The 20 Best New Bands of 2013

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If our year-end lists of songs and albums were any indication, it was a great year for emerging artists. From the un-fightable, infectious pop of Haim, the ragged garage rock of Mikal Cronin, the punishing punch of a Savages track to Majical Cloudz’s reflective slow-churners, we were in for a treat in 2013 with breakout acts.

Along the way, we made plenty of discoveries in our weekly Best of What’s Next profiles, which are featured first at PASTE.COM. We’ve included our 20 favorite finds and their complete profiles (or reviews in a few cases) below for you to discover yourself. And if you’re taking a peek at this during the work day and just want to see the darn list already, we’ve got you covered—head on over to page 12 in the gallery below.

20. Shakey Graves
By Hilary Saunders
I first met Alejandro Rose-Garcia in a forest. The Lone Bellow had just played a killer set at The Woods Stage on the last day of Pickathon Indie Roots Music Festival, a relatively small gathering outside Portland, Ore. By that point, late afternoon on the third and final day of the festival, everyone knew the name Shakey Graves.

Even though he wasn’t playing until that night, the man-known-as-Shakey-Graves was already dressed in his now-recognized stage garb: slim-fitting slacks rolled at the ankles and a tight white tank. He spent a good half an hour chatting backstage about Bruce Springsteen, his hometown of Austin and how to keep track of all the people he meets. Engaging and friendly, his sharp sense of humor brightened conversations, even as he happily responded to catcalls (of which there were plenty at Pickathon) and shouts like “Yo, Shakey!”

“I think it’s rad,” he declares during a phone call a few weeks after the festival. “It makes me more comfortable than people calling me my own name if they don’t know me. It sounds intuitive, because you do know me as Shakey. Not like, ‘Hey, Alejandro!’ Then I’m like, ‘Oh shit, is my mom here? What, am I in trouble?’”

Personal experiences aside, Rose-Garcia tells me during our interview that he’s starting to look at his burgeoning career, “like B.C. and A.D.” Before the festival, he admits, “I was sort of feeling lost, like ‘where do I go from here? How do I move forward? What’s the next step for me? What kind of music am I going to play? Where do I even want to be?’”

“After Pickathon,” he begins, throwing in an “A.P.” to keep up the metaphor, he realized, “I can’t really be afraid. And if I’m not bringing it, then that’s about the only thing. There’s ways to make people pay attention to you, and not manipulative ways. Don’t cheat it and don’t be scared.”

As Shakey Graves, Rose-Garcia plays a gnarly composite of blues and folk as a one-man-band of epic sonic proportions. The sound emitted from his hollow body guitar, mildly distorted amp and suitcase drum belie the young singer’s lean frame. He fingerpicks while keeping time with a double-pedal kick drum, hitting a snare fitted into his suitcase drum and a tambourine fashioned to its side. And when he sings, Rose-Garcia unleashes an unearthly howl. Gritty groans and sexy moans carry his stories of both accepting and trying to overcome personal challenges masked with old-timey Western imagery.

However, this sound is a huge evolution from his first full-length album, Roll the Bones, which was self-released in 2011 and landed him a spot as the official busker of the Railroad Revival Tour with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show. Much more mellow than his current live performances, Roll the Bones highlights Rose-Garcia more as a lo-fi singer-songwriter, playing acoustic guitars and occasionally taming his growl to a whisper.

When I call him post-fest, Rose-Garcia is taking a break from recording his next album. He has a house to himself in Austin and has converted it into a personal studio with a 1979 Tascam 8-track reel-to-reel recorder. He’s been inviting friends over to jam and excitedly tells me, “I’ve been sitting on the floor for the past three days drinking wine and playing music.”

There’s a Hammond pipe organ from the ‘80s and a lap steel, some violins and of course, the now-famous suitcase drum. “This is music house!” he exclaims. “Music house is going down!”

Although still early in the process, Rose-Garcia divulges, “The next album will be bigger,” emphasizing the latter half of the word, “than my live show. He continues, “I’m trying to do that to encourage myself to come up with new ways to play music live. Hopefully these songs will either have to make me go to looping more or have minimal accompaniment or something like that.”

The still untitled LP will be released at some point in 2014, with an EP or live compilation possibly dropping before that. In between bouts of recording, though, Rose-Garcia has upcoming gigs at Austin City Limits and tours scheduled with Shovels & Rope and fellow Pickathon performers like JD McPherson and The Devil Makes Three.

“See that’s a great thing that happened at Pickathon. They approached me backstage and introduced themselves. They were like, ‘Hey what’s up? We’re Devil Makes Three!’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me?! You’re what?’”

This is what Rose-Garcia means when he explains his excitement to get back to being a fan of music. He geeks out over opening for Robert Plant earlier this year and raves about sharing a stage with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré (exuding, “He’s like the Hendrix of the Sahara!”) during a jam at the Edmonton Folk Festival. Rediscovering the pure enjoyment of music has helped focus his own aspirations and plot his next goals.

“It’s this coming back to my roots thing, which was been awesome. After Pickathon and everything, I’m like, there is no time. You might fall off the mountain or a bear might eat you. All of the songs I’m intending to make aren’t going to get made if I don’t start making them.”

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19. Bars of Gold
By Jeff Milo
Meet your new favorite blue-collar rockers: Bars of Gold—a sweat-and-blood people’s band from the Detroit area that includes five dudes at (or just past) 30, who’ve got wives and day jobs and kids and maybe a couple other side bands. Their demeanor embodies the definition of down-to-earth, but on stage, they’re a beastly blur. And with their new album Wheels, they’re rolling up a freighter of fuzzed-up noise-rock with amp-frying guitars and mutations of jazzy, Bossa nova rhythms.

Drummer Brandon Moss puts it mildly: “There’s always a million things going on.” His seven-year-old son, Olly, joins the band in a restaurant booth. We’re on the second story of Ferndale, Mich.’s Woodward Avenue Brewery, looking down on a large stage of a local street fair where an old-timey jazz band blasts from massive PA speakers.

We’re here to talk about the band’s sophomore long-player, which is out next week on Bellyache Records. Unsurprisingly, the members reflect their easy-going resolve as they consider the future.

“I have a lot of confidence, [because] I really just trust these guys and myself,” says Moss, who, with singer Marc Paffi, trampled the post-hardcore circuits of the early ‘00s in Bear Vs. Shark. “If we just dropped everything, all the responsibilities that we have and singularly just went for it, ya’ know, that typical paradigm of a band-just-going-for-it…we’d succeed. But there’s a lot to give up …and, here—” he scruffs the small cranium of Olly, sparking static electricity on his frayed blonde hair. “Here’s one reason.”

“I mean,” Paffi leans in, stroking his grizzly beard, “if you’re looking for the next freakin’ Mumford & Sons then you’re definitely gonna have to look past our band. We’re not on that route. We are not going to go towards things the easiest way. We’re gonna do what we wanna do, when we wanna do it and that’s how we’re always gonna be until we’re done.”

Not to play them up as badasses who are all too sure of themselves. Not this band. These guys are all wearing faded thrift attire, some flannel collars under half-kempt facial fuzz, sleepily eying the coffee cups before them inside this bar where they could have easily ordered beer. They are also, mind you, holding off on any four-letter words in front of Olly (“Freakin’” is as crass as they get.)

“Blue Lightning” may be their best yet for evocatively capturing the stresses of the post-millennial everyman: a jittery groove busily clatters under detached guitars swooping low then soaring high over honeyed harmonies—all of this while Paffi reels his somewhat abstract, somewhat visionary, altogether poignant lyrics: “If there’s color on your collar, gotta be demons in your basement…”

“You can’t write a song about having to get up and go to work unless…you have to get up and go to work,” says Paffi. “Otherwise,” Iulianelli adds, “What’s is your life if it’s just being out on the road? You just wind up writing about ‘the road,’” like one of their admitted influences, Bob Seger (in “Turn The Page.”)

But a normal person, (whoever that may be, says Paffi,) doesn’t relate to the road song anymore. Normal people relate to their kids or to their newspaper subscriptions or to their own “demons.” And this is a band that’s going to explore those ideas while still living life on the way there. That brings “a lot of yins and yangs” says Paffi. They’re trying to be both “a successful band” and “successful people.” Read: not Fortune 500-successful, but successful at being people.

“I don’t like this band,” Paffi says, eyeballing each member surrounding him at the table, with bassist Nick Jones shouldered cozily at his side, “I love this band. I’ve been growing together with these fellas and we’re taking a different route.”

They have “grown” together on this different route because BoG actually started without Paffi, back in 2006, as a strictly instrumental band called Wildcatting. Paffi was a big fan, but Moss yielded him from an attempt to “sing over Wildcatting songs.” “[With Bars of Gold,] we only figure out about 75 percent of what’s gonna happen on stage,” says guitarist Scotty Iulianelli. “That other 25 percent of chaos, that’s what I love about this band.” With Wildcatting, those songs were actually 75 percent chaos/25 percent planned, to contrast.

Wildcatting, Moss says, was “just us wanting to be in a band and be as pragmatic as possible but also have fun.” That part hasn’t changed.

But how do you make a record when you’re so busy being people? Bars of Gold decided to treat it like many folks looking for an escape, and the guys sort-of went camping. They escaped their jobs and the city (for four inspiring days) and hunkered down with renowned engineer Chris Koltay of Detroit’s High Bias Studios. They biked out for groceries and cooked their own meals. (Actually, Koltay, who has worked with Deerhunter and Akron/Family, often cooked for them, providing cuisines equally as enriching as his sonic suggestions. He even solidified the “camping” aesthetic by having them sleep in bunk beds).

But back to those lyrics. Audette actually beats Paste to the punch and asks Paffi a question we’d intended to pose later: Do you worry the meaning of your lyrics might get lost when it has to sail over loud, aggressive music?

Paffi says he does his best to enunciate, but Moss soon jumps in: “Funny you say ‘aggressive,’ I say: ‘excited!’ I feel like I’m stoked, excited, exuberant.” Heavy music can be celebratory. Rock music that’s “25 percent chaos” can also be 100 percent “exuberant.”

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18. Rhye
By H. Drew Blackburn
Rhye’s debut, Woman, isn’t overt by any means, yet it knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s the coy glances, bold smirks and grazing of fingertips along tender flesh. The album from Rhye, a collaboration between Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal, is a masterful illustration of sensuality and intimacy. Milosh’s Sade-saluting ambrosial vocals and sincere lyrics make these easy tasks to accomplish.

But, as Hannibal’s production permutates from song to song, from soft ostinato piano licks and crescendoing violins (“The Fall”) into hyper funky horn blasting (“Last Dance”) into bare bones minimalism (“Verse”) we’re drawn into Rhye’s world of a carnal appetite for love and lust. At times Rhye lucidly swaps a red light for a disco ball or a potential shouting match and the eventual make-up. Rhye strays far away from the conventions of contemporary R&B and in doing so, with earnestness, make an album that’s as sexy as it is romantic.

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17. Savages
By Tom Lanham

Savages—London’s great new all-girl alterna-Goth quartet—may seem like they simply sprang up overnight with their Siouxsie-and-the-Banshees-exotic debut disc Silence Yourself. But bandleader Jehnny Beth has some history. Lots of curious history. The kind that makes her group even more of a unique, commanding presence on the staid British rock scene.

Born Camille Berthomier in France, the singer never planned on music as a career. “I was supposed to be an actress, really, because my parents were both really into theater, and my dad is a drama teacher and he’s a director,” she explains. “So when I grew up, they were both very active in that. And we were touring, and I was playing in my dad’s plays, and there were always a lot of actors in our house, and theater people and writers. So naturally, I went to drama school.”

Jehnny Beth chuckles at all the tween and teen parts she played under the guise of familial obligation. She can’t even remember them all, but she recalls being the daughter of Louis XVI in one production, a child in Peer Gynt, and a misanthropic youngster in, of course, Moliere’s brilliant The Misanthrope. She even went on to star in feature films, like Sodium Babies and A Travers La Foret, or Through the Forest. “And I had an agent in Paris, but she died of cancer, so that kind of stopped all of the acting for me,” she sighs. “So everything changed when I turned 19, because that’s when I met Johnny, Johnny Hostile, who’s been with me since. And I just decided with him to take a different turn, make music with him, and go to London. So I just dropped everything else for that, really.”

Hostile, nee Nicolas Conge, even produced Silence Yourself, for the couple’s own indie imprint Pop Noire. And it was Hostile who first spotted guitarist Gemma Thompson, who would become crucial to the sepulchral Savages sound. (“He had a guitar crush on her. He really loved the way she was self-trained, was mainly a noise guitarist, and how she was so quiet and charismatic,” Jehnny Beth testifies; Thompson would name the group, as well, and recruit bassist Ayse Hassan.) But in between lay an entirely different project: the Hostile/Beth duo of John & Jehn.

Influenced by smoky French crooners like Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg—plus darker outfits like Joy Division, Gang of Four and The Velvet Underground, John & Jehn issued two albums—2008’s “John & Jehn” and “Time for the Devil” in 2010—and have a third one in the can. “It’s just that we don’t think it’s the right time to release it now,” says Jehnny Beth, who can see nothing but Savages on the horizon for the next year or so. Thompson, in fact, started as the combo’s backup strummer. “But then Gemma came to my house one day, said she had been working on a different project with Ayse, said she wanted the project to be called Savages, and she was very enthusiastic about it all,” she adds. “And I thought that was funny, because I was writing a lot of things that kind of related to that name, in the way she was speaking about it. So I said ‘Well, do you wanna try it with me?’ And she said ‘Yes!’ And then we met the drummer, Fay (Milton) by chance, and it was all set.”

By June of 2012, Savages had released its first single, “Flying to Berlin” b/w “Husbands,” the latter making it onto “Silence,” as well. The album just streeted, and it opens on a chugging “Shut Up,” tumbles into a roiling cauldron of noise called “I Am Here,” then stomps into the decidedly Banshee-ish “City’s Fall” and an otherworldly “Strife.” But Savages isn’t all about bludgeoning. The chiming axework on “She Will” echoes classic Chameleons, even Will Sergeant’s “Porcupine”-era work with Echo and the Bunnymen, and “Marshal Dear” and “Waiting for a Sign” both stand as echoey ballads only occasionally punctuated by muted guitar squeals. All told, the disc is as dark as a raven-haunted grave, yet flickering with ornate shafts of rose-windowed light almost simultaneously. Like all the best Gothic cathedrals.

Unlike John & Jehn, however, Savages don’t claim any musical influences. Inspirations, says Jehnny Beth, were culled from war poems and literature, authors like Robert Graves, the cutting-edge U.K. playwright Edward Bond, and—you guessed it—cinema. “Shut Up” was based on dialogue she loved from director John Cassavetes’ 1977 drama “Opening Night,” which grew into a bigger Savages metaphor. “All of Cassavetes’ films star his wife Gena Rowlands, and always the same team of actors,” she says. “So it was his idea of a family, a group of people doing films on and on, and he would carry on with them even though there was no box office success. And that always impressed the people around him—the fact that he was so driven by what he was doing.

“So there’s a connection with what you do in your life and what you put into your art,” she continues. “In fact, there are really no boundaries between the two, because what you are onstage is what you are in life, as well. And obviously, you choose what you want to show. But you’re still saying something about the world we all live in. So I think there’s also a real power in music to reconnect people to that concept, a power to show new directions, new ways of doing things.”

For example, says the dusky diva, a few weeks ago Savages made its Los Angeles debut, and afterward she received an email from an exhilarated fan. “He’d walked out of the show, but he’d spent all his money on a T-shirt, so he didn’t have any money left to get home,” she relates. “So he walked home. In L.A. Which was quite a long walk. But he said that he suddenly saw L.A. with different eyes, and he’d never seen the city from that perspective before.” So the group had an effect. Much larger than the girls had ever anticipated. And one that was both sonic and visual.

Which brings up one final question. As cliché as it may sound, does Jehnny Beth secretly want to direct her own movies one day? She laughs. “Oh, you read me really well!” she replies. “I would really love to do that. And I’ve already done that, really. But only in my head!”

If our year-end lists of songs and albums were any indication, it was a great year for emerging artists. From the un-fightable, infectious pop of Haim, the ragged garage rock of Mikal Cronin, the punishing punch of a Savages track to Majical Cloudz’s reflective slow-churners, we were in for a treat in 2013 with breakout acts.

Along the way, we made plenty of discoveries in our weekly Best of What’s Next profiles, which are featured first at PASTE.COM. We’ve included our 20 favorite finds and their complete profiles (or reviews in a few cases) below for you to discover yourself. And if you’re taking a peek at this during the work day and just want to see the darn list already, we’ve got you covered—head on over to page 12 in the gallery below.

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16. Houndmouth
By Claire Ruhlin
Less than two years ago, the members of the Indiana-based folk-rock quartet Houndmouth—comprised of keyboardist Katie Toupin, guitarist Matt Myers, bassist Zak Appleby and drummer Shane Cody—were recording their minimalist, self-titled EP using a few mics set up in Cody’s Indiana home, fondly nicknamed the “Green House.” If this year’s been any indication, things have changed in a big way for the members of Houndmouth. They’ve landed a record deal with Rough Trade Records, toured with the likes of Alabama Shakes and Drive-By Truckers, performed on Conan and Letterman, headlined their own tour and released their debut LP, From the Hills Below the City.

“None of us expected anything when we started this band,” says Myers. “We got together and we were just making stuff, and we kind of knew that it was nice—we really liked it—but we had no idea how it was gonna translate.”

Though the band was formed in 2011, the members of Houndmouth have known each other for years. Toupin and Cody went to high school together, Myers and Appleby played in blues and classic rock cover bands in high school and Myers and Toupin worked as an acoustic duo for three years.

“That was really hard,” Toupin recalls. “It was like four-hour gigs of acoustic guitar and my fingers would bleed. We wouldn’t get paid and nobody would pay attention.”

Their hard work, late night-practices and unfulfilling gigs leading up to Houndmouth’s genesis paid off when the band performed at the South by Southwest Festival in 2012. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records came down to watch them perform and, after meeting with the band, offered them a record deal.

Houndmouth’s EP was released in August of 2012 and they followed it with a gritty, folksy full-length From the Hills Below the City in June 2013. The LP was largely tracked live and was recorded with the help of producer Kevin Ratterman.

Thanks to their shared roots and familiarity, the four-piece share an intuitive, almost visceral connection, which is evident in the fact that Houndmouth has no lead singer; instead, all four members switch off on vocals.

Songs like “Hey Rose” feature Appleby’s twangy baritone, while Toupin’s powerhouse vocals lead the more bluesy ‘Casino.’ “It was never a question whether who was gonna sing what song,” says Myers. “If you wrote the song and brought it to the table, that’s who was gonna sing it.”

And while they write many of their songs separately, most of the tracks on From the Hills Below the City remain thematically and lyrically cohesive, spinning often-romanticized stories of down-on-their-luck wanderers, lawless vagrants or fictional towns reminiscent of bygone eras.

“That kind of took us by surprise: that we were writing about similar things and had all the same interests,” says Myers. “I think it’s kind of an unconscious kind of thing.  We were communicating through our brainwaves.”

As Toupin affirms, Houndmouth’s image was not premeditated, and their identity evolved naturally as they worked together. “We’d just have these practices, and someone would say, ‘Oh, I wrote this, let’s try this.’ Or ‘I wrote this, let’s work on this,’ and we’d work it out, and then that just became our set, that became our album and that became who we are.”

They do occasionally write together and swap lines, melodies and song ideas. “We all just kind of take from each other,” says Myers. “It’s just lines that resonate with our souls are what we’re after.”

Following their gut has certainly worked well for them. While on tour, they’ve taken the festival circuit by storm, performing at events such as Newport Folk Festival and Forecastle Festival in Louisville, with crowds nearing 1,000 gathering to sing along with their warm, rootsy twang.

With their close quarters on tour, songwriting—along with everything else— is becoming increasingly collaborative. “Instead of being like, ‘Hey, I wrote this song, let’s work it out,’ it’s more like, ‘Hey, I got this idea, let’s see what we can do with it together,’” Toupin says. “So I think that for the next album it’s gonna be a bit more collaborative on the songwriting aspect of it.”

Which is no surprise, considering that, as the band evolves, Houndmouth is becoming more in-sync than ever. “We aren’t even separate people at this point because of touring. We’ve been together so much this year,” says Myers.

Since touring, they’ve also had the chance to meet and learn from bands they’ve admired, including Alabama Shakes, Dry the River and Dawes. “You learn just by watching other musicians, you know, that have done this for a long time,” Toupin says. “Some of that bands that I’ve always listened to, I can call them my friends. That’s weird. Like, wait, I don’t belong here,” she adds, laughing.

Judging by the buzz and glowing reviews since the band’s EP debut, Houndmouth should fit in just fine. Besides befriending some of their favorite bands, one of the most rewarding aspects of the breakout success has been the overwhelmingly positive response from live audiences, especially those in hometown performances. Many fans even join them in singing the lyrics.

“That’s like one of those childhood things that you never think…“ Myers breaks off. “That’s what you always try and strive for. It’s just unreal. It’s so cool. We just—we really didn’t see that coming.”

Their catapulting careers don’t look to be losing momentum anytime soon, and the members of Houndmouth are handling their success like pros: sticking to their roots and staying humble.

“We’re getting pretty lucky. We kind of live it a day at a time,” says Myers. “We’re still just kind of learning and getting along, y’know. Riding it out.”

But they’re also excited for the future. “I’m looking forward to making a new record and doing it all again,” Toupin says. “Looking back now, it’s like, ‘Oh, well that was pretty fucking cool. It’s just part of our life now I guess.”

15. Lorde
By Hilary Hughes
Ella Yelich-O’Connor—aka Lorde—is, in a word, intense. This applies to every facet of the aspiring pop marvel’s being, whether we’re talking about her album, the timbre of her voice or her stage presence. It’s a fitting description for her impermeable gaze that stops you dead in your tracks and draws you in like a tractor beam, regardless as to whether you’re watching her from your computer screen or the back row of her concert. It refers to the scowls, winces, elated grins and downcast glances she throws when she’s behind the microphone, be it in the comfort of a studio or before a slack-jawed crowd in a nightclub. It accurately sums up the gravity of her lyrics, in that Lorde—who’s only 16 years old—touches on depths of love and loss that those who’ve lived a life full of each can’t articulate in such an engaging manner.

In short, Lorde cultivates intensity, and at this point in her career, where she’s on the cusp of her major label debut and a handful of international dates to support it, it’s clear that the depth, the dramatic pauses, the literary dirges and the refusal to become a cog in the pop music machine is working.

If you need a visual that wraps her up in a striking snapshot, look no further than the video for “Tennis Court,” the first single off her debut full-length, Pure Heroine, which drops via Universal on Sept. 30. In it, Lorde, clad in a black fishnet top, braids Heidi would be jealous of and varnished lips, is the only instrument, the only presence and the solitary conduit for her voice and vision. “Tennis Court,” a lush ode to young love set to warm synths and the kind of beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a videogame soundtrack, is a shy smile of a single—one that gives off the impression that she wrote it with the door locked in her bedroom with her headphones on. She didn’t—most of Pure Heroine and her incendiary EP before it, The Love Club, were composed and subsequently and tackled in the studio alongside producer Joel Little, though she did write a song or two in bed or on the train—but that pure, confessionary vibe remains, and speaks to her adopting the studio as her new abode of sorts.

?“The studio is where I can be creative,” she says over the phone as she packs for tour in Auckland. “I feel more vulnerable onstage. I’m not a super confident person; I’m not quite a superstar onstage. The studio is kind of my sanctuary, where anything is possible and I can try out anything and no one will laugh at you.”

?She throws what she needs in a bag—“I always forget something that I have to pick up at the airport later; I basically just throw everything in a suitcase”—which comes down to a lot of understated, black clothing and a bunch of Throat Coat tea, and she gives her bookshelf a go before flying off to London, or New York, or Tokyo. Lorde, an avid reader and the daughter of a poet, loses herself in words. Currently, she’s reading Battleborn, a collection of short stories that delve into life in the Western United States by Claire Vaye Watkins, which she’ll likely take on the road as she kicks off a proper American headlining tour on Sept. 24 in Los Angeles.

Her lyrics are her proudest accomplishment, and the care that goes into crafting the smart, thought-provoking words of Pure Heroine mirrors these wordsmith leanings and an artistic cultivation in small rooms with a microphone as opposed to Auckland’s stages. She’s still only 16, after all; she’s not of legal age to drink in her home country, let alone in the States, and as such she doesn’t consider herself a fixture in the Auckland music scene as she can’t patronize its venues, technically.

?“It’s quite easy for me to be normal here,” she says. “I’ve only released my music quite recently, and I can’t go to the bars or anything. Most people are surprised about my age. I look older than I am, so I’m not like, ‘It’s crazy, she’s making music, she’s so young!’ you know? Maybe there’s a scene here for some types of music, but not for mine. It’s a weird scene here. The scene isn’t the reason why I’m making music or anything.”

?These introverted creative tendencies carried over from The Love Club, and ironically enough gave us “Royals,” the explosively popular single that was repurposed for Pure Heroine and is currently looping excessively on Top 40 radio. She may have skyrocketed out of Auckland’s obscurity and into the international public eye, but that doesn’t change what she writes, what she reads or how she approaches either.

?“I haven’t compromised being an honest songwriter, which is cool,” she says. “I was like, surely it’s going to be embarrassing, or weird, but I’ve managed to keep my process personal and that was important to me for this album and these pop songs. I don’t think there’s an overarching singular theme, but I have quite a strong voice. Not a physical voice, but a lyrical voice. I think the album offers a pretty good introduction into my world. The Love Club was quite spin on who I am and what my life is like, so with Pure Heroine, I hope people listen to what I say, not just the music. I hope people read the album, as well.”

?See? Intense.

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14. The Underachievers
By Grant Golden
The rap game is in an interesting place right now, a state of flux that comes with the changing of guards. Men like Jay Z, who used to have an undisputed stranglehold on the genre, are losing touch with the people. Sure you can pre-sell a million albums through Samsung, but luxury rap doesn’t always connect with people who don’t have million-dollar works of art hanging above a toilet.

Many fans of hip hop are yearning for something more; they want grit and grime and realism. And an incoming tidal wave of a new generation of thinkers—from Kendrick Lamar to A$AP Rocky—are topping the charts and paving the way for a new mindset.

No one embodies this new age of hip hop more than The Underachievers. Flatbush, Brooklyn-based Issa Gold and AK have been exploring new sonic territory for a little over a year now. But none of this has happened by chance. Their “underachieving” monicker is thick with irony.

The duo is one of the stand-out acts in the Beast Coast movement, a collective of New York-based rappers like Joey BadA$$, Flatbush Zombies and Pro Era that are resonating with younger listeners. The Underachievers dabble in psychedelic territory, weaving through heady beats with cold-calculated precision. Although Issa has only been rapping for two years, the two MCs slide through these dense soundscapes like seasoned veterans.

“We lived a couple of blocks away from each other,” Issa says. “We grew up in the same neighborhoods and met because me and my friend Juice from the [Flatbush] Zombies met these other dudes, smoking pot or whatever, and he was friends with AK.” Issa and Juice had dabbled in psychedelics since their mid teens and the two immediately hit it off with the like-minded AK. “No one in the city was really into psychedelics, and we were talking about them and AK—who was just like some regular hood dude—was like ‘Yo, that shit sounds interesting.’ We were like ‘what, really?!” So you’re probably one of us.”

At that point AK had been rapping for years while Issa admittedly “doesn’t like hip hop much at all.” While many rappers talk about not listening to hip hop much, few openly admit that they know every John Mayer lyric by heart.

“If I could play guitar and sing then I would not be rapping right now; I’d be John Mayer,” Issa claims. “All I had to my ability was the fact that I’ve read a lot a lot of books, so I guess I know words and poetry and shit. That’s why I gravitated to rap.”

“Writing isn’t an art,” he continues. “I can learn it and master it instead of relying on some innate talent of being born to rock the world. I’m just not that guy, I’m a guy that has the word and a message to spread.”

So Issa mastered his art form and laid down the groundwork for what The Underachievers have become.

“I told AK that I’m never ever ever going to release a mixtape unless people beg for it, so that’s what happened,” he says. “I kept putting out material and waiting for people to gravitate towards the music and want to hear the music. My whole philosophy was that artists start rapping and they just drop songs, but it’s so hard to make people listen to it.”

But once their music was out there, people were instantly drawn to it—The Underachievers had given something new to the hip-hop community. Or as they explain it, they’re attempting to tap into a “universal consciousness.” At the very least they’ve caught the attention of the right people, as Flying Lotus loved the band so much that he signed them to his Brainfeeder label.

The duo released a highly touted mixtape Indigoism back in February that beckons listeners to open their third eye and question the realities they’re surrounded by.

Indigoism comes from innately knowing that we have to unite,” Issa states. “Unfortunately, though, there’s forces working against us, people who don’t want our generation to wake up. They pound all this shit into us, so the job for people like me is just to spark people back up. Not to teach them or lead them, but to reset their brains.”

Now this may all fall into a particular niche of listeners, folks that would already be listening to acts like Flying Lotus and psychedelic-oriented artists. But The Underachievers know this—it’s a part of their plan. Their next EP is almost entirely produced by Lex Luger, the trap-beat megastar who helped propel artists like Wacka Flocka and Wiz Khalifa to hip-hop stardom. That’s why the duo is so keen to work with Luger, his beats are “really bangerish beats” and appeal to a more “urban demographic.”

But while the duo is capable of flexing their urban cred, they’ve also got remixes from Local Natives and beats from Lapalux, Flying Lotus and Teebs sitting on the backburner. They’re proving themselves masters of timing, sitting on collaborations until the anticipation has peaked. Brainfeeder wanted to release an album “now” Issa says, but the group politely declined. “We’re really focusing one step at a time, I didn’t wanna drop it yet. I wanted an EP, “ Issa says.

It all harkens back to their original mantra: they wait until people want the music. In a time where rappers tend to wear themselves out with countless mixtapes and come up short on full lengths, The Underachievers deviate from the norm. While others are running their name into the ground, Issa and AK are lying in wait and making sure they’re achieving all they can.

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13. Speedy Ortiz
By Dan Weiss

“There’s just a lot of overall Gwen Stefanization,” says Speedy Ortiz guitar dynamo Matt Robidoux of why the Massachusetts-Manhattan cross-section four piece prefers to do interviews as a group, which is happening this very instant inside the band’s tour van that’s currently bulky with vinyl they raided from their label’s warehouse. From this media man’s perspective, the uneven attention is somewhat understandable considering frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’ lyrics, which neatly gel into candy-covered sound bites: “I got too many boyfriends to see you tonight,” “Why’d you pick a virgin over me?” “I’m getting my dick sucked on the regular.” That’s just the hot-button sexual stuff, but elsewhere Dupuis’ noteworthy ability to curl her voice around a line like “Laugh out of habit at the lump schematics” as a repeated chorus would stand out in any alt-rock year.

But having gone on later that night to see Robidoux perform such stunts as diving off a cinderblock on the ground-level “stage” at Philadelphia’s Golden Tea House, I can admit he’s right: this is a band with a capital B, a clatter of guitars and drums and the paranoia of releasing an uncharacteristically straight ballad called “No Below” that these reluctant rockers are somewhat afraid everyone is going to glom onto. They’d prefer winning people’s attention with that “boyfriends” song, their first single, titled “Taylor Swift” just because.

The first full-length Speedy Ortiz album, Major Arcana, was released to big plaudits this year, including a Pitchfork Best New Music designation, among lots of talk that they’re going to bring back such ‘90s major arcana as Pavement and Matador-era Liz Phair. Dupuis bristles at the comparisons between her voice and Phair’s, though after that Philly show she worries that she came off negatively toward Phair and insists she loves her anyway, all the way to 2003’s slick and under-appreciated Rock Me.

But they definitely don’t want to be seen as a woman-with-backup—a problem that’s led to Hayley Williams sporting “Paramore Es Una Banda” t-shirts—or a ‘90s nostalgia act. Pressed to reveal an influence that doesn’t bug them, someone eventually mumbles something about Black Sabbath.

“There’s so many amazing bands now that have members of both genders, it seems like it’s becoming less of a media selling point that there are women in bands,” says Dupuis, with some bittersweet confusion. “But at the same time, there are more women playing in bands.”

With that acknowledgment comes a more limited scope of comparable musicians—when I mention early That Dog to Dupuis, with Petra Haden’s screeching violin, she made a face. Not a fan.

“The reason why [the ‘90s comparisons] bothered me is because it seemed like it would be fashionable to be nostalgic about it,” drummer Mike Falcone says.

“We don’t have discussions like that, ever,” bassist Darl Ferm says.

It’s the age-old indie-rock tug-of-war, over whether deliberation is better or worse for a band, if it kills the natural skill or thinks out more intricate compositions. Their basement-rock recording approach to tunes that trickily shift meter and time signature, with all sorts of muddy fretwork, doesn’t sound like anything else—in the last 20 years anyway.

Nineties or not, it’s bands like Polvo and Helium who’ve covered this territory before, building messiness onto careful constructions. If Dupuis’ voice gets compared to Phair’s, I hope it’s just for the odd chords they both navigate vocally with such precision and ease.

But it’s not the ‘90s that make people want to hold up Speedy Ortiz as hope to go “back” to something, it’s their biting wit and specificity in a soupy indie-rock climate and oversharing pop landscape. The dark humor of a line like “why’d you pick a virgin over me” led me to believe that Dupuis was writing from the innocence of her younger past (which she admits to, though it was unplanned), and personally evoked when Brittany Murphy’s character in that ‘90s Rosetta Stone Clueless suddenly realizes she’s the protégé of someone less experienced, when she blurts out to Alicia Silverstone that she’s a “virgin who can’t drive.” A supporting character suddenly realizing she’s the protagonist after all. It would fit right in with the shy-combative relationships in Speedy Ortiz songs.

“Now I want to change my whole explanation,” Dupuis says.

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12. Diarrhea Planet
By Sean Edgar

Please stop. Stop right now, and abandon any assumptions you might have about a band that would call itself Diarrhea Planet. First, let that sink in.

Diarrhea.

Planet.

We know what you’re thinking, because we’ve thought it. Numerous media outlets have thought it. A stream of declining tour managers have thought it. To a certain degree, even the very individuals in Diarrhea Planet have thought it. Yes, it may be hard to take any commercial entity seriously that would represent itself with a title that recalls the stomach flu and Taco Bell binges. But when a four-guitar garage-rock hurricane welds anthems as melodic and feral as these six gentlemen do, please ask yourself: what’s in a name?

Lead singer and guitarist Jordan Smith is certainly over the commotion. “If you see us once and ask who we are, you’ll never forget. You see a band and ask who it is, and it’s ‘Sinners or Saints’ or ‘Ashes in the Wake.’ You’ve heard so many band names like that before that you’re just not going to remember that at all. I like the fact that somebody definitely won’t forget Diarrhea Planet.”

But Smith and fellow bandmates Emmett Miller, Brent Toler, Evan Bird (all guitarists), Mike Boyle (bass) and Casey Weissbach (drums) have done much more to distinguish themselves than craft a potty-mouthed moniker. Born on the Nashville campus of music-industry incubator Belmont University, Jordan initially formed the group with friend Evan Donahue (who’s since moved on to solo projects) as a “living cartoon” full of squelching feedback. And to a certain degree, that vision came to fruition.

“Our dream was to scream over tons of feedback and make the most abrasive noises possible. Our first show ever that we played was just us playing ‘Ghost With A Boner’ and ‘Where Are You?’ and ‘Get Stimulated,’ which were three songs from our first EP. We ended up not doing what we set out to do, just writing songs that we thought were funny, but still catchy. “

The aforementioned “Ghost With A Boner” stands as a thesis statement from the band’s debut EP, Aloha, a biting lo-fi descent into sing-shout indie rock oblivion. Irreverent and blunt, the 163-second onslaught tells the story of a stranger at a party (the titular “ghost”) who finds himself obliviously stimulated in public by a new friend. “It was just amazing, because all of these people were walking through the room taking pictures of this guy on their cellphones,” Smith recalls. “It was the weirdest thing ever. I just think this dude was really drunk and didn’t realize what was going on. He was just sitting there with a super obvious, in-plain-view boner that everybody in the room knew about.”

The thing most people wouldn’t find super obvious about a band with a parent-prodding name and its tales of NSFW undergrad debauchery is that it’s deceptively good.

It’s actually very, very good.

The four axes behind Diarrhea Planet unleash a litany of virtuoso rock moves reserved for the most accomplished guitar hero. Fevered triplets, elegant arpeggios, air-tight harmonies and good-ol’-fashioned shredding belie talent that borders on savant (Emmett Miller studied Classical Guitar Performance at Belmont). The band’s motto “Shred till you’re dead, or go to hell” is not spoken in vain.

This rare combination of humor, energy and chops solidified Diarrhea Planet as the premier house-party enhancer that could turn a room full of disaffected kids into a slam-dance maelstrom where the crowd echoes every lyric back. The shows even turned destructive. “I personally have only lost one pedal, which cost me probably around $90 bucks. The thing about house parties is that we end up having to defend our gear the entire show instead of being able to focus on playing. Brent has had people knock his head off of his (cabinet) before. We all have chipped teeth at house parties as well. It is a lot of fun but most of the time you are bracing yourself for “the punishment” at a house show.”

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that DP has slowly evolved past house parties and paranormal erections to bigger venues and more thoughtful fare. New album I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams not only deepens the group’s sound with lush production from Kevin McMahon (Swans, The Walkmen), but Smith infuses his tracks with a vulnerability that speaks to universal growing pains.

The album’s name was inspired by a destitute trip to the grocery store where Smith and drummer Casey Weissbach reflected on the hardships of 20-something poverty. “We had just had a hard month, and we were out and totally broke, making jokes about how we’d been so hard up for cash. I told Casey, ‘Whatever man, we’re rich beyond our wildest dreams, just not in money.’ The title came from being really poor and we were coming back from buying some really disgusting food that we both couldn’t believe we were stooping to eating. We had no money.”

Even today, Smith still works as a manager at Papa John’s, where he’s been for five years alongside Boyle and Toler. “Our boss made it clear; she said, ‘You guys have been here forever, you’re family. We’ll hold your jobs for you while you tour.’ They’ve been really cool with it.” 

I’m Rich still revels in the raw bacchanal sing-along camaraderie shared by friends Titus Andronicus and Fucked Up, but there’s a new weight that accompanies the introspection. Opening track “Lite Dream” describes a summer where a blazed Smith watched the cult fantasy cartoon movie Heavy Metal daily, while follow up “Separations” doubles as both a song about long-distance relationships and complete departure from the couch-surfing shenanigans of years past. “For me in my writing, I always hid behind sarcasm and humor. If you don’t like it, you probably don’t have a sense of humor and leave it at that. In this record, I wanted to be really earnest about how I was feeling about a lot of things, and so the songs are much more serious.”

Standout track “Kids” presents the most sobering example of this new direction, with the chorus confession “I’m a sinner / I’ve got no self control / I’m just a dog / So ugly and so old.” Smith is mum on specifics, but says the track is a reflection on “the most horrible moment” of his life. “It’s a song about your circumstances forcing you to grow up. You still feel yourself fighting it because you’re not ready for that yet.” 

As seen in a YouTube performance taped by Titus Andronicus lead singer Patrick Stickles at a recent Brooklyn gig, “Kids” and its surrounding material also make for a brutal live experience, funneling a cascade of distorted strings and relentless percussion into a cathartic explosion of ’80s hair-metal riffage. If there was any question whether Diarrhea Planet’s embrace of larger venues and adulthood would diminish its mythic presence, recent gigs have put all concerns to rest. “We are a band that thrives on playing live. The bigger the crowd, the more fun it is to play,” Smith explains. “So naturally we want to play for as big of crowds as possible.  It would be sweet to play arenas and theaters all the time. Like Taylor Swift or something [laughs].”

The most revealing statement from Smith arrives at the tail end of our interview, though, when he candidly ends the conversation with the statement, “Thank you for caring.” It’s an unexpected sentiment for a band that built its foundation around sarcasm and flagrancy. It’s an unexpected statement from a band that wrote songs about aroused strangers and drinking beer “until the sun comes up or at least till there’s no beer.” It’s not an unexpected statement from a band that transformed a live performance prank into one of the most refreshing, talented brotherhoods in indie music.

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11. Majical Cloudz
By Tyler Kane
“What’s the point in a sad song?”

It’s a rhetorical question vocalist Devon Welsh posed earlier this month on Twitter—and the Majical Cloudz frontman emphasizes this when I direct the question at him, brushing it off as simply a line from a new song he’s working on. A line he just put out there to the Internet.

“It kind of works in the context of the story of the song,” Welsh says plainly as we wrap up the interview. But as was customary for the duration of our talk, Welsh pauses, selecting his words carefully before clarifying: “My answer to the question is that I’m not entirely sure. I think that music has a lot of values, and I don’t think I could insert the values of anything like that.”

For Welsh at least, maybe the point of a sad song seems up in the air. But there’s no question to its function. To him, a sad song is a necessary release, a way to gather his emotions over time and spit them out on record. But learning to emote as delicately and precisely as he does on Impersonator, the second release from Majical Cloudz, takes time.

Majical Cloudz as a duo formed in Welsh’s time at McGill University, where he was completing a degree in religious studies. “I don’t know how much of it comes through in the music,” he says. “Studying religion is like studying people’s hopes and fears and dreams. I’m into expressing that myself in music, but I’m not sure how much it directly has to do with.”

But in creating music in his time studying those hopes, fears and dreams, Welsh found a like-minded collaborator in Montreal’s music community through a friend of a friend. Enter Matthew Otto, or as Welsh puts it simply when defining his right-hand man, “a better producer than I am. He has a better ear for the details in music that I don’t have. He complements my approach to music.”

Fast forward to 2013, and the duo has released Impersonator. The album is refreshing; an 11-track, 43-minute chunk of honesty, fear, depression, hope, acceptance, defiance and plenty of questions, all defined by the minimal, nuanced production of Otto. It’s a morose block of tracks, one that gives Morrissey a healthy dose of competition without feeling derivative or exaggerated. The frustration, the emotion is there, but Welsh is mum on the source material, instead pointing toward the more-universal, relatable art on display rather than the events that formed it.

“What inspired the album are just personal experiences that I’ve had and investigating my feelings about those things,” Welsh says. “I don’t really think it’s necessary for me to explain the backstories behind the songs. I feel like it’s not really a relevant concern. Not that I’m saying the songs are general, they’re quite specific in terms of what they’re about. But there are things I’m willing to share in public and things I’m not willing to share. Explaining in detail on what the songs are about—that feels unnecessary.”

But that’s only half of what Majical Cloudz brings to the table, the other side being Otto’s charming, sparse synths, beats and effects. And what might sound overly bare-bones in a world where Arcade Fire’s army of musicians blows out festival speakers and DJs are gravitating toward an everything-and-the-kitchen sink production philosophy, Impersonator is like breaking the surface after too long under water. And like that first breath of air, Welsh’s honesty, Otto’s careful juggling of thoughtful structure between pushing Welsh’s lofty baritone completely up-front, it’s an experience that will leave you clear-headed and revitalized after a time of personal distress. At least that’s how audiences have been perceiving the Montreal act.

Crowds are hushed when the two-piece takes the stage, and Welsh has reportedly summoned tears from audience members around the country with his straightforward, intense performances. Welsh—an unmistakable character whose Bic-short hair and white shirt/black jeans combo form an easy visual distinction to Majical Cloudz—often stares onlookers in the whites of their eyes as he leans into every syllable live. Whether it’s dedicating a song to a baby at a performance in San Diego (“It seemed special to play to a baby,” he laughs) or snarling once-docile lines from Impersonator, Welsh is striving for connection and does everything in his power to stay in the moment.

“I like to stretch before I play. It just helps me focus,” he says. “I don’t need to have my phone in my pocket while I’m playing. It seems like such a half-assed thing to be doing while you’re playing. I stretch and focus on the fact that I’m doing a performance, and it’s not casual.”

And before returning home to work on another serving of minimalist, emotive music, the duo’s hitting the road again one more time behind Impersonator. And with material that’s so emotionally dense, it’s got to be something to rehash it evening after evening in a busy 2013, right?

“It’s interesting,” Welsh reflects. “I don’t really think of it that much, but when I do, it’s definitely new to me that someone would want to get up on stage and sing songs that are really personal.

“I don’t know,” he adds with a laugh. “It seems like something that I’ll probably work out in psychotherapy years from now.”

10. Kacey Musgraves
By Dacey Orr
Kacey Musgraves’ tour bus is just as charming and unassuming as you might hope. There’s a unicorn picture framed on the wall, plastered with a fluorescent price tag from a discount store. A makeup bag’s contents are strewn all over the table, and Musgraves is just cracking up over a copy of her first self-released CD, something her grandmother sent her in the mail, as she begins to tell me how she turned a love for songwriting and performing into this whirlwind of a lifestyle. Living in Austin and commuting to Nashville as much as she could afford to, a move to Music City was the only way to really commit to a career in country music.

“When I got there, I only knew a couple people,” she says. “It’s such a tight-knit community that I just started writing with those people, and they helped me branch out. And those people turned into six and six turned into 12.”

The products of Musgraves’ collaborative nature are probably already familiar to country fans, whether they know it: the 25-year-old singer/songwriter co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s hit “Mama’s Broken Heart” and also helped pen “Undermine” for ABC’s Nashville.

“A good co-write kind of goes like a good volley, you know,” says Musgraves, describing the way an idea will bounce back and forth between a few people. Musgraves has saved a few aces for herself, too, landing hits with radio-ready singles like “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Blowin’ Smoke.” Beyond radio play, though, Musgraves has big aspirations.

“I would love to be able to do it how Willie Nelson did it, as far as being a songwriter and also an artist,” Musgraves says. “Just staying so true to who he is and never, ever giving a shit about anything else. I love that. It’s always about the songs with him, I feel like. Dolly Parton’s another one. I think she’s a great storyteller, but she’s stayed really real and she’s got a good sense of humor. I like that.”

When it comes to humor, straightforwardness and never, ever giving a shit, Musgraves is taking all the right cues. Lyrics about same-sex kissing and double standards may still be scarce on commercial country airwaves, but that hasn’t stopped Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” from rising as a fan favorite. A top-seller despite its lack of radio play, the song has become popular across genre lines by promoting open-mindedness in a way country music hasn’t necessarily seen before. 

“It was really just about encouraging people to just do what they do,” Musgraves says. “Not just gay people. But straight, gay, just every kind of person doing whatever their heart desires. If that’s drinking, cool. If it’s not, awesome. I think it’s just about encouraging freedom of all choices. Just making yourself happy.”

The importance of playing to fans of all genres isn’t lost on Musgraves, either: in between stadiums on her mega-tour with Kenny Chesney, you’re just as likely to find her filling an intimate playing room or sweating it out on a festival stage. Musgraves bridges the gaps between stadium shows with appearances at smaller clubs and even found time to check off a major career goal with an appearance at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June.

“It was kind of a dream of mine,” Musgraves says. “When I started everything, I told my whole team, ‘I want to be the kind of artist that can play CMA Fest but then turn around and play Bonnaroo.’ It’s such an all-accepting place. It doesn’t seem like genres really make a difference there; it’s kind of just good music across the board of all different kinds.” 

Even after seeing her charm a crowd of thousands, it’s conceivable—taking into account not only her influences, but her work itself—that Musgraves’ strength as a performer is only half of the equation. The writing on Same Trailer Different Park builds on the simplicity and straightforwardness of country classics while mixing in distinctly modern romantic sentiments, freshening the sound for a new generation of music-lovers. Just take the album’s final track, “It Is What It Is,” a friends-with-benefits storyline set to simple melody.

“All I had was just, ‘It is what it is, till it ain’t anymore,’” Musgraves says. She brought the idea to fellow songwriters Brandy Clark and Luke Laird with the insistence that it be very simple and old-country, but also very blunt. “If it’s going to be that traditional sounding, then it’s gotta have some sort of edge to the lyric I think. But they totally got what I was going for… just simple songs that are really honest.”

The track is one of several examples on Same Trailer Different Park that blend Musgraves’ appreciation for tradition with her progressive thinking. It’s this kind of attitude that, to many music lovers, indicates that this may just be the beginning for the young Texas performer.

“I would rather just have a slow burn and a long career,” Musgraves says. “I’d rather have a few fans who really, really got and dug what I want to do instead of a million who are like ‘I guess this is cool right now.’”

With that in mind, Musgraves is winding down her stadium tour summer with a European tour on the horizon, playing in a distinctly more intimate kind of listening atmosphere. Taking what she’s learned playing to 80,000 people and tailoring it to 80 is just the kind of challenge that could give Musgraves the longevity she craves and the widespread acclaim she deserves; From Austin to Amsterdam, Musgraves’ blunt lyricism and sweet delivery is finding the kind of dedicated fans she’s looking for.

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9. Parquet Courts
By Mark Lore
Parquet Courts’ second release kept a relatively low profile until it was reissued on What’s Your Rupture? in January, and it’s held up its promise of being one of the most good-timing rock records of 2013. Light Up Gold is a quintessential New York album, as the Brooklyn four-piece summon the spirit of the Ramones, the Velvets and Sonic Youth, and maneuver their way through Ridgewood, Queens, in search of Swedish Fish. Even the more muscular tunes like “Light Up Gold II” and “Borrowed Time” maintain a certain couch-sloucher physique. With lyrics that are as dry as the production, this one’s a timeless winner for all the losers.

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8. Leagues
By Mark Rozeman
For even the most successful of musicians, there remain few experiences in their careers more satisfying than the days when they were jamming with their high-school buddies in a small garage, struggling to get through a song on tempo and having a grand old time doing it.

It’s this sort of pure dynamic that—after nearly 15 years of being a professional musician—guitarist and singer-songwriter Tyler Burkum sought to return to with his latest band, Leagues. Only whereas the aforementioned, theoretical garage band consists of amateur rock wannabes, Leagues boasts three music veterans at the top of their respective fields.

“In a lot of ways, I feel like it took me 15 years of playing music to actually just get to do what I want to do,” Burkum explains.

Plucked from a dishwashing job at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., at the age of 17, Burkum became a guitarist for the Christian rock band Audio Adrenaline in 1997. After close to decade of touring and recording (with a few Grammy wins along the way) the band went on hiatus in 2007. Burkum spent the next few years playing with the likes of John Mayer, Keane, Lenny Kravitz and Sheryl Crow. He even recorded a full-length solo record in 2008.

His most significant job, however, would prove to be playing with singer-songwriter Mat Kearney. It was here that he met Kearney’s drummer Jeremy Lutito. While on tour, the two discussed collaborating together on a future project. As luck would have it, Burkum’s bassist friend Mike Simmons had also been in talks with singer-songwriter Thad Cockrell about putting a group together. After months of sporadic jamming, the band officially completed their first composition: “Haunted,” a jaunty, mournful earworm about “the one that got away.”

In late 2010, the four came together and begin playing shows in Nashville under the name Leagues. A self-titled EP followed in 2011.

Though Simmons would ultimately leave the band to be with his family, Burkum, Lutito and Cockrell were determined to stick to this new venture. Not that it was easy from a logistic standpoint, with Burkum living in Minnesota, Cockrell in North Carolina and Lutito in Tennessee. Still, after years of either working solo or as a “gun for hire,” the idea of having their own band was an opportunity they all wanted to experience.

“You can carry the weight together,” Burkum explains. “That’s the really awesome thing about a band. When you see someplace where you’re really weak, it’s where other guys’ strengths are.”

More than anything, Burkum makes a point to reiterate the band’s philosophy—make music out of hope rather than fear.

“Being like, ‘no, I’m too old, I don’t want to be in a band, I don’t want to start a band’— that’s a really haggard thing to say,” he says. “Rather than saying ‘bands don’t work’ and just thinking about the statistics, we were like, ‘man, let’s be in a band! Let’s go out and have fun!’”

After two years of being a band, the group finally came together to record their first LP, titled You Belong Here. Though the album was completed in 2012, the band decided to put the release date off until 2013 when they would all be able to properly promote it.

Judging from the critical consensus, including positive write-ups in MTV and Esquire, the resulting album was worth the wait. Displaying a penchant for memorable, anthemic lyricism, Leagues eschews a more polished, radio-friendly production in favor of a sound that mixes dirty guitar tones with catchy, indie-pop harmonies.

According to Burkum, the band’s sound wasn’t’ so much a plan as it was the result of each member bringing a different musical sensibility to the table and seeing what they could all agree upon as well as a simple case of “gut instinct.”

“In my opinion, for it to be a Leagues song, all we have to do is agree. And it’s going to sound a little different and be a little different than anything any one one us would do [on our own]. If what we’re making excites us all, then that to me is a good sign.”

While the positive feedback that has greeted both Leagues’ music and live shows seems more than enough to prove the acuteness of the group’s gut instinct, Burkum says he has one test he uses for measuring the quality of a song: his young children.

“That’s how I really gauge if something’s cool,” he says. “Some of the coolest music they take their shirts off and they dance across the floor. You play them a U2 song or you play them an AC/DC song and their shirts are off…I got really excited when I played [You Belong Here opening track] “Spotlight” and my kids tore their shirts and they were jumping on the couch playing air guitar…I was like, ‘we did it! We did it!’ They don’t know what’s cool, they just know what has energy and a hope in it.”

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7. Cayucas
Feature by Ryan Bort, Photos by Dan Krauss

Zach Yudin might be the consummate Californian. He surfs. He’s laid back. He eats Mexican food. He idolizes the Beach Boys. With close-cropped, beach blond hair and soft blue eyes, he’d blend right into the pages of RVCA’s fall catalog. He currently lives in Santa Monica, but is also well-versed in NorCal culture after growing up an hour outside of San Francisco in Davis.

When we first speak, he’s just deplaned in his hometown, ready to meet up with his family and drive out to Lake Tahoe for a much-needed between-tour vacation. His band, Cayucas, just wrapped up their first headlining trip around the U.S. a few weeks earlier, but so far the “time off” has been filled with various band-related appearances and errands, such as shopping for a new tour van to replace the rental they’ve been using since hitting the road in April to support their debut album, Bigfoot. After decompressing in Tahoe for five days, Cayucas will shoot Bigfoot’s fourth music video for “Will ‘The Thrill,’” the title a reference to former San Francisco Giant player Will Clark, one of Yudin’s favorites growing up. “It involves a wolf man,” is all he can tell me about the video. After the shoot, Cayucas will hit the road for another three months.

Los Angeles and the Bay Area are the principal purveyors of modern Californian culture, but it’s between these two poles where the state exists at its most elemental. From the majestic cliffs of Big Sur to the sleepy beach towns lining Highway 1, Central California is essentially indifferent to big-market paradigm shifts or ephemeral trends. No one is in a hurry, and time rarely passes with urgency greater than that of the morning tide. Yudin has lived this life, too, as a student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where there weren’t any deadlines to meet, appearances to make or oversized van prices to compare. Instead, his time was spent going to the beach, surfing and exploring the coast.

One excursion led Yudin up the 1 to Cayucos, a quaint oceanside community about half of an hour north of San Luis Obispo. “It literally hasn’t changed in 40 years,” Yudin says. “You can buy ice cream for a quarter.” Even though he only visited it once, the town’s anachronistic charm and idyllic mid-century surf aesthetic resonated with Yudin. “I thought it’d be cool to write a song about that town,” he remembers.

Yudin describes himself as a “late bloomer,” musically. One of four children, he grew up singing in choirs, but didn’t try his hand at songwriting until he was almost out of college, first putting together simple songs he describes as sounding like “bad Postal Service.” After graduating, he lived and worked in Japan for a year, where he became interested in non-vocal electronic music, experimenting with tones, beats and vinyl sampling.

Though it might be hard to discern from Bigfoot, which is relatively uniform in tone and texture, Yudin is inclined to draw from a wider range of styles than most. The group he might revere most after the Beach Boys is Daft Punk, and he’s said that the French electronic duo would be his dream collaborators. “I think a lot of songwriters or musicians sort of stick to the same style throughout their career,” he says, “but I find myself constantly changing genres that I’m interested in.”

After returning from Japan, Yudin settled in Santa Monica, where he continued to experiment with three separate musical projects. Each project was an effort to strike the right balance between the electronic sensibilities he developed in Japan and his more traditional songwriting instincts, the ones that had initially yielded the “bad Postal Service” material. “I was trying to write almost mainstream-type songs,” he says. “I also did a little chillwave thing where I wrote five chillwave songs when that was kind of popular.”

For one of Yudin’s projects, Oregon Bike Trails, he started a Bandcamp and posted three songs of catchy, lo-fi indie pop. The first OBT song he wrote was “Deep Sea Diver,” which appears on Bigfoot as “Deep Sea,” and the second was “High School Lover,” a bare but catchy tale of unrequited middle-school love that Yudin still cites as his favorite song that he’s written. “After I wrote those first two songs I had this idea of nostalgia in my mind,” he says. “I think the theme of [Bigfoot] is just nostalgic moments from my life, and because the music I was writing was kind of vintage, it just sort of made sense.”

Yudin wasn’t the only one who thought it made sense. After sending his song out into the magical ether of the Internet, it was only a matter of days before blogs, managers and other interested parties started reaching out. ”[The songs] got passed around really quickly,” remembers Yudin. “I never even sent my music to one person. I wasn’t even into blogging and I didn’t even know who these blogs were that were reaching out to me, but it just kind of happened like that.”

Yudin spent most of 2011 and 2012 riding the gentle wave of buzz that came after the Oregon Bike Trails Bandcamp page took off. He gave interviews and had his songs posted to a number of smaller blogs, many that still retained the WordPress logo as their avatar. He garnered interest from managers and agents like Tom Windish of the Windish Agency, who currently books Cayucas, and played some rudimentary solo shows.

Eventually he formed a band, which included his twin brother Ben on bass, and released “High School Lover” as a 7” single on Father/Daughter Records. The B-side was “Cayucas,” his unintentionally misspelled homage to the surf town of the same name that had left such a strong impression during his days in San Luis Obispo.

In 2012, a manager who had worked with Yudin early on sent a few of Oregon Bike Trails’ tracks to Chris Swanson, the head of Secretly Canadian, home to Jens Lekman, The War on Drugs and Yeasayer among others. Swanson liked what he heard and a deal was struck, but the label suggested a name change. After all, how could a band that’s so distinctly Californian be named after another state? Cayucas was suggested and agreed upon, and the song title of the same name was changed to the town’s correct spelling, with an “o” replacing the second “a.” In addition to being more concise, the new name was a more representative icon of the band’s sound and nostalgic sentiments. Oregon Bike Trails held nostalgic significance to Yudin alone—it was a nod to the trails he and his brother rode while on vacation as children—but the town of Cayucos is nostalgia, and, more importantly, it is California, and specifically the vintage version of California that lies at the heart of Yudin’s music.

With a new name, full band and shiny new record deal with one of the most venerable indie labels in the game, all that was left was the small task of recording an album. Because of Yudin’s relative absence of technical know-how and lack of familiarity with working in a studio setting, finding the right producer was crucial. Enter Richard Swift, the multi-instrumentalist known for his work as a solo artist, member of The Shins and producer for artists like Damien Jurado and The Mynabirds. He was also someone who had long been associated with Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar, the most recent product of which was his work behind the boards on Foxygen’s breakout album from earlier this year, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. Secretly Canadian was hoping Swift’s own magic touch would help Cayucas achieve similar success. The songs were there; they just needed to be fashioned into something easier for a large audience get behind than Yudin’s home recordings.

“I had known his music,” Yudin says of Swift. “I actually saw him play live in 2004 or something, so I knew of him. To me he was sort of a Jon Brion-type person who was a really good musician and wrote these Beatles-esque songs, and I knew he was super talented just from that one show I had seen. Once I was on the label and when we were talking about a producer, his name came up and it just made a lot of sense. It was a no-brainer.”

Yudin’s stripped down songs weren’t as hard to rein in as Foxygen’s chaotic and wildly overdubbed material, but they were still rudimentary, lo-fi recordings. So the task at hand was to apply polish and charm while still retaining the laid-back quaintness that helped make them so attractive in the first place. Yudin traveled with Swift to the producer’s studio in Oregon, with Yudin’s brother Ben joining them later. The objective was simple: finish one song per day.

“It came really easy,” remembers Yudin. “We’d start around noon and be mostly done by five or six, and from six to eight maybe we’d tweak it a little bit. He sort of mixed on the fly and at the end of the day the songs would be mostly finished. In my headspace they were mostly finished, but we never actually went back to the songs at the end. I thought we’d always go back and tweak it, but he was just like, ‘No dude, they’re good. We don’t need to go back.’”

The result was a pristine eight-song collection of indie-pop gems. Some, like lead single “High School Lover,” “Deep Sea Diver” and “Cayucos,” were among the first songs Yudin wrote as Oregon Bike Trails, while others were written closer to the recording session, with Swift helping with the final arrangements in Oregon. Regardless of when they were written, all of the songs on Bigfoot are defined by the same glinting, California-in-the-summer nostalgia that seems to seep directly out of the album’s first track, “Cayucos,” and the town that inspired it. Just like much of the Central California coast, the album seems to lie suspended in an unassailable amber essence of summer. There’s a modern sheen and the album is certainly a product of a present-day indie aesthetic, but its sentiments are timeless.

Bigfoot’s buoyant tone is the product of lilting guitar lines, delicate chimes and dings, occasional chanting and yelping vocal harmonies and other vaguely tribal drum patterns and instrumentation. Most important, though, is Yudin’s friendly, former-choir-boy voice and the imagery his lyrics evoke. He doesn’t approach his topics obliquely, instead simply remembering the nostalgic event he’s addressing and listing his associations, those things from that past that stick in your mind as mental totems of more innocent and blissful times. A certain kind of car, a girl on the back of a bicycle, that true-to-scale Michael Jordan poster on a wall—it all transports listeners to another time and place, and because of how friendly Yudin’s voice is, it’s hard not to feel good about all that’s past—even if regret is involved.

The most apparent example of this and the album’s clear standout track is “High School Lover,” the type of song the term “radio-friendly” was coined for. What began as a instrumentally sparse Oregon Bike Trails track was transformed into a driving, fully realized single based on an early teenage interest of Yudin’s who he regrets not pursuing with more enthusiasm. Like much of Bigfoot, “High School Lover” is a wistful remembrance. In another context it might sound mournful, but Yudin’s delivery is so full of energy and optimism that it’s hard to feel anything but fondness and appreciation that we were ever so innocent.

The first time a listener hears “High School Lover,” it might remind them of Beck. Then they might listen to the rest of Bigfoot and think about how it sounds a lot like Vampire Weekend, a comparison that is undeniable, from the upbeat African influence to the occasional upper-middle class reference. Whether it’s Beck or Vampire Weekend or Tennis or any other group, in the wake of Bigfoot’s release Cayucas has, to some, been a band defined more by the bands it sounds like rather than as something original.

Some critics have taken issue with this, even dismissing Cayucas’ music because of it. Not surprisingly, Yudin is indifferent, viewing critical nitpicking the way a surfer might view a mayoral race. He mentions how Cayucas’ fan base is wide enough for particular reviews not to matter all that much, but he does express lament how some music fans will abide by the opinions of certain outlets as if they’re gospel. “There are so many opinions, but I think it’s sort of sad how a big blog or a big publication can sort of post something and then everyone believes that, whether it’s true or not.”

Yudin admires and was heavily influenced by Vampire Weekend and Beck, but at its core Cayucas’ music is inspired by the golden coasts of the Golden State in the ‘50s and ‘60s. For the myriad styles and eras of music he is indebted to, Yudin keeps the Beach Boys as the “focal band” for Cayucas. Outside of Bigfoot’s sheer California-ness, traces of Brian Wiilson and company are harder to pick up on than those of the band’s more modern influences, but if listened to closely it’s clear that the Beach Boys serve as the armature Cayucas’ music, present in the form of seamless melodies, cooing vocal harmonies and the soft, inviting texture of Yudin’s voice. 

Another bit of the ‘60s Yudin cites as an influence are a number of “Sounds of the Decade”-type compilations. Admitting this might be perceived as gauche in certain indie circles. Best-of compilations are for the uninitiated; no true audiophile would need someone else to curate their music for them. But part of Yudin’s charm is that he didn’t emerge from within indie circles, and even though he’s now an active participant, he doesn’t hold any pretensions about what he’s doing. “In the last few years I’ve gone from not knowing anything about the indie world to knowing everything about it,” Yudin admits. “I was a fan of indie bands, but I never knew about this whole world. I never read Pitchfork. I listened to Panda Bear but never understood that he was an indie superstar or anything like that.”

Yudin is now fully immersed in the indie world he was largely oblivious to when he first started writing songs toward the end of his time in San Luis Obispo. Even when relaxing at Lake Tahoe with his family, Cayucas will at least partially be on his mind—he’s thinking about bringing a ukelele so that he can film a how-to video about how to play a song from Bigfoot on his iPhone. A few years removed from making lazy day trips around Central California, Yudin is embracing the lighter aspects of having an album out—like filming videos—and not letting the menial tasks—like shopping for a new tour van—weigh him down. “It’s very stressful, but this has all been kind of a dream of mine,” he says. “I’m basically living a dream come true.”

What will come next for Cayucas remains to be seen. Yudin has been kicking around new ideas since Bigfoot was released, but he’s not yet sure exactly what form his next album will take. “I’ve basically been thinking about song ideas and now I’m starting to put those ideas down. I think it’s going to be…I think it will feel like Cayucas songs.”

It’s all he needs to say for the purest possible image of his home state to come to mind.

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6. Chvrches
By Philip Cosores

“With great hype comes great responsibility” says Lauren Mayberry, tweaking the words of Uncle Ben or F.D.R. or possibly Voltaire. Holding a degree in law and a masters in journalism, it’s conceivable she could be referencing any of the three. Hell, she probably could have made the quip in Latin.

Mayberry and her two bandmates, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, are sitting on a bench outside in Echo Park and it’s March and dusk and 65 degrees and the three musicians couldn’t be happier to not be in Scotland where it’s snowing. The 25-year-old singer of Chvrches is describing the seemingly sudden launch of their band over the past nine months, and the conversation, at least yet, does not seem to be an annoyance to the group.

“Obviously, we were very lucky that people got excited about the music,” Mayberry continues, “but there were these conspiracy theories at the time that we’d ‘already secretly signed to a major label and not told anyone’ or ‘there’s a massive viral PR company behind this,’ and I’m like ‘not really.’ That’s not true at all.”

Even to think of Chvrches as an overnight success is misleading. The formation of the Glasgow synth-pop project can be traced back nearly a decade, to when Cook and Doherty were both students in Scotland.

“We met at university around 2003,” says Cook, describing his first encounter with Doherty. “He ended up playing me some music he was working on and immediately I perked up, because you hear so many other things in the music pool, but I’d never heard anything of this quality.”

The two synthesizer specialists both would have modest runs of success over the next several years, with Doherty a touring member of The Twilight Sad until recently and Cook a member of Aereogramme, with whom Doherty would also work as an engineer and contributing musician. After some loose collaborations during the next few years, the pair, as Cook describes, “sat down in 2007 and decided to set some time and do something fresh, that wasn’t from the same place from which we have always come—the indie guitar-rock stuff.”

The “indie guitar-rock stuff” may not be what Chvrches play, but it certainly has influenced aspects of both the group’s musical sensibilities and their performance. Mayberry cops to owning three Death Cab for Cutie shirts, Doherty mentions Mogwai and The Arab Strap when expounding on Scottish musical heritage and at the previous night’s show in San Francisco, Mayberry jokingly played a couple of bars from the theme song to The O.C., which caused an unexpected mass singalong of the Phantom Planet tune. They seem at ease when discussing bands like Bright Eyes and Jimmy Eat World, and just as at ease when displaying a far greater knowledge of The O.C. than their Orange County-resident interviewer possesses.

In this light, the band’s comparisons to The Knife and Purity Ring, which have been inescapable, have their limits, as there is a sunny quality to be found in the music of Chvrches, and it seems to stem from the band’s personality rather than aesthetic choices.

“It’s like people want us to be mysterious,” Cook says, distancing the band from more wrong impressions, “but it isn’t something that we actively tried to do.”

“Then they are surprised when they come to the show and we’re not mysterious at all,” Mayberry adds. “There are terrible knock-knock jokes.”

Cook explains that the mystery people perceive was his and Doherty’s way of distancing themselves from their past endeavors, “to see if people could enjoy it for what it was,” and Mayberry adds that “it’s not that you don’t value the stuff you’ve done before, but when you do something quite different you want it to be valued on its own.”

“Neon Gold asked us to write a blog about what the band was and we were just like ‘I don’t know,’” recalls Doherty. “We had like three lines because we didn’t want to be like ‘it’s this guy from this band and that guy from that band and it’s Glasgow.’ That’s just not what we were about and it’s still not what we are about. We want the music to document it.”

And, to hear the band tell it, figuring out “what they were” has been an ongoing process, starting with Cook and Doherty’s initial sessions with each other.

“It was kind of a reaction to where we came from, actually,” Doherty remembers. “It was the fresh challenge or the idea of composing music that, in the beginning, didn’t have any definite direction and no constraints and no rules. You didn’t have to adhere to the indie or shoegaze format that you have to follow to some extent if you want to be accepted in those worlds. But, it really didn’t go to the next level until we started working with Lauren. The three of us had something when we got together.”

“We thought we wanted a female vocal and initially we wanted to try it for backing vocals,” Doherty continues. “For me it was coming from a kind of Postal Service-y place, like the stuff that Jenny Lewis did on that record. But, when we started working with Lauren, we entered it as a three-way partnership in ways that I’ve never seen with anyone, and I didn’t think would be possible. And, obviously it has evolved from there.”

The band had come together properly near the end of 2011, writing as a three-person team and improving consistently in their own estimation. Still, the years that preceded Chvrches eventual notice didn’t necessarily mean they were ready for the public eye, which began when Neon Gold posted their first single, “Lies,” in May 2012, with the biographical information penned by Cook and Doherty limited to the number of people in the band and their sexes.

“When we put ‘Lies’ out we’d never played a gig,” says Doherty. “I think part of our evolution has come from figuring out how we are going to play it live, because it informs what you are limited to do, and melodies are always changing. But, at that point we hadn’t even considered playing a gig. We were pretty far behind in the plot of what had to be done in order to perform.

“No one expected the reaction that the music got from people passing it around to their friends,” he continues, “It was all very organic and steamrolled very quickly and people kept asking ‘a show? A show? A show? A show? Gonna play live? Gonna play live?’ and we’re like, ‘how?’ We could have done the laptop thing that kind of seems like karaoke. I’ve got nothing against people who do that, but, we felt strongly from the beginning that the live show was going to be a genuine performance and see us actually playing as much as possible. We’ll harness computers to an extent because you can’t really avoid it with electronic music these days, or else you’ll have racks and racks of synthesizers and a Midi clock nightmare. We come from an indie background and not a dance background. When I go to a show, I want to see someone play an instrument.”

The idea of songs being passed around before a band is even performing is almost unheard of. Before blogs, bands could circumvent the radio and find fans by playing shows that would inspire kids to tell their friends. But to pass a song off without initial shows and see it compound to the point that when “Recover,” their third single, was released, it was nearly unmissable? Mayberry cooly describes this as “encouraging,” recalling her own experiences discovering bands through friends.

“That’s the kind of thing that money can’t buy you,” she says. “You can have it shoved down your throat with adverts on Youtube and in magazines, but it’s really cool that something can still happen organically like that.”

That night Chvrches would play their first ever show in Los Angeles, sold-out far in advance and put on by Neon Gold, an “honor” for the band to perform at an event put on by the first people to play their song. The band would fly out the next morning to Austin for South by Southwest, and then head back to the studio to work on their debut LP, hopefully ready for the fall. Cook notes that they have “an album’s worth of material” already that they are mixing, but are “leaving the door open for any last minute songs that might come through that may be contenders for the album.”

By that time, the perception of Chvrches will likely be more in tune with the polite, experienced, and good-humored musicians that they are

“In this band, we’re very keen to focus as much of our attention on the creative element as possible,” says Doherty, a philosophy that can be heard paying off on their Recover EP releasing in March. “If you get too caught up in how other people perceive you, then you can get too caught up in yourself, and start making shit records.”

Listen to Chvrches’ Daytrotter session here.

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5. The Lone Bellow
By Hilary Saunders
Musical families played a vital role in the development of country, bluegrass and folk song traditions. Though the lineage may have skipped a few generations, influences such as The Carter Family, The Partridge Family, The Staples Singers and others seemed to have seeped into the DNA of The Lone Bellow, a new Brooklyn group for whom music and family seem to be just as closely entwined.

When I skeptically ask how familial The Lone Bellow really is, considering its three core members aren’t actually related, singer and guitarist Zach Williams suppresses a laugh. “How about I just yell out the top window and Brian will yell back up so you know that we live in the same house?!”

The Lone Bellow, whose members all hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line, followed a convoluted path to making honky tonk music together in Brooklyn. Singer and mandolin player Kanene Pipkin grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., studied linguistics at the College of William & Mary and moved to Beijing, China after graduation. Both Williams and guitarist and singer Brian Elmquist were raised in Georgia and went to college together, but Williams later got married and moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. to finish school while Elmquist traveled to Nashville to play music.

About seven years ago, though, tragedy befell the Williams family. “My wife, who I met when I was 12, had this crazy accident where she fell off a horse and broke her neck,” begins Williams. “She was a quadriplegic and we moved into the hospital… A bunch of friends of mine that basically lived with me in the waiting room there all started thinking about moving to New York together.”

During their hospital stay, Williams found solace through the company of friends—including Pipkin’s older brother—and playing music. “That was when I learned to sing and play the guitar at the same time,” he says. “[My friends] were encouraging me to play at open mics and stuff because it was helping me process.” Miraculously, Williams’ wife recovered fully and the pair moved to New York with a number of friends shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, Elmquist and Pipkin were around the world exploring other projects. But when Pipkin’s brother, Mike, got married, the first musical spark alighted. “The first time [Zach and I] sang together was at Mike’s wedding,” starts Pipkin, “he had matched us up to sing ‘O Happy Day’ as the recessional. Halfway through rehearsing the song, I think we both looked at each other and thought, ‘Hey, this works.’ Zach asked me to come sing with him in New York sometime, but I think he had missed the memo that I lived in China. When my husband and I moved to Brooklyn we reunited with Zach and just naturally fell into playing music together.”

So when Williams found himself with a catalogue of sad stories that needed to be sung, he called upon his old friends—now all living in New York—to complete the songs. He remembers, “I went over and stopped at the diner that Brian works at and was like, ‘Hey man, let’s put together a honky tonk band! I got all these sad lyrics and I gotta hide ‘em with some kinda melody!’”

The 12 tracks on The Lone Bellow don’t sound so dreary, though. The trio’s impeccable, soulful harmonies command attention in songs like “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” and “You Never Need Nobody.” The song structure is reminiscent of classic country, possibly from the Hank Williams Sr. tunes Elmquist mentions he listened to when Williams first called him. And by telling their own and their friends’ stories of tragedy, hope, betrayal and redemption, emotion rings most clearly on The Lone Bellow.

“Honestly, I hope this is a record that heals people,” says Pipkin. She elaborates, “We’ve gone deep into our grief in this material, and subsequently I feel we’re able to go deeper into our joy as a result. I want others to experience that. I hope people will be filled with hope for their relationships, that they’ll see the beauty of redemption and the value of pain through the songs we’ve put our own stories into.”

Continues Elmquist, “We’ve made the record. Now it’s time for other people to listen to it and make it theirs.”

As The Lone Bellow prepares for the release of its self-titled debut on January 22 via Descendent Records, Williams, Elmquist and Pipkin are also looking to transition out of the double-lives they’ve been leading. And with a late-night TV spot on Conan slotted for the release day, tours with Marcus Foster, Ivan & Alyosha and Dwight Yoakam all in the works and support from former tour-mates The Civil Wars, it seems most likely that The Lone Bellow will captivate audiences in 2013.

“Lone. That adjective,” Williams considers. “I really enjoy the harmonies of us three singing together and I feel like it’s kind of its own sound. There’s definitely a feeling that happens inside me when I sing with Brian and Kanene and it’s a stand-alone feeling. That’s why we went that that adjective…I think it’s one sound together.”

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4. Lucius
By Dacey Orr
It’s tough to say what makes Brooklyn-based Lucius stick out. Their delicate blend of intoxicating harmonies and fierce lyrics is only magnified by the entire band’s chemistry on stage—a display that employs collaborative percussion, eye-catching stage props and a symbiosis of themselves and their audience, turning any venue into its own ‘60s-rooted power-pop experience. Vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig may look like sisters, and clearly their friendship predates any musical collaboration.

“We sort of connected on our similar musical upbringing,” Wolfe says. “Which was ‘60s rock-n-roll and old-school soul music: you know, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder.”

A fitting match-up in more than just influences, Wolfe and Laessig command audiences at every show with twin outfits, often coordinating with the rest of the band and tailoring the atmosphere to reflect the energy of their performance. 

“It’s basically a visual representation of the music,” Wolfe says. “We’re two voices singing as one, the band is this sort of machine where every part is integral to the next. Each part works off of the next part in order to make the music that we make. And I think that it has that same sort of symmetry, that same sort of visual. When you’re looking at the stage there’s this uniformity.”

The band doesn’t even have a traditional drum kit; they split the parts between four people, using them the same unity and off-handed charm on-stage that they have with each other on the road. It’s not just Wolfe and Laessig, after all—the band also includes Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri.

“I can pretty much guarantee that anyone who comes on the road with us is wildly entertained. Or freaked out. Either one,” said Wolfe.  “We play pranks on each other, we make up games in the car. I mean Holly got a call this morning and realized her ringer had been changed to fart sounds.”

Their goofy demeanor in person only makes the their forceful lyrics feel all the more relatable. 

“I feel like a lot of songs that maybe seem like super powerful and feminist songs are us giving ourselves a pep talk,” says Wolfe. “Figuring out a problem and then writing it down and being able to see it and then share it. I mean we’re lucky that we’re able to sort of complete each other’s sentences, and we’ve had very many parallel experiences and are able to relate to each other in the writing process.”

That’s not to say that the undertones of female empowerment are unintentional. Their forthcoming full-length, Wildewoman, embodies that same pep talk mentality in everything from the lyrics to the cover art, a painting by Evelyne Axell. 

“She was really at the forefront of the pop-art scene in Belgium,” Wolfe says. “She was obviously a feminist, and it was really important that that aesthetic and that feeling was sort of projected in the artwork. It might be bold for some people, but that was the point.”

This deliberate boldness reveals itself in each track, whether it’s sonically powerful like “Turn It Around” or lyrically dauntless like “Go Home,” each track seems to have a different way of revealing Lucius’ strengths.

“There’s no real formula for all the songs, each song has had its own unique inception,” says Laessig. Wildewoman in title alone reveals much of what the music has been about from the beginning.

“Holly and I grew up sort of feeling outcasted and feeling like we were different than other people and didn’t really know how to vocalize that, how to feel comfortable,” Wolfe says. “When we met, it was the first time we actually felt that we were in a place that we felt comfortable with ourselves, that we could really figure it out. And we just wanted to honor that sort of free-spirited, awkward, uncomfortable aspect of youth and growing up and being a woman.”

In continually switching up their set to fit the atmosphere, which has ranged from tiny clubs to rustic cabins to big festivals like Bonnaroo and Solid Sound, Lucius has found a consistency in their breezy vocals and powerhouse percussion. Beyond the strong songwriting, the band operates like a well-oiled machine, with each part integral to the next. The support within the group mirrors that of their community of artists and fellow musicians in Brooklyn. 

“It’s so important, as an upcoming band especially, to have people that understand where you’re coming from and how hard you have to work,” Wolfe says. “It takes a lot just to get just a little bit of recognition. If you don’t have that support, if you’re not supporting your fellow musicians, what’s the point, really? You have to be inspired and you have to inspire.”

And when it comes to inspiring, Lucius is just getting started. With many tour dates ahead of them this fall and their debut full-length Wildewoman set for release in October, the band’s commanding presence is only bound to reach more ears as they continue to produce meaningful, infectious songs.

“I think we are very much talking to ourselves,” says Wolfe. “And if that helps other people well then, you know, mission accomplished.”

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3. Mikal Cronin
Photo and Feature by Philip Cosores
“It’s good to start with a bang, and then lead them somewhere weird,” says Mikal Cronin, summing up the philosophy behind his second solo LP and first for Merge Records, MCII. The “bang” in his case is a pair of clear-cut singles that lead off the collection, “Weight” and “Shout It Out.”

Speaking over coffee in downtown Santa Ana, California—Orange County’s answer to the gentrified, artistic neighborhoods that spawn the kind of coffee shops you would tell a musician to meet you—Cronin confirms a vast taste and mentions dozens of acts during our conversation. His current favorites range from the classic rock of The Beatles and David Bowie to up-and-comers like Pangea and The Mallards, to some surprises like Sharon Van Etten and Death From Above 1979. But his biggest reaction comes at the mention of the 1996 Tom Hanks directorial debut, That Thing You Do! Those opening songs have pop simplicity and infectiousness of the early-60’s one-hit-wonders portrayed in the movie, but getting an audience to listen is only part of the battle.

“You’ve got to grab them to get them to where you want the to go,” Cronin adds, suggesting one of his destinations, “like, a piano ballad.”

The piano ballad is not hypothetical. “Piano Mantra,” concludes MCII with something weird indeed, something as far away from his musical roots as he has yet to venture. Growing up in Laguna Beach, Cronin began in garage and punk bands while in high school, performing at house parties, short-run DIY spaces and the first real venue he ever played, The Smell in Los Angeles.

“My parents were supportive, increasingly more and more,” Cronin recalls of his Orange County days, having slowly made his way north for school and then the Bay where he currently lives and makes music. On this weekend he’s home, visiting his encouraging folks and watching plenty of TV on their couch, while also checking out Burgerama where numerous friends and associates perform for the label he has been loosely associated with. Cronin now is emerging from a scene that is generally loud and rough around the edges, so it doesn’t surprise that he adds that his mom likes the music “especially now.”

“My mom is like my biggest fan,” he admits proudly. “She listens to my record while she’s driving to work. It’s not too noisy. She likes it better than all my other bands, for sure. She’s just coming around on Ty. She’s like ‘I’m finally gettin’ it!’ She still likes my music better, but she’s a little biased.”

The “Ty” referred to is Ty Segall, Cronin’s friend and collaborator since his Orange County days. Cronin still plays bass in the Ty Segall Band, whose popularity means that success as a solo artist might force him to choose. A quick look at the songwriter—his long wavy hair, jean jacket and black t-shirt sporting a skull and an apparent band logo that is well outside anything a general indie background would inform—indicates that the garage scene is where he is most comfortable. But the music that he can, and does, create has a ceiling much higher than that of the garage.

“It was a thought in my head for a while,” Cronin recalls of making his debut album. “I don’t know what spawned it other than getting into early classic songwriting. I brought it up to Bill of Trouble in Mind while we were on tour and we had been friends for a while, and he was like ‘Just do it, go for it, we want to hear it and we’ll probably put it out if its not terrible.’ And that was it. I started shaping it in my head, something to bring together everything, because I’ve jumped around so much in my interests. I’m schizophrenic like that, and I wanted to put it in one cohesive thing.”

Still, Cronin is careful with his words when discussing his beloved garage music. “I hesitate to say it, but I got really sick of stupid, straight-ahead garage punk. I still love it. But, it started just becoming annoying.”

“It’s more of a reaction in that I wanted to focus more on songwriting,” he continues. “To write a good song and then fuck it up if that’s what I want to do. It’s tricky with this kind of pop music, you don’t want to make something that’s wimpy or dull.”

Cronin notes that members of Ty Segall Band, his “best friends,” have been supportive throughout his solo ventures, but he gets the impression that not everyone in the community is as keen on his softer sound. Still, no one has the nerve to say anything to his face.

“At this point if some shithead punk doesn’t like my music, I don’t give a shit,” he says, revealing an edge that comes from his past and won’t likely be shaken no matter how many piano ballads he writes. “I still like shithead punk music. And, I have friends who don’t listen to pop music that have legitimately come around.”

Cronin’s songwriting has quickly captured the attention of listeners and industry players outside of the garage and punk web, too. Merge Records approached Cronin after a set at South by Southwest, with Cronin admitting to being “blown away” at the time. Since signing to the label and crafting his follow-up under their banner, Cronin has discovered that his new label home is not that different than the “mom and pop operations” he was used to, besides more people in the offices and a publicity team.

“I don’t have a big master plan about getting the music to the masses,” he says. “But I feel comfortable enough to try to have a lot of people hear the music. And, Merge has a different demographic than all of the labels I’ve worked with before, which has been more garage music-specific stuff. So, it feels like they are kind of taking a chance on me, which is great.“

Also taking notice have been critics, and on the day of our meeting, Cronin has received a Best New Track distinction by Pitchfork, to which he is honest about its significance.

“I admit that I do read reviews,” Cronin says. “I don’t get it a lot of times and don’t think that they get the music. How could they when it is so internal? So I don’t put a lot of stock in it. It’s flattering, but I take way more stock in what my friends think. But I can’t say that [Pitchfork’s BNT awarding] doesn’t make me a little happy.

“But at the end of the day I really don’t care,” he continues. “This is more for me than anyone else. I know it’s a cliché, but I strongly feel that way. And, I don’t feel tied down in any way. I know if I wanted to I could make the next record a punk album or a rap album. That’s never going to happen, but you understand.”

“Piano Mantra” speaks to this, a gentle, palate cleansing finisher that Cronin calls a “bold decision” and “risky.” In hearing it, though, it doesn’t seem like a leap of faith at all. Cronin is as confident and controlled of a young songwriter as you will find. From the measured strings to the whine of the feedback that ushers in the songs expansive finish, it’s an ending far from that of a guy whose primary aim is to be in someone else’s band. It is not the crafting of a nameless player for someone else’s songs.

For now, though, with the Ty Segall Band on a break and the support of MCII beginning, no tough choices are being forced, and Cronin repeatedly mentions that not burning himself out and “respecting yourself and your mental health” are top priorities. When leaving the coffee shop, Cronin decides to not drive straight to San Francisco as his plans were, but to stay with his folks for one more day of relaxation. It is hardly the most punk decision from a guy in a skull tee, but, like his music, the contradictions are worn proudly, perhaps aware that Mikal Cronin is all the more interesting because of them.

If our year-end lists of songs and albums were any indication, it was a great year for emerging artists. From the un-fightable, infectious pop of Haim, the ragged garage rock of Mikal Cronin, the punishing punch of a Savages track to Majical Cloudz’s reflective slow-churners, we were in for a treat in 2013 with breakout acts.

Along the way, we made plenty of discoveries in our weekly Best of What’s Next profiles, which are featured first at PASTE.COM. We’ve included our 20 favorite finds and their complete profiles (or reviews in a few cases) below for you to discover yourself. And if you’re taking a peek at this during the work day and just want to see the darn list already, we’ve got you covered—head on over to page 12 in the gallery below.

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2. Haim
By Sarah McCarty
Minutes after signing their first record contract with Polydor in the U.K., the sisters of HAIM walked across the street to a London venue called Dingwalls for their first headlining show last summer. A horde of fans in line outside the 500-capacity venue immediately recognized the girls.

“We were like, ‘Why do you care? Why do you know my name?’” says youngest sister, 21-year-old Alana HAIM. “We’re just three Jewish girls from the valley playing music.”

Despite only releasing a three-song EP, Forever, at the time, it’s no surprise fans recognized HAIM—a trio of sisters and drummer friend Dash Hutton from L.A. Alana, Este and Danielle HAIM lend their vocal harmonies to an aesthetic blend of indie rock and chilled out ‘90s R&B girl groups. This isn’t just delicate slow jam music, though. They’ll keep you out of your seats with their robust hip-hop influence courtesy of thick, head-nodding beats and driving percussion.

While the vocals are front and center, they also know how to play and spent years mastering their instruments. Este plays bass, Danielle takes lead guitar and Alana has rhythm guitar, keyboards and percussion. The winding staccato guitar lines that layer the R&B-style melodies at times bring to mind The xx. But unlike The xx’s hushed chamber music of intimacy and interior space, HAIM is built for the arena. This is music to which you can actually groove.

Throughout 2012, HAIM garnered radio play in the U.K., built Internet buzz in the U.S. and scored slots touring with Mumford & Sons and Florence + the Machine. And the group expects 2013 to be even better. HAIM plans to release a full-length album early this spring on Columbia and just recently won the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll.

That emotional day in London last summer was 20 years in the making. Alana, Danielle and Este, sisters and best friends, grew up making music as a family. With their parents, they played classic rock songs in a cover band dubbed RockinHaim for years. Eventually, the girls dropped the “Rockin” and started their own band. Their parents still join them on tour. Momma HAIM is known for chatting up fans at the merchandise table and on special occasions both parents join HAIM on stage for a version of “Mustang Sally”. The HAIM parents even listened in on the phone interview with the girls. Alana and Este shared a speaker phone at the HAIM home, and Danielle, who recently moved out, connected via 3-way calling.

“We’ve been playing music our whole lives,” says Danielle, the middle sister at 23 years old. “We always assumed we’d start a band but we never really took it seriously. Then we all just started writing together. We compiled a couple songs and decided we should just probably get them out. So it kind of just happened organically.”

The band formed in 2007, but HAIM didn’t release a debut EP until 2012. During those five years, each sister pursued her own thing while also working on the HAIM project.

At 25 years old, Este is the oldest sister. She’s known for being the wildest of the girls, especially on stage. “If I could write a diary entry about Este having the best time, it would be performing,” she says. “I get to say whatever I want, do whatever I want and play music.” Este attended UCLA from 2007 through 2010 for ethnomusicology. “I basically got to stay on drums all day long,” she says. “I graduated by the skin of my teeth. But I did finish.”

“She likes being humble,” Alana says of her older sister. “She’s definitely the smartest of all three, for sure.” Danielle agrees saying, “You were always a smart child.”

Este is quick to return the compliments. “No. I’m in a band with two smart cookies. Two tough cookies and two smart ones, too.”

Middle child Danielle is often referred to as “the quiet one.” Since her phone dropped the call part way through the interview, she missed an opportunity to prove or disprove that label. (Apparently she dropped her phone in the toilet … or that was just Este embellishing a text message from Danielle). Danielle opted to pursue music after high school. “I didn’t want to go anywhere for college. I kind of just wanted to stay in L.A. and try to pursue music,” she said. Thanks to a friend who opened for Jenny Lewis, Danielle secured spots touring in bands for Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas.

HAIM  started when Alana was still in high school. Alana might be the youngest of the girls, but she’s not afraid to speak up or take charge. “It’s really depressing but, I’ve never moved out the house,” she says. “That’s really what kind of kept us in this weird limbo period for so many years. I begged my parents to please let me be a rock star and not graduate.”

The band also stayed in limbo due to struggles with recording the first EP. In five years, they have released five tracks. The three-song EP came out in February, and in the fall they released two additional tracks, “Don’t Save Me” and “Send Me Down.” Part of their frugality in releasing material stems from their early failures to translate the sound they wanted in a recording studio.

“It wasn’t like we had the same songs and we just recorded them five times over five years,” Este says. “We’re musicians. We knew what we wanted, but we didn’t know how to get what we wanted.”

Then they met producer Ludwig Göransson, who works with Childish Gambino and on TV shows Community, Happy Endings and New Girl. “He looks like our brother,” Alana says. “We met him and we were like, ‘Whoa. Who is your dad? Cause he might my dad.’” Though not related biologically, the HAIM sisters and Ludwig meshed musically. Este says before Ludwig, they worried HAIM would never put out an album. For instance, Danielle always envisioned “Forever” as a party jam, but it came out sad and slow every time they recorded it. “We gave it to Ludwig, and he put all these hip hop beats over it and other stuff. It was exactly what we had been looking for,” Alana says.

HAIM  has been described as a mixture of classic rock, R&B and folk music. Este says they all love R&B and the classic rock stems from their RockinHaim repertoire, but she calls the folk comparison a stretch. “I honestly think people think because we’re girls with long hair who play guitars and sing harmonies that it’s folk.”

Sometimes their harmonies are reminiscent of Wilson Phillips, especially on the a cappella opening of “Better Off.” “I’m down to be a Wilson Phillips vibe,” Este says. “We haven’t gotten a reference yet that I don’t like.” Those references include everything from Fleetwood Mac to En Vogue to Cyndi Lauper.

R&B seems to be the greatest influence. Growing up, they particularly loved TLC, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child and Sisters With Voices. “That music was just what young people were listening to at the time,” Este says. “You would go to a party or bar mitzvah and listen to that kind of music. When you’re 13 in L.A. it’s the best year in your life cause you get to go to a bar mitzvah or two every weekend and you go party really hard, as hard as you can party as a 13 year old. We were just really inspired by that whole music vibe.”

?HAIM translates that party vibe to the stage. They have the soul of R&B and the ethos of a jamband—it’s all about the live show. They play songs live before recording them to get a feel for how they want it to sound. They keep in mind the audience and what it would sound like hearing lyrics sang back to them in concert. They give 100 percent at every show, welcoming fans into their exclusive Gaggle of Gals (the name they gave their group of “lady friends and some dudes” in L.A.). They consider HAIM a live band, first and foremost.

“I don’t know if I really made it clear, but I really don’t like recording,” Este says. “I have the best time when I’m playing live. I get my jollies when I’m playing live. When I play bass and I’m playing with my sisters, it’s the most natural feeling and the most fun.”

Even on stage, Este, Danielle and Alana are just three girls from the valley playing music together. They traded in L.A. traffic for European tours and bar mitzvahs for headlining gigs. (Alana recently celebrated her 21st birthday performing at Music Hall of Williamsburg). They still live at home with Mama and Papa HAIM, except Danielle. She lives down the street, within walking distance.

All three sisters love working with each other and expect to play music together until they’re old ladies.

“I was in RockinHaim when I was four. If we were going to have an Oasis falling out, it would have happened a long time ago. We’re always there for each other,” Alana says. “I trust them musically and emotionally.”

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1. Foxygen
By Bonnie Stiernberg
It’s a story that feels as old as dirt: a band gets thrust into the spotlight after a successful record and begins to crack under the pressure. Drugs. In-fighting. Canceled tour dates. Maybe some sort of Yoko Ono situation. Too much too soon. It’s the plot of that Tom Hanks movie, That Thing You Do, and it’s the premise of pretty much every episode of Behind The Music. We know this story because we’ve seen it a million times, and we know how it ends.

It’s not Foxygen’s story though—not really.

When we first decided to name the group the breakout band of 2013, we had to double-check to make sure they weren’t…well, broken up. Lead singer Sam France and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado have had their share of public differences over the course of the year, and although they had played shows recently and appeared to be in a good place, on Nov. 4 a cryptic message was posted on the band’s Facebook page:

we are currently functioning as Foxygen And Star Power under orders of Breakfast Horse INTNL. and in agreement with STAR POWER Radio. Our band lineup has changed greatly and the new recordings will feature this new band. Thank you, and watch out on the HiWays, you may see THem, BEWARE

Then, in the comments section, this non-clarification:

Due to contractual issues we are not sure what we can reveal at this time except that the new record features our new band, that the record is under way, it is a double album, and the record itself deals with “controversial” paranormal issues which has forced us to re-nogotiate [sic] with certain establishments the fabric of the Foxygen enterprise

Rado is reluctant to give more details, but he assures that he and France are both still in the group and happy. “I don’t wanna say too much,” he says. “I think it’ll all become clear soon who we’re talking about. Me and Sam are still the core of the band. I don’t think that statement is negative in any way. I wouldn’t have anyone perceive it in a negative way. I think it’s a very positive thing. So yeah, I’ll just say that.”

Since Rado and France are moving forward and looking to the future, it may seem counterintuitive to rehash the past, but in the interest of separating fact from fiction, of distinguishing that classic rock ’n’ roll burnout story from Foxygen’s story, we do have to talk about all the stuff that went down.

After the hype surrounding their album, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (released in January), reached a fever pitch, the band headed to Texas in March for some high-profile SXSW performances, but after an onstage meltdown early in the week, they canceled their remaining showcases for the week, as well as a European tour.

“I feel bad about that decision, but the thing was we never booked that European tour,” Rado told me in July. “It was a giant miscommunication because that information was never communicated to us, but it got communicated through management, booking agents, somewhere they got confused and then now those are shows. And we had to look like the assholes like, ‘No, we’re canceling it.’ We never really wanted to do it and it was sort of booked without us ever really knowing about it. It was like a big shock. We didn’t know we were going to Europe. And we were just coming off of a really long tour, which was really exhausting for us creatively as a band, and it wasn’t worth it for us mentally.”

The summer would continue to be a trying time for the group—sort of. At the end of July, France climbed a monitor during a show, fell and broke his leg, requiring surgery and resulting in more canceled dates. And of course, a few days before that, less than an hour after that first interview of mine with Rado, where he admitted that “things are still kind of tough in Foxygen,” the Internet exploded with rumors of the band’s breakup after touring member Elizabeth Fey (who was dating France at the time) wrote an extensive Tumblr post that went viral, painting Rado as cold and controlling. But in actuality, instead of breaking up Foxygen, this led to a period of healing—and some really strong shows.

“Music websites picked up the rumor that we broke up, and all this happened in a day. ‘Foxygen Breaks Up, Here’s All This Drama, blah blah blah,’ you know? ‘Rado’s an asshole, blah blah blah.’ And there was this moment where we had to do a show that night, when all this drama went down,” Rado says. “And I remember I was checking my phone, and I looked down at something like, ‘Hey, look at Pitchfork right now,’ and going on there and it saying ‘Foxygen Breaks Up’ and me being completely confused about what to do and going and looking at it and just being confused and angry. We had to go play a show, and we played the show and it was simultaneously the best and worst show I’ve ever played. I could see at the time that everyone knew, or at least I felt in my mind that everyone had read that thing and they were judging me. I felt terrible. I just felt like I didn’t want to go on stage. I didn’t want to play. But I also because of that I think played really well, and then after that, me and Sam had a long talk, and then we played some shows after that and they were awesome shows. They were amazing shows.

“And then Sam broke his leg,” he continues. “And the public doesn’t really know that during that time was the time that we were the best, you know? We were just playing really, really awesome shows. We were really on our game. I think it was around that time we realized what was really important, which was our friendship over anger. I think it’s when we realized we got a little carried away.”

“Carried away” is a phrase Rado uses a lot to describe what he sees as the root of many of Foxygen’s problems; after reading characterizations of themselves online—France as “this crazy, drugged-out, incoherent rock star thing,” Rado perhaps as his foil—they began to buy into those ideas.

“People just made up this image of what the band was, and I think in a way, in some sort of demented way because Sam and I are actors, we sort of decided that that’s what it was gonna be, like we decided to kind of play into this persona that the public had created for us,” he explains. “That was the only way to keep it interesting. We never really wanted to be a normal indie band or something. So I guess as a way of dealing with all of the shit, the weird assumptions of people, was to actually play into that. And maybe it got a little too carried away. I can definitely say that on both of our parts, our roles that we were playing got a little too carried away…it’s not like we ever sat down and talked about it, but it sort of spun out of control…I feel like I lost myself a little bit in that last year.”

“But we stopped touring, we spent a couple months just like recuperating and then realized all of it,” he continues. “We realized we’re not actually this angry rock band; we don’t actually have these problems. This is just what people said incorrectly, they just made up about us, and we were kind of believing it. That was a big moment between Sam and I when we realized that we don’t hate each other. We got a little too carried away with that. That’s a pretty weird way of looking at it, but I really do think that’s it. We both do really feel that that’s what happened. We bought into not our own hype, but what people thought about us a little too much.”

It’s easy to do when you’re a buzz band, when what people think about you is seemingly all anyone wants to read about. Rado’s aware of the hype—how could he not be?—but, pointing out he and France have been in a band for 10 years, he says he found it to be a little “confusing.” But when you’re together for so long, you don’t just throw a decade of collaboration and friendship away because things get rough or perplexing. You work it out.

“When I look back on 2013, and I have, it’s definitely been simultaneously the best, most productive year of my entire life—and this probably goes for Sam too, the best, most productive year—and also just the worst,” Rado says. “I mean, I’m not gonna validate some of the things that were written about us, but I will say that for a good period of this year, we weren’t getting along that great. But I can also say that that has changed. Like a 180… Being friends as we tour was hard for us for a while, and now it’s not really a problem. That’s the biggest thing, learning how to be in a band and be around the same people all day and still be friends. Which we now are.”

So now that the 21st century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic are no longer at war, they can go back to the beginning, leaving this tumultuous year behind them and gearing up for bigger, better things. There’s no way of predicting what 2014 will bring, but Rado’s got a few ideas.

“I don’t intend on staying a buzz band,” he says. “I’m very aware that we are, and I would very much like to continue being a band. I’d ideally like to just be considered a band rather than 2013’s Hottest Young Dudes with Their Hit Single ‘San Francisco’ That Sounds Like The Kinks, you know? It’s not really like that. We don’t really intend on making these ‘San Francisco’ pretty Kinks songs, because that was just one album we did, a series of albums we made, since we were little fuckin’ kids. It’s a lot of strange stress to have people identify your band as one thing, calling us ’60s retro whatever. I mean, in a way we are, and we love those time periods, we love all of that, but we’re also interested in doing other things besides that. Which I don’t think some people understand.

“But they will.”

The 20 Best New Bands of 2013
20. Shakey Graves 
19. Bars of Gold
18. Rhye
17. Savages
16. Houndmouth 
15. Lorde 
14. The Underachievers
13. Speedy Ortiz 
12. Diarrhea Planet 
11. Majical Cloudz
10. Kacey Musgraves 
9. Parquet Courts 
8. Leagues
7. Cayucas
6. Chvrches 
5. The Lone Bellow 
4. Lucius 
3. Mikal Cronin 
2. Haim 
1. Foxygen 

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