A little #PDXMusic mix to get you through the day

Been working hard on the next issue of the magazine (set for release this month!) and I felt like digging through the catalog of recent and past music-related chit chats. We’ve had the fortune to speak with and meet some of Portland’s finest musical talents, and so here’s a little mix of a couple tracks that tickle us as we’re coming down to the last days of design and writing.

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Full Interview: Jeffrey Martin (From Poppycock Aug/Sept Edition)

With his release of his first label-backed album in his discography, Dogs in the Daylight, hammer swinger Jeffrey Martin taps into a timeless and aching sound. It could easily have been recorded with a pop and a hiss in the one-take era of quintessential blues and songwriting with the likes of Son House and Mississippi Slim.

Though scattered with accompaniment from the likes of local fiddler Anna Tivel and Portland’s Sam Howard, the album, despite being heavy at times, is carried from good to great by lyrics and a voice for which Martin will be known from this point forward. We spoke with Jeffrey about his journey, the low points, and how he’s measuring success to this point in his career.

P: You’re releasing Dogs in the daylight in partnership with Fluff and Gravy Records, a label here in Portland. You’ve self-released a couple of albums before this one, so how did your partnership with Fluff and Gravy come about?

JM: A few years ago I played a local festival, and John and Chad just happened to be there. We became friends after that. Actually, I didn’t even know that they ran a label until a while after that, so I just started hanging out with them and playing music with those guys. We were friends for a while before we really talked.

P: So, this is your first record label partnership release. When did those first two albums come out in relation to Dogs in the Daylight? What kind of measurable or relative success did those first two albums enjoy?

JM: That first album, Gold in the Water, I put out in 2009. Then the following EP I put out in 2011. Both of them sold well at shows. I have a pretty solid fan base here in the NW, but out in the world and the press, nobody really heard them. This is really the first album with a bigger push, I’d say.

P: With your first two albums, were you just your own PR department? Just you hustling for gigs and press?

JM: Totally. I was sending albums out to radio stations, magazines, folks I’d met on the road, promoters, and whatnot. Trying to do it that way, and I was entering a lot of contests in search of finding my way in. That was pretty tiring.

P: What has gone into this album which gives it something special for you?

JM: It just feels like it’s from me more so than the others. Gold in the Water was my first attempt at recording anything. Those songs on that album were pretty freshly written. It was one of those deals where I wanted to record, but I needed to write more songs so I could make a full album. I was trying to find my voice, both vocally and in my writing for those first two, actually. When I go back and listen to them now, or someone tells me they really like something from those, it’s kind of odd because that’s not at all what I sound like live anymore. This one is the first album I have that I can listen to that still feels like that’s how I still play those songs and sing those songs.

P: You’ve got some great accompaniment in this album; beautiful fiddle and other instrumentation and vocals. Who were you able to bring on with this album that really fills out the sound you’ve captured?

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JM: I was really slow to collaborate with people. I’ve never done that before, actually. It’s really hard for me to do. I find a lot of people who want to play with me, but more often than not they detract from the feeling I want to have when I’m playing. So, Anna Tivel played fiddle on the album. We’ve been playing together for years and we just hit it off right away. We met at a show and then ended up jamming together later that night. She is just the most intuitive player that I know. Then there’s Sam Howard, met him through the Portland music scene, and it’s the same with him: He only adds things. He never takes away. So, all those guys, they were people I very carefully picked because I’d jammed with them before and I knew that they had the touch. I wanted a fuller sounding album, but I didn’t want it to sound complicated or overproduced. It still sounds pretty simple and I really like that.

P: How did these 15 tracks come together for this album? Were these songs you had assembled over time or were they written with this album in the forefront of your mind?

JM: I put out that EP in 2011, and right after doing that I got my first real taste of music and doing some long, successful tours playing bigger shows, and meeting some bigger musicians and playing with them. It just inspired my writing to a different level; the last year and a half of writing, and being in it at an intensity that I hadn’t been before.

P: Your maturation process moving towards making this album has really come out of the doing, yes? The tours and the act of being a professional artist?

JM: [laughs] Yes. It has been a lot of miles in a lot of shitty cars. I remember a couple of years ago, I was heading out on this tour to the east coast. I was in this little Toyota Corolla and it was going to be two and a half months of sleeping in the car and camping. It was kind of the test, thinking to myself that if I can do this and still enjoy this life, then I should keep doing it. It did, and I just kept falling in love with it more and more.

P: You talk about your writing being the thing that carries you. There’s a quote I saw that you said if you could play guitar half as well as you write then you’d be wearing nicer pants. Where does that affinity and talent come from?

JM: I went to college and got a degree in writing. Before I’d even started writing songs, I was just writing all sorts of shit. I think when I got heavy into songwriting and found songwriters who wrote in very literary ways, I just didn’t know you could write songs like that; it just clicked with me. Finding in them an efficient way of writing, of saying very big this in not a lot of space, was very interesting to me.

P: You mentioned the grind and the months sleeping in cars. With the release of your first label-backed LP, are you looking at this as an arrival or a success? What’s your metric for success in your career if not a milestone like Dogs in the Daylight?

Jeffrey vertical CHAD LANNING PHOTOGRAPHYJM: Success to me is in terms of how honestly I play a show, or not. This feels really great to me, I love working with Fluff and Gravy. I feel very supported in this collaboration, but that’s never been the goal. When I found out John and Chad owned a label, my first thought wasn’t that I have to get on this label. My goal has always been to be as honest as I can in my performances because I feel like I experience a lot of music that I don’t feel is very honest, and it leaves me wanting for more. That’s just something I want to hold onto.
There’s something this allows me to do, though. In a strange way, when I was on my own doing all of the promoting, it just took a lot of energy away from what I wanted to put on stage when I did shows. Lately, I feel like I can just show up and my head and my heart are in the right place, and I can do what I need to do. In that sense, it’s a huge success.

P: When you were grinding out there on the road and trying to crawl from obscurity as a great performer while being your own promotional staff, and everything that goes into being a one-man PR machine, were there those moments of self-doubt in the uphill battle that is a musical career? What did you do to get past those moments and keep pressing on?
JM: Yeah, there’s that doubt always. There’d be that show where I’d play in Nowhere, Montana for nobody and leave wondering what the point of that was. Then, the next night, play in Nowhere, Nebraska for one person who cried at a show. You leave thinking, maybe there’s something here. It was that back and forth for a while, then realizing that it meant a lot to some people, and it certainly means a lot to me. It helps that I’ve never set out to making a living with music. I’m pretty good with my hands, I can do a lot of carpentry. So, wherever I land I kind of pick up jobs between tours and swing a hammer to make money. I think that helps.

P: With your focus and pride being in your writing, any thoughts of getting out there and expressing yourself with a book of poetry or a book of some kind in the future?

JM: Yeah, I’d love to write a book someday. It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind, and more so lately. I think if I can get into a routine or a rhythm, hitting that kind of writing, I could crank something out. I’ve learned though, with songwriting, that any time I try to force something it comes out really contrived. I’m just waiting for that opportunity and that momentum to come along.

P: You can hear that in writing. You can hear when there is passion and when something comes across as stale or forced. Does your songwriting come in waves then?

JM: Yeah, it does. I read a lot and I notice, in retrospect, that a lot of my writing is influenced by what I’m reading. [pauses] I tend to write a lot more in the winter and the fall when things get cold, wet, and locked down. I crank a lot out in those times.

P: As we’ve discussed, there is a lot of you in your writing, a lot of honesty. When you’re writing and creating, is there any thought for the listener and how they will receive your work, or is this something cathartic just for you?

JM: I’d say both. First and foremost, it’s for me. Especially with this album over the first two, this one is so much more for me. Then once it’s done, I can’t escape thinking about how it will land with other people. What’s interesting is that these songs on this album, they’re a little less straight forward and there is more room for interpretation than my earlier stuff. It’s been interesting to think about how this will sit with people listening to it. Also, talking with people after shows and hearing their take on songs from angles and interpretations that I didn’t see. I definitely don’t write with that in mind though. I definitely don’t shy away from an idea because people might not want to deal with that or that it’s too big of a downer.

P: You mention that these are a bit more abstract songs, less straight forward. Do you still feel a bit naked on stage in some of your songs though, despite the space that the abstract allows?

JM: Yeah, it does all the time. Every show, when I’m on the stage singing, I feel completely comfortable. As soon as the show ends, I’m not too good in social situations to begin with, so it kind of hits me all at once after a show, especially a bigger one, that I’ve said all this shit and now I have to own it. [laughs] In that time after shows selling CD’s and all that, I realize I said all of these personal things to total strangers, and now what will happen? It always goes well, but it’s still a weird thing.

P: Well, you’ve just told strangers so much about yourself. They know more about you than you’ll ever know about them.

JM: Yeah, and sometimes songs that mean a lot to me mean more to other people. People feel obligated or comfortable sharing some very personal feelings with me. It’s just an interesting thing that happens.

P: How surreal is that? Those moments when you hear that something you made, something that came out of you, resonated with someone on such a visceral level?

JM: It’s humbling. It makes me feel like I need to take this seriously. I don’t want to put something out into the world that affects people, but then I don’t have something to talk about with them because I didn’t write it from an authentic place. It makes me feel like if they are going to be that honest with me, then I’ve got to be that honest with them.

For more, visit JeffreyMartinMusic.com

For more from Poppycock, click here.

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Interview: Priory On Tour Now, New Single ‘Call to Arms’

“I have a dollar sign tattooed over my plasma scars. I think they said I probably sold my plasma like 150-200 times.” -Kyle Sears

Destitute doesn’t really describe the place Kyle and Brandon found themselves in as they worked on they forthcoming album for years in Portland, OR. Long before Warner Bros Records put them in our ears and before they started running up the charts with ‘Weekend’ to the adulation of TIME, Esquire, NYLON, Neon Gold, and Billboard; they were just a couple of broke kids in a ramshackle studio with a dream.

“Kyle and I quit our jobs three years ago, we spent almost two years recording and working on this album. We built ourselves a recording studio and basically just locked ourselves away. We were in a vacuum for so long, we thought it was good, but we didn’t know what the response was going to be. So, it is so great to be getting such positive feedback.”

The album draws from some of the difficulties that come along with just being alive, let alone the hard road to where they are now. Personal sacrifice aside, the guys saw friends die of drug overdoses and close family battle cancer. What might have been perfect excuses to put the album aside became inspiration for it.

“With two of us, if one of us is feeling off or uninspired, the other can push and kinda take the reigns at times to just keep moving everyday. I think there really is just catharsis in getting this stuff off of your chest and just saying what everyone is thinking. We decided to be as honest as possible and not really concern ourselves with how it might sound or how it might be perceived at all. It feels good and to be on stage to sing them feels good, too.”

“Working on the record, Brandon’s dad had cancer, my mom had cancer. Just working on these different things was therapeutic. We could go in and work on stuff and get it out in our music rather than let it affect our daily lives.”

With the sudden fame that comes along with a hit single and the beginnings of a payoff for all the plasma letting and the sacrifice, you’d think maybe the stars would brighten in their eyes and get a little lost in the clouds, but Brandon and Kyle seem to be firmly rooted in reality.

“We are going to stay on the road as long as humanly possible. The goal is to just perpetuate this as long as we can. We still write on the road, now we bring our stuff with us, so we’re always working. The band we tour with, these are some of our best friends and we just want to get in front of as many people as possible and do our thing for as long as we can.”

Check out the official video for ‘Weekend’ below.

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MONEY at the Doug Fir (with Hawks Do Not Share)

We just had to make it out to the Doug Fir for MONEY with local openers Hawks Do Not Share. One thing was that MONEY’s album, The Shadow of Heaven, is a melodious and patient entry. TSH is an ethereal, floating, entry filled out by churning music under the trance-inducing vocals of Jamie Lee. He commands your attention with a great vocal range, but it’s his emotional intensity where he seems to almost get a bit lost in the performance that grabs you.

Too often an album seems to be in a hurry to get to the end; end of verse, the song, the album. I recall a line from the movie Boiler Room. It went something like, “If you want to get off the phone so badly, then just hang up.” MONEY let’s the song linger, grow, almost organically. This music is something akin to a cross between Ben Folds Five and Coldplay with maybe some Shins or Snow Patrol tossed in for good measure.

As an aside: I’d like to make a point to call out the girl who was talking incessantly through the entire performance. While the room of a few dozen people paid the $12 to see the performers, she seems to have paid a fee to talk…and talk, and talk, and single-handedly ruin the entire show. So much so, that mid-song, she was called out by the band and crowd…only to continue talking right up until the last note. It was at this point that Jamie made a point to ball her out as the rest of the band stormed off stage without a word. Jamie did what we all had wished we’d done the moment she became unbearable, told her she was rude, should go outside to talk, and that if she isn’t listening, then get the fuck out.

Portland has a reputation as a great music town, for talent and for crowds. When you are at a show, you are as much an audience member as you are an ambassador for your city. When someone travels hundreds and even thousands of miles (flies into your country in many cases) you are now representing the crowds of the Doug Fir, Portland, the NW, and the US. Take your responsibility as an engaged, appreciative, and respectful audience member with a little bit of decorum. Shut the fuck up and listen. Don’t try to talk OVER music being performed. Especially in a small, quiet room of a few dozen listeners.

There are times that screaming, singing along, jumping around, chucking beer cans, moshing, are all appropriate. There are crowds so large that you can scream yourself horse and won’t interrupt or spoil the show. This and many small venues in Portland is not one of those places.

The show ended uncomfortably, that chewing out by Jamie was the last impression we had, and I left embarrassed for Portland in the eyes of an incredibly talented group from Manchester who I wouldn’t blame for never coming back to this city to play for us again.

Just shut up and listen, folks. If you paid money to get in, I am sure it will be worth the money. (Pun intended)

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Interview: Jeffrey Martin Talks Dogs in the Daylight

Jeffrey red BEA GELLER PHOTOGRAPHYWith his release of his first label-backed album in his discography, Dogs in the Daylight, hammer swinger Jeffrey Martin taps into a timeless and aching sound. It could easily have been recorded with a pop and a hiss in the one-take era of quintessential blues and songwriting with the likes of Son House and Mississippi Slim.

Though scattered with accompaniment from the likes of local fiddler Anna Tivel and Portland’s Sam Howard, the album, despite being heavy at times, is carried from good to great by lyrics and a voice for which Martin will be known from this point forward. We spoke with Jeffrey about his journey, the low points, and how he’s measuring success to this point in his career.

Here’s is an excerpt from our interview with Jeffrey about his new album. For the entire interview, check out our Aug/Sept digital edition of Poppycock Magazine here (use coupon code NKTX62CT1OOL for a 50% discount on the 1-year subscription), also available in print at Reading Frenzy in Portland.

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JeffreyalbumcoverhighresP: You’re releasing Dogs in the daylight in partnership with Fluff and Gravy Records, a label here in Portland. You’ve self-released a couple of albums before this one, so how did your partnership with Fluff and Gravy come about?

JM: A few years ago I played a local festival, and John and Chad just happened to be there. We became friends after that. Actually, I didn’t even know that they ran a label until a while after that, so I just started hanging out with them and playing music with those guys. We were friends for a while before we really talked.

P: So, this is your first record label partnership release. When did those first two albums come out in relation to Dogs in the Daylight? What kind of measurable or relative success did those first two albums enjoy?

JM: That first album, Gold in the Water, I put out in 2009. Then the following EP I put out in 2011. Both of them sold well at shows. I have a pretty solid fan base here in the NW, but out in the world and the press, nobody really heard them. This is really the first album with a bigger push, I’d say.

P: With your first two albums, were you just your own PR department? Just you hustling for gigs and press?

JM: Totally. I was sending albums out to radio stations, magazines, folks I’d met on the road, promoters, and whatnot. Trying to do it that way, and I was entering a lot of contests in search of finding my way in. That was pretty tiring.

P: What has gone into this album which gives it something special for you?

JM: It just feels like it’s from me more so than the others. Gold in the Water was my first attempt at recording anything. Those songs on that album were pretty freshly written. It was one of those deals where I wanted to record, but I needed to write more songs so I could make a full album. I was trying to find my voice, both vocally and in my writing for those first two, actually. When I go back and listen to them now, or someone tells me they really like something from those, it’s kind of odd because that’s not at all what I sound like live anymore. This one is the first album I have that I can listen to that still feels like that’s how I still play those songs and sing those songs.

P: You’ve got some great accompaniment in this album; beautiful fiddle and other instrumentation and vocals. Who were you able to bring on with this album that really fills out the sound you’ve captured?

JM: I was really slow to collaborate with people. I’ve never done that before, actually. It’s really hard for me to do. I find a lot of people who want to play with me, but more often than not they detract from the feeling I want to have when I’m playing. So, Anna Tivel played fiddle on the album. We’ve been playing together for years and we just hit it off right away. We met at a show and then ended up jamming together later that night. She is just the most intuitive player that I know. Then there’s Sam Howard, met him through the Portland music scene, and it’s the same with him: He only adds things. He never takes away. So, all those guys, they were people I very carefully picked because I’d jammed with them before and I knew that they had the touch. I wanted a fuller sounding album, but I didn’t want it to sound complicated or overproduced. It still sounds pretty simple and I really like that.

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Jimmy Mak’s: It’s About The Music

I first came to Jimmy Mak’s expecting to see a declining interest from the crowd, perhaps people on cell phones or generally just more into their dates than their surroundings. Mel Brown started off by telling some stories about his touring days with The Temptations, then jumped into an hour and a half of top-notch music; the room was captivated. Next week would be his 70th birthday.

Half a century ago, the scene at Jimmy Mak’s would have been commonplace. “The City That Works” was living up to its motto with a robust workforce drawn here to earn their wage by way of building ships for WWII. This was a primarily African American community who carried with them skills and an appetite which would fuel the golden era of jazz in Portland. According the Robert Dietsche’s book, Jump Town: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz, there was a tremendous amount of talent coming through the Rose City. Think of a famous jazz musician from the era, they played here. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, were drawn from across the country to play on Williams Avenue where Portland’s post-war workforce came to blow off steam. The Avenue had a tenacious life about it. The amount of cash was equal to the absence of housing, so theaters and clubs ran 24 hours a day.

Jazz Quote 01It was the golden age of the genre and war had brought a sense of style and swagger to the region. Flamboyant suits and all-night parties. Barbecue and chili shacks lined Williams Avenue, interspersed was a community of clubs featuring the best jazz in the world. The inner east side of the Willamette was the heart of the scene and for a decade was on par with New York. Now, sixty years later, the talent remains, but the infrastructure that supported the scene is showing signs of stress.

Jimmy Makaroonis of Jimmy Mak’s is a casual guy; T-shirt and shorts, a look that is reflected by his humble attitude. The owner of Portland’s flagship jazz stage is rightfully proud of his club, but he tries to keep it all in perspective. He is compelled to remind me that he is just a guy and all he does is offer a stage, and that people aren’t lining up around the block to come see him. It’s about the talent and community, something Portland has no shortage of.

“[We have] a world class blues scene in Portland, a world class jazz scene, and the thing that sustains them is tremendous education. You’ve got guys that are working musicians who get out and teach, whether it’s in schools or private lessons, and it’s guys who really care about mentoring the next generation of musicians that come out.”

At times, Jimmy’s voice, reduced to a whisper by health complications, strains under his palpable excitement for what’s happening here.

“So, Esperanza Spalding, Grammy award winner for Best New Artist, we have fucking…what’s that cat’s name…the little guy she beat out that year….Justin Bieber, right? Beats out Justin Bieber and wins a fucking Grammy; Portland girl.

“Mel Brown, Thara Memory, Audrey St. James, all guys that play our stage every Tuesday night, took her under their wing, mentored her. I mean, recognized the God-given talent that that girl had, and now look at her. I can talk to you about her, Hailey Niswanger, and a list of probably ten to twelve kids who have come up through the scene here who are making it on various levels in the national scene. That’s how the scene gets sustained.

“…We’ve got all these hungry young lions that are looking for opportunity and they are all fucking killing it. So, getting good music on our stages in Portland? Not an issue. The issue is finding enough dates.”

Jazz04It seems like Jimmy Mak’s has the market cornered when it comes to jazz stars. It’s apparent that this club has become the de facto face of the Portland jazz scene. A claim strengthened by its partnership with the Portland Jazz Festival, which will arrange some fifteen shows at Jimmy Mak’s this year. Makaroonis’ club is so spoiled for choice that he couldn’t name someone he aspires to bring in. All the talent comes to him.

But such a firm grip on a scene is not quite the goal of the club, and its role as a jazz epicenter is less comforting to its owner than one might imagine. The concern is that with clubs like Blue Monk and Ivories closing, the already small scene is shrinking, giving musicians fewer places to develop and established musicians fewer chances to try something new.

“If we don’t have a scene for people to play, if we don’t have dates for people to play, that growth of new young musicians stops. So, I’m really disappointed in those places closing… I don’t know the business model. I don’t know financially why things didn’t work, but it creates a big hole. It’s a hole that really needs to be filled and I’m worried, frankly, that if other people don’t step it up it interrupts that growth. That natural progression of musicians has to happen, and without more venues it doesn’t work. I feel like the last rat on a sinking ship. It’s not a good feeling. I’m not happy about it.”

With spots closing their doors, it’s either battle for less time on fewer stages or find gigs elsewhere. So is the case with Gary Hobbs. A talented percussionist, Hobbs frequently played at Ivories, but has taken his talent on tour, leaving the Portland scene behind for a while and joining on with other musicians; an option not necessarily available to the developing talent in Portland.

I spoke to Corey Heppner, a recent graduate of PSU’s Master’s in Jazz Studies program, and a talented young jazz guitarist to his own credit. The general consensus is that these bars closed due to a certain pretense that often accompanies the idea of jazz music. He offered that their failure as businesses was in attempting to make people think their food was worth more than it was but for the novelty of jazz music playing during dinner.

Jazz Quote 02“I think [they] tried to push jazz as this thing that people should see, but they didn’t do a very good job of making it enjoyable for the average listener,” says Heppner. “That puts a strain on the musicians to work really hard to get people to like their music independent of the establishment. That’s kind of hard to do unless [they’re] just huge fans of the music itself. Not gonna lie, that’s hard to find.”

Yelp reviews offer little redemption to Ivories, whose approval rating of 2.5 serves as a bleak epitaph. The loss of the venues speaks to where Portland’s priorities lie. The bottom line: The music alone won’t carry you. Portlanders will not tolerate bad service. This city has a discerning palate and wholeheartedly embraces its dietary restrictions and preferences, not to mention a rich food industry that provides a product that punches well above its weight per capita.

Ivories had one habit in particular that irked its guests almost as much as its disappointing cuisine: if a diner’s meal continued into the performance, there would be an additional $10 cover charge tacked onto the bill. Though cover charges are common, the clandestine nature of its application would aggravate unsuspecting patrons.  

Jimmy Mak’s may seem to be first and foremost a jazz club, but its esteemed place at the top of the totem is enjoyed because of its business practices. It may be focused mainly on jazz, but the food and service at Jimmy Mak’s are nothing to scoff at. It consistently gets a four-star rating and people seem to enjoy that Jimmy’s doesn’t shy away from making its food spicy.

The dwindling number of clubs in Portland may be hard felt within the community, but the jazz scene has been through hard times before. After all, the golden age was only a little over a decade long. The bustling clubs and rowdy all-night atmosphere fell apart as the cultural landscape changed. The heart of the Williams Avenue scene gradually eroded under pressure from authorities, and an area that fueled the clubs was demolished so the then-Rose Garden could be built. In the late sixties, after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the riots and psychological fallout that ensued dried the scene out. It took guys like Thara Memory and Mel Brown to bring the Rose City back to life.

Hopefully, the available talent will prompt some enterprising soul to build another club. However, Hobbs doesn’t seem optimistic about the Portland scene. He claims that low pay for door gigs and fewer venues are not capable of providing musicians with a real living wage. In a kind of fatalistic warning, Hobbs frankly states, “To think that this wouldn’t happen is to be unaware of music history. Nothing lasts forever.”

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Serenaded by Moniker: Video

Along with picking her brain in her basement and then hanging out with her in an abandoned building, we figured with all this talk of music that we should get at least one song. So, check it out. Her living room, one-take. For more on Moniker, be sure to check out the June/July issue of Poppycock available at Portland Button Works and Reading Frenzy with more locations to come. Remember, she’s our 11X17 pull-out poster of the month:
Moniker_finals16

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