Music Spotlight: Chesco native Zell sees album plans put on hold, but finds silver lining

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Nicole Zell

When America screeched to a halt in early March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was turned upside-down and inside-out. Nothing was the same.

The music industry got slammed. Venues closed and tours got cancelled. Recording sessions were put in limbo. Album releases got put on hold indefinitely.

The shutdown was bad for the entire music world, but the timing actually could have been much worse for Chester County musician Nicole Zell and her band THRILLCHASER.

“We finished making our sophomore album late last year and were looking at a release early this year,” said Zell, during a phone interview Tuesday evening from her home in Bala Cynwyd.

The usual pattern for bands is to release an album and then follow with months and months of touring – playing live shows to support the album and introduce the songs.

Had THRILLCHASER’s album dropped just before the bottom dropped out it would have been a worst-case scenario.

“We’re in a holding pattern now,” said Zell. “If the shutdown didn’t happen, we would have had shows booked and been touring the album.

“But, if we had released the album and then been unable to tour, it would have been a disaster. Having a new record to promote and being unable to present it to the fans live would have been a really bad situation.”

The band’s fans do have one album to stay attached to.

“The first THRILLCHASER album, which was called ‘A lot Like Love,’ came out in February 2018,” said Zell. “We recorded it with Taylor Larson at Oceanic Recording Studio in Bethesda, Maryland.”

The THRILLCHASER line-up on the band’s debut LP featured Zell on guitar and vocals along with two musicians from Providence, Rhode Island – Rod Pires on vocals and Rob Lundy on bass and synthesizer.

“We met online in 2014 through Facebook,” said Zell, who was raised in Chester County. “It was just kind of meant to be. They were looking for a female guitarist. I went to Rhode Island to meet them and we instantly connected.

“The album came out early 2018 and Rod left the band in late 2018. When Rod left, I took over as lead vocalist. Rob’s still playing synth and bass and we now have Chris Spousta on drums and percussion. He’s from Boston but he lives down here now.

“We started making the new album in late 2018 and finished it in September 2019. Just like with ‘A Lot Like Love,’ we recorded the new album with Taylor Larson at Oceanic Recording Studio.

“It’s a concept album. Each song will have visuals – a video to tell the story. We have a few singles and some lyric videos. But, with the shutdown, we haven’t been able to make any music videos.

For Zell, pursuing a career in music was natural. Born into a musical family, she grew up singing, songwriting, and playing instruments from an early age. Since then, she has established a successful career for herself as a solo artist – as former guitarist for alternative rock band, American Wolves – and as guitarist/vocalist for THRILLCHASER.

Zell’s songwriting achievements are equally as impressive as her extensive track record as a live performer. She has honed her craft by writing hundreds of songs, co-writing and collaborating globally, and working in numerous genres spanning from pop, indie, alt rock, country, folk, soul, funk, spoken word, to rap.

In 2014, Zell released the EP, “Take Heart,” followed by 2016 single, “Heart Open Wide“, which premiered on Fuse TV.  Zell also has experience as a radio host personality. She has been the host of local music radio show, SoundStage, on WCHE 1520 since 2013.

“For my original music, I’ve been recording in my home studio with Rod Pires,” said Zell. “I haven’t released any solo stuff in years. ‘Heart Open Wide’ was my last single and that was a while ago.

“I just released a single I did with Rod. It’s called ‘This Time’ and is a song about COVID-19. It dropped at the end of April. We recorded it together remotely – each of us in our own studio.”

On April 24, Zell posted the following on her Facebook page – “Rod Pires and I wrote this song about and amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Our hearts go out to everyone being affected by this. From our hearts, to yours – here is “This Time”. Available on all music platforms — https://open.spotify.com/album/5vZgMnNErTeJQphYxYWlfH and https://music.apple.com/us/album/this-time-single/1510385378.

Zell also has another duo thing going — a one-of-a-kind duo act with Chris Spousta. Featuring Zell on vocals and guitar accompanied by Spousta on his handmade vintage suitcase drum kit, these two artists have developed a unique, timeless sound that is entirely their own.

Born partially deaf, Spousta never allowed that adversity to thwart his aspiration to pursue a musical career. He grew up in school playing all 13 orchestral instruments and their scales. He played in a Florida state superior ranked jazz band at East Ridge High School in Clermont, a suburb of Orlando.

Spousta was the drummer for several bands including the hardcore metal band Far From Truth, which toured three years in a row on Warped Tour from 2008-2010. He also studied conducting and composing at Berklee College of Music prior to joining THRILLCHASER.

Video link for Zell and Spoustahttps://youtu.be/3VHbCqdVDvY.

The pandemic has brought dark days for musicians but for Zell, the cloud has a silver lining.

“I’ve been a full-time touring musician for 10 years so I’m enjoying the break,” said Zell. “I’ve been getting into other things like making jewelry and doing a podcast, ‘Follow Your Art,’ with Alexandra March.”

“Follow Your Art” is a home for art creators and appreciators. Hosted by artists, Alexandra March & Nicole Zell, their podcast promotes collaboration and community through hearing the stories of creatives from all different walks of life. It is available on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube and Buzzsprout.

Alexandra Kay March

Alexandra Kay March, a native of Coatesville, released her debut EP, “When the Garden Reveals Itself,” in February 2018 on legendary producer Joe Nicolo’s Blacbird Records. Her most recent single, “Committee in the Sky,” came out on January 24, 2020.

Video link for Alexandra March and Nicole Zell — https://youtu.be/bMt-0fdwAog.

Zell is also is the creator of Conjure Jewelry, a line she launched in 2020. This facet of the multi-talented artist allows her to rock out in a different way.

“I’ve been making jewelry for years – rings, pendants, bracelets,” said Zell. “I think I got it from my dad who was an amateur rockhound. I did it for fun, but people kept telling me that I should do it as a business. So, now I’m doing it as a business and it’s called Conjure Jewelry. I really enjoy working with stones like turquoise.”

Zell’s fans can enjoy her podcasts, buy her jewelry and listen to her duo projects.

Unfortunately, THRILLCHASER fans will have to wait – for the album and for live shows — for who knows how long. Hopefully for Zell and her bandmates, the old saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” will apply.

Music may not be “live” right now but it’s still “alive” — virtually.

The Kennedys’ “Bob Dylan Birthday Special Livestream” is scheduled for May 24 at 2 p.m.

According to the Kennedys’ Facebook notice, “This week we were scheduled to play the Warwick Valley Winery’s Annual Bob Dylan Festival in Warwick N.Y. and the Sunday Street Annual Bob Dylan Tribute concert in Stony Brook N.Y. In lieu of these canceled shows which we will dearly miss, we’ll be playing your Bob Dylan song requests during our weekly livestream

The link for the Kennedys’ “ Bob Dylan Birthday Special” is — https://youtu.be/kGC6rCyO7u4.

The Philadelphia Orchestra plays Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” because it believes that this year’s graduates deserve the very best.

The Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra is pleased to provide this recording of Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance No. 1,” which was recorded at the Academy of Music’s 163rd Anniversary Concert, for graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

Link for audio — https://www.philorch.org/globalassets/philadelphia-orchestra/education/hear/philadelphiaorchestra-pompandcircumstances.wav.

A good source of live/virtual music every week is the Philadelphia Orchestra (www.philorch.org/virtual). Audiences can watch both past and previously unreleased Philadelphia Orchestra performances every Thursday night at 8 PM ET. Tonight’s performance will be Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto.”

Other presentations of Virtual Philadelphia Orchestra in the upcoming week are “Selections Featuring Ricardo Morales” on May 22 at 8 p.m., “Frühbeck Conducts Lalo, Ravel, and Debussy” on May 23 at 8 p.m., “Panel Discussion with Erina Yashima and Lina Gonzalez-Granados” on May 26 at 6 p.m. and “Tuba Master Class With Carol Jantsch” on May 27 at 1 p.m.

The Metropolitan Opera (www.metopera.org) is offering “Live Opera Streams” nightly with a schedule that this week includes such classics as “Macbeth,” “Don Carlo” and “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”).

The schedule for the upcoming week features Puccini’s “Turandot” on May 21, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” on May 22, Gounod’s “Faust” on May 23 and Massenet’s “Manon” on May 24.

Now that the 2019-20 season of Opera Philadelphia (operaphila.org) has been cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is extending its season online with video streams of five recent productions, including four new works that received their world premieres from 2015-2019. Following each digital premiere, the operas will remain available on-demand for varying lengths of time through Aug. 31, 2020.

Week Four of the company’s Digital Festival O features the digital premiere of “Sky on Swings,” which had its world premiere during Festival O18. The production features music by Lembit Beecher and libretto by Hannah Moscovitch.

An unflinching yet uplifting exploration of Alzheimer’s disease from the company’s inaugural Composer in Residence Lembit Beecher, his longtime collaborator, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, and celebrated stage director Joanna Settle, the opera launched O18, the second edition of Opera Philadelphia’s annual season-opening festival, and earned a nomination for “Best World Premiere” at the 2019 International Opera Awards.

“Sky on Swings” addresses the impermanence of memory that threatens us all and explores the new hallucinatory experiences that can follow the onset of dementia.

Video link for “Sky on Swings” — https://youtu.be/OsDNg4qWfNw.

Philadelphia Youth Orchestra

WRTI 90.1 is broadcasting four concerts by the talented young musicians of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra (PYO) during the month of May in 2020. Performing with exceptional soloists and conducted by Maestro Louis Scaglione, the four-week schedule includes full concerts from 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020.

The broadcasts – two of which will feature works by West Chester’s Samuel Barber — will take place throughout the month. The remaining two are scheduled for May 24 and 31 from 4-6 p.m. and will be co-hosted by WRTI’s Kevin Gordon and Maestro Scaglione. It is available on the radio at WRTI 90.1, streaming at WRTI.org, and on the WRTI App.

The May 24 PYO Concert features violinist Michael Ludwig, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Boys Choir, and guest vocal soloists Alexandra Nowakowski, Eric Rieger, and John Viscardi (Performance Date: June 4, 2017).

The musical selections include the winning composition by Alan Mackwell in the Inaugural Young Composers Competition titled Secretly Ramses the Second, Glazunov’s Violin Concerto with Michael Ludwig and Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Mendelssohn Club Chorus, Philadelphia Boys Choir, and vocal soloists Alexandra Nowakowski, Eric Rieger, and John Viscardi.

Troubadour 77, which features Chester County native Anna Wilson (Piano/Lead Vocals) and her husband Monty Powell (Guitar/Vocals).

is inviting music fans to join the duo for their weekly “T77 SQUARED CONCERTS” featuring songs from their new album, “Revolution & Redemption,” which was just released on April 10.

The next edition of “T77 SQUARED CONCERTS” is scheduled for May 21 at 8 p.m. at https://www.facebook.com/Troubadour77music/.

Video link for Troubadour 77 — https://youtu.be/Nidewi0Z3-s.

Sofar Sounds (https://www.sofarsounds.com/v/listeningroom) has these streams upcoming – Mavica on May 21 at 3 p.m.; Scarypoolparty on May 22 at 3 p.m. and Tuyo on May 23 at 3 p.m.

ONCE Somerville (https://www.oncesomerville.com/) is a place for fans of the venue to interact and enjoy performances under the ONCE Presents identity. The programming will range from music to comedy, yoga, tutorials and more. The following is the lineup for the upcoming week: Gabby’s World x ONCE VV on May 21; Social Shutdown Show v6 x ONCE VV on May 22; Coffins on May 23; Kaia Wilson of Team Dresch x ONCE VV on May 23; Negative Approach on May 24; and Prism Bitch on May 24.

Live Nation’s “Live from Home” series (www.livenation.com) will feature performances by Usher, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Norah Jones, Linda Perry, Rhiannon Giddens, Sofi Tukker, Airborne Toxic Event, DJ Questlove, TokiMONSTA, Diplo, Daryl Hall and Patti Labelle.

Some of the top shows on May 22 will be Steve Aoki, Blackstone Cherry, Lola Parks, Drew Holcomb, fredo disco, Ghastly and RAC. On May 23, major shows will include Dead & Company, Dylan LeBlanc, Jesse Malin, Sublime with Rome, Ben Folds, Barely Alive and All Good Things.

Jorma Kaukonen performs his newest free solo “Quarantine Concert from the Fur Peace Ranch” on May 23 at 8 p.m. For two months, Kaukonen has been performing, telling true-life tales and talking about his songs, often playing them on the very guitar he wrote the song on. It is a fascinating look at this artist’s history and influences.

The Fur Peace Ranch Station Live Stream Concert link is — https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7iq_cd06otU.

National Public Radio (https://www.npr.org) is keeping music alive with its highly-regarded “Live Sessions” (https://livesessions.npr.org/live).

Upcoming shows are Home But Not Alone on May 21, David Ramirez on May 23, Yo Yo Ma on May 24, Bowerbirds on May 26 and Maggie Rose on May 28.

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