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Martin Rivas & Cara Sebastian - March 10 2012

Artist's website: Martin Rivas

Martin Rivas

Some people never sleep, and some artists never stop creating. Martin Rivas would be one of these people. The man whose music has brought so much joy and inspiration to musicians and listeners alike here in NYC is back with a new five-track EP that shows not only Rivas’s range and diversity in stylings but also his deeply emotional vulnerability in the crafting of his songs.

The Convalescence EP is quite literally a resurrection out of broken-ness — an album written mostly in solitude while Rivas was laid up recovering from an ankle surgery that resulted in severe complications. Rivas told almost no one of the work he was doing and, upon releasing the album just recently, has given listeners a glimpse into some of the darker musings that encompassed his time in recovery.

Rivas’s previous album, Sea of Clouds, is intrinsically hopeful and optimistic. Songs like “Heckuva Day” and “Eclipse” are so full of joy, they leave nothing wanting, especially when performed live. Meanwhile, “Get Yourself Together” and “Hide in Me” pluck the heartstrings and soothe the ears toward gratitude and love. Highly mastered beats blend seamlessly with stripped-down, breathtaking acoustic and a cappella moments. The album is stunning in lyricism and musicality, and shows Rivas’s great love for the music and for life itself.

The Convalescence EP is naturally darker — time to consider things like origin, religion, family, and the harder parts of life itself leading to an album that is relevant to Sea of Clouds in the way it breaks down — much of which he created in his optimism.

The guitar tremblings that open the EP with “Behind their Thumb” feel like the soundtrack for a long winding car ride across generations and times and places. There is a deep sense of history in the mere 30 seconds of strumming and repetition. “The Cage” ponders the stars and the sky and blends beautiful melodies with a hint of slow R&B rhythm. “This Winter Isn’t Ending” is reminiscent of the experimentation in The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album, with an incredible questioning tone to the lyricism. In the final track, “Raise Me Again,” Rivas blends his noted upbeat progressions and instrumentation with a story of adult longing for a reexamined childhood.

All in all, an eclectic but amazingly focused collection — a collection of stories that allows the listener to question their own perspective on a variety of universal concerns and, above all else, an incredible display of varied musicality and instrumental exploration.

Martin Rivas is a musician not to be overlooked. I have seen the way his gift can overtake a room, and I have experienced the beauty of these tracks and albums in my day-to-day to life. The Convalescence EP, if nothing else, is a true testament to the power of any artist to create in and under any circumstance…and in this case, to create something great.

[Review, Julian Albain, 2010]

A native New Yorker, Martin Rivas comes from a diversely musical family; with a mother and grandfather who both sang, and cousins that range from classical composers to up-and-coming musicians. "There's always been instruments in our house, there's always been singing, and there's always been music," Martin divulges. At the age of 11, his uncle showed him a few chords on a guitar but the rest has been self-taught, mimicking favorite records by artists like The Police to learn style and composition. After playing gigs at CBGB's, The Bitter End, and Kenny's Castaways with his band "Serious Pilgrim" in the early nineties, the group parted ways and Martin took time off from the music business, only resuming recording, writing, and self-producing CDs "Bottleneck" and "Glorious" within the past eight years.

In 2005, Martin met drummer Craig Meyer, and the duo created a force called "Campfire" that has spread throughout the New York music scene. Playing approximately 1,000 shows over the past four years, "Campfire" began as a favor to the owner of the Red Lion. "Craig and I were playing with Jessie Gage, and sometimes on Sundays we would go to Washington Square Park and play under the arch, and then head to the Red Lion afterwards," Martin explains. One Sunday, the owner asked Martin and Craig to fill a three-hour time slot because someone had cancelled. The duo gladly accepted, entertaining the audience with a variety of rhythm and blues songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, amongst others, and received such a fabulous response it became a weekly gig.

"Campfire" grew to be a Friday and Sunday night staple at Red Lion, as well as part of Tuesday nights at Slane Public House and Wednesdays at Prohibition. The concept is simple: Martin and Craig play a variety of covers and original songs, mostly chosen by the audience. "It's all about what the folks want to hear," says Rivas. "They write their requests down and bring them up [to the stage]." The duo randomly pick and play what is written- no rehearsal, no warning-resulting in an entertaining show that gets the audience singing, dancing, clapping, and coming back for more.

Another example of brilliance that recently developed out of the Martin and Craig brain trust is "Backscratch Sessions," which debuted at the Red Lion in April. "Backscratch," an idea a year and half in the making, dances with the concept of artists getting together to play each other's songs: each playing an original, a cover, and a cover of a fellow artist (which is a surprise). "There are so many fabulously talented artists playing around here that we said let's make it happen now," Rivas enthusiastically proclaimed. With a line-up that included Dave Pittenger, Kailin Garrity, Rachel Platten, Dan Torres, Nick Howard, Robbie Gil, and Amy Regan, to name a few, the night was a huge success and is becoming a regular event. "I was pleasantly surprised because we left there feeling like family," Martin beamed, "it was such a great vibe."

Not only incredibly gifted in exploring other people's songs, Martin also writes beautiful and infectious music and lyrics of his own, as seen in 2005's "Pride of the Valley" and the brand new "Sea of Clouds," currently being mixed and mastered with Dave Pittenger. "Pride of the Valley" was a therapeutic process for Rivas, as many songs deal directly and indirectly with the loss of his stepbrother on 9/11, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower. Despite the song's upbeat demeanor, the lyrics for the crowd favorite "North," actually came from a dream that they found his stepbrother's body- visions of comfort, sorrow, and joy fill the listener and demonstrate Martin's unbelievable ability to bring a smile and foster hope through music.

A mainstay of the New York singer/songwriter community, Rivas has had the pleasure of watching this current scene evolve and transform over the past few years. With so many talented singer/songwriters and musicians to choose from Martin claims, "I can't imagine a greater concentration of talent at any time other than what's taking place right now in New York. It's a different industry now; every artist has immediate and instant global reach. And you can do with it whatever you want, the question is, it there someone out there to pick up on what you're doing."

"I'm floored everytime I come into the city to play," Rivas declares, observing the honest and heartfelt friendships between artists. "There are so many genuine people in this 'scene.' "

Now on a steady rotation of Campfire gigs and playing out original music at The Bitter End and Rockwood Music Hall, Martin Rivas is gearing up to release "Sea of Clouds," a record whose theme deals with messages of surviving and thriving in the face of turmoil. Working with several musicians and friends on the album inspired trust and provided comfort throughout the process. "I know that when its finished its something I'm going to be immensely proud of for the process for as much as it sounds," Rivas affirms.

A campfire is the perfect image for a Martin Rivas performance- it's warming, comfortable, social and endearing. New York is a vast city, difficult at times to make your way around, easy to get lost in... so if you haven't been to a Campfire, Backscratch, or Martin Rivas show, venture over one evening. I promise, you will feel like you just found home.

Cara Sebastian (no, not 2 characters from Brideshead Revisited) - is a guitar thumping- string slapping- old record of a person who likes to notice things about people. She has just finished making an EP in a tiny bedroom in Dalston with one mic and an old friend which refuses to record digitally, and is very proud with how its turned out and that they didn't kill each other in the process - definitely one to watch for the future, and say you saw her here first.

A collector of her own bones and things that puzzle or spin new thoughts, Cara Sebastian was always a little awkward and uninterested in talking about the weather. Born in France and shuffled through various cul-de sacs in the Midlands, she was often facing something new. She became addicted to notebooks early on and continues to fill them up with small things worth noticing. Her primary pieces are rooted in 80’s & 90’s pop and soul music which have leant her her clear songwriting ideas and romantic and almost melodramatic character. After being introduced to Jimi Hendrix, Bjork, and PJ Harvey in one sitting Cara sneakily sold her saxophone and bought a guitar.

Her self-taught style has mostly seen comparisons to an early Ani Difranco who inspired and excited Miss Sebastian for many years, and has helped her trace her way through a couple of albums with numerous collaborators. Now Cara’s influences range from old skiffle & swing through to prog and wonky blues.

Cara Sebastian is a guitar thumping- string twanging- old record of a person who likes to observe people and catch herself at her most extreme. She has just finished recording an EP in a tiny bedroom in Dalston with one mic and an old friend who refuses to record digitally, and is very proud with how its turned out and that they didn’t kill each other in the process.

The ‘Wolves’ EP is now available to download for free online and she’ll be playing an adventurous selection of live shows solo and with her full band around the UK in 2012.