things last a long time and my love for X may last forever!
– Staz

DEVO – Are We Not Men?
DEVO is a benchmark for The Paranoyds. When we’re writing songs, the thought running through our heads is “is this as weird and strange as a DEVO song?” Lexi and I first saw DEVO when we were 16 through a fence in Brooklyn and we were undoubtedly blown away. Staz often describes their live set as seeing lightning strike. I feel the same way listening to this album. It’s a rare piece of art that you can’t recreate, and you find something new in it with each listen.
– Laila 

The Strokes – Is This It?
We love this album like a guilty pleasure. It’s become a sort of tour tradition to blast the whole album in the van and have a group sing-a-long. These songs have the catchiest melodies and you can’t help but belt out the songs like you’re a teenager in your bedroom. What I love most is that all the tracks have the grit of classic rock and roll, but they also have the upbeat feel-good vibes of a disco song. It’s such a solid album that I always come back to. For me, it’s timeless and I’ll never get tired of it!
– Laila

Massive thanks to The Paranoyds for talking about their five favourite albums with us! 

Carnage Bargain, the upcoming debut album from The Paranoyds, is out 13th September via Suicide Squeeze. Watch the video for the title track here:

Track By Track: Ziv – ‘Near Mint’

22 year old singer, rapper and beatmaker from Jerusalem. Ziv has been making music since the age of 13. Writing, recording and producing all her music herself, she’s had a strong sense of dedication to her own music from early on, quitting high school at the age of 16 to pursue her dream of studying music, which she did at the esteemed RIMON School for Jazz and Modern Music.

Now, having just released her new EP Near Mint, Ziv has showcased her shimmering, dreamy sounds and seductive vocals by creating an exquisitely crafted blend of mega chilled, lo-fi hip hop.

To tell us more about the EP, Ziv has given us the lowdown on each track:

‘Fav Shirt’
This song is a harmonic depiction of my bed as a deserted island, shared with a lover, a joint, and Netflix binge watching, while wearing my fav shirt – his huge T-shirt. A memory of me and my ex-boyfriend.

‘Lips To Kiss You’ 
This is a song about experiencing and sharing an intimate moment, compared to other habits of nature.

‘9/11’
My heart got broken so bad, it felt like a 9/11 attack on my body. The pain in my heart was so physical, and the struggle was real and harsh, but singing about it made it easier to cope through.

‘Bigger me’
‘Bigger me’ is an experimental pop song, the only song from ‘Near Mint’ to use auto-tune, which gives it a strange sound and a strong feeling of tension. The lyrics are about the relationship between a therapist and her client, finding himself in a familiar dark place in life, in a loss of control and the fight to get out to a better place.

‘Feels like’
I wrote this song on Yom Kippur, the holiest day according to Jewish tradition, a day of self-examination, observed mainly with a fast. I personally self-examined by smoking weed in my room and thinking about my ex-boyfriend – the first time I felt love, and everything I learned from it. I was flipping through samples and this one hit my heart – I knew it was meant to be.

Huge thanks to Ziv for this track by track lowdown. Listen to Near Mint in full on Spotify now. 

Photo Credit: Silvi Cohen