NAPA — The fourth installment of the BottleRock Napa Valley music, drink and food festival is perhaps its most cohesive, with a strong lineup from the very top with Florence and the Machine, Stevie Wonder and Red Hot Chili Peppers, all the way down to the Napa Youth Orchestra and tween hard rockers The Helmets.
We’re reporting right from the festival and catching up with Icelandic indie rockers Kaleo, electronic and hip-hop vocalist K.Flay, synth-pop singer-songwriter White Sea and Los Angeles quintet Machineheart.
Kaleo frontman JJ Julius Son was joined by drummer David Antonsson to answer a few more questions about the Icelandic band recording in Nashville and why they keep songs ambiguous enough for listeners to interpret their own personal meanings.
You recorded A/B mostly in Nashville. You moved to Austin first but then you jumped to Nashville.
JJ Julius Son: Right. Most we recorded in Nashville; however, there are recordings from Iceland, London, and over 10 cities in the U.S. The past year, we’ve pretty much just been touring constantly, and we recorded this album at the same time as touring.
So how did you end up in Nashville in the first place?
Julius Son: Well, we decided to work with Jacquire King, the producer. We were very lucky, fortunate to be working with him. He works out of Blackbird Studios in Nashville. It seemed like a great place.
Is “All the Pretty Girls” a biographical song? Was it a story from one of you guys?
Julius Son: No, not really. It seems that so many people relate to songs in a personal way that I kind of find that interesting. I’ve been hearing so many people tell their story about how they connect with this song and this song. So I choose not to tell exactly where I was at the point when I wrote it because I find it more enjoyable to hear somebody else tell me what their story is.
David Antonsson: It’s often interesting to hear, oh, “I never thought of it that way,” because I think once you say exactly what your story is behind it, then people don’t think of it that way. It’s like reading a book. Once you see the movie, you’re not imagining how the person looks anymore.
Kristine Flaherty is originally from Chicago and now lives in Los Angeles, but the South Bay still claims a firm grasp on the Stanford grad better known as electronic/hip-hop artist K.Flay. She moved from New York after that city forced some of her collaborators to relocate as well. Now, after a previous label deal didn’t work out the way she had initially hoped it would, she’s set to try it again. While no announcement has signed with another label and new music is on the way this summer, she said. K.Flay will also be on the road this fall.
Are you still living in New York?
So I’m in Los Angeles now. It is [cheaper]. You know, everyone moved. Everyone left New York; almost all my music friends. I feel like there are these swings that happen, where New York kind of becomes a place where it’s cheap and people are living and then [it’s] LA. And now LA is getting fucking expensive, too, but I have kind of a hook-up. I have a very nice deal, so I was like, “I should probably do this.” And everybody’s out there. The label’s out there. My manager’s out there. I have, like, one music friend left in New York.
Do you consider yourself an L.A. artist or are you just, “nowhere?” Have you had a chance to reconnect with your closer musician friends? Some of them preceded you down there.
Definitely I wouldn’t consider myself an LA artist. Just, like, two months ago, I moved there. I know there’s been a lot of Bay (Area) diaspora [there]. Do you remember A B & The Sea? [Guitarist] Joe [Spargur], I was just with him the other day. There was a guy who managed them and Wallpaper. Anyway, they kind of had a little crew. All those guys are pretty much down there. He’s killing it, man. He just did the Meghan Trainor album. He’s a crazy big producer. He did all that Jason Derulo stuff. He did Twenty One Pilots.
Before Morgan Kibby became White Sea, she was a primary songwriting collaborator and keyboard player in M83. She and Anthony Gonzalez had a mutual separation and she now focuses on her solo music. After releasing her debut album, In Cold Blood, in 2014, she has decided to make her songs available as she writes them. Kibby is not a fan of the disconnect between the creation process and the immediacy of songs on full-length albums.
A break-up inspired your debut album, In Cold Blood. What’s inspiring you now?
I think human nature is inspiring me right now. The past and how it can influence the way that we decide to act now, because it’s a very conscious choice. The end of the world; I just feel sometimes like we’re just on a head-on collision with the sun.
On traveling, the bleaker side of touring, and getting respect in the music industry:
I don’t make music to write a pop song that you’re going to give a shit about for five seconds, then you forget about. I want you to give a shit about my career. I want you to care about the vision that I’m trying to share with you and the perspective that I’m trying to share with you. I find myself to be less and less the breed of person that people invest in. That’s what I loved actually on playing this festival, is they asked me to be at this festival because they loved the music. It wasn’t about because I got a great review on Pitchfork or whatever the hell has decided to make a great review; it’s not about that.
It’s hard; people glom onto what they choose to glom onto because they’re told to. It can be very discouraging for a young artist like myself, but the thing that gets me excited is being able to show up at a festival like this and talk to the head of the festival who’s so appreciative that we’re here, and we’re so grateful to be here and we can’t wait to play.
Los Angeles indie pop and rock quintet Machineheart first got noticed after their YouTube cover songs started going viral a few years ago. The bandmates, originally friends from the Pacific Northwest, rolled with it and eventually started writing original material. A three-song EP, 2015’s In Your Dreams, precedes a debut, which they have been working on for two years.
Let’s talk about covers. How did you select the ones to record and release?
Carman Kubanda (guitar): We choose songs we like and also that are just current songs that other people would know.
Stevie Scott (vocals): And we wanted people to be able to sing along. I think that’s what everybody wants to do with music. I want to sing along to music. I want to sing along to the songs I know. Especially when it’s a new band, [fans] want to do a little song with us, and hopefully just enjoy that experience.
You just performed a very moody take on Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” Besides Britney, name three artists or songs you love playing.
Scott: Back in the day on YouTube, when we were first starting, we had The 1975’s “Chocolate,” right?
Trevor Kelly (guitar): Yeah. We had a Miley Cyrus cover as well.
Harrison “Harry” Allen (drums): We’ve done a Sinèad O’Connor cover, or Prince cover, rather; “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
Scott: We never put that out. Maybe this is too sad but it was beautiful. It’s such a beautiful song.
Kelly: It hasn’t found a home on our live set yet, but maybe some day.
Scott: I do like sitting in my living room and playing along the Fleetwood Mac. I just like to jam out to that.
What else do you guys like to do together besides music?
Scott: Coffee, eat.
Jake Randle (bass): We spend a lot of time together, especially in the van, driving around across the country. Our last tour started in Florida and we drove from Los Angeles, which is 40-something hours. We spend so much time [telling] inside jokes.
Scott: Jake is the king of…
Randle: …trying to find great food in whatever state we’re in.
Kelly: You need to order whatever Jake’s ordering at the table. We’re always, kind of, like, “Darn it, why I didn’t get that? That was the best.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.