Saturday, December 3, 2016

Michigan Music in 2016 (pt 1 of 2)




What a year! You've spent said year reading paragraphs of my thoughts on a lot of the music featured in this playlist. So rather than ramble at you any further, I'll just let the music do the talking. Today is a Saturday, hopefully you've got the day off and can just hang out here for a sec and stream some of the newest songs by artists all around Michigan (albeit mostly Detroit). By next Saturday (the 10th) I'll have "part 2" of the Michigan Music rundown uploaded into a Spotify. 

While it doesn't happen as much as it did more than five years ago, whenever anyone asked why I hadn't left Detroit yet for some other music mecca like a Nashville or an Austin or a Brooklyn, I would always point back to these year-end lists. Each year it blooms bigger, brighter; more vibrant. I'm already writing too many words... Let's get on with "Part One..."
More to come, next weekend. 



















































Thursday, December 1, 2016

Grand Design 2: djkage & Mic Phelps

Mic Phelps and djkage both hit considerable creative strides this year. Their latest collaboration, Grand De$ign 2, is coming out in January.

Phelps, the emcee, lyricist, and leader a full band (on piano and vocals) called The Plug, which featured his father as a player, played a slew of shows this year and continued to collaborate with other contemporaries like Macs The Realist and his mates in Cold Men Young.

djkage, meanwhile, is the visionary producer behind the Imports series, which released a 2nd volume earlier this year. An emcee in his own right, he recently demonstrated his versatility against contemporary DJs in the realms of ghettotech, house and hip-hop through events like the Twerk or Die tour.



It was almost two years ago, to the day, that the collaborative duo of Mic Phelps and djkage released the first Grand De$ign.  On Monday, everyone's invited to a listening party for Grand Design 2 at MIX Bricktown. 


This album's predecessor already had a considerable chip on its shoulder, setting an urgent tone that called for substantial change over a soundscape of cerebral jazz samples and cathartic soul swoons. The stakes are raised for the sequel. A song like "WORD" off Grand Design 2 amps you up, with djkage's whirl-o-tilt percussion tightened to a danceable pattern but emitting a palpable aggressiveness, while Phelps...


http://granddesigndetroit.bandcamp.com/releases 


The "chip on my shoulder" lyric is even dropped in the album's tremulous hard-rock-guitar sampling, gospel-tinged, ceiling-rattling closer, "HDMD..."
give me justice or give me peace 
get my lawyer or get my piece
i'm gonna raise my son 
you can't touch my wife
you can't give me time 
you can't take my life
you can't stop my friends, i'm young and wild

And as Phelps flies onward, djkage continues to churn these guitars underneath, with this marching beat buried just enough to evoke a heartbeat with its pulse raising ever so steadily. Phelps, as is his signature, speeds up his vocal cadence past the lyrics quoted above to a point of balletic blurs and angular enunciation, punching back various storms of oppression and a declarative digging-in to take claim of his own life until he explosively crescendos with: "fuck "10," I am on "12"

Then there's a song like "Word," with Phelps flaying hypocrites with that satirical refrain, while he further inspires self-empowerment to stay in ones proverbial lane. What's notable here is the syncronicity; Phelps matches up hypnotically with the danceable gear-spin of kage's beats while slices of funky guitar riffs flash in and out to give it this retro feel, half 70's/half 90's. Later, "Make It Real" brings in the pianos again, evoking a bit of jazz glamour and street poetry's imperativeness, a heed, a harangue, a heave to make it real... The horns kage finds are piquant, and Phelps is channeling Gil Scott-Heron. Intense.

But I shouldn't say too much more...because the final shape of this album, its track-list, its sonic ambiance, could be determined by the listening-party, by those who take in the tunes at the MIX Bricktown. But I can tell you that you'll hear cameos from Cold Men Young's steely/suave Blaksmith and Kopelli, as well as impassioned bars from Pierre Anthony. 



Stay tuned for updates about The Grand Design as the month rolls along.

Meanwhile, you can hear it for yourself on Monday evening.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dimensional Riffs

Hey! Great..., you clicked the link and you're on the page. (Thanks). Wanna hang out for about 12 minutes? Click play:



Seems like when I was growing up, online music zines and blogs were so anxious and eager to be the first to tell you about a band! In that spirit, I bring you: Dimensional Riffs

But even then, how insufferably self-aggrandizing would it be of me to presume that I'm discovering this band for you... When all I'm really trying to do is do my very damndest to keep up on all the notable local music produced in-and-around Detroit (& Michigan) year-in and year-out.

THIS.... is Dimensional Riffs

pictured, blurred together: Alex Reynolds (guitar/vocals) Alex Hubert (bass/vocals), Victor Glenn (percussion)

This is finespun fray, tightened-wobbling and shambolic grooviness. This is playful 60's psychedelic sing-songey melodies over distorted fabrics of feedback and racing rhythms. These are earworm choruses who's notes and hooks get stuck in your head, even if the actual lyrics are about filth and anthropomorphized cutlery.

You can't call it garage, even if it sounds nostalgically rough-hewn ("Bathe In Filth"). You can't call it psychedelic just because it has a wavy surrealism ("Growling Spoon"). You can't call it post-punk just because it has moments of artistic-feeling aggression ("Flood's Wave '14.") You can't call it indie just because it has this affable ambling nature to its softer sweet parts ("Simple Question"). You can call it whatever you want, after all of that... My goal was just to get you to let it stream^ while you read my ramblings. I'm taken with the name, I'll say, and their origin mythos of shearing their way through a rift in our space-time continuum to collect themselves inside a breakfast nook for the concoction of mini-ballads

Maybe you heard it here first. Maybe you didn't.

Dimensional Riffs on Facebook 
& on bandcamp 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Six and the Sevens

Six and The Sevens – It Has To Be That Way


Six and The Sevens are a Detroit-based quintet that I used to just think of as that beacon of pure rock 'n' roll... Like a canister of vitamins, it just had everything you needed; driving guitars, snarl/croon/shout vocals, slamming drums and just the right amount of fuzzed-out curtaining and soulful bursts from auxiliary components. I used to think it was the next healthy strain of garage rock, evolving. 

But all six tracks on their latest EP merge in and out of distinct style lanes, switching up tempos, altering instrumental landscapes and mixing up moods...  From the second this EP kicks off, you feel like you’re flying… driving, running, moving, pure power pop with a bit of refreshing grease and grit, this local quintet have some dangerously enticing guitar hooks, classic garage-rock bluster, but sweetened with an earnest baring of hearts on sleeves. 

Some songs feel like 80’s underground-indie (“Nothing To Say”), others like throwback 60’s pop (“You Belong To  Me”), while others trudge some tremendous blues & funk onto the dancefloor (“Go, Go, Go”). And then “By My Side” is full on tsunami of soulful rock, packed with such a full sounding production by Zach Shipps (with a handful of songs also recorded with Jim Diamond). 

So this release party on Wednesday night is not just another rambunctious rendezvous for your pre-Thanksgiving ya-ya's... It's also the fifth anniversary for the band. 

Wed @ Cadieux Cafe
(4300 Cadieux Rd)
with The Messenger Birds  and many more special guests
More info


Friday, November 18, 2016

Zander Michigan - 48018 Release Party 11/26 (Interview)

Zander Michigan – 48108 Release Party
Sat., Nov 26
The Loving Touch
with: The Messenger Birds, The Gasoline Gypsies, and Anthony Retka’s Big Parade
8pm
$10
More info


Zander Michigan has started to make a name for himself locally. And with his new album, he’s made a town for himself as well. Yes, the singer/songwriter otherwise known as Zander Melidis realized that his musical moniker already sounded like a place you could find on the map of our mitten-shaped state, so why not register his own zip code?

Next Saturday, Zander Michigan releases his third album, 48108, thirteen songs of his signature folk-rock style, swelling with heart and heavy poetry, and sporadically sparked by a good handful of high-energy ballads.

Every instrument you hear on 48108 was performed by Melidis; sometimes pared back to a quieting ode of acoustic guitar and harmonica, other times firing from every cylinder with a drum kit, guitar and bass. The lyrics can go from a narrow focused introspection to a worry-tossing celebratory romp, from here-and-now heart-torn takeaways to a more existential search that slips beyond the surly bonds of Earth into bigger-picture-looks at life, itself. The poetry and the emotional intonation bent upon the notes have both considerably evolved over the last 3+ years of Zander’s steadily established foothold amid the greater Detroit area music scene.  

You can hear the whole thing now….


But next Saturday, Melidis is throwing an album release party for 48018 at The Loving Touch. Redford-based Cave Radio will be doing a live stream of each performance, along with interviews of bands between sets. Also, local K-9 shelter/intervention/enrichment nonprofit Bark Nation will benefit from a portion of ticket sales, with volunteers setting up a table at the show with information about what they do for dogs in need.

Zander is backed up by Greg Blucher on lead guitar, Johnny Albert Abel on bass and Doug Austin on drums. The exceptional lineup opening up the show features Port Huron’s rock ‘n’ roll phenoms The Gasoline Gypsies, the evocative indie-folk of Anthony Retka’s Big Parade and the trouncing blues-rock storms of The Messenger Birds.

I know Zander would have liked me to get all of that out of the way first, before I go on with the interview… that’s part of his charm. This party isn’t so much about him, he told me, as it is an opportunity to celebrate four unique and hard-working local bands that shine amid their own genres, and for you, the live music fan to “have your life changed, if only in a small way…”

Zander Michigan – 48018 Release Party
Sat., Nov 26
The Loving Touch
with: The Messenger Birds, The Gasoline Gypsies, and Anthony Retka’s Big Parade
8pm
$10
More info



Zander’s been playing in bands since he was in high school. He was at that ideal “coming of age” point in his life when The Strokes put out Is This It, and it opened up his eyes to the potential of getting some grit onto bluesy melodies and swaggering a bit of brashness onto the rock ‘n’ roll stage. Even though his first two years on the scene found Zander as a bit of a reverent replica of Bob Dylan, he actually didn’t discover Robert Zimmerman’s Nobel-quality lyricism until later in life, not until he was in college. This was 2012, and that's just when Zander began penning his first proper folk songs.

But Dylan, just like the Strokes, showed Zander that you could draw from a few iconic and unmistakable genre points like folk, punk, or rock, and just bend the notes like a careful craftsman until they fit your natural model. (Speaking of a craft, we should point out that Zander graduated U-M with an engineering degree and now works at Ford… but let’s get back to the music).

Zander really found his voice on 2015’s Zander The Great and it’s continuing to be evident with 48018, audibly throwing his whole voice, with that distinctly rustbelt rasp, into every emotion of any song’s specific story. The lyrics are poetically vague enough to where anyone could relate, but ask him after the show about a certain cut and he’ll tell you the whole story. The town inside 48018 has a lot of stories to tell; a lot of characters to be memorialized; a lot of heartaches to heal… and even some ideological axes to grind. What’s apparent is that the dude pours his whole soul into the words, the music and the recordings; to the point where you kinda feel like you already know this guy even if you haven’t met him yet…

But enough about all that… let’s talk


You’ve been at this for a handful of years now. You’ve released your own albums. You’ve even toured to England at this point!  So what have you learned on the journey so far? What’s been some of your takeaways?
The biggest takeaway, as a musician, is just not to take anything too personally. And, you need some experience before you can actually learn that. But of course, the music industry is a tough industry to try to make your way in, now more than ever. Everyone’s got their own lives, their own agendas, their own things going on, so you have to consider everyone’s perspective, where they’re at and not get upset if anyone doesn’t follow through on anything. So, you gotta know that might happen and instead just keep focusing on what you can do and what you’re able to do. I’m just focused on being a better musician….


And how do you see yourself? People may hear some of your songs and think it fits into folk… But it can also fit into rock, sometimes, or even some indie-pop…
I just want to become an artist and don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into any one genre. As a ‘folk singer’ I think that offers me a flexibility to be “a solo artist” but also follow any path that I choose. I love rock music, and even some pop stuff. I would love to be able to do that more regularly, but I just don’t have the opportunity enough…yet. But, yeah, I don’t think ‘folk singer’ would 100% represent who I am or what I want to be quite yet. I always want to try something new and change up genres.


So when you write a song, are you conscious of what your intentions are, or what you hope that art can…ya know, ‘achieve…’ in terms of engaging a listener?
I think it’s good for a musician to write how they’re feeling, but also make it relatable to anyone, so that they can connect to how you’re feeling, even if indirectly. It doesn’t have to be overt in the message or in the lyrics of the song. For me, when I’m writing… I mean, I’ll write everywhere. I use voice memo and notepad on my phone and I sing melodies into my phone… Never while driving, of course. I don’t necessarily have a desire to just make cool guitar sounds. I use a guitar, I know how to play a guitar, I can touch a pedal and get fuzzy, but I don’t depend on it. For me, it’s all about the lyrics and the message and the creation of the whole art of it, from the music, to the album cover, to the photographs.


Those are the kinds of things that connect with listeners…
It’s all about connecting, for me. And showing this personal side of myself. It’s a way, sort of, to get out my own demons. But to have someone come up and say that a certain song really meant something to them, that’s what matters to me.


You showed this when you went to England with a star-spangled-banner-blazer on…, that you have this sort of ice-breaking sense of humor or theatrical/charismatic way of presenting yourself. It goes against that vein of some DIY/indie-rocking/and-sometimes-Detroit-area musicians who kinda carry themselves as though they’re, ya know, ‘too cool…’ 
I hope I’m not cool! I would never try to be… That defeats the purpose of trying to engage a listener or an audience. It’s through this little bit of self-deprication, a little poke here or there; I don’t want to be offensive or vulgar, I find that off-putting. But I consider myself a very family friendly kind of musician. I try to be respectful of everyone; I do have that sort of campy sense of humor that can get across to everybody. Maybe a bit of vaudeville too, I love it. It’s how I’ve always been and it’s just translated into being a better dressed/semi-more-mature version of myself.


And 48018 –with inventing your own town by registering your own zip code. And the name: Zander Michigan. This place, your home, it’s clearly important to you…
It keeps me grounded. It’s made me respectful of the concept of home—as a place to hang your hat. And I’m kind of a homebody; I have a great, close relationship here with my family. My first record had songs about Michigan, but 48018 really is a Michigan album. I’m Zander Michigan; I’m born and raised. How can you take that away? I won’t let you take it away. I don’t think even if I were to move somewhere else for a period of time that that would change: I’m still a Michigander… Zander-Michigander.

~


You’ll find zip-code themed t-shirts that you could personalize for yourself at Zander’s merch table next Saturday. Or, if you can’t make it, tune into Cave Radio to stream it…
For more information, follow Zander on Facebook, or listen via soundcloud  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Are You Leaving Everyone? An Interview with Sros Lords

Interview by Stacey Macleod

The spectators stand amongst the tables in front of the stage area at Kelly's Bar in Hamtramck. Morgan Blank, guitarist and vocalist of Sros Lords, arcs over his maple-bodied, Fender Mustang Deluxe,  a multitude of pedals at his feet. His gaze is pensive; each strum is a fuzzing echo. To his left is Johnny Lazer with his synthesizer amalgamating the D&D-punk-world of the Detroit trio’s signature sound with that of the watchful audience. 

A drum kit stands unattended between the two Lords. This is the end of the set, and they are playing "Doom Dragon," a song about Gods, destruction, and Blank's mythological, Santa Claus "The Confessor." Drummer, Jamie Cherry, shirtless and with chin raised, walks righteously to the back of the bar. He is a warrior and this eve, he has played hard.

The congregation is understandably slack jawed as they are a part of the unholy Sros Lords odyssey. When Cherry reaches the stage, he stands before Blank—and speaks their sooth: "Be gone dragon! For though you may tempt me to battle, I would lose far more just by saying your name!" The Sros Lords' live performance is a time of frenzy and an occasion to raise the sacred "horns."

Sros Lords' debut album, Are You Leaving Everyone?, is being distributed by the black metal, London label and artists' collective, Merdumgiriz. Emir Togrul, label founder, will mail you a Sros Lords' cassette or CD; each one handcrafted with a unique design, fitting for an album Togrul calls, "a highly original slab of melodic heaviness and insanity..."

The band's exceptionalism is what motivates me to write this article. The energy they exude begets creativity. Listening to Are You Leaving Everyone? feels like riding in a car with a reckless driver. You know it's wrong not to care about the speed you are traveling, because it's dangerous, but you feel so alive when you succumb to the wildness of the ride.


The Sros Lords play ancient punk of the future. The guitar is the bass; menacing chord progressions are a bed for Blank's primeval lyrics. The songs on Sros Lords' Are You LeavingEveryone?, recorded by Sros and Cait Ash in 2015, are about the paradigms of love, madness, and mortality. All the while, Blank's poetic language is self-aware. His vocals are erosive and cool (to be plain.) The synthesizer often lies on top of the guitar and forges a heavy metal edge. Sometimes, though, the synth clarifies and cuts through the immensity of it all—through the big guitar, the elegiac vocals, and the blitzkrieg of Cherry's drumming. The drums drive relentlessly. They pound and drill, like road construction. The high-hat sizzles. Beer belches dot the recording. The songs are about life's oldest meditations, while being youthful anthems you can dance to.

Interview: Sros Lords

I arrive at the Sros Lords' fourth-floor practice space, at the Russell Industrial Center, to speak with them about the new distribution of their album. When I enter their space, Jamie Cherry puts on a green cape and Johnny Lazer projects a black and white film, called Robot Monster, unto the wall. Morgan Blank immediately gifts me a 32 ounce Miller High Life: "The Champagne of Beers," as well as a copy of Zenophon: The Persian Expedition, a book about the Greeks confronting the "barbarian" world and Zenophon's epic march into the heart of Persia. Here is the enthusiasm of Cherry, whose catch phrase is "Get wild!;" the stoic, edge of Lazer, dressed in all black with his hair on end; and the philosophic Blank, witty with pipe in hand.



Cherry says that the inception of Sros Lords, in 2010 A.D., "felt like fate." Blank and Cherry met at "Bagley Vision" at 14th and Bagley, where Cherry started playing drums "…because they were there." Johnny Lazer, previously of sludgy-synthesizer punk band, Human Eye, recently replaced local sound engineer, Cait Ash, on sythesizer.


One of Sros Lords' earliest sets was played to a large audience, as winners of a contest to play with well-known, Japanese punk band, Peelander Z.  "People liked it," Blank said, downplaying it. "Live performance is my favorite newness." While the Peelander Z show was in Pontiac, Blank says the Sros Lords "like playing Hamtramck...because the spaces seem to fit the crowds."

Cherry, full of zeal, says, "You see us live and it's like you went to another planet...We are bringing our fantasy world to you, live."

According to Cherry, live performances should have the audience wondering, "...am I gonna get my throat slashed? Is somebody gonna run out in the crowd? Is somebody gonna throw a beer bottle?" As he asks these questions, he suddenly takes apart the drum seat he was sitting on and throws it. He flails around the room.

Lazer, who Blank calls "a notoriously lovable guy," doesn't say a word, and Blank unblinkingly returns the conversation to the subject of Hamtramck: "The Poles are one of the reasons the Detroit music scene is so good...The polka was a pretty good beat, back in its day." Suddenly, Cherry is wearing a wizard's hat, saying: "When I drum, I want to put on a fucking show. I want people to say that I'm a one-trick-pony and my one trick is getting fucking crazy!"

I ask about "Erica," the big, euphoric song about love on Are You Leaving Everyone? On the recording, Blank sings: "Wild desert stallions pound the Earth and shake the ground / but they don't shake Erica.../ The sun it spins and radiates / but every planet gravitates in a ring around Erica.../ Distant mystic wizards whisper sooth / and curse the birth of the one called Erica." The drums recall the trampling of the horses in the lyrics and they clang and shine like the song's "sun." The vocals are made of yells and mewls. Cherry reveals that the ‘Erica’ was one of the first two songs that he and Morgan ever jammed to. Meanwhile, Blank says he thinks it’s “…the best song I've written in my life and I'm happy for that." He wrote the melody and the words, strewn with heroic imagery, while at a job washing dishes. "There's good reverb in the back of a dish tank." The song is about a girl he knew who believed in love and who he wanted to honor because of that.

Killer bees, mutant armies, corpses, fires, guns, and baby chicks: there is a catalogue of images on Are You Leaving Everyone? Blank explains, "At one point I realized I should stop writing literally because it's hard to take me literally." Most of the metaphors Blanks draws during our interview are from medieval texts and Greek history. "I consider now a degenerative state of empire," he says, when I, as the interviewer, wonder about some bands in the Detroit scene who seem to be overly-derivative. Blank launches a lengthy metaphor between art today and in the time of the Romans. Essentially, he says, bands should "look at the heart of the ritual rather than: ‘Oh, we should all wear matching suits!’"

The talk about genre has me wondering: ‘Why do the Sros Lords produce punk?’ Blank enlightens me: "I like punk and I've always been into it. It's easier to play and sing to. God bless metal, but I'm not gonna finger tap on a Mustang." Blank also says that his number one, rock 'n' roll fantasy is to "buy a new guitar." But if the Mustang is the magic guitar he uses to conjure the epic punk of the Sros Lords, may he never play another.



Sros Lords' Are You Leaving Everyone? is available through Merdumgiriz
Sros Lords on Facebook


Sros Lords' next performance is Saturday, December 10 at the Painted Lady in Hamtramck
with Blood Stone and Dear Darkness. 21+ / 9pm ($6)



Ed. It's not often that a writer besides myself, but I always welcome it. You can find more articles by Macleod here

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Humons - Spectra

So many of these music blogs will proselytize the healing powers of music... These five curiosities are just what I need after a week of such anxiety...



With Humons, I want to take my time. There's a lot that crashes over you on his new E.P., distinctive sonic latticework of dissonance or disparate harmonic elements swelling together into one dense strand. There are often several moments of calm, these recurring conveyances of pulse-lowering rhythms, pensively percolating synthesizers and shoulder-relaxing beat patterns, the feet shuffle or the head nods, the breathing stabilizes and the mind is almost eased.



That said, the lyrics on "What I'll Find" are those of a frustrated soul, and it is in fact pretty much a soul song, or some kind of aerodynamic new chrysalis of neo-R&B or "electro..." Humons, the moniker of songwriter/producer Ardalan Sedghi, paired with the mixing and mastering of Jon Zott over at Assemble Sound, seem to be in valleys far beyond the typical ditch-like grooves of post-millennial techno-pop or post-rave-EDM, even if they travel over comparable musical foundation and aesthetic carriages such as the cinematic slither of mood-setting sounds like churning synthesizers and the understated bass-heavy beats...



The pacing at which you are introduced to each new layer of a song like "Try It For Me" is notable, you're pulled in with this steady glide that makes it easy to acclimate to each new percussive arrangement, each new blip, drone or whirring...to this illusory effect where your ear can't quite keep up with what to pay the most attention to, leading to a rise and fall effect of which beat you nod-to more at which interval, which synth sound entices you more as they all crest together. That's the spectra, the swell of distinct and disparate harmonies into some kind of impossible union.

This is short notice, but the release party for Humons Spectra EP is TONIGHT

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fred Thomas: The Changer Interview

I spoke with Fred Thomas late last week, a wistfully regarded time before the curtains of the apocalypse draped down upon us...

We were discussing his newest album, Changer, (out Jan. 27th via Polyvinyl Records).



While it won't be out for more than two months, I didn't see the purpose of jottnig down an early-review. Instead, Thomas kindly let me pick his brain, once again, over his process of creation, his bluntly poetic lyricism, his unconventional sound-collages and, just, the otherwise impossible emotions he's able to conjure when its just you and his songs.

Without any further ramblings, let's get in to the first single off Changer. 




More than a year ago, now, the Michigan singer/songwriter most famous for his captaining of chamber-pop phenoms Saturday Looks Good To Me, up and moved across the border, in to Canada. He and his wife, singer/songwriter Emily Roll, are set up in Montreal, and that's just one of the many changes in Thomas' life that he's resplendently recounting over gracefully-furious guitars, cathartic drone/groans of synth and the horizon-glowed-sunrise-warmth of vocal harmonization with Roll, as well as singer/songwriter Anna Burch (of Frontier Ruckus).

Thomas has been writing and recording for every week of every calendar year going back to the mid 90's. Saturday Looks Good To Me launched into the indie-pop mythology soon after 2000, and ever since then he's kept busy with various projects, from the surf-rock shambolic sweetness of Swimsuit, to the soul's-midnight-musings of noise projects like City Center. Recently, he's been collaborating with Ann Arbor based Hydropark.

I've said it before, in not as many words, but he's casually cultivated this sagacity about him, like he's got an unconscious mind palace where he secludes himself to excavate profound, if peculiarly-phrased ruminations.

But we should talk about the changes of Changer... 
Before we do, it should be noted that Thomas pretty much blew the bloody doors of the joint with last year's All Are Saved. Let's listen to one song from that album, and then dive in to a discussion of its inevitable 2017-follow-up.



Fred, you've put out a lot of records... And, it's customary of the journalist to be a bit grandiose when he/she sets the stakes and maybe indulge in some hyperbole... But All Are Saved was just kinda tremendous...!  So, have you ever been one to put out a record, ever, and say, huh, wonder how i'll top that? Or, what was your state, your mood, your psyche, going into Changer
Well first off, thanks!

I loved All Are Saved and it took a long time to become what it eventually was. By the time it was released I'd been working on it since four or five years earlier, in a strange way where it was really focused for a few months, then abandoned for a while... So there was a lot of steam and emotional history to it. Going into Changer was kind of the same.





When or how did Changer really start?
I'd written and started playing "Brickwall", the first song from the new record, maybe a year before All Are Saved even saw the light of day. Some of the other songs have been forming for a while before the recording stage even came close, too.


So, they're not exactly separate chapters with a clean break between them?
All Are Saved and Changer are definitely similar volumes, but the order isn't really linear. With Changer it was more about the arc of how the stories got told, where the previous album was kind of one big story. I wasn't thinking about topping the last record, but maybe just expanding on the vibe and pushing it to a place representative of what was going on in my life...

More uncertainty, less bold, connected statements



It seemed to me that All Are Saved was interpersonal... outward, and how one reacts and interacts with others, and what happens if and when that goes horribly wrong or at least half-right.... While Changer seems just personal, more inward, some more mirror gazing and self-analysis... Still relatable, though... "Open Letter To Forever" is a current favorite, over here in in the Milo Dojo 

haha thank you!
Where All Are Saved was a pretty immediate look at one set of feelings, Changer is somewhat more personal in that the songs are drawn from specific different phases in my life. "Open Letter" is a retelling of an actual rough moment from a City Center tour, and the song "2008" is a snapshot of me starving and broke and working at American Apparel in that year,...etc.



I think this record tops All Are Saved for me in the catharsis department. I feel frustration, regret, renewal, doubt... I hear frustration. 

Yeah, there's a weird duality where there are these high pressure rock songs like the ones you mentioned... That represent different times of stress, frustration and pain. And there's a ton of ambient/electronic stuff which was more taken from the headspace I kind of lived in during my first very calm, incredibly cold winter in Montreal...


Talk about how the move to Montreal effected/affected this album....
Well, interestingly, the entire record was made after I moved, with tracking beginning in the fall at my hyper tiny apartment and then expanded on in Athens, Georgia in January of this year.
Moving did play a huge role in creating these songs, as it opened up a big well of remembering for me. I went through a lifetime of photos, books, journals, etc when we were moving in an attempt to get rid of stuff before we left; sold my record collection, etc


That....that could lead to some cognitive dissonance. Some storms of a lot of emotions. 
I got to look at a lot of feelings I'd forgotten and also got to feel parts of them again when faced with brand new considerations. I always daydream about a big cleaned life slate

I also realized you hold onto all of those memories somewhere in your physical body. Trying to read street signs in a language you don't know to figure out where your car got towed to in the town you don't understand at all will remind you how it felt to be young and lost really quick


I'm fascinated with balancing the creative process amid a nuanced haze of stress... Not stress, but ya know? Striking a balletic pose whilst on an escalator 
The artist having to ....respond to a Life-Tornado 
Hahaha it certainly is trying to push in-congruent elements together. I'm curious if a lot of professional truckers work creatively while on long stretches of travel the same way bands write their next record while touring.


Do you ever stress that your constant changing will effect your attempt at making the perfect record?
I was really on the "gotta make a perfect record" train really hard when I was starting out. And I worked myself into a self-obsessed frenzy about it that's really embarrassing to remember
maybe a natural state for someone in their early 20's who's just realizing their own agency as a creative person, but Jesus was I annoying and incapable of talking or thinking about anything but myself and my music career


Huh! Take this as a compliment, but I anticipated you being immune to that, somehow
Like an Xmen power
Well, thank you... I've definitely grown out of it. I also kind of adopted this take on releasing music that i observed from jazz and noise circles; just getting everything out there



You mentioned yourself changing your own definitions of what you feel "best album ever" is or what it can be.... Every time I open up a new Fred Thomas album it's as different as a new season... But not Summer to Winter, it's always a gradual diverging, but a diverging nonetheless... So it makes ME think about what I'm expecting and what I...ultimately... need a record to give me, what am I asking of it, what am I asking of YOU? 

Haha... do you ever get this from other albums? Every time Joe from K9 sniffies sees me play solo he says "getting some serious pollard vibes..." Which is high praise, to be compared to Bob Pollard/GBV, but I wonder if it just sounds like old dude power pop to him (in a friendly way) so that's where his mind categorizes it...?



Pollard's an enigma, I don't think he's properly appreciated as being thus

I felt something like that when Joanna Newsom's Ys came out. I actually felt so many different ways about it I started a zine called "Dear Joanna Newsom", with fake letters to her from all the different perspectives that I could have imagined...



Every interview I do gets to that "why do you make music" point... I feel like a constable with a club poking at a busker on the street... You there, what's all this noise about then, eh!?

I really only make music to better understand myself and the world that surrounds the people I love.
In my time doing this, though, I've realized how smart people are, friends, strangers, enemies, people I'll never meet.. everyone is really smart and complex and they're all always paying attention
So I take that into consideration because I know that musicians aren't actually responsible for how their songs are taken... But it can still help



Being on the constant-touring rollercoaster, where it's one stage to the next... staring out from boomlights to a dark crowd that blurs together....that's disorienting, hard to congeal that perspective of what sounds like a humanist's perspective
My tours are pretty identical to the way you and I are talking now




Until next time... Stay tuned.
https://fredthomasmusic.bandcamp.com/ 

http://fredthomasmusic.com/ 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Calling All Believers: An Interview with His Name Is Alive (Primarily About Science)

His Name Is Alive
w/ Paint Thinner
Friday
Release Party for Patterns Of Light
at El Club
4114 W. Vernor Hwy, Detroit
9pm
$8



There is tenderness and torrent in the new songs of His Name Is Alive; there is sacredness and lots of shredding! The vocals and atmospheric auxiliary effects evoke their signature mysticism, while the bass, drums and guitars are such ferocious agents of propulsion, enough to cast half a continent upwards into the cosmos. The gliding and circuitous roar of the guitars are vivifying, the drums are dynamic defibrillators, the more furious of crescendos could quake mountains but then it always finds a path toward paring the musical clamor back to the sweet melodic swoon of singer Andrea Morici, while the dissonant divinations from those strings settle into more of a 70's blues-psych riff ride...



But when I contacted His Name Is Alive chieftain Warren Defever, he wound up sharing much more about physics, God and the scientific process, rather than the esoteric charms of the creative process.



The Guitar Solos and Dark Energy

You see..., there are some spellbinding solos on this album; it's like jazz-metal. The shape and manner of this album is cavernous, its radiance roams, expands, protrudes... The "light" fills any hollow with force. And, while I tried to ask a straight forward question about whether this was a "rock album...," I wound up triggering a much more thought-provoking response from Mr. Defever...

"One of the themes on Patterns of Light is energy acceleration," said Defever. "I've been studying particle physics and the thing about Large Hadron Colliders is that they require a lot of energy to produce these high speed collisions of particles. So, if the music is going to explore that, then we need to figure out what is energy in recorded music... How do people interpret energy in sound and how to push the limits of what came before...?

Defever posited that musicians playing in an intimate space can capture an energy. For the quartet behind Patterns of Light, that space was a 10' x 10' room with no enclosures and no acoustic baffles on the walls and the amps pointed directly at the drums without any player wearing headphones. That creates an energy... "...a distinctly different energy  than a computer nerd programming a sequencer and then adding all the parts one at a time," said Defever.

And then he tells me about the scientist, the one that consulted the band on all of these explorations of physics. This scientist would provide notes on the recording process, "...undetectable particles flew out, (and) sometimes these are neutrinos..." And, said Defever, if they saw some weird spike in the missing energy plot, then it could very well be "dark energy" and that means "...you gotta get serious about energy flow awareness!"

"For our purposes," he said, "the guitar solo represented an expression of energy, a quick way to demonstrate the divine order of all things and a means to convey how nature works according to mysterious universal precepts. When the scientist challenged us to meet him at the experimental science meets experimental music performance event, we knew we were unprepared and had to really come together to fully utilize our resources. Studying the fundamental principals of matter led me to a couple unexpected places, creation myths and St Hildegard of Bingen's visionary theology..."

His Name Is Alive
This is the third time I've interviewed Warren Defever and the prior two presented sets of questions to the local avant-renaissance/art-rock provocateur that were preoccupied with this aura of mystique behind the band..., or, belaboring his process and his mindset and his mystery, yadda yadda...

I wanted to know more about the players helping produce the energy flow of Patterns of Light...

Andrea Morici:
"I met (singer Andrea Morici) in 2005 on my 35th birthday," said Defever. "Her and Ian from the Piranhas came over and sang a bunch of Elvis and Patsy Cline songs. I had seen her play organ in the bands Sonapanic (with Matt Luke) and Izquiardo plus I had seen her do a whip performance with Jimbo Easter and maybe Tim Lampinen... (I can't remember exactly, but there were definitely some punk weirdos around.) She seemed tough enough to handle any ridiculous request I could throw at her and her tone was mellow and sweet, sorta halfway between Karen Carpenter and Anne Murray. We've been working together for about ten years now!"

Dusty Jones:
"(Guitarist) Dusty Jones was playing bass in the Infinity People right at the end of that band, he needed a job so I hired him to work in my office: ...paperwork mostly. He's probably the best guitar player I've ever seen in real life. I keep expecting to get a phone call from him saying he just got hired to replace Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple or that he got a gig with Ozzy playing all Randy Rhoads' old parts."

J. Rowe
"(Drummer) J. Rowe played in a lot of great bands before I met him (like This Robot Kills, Bulldog, Bluesong) and we started playing together on and off about seven years ago when Dion Fischer brought him into the Infinity People. He plays drums, but also bass, guitar and vibraphone. He's got great production ideas and knows when and when not to put phaser on the whole mix. His other band Westerbur and Rowe are putting out some of the most intense jams on a series of albums that only contain side long songs. He can play louder than anyone and, even wearing flipflops, he can match the volume levels of my 1974 SoundCity full stack and Dusty's old Marshall Super Lead but then turn around go all brushes or gong lightly when we do a meditation jam at the temple. Also he was the first guy in Detroit to have a beard.


nobody is gonna fuck with you..., seriously. 
Because I always, like a bumper car with a broken steering wheel, veer these interviews into existential queries blindly excavating the "essence" or "character" of the band, I, deservedly, got a doozy of a reply...

"Some bands are looking for fame or fortune or have integrity or want to speak for their community or some bands just want to write that one song that, years later, will inspire a Twitter account named The Boys Are Back @intownagain, appropriately enough located at Dino's Bar and Grill, that only tweets one line of "The Boys Are Back In Town" by Thin Lizzy at a time. As a group, we started working on the rock opera Tecuciztecatl shortly after The Infinity People released the 2xLP concept album In Love With The Light.........



".....We wrote the songs together and conceptualized the plot points (of Tecuciztecatl) and developed the characters for the rock opera as a group. Most of the characters personalities, back stories and dialog came from people we knew. I've been lucky to play with some really great drummers in this band: Damian Lang (Elvis Hitler, Goober and the Peas, Detroit Cobras), Steve Nistor (Iron and Wine, Emmy Lou Harris, Daniel Lanois), Deb Agoli (Outrageous Cherry, Viv Akauldren), Trey Many (Pedro The Lion, Starflyer 59), Miggy Littleton (Ida, White Magic) and more, there's so many... sorry.... I got distracted. Seriously though if you got J Rowe and Dusty on your team, nobody is gonna fuck with you..., seriously."


That thing that I perceive as a certain "aura..." (Or: more on "Invisible Seers")
I often get this sense of the sacred when i hear HNIA songs. "Reflect Yourself!" "Calling All Believers!" They're like songs that could help you find a new way to look at yourself or maybe even the world. They are big songs inside a normal sized recording shell. They're cosmic, but right on your CD-R... There was also all of this sort of inner-circle-y/cult-y/rallying-of-the-faithful of those outside the mainstream... A call to join a healthy weirding-out for our collective souls...

And Defever responded...with physics. "The search for dark matter and dark energy easily connects to black metal in my mind."

"The idea of the world's leading scientists working around the clock using the most advanced technology available on the planet devoting their lives to this search for this 'dark energy,' this dark thing that makes up 68 percent of the what exists (dark matter is 27 percent and regular matter is 5 percent), ...this dark energy that accelerates the expansion of the universe... is an inspiration! The scientist, Dr. James Beachem at CERN is one of these believers, these invisible-seers. It is a sacred calling. The devotion to this singular goal of understanding how the universe works and the basis of its creation is a powerful source of inspiration.  I guess its hard to talk about but it seems important, maybe more now than ever."


And then I asked for the deeper meaning behind the title; the overarching theme:

"Patterns of Light is one of the formats that God uses in communications with people, according to some religious beliefs. Secondly, Albert Einstein's Nobel Prize in 1921 came from his formula explaining wave-particle duality: that's photons behaving both as a particle or a wave depending on the frequency, which when diagrammed appear as patterns of light.  The third idea behind the album title comes from some of the event displays that the scientist sent us to study; the event displays capture the patterns of the particle collisions and are often very beautiful renderings. 



There you have it, readers; my third interview with Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive! 

His Name Is Alivew/ Paint Thinner   Friday Release Party for Patterns Of Light    at El Club   4114 W. Vernor Hwy, Detroit   9pm   $8 
 


 If you count up all of the merch, all the artifacts, the CDs, the cassettes, the singles, the limited edition's, all of it... then Defever has tallied Patterns to be HNIA's 100th release!!!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Anthony Retka's Fields & Fortresses

Anthony Retka's album is just what I need to hear on the eve of such uncertainty.

If your eyes are tired, and your heart's wearing thin / think of the love you find yourself in... The Detroit-area singer/songwriter opens up his newest album, Fields & Fortresses with the tender thrum of "Radiant White," a spare shuffle of strummed guitars, lullaby vocals and soothing chimes.

Retka's heart has always been on his sleeve, going back more than a decade ago with Americana/folk projects like Tone & Niche, but now, his mind and his musings are both exceedingly more observant of the human condition with a weary voice melodically threaded to slow a pulse or percolate some goosebumps.


Anthony Retka - Fields & Fortresses
Release Party, November 18
PJ's Lager House
w/ Remnose and Scott Fab
INFO


Fields & Fortresses accelerates from the somber suites into fully electric, foot-tapping rockers like "The Other Side," with its crackling guitars and hearty vocal intonations. "Don't Know Her" may be one of his most endearing song to date, with its intricate guitar arrangement, its earworm zig-zag melody through the chorus, and its earnest poetics sewn into his signature lovelorn-philisophic protagonists confessions. When he gets to the quavering lilt of  that lyric "...a love song can be made of anything...," ...be ready. And then there's "Fading In The Light," with its reverb-soaked vocals and jangly, throwback rock 'n' roll riffs and snappy rhythms. , swelling into a commiserating singalong strengthened by the rich harmonies of backup vocals.

There's often a raging storm inside of Retka, but emotional torrent never sounded so sweet. It's just what I needed when my mind needed solace and my heart sought peace. It's also an ambitious cycle of nuanced folk-rock motifs, each one aiming in its own way to swoon moods and pluck heartstrings.

Here's a song to take us out... It isn't on the new album, but it could likely be on the setlist for the release party.




Thursday, November 3, 2016

Raven Love & the 27's

Raven Love & The 27's
Release Party for latest album: ShamelessSaturday
@ PJ's Lager House
with Eleanora, Two Cheers, and The Tom Toms
8pm
$5
 Raven Love & The 27's










Photo by Brian Edwards


Sweet, smooth, psychedelic soul, minimalist mood music and spacey indie-pop... Raven Love & The 27's have a melodic and intimate composite of cool, starry-sky swooners and gritter rock gliders. The arrangements give so much space to breathe, especially on a song like "Wine Red," where guitars vine and thread their surfy tones over a measured and mellow rhythm, while the vocals, like a candle, soak up the surplus oxygen growing warmer, brighter.



What I dig about The 27's are their subtlety; the  musicality is audibly there, but there's this tasteful dedication in every phrase, part or run that's rendered with careful intention, to serve the song. The guitar and vocal melodies often tango in a transfixing slow dance while the rhythm section slides from a tight jazz strut to a more primal rock slam.

Music for the mellow evenings, music for the cool blue spotlight of a classy club, music that can be as cerebral and as chic as trip-hop or as endearing and poetic as folk, yet rendered as a slick, spare rock quartet. And I do mean quartet--like a chamber quartet grasping guitars instead of violas--the chemistry between the four players, here, is palpable in each tune. I can definitely hear the connections to a group like Eleanora! I can't wait to see this lineup, live this weekend...!

http://www.ravenloveandthe27s.com/