Monday, September 19, 2016

Once a Basement Punk, Always a Basement Punk: Interview w/ Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms

Things are a little more rough around the edges for Ryan Allen on his latest album.

"This time, I guess I really connected with my inner-Bob-Mould or something..."

After 2015's Heart String Soul, it sounds as though Ryan Allen's seen the light. And illumination, literal or metaphoric, might be harder to catch when you're working on all your songs late at night in a basement, of all places. 

It's a Tuesday; your son's off to his bedtime and you've got the pinch of hours before midnight to hone a song or two toward  near completion before the day-job calls in the morning and you have to reshuffle your brain again to compartmentalize all these kinetic, coiling melodies until you can get back to that basement. But after a year, what you'll wind up with is something like this...



On Sept 30, Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms release his third solo album, Basement Punk (Save Your Generation Records); performing at the New Way Bar, with FAWNN and Lawnmower

"A lot of the first shows I played, early in my life, were spent in basements," says Allen. "And all my band practises too, even if it was in my parent's basement. That's where things start; basements... ...I mean, almost every significant musical moment that I've had, in terms of sparking ideas for songs, is derived from being in a basement, somewhere..."

Early on, he was in an agit-pop group with his brother, Scott, called Red Shirt Brigade. The band that broke him into the indie-rock world was Thunderbirds Are Now!, and they contemporaries of others from the curious batch of early 2000's math-rock/indie-punk & post-emo outfits like Les Savy Fav and Enon, so they did some extensive touring... Allen has played on big stages in front of hundreds of people before... But there was never anything that equaled the nuanced thrill of being crammed in a basement.

We're talking about jostling into the performance space provided by the Vegan Grocer in Pontiac during the late 90's, or another DIY venue in Ann Arbor called The Pirate House. The finespun feral spill of those urban cavern concerts cultivated a blur of integral experiences of nuanced inhibitions that would inform Allen's musical mindset.

"I'll never forget when Red Shirt Brigade played at The Pirate House. It was with Ted Leo, Lovesick and Q & Not U...in a basement! I remember feeling uncool walking into this hip basement...until I see Ted Leo down there helping out with this sledgehammer. He's getting ready to knock a wall out of this house in the basement so that they'll have more room for people...because there was going to be up to 100 people at the show. Seeing this person that you'd already looked up to (Leo) at the time, down there, with a sledgehammer...just...being a basement punk! He's knocking a wall down in this house just so that we can play a show."

I said earlier that it sounded like Allen had seen the light. I think it's more that he just never lost his way. Or, that he never really left the basement. I mean that as a poignant metaphor, of course, because clearly Allen's been out in the world. He's currently in another band, Destroy This Place, which has been storming along for about five years now (with three albums already under their collective belts). Before that, as Thunderbirds Are Now were tailing out, he married his lifelong sweetheart, Angela, and now their son, Emitt, is starting kindergarten. Life has happened. Even if all those precarious, poorly-lit, poorly-ventilated basements remain in his heart.

Last March, he could have very easily released a Dad Rock album... Not that he would want to or intentionally do so... Heart String Soul wound up being the most tender of taunts, a way to divulge and yet dare any doubters. He made album that discarded any pretense and put his life story into jangle-heavy, hand-clappable, fist-pumped poetry. Imagine that, sincerity and nostalgia, honest emotions and no-second-thoughts over vulnerability, rocked into a power-pop album. It's was like: worry about sounding candid, instead of sounding cool.

"That ability to be fragile and fierce at the same time...that soft center with this rough outer crunch, all of us have that, to a degree, as humans, but for me, playing with that duality in an organic way, not doing it because you think it'll give you some kind of image or some identity. To actually be you, to be the person you are, there is a sincerity to me, but there's also that, kinda...caution... Or, I guess what I'm saying is, I may not want you to get too close. That's why, what I've done with Basement Punks is use the volume, the fullness of the sound, the loudness, to make you step back a little bit, but still keep these lyrics that can pull you closer. That ebb and flow...that's what makes the music that I love and come back to..."

There's fragility behind the noise. The self titled song on this album is a 150-second cycloner with crashing hooks and spidery fret scrapes curtaining the soaring solos. "Gimme Some More" has these effusive guitar hooks that build towards these pounded minor-keys under the chorus that aren't so much riffed as they are hammered, corresponding to the resoluteness of the lyrics, snarling with the moxie of unhinged youth but cooled with the outlook of a higher age, a second wind at a time when you've got more sense, a fresh store of serotonin shoots to the brain but you're wiser about how to use it; this is the wild-sounding rock you make when you're no longer naive, but far from disenchanted.

And then there's "Alex Whiz..." Allen is very aware of his inclinations towards late 90's post-emo intonations and mid-90's underground-rock scruff. Instead of only dabbling with it or blending it with six other half-genres, he's inhabiting the specific rock sound he finds himself most drawn to... Wearing it like a band t-shirt. And that's what makes the stuff sound so authentic, or...as we said: sincere.



Allen said that he had to make Heart String Soul, almost as if it were a sonic keepsake, an overt memoir, through music. But while that album told a lot of Allen's past, Basement Punks seems to be meditations on the present and the inevitable arrival of the future. In that way, with the energy of the guitars and the self-assertive resoluteness of the lyrics, this is the sound of one from the basement punk species sliding closer to a more secured self-esteem with one's place... Yes, I'm in a basement in the suburbs...But, also yes...I'm going to pour my heart into these coarse rockers and curled melodies...

"That's the overall snapshot of what the record is about... Basement Punks... It's this acceptance of that being a good thing and being okay with that. People have aspirations, they want to play big venues like The Filmore and they want a ton of fans and they wanna sell a bunch of merch. Which, I'd never turn down any of those things, but at the same time, you come to this realization of it being okay if none of that happens, or if it used to happen and it just doesn't, anymore. I'm gonna be alright, where I'm at..."



Allen and I start talking about what it's like to truly "evolve" as a musician. I'm not talking about from your first album some band made when they were 21 to their third album when they all turned 24... What happens when you stay on this road...and just continue... What happens is an album like Basement Punks. 

"In any trajectory or vocation in life, the older you get the more rewarded you usually are, except for in music...and, that's not any sort of revelatory statement. But, some older bands, and I'm not naming names, but they just look silly, or there's that feeling like they should just stop, their music isn't anything relevant anymore. But...."

"But then you have a guy like Bob Mould or J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr), or John Davis of Superdrag, or even the band Beach Slang. Davis is in a band called The Lees of Memory. He's got a family, a job, maybe he can't tour as much. So what? Doesn't mean he can't crank out a fucking great song! And Mould? From his solo stuff, to Sugar, and I fucking loved Husker Du. I am into that idea that somebody can still sell (music) as they continue on. As a musician, you can still make something viable, no matter what age they're at..."

The overdue acclaim that came Beach Slang's way for 2015's The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, was a particular inspiration for Allen, as he got started on Basement Punks. (Beach Slang singer) James Alex is another I can relate to, he's also a father and I'm closer to him in age and he still wants to go out there and fucking kick ass and take names. I have to believe that that band is "big" now because of that last record's particular perspective, the perspective that he has now at this point in life. Somebody making the exact same music who might be in their early 20's might not be able to put the same spin on that..."

Some of Bob Mould's very recent songs could have been written by a 20-something-year-old Mould, because the energy is still there. The enthusiasm for rough-and-tumble power pop is still there for Allen, as well, with Basement Punks. But like Mould, they've both got broadened perspectives.

Meanwhile, Allen still performs and writes with Destroy This Place. "Which is an incredibly loud band. That's another reason that (Heart String Soul) was a softer record; I wanted you to have to turn it up a little bit and hear it, closely. This time, with Basement Punks, I wanted to shake that up and make a bit more of a sonic statement. A lot of what brings me back to records by Sugar, or Lemondheads, or Dinosaur Jr...and a lot of it is the fullness of the songs, acoustic and electric combined. The last record had no guitar effects... But this one, I brought them all out and said: 'Let's fucking do this...' Last time I almost tried to make an indie-rock version of a Tom Petty record; but this time, I just wanted to make a fucking rock 'n' roll record about me and my life!"

Sept 30, Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms release his third solo albumBasement Punk (Save Your Generation Records); performing at the New Way Bar, with FAWNN and Lawnmower.

***Backing Allen up for the live incarnation of the Extra Arms is drummer Sean Sommer (of Destroy This Place), bassist Ryan Marshall (of PALACES), and guitarist Mike Gallacher (of Monarchs). 
More info:
http://extraarms.tumblr.com

https://soundcloud.com/ryanallenandhisextraarms/

facebook.com/ryanallenandhisextraarms/  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Caveman Woodman & Bam Bam Moss - Early Man

Produced by Adam Cox
Photo by Lo-fi Bri
Design by TJ Ghoul
Jett Plastic Recordings 

Detroit's Caveman & Bam Bam might be pegged as a punk duo or a garage duo. They'll be categorized as noisy and maybe just a bit frightful. Because their songs are played and performed as though the entire venue was earth-quaking down to the ground around them and they have just two minutes to bang it out before roof caves in. But their sound is also one that certainly assures you, in its spirit and in its manner, that would that roof come tumbling down, these two...would...not....flinch.

So you can grunt if you wanna... The mayhem is metaphoric, mostly... The fracas is figurative. You won't "Start A Fire," per se, but if you wanna lose your mind for 3 minutes, that's kinda part of the plan.

Caveman & Bam Bam aim to bring out an inner animal nature in you, and push you, cannonballing, into the crude primordial stew of rock 'n' roll. It's not as though you'd literally "Start A Fire..." but the agenda of freeing you up to brew some of that recklessness outta ya for some healthful rocking-out...is there.

Look at the song titles on their forthcoming album, Early Man (via Jett Plastic Recordings):
*"What Would A Caveman Do?" The question invites you to unleash something. These are the grunts, the roars, the club-swing-smashes and fire-starting fervor you can't let out of you at your day-job.
**"Let's Start A Fire..." That's a charming, thematic sentiment of inventing a contained heat-source, but when fire spreads, it's wild.
***"Starting A Dance Craze..." My personal favorite: taut, taunty lyrics, angular guitars, feedback storm and tribal drumming; it assures you, in all its ferocity, that you don't have to have your hipster posture, you don't have to worry about sweating through your shirt, this is a communal commotion and you just have to make sure your flailed arms don't spill the drinks of your dancefloor neighbors.

Sayeth the Caveman, himself: The record was all done here in Hamtramck. Written, recorded, mixed, mastered. (Producer) Adam Cox has Hamtramck Sound Studios just two blocks away from my house; he’d worked with King Tuff and Timmy’s Organism. (Moss) and I went in there and bashed out 11 songs. The songs are quick and spiky. There’s some psych-rock influence coming in, for sure, and a track that we made instrumental that wound up kind of surfy. I wrote (Moss) an anthem, “Bam Bam Can...” but I've still got to figure out how to pull off that lick off, live.

Photo by Brian Rozman


The evolved versions of a couple of the songs featured on Caveman & Bam Bam's Bellyache Records debut. The Early Man version of "Dance Craze" is more dynamic and drawn out for a minute-or-so in duration, demonstrating the notable kindred-spirit chemistry that guitarist/singer Frank Woodman and drummer Brandon Moss have cultivated over their three-year-run, particularly in their improvisational surf-rock-psychotic-storm style of jamming out a bit of cathartic, riffy noise.

I also dig "Gotta Do Something," it's a wavier, groovier musical bedrock that provides a fine tide for some of the most manic of vocals. But I love the positive sentiment of this song, as well as nearly all of these 11 songs. The album will be out in early/mid October, (maybe sooner...)

Meanwhile, Caveman is traveling to New York to perform at Otto's Sunken Head, opening up for Moss' other band, Bear Vs Shark. More info. 
http://www.jettplasticrecordings.com/ 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mountain Babies Premiere: Pointe Aux Barques / Dead Man's Walkin' (dir by Gage O'Barsky)


We've featured Mountain Babies here, before. But now the Port Huron based quartet have sent us their brand new music video to premier for you, and it is delightfully disorienting...! It's silly surrealism, and yet, almost majestic...? And set to the most sublime and psychedelic Americana folk twangs, coiling riffs and crisp, resplendent tones.




There are moments of weird, noodly bends, riffy rock, Beach Boysian harmonies and chamber-pop charm. It sounds as grand as Grizzly Bear and its certainly a distant-fellow-Michigan-cousin of the subdued-dazzles of Breathe Owl Breathe, but there's a signature whimsicality to the sound where Mountain Babies make it all their own. Told in what feels like three or four separate movements, filled out with banjo, clarinet, and brushy jazz drums (at points), and this dreamy amount of delicate reverb drizzled over the vocals, the end result is this.........

"Pointe Aux Barques / Dead Man's Walkin"


Mountain Babies features Dave Peters, Brandon Leyva, Stefan Nisbett, and Ethan Williamson. Their film, which I have to say, shows a fine sensibility for  the utilization of natural light, is directed by Gage O'Barsky.

But things get weird...



"The googley eye trip, along with everything else, just happened so fast," says Peters. "We went to a thrift store on our way up and started grabbing all kinds of outfits and just went with it.

I think too much of our Americana/folk and baroque-inclined acoustic outfits had just gotten too stark in the mid to late 2000's. Mountain Babies are a breath of fresh air, in that regard, keeping the music sounding artful, with a hint of mischief. "Just went with it...," as Peters says about the video, sums it up nicely.

The storyline, loosely, is Peters and Nisbett are going on a spirtual journey together. "We head out to see mother nature and Stefan pulls googley eyes out of his pockets and we take them as though their hits of... something..." and bizarre-ness ensues.

Pointe Aux Barques/ Dead Man's Walkin' by Mountain Babies. Filmed by Gage O'Barsky. Thanks for tuning in to watch it.

NOW....
Tonight, Sept 3
Mountain Babies
Roche Bar (405 Quay St, Port Huron)
with Watching for Foxes, Silvertongue Devils, and Michael Taggert
10 pm
More info

Friday, September 2, 2016

Frontier Ruckus at El Club: A Chat with Zach and David

Last time I checked in with Frontier Ruckus, singer/guitarist Matthew Milia was eager to talk about the band’s “new” album, Enter the Kingdom. That was a year ago, but we’re still waiting…That doesn’t mean the band hasn’t been busier than ever. The quartet, with Anna Burch on bass/vocals, along with Ypsi-natives David W. Jones on banjo and Zach Nichols on singing-saw/horns/melodica & various electronics, have been touring fairly consistently over the past seven months, including an intimate Living Room Tour throughout the summer months.



Meanwhile, Jones and Nichols talked to the me about the live incarnation of their newest songs (via Enter The Kingdom). “I think we’ve successfully performed six out of the 11 songs (from Kingdom),” says Nichols, who, by the way, has been busy with another project that he started back in 2014 called Shuttershop (which features Jones). “(Frontier Ruckus) has actually never played all the way through, songwise, for any of our album’s releases…, but I’d be happy to do it for this one. But that would require four string players and another trumpet player, to be done right…”

Turns out the wait is almost over, Fruckus-fans…  The band announced, earlier this week, that Enter The Kingdom will be out by February 2017, via Loose Music. Now, you can stream a new single, “27 Dollars” here, or you can stay on this page and watch a live version of that same song, from one of their recent living room concerts….



But the real reason we’re here is not to count the days until Enter The Kingdom’s February release… And it’s not to pressure you into road-tripping over to Wayne County to catch the band at their show, Saturday in Detroit (at El Club). (You should though…)

The real reason we’re here, online, today, is to pick the brains of Jones and Nichols, two Ypsi music mavens who have been in this band for ten years, five albums, dozens of tours and who-knows-how-many shows… (Also, they have a 90% attendance rate at Mittenfest, so far). (ALSO, Jones actually co-founded what became Frontier Ruckus back around 2002, ...but we digress…)



Let’s talk about being in a band like Frontier Ruckus.

“It can be intense in the way that (the four of us) are completely smashed into each other’s lives for months-at-a-time, in some of the smallest quarters possible,” said Jones, who works a professional music teacher (specialized curriculum: banjo) when he’s back home from Fruckus-life. “I think we would lose our minds if we weren’t also such damn good friends. I think the moments we’re always remembering, and cherishing, are the most impossibly spontaneous and random ones; think along the lines of crashing with the sweetly drunken hippie dude that wanders into your spur-of-the-moment back-alley dance party… Imagine that: you’re in Wyoming, and you have nowhere else to say and he basically saves your lives…”

“Yeah, it can be intense,” says Nichols, who, in his time off, has started dipping his toes, recently, into producing potential stories for radio. When I ask him if it’s unavoidably ‘intense,’ this idea of a band being a Voltron-like entity of individuals coming together as one…, he says: “Not as intense as Voltron. But, as with Voltron, Power Rangers, or Friends…after so many tours, we’ve become exaggerated versions of our characters in the ensemble cast.” That’s true, it’s been a few seasons in this Sitcom life, hasn’t it….? “Everyone has a role to play, and expectations to fulfill, which can make it easier on us as we work together, but that’s as long as we remember that we’re human and not characters from a television show.”


Let’s talk about Enter The Kingdom. Their fifth album was recorded in Nashville, in the early summer of 2015, produced with Ken Coomer (Wilco’s founding drummer). This was a first; Frontier Ruckus have never recorded an album outside of Michigan, nor had they ever enlisted anyone outside the band for production collaboration.

“I think (Coomer) would agree,” Nichols says, “that the biggest contribution he added to the record was in the drum department, because he played all of them for this record.” When the band is on the road, they’ve previously enlisted the help of Ryan Clancey (of Stef Chura’s band) to play drums. “On paper, (Enter The Kingdom) should be the most different sounding Frontier Ruckus record, because of the new studio; a new producer; a new drummer, a new bass player, a new engineer; and a string section, but it doesn’t sound too far off from our previous records. My favorite track is ‘Gauche,’ which may tarry somewhat from our norm by including some jazzier chords.”

Coomer’s drumming days with Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) go back to Uncle Tupelo. He has also worked on production for/with Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Jars of Clay and more. Frontier Ruckus, meanwhile, began as a minimalist gothic-Americana outfit, heavy on that banjo and lots of poetic atmosphere, but they’ve blurred the boundaries and entered realms of modern indie-pop, spacey psychedelic folk and some straight-up 90’s college-rock riff-outs. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go with Kingdom…

“It was definitely very different in its level of efficiency and professionalism,” Jones says, looking back on Kingdom. “We cranked out 10 songs in 8 days, I think... That was such a relief for me personally because in the past we've always spread the record-making process out over months and months and it almost feels excruciating. We were a bit apprehensive, to say the least, of working with a producer who might try to exert some crazy creative control over things, but those fears turned out to be unfounded. (Coomer) was on the same page as us almost always, and whatever ideas he did bring to the table we loved. And hell, the dude played drums on my favorite Wilco records. To have that feel on this one is incredible!”

The band is heading back to Nashville at the end of the month for AmericanaFest. Meanwhile, this summer saw them charming exclusively-sized domestic spaces, living rooms, backyards or basements, for one of their signature quirky/cool tours. “They're really some of our favorite shows,” Jones said, “as it just takes all of the bullshit out of the equation. Not that we don't love playing loud club shows to big audiences, but there's obviously something special about just playing your damn instruments in a damn room where people are sitting on the damn floor. Damn, it's fun…”

“There’s something special about the most direct route of the instruments to the audience’s ears,” said Nichols. “In a full-on electric show there are so many layers of separation between the musicians and the audience. I like seeing shows in an acoustic setting and even more I like performing that way.”

But going back to Kingdom’s delay… And, “delay” isn’t the right word. It’s just that it’s difficult to be in a band these days when it comes to figuring out how to distribute your music. Because that question mark of “who…” looms so large on that day you get out of the studio… “Who’sgonna put this out?” The answer finally came: Loose Music.

“I mean…, to say it's frustrating to try and make it work these days would be quite the understatement,” said Jones, concerning the state of the music business and trying to wade into it…

 “A lot of labels are functioning at a level where they’re not signing mid-level or somewhat established artists, but going for several brand new or buzzy bands, hoping one or two hits. We're all scraping by and happy with our lives and the choices we've made. But…, some of our songs have been played or streamed or watched or listened to millions of times and we’ll get the occasional check for like $57…for the whole band.”

“Either way,” Jones says, “we're damn lucky to play music for a living, to have experiences with each other, to travel the world multiple times over. Fans have told us time and time again how what we do makes their lives better, that's all we need in the end…”

“Honestly,” Nichols said, “being on tour with your friends, recording music, and playing late night Hasbro’s Catchphrase in Washington D.C., for example, are rewards unto themselves!”

_______
Frontier Ruckus
Saturday
El Club (4114 W. Vernor Hwy, Detroit)
5 pm
$12
ft. Minihorse / Samantha Crain
More info
-
http://www.frontierruckus.com/tour/

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Milo Campaign Platform

This is one of the most, if not the most, self-promotional things I've ever contributed to the Internet.



But it dawns on me that I am host of a talk show and yet people might not know why... I certainly will never carry myself as someone who knows a thing or two, and I'm not going to be dropping names when you find me bar-side for a chat. You may read this blog and not know (or care) that it's been chugging along for more than eight years. That said, this blog makes no reference of the fact that I contribute weekly to the Entertainment section of the Detroit Free Press, covering almost-exclusively local Detroit/Michigan music.




But I've been doing this... and I mean writing about local music... for a while, now.... That's why I have a talk show about local music. But I'm also no hot shot. Never will be. Won't ever feel entitled, nor shall I carry myself hence in that 'm-kinda-a-big-deal manner.  Cuz there are so many of you out there, dear musicians and artists, that I have yet to meet and that I assure you I"m looking forward to interviewing... But I'm not Lester Bangs and I'm not John Peel and I'm not Pitchfork. I'm just Milo and I'm going to listen to your music intensively and write-my-head-off about it... that I promise.

Not that I intended on turning this into a campaign platform, or anything... But if we haven't met over the various arenas of social media, yet, I'd at least want you to know I'm not just some guy... Ask Travis Wright, he'll tell you. The co-host of CultureShift and I go back nine-ish years, to when I turned in a weekly music column to him in his capacity of managing editor at Real Detroit Weekly. You'll recognize that as the magazine that recently merged with Metro Times.

I go back even further, really, to when singer/songwriter Ryan Allen was running the Real Detroit show for a second. The three-albums-deep solo artist and guitarist for Destroy This Place got me my start in album reviews. I'm almost halfway into my 32nd year which means I'm nearing lucky # 13, in terms of my years of writing about local music. I've written, in the past, for Metro Times, for a number of years. But for the last three years, I've been contributing to the Free Press.

But, 13 years...13 years: Week in. Week out. CD after CD, show after show, interview after interview after interview. I have not kept count, but I'm nearing (if not, have already passed) my 500th interview. And that's all Michigan musicians, artists or bands: 500... Again, not bragging...! Just elucidating why I suddenly have a talk show, now!

To tell you the truth, I've never been so motivated in my life. AND THAT...is because I am impressed on a weekly basis by the consistent output, coverage filed, posted and shared by a plethora of outlets and independent blogs that have developed over the course of these 13 years...

Assemble Sound 

Audiofemme

Detroit Music Magazine

Detroit Proud Playlist

DeroitRap

Hip In Detroit 

Mark Maynard's Saturday Six-Packs

Metro Times Music Blog

Michigan Happenings

Mostly Midwest

Serpahine Collective 

Sound & Silence 


And then there's CultureShift over at WDET, along with Modern Music with Jon Moshier and Ann Delisi's Essential Music. And there's Melody Malosh's column in the Detroit News, and Tree Town Sound over in Ann Arbor.... And at least 10 more that I'm regrettably forgetting. Oh, DETOURS on the Free Press site.

I've never gotten tired of doing what I do. I've never gotten jaded. Not burned out yet. And that has as much to do with the constant abundance of eclectic, inventive, eccentric and enthusiastic music (of all genres) being produced and performed (on a weekly basis) by local artists, as it is to do with my fellow documentarians: writers, reporters, on-air hosts, and DJs..., promoters, provocateurs, proponents and consistent producers of insight. Further insight. Reviews, interviews, observations.

Everyone I've linked to above is continuing to tell the story, in real time, of Detroit music. And I want to applaud them for their all that they do, all that they have done, and all the posts' to come in the autumn, winter and later future. I'm in the mix, just as everyone is...

I'm still essentially a nobody, but I'm not just anybody... That's why I have a talk show. And this blog. And some other stuff.

Now that you've gotten this far, let me say: Thanks for reading. Thanks for always reading..., everything! You are wonderful, and I hope we have a mindblowing conversation, particularly about music, in the very near future.

Until next time...

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Out Of This 'Underground': New Johnny Headband Single

We need to become okay with occasional recesses from relevance. I mean, shit…, that word has such a retched absoluteness to it… Relevant to what? To whom?

You there, you disappear sometimes I’d wager. You back out. You hibernate. You hide underground and you shut a door and you find whatever circumstances are necessary to instill a fierce uptick in focus. 

You work, instead of staying out for more dancing. You experiment instead of hastily share… You think, instead of show.

But have I got something to show you, now?





Johnny Headband’s new single, “Underground,” drops todayright now. They intend on adding a new song, here and there, to the growing Freedom Rock EP throughout the rest of the summer and early autumn. 


Johnny Headband are space-funk specialists. The brainchild of the Thompson brothers: drummer/keyboardist/singer and mad-scientist Chad Thompson, with the lively bassist and co-mad-scientist Keith, and longtime journeymen drummer Robbie (aka "RKO"). So the rhythms, thusly, are consistently assured to be both intricate and irresistible and the live presentation, when it happens, is dangerously charismatic.

 Never would anything sound so swaggering and yet so self-conscious, superfly cool and yet soul-searchingly contemplative. You can’t comprehensively place those ribboning synths directly into 70’s disco, nor could you put the drums into 80’s new wave; the guitars aren’t indie-rock and the reverb-soaked sing-speak crooning ain’t like any kind of “alternative-dance” track you’d typically find…

“‘Underground was built off of something Keith was just randomly doing on the bass. Sometimes our process is just to start with a bass and a boom-chop---boom-CHOP- beat… But Keith stumbled onto that bass part…” …that wavy flicker roiling under the verses… “…and I said: ‘That’s a song!’ And Keith said: ‘…okay!’”

The song’s about that anxiety to get back out “into the main event…,” to not only feel alive again, for yourself, but to remind everyone else on the floor that you’ve got surfeit stamina left, that you can still, and plan on continuing to, “bring it…” as it were…

 "('Underground') is kind of in four parts,” said Chad. “Beginning…verse…chorus…bridge…and then it turns into like, this second movement, with a little spacey kind of 50’s lounge, space-lounge…, then it goes almost ‘Stairway To Heaven’ for a few measures with the guitar part…and then you’ve got some more squiggles. I mean, it’s an aesthetic that we’ve refined over the years and now we don’t question it, we just move…”

I tell him not to question the process. He tells me that’s  “…easier said than done…” Because you, any of us, will end up questioning…asking all kinds of questions…because the process of production, and we’re talking about songs and albums here, can take a long time...



And we’ll certainly explore that in the next installment; this pressure and this restlessness that we all feel in the air, like a confidence-corroding compound undetected until ingested, to be out in the main event, to come up from your personal underground and share your presentations, wave your flags, and re-fax your band’s cover letters.

As the song addresses, Johnny Headband have “vanished…all over again, again and again…” The band has gone through phases, they’ve had “comebacks,” they’ve had incarnations… It’s always Chad in his basement, with Keith, no matter what.... And then Robbie comes in, too, along with others like guitarists Derek Dorey. It never dies. It's just... underground. 

“I don’t understand ‘bands…’” Chad says. He sounds like a way-gone physicist trying to grasp the concept as if it were an alternate dimension. The notion of bands… Johnny Headband isn’t a band. And yet, they’ve got several EPs and albums out and they’ve been kicking, dancing, crooning, and generally-providing a fun, funky time, for a shade past 10 years now…

Maybe you didn’t know though? Maybe you didn’t think they were relevant anymore…

Maybe YOU can relate to that inertia you feel in your own underground.


You know what could ease that tension? Dancing…. (…and this is where you replay the song “all over again…”, pump the volume and step away from the computer for a second… That bass line…!) 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hot Talent Buffet: The 2nd Helping

Chris really wants you to get in front of a crowd. He wants you to have a microphone. He wants to see what will happen... Awkward is good. Confrontational is better. Shy is fine. Loudness is encouraged. Weirder the better...

This is Hot Talent Buffet: The 2nd Helping. 





Chris Butterfield (pictured^) heads Tool & Die Inc and sings with all his limbs and lymph nodes with Pink Lightning. He co-organizer Salvador Caramagno to put on a talent-show/vaudeville-improv variety night last August called Hot Talent Buffet. The competition was to see who was the biggest ham in the room... A trophy would be awarded to the most animated of performers...

This weekend at the UFO Factory, it's all about you and your own freak flag. Plenty of concert flyers encourage you to wave this freak flag with reckless abandon, but Hot Talent Buffet is going to put that overused motto where its mouth is... Act on impulse. Use what you got. Embrace your inner burlesque, your screwball spirit animal, the sweet/strange stooge inside us all...




You somehow tricked me into hosting open-mic nights. I didn't realize it at the time, how insistent and encouraging you were for me to get up and read my writing in front of people...
Butterfield: Encouraging folks to take the stage is like pushing a fully clothed person into a pool. I love to watch em splash and I only push those who can swim -- mostly. You have a laugh either way. Hey, you shouldn’t stand so close to an impresario and a pool. Live performance is so damn disarming and exciting and terrifying. It’s a transcendental experience that requires release as much as it does control. Half my childhood was lived in my Grandfather’s home, and he loved early cinema comedy. That planted a seed. Back in the days of tooth powder and edgy drinks like floats, vaudeville was the predominant form of entertainment for good reason. There’s a mystery that is only illuminated by spotlight. Humility can be endearing and hysterical. The audience is with you.

How'd it go last year?

Butterfield: Truthfully, last year’s show, which was our first show, was a beautiful disaster. Some logistical and staging stuff went awry on the organizational end. It was mine and co-organizer Salvador Caramagno’s first attempt at putting on a show of its kind. It turns out there are a lot of moving parts with twenty unique acts. It’s a trial by fire kind of show. Precariousness is the main character. But don’t get me wrong, we had some fine acts carry the night. I get goosebumps when I think of the Gene Simmons look-a-like not cooperating with our host for his on-stage interview. Couldn’t write that -- and we didn’t! Ahja Majifa gave a dazzling performance of blindfolded piano virtuosity. There was mystery bag freestyle with Passalacqua, cannibal burlesque from Kitty Hawkk, a real life Soda Rat singing a tender rendition of Little Green Apples, Sam Carmello’s TOP HAM-winning performance as an over-sexualized intergalactic lounge star, and so much more....


Where's the motivation come from? What draws you to performance art, like this... ? Butterfield: My friend and oft-collaborator, Ryan Standfest, runs a publication house called Rotland Press that is entirely devoted to dark humor and all things absurd and titillating. Raunchy stuff! We’ve collaborated several times in slapstick and ritualistic stage plays under the banner of Cabaret Black Eye. It was an important catalyst for Hot Talent Buffet. His influence is partly to blame...

But I’ve been fascinated with performance art since I can remember, and music just happened to be an entry point. I like a confrontational experience -- not necessarily aggressive in nature, but something that grabs at the collar and forces reexamination. I’m interested in the unconventional and pursuing absurdity as a means of investigation.


What's up this year? It says it's hosted by someone named 'Freshness...'? Butterfield: Twenty acts again, but a bigger trophy...with a new tofu option in addition to Ham, for champion Top Ham. The evening will be professionally filmed by Hound Lab Films. Freshness is wearing a brand new Jnco bowling shirt. I’m wearing a tie. Johnnie Penn is spinning choice cuts throughout the show in addition to a feel good dance party immediately following. It’s a diverse mix of people/performers celebrating the individuality of their own creative spirit. And, yes, Freshness is the mystery host of Hot Talent Buffet... I met Freshness at Macomb Mall in 2002. He was being thrown out of Spencer’s Gifts in a boisterous display. He talked my ear off as I passed by and tried to sell me a half-filled sleeve of Little Caesars crazy bread for $6. We became fast friends. Beyond that tidbit, I’m not at liberty to divulge anything more. You’ll have to see for yourselves. Freshness is waiting to shock you....





Come for the buffet...stay for the talent. Exterminate your self-consciousness...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Anna Ash Turns On The 'Floodlights' Sept 6 (Interview)

Interview
Anna Ash
LA-based Michigan Songwriter releases second album, Floodlights, on Sept 6

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New single premier: "Holding Out" (from Floodlights) 




The music of Anna Ash has this power to it…, like I feel the world coming into focus as it feathers my headphones, like leaves settling, breezes soften, light pollution dims and car horns muting… The noisier, artificial world fades and something actually concrete, the substance and soul of my surroundings attains a radiance; I feel a clarity come in with her voice and the loud quiet that keeps the space between her notes. 

And yet I just can’t describe how she captures that lucidity. But more on that, later…

Ash is releasing her second album, Floodlights, on September 6. The Michigan-raised/California-based singer/songwriter recently returned to her home state for a handful of performances showcasing the new songs.

“Holding Out” is the latest single; it, along with the album's other nine songs, feature Joe Dart on bass, Julian Allen on drums, Joey Dosik on keys, Theo Katzman on guitar/backing vocals, and James Cornelison and Brett Farkas on guitars. Anna Ash is on lead vocals and guitar. It was mixed by Dan Horne and mastered by Devin Kerr 


The album’s title was inspired by the certain surrealism of encountering blinding, open-faced light fixtures shining up an otherwise pitch dark suburban street in the middle of a night, as one might find in Hollywood, if you run into a movie set, happening upon this fabricated luminescence with a suddenness you just can’t get used to… That’s enough to make anyone want to get away…, particularly Ash, as she demonstrates with her prose and pensive guitar clangs, shaking dust loose, retightening bootlaces, taking deep breathes. Clarity…calm.  

Ash’s first album was 2012’s These Holy Days and it blended pastoral, almost-Laurel Canyon-esque folk back eastward to Michigan’s own more rustic renderings; a set of soft odes that could bridge a path twixt her two worlds and wend its way towards a more fully realized sense of self, and of place.  
Floodlights, though, is something much more of a rock ‘n’ roll creature, or that certain kind of tender thunder with a subtler rumble rolling off toward a horizon. It’s plugged in, it has grimaces, it can shove… It’s also stronger; it’s more concentrated, confrontational and sings to firm up the dams against drama or anxiety.

 It’s also just much more country…

“I think, before…, I just started writing songs but didn’t quite know how to do it yet, so I had to come out slow and I came out quiet…” Ash says this, looking back five years to when she began working on her proper debut as a solo artist. “I was also just listening to a lot more folk music when I was younger, but don’t really listen to that anymore. When I moved to L.A., I got way more honest about how country my sensibilities are, and I just became more comfortable with that genre and being able to be on the fringe of that genre and feeling okay with that...”

Ash grew up in the village of Elk Rapids, surrounded by idyllic lakes and a picaresque state park, with the vineyards and cherry fields of Traverse City just a stone’s throw away. She played music throughout her youth up until college in Ann Arbor, where a voice instructor (along with several other future collaborators like Theo Katzman), implicitly encouraged her to start performing (and writing) more.

In 2009 Ash headed west, winding up in Northern California for a while and eventually Oakland. Strange as it may sound to a Michigander accustomed to slower paces, simpler folks and a smaller populace, Ash submits that, more than anything, moving to a admittedly unfathomable place like Los Angeles actually helped her find herself … Perhaps because it was so esoteric…

And much of Floodlights deals with parsing out “…your own weird, emotional baggage of existing within a place that is so dynamic and challenging, with its culture and the types of people that are there…”

Ash said that when she lived and worked in the Bay, she “…felt a lot of social pressure in order to play ‘the right gig…’ or, like I had to get into ‘the right scene…’ or be part of a crew.” But the part about L.A. she said she likes is it’s not really about finding a scene or starting a scene, especially for a songwriter.

“I feel it’s quite a bit easier to be in your own universe because people are more interested in hearing someone who is unique rather than just, ya know, five more rock bands who are all friends in the same scene and sound the same. In L.A., I was suddenly able to be myself in a way that I didn’t feel comfortable doing in the Bay. I felt pressure there, to be cool. But L.A.’s not cool…in some ways, just cuz everybody’s so weird…” 

What winds up standing out is the sinewy maneuvers of its smooth rhythms, its steady, heartbeat-like riffs on the guitar, and the bluesy lullabies of the vocal performances. What stands out is a comfort in being vulnerable. What stands out is the breathing space given between each element; each instrument’s expression, tone and timbre breathes, sighs, growls…cries.

“I think vulnerability interests me, not just in performances and in songwriting,” said Ash, “but also in the singers, too… I think for me, especially with these songs, that’s just how they were written, and it’s how they come out.”


You may have already heard hints of possible influential reference points, but Ash later marks Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams as a few key touchstones that soundtracked her youth, along with a galaxy of old-time rock ‘n’ roll players and country-heavy vocalists.  

Going back to the tender churn of these tunes, there may seem to be sadness but some of that, on earlier recordings, was actually just shyness; an inadvertent soft-touch. 

“For a little while,” says Ash, “I was very self-conscious about singing high and singing loud. I had gotten feedback from some people I worked that that was over the top…because some folks want a more subtle and lower style of singing. But when I was making Floodlights, I got way more comfortable… because I was producing it myself and could carefully choose every vocal take and how it would all sound. And I just realized: ‘Wait… my voice is high and it is loud…that’s who I am and this is what these songs are… They’re not quiet, subtle things. So, (Floodlights) was just about getting more comfortable with who I am as a writer and being like: ‘Yeah…it’s gonna go there…!’

So I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was resonating most about Floodlights graceful grit, about its power to pacify some unnamed perturbed feeling in me… 

“That probably has to do with (Floodlights) being, primarily, a live record. We tracked drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead vocals and some of the lead guitar all live… The songs are simple and I wasn’t interested in getting to heavy on the production side. I wanted the songs to sound like a band in a room. ‘Holding Out’ was all about those hits (on the guitar). I think that song could stand on its own, with those lyrics and that guitar… I didn’t want to fill up all that space. I think it should just be able to breathe, there…”


That’s what happened when I listened to Ash’s Floodlights. I found space. I could breathe… Indescribably refreshing, I’ll say… 


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Kickstand Band Start Another 'Summer Dream'

Something crucial to undertaking the pop/rock enterprise is retaining the shine of youth upon your soul... mastering the element of whimsy as if it were your own weapon of wonder for selective detonation. That kind of vigor and vim be a struggle for some to keep secure as the years scroll by...but not Kickstand Band. 

Getting in the car? Hanging out in your basement? Bored in the backyard?
Kickstand Band / Kickstand Band / Kickstand Band 

Dance / run / kartwheel / whatever... It's SUMMER 

band pic by Noah Elliott Morrison


When are you not going to be happy to see a bright orange sunrise? When are you not gonna cannonball into that inground swimming pool? Why wouldn't you jump from the swingset, or slide down head first, or try popping that wheelie... The Kickstand Band, Gordon Smith (guitar/vocals) and Allison Young (bass/vocals) are releasing their third Summer EP, a tradition that seems to show no sign of stopping... It went live last Saturday night (August 13), in time for their headlining slot at Detroit's Duo Fest (at the Loving Touch).

"Ever since we started going to school, we plan our whole lives around summer," Young said, not necessarily speaking for just the two of them. "Summer is the thing you can't wait to get to..., and it's the thing you say: 'God, I can't believe it's almost over...!' You don't say that about winter...."

Summer is a pop song. Fun as hell. Fast, fleeting, furious. Over too soon. Instantly memorable, in every way. Radiant. Carefree...The bass is like a surf board, the drums are like evening fire-crackers and the skateboarding wheels of those guitars likely result in some scuffed knees and grass stains... Summer is a pop song, and the Kickstand Band have found a way to re-capture it 25-times over... Summer Dream is just another excellent example...








I mean, I don't think I have to wax too philosophic here... The band even has a song called "Summer Means Fun..." It's a mission statement. Plain, simple... fuckin' pure... I think what we're all digging about Smith & Young's stuff here is that it's got that palpably beating heart under it all... It isn't juicebox pop. It's two kids who never grew up and make you envious that you couldn't hang onto that as well as they could.



"Some of the ideas for (Summer Dreams' three original) songs were floating around our brains for a while, like, we've been banging around some of the changes since last winter," Smith said. "But, most of the hard work, like lyrics, structure, etc...that was seriously wrapped up just last month. These are true products of the summer. We practiced them every night for a couple weeks and then plugged in to my pro tools rig in our basement and let em rip."

They call their modest Woodbridge basement set up, Centipede Studios. The EP also features two cover songs: The Sunrays' "I Live For The Sun," (which local crowds have heard in its live incarnation), and Sugar Canyon's "On A Summer Night..."

But then, I ask Smith that dreaded cliche of a music journalist question, the one concerning what kind of special/certain sound or vibe they wanted to capture, this time around...

"Well, as far as the sound goes..., and maybe this is not the "right" answer..., but this EP was not an exercise in finding a new sound or purposeful evolution or anything like that....This was more about flexing our songwriting muscles, and our recording muscles, since this is all recorded, mixed and mastered by us..., and just generally getting in shape as a band." We'll call it: band cardio...

But let's get into it... Our last interview with The Kickstand Band delved into some significantly existential stuff, as far as band-life goes. We were talking about the recordings they'd completed a couple years prior and were storing away until that happy/unknowable day of a label magically plucking them from the dusty shelves of Centipede Studio and substantiating them into distributional-existence... Since then, they've taken it upon themselves to, as Smith said, start flexing some more of their own muscle.

"Well, we're just practicing more, lately," said Young, "...and focusing on singing, namely lots of Everly Bros' tunes... Having that kind of purpose, drive, focus...that goes a long way to stem the existential bullshit..."  And, looking back... (after releasing the last Cut Em Loose EP), Young said it was "...definitely nice to get out of the country and play some shows to foreign audiences. This recording process, like we did with Summer Dream, has also been great. When you do it fast like this, you almost don't have time to let any anxieties creep in. Even if nobody likes this stuff, it took us a month, and we can move on to the next one literally tomorrow..."

And that's the power of Kickstand Band. I don't mean their charm or their volume or their talent. I mean, they're just two people, in a basement, with great ears for melodies... And they can get shit done fast, and move right on to the next day. That's the thing about any given day in the summertime, as it is with a Kickstand Band song, whatever happens often happens fast...

Speaking of fast... The band said they have recently made some friends at the Hamtramck Skate Park. So, with their gopro in hand, they've been working on a music video to go with this new EP; stay tuned.




I ask two more questions... And the first question is what are their future plans?

Young: "Write more songs. Get really good. Record more songs. Travel. Age gracefully...."


The second question is concerning duos. The Kickstand Band performed last Saturday for The Messenger Birds-curated lineup at the Loving Touch; nine bands, 18 people.


So I ask, if they wrote their own book about how to make a duo work....what would their instructions be?

Smith: "Chapter 1: Be In Some Other Bands First-- Learn what you're good at. Learn how much shit there is to take care of. Learn how to do it all. Chapter 2: It's Actually A Lot Easier Once You Learn All That. Chapter 3: Know When You Need Other Musicians-- We're practicing with a drummer now, sometimes you need to fill out the sound.

That's it!


Follow the band on Facebook or bandcamp.



Friday, August 5, 2016

Ferndale Community Radio

100.7 Ferndale Radio
An Indiegogo fundraising campaign launched recently has just 2 months to reach its goal of $15,000.... If not, well....then we all lose....




100_7_FM from Jeremy Olstyn on Vimeo.

Ferndale..., this is for you… …if you want it.!!!

I mean, you have to show that you want it. It’s just one of those things. Kinda like a library, or a museum, or a neighborhood park space. You can be getting so much more out of your music listening experience.... You can get an endearing sense of community…You can learn about local events, you can gain new perspectives....

That’s if the current Indiegogo campaign for Ferndale Community Radio can raise enough funding to facilitate installation of an antennae tower and the equipping/furnishing/supplying of a decent studio space.



“Our mission is to bring the community closer together as a radio station,” said Michelle Mirowski, President/General Manager of Ferndale Community Radio, a Michigan nonprofit working toward setting up a local station inside the Rustbelt Market. “It is all about community for us, there’s no reason for us to start this in the first place if there was not a community-centered mindset. It’s in our name: “Ferndale COMMUNITY Radio…, that’s what drives us.”



Chris Best, co-owner/manager of the Rust Belt Market, expressed considerable enthusiasm for partnering with FCR. In fact, it was initially in the Rust Belt's business plan, to eventually help set up and host a community radio station, they just hadn't anticipated the harder parts of jumping through the various hoops required to get that FCC approval... That's where Mirowski and her team come in! 


The effort started several years ago, sprung from a casual conversation concerning just how cool it would be to have a free-form radio station, something with the enthusiastic verve and empowering edge of a college station, only this time have it hosted in a city with the cultural richness and unique character of Ferndale and have it be able to promote local events, feature local organizations and showcase local artists, while also playing an eclectic and refreshing blend of music.


In 2013, the federal government opened up the FM airwavefor the first time since the late 90’s, offering licenses for frequencies across the dial to any number of aspiring groups looking to set up their own low-power (100-watt), noncommercial radio station.


Ferndale Community Radio’s board of volunteer specialists include Mirowski, her husband Dave Phillips (a journalist who will be covering news & community affairs for the station), and Jeremy Olstyn (who has substantial experience managing high school radio programs and will head programming and future training for FCR). Dave Kim, meanwhile, comes to the team with several years’ experience, including working in commercial and promotional radio, like 89X. They also have a certified radio engineer on the team, an integral component in helping with a particularly exacting part of the application process. Suffice it to say, there is decade’s worth of experience and know-how shared between the Board behind FCR.

If you were to put the FRC team into a functioning studio, with a transmitter, and help hook them up with an insurance plan and royalties system, then they’d be delivering exciting and engaging programming almost instantly! They’re ready to go; they know what they’re doing! They just need YOUR help…   

Mirowski wants you to realize how rare of an opportunity this is… The FCC doesn’t just hand out these licenses willy-nilly… “The fact that we got this far and that the FCC said: Yes…. That’s ridiculous,” she’s got an excited and motivated smile, the disbelief still having not faded for them. “What we have right now? Is a ridiculous opportunity! But we have to be up and running soon. We have to be streaming 24-7 by September and we need to get all the equipment up way before that. We have to do tests of the frequency to make sure everything’s good and then there’s always any kind of other delays we can’t anticipate. Plus, we have to order parts, and that could take a few months…”

So… The sooner Ferndale chips in, the better!

In fact, if there was one dollar, just one dollar given, for every person living in Ferndale, then they’d more than reach their goal. (Of course, I’m counting babies and kindergartners in that scenario, but STILL…) “This might actually be the only chance for Ferndale to have a community FM station. The 100.7 frequency might not be open anymore if we miss this, because they’re (the FCC) changing different structures of (the dial). And if we don’t get the funding, it’s not like the FCC is going to say: ‘Oh, take your time, we’ll just hold onto this for you…’ We’d have to wait until this window of opportunity opens again…” And that could be several years. This is it, Ferndale.

There’s no backup-plan, per se. They don’t want to do podcasts, they don’t want to do just online radio, they want to give you a terrestrial radio, something you can tune in to while you’re driving down 9 Mile or chilling at home. They could become an Internet Radio Station, if they wanted, but that would mean higher royalties required to music distribution companies. If they keep it at this trajectory, just 100-watts from their hopefully-soon-to-be-erected-tower, coupled with their nonprofit status, then they can keep those royalties to a more affordable rate.

But they need that $15,000 goal to get off the ground, not only to fund the furnishing of their studio, but to also demonstrate that this is something the community wants, something the community will likely continue to support two years from now, three, five….ten!


This is it… Your chance for the city to have its own community radio station. No corporate sponsors, no moneyed interests. Just passionate people doing it for the love of it and implicitly directing their efforts towards promoting local events, local artists, local businesses, local organizations…ALL FERNDALE. Right here. What do you say? 


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Interview with His Name Is Alive




His Name Is Alive perform on Saturday, Aug 6 at O'Mara's Irish Pub
with Libby DeCamp

8 pm
2555 12 Mile Rd (Berkley, MI)
$15 at the door
(Adv tix $10 - 248-399-6750)
More info

http://www.hisnameisalive.com/ 









This is only the second time I've gotten a chance to interview Warren Defever, (identified elsewhere as Warn Defever, or sometimes just WAR). War is the man who holds mind behind His Name Is Alive, and he, along with a somewhat rotating cast of collaborators forge the soul of this elastically-defined alternative/experimental music project. HNIA has haunted Earth's magnetosphere with its spooky, cerebral splendors for more than 25 years. It currently features Defever, guitarist/bassist Dusty Jones, percussionist J. Rowe, violinist Jean Cook and vocalist Andrea Morici.

Less than 48 hours ago, HNIA exclusively premiered this track on the Metro Times site.


This song comes from Patterns of Light, the newest album from HNIA, coming out Oct. 28 via London London Records. Rather than worry about what we should call this music, what we should do with it, where we should store it...who is it for, what does it serve...

Rather than question anything that's come out the gate of HNIA over the years, I'd much rather just let it do it's thing. What are you responding to, when you hear this? The variance of tempo? The drama in the vocals? The celebratory swagger of those slithery guitars? The stepping beat and how it almost sets a smile on your face? The dizzying swoon of the harmonies? The tight flex of those riffs? It swells with meticulous cross-stitched schemes and sutured seams to solicit optimal dreaminess and contemplation. It's a deposit of energy....of energies... It's never one thing, or a two-word sandwiching of genres...

Warren and I talked about what music can do, what it used to do, what it should do. During our interview, we talked often about interviewing......

HNIA is performing at O'Mara's Pub this Saturday.  With Libby DeCamp


Milo: A year ago, you had a surge of attention come your way because it was the 25th anniversary of your having started HNIA. I've known you to be one that's often keen to avoid that kind of a spotlight. How did it make you feel? What was it like the morning after that show? And how do you regard that inevitable attention...like the attention of this interview...as you go through "year 26..." and forward, still... ?

Defever: I'm a very private person who's ended up in a semi-public position. Every day I wake up and say: 'Thank you... I am not more successful...,' because I'm not really equipped to handle it. I've found a comfortable level of failure. Whatever this is, I am comfortable with it. This is working. ...Or..., perhaps there is no this. If your question is, really: 'Do you see the vortex...? Do you look into the vortex? How do you turn away...?' Then, my answer is also in the form of question: 'When you look into my eyes, do you see the swirling whirlpools of insanity...?'

Honestly, I am thankful that anybody would ask a question...! Firstly, because it means that what I'm doing is not so embarrassingly obvious or boring that there are questions that need asking regarding it. And secondly, because it suggests that at least one person is still listening and paying attention to this project that I began while still a high school student.


Milo: I think that interviewers hope these kinds of interviews will render sublte revelations. Like the readers at home will learn something about the artist. Or, hey, maybe the artist will learn something about themselves...? 
Defever: Over  the years I have learned at least one thing about myself and that is when I get nervous I may say something that is not entirely true or accurate, most often in an interview situation or onstage. I no longer have a microphone anywhere near me during shows... Like at our last show in Detroit, I, for some reason, told the audience I wasn't a very good communicator and that I believed we had shared something special that night, so I dedicated the next song to them, a song called 'Fuck You, Wisconsin.' ...We don't even have a song called that... Also, I've learned that my anxiety level is easily controlled while typing replies to interview questions instead of looking right at the person sitting across the table from you with their little tape recorder, because who knows what they're really thinking. 



Milo: When I think about HNIA, I think about something glimpsed in a dark room, a lamp or a chair, something you peer toward, something you listen closely to, but can't quite...well, I don't wanna say 'grasp...' But the entity has a ghostly or mysterious quality. What drew you to mystery... How active or intentional were you in the development of the notioin that there was a thick, obscuring cloak drawn up around HNIA...? 

Defever: The most simple answer I can provide is that the best art allows the audience to find individual meaning to it. I don't want to get into transactional-reader response theory or whatever, but its not a formalist system.



Milo: Can you tell us a bit about the rock opera...? 2014's Tecuciztecatl...

Defever: 
With Tecuciztecatl, I had taken a few years off writing and recording and considered that I maybe had said everything that I needed to say as a songwriter. But when the ideas for a work that could operate in the very challenging format of the rock opera started coming together I knew I wanted to try.  Sometimes it's the audience's view that the artist no longer has anything original to contribute, but I had started feeling that myself.  With the challenges of writing a rock opera story-line: like developing multiple characters and writing for their individual voices as well as the additional rule that I placed on the project that one need not know that it was a rock opera and that the songs should work independently from the larger structure..., I felt, then, that this was an area that I had not previous explored and so the results would have real value.  



Milo: Tell me about your role as a producer... Like, the uh, the magic you would feel... I mean, like, that intangible factor tied to something that makes you unconsciously appreciate how much you love it... That magic of production/recording/sound-experimentation..., how has your experience of that magic (this sounds like a drug question...) changed by way of having so many new technological upgrades and apps brought onto the field... 

Defever: Technological advancements have always been a hugely influential part of the evolution of music. Whatever computer nerd plugins come out next year, you can never improve on what happens when great musicians stand right next to each other in the same room and play together at the same time....
I've been working as a full time producer for other musicians for twelve years now; I've recorded hundreds of records. I'm just now starting to put together a comprehensive discography of records that I've worked on outside of (HNIA).  I'm not sure that I've got an easy answer to your question about 'magic...' I would say the disappearance of recording budgets and traditional record company/band relationships has been a bigger influence on what I've seen in the evolution of record making; people are literally spending less time in the studio that they used to. As a producer, my job usually begins with determining how best to work within the budget of a project.  More importantly is getting to know an artist and understanding what conditions and what atmosphere needs to be in place before they can really do their best work and how far to go to find the limitations of their creative energy. 



Milo: Talk about playing in the room together with a group. What was the songwriting, or song-creating process like for this rock opera...?
Defever: When you ask about the recording and creating process of the album, Tecuciztecatl, as separate from the songwriting process, then I would say it's different than most of the earlier albums in that it is mostly recorded live, like a documentary process, and that we recorded the album in the order that the songs appear on the record. We would work on one song at a time and when you listen to the record you can hear it develop very naturally. 



Milo: And tell me about Sunship. How cognizant were you, or are you, of an audience that will eventually be experiencing the sounds you're making?
Defever: Maybe it's slightly boring, but getting into the natural healing properties of music/sound is important to me. The way the inner ear is designed, the way the nervous system works, the natural order of harmonics found in just tempered music versus the equal or compromised tuning that has been popularized in the west in the last couple hundred years... 


Defever: The relationship between these things is everything! Albert Ayler said, "Music is the healing force of the universe," and I strongly believe in those words. In America in the 1980's, we figured out how to make individually wrapped cheese slices that had no nutritional value and orange drink that contained no juice; these had zero positive effects on the body. Recent technological advancements now allow us to remove all the natural healing qualities from the music before it gets to the listener, whether we're talking about auto-tune, quantizing beats on a grid, or even low quality streaming thru tiny, shitty little speakers.  Music is primarily made up of sound. There's a connection between the sun, the air, water, plants, animals, wind, bees, nutrients..., all of what life requires to survive. 



Milo: Now that this is all said and done... What is the one interview question, or any question, you'd rather never be asked again...

Defever: 
I actually haven't really done that many interviews in my life and I'm always curious what questions people have. There's so much happening here that I believe should be readily apparent but is clearly misunderstood or unclear to people. Unfortunately I suspect that my own insights into the process or motivations don't really make it any more clear to the listener.