Thursday, December 30, 2010

From The Darkness and Fear: Volary Moves "Out Of Shadows"

Volary: Noun. 1) A flight or a flock of birds.  2) the cage you keep them in.

Seldom in life do we pause to think about tomorrow, to think about whether or not we will still be alive to love, eat, breathe and create. We often take for granted our day-to-day existence and seldom do we stop for a moment and think, ‘What if I die tomorrow? What sort of legacy do I want to leave behind?’

Enter Volary, an Australian born singer/songwriter now making her home in San Francisco.  Volary has just recently begun to ask her self those questions.  She has cancer.  As most of us know, cancer sucks in a really big way and will inevitably change your life and perspective of it right before your eyes, regardless of whether or not you want it to.  A deeper sense of your own mortality can make you want to live your life even more.

In Volary’s new album, Out Of Shadows, the lyrics and songs were already written before “cancer” became a common, daily word for Volary. The darkness of the mood of her music and the positive hope that she tries to convey within her songs are present and accountable in this breathtaking first effort from a woman who knows how to survive everything from self- doubt to lost love.

“I was actually diagnosed just before we were due to start in the studio. My producer and I had already been doing preproduction for months, I’d booked the studio dates, we’d lined up the musicians’ schedules, I was super excited to finally be making my debut CD...and then the bottom fell out of my world,” states Volary of her brand new reality. “The songs were all written before my diagnosis, but the title and dedication of the album were definitely reflective of my situation. At the time I didn’t realize how far the shadow of cancer can stretch, and I would say that I’m still struggling to get out of those shadows (for example, I’m still not strong enough to play a full length set), but the hope is that I will be out of those shadows sometime soon.”

The album covers a wide spectrum of emotional ideas within the music. Her power-pop vocals are set against a moody backdrop of layered arrangements, both thick and sparse with instrumentation that guides the listener deeper into the dark lyrics. Viola, horns, clarinet, organs, cello, oboe and sax all add their rich sounds to guitar, bass, drums and voice.

“I didn’t want to make the typical singer/songwriter or rock band album. I definitely wanted to try for a sound that was not your typical vocals-guitar-bass-drums,” says Volary of her decision of adding less typical instruments and arrangements to her album. “I’m a sucker for music that’s really layered and moody. I love listening to albums where you can discover more and more on each listen. Sometimes stuff will be buried so deep in the mix that it’s barely there, but the sum of it all adds up to some aural goodness.”

The opening track of “Die A Little” starts us out on the journey of looking deeper into our own darkness of the soul in words like “Too many years of sadness/ I’m stretched so thin/Standing with my back to the wall trying not to scream/ I wanna cut the demons out/from underneath my skin.”

Tapping into all things intense and tumultuous, Volary’s lyrics speak of a woman taken to extremes of her emotional life. She gives in to self-doubt and lack of confidence in the powerful “That Girl”.  All of us have been there; all of us have at one time of another wanted to be someone aside from ourselves. “Yes, it’s true, I’m insecure/sometimes…. I wanna be That Girl.”

The gorgeous piano arrangement in “One Good Reason” sends the emotion of lost love into my heart within Volary’s soothing vocals as I ask myself ‘How many times have I been in relationship that was not good for me but I refused to let it go?’  “I’m standing up and I’m refusing to play/You are lost to me/Your love has not left me unscarred”

From pop to rock, from tribal drums to simple acoustic guitar and gypsy string, the songs on Out Of Shadows move from light to dark, uplifting to heartbreaking. The songs are never simpleminded and are always intense in fullness of sound, each layer comes forth with more meaning upon each listen.

“I don’t know if I would express songwriting as being my therapy. It’s more like a necessity. Sometimes it really feels like my soul needs to give birth to something and then it’s like an itch I can’t scratch until a song comes out. It’s also very often like banging my head into a brick wall.”

Although her diagnoses of cancer did not make it into her lyrics, it has made a major impact on her life. “As to how {the cancer} has changed my view point on life; well, it’s definitely changed that forever. The spectrum of a possible recurrence is always going to be there, especially since I was diagnosed at a young age and statistically the cancers that occur in younger people are more aggressive than those that occur in older people. I’ve had to face my mortality at an age where other people are in the full bloom of life, and that’s something that leaves its mark forever. One thing that I will be doing when I get to play shows again is to do some benefits. There are two organizations in particular that have been helpful to me along my cancer journey – the Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS) support group, and the Commonweal Cancer Help Program.”

Along with all despair and intensity in life, there is hope and dreams of something better. Volary takes the good, the bad and the ugly and makes music that can resonate with us all. Whether it is dark or light moods, fear or doubt, creativity can make a difference in setting our paths to the correct direction we are meant to be heading. Faith in that path, whether we understand or not where we are going, is not always open for us to question. But we can know there IS something better...we can start out with ideas in our minds as we think “I’m reaching out but I’m grabbing air/and I freefall through my life” (from “Touched”) and end with the mantra of  “No, I don’t wanna believe/that there’s nothing more than this/Nothing more, nothing more, nothing more than this/So I just gotta believe/that there’s something more than this, something more, something more, something more than this.” (from “Blackbird”).

All Volary photos by Alexander Kieselstein

Moonmama says: HI!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Groupie's Gold: The Backstage Pass

It’s rare that I listen to any music at home, weird huh? I mean, right now with I-Tunes a short click away I am hearing only the tip-tap of the keyboard and the hum of the refrigerator from the kitchen. I do get exposed to new music often with the bands I discover and the CD’s that I listen to through the car stereo. But where it’s at for me, the crème de la crème of my passion, is Live Music.  

Seeing Live Music is one of my favorite highs and as I am one of those “touchy-feely” types of people that live life through their body, I love the thrill of sound as it slams my inner core with some amazing musician hitting all the right notes in all the right places. So what fan, what groupie, what music junky would EVER turn down a free backstage pass to meet an incredible band? Not me!

I was Miracled this Groupie’s Gold, “The Backstage Pass”, by a friend of mine who was hometown friends with the band, moe a phenomenal band whose musical language is JAMMIN’! They are really well known and they play all the big music festivals, fill good-sized venues such as The Fillmore and Warfield and they have many albums under their belts. My understanding is that my friend knew the band “Back in the Hood” when they were just a regular Bar-Band kind of-band. Then they hit the Big Time.  So here I was, ready to party hard and the biggest thrill was that I had stuck to my upper torso my first-ever Back Stage Pass!

I have to admit and I am ashamed to say this, at that point in my life I had never really heard moe’s music before. I know I have heard in passing a song or two on the radio that I liked of theirs. So upon my arrival at SF’s amazingly beautiful concert hall, The Warfield, I didn’t really know much about the band. My accomplice Mizz K and I cruised through the line like VIP, slathered our bodies with our passes and high tailed it to find Love. I was so nervous but was dressed to the nines knowing I was going to meet some Famous Musicians, and well…who knows???

The moment of truth came upon me as we went through the curtain and I got my BACKSTAGE PASS checked by the security dude #1. I proceeded to skip down the stairs where I was honored to have my BACKSTAGE PASS checked by security dude #2. I then sat nervously with my friend in the lounge area for someone from the band to summon us.

Security dude #3 escorted us to the dressing rooms of all the musicians. On the walk down the hallway, my eyes were looking for all the indecent debauchery. My ears were waiting to hear the squeals of other groupies or the crash of a whiskey bottle against the wall. But it was relatively quiet and all I saw were a bunch of regular looking dudes hanging out in jeans and t-shirts, drinking Cokes and eating Skittles. 

Hmmmm….where was all the craziness???

I hung out with the band for about 20 minutes. It was fun but I was still waiting for the “real fun” to begin. I was waiting for the piles of drugs. I was waiting for the cute musician boys to fondle me with there eyes. Instead, my friend and I chitchatted with the band about their kids and families, the new houses they just bought or the rigorous tour schedule. I bonded with one musician boy over the friskiness of our children and how we miss them when we are away from them. A bit different then I thought, yes. They all seemed like Normal Guys, the only difference was their day job; being in a Famous Band.

My friend and I sat down to watch the show from our seats as the Normal Guys I just met, the ones who chit chatted about kids and dog food, picked up their instruments and blew me away. My jaw dropped and I fell in love with them all as they hit me hard with their psychedelic jam music. All through the show, I keep thinking, “I am so glad I met them before I saw them play, or else I would have acted like a moron!”  And indeed, I would have the opportunity to prove that when I saw them after the show.

Backstage lounge again, the show’s over, I am really freaked out now. Phil Lesh showed up to play with them for part of moe's sweltering second set and now he’s not 10 feet from me. I had to pee but that would mean passing Phil Lesh and I didn’t think I could handle that. The band comes out and I watch as they nonchalantly chat-it-up will Phil and I sit in awe, stunned at these Normal Dudes who channeled The Divine through their bodies and instruments. I could not talk to them as easily and I felt like a fool. I ended up leaving my friend to hang late into the evening with her musical friends. I was too snokkered on the evening to take it further than that, but that was enough.

I lost my backstage pass years ago, that Groupie’s Gold is somewhere underground at this point, but I still have all the memories of that amazing experience and that to me is the Real Gold.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Three At Last's "Live At The Freight & Salvage": Playing History's Glorious Notes

Three at Last 01BWaWEB

A long time ago, back in the day, there were simply acoustic instruments. Although complicated in structure, there was a deep simplicity in which they could be played without the use of amps or microphones, plugs or electricity. Some of the genres that came from this simplicity were called Traditional Folk, Americana or Bluegrass.

In the 1960’s, various venues started to crop up around the nation that would hold strong these ideals of simplicity in music. The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California is one of those venues that have been around since the inception of the War Cries and Peace Protests of the tumultuous late 60’s. Such high-profile acts such as Asleep at The Wheel, David Grisman, Utah Phillips and Country Joe & The Fish have all graced the stage at the Freight & Salvage’s various locations over the last 40 some-odd years, so to be able to play on such a historical stage is nothing to scoff at.

In January of 2010, Marin/Sonoma County folk band Three At Last played a coveted gig at this newly modernized venue. Three At Last, Velvy Appleton, Ginger Parish and Anita Sandwina, all contribute to the beauty and creation of the Three At Last sound. Blending soaring harmonies and musicianship that bespeak of traveling minstrels of days of yore, Three At Last play mostly original folk compositions that they all write, as well as a few traditional American Folk songs that can only make us think of foggy Appalachian towns and musical jams on the back porch with fireflies giving us a light show.

With a combined resume of musical skill, Three At Last is not a “boring folk band”. Each member brings their own vocal and songwriting skills to the band and the instrumentation can include djembe, six-string, bass, mandolin, harmonica & recorder. All of this from only three people.



The band decided to make a live recording of their Freight & Salvage gig in order to showcase the true sound and intimate vibe of their live shows. “Three At Last-Live At The Freight & Salvage” was the gift that they created in order for us listeners to understand the true essence of straightforward, traditional Americana Folk. “We were absolutely THRILLED and flattered to play The Freight in January. That, along with playing the Kate Wolf Festival last year gave us some real folk-cred, a true stamp of approval from the acoustic Mecca’s.” States Velvy Appleton, guitarist, vocalist and lone-male for Three At Last. “And, being there was awesome. I mean, I got goose bumps just doing the sound check! So many of our shows are in small, under-funded venues where we struggle with poor sound equipment, or inattentive sound engineers, or plain old bad acoustics in the room. Playing the Freight is like performing in a cathedral. Its like a religious experience of sound.”


Pulling songs from their studio release like “We Autumn Leaves” & “Waiting” as well as many unrecorded songs, “Three At Last-Live At The Freight & Salvage” is a breath of fresh mountain air in it’s richness and depth of sound. Three At Last weaves together tight harmonies and lyrics about anything from deep nature, relationships and family to social commentary on The Now.  “We made our studio album (self-titled “Three At Last”) having only been together for 3 months. With that album, we wanted to show that we were serious, and that we had songs and musicianship that were real. But, honestly, it was so early in our development that we really hadn't honed in on "what we sound like" yet.” Says Velvy Appleton of their readiness for something live. “The Freight CD is a fantastic representation of what we REALLY sound like, at our very best, in the best setting and really on top of the material. It’s honest, direct and real. We're very proud of it. We're going back into the studio in November to make another studio album. We have a ton of great new material, and we are going to do a real band-style album.”

“Three At Last-Live At The Freight & Salvage” is now part of the deep history that The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse has created in the Berkeley California Music Scene. Velvy Appleton and Three AT Last felt that honor in a big way. “The Freight has an INCREDIBLE legacy of hosting the A-list of acoustic music. It’s kind of like The Fillmore of Folk and we are so psyched to now be part of that legacy.”