A Quick 15 Minutes With YG, Rap's Hottest New Star

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photos courtesy of Universal Music Group/Island Def Jam
At heart, YG is an everyman rapper to the core. He doesn't completely crowd the mind with a ton of abject wordplay like his Compton compatriot Kendrick Lamar, but instead crafts pop-rap tunes that bite with far more believable menace than, say, Rick Ross.

His first major effort came in 2009 with L.A. singer Ty Dolla $ign on the "find 'em, fuck 'em and flee"-espousing underground hit "Toot It & Boot It." Soon after he inked a deal with fabled New York label Def Jam Records but his career stalled thanks to a burglary conviction, the date of which he commemorates on the cover of his new album. But since his release, YG's blunted tone in tandem with West Coast producer/current radio kingpin DJ Mustard has forced Def Jam's hand through a series of buzzworthy mixtapes, culminating in his chart-topping March debut My Krazy Life.

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Drake Leaks Dates of His Cryptic "Houston Appreciation Weekend"

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photo by Marco Torres
See you soon, Drizzy?
When he's not being the nicest rapper ever, Drake tends to surprise fans with random song releases in the wee hours of the morning, cryptic tweets and multiple moments of canoodling with Rihanna. The sad part about the Rihanna thing is that our boy Aubrey is fine and dandy with the fact that she's in love with somebody else and is only "holding on to go home" with Drizzy because being a popular sex symbol who's also single is a bitch.

Last month, in a cryptic, message-board-like posting on his October's Very Own Web site, Drake made mention of a "Houston Appreciation Weekend," but gave up little else apart from a simple logo. Well, now we know via his Instagram that it's at least a tour kicking off on June 13 and ending June 15, three dates that Toyota Center, House of Blues and Warehouse Live all happen to have open (for now).

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Canada's Rip-Roaring Monster Truck Packs Tons of Furiosity

Photos courtesy of SKH Media
Monster Truckers: Steve Kiely, Brandon Bliss, Jeremy Widerman, and Jon Harvey

For this article, this wasn't supposed to be how Rocks Off interviewed Jeremy Widerman, guitarist/singer for the heavy, heavy Canadian classic rock-inspired band Monster Truck.

Widerman was supposed to call from Germany, where the band was wrapping up some European dates before heading to the U.S. and open gigs for Alter Bridge and then Alice in Chains. But when the agreed-upon time came and went, we received a text from their U.S.-based publicist vaguely mentioning that the band "had been pulled over by the cops in Germany and were still dealing with it."

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Jeff Bridges Abides, in or out of Character

Photo courtesy of Warehouse Live
When it comes to music, Jeff Bridges is not some dilettantish actor noodling around with a guitar. Inspired by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he and a friend would play hootenannys at L.A. clubs like Ledbetter's while still in high school. Years later, while filming the infamous 1980 western Heaven's Gate, Bridges met a couple of co-star Kris Kristofferson's musician buddies from Texas: Fort Worth natives Stephen Bruton and T. Bone Burnett.

That friendship culminated almost 20 years later with Crazy Heart, which won Bridges a Best Actor Oscar for his role as down-but-not-quite-out singer Bad Blake and former Austin singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham a Best Original Song statue for "The Weary Kind."; it couldn't help but renew Bridges' interest in his own musical pursuits as well. Over the phone, though, he comes across much more like his bathrobe-Zen character from 1996 1998 Coen Brothers classic The Big Lebowski, who might have even been a musician himself. Rocks Off was lucky enough to pick Bridges' brain last week while he waited for someone to bring his car around one California morning.

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Revenge of the Music Nerds: Arcade Fire Wins

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Photo by JF LaLonde/Courtesy of Nasty Little Man
Arcade Fire: William Butler is second from right
Arcade Fire's William Butler admits he still gets homesick for Texas. Even the weather...up to a point.

"I miss how green everything was all the time always," he says of his youth in The Woodlands from his current home in Montreal. "You'd come home in December and the lawns would still be green, and there'd be flowers and...you know, that feeling. I like one day of summer that feels like Houston, like one day where it's 100 degrees and 102 percent humidity, where you walk outside and you're just like, 'This is stupid.'

"I like that one day, or maybe three days," continues Butler, who is two and a half years younger than his brother Win, the band's front man. "But not necessarily in a row. I do occasionally miss that aspect of the weather."

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Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield: At Home Wherever She Goes

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Emma Swann
Waxahatchee front woman Katie Crutchfield is a homebody...sort of.

Geographically speaking, she's relatively nomadic. Born and bred in Alabama, Crutchfield was raised as Southern as they come. Three years ago, however, she left Alabama at age 22 and headed east to Philadelphia, where her band Waxahatchee's notable folk-meets-pop-punk album Cerulean Salt was recorded. Then shortly after the album's 2013 release, she and boyfriend/bandmate Keith Spencer relocated to New York, where they now reside.

At her core, however, Crutchfield is a homebody, in both the personal and professional senses of the word. Maintaining a home base, despite some geographic shuffling, is vital to a person like her. In fact, her career depends on it.

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Be Kind, Rewind: The Bedroom Brilliance of Radiator Hospital

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photo by John Hanson
At 22 years old, Radiator Hospital auteur Sam Cook-Parrott was just a baby during the early '90s, when the DIY ethic worked its way into rock music for good. He definitely carries on that modus operandi in Radiator Hospital, more often than not his one-man band.

While other bands often describe their lo-fi sound as "bedroom" pop, Radiator Hospital exemplifies the genre; all of Cook-Parrott's albums have literally been recorded in his own bedroom (or basement), by himself or with the help of his friends.

Despite the quality sound of Radiator Hospital's 2013 album Something Wild, it too was recorded in Cook-Parrott's own basement in Philadelphia, with the help of his engineering-savvy friend Kyle Gilbride. A feverish collection of punk-tinged guitar pop, the LP "sounds like a pro record" despite its modest production, according to Cook-Parrott.

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'90s Survivors the Gin Blossoms: "There Won't Be Too Many Left Turns"

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Doug Merrick Media/Sigi Photography
L-R: Scott "Scotty" Johnson, Bill Leen, Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela of the Gin Blossoms
When Rocks Off reached Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela recently, he was a man on a mission. But it had nothing to do with either creating or playing music.

"I'm taking a walk through my neighborhood and going to the store to get taco ingredients. I'm making them for my boy tonight," he says. "It will be taco madness at my house! You're welcome to stop by!"

Seeing as how the West Coast is a long way to drive for a dish that Houston does pretty well already, we politely declined.

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The Gospel According to Scott H. Biram: Nothin' But Blood

Photo courtesy of Bloodshot Records
The last time Rocks Off really caught up with Scott H. Biram, Austin's "Dirty Old One Man Band" helped us with our continuing mission to teach appropriate concert behavior to Houston audiences. We figured he was a good guy to ask because at the time (June 2011), he had just gone off on a fan via Facebook for being loud during a recent Memphis show, saying "if you don't like getting told to shut up at my shows...don't stand in front of the stage during quiet songs and talk about how often you wash your hair."

That's still good advice. Biram's extended list of behavior to avoid also included "throw beer or anything at me or my equipment," "clap along with no rhythm" and "steal merch and spill shit on the merch table." These days the 39-year-old singer-songwriter (who turns 40 next month) has a deep enough catalog that he's not quite sure what kind of crowd he'll see from night to night, he admits.

"I have a pretty eclectic fan base," Biram says. "So...one time it will be more of a listening-type [audience], people who are there to actually listen, or it will be like Seattle the other night, [which] bordered on a mosh pit the whole time. I didn't know you could mosh to country music until I started playing."

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Against Me! Today: "No Sugar Dust or Fancy Tricks"

Photo courtesy of 'Stache Media
Every half-decade or so, a band becomes the epicenter of a punk-gone-popular zeitgeist. The Clash became hybrid sonic legends underpinned by a political conscience, Nirvana delivered the sludge-core ennui of the Pacific Northwest to the masses, Green Day brought tightly coiled power-trio fare to FM-radio daylight of FM radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made Williamsburg art-punk a common experience. Most recently, Florida's Against Me! sailed beyond Southern brethren like Hot Water Music and agitprop peers like Anti-Flag.

First, they combined stripped-down, raucous sea-chanty punk with narrative finesse, then honed a forceful, deeply accessible and smartly barbed musicality, like Cheap Trick bred from Marxism. Fans grew like mushrooms after a pounding rain.

Then the world turned upside down. After years of battling his own self, singer Thomas Gabel transformed into Laura Jane Grace. Against Me!'s newest effort, the concept album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, is an honest, bracing and invigorating exploration of gender identity, as well as the band's fiercest album in years. A few weeks earlier, Rocks Off caught up with drummer Atom Willard during their current tour.

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