Monday, August 13, 2018

Fred Thomas Finds Open-Ended Closure on 'Aftering"

Aftering is the third album that singer/songwriter Fred Thomas has produced in the last five years and it completes the arc of a loose, subtle trilogy. But at the same time, even if a chapter feels like its closing for the Montreal (by-way-of-Michigan) music maker, this album, just as the previous two had before it, allows for anything and anyone to remain and continue feeling incomplete, open, unanswered, unresolved....

"...I have to say, I'm not a big believer in catharsis," said Thomas. "Or, that is, I didn't think I really ever experienced it before."

credit Miles Larson
From the 90's, up until 2013, Thomas was best known for fronting the chamber-pop ensemble Saturday Looks Good To Me. Their notably experimental arrangements could still fit alongside the likes of contemporary neo-baroque stylists like the New Pornographers or Magnetic Fields, but Thomas would also release solo songs of stripped-down lo-fi/ambient-heavy albums, as well as work on electro-noise/spaced-out-orchestrations through groups like City Center or, most recently, Hydropark.

Aftering will be available on Sept 14, (through Polyvinyl), and it lays down laces of confusion, ambiguity, remorse, anxiety, and even elation and nostalgia, laces similar to the knotty strands of 2015's All Are Saved and 2017's Changer. Thomas performs August 16 at El Club. (INFO) 

There's something else going on in this recent incarnation of Thomas' musical style - it's not that it's candid or intensely earnest, but it definitely does represent a bolder alternative in approach and presentation: one of the four extended (and beautifully stark) spacious pieces on side two is "House Party, Late December," demonstrating his newer inclination toward (and experimentation with) melodic spoken word poetry over pensive ambient arrangements of distorted guitar and minimal percussion.

 "It felt really exciting to shift from making indie pop like Saturday Looks Good To Me or noisy, washed-out stuff like City Center into this new kinda thing because it wasn't vague at all." 

Precisely. The 9 minute piano and pizzicato dirge of "Slow Waves" epitomizes a sense of insecurity, only laced with a sort of strychnine from the seething spoken word lyrics that may or may not be Thomas. "...there's kind of an observer character narrating a lot of the records from (the midway point on...") said Thomas. "Not saying it's me, necessarily, but there's a mindset that I've definitely been in that's giving a perspective to songs songs like ("Mother, Daughter, Pharmaprix)", or "Bed Bugs," (from All Are Saved), or "Echolocation" (from Changer).

Aftering can't be put into a box, just as the three albums can't be reduced to the description of a definitively charted path from one point to another. What you can say about Aftering is that after an atmospheric opener, it presents you with four consecutive 3-4 minute rock-oriented songs, providing sort of a comfort food for ears attuned to riffs, choruses, propulsive drums and melody. Then, the proceeding four songs expand like a thick fog, beyond the seven-- the eight-- or even the night-minute mark, closing, finally, with a melancholy nocturne called "What the Sermon Said."

"All three of the records kinda bend present/past/remembering...," said Thomas. "And (Aftering) doesn't land any more in any place than the others. It's certainly not too overt. More so it kinda all ties together: if you made a playlist of the songs with lyrics, you'd start to see a weird connection, kinda like scenes that interlock and come back around."

This five year process defies most of our expectations of a typical creative process. People would be surprised, for example, to hear how quickly Thomas would return to the studio after All Are Saved, or after Changer, but it was all a continuation. He's kept a continuous collection of demos in folders, and even sketches of songs written out... "which, now....feels totally done."

And that brings us to the certain  kind of catharsis he could attain... "When I finished recording these songs I really felt like something left me. Something too heavy, and sad. It was done. It felt beautiful."

Artists, to me, are such interesting processors... They process thoughts in these elaborate, adventurous, expressive, conceptual ways. And that word, a procession, hits home for Thomas. 

"When I started this, I was really excited to start, but I didn't understand it totally," he said. "It was just a reflection of a new time. A procession, yeah! And there are new times always, and it feels really good to have this one more or less defined. For me, it was huge to make music like "All Are Saved" in 2015 because it was VERY VERY different than anything else I'd done." He describes it as "monologues...with music more or less as an afterthought behind it." Adding: "I feel like I've explored that as much as I want to now, and it feels really complete." 

Thomas returned to work with Drew Vandenburg in Athens, GA, to produce/engineer the record. "This was my third record working with Drew Vandenberg in Athens and I actually went there a few times. Originally I had the idea to have the record be 10 really long bummer songs, much like the second half, probably about an hour long...But once we got that kinda in line, it felt wrong. So, we worked in a few of the more upbeat songs and then it just made sense to have it flow from upbeat to a sharp turn to protracted bummers." 

Thomas said that since he started recording bands as a full-time gig, he's working with an increasingly diverse cast of collaborating artists, and Aftering's cameos prove that. "Working all the time with new musicians in the studio, you sometimes strike up a rapport with certain players or connect on some level, hear them do something that you could see working with your music. A lot of the folks who play on this record I met because they played in bands whose records I worked on. Maria from Deadbeat Beat had been in the studio a lot when she played with Best Exes, Jake from Bonny Doon, I toured with and recorded a lot of his bands early material, Ashley Hennen who sings on "Slow Waves", she came in to record some of her own stuff and I just asked her if she'd mind singing on one of my songs. That kinda thing happened a lot over the course of all of the records."

Some artists explore darker territory and it's often regarded as just that: an exploration. Or a detour. Or some other kind of journey where they kind of lose themselves. But not so with Thomas. "This felt so clear to me: I had no doubts about the direction! It really quickly moved from a few experiments into what it became." 

"My hope with some of the more spoken word moments of the past three records has been to just flatly say something, to relay without any window dressing or artistic license how I experienced some part of my life," said Thomas. "It's not blunt to the point of reading like a police report or an insurance claim, but not too far from there! I kinda became disgusted with the way a lot of my earlier songs and lyrics especially felt to me as I got further away from them. They're mostly good, but some of them felt really vacant and vague, like they were aiming for communicating some kind of emotion but not really about anything I'd gone through. With some of these songs I'm going for the opposite of that."

And then I bring up Bjork. How she's able to gracefully unpack
things like pain or anxiety or a disenchantment with events beyond one's control, and not shy away, in fact never shying away, from putting it in a song. Some artists might wrestle with the temptation or the perceived demand to "end on a high note" or "wrap things up nicely" with hope or promise. Is there a pressure or a nervous compulsion to try to break that tension...? Or do we all want to find catharsis?  And am I right to bring in Bjork? 

"I listened to Homogenic the entire time I was making Aftering," said Thomas. "Bjork is an amazing comparison. Good ear. And..., much like her songs, these songs weren't all that worried about being too dark or ending on a high note. All three of the records end on low notes or without closure. Which is kind of the point. It's a statement, but not a product. The statement isn't super cohesive or even all that urgent, though it contains urgent moments..., But the interlocking of weird feelings, mundane moments and processing old times is really the aim of all three records. 

In real life, there aren't there isn't the triumphant, or comforting closure of movie credits scrolling after an emotionally-throttling event. It's all uncertainty and open ended rumination. "Things never wrap up nicely," said Thomas, "not magically in the commercial sense."  

It's more nebulous than that...spilling out of any frame you wanna put it in. 

We're never past anything, or complete. It's like we're always only "aftering…"

More info

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Violent Bloom - Not Anything

Every once in a while I like to expand my ear just beyond Detroit, whether that's Lansing or Kalamazoo, or maybe Windsor. But I can't forget about Toledo, Ohio! Toledo's got it's own scene and it feels like a cousin to us, at times, since lots of our city's artists will make sure to stop there on tour, just as Violent Bloom makes sporadic appearances to perform here in Detroit or Hamtramck.

This piano/bass/drum trio just released their latest EP, Not Anything:

Their specialty is subtlety. Expressive basslines weave and wave above minimalist percussive arrangements that are nevertheless effectively-swaying and pulsing; but that bass rhythm is like the sonic oreo cream, above the supportive drums but humming beneath the intricate piano and lead vocals. The players, I should say at this point, are Kelly Thompson on drums, piano, and vocals, Jon Zens on bass, and Kate Kokonecki on piano, drums, and vocals.

The voices of Kokonecki and Thompson can reach ballad levels, but also pare back to whispering lullabies. It's a bluesy Americana as much as it's a jazzy-folk thing... My quickest reference points would be to draw back to the strongly-charactered creations of Quix*o*Tic, Beth Orton, or even Cat Power. But you can hear that for yourself on their newest EP--which you can check out at their Bandcamp. No Michigan dates yet, but stay tuned via their Facebook page for updates.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sleepology - Video Premiere: "Opening Act"

I feel renewed inspiration after watching this video from Port Huron's Sleepology. Their song, "Opening Act," is a defiant lament, a championing of the underdog slog, overruling the naive daydreams of breaking through some indie-rocker ceiling and embracing every aspect, good, bad, fun, ugly, funny, memorable, annoying, embarrassing, or glorious....yes, every aspect  creating and performing music  for the love of it, for the experience of it. It's the first single a forthcoming album.

There's nothing remarkable about the visuals of this video and yet as a whole--they attain profundity. We're in a practice space, with walls draped in posters and paraphernalia, pictures and rememberances, with four players fit in a 15"-by-15" room cluttered with pedal boards and amps and drums and mics, while we occasionally go for a go-pro ride at the top of their fretboards. We see set lists and flyers from past shows; eventually a sense of their camaraderie just starts to sparkle in the glimpses of their expressions--that sense of the road these guys have traveled together...

...And then we get a montage of intimate footage of previous performances, adventures from tours, shots of bands they've shared stages with...We see the mundane, the silly, the spectacular, we see the green rooms and we see the crowds mingling, we see soundchecks and quickie-mart runs and we see the Uhaul getting stuck in a bog of Michigan snow. And then we hear those lyrics...

...No one's in line for the opening act // Hello! We're HERE! We're the opening act!...

Now when you're in the middle of a sleek and shreddy rock song like this, building the tension on the hi-hats before coming back down on the snares and toms, charging the bass through the bridge while the psychedelically-wa-wa'ed gutiar glides out that sweet solo and the chorus kicks back in...when you are in the middle of THAT......then rock music and the experience of the band's glory is at its zenith.

And Sleepology's new song, to me, is about finding a kind of zen-balance of appreciating every single moment beyond just the narrow hour-glass-sized fleeting four minutes of a song's intensity and experiencing and enjoying every step of the journey, from playing outside of a basement, to playing in front of an audience, to loadig up the shitty cars to go play a song in some backyard... "I never thought we'd get that far..." And yet, a band can keep going farther....

I wanna see Sleepology go farther. And farther. We all get discouraged or disenchanted with our pursuits, but it's because our perspectives might be off, or our motives might be confused. This band, this song, helps me see the light of it again... All of it, the bad, the weird, the fun, it's all part of the experience.

Sleepology is Ryan Miloch, Eddie Lee, James Zimmer, and Jordan Monni.

Recorded at SchwonkSoundStead - Port Huron, MIVideo By MilochMediaLab

Monday, August 6, 2018

Interview with Author/Musician Ari Herstand: How To Make It In The New Music Business

Interview previously published in Ann Arbor's The Current

When Ari Herstand was studying music business in college back in 2005 he quickly realized his professors were “basically teaching a history lesson.” Because since then, the way the music industry works has fundamentally changed, so much so that Herstand looks back at that year as being a paradigm shift, from “the old music business to the new.”
Herstand is an author, actor and blogger who grew up in Minnesota but is now based in L.A. When he got out of business school, he was already seeing enough seismic shifts to the uphill struggles of independent musicians that he was motivated to start an online advice column in 2012. His informative posts helped his fellow musicians find practical ways to make a living in a new industry, as “the digital revolution” rendered the old ways obsolete. No longer could aspiring singer/songwriters hang their naïve hopes upon the ever-elusive record label contract. That’s why his blog, “Ari’s Take,” started tackling answers and providing advice about more modern obstacles that have emerged for DIY music makers over the last decade. That blog would evolve into his first published book, How to Make It in the New Music Business.
The Ann Arbor District Library circulates a copy of this book, if you’d like to check it out! OR, if you are closer to the Dexter Library, you can interloan Herstand’s book from the Ferndale Library‘s new Artist Advancement Collection. You can also find it at Literati.
“I remember leaving school and discovering that nothing I’d been taught was really applicable anymore to actually run a music career,” Herstand recalls. That’s because platforms like YouTube and Myspace began to change all the rules from 2006 onward. Herstand, nevertheless, still recorded his own album and started to tour around that time, but encountered the same frustrations as every musician who wonders how to get to the next level.
“I just started doing everything the hard way,” recalls Herstand. He went out on the road, developed a sturdy fan base, and eventually started selling out venues on national tours, and getting his songs placed onto TV and film soundtracks. Meanwhile, his savvy for the business side of things flourished each year as he cultivated more followers for his blog. That led to Herstand becoming a contributing writer for various digital music news websites, putting him in contact with hundreds of professionals and fellow artists who would subsequently become helpful interview subjects deepening his research for the book.
“Musicians were coming to me in recent years telling me they’d read all of the articles on Ari’s Take, but that they still couldn’t connect the dots,” said Herstand. He recalls one musician asking him online: ‘What books are out there that can walk me through this, step-by-step?’ “…and, I felt like I needed to write this! There really wasn’t any other independent musician out there that had been sharing like this, sharing information like this on a regular basis on a mass-scale format. I fell into that role. And the book was just my duty to continue it.”
Herstand acknowledges that there are other published sources of information and advice, particularly from legal professionals. But what sets his book apart is a nuanced empathy in its presentation. “I’m in it! I’m on the ground, on the front lines. All my friends are musicians! I know how challenging it is to write a bio, or to write your own press release, or take good promotional photos, or make a press-kit. I know the struggles and the blocks that so many musicians come up against.”
Herstand’s book is meticulously detailed, but never gets bogged down. His writing style is almost conversational—as though he was catching you up on all these tips and tricks over a beer after a show. He goes beyond press kits to areas of budgeting and etiquette, social media maintenance and communication skills, crowd interaction and, most important of all, the vast range of options.
“I really believe that anyone can have a career in the music industry if they put in the effort. It’s not about attaining super stardom. There are enough fans and enough money to go around for every musician to have a successful, money-making career, on various scales. It absolutely can happen—but you have to be smart about it and you have to put in the work.”
Herstand’s book was published in late 2016 and is now a centerpiece to the Ferndale Area District Library’s new “Artist Advancement” collection, for creatives of any medium who are resolved not to just sit around and wait for something to happen in their careers. The L.A.-based author/actor/blogger was in Detroit recently, and signed the Ferndale Library’s circulating copy of How To Make It.
Herstand’s book is a page-by-page breakdown of not just how to “put in the work,” so to speak, but where to put in the work. “It can be a reeducation for a lot of musicians,” said Herstand, who has also taken on freelance consultancy to those looking for career advice. “But what it comes down to is every musician has different goals. Most artists, by and large, just want to have a career doing something they love. They don’t care to be famous, they just want to make a living, and that’s who I’m concerned with… If someone wants to ask me: ‘How do you become famous?’ I’m not for you. I’m here to teach (musicians) how they can have a career.”
Written from the perspective of a working musician, How To Make It In The New Music Business is also designed to avoid bands from breaking up before their time. “Some of my favorite bands have gotten to a crossroads, where they just can’t figure out how to make it work, and they break up. I don’t want to see that happen to talented artists. I believe that if you have the talent, the drive, the passion, the dedication, then (the book) can show you how to make it work. But talent is not enough.”
Herstand said he’s gotten some push back when he suggests that “…luck has nothing to do with it…,” when it comes to a music career…. But, when a reader runs through How To Make It, they can see that it’s really about preparation. “Luck is merely when that preparation meets opportunity. It’s about maximizing opportunities—and being prepared for when they arrive.”

An interview through the Portals with Krillin!

Just wanted to catch you up on the latest episode of the Podcast...

Featuring Krillin

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Just Catching Up: Jerry Dreams, Black Shampoo, Summer Like The Season, French Method, Sara Marie Barron

There's so much new coming out of Detroit this summer that I haven't been able to cover everything in depth. Nevertheless, I still wanted to use this blog as a platform to bring in some new ears to these tracks; presuming any readers coming to this post haven't heard any of these songs yet... I know these tracks aren't arranged into a handier playlist, so you won't be able to take these tunes on the go, but hopefully there are more than a few of you out there hunched intently over your laptops with snug headphones on......and if you're like me to track down the songs of these local artists, online, and spin them back a few times, getting lost in them, immersing yourself, taking it all in.....

Jerry Dreams put out their dazzlingly vibed-out psychedelically twangy and tuneful drifters on the California EP.

Black Shampoo released a new EP this weekend - with expressive, funky guitar jams wafting over mellow tempos that amble through valleys of atmospheric reverb and cool crooning vocals

Summer Like The Season blends a trippy electronica with crashes of post-rock percussion, funky bass rhythms and soaring/ethereal vocals

And Sara Marie Barron (pictured above^) has new music coming out August 15 at Willis Show Bar! Her piano-centric soul-pop is magnetic and elegant, feeling contemporary and throw-back simultaneously. You can preview her album here.

Oh, and this last one isn't new music, but The French Method are back together! Take a listen!

Friday, August 3, 2018

White Bee's Music Video ~ Beat State

It's a pleasure to premiere this new music video by White Bee, because it's a reminder of how the songwriting, guitar-styling and vocal talents of Shannon Barnes can continue to enrich the local music scene around Detroit. The reason I treat its continuation with a preciousness is not merely because I think Barnes has an excellent sensibility as a soul-pop/indie-funk hybridist, but because her band, White Bee, very nearly came to an end several months ago. I'd qualify Barnes as a dynamo merely for her guitar playing..., or merely for her voice, or merely for her songwriting, but all three fire at respectively high and impressive calibers, coalescing to make the magic that is: White Bee.

The percussive arrangement for this tune, as well as the expressive guitar playing, is dynamically embodied by the energetic sway of the dancers (of Ballet Detroit). You can't see any action shots of Barnes on the guitar, but it's enough to hear her voice coming through those languid willows.

Barnes has a new cast of collaborators (Valerie Kraft, Andrew Hintzen, Craig Shephard, and Arianna Bardoni), and White Bee flies forward! This song was written by Barnes before the band-shuffle, but it's interesting how even before the shift, Barnes was singing this dreamy song about a sunrise..., about being saved from falling, about uniting with a friend and gliding off into the future. It's already a radiant song, sonically, but now we have these visuals....filmed by Sisse Finken and Elise McCoy. (McCoy also recorded the tune, as well as directed and edited this music video).

White Bee is on Bandcamp

1. Elise McCoy for recording the song, filming, directing, editing the music video. And being a boss. 
2. Ballet Detroit (the featured dancers) and Katja Rowan and K. Natasha Foreman for helping me get all those dancers together and choreographing. 
3. Sisse Finken for Filming and using her awesome gear. 
4. Valerie KlaftAndrew HintzenCraig Shep Shephard, and Arianna Bardonifor playing on the track!!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Soviet Girls - New EP ('Filled Up With Nothing')

Soviet Girls are a new luminary among Detroit's recent renaissance of lo-fi melodic indie-pop. Their debut E.P. came out just last week, blending hazy dreamy surf-rock slowed-to-a-pensive-stroll ("Caught In A Lie"), to the rougher-around-the-edges ("I'm Not Your Girl") that kicks up the tempo, the cathartic chorus coiling into a melodic yell and the distortion bubbling over into a reverberating crescendo.

Soviet Girls are Anna Baghina (vocals/guitar), Devin Poisson (drums) and Jonathan Franco (vocals/guitar). And this band hits all the sweet spots that Deadbeat Beat, don't., and the ever-missed Rebel Kind have splashed upon on their respective recordings. A song like the E.P.'s titles track, "Filled Up With Nothing," is a shining and all too brief example of their knack for knowing how much space to get each instrument, with arrangements uncluttered by showy riffs or busy fills, it's like the drums, guitars and vocal melodies are gracefully interlocked in a sweet sway across a linoleum floor with socks on.... And, damn it, that image came in to my head before I looked up to notice the album cover... "Think Back" closes things out with decorous guitars jangling out those idyllic warm tones perfect for a summer road trip soundtrack, kicked along by an eager snare and an invigorating crash of cymbals, while the vocals attain an airy, far but near quality, like a beckoning horizon that you're driving towards.... Always driving towards....

Anyway, that's how I hear it...! Soviet Girls are performing kind of a release party for this new EP on Monday, August 6, at El Club. Well, technically they're opening for Austin-based singer Jess Williamson--but nevertheless, it's your next opportunity to hear these songs live! MORE INFO

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Nick Piunti - Temporary High (Interview)

The aerodynamic pop/rock ballads of Nick Piunti are perfect examples of the temporary high that I personally hit when I'm immersed in a taut patchwork of sweet melodies, driving rhythms, and adrenaline-raising riffs. But 

 Nick Piunti is a longtime Detroit-area singer/songwriter who started playing in bands before he could drive. In 2013, he released his second proper solo album, 13 In The Head, and began making his way back into the Detroit music scene, following a break after his previous group, The Respectables, came to an end.

On Friday, Aug 10, at the Loving Touch in Ferndale, Piunit celebrates the release of this fourth album (in six years), titled Temporary High; backed by his band, The Complicated Men, and joined by Chris Richards & The Subtractions and The Cortown Popes.

The album's title track, Temporary High, was just featured as the Coolest Song in the World This Week on Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio channel on Sirius XM. And while I spoke of a general "high" being this temporary span of a typical four minute song, you'll have to listen to the album to hear about the actual stories of this singer/songwriters highs (or lows...) But in the interview we particularly cover the "highs..." of the last 5-6 years.

Temporary High follows after Piunti’s 2016 album Trust Your Instincts, which came out on New Jersey-based Jem Records. I haven't caught up with Piunti since he put out Beyond The Static in 2015, but we've got a recent Q&A with him about the newest record, below...

The Complicated Men features lots of vets from the local rock scene, including Ryan
Allen on guitars/vocals, Ron Vensko on drums and Jeff Hupp on bass. What they capture is a pure and effervescent kind of rock n' roll energy that glides like modern indie-pop, but rollicks with a timeless sound that could fit the Americana crowd as much as it could the garage or power-pop crowd... But Piunti's songs stand apart because of an emphasis on lyrical storytelling, which we'll get in to, in the interview.

"...A great guitar riff, melody, and strong lyrics.  That's the recipe for me...."

Let's talk about just what you love about music... What drew you to rock and above all, to melody? And whatever it is, is it the same, now, as it was way back when you were a teen with the Dwarfs? 
Dwarf was my first band! We started out with the intention of playing our 6th grade talent show.  The first song I ever performed and sang live was "Be My Lover" by Alice Cooper.  I remember watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan show, so of course that was monumental, but it was probably The Monkees that really got me hooked.  I was 6 years old, couldn't miss a show and bought all of their albums.  And they had some great pop songs.  Of course there have been hundreds of bands through the years that I fell for, but the songs had to be great.  I still search out new music, and I occasionally still get flipped out and its close to the excitement I've always had when hearing a song that just hit me the right way.  A great guitar riff, melody, and strong lyrics.  That's the recipe for me.

Are there influences you had when you were younger, or when you were with the Respectables that have stayed with you into your solo career? And, are there other nuanced influences that you've taken to more recently? 
Of course The Beatles are always there as an influence! And through the years there's always something new that inspires me.  When I first started writing songs I was 13, and it was probably the Stones that I tried most to emulate.  Then maybe Slade, or The Raspberries.  Then Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Ian Hunter.  The Knack's first album knocked me out, as did The Cars.  I then got heavily into  Pretenders,Tom Petty, Springsteen, R.E.M., Plimsouls, Replacements, Crowded House.  So many bands through the years.  Probably the difference now is that the bands I used to like back then would've also been some of the most popular, biggest selling... ,But these days its mostly independent small indie bands that get my attention.  There's still a lot of great music out there, but for my ears I'm not going to find much of it on the radio, unless it's WDET or Little Steven's Underground Garage or The Loft, and other stations on Sirius XM.  And there's so many great online radio stations.  A lot of them play my music and other like minded musicians songs.  

Let's go back to 13 In My Head in 2013. What was that experience like, or what was it like 5-6 years ago, when you started on the solo singer/songwriter path...?
I was actually very close to maybe hanging up making records. The Respectables released 2 albums and a 3 song EP, and we definitely had some success; we had a song in an NBC network series and in a film (Jeff Who Lives at Home) but my songwriting was slowing down and it didn't feel especially inspired.  I then found out about a local band called Friendly Foes, and their debut album blew me away.  I got to be friends with singer/songwriter Ryan Allen and we got together, worked on a couple songs together; I played him some other songs I was working on and after almost a year of doing some GarageBand demos, I headed into the studio with Geoff Michael at Big Sky Recording to see if what I had was as good as I thought it was.  I didn't have a band, just a bunch of songs.  Geoff recommended Donny Brown (Verve Pipe) to be the studio drummer.  And Geoff's engineer Chris played bass, as well as Todd Holmes (from Chris Richards and the Subtractions) on a couple songs.  I played most of the guitars while Ryan Allen added some harmonies and played guitar on a few tracks as well.  Donny is great at backing vocals, so he and Andy Reed added some great stacked harmony vocals on a few songs as well.  I wasn't exactly sure what we made, but by year's end the power pop community was really behind the record and it found its way in a lot of year end top 10 lists.  Locally, Ann Delisi, Rob Reinhart and Jon Moshier all got behind the album, so I received a lot of local airplay.

"...It's so easy to want to create that wall of guitar sound every time, but we used some restraint in that department...."

How did you approach Temporary High? And, for you, what distinguishes it from the past few albums? 
I recorded "Temporary High" atthe same place and with the same people (for the most part) that I worked with on "13 in My Head", "Beyond the Static", and "Trust Your Instincts" so chances were good that it wasn't going to sound that dramatically different.  But it comes down to the songs, and I felt that I had 10 songs that could stand beside anything else that I recorded.  We tried to make the record sound a bit more intimate, let the vocals be a bit more upfront and not double track every rhythm guitar track.  It's so easy to want to create that wall of guitar sound every time, but we used some restraint in that department.  I've been writing and recording for years, so I definitely have my own style and sound, but Geoff and I wanted to tweak it a bit.  Each song also has a pretty strong story to go along with the guitars and melodies.  We also used more keyboards on this album.  Andy Reed, who played bass on the album also added Hammond B3 on several songs.  I added some keys as did drummer Donny Brown.  Geoff played synth on a song or two, and a cat from Jersey, Plink Giglio added piano on one song and some great synths on another.  So for a guitar based album there's a lot of keyboards too.  Geoff does the mixes on his own, then I chime in with a few suggestions.  I used to insist to be present during mixing, but it really works better when I can come in with fresh ears and offer a couple of thoughts.

Some guys like punk and speed and flash and shambolic stuff, or metal and noise and distortion... But a Piunti record is crisp, tight, angular, hooky, clean, punchy--- what, overall, draws you to that aesthetic..., that energy? 
I just write what I like.  I love great songs, I love guitars, and lyrics that make me think.  The trick is to take what you like and make it sound like yourself.  If I find that I'm writing a song and part of it sounds too familiar to something else, I'll change it.  And surprisingly, almost all of my songs are written on acoustic guitar.  Of course I'm imaging the riffs on an electric guitar, but I've always thought that a good song should stand on it's own with an acoustic guitar and one voice.  Plus it's easier to strum along at the kitchen table than locking myself in the basement with my electric guitar and amp.

What have you enjoyed most of all about the last 5-6 years? 
The best part, musically, is that I can still be inspired to write so many songs that I'm proud of.  Four albums in my 50's?  No way would I ever think that would happen! 

What are the highlights?
The power pop community has been so receptive, Bandcamp makes it so easy to sell records all around the world.  I had a song that Ryan and I wrote that was featured on a Mojo Magazine CD.  Being able to hear my music on Detroit's best radio station, WDET!  I performed at The Concert of Colors alongside Don Was, Luis Resto and Was Not Was in 2017. I got signed to a label (Jem Records) which led to airplay on Sirius XM's The Loft, and just this week the title track to my new album was named "Coolest Song in the World" in Little Steven's Underground Garage.  And I have a new band, The Complicated Men, which is  Ryan Allen, Jeff Hupp and Ron Vensko.  

It's been a crazy handful of years...Yes. With all of this is happening now, when I was so close to calling it a day just seven years ago; it means a lot.  And the friends that I've met in the music community are just the best.  Chris Richards is someone whose music I admired, is now one of my closest friends .  Same with Ryan, Andy , Donny, Geoff.  Todd and Larry from The Subtractions.  Awesome guys. Photographer Tim Meeks is a friend.  Fantastic!.  I play golf with Dave Feeny .  And I never would have known any of these people without our shared love of music,  But without a doubt, the best of the best is having my wife Kelli being the most supportive wife any middle aged musician playing rockstar could ask for.  All this songwriting, recording, rehearsing takes a lot of time.  I couldn't do it without her patience and understanding.  I just can't push my luck in the guitar purchasing department. 

Nick Piunti
Temporary High - Release Party
Aug 10
with Chris Richards & The Subtractions
and the Corktown Pops


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Aston Neighborhood Pleasure Club

"...the idea is that this kind of music—like orchestral, one might say—is best heard (and recorded) live, with no studio trickery..."
The Aston Neighborhood Pleasure Club plays a bit of a different tune than most of the artists that come up on this site. Not rock, hip-hop, neo-techno, psych-pop or whatever else... No, this quintet is more jazz-inclined, but specifically tapping in to street bands in New Orleans tradition. We're talking Dixieland; we're talking ebullient, strut-and-swing, shimmy-and-smile string-band jams; finger-snapping, toe-tapping, frenetically-melodic ditties, graceful and versatile to improvisation. The ANPC is Erik McIntyre: banjo and guitar / Matt LoRusso: guitar / Dave Vessella: Trumper and vocals / Jorian Olk-szost: Upright bass and Joshua James: sax, clarinet, vocals.

"We draw inspiration," said James, "from the sounds of many bands and street ensembles currently active in the New Orleans music scene. Though its labeled as 'trad-jazz,' the music (that ANPC enlivens) encompasses early blues, Americana, folk and gypsy music." The ANPC is getting ready to record their next album, and they're planning to do it LIVE with YOU in the audience. On Sunday, Aug 5, they'll perform two sets (12:30pm & 2:30pm) at Howe's Bayou in Ferndale. After that, they'll get to mixing the magic and preparing a proper album, and if you're in attendance, that Sunday, then you're going to receive that hard copy once it's completed (as part of your ticket purchase). Both sets will be completely unique in arrangement, each song will be captured onto the album. Oh, and you'll also have the full bar service and a special limited brunch menu, when you get to Howe's. Click here for more info.
I caught up with James to chat about ANPC and the exhilaration of the live performance...

What do you enjoy most, -actually, what do you think it is that all of you cats enjoy most-- about playing this style of music as an ensemble...compared to your other avenues, be it jazz, folk, or whatever else
Of course inherent within this music is a sense of improvisation, which speaks to all of us. But rooted within the musical tradition is the art (and irreverence) of the busker. This music forces us to develop a patter with the audience that is equal parts vaudeville and carnival barker. The music also allows us to develop characters, which we’ve honed to our present show. Dave and I are two sides of the same coin when we sing, and the patter between us in a song is distinct and part of the show.

Describe the build up, psychologically? emotionally? to a LIVE recording...what's that like as an artist/performer? What's the key to fighting off whatever it might be, anxiety or whatever else...
The concept for the live recording actually came from two places. The first was the success of my last recording with my other band, the TBO. That album, “Dance with the Devil,” was performed and recorded in the same way. (That album won a DMA for best jazz recording, I might add.) The second bit of inspiration comes from my friend Charlie Halloran, a fantastic trombonist based out of New Orleans. His most recent recording, which is doing quite well, nationally, was done in a similar way: live to tape. (Actually, his was live using one mic only, direct to acetate, and it sounds amazing!) The idea is that this kind of music—like orchestral, one might say—is best heard (and recorded) live, with no studio trickery. Since this musical tradition is based upon the interaction with and energy that comes from an audience, it seemed only right to record our next album in a live audience setting.
And since we’ve been holding down a monthly residence there at Howe’s Bayou for well over a year now, it seemed like the best place to do it. As far as mental preparation, beyond our regular time spent in the (practice) shed, it’s more a matter of selecting the right tunes, considering who to feature at any one time, and being as convivial as possible.

And, I hear that you've been working with The War & Treaty? That's unrelated to ANPC, but we still wanna hear about it...
Michael Trotter and I struck up a friendship, and he asked me to arrange several songs for him, hardening back to an earlier Motown style, with strings and horns. For now I’ll say there’s more to come...