The first song you encounter on Jesse Mader’s site starts with a flitting synth line into a hip-hop beat over which the rapper launches a rapid-fire verse. Before you know it, he moves fluidly into a head-turning refrain of “Baby, we were born to run.”
“I grew up attending Bruce Springsteen concerts every year with my mother,” the rapper says, “and that’s what I wanted to be. So I finally found a way to make it all work, haha.”
“Born to Run” is one of the tracks of “Breath by Breath,” a new album from the Pittsburgh artist that combines rock and hip-hop with a feverish intensity.
He and producer Chris Longo (aka Mindbender) call it “urban rock,” and the rapper attributes it to growing up in a musical family with a lot of loud music being played in the basement.
“I knew how to rock a “four on the floor” rhythm at age 3,” he says. “My father sang with different bands and I remember watching him perform at local festivals in the summer. I learned early on that it’s OK to sing, dance, laugh and perform. A lot of kids don’t ever learn that.”
As a teenager in Allentown, he was fully immersed in what he calls “that ’90s golden era of hip hop where it really broke free and meshed with R&B melodies, and that music is timeless.”
By 15, he says, he was making songs out of sampled guitars and keyboard riffs into a tape recorder.
“I think that was the beginning of my hybrid music production. It came from experimenting with anything that I thought sounded good — pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop. I always wanted to write stories using hip hop, but front an energetic rock and roll band.”
He built a fanbase selling his first two mixtapes out of the trunk of his car and in 2006 released his debut album, “Thin Line,” named for the thin line between his musical styles.
Back then, he was going as J. James. “Breath by Breath,” with its full band sound courtesy of the Urban Rock Project (DJ Climax, Chris Kraski, Anthony Tomassello, Mindbender and Jason Longo), has him working under his own name, for marketing and artistic reasons.
“The main reason was for growth and change as an artist,” he says. “The music I was writing felt too honest and authentic to really need a stage name anymore. The other reason was for online marketing and ‘ownability’ of the name as a brand. There are a lot of other ‘Jesse James’ and ‘J.James’ in the independent music world already so Jesse Mader was more unique. I still use “J.James” as an alias for the grittier side of me and the music. So it still exists in the underground.”
The release show is at Club Cafe, South Side, at 10:30 p.m. Aug. 9. Tickets are $8.
Olafur Darri Olafsson, whose credits include “True Detective” and (as a drunken helicopter pilot) “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” is joining “The Last Witch Hunter,” according to TheWrap.com.
He will star alongside lead Vin Diesel, Michael Caine, Rose Leslie and Elijah Wood in the movie that will start shooting in Pittsburgh soon and be here for months.
Here is the description from DreadCentral.com:
Five hundred years ago, war raged between humankind and witches, vicious supernatural creatures intent on unleashing the Black Death upon the world. Armies of witch hunters battled the unnatural enemy across the globe, including Kaulder (Vin Diesel), a valiant warrior who managed to slay an all-powerful Queen Witch, decimating her followers in the process. In the moments before her death, the Queen exacted her revenge by cursing Kaulder with immortality, forever separating him from his beloved wife and daughter in the afterlife. Kaulder has spent centuries hunting down rogue witches, all the while yearning for his long-lost loved ones.
I had a lot of fun working on a story, published Sunday, about the state of classical vinyl. I recently acquired a turntable and started a record collection myself, so interviewing audiophiles has (re-)whetted my appetite for collecting.
Used classical vinyl is often inexpensive, just a couple of dollars for a disc at Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill. Sitting at home, drinking a glass of wine, and listening to good music – there are worse things you could do with your time, said George Vosburgh, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's principal trumpet. "It could be a great hobby for people," he said.
For those interested, here are tips I picked up along the way:
Where to go
Because so little new classical vinyl is being produced, you'll mostly have to go for the used stuff. This is a mixed blessing, I think; on the one hand, it means you can't get new stuff in the format, but it also means there can be a ton of readily available, out-of-print recordings and low turnover of those albums.
Jim Rodgers, the PSO's principal contrabassoon picks up records at Jerry's Records, Half Price Books and the Exchange (though for the latter two stores, he goes only to a couple of locations, so it would be wise to call ahead). He also buys online at eBay and Amazon.
Jerry's has the largest classical collection in the region. Keep your eyes peeled: during Record Store Day this year, Jerry's had a handful of classical boxes for grabs. It's a huge, amazing collection of mostly out-of-print records. Browsing through Jerry's can be an overwhelming experience, but it is certainly a worthwhile one.
Another purveyor I met said she goes to estate sales to find good vinyl. If shellac's your game, Whistlin' Willie's has several thousand classical 78s.
What to buy
Audiophiles collect albums for diverse reasons. The evocative cover art, the performer, the rareness of a recording and, of course, the music are a few of many reasons to pick out one records over another, but enthusiasts are also especially attuned to labels.
For the true audiophile, Deutsche Grammophon has exceptionally high-quality records. (DG covers aren't great, however; as one customer at Jerry's put it, "their glue sucks.") Mr. Vosburgh, the PSO trumpeter, also liked Philips, which later bought and reissued Mercury Records. Other labels favored by Mr. Vosburgh and/or Mr. Rodgers include Mercury Living Presence (a Mercury series), pre-Sony CBS Records and old RCA Records (especially those with the so-called "shaded dogs" on them). Another critic I met at a conference said that the London bluebacks of Decca are great, too. More suggestions are available here: http://www.ebay.com/gds/Collecting-Vintage-Audiophile-LP-Record-Albums-/10000000000784692/g.html
Mr. Rodgers said he looks for the "shimmer" on vinyl and makes sure it's not warped or scratched. With used records in tough shape, Mr. Vosburgh gets rid of the pops and scratches by dropping a mixture of distilled water and rubbing alcohol on the vinyl and playing them wet. Jerry Weber of Jerry's Records said used classical vinyl is usually in great condition.
What to listen to it on
Buying audio systems is certainly beyond the scope of this blog post, but as a reference point, it might help to know what others have. Mr. Rodgers, for one, has three record players – one that is eye candy, one for the true audiophillic experience and one that converts analog to mp3s. The latter allows him to adds effects, such as a 1950s radio crackle. Mr. Vosburgh uses the belt-drive Thorens turntable he got in college, amplified by two five-foot-high speakers.
A side note
Given the difficulty of selling and recording classical music these days, I think it would be cool if classical music groups — say, the PSO — released an album on vinyl. Given the proliferation of recordings that feature music heard on many albums, it would be a neat way to distinguish a record. This is perhaps a little gimmicky, but it's a gimmick that would not compromise the art.