“I haven’t really met any assholes…"
Tom sips his black coffee, gives me a second to let that sink in. He’s just summed it up perfectly.
Succinctly snaring and summing up the sentiment of… that all too platitudinous and played-out subject of –the scene. And why everyone seems to be feeling so damned inspired right now.
“No assholes…(Not) in a long time…” says Tom Bahorski, a multi-engaged guitarist who strums for three different bands around here. “And the people I have met that were assholes, like, (who were) doing shows and music and stuff like that…they’re nowhere to be found anymore.”
...Oh, that’s right, we must all be drunk on each other’s dynamism, goaded by seeing the familiar glowing faces at the stage’s edge, eye’s at our kneecaps, nodding us on; made boastful, even, by the chemical cocktail bubbling in our brain that’s swilled from the static-charged-touch of creative collaboration – man, you gotta hear this song we just wrote…
This is the same old story, right?
“It’s interesting, actually…” Jesse Shepherd-Bates was on the phone just the night before, “seeing the people who are playing with everybody…Gordon Smith of Kickstand Band is now with Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas, and Nik Landstrom from Phantom Cats is with Legendary Creatures and I’m with the Hounds Below…and Tom, from the Ashleys, is in Pink Lightning now…”
“Music,” Bates says, audibly struggling to find the right words, “…is just music and Detroit is beautiful…because everybody just wants to play (music), it doesn’t matter who-has-gotten-where with their music…All these musicians coming from totally different places, taste-wise or style wise, and just embracing whatever we, each of us, bring, we all trust that we love the same thing deep down, because there’s the same kind of energy as was a year ago…”
But, Bates says, it feels more potent now, than it did. More energized too, and yes, maybe more tense. Angst and enthusiasm and some strange inspirational footrace to keep up with the rolling spark of everyone else’s powder lines…do they all lead to the same explosive keg?
“Okay, so…We’ve got seven bands to the table so far…”
It’s 2pm on a Saturday. There’s a loud quiet on Michigan Avenue, the calm before the storm of St. Patrick’s Day. Bryan Lackner (the rapper a.k.a. Mister) has just ordered a beer to wash down a basket of catfish, the first time he’s ordered something like that. He’s not worried, he tells me, worst comes to worst he can just drown it out with sriracha sauce…
Chicken wings mingle with coffee mugs and PBR cans…and more than a dozen sleepy-eyed musicians seated around this cluttered table.
In a few days, it will be the birthdays of two local songwriters and incorrigible band-bouncing collaborators: Jesse Shepherd-Bates and Tom Bahorski – both will be 25 – and Tom’s pretty sure he’s just a few hours older. Last year, at the Lager House, 11 bands performed at the Lager House for the duo’s 24th birthdays – but this time it’s going to be a “Sweet Sixteen…”
Ungrateful Daughter / Sound and Fury / Pewter Cub / Ronny Tibb’s and the 305’s / Patrick Davy and the Ghosts / Citizen Smile / FUR / Phantom Cats / The Kickstand Band / The Hounds Below / The Ashleys / Lightning Love / Jesse & the Gnome / The HandGrenades / Good Cop-Good Cop / Passalacqua…
Somehow everyone of those bands – made up of anywhere from 47 to as high as 63 separate musicians (not counting the crossovers of shared members) could get that night free, free from any late-stretching day job shift, or free from any other show they could have done – so that they could all avalanche their amps into the 150-some-odd-capacity of PJs Lager House to play for fifteen minute stints… for free.
What causes that?
Lunacy, probably. Right? Something like it…
Pure enthusiasm? Sure, on a level, yes. Camaraderie – that too. But perhaps all these bands, all sixteen “groups” of musicians at this show, themselves just one beaker’s-full sampling of the soupy sea of creative music churning throughout the metro-area,...are caught up in a kind-of lunacy, because, really, aren’t “__waves” the best/most common way to delineate the nuanced character of any cultural movement.
It’s a wave or a craze. And this Battle Royale of bands are just rolling along the cresting tides of the next one… responding to some gravitational exertion from the moon or some other ominous glowing cosmic rock…
When we got 8 or 9 bands, FUR, Citizen Smile, The HandGrenades, Passalacqua, the Hounds Below, Pewter Cub…Phantom Cats…whoever could make it, to come out to the Lager House for a late-late-brunch, the interview wound up being so cacophonous that transcription proved to be indecipherable. It didn’t help that dogs were trotting around barking on occasion and that 7 elegantly-dressed models came in from a fashion show and set up for their own lunch date right next to our humble clattered-platters.
But, yeah... so who knows? At that Brunch meeting I wound up giving up on asking questions about this scene…
…A few days later I was walking past a music shop’s front window and saw a sad-looking Washburn round-neck Resonator guitar, pawned by its last user, now, sitting, quiet, still. Dust settling on its strings.
One day, for most of us, even here at the Lager House, our own Resonators will meet the same fate. Magic moments end but that’s axiomatically the best part.
Music writers can or cannot allow themselves to be caught up in the same mad tide carrying these bands – can or cannot allow themselves to become fans. But waves crash and roll back. Bands break up.
The trap of it is – you roll along the wave and lose yourself and you think you, you all, these bands, have the collective might to –spill-over, as it were…break the dam. Something too strong to evaporate…
Are we? Will we?
Those answers won’t come until long, long after the Sweet Sixteen show… No need in asking any questions now.
So Bates calls me the day after the Lager House. I’m in an ice-rink watching beer-league hockey and he’s…well, still at the Lager House, swept up in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and feeling nervous by the leering looks of trotting police officers.
Can we appreciate that “spot-light” is an oxymoron in the Internet age…Have we mellowed ourselves into letting that guard down – to be music fans, instead of all vying to be rock stars?
“I really think the special thing bout music in Detroit,” Bates says, “is…it’s…it’s pure love. It’s people loving playing music for each other, with each other and it has nothing to do with fame or getting the hit single.”
Maybe he’s had a beer or two at this point, but hear him out.
Bates latches onto the phrase “unabashed-dorky-enthusiasm…” Because one of his bands wouldn’t have started had he not seen now-defunct pedal-flanked guitar-heavy trio Millions of Brazilians and their own experimentation – or the Ashleys for that matter, and their progressive utilization of splitting guitar signals through three amps.
Bates, who used to play in The Satin Peaches – locally -a post-White Stripes / pre-Danny Brown era band – now hears guys like the players in the HandGrenades, telling him how the Peaches were considerable inspirations for them, early on...
Passalacqua’s got Bryan Lackner, who opened a door for this writer to tumble down the rabbit whole of the local rap scene.
These are the spark plug types. Like Frank Woodman, who fronts his own band (bolstered by his family members) or, really, any member of the Phantom Cats, or Chris Butterfield from Pink Lightning, or J.R. of the Ferndale Acid Scene who runs his own cassette label...or James Linck, even, from House Phone - whose got a studio at the Russell... I could go on... they're something akin to connoisseurs or anthropologists, out there, mining local music and spreading it back out, the enthusiasm for it. It's partly why Barhoski and Bates have 14 bands rallying to their casual call. It's gravitational.
What it feels like, whether we’re deluded or drunk on our own coolness or what, ...is that there’s no more cliques, or at least genres – so much as there’s: “oh, have I introduced you to ___ yet? Have you checked out ¬¬¬__ yet?”
“It’s interesting to watch this happening,” Bates says… “not sure how to express it, but…”
“No assholes…not in a while…”
And so I’m back to the coffee shop with Bahorski, a few days later.
“I just like the people I’ve met,” Bahorski shrugs, not sure either, just how to express it. “I’ve never met this many cool people that were creatively…of the same mind-set, being open-minded, who just want to do cool creative things, and willing to do these things, together.”
That’s any scene, though, right?
“When we all first started up, we all felt that faint possibility, the rock star idea…but then after a year you start to realize that there’s no way that that dream is still possible in this world.”
“It’s liberating, then, in that way you can do whatever you want and not worry about: is it gonna sell, is it not?”
Every three months or so – we have an overstuffed show, some mini-Blowout, and that’s not counting the medium-sized and –extra-large-sized local festivals we have… A show like Sweet Sixteen is just like last summer’s Detroit-version of Urgh: A Music War.
But at something like the Sweet Sixteen, it’s like there’s no show anymore. The light isn’t one spot anymore. Imagine if wrestlers or boxers didn’t stay away, shut into their locker rooms waiting for their respective match to begin…and, instead, came out to ringside and cheered along every other competing athlete.
“It’s not like: ‘Hey, we’re better than you…’” Bahorski says. “You get motivated by seeing other bands’ momentum and not in any nasty competitive way, not in a I-have-to-be-better-than-you, way, more in a I-want-to-be-as-good-as-you, way…”
From there, the conversation drifts…
...and I mean drifts... to Catfish…to hip-hop…to the Rolling Stones…to Spinal Tap…to pursuing a career as being a professional Extra in the film industry –just to score some free bagels from the catering tables.
“That’d be really heartwarming if everybody just brought me a bagel on my birthday show…”
We ramble about bagels for a while and almost strike upon a profound metaphor about it representing scenes, bands, people, growing, “in full circle” …the circle of life. Circles…waves…crazes…lunacy.
But then somehow Tom started talking about futons and then I started bugging him to do a Prince cover at the Sweet Sixteen show…But then its back to seafood, craw fish namely. And, then it's onto time travel...and, again, bagels come back up...
…At some point we were talking about music… Oh well… Everyone bring a bagel…
Epilogue – Scenes are scenes and they’ll always keep waving along… The excitement, for me, is charged by the ever-present possibility that what IT –is—per se, could grow into a movement…even foster its own philosophy…Really, really, leave it’s mark.
But...I guess what I'm getting at is...
Scenes always come and go... Really, more than that - bands come and go - but for years' on end, the scene sustains - If Prussia ends than its lead singer and guitarist start a new band...or members of the Satin Peaches go on to different things...
We've got this window of time...and any/every scene does die...because inevitably: priorities change, living circumstances change... Or maybe the world will end?
Make much of time...as the poem goes... Here we are, gathering our rosebuds each weekend, while we may, at any various venue, in any various studio or practice space.
You've got all these rosebuds, is my point - what are you going to do with them?
Brunch photos by Lisa Marie Krug