Monthly Archives: June 2014

… March, April & May: Lisle Mitnik/Fireflies

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Though he’s long since left the area, I still have some kind of “New England native solidarity” with Lisle Mitnik. Lisle, the man behind Fireflies, grew up on the eastern seacoast of Massachusetts and, after attending college in California, has settled in Chicago.

Firelies is Lisle’s solo project, which began in 2003. Though the first Fireflies release on a label occurred in 2007, Lisle self-released a few albums for his friends in college. Fireflies has released several albums and EPs and contributed numerous songs to various compiliations over the last 11 years, including his brand new album, “In Dreams,” released on Jigsaw Records in April. In addition to Fireflies, Lisle has also been a member of projects such as Tiny Fireflies, Very Truly Yours, Edine, and Two If By Sea, which released their EP on February Records in December 2010.

Through the loose connections Lisle has with February Records, we thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him a few questions about his musical background in New England, his various projects, and the new Fireflies album.

March, April & May: You’re originally from Gloucester, Massachusetts. When did you leave New England? Why? How often do you make it back to the East Coast?

Lisle: I left New England in 2001 to attend college in California. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision to get out of New England. As I was making my final decisions on where to go, California just seemed to be where life was taking me at the time. The summer before I left, I used to listen to “Goin’ to California” by Led Zeppelin a lot when I would drive around at night: “Made up my mind. Make a new start. Going to California with an aching in my heart. Someone told me there’s a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.” Such are the shallow dreams of a provincial teenage boy.

I usually get back a few times a year to visit my parents. They have since moved from Gloucester, which is a fairly small fishing town, to the larger city of Salem, home of the witches! While my roots there have been cut somewhat, I still love the feel of New England. I feel quite fortunate to have been raised in such an idyllic place … the gentle sounds of waves crashing, seagulls cawing, and wind rustling through the leaves will always be in my blood.

M,A&M: Having spent a great deal of time in Salem myself and given the presence of Salem State University in the city, it’s most certainly an artistic and alternative type of place. Is this how you remember it? Do you remember there being any kind of distinct music scene in the North Shore area, perhaps one separate from Boston?

Lisle: I think the North Shore does have its own kind of vibe, separate from Boston, the South Shore, or Western MA. The way I remember it now, it’s kind of got a Maine-type of vibe. Progressive, but not Vermont progressive. Passively progressive. Like, “Let’s all just live and let live, and enjoy the scenery.” Everyone has their own thing going. Certainly Salem’s rich history attracts quite a lot of alternative-types of people. Gloucester’s laid-back coastal beauty seemed to attract wealthier people that were maybe a little too alternative for high-rise life in a suit, but then they’re mixed with the working-class fishermen types, so it never felt stuck-up. It even had an independent record shop (Mystery Train) and a venue called Art Space. It was run by the guy that wrote the cult film, C.H.U.D. (Look it up, you won’t be disappointed!).

Toward the end of my high school years, there was a distinct local punk rock scene happening around Art Space. The best way I can describe it was like, hardcore + ska. It was pretty intense. I went to a few shows there, but this kind of music didn’t really speak to me.

M,A&M: How involved in music were you before you moved to California?

Lisle: Before moving to California, my main source of playing music was my piano lessons. I started at a very young age, and continued mostly uninterrupted through high school. Though I was playing my assignments, at this time I think my true involvement with music was getting to know all about it, and establishing myself as a true music lover. My first love with music came from my parents’ record collection, which was filled exclusively with ’60s stuff like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, but I was into everything. In those freewheeling early days of the internet, I was seeking out more and more music from around the world. I had sophisticated friends from NYC that showed me all about Brit-pop, and a friend in Denmark who supplied me with endless amounts of electronica from Europe.

M,A&M: Quite a few of your songs, albums, and even some of the compilations in which Fireflies have appeared on have been seasonally themed. The EardrumsPOP Summer’s Here – vol 2 compilation, your winter-themed Butterscotch EP and The Autumn Almanac album, and Little Treasure’s Springtime! compilation. Why do you think this is? Are you at all inspired by nature and, if so, how?

Lisle: I definitely feel inspired by nature. I think this comes as a result of my upbringing in such a seasonal place like New England, coupled with the distinct absence of seasons going to college in the California desert, which is when I started to explore writing songs. I found myself longing for those seasonal markers: cosy winters by the fireplace, beautiful multi-colored autumns, and care-free seaside summers. I had a brand-new life, and I missed all the happy memories I had associated with this previous life, even though I knew I had truly left it behind. It took a lot to come to grips with that feeling of having my tether cut.

M,A&M: How do you feel your songwriting has developed over the years? Do you find that you’re still inspired by the same things or have they changed?

Lisle: I think the main change has been in the point of view of the songs. In the first few years of my songwriting life, I went from living in Massachusetts to living in California, to living in London, back to California, and finally, settling in Chicago. Everything was always in flux, and I used songwriting as a way to process everything that was happening. At that time, my songwriting book was like my journal, and I was making “entries” of new songs 3-5 times per week.

These days, my life is a lot more stable and settled. I’m still inspired by the same kinds of things, but now my songs aren’t always so autobiographical. There’s more elements that come from external sources, such as films, books, and in the case of my recent album, dreams.

M,A&M: While Fireflies in your solo effort, you have been involved in various other projects as well including Two If By Sea, Very Truly Yours, Tiny Fireflies, and Edine. Can you tell us what being a part of these various projects has been like? What have you learned from them?

Lisle: To answer what being in these other projects has been like, the first word that comes to mind is, “refreshing.” When I first started out, it took me a while to find my groove, so I experimented a lot with whatever I could find around. I shared a recording/practice space with some other musicians in my dorm at school, so there was never any shortage of gear around. I tried everything from solo piano ballads to straight up electronics … as I started to figure out my style, I lost some of that kitchen sink, “let’s try this weird thing” approach. I have a much better sense now of what works and what doesn’t. As much as that saves me some time, it sometimes is limiting. Working with other people, and in other styles, helped re-wire my brain so that I can use my experience, but not be limited by it. For example, when I was writing for Edine, I felt that I could write lyrics that were a bit more vulnerable, since I wasn’t singing them. I also was trying to use electric guitar as little as possible. In Tiny Fireflies, Kristine is always pushing me to try things that don’t fit into my normal musical M.O. All this helps to make sure I don’t get too settled in my ways.

M,A&M: You have a song on the new Jigsaw/Dufflecoat Records singles club, appearing on a 7” with Japan’s Wallflower. How did this project come about? What has the experience of being a part of this singles club been like for you?

Lisle: Going into 2014, I had a *lot* of songs that were sitting around that I wasn’t sure what to do with. Chris from Jigsaw originally had reached out to me about doing the singles club, and I sent him a bunch of the songs and told him, “sure, take your pick!” It was from there that the idea about releasing the album came about. He was the one that suggested I share the split with Wallflower as well. I was more than happy to do so since I really like their music. There’s a lot of great indie pop coming out of japan right now … Masami from Wallflowerr also has a band juvenile juvenile … there’s Homecomings, Twinkle Twinkles, and also Boyish, who Tiny Fireflies collaborated with for Between Two Waves on Eardrumspop.

M,A&M: In addition to the singles club, you’re newest album In Dreams was just released on Jigsaw Records. How long did it take you to write and record the album?

Lisle: In Dreams has been brewing since the release of Autumn Almanac in 2011. Since that time, I’d been working on several different styles of songs, and I had about 7-8 songs for each style. Ultimately, the real assembly of the album was an editing process of picking which songs fit together as a cohesive unit. It wasn’t until I had the track list finalized that I realized that part of what held these songs together was the recurring lyrical theme about dreams … I’d been struggling with what to call the album, and it came to me while listening to a track, “En Rêve,” a French cover of Roy Orbison’s song by Tiny Yong. It kind of hit me all at once that all these songs were about dreams, and that was the perfect title.

M,A&M: Who created the artwork/layout for the In Dreams?

mononokeThe cover artwork was done by Nicola Colton, an illustrator based in Ireland. I found out about her from the work she did on the Niko Niko single for Eardrumspop. I sent her the songs, and a dreadfully vague impression of what I wanted and she totally nailed the feel I was going for. It was inspired by Anh Hung Tran’s film adaptation of Norwegian Wood, which is also my favorite book. I wanted to try and capture the dreamy feel of he film through illustration. Nicola also picked up subconsciously on my love of Hayao Miyazaki, and included some animal-esque characters reminiscent of Princess Mononoke. Both films feature a lot of forest scenery. Forests have always felt somewhat magical and dreamlike to me, because they are kind of outside of the human realm. There’s an otherness to them.

M,A&M: Since Fireflies is your solo project, can you take us through your recording process? What kind of equipment do you use?

Lisle: Doing everything myself, it sometimes is a lengthy process. Once I have the basic structure of a song figured out in my head, I start to layer instruments and just see what works, one instrument at a time. Once the arrangement feels “done.” I go back and pick out my favorite parts, and then mute what I was originally doing and build new parts around that part I like. There’s a lot of trial and error, and often times I end up with several completely different versions of songs.

As far as equipment, I tend to use a lot of older recording gear. Ive got a cabinet full of various mics from the ’70s, and some cool vintage compressors, preamps, and such. Though I’m recording into a computer, I like to at least have some interesting flavors going into the digital world. Sometimes I get a little jealous when I hear a really well-recorded indie band, quite high-fi and such … but that’s just not me. When I listen back to old recordings from the ’60s, some of them are quite lo-fi! I can’t really imagine a song like The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” recorded by today’s proper standards … so, I keep reminding myself of this fact that what’s more important than capturing 20-20,000 Hz, is capturing the emotion of a song.

M,A&M: Of all of the songs on your new album, which are you most proud of and why?

Lisle: “Seventy-seven” is probably my favorite. Of all the songs, I think that one comes the closest to a part of what I’m trying to achieve with Fireflies. It feels like a legitimate Song with a capital “S.” It has a melody, a proper chorus, and each instrument’s part really felt interesting on its own.

M,A&M: Where do you see Fireflies in future? Do you have any distinct goals for the project or for yourself as a musician?

Lisle: My goal has always just been to keep on writing better and better songs. Whether or not I’m really getting better or worse I suppose is up to interpretation, but I think I will always keep on writing. It’s something I just feel compelled to do. As long as people are still interested to hear what I’m doing, I’ll keep on releasing them into the world. When I started, I never expected anyone would really care about what I was doing, so the fact that I’m even doing this interview right now feels pretty special.

On the more concrete side, I wouldn’t mind getting out there and playing some shows, I suppose. I recently did my first public singing of my songs since college during an acoustic Tiny Fireflies show, and it felt like something I wouldn’t mind doing again sometime.

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Thanks, Lisle! “In Dreams” is now available via Jigsaw Records. To explore some of Lisle’s previous releases, visit the Fireflies bandcamp page.

Interview conducted and compiled by Kristin Gill.

…March, April & May: Popfest Preview: Indiefjord

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Indiefjord: mixing indiepop with the beautiful fjords of Norway. Who had the brilliant idea to do such a marvelous thing? Silja Haddal Mork and Mattias Lidehäll, of course! Indiefjord is a weekend-long indiepop party in the village of Bjørke, Norway, occurring on July 12-14. Not only will you be able to see bands from Scandinavia and the UK, dance to your heart’s content, and experience the beauty of the fjords, but the community of Bjørke will also be involved, organizing various day-time activities for festival attendees. What more could you really ask for?

To tell us more about the process in bringing these two communities, indiepop and Bjørke, together for the weekend, Silja and Mattias happily answered a few questions for us.

1. Can you give us a history of Indiefjord (dates, organizers involved, etc.)? How and why did you come to be involved? Why did you choose to set up this event?
We (Silja Haddal Mork & Mattias Lidehäll) moved from London to Norway in the summer of 2013. Soon we felt that something was missing. It was the music and our friends. In order to do something about this we (in november 2013) decided to arrange a party for new and old friends and to fill it with our favourite music. Since we both were involved in the London/European indiepop scene (Silja as one of the arrangers of the club “Librarians Wanted” and member of the indiepop netlabel EardrumsPop and Mattias as a member of several Indiepop bands, including Stars in Coma and Lost Summer Kitten), we had no problems reaching out to the bands we wanted to book. The response was strong and positive! The venue we chose is in a small village at the end of a beautiful fjord. We want to give our visitors a taste of Norway at its finest!

2. What is the process of choosing bands like? Do you contact them or do they have to request to play? Are there any rules as to who can or cannot play?
We know a lot of bands since almost all of our friends are playing. For us, it was more a matter of choosing the best ones from a bunch of amazing ones. Since it’s our party, we are very picky and only book those who we are personal fans of and people that we like to hang out with. After all, it’s a party for the people playing as well.

3. What has experience taught you when it comes to organizing Indiefjord?
We soon realized the importance of having the locals involved in the planning. The festival is in a very small village and it won’t go by unnoticed. It’s important that the people living there feel that it’s something they are part of and not an invasion of aliens. The people we are working together with are also great assets in many ways and help us solve problems before they even occur.

4. When does organization start? Is there a timeline you follow? How soon after the festival ends do you begin to plan the next one? Or, if this is the first of such event, when will you start planning for next year?
We started organizing in November, but if we do it again we’ll probably start sooner. The earlier everything is set, the better. There’s a lot of logistics to think about and such issues are easier to handle if you solve them early on. The timeline for this year was: 1. book the venue, 2. book the bands, 3. meet the people that we’re cooperating with, 4. advertise advertise advertise.

5. 

Do you have any inside tips for festival goers?
Always expect bad weather. It will rain and it will be a lot colder than you can ever expect. If you bring warm clothes that can keep you dry then everything else will be a joy! Dancing helps too, so that’s our biggest recommendation!!

6. What are some of the best and worst moments of any Popfest that you can remember?
Best: 
Mattias: ‘Allo Darlin at any festival/popfest. I’ve cried tears of joy in several parts of the world while attending their gigs.
Silja: The very start of Librarians Wanted: me and my friend Roo met David at Indietracks 2010, we were dancing to Stars in Coma and decided to start a club in London. We decided we’d try to book that band one day, and nearly a year later we did — and that’s how I met my Indiefjord-co-organiser and boyfriend Mattias, he played in that awesome band. Everything is connected to Indietracks! It was also a great highlight to DJ there in 2011 with Librarians Wanted, felt like we were coming home.
Worst:
 Mattias: Playing keyboard with Stars in Coma at Indiepop Days Berlin in 2010. The sound of the keyboard was barely audible and I had no idea what I was playing. At the last song I just gave up and went out in the audience and danced instead!

Silja: None! Popfests are 100% happiness to me. There should be more of them! Especially in Norway…

Thanks, Silja and Mattias!

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There are no traditional tickets to Indiefjord, instead you contribute a donation that will go toward the bands and the overall community. For more information on the donation process, the activities scheduled over the weekend, and how to get to Bjørke, visit the Indiefjord website.

…March, April & May: Popfest Preview: Roma Popfest

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I’m going to let you in on something I’m not especially proud of – I had no idea Roma Popfest existed until a few months ago. Awful, right? Where have I been? The U.S., I presume – that faraway land where we are quite removed from so much.

Now that I’m aware of such a great event, we want to share it with you! The women behind Frigopop are also responsible for Roma Popfest. Their reasoning couldn’t be any better: As their website suggests, “there is a Popfest in New York and one in San Francisco, another in London, Berlin, Madrid. Why not to Rome?”

As you will read, the 2014 edition will be the fifth year for the Rome festival, occurring on 16 and 17 June at Traffic Live Club and Le Mura, respectively. This year you can expect a mixture of folk, synthesizers, dreampop, and even a band labeled as “swaying palm trees” via Google Translate. I’m on board, what about you?

1. Can you give us a history of Roma Popfest (dates, previous organizers involved, etc.)? How and why did you come to be involved?
The first edition of Romapopfest took place in 2010, and there have been one every year ever since, so for next June we’re preparing the fifth edition! At the beginning we were five girls organizing pop concerts and dj sets in Roma, and we just thought it was a good idea to create a popfest in the city; we started to work on that. Since the third edition, three of the girls left so now it’s just me and Priscilla De Pace, but we’re often helped by friends.

2. What is the process of choosing bands like? Do you contact them or do they have to apply to play? Are there any rules as to who can or cannot play?
There isn’t a specific rule, we just try to combine our preferences to those of our audience: we contact the bands but sometimes we might also accept applications. Unfortunately, indiepop as a genre, is not very popular in Rome, so usually we have to cross out some bands we really like but who won’t bring any people to the show. That is why we often focus on Italian pop bands; they’re really great, even though they might not be very popular outside our country. If you need some examples, go check Green Like July (they’re playing this year’s Popfest!) Brothers In Law, His Clancyness, Dumbo Gets Mad and many others … Anyway our headliners this year are The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, I think you might know them … 🙂

3. What has experience taught you when it comes to organizing Rome Popfest?
Free drinks for bands, as well as balloons on the stage, are never enough.

4. When does organization start? Is there a timeline you follow? How soon after the festival ends do you begin to plan the next one?
We usually begin six months ahead. There’s isn’t a specific timeline, we’re quite unorganized. But we know the things that have to be done so we just try to do that in time for the shows!

5. Do you have any inside tips for festival goers?
Festival totebags are always amazing and very cheap, so buy them! Let the festival atmosphere follow you during summertime.

6. What are some of the best and worst Rome Popfest moments you can remember?
I think one of the best moment I can recall is the first edition, 2010. The response we had has been amazing, people were really very happy to be there. 

The worst moments were probably those spent working hard to hand out flyers and to build stage designs with our own hands….!

Thanks, Frigopop!

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The entire lineup (including biographies), ticket information, directions to the venues and more can be found at the Roma Popfest website.