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Quickfire Questions #57: Mikhael Paskalev

By on Thursday, 21st November 2013 at 11:00 am

I caught Norwegian / Bulgarian singer/songwriter Mikhael Paskalev at this year’s SXSW, performing at Communion’s Wednesday night showcase on Maggie Mae’s Rooftop. I was impressed by he and his band’s energy, playing to a crowd that likely had no idea who he was. But admirably, they brought a party atmosphere with a happy, peppy sound not wholly unlike Of Monsters and Men. He’s currently in the UK playing some dates with Half Moon Run and a headline date tomorrow night at Manchester Albert Hall; all the details are here.

Paskalev just released an EP in the UK this week, ‘I Spy’, whose title track has already garnered over 1 million hits on YouTube already. (Not kidding. Watch it and his Risky Business-esque pants-wearing dancing antics here.) While clearly beloved by the Nordics, he’s just getting started in Britain, so we thought it was great timing to ask him our Quickfire Questions. Take it away, Mikhael…

What song is your earliest musical memory?
Minnie Ripperton – ‘Loving You’.

What was your favourite song as a child?
Bart Simpson – ‘Deep Deep Trouble’.


What song makes you laugh?
‘Speak the Hungarian Rapper’ on YouTube.


What song makes you cry?
‘Speak the Hungarian Rapper’. [Still have no idea what the heck this is – Ed.]

What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc.)
I was 13, sat in the backseat of her mum’s car, leant in for a smooch as ‘Lemon Tree’ by Fool’s Garden was playing and her mum’s eyes tried to kill me.


What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
John Lennon – ‘Jealous Guy’.

Which song (any song written in the last century) do you wish you’d written yourself?
Glen Cmmpbell – ‘Wichita Lineman’. Or Darondo – ‘Didn’t I’.

Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.)
If I had to pick one, it would be someone like Paul Simon. Or maybe even Tarantino.

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
Copper or a crook.

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, but double albums do not count.)
I’d bring Fleetwood Mac – ‘Tusk’. Wild production, Cool songs, pretty varied and ‘The Ledge’ is almost worth it on its own.

Many thanks to Mikhael for answering our questions and cheers to Ellie for sorting this for us.


Half Moon Run / November 2013 UK/Irish Tour

By on Monday, 14th October 2013 at 9:00 am

Canadian alt-rock quartet Half Moon Run will be playing a string of dates in the UK and Ireland this November as part of their ongoing world tour. The band are currently playing in America and will be touring Europe, Canada, and Australia through March 2014. Worldwide tour dates can be found on Half Moon Run’s Web site.

Several UK and Irish dates will also feature Norwegian solo artist Mikhael Paskalev, who Mary caught at this year’s SXSW on the Wednesday night Communion showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop.  Paskalev’s new EP ‘I Spy’ is set to be released on Communion Records on 18 November.  A ‘risky’ preview of the EP’s title track can be seen below.

Monday 18th November – London Shepherd’s Bush Empire (w/ Mikhael Paskalev)
Wednesday 20th November – Glasgow King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (w/ Mikhael Paskalev)
Thursday 21st November – Birmingham Institute (w/ Mikhael Paskalev)
Friday 22nd November – Manchester Albert Hall
Saturday 23rd November – Dublin Village (w/ Mikhael Paskalev)
Sunday 24th November – Bristol Anson Rooms (w/ Mikhael Paskalev)



SXSW 2013: Day 3 afternoon – from Rainey Street to Waterloo Records and back to 6th Street – 14th March 2013

By on Thursday, 28th March 2013 at 2:00 pm

The title of today’s SXSW post isn’t very descriptive, as I didn’t stay in one particular place too long and my plans kept changing. And such is life at SXSW, because even with the best laid plans, there is still a chance that an opportunity comes along that you’ve just got to grab with both hands and savour the moment. If you had read my dog-eared, notation-covered schedule for Thursday, you would have saw that I had planned to St. Albans’ seminal rock band the Zombies at a house party in East Austin at the conclusion of the afternoon. But as it were, things didn’t really work out that way…

I actually didn’t stay out all that late Wednesday after the Communion showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop; Wednesday night was the last night (unfortunately) of a shift by a very nice bellman at the Four Seasons who was smart enough to come up with a clever scheme of organising punters’ rides home by direction. This is how I entirely accidentally sharing a taxi with someone I’d met last year, Nathan Graves of Imperial Music and Media, who recognised me before I recognised him. “I was with Films of Colour last year…I remember you!” I guess word gets around about the ol’ Chang, eh? (That’s an inside joke that will be explained in more detail later.) He was in town helping promote Skinny Lister, and we engaged in a bit of conversation as I’d seen the booker of the Glass House in Pomona, California (a very cool venue, at least by the way my friend Beckie describes it) holding one of their limited edition singles whilst stood outside Latitude 30 when I was futilely queueing for the 1975 Tuesday night. And yes, this is just how crazy SXSW can be, or at least it is this way for me because it’s how my brain works; some PR friends were telling me last week that SXSW for music professionals is like summer camp: you get away from your real life for a week to revel and party with people you may not see for the rest of the year. Anyway, I digress…

I was not thinking that it would be a problem to get up early enough and sort a taxi on my own to meet Story Books from Kent for an interview at Blackheart club on Rainey Street. I’d been taking the bus in every morning with no problem, but as you see, Rainey Street and all its clubs are a good jaunt southeast from the convention centre, and it would have taken my ages to walk even from the bus stop in town. So taxi it was. I got there a little late, but that was okay because Story Books were in the bar, talking to a woman from PRS for Music, and this gave me a window of opportunity to finally catch Duologue live in the beer garden out back.

Duologue SXSW

The five-piece London band were taking full advantage of the small but warmed by the sun outdoor stage. And really, when else would Duologue be able to say, “we performed inside a wooden box at SXSW, and we had to wear our sunglasses!” Right? Come now, even frontman Tim Digby-Bell looked at his ubercoolest, like a younger and way better sounding Ric Ocasek of the Cars. Their performance was living proof that it is very dangerous to lump bands into genre ‘boxes’; I’ll be the first to admit that I had lazily put them in the all too full synth/soul box after the release of their single ‘Underworld’, but their music is actually much more complex and exciting than that.

They’ve just released their debut ‘Song & Dance’ on Killing Moon and while there is an element of dance, it’s more so heavy beats that propel the dark nature of their songs and their songs are really quite spectacular live. After a hello and photo op with Killing Moon head honcho Achal Dhillon that I’d promised to Mike Bradford of the Recommender – yes folks, we are looking at 9 weeks to go until we’re back in Brighton for the Great Escape 2013 – it was back inside the Blackheart to find Story Books.

Story Books SXSW interview top

This was when I came upon an interesting sight: on a shelf usually reserved for revelers’ drinks, spread out in neat stacks were piles and piles of hats in front of a mirror that took up a good portion of one wall of the bar. People were coming and going, trying on hats in the mirror, and it wasn’t until I recognised the bass player from Mikhael Paskalev from the night before, getting his picture professionally taken with a genuine Stetson hat, that I sort of sussed what was going on. I found out from the lovely Mary-Joy of Tanq production company that the iconic country/western hat company has been looking for a way to rebrand themselves and spread themselves further than simply the American hat-wearing public. When I think of the name Stetson, I think of John Wayne and a whole slew of western film actors and their 10-gallon hats, which aren’t really hip these days, and I can’t think of a better place to be spreading the good word about a company internationally than SXSW. In exchange for informational assistance about the many British bands (my forte!) who happened to be passing through Blackheart’s doors, I was able to leave Austin this time with a very nifty souvenir of my own. Score! So if you see me in blighty in May sporting a smart trilby, you’ll know where I got it.

Next it was time to talk to the three awake members of Story Books. We had a very nice chat, including discovering that leader Kris Harris is a cider drinker like myself and that he had actually been to DC 3 years ago as a member of Laura Marling‘s during her first major headline tour of America in 2010. I think they gained a whole load of new fans at the Communion show the night before, and the mere fact that there are now two Communion showcases instead of just the one last year (starring then unknown in America Ben Howard, Daughter and Michael Kiwanuka) goes to show that the label’s influence is growing and goes far beyond the confines of Britain. You can listen to my interview with Story Books here.

The next part of my afternoon would take a long trip northwest. I’d never been to the hallowed Waterloo Records, and I figured this would be a good time, and the perfect opportunity to see my friends the Joy Formidable and not worry about getting shut out by badge holders. I hailed a pedicab and in the spirit of gaining good karma, let a woman who was dying for a pedicab share my ride. She never gave me her card, so I don’t know what label she runs, and I did not give her mine, so it’s unlikely she will read this. It’s not cool to pay someone who’s biking up and across Austin a paltry $2 to the centre of town from Rainey Street. It’s really not. I ended up paying my sweaty, unsuncreamed driver $20 for a comfy ride (the breeze!), not to mention a very cool way to see the city, for the trip out to the record shop.

Gold Fields Waterloo SXSW

I arrived just in time to catch the second half of Gold Fields‘ set. Cheryl saw them at U Street Music Hall recently, and I seem to have missed them every single time they’ve stopped in DC, but this time? No. There was already a huge crowd assembled for them, and unfortunately, I was stood just outside the protective awning above the stage, so I grabbed my tube of suncream and slathered it on liberally. After the ARIAs red carpet experience, I wasn’t taking any changes at becoming another walking warning advert for sun overexposure…the Joy Formidable. It’s always the best feeling to see your friends go from being virtually unknown in America (back when their premiere appearance in DC was playing Black Cat Backstage, not even the main stage, in 2010) to where they are now, at the top of their game and nowhere else to go but up, up, up. Dave Grohl endorsements aside, Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd and Matt Thomas have been touring and working nonstop to make this dream of theirs a reality, and to see massive queues following them wherever they were playing during nighttime showcases at SXSW are a testament to their hard-working ethic.

Joy Formidable Waterloo SXSW 2

They banged out old favourites like ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ and ‘Cradle’, while also offering up new singles ‘Cholla’ and ‘This Ladder is Ours’ from the new ‘Wolf’s Law’ album that fit seamlessly in the hard-rocking oeuvre they’ve worked so hard to create over the last couple of years. The stage right punters, who had obviously been there since noon to claim their spots, were of the diehard TJF variety, moshing as soon as Ritzy hit her first note. Later on the set, rather hilariously there was a teenage boy (remember, this was an outdoor, free show, so those under 21 were allowed to attend) who faked being drunk and stoned so he could throw his body and get closer to the barrier. Err… I give him points for being so enthusiastic about the Joy Formidable, but the poor girls next to me had never witnessed anything like that (I have, many times, in gig situations) that their burly male friends shoved him and gave him a talking-to. The faux drunk eventually backed off…and got what he wanted later, greeting the band after with a “you’re awesome!” and high-fives. Glad it didn’t end in tears. Or fisticuffs… I just have to laugh at experiences like this. As music fans, I think when in the presence of our favourite bands, we all get overly enthusiastic!

Joy Formidable Waterloo SXSW

I could never promote a band I didn’t truly believe in; at every step of the way, I’ve enjoyed the Joy Formidable career trajectory and never once have I witnessed any sort of rock star / diva posturing by this band. They are truly down to earth, which is not something you can say about everyone in this business. While I am pleased to report that most everyone I knew that I happened to run into in Austin greeted me warmly, I didn’t expect the level of warmth given to me by the Joy Formidable. If you happened to be in the queue to get your TJF purchase signed at Waterloo Records, you probably saw me sitting in the background, trying not to look obvious, because they invited me to hang out with them while they took incredible care of interacting with their very excited fans. Afterwards, I got an unconventional lift back into town…on their tour bus. I think everyone outside the Belmont was wondering, “who the hell is that coming off that tour bus?” I just smiled.

I often think to myself that the music business would be such a better enterprise if there was less of a ‘us vs. them’ mentality between the bands and the industry, and the best example I can think of where this works is the special relationship between the music blogger and a band very beloved to him or her. It’d be entirely daft to say that it’s not money that runs this industry. But there is a huge part of me that wishes that everyone could see and experience what I’ve felt with certain bands and the level of camaraderie that exists between people that truly respect one another. You could melt a heart of stone with those experiences. And certainly, they’d be useful reminders for those record execs on why they got into the music business in the first place.


SXSW 2013: Day 2 evening – Music from Ireland showcase at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room and Communion showcase at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop – 12th March 2013

By on Tuesday, 26th March 2013 at 2:00 pm

I’m not sure if this was a problem that only massively plagued UK bands or if it bled into bands from other countries as well, but I must have done and redone my SXSW schedule 10 times in the lead-up to the week of SXSW 2013. And this was all owing to band cancellations: some bands had ‘a family emergency’, others simply didn’t respond to my questions of “are you still coming to SXSW?” With the first version of my schedule, I thought I would have to make some seriously tough choices between the Irish and the Scottish. It was playing out in my head in a terrible civil war, and I didn’t like to have to choose, and why should I have to? Equally great bands have come from both places, surely there was a way to figure this out between afternoon and evening showcases?

Early on, it was revealed that Camera Obscura would be playing a headline set as part of the Showcasing Scotland on the Wednesday night. Upon hearing this, and given how important an album their last, ‘My Maudlin Career’, meant to me (I’ve recorded a cappella versions of songs from there, because I think the album is so brilliant), the original plan was to drop everything for Traceyanne Campbell and the rest of the night would just have to be built around their set. However, once it was announced that a family thing precluded them from coming to SXSW, I had to rethink the whole evening. I had planned to catch Tango in the Attic earlier on the same bill, but with Camera Obscura pulling out, Tango…’s set moved to their time, and suddenly I had a conflict with another showcase. ARGH. But, just like the way I view love, I always say things happen for a reason, and at the times these things happen, they are for a reason too.

So this is how I found myself first at the upstairs bar at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room. I’d convinced myself that I would hang around at the start for So Cow, a band that from my research had ‘been around the block’ so to speak in North America, arguing that they must put on a good live performance if they’d been over here so many times, then wait for Gary Barlow favourites and BBC Sound of 2013 longlisters Kodaline to appear. I arrived a little after the band started, but after I caught a glimpse of the night’s schedule, which started with Kid Karate and not So Cow. I made the mistake of not putting my earplugs in before I went upstairs, and really the one word I can describe Kid Karate with is *loud*. Yikes.

Kid Karate SXSW Music from Ireland

I don’t know, but the sound was awfully muddled, and I could not tell if it was the band’s equipment, or the in-house equipment. (I sincerely hope it was not the latter…because if so, Gibson has a lot to answer for!) Loud, punky instrumentation with shouty lyrics. Not my thing. For some of their set, one of their countrymen in Squarehead sat down in front of the bass drum with his hands over his ears. What? Why? I guess that is a mystery that will remain unsolved. {Edit 27/03/13: Angela of Music from Ireland explains: “The reason Ruan from Squarehead sat in front of the Kid Karate drums is the drum kit was slipping off the mat on the stage and Ruan jumped to the rescue, I’m confident that he had his hands over his ears is cause Steven is a very loud drummer.” Mystery solved!]

The idea that there was a problem with the sound in the Gibson Room was only partially supported by Kodaline‘s set next. I know and have heard just about as much as all of you do about the band from Dublin, especially from their ‘High Hopes’ EP released earlier this month that Cheryl reviewed in February. I have been spreading the good word about Kodaline round to my work colleagues, using ‘High Hopes’ as proof that the boys from Dublin will be the next great stadium rock band to dethrone Chris Martin and Coldplay, and do it 1,000x better. Frontman Steve Garrigan already looks the part: I noted that he has the unkempt but adorable haircut favoured by Jon Bon Jovi back in their ’80s heyday.

Kodaline SXSW Music from Ireland

As a song, ‘High Hopes’ is a less complex number in the sense that Steve Garrigan’s voice, with minimal instrumentation (nice, easy piano and guitars), showcases their musicianship. As horrible as the lighting was in the Gibson Room, as they played their soon to be global hit, it felt all the more like a brilliant diamond was being revealed to me, as the song just shone in the near darkness. I feel incredibly blessed to have been there for what was probably their first industry show in America.

Well, after that Kodaline-fueled epiphany, there was no question where I’d end up at the end of the night. But first, I had a date with another band in 2 hours, and all I had to do was walk through a single door to get to Maggie Mae’s Rooftop where I was earlier watching the 1975 wrestle with a bum electrical connection. Easy peasy, eh? Well, in all fairness, it wasn’t actually that easy. You learn from your first SXSW that if you’re prone to catching cold, you have to bring a jacket or some kind of jumper, and it was after I’d’ passed through that storied door that I must have dropped my jumper in the Gibson Room. They wouldn’t let me back through the same door, so I had to all the way downstairs at Maggie Mae’s proper, go around the block and queue up to get back into the Gibson Room with its entrance on a different street. I thought I’d figured this out, that I could have gone through that special door again but this time they would not let me! So I was forced to go down and out again, only to queue back around the block at Maggie Mae’s again. It is only with god’s good grace that there wasn’t a huge badge queue there and I got in without missing the next band.

Mikhael Paskalev SXSW Communion

Switching gears from the Music from Ireland showcase and just steps away from where I was previously, I was now at the first of two Communion evening showcases of the week. And that next band was a Nordic band fronted by Norwegian / Bulgarian singer/songwriter Mikhael Paskalev. The first that strikes you about Paskalev is his large beautiful fluff of hair, and then the next is his bushy eyebrows. But don’t let the Pantene lumberjack look fool you. You know how Icelanders Of Monsters of Men just took off like a rocket? Well, if Paskalev plays his cards right, he and his accomplished band might headed for the same trajectory, with a hint more rock in the rockabilly vein in terms of songwriting. It’s just incredibly infectious, happy, get up on your feet and dance kind of music, so it’s no wonder they’ve already been announced for Latitude, among many other European festivals. So if this sounds like music you’d be keen on, best get on this band while the getting is still good.

Remember that date I was telling you about? It was with Kent’s Story Books. (Rather funnily, I had seen their frontman Kris Harris before and did not even known it: he had toured as a band member of Laura Marling‘s during her first major headline tour of America in 2010. Talk about a small world.) During my Christmas holiday when I spent too many hours working on the TGTF Guide to SXSW 2013, I stumbled upon this band’s song ‘Peregrine’, which had a folky yet bombastic vibe that recalled one of my favourite quirky artists, Patrick Wolf.

Story Books SXSW Communion

I had a conversation a long time ago about SXSW with We Are Scientists one time when they visited Washington; at the time I’d never been to SXSW once, and they had warned me that it had become less about the discovery of new bands than to provide more mainstream, popular acts a platform for punters to see them on. In that respect, I think SXSW punters are doing themselves a grave disservice not venturing out to see bands beyond the most popular. Last year as well as this year, I made some great discoveries simply by accident or by virtue of arriving somewhere earlier and watching a band I not intended to catch.

This is where I think many people at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop found themselves, as they waited for Noel Gallagher protege and far too much buzzed about wunderkind Jake Bugg, they caught Story Books too. While there was at least one inebriated lady making strange Native American tribal calls throughout the night, Story Books took it in stride, proving that they’re not just folk, they’re also highly capable of rocking out with guitars flying. I was truly glad to have seen them gig before my interview with them the next day, which you can listen to here.

Jake Bugg SXSW Communion

Okay, okay. So after all this buzz that’s been following Jake Bugg around since early 2012, by this SXSW I still had not managed to see him. I hadn’t been bothered up to that point, really. But I thought, ok, it’s Wednesday, let’s not destroy myself on the second day, why not hang around for the Bugg’s set? I knew he was underage, but I didn’t realise just how small he was until he came out on the rooftop stage and started tuning his guitar, which looked almost too big for him. It was like watching a junior high kid at a talent show.

However, the difference is this kid has the technical chops. I can’t fault him Bugg at all for his guitar-playing; even at his young age, he’s brilliant. The more I watched and got sucked into the masterfully played guitar notes (I’ve never cared for his country/western twang), the more things became clearer. As he tried to look like he didn’t care and this was way too easy for him, halfway sneering at the crowd that had assembled to watch the prodigy at work, he looked like a young, petulant Noel Gallagher. They even have the same haircut! Is Noel moulding a little Mini-Me of his own? Quite possibly.

So if you have been paying attention, you will have already sussed who I’d been waiting for at the end of this night. If you guessed Kodaline, you would be right. I didn’t think there was a large enough crowd worthy of their performance in the Gibson Room and I wanted to see if the change in venue would translate to better sound and an even better performance. Steve Garrigan admitted in the middle of this second set that they had left New York City that morning at 5 AM (yikes) and were trying their best to soldier through the night.

Kodaline SXSW Communion 1

Judging though from a rousing hoedown atmosphere created by stomper ‘Love Like This’, with Garrigan on harmonica and mandolin and engaging harmonies offered by his bandmates, Kodaline took the SXSW opportunity they were given and grabbed it with both hands. They absolutely killed it. I learned later that they were only in town for 2 days before they had to return east as good Irish lads to make loads of appearances in Ireland and Britain during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and as of this writing, they are on tour in the UK. Cheryl will be covering their first DC appearance in May, supporting the Airborne Toxic Event at the 9:30 Club, as I will be in England then. But boy am I glad I got to see Kodaline at this point of their career. Just amazing.

Kodaline SXSW Communion 2


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