Mattie Safer has a rich history in New York’s music scene, beginning more than a decade ago as a member of acclaimed indie rock band The Rapture. In 2002, he and his band had the first single released by the now-iconic DFA record label, which originated on the Lower East Side and went on to release music by Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and many other influential artists.
After releasing “House of Jealous Lovers” with The Rapture, Safer went on to release two more albums with the band before leaving in 2009 to start a solo R&B career. He released his first single, “Illusion of Love” in 2010 on Ed Banger Records, and currently has a new album coming out on music producer Paul Epworth’s label, Wolf Tone.
I caught up with Safer to chat about his upcoming show at Rockwood Music Hall, the Lower East Side, and the future of his music career.
Have you ever played Rockwood Music Hall?
Yes, once before and I had the time of my life. It was my first show back after taking a two-year break to work on some things in the studio. A room full of friendly faces and music lovers. I always love seeing artists in that room because of the intimacy and I’m happy that I’ve had and will have again the privilege of experiencing it from the artist side.
What’s your favorite venue to play in NYC and why?
I love playing at Bowery Ballroom because everyone there is so nice and professional and really works hard to make sure it’s a great experience for artists and fans alike. But anywhere there’s a crowd that wants to hear something new and good, I’m happy to be there playing for them.
How would you describe your sound?
Live R&B. Three piece band with a vocal. Organic sounds. Old type of songwriting with a new type of feel. “Life changing” [laughs]
How has living in Brooklyn influenced your sound? Do you find that it’s hard to distinguish yourself in a place where there are so many other musicians?
Wherever you live you are gonna eat up the world around you. What’s nice about Brooklyn (and New York in general) is that there are so many different worlds you can get lost in. You could live like 5,000 different lives here if you wanted. I would much rather be in a place with lots of musicians than very few because there are always new and inspirational artists to meet!
Do you feel that the Lower East Side music scene is still strong? How do you think it’s changing?
A lot of the old hangouts have changed. The crowd has changed. But I’m not one to hang on to neighborhood nostalgia. I think there are good times to be had everywhere and that includes the “new” Lower East Side, too. New York is a city in constant flux – if you cried for every bar/venue/business that closed you would fill an ocean with tears.
Can you tell me a little bit about the beginning of your solo career?
Six years ago I was in a bad place. Uninspired by what was around me, unchallenged and unhappy with my musical life in the band, I was just floating through life. I no longer liked the music I was making in the band and hadn’t for a while but I had always been too scared to do anything about it. But then an amazing thing happened. Out of the blue, Luke [Luke Jenner] quit the band [The Rapture] for about six months and everything changed. With him out of the picture I felt free. It was the most creatively inspired I had been for almost a decade, free again to make exactly what I wanted to make without compromise. New musical ideas floated in, new songs, new inspirations, I found myself drawing from creative wells that I thought had dried up long ago.
There were plenty of things I had kept from the band because there wasn’t a place for them, but with the weight of that legacy off my shoulders I just went for it. A musical world that had felt very stifling was now a world of wide open creative possibility and I was happy again. Eventually, Luke came back to the band, but the door had been opened and I could see that I had to leave. I quit the band and just kept writing and expanding my creativity. As my creative aspirations grew my life changed around it, and all for the better. I was pushing myself further and further and loving every minute of it. Getting all this music together has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me and the most joyful thing I have ever done. I’m happy to be in a place now where I can really begin to share it with people and share my world with people.
Who are some of your favorite artists and biggest influences?
The Impressions — for their harmonies and arrangements, Mary J Blige for her songwriting, the way she uses her music to both paint a picture of her inner torment and to transform that pain into salvation, D’Angelo for the way he brings that vibe to every piece of music that he touches. Stevie Wonder’s musicality and the forward thinking harmonic progressions he brought into the music. Quincy Jones for just being an absolute genius of production and arrangement and always knowing how to get the best out of everyone that he worked with. Dilla and Q-Tip for the way they pushed the sonics into some weirder, psychedelic territory.
Which song are you most looking forward to playing and why?
I love performing my song “Sea Change” because it sums up so much about my life over the last five years. The journey from low to high and the battle between hope and despair that got me there. Singing that song is a catharsis, a very soul-cleansing thing.
Can you tell me a little about the writing process for your songs? Is it collaborative or do you write on your own?
I write the songs on my own for the most part. There’s a song or two where friends have made some helpful suggestions regarding lyrics or chord progressions. But 99% of it has been me on my own. I usually write when I’m deep in thought about something or someone. When I’ve got something in my head that I need to work out. A phrase with a certain rhythm or melody pops in my head and I sit and figure out what it means, what other words or ideas will communicate something, what kind of chords and rhythm match the feeling. Usually by the time I’ve figured out the song I’ve figured out something about my life or lifted myself up and forgotten my troubles.
What’s been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Finding the courage to be myself and do exactly what I want to do, without worrying about what anyone else might think.
What do you see next for your music?
I have a ton of new music recorded and coming out very soon. I’m looking forward to getting it up and out for the world to hear and the opportunities that will afford me to travel and perform for people.
Friday, July 25 // $5 Suggested Donation // 1:00am // 196 Allen Street
Brooklyn-based band, Animal Years, considers Rockwood Music Hall their ‘home base.’ A combination of indie rock, folk and Americana, the group has a melodious sound comparable to Kings of Leon. They are celebrating their second album release tomorrow night at 9:30pm at the LES venue. Lead singer, Mike McFadden, says he enjoys the sound of the space and overall atmosphere of the intimate performance areas; it was a natural fit for their album release fete.
Animal Years is on the cusp of being a highly buzzed about band, and the release of their sophomore album, Sun Will Rise, is sure to have a big impact on the future of the group.
A Brooklyn band by way of Baltimore, McFadden says the move to New York has given him more confidence to embrace what he was already doing. “The competitive music scene here only helps me. The hardest working people are the ones that actually do something worth listening to. I love that about Brooklyn.”
McFadden had been writing and recording solo albums for nine years, but when he moved to New York, he found musicians who wanted to get involved with his music career and make it something more than just a solo project.
Tomorrow night, he’s most looking forward to playing the band’s new song, Leah, that they have yet to perform live. “It’s been doing really well on the blogs and we want to see how it sounds at the venues. It’s exciting to play the new stuff,” says McFadden.
So far, as the lead vocalist and guitarist, McFadden has written all of the bands’ material on his own. “I’ll bring a fully thought out or basic idea to the band and they’ll help me arrange it. Our first album was done in Baltimore so we really haven’t had a chance to figure out how to write songs as a band, ” he says.
McFadden talks openly about the struggles in his music career and says that funding has been difficult to come by in year’s past. For the past nine years, he has worked manual labor jobs in addition to the 40 hours or more a week he spent on his music career.
“I’m excited to say that next year will probably be my first year working solely on music,” says McFadden.
The group has upcoming tour dates in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, as well as an upcoming cameo performance in an indie movie, Hard Sell.
Saturday, May 10 // $10 // 9:30pm // 196 Allen Street
Straight off the heels of releasing the first song from their latest EP and kicking off an international tour, London-based indie rock group, Yuck, will visit Bowery Ballroom this Saturday night.
Having released their self-titled album in 2011 to acclaim from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, Yuck’s sophomore album, “Glow and Behold,” solidified the band’s status as one of the most notable names on the indie rock scene. Released in 2013 on southern record label Fat Possom, “Glow and Behold” has a catchy, fuzz rock sound that was a departure from their first album, which boasted grungy jams like “Get Away” alongside dreamy SoCal tunes like “Shook Down.”
Formed by longtime friends Max Bloom and Daniel Blumberg, who formed Cajun Dance Party in high school and released an album in 2008, Yuck has come a long way and endured some serious transitions, including the loss of Blumberg, the band’s frontman. After announcing in April 2013 that Blumberg would pursue other projects, Bloom took over as frontman and singer. The indie rock outfit seems to be doing just fine after weathering a storm that would usually dissolve an up-and-coming band.
Now Yuck is gearing up for the release of their four song EP, “Southern Skies,” and plans to keep their momentum going by recording more tracks as soon as they have down time in London.
The 2014 EP was self-produced and recorded over Christmas in the band’s rehearsal studio in Stoke Newington, London, and Bloom says he’s extremely proud of what the group has accomplished.
“It feels like a big step in a new direction for the band,” he said.
“Athena,” the first song on the EP, released at the end of January, is more dreamy than the group’s earlier grungy tunes. Reminiscent of Beach House’s wistful, sleepy melodies, “Athena” illustrates the band’s transition from a ’90’s grunge rock sound to softer vocals that are comparable to Sonic Youth.
2014 is sure to be a definitive year for the band with the release of “Southern Skies” and more in the shoot. “Where we see the band heading sound-wise is a mystery even to myself. Only time will tell,” says Bloom.
This will be the group’s second time playing at the Bowery Ballroom, and Bloom notes that they’re extremely excited to perform at the venue again, especially because they mixed their latest album at a studio close to the space and have “a lot of love for the Lower East Side.”
“We’re looking forward to playing some new songs and seeing how people react to the old ones as well,” says Bloom.
Saturday, February 15 // 8pm // $15 in advance and $17 at the door.
Amidst all this cold winter drudgery there are still people out there thinking, singing and caring. And Toshi Reagon is one of them. The night I saw her perform (last Wednesday) as part of her week long 30th Annual Birthday Concert series at Joes’ Pub, she had donated the proceeds of the night’s concert to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. She didn’t stop there; the show included passionate banter about prison reform, slavery, sexism, and “tangible righteousness.” In between, were amazing sets of music from soft, reflective ballads that touched on personal stories of love, to raucous rock’n’roll songs about empowerment, all of which showed off her impressive vocal range.
I loved hearing Reagon talk about her passion for “places that do good work.” It felt at times like we were sitting around her living room with her musician friends, just shooting the breeze and then breaking out into collective song. The intimate Joe’s Pub helps with this feeling but I think it was the overwhelming joy that Reagon brings to her performance — the ease and command of her music and lyrics. “I am happy and I’m satisfied,” a line from one of her songs pretty much sums up her persona.
I’ve been to Joe’s Pub countless times but I don’t recall ever seeing the audience get up out of their chairs to dance. “Amazon Woman Rise,” the nearly forty-year-old anthem written by Maxine Feldman, was the song that did the trick. Sung in perfect deep throated reggae style by the incomparable Judith Casselberry, there was no way we were gonna stay seated.
Reagon started out the evening with a big “Oh yeah!” and so did I, when I saw the stage fill up with her “All Women All the Time” BIGLovely band. Every girl who plays an instrument should run and see them play. Yes, I say every girl. It is a rare occurrence to see an all female band where each member is a musical star in her own right. The musicianship was stellar. The camaraderie joyous. In addition to Casselberry, BIGLovely featured drummer Allison Miller, bassist Ganessa James, keyboardist Elenna Canlas, guitarist Alex Nolan and singers Marcelle Davies Lashley and Catherine Russell.
I know this sounds like a cliché, but run don’t walk next time Toshi Reagon is playing at Joe’s Pub. In fact, mark your calendar for her 31st Annual Birthday Concert series, which I am sure is already in the works for January 2015. You don’t want to miss it.
The Stone kicked off their 2014 residencies with a week of music from Thurston Moore and guests in tribute to Lou Reed. Their excellent jazz lineup continues this week with saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Lots of events happening in the neighborhood this month. Here are some highlights:
DJs Moni, Reborn, Selly, Kim Knox & shErOck.
Editor’s Note – Hellified Vertical, a new music showcase comes to the L.E.S. tomorrow night. It will be the first of a five-part series presenting various genres of music including Soul/R&B, Hip Hop, Rock, and Latin at Leftfield Bar on Ludlow Street. Each event will be filmed for development into music based reality programming spotlighting the emerging talent on the scene today. The showcase series will culminate in a special finale installment that will take place during the CMJ Music Festival in October. Lo-Down contributor Royal Young spoke with producer and co-creator Kimberly Knox about the series:
YOUNG: What was the inspiration behind your new music showcase at Leftfield Bar?
KNOX: With our new showcase, Hellified Vertical we (Asqui MG/Ubiquita Worldwide) wanted to empower emerging artists to explore various avenues of getting there music out there. Today’s industry is anybody’s game.
After a smashing start last year, our friends at the NY Funny Songs Festival are raising money for their second annual event. Their Kickstarter campaign ends tonight so be sure to chip in – if you like funny songs, that is.
Our friends at the Bureau of General Services – Queer Division (BGSQD) are hosting the Bushwick Book Club tomorrow night for an evening of songs inspired by Mx. Justin Vivian Bond’s memoir, Tango. An impressive lineup of performers will perform their original work, debuting at the Bureau.
Strange Loop Gallery // 27 Orchard St. // 8:00 p.m.
Ethan Joseph, Leah Wells and Sara Banleigh. Photo by Judy Rosenblatt.
The noisy crowd at Dixon Place’s bar instantly falls silent as Leah Wells and her band take the stage. Though Wells is usually kind and unassuming, under the spotlight, in a glittering red headpiece, she morphs into a soulful songstress. Wells has been a Lower East Side dweller since 1980, when she dropped out of Bennington, a clothing optional liberal arts college in Vermont, to hitch-hike her way back to downtown New York. Now a mother, Wells balances raising her two adolescent sons with honing her musical craft.
For this performance, Wells is joined by David McKeon on Guitar and Mandolin, Ethan Joseph on Fiddle, Mary Noecker on Bass and Sara Banleigh, who shimmers in black lace and gold bracelets. Wells met Banleigh singing Irish folk songs at the New York Public Library and the two have been a musical match ever since. Banleigh performs songs Wells wrote when she was a young twenty-something, capturing their lonely, gritty, crooning energy and making them new again.
Ludwig Persik is playing at Pianos before heading out on tour with Jamie Lidell. Photo via tumblr.
One of our favorite “LES-ers” (read our My LES interview with him here) has snagged a residency at Pianos (158 Ludlow Street). His self-titled debut EP, released last summer, was produced by indie beat boxing/synth/soul mystro Jamie Lidell, with whom Persik toured in 2010. The album was featured as Deli’s “NYC Record of the Month” last July and is tricky to categorize, since words like “art pop, psychedelic, experimental, the Beatles and Beck” come to mind, but it will definitely make you want to dance.
Persik tells me his influences for the album were “John Lennon, Skip Spence, David Bowie, Love (Arthur Lee’s band in the ’60s), and Talking Heads,” not to mention Kurt Weill. You can catch him tonight and next Wednesday at 11pm for a mere $5, before he heads out on an international tour with Lidell.
The New York Gypsy All-Stars
DROM on Avenue A and 6th street has become quite the local nightlife hot spot for Global Music. With musical tastes that run the gamut—on any given night you’ll find jazz, rock, electronic, soul & funk to hip-hop or international music—DROM programs a fresh selection of live music desperately needed in our current New York nightlife scene. DROM has also become an unofficial home for many established local bands, among them the New York Gypsy All-Stars.
Photo courtesy of Dixon Place.
We recently spoke with Jonny Goodman, the Director and Curator of Dixon Place’s upcoming First Annual Lower East Side Music Festival, about his vision for the festival, music on the Lower East Side, and life as a musician.
TLD – We are very excited that there is a new arts festival in the Lower East Side – especially a music festival. Who conceived of the idea?
JG – Ellie Covan, the Founder of Dixon Place, wanted to put a foot forth in the music scene. Since its beginning in the late 80s, Dixon has been very supportive of the artist in dance and performance, encouraging new and experimental work and nurturing new talent. With its new space on Chrystie Street, they now also have the venue for music. Music is such an important fabric of the Lower East Side cultural community. So they wanted to support those musicians and become a home for that community.
Here are musician Ken Beasley’s top music picks on the Lower East Side for this weekend:
TEDDY GOLDSTEIN – Fri Nov. 18 | 9pm at the Living Room
Teddy Goldstein is one those songwriters whose satirical musical work dovetails effortlessly with the razor sharp observational qualities of his off-stage personality. But there is an additional layer in Goldstein, and those who journey beyond the natural witticisms and easygoing voice, will find a sincere and perceptive lyricist. FREE//154 Ludlow St.