Thursday, January 19, 2017

Siamese: a little more angry. And a little more: screaming....

Checking in with Siamese...
performing Saturday
The Loving Touch (8PM)
with Queen Kwong
and Dear Darkness

photo credit: Mikel OD Pfeiffer

Dancing can exorcise demons. The thrum and swell of synthesizers and bass guitars can build into catharsis. Slickly synced-up live percussion with sequenced beats keeps the urgency levels intense, and vocals are pure, purging, fiery and forthright... Siamese hit their stride over the last year, culminating with the release of their debut self-titled EP.  

Jo Champagne is on lead vocals, with Steve Thoel on guitar, Angie Kaiser on drums, and then newest member Eric Cojocari is on synths, (filling in the void left by former bassist Joe Sausser). I contributed a feature to Assemble Sound's blog, exploring the delicate-industrial, goth-glam, post-new-wave signatures of Siamese, here.

The quartet kicks off 2017 opening up for Queen Kwong at the Loving Touch.

I caught up with Champage to see how much the band's changed over the last four years, and where they're headed next.

Think of the band now....compared to when it first started... How much has changed. How has it changed...
Jo Champagne:   This band has gone through a number of transitions. It originally formed as a project between Steve and I about four years ago. We would email each other song ideas, and then record our own parts over them. We had no idea the band would actually ever play live, and we have both been really happy with what has come of it. At the onset, we really had no specific plans or vision. We both like similar kinds of music, and we were just merging our styles and seeing what happened.

I haven't checked in with you since six months' prior, when the EP came out... What's new? Working on anything? Veering, or launching in to any new directions, style-wise? 
Champagne:   Lately we have been working on writing for our full length album, which will be out in mid 2018. Our new material now seems to be a bit more electronic as well as more aggressive, which is super fun to perform. We have always had an angry and dancey vibe with our music. That is still prevalent with the new songs. Just..., maybe a little more angry. And a little more: screaming.

The song 'Bats with Baby Faces' is a favorite of mine. "Breaking down isn't as romantic as it sounds /  Where's the release?" Talk about how powerful that is, for the whole aesthetic of Siamese. I feel like that's quite an essential lyrical moment for the band's aesthetic of helping any listener find catharsis... And, with your also being a therapist, I wonder if that has also become a facet of music for you, helping people find healing...
Champagne:   The lyrics to Bats with Baby Faces, as with all of the lyrics on the EP, are very personal. The song is about breaking free of an abusive situation, and finding your voice. It's about finally saying what you wished you could have said before. It's about calling someone out, and no longer fearing the consequences.

...With being a therapist... I spend my days trying to help others get through emotionally difficult times or situations. It is extremely rewarding and I love it. It doesn't really bleed in to our songs, though. Music is where I become selfish. I use that as my own therapy. I would be so honored if listening to our music was cathartic for another person. Writing and performing it is incredible cathartic for me. When I get off the stage I am physically and emotionally exhausted. I think that is how it should be!

What are you excited for, heading in to this show at the LT, as well as heading in to the rest of 2017...
Champagne:   I am so excited to play with all of these bands. I wanted to make this a night of very strong and talented female musicians. I want to celebrate that, because there are far more men in the scene than women. I understand why that happens too... We often get treated quite differently, and it's super frustrating and intimidating. I am so happy that Dear Darkness, Kaleido and Queen Kwong will be playing with us. Its going to be such a fun night.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ben Keeler's 'Sunshine'

Ben Keeler is back in action...

The Detroit-area native songwriter released a vibrant new single this week, leading up to his band's performance this Saturday at the UFO Factory

Keeler has been a bit of an itinerant artist over this last decade, going from Michigan, to Chicago, back again, and then out to San Francisco for a while... But that jet-setting is echoed by his incandescent and aerodynamic rock janglers; each optimal for extended travel or accelerated propulsion, the kinda tunes you roll the windows down on a late summer's sunny afternoon, when the coupe starts to cruise at 50...

Produced with Alex Kaye over at Assemble Sound, Keeler lassos pure sunrays onto his guitar strings, with a snappy/springy percussive accompaniment and toe-tapping basslines. The actual glow of the song radiates from those vocals, the multi-tracked harmonies, the soaring theatrics, the blood-and-thunder urgency, the palpable relief and ache and excitement of a singer's voice being rejuvenated...

Yes, rejuvenated... Re-activated. Re-invigorated. It's been a little while, in fact, since local audiences have seen/heard the works of Keeler, (though you've probably seen him with Ryan Dillaha's Miracle Men).

A couple years' back he released a sweet, summery, shambling-pop collection of songs under the 500 Club moniker. But this song, and an album that is currently being wrapped up throughout the winter season, is released under his own name. Backing him up is Will Shattuck on drums and Ricky Ruggero on bass.

You can hear "Sunshine's" live iteration on Saturday night, at the UFO Factory. 
with Rah The Son
& Fluffer
(ages 18+)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Reverend Premiere Video for "Rooms" (Interview)

Reverend on Bandcamp

I've been to a handful of Reverend shows over the years, and they're always enveloped by more than a bit of invigorating turbulence. Shirts come off, bodies lunge, guitars heave like spears, snares become punching bags, and the harmonious fireball kinetics of the three players starts to supernaturally influence the space, venue, room, basement, or wherever they are, to where the walls, floors, ceilings, and corporeal audience members, start to collectively rattle and jolt.

Reverend's Jeremy Waun, Joe Guzdial, and Tyler Bowen have been commencing cacophonous rock summits for more than six years. From their homebase in Detroit, they've released three EP's, some singles, and a full-length album. This spring, the trio unveil their next full-length album, Million Star, recorded with Chris Koltay at High Bias.

Guitarist Waun, bassist Guzdial and drummer Bowen gave me an early glimpse of their new music video "Rooms," which premiers here, today, right now..., on this website. "Rooms" was directed by Andrew Stefanik of Iron Coast, and stars Jessica Newberry, (along with the band...inside of a "room..")

Frenetic vocals, surfy/soaring guitars, fitful drums and a storming bass, the trio are in and out in 150 seconds and the tempo sustains this beguiling blend of sprinting panic to a sludgier, reared-back slice. Known as a psych rock band with heavy-metal inclinations, this song's more of an avant-indie punk rumbler, full of intonations from each instrument--as though each player is almost racing the other--and the overall effect is one of a tidal wave consistently cresting upon itself, every third or fourth measure.

Next show:Fridayat El Clubwith Touchand City of Catepillar9pmMore info

I had a chat with Bowen about the new album.

Left to right, Joe Guzdial, Jeremy Waun, Tyler Bowen
Find Reverend on Facebook

I vividly recall seeing you guys... I think it was inside Whiskey in the Jar once...? Or, just, somewhere cramped!! It was one of the most intense concert experiences I can recall... Talk about where that impetus to go intense, that impetus to go heavy, comes from... Talk about the shirtless, sweaty, swift, shearing experience of a Reverend set and what it is you find most fulfilling from live performances...
Tyler Bowen: 
For us, it has always been about a quick and powerful impact. We write vigorous and fast material without even really trying to do that. It just seems to naturally happen for us. The way we write together has remained pretty constant since day one. We thrive off of material that is the most fun for us to play. Each player has the autonomy to impart what they wish, so long as it works for the song. There is typically very little dialogue between the three of us. The songs just sort of…build themselves. We still laugh at how little we discuss parts. We like to think we’re guided by something else.

In terms of a live context, we spent the first three years or so of our time as a band playing an insane amount of shows. A lot of house shows, DIY venues, tiny local hideouts…and we found that we played with an energy that was infectious to people. They often got really rowdy. Really sweaty. Lots of beer poured on our stuff. Hah... We used to really beat ourselves up in the beginning. Playing with that type of energy, even for twenty minutes, left us sore for days. But again, our approach has always been without much analysis. The performance gets all of our attention and energy. You’re tunnel-visioned, and in a blink, it’s over.

Seven years down the road, how's the band evolved since its early days?
Lately, we’ve done a lot of refining to our performance. The material on Million Star is definitely darker and more of a mix of our traditional rock direction and trying to harness something big or apocalyptic sounding. In the future, we still aim to write with vigor, but are trying to make the performances a little less physically demanding. Trying to embrace a sharp focus while still remaining chaotic and intense. We’re certainly excited for future material and the trajectory of the band.

You mentioned Million Star... Let's get into it. What can you tell us about the album, and how's it distinguishing itself, vibe-wise, experience-wise, from previous Reverend records? 

Bowen: Without trying to get too involved in terms of describing all of the influences that helped form this production, the album is largely a reflection of our fears regarding our home and the changes the both the landscape and the culture are experiencing. We’re weary of exterior or foreign interests that are redesigning the city for profit. Essentially, we are worried of the potential of cultural replacement versus cultural coexistence.

So, we began writing the songs (for Million Star) in the winter of 2014. The building we lived in was bought by a foreign investor and we were told to be out by the end of the month. During our transition, we realized how often this was happening in the city. Now..., we realized that investment in a city with all the unused space and infrastructure that Detroit has to offer was obviously inevitable, but we were angry that active artists, and even worse, native inhabitants young and old, were being priced out and forced to live or work elsewhere. (Million Star) is definitely some our most aggressive material yet, fueled by our anxieties of what is to come.

Working with (Chris Koltay, High Bias) was incredibly easy and smooth. Definitely kept it fun for us. We spent about a weekend in the studio doing mostly live takes. Jim Diamond, who recorded our E.P. “Future Weed,” mastered the record.

Up next, you've got a show at El Club, Friday, Jan 20th... But what happens after that? 

Bowen: We'll be releasing the record on CD and cassette initially, then we plan to personally fund a vinyl release after that. We’re aiming for a Spring or early Summer date to drop the record. Once the record is done, we’re going to spend some time doing short jaunts on the road. We’ve already begun working on new material and are very excited about future releases. It took us much longer than we had hoped to get this material out there. Reverend will be staying busier than ever in the future and have no plans to slow down.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ypsi's Tanager premiere 'Burn Out The Night'

Kick off your weekend with a brand new single from Ypsi-based reverb-revelers Tanager.

Led by singer/songwriter & badass-guitarist Eleanor Daftuar (pictured), the new song is a dizzy dazzler of distortion waves and billowing low-end riffs, punched along by a perfect slowed-headbanger of a beat.

The last we heard from Tanager was a live in-studio performance for WCBN. Since then, Daftuar has been contributing terrific fretwork on lead guitar for another Ypsi band, Child Sleep, which, correspondingly, is fronted by the drummer of Tananger (Mary Fraser). Rishi Daftuar completes the trio on 2nd guitar, with some nuanced twangs and rhythmic chording under Eleanor's more psychedelic swirls.

I love how that caustic yet sweet guitar shears its way in to those first three seconds before, sorta MBV-ish, the feedback crashes over your ears like a brilliant/brisk wave to carry you off into realms of almost-dangerous-yet-mostly-delightful dream-pop detachments. Eleanor's vocals, backed up by Mary, create this beguiling counterbalance of a soft, soaring, gossamer thing curtained upon the cosmic-gravel spill of those ultraviolet guitar currents.

So, take a listen... Hopefully drop a buck in and download it... It's the first taste of Tanager's new full-length album (their first in in about 5 years...), which should be out in late summer, or early autumn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Best Exes

From this week's Detroit Free Press

Relationships are complicated, but a song about relationships doesn’t have to be! Local quartet Best Exes elevate the charms of the sweet and the simple, reveling in their counterbalances, with singer/guitarist Linda Ann Jordan’s dulcet and breathy mid-high vocals doing duets with singer/guitarist Jim Cherewick’s lower, rustier, lightly-rasped warble.  The pair, for the record, are not each other’s “exes,” even if their respective past ‘exes’ helped inspire a song on their debut album (out this weekend on Palm Tapes).

clockwise from left, Linda Ann Jordan, Maria Nuccilli, Jim Cherewick, and Erin Davis

Cherewick and Jordan were writing songs together in 2014, unsure of where it would go, until they wound up booking a show. That led to the swift addition of drummer Maria Nuccilli, to make it a trio for a year’s worth of shows. Earlier in 2016, Ann Arbor-based bassist Erin Davis (also of Loose Koozies) made it a quartet. Cherewick lives over in Ypsi, where he can be found working on graphic design or splitting more singing duties with a couple other bands. Jordan is here in Detroit, working as a legal aid attorney and with the Seraphine Collective, a community of feminists working to promote underrepresented musicians and artists in the area.

“Weird Kinda Nice” is a signature Best Exes ditty, with its jangly/hazy traipse and lilt, pushed lightly by shuffling percussion, surfy basslines, reverb-ribboned lead guitar curls and that charming smooth/grainy mesh of the two lead vocalists. That song and several others on this full length cassette album, paint poignant pictures of the possibility of finding platonic love among friends and complication-free companionship, through singsongy-earworm melodies, minimalist, waltzy arrangements and guitar lines you can hum-along to. Spending time with their album, Cactus, could help redefine your perception, not about what love is, but about what a love song can be. 

You can read my interview with Jim and Linda in this week's PLAY, Entertainment Guide, in The Detroit Free Press. 

Meanwhile, I actually had the opportunity to chat with every band member in Best Exes while building this feature. Maria Nuccilli and Erin Davis are integral components to the nuanced charms of Best Exes minimalist-rock/pop productions. 

How does Best Exes compare to any previous musical endeavors? Maria and Erin, I'd like to know more about what your roles have become since joining...
: As for my joining the band, I didn't know much of Best Exes beforehand, and I don't think I had actually seen them live, until that point. I vaguely remember being at a show or bar and my friend Jim asking if I would be interested in jamming sometime, and I said sure! But I wasn't sure if it would ever actually happen, so it was a pleasant surprise when he texted me a specific time and date to start playing. I listened to all of the songs on their bandcamp and came up with bass parts for them, as I prefer to be as prepared as possible for practice - if I can teach myself a song before a practice by listening to a recording of it, I will.

Maria: The other two bands I play in are more improvisational-based, so it’s nice to be a part of an outfit with different songwriting parameters. It keeps my playing in all three bands fresh! I’m so happy Erin joined. I loved the two guitars and drums thing, but Erin is so skilled and creative and brings out so much in Linda and Jim’s songwriting. As a drummer, I think my role has become official counter of song parts when we're writing, and also official compare-er of Linda's chord progressions to early Julian Cope (see: "Laughing Boy" off of Fried). That might be my role in every band though? Jim is official recorder of new songs so we can listen back after a few weeks of not getting together.

How do you make a band work when its members are split between cities, with Erin in Ann Arbor, Jim in Ypsilanti, and then Linda and Maria being in Detroit...

Erin: It is definitely difficult to juggle being in bands with people who live in another city with a full time job. It's difficult for me to do things during the work week and I honestly wish I had more availability. However, I'm really fortunate to play music with really great people whom I love and I wouldn't be in several bands if a didn't enjoy it, so I'm making it work for now.

Maria: When you’re busy, sometimes the hardest part is showing up for things. I don’t know how we make it work, but we do. I’m in two other bands, and when I feel really spread thin, the thing that makes it work and worth it for me is viewing rehearsal not as a stressful obligation but as a needed meditation.

When you listen back or reflect back upon the sonic snapshot that is Cactus, what do you think it says, how do you feel about it, what’s it convey to you?

Linda: I think it says that we are bad at relationships, mostly.

Future plans? 

: We are already working on new songs! We just recorded one about moving to LA.

Jim: i'd like to start 6 more bands…and finally settle down. I dunno…more bathroom selfies?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Secret Friends Fest: Listening to PALACES

This is a synth-rock that can sound sweet and sinister at the same time. Detroit duo PALACES create keyed-up tumblers of aerodynamic rock n roll that's got  just the right amount of dissonance and nervy-melodic quavering from accompanying synthesizers. The programmed percussive arrangements tend toward the cinematic, whether evoking some determined badass stride, a shunted bolt down a neon-splashed alley, or just the softly percolated shish/crash spill of electronic cymbals, building a swoon under the angular guitars as they synchronize with your heartbeat.  

The guitar/bass duo known as Cat Cobra and S.S.  are blending the vaporous swarm of a dark new wave drone and the head-swelling flutter/fall of dream-pop, with a more fleet-footed dance-beat popping under an ultraviolet sheen of pedal-effected dyanmics and dapple a vibe of shoegaze and post-punk riffs intercut with glowing synth chimes.  New Hollywood Emotion is such an apt title for these tight pop/rock churns and sweet surfy melodies, because the distinctive songs delve in to moods of melodrama and fancyfree, of ominous dread and heart-achey reverie; it feels like a movie, as these pop songs can suggest a sense of both urgency and escapism, that everything's at stake, and yet maybe nothing at all is...

I can't wait for you to hear the syncopated riffs of "Dust," the earworm melodies of their dance-jam "Telephone," or the complex and spacy glide & churn of "Axiomatic..." The album is released Jan 26, but you can anticipate hearing lots of the songs from New Hollywood Emotion on Saturday night, for the 4th annual Secret Friends Fest. 

Secret Friends Fest is an endearing event that emphasizes camaraderie between artists, and also among fans. It's harder than ever to figure out how to make a band work in a post-Internet music industry; in fact, it can be downright nerve-wracking. SFF serves as a summit where touring bands from around the region can come find a new audience in Detroit, explicitly under a banner of forging a subtle friendship between each band, a way of saying to each other: Hey, sometime in the future, if you need any thing, if I can give you anything, if we can book a show, if you wanna sleep on my couch, just let me know... 
Here's the line up
Main Stage
12 - HALA
11 - Valley Hush
10 - GGOOLLDD (Milwaukee)

Side Stage
11:30 - Tart
10:30 - PARTS(Grand Rapids)
9:30 - don't
8:30 - ARC PELT

In good comapny!! In the last few years PALACES have shared the stage with Day Wave, Disappears (Kranky), NOTHING (Relapse), Saint Motel, Fat White Family (Fat Possum), Cymbals Eat Guitars (Barsuk), Mourn (Captured Tracks) Jacco Gardner (Trouble In Mind), The Big Sleep (Frenchkiss), El Ten Eleven, Cloakroom, Those Darlins (Oh Wow Dang), Beacon (Ghostly Int'l), The Octopus Project (Austin,TX), Breton (Fatcat/UK), Spindrift, Stereo Total (Berlin), PUJOL (Third Man/Saddle Creek) and more.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Interview with Palm Tapes (with 'Cactus' by Best Exes)

Palm Tapes caught my eye last July when they released Watching Eye, an EP by Detroit's quirk-pop quartet Double Winter. I had been a fan of local specialty cassette releases from the likes of LifeLike for years, but happening upon Double Winter's recent release led me to go digging, to where I found seven more tapes already put out by this underground/indie label.

This Friday, Palm Tapes releases its 12th cassette, Cactus, by Best Exes. 

Detroiter Max Fabrick launched the Palm Tapes label back in October of 2015. The idea came to him in 2011 while he was living in Ann Arbor, (attending U-M), during a time when he was seeking a way to release his own experimental guitar compositions. What led him to his first eventual release was the realization that the label could be an opportunity to showcase a wider range of experimental works by dynamic artists disparate of any unifying genre.

"It's not genre-specific," Fabric said. "I focus on putting out music I think is good, and most often music by musicians that I know here in Detroit..."

Best Exes 'Cactus' Release Party
(Out on Palm Tapes)
Friday, Jan 13
UFO Factory

Fabric's latest release through Palm Tapes is a full length album by Detroit/Ypsi/Arbor-spread quartet Best Exes.

You can attend Best Exes' upcoming show (Friday at the UFO Factory), and purchase a tape of their full-length Palm Tapes release. If you miss the show, you can always visit Palm Tapes' website to purchase a digital download version of a cassette.

Two other recent releases include a compilation of Canadian house music and electronic music, and a split-tape between singer/songwriters Stef Chura and Anna Burch.

"Cassettes seem to work on a practical and artistic level," Max said. That being said, he, just like every one of us, streams a lot of the music he listens to online. But with Palm Tapes, he's out to help artists forge a tangible artifact. "Bands can't sell Spotify streams at their merch tables. Vinyl is beautiful, but expensive to make, and, for whatever reason, CD's seem unaesthetic. So, cassettes are cheap and mortal, but believable as unique art objects. The visual design of every tape Palm does is carefully created!"

Max said he's pleased with the dubbing process he's developed for these cassettes. "Every machine brings out something a bit different in the EQ, and has different hiss and saturation," said Max. "Of course, some sound like muddy junk. Luckily, I found my ribbon-winner. I'm buying up used models on Ebay..." 

As planned releases come together, Max will typically ask the band to help create cover images for tapes, leading to his making a range of design layouts that the band then further reviews/edits.  

"Every member (of Double Winter) has some visual art background, said Max, going back to the EP that served as my inroads into Palm Tapes. "So everything clicked easily, working with them on layouts. The cover image they found is a German shepherd overlooking a sleeping toddler, and their EP is called "Watching Eye," so I thought that worked!" 

Max said that when he showed layouts to Clyde Moop for what would become the label's fourth release, the artist said, "Let's use them all!"  So, Max went with that!  

With 12 tapes in just over a year, Max said he's motivated, to continue building a quality label for bands and listeners. 

"It's like building an allegorical house; I want musicians to feel very comfortable inside it. It won't be the biggest house in the neighborhood, but perhaps, it can be among the most tasteful. Also, the front door is open, the jams are kicking inside and there is a keg in the back."

Thursday, January 5, 2017

PJ's 10 Years at the Lager House

Tributes.. Nods... Homages... I gotta give it up... fact, I can recall Troy Gregory once referring to this place, casually, as ""

PJ Ryder is marking his 10th year in charge of The Lager House in Corktown. I can't help but get nostalgic upon any occasion of commemorations for a place like this..., because for me, it's where the story started. Others of you out there might have another venue that served as your gateway to the scene, a root reference point, some happy place in your mind where you return to refresh your enthusiasm for show-going ventures; that place you saw your first show (or shows) that really mattered to you.

I don't think it's merely chance that the first shows I saw, that mattered to me, were hosted at the Lager House. This is early 2004, I'm still 19..., and I'm seeing The Muggs, The Demolition Doll Rods, The Mistreaters,The Paybacks.... The place was very dim, a little dank, and parts of the carpet seemed permanently soppy with spilled beer. The fitful din of this cavernous hall was an invigorating sanctuary...

But I'm not here to linger over indelible glory day's memories... Let's jump ahead a bit into the future. PJ Ryder bought the Lager House in 2007, having been in the real estate biz for a number of years, and before that he ran a record store in Ann Arbor. But most of that back story can be found here, on a previous blog post.  Let's jump from 2007 up to 2011, and look at a photo of me taken at said-Lager House, (clearly having an excellent time!)

As I said, I don't think it's a coincidence that the Lager House became a special place in my regard, a vital catalyst for my future enterprise of local music journalism, (especially early on with concert reviews). You'll hear about the mythologized Gold Dollar in any origin story for The White Stripes, but it had already been closed going-on three years by the time I started coming around. Something had to fill that void - and in those handful of years before PJ came in, the Lager House pretty much picked up that torch.

As I said before, the place was a bit ramshackle in those early years. Credit goes to PJ for coordinating a complete refresh-and-refurbishment the ol' rock club, re-firing up the kitchen in the back, relighting its dusky corners and re-painting over its scruffier palettes. So PJ's first five years overseeing the Lager House led to a notable rejuvenation, the next five years only assured its reputation for regularly programming performances from local legends, up-and-coming indie-acts and hosting higher-tier touring bands from around the country.

To celebrate, PJ's Lager House hosts a 7pm 'Nawlans-style pop up dinner, with music beginning a little bit after 8pm. You'll see/hear the kinetic celtic jams of Stone Clover, the soulful country-rock of Craig Brown Band, the goth/baroque gypsy-rock of Willa Rae & The Minor Arcana, and the rootsy/bluegrass Americana of Lac La Belle. 

PJ's 10 Year Anniversary
The Lager House
7pm (Music Begins at 8pm)
ft. DJ Nelly Birdwell
More info

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Grand Design 2: Celebrating Detroit Hip-Hop (by Brent Smith)

Brent Smith is a hip-hop artist, emcee, and community activist. Detroit audiences and readers will know him as part of the quartet Cold Men Young, and well as from the duo Passalacqua. He has also done commendable community service work with the Boggs School of Detroit, The United Way of America, The Motor City Grounds Crew, and, most recently, helping a project to bring cultural events and concerts to a refreshed Chene-Ferry Park.

NOW... Smith recently wrote a feature on Mic Phelps and djkage's The Grand Design pt. 2, and I am thrilled to have him as a guest contributor to this Michigan music blog... I'd wager I couldn't find a writer to elucidate the works of Phelps and djkage, since few will know Phelps better than Smith from their past collaborations, as well as a long-spanning, close-knit friendship. 



words by Blaksmith

It’s always been about the money... Sure. It’s by God’s grace. I believe in divine intervention. But, at the end of the day, without the money, it’s still a wish. This took me 30 years and two Grand Design projects to figure out....

The first time around, Mic Phelps and djkage were just figuring it out, too. Back in December of 2014, they released The Grand Design: a profound artistic statement about philosophy and capitalism expressed through rap. Remember Andrew Jackson owned slaves? Well now Harriet Tubman is going to be the first woman on american currency. It makes me think that Phelps & djkage had an agenda from the very beginning and that was to show that... ...
While listening to Grand Design 2, I can’t help but think about Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full. When Rakim spits “I nominated my DJ for President” on I Ain’t No Joke, he’s validating Eric B. as the people’s head of state. Phelps possesses the same confidence in his DJ. djkage slides all over cuts like Saucey and IDFA certifying his position as a producer in the Detroit Hip Hop diaspora. Phelps plays the role of Rakim, breaking some kind of fourth wall to speak directly to his audience, reminding us that rap is a war.
What the f*ck you nghs telling me,
I’m charged up like a felony
I got the rap, I got the melody
A A milli what I better see
I’m looking for a better me
I’m tryna leave a legacy

They can’t define my pedigree
--Mic Phelps, Keep It Running

This is about Mic Supremacy. This is about gold medals. The most decoratedathlete in Olympic history, swimmer Michael Phelps retired with 23 gold medals. 23! Michael Phelps, the swimmer is coming off one of the best years of all-time...! Meanwhile, the rapper, Mic Phelps, shined in 2016 with the release of The Wave 4
Competitively, there’s not too many rappers rhyming like Mic Phelps. Detroit or elsewhere. While swagging, he raps truth to power in BIG DAWG: “I’m flashy like a camera in a pot of gold.” djkage plays live bass and mixes a piece from the Omega Man soundtrack which I thought was a Carl Thomas sample. The mix of Phelps’s slick talk and kage’s emotionally whimsical production sets the stage for the rest of GD2.
Easily my favorite track is Kush Cologne. It sounds like an opening number to a black Batman spin off. Superhero music is what we’re all here for in 2017. Kage drops a hard-boiled noir that plays out like a scene in Sin City. Naturally the next song, H.O.E.(Heaven On Earth), follows as the most earnest track on GD2. Phelps raps:
I’m tired of innocent murders,
I’m tired of funeral lines, 
I’m tired of people telling me to pray
But then I get no reply
Maybe we was meant to go through it,
Maybe it was all by design.
Tamir Rice get shot,
Birdman still shine.
-       Mic Phelps, H.O.E.
If it sounds like Mic Phelps and djkage came out of nowhere, they didn’t. Both Phelps and kage are veterans on the verge of mastering a cultish sound. Dick Gregory is here too, weaving together stories about Buffalo Soldiers and that time he met Hugh Hefner. Hmph?!?!? This device serves as a distraction from Phelps’s writing and rambling. And in a way, Dick Gregory assures us that the stuff Phelps is rambling about is more serious than we think!
The Afrikans are angry. They know this is a trick. - Dick Gregory
The one glaring surprise on this project is the low count of weed references (ref. Kush Cologne). Oh, the references are there but they’re hard to catch at the speed Phelps raps. Back 2 U is a bit more slowed down and Phelps maturely waxes about love & commitment. The feature here, Kopelli of Cold Men Young, got married this past Summer ‘16 (#HouseYoung) making for an authentic verse and heartfelt vocals from Pierre Anthony.
In a lot of ways, GD2 is a data point for growth. If GD1 was the blueprint, GD2 is the build out. Sides will clash and classically debate which project is better. GD2 has too many party songs. GD1 is more real. Real compared to what?...Itself? 

When Eric B. & Rakim mastered their formula on Paid In Full in 1987, nobody else in the game had better beats or melodies. The same can be said about GD2. There’s an urgency here that says I need money and I’m sick of digging through a pocket full of lint. GD2 is that check for the rent. Like Negus Arubis says, “Get down or lay down.” 

There’s no time to just kick it because we are in crisis mode. Donald Trump is the looming president! Things will go on as they have before but in a rapidly changing city like Detroit, we have to remember that artists like Mic Phelps and djkage are the real influencers. GD2 is the burden of proof. We just have examine it even closer. PUMP UP THE VOLUME.

Monday, December 26, 2016

"We Just: Still Exist..." - Johnny Headband - "Best" Interview of 2016

Sometimes, when December 31st starts creeping up, I entertain the idea of listing my favorite interviews of the passing year. Or, I don't know what to call it... "Best" interviews of the year? But I'm in no position to "review" conversations, I only transcribe them and tell a story around those conversations. So I won't ever compile a list like that. Besides, the consistent fulfillment I find is in meeting artists, talking about the creation of music, and arranging a comprehensive (and often concise) story about it.

But I digress. I'd rather just talk about the one interview from 2016 that I never got to share with you...

It was July, and Chad Thompson of Johnny Headband met me in the middle of a sunny, sweltering morning, so that we could drink too large cups of coffee, roam the suburbs and talk about the band's fourth (or was it fifth?) return, reboot, restart, call it what you will.

Johnny Headband arrived on the Detroit music scene more than 10 years ago, but their debut album's hybrid of post-disco, funk-pop and new-wave rock was just another in a lifetime of quirky creations between the brothers of Chad and Keith Thompson. Over the last decade, they've appeared, per se, to deliver another meticulous and energizing production of songs, a couple of EP's, another full-length, a few singles, with a few proceeding performances, maybe some mini-tours, and then...they'd go underground (again, per se...), all but disappearing from your news feeds. 

But they always came back. They always do come back. Chad can't stop working on music, and he's always thinking up new songs. His hands are in other projects too, of course, particularly graphic design and videography   

Anyway, I'm rambling. Johnny Headband (with drummer Robbie Saunders), released a 4-song EP earlier this year, and they played a show over in Toronto. They were back! I mean, even though they never really went away, they were back! And I was biding my time, hoping for them to book a big concert in the metro Detroit area and I was going to use this interview to promote it... But then they went away again...

I wanted to share a few of my favorite snippets from my "favorite interview of 2016--"--that no one got to see, until now.

My chat with Chad, from Johnny Headband. 

          Concentrated Concentration 
"I like to work... I like to be in the process. My brother loves nothing more than to get lost in it... But, it's the best. It's the best feeling. It's the best thing to do with your time. If you're writing something and you're lost in it? There isn't anything better than that..."

          Spinning legs on the social media hamster wheel of self-promotion
"...BUT..., to then have to have all these bases covered in terms of 'putting it out into the world...?' Not everybody can....or not everybody wants to..., or not everybody is able to. And quality doesn't always matter, (obviously), and ambition doesn't always matter. I think once you let that go, you can really do some dangerous stuff!"

          The actual humans that populate the "bands," these otherwise intangible composites of people with publicity photos and images and genre-labels... Who are they? 
"I'm just thinking about everything... I'm not thinking about that one thing, and I think that there are people that have that single-mindedness. That is not what I have. But if we're talking about Johnny Headband...?"
         (.....and here, I had already made a metaphor, prior to this quote, about the band appearing every so often, sometimes every 2-4 years, and it's akin to catching glimpse of a whale's majestic tailfin breaking the water's surface for this valiant splash....)
"As far as the whale appearing...and then going away? That's what we require!! Some people go away for four years and the only thing you know in context to them and their lives...let's say Radiohead... you only know them as musicians or music makers, you don't know what else they do. You might not care. They go away, they come back, play shows and they're "a band..." But I'm sure that those same people go through periods where they wonder to themselves, should I keep doing this? What else would I do if I didn't do this...? Who am I?"

          On expectations (...and lowering them) 
"I don't always classify us as 'a band.' I'm not even there. We're not there as a group. We have to go do other shit, because, ('being a band') is not a living."

          The point
"But I guess my point is, there's not much of a choice. You're drawn to it, you do it, you keep doing it, people ask you do do more of it... You keep doing it, you enjoy certain aspects of it. We're in a place that is healthy and the expectations for us are reasonable, but yet our quality and standards and growth and creative purges and all those things, are always going to want to be fulfilled in one way or another!"

        (He stops me towards the end, as I'm running out of questions)
"So anyways..., what could we talk about that is more 'relevant...' to something that someone would care about?"
         I tell him I think we already got there...

"Sometimes you have to burn down a forest, and what grows back is more verdant and beautiful. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with putting something to bed and moving on to another thing. It doesn't mean that initial thing was dysfunctional and I don't know when the time is to call it a day... We just: still exist!"

Johnny Headband still exist! And I'm relieved to finally share the interview with you! Social-media anxiety, self-imposed expectations, skewed perspectives, those can be killers for an artist. But, even if Johnny Headband are playing a show, even if their songs came out months ago, I wanted any other band out there to know that the existential dread of throwing your works out into the uncertain ether, it's universal in this age. But, as Chad put it, it "might depend on what phase of the journey you're in..." 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Javelins are a Detroit-area post-punk power pop trio that meld sweet spaced-out psychedelia with angular post-rock rhythms and lyrics heavy with dreamy imagery.

Javelins are:
Matt Howard--guitar, Julian Wettlin--bass, Matt Rickle--drums/vocals
Earlier this month, the lifelong friends were featured in a mini-documentary marking the 10th anniversary of their breakout album No Plants Just Animals. The video below is part live show, part interview, exploring their approach to making music, the chemistry between them, and the overall history of the band.

Robin Veresh

Camera Operators:
Al Dolega
Craig Davis

Created by:
Jonathan Lotoczky
Michael Majewski

Meanwhile, Javelins are one performing component of a 3-day music festival out in Ypsilanti raising funds for 826michigan's nonprofit education programs in local public schools. The coordinators of the 11th annual Mittenfest music festival have curated a mix-tape, of sorts, via bandcamp, featuring bands that span the 3-days worth of individual lineups. 

For more information on this year's Mittenfest, read my article via The Current Magazine (in Ann Arbor).