Words kalee ball

Musician Interviews

By Kalee Ball

Sea Cycles

Photo courtesy of Brian Squillace

Brian Squillace led me down a dimly-lit hallway, rounded a corner and climbed up a creaky set of dark wood stairs. There was a Burrito Gallery menu on a step. He glided through a small walkway through a big room full of well, stuff. It looked and smelled like a messy antique store.

He entered an open room lit by the glow of string lights and two lamps. Guitar cases, amps, drums and fans littered the floor. Graffiti covered the walls, in places so thick it was intelligible. A canvas that almost touched the ceiling was painted with grey and blue swirling lines. A brown mandala tapestry hung on the wall next to a Mogwai poster.

It’s Sea Cycles’ do-it-yourself practice space. There, in the center of it all, was a drum kit, a synthesizer, mics and guitar pedals. It was a typical Tuesday for the local band, who practice twice a week.

Sea Cycles is Brian Squillace, guitar, auxiliary drums and synth; Landon Paul, guitar and bass; Josh Wessolowski, drums; and Colin Adkins, guitar, bass and lead vocals. The band itself has had varying members since 2011 and the current lineup since 2015. It’s always been about good friends making music together.

They come from different places in the United States, but found their homes in Jacksonville. Brian and Landon are originally from North Carolina and have been playing music together since they were teenagers. Colin, a Lakeland native, used to play in a different local band with Wisconsin native Josh.

All in their 30s, they’ve all been involved in one project or another in Jacksonville’s music scene for the past five years. All four of them being in a band together had always been a joke among them. They get along great, having had a group chat for about two years. So one day, they thought, “Well, why not?”

At their practice that night, they each warmed up in their own way. Colin hummed, Landon strummed, Joshi hit the pedal for the kick drum and Brian messed with his computer. Then they started to play.

The ambient synth pop enveloped the room. A projector cast cut-up videos of waves, trees and people to the beat of the music. They played hard. In each of the songs, they let one of the instruments speak for themselves. Whether it be a drum crescendo, a guitar riff or a harmonized lyric, it had its time to reverberate through the room.

The set ended and they laughed together, making notes about small edits they wanted to make to the songs. It sounded like noisy gibberish, but to them, it’s the language they understand best.

Right now, they’re putting their all into making a new album.

“It’s a weird time for us right now,” Brian said. Colin joined after the recording of their debut album, “Ground & Air,” and has more of a connection with the songs he’s had a hand in writing.

The band members are experiencing a dichotomy between the band they used to be, which had a more instrumental direction and cryptic lyrics, and the band they are now, which they want to have more lyrical direction.

“You can convey ideas a lot easier with a songwriter in the band and lyrics,” said Landon.

Colin is the main man behind the band’s current songwriting. Each member raved about their new addition’s lyrical prowess and “angel voice.” He basically mumbles a melody and accepts collaboration from the other band members to fit his mumbling.

But when creating a new song, they have a “loop-based process,” according to Josh.

“We’re so wrapped up in trying to come up with new songs for the record, so the writing process comes from all of us trying to bring ideas to the table, and as soon as the ideas come to the table, we interpret them in our own voices and try to figure out how to make them fit our sound,” he said.

Josh brought the idea for a new song, “You Say” to the table. The vocal melodies, parts of the drum beat and the bass line were in the song, and each member worked until they figured out which part they would play, adding layers until it became a whole song.

They’re a very technology-driven band. They record every practice, listen to it all week, and come back the next week to discuss the changes they need to make. Everything is about collaboration.

They aim to be sustainable as a band. You can hear them play once or twice a month at places like Raindogs and Nighthawks. Right now, they’re on a bit of a hiatus though–they want to completely focus on their new album.

“We just want to be getting better and still enjoy it,” Landon said.

LANNDS

Photos by Josh Wessolowski

LANNDS sat in front of us in the back of Deep Search with a small smile lighting up her face. She fidgeted and looked down at the wood floor.

She immediately thanked us for wanting to talk to her. Her humility radiated from her nervous demeanor. She held her hands together and rocked back and forth when she talked. Her heels alternated tapping the floor.

It’s not what you would expect from an artist with 100k listens on Spotify.

She didn’t know how starstruck we were. We gushed over her music and she gushed over us.

We stumbled upon her at an acoustic show at Mockshop Music Exchange where we were blown away.

Mockshop is a small room inside of a Murray Hill strip. Guitars decorate the brick walls and decorative carpet dress the white floors. On that September evening, LANNDS stood in front of a small audience with only a microphone, an amp and her electric guitar. It was so quiet, it seemed as if no one was breathing.

She laughed into the microphone and introduced herself. She seemed in awe of herself, standing in front of people there to hear her. She started a song–stopped–and started again. She laughed at herself, the audience laughed with her–and then she changed. The music seemed to overtake her–it was what she knew best. She started to sing and took the audience’s breath away.

Otherwise known as Rania Woodard, the Memphis, Tenn. native has musical prowess that is shaking Jacksonville to its very core.

Finding her music was a bit serendipitous. She is very connected to Sea Cycles–her album was produced by member Brian Squillace, and they both have a dreamy, atmospheric style of music edging on electronica.

She released her debut EP, Wide Awake in a Sleepy World, on August 16. It’s about just that.

“Lately, I’ve been into this transcendental feel of things. I feel more rounded. My themes for writing have been more about uniting people. This entire EP is about being conscious and aware of what’s going on in today’s society and trying to find peace through it all,” she said.

Each song lends its own hand to the theme of keeping yourself grounded and knowing that you are connected to everyone else. The title track, “Wide Awake” is most about this concept. “Metanoia” and “Still” follows it, bringing in the concept of being in love.

“Basically, it’s about being in love with someone and realizing that in that moment of ‘stillness,’ that’s all there is,” she said.

“Young Years” is a brave defense of millennials. “Everyone thinks we’re lazy, but we actually care a lot,” Woodard says.

The four-track EP was written on her laptop first, using a production program called Logic Pro.

For her, the music comes first.

She creates a dichotomy with her guitar and the program, using both to construct her album. We asked her how she does it, and she immediately pulled a small keyboard out of her backpack–as if she was always ready to record.

Photo by Rania Woodard.

She builds the song off of guitar riffs and a drum beat. Then, she basically presses different buttons on the keyboard, which makes atmospheric sounds on Logic Pro, until she finds what she likes. She adds vocals, and keeps adding filler sounds, until she feels a complete song is born.

“I want this to be the thing that I do,” she told us.

Her show at Mockshop ended with a small smile and a thousand thanks. I could feel my heart swell as she left the stage.

She is a dichotomy in herself–almost a contradiction–being down to earth, while simultaneously transcendental. She’s on a journey to find herself and her music.

We’re excited to be along for the ride.

Find her music on Spotify and Soundcloud.

HAYDEN ARP

Hayden Arp, a musician based in Oberlin, Ohio, believes that music is a universally social experience. When we spoke with him on June 19, he expressed how he wanted his music to play be a part in the interconnectedness of the human experience, ideally to connect people who might not be connected in other capacities.

“The whole apparatus that surrounds the artwork of music has a huge capability of bringing people together and making them feel connected to one another and something larger than themselves,” he said.

We discovered Arp when he gave an acoustic performance of Prince’s “I Would Die for You” with Lucy Dacus, who opened for Lord Huron on June 14. It speaks volumes for how good Arp is at bringing people in. Arp isn’t apart of Dacus’ band, he only tours with them to perform that one hauntingly beautiful song. He was on stage for less than five minutes, and now we will never forget him.

He has a few songs on his bandcamp from various projects, but what really caught our attention was his 15 song album A Communion (live).

“I want to use music to create moments of communion in the world,” he said, which explains the album title.

The description of the album reads, “Songs about confluence. Performed in the dark on 10-14-2015 in Fairfield Chapel.” Albeit simplistic, it speaks volumes for how much Arp cares about the experience of his music.

The album is recorded live with very few cuts. According to Arp, it was a concert first, and a recording second. He was trying to record the moments experienced, as opposed to just recording the music.

“I’m trying to get back to the real nowness, in this case thenness, the real moment… Maybe it’s just me wanting to hold on to my own memory of what that looked and felt like,” Arp said.

One of Arp’s main focuses is how music makes people feel. He is aware, edging on hyper-aware, of how the room makes you feel. He talked a lot about having the lighting exactly right, making sure that someone says hi to the concert-goers when they come in.

One song that really caught my attention on the album was “Voices.” It’s a very dark and powerful song. To Arp, it means, “religious angst in a dark way.”

But, he was quick to note that his own interpretation of songs isn’t necessarily right. The song doesn’t have a narrative arc or anything, it’s written to have a feeling. He wrote it in the summer of 2014, not really thinking about what it meant.

“Some songs resonate, and you can’t really figure out why,” he said. And that’s what “Voices” did for me.

Especially poignant pieces of the album are the interludes. They were created as the natural breaks in the show, the silence and white noise becoming just as important as the music.

“Interlude III” is my favorite. Arp talks about not being able to see anyone, knowing that people he knows are there, but not knowing who is who. It brings up a feeling of pleasant anonymity.

“We are all are just souls passing through this space,” he says during “Interlude III.” You hear a ringing that strikes a melancholy chord in your heart and continues into “Be There.”

You can imagine how the room feels, as “Interlude III” is near the end of the album. You can imagine people connecting, laughing together, smiling at the same chord progressions and lyrics.

“One of the things I’ve been really playing around with is the idea of trying to feel the room before we started playing, and feeling it after. If it feels different at all, if people are more comfortable talking to one another, empathizing, connecting to one another–if that’s changed in any way, you’ve done your job,” Arp said.

Arp is releasing a new EP titled For Gabriel this August. A few songs from A Communion (live) will make a reappearance. The new EP is different from his previous album in that it is written to be impossible to recreate acoustically. He called it imaginative, cinematic and atmospheric. With the release, he will be touring the East Coast. We are excited to see what else he has in store.

Download A Communion for free here.

KATIE GRACE HELOW

Photo by Kelly Martucci.

Katie Grace Helow is a fearless singer-songwriter and Jacksonville native with a recently-released sophomore album, Past Lives. With a second album under her belt, the fiery artist brings a unique blend of dark folk and alternative country rock to the world.

Past Lives is a raw album, exploring the vulnerable corners of Helow’s mind while still leaving the listener with a sense of mystery regarding the events that inspired the songs. Helow is clear that Past Lives is not intended to lead you into experiencing the album a certain way. Instead, her songs lead you through a lyrical journey of confronting your own emotions and truths.

“It should feel like a personal journey of sorts, but for each person that will be different.” Helow says. ““I’m writing my own stories. I composed the album based on my experiences and the ebb and flow of my emotions throughout my experiences. I tried to put them in order of that process for me.”

Past Lives causes the listener to look deep within themselves. Her acoustic guitar’s notes strike the melancholy notes in your heart, and makes your mind wander to its darkest places.

This is because darkness is what makes Helow write.

“When I’m feeling really dark or lost or confused or selfish or any of those kinds of feelings, that’s when I write,” she said.

Listeners can expect to hear Helow’s powerful vocals accompanied by Zach Lever’s harmonies and additional guitar. This partnership, along with her aggressive guitar and unfiltered storytelling, will suck you in and spit you out.

Photo by Kelly Martucci.

All of Helow’s songs have hard-hitting lyrics, but one that really caught our attention was “Live Wire.” It will cause a different reaction for every listener. To us, it feels nostalgic, like a vague, cathartic harmony that takes you to depths of Helow’s heart.

For Helow, the songwriting process is a journey in itself. The music always comes first, with Helow singing nonsense until she finds the melody. Once she has the melody, the songs manifest themselves into lyrics.

“I find personally that that’s the way to have the most organic sounding lyrics. It also helps me find out what the song is about. I feel like I don’t decide; I feel like I find out,” Helow said.

One of her biggest inspirations is Ani DiFranco, who is a very politically charged musician. DiFranco has a persona that says, “I may be small but I have a lot to say,” which as a concept is what really energizes Helow.

She also cites Junip, who she opened for in 2010 at SunRay, which was then called 5 Points Theatre. She said a big influence for her first album is José Gonzalez.

Buy a digital copy or vinyl of Past Lives here. She’s ready to be heard.

PUBLISHED

In the Florida Times-Union

Hope Fund: Elderly woman struggles to survive on limited income

By Kalee Ball and Nick Blank

Vera Moore’s home has a welcoming atmosphere and her front yard is tidy and well-kept.

But few people come to visit her anymore.

And Moore, 90, struggles to survive.

Her limited income often runs out before the end of the month. She is forced to scrimp and count the days to her next Social Security check. Her refrigerator barely has anything in it.

While Moore has owned her house for 40 years, she still pays for the home because of a second mortgage she took out after her husband died several years ago.

Indeed, things are so dire that after paying for insurance, prescriptions, medical bills and other bills, it’s not unusual for Moore to have as little as $2 remaining to last her for days.

In addition to the financial problems, Moore lives a largely isolated life.

A longtime member of Second Missionary Baptist Church, Moore isn’t able to attend services anymore because she simply doesn’t have the physical energy.

Her family members do not live nearby: One daughter died of cancer in 2008, she has an estranged relationship with a second daughter (who lives in Boston) and her son, who lives nearly two hours away in Georgia, fits in visits to her while juggling two jobs.

Medical woes add another layer of struggle on Moore.

She gets headaches and her back often hurts from age and sleeping on a mattress that’s 20 years old.

She has arthritis and her fingers go numb at times.

While she probably can use her cane to walk, Moore tries not to use it because she is determined to keep her legs as strong as possible by using as little help as possible.

“I never thought this day would happen to me, but you never know what bridge you have to cross.”

It’s a bridge that Moore, an elderly and lonely woman who has worked hard all her life — from picking cotton and beans as a child to working as a domestic as an adult — should not be forced to keep crossing alone.

She is a woman who desperately needs to receive material help — and simple compassion, as well.

Original story post.

Giving Back: Helping children rise above domestic violence

A dozen children filed in one-by-one. They ranged in age from 4 to 10 and huddled in front of the Hubbard House board of directors, as nervous kids do when they get ready for show and tell.

Then they began to sing.

The younger ones were more confident, as if playing a game. The older children were more reserved and serious. They all were staying at the Hubbard House because their mothers had been forced to flee domestic violence in their own houses.

They sang about dialing 911 when someone was in trouble.

It was a cheerful tune juxtaposed with a serious subject.

Andrea Middlebrook, a volunteer board intern, watched the children with pride. The youngest children reminded her of her 4-year-old son and the oldest of her nephew.

Her breath caught in her throat as she thought about whether any of them actually had to dial 911 to alert police of violence.

The thought of Hubbard House giving those children a place to live and a place to socialize with others who had also suffered so much abuse filled her heart. She knew the shelter gave them a chance at a normal life — there, they could have friends, they could be with their non-abusive parent safely, and they didn’t have to worry about calling 911.

They filed out, one-by-one, and she made sure to smile at every one of them.

A mother, a survivor of domestic abuse, was next. She and her son were currently living at the shelter.

During her relationship, the woman told them, she was cut off from her friends, her son and having a job. Now she is beginning her life anew.

She is receiving career counseling and therapy, all of which would allow her to start a new life with her son. She was immensely grateful.

Hubbard House, she said, had not only given her and her son a place to live, it had given her simple things many often take for granted. She had a washer and dryer and detergent and, most importantly, time with her son.

The audience was captivated.

“I just kept thinking, you’re such a great mom and you’re so brave and so strong,” Middlebrook said.

Volunteering for the domestic abuse shelter has given her a new perspective, especially on the plight of the children stuck in abusive relationships. It’s an issue she thinks isn’t talked about enough.

“You can’t tell by looking at someone that they’ve gone through that,” she said.

She wants to teach her son how important it is to respect women. She wants to show her infant daughter what it’s like to have healthy relationships.

She figures it’s the least she could do to help the families in the shelter. She wants to help break the chain that is domestic abuse, so that children don’t have to present a song about dialing 911 in a board room on a Wednesday morning

Original story post.

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