This year has taken far too much from us: lives, livelihoods and the ability to hug our loved ones, not to mention the shouted conversations with friends over the soothing noise of music at our favorite bar s. The last thing we need is to cede our chance to honor the city’s finest music professionals.
The Dallas Observer Music Awards, on their 32nd year, celebrate artists and other workers in the local music industry with awards in 38 categories, from Best Song to Best Record Store.
All of the nominees do their part to create Dallas' soundtrack, but there are far too many categories and too much good work to applaud to fit in one story, so here we’re highlighting five original performers: singer MATTIE, who is up for Best Music Video and Best Experimental/Noise Act; Jacks Haupt, nominated for Best New Artist and Best Solo Act; Keite Young, lead singer for Medicine Man Revival, who is nominated for Best Album of the Year and Best Vocalist; Jayson Lyric, up for Best Album, Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act and Best Song; and LaVoyce, who is nominated for Best EP, Best Songwriter, Best Vocalist, Best Solo Act and Best Funk/R&B.
Man With a Smile: Keite Young
Fort Worth. Spring 2019. Beneath a cruel sun and that impossible Texas sky, a man draped in white saunters onto the stage, flanked by a few of his many friends. If you look closely, you can see Keite Young is covered in a thin sheen of glistening sweat. You’d be, too, if you just finished performing a heart-pumping, soul-baring, made-for-the-movies track with Bobby Sessions on Fortress Fest’s main stage. But it’s probably not the sweat you’ll remember, nor the white garb, the jewelry or the wide-brimmed hat. It’s the smile. Damn, that smile.
Young’s mirthful, arresting grin exudes confidence, charisma and compassion. It’s a signal he’s doing what he loves with people he adores. Flash forward to fall 2020. Young, 43, is alone, and it’s been months since he performed with Medicine Man Revival, the band that mixes blues, rock, funk and gospel in one vat of sonic soup. The stage is gone, as are the strangers. But the smile remains.
“I’m ever the optimist,” he says over the phone in late November. “Even in my most broken and helpless of states, I don’t ever feel hopeless, because I’ve come to terms with the fact that control is unnecessary for success.”
That’s a typical sentence for Young, who speaks with the vocabulary of a businessman and the affect of a shaman, saying things like, “When your attention and your intention are aligned, you can move the sun and moon.” If you talk to him for an extended period, you would be forgiven for wondering if you signed up for a motivational class and forgot all about it until now. But, Young’s sentiments never seem trite. Here is a man who wants you to experience unbridled joy. He’s found that happiness, and he goes to great lengths to protect it.
“I try not to adopt anyone else’s stress,” he says. “I’m never the dude you’ll see stressed out. If I feel stress coming on, I’ll go isolate real quick.”
That’s what Young is doing on this late November day: isolating. It’s been almost a year since Medicine Man Revival released their long-awaited debut album WAR, which netted the band a Dallas Observer Music Award nomination for Best Album and helped Young earn yet another nod for Best Vocalist. Many fans and armchair critics wondered why it took the band nearly six years to release a full-length record, but Young insists WAR arrived right on time.
“I wanted to lead with our strongest asset, which is our live performance,” he says. “I believe the edge we have comes from being on stage and the expression and the vulnerability and the energy that comes from that dynamic. It’s different. It’s more effective and there’s more energy being exchanged versus just listening through a pair of speakers.”
The band’s lineup includes DOMA-nominated producer Jason Burt and a handful of alums from The Texas Gentlemen and projects by Erykah Badu. Burt and Young met when the latter was already going by the name “Medicine Man,” and their natural rapport quickly evolved into a larger experiment.
Like a traveling revue, Medicine Man Revival pops up here and there, playing a surprise show one night, then reappearing a few weeks later. In between, the band’s individual members pursue their own passion projects which, for Young and Burt, means collaborating with Leon Bridges and John Mayer. According to Young, the band was never meant to be the sole project for any of its individual parts. Their transience is by design.
“The intention to do whatever we want whenever we wanted was always embedded in the character of the band,” the singer says. “I don’t care if we didn’t play for two years then suddenly wanted to play. We never defined ourselves as having some kind of horizon timeline for success.”
By 2019, the band had a treasure trove of tracks waiting to be assembled. Young, Burt and co. gathered at Modern Electric, where Young took on the role of self-described “seed planter.” He used to relish the role of “garden planter,” where his fellow performers were following his vision. But Medicine Man Revival has neither time nor space for narrow-minded gardeners. The band is the garden, and Young is just part of the collective.
“When you’re making a record, you’re assembling pieces to actually fit into an overall vision, and hopefully you leave room for God,” he says. “In other words, you leave room for spontaneous inspiration. It’s my job to give ideas space to be big enough for everyone to own a piece of. So I’m a big proponent of the word ‘we.’ It kinda irritates me when I hear people refer to themselves so much.”
After that, Young adds a particularly shamanesque thought: “Small minds gather agency from perceiving themselves as separate.”
WAR is proof that this collective approach works. Each song sounds completely different from the last. Its refined, confident sound makes you wish all bands could get five years to hone their sound and style, especially when they’re incorporating as many sounds and styles as MMR. New songs are in the works, but there is no set release date for a follow-up album.
Inevitably, this will perturb some fans, especially when a global pandemic has kept them from seeing the group on stage. Some fans (and armchair critics) have even vented their frustrations online. But Young wasn’t mad. Instead, he did what he usually does, what anyone does when they have an ace in the hole, a trick up their sleeve or genuine joy in their heart: He smiled. – Tyler Hicks
Oh, Sweet Nothing: MATTIE
It’s a hard day’s night, after 10 p.m., when singer Mattie gets to wash off the chemicals that permeate her day job as a stylist and colorist in a chic Henderson salon. Coming home, in Mattie’s world, is not an opportunity to relax but a moment to meditate on the meaning of life in all its possibilities.
The Dallas singer is in a perpetual state of reflection, ruminating on the burdens of existence and making taxing attempts to transcend the human experience.
“I feel like that's what we're here for,” she says. “That's really what my music is all about. My music, my life. My call is to transcend the ego and this dualistic nature and not necessarily come out of my body and go somewhere else, but to be within the body, not be living from it.”
The artist’s small talk is enormous. A simple conversation can turn fiercely metaphysical. The details of her recordings are meaningless when measured against the inspiration behind them, a catalog of philosophy, spiritual consideration and mysticism worthy of Joseph Campbell’s analysis.
This otherworldly ethos is omnipresent in every aspect of MATTIE's work: her experimental music is riddled with feeling, her lyrics urgent, her visuals intrinsic to her message, and a stage performance that's an artful, magnetic event. (She performs under an all-caps version of her given name.)
In the past year, she’s released “Running,” “Phive” and “Close,” all singles accompanied by videos directed by Alex Currington, and part of her upcoming debut EP, produced by Black Taffy and Brianne Sargent, Jupiter's Purse.
“This is the thing about the music,” she says, in a secretive tone. “All of last year's music is all a part of this bigger story.”
The secret (one of many) is perhaps that Mattie has a character — not a professional alter-ego — called Mhuv, pronounced “move” whose story is observed through MATTIE's lyrics.
“Mhuv is a representation of me and kinda how my life, I feel, has been and how it's kind of unfolded.”
The artist has been unfolding as MATTIE, Mhuv and any other incarnation of self with various bands over a decade. She’s done all genres and counted local icons like Mark Lettieri and Keite Young as band members, but she’s found her calling as a solo artist and one of the most electrifying performers to ever grace local stages, swallowing her audiences whole with timeless energy.
She recalls a recent psychedelic-fueled incident where she found herself contemplating whether she should jump off a bridge in order to transcend, wanting to return to a bodyless "original state," which is the genesis of the character.
"Transcending for me is not just like coming out of your body and turning into an alien or something like that," she says. "But it is literally transcending your belief that you're the body and returning to your original state. All of us, before the body, we're here. We were here before the body as consciousness."
To reconcile that ego death with the necessarily hyper self-aware work of an artist, she maintains one stance: "I take the road of I have no intention"
She does, however, mean to convey and create a significant experience for her audience. She describes that force with two metaphors: as a midwife assisting audiences in rebirth or reckoning, and as a cross guard helping them get to the other side of their consciousness.
"Really, all I'm doing is holding your hand through a process that you're gonna go through with or without me on the stage," she says.
It all started with her preacher father, who introduced her to "spiritual gifts" while she was growing up in Hutchins.
"Like speaking in tongues, fasting, praying," she says. "Those are my first introductory tools, I would say, to kind of quieting myself ... pulling me back to a different space within another space to be able to observe something much greater than me."
Along with studying other disciplines and the "potency" of relationships, her path leads her to ask the same repeated question: "Who am I?"
"If something pisses me off, I'm like, but who is pissed off? You know, is that Mattie?" she says. "But are you Mattie? So then, I have to question myself. I have to question myself."
She doesn't reject the concept of self, she merely accepts it on a different plain. MATTIE's found a satisfactory answer.
"The most clear answer that I've come to is nothing," she says. "No thing. No thing, no person, no place, no noun, no adjective, no pronoun. No thing, person, place or thing is what we are, is what I am, you know?"
There is one thing, however, that she holds as gospel in her songwriting process, a thought which she credits to advice from fellow nominee Young.
“If you're willing to tell the truth in your writing, then it always hits,” she says. “The truth always hits.” – Eva Raggio
Notes From the Underground: Jacks Haupt
There’s a new generation of R&B, hip-hop and pop acts fortifying a base of grassroots fans within the burgeoning DFW underground music scene. They’ve done so without the aid of the Deep Ellum live music circuit or coverage from local mainstream publications. Artists such as Devy Stonez, Coach Tev, Chloe Jobin, Angel White and Falik Fahim belong to this class. One musician in particular at the forefront of this talented group is 20-year-old singer-songwriter and Oak Cliff native Jacks Haupt.
Haupt is a quintessential “old soul” whose music and visuals would trick you into believing she’s lived longer than the two decades she has under her belt. She’s driven by telling stories through her music, and those stories are primarily about true love. That theme was the inspiration for 1973, one of the two EPs she released this year.
“1973 was inspired by different 1970s Chicano artists that I sampled from," she says. "Those songs were some of my grandparents' favorite that they listened to when they were young teenagers and they met in 1973."
Haupt's other release was La Mezcla: Illusion, which drew from a series of negative experiences in a previous relationship. Haupt originally intended to release a full-length album of 12 songs, but those plans were derailed by the pandemic.
“I was hoping to collaborate with different artists, videographers and producers," Haupt says of her original plans. "I wanted to travel more and create visuals throughout the places I was going to go. The pandemic affected me a lot.”
In addition to her grandparents, Haupt cites Selena, Aretha Franklin and Kurt Cobain as musical influences, but Amy Winehouse had the biggest effect on her as a person and musician.
“Her voice is just so powerful that it really touches people's souls. It touches your spirit," Haupt says. "Amy was a one-of-a-kind. She experienced a lot as a woman and she spoke to so many people that went through heartbreak and depression.”
Haupt is a part of a documentary that is following up-and-coming Chicano artists, and she has plans to move to California next year. Her debut album, Corazon Virtual, is scheduled for release somewhere in the first part of 2021. Despite the setbacks, she’s optimistic about the future.
“I’m really excited," she says. "COVID stopped me from releasing this album and I’m kind of glad it did because I was able to take more time and be more patient with it. It was like a stop sign that allowed me to make my craft better than it was.”
Artists are at an advantage when they know what differentiates them from others and are aware of those strengths. Jacks Haupt is confident that her storytelling will drive her success.
“There’s a vintage lifestyle that I want to portray in my music,” Haupt says. “Some people just do songs because they’re catchy, but I want to show that I’m a real person telling stories through my art. I think it’s very important and it’s a beautiful thing to see that.” – Roderick Pullum
C'mon Get Happy: LaVoyce
When LaVoyce was 7 years old, she wrote her first song. Clutching the paper on which her creation was scrolled, the budding artist walked into her father’s studio and showed him the lyrics. Her father is a sound engineer, so LaVoyce grew up surrounded by production equipment. This was her first shot at penning a tune, and she was excited to share it with someone who knew music.
She watched her father’s eyes as he scanned the lyrics, most of which talked about butterflies. Then, he looked at his daughter.
“My head immediately blew up, because he liked it,” she says. A songwriter was born.
Eighteen years later, LaVoyce has blossomed into one of Dallas’ most exciting artists. She’s up for five Dallas Observer Music Awards, including Best Funk/R&B artist, Best Songwriter and Best Solo Act. Her latest release, LV Tape, Vol. 1, is duking it out for Best EP. The soulful singer was at the nail salon with fellow nominee Duche$$ when she got the news about her noms.
“It was a moment where I realized how important it is to trust the process,” she says. “It was really cool to see people that were so happy with me.”
The 25-year-old artist has been thinking a lot about happiness. She’s a firm believer in the power of happy songs, and she thinks they benefit our society. The way LaVoyce sees it, if you put positive energy out there, that’s good for everybody. But there’s just one problem: writing happy songs can be hard.
“I find it challenging to write happy songs, or even songs that have happy endings,” she says. “Our pain makes better music sometimes, and it’s easier to feel pain than to be happy. So yeah, I have an issue with love songs, happy songs, anything like that.”
It’s a dim Dallas day just before Thanksgiving, and LaVoyce is taking a break from songwriting to chat. Over the phone, she’s shy, quiet and earnest about her creativity and her aspirations. She’s a perfectionist, she admits, and she wants to make sure each record is fine-tuned to the hilt before it’s heard by the masses. She’s also a tinkerer, as shown by the distinct differences between her 2018 debut Bloom and the EP she released this July.
“Bloom was more experimental,” she says. “I produced a lot of the records on there, and I was just kind of doing anything I wanted. It wasn’t really a distinct sound.”
Yet it does foreshadow the confidence listeners would later hear on LV Tape, Vol. 1. The songs exude both swagger and vulnerability, taking the lames to task while giving herself and her listeners some much-needed pep talks. According to LaVoyce, most of the tracks came to her in the form of cinema.
“It’s like a music video in my head,” she explains. “I’m seeing a story unfold. I like to tell stories, and I want to give you the setup, the problem and the solution, all in one song. You get the whole thing right there.”
When the EP begins, LaVoyce is flexing her vocal chops over a pared-down instrumental. “Think of Me” is the kind of song you’d expect to hear late at night at a blues club, complete with the soft pitter-patter of a hi-hat. Her voice is soft, almost soothing, with a don’t-fuck-with-me edge that she carries throughout the record. By track four, “Forever Love,” the façade is failing: LaVoyce is a lover scorned, and even though she knows her unnamed lover is bad for her, she can’t help but miss them. It’s a biting, memorable tune that surprises you with its bold frankness and stays with you long after you listen.
LV Tape, Vol. 1 is full of impressive tricks just like this. LaVoyce pulls you in with her brash braggadocio, then throws a curveball by admitting she’s hurting, too. If Bloom was indeed a series of experiments, the artist seems to have found some key themes here. And even though the EP has earned LaVoyce a crop of local fans, she’s still nervous every time she releases new records.
“I think I’ll always feel the butterflies a little about,” she says. “Especially in this day and age. I’m someone who likes to mix things up, so it can be tough when people expect you to sound a certain way.”
One day soon, she plans on writing some more happy songs, too.
“I did actually write a love song yesterday, so that counts, right?” she says. “I think that’s progress.” – Tyler Hicks
Quality Is Job 1: Jayson Lyric
The quality and consistency of rapper/producer Jayson Lyric have been nothing short of a treasure to the North Texas music scene. Lyric and his production team NHouse Penthouse are the architects of a unique style of hip-hop that blends elements of conscious rap, R&B, gospel and trap. Those ingredients are coupled with clever wordplay, infectious melodies and choruses that are quickly engraved into the listener's memory.
Over the last decade, you’d be hard-pressed to find another local rapper more prolific than Lyric. In 2015, he released the first installment of his mixtape series Brick X Brick. Since then, he’s recorded three additional albums within that series. The latest, Brick IV, was released Nov. 13. Lyric also has three acclaimed albums within his catalog, including 2016's Lyric Show, Billy Goat (2017), and this year's Best Album nominee, Cashmere Don.
A single from that project, “Driving Me Crazy,” is nominated for Best Song, while Lyric is also nominated for Best Hip-Hop Artist. Despite his accomplishments, the rapper has largely flown under the radar of in-depth press coverage. Most of the public has yet to learn about the Oak Cliff native, beginning with the origin of his stage name.
“Originally my name was Young Jay,” Lyric says. “But everybody was Young something at the time. Then came artists like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco with the first name-last name trend. So, I wanted to use my government name Jayson and add a cool last name that represented me. As a songwriter 'Lyrics' was perfect, but the name Jayson Lyrics was taken on Myspace already, so I dropped the 's.'”
The Brick X Brick series has been a staple of Lyric’s career, and he’s used it effectively as a marketing tool. With the release of the fourth installment, Lyric hasn’t stated whether the series will continue.
“Brick V doesn’t sound as cool as Brick IV, so if I can think of a cooler title why not keep it going," he says. "Plus, people enjoy mixtape Lyric and I enjoy being able to show more of my MC side and just rap my ass off.”
“On Brick IV, I wanted to give the people what they want and have fun with it," he continues. "Friday the 13th was coming up and you know that’s a Jayson Lyric holiday because that’s when I release new content. The Brick series always leads up to the album — so stay tuned.”
The production, engineering and sequence of each Jayson Lyric project strive for excellence. Producer K-Gray has essentially been Lyric’s right hand throughout most of his career. However, his relationship with Oktober 1st, who’s nominated for Best Hip-Hop Producer, has elevated his sound to new heights.
“Oktober and I have an interesting relationship, because we might say 10 words total in our sessions," Lyric says. "I think where we mesh so well is the fact that we take pride in quality, and we’re perfectionists. I feel he just needed the right artist to build with and vice versa. He truly has a big heart, he’s selfless and literally invested in everything we do."
It’s a common occurrence for artists to complain ad nauseam about not receiving the credit or coverage they feel they deserve. Sometimes it’s nonsense, but it’s often warranted. Lyric has been quiet about any feelings about not receiving past accolades, but if he had expressed them, his grievance would have been justified.
He knows he hasn't been adequately recognized for his music.
“No, but I understand because the appreciation for substance has deteriorated in today’s music," he says. "Honestly, I don’t stress over notoriety because at the end of the day I’m not doing it for validation. The beauty in success is not made without the journey.” – Roderick Pullum
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