Up Close & Personal – Alex Olivetti

Up Close & Personal – Alex Olivetti

As a kid picking up a guitar for the first time, Alex Olivetti was unsure if music was for him. At that age, he was more interested in playing video games. But a short time later, he found a love for music and now plays across the country with his band Threatpoint. He is a graduate of Mid Valley High School and Penn State University, where he studied information science technology. A Throop resident, he is employed by Mondelez International in Hanover Twp., where he works as a customer order fulfilment analyst.

Meet Alex Olivetti…

Q: How did you first get into music, particularly metal music?
A:
I got into music at 8 or 9 years old. I was pretty young. My dad is also a guitar player. There were always guitars around the house. I was looking at a guitar one day and asked my dad to show me something on it. I took lessons off of him for about a year. Like every other kid, I just wanted to play video games and eat potato chips, so I gave it up for a while. In high school, I started taking it more seriously. I actually started listening to Metallica and Nirvana on the radio at a young age. When I was taking lessons and trying to balance video games, there was a game I used to play that had a lot of heavy-metal music in its soundtrack. I played the game so much that I naturally got into it.

Q: What were some particular challenges of learning to be a metal musician?
A:
With the style we do, the music is pretty fast. You’re not just strumming chords; you’ve got to make sure both your hands are coordinated and in sync. I have to go over different scales and practice stamina so I can play a full set of music.

Q: Describe the father-son bond you were able to establish through music.
A:
We used to play out together a lot. We don’t play out anymore, but around the house we’ll still jam quite a bit. It is really cool to have a bond on that level. When I was younger, I kind of took it for granted, not having to go somewhere for lessons or pay a lot of money. I got to the point where I lost interest in it. As I got older, I took it for what it was, and it was so cool to be able to jam with him and share the stage with him. We’re almost like best friends, so I get to hang out with him on weekends. We can play and learn songs together. I think it’s cool because not everyone has that kind of bond with an immediate family member. He still comes out to my shows and sometimes runs sound for us.

Q: Who are your musical inspirations?
A:
I listened to Metallica and Rob Zombie on the radio. That was kind of my introduction to hard rock and heavy metal. In high school, when I started taking it more seriously, bands like Pantera and Trivium were big influences on me. Lately, there are a few guitar players I’ve really been into. One is Paul Gilbert; he’s one of the shred guys, a really fast and technical player. I got an instructional DVD by him, and I really nerded out over that one summer. Another one is Mark Tremonti. He has a solo band and plays in a band called Alter Bridge. A couple weeks ago, I got to do a guitar clinic with him. It was really cool. Some of the more modern bands I like are Shadows Fall and Sevendust.

Q: Threatpoint released its fourth album last month. What can people expect from it?
A:
We’ve definitely progressed as musicians and songwriters. We’re trying to expand our horizon. It’s more upbeat and a little bit faster than our previous stuff. I think it has more energy overall, which translates well into playing live. I think it’s our best to date, and every album you want to get better. I think it’s high-energy, and the songs are more diverse with the vocals too.

Q: What is something people might be surprised to learn about Threatpoint?
A:
Believe it or not, as heavy and aggressive as our music is, we try to stay positive with our lyrics. A lot of our lyrics take the spiritual realm and are about going through everyday life or relationships and trying to keep your head up. A lot of metal music can get stereotyped that it’s like devil-worshipping, evil or negative. We try to flip it and stay positive. I think that sort of sets us apart from some of our counterparts.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being part of the Northeast Pennsylvania music scene?
A:
NEPA as a whole is really strong in the music scene. There are a lot of really talented bands, musicians and artists. It’s really cool to be in your hometown and play with all these good bands. Everyone gets along too, so it’s like you’re hanging out with friends, then suddenly you’re playing a set of music.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
I enjoy soccer. I like movies a lot and watch a lot of movies. I also like guitar as a hobby. I play guitar a lot even outside of working with the band. I’m a big music listener. At work, we’re allowed to listen to music, so I always have headphones in. Outside of work, I spend a lot of time listening to music on YouTube looking for new bands and guitar videos. I also like hanging out with friends in my free time, too. I’m an Eagles fan, which was great last year.

Q: Tell me about your work at Mondelez International.
A:
Working at Mondelez, we handle a lot of the Nabisco products, and I’m a big snack guy, so it’s great. I do a lot of reporting. I work with our distribution centers who send the product to our customers. I look at how we can prevent item cuts in the future. It’s based around the supply chain, looking at inventory and getting products to the customers and fulfilling their orders.

Q: Have you had a particular time in your life that helped shape the person you are today?
A:
In terms of outlook, I’m going to be 30 this year. I realize we’re not going to be here forever, so I want to enjoy my time here. It makes me like playing in the band more, being able to do what I love, the travel and going to places I never would have been otherwise. The band has gotten to play in almost 40 states. We’re going to Canada next month to play. Seeing different places, meeting new people and trying different food is great. The coolest thing in the world is playing in a place we’ve never been with bands we’ve never heard of and people are singing our songs and buying merchandise. When we go back to that place, they bring their friends, and it really builds. To go from the first time playing there to the 10th time and seeing growth is really something. Being able to travel is something I want to do more of. I never would have gotten to go places like Maine and up that way, so I’ve come to enjoy taking it all in.

Up Close & Personal – Anthony Viola

Up Close & Personal – Anthony Viola

Anthony Viola has been playing music for 18 years with his best friends, his brother Jesse, and Frank Desando, his childhood friend. With Anthony Viola on drums, his brother singing and on guitar and Desando on bass, the three have performed as a band, Family Animals, for nearly 11 years. They recently released their third album, “The End Is Mere.” Anthony Viola is a graduate of North Pocono High School and Luzerne County Community College, where he studied music recording technology. He lives in Mount Cobb.

Meet Anthony Viola…

Q: What is your music background?
A:
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been extremely passionate about it. When I was 13, Jesse was 10, and Frankie was 12, we started taking guitar lessons. We took lessons for about a year and made the band and loved every second of it. I was always drawn to music. Jesse and I got all my parents’ old records and were into those. My dad loves the Allman Brothers, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, so discovering that music as a kid was great.

Q: How did your band, Family Animals form?
A:
We’ve known each other our whole lives. Frank lives two doors down from where I grew up. I don’t even remember meeting him. It was way back before I started taking music lessons. We always talked about forming a band. The three of us started as the Tonix; it was that horrible name you think of when you’re 13 years old. Then we changed our name to something fairly more decent, Family Animals, in 2008. We were in a Battle of the Bands competition in 2008 and needed a name, so we went with Family Animals, and we ended up winning Battle of the Bands, so we kept the name.

Q: What is it like to be able to pursue your passion with your brother and best friend?
A:
It’s a dream come true. If I can make this work and make a living off of it, it’s just what I want to do. They are my best friends. This couldn’t be cooler. I only hang out with them. We play music constantly, we’ve learned together, and we know each other so well musically and personally, it only helps us click even more musically. I see siblings who don’t get along or have different interests, but we are extremely fortunate that we have the same dream, we’re a team, and we are on the same page.

Q: Describe Family Animals’ sound.
A:
We’ve been describing ourselves as a psychedelic, indie rock band. There are so many genres these days, and they’re all so niche. The whole idea behind our band is to try to be fluid with the genres we play. Even to say we are a psychedelic rock band is so broad. Our influences come from all over the place. We listen to reggae, classic rock, hip-hop, Jack White and Frank Zappa. There are so many influences, and we want them all to come through without every sound sounding the same or being stale. We’re big fans of Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Butthole Surfers, Nirvana and a little bit of everything.

Q: You recorded your first album almost 10 years ago. Your most recent album, “The End Is Mere” was released in February. How have things changed?
A:
We recorded our first album with our professor, Paul Sinclair. We started recording it in the beginning of 2009 and finished a little over a year later. We released it in 2010. We wanted to produce “The End Is Mere” ourselves since we went to school for this. On our previous albums, we recorded them and produced some ourselves, but we were still honing in on our sound. We’ve also changed our writing style. For the most part, Jesse did the writing. This time, we all collaborated, wrote together and had a bunch of ideas. We wanted to do better with the producing. We went crazy looking up microphone techniques and bought some old vintage microphones. We really wanted to make the production aspect better. I really hope it shows.

Q: What can people expect to hear on the album?
A:
It’s kind of a concept album in a sense. It’s about a fantastical other universe world. We hired Brian Langan to do our art; he’s a great artist, and he really pulled it off so well. We wrote this song last year called “Gimme Jim-Jims,” and that had all these fantastical characters, and we decided to write the album about that. It’s really it’s own self-contained story.

Q: Outside of music, what hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
I like collecting records, buying and selling old stuff. My brother and I have been fixing up old guitars. I really enjoy taking pictures. We’ve also been filming our own music videos for this album, and so we’ve been getting into the video production aspect. That’s a big hobby, learning that. We filmed something in fall that we are just getting ready to release now. We’re doing the sets, filming and editing, and we like it that way. I also love movies and animals; we have a lot of animals.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape the person you are today?
A:
Throughout high school and as a kid, I always had so much social anxiety. I always worried about what everyone thought of me. I guess through music, being around Jesse and Frank and just reading a lot, I’m becoming more sociable. In my 20s, I had a bad time with some tough personal things. Trying to come out of that and relearn who I am hopefully turned me into a better person who appreciates life more.

Up Close & Personal – Amanda Gentile

Up Close & Personal – Amanda Gentile

As a 17-year-old grieving the loss of her father, Amanda Gentile made a decision that would lead her down her eventual career path. A Dunmore native, she is a graduate of Scranton Preparatory School and earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in psychology from University of Scranton. She has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Rosemont College and is a licensed professional counselor. She also owns the Giving Tree Wellness Center on Penn Avenue in downtown Scranton. Gentile lives in Moscow with her cats Lynx and Kiki and dog Zo.

Meet Amanda Gentile…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I
grew up in Dunmore. When I was 17, my dad passed away, and I didn’t know if I should stay in the area for school or not, but my family needed me. So I stayed home, then realized I wanted to venture out, because I love to travel. I moved to Philadelphia for a few years, probably about five years, and got my master’s and loved it. I worked at a couple places and realized I wanted the whole holistic thing, so I decided to take a risk.

Q: What made you want to be a counselor and open the Giving Tree Wellness Center?
A:
After my dad passed away, from getting my own help I realized I could help others through certain things. I always wanted to own my own business. My family comes from owning businesses, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps, but I wanted something that was my own. Counseling was a priority for me. I wondered if I could open somewhere that has counseling but also has holistic things. I was motivated by my background in counseling. I’m very interested in spirituality and alternative medicine. I wondered if I could open something that had counseling but would offer all of that and be a one-stop-shop for all of your self-care. When I found this place (on Penn Avenue), I said, “This is going to happen.” I kind of just threw it all together, and it came together pretty quickly.

Q: What are some particular services the Giving Tree offers, and how are they meaningful to you?
A:
There is the counseling; there is the cafe with smoothies, coffees and teas — all drinks that are good for you. Next there are the float pods. There are major benefits (to those); they help with insomnia, depression, anxiety or mental health issues. They also help with blood pressure and skin problems. The water is set at your average body temperature, and the room is 80 degrees. It’s a place for you to be mindful. I love the float pods, salt and everything that has to do with that. I know the benefits from using them. I also am into the massages, working out and acupuncture. There is a nutritional coach and a fitness instructor who offers all kinds of classes and a spinning studio. I utilize all of them. I try to get in the float pod as much as I can. It helps me sleep a lot better and helps me calm down from the average stress of owning a business. It just lets me turn my mind off when I’m in there. My other favorite thing to do here is work out. Michelle, who owns Trybe, offers classes, private trainings and spin classes. That is my other outlet to de-stress.

Q: What is something you’ve learned about yourself through counseling others?
A:
I learned that I really do want to help people. I am a good listener, and I feel like I can connect with certain people on a very personal level through experiences. It’s more than just sitting there and having a structured session. It’s more real to me, and I can be myself.

Q: What is it like to interact with so many different people and help someone who could be going through very difficult things?
A:
I think it’s awesome. I really like working with teenagers and young women. It’s a good feeling to know that they can come here and feel comfortable and they can utilize any other service even if they’re not sitting in my office. Sometimes I see recurring people in the hallways. After they see me, they’ll work out or float, and it’s awesome. It’s satisfying to know that I’m helping them feel comfortable.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
I like to travel a lot. My mom lives in Montana half of the year. I like to go visit her. I love to go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and I love to go anywhere warm. Those are big things. Any time the weekend comes, I love taking day trips too. I love my pets; they’re like my children. I love cooking. It’s good meditation for me. I also love working out, especially here. It’s a good de-stressor.

Q: What is a piece of simple advice you would give to help brighten someone’s day?
A:
You have to remind yourself daily of what you’re grateful for. Even just being thankful that you got up today and you have a roof over your head, remind yourself that things could be way worse if you think they’re that bad. Set your intentions for that day and remind yourself of the positives.

Q: Have you had a particularly moving experience in your professional or personal life?
A:
I think my dad’s passing was a big thing. I’m at a point where I just have to live my life for every day. You have to take risks because you could wake up tomorrow and not be here. I suffer sometimes from a lot of anxiety, and I need to talk myself through it. I was put here to do something. I think everybody needs to find their path in life. My family and I live for every day. I can say I tried. I can never turn back; I can only move forward.

Up Close & Personal – Sam Kuchwara

Up Close & Personal – Sam Kuchwara

Sam Kuchwara has exhibited art around Scranton for many years and is a regular First Friday Art Walk participant. His exhibit, “Recent Works in Painting and Mixed Media,” is on display at the Giving Tree Wellness Center on Penn Avenue in the city’s downtown through the end of February, and he will be part of an art exhibit at Adezzo, 515 Center St., Scranton, during March’s First Friday. A graduate of Scranton Preparatory School, Kuchwara studied studio art and psychology at Boston College. The Dickson City resident and avid runner works for Scranton Running Co.

Meet Sam Kuchwara…

Q: Describe your style as an artist.
A:
I gravitate toward landscapes. I really like landscapes because you can commemorate a place, not only a place you like, but you think about what you remember from the place while you’re making it. Especially if it’s a sentimental place, painting is a good time to just sit and think about it. I think a big part of my style is incorporating the mixed media. It’s partly just me using what I have and trying to add an extra purpose of practicality. It also brings a lot of texture, color and makes some edges more prominent. I always get told I’m an impressionist. That’s just my tendency. I get into this groove where I just keep my hand moving the whole time. A lot of people say my work has a pattern or rhythm to it.

Q: Much of your work seems inspired by the city of Scranton. What about the city inspires you?
A:
It’s partly because I live here and it’s what I see and I’m more attached to it, but I think the architecture here is so beautiful. It’s something special. I’m obsessed with it even without knowing much about it. I grew up two blocks from Nay Aug Park, so it was basically my backyard. If I was going to go outside, it was always there.

Q: You’ve been a longtime First Friday participant. Why do you enjoy the event?
A:
I love it. The first one I did was after my freshman year of college. It gave me motivation to draw over the summer. It was exciting and gave me adrenaline wondering who would come. I knew I wanted to keep doing it. For me, especially with bigger paintings that tend to take longer, they might as well be somewhere other than my garage. I also like the involvement with different venues and getting to know the owners and people who come in. It’s become a way to connect with all the new and old places around.

Q: One of your recent projects is a joint effort with NOTE Fragrances creating candles that feature your artwork. How did that come about?
A:
It was last fall, and the Christmas holiday market was coming up. I was already doing the Scranton mural prints, and they were popular gifts. I was trying to think of what else I could add (that) wasn’t just art — it was something people could use. One of my friends is friends with the people at NOTE Fragrances and suggested I get my work printed on candles. They helped me pick out some scents and names for them. They let me choose what scents I wanted to go with my artwork. People really liked them, and I liked the process, too, of picking scents. They do an awesome job making them, but I enjoyed curating things and picking a match.

FILE PHOTO: Sam Kuchwara and Justin Padro hosted a nautical-theme Electric City Boogie at The Bog in July 2017

Q: You run Electric City Boogie at the Bog. Tell me about that.
A:
It’s a project that I do with my friend Justin Padro. I used to always go to Panked! (dance parties), and they announced they were going to stop doing it after 10 years. One day I asked if they’d let Justin and I pick it up. We wanted to do a continuation of Panked! but make it our own. We did our first one on a weekend in June two years ago, and it was a super fun, and a ton of people came out. We’ve been doing it ever since. It’s a combination of dance music that is popular and everybody knows; sometimes SaturBae plays, and on weeknights we can experiment and do our own thing. Justin does most of the deejaying, and I’ll do more of the dance stuff and promote it. There is a lot of overlap with that and art. I design posters for it, and it’s become a graphic design project for me.

Q: Running is a big hobby of yours. How does it fit into your life?
A:
In grade school, I knew I wanted to and should do some sport. I started cross-country. It wasn’t much in grade school, but it was still my thing. I continued into high school. Between cross-country and track, I was with the same kids all year, and we became very close-knit. In college, I didn’t run, but I realized I had a life-long interest in running, and I was in a city that is super running-oriented with the Boston Marathon. It was inspiring to be there. I’m happy I decided to keep running on my own as opposed to running for four years in college and then not knowing what to do with myself when it ended.

Submitted photo: Sam Kuchwara displays the blanket, featuring his artwork, that was given to participants running the Scranton Half Marathon in April 2017.

Q: Talk about the development of having your Scranton mural featured on the blanket that was given to all of the Scranton Half-Marathon participants.
A:
It made me really happy. It didn’t happen all at once. I was working at Scranton Running Co. My boss said we needed the logo done, so I painted the logo at the store. Later, he wanted something on the wall and asked if I could do a view of Scranton. It was a long process of working on and off on it when the store was slow. I looked on Google Earth and at satellite images to make a map of Scranton on the wall. It didn’t look like much until the very end (when) it all came together. A while later someone suggested we should get prints made. At the half approached, someone asked if it could be used on the blanket, and that was awesome. Sometimes running and art work apart, and sometimes they work together and sync up. Running sometimes gets me into the mood to paint.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape the person you are today?
A:
There are two things I’ve discovered through art. Art is something that can make me feel good. I know when I’m getting too far away from it. I know that I’m going to be really happy when I’m doing art. Also with the big projects, it’s taught me that I need to make a commitment to it. There will be days that I need to just show up when I don’t feel like it and start doing it. I know I’ll be reminded all over again of why I do art. This is a part of what I do now. It’s more than just a hobby, and there are layers of interest to it. Sometimes it’s fun to work just a little, but if I do more and work harder, I’m going to feel a lot better. It’s not 100 percent my job, but I’m learning more and more to treat it as a job and enjoy it at the same time.

Q: The final word is yours.
A:
Coming back home and doing more shows, most of my friends are connected in some way. Some of them aren’t artists, but so many of my close friends are somehow connected. Through these shows, I’ve met so many awesome people and made so many close friends, and that’s been inspiring and so supportive. Even just seeing some of my friends’ work makes me want to paint.

Photos by Emma Black, taken at The Giving Tree Wellness Center on Penn Avenue in Scranton, and submitted photos by Sam Kuchwara.

Up Close & Personal – Marisa Fabri

Up Close & Personal – Marisa Fabri

Marisa Fabri always dreamed of owning her own business, but soon after opening Design 2 Consign Boutique in Olyphant, a strong desire to provide the best customer service led her to becoming the personal stylist for many of her customers. She is a graduate of Valley View High School and studied biology at Penn State University. She lives in Jessup with her rescue dog, Wicky.

Meet Marisa Fabri…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I grew up in this area, but I fell in love with the West during a ski trip. I went to live there for 20-some years and came back to live here when my parents got older.

Q: What first got you interested in fashion?
A:
I wanted to own my own business, and consignment was a way of getting started without all the hundreds and thousands of dollars of inventory. Consignment stores were popular out West but not as well-known here. They were new to this area, and I wanted to bring the idea back home.

Q: Talk about the styling and work you do.
A:
When people have a special event and need to dress up with a theme for a gala or event like red carpet, Hollywood, British-themed weddings, Gatsby, Kentucky derby outfits, any theme, people call me to see if I have something that will work for them. I even did Steampunk for the Steampunk festival in Honesdale. Basically if somebody calls me for a Gatsby outfit, I’d pull together all my beaded, fringe outfits. I add hats, headbands, jewelry and anything else they may wear. I go through the entire store and create a rack of only Gatsby-lookalike items. People share their fashion nightmares with me and tell me what they want to hide and disguise with their bodies. There’s nobody the same size or shape. I have to be honest with people if something looks just OK, too big or too tight. We work together until we get fabulous. The best reward is when people come back and say, “I got so many compliments from the outfit.” That is so satisfying and rewarding. Sometimes a group of women will come in at once and help each other out by putting pieces together, and it turns into a girlfriend day. I’ll serve coffee and order pizza because sometimes they are here for hours and hours.

Q: How did the concept of you styling others come out of your consignment store?
A:
I learned so much from my customers and from Vogue magazine. I was never a big fashionista, but the more demand that was put on me, the more I tried to learn and got the hang of it. Everyone has a particular item they need. Everyone has a different body shape; I’m here to help and provide good, old-fashioned customer service. What’s great is it always turns into friendships, and it seems to be an ongoing thing.

Q: I hear you have a big secret?
A:
A lot of my consignment comes from referrals. Someone had told a specific consigner that I like show-stopper and statement pieces. The consigner came to me and asked if I was interested in carrying pieces that were purchased for the wardrobe and entourage of a very famous female Grammy Award winner. Due to privacy for the artist, I like to keep it a fun mystery, but many people guess correctly upon seeing the display.

Q: What is your own style like? And include your go-to outfit choice.
A:
My typical outfit is jeans, boots, leggings, Uggs and almost always black. My friends and customers say I should put some color on. So I like to pop the outfit with turquoise jewelry or other colors, so I’m not in black all the time. And bling. Bling will brighten up black all the time.

Q: For you, what is a show-stopper piece, and why?
A:
Anything that people are going to admire and stare at and ask, “Where did she get that?” For me, it would be a piece of vintage. A phenomenal white faux-fur vest. I’d mix it with jeans or leggings and boots and a gorgeous sweater. The other piece for me is a hat. I have a hat that is one of my signature pieces. It’s a silver faux-fur hat. I love to wear it all day long. It keeps me warm, and a lot of people like it. It also gets them interested in trying on fur hats.

Q: What other community organizations are you part of
or hobbies/interests you have?
A:
I like to donate coats and clothes to a local church on our block and to other local charities and anybody else in need. There are always clothes that can be given off the rack, and my consigners say if anybody is in need of a coat, give them a coat. I like to go shopping when I’m not working. I like keeping up with new styles in fashion. I also like to go out to dinner with friends. It’s not really a hobby, but it’s something that is near and dear to my heart is being kind to people. I want to show everyone some positivity and happiness. You never know who is going to walk through the door, what may have just happened to that person or what story they’re carrying with them. A word of kindness can help somebody out so much, and you don’t even know you’re doing it.

Q: What is something about you that would surprise a lot of people?
A:
I’m so serious all the time, but I really love when people tease me or tell me a joke. A lot of jokes go over my head, and that person will get a kick out of me missing the point, then I crack up too.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape the person you are today?
A:
My faith has gotten so much stronger. Meeting so many different people from my travels and my time out West has helped me look for the best in them. People have shared things with me that I never really thought much about. I later realized that what they shared was very giving and real and kind. It made me realize I want to be the best person I can possibly be and keep working on myself. I can’t let circumstances dictate my feelings. I try to find blessings even in lousy circumstances. A lot of the people I met were very happy people. Happiness is a choice, and I am glad that I choose to be happy.

Q: Do you have anything else to add?
A:
Let’s all spread kindness and positivity to strangers. We don’t know what people have been through. I know people say the world is dark, but I choose to believe that love and people are better.

Up Close & Personal – Tatiana Tell

Up Close & Personal – Tatiana Tell

Tatiana Tell is a Scranton-based musician who recently broke into the local music scene. At just 21, the Scranton High School alumna is working to grow her musical career while majoring in journalism and minoring in advertising and digital media at Marywood University. She plans to graduate this spring. In the little time she is not working on music or school, she can be found bartending at Thirst T’s Bar & Grill in Olyphant. Her recently released debut album, “Unspoken,” received recognition as Electric City’s best new album in 2018.

Meet Tatiana Tell…

Q: What first got you interested in music?
A: It started when I was around 6. I really wanted to learn how to play piano. I was always passionate about singing, so my parents put me in classes. I learned how to play piano, they put me in vocal class, and I got involved in theater. It’s been my whole life for as long as I can remember. I was that kid who never did anything else besides music and practicing.

Q: Describe your musical style and who influences you.
A:
I would probably be categorized into alternative, rock and pop. I’m really influenced by Stevie Nicks, old school No Doubt, Lana Del Rey, and Lady Gaga and her style. I’m a huge Lady Gaga fan. A lot of people say they’re surprised by that, because I like the rock, grunge-era and ’90s (music), but she is just so talented, and she’s what inspired me to start writing. I’m obsessed with the ’90s era, even though I was born in ’97 — so I didn’t experience all of it, but I grew up listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the Seattle ’90s aesthetic.

Q: As a young and new performer, what is something you feel you are lucky to have already learned?
A:
My whole life has been preparing me for the criticism and the way the industry works. Because I got to experience constructive criticism throughout my whole life, I feel like I handle it maybe a little better than other people. I get that not everyone is going to like my music or even like me as a person. It doesn’t really upset me, because I know who I am. I know what my music is and what it means to me.

Q: Talk about the development of your album “Unspoken.”
A:
When I was 12, I started writing, and I told my parents I wanted to create an album. I started it when I was 14. I was working on it for about two years. It took so long. I was still in high school at the time. I ended up taking a really big break between the time I was 16 and went to college. I don’t think I was confident enough to put my own stuff out there. When I got to college, I rerecorded the songs at Saturation Acres Recording Studio, and the album was born. A lot of the songs on my album were written when I was really young.

Q: How did you feel about releasing music that you wrote so early in your career?
A:
That was something I struggled with before releasing the album. I remember talking to Bret Alexander from Saturation Acres. I said I didn’t know if I felt comfortable putting these out there and I didn’t know if they were good enough. I had changed so much. I’ll never forget what he said, and that was (how) that’s still a part of who I am. This is my first album, so it would be a good growing experience. The way I arranged the set list, it’s most recent to least recent, so it kind of shows growth too.

Q: What is the theme throughout the album?
A:
A lot of the songs have to do with heartbreak and lost love. I wrote a lot of these songs when I was heartbroken, but I feel like there was a lot of resentment and hate put into the songs. The album is definitely angry. It’s a feeling we all feel, and I just had to let it out. I’ve had a lot of not-so-great relationships in my life starting from a young age, but I think anyone can relate to songs like this, because everyone has been heartbroken or resented a person for the way they made them feel.

Q: What are your plans/goals for the near and long-term future?
A:
My near-term goals would definitely be to perform out more and get into the bar scene. More than anything in the world, I want to be performing my own stuff and covers too. Eventually, it would be great to go somewhere with this. I’m not saying be famous, but go somewhere other than local. If not, it’s OK, because I go to school for something that I still love just as much as music.

Q: What has been the coolest musical experience so far in your young career?
A:
There’s a competition called neXt2rock. This was for the East Coast, and each area had its own venue. I competed in that. I didn’t win, but it was still an awesome experience, because there were so many people. It was my first real time performing my songs in front of a lot of people in a stage setting. I got to meet other musicians who are also really passionate about what they do. I loved talking with them. I entered the competition, and then later on we found out that the venue was going to be my dad’s bar (Thirst T’s Bar & Grill), so that was pretty cool too.

Q: What are your other hobbies, interests or activities?
A:
At Marywood, they have the Wood Word, the school paper; I love writing and am the editor for arts and entertainment, so I write about a lot of music-related things and entertainment and pop culture. I am also really into art. I’m really into graphic design and sketching. It relaxes me. At school, I’ve been a TV anchor for TV Marywood. I like everything that has to do with the communications field, whether it is advertising, creating content or something else like that.

Q: What is it like to balance an up-and-coming music career and student life?
A:
Difficult. I’m not going to lie, it’s really hard, especially when I was still in the recording process. I was in school while I was creating the album. Doing all of that while going to school is hard, but since I love it, I have to push for it.

Q: Have you had a specific moment or time in your life that helped shape the person you are today?
A:
At a young age, specifically around high school, I don’t think I liked myself or gave myself the respect that I deserve or that I have for myself now. I was putting myself in positions with people who truly didn’t care about me or put me in bad situations. That was rough, and it’s something that I still think about to this day. Now, I look back on it, and I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t have the experience that I have, and this album probably wouldn’t exist.

Up Close & Personal – Jessica Bredbenner

Up Close & Personal – Jessica Bredbenner

Jessica Bredbenner is the owner and founder of Tiddlywinks Boutique, a children’s clothing store in Dunmore, which also offers birthday party services. Her storefront was preceded by a Tiddlywinks camper that has allowed her to take her services to various locations. She was inspired to create the camper after seeing a mobile store parked in front of a mall while she lived in Oregon. Bredbenner is a graduate of West Scranton High School and Marywood University, where she studied marketing. She and her fiance David live in Dallas with their 3-year-old daughter.

Meet Jessica Bredbenner…

Q: Describe Tiddlywinks Boutique and the variety of services it offers.
A:
It started with just the camper. My vision of this was to have something totally unique to the area and give girls this unique experience. At least 75 percent of the business is private parties, so moms will book birthday parties for their daughters. I also do public parties so moms or grandmothers can bring their daughter. We do princess-themed tea parties, and for older girls, we do what we call “makeover balls,” which are themed makeup, hair and a craft. They can dress up in as many costumes as they want, and we do fashion shows.

Q: How did you come up with the name “Tiddlywinks Boutique”?
A:
I wanted something meaningful. I didn’t want to just pick a name. My grandparents were a huge influence on my life. My grandfather, who is almost 90 years old, is everything. I’m his only granddaughter. He helped me remodel the camper. I remember playing the game Tiddlywinks when I was younger. I used to play it a couple times a week when I went to my grandparents’ house. I’ve always been into vintage and old-school, retro stuff. I try to find and collect the game Tiddlywinks now.

Q: Where does your interest in sewing and making come from?
A:
I’ve always been very artistic. I was never into TV and movies. I was always sitting there cutting things out, drawing and coloring as a little girl. I’ve always been the creative type. I started doing craft shows as a teenager. I guess that was the entrepreneur in me too. When I got into high school, I was very into the arts. My senior year of high school, I took a sewing class by mistake. It was a random elective that I got placed into. I just picked it up like that. I was planning to study art and thought I was going to be an art teacher or professor, but I loved making clothes throughout college. I loved the fashion industry. I did an internship for, at the time, a startup fashion magazine in New York City. I got to do Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and I sat next to Betsey Johnson and did her show. It was a lot of fun.

Q: What is your favorite part about making clothes to be worn?
A:
The creative oven and designing the clothes. In college, I always thought, “I don’t want to buy this skirt for $20 when I can make it for $5.” That’s just the bargain-hunting and business part of me. That aspect along with the creative aspect and being able to make something my own and unique.

Q: How does your own daughter inspire your clothing design ideas?
A:
There are so many different styles to children’s clothing. A lot of boutiques have their own style, just like any clothing store. I try to keep things different to other boutiques out there but make them youthful, whimsical and princessey. The first dress I made for my daughter was a vintage, whimsical dress. It had princesses on it and was such a pretty fabric. I put lace and satin on it, but it was also modern so she could wear it to church too. I’m going to put her in a dress until she tells me no.

Q: If you could only make one clothing item for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
A:
A dress. It’s just classic. It’s the time of times since back in the Victorian age. Styles have changed, but today, a lot of girls don’t wear dresses that often. I don’t send my daughter out in dresses everyday, but back in the ’50s, you wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house with your kid in pants; so, definitely a dress.

Q: What influence do you hope you and your business can have on your daughter?
A:
I want to show her that any of her dreams are possible, but it takes hard work and you have to keep at it. As she gets older, I want her to realize she should follow her dreams and keep her mind to it.

Q: What is the biggest message you hope to give the young girls you interact with?
A:
Girl empowerment is the main thing. Coming in, being creative and feeling special is the mission. I see it so many times where the moms aren’t here and the kids just get so into it. They’re so excited when they get here because it’s something different.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
I did a big fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation before I opened this store. The theme was “Enchanted Winter Ball.” There were vendors, and everyone came dressed up. I like to support that organization. I am also a part of the Rising Tide Society. I just became the group leader, which was pretty exciting. There are different chapters throughout the United States. It’s entrepreneurs, business owners (and) people in the creative industry, so photographers, wedding planners and stuff like that. We have monthly meetings. Our vision is community over competition, and it’s a nice group we have.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
My family has been my support system with everything. My grandfather helped raise me and watched me every day and has been my backbone and my support system since I was little. Growing up with that has shaped me to be appreciative. I didn’t come from a lot of money, so I was taught to work hard for things if I wanted them.

Up Close & Personal – Tony Mendicino

Up Close & Personal – Tony Mendicino

Tony Mendicino is the executive chef at Slocum Hollow Bar & Restaurant at Montage Mountain Resorts, Scranton. He earned a bachelor’s degrees in culinary arts and business from Keystone College and recently received recognition as Electric City’s “Best Chef 2018.” He lives in Scranton.

Meet Tony Mendicino…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I’m from Scranton, born and raised. I grew up in the restaurant industry. I originally went to school to be a teacher and found out after the first year that it wasn’t for me, so I decided to go to culinary school. I went to Keystone for that; I also got my bachelor’s in business from Keystone.

Q: What led to you becoming the chef at Montage Mountain Resorts?
A:
I started my career at Scranton Country Club. I went from there to Glenmaura; I was their sous-chef. Last year I started here (at Montage Mountain) as the executive chef. I was also around golf courses growing up. This is my first resort; it’s a great experience. It’s a different atmosphere from the country clubs and the golf courses. I worked at a couple cafes. I was at Northern Light in downtown Scranton for a very long time. Then I was at Pine Hills, Scranton Country Club and worked my way here.

Q: What does your job as executive chef entail?
A:
My day-to-day is coming in, doing orders, running all my numbers and cooking — it’s my passion. I’m always back in the kitchen making sure everything is going alright, and I’m back there with my guys supporting them. It’s awesome to be able to be at this level in my career. Being only 27, it’s a really good experience. I grew up on this mountain; being from the area, I’m a skier. I actually used to work here when I was younger in high school, so things came full circle to where I’m back here working as the executive chef.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to make the move from teaching to cooking?
A:
I’ve always been in the restaurant industry, all through high school. My mom was always cooking dinner, and as a child I was always there helping. It was always in me that I wanted to be a cook. I went to Marywood (University) for secondary education to be a history teacher. I did my first year of observations, and I realized that I wanted to proceed with culinary school. The interest was there all along. I had wanted to go to culinary school straight out of high school, but a lot of times, the job is very demanding. I thought maybe being a teacher would be a better choice, but for me it was more about the passion behind it. I wanted to be in the kitchen.

Q: What makes you so passionate about cooking?
A:
A lot of it is based on tradition. With Italian, Asian, it’s all about the cultures. When you’re learning a new style of cooking, you’re not only learning about the food, you’re learning about the culture behind it also. It’s a really cool way to interact with the food and get a background and where it came from.

Q: Who are your favorite chefs?
A:
I do a lot of Asian and Italian style. Everyone can get together over food. One of my role models has always been Anthony Bourdain. The way he cooked, the way he presented himself, was always awesome. Even seeing him in TV shows, it was really cool to watch everything he was doing. Reading his book “Kitchen Confidential” was huge for me in culinary school. It was like my Bible. Another one is David Chang in New York City with Momofuku food chains. He’s a great chef to model after. He does noodles, and he’s centered around his culture, which is awesome.

Q: What is something different you hope you can bring to the food scene in Scranton?
A:
I always try to incorporate something new and sort of get people to go out of their comfort zones. It’s things that people don’t normally see, and I’m trying to bring that to the resort and the restaurant. I’m trying to get people to open themselves up and try new things. The Scranton food scene has definitely been working its way up. Everyone that I know who is opening new restaurants — such as AV, Peculiar Slurp Shop, Bar Pazzo and all of them — it’s really up and coming. The area is definitely growing. I try to stay with fresh products. Our beef is all local. The mountain has been here for years, so I’m trying to keep everything local if I can. For a ski resort, it’s hard because it’s quick service. So I’m trying to do awesome food really fast.

Q: Whether cooked by you, or not, what is your favorite food to eat?
A:
Ramen. I’ll make ramen at my house, I’ll go to Peculiar Slurp Shop, anytime I can I’ll go to New York City to eat at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Ramen is huge for me. I love it. It’s a comfort food. Fresh ramen, not the packs, are great.

Q: What are three kitchen essentials you can’t live without?
A:
Tongs and my knife. They’re like extensions of my hands. Those two I definitely can’t live without. And probably pizza, in all honesty. My two top things are definitely my tongs and knife.

Q: What is your favorite thing to cook?
A:
I enjoy cooking ramen; that’s one of my favorites. As far as traditional Italian things, that’s what I grew up with, making pasta. Nothing beats sitting there, putting everything into making the dough, stretching it and rolling it out. It’s the fruits of labor, so when you’re done making it, you get to eat it and enjoy everything that you just put into it. My favorite thing is to be able to make pasta and be able to enjoy it after.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A:
In the winter, I enjoy skiing. I take trips to Vermont if I can get away. In summer, I like going to baseball games, including Yankees games, and the RailRiders being down the road is awesome. I like to be outside.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
I think a lot of my shaping comes from my family. They’ve always supported me and backed me, even when I didn’t want to be a teacher and wanted to go into this profession. Another time was my second year in culinary school. I had awesome teachers, and they really molded who I was and brought out the chef in me. Them pushing me harder and harder to get better really molded me.

Q: Final word?
A:
With us being up in the mountain, it’s hard to come up here and eat, but definitely try to make a venture up here. It’s a cool facility. I’d like to see more people come to the mountain and eat on top of just skiers.

Up Close & Personal – Jami Kali

Up Close & Personal – Jami Kali

Jami Kali is the vocalist, lyricist and synthesizer for Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms. She is a graduate of GAR Memorial Junior-Senior High School, Wilkes-Barre, and Wilkes University, where she double-majored in English and philosophy. She and her band will take their first tour this year when they travel across New England in April. She lives in Wilkes-Barre.

Meet Jami Kali…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I grew up in a heavily musical household. Both my mother and father were musicians, and they really encouraged me to express myself creatively. When my dad saw me playing around on one of his synthesizers, my parents decided to push this for me. They were really supportive of that my whole life. My dad is a guitarist. His jam room was right next to my nursery, so I would be in my crib, and he was going off on the guitar. I always enjoyed it. I started singing at a really young age. I was singing along to my favorite bands and music. My mom was always singing at the house, and she had a really beautiful voice. I started to realize I really enjoyed singing.

Q: Was there a specific time that made you realize you wanted
to be a musician?
A:
There was a jam session that my friend and I had. There was a picture of a girl on the wall. She looked very sad, and she was carrying a basket of flowers. They were joking around and said, “Jami, write lyrics about that girl,” and I did. We were just goofing around, and I started singing it. We thought it sounded really good. We wrote a song called “Black-eyed Susan” because she was picking black-eyed Susan flowers, and that was actually when my first band started with those people.

Q: What groups and musical roles did you have in the past?
A:
The first band began in 2011; it was called Mock Sun. That was like an experimental, dream punk band. That lasted for about six years. I had no idea how to book a show or how to record and release an album. It taught me how to do the whole band thing. That’s how I met my co-writer, Ray. We realized we wanted to collaborate, and that’s how Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms started. I started it as a solo project with a little recorder and my loop station. It then turned into a duo with Ray. We were so like-minded. We put some feelers out and acquired Anthony Shiny Montini, our drummer, and Matthew Chesney, our bass player. Once those guys came into the mix, it turned into something new, and it keeps evolving.

Q: Tell me about Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms.
A:
The four of us get along so well and collaborate so wonderfully. We are so different, too, that we bring so many elements to the practice space. We have so many different musical tastes.

Q: What influences you?
A:
I was a poet before I was a musician. I wrote and read a lot of poetry. The beats really inspired me. I was trying to hone in on the craft of writing poetry, and word play was always one of my favorite past times. The means of writing the poem was always more fun than to have the poem at the end. A lot of my style is heavily poetic and very dreamy. I was influenced by punk, pop and the grunge scene.

Q: How does that come together in the band?
A:
We came up with a genre called neo-psych, space rock. There’s a new movement of psychedelic music. We fit with that a bit, but we’re not exactly a psych band. We’re very spacey, ethereal, dreamy and groove-driven. There’s elements of pop, and we’re very eclectic. One thing many people say to us is there isn’t any other music like us. It’s hard to put us in a category.

Q: Tell me about the self-titled album you released earlier this year.
A:
That album explores a lot of topics relating to growth and evolving as a human, shedding the skin and becoming something new. It explores the cycle of life and the changes that take place. We recorded it all do-it-yourself; we set up a recording studio in our apartment, and we had such a good time recording it.

Q: Talk about your study of philosophy that’s had such an influence on you.
A:
When I started college, I was really into the animal rights movement. My first semester there was a course called the “Philosophy of Animal Rights.” I jumped into that, not having ever delved into philosophy. That blew my mind. I really loved hearing all the arguments, counter-arguments and different perspectives that went into every thought, issue and ethical dilemmas. It really got my wheels turning in a different way, the constant questioning. I’ve always been a deep thinker, but philosophy really changed my perspective on life.

Q: Prior to performing, you were afraid of public speaking. How did you overcome that?
A:
I was the head editor of the school’s magazine, and we would run poetry readings. I had terrifying social anxiety and fear of public speaking. When I ran these poetry readings, I felt like I was going to faint. I was filled with fear, but it seemed like I had this crazy desire to do the things that I feared the most because it’s empowering to tackle that fear of yours. The poetry readings really got me to feel a type of comfort in my voice that I didn’t feel. I remember the first time I stepped up to a microphone to do a poetry reading; I didn’t like the sound of my own voice over a microphone, so I didn’t use one. Now I love it. It’s not that I love the sound so much, but I just love the feeling of your expression coming through.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that’s helped shape who you are today?
A:
I had some experiences when I traveled across the country that really changed who I was. I remember being in the desert for the first time, and in the Badlands. There’s some type of silent beauty that’s really hard to put into words. You have to be there to feel it. That put me at a type of peace and understanding with the world. Being out west was a really incredible learning experience and really grounded me.

Photos by Emma Black. Thanks to Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms members: Ray Novitski, Anthony “Shiny” Montini and Matthew Chesney for joining in.

Up Close & Personal – Gretchen Kohut

Up Close & Personal – Gretchen Kohut

Gretchen Kohut dedicates her time around the holidays to making them special for others. Christmas is her favorite time of year, and she now spends her downtime in the winter giving back, performing as her self-invented character, Gretchen the Elf. She is an independent support living coach at St. Joseph’s Center and an activity coordinator for Allied Services. A graduate of Sacred Heart High School in Carbondale, Kohut earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Marywood University. She and her husband David live in Scranton’s East Mountain section with their 9-year-old son, Tyler.

Meet Gretchen Kohut…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A:
I was born and raised in Carbondale. I have a degree in restaurant and hotel management from Marywood University. I did my degree for many years, and when I was pregnant with my son I realized I wanted more of a part-time job so I could spend more time with the family. The Elf on a Shelf was getting so big, and nobody in the area did anything like this. I started calling day cares and schools to see if they would be interested in a visit by the elf. I created the concept of (how), at the end, the kids whisper in my elf ear what they want for Christmas, and I fly back to the North Pole and report to Santa. The nursing homes and assisted livings heard about it by word of mouth. This is my sixth year, and it’s gotten bigger each year.

Q: What led up to Elf on the Shelf?
A:
I managed Cooper’s (Seafood House) for almost 10 years, and I developed and ran kids’ birthday parties there. Right out of college, I started working at Perkins, and managed Perkins and Ruby Tuesday’s. I never thought I would leave Cooper’s. They treated me like family. I loved it so much. I had to make a decision (when I had my son) as to if I could work nights, weekends and holidays, and I didn’t think I could.

Q: Describe the work you do as Gretchen the Elf.
A:
I do singing, dancing, story time and talk about experiences from the North Pole with kids. I take snowshoes from the North Pole, and I teach the kids how to dance North Pole-style. It’s stomping around in your snowshoes and jumping over a ski mountain; I created it. Then I report back to Santa and tell him what the children want for Christmas and if they’re good or bad. When I go to nursing homes and assisted livings, they don’t know the concept of Elf on the Shelf since that’s for children. I am just Gretchen the Elf, and I do sing-alongs and spread my Christmas cheer. My son still believes in the elf. I still have fun hiding the elves, and I have to pretend that I fly back to the North Pole a couple times a week, so I make sure that I bring something back from the North Pole each time. I have a special ringtone on my phone from Santa to carry on with my son.

Q: You mentioned Christmas is your favorite time of year. What makes it such a special time for you?
A:
My family has always been very big on holidays, including birthdays. Christmas is just one of my favorites, and my birthday is in December. I used to get my Christmas money and go to Mermelstein’s, in Carbondale and decorate my room from top to bottom in Christmas spirit. I never thought I would be an elf, but I just love Christmas so much. After I had my son, it made Christmas even more of a happier time because I got to celebrate with a child. Now he’s picked up my trait of decorating his room for Christmas. I love to give; I love to buy gifts for other people, and I love to go to the nursing homes to sing.

Q: Since you created a character who dresses up and sings, do you have any background or previous interest in performance?
A:
When I developed and ran kids’ birthday parties at Cooper’s, I found a calling and a desire to work with children. I love to make them happy. I was trying to think of another way to have fun with children, and that’s when the elf came about.

Q: What is your favorite part about the interactions you have?
A:
With the residents, I try to be very cautious, because for some people, Christmas is not a happy time. Some people don’t have family, and some have lost a loved one. I am very cautious that I don’t make them feel worse. Being a people person is part of my job, and I can read people very well. It’s all about a connection I make with them and being able to read them, and if they don’t want to be involved, I don’t continue to push.

Q: What activities do you enjoy doing with your son?
A:
Every afternoon, my son and I walk Lake Scranton. He’s been doing that since he can walk. We like nature and go on a lot of nature hikes. I love to be involved with him. I pick him up from school every day. I never miss a day picking him up, so he can tell me about his day. He is also a skier — I am not — but during the winter when I am busier, my husband takes him skiing.

Q: What other hobbies do you have?
A:
I don’t have many hobbies, but I love to exercise and be healthy. I love swimming and the summer. I love hiking and biking and bike every morning. Nature and being healthy are my biggest hobbies.

Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A:
I can’t sit still. Even my husband will say I don’t sit down until seven o’clock at night. I’m so high energy that I have a hard time sitting.

Q: Talk about your work as an individual support living coach.
A:
I have four individuals with special needs, and I coach them to live independently in the community. They all live on their own. It’s like having four adult children of your own. I have a compassion for people with special needs. I was looking for a part-time job. I heard about this, and when I started out, I thought it wasn’t my cup of tea. I only planned to do it until my son went to school, but I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s amazing and very rewarding.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
I didn’t want to go to college. My father pretty much forced me to go to college. I wanted to drop out, and I didn’t think it was for me. I think my father is my big inspiration. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my father persuading me to go to school and get my degree.

Up Close & Personal – Devon O’Keefe

Up Close & Personal – Devon O’Keefe

Devon O’Keefe makes his living as a full-time artist, and while he loves art, music is his full-time hobby. He works as a tattoo artist at Glass Heart Tattooing & Arts in Plains Twp. but also is an illustrator who has given his talents to many children’s books and does commissioned paintings, too. He studied voice and piano at Baptist Bible College (now Clarks Summit University) and graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration from Marywood University. He and his wife, Danielle, have two daughters, Story, 3, and Ivy, 2.

Meet Devon O’Keefe…

Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I grew up in a church setting. My parents were heavy into faith, and my whole family still is. When I graduated, I worked at a church for seven years as the worship and art director. I met my wife at the youth group at Grace Bible (Church) in Dunmore.

Q: Tell me about your background in art.
A:
I started drawing when I was little. I drew animals all the time. I decided I wanted to be an illustrator, so I took a class at Marywood, as well as a graphic design class. At first, I got a lot of work in graphic design working with small businesses on logos and signs. I’ve been in contact with authors and worked on different books. One of them was my sister; she wrote a book, and I illustrated it. I’ve done book projects, and I started getting into the gallery scene where I do these big paintings. I do a lot of commissions for people, and I love to do that. When I was working at the church, I would also do a lot of live speed paintings.

Q: Describe your style as an artist.
A:
When I start drawing something, I’ll have a vision in my head, but when it comes out, you can tell it’s mine. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is, but if I had to choose words to describe my work, it would be earthy with spiritual undertones and kind of eclectic. As far as tattooing goes, I’m not a fan of traditional tattoos. My tattoos aren’t traditional at all; they’re more illustrative. I tackle each piece as an individual piece of artwork that my style can flow into, then I tattoo it.

Q: Which came first, the studio art or tattoo art? How did one lead to the other?
A:
I illustrated a book cover, and it was a collection of poems someone wrote. He asked me to do the book cover, which was a watercolor conch shell. He ended up going to Derek Zielinski, who is now the owner of (Glass Heart Tattooing & Arts), to get that tattooed on his arm. He showed it to me after, and I thought it was really cool. I decided I was going to go to him for my next tattoo. He tattooed my hand, and he knew of my art before I came to him. While he was tattooing me, he was secretly interviewing me, and he told me afterwards. He called me a week later and asked if I wanted to be his apprentice and tattoo with him. I fell in love with it. Coming into it was a totally different way from the normal way of getting into tattooing.

Q: What is your favorite medium?
A:
There is something special about each one. There are certain things that I can do with one that I can’t do with another. I like tattooing my artwork because it’s a permanent thing, and it’s not going anywhere. I love that aspect, and the process of tattooing and the conversations we have. I also love creating giant paintings. I’d say my favorite art is this style of watercolor. I did a series, and each one is big with a decorative Victorian frame. I pack in a lot of symbolism. One of my favorite things is when they’re in art galleries, watching people look at them for a while and pick things out. The other joy that comes from this style is I love making people think about things they haven’t thought about before in a deeper way.

Q: Tell me about your own tattoos and what they say about you.
A:
A lot of them are spiritual. I have one for Ivy and one for Story. I also love the design on my hand, because when I’m wearing long sleeves, it shows. I have a matching tattoo with my wife. It’s a tree with an open bird cage and two birds flying out of it. That was kind of our theme at our wedding too. My entire family, my four siblings and my parents, got our family crest together.

Q: What is a tattoo design that you are most proud of?
A:
One of my favorite tattoos that I’ve done is a series of watercolor and ink that was an animal with some kind of fantasy element to it. For example, there was a rabbit with flowers coming out of his ears. A client of mine wanted something from the series, maybe an alligator or crocodile. I thought it would be cool to do a crocodile head with crystals coming out of it instead of the bumps on its head. That one was awesome and so much fun.

Q: You switch between using large and small canvases and people skin as your surface. What is the transition like?
A:
My first tattoo on a person was myself. I’m so glad I did that, because it looks terrible. Everybody’s skin is a different canvas; it’s got different consistency, different skin tones and, of top of it, the place (on their body) they get the tattoo. I love it, and the challenges are great.

Q: What other hobbies do you have?
A:
Music is a big part of my life, just as much as art. Me, my sister and my brother-in-law have played music together (for) years. My brother-in-law and I have been playing together for 10 years. The day we met, we became best friends. Then he married my sister, and I was all for that. That was awesome because we could still hang out. We played together at the church every Sunday for years. We recently went to audition for “America’s Got Talent” in New York City. Good things are coming, and we’re still blown away by it. My daughters like to sing along; they know all my songs by heart. We like dancing and singing together. I love being outside. My buddy and I … do rock climbing. I love bringing the girls on hikes too. They love every second of that.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
The first thing that comes to mind is having kids. They’ve taught me so many lessons in life. I’ve also been a spiritual person trying to practice the presence of God in every day, but these girls have taught me unconditional love and lessons of just existing. These girls are everything to me.

Up Close & Personal – Zack Graham

Up Close & Personal – Zack Graham

Zack Graham co-owns and manages the Haberdashery, a men’s clothing store in Forty Fort, which won the Times-Tribune 2018 Readers’ Choice Award for best men’s clothing store and also received the same honor in Electric City’s 2017 Best Of awards. When he is not keeping up on the latest fashion trends, he can be found performing as a solo musician or with his band, the Groove Berries. He is a 2012 graduate of Abington Heights High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in business management and leadership from Marywood University. He also is employed by Bold Gold Media and lives in Clarks Summit.

Meet Zack Graham…

Q: What is your musical background?  
A:
I started when I was 7 or 8 years old with guitar. Originally, I didn’t love it and wanted to quit because I thought it was hard. I stuck with guitar and singing. I like to at least have a handle on a bunch of different things. So, I started playing the drums, then keyboard and now I play bass.

Q: Describe your personal musical style.
A:
I’ve really gotten into taking covers and revamping them. I try to make things fit me as a musician. Anything melodic is what catches me in songs. Whether it’s on keyboard, guitar or vocals, I’ve always liked that.

Q: The Groove Berries is your most recent project. Describe its style.
A:
We’re a fusion mix of jazz, rock, funk and blues. We’re just a group of guys who have been playing together for more than 10 years. It’s myself, Matt Montella and Matt Domenico. We’ve been playing together since Little Matt (as I call him, Matt Domenico) was 12. As the years went on, we stayed really close. One night, we thought we should play it out sometime. We had no idea how it was going to go. We played at a First Friday, and people loved it. We wanted to keep rolling with it. We know each other so well, so our chemistry as musicians is great. We’re all best friends, and we hang out way more than people would think. If I go two days without seeing either one of them, it’s like a reunion when I see them.


Q: Who are your musical inspirations?
A:
Led Zepplin for sure, AC/DC, Frank Sinatra and the band Cream. I love them. It’s a trio, and they’re very rock and roll, bluesy, but have that psychedelic twist. They’re really diverse.

Q: What led you to opening the Haberdashery? 
A:
I started in the radio world in college. I also really liked TV and did Marywood’s TV station. I was the anchor, and I absolutely loved it. I thought I wanted to be on MTV or something goofy, and that was what I was going to pursue. As time went on, it pulled me away from that. I was in grad school, and my (now) business partner was there. I was wearing a suit because I had just come from work. He said he liked my pocket square. I complemented his outfit, because he was and was always well-dressed. We just clicked and became friends. He worked for a clothing store in Dunmore which was closing, but he wanted to open up a men’s clothing store. I always used to look up to designers and people, so it was something I wanted to do. It was just the right time and place.

Q: Where does your interest in upscale clothing come from?
A:
I’ve always loved clothing. Anyone from high school or Marywood can probably tell you that you’ll always see me in something that you won’t see anywhere else. At Marywood, I was known as the Yeti. I wore a big fur coat, I carried a cane, and I wore big dressy boots. Years later, there was a page, and it would say “spotted again,” and it was pictures of me, like a Bigfoot sighting. When I was in grade school, I was really anxious and always wanted to fit in. One day in high school, it hit me like a sack of bricks, and I didn’t want to fit in anymore. I decided I’m just going to do my own thing. I didn’t care if people liked it or didn’t like it; I’m just going to be a good person.

Q: Describe some other elements that go into running your business.
A:
There’s so much that goes into it. Right now, we do all of our buying in New York City. We go to Fashion Week twice a year. People think it’s just clothes, but there are 600 to 700 or more vendors. You have to look at the cuts, fabrics and swatches then go to showrooms and do the buying. You buy a year in advance, so in January of 2019, I’ll be buying for January 2020. I see the trends before they’re out, but my business partner and I have to be smart enough to predict what people are going to buy in a year. In showrooms, they give you Champagne and show you swatch books; it’s very elegant. It’s very rigorous, but it’s amazing.

Q: What other hobbies or interests do you have?
A:
I am a Freemason member of Lodge 597. We get together for meetings once a month and plan charity events. It’s a great organization that not a lot of people know much about. I’m also a part of the Wilkes-Barre Power Group. It’s young professionals getting together to talk business and network. I love the gym and working out. I also enjoy just walking. I used to always need to be around people, but now in my free time, I like to decompress and go on walks. And, of course, music is a hobby. I always look forward to shows. I also love Netflix, TV and the show “Friends.” I love watches, I collect them, and I love cars, but I can’t afford to collect them. I love spending time with family too.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A:
I’m very close with my family. We’re all very Italian, and in the Italian family structure, the maternal figure is everything. What my grandma says is gold. I have so many conversations with her, and I noticed that a lot of her conversations start with, “We almost did this, but we didn’t, and I wish we did.” I realized I don’t ever want to regret anything. I’m just going to go for it.

Photos by Emma Black

Up Close & Personal – Aubrey McClintock

Up Close & Personal – Aubrey McClintock

Aubrey McClintock, a Hudson Valley, New York native, is a former middle school math and science teacher. She has a degree in elementary education from Marywood University and a master’s degree in library science from Clarion University. She now runs A Daily Obsession, through which she makes and sells fascinators. She and her husband, Lee, have two children, Kaylee, 9, and Jack, 7. They live in Old Forge.

Meet Aubrey McClintock…

Q: For those who may not be familiar, tell me about fascinators and their background?
A: Fascinators are miniature hats, for the most part. The styles that I do kind of have a hod to 1940-style hat, but with more modern, kitschy or ridiculous themes. Philip Treacy is one of the famous milliners. He’s in England, and he kind of introduced the idea and brought back the term fascinator and turned it into ridiculousness. A lot of people don’t (know) the term fascinator, so I usually say I make hats or miniature hats.

Q: Describe your design style.
A: I like to have fun with it, and I entertain myself with my colors. I’ve always dressed different, and that has always been a way to express myself. In high school, I was just a straight-up nerd. I did not do anything remotely artistic. But I expressed myself through clothing. I had a pair of powder blue, big, polyester bell bottoms that I wore, not as a joke. I always had fun with clothing. It’s more fun and colorful, and it makes people smile.

Q: Talk about the design and construction part.
A: Sometimes I start with a problem to solve, such as, “How can I put a martini on your head?” Other things I just kind of collect little bits and bobs and pieces. I’m the one at an estate sale who buys a box of ornaments that are odds and ends and I repurpose them. I’ll start with a general idea, but there’s a lot of playing with it, holding things up; it kind of has to evolve.

Q: Why on your head?
A: I know, right? I don’t have a good reason exactly. It just evolved that way. It’s so unexpected and ridiculous and makes people smile. People will look at me like I’m nuts and think there’s no way I’m putting that on my head. … I am inspired, too. There is a guy in Chicago; Bess Ben was the name of the millinery shop, and he, back in the ’40s, was making ridiculous stuff. He was putting lobsters and little toys and mice from doll houses and all sorts of crazy stuff on there.

Q: Tell me about your upcoming trip to Las Vegas.
A: I’ve been asked to do a trade show. So, I’ve never done a trade show before, and I’m a little nervous but super excited. It’s for London Edge, and they work with a lot of designers and retailers who have a retro, funky (style), like Modcloth and other shops that have that retro nod but with a more modern approach. They have a makers and designers section, which I’m going to be in, and we’ll what happens. I’ll have to curate a collection for it, because so many of my things are one-of-a-kind, and that won’t work for a trade show.

Q: What is the most unusual custom request you’ve received?
A: I did do a set of two flamingoes, one like a bride and the other a groom with a top hat and everything. I gave them a champagne bottle, and that hat went to Japan, I think, or somewhere overseas, and they sent me pictures. So that’s one of the more odd ones.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A: I am a huge reader. I love to read; I’m a big book nerd. Lately I’m reading a lot of nonfiction. I like a good, cozy mystery, not too gory. I like to read things that make me feel nice. I enjoy a lot of British literature, young adult stuff, partially because I have to screen what my daughter reads.

Q: What activities do you enjoy doing with your kids?
A: We read together. My son likes to read to me; my daughter is more independent. They’re both very athletic, and we spend a lot of time at sporting events. We just finished football and cheer; now we’re into basketball, and the spring will bring Little League. They’re very good at estate sales and thrifting. They have pretty rich little lives.

Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I tell people and they don’t believe it, but in high school and college, art classes brought down my overall GPA. It hurt my nerdy average, so it’s kind of amazing that I do this now.

Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped who you are today?
A: It would be, I guess, feeling truly comfortable in my own skin, and I think that came from having a healthy relationship. So I would like to attribute that to my husband, but to be totally comfortable with all your weirdness and not trying to fit in anymore. Just being OK with not being everyone’s cup of tea has really helped me leave teaching when it was the right time and not feel like I had (an) identify as a teacher. I don’t just identify as a mom or anything else, so it gives validity to all of your different quirks.

For more information on Aubrey McClintock and to purchase her products, visit adailyobsession.com 

Photos taken at Eclectic City Studio in Scranton.

 

Up Close & Personal – Rachel Lucille Woodworth

Up Close & Personal – Rachel Lucille Woodworth

Rachel Lucille Woodworth has always been interested in music. After graduating from North Pocono High School and studying at Pratt Institute and New York Film Academy, she went abroad to study acting at the Theater of Changes and guitar, harmony and theory under the guidance of guitarist Yiorgos Argyropoulos at Musical Praxis Conservatory, both in Athens, Greece. When a medical condition forced her to return home to Northeast Pennsylvania, she pursued a music career. She is now a singer, songwriter, composer and guitarist who leads LittleStarRun.

Meet Rachel Lucille Woodworth…

Q: What is your music background?
A: I’m influenced by shoe gaze music and a lot of indie rock and some punk elements. I definitely grew up listening to that type of music. Also, I was really passionate about jazz from a young age, and my first instrument was the clarinet. I have a jazz and classical background. Ultimately, I have been influenced by that as well, perhaps in the way I approach my compositions.

Q: What is LittleStarRun?

A: LittleStarRun is music project I started around 2009. I had a few incarnations of my project LittleStarRun with other band members, but I really had trouble keeping it together. I tried to put together a band for a long time, but it’s very difficult to find the right chemistry and people whose schedules align. I’ve found two musicians that I really enjoy playing with, Justin Padro and Chelsea Taylor. I call (our music) indie dream folk, but it actually has maybe a lot more elements to it.

Q: How did you come up with the name LittleStarRun?
A: A friend of mine in Athens started calling me “Little Star,” and it sort of just became this weird, iconic name. The LittleStarRun came about a strange way; it was influenced by (a) song (by) the Velvet Underground and the lyrics “run, run, run.”

Q: Talk about your experience in Greece. What led you there?
A: I went on tour with a circus theater company. While I was performing there, I was much more interested in Athens and Greece in general than what I was doing with the circus theater company. I had planned to do acrobatics in Greece, but there isn’t much of a scene there. Now there’s actually a thriving scene, but I wasn’t able to get jobs, and it just wasn’t working. Then I saw an ad for a theater school that was putting on an international theater festival, and I decided to try it out. I was a participant in the festival, and I really enjoyed all of the workshops. I decided to enroll. This was probably two years into my time in Greece. When I was in theater school, that’s when all of the musical stuff started to happen for me.

Q: Describe yourself as a songwriter.

A: I think my theatrical background definitely affects the way I write songs, the way I put words together, the way I see images; and songs, to me, are all about images. It’s like I’m watching these scenes that flow through me, then I’m kind of describing what I’m experiencing in that imaginary realm. I don’t ever really set out to write about something specific. When I’m writing for a job or something like that and I have to produce something specific, then I can. But when I’m just doing my own music for my own project, I don’t choose subjects to write about.

Q: Can you compare and contrast the music scene here and the music scene in Greece?
A: There is actually a good English-language indie rock scene in Athens. A lot of bands from all over come through and play shows, so it’s a really eclectic and thriving music scene. I got to experience a lot of world music as well, also Greek traditional music, Italian traditional music and a lot of other types of music (that) I really (hadn’t) been exposed to in that depth. Also, that’s where I really got exposed to shoe gaze music from the United Kingdom.

Q: Talk about the album you’re working on.
A: The album is really about the emotions I experienced when I had to leave Greece and move back to the United States. The songs are a combination (of) those two countries and also just the chaos that ensued when I had to move back. It’s been a very interesting return, and I’ve been dealing with a lot. I’ve been processing a lot and put all of that into my music.

Q: What brought you back to the United States?
A: I got a really severe injury in my ankle, and it wouldn’t heal. I was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition called CRPS/RSD. It can affect the whole body and can spread onto the nerves. I had to come back to the United States for treatment. I try to raise awareness because it’s not something people understand or know a lot about even within the medical community. It’s something that can happen to anyone, no one is immune, and it completely changed my world view. I had to slow my life down in a way that I never expected. It’s definitely made me more compassionate and understanding to anyone who is experiencing any kind of suffering. Also, how fragile life can be, how quickly things change. If I had been doing acrobatics when it happened, it probably would’ve devastated me even more, but in a way, it’s good that I was a musician because I could still play.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you have?
A: I’m really into film. I like writing. I am actually in a theatrical (playwrights) group. We’re working on some pieces for theater. Songwriting is a huge part of my existence. Over the last two years, I started working with some writers in other countries and in other places to do collaborations and to write for film and television.

Q: After working with many international artists, you immersed yourself in the NEPA music community quickly. What’s it like to be a part of that?
A: I love our music scene and have collaborated with a lot of people around here. I was part of the band Brian TV for a while, which is an indie-psychedelic rock band. We released a short album over the summer called “Animal Worship.” We have so much talent in this area, and there’s a really good community.

Q: What is a fun fact about you?

A: I’m really into genealogy. When I first got (diagnosed with) my illness, I had to spend a lot of time at home in bed. I did extensive genealogy research on my family. I can get really into nerdy stuff like that.

Q: We’ve talked about many things that were life-changing for you, but can you pinpoint a specific time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A: There was a time in New York City where I lived and worked at a small jazz club in the West Village. I got to experience being next to amazing, world-class musicians every night. It was a really inspiring time for me. I think that really changed me in a lot of ways.

Photos taken at Adezzo

 

An Up Close & Personal Gift Guide

An Up Close & Personal Gift Guide

I consider myself lucky to write the Up Close & Personal feature for Electric City. The people I meet open my eyes to incredible talent and kindness here in NEPA, and I make many friends in the process. I have witnessed first-hand skilled artisans pour their heart and soul into what they do. I looked through past Up Close & Personal articles and put together a guide to help you find the perfect gift for all the important people in your life. This holiday season, know that when you buy from any of the people below, each product is made with exceptional love and care.

Accessorizor. Give a piece of personalized jewelry to a special someone. AOS Metals, 527 Bogart Place, Scranton, features handmade and custom-made jewelry that can be personalized on the spot. Whether you want a name, sports team or other sentimental word stamped on, owner and metalsmith Kari Johnson will help you come up with the perfect piece.
“Sometimes … A client will tell me it has to do with a pet they’ve lost or a child they’ve lost. It’s just these moments that you’re able to create for someone as a memory, and it tugs at my heartstrings, and to be a part of something that special and to make something for someone that they’re going to hold that close to their heart,” said Johnson during an interview in March.

Scent lover. Do you know someone who loves perfume, but is picky about the perfect scent? Give a custom perfume experience and let that person design his or her own perfume. NOTE Fragrances, located at 401 Spruce St., Scranton, and at 312 S. State St., Clarks Summit, features owner, Danielle Fleming’s own creations of body butters, candles, lip balms and perfumes, but she is also there to help customers create a special scent that is unique and personal.
“We’ve had people make fragrances to connect to loved ones who passed away or for a loved one. That is the powerful effect of aroma and how it works with our brain. Some have been brought to tears going through the experience,” said Fleming during an interview in April.

Up-and-coming musician. Give the gift of music lessons. Tyler Dempsey is a professional drummer and drum instructor who teaches out of his home and at private studios in Wilkes-Barre and Moscow. For drum lessons with Tyler Dempsey, visit tylerdempseymusic.com.
A professional musician and DJ, Neil Nicastro has been teaching guitar for more than 20 years. He teaches at Neil Nicastro Music, Entertainment and Instruction in Dunmore. Visit nnusic.com.

Practical person. For that someone who loves functionality, try a personalized, hand-crafted wood item. Don Fisch Jr., owner of DF Custom Concepts, builds household items such as step stools, business card holders and children’s growth rulers to track your child’s height, as well as made-to-order items. Fisch cuts each piece of wood and works with each customer to add a special touch, whether it be a silhouette of their favorite character or their name, on every piece. Visit dfcustomconcepts.com.

The light of your life. Give a gift that will brighten someone’s day. Mechanical Concepts owner, Shawn Jennings combines his love for cars and art to create unique lamps using scrap metal, particularly old car parts. The mechanic takes pride in the artistic aspect of exemplifying shadows casted by light and the ambience it gives off.
“All of my work is original where I don’t duplicate anything,” said Jennings in an interview in November. “I’ll have the same concept, but everything is a little different about each piece. They’re signed, numbered and dated, and I keep a catalog record of them all, so it adds a little extra specialness to each person’s piece.” Jennings’ products are available at On&On, 1138 Capouse Ave., Scranton.

Scrantonian. Show off your NEPA pride by giving a Valerie Kiser Design home and lifestyle item. Hoping to spread positivity with her brand, Valerie Kiser Design features stylish, high-quality clothing, home decor and more, all of which feature Kiser’s hand-printing and sewing, including her line featuring the iconic Electric City sign.
“I love Scranton and feel good about it. There are so many naysayers in our area, and it gets a bad rep … If somebody gets very negative about Scranton, I try to shut that down,” said Kiser in an interview in August. Share a symbol of Scranton with someone who also loves this city or take a piece of Scranton and give it to friends and family from out of town. Kiser’s collection is available at Lavish Body and Home, 600 Linden St., Scranton and valeriekiserdesign.com.

Wine enthusiast. Share a bottle of wine that will have everybody laughing. Located at 134 N. Main Ave., Scranton, Lucchi Family Wine Cellars offers both sweet and dry wines. With names such as “PMS” (Pineapple Mango Sangria) and “Sexy Sisters,” give a bottle that will tell your loved ones how you really feel about them.

This holiday season, support these local crafters who are working tirelessly to make sure you get the best. Enjoy the shopping season.

— Emma Black