NPR Tiny Desk Contest: The Best of Philly Submissions

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Chelsea Mitchell

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ROP: Why did you enter the contest?
Chelsea Mitchell: I entered the contest for the fun of having hope, if that makes sense. I know that with the multitude of entries and the incredible talent out there, my odds are slim – infinitesimal, really. But there is such a thrill in being part of this community where everyone is participating and imagining “what if.”

ROP: Tell me about your song choice.
CM: “Somebody’s Baby” is a song from my next album. I’m currently in the studio with Brian Dale Allen Strouse and we’re hoping for a Fall 2016 release. It’s been really nice to see a positive response to the song so far. Feels like we’re on the right track!

The Binary Sea

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ROP: What do you hope to achieve with your upcoming EP Warrior Code?
Christian Andre Guerrero (songwriter/guitar/vocals): For me the only barometer of artistic merit is honesty, not precision.  Writing these songs, mining the sonic landscapes to be found in these pedals and synths, bathing in sine waves and squealing leads, I would know I’ve hit pay dirt when I, myself, was moved to tears or given to howling.  My heroes include the soul and pop music elite: Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Joe Cocker, James Brown, Bono, Thom Yorke.  Artists that could tear themselves open with such intensity and integrity, that when you listened to their work you would be transported inside of them, floating there in their bloodstream, nothing to hide, totally exposed, completely set free.  That was my only goal when writing these songs: exorcise these demons completely and utterly.

ROP: How and why did you get involved in the Tiny Desk Contest?
CAG: The decision to submit a video was extremely last minute.  The band is in the midst of finalizing the EP, and I was having a production meeting with Jay Miller about our first music video.  The topic of tiny desk came up, and we were both like, yeah let’s do this.  I somehow managed to pull all this together in 24 hours thanks to the incredible support of Jay Miller (filmmaker), Desiree Sky (cello), and my good friend Waggs (kick and tambo).  The rest of my band was unavailable, and Des and Waggs learned the song just a few hours before the shoot.  It was raw, it was relentless, and it was one take.  I wanted it to come off as this strange gypsy carnival in front of a desk.  I can’t speak too highly of Jay Miller.  His commitment to the vision, and his willingness to put in whatever amount of work was necessary to submit on time was what made this all possible.  He is both artist and filmmaker.  Working with him was effortless and extraordinarily rewarding.

ROP: Describe the planning and filming of your submission video.
CAG: We shot at the Red Fortress where we currently have a practice space on the first floor.  The property manager, Joe Perez, is  both friend and fan of the project.  He was wonderful in the way he took us around the entire building until we found the perfect spot on the second floor.  It was this big live room with a desk and awesome reverb. Just another in a long list of fortuitous things that somehow magically came together at the last moment.  In the end, we submitted fifteen minutes before the deadline as both Jay and I were finalizing the video export over a logmein session (logmein is a remote tool that let’s one user see the screen of another user).  All in all, I’m extraordinarily proud of both the video and the resounding support I’ve received from my friends and community.

Joy Ike

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ROP: What inspired you to participate in the Tiny Desk Contest?
Joy Ike: I’d done it last year and really enjoyed being part of the greater music community across the country. The Tiny Desk videos were something that artists were collectively contributing to even though we all knew there would only be 1 winner and that the chances of winning were 1 in 6000 (literally). So I think many people sent in videos because the concept behind Tiny Desk is all about the spirit of independent music. At least that’s why I submitted.

ROP: Why did you choose to perform “Walk?”
JI: I was/am really excited about the song. For me it’s been very timely and speaks to alot of the things happening in our world – specifically a lot of the racial tension that’s heightened over the last two years since Ferguson. In addition, 2014 and 2015 were very difficult years of world trauma – tsunamis, earthquakes, mass murders, ISIS, Boko Haram, and the list goes on and on. I started this song in 2012 and only finished it in 2015. So much or all of these world crises contributed to me finishing the song. There has been alot of injustice and I think i felt an obligation to bring this song out of the archives, finish it, and share it while it was still timely. But honestly, justice will always be timely. It might not be fashionable, but it will always be timely.

ROP: Your “anywhere for anyone” approach to performing has brought your music even into your fans’ homes. What have been some of the most memorable shows?
JI: My most memorable shows tend to be the small ones – the intimate, simple, stripped down events where I really have an opportunity to engage with the audience. So much seems to get lost in translation when there is a sound system, a large stage, and even hundreds or thousands of people. There’s something about seeing the whites in people’s eyes, gauging their response to a song and using that to inform how you talk to the people you’re there for. It’s the difference between giving a speech and sitting at a table and having coffee with someone. I don’t think I can pick out one or two specific shows that have been most memorable. But I know I feel most comfortable and enjoy myself most when I can relax and feel like I don’t have to be larger than life. I hope the audience feels that way too.

ROP: Your dedication to Food for the Hungry is inspiring. How has your involvement with the organization as well as your trip to the Dominican Republic to visit the child you sponsor impacted your music?
JI: Immensely. I’ve been working with Food for the Hungry for 2 years now and involved loosely with a few DC-based social justice organizations over the last 5-6 years. Working with FH has given me a chance to talk about something I care deeply about from the stage and also give fans a way to be part of it. Having now traveled with FH and seen the work they are doing first-hand, I feel like I can give people the assurance that their decision to sponsor a child is an opportunity to put their money to good use and actually make a change in someone’s life. From a writing standpoint, the new material I’m working on has a social justice thread that has begun weaving itself through many of the songs. I don’t doubt Food for the Hungry, the work they are doing, and the conversations Ive had with people at shows, has played a part in that.

While a Philly artist did not win the coveted spot, their performances exemplified the talent and diversity of our music scene has to offer as well as gained attention on a national level. This year’s winner was Gaelynn Lea from Duluth, Minnesota. Her stellar fiddle playing and soulful vocals created a mesmerizing piece, and her Tiny Desk Concert was unforgettable.

Share your favorite Tiny Desk Contest submission with us in the comments below!

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Natrin

    March 22, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Great article and interviews. I compiled a playlist of some other local submissions too if anyone is interested in seeing some more local talent: “Delaware & Philly Area Tiny Desk Concert Submissions 2016” https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCIUiZKinnNJNXwhwyCKZKo9phOZF4P9C

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