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Interviews

Artist Interview: James TW

An addictive guitar riff, strong drum rhythm and lyrics addressing a past lover, “Butterflies” touches on the yearning for a past lover though things have already ended.

James TW began his music career at the ripe age of 10 years old, moonlighting as a drummer in his father’s wedding band. At the age of 12, he started his own YouTube channel posting covers and gaining the attention of Shawn Mendes and record label Island Records in 2015. His song “When You Love Someone” has over 500 million streams with platinum certification in the UK and gold in the US. Following his album Chapters in 2019, James was on hiatus for two years until his latest release “Butterflies”. We had the pleasure of getting an interview with James and being able to talk about his work and plans for the future. 

CROWDSURFER MAGAZINE: Tell us a bit about the song.

JAMES TW: “Butterflies” was an interesting song for me because it took me the longest to write out of any song I’ve ever written. It took me two years to finish the song, usually I finish songs in two to three hours. 

I wrote the song backwards. Usually, I start by coming up with a concept or lyric. Something to write about and I use that as the end goal to move towards. This time I sat down and came up with a guitar riff and it was infectious. I started writing melodies and the last thing I had to do was come up with the lyrics. 

I tried writing it one time with these two writers called Red Triangle. We wrote a song called “X-Ray” which was a completely different thing. With “Butterflies”, it felt like the energy’s there, the dynamic of the track, but it’s not saying anything. There’s no story behind this. We went back in and this was the first time I’d written a song over zoom. We knocked out butterflies.

CSM: Since you’re releasing more music this year, what can we look forward to? 

JAMES TW: “Butterflies” is the first of a couple of singles that will come before a bigger body of work and that’s all I’m allowed to say right now.

CSM: So you sometimes write songs based on comments on TikTok or with your fans with the Song in 30 minutes challenge. How did this concept come about?

JAMES TW: I think that was a lock down thing. I think as soon as artists couldn’t perform live anymore. We have this desire to connect with the people who listen to our music and see what it means to them in person rather than over the internet. I wanted to jump onto that wagon, perform live, and do something that was different than songs that were already released. I liked the idea of a challenge and the inclusiveness of writing a song with your fans. The Song in 30 was the first thing we did and the first song we wrote was actually a really good song. They were as involved as I was and that was the way I wanted it to be. 

On TikTok, it’s just the same kind of thing but in a smaller setting. You only have a minute instead of an hour. People send funny, stupid ideas and it just lets you exercise that song writing muscle in a completely informal and unprofessional way, which is fun.

CSM: Will we ever hear any of those songs in the future, possibly as a single?

JAMES TW: Maybe. I’ve definitely thought of playing them live. Talking about the story behind it and who knows maybe some of the fans in the audience might have been involved in writing it but I don’t know if I’m going to record them or not. I’m not sure.

Was there one in particular that you liked?

CSM: I like “1975”.

JAMES TW: That’s my favorite one too. I don’t know, maybe. We’d have to figure out how to split royalties.

CSM: With your fans?

JAMES TW: Yeah, there were a lot of people in that livestream.

CSM: How has your creative process changed due to the pandemic?

JAMES TW: The distance you get over technology and online, it’s apparent. Some people hate it, some people can get past it. I think I don’t hate it but I don’t love it. 

Sometimes when you’re in a songwriting session and you’re in a room with people who are all trying to deliver melodies, lyrics, and ideas at the same time. You can fall into this head space where it’s like ‘I have to do something I’m under pressure’. That’s not how to get the best out of me. I don’t do well under pressure in those situations. 

So what’s been quite nice over Zoom is when I’m not quite feeling it and need some introvert alone time. We can just press the red button and have just like 30 minutes for me to be in my own room with no one else. Which doesn’t usually happen and would be weird to ask for in-person. So that has allowed me to reset during sessions where, maybe for the rest of the day, I would have been thrown off due to this pressure. I can kind of take the time for myself to come back in with ideas that I’ve manifested and developed on my own so I think it’s changed in that respect. Also I don’t have to travel to a studio anymore and can just kind of roll out of bed with my pajamas on the bottom half and write songs like that which is fun.

I think sometimes I might consider doing Zoom sessions now. Not the whole time but may be like 80/20, if it’s a long distance travel or even if it’s in another country. 

CSM: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

JAMES TW: That’s really tough. I think my favorite piece of advice is from my granddad, my dad’s dad. He always tells me before I say goodbye to him, ‘Just be James.’ I love that because he’s just saying to be natural, be you. That’s who you should believe in, that’s who should be and you shouldn’t try to be anyone else.

In an industry, when sometimes you think that you have to be like someone else or you look at other people that are doing well and then you look at yourself. It’s easy to fall into traps like that, so maybe it’s a boring quote but it means a lot to me.

CSM: What are some hobbies you’ve picked up during the pandemic?


JAMES TW: I really love video games. I play with a bunch of friends most evenings and that’s been really nice because it’s been a way of socializing without being in person. That’s been really fun. 

I’ve got into looking after myself even since the break up that happened last year and that’s what all of these songs are gonna be about.

I kind of got out of that and really wanted to change my body. I was quite underweight and had been a lot of my adult life. I got in the gym then the pandemic hit and then I was like “damn, I can’t lift weights or anything”. But I discovered this whole world of calisthenics which is like body weight training and there are some really difficult skills you can learn like handstand push ups, crazy pull ups and stuff. So I’ve been going to public parks and working out there and that’s been a whole new discovery purely because of the pandemic. I would have just stayed in a gym and lifted weights otherwise, so that’s been amazing. 

I’ve also started reading a little bit, still prefer to watch video and take in information that way though. I’ve also been journaling and checking in with myself and just doing things that make me feel good. 

CSM: Lastly, what would you like to tell your fans?

JAMES TW: Firstly, I would like to say thank you for your patience. It’s been two years since anything has happened and I know a lot of them have stuck by me and rinsed and repeated tracks from my first album, which is amazing of them. I just want to tell them that I’m really proud of this new music. I think it’s a development of my sound and of my writing. I am more mature than I was when I released my last album and I think I want to be more present so I can enjoy it more with them than I was with any music before.

A big thank you to the team at Island Records for setting up this interview!

And an even bigger thank you to James for taking the time out of his day to speak with us! We can’t wait to hear how his sound changes and develops further!

Stream Butterflies here!

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Interviews

Artist Interview: Zak Abel

‘To each their own’ references how everyone has the right to their own personal preferences and Zak Abel highlights this idiom in his newest single, ‘Be Kind’. 

Hailing from Hendon in North West London, this singer-songwriter has been writing songs since the ripe age of 14. His European tour was sold out and his music’s reach has broadened globally reaching fans in Southeast Asia. His most notable collaboration is with artist Kygo in which he wrote and featured on the track ‘Freedom’ which amassed over 79 million streams on Spotify.

His newest track ‘Be Kind’ itself is an upbeat song with an extremely memorable melody and a striking sense of optimism in its sound. The most impressive part of the song is its bridge where it pulls back the instruments and allows Abel’s vocals to shine through supported by choir-esque vocals in the background. 

I’ll let the artist explain the inspiration for the song himself.

Zak Abel: The song was written last year when I was in LA. It was actually the first time that I had written in America. And I wrote it at a time, where there was so much divisiveness and intolerance, especially on social media. 

I was just like “Man, I really wish we could be more kind to each other” especially towards people who might have different experiences of life to us. 

Those things [different experiences] aren’t very important.

The quality of your character is the most important thing. So let’s just be kind to each other.

CSM: Where is the first place you would perform once restrictions are lifted?

ZA: I think there’s an obvious answer here and that’s the US. So much of my favorite music has come from the US. When I think of 70’s Funk and Soul, it’s all basically just American music. I would just love to experience that for myself. 

I’ve also never actually toured in the US so to be able to do that would be amazing.

CSM: What is your favorite song to perform?

ZA: I know my label would love me to say ‘Be Kind’. Actually, “Be Kind’, I think the La, la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la

Having the crowd sing that and being able to adlib over that would be pretty dope.

CSM: What are some hobbies that you have gained due to the pandemic?

ZA: Before the pandemic, I was doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is essentially rolling around and hugging strange men for an hour or so. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do that.

However, there’s a game on Playstation 4 called Overcooked, probably the best game ever created. Me and my flatmates try to complete all the levels. Once you’ve completed all the levels, there’s the white star which you can get which basically tells the world that you’re a huge nerd. So we are just trying to be the biggest nerds that we can possibly be and properly beat the game.

CSM: How has your writing process changed due to the pandemic?

ZA: It has resulted in most of my writing sessions being done over Zoom. Also when I’m recording, I’m recording in my bedroom or my living room.

Actually half of the vocal on “Be Kind” was recorded in the living room. Which is cool.

I was also working with the producer in LA and he was controlling my screen over Zoom. Controlling my computer, engineering my vocal. Just amazing. 

It has honestly opened my eyes to what can be achieved without being in the same room as someone.

CSM: So you have an upcoming album. How is this album different from the previous ones?

ZA: I can’t say too much because I’m still working on it. But I think it’s more soulful in terms of the production style and also in terms of what I’m doing vocally.

Also from a song writing point of view, I’m challenging myself more in terms of depth in the lyrics. 

I really like the album so far and I can’t wait for people to hear it!

CSM: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve got from somebody?

ZA: The best piece of advice that I ever got was to define your own criteria for success in music. 

I come from a sporting background. I used to play table tennis for England and it’s very easy to know when you’ve won. You’ve won the tournament, it’s done. 

With music, it’s not so simple. What’s better? A number one single or Bon Iver’s first album. They’re both great but for different reasons and different sets of criteria.

Define your own criteria for success otherwise it gets complicated.

CSM: Lastly, what would you like to tell your fans, the Zak Pack?

ZA: I love you! I appreciate you! And I am so excited to see you all hopefully when all of this is over.

Thank you Zak for taking the time out of your day to do this interview! Also, a big thank you to the team at Island Records for setting the whole thing up! 

Be sure to listen to ‘Be Kind“, if you haven’t already! With more singles on the way, we can’t wait to hear more of Abel’s new music!

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Music News Reviews

Dancing With Nobody: NOTD

With its rhythmic beat and the anti-drop in the chorus, “Nobody” is an electronic dance song through and through and that is expected from Swedish production duo NOTD (pronounced noted). Known for their energetic songs that cause their listeners to want to get up and dance, NOTD have had massive success with 1 Billion streams on Spotify and a nomination of Best Dance Song at the 2020 iHeartRadio Music Awards.

For this track, they team up with new artist Catello, who is as mysterious as his spotify biography suggests:

Out of chaos came light.

Out of will came life.

Stemming from The Egyptian Book of the Dead, this quote with the depiction of a man with a canine head directly invokes the impression of Egyptian god of death, Anubis. Another little detail that we admire is the fact that Catello derives from the word “Catulus” meaning young dog.

Now you may be wondering why we are discussing “Nobody” when it was released three months ago, and that is because we had the pleasure of receiving the music video of Nobody in advance!

The video itself depicts a man reflecting on his failed relationship with a woman and regretting his actions in the past. Much like the genre that NOTD is known for, the couple’s relationship is illustrated through the medium of dance and this allows the music video to portray the more sorrowful tone that is present in the lyrics of the song.

Something that is notable is the use of color. The use of red to represent passion along with the more heated emotions like anger. This contrasts the use of blue cutting between the man and his anger and instills feelings of forlorn. Finally ending with white, a color that is stark, cold and isolated.  

Thank you to NOTD and the team at Island Records for sending us the music video in advance! 

And be sure to watch and listen to the song yourself!

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Reviews Videos

Cat & Calmell: dramatic

Emerging in 2020 with their single “dumbshit”, Newcomers Cat & Calmell have just released their second single “dramatic” and impresses with this snappy pop song.

The song employs a strong bass line and light background vocals that often mimic the melody lines which create an interesting echo effect. Something else that was captivating about the song is the contrast of Cat’s deep, rich vocals with Calmell’s almost airy tones. 

The chorus inspires the inner cynic with the lyrics:

Shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me

But you’re not the man

And when I stick it to you

We’ll see who’s dramatic

The pair also does not disappoint when performing live as seen in their Bedroom Live performance on their YouTube where they perform an acoustic version of “dramatic”, “dumbshit”, and a cover of “Clueless” by The Marías.

Be sure to watch their music video which contains an interesting story along with an entrancing segment which depicts delirium with incredible visuals. 

Categories
Interviews Videos

PUBLIC is Our Splash of Sun in New Single “Splash”

Comprised of Cincinnati, Ohio natives John Vaugh, Ben Lapps, and Matthew Carter Alvarado,  PUBLIC began their musical careers in 2012 with their first EP Red. They’ve played for major festivals such as Forecastle, CMJ, and SXSW and are recognized for their TikTok famous song “Make You Mine”. 

PUBLIC’s newest single “Splash” features a funky bassline and a strong catchy pre-chorus that according to some listeners can sound like “drown your best friend and eat your parents” but still catchy all the same. 

Though the actual lyrics “charm your best friend and meet your parents” are not nearly as morbid, according to PUBLIC themselves, this upbeat and lively tune came about during a tough time in their lives.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CROWDSURFER:  What was your inspiration for “Splash”?

Matthew Carter Alvarado, Bass, Synth, and Vocal: The initial idea for “Splash” came about in January 2018. The band had been going through a rough patch – we were wearing ourselves thin grinding on tour, didn’t have a team other than our parents and each other, and we weren’t quite sure how much longer we could maintain our career for.

On the way to the recording studio, I recorded an unintelligible voice memo of what would become the chorus melodies for the song, the only coherent words being “Splash of Sun”.

Fast forward to 2020 and that same idea still seemed both relevant and relatable. Instead of dwelling on the inability to grasp what the future held, we wanted to twist that dark idea into something vibrant and joyful, finding energy and hope in the prospect of someone or something bringing a light to our lives.

CS: What was the process like making this single? Was it one that seemed to write itself or did it seem to take more thought?

Matthew Carter Alvarado: Compared to co-writes we had done in the same room as other songwriters and producers, we had definitely felt some difficulty finding our groove when trying to coordinate across our computer screens. However, when it came time to write with producer and now close friend, Lindgren, we immediately felt like we were on the same page.

As the band boys went about diving into the vocal melodies and themes, Lindgren was on the other end composing the instrumental demo of the track. I think it was the first time we had felt both relieved and excited to have so much chemistry across a platform like Zoom that had once seemed so flat and lifeless. 

It was a giant breath of fresh air having a product come together so quickly and effortlessly and gave us a good kick in the right direction, both mentally and emotionally, for future co-writing opportunities.

CS: How has quarantine been treating you? How has creating music changed during a global pandemic? 

Ben Lapps, Percussion: It feels very strange to be at home for such a long period of time! 

We have practically lived on the road for years, so we’ve definitely had to adjust during the quarantine. Personally, it has been very good to be home spending quality time with my wife, Phoebe. In that way, it feels like a special time. But at the same time, we absolutely miss being able to play live shows and see our fans. 

Creating music has been a very different experience. We are basically writing everything over Zoom. Our newest single, Splash, is actually a song that we wrote over Zoom. It has actually given us more opportunities to work with people all over the world. Never would have guessed that we would be doing so much writing this way, but after a few sessions, I feel like we really started to understand how to make it work.

CS: What is a message you would like to give your fans?

John Vaughn, Guitar and Lead Vocal: First, I want to thank them for being supportive. Pretty typical, I know, but as an artist, it really does mean the world. It’s not something I think you can understand if you haven’t gone through the grind. But our fans really mean the world. We love them and we want to keep giving music that makes them smile.

With that note, be sure to watch PUBLIC’s music video for “Splash”!

And a big thank you to PUBLIC for taking the time out of their day to answer our interview questions!