The Real Mayaeni

Mayaeni (Photo by Johnny Nevin)
Mayaeni (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

Do you believe that a first impression can tell you a lot? Well, when you find out about Mayaeni — maybe if you see her on tour, or listen to her new Elocution EP — you might want to be careful about that first impression. There's a lot that's striking about Mayaeni and her music, so your first impression could be a lot of different things — it just depends on what strikes you first. But you could still miss a lot.

For real? Yeah, she puts so much into what she's doing that you might want to keep listening, and keep watching, for the things you didn't notice right away.

If you see her in her current solo tour, for example, it may be that what stands out right away is her guitar. She walks out on stage by herself and stands in front of a new crowd, with a microphone in front of her and an amp behind her. It's just her and her Strat, and as she sings, she lays down soulful rhythm parts for her only accompaniment. She plays them like a lead player though, the way Hendrix did in songs like "The Wind Cries Mary", and when she wants to, she can step out too. Sometimes she plays a couple of bars of a rhythm part into a loop pedal, and playing lead against it, she really drives a crowd.

On the other hand, if you didn't see any of that and just listened to Elocution, it may have been her voice that struck you. It's a brand-new-old-school kind of special, smooth and rough, sometimes rich with emotion, sometimes just rich with cool, and it's memorable right away.

For real? Yeah, but those are really just first impressions. When something is real, it always has a lot more to it than you can see or hear right away. It can be deeper and wider and stronger than anything that will fit into a first impression or two.

Mayaeni's music is a good example. For one thing, the way that she looks at what she's doing is probably a little different than any of those first impressions. "I consider myself a writer first, a singer second, then a guitar player," she says. Whether or not that was your first impression, it's probably true that the more you hear her sing, the more you can't help but get wrapped up in her songs. You might be struck by the way that she can lean her vocal into the rhythm of her writing, or by the many different shades of mood and motive she explores. She writes in layers of cascading insight and introspection, and she sings and plays what she writes with soulful clarity.

Julia Sheer Looks So Deep She Can See Beyond a Song

Julia Sheer (Photo by David Aday)
Julia Sheer (Photo by David Aday)

Usually, when you write your very first song and upload it to YouTube, you don't get five million views.

Julia Sheer did. That was when she was a high school senior in Golden, Colorado, and the song was called "You Will Never Be". Even six years later, after a lot more views on YouTube of a lot more songs that she sang, it's a song that's still a special kind of enchanting. Julia Sheer can write a song.

Usually, when you can write a song that millions of people listen to over and over, you would probably write a lot more songs and upload all of them to YouTube.

Julia Sheer didn't. She did keep recording songs, though, songs that meant something to her, songs that she thought people might want to hear her sing. When she put them on her YouTube, sure enough, millions of people did want to hear her sing. Most of the songs on her YouTube channel, the one with half a million subscribers, are songs that other people had written, although she didn't stop writing by any means. She released her own tracks and sold hundreds of thousands of downloads, making her one of the most successful independent, really independent, artists online.

It wasn't even really anything she planned. "I was just was kind of putting those videos up on the side, and then it just kind of snowballed in to what it is," she remembers. "I never really expected it to just take off and I would have all of these subscribers and followers and views, but it just kind of happened."

Naturally, when your YouTube channel has tens of millions of views by the time you get to your high school graduation, the great big music business is going to want to talk to you about it. That summer six years ago, when she was still only eighteen, labels began flying Julia Sheer to Nashville and New York, and she was offered several big record deals. Of course, if you're offered a big time recording contract right after you get out of high school, you wouldn't usually decide to pass all of it up because it's not exactly the way you want to make music. Julia Sheer did, but she doesn't regret it. "I thank God every day that I didn't sign those record deals," she says, "because I wouldn't be in Nashville making country music, and that's what I really really wanted to do."

That was only part of it, though. Sheer had a very good reason for what she chose to do, but the whole thing was just so unusual that nobody except Julia Sheer could really imagine what that reason could be, until now. It wasn't the kind of reason she could put into a sentence or two, so instead, she put it into the five songs on her brand new EP.

In the Mix With David Julien and WildOnes

David Julien (Photo by Chloe Anne Chamock, Courtesy of Formidable Management)
David Julien (Photo by Chloe Anne Chamock, Courtesy of Formidable Management)

When David Julien released a track called "You Dancing" last summer, it surprised a lot of people. A collaboration with a trio of DJ/Producers called WildOnes, it wasn't just that the production was so driving, or that Julien's vocal was so rich with carefully crafted power. It may have been a lot of things that surprised people, but one of them was probably the way that Julien can layer a vocal with emotional nuances, as only somebody who really cares what they say in a song can do.

Is it surprising that three Russian DJs, working in their St. Petersburg studio, could put a track together with an English singer working in his studio in Leigh, near Manchester, a good thirteen hundred miles away? Yes and no. That kind of production often happens in electronic dance music. The backing track is written and mixed by one artist, while the vocal and the lyrics — the topline — are written and recorded by another. They don't really need to be in the same studio, or even the same country. They just have to be in the same digital universe of files, formats, and digital audio workstations.

What was more surprising about "You Dancing" is that WildOnes and Julien could put a track together that sounded as if they'd been in the same studio for a couple of albums. With WildOnes' very melodic take on electronic arrangement woven so effortlessly around Julien's sense of acoustic melody, it sounds like it was made by people who have worked together many times.

"You Dancing" was released by Enhanced Music, a London-based Dance label with chart heavy credibility in the genre. It probably surprised even them — not just by how well a somewhat improbable collaboration turned out musically, but also by the success of the release. Millions of streams, all kinds of downloads, a second release of remixes, and a lot of DJ support later, WildOnes featuring David Julien are back with their next release. It's called "Nobody But You" and not surprisingly, it features the same surprising balance of careful touch and reckless power as "You Dancing".

PHOTO FRIDAY: Lunar Chiefs

Lunar Chiefs are a new band out of Chicago with a cool, hard-to-nail-down sound, but it's all their own for sure. Where does it come from? "There's no rhyme or reason to it, really," says vocalist and guitar player Ronnie Barnes. "You come down in the studio and you start playing something, and all of a sudden it gives you an idea. Figuring out a good three piece rock version of some of these great songs is really satisfying, especially if then you recreate it live."

Live is exactly what Lunar Chiefs will be this Sunday, March 20 when they appear at Evenflow, a great venue in Geneva, Illinois. From the bands website, here's some more details: "Doors open at 2:00 P.M. We go on at 3:00 P.M. Three bands coming together to support Suicide Prevention Services of America. It is another fine production from the good people at Chicago Music Guide. Come on out hear some good music and support the important work the SPSA is doing for those in desperate need."

Finding Ashley Wallbridge

Ashley Wallbridge (Photo courtesy of Ashley Wallbridge)
BT (Photo by Andrew Rauner, courtesy of Enhanced Music)

If you were ever trying to find Ashley Wallbridge, there would be a couple of places that you could look, although it would depend a lot on exactly when it was that you were trying to find him.

Fifteen years ago, you could have looked in Stoke-on-Trent, a city of about half a million people in the north of England. If you'd been looking for him then, and not a lot of people were, you probably would have found him buried in a laptop screen, working on beats and bridges and builds, starting to make the music that would soon make a lot of people want to find him.

It didn't really take that long. By the time he was eighteen — about ten years ago — people were already starting to find him, especially people who were looking for a brand new energy in electronic dance music. By then, Ashley Wallbridge had already won a bunch of DJ competitions (with a fake ID no less) and had been featured on Radio 1, the BBC's music powerhouse. It was just a couple of years after that, in 2008, that his tracks began hitting playlists and dance floors, and if you're trying to find Ashley Wallbridge now, you can find several hundred of his originals and remixes at sites like Beatport and Juno.

That's a lot of records, and they not only cover a lot of years, they cover a lot of different ideas and textures and musical insight. Wallbridge comes out of the scene that for years was just called Trance, but has evolved into what now is more often called Trance and Progressive, but his range is wide. So is his impact — he's remixed Avicii for PRMD (Avicii's own label), and you could fill a record box with his collaborations with great producers like Gareth Emery and Andy Moor.

Jim Ed Norman's Music

Jim Ed Norman (Photo Courtesy of Curb Records)
Jim Ed Norman (Photo Courtesy of Curb Records)

You may already know a lot about Jim Ed Norman, and just not realize it. In any case, you almost certainly know a lot of his music, although you probably don't think of it as exactly 'his' music. He doesn't either, but the impact that his music has had on the way that a lot of great artists have made their own music has been immense. Even though it probably includes some of your all-time favorite recordings, it's just not that easy to say exactly what Jim Ed Norman's music actually is. But one thing it's always been is a reflection of who he is, so if you know a lot of his music, you actually know a lot about him.

Jim Ed Norman's music has crowded the tops of many charts for many years, but since his name is never in the column labeled "recording artist", people don't usually think of him as one. That's ironic, since he's such a master of the art of recording. He's been a musician, an arranger, a producer, and a very successful label head (twice so far), but the art that he's a master of is just a little too complex, or maybe just too unique, to have its own name. It's a lot of different things, each musical moment custom-made for the moment that needed it, but it's a creativity that's always very deeply interwoven with the fabric of other artists' creativity. When the records come out, the artist you hear about is always somebody else.

Artist he is though, and that's what makes Jim Ed Norman's music so important and yet so elusive — it's what changes other people's music from what their music would have been to what it could really be. That's why he can be an arranger, a producer, a label executive — sometimes even a piano player or guitarist — and still do exactly what he does. The real question is, how does he do it? Actually that's probably three real questions — what does he do, how does he do it, and especially, how has he been able to keep doing it for almost five decades?

He began his career very much as a recording artist, playing keyboards and guitar in a band called Shiloh, which is what originally brought Norman and fellow band member Don Henley to Los Angeles from Texas. Even though Shiloh broke up after the release of their first album, Norman's career in recording music began to expand, and it's never really stopped.

He continued to play keyboards and guitar on a number of tracks, including several legendary ones, but his first real jump to a different orbital plane was when he taught himself orchestral arrangement. He did it almost entirely just by listening carefully to the arrangements he admired. "Arranging is my first love," Norman says, "but by that I mean 'orchestral arranging'. The early credits I received — like The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Seger — were usually for this kind of work."

Although Norman is known most for his influential work in Rock and Country, those are by no means his only influences. Early in his career, for example, he saved all his money to make a trip from L.A. to visit Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia, home of the soaring string and horn arrangements that made the Philadelphia Sound such a hallmark of seventies R&B. That's always been an important part of his music, the way he appreciates other people's music, and the soulful vibrance in many of Norman's own arrangements may be part of why so many of them are classics in their own right.

Talking With Kaki King

When you can do something as well as Kaki King can play a guitar, there's just no telling where it might take you. With her latest album, she's found yet another new way to do what she always seems to do -- to find great music in a guitar and play it like very, very few people can. This time, though, there's something else. Her latest album isn't just an album, it's also a carefully imagined multimedia performance. In The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, King makes her way calmly through eleven tracks of showcase quality composition, but for those who see her perform it live, there's even more. On stage, all of it is framed in additional new dimensions of light, projection and picture. (from Johnny Nevin's story at The Huffington Post)

Johnny Nevin's story Light in the Music and Music in Light, Kaki King's Off on a New Adventure appears this week in The Huffington Post, but there was much more that Kaki King had to say about the project when Johnny spoke with her about it. Here are some excerpts from their conversation …

Johnny: How did you come to this musically? I get the impression from what I've read that it's definitely part of a journey.

Kaki King: Well, the music and the visuals, they can't really be separated, I mean I can't tell one story without telling the other. But about the record, I had this idea in my head to create a projection-mapped guitar show, and then I would write music. It would just be solo guitar. I would send some demos, to the collaborators, and they would send stuff back to me. You know, sometimes just internet photos, like do you like A or B? Or, which look are you trying to go for more? Like, is it this sort of flashy thing, or this puffy thing? Then they would supply me with the visual imagery that they were thinking about. Then, because I then had this new imagery coming at me I would write music to fit that — I would shape the music I had already written to fit in more.

So I'd be like, well this is great but it really needs a pedal that does like a wah effect with a delay, so that the music sort of looks and sounds more like this globulous mass. That's kind of how it worked. It was really, and still today is a constant back and forth. I'm able to change a lot, I'm able to change the music, I'm able to change the visuals, in most circumstances one or the other, and so I'm still looking and I'm still listening. I'm still adjusting to kind of make it fit as well as I can.

Photos by Johnny Nevin

How to Just Keep Bringing It: Rui da Silva Makes Some New House Music

Rui da Silva (Courtesy of Rui da Silva)
Rui da Silva (Photo courtesy of Rui da Silva)
It's Your Love Cover Art (Courtesy of Enhanced Music)

Rui da Silva has a brand new record out — it's a collaboration with New York producer Duane Harden called "It's Your Love", and there are quite a few things about it that could end up getting it heard a lot. The classic arc of the songwriting, Joe Killington's full-gear vocal, and the carefully colored production from da Silva and Harden are just some of the things that could make it a stand-out moment in a career that's had quite a few of those already.

Rui da Silva is a House producer from London who has been releasing quality track after quality track for a while now. One of the scene's most respected voices, he's been finding new sounds, new ideas, and new ways to discover what House music can be ever since he traded in his bass guitar for an early generation of analog drum machines and samplers.

He discovered House music in the early nineties, when he was playing bass in a garage band in his native Lisbon. "It was pretty hard to keep everybody interested in the band," he remembers, "and I realized that with House music you could just do it all on your own. So I just jumped into that, and got a bit of equipment. I got a couple of magazines to figure out what people were using and just took it from there."

The rest of the world first heard what he was doing when he and DJ Vibe, calling themselves Underground Sound of Lisbon, recorded a track called "So Get Up". They sent a promo copy to New York — just one — with no contact info on the label except a phone number and part of a map of Lisbon. Night after night for six months, Junior Vasquez banged it in his legendary Sound Factory sets, until finally TRIBAL America's Rob di Stefano got the phone number off the record and tracked da Silva and DJ Vibe down in Lisbon.

With the TRIBAL America release, "So Get Up" became a world-wide House phenomenon. "It created a new sound that didn't exist," da Silva says, "because our influences were quite unique. We were consuming techno from Detroit, house records from New York, and some sounds from the UK, and we were just trying to figure out our own dance music." That's something da Silva has never stopped doing — figuring out his own dance music. As a musician, he's exceptional in more than a few ways, but one of the most striking is the way that he always seems to be just beginning his journey. What makes that even more unusual is that it's already been quite a ride.

After a few more years in the Lisbon scene that he had helped to create, da Silva decided to move to London. "It was a risk, but I felt that I was at a place that I could not move further," he recalls, "so it was either just settle for where I was, or take a chance and move further. I decided to move further." Much further, as it turned out, topping the UK charts with a record he did with Cassandra Fox called "Touch Me", co-founding Kismet Records, and releasing a mesmerizing sequence of widely admired tracks. In 2015 alone, he has more than a dozen new releases as an artist (and several more as a remixer) that cover a multi-chromatic spectrum of style, texture and sound. "I'll always expect to find new sounds," he says.

Smile, You're On the Radio: Go Country, Tonya Campos and Mo Pitney's "Boy and a Girl Thing"

So how does a song even get on the radio anyway? How does it happen, that great moment when you're listening to the radio and you hear that song you like?

There could probably be a lot of stories about how that happens, because a lot of songs get played on a lot of radio stations. But even when you find out how just one song got on one radio station, it turns out that it's more than just one story. It's a lot of different stories about a lot of creative people, and here's a good example.

Mo Pitney has a brand new song called "Boy and a Girl Thing", a carefully crafted, catchy-as-can- be, guitar-driven groove about all the things that happen between boys and girls. Tonya Campos is the Program Director at KKGO, better known to everybody in Los Angeles as Go Country 105. Like Program Directors at radio stations all around the country, she's right in the middle of figuring out what song you want to hear when you listen to her station. The reason that's a good example is because Go Country is playing "Boy and a Girl Thing" on the radio.

Mo Pitney (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

Photo Friday: Dylan Scott and "Crazy Over Me"

Curb Records recording artist Dylan Scott and his stage-scorching band rolled into Chicago for a show at the legendary Joe's Bar on Weed Street last week. Forty-five minutes before the show, Joe's was packed wall to wall with a thousand of his fans, and when he broke into his new single "Crazy Over Me" most of them could sing along, even though it wouldn't be released for a week.

Dylan Scott is an artist whose fans are so enthusiastic about his music that every new thing he does gets massive attention, even if some of it stays under the big media radar. When Curb released the "Stripped" version of "Crazy Over Me" on video in late July, so many of his fans found it, watched it and shared it that by the time he got to Chicago just a few weeks later, the sold out crowd already knew it like it was a hit.

When I talked with Dylan Scott last fall for a story here at and at The Huffington Post, it was really clear how important his band is to him. "I've got my brother playing electric guitar for me, and he's a guy who will just rip it up. And then his best friend, who's actually from Louisiana as well, is a phenomenal guitar player," he said. "So I've got both of them in my band, and then my drummer and bass player are also brothers, and I'm telling you, they are A-list players. I don't know how I lucked up and this happened."

It's a sight to see, that's for sure, Logan Robinson (Dylan's brother) and Sean Barger on guitars, Darrick Cline on bass and Garrett Cline on drums. Just like Dylan Scott, they know what they've got, and they're just relentless in bringing it to the people who came to see them play.

Here's a look at just some of the excitement of this amazing band on stage at Joe's, and if you want to read more about Dylan Scott, check out this story about him at The Huffington Post: Dylan Scott and Where It All Comes From.

Dylan Scott's new single "Crazy Over Me" is at iTunes.

Photos by Johnny Nevin, and there are more photos of Dylan Scott at

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