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A Q&A with Under The Big Oak Tree

Under the Big Oak Tree has all the makings of a solid bluegrass/folk collective, from dulcet vocal harmonies to mandolin flourishes and a foundational upright bass line. The trio’s latest album Local Honey—released early this year on Mudstomp Records—showcases these elements in a vibrant, lush sonic atmosphere. Find out more about the group in our Q&A with songwriter Simon Fink.
 
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music.
 
Simon Fink: Rustic melodies; warm, tremulous singing; lyrics that tilt toward the literary: Gillian Welch, Dolly Parton, and Leonard Cohen walk in to a bar—or onto a front porch, maybe... 
 
The Deli: Give me some background info on Under the Big Oak Tree.
 
Simon: About 4 years ago, I answered a Craigslist ad from a guitar player who wanted to start a bluegrass band for his daughter, who he said was learning to sing and and play guitar. From the sound of it, I pictured a guy with a 15-year-old daughter who wanted to be Taylor Swift. They turned out to be two of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met (Kristin Hamilton and Rocky Cathcart, who moved to Texas). As I got to know Kristin’s approach to singing, her voice became a great inspiration for new songs and arrangements. We added Doug Ward on bass pretty much immediately, who fit right in to what we were doing and helped expand on it.
 
The Deli: What inspires your music and songwriting? What is your songwriting process? Does one person write everything or is it collaborative? 
 
Simon: I write most of the songs, and Doug contributes too. A lot of my inspiration comes from thinking about the sound and dramatic potential of the group—the voices and instruments. For me it’s all about the meaningful interaction between words and music that, in turn, creates something greater—the alchemy of songwriting. Though I don’t purposely avoid it, I don’t generally write from autobiography. Lyrics, for me, are an heightened kind of language. A lot of my reference points are in (written) poetry, and you can see the names of certain poets who served as inspiration in some of the song titles on the new album.
 
The Deli: What have been your greatest accomplishments as a band?
 
Simon: I think both of our albums are pretty darn good, and I’m proud of them. We still have a lot more to explore.
 
The Deli:Tell us about your newest album, Local Honey. What can listeners expect? What future plans do you have for getting your music out there? 
 
Simon: Expect a genuine singing voice embedded in sweet, rootsy acousticness. People tend to instantly recognize a kind of welcoming wholesomeness in our music. I hope they hear that, and I hope they hear some of the richer, more challenging layers to the songs and ideas as well.
 
We’re based in St. Joe, but we hope to get the word out and play more in KC and Lawrence.
 
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
 
Simon: I’m not a huge fan of that phrase because it makes it sound like one more grim duty (“Eat your vegetables.”), when, in fact, participating in music—especially “locally”—is essentially joyous and enlivening. There was a well-known ethno-musicologist in the ‘70s who found that worldwide and across cultures, people’s peak life experiences tended to have one thing in common: music. I’m always heartened by the people, especially non-musicians, who feel like they get something out of our shows and recordings.
 
I do worry that many people don’t seem have a place in their life to really listen anymore. When I read profiles of great contemporary thinkers and doers, their response to, “What are you listening to?” is so often a podcast or audio book. The status of music kind of peaked with the Romantics. In the 19th century, it was considered the greatest and most vital of all art forms. Now, music for its own sake (apart from film, TV, commercials, etc.) no longer seems to fit into our lives so well—and yet that’s exactly why it’s still so essential.
 
The music industry is a mess at the moment. But every community needs dedicated, local musicians. Individual fans can help by pitching in to ad hoc crowdfunding campaigns, etc., but it’s hard to imagine a local scene of quality and consequence really being sustained that way.
 
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now? Non-local?
 
Non-local: Matt Blake, Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker, Birds of Chicago (just heard at Folk Alliance)
 
The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?
 
Simon: Opening for Bob Dylan. Accompanied by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. On a tour of great American National Parks. Sunrise and sunset shows. Staging by Julie Taymor. Cloud-scape by Vik Muniz. Free admission and snacks. And bourbon.
 
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
 
Simon: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Robert Johnson, Lou Reed: some of my favorite American songwriters.
 
The Deli: What other goals do you have for 2016 and beyond?
 
Simon: Record some live videos of the band; start a sponsored concert series; collaborate with local musicians on a project of new songs about St. Joe, MO; facilitate a collaboration between the KC folk and classical scenes; get an intern; get our music out to as many people as will listen and win you over as a UBOT fan. Yes, YOU, dear reader. 
 
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
 
Simon: I have tried to write paradise
Do not move
Let the wind speak
that is paradise
-Ezra Pound
(mic drop…)
 
 
 
You’re in luck—Under the Big Oak Tree will be playing this weekend in Lawrence. Catch them at The Bottleneck on Saturday night with Kelly Hunt and Kansas City Hustle. Music starts at 9:00 pm. Facebook event page.
 
 
 

--Michelle Bacon 





Yes You Are is The Deli KC's Best Emerging Artist of 2015! 2nd HMPH!, 3rd Missouri Loves Company

Deli Readers,

Our Best of KC Poll for Emerging Artists has been—as usual—a lengthy and painstaking journey which took us through prairies of numbers, horizons filled with band names, and a dense (mostly), joyous rain of music. We have finally reached our destination and we can announce the final results!

1. Yes You Are

Yes You Are’s (pictured above) brand of ethereal rock is a magnetic, encapsulating experience from start to finish. Kianna Alarid and Jared White craft purposeful pop songs surrounded by transcendental swaths of sound. After quickly pronouncing themselves onto the Kansas City scene and becoming a fan favorite, they gained national traction by supporting Neon Trees on their summer 2015 tour. The band recently made its debut appearance at The Midland opening for Lucius, winning over an even stronger KC contingent.

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2. HMPH!

When you think about complex instrumental music, you don’t immediately think it would necessarily be palatable to the masses. But much like the group’s melodies and rhythms, HMPH! twists experimental math rock into fascinating, engaging tunes. HMPH!’s debut album Headrush—released last summer on Haymaker Records—made a name for itself on a number of Best of 2015 lists (including ours!)

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3. Missouri Loves Company

Missouri Loves Company jumpstarted the new year by earning readers’ votes as the winner of our 2015 Emerging Artists’ poll. The six-piece plans to release a full-length album soon, having recently released songs from its latest studio sessions. Be sure to check them out in KC in April at Davey’s Uptown, and look out for new music from them soon.

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Check out our poll's top 15 below, and don't forget to get even deeper, exploring all the finalists organized by genre:

POP – POST ROCK – PUNK/METAL – ROOTS – ROCK

[MICHELLE, PLEASE UPDATE THE HEADPHONE LINKS IN THIS CHART!]

BEST OF 2015 POLL FOR
EMERGING KC ARTISTS
****** FINAL RESULTS - TOP 20 ******

 
ARTIST
J
OS
R
TOT
 
1
Yes You Are
10.5
 
1
11.5
2
HMPH!
7.5
 
0.013
7.513
icon
3
Missouri Loves Company
3
 
2
5
icon
4
Rachel Mallin & the Wild Type
3
1.5
0.162
4.662
icon
5
Via Luna
3.5
 
0.175
3.675
icon
6
Hyborian
3
 
0.163
3.163
7
Sie Lieben Maschinen
3
 
0.097
3.097
icon
 
Earth Spun Occupants
 
3
0.053
3.053
icon
9
The Widow's Ride
3
 
0.039
3.039
icon
10
Merit Badge
3
 
0.038
3.038
11
The Roseline
3
 
0.016
3.016
12
Sunday Heroine
3
 
0.002
3.002
icon
13
Berwanger
3
 
0
3
icon
14
AJ Young
2.5
 
0.016
2.516
icon
15
Sara Morgan
1
 
1.5
2.5
16
Modern Day Fitzgerald
2
 
0.5
2.5
17
Westerners
2
 
0.5
2.5
icon
18
Kangaroo Knife Fight
2
 
0.231
2.231
icon
19
Doris
2
 
0.23
2.23
icon
20
Spencer Mackenzie Brown
2
 
0.142
2.142
Legend: J = Jurors,
R = Deli Readers, OS = Open Submissions

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If you wonder how this chart came into existence, here is how it all went down: first, we let the local bands submit their music (for free), and got our Deli editors to pick the nominees. Then we polled a list of 15+ K.C. scene expert (our jury) and asked them to nominate 3 more bands of their choice each (3 points for the top choice, then 2 and 1). Then we polled our readers. We tried to keep things open for each single genre, from Pop to Roots to Metal. 

If you are a geek interested in all the subtelties related to how this poll works, you can read its rules here (happy reading!). But if all you care about is the awesome new music KC produced in the year 2015, this list is all you need. Enjoy!

Many Thanks to our Jurors: Ann Stewart, Barry Lee, Bill Brownlee, Brenton Cook, Chris Haghirian, Dedric Moore, Don Simon, John Todd, Justin Mantooth, Michael Byars, Rhonda Lyne, and Sondra Freeman.

Hope you'll find some awesome new artists you weren't aware of!

The Deli's Staff





Album review: Fullbloods - Mild West

Fullbloods are back.
 
After their 2013 streaming-only release, Making Face, the band, fronted by Ross Brown (The Empty Spaces, solo work) seemed to go quiet. Until recently, that is. Rocketing out of retirement, Fullbloods brings us Mild West, an eleven-track, forty-minute album chock full of melodic Midwestern surf-rock via High Dive Records. This album marks a departure from their old sound, that funky yet smooth indie music. This album is much more experimental, adding more depth, new sounds, and creative hooks, Mild West is a new Fullbloods.
 
Noodling their way into the first track, Money, Fullbloods fully embody that previously mentioned Midwestern surf rock. The kind of music that you expect to hear exuding from a garage on a 70-degree day in April. It’s punchy, it’s soulful, it’s ironically braggadocious, as much of the album turns out to be.
 
This is the sort of album that you roll your windows down for. It harkens daydreams of cool air and bright sunlight. The riffing of the guitars pushes your car along the boulevard as the light drumming stirs up your imagination. Quirky, inconsistent keys pop in and out, offering a whole new ingredient to the song’s recipe. Sometimes the keys make the songs feel futuristic, such as in “Neverminded.” And yet, at other times, the keys take on an almost extraterrestrial voice, like in “Kind of Gentlemen” and “Anima Mundi.”
 
The album doesn’t truly slow down until the seventh track, “Caught A Feeling.” This song’s haunting harmonies are found throughout the track. The next ‘ballad’ won’t be found until the outro of the album, the final track, “Air Conditioner.”
 
Altogether, Mild West offers up exactly what listeners expect from KC-based High Dive Records. An album that mixes perfectly on a playlist with Shy Boys, The ACB’s, Rev Gusto, and Empty Moon. The album carries a light-hearted vibe with self-deprecating lyrics. Clever and honest songwriting lends itself well to the feel of the album. Mild West is Fullbloods’ best album to date.
 
 
 
--Steven Ervay
Steven lives the agency life by day, and hustles music by night at The Record Machine. If he's not going to your show, he's probably playing frisbee with his dog or elbow deep in some chicken wings.
 

Fullbloods celebrated the release of Mild West in KC over the weekend, and are starting a tour tonight in Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, and Des Moines. They’ll be back in KC on St. Patrick’s Day at The Riot Room. 





Kansas City Best of 2015 Readers' Poll Results! Missouri Loves Company, Sara Morgan, and Yes You Are

The results for our 2015 Emerging Artist of the Year Readers' Poll are in! We'd like to thank everyone who voted in support of their favorite artists, and a hardy congrats to everyone who made the poll this year!
 
 
 
1. Our 2015 Readers’ Poll winner, Missouri Loves Company (pictured above) brings together six musicians who produce a larger-than-life amalgamation of sound. The band takes a slightly off-kilter approach to its music, accenting dark pop melodies with atypical rock instrumentation (viola, trombone, glockenspiel) and a variety of musical influences. Led by vocals from Margot Gibson—who can dazzle with the style of a twisted lounge singer or an impassioned rock ‘n roll growl—the group showcases jangly jazzy guitar work and blues-inspired grooves that have the potential for broad appeal.
 
 
 
2. In 2015, Sara Morgan won over the hearts of new fans with expressive songwriting inspired by classic country and imbued with a modern accessibility. Since moving back to Kansas City a little under 2 years ago, Morgan has excelled in incorporating a style all her own in her songwriting, and has teamed up with skilled musicians (including guitarist Carl Butler and drummer Duncan Burnett) to back her.
 
 
 
3. Yes You Are has amassed a steady, loyal fan base by creating authoritative, preeminent pop music with a stage show that matches in intensity and vigor. The band is deliberate in its approach, merging infectious dance pop with meaningful spiritual undertones. In 2015, the band had the opportunity to astound audiences across the country by supporting Neon Trees on the first half of their summer tour.
 
 
 
4. Modern Day Fitzgerald describe themselves as “gentlemen who perform music with proper etiquette.” On the trio’s upcoming EP Gorgeous Killing, this sophisticated pop sound breaks through, with a hip-hop flair. Songwriter/frontman Mica-Elgin Vi pours emotion and charm into the band’s personality, with a jazzy rhythmic foundation from Zach Tyler and Steven Callahan. The EP will be released this Friday night at The Buffalo Room.
 
 
 
Again, congrats to everyone who was included! Our nominees went out of their way to promote the poll, and they certainly deserve your attention.
 
If you want to take a look at the results organized by genre, check them out here:
POPPOST ROCKPUNK/METALROOTSROCK
 
Thanks to everyone who shared and voted. Keep an eye out for the winner of our overall poll, compiled by the winners of this Readers’ Poll and votes from local music experts.
 

--The Deli KC Staff 





Victor and Penny Harness "Electricity"

(Photos by Chandra Ramey)
 
The Kansas City Jazz Duo Creates a New Spin From Classic Chemistry
 
Can music based on vintage tastes and ideals create something new? According to Victor & Penny, something as simple as a hook, a dress, or the right recording engineer creates a viable chance. When they planned to bring a specific genre of music into the Kansas City mainstream, they made sure it was based in craft, personality, and style. Against all odds it works and chances are, you'll love it.
 
You have most likely seen or heard their brand of ragtime jazz around town at several venues as diverse as recordBar, Hotel Phillips, Kauffman Center, and The Green Lady Lounge. Sometimes they play as a duo, sometimes they incorporate a full outfit known as The Loose Change Orchestra with trombone, upright bass, and clarinet.
 
Who are Victor & Penny?
In a word, they are “unique.” They create songs out of a time that harbors authentic musicianship and charm, yet the act telegraphs progressive idealism through virtuosity, fashion and playfulness. They find a joyous sound out of some of the darkest musical standards of the classic jazz age, as if blowing soap bubbles through a flophouse opium pipe. But it's not all fun and games. The duo creates music based in an era of serious songwriting skills. Watching them create tunes on stage prompts you to applaud time and time again before the song comes to a close because it's something made with love, humor, and blood.
 
“The way we present ourselves is vital to the way the audience perceives us,” says singer and ukulele player Penny (known locally as Erin McGrane). “We want to show respect for our audience by looking sharp. That also helps to set the stage and mood for our show.”
 
Victor (known around Kansas City as Jeff Freling) continues the thought. “The music and the presentation go hand-in-hand. As we continue to refine and expand our stage presence, we present a more sophisticated show.”
 
Sophisticated is a good description for this musical favorite about town. When you walk into a Victor & Penny showcase, the duo ushers you through classic jazz standards with the energy and vigor of a revival-era tent pastor, as they are unabashed converts to the art form. It's based in an honest love for the intricacies of the style.
 
“We offer the audience more than just a concert,” McGrane says. “We offer stories and a chance to get to know us as people, which is another way to connect to the audience and enrich the experience.“
 
Which is true: they're 100-percent show business, but their connection is real and based in the classic ideals of traveling theater. They parry corny jokes, natural chemistry, and undeniable musicianship out of quick scenarios in clubs, media appearances, and even impromptu videos in their car. Their semi-formal attire contrasts with the easygoing attitude on stage as they sway and jump between old standards and new treasures.
 
So it begs the question; in a town so focused on indie rock and stylized blues, how would they make an impact by focusing on early jazz standards? It's all about the lure of the common experience. McGrane says, ”In college, I got into 1930s vocal music from groups like the Boswell Sisters and the Mills Brothers. Jeff was listening to a lot of early guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian when we reconnected, and we found a common pool of tunes that we loved.”
 
 
Recording Electricity
Victor & Penny recorded a new album titled Electricity in August of 2015 and the finished product will soon be available here. They made the journey to Nashville's Sputnik Sound to create it with producer Mitch Dane, who made his cake working up alt-country gold with acts as varied as Woody Pines and Jack White. Even though the producer's tastes were outside Victor & Penny's specific genre, the moment they met with Mitch, they knew it was a special match due to his musical taste for the eclectic side of early Americana and his impressive collection of classic recording gear in his inspiring studio.
 
Did the experience live up to expectations? According to Freling, yes. After speaking with Dane, they immediately hit it off and the day-to-day labors allowed the trio to create something truly special.
 
“Working in Nashville was a great experience and we had the opportunity to partner with a producer to help us rearrange some older tunes and bring a fresh perspective to our music,” Freling says.
 
How did Victor & Penny begin?
According to them, it all came together in Chicago.
 
“Jeff and I met during college years when our rock bands played together in the local KC scene,” says McGrane.
 
Freling adds, “We reconnected in Chicago a few years ago. Erin was working up there as a commercial actress and I had been playing strings on stage with Blue Man Group for many years. We hadn’t seen each other in almost 15 years.”
 
 
Playing the Circuit
This kind of authentic atmosphere means the world to this turn-of-the-century jazz duo because they rely on a certain balance of classic and contemporary to create their singular stage presence. They work hard to create a personable and accessible feel that draws both new and schooled fans of jazz history into their realm.
 
“The tunes that we’re drawn to are endlessly fun to sing and to improvise over musically,” says McGrane. “For example, the melody on ‘Lazy River’ by Hoagy Carmichael is instantly recognizable and much trickier to sing and play than it sounds. It’s just beautiful. ”
 
Freling finishes the thought. “We love to do what we call sonic archaeology and dig for lesser-known songs from the early part of the last century. Our original material combines all of our personal influences to create a modern sound with a vintage vibe.”
 
So yes, it's true. A partnership born from a shared love of musical history proves something new can come from it all. The unique voice Victor & Penny creates gives music lovers in Kansas City an opportunity to participate in a true love of the artform. Experience their brand of musical joy at the Folk Alliance International Conference from Wednesday through Sunday. Check out their schedule here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
--Andrew Schiller
Andrew Schiller has been playing music and writing features for a couple of decades. To earn gear and beer money, sometimes he wakes up and travels to an office of some sort inhabited by your garden-variety marketing types.
 

 

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