Do you ever find yourself aware, in the moment, that you are experiencing something historical? That you’re part of something big, a cultural revolution...or an artistic renaissance? I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed this directly, but this is the feeling I get from our beautiful little music community. When I’m at a house show, meeting with artists to collaborate, sharing ideas with friends, or planning out events, I am so inspired and uplifted by the incredible people who surround me. Some moments stand out more than others, but they’re all precious to me. One of these stand out moments is the first time I saw Grocer play at Johnny Brendas.

I imagine that seeing Grocer at Johnny Brenda’s was a similar experience to seeing Talking Heads at CBGB. When you watch Grocer on stage, you just get this gut feeling that you’re witnessing something seriously special, something historic. Their talent as musicians is a bottomless well and their ease and confidence on stage is electrifying. They just released their latest album, Little Splash, on May 22nd. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to it for the past few months and it is one of my favorite albums to come out this year. Each song is so different from the last, but still so cohesive. It was recorded over a three year span and in home studios across three different states and was mixed/mastered by Seth Manchester at Machines with Magnets in Rhode Island. Check out my interview with Cody (drums/vocals), Emily(guitar/vocals) Danielle (bass/vocals) and Nick (guitar/vocals):

CVZ:When did you start playing music?What inspired you to start playing and writing your own music?

C: I started playing piano for these surreal cancer telethon things as early as 4 years old and the rest was history. it feels like I’ve been around instruments since before I had memories, my brain thinks in terms of music and just about nothing else.

N: I started playing bass when I was 15. I wanted to be like Mark Hoppus (lol). I switched to guitar in the band only a few years ago. I’ve been writing music since I started playing. It’s always been something that I’m really drawn to.

D: Growing up, I’d always be singing with my mom and sister so singing has been a constant in my life. When Nick and I first started playing together 10 years ago, I was a ukulele player, but I happily have moved on to a far superior four stringed instrument when we moved to Philly.

E: I started teaching myself guitar when I was about 13 and really into old blues music. It quickly became an obsession, though for a few years I mostly played the bass because I’m shy and like to stand in the back during shows.

CVZ: How do you describe your sound? Who or what influences your sound?

C: Adrienne Lenker and Buck Meek are my personal guiding lights for sure. As for the band, The Pixies have this immediate, unpredictable alt-rock style that we all hold close to our heart so maybe Grocer is an alt-rock band? We have tons of three-part harmonies and did just get genre-tagged as ‘punk/hardcore’ though so who knows.

N: Pixies (obviously ^), Dirty Projectors especially Bitte Orca era. Arthur Russell…

D: The Zombies, Astrid Gilberto, Sufjan Stevens…

E: I gravitate towards anything in the 90’s rock genre, or pretty much anything with a lot of dissonance. If I had to spend the rest of my life only listening to Sonic Youth, I’d be perfectly happy.

CVZ:What themes did you explore in these songs?

Most of the songs came on the heels of the 2016 election and our decision to leave NYC. There was a feeling of wanting to break from our lives, and start anew. Some heavy themes of malaise, anxiety, depression, with attempts at social commentary peppered in. Hard to relate to any of that stuff in 2020, though (lol).

N: Danielle, Emily and I moved back to Philly in 2017. We were all really burnt out on the cut-throat atmosphere of New York and wanted to be somewhere that valued quality of life a little more, somewhere we’d have any chance at all to find a community. Philadelphia was an obvious choice as it was where Danielle and I lived previously, and started playing music together. Cody moved to Philly from Minnesota where he had lived his whole life, until answering our FB post seeking a drummer in Philly.

C: The fact that I came here from the midwest while the rest of them moved from NYC is an endlessly funny thing to me. It’s a weird Benjamin Button situation where I’m starry-eyed looking up at all the buildings with three people who are sorta over it lol.

CVZ: What do you hope people get out of listening to your band?

C: I’m only pretty confident I speak for everyone here, but I know my sense of personal belonging is just about universally connected to music, either playing or listening to it. On my worst days, I can still find ways to connect to the world through its means. It’s the great equalizer, as lame of a phrase as that is, a perfect companion for emotions and situations that are challenging or not even understood yet. If someone has ever been comforted that way through something that we’re doing with this band, it’s hard to ask for more.

CVZ: Anything I didn’t ask that you feel is worth including, anything you’d want readers to know, etc.

C: If you haven’t listened to the Hecks yet, listen to the Hecks.

Check out Little Splash below!

by Kristen Levine

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The members of Brother Martin are no strangers to working remotely. Founding members of the band, Maria Mirenzi (singer/saxophonist/accordionist) and Daniel Espie (pianist/vocalist) started a “long-distance, musical collaboration” in 2015 while they were both in two different countries, studying abroad. When they came back to Philly, they formed Brother Martin and began collaborating with local musicians: Austin Wagner, James Licata, Jake Kelberman, Michael Santa Cruz, Jack Synoski, Renee Drezner and Bismuth Quartet.

Their latest EP, Trust Me, came out on May 1st. It is an EXPERIENCE. When Maria described the band’s sound for us, one of the adjectives she used was “theatrical”. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant until I listened to the music. “Theatrical” is the best comparison. There are so many layers, to every song. It creates an atmosphere, an all encompassing experience. If I close my eyes I can almost feel myself sitting in an old theater seat, hearing the orchestra pit beginning to play and seeing the curtains rise for the first scene to begin. Maria and I talked more about the varying themes she explores in each song, starting a band while living in different countries and her hopes that people really feel while they are listening to the album.

CVZ: It must have been strange to start a band long distance. How do you think that affected the way the project evolved?

MARIA: Starting the band long distance was definitely strange, but also kind of nice, to be honest. There was no pressure to start playing right away and we could take our time figuring things out. We had a longer than normal incubation period where we could write songs and let them sit for a minute and seep in before playing them for people. After about a year of long distance writing, there was a real sense of urgency to return back to Philly and to start collaborating with our friends.

It's been an immensely gratifying experience collaborating with the wonderful people in this band. Everyone brings something unique. It's my absolute favorite when someone adds something new to a song -- something you could never imagine yourself. The title track of the EP, "Trust Me", was our biggest collaborative effort on the EP. Our drummer, Michael Santa Cruz, who is a never ending, free flowing fountain of creativity, came to us with this amazingly complicated drumbeat and the opening melody; I re-harmonized some progressions and wrote that middle woodwind section; and Dan wrote everything that sounds super math-y (changing time signatures, hocketing vocals).

The songs on this EP were fully realized when we took them to Miner Street Recordings. Brian McTear and Matt Poirier have become some of my favorite collaborators of all time, and this EP wouldn't sound half as badass without them.

CVZ: Why did the band start? What was the purpose of the driving force to start a project (especially across countries!)

MARIA: There is no other explanation than, it's what I needed to regain my sanity, to feel completely myself and to be happy. When I left the states, I left behind my old college band and brought some degree of depression with me. I was living alone in a foreign country, feeling like an outsider and struggling a lot with inner demons. I wasn't playing a lot of music, and the music I did play wasn't very fulfilling. So I started sending songs to Dan and something clicked.

I think when we are forced outside of our comfort zones and certain things are taken away, what's important starts to stand out. The things we need in order to survive become more apparent. Playing my own original music with people who I loved mattered most and so I knew I needed to start a band when I came back to Philly.

CVZ: I know that the song, Martin explores the grief that you felt losing your dog (I feel you, I actually lost my cat the weekend before lockdown) what other topics do you explore in your music? Is there a subject that you feel more passionately about than others?

MARIA: Exploring the tensions and releases of grief is a big theme in our music. I'm a very nostalgic person. I'm a sick freak who likes to think back on things a lot (maybe it's the Cancer in me, if you believe in astrology), usually sad things for whatever reason. Sometimes I get really caught up and relive the emotions of how a particular situation made me feel. I think what I'm trying to do in this music is literally make you feel what I feel. Here's the quick run down:

"As Long As" is about that urgent feeling to move forward and feeling trapped all at the same time. Feeling grateful to be alive and guilty that so many are suffering at the cost of your happiness.

"Trust Me" is about a friend/significant other betraying your trust and asking for forgiveness.

"Grandfather's Table" is about a piece of furniture that I inherited through a family member's divorce and all the baggage attached to it.

"Bill Vincent" is about my grandfather who passed away when I was 13.

"Recollection" is about finding the courage to speak out against the current political situation and standing up for those who are oppressed and marginalized. The title "Recollection" comes from a hope that one day we can all look back on this and move forward as a society with equity and love.

"Martin" is about the loss of a childhood dog you weren't able to say goodbye to.

CVZ: What do you hope people get from listening to the album?

MARIA: It is my sincerest hope that people allow themselves to feel things while listening to these songs. And if they haven't cried in a while, to allow themselves a good cry. I think we are all dealing with varying degrees of anxiety right now during the pandemic, and while I am a person that emotes on the reg, I know that there are people who really hide their emotions. Masking your feelings is so damaging. Please express your joys, your truths, your sadness, your desires and your gratitude for the people and animals in your life. Let's be honest with one another and move forward together.

This is really just a beautiful work of art. It feels like a theatrical production more than an EP. I can’t wait to experience this in a real live venue, but for now, my laptop speakers will have to suffice. You can listen the Trust Me and watch the music video for the single, As Long As, below!

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Updated: May 17, 2020

As a cis/straight/white woman, I have the privilege of having my gender identity validated and accepted. This is absurd. Gender identity should not be a privilege, it should just BE. Not only is my gender identity accepted, it’s inferred; assumed as a default way of existence. But I don’t think I fully realized my privilege until this interview with Ellen. I am so secure in how my identity is perceived, and supported by the general population in how I identify, that it is never even a thought in my mind. I rarely think about it because I don’t have to. This kind of peace of mind is a luxury of our social structures. I have the luxury of existing without care, but if you identify as queer, I’m betting your gender identity is something you think of often.

Ellen Siberian Tiger recently released their single, If a Tree Falls in the Forest… and an accompanying music video. The video is gritty. It shows Ellen trying to speak, but constantly being silenced by two out people wrapping their head in medical gauze in an attempt to silence them. I was able to talk to Ellen Tiberio-Shultz a bit more about song and the video; both focusing on the inequality of existence that the queer community experiences on a daily basis:

CVZ: Why did you write this song? Are you drawing from personal experience?

ELLEN:I wrote this song about my personal experience of understanding and defining my own identity. I would call myself bisexual and non-binary, which is I guess a more qualified way of saying that I’m somewhere in the middle of the binaries of gender and orientation that are most visible in the society I’m in. A lot people don’t really believe in bisexuality or in a spectrum of genders. While I know in my heart that my identity is real and valid, there is a pressure to prove it that I resent, and each day a part of my energy is spent essentially reminding myself that I am real.

CVZ: What is the most important thing you hope people take away from the song? What does your ideal society look like in terms of gender and gender identity? Like, if you could wake up tomorrow and live in your perfect world, what would it be like?

ELLEN: I want it to be easier for people to explore and express the feelings in themselves that are outside their assigned binaries, and I want people to make room for these gray-areas in their perceptions of others as well.

CVZ: What was the inspiration for the music video?

ELLEN: I made the video with Gracie Martin and Michelle Goodwin. Before we filmed anything we talked about art and music, our personal experiences of being raised female, and our experiences dating men. When I initially shared the song and video on the blog alt citizen, the write up talked about the song’s theme of believing in the unseen as a metaphor for believing the victims in cases of abuse. This was a little different than my intention, which is more focused on identity erasure than victim silencing. However I believe that these are two problems that come from the same source, aka structural patriarchy. The feeling of living within the confines of patriarchy and among those who uphold it is a difficult one to define. It feels different for all of us, although from conversations like the one Gracie, Michelle and I had, it’s clear that there are common themes. I won’t speak for them, but what stands out to me is the feeling of being silenced, or of being controlled in some way, or of not being truly seen. These are the themes I think a lot of people can connect to. I’m glad, even if their experience with patriarchy differs from mine, that others can hopefully relate and find something that feels validating or comforting from the song or video.

I could really go on about my personal feelings and intentions with the video, but to be concise: I wanted to share how sometimes being queer feels like the world is trying to cover you up. In the video I’m getting wrapped in medical gauze while I try to sing about exploring and questioning my queer identity. Also, it’s a little cheesy, but even as my mouth is covered in the video I keep singing.

CVZ: Is there anything else that you want people to know about the song or the video?

ELLEN:You can’t have a conversation about structures of power and patriarchy without talking about race. It would be inappropriate for me to try and explain or explore what racism feels like in my art; I’m white so I benefit from the structural racism that’s built into this country. It would be equally inappropriate, I think, for me to draw attention to patriarchy without explicitly stating that it’s part of the same structure as white supremacy. My goal to destroy one must be uncompromisingly linked to a goal to destroy the other.

Watch the music video below, tell us what you think. We need to start having conversations about these issues that are affecting our friends and our community. For a long time I felt shame and embarrassment because I felt ignorant on this subject. I still do. I was worried that I would accidentally offend someone because I didn’t use the correct vocabulary, or because I said something insensitive without realizing it. But we need to talk about this. Our intentions are what matter, and our actions can follow.For those of us for whom the straight-cis-white-heteronormative social structure has benefited and validated us, we must not allow our fear of looking ignorant, or fear of making mistakes, stop us from using our privilege to try to end oppression. We have to communicate, educate, and advocate. Realize we’ll get it wrong sometimes, and take responsibility for the impact of those mistakes when they happen, And if we haven’t yet, we need to join in on the conversation.

by Kristen Levine

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