Artist Feature: Big Bill by Tess Cagle

Published originally at ORANGE Magazine

Big Bill wants you to take a walk on the wild side.  With their manic brand of “cartoon punk” and a mission to make even the biggest introvert cut loose, the band continues to win over new fans who they lovingly refer to as “Bill-ions”  making them, naturally, “Bill-ionaires.”

Since its inception in 2012, Big Bill has gone through a series of evolutions. Officially founded by brothers Cody and Eric Braden and their friend David Fitzhugh, Big Bill went through a few drummers before Alan Lauer joined the band in early January 2014. Last fall, when Fitzhugh fell seriously ill and returned to Houston to recover, Jennifer Monsees filled in on bass, and she has since become a permanent fixture.

Big Bill has officially christened their genre “billwave,” which the members describe as “party-slop” and “cartoon-punk.” “It’s pop and punk but not pop-punk,” Monsees says. “It has punk influences, like really fast upbeat songs that try to get people dancing. I say cartoon because it’s supposed to be fun. It’s playful and theatrical.” According to Lauer, the band’s music sounds like a punkier version of the B-52’s meets DEVO. “Sometimes, I’ll even throw in the word ‘psych,’” he adds. “We’ve also got a lot of surf beats and surfy guitar parts.”

Eric is the primary songwriter, but every member contributes to the process. When Fitzhugh was still active in the band, he and Eric would take “weird walks” around the city and brainstorm ideas based on whatever signs or other things crossed their path — a method that inspired “Claws In,” the opening track on their newest EP, “The Second Bill.”  Lately, the group has taken a more conventional approach to writing, bouncing ideas off one another and piecing songs together from one central riff or melody.

Eric says the one thing he hopes listeners get out of their music is a sense of wildness. Before they take the stage, Eric runs laps around the venue, psyching himself up so he can do the same to the crowd. During their set, he stalks across the stage, throws water at the audience and leaps into the crowd mid-mosh. “I like to see people being totally uninhibited and fulfilling, something they don’t get to do in their normal life, because everyone is kind of playing a character anyway — a character that fits into society and doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable,” he says. “Normally, if I was in a crowd of people, I would just let other people talk. It’s really amazing to have a microphone and be the loudest person in the room. It’s so freeing.”

Lauer says Big Bill is an all-inclusive band that brings even the shyest concertgoers out of their shells. “People always say that we’re a party band, and I feel like that kind of minimizes what the band is,” he explains. “When you come to a Big Bill show, it doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert who hates to go out and meet new people. We’re an all-welcoming band that tries to push forward positive energy. It allows people to be themselves more and get crazy.”

Aside from being larger than life in both sound and theatricality, Big Bill’s lyrics have a deceptively dark edge to them. Eric says their song “Two Weeks” is essentially about dying, with lyrics like, “Kill me if I don't learn / It's not the money, it's the dying that you earn.”

Monsees says this dark element is what drew her to the band in the first place. “Honestly, I’m not sure that always gets across,” she says. “Maybe it doesn’t need to, but it’s something I really gravitate towards and something I’ve always appreciated about this band, so I hope it does. I feel like, for me personally, when we’re doing it right, the songs are really catchy and fun and energetic, but there’s also something that is kind of holding back in a strange way. It kind of has this push-and-pull element to it.”

Big Bill just finished recording “The Second Bill,” and Lauer promises a much rawer sound that encapsulates their live performances better than their debut EP, “A Hard Day’s Bill.” Produced by Paul Millar, also known as SlugBug, the EP features both new and previously unrecorded old songs, as well as a few extra studio flourishes, like synthesizer sounds. “It’s just a little different than all of the live shows,” Cody says.

What’s next for Big Bill? Will this EP be their stepping stone to greater things? Will the “Bill-ionaires” go from being a clever name to a reality as they obtain the key to fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams?

Well, maybe. But Cody has some different, humbler goals: “Hopefully we won’t break up and we’ll keep playing.”

 

Artist Feature: LIONGRL + G-Monk by Tess Cagle

Originally published at ORANGE Magazine

Spotlights drench the Mohawk’s indoor stage in blue on Oct. 22, and Angie Calderon and Taylor Ortman ascend the steps to take their places for the evening. A switch flips, and they put on their alter egos, LIONGRL and G-Monk. Through the power of compromise, the “hip-pop” duo has wedded their favorite genres to craft a sound all their own.

At first glance, the name LIONGRL + G-Monk is bound to elicit double takes. Originally part of four-piece band called Cyma, Calderon says the duo felt like creating a separate name for this project would have been redundant, and instead opted to craft individual personas.

Ortman earned the nickname “G-Monk” in high school. A natural redhead, the “G” stands for ginger, while “Monk” is short for monkey, because of Ortman's love of jumping around. Calderon’s LIONGRL came about while she was in college and became interested in astrology. “I’m a leo, and I have always felt that I connected with that sign very well, because they’re lazy, prideful and stubborn,” she says. “And then, LIONGRL came from the idea that I’ve always seen the music industry as very male-dominant. Lions are only males, unless they’re lionesses. Thats why I’m LIONGRL. I’m declaring my equality with the rest of the guys.”

Ortman says he and Calderon started making music together exclusively last December, almost by accident. What began as just hanging out, quickly transformed into collaborating. “It was instant,” Ortman explains. “I would just write a track, and then we would put lyrics on it. It was way easier for it to be just me and her.”

Calderon says it was easier to make creative decisions as a duo than with an entire band. “It’s hard to make decisions with a band because everyone has different opinions, and you have to compromise about things,” she says. “We’re just two people that have similar tastes in music, so it was easier for us together to write songs and stuff.” In addition, Calderon says she and Ortman have incredible chemistry. “It’s something that’s bigger than us,” she says. “We’re just great at creating things together.”

Calderon and Ortman still occasionally butt heads, because they each prefer to play different genres of music. Ortman says he prefers “dance-y, upbeat, electro music,” while Calderon prefers “more chill music, like R&B and trap.” Instead of allowing these differences to hinder their sound, the duo finds ways to combine their styles.

“White Keys,” the first song they wrote together, exemplifies this combination. The song starts off calm, with a slow drum beat, and then switches to include more EDM influences. “Angie wanted something that sounded happier,” Ortman says. “I always use the black keys, which have more minor scales, so I tried to use a major scale instead. That’s why it’s called ‘White Keys.’”

This penchant for compromise has led Calderon and Ortman to create an entirely new genre, that they call “hip-pop.” Still, Calderon says it’s hard to define their music since “it’s still traveling in different directions, because it’s a fusion of different genres together.” She says the duo is inspired by electronic artists like Phantogram, while also drawing from “‘90s girl music” like Jewel and Janet Jackson, who both influence much of Calderon’s melodies.

Calderon and Ortman’s creative process can take several forms. Sometimes, Ortman creates a track and Calderon writes the lyrics and melody independently. Other times, the two of them write the whole thing together, freestyling into the twilight hours. Calderon says they have written entire songs in one sitting. “A lot of our songs relate back to us, but we try to make them relatable to other people by speaking about subjects in a generic sort of way,” she adds.

Currently, the duo plans to lay low and write more songs. Calderon says they hope to have new music online by the end of the year to bolster their online presence. “We don’t see the necessity to rush things too quickly,” she says. “We’re still trying to figure out where this is going, because at first it was just a fun thing.”

They do agree that after playing larger shows, like October’s Ditch the Fest Fest, they see the project becoming serious and long-term. “I feel like that show opened a lot of doors for us,” Calderon explains.

The two musicians have pretty simple goals regarding how they want their music to impact the community. “I just want to move people,” Calderon says. “I hope that when people listen to our music they feel something from it, whatever that may be.” Ortman says he just wants people to dance and have a good time. “I want the audience to lose whatever’s on their mind and be able to be in the moment, just enjoying where they are,” he says.

On this night, the audience stands inside the Mohawk in a room that fits 200 people at best. But Ortman already has his sights set on something better. Sitting outside on the venue’s upper balcony after their set, Ortman points to the outdoor stage. “I want to play on that stage,” he says. “That’s my goal.”

The Man Behind UT’s Tower Bells by Tess Cagle

On Tuesday, around noon, Austin Ferguson, music and government senior, hiked up the stairs of the Tower to sit down on an old wooden bench and flood students’ ears with the sound of the Knicker Carillon, more commonly referred to as the tower bells. Students scurried back and forth across the Forty Acres and the melody of the bells resounded throughout campus. On this particular day, the song Ferguson played was “Clocks” by Coldplay. 

Since the carillon is located at the top of the Tower, not many have witnessed Ferguson play a recital in person. Ferguson said one of his favorite aspects of playing the Tower bells is the anonymity.

“I have crippling stage fright, and there were times I couldn’t perform at an organ recital because I was so scared,” Ferguson said. “Not being able to be seen is wonderful but it’s also the paradox of playing the instrument. On one hand, you are completely anonymous to your audience, but it is also the single most public instrument in the entire world. You can hear it from a mile away if the acoustics are right. It’s a fun contrast.”

The carillon is played by thousands of musicians across the world. With a background in piano and organ playing, Ferguson, the current Director of the Carillon Guild for UT, said he first began taking carillon lessons when he was a sophomore in high school, studying the organ at Baylor University during the summer.

“When I was on campus one day, I happened to run into Baylor’s carillonneur. We got to talking, and she suggested I try the carillon since I played the organ,” Ferguson said. “I absolutely fell in love with it. I played all through high school, and then when I got to college I saw we had the biggest carillon in Texas and told myself I had to do it.”

Despite his love for anonymity while playing, Ferguson said he tries to give the Tower bells their own persona by interacting with UT students through Twitter, using the handle @TexasCarillon.

“I do try and utilize social media a lot just because you wouldn’t guess the number of people who have no idea an actual person is playing the bells, and that it’s not computerized,” Ferguson said. “That’s definitely what I try to eliminate, because carillonneurs are people and we enjoy what we do.”

Ferguson has many fond memories playing the carillon, but one that stands out to him most is also one that he refers to jokingly as a “near-death experience.” He performed for the 2013 commencement, and after he was finished playing he stepped out onto the observation deck to watch the rest of the ceremony.

“I had asked the people below to let me know when they were about to do the fireworks because I knew they were really loud,” Ferguson said. “I couldn’t really hear what was going on, but I could tell that people were getting ready to leave. And then all of the sudden there was an orange fireball hurled right at my face. It missed me by 3 feet. I was so scared, and it was explosively loud.”

Thanks to the carillon, Ferguson said he has had many memorable experiences and even met many mentors and friends.

Professor Andrew Dell’Antonio, faculty advisor for the Carillon Guild, has known Ferguson since he first started school at UT. Dell’Antonio said he and Ferguson have become fairly close in the past year, since Ferguson has become the director.

“Austin is extremely articulate and enthusiastic, very knowledgeable about many things, and lately especially passionate about the carillon, its music and its culture,” Dell’Antonio said.

As the head carillonneur, Ferguson also teaches other students how to play. He currently has two students. Nicolette Cardiel, human development and family sciences senior, has been one of his students for the past two years. She said Ferguson is a “very open person and really patient.” 

“He won’t get upset if you’re doing something wrong; he’ll just show you how to do it the right way,” Cardiel said. “He’s been really helpful. He’s just one of those genuine people.”

Since Ferguson is about to graduate, he said he is looking to find a way to keep the carillon as a part of his life once he is no longer a student at UT.

“I am in the process of negotiating possibly staying on as the carillonneur full time after I graduate,” Ferguson said. “I’ve actually picked out all the law schools I’m considering by if there’s a carillon near by, and if I know the carillonneur.”

Ferguson said he draws inspiration to continue playing the carillon from the instrument’s rich history. According to Ferguson, the carillon was invented over 500 years ago, and it started out as a civic instrument, played in market squares in Europe.

“To just carry on a tradition that is that old is amazing, and it truly is the people’s instrument because no matter where you are, if there’s a carillon, you will hear it,” Ferguson said. “In some capacity, you are actively engaged with the music. I really like the sense that it can draw so many people together. In that small little way, you can influence their day.”

Raw Paw launches record label with live music, fun by Tess Cagle

Dancers painting themselves to the beat of live music. A life-sized Pabst Blue Ribbon can ring-toss. A lively audience, filled with crowd surfers and mosh pits. Foam noodles everywhere. Local creative collective, Raw Paw, incorporated all of these and much more to bring their “New Magic” event to life.  

The collective launched its new label, Raw Paw Records, at the Scoot Inn on Sept. 5. Staying true to the “Keep Austin Weird” mantra, Raw Paw is a social organization that publishes a zine and hosts different events around Austin to promote artists’ and musicians’ work in a way that inspires community collaboration.

“Becoming a record label was an organic process,” Co-President Chris Dock said. “We’ve already been supporting these musicians all along. This is actually more like a coming of age for us;  we’re suiting up.”

Raw Paw formed in 2010 in a “broth of new talent, house shows, and poetry potlucks,” according to its website. What began as merely a “humble zine” has morphed into what Dock and other Raw Paw members describe as a “fierce print and music publishing house.”

Dock said Raw Paw’s main objective with the new label is to “help artists grow and find the support needed to develop their work.” 

Raw Paw Records has four bands signed to the label: Milezo, Hikes, Chipper Jones and Corduroi. Charlie Martin, drummer, synthesizer and vocals of Chipper Jones, said they chose to sign with Raw Paw because they see the collective as their creative heroes.

 Charlie Martin of Chipper Jones performs at New Magic. 

Charlie Martin of Chipper Jones performs at New Magic. 

“It’s still really early in the game for us,” Martin said. “It was either wait and see if something else came along or get behind what we believe in. Raw Paw was immediately behind what we were genuinely wanting to do as a band. It was kind of a no-brainer.” 

Martin said Raw Paw was not the only option Chipper Jones had for a label.

“I know of a handful of comparable labels like Raw Paw in Austin,” Martin said. “Plus, spreading our music is so easy now thanks to the Internet. We could easily send our music online to labels in New York. We just organically came into close ties with Raw Paw.”

Dock said that although Raw Paw recognizes that it is very new to the music-producing world, it hopes to be a great stepping stone for up-and-coming bands.

“We know where we’re at,” Dock said, “and Raw Paw is an entity that is trying to grow, too. We hope to grow with the artists and push each other.”

Chipper Jones left for its first tour almost immediately after signing with Raw Paw Records in early June. Martin said the tour was still very much self-booked and was an “eye opening experience” to play in other cities that did not have creative collectives like Raw Paw.

“In some towns where it felt like we were playing with really talented bands, say bands that would do really well here, there was no foundation,” Martin said. “What’s so cool about Raw Paw is that they live for this stuff, and they are actually facilitating these events that can bring all these people together to have a focus point.”

In addition, Martin said he felt that Raw Paw was breaking the mold for the type of music that comes out of Austin.

“You normally think of blues, country, and singer-songwriter type traditions that have really flourished in Austin, and I feel like now we have all kinds of music flourishing,” Martin said. “To me Raw Paw has always been a real example of what’s happening in Austin.”

UTPD implements new bike safety procedures by Tess Cagle

One early morning, Jessica Barrera, a University of Texas journalism senior, went through the steps of her daily routine; she parked in front of the CMA building, gathered her backpack from the passenger seat of her car and shut the door.

Then, she was slammed to the ground by a bicyclist.

My first reaction was that I was so pissed off,” Barrera said. “I see bicyclists all the time. They don’t care and they don’t look around. I always knew I was going to get  hit one day, and I was so mad when I actually did.”

Barrera’s story is common on the UT campus. In her case, Barrera said the cyclist and her agreed that he was at fault because he was not watching where he was going. In other cases, the opposite is found – the pedestrian is at fault for jaywalking.

Amidst growing concern over bike safety, UTPD recently implemented a new bike traffic policy at some intersections on campus that allow bicyclists to cross when pedestrians have the right away. UTPD also created an official bike patrol unit.

“The bike unit will be doing a lot of directive patrols,” Officer William Pieper said, describing when the police on duty target a certain issue around campus. “If we know that there is a specific problem in a specific area, they’ll be in that area addressing that issue. A lot of times at the beginning of the semester we hear a lot of bike safety concerns, on like 21st and Speedway, so as this team continues to work, when we start seeing problems that pertains to bicycle safety, they’ll be doing directive patrols focusing on that.”

In addition, Pieper said UTPD has been working with Parking and Transportation on a comprehensive bike safety and security program to implement among the dormitories.

Although about 10,000 bikes are registered at UT, according to Parking and Transportation Services, UTPD has only issued seven traffic violations to cyclists during the 2013-14 school year. University Operations’ director of communication, Rhonda Weldon, said the small number of citations can be attributed to the fact that accidents and law violations are under-reported. Barrera said that after she was hit by the cyclist, she did not report the collision because she was not seriously hurt.

Pieper said that although bicyclists must abide by all traffic laws, there are some intersections that are an exception, such as the one at Dean Keeton and Whitis. This new rule was implemented early this semester.

“Before, you had to dismount your bicycle and walk it across if you wanted to go when the pedestrians had the right away,” Pieper said. “Now, you can ride it across. I think part of the reason why we changed the rule was because a lot of bicyclists ignored the fact that they had to wait anyway. We’re trying to get pedestrians and cyclists to work together better.”

According to the Texas Transportation Code, “bicyclists have the same rights and duties of other vehicle operators” (551.101.) This means that bicyclists must stop at stop signs and red lights. Frequent bicyclist, Steven Tijerina, said he occasionally runs through stop signs.

“It depends if there’s any cars around, personally. If I’m the only one there, of course I’ll blow through the stop sign,” Tijerina said. “I do it to save time, mostly. If no one’s there, what’s the point. No cop no stop, you know?”

After her collision, Barrera said she felt bike safety was an issue on campus that needed to be acknowledged by UTPD.

“It’s gonna piss people off that I say this, but the only thing that could probably stop bike accidents would be for UTPD to get more strict on stuff like that, and start giving tickets out,” Barrera said. “If you get enough of them, you’ll learn your lesson.”

Officer Lane Brewster said that pedestrians need to realize that they can cause accidents, too.

“What people don’t realize, is that if you’re a pedestrian, the crosswalk doesn’t mean you always have the right away,” Brewster said. “If you are not in the crosswalk by the time the bike or the car gets there, you have to wait on the car or the bicyclist. Now, if you’re already started into that crosswalk, then yes, you have the right away.”

Pieper said he gives the same advice to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers of vehicles: “make sure that you’re following the traffic laws, that you’re being very observant, and never assume that somebody else sees you.”