After two years without a City Paper Music Awards show, it felt good to be back last night at the Music Farm. The epic showcase with a dozen Charleston music acts spanned genres from hardcore punk, Americana, rock and reggae to pop, hip-hop, country and experimental. 

This year’s list of nominees saw some new names, such as rock musician Fo Daniels, who won Album of the Year and vocalist/guitarist Emily Curtis, who won Female Singer-Songwriter of the Year. The 2022 CPMAs also ushered in an unusual occurrence — a tie for Singer-Songwriter of the Year between Mel Washington and Keon Masters, two prolific local musicians who have been in the scene together for over a decade.

Charleston musicians consistently collaborate on each other’s tracks and perform in each other’s shows, which keeps everyone on their toes creatively. One thing remains true for the Lowcountry music scene: It’s a labor of love. 

Check out the full list of winners here.

Album of the Year

Imitation Roses by Fo Daniels

Fo Daniels | Photo by Ruta Smith

Rock album Imitation Roses was voted Album of the Year in this year’s CPMAs. The debut album from Charleston musician Fo Daniels delivers high energy with instrumental integrity.

“I want my music to be representative,” Daniels said. “I understand what my music is. It’s not for everybody, and I don’t expect everybody to like it. But what I have noticed and what makes me really proud is that the people that do tend to respond well to my music are people that I find are like-minded to myself — people that I would want to come to my shows, people that have a lot of heart.”

Daniels’ childhood daydreams centered around becoming a musician. While learning to play the guitar in middle school, a classmate nicknamed him “Four Chords Forrest” due to his limited range. “I wasn’t bitter about it, because it actually just made me so much better,” he said. 

Eager to master his skill set, Daniels continued playing and performing throughout middle and high school, and went on to major in music at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. After graduating, he spent a stint in a California band before moving to Charleston. He found inspiration in his travels that would lead to his creation of Imitation Roses.

The 10-song album, which was released in April, embraces a pure rock ‘n’ roll sound, cranking up the volume of Daniels’ singer-songwriter impulses. He sings lyrics wrenched from memories and experiences with emotive intensity that mingle with brazen guitar riffs and frenetic drums for a healthy dose of danceable levity.

“It’s meant to sound like a concert,” he said. “And the way that the songs are ordered is the way that I would order a setlist if I were playing it live.”

Darby McGlone, Selby Austin and Charlie Holt of local indie-rock group Easy Honey played guitar, bass and drums on the album, respectively, a choice Daniels made due to their ability to supply the raucous noise and precise instrumentation the album required. The songs were cut live and recorded in a single day at Coast Records. 

There’s a rawness to Imitation Roses balanced by lyrics permeated with sun-baked nostalgia and catharsis that leads listeners to their own release. 

“I wanted to just have something that would be kind of like in your face — rugged and raw.” —Kate Bryan

Female Singer-Songwriter of the Year

Emily Curtis

Emily Curtis | Photo by Ruta Smith

Female Singer-Songwriter of the Year is a well-deserved title for Charleston native Emily Curtis, who released three new singles this year, including “The Background,” a pop laden duet with Carson Hoy that showcases her strong vocal command. 

“I released my first EP almost five years ago in November 2017, so it’s kind of cool timing,” Curtis said. “I turn 30 in February — and in my head, I thought, ‘You’re supposed to be in a certain place. And if you’re not, you’re in trouble and your career is in trouble.’ And that’s not true.”

She says it’s about being present during the process of developing her career instead of always looking at what else could be accomplished. 

“I understand that and take that with me into the next chapter of my life. I’m calling it my golden age. I’ve got a song called “Golden Age” coming out next year. The time clock is  not against me, unless I pit it against me. I can choose not to play that game.”

In helping to start a community group for female musicians called Sisters in Song, Curtis is building the network of support she needed back when she was younger and stepping into the Charleston music scene. 

“This is home and it should be a building ground. That’s what I want to cultivate.” 

Curtis will perform at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Dec. 30 with acclaimed musicians Quiana Parler and Charlton Singleton of Ranky Tanky. —Chelsea Grinstead

Up-and-Coming Act of the Year

Paul Who Is Lost

Keyboardist Paul Chelmis is most well-known for his work with Charleston alt-rock band Human Resources, but his electro-pop solo project Paul Who Is Lost is what put him in the CPMA spotlight this year as Up-and-Coming Act of the Year. He released a three-song EP, CYCLE, in February. 

Paul Who is Lost album cover

“It’s the first time I’ve ever just done something that was fully, truly mine,” Chelmis told City Paper. “It’s been a mixed bag of feelings — really rewarding and nerve-racking — putting a deeper part of myself out there.”

Chelmis switched gears to videography as director for local synthwave ensemble Doom Flamingo’s music video “Happy Boi,” which won Music Video of the Year this year. 

“It’s cool having my toes in both worlds and putting myself in someone else’s shoes to help them with their flow and understand their music on a deep enough level to properly orchestrate a powerful story to tell in a music video.”

He’s been playing keys as part of the four-piece Human Resources for over 10 years, and has ended up with a decent amount of material that didn’t necessarily fit in with the group’s direction. 

“In the past two years or so I finally decided to start writing for myself,” Chelmis said. “And that was kind of like a wake up — an ‘ah ha’ moment.  It’s been really fun to figure out exactly what my own individual sound is from my own individual influences.” — Chelsea Grinstead

Country/Americana Band of the Year

She Returns From War 

Hunter Park of She Returns From War | Photo by Ashley Rose Stanol

Singer-songwriter Hunter Park of local Americana act She Returns From War is no stranger to winning City Paper Music Awards — this is the second year in a row she nabbed one for Best Country/Americana Band. Her most recent single, “Snakeskin Boots,” was also runner-up for Song of the Year.

The musician, whose twangy grooves are laden with gorgeous lyrics that hit like a gut-punch, celebrates her accolades as a chance to bring broader awareness to Charleston’s music scene.

“I feel like we do have a thriving music scene that I fight every day to get it recognized on a national level,” she said. 

Park also believes it is an important moment for trans visibility in the community at large. “There are a lot of trans artists out there working really diligently to create culture and context that makes Charleston what it is,” she said. “I’m not the first and I will not be the last.”

Her next album, the songs of which she’s slowly been leaking into her live act, will be called Ruthless, an homage to the way she has decided to show up in the world and in her music.

 “I wanted to take that frustration and turn it into an album. I want people to understand that the hard work that trans people do is validated,” she said. “And I’m not going anywhere.” —Kate Bryan

DJ of the Year

DJ Moldybrain

Jared Aaronson, aka DJ Moldybrain, won this year’s DJ of the Year. He started deejaying back in 2012 after attending the College of Charleston, and since then, he’s played many of the city’s bars and music venues. He said he’s gotten pretty good at reading the energy of the crowd and usually goes off the cuff when he’s spinning his sets. 

Jared Aaronson aka DJ MoldyBrain | photo by Ruta Smith

“I’m constantly listening to new music and adding to my library,” Moldybrain told the City Paper. “I never really know what or when I’m going to play certain stuff. While there’s definitely a bunch of tracks that are staples in my repertoire, they constantly get mixed with different songs so that the experience tends to pull it out a little differently every time.”

He remembers getting a bunch of cassette tapes from his older brothers when he was really young, and it sparked an obsession with downloading music. Early on he was exposed to a wide genre of music and developed a taste for big beat electronic music. 

His natural knack for putting his own spin on songs has steered his path over the past 10 years.

“At the end of the day, my job as a DJ is to help people to enjoy themselves. I really try to pay attention to my crowd and put myself in that mindset.” —Chelsea Grinstead

Song of the Year

“Excuse” by Lauren Hall 

For country music artist Lauren Hall — who was voted Best Vocalist in City Paper’s Best Of Charleston 2022 awards and has won multiple CMPAs for Country/Americana — this year’s accolade, Song of the Year for her single “Excuse,” is especially rewarding. 

Lauren Hill | photo by Ruta Smith

“As a songwriter, being acknowledged in that way and seeing that something you created is connecting with other people and healing them from whatever thing they’re going through, that’s really special,” Hall said of being recognized for her songwriting ability.

“Excuse” is a classic country ballad through and through. Hall’s heart-wrenching vocals lament the crumbling of a relationship, the rendering of her lyrics at once soulful and sharp with emotion.

Hall’s talent has attracted support throughout the Lowcountry and beyond — her most recent feat was opening for country all-star Lee Brice at Credit One Stadium, where he pulled her on stage for a duet. She acknowledges that as a female, it’s more difficult to prove yourself to some in the male-dominated music industry.

 “In certain cases, there are the people that you have to work a little harder and earn their respect,” she said. “They’ll give you a bunch of nos until they finally give you a yes, and they realize that maybe they should have given you a yes a long time ago.” —Kate Bryan

Studio/Producer of the Year

The Space/Wolfgang Zimmerman 

Charleston producer Wolfgang Zimmerman’s recording studio The Space is synonymous with the indie music scene in the Lowcountry, and this year he was voted Studio/Producer of the Year. 

 Over the last decade, he has worked with numerous musical acts in the area, including fellow CPMA winners She Returns From War and Mel Washington. He also plays the drums in alt-rock outfit Brave Baby, which recently released three new singles. 

Provided

Zimmerman gained some recognition in the region for his work with big time rock bands Susto and Band of Horses. Lately he’s been recording with bands from Alabama, Wisconsin and California. 

 “I just recorded these dudes from Mexico, so that’s been kind of fun, like spreading my wings, so to speak, and meeting new people. People ask me why don’t you move to Los Angeles or Nashville — I’ve always had this dream about Charleston, and I’m like, wouldn’t it be cool if they came to us?”

 These days Zimmerman embraces delegating within his process of producing music. 

 “That’s been a fun thing to learn: You don’t have to do everything,” he said. 

 He said he’s recently reached a point of ease in his music career, not only by letting go of expectations for live shows and just having more fun on stage, but also in reconnecting with old friends in the studio, like Susto. 

 “Things feel right and everybody’s coming together. It’s just been wholesome, you know, not a lot of drama.” —Chelsea Grinstead

Male Singer-Songwriter of the Year

Tie: Keon Masters and Mel Washington 

Although longtime friends and fellow musicians Mel Washington and Keon Masters have vastly different styles, they tied for Male Singer-Songwriter of the Year in this year’s CPMAs. 

While Washington puts out broody Southern rock, Masters’ lives in the realm of upbeat indie rock, whether he’s singing and playing guitar with Charleston outfit Brave Baby or releasing solo music, like his EP No Problem that dropped in August of this year. Washington is aiming to release a new album, Feast or Famine, next year. 

Masters and Washington crossed paths for the first time back around 2008 and have shared the same musical circle ever since. 

Masters continues to play shows with Brave Baby when he can, but he said that for him, playing the guitar is reserved for songwriting and processing his thoughts, not necessarily practicing. Even if the songs never see a studio, he instilled in himself a long time ago that playing the guitar can be a form of release. 

“A lot of times songs never make it anywhere, but I think writing them must be my catharsis — maybe that is how I cope. I definitely struggle with the world and things that happen to me. My music is often kind of pissed off, so maybe that’s my trick, I leave it there. It’s what I like to do. Nothing like telling people when you’re 35, ‘Yeah, I like to sit in my bedroom and write songs.’”

Mel Washington (left) and Keon Masters | Photo by Ruta Smith

As a full-time gigging musician, Washington often feels drained after being in bar settings all the time. The studio is his retreat. 

“Imagine life without music,” Washington said. “Have you ever been to a party and there wasn’t music on and everything just felt stale? It’s not that you’re actually listening to the tunes word for word. But you love the energy behind it. Music is a communal thing that brings people together.”

For Washington, part of music’s beauty is that listeners can yield themselves to it.

“I think the reason music is so powerful is, if you think about the things that we go to for what we call pleasure, what we’re really running to is surrender,” he said.  

Washington said he feels like a better singer-songwriter today than he was when he wrote the songs for Feast or Famine, but the album is a great snapshot of the last eight years of his life. 

“It’s almost like the songs are like my journal glorified,” he said. “The album certainly doesn’t feel conjured. From a sonic standpoint, from a performance standpoint, I do feel like I made a very honest recording. And it’s something I’m proud of.” —Chelsea Grinstead

City Paper Music Awards 2022 winners list

Music Video of the Year
“Happy Boi” by Doom Flamingo

Screamo/Metal Band of the Year
Guardian’s Warlock

Reggae Band of the Year
The Dubplates

Up-And-Coming Music Act of the Year
Paul Who Is Lost

Hip-Hop Act of the Year
Tyrie

Song of the Year
“Excuse” by Lauren Hall

Country/Americana Band of the Year
She Returns From War

Indie/Alternative/Rock Band of the Year
Stop Light Observations

Female Singer/Songwriter of the Year
Emily Curtis

Male Singer/Songwriter of the Year
Keon Masters and Mel Washington

DJ of the Year
DJ Moldybrain

Jazz Artist of the Year
Charlton Singleton

Soul/R&B Act of the Year
Black Diamond Band

Producer/Studio of the Year
Wolfgang Zimmerman/The Space

Electronic/Experimental Act of the Year
Doom Flamingo

Album of the Year
Imitation Roses by Fo Daniels

Jam Band of the Year
Runaway Gin


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