Bat for Lashes on How ‘Spiritual Ritual’ of Marriage Inspired New LP

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 6/28/2016

Natasha Khan’s creative output is a mythology all her own. The singer-songwriter’s musical fables, performed under the alias Bat for Lashes, feature a variety of rich characters, from Two Suns’ cosmic warrior Pearl to the lovably damaged party girl in her 2012 single “Laura.” Khan’s new concept album, The Bride, out July 1st, stars a blushing belle whose lofty plans for holy matrimony are foiled after her fiancé dies en route to their wedding. From there, the title character embarks on her honeymoon alone, confronting her own personal demons on the path to self-discovery.

“Marriage is one of the few spiritual rituals we can collectively share as a culture,” Khan told Rolling Stone during a recent sit-down about the new album. “You can’t count on someone to complete you and make you happy forever. So what happens when you take the crutch away?”

Inspired by the work of David Lynch and Kenneth Anger, and loosely based on her own recent short film “I Do,” The Bride is a smoldering journey through the supernatural. For a few days, it seemed like the album’s promotional tour was too. Khan and her band were forced to scrap a recent planned live rendition of The Bride at Brooklyn church St. Ann and the Holy Trinity after the ceiling collapsed above the stage during their soundcheck. Then, later that week, torrential downpours would thwart their performance at Governors Ball.

Yet Khan emerged victorious onstage at a make-up show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, decked out in a black veil and cherry-red, Gunne Sax-like gown, ceremoniously tossing a bouquet into the crowd and plucking serenely at an omnichord. (“We’re the most depressing wedding band,” she joked.) Fresh from this disconcerting series of events, Khan seemed cool and composed – albeit a little spooked – when she met with RS at Warner Music HQ.

Read the full Q&A here.

Review: Mitski, ‘Puberty 2’

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 6/17/2016

Following the breakout success of 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, 25-year-old Mitski Miyawaki takes a walk on the weird side in her fourth LP. Assisted by producer and instrumentalist Patrick Hyland, she shrugs off indie rock convention from the onset;  “Happy” opens the album with braying saxophones, beats craftily fashioned from CD skips and lyrics about a happiness that takes the form of a slovenly lover – or in the music video, a duplicitous one. (“Happiness fucks you,” Miyawaki wrote of the song, “It’s possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for [sadness].”)

Calling upon her experience as a Japanese-American woman, Miyawaki reels the rock back in her binational anthem, “Your Best American Girl.” Just as she makes peace with her mixed identity, the hyphen represents a valley of cultural difference that only grows between her and an all-American lover. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me” she sings resolutely, “But I do, I finally do.”

However, all too wary of the pitfalls of total sincerity, Miyawaki returns to her usual wry malaise – fired playfully at a fair-weather friend-with-benefits in “A Loving Feeling,” and full-on blazing in the steely punk track, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” in which you can almost feel her fingers chafing bloody against her guitar as she gasps, “I wanna see the whole world, I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent, I wanna see the whole world!” Elsewhere, she retreats inward with ghostly, glitchy tracks like “Thursday Girl” and “Crack Baby,” meandering listlessly across the same gothic cityscape as Portishead’s Dummy. As bawdy and unpredictable as anyone is in their first puberty, Puberty 2 shows Miyawaki indulging her whims with a devil-may-care attitude – the result is an incendiary self-portrait.

Andy Black, Black Veil Brides Frontman, on His All-Star Synth-Punk Debut

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 5/11/2016

Eight years ago, Andy Black was living in a car. Having just left his hometown of Cincinnati, the young punk was broke in Hollywood, subsisting on visions of what would become his wildly successful glam-metal outfit, Black Veil Brides. “I was barely 18,” says Black, neé Biersack. “I figured I could sleep in my car in 24-hour lockout places. There were other dirtbag, broke musicians sleeping in their cars there. That’s how I was able to cultivate a Rolodex of local musicians… It’s how I put the band together.”

As the frontman of Black Veil Brides, Black would captivate audiences around the world with thrashy anthems for young outcasts of the metalcore persuasion, scoring three Top 20 albums since 2011. Notorious for donning heavy makeup and acquiring gnarly stage injuries, he was named one of Revolver‘s “100 Greatest Living Rock Stars.” But this month, Black took another type of gamble with his solo debut, The Shadow Side, honing a twisted, synthpop edge with help from members of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, Alkaline Trio and more.

On the eve of his album release, Black and his wife, singer-songwriter Juliet Simms Biersack, emerge from an Escalade in front of Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory, where he would preview some new songs at an exclusive party. A small crowd amasses outside, hours before the show: impassioned teen girls bearing signs and Black Veil Brides hoodies. As the newlyweds quietly slink into the venue, their fans are sure to pair their acknowledgements of Black with high praise to his other half, who is often seen peeking from behind the curtains at his shows. Rolling Stone met Black backstage, plopped down on a shredded leather couch with lozenges in hand.

You just kicked off your first solo tour. How’s it going so far?
I blew my voice entirely in the first three days. I’ve been trying to medicate my voice with every Chinese herbal secret in the world. I went to a guy in Toluca Lake who calls himself the Voice Doctor. He’s very eccentric, he even wears a white lab coat. I don’t think he’s an actual doctor because he just sells vitamins and lozenges, but he calls himself a doctor. I don’t feel any kind of high, just the menthol numbing my throat. I’m all about not solving the problem, just pushing the pain away. I’m working the callus in my throat.

Like a guitar-player does.
Yeah! Having a baritone rock voice, I don’t need it to be a well-oiled, finely-tuned instrument; it needs to roughen up like the calluses on a guitar-player’s fingers. The rasp has to get to the point where it’s no longer uncomfortable.… Otherwise I just wind up sounding like Dicky from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

Now that you’ve gone solo ­— will you ever record with Black Veil Brides again?
I started this project when I was 15. It’s been my entire life for the past decade. Because of that, I can’t imagine a world in which I would end [Black Veil Brides] because I’m interested in something else. One of the things that always disappointed me as a kid growing up, was when you could tell the singer had a fancy for something different, and turned the band into something else. I knew that my love for the Sisters of Mercy, Lords of the New Church and that kind of stuff, was never going to lend itself well to a direct interpretation in Black Veil Brides. But still, I always wanted to make music similar to those bands. What, we’ve done four records and an EP in the last five years? I think the band’s earned some time off.

So with Black Veil Brides on break, what’s your set-up like as a solo act?
It’s a three-piece on stage. I got one guy, Josh, he’s like a mad scientist. He sets up loops on the keyboard and plays guitar over it, plus he sings. I met my new drummer Bo at Warped Tour a year ago, he was drumming for Bebe Rexha, who shared a tour bus with my wife. So while I was hanging out in that bus a lot, Bo was the one walking around, picking up the cups and throwing stuff away. I saw him and was like “That’s my guy. If I need anyone on tour that’s my guy.” He’s a great drummer and singer, very smart guy. And after all the debauchery and craziness that was touring with Black Veil Brides, my biggest interest is having a very calm tour. I cut out drinking almost entirely in the past year. Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine or two, but no hard liquor.

You worked on your new album with the pop-punk mastermind, producer John Feldmann. How would you describe the process of writing The Shadow Side with him?
John Feldmann produced Black Veil Brides’ third record, which was our most commercially successful record. When we first met, he asked me to list 10 records that I liked. I mean I always loved classic rock, like AC/DC and Metallica. But you wouldn’t find a Megadeth record, or an Anthrax record on there — whereas my bandmates might prefer that heavier, thrash metal stuff, my interest has always been in punk rock. So me and Feldy’s conversations were all about Generation X,  The Damned, Sham 69, all these old punk bands.

We got together about two years ago to write — nothing specific, just to write songs. A lot of them were terrible. We were like, “Hey, let’s write a Psychedelic Furs song” and we’d make a Psychedelic Furs song. It’s nice to write a song that Molly Ringwald could dance to, but I didn’t think it was the best thing for my voice, or what I was feeling emotionally. But we thought, if we really focused ourselves on a concept and incorporated more of my style into it, wouldn’t it be a lot of fun?

You had an all-star cast of collaborators, from the Madden Brothers to My Chemical Romance. Did you work with them in studio?
Yeah, we had the mid-2000s all-star team. Plus my wife came in, Rian Dawson from All Time Low, Ashton Irwin from 5 Seconds of Summer, Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. When you’re working on a solo record, but you’re used to working with a band you think … “I could build these songs and fake it, in Pro Tools and have session musicians come in and play it perfectly — or, I could get everybody I’ve ever wanted to play on something to come in and jam and write with me and build it organically.” It was like having a different band every day. On “We Don’t Have to Dance,” we had Ashton come in and drum on it. But then we had Travis Barker come in and say “Hey, I’d like to drum on this.” We had so many interesting vocals on it too, like Patrick Stump and Gerard Way.

This sounds like the pop-punk Justice League.
My friend and I started calling it the Feldyverse. We were embarrassingly rich in talented people, and I wanted to use all of them. It’s not a very subtle record because I don’t do “subtle” very well. If I can have all the sprinkles on top, why not throw all the sprinkles on top? If you can have a saxophone on it, have JR from Less Than Jake play sax on a thing, I don’t care.

The people in this universe seem especially supportive of each other.
There’s an interesting thing you realize when you get behind the curtain: All the angst you feel as a kid.… It just feels really dumb. When I was a kid it was so important to listen only to band nobody had ever heard of. I missed out on so much interesting music because of my need to listen to a psychobilly band that only two people knew about…. Because I thought I was cool. As you get older you realize you’re not that cool. You also realize the people you called posers are just people like you.

Your new album gets pretty club-friendly, for somebody who wrote a song called “We Don’t Have to Dance.”
No, I hate clubs. That’s why I wrote that song — I hate anyone telling me that I’m supposed to be having fun. I even have a stupid tattoo, it says FUCK FUN. I don’t wanna be told that this is the best time I’m ever gonna have. I don’t really think that everybody being wasted and trying to fuck each other in a tiny sweaty place is that great. I’ve tried it but I can’t make it great. I immediately hate it.

If there is one song that would make you absolutely lose it on the dance floor — or at home, wherever — what would that be?
Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself.” I won’t totally lose it, but I’ll probably do a fist pump.

Watch Stromae Talk New Unisex Fashion Venture, Performing With Kanye

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 4/11/2016

“Stromae is on vacation now,” says Paul Van Haver, the Francophone dance-pop sensation whose gender-bending persona has been shaking up the international music landscape since 2008. Although Van Haver’s firmly declared a break from the spotlight, the star has set his sights on a whole new endeavor; this month sees the launch of his new clothing store, MOSAERT.

Founded in 2014, MOSAERT is a Belgian creative label that houses Van Haver’s original unisex clothing collection, made in conjunction with his partner, fashion designer Coralie Barbier. The couple decided to forgo band merch for a whole fashion line, based on the colorful designs he dons in music videos such as “Papaoutai” and “Tous Les Mêmes” and craftily titled using an anagram of his stage name. “It wasn’t my plan to design for other people before I met Coralie,” says Van Haver. “At first I only wanted to make outfits for myself, to wear in my videos. Then [fans] wanted to know where to find my clothes. … So I thought, ‘Why not start a fashion line?'”

Now available for purchase online, MOSAERT’s latest offerings include grammar-school uniform cuts and velvet sweats, adorned with floral prints and M.C. Escher-esque tessellations inspired by African prints. “It’s important for a man and a woman to wear the same polo,” says Van Haver. “It’s hard to create exactly the same pieces for men and women, young and old people,” adds Barbier. “We have no target [demographic]. It’s a challenge, but it’s something different. We want everybody to be able to wear it.”

Van Haver performed at last year’s Coachella Festival, where his set was crashed by another musician-turned-fashion-boss: Kanye West. “It was a complete surprise,” he said of West’s appearance, which happened during Van Haver’s performance of his global hit “Alors On Danse.” After the set, the two discussed potential artistic collaborations.

“Being famous is a bit dangerous sometimes,” he says. “Right now I am just focused on fashion and collaborating with other artists.”

Coheed and Cambria on Why Their Nerdy Comic-Book Saga Had to End

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As featured in Rolling Stone, 3/15/2016

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the story behind Coheed and Cambria was born. Well, not quite. A combination of dystopic science fiction and old-school fantasy – as well as the basis of the band’s intrepid first seven albums – frontman Claudio Sanchez conceived of the narrative in 1998, while spending a month in Paris, France. It would become The Amory Wars, an epic comic book series circling the lives (and descendants) of Coheed and Cambria, who Sanchez calls the “Adam and Eve” of his complex alternate universe.

Yet, after almost 20 years since its creation, Sanchez told Rolling Stone why the saga needed a rest. “I always have a hard time confessing myself with lyrics,” Sanchez says. “My real life was just dirty. I created the idea of The Amory Wars as a mask. I was very shy and introverted. It was a way to confess my [feelings] without giving myself to the listeners… Not letting the audience in.”

Having already concluded the central narrative of The Amory Wars, Sanchez wrote the 2015 release of Coheed and Cambria’s eighth album, The Color Before the Sun, ready to get real with his listeners.

“I started to create songs that didn’t fall within the lines of what I had created for Coheed and Cambria.” Sanchez explains. “Then my wife [writer Chondra Echert] told me that we were pregnant. None of that mattered anymore. My love for her resonated in the record, the prospect of fatherhood started to resonate. Now, my wife and I, we also write comic books together, we collaborate on art, but there we were, on the top of world, about to collaborate on life.”

Now, Sanchez’s small Brooklyn apartment was neither longer suffice to write a record, nor to raise a family. Followed by the birth of his son Atlas, now 18 months old, Sanchez and his wife discovered their country home in Upstate New York had been ransacked by scheming marijuana tycoons.

“It had been vandalized and turned into a $300,000-a-month grow house operation,” Sanchez says.

It prompted the singer-songwriter into action — by taking back his house and writing his most personal, straightforward music yet. “I wanted the songs to speak for themselves,” he says. “Now that I’m 37 years old, I don’t need the mask at this point in my life.”

Sanchez is currently working on a supplementary story to The Amory Wars, which will develop independently from Coheed and Cambria.

The Color Before the Sun is out now on 300 Entertainment. The band is currently touring the United States, with support from post-hardcore legends Glassjaw, as well as I The Mighty and Silver Snakes.