On Stage (Bonus): Human Heat gets back to Midwest roots

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Human Heat

Human heat can best be measured by a non-contact MEMS thermal sensor.

Human Heat can best be measured by fan response.

Human Heat, a music act that evolved from a previous band Yellow Ostrich, will be looking to generate some heat when it plays a show at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com).

Human Heat is the new outlet for Alex Schaaf, formerly of Yellow Ostrich. Based in Minneapolis, Schaaf released his debut album “All Is Too Much” on September 15 via Offline Records and is now out on an album support tour.

After Yellow Ostrich disbanded in 2014, Schaaf hit the road with both Tei Shi and The Tallest Man On Earth, touring the world as a backup player.

In late 2016 a breakup shifted his mindset and he relocated across the country to Minneapolis in order to refocus on his own music. He began recording his debut album as Human Heat in early 2017.

“I’m still home in Minneapolis,” said Schaaf, during a recent phone interview.

“I take off next Saturday. There will be four of us in the road band – drums, bass, guitar and I play Rhodes piano. When I’m recording, I play almost everything except live drums.”

After Brooklyn-based Yellow Ostrich disbanded, Schaaf returned to his Midwestern roots.

“I grew up in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin,” said Schaaf. “I went to college in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was a music major at Lawrence University and graduated in 2010.

“Then, I went to New York for music – and to experience ‘Big City Life.’ I moved to Brooklyn a couple months later.

“I had started Yellow Ostrich back when I was in school in Wisconsin. It was pretty much just a recording project and I’d put a band together when it was time to play shows.”

While pursuing his music degree at Lawrence University, Schaaf had the opportunity to open for Michael Tapper’s project Bishop Allen.

The two established a friendship and when Schaaf moved to Brooklyn at the same time as Tapper in 2010, they decided to perform together officially as Yellow Ostrich.

Jon Natchez joined as a drummer and later left. Then, Jared Van Fleet and Zach Rose joined band.

In November 2014, Yellow Ostrich announced that it would be disbanding after its final performance in Brooklyn in December 2014.

After the sudden end of a relationship at the end of 2016, Schaaf left Brooklyn and relocated across the country back to his native Midwest.

“I moved back to Minneapolis at the end of last year,” said Schaaf. “No specific reason – I just wanted to get back to the Midwest. I knew people in Minneapolis. And, there is a good music scene here.”

Dealing with the raw feelings and heartbreak that emerged from the breakup, Schaaf scrapped old songs and quickly wrote new ones seeped in the bittersweet emotional aftermath.

This fresh spark of inspiration manifested as “All Is Too Much,” his debut full-length as Human Heat.  Gone are the quirky vocal loops and signature guitar fuzz of Yellow Ostrich, as Schaaf has transitioned to a smoother, more assured and mature voice.

“With Human Heat, I wanted to explore more electronic and synth work,” said Schaaf. “For the album, I retreated a little and focused more on songs and instrumentation

“The instrumentation is different than my previous work. The new stuff is lower – more R&B. In the past, I’d have a song that felt poppy and I’d deconstruct it and make it different. This time, I was ready to give the song more of the spotlight.”

The album was mostly self-recorded in Schaaf’s home studio, and was mixed and mastered by Zach Hanson (Bon Iver, The Staves) at April Base in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. Hanson plays drums throughout the album, and Jon Natchez (The War on Drugs) adds horns on two tracks.

Video link for Human Heat – https://youtu.be/TI34QsbBzs0.

The show at Kung Fu Necktie, which also features Norwegian Arms and Total Discharge, will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.

The wait is finally over. Soraia is ready to unveil her new album.


On September 23, Soraia will have a “CD Release Party” at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com) to introduce her band’s new album “Dead Reckoning,”

Soraia will also have a show on September 24

Soraia, a female-fronted rock/garage/punk/blues-influenced band, is a Philadelphia-based group that includes ZouZou Mansour (lead vocals, tambourine), Travis Smith (bass guitar, backup vocals), Mike Reisman (guitar, background vocals) and Brianna Sig (drums, percussion, background vocals).

The music Soraia creates captures the essence of gritty blues-influenced rock music — the kind of rock you’d hear in smoky bars back in the 1960s. It’s not a retro-sound but rather a tapping into the emotional nature of the music.

Soraia is the stage name of singer ZouZou Mansour and also the name of her band.

“Travis and I are the core of the band and we’ve been together for over 10 years,” said Mansour, during a recent phone interview. “We released our first album ‘The Valley of Love and Guns’ in 2013, ‘Soraia Lives’ in 2014 and ‘Less Than Zero’ in 2015.”

For the last year or so, Soraia has been playing songs from the band’s yet-to-be-released album. The album “Dead Reckoning” will be officially be released on October 13 on Wicked Cool Records.

“We’ve already played a lot of the new songs in our shows this year,” said Mansour. “Last summer, our label people told us to write songs and then play them live.

“We’ve done it the other way and it didn’t do ad hood. Live is when the magic starts to happen.

“Things are going really well with the band. We’ve been touring a lot. Wicked Cool Records is owned by Little Steven Van Zandt from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.”

Ironically, September 23 is Bruce Springsteen’s birthday (as well as the birthday of John Coltrane, Julio Iglesias and Rachel Yamagata).

“Our shows are drawing more people and we’re playing better venues,” said Soraia. “It all happened at the beginning of this year. David Fricke, a senior writer at Rolling Stone Magazine, contacted us out of the blue and said he loved our music. He has a show on Sirius Spectrum.”

Soraia had been building up songs for the new full-length for a while.

“We started writing the songs last summer,” said Mansour. “We sat down to write as many songs as we possibly could. My co-writer Travis and I worked on different ideas we had.

“In the past, he’d give me a song idea and I’d come up with the music. This time, we spent more time writing together. We’re growing as writers.

“We recorded the new album in January at Renegade Studio in New York. Our label really wanted to capture our live sound. We did two songs with Little Steven and 10 with producing ourselves with engineer Geoff Sanoff.

“The band just set up and played live in the studio. It was all analog and recorded directly to tape – which was exciting. It was our first time to record analog so it was really special. It was nice to go in and be our own producer.”

It has taken Mansour a while to reach where she wants to be musically. It has also taken years for Mansour to find where she wants to be emotionally.

“I was 17 when my mother died,” said Mansour. “I had just graduated from high school. That changed my life.”

After a period of time that included stretches of drug use, alcohol abuse and being homeless, Mansour got her life back on track. She became one of the survivors.

She returned to college and graduated with a teaching degree. Then, she was lured back into the music world by her first love — singing.

“My dad always said — where there’s a will there’s a way,” said Mansour. “It looks like I proved that he was right.”

Video link for Soraia – https://youtu.be/FeFAOyc9rhs.

The show at MilkBoy Philly, which has Wanted Man and the Joey DiTullio Band as openers, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13.

The all-ages show at Fujiyama on September 24 wil start at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Normally, if someone refers to something as “for the birds,” it’s not a complement.

Seth Glier

The idiom “for the birds” usually means “worthless,” “not to be taken seriously,” or “no good.”

Seth Glier’s new album “Birds” is an album for the birds, inspired by birds and made with the help of birds.

Unlike the idiom, Glier’s album is meaningful, serious and very good.

Glier will introduce fans to the songs from his new disc when he headlines a show September 24 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400,www.worldcafelive.com).

Glier’s new album “Birds” is steeped in conflict and contradictions. There’s grief and loss, but also strength and resilience — doubt and dismay, but also a sense of optimism as Glier confronts heavy topics and wrestles them into the daylight.

“The writing process started about two years ago,” said Glier, during a phone interview Friday as he traveled from his home in western Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. for a benefit for Amnesty International.

“Personally, I was writing about what I was going through – grieving for my older brother who passed away a year earlier.

“I stared the recording process around this time last year. I had written about 40 songs and had demo’ed them in my apartment. I was starting to find the thread. Then, I decided that instead of going to L.A. or Nashville to make an album the traditional way, I’d just do it on my own. Over the course of about five months, I hunkered down, cut down on touring and made the album. My girlfriend inherited a 1925 Steinway piano and that was great. I called the album ‘Birds’ because the piano is in a position by the window.”

Glier recorded “Birds” in an airy loft in western Massachusetts outfitted with a grand piano and floor-to-ceiling windows. Birds roost just outside those windows, on the roof of the converted mill building where he lives, and they became his sympathetic audience while Glier made the album.

“I got a lot of comfort talking to the birds outside my window,” said Glier. “I’d talk to them frequently to see how they thought things were going with the music.

“We communicated well. It was definitely spiritual to make that kind of connection. That was the catalyst that got me into writing these songs.”

But, it was the death of his brother and the relationship they had that provided the focus for the songs.’

“There were a lot of intense moments – first birthday without my brother, first Thanksgiving without my brother,” said Glier. “That was also calling me to stay close to home and use an insular environment to pour emotions into my writing.

“My brother was born with autism and had seizure disorders. He was in the hospital for six weeks at the end. We were very close.

“He was my greatest non-musical influence. He was non-verbal. When we were growing up, I had to get up and give him breakfast. He taught me new ways of communication without words. That’s why I can communicate so well with the birds.”

Video link for Seth Glier — https://youtu.be/3LlwknwGgXo.

The show at the World Cafe Live, which has Jeremiah Tall as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14.

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