Month: November 2013

Love Won a War in Birmingham

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Two different times in 1991, I stood in a Birmingham, Alabama, concert arena and watched as Public Enemy acted out hanging a KKK member.

Think about that for a minute. Less than 30 years after four little girls lost their lives in ‘Bombingham,’ young people in Birmingham stood and cheered as members of Public Enemy lynched and hung a KKK member on stage.

Yet, one year later, HBO’s America Undercover documentary featuring Birmingham skinheads debuted. At best it revealed an honest threat to the area. At worst it was sensationalist trash that fed on the horrific history and reputation of our fair city. Created with no time stamp, and frequently replayed on cable channels over the next two decades, it would unfortunately help reinforce the nation’s view of Birmingham for years.

Black and white; love and hate; history and reputation. It’s no stretch to say that true legends walked the streets of Birmingham. Before Vietnam and before Iraq, a real war was fought here in our city. The weapons were unconventional, the generals were preachers and politicians and the soldiers were often young children … but it was a real war none the less. And real wars always leave scars.

As (almost) a lifetime Birmingham resident, sometimes it seems these scars will take forever to fade. Only decades of rain can hope to wash the blood from the streets where I grew up. Only lasting sunlight will fade the memories of those violent scenes. The actions that played out in our streets – the great words written and spoken by legends here – still have the power to transform this area, and further, our entire country.

That is, if we let them.

 

In 1991, as I stood starry-eyed watching Chuck and Flav tear ’em down, I truly believed the world had changed. My generation would be different. Like many people my age in Alabama, I had a couple of grandparents that were true racists. Even though their public behavior had changed between 1963 and my birth, their language and beliefs were still the same behind closed doors. Exposed to this behavior frequently as a young child, my parents thankfully took the time to teach me different.

We lived in poor neighborhoods, I had friends of almost every color and I eventually graduated from a Birmingham City School. Exposed to rap, heavy metal, punk and hardcore, I had fallen in love with all types revolutionary music. Music and lyrics not only challenged the beliefs of my family and friends, they pushed me to question my own prejudices, my own reality. As silly as it always sounds, these musicians forced me to search for my own truth.

But now, 20 years later, I sometimes feel more calloused, skeptical and brokenhearted than ever before. It’s hard to put the exact idea into words, but it feels like we have regressed as a culture. In the darkest times, it seems as if the struggles here were all pointless. As part of our society continues pushing forward, looking to the future, trying to make things better, there seems to be an equal force that is staunchly opposed to change.

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I guess aging is one issue. Remembering the open and loving things my parents taught me as a child, it’s hard to hear some of my grandparents’ ideals now come from their mouths. A family member who told me the story of crying when JFK was killed now quotes inaccurate “news” reports with regularity and blames immigrants for our country’s problems. Further, classmates who seemed progressive, independent and open-minded 20 years ago now go out of their way to preach the opposite.

Honestly, I just can’t wrap my head around it. My thoughts and opinions on a million issues have changed, often more than once, but how can anyone turn back to hatred and prejudice and promote it as “family values?”

Another particularly disgusting Birmingham example, to me anyway, can be blamed on the Internet. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but the comments section of al.com regularly fills me with real anger and rage … especially as a previous employee of The Birmingham News. I hate to think that my career in any way supported the filth and hatred being propagated daily on the area’s most prominent website. I’m not sure who these people are, where they come from or how they get access to the Internet, but I do have a message for them.

In a public venue, I want to clearly say: If you don’t like Birmingham, then get the fuck out.

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No, seriously, leave. If you are a sniveling al.com poster that cheers after every violent crime, that searches for different ways to spout the same old racist bullshit 40 years after they put Bull in the ground … leave now and don’t come back. We don’t want you in our parks, in our sports venues, in our breweries or near our homes.

This isn’t your city anymore. That war ended decades ago, and you lost. Old George surrendered. You may not believe it, you may not be able to accept it, but this isn’t your home anymore. Things are changing. Things are different. Things are better.

Just know, those hateful, spiteful, disgusting words you post on al.com are real things. They have real consequences. They give real people real opinions about our evolving and growing city that just aren’t true.

When Birmingham’s supporters of all ages gather for public events, celebrations and concerts, we don’t think about you. You aren’t scaring us and you aren’t changing our love for this city.

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New business are interested, new opportunities for this city are out there.

And as I look to the future and (dear God) think about where I want to retire, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live than this city … the city that helped raise me … the city that broke my heart then helped mend it time and time again.

I guess I said all that to say this: I believe we can build a vibrant, successful city … even with small-minded people doing their best to hold us back. I just hope we can create a city that is equal parts compassion and commerce.

It was here, in Birmingham, that love won an actual war. I promise now to my child and my future grandchildren, I won’t forget that. None of us can afford to forget that. Though there will be frequent struggles and setbacks, though we are surrounded by painful, lasting scars, we owe it to ourselves, our families and the world to remember. We must remember the sacrifices, and we must try to create something better.

Now and forever, I love you Birmingham.

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BHAMFM MIXTAPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS

It’s that time again! This go round we’ve added some of our other contributors to help out with our mixtape and we’ve got a wide array of tunes to share with our readers. Blast this mixtape as you drive home for Thanksgiving or, better yet, AT Thanksgiving. You know you want to tune out that weird Uncle that asks you about your love life!

Thanks to Joshua Matthews, Whitney & Chris, Culture Czar, Artallo and Adam for sharing five great songs a piece.

Some of our writers were nice enough to even add a few words about each song they chose.

CULTURE CZAR::

I went with three 2013 songs and two older songs this month.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Stranger Than Kindness”: Surprisingly, Nick Cave recently announced another US tour in the summer of 2014 after completing one in the spring of 2013. Great news for what is often a deprived American fanbase. I’m super psyched and have been listening to all of his incredibly deep catalog. This is off of his 1986 album, “Your Funeral…My Trial.”

Anna Calvi – “Eliza”: This is off of Calvi’s 2013 sophomore effort “One Breath.” She gets a lot of comparisons to PJ Harvey because of her voice and stellar guitar playing, but she’s definitely got her own thing going. Nick Cave took her out on tour in Europe when her first record came out and Brian Eno also sings her praises. She seems to be a European phenomenon so far as I literally know no one that listens to her.

Wovehand – “Dirty Blue”: The other older song from me this month (from 2006…sooo old!) Wovenhand is the project of David Eugene Edwards of Denver, CO. Though he’s American, all of his success is in Europe. He plays to half empty, tiny bars in America and packs out theaters and concert halls in Europe. Maybe I just need to move.

TV on the Radio – “Mercy.” A 2013 single from Brooklyn’s finest. TVOTR has expressed reluctance in going into the studio for a full length any time soon, but has said they’ll get together periodically and release a song or two or three. This is the fruit of that mindset and it is mighty fine. I just hope they keep touring.

M.I.A. – “Bad Girls” This is technically a 2012 song, but it came out as a digital single and now it’s appeared on her late 2013 release “Matangi.” Forget the Super Bowl nonsense, she puts out hard hitting dance music that makes you think as much as it makes you want to shake your ass.

WHITNEY::

My list is based on “big sounds”, so obviously a few Jon Brion-produced tracks. Also, some new songs from the Saint Heron compilation, its curator Solange & that powerful wall of sound from the British supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets that all fit the mold nicely.

ADAM:: 

CHVRCHES “Science/Visions” – It took me a while to admit that this band was more than just a guilty pleasure, more than just a poppy version of Purity Ring, and more than the one song Sirius XMU played nearly every hour. What’s exciting about the album as a whole is the juxtaposition of that poppy sound–courtesy of Lauren Mayberry’s sweet vocals–with the darkness of the lyrics behind those melodies [The very bouncy “Gun” has this chorus: “You’d better run, you’d better run and/Hide, hide, I have burned your bridges/I will be a gun, and it’s you I’ll come for”]. Buried deep in the tracklist of their debut album “The Bones of What You Believe” at track 9 (past singles “The Mother We Share”, “We Sink”, “Gun”, and “Recover”), “Science/Visions” is decidedly darker in tone musically than the rest of the album. An arpeggiated synth beat pulls you into the song, and the haunting echoing pre-chorus “I (I) hear (hear) your (your) breathing/I (I) feel (feel) you (you) leaving” keeps you there waiting for the climax.

Failure “Heliotropic” – Since my fanboy post about the band reunion, Failure have very strongly hinted at doing a tour and even making new music. I said before that “Fantastic Planet” very rarely leaves my car CD wallet anyway, but this past week, it’s barely left the CD player at all. Rounding out the back end of the album, where singles “The Nurse Who Loved Me” and “Stuck on You” hang out, at track 16 (!!!) “Heliotropic” screams with feedback then pounds away with a heavy and heavily distorted bass riff coupled with a furious barrage of tom runs that drive the song while the guitar slowly builds from ambient “space noise” to octave runs dripping with chorus and delay.

Miike Snow “Silvia” – What do Madonna, Britney Spears, Kelis, and Kylie Minogue have in common? Besides massive pop exposure and success, they all worked with the music producers Bloodshy & Avant who comprise 2/3 of Miike Snow (yeah, it turns out that’s not the guy’s name: the Swedish group is Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg, and American Andrew Wyatt). When they aren’t winning awards for “Toxic”, they’re making beautiful, catchy, and emotional electropop. Get ready to shed a tear while you dance to this tale of unrequited love: “And your voice cries out for the coup de grace/when the lights go out, will there be a trace?/I don’t know Silvia/That I loved Silvia”.

My Bloody Valentine “In Another Way” – ICYMI, MBV released their first album of new material in over 20 years earlier this year, and then totally trolled the US by announcing a “tour” that was six dates on the west coast and in Texas. They later tacked on some dates to make sure and hit NYC, but still didn’t come within driving distance of Birmingham. So it goes. Anyway, this is my favorite track from the simply titled “mbv”, an album that makes the 20 year gap seem to be completely nonexistent: every track (well, except “Nothing Is” that’s just a heavy looping riff, and “Wonder 2” with the weird filter drumming sample thing…and what happened to “Wonder 1” anyway?). (Not on Spotify, but we tried y’all!)

Wild Nothing “The Blue Dress” – If you were at Iron City when Wild Nothing opened for Local Natives, I was the guy jumping around going crazy when they launched into the opening riff for this song. Not to be confused with “Blue Dress” by Depeche Mode (which is INCREDIBLE, by the way), this song continues the tradition of catchy single note guitar riffs that Wild Nothing has perfected (see “Shadow”, “Midnight Song”, and “Nocturne”). Even more forlorn lyrics: “Falling through your songs/my desires come undone/Though I looked for you all night/The words were never heard/When I dreamt of you so sweet/In the garden of my touch/Drowning into sheets/Imaginary love”.

CHRIS::

I decided to go in cold and find some new music. I started with Related Artists of Titus Andronicus, because that’s the kind of thing I would do.

First up, a home run. PAWS out of Glasgow from their 2012 epically-named album Cokefloat.
Paws – Sore Tummy

After some Inceptioning through Related Artists, I end up on Milwaukee’s Jaill. Described as jangly, and I think accurately so. Would love to see these guys live. Based on past experience they probably played Bottletree last week.
Jaill – Beggar Sincere

And then I end up down under with Royal Headache, which sounds like Husker Du. I’m totally OK with that. Also, the lead singer’s name is Shogun.
Royal Headache – Psychotic Episode

After this I went down what could best be described as a Husker Du-shaped noise hole. I re-emerge with the tamer, but nice and fuzzy California X, from Massachusetts, of course.
California X – Mummy

We need to calm down. Take us home, Sonny & The Sunsets. Sonny made 100 fictional bands for an art project. This is a good palate cleanser.
Sonny & The Sunsets – path of orbit

A. R. Tallo::

Brenda and the Big Dudes – It’s Nice to Be with People :: I found this song while listening to a DJ set from the great Awesome Tapes from Africa and I cannot stop listening to it. Its a fun track to incorporate into a party mix or a DJ set, if one is so inclined. If you are interested in international music (specifically African) or just like music at all you need to check out awesometapes.com. This song is also perfect for Holiday gatherings because it really IS nice to be with people.

The Who – Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand :: I love The Who. Especially the record “The Who Sell Out”. This song is super catchy and it will just get stuck in your head in the most fun way. I think it’s about a girl that Pete knew who was extremely “friendly” with the boys but no one really knows.

White Fence – Mr. Adams/Who Feels Right? (Live in San Francisco) :: White Fence is part of the current movement of 1960s sounding psych/garage rock bands and they recently released a live show on vinyl, cassette, and CD on Castle Face Records, the imprint run by John from Thee Oh Sees. I fell in love with WF from the recorded version of “Who Feels Right?” and this is just an onslaught of rock and roll music in your face. Tim Presley’s whiney vocals and crunchy guitar, and that British invasion style drumming make you want to shimmy and shake all night long.

White Denim – A Place to Start :: White Denim (different band with “white” in their name) just released their new album “Corisicana Lemonade”. This is a band that should be way bigger then they are. I loved their last two albums and this one is quickly becoming another favorite of mine. They will be in Birmingham at Bottletree next year and you don’t want to miss it. They could blow up soon.

The Beach Boys – You’re Welcome :: I just love this song and this is one of my favorite bands of all time. This one is a B side to the brilliant “Heroes and Villains” single from 1967. It’s also a perfect way to end this mixtape. You’re welcome.

Show Review: Titus Andronicus/LUCERO in ATL

tumblr_mwvn97Mj5V1smgjyeo10_r1_1280Last Friday, November 22nd, Lucero kicked off their 3 night stand in Atlanta. I could only attend the Friday night show so I was hoping for three things: A great show, a great setlist, and a great crowd; Nobody disappointed. From the moment I walked in the venue I could feel the excitement and smell the whiskey; both of these things foreshadowing what I knew was coming next, rock and roll.

The stage is set, sound check is complete, lights are dim and here comes the boys, Lucero. Ben doesn’t even make it to the microphone without first taking a shot of whiskey given to him by a fan, chased with the cheers and applause from the crowd. Speaking of the crowd, The “Lucero family” is no joke, it’s literally like a family reunion at their shows; everybody knows everybody (I’ve never felt more comfortable hugging “strangers” before in my life). Nichols started the show by thanking everyone for coming, he sounded genuinally humbled by the number of folks in attendance, then explained that this stop on tour was going to be recorded for a live Lucero album; all three nights. Cheers boys, I’ll drink to that.

I was able to keep track of most of the setlist, thanks LT for your help too, but it did get a little bit fuzzy towards the end; thanks to PBR & Jameson 😉 Lucero ripped through hit after hit beginning with “On My Way Downtown without much interruption except a couple times that Ben forgot the words to some older tracks (some things never change), however, the fans in attendance didn’t miss a word. It was almost as if they were reading the lyrics off of a sheet; that’s a REAL fan. Besides the fans, the one thing that has always amazed me about Lucero and other similar bands is the way they can play some of the wildest, rowdiest shows but sing such slow, sad songs about heartbreak, lost love, and self-destruction; it’s an anomaly! Nonetheless, if you weren’t there (at least one of the nights) you missed a hell of a show. Confession: This was the first time I’ve seen them in about 5-6 years. It won’t be that long again. – JT

*be on the lookout for the live album*

Here’s some of what

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you missed Friday night, In no particular order:

  • That Much Further West
  • Sweet Little Thing
  • Chain Link Fence
  • Texas & Tennessee
  • Union Pacific Line
  • Nights Like These
  • Kiss The Bottle
  • Bikeriders
  • Like Lightning
  • Women & Work
  • I’ll Just Fall
  • Little Silver Heart
  • Slow Dancing
  • All Sewn Up
  • Wasted
  • Can’t feel a Thing
  • Fistful of Tears
  • Tears Don’t Matter Much
  • Downtown Intro / On My Way Downtown
  • Last Pale Light in the West (Ben solo)
  • The War (Ben solo)

Seasick Records opens up shop in Avondale

Despite several thriving music venues and a high volume of great shows, being a music fan in Birmingham has felt incomplete the last few years. The part of the experience that was missing was the record store. Charlemagne and Renaissance are great places to find used (and even rare) vinyl but they fall short when it comes to stocking new records. Since their opening earlier this month, Seasick Records is trying to fill in that gap.

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“Birmingham has a lack of record stores that cater to my generation’s interests,” explains Seasick co-owner Daniel Drinkard, “I come from Memphis, where there are several really great record stores that always had stuff I was interested in, and I felt like Birmingham was missing that.”

Chayse Porter, the other co-owner of Seasick, echoes Drinkard’s sentiments about Birmingham’s lack of quality stores.

“Birmingham has had some good record stores in the past, but Laser’s Edge was the last of a dying breed. Since they closed there hasn’t been a store here that specializes in new vinyl,” said Porter.

After a few months of talking and planning, Drinkard and Porter decided to dive in and open their own store in the burgeoning Avondale neighborhood.

“Right now everyone is focused on reviving the city of Birmingham, and vinyl records have made a huge comeback, so what better time than now?” said Porter. “People are interested in buying new records again so we felt like the time was right to open a store.”

The store celebrated a soft opening on November 3rd, with a show from power-pop band The Sidekicks and is having a grand opening Sunday, December 8th. They’re currently planning on having a raffle, and sets from local Alt-Rockers The Urns, as well as local girl done good, Waxahatchee. Seasick also plans on being open on Black Friday and offering special deals. Plus if that wasn’t enough, Seasick is putting on a screening of the Descendants documentary “Filmage” at Bottletree on Feb 1st, 2014.

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Seasick Records is located on 5th Avenue South in Avondale and is currently open Thursdays and Fridays from 4pm to 8pm, Saturdays from Noon to 8pm, and Sundays from Noon to 5pm.

Follow Seasick on Instagram here.

Noise in Excess: Show Review of Yakuza Dance Mob/D.U.G.O.U.T. C.A.N.O.E./Kevin Greenspon/Big Waves of Pretty/In Snow

On Friday, November 22, DIY venue The Firehouse served up a five-course feast of fierce and dissonant performances from Yakuza Dance Mob, D.U.G.O.U.T. C.A.N.O.E., Kevin Greenspon, Big Waves of Pretty, and In Snow. The name of the game was aural explorations, and each band delivered their own personal, and sometimes disturbing, take on creating music.

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If you thought performance was a forgotten art, then you should have bore witness to the lively showstarter from Yakuza Dance Mob. This local four-piece featuring drums, guitar, keyboard, and the lunatic spoken verse tirade of frontman Rodney Hasty, played a blown-fuse set characterized by no-wave inspired anti-melodies and the constant yip, yowl, and shuffle from Hasty, who stalked the room as he went about his free-form stream of lyrics. Besides the obvious highlights of Hasty shattering a light bulb and burning himself on its hot metal base,

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the focus displayed within the disjointed assault from the rest of the musicians made the entire experience one to remember, in particular the broken carousal notes of the keyboardist.

Touring musician D.U.G.O.U.T C.A.N.O.E. followed up with a thrilling performance of experimental electronic music. Making music out of retro-tinged bleeps and bloops set to spaced-out loops of feedback, the listener is caught off guard when serene and sparkly guitar lines laden with reverb enter the mix. At times focused on industrious beats, the songs alternated between a series of vinyl-caught-in-the-groove samplings that add extra dimension to the dreamy twang of guitar and the minimalist application of vocals distorted into far-flung calls from beyond.

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, fellow electronic experimentalist Kevin Greenspun gave a very different, but equally heady, ambient performance. The primal explosions of drone set to ethereal warbles of noise are only amplified by the visual aspect of the performance. You almost forget that Greenspun is physically present when lost in the chilling effect he creates with his music perfectly matched to the surreal kaleidoscope-tinged imagery playing on the screen beside him. With songs alternating between capturing the soundscapes of innocence and full-on dread, Greenspun’s set had the uncanny feeling of a multi-sensual Rorschach drawing. Oh, the wondrous things a person can do with buttons, knobs, and switches.

Highland, Wisconsin’s aptly named two-piece Big Waves of Pretty made the transition into rock-oriented music that rounded off the night’s show. Slow guitar build-ups set to the jingle of chimes give way to vignettes of fast-paced math rock. Heavy bursts of low key and melodic vocals match the machine-gun pace of the drums. Big Waves of Pretty is not a band to be pigeonholed, as they switch gears with a slow and Gothic folk revival number accompanied by the prison wail of a harmonica. Their defining quality is either their hair trigger ability to go heavy at a moment’s notice, or the uncanny way in which they still manages to be catchy.

(Video work and editing: Charlie Brown Sanders)

The final performance came from the local provocateurs of sound, In Snow. They hit the stage in rare form, delivering a swell of driving fury. With bass, two guitars, and drums, In Snow did what they do best, which is creating gravity-reasserting instrumental post rock. Bestial drumming, brooding base lines, and piercing guitar wails matched with, at times, hopeful guitar twanging, do the accumulative work of making each of their songs feel like a soundtrack for the passing of a dark, dark storm. But even when amidst noise-soaked transitions, the band never loses the appearance of being in complete control of their sound; they’re always building to some satisfying and symphonic conclusion.

Anthony Vacca is a writer and music reviewer living in Birmingham, and can be contacted at Anthony.j.vacca@gmail.com

Renaissance Man Baron Amato talks poetry, hip hop & fashion

1149026_10201041919862637_535299033_nBirmingham is full of interesting people. Musicians, fashion junkies, poets, radio personalities, rappers & actors. Not everyone is all of these at once.

He’s a spoken word poet who works with a close knit group of local musicians to make music as an emcee. He also headed up UAB’s BlazeRadio while studying towards his degree in Communications. He’s also a sharp dresser who honed his love of fashion & design by becoming involved with clothing line, 1987 Supply Company. He’s now in NOLA using his classical training in theater to gain roles in TV, music videos & film.

I spoke with Mobile native and current NOLA resident Baron Amato about his many outlets and how he still keeps a creative lifeline to our city.

BHAMFM: You’re a quite literally a poet. At what age did you discover your love for poetry?

Baron: Wow. It was late for me. It was when I first got to college, around 18. It came along as a form of release for a lot of things I was dealing with personally at that time.

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BHAMFM: You perform your poems on stage. How quickly did that translate into music? Do you also play any instruments as well as rap?

Baron: “I ain’t went this hard since i was 18…” (does Drake hand motion) Ha! Yes, I’ve performed my poetry mainly at open mics up until recently. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to perform at a beautifully themed wedding. I do rap, and I do sing. I feel that poetry is the foundation of all

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art, at least mine. I played piano in high school and just started back at it again a few weeks ago.

BHAMFM: You were invited to perform at a poetry event called Flow. Tell us a little about that.

Baron: I went out to Seattle right after graduation and the door opened for me to perform alongside some of their city’s best at a venue called Lucid Lounge. Great place! Seattle is great. I also placed second in a slam poetry competition while I was there.

BHAMFM: I’ve been listening to Sound Like A Dream by your group District Phive a lot lately. Do y’all have any projects in the pipeline right now?

Baron: Yes! No Suh Foster & I released our second single God Bless & Safe Travels from our duo project Oh The Places We’ll Go, set to be released February 28th.

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BHAMFM: You’re one of the best dressed dudes I know. Who is your sartorial hero?

Baron: Thank you kindly! I learned everything I know from my dad. He’s where I get my style from. Also, the older black men in my neighborhood have this different style that I really soak up a lot from.

BHAMFM: You were recently an extra in an episode of Ravenswood, a TV series aired on ABC Family. How did that come about?

Baron: I’ve been involved in theater most of my life and when I moved to New Orleans after graduating UAB I promised myself that I would use that training. I got involved with some casting agencies and boom! I’m a tortured slave to it now (laughs).

BHAMFM: You’re involved with Inner Recess. Tell me a little about the mission

& what you guys do.

Baron: My brother actually owns Inner Recess. We’re a multimedia facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. A state of the art recording studio that ranges from audio mixing to video production. We want to provide quality multimedia service to our clients. (They also do record & vinyl swaps! I love it! — author’s note)

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BHAMFM: Who are your favorite artists or bands to listen to at the moment?

Baron: I’m blessed to work with a lot of great artists out of Alabama and right now my phone is full of their music! I’m really into the Bama scene right now: (BHAMFM FAVORITE!) Jas’mine Garfield, Indyah Rashuad, Haruskii, Eugenius, Dee Skillz, Chris Jay and in the mix of all that is Hiatus Kaiyote and Little Dragon. Janelle Monae‘s new album is timeless! Also, the poet named Jasmine Mans