First Things First

Over the last two years, something incredible has happened within the music and entertainment industries. They have become more social, more interactive. The voice of the people--that’s you!--has become more powerful. And all along, Variance has been here.

As the world becomes a smaller place, Twitter and the blogosphere have become the new town square, where people share their opinions and speak their mind. We’ve been listening and doing our best to give you a voice.

We’ve tried our hardest to read every tweet, every Facebook post, every e-mail and every blog comment. Top 40 radio not your thing? We get it. You’re a fan of the underdogs and undiscovered talent. We are, too. As we celebrate our second birthday, your voice is the most important element about Variance.

We’re proud to have featured many of your favorite musicians, actors, writers and other creatives. We’ve brought you stories from The All-American Rejects, Ben Rector, the guys from MTV’s The Buried Life, The Civil Wars (pre-Grammys), Dev, Eric Hutchinson, Explosions in the Sky, fun. (before and after their explosive rise), Gavin DeGraw, Gotye, Gym Class Heroes, Ingrid Michaelson, New Girl’s Jake Johnson, best-selling author Jon Acuff, Karmin, Kate Voegele, Kristin Chenoweth, Lights, Mat Kearney, Mayer Hawthorne, Miike Snow, MUTEMATH, The Naked and Famous, Patrick Stump, Phantogram, Switchfoot, and Viddy (before it became the hottest video app on the planet).

Many of those stories were driven by you, the readers. You asked, you suggested, you demanded, because it’s your magazine. The stories that show up on our website? They’re driven heavily by the things you’ve told us you care about. And with this new issue, we’re excited to feature someone of the people you’ve requested most, starting with the cover.

EXCLUSIVE: U.K.'s Morning Parade Arrives in U.S.

by Jonathan Robles

Morning Parade, the 90s dance-infused rock band from Essex, England, has been garnering much attention lately as the band prepares for its upcoming U.S. debut with the self-titled album releasing June 19. Following a successful six-show stint at this year’s SXSW, the group is now on tour with indie rockers Walk the Moon, a band that only recently opened for Young the Giant.

“We’ve been so lucky,” says frontman Steve Sparrow before taking the stage at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla. “It’s still unbelievable. We go from our normal lives and our everyday jobs to this sort of Hollywood experience. It’s like mindf--- sometimes.”
While being somewhat new to the spotlight can have its downside, Sparrow and the band seem to be handling it well, trying to glean from others and learn as much as possible along the way.
“At first when you’re new and 'green' it can be different,” he admits. “One of the first people I met was Kylie Minogue. We were at a party and there were about 70 people. A month before I had been working on a construction site and just paying bills and putting gas in the van, and then I’m meeting Kylie Minogue. After a while you start to realize that they’re just bands, they’re just people, and they all started out in the same place. They all started out doing something they love, and some people are more fortunate than others, and they’ve had greater success, but we all share the common interest in that we love music.”
While some of the best advice the band has received has come from other musicians they have performed with (such as Coldplay, The Kooks and 30 Seconds to Mars), Sparrow, who plays piano and guitar in addition to supplying lead vocals, says they take everything with a grain of salt. He also has his own advice: “Some bands think the music industry is just a game, and success is about how well you play the game. To some extent I agree but I don’t really believe that. I believe it’s about making great songs and having a great team. The harder you work, the luckier you get. Just keep working. Bands come and go--fad bands come and go--but bands will with real songs, they can impact people’s lives.”
The band’s fan base continues to grow as they criss-cross the country with the guys of Walk the Moon, which is based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Performing their hit songs such as “Us and Ourselves” and “Under the Stars,” along with the lead single in the U.S., “Headlights,” Morning Parade knows how to fill a venue with energy and excitement stemming from their layer-driven anthems, proving to be as much artists as entertainers.
While the album may have released in the U.K. in March, it has been delayed in the U.S., something Sparrow wasn’t too thrilled about at first. In hindsight, it may be have been a blessing in disguise, as the singer admits. "I think a lot of the time it’s about where you can be. If you’re releasing an album, you need to be there, touring and promoting it as a band. It doesn’t make much sense for a band that’s trying to grow its fan base to release an album and not be able to go out and promote their own album. We spent a lot of the last two years touring in Europe, and it shows. We sell so many more tickets in Europe than we do in the U.K. That’s where we spent our time physically."
Now that the band is physically in the U.S., the stage is set for similar success in North America. Morning Parade puts on a brilliant live show, something that will prove valuable as the band continues to promote the new release.
"American audiences have been really good to us," says Sparrow. "And despite their theatrical warmups, [Walk the Moon] has been great to us, too. They're a lot of fun. We're excited to be in the States."
His one complaint about the U.S.? "There's Taco Bell and Burger King along every interstate, but what about vegetables?"
Welcome to America.
For more information on Morning Parade, go to the band's website. The self-titled debut album releases June 19 in the U.S. and Canada, and it will be available physically and digitally.
Watch the video for the band's lead single, "Headlights."

EXCLUSIVE: Relient K Album Update + Acoustic Performance

Interview by John Mouser
Photos/Video by Gustavo Pacheco

We recently sat down with Matt Thiessen and Matt Hoopes, founding members of Relient K, to discuss the album they are currently recording, as well as their other current projects. PLUS: Watch an exclusive video of Thiessen and Hoopes performing "Forget and Not Slow Down" below.

Variance Magazine: How is the writing panning out for you guys right now?

Thiessen: It's good. I think that we are just trying to be a little adventurous with this next record, and not necessarily in an experimental way, but just doing something different for us. We are just trying to figure out what we can do that people won't necessarily expect and how to do it without alienating everyone that might already like what we do now. So that is the crux of it. In our opinion, we aren't really worried. If we do what we feel right now and then if it doesn't work, then we will do another record. It's our seventh one, so we can't try and repeat the fourth, the fifth or the sixth and recycle our material. We are just trying to do something fresh.

Hoopes: I think that has been the most exciting thing because it does feel like starting over in some ways. In the same ways that it is kind of challenging, it also makes it exciting to play music on this basic level. I told Matt that working on some of these new songs is giving me this feeling that I haven't had since we were in high school together, writing new songs. It's fun, and it's fun to push the boundaries of what we are comfortable with--not just do whatever comes easiest.

VM: I'm excited to hear then new stuff. Something that I have always admired about you guys is that you make significant changes from record to record. So would you say that the new songs are more than the "normal" Relient K change?

Thiessen: Yeah, that's the thing. How do people even interpret songs these day? It used to be, "this band is in this genre," but now I think it is more like, "how good is the melody? How good are the lyrics and do I like it, or do I not?" These songs have catchy melodies and decent lyrics hopefully, so we are just going to mess around with the rest of it and see what happens.

VM: I know that it is difficult to put labels on music these days, but what direction do you feel these new songs are leaning towards?

Thiessen: Just pop I guess? We are trying to be more "urban," if we can be?

Hoopes: …Yeah if anything.

VM: What kind of projects do you guys have going on, other than focusing on writing and recording the new album? Mono vs. Stereo?

Hoopes: Yeah, we've got the label thing that we are doing and just focusing on Deas Vail. At least for the time being, Relient K will be on the label. We really like working with those guys, and it has been a fun thing to try and do. As frustrating as it can get sometimes, trying to be a record label in a time when record labels don't really make sense as a business model. I am really excited about Deas Vail. I think that they have a great record and they are very talented. They are just about to start up some touring for the new record, and I am excited to see what they can do with it.

VM: Are you guys actively looking for artists for Mono vs. Stereo?

Hoopes: Not incredibly. Right now, we are just trying to do everything that we can for Deas Vail, Relient K and Farewell Flight.

Thiessen: Until people start physically supporting those bands, and making it to where on paper they are selling records and stuff, it doesn't make sense for a label to pick up any more.

Hoopes: Unless the right thing comes along. There was a band called Mike Mains and the Branches that we felt very strong about. He was a great friend and singer, but it ended up not working out on the business side of things. Something like that would have to come along, where I feel like we could go out and sell half-a-million records. That kind of thinking. We aren't going to go out and sign ten bands and try to break all their careers. We just want to do the best job for the bands that we have right now. Working with a limited roster and limited budget, we are trying to be smart about it and get those boys on tour.

VM: What are you up to, Thiessen?

Thiessen: I've been working with Owl City a little bit more. He is about to put out a new record…

VM: Wow, he's a machine…

Thiessen: Yeah, that's the thing. He just wanted to do a third record right away. So that has been fun. Our manager will be like, "hey, this week you are going to try and write Relient K songs. Okay, now get out of that and go write with Owl City. Okay, now get out of that and go write with this girl from The Voice." Sometimes you get taken from place to place, so it is tough to stay on track.

VM: Do you feel like the projects are bleeding together?

Thiessen: I mean, I feel like Owl City and Relient K naturally have an overlap as far as melodies and stuff. I found myself becoming an Owl City fan, after I met him (Adam) and then I don't know if that affected the way that I write. Sometimes I will write something and I'm like “that sounds like something Adam would write!" But yeah, it is weird that everyday a new song comes up and it's like "what do you do with it? Where do you put it?"

VM: Who was the girl that you were working with from The Voice?

Thiessen: Oh, that happened and she didn't cut the song--Dia Framptom. It was a good song, and she wrote most of the song and lyrics. She did a great job, so I was a little bit bummed that she didn't cut it.

VM: Perfect day, driving in your car with the windows down--what are you listening to?

Thiessen: Paul Simon's "Born At the Right Time."

Hoopes: I don't know what my "classic" one is, but the only thing that I want to listen to right now is this band called Now,Now. It is like the first time in a long time that I want to listen to every song on a record, over and over again. It has a cool energy, a great female singer and a lot of "Death Cab-isms" to it. And [their album] is really well-written.

Watch Relient K "Forget and Not Slow Down" here.

What the fun. is Going on with American 'Pop Music?'

by Jonathan Robles

An interesting thing happened this week. For the first time ever, the top two songs on the Billboard Hot 100 are tracks that also placed in the Top 10 of the Alternative Songs chart. Since the Alternative Songs' inception in 1988, that has not happened until Wednesday, when fun.'s "We Are Young" feat. Janelle Monae and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" feat. Kimbra placed Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

As labels continue to crank out the familiar pop tunes, songs that would traditionally be considered "niche" are dominating the pop charts (and pop radio), while some songs that are most certainly "pop" seem to be a little more "niche" than usual.

Case in point: Justin Bieber--the epitome of 21st century pop--released his highly-anticipated new single, "Boyfriend," which debuted on last week's charts at No. 2, behind "Young." Although an impressive start (and Bieber's highest-charting single to date), this week fun. maintains its hold on the top slot, as the Biebs lost his second place standing to Gotye, with "Boyfriend" slipping to No. 5.

This week, Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded gave the rap artist her second No. 1 album, taking the title from last week's placeholder, Madonna--whose MDNA dropped a staggering 86.7% from 359,000 units in its first week to 48,000. This gives the "queen of pop" another distinction, as she now holds the record for the largest second-week percentage sales drop for a No. 1-debuting album.

Interestingly, neither Minaj nor Madonna will take the crown next week, as industry insiders predict none other than Adele's 21 will return to No. 1 for a 24th stay. For 58 consecutive weeks since its February 2011 release, it has not left the Top 10, where it still poses a challenge week-to-week even for much newer albums.

Anyone paying attention to music or radio this past year is well aware of Adele's success, but what do current trends say about American pop music? Is the definition changing?

According to Gotye, yes.

“I think a large group of people are sick of the highly sexualized, auto-tuned pop or really heavy R&B that has defined the American pop landscape," the Australian musical phenom says, speaking to Variance for the April cover story. "Labels have been more open to music that is more organic-sounding or doesn’t fit into the current pop mold.”

Even Steven Tyler is taking note. Following a cover of Gotye's "Somebody" on American Idol this week, the Aerosmith frontman revealed that he currently has the song looping on his iPod, further stating: "That's all over the world right now--that song's changing music."

American pop is still very much defined by the Justins and the Nickis, but even as fun. continues its dominance (having the best-selling single of 2012 so far), another hole in the "pop mold" is growing, as plenty of non-American musicians enter the U.S. charts.

Yes, there's Adele, but there's also Jessie J, Ellie Goulding and several others making headway. In fact, this week alone, of the Top 5 on Billboard's Hot 100, only two are from the U.S. (fun. and Bieber). Gotye, The Wanted and One Direction are from outside of North America.

Some might say pop music is still the same as it's always been, but take a closer look and there are certainly changes taking place. Boy bands might be making a comeback (to the dismay of some and to the relief of others), but genres are blurring and "indies" are crushing powerhouses. In the end, all the back-and-forth is good for the music industry--and it's good for the listeners. Good things are happening in music.

What are your thoughts on the shifts in the charts?

A Place to Bury Strangers: Onwards to the Wall

Onwards to the Wall (A Place to Bury Strangers)

Reviewed by Rachel Faylene

Notably loud and exuberant, A Place to Bury Strangers has created a transitional EP that takes us from the rambunctious, off the walls musicianship to a more refined version of itself. The growling 16 minutes of Onwards to the Wall is nothing short of synchronized chaos; an explosion of timing and structure that is pushing their creativity to adulthood.

Toe-tapping, accompanied by inconspicuous head nodding, deems appropriate for “So Far Away” and “Onwards to the Wall.” Both tracks could pass as a time out session after the screeching thunder of “I Lost You.” They give you a moment to enjoy the dark pop sounds that the group has to offer and allow you to prepare for the return of the high energy and fast tempo that APTBS is best known for. “Nothing Will Surprise Me” turns up the volume and passes the torch to “Drill It Up,” where everything turns into a distressed sonic boom and reminds you why you’re listening to the EP in the first place.

While each song plays with a definition that their previous works lack, fans still adore the cloudy reverb and free-for-all instrumentation that APTBS is known for. Onwards to the Wall is a hint of what is to come next for these guys. It is an evolution of the music and group themselves unfolding before our eyes and ears.

Add Onwards to the Wall to your playlist when it releases Tuesday, February 7, and catch them on tour in the months to come. Watch video here.

U.S. Tour Dates:
03/07/12 Pittsburgh, PA - Shadow Lounge w/ Saint Motel, Slingshot Genius
03/08/12 Toledo, OH - Frankies w/ Big Black Delta
03/09/12 Iowa City, IA - Gabes
03/11/12 Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge
03/12/12 San Francisco, CA - Independent w/ The Joy Formidable
03/13/12 San Francisco, CA - Independent w/ The Joy Formidable
03/14/12 Los Angeles, CA - The Music Box w/ The Joy Formidable
03/17/12 Denver, CO - Bluebird Theater w/ The Joy Formidable
03/18/12 Lincoln, NE - Bourbon Theatre w/ Battle Ship Gray
03/19/12 Minneapolis, MN - Fine Line Music Cafe w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/20/12 Madison, WI - Majestic Theatre w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/21/12 Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle w/ Apteka
03/22/12 Bloomington, IN - The Bluebird w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/23/12 Cincinnati, OH - 20th Century Theatre w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/24/12 Atlanta, GA - Masquerade w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/25/12 Asheville, NC - Orange Peel w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/26/12 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/28/12 New York, NY - Terminal 5 w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/29/12 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
03/30/12 Boston, MA - Paradise w/ The Joy Formidable, Exitmusic
View full tour schedule, including non-U.S. dates