9:30 Club presents at U Street Music Hall:
Fenech-Soler & Knox Hamilton
Wed, April 26
U Street Music Hall
Fenech-Soler - (Set time: 8:45 PM)
Towards the end of their biggest headline show at Shepherds Bush Empire, Fenech-Soler's Ben Duffy took a moment to appreciate where he was and what the band had achieved. With the second of two critically-acclaimed albums in the shape of 2013's Rituals having just come out, he realised the band had already surpassed his early goals. His contentment was tinged with the knowledge that what came next had to be bigger and better than what had gone before. Following a short hiatus and the departure of two members, Fenech-Soler, aka Ben and brother Ross, are back with Zilla, a lighter, bolder and more eclectic album of shimmering pop that feels like their defining statement. Lead by the glorious sunburst of first single Kaleidoscope, Zilla – named after a close friend – is chock full of positive and upbeat pop songs, a soothing balm in a chaotic world. “We've always set out to write pop songs but this time it's been about simplicity,” says Ross. “It feels like we've refined our sound and finally achieved what we've been looking for".
The seeds for Zilla's creation were first sewn at the end of a US tour in support of Rituals (which featured the singles All I Know and Magnetic), the follow-up to 2010's self-titled debut, which collected together early tracks such as Lies and Stop And Stare. Having landed a Q Awards nomination, toured with everyone from Kelis to Example to Robyn, successfully battled cancer (Ben was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011) and played headline shows all over the world, the band needed a break. With the core creative unit of Ben and Ross choosing to stay in LA, however, demos were started immediately with REM and U2 collaborator Jacknife Lee. Early sessions were ripe with experimentation. While those early sessions were fruitful, there was a nagging sense that the catalyst for the album's creation hadn't been discovered. “It was a time of collecting sounds and ideas and being inspired." says Ben. "In some ways it was frustrating because I knew we couldn't finish it there. We needed some familiarity so we went back to the village we grew up in and began working from a makeshift studio.”
Swapping the heady extremes of Los Angeles for a small farming village near Northamptonshire may seem like madness, but for Ben and Ross it made perfect sense. "We found the first keyboard we ever owned, the kind of keyboard you learn on when you're a kid and for some reason it had every sound we needed. It was simple began defining the sound we were after. The floodgates opened and we did 70% of the album in 6 weeks". Inspired by disco, old soul vocal harmony groups and an unwavering love of pop music, the pair steadily built up a collection of their most vibrant songs yet. While previous albums have seen them collaborate with the likes of Style Of Eye, Starsmith and Tim Goldsworthy, Zilla was a much more organic album, with most of it self-produced (with additional production from former drummer Andrew Lindsay, whose departure alongside Daniel Soler was part of an amicable decision among the band).
The fruits of their labour can be heard in the textured mesh of Grace, an oddly undulating near-instrumental that's awash with slowly expanding synths. As with most of the album, it's both instant and strangely experimental. The key track on the album however is Kaleidoscope, the album's opening song, lead single and title track of the forthcoming four-track EP (“the most concentrated form of the album that we wanted to put out there first,” says Ross). Recalling the streamlined indie-pop of Phoenix, it's a buoyant ode to the pure joy of love. It also proved to be the album's long-sought-after catalyst, kickstarting the album as a whole. "We had the verse of Kaleidoscopic for a while as a scratchy phone recording until we could figure out a chorus," remembers Ross. "Once that song fell into place the record followed suit". Around that same time they also stumbled on the album's title, with the name's meaning – 'colourful, bright, grand' – becoming an all-encompassing motif for the album itself. “It turned into its own genre for us in a way,” says Ross. “It was something we decided on quite quickly and that's been a theme on this album,” adds Ben. "Our second album was tough to make, with a lot of people involved. Everything had a lot of thought, so with this record we decided early on that if we liked something we went with it quickly".
That sense of trusting your creative instincts can be heard on the synth-lead banger, On Top (“That's probably the most positive track on the record” says Ben) and the atmospheric soul shimmer of Night Time TV. “That's about that still moment from midnight to 3am,” explains Ben. “It's an insomnia song about time being all messed up.” That idea of time and disjointed timezones also filters through in other songs too. “My girlfriend is American so there's definitely an element of us living at opposite ends of the world,” continues Ben. “There's a sense of wanting to be in another place both geographically and where you are in life.” While the first half of the album focuses on a lighter mood, the album's latter songs shift in tone slightly. Perhaps one of its best moments is the ballad Be Someone, a song that borrows from those blustery 80s soundtrack ballads and creates something deliciously modern. Or there's the epic glide of the album's closing song, From Afar, which steadily builds to an orchestral crescendo.
Zilla is the sound of a band confidently coming to terms with their sound while steadily refining it. Loaded with personality and pockets of experimentation, it's also a glorious, unashamed pop album that will sound incredible in a live scenario. It's an album that takes Fenech-Soler to another level.
Knox Hamilton - (Set time: 7:30 PM)
The myth of Knox Hamilton – the man, not the band – began in a small Arkansas thrift shop where founding members Boots and Cobo Copeland were spending their summer break as volunteers, lost in the sky-high piles of dusty, forgotten mementos. Within the stacks of discarded clutter, the brothers they stumbled onto an old 1970s yearbook. “In it was a picture of one of the most rock ‘n’ roll dudes I have ever seen,” says lead vocalist, Boots, laughing. “And his name was Knox Hamilton.” Having already begun work on their danceable brand of indie-rock anthems, the foursome adopted the quirky title as an emblematic way to capture their idiosyncratic sound – songs with modest southern roots that soar to modern, ethereal heights free of boundaries or borders. “We were searching for what to call ourselves, and it was a no-brainer.”
And in that moment, Knox Hamilton went from man to myth, and from myth to music.
Raised as pastor’s sons in Texas and Arkansas, Boots and Cobo discovered music through the timeless, harmony-driven devotionals that filled their father's church. It was there they became entranced by the palpable power of song to change a mood, lift people up or inspire them – and soon, as they dove into the music of classic bands like Beatles and Hall & Oates, a world beyond the pews unfolded. Rock & roll became religion.
It also became a family affair. Buried within Knox Hamilton concordant melodies is the vibrant bond between Boots and Cobo that propels their writing and enticing stage presence. “There’s a brotherly connection there, knowing what the person is going to do next, it’s easier to play with someone who is like another version of yourself. There’s a degree of intuition to it; a genetic thread. My mom is one of the best singers I’ve ever heard,” Boots adds. “She even sings on one of our records.”
Knox Hamilton is a band that embraces light and life; celebrating that looks to create a mood and drive a feeling. Every note punctuates an intentional effort to thrive on blooming melodies that last in your mind and create butterflies in your stomach. This isn’t music that plays with skittish vocals, avant-garde notes, and dissonant rhythms just for the sake of it. “The melodies are what people take with them from the live show and from the recordings. The melodies stay with people for days” says Boots.
One listen to “Washed Up Together”, the first single from their upcoming album The Heights that was produced by Tim Pagnotta (Walk The Moon, Neon Trees), and one could argue they’ve achieved this goal.
“It always struck me how a song or a melody could impact your state of mind,” says Boots. “And as we began to write music, I realized I never wanted to feed a bad moment, but rather foster a good one. I’d rather make people dance than cry. Life is filled with problems and rainy days – I’d rather Knox Hamilton ease that dreariness than indulge in it.”
Boots and Cobo penned their first song at age twelve on the meager instruments their family was able to afford – nothing glamorous, but enough to learn the basics. It was then they realized a kind of brotherly synchronicity that allowed them to unleash a powerful songwriting force, where finishing each other's sentences – and measures – proved a natural, easy task. Boots would take to the guitar with his smooth vocals reaching across an astounding range, Cobo shuffling out electric percussion that rooted it all into something danceable, catchy and endlessly imaginative. “We’re always trying to pick up where our favorite bands have left off,” Boots says. “But with our own spin, of course.”
This electric energy manifested into Knox Hamilton as the band began to grow an organic following around Little Rock. In a climate enamored with the south and Americana sounds, Knox Hamilton were anything but – they used synth beats, not banjos; the pillars of their music imported from across the country and the globe. Here they were, southern boys making sidewalk music.
“We love Arkansas and the south. But our music doesn’t sound like it's from the south. It’s a balance of trying to appreciate where we are from, but also escape it,” says Boots. “We’ll always know where our roots lie…but we’ll also try to snap those ties, too, in our music.”
“Every record we made was out in the sticks in a little studio in Ward, Arkansas,” says Boots. Their locomotive, melodic tunes full of synth breaks and booming choruses would echo out into the rural town – in true Knox Hamilton fashion, it was a meeting of both their roots and their far-reaching artistry. The band previously released their debut EP How's Your Mind, which featured the runaway single "Work It Out." The single seemingly climbed out of nowhere to the top of SiriusXM's Alt18 charts and reached "near-Adele levels on alt-rock radio" (Huffington Post), garnering over 5 million streams on Spotify. There's something about the electric, restless rhythm and the shimmery beat that capture a true timely ethos – never too self-conscious to be catchy, never too pop to forgo serious attention to lyricism.
Knox Hamilton – the man or the myth – would certainly approve.
U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009
U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington, DC, 20009