Phil Nicolo‘s doing what he does best. He’s tinkering.
Hunched over a small desk, his eyes are excitedly scanning a computer screen. He seems to be almost trembling with anticipation. Surrounding him is a control room filled with all kinds of boards and buttons, dials and wires, faders and switches.
On screen is The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” laid out neatly in tracks. It’s the original studio recordings, all in a row – Paul McCartney’s bass, Ringo Starr’s drums and studio musician Billy Preston’s keyboards among them. But Phil has one particular track in mind.
“Let’s listen to John Lennon and Paul McCartney sing by themselves and get goosebumps,” he says.
He selects the track and hits play. A hush falls over the room for several seconds, with only a slight white static noise emanating from the speakers. And then…
“Don’t let me down!” Lennon screams passionately from out of the silence.
The hush is back for several seconds. Phil closes his eyes and bobs his head to a nonexistent beat, his brow furrowed emotionally.
“Don’t let me down!” he mouths, perfectly timed with a second scream from Lennon. The goosebumps come.
“Then you get Paul coming in on the harmony,” Phil says.
Now two voices are screaming in unison, punctuating the eerie silence in between. Phil begins to shuffle his feet and move around. He’s in the groove.
“Don’t let me down!” they bellow.
“And they’re just looking at each other while they’re doing this, man,” Phil exclaims. “Come on!”
Nobody ever loved me like she do me
Ooh she do me
Yeah, she does
Then Phil moves back to the mouse and begins clicking away. Lennon and McCartney’s vocals grow quieter, like they’ve gone underwater. He highlights a few other tracks — the bass and drums — and hits play.
The bass line rumbles the floor. It starts and stops, almost bumbling.
“Fucking Paul McCartney’s bass playing,” Phil says with admiration, as his eyes close again and he plucks an invisible bass. “I mean, one of the greatest melody makers on the fucking planet, right?”
Phil would know. At 58, he’s been around a lot of melody makers. As an award-winning engineer, producer and mixer who has worked with countless stars, it almost seems unreal that he’s working out of a basement space, dubbed Studio 4, below a bar on Conshohocken’s main strip.
Text and images by Darragh Dandurand.
If you happen to walk down the quaint and sleepy Fishtown alley that Spice House Sound is nestled into, you might, once in and while, hear faint bass lines rattling the windows and muted drum beats trying to break through the walls.
Last Friday night, the little street seemed peaceful and cold, that is unless you knew which doorway to walk through to attend the secret show Work Drugs and New Myths was playing in the wood paneled studio for a few dozen hipsters. The intimate concert was a release party for Work Drugs’ Runaways album.
By around 9 pm, the sound booth started filling up with friends, fellow musicians and some usual suspects from Philadelphia’s local art scene.
New Myths, a trio from New York City, opened up the show with a few appreciate remarks before diving into a heavy-hitting and stripped live sound. They played several selections from recent album, Give Me Noise, including “Howl.” Brit Boras crooned lyrics behind her guitar while Marina Ross, on bass, and Rosie Slater, on drums, backed her with vocals and undeniably catchy rhythms.
Right before Work Drugs was about to start their set, each member slid on a pair of Wayfarers as a nod to their smooth and silly vibe. Outside of live shows, the band consists of guitarist Tom Crystal and pianist Ben Louisiana, but on Friday they had Jonas O on drums and Mr. Kansas City backing on bass. Jennifer Pague of the Philadelphia duo, Vita and the Woolf, also stepped in for a song or two.
Crystal and Louisiana shared turns on the mic, but more often than not, complemented each other’s vocals with paired melodies. In between songs, Louisiana made a few jokes and talked about their excitement for Runaways release. Sipping on Beck’s, the audience would began to sway after only a few bars of each song.
As Spice House Sound filled with music and studio owner, Alex Santilli, recorded every moment of the night, the party lasted well into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Of the patronage in Michael’s Family Restaurant tonight, it is doubtful you’d be able to find one person under the age of 50.
Taylor Swift and other comparable pop tunes play overhead at the Montgomeryville joint. The crowd, dispersed amongst seafoam green vinyl booths, enjoys the traditional diner faire, stocked salad bar and treats from the artfully organized pastry display.
It’s the kind of suburban spot where older customers can eat alone without feeling out-of-place. It’s a place where strangers can easily talk to each other over the wall between booths, or where the friendly waitstaff will greet you by name and listen attentively to your best new news.
This is the place about which Lansdale-based pop punk titans The Wonder Years wrote the song “Coffee Eyes,” off their 2012 release Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. While many of the same characteristics described in the song are apparent tonight, the diner seems different for frontman Dan Campbell, who would often hang out here with friends in their high school days. The waitress he references in the song, named Patty, now works at a diner down the street.
But as what proves true for most of us about relics of our childhood, some things about Michael’s haven’t changed for Campbell at all.
“Every time I eat the fries here I get really sick,” says Campbell, more commonly known as Soupy to friends and fans alike, upon seeing his order. “So what’s going to happen is I really want them and I’m going to eat them. But then, when I have to literally run for a while, it’s because of the fries. You didn’t need to know about my bowel movements but now you do.”
Text by Michele Zipkin. Image courtesy of Steve Gulllick.
Al Spx, writing songs under the moniker Cold Specks, has taken a stylistic and emotional one-eighty through her latest album, Neuroplasticity. The twenty-six year-old Canadian songwriter has branched out compared to her instrumentally scant first record, as a young songwriter ought to do from album to album.
“I wanted to have a kind of live show that I could play day in and day out, that takes the audience members on a journey,” says Spx.
And she will take listeners on the journey of her raucous, dissonant, haunting and melodic musical world at Johnny Brenda’s tomorrow night as part of her tour to celebrate the album. She shares a bill with Brooklyn-based songwriter Eddi Front.
Some herald Philadelphia as the city of soul, singer-songwriter vibes, gritty punk and/or unsullied rap. But others question if that is all the city has to offer.
“I thought this city forgot what rock ‘n’ roll was,” says Justin Pellecchia of New Hope’s Satellite Hearts. “I felt Philadelphia forgot how to rock.”
Pellecchia is the front man and lead guitarist of the tight-knit rock trio, which includes bassist Lucas Rinz of Lambertville, New Jersey and percussionist Keaton Thandi of Flemington, New Jersey.
Pellecchia dons wispy shoulder length hair and an arresting yet comforting disposition. In fact, there’s a captivating sincerity present in all three members – whether it’s Rinz’s fetching stoicism or Thandi’s wide-eyed enthusiasm.
It’s their unassuming off-stage presence that renders their onstage performance downright disarming.
“Never in my life will I tell someone that I’m a rapper,” says Woodbury, New Jersey resident Rich Quick. “Get the fuck outta here with that. You might as well jump off a bridge because they are going to slay you.”
Clearly, the occupational label strikes a nerve.
“For me personally, my job is to entertain people,” he continues. “I’m an entertainer. Educate people. Give people a sense of culture, a point of view. Tell a story. My story.”
On a recent Tuesday night, Quick sits at the end of the W XYZ Bar in the lobby of the boutique Aloft Hotel in Mount Laurel. While the buzz builds around him – people of all ages and backgrounds have come out for the monthly showcase held here, Quick sips a drink and keeps his focus on his phone.
He is dressed in his trademark skully, chunky Knarley Chains necklace and wedding ring. Not that he is married in the traditional sense. It is symbolic and intentionally ambiguous. Listening to his rhymes, one would know he does not have a wife.
“I’m not married. But I am married to a lot of things and one of them is hip-hop music,” Quick says in attempt to clarify his marital status. “It’s an unbreakable bond. And, I even hate it. But I have devoted my entire life to it. I wear this ring because it reminds me of all my sacrifices.”