live music

A creative collaboration in Brooklyn: Kendra Morris and Jeremy Page by annaandthelens

One Thursday afternoon a few weeks ago, Kendra invited me to join her and her producer / co-writer, Jeremy Page, at his studio in Bushwick where they write and collaborate on music. I had photographed Kendra in her home (the place where many of her ideas originate) but this studio is an integral part of her creative process. She keeps dozens of journals with song ideas and lyrics (a habit she formed ever since she started journaling at the age of 13), and in these journals she often writes out ideas for a song, edits them, writes out new ones, and then copies over the refined song on a fresh page. She brings these ideas to Jeremy and, together with his help, they flesh out the music and create the soulful and sultry sound that she is known for.

When I asked Kendra how she started working with Jeremy, she shared that she came across his production from another musician (a friend and patron of the Library Bar where she used to work). When she heard his sound, she knew she wanted to work with him. And so she did. For the last 9 years, Kendra and Jeremy have kept a steady weekly writing session, finding in each other a perfect balance of sounds and artistic aesthetic. It is here in this studio, the basement apartment of a townhouse in Bushwick, that they truly get to create.

When I walked in, Kendra and Jeremy were in the process of tracking a newly written song that was dedicated to a good friend of theirs who had passed away suddenly. They had written the song over the course of a single session just two days after they found out about their friend's death. They had both cried as they wrote it.

Kendra walked inside the vocal booth and I followed. They were going to do a few runs so I knew I had some time to photograph before the camera shutter clicking had to stop. This was my first time inside the booth while someone was singing (for obvious reasons, most of the time you try to avoid extra sounds). I crammed myself into a corner, only 2 feet away from Kendra, and waited. She had headphones on but I couldn't hear the music. I could only hear the sound of her voice.

While Kendra is in the booth, Jeremy is behind the board, giving suggestions and guiding the takes until they know they have it. He has expertly arranged the song so that the process is seamless. It's a unique collaboration and one that I imagine is not very easy to find.

The thing about Kendra is that, when she sings, is she gives it her absolute freaking all. Her entire body is activated and she uses it to help convey the precise emotion needed in that part of the song. It's incredibly entrancing to watch and you can feel the energy flow from her core, through her hands and out of her voice.

How incredible to be a witness to the moment of creation! To see two artists interweave their craft and create beautiful music together. Loved every minute of it.

Explore Kendra Morris’s music: Website: Kendra Morris Spotify: Kendra Morris FB: Kendra Morris

 

Niall Connolly and a railroad apartment in Park Slope by annaandthelens

Most songwriters I have come across know Niall Connolly and it's no surprise. He's been leading the Big City Folk Club for nearly 10 years, it's a song circle known for its excellent quality of musicianship and camaraderie. He's a dedicated and tireless member of the NYC music scene striving to create a community where musicians can bring their songs and open them up for other songwriters to hear and offer feedback. I asked him why he's been doing it all these years (after all, it's not an easy feat to organize these biweekly events especially when venues change and the sign up has to be done in advance), and he said that back in Cork (where he's from), you would go to parties and a guitar would be passed around, giving each person a chance to play a tune. There, the culture of music and an appreciation for sharing that music with others, created a community and an audience of friends and fellow musicians. When he moved to New York eleven years ago, he missed that community and wanted to build one here. And so he did, to great thanks from the musicians of this city!

Niall's creative space is his home, an apartment in Park Slope that he shares with his wife, Clare, an art teacher. It's a vast railroad style apartment that stretches the span of the building, with windows on both sides and high prewar ceilings. His writing spot is the desk in his bedroom. A corner where he sits down with a cup of coffee and a guitar in hand and works on his craft.

When I asked Niall about where his inspiration comes from, he said he used to write a lot from personal experiences but now, his creative process has changed. He's on the road a lot, touring by himself, and he finds the road gives him a lot of opportunities to listen. When he's traveling, he has the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories. This is where he derives his inspiration from nowadays.

I am always curious about the types of stories a musician is most drawn to telling. As artists, songwriters, photographers, we all strive to tell human stories that make us feel - whether it's joy or sadness or an empathy for the human condition. Sometimes it seems like the darkness in humanity is the most powerful story to tell because its full of raw emotions. One of the beautiful things about Niall's music, is that despite the darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. A search for the belief that human beings can be better than their circumstances. Those are the stories that Niall tells so masterfully. In his songs, there is a message of urgency, to turn life around, to make it better because that is what the human condition demands of us. To keep going despite and in spite of it all.

Niall has this incredible line in one of his older songs which has stuck with me ever since I first heard it: "We are just skin and bones without love." And damn, what greater truth can be said?

Niall is releasing a new album this Friday called "DreamYour Way Out of This One" and has just begun his tour around Ireland. I hope he finds more beautiful tales on the road...

Explore Niall Connolly's music: Website: Niall Connolly Spotify: Niall Connolly FB: Niall Connolly Music

 

 

 

 

 

Scarlet Sails' Artist Collective in Morningside Heights by annaandthelens

A few months ago, I walked into Olya and Brian's (of the Scarlet Sails) house in Morningside Heights, a beautiful 5 story building, the kind you picture as being representative of old New York: a sweeping staircase leading up flights of stairs, a kitchen located on the 2nd floor, and bathrooms featuring that quintessential black and white New York tile. The story of the building itself was rather unusual, owned by Columbia University, the building was actually leased in the 70s to one of the university clubs (I believe it was a language club), and the woman who originally leased it has held on to the building despite Columbia University's attempts to retake it. Over the years, the building grew into the hub of an artist community, attracting artists, sculptors, musicians and other creatives. Although the house has had a rotating roster of artists, the apartment itself didn't become what it was until Brian moved in over 10 years ago and started carving out the main living room as a creative space, filling it with instruments and music.

Olya Viglione, is the main songwriter of the band, Scarlet Sails, and her husband, Brian Viglione, is the drummer and co-songwriter. It was so interesting to learn about their creative collaboration and witness the different ways they go about approaching new musical ideas. Often, Olya brings the initial lyrical or song idea to Brian who then fleshes out the structure and dynamics of the song. Olya is a Russian-conservatory trained pianist, who, after years of studying the classics, found that she couldn't stay within the confines of classical music, always gravitating to sounds that are very different, following unusual scales and chord patterns. When she talked about songwriting, she expressed thinking of the movements in terms of colors, finding a specific shade of color in the chords to convey the feeling.

Brian is the first drummer I shot in the Creative Spaces series, and I was curious to learn about what the process of songwriting is like for him. Given that drummers play so many instruments at the same time, for me it was impossible to understand where do they start? Brian explained that a lot of it is hearing the sound, visualizing the mood and accessing the dynamics that encapsulate where the song is going to go. Interesting enough, when it came to describing the music, he also spoke about visualizing the song through the framework of colors, each one representing a mood.

When Olya began to play a newly written song, Brian started breaking down the drum composition, allowing the tension in the song to form at first, then bringing in certain rhythmic elements to accent the darkness of the piece. But, he explained, as the lyrics move the song, you don't want the drums to drown out the lyrics, so you find the sounds most complimentary to the vocals, the words, and the rest of the song.

It was interesting to hear about the complimentary nature of their respective creative processes, Brian was very detail oriented, while Olya was more intuitive and explorative. When she writes, it can start anywhere, with either lyrics or melodies or all at once. For Brian, when he hears the start of a song, he visualizes a library of sounds, finding reference points in his mind, and then creates something unique that flows with the song. Despite these divergent approaches, when they were jamming, the music flowed like a river, seamless and fluid.

Explore Scarlet Sails’s music: Website: Scarlet Sails Spotify: Scarlet Sails IG: Scarlet Sails

Multi-instrumentalist Clark Gayton in his creative space in South Bronx by annaandthelens

Anyone who knows Clark always describes him as a NY legend, and it's no wonder. He's been living in NY for over 30 years and is considered one of the finest musicians and has been playing with some of the most renowned musicians for decades. Clark lives in an apartment that is located in a converted piano factory. The area of the Bronx that he lives in, Mott Haven, used to be a hub for piano factories.

In his sun-drenched and open space, he has instruments laid out all around. Varieties of horns, tubas, trombones, a sousaphone, as well as pianos, bass guitar, and so many others, all within easy reach.  He picks up an instrument depending on what mood he is in and walks around his apartment playing it. The tuba he turns to when he wants to feel better, he says something about the act of playing it is soothing.

We spoke about how he started playing and composing music and he shared that his first instrument was the tuba. He began playing in his school band when he was 12 years old and at his teacher’s encouragement, he composed his first song that same year. Later, also at his teacher's encouragement,  the band perform his composition. It was the first time he got to hear his own composition and he was surprised at which parts worked and which mistakes actually sounded better than the originals he wrote.

Nowadays, he composes songs in pieces, keeping a stash of ideas that he turns to later on. Sometimes his get inspired from hearing songs on the street. It could be two different songs with different rhythms and melodies playing at the same time, one from a bodega and the other from a car; the blending of sounds breathes life to a new song idea. NYC noise suddenly becomes ripe with inspiration.

Explore Clark Gayton’s music: Website: Clark Gayton FB: Clark Gayton

Dmitry Wild in his Kew Gardens home studio by annaandthelens

This is how the series began…

On a cold winter night, sometime in early January, I photographed Dmitry Wild in his Kew Gardens basement studio. He lives in the apartment upstairs with his wife and son, but has access to this part of the house and thus has made it his private getaway from the bustle of family life. He comes here to write, or play music, or paint, and I wanted to photograph him in his element.

For those that don’t know, Dmitry is my brother. I have grown up listening to him write songs and play guitar. It was with him that I witnessed the process of a song being written and I got accustomed to the fixated stare he would get when an idea would come and he needed to work it out on his guitar. It always fascinated me to see the song in process, only to hear the final version later.

The truth is when I first started this project, it developed very organically. I did not have a set idea of what I was looking for besides wanting to photograph musicians in their creative spaces. I did not prepare a set of questions to ask or really thought much about how I wanted to portray the musicians. I just wanted to be in their space and talk to the musicians and let inspiration do the rest.

When I asked Dmitry about his process, he told me about how ideas come to him. Sometimes its a line or combination of words that gets stuck in his head and he starts singing them to himself until the lyrics emerge. Sometimes its a riff or a melody that he finds while picking on the guitar. Most of the time, he’s writing about his own life experiences, with the hope that someone listening has had a shared experience and will relate.

Aside from publishing a memoir and a book of poetry, Dmitry is currently working on a project helping to compose the music for a Hamlet-inspired Rock Opera called Mouth Trap. He also has his main Dmitry Wild project, an electro-rock project called WoW. You can check out his music below:

Explore Dmitry Wild's music: Website: Dmitry Wild IG: @dmitrywild MouthTrap project