Published Work

My best music writing from past publications.

Discovering the Burlington Music Scene

I live and breathe music. I listen to music while I make coffee in the morning, on my way to school or to work, and in between all of my social interactions. I love seeing live music more than anything else; I love small, intimate shows where I’m five feet from the artist and I love huge arena shows where I’m struggling for breathing room with thousands of other people. I got into college with an essay about mosh pits. Forget therapy, all I need is some functional headphones and I’ll be okay.

With that being said, I have spent years eagerly awaiting my departure from Vermont, convinced that the music scene here was nonexistent. I looked forward to the day when I could move on to a real city where there were more concerts than cows. I constantly complained that there was nothing to do, no music to see, and that none of my favorite bands would ever play here because, really, what big rock band would come to Vermont? Maybe I just didn’t search hard enough, because I had no idea how vibrant Burlington actually is.

playin-bass

Tyler playing bass at Advance Music store in Burlington

As it turns out, Burlington and its music scene are alive and thriving. I spent two weeks with my Burlington High School Year End Studies class exploring venues and meeting with a variety of people involved in making the local music scene rock, and it was an incredibly enlightening experience.

Initially we met with several people involved with the Flynn. Linda Little, who is the director of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, told us on our first day about everything that goes into putting on a festival of this scale, and all the moving parts that she is responsible for. I’d almost written off the Jazz Fest before as something for tourists and old people, but after watching her eyes light up as she talked about all the fun things the festival encompasses—well, I’ve made a point to see some of those downtown shows since then.

We also talked with the Flynn artistic director, Steve MacQueen, who is in charge of discovering music and other acts to bring to the Flynn. He played us a few of his favorite songs—which ranged from Bach’s cello suites to some early London punk music—and

flynn

Burlington’s Flynn Theater in action

watching him happily get lost in the music, both times around, was wonderful. The passion in these two people blew me away, and this continued to be a running theme throughout our encounters. It was awesome to hear from people who had built their lives and careers around something they still get excited about.

In addition to hanging out with people from the Flynn, we also met the organizers of a nearby music festival called Waking Windows. Ted Olson from BCA, Patty Reagan the sound technician, and Brian Nagle—who doubles as DJ Disco Phantom—were a goofy bunch of dudes who, five years ago, put their heads together with a few other friends and organized a festival to take place in the Winooski circle. It went over so well that they’ve come back to do it again five years in a row. I was shocked that I, a music fanatic, had never even heard of this festival in all my years living here.

We were also introduced to several active musicians around town, including Brett Hughes, Eric Maier and company of local band Madaila, and Linda Bassick of Steady Betty. They told us about their experiences trying to make it in the industry and what it’s like to do it in this particular town. They told us about their friends and acquaintances in other local bands and as they spoke, it was easy to see that there really was a lot of local talent here that I had overlooked.

Meeting these people who have chosen Burlington as the place to make their music happen, along with booking agents, music writers, promoters, at and other community members who strive to make the music scene go on, made me realize just how much music there is here. Burlington has revealed itself as having just the right balance between small town and city, where art and creativity can be nourished on a community-wide level. It’s rare to find a place where music is supported so strongly, where the artists are all interconnected and there is as much collaboration as there is competition.

Lake Champlain Burlington, Vermont.

The one and only Burlington, Vermont

And so, it turns out, this town does have a music scene, even if it doesn’t consist so much of the huge rock shows I had been accustomed to. To find those, I might still The one and only Burlington, Vermonthave to drive out of state to a more urban area. But if I expand my musical horizons just a little bit, there’s plenty for me to listen to without walking more than 15 minutes from my house. And if I learned anything over those two weeks, it’s this: I should have done more research before stubbornly deciding that Burlington was dead.

After 12 years of public education, I have never enjoyed school as much as I did for those two weeks. We weren’t cooped up in too-small desks, longingly watching summer happen without us, outside the window. Instead, the Flynn was our home base and Burlington was our classroom. This made it possible, for the first time ever, for various community members to be our teachers. There’s something about being out in the real world, talking to real people about the things they are passionate about that cannot begin to be captured in a Powerpoint presentation. We could have spent just as much time sitting in a classroom, talking vaguely about the “music scene”, but the experience would not have been nearly as valuable.

There is nothing I love more than music. I want to be a music writer someday, so that I can continue to surround myself with music, professionally, and maybe even get paid for it. Those two weeks have simultaneously sparked my love for this town and reinforced why I am going to dedicate my life to music in the future. Say what you want about standardized tests and math classes, but I don’t think anything is more important than what I encountered during the 2015 Year End Studies session.

(originally published at: https://flynncenter.tumblr.com/post/145611771213/discovering-burlington-music-scene

Double Touble: The Story of Invisible Homes’ “Song for my Double”

From the get-go, frontman Sean Witters is a fun guy, happy to talk to you about anything- especially music- as he towers above you in a tall-skinny-guy sort of way. He’s got energy, and it becomes evident why he’s the life force behind Invisible Homes.

Invisible Homes

It was Sean who, with the help of his friends and fellow bandmates on the debut album’s core tracks, holed up inside the studio several nights a week to play with the equipment and work over as many details as he could. It was a cabin-in-the-woods type of deal. Most of the recording was done in a Witters’ family house in rural Vermont.

The house, a log cabin located out in the woods off a long dirt road, had a large main room with 20-foot ceilings. “I had, for years, wanted to do a record using that room as the live space,” Sean said. Invisible Homes was his reason to load in amps and microphones and get to work recording the core tracks from A Song for My Double live. Later, after bringing those tracks to the studio, Sean layered and manipulated the sound with the end result of a “hybrid of live, in the moment performance, and deliberate studio experimentation.”

“I’m not a good singer,” he’ll say with a laugh. He’s just a guy with a microphone and recording equipment, and he’ll be the first to admit that modern technology simply allows him to be less bad, (his bandmates and peers will call this a huge understatement). A Song for My Double is filled with “sonic Easter eggs,” as he put it; the result of his own curiosity and experimentation. “What happens if I speed piano up?” Through this method he ended up with a kind of unplanned sound that he tweaked until he was satisfied.

With the foundation of the album standing, Sean hand-picked a group of musicians and invited them to come add to it. “I brought in friends to play on the record, who either were just really dear to me and I just wanted them to be on the record ‘cuz I was making a record, or because they were great musicians from around town.” Slowly but surely, in several locations around Vermont, basslines and guitar riffs, vocals and drumbeats were added in.

Invisible Homes

Partially due to recording parts of the album in a family cabin and partially due to Sean’s personal preferences, homey-sounding elements were added to the album. Because a lot of it’s drawn from Sean’s past, there are sonic tidbits that hint at it throughout the album, from lyrics to creative instrumentals. “Most importantly, I captured my family home in sound. For example, I even turned the familiar sound of shuffling feet on the upstairs floorboards into a percussion element on the title track…. Space is inspiration and has a profound effect on both the sound and feeling of music.”

While Invisible Homes’ other leading singers and players, Patrick Ormiston, Matt DeLuca, Pat Melvin, and Will Andrews, stopped by the studio as often as they could, life has a tendency to get in the way of things like recording an album. Personal responsibilities made it impossible for everyone to spend as much time on the album as Sean did, and so from start to finish the whole project took several years.

It worked because the band has the dynamic of a bunch of teenagers hanging out. They laugh and joke and tease each other but it’s all in good fun. Patrick Ormiston waited for his kid to leave before breaking out the F-bombs and spoke, like the rest of the band, in awe about drummer Bob Moses, who is featured on the album: “And he’s telling stories while he’s drumming. Like, he hand built his snare drum himself!” Pat Melvin joked about his profession: “I don’t have any money. I’m a bass player!” The key point is they’re all talented musicians so things get done, and then the playtime starts.

Sean supplied some air guitar and personal anecdotes about everything from his lyrics to fellow musician Deva Racusin. “I grew up with them. And he was dear friends with my sister. So at the first show I actually had my sister come up and play slide whistle while Deva played saxophone. It was a reunion of the Hanover High School band, because they were in band together.”

The live shows were fun. The band held their album release party at Club Metronome in downtown Burlington, and it was awesome. “We were able to get almost all the guest performers on the record on stage that night, including Justin Levinson, Chris Dorman, Luke LaPlant, Dave Purcell, Deva Racusin, and Caleb Bronz. At one point, we had 10 musicians on stage.” The show, complete with confetti, was “wild and tremendous fun;” everything they’d hoped for. Since then, Invisible Homes has tried to recreate the spontaneity of that first show: “The whole idea for our live show is, like the debut, to make each show a unique event with some collaborative or improvisational event that can never happen again.”

Invisible Homes

During our photo shoot, they pointed out the graffitied Jerry Garcia face on the wall opposite them (“Hey, it’s Jerry!”) and then invited me to get in on their “Pat sandwich” between Patrick Ormiston and Pat Melvin. They pulled faces and poses, never too serious.

After all this time of work and play, Invisible Homes delivers, in an album cover appropriately decorated with an invisible mirror house, a fresh combination of many musical styles that stretch the limits of typical pop. Invisible Homes isn’t your typical power trio or six-piece band. It’s one guy: a singer, a songwriter, a musician, a producer- and his musical friends in a big, gloriously adept experimental mission called A Song for My Double, when ironically, there’s nothing else quite like it.

(originally published at http://www.angelica-music.com/articles/double-trouble-the-story-of-invisible-homes-song-for-my-double-july-2014)

Atash | Everything is Music

Album Review by Tyler Harris

To be honest, I was skeptical, at first, of this “world music” coming out of Austin, Texas. Typically Austin is known for its country and blues scene. I didn’t know what to expect from this new band that claimed to draw from Africa, Cuba, India, and the Middle East for inspiration.atash-everythingismusic

The first track, “Mistereph,” draws the listener in almost immediately with a lively drumbeat followed by an enticing sitar riff. Mohammad Firoozi’s somber Persian vocals are distinctive to the band. The violin adds tempo and energy. The song shifts slowly from an African-influenced sound into an Indian/Latin combination, all the while with undertones of blues. Yes, all that in one song. This is a common theme throughout the album- there’s no one influence. It’s consistently inconsistent, and it keeps the sound interesting.

As someone who is drawn to fast-paced, powerful rhythms, I was totally able to get into a lot of these songs. I found myself tapping my feet to the tune with a definite desire to dance– repeatedly. “Baaraan (Rain),” for example, is a pointedly Middle Eastern-sounding combination of drums, hand-clapping, and violin. The song sounds almost like an anthem as the vocals and the instruments rise and fall in unison. It’s exhilarating, almost, and a lot of fun to listen to. Likewise, my personal favorite, “Sahara Spring”, managed to keep me engaged throughout all of its nine-plus minutes. Beginning with a lone violin for a solemn intro, the song becomes more suspenseful as more instruments chime in. It shifts back and forth between fast and heavy, intense, instrumentals, and slower, more echoing lulls.

The final track, “Eshq,” has an air of farewell right from the beginning. There’s twangy sadness to it as the song’s namesake is crooned throughout. The sound becomes richer over eight minutes, but it retains the melancholy tone it started with. A few final, solemn goodbye notes bring the album to a close.

In the end, Everything is Music managed to impress me despite my punk-rock-oriented tastes. Atash creates depth in their diversity. There’s something to like for everyone on this album, even if it may not be something to put on at parties. If nothing else, listen to Everything is Music to expand your horizons and feel worldly.

Bottom line: A variety of tempos and tones, but overall an interesting combination of somber Persian vocals and African, Indian, and Middle Eastern instrumentation.

(article originally published at http://www.angelica-music.com/reviews/atash-everything-is-music-album-review)