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u i blue
acoustic progressive rock with
U I Blue -- the duo of Jon Paul Davis and Laura Lindstrom -- were introduced to Musical Discoveries by Glass Hammer's Steve Babb in early 2005. So taken were our editors by the fifteen-track masterwork that an interview with the artists was immediately arranged. Their music, characterized as folk rock with an emphasis on the rock by the artists, certainly exhibits a progressive texture. The band will draw significant attention from enthusiasts of Annie Haslam-era Renaissance and related European artists like You and I, Quidam and Turquoise to name a few. Laura is a classically trained soprano; Jon Paul's songwriting takes full advantage of her vocal range, crystalline clarity and sonic power.
Read our exslusive interview with Jon Paul and Laura to learn more about how the group was formed, the origins of the music, their collaborations with Glass Hammer and the creative process below. A comprehensive review review of their album Songbird's Cry concludes this article.
Let's begin with your backgrounds. Jon Paul, will you begin for us?
Jon Paul: I was raised in France. Music has always been a big part of my life; I loved to collect CDs and immerse myself into a sonic world. After my older brother bought his first electric guitar I immediately wanted to do the same thing. In high school, my dad told me that he needed someone to play the music for the new church that was starting and that there wasn't a pianist in the congregation. So I stepped up and played guitar for each service. That was an excellent way for me to learn how to play because if the music called for a certain chord that I wasn't familiar with I had to learn it. At the same time, some friends and I got together and we started a band called Deep Karma in which I was the singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter. That was a great learning experience for me.
How about you Laura?
Laura: I have lived in Chattanooga, TN for 21 years. My parents moved us here from Texas when I was six months old so that my eldest brother, who is deaf, could attend Tennessee Temple Academy's school for the deaf. In church I did a lot of duets with my older sister. My love for music was very evident as a young child. I sang all the time. When I was 14 I joined a local choir. My teacher heard potential and gave me a solo. She worked with me one on one and when it came time for me to sing my song, I blew everyone away, even myself. That was the night I realized I wanted to sing for the rest of my life. I had never felt more confident or empowered as I did that night. It was a feeling I wanted to experience again and again. I finally had something to define myself by: I was a singer.
From that night on I started to focus on developing my voice, I was going to be a solo musician, but I didn't know where to go or what to do. I do not write songs or melodies or anything like that. I took a bit of piano but only enough to really help me read sheet music. Other than my basics in piano I do not play any instruments. So when I graduated from high school I had no real direction other than that I wanted to sing.
I decided to go to college to study music and see what would happen from there. During my semester at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, I met the guys from Glass Hammer and the owners of Sound Resources. I started recording with them and realized I did not want to pursue the classical genre of music. After just one semester of collage I discontinued my studies with the hope that Sound Resources and I could find my voice.
Were there any projects prior to U I Blue for either of you?
Laura: I did a lot of solo work, mainly weddings and occasional solos in church.
Jon Paul: I played in one group prior to U I Blue, in Lycée, at a French high school. Some friends and I played as Deep Karma but that ended when I moved the following year.
And how did you two meet?
Laura: We met at Bryan College during a freshman talent show at the beginning of the year. We noticed our respective talents and had a very loose friendship after that. At the end of the semester, I left the school because I wanted to be a solo performer, and not a classical singer or music teacher, which were the only options offered to me at Bryan.
A few weeks into the New Year, 2003, Jon Paul called me and said he had left the school too and was living with friends of his family until he could go back to France and attend college there. From that day on we started hanging out. He and I worked together on lyrics first. Jon Paul became my lyricist and then the songwriter as well. I liked Jon Paul at Bryan and now that I was getting to spend so much time with him I liked him more and more.
We started dating on and off for the next few months but never stopped collaborating on our music. Jon Paul and I knew that even if we were not a couple what we had found together musically was something that we didn't want to pass up, but as it happened we fell in love. We were engaged in August 2003. On December 20, 2003 we were married.
Jon Paul: I only did one semester at Bryan College in the fall of 2002 because I was a little frustrated with my inability to adapt to American culture. At the time I was still trying to adjust to a very different atmosphere since this was the first time I was living in America by myself. In December of that year I decided to go back to France and continue my studies there, but before I could do that I needed to wait for the fall semester and pay off the small loan that I had received for my stay at Bryan.
I stayed with some friends in Chattanooga and tried to look for a job. Since I didn't know anybody there I called a friend from Bryan and she told me that Laura had left as well and was living about five minutes from where I was. I called Laura and we started to hang out every day after that. Meanwhile my job hunting was not going well at all, and so Laura asked her father if I could write songs for her. He said yes and the next day I came over with ten new songs.
After that, I really started to enjoy the whole creative process, being a musician which was something that I had relegated to a place in the back of my mind I didn't think I would ever have the opportunity to do. That's when I started writing both the lyrics and the melodies. We started dating and after I had decided not to go back to France but to pursue a music career in the US, we thought, well, let's form a band. At the end of the year we got married in Chattanooga.
How do you find working together as a husband and wife musical team?
Laura: Honestly, it's one of the toughest parts of our marriage. Jon Paul being the songwriter, he sees things one way, and wants things to be done exactly the way he wants them. As the vocalist, I think that I should have certain creative liberties in the way I sing the songs. At the same time though, being married holds our music together. Once I learn the songs, we do really well.
Jon Paul: I find it to be a very difficult, but at the same time, a rewarding experience. For me as a songwriter it can be very hard trying to show someone the vision I have for a song when all I can play for them is a two-bit part on the guitar. Meanwhile you're saying, "Just wait, it'll be symphonic and really beautiful." Also, Laura and I hear music differently. I almost tune out the vocals and listen to them simply as another instrument, whereas the vocal line for her is the most important and sometimes the only musical line she'll hear. Trying to reconcile two different visions of one song can be arduous. In the end though, the final version of a certain song is one that both she and I are extremely proud of.
Please elaborate on the precise roles you play in U I Blue?
Laura: I am the singer. My job is to take the words that Jon Paul has written and convey to the listeners what the songs are about and get the feeling of each song across in a way that is enjoyable to listen to and to also help understand what the song is about.
How does U I Blue work?
Laura: U I Blue is Jon Paul and I. All the other parts and instruments are all studio musicians and we plan to have musicians for our live performances as well. We want U I Blue to always have the common theme of me as the lead vocalist and Jon Paul the head songwriter. From there the influence of our producers, friends and fellow musicians gives U I Blue that fun and different sound of symphonic prog-rock and the touch of modern that makes our music unique.
What's U I Blue all about for you Jon Paul?
Jon Paul: The simplest way to describe U I Blue is that it is Laura's voice and my songs. I am the songwriter and general art director for the band. I try to steer the band along a certain direction or vision that I have for each song. That said, Laura has a lot of say in the material used for the lyrics because ultimately she sings them and they are written for her. After that I work closely with our producers, Steve Babb and Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer to get a certain sound or idea that I have in my head.
Where does the name U I Blue come from?
Laura: Jon Paul and some of my family and I were all sitting around the table one night with a bunch of our lyrics spread out on the table. It was decided that we needed a name. We were all trying to think of something unique and different when we saw one of the song titles, "Untitled in Orange." Then we thought well that's cool what about that?
The biggest problem was that we live in Tennessee and the color orange is associated with the Tennessee Vols. So why not just change the color? We picked the color blue since my eyes are blue. It's also my favorite color and blue is a good color to associate with our music since it is more of the melancholic nature. We then settled on U. I. Blue, making it more interesting. And thus, Untitled In Blue was born.
Jon Paul: When I first write a song it doesn't always have a title. A title is something that either comes immediately or over a period of time, and so to recall the songs that don't have a title I give them temporary names. I really like how the classical composers would entitle some of their work "untitled in Ab" or whatever key the song was in. Since I hadn't taken any music theory, I didn't know what key my songs are in so I assigned colors, which are far more interesting than numbers and letters anyways. A happy song was yellow or red, a sad song purple or blue.
What kind of music--or artists perhaps--has influenced your own?
Laura: Well my background musically was very different from Jon Paul's. I grew up listening to Enya, Madonna, Sarah Brightman, Celine Dion, Cher, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand and people like Sarah McLachlan. I was classically trained and was much more in to the sound of the vocalists in songs than the actually background music. I listened to a lot of classical music, oldies and soft rock. Before Jon Paul came along I was almost clueless about artists such as Muse, Placebo and even big names such as Radiohead. He showed me a whole new world of music I never even knew existed.
Jon Paul: When I was in middle school I only listened to classical music. And then I remembered one day, my older brother bought Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins. I was blown away. Until I was in my last year of high school I swore by the Pumpkins. I rarely listened to anything else. Billy Corgan painted my soundscapes everyday.
In my senior year, one of my teachers introduced me to Elliott Smith, Beck, Air, Ben Harper, Jeff Buckley, Bjork, Coldplay and Radiohead, and so much more. After that I couldn't get enough of new music. I would buy an album, overdose on it and get another one. I got into French music with great bands like Noir Desir, M, Yann Tiersen, Paris Combo, Matmatah, Keren Ann, Kaolin and Autour de Lucie.
I would have to say that my two biggest influences are Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins. I have to say though that right now, I've been listening to a mix of everything, mainly because of my mp3 player.
How would you characterize U I Blue's music?
Jon Paul: Our music is folk rock that leans more on the rock. I describe it as folk rock because I use a lot of acoustic guitars and I try to keep my melodies very simple. That said, it's much more rock than folk. I would also say that it has undertones of symphonic prog-rock because of the influence given to the album by Glass Hammer, icons in the prog-rock world. We use ebows, mellotrons, a good deal of keyboards and strings that add immensity to it all. I also wanted to include a bit of electronica with some drum and bass samples, along with ethereal backgrounds.
Laura, how did you develop your voice and where do the inspirations for your work come from?
Laura: Two main instructors trained me classically for four years: the first was the director of a local choir, Myrra Smith. Without her I don't know that I would even be singing today. She saw my potential and asked to take me on as a vocal student when I was fourteen.
Then I went to study at Cadek Conservatory of Music. My second teacher, Paula Abernathy taught me technique, proper breath support, diction and how to make the music my own. After that I went to college for one semester and studied music. What I realized at college was that my conservatory training prepared me is to either be a classical vocalist, opera singer, choir member, choir director or vocal teacher. I did not want to be any of those things, I wanted to be a diva, a soloist, an original, I wanted to find my own voice and sing in a style that is all my own.
So I stopped studying in college and started recording cover songs at the local sound studio Sound Resources. Nothing was working. Everything I sang I tried to sing like the original artists, and there was nothing special or unique about the stuff I was doing, or would make me stand out. Then Jon Paul and I reconnected from school and we started doing music together.
We worked on a couple songs on the side and one day decided to go to the recording studio and show my producers the new material. When we played the new music and I sang, they were like, "Laura, this is it, you finally found your voice." There was no one for me to copy or simulate. It was all me with nothing to compare my self to. Plus Jon Paul started writing all of the songs for me and thus I could really relate to the music in a way that I had never been able to relate to other music. I had finally come into my own.
Where does the European influence in your music originate?
Jon Paul: I listen to a lot of French music, I read a lot of French novels, I try to watch a French movie every month and I also talk to my family in French. That helps me keep the language in a prominent light. A lot of the European influence is innate though. I hear and see music differently because of my upbringing. One way to incorporate European influence is to keep a lot of French lyrics in the songs. That helps me to visualize the songs differently. I also write each song with the hope that they will one day catch on in France.
How did you come across the guys from Glass Hammer?
Laura: I met Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of Glass Hammer through Tony Smith, a graphic artist who works with GH. He's a friend of my dad's and when he found out that I was a budding vocalist he gave my dad their number. That was back in the winter of 2002.
What has the collaboration been like?
Laura: Our work with Glass Hammer has been amazing and innovating. Jon Paul and I both learned so much about music and the industry through working with them. Not only are we lucky to get to work with Glass Hammer, but I have also been a guest vocalist on a few of their songs. Talk about an honor. Our music would not have the polished professional sound that it does without them.
Jon Paul: Our collaboration with Sound Resources is tremendous. We get along very well, not only as musicians but also as friends.
Did you ever think about working with some of the Glass Hammer female vocalists?
Laura: At this point we have not found a need to work with the girls of Glass Hammer. But on Songbird's Cry, we used another female vocalist named, Tracy Boyette, a blues singer that Fred Schendel introduced us to. She does the female background vocals on "I Can't Help Myself."
Jon Paul: I haven't really thought about using the GH vocalists mainly because the voice of U I Blue is Laura's and I wanted to first album to really cement that idea. For the subsequent albums though, there's no telling what may happen.
Please tell us about the making of Songbird's Cry.Laura: It took about a year and a half from start to finish. Jon Paul started with just writing lyrics for me and it went from there to writing the melodies as well. What took the longest was narrowing down which songs we thought were the best and then waiting on the studio to finish fine-tuning the final product. We had no idea how long everything would take to complete our album. We just thought hey, write the songs, record the stuff and presto an album! But now we know, if you want a product that can stand out on its own you have to put in a lot of time and effort.
Jon Paul: It was a long process that taught us a lot. I think the first album is the hardest one to get out, not only because the whole process is new but also because we wanted everything to be perfect. At first we toyed with the idea of recording two albums at once, but we started to see that all the good songs were on the second album. So we stopped that idea and pooled all the songs together and picked the best ones.
We also thought about having the album self-titled, and then we thought about calling it Mad Keys. In the end though we settled on Songbird's Cry. Writing the songs for the album wasn't hard. At first Laura and I would talk about what she was going through or a certain issue and I would try to write a song around it so that she could really identify with the song. Later on, the newer songs became a love poem from me to her.
So is there a story you are trying to convey in the album?
Jon Paul: Oh definitely, the story is love. Every single one of the songs on the album is a love song, in one shape or another from me to Laura. When I try to sit down and write a specific song it's never forthcoming. After a few moments struggling with the process I'll think about Laura and the words start to flow from my pen.
Can you tell us how the guest performers were selected and a little bit about your experiences working with them.
Jon Paul: The guest performers were selected because they were the best we could find at what they do. For example, bassist Terry Clouse of Somnambulist is a demon of ingenuity on his instrument. He's a really nice guy and tremendously easy to work with. All of the musicians we met through Sound Resources. Laura and I didn't ever need to search for anyone. If we had an idea we would tell Steve and Fred, and they would call someone that was immensely talented.
Is there a song that sticks out for each of you?
Laura: My favorite song is "I Waited." Jon Paul actually wrote the main body of this song before we even met. For me this song is so special because it tells the story of my life relationship-wise. So for me this song means a lot. I identify with the song when I sing it because I really did do what it says, I waited, I waited for Jon Paul. It's a love song that I get to sing to him that he wrote.
Jon Paul: The last song "The Songbird's Cry, Part 2" is my favorite. It really sticks out because that's the one I worked on the most. It's also the song I had to defend the most to get on the album. Some of our family said that it was a little too heavy for the image we wanted. I believed in it though, and I think it's easily the most ambitious song I've written to date. It's the culmination of the album; the perfect way to end a great CD.
Do you plan any live performances?
Laura: We have done just a couple of coffee shops and local venues, partly because we only have an acoustic set. Performing live is something I have always loved doing. Being in front of an audience is always a challenge and a lot of fun. Our main focus at this time though is being studio musicians and recording incredible music. We would love to perform on a higher level with the full production sometime when the opportunity arises.
Jon Paul: It's true, we love to perform, but as of right now our main focus is marketing the album. We are however getting different musicians together so that in the near future we can go out and play our music to it's full extent.
What has the reaction to your debut album been like?
Laura: Very positive! People really enjoy my voice and the production, plus Jon Paul's melodies are catchy and people really like that. We live in Chattanooga TN, not exactly the music Mecca of the world so our main focus has been on promoting ourselves through the Internet. So far we have received some orders from distributors as far away as Japan. We are very confident in our work and hope to continue making and playing exquisite songs.
Do you think the Internet will help your musical career?
Laura: Were counting on it. Since we are an independent group we really need the awesome power of the Internet to get our name out there and find distributors, reviewers and fans. The tough thing right now is finding them. Jon Paul and I are new at everything so it's a day-by-day process figuring out what to do next.
Jon Paul: Yes, I really do think that the Internet will help our music career. It's thanks to the Internet that independent bands can be on the same footing as giant record label backed bands. With the Internet and an unique product, anything is possible.
Do you have day jobs that our readers might be interested in hearing about?
Laura: I work at Curves, a fitness club for women, I really enjoy all the different ladies I meet, and its nice I get to exercise on the job. I work in the mornings so that my afternoons and evenings are free for music and what ever else I need to get done. Curves has a fabulous work atmosphere and I really love all the people I work with, It's nice to be able to say I love going to my day job!
Jon Paul: I'm an aspiring artist. I sold my first piece a couple days ago. I'm apprenticing under Bart Lindstrom, Laura's father and a phenomenal artist. I think that painting and music go hand in hand since both are creative and inspiring on multiple levels.
What are your hopes plans and dreams for the rest of 2005?
Laura: Get our name out there! We are hoping to use the sales from Songbirds Cry to fund our next album tentatively entitled A Story of me / A Story of you. We'd also love to get a tour together, maybe even in Europe.
Songbird's Cry (Monseur Music (USA) MBP8024, 2005) is a fifteen-track, just over 70-minute collection of acoustically-influenced progressive rock tunes. In addition to the leadeership of the duo, Fred Schendel contributes string and other arrangements. Editing loops and original sound effects are provided by Steve Babb. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered at Sound Resources. Jon Paul plays acoustic guitar and adds backup and French vocals and contributes piano to "The Songbird's Cry, Part 1" and electric rhythm guitar to the album's standout "No One" and also on "Mad Keys."
The studio lineup is further expanded with contributions from Terry Clouse (bass), Steve Babb (keyboard), Fred Schendel (keyboards, mellotron, electric guitars, elbow, drums and percussion, bass), Jay Cravey (clarinet), Tracy Boyette (additional vocals on "I Can't Help Myself"), Ben Davis (acoustic guitar on "Monologue"). The Adonia String Trio includes Rebecca James (violin), Susan Hawkins (violia) and Rachel Hackenburger (cello).
The album opens with "The Songbird's Cry, Part 1," and progressive textures are woven with keyboards and guitars behind Laura's gorgeous crystalline vocals. However the album quickly develops with in the standout "I Can't Help Myself," stunning guitar excursions following a whispy clarinet solo that opens the bass-underscored number. Pay close attention to Terry Clouse's bass part here; the sound further evolves across the remaining tracks. Laura's vocals search evocatively in verses to be joined by acoustic guitar and crisp percussion in the chorus, joined by Jon Paul's understated vocal textures and Tracy Boyette's soaring harmonies. Multiple mid-sections weave further clarinet and keys into the melodies.
The album avoids sameness in "When You Call," a ballad with Laura's tender vocals backed only by acoustic guitar and an occasional vocalization by Jon Paul. Further vocal layers and keyboard washes contribute to the track's mid-section. We were reminded of some of the simpler arrangements in several tracks on Michael Dunford's Renaissance album Ocean Gypsy. Listen for similar textures in the lovely track "I Waited."
The rhythmic track "Unbroken" is a tremendous track, driven by percussive bass and Jon Paul's guitar, Laura's crystalline vocal searching evocatively accompanied by lovely self-harmonies and Jon Paul's understated backing vocals. Rich keyboard- and electric guitar-laced instrumentation atop acoustic guitar joins Laura's lead vocal in the mid-tempo folk rock melody of "Thoughts in an Hourglass." The European sound emerges with Jon Paul's French vocals working opposite Laura's lead. In the progressive ballad "White City," the acoustic guitar is joined by the string section to produce a stunning arrangement. Sung as an English/French duet by Laura and Jon Paul, piano solos are intersperced between and melodies tucked below the sung parts; an accordion part continues to develop the European sound.
"Dis-moi" is a lovely ballad sung entirely by Jon Paul, even the high part, in French atop a gentle piano arrangement that develops further with keyboard washes. "Monologue" is purely instrumental with the melody produced with woodwinds and supported by acoustic guitar and unusual percussion. Various sound effects contribute to the track's serene mood.
The album's standout track is an upbeat progressive masterpiece entitled "No One." String arrangements weave in and out of prominence in opposition to the powerful acoustic arrangement and Laura's soaring and crystalline vocal. Incredible electric guitar solos, additional solos by the strings and rich keyboard washes join the powerful and pulsating bass part. Laura's vocal returns following the song's mid-section to bring the song to an incredible conclusion.
"Tomorrow" is sung as a duet between the artists, and the only number that could use further touch up in the entire collection. Laura's vocal in the progressive ballad "Roses Artificially Made" is reminscent of Michelle Loose from Brave (review). We especially enjoyed the interplay between her vocalise and the electric guitar solo in the song's mid-section. The acoustic guitar-backed ballad "My Dove," sung as a duet love song between Laura and Jon Paul is delightful--a standout. Lovely arrangements thicken with rich keyboard washes, melodic bass and vocal layers in the latter portion of the song.
"Mad Keys" is the first of richly arranged progressive numbers that conclude the album. The first, written much in the style of Annie Haslam-era Renaissance has a piano-laced foundation. Laura's powerful vocals are punctuated by rich keyboard washed passages and Jon Paul's additional harmonies. Lovely vocalise contributes to the texture of the main melody. The album concludes with the bookend to the opening track "Songbird's Cry, Part 2." The a capella introduction clearly illustrates Laura's significant vocal talent. Then accompanied by rich string arrangements, pulsing percussion, the number develops with Jon Paul's French vocals. Arrangements build from stark to powerful with string solos initially underscoring Laura's solo vocals and are then contrasted by thick progressive guitar/bass/percussion textures and individual solos that precede Laura's a capella conclusion.
U I Blue have clearly entered the music scene with a tremendous debut album that is certain to delight progressive music enthusiasts. Stunning instrumental arrangements, vast guitar excursions and pulsating bass are joined by tremendous string arrangements and crisp percussion. Laura's soaring soprano vocals are crystalline throughout and mixed perfectly with the instrumentals. Production by the Glass Hammer team is most notable. Clearly a contender for the best album of 2005, U I Blue has a very bright future.
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