Sean Cox of Three Strands – Interview

In this episode, I talk with Sean Cox of Three Strands about his music and the transition from being in a band to becoming a solo artist. More interviews coming soon.

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Mink’s Magic Medicine – Interview with Melissa Wright

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Photo courtesy of Glide Magazine

Saturday September 9, Mink’s Miracle Medicine is performing at Gary Owen Irish Pub in Gettysburg in support of their new album, Pyramid Theories, so I spoke with Melissa Wright of the band to learn a little bit about her and the music. Write shared a lot with me from the new direction of the band and what to expect from the new album, to ancient aliens and the Pyramids in Egypt.

First, I asked Wright about the band’s new direction. When Mink’s Miracle Medicine was formed by Melissa Wright and her friend Daniel Zezeski in 2013, the group strived to create “minimalism in country music.” Back then, the group represented an alternative to the mainstream pop-dominated country music; they stripped down country music to its basic essentials. Their new singles off the upcoming album, however, are noticeably more dense in instrumentation and feature more contemporary sounds. I asked Wright how the band has evolved over the last five years since those more simplistic early days. She explained how the minimalist aesthetic of the group early on was started out of necessity. The group was travelling a lot and the band only had two people, so they made music within the limitations they had. Since then, Wright has developed more of a desire to experiment with new sounds and instruments. While she still likes to stay song-focused, their new music features more bass, piano, and keyboard.

Next, I asked Wright how the creative process behind Pyramid Theories was different from the process behind their debut album House of Candles. While it took four years to get their first album out, their second album is coming out just about a year after the first one. Wright said that she ended up writing a lot of songs that didn’t fit the first album, some of which became material for Pyramid Theories. She also claimed to be in a much better place in her life now than she was when she wrote the songs for the first record. The process of putting an album together in a year was not easy, and she said the band might take more time for their next album.

I wondered if the band was ever afraid of falling into a sophomore slump and failing to top themselves. Wright said, “yes and no”. She explained that the group takes an esoteric approach to writing music. “Everything is an expression of us living. We can’t let what other people think affect us because we’re just articulating our own feelings and experiences.” They try not to let any pressure bring them down.

 

What can people expect Pyramid Theories to be like? Wright admitted that there is no cohesive theme to the overall album, but they approached everything with a focus on songwriting and telling good stories. Daniel Zezeski also wrote and sings on one of the songs, which is a first for the group, because Wright usually handles all of the songwriting and singing.

The title track of the album is already available to listen to online, so I had to ask Wright about the lyrics, which make reference to aliens and ancient roman architecture. Wright laughed and told me, “Yes, I was watching a lot of ‘Ancient Aliens’ and National Geographic documentaries about ancient cultures in Egypt and around the world.” She explained to me a theory which claims that the pyramids were built as a giant “tesla” cell powered by the Nile, which was used to generate electricity. Wright is fascinated by these theories of ancient technology, but she assured me that this is the only song about this subject on the album.

Finally, I asked Melissa Wright what Mink’s Miracle Medicine has planned for the future. Wright is looking forward to an animated stop-motion music video for “Pyramid Theories” that the band is currently working on. Although they have no specific plans besides continuing to make music and perform, Wright told me that the band just wants to keep experimenting and having fun. If you don’t like the stadium country music played on the radio today, check out Mink’s Miracle Medicine for an interesting alternative.

The Lemon Twigs: Go To School Review

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The Lemon Twigs have not taken any breaks from writing music since their debut album Do Hollywood came out in 2016. The two brothers, Michael and Brian D’Addario, released an ep Brothers of Destruction and two singles earlier this year, but the real meat and potatoes that had fans salivating at the mouth was the prospect of their sophomore album. The Twigs already proved that they had the creative aptitude and songwriting chops to write fun music with a retro flair, but the real question was how they would grow and improve. Do Hollywood was a solid debut from the relatively young band, but too many bands fall victim to the sophomore slump and risk falling back into relative obscurity.

The band could have played it safe and done more of the same, which probably would have been fine for most fans, but instead they decided to write a rock musical concept album about a chimpanzee named Shane, who is raised by adoptive parents to believe he is a human boy. Shane convinces his parents to allow him to go to high school where he meets a host of characters and learns some hard lessons. For sure, this was an interesting choice for the boys, but the execution is extremely solid. The tale of Shane is a coming of age story in which the chimp progresses from a naive child into a bitter and defeated tragic figure. Along the way, he falls in love, gets beat-up by the school bully, eats bananas for breakfast, and struggles to make friends. The climax involves a terrible incident which forces Shane into isolation. Straddling the line somewhere between Matilda and The Wall, Go To School is quirky and odd but also deeply affecting.

What strikes me is how there’s an overwhelming sense of authenticity in the lyrics and performances on the album. This isn’t just a story about a chimpanzee going to school, it’s a deep reflection on alienation and not fitting in. Brian and Michael use Shane as a mouthpiece to open up about their own insecurities and make themselves vulnerable in a way we haven’t seen them do before. Being only nineteen and 21, highschool is still relatively fresh in their minds, so a lot of the experiences feel relatable and realistic.

The orchestral arrangements, which were composed by Brian, are lush and well-balanced. The track “Born Wrong/Heart Song” is particularly unique on the album because it ditches the rock instruments for full broadway-style orchestration. The clarinet and strings are gently float around but the horns add a touch of darkness to the fairytale aesthetic. Michael gives one of his best vocal performances on this track, expressing a range of emotions from sadness to anger and hatred.

The song “Lonely” is a heartbreaking moment where Shane laments how he feels different from his classmates. He wonders if there is something wrong with him. The lyrics are angsty and corny, but it’s perfect in the context of the character. Shane is a highschool student overwhelmed with uncertainty and doused in insecurity trying to figure out his own identity; the lyrics should sound more like a diary entry than a Shakespearean soliloquy. The song reminds me of myself at that age and the overwhelming social anxiety I would feel when it seemed that everyone was hanging out with their friends after school without me. I’m sure that many listeners will be able to identify with Shane’s sentiments.

Don’t worry though, not everything is just angst and depression. There is a lot of fun to be found in Go To School. For instance, “Queen Of My School” is an old-fashioned rollicking rock song in which Shane’s sexual fantasies are realized. It’s probably the best track to blast and sing-along to in the car because of how energetic and wild it is. Subtlety is thrown out the window here, but a high school story that doesn’t include some awkward sexual discovery and raging hormones is not a believable story at all.

Some other memorable performances include seventies singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren as Shane’s father on the song “Never Know,” Susan Hall as Shane’s bitter mother on the track “Rock Dreams,” and Jody Stephens of Big Star playing drums on “The Student Becomes the Teacher.”

The characters and performances are strong, but there are some themes that feel underdeveloped. “The Student Becomes the Teacher” contains a lyrical reference to violence in schools. When Shane tells his father that he wants to go to school, his father tells him, “There’s just no way / Don’t you ever turn on channel five? / and we want you alive.” I think this concept of how school shootings are portrayed and sensationalized in the media could have been explored a little more. Mass shootings are a huge problem in schools across the country right now and a major source of anxiety for parents, teachers, and students alike which is unique to this generation. Especially given the dramatic climax of the story, it seems odd that the band would reference and gloss over an issue as prevalent as this.

It’s exciting to see the Lemon Twigs pushing their boundaries and topping themselves in a unique way. Go To School is engaging and relatable. Its nostalgic and sometimes over-indulgent in its over-the-top presentation, but always in a fun way and not a frustrating way. Its light and humorous at moments, but also heavy and emotional when it needs to be. The story is attractive but the characters and performances are what make it special. Although I wish some ideas were developed more, what strikes me the most about The Lemon Twigs’ musical is how it emphasizes the importance of love and empathy. In a time when people who disagree are often at each other’s throats, Go To School reminds us that the one thing we all desire deep down inside is to feel loved by someone.