Wednesday – Partying with Sonos & Falling in Love With Oregon

He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister at Sonos Studio

The Sonos Studio house was my first stop at SXSW. Sonos is a wireless hi-fi system that allows you to wirelessly manage all your music, create playlists for anywhere in your home, organize everything you listen to in one place, and individually control the volume in every room of your home or business. The Sonos Studio is an extension of an already awesome brand that strives to celebrate music listening with an acoustically-designed gallery based in Los Angeles, CA. The folks behind Sonos took their passion for music and high quality listening to SXSW and set up camp in a quaint little house at 606 East Third Street in Austin for five days of celebration and partying.

Although I can’t say I was lucky enough to be there when Deadmau5 and fiancé Kat Von D stopped by, I did get to take a tour of the cozy house and check out the speaker-making studio for myself. Outside of the house, amenities included a fountain full of free drinks (literally), a handful of shaded picnic tables, and classy portable restrooms (if you were or Georgia Street for the 2012 Super Bowl, you know what I’m talking about). Wednesday’s stacked lineup included The French Horn Rebellion Party Ensemble (who I would see three days later at the Doritos Bold Stage), Tristen, Allah-Las, Cloud Nothings, and the real reason I was even at Sonos Studio that day: He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister.

Building speakers at the Sonos Studios workshop.

After an interview with four of the five members of the LA-based five-piece glam folk rock band, I nestled into the carpeted dance floor of the outdoor stage to watch an intimate 5 pm set. A few songs into the performance, a man in the audience leaned over to ask me who was playing.

“He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister,” I replied.

He nodded and replied a few moments later, “That’s their name and not like, your relationship to the band, right?”

I laughed told him yes, only to have the same thing happen again with a girl standing behind me just 15 minutes later.

It’s a commonly asked question, and not far from the group’s origins; they’re named after real life brother-and-sister Rob and Rachel Kolar who front the band with enchanting charisma and fantastic style. For this particular performance Rob was dressed in a sleeveless denim button-up shirt and black top hat, while Rachel flaunted a skintight full body blue-and-black zebra print leotard with a leopard-spotted crop top. Her long, wavy, brown hair was let down and flowing, acting as an accessory to her seductive hip-shaking dance moves.

“Thank you Austin,” Rob said after the first song concluded. A few moments later he added, “Well, I guess you can’t really say ‘Thank you Austin at South-By-Southwest,’” hinting at the diversity of the festival’s attendees.

Comedian and slide guitarist/electric guitarist/harmonica player Aaron Robinson quickly chimed in, “Thank you, people of the world!”

Rounding out the band was the adorable Lauren Brown, who channels her style and musical grace straight out of the sixties while tap dancing on a bass drum. She further texturizes songs by wailing on drums with her upper body, producing vividly animated facial expressions all the while.

The fifth and final member of the band on stage was the eccentric and whimsical Oliver ‘Oliwa’ Newell who played a colorful painted upright bass that matched his purple eye shadow, pink jeweled necklace, and green hair. He chose not to participate in my interview with the band, so I pried them for the story behind his nickname, Tom Celery. They told me that he was given that nickname because he loves celery and peanut butter and leaves it to sit in the band van for days. Lauren quickly accused Aaron of removing Oliver’s moldy oranges from the van earlier that morning, which prompted a lengthy discussion about the band van, how Rachel keeps it smelling fresh with a gardenia blossom candle, and how the scent impedes the guys’ ability to enjoy a burrito while being fully enveloped by floral scents. They’re a fun, lively bunch- let me tell you.

The crowd was visibly vibing with HMBSMS’s music during their performance and knew the words to many of their songs. The band acted surprised when I asked about their new-found fame, explaining to me that it still shocks them to learn they have fans in cities across the states and to see people singing along at shows.

“It’s not like we have a radio single,” Rachel explains.  “At this point, we’re purely just a live band and the only way people have really heard about us is through word of mouth.”

While the band fully believes that their “blowing up” is relative, they cite relentless touring as the biggest adjustment they’ve had to make in their new-found fame.

“We tour so much that we don’t get a chance to really write new music as much,” says Rob. “I would like to create a new album but it’s just been nonstop.”

Rachel points out that everyone creates differently and says she needs to be alone and to get into her own world. She likes to write at home where she can walk off into the wilderness and get in touch with her creative flow. Obviously, being on the road impedes that desire.

“I love getting to see this country,” Lauren says of their constant touring. “There are so many beautiful, wonderful things about this job. Then there’s also the hard stuff. It’s really hard to maintain friendships and see people when you’re home for two weeks- trying to sleep and stay healthy- and then you’re gone again. People have their own lives and they just keep going.”

“We don’t have our own lives anymore,” Aaron quickly adds.

Without missing a beat Rachel promptly agreed, “We share one big, smelly, disgusting life.”

The group’s collective down-to-earth demeanor and their individual magnetic personalities are certainly what makes them stand out among other bands in the budding psychedelic folk rock vein. The majority of our 12 minute interview was spent laughing at jokes about each other, which translates well into the band’s stage presence and made for a fun, informal live show.

He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister assured me they’ve been trying to get to Indianapolis for a show and hope to make it happen soon. When they do, you’d be amiss not to see it.

Portland, Oregon Music Showcase at The Grackle

Beautiful accidents happen at SXSW. On Wednesday night I hightailed it from downtown 6th Street to The Grackle- a total of 15 blocks on foot- to catch a show that, unbeknownst to me, had already taken place hours earlier in the afternoon.

The Grackle is one of those East 6th Street dive bars that I mentioned earlier that doesn’t usually have live music, despite having ample space for it both inside and out. So, it came as no surprise when the cranky soundman sucked at his job, but the music was really good and diverse so we stayed.

It was the tail end of a day-long Portland, OR showcase (we shared the room with no more than 20 or 30 people) that ushered me into fandom of the following artists:

  • Sapient - not quite hip hop and not quite indie rock, this independent rapper expertly highlights delicate vocals over groovy beats and live guitar with the ironic lyricism of a hipster, the shyness of a high school outcast, and the dignity of a hustler on the come up.
  • Natasha Kmeto (“kuh-meh-toe”) – soulful electronic production paired with striking live vocals, Kmeto promises that they do actually make electronic music (and not just indie rock) in Oregon.
  • Dual Mode – one part production and two parts emcee, Dual Mode’s minimalist approach to crude electronic hip hop is racy, irresistible, and unapologetic.

Natasha Kmeto performs at The Grackle at SXSW

Dual Mode brings the heat to the final set of a Portland music showcase at The Grackle