Last month on the evening before Thanksgiving Day I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with #WomenCrush Music, an international non-profit organization whose mission it is to support rising women songwriters by hosting showcases, workshops & networking events, all while creating a safe community. I have to admit that I was there to perform with my band, Avalanche Lily, and that I wasn’t very familiar with #WomenCrush Music before then. What I found was a warm welcoming community of musicians and an incredibly talented lineup of performers and a mission that’s about a lot more than music.
The November showcase at the White Eagle included several singer-songwriter performances, starting with Katelyn Convery who sings aching songs with a strong buttery voice and bass-y acoustic guitar. I also really dug the darkly seductive piano pop from Lauren Kershner, who recently released a new single and music video, Wicked, that matches her intriguing persona perfectly. Special guest, EmZee, the co-leader of the Missoula, MT chapter, closed out the night with a spirited performance. The sheer talent of these three performers was impressive, reminding me and everyone in the audience of Portland’s bounty of incredible local music.
The next #WomenCrush Music event coming up on Wednesday, December 19, at the White Eagle will be a holiday party and an educational workshop about treating music like a business, taught and sponsored by lawyer Michael Jonas of Rational Unicorn Legal Services. The event will also feature live performances from Acoustic Minds, a well-known local band led by two sisters, and Complementary Colors, a duo of brilliant married musical ladies who recently released a new EP.
Hannah diMo, leads the Portland chapter of #WomenCrush and wants “to help other women and women-identifying humans achieve their dreams.” Her new single is coming out on Feb 23 with a release-party at Holocene and she will be playing with her band at the White Eagle on January 3.
#WomenCrush Music was founded in Portland in January 2017 by then-local musician Ashley Kervabon. In two years the movement has expanded to 15 chapters in 12 cities across the United States and in Vancouver, BC. You can learn more about the history of #WomenCrush Music by checking out their fb page, their website, and this article in Vortex Music Magazine.
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I spent the whole weekend flat out in bed with the flu listening to Haley Heynderickx. It was somehow appropriate to slow down time and spend it on soaking up the music of this Portland songwriter. Haley grew up in Forest Grove, which is far enough outside of Portland not to be considered a suburb. It is a small college town, home to Pacific University, in the middle of a scenic agricultural valley. Knowing what I know about Forest Grove, it seems nothing less than perfect that her recent album is entitled “I Need to Start a Garden.”
The album is a snapshot of a moment in time in an intriguing journey. Haley is of Filipino descent and grew up in a religious household with a mother who dragged her to karaoke. Then at the age of 11 Haley got a used guitar with a hole in the back and started taking guitar lessons from the only guitar teacher around, who was a bluegrass musician. The bluegrass influence is evident in her fingerpicking style, complete with a bass line, and punctuating flourishes. Her fingerpicking weaves a perfect nest for her fragile voice, as strong and delicate as spun glass. Bob Boilen from NPR’s Tiny Desk even went so far as to use the word frail, but in the most flattering way possible. In fact, she gives Boilen’s Tiny Desk contest a lot of credit for her quick rise, though her label, Mama Bird Recording Co., has done a lot to guide her along as well.
Haley’s guitar playing and voice are only half of the package. The other half is her songwriting and character. Her songs, some of which were recorded and released more than once, are polished gems with odd tunings and thoughtful lyrics about god, starting gardens, not being put in a box, how people are judged, and so many more things. Her songs are so unusual, they get under your skin with rawness, they don’t inspire humming or earworm jingles- they make you want to listen again, as if you were hungry for something like this. And I think we are.
The attention that artists and bands like Lucy Dacus, Soccer Mommy, Palehound, and Haley Heynderickx are getting is notable. These young women are writing songs that ask questions more interesting than the worn out “I love him so much”, “he dumped me,” and “now I’ll be strong” themes of modern pop divas. These young women are writing songs that are more compelling. On my favorite tune from the album, “untitled god song”, she describes god as a woman- “maybe my god has thick hips and big lips… she speaks every language…. she spins me around like a marionette”.
Haley is unsure as to how her journey will unfold, described poetically by her lyrics “my web is still spinning you can’t see it yet.” She needs to be alone and quiet for her songwriting process, but she’s been touring non-stop, performing with her full band, and sometimes solo, all over the world. She is playing this Thursday, September 27, at Revolution Hall with several other artists on the Mama Bird label.
Haley has given so many great interviews, each shedding more light on who she is. Learn more about her by clicking through the links in the story and the additional sources included below.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this, please subscribe to the Portland Notes blog. We are looking for a few more writers who are enthusiastic about sharing their stories about Portland music culture, including album and live band reviews. Contact us if you are interested in writing!
Dr. Something’s new single “Beaverton TC” is adorable, effortlessly enjoyable, and worth listening to on repeat. The chamber pop tune kicks off with a rolling piano riff, evoking the cheery demeanor of the Peanuts theme song “Linus and Lucy.” The contortion of language in support of rhyming makes some of the verses sound almost Shakespearean.
“Where do I go
When I’m looking to catch the bus to Tualatin?
Where do I go
When I’m aiming for the heart of the county known as Washington?”
The tune conjures up visions of a musical about suburban Portland, something along the lines of the Simpsons with a twist of Dilbert. Somehow a musical or TV series on transit centers seems timely now that the Portlandia TV series and the Portland culture of the ‘90s are officially over with. Beaverton TC could inspire a TV series about minivans, high school sports, and very friendly naïve people who are barely aware that a city called Portland exists, except for a few restaurants and an airport. I can already imagine a series of entertaining skits depicting Portland musicians, exiled from the city due to high rents, embarking on Tri-Met seeking affordable apartments in the suburbs. These seemingly related species, city-dwelling musicians and suburbanites are largely unfamiliar with each other’s existence, with the exodus of musicians to the suburbs providing fodder for endless parodies.
It is also worth noting that Dr. Something, a.k.a. Alison Dennis, wrote a worthwhile bonus track to promote the new song. She calls it a “jingle for the single”.Alison is working on an entire transit center collection, which I can’t wait to hear. In particular I’m looking forward to hearing about my own suburban neighborhood transit center, the Sunset TC.
Besides being a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in Dr. Something, Alison also plays keyboards and saxophone in All I Feel is Yes and is a live music sketch artist. Her sketches are a hand-drawn documentary of Portland’s live bands and venues, capturing fleeting moments of an endangered cultural pastime.
Catch Alison with her band featuring bassist Jacob Anderson, drummer Michael Wilding, and back-up singing, go-go dancing sensations Amy Baxter, Erika Garlock and Christie Welsh at the single release party on Thursday, Sept 13, at Kelly’s Olympian. Follow her on fb, check out her website, and stay tuned to Bandcamp and SoundCloud for the rest of the transit center series.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this, please subscribe to the Portland Notes blog. Also, we are looking for a few more writers who are enthusiastic about sharing their stories about Portland music culture, including album and live band reviews. Thanks for reading!
I first became acquainted with Cypress Jones through a music video that he had produced for local chanteuse, Laryssa Birdseye. So when I saw his recent video release for “Know Yourself” it took me a little while to figure out that it was not only his video production, but also his own song and voice. With its positive message and melodic backdrop his new tune “Know Yourself” grabbed me from the first listen. I dug into learn more, and found that Cypress grew up locally, recently moved to LA to pursue his dreams, and comes from an impressive musical family. His father, Alan Jones, is a very well-known local jazz drummer and his mother, Janet Chvatal, is a German opera singer. With a family background in jazz and opera, it’s not surprising that Cypress has a talent for music, understands how much hard work it takes to get anywhere in the business, and has an interesting perspective.
“Know Yourself” is an inspiring song about… knowing yourself and how important and tricky that is. Check it out and learn more about Cypress, his journey, and his purpose in life in the interview below.
PN: I first became acquainted with you through a music video that you had done for Laryssa Birdseye. Your videos are great! So I was surprised when I saw your new video for Know Yourself. It took me a while to figure out that it was you, and your song. Can you say something about what inspired that song for you?
CJ: Thank you for the kind words! I have been rapping/producing pretty seriously now for about 14 years, just not in the public eye. It has been a long personal journey of deciding who to be and how to present myself if I ever decided to release music. One of the main things I’ve figured out recently is the most important thing is to get to know yourself, then present yourself and your story to the world. If you are authentic, you may never fall in line with the mainstream and be as big as you always dreamed, but you will be fulfilled, and actually have a chance of touching people in a meaningful way. This is where the idea came from, and I decided I wanted to share it, as well as just make a fun song for people to vibe to.
PN: The song is described as being “car freestyle”. Can you describe the writing, performance, and production that goes into this kind of song?
CJ: This song was made completely in one night, from the beat production, to writing and recording. I have a lot of big productions in the works to start off my career, and I felt like if I didn’t just release it now, I may never get to it. So, I decided to jump in the car, and do an equally to the point video production to go along with it so I could edit and release immediately. It’s not a music video, but also not a live freestyle, so I just came up with a name and decided to run with it. I am hoping once I release my next “Real Music Videos” fans will come back to it and have a greater understanding of who I am. Doing these run-n-gun songs and shoots is pretty fun, so I may do something similar every month from now on.
PN: I heard that you are originally from Portland and just recently moved to LA. Why did you move?
CJ: I moved to LA for a couple reasons. First of all, I went through an incredibly traumatizing break-up, and it was time to change scenery and get my head straight. Second, I realized that although it is possible to “Make It” in Portland. Ultimately, everyone eventually ends up in LA once they find success. It’s just where everyone and everything is. Since being here, I have realized it is the perfect place for me right now. Being surrounded by so many of the most successful and motivated people in the industry is a breath of fresh air for me. When there are so many people better than you, hustling harder than you, there is nowhere to go but up if you have the right attitude and keep humble. I am learning an incredible amount, and fast. My heart will always be in Portland, and once I find the success personally, and commercially that I am looking for, I plan on moving back, or at least living there half time. I miss it very much.
PN: Some of the lyrics in the song make it seem like you have been working on freestyle hip hop for quite some time. Is this your first song and/or music video? Do you have more song concepts ready to record or perform? Any plans to do more with this, or to perform live?
As I said before, I have been doing Hip-Hop for about 14 years now, since I was 11 and living in Germany. In the last 6 years, I have released a video here or there, but really only because I love doing it. I would just set up the shot and have my friends film it, whoever was available that day. If people watched and enjoyed, I was happy. Only now am I considering really pushing to do this full time. I have 5 videos in the works at the moment, including my first big budget song and video “All I Want” which I am very excited about. Right now I am polishing up the songs & videos, and building a plan on how best to release them so that this next push can really start off my career. I make at least 2 songs a week, and have for as long as I can remember, so I have no lack of material, it’s just deciding which ones to release and when to build the image that I want and to peek people’s interest.
PN: “Know Yourself” is uplifting and positive. But, a lot of hip hop seems kind of negative and sometimes derogatory towards women. Do you have any thoughts on that?
CJ: I have decided with my music that I want to be a positive force, but that’s just the true me. I am a positive and upbeat person and want to give that part of myself to the world. Everyone has darkness in their lives, and some artists feel like that darkness should define them. I have no problem with that, as long as concentrating on that darkness makes you happy. I know that for the listener, sometimes someone opening up about the darkness in their lives can help you navigate through it. Being derogatory towards women, or anyone for that matter is not helpful. There’s a fine line between expressing your feelings, and attacking an individual or group. I do not condone any of that. Love is the name of the game in my world.
PN: Who are your influences- in music, video, life, etc?
My father and mother are my two biggest influences. My father, Alan Jones, is a respected jazz drummer in Portland, and my mother, Janet Chvatal, is an opera singer over in Germany. They have both been successful in this industry and taught me everything I know. They are as supportive as it gets, and give me knowledge on life and my career every day. I am truly blessed to have them. Rap-wise, I am a huge fan of Eyedea, Aesop Rock, Slug, Big L, Talib Kweli just to name a few. I gravitate towards lyrical rap, although recently I have learned how to appreciate pop more, and am adapting just a little, style-wise, to reach the most people possible.
PN: What haven’t I asked you that I should have?
CJ: Ha ha, I enjoyed your questions. Maybe: “What do you feel like your purpose in life is?” And my answer would be, to make art through whatever conduit I can, to bring people joy and to be a friend who is there for you, whomever you may be, whenever you need me. I want to repay the artists who helped me through my pain and have saved my life so many times.
Few things give me more pleasure than introducing Portland Notes music fans to Renee Dunn, aka Cocoa Venus. I came across Renee Dunn last fall when the music emanating from a little bar on the North Park blocks drew me inside. It was then and there that I first saw Renee Dunn fronting her previous band, Gold Ensoul, with her unique charisma and strength. I stayed there until the she had played every song she knew. It was one of those cathartic musical experiences, watching local dancer, Natasha Kotey, add another dimension to the show, and seeing how others besides myself were drawn in from the street. Renee and I exchanged contact information, became friends on fb, and I patiently awaited for the release of her debut album.
Her new album, Honey, released under the artist name Cocoa Venus, shows that the spirit of the blues is alive in Portland, Oregon, of all places. I spent my college years in Chicago listening to the live blues of Koko Taylor, Melvin Taylor, Buddy Guy, and Junior Welles. That’s where I witnessed the blues firsthand, and the emotion that drives it. While Dunn resists being categorized or labeled, she conveys a similar passion and authenticity as her musical forbearers, but she takes that torch and moves in a new direction, with an updated message that fits with the modern world.
The first track on the album, called My Last Give a ***k (where the last word rhymes with duck), might be my favorite song of the year. It’s the perfect song for anyone who is struggling to hold on to their zen in the face of adversity and rejection, which deep down inside is practically everyone who is following a creative pursuit. MLGAF, at nearly six minutes long, lets the listener sink into the groove and get carried away. I’m a complete sucker for the Hammond organ, and Tony Ozier, aka Dookie Green, displays serious wizardry on that first track. City Life is another standout track, showcasing rich vocals, dexterous guitar riffs, a tight rhythm section, and relatable lyrics, “I never dreamed of kids and white picket fence. I never would have made it. Neat little houses and suburban bliss, I surely would have hated it. I never said I wanted life neat and nice. I beg to differ from your version in my version of paradise. I know what I need. And I get that from the city.”
Renee heals and inspires people through her music and stories, as well as through her profession as an empathic tarot card reader and spiritual astrologer. Learn more about her amazing life experience, perspective, and musical process in the interview below, check out her album, follow her on fb, and go to her free all ages CD release party on Sunday, August 12, 4-6 pm, at the White Eagle.
PN: Is this your first professional recording production?
CV: It is! I’m still low key in shock and awe that this is mine, tbh.
PN: What inspired you to record these songs?
CV: I have been a singer since I literally physically could, and writing -including song writing- always came easily to me. 3 out of 4 of the songs on this E.P. have been floating around in this head of mine for years, I just never had the just right moment or the just right people in my life to make it happen. And, if I’m going to keep it all the way real… I think there was a bit of not feeling like I could, or that anyone would ‘get’ my art if I did; being seen as both Black AND ‘alternative’ hasn’t always been a thing. Even now there is a fight to not be automatically labeled.
But then a combination of things happened that sorta turned it around for me: I spend my professional life in service to helping people heal and it is my truest hope to have every client leave their session with me feeling competent, capable and seen. In my soon to be 12 years of doing this work I have witnessed so many people take these awesome steps toward their dreams. Turning 40 did something to me. It made me realize I TOO could be taking those awesome steps. It lit a fire in me to start trying to actually do something with the songs in my head. So for the next 3 years I had failed attempt after failed attempt with various Portland based producers/beat makers/musicians and it straight up at times felt like I was almost cursed! People ghosted, talked a big talk and couldn’t deliver, etc. I was really upset and angry….but I mostly just really felt hurt and rejected.
One evening and I’m sitting in a cute little jewel box of a bar with a friend that has been one of my #1 cheerleaders and *I* think we’re there to work on a project and that’s how it started out. Little did I know I was totally being set up! She knew the owner of the bar and I’m pretty sure she had talked about my being a singer. Also…it just SO HAPPENED to be open mic night. One thing you learn about being friends with this particular woman is that it is really hard to tell her no when it’s something that’s going to grow you, haha. So after a good amount of ‘encouragement’, haha, I folded and hopped up on the stage to sing. The evening ended on an offer to do a monthly gig. All I needed was a band. A band I had been trying in various ways to form since 2005 when I moved here!
The saying ‘timing is everything ‘ proved true, like, INSTANTLY and I suddenly found myself the frontwoman to a badass group of crazy talented musicians. I couldn’t believe my luck and I was scared sh*tless. I started a soul cover band called Gold Ensoul and got a taste of what it meant to be a front woman and what it takes to be a performer and not just a singer. I got so much education and love from those few shows that I thought to myself…why not go for it? So I’m 44 and I’m thinking…if not now WHEN?? If this is meant to be, it’ll work. The Universe dropped my producer into my world and 10 months later…Honey is born.
PN: I first saw you perform at Sante with a small tight band, and Natasha Kotey was dancing to your music. How do you know the musicians and dancers, ie, can you describe the music community/scene/culture that you participate in?
CV: This has been a really difficult part of my creative experience because when I say I’m an empathic introvert I REALLY mean I am truly an empathic introvert. Artists have to have a certain amount of extroversion because there is a lot of group get-togethers/meet and greets/jams and that is sincerely a form of torture for me. The thought of lobbing myself into a group of strangers fills me with anxious dread. I know what you may be thinking: You get up on stage and entertain! Right? Haha. But it’s not the same thing at all. I say all this to say that I did this all via a secret FB page for artists of color in Portland. And those two or three posts gifted me with all but one person in my band and every single dancer that danced with us.
I’m really working on getting myself to go to jams and meet other artists…because that’s truly where the deepest connections are and there’s no better way for people to see what you’re working’ with than to show up and let them see for themselves. Ugh…it’s not easy though.
PN: Who played on the recordings? Anything you want to say about them?
CV: Some seriously talented BAD ASSES played on my recordings 🙂 I have and will always have nothing but high praise for each of them.
Eric Blood, on that fat bass and Max Zatarain on that sizzling guitar were my core creatives. God bless them! Haha! I say that because what you have to understand is that all I do is sing and write… I have literally zero formal musical education. They’re asking me “Okay, what key is this in?” “Ok what this or that or the other?” The BASIC musical terminology…it all sounded like the adults in the Charlie Brown comics speaking to me. And I’m standing there smiling and blinking at them, like.. “Um.. I can sing it to you and here are the words?” Haha! Once they realized that they weren’t gonna be able to communicate with me in that way, I have to commend them on just getting down and gritty and intuitive with me. They ‘got’ me. They ‘got’ where I was wanting to go.
Darian Anthony Patrick, on those tiiiiiiight drums was part of the Gold Ensoul blessing that landed in my world and I am STILL trying to figure out how I got that damn lucky cuz that man is super talented and has done work with some pretty impressive artists; including Dirty Revival. Eric, Max and my oh so psychic, intuitive, creative producer; Febian Perez and myself, would get together with Darian and show him what we had and he’d just jump right in there like “Oh, you mean this?” and then lay down fire.
It was all just… Magic. So many times, especially being the only woman in the group, I had to hold it together til the end of the practices and I’d sit in my car and just smile while my eyes watered up because it is something so special experiencing the music that’s been cocooned in your mind all these years being understood, appreciated and taking shape right in front of you. The magic was so thick in those practices. I will carry those moments with me always.
PN: The recordings are on Soundcloud. Will they also be on Spotify, iTunes, etc?
CV: Haha! I am EMBARASSINGLY technologically deficient. I’m literally recruiting a gifted all-things-media teenager to help me with things!! I’m so not kidding. iTunes is in the near future. For now I’m going old skool with CD’s at shows. I know…I know…
PN: On FB I see you are very vocal about various social issues (LGBTQ, black, and perhaps other issues as well). Can you please comment on your views?
CV: I don’t think you get to be a woman, who is dark skinned, bigger bodied and queer and NOT speak on these issues. Your very being is made political when this is skin you’re in. In my vocation I am about education, comprehension, compassion and liberation. That way of being doesn’t have a border for me so it absolutely blends in with my personal life. I like depth. I’m comfortable with uncomfortable conversations and inner work that requires going deep down. I’m comfortable with loving you through to a perspective your personal life experiences would have never turned you onto.
PN: You have a way of inspiring people. In your opinion, what can we do to make the world a better place?
CV: I do? That’s an incredibly kind thing to say! Thank you.
What can we do to make the world a better place….. Hmm…..unfortunately – with the exception of a trip to Vancouver BC in my early 20’s – I’ve never traveled out of the United States, so my perspective about what the entire world needs is rather limited by that.
I think a lot of people that want us all to come together are putting an imbalanced emphasis on the fact that we are all so much more alike than we are different. It’s true…we are so much more alike than we’re different… but those differences matter.
They want to get to that yummy kumbaya by stepping over the hard stuff! The uncomfortable history of how we got here and of the fact that we are indeed different in ways…but that those differences aren’t bad at all and need to be acknowledged and respected and embraced. We can’t come together if coming together means you choose to only acknowledge the facets of my being that toe the line of your unchallenged comfort level. We can’t come together if you’re asking me to cut off innate parts of me to make me more like you. I believe in LOVE and I also believe that love is a VERB that is comprised of empathy, compassion and a willingness to be uncomfortable to get to the good stuff 🙂 That’s a really huge question though!
PN: Who are your influences?
CV: This is sooooooo hard to answer! I grew up partially in South Central Los Angeles in the mid 70’s /early 80’s and partially in the suburbs of Seattle in the mid 80’s/early 90’s. They were vastly different places and I am truly a product of them both. Although my father was a more peripheral figure in my childhood I was a preacher’s daughter and my grandmother- who predominantly raised me- was deeply religious, so I grew up on gospel and of course there was soul and funk and blues. But when my mother moved me to the suburbs of Seattle, I began developing a deeeeeep fascination of new wave. Then in my late teens there was dark wave, goth, industrial music. I truly believe that a blend of Chaka Khan, Aretha, Whitney, Stevie and BB King on one hand, blended with Concrete Blond, Grace Jones, Tori Amos, Portis Head, Nine Inch Nails and grew me. That’s the smallest sample ever, though, of my musical influences.
PN: Can you comment on the meaning and or lyrics of the songs “My Last Give a F***” and “City Life”?
CV: I looove those songs so much! City Life… as I mentioned, I grew up in South Central L.A. and it was such a sprawling, gritty place to grow up. I loved it! My uncle was one of my favorite people in the world when I was a kid and he was flaming gay and very alternative. He would gather all the cousins and take us to Venice Beach and Hollywood and Long Beach and museums and art galleries and show us the world outside of our immediate neighborhoods and it made a deep and lasting impression on me. It’s where I could see art, and people who were just like me and that weren’t like me at all. I loved a day of play and then coming back home, bussing or driving through the late night city with all the lights and drinking in the way the nighttime energy changes the very air around you. Then when I turned 18 I moved from the suburbs of Seattle into the city, and after having a rather strict upbringing, I tore into Seattle night life with everything in me. I know it’s an unpopular opinion but to this day I LOVE the city, especially the city at night.
My Last Give A F*** wrote itself into existence from an impromptu jam where I was looking to work with a synth musician to be able to more fully realize some of the more ‘alternative’ sound in my songs. My guitarist had joined the synth musician and all of a sudden the line, “This is the place where I lost my last give a f***,” landed in my head and I started giggling. Later that night I sat down and 90% of the song wrote itself in about 20 minutes. It’s one of my favorites because it’s so damn REAL! I saw an interview with Amy Winehouse once and I remember her saying that she hates how everybody is too cool for school now. So unbothered and that she wanted to make music that felt like real life. That resonates with me so deeply. So many songs either talk about a break up in a surface emo sadness way, or in an “I’m just gonna step right over this and replace you” kind of way. But the break of a deep love is a HOT MESS! One FULL of feels. So MLGAF takes you through the stages of a long term relationship that breaks; numbness-the echoing songs beginning, depression- “Whatever, I have ceased to care. Should probably change these clothes…but sun has set again.” Anger: “I’m talkin’ bout that whiskey gin and rum. It aint gonna fix me but I still want some.” Reckless need to feel desirable again: “Tough women sweet men, both built for sin. No they aint gonna fix me none, but I still want some!” All the way to a crescendo’ed crisis and then an end where the person says “That WAS the place where I lost mlgaf…..I think it’s time to move on.” And then you get it together, heal, pick yourself up and move on. Ahhh love, right? 😉