Tag Archives: Alex E

All GUTS, All Glory: Alachua’s finest femmes, planting their flag in Duval’s urban core.

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Summer Goodman/GUTS/Mouth Mouth/Flat Land

Underbelly–Wednesday, April 1

Courtesy Medusa Productions

Back when I was a college freshman, attending the University of Florida, way back in the Year Of Our Lord 1995 (it wasn’t that long ago, really, but it feels that way sometimes), the best band in Gainesville was called the Crustaceans, but there was nothing crabby about their sound. It was a trio playing guitar, bass and drums; they switched instruments and lead vocal duties repeatedly during their sets, seamlessly. They were a garage band in the true mattresses-on-the walls, un-ironic-clove-cigarette-smoking kind of way.  Their leader was Samantha Jones, already a local legend long before I’d ever palmed my first bottle of Boone’s Farm.

Samantha Jones was the very first girl I ever met with a tattoo on her arm—just ponder that, for a moment—and her energy lit up the room like Magneto running through airport security. From those first bars, at those first bars, her voice installed itself in my permanent Top 5, all-time, anywhere. Her swag was prototypical, and now, with a quarter-century’s experience in upwards of a dozen bands, all of which were good, she is an established leader in the Gainesville community.

Jones married her colleague in Crustaceans, became a mother, massage therapist and yoga teacher, but she still wields a voice more soothing than shiatsu, and she has aged even less over those years than I have. All the while, Jones maintained her presence in the music scene; her band Cassette recorded several nice things for Bakery Outlet Records and played the old Lomax Lodge back in the John Peyton era. The Crustaceans were my introduction to the deep and dense indie-rock scene here in Florida, the first music I bought from people I actually knew, the first of thousands in almost every conceivable medium—but I lost their recordings 12 years ago, and have never been able to replace them, which irks me to no end. (But it’s ok, because I memorized it all.)

But the good news is that my the singer/guitarist for my favorite Gainesville band back then, in 1995, is also the singer/guitarist for my favorite band working that region today—the fabulous female foursome GUTS, whose debut in Duval County debut happens at Underbelly during the First Wednesday ArtWalk, as part of a free show that also includes Flat Land, Mouth Mouth and Summer Goodman, all of which can be counted among the new generation of indie acts rising out of the Sunshine State.

Jones and her colleagues—bassist Kara Smith, guitarist Rebecca Butler and drummer Kentucky Ultraviolet—are touring in support of their debut album “Lucky All Over”, released last December. Their sound is spare, a sensory delight, all shimmering guitars and multi-part harmonies, anchored by one of the signature voices of the modern era. If Jones’ singing sounds like others you’ve heard, bear in mind that she was first—and, if the new stuff is any indication, she will also be the last. It’s happy, refreshing music, rendered in fine detail, translucent and stocky at once, like Rapidograph on vellum. The video for “Sugar”, recorded at Medusa Studios last year, was my introduction to their work. It’s still my favorite track, but songs like “Lucky” and “There’s a Chill” are standouts, as well.

The Duval connection was formalized just recently when Tomboi worked a bill with GUTS at A Space on March 1. Their singer, Alex E. Michael has a resume similar to Jones’, in that pretty much every band she’s in is really good, from Tomboi today to Ritual Union, Wild Life Society and the legendary Fruit Machine. When Jones noted on Facebook that “Tomboi’s gonna be the NEXT BIG THING, mark my words”, that’s about as close to definitive as an endorsement gets in this region.

Such is Alex E’s reputation that Underbelly’s tasked her with running their new gimmick for ArtWalk, where they’re always busy, by default, like most venues around The Elbow tends to be. It starts with open-mic for singers, poets, magicians etc. earlier in the evening, followed by a free keg at 9 and featured band thereabouts, with free admission throughout. The venue, the night and the audience are all ideal for GUTS’ arrival in the River City. The only April Fools are those who miss this show.

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Notes on the Girls Rock Jacksonville Volunteer Showcase (CoRK, 12/15) and “The Punk Singer” (Sun-Ray Cinema, 12/23)

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Girls Rock Jax benefit show—CoRK, December 15

“The Punk Singer”—Sun Ray Cinema, December 23

(One of my favorite concert flyers this year…)

The expansion of the Girls Rock Camp’s global brand into Jacksonville two years ago has been, without question, one of the most important local cultural development of the past decade—the proverbial “gift that keeps on giving”, if you’re a music fan. As Girls Rock Jacksonville prepares to enter its third year, with its third camp coming in summer 2014, the process of preparation has begun, and that includes two events scheduled for mid-December at CoRK (12/15) and Sun-Ray Cinema (12/23).

The first is a Girls Rock Jax fundraising event slated for Friday, Dec. 15 at CoRK, which has been on a heckuva run this year. (A number of their resident artists will be just returning from a triumphant group effort at Art Basel Miami Beach, dubbed the ‘#baselinvasion”; a number of Northeast Florida’s top talents were represented there, at the country’s biggest art festival.) The GRJ funder will feature five bands comprised of GRJ volunteers and volunteers, as well as a silent auction with gimmicks and swag provided by local creative talents like Christina Abercrombie, Alicia Canessa, Cherri Czajkowski, Crystal Floyd, Sarah Humphreys and Karen Kurycki, as well as affiliated local businesses, including: Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, Burro Bags, The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Dead Tank Records / Distribution, Deep Search Records, Dig Foods, Hawthorn Salon, Intuition Ale Works, M.A.D. Nails, Original Fuzz, Orion | Allen Photography, Sun-Ray Cinema, Sweet Theory Baking Co. and That Poor Girl.

Swag for the auction, provided by Dead Tank…

The first Girls Rock camps started in the Pacific Northwest, and have from the start been largely inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement that began in that region a quarter-century ago. Riot Grrrl, to an even larger extent than the alternative rock scene of the era, in general, marked the first time that girls were positioned front-and-center in multiple bands, in a truly egalitarian way, speaking directly to matters of relevance in their demographic—and they were good, too.

Of course, a central figure in that movement has been Kathleen Hanna—writer, activist, wife of King Ad-Rock and lead singer of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin—one of the most influential women of the 21st century. You can see that all over American culture, to this day, and in ways that are not just latent or nostalgia-based, but active, kinetic and compelling in the present. The network of Girls Rock camps around the world is just the most obvious example.

Hanna with Jabberjaw, circa 1993 or ’94…

A new documentary called “The Punk Singer” tells Hanna’s story in greater detail than ever before, largely in her own words, Jacksonville will be one of the select cities hosting a screening of it at Sun-Ray Cinema, in historic Five Points, on Sunday afternoon, December 23. I’ll proudly note that I was first to call attention to its availability when I saw a posting about it on Facebook, but Tim Massett is the man for connecting with the filmmakers and putting in the legwork to make it happen.

(Kathleen Hanna with the author, Burrito Gallery, November 2011)

Although Hanna herself will not be on hand for the film screening, she’ll be there in spirit. Her affinity for the River City is already a matter of record. I was honored to sit with her, Adee Roberson, Andrew Coulon, Duncan Fristoe and the delightful Mark Creegan for a panel discussion on zines (“The Personal Is Political”) at the Jacksonville Public Library in November 2011. That was followed by a presentation by Hanna herself, and a Q&A session with an audience largely comprised of the city up-and-coming young ladies; after that, everyone adjourned to Burrito Gallery for lunch. Many of those girls ended up being involved in the launch of Girls Rock Jacksonville the following July.

(Flyer for the NYC screenings…)

“The Punk Singer” was released theatrically by IFC Films on November 29, with some 19 screenings in ten states; the screening at Sun-Ray will be the very first one in the state of Florida. (The film will also be showing at the Hippodrome in Gainesville on January 24, 2014.)      As a bonus, the screening will be preceded by a performance of songs associated with the film’s subject, as rendered by a group of girls drawn together specifically for the occasion from the ranks of GRJ volunteers. Drummer Summer Wood is probably best-known for her work with Rice, and now with Four Families. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Alex E. Michael has led some of the city’s most dynamic bands of the past few years, including Wild Life Society and Ritual Union, in addition to her own solo work. She and singer Bethany Buckner were once half of the legendary Fruit Machine, which during its too-short run was, quite simply, one of the best all-girls bands ever, anywhere.

According to the official “Girls Rock Camp Alliance” website, GRJ is just one of 44 Girls Rock camps in eight different countries, with more forthcoming. The volunteers who’ve organized and run the past two GRJ camps include some of the most talented artists and musicians working the region today, women whose own individual achievements are already a matter of public record. Together, they have created something even greater than the sum of its already-valuable parts. They have nurtured, empowered and mentored these young ladies like they were their own sisters, daughters and friends—which they often are, in many cases.

            Girls Rock, as a concept, was born at Portland State University in 2001, and quickly spread to cities around the world. The girlsrockcamp.org website offers a glimpse at Portland’s organization ten years on, fully-formed and self-actualized, with ample merchandise to ensure a steady influx of capital. What began, like ours, as a weekly summer camp has expanded into a full-time Girls Rock Institute, with a camp for women, its own Rock Camp Studio, and hundreds of pupils per year; they have received nearly a quarter-million dollars in sponsorship, including a $40,000 donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Instructors’ educational experiences have been codified into a book, and an excellent documentary feature was filmed at the 2005 camp. The Portlandians even formed 16 Records to market and distribute music related to the project from talent like Dolly Ranchers, Jack Queen, The Haggard and Pom Pom Meltdown. (Note especially the splendid singer Marisa Anderson, who doubles on keyboards and lap-steel guitar.) No doubt, interest in this material will only increase as these ladies further establish themselves in the industry; the earliest campers are now in their mid-20s, so that process is already well-underway.

For the uninitiated, the GRJ camp is a one-week camp for girls aged 9-16, usually running from late July into early August. Attendees are provided hands-on instruction in a wide range of artistic disciplines—singing, instruments, DJing, arts and crafts, flyer- and zine-making—related to the skills needed for success as a professional musician. Having the lessons administered to girls by girls, by actual working musicians and longtime vets of the scene. The inaugural camp, in 2012, drew 29 campers and 40 volunteers. Camp sessions are run at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and each year’s camp ends with the girls forming their own bands to play a showcase concert at the historic Florida Theatre on Saturday afternoon. (Hopefully, future concerts will be recorded and marketed for fans, parents, etc.)

A cursory glance at the concert listings in Northeast Florida on any given week is a testament to the skills being brought to bear for the GRJ project—and that’s just the volunteers. At this rate, it will be just a few couple more years before GRJ attendees are themselves sharing space with their teachers—on the stage, on the page, online and in the firmament of what is already known as one of the most dynamic, emerging music scenes in the world today. And you can help!

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com