Saturday, February 6, 2016

Turn To Crime - Two New Albums

At the end of January, Detroit-based songwriter/producer Derek Stanton released two Turn To Crime albums, a storied collaboration with Dorian and Alejandra Foerg...(in fact, the pair actually fell in love as these two albums were being made and the release of this music is timed perfectly to the birth of their son). Sounds & Silence has more info on that... an interview with Turn To Crime's Derek Stanton that I conducted two years ago that never made it to print...
The Detroit trio released 2 free albums online last week...

January 2014

New York never challenged Derek Stanton. The place always energized him, he says, even if he was sleeping in a cubby hole made of plywood.

When he was younger, he’d go days without sleeping during whimsical weekend road trips to Brooklyn or Manhattan where he’d catch concerts of his favorite bands. Incidentally, the Detroit-based singer/songwriter wound up moving to New York and he eventually opened for (or toured with) many of those same “favorite bands” through Awesome Color, a rock n’ roll trio he played in that nearly broke into the big-time (at least by post-millennial/post-Internet notions).

But he’s moved on… Stanton’s just not easily discouraged. He’s also uncommonly patient. Both qualities helped him establish his own record label, along with his latest project, Turn To Crime, which he’s been developing over the last several years, out of his home studio right back here in Detroit.

When asked if starting a label was an ultimate goal, he says no, not really. “For the longest time I didn’t want to; I was totally fine with just being a musician that just recorded songs every day and that was that.” In fact, for years, Stanton would record songs and stream them on bandcamp, for free, only to take them down and throw them away forever after just one week.

For Stanton, it seems, as we inquire further, it was never about self-aggrandizement, never about showing-off, never about hustling people to share and tweet about his new songs.

“I don’t care about anything other than just the process of recording, other than just writing.”
Turn To Crime, which just released two free albums at the end of January (on Mugg & Bopp), actually started more than six years ago as just one of Stanton’s numerous side projects. Through the mid-late 2000’s, Awesome Color seemed, from the fans’ perspective at least, to be a big deal: ostensibly getting praise from the noise-rock Ceasar, Thurston Moore, when they were signed to Ecstatic Peace while attracting a considerable bit of blog buzz as they toured constantly, (notching up to 200 shows a year). 

But Stanton would still busy himself with other projects, particularly writing and recording. “(Awesome Color) was a very natural, easy band and it just consumed part of my brain. But, I didn’t have enough time to get any of the other things out, solo albums or whatever, because we were touring so much. But, the reason why that (AC) started was I had set up a practice space in New York and we could record there or do whatever.”

But jump back about 11 years or more, as he arrives in New York, still undaunted. He got a loft and built rooms out of plywood and drywall, turning it into a practice space first and living space second, (the “beds” were burrowed into cubby spaces above the studio.) “I guess people might see that as a challenging living arrangement, but to me it was awesome. In fact, I never lived anywhere that wasn’t like that: ‘homeade.’ Those scenarios, the practice spaces, lofts, the homemade drywall, wherever I lived in New York I had to be able to play and record music.” New York wasn’t a challenge to Stanton. “No, it was fun.”

Towards the end of Awesome Color, Stanton was living in South Williamsburg, above a popular venue called Glasslands. He had his usual set up, a loft that served as practice space/recording studio/bedroom (in that order), and helped book shows, work sound, bartend or monitor the door, as bands like MGMT and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s came through, substantiating it as a premier venue. “Suddenly, I start having 5,000 roomates a week, sharing bathrooms with tons of people…”

It was time for a change. “I had done everything I could in New York and I realized that all the sky-rises were going up on Kent Avenue, where I was, and everything had changed in the seven years I was there. And…I didn’t expect to stay in Michigan for more than a couple months when I came back…”

The problem was, Stanton moved back home to Detroit during the peak of the Great Recession. “And I realized that this was my opportunity to do something more with my life: buy a house, set up my future and just wait for the apocalypse.” That house that he bought, of course, was soon outfitted with a recording studio.

The joke was, of course, that if Stanton couldn’t figure anything out by the time he moved back to Detroit, then he’d just have to… “…turn to crime,” instead.

Now, Awesome Color’s sound was fast, vigorous and loud; it was heavy on guitars and grit, bass and bellicose undertones, with drums that wanted to just keep on driving…There were distinct dynamics to the grooves though, with fills and seething solos that might set them apart from just another MC5-inspired ruckus-type rock band, even if, to no avail, that’s how they were often categorized.

But Turn To Crime, particularly here on its debut, is a ganglier creature, something fantastic and weird that grimaces as it grins, fogging melodies with distortion and sandblasting its hooky guitar riffs with reverb. It’s not new-wave, but it’s almost like Industrial-Pop. It’s nihilistic, yet has intangible charisma.

Stanton’s raspy vocals seem to surf upon the rhythms and the guitars flit into impulsive bursts at the refrains. You’d have to go back to the primordial muck of The Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run” or maybe a more melody-insistent Thee Oh Sees to find any comparably unconventional psych-sounding schema.

And yet, Turn To Crime’s first initial releases back in 2013 were being categorized as “garage rock.” Maybe that’s still just a Detroit thing. “Turn To Crime’s only inspiration is to be different from anything I’ve ever heard. It’s not even taking influence of other bands; I’m just taking my personal experience and doing the opposite.”

Still, the whole process of songwriting and performance, for Turn To Crime, “…is crazy.” Stanton is currently working with his longtime friend and collaborator Ian Saylor, along with Chris Campbell (from the Johnny Ill band). 

Click here to download 2 free albums from Turn To Crime

It was a significant change of lifestyle for Stanton, re-situating back here in Michigan a few years ago, away from the big buildings and bluster of Brooklyn and into his first actual house (that he’s made into a home recording studio) in Southwest Detroit. No more tiring tours, no more sharing bathrooms, no more subways. Not much to be distracted by, really – so he’s been able to slowly, patiently save up and set up his record label, (Mugg & Bopp). He had his first records pressed at Archer (on Davison St) and printed the covers at VGKids (in Ypsilanti), later packing up the cover art himself.

“If I was going to do this, I thought, I wanted to keep all my money local and do everything in Michigan,” said Stanton.

Towards the end of our interview, he says something, with a subtle, confident smile, what sounds like a modus operandi, “there are no rules.” Turn To Crime, he said, is always subject to change and will be whatever Stanton wants it to be; consistently stretching in every directing as a means of Stanton and, now, by extension, Foerg and Saylor, stretching (or challenging) themselves. There are no rules.

 “I have no ambition to just sit down and write a rock song,” he says. “I have no ambition to sit down to write with any preconceived notion. “ The Crime, you could say, is not premeditated. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Eryn Allen Kane - Aviary: Act II

photo by Bryan Allen Lamb

When singer/songwriter Eryn Allen Kane released her debut single, "Have Mercy," last April, she turned a lot of heads in the music industry. 

But when Prince takes notice...? That's a big deal. Not one to mince words, Prince stated that he needed Kane's "soul...." to contribute to a significant single for the summer, that being the eventual July-release of "Baltimore."  

Kane grew up on Detroit's east side, attending Detroit School of the Arts, but started out, really, as an actress. A summer spent abroad in Australia sparked her creative spirit and she hit the ground running in late 2014, settling in Chicago. She produced all of "Have Mercy" herself, an impressive debut that pulled in tastemaking ears from NPR, The Fader, Essence, and most recently, Chicago-based RedEye (interview). 

If you didn't hear her on "Baltimore," then you may have seen her at the movies; Kane was handpicked for a role in Spike Lee's controversial Chi-Raq, along with one of her songs featured on the soundtrack. 

Anticipation had built up through the year, leading to Kane releasing her proper debut EP Aviary: Act 1, featuring "Piano Song" (streaming above). 

On Tuesday, Kane put out followed-up with Aviary: Act II, featuring "How Many Times," an billowy piano-led ballad with a soft, catchy hook blending R&B and gospel with sweet indie-soul. That vibrant vibratto she hits is electrifying, a cool catharsis sizzling more viscerally with each verse, building with those back-up singers and those chest-thumping drums until it all pares back again, like a raging storm fading to a mist...


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

River Street Anthology pt. 2 of 3 (The Go Rounds)

Matt Jones (left), with Graham Parsons,
performing with The Go Rounds

Graham on Matt Jones:
"I fucking love the man!" 
Expanding upon the River Street Anthology with another ruminative essay... this time I picked Graham Parsons' brain, a singer/guitarist who has now contributed twice to the ever-expanding Michigan music legacy project. 

I still can't shake the poignancy of that day, an entire Sunday's worth of recording sessions, efficiently and yet cozily conducted inside the First Congregational Church in downtown Kalamazoo. 

While I was in town, each musician remarked upon the vibrancy and signature enthusiasm of Kalamazoo's music scene. There was this prevalent vibe of gratitude and laid-back cordiality as musicians passed one another up-and-down the aisle, switching on and off the altar, the defacto performance stage for the day. 

Each performance was captured by a single condenser mic, connected to a modest Tascam 8-track, with Matt Jones at the controls. ("Does it make you feel like Captain Kirk, standing here...?" Jones asked, as I stood over his table, scrutinizing his setup). 

For more info on the River Street Anthology, tune into the Detroit Free Press Entertainment section later this month, where we'll be interviewing Matt Jones (the curator of these tracks), along with others. 

In the meantime, I reached out to Graham Parsons (of The Go Rounds) to get his take on this year-long, state-spanning archival project....

It's funny to me that Matt jones, once Michigan's harshest and worst ( music critic & overall cynic, is now Mr. 'Everyone Is Amazing and Talented and Worth My Time'.  I've toured with Matt; I've ragged on amateurish displays of 'entertainment' right alongside this blonde, giggling giant... Change is good. Especially in this case.

When I walked into the church where Matt was recording all day in Kalamazoo, I immediately ran into two people that I have known for a decade, but haven't had much reason to interact with musically or at all...I'm not sure why... Maybe it's 'cuz when I'm home, in Kalamazoo, I like (or need) to hide out. Recoup. Write my ass off. It's self indulgent, but necessary for many reasons.

But here I was, interacting with these old acquaintances & fellow musicians again and I was nearly destroyed over the realization of the gradual disappearance of the last five years of my life. Where had I been?

I used to be in the thick of Kzoo's music scene but now what was I doing?

My point being, I think, is that it takes a courageous and tireless effort to unite people, in whatever way. It's easy to isolate. To judge. And you can even still grow within that more myopic mind frame, but what's it worth if you avert your gaze at the local venue to avoid depth of connection with your peers and musical community?

So, Mr. 'All inclusive' Jones is ushering in a new dawn for Michigan music, at least in my mind. Encouraging, genuine and lacking the pitfalls of the 'ME' generation.

I fucking love the man. I loved him when he was a complete asshole to every band that ever opened for us on tour. Cause he was right most of the time. But, I love him even more now that he channeling his energy away from shallow paths of judgement and into this incredible selfless endeavor.

Take notes, haters.


The Go Rounds are going to be back home, soon, from their tour with Chris Bathgate. They'll be getting to work, soon, on two new EP's for a planned summertime release. (Maybe Autumn for the second one, we'll see). They want to be in the midst of recording a full length follow-up to Don't Go Not Changing before Halloween. 

In May, the Kzoo-based quartet returns to Mexico. They had a fortuitous trip down past the border in the late winter of 2015, where they hooked up with their current label, the Mexico City based: Pedro y el Lobo

After that, they're touring the east coast with the Antivillains in June, then "crushing" the Michigan-music festival scene. 

Stay tuned. 

River Street Anthology 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Earth Engine

Earth Engine
E.P. Release Show
Next Saturday Feb 13
@ The New Dodge (8850 Jos Campau, Hamtramck)
8 PM / $5
Earth Engine
Five Pound Snap

Gold Crayon
The Landmarks

What I can tell you is: I walked in for a show at the Loving Touch with Earth Engine as one of the openers. I got there for their first song and jostled toward the front row. I didn't move away from that spot, not for a beer or to go bullshitting with anyone else in the back, until the last note of the last song of their set...

So what's the draw? These guys don't particularly look like pop stars, and it's not like they're performing any acrobatics (or pyrotechnics) up there; there's some surreal/geek-chic stage banter, but presentation-wise, it's pretty much a rock 'n' roll band...... That being said...Why couldn't I move? Or stop listening/watching...? Some kind of new age mysticism? Hypnotism? Possession? Sorcery? No....

Earth Engine reach back to the Elephant 6-era of mid 90's quirk-pop, when college-rock radio completed its metamorphosis from the riffy R.E.M. days and started embracing a more cavalier kind of psych-tinged, baroque-inflected, harmony-centric sweetness. Then again, they also touch into the very very early 2000's sensibilities for spookier, headier trips, like some kind of fuzz-haunted carnival of funk. They have an ear for vibe-augmenting jazz,too, with those versatile keys ("Joy Blue") and that auxiliary trombone ("Year One"), there's a bit of a tango going on, rhythmically, underneath the hornet-haze buzz of those guitars in "Fever of Static." 

I mean, you could name drop Neutral Milk Hotel if you like, but you could also namedrop the Unicorn's debut album, if you're into namedropping. Earth Engine have an intangible compound in their mixture though... It's likely found in how dangerously-close they flirt with fitting into jam-band territory or jazz-rock territory or freak-folk, even, and yet gracefully hover free from any solid clasp to either of those...  

"Fever of Static" blends discordant indie-rock with wisps of R&B, jazz and arena-rock/butane-lighter waving balladry (complete with Space Oddity-recalling hand-claps in the refrain). So...they span the globe of genres, certainly.  

"We have changed so much since beginning to work on this E.P.," Gregg said. The band includes Gregg, along with Matt Romanski on lead vocals/rhythm guitar, Aaron Romanski on bass, Tom Stanko on drums, John Raleeh: trombone (and keyboard on the recordings). Niklaus Landstrom joined halfway through 2015 as the group continued evolving towards this debut E.P.

"I'm happy that people actually have something to listen to of ours," added Gregg. "But, more than anything, I think the whole band is excited about what's coming next. This E.P. is pushing us towards that..."

The songs were laid out in such a way, Gregg revealed, so as to evoke a sense of enticing unpredictability from the listener; meaning, you're supposed to have no idea where the song goes next, or how they'll sound in the bridge before the final chorus. Wait, do they have choruses?? (Exactly!) 

"(This E.P.) is essentially our introduction and we plan to expand on much of this type of material in the future," said Gregg. These songs act as tributaries tiding toward the band's future seas of an even more expansive and exploratory kaleidoscopic rock. "Listening back to it, now, I think about all the different paths we chose to take within these songs; all the intense discussions we'd have as a group about their instrumentation, their direction, what aspects we felt should be most important and prominent to the listener..." 

Gregg, among the members, was present for just about every moment of the E.P.'s recording process. "So, I have some very vivid memories like John doing the intro to "A Fever of Static" in one take in the Wayne State practice rooms, or Matt recording vocals in a makeshift "vocal booth" I set up in my closet, haha. We took our time with this, looking for the right performances, finding out along the way how exactly we wanted to make our first statement as a band."

The recording process itself was a bit odd, or even erratic, since they did it all on their own and in several different locations, including Assemble Sound, the Recycling Center (in New Center) and even in the basement of Detroit Institute of Bagels (where Gregg works). Nigel Van Hemmye (of Nigel & The Dropout) helped with mixing and production work at Assemble. 

Where to next? Anywhere and everywhere! Any sound or style they like...

Earth Engine
E.P. Release Show
Feb 13
@ The New Dodge (8850 Jos Campau, Hamtramck)
8 PM / $5

Saturday, January 30, 2016

River Street Anthology (pt. 1 of 3): the Kalamazoo Sessions (chapter 1 of 2)

The Go Rounds

When I walked out of the First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo, after seven hours observing (and interviewing) Matt Jones during his recording session for his River Street Anthology, I felt like everything made sense again.

I forgot the sting of cynicism, jaded thoughts evaporated... Not that this was any kind of Hallmark swath of saccharine sentimentality...We didn't have any kind of movie-moment inside that church; this was ineffably authentic. It's inevitably a feeling that won't be done any justice by my anxious scrambling for adjectives or smattering of vivid connotations...

But everything that you want to believe about a music scene, all of the good and the sincerity and the camaraderie that your darkest sides are certain of being just a myth or a matter of lip-serviced rhetoric emptied of true intention.... I saw it, like Sasquatch or a freaking unicorn, on full display, in the faces and in the voices of every artist who shuffled past the Altar to contribute their songs to this ever-growing posterity project (in the spirit of Alan Lomax' famous field recordings). The legacy of (our modern) Michigan music scene is being captured, documented, paid-tribute-to, celebrated....with The River Street Anthology....

Matthew Borr, Lisa Moairey, Andrew Whiting 
And, I have to say, for me to travel to all the way over to Kalamazoo  from Detroit and still feel a supernatural sense of familiarity, is saying something; that I was instantly at home, welcomed. And, at many moments, I was downright captivated with the signature blend of solidarity and easy-going alliances crackling like an inviting bonfire out there, toward the west side.... I'm...well, I was speechless.
G'Itis Baggs 

Now, with more on's Anthony Roth....

"I never lived in Michigan until 2006, when my wife and I moved to Kalamazoo. I have always loved live music, so we started searching out where to go. I remember paying three dollars to see Steppin In It in the Bell's beer garden, having no knowledge of the band before then, and being completely blown away by the quality. I kept having similar experiences all over Kalamazoo, which led me to have conversations with many of the musicians that I was watching. So, we started making a lot of new friends who happened to be musicians. Who Hit John? were the first good musical friends we made here. Their culture of care and openness were crucial to our understanding of the community. The Go Rounds are also slightly newer great friends. Both recorded on Sunday.

My wife and I left Kalamazoo for a little less than two years in 2009 and 2010 when she took a job in another state. We moved back to Kalamazoo pretty much because of all of the friends that we had made here. We bought a house with a third floor loft apartment and we generally make that available to touring musicians or musicians who are recording in Kalamazoo for a few days, usually at La Luna with Ian Gorman. 

Northern Fires 
The overall vibe that we are aiming for is probably that of Seth Bernard and Harvest Gathering: love, respect, inclusiveness. We and Paul Janson started a monthly event at our house that ran for a few years called "Songshop", which basically covered any aspect of songwriting and was welcoming to people of any skill levels. We usually had a special guest who was an expert, so to speak. Those experts have been Seth Bernard, Jay Gavan, (both recorded with the RSA so far) and many others who were kind enough to donate their time. A friend of ours is picking up the tradition this Saturday and the expert is G'Itis Baggs, who recorded on Sunday, too. The Northern Fires recorded Sunday with the RSA and I believe that Noah and Laurie met at a Songshop. At least I hope they did. They are so good together.

Outside the snare drum in the grade school band, I never played an instrument until my wife bought me a guitar for Christmas in 2009, when I was 39 years old. The musical community in Kalamazoo is so welcoming and encouraging and collaborative that I found some of the most talented, experienced and skilled musicians encouraging me. I certainly haven't been everywhere, so I hesitate to say that the Kalamazoo music scene is unique. I do not hesitate to say that it is rare in its focus on encouragement, collaboration and cooperation as opposed to competition. There is certainly competition and I certainly do not know every musician in Kalamazoo, but I never would have guessed that such a welcoming culture would also include so much excellence. 
Roth recently performed with
Perilous Cats at Louie's Back Room;
a fundraiser for the Pat Carroll Foundation.

I could make a long list of just Kalamazoo-based musicians that meet this description. Megan Dooley is a great example. She is talented and skilled (not at all the same thing). She works very hard and recently released a really nice record under less than ideal circumstances. She’s not rolling in dough, but she brought coffee and donuts to the RSA on Sunday just to show her appreciation. She runs an open mic locally that has resulted in skill level and confidence increases in lots of people like me, at least in part due to her encouragement and her own experience as a younger musician being encouraged similarly.

Really, all I wanted to do was learn a new skill (guitar) that would be fun, but it has led me to experiences I never thought I would have. I have now played guitar and bass on stage in front of people, mostly at benefits. I have written songs and I sing them. I have recorded with the River Street Anthology. I think Matt had only recorded maybe 30 people when he asked me to record. I refused, confused as to why he would want me on there, but he also refused to stop asking. I could not understand why anyone would want me to record a song. I think it was probably Seth Bernard, the great leveler, who set me up for it with Matt.

Patrick Carroll was a friend of mine and his story and his music are a huge part of all that I do musically. I find this project of Matt's to be something that Pat would have thought was really cool. Pat was one of the very best people I have known, along with one of the very best musicians. I would say the same about Matt. I think that Matt has maybe learned as much about himself as he has learned about the musical community in this project. 

The fact that (Jones) is giving so much of himself through this project makes him one of the most important players in the community, I think. It is just this sort of example that keeps the river flowing. I use the metaphor of a river whenever somebody tries to say that we started any part of this in Kalamazoo. I certainly didn't start anything, but I am involved in enough music-related stuff that people who don't know better can be confused trying to figure out how we fit in. I feel like I simply stepped into the river that was already flowing right through here. Musical communities like this don't have a single starting point and they have to be fostered by a whole bunch of people regularly in order to keep it flowing. I think we are continuing a tradition. I think that's what Matt is doing extremely well. Laurie Laing called it a Framily (friend family), and that is right. There is a lot of mixing of band members and it seems sort of impossible for anybody to stagnate in the big Framily.

When I recorded in Matt's basement, it was transformative. I had spent about two weeks really working hard on what I was going to record and, although I have not heard the recording, I believe it was the best I could do at the time. But since then I have had many more opportunities to play in front of people, including playing in the barn at Harvest Gathering at the insistence of Seth Bernard (he's all through this narrative, to nobody's surprise). I am certain that if I had not recorded with Matt I would not be anything like the musician I am today, which is not to say that I am particularly skilled. But I am much better than I was nine months ago and the project has energized me in the direction of musical endeavors. I feel like some of what you noticed happening on Sunday is the same sort of thing happening to many of the musicians who recorded. 

(The RSA) is certainly special, but it also makes people feel special and that makes them try hard and think of giving of themselves as Matt has. His example makes people try hard toward building community, which is probably the key point that I would make. The caring musical community keeps getting larger (and more skilled) because of what Matt is doing."


Anthony Roth is a musician and singer/songwriter, but he prefers the identifier of Participant, when it comes to elucidating his connection to- and role within- not only the Kalamazoo music scene, but the greater Michigan music community.
You can read more about the River Street Anthology in an upcoming Detroit Free Press feature.
For now, here are some joyful images.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Walking Beat

Walking Beat didn't exactly get off to a running start... But, I've always been rooting for this band, so I'm quite glad to see them poised in the ready blocks, now, seemingly set to sprint down the track for 2016... That said, this proper "debut" full length has been a long time coming.

You can hear a song (below) and see the Detroit quartet live at PJ's Lager House on Feb 27, with Colorwheel

The Walking Beat started four years ago, performing consistently throughout the years at gigs in Detroit and releasing a handful of singles. They kinda went dark for a bit there, but McFevers was busy getting married, renovating his house, doing life-stuff, you know how it goes...

Introducing, by the Walking Beat, will have its official release party at the end of February (at PJ's Lager House).

Lead singer/guitarist Steven McFever wanted to move away from some of the woodsy/Americana-twangs of his recent project, Scarlet Oaks, and find a happy, melody-centric, toe-tapping middle ground of pop/rock, a bit more Big Star than Uncle Tupelo.

But the winning distinction for Walking Beat lies in its eclectic ensemble. Each of its current players are free (and encouraged) to bring their own signature styles to the table, informed by pasts invariably including punk, blues, garage and a refined pop/rock. With Joe Lavis (bass), Danny Kanka (drums) and Jon Berz (on keys), the recordings also feature guest vocals from Kara Dupuy-McCauley. The result is a bracing, buoyant composite of twanged out revelries, boot-stomping rock, piano-bar-blues-belting and some quality, nostalgia-itch-scratching college-rock-riffage. It's a music that's got its collar undone, maybe one strand of shoelace is loose, too busy running or dancing to care but carried with panache all the while to affect a ruffled charisma.

Listen at:

The Walking Beat

Then...They're on the lineup for the Hamtramck Music Festival Kickoff Party, March 3 at the Fowling Warehouse. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Go Rounds - Texas Desert Rose (video)

Kalamazoo-based space-funk/clunk-pop quartet The Go Rounds released a music video about a month ago, this time for another single from 2015's Don't Go Not Changin. I've gushed enough about this record, already, so I'll spare you and get right to the lovely lake-heavy visuals...

The Go Rounds - 'Texas Desert Rose' from Marguerite Mooradian on Vimeo.

By the way..
.....if you haven't heard (or read) already...
Line ups for Hamtramck Music Festival
...have been announced.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

More Swan Songs (from Phantom Cats) with Liz Shar

Phantom Cats singer/lyricist Liz Shar shared some insights to three songs featured on the now defunct Detroit quartet's final album.

"I grew so much as a singer and artist through the golden years of this band, and I'm eternally grateful to have been a part of it. Nick (Landstrom) doesn't even realize how much he has influenced my life and changed me for the better as a person, within the realm of music, and otherwise. I always felt so honored to be his lead singer, and be able to sing to such moving, and entirely magickal compositions..."


Liz Shar: ...simply about feeling something so intensely that you can't express it properly with words. Sometimes the only way I know how to express myself and to purge overbearing feelings is to sing or growl or yell, as if the animal part of my humanity is the one  processing emotions.

"My Body"

Liz Shar: ...about the back and forth of being confident in yourself, and then letting societies standards weigh you down. I've been a big girl my whole life, and society is always telling me I'm wrong for it. I have this anchor in my heart that says, "no I love my body, I don't need to lose weight for them," but then I'll find myself letting society's standards put me down, but then I'll back track again and ground my feet in what I know is true--that beauty standards are created by society, by men, by the media, to make money and control people's minds, in many ways. I'm not about that life. This is my body!

"Lil' Demon"

Liz Shar: ...about my experience being bi polar. The lil' demon is the mental illness, which I've been managing since middle school. I've been on and off meds, been in the psych ward, getting into and out of addictive/compulsive behaviors, and after all this time, when that lil demon strikes, it makes me feel 18 again.. Out of control, indecisive, impulsive, confused, and crazy

Shar is currently finishing up a Master's Degree in Linguistics at Georgetown University. She and guitarist Nik Landstrom haven't ruled out another "final" recording (for a possible release) for the songs they wrote together as Fancy Street. No official word on that... In any case, as you can hear on these recordings, Shar pours her heart and soul into her singing and her live performances with Phantom Cats will be missed. Though, I heard a rumor she's picked up the guitar, lately... So, I"m sure we'll be hearing more from her soon. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Drunken Barn Dance - Big Bend EP (out Feb 5)

I want to be there every time any of those guys picks up a guitar… --Scott Sellwood on "Chruches," lead single from Drunken Barn Dance's forthcoming Big Bend EP

It's been nearly three years since we've heard from Drunken Barn Dance. The quintet's leader, Scott Sellwood, has spent the last six years living in New York and California, but his heart will always be in Michigan, the soil from which his songs truly blossomed. Sellwood, despite his semi-itinerant home-base and relative distance from the Mitten, is nevertheless granted access to Michigan's VIP music room, where he meets the minds of Matt Jones, Fred Thomas, Chris Bathgate, Matt Milia and many more, as equals, comrades...hell, brothers. You'll hear him name-dropping those names, along with Tim & Jamie Monger (of Great Lakes Myth Society) and producer/wizard/bass-sage Jim Roll.

Drunken Barn Dance started around the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area back in early 2007. It was around this time that he served his tenure in Thomas' Saturday Looks Good To Me. Sellwood has since perfected his sensibility for rollicking indie-Americana romps and twanged-out tough-n-tumble baroque ditties. He's backed by Roll, Scott DeRoche, Ryan Howard and Greg McIntosh, and they've continued to maintain their sometimes fast and fierce (and occasionally functioning-Bacchanalian) approach to recording throughout the years, including with Big Bend, their latest EP coming out on Quite Scientific Records, Feb 5.

As is often the case, Sellwood has written an exuberant and hyper-endearing love letter to Michigan with their lead single, "Churches." I think it's the most vigorous incarnation of reverence and kicking camaraderie I've ever heard... This is windows-rattling guitar rock with a Rustbelt warbled voice so full of gladness you can almost hear its source ricocheting around the room. That said... the ears of this blogger have heard the forthcoming EP, and I can assure you, you find a wide variety of tunes, including some heavier traipses & jukebox slowdancers and everything in between.

I’m just thrilled that the formula still works and the guys are still down," Sellwood said. "We basically took two years off, far more time and distance from each other than in the past. This was largely due to all-encompassing day jobs, but also other things ranging from geography to family to bad weather. Like with every DBD release, the songs we can successfully record according to the rules are the ones that make it. The others don’t. That doesn’t necessarily make for the most thematically coherent group of songs.

The band knocked out two EP's, said Sellwood, with only a small amount of 'song casualties" left behind. Don't get excited now, but there will eventually be two more DBD EP's coming down the pike.... No official word yet, but you should stay tuned via Quite Scientific for more info. Sellwood is anticipating a summer release.

In the meantime, DBD are headed out on the road next month.

Drunken Barn Dance Tour Dates:
Jan 21st - New York, NY @ Leftfield
Feb 4th - San Francisco, CA @ Hotel Utah
Feb 18th - Detroit, MI @ PJ's Lager House
Feb 19th - Ann Arbor, MI @ Elk's Lodge
Feb 20th - Grand Rapids, MI @ Tip Top Deluxe

" Individually," Sellwood said, " think the songs are among our best. St. Russell is the latest in the line of DBD good-versus-overwhelming-evil songs. 'Churches' is a simple rock song that is propelled forward by our love for the subjects - songwriters from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti who make our lives better every time they walk on stage. They just also happen to be dear friends. I want to be there every time any of those guys picks up a guitar… Another song, "Celebrate," is the first ever break-up song in the DBD canon. Sellwood admits he's not typically interested in that kind of song, but wanted to create some characters dealing with it. "Always grow, right?" said Sellwodd. "Scott DeRoche had the idea of making it a dirge like Richard & Linda Thompson’s 'Calvary Cross.' Greg McIntosh added the militaristic cadence to the chorus. The combo works!"

Then there's the song "We’re All Much Smarter Than Our Drinking Buddies Believe," which Sellwood considers "... classic DBD and among the better solo folk songs I’ve written. It’s typically spastic and wordy, but hopefully with some purpose."

Spastic. Propulsive. Wordy. But with purpose... That's Drunken Barn a succinct, whimsical whirl!

Chris Bathgate

Chris Bathgate performs tomorrow at the Ark in Ann Arbor

7:30 pm
The Ark 
316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, MI
(734) 761-1800

Having grown up between Iowa and Illinois, young Bathgate started playing guitar and singing around the turn of the century, when he located to Ann Arbor for studies in art and design at Univ. of Michigan. He became a fixture in the Arbor/Ypsilanti music scene with his first two bands and his initial solo performances in the early 2000’s.

Bathgate’s acclaim went international, though, in 2008, when he signed with Michigan-based Quite Scientific Records for the release of A Cork Tale Wake, with the cinematic, subtle, and yet utter show-stopping piano ballad “Serpentine” winning praise both from the BBC and The Independent (UK). His 2011 follow-up took an unintended three years as Bathgate wound up scrapping-and-restarting Salt Year, several times. Regardless, it only expanded his following nationally, leading to a memorable Tiny Desk Concert on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

At what seemed like a height, Bathgate climbed back down for a couple years, starting in 2012, with a quasi-hiatus (at least breaking from touring), to work as a teacher for U-M’s New England Literature Program out near Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Though he restarted touring in 2014, it should be noted that Bathgate never ceased writing or recording music.

He’ll deflect you with modesty and self-deprecation, but Bathgate’s music, particularly on this latest, Old Factory, is a powerful conduit of all those goosebump-inducing, sigh-exerting, watery-eyed sensations comprising the human experience; the soul’s expanded gaze into the bigger picture’s full frame.

The 33-year-old currently calls Grand Rapids home. This month marks not only the release of Old Factory, but also the beginning of a Midwest/east coast tour and the revelation that he’s already at work on future recordings.  The Free Press spoke with Bathgate about his lyrics, his patience and the importance of legacy, not just his own but every musician’s.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Phantom Cats - Swan Songs

Phantom Cats have closure, now.

The now defunct Detroit quartet releases their proper finale on Friday with Swan Songs (on Tool & Die). Recorded in one day on a top floor loft space overlooking Eastern Market, guitarist Nik Ländstrom, singer Liz Shar, bassist Adam James and drummer Matthew Dahler, cranked out a keen cache of genre-defiant denouements, blending soul, samba, indie-pop and bossanova, with impressive fret-mincing on the guitar, radiant lead vocals, and snazzy/jazzy/adventurous rhythmic grooves from bass & drums.

Phantom Cats were always a weird blend.

“Weird is good…” Ländstrom said, approvingly. “Nobody wants to be a normal band, right?”

Ländstrom, a classically trained wizard on the guitar, moved back to Detroit (from Grand Rapids) in 2010, when he began writing more of his own songs with singer Shar. By February of 2011, James and drummer Max Daley joined the pair to form what would become quite a dynamic composite of rock flavors and performance styles. Shar could soar to operatic belts, James and Daley found a exquisite pocket blending jazz and garage rock, while Ländstrom went to work on the guitar like some kind of sorcerer, often too immersed in his own fleet-fingered frays to even notice an audience of guitar-geeks and pedal-heads losing their shit at the edge of the stage.

Phantom Cats will premier Swan Songs digitally this Friday:

Now, in any given week,  Ländstrom will likely be listening to anything from D’Angelo, to 16th Century Madrigolds, to bossanova, to Gregorian Chants, or maybe some Hayden…and then some early heavy-metal. So, it’s that kind of kaleidoscope kiln from whence lots of Phantom Cats music was structured and cooked.

 “That’s a big part of Phantom Cats’ sound,” said Ländstrom. “It’s all these different things…especially on (Swan Songs); moments of Latin, funk, some definite James Brown-moments, some R&B…and you’re taking all that and then applying more of a classical approach to it, with the way we’re writing it, ya know, almost thinking motivically about a song’s big picture. I was into the idea of everyone doing their own free response to these songs, after I’d worked them out on the guitar. It makes it more interesting that way. Liz has this insane ear; she can hear things and just sing it with perfect pitch. And I always let drummers do their own things because it’s important to get character in the rhythm.”

The band initially thought that March of 2014 would be their final days. But their would-be final performance felt too disconcertingly off, weird, or flat for them to just let it be… So they first decided to take all of the songs on Swan Songs and give them a proper send-off with a recording session. They didn’t know, then, that it would take a good year-and-a-half before that ball could get really get rolling, (Shar, it should be noted, is currently studying at Georgetown Univ to get her Master’s in Linguistics, so their windows of time were limited). (For that matter, they’re all pretty busy, lately: as Ländstrom  also performs with Earth Engine whilst working as a freelance music teacher, James just joined Cosmic Light Shapes and Daher has his own solo music project). 

Anyhow… Suffice it to say, they finally performed their final-final show in April of last year and then in the late autumn of 2015, they finished up Swan Songs with Three Lions Media producing/engineering, inside the former HQ of Pink Lightning.

“You know when you can sort of feel it, with something, like it’s going to be your last chance…That’s a whole album of songs that would have been gone,” Ländstrom said. “They should be out there! I mean, maybe only 50 people will download it, but still, there are people I meet who tell me they’ve listened to our first EP…”

Swan Songs represents the (late) Phantom Cats in their most purest essence. “These songs represent myself having made a lot of headway as a guitarist and us having more of a deliberate understanding of music. There was a lot of patchwork on that first EP. These songs are through-composed and are written with certain ideals in mind, just with a much more deliberate process.”

Swan Songs is bittersweet, in that regard. It’s the band at their peak, musically with their technique, compatibility as friends and collaborators, and…yeah…just in maturity and sensibility, as these players are now nearly five years older and wiser than the scrappy charmers who broke onto a scene back when they likely raised a lot of politely perplexed eyebrows from the rest of the (garage) rockers around here.

There’s more confidence, too. That shines through on Swan Songs, freer and more confident. “As long as it’s not overly indulgent, there’s a clear structure and the songs go somewhere…There’s a trajectory here.”

It’s a classic tale of a band making some brilliant and, yes, weird pop songs that burned out before we could their curious comet could complete a full span of our horizons… I mean, they didn’t even ever sit down for a band photo! They never even had a proper release show for that first EP! They’re like a freshly-forged urban myth.

Fittingly, Tool & Die will collect both of their releases, Swan Songs and their debut EP into one big album: The Collected Works of Phantom Cats. Stay tuned.
This weekend, Phantom Cats singer/lyricist Liz Shar will share insights on three selections off of Swan Songs...