Julia Massey & The Five Finger Discount is a sweetly trippy, magical musical trio led by dreamy flaxen-blonde vocalist/keyboardist Julia and flanked by her happily-raging rhythm section, Geoff B. Gibbs (bass) and Dominic Cortese (drums).
On their new full-length album Five Letters From Far Away Julia Massey & The Five Finger Discount make a glorious, gorgeous racket referencing both the stately side and sonorous adventures of several decades of Joni Mitchell, and the boisterous ambience of Beta Band, Mates of State, or The Books. Also, they kinda make “children’s songs for adults” like They Might Be Giants (“my mom keeps saying I should make a kids’ album!” Julia says).
Five Letters From Far Away is a brave story referring to the letters Julia’s dad wrote for her while she was growing up, one each year on her birthday. The intention was to give them to her on her 18th birthday. But then he passed away when she was 15. Her mother gave her the letters and they have been a source of love and encouragement for her throughout her life, reflected in her writing and performing. The urgent, adorable, propulsive opener, “TOP 100” the breathe-along “Sri Ma,” and the anthemic acoustic guitar-led closer “Here Is A Stone Wall” show how beautifully Julia was inspired by her father’s gift. And how majestically her band gets that message of love, grace, and forgiveness across.
Julia and Geoff and Dom share a deep passion for Pho between playing their own private festivals -- while also playing out at legendary Seattle venues like the Triple Door and the Showbox (along with the Tractor, Sunset, and Barboza) with similarly adept and inspired artists as Camille Bloom, Robb Benson, Red Jacket Mine, Carla Torgerson, Wayne Horvitz, the Hoot Hoots, the Great Um, and many others.
Listening to Five Letters From Far Away is homegrown band bliss, as it was written over the course of a year, engineered and recorded by Geoff in Dom's house for over a month, and then produced by London Bridge local recording legend David Miner at HIS own house. Its bright cosmic journeys and dusky blues-pop sounds just like a bunch of friends that love to dance whilst it plays its own music, which always they do (even Dom bashing away behind his kit).
“The new album feels like a culminating effort at this point,” Julia says. Matching the openness of the lyrics, “We have a wider expanse in this music than we used to have -- more instrumental passages, tastes of different genres, etc. The main difference on this record that we haven’t really explored before, is letting it be so music-led, and stopped worrying about what people expect. We want to surprise folks, the way that making this music shocked us as we put it together.”
Dominic Cortese - Drums, Percussion
Geoff B. Gibbs - Bass, Guitar, VOX, Percussion
Julia Massey - Guitar, VOX, Keyboard.
"brains in bubbles" (2005)
"moons & stars convene" (littlepioneer records, 2007)
"i'm not hollow" (2010)
"is there room for me" (2011)
"five letters from far away" (coming in 2013)
There Is A Song
I Saw the Bear
Out, Into Themselves
The Man Who Could Float
Julia Massey Show Preview
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Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount have found a way to make upbeat, almost childlike music at...Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount have found a way to make upbeat, almost childlike music at times, without coming across as twee. It is not an easy feat to pull off, but when it works the reward is obvious. My hat is off to them for that.
Massey sings and plays keys in front of an excellent rhythm section that is made up of bassist Geoff Gibbs and drummer Dominic Cortese (Massey’s brother-in-law and also the drummer of quite-good rock duo The Jesus Rehab with his brother Jared). Her voice is hard to categorize but fits instantly in with instrumentation underneath it. The song I’m most hung up on is “Top 100,” the first song from the new Five Letters from Far Away, which came out in early January locally and is getting a national release March 19. “Top 100? is about two and a half minutes of irrational exuberance put to music and the video somehow works double-time as PSA for the American Dental Association. The songs from Five Letters were inspired by letters Massey received from her father after he died when she was a teenager. It’s that maturity in the lyrics that gives the music a necessary edge. With song titles like “Song of the Dying” and “Who Silently Suffers?” that are still accessible and hopeful, it makes for a unique and inviting sound from one of the better, underrated bands in the Northwest.
Five Letters From Far Away
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Seeing how much fun Julia Massey and her band mates have, it’s hard to imagine that this band does a...Seeing how much fun Julia Massey and her band mates have, it’s hard to imagine that this band does anything but write and perform music for their personal joy. Their natural chemistry suggests that when they play music, they are doing just that; playing. Though ranging in age from later twenties to early thirties, the three members, Julia Massey, Geoff Gibbs, and Dominic Cortese, seem to approach their music with the natural excitement of children heading to recess. The result of this recent year-long recess is “Five Letters From Far Away”, an 11-track collection that is an exercise in the balance of peaks and valleys, sorrows and joys.
Kick-off track “Top 100” is as joyful as it gets. Starting with quick tinkering piano, Massey suggests that her listeners take a break from “the age of information” and appreciate what is in front of us and what we may be missing due to preoccupation with the future. The song is a light, quick sled ride, riding a very catchy melody in the verse.
“Marquee Malarky” is the first song on the album to bring the mood down a bit, opening with the lines “In the gentle arms of sleep, I buried you deep down.” Like all of Massey’s best songs, even the bummer tunes with the deeper message offer a silver lining. The moral of this story is “We don’t need a bit of praise to know that we’re okay. Know that you’re okay”. She has a way of driving important life lessons home through her unique and soothing voice, even if she’s telling her listeners something they aren’t ready to accept.
“Don’t Worry Bout Us” is the most fun the rhythm section of Gibbs (bass) and Cortese (drums) get to have on the record, especially in the breakdown around the 3-minute mark. When Gibbs plays less reserved, his talents as an above and beyond bassist really shine through, perfectly exemplified in the fantastic groove he and Cortese create toward the song’s end.
If “Don’t Worry Bout Us” is the highest high, then “Song Of The Dying” is the lowest low. With no cheery piano to rely on, Massey gets deeply personal. She sings a song about a young girl with an old soul that learns of death early on by asking innocent questions. Only a few years later, she tries to apply the answers to the passing of her mother, “as you kiss your old body goodbye, and hello, and goodbye.” The song is a rerecording of a song Massey wrote and recorded five years ago as a solo artist. The first version is just Massey and an acoustic guitar, and she sings hauntingly and beautifully. While the modern version finds its place on this album, it loses the delicate vulnerability gorgeously presented from the original in overproduction.
Five Letters From Far Away is JMFFD’s third release in only three years, and this album picks up where the last, “Is Their Room For Me?”, leaves off; gracefully transitioning from light and joyful to deep and reflective. When the band is taken at face value for their hooks and melodies, it’s easy to overlook the darker lyrics and subject matters. Under the surface level image of three ageless musicians at play, Julia Massey and The Five Finger Discount is not afraid to tackle more serious subject matters and share their wisdom; to which we should all listen.
All Systems Are Go
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Five Letters From Far Away, the new album from Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount, is a cosmi...Five Letters From Far Away, the new album from Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount, is a cosmic pop journey, space exploration through a dance-party sector of the universe. At the helm, Julia;s vocals are uplifting and catchy, and she deftly punches away at the keys to prep us for take-off, while Geoff Gibbs thumps the course on bass, and Dominic Cortese's drums rocket us out of the atmosphere. Set your phasers to smile, all systems are go.
In Seattle, it can be a bit easy to take the grey skies for granted, but songs like these take us past all the dull, damp, everyday doldrums, and out into the stars beyond. I found myself bobbing my head to all eleven melodic tracks. "Top 100," kicks of the album at the perfect pace, with a driving, pulsing beat, and really, really interesting melody. I struggled for a while trying to think of a way to describe it... and I'm just going to channel my inner-hippie here: it's far-out, man. "Who Silently Suffers?" is a Cranberries-esque, dark carnival, while the quiet, acoustic "Here is a Stone Wall" channels the best parts of a Chris Martin lullaby. "Don't Worry 'Bout Us (Letter #4)" was one of my favorites, with incredibly catchy vocals, touching and reassuring lyrics to a worried lover, and one killer bass solo (yes, bass!).
The album is a great way for me to kick off the new year. It's upbeat, heart-warming, and a great soundtrack for our annual trip around the sun on this spaceship Earth. I'm glad Julia and crew call it (and, more specifically, Seattle) home, and I look forward to continue hearing them boldly take their blend of poppy folk-rock to new, melodious frontiers.
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Brace yourself for what has been branded as Cosmic-Folk-Rock. Julia & Co. are not afraid to get the...Brace yourself for what has been branded as Cosmic-Folk-Rock. Julia & Co. are not afraid to get their hands dirty with a bit of experimentation and the results do not disappoint. The contrast of innocence against experience is striking. William Blake was right.... Unique vocals, timeless poetry and interesting musical structures make for a listening odyssey. All of that and the influence of Emily Dickinson to boot? We say, "hell yeah!"
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Julia Massey and her band, The Five Finger Discount, are a fundamentally upbeat bunch. From the f...Julia Massey and her band, The Five Finger Discount, are a fundamentally upbeat bunch.
From the funky opening beats of her album, Is There Room For Me?, to her charming, falsetto-infused songs about aliens, it’s clear that Ms. Massey is a one-of-a-kind traveler on the indie circuit.
Originally from the mid-Atlantic states, Massey is now based out of Seattle, and her self-applied “Cosmic Folk-Rock” genre accurately portrays the city’s crunchier side. Reminiscent at times of Pink Floyd, The Wallflowers, and just good old fashioned George Clinton — but with a more fabulous set of pipes — Massey’s music makes it inevitable that she’d put on a great show.
You’ll get to find out for yourself when Julia Massey & the Five Finger Discount play Brick by Brick on March 13. Tourmates The Jesus Rehab and San Diego’s 2 Bit Radio will open. In anticipation of the show, Julia Massey sent us a list of her influences; check it out below.
Seattle Subsonic: Aghadoe
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One of my local favorites, Julia Massey and the 5 Finger Discount just released a video for “Aghadoe...One of my local favorites, Julia Massey and the 5 Finger Discount just released a video for “Aghadoe” from their CD Is There Room For Me? This song is one of those that seeps in under the skin and soon has one walking down the street with that keyboard intro repeating in the head, maybe singing along, “Please forget me,” maybe tapping out a few notes on the invisible air keyboard. And for me, this is a good thing. I like that intro. As for the video, it captures the fun element of the band. They have a humor and an easy manner in addition to being excellent musicians, and this video just cracks me up. And well, what’s not to like about a rock video with pretty, alcohol-stealing wood nymphs and where the drummer vomits on himself?
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Full of inventive, playful arrangements and bolstered by Massey's sweet, refreshingly endearing voca...Full of inventive, playful arrangements and bolstered by Massey's sweet, refreshingly endearing vocals, Is There Room For Me? carries an impressively solid and mature sound throughout.
Happy Birthday, Happy Day of the Dead, Julia Massey, Please Forget Me
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On Saturday, November 5th, I had two obligations. First, there was a birthday party at the Skylark C...On Saturday, November 5th, I had two obligations. First, there was a birthday party at the Skylark Cafe for Troy Nelson of the Young Evils. I certainly didn’t have to stop by, but he’d been kind enough to buy a book so I figured it was the decent thing to stop in and wish him a happy one and say thanks. The other thing was at The Crocodile. Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount were playing for the Croc’s Dia De Los Muertos celebration. I’d met Julia once before, and like Troy, she’d been kind enough to buy a book. I thought, thus, to stop by and catch her band and if I liked them, perhaps jot down a few kind words about the show.
And I did.
I went from the Skylark (“Happy Birthday”) to the Crocodile (“Happy Day of the Dead”) where I had a beer and a gifted shot from the bass player of Sightseer who was there to see the opener, Goat. Julia was second on the bill so another beer and gifted shot later, she took the stage with Geoff B. Gibbs (bass) and Dominic Cortese (drums), and there were light bouncy chords on the piano and some clicking of sticks and cymbols before the rhythm came in and the bodies in the audience that were not scribbling in notebooks moved to the beat. They label themselves as cosmic folk rock, and it’s an apt description. They do use distortion sometimes, but as an effect, not for the overall tone.
They’re poppy and a little spacey. They look like they feel good up on the stage, even when dressed appropriately for Dia De Los Muertos, and that vibe comes through to the audience where it mixes with the beers and the gifted shots that somehow keep coming as I write things like “cool slap groove … big chords in the middle … little bass solo!” during a song called “Back Door Open”. The bass is a driving element in the band, and Gibbs is quite good at taking a dominant role but not overshadowing the others. They mix their sounds well. Massey’s voice echoes much of Regina Spektor, especially on tracks like “Aghodoe” which in moments also reminds me of Pink Floyd’s “High Hopes” in the progression underneath her plea, “Please forget me.”
Please forget me? Can’t do it, Julia.
At the end of “Aghodoe”, another shot arrives for me, and I’m glad I’m taking a taxi tonight, glad I can let the drinks mix with the goodness of songs like “Skatepark” (my favorite) and “Is There Room For Me?” A drunk guy attaches himself to me, asks about the book and how it’s doing, questions that I would normally be happy to answer, but in the moment, I want to listen to that vibe on the stage that makes me feel good like anything labeled “cosmic” should.
The bass goes on, at times distorted, at times on an electric upright with a bow. The gifted shots stop coming so I buy my own, tequila, and give a toast to the band as Julia sings, “You can do whatever you want …” Indeed. The music does give me high hopes, and no matter the pleas in the middle and end of a certain song, I definitely cannot forget it.
Noise You Need
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Julia Massey is an accomplished songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Catonsville, Maryland who ...Julia Massey is an accomplished songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Catonsville, Maryland who has crossed many emotional rivers and traveled over the world for the inspiration of "Moons & Stars Convene."
In addition to time spent in Boulder and New York City, Massey has traveled to Tanzania and India to further inform her musical and thematic sophistication. "Moons & Stars Convene" was recorded in Brooklyn with producer Craig Levy as a tribute to the amazing people and places she has encountered.
The songs on the album are a testament to such people and places, as Massey's songwriting here is exceptionally soulful and unique. Levy's production is likewise inspired with a tasteful application of textual flourishes adding atmospheric resonance.
Comparisons may be drawn to 60s sunshine pop or counterculture folk, though Massey transcends nostalgic write-off or even contemporary comparison as this appears to be a truly personal expression from a fulfilled talent. Perhaps as Joni Mitchell as Sparklehorse, but totally Julia Massey.
Intimate, timeless songs from a fecund creative wellspring.
Good music for good life with an ache for all the love in the world.
Massey recently concluded a tour in a biodiesel-fueled RV (www.thebreafreeproject.org), aand currently bases operations in Steamboat Springs - so you may, just may, hear these sounds coming at you live from somewhere around the corner!
Sets can run up to 3 hours, depending on the situation. Here's a sample list of some of our originals:
Don't Worry 'Bout Us
Back Door Open
Song of the Dying
Who Silently Suffers?
There Is A Song
Here Is A Stone Wall
Bottom of the Ocean
I Saw The Bear
Is There Room For Me?
To See The Truth
Out, Into Themselves
Surfing on an Astral Plane
Someday, Our Bodies are Gone
The Man Who Could Float
We are Safe
Soaked Through Matches