“I am embarrassed to be here,” sings Wild Pink singer, guitarist, and songwriter John Ross on “I Used to Be Small.” The “here,” in this case, is the United States.

On the New York-based indie-rock band’s self-titled debut album, Ross explores getting older through the people and places around him. The past is at the forefront, with Ross recalling looking through the window at the Hudson Valley, being told that “if you never stop moving, then you’ll never feel bad” in “Broke on,” a journey through memory. He sings about being a passenger in a parent’s car, riding bikes, “hearing about the war, and knowing it’s not yours.” The listener gets access to moments that shaped whom he became.

When Owen Ashworth dissolved his solo project Casiotone for the Painfully Alone after more than 10 years, he set out to start anew.

“I liked the challenge of starting over and just writing a whole new set of songs and seeing what a blank slate would feel like,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Sam Vicari isn’t always as direct as the title of his fourth album – Blunt – might imply.

Vicari, who will play a February 17 solo show at Rozz-Tox, kept gravitating toward the theme of aging while writing his 2016 album. But he taps into the emotions and realizations that come with getting older, and they’re often complicated.

“I want to barf on you,” sings Arin Eaton on “Sad,” the most stripped-down song on the 2016 Karen Meat EP She’s Drunk Like the Rest of Us. “I hate what you’ve put me through.”

While vomit is nowhere near unexpected from a Karen Meat & the Computer track (see puking references in songs such as “I Wrote You a Card” and “Pizza & Beer”), Eaton is coming from a more-personal place on this solo EP.

Sean Moeller

In June, Codfish Hollow Barn in Maquoketa hosted a show with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. The concert didn't have Sean Moeller's or Daytrotter's name on it, but the link was clear enough.

"I made that show happen," Moeller said earlier this month.

Moeller founded Daytrotter.com in 2006 as a source for exclusive live-in-the-studio recordings, and the vast majority of its thousands of sessions over the past nine years have been recorded in the Quad Cities. But even though concerts are not Daytrotter's product, they are an increasingly common and visible fringe benefit for the Quad Cities, and the Oberst performance illustrates the reciprocal relationship between the internationally known Web site and local shows.

Moeller said he'd been trying to get Oberst in for a session since Daytrotter began - but it only happened because of Codfish Hollow.

"I got a Daytrotter session out of Conor Oberst," Moeller said. "That's why I did it. ... I'm not going to not do that. ... I'm going to help make that happen so that I can get something for Daytrotter from Conor Oberst."

Over the past decade, much of the impact Daytrotter has had on the Quad Cities has been easily discerned - although it's infrequently been explicit, and often it's indirect. Rozz-Tox's lineup is littered with Daytrotter bands. Codfish Hollow concerts typically feature some of Moeller's favorite bands.

More and more, however, Moeller is putting his name on his work. For nearly a year, he's booked and hosted Moeller Mondays shows at Rozz-Tox. Last year he began shows at Davenport's Renwick Mansion under the same banner, and this year he started doing concerts at the Village Theatre in Davenport.

"It's a promoter thing," he explained about the decision to create a Moeller brand. "It's like a [prestigious] record label. People do believe in certain promoters. ...

"I think I tried to stay behind the name Daytrotter for the longest time. I'd go to places and I'd just be introduced as Daytrotter. 'This is Daytrotter.'"

Of course, the Web site is more than just Moeller. He has a business partner and several engineers, and he said the work of illustrator Johnnie Cluney is essential to the identity. And because Daytrotter is a media company and not a concert organizer and promoter, the name doesn't naturally fit with shows that Moeller books or otherwise helps with.

So he said he wondered: "Why the hell am I not building up my own name a little bit? ... I'm just trying to be a facilitator. I'm putting my name out there because why shouldn't I? There has to be something I put it under. I want to be associated with the good things that I'm bringing to town, not for an ego situation. There has to be somebody to validate something that's coming to town. ... You still need somebody to put a stamp on it."

Daytrotter itself plans to get back into the business of one-time local shows with the opening (likely this fall) of its new recording studio and live-music venue in downtown Davenport - although that's no guarantee given the history of the renovation project.

So Moeller's behind-the-scenes work continues. He booked artists for the September 6 East Fest at Davenport's BREW in the Village.

He and Quad Cities River Bandits Managing Partner Dave Heller are planning to present concerts at Modern Woodmen Park, possibly starting this fall.

And Moeller said he booked three of the four headliners for this year's River Roots Live festival: rising country star Kacey Musgraves, legendary R&B singer Mavis Staples, and the indie-pop outfit Hellogoodbye. "If you look at this year's lineup, there's a lot of my fingerprints all over it," he said.

That's not modest, but the man has no reason to be. For all that he's done with Daytrotter, Sean Moeller has also reshaped the local music scene when it comes to touring artists.

Juan Wauters

Juan Wauters has been called "one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive songwriters in New York today" (by the New York Observer), "New York's greatest songwriter" (by Impose magazine), and "one of New York's most compelling singer/songwriters" (by Spin magazine).

That praise would suggest a few things about the native Uruguayan, none of which appears to be true.

The plaudits for his songwriting hint at something aggressively sophisticated and artful, but the songs on his new Who Me? are uniformly easy-going - simple, warm, and seemingly effortlessly charming. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't deserve the great notices; it's just that they're utterly devoid of pretension.

And as much as he's identified as a New Yorker, Wauters has a fondness for the Quad Cities and institutions such as Ross' and Harris Pizza.

Strangled Darlings

If you read the bio of Strangled Darlings on the duo's Web site, you'll get a hint of tension between capitalized Art and something at the other end of the spectrum entirely.

First: "Jess and George met at party in 2009, with their spontaneous duet of the Prince song 'Pussy Control.'"

Then: "The songs work with nontraditional subjects for inspiration. Some song subjects include : the works of great authors (Faulkner, William Blake, Gabriel García Márquez, Donald Barthelme, Anna Akhmatova) as well as witchcraft in the Civil War, the morality of Somali piracy, and the media impact of Neil Armstrong."

Into that mix you can throw in a clear understanding of the crass realities of the decentralized modern music business - the need to get attention, and an acknowledgment that emerging bands have to tour relentlessly to build an audience.

All three of those basic elements are evident on the song "Kill Yourself," from the upcoming album Boom Stomp King. It's a bright, cheery ditty on the one hand, with the title and matching refrain designed to generate maximum curiosity.

In a recent phone interview, singer/songwriter/mandolinist George Veech acknowledged some less-than-pure motives behind the song. "The biggest fear of an artist is to not have an audience, to not be heard. I know damn well that saying 'Kill Yourself' is taboo in a lot of ways, and I'm not advocating [that]," he said. "It helps get attention. I got your attention now, and then let's talk about the actual details."

Hey Rosetta! Photo by Scott Blackburn.

It's not often you'll hear a story about label interference making a record better, so let's marvel at Hey Rosetta!'s Second Sight.

The band was twice short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and has been nominated for a Juno Award - the Canadian equivalent of the a Grammy - and Second Sight has been warmly received. SputnikMusic.com described it as "a collection of profoundly beautiful and well-arranged songs that I'm sure will stand the test of time."

Yet the story of its creation shows some of the opportunity inherent in a little adversity.

The Canadian septet had finished recording the album's 11 songs, and the band's label liked it, but ... the staff felt it needed a single, something to launch it. Singer/guitarist/pianist/songwriter Tim Baker - in a recent phone interview promoting the band's April 24 Communion Tour gig at Rozz-Tox - said he disagreed.

"We thought we had a great record, and we had to go back in" to the studio, he said of the band's frustration. Hey Rosetta! assented because they also wanted to make the album as commercially viable as possible, "to get it out to people."

But writing to grab people's attention is difficult, and something that was foreign to Baker as a songwriter. "I'd never written a single before," he said. "We'd gotten this far just playing our sprawling tunes and touring all the time. If we were going to try to get something on the radio, then I really wanted it to be moving and really mean something to me. And hopefully be one of those songs that isn't just skin-deep, kind of asinine music. ... A song that actually reaches past and does something to you. ...

"We took it as a challenge ... trying to write something short and catchy but meaningful. ... I think we got it, but it was a trial for sure."

All Them Witches hails from Nashville, and the combination of name and hometown gives you a pretty good sense of a split personality. The moniker hints at a band in thrall to Black Sabbath, and the Tennessee city hints at something Southern - although its debts are to blues and Southern rock and not in any way country. (Bassist/singer Michael Parks Jr. noted, however: "We have been known to just pop up on the street somewhere during tour playing bluegrass on the street.")

But when the band returns to Rozz-Tox on February 15, it will be apparent that the quartet is far more expansive than that would suggest. All Them Witches embraces not just blues-based music but the blues themselves, particularly on "The Marriage of Coyote Woman" from its most recent album, Lightning at the Door. The elemental riffs of Ben McLeod have the heaviness of Sabbath's Tommy Iommi but also the razor-sharp lyricism of Queens of the Stone Age's Joshua Homme.

And, most importantly, there's an experimental psychedelic core, a grounding in improvisation that allows each person in the band to bring a distinct personality to tracks that might go anywhere - including, to cite just one example, throat singing in the folk-ish and completely un-metal "Romany Dagger."

And that anything-goes quality is the reason I was curious about this comment I read from drummer Robby Staebler: "As individual players we are more concerned and focused on our own playing. We are not focused on what the others are playing. We all do what we want. It's why it works."

The Soil & the Sun. Photo by Rotten Photography.

Given the expansive, spacious, and precise sound that Michigan's The Soil & the Sun achieves on Meridian - the band's third record - two things leap out from its history: that what's now a seven-piece ensemble started as a duo, and that its first two albums were home-recorded by people who didn't really know what they were doing.

Meridian - released in August - marks the first time the group worked with a producer, and the most obvious difference from its predecessors is in its choir-like group vocals, particularly on "How Long." The band has retained its orchestral breadth and adventurousness, but with its soaring collective singing the album becomes something more celestial; songs dominated by gloomy clouds have given way to bright stars.

Working in a proper studio "was a little bit overwhelming, actually," said frontman, primary songwriter, and co-founder Alex McGrath in a recent phone interview, promoting The Soil & the Sun's December 4 performance at Rozz-Tox. "We had the whole world opened up to us, really for the first time. We had to exercise some restraint and not get too caught up in effects ... ."

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