There’s generally an accepted order of things in the music industry: make it big and you can pretty much do whatever you want. This doesn’t just extend to getting your pet monkey seized by German airport security, throwing on-stage tantrums, publicly urinating in buckets and leaving your drugs out when police are investigating you for an egging-offence, because that alone would, well, make you a bit of a d*ck. Once you’ve amassed an acceptable following and paid your dues to the industry you are then permitted to try your hand at other musical pursuits; Christina Aquilera tried the 1920’s for a while and that kind of worked… while the Beatles departed on a long and divaricating road, releasing tracks like Within You Without You and Yellow Submarine. Seldom however, in fact never in my own experience, do you come across such fearless abandon in a new or unsigned act.
When I first listened to Cousin Avi a few months ago during my weekly A&R trawl I had them down as ska/reggae outfit – I defy you to listen to ‘Don’t Be Shy’ and not be as hasty, don’t judge me. Rife with palm muting and vocal-harmony, it’s almost UB40 patting One-Direction’s ‘You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful’ on the head and pushing it to one side like, “you tried, kid”.
Cousin Avi-Don’t Be Shy
I know now better. Cousin Avi are not a ska/reggae band; I’m not even sure they’re a band, singular. A couple of clicks through their YouTube channel and you’re met with an old school rock band, a blues ensemble, an introspective acoustic act, a ska/reggae group and even some funk (please note this list is dubiously exhaustive). Objectively this does sound like a novice genre-hunt, an act searching for a home, but the incredible thing about this band is that they have multiple musical-citizenship. Cousin Avi aren’t trying their hand at new musical pursuits, they’re simply trying to get you to listen to their new song.
Owning this genre-fluidity, the band say they pride themselves on writing songs that appeal to virtually everyone. While this might reek of conformity and commercialism in other acts, Cousin Avi aren’t dancing for public favour, they know full well you’re going to like what you hear. They also know you’ll know it’s them you’re liking, keeping up an irrefutable signature that transcends their versatility. Whether it’s Hemming’s masterfully seductive guitar, Iannuzzi’s impressively skillful swagger on vocals or just the fact that the music is relentlessly cool, you might be clueless as to their next move but you’re left in no doubt who’s making it.
Cousin Avi-Sexy Bitch
With 3 EPs, 2 albums, tours spanning Europe and South America, and countless UK appearances already filling out their CV, Cousin Avi look to be gaining unstoppable momentum as more and more people fall in love with their unique style. I’ve seen the word “infectious” spread all over their media coverage like, well, a rash… Being of stubborn resolution, I refuse to conform no matter how acute an observation this is. I now submit “irresistible”. It’s less clinical and more sensual – a concept befitting an act making music that speaks to your heart rather than just your tympanic membrane.
Featured Photo Credit: Alex Rawson Photography
We featured Ryan Lawler way back in October just ahead of his performance at the first STX Presents live event, pitching him as a singer full of promise and potential. His laid-back musicality and that remarkably dexterous husky voice, only hinted at by a couple of YouTube covers, were enough to assure us of a chap already on his way to bigger stages and better recognition.
We don’t like to brag here at STX but we’re always right. Always. Over the last few months Lawler has grown in leaps and bounds (and facial hair) to become a fully formed artist. He’s been uploading, networking and gigging like a mad man and has attracted the attention and affection of the countless. Now he’s ready to share his first original track and allowed us the privilege of doing so first, but not before we had a little chat…
In a tucked-away rehearsal studios in Sheffield, Lawler performed for STX two tracks: a cover of Ed Sheeran’s beautiful ‘Parting Glass’ and a live acoustic version of his debut original track, “Here Comes The Rain”. We were not disappointed. Not one drop.
The artwork for the track was designed and created by the man himself. Cool, no?
Click it to watch the track performed live.
Click here to watch Lawler perform a stunning cover of
Ed Sheeran’s ‘Parting Glass’
I never wanted to be a booker. I boast no inside-track on the hottest venues, nor can I woo event managers into throwing headline slots my way at whim. Until I made the decision to sign an artist to a management deal this short-coming was never more than a small blemish on an otherwise majestically pristine exterior; an ash smudge on the cheek of a firey A&R goddess… Now it’s taken on a little more the form of a missing body part; not something as fundamental as a leg or anything, but perhaps a toe – a big toe. As with most things in life, however, practice makes progress and the more venues I hobble through the steadier I do become. I’ve found a little unabashed persistence and creativity helps in getting the keys to the stage, but what’s worth having that doesn’t take a little graft? Even at this early stage I have found something to be glaringly obvious, however, and that is that I’m often not as out of depth as I fear. As I fake my way into the line-ups, all too many venues are faking their way into the sector itself.
Live music is the bread-winner of today’s music industry and bakeries are on the rise. Whether it’s sticking a portable karaoke machine next to the bar every third Thursday or boasting the most well-trodden stage on the strip, more bars, pubs and clubs are adding live music to the bill. This is excellent news for the unsigned artist: more stages, more audiences, more exposure, mo’ better, yes? Largely yes, this stands to reason, but more is always not always better… Are we talking a few indiscriminate rolls sold by the till on the way out or are we talking rows of floury dough, that slicer-machine and the whole hairnet operation to boot? If it’s just to perk up a slow night and grab in a few extra bodies then that’s fine, let’s call it that; artists would know what to expect and in turn what was expected of them, but if you’re going to sell yourself as the real deal you do have to at least have a appreciation of live music, an interest at minimum.
I have been to some venues that entirely define themselves as a “live music venue” yet appear to be more concerned with getting the bands in and out as quickly as possible so DJ Scotty can spin his ropey 80’s tunes on time. Some boasting to be the best event hosters have asked on the night if anyone really cares about having a sound-check, playing in line-up order, or actually playing at all when it comes to it. One venue promised in-house promotion in the lead-up, a fully competent sound technician for the night and just general interest and enthusiasm. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the event poster put up even as late as the day before, and when we arrived on the night we were met by one lackadaisical bored gentleman who disappeared for almost the full set-up time and then finally jabbed at a few dials after much berating on my part and even that of the artists.
Live musicians aren’t asking to be babied. Nobody is suggesting a cuddle on arrival and a cookie after set, but my third party viewpoint has seen musicians often viewed as almost an inconvenience by those actually booking them to play. Yes they should be grateful for a stage on which to perform, of course, but let’s not use that in a ‘take it and shut up’ capacity. It takes hard work, persistence and a great deal of personal confidence to secure and perform a live gig so it’s up to the venues to cough up some support if that’s what they claim to be offering.
The venues that do nurture the artists they book, whether it be through promotion, backstage support, or even just a friendly face on arrival, are those that will reap in the real talent and the rewards of being a genuine live music venue. Thankfully these are in rather decent supply here in Britain, and we at STX are looking to recognise the important role that they play in the development of our unsigned music scene. We ask some of the brightest underrated talents in the industry to meet us in the venue that they feel has been the most supportive and influential to them personally as an unsigned artist, and to share a couple of their tracks with us from their favourite stage.
Where better to find the best live music venues than from the artists who actually play them? Whether you’re looking to listen, play, or both, STX wants you to be as sure of a venue as you are of the artist.
Look out for the first exclusive feature in a few weeks.
An interested artist/venue? Email email@example.com
I have a real love for the acoustic genre. There’s something so pure and authentic about taking music right down to its undergarments, free from auto-tune army boots and compression khakis, and leaving only the vocal and instrument. This said, I know I’d be naive in assuming this style of music to be the measure of unfiltered excellence, but it does undeniably afford the artist less places to hide; in acoustic music it doesn’t take long to separate the posers from the professionals.
Connie Campsie-Human (Cover)
Connie Campsie is an acoustic artist in no need of concealment. Her clear and eloquent vocal is as honest as those Croc shoe-things are ugly. The only discernible enhancement is a bathroom-acoustics’ echo, which only amplifies the haunting quality in her voice; Campsie really is as good as she sounds. One look at her YouTube channel or play of her Soundcloud and you immediately realise this authenticity emanates from an endearing individuality as both as artist, and indeed as young girl. Who could contest the character in ending a song as beautiful as ‘Stay Tonight’ by singling one listener out as being an “absolute dickhead”…? With small glance it is also strikingly clear how much Campsie loves music itself, taking care to make each cover track entirely her own and each original track something entirely unique. Personally I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do at 16/17 years old (other than to be 18…) but Connie Campsie seems to have everything already figured out and is fortunate enough to possess more than the required skills to achieve success.
Connie Campsie-Stay Tonight
Her’s is the sort of sound that renders the listener rather quiet; it’s gentle but certainly not lacking presence, carrying a simple sincerity in the writing style with which you can’t help but feel a connection. The composed vocal laced over complimentary instrumental relays themes of love-induced vulnerability and self-discovery with a charming clarity. It’s so nice to see a young artist who has managed to really identify their musical character and develop a noticeable signature in their work. This self-assured musicality looks to find even greater strength as Campsie plans to attend Ed Sheeran’s old haunt, the popular music academy, Access To Music, in London.
This young acoustic artist is an exciting talent. Writing her first songs at an age as early as 5 years old makes it clear that music is in her soul. You can’t help but get behind an artist who creates from love rather than necessity, and her ethic of solely publishing material that meets her own high standards, irrespective of frequency or quantity, is something to be both respected and admired. Campsie is a true acoustic artist making intelligent and real music and as she continues to develop her creative voice I am positive we will be privy to some truly beautiful new sounds.
It’s rare to fall in love with an EP on first listen but it does happen. There’s usually a track you’re not quite sure of… sometimes the impression that the format is heavy-hitter plus padding… often it takes a few listens… Only Shadows’ debut ‘Forest Fires’ had me from the start.
The prominent guitar riffs and passionate lyrics sit this 4-track offering firmly in the alt. rock/powerpop categor, with the substance to make Only Shadows a plucky contender amongst its more established genre-mates.
Only Shadows-Be Still (Track 03)
Track 03, ‘Be Still’ was the first track I listened to of the four and personally I think it should have been the first track of the EP itself; it’s an immediate clincher. The opening minute and a half of tender vocals over a perfectly stripped-back instrumental is immensely alluring and a real showcase of the band’s attention to detail in composition. The contrast of the high vocal trills with the heavy drum beat and backing chants afford the lyrics their earnest vulnerability but don’t allow you to think for a second that you’re in for a ballad. When the full force of the track does kick in it is epic. Be Still belongs on a festival stage. It’s the sort of song that demands an overly passionate mime between friends, in a field, with fists of emotion. I love it.
Only Shadows have really defined their style in the very short time they’ve been together and this EP is bursting with confidence. Sure there are areas that would benefit a tweak here and there (I find the drums a little erratic in Track 01, ‘Many a Mountain’) but these little imperfections merely highlight the band’s raw potential.
The title track ‘Forest Fires’ is one of the more reserved tracks on the EP with its slower tempo and longer spells of melodic guitar but it remains typically indicative of Only Shadows’ affection for rousing anthemnic-style hooks and chants. Early in this EP you get the impression that this is a band that makes music with a live audience firmly in mind.
Only Shadows-Forest Fires (Track 02)
In its entirety the Forest Fires EP is a very enjoyable listen. Its tracks are full of guts and personality without compromise on substance. The choice of songs work very well together, with a consistent theme and format running throughout. It would be interesting however, to see if the band would play around with structure when faced with filling out an LP.
Only Shadows have definitely made a confident entrance on the post-punk scene and I’m intrigued to see how they follow up on one of my favourite alt. rock EPs of the year.
Climbing Trees is a 5-musician ensemble defining their style as “Cymrucana”, a fusion of folk, rock and roll, blues and gospel, all of which culminates in a rich and joyfully scenic sound with the raw arresting charm of the Welsh Valleys. Their homeland is evidently a core element of the band, with their first full-length album titled “Hebron” after a small town in Carmarthenshire. The release comprises 10 tracks of rustic melodies and earnest lyrics, each leaving you in mind of rolling hills and woodland streams. The album showcases a remarkably diverse array of voices from the band’s arsenal of 3 lead vocalists, each lending a unique character to their respective tracks yet maintaining a compatibility that makes the harmonies wonderfully rich and unified.
Climbing Trees-Burning Candle (Track 02)
The chord-heavy ‘Burning Candle’ (Track 02) is a real nod to the gospel and blues influences in Climbing Trees’ sound with its expansive vocals and a rhythmic melody that takes up a conversation with your soul. The track is typical of the the band’s atmospheric musical style, which also really shines where the vocals are fully harmonic, like in ‘River Home’ (Track 05) which has a similar bluesy feel.
Climbing Trees play around with song structure a great deal in ‘Hebron’. There are some tracks with a more traditional verse and chorus based anatomy like ‘Gone to Sea’ (Track 07), with an infectious hook and simple lyrics hinting at more commercial appeal. In other tracks like ‘Ahab’ (Track 08) the vocal exists as an instrumental accent rather than the vehicle for lyrical meaning. This particular style communicates a real self-awareness of ability from Climbing Trees, which allows them to confidently and consistently play to their strengths. The album also features entirely instrumental tracks like the gentle closing piano track ‘Nos’ (Track 10), charmingly translated from Welsh as ‘night’, or the eponymous track, ‘Hebron’ (Track 06). The latter in particular is a testament to Climbing Trees skill at eliciting an emotional response from only the use of their instruments. It’s a climbing joy – 4 minutes and 48 seconds of a smile that creeps to a grin.
Climbing Trees-Hebron (Track 06)
This album announces Climbing Trees to the world. It’s an exhibition of musical talent, ingenuity and promise. Even looking at it without subjective interpretation it’s quite simply a bloody good listen. Folk seems to be the up-and-coming cool kid of the new music scene and it’s refreshing to see a genre that demands originality and musical accomplishment increasingly afforded some street-cred’ in an environment where it’s often been snatched up by saggy-crotched trousers and auto-tune. Climbing Trees are very much here to rule the school… and they brought their Welsh dragon.
I don’t understand friends that are nice to each other. If I was to use more than my allotted number of genuine compliments per week would raise espionage-level suspicion. This is not to say that I don’t love my friends, it’s just that most of my male friendships, for example, are built on a foundation of obscure insults and elaborate theoretical plots to maim one and other… and that’s OK. I’m happiest when sharing a verbal-slap with friends, but admittedly this does mean that more serious capabilities and skills are often overlooked. This tendency, combined with my being blessed with the observational prowess of a wounded bat, undoubtedly caused my failure to sooner realise that there was an exceptional unsigned musical talent lurking in my very own ramshackle friend-pool.
Here’s my mate Ryan Lawler. I can think of 12 different ways I’d hurt him with a shoe and a piece of linoleum, he thinks it’s funny to serve drinks containing more than 10x the survivable volume of vodka… and also he sings.
Ok, I’m sorry.
Here’s my mate Ryan Lawler. He’s a really talented singer with a beautifully rich tone which has entirely blind-sided me; such dexterity and control had never been eluded to in our various bar-bellows over the years. I’m astonished. Good lad.
Ryan Lawler-Free Falling (Cover)
What’s instantly noticeable in Lawler’s performances is the absence of any exertion. He doesn’t appear to choreograph his vocals nor make any in-track preparation when he pushes through to a more rock-like tone. Singing obviously comes naturally to Lawler and his work is visibly effortless. I am always hesitant when using the word “effortless” to describe an artist as I think sometimes it may imply a lack of effort rather than a lack of the need for effort; Lawler completely embodies the latter interpretation. There is not an ounce of strain nor falter in his confidence as he seamlessly raises projection or adds a closing trill, making him as much of an enjoyable artist to watch as he is to listen to.
There is a rich warmth to his vocal with a husky inflection teetering on the brink between a whisper and a growl. It is consistent in sound but diverse in effect, he is able to change the emotion and persona of a track by just the slightest alteration in power to produce a gentle break or an ear-slapping roar. It’s clear that he is very much in-tune with the pliable facets of his voice, choosing to record covers that allow him to showcase them all in one track, often by imaginatively combining multiple songs. He treats every recording as an opportunity to showcase as much of his talent to his audience as possible – an admirably savvy tactic.
Ryan Lawler-Major Mash Up
Lawler is very well-rounded artist and plays the guitar with impressive dexterity. Its acoustic tone really matches the rich vocal and together they produce a deliciously raw and uncluttered sound. There are currently only cover songs available on Lawler’s YouTube account but it would be really interesting to hear how the combination of his imaginative song composition and his vocal character would translate on an original piece. He’s certainly a unique and exciting talent and, given some decent exposure, is one who will certainly turn heads at a painfully quick rate.
Unfortunately, this feature has entirely exceeded my lifetime allowance for compliments in our friendship and I am now faced with the choice of actually using that shoe and linoleum or just bidding him good luck and farewell…
…see you soon, Lawler.