Music Reviews

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Interview with Amanda from Ray and Remora


Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins

amandaI have to be honest-I agreed to review the record Startle it Up simply for the reason that I liked it.  Surprising, I know.  I like to make things complicated and choose albums that have this overwhelming truth that I hadn’t realized before I listened, or it has to inspire me in some profound way.  And while this album may have the potential to do these things if I dissect it enough, I didn’t want to.  I just wanted to enjoy it.  And I did, every time it played.  It even had the chance to pass my “shuffle test:” if a song was randomly picked while I listened to my iPod, would I skip the song?  The answer was a resounding no-instead of hitting next, I turned it up, and I would smile as soon as I heard it.  With all the discord and the chaos in the world, we all need more things to make us smile, right?

Fresh and light without being pathetic and airy, Startle it Up addresses some tensions revolving around various statuses of relationships.  When Amanda begs to be listened to, she doesn’t sound whiny, when she sings “we just have to find it,” you believe that you will, and when the lyrics bleed transparency, there’s still just enough mystique that leave you wanting to hear more.  I adore this album for sounding different, yet familiar.  I love that this album isn’t fluff, yet it doesn’t make me feel burdened.  Startle it Up is an escape that I didn’t even know I needed until I heard it.  

Relate:  What is your first memory of music?

Amanda:  My first memory of music is probably my Grandpa singing lullabies. We moved to Portland shortly after I was born to live with him.  I don’t remember much from childhood, but I do remember him singing me to sleep, “I gave my love a cherry, that had no stone.”

R: 1994 was an EP of covers, and this album, Startle It Up, is a full-length of originals.  Which one was your favorite to create and which one was more challenging?

A:  Startle It Up is definitely my favorite, we really became the band “RAY & REMORA” with this one.

1994 was fun but it was like a “nice to meet you” project with Dan. We were just fooling around in the studio, recording Kazoos with lots of effects and since we weren’t a fully-fledged band yet, it was less serious. We were just two nerds in a basement playing with computers and instruments.

The “challenging stuff” for me isn’t the recording or music making; it’s all the business matters. After an album it’s a lot paper work and emails. That sucks the life out of me. If anyone wants to be my intern, I’m hiring!

R:  How soon did you know that you wanted to create a second album and that it would be your own creations?  Was it right away or did it take awhile for you to decide this?

A:  As soon as the EP was out and receiving some interest, we started playing live shows. Since the EP was only six songs we had to add some material from each of Dan and my prior songwriting repertoire. From then it was inevitable that we would make an album of originals.

R:  In twenty years a young band wants to cover one of your songs.  Which song do you hope they choose and why?

A:  I want to say “It’s Just” or “Soft Brown Heart”, these two are extra close to me, personally. But, as I will not be the young band member in 20 years… Whomever decided to cover one of our songs, I hope they choose whichever song(s) they connect to the most and that they make it their own.

R:  If you couldn’t be a musician, what would you want to be instead?

A:  I will never not be a musician! But if I had to have a side gig, which I do, it would be making art. I’m a collagist of objects and images.

R:  Best source of inspiration when you need to write a song? Do you use personal experiences or do you use what you see going on around you?

A:  I draw mostly from personal experience, which is sometimes outside actions happening around me, observing them and then trying to understand all the sides of what’s going on. A lot of the songs that I write are about understanding how people talk to and act towards each other. It’s hard to explain one’s self and actions perfectly all the time, where everyone’s coming from emotionally or physically. I struggle with it a lot, on both the understanding and acting side.

R:  How do you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard you before?  

A:  I keep getting asked this and then I say, “ummm… it’s indie pop rock?” But I’ll let you listen and choose your own words.

R:  What is the biggest hope you have for your music?

A:  My biggest hope is that music will be able to support me and keep me happy till the end of time. If it doesn’t do that then I just may have to find something new. But, it hasn’t failed me yet and I don’t intend on letting it, so watch out world! Ray & Remora & Amanda & Glen are coming for you!



Willow Steps


Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
willow-stepsA little longer than a minute ago, I wrote a review for a band called Dear Indugu.  I didn’t remember right away what they sounded like, but I remembered that their music had affected me.  That almost goes without saying; I generally won’t write a review unless there’s a significant take away.  Regardless, the impact was enough for me to agree to write a review for Jesse’s new adventure:  Willow Steps, music unheard.  Seriously, that rarely, if ever, happens because what if I hate it?  It’s difficult to stay true to Relate’s mission statement, “inspiring teen girls” if I don’t have positive things to say and something of quality to write about.  I mean, right?

The overall sound caught me a little bit by surprise.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t acoustic folk.  Even though that’s exactly the way Jesse described it…it wasn’t what I imagined it would be.  But really, it was better than I could have hoped for. I love a girl and a guy’s voice blending together. It is always such perfection, and I think it’s always such an underused and under appreciated element in today’s music scene.

Now, for the lyrics.  The first song, “Lovers Recipe” is pretty great. I adore the nod at the baggage and brokenness we bring to every relationship.  I agree that no matter how we try to move away from our past, it changes who we are, no matter how minutely, and we bring that to each new partnership that we try to create.  What a great song.  And as the previous band’s musings did before this one, I put this one in my pocket to ponder and consider from various angles and, honestly, these really are my favorite type of songs.

With the second and third, song, though, I felt myself getting a little annoyed that I had so eagerly agreed to write a review.  I considered, several times as the lyrics unveiled themselves to me, of saying nope, nevermind, can’t do it.  Even though I hate backing out of anything.  But there are all these sexual innuendos.  And, wait a minute, is that a drug reference or two…or three?  I can’t condone these things.  They only lead to bad places.

There’s that moment of wanting to turn it off.  Of wanting to hit the rewind button, even if it means an “I changed my mind” email.  To be fair, I don’t.  I don’t quit things.  And certainly, there’s got to be something positive, even if it’s covered by negative.  I just have to work harder than normal to unearth it.

And then the last song plays, and I find that I don’t have to work for it at all.  “A Truth” is the type of song I pray bands would write.  There’s a lot of speculating, a lot of wondering, a lot of pondering.  But then there’s lyrics like “From an airplane window/Looking out on the world/A canvas for some creator”… “Because we all pretend there’s no meaning/Well, there’s meaning.”  There is a conclusion made here with the simple, yet beautiful and profound lyric “I believe in a truth too big to see/Look in any direction/And you’re staring at infinity.”  The song evolves from wondering to a proclamation, and I’m running around with my arms in the air screaming “Yes, yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”  

This song is the face of bravery.

I am reminded as I listen again and again, how much more “A Truth” means because of the songs that precede it.  Rarely, if ever, are we born with faith.  And if we have to meander through darkness, through treacherously rough terrain including drugs and promiscuity and awful choices, how much more profound the light must be once we find it.  I am reminded God can create something positive from even the worst circumstances, and that even though bad choices lead to bad places, that doesn’t mean we have to stay there.  The take away here for me is to never, ever give up on anything or anyone.  How impressive it will be if other listeners can walk away with the same hope.

For more information, please visit www.WillowSteps.com



Hollis Creek Revival: In the River


Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins
hollis creek revivalI was drawn to Hollis Creek Revival immediately; ten seconds into my first listen of  “Wildfire,” I knew this was a band that I wanted in my daily musical rotation.  A somewhat tamer version of Needtobreathe, they are in that same southern rock, earthy, organic vein.  This is music I can’t get enough of.  And while they sound great, even more importantly, their lyrics are treasures; morsels of truth that both comfort me and inspire me to live closer to Him.

Their press release explains that the band recorded In the River with the intent for the first half of the album to have a more modern feel while the later half to have a “more vintage, retro” sound.  Overall all, the record is cohesive, and there isn’t necessarily a fine line where they flipped a switch from one approach to the other.  At least, that wasn’t audible to my ears, anyway.  But what I did notice is the first half of the album has a general, upbeat motivational perspective, like a bird’s eye view of the world, and the second half has more of an introspective and personal feel to the songs.  It has a “hey, world, this is who we are as a band and how we feel” introduction to a “and, hey, by the way, since you are still listening, this is WHY we feel the way we do.”  It’s pretty ingenious, actually.  They’re so forthcoming, and I feel like I could be friends with these guys since we have so much in common.  I adore that transparency.

“Wildfire” is brilliant.  Both the song and the video are both so seriously good.  Anyone who has a smidgeon of wanderlust will love the song; anyone with a call to missions will understand the embers they speak of.  While understanding this earth is not our true home, God reveals himself in the sunrises and the sunsets, the majesty of a waterfall, the constancy and power of ocean waves.  He’s everywhere.  Anyone who says miracles don’t exist anymore hasn’t taken time to wonder at the complexity of butterfly’s wings, the act of breathing… But once that perspective of amazement has been adopted, it’s just so overwhelming; the desire to get out, see more, to share more, to tell others!  This song tells of that passion.

“Home” and “Violin” stand out to me as well.  They’re both slower songs, one near the beginning and one near the end of the album, but they tell stories in the great way that timeless songs often do.  “Home” is not what you might expect-it’s about being in the presence of heroes and ancestors and legends who set a precedent, and without them, your life would look completely different.  The name Hollis was the name of the lead singer’s grandfather, and this song is another bow at reverence for lineage that made an impact.  “Violin” tells the power of music and the bonds it can create.

Whether it is learning trust over time and realizing God is never late (“You’re Right on Time”), learning to let the pain go by turning burdens over to Him (“Weightless Yesterday”), or realizing God is always waiting for us to seek Him (“Like Brand New”), Hollis Creek Revival use their gifts to create an album that brings both comfort and inspiration.  The last song, the hymn “What a Day That Will Be,” reminds us of the bigger picture…getting to heaven, but all the other songs do an amazing job of encouraging us find joy in this life by remaining connected to the truth.  With that as our focus, there is no reason we should let not live our lives like a “Wildfire.”

For more information, please visit:  www.holliscreekrevival.com.

 



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