In the summer of 1999, a band of outsiders, made up of about two dozen musical misfits, crammed into a basement in Commerce Township...where they plugged in amplifiers and took up instruments. They recorded a live album, round-robin style; jamming, drinking, rocking and rolling until four in the morning.
This ceremony was known as the “Wang Dang Doodle” and it’s where Loco Gnosis was born. The live album reinterpreted Willie Dixon’s bellicose blues cut and conjured their own battle royal of ballads; a rock n roll ricochet in the spirit of a saloon slugfest; it was the zenith of sporadic sessions through the 90’s, shared between old high school buddies from Walled Lake Central, including pitch-ins from other satellite songwriters.
Two days later, the White Stripes released their debut album, thus helping initiate this town’s famed garage rock explosion – Before it got going though, Jeff Howitt, the soon-to-be founder of Loco Gnosis, upped sticks and moved out to Phoenix.
(Pinkeye photo, above, by Chris Zagaki)
It’s galvanized a varied network of musicians throughout southeast Michigan to continue in what its chieftain Jeff Howitt reveres most: the hallowed/notorious lineage of Detroit rock n roll.
Fast forward five years to January 2006. “I guess I was just trying to light a bonfire,” Howitt said of organizing the Loco Gnosis’ “Township Revue” at the Masonic Temple. The event featured fourteen bands, from the then-established Scott Morgan’s Powertrane and Scotty Karate, mingled with then-up-and-comers like Oscillating Fan Club, Red China, Molly Jean and Carjack, (<-pictured below, photo: Trever Long)
“At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was in flux,” Howitt said. “I was more focused, then, on us building a fire together that night. It was interesting to see these people become friends. I intuited correctly that all these bands would get along and something would come out of it. It was a whole different cast of players.”
Loco Gnosis (translated: “crazy wisdom”), as a label (of sorts) would slowly take shape into a loose collective, an umbrella banner for a revolving network of ego-less/un-pretentious “music fans” (who happened to be musicians) steadily spurring each other on to start following their muses and put their songs down to tape.
Five years later, it’s helped forge forty releases, a dozen expansive festivals and a web of collaborators and loose affiliates spanning this city’s cultural movers and shakers, be they contemporaries or living legends.
“When the main man (Howitt) came back to town from Arizona,” said songwriter Lance T. Sanders, “he had this grand idea of documenting this strange music that was coming out of his hometown.” Sanders performed at the 1999 Wand Dang as well as summer 2005’s Wang Dang Doodle 2 (at Planet Ant). His flagship band, Bored Housewives (pictured above), co-headlined the January 06 “Township Revue.” “From that point on, (Loco Gnosis0 became this huge collective of musicians, artists, writers, picture-takers…and I’ve dug being apart of it.”
“All of a sudden, there’s this new breed of weirdo…” Howitt said, recalling his epiphany at the second Wang Dang in 05. “…that, I know all these musicians that don’t sound like anything that’s popular or like anything that anybody knows…but, (also), these pockets of musicians don’t hang out together.”
Howitt spent his first year with Loco Gnosis (06), “trying to whip this group of people into recognizing itself.”
“It wasn’t that there wasn’t a place for us…it’s that we had to create it.”
Loco Gnosis seems like it was never its own thing, but many things. Contracts were set aside early on and replaced with handshakes; there was no overarching style throughout its catalog (even if psychedelic and roots rock seemed prevalent); there was no ostensible cliquey quartering—LG would throw shows featuring Silverghost, Prussia or even Dan Kroha (Gories) and John Sinclair—it didn’t aim to be a repeating carousel.
“What I’ve always enjoyed most about Loco Gnosis,” said experimental recording artist Mike Ross, “and about the city of Detroit-at-large, is that anything can happen at any time and you can work without a rulebook to make what you want to make.” Ross, along with Bored Housewives singer/guitarist Lance T. Sanders, also contributed to both Wang Dangs, founded noisy art-rock trio Red China and now runs Algae Tapes & Records. “I think that’s true anywhere, but I think people realize and utilize this information more in Detroit, because there’s never really been anything set in place.”
Ross helped found the Pinkeye Orchestra in 2007; an ambitious, amorphous project serving as a freak jazz clinic / veritable Loco Gnosis all-star’s revue, exploding/destroying/rebuilding cover songs. Pinkeye recorded a live album with John Sinclair, at Corktown Tavern, on the eve of Tiger Stadium’s demolition.
“We’ve always had to make it up as we go along,” Ross continued, “and that sort of improvisation is what leads to real revelation. That’s the ethos that Loco Gnosis started out with.”
“Sometimes people can learn from failure,” Howitt said, “and sometimes people can learn from inspiration.” He references Whitman’s writings upon what waits “intrinsically” in oneself, when he recalls his own self-publishing of his poems from age 19 – connecting, now, 20 years later, to his musical pursuits and Loco Gnosis’ own relationship to the DIY-ethos. “Even if somebody might do it better, somebody still had to walk into the canyon first. I might have an idea and I might not execute it the best way, but if my failing in your eyes allows you to see your thing better, I’ll take it.”
“DIY is a great concept, but you still have to do the work; because if you haven’t done it, then you’re ultimately unchallenged and un-judged. Even if my shit sucks, I’d rather be known for it sucking, instead of: it could have sucked…”
Loco Gnosis could have happened; all of Howitt’s musical misfit friends could have started to finally mingle and collaborate on new projects; there could have been a loose label of sorts that acted as, interchangeably, a beacon of new ideas in psychedelic art & music, or like a base camp for a band only stopping along its way up the mountain. Well, it all did. Because each member, Howitt included, pushed each other out there, committing to it.
“(Howitt)’s always paid respect to the lineage, the tradition of great Detroit rock n roll,” said Lo-fi Bri, a.k.a. Carjack. “He and I, and all of our buddies around Walled Lake and Commerce, had been doing things under the radar for 10 years prior. Originally, he had the impetus to document his friends, to capture this stuff that he and his friends were working on, but it eventually blossomed into this whole other scene of musicians. Eventually it became…well, not a label, but, a collective of friends. We were always just fans of music.” Lo Fi Bri spent many basement sessions with Howitt, through the late 90’s; the pair of them sharing formative experimental writing/recording sessions to eventually help develop their own work.
Howitt points to 2007 as a golden year for the label. Original participants like Sanders and Ross started drifting away, one to raise his family, the other to develop other projects; while some, like the Hotwalls or Siddhartha, moved away or took sabbaticals.
Meanwhile, Lo-Fi Bri, was gaining steam with his project, Carjack; the Oscillating Fan Club had their debut EP released in what was a formative year for them and a band of mostly unknowns from the west side started showing up at Loco-friendly gigs, playing loud, exhilarating instrumental music and calling themselves Wildcatting (pictured below, photo by Lo-fi Bri) later to become Bars of Gold).
Other bands started drifting toward the label, either as official roster members, loose affiliates or just simply persistent LG-festival performers, from Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program, to Woodman, to Silverghost, to the Questions, Freer, and Electric Lion Soundwave Experiment, to Dutch Pink, Prussia, Marco Polio & the New Vaccines, and up to more recently, with High Speed Dubbing, Pewter Cub, Rogue Satellites, Eleanora and Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor.
Wildcatting’s arrival paired with Oscillating Fan Club’s surge through 07 seemed to galvanize the label, to finally make it “a thing.”
Wildcatting drummer Brandon Moss and OFC singer/guitarist Ray Thompson became “defacto generals in the field,” helping to further Loco Gnosis, in roster-size, in notoriety, in integrity, and in festival coordination. Other local musicians stepped up to add grease to the gears with whatever needed to be done, including Frank Lee and Jason Worden (who would go on to form Forget Recordings).
“(Loco Gnosis) didn’t require a hard-fast membership," Howitt said. "You could participate on multiple levels.”
Through 06 and into 07, Howitt had decided to sideline some of his other writing projects and go full steam and embrace his role as quasi label-head. “I became interested in trying to get bands from the outside—in, because we’re fans. We’re not trying to make something that you can’t get into…”
But as he gained assistance from more “generals,” he was able to foster his own flagship band, Duende. Duende, currently a four piece with Laura Willem, Joel McCune and Scott Sandford, formed indirectly out of an experimental jam band from 2005, called The Loco Gnosis Band. After that, in mid 2006, Howitt tried realigning that band and jammed with Ryan Milligan (of the Hotwalls) George Cortez, Sanders and Willem, eventually christening it Duende – a band that would go on to release two LPs, tour the east coast and collaborate with Matt Verta-Ray, Dale Beavers, the late James Semark – and perform on bills with John Sinclair and Jon Spencer.
“I love how the loose group of people who are with, or affiliated with Loco Gnosis are some of the weirdest, most kind and inspiring people around,” Bars of Gold's Moss said. “These are people who above all love and respect music and art (& have a good time as well). It was odd befriending all of these sweet people. Coming from being in a band like Wildcatting- a loud, kinda improvy-anti-band- (…and before that, with Bear Vs. Shark which never fared well in Detroit), to playing shows with these odd and awesome dudes, was just rad for me and rest of Wildcatting. We initially felt a bit out of place in town, but as music developed in this post garage rock-town, all the bands seemed more and more weird.”
“I didn’t ever want it to be like, an authority figure, that people feel locked into…it’s a collective. It’s naturally gone that way. It’s still a collective of bands that has access to a bank and a hand in how big shows are run; to look at it as a tool-box."
"It’s not that I don’t want Loco Gnosis to succeed; but, I want more for people to be successful and autonomous, rather than one canopy or banner. I want it to succeed but I have to leave enough room where people don’t feel that they need to rebel against it. I’m not saying we’re ‘mainstream,’ but, our name has been around enough that people may or may not know what we’re about; but they might consider us part of something ‘established.’ We’re really not that established. We’re more of a fluxing thing.”
And so, in 2010, new energies start fluxing in – including Macrame Tiger, Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program, Dutch Pink and Eleanora. The first three have very recently released work with LG (or, are about to), while Eleanora is currently in the studio. JWPP is a rock n roll sparkplug, a stalwart on the Ypsi scene – and it’s helped LG collude with the Ghost Family collective (with other Ypsi bands like Sharky, and Err). Macrame Tiger released their debut EP under a dual label, galvanizing their own Sparklewood Records alongside a bit of getting-off-the-ground help from Loco Gnosis. Howitt has likewise encouraged members of Sharky and Err to potentially develop their Ghost Family label.
As Loco Gnosis heads into 2010 it will shift from being a quasi record label to working as more of a publishing agent for bands. Moving beyond the label as facilitator of albums, with an online store, Howitt wants to nuanced means of collecting/generating income from LG roster bands’ recordings – thus, LG as a label, will focus more on singles (recently, the Beggars “Us Dudes Wee Get So Rad”) or legacy re-releases (forthcoming: Wildcatting’s How to Survive a Sneak Attack). Our goal is to move towards a publishing house mentality with quality sonic artifact printings and legacy releases from the Loco vault. As we leave much of the bands earnings to them the next step is not have them spend up their future but save it for travel and material projects.”
“It's still just a loose group of people,” Moss said, writing from D.C. “It's not exactly a record label, but it can be. It's not exactly a promotions company, but it can be. What it is, is a group of stoked people doing cool things. The next five years will be even weirder.”
“I think its natural for people to want to be part of group,” said Duende drummer Laura Willem, who is, altogether, bandmate/housemate/girlfriend/soundboard/collaborator with Howitt. “(LG) gives folks confidence and then lets them GO INTO THE WILD! And to a lesser extent, I think it makes people feel good about doing in their community.” Willem, as much as any, has helped to churn this creature forth, into the world of concerts, albums and promotions. She remarks, also, of the hard work Howitt himself puts in to keep LG going: “Most nights, I go to bed, and he is still up working to the wee hours. I'm not sure that people know how much time it takes up for him.”
Bands like Marco Polio, Woodman, Sharky & the Habit and Macrame Tiger have all, at some point, danced in the LG’s den, but neither are necessarily bound to LG or to Howitt – as he’s no dictatorial, fat-cat label head. In fact, Howitt has shifted to begin encouraging Sharky and Macrame Tiger to begin developing their own labels.
He speaks of the “waves” of bands flowing through Loco Gnosis over the years: Worden and Lee have gone on to join the label collective Axis Mundi, OFC had a quieter 09, then had their latest album released on Bellyache Records, and Wildcatting/Bars of Gold, signed to Friction, had its priorities shift when drummer Moss moved to D.C.
"I like that Jeff has an community-promoting attitude," Willem said. " What I mean, is that we are fans first. Sometimes competitive/negative attitudes are felt, Jeff is still a fan first and would rather collaborate. He has good relations with Bellyache and X Records folks, for example. Basically, there is room enough for everyone in this town. Also, LG is forward thinking which can be tough when a lot is going on around you (negative blogging, economy, jobs lost, competition). LG stays the course."
like that Jeff has an community-promoting attitude," Willem said. "
What I mean, is that we are fans first. Sometimes competitive/negative attitudes are felt, Jeff is still a fan first and would rather collaborate. He has good relations with Bellyache and X Records folks, for example. Basically, there is room enough for everyone in this town. Also, LG is forward thinking which can be tough when a lot is going on around you (negative blogging, economy, jobs lost, competition). LG stays the course."
Reflections and Memories
Reflections and Memories
“The first Blue Moon in June festival, in 2007,” Sanders said, looking back, “was definitely one of the greatest and most diverse shows I’ve ever attended or participated in.” The festival was Loco Gnosis main summer festival enacted as an ode to the Trans-Love Energies collective of the late 60’s in Detroit. “Most of all, it’s just been great to watch Loco Gnosis grow from this tiny germ into an amazing conglomerate and essential force in the Detroit underground. Vive le Loco Gnosis!”
“Another one of the best shows I can remember was the Blowout, a couple years ago,” said Ross, “when Pinkeye played Miles Davis, Yoko Ono and the Necks. There has always been a sense of Dionysian-drunken-revelry and flat-out insane fun at Loco Gnosis shows, and I don’t expect the five-year shows to be any different.”
Friday and Saturday, Loco Gnosis hosts two separate celebratory concerts, one at the Park Bar in Detroit, and the next night at Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti.
Going back to that base-camp role that LG can play for up-and-coming bands, Howitt said that, working as a label, that most of all, he’s enjoyed “helping someone get their first record together. We’re a cooperative of sorts, we show them the process which we think makes the results more valuable to them in the bigger picture. We’re not making the Monkees…you’re here because you’re working!”
~ 1/14 Park Bar (2040 Park Ave, Detroit): Duende, Hotwalls, JWPP, Scotch Bonnet, Dutch Pink, Electric Lions (SWE), Sey Lui, Spitting Nickels, Eleanora, Tomb Laser, Elbe, Jonathan Elkas, Crappy Future, Macrame Tiger and Bored Housewives 1/15 Woodruffs (36 Cross, Ypsilanti) Sharky & the Habit, White shag, Mini Movies, JWPP, Oblisk, Hi-Speed Dubbing, SOYSV, Mazinga, Carjack, Scare Bear and Woodman.
"I love feeling involved in community, Detroit, like we are writing our history," Willem said. "I love playing music and geeking out with my band mates. I feel a sense of accomplishment with LG and DUENDE! that I don't feel with my day job. ...I don't like seeing folks leave the "family," but also feel like Jeff is supposed to be the leader. He's a natural. I enjoy least the sometimes lack of freetime (wouldn't change it though!) and the toll it sometimes takes on Jeff. But I'm so proud of him."
"Woodman were lucky enough to be invited to play the first Blue Moon in June fest at the CAID June 30th, 2007," recalled singer/guitaris Frank Woodman. "We had only been a band for a couple of months. The Blue Moon was our 5th show. That day was tops and we met a lot of sweet, creative and hopefully life long friends. I'm very proud and honored to have my family band fall in with the musically passionate, intellectually pleasing, life loving freaks known collectively as Loco Gnosis."
1/14 Park Bar (2040 Park Ave, Detroit): Duende, Hotwalls, JWPP, Scotch Bonnet, Dutch Pink, Electric Lions (SWE), Sey Lui, Spitting Nickels, Eleanora, Tomb Laser, Elbe, Jonathan Elkas, Crappy Future, Macrame Tiger and Bored Housewives
1/15 Woodruffs (36 Cross, Ypsilanti) Sharky & the Habit, White shag, Mini Movies, JWPP, Oblisk, Hi-Speed Dubbing, SOYSV, Mazinga, Carjack, Scare Bear and Woodman.
More info: Axis Mundi Jason Worden (former Duende bassist) and Frank Lee (also of Jura) had formed their amorphous experimental rock orchestra, Forget, in late 09. This later led to 'Forget Records' - a vehicle to release their series of 40-minute live sets as albums. "Frank and I wanted Forget Records, and the band, to..." do it's part in furthering their ideals of sharing skills between artists and labels, for the greater good. The result was a label collective, that tied in Sonic Lullabies (ran by Paul MacLeod and Worden) and Jeremy Otto's Communist Daycare Center, along with Forget, alligning with Justin Walsh's No Money Records. Ross' Algae Tapes and Records ("...by far the weirdest,") soon joined. Worden said that he and Lee's move into Forget was necessary to nurture their own tastes, sensibilities, penchants, which had started to diverge from Loco Gnosis. Every last Wednesday of the month, one of Axis Mundi's labels hosts a night at the Berkley Front to showcase their swath of experimental/shoegaze/outsider/obscuro-rock talent. Artist Alana Carlson will host one in March, "the first visual arist curating..." - "We want artists (visual, musical, really any medium) in Detroit to work together and build something relevant and memorable," Worden said. "I think collaboration is the main idea behind it."
More info: Axis Mundi
Jason Worden (former Duende bassist) and Frank Lee (also of Jura) had formed their amorphous experimental rock orchestra, Forget, in late 09. This later led to 'Forget Records' - a vehicle to release their series of 40-minute live sets as albums. "Frank and I wanted Forget Records, and the band, to..." do it's part in furthering their ideals of sharing skills between artists and labels, for the greater good. The result was a label collective, that tied in Sonic Lullabies (ran by Paul MacLeod and Worden) and Jeremy Otto's Communist Daycare Center, along with Forget, alligning with Justin Walsh's No Money Records. Ross' Algae Tapes and Records ("...by far the weirdest,") soon joined.
Worden said that he and Lee's move into Forget was necessary to nurture their own tastes, sensibilities, penchants, which had started to diverge from Loco Gnosis.
Every last Wednesday of the month, one of Axis Mundi's labels hosts a night at the Berkley Front to showcase their swath of experimental/shoegaze/outsider/obscuro-rock talent. Artist Alana Carlson will host one in March, "the first visual arist curating..." -
"We want artists (visual, musical, really any medium) in Detroit to work together and build something relevant and memorable," Worden said. "I think collaboration is the main idea behind it."