NPR Tiny Desk Contest: The Best of Philly Submissions

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Photography provided courtesy of the Artists

The NPR Tiny Desk Contest offers artists around the country the opportunity to perform at host Bob Boilen’s desk. Performers of every genre have graced this unique and intimate  stage, with acts including Grammy-nominated Death Cab for Cutie, country star Kacey Musgraves, and Philly’s own Son Little. 6,100 artists competed to add their name to the list. Among those, several represented our home city with spectacular performances, and we had the chance to talk to some of our hometown contestants who truly stood out.

Ben O’Neill

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Rock On Philly: Tell me about your Tiny Desk Contest submission.
Ben O’Neill: One of the fun things about the contest is its DIY nature: a desk and a performance. Since we took that stripped down approach for last year’s entry and spent 2015 creating a 12 part video series of live-in-studio performances, my video collaborator Steven Jon and I wanted to try a bold departure. This year’s video, “Window (Leave ‘Em Where They Lie)” is still a live performance, filmed in front of a desk, but it was designed to stand on its own as both a record quality performance and a professional quality music video.

One of the most inspiring parts of making music is being able to create with such a variety of talented people. “Window (Leave ‘Em Where They Lie)” was recorded and filmed live in The University Of The Arts’ Caplan Auditorium by JP Beattie and Steven Jon Productions. I enlisted UArts alum Tim Schilling and UArts faculty member Erik Sayles to play the main guitars.  At different times and to achieve various artistic goals, I’ve scaled my project from solo all the way to six pieces.  It was a pleasure to mix it up with two of the best guitarist I know to create “Window”. I feel that a great song will stand out even in the sparest of settings. This small group allowed the song to shine through and provided a little extra gloss that I couldn’t have pulled off solo.

Mad Feather Group

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ROP: Your submission to the Tiny Desk Contest barely made the cut, being uploaded only eight minutes before the deadline. How spontaneous was your decision to enter, and why did you choose to do so?
Mad Feather Group: Our decision was very spontaneous, after learning about the contest we put it together in a six-7 hour period on the last day of submission, rehearsed the “Tiny Desk” arrangement for “OK Rosie”, assembled the “set”, and enlisted our close friend and filmmaker, Anthony Yebra to shoot it. It took us about three takes to get it right, but then like true college procrastinators we took a break: ate pizza and recorded a podcast for a couple hours. With forty-five minutes to deadline, we rushed to Anthony’s house, edited and uploaded the video and filled out the online form with eight minutes to spare. Truly living dangerously. Although it was a last minute decision we thought it’d be fun to do something different and possibly get some residual exposure regardless if we won or not.

ROP: Is there a story behind the fireplace prop?
MFG: The story behind the fireplace prop is that it was readily available and easy enough to move into our set to use in place of a desk.  I think the visual loop of the hearth paired nicely with the intimate stripped down arrangement of “OK Rosie”.

ROP: Your debut album King Likeness has such a unique groove and intriguing mix of sounds. Did anything in particular inspire you?
MFG: We had been crafting the tunes for King Likeness for a couple years.  We’ve never been inspired by one particular thing, we’ve always brought different influences together from our disparate tastes & personalities for a melange that filters thru our sound. But let’s get specific.  Here are some aspects of culture that directly influenced [the album]: The DSM-5 manual of mental disorders, Beyoncé‘s 4 and Beethoven’s “5th”, centuries of European portraits of royalty, Stop Making Sense, the Indian New Deal, and Steely Dan.

ROP: What can we expect from Mad Feather Group this year?
MFG: We’re dropping a single later this month, and then getting to work on an EP immediately after, the initial idea right now is placing world and Latin rhythms under experimental pop song structures while fooling around with sampling.

Dani Mari

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ROP: Why did you choose to film your Tiny Desk Contest submission outside?
Dani Mari: I chose to film my Tiny Desk Submission outside to capture the beauty of winter near a “Garden of Ghosts.”  I performed an acoustic version of “Garden of Ghosts.”  This song was written by myself and producer Brooklyn Shanti.

ROP: What sparked the decision to release an EP with Johnny Butler centered around Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy?
DM: I’m really into horror movies and discovered that friend and fellow musician, Johnny Butler was also into horror.  We are big fans of Dario Argento and we decided to put together a series of songs celebrating his trilogy about witches, The Three Mothers (Suspiria, Inferno, Mother of Tears).  Our first release,”Sighs (Mater Suspiriorum)” was inspired by the movie Suspiria and was released at midnight on Halloween.  We will be releasing the second song and video on May 13th (Friday the 13th) and the last song on Halloween this year.

ROP: What inspired you to initiate Brookadelphia? May you please tell me about the upcoming Beatles and Fiona Apple tribute festivals?
DM: I recently moved to Brooklyn from Philly and wanted to create a bridge between the two cities.  I’ve been co-hosting shows in Philadelphia for many years with Reverend TJ McGlinchey who is a dear friend, bandmate and co-writer in the project Lovers League (we sing each other’s songs as duets).  I started working on putting together shows in Brooklyn with Will Hanza (bandmate and co-writer in Owl and Wolf) and we combined shows in both cities.

We curate shows that are tribute based in honor of an album anniversary and will be hosting monthly jams in both cities.  We have hosted tributes in celebration of Portishead‘s album Dummy, Radiohead‘s album The Bends, and more.  There is one band that performs on each song of the album in order of the album and the band also performs an original song.  The bands are from Philadelphia, Brooklyn and the surrounding areas and of all different genres.

This year we are hosting a tribute celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles Revolver (April 15th at World Cafe Live), an all female showcase in celebration of Fiona Apple‘s Tidal, also presented by Female Frequency (June 17th at World Cafe Live) and a celebration of Nirvana‘s album Nevermind (September 24th at Ortlieb’s).  See [this link] for a complete lineup and additional details.

ROP: How has Female Frequency impacted women in the Philly music scene and
beyond? What are your hopes and expectations for the music collective this year?
DM: I Am Snow Angel, Claire London and I have been working on an album that is created entirely by women.  This means that all writing, instrumentation, arrangement, performance, production, engineering, mixing, mastering, marketing and visual media is carried out by females.  We will be releasing an EP later this year that features production and engineering by I Am Snow Angel with vocal melodies, lyrics and production by myself and Claire London.  This EP also features audio engineering by women in NYC, Boston and LA and percussion by Kiran Gandhi.  We had a successful fundraising campaign last year with Rockethub and Ovation TV and have expanded our vision to include workshops for women and girls to learn about music technology.  We have built a team in New York, Philadelphia and Delaware and have recently expanded into LA.  Angela Sheik will be helping us develop workshops in Delaware and Philadelphia and we currently host monthly workshops with Women Beatmakers on 2nd Wednesdays in NYC.  We will also be collaborating with Soundgirls, Go Girls Music, Gable Music Venutures and others this year.  Our goal is to create an environment where women and girls can collaborate, network and learn about audio engineering, production, beat making, songwriting and more.

You can join Female Frequency for free here.  We also host a weekly radio show that features female musicians on RadioNowhere903.com on Wednesdays at 3pm EST.

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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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