Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 1.44.28 AMIf anyone doesn’t know, my brother Taylor and I are about to relocate from DFW, Texas to Nashville, TN, which is a move we’ve been dreaming about for years. This past summer, after Taylor moved in with me, we realized we might have our first window of time where such a drastic life change could be feasible. On a whim, we decided to throw all our eggs in that basket. Step one was to find a place to live, so we took off November 1-4 from work: two days for driving to and from Nashville, two for apartment shopping. Two days ended up being unnecessary, for by the first afternoon, we’d found the perfect place to live. We then got to spend the rest of our trip visiting music venues and restaurants, browsing through a local mall, and sarcastically taking tours of apartment complexes we knew were way out of our budget.

After returning back home to Texas, we applied to that one apartment complex we’d picked out and nowhere else; we were approved with a move-in date that perfectly aligned with when our current lease ended. So as I write this, Taylor and I are ten days from making the drive to Nashville once again, except this time with no plans of making the drive back to Texas.

I will surely be blogging more about the adventures to come once life in Nashville begins. Until then, however, I’d like to reminisce about that November road trip. Perhaps the greatest highlight of all was how we spent those three Tennessee nights receiving immense displays of hospitality from good friends of Taylor. The first two nights were spent at the house of our old friends Michael and Deena, who’d relocated from Plano, TX to Nashville after Deena’s band Don’t Wake Aislin signed to Word Records and changed names to Veridia. (Deena sung a duet with Taylor on the song “Lonely Star” by our old band Romantic Machines.)

26184845_pa_what-we-do_1When we rolled in the first night, we found Deena taking care of her dog and cooking a batch of chili made with baking chocolate that proved to be quite delicious. We got to spend some rare quality time catching up and hearing what life in Nashville was like. Her house was quaint and nicely decorated, matching her eccentric personality, with a wrap-around porch that we didn’t get to enjoy because it had been raining. The second night, we got to spend more time with her husband Michael, watching their comical married banter as if we were flies on the wall. After going back and forth with Michael discussing work and up-and-coming musical artists, the four of us watched What We Do in the Shadows, one of the funniest films that’s been released in the past few years. Both nights, Taylor and I were treated to a surprisingly comfortable bed in the guest room, which was decked out with old pictures of the couple as well as Veridia memorabilia, including a plaque from Billboard commemorating the band on the success of one of its singles.

EP Review: Pretty Lies by Veridia (Sept 25, 2015. Word Ent.)

8858b30555f9581549e1f5fe88331184-1000x1000x1The 2015 EP Pretty Lies follows the success of the 2014 EP Inseparable with another short collection of pop-rock anthems and accelerating Veridia’s momentum toward a debut album. As the band continues figuring out its sound, Veridia has made a move similar to contemporaries Fireflight, another female-fronted rock band transitioning from its alt-metal origins to a more synth-saturated sound. Still, it’s vocalist Deena Jakoub’s stellar pipes that define the band’s aesthetic, whether the heavy guitars are in the forefront or not. This all-too-short EP (a slim 13 minutes if you discount the unnecessary bonus remix) starts strong with “Crazy in a Good Way,” the first of three back-to-back rockers. Buoyed by strings and distorted power chords in the fashion of Skillet, Jakoub’s hooky chorus easily stands up next to the best of Skillet’s singles. Next is the lead single and title track, a song about one of Jakoub’s most prominent lyrical topics, self-worth. Memphis May Fire’s Matty Mullins makes a high-profile guest appearance in the second verse of “Pretty Lies,” but his role is overshadowed by his superior sparring partner, who beautifully sings another earworm of a chorus. Even better than these two songs is “At the End of the World,” where handclaps and synths reminiscent of Thousand Foot Krutch’s “War of Change” give Jakoub a chance to prove how powerful her voice and lyrics can be in a heavy rock setting. The bridge also showcases a killer guitar solo that takes the aggressively dark intro from “Crazy in a Good Way” to new heights. Last is “Say a Prayer,” a power ballad that makes good use of a common formula, building bigger and bigger as the song goes on. The song also shows Jakoub’s softer side, proving she’s as good at singing pop as anything else. Even though this song mentions “prayer” (and “Crazy” sounds like a lyrical rewrite of dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak”), most of the EP falls into an inspirational category that could fit alongside the likes of P!nk and Katy Perry. There might not be a single song that hits quite as hard as Inseparable‘s “Furious Love,” but overall the EP shows distinct growth for a band that’s only begun showing what it’s capable of. Buy it here.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 11.48.50 PMAfter spending our final full day in Nashville visiting recommended spots like the Crying Wolf and Family Wash, we headed to the home of Erskin Anavitarte, an old friend of Taylor’s, (who had happened to be in town for the pictured occasion of mine and Taylor’s final Nelson Romantic concert in DFW). He, along with his wife and two kids, welcomed us for our final night in Nashville before having to wake up early and make the 11-hour drive home. His young children were a spritely pair, going back and forth between playing video games and basketball while their mother was cooking a heartwarming meal for us all. Erskin filled us in on his recent adventures, upcoming tours, and his latest album. He’d recorded it in a nearby house that had been converted into a studio; apparently, a lot of people in his neighborhood had home studios, and some of the more successful producers would purchase a neighboring house to convert the whole thing into a studio. (After the delectable dinner, I got to try some vegan brownies a neighbor had cooked for them, made primarily with zucchini. They were crazy good.) Once the kids were done playing in the living room, Erskin and his wife brought out air mattresses and blankets for Taylor and me to use. Then the couple led their kids through a Bible study before lying them down in bed. The evening ended early for all of us, but easily the highlight of the night was when Erskin gave us a live performance of his new song “Look Up,” literally because his kids begged him to. As talented and inherently likable as Erskin is, and regardless of how popular he ever becomes, he will never have bigger fans than his two kids. They absolutely adore the man, and watching them watch their dad, still starry-eyed and mesmerized by a song they’d probably heard a hundred times, was precious.

EP Review: Look Up by Erskin Anavitarte (Sept 19, 2015. Yackland Studios)

cover170x170Look Up is the newest release from Nashville-based gospel singer/songwriter Erskin Anavitarte. With a warm timbre and blues-tinged style resembling Lenny Kravitz, Anavitarte offers fans a 7-song set ranging from love songs to a socio-political number to a clever update of the hymn “Nothing but the Blood.” Beautiful harmonies and smooth falsetto melodies flavor the whole outing, and there really isn’t a weak song. The title track recalls early John Mayer, while the energetic opening track “Do What You Gotta Do” pairs a straightforward pop-rock template with the record’s most sophisticated guitar work. “Black & White” attacks racism in Christianity using a tastefully soulful soundscape, and it might be the album’s most immediately memorable song. It’s followed by “Paparazzi,” which has the unfortunate position of being the album’s best track instrumentally but most awkward lyrically. It’s the first of two latter-half songs where Anavitarte makes out-of-place attempts to rap, following the bad Christian trend of vocalists being humble when they sing but bragging when they rap. Another common detractor in Christian music is a poor use of synths; every time synths appear on this record, they sound like an afterthought, sitting haphazardly atop the mix. The best moments of Look Up are when Anavitarte shows off his rich voice over real instruments, although “Cold Hearted Man” does do an effective job of blending electronic drums into the sound. “Wanderer” ends the album on a bright spot, a slow burning but joyful ode to his wife where Anavitarte balances all his strengths as a singer, lyricist, and guitarist. “When she talks I listen/When she’s gone I miss her,” he sings on “Wanderer,” and that’s exactly how listeners will feel when Anavitarte’s at his best, as he is for much of this effortlessly enjoyable release. Buy it here.

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