By Summer MacPherson
Dylan Kersten is a musician heavily involved in the Pittsburgh music scene. You may know him from his band String Machine where he plays the synth, or via his DJing, where he goes by the name Ron Mist and produces his own music. He is also involved in many other projects, including Common Loon, JAXYN, and LifeGuard. Someone this involved in music must really love the craft, which he does. I reached out to Dylan and asked him about what it’s like to be a musician in Pittsburgh, and to be a part of so many projects.
Pittsburgh has a pretty wide range of sound when it comes to the music scene. This can be seen through Dylan alone, as he goes from indie music all the way to EDM with the projects that he is involved with. When asked about why he is so involved in the Pittsburgh scene Dylan stated that, “The scene in Pittsburgh is familial and rather inclusive compared to some other big cities; there’s a decent amount of scenes within the scene as a whole for the wide span of genres being played. I’m involved heavily for a few core reasons: I love this city, I love performing and I love dancing with people.”
I was curious as to how different the process of making music with a band is compared to making it on your own. Dylan said, “With String Machine being a 7 piece band, the Ron Mist project is a starkly different creative process. Both have their charm! The cool thing about String Machine is that everyone is so talented, and each member has a unique set of influences, so the writing process is challenging in the best way. We go back and forth on ideas for weeks until we slide into what feels best. With Ron mist, I have no pressure to work at a particular pace (which is sometimes bad cause I’ll just default to watching It’s Always Sunny in my free time), but when I’m in the zone that means I can work on really small parts for hours. Common Loon is a four piece guitar rock bad, and I have been given a lot of freedom to write my arts almost completely which has been a blast. The JAXYN project has been the most pure fun; Jackson has a whole song written lyrically with the vocal melody and I build the instrumental around it. Writing with a band is like making a collage where some stuff eventually gets covered up to serve the whole piece, whereas solo work/production work feels more like a sculpture.”
Dylan has been part of many events as Ron Mist, and has even had the chance to host his own. The event is called Mistified, which is a silent disco that features many Pittsburgh based DJs. In regards to the event, Dylan considers them to be very successful being they are only just getting started. He expressed how excited and grateful he was of this event and stated that, “ I was blessed with getting to spin next to literally all of my favorite DJs in the city, and a lot of people came out to the event who found it purely from advertisements, which is really encouraging that people just think the concept is cool enough to go to some random dude named Ron Mist’s event. There will definitely be more to come!”
By Austyn Hutchison
On a humid summer evening in Pittsburgh, I walked into “The Rodeo”, a house venue in Mount Washington. One of the bands on the bill was “Sweat” a local band I had never heard before, but the name already had my interest when I first saw the flier. Their performance only set the hook. Their sound was unlike any other band I had heard at DIY shows in the city. It is more akin to Fleetwood Mac and Rush than Black Flag and Nirvana.
Their first single, “Jane”, a song that would fit right in with the soundtrack of “Dazed and Confused”, came out on October 14th. Their retro sound shines through, starting with a foot-tapping buildup that jumps into a head banging, full speed ahead rock song. After the second chorus, a quiet bridge leads into a guitar solo full of hot licks reminiscent of southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd. Be on the lookout for more music, as they have more to come in 2023.
By Austyn Hutchison
Mac Demarco released his newest album “Five Easy Hot Dogs” on January 20th. This album is strikingly different from Mac’s previous releases, in that it is completely instrumental. At first I found this a bit jarring, and it probably isn’t an album I would sit and listen to intently, but it showcases Mac’s musical ability in a new way. During my first listen I was enjoying the music, but the lack of lyrics makes some the songs feel like they drag on a little longer than they should. However, it eventually hit me why I liked his music in the first place: the eclectic and unique sounds, which have not left- merely taken on a new shape. No artist should be expected to sound the same year after year (unless you’re AC/DC), and Mac has proved he is not going to be cornered into one sound.
While giving the album another listen, I tried to imagine what the music made me think of. Rather than telling a story or conveying a message through lyrics, perhaps the music itself is taking that role. When I listen to songs like “Gualala 2” and “Vancouver 3” I get the sense of a mysterious journey. The light percussion and acoustic guitar conjures the image of a jungle, or a mountain forest during a foggy night drive. Perhaps Mac is describing the feelings of each of these locations? We may never know, but it allows our mind's eye to explore and make sense of what we're hearing for itself.
The names of cities throughout the Five Easy Hot Dogs strengthens this sense of travel that I get while listening to the album (which seems like what a couple friends would make around a fire while listening). Demarco brings some funk into the new folky sound with
“Chicago”, one of the last three songs on the album. This song is followed by, you guessed it, “Chicago 2”, a folksy yet notably Mac-style psychedelic jam with a waterfall-like guitar and synth melody that could put one into a trance. Overall, this album is a shift in Mac Demarco’s previous music, but it is by no means a negative one. As I stated before, no artist should be expected to put out music that sounds the same each time, and this album shows how dynamic of a musician Mac Demarco is, going from surfy psychedelic jams to stripped-down, laid-back folk.
By Austyn Hutchison
Nashville based country singer Brit Taylor will be releasing her new album Kentucky Blue on February 3rd. She has released four singles from the upcoming album, “Ain’t a Hard Livin”, “Rich Little Girls”, “Kentucky Blue”, and “Cabin in the Woods”. I had the pleasure of seeing Brit Taylor live when her and her husband, Adam Chaffins, opened for Blackberry Smoke at The Roxian Theater. I got to hear some of these new songs and was reeled in by their musical ability (and country charm) instantly.
The EP of new singles starts off with “Ain’t a Hard Livin”, a sweet country love song about how the woes of life aren’t so bad when you find the right person to go through them with. “I’d follow you to Timbuktu, because it ain’t a hard livin’ when I’m loving on you” sums up this message perfectly, an ideal true love that’s good no matter where you find yourself in the world.
“Rich Little Girls” is an anthem about the passion and drive that musicians have to pursue their goals. The chorus nails this theme with the lines “9 to 5, honey I wish/ more like 24/7/ the only days off that I’m gonna get/ is when I get to heaven”. During her set at the Roxian Theater, Brit prefaced this song with a story of how she found her way into the world of making music, the struggles to find her place, and the joy when she finally did. She dedicates it to all those waiting tables, delivering food and all other odd jobs us musically passionate outcasts will do to get some time in the studio and the music out of their heart.
Of course, no country album is complete without one or two songs that tug at the heartstrings, and that’s where the next single “Kentucky Blue” steps in. A story of a love turned cold, white lies, and the lonesome aftermath. It’s a song that even non-country fans can relate to, because we all go through these times in our lives. I really enjoy this song’s use of different state names in the opening lines about being Texas tired, New York wired, Louisiana lonesome, Colorado high, and of course, Kentucky Blue.
By Austyn Hutchison
Americana and bluegrass artist Billy Strings announced his next album, Me/And/ Dad was released on November 18th, and contains fourteen classic country and bluegrass songs that he and his father, Terry Barber, have played since Strings was growing up. He also recently released another single “John Deere Tractor” to go with the previously released “Long Journey Home” and “Life to Go”.
“John Deere Tractor”, a slow and melancholic country tune about returning to one’s roots after realizing there is nowhere else to go, is fitting for an album of classic songs with his father. One can almost feel the country breeze on a fall day when they hear Strings sing “hey mama, here’s a letter from your son/ I guess my city days are done” over the clear acoustic guitars, soft yet vibrant fiddle, and the tucked-away slide playing that gives it that classic country sound, similar to “Please Be with Me” by Cowboy.
String’s father Terry Barber joins in on the chorus to sing, “I’m like a John Deere tractor in a half-acre field/ trying to plow furrow where the soil is made of steel”. Even someone who can’t relate to farming life can get the picture here: being stuck somewhere that just doesn’t seem like it has much to offer. When I close my eyes and listen, I picture sitting on a back porch with your family somewhere in Appalachia, enjoying the simplicity and quiet the country has to offer.
I saw Billy Strings at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh on November 5th and it will be a concert I remember for a long time. I had never been to one of his concerts before, let alone a bluegrass show in general, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before the show started, I got a feeling this was going to be a jam concert due to the amount of Grateful Dead tee shirts I saw within the first five minutes. I was right. Billy and his band tore into several extended jams throughout the night and proved that they are much more than a bluegrass band.
One of my favorite parts of the night was, of course, hearing Billy play his guitar. Even on an acoustic, he played with so much intensity and passion that there were no doubts he was born to play. I was impressed with how dynamic they are, a long psychedelic jam would flow into some fast bluegrass pickin’ that showed just how strong and creative the band are as musicians. It is safe to say that show will not be my last, and I look forward to the next time Billy and his band return to Pittsburgh.