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Gavin's Underground

Burnell Washburn, The Chickens

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-02-13 -
So, I don't know if you've noticed all the posts going up around here, but we had a few shindigs over the past couple of weekends. You may have heard about them, the CWMAs? Just in case that isn't ringing a bell, every year the City Weekly staff and other respected music gurus sit down and pick the best acts from the previous year to come play some showcases over two weekends, and somehow through voting we crown a top band and feature them on the cover of out CWMA issue (which comes out this Wednesday).
This year, I attended three showcases: the hip-hop showcase over at Wasted Space on State Street, the big State Room extravaganza that had to compete with a Jazz/Lakers game, and the nearly packed Urban Lounge show from this past Saturday. You can check out my blurry photos from all three shows by clicking the appropriate links on each, and today, we'll duct tape together two interviews from different shows as we speak with hip-hop artist Burnell Washburn and jazzy afrobeat group The Chickens.

Burnell Washburn

Gavin: Hey, Burnell. First thing, tell us a little about yourself.

Burnell: I am a 21 year-old dude born and raised in SLC. I am a full-time musician and co-owner of the locally based organization Wasatch Renaissance. I am very blessed to be so young and already doing what I absolutely love for a living. I am most widely known for my beats and rhymes, but I am also very passionate in many other categories including snowboarding, skateboarding, fly-fishing, hiking and tons of other stuff.

Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Burnell: I have been interested in music ever since I can remember. Growing up, I always felt a strong urge to play instruments anytime I saw them, but I never believed in myself enough so I just watched. Once I heard hip-hop music for the first time, I felt like it was something I could do. I was deeply inspired by artists such as John Denver, Eminem, Atmosphere, Jurassic 5, Sage Francis, Brother Ali and countless others. When I saw my first underground hip-hop show, I knew that the stage is where I wanted to be and hip-hop was the life I wanted.
Gavin: What drew you toward hip-hop and rap and what was it like for you breaking into the local music scene?

Burnell: Just listening to good hip-hop was more than enough to inspire me. When I first started, I didn't know a single person who made beats or wrote raps or anything, so I was starting from scratch in a real naive, yet pure, way. After teaching myself how to record and put songs together, I started doing small shows, house parties and open mic nights anywhere I could. Breaking into the scene was hard at first, but after a year or so of playing my own little shows and giving out sample CD's to everyone I encountered, I ended up meeting some key players in the scene and started building and networking with anyone and everyone who showed interest in art or business. I always promoted my shows like crazy, and proved to these venues that I could bring really good crowds. Proving that I could put on great shows with great turnouts earned me opportunities to start playing bigger and bigger shows, which allowed me to network and expand to where I am now.

Gavin: For the first couple of years, you were still under the age of 21 while performing. How was it for you getting around town and playing gigs when most hip-hop venues are bars?

Burnell: Well, being an emcee, you tend to have a way with words, and I somehow convinced hundreds of bouncers and club owners to let me in, at least to perform. Oftentimes even out on tour, I had to wait outside the venue until my set then leave right after, or I was told to stay put in strange back rooms and stuff. Other than that, all I can say is thank god for dope all-ages venues like Kilby Court, and big ups to the homie who used to lend me his passport.
Gavin: Last year, you released the album Food Of Love. What was it like for you putting that album together, and what issues did you deal with along the way?

Burnell: Food Of Love was a difficult album because I had started to gain some recognition around that time and knew people were expecting big things. I was scared that my fans wouldn't like it as much because it was so different from my prior release, The White Dove EP, but overall, it came out just how I wanted it to. I really tried to push myself to expand in different aspects of the art I felt were lacking in my previous work. I wanted the album to be very personal and easily relatable so I simplified some of my styles and took a new approach. The album is half-produced by me and half-produced by a handful of various local producers so mixing it was tough. Everything I released before Food Of Love was sort of just thrown together in my bedroom and put on the streets, but this time I took time to actually bring it to a studio with a more professional approach. It was also somewhat intimidating at first to work with people like Rhymesayer's artist Abstract Rude, who has been doing this longer than I've been alive. I felt enormous pressure in making this album, which turned out to be good and bad...

Gavin: What did you think of the public reaction when it came out, and what are your thoughts on the album one year later?

Burnell: The reaction I got from Food Of Love was astounding! After a sold-out release party at Kilby Court, I embarked on the "Food Of Love Tour," and everywhere I went the love put into the album was reciprocated tenfold. The album has sold quite a bit on iTunes over the last year and is still gaining momentum. A year later, I look at the album as a a beautiful work of art that is no doubt pure and dope but lacking experience. The things I learned making this record will undoubtedly prove to be quite beneficial for my upcoming release, An Apple A Day. I am very proud of my work on Food Of Love, but like most artists, I’m very hard on myself, and all I can think when I listen to it is everything I could have done better. Since then, I have applied everything I learned into the new album and I am very excited to show you guys on April 7.
Gavin: Since that album came out, you've become one of the hottest hip-hop acts in the state. How has it been for you receiving that kind of recognition from your peers and also growing as a performer so quickly?

Burnell: The last few years have been a crazy trip. I went from being a kid messing around in my bedroom to running my own company and booking my own nationwide tours. I have been growing as an artist and a person faster than I ever dreamed of, and I feel enormous amounts of gratitude everyday for being able to do what I love for a living. For a while, all this hype came to me in the form of pressure, but that has since dissolved and I feel more true to myself and my art than I ever have. I am not worried about living up to anyone else's expectations of me, and I'm making the art that I want to make. It is a beautiful thing, and I'm very proud of where my hard work and dedication has taken me.

Gavin: You mentioned a new album in the works. Talk about that, and are you planing a tour to go with it?

Burnell: Yes! I am currently recording a brand new full-length album called An Apple A Day. It is set to release April 7 with release parties at Kilby Court and Urban Lounge. It is entirely written and produced by me and I feel that it is my best work to date. I will also be doing a tour with Minneapolis-based artist ECID. We will be on the "I Heart Gravity Tour" starting March 6, and we'll be performing in SLC at The Sugar Space on March 9 for Hip-Hop Roots SLC.
Gavin: You've been included in this year's CWMA lineup as one of the best from 2011. What's your take on being a part of this, and the CMWAs in general?

Burnell: I am very honored to be nominated in the 2012 City Weekly Music Awards, and I believe it to be an amazing thing for the music scene in general. I hear a lot of bash on City Weekly, but I will defend to the death that City Weekly does this for a great cause and they wouldn't do it if they didn't really care about our community. It is a great opportunity for all artists in all genres to get exposure, and it's a fun way for the people to get involved and support artists they like.

Gavin: Moving on to statewide stuff, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Burnell: It is amazing, incredibly vibrant and chock-full of talent. It is no question that the state of Utah produces some phenomenal artists. There are always several great shows going on in SLC every night, and countless amazing albums are being released every month by Utah musicians. Lately, I have seen a huge influx of people taking action to get involved in the scene, and everybody seems to be doing their part to expand this creative movement. I don't have anything bad to say about the scene except I hate cats like Pat Maine, Sly, YZE and Dumb Luck because they are way too good at what they do!
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Burnell: There is always more to be done. I'd like to see more community-based events and more younger kids getting involved. I hear many complaints of the scene not being unified, but I have found just the opposite. To me, it seems like everyone works with everyone, and this huge web is constantly growing in positive directions.

Gavin: Not including yourself, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Burnell: Pat Maine, Learical Mindset, YZE, Sly, Hip-E, Dusk, Task, Dumb Luck, KonSICKwence, Holy Water Buffalo, Funk n' Gonzo, Samuel Smith Band, Linus Stubbs, Scenic Byway, GeorgeLife, Pigpen, DJ Number 2, Malevolent MC and The Nag.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?

Burnell: Airplay is very important for local artists; not only does it give you more exposure, it shows your current fans that you are gaining momentum and making things happen. I am a strong supporter of all local radio shows that play local music. I'd really like to see more local artists doing interviews and live performances on the air.

Gavin: With so many sources out there to get music off the Web, both for publicity and sharing, what are your thoughts on putting out free tracks for anyone to listen to?

Burnell: Music should be given free to listen to, but fans should recognize the sacrifices artists make to put out the music they love and support the artists accordingly. If you downloaded an album for free and love it, go show support by buying a ticket to that band's show when they come to town or buy a T-shirt from them. Having music available for free download is an important and effective way to get your stuff heard and stay on the minds of the listeners. It costs quite a bit of money these days to release songs, so it's much appreciated when the hard work of the artists is financially compensated, but no amount of money will ever be as rewarding as having someone tell you that they downloaded your song and it changed their life.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Burnell: I will be touring with ECID in March, releasing my self-produced album in April, then touring and playing festivals all summer, then, hopefully, right before the new year, I will be dropping a full-length album with super-producer Ganzobean. I am also collaborating with some of my favorite independent artists including Mac Lethal, Sweatshop Union, Soulcrate Music, Abstract Rude and many more, so look forward to those tracks coming out throughout the next year or so.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Burnell: Come to Hip-Hop Roots SLC! March 9 at The Sugar Space Studio for the Arts -- open mic, live painting, b-boy showcase, firedancing and tons more! Catch performances by: ECID, Burnell Washburn, Dumb Luck, Taken Root, Youth-In-Eyes and many more! Hip-Hop Roots is the longest-running hip-hop night in Las Vegas, and we recently just brought it to SLC. The first month was amazing and the second month will be even better! Come get involved in Utah's vibrant art community. All ages welcome. Visit WasatchRenaissance.com for more details.


The Chickens (Andrew Evans, Dan Nelson, Zach Craigle, Shaun Thomas, John Francis & Derek Howa)

Gavin: Hey, Dan! First thing, tell us about the group in general.

Dan: Well, The Chickens have been around for about two years now, give or take a bit, but we didn’t really start playing gigs until about a year ago, maybe? The original idea was just to get some favorite, local, musician friends together to write and record on the spot, with no previous rehearsal or game plan. Luckily for us, Brad McCarley and Nathan Tomlinson down at Salt Lake Recording Service really dug the idea and volunteered their studio for the project. The first time we got together, we were a quartet  -- me on saxophone, Shaun Thomas on drums, Andrew Evans on bass, and Derek Howa on keys -- and we did an impromptu arrangement/recording of John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” For subsequent writing/recording sessions, we started bringing in additional, top-notch musicians to join the fun, and eventually solidified the band lineup. Currently, it is myself on saxophone, Josh Francis on trumpet, Page McGinnis on lead guitar, Zach Craigle on rhythm guitar, Derek Howa on keyboards, Andrew Evans on bass and Shaun Thomas on drums.
Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Dan: I grew up listening to a lot of jazz, blues, and polkas around the house as a kid; I’m originally from the polka capital of America, Wisconsin. I really got into ska and punk rock when I was in junior high and high school, bands ranging from The Specials, English Beat, Operation Ivy, The Clash and The Toy Dolls. Nowadays, I tend to jump around a lot. One day I’ll be on a Sonny Rollins kick, the next I’ll be listening to Paul Simon. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across this band from the '70s called The Pharoahs, and their music really opened me up to a sound that would eventually become a sort of blueprint for what we wanted to do with The Chickens. If you haven’t heard them, you should check them out. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of afrobeat and highlife, and it’s been a goldmine of musical ideas.

Gavin: How did you all get together to form The Chickens?

Dan: The band was basically formed over time through a series of associations. The founding band members are me, Shaun Thomas, and Andrew Evans. We’ve all played together in 2 1/2 White Guys for many years. I met Derek Howa while attending the U about 3-4 years ago, and he’s been with us since that first writing/recording session. Shaun recommended we bring in Page McGinnis when we were looking for a guitar player. Josh Francis had sat in with 2 1/2 White Guys on a number of occasions and plays with Derek in The Orbit Group, so when we wanted to add a trumpet player we lucked out and he was available. Zach Craigle, who played with Shaun in Insatiable, is the newest guy in the group and has been with us for a few months now.
Gavin: What made you decide to combine styles and come out with this afrobeat/soul/jazz sound you've become known for?

Dan: The only thing we really knew when we started The Chickens was that we wanted it to be an all-instrumental ensemble, no vocals. We wanted to put an emphasis on musical improvisation and creating a solid groove, which tends to give us a “jazzy” kind of sound overall. As far as combining styles like afrobeat and soul, again, I would point to The Pharaohs for putting us on that path. Of course, we try to do our own thing, but that band was really the foundation for the direction we wanted to go.

Gavin: Being relatively new, how has it been for you guys playing around town building an audience?

Dan: Actually, it’s been better than expected. We’ve been fortunate to have opened for bands that already have a following, and the audience response to our sets has been surprisingly good. To be honest, we weren’t really sure how well a band with our sound would go over in SLC, but we all really enjoy what we’re doing and we’re grateful that people seem to have taken an interest in the group.
Gavin: A couple of months ago, you released your debut self-titled album. What was it like for you putting that album together and what issues did you deal with along the way?

Dan: Our debut CD grew out of the recordings we did when we were first putting the band together. Because most of those first demos were done in a live setting, on the same night we wrote the song, they had a great vibe but were a bit rough around the edges. Once we had done some gigs and had a chance to really work out the arrangements, we decided to go back into the studio and re-record six or seven of our favorites and put it out as our first album. It took us about six months because we didn’t want to rush through the recording process and we didn’t have the money to spend weeks in a studio. Instead, we would just book a single night, and try to get a solid take on 1-2 songs, then wait a couple weeks and do another song or two. Mixing the album was the same way. Fortunately for us, Brad McCarley is a great engineer with the patience of a saint.

Gavin: What did you think of the public reaction when it came out?

Dan: I think we are fortunate that the response has been so positive. I honestly didn’t know if anyone would be interested in a band that does what we do, so the positive feedback we’ve received has been better than expected. Hopefully, we can keep it going.
Gavin: Do you have any plans to take the group out on any kind of tour, or will you mainly stick to Utah?

Dan: As of right now, there aren’t any tours in the works. We might try and set up some gigs in Las Vegas, maybe California, if we can work it out, but that’ll be down the road a bit.

Gavin: You've been included in this year's CWMA lineup as one of the best from 2011. What's your take on being a part of this, and the CMWAs in general?

Dan: The best thing about being included is just getting the opportunity to play in front of people who might not otherwise come see a Chickens show. Being nominated for an award is nice because it means that someone, somewhere, appreciates what we’re doing as a band. But personally, I don’t look at these awards as a measuring stick for whether one band is better than another. However, I do think they are a great way give local music fans a chance to see an assortment of bands that might be outside their normal tastes in music.
Gavin: Moving on to statewide stuff, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Dan: The most interesting thing about the local music scene is all of the cross-pollination of musicians. In The Chickens, for example, we have band members who also play in country bands, reggae/ska bands and jazz ensembles. I know of several other locals in bands who moonlight with other groups of varying genres. I think we also have one of the most laid-back music scenes in the country. By that, I mean most of the musicians I’ve met in Utah, regardless of their musical preferences or what kind of music they play, can genuinely appreciate what others are doing. I don’t see a lot of the animosity between local musical subcultures I’ve seen in many other parts of the country. At least, that’s been my experience.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Dan: It would be nice if local bands were played on the local radio stations, and not just on a “locals” show at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning. As far as I know, KRCL is really the only station that plays local music with any regularity. I’m old enough to remember when X96 used to play Salt Lake/Provo bands as part of their regular music rotation, and that proved to be a huge boost to the scene. It would also be nice if promoters were willing to let local acts open up for nationally touring bands, but that’s a rarity these days.
Gavin: Not including yourselves, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Dan: Anything involving Josh Payne, the SLC Jazz Syndicate, Shaky Trade, The Rubes, Drunk & Hungry and Utah County Swillers.

Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?

Dan: I think radio airplay is vital to musicians and the local music scene in general. As I said earlier, I think it’s a shame that -- as far as I know -- KRCL is the only station where local musicians stand a chance of getting their music played on-air, and that there is virtually no chance of getting played on any of the “mainstream” stations. It’s unfortunate, because I think regular radio play could bring a lot of recognition to some very talented local musicians while bringing radio stations some credibility with local music fans.
Gavin: With so many sources out there to get music off the Web, both for publicity and sharing, what are your thoughts on putting out free tracks for anyone to listen to?

Dan: I think it's really a matter of what you want to do. I tend to think of putting up free tracks as promotional material for getting people interested in the music and, hopefully, getting them out to shows. Allowing people to stream a few tracks can also sometimes be the trigger that gets them to pay for the album as a whole. It can also be a way to pick up a new fan who might not have ever heard of you.

Gavin: What can we expect from you guys over the rest of this year?

Dan: Hopefully, we’ll be getting some more material together and try to put out another album by this time next year. But our main goal right now is to play more regularly and try to introduce more people to what we do.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Dan: We’ll be playing with No Nation Orchestra on Feb. 24 at Bar Deluxe in SLC. More gigs to be announced. And if anyone out there wants to check out some tracks from our CD, they can take a listen by going to Reverb Nation or Facebook.


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