On Stage: Grayscale has deep Chesco roots

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Grayscale is celebrating the release of its sophomore album, “Nella Vita,” with a show on October 5 at the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com). It will be a homecoming for the Philadelphia-based band after a brief stateside tour and the lone area gig prior to an ambitious European tour later this month.

The alternative/pop-punk/emo quintet — Collin Walsh [vocals], Dallas Molster [guitar, vocals], Andrew Kyne [guitar], Nick Ventimiglia [bass], and Nick Veno [drums] — may be a Philly band but its roots are in the Chester County area.

“We all went to college at Drexel and Temple,” said Walsh, during a phone interview Friday afternoon from a tour stop in Hartford, Connecticut.

“I went to Unionville High School and graduated in 2012. Nick Veno graduated from Bishop Shanahan. Andrew went to Delco Christian and Dallas went to St. Mark’s in Delaware. The only one who isn’t from the area is our bassist Nick Ventimiglia who is from Detroit.”

Since forming in 2011, when its band members were only in high school, Grayscale has emerged from the Philadelphia punk scene and established an national and international fan base. The band’s debut album on Fearless Records was 2017’s “Adornment.” Its sophomore album “Nella Vita” was just released on September 6 on Fearless Records.

Two tracks on “Adornment” set the stage for Grayscale’s popularity spike. “Atlantic” registered more than 4.3 million Spotify streams and “Forever Yours” topped the 3.5 million. Other tracks from the album also fared well and exceeded the one million-mark.

“Nella Vita” will undoubtedly amass numbers that will blow away their previous standards.

“We put out four singles from ‘Nella Vita’ before the album came out – ‘Painkiller Weekend,’ ‘In Violet,’ ‘Old Friend,’ and ‘Baby Blue,’” said Walsh. “The album dropped a few weeks ago and we just now released another single from it – ‘Young.’

“The video for ‘Young’ was shot in locations all around Philly. The song is about sending a message – wherever you’re from or whatever you look like, you need to be nice to each other.”

Grayscale has been around for most of the decade but only recently has elevated to a new plateau.

“We’ve been a band since we were kids,” said Walsh, who played lacrosse at Unionville High. “But we’ve only actually been a touring band for the last few years.

“We made the new album in January and February this year in Texas with Machine as the producer. We cut it at his studio in Dripping Springs – Machine Shop Recording Studio. We used some combinations of his gear – analog and digital.

“Machine came to Philly first. He spent a week with us and was listening to the songs. We made demos first in Texas and then listened to them a lot before we did the final recording. Machine pushed us and busted our ass – and that helped a lot.

Under a heavy influence of everything from ’90s rock to funk, as well as a rotation of modern hip-hop and R&B, Grayscale dove headfirst into writing “Nella Vita.” Machine (Lamb of God, As It Is, Armor For Sleep, Four Year Strong) was the producer the band needed.

“We chose to work with him because we wanted something completely different from what we did before,” said Walsh. “Machine has an old school vibe and a lot of experience. We wanted to do something unconventional with the new album.”

The resulting collection of tracks is one that sees the band chronicling life, its many facets, and its many complications, as they themselves have experienced.

“The new album deals with a lot of things you experience in life – the nostalgia of teenage years to the grieving side of life and trying to cope with it,” said Walsh. “The lyrical aspect goes across the spectrum.

“The musical part also covers a lot. We grew up playing all kinds of music – and listening to a lot of different styles. This record pulls from so many different styles and merges them. I think our sound is always going to progress.”

Video link for Grayscale – https://youtu.be/mNROjt24rtE.

The show at the Theatre of the Living Arts, which also features Belmont, Bearings, and Rich People, will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

The Claudettes

When The Claudettes headlined a show at Bourbon and Branch a little over a year ago, they were touring in support their new album “Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium” which came out March 23, 2018 via Yellow Dog Records.

Now, The Claudettes — Johnny Iguana (piano), Berit Ulseth (vocals), Zach Verdoorn (bass), Michael Caskey (drums) — are coming back to the area for a show at the Grape Room (105 Grape Street, Manayunk, https://www.graperoommusic.com/) on October 5 and they’re still touring that album.

“We have a new album that is already done,” said Iguana, during a phone interview Tuesday morning from his home in Chicago. “I’m writing all the time. Two-thirds of the next album after this one is already written. For us, new songs are the most exciting thing.  I start with chords and melodies. I start with building blocks.

“And, we record a lot of our shows. We listen to them over and over and learn a lot from listening. I got a really nice recorder as a gift and our guitarist got a camera that can record the show from the back of the room.”

Ready and waiting — a new album is ready but the band’s fans might be waiting a while for it to reach them.

“We recorded the album in September and October 2018,” said Iguana. “It got mixed over the winter holiday and was finished by February

The Claudettes combine the Chicago blues-piano tradition with the energy of rockabilly and punk and the sultry sound of ’60s soul-jazz to create a thrilling new spin on American roots music.

According to Downbeat Magazine, “The Claudettes hit listeners upside the head with a mash-up of Otis Spann blues, Albert Ammons boogie-woogie, Ray Charles soul and “Fess” Longhair New Orleans R&B.”

Rather than attack the blues with one or two guitars, the Claudettes brandish a piano instead. But the Claudettes have created their own fanatical fusion of blues and soul-jazz – sort of like Ray Charles on a punk kick.

The Claudette’s have a strange history – and an interesting story behind their name.

“Michael Caskey, a drummer from Chicago, and I had a piano-and-drum duo,” said Iguana. “We called a place called Claudette’s Bar in 2010 looking for a gig in between Chicago and St. Louis. Claudette booked us into her bar in Oglesby (Illinois) and fell in love with the band.

“So, she hired us as her house band and put them. That drummer’s wife had a baby, so we hired a new drummer and then expanded to a four-piece. Since then, we’ve done a ton of shows.”

The show at the Grape Room will be a homecoming for Iguana.

“I was born in New Jersey and grew up in the Philly area,” said Iguana. “I graduated from Upper Dublin High School and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Then, I moved to New York City where I worked in publishing and played piano. I began meeting blues musicians and playing in blues bands. I met Junior Wells in Chicago and played piano in his band.”

In addition to touring internationally and recording six albums with his cult-favorite rock band oh my god, Iguana has played live or recorded with Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Lil’ Ed, Carey Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, Lurrie Bell, John Primer, Billy Branch, Carlos Johnson, Sugar Blue, Dave Myers and Eddie Shaw.

Video link for The Claudettes — https://youtu.be/BabMUvZf9FM.

The show at the Grape Room will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Desert Sharks

If you’re in the mood for a live show on October 5 that pulses at a much faster rate, you should head to Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com) where the Desert Sharks will be rattling the rafters.

Desert Sharks is the name of a hard-rocking, Brooklyn-based quartet featuring guitarists Stefania Rovera and Sunny Veniero, drummer Rebecca Fruchter and songwriter/bassist/lead singer Stephanie Gunther.

On September 27, 2019, Desert Sharks released their debut album, “Baby’s Gold Death Stadium,” on Substitute Scene Records.

“Baby’s Gold Death Stadium” juxtaposes elements from iconic ‘90s bands Sleater-Kinney, L7, Veruca Salt, and Toadies with Desert Sharks’ own musical history. Named for DIY venues and small stages they’ve regularly played over the years, the album is an edgier, more organic effort from the Brooklyn-based foursome.

The band’s previous releases were all EPs – “Desert Sharks” in 2011, “Sister Cousins” in 2013, and “Template Hair” in 2014.

“I think it was fall 2011 that we put out our first EP,” said Gunther, during a phone interview Tuesday as she headed to her day job at a jewelry company in Brooklyn. “When we first started, we made a quick EP so that we had something to sell at our shows.”

The garage-pop-inspired “Sister Cousins” was recorded at Brooklyn’s Converse Rubber Tracks studio.

“That was when Converse had a special promotion where they would offer bands free studio time,” said Gunther. “It was just eight hours of studio time. So that EP was recorded quickly too.

“Our third EP was called ‘Template Hair.’ It was on a label from L.A. called Manimal and they only did EPs. We play shows all the time, so it took us two years to complete the recording of that EP.”

The band put out three singles – “Sorceress,” “Dating?,” and “I Don’t Know How to Dress for the Apocalypse” – prior to the release of the recently-released album.

Things fell into place nicely when it was time to make the band’s debut album, which was mixed and mastered by Jonathan Schenke.

“We made the album with producer Jordan Lovelace at Spice World by Jordan Lovelace,” said Gunther. “He understood our music. He had seen us play a lot, so he understood how heavy we want to be.

“With our songwriting, we’re all there playing with the riffs. I’m the singer/bassist but I came form bands where I just sang. With us, we write the structure first and then I take it home and do the lyrics. Then, Sunny will add guitar overdubs.

“We recorded 12 songs for the album. We’re so excited to have the songs we played live so much finally be on a record. One song – ‘For Loneliness Sake’ – we played at the very first show we played.

“Now, when we don’t have a million shows going on, our focus is on writing. Sometimes, it’s a superfast process. Other times, it takes a couple months to write one song. We won’t play a song live until it’s ready. We don’t do throwaway songs.”

Video link for the Desert Sharks – https://youtu.be/pz35J_L5bMk.

Caravan Palace

The show at Kung Fu Necktie, which also features The Warhawks and The Dead Flowers, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Caravan Palace is a big band with a big sound and a big outlook. On October 5, it will bring its big, expansive sound to Philly for a concert at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com).

This will be the first time Caravan Palace played Philly since its 2017 tour in support of  its critically-acclaimed third full-length album,” <|°_°|>,” which was released on Le Plan Recordings.
“<|°_°|>” saw chart success — reaching #3 on Billboard’s Electronic/Dance Album chart and #5 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. It remained on Billboard’s Electronic/Dance chart for more than 20 weeks.

Caravan Palace, a band described as “Parisian electronic alchemists, released its new album, “Chronologic” on August 30 and then embarked on a full North American tour in September.

Fronted by vocalist Zoé Colotis and founding members Hugues Payen, Charles Delaporte and Arnaud Vial alongside Antoine Toustou, Camille Chapelière, and Paul-Marie Barbier, Caravan Palace cites influences as diverse as Cab Calloway and Daft Punk.

“It was very challenging at first,” said Colotis, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from a tour stop in Boston.

“We’re a fan of swing. I think people can feel how much we love American music. We were more acoustic when we began. Now, it’s getting more and more electronic.”

Caravan Palace’s story began in the early part of the century.

“I was at the university in Lille with Arnaud,” said Payen.  “In Paris, he introduced me to his old friend Chas. We started making music together — an electronic project. That was around 15 years ago.

“In 2005, we made a soundtrack for a TV channel — but it was never released. Then, we started to really make the project in 2006 and released our first album in 2008.

“The only old stuff we knew was Django (Reinhardt). Then, we started listening to a lot of swing. We spent hundreds of hours listening to swing music like Lionel Hampton.”

Caravan palace’s hybrid music began finding an audience.

“We could see that it was not hard for young people to like what we were doing,” said Payne. “We didn’t produce dance music at that moment. We just made music we liked to hear. There were a lot of influences.

“It was very different to do gypsy music and dance music. We had to find something deeper that would work. We worked hard to find our unique sound. It’s always a challenge to make new songs — hard to find the right tempo. It’s a big problem. Lately, tempos have gotten slower in hip hop so we had to make the change. Dance and trap — we hear it every day. It’s the music we love to hear.”

Following on from the huge success of their last studio album, 2015’s “<I°_°I>” could have seemed quite the task for the band. With its fusion of hedonistic house and old school jazz, “<I°_°I>” has now sold more than a quarter-million copies and featured huge viral hits in the singles “Wonderland” and “Lone Digger,” the latter of which is about to be become the band’s first Gold Record in the USA.

The band members spent two years in their basement Parisian studio relentlessly testing new formulae — looking for unanimous approval between themselves before unleashing their work on the public. They opened themselves up to the moment and set about smashing musical barriers and infusing vintage elements in their modern work.

“We use a lot of samples,” said Colotis. “The guitar is not really sounding gypsy like it did before – and there is less violin. We still play acoustic instruments at times and there still is no drummer. Drums comer from the computer. We also have pads for MIDI instruments.

“Some of our current influences are Frank Ocean, Anderson Pak, the hip hop scene and a little EDM. We’re still playing songs from earlier albums but now we’re more into blues and soul – a lot of different music.

“It’s a natural thing to find something new to keep it exciting. Inspiration is tricky. We never think abut doing something just to sell records. We’re still committed to the music.

“We recorded the new album in Paris, and it took us two-and-a-half years to make it. We called it ‘Chronologic’ because we try to travel in time.”

Video link for Caravan Palace – https://youtu.be/LX5ntwkUa48.

The show at Union Transfer will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Smooth Hound Smith

Fans of the Nashville-based band Smooth Hound Smith are in for a double treat on October 5.

They can hear the band perform songs from its new album, “Dog in a Manger,” and, at the same time, they will be able to contribute to a worthy cause.

Smooth Hound Smith — Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle-Smith — will be playing songs from all its albums at the Workhorse Brewery (250 King Manor Drive, King of Prussia,workhorsebrewing.com) and will be presenting the songs in a full band format instead of the usual duo.

The husband-and-wife team will be performing as part of the inaugural “Better Together Gathering,” which will run from 5-11 p.m.

The “Better Together Gathering,” will include live music, restaurant food, cash bar, food trucks and raffles. The event features live sets by Smooth Hound Smith as well as local favorite — The Bob Lowery Band.

All proceeds from this event will go to support two great local organizations — Alpha Bravo Canine and Laurel House.

ALL tickets, which are $35, are general admission and include Keepsake Glass, one beverage and live music.

Smooth Hound Smith is an American roots and rock band founded by Zack Smith (guitars/vocals/foot drums/harmonicas/banjo) and Caitlin Doyle-Smith (vocals/percussion).  Established in 2012, and based in East Nashville, TN, they record and perform a varied and unique style of folky, garage-infused rhythm & blues.

Using primal foot percussion, complex, fuzzed-out, finger-picked guitar patterns, warbled harmonicas, tasty harmonies and syncopated tambourine, they are able to create something rugged and visceral: a modern interpretation of early blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll music that harkens back to the traditions of hazy front porch folk songs as well as raucous back-alley juke joints. SHS has traveled over 150,000 road miles, playing over 800 shows in their tenure, across America, Europe, and Canada, all in the last five years.

All of this led to 2019 and the release of “Dog in a Manger.”

“The album was officially released on August 9,” said Zach Smith, during a recent phone interview from the duo’s home in East Nashville.

“We were trickling out singles for a while. We put out five singles just to rustle up interest in the album. Part of me knows singles. We’re back to the singles culture. But I think there’s something about writing an album and bringing it to fruition.”

Caitlin Doyle-Smith said, “We grew up with albums. Our fan base covers all age groups. So, there are people who want to buy albums. And, we love albums.”

Zach added, “We also love vinyl. We just got the vinyl of our album this week and it sounds great. When you have a vinyl album, there’s a need for patience. You can’t just push a button. You have to take it out of the jacket, out of the inner liner, pace it on the turntable and then put the needle down. That takes patience.”

Caitlin said, “Another nice thing about a vinyl album is that is one of the few physical things that aren’t packaged in hard plastic.”

SHS’s eponymous debut album garnered attention from media outlets such as Nashville’s independent radio, WRLT Lightning 100, as well as publications like American Songwriter and RELIX Magazine. The band was also selected over thousands of other bands to perform at the 2015 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.  In addition, the music of Smooth Hound Smith has been featured on CMT’s Nashville, MTV’s The Real World and the Esquire Network.

Smooth Hound Smith’s second full-length album, “Sweet Tennessee Honey,” was released in 2016, and features appearances by Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks), Sarah Jarosz, and Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers).

“Dog In A Manger” is the duo’s third album. While the previous releases show their seamless vocal blend and ability to coax compelling music from minimal instrumentation, the new disc brings it all to a higher level of expression. Zack and Caitlin’s melodies, hooks and harmonies are in balance.

With three albums from which to draw, Smooth Hound Smith have plenty of songs for their live show.

“Our live show is a mix,” said Caitlin. “We’re excited to be bringing a rhythm section. It’s a four-pierce with Sammi Potts on drums and Justin Serwerda on bass. We like it this way because it’s difficult to go out as a duo.”

Video link for Smooth Hound Smith – https://youtu.be/J8gH7MgClY4.

The event at the Workhorse Brewery will run from 5-11 p.m. Tickets are $35.

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