Tag Archives: Berlin

Crucial albums #1: Cocteau Twins ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’

21 Apr The Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas

Inspired by that facebook game where you list 10 important albums, I realised that many of my favourite albums are not the ones that shaped my music or songwriting directly.

I want to explore the albums that changed how I thought about my practice as a singer and songwriter, and that are direct influences on Mitropa, the Wasp Summer album I’m currently making.

Number 1 must be the Cocteau Twins masterpiece ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’.

Oh, this album, beginning to end, blows my mind. In 1994, I escaped an increasingly dangerous relationship and was relieved to move into a sharehouse in Lismore with 4 other women, located above a veterinary surgery. Collectively and consciously, we explored ritual paganism, argued theology with the Mormons that came each week to save us, and smoked more weed than was strictly necessary. I saw some weird shit.

I started off living behind a makeshift curtain in the kitchen until a room became available. Then I moved into the least psychedelically-wallpapered of the rooms, affectionately known as the Triffid Room.

A lot of music that is important to me (Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, the Clouds) came out of this room and this year, as did my first attempts at songwriting. Rachel the Cone Queen stole this record from her sister, but it lived for the entire year in my room where I attempted to rationalise its immense harmony while drifting off into its etheric spheres.

This album remains an act of divinity to me. The Cocteaus’ perfect pop moment. The post-punk textures they had been developing all the way along, Liz Fraser’s astonishing vocal style, the pulsing bass and drum machines, liquified into a weird, dreamy and pleasurable set of songs that blew open my expectations of what I could do, what the human voice could do, what guitars could sound like.

It was the precursor chemical to so much of the music that made my music sound the way it does. At least, most of what I did with The Mime Set and Wasp Summer was me aiming for this kind of freedom.

Upon reflection, Annie Lennox and Liz Fraser are largely responsible for the beautiful oddness of my sense of harmony.

 

Mitropa, Mitropa

26 May

The new Wasp Summer album cometh

In February, Simon and I started recording the second Wasp Summer album. In previous letters, you read about Wasp Summer’s history, so you know that this is our first album as a band. The name Mitropa comes from a railway company that ran sleeping and dining cars across Central Europe from 1916-1994.

The new songs are muscular and outward-looking. Living and touring in Mitteleuropa has definitely influenced the themes and the tempo of the songs. Imagine long journeys through the night between one mysterious metropolis and another. That’s what this album will sound like.

We recorded over three days at Pebble Music’s studio in the old DDR Rundfunk Buildings in Köpenick, working with drummer Romain who plays with Elyas Khan and the 17 Hippies.

Go here to Soundcloud if you want an idea of what the new songs sound like.

See you at a show. If you want to chat, Wasp Summer is on Twitter or Facebook.
Cheers,
Samantha

Busking Stories

14 Apr

I’ve been paid in insults, drugs and sometimes even money.

Busking Stories
Concerts

Busking Stories
He passed Lena to stand directly in front of me. He leaned down into my face, hissed “Schhhhlamppppe!’, then firmly poked his tongue out at me and stomped away.

Lena, my jazz singer friend, and I were busking at Hallesches Tor. I slowly turned to Lena, “He just called me a smurf and stuck his tongue out!”
“Oh no, honey,” she said, “He didn’t call you a smurf. That’s ‘Schlumpf’. He called you a slut.” Our howling laughter ricocheted around the tunnel.

Lena Tjäder and Sam WareingHallesches Tor, a Berlin U-Bahn station, has a long tunnel connecting the U1 and U6. Buskers with station permits prefer stations where lines cross because the long tunnels have great acoustics. People hear you long before they see you which makes you money.

It’s fascinating people-watching: old Berliners, hipsters, immigrant families, punks, street people, kids, yuppies and tourists. A cheerful psychedelic man squatted next to us. “Mädels! Sounds great! I got no money, but I want you to have these…,” and dropped two tabs of acid next to the coins in our guitar case. I’ve also been “paid” with hash, booze, joints, promises of work and business cards with private numbers.

At Stadtmitte, an old man wanted our spot. His busking tactic was to jig next to us, blowing on a harmonica and holding out his dirty hat to reveal a seeping head wound under old bandages. He won.

We busked for a year in the U-Bahn, 4-6 hours at a time. That’s how I learned guitar in public. We found friends, gigs and fans, and sold CDs. We featured in the children’s magazine Geolino Extra, and played live on Radio Eins promoting a photography exhibition on street musicians. It always paid for coffee and hot meals and showed us a lot of Berlin life.

Concerts
You can find any upcoming concerts on our Facebook page here. If you don’t have facebook, you can check the Concerts page here on our website here or go to our feed on Twitter.

Cheers,
Samantha Wasp Summer

Last Berlin shows for 2014

1 Oct

Wasp Summer by Kate Seabrook

Wasp Summer has three gigs Berlin gigs coming up in October and November, the last before the Wasp Summer Australian shows.

Sunday 19 October at 14:00, Sam is doing a solo show at Donau 115‘s Donaufrühstück, If you’re Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down, this concert series presented by Cow Hearts and curated by the amazing Emperor X is for you.

Friday 31 October at 21:00, Sam and Simon are playing a Wasp Summer duo Halloween special at Moabit’s best Musik Lokal, Kallasch &.

Thursday 6 November at 21:00, Wasp Summer present their first full-band show with new drummer Ben Johnson (that’s him on the right above ^^) in a live recording at Culture Container.

This excellent band photo, in Ben’s rehearsal space, was taken by Kate Seabrook Photographer.

Running Up That Hill

7 Feb

How is your Winter/Summer progressing? All is well in the Wasp Summer camp. We are working towards recording our second album, tentatively entitled Mitropa. I have to write a couple more songs but the ten we have are sounding really strong. You can hear four demos here.

Running Up That Hill compilation

Running Up That Hill; Kate Bush Covers for Reproductive Rights

compilation to fund reproductive rights organisations in the USA

Wasp Summer covered a Kate Bush B-side called Under The Ivy for a wonderful compilation called Running Up That Hill: Kate Bush Covers for Reproductive Rights that was launched on Bandcamp on February 4, 2014.

It is as it says on the box and sales support US-based pro-choice organisations, most located in politically conservative US states where women’s rights have been threatened. If you buy songs or the whole compilation from Bandcamp, you support the printing of download cards that are given free to the selected organisations who can then sell them to directly raise funds.

Artists including Nona Invie from Dark Dark Dark and Karl Blau have contributed tracks. Kate Bush (via her manager) has given her blessing.

Upcoming Gigs

We have a bunch of Berlin shows coming up over starting on February 20. Come along and hear the new songs. More news about European Summer tours, the single/album launch dates and other shows soon.

Wasp Summer
w/ Ryan O’Reilly (UK) + Redvers (UK)
Donnerstag 20. Februar
Marie Antoinette
Bogen 47, Holzmarktstr.15-18
10179 Berlin-Kreuzberg
20:00. 5€
Fb Event

Wasp Summer
w/ The Fever (US)
Freitag 21. März
Madam Claude
Lübbener Straße 19
10997 Berlin-Kreuzberg
21:00. 3-7€

Wasp Summer
Freitag 11. April
w/ guests
Tiefgrund
Laskerstraße 5
10245 Berlin-Friedrichshain
(nr. About.Blank/Ostbhf)
21:00. 3-7€

Wasp Summer (duo)
w/ Remarkable Shipwrecks + Eamon McGrath
Freitag 2. Mai
Ex-LG Security
Donaustr. 115
12043 Berlin-Neukölln
20:30. By donation.

Cheers,
Sam Wasp Summer

Lists: 2013 in Musical Review (Revue?)

30 Dec

Musically, 2013 has been about writing towards a new Wasp Summer album (which we’re thinking of calling Mitropa – listen to some demo tracks)  and booking shows for amazing acts through Sofa Salon and A Headful of Bees. 2014 will definitely be about recording and touring and much, much less about booking for other people.

In regards to concerts, it was a good year. I’ve seen great, moving small-scale shows this year. Look these artists up: Lindsay Phillips, Gillian Grassie, Roland Satterwhite, Elyas Khan, Ben Salter, Liz Stringer, Pinto, Kini Mod, PHIA, Bernhard Eder and Vincent Long, amongst others.

I saw great club, arena or festival shows from Oneida, The Re-Mains, The Knife, Brandt Brauer Frick, Hans Unstern, Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, Mudhoney and Everything Everything.

So to my list of my favourite songs of 2013, in no particular order, plus five songs that found their home in my head in 2013:
Dancing Suns – Tarnished
Ben Salter – The Prophetess
Dead Sentries – Nowhere is Home
Elyas Khan – Bells
Everything Everything – Cough Cough
FKA Twigs – Papi Pacify
Jimmy Tait – All My Friends
Lindsay Phillips – The Crossing
Neko Case – Where Did I Leave That Fire?
PHIA – Do You Ever?

Ainslie Wills – Fighting Kind
Brandt Brauer Frick – Skiffle It Up
HAIM  – Forever
Kat Frankie – Please Don’t Give Me What I Want
Jens Friebe – Neues Gesicht

Happy listening and a Guten Rutsch.

Cheers,
Samantha

Inspiration from The Wasp Woman

18 May

On this, Eurovison Final Day, my vegetables and flowers are healthy on the balcony, someone is playing Debussy figures downstairs in the music school and my head is a-whirl with plans.

My friend (and soon to be collaborator in an Alt.Country musical) Jason, found this fantastic movie poster for my birthday. The Wasp Woman is a Roger Corman B-Movie from 1959 about a cosmetics mogul and badass who takes wasp royal jelly serum to become fabulously youthful.
Let’s overlook the gaping scientific flaws in the film’s premise and the thematic rip from The Fly, but when I saw this, I felt fabulously badass too.

It’s good timing because I’m working on the production notes for some new full-band recordings. Next month, we get to test out some cool DDR microphones in a new studio set-up. If the collaboration works, we’ll be making the new WS album as my annual Winter Project.

I often use visual inspiration to help me set the stylistic tone for a new project. The Wasp Woman‘s noir-ish colour scheme, melodrama, feminine force and, of course, the overt wasp theme, is a helpful focus point while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums.

Storyboard for 'Close as a Slow Dance'My first record, Close as a Slow Dance, was deep pomegranate, black and dusky earthen colours. Perfectly appropriate for the alt.country folk on the disk.

I’ll take down the old album’s collage storyboards on my wall and start making new ones while I work on the sounds I want on guitar and from Simon’s bass and Stu’s drums – more fuzz, more muscle, more groove. You can hear my home demo for new song Burning here to give you an idea.

While the Summer looks incredibly busy, Autumn and Winter are going to be digging-in time writing the rest of the songs that will make up the album, playing more with the band and finally learning more German.
Enjoy the melodrama of Eurovision and hopefully we’ll meet in a smoky basement somewhere and share some new songs.

Cheers,
Sam Wasp Summer

April Wasp: strange little girls

9 Apr

I’ve got a bunch of gigs coming up with Wasp Summer! They’re all listed on the Concerts page. Have a look!

But this Thursday, I’m playing at Kugelbahn in Wedding with Salon Band, great Berlin musical guns-for-hire. Salon Band host a monthly event where they invite and accompany guest singers. They picked three songs from my album – Dancehall at Louse Point, I Hope You’ll Mend and No Time For Compliments Now and asked me to pick three more cover songs. I chose Randy Crawford’s jazz-pop classic One Day I’ll Fly Away (you’ll be hypnotised by Ms. Crawford’s teeth), The Motels’ simmering Total Control (a hit only in France and Australia) and 60’s stomper Tobacco Road (which I’m approaching in a Tina Turner/Small Faces kind of way).

I’ve worked on “owning” these three songs – interpreting them, rather than just singing the melody and phrasings I know so well. In singing them carefully alone and with the band, I realised they’re actually weirdly structured. I had an epiphany about my songwriting – since I was a kid, I’ve always been drawn to songs where the form is dictated by the lyrics and melody, rather than creating a perfect chord progression and constructing/cramming the story into it. Perhaps, other people’s favourites amongst the songs I have written are the classically formed ones – even rhyming patterns, even line lengths, symmetrical structure. But my favourites are the bent and winding songs, the one-eyed songs, the crooked and eccentric songs with two verses at the top, one refrain and a long outro for a tail – my strange little girls.

The three songs I chose sound straight on the surface, but have a kooky, emotional view of their subject (getting over lost love, desire, and what the Germans might call Heimathassleibe), and structures – the length of verses, where and what the bridge sections do, etc. – designed (consciously or unconsciously) to emphasise the emotion/story the writer wants to tell.

I’ve often had bandmembers and arrangers ask, “Did you know there’s half a bar of 3/4 there?” or “What a weird keychange. Did you mean to do that?” or “Did you want 10 beats in that section?” or “Can we straighten this bit out?”. To which the answers are really?, yes, yes and no.  It just sounds normal to me because I “count” the song by lyrics and phrasing, not chord structure or bar numbers. Writing my charts isn’t straightforward. And the songs go how they go because that’s how they go. I don’t try to be dumb about it and I do edit my work, but if a song has an intrinsically strong melody or lyric, or keychange or structure, the only criteria are “Does it feel authentic to me?” and “Does it sound good to me?” If I play it in public, the answer is yes.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me back at waspsummer@gmail.com.

Cheers,

Sam

New Song: Burning

23 Mar Wasp Summer at Schokoladen, Berlin

I think this is probably the best demo I’ve ever made. I am really digging the harmonies – they’re so tense, tight and quietly dramatic. This song points to the new direction I’m taking Wasp Summer in, especially now I have the three-piece band with bassplayer Simon Morrison (Remarkable Shipwrecks, Dead Sentries, ex-Assassination Collective) and journalist/drummer Stuart Braun (ex-Dust) – sexier, looser, less folk and more rock, noisier. I’m fronting a band on guitar for the first time. It’s exhilarating.

Here’s Burning:

A new month, new resolutions

1 Feb

February 2013. After a slow January hibernation, I had the sudden morning sense of the months’ temporal velocity. And an ache over how few of my many ideas make it out of my brain or past a coffee and chat with a potential collaborator. I do a lot of things – playing concerts, a house concert series, a new booking agency, friends, longer tours, songwriting, writing, collaborative events – but could I be more effective, more engaged, more organised?

Firstly, the promotional parts of the post: I have concerts coming up and I’m testing new, different material. If you’re in Berlin, I’d love you to come along.

Tuesday 12 February at Das Hotel, Kreuzberg. 21:00. Free entry. Two sets.
Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 February – English Theatre Berlin. BERLIN-KREUZBERG DE. 12:00 – 16:00. 5€. One on One singer-songwriter shows produced by Sofa Salon and Everyone is from Somewhere.
Friday 1 March supporting Bocage at Amiga Club, Treptow. 20:00.
Thursday 11 April with Salon Band at Kugelbahn, Wedding. Salon Band are reinterpreting songs from my ‘Close as a Slow Dance’ album. 20:00.

I am in my cave at 9pm on a Friday night doing up a blog post on organisation, engagement and resolutions.  Honestly, I’m not in much of a bar mood at this time of year. Winter, especially a grey, wet one, is like a damp, heavy St Bernard sitting on the knees of my sociability, so I tend to use Winter to plan, book Summer tours, make lists, found new years’ enterprises and the planning meetings force me out of the house. A useful Winter Blues coping strategy.

Plans for this year include taking guitar lessons to polish up the things I can do and add to my skill set. Take Yoga classes on a weekly basis, but I am yet to leave my cave at 8am in order to do so. Buy a Hagstrom semi-acoustic guitar to boost my live sound. Write new songs for the new band format. Rehearse weekly alone and also with the band. Find a band residency. Promote my shows more effectively. Use my diary everyday. See more songwriters. Get my booking agency’s festival and club lists in some sort of order. Find a writing class. Leave Berlin for reasons other than touring. Get a weekly sauna. See my friends more.

You can see the list is endless. I am an inverterate list-maker after my father, I suppose but, like him, many of those things don’t get done in the intended time. A rehearsal is delayed. I’m behind with the booking. I am as yet Yogaless. ETC.

The problem is that I don’t really know where to go from my position of (limited) success. I think that issue is rather one of goal-setting and prioritising. I came to Berlin with several goals in mind – to make a record, to tour Europe, to create collaborative opportunities, to write better songs, live as a musician. I have achieved all of them, even the living as a musician goal, but it’s still breadline scale. I was told last week that I’m not actually successful. I disagree, but I am aware that I had fairly achievable expectations and it’s not the wider definition of success.

On the day-to-day level, and even with years of organisational experience, I still find myself adding yesterday’s unfinished work to today’s To-Do list without much in the way of prioritising. I still take what’s coming at me rather than looking towards a greater plan. I still feel under-confident when picking up the phone to find work.

How high should I set my goals? Should I am for high expectations and achievable goals or high goals and achievable expectations? But I either work everyday for small money or find some way of raising my value. I can have another year of longish, small-scale tours or invest the year into developing the band project. I can take guitar lessons or refresh my singing training, but not both. Where are the hours in the day to do enough booking, practice, writing, planning and socialising?

If I think about my goals now, in twelve months time, I would like:
– to have become a better guitarist
– to have two sets worth of new material for the band in the direction I am starting to articulate
– to have established a working rhythm, income and reputation for the booking agency
– to live by myself
– to be in a kick-ass live band
– to double my 2012 income
– to utilise my health care and get my teeth worked on
– to holiday to at least one of my dream destinations
– to be well towards confirmed US and Australian tours
– to have a handle on the UK touring market
– to play at at least one music festival
– to have dinner parties more often
– to see more live music
– to develop a promotional strategy
– to develop a business plan or at least a set of goals and logical steps to achieve them. A friend does an annual life contract with himself.

Do you have suggestions for organisation and goal-setting? How do you manage your time and your life? I’d love to start a conversation about this and add helpful strategies to the website.

Cheers,

Sam