Gray Matter Academy
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Gray Matter Academy

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"Freakout! Drop Out"

Freakout! Drop Out City Life Article

For far too many downtown cheerleaders, revitalization means picking on the homeless, destroying the all-ages scene, promoting soulless condo dwelling and interpreting hipster bar openings as evidence of our town's cultural viability. It's all bullshit, of course, unless you have the actual artists -- visual, musical, culinary -- necessary to make the revitalization genuine and worthwhile. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of Netflix-addicted yuppies moving into the urban core and pushing the lower classes out to the suburbs.

Naturally, it's up to folks without government or corporate backing to provide the artistry. Promoter/DJ Jason Sturtsman is one of these folks. His regular all-ages gathering at the Box Office (a downtown art gallery) is called "Freakout!" and its mission is "to promote young local Las Vegas artists and help with the downtown revitalization that is happening in the Arts District and the Fremont East Entertainment District."

He has been putting together downtown shows for a while now, and had planned on organizing only three "Freakout!" shows, but the success of the first two has convinced him to continue the every-other-month series well into 2007.

"We're trying to bring back psychedelia and shoegazer rock," insists Sturtsman. "We want to highlighting the best in local and regional indie music, too. We've got a projector that creates the old '60s gel effects for the bands that want it."

Sturtsman wants to contribute to the cultural shift the monthly First Friday event has helped generate, and add his own unique part to the larger Arts District scene. "Yes, there's First Friday," he says, "but during the 29 other days, hardly anyone's coming downtown. I'm working with people like [local musician/writer] Aaron Thompson on collaborative events that combine all the different art modalities. For example, I think it's great to expose people to modern dance. Kids in Vegas won't see this stuff outside of UNLV.

"At the same time," he adds, "we want to showcase a group like Lit Community Consciousness, who are interpretative dancers and creators of their own line of sustainable fashion that is made from materials that are not harmful to the environment."

Sounds very warm and fuzzy, doesn't it? Well, don't worry. Sturtsman has assembled a bizarre collection of bohemians that runs the gamut from sideshow performers to interpretive dancers, from eco-fashion shows to alternative puppetry, from indie-folk pop to experimental noise rock. However, before you dismiss "Freakout!" as another, well, downtown freak show involving young artists who aren't old enough to know better, you need to hear a musician like Jamie Paris.

Paris -- who's about as far away from psychedelia and shoegazer rock as you can get -- has posted a few songs on his MySpace page (myspace.com/jamieparis) that display that rarest of talents: the ability to sing in tune and fingerpick an acoustic guitar like he's been sleeping with it under his pillow for years. His songs possess poetic vulnerability and a deep knowledge of earlier folk-music formats: Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Cat Power.

Paris had played a downtown show that Sturtsman was DJing. Sturtsman mentioned he was putting together a "Freakout!" show every other month and asked Paris to take part in it all. "I see Freakout! as being this laid-back, cool collective of different kinds of artists," says Paris. "What's most exciting for me is how the originality that everyone brings to the show."

Jamie says he's played piano since he was 8, and after spending his high-school days as a teenage thespian in Vegas, he then switched to guitar. Although he's only been writing songs for two years, his rough demos contain the necessary polish to make him a big star. Paris, however, remains humble, preferring instead to talk about his good friend Ian Shane Tyler (formerly known as Red Light School District), who will be manning the keyboard in Paris' backup band.

"Like with Ian joining my band," adds Paris, "Freakout! is about people who are passionate about music, and that's what matters to me. That's why I'm a part of it."

In any case, it'll be interesting to witness the juxtaposition of Paris' introspective balladry with the highly unusual spectacle of Swing Shift Sideshow, a two-person performance team that specializes in things like sword swallowing, which doesn't sound all that unusual ... until you realize the swords are on fire.

While there's another "Freakout!" slated for April, next month Sturtsman hopes to unleash another all-ages event, something called "Disguised Monkey," which will focus exclusively on experimental music and film by local artists only.

"It's the only way the downtown arts scene can survive," insists Sturtsman. "We've got infuse new talent into the community."

Freakout! starts at 4 p.m. Sat., Feb. 17 at the Box Office, 1129 S. Casino Center Blvd. (in the Arts District). Admission is $8. Info: 388-1515 or lvexperimental.org. - Las Vegas City Life


"SOUNDING OFF: Look for big things from these locals"

It's a new year, time for some new noise.

The past 12 months saw a slew of Las Vegas bands get signed and begin making an impact both locally and nationally.

So who's next? Here are some of my favorite young acts worth keeping an eye on in 2007 and, hopefully, beyond.

She Turned Us Into Trees!: One minute, members of She Turned Us Into Trees! are plucking at your heartstrings, the next minute they're clawing them from your chest and strangling you with them like piano wire.

This bunch punishes pop-punk for all its sins -- namely, A Simple Plan -- with bipolar freak outs that are melodic and menacing at once.

At times, the band takes its cue from the breathless sugar rush of the Descendents, with fleet, lovelorn pop nuggets and a frontman who channels the sweet, unaffected whimsy of a young Daniel Johnston.

But then it puts the thumbscrews to the genre with blood-letting shrieks and touches of gruff hard-core -- often during the same song.

The result is a sound as exquisitely pained as love itself.

Jamie Paris: This gifted, 20-year-old singer-songwriter trades in heartache with a voice so delicate, it sounds as if it were made of porcelain. He pens lonely, magnificently sad songs, often backed only by an acoustic guitar and two decades of longing.

Paris' forthcoming debut is set to be produced by former Red Light School frontman Ian Shane Tyler, an ace songwriter himself, so expect big things -- not that you'd know it from this unassuming young talent.

"I am foolish and temporary," he writes on his MySpace page.

Thankfully, his tunes are anything but.

Perhapz: Coming with blue-collar rhymes about being broke and drunk in public, Perhapz is a hard-nosed MC with a chip on his shoulder that far outsizes his bank account.

This is a good thing, because it informs his spare, hardscrabble raps with a hunger and a longing that aches like an empty belly.

A member of the loaded Campfire Music crew, one of the leading lights of the Vegas hip-hop scene, Perhapz rhymes in a steady, hard-eyed drawl, sounding best in austere settings where voice can resonate like gunfire.

"Life ain't nothing nice these days," he announces over a classical guitar lick on "Shot in the Dark (Insufficient Funds)." "Just trying to make it that way."

And he's making progress.

Kissin Hands Shakin Babies: In a city defined by gluttony, these dudes offer up a buffet of cast-iron riffs and needle-in-the-red blast beats for self-flagellating types to gorge on.

This city's death-core underground is booming with a slew of rising bands -- Never Ending War, Misericordiam, the Atrocity Complex, to name a few -- joining a scene already loaded with heavy-hitters.

KHSB stands out with an oppressively heavy sound that tempers a doomy crawl with manic grind and some over-the-top drumming that flies by like bullets whizzing past your head.

And the band has a sense of humor, too, so at least you'll go out with a smile on your face.

Jason Bracelin's "Sounding Off" column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 383-0476 or e-mail him at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com. - Las Vegas Review Journal


Discography


Show Your Insides EP:

1. Tallest Children (Show Your Insides)
2. Rag Doll
3. You Hear What You Want To
4. The Quiet One
5. Four Pieces
6. See You Now
7. A Nice Distraction
8. Solitaire Blues

Photos

Bio

Gray Matter Academy is the brainchild and latest musical endeavor of singer/songwriter Jamie Paris. In 2006, Paris began as a solo acoustic artist playing many local coffee shops, open mic nights, bars, and house shows. After recording several demos, Paris decided to form a band in early 2007. The band went on to play numerous shows in the Las Vegas’ underground Indie scene, performing at venues like University Theatre, The Freakin' Frog, The Box Office, and Las Vegas' monthly event First Friday. Many of these performances received positive reviews from the Las Vegas Review Journal and Las Vegas City Life Magazine.

After the band had gone through several lineup changes, Paris made plans to record a legitimate EP and entered Atwood Recording Studio in December 2007 with the help of Producer/Engineer/Drummer Trevor Mayfield (Cherry Hill, Magna-FI, Twentymule Team), Guitarist Charles Henry (Modern Science, Red Means Go, Blue Man Group Band), Bassist/Keyboardist Ian Tyler (Red Light School District) and Singer/Songwriter Jessie Lee. Six months into recording the album’s progress was hindered by financial difficulties, a car accident, and scheduling conflicts. In the winter of 2008, with little more than half of the record tracked, Paris was forced to find another studio to help finish his EP.

Tyler, a talented songwriter and prodigious engineer, was eventually hired to complete the recording process and much of the EP was completed at Tyler’s home studio, later christened Sexy Zebra Studios. Several weeks after tracking was completed producer/engineer Justin Powell (The Cab, In:Aviate, Big City Kids, A Thorn for Every Heart) was hired to Mix & Master the record. Mayfield, Tyler, and Paris all share credit for producing the EP.

After almost 2 years in the studio, Paris had completed an 8 song EP but now had to look for a replacement band since Mayfield, Henry, Tyler, and Lee were only available until the recording process was concluded. After weeks of tenacious searching, Paris was able to recruit friends Andy Gomez (Super Martian Robots, Blue Man Group Band) on Lead Guitar and Micah Malcolm (The Quitters) on Drums. Will Leahy, a friend of Gomez, was later recruited to take up the Bass. With a full band lineup solidified, Gray Matter Academy was chosen to be the new name to represent the quartet. Since its inception GMA has performed many shows in the Las Vegas Downtown club area, having made regular appearances at reputable venues like The Beauty Bar and The Bunkhouse Saloon.

The band’s debut, Show Your Insides EP, is a revealing chronicle of Paris’ personal experiences and outlandish thought process preceding the start of the recording process. With Pop/Rock tunes Tallest Children (Show Your Insides) and You Hear What You Want To (both songs reminiscent of bands Jimmy Eat World, Built To Spill, and Death Cab For Cutie) contrasting acoustic folk numbers Rag Doll and See You Now (alluding to influences Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst) the album serves up an eclectic plethora of songs. Gray Matter Academy’s CD Release Show is at The Bunkhouse in Las Vegas, NV on November 19th 2009.