Making his LA mark: Shea Welsh

If you want to talk about true Angeleno musicians and figureheads, Shea Welsh is quite a prototype. Though he was born in Baltimore and raised in the East Coast, he obviously found his niche in the famed music capital. First and foremost, he is a massively accomplished guitarist, having performed with members of some of the most famous bands to grace the music industry and logged countless hours in the recording studio with various artists. His ability to transcend multiple genres “keeps him at the top of many music-makers’ lists.”

(Pictured above mid-concert.)

Shea fronts an LA-grown band that performed for three years on Thursday nights at Pip’s on La Brea as a part of a residency, so it’s not hard to see that he loves to perform. He’s very involved in the Jazz world and has really dipped into that scene – he’s headlined at Jazz festivals like the Long Island Jazz & Blues festival and the Panama Jazz festival to name a few. He’s been a sideman for many groups, always being flexible in his ability to adapt and create, whether it’s with a small combo or a big-band like Paul McDonald’s. Check out Shea performing “Sancho T. Panza,” an original composition, with his band. Perhaps this will give you a sense of just how talented he is.

Not only has he made his mark on the scene as an artist, but he has also done quite a lot of work as a producer and a writer. His most recent producing project was the The Hipnotics’ debut recording along with his work helping to write and produce Michelle Coltrane’s second album. However, this isn’t all. Shea decided early to give back to the industry that shaped him through education. He is a member of the faculty at the University of Southern California’s Thorton School of Music and has written a few instructional books on Blues and Jazz. Most recently, he has opened The Shea Welsh Institute of Jazz as a branch of The Conservatory of Performing Arts over near Westwood in Los Angeles. The school is open for dedicated high school and middle school students looking for an intense experience and immersion into the study of Jazz. He will be giving these kids masterclasses in theory, performance, and repertoire, and they are bound to benefit from his experience and absolute mastery. He’s pictured below with some of his students.

Shea is certainly making his mark, not only on stage and in the halls, but almost most importantly, in the minds of the young. His commitment to his young students goes to show how much he truly cares about bringing out the love of music in as many people as he can. If all of this wasn’t impressive enough, there’s one more thing. In addition to all of his work with Michelle Coltrane, Shea released his own debut jazz album entitled Arrival to the world earlier in 2017. Go give this album a listen, as it will take you to a place different from all others. His unique composition will grab all listeners with intent and fury and also with the soft tenderness of the blues. Look out for Shea Welsh around Los Angeles – whether he’s performing, producing, writing or teaching. Wherever he is, he is leaving quite a stamp on this historic city.

Atlantis The Band: Spotlight

There’s nothing like a charismatic twin-duo to get a room grooving. Today let’s look at the jazzy R&B/Soul and Pop group stationed in Los Angeles, Atlantis the Band, led by the Merriweather twins – brothers bound not only by blood but by their simple love of music. Their voices blend smoothly with a cool dynamic; lead singer Travis Merriweather leads the group with his sweet but edgy melodies and impressive range, while his brother Rustein Merriweather  provides the the fruity rap component with his quick, magnetic, syncopated verse. Watch the band performing their own version of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabrosa” live at the Viper Room in Los Angeles. 

The band also has a pretty stacked cast in regards to instrumentation. In addition to Travis with funky bass lines and Rustein’s adeptness on the keyboard, there is some serious backup. They’re joined by the Regiment Horns – Sean Eric on trumpet, Kevin Lloyd Williams, Jr. on trombone and Leon Silva on the sax. On drums sits Grammy award-winner Lyndon Rochelle, whose drum solos captivate and will leave an awestruck audience wanting more. Takahito Mori’s guitar interludes and riffs rock the stage and fill the sound with eccentric, gleaming energy. They are also joined by Grammy nominated producer and drummer Taylor Gordon in addition to Natalie Stephenson on vocals. Watch them here performing a cover of Santana’s “Maria Maria” at Couture in Hollywood. Be sure to catch Mori’s epic guitar solo about 50 seconds in!

The band has performed at some notable venues, such as The Mint, The Peppermint Club, Sofitel Beverly Hills, Sunset Tower, and The House of Blues on Sunset. The twins have also been involved at a political level with Hillary and Bill Clinton, after being invited back during college to take part in the Clinton Global Initiative University summit. The two of them stayed connected with the Clintons and Travis even got to work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election campaign. See lead singer Travis Merriweather showing off his vocals with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Atlantis the Band, thanks to the initial catapulting by the twins back in college, has emerged as a powerful band with an intense range of talent – everywhere from their emotional depth and soul to excited hip-hop beats – and their innovative interpretations and writing proves them to be very worthy of the stage. Be sure to check out their page to see and listen to more of their music. Also, although they began in Texas, their music-making happens in Los Angeles, so if you’re in the area, be sure to check on their Upcoming Gigs category so that you can hear their hearty music live! Here’s one last clip of them covering Jay Z’s “Can’t Knock The Hustle” at the House of Blues on Sunset.

Emma Jane Thommen – UK to LA

From upbeat, mysterious funk to sweet, emotional soul – Emma Jane Thommen has it all. This Gigmor artist has mastered strong range of style, and with each song, she tells her story with her smooth, simple harmonies. Perfect, limited accompaniment grooves with her in every song, and her sounds are easy on the ears – perfect for a long car rides or even meditation! Listen to her performing her original “Running with my Eyes Closed” at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

Emma Jane Thomenn has performed at some pretty notable venues around the world. A few of these venues include the Pyramids in Egypt, many US and UK festivals, on board the Queen Mary II on a cruise to New York, as well as at LA’s Greek Theater opening for Norah Jones & Corinne Bailey Rae. Watch this moody performance of another on of her original songs, “Open Eyes,” at The Hotel Cafe in LA.

She enjoys writing her own music, but also loves has quite a knack for covering songs. She covers many different artists but her recordings are always infused with her unique mysteriousness and sentimentality.  Her melodies are dark, beautiful, and smoky, and keep listeners hooked, as she evokes something in sound much deeper than her lyrics. Watch this artsy video with her chilling cover of Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good.”

Emma-Jane is currently stationed in LA, and performing regularly at Hollywood’s famous music venue, The Sayers Club. She is also on her way to a milestone moment, as she’s currently working on a soon-to-be-released EP with Elton John’s Rocket Music in London & LA. If you’re in London or LA, check her page for gigs and definitely look out for her to try to see her in concert; from her videos, it sure seems like she is a marvel live. Watch this last clip of her performing her original song, “Halfway House” at the Sayers Club.

Wendy Parr: I am a coach – it’s who I am.

It’s not every day when we meet a person who really can say that they’ve traversed every aspect of the music world. Nor is it every day that we meet a person who can say that in addition to their multiple accomplishments all over the music-production spectrum, they have devoted a lot of their life to helping other people. However, I had the privilege of chatting with one such person, by the name of Wendy Parr.

Wendy Parr founded an organization called The Artist’s Circle in order to bring community, networking and multiple modes of support to artists who are otherwise lonely or unsupported in the music world. The Circle hosts many events in which members have the opportunity to connect and learn about each other, make friends, and make connections that give them a leg up in the industry. I wanted to get to know the mind behind the magic:

I was wondering if you could give me a general summary of what it is that you do as a coach and a mentor in the Artist’s Circle? 

I’ve been coaching for 27 years, and eventually I just saw – well, for me as a person, I think we’re all here to grow and evolve as human beings, and working with all of the artists, I find everybody going through the same thing alone, and not knowing that there’s other people going through similar things. I tend to be a resource for a lot of people, and I just kind of put it all together that I don’t need to be the only resource and that people can be there for one another, and there is power in community and connection. So, I really started the circle and it took a while to evolve into the format that it is now, that normally works and people are responding to well. Essentially it’s mindfulness work, it’s true networking and it’s a combination of working on the inner work – sometimes we have meditation classes and play improv games. We also do business work, like I have marketing people as special guests, we’ve had an event at rolling stone magazine…So I’m bringing the people that I work with and that I know and the resources that I have, to give people an opportunity to connect with people that they otherwise wouldn’t have been given the chance to connect with. Also, they are really connecting with one another, so there is a strong community where our artists can really be there for one another. Historically, successful artists have had friendships and connections with other artists; it’s how you grow. You encouragement from one another and feedback. People are so often doing their thing and saying, “well where’s my team?” because they don’t have a team yet. And if they have a team, their team is only there to move their career forward. They’re not other artists who can just connect with them and understand them on an artistic level. So this is a three step place for vulnerability and connections and friendship and collaboration as well.

I know you’re a professional coach, but how did you start out in the music world?

I started performing and working when I was eight years old. I was acting, I was doing TV, I did a lot of musicals. By 15 I was performing about 3-4 nights a week in clubs, singing in a jazz trio, things like that. So I started as a performer, and I started studying with my vocal coach. I went to NYU for a minute, but when I came back to LA, my famous vocal coach invited me to be a coach. I said, “I don’t know how to teach!” And he said, “Sure you do. You know how we helped your voice and how you’ve worked your voice to help other people. Help other people while you’re working on your music career.” And at this point, I had already started in college, where my friends – who are all now working as comedians and stuff – they would ask me, “Hey can you show me this thing I want to sing a little bit…” and would say, “Can you help us do harmonies…” So I was already casually doing it for fun, and then I officially started teaching at 20 years old in a studio. But I discovered how much I love it, and that’s really what I am; I’m a coach. It’s not even what I am but rather who I am. If you showed me how a car works, I’d be showing someone else tomorrow.

Was there a specific moment when you realized that that was who you were? Or did it take a bit of time to realize that coaching was where you were meant to be? 

It took a little while, because I was still performing and working on my career as an artist, and I did both for a long time, and then I just realized. I love making music – I have a record, I have an EP out, I have a record that i’m still working on – but I just realized that my energy wasn’t going towards “when can I take myself on tour” but more “how can I build my coaching.” You know, when it’s a beautiful day outside you can take the day off, but when someone walks into my door, I say, “Oh my gosh I have so much to show you!” I just realized how enthusiastic I was and how much I loved doing it. And I’m a songwriter, so I write music, I write for others. I sing, I still sing, but I’m not trying to pursue being an artist. But it did take me a while to sort of let go of this dream that I’d had all of my life. I had thought that was just what I was supposed to do. but, it was sort of like a jacket I outgrew. Yeah. So I do all kinds of things with music. I still sing, I sing songs I write, do demos, but I just don’t dream of being a singer anymore.

Let’s diverge for a second. What is the best concert you’ve ever attended? 

Prince, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder – those are probably some of the best shows I’ve ever seen. And of course the shows I coach. Seeing the artists I coach is different. Those shows I was talking about were mostly from when I was young and they were very influential. Prince was probably one of the best performers I’ve seen in my life. But, you know when Regina played Radio City Music Hall last year and the year before, I was in tears watching her. I’ve been coaching her for 14 years, and she made me cry with her performance. I certainly don’t take credit for her talent, but I could definitely hear it. It was the first time in my life, you know I’m an adult by this point, I’m 47. But it was the first time that I’ve acknowledged, “Oh, I’ve had an influence there!” And I could hear it; I could hear how I’ve helped her grow. It made me very proud to acknowledge.

So I got the sense that you started the Artist’s Circle because you felt that there was a lack of support within the music industry as far as emotional guidance and networking help. What is the biggest effect that you intend to have with the Artist’s Circle? 

I would like to make artists feel more fulfilled as artists, and there’s a few things I think the Artist’s Circle can help do. It can help artists in not giving up and not falling through the cracks before they start their career. We can help artists who are already in the midst of their career and give them a community so that they don’t spiral out. Being on tour is very lonely. Success can be very lonely. I’m really interested in helping people have genuine connections with people that they can really trust and talk to so that the loneliness isn’t as much there. It can also help with tools – tools to help them with the ups and downs in life and in their careers. We teach them tools to feel happier and to be more fulfilled and balanced as a creative artist. Generally speaking, the Circle is where people learn their craft, like “here’s how you do your part.” I was never schooled on that. School doesn’t really prepare you for life. It only teaches you skills, but that’s what this is about. We teach people how to deal with their fears, about why they make the choices they make and how they can make better choices, how to have more community and less competition. I want to help people have a better human foundation. In terms of networking, there have always been music seminar weekends where people would go in hopes to meet people and have luck. It was like the lottery. People would go hoping that something would happen, and they’re all B.S. Nobody actually knows you unless your music is off the charts, and at that point, if your music is off the charts, chances are everybody already does know you, and that’s not how it’s going to happen. So, this is an actual networking experience because we have intimate conversations, so you really get to know someone right away. We give people a space to really get to know one another, connect with one another, and it’s even a space of vulnerability. Real connections happen this way. One guy today told me from the one event we had in Israel – we had one event when I was there – he said, “I’m still getting so much out of that experience. That guy that I met at the circle, we’re still talking, I’m going to London and I’m going to go make music there, so many of the tools that we talked about gave me courage to do things that I’ve wanted to do but haven’t yet.” And that’s just one guy. These people say that the circle gave them courage and support to be able to do the things that they want to do.


Click here to learn more about Wendy Parr and the Artist’s Circle. ALSO, for Gigmor members, there are some special prices available. For gigmorcreative members, you get a $25 ticket ($10 off the explorer ticket) for your first event. Any Acgigmormember will get 25% off of all memberships.

Roland TR-808

How the Roland TR-808 Changed the World.

Apple Music is set to release an exclusive subscribers-only documentary and album to pay homage to one of the most connecting, ubiquitous and quietly mystifying machines in all of the music industry: the Roland TR-808 drum machine. From Phil Collins to Pharrell to Kanye to Daft Punk, musicians and producers have been lining up behind the ever-holy Roland machine. They will all agree: there is some intangible quality buried within a Roland 808 that cannot be reproduced, replicated or imposed by any other machine.

The 808 started to make its way into music production in the early 1980s. Back then, it  was engineered to help studio musicians create demos. Between 1980 and 1983, 12,000 units of the Roland TR-808 were made. By 1984, however, the Linn LM-1 hit the shelves with notably superior sound and sampling abilities than the Roland. So, for those that could afford it, the Linn LM-1 became the market leader in programmable drum machines.

But the Roland TR-808 was cheaper, $1,195 compared to the $5,000 Linn LM-1. And the Roland TR-808, though lesser in quality, could produce more distinctive same low-frequency sounds: the deep bass kick drum, the small handclap sounds, the ticking snare, hi-hats, and spacey cowbells. These crucial differences kept the popularity of the Roland TR-808 among hip hop artists for several years after it ceased production.

The TR-808 and its 1983 successor, the TR-909, had a 28-year journey to fame, one that wandered through the subterranean of nearly every music genre: electro, techno, pop, and regional hip-hop. It is the versatility and uniqueness of the machine’s sound that has allowed for this chameleon-like activity. The machine can play single songs of up to 768 measures in length, or, rather, it can play up to 12 songs of 64 measures in length. The TR-808 can also divide each quarter note into 3,4,6, or 8 steps. What does this mean in layman’s terms? That the TR-808 can perform extremely complex rhythms that even the best drummers cannot accurately replicate. And its the machine’s kick-drum, and it’s gloriously artificial handclaps, and the echo-laden claves that create allow for intricate grooviness. On an almost immeasurable amount of pop songs, you can find the friendly TR-808.

Take Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and give it another listen.

Or there is Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock. The song samples a Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” over the TR-808 kicks and hi-hats.

Unsurprisingly, new waves bands are 808-users too. Like here, where David Byrne is lying to you. That’s not a tape playing the background mix to “Psycho Killer.” It’s Chris Frantz, somewhere buried in the back, fiddling with an 808.

Any of the remaining 808s on the market today sell for upwards of $2,000. It’s a low-stock, high demand economy for something no other musical machine can produce. It’s got the industry and soul longevity in tandem with the versatility to travel from genre to genre that keep producers constantly coming back to the 808. Egyptian Lover, the L.A. producer behind the L.A. dance and rap scene uprise in the 1980s, swears by the perpetual grandeur that the machine brings. Lil Wayne on ‘Nymphos’ describes similar feelings about the 808 bass, spitting “Make the control room boom like an 808.” Outkast’s Big Boi does the same, with ” But I know ya’ll wanted that 808/Can you feel that B-A-S-S bass?” on 2003’s ‘Way You Move.’ Kanye mentioned his use of the TR-808 in the very title of his 2008 “808s and Heartbreaks” — though it was later revealed that he was actually using both the TR-808 and TR-909 for most of the album’s production.

Apple Music’s upcoming release of the documentary, “808” is something to subscribe for. It will draw you into the deep, most buried parts of the machine’s history from a surprising range of greats. The trailer can be found below.

In Memoriam: Leonard Cohen