In times when we need it most, COMMON continues to spread worldwide love at Apogee Studio

COMMONPhotos by Brian Lowe // Written by Josh Herwitt //

COMMON //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
July 25th, 2019 //

There’s something about the way Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn looks at the world that can give even the biggest cynic a slight glimmer of hope. It’s not just the sense of wonder, but a tranquility in his eyes that makes you contemplate what he’s thinking about amid all of the chaos and daily distractions we have created for ourselves.

Most people know Lynn as COMMON, the Grammy-winning rapper who got his start back in the early 90’s and has since collaborated with everyone from Lauryn Hill to Kanye West, but he’s simply much more than that. An Oscar and Golden Globe winner, the Chicago native is also an actor, writer, filmmaker, model, activist, philanthropist and entrepreneur. First and foremost though, he’s a lover at heart.

For COMMON fans or those who have at least seen him perform live before, this is probably nothing new. Yet, it couldn’t have been more evident than during his private show in Santa Monica last Thursday for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions while currently on tour in support of his 12th studio album Let Love, which drops August 30th. So much so, that at one point during the performance, he rather spontaneously invited a female audience member onstage and serenaded her with a couple of songs. And while it made for a few awkward moments, you could tell that COMMON had the best intentions. Sure, Cynthia felt more than a little out of place up there with embarrassment written all over her face, but she’ll certainly remember those 15 minutes for the rest of her life now while others can see and hear it for themselves when the session premieres Friday, August 23rd on KCRW.

COMMON & Anthony Valadez


COMMON & KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez (right)

That’s what COMMON does — he spreads love to each and every person his music reaches. As KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez pointed out during his sit-down interview with the emcee midway through the evening, COMMON has lots of songs about love, and you could quickly find more than enough evidence to assert that fact by looking at the setlist alone. Of the seven tracks he showcased off Let Love, five had the word “love” in its title, starting with “Show Me That You Love” that opened his set. The album, which is inspired by COMMON’s new memoir “Let Love Have the Last Word”, remains a departure from the political deliberations that dominated his 2016 LP Black America Again and spawned out of our most recent U.S. presidential election. I don’t think we need to revisit that moment in history right now, so let me stick to the script.

When he returned to the stage with his full backing band, COMMON made sure to turn things up another notch with a cover of West’s “Get Em High” that had most in the small, yet vibrant crowd rapping and grooving along to the beat. After almost three decades in the game, the 47-year-old still knows how to command a room’s attention whether he’s debuting new material or falling back on some old favorites like “Go!” from 2005’s Be and “The Light” on 2000’s Like Water for Chocolate.

But on this night inside the 180-person Apogee Studio, COMMON’s overarching message to us stood clear: let love rule today and every day. And to that we say, “Amen, Lonnie … amen.”

Setlist:
Show Me That You Love
South Side
The Corner
The Food
Memories of Home
I Used to Love Her
Take It EZ
Her Love
Love of My Life
Come Close
The Day the Women Took Over
Fancy Free Future Love
Get Em High
Hercules
Go!
Good Morning Love
God Is Love
The Light

Moby might think he’s old, but his 15th and newest album doesn’t sound it at Apogee Studio

MobyPhotos by Brian Feinzimer // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Moby //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
March 26th, 2018 //

When Richard Melville Hall released his fifth album Play in 1999, probably much to many’s surprise now, it wasn’t an immediate success. Hall, after all, had hit a bit of a rough patch a few years earlier with his fourth LP Animal Rights, which saw him venturing into punk rock and straying far away from the eclecticism that delivered critical acclaim for its predecessor Everything Is Wrong in 1995.

But Play eventually propelled Hall — or “Moby” as his parents called him due to an ancestral tie to Moby Dick author Herman Melville — to mainstream status like his previous records had never before. Boasting eight singles (yes, you read that right) and selling more than 12 million copies worldwide at a point when music fans were still purchasing CDs, it became the biggest-selling electronica album of all time. Rolling Stone, in fact, has included Play as one of its 500 greatest albums on two different occasions. I don’t know about you, but it’s a masterful piece of work that immediately transports me back to the late 90’s, to a time when groove-oriented electronic music was actually starting to be considered “cool.”

Employing everything from early blues, African-American folk music and gospel to hip-hop, disco and techno on Play, Moby created sounds that our ears had never heard before. Today, he stands as one of electronic music’s, if not simply music’s, most important figures, having worked with David Bowie, Daft Punk, Brian Eno, Pet Shop Boys, Britney Spears, New Order, Public Enemy, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Soundgarden over a career that has spanned 40 years to date.

That’s a long time for anyone to be making music, but at the age of 52, Moby hasn’t let it catch up to him. Part of that could be related to his diet (he has been vegan for about three decades now), leaving his longtime home of New York City for sunny Los Angeles back in 2010 and an unwillingness to tour extensively anymore, though his latest studio material doesn’t offer any evidence that he has lost the ability to craft a well-conceived/produced song either.

Moby

On Monday night in Santa Monica, Hall took the stage for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions series in support of his 15th full length Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, which arrived via Mute earlier this month. The record’s title serves as just another reminder of Moby’s passion for the late Kurt Vonnegut’s work, referencing Billy Pilgrim’s epitaph in Slaughterhouse-Five, but he isn’t the only literary influence who shines through on the 12-track album. The second single “Mere Anarchy” from Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, in fact, was inspired by a quote from Irish poet W. B. Yeats, someone Moby has been a fan of for quite a while and even more in these chaotic, uncertain times under the Trump administration (as you can see from his Instagram account here, he is also very politically outspoken).

Still, despite all of the negativity that’s out there in the world at the moment, Moby appears to be in a relatively happy place on a personal level. He has been sober for about four years after being a self-proclaimed alcoholic and has owned his vegan restaurant Little Pine in LA’s ultra trendy Silver Lake neighborhood since 2015. And for the past two years, he has also found the time to organize his own Circle V festival as a way to celebrate music, vegan food and animal rights, the latter of which being another cause that Hall has dedicated his life to from an early age. Oh, and did we mention that he had a collaborative LP with The Void Pacific Choir come out last year? When you stack them all up, it’s pretty incredible to see Moby juggling so many projects simultaneously and juggling them all well (props to his manager, that’s for sure).

His guitar playing, meanwhile, may be just as impressive, if not surprising to some. Less than two weeks before Moby stepped into Bob Clearmountain’s diminutive recording studio, I was fortunate enough to catch him the final of his three shows at The Echo, and it was there as he performed a variety of songs from Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, Play and a few other albums, that I fully realized just how talented he is with a black Gibson SG in his hands. He may be an electronic musician, but unlike a lot of them today, Moby is a musician in every sense of the word. While his vocals at times sound more like spoken word than actual singing, he has found more than capable sidekicks in Julie Mintz (keyboards, vocals) and Mindy Jones (vocals) to assist him in that department. Jones’ ranging voice, in particular, is one that suits his music well, and when you hear her sing, her pipes elevate the song to a whole new level.

Moby is no doubt a quirky guy. He’s not too insecure to make fun of himself, call some of his music “bad” or say what’s on his mind. Having been his friend for more than 25 years, KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley most certainly knew this, but as he traded questions for answers midway through his performance at Apogee Studio, you could tell even Bentley was surprised by how candid Moby was. The small crowd, of course, couldn’t help but laugh, as Moby made a point of telling us that he’s “old” and later on how the music video for his single “We Are All Made of Stars” was a $1 million disaster that never saw the light of day after being played only once on MTV. But as he juxtaposed the trip-hop that permeates throughout his newest album against the more old-school, ambient vibes of his past work, it was Moby who proved that his star, almost 20 years after Play dropped, continues to burn bright in 2018.

Setlist:
The Ceremony of Innocence
Falling Rain and Light
Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
Porcelain
Like a Motherless Child
This Wild Darkness
The Tired and the Hurt
Extreme Ways
The Sorrow Tree
We Are All Made of Stars

Grizzly Bear are making ‘chamber pop’ sound cool again as we discovered at Apogee Studio

Grizzly BearPhotos by Dustin Downing // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Grizzly Bear //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
September 26th, 2017 //

With the way the world moves now — one tweet, status update or Instagram photo at a time — five years between studio albums can feel like an eternity, even when your last one received as much critical acclaim as Grizzly Bear’s did.

But for the quartet that formed in Brooklyn more than 15 years ago, 2012’s Shields served as more than just a strong follow-up to the group’s seminal LP Veckatimest. The album, which saw the band purposely take a more collaborative approach during the writing process than ever before, became Grizzly Bear’s highest-charting effort, surpassing the No. 8 position that Veckatimest reached on the Billboard 200 by one spot. And even with the struggles that they faced along the way, with the band scraping most of the early material it recorded for Shields in Marfa, Texas, and subsequently starting over by returning to Cape Cod, Mass., where they conceived their sophomore LP Yellow House, Grizzly Bear managed to still come out on top.

If one thing is clear, it’s that patience has been a virtue for Ed Droste (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Daniel Rossen (guitar, vocals), Christopher Bear (drums, vocals) and Chris Taylor (bass, vocals). It’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that their fifth full length Painted Ruins, which dropped in mid-August on RCA (their first with the label since they left Warp), took almost twice as long to reach fans as any of their previous albums did and yet, at the same time, holds just as much water as any of them, Veckatimest included. Painted Ruins, in fact, could very well be Grizzly Bear’s most accessible album to date with four singles and one of them being “Four Cypresses”, which opened their private show in Santa Monica for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions last Tuesday.

Grizzly Bear

Apogee Studio has been a special place for artists and bands to showcase new music over the last five-plus years, but this performance was particularly significant, and not just because it was a celebration of Grizzly Bear’s latest feat, but also because it marked the 75th live session at Bob Clearmountain’s private recording studio since he first opened his doors to KCRW back in 2011. From Ryan Adams to The War on Drugs (read our review here) and everyone else who has graced the room’s diminutive stage, it’s arguably KCRW’s best series to date, bringing fans as close as humanly possible to some of their favorite musicians in a setting that’s as intimate as you’ll find anywhere.

While the champagne flowed on this celebratory night, that intimacy played exceptionally well for Grizzly Bear, as the band and touring member Aaron Arntz (piano, keyboards) dug into tracks almost exclusively from Painted Ruins for the first half of their set before Rossen and Taylor both sat down with KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley to share their own stories as a band (and a few laughs, too). But despite some awkward moments during the interview, Bentley did offer an interesting observation, at one point describing Grizzly Bear’s music as “chamber pop.” For those not familiar with the term, chamber pop refers to a style of rock ‘n’ roll that was born out of the 60’s by groups like The Beach Boys and predicated on the use of strings, horns, piano and vocal harmonies, the latter of which being a characteristic you can often hear in Grizzly Bear’s music. Because it’s not all that common that you find a band with members who all can sing (and do it well collectively), and with that in mind, Grizzly Bear are certainly among rare company these days.

For a long time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on Grizzly Bear’s sound. The only descriptor I could conjure up was the lame and trite “indie rock” label, even though I knew I was doing a total disservice to the music. But as the four-piece ran through some of its fan favorites, from “Sleeping Ute” to the wildy popular “Two Weeks” that hinges on a beautiful vocal harmony, I thought about what Bentley had said minutes earlier and just how much truth there was to it. Chamber pop might be a thing of the past, but if there’s one band making it sound cool again, Grizzly Bear, as we came to find out, are that band.

Setlist:
Four Cypresses
Losing All Sense
Yet Again
Cut-Out
Mourning Sound
Sleeping Ute
Two Weeks
Three Rings
Foreground
While You Wait for the Others

Encore:
Sun in Your Eyes

The War on Drugs’ new album sounds like another masterpiece after their preview at Apogee Studio

The War on DrugsPhotos by Larry Hirshowitz // Written by Josh Herwitt //

The War on Drugs //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
August 5th, 2017 //

In today’s hypercompetitive, oversaturated music industry, following a great album with an even greater one can be a tall task for any band, no matter how much commercial success it has had.

Adam Granduciel, for one, should know that by now.

Because when the once-Philadelphian dropped The War on Drugs’ third LP Lost in a Dream more than three years ago on longtime indie label Secretly Canadian, there was no way for him to know what the response would be. As the band’s frontman and primary songwriter, Granduciel and a rotating cast of sidekicks had received a modest amount of fanfare up to that point, with 2011’s Slave Ambient garnering critical acclaim from the music media, but nothing quite like what he would amass by the end of 2014.

After debuting at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart, Lost in a Dream would go on to produce five singles and top numerous “Best Album of the Year” lists, earning universal praise from fans and critics alike. It’s an album, with plenty of depth both lyrically and sonically, that’s undeniably one of the best soundtracks for the open road — a modern-day hybridization of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart all rolled into one aural experience that fits perfectly as you roar down a long stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere with the top down on your 1967 Ford Mustang convertible.

The War on Drugs

Granduciel’s raspy voice, as well as his driving (no pun intended) guitar rhythms and reverb-laden riffs, are largely what separates The War on Drugs from the rest in a crowded indie-rock scene, but the sum of the band’s parts — Charlie Hall (drums), David Hartley (bass), Anthony LaMarca (guitar, keyboards), Robbie Bennett (keyboards) and finally Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards) — also creates a sound that while familiar, still feels uniquely different. And as we came to find out last Saturday night in Santa Monica, that formula only continues to shine on The War on Drugs’ forthcoming record A Deeper Understanding, which they previewed in part during their private show for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions.

The last time we were invited to Apogee Studio, we were lucky enough to catch psychedelic indie rockers Spoon (read our review here) performing songs off their new album titled Hot Thoughts before unleashing it earlier this year. But in the same way Britt Daniels’ departure from Los Angeles and return to Texas informed Spoon’s latest studio effort, Granduciel also told KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley during a brief interview midway through the group’s performance that his recent move to the City of Angels provided the same kind of inspiration during the writing and recording process for A Deeper Understanding.

With the LP’s release date set for August 25th, it won’t be long before the whole world gets to hear what Granduciel and company have been up to over the last two years — and after what we heard inside Apogee Studio, there’s a lot to be excited about. Opening with “Pain”, which they released just one day prior, The War on Drugs presented four other tracks from A Deeper Understanding, including their single “Holding On” that picks up right where Lost in a Dream left off, before closing the first set with “An Ocean Between the Waves”, a seven-minute-plus voyage through peaks and valleys that ranks right up there with their more celebrated songs like “Red Eyes” and “Under the Pressure”.

Though we only got to hear half of A Deeper Understanding, what we did get to hear from the 10-track LP felt like something that believe it or not, has all the makings to be just as special as 2014’s Lost in a Dream. That may be hard to fathom considering that the band’s luster has likely worn off by now, but if so, it will be a testament to Granduciel’s vision and an ability to forge a deeper connection with his bandmates than he has ever had to before. Unlike Lost in a Dream, which was written entirely by Granduciel, A Deeper Understanding has been coined a “band record,” and as we witnessed on this warm, summer night in Southern California, one that’s certainly worthy of our time and attention once again.

Setlist:
Pain
Holding On
Strangest Thing
Accidentally Like a Martyr (Warren Zevon cover)
An Ocean Between the Waves
In Reverse
Eyes to the Wind
Lost in a Dream
You Don’t Have to Go
Under the Pressure*

*Editor’s Note: “Brothers” was originally listed on the setlist

Spoon give us plenty of ‘Hot Thoughts’ during their private show at Apogee Studio

SpoonPhotos by Larry Hirshowitz // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Spoon //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
March 7th, 2017 //

I don’t know why, but Spoon are one of those bands I’ve never given enough of a chance. I suppose I could chalk it up to the fact that there are too many options out there these days, that the market is simply too oversaturated, though it’s not as if I hadn’t heard of or known about them.

In fact, I even own some older Spoon albums like 2005’s Gimme Fiction and 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. But that still wasn’t enough for me to ever dive deep into their catalog and get hooked. In more recent times, they’ve been that band with the “Cherry Bomb” song in that ubiquitous Dr. Pepper Cherry commercial to me. It’s only been in the last couple of months that I’ve taken more of an interest after hearing what the group has shared so far from its upcoming ninth LP Hot Thoughts.

I’d like to think it didn’t take me nearly 25 years to come around to Spoon’s unique sound that borders somewhere between indie rock and psychedelic rock (call it psychedelic indie rock if you want), but that’s unfortunately not the case. I can’t call myself a fan yet, but as it’s often said, there’s no better time to start than now, right?

Spoon


Spoon & KCRW DJ Anne Litt (center)

My curiosity in the Austin outfit took me to Santa Monica on a Tuesday night, where it was playing a private show for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions less than 24 hours after performing in front of a capacity crowd at The Observatory in Santa Ana for its second U.S. show of 2017. Apogee Studio has been home to a number of special performances over the years, one of which was The Avett Brothers in September (read our review here), but this one felt extra special due to the fact that we were hearing songs that hadn’t been officially released yet.

Hot Thoughts won’t drop until next week — March 17th to be exact — but KCRW DJ Anne Litt assured us before they hit the stage that just like every Spoon album that had come before it, this one really was “the masterpiece.” Less than three years have passed since Spoon put out their last studio album They Want My Soul, long enough for frontman and founding member Britt Daniel to leave Los Angeles and return to his home state of Texas. Daniel, who serves as the band’s primary songwriter, has watched Spoon go through a bevy of lineup changes over the years, including the recent departure of multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey, but through it all, drummer Jim Eno has remained his partner in crime. It’s essentially why Daniel decided to move back to Austin, where Eno’s studio Public Hi-Fi is located and some of the tracks for Hot Thoughts were laid down. And along the way, they’ve added several talented players like Rob Pope (bass, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Alex Fischel (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and Gerardo Larios (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), with the latter signing on to replace Harvey as a touring member earlier this year.

At the center of it all, though, is and always has been Daniel, and as Spoon kicked things off with a new tune called “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” before seguing into the title track from their forthcoming effort, it was easy to see why he remains the band’s guiding force. After he won us over with another Hot Thoughts track entitled “I Ain’t the One”, Daniel sat down with Litt for a few minutes to discuss the writing and recording process for the album. For those of us lucky enough to be in the room, it was a chance to learn more about what makes him tick. In total, Spoon performed five songs from the new record, including “First Caress” to open a brief encore that left us eager for more. But as the five-piece rocked “Rainy Taxi” from 2014’s They Want My Soul to close, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this is one band I should have never slept on.

Setlist:
Do I Have to Talk You Into It
Hot Thoughts
Inside Out
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
I Saw the Light
I Ain’t the One
Rent I Pay
Can I Sit Next to You
Do You
Small Stakes
My Mathematical Mind

Encore:
First Caress (Live debut)
Rainy Taxi

Spoon

The Avett Brothers take us inside their new album for an intimate performance at Apogee Studio

The Avett BrothersPhotos by Davis Bell // Written by Josh Herwitt //

The Avett Brothers //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
September 19th, 2016 //

Before The Avett Brothers were ever THE Avett Brothers, Seth and Scott Avett were Margo and Nemo. Margo was Seth’s high school rock band, and Nemo was Scott’s band that he formed in college. While Seth’s band would eventually merge with Scott’s to form an even bigger Nemo, it wasn’t until the two brothers self-released their debut EP, titled The Avett Bros., in 2000 that their partnership as an eclectic folk-rock outfit was realized.

More than 15 years later, The Avett Brothers are riding high after their ninth and latest studio album True Sadness debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart when it dropped back in June. The LP, which Seth describes as “a patchwork quilt, both thematically and stylistically,” drew its fair share of applause and jeers from the music media, but in the file-sharing world we live in now, selling 40,000-plus copies in an album’s first week ain’t half bad.

The Avett Brothers


The Avett Brothers & KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley (center)

Currently on tour in support of True Sadness, The Avett Brothers followed up their Sunday set at KAABOO Del Mar with a private show in Los Angeles for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions the next night. Tucked away on the eastern edge of Santa Monica along an industrial stretch, Apogee Studio is a hidden gem in LA’s ever-growing music scene, a state-of-the-art recording studio that at times doubles as a petite concert venue with a maximum capacity of 200.

What you might not know, though, is that The Avett Brothers are more than just musicians. As we found out during KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley’s interview with Seth and Scott prior to their performance, both are visual artists as much as they are musicians. The sheer number of hours spent creating the album cover for True Sadness more or less proves their attention to every last detail, from the melodies they write to the stories they tell with their lyrics. Of the 14 songs they performed at Apogee Studio, eight of them were from True Sadness, and rightfully so. The Avetts have come a long way since their days as Margo and Nemo, and with legendary producer Rick Rubin at their side throughout it all, there’s no need for them to look back now.

Setlist:
D Bag Rag
True Sadness
Laundry Room
Satan Pulls the Strings
Morning Song
Divorce Separation Blues
You Are Mine
Fisher Road to Hollywood
Smithsonian
Ain’t No Man
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
No Hard Feelings

Encore:
Stay All Night
Murder in the City

The Avett Brothers