[Interview] Civil Twilight Gets Back to Basics on Story of an Immigrant

Civil Twilight Press shot

Let Civil Twilight’s Steven McKellar tell it, and the worst thing a band can do is let things get too complicated. Unfortunately, midway through recording their third studio album that was exactly where the South African band was. Cutting track after track, they couldn’t find a sound suited for sculpting a record around.

“You should hear the other demos that we’ve made, you’ll have a five-minute song that’s like six different musical styles,” McKellar joked. “You’ll go to the bridge and it’ll be a jazz-fusion breakdown and then the chorus is a slash metal thing, it’s all over the place.”

As the writing process wore on, the band, comprised of McKellar, his brother Andrew, Richard Wouters and Kevin Dailey, found themselves consistently circling back to one rough, soulful track that began with skittering hand drums and flashes of guitar, before opening up to sweeping synths and guitars that gleamed like an unobstructed horizon.

That record, “Story of an Immigrant,” wound up being not only the title track for their third full-length, which was released by Wind-Up Records in July, but also the project’s inspiration.

That a South African band now living in Nashville (humorously McKellar described as a “…land of milk and honey where the rents are cheap and the beers are cheap”) would make an album called Story of an Immigrant might seem almost too on the nose, but the meaning is not as literal as appears.

“[It’s about] where we’ve came from, the journey that we’ve taken to get here, what it means to be an immigrant. Not just within borders or physically, but just people when you’re trying to discover a home or a place of comfort and peace,” McKellar explained.

It’s been three years since Civil Twilight released Holy Weather, a solid album that is much darker than the rest of the band’s discography. It’s very of-the-moment, fitting in perfectly with other strong, yet sullen indie rock releases like Local Natives’ Hummingbird or Half Moon Run’s Dark Eyes.

“The second record’s got this feel of vagrancy, and timelessness to it. Like we’re vagabonds roaming, this one’s a bit more stable,” McKellar explained.

A lot of that, he says, came from the writing process. Where Holy Weather was written on the road out of necessity, the band made a concerted effort to get back to their roots on the new album, composing and recording as a unit in a stationary location. That openness is felt throughout the album, and is a major reason why Story of an Immigrant is Technicolor to its predecessor’s grayscale.

According to McKellar, a lot of the cohesion can be chocked up to the addition of Dailey, who they’d played with in the past. Dailey wrote a lot of what ended up on the album, and also brought a self-awareness that was instrumental.

“On a social level he brought in a sense of humor, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously and just to have fun,” said McKellar. “…The style of his writing is from a place that I felt like I couldn’t get back to anymore, and it helped me as a songwriter get back there. That’s sort of the theme, is getting back to the old thing.”

One of the tracks that Dailey contributed is “Love Was All That Mattered,” the album’s ghostly acoustic closer. It’s the furthest sonic left turn on Story of an Immigrant, as synths sweep across the soundscape like a stiff breeze while McKellar reflects wistfully on a past relationship gone awry.

“It’s a sad song, but it’s got elements of hope to it,” said McKellar, who noted that it was the first song he’d recorded without writing the lyrics. “I think we wanted to end with that song because it wasn’t like going out with a bang, it was like leaving a little question mark.”

While “Love Was All That Mattered” is a solemn exit note, the rest of Story of an Immigrant beams with joy and a welcome sense of relief. “When, When” has shades of Vampire Weekend’s “Everlasting Arms,” and with its frenetic production and scratchy guitar showcases Civil Twilight at their freewheeling best.

Elsewhere, “Holy Dove” harnesses some of the harsher energy of Holy Weather into a hard-driving anthem, and the hook bursts to life in a way that practically forces you to stomp your feet and nod your head.

Front to back, Story of an Immigrant is a confident, infectious record that showcases Civil Twilight’s comfort with not only their place in music, but also as artists themselves. The album is a testament to the power of cohesion and simplicity, which McKellar believes are two of the most fundamental aspects of keeping your head above water in the music world.

“For me a band’s not anything if the members aren’t loving each other, it doesn’t mean anything. I hate seeing bands like that, that get up on stage and don’t even want to acknowledge each other,” he said. “[It] shouldn’t get any more complex than four dudes playing music together.”

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Oh, Be Clever – River

Cover, Oh, Be Clever's "River"

New music from Oh, Be Clever (who you met on this site a few months back) is always a welcome sound to my ears, and their newest track, “River”, is a great flex of muscles I hadn’t seen the duo show off yet.

If you’ve been following Oh, Be Clever closely, you’ll be familiar with the fact that a lot of their songs incorporate bigger instrumentals underneath singer Brittney Shields’ big vocals, but “River” is one of the more somber sounding instrumentals I’ve heard producer/writer Cory Layton put together thus far. The end result is a showcase of the wide array of sounds the duo can cover without feeling any kind of overstretched.

Overall, this song only adds to my thoughts on the ceiling of Oh, Be Clever. I’ve lived in Utah a long time, and I can’t recall a time that I’ve been as excited to see the future of an act as I am with this group.

Check out “River” here!

-Kyle Copier


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EDX – Belong


Twenty years of anything is a long time, making EDX‘s twenty-year career in dance music an even more impressive feat. To give you a little perspective, twenty years ago, in 1995, the World Wide Web was first made available to the general public, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart with their track, “One Sweet Day,” the average cost of gas was $1.09/gallon, and EDX kicked off his career.

Nearly two decades later, EDX has managed to stay at the forefront of the dance music industry, thanks to his tireless work effort in the studio and arduous tour schedule that has seen the Italian-born artist embark on two massive world tours in this year alone. Last year, the Swiss beat-maker underwent a sonic evolution, as his uplifting progressive stylings morphed into a deeper, club-ready sound, and this year has seen EDX champion his new, refined sound. EDX has dominated the summer with anthemic remixes of Sam Feldt’s “Show Me Love” and Spada’s “Catchfire (Sun Sun Sun),” which charged to the top of the charts on their way to over 30 million plays, and he’s closing out the warmer months strong with his latest track, “Belong.”

If EDX’s remix of “Show Me Love” was the beautiful beginning of a summer fling, “Belong” is the sad goodbye between two young lovers. The stand-out vocals drive the track through powerful, pulsing bass lines and smooth piano hooks that deliver a strong feeling of nostalgia for the bright, sunny days of the summer. Peep it below.

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Kiiara – Feels (Love Thy Brother Remix)

kiiara - feels (love thy brother remix)

Twenty-year-old Kiiara has been one of the summer’s brightest stars. She stormed onto the scene 2 months ago, displaying a futuristic, glitched-out electronic-meets-R&B vibe in her debut track, “Gold,” that catapulted the singer-songstress into the spotlight. Last week, she dropped the third track of her slowly-growing catalog, “Feels,” and it took over the music industry by storm, receiving support from industry tastemakers like Zane Lowe and Annie Mac, ahead of the release of Kiiara’s debut EP, Meet Me On The Cornfield.

I didn’t know about Kiiara until she dropped “Feels” last week, but just seconds into the track I knew that I had to write something about it – it was that good, and that beautiful. Now, the “Feels” remixes are starting to roll in, and as a die-hard electronic music fan and a budding Kiiara fan, I just had to shine a spotlight Love Thy Brother’s re-imagination of the track.

Gone is the futuristic, leaned-out R&B production by Felix Snow, and in its place, the Toronto-based duo has crafted a web of dark, pulsing basslines, subtle electronic textures, and sparkling synth arrangements that walk alongside Kiiara’s ethereal voice to elevate the track to a completely different level. This one will still get you right in the “Feels,” but it’s gonna hurt a little less.

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[MP3] Milan – Lime

Milan singer

Milan‘s SoundCloud bio reads, “Producing. Singing. Strumming. Reminiscing,” and all four skills are certainly on display with “Limes,” her most recent single.

The track falls into the dark pop genre, but it is elevated by her nuanced production and well-timed splashes of guitar. The Sydney-based double-threat is also a stronger singer than many similar musicians, which she shows off on a few gorgeous riffs throughout the record.

There is a jazzy, effortless quality here, which is a far cry from many of her competitors who rely heavily on studio effects for their vocal dynamism. When she isn’t belting, Milan moves the song’s narrative forward with a rapid fire flow showcasing not only her songwriting but also her versatility on the mic.

Her Glass Eyes EP from earlier in the year was impressive, and “Lime” builds nicely on the promise Milan showed. The drums hit harder, whirring and skittering around her vocals, and the track has a mainstream sensibility that gives it major hit potential.

Despite the bevy of similar artists out there, it’s tough to find a great comparison for Milan. On the surface she may seem like another indie pop vocalist, but her confidence and production talent pushes her above the fray.

Further proof that when it comes to merging electronic influences and pop music, Australians simply do it better.

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Gallant – Weight in Gold (Louis Vivet Remix)


As soon as Gallant’s “Weight In Gold” was premiered on Beats 1 by Zane Lowe, it was clear that the rousing, LA-based R&B revivalist was going to be the subject of numerous remixes – and three months later, it’s safe to say that “Weight In Gold” has been re-imagined, re-invented, and remixed to our hearts desire. With so many different takes on the track ranging from a stand-out cover by Olivia Knox, to an impressive future rendition by Louis Futon, I was all but over listening to any more remixes of the track – that is, until I heard Louis Vivet’s stellar remix and just had to write about it.

Louis Vivet is carving out a strong niche for themselves in the booming LA dance music scene, as their sonic style is a delicate balance between electronic and pop. Their music lacks the groove of house, but more than makes up for it with its heavy, emotional melodies and introspective aura. In the past, Louis Vivet has delivered superb re-makes of Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight” and Miike Snow’s “Silvia,” but there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ve taken their music to another level with their remix of “Weight in Gold.”

Gallant’s soaring croons are met head-on with a beautiful, orchestral arrangement that makes the track feel as big as Madison Square Garden. Heavy-hitting, electro-tinged synth melodies sit alongside a booming bass line, elevating the R&B-meets-electronic vibe of the original. It’s a remix made for the late nights kicking it with the homies, or the days where you just need a pick me up. Peep it below.

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