Monday, February 20, 2017

WDET's Culture Shift

WDET (101.9) FM's Culture Shift is your soundtrack to discovering Detroit, a daily two-hour program of music, arts and culture, airing 12pm-2pm.

Back in September, I was invited by since-departed host Travis Wright to contribute 10 minute segments to the show. The idea is to plot out a course for your weekend, with a rundown of the top 5 must-see local shows. That's right, local... With The Milo Minute, the focus is on Michigan music...because! Because that's what I, me, 'Milo,' has pretty much spent his whole career focusing on!! So you'll get to hear new songs from Detroit-area bands and artists, and get hip to the details about where you can see them during any upcoming weekend!

On-air host Amanda LeClaire started the show with Wright last year, and she and I convene for a segment that gets replayed a couple times throughout the five-day's of programming.

Tune in! Thanks for listening!

HMF

Update from The Metro Times 

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The Hamtramck Music Festival kickoffs Thursday, March 2nd at the Planet Ant Hall.

Just wanted to lay some things out through this blog, as anyone following the organization's Facebook will have seen a couple of updates/announcements relating to developments over the last 10-11 days. The grassroots event weathered concerns from various community members and several participating bands about issues of safety, along with debates over its admission process, as it heads in to its fourth year.

Late in the evening of Friday, Feb. 10, HMF received messages reporting harassment in the form of online "trolling": a spate of violent/threatening/abusive messages and posts came from one of the bands originally on its 150+ lineup, directed almost exclusively at another performer, but extended, additionally, to general a cache of negative jabs toward every band on HMF and other individuals with a blog post.

The next morning, HMF released an official statement regarding their feelings on the issue and assured action would be taken. On that Sunday, the 12th, a public forum was held and an official vote to remove this band was taken. They announced that they'd begin work on creating "specific mechanisms that will more directly deal with issues of safety, any type of hostile behavior, or anything that threatens the safe environment..." that they intend to provide to the public.

HMF's Committee of co-organizers include upwards to 20+ members in charge of booking bands for respective venues. HMF is a three-day event of live local music featuring performances from 150+ bands, scheduled with somewhat staggered set times inside 20 venues across the city of Hamtramck, with wristband passes purchased by attendees benefiting Ben's Encore, a Michigan non-profit working to strengthen local music education programs.

These initial incidents of online trolling escalated quickly over social media. The following afternoon, (Feb 13) HMF was made aware of new concern lobbied by a group form several musicians and community members objecting to another band's presence on the lineup, as one of the members of this second band in question had a criminal record, with a 2008 conviction. As soon as they were aware of this, the HMF Committee arranged to meet with the band in question on Tues (Feb 14), and scheduled an additional meeting (last Thurs., Feb 16) with concerned members of the public/lineup to voice their grievances. Nevertheless, a handful bands still opted to drop out the lineup as a protest, (including one venue,) collectively arguing, among many points, that allowing this second band to stay would create a negative image for a festival raising funds for youth programming.


UpdateThe Seraphine Collective originally programmed a lineup for one of HMF's venues, but the nonprofit feminist arts collective dropped out, along with a few other bands/artists, opting to host their own benefit concert down in Corktown at the UFO Factory for SASHA Center and HAVEN, community organizations that support survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. INFO 


One member of the 40-person committee directly communicated online with some of the individuals of the group who'd initially urged further action on the second band. These posts by the committee member, sent without the knowledge of other HMF members, perceived as hostile by those who received them, amplified their initial protest. So, on that afternoon of Feb 16, a conversation was had with the HMF volunteer that was threatening the peaceful resolution of this public outcry & was warned of disciplinary action.

The shared demand presented to the Committee by each individual who has either reported online harassment or objections to this disputed band, was, above all, for an assurance of safety. The HMF Committee released a statement, that they are "...an ethically-driven volunteer organization..." that would take these disputes seriously.

HMF heard from all parties involved and made a brief statement last Saturday, Feb 18, over Facebook, that a final determination would come during their meeting, last Sunday:

       HMF: "...In response, a Zero Tolerance Policy has been adopted in accordance with our bylaws. Through the course of implementing this action, one HMF volunteer resigned as a result of their conduct, and (two) bands were voted to be removed from the 2017 roster..." 

Lots of fellow musicians who were not directly involved were likely beginning to see percolation of this heated debate sporadically pop across their social media feeds. The intensities of the arguments and social media posts by disputing parties amplified throughout the week, voicing their dissatisfaction the time elapsing from Monday through Thursday night, in terms of reaching this final resolution.

HMF released a statement apologizing for not having policies in place for a quicker resolution.

"In accordance with our Zero Tolerance Policy, any disruptive behavior during the festival will be considered grounds for removal."


The group held a closed-door meeting, Sunday, discussing their by-laws, procedures, and policies, an opportunity to fully brief every member of the organizing committee on the developments of this previous week.

Before the voting took place, the aforementioned HMF volunteer in question resigned. Community members were invited to witness the vote and the band in question was removed with an almost unanimous vote. The floor was opened to public comment afterwards.

So, Sunday, at midnight, HMF released an announcement of all these actions taken, along with their new official Zero Tolerance Policy, restated their mission statement: ...that this is event was created as a volunteer music festival, with the aim of raising funds for kids' music education.


Update: Lo & Behold Records & Books removed itself as a host venue and has not rejoined as of now. Stay tuned to the HMF Facebook for updates about a finalized schedule. Meanwhile, more bands originally on the HMF lineup have broken-off to build another lineup at the Outer Limits Lounge (more info)
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This is what's been happening.
As of now, it has been dealt with by HMF. You can email them here.
For opinions...., we have social media. If you want my own, I'd rather just tell you in person -


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rabeah


I'm not sure where to start with this one... Not everyone who reads this blog is going to know who Rabeah Lteif was, but I just got back from a memorial service for the Detroit based guitarist/singer, and it showed me how much of an impact he had, not only just on the lives of his family and friends, but upon the community of artists who embraced him as an intrepid and vital member of the Michigan music scene.

I didn't get a chance to stand up and speak at the memorial, but I'll share some thoughts here... Rabeah started out in the mid 2000's with a swaggering/crunchy, psyche-groove high-energy rock outfit called Charlie Don't Surf. I wrote a review of the band and used a phrase to describe the sound of his voice and the effects he applied to its amplification, and it led to him changing the band's name to The Electric Lions...and soon after, Electric Lion Soundwave Experiment. Rabeah would go on to collaborate with several artists and perform several shows to local audiences across Detroit, Ferndale, Dearborn and beyond.

Rabeah taught me not so much to be positive, but to manifest positivity, give positivity, nurture positivity. He was the great encourager, he'd rally fellow bands in such a way, grasp their shoulder before they'd go on stage or say something with that big curled smile of his, and it'd not only make you want to do your best, but feel like your best was now easily attainable merely because of his presence in your audience.

Biggest of all..., he never talked about his own music with me. I regret this, but was also always astonished, in this refreshing way, by such a.... not so much self-deprecation...., but a shifting of perspective. Nothing was about him, when we talked. I say this with love and no ill-will, but you can imagine that I talk to a lot of musicians and they are typically eager to share some of the excitement they're feeling over a project they just completed. I always expect that. With Rabeah, we spoke about everything but music...., and yet his music was such a vibrant part, such a prevailing part, of his essence. Music meant so much to him, and his music meant so much to me... But what it came down to, when we'd talk, was how much our friendship meant to each other. That focus was never lost... The focus was always: each other's company.

Rabeah was, as I knew him, admittedly self-effacing to an extent. He was passionate about his music and his bandmates and his recordings, but every time I would interview him for an article, we'd get to the end and he'd say, with a self-dismissing pursing of his lips and lowered eyes: "...nah, you don't even have to print any of this if you don't want..., we can just talk..." I don't expect every band or musician I meet to be as kind and selfless as this guy, but I'm so glad I got to know him as well as I did... He was a true friend to me. And anytime I felt any minute hint of jadedness sneaking in, he would always restore my soul's silo with souped up enthusiasm, for music, for creative pursuits...and for friendship.

Ten years ago, a handful of outsider bands, from psych, to garage, to shoegaze, to punk, gathered in the old Bohemian National Home on Tillman St., to perform for the Fiberglass Freakout Festival. I didn't realize until this memorial, how many lasting friendships I, all of us, made in that one night. We all came back together on this sunny and sad afternoon, to pay tribute for the sparkplug who was a central figure to the inspirational fervor on that evening, 10 years prior... Rabeah. He made a lasting impression. We're all still creating, cuz we're all still inspired... And he was crucial to keeping our individual fires stoked.

r.i.p.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus



Right now, George Morris is getting ready to put out his third album. And, right now, George Morris is possibly panicked he may never write another song, ever again... ...Until he does. Until he will. He always winds up back at the proverbial drawing board, even if he feels these sorts of anxious tremors greeting him at the conclusion of an extensive creative process. I get that. It's just he catches me off guard when he says it... Actually, he catches me off guard when he says something else, too, but more on that later.

Morris is the singer/guitarist of The Gypsy Chorus. The songs on the band's forthcoming album were written and arranged by Morris, then developed and produced in Zach Shipps' studio in Ferndale. The instrumentalists who flesh out these songs are Helena Kirby, Zach Pliska, Doug Diedrich, and Ronny Tibbs.



Morris jettisoned right out of high school and out on the road with his bandmates in The Satin Peaches; the group of wunderkinds were signed to a label just in time for the waning days (around 2006) of the turning millennium's indie rock renaissance, when the music industry as we once knew it pretty much crumbled away...

In 2012, he went the solo route and started working on what would become 2013's Organ Solos. The melodies were lilting loop-de-loops that were instantly anthemic, ridged with a bit of post-everything nihilism and airily wailed in that wipsy/hazy high-altitude voice of his... Organ tones filled most of the albeit minimally-dressed soundscape, interwoven with sequenced beats and the inevitably valiant guitar solo.

Then in 2015, after a couple years of performing locally and touring a bit with The Gypsy Chorus, Morris released We Will Go To Hell For This, a playful, snarky, sophisticated cinching of lyrics taking op-ed deconstructions of the social scenes swayed into these instantly indelible melodies, trancing trips like "Girls On Parade" or balls-of-the-feet urgency of "Never Regret It."

But now, we've got an album that Morris said, after thinking about it, "feels like the album I've been trying to make for a long time..."



George Morris LP release party Saturday, March 11George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus
@ Bemo's Bar in Bay City
with Tart / Martin McNeil  / & Barbarossa Brothers 



"I just wanted to do a full record with no restrictions," said Morris. "I tried to do that on the last one but the restriction was: me...having to produce it. That was a limitation. This time, i wanted to go with someone who knows what they're doing. (Shipps) helped me make the record i wanted to make."

Morris is bandmates with Shipps in Arc Pelt, a group led by singer/songwriter Liz Wittman. In fact, Morris is also playing bass with Carré  Calloway in Queen Kwong. This..., after Morris actually told himself towards the end of 2016 that he thought he could probably benefit from taking a bit of a break from music. "I failed at taking a break," Morris recalls, looking back on the three solid years of work with the Gypsy Chorus. "My goal was to disappear for a bit, but i just couldn't say no to anything. I enjoy it though. It's nice to just show up and play bass and not have to be the frontman. I can play bass while drunk, too, so, that's nice; I don't have to pace myself for those shows..." He chuckles as I tell him he's keeping up with that rock-star ethos. "It's part of the show..."

Morris can't actually recall a time in his life when he didn't want to be playing music. His parents were both musicians, and by the time he was 8 years old, he was starting on his first drum kit. The Beatles, all of the Beatles, along with substantial FM radio sets of classic rock music, were on all the time while he was growing up. (He even tried to form his own band as early as 4th grade). His first high school band wound up getting gigs to play Zeppelin covers. His endearing showmanship springs from having Jimmy Page as an integral early influence.

Morris met another music kid in 9th grade, Jesse Shepherd Bates. This was in Walled Lake, and they're eventual encounter came about basically because every other person in their respective social circles was basically mistaking one for the other; i.e., long-haired rock music kids who were each just starting to get in to Radiohead. This led to the formation of The Satin Peaches.

"Looking back, I would have done things differently," said Morris. "(2005-2007) was a crazy time in my life. We were 19 when we got signed, but my mom had just passed away the year before that. So, getting signed was like this severe low going in to a crazy high..."

How does one process that emotional roller coaster from one pole to another?

"A lot of alcohol and drugs? I mean..., the industry was just gone two years after we got signed, anyhow. We like to think we killed it. But, from then, to now..., I have such a better perspective on life, and what I care about, and what I don't care about."

Looking back, Morris said it wasn't until he was in 9th grade before he finally started listening to music that was made after, like, 1979... "I was totally all classic rock until then, but once I heard Radiohead and The Strokes, I started realizing how much good music was out there. Even then..., I can't really stand indie-rock anymore. It's just so generic, and all sounding like the same MGMT-mimicking bullshit over and over."

Lately, Morris said he's been listening a lot to magic-melody inclined music makers like Frankie Cosmos and Charlie Hilton. "Melody is what I'm trying for, most, and then the guitars are this compliment for it. I treat songwriting as anything; its' work. I start something on a keyboard, write a demo."

"There's a lot of emotions in the songs, but I don't usually really know exactly what they're about..." See, that's another thing. Even though I might feel pretty moved by a poignant bit of poetry in one of Morris' new songs, he doesn't approach lyric formation like a typical singer/songwriter. The melodies are unabashedly given prominence when he's arranging. The words just kinda seem to fit, that's all.

But I do ask him about whether he worries that he'll have to try to cater himself, to craft an image, to make sure he's appealing to a certain audience. "No, that never goes through my head. The only thing that goes through my head is feeling terrified I'll never be able to write another song again."

Morris admits, soon after that statement, that he basically can't not write songs. He, like any artist, has that urge to be working on something. He may call the formation of these melodic tunes "work," but it's inevitably fulfilling something for him. He knows that. And he knows he'll write another batch of songs, soon...

I say to him: "You have an artistic side!" I kinda shouted it. "You know that, don't you?"

"Do I?" he asks. He's serious.

And I go back to talking about bands having to craft an image, and the drama that creates for one's self-respectability. "Nah man... I'm done with that drama. I'm getting better about everything, with music. I'm getting past the cynicism. I'm just getting to where I'm asking: 'Am I still enjoying this?' And Liz (Wittman) said: 'Remember...that you liked it at a point and always try to remember what that was.' That's helped. I feel a lot better about it all, now. And...performing, that's actually always fun, especially when the band is as tight as it's gotten to be."

And he goes on to talk about how excited he is to travel up to Bemo's in Bay City. That's just about a two hour drive for most of us in Detroit, but Morris doesn't care; he that venue, and the crowds up there, to be nothing but enthusiastic and encouraging. "It's more fulfilling for me if we just tour to smaller rooms that have attentive, supportive audiences... I've given up the idea of making money with this, so...it just seems more worthwhile to make records! And to not worry about anything else; just find the audiences that want to listen. Seems less stressful. And, more sustainable in the long run."

More info