Posts by Teresa Johnson

Teresa Johnson is a journalism graduate from the University of Maryland. She has worked for organizations like PBS NewsHour, Education Week, NASA and the National Head Start Association. Reach her at or follow her on Twitter @teresajohnsn

Pen Palindrome Performs an Intimate Live Set at WMUC Third Rail Radio

On Sunday evening, Feb. 24, in the live room of WMUC’s Radio station, Ava Mirzadegan, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Fairfax, Va., performed a magical set of music for the College Park community under the band name Pen Palindrome.

Inspired by her name, Mirzadegan’s band name originates from the signature on her childhood penpal letters, which she signed, “Your pen palindrome, Ava.”

Mirzadegan said that her emotional state is something her songwriting is inspired by, and that she has not been inspired to write anything with particular direction lately.

Instead, she said, she ad libs lyrics that showcase her “emotions and subconscious at play,” even though there are musical influences that Mirzadegan draws inspiration from.

“I would describe my genre as ‘ambient rock that you can take home to meet your family,'” Mirzadegan said.

WMUC Live Music Director, James Lore, said that after seeing Ava’s first live show in early February, he wanted to have her play a show at Third Rail.

Whether big or small, Lore said that it’s important to give all bands a chance to share their music by giving them a platform at the radio station.

“There’s so many talented musicians around here that deserve exposure like we give them,” Lore said.

Lore said that bringing different music genres to WMUC, ranging from hard core rock to soft indie sounds, shares the larger life narrative that “live performance is super vital and without it, music is less interesting.”

“I would describe my genre as ‘ambient rock that you can take home to meet your family,'”- Ava Mirzadegan

During a few of her songs, Mirzadegan is accompanied by a drum machine that  resembles a tiny piano. She said that the machine is part of an electric organ that she bought off of Craigslist.

It’s not the only instrument from Craigslist that Mirzadegan owns. She also has “three organs and an autoharp” as well as “a bunch of guitars and pianos that have either been gifted to [her] or bought.”

Inspired through instruments, Mirzadegan said she would rather recreate sounds when she plays live, than produce them through a computer.

“I love finding all their unique voices and being able to hold them in my hands rather than it living on a screen,” she said.

Playing music right after a louder, more intense band, Lore said that Mirzadegan’s sound emphasized the importance of showcasing a diverse range of live music.

“I liked having Ava’s set as an immediate foil to that of a hardcore punk band,” Lore said.

Maliq Emmanuel, a show-goer and resident of Hyattsville, Md., who had not heard of Pen Palindrome before said that he thoroughly enjoyed the sound of Mirzadegan’s solo band and would see her perform again.

By performing in the small space of the live room and having the audience sit closely next to one another,  Emmanuel said that the intimate experience made Mirzadegan’s music stand out more.

“I really enjoyed the chill vibes of all of her songs, ” Emmanuel said. “To me, it felt like the music she wrote came from a genuine place.”



Ava Mirzadegan, of Pen Palindrome, sets up instruments before playing a set in the WMUC live room in College Park, Md., Sunday, February 24, 2018. The radio station hosts live music on FM radio every Sunday at events called “Third Rail,” where the University of Maryland college community can go support local and touring artists. (Photo by Teresa Johnson)


Pen Palindrome’s attention is drawn to the Live Music Director (out of shot) about information that their show will be live, on-air, at 7 p.m. in the live room of WMUC Radio, Sunday, February 24, 2018. The live room is a small space of the radio station where members of the community can gather to sit or stand in the room to enjoy the performance. (Photo by Teresa Johnson)


Gazing out into the crowd, Pen Palindrome captivates the audience with songs played on electric guitar and soft sounds of a drum machine in the live room of WMUC Radio, Sunday, February 24, 2018. Pen Palindrome plays their whimsical set following a performance of a hard rock band, providing a counteractive calming presence. (Photo by Teresa Johnson)


Along with a mostly solo set, Ava Mirzadegan of Pen Palindrome (left) sings with sister Raha (right) during part of the set in the live room of WMUC Radio, Sunday, February 24, 2018. The sisters sing to a cover of “Love More” by Sharon Van Etten and an original song called “idk” that both of them co-wrote. (Photo by Teresa Johnson)


Live Music Director, James Lore, chats with Pen Palindrome on-air after their set about coming up with the name for the band and what they been up to musically in the FM studio of WMUC Radio, Sunday, February 24, 2018. The FM radio station, 88.1, is a channel that the surrounding College Park community can tune in to with the intent of discovering new music and listening to students’ shows. (Photo by Teresa Johnson)

SALES’ newest album Forever & Ever will give you peace of mind

During the middle of summer, SALES released their newest album, Forever & Ever on July 19, 2018.

The album produces a lo-fi pop sound to slightly mirror their 2016 SALES LP. Band members from Orlando, Florida, Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih, create the soft sounding album which delivers a melancholy vibe while giving perspective on small life situations.

Originally, SALES started producing music on Bandcamp prior to releasing their first EP in 2014. Shortly after that, it was only two years later when their long play album made its debut.

The guitar, played by Jordan Shih, creates a gentle and romantic sound in each song while the beat of each song echoes in the background from a simple drum machine. SALES uses this instrument to make each song special, and their delicate melodies help to set their sound apart from other current indie pop bands.

Lauren Morgan’s vocals remain airy, almost reminiscent of Victoria Legrand’s vocals in the band, Beach House but with a sweeter resonance which surrounds their emotional lyrics.

To share an example of the different moods that Forever & Ever reflects, their song “White Jeans” centers around attraction to someone at a party where that person’s white jeans stand out, showing that they’re noticed. The person wearing them is just having a good time dancing around, acknowledging the attention. The song is reminiscent of a simple part of a fun night.

In a more emotionally complex song on the album, “You Look Well,” shares an experience of meeting someone familiar again after a long period of time. The song could hint at past miscommunication with an old flame, but also shares how both people are doing well even though a longing feeling on each side may still linger.

These are personal takes on what situations both songs could represent, but as a listener the simple lyrics throughout make expressing difficult emotions sound easier.

Other dreamy songs off of the album consist of “Moon Dogs,” “Spiral,” and “Rainy Day Loop” which are some of my favorites.

Suitable for the over-thinkers and the day-dreamers, Forever & Ever resembles a relatable race of thoughts. And while your head may be stuck in thought bubble clouds, the album reminds listeners that your thoughts are important and beautiful. It shows that even though moments can be short and small in size, they are significantly large at heart.

SALES will be performing at the Rock & Roll Hotel in D.C. on September 26, 2018. Tour dates and tickets can be found here.

Written by WMUC Music Director, Teresa Johnson.

Photo courtesy of SALES’ Bandcamp.


Reposted from WMUC Tumblr

Angel Olsen performs Friday @ 9:30 club – NW Washington D.C.


Angel Olsen @ 9:30 club in D.C. on Friday, December 15, 2017

Angel Olsen performed a magical set on Friday December 15th at the 9:30 club. She also performed Thursday, resulting in two consecutive nights of performing. Upon arrival at the 9:30 club, the first thirty people who got to the venue were sent to the downstairs 9:30 backbar to escape the bitterly cold weather and wait for the performance.


White Magic opens for Angel Olsen in a hauntingly beautiful performance

White Magic opened to perform a psychedelic display of music which incorporated a drum, a looper effect pedal that played different piano melodies and background vocals, and sang some songs accompanied with a shruti box (similar to an accordion). Even without a band, her solo set was enchanting, as her voice echoed throughout the venue. She performed a few songs off of her 2015 album, I’m Hiding my Nightingale. One song I recommend checking out from the album is “Mora” which gives off a meditative entrancing sort of sound.

Angel Olsen performed afterwards, where her band ensemble came on stage first, wearing bolo ties and light blue suits to match one another. Olsen entered minutes later in a silver pleather jump suit matched with black ankle go-go boots while the stage was blanketed in blue light. She opened with the song, “Hi-Five,” from her 2014 album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness.

Towards the end of the performance, Olsen had a solo performance of “Sans” off of Phases – which is Olsen’s newest album, released in November of this year.

During the concert she mentioned that there was a bar down the street that had named drinks after her songs. She may have been referring to the Five to One bar which creates drinks based off of 9:30 club performing artists. At another point in the show she also mentions listening to White Magic in high school, so it was really special to see and listen to an original muse of Olsen’s open for the show.

Performing popular songs, Olsen sings “Shut Up Kiss Me” from her MY WOMAN album and “Unfucktheworld” from Burn Your Fire For No Witness. The crowd sings along to both songs and Olsen jokes that her band could just play “Shut Up Kiss Me” again.

Olsen also performed songs from her 2017, Phases album. Most strikingly, “Fly on your Wall” is a personal favorite which through its presentation and interpretation of lyrics discloses a kind of vulnerability and unpredictability when it comes to romance.

Angel Olsen closes her set with an encore performance of a couple songs, singing a cover of “Five Years” by David Bowie and “Windows” from her 2014 album. Before singing both songs, she mentioned that they were really important to her.


The encore seemed like a way of wrapping up challenges faced throughout the year, whether it was getting through hardships in general, dealing with mental health, or even a mix of both.

Throughout her performance Olsen asked the audience how their year was and it was clear that a majority of speckled responses matched her weary undertones, showing that it certainly hadn’t proved to be the easiest. However, Olsen gave a very comforting performance during the holiday season that felt very needed, leaving everyone with a warm and heartening show to close out the year.

If you’re curious to know how Angel Olsen’s music sounds and are looking for a sweet serenade, check out this music video of “Special” off of Phases.

A chat with Brooklyn based music artist Gabrielle Smith

When in the music scene in D.C., you just might be given the chance to meet a cool musician from a pretty neat band.  On September 7th 2016, I had the exciting chance of meeting, talking, and interviewing an up and coming music artist Gabrielle Smith of the band Eskimeaux (now called Ó). Gabby is a part of a small indie music scene artist collective called “The Epoch” which she helped create. It consists of a series of small bands that have collaborated with one another, and work as a supportive system of musicians to showcase their work. Collaborating with these people helped Gabby to incorporate new music styles into her work.


Eskimeaux opening for “Basement” at the Rock n’ Roll hotel in D.C.

Teresa: I saw your show at the Rock & Roll Hotel in D.C. earlier this month where you opened for “Basement,” first things off, I have to say your entire band sounded stellar and I loved hearing some of the songs from your newest album. For people unfamiliar with your musical genre and sound, how would you go about describing your band?

Gabby: Thanks!!! I guess the best way to describe it is “dynamic, poppy poem-rock.”

Teresa: I know that you used to perform in another band called, “Frankie Cosmos” as the keyboardist, where you controlled a lot of the synths, and added harmonies – I saw you perform with them earlier this year – what made you leave that band?

Gabby: At the time I was in Frankie Cosmos I was in four bands at the same time. As each of the bands became more and more busy it just started to make sense that I couldn’t be in all of them at once anymore.

Teresa: How did the four of you (Oliver Kalb, Felix Walworth, Jack Greenleaf and yourself) form Eskimeaux – was it an endeavor after being with Frankie Cosmos, or was it an ongoing project previous to that?

Gabby: Eskimeaux has been my project for eight years, but it’s not fun, when you’re surrounded by such talented musicians, to just do it alone. Oliver, Felix, I had been working together since around 2011 and Jack joined in 2014. Since then we’ve all worked together on live and recorded Eskimeaux songs.

Teresa: What really got you into being the singer of a band, let alone pursuing music as a career?

Gabby: I weirdly just fell into it. When I was in high school I dated the singer of a band and I was like, “I wonder if I can do that,” so I tried it. And I liked it! I sang in a couple of (very bad) bands before starting Eskimeaux in 2007 as a solo recording project.

My bandmates and I have worked super hard to make this fun thing we do together into a career. We booked our own tours pretty relentlessly for about four years until 2015 when we started working with our record label, PR person, and booking agent. Working with them has really expanded our possibilities for making this into a career.

Teresa: What does music do for you? This is a general and open ended question, but I feel like it would be interesting to know how pursuing this as a career (full time I assume?) affects your life.

Gabby: Music provides catharsis for me. I don’t really know how else to put it!

Teresa: You must travel and tour a lot, what was your craziest touring experience – whether it was staying at someone’s place in the specific area or something someone did in the audience?

Gabby: One time we had a school bus that was parked outside the venue we were playing as a green room…that was pretty cool.

Teresa: Off your newest album that was released in April, “Year of the Rabbit”, what exactly inspired the name?

Gabby: The lyrics of the first song are “2011 / The Year of the Rabbit.” The whole EP is set between then and now.

Teresa: What would you describe is the biggest difference between your 2015 album, O.K. and this year’s album, Year of the Rabbit?

Gabby: When we were recording ‘O.K.’ the idea was to make a super produced, lush record that probably wasn’t going to be able to be reproduced live. “Year of the Rabbit” is just stripped back; there’s almost nothing extra on the record, it’s just how we play the songs live.

Teresa: What’s your favorite song off the newest album? Why?

Gabby: My favorite song from “Year of the Rabbit” is “Sleeping Bear.” I think it has the best lyrics and the most dynamic, exciting arrangement.

Teresa: You have a pet bulldog named “Frankie” that’s sported on some of your merch, and in some of your songs – when did you get your dog companion and do you find that he inspires you in a lot of your songs? Do you miss him when you’re on tour?

Gabby: I got Frankie on the first Eskimeaux tour. He was given to me by someone named Cris, who was living in Ohio and who became a friend once they gave Frankie to me! I definitely talk about him a bunch in my songs. Of course I miss him when I’m on tour! But I’m lucky to have really amazing friends who love him almost as much as I do who want to watch him while we’re gone.

Teresa: To new and upcoming musicians, what advice would you give to them in terms of success and putting themselves out there in the world of music?

Gabby: Don’t be afraid to be weird.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can follow Gabby and her band on their Facebook page for upcoming tour dates!

Porches @ the Rock and Roll Hotel – North East D.C.


Maya Laner and Aaron Maine from Porches at the merchandise table before performing.

Sunday evening, September 04, 2016 I had the pleasure of seeing one of my all-time favorite bands, “Porches” at the Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C.. I previously purchased my tickets a month prior to coming down to the D.C. venue, but knew that this was one concert I could not miss. I was unfortunately sick all of this weekend with a stubborn head cold, but that wasn’t going to stop me from going – music has a special place in my list of priorities.

If you’ve never heard of Porches, it’s about time you had! In particular, they’re an indie rock band that includes electronic synths in the majority of their songs. New York based, the band formed in 2010 and has rapidly been growing a larger fanbase. Their Fall Tour includes their performance of their newest album, “Pool” which was released in February of this year.

My personal favorite song from the album is, “Security” which includes a lot of heavy electronic synths. The lyrics also resonated with me, because they referred to the need for having a sense and place of security. It’s just a song that’s really been with me in times of feeling troubled, and I have a natural tendency to favor songs with a lot of electronic synth. However, the entire album is absolutely breathtaking and this August Porches also released a varying version of “Pool” as a single called “Water” which includes six songs from Pool that are fashioned in a more acoustic sounding, ambient remix. It also includes two additional songs, “Black Dress” and “Black Budweiser T-shirt” which just provide solidarity that Porches has that incredibly unique sound like no other band.


Porches pin – I’m an avid pin collector, so I had to add this one to my collection. Only $5 on tour, so bring some cash if you think you’ll be seeing them this Fall!

Before purchasing any merchandise, I spoke with Maya Laner, bass guitarist, at the merchandise table and was a little awestruck, however I didn’t hesitate to buy a couple items to sport my love for the band and represent the indie music culture scene that I’m proud to be a part of. I showed her my Frankie Cosmos pin on my jean jacket that I purchased about a month ago when I saw her perform, and told her I was a pin collector, so I had to get a Porches pin. She jokingly laughed after I showed her and exclaimed, “What are you waiting for? You have to buy a pin, only then will I know you’re a true collector!” It should also be known that the lead singer of Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline, that I had seen a while back a couple of times, is actually dating Aaron Maine, the lead singer of Porches, so I thought it would also be cute to get a Porches pin, as a way of having a pair – two great bands, who are ironically pretty close. It should be known that I placed these pins together on my jacket, close to my heart too. I really cherish both of these bands in general.

In a recent interview conducted by A Music Blog? Yea on YouTube, Aaron describes “Dark Muscle” (which you can see pictured on the pin above) as the term used in the way that he feels the energy from the music he creates. Similar to receiving dark vibes from his unique and electric sounds, with this term he refers to the human heart – where it’s dark inside your body, but “you imagine the heart lit up” which reflects the impact the music has. I thought it was interesting concept since I wasn’t really aware of how the term came about at first since it isn’t listed as a song.


I was towards the very back when Porches performed, only because I wasn’t feeling well, but even from the distance where I was standing, every song resonated within me. They came back on stage for an encore and performed Security as well at the end of the show. Honestly I consider this one of the best concerts I’ve seen in quite some time, and I’m not just saying that as a biased reviewer, it was a solid performance that left a good kind of vibe within the atmosphere. Their sound includes variety that is generally great for all audiences. The majority of people in the audience seemed to be in their early to late twenties, but I even saw some folks that looked as if they might have been older. At smaller venues like the Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C., you get a more personal feel for the music, and you get to talk with the artists when they’re not performing. If that’s not considered cool, then I don’t know what is!

Opener Bands – Japanese Breakfast and Rivergazer

Also, as a side note, Japanese Breakfast and Rivergazer performed as Porches‘ openers and their sounds were unique in their own right. Lead singer, Michelle Zauner, performs in Japanese Breakfast, and she signed “Psychopomp,” her newest album, for me. Rivergazer’s Kevin Farrant also plays lead guitar for Porches, but opened the concert with a few songs from their album, “Only 4 U” which you can check out here on their bandcamp.

Something interesting that I learned after reading an article in Rookie Magazine about Michelle, is that the band name, Japanese Breakfast, has nothing to do with her ethnicity – in fact she’s actually half Korean. She stated in the article’s interview that she simply liked how both words sounded together. How “breakfast” was a very Americanized term, whereas Japanese sounded more foreign and mysterious. People would automatically assume she was Japanese, which wasn’t the case at all. I guess it’s just important to note that not every name associated with something necessarily has to define the way something is. Michelle was super sweet and down to earth, and I’ve been playing her album on repeat with the portable CD player I own. “Psychopomp” is definitely an album worth giving a listen – with its experimental indie pop vibes, it’s definitely a sound you’ll want to keep listening and grooving to.

If you were interested in hearing some of Porches‘ music, take a look at this really rad music video to their song, “Car.”