Sunday, July 27, 2008

Otem Rellik puts on a show

During her opening act at a small gathering in a middle-of-nowhere house in Fort Collins, singer-songwriter Danielle Ate a Sandwich interrupts her own show.

Without stopping her sandy ukulele solo, her voice acquires pronounced perk: “Hey, its Otem Rellik!”

Her listeners follow her gaze to peer over their shoulders at the rapper, one Toby Hendricks, a husky 25-year-old who sports an unkempt chinstrap beard that dribbles out of his trucker hat with redneck finesse. Faced with a room of eyes, he shoots a smile and a wave before taking a seat near the back of the room. Attention then returns to Danielle, whose performance continues as if nothing’s happened.

But something has happened; Otem Rellik, the white guy whose experimental brand of electronic hip-hop has put him among Colorado’s “best kept secrets”, has just walked into the building. He’s the biggest name playing tonight. This is the guy whose gone on tour in Europe when the other acts still dream of booking a bar gig in Denver.

Despite this, the expected Kanye-bravado is absent; Hendricks looks like he’d rather go unnoticed, at least until he is safely behind a mic.

“He’s a quiet kid,” says Braden Smith, who signed Hendricks to his label, Denver-based Ponowai Flora Records, in 2006. “I wanted to get (his music) out there more than himself.”

“Toby is probably the most harmless guy I know,” adds friend Jonathan Alonzo. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and I think it was kind of surprising, because it was like ‘Oh, he’s the hip-hop guy, he’s probably got an ego.’”

True to the quiet nature that his friends and associates speak of him, the soft-spoken Hendricks has few comments to offer about his upbringings, unless music is somehow involved.

He says he has enjoyed growing up in Fort Collins, the city where his love for music was cultivated.

“Back in the day, it was mostly Public Enemy and N.W.A.,” Hendricks says. “I grew up listening to whatever my brother and my older brother listened to.”

A decade later — after a “ska and punk phase” in middle and high school — Hendricks said a friend introduced him to the synth-stocked sounds of Anticon, a San Francisco hip-hop label.

“It was so much different than the hip-hop I was currently listening to,” Hendricks said. “It turned me on to a lot more experimental stuff, not just in hip-hop but in indie rock and electronica and everything.”

Hendricks lists the entire Anticon lineup as his influences, specifically citing Doseone and Sole as artists who sparked his interest in using cold, crunching electronics as a backdrop to fast-paced rhymes. Discovering Anticon “opened the doors” for Hendricks.

“The more I listened to it, the more I wanted to make something,” Hendricks says, adding that he was eventually compelled to purchase a Casio keyboard and a TASCAM four-track recorder one afternoon in 2003. “I just tried laying out songs the best way I knew how. I was just like ‘What can I do with this?’ with no expectations whatsoever.”

Where he might have relied on expectations to drive him into furthering his art, Hendricks had his experimentations.

A particularly rousing session on the World Wide Web introduced Hendricks to circuit bending, a practice in which musicians rewire electronic devices to generate new sounds. Inspired, Hendricks began to explore the innards of his Casio, toying with wires and rerouting circuit points. The result: a weird lo-fi piano machine with every key purring displaced pitch. Hendricks says he isn’t entirely satisfied with his first creation.

“It’s kind of hard to work it into music… you’re trying to have a chord progression or something and you have a really weird, out-of-tune Casio,” he says.

Regardless, Hendricks has made a hobby of circuit bending, a pastime that has powered him through three EPs and five albums; he’s manipulated everything from Speak & Spells to talking-string dolls to achieve his musical mischief.

Smith admits that Hendricks’ brouhaha was a little off-putting in his first listen. Smith, who performs under the moniker Ancient Mith, first met Hendricks after a performance at the Larimer Lounge in late 2006. Knowing of Smith’s label, Hendricks handed him Petrified Human Project, his then-latest recording.

“I got like six or seven CDs that night, and seriously, that was the only one that was worth a shit,” Smith says. “I didn’t even like it at first… then I gave it another listen and was like ‘Yeah, I need to get a hold of this kid.’”

Hendricks signed onto Ponowai Flora Records later that year, working closely with Smith to improve his melodies and musical connectedness to produce his most recent album, Chain Reaction Robot, which dropped in March 2008. When asked what appealed to him about the music, Smith points to the lyrics, which Hendricks barely brings above a mumble as he softly pours his words into the mic.

“I don’t think Toby’s music is for everybody, I really don’t,” Smith says. “But I think there’s a realness and a emotional connection. I’ve even learned from watching him in that sense of taking just absolute personal issues and just airing them, whether they be the stupidest smallest thing, or just the biggest thing.”

The critics haven’t entirely agreed.

In his semi-approving review of Chain Reaction Robot, Rocky Mountain Chronicle music critic Elliot Johnson dug at the rhymes of Otem Rellik: “…his subject matter is obsessively confessional (i.e. anyone who uses the word “emo” as derogatory, which is most everyone who uses the term, will run from this album after Track One.)”

Hendricks remains entirely vague about the experiences and situations that inspire his lyrics, even with the curious journalist. His simple answer: “Most of the stuff I write about is generally about bad things.” But he takes offense at being labeled as “emo”, even when it’s directed at him offhandedly.

“There’s so much associated with that word, and a lot of it is negative to a lot of people,” Hendricks said. “Tupac made emo music according to what emo music is. His lyrics are emotional, but he’s making gangster rap, so why would you call that emo?”

It’s about 1:22 a.m. back at the house, and Otem Rellik is making preparations.

Most of the crowd has petered out, but the few who’ve stuck behind watch as Hendricks arranges his magical table of wire-crossed gizmos: two circuit-bent Casios, an iPod, a drum machine, a row of pedals set to distort and echo with the turn of a knob, a Speak & Spell and one disembodied doll head at the bottom of the mic stand.

“I’m not one for hip-hop, but Toby really makes me like it,” says friend and fellow musician Marty Albertz. “It’s his style. He’s not at all musically trained, so everything he’s doing is different.”

As Hendricks introduces himself to the crowd, his fingers hover above the various gadgets, which gleam like fluorescent fairies in the darkened basement of the house. And even now, behind that safe and warm mic, his bashfulness is showing; his eyes keep to his table, directing his fingers with clockwork precision, stabbing and twisting and dialing and flipping as he sings along with the melancholic fuzz he’s creating.

Here, among friends and dedicated friends, including a fawning girlfriend, one has to wonder why Hendricks has such a hard time with eye contact. This is, after all, his place to be.

“At a (concert) venue, you don’t know the people and they don’t know who you are. Half the time it’s just people going there to drink, which generally is a crowd of people who aren’t even into what I’m doing anyway,” Hendricks said. “House shows are definitely more appealing to me: more relatable people there, and they’re more fun, generally a lot more fun than playing at a venue.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Folk meets coffeehouse rock: Guitarist Josh Dillard draws influence from darker days

Originally published in The Rocky Mountain Collegian

Josh Dillard had to laugh.

He stood in his Cleveland apartment one winter morning in 2003, and while brushing his teeth, he began laughing.In an hour or so, he'd be in the post office, and in the next couple of hours, he'd be delivering mail.

By the time he returned to his apartment, some 13 to 14 hours later, exhaustion would bar him from working on the one thing he had come to Cleveland to do: music.The irony of it all hadn't yet driven him entirely insane, but right then, Dillard couldn't help but laugh at his situation, a time he recalls as one of the darkest in his life.

Dillard, today, is a soft-spoken 27-year-old CSU graduate with a degree in social work. These days he serves with Timberline Church and CSU's Campus Navigators, yet finds plenty of time to practice his craft. His weapon of choice is a Gibson 45, and when combined with his feathery-bare vocals, he has produced a coffeehouse acoustic sound that has defined his first album, "The Kate EP."

While he says his sound isn't original, "The Kate EP" has fared successfully for Dillard since its release a full year ago, drawing an audience and recognition from Fort Collins' local music scene. This Saturday, he'll be appearing at Everyday Joe's for a 7:00 p.m. performance. While Dillard has enjoyed the emerging success, he says he owes much of it to those darker times in life.

"Sometimes, we don't seek the things we need when we live comfortable," Dillard said. "We need to be challenged before we realize it, before we look into ourselves."

Running down a dream
Six months prior to his giggling-toothbrush revelation, Dillard had completed an unfulfilling freshman year at CSU.

"I had completely set my mind on leaving school to pursue music," Dillard said. "We were young, na've."

With his best friend Dan Graeve alongside him, Dillard dropped out and took to Cleveland, floating on dreams of bringing together a band and signing with a label. There, he and Graeve conspired with Dillard's cousins, forming Beggars & Thieves. Mere months into existence, Dillard's group quickly fell apart.

"(Graeve) left pretty early. Probably three or four months after we moved out there, he went back to (CSU)," Dillard said.

It was the beginning of darker days for Dillard. Graeve's departure, he says, got him thinking about his own existence, bounded to Cleveland by a year-long lease, taken up with the long hours of various odd jobs which included the role of mailman.

"After three months at the post office, it just got too hard," Dillard said. "I was living by myself, not seeing anybody, working crazy hours … I decided I needed to get out."

In the summer of 2003, Dillard made his way back home to Fort Collins, were he worked for a year and a half before returning to CSU. With a degree in one hand and his Gibson in the other, Dillard said that he has turned his attention to the art of sharing.

"I try to use the small Gibson I have as a vessel to love people, to help people get into the music," Dillard said. "When I'm playing an instrument to just share an experience, I just hope someone could grab onto a little bit of wisdom from a trial I've gone through."

Dillard said he is also focused on his church and the Campus Navigators, sharing his beliefs with others. Cleveland, he says, pushed him closer to God, and he's considering a future as a missionary.

"I've gotten a lot closer to Christ," Dillard said. "I've had a greater passion to know him personally, to share him with others, and I'm continuing to see that grow within me."

And while Dillard says his beliefs have influenced his music, he refers to various life experiences as his music's foundation.

Sharing is caring
His folksy acoustic sound is influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon, while his lyrics are born out of experiences of both light and dark natures. The entirety of "The Kate EP," for example, centers on a previous relationship of Dillard's.

But there's a certain responsibility in writing about oneself, he adds.

"I think a struggle for a lot of musicians is, for a lack of a better term, self-clarification," Dillard says. "It's easy for music and art to be about the artist, when it might have much more value from sharing that experience with someone that might gain from it."

Dillard is currently writing music for a future album, and hopes to start production by the end of winter. As for the future, Dillard has some sense of where he'll be heading with his music. All it took was a year in the heart of rock n' roll.

"The winds have changed since the beginning, my focus has shifted," Dillard said. "Music is no longer a priority of making a label, no longer the end-all-be-all. I've found other things in my life that mean a lot to me, and I always want those things to be a part of my life."

Music of Dillard's album "The Kate EP" can be heard at Dillard's MySpace page and is available for purchase off of iTunes.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Christina Dietz Tries On Different Fittings in New EP

Originally written for Colorado Music Buzz
The first time Christina Dietz played the role of street performer was on a “delicious” summer afternoon in Laguna Beach, where the blue ocean chortled endlessly from across the street.

It was a picture-perfect setting, but a less then comfortable situation for a 14-year-old girl who would need to loop her five-song set list — a collection of lovey-dovey tunes she had written herself — across the span of three hours. However, the attitude and atmosphere somehow clicked, and Dietz’s passerby audience put her up $200 in donations by the end of the day.

“My sister just had her first job at Cold Stone that day, and she was heartbroken when I came home with $200 from playing all day,” Dietz says, speaking from her Monument home. She adds, with a laugh: “She had made, like, $20.”

It’s a cherished memory in the present day life of the pale-skinned 18-year-old singer-songwriter. Dietz said that day inspired her to pursue music and continue performing throughout the streets of her native home, Orange County, until moving to Monument two years ago. Since moving to Colorado, Dietz has risen from the streets to the stages with a slew of performances across Colorado venues (and a few back home on the California coast during the winter.)

This July, however, could prove to be Dietz-less. The guitarist will be heading out to California to meet up with her new producers, Craig Zarkos and Anthony Catalano, and begin preproduction for her new EP, Let’s Just Kiss. Dietz and Zarkos have been close acquaintances for years, but it was only recently when Zarkos and his new friend Catalano approached Dietz about putting together a new, sweeter-sounding set of tracks. For her, approaching the new album has meant honing the fundamentals.

“I want to sharpen my voice as much as possible before I record.” Dietz said. “It takes a few hours of a capella practice every day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good for me, it’s like my vitamins.”

It’s also meant rethinking her sound; Dietz is looking to depart from her former acoustic style and slip into something more comfortable.

“I’m really inspired by European burlesque, cabaret, theatrical music,” Dietz said. “It’s something I’ve always been curious about… that whole atmosphere, burlesque girls and their little songs and dancing.”

The title track of the album is a mystical mix of alluring backing strings, corrosively catchy vocals and a psychedelic electric guitar solo to notch. So far, it’s the only track off the new EP that Dietz has laid out, as she plans on recording the rest of the album in August. She expects Let’s Just Kiss to be available for purchase by the beginning of September and hopes that when people take a listen, they’ll come away impressed.

“I think it’s going to be different,” Dietz said. “I don’t know if that’s too much to say, but I personally haven’t heard this special sound that I’m going for. I just want to create something that’s so special that people can’t really quite tag it.”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What Is And What Never Will Be

What comes to mind when you hear this song?

Maybe it was the first time you heard it. You were six years old and you were poolside, waiting patiently for adult swim to come to an end. You were watching some paled fatass carefully waddle around the water, pleased that his hair would remain dry. Page’s riffs came without warning through the loudspeaker radio, roaring like a pissed circus tiger that had escaped its cage after being beaten one times too many.
By the second verse, you were wiser to the bullshit. You knew it, you felt it all around, engulfing your everyday existence.
And upon Bonham’s boisterous drum outro, you soared into the pool, landing an inspired cannonball that drenched the fat guy. You may have forgotten the tears he had shed and Dad’s subsequent roar, but the fuller movie magic of that moment will be yours forever.

Perhaps it was the 700th time you heard it. It came on the disc player one May evening, back in high school, when you were cruising around town in your shitty car because you had nothing better to do with your time. While you carried the rock n’ roll persona — an apathetic attitude, a 2.1 grade point average and a Ramones haircut to go along with your Ramones t-shirt, the only CD you owned was the second disc of the Led Zeppelin box set, which you stole from your friend’s house.
Right when Robert Plant had begun the “oooh-yeah” succession, the traffic light, twenty feet down the street, went yellow. In that definitive fight-or-flight moment, you gave it your all. Your miraculous vehicle sailed like a ragged Spartan, breezing past the intersection at around 50 miles per hour —probably, easily, ten miles over the speed limit. You had just enough time to watch the light blink red in your rear-view mirror. “Fucking badass,” you whispered to yourself, suddenly urged to roll into the Adult Book Ranch.

It’s too bad that neither of these scenarios are associated with this song for you or any person in modern society. If you are reading this blog, then you listen to this song and you see that fucking car.
You hear the chorus, and you can see the dust fly as Grandad’s slightly souped-up beast drifts over a dune. You hear Page’s crunching solo and you see the parked product glowing in the orange stage light, smirking with the satisfaction of a successful stunt run.
It wasn’t your fault. You just happened to see the commercial that one time, and as a result, it literally burned through your memory bank and replaced your livid memory with its product.
These things happen all the time, it’s okay. This is just the multinational corporation’s response to the rebel rock, which had raged against it since the beginning; literally, never had a bigger middle finger been flashed. You were just blinded by the light.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fair and Balanced

Yesterday, Media Matters revealed that the scheming crew behind Fox News morning program "Fox & Friends" had digitally altered the photos of a reporter and editor from the New York Times, giving them receding hairlines, yellow teeth, and giant Jew-noses. I'd like to think Fox News is just the biggest troll in the history of media, sneaking in these little travesties just to send media watchdogs into a foaming frenzy. I mean, with something like this taking place behind the scenes, and seeing that Fox News Organization has yet to respond to the charges, just leaves me thinking they love to piss off as many people as possible.
In that sense, well, I can't help but chuckle.
It is Fox News after all, America's #1 source for news for grandmas and grandad everywhere.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Slick heart-aches & Sordid hair-cuts

BAND: Foals
SONG: Cassius

Let’s dissect, you and I.
This is the video for post-punk nerdlings Foals’ catchiest single, “Cassius.” It’s a video that features the gang playing around in nothingness, dancing and flag-waving and playing with pills. Pretty random, but not necessarily new.
-For that, subtract one letter: A-1=B

Then there are the colorfully gross hearts swinging ever so daintily from a string. These ugly little metaphors buzz throughout the video, and while you wish they’d go away, I think their presence really makes this video effective. Maybe I need to get out more I can’t quite say I’ve seen something so grotesquely gripping as those strung-up hearts in a while.
-For that, add half-a-letter: B+(+)=B+

Lead vocalist Yannis Philikappis has a really terrible haircut and we are subject to him and his blackened gelled curve just too often. You want to reach through your monitor and punch him in the face.
-For that, subtract one letter: B+-1=C+

Finally, the video just doesn’t really fit my idea of cool factor. I am not left with any kind of desire to watch this video again.
-For that, subtract half-a-letter: C+-(+)= C