Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Bones (King Christenstein the 10th)
...head-swimmingly eclectic. If you really open up your mental palette and let all the gooey kaleidoscope-ing pastels and midnight-blues and sparkly synth syrup pour out and spread upon you from the softly baritone-led spooning of singer Ben's voice - then you might fall into the same labyrinth I have, while I sit here writing, trying to pen-it-in. I keep spinning around every third measure with the impulse to name drop yet another flavor, genre or artist-reference-point: electro-pop, folky-circus romps, theatrical space-opera.
It feels like some unassuming lysergic tale of starry night woods-wandering, its vocals gruff and whirling in some numbing haze at some points, but at other times downright twee and sashaying into the delectable na-na-na pop whimsy choruses. It welds the hot bubbling seam between the booming weirdo-barked blues plates of Bowie (see the spaced out Low-like odyssey), Beck (think the lost middle-ground of Mutations and Sea Change bossanova-inflected dirges) and Tom Waits (you could flail your arms in some Small Change-recalling sermon)...(Hell, we can throw some Danny Elfman in there, for any Tim Burton dorks - only take that and wring it with this strange swath of druggy-country twang.)
...but the baffling thing is, for how organic Waits may be in his shamanistic growls and strung-out-nocturnal piano balladry - Ben only provides that illusion, but he is able to create a similar feeling based solely on the intricate arrangement of his synths and drum machines. This is music for the night, rapt in that shooting-star-gazing robe, but far from straight dream-pop, or even dream-pop revival - it may swell with drowsy swoons and beats may sway and undulate under a delicate, blunting fuzz, but this is closer to singer-songwriter traditional-pop - warbled with an almost entirely digitzied orchestration of peaking, poking, careening cadres of blurting, gurgling synths, overlapped nicely with unassuming acoustic guitars and a steady bass line. Spacey waltzes, circus-y blues, music for the in between spaces, both physically and mentally.
The album is recorded under Bones - the moniker of singer/songwriter Ben Christensen - a Scrummage affiliate - who has recently changed the name to King Christenstein the 10th
Saturday, March 28, 2009
"Friends of Dennis Wilson to me…means…no boundaries."
-Tony Moran, FODW
(photos: Trever Long)
Tony asks me if I ever get tired of hearing the same ol’ stuff from musicians.
I slip and refer to him as a subject; I tell him I enjoy digging for the story and piecing it together. It’s almost, I tell him, like I’m prying you apart (I mimic metallic hands spreading his chest like open heart surgery as I say this). And I know this won’t creep him out - because scattered across the café table between our coffees are blood-splattered record covers, coagulated upon spray-painted images of Charles Manson. He transported said-cargo through the streets of Ferndale so that we could meet and talk about dark, super spacey music that conjures imagery of potentially murderous trips out to the desert.
Chiefly amongst our topics, is the release (finally) of the third proper full length recording of Tony’s band, The Friends of Dennis Wilson – with an unveiling concert scheduled for April 4th at Izzy’s Art Gallery in Detroit. FODW has been more of a collective than a band – or an institution, if you will. With a hook-filled rock sound soaked in 60’s psyche-reverb, it inevitably follows that the band’s more avant-garde philosophy and personnel functionality would conjure that secluded farmland commune vibe of come-and-go as-you-please. (FODW’s gone through 2 bass players in the last year and now sees two former members, Sam Santurro and Brandon Codeine form a band of their own, Qualia, with Patrick Elmore).
Not that FODW -in taste or sound- is entirely rooted in the 60’s, but the influence is unmistakable. The unique imprint of 60’s psychedelia seems imprinted on Tony’s soul: be it his home, (where each room is flooded with bright saturated colors, psychedelic memorabilia and glorification of both cars/crusing/motorcycle/surfing culture and beatnik art), or his shrugging admittance that, "I’ll probably be listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn till the day I die…"
"All I’ve ever wanted to do was to play guitar in a band," said Tony. "Just being able to do that, put out 3 records, a 45, and now…success to me, is just all personal success."
Indeed. The FODW, spurred by Tony’s tireless work in the studio (lots of headphone-bound strung out, red-eyed nights) alongside "master-mixer" engineer/guitarist Robby Buxton (of The Rue Moor Counts), the band can finally say they have "3 records" completed…The thing is, it took nearly 20 months to complete the third...
It started to seem like the whole thing was cursed. Songwriting began in late 06-early 07, and soon after the band started recording at Carlot Sound, Buxton’s once-Pontiac-based studio. The first pillar to fall was the mixing board blew out…in fact, damn near all the rest of their equipment blew out as well. They took their amps, recording equipment and moved shop to guitarist Tim Doneisia’s joint, where they planned to finish recording and mix it. But then, the 16-track died and they needed to take all the busted shit in for maintenance, (which killed another couple months). Eventually, they restored the set up and finished recording – but when they went to mix it down to DAT,… "I swear to God, the DAT machine breaks," Tony scoffs. They found a new DAT from a source in Pontiac and Tony told Tim to drive out and get it, because damn it – they were going to stay there all night if they had to… Only, it was also a torrential thunderstorm that was causing the power to go on and off while the band waited for Tim to return from his DAT errand.
"These are a collection of songs over the past 3 years," says Tony, patting the stack of records, painted and decorated by artist Nai Sammon. "It’s been good, now I finally know where I wanna go with the music. I know what I’m capable of in a studio and where I want the band to go."
Tony is tall, broad shouldered, with long billowy hair – a striking figure and an even more animated performer, but still a sensitive dude with a heart of gold. I know it’s pained him to see this creation so impeded throughout 2008 – but now that it’s out he says he feels that it is the first true Friends of Dennis Wilson album – that the others were mere demos by comparison – and that’s why it’s self-titled.
I ask him if it was worth it – all the nerve-wracking run-around of this record "Fuck yeah it’s worth it," he squints through a grin. "I can’t find anything that can take my mind off music for two minutes. I’m always ready; when I wake up I’m thinking of a song title, chord progressions of a song, the name of an album…everything, that’s all I’m thinking about…"
Even if the road to get there is difficult? Even if the light at the end of the tunnel is faint?
"It puts more hair on your chest, man. I’m not just saying that to sound cool. Here’s the thing, what I’ve learned from all the obstacles is that I can maintain all my composure and still wanna do it. I really wanna do it."
We talk about the entering of late 20's for the singer/songwriter, all that assesing-your-life shit, and we return to his definitions of personal success – and what he wants to do, not just with the band, but with his time here on this frazzled spinning rock. "I want other people to like my music, but as far as underground…we’re totally underground."
Perhaps they’re still underground because they, whether explicitly or not, glorify a dark icon in their band name – often connected to the occult – the Manson family, a.k.a., the "friends" of the wayward Beach Boys drummer. Or maybe it’s because Tony seeks out avant-garde artists like Nai Sammon, who designed more than 20 original covers for the vinyl release of self-titled (some including wrung splotches of his own blood), or other allies like noisy experimental rock of Heroes & Villains.
Then, maybe it’s the style of music – this swirling shoegaze meets psychedelia, with a muffled Brit-pop whimsy and classic 50’s rock hooks radiating out in sunny surf tones. Or maybe it’s the out-there trajectory of their tastes, spaced out, dark, sometimes brooding grooves informed by a biker-gang disposition and a taste for the road; a taste for the transcendent – through music.
Or maybe it’s just psychedelic music, not specifically as a genre, but as a scene here in Detroit. Each year Tony does his part to keep the blood flowing through the sometimes perceivably inconspicuous psyche scene as curator for the Fiberglass Freakout. The yearly summer festival celebrates a conglomeration of fuzzy feedback pop and gritty experimental rock and punk, often featuring Heroes & Villains and Friends of Dennis Wilson – but, most recently hosting the up and coming Oblisk and soon, the bluesy psychedelia of Sik-Sik Nation.
Tony says there’s no questioning the strength of the scene – especially when you look at stalwart, aristocratic trailblazers like Windy & Carl, His Name Is Alive and Outrageous Cherry.
"For me," said Tony, "I want to do more to support that scene, and my music is growing in that way.
"All I can think about is the now," says Tony. He has slightly retreated from his once showy and confrontational front-man role to aligning with the band as a second guitarist – with Adam T on guitar, Tim Doneisa on organ, Charlie Monsoon on drums, Brian from the Bad Faces Clan joining on bass. Tony said all his focus is on the next recordings – the immediate future includes a 7"
"Dose Down" on he and Buxton’s label No Gold. FODW are also to record another full length and hopefully, at worst, get it out by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the No Gold label celebrates an unofficial showcase on April 4th(along with the release of self-titled). All of these bands on the bill (Oblisk, Rue Moor Counts, Qualia, FODW) are affiliated with the label. In a couple months, No Gold will put out the Birddogs (currently known as the Rue Moor Counts)’s second full length on vinyl – followed by a Birddogs split with Toronto psyche-rockers Speaking In Tongues. Then, Detroit’s shoegaze heavy atmospheric pop quartet Oblisk will put out a 45 on the label, followed by another FODW 45…and eventually something from Qualia. The show takes place down in the basement of the art space (Izzy's Art Gallery) where 100 or so of the album’s record covers will be on display. Each unique cover features an original design by a number of different artists, including Carl (owner of Izzy’s), Jeff (from Heroes & Villains) Robbie (who helped mix the album and performs with Rue Moor Counts) and Nai Sammon, among others.
And going back to growing scenes, and growing as a band – that’s the one word Tony uses to sum up what this album means to him: growth. "In the beginning of the record, there’s stuff that wants to be free…there’s songs about riding choppers and wanting to be free and then there’s a lot of drug influence too. Then, there’s a lot of real abstract ideas of being secluded, a lot of ideas about wanting things that you can’t have…seclusion, stuck in your own world, wanting to break through and then in the end not really caring about breaking through. And I don’t mean ‘breaking through’ in like, being popular. I mean, personal feelings. There’s songs about love, not caring about life, hating yourself, hating people and loving, it’s a weird combination of hating people and loving people and loving yourself and hating yourself."
"[Self-titled] leads into the next one which is just total darkness…"
Far away from those tripped out oscillating tones of 13th Floor Elevators-recalling psyche sludge and garage pop, eh?
"I wanna get as far away from that stuff as possible…" But really, "I just wanna play guitar in a band…" And that this line up, "it seems like this is gonna be the permanent line up for a long time…"
4 / 5 Izzy’s Art Gallery – with Qualia, Oblisk and Rue Moor Count
Friday, March 27, 2009
We go on and on each year…hell, sometimes every six months… Books, blogs, newspapers, go on exalting the tremendous vitality of
We go back to John Lee Hooker, migrating up here with many Delta/Memphis musicians in the ‘30s looking for work in then-booming factories – subsequently helping to energize blues music in the city. As the Muggs (below) singer/guitarist Danny Methric emphasizes, “…go back to where it all really happens, start with the blues! Kids always ask me, ‘how'd you get to where you're at as a guitar player…I go, ‘the BLUES.’”
From there, our reverent regaling points to the birth of rock in the 50’s - inspiring bands like The Fugitives and Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. Then, in the early 60’s, you have the opening of venues like The Hideout in
We took the tragedy, the passion, the grit of the blues and we made it sharper, noisier, more rousing – we turned it into punk rock (We took the carriage and we turned it into the automobile. We took gospel and we turned it into pop – we turned it into Motown. We took disco and house and we turned it into techno. We are
“I think you need to respect where all this comes from,” said Eddie Baranek, drummer for Spitting Nickels (top photo) and also of The Sights and Expatriates). “Because, what you’re doing is really not that original, even though you probably think you’re original… I’m not that original, ya know? You’re basically repackaging and recycling something for a newer generation that hasn’t heard it yet…”
Baranek, with Spitting Nickels bassist John Bissa, were bantering on bar stools one late winter’s eve, with Bissa, as he often does, pitching another “crazy idea” for a show to his bandmate. The pair were “trying to decide how to celebrate [Baranek’s] birthday (April 5). In a couple minute’s time, we realized it was the same weekend as the Final Four. We also realized what a great opportunity there was to put a big show together for the day that there was no game (Sunday-also April 5). It just seemed like serendipity.”
Hence, a few phone calls and some emails later – the Motor City Rock Revue was born. It features a wide, varied arc of local music, from rock, to pop, to electro, to shoegaze: The Hentchmen (venerated garage-pop trio, formed in 92); The Muggs (fiery blues trio, performed at the final show for now-legendary Detroit garage-boom venue The Gold Dollar in 2001); Spitting Nickels (a humble gang of long-time appreciators of Detroit rock, fueled by uncommon camaraderie, pure passion and inspired to forge an homage to their fallen friend, late band mate, guitarist Tom Furtaw); The Displays (spanning garage/indie and a bit of lo-fi pop, these teens have been playing around town for 3 years and take a lot of inspiration from Detroit rock of the ‘60’s); The Friendly Foes (newer indie-pop trio comprised of players from numerous other Detroit bands, including Thunderbirds Are Now!); The Pop Project (ten years together, this tight, 70’s-power-pop inspired quartet of songwriters weathered the raucous garage boom when it was, as singer/guitarist Dave Lawson says “not very fashionable to be singing harmonies in Detroit,” band pic below,); The Silent Years (indicative of the new direction for Detroit music, more experimental, embracing classic pop sensibilities as transformed through layered instrumentation, reverb and a deconstructionist writing style); Deastro (energetic, electro-centered, slightly-danceable pop that feels more arty-New York or Euro-dream-pop by the day – but still unyieldingly dedicated to their hometown).
“The central idea for this show is simple,” said Bissa. “We have a fantastic local music scene and, on that weekend, we have a great opportunity to share it with the world. For one brief moment, we have the world at our doorstep…we should absolutely take advantage of it.”
The Revue comes to represent many things: a look back to the past, a celebration of
“It’s crazy to think that in some way the Muggs are a small part of the ‘
Now, whenever music journos or record-store aficionados or bloggers start prattling on about Detroit Rock History and replaying the same rigmarole worshiping of the 60’s you read above, like the Stooges, MC5, fill-in-the-blank…etc etc – now…we can look back, 10 years on, from what’s commonly referred to as the Garage days, or the garage explosion, or the White Stripes days…
Methric recalls the duo happening upon the Gold Dollar for the first time, in the late 90’s, and catching a band called The Hentchmen performing. “And just, ahhh, I can’t believe this! What kind of music is this, I never heard anything like that! This is right before the whole garage movement took off…We were very fortunate that that scene took us in.” Methric points to
The days of the garage boom, to put it kindly, are history. Which means two things – we can properly qualify it, for the energy it infused into the scene and the city’s musicians and, secondly we can start, justifiably, moving on… to the Deastros, the Silent Years of the future…(ed. But then again – the focus here isn’t so much past vs. future – it is more towards, Hello World – We are Detroit – Come get a taste…bang your head, shake your ass, listen to what we got…)
Lawson’s band, the Pop Project (far from garage, though its members have connections to the sound and style), serves as a good bridge between the garage boom and the now more indie-pop, harmony-heavy inclination of newer bands. Lawson asked the Silent Years to play to “make sure there was a full spectrum of current
The Displays (above) singer/guitarist Andrew Hecker (whose band released their Jim Diamond-produced full length Ain’t Gonna Put Us Down) called me out on asking him, during our first interview in 07, if at that time he felt Detroit, as a motivated scene, was dying, a floating sentiment at the time… “…and now, just like a year or so after? I've never heard that mentioned and things really seem to be shaping up for the town. So many new bands popping up, I feel like the town's music scene's more alive than it's ever been since we started playing 3 years ago. And I really feel hopeful for the city…
Look for more appearances from The Displays throughout the summer. Meanwhile, check out The Silent Years online to hear songs from their newest EP, tentatively Let Go, with more “globe”-trotting touring). The Muggs are looking to record their next full-length, a follow-up to last year’s On With The Show. Deastro is releasing a 7” with Five Three Dial Tone and unveiling his debut full-length Moondagger. The Friendly Foes will tour eastward on their recent release Born Radical (with tourmates, locals
The Hentchmen have been spread out, with keyboardist John Szymanski has been touring in SSM, drummer Mike Latulippe has been playing with Speedy Greasy and guitarist Tim Purrier has been training for the Tour de France and writing wine reviews. They’re getting ready to release the second of four 7-inchers, (“the latest on Italy Records.”) The first came out on Bellyache Records in July 08.
Finally, Spitting Nickels (with keyboardist Ben Borowiak, singer Dennis Miriani and guitarist Chris Brosky), have several shows lined up, including a
Thursday, March 26, 2009
News from Spitting Nickels - regarding the Motor City Rock Revue - Magic Stick and PJs Lager House "join forces"
The Magic Stick and PJ's Lager House are joining forces to ensure that Sunday, April 5th is a day for all local music fans to remember. For the low price of $20, you can see an orgy of music as twelve of best Detroit's bands play non-stop over ten hours in two of Detroit's best local music venues.
For $20, you get a Golden Ticket valid for:- admission to PJ's Lager House- a beer at PJ's Lager House- admission to the Motor City Rock Revue at the Magic Stick- a beer at the Magic Stick- transportation to and from the Magic Stick
Here are the respective line ups:
4:00 PM - PJ's Lager HouseThese United StatesGreat Lakes Myth SocietyLightning Love! Big Mess
7:30 PM (doors open) - The Magic StickDeastroThe MuggsThe Pop ProjectThe HentchmenSilent YearsFriendly FoesSpitting NickelsThe Displays
PJ's Lager Housewww.pjslagerhouse.comwww.myspace.com/lagerhouse
The Magic Stickwww.majesticdetroit.com/stick.asp
The Motor City Rock Revuewww.motorcityrockrevue.com
Performances are April 3rd, 4th, and 10th, 11th, inside the Motor City Movie House (on the 5th floor) of the
The brain shivers and the eyes rotate sideways…you try to break it down with your adult logic and feel as though you were cloaked with some unfounded comfort as a child, that the kaleidoscope phrasings and biting verbiage were innocently capricious – the same way pastels and launch-able pieces draw children to toys or McDonalds. You try to take yourself back, -back down the rabbit hole: it seemed at the time, reading as children, that the winding, graceful clumsiness of this upside-down paradoxical world created by Lewis Carroll in the 1860’s was just a fancy, wondrous playground, a silly symphony to roll on in clownish manners with nonsensical things being said by extremely imaginative characters.
Merely a wonderland...
Yet, the story has come to be culturally conceived (and, quite convincingly at times) to be an elaborate metaphor for hallucinogenic drugs. (Transportation to alternate realities, ingesting drinks or foods that alter your state, teleporting cats, and rampant confusion…) Though nothing is definitive and contemporary readers, literati and more avant-garde cognoscenti can debate whether Carroll “…was taking drugs” when he wrote it, and we can try to dissect the meanings of Ravens and writing desks and Jesus allegories and eating mushrooms…and whether or not it all has any atom of meaning to it… Regardless…
The longwinded point is – it is ripe for interpretation.
And who better to reinterpret the (innocently psychedelic) tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, then the already bubbling, macabre and storybook-ish minds of Theatre Bizarre – the same artist collective responsible for, indisputably, the greatest, (most imaginative and rewardingly surprising) Halloween party around…
“We’re all mad here!”
Theatre Bizarre is an outdoor space that serves as a collaborative vortex for numerous artists and creative minds in the
It was started 10 years ago by artist John Dunivant and carpenter Ken Poirer – combining visual and physical (or, architectural) art – a living space, on
The idea starts with Casey Miller, more than 8 years ago, when he started getting into show organizing. He’d worked in drama before, from high school onward, but had lately gotten into organizing concerts. After overseeing a Save The Vegetables concert for Theatre Bizarre, he became “adopted” by “the family” and became the Theatre’s stage manager. From his youth, he had always wanted to do what he, tellingly, refers to as “…an
“I’m fascinated with the story,” said Miller, Wonderland’s director. “I’m a Lewis Carroll dork.” Two years ago, Miller attended a show in
Essentially, that’s what [the story] is, [
Not long after, at a People’s Art Festival at the Russell Industrial Center, inspiration started churning once again – and Miller presented the idea to his mates at Theatre Bizarre. He also crossed paths with his old friend, Ed
Gartner, who runs the Motor City Move House (now located on the 5th floor of the Russell). With support from both camps – Miller set to work gathering more hands to help – which included fellow Bizarre collaborator, Jason McCombs, to handle the technical side of production. Dunivant and the rest of the Bizarre crew would also join in – with Dunivant’s new original artwork (inspired by classical illustrations from old editions) being back projected onto a giant story book, with “turning pages” throughout the performances.
Combine a number of burlesque dancers, with world-renowned Roxi D’Lite as your lead, with music provided by local musicians, playing live to the dancers (including The Questions, The Electric Lions) and you’ve got yourself quite a trip…a mind-melting psychedelic, multimedia trip…
The basics: A play led by interpretive dance (mainly burlesque), angling towards a masquerade-ball vibe, while also leaving it open to audience members to embrace it as an “Alice in Wonderland theme party” (with dressing up encouraged). All of the classic scenes will be interpreted, the opening, the falling into the rabbit hole, the white rabbit (dancer), the (mind-melting) Mad Hatter, the caterpillar (a two-person costume), the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, all the key elements – a theatrical adaptation.
“It’s all about recreating subconscious dimensions,” said Drew Bardo (singer/guitarist for The Questions). Bardo was approached by Miller and McCombs and offered the job of music director – a new hat for the poet and singer/songwriter, who’d gotten used to slam poetry stage performance and, over the last 4 years, singing on stages like the Magic Stick and Blind Pig with interpretive rock group, The Questions. Now…he had to essentially write a musical – up to a dozen original pieces, some with lyrics, some instrumental, that could not only fit to a burlesque style of interpretive dance, but also reference the action of the plot.
This being a new venture for Bardo (above), he holed up in his home on a few inspiring candle-lit evenings, and left himself alone with the text of Carroll and his notebook and guitar. After a few rewarding experiments, he approached Rabeah Ltief, singer/guitarist of The Electric Lions, and asked him to be his collaborator for scoring Wonderland.
As Ltief puts it, no matter how you cut it, the story of Alice is a trip…mostly viewed as a psychedelic one…but, that said – it lends itself to experimental-pop and smoky, surfy psychedelic garage rock – a flavor The Electric Lions have already been honing through their three years together. This style melds well with Bardo’s project, the Questions, a more amorphous sort of rock that harkens back to classic 50’s blues writers, draped in a gothic New Orleans-tinged freak-folk.
“[It’s] not showy, showtunes songs…” Ltief (below) says at the mentioning of ‘scoring a musical.’ “These are really cool songs, we would feel comfortable putting a lot of these songs in our normal sets.”
“We want to make sure that it represents our environment here,” said Bardo. “I don’t want to put together something that people expect…We’re not recreating Disney’s version or recreating somebody else’s…we’re bringing a Detroit perspective to the story.”
It reveals a secondary triumph for Wonderland (and Theatre Bizarre as a whole) – to expand the sometimes-tunnel-vision tendencies of
Indeed, Roxy D’Lite will be performing numerous dances throughout the show, as
With all the artists involved, from the musicians to the dancers, to the tech crew, to the production crew – Bardo said, this project has forced them all to step it up. For the two bands involved, who were both at the time involved in writing/recording their next albums, their current work was paused so that they could begin work on the Wonderland soundtrack – which will eventually be released on vinyl. The collaborating musicians have formed a new band – tentatively...called Medicine Tree (myspace). The band also features: Kate Nickerson (singer,), Pookie, Spazzy, (on rhythm, drums and bass) Mike (on guitar), Hussain (on keys) and _ (on sax).
“What we really hope to accomplish here is to make a really interesting story come to life,” said Bardo, “in our own Midwestern, weirdo, beatnik way, ya know? Just to bring
Bellydancing, break-dancing, burlesque, live rock n roll…and an errant mystifying wonder.
“I don’t want to call it a play or a musical,” said Miller. “It’s a trip. A visual, musical, sensational trip…” He adds… “just that…people’s eyeballs are gonna be melting out of their faces…and they’re gonna be slipping around on their eyeball juice. It’s that brain-bending, ya know?”
We’d have it no other way…
"We’re all mad here!" - Cheshire Cat
"Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves." - The Duchess
Executive Producer/Director: Casey Miller
Producer/Technical/Video Director: Jason McCombs
Music Director: Drew Bardo and Rabeah Lteif
Costumes: Hayley Jane Nickerson
Art Director: Jon Dunivant
The Duchease: Satori Circus
Chesire Cat: Flec
Queen of Hearts: Shetan Noir
Medicine Tree: Drew Bardo, Rabeah Lteif, Kate Nickerson, Pookie, Spazzy, Mike, Hussain, Benny Johnson
(Kate and Mike)
(Spazzy, Pookie, Hussain)
Standing in the middle of the liquor aisle in Meijer, struggling to hear, while on the phone with a proud stoner and smart-alecky slacker in San Diego…as we talk, I’m dodging troll-like consumers sniffing milk and he’s playing video games in his bedroom.
“Wait, what are you doing?” I ask again, not out of disbelief but because the connection is so riddled with static interference. “I’m playing Fifa 2009 for Xbox 360…” answers Nathan Williams, who records and performs as Wavves – a project that’s garnered relatively large amounts of buzz in the indie music world, from Fader to Spin to countless blogs. The 22-year-old San Deigo shredder (on both guitar and skateboard) started experimental recordings as Wavves 13 months ago, the results of which were released on a full length (last week on Fat Possum). The not-quite-self-titled Wavvves features 14 tracks of ultra-fuzzy flumes, sandpaperey textures, classic 50’s pop ¾ time rhythm set to Sonic Youth guitar blazes, with vocal delivery crossed between monotone indie fuck-all and sunny Beach Boys falsetto. Often regurgitated as surf-punk or goth-surf, or grime-pop or whatever kind of oozy, but poppy, dark, yet sunny, classic-pop-meets-experimental genre label you wanna come up with – as told in guttural grunted poetry from not so naïve lips over unavoidably surf-y grooves.
The album’s been wrung out by hipsters and even sipped by would-be hipsters and now the weeklies are chomping down. I realized I had over-thought my questions, or had at least aimed too grandiosely, when, mid-answer, Williams would turn to his opponent in Fifa 2009 to call him “a bitch…” I wanted to get this partying proponent to open up and actually unpack the deeper, abstract meaning of his work (often airing real life adventures/musings on being bored, being broke and smoking weed) – but…
“Yeah, me and Ryan (friend since junior high and current drummer on tour) have heated matches. I’m about to score right now…oh my god! You mother fucker!” …voice directs away from receiver, “…you just fowled me, deliberately. Red card!” …then back to receiver… “Yeah, 2009 is going really well; 2009 is the best year yet…”
So, near the Meijer bakery, I dropped my notes and forgot to ask the potentially stand-off-ish Emperor’s new clothes question: ‘What’s so great about what you do?’ But the secret lies in an unfound charm – particularly in his sound...
Williams and drummer Ryan Ulsh are one week into a 2-month U.S. tour, having recently returned from some shows in Europe. All too appropriately considering the supreme fuzz of his sound’s aesthetic, our phone conversation - between video game banter and smarmy shrugs, is intermittently cut into by storms of static.
I ask about his lyrics and if he worries messages or meanings may get lost in the fuzz – with vocals often blurring right along with the guitar. “I never thought about that until right now and…now I’m a bit scared…nah, just kidding. No, not at all. I make the music the way it sounds ‘cuz I like the way it sounds…Really, in the end, it oughta be about stuff that I’m doing, about what I’m feeling…”
I offer that, with their almost militant lackadaisical-ness, they seem like antiheroes to the rigmarole of clichéd overly arty noise-pop experimental artists… “Yeah, I like that…” Williams agrees. He and Ryan both chime in but it cuts out in the static…and I’m left nodding awkwardly into the phone, next to a potato chip display under fluorescents.
“Yeah,” I say.
Wavves plays the Magic Stick with Carjack on April 1.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
“In early 2008,” said Bissa of the hard-rolling bluesy rockers, “we got serious about playing out, starting with a well-received gig at the Cadieux Café. We made a demo with Dave Lawson (from The Pop Project) and eventually an EP with Jim Diamond. We even managed to score an opening slot on a bill with Blue Oyster Cult in the ‘Rockin’ on the Riferfront’ concert series.”
The duo continued their refinement as passionate music heads and upon entering college, expanded their appreciations to the Manchester scene and Motown’s seemingly bottomless catalogue. The band idea never came to fruition in the 80’s and Bissa eventually joined the Navy and Furtaw went into public service.
It was during the show with Blue Oyster Cult that tragedy struck. Ten songs into their 12-song set, on a perfect summer night, Bissa turned around mid-song and saw his friend Furtaw lying on his back, eyes rolled up. Medics rushed the stage and had him out of there in 15 minutes – but Furtaw passed away later that night.
“Everybody -- everybody -- was just stunned. You can imagine the magnitude of the tragedy,” said Bissa. The band pledged to continue, with no hurry to have a new fifth Nickel. They continued to play gigs and write through 2008.
"There is sometimes a tendency for the negative voices out there to get the most play. We're not going to be one of those negative voices. We're going to work hard to make a positive contribution to local music.”
Monday, March 23, 2009
"Still Sour" over Sordid Systems: The Satin Peaches' triumphant return with Morning Maid - 3 / 27 - Blind Pig
(photo: Allison Young)
The four gaunt shadows shimmied down from the 3rd floor bedroom on a string of knotted bed-sheets, arched frames balancing knapsacks as the house burned down. They jumped off onto the concrete slab where they’d been found, knobby knees revealed by tears to the fresh spring air. They dusted the soot off of their rescued cargo: The Morning Maid EP and walked back into the smoke curtained streets of Detroit.
Not that the burning house accurately depicts Island records, no – but it does feel like the Satin Peaches may have escaped (not just their label home, but something else) just in time. More specifically the metaphorical flames are gobbling up a system, or, er…uh, the system, (and not one label) – a crumbling order, an out of touch industry – who seem to be losing more and more bands to more modest, independent outlets to have their music heard. The Von Bondies just snubbed Sire for the humble MajorDomo and now the Satin Peaches have struck out on their own (with SleekSpeek) – and are finally, *sigh*, finally…able to release their EP, Morning Maid, to the world.
But any aim to portray the label dispute in any dramatic manner would be admittedly over-reaching (sorry, too late for this blog) – no, they were more like 4 scraggly Rapunzels. “I think what major labels do is,” said singer/guitarist George Morris, “when they don’t want to do anything with you, they just stop talking to you. And, they don’t care about you anymore, so they just sweep you under the rug. ‘Cuz it doesn’t hurt them at all to still own your record and not put it out…”
The torched system that these four lads (with Morris, bassist Aaron Nelson, guitarist Ryan Wiese and drummer Jeremy Smith) sidestepped, is the same pornographic cad who would instill starry eyed delusions into any young, forgivably naïve artists, petting their doe-eyed heads with one hand and locking them into golden shackles with the other. As did happen, almost perfunctorily, with the Satin Peaches in 2006, starting when the quartet of high school friends who’d just tipped over into college got accosted for demos, judged on the strength of their myspace songs, by an independent label owner from Europe. They were contacted by said label-owner later in the year after he’d wound up as an A&R rep for Island – he checks em out at a show in Detroit and…the whirldwind begins.
“Once one label gets a hold of you, every label starts talking to you,” recalls Morris, now only 22 but speaking in a tone that feels wrung with a bit of healthy, focused cynicism. His mid-high voice sulks on the subject of labels, “We finally settled on Island and it was great for the first couple months, we went on tours and they suck your dick and they take you out for a nice dinner…” but it soars with enthusiasm when we talk about Morning Maid actually coming out… “I’m really happy...because it means we can start doing other things and completely do it our way and I think since then we've been really motivated...”
Their shooting star story was captured nicely by a 2006 Real Detroit cover – with the band, a fresh faced pack of pop-rock upstarts, sitting on a tarmac with a jet waiting for take off, with the headline “…Back To School?” Instead of college, the band toured Europe and the UK and went out to New York to record with Owen Morris (engineer of Oasis-fame). They were sufficiently swept up…And, understandably so: the quartet’s melody-focused indie-punk with spacey-guitars and tone emphasis (just barely harkening to new-wave dream-pop) and visceral fuzzy hooks (tasting like a refreshing contempo-reach-back to 60’s rock), was in high demand through 05 and 06. The Peaches songs, if at that point still rough and written/sung from still developing talents, fit nicely along side the rising tide of new indie/literate college rock like sound/style reference points The Strokes and Broken Social Scene or the ubiquitous Radiohead.
“It was amazing,” Morris’ voice flares, recalling the chance to tour Europe at 19-years-old, still caught up in the spectacle of ‘being signed.’ “I keep looking back on it…as a band, I don’t think we were ready at all.” He recalls sessions with 2 six-week sessions with Owen Morris in upstate New York… “The first week or so we would record and then the next 5 weeks we would just…pretty much party, and self-loath the whole time…and it got to the point where it wasn't even fun anymore, it was just a mad house. But, you just had to keep going. It was a good lesson on how not to do a record; that was the first time we’d ever been in a real studio or anything like that…We went to L.A. and finished it with Dave Sardy. We actually got shit done and it felt good…”
These sessions combined to make Morning Maid, but, ludicrous as it sounds, the band couldn’t quite communicate with their label – which seemed indifferent towards releasing it – so both the band and the EP hung in limbo. Fittingly, the song they’d been planning to release as a single may sum it all up, “Still Sour,” (a fine ditty of danceable beats under chrunchy storming guitars, flickering into shoulder shaking surf-toned hooks under and Morris’ crackly (Bejar-meets-Bowie) coo. “Stiiiiil soooour” his voice burns…then quickly shrugs in a melodic downturn “…I don’t care.”
Morris said that the band learned a lot over the nearly-20-month haul of releasing Maid. Though some promises of a release were made, nothing materialized. “As a band we learned how to play and learned the business a little more and definitely became closer throughout it.”
The band wasn’t dropped, they essentially quit. They wanted their record back. They just wanted to get it out. Morris suspects the band may have quickly grown into something the label hadn’t expected. “We got signed on some really old demos and then we went in the studio and recorded [the Maid tracks]...I don't think they really understood ‘em…”
"I just want to get [Maid] out there for people to start talking about it. It’s strange, we kinda had slightly established ourselves a little bit before we got signed and then we got signed and we pretty much left [Detroit] for 2 years. We played a few shows in Detroit but we were mostly concentrating on the U.K. and things like that…And then that fell through so when we came back it was almost like a fresh start, and that was exciting.”
The band has been playing a slew of shows since last September. “It took us about a month or two to rethink what we were gonna do. We were so used to relying on other people for everything and then we got back and didn’t have it…so there was a month there where we were really like, ‘whoa, what the hell are we gonna do?’ And, then we realized that, now we can really do whatever the hell we want..”
Hence, they’re releasing Maid on fledgling Sleek Speek – a still experimental, yet ambitious project spearheaded by Jesse Shepherd-Bates (former Peach member and leader of JSB Squad) along with fellow young singer/songwriter Mick Bassett (who leads The Marthas). They’ve formed a triumvirate, Shepherd-Bates, Morris and Bassett, three collaborating talents overseeing an online-based label…with a heavy Detroit focus. A label that, as Morris admirably and mystically puts it, “will become whatever it needs to be…” in time.
For now, after seeing the world, the boys are back in town. A tour may come in the summer, but for now, Morris said he and the band will just “…see what comes…”
Upcoming shows: CD Release – The Blind Pig – 3 / 27 with Lightning Love and Mick Bassett & the Marthas
4 / 17 at PJ’s Lager House
Friday, March 20, 2009
Listen on myspace
Sik Sik Nation
3 / 27 Belmont
Gossip Gospel &
First Communion After Party
Local trio hopes to surge the psyche scene:
They'd barely left
Trio Sik Sik Nation had to be in
It exemplifies what bassist Eric Oppitz says of the trio’s principled makeup, “We’re very proactive people.” Singer/guitarist Sean Morrow added, “We’re always trying to one-up ourselves, to advance.”
Sik Sik Nation self-released their debut full length 8 Styles to the Unholy, last spring. Last winter, after some touring through 08, they built their own studio in Oppitz’s basement, sound-proofing the walls, obtaining the equipment, building a computer, installing shelves and laying down pedal boards. Since then, they’ve prepared nearly an album’s worth of material and released a single online for free download.
Listen: "Lord Is My Gun"
Though they valued and enjoyed working with
“We just have more creative control over everything,” said Oppitz, who met Morrow 4 years ago to form Sik Sik Nation, with drummer Rick Sawoscinski. The band was able to prepare, record and release (online) their single in the span of a weekend, on their own terms, at their own pace, with their own mixing.
“Eric and I have been in bands for like 12-15 years, so we’ve been in studios. Just being around studios, seeing what people do. You just get an ear for it and if you have an ear for it you know where things need to be placed.”
The three of us discuss the regrettable act of bypassing studios or engineers, but yet, also, the often unavoidability of it, in this day and age, with the hyperactivity of the internet-music-world. Not to mention, the effects of this veritable economic depression we live in…
“When you’re paying someone else and you’re on their time, it’s very nerve-wracking,” said Sean. “You gotta wash your hands, or take a dump…it’s gets like, alright this is costing me money!”
“You lose that momentum,” said Oppitz. “We can do this and we can do it on our own time. We’ve just released a single and we’re gonna continually release stuff…because we can make good recordings whenever we feel like it and continually release singles. Whatever we want to release, whenever we want...” Oppitz said that that has been the goal, repeating their work ethic buzz word of “continual…”
“We love what we’re doing,” said Morrow. “Getting paid or not getting paied, we love what we’re doing.”
The band charts a dark swirl of hard-rolling, smoky psychedelic rock – that has a gritty garage swagger, classic rock’s relentless pounding mixed with a nice dose of sultry shakeability – electrified by a strong, underlying blues influence. 8 Styles captured a stretch of their work reflecting these shoegazey fuzz-rock ballads and punchy, rhythm-heavy blues. The bands in their constant listening rotation include A Place To Bury Strangers, Black Angels and the Warlocks, as a reference point.
With their newest (as yet untitled) album, Oppitz said, “It’s definitely got that psychedelic experimental aspect…But, it’s definitely got a groove. We’re never gonna abandon melody in songwriting…”
Morrow adds, “It’s gonna have something that someone can shake their ass, tap their foot to or clap along to, we’re never gonna abandon that. But, at the same time, we’re getting away from the straight verse-chorus-verse thing…”
“We had a lot of the blues element [on 8 Styles],” said Oppitz, “that has turned into more of a groove backbone. As opposed to straight up 12-bar-blues type of thing, there’s more of a backbone, more of a groove that rides through the song, with layering the psychedelic and the soundscapes on top of it…”
While singer/guitarist Sean Morrow had time off from his day-job teaching during mid-winter break, they hit the road through the east coast and midwest. Now that they’re home, they thought they’d try to spur some life into the often-under-the-radar psyche scene percolating in
“It’s hard…” said Oppitz of trying to build and connect into the scene, especially for psyche bands – a more mysterious scene comprised of bands who only poke their heads out once in a while, seemingly. We joke about a “proactive” band in a non-proactive genre; or, as Morrow fittingly quips, “We play drug music but we also get up for our work on Monday morning…”
“For us,” said Oppitz, “to get on really eclectic bills [is] fun, but those don’t always necessarily work. Because, [with scenes] you have a pocket here, a pocket there; they come to see THAT band and leave, and people come in to see US and then leave. It works on a level, but I feel like every single show we played on tour, yeah-we ended up playing first – but, people came early and stayed till the end. I feel like that doesn’t always happen here.”
So the trio, modest, earnest…and relentless, continues to forge on, with no real scenester-ins or hot-connections to the hip-spokes of this fickle stratum of
“We’re trying to create more of a scene around ourselves,” said Oppitz.
Tune in next week for more on Detroit's Psychedelic scene: an interview with Tony Thrush from Friends of Dennis Wilson.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Deep Cutz -
State of the Union:
Iraq - six years later
[ed. - No need for my ramblings here... Instead, it's reading day on the blog.
I sincerely hope you find some time today or tomorrow to click some of these many links below - Some provide vital information, news, updates, insight... Some provide ways to get involved Some provide ways to promote peace
(Just right click as many as you can/want and open them in a new window) ]
* from Detroit Free Press, (from the AP) 3 / 19:
Total number of U.S. troops who have died as of Tuesday: at least 4,259.
• from Michigan, 156;
• Total wounded in action as of Feb. 28: at least 31,102.
• Total wounded, including for nonhostile reasons: at least 36,106.
• Total number deaths as of Tuesday: at least 307.
IRAQI CIVILIAN CASUALTIES
More than 91,121 killed since the 2003 invasion, according to the Iraq Body Count database.
• March 31, 2003: 90,000.
• Now: 138,000.
• Month with highest level of troops in Iraq: October 2007, at 166,000.
• Total number of countries at war's beginning, including the United States: 31
• Now: 4 -- United States, Britain, Australia, Romania.
IRAQI SECURITY FORCES
• Total trained and equipped, July 2005: approximately 171,300.
• Total trained to date: 561,159.
COST OF THE WAR
• More than $605 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has approved more than $657 billion so far for the Iraq war.
• In August 2008, the Congressional Budget Office projected that additional war costs for the next 10 years could range from $440 billion to $865 billion.
• Total tab for Iraq war, accounting for continued military operations, growing debt and interest payments and continuing health care and counseling costs for veterans: At least $3 trillion, according to economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.
As of November 2008, there were at least 2.8 million people still displaced inside Iraq.
Six Years of War in Iraq (from Huffington Post)
Obama Loses Phrase "Enemy Combatants," But Detention System Remains the Same (AlterNet)
No More 'Enemy Combatants' -- But Is Obama Merely Rebranding Bush's 'War on Terror'? (AlterNet)
Support Our Troops!
Campaign To Ban Torture
Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors
Educators For Social Responsibility
Iraq Veterans Against The War
Librarians For Peace
Military Families Speak Out
Stop War On Iran
Veterans For Peace
link to Swathmore College Peace Collection:
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
with: Zach Guy - Vocals/Bass Mike Lomerson - Guitar Nick Swanson - Drums/Vocals
A hazy middle ground band (genre-wise) to be sure…but for punks and metal-heads…or for the indie rockers who only try those hats on every other Sunday, this would be a refreshing spin. Among Faith No More, Bad Brains and Sublime, I was also going to name drop Detroit-based Child Bite, as a reference point - hesitatingly at first, but…then figured it would be appropriate considering the two just played a show together at the Elbow Room last week. Lay of the Cid play Mac’s Bar (Lansing) Mar 22 and the Mixtape Café in Grand Rapids, Mar 26.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Will Oldham releases Beware, his eighth proper full length under his most frequent moniker, Bonnie “Prince” Billy just a year after the seventh – Lie Down In The Light. Since then, the ever-mystifying songwriter (with a slew of ravenous blog-ready-followers and more casual literate indie-types who often pigeonhole him) has had to, if a little begrudging and fidgety, come out of his Louisville hideaway and expose himself a bit more to interviews – particularly a characteristically thorough unpacking from the New Yorker.
With Beware coming so closely on the heels of Lie Down, it’s inevitable that the albums would sound, and feel, a bit like brothers, or at least the closing of whatever ellipses unknowingly trailed after last year’s stalwart release. The slightly-sanctimonious, warm fuzzy back-porch string-sawed sways continue, feeling even more immediate in their easy-going temperament (if a bit haunting at times). Beware's distinguishes itself with more tracks that strip down the instrumentation and put the bearded bedraggled voice, in all its wispy-yet-raspy coo and unsettling yearning upfront (“I Won’t Ask Again”). It sets this intimate if strung-out vibe recalling traditional studio-stuck pop artists, where you can just tell their recording at half past 2 in the morning, all coffee scorched and five-o-clock-shadowed.
With Lie Down the lyrics seemed to point inward then outward (many tracks included, in title or lyric, the words "every," "others," "everything," "everyone" "the king of infinite space," "There's my brothers, my girlfriends, my mom and my dad and there's me and that's all there needs to be.") Beware, meanwhile, seems to saunter away from the gathered group and sit down, cross legged for a bit of “me” time, or, rather, “I” time and some “you” time – much more personal lyrics that call out or seek the answers to deep and pained complications of the soul, be it of the narrator, the narrator’s lover or friend… “I’ll likely never know, the answer why…” he sings on the shimmering foot stomper “I Am Goodbye” combining three different guitars and altering tones with flute and violin.
Lie Down likely struck too closely to a straight jangly country thing – which might have jostled Oldham, (a bit noticeably in revealing quotes during the New Yorker piece, for the dutiful music historian and appreciator of varied aspects of rock n roll, be it folk, indie, noise or country…most importantly, that his aim was not just country…or, “Appalachian”) – Beware, in terms of its varying flavors (bongos open up to violins and eventually brazen trumpets and pedal-steel on the playful and fatalistic “You Don’t Love Me.”) These are comfortable stretches though – for any of his followers, more like a welcomed zing added by a dash of spice from certain guitar pedals or a bit more intricate percussion (dig the vibes on “You Can’t Hurt Me Now”), or poignant brass-blared crescendos. Softer lullabies that recall early Elvis or the more melancholy Roy Orbison are distilled of their dated feels and stretched out geographically, away from the twangy southern vibe and given an everyplace feel. Nothing really drives, or bangs or hits the gas and rolls hard – the stimulation is in his quavering rasp and coalescing instrumentation – the constant violin swing and the strum of the acoustic, forming their own sort of mystic and earthy, charmed waltz.
Watch: video for "I Am Goodbye"