Category Archives: interview

Interview + Show review: Varya

Photography, interview & review by Jonathan Orenstein.

Set up in a small corner of a south Austin popular Greek hangout, Opa!, VARYA adjusts her mic stand, amplifier, and tunes her lyric-adorned acoustic guitar. Her husband and a complete stranger fuss with a string of fairy lights at her feet in an attempt to bring some light to her face. The photographer suggested that more light will enhance the photos and eliminate the dark shadows under her brow. “I can’t deal with this right now, I’m really nervous,” VARYA cries to her uninvited stage crew as she waves them off. I walk back to the bar with her husband discussing lighting issues that these small venues create but I would capture her with my camera none-the-less. The house is full this night, a table of Russian-speaking men clap vigorously as she thanks the crowd for coming out. A table with a dozen or so couples sits nearby, her invited posse, and they erupt into applause.

VARYA steels herself, organizing her thoughts, going over her play her set silently. She’s been performing for over a decade in small venues like this, each show gives her butterflies. VARYA describes herself as strong, sensitive, and loud – these traits give her the strength to perform. Her husband and sister modify her self-identifying personality with outgoing, impulsive, and stubborn. Regardless of which are the correct modifiers, there is something about VARYA with which everyone in her presence can connect.

She tunes her dark-wood guitar and the overhead lights shimmer across poetic phrases scrawled around the guitar’s face. Her soft melodic voice turns heads as an almost Gaelic sound echoes throughout the space. The songs are dark, emotional, and raw, but her emotive expressions draw you in, connecting with her as if she was a longtime friend. Over the next hour, VARYA connects with the audience much like a storyteller engrosses a crowd during a book reading. Page after page of lyrics share thoughts about struggle of love, fear, and togetherness. The small table of men sing along with her to sad tunes of loves lost, like close-knit friends (Russian: drougs) in a local pub.

VARYA focuses her music on telling stories rather than appease to a pop listening crowd. Growing up in Moldova, a small Balkan region country nestled between Romania and Ukraine, VARYA was immersed in local storytelling and music. Her mother and she sang children’s songs together, and her father, known for his poetic verse, wrote her a song that they performed together during some of his concerts. Her native country has a very long and beautiful musical history, where most of the population speaks the Romanian romance language. Moldova existed long before the U.S.S.R. and has very much reclaimed its culture since the breakup of the Soviet republic. There is a deep tradition of Bard music in her country, considered much less of a music genre but rather a lifestyle. VARYA calls it “poetry delivered through the medium of music.”

Poet-songwriters known as romance bards, mostly students of the physical sciences and history, brought this far reaching global musical attitude to the Soviet bloc countries in the early 1950s. The bard style was common in the Baltic region long before it grew in popularity under Soviet rule. The common man and woman would compose romantic lyrics that enshrined the beauty of life, gathering like souls together in harmony and joy. At first this was an underground movement that helped Soviet citizens cope with governmental oppression under Stalin and following the easing of controls under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Bard music became the naturalists’ music. Bards performed their own songs, and as they were not classically trained musicians, linguists, or lyricists, their poetry was played to simple chord progressions. These songs were sung for pleasure and not for monetary gain. This brought bard music to the young people who enjoyed camping, kayaking, and outdoor adventures. Songs may be political in nature at times, but mainly romantic and family-based themes were the norm. Russian bard music is akin to American folk music, although not commercialized.

VARYA’s family and neighbors wrote original songs, played instruments and performed at small concerts and festivals. “Nobody was particularly good, at least not in a commercial way, but it’s incredibly intimate and honest and raw.”

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Published by Jonathan Orenstein

My focus is on highlighting the great programs that support the community, local musicians, and those in need. I am an Austin-based photographer with experience shooting at the Long Center, various music venues, as well as high school theater performances. My clients include the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Greater Austin High School Musical Theater Awards, and Rock to Recovery. I welcome the opportunity to work for you. View more posts

Brother Moses in Austin: Show Review + interview

Story: Kail Rose, Photography: Christopher De La Rosa & K Rose

On Friday we had the privilege of catching NYC indie rock band Brother Moses live at Stubbs Austin, the first stop on their headlining tour for the month of February. 

We show up early in the evening, cruising through the still-empty Stubbs downstairs venue. Out back, there’s a crew playing football in the vast expanse of the Stubbs amphitheater yard, which I’m used to seeing jam-packed full of people. I quickly realize it’s the band themselves and their opener Feeves. They see us and head straight over to introduce themselves; James, John-Lewis, Moses and Corey, who comes with his own tagline: “the Best Drummer in the World.” 

We take over the spacious back garden’s notorious Airstream trailer for a quick informal video interview. We chat about humble beginnings, dance-fueled performances and how they are addressing real-world experiences with music that is fun and lighthearted. I later realize it’s the type of music that brings us together in a celebration of being humble, human, flawed and flawless. 

We skip upstairs to grab a quick bite of legendary Stubbs Barbecue before Feeves warms up the crowd with a fresh indie set. The evening crowd fills in quickly. It’s a predominantly younger group; college kids and those in their later 20s. A few hip couples in denim, slouchy beanies and vintage boots, sipping a craft beer. We spot many a girl gang, locked elbows, giggling and ready to dance. 

As Brother Moses takes the stage, the hype is very real. The venue and the crowd are literally buzzing. These people are here to boogie. As they kick off the set, it’s apparent that there will be no rockstar power poses, no slamming back a beer with a side of ego; no, none of that. Their humble and relatable demeanor makes this an inclusive performance. We’re not just here to see this band, but to become a part of their performance. With palpable energy, we unwittingly find ourselves committed – committed to celebrating our quirks and crazies, and to dance like nobody’s watching. 

After more than one occasion of a show-stopping technical issue, frontman James exclaims; “this is just like that time you have that nightmare where you go on stage and you’re in your underwear and all your stuff starts breaking… except this is real life.” Turning misfortune into humor, it’s an opportunity to connect with the audience, make them part of the show. I almost wonder if this was rehearsed. But the audience is game; hooting & hollering when finally Feeves brings us a backup guitar and saves the show. 

They progress through old hits and new material, somehow amplifying the energy as they go. Two blonde college girls slam back their White Claws, sling their tiny purses over their shoulder and barrel through the crowd in an impressively dainty fashion for What Does It Take. Blonde locks are flying as they dance and spin each other. The crowd parts to circle around this informal dance-off. Guitarists John-Lewis and Moses jump down into the crowd, in between twirling girls, for the song finale. Carefree is the word of the night.

And somehow Brother Moses manages a very full sound – a set of surprisingly intricate, groovy, quirky songs. John-Lewis and James trade off on the keyboard and guitar. With signature floppy hair and wireframe glasses doing nothing to conceal a cheeky sparkle of confidence (likely from his most excellent dance moves, if I must be honest…), James leads the vocals with quirk, kitsch and utter coolness. I see why this crowd had arrived with soaring expectations and impressive energy. And despite all expectations, this is a band that sounds even better live than recorded. 

I highly recommend you catch their live show, and grab their music here. Check out their remaining February tour stops and keep an eye out on March 6 to catch the release of Desperation Pop.

The Photo Pit: Sevendust with Deepfall and Stitched Up Heart

Article by Bernard Cana / Talon Kane Photography Published Jan 3, 2020 on thephotopit.com

From The Pit To The Crowd: Sevendust with Deepfall and Stitched Up Heart – House of Blues Orlando – Lake Buena Vista FL – December 29, 2019

On November 9, 2014 before I started photographing and reviewing concerts, I attended a show at House of Blues Orlando I would never forget. One of my favorite bands, Sevendust, was performing an acoustic show of their music. Getting to hear songs I love in a stripped-down format was incredible. And seeing them in this very intimate format was something I would never forget. Skip ahead to Winter 2019 where I remember commenting on a post on the Sevendust Facebook page that I wished they’d do another acoustic show. Literally days after that, the band announced their Acoustic Xmas shows with three dates with one of them being at House of Blues Orlando, a place the band considers a second home for performances. There was no way I was going to miss this show and was blessed to be able to cover it for The Photo Pit. It was a show I will truly never forget.

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Remix: Interview with Yungblud, 2018

It’s obscenely hot; Texas hot, where the air is thick and soupy and you  feel the sweat dripping down the small of your back.  My shoes are melting on the asphalt. It’s still  a few minutes before 10am, and Dominic Harrison, the force we know as Yungblud, is dancing through crowds lined at the parking lot entry gates for Vans Warped Tour San Antonio. In pink converse, pink socks and pink bandanna, he entertains the perspiring patrons with a  bright pink megaphone and homemade sign. 

Story & Photography by Kail Rose
Remix stories are throwbacks from years’ past.
​This story was published 7/13/18 after Vans Warped Tour, 2018

It’s the final Warped Tour, and the energy is palpable.   I’m here to meet, photograph and interview a select few artists and otherwise attempt to enjoy the 24th and final leg of the Warped Tour franchise. With the release of Harrison’s flawless EP just days prior, the pink-clad rocker  is at the top of my list.  

I was first introduced to Yungblud’s   rebellious high-energy  fusion of  grungy rock-laden hip hop when he set  a University of Texas show (and the lips of Austin locals) on fire.  For weeks, people recounted the larger-than-life Brit who spent  equal time scaring us with out-of-control stage antics, lyrically spouting the things  we’re all afraid say ‘in real life’    and hurtling across a tiny stage in reckless abandon.   People couldn’t stop raving.

I was wildly curious to meet this whirlwind and get a slice of his psyche, first-hand. As a blogger, it’s usually expected that I’ll write glowing EP reviews, create flowery stories of the hype and the energy of a live show, or talk about  unending talent, charisma, generosity, humanitarianism, beauty, intelligence, contagious dance moves, versatility and prowess, etc, etc etc (huge inhale). The problem here? Harrison is all that and much, much more.

So let’s get down to basics: Meeting Yungblud is sensory overload, in the best way possible. It’s everything and it’s nothing. It’s big, wild and in your face, and then it’s intimate, quiet and reflective, like you’re chatting with your dear old neighbor about the state of the world. It’s big personality and large assertions, a multitude of F-bombs framed by an unruly mop of hair and misleadingly innocent  eyes, a garishly pink bandanna ripped off mid-sentence, and the way he passionately leans a little too far into your personal space, ranting about the state of things. He  misses no time in telling me exactly what he thinks; a tirade of wise-beyond-his years, reflective and enlightened  insight. I love this kid. 

His priority, as we escape the fluttering fangirls and overzealous crowds? “I’m not the hype, I am the anti-hype.” He maintains, explaining that he wants to remain relevant while pushing boundaries, never afraid to blur the lines and to give you something to think about. He wants to inspire and unite those who feel disunited.  It’s no small feat and I secretly admire this  youthful zeal. I can’t call it naive, but rather, refreshingly indifferent to the status quo.

I ask about his   black heart tattoos: “One on my right hand, one on my left; this is before I knew who I was. I was broken. On my left hand, this one is whole; I found myself by writing. I write with my left hand. And of course they’re on my middle finger, so I can say fuck you, but fuck you in a way that brings people together.”

This is precisely what Yungblud has managed to  do; to reach the misunderstood and the disillusioned, the youth who feel their voices are unheard and to unite in understanding,  passion, rebellion and  diversity. A fan recounts; “when I listen to (his) songs, I just want to scream “say it louder!” because everyone needs to hear this.” Another; “We’re not just fans, we’re family.” It is a beautiful thing.   Harrison talks about blurring the lines – of everything from genre to gender;   “there’s a whole lot left to blur, I’m seeing shit every day.  I want to be the artist that blurs your expectations on what to expect…” And he zealously affirms it in his actions, onstage and off.  Flirting with the crowd androgenously; hovering between flittering femininity and affirmative rockstar power poses, he flings his big pink sunglasses backwards and   plants a juicy kiss on the lips of his   main, male,  guitarist.

His seven-song set is a fiery, outrageous spectacle of passion, energy and  impressive musicianship. Intoxicating.  He opens with 21st Century Liability, and from here it’s a nonstop provocative one-man whirlwind; exquisite guitar riffs, vocal prowess, f-bombs, perfectly-timed  hair flips and so many exceptional photo moments that my little photographers’ heart is left aglow. I thank him later for this, all things aside. I’m mildly smitten.

The post-show flurry yields quickly  to captivatingly thoughtful reflection on the state of the world as we sit, post-show on the back of a Uhaul  across the road from Warped Tour grounds. Those sparkling eyes yield a genuine understanding of the fears we all face in a world truly fucked up. It strikes me that the filter of appropriateness, that politically-correct self-serving shield so many of us hide behind is not present here. In his words; “I was misunderstood all my fucking life…”  I ask what he’d say to those who still feel these pains.  “It’s about finding a niche, yeah, it’s about finding that courage and the fundamental fire that’s within you, within everybody – to be yourself no matter what; to be like ‘you know what? If you don’t like who I am, you don’t need to be in my life.’ “

It’s a platform of loyal,  brutally honest anarchy, and it’s resonating with a lot of people. Perhaps this is precisely  what we need most; the popularization, normalization of the  select few who are   making it okay to question the status quo. In the age-old style;  we find unity in disarray,  this time led by an  attractive energetic British lad who performs with unfiltered conviction, compassion, and a refusal to apologize  when that  disobeys society’s presets.   “I don’t want to divide, I want to unite. Division is boring; dividing people is an old way of thinking.” It’s about fucking time. ​

​”I don’t know, man, my next album… it’s gonna blur; if I want to collaborate — with Drake, Lorde, Slayer? …music is music. We’ll see.” Predictably unpredictable.  He grins, giggles. His passion for music is virtually oozing out of every pore. 

I cannot help but applaud the rising star, who’s going above and beyond  to make a positive impact with his music. I don’t doubt the success of his new EP, and even less so the impact of his message. A message of acceptance, unity, compassion  and disobedience.  He’s already skyrocketing to the top of the charts and I predict that Yungblud will be a household name in less than a year. I look forward to my sophomore ‘bluddy” experience at ACL Festival, where Yungblud takes the stage for a two-weekend  residency, and we’ll be there to check in  with Harrison and his amazing team.

In the meantime, thanks dude; I had a blast.

Introducing: Bourgeois Mystics

What do you get if you combine  the audacity of  Outkast’s The Love Below, some  Blitzkrieg Bop, a  sprinkle of groove,   a  smattering of Bollywood and some 80’s classic rock?  …Austin’s very own Bourgeois Mystics.

‘Keep Austin Weird’ is most definitely a cliche, but it is a tagline that we’ve modernized to hopefully become Austin’s premiere hip weird band.” – Finesse

Citing influences as diverse as Outkast, punk rock and Bollywood, this eclectic group is putting themselves on the Austin radar with a fresh, creative, catchy sound. I sat down with vocalist and one of three founding members, ‘Squiggly Finesse’ before their Waterloo Fest Wednesdays show at the Parish. I wanted to learn more about how this group evolved and how they found a unique sound that is carving a new niche in our musically-saturated city. Finesse tells me how Bourgeois Mystics were borne of a low-key jam session; “it was the most natural, organic jam I’d ever experienced.” Growing from a trio consisting of Finesse (Keys/vox), Zenith Nadir (bass/vox) and Tonto Luigi (guitar), they’ve grown into their unique sound with nine standing members and plans to add two additional vocalists. They’ve an ambitious year ahead of them; they are recording a new EP for 2019 and planning a full album for 2020 in addition to raucous live shows  in  Austin and beyond.

I ask Finesse to describe his band. Their social media lays claim to descriptors such as  ‘Dystopian Future Funk,’ but truthfully it’s that and a whole lot more. “We discovered we were most excited to create energetic and quirky music. Bourgeois Mystics blend flavors of punk rock, hip-hop, jazz, electronic, classic rock and just a whole lot of fearless, clean fun.  Best of all is the experience seeing them live. I ask Finesse what to expect from his show; “expect the unexpected; expect to dance, expect a high-energy punk-rock vibe.”

They don’t disappoint.  It’s groovy, it’s goofy, it’s unpredictable, sometimes intense, but always light-of-heart and joyous. Somehow, Bourgeois Mystics manage to package frivolity, bended genres, and musical prowess into a seriously “I hope this never ends” -type of show. The type of jam that moves your feet for you.  If you have the opportunity to see them live, I hereby challenge you to throw on your dancing shoes, grab a beer and land yourself in the front row for a show you won’t soon forget.

Des Rocs: modern rock's unassuming revolutionary

Story & Photography by Kail Rose

We recently sat down with Des Rocs at the House of Blues in Dallas during his supporting leg of The Struts’ Young and Dangerous tour. In an endearingly perfect New York accent, he shares with us his passion for unbridled rock music. “My goal is to ignite an unapologetic rock revolution in the world. I want to spread rock n roll that’s worth listening to.”

I first caught wind of his act coming highly recommended by a respected fellow music photographer. Soon after, I was delighted to discover Des Rocs would be opening for Grandson on his No Apologies tour, which I was scheduled to cover in April. The set was everything I’d hoped for and more. It was joyfully wild, eccentric and sweaty, something akin to a young Elvis Presley performing an electrifying Arctic Monkeys set. I couldn’t wait to share. Of the tour, he recounts; “It was an electric tour, very politically charged and darkly emotional. For six weeks we were on a tour bus going to sold out show after sold out show – all 22 of them.” I came away with similar sentiments, and yet his set managed to set the Des Rocs name upon a towering new precipice; getting more notice than I think even ​he realized. I emailed him the very same night, asking when we could interview. I lucked out, learning of his Dallas set the very next month.

He’s been recently and repeatedly named as one of the rock genre’s young revolutionaries. Ones To Watch attributed a genre overhaul and a rock music renaissance to a select few artists, with Des Rocs at the top of that short list. It’s my most pressing question. “It’s definitely time for it. Rock is the worst genre of music, and for a reason.” He asserts, “All of the innovation and experimentation is being done in pop and urban – artists taking chances, which is paying off. People are moved by that experiment. But your regular run-of-the-mill alt rock band today sounds the same as they did in 2007.” He goes on to describe your average four white dudes in front of a cinder block wall, clad in skinny jeans and a white tee… and I can’t help but agree. It’s become a pretty predictable genre. Blandness is not befitting to any genre – but the solution, a-la Des Rocs – is greater experimental culture in modern rock. “​I’m going to push rock into a weird twenty-first century place, drag it kicking and screaming if I have to,” he says.

Since no artist can find their place without the influence of those before them, I ask about his own musical upbringing. He talks of Elvis, Talking Heads, Queen, Roy Orbison, “a lot of blues, pop and rock.” Influences which do, indeed, come through in an average Des Rocs track. None of which are even close to average at all, really. It’s a delicious blend. Big rock with massive energy, it pull so many delightful tidbits from others; a bit of fuzzy guitar here, a confident coo, followed by a soul-shattering riff and a high-flying leap from the kickdrum. It’s wrapped with his own signature brand of energetic confidence and one hell of a howl. Quoting so many varied influences, I have ask about genre authenticity. Is it important to find a sound and stay true to it? “Culturally, (authenticity) is relevant… tradition is important.” He replies. But we get the feeling that Des Rocs isn’t really about staying true to a single tradition, rather the opposite.

It’s a recurring theme in this conversation. To what degree is the image as a trailblazer, revolutionary, unapologetic artist important to Des Rocs? He pauses. “I… I don’t really care.” Emphatically, another pause. “I just put out the music; if you like it, you like it, and if not… then great. I’ll just make these records in my bedroom.” He grins, his passionate New Yorker accent so potent. It’s clear I’m speaking with an artist who so clearly loves his craft and just won’t apologize for creating a sound that speaks to him.

I ask what his songwriting process is like. “It’s everything and anything. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a full song written in my head… I voice note it out, piece by piece. Somewhere in my phone is Let Me Live Let Me Die the first time it came to me.” A pause, and he continues after hesitating; “It’s really sporadic. Basically, my process is me trying to figure out my process.” 

Which really, very honestly, is an excellent answer. Those artists who’ve found a prescribed sound and stick to a narrow vision really don’t help themselves, least of not in their live performance. And failing to stick to the prescribed is an area in which Des Rocs excels spectacularly. “You have to musically convey the energy without the fine-tuning and precision of a produced sound. The “so-and-so-bands” (name removed) of the world are lacking a sense of drama and tragedy.” He pauses, almost to catch up to his thoughts; “you have to be a fucked up individual to put on a live show that really moves people. There has to be a dark spot in your soul. Stuff today tends to be very sterile.” 

He goes on to suppose, with another slight pause; “I think some of the best live stuff comes from twisted souls sitting in a basement in Ohio, who maybe don’t have a great recording but their performance is magic. We need to give those people a chance. Where else are we going to get the next Elvis or the next Prince?” From here, I point out that perhaps we’re looking at him. A notion met with a hopeful shrug and a smile.

Check out Des Rocs’ music on Spotify, and his tour schedule here. He’ll play live at KAABOO Del Mar on September 13-15 and Lollapalooza August 1-4 (specific schedules TBD).​