Photograph by Drew Shapiro
Apricot & the Beginners
Two years ago, fourth-generation Tacoman and Museum of Glass Hot Shop interpreter Claire Yuckert (above) started tinkering on a piano in the attic of the fourplex in Tacoma where she was living at the time. The house was an unofficial artist colony landlorded by visual artist Galen McCarty Turner and occupied by folks like our cover boy Geoff Weeg and the Nightgowns’ Trevor Dickson. At first, the twenty-eight-year-old Yuckert was too scared to even sing out loud in front of people. But within her community at home, Yuckert says she found the mentorship that enabled her to start making music more seriously – and eventually developing the skills and confidence to tell compelling musical stories, rather than melodically vent girlish woes.
Since then, she and friend Catelin Crandell-Yohann (whose husband is in the Wheelies) have both found the courage to stop being the girls on the arms of musicians and start making music themselves. They played a show in December, and instead of just yowling like cats together, as Yuckert playfully predicted, they put on a pretty theatrical show, complete with handmade masks and a waterfall of fabric. They had a lot of fun and got their friends interested in collaborating with them.
Now Yuckert has graduated from writing moody and roughly recorded solo songs for piano to spearheading a family of musical collaborators, called Apricot & the Beginners. The group is named after her pet cat from childhood, with a nod to the fact that she and her coconspirator Crandell-Yohann are literally beginners. Seven people are officially involved, including Joseph Crandell-Yohann, P. Eric Waldmann, Nick Heath and someone called Aarde, but other Tacoma notables move in and out of the group’s songs, including Allan Boothe, aka Humble Cub. They’re looking forward to playing a show at the Peabody Waldorf’s soft opening in a new location (see update here) sometime this month, and arranging Yuckert’s songs for a full band, which she anticipates will add a whole new up-tempo sound and even include a cover of Rick James’ “Superfreak.”
“I used to be really worried about what people thought,” Yuckert tells me with breathless enthusiasm. “I was recently looking at this picture of Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson, and I thought: he had no idea about the influence those puppets would have on people. And now look, people across the world have Kermit the Frog tattoos. I try to keep that in mind: any little thing you do or tape together could be a catalyst for huge change.”
One way to describe the music: “Ass-backwards … or ethereal.” –Claire Yuckert
Best tracks we’ve heard so far: “Darlin’,” “Patty’s Day”
A favorite line: “Just build it, you can always burn it down!”
Courtesy of the artists
The reputation of these boys from Tacoma precedes them. Formerly known as the Elephants, the band released an album in 2009 called Sing Something, which earned Cody Jones, Trevor Dickson, Kyle Brunette and B. J. Robertson some acclaim, including having one of the tracks featured as “Song of the Day” on both KEXP and NPR. In 2010 they went on a kind of sabbatical. Jones alludes to a book he’s working on (but would not divulge further info), and the group is definitely working on songs. They’re just easing back into the swing of things.
“I think 2011 will be a fun year for us,” Jones says. “We’ll be releasing some new recordings – hopefully close to the beginning of the year, or spring at the latest. We have several songs near completion for an EP or series of singles. That’s all we know now. I’m sure we’ll be playing some shows all over as well!”
Also on deck is a potential scheme to make it to Greece and/or Turkey, where, apparently, the group has found a lively community of supporters. So, maybe keep your eyes open for a delicious spanakopita bake sale fundraiser?
One way to describe the music: Somewhere between the robot and spinning in a circle with your arms out and your eyes closed – all on your mom’s floral-print carpet.
Best tracks we’ve heard so far: “White on White,” “Cosmic Clancy”
A favorite line: “Sun of shield, black horse, white field, the gift he wields, a truth unveiled, in gold Antilles, out there and looking for someone, bold and real, enough to fill this love.” At least, that’s what it sounds like …
(from left) Todd Sykes and evergreenOne; courtesy of the artists
In a video promoting “Born in ’86,” his latest single, Glenn Allen, a twenty-four-year-old unemployed roofer from Tacoma, struts through Tacoma alleyways wearing a red bow-tie and a shiny, retro baseball jacket with an iPad propped on his shoulder like a boom box, displaying a cassette tape app.
The playful rapper, a young man who enjoys a party, is proud of having come of age in the tech-driven ’90s and brings that fresh and youthful spirit to his performance.
But a less than charmed upbringing with young parents and the untimely death of his dad in recent years also seem to be driving influences on his subject matter. In “Hell No” (from Milk on Wax, 2009) he reflects on the problems that plague his hometown with a sophisticated level of empathy. Instead of just spitting out the obvious complaints about drug abuse and violence, he wonders out loud what even the most despicable of criminals might have had planned If circumstances had been different.
After developing two albums with Todd Sykes, including Milk, Allen is also starting other local collaborations with artists including Gazmo, John Crown and Fice. I listen to a funny remix of the Sir Mix-a-Lot classic “Posse on Broadway” (originally about Seattle’s busy thoroughfare in Capitol Hill). The song is so full of energy, it makes me want to cruise with Allen down Tacoma’s Broadway and shows that a respect for the old school runs deeper than the neon high-tops kids are wearing these days.
Allen seems to be still figuring out who he is and where he wants to go next, but in the meantime, he’s writing more, developing a reputation for his live performances and working on developing savvy collaborations. These include continuing his work with Todd Sykes and their group City Hall and working with Larry Mizell Jr.’s Mash Hall. Look for his solo EP, produced with Tacoma’s TrussOne.
One way to describe the music: “Records you can dance with: clap-your-hands hip-hop, mixed with a little Danzig.” –evergreenOne, from “That ’90s Shit”
Best tracks we’ve heard so far: “Hell No,” “Now That We Hot,” “Born in ’86”
A favorite line: “Accept the fact that I’m a wiffle-ball champ.”
Elk and Boar
This group, led by Travis Barker
and Kirsten Wenlock and guest-starring Mitchell Vanderburg
(bass) and Matt Badger and Colin Richey of Hey Marseilles (drums), is producing music that’s definitely worth listening to. The beautiful vocals, the harmonies and the aching lyrics on their first EP sound like the kind of music that – if I ever went to church – I would want to hear while I was there. The occasional banjo and sing-along opportunities don’t hurt.
“We have embarked on a three-part project,” reads the group’s Facebook page, “writing songs that are mostly laments and prayers, some whispered and some fun to scream. Our first EP released November 1 and can be purchased! We look forward to the making of Part Two – it will be complete before winter ends, we are hoping!”
One way to describe the music: Hymns composed forfireside communion
Best tracks we’ve heard so far: “Then You Love Me Then”
A favorite line: “My fear, dear Lord, is gripping. My paint is wearing thin.”
Courtesy of the artists
When Zach Powers isn’t commuting to Olympia to work on his graduate degree in public administration at Evergreen State College, freelancing for the Weekly Volcano or contributing to local letter-writing campaigns on behalf of the deputy mayor of Tacoma, he’s working on what might have seemed an unlikely project years ago: a rap career.
Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Powers didn’t have much exposure to music, let alone live hip-hop, growing up. He laughs when I ask if he’s had musical training. “In sixth grade, when everyone had to pick an instrument to play, I complained my way out of it and volunteered to work in the special-needs classroom instead.”
Later, as a teenager, when Powers discovered Brother Ali, Macklemore, Living Legends and other underground hip-hop artists, music started to look more acceptable. “Once I had a microphone in my world, I started to tear through notebooks. I wrote one hundred songs in the first year; they were all terrible and will never be seen.”
He’s a bit more confident of the quality of his work now.
A founding member of the Tacoma hip-hop group 10th & Commerce (along with Aaron T. Sherman, Kenny Lu, Jon Stefan and Evan Blum), Powers got started in 2007. As a political science major at Pacific Lutheran University, he discovered a lively community of musicians and started developing a reputation for his live shows at house parties and established venues, including Hell’s Kitchen, Nectar, Chop Suey and Jazzbones.
Now the rapper is living in downtown Tacoma, within view of the Pantages’ iconic sign, and is enjoying watching the city grow, while at the same time his group continues to develop its sound. It has already released two EPs and is determined to release a full-length album this year. Powers has also released two solo projects, Kids in the Back and Kings and Comics (both with Tacoma-based DJ Phinisey). He’s at work on Kids in the Back II, which he plans to release around April.
He took inspiration for his handle from the painter Norman Rockwell, who, he points out, was a literalist working during America’s space race when “people were hung up on things they didn’t have.” Like Rockwell, Powers the rapper takes in the stuff that’s around him. So, although he shies away from the term “activist,” social issues – particularly wealth and education discrepancies between Tacoma neighborhoods – are a focus for him in his life and work. As is finding the right girl.
One way to describe the music: A young, hungry Atmosphere or Deltron
Best tracks we’ve heard so
far: “Back on Top,” “Shots Fired”
A favorite line: “Where the cool girls at? Small, beautiful and listenin’ to rap? Huh. Well, I don’t know if that exists. But damn it, I’m looking and a man can wish.”
Shows to look forward to: January 29 at Columbia City Theater
From a young age, growing up in the south end of Tacoma, Todd Sykes was singing in church, tinkering on guitar and learning music theory thanks to a committed choir teacher. Ironically, at that time he didn’t like the hip-hop he heard on the radio. But as he grew older and began making the connection for himself between jazz, soul music and hip-hop, he began to delve deeper into it.
Now the twenty-four-year-old spends his time elbow deep at Tacoma swap meets and in thrift stores, hunting for old records, namely vintage soul, funk and jazz. The self-proclaimed “purist” hip-hop beat maker and emcee is one-third of City Hall and a close collaborator with evergreenOne. He is also steadily working his way onto the New York scene, crafting beats for emcees he knows there, including an emerging artist called Access Immortal.
Listening to some of Sykes’ beats on his August 2010 album Milk on Wax – his second collaboration with evergreenOne – I can’t help but picture myself dancing in scenes from an old musical like Hello, Dolly or Mary Poppins. I can’t explain why. Perhaps it’s the upbeat soul and jazz woven into his mixes, creating a carefree tone, which turns out to be the perfect complement to the edgier lyrical styling that both emcees bring. Overall the balance is between a born-to-party bravado and admirable emotional transparency.
When he’s not designing and building broadcast systems for his job, which enables him to travel around the country (and till unturned ground at new swap meets, he adds – a true fanatic!), Sykes is currently working towards creating a City Hall EP, crafting at least a song per day, imagining how he can start crafting R&B albums and – of course – watching Husky football on Saturdays.
One way to describe the music: Your deepest secrets inspiring dance steps
Best tracks we’ve heard so far: “Loaded Soul,” “That Money” (featuring Access Immortal)
A favorite line: “I’m not a Christian, but the beat feels like I’m born again.”
Others of Note
Alexander Graham Bell A forthcoming collaboration of indie folk artists Luke Stevens and Holly Campbell. Whatever you do, don’t refer to Luke as the little brother of Aaron Stevens (Goldfinch), but do expect big things from this budding singer/songwriter.
Basemint Auburn-based indie rockers. Listening to “No Retro” or “The Big Cool Down,” you’ll feel like you’re surfing in space.
Bloodhunger If I’m going to listen to frightening death metal lyrics that forecast the fall of humankind, they might as well be accompanied by these guys’ guitars.
Check Please Elusive indie rock featuring well-known visual artist Mindy Barker on the drums.
Cody Foster’s Army (C.F.A.) Passionate thrashers, channeling Jodie Foster’s Army in both name and spirit.
L.A. Lungs Ambient noise that can be performed live. Also, one of their song titles seems to stand as an apt description of the group: “A Metaphor for Comfort.”
Lozen I gather this pair of Tacoma girls puts on a good show, although I can’t say for sure myself. I hate to succumb to the trend of novelty hype, but women playing metal, and naming themselves after a mythic Apache woman warrior … well, bring it on.
Manhammer A Tacoma rock/metal band that just debuted in March 2010. Their name says it all, as far as I’m concerned.
Nasty Left Sadly, after losing their front man, Danny Cline, to brain cancer in 2007, this promising local hip-hop outfit is on an indefinite sabbatical. In the meantime, however, band member (and Cline’s best friend) Jesse Landry claims he has “enough recordings we have done over the years to be able to ‘Tupac’ him for years to come.” He’s gearing up to releasing an album to immortalize his friend.
Pioneers West Reminiscent of Band of Horses, this group is led by Luke Larsen, who recently fronted a well-received solo project called Library. Hopefully there’s more in the works on both fronts.
Revengers This band blends rap and rock into an aggressive sound that defies easy labeling. Though one emcee, Eric Quinn, is moving on to attend law school, the group is writing songs and planning to add a keyboard player and a DJ soon so it can perform more aspects of its 2009 album, Scraps of the Badlands, as it’s recorded. Right now for this group, as drummer Jeffrey Berghammer says, “Anything is possible.”
Tacoma Urban Orchestra An eclectic gang of folks who were probably all garrulous street musicians in another life. They can now be found performing pretty songs in unlikely places. Stay tuned as they recruit new members. •