Friday, May 15, 2015

Old Empire: How To Make An Entrance

Old Empire doesn’t know exactly what their “sound” is…and neither do I, but maybe that’s the point. 

There’s always this idea of a band having its own kinda sound. For singer/songwriter Gabe Dodson, it was less about trying to fit a sound or a trend or a style and more so just about writing good songs.

“Make good songs,” he says, “and just exist in a tradition. Listening to music, riffs make you feel good in their release, the hooks, too. But, if then, you can take just a shred of truth or something that resonates with you about being a person, however dark, then that stays with you, that song, you hum that song through your day, with those words and, man, life can be difficult. Most people experience more failures than successes in life and you need some salve for that. Music and art in general has always been a salve for me in that way.”

With Old Empire, Dodson’s been surviving with a sincere proclivity towards writing 3-minute mini popera’s and singing these catchy, jagged blends of proto-punk and sun-blasted Brit-pop in a city otherwise known for its blustery garage rock for several years now. He’s been backed by the rhythm section of Mark Biermann(bass) and Michael Oak (drums), guitarist Charlie McCutcheon and singer Laura Rock for the last few years, with an EP (Tall Ships) that started streaming properly online earlier this year and a forthcoming album called How To Make An Entrance.

“We have lots of speeds,” Dodson said. “We like all the emotions. We wanna have all the feels.”

Dodson’s as wise as he is a wisecracker. He’ll let a lot of quips slip out but he’ll also directly quote Greek philosophers and experimental film directors. He attained his degree in American Studies from Wayne State and once struck out with Kerouacian aspirations to write the next great American novel.

“You can take the Beatles for granted sometimes, like when I say they ‘wrote the book…’ But the people who wrote my favorite chapters in that book, like Lou Reed or John Doe, those guys had the degrees too, it’s just, much like those guys we just got hung up writing poems over music.”

So let’s talk about writing the book. That’s an ideal place to start with an Old Empire song. Dodson often writes as though he’s approaching the penning of a short story with a complete narrative. How To Make An Entrance bursts with pop-rock ebullience, but the lyrics unveil a thought-provoking morality play, in varying narrative tenors evoking nostalgia, self-depreciation, soul-searching stares into the mirror and, above all, sincere takes of hindsight’s stock.

Songwriting, for Dodson and Old Empire, can be used not only to sift through hindsight, but foresight as well. He’s quicker to praise David Berman (of the Silver Jews) than he is the typical deities like Dylan. “(Berman) has a similar keen awareness and observation, and great poetry. He’s talking about the world that I exist in now. It’s about context, for me. I love the Jim Jarmusch quote about originality, how it’s non existent and that authenticity is invaluable. I never believed in originality. The Greeks called it mimesis. We all learn through copying each other.”

But it all comes back to existing within a tradition. And if he’s following Lou Reed or John Doe or, especially, Ray Davies, then Dodson and Old Empire’s tradition is a sugar-coated gut punch of a pop song, the one with a melody that won’t leave your head and with words that’ll haunt you just enough to get you thinking a little harder before you just lose yourself in another ear-pummeling amp-blown evening of headbanging. These are songs to take to heart. They’re fast and some are fierce and they’ve got plenty of gusto guitarsmanship shredding through it, but they should be taken to heart, particularly with the warmth and interplay of their harmonies, the keen sense for boy-girl vocal dynamics traded between Dodson and Rock.

“The best songs, the best lyrics, come when I’m being the least hard on myself,” Dodson says. 

“When I just sit down and talk about things, that’s when the turns-of-phrases flow and I stop scrutinizing whether I’m using too many fifty-cent words. Laura reminds me to just take a breath and let it flow, tell the story you want. She’s got such great harmonies, too. Singing has been her passion her whole life. She’s given me confidence that I’ve never had in my life.”

Confidence is what led Dodson to stop waiting. How To Make An Entrance had to come out and it will be out next month! He hooked up with Kevin Pachla, founder of New Fortune Records, to get the album pressed to vinyl.

But confidence also comes from the Old Empire as an ensemble. “Mark and Mike, they were, since the 90’s, as teenagers, playing as a rhythm section. Their feel for each other is amazing. Charlie always gives the song what it needs. He’s like Johnny Marr in the verses and J. Mascis in the solos, just a natural.”

What How To Make An Entrance demonstrates, is craftsmanship. Pop song craftsmanship, but still… No need for panicked overreaches into trip-hop psychedelia or backwards-inversions of baroque-pop. No need to clutter the composition with obfuscating distortion or crib too much of a twangy surf rock signature. Old Empire, here, figured out how to make their own entrance. There’s a cathartic crackle to Dodsons voice and a poignant sweetness to Rock’s, there’s a playful shimmy to the rhythm and a tightly snapped hook to singe off the verses. And in the middle, like three act plays, we meet fully formed characters, cast with lyrics that say just enough, dropping the dots down for us to connect it all, until we hear something that sounds eerily familiar to our own experience.

How do you create your own identity? What do we make of all these things we know that we actually don’t know we know and all the things we think we know that really aren’t true at all.

“Between (Queen City Quandaries) and Tall Ships, I decided I’d start writing more about myself. Being sincere is definitely a corny thing,” Dodson says. “But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Songwriting is definitely the best way I know how to relate to people. Whether it’s the people in my band or in the audience. I’m high strung, I can talk a lot and I talk fast and I like to talk about things that are not small-talk things. So songwriting, singing, then, is social. That relationship, finding that through songwriting, that drives a lot of my thinking.”

“So… defining our sound?” Dodson pauses for a second. He does talk a lot, and swiftly. But here, he pauses. “I’m so far inside it… that’s for other people to define. I just want to be earnest and connect with the listener. I want to tell a story that resonates. I want to socialize with people. By the time I’m done writing, I want to make sure I haven’t necessarily painted any character as the bad guy or bad girl. It’s just people doing stuff. Living. L-I-V-I-N, as they say…”

You can pick up How To Make An Entrance on vinyl there. It’s available for download May 26.
New Fortune Fest II is May 24 at The New Dodge Lounge
This label showcase featuresDave Bixby / Passalacqua
After Dark Amusement Park / The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre / The Ruiners / The Stomp Rockets / Microphone Phelps / Doctor Illingsworth / Ancient Language Scotty Karate / Jenny Junior & Jackie Rainsticks / Jeremy Porter and the Tucos &The High Strung

For more information, follow NewFortune Records
Old Empire perform in the mid-afternoon at NFF II

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mexican Knives - S/T (Release Show, Friday)

Let's call it rock n' roll, first and foremost.

Mexican Knives - S/T

We can rabble faux-poetically about all the cool, caustic components cut into the mix: ...the inherent danger of those driving rhythms like a swerving Semi going 90, about to jackknife across the gravel of a dark desert road, or the rusty spark spitting grit of those distorted guitars, varyingly sliced, slithered with a "shimmy-shimmy-shake-shake" riff or extensively storming with a doom-fuzzed drone that sounds positively combustible, or the enchanting, minor-key curling, melodic howl of those lead vocals, cooing hauntingly under a fog of reverb.

We can say all that. But we might as well just call it rock n' roll, especially for all its various energies: from the outburst boogie to its mystical darkness, to the frustration-letting stomp and shake riff-outs and the trippy sheen of atmospheric effects to evoke a sense of ominousness.

How things can be all hectic and hell-fire for one song, like the punk conniptions of a psychedelic surf-rock under curling pipelines ("Nightmare") and then how it rear it in for some venus-in-furs-esque seance of a slow-jam trance-out, swelling with colorful tones that billow with an eerie beauty over a tasteful tumbling of minimalist percussion ("Down To Hell").

Leave it to Chris Koltay (Deerhunter, Akron Family) and Adam Cox (Wasabi Dream), producing half of this record's songs respectively, to imbue each tone, timbre and oscillation with a crisp clarity, allowing the fiery fuzz of "Nightmare" to crackle right into your ears while also balancing things out to percolate the power in those lead vocals as they yowl up against a pounding percussion in "Beach Song."

Mexican Knives - 'Nightmare' [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO] 2014 from erin barry on Vimeo.

The Pixies (and then, more famously, Nirvana) started that whole "quiet-loud-quiet" model of indie-rock. Maybe this Detroit-based quintet, to switch that up a bit, is demonstrating a keen sense for the slow-fast-slow approach... The hip-shaked headbanger at one instance...("Killer Snanke") And the woozy, dreamy-eyed sway and dip during the next instance...("Dissociated").

But let's call it rock n' roll because it just knows exactly what it needs... It's not overly complicating its arrangements, it's not distracting the punch of its essence with too many spacey effects, it's not cribbing any kind of glammy, garagey-revival and it's certainly not trying to sell you a poppy single to singalong to... In that way, it stares right back at you, with all its weirdness bared, not necessarily waiting for you to find the wonder in it, because they'll only play that slow song for another minute longer, until, ready or not, its onto the fast one again...

Mexican Knives - S/T Release Show
Friday, May 8
PJ's Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave, Detroit)
9 PM
ft  Double Winter & Duane The Brand New Dog 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nigel & The Dropout (New album + Interview)

Nigel & The Dropout like to tinker. 

"I find inspiration, really, in messing with things..." says Nigel Hemmye. 

"That's what I hated about school," says Andrew Ficker, the implied 'Dropout,' who actually did as much, before finishing high school. "I realized: I could be doing something more productive right now. I don't want to learn about chemistry right now. I can learn about it myself." 

Hemmye said he enjoys just getting lost in the midst of sound manipulation and finding what he calls "the flow of things." 

Hemmye and Ficker started this group five years ago. One of the first things they did was complete an album's worth of recorded material, none of which they'd ever intended to play live. In fact, they finished the album before playing their first real show together. They had been part of a quartet, previously (back in 2010), but when their band members decided to go to college, these two decided to go back to the practice space. 

"Once they left," says Hemmye, "it was like: 'Well...? How do we fill out the sound?" 

"If we couldn't find anyone to do this for us, let's build something ourselves to compensate." 

From that point on, using a laptop for sequenced beats, synthesizers for bass lines, atmospheric effects and counter-melodies under Ficker's lead vocal and shredding electric guitar, the pair began a five-year long collaboration that would eventually congeal into a close friendship based around music. 

But it's been five years. After two years of solid performances around the region, having established themselves as a name around the scene, lately, they're only just now releasing another album. 

"That makes it sound like nothing's gone to plan," Hemmye says, leading into a self-deprecating chuckle. "But yet, we haven't really had a plan." 

This weekend represents the implementation, finally, of Nigel & The Dropout's grand plan. Release an album, (have a party,) and get right back to work. 

"We've already started working on the next album, so it's hard, thinking back, to these songs. It's still an opportunity to throw a party and show everyone the music we've made. But, the past year, we've been working more on ourselves, as people. I don't think I can quite articulate that, but, there've been a lot of changes. I can hear that in the songs."

Nigel & The Dropout blend a glitzed ambient-pop to stormier space-rock tears, showing sensibilities for glam-rock's enticing darker sides while still sliding in the celebratory danceability of electronica. The fact that there's two of them up there arcing toward a cinematic sounding pop-rock punch and illuminated by an intricate light show could invite reference points like Dale Earnhart Jr Jr, but you'd be closer to the mark if you took that and dove into an glowing emerald-green pool stirring together a trippy blend of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails

But then, that makes them sound overly cerebral or like some kind of industrial-revivalists. It's just a summer, synth-blazed guitar rock that emphasizes rhythm and vocal melody... Call it what you will... Or ask the two dudes themselves...

"I feel like everybody says Radiohead," Ficker said. "So, we're trying to get away from that."

"We're trying to get away from what everyone says," Hemmye pushes it farther. "I don't want to wind up saying the same things and I won't want to go around saying: Hey, I'm Nigel and before you know me or what's happening you should know: I'm in a band! I am band!" 

"I used to think it was a circumstantial kinda thing," Ficker says of their sound and style. "Like, well, we have this gear and it leads us to these certain sounds and that's why we sound like this... I'm realizing more that that's not the case."

Hemmye: "Literally, not the case. It is not in a case..." 

Ficker: "It's something that we're just drawn to, drawn to certain sounds because of who we are and how we approach music and the things we value and because of all of that, these are the sounds that come out..." He pauses for a couple beats. "We sound kinda pretentious coming across like that. It's weird how much I feel that us, the two of us as people, changing, is also changing how our music sounds."

Hemmye: "Definitely weird being aware of that... I wasn't aware of it before. Then, I felt it one day, like: Wow, this sounds like me! Wait that what I sound like?" 

You won't hear an overt influence of NIN or Trent Reznor in Nigel & The Dropout's latest songs, but you can be sure they've been looking up to the alt-rock pioneer of heavy electronica. Ficker and Hemmye attended a NIN concert when they were only 15. Ficker, notable rebel having already "dropped out" of high school, was the first one out of their group to stand up out of their ticket-assigned seats and make a run for the main floor of the Palace of Auburn Hills. Because if he was going to see NIN, he was going to get as close as possible, despite being a lone 15-year-old amid a crowd of "big sweaty, hairy dudes..." Hemmye wound up catching up to him on the ground floor in time for the show to start. 

"(NIN & Reznor) are a big influence for our live performance," Ficker admitted. "Especially with the way we set up our lighting. Our light show is programmed into our equipment; we've got midi signals coming from the pedals and the keyboards going into my computer and translating them into dmx and into the projector. That's a very tedious process, figuring out all the light cues." 

But taking the show up to that next level and making it an experience for the audience remains important for the duo. 

They particularly bonded over the mind-altering substances absorbed together during their trip to Electric Forest in 2013. Afterwards, Hemmye and Ficker started hanging out more, outside of practices or shows and began congealing a tighter chemistry, in terms of how they work (and think) together. 

"I mean, I got inspired to do this light show because I've had certain experiences like that where I was tripping out at a show," Ficker said. "And it can have a huge influence on how someone approaches music. Those experiences are inspiring to me." 

Ficker: "I wanna bring that to someone else." 

Through the experiencing of a live Nigel & The Dropout show? Or, do you wanna spike the kool-aid with LSD or something? 

Ficker: "I would love to spike the kool-aid but I'd get arrested. So, this is the legal way to pursue giving that experience to people. The only thing I could legally do, anyhow, to give them that experience."

Hemmye: "Huh... I didn't even know that. I didn't piece it together. You're like a drug dealer and this is your drug. I'm helping you make that come true. Huh...." 

Nigel & The Dropout - Album Release Show on May 16 at The Loving Touch (22634 Woodward)  -   ft. Ancient Language, Tart, Characteristics and The Ill Itches8 PM / $7 for 21+  ($10 for 18+)  More info:


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Video premier: Emily Kempf's "Dynamite" (by The Right Brothers)

Andrew Miller saw Emily Kempf perform two years ago and told her he wanted to collaborate on a video with her the moment she got off the stage.

The Chicago based singer/songwriter was on her first ever solo tour and Detroit was the first stop. She'd never toured alone; this was an experiment "in walking through the fear of being alone," as Kempf put it. She felt she had a similar spirit and drive to Miller, who broke out on the Detroit scene with Jamin Townsley, via The Right Brothers.

They started texting back and forth different ideas for the video. "And one day," says Miller, "I get 'I Want To Ride A Horse!' I fucking love horses...when I was a kid, I'd pretend my bike was a horse. I love westerns, horse racing... But where the hell am I going to find a horse in Detroit??"

The song they chose was the opening track from last year's Loss Waves EP, "Dynamite."

 You can read an extensive interview with Miller and Kempf via PopMatters, in which they detail the surreal, stressful and somehow successful endeavor of wrangling some horses into the streets of Hamtramck... Interview: Emily Kempf – “Dynamite” (video) (Premiere)

Real Weird: Johnny Ill Band Returns

Johnny (Ill) Garcia says he's not "an uncomfortable frontman." But then, at the same time, he's not Mick Jagger. 

Then again, he could be "something like Joe Cocker, ...who knows?"

As frontman for The Johnny Ill Band, Garcia came to a point about a year ago where he was starting to even question if he should continue perusuing music. He played guitar (a lefty, to boot) and sang lead vocals in the group, even though he admits he's not a technically proficient guitarist, by any means. Even then, he hinted at taking singing lessons, at some point...but still sounded noncommittal. It doesn't matter. 'Cuz Garcia, as the frontman, Johnny Ill ..., IS musical, ...primarily through his writing, with his quirky outlook on life filtered through his freeverse-esque lyrics, with this Mitch Hedberg-esque plainspoken drollness, situational, surreal, sometimes snarky but often, sincere. 

And, yes, he has sung/spoken an entire song about a broken washing machines and the narrative of its proceeding repercussions. (Your hands wind up smelling like soap a lot and the whole thing makes you "feel real weird...real weird...")  But then, he can also conjure that plainspoke punch of anti-folkists like Kimya Dawson with post-millennial existentialist trips like "In The Wintertime..." 

The aesthetic was something like space-punk or noise-pop; a more acerbic indie rock induced with whirly keyboards, bent guitars and minimalist drum marches... 

"And now, I'm going towards a more different...something..." Garcia says. 

The group hasn't performed since last September, and even then their performances had tapered off during 2014. It was after that last show, nearly nine months ago, that the group, with Chris Campbell, Matt Larson, Pete Steffy and Paul McDerochie, finally ended what was, up until that point, an unintended hiatus. 

"Things were just getting stagnant," Garcia said, of that last year. "It wasn't anything we talked about. We just stopped playing. There wasn't any new songs. And, I even thought about it for a sec, thinking, ya know, whether I should even continue? Maybe I should just stop...?" 

"But, I just couldn't do that..." 

Garcia asked the group if they'd still be willing to come back together. The consensus was: ..well, sure...but only if it's all new material. So Garcia got to writing...

He admitted how endearing it was to have this talented band behind him; and that no matter how weird an idea he had for a song, whatever he brought to this group, they'd still always be up for working on it. 

"We're going to pare it down more," said Garcia , implying a lean towards a little tighter, gnarlier post-punk sound. "And I won't be playing guitar anymore... Just to create more sonic space."

And so, there he'll be, guitarless...a frontman. Neither Jagger, nor Cocker...nor Bono... but something else... And "that's gonna be weird. Watch out world! ....We'll see what happens..."

He's trying not to overthink that aspect. 

"I don't think I'm worried about being nervous" 

Johnny Ill Band returns (again,) on May 15, to play a show at the UFO Factory, with Frustrations, Sros Lords and DJ Timmy Vulgar.

Garcia said the band will perform an entire set of new songs, but that there's still several songs yet to be written to fill up a full album; the intention is to get into a studio an early summer and maybe...maybe... get something out by autumn. "But," says Garcia , "...we'll see..."

Regardless, he said he's feeling great to "be back" and feeling motivated again. It's particularly important for his band to be playing this show, since Frustrations have been a brother (or at least a cousin)-type band to them for a number of years, through X! Records. With members of Frustrations now spreading across the country this "...could be one of the last shows they play for a while," Garcia said. "Or, at least here in Detroit..."

Extra incentive....

9 PM  /  $5
More info:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Totally Awesome Fest 11

A short film by Adam Wright and Ian Sargent on the History of Totally Awesome Fest 

Just as Winter sets on, the Ann Arbor / Ypsi music scene gathers for four (or more) nights of live music called Mittenfest... 

Then we all hibernate. Dagger-chill temps and unforgiving gales of frosty winds... January snows, February deep freezes, March's tempestuous thaw...

We come back out and it's time for Totally Awesome Fest. 
April 24th through the 26. More info:

For eleven years, a dedicated collective of musicians, event organizers and venues, (spearheaded by the inimitable Patrick Elkins) come together for 2 ½ days of free live music spread across 10 venues (many of them atypical, yet altogether inviting spaces; certainly not your average bar with boomlights). The Dreamland Theatre and The Ugly Mug cafe might be the most traditional locales, but you'll be visiting actual Houses or a graphic design studio, or an historic river walk. 

There'll be 70 some odd bands and several DJ's, some from the Detroit region and other corners of the state, but majority representing the verdant crop of talent from around Washtenaw County. An open air echo-chamber of inspiration...

5:00 p.m. DJ HEE HAW
8:00 p.m. SEX POLICE
9:45 MINUS 9
2:00 a.m. – 7:00 a.m.
12:00 LISA
3:30 MAGIC
8:00 p.m. DJ HEE HAW
12:00 CREODE
1:00 a.m. DJ ONDEMAND
2:00 a.m. – 7:00 a.m.
8:00 p.m. BONEHEAD
11:45 p.m. BOBBI PALACE

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Interview: George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus

George Morris fronts a group called the Gypsy Chorus. The band formed around a modest bunch of minimalist pop tunes written out on electronic organ more than two years ago. These were understaed ballads hazed with contemplative fog of late night sollitude, belted over slower, folk-pop tempos, teasing playful melodies that happily made a home inside your brain for days after listening...

Organ Solos was set free into the digital realms about a year and a half ago, with subdued fanfare. Morris was already a known frontman around the scene from his days with the meteorite-ish Satin Peaches, so it was interesting to him transition from full-to-the-brim/in-the-red ROCK to electronica-dazzled folk-pop. Even then, it's turned into something entirely its own with the addition of a full backing band (Aaron Nelson--bass, Helena Kirby--keys, Zach Pliska--drums).

What started out as a somewhat-shrugged we'll-see-what-happens-exploration, by Morris, into the solo singer/songwriter territory, has turned into a full fledged pop-rock group with a growing fan base and their biggest cross-state tour coming up at the end of this month, with Sick Of Sarah.

This week, George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus released We We'll Go To Hell For This, for free, streaming online.

I met up with Morris recently. And, though we spent a third of the time talking about hockey, we eventually managed to cover some music-related topics.

When you first broke out on the scene, it was with a rock band. The lyrics could be more cryptic then, I think, because it was more about the energy, the aggression, the uplift…Hell, lyrics could even get buried under all the guitars…But with Gypsy Chorus, particularly this record and your last releases, it’s displaying a lot more emotion; there’s that confessional sort of style of a songwriter that shows vulnerability…unlike a rock singer.
It’s not personal emotions, though. I always want to convey emotion in a song. But, I think it helps me to disassociate myself from it when it’s not necessarily me talking about me or if it’s me saying these things…it’s not really me.

You don’t actually have a Maserati?
Right. But, singing these lyrics helps, the emotions underlying the expression is still me. I find some way else to say it that I’m more comfortable with.

There’s another kind of emotion, or vulnerability simply in evocativeness or… poignancy. The power of a tone, specifically your tone of voice or the way you wend it or belt it…the voice as an instrument…
Yeah. I do spend a lot of time on that. I like when my voice sounds dynamic. It’s an effort to get it like that. I think people either like my voice or can’t stand it. But, really, that was one of the biggest problems with The (Satin) Peaches was that I couldn’t really sing.

Now there’s more space… Not as crowded with guitar gusto. But are you writing these songs in a different way, or approaching them differently?

These songs with Gypsy Chorus are actually sounding more how my original demos for the Peaches were, back then. I like playing live and playing heavy rock n’ roll but I don’t really wanna listen to that or it might not be the music I want to make. I like making it more interesting, more listenable, more dynamic, something you can sit down with and sift through, analyze. But, then, also, I really like rhythms and something you can move to…

So now you’ve got to find a balance between the spacious, electronic/piano thing you’ve got now along with the rock side and the danceable side…
I guess that’s ongoing, yeah. I do really like playing live. It’s more fun to be in your face and play live rock ‘n roll…

You did this recording and the previous ones all by yourself. But you’ve had a group, now, for a while. Almost two years? So the next record will be less a George Morris record and more of a Gypsy Chorus record?
I think it will be more of a Gypsy Chorus record. Which is good. I have very talented people  in this band with me. We get along great. Everyone else had played in bands before. But, I think it takes about two years to get really tight together and really good. Now we’re doing this tour through April and I’m seeing us as, after that tour, being really ready to finish recording. I’m excited.

What’s it been like to spend the last two years working alone on recordings, though…
The frustrating thing is not being good enough at certain things that I know what I want, but can’t quite create, like a sound or a certain mix. It’s nice to have other people, but I also don’t like explaining something to someone and hope they have the same idea… But, more than anything, I don’t want to be waiting. I just want to be working in some capacity on some facet of music. Touring? Great. Recording? Great. Just…no down time!

No waiting. So you’re putting this record OUT.
Right. I decided to put it out, free. Everything’s gonna be free. There’s no point, it seems, in charging people for music anymore. Vinyl’s great. But, once people get something for free after a long while you can never charge them for it again. But, then, I stream music but still go buy it on iTunes. I think I bought St. Vincent’s record three times, actually. But, at this level, for me, it’s just about people hearing it…

And you’ve got a band behind you, now. That’s gotta bode confidence…
My idea from the start, in 2013, was to build a team; find the right people to make this work, not just musically but on all other facets. It’s going well with this group. I’m happy about it. And, frustrating or not, it’s still fun in the end. Still worth it…

Learned anything, after 10 years, now?

It’s weird being on the other side of it. But…I don’t know, if you learn anything, it’s just about trying to get better as a songwriter. Better at everything. A better performer, better singer. That’s all it is.

Chiseling away at it…

APRIL 24TH: George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus perform with Sick Of Sarah and The Sunburns

7 PM / $8adv/$10dos - The Crofoot

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kriss Gaynes (Premiering May 1 @Blowout)

This band is done trying to be just a band. 
They are releasing an album that needs to be more than an album. 
And, they are aspiring to a live show that is beyond just a live show... 

Kriss Gaynes comes to us with eloquence and darkness, allure and gloom, existential fuck-all and progressive optimism.

Rations paper and promise - I'm the Arch-rival's sonAncient echoes of progress - I'm the future undoneKriss Gaynes - "Horrordome"

Kriss Gaynes is a duo of electro-doom-dance composers inspired to alleviate (and also feed upon) the endemic frustrations of the modern artist, any of the underground churners who have awakened to how admittedly bleak the prospects expected from following the current crooked arc of the status quo...

Reaching back to the acerbic textures of protopunk and experimental electronica (think Silver Apples meets Suicide,) the duo of Aaron Saul and John Duffy splice distorted vocals, dissonant guitars and post-apocalyptic-affecting beats from the dastardly futuristic drum machines into cathartic song-ceremonies dazzled with gnarly grooves and throat-curdling crescendos.

This might almost be an even more aggressive evolution of DEVO's more message-oriented, satirical tirades... or if early Ministry did a fierce cover of Talking Heads' more raw and rhythmic burners like "Psycho Killer." There's palpable ferocity in the back-and-forth yowls tennis-balled between them on unwound-techno torrent "The Itch Incessant," while the intro, as anthemic and enlivening as any Dan Deacon jam with its rounding siren-like synthesizer, knee-to-chest running rhythms and roof-scraping vocal belts, states their case plain and simple, "We Believe In What We Know..."

But the other thing about Kriss Gaynes, they're the first Video Band. Will a full screen filling the background behind the "band," a projector spills a montage of stark, sublime and surreal images culled from the most iconic and esoteric of directors and cinematographers, completing a collage of experimental cinema augmenting an aural assault akin to poppy darkwave and funky krautrock, assured to blow the mind of both Jonas Mekas as much as Brian Eno...

That's where Kriss Gaynes begins... Monument River... Debuting this month, with two singles streaming here:


Experience Kriss Gaynes LIVE during the Metro Times Blowout

Friday, May 1 @ 7 Brothers (11831 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck)
w/ The Landmarks, VSTRS and Ex American

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Phantom Cats Reunion Show (Interview)

When the Phantom Cats broke up, guitarist Nik Landstrom was sure nobody cared, anymore. The shows were getting more sporadic and songwriter wasn’t getting out on the scene very much and there was this   “…weird, bitter feeling, like: ...what’s the point?”

Then he just called it, March of 2014... Another band breaking up before their brilliance could be fully recognized or realized…

Cut to a few months after....Landstrom finds himself at the periphery of conversations where friends wonder: “What’s going on with the Cats? Why aren't you guys playing anymore?”

OR…he meets perfect strangers who ask him: “Oh? You’re a musician? What band did you play in…? Phantom Cats??? Wow, I listen to that EP all the time…”

And since they decided to reunite for one epic night of music (Friday night), there’s since been an enormous amount of love coming their way, again. “That’s a lesson,” says Landstrom. “You can’t be a big baby…” He chuckles. “You just gotta trust that when you’re doing something that you care about, that other people care about it too…”

The Phantom Cats' rock was this rigid ballet, with gyroscopic shifts in time and key signatures, indelible melodies wafted and waltzed smoothly over wicked riffs and soulful bass grooves; the drums swung and the vocals soared. It was operatic and erratic and playful, the cascading guitars (from Landstrom) were a nifty, knotty tap dance across the frets, a classically-informed Stratocaster jousting into a tornado, while the rhythms (from bassist Adam James and drummers Max Daley/Matt Daher) were unleashed to embrace subtle sides of danceable forms, like amphetamized R&B. Liz Shar, meanwhile, was on lead vocals and she just about stole every show, with that breathtaking falsetto and charismatic stage presence.

“These songs started as completely-written guitar parts,” says Landstrom. “I’d write guitar parts out in their entirety, then go to the band and the song is…everyone’s personal response to it. I’d be boring for me if I was just playing conductor, and it’s kinda cool to see what people do with it, how they interpret it.”

“The music touches on all these different genres and there’s a lot of weird things that happen…”

When Landstrom says this I stop him. I ask him to repeat it. That phrase sums up Phantom Cats to a tee…

So after more than two years of seeing them perform and listening to their music, I name drop Deerhoof...

"Ohhh, yeah. One of my biggest influences..." Landstrom admits.

I ask for more (influences)...

"Dirty Projectors," he says, right away. "They're melding of these long classical forms arcing or adhering more to a pop structure, that's a very central thing to my writing, trying to meld those two, without losing your audience. The general audience doesn't want to sit through 10 minutes of motivic development, like listening to Bach. So, we shape it around a more simplified a-b-a-b-c-b form, yet still have those classical elements going on."

And so, with Landstrom being a professional music teacher, able to tackle Bach, Beethoven or even Bob Dylan's stuff, I ask about that whole classical vs. rock bridge that they've built.

He's already presented this "spectrum" of the Phantom Cats in a recent interview, but imagine:
Beethoven <<<------->>>> to R. Kelly

"Right in the middle, there, that's where the Phantom Cat's sound is... But, ya know, you really can trace a line between classical and rock."

A proceeding nerd-out/tangent builds towards christening Beethoven to be The Cobain of his era...the first true, iconic, mythologized "tortured artist," who suffered for his work and saw his popularity flourish as a result... "We talk about how tortured all artists are and like Cobain, too, he's right in line with that, with Beethoven, we revere them because they suffer for their art... I can nerd out about this all day if you like..."

So instead, I ask him about his players...

"Adam is like my personal James Jamerson; he's got such great licks and a great melodic ear, which is hard to find on the bass. And Max, I miss playing with Max, I loved his drumming so much, like drummers in the 60's where everything just swung. And then Matt is phenomenal, more of a jazz and R&B or even trip-hop style to it. It's a great compliment to the music..."

Because, again, the music winds up touching on everything. With gusto! And it's that gusto that we missed so much.

"And, I've been spoiled," says Landstrom, in regards to the vocal dynamo fronting the group. "Every song I've written has been written for her voice. I got to do whatever I want on guitar, no matter how weird it got, there was this phenomenal vocalist who I knew would find the perfect vocal melody to it."

Sadly, Liz Shar moves to D.C. in May for two years of school. That meant two things:
A.) a reunion was a "now or never" situation

B.) whatever Landstrom winds up doing for the rest of the year, it won't be under the Phantom Cats moniker. "Not if LIz isn't in the band, you can't call it Phantom Cats."

But, he assures that there are "a bunch of nebulous fragments floating around" his head that he'd like to get into song-form, soon. No clear vision, yet. "But, (music) is all I've done since I was 10, so I'm going to continue..."

The Phantom Cats, in this form, will not continue, however, at least for the foreseeable future. That's incentive to get your ass to this show. 

New Dodge Lounge
8850 Joseph Campau - Hamtramck
$5 / 21+

Phantom Cats
Pink Lightning
Black Shampoo
Alicia Walter 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

New Voice / New Character: An Interview w/Chris Bathgate (April Tour)

Chris Bathgate has been on a journey. A couple of them, at least...

The neo-folk trailblazing singer/songwriter was thrown, emotionally, by all the acclaim bucketed upon his undeniably brilliant first batch of releases, epitomizing the overly-worn word-mash for music journalists, "hauntingly beautiful" with his A Cork Tale Wake and Wait, Skeleton... The voice could be as frail as a December oak leaf in the bridge yet as hardened and heavy as the tree, itself, timbering through the chorus, over a storm of bracing guitar strums.

He considers the stressful, self-shredding scrutiny of the following three years (2007-2010) to be a "journey," trying as it was, that led to the release of a vindicating and revitalizing album called Salt Year. Stark and somber, at points, with its spare and trundling percussion and that aching, elemental tone to his voice, and yet warming and propulsive at other points, with twanged-out guitar-rock riffs and driving rhythms.

Bathgate was back. But, not without a considerable wear and tear from that journey, where he scrapped the fledgling demos for Salt Year multiple times and nearly backed away from music entirely.

But there's a new journey, since....

"And it had a similar shape as the Salt Year journey," Bathgate said. "But, it swung into the deep extremes that Salt Year only grazed the surface of... Death, love, poverty, manipulation, deceit, chaos, isolation....were all exterior factors to that time or, rather, journey. "

Bathgate has been a bit of an itinerant troubador, lately. Ann Arbor, MI loved to claim him throughout the 2000's as he was attracting attention from NPR and PASTE Magazine, but he's since moved around the country several times, hoping to settle "back home" soon...

With new songs written, Bathgate is leaving for an east coast tour this week...

Bathgate had been filling his recent "hiatus" (through majority of 2012-2013) with day jobs, slowly chipping away at songs, primarily for SKULLS. He scored the soundtrack for a film called From This Day Forward while also taking some time to work in the production office for another film, earlier this year, down in Baton Rouge, LA. And every Spring, he's continued to return to a teaching job he's held for a few years out in New England.

"I've just started touring outside of the Mid-West, again," Bathgate said. "I haven't necessarily had a specific goal other than to recover financially from the past two years of bad luck." He's continued taking the best job he can find, often outside of Michigan. He's been home for only seven months out of the last 2+ years.

But, says Bathgate, what's more interesting than the "severe details" of this recent journey is the path that was blazed out of the struggle, towards a "new musical vision."

"The cathartic writing that came out of that time re-invigorated my love for music and composition. I've become way more appreciative because of that newly-overcome rough patch. I worked and wrote my way through it."

"The well-trodden path of struggle's influence on my music is paramount," Bathgate said. "Most of the new material I've been sharing with folks is of that journey, during that hiatus..."

"I get messages from fans that start like: "...Dear Chris, I connected with your music during a time of immense struggle." Often, this is followed by "...Thanks," and a short explanation of how the connection to my songs was helpful to them in that time, however abstract. It feels good to know that my struggles are putting good in the world, however small, through the vessel of song. It seems my own struggles are not without positive external impact."

To overcome said-span of financial misfortune and self-scrutinizing torment, Bathgate set out on a tour he deemed "The Curse Breaker." He may have been tempting fate since, with everything else, mechanical breakdowns for his touring vehicle have also been constant, lately. "My hope was to rid myself of this bad luck with ceremony and a stepping-back into performing. On that tour, the engine of my van threw a rod on my way to one of the final few shows. A wonderful fan picked me up at a rest area of I-96 so I could make the show."

Bathgate's recently toured with Kalamazoo-based Americana outfit The Go-Rounds. Before that, he was on the road with singer/songwriter Molly Sullivan, was free of vehicular troubles, though not without a few close calls.

Meanwhile, Bathgate and Sullivan collaborated on a few tunes in 2014 for their live sets together. Bathgate played lead-guitar in Sullivan's Cincinnati-based band during a midwinter tour, where they discovered their complimentary styles.

"Stylistically," Bathgate says, "(Sullivan and I) are both songwriters using loops and ethereal washes. We both have distinct and stylized voices. So, when we play for each others' fans, they get it. The crossover receptions have been more than warm for both of us. We're more mutual appreciators, rather than heavy collaborators at this point. We just have been having lots of conversations about arrangements and record-making in the van, on tour."

As expressive and vulnerable as his previous records could be, Bathgate said he feels bashful about revealing overly detailed experiences, lately, because the conditions of his life "could be so much worse."

"As it is for everyone, life can be tough. Real tough. The last two years were pretty strange and brutal, but I'm still here. Things can, and they may...get worse. But, I'm better prepared for those times. Regardless, it's all material, and I'm thankful for it."

Bathgate is bringing several new songs encompassing this new chapter in his creative life. "Songwise," he says, "I've been bringing things into extremes that reflect the emotions I've experienced... bringing those emotional poles of the live set way up, and way down, often in close proximity."

"Maybe you could say my recent solo sets have been...sonically manic..." says Bathgate.

"There are a number of very honest, raw, slow and vulnerable songs with lots of ambient and ethereal under-paintings...There are also a slew of uptempo barn-burners emerging..." 

Bathgate is currently putting the finishing touches on these new sonic extremes, honing them into something feasible for a full band arrangement. As a solo singer, the songs have a lighter touch, even if the emotional content could still be tremendous and soul-quaking for some... There's the balance, a subtly to the atmospherics, lightly fogging the dusky melancholy of the words from that evocative voice...

This new loop-centric, guitar-based set leads to base tones pulsing from a small tube amp, hollow body, DL4 slap back and an amp spring for optimal reverberations. Bathgate's creating an interplay between the tones from a low-presence, round, reverberated fretboard pickup and a thinner, dirty lead of a bridge pickup.

"The ambient and atmospheric additions to my onstage tone have come from Earthquaker Devices, and Eventide.  I’m into washed out, low presence, ambient chords right now. The nuanced swells those companies have created are a really exciting for me to play with.  Their pedals are highly adjustable, and I can use the combination to create a unique palette.  With an ambient wash it’s all about the changes, which is a big part of my writing now. I’m still concerned with melody, but in a different iteration...."

The instruments on Salt Year covered the most important melodies and functioned as a chorus would in other songs. With his new songs, the melodies are like "slow hooks" or recurring themes. His voice is being pushed into louder realms than before, as you can hear on the Le Cheneaux Sessions video streaming above ("Fogged Clarity").

"Creating subtle tone differences allows for the same guitar to be looped and remain discernible. The same is true for the secondary Wollensa microphone that I sing into. The tiny radio-esque vocal tone allows for a different mood, a different voice, perhaps a new character."

A new journey, a different voice...

Chris Bathgate - Spring 2015 tour dates
April 14 - Anabell's - Akron, OH
April 15 - The Bug Jar - Rochester, NY
April 16 - The Fire - Philadelphia, PA
April 18 - Rockwood Music Hall - New York, NY
April 19 - The Burren - Sommerville, MA**
April 24 - House Concert - Sommerville, MA**
April 25 - House Concert - Willaimston, MA**
April 26 - Dream Away Lodge - Beckett, MA**
April 27 - Lizard Lounge - Cambridge MA**

**w/ Samantha Farrell