Fawn - Fur In Winter
Look for their name and jump to their next show...
(pictured - Secret Twins - photo--Keith-McArthur)
- New Year’s parties can be balls of herky-jerky energy – everyone standing around har-harring about resolutions, waiting to get passed plastic champagne glasses until only 10% of the gathered populace actually acknowledge the countdown at the temporally correct moment and then…what?
Or worse, there’s too many parties to choose from… How ‘bout this – we forget about the countdown and lose ourselves in a whirl of parading bands spanning electro-pop to arty folk to fast punchy punk – and we let you settle in one place and make that choice easy because there will be almost three-whole-concerts-worth of bands lined up at the Magic Stick, a collection reaching double digits. You have the new-wave spurred Silverghost, the stately shuffled folk of Mick Bassett & the Marthas, the surf-tinged psyche of Frustrations, the fast, fibrous punk of Kommie Kilpatrick, krautrock-pop of Computer Perfection, dark metaly garage of The Octopus, groove-ful psyche-blues of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, rough-hewn art-rock of Druid Perfume, intricate atmospheric psyche-rock of Infinity People – and – (pictured above) an up-and-coming Ann Arbor duo called Secret Twins who meld the shambolic shred of 90’s indie with the softer harmony-heavy brushes of indie-tinged neo-folk balladeers. (info)
“Don’t you stress out about missing some golden moment?”
Don’t we all.
It’s a random Monday night, pocketed into a quiet indeterminate time of the year, before the snow falls but the air still tinged with that dagger chill. Josh Malerman and I are at the bar, still bundled, taking sips the same way we’re subconsciously ticking down what few remaining days there are in the year. I tell him how I’m getting deep into those year-end list assignments that some of the various culture screeds I write for require annually, top albums, top songs, and he starts asking me questions.
“How do you start a review? How do you listen? Volume levels? Headphones?”
It bounces back and forth. He is intrigued because my confessions will give him insight into his attackers and admirers, as he sings and plays guitar for a rock n roll band (The High Strung) and has written numerous albums. Combine that with his dozen books that he’s written – and one can understand that, as a creator, he is curious as to the approach critics and listeners take, when they are unpacking his, or any artist’s work.
I tell him that, looking back, there were quite a few decent albums that came out this year – I just hadn’t realized it until now, since, in the heat of it, while I was writing two, three, sometimes four reviews every week, some got lost in the shuffle – and, frankly, needed more of my time.
“I’d be worried that I would miss something…” Josh admits, and I acknowledge that that is always the risk. A lot of these magazine writers, bloggers, what-have-yous are often just whisking through albums these days, rushing through to post it on Web sites with a few MP3’s attached and a few barbed or beloved sentences delivered in what they perceive to be hybrid demeanors of snarky and charming.
“It’s so easy to just gloss over it, simplify it, prematurely wrap it up and label it,” I tell him, giving whatever crumbs of wisdom I could offer from some years of writing music reviews and knowing full well what I and many are guilty of – sometimes out of deadline pressure, but sometimes out of laziness.
But good, useful criticism is far from dead.
Because, while those bloggers who criminally casted off Malerman’s band’s most recent effort as a neo-hippie Grateful Dead-esque lovey pop thing is eating at him, - just as my consciousness of so many of my fellow critics reading things so differently than I would, or my own admitted mis-reads are eating away at me, - we still know, Josh and I, that many writers out there not only get it right, but are able to sufficiently dive into a work and qualify it perceptively.
Stressed by all the exasperating work of re-writes and phone calls he’s had to whirl through in the run-up to the publishing of one of his books, (his first official publication out of ten or so other manuscripts), he sips his whisky and sets it down before declaring, that if it’s this much of a headache’s worth of work to get a book ready, then all I can think of when looking at all the other things I have written is all the re-writing I’ll have to do…
And he wonders aloud, in not so many words, is being prolific a curse or a blessing?
“I used to think it was a bad thing…” he says, “to be prolific. But, now I’m not so sure. Now, I think it’s a good thing.”
“Maybe it is,” I offer. “But, then again…I’ve purposely been not writing as much as I was six months ago. And, ya know, that’s…mostly just because I wanted a bit of a break. But then again, I was worried, sometimes, that writing so many articles each week was straining my writing.”
“Maybe. There is that risk…maybe,” he says.
“But then,” I say, finishing the gin, “I just read something I wrote from six months ago, in the heat of all that blurring ballyhoo, and, I gotta say, unabashedly, it must be one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written. Not that I usually like my own stuff, but yeah, it was actually not bad.”
“See! That’s it, I think…working so much, so steadily, it strains the exercise of the writing, but not the writing itself.”
“Yeah, you just feel tired, mostly.”
“But that doesn’t mean the writing becomes tired…”
“But it can, there’s no way you could go through all that and not put out something halfhearted, at least once or twice. I mean, here we are, the fifth or sixth record review of the week…you start saying, ah well – it sounds like new wave revival, or it sounds like post-punk…”
He references Isaac Asimov and how he wrote or edited upwards to 500 books.
But how many of them were masterpieces? Honestly? Out of 500 shots, do his “masterpieces” also reach the double digits, I mean, are even 100 of those 500 so harrowing and inspiring? No? Yes? C’mon, is he even good enough for 1 out of 5? And, how many of them are revered by his fans – and, for that matter, perhaps most germane to our rant, how many of his fans have read everything he’s ever touched?
How many fans of prolific artists keep up with all their prolific-ness?
The conversation drifts towards Bob Pollard, singer/songwriter from Dayton Ohio, founder/leader of lo-fi-indie-rock godfathers Guided By Voices, of whom I consider myself a great fan (even though I don’t own everything he’s ever done) and whom Josh, also, considers himself a fan, but, can, unlike me, provide special insight into the man as an artist, having toured with him a couple times in the last few years.
In the last 15 years, Pollard has released more than fifteen solo recordings and three EP’s, as well as, if we count that latter part of the 90’s and early 00’s, seven other whole albums with Guided By Voices. (This is not counting the late 80’s and early 90’s…)
“And, I feel like people knock him down for that, or just completely disregard him,” Josh says, shaking his head. “Like, ‘Oh, here’s another one from this guy…’ And next year, it’s just, ‘Here’s another…’
"But he continues making great albums...like, I would probably enjoy whatever the 2nd record that (Pollard) released in the second half of 2007, or whatever, -more than the latest Fleet Foxes record...which is hailed as a masterpiece."
“You’re right…” I offer, “often when Pollard pops up on indie-mags or blog radars, he is given the usual pap and press-release rigmarole and hailed as the creator of the most highly beloved or acclaimed GBV records, like Alien Lanes or Bee Thousand, but the new, latest, of-the-moment-works are often glossed over with this air of, ‘Yeah, this guy was great, or, I mean, still is great, yeah, wasn’t Bee Thousand just so great? Um, this new one is good, some songs sound like Guided By Voices songs, and those songs are good, or those songs fell flat, or…’ And on and on…”
“So, why should being prolific automatically mean you’re disregarded?”
The effect is curious – the implication that if a creator is creating consistently – be it a writer, or a musician, in our case – like, say, one major work a year, that it is too much or too fast for most critics to give themselves over to the work. One year’s output is glossed over with comparisons to last year’s output or shrugged off based on the assumption that the artist will likely have something out the next year, and the year after that, so why waste so much breath exploring all the rooms and detailing all the intricacies of this momentary statement.
Whereas another artist, and many are offered up in our conversation, who only debuts a new work every three or even four years, has the effect, deserved or not, of momentousness. This can, deceptively, create the air of a toiling genius; but one has to wonder how much toiling is actually going on – whilst I can talk to Josh or Josh can tell me about Pollard, about their insane, nigh-regimented approaches to daily writing.
But, to play off of that – listeners and critics easily delude themselves into thinking that it’s just the batting of the eyes for these prolific artists to just sit down and spit something out – thus, the risk of disregard. Like, it’s not a struggle for you, prolific artist, so why should we struggle in dissecting your work…?
We speak about missing something, anything, a moment, or even a whole song, when the critic blurs through album reviews. But what about for listeners trying to tackle the prolifics? We’re going to miss tons just because they continue…and continue.
But is that a bad thing? Well…that’s when the “Auteur theory” comes into play and we start pitting the strengths and weaknesses of a Woody Allen against a Quentin Tarantino…
The idea behind the auteur theory, (as I quasi-haughtily whip out my scribbled notes sponged from my college minor in film studies) is that a director’s work, his whole body of work, or, if you’ll excuse the continued snoot, his “oeuvre,” will maintain their signature style, a continued reflection, or further evolution of their creative vision. To put it bluntly, you know what a Quentin Tarantino film, or Woody Allen film, or Wes Anderson film, or Alfred Hitchcock film will feel like, what characteristics it will have, certain camera angles, long takes, zooms, slo-mos, certain emphases upon soundtrack or point-of-view shots, certain dialogue traits, etc etc… You know because, through their work, you’ve gotten to feel like you know these men, you know their personalities – because their work maintains their signature.
For film and for music – it starts to reveal strange psychological quirks of the listener, as fan, as homebound critic, as digester of culture, to want to consume the artist whole, to obtain a full 360-degree vision of the artist, to compartmentalize them, set up walls for them, define them, know all their works and say – this is it, this is he and this is what he has done and these are his traits and that summarizes my appreciation.
This is much more obtainable when the artist only creates sporadically – like Quentin Tarantino, like Radiohead, like Fleet Foxes – thus that the listener is able to, essentially, “keep up,” and is given time to digest and define. Granted, the works of those named, and many others are often considerably staggering in artistic value and are not without equally staggering fanfare and various other trumpeting from blogs or culture rags or whatever…When they debut their work, veritable red carpets of excitement roll out, the work debuts, people devour it and it is then boxed and defined.
The flipside, for the prolifics, like Woody Allen, who, still past age 70, releases about one film a year, are still able to be defined by their “signature” style, but it is not given the proper fanfare, nor is it properly acknowledged when they do venture out of comfort zones – (for Allen, most recently with the considerably dark “Match Point,” low-key, character study, free of neurotic-themed comedy of past works, and free of the director’s almost traditional self-placed acting role – and with a shocking, flat-out haunting, unsettling, but above-all-provocative, ending.)
A movie like this risks being disregarded because it is “just another” movie from Woody Allen. Well, technically, “In Rainbows” is just another album from Radiohead – but would it have made it so high on a recent NME decade reflective list had it not been for it’s over-built stunt of being offered at a name-your-own-price digital download? “Inglorious Basterds” is just another movie from Quentin Tarantino, but the box office successes of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill guarantee a media machine to glitz-ify any produced trailer for the film to make it into an exciting action-packed blood-stained WWII epic thus that it, supernaturally, speaks to that weird organ in our guts that drives us to engulf the works of “hip” artists so that we can, in a weird way, conquer them.
I conquered In Rainbows and Inglorious Basterds so that I could feel hip, and then spread this hipness through conversation – as it is that most of our chats at bars or coffee shops or when we catch up with old friends, revolve around, ‘So, seen any good movies lately?’ Or, ‘So, whatchya been listenin to?’
The more obscure you're answer, like, say, the 2nd album Pollard released somewhere in the 2nd half of 2007...doesn't quite further conversation and, in fact, probably makes you look like either some militant lover of avant-garde, or as some adversarial evader of mainstream culture, or makes you look like some loser who spends too much time on his lab top reading Wikipedia, or downloading mp3's from equally obscure blogs who love other weird things just because no one's ever heard of it...
Oh, it’s a mess…
But the real tragedy always goes back to – yes, we will miss something, some golden moment, we will miss a lot.
With the prolifics, we will miss even more. And that bothers us.
Shouldn’t we, in some way, rejoice, that there is simply so much, so much out there, to take in; that you could spend a whole year listening to nothing but Pollard’s works during the day and watching Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchock movies at night (and maybe filtering in a few of Josh’s albums and manuscripts) and you’d always have art to take in…Or do you drown in the prolifics if you start swimming too deep?
It’s not far from a butterfly collection, or even baseball cards…A smaller collection of butterflies (the insects being the works of the artist) is made to seem more valuable when it is more flamboyant, flashy, overly dramatic and strategically formed from a hybrid replication of past styles…but a larger collection of random Pollards or Neil Youngs becomes deluded. There’s another: take Neil Young, for example…his most renowned albums still include his earliest works – and yet the man is still a living legend and wherever he goes he receives his due regard; yet newer works are often shrugged or given undue reflection.
Do artists wear out their welcome and suddenly become like houseguests – still hanging around, where you still feel an obligation to them but you just don’t pour as much love or effort upon each new reentrance into the living room of your mind?
I don’t know. You tell me…
We’ll miss something from many, but somehow we chose not to miss anything from some…
That plays upon the other psychological quirk of listeners/fans/critics needing something to revere, a god-like figure like a Beatles, a Dylan or a Hendrix to point to as, what?, proof?, that genius still exists in this post-everything generation…? Why are we always looking for the next Beatles? What’s the use? Do we just want to recreate Beatle-mania? Do we just want another album to make us feel like Sgt. Peppers made us feel?
Josh and Pollard and Young and Allen and Jarmusch and Vonnegut and many more, will not make you feel like Sgt. Pepper made you feel, and you’ll be out of place to scream at them like schoolgirls when they step off the plane from their own Liverpools, but they will make you feel more, if just given the chance.
And while it will either be exasperating to take in all their works, or, just plain impossible, they should still be given the chance.
It might be worthwhile to ponder that old saying, that an artist’s work is never finished, merely abandoned.
Should artist’s be strategic, and aim for spectacle? Try to spur spectacle? Or should they merely create, free from showy agenda, merely create…and continue…and continue again?
The Hard Lessons
The Satin Peaches
Mick Bassett and the Marthas
A Kroha Family Smithmas
Allan James and Cold Wave
The Pop Project
"He (man) is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
When you come to Mittenfest, you get this feeling – like warm sweater-wrapped arms hugging you, pulling you in and maybe spilling some beer onto your shoe as the breathless shout comes into your left ear over the blaring amps, eyes glitzed by the laser light show igniting the cozy, soggy-carpeted space.
It is, above all, as singer/guitarist Matthew Milia put it, a welcoming into the Michigan music fold – a feeling none of our other commendable local festivals has yet accomplished. And, as festival founder/organizer Brandon Zwagerman assures, “The feeling’s forever.”
This the fourth annual Mittenfest, a 4-night benefit show featuring 40 local bands, that will takes over the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti, from New Year’s Eve through January 3, with proceeds going to Ann Arbor based non-profit tutorship organization 826 Michigan to support their work with local students in promoting creativity, helping with homework and hosting workshops.
Picture it: It’s snowing outside, sidewalks slippery, the wind’s a villain, yet, inside there’s bodies everywhere, dancing or swaying, and you’re drunk - not only on the suds flown from the dimly lit bar, but on the vibrant enthusiasm and familial love blushing from soul to soul as you fully take in the might of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti scene.
Whereas the lifeblood of Mittenfest originally flumed (and undoubtedly still flows) from the strong cells of the Arbor/Ypsi scene’s veins, it is pumped by the heart of Michigan itself, which includes the west side, the pinky, the thumb, the U.P. and Detroit, all coming together.
“Brandon (Zwagerman) didn't play in a band, but he was a big part of the music scene,” said Amy Sumerton, 826 Michigan program director and once-performer with prized folk collective Canada. “He booked shows and was good friends with lots of local bands. Then (in 06), he moved to NYC. When he came home for the holidays, he wanted to see all his favorite local bands. And thus was born Mittenfest.”
“I was feeling a little homesick,” Zwagerman recalls of that fateful return in 06. Zwagerman said he was always an avid show-goer during his days at U of M. He would host unamplified backyard shows (“Madisonfests”) at his home at Madison House, while also dabbling with arranging shows on campus (at the “Halfass”/East Quad Music Co-OP and with the New Beat Happening group) as well as loft-set fundraisers – “Arbourfests.”
While in NYC, during the fall of 06, his old friends from Canada, and singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate swung through for CMJ. He organized a show for that winter to get “the old gang” back together to play the Corner Brewery before Christmas.
She continues, “(the first one) was at the Corner Brewery, and featured a day's worth of mostly-acoustic sets. Matt Jones, I remember, was a highlight. He did an INCREDIBLE set with Carol Gray on violin and Collette Alexander on cello.”
“It’s cool,” said folk-leaning songwriter Jones who attains a 4 for 4 attendance record, “each year I get moved later and later in the night. I met Brandon the same way everybody else met Brandon, through his house shows…when I first met him, I just thought…he was a serious nerd!” He chuckles, admitting, “I’m into nerds,” but that he worried he’d show up at Madison and be flanked by MBA’s. And, yet, the doors opened and the house wound up packed to the gills, and Jones quickly grew close with Zwagerman.
Jones simultaneously wonders and remarks at the man’s preternatural promotional skills, doubly admiring that with Mittenfest there’s “something good behind it,” with 826. “He’s just an awesome dude…a lot of us would be screwed without him.”
And when Jones says “us,” the tacit implication seems to be Arbor/Ypsi bands, which include Chris Bathgate, Misty Lyn and the Big Beautiful, Charlie Slick, Great Lakes Myth Society…, but, as we said, Mittenfest opened up to Detroit last year, welcoming acts like space-rock-folksters Prussia, electro-punkers Carjack and synth-surged dance-poppers Champions of Breakfast. “Brandon and Andy Garris over at The Elbow Room," said Jones, "are responsible for so much stuff that’s happening for this…,well, I would include Detroit bands too, but this Ann Arbor and Ypsi scene definitely. Andy, that guy, is just a crazy motherfucker, the most charismatic person probably in our little scene and he doesn’t even play music. Brandon promotes the stuff and Andy just makes it a blast.”
The line up this year includes comebacks from Great Lakes Myth Society, Frontier Ruckus, Jones – of course, as well as new comers like the Friendly Foes and Child Bite (from the Detroit area), and also, only-so-recently-lost-Ann-Arbor luminary Scott Sellwood of Drunken Barn Dance – who made a now-famous whiskey toast to the inspirational marvel of Michigan’s talent and the inevitable recognition that would someday be poured upon it’s uniquely, acrobatically creative artists and their the staggering dedication to their works and to each other. Or, as Sellwood summarized in a recent Current Magazine interview: “this is the finest, most spirited and talented collection of artists that I’ve ever been a part of, backed by an attentive and supportive audience that should be the envy of all scenes large and small. If everyone keeps offering themselves in this way, the nation will eventually tune in. Such attention isn’t necessary to make this scene special – it is already very special – but that’s an indication of how deeply I regard the musicians here.””
Year two was both “ambitious” and “disjointed.” It involved a night at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor followed by a transition to Ypsilanti, with an afternoon at the Corner Brewery and then a night show at the Elbow Room. “While the Pig is a bigger place," admits Zwagerman, "the Elbow Room felt like a home; Andy, the owner, is a great guy and donated a nice chunk to 826 on top of what was taken at the door.”
Year three settled into the Elbow Room – and the glowing results made choosing a set location of # 4 an easy one. “Even for the first act, each night, the room was buzzing,” said Zwagerman of year-three, “Mittenfest had apparently taken hold of the local consciousness…”
The line ups:
DEC 31: Chris Bathgate, Matt Jones & the Reconstruction, Electric Fire Babies, White Pines, Annie Palmer, The Ferdy Mayne, Elle and the Fonts, This is Deer Country, Stargrazer, Hallway, dance party till 4 with DJ Todd Osborne
(semiformal attire encouraged on NYE – tickets are $9 for 12/31 ($7 all other nights) or $25 for all four)
JAN 1: Great Lakes Myth Society, Silverghost, Lightning Love, Champions of Breakfast, Fields of Industry, Prussia, Ghostlady, Ghost Heart, The Juliets, Timothy Monger
($7 or $25 for all-four-days)
JAN 2: Drunken Barn Dance, Friendly Foes, Black Jake & the Carnies, Jim Roll, Spitting Nickels, Ethan Milner, Nathan K, Child Bite
($7 or $25 for all-four days)
JAN 3: Fred Thomas, Frontier Ruckus, Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful, Secret Twins, Small Houses, Anna Ash, Alex Greiner, The Photographers, Landfill Mountain Boys, Whiskey Bottle (Scott Sellwood/Jim Roll Uncle Tupelo cover band!)
($7 or $25 for all-four days)
“It brings together the music community in a way no other festival can,” said Sumerton. “By which I mean to say: most musicians who play Mittenfest come to the other shows, and it feels like everyone's supporting everyone.”
And, Jones notes its ability to spread awareness for 826 (and non-profits in general). Any band or fan walking through the doors can then learn more about the organization and many get involved.
“We have a volunteer force of over 300 active volunteers now, and several of them will be playing Mittenfest,” said Sumerton. Since they opened in 05, bands like FrontierRuckus, Mason Proper and more have played benefit shows for 826, with Chris Bathgate teaches a songwriting workshop.
Sumerton stresses the vitality and praises the dedication of 826’s volunteers. The organization publishes two books of student’s writings each year along with ‘zines and catalogs, even installing student poetry on to Ann Arbor buses.
Plus, says Zwagerman, with the recession, non-profits are getting hit hard – and they need the care and support more than ever – only increasing Mittenfests purpose. But, aside from great live music and a great cause, Zwagerman, as well as Sumerton, GLMS, Frontier Ruckus, Jones, Sellwood, he and all of them always go back to the feeling of camaraderie.
“You see everybody you know, plus 1000 other people you don’t know and by the end of the night you’re all pretty much pals. There’s always that inter-band-drama-crap, but that just gets erased by getting together, in the winter, in that hole of a bar and just drinkin yourself shitty.”
“What a tradition,” Milia of Frontier Ruckus exclaimed, taking pride in their respective 4-for-4 record. “It’s existence brings us such joy and we can only see it snowballing into something huger and huger each year. Our first year, we were definitely the new kids on the block and were so giddy to be welcomed into the Michigan music fold. The magic of the event, and of the season really, is that if you’re lucky, that giddiness returns each year with a similar strength. It’s great to see old favorites performing next to all the new bands just starting out—the continuum of Michigan art in the warm holiday cheer.”
“This,” said GLMS’ Timothy Monger, “will be our second Mittenfest (as a band), although our guitarist Greg McIntosh has been appearing as a solo artist since the festival’s inaugural year. Last year’s show was one of the best times I have had playing music with GLMS…a sweaty, boozy, raucous sing-along of epic proportions.”
“Champions of Breakfast was so great last year,” said Sumerton, “I actually ruined a pair of shoes because the crowd was dancing so crazy.” She continues, “(Canada) played two Mittenfests and the show we played the second year was one of the best shows we ever played. The place was packed and it was the sweetest, most supportive audience ever, and a bunch of people from other bands joined us onstage for our last song. It was…pretty special.”
Other memories, Brandon? He rattles off: “…the entire crowd yelling along to most every word of GLMS' set last year, a capacity crowd listening in rapt silence to Fred Thomas' set last year, Matt Jones' haunting songs give me chills every year. The first time I ever encountered Champions of Breakfast! My jaw was on the floor the whole set.”
“Mittenfest IV,” said Sellwood, “will be Drunken Barn Dance’s third…in many ways, last year’s show was the coming out party for the current line-up and we’re thrilled beyond words to be back playing, drinking and hollering with our friends.”
“Mittenfest,” said Friendly Foes singer/guitarist Ryan Allen, “… never been, but we're into any festival celebrating hand warmth... oh, wait... it's a local band festival, you say? What the fuck? Somebody lied to us!”
DC wanted to give you some updates on a handful of players throughout the nights of Mittenfest –
Matt Jones “finally” released his spooky old-world-tinged folk epic The Black Path in February this year, a self-released effort that was received warmly locally and nationally. He is currently writing and arranging the follow-up, in the back of a van or on floors or in restaurants as he tours the Midwest and east coast before returning to Mittenfest. He is planning on recording in late winter with renowned A2 boardman Jim Roll; “a little more intricate, the melodies being the most important part – as they always are” and “I just want them to stand on their own two legs,…smaller, more compact.” Look for those recorded efforts to release in late Spring, tentatively.
The Friendly Foes celebrate two years this month, and recently released the So Obscene 7”/EP – as a follow up to 08’s debut full length Born Radical. The unabashed-90’s-indie-rock loving power trio welcomed Sean Sommer on drums and “he’s really added a great dynamic to the band,” assured Allen, “and our (with bassist/singer Liz Whittman) friendship and closeness have grown considerably because of it. Plus, he brings the red-head quotient of the band up to 2 now, so we’re giving those Lucas sisters a run for their money.” So Obscene is out, at shows or online—iTunes or Gangplank Records site. More shows on the horizon: “We’re going to continue to piss the right people off, play loud as fuck and make the funniest jokes.” Their 4 songs deep into a second full-length, and have found considerable progression. “Now, instead of sounding like 1995, we’re thinking ahead, and focusing more clearly on the year 1996 as a primary influence!”
Frontier Ruckus toured “the better part of the year” from May through November, reaching new US spots and heading to Europe for the first time to feature songs from their rich, ornate odyssey The Orion Songbook (from 08). Singer Milia rattles off highlights: “full-contact games of soccer in nighttime gas-station parking lots; Indian food on Brick Lane in London; performing in a 14th-century medieval church in north Holland for the enthusiastic townsfolk; playing at a festival in Norway overlooking a lake and countryside on the top of a windy hill with a castle turret; occupying haunted hotels of the old southwest; getting stranded in L.A. for days with great company; the kids in Denton, TX; every person we met who drove a distance with excitement to see us; etc.” Songbook’s follow-up is in the works and should be out on Ramseur Records by summertime, including big seasonal festivals. “We're just counting our blessings that people have been showing us increasing support and appreciation, giving us cause to continue writing songs and sharing them.”
Great Lakes Myth Society, meanwhile, are recording their third full length, as they wind down what Monger declares “a growing type of year for us. We’re taking our sweet time to develop the material and try some new directions.” They’ll be recording more through the early months of ’10, followed by an eventual tour.
Child Bite hit the road numerous times through the first half of 09, presenting material from 08’s Fantastic Gusts of Blood. They furled their fuzzy faces up all nice and purdy to compete in the Anchorage-set World Beard and Mustache Competition (with more touring still), and then released three 7”’s with three different respective flipside-partner bands – and…more touring.
Drunken Barn Dance finished a new record, their first as a full band. “We recorded 17 songs in 8 hours and picked the ten best,” said Sellwood. “The songs range from old to brand new, presented as close to the live performances as possible (with games and care taken to duplicate drunkenness, darkness, nerves, etc of stage show).” There’s also a new 7” coming in ’10 on Leroy Street Records. Highlights include Keewenawesomefest, CMJ, a summer of backyard-Brooklyn-shows and, “in all honesty, that 2 hour Phonotropic jam (in July 09), where we truly spread out and let the songs wind where they may. Several songs took on new life after that show and that’s exactly how we want the band to change over time.”
Random other bits?
Get there early on the first day to see the 2nd-only-performance from up and coming soul/rock group -
-Hallway – as singer/guitarist Jeffrey Freer put it, “’50’s style 2 ½ minute pop songs melded to a modern indie rock sound. I love Motown, Blur and the Beatles – you can use your imagination.”
Elsewhere – and, off the top of my head- Charlie Slick, Lightning Love and Prussia are all developing (or finishing) new records – and Champions of Breakfast also have new songs up their glitzy sleeves.
For more info:
(photos top to bottom: -Frontier Ruckus -Matt Jones (photo by Doug Coombe) -Great Lakes Myth Society -Scott Sellwood of Drunken Barn Dance -Brandon Zwagerman)
There’s blood on the floor, a burlesque dancer clad in baby blue to one side and an on the other there’s enchanting songstress belting a dreamy ballad dressed in a mouse costume.
“…who doesn’t want to climb into the rabbit hole and abandon this decadent and dilapidated wolves den we live in?” posits singer/songwriter Drew Bardo. “It’s going to be a New Year’s weekend to be remembered if you spend your time in Wonderland.”
The brutal with the beautiful, the scary with the soft…
…an immortal story pared to its roots in proto-psychedelia – the surrealist circus freak collective
of Theatre Bizarre rallied on the 5th floor of the Russell Industrail Center last spring to let loose their charming and disarming take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, culling together a wide-arc of unique talents, from burlesque, to exotic, to break-dancing, from musicians of the local rock scene, to artisans of the canvas and costume design. The cast and crew reprise Wonderland for three nights, New Year's Eve, Jan 2nd and 3rd at Hastings Street Ballroom.
Longtime show-organizer and Theater Bizarre stage manager Casey Miller found 60 seconds of free time one night to come out from back stage and watch the live onstage performance of Wonderland, the show he was directing, and grinned with satisfaction at the wave of energy (enthralled, fascinated, disturbed, disgusted, mesmerized), pulsing through the crowd, as Pend Suspension’s Daveyhooks and Kaz, as the Mad Hatter and March Hare, floated six feet up in seated positions, hooks in their knees and backs, teaspoons up their noses.
“I wanted it to be a trip,” said Miller, who has long admired Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of suggestive psychedelia and the liberating/frightening power of madness. “Every artist took their performance to another level.” Miller, who cut his teeth organizing/directing wrestling shows as Squared Circle Revue and Revolucha is an advocate of performances being social experiments – not only reimagining presentation (through Wonderland’s built-from-scratch stage with ceiling pulleys flanked with church pews) but as explorative dialogue between performer and audience – how will an audience react to an Alice-themed party with burlesque, vaudeville, pyrotechnics, and suspension hooks?Miller admitted that he wasn’t sure many people would even show up – and yet, dozens had to be turned away some nights after it filled to capacity before the curtains rose.
McCombs, who works in live multimedia performance with Los Minstrels Del Diablo, said he was excited to have the giant projected story book (a feature he developed with his cousin, Dunivant) be able to be seen by the entire audience, this time around, as opposed to some of the standing-room limitations of the Russell.
“It’s a growing project,” said McCombs. “If Wonderland is gonna live on and be a thriving production it has to survive in a legitimate theatre, ‘playing by the rules.’”
“It was a giant mystery whether or not we could pull all these elements and people together to make this show come to life,” said Bardo, who began writing with Ltief before dress rehearsals.
The presentation was classy, fairly traditional, but wholly head-spinning. A balloon dance represented
“I tried to book it like a variety show,” said Miller. “They have to all make sense but they don’t have to be word-for-word-anything – here’s your introduction and here’s your exit and then you have your act. Do a little bit of action so emotion flows from your character and then, do your thing (be it song, dance, or more experimental), whatever it may be…”
Miller recruited these performers from all the unconscious field research he’d conducted by going to see their individual shows and thus befriending them. Much of Wonderland is giving each artist space to let their freak flags fly – but merely putting it in the context (costume, set design and concept) of Wonderland’s story.
Though it aimed for melting minds, it was still a traditional theatre experience – which was fresh for the more sideways approach of Miller (with wrestling and Theatre Bizarre shows). “There’s all different types in this show, and everyone was really cool. A lot of people kinda looked at me like I was crazy, but they just didn’t know what was gonna happen.” Indeed, trust was a key factor – the carnival of different performers putting trust in their imaginative orange-topped director, trust in the integral live band’s ability to keep the energy flowing through utilizing improv, and trust from Miller and McCombs (who admittedly saw Wonderland as their baby) to let considerable responsibility go into the hands of others, as the duo, with Dunivant, devoted themselves tirelessly to its production; for Miller, it was difficult but eventually relieving to welcome helping hands.
The performance was recorded in HD, with editor/videographer Per Franchell, and will be available as a feature film on DVD, for sale at the New Year’s weekend performance. Hastings Street Ballroom, like the show’s performers, was a place Miller had scoped long ago, dreaming of its potential; now he’s excited to bring the show to a traditional theatre environment. “But it can still feel like a dark dingy
Indeed, the implicit star of the show is
Miller and McCombs agree that, if the future holds more reprises and even an eventual tour of their wonderland show – then
This time around, Miller is satisfying a personal vendetta against the often anti-climactic bust of general “new year’s parties.” Rabbit-hole tumblers will enter the Wonderland gallery, curated by KT Andresky, featuring numerous pieces inspired by Carroll’s story. Singer/songwriter Audra Kubat will perform in the gallery with a plethora of toy instruments. Local chef and pastry-artist Sarah Lachowski will be cater the gallery with staggeringly decorated confections made to be interactive with the story, mushrooms, roses, caterpillars and overall deliciousness. As midnight approaches, all will gather at the stage to receive their champagne – the countdown begin leading to an explosive celebration of indeterminate messiness and only then do we officially start the “madness” of the performance.
Bardo praised the “litany of creative minds” dedicatedly working together to “pull off a show of this caliber: “…from Casey & Jason producing the show-- to Me & Rabeah writing all the music and creating the sonic mood of the performance-- to Roxi as Alice-- and all the other actors and dancers- to the talented Jamison- Ted- and Libertine doing the many voices of the show-- to Kate designing all the costumes-- to sound guy Nick-- John Dunivant doing all the stage art and design.”
An initially “run and gun, underground, guerilla, rock-n-roll style” production, evolving into an ornate and mind-blowing adventure in burlesque, vaudeville and psychedelic music, settles into the Hastings Street Ballroom for, as Bardo puts it, “version 2.0”
Hastings Street Ballroom – 715 East
Well, it’s not real warm right now it’s raining and cold. It's probably not that much different from Michigan at this point [Laughs].
Well, it feels good to hear something that is R&B, soul and hip-hop influenced that isn’t using auto-tune.
[Laughs]. I’d have to agree with you on that.
I don’t really think about it too much. I’m not one to knock what’s popular, if that’s what people want more power to them. But I’ve always thought that most of the songs that I’ve heard that are using auto-tune I’d like them better if they just sang it. And even for me I listened to Kanye’s 808s album where he used auto-tune the entire album and I personally enjoy real singing a lot more even if it's not great singing I'd much rather hear someone not sing it that well than hear it through auto-tune. It feels more genuine that way.And it’s funny when you got someone like R. Kelly that actually has a good voice and is using auto-tune. It’s like wait a minute!
Yeah, there are a lot of artists like that. T-Pain is actually a pretty solid vocalist. He can sing well without the auto-tune so yeah it’s confusing but that’s what’s crackin’ right now.
When I go through my iTunes your record always follows-up Maxwell’s BLACKSummers'Night. Both you guys put out really fantastic albums. I was wondering if you had a chance to listen to his record and what do you think of what he’s doing right now?
I have a great deal of respect for Maxwell. I haven’t had a chance to really dig into his album but I was extremely impressed at his numbers when his album dropped this year. I’m not an industry stats guy but I remember it being one of the highest selling albums for the first week that it was out and that was really impressive to me, being an artist that hasn’t been in the spotlight for a while.You and Deastro have been the two artists from Detroit that were nominated for Pitchfork's new artist of the year. I think in Detroit most people, in 2008 and 2007, if they were betting on the next big thing to come out of the area, they were definitely thinking Randy Chabot/Deastro. It seems that even though his album was great you’ve had the most success this year and I was wondering how you feel about that?
Well, all I can say is that I am just as surprised as everyone else; I mean it’s been a really wild ride this past year since I’ve been with Stones Throw. I don’t think anyone that I know could’ve ever predicted how much attention this project would receive and how well it would do so it’s thrilling and surprising for me.
Deastro is so heavily tied to Detroit and people were betting on him. You’re in L.A. and you’re having all this success, do you think if you were still in Detroit you would be having the same amount of success?
All right, this is a two-part answer. Part one is that I’ve spent the majority of my life in Detroit really working my ass off to make it in music and to make music for a living. I moved to L.A. about four years ago with the same goal in mind, to make it in music and I don’t think that I would be where I am today if I hadn’t made that move to Los Angeles. But I think a big part of my success has to do with my years that I spent in Detroit and the attitude and work ethic that was instilled in me from growing up in that area and working there for so long.
I get you.
When I moved out to L.A. I brought Detroit with me and everything that I do I’m representing Detroit.So how does it make you feel that a guy who lives in Detroit, he’s working really hard and is doing as much as he can and he goes to L.A. and all of a sudden it’s easier?
It’s something that I’ve thought about a great deal and it’s something that I’m really personally hoping that I can change. One of the big goals for me with this music is hopefully I can really shine some more light on Detroit and help turn things around there.
I was watching that video where you covered M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” and I’m like “This is dope, he’s like the hipster/hip-hop culture’s answer to Michael Bublé.”
Michael Bublé! [Laughs]. That’s funny cause I was just talking about that guy the other day and thinking about how cool it would be to record an album like that but to make it cool. Cause Michael Bublé’s insanely popular right now…But he’s not the coolest guy...
Yeah, “cool” is definitely not one of the adjectives that I’d used to describe him. But I’ve been really thinking about recording that sort of pop-vocal Sinatra-style Tony Bennett album.
I think that be really dope.
I’d love to do it.
Would that be the next move? What do you want to do next with Mayer Hawthorne?
Well, I’m gonna be touring for a long time to support this album. There’s so many people out there who have still never even heard of Mayer Hawthorne so I’m gonna really focus on getting the most out of this album and introducing as many people as I can to this music. But the formula for the future is the same as it is now and it’s just to have as much fun as possible and to do whatever feels right so if that means doing a Michael Bublé then that’s what it’s gonna be.
Do you change your fashion as Mayer Hawthorne changes?
That’s interesting because even when I was making hip-hop music in Detroit I think anyone who’s ever come to see a Now On or AML [Athletic Mic League] show knows that I’ve always sorta dressed this way. Even as a hip-hop DJ I was wearing argyle sweaters, collared shirts and ties so whatever I’m doing I always like to keep it classy.When you don’t follow a trend you stay timeless.
It’s important for me to update it always. I’m wearing a lot of vintage suits but I always rock it with a pair of Air Jordans, you know, something that brings it to 2010.
Have you had a chance to record with Ghostface or The Roots cause I read that’s something you were trying to do?
I have not but I did multiples show with both Ghostface and The Roots.
How does it feel to do shows with them?
It’s incredible. Those are artists that I’ve looked up to for years.
Most of the album deals with love songs; it’s heartbreak and the giddiness of romance. What’s the inspiration? Do you have a love interest?
Well, I mean yeah, I’m a regular guy just like everybody else. [Laughs]. I’ve had my share of love and relationships, triumphs and heartbreak. But I think the main thing, for me, I’ve been making hip-hop music for the past ten years and hip-hop doesn’t deal well with love and relationships, it’s always sorta awkward. Hip-Hop is a very raw and chauvinistic form of music; it’s not easy to make love songs in rap. So I think all of those songs have been building up over the years and now that I have an outlet to get those emotions out they’re all flooding out now.
So you’re more of a gentleman then?
This show on December 19th seems like it’ll be your biggest Detroit show ever, like a holiday homecoming.
[Laughs]. I hope so. I’m super excited. On our recent U.S. tour we didn’t have a date in Detroit and I was really upset about that so this is sorta a redemption for me, something I’ve been looking forward to for a really long time.
In this city, there’s this post J-Dilla cloud that lingers sometimes. But there seems to be even more success now, you and Black Milk are doing incredible things. Do you think you guys are making whatever dreams Dilla had come true?
Dilla is a legend. He’s one of the all time greats and he opened a lot of doors for artists in Detroit. I think what he instilled in myself and artists like Black Milk is the creativity aspect. Dilla was a guy who never did what other artists did, he did his own thing. He always kept things extremely creative, new and fresh. He was extremely innovative and I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve taken from him.When you were on the cover of the Metro Times a couple months back they did a photo shoot with you in front of Hitsville and I thought “Wow, that’s a pretty bold statement.” How did that feel?
Well, I wasn’t even alive during the hey-day of Motown and I remember when we were taking those photos they wouldn’t even let us inside to shoot so we shot out front. But that to me was sorta like a message: it’s time to move on and to come up with something new. Hopefully people listening to my album feel like it’s something new and it’s progression. It’s really important for me that this new generation that’s listening to my music doesn’t feel like it’s there parent’s music. //DC//