Monday, October 24, 2016

Lin-Say Premiers New Single Next Week

The Magic Stick began re-opening its doors recently to feature regular performances of local bands and artists spanning genres of rock, pop, electronica, hip-hop, techno... you name it. No longer a club zone exclusively featuring DJs or hosting dance nights (when it was "Populux" for a matter of months), the original Magic Stick comes back to life this Thursday night with a substantial lineup of local talent, featuring Britney Stoney, Martez, Weirdoz Gang and Dominique Pari.

The big occasion is the premier of a new single from singer/songwriter & genre-splicer Lin-Say. "2Thou" is a follow-up to last Spring's Shut Up and Pick Me Up LP.

Lin-Say (Linsay Gould) brings soul and jazz-pop balladry to a bit of hip-hop swagger and pop's effervescent frolic. Raised around Metro Detroit, the Motown influence is inevitable, but she also imbues the heavy-hearted intonations of Carole King, the edginess of Amy Winehouse and the classy style of Etta James, tastefully twisting introspective wistfulness with a bit of 80's-pop whimsy.

Lin-Say - joined by T Money Green
Thursday at the Magic Stick
More info 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Two Cheers Find Their Home Base: Singles Series Continues November 8th

Two Cheers
Friday - Oct 28
with The Philter / Rottinghouse / The Counter Elites
The Painted Lady (2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck)

Two Cheers are two-thirds of the way through their current series of singles, with "Black Hole" set to debut on November 8. They're performing in Hamtramck next weekend, and you can listen to "Fireball," which came out just two weeks ago. Assemble premiered the song and had some words to share about it, here.

"Fireball" opens with this gliding synth, while an urgent guitar streaks neon-cool riffs above it; distinguished from previous singles like "Splendor," for winding down the aerobic tempos and setting a bit of a shuffle, a slow dance, a ponderous pop ballad. The chorus sails with those harmonized backing vocals while the verses have a bruised and blunt confessional spill. "Pepper Tree," a b-side on the latest single, brings it back to their coiled burst signature, aerodynamic guitars and jet rhythms while lead singer Brian Akcasu goes from soft croon to ceiling swinging belt.

The band, Austin Lutzke, Carlton White, Megan Marcoux and Owen Bickford, has been steadily gigging at local venues over the last year, while they whittle at the 50+ new songs that Akcasu has been developing. I wanted to catch-up with band leader Akcasu about re-planting his roots back into the Detroit scene after a long stretch of establishing his music career out in L.A.

Definite change in tones and themes in the lyrics after you've moved back and started this latest batch of songs with the group. Tell me about what has kept you motivated most of all, and what was it like, those first couple months back, to come back to Detroit and get Two Cheers its footing into this scene
Some things have been difficult since moving back, like losing my grandmother who cared for me everyday when I was a boy and also my mom getting a very rare and stubborn form of cancer. Also it's very weird being away from my friends, who are all spread out now. On the other hand, a lot of great things have happened this year with the band. Everyone who knows me knows I beat myself up about everything and am generally very impatient about accomplishing my goals! But I mean, within the first couple months back I had found my wonderful new band members and we are writing and recording lots of new music for an LP to release and tour behind in the Spring of next year. We've also played some awesome shows this year. We’ve met a lot of excellent people and made some real friends in the area. Playing both Hamtramck Music Fest and Dally In The Alley was awesome, and we are so grateful for those opportunities! Meanwhile, we teamed up with former members of Two Cheers to create these new singles we’ve been releasing. So, it’s actually been going great and I have no right to complain about anything!

Here's another one of those recent singles...


“Condos” has some of your most contemplative and, at points, existential lyrics. The guitars are very expressive as well.... And“Fireball,” just as a title, suggests something vibrant, fast, but possibly fleeting..., and something that ultimately crashes….! And I haven’t heard “Black Hole,” yet, but that, again, is a bit of a foreboding title. Can you talk about the catharsis your finding with these songs and what you’ve found most fulfilling about the creation process?
As far as the lyrics, I would agree that most of them have an existential bent and a sense of approaching doom. It was like that on Splendor as well to some degree. It comes from my obsession with the ephemeral nature of life and the fact that I don’t know how long I really have to live. But it isn’t pessimism or resignation, I am always using those dark elements to bring every day life into greater relief in my lyrics.

When you can vividly feel something ending or passing, it makes you realize how precious things are right now in this place and time. It’s a way of remembering to take nothing for granted and to burn brightly for the people around you, like a fireball, every day. So, for me it’s part catharsis, as you suggest, but also a way to simply remind myself to look at life in a holistic, broad-spectrum kind of way. As I said, I tend to beat myself up about details so maybe I need these little reminders even more! The most fulfilling part of doing these songs was writing and recording them very quickly… Perhaps even too quickly. I treated the demo process as the final recording session, for instance I had all the good amps and good microphones going all the time in my studio, so that I could capture those initial sparks of creativity that are hard to recreate later.

Between LA to Detroit, what have you learned, most of all? What’s been your biggest takeaway? Does it matter, anymore, where a band is…where they’re based, in order for them to forge an eventual career or tour? And what are some misconceptions about LA that you could dispel for us…
I can’t really speak for other bands, but for Two Cheers it made more sense both pragmatically and emotionally to leave Los Angeles even though it’s a music hub and it’s where I’d spent 15 years of my life. Los Angeles is crowded with bands, it’s expensive to live there, it’s geographically enormous, it’s always awake, it’s extremely hot for 9 months out of the year, the people are very-much big city people, etc. That’s just not for me, and I wanted to be close to my family again as they start to get older.  For a lot of people, Los Angeles is just right.

But I moved back to Michigan on the hunch that the pace of life was a little mellower here, I could have more space in my home for recording and rehearsing, the cost of living would be more artist-friendly so I could work less at a day job/commute less and spend more time on music, and there would be more camaraderie and less cliquishness within the scene. So far, I think I was right about most of that. That’s the biggest takeaway. I love it here so far. I feel like we have a great home base here!

See Two Cheers this weekend.
"Black Hole" is available Nov 8
Two CheersFriday - Oct 28
with The Philter / Rottinghouse / The Counter Elites
The Painted Lady (2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A World That's Bigger: Interview with Mike Vial

photo credit: Amy Lumbert

On October 3rd, Ann Arbor-based singer/songwriter Mike Vial released A World That’s Bigger, a full length record of his most poignant and soulful batch of acoustic folk tunes to date. On October 6th he was struck by a car, crossing Huron St on foot, making his way to the Ark to play at the Vets for 

Peace John Lennon tribute. “Ironically, my world has gotten smaller since the accident,” said Vial, who has been recovering at home, since.

Vial is still celebrating the release of A World That’s Bigger with next Saturday’s performance (10/29) at The Ark, opening for the Appleseed Collective.

The Appleseed Collective & Mike Vial
Oct 29 at The Ark
 Read my interview with The Appleseed Collective via Current Magazine online next Monday

“I’d emotionally forgotten that I actually released a record. I’ve since been a present father at home, spending time with my daughter. I get really upset thinking she could have grown up without her dad.”

Vial has been releasing music regularly for almost 10 years. He’s been performing around our state and across the country for more than several years, having surpassed 1,000 performances. His voice, his performances, his tuneful guitar strums and his sentimental & ponderous lyricism makes him one of the most endearing artists of the last decade.

The album is a warm, crisp collage of Americana coiled with lots of contemplative lyrics narrated by an artist who sounds like he’s enjoying the radiant sunrise after a proverbial dark night of the soul. 

This is the album that finds the (very melodic) peacefulness echoing an existential investigation of the day-in/day-out anxieties so many of us go through. To me, it felt like an album bathed in the calming light shone down from the exit of a tunnel. But then….just as he reached that exit point of ease, Vial had the accident.

There are a lot of literary and Biblical allusions within the lyrics of the record, and they are spinning in my head,” said Vial. “The song “We’re Not Here Anymore,” which is contemplating fate and death, is on my mind, lately: “There’s a ghost on the sidewalk, a devil in the street. One will never welcome, one we’re meant to meet…”

Vial was carrying his main guitar, a Taylor 514ce which he’s had for 15 years, and luckily it survived. This was the guitar he used on the recordings, produced with Mike Gentry up in a cabin in Indian River. In addressing the lyrics, Vial said that he could only hope that listeners can find comparable catharsis through these “universal challenges of adulthood.” Vial is a former school teacher, and there’s this nuanced affability with the way he presents his musical ruminations, much like a guide (or teacher) would to a curious class, but with a humbleness underlying a poet’s submission to certainly not having all the answers. “This record tackles weighty topics, like miscarriage, leaving one’s job, losing a family member…doubt…”

“Recording with Mike Gentry was a perfect mentorship and the cabin provided the best reflective setting,” Vial said. “The cabin is covered in knotty pine. It felt like recording in the bellow of a guitar-ship. I was chasing a certain sound with this record, like Captain Ahab chased the whale in Moby Dick. I was consumed by this record because I had something to prove to myself. All of my previous recording experiences have been fun, but I have never captured my live performance’s emotion on tape.”

photo credit: Anne Glista

A World That’s Bigger was done completely live: no overdubs, no fixing, no click-track. Vial wanted the same emotion and energy as his live performances captured on the record. That mean 150, repeat, 150 takes, and collecting the ten best. “I had road-tested nine of the ten songs, and consumed a lot of classic 70s era records, especially Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. I knew exactly how I wanted this to sound. But getting it live was a gamble.”

“I’ve always viewed recording sessions as snapshots of where a musical artist is at that moment. A World That’s Bigger is very much that type of snapshot.”

Famously, Vial’s wife, journalist Natalie Burg, said she would not marry him unless he quit his teaching job to pursue music full time. I still feel like that prior experience informs his charismatic manner and literary lyrics. “Previously, I was focused on the guitar portion of my shows. Now I’m in a new chapter—a folk tradition, sense of community, storytelling….”

“I tell a lot more stories in the set. I’m very aware of not becoming A Mighty Wind, but stories can hook people into the song. And being a teacher allowed me to find an animated self. I learned how to keep 36 freshmen students’ attention for 90 minutes. That experience has seeped into my pacing of a gig; and a lesson plan models a set list for me.”

Once Vial is fully healed, he knows he’ll feel compelled to make up for lost time, since he’d previously planned on substantial touring for World. “But, I’ve been doing more than 200 gigs a year for quite a while, and now that I have a family, I’m discovering how much we can handle. The accident is making me respect time even more.”

It seems, after the accident, like another journey down yet another tunnel toward a new source of light is in the works… That said, I’ll add this, editorially, I adore the way Vial muses on the art of songwriting: “Songs come in spurts for me, I don’t chase muse. I ran track in high school; the last thing I need is music to become a race. Don’t get me wrong, I work on music daily, but if songs ideas don’t come, I don’t force them. Instead, songwriting for me is like collecting rainwater in buckets, until they overflow.”

The city of Ann Arbor, where he lives, and the splendor it exudes in the peak of autumn’s display polychromatic charms, has been particularly therapeutic for the Vial family at this time. The fine folks of the community as well, over Facebook through supportive messages, and in person at venues, are cheering him on… “Normally, I don’t get to see many concerts since I’m constantly gigging. I’ve been finding time to hobble on crutches to shows during the fall. I just saw my friends in Sedgewick play at Café Verde, and my friends Frances Luke Accord play at the Ark. I’ve been reading Nick Hornby’s Songbook, a set of essays about his favorite songs. I’m reconnecting to music. The buckets are getting full. I’m going to have a burst of new songs soon.”

Vial said he’s trying to find his way, deeply respectful and conscious of all of the talent, history here in Ann Arbor, and the energetic wave of talent, year to year, that serenades its music halls. “I enjoy many fruits because people have invested in this community for many decades, including the arts. So I want to engage in a positive manner, and bring something to the table.”

Release Show at the Ark is still on:
October 29, the Ark
opening for Appleseed Collective

Tickets: $15 on sale here

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Sound of Eleven

There are, at least, four key aspects to the experience of acquainting oneself with pieces of music, by which I mean contemporary compositions, artful dispatches from the DIY breed encountered across the expanse of the Internet.

The way that music endears itself to you includes, of course, its essence. That's the part where I describe to you what it sounds like. The part you already understand, yourself, deep down; that visceral reaction you have to the midnight gusts of the vocals: soft and sinewy at the same time, the growl of these droning synths forging an enveloping canopy careful to keep to the peripheries so as not to block out the lilting melodies but just enough to stoke a certain tension, or the patchwork of minor keys, the swell of tones that risk eclipsing the piece but always leave a thin mantle, whether at the top of the mix or delicately buried, for the percussive element to punch its way through...

The next part you connect with is, inevitably, the human element. Who are these people and what is their collective story... Funny that, the enterprise of bands tends to trim much  nuance and combine four people's individual lives into some kind of hybrid, a troupe with a single voice demonstrated in 4-minute chapters or as a synchronized ensemble upon a stage (more on that later). But whereas we know these players from previous bands, I feel like bringing up résumés would distract from the point of this project. 

You're listening to Sound of Eleven And the album's title, in itself, denies you the assistance of deciphering its aesthetic for yourself by suggesting there is no artist and there is no name... 

The third aspect involves the vibe, the look, the message. This is specific from the way the music sounds, the way it feels. This involves the artifice that you, yourself, get to receive and keep from the artist; particularly the album cover....and the lyrics. 

This land is heaving hell 
with a price on time 
we don’t do what we can 

The secret’s out 

Not every end connects 
but it’s all we have 
and all we seem to need 

And then you look at that album cover. It could be the surface of the moon or an irradiated orange peel. It could be a still-frame from Eraserhead or it could be just a glimpse of a terrible fantasy landscape you've once found yourself flying over in the middle of a dream of potent disorientation. This is uncharted terrain. That's the point. And when you pare back the ideas of being able to identify the band, and you disregard prior projects, then the lyrics, such as "Clocks," can hit home harder.

But what we have is a sublime interweaving of dark ambient meditations, apocalyptic folk, post-industrial slow dancers and strung-out post-rock. What we have is something to wade into...sift, at points, have to come up out of...

And then there's that four aspect... Seeing the band live, seeing their faces, their eyes, the way they perform together, their body language, their dynamic abilities on display, whether at a drum kit, on guitar frets or in front of a microphone. And, as of right now, you do not get to have that opportunity with this band.

You can only listen to this album.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Back in July, I checked in with Adam Pressley about the future of Ohtis. Now..., here in October, that future is starting to actually happen, more and more, day by day. The band's creative energies flow from itinerant singer/songwriter Sam Swinson, with Pressely based here in Michigan, keeping touch and consistently collaborating on song-construction. 

Swinson (currently based in L.A.) and Pressley once had a full band behind them, originally based out of Illinois, that toured and released music throughout the mid/late 2000's. From 2009-2015, the duo were not working on any music, but that changed when Ohtis was essentially jumpstarted again for recent (and forthcoming) tours. 

It's since paired down to a duo, but they continue to make splendidly skewed country and abstract folk meditations, with inventive percussive patterns and evocative intonations in the vocal department. 

Ohtis is kicking off a tour with singer/songwriter Anna Burch (of Frontier Ruckus) tonight at Donovan's Pub. Meanwhile, they premiered a new music video today (streaming below). Tour dates at: 

Milo: Adam..., tell me..., how's all things: Ohtis? 

Adam Pressley: Things are superb.  We're currently doing the pre-tour scramble, today...Gotta package these tour CD's, buy a drum head, get the oil changed, practice the set, feed the cat, water the plants..., And I need to buy a new pair of shoes.

Milo: And Sam came in to town? Did he travel by motorcycle? Did he hitchhike?  
Pressley: Funny you should ask.  Sam was actually driving his dad's truck here from LA a couple days ago, but it broke down in Nebraska.  So, he had to take a 22-hour Greyhound bus trip to Detroit.

Milo: What kind of groove, what kind of mindset, what kind of creative rhythm, does one have to set in to, when one is in Ohtis, i.e., one dude in Michigan, one dude in L.A? What is that work experience like as an artist/musician? 
Pressley: Sam wrote lot of songs in the 6 years we weren't playing music together, and more are still coming.  Since we have an album's worth of songs ready for release, and the bones of another album's worth of songs tracked, we have the luxury of being able to flesh out new material when inspiration strikes.

Milo: What are you guys working on lately? 
Pressley: We're mixing a collection of songs with Colin Dupuis (of Zoos of Berlin), and continuing to write and record more new songs.

Milo: And what are you most stoked for, hopeful-about, in the near future? 
Pressley: Stoked for: Sam just started a pot of coffee..., and my eyeballs feel dry right now....  Hopeful-about:  ...there being enough coffee for us both to have a sufficient amount.  It was the bottom of the bag, so it's possible I will only be able to have about a half a cup or so...


Update: Adam got a full cup of coffee

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Watching For Foxes - Undone Bird

Watching For Foxes

I never get over to Grand Rapids as much as I should...  And it's rare that our Detroit ears stretch over that far to check in on the local scene's latest releases. Watching For Foxes are quite distinct from other west-side-Mitten bands like Heaters, Greensky Bluegrass or The Go Rounds. There's this alluring fury to some of their folk-rock songs, this striding blaze and sharp churned stride, the guitars pealing with this elemental clangor, and the vocals intonated with this ineffable urgency, an arpeggio of all the heart's strings, while the drums and bass, the pianos and atmospheric pedals, effectively pull the listener in, pushes you forward...

Watching For Foxes make every song feel like it's that half-triumphant, half-weary, all-around cathartic march up the hilly knoll towards the unknowable-yet-still-hope-splashed horizon, as if every song were the build up to the closing credits of the indie-arthouse film of the story to your life. And Undone Bird is very much an aural anthology of soundtracks to a life, a life dented and sweetened by moments of soul-searching, of sacrifice and loss, of refreshed perspectives and outlook-altering questions...of, above all, resoluteness. The music, like the motives and moxie of the band, churns on, onward... 

I also enjoy the ambient wooziness, the half-in-a-dream stagger, of some of the more atmospheric sounds captured on this production. I love how succinct and profound the percussive elements can be, providing just the right amount of propulsion. I love how the lead vocals and the guitars can be so uniquely expressive, and yet sound as though they were both comparable lost souls propping each other up in arms in this undeterred forging forth. 

Blues and rootsy country vibes meet space-orbiting avant-garde shreds; heart-on-the-sleeve folk with the American Underground, nostalgic troubador ballads for the quiet twilight wanders and cinematic glides into the mind-blowing wide open empyrean. Be ready to have it pared back for some minimal banjo odes, or some slower-building tempos under some star lyrical fair. Be ready for, above all, emotion, the heavy evocations, the kinds of moments in your life that can't be put into words yet can be excellently encapsulated by a song, by its notes, by its tones, by its tempo. Watching For Foxes really forged something here; one can feel the fire. 

Watching For Foxes join the lineup at Putnam's HalloweenFriday, Oct 21
with Jack & The BearShapes & Colors and many more
starting at 6pm
At The Crofoot (Hosted by Eternally Nocturnal)
More info

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful (Friday at Chelsea Alehouse)

Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful
Oct 14 (Fri)
Chelsea Alehouse (420 N. Main St., Chelsea)

Every Misty Lyn performance is memorable, for me. I can only catch 3-4 out of a year, but they're always cherished occurrences.

And I wish that word, "memorable," had more impact, in a world of Hallmark cards and critics concocting blurbs, raves and praises. I wish, traversing the synthetic terrain of the Internet, that I could cultivate even half as much of the sweet sincerity that I typically try to keep for myself, that I consistently find in Misty's music.

I wish, or at least I'll hope, that when I tell you these moments of Misty Lyn concerts are memorable, that it is an ineffable evocation of calmness: a reassurance, I'd say, that you are finally certain, in a world of merry-go-round status-shuffles and f.o.m.o.-induced neuogenic atrophy, certain that there is no other room you have to be in..., no other appointment to rush to..., no other song you should be thinking about... Friends, I have never checked my phone during a Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful set. I appreciate how disconcerting that accomplishment is in a 2016 world...and even then, I'm guilty of recently instagramming one of her songs... But still.

I met her seven years ago, but had been listening to her music as long as eight years prior and I found my younger self using the word "autumnal" when I described her music. We later had a, yes, memorable interview, where she gracefully shifted my perspective on what the hell I would have even been vaguely implying by that.

But I was pretty sure I figured it out... There is no other time of year, Autumn, where I feel I am more present... The perfect days between October 7th and, let's say October 21st, when the weather isn't cold yet, when all the color is in, when woodsmoke and cinnamon is in the air and the suburban squirrels are still bustling, when a tinge of pale sets in but there is still vibrancy... It is, and I will debate you on this till the cows come home, it IS THE perfect time of year. The moment I want frozen and framed.

That's what I thought, anyhow. I don't need to stay stuck in one moment, I don't need it captured in amber and worshiped as fleeting perfection. When I listen to a Misty Lyn song, every noise in my head, the worries, the self-doubts, the anxious gazes toward the future, is extinguished. My sense of autumn was always a nervous one: I have to enjoy it because it'll be gone in a week. And so you start moving and busying and fidgeting and it all blows by you.

When I listen to a Misty song, it's a tremendous and delicate shove into sharpened relief: how much I've been missing. It's a deep sigh. It's the goosebumps and it's the refocusing of the soul's lens. This is where I should be and this is exactly the song I want to be hearing right now.

This is a blog, so I will be as candid as I damn well please. A friend of mine asked me, morbid as it sounds, to pick a selection of songs I'd want played at my own funeral. These wouldn't be dirges or hymns, they wouldn't have to be tearjerkers. They'd have to be songs that you felt were utter celebrations of life, as it is; songs that you would want your friends to commiserate to, sing along to, together...

Well, should I go out anytime soon, make sure this is on the playlist...

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dear Darkness: Aggressively Engage

Dear Darkness could blow your mind. They could throw you off, entirely. You might get the wrong idea. You might get it, instantaneously. Even as I write this, though, I’m not, myself, purporting to distill or fasten any authoritative interpretation upon this local duo, with singer/guitarist Stacey MacLeod and drummer/singer Samantha Linn.

Photo by Chantal Elise Roeske

Dear Darkness perform Sat, Oct 15
Infowith Blood Stone, Sros Lords, and Car Phone
at Kelly's in Hamtramck

“I think that rock audiences in Detroit just want to have a good time,” MacLeod said, “to let go, and truly be entertained. (Linn) and I prefer to play fast, fun songs with strong narratives—lyrically and musically. The thing I love about the band, most of all, is the way it allows me to tune out and live out my rock ‘n’ roll fantasies. We want to take people’s minds off shit.”

Dear Darkness a minimalist punk-rock that channels the theatrics of glam, the solemn poetry of 90’s alt-rock, the riffs of indie-pop. It’s expressive, it’s energetic, it’s got fight and it’s got charisma. It has sweet venom about it, indulging in down-stroke guitar scuffs, foot stomp/snare-punch drums and empowering/cathartic sing/scream intonations that trill over the riffs. It’s not implicitly furious, but it can be.

So relax: you are supposed to be having a good time at a Dear Darkness set. That said, it’s also intense!

“(Linn) and I have pushed and supported each other into becoming dynamic performers,” said MacLeod. “We want to encourage audiences to give themselves over to who they are and to their own forms of expression, to be wild and daring about what parts of themselves they expose. I’m dying to know who people really are. So, what (Dear Darkness) does when we perform, now, is surrender…even if it’s ugly, even if it’s a desperate shambles of a performance, at least we are vital and trying to connect!”  

“As a band,” said Linn, “our pace of evolution is more rapid than any other creative project I’ve been a part of…” Linn met MacLeod in 2007, when they both worked at Whole Foods. They soon formed a band together, Looms, and reconvened for another project called The Heaven & Hell Cotillion. Linn, meanwhile, drummed for iconic Detroit garage-pop outfit Outrageous Cherry in the past. “We ask a lot of questions: What is Dear Darkness? WHY does it exist? What’s our role in its creation? We try to keep it fresh and check in with each other a lot to make sure we’re both still having fun.”

MacLeod lives a stone’s throw from downtown Ferndale with her family, while Linn is a former Ferndale resident currently based in Redford. This year finds them with an uptick of momentum, having played their first show in 2014 (in a backyard); they’re now performing at large local festivals, hip joints downtown like the Marble Bar, large gallery openings and even in the storefront of Found Sound on Nine Mile.

You can hear their latest EP Get It Here online at: They’ve been on a creative tear ever since a year ago when they released the fierce and rousing EP Be Nice Honey.

In the near future, they’ll put out an art book, Strange Noise To Keep, with MacLeod’s poetry and Linn’s photography. Meanwhile, they perform October 29th in Ypsilanti at the Dreamland Theatre. They start recording in December with Jim Diamond in Detroit.

The next issue of The Ferndale Friends Newspaper
will be out on Oct 12, where you can read more about Dear Darkness

“Though it’s only me and (Linn) up there on stage, I don’t think people notice anymore. Our sound is minimal, but we fill in the gaps with our desire. But also, we’ve been friends for more than nine years and we’ve worked hard to understand each other. We love each other and people can sense that.” 

The other thing some people are going to immediately sense is that this is a no-frills, caustic-cut, collar-throttling rock outfit powered by two dynamic women. “To tell you the truth, I am somewhat tired of being pegged as a ‘girl group…’” said MacLeod. “A few writers have called us ‘riot grrrl,’ but we aren’t. We don’t have that particular sound. And that sound isn’t bad, but it’s just not what 
comes out of us.”

Both Linn and MacLeod are supporters of the important work of local organizations like Girls Rock Detroit and the feminist-inspired, inclusivity-expanding Seraphine Collective, both fostering more equality in the scene. Because, as MacLeod points out, men still dominate the Detroit rock scene; that said, Dear Darkness have encountered male musicians around town as welcoming peers.

But we writers need to stop falling back on that lazy qualifier of “Oh…it sounds like early 90’s Riot Grrrl….” That narrows dozens of unique bands and musicians into a box with no room for their unique characteristics… “For sure, these organizations of women musicians make the expression of our female-identified selves more comfortable. Female musicians need each other’s support, no doubt, but we can make our own marks as individual artists that accedes that generalization….”

“Dear Darkness is revolutionary because we are ourselves. Most of the lyrics are unapologetically sexual and predatory. Rock ‘n’ roll can make beautiful beasts of us all, if we let it. We aren’t political, outright, but we practice truth. We don’t conform to the expectations of anyone in the Detroit scene—male or female.”

“We’re lucky to be women in the 21st century,” Linn said. “As performers, we are free to take the stage and act as we choose and celebrate the power of the female body. It’s inspiring to see other women in the community taking charge and leading the way to a bright musical future for southeastern Michigan. I don’t think we’re trying to defy or disrupt anything with our music. We’re just trying to push ourselves to be the best performers and artists we can be”

A lot of writers will use the word “raw” with Dear Darkness, but Linn and MacLeod are both skilled musicians with a complex blend of cerebral influences (musically, as well as in literature), but it’s the intention… “I don’t play guitar to impress people,” MacLeod said. “I do it because I have good rhythm and it allows me to physically connect with my lyrics.”

“Brett Anderson (Suede) and Adam Ant inspire me, vocally. I was a classical voice major in college, before I started my first band and started smoking, partying and dropped out for a time. I know the way I’m ‘supposed-to’ sing. I use that to inform my breathing and that gives my voice strength. But I’ve been singing acapella from the stage, lately, and people love that. It’s a bare, unfiltered human voice in their ears—a real technology-free moment of connection. I try to use the faults in my voice to my advantage and aggressively engage.”

Aggressively engage…! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Counter Elites: Pledge of Aggrievance - Oct 14

Pick up next week's copy of
The Ferndale Friends Newspaper (Out Oct 12th), to find this interview in print

Ferndale has its own manifestation of ferocious hardcore punk rock that’s’ aspiring toward the pantheon of Dead Kennedys, Black Flag or Flipper, so memorize the name: Counter Elites.

There’s something grim-chic about a Counter Elites concert: the music is aerodynamic and wound like a coiled spring, the tones are ominous the drums are tremulous and everything about it feels full blast. Jonny Genocide (under a protruding pompadour and sunglasses) sings (screams) and plays (attacks the) bass, while Switchblade Watson (concealed behind a bandana/baseball-cap and distinguished by his frenetic flails), plays drums. 

Crowds at metro area rock venues have swapped conjectures that the two sweat-beaded miscreants behind those outrageous guises are likely local musicians Jonathan Berz and Shaun Wisniewski , longtime friends and collaborators on previous projects/bands. The duo released their 2nd full length album, Pledge of Aggrievance, this month, after a considerably busy year that fostered significant evolutions for the implicitly-provocative, dada-inspired, art-of-the-hyper honing, propaganda-satirists.

Just like seminal/first-wave hardcore punk outfits, The Counter Elites were careful to present a striking iconography that could inspire as equally as intimidate, or perhaps incite. When Berz and Wisniewski are in character, they’re zeal for this disestablishmentarian dogma they’ve fosters (for fictional theatre’s sake…mostly,) can create characters that seem almost psychotic in their intensity. And that’s why it’s so fun to be at their shows. Fun…and loud.

The Counter Elites’ Pledge of Aggrievance Release Show Friday, Oct 14th at the New Way Bar

“Misfit…is probably a better term, without sounding so obviously ‘punk,’” Berz said. “Most people don’t understand what we do, or why, or maybe even don’t perceive it as music, and we are totally OK with that. But for the people that we do fit with, we seem to fit surprisingly well, and those people are almost always odd birds, or misfits.”

Wisniewski recalls a show they played with a not-so-theatrical/more-straight-ahead hardcore punk band. The drummer came to him and said something about being ready to walk out during the first half of their set, taking offense at their irreverence toward the punk rock lifestyle…but the more they played, the more it dawned on this drummer that the Counter Elites were something more intricate than that, a composite of a few rather sophisticated (and even philosophical) concepts that could cultivate a much-needed social commentary… (If by way of manifesting a mythology that includes a fictional organization with preposterous aims…)

“We get a lot of that,” said Wisniewski. “People who are confused. And, honestly, it’s just about putting on an entertaining show and being good at what we do. So, I don’t think we really fit in. Punk bands thing we’re making fun of them. Metal bands think we’re soft for wearing costumes. Most indie bands think we’re too loud and aggressive. I’m fine with this… I’m happy to know that if we’re on a five-band bill, we’re going to be the one you remember next month when you’re trying to remember who played that show.” 

The band has begun to fit in, here and there, with shows primarily hosted in Hamtramck, often paired with comparable envelope-pushers and psychedelic performance artists like The Amino Acids and Carjack! “We do, once or twice,” Berz said, “get to play for an unusually large crowd, at least by our standards, and almost every time that happens, it’s exclusively due to the support of Scott Boyink (Advanced Fish & Chicken Systems Screen Printing).

Other influences to hint at their specific aggressive/raw sound would be Sonic Youth, Minutemen, or even epically costumed thrashers GWAR. These are bands you couldn’t actually corral into the “punk” pasture; there was undeniable musicality, versatility, and authenticity about those bands, just as Counter Elites aspire to an overall presentation (visually, aurally, in personality and in declaration) that would be “powerful and unmistakable.”

“I think we always had the theatre/art aspect of live shows in mind,” Wisniewski said, looking back to their debut performance (Jan, 2013). “It was never supposed to be just a punk band. I feel like from our inception, the posters we make, the album art and music videos, our social media posts, the stage antics, (the fact that (Berz) and I have, maybe only one or two times, publicly stated that we are the Counter Elites and usually play-dumb when asked about it…) All of those things are just as engaging as the music and the message.”

The early songs were short (35 seconds at most), but newer ones have evolved into broader spans… “Even if a song is short, we make it a point to create something complex and interesting,” Berz said. The duo had been in a space-pop ensemble called Songs From The Moon, when they started sliding more and more towards experimentation, genre-splicing, and defiance of convention. They’ve abandoned any strict demand for verses or choruses and instead flourish poetic (yes, poetic) stanzas (of anarchic evangelizing) over break-neck hooks, swift cinder-block breaks and mean bass riffs.

“I do hope that the degrees to which we take our art inspire other individuals similarly stricken with apathy and steamlessness to run with some wild ideas of their own,” said Berz.

At this point in the interview, the alter ego, drummer Switchblade Watson, took over to say that “… (Pledge of Aggrievance) is going to bring (the Counter Elites) one step closer in (their) plan for global ownership…” Watson continued, saying “I can’t give away our secrets, but we had literally hundreds of unpaid interns working 60+ hours per week to make this the best record you never knew you loved.”

“Now you know…”

 The duo are pulling away from the “tiny song” as a fixture for them. “I never really had it in my mind that we only had to have one sound, or only short songs,” Berz said. “So, I guess this is less of a ‘punk record…’ Our sound has gotten huger and easier to craft, but we are still just playing with melodies, rhythms, and convoluted political or cultural criticism.”

Pledge is the album that finds this eclectically rambunctious duo after they’ve matured (somewhat) and grown by way of negotiating their antics and energies inside a lot of different physical spaces. But be sure, even if their early songs could cyclone right by you, there wass the minutest of subtleties sutured in… “So,” says Berz, “we, at first, would reduce the songs, just on bass and drum, to the barest hyper-punctuation of the syllables.” (Berz has a Master’s in English Composition and is an adjunct instructor at Oakland Community College and Macomb Community College). “So… every syllable must have a three-pronged-hit…vocal, bass, note, drum. It helped that (Wisniewski) was a poet, and does not drum like a drummer but drums like a poet. He is highly syllabically-aware in his compositional batter, and knows how to best articulate that.”

In fact, this band was born out of a research project into punk rock music and protest movements. Berz had been invited to contribute writing on aggressive music for Eric Abbey, a local musician (1592) and professor at OCC. As Berz was studying punk bands of the 70’s, he was also taking classes on Dadaism, surrealism, and independently scouring books filled with interviews, zine collections, and listening to hundreds of albums from the genre/movement.

“I started writing stanzas…” Berz said, recalling that he never completed the actual writing project, but instead wound up building what would become the first songs of The Counter Elites. “And I came up with the idea for our own type of radical political performance poetics, like the stuff I had been studying.

“A lot of the iconography came from the image studies I was doing, and the propaganda campaigns I was researching, and the hundreds of flyers I found from books like Why Be Something That You’re Not, and collections like Sniffing Glue, Maximum Rocknroll and Touch and Go. I was equally as involved in “old-school punk studies” as composition studies for those years.“

“For me,” says Wisniewksi, “punk rock was a giant animal that I was never too heavily involved in. That includes listening as well as playing. As a kid in the early 90s I was big into the heavy metal of the time, and that turned to grunge in the mid-90s, and diving deeper into that music opened me up to a lot of the more experimental and weird stuff of that era, but for whatever reason I never slid over to punk rock…”

On the origins Wisniewski expounded… “We discussed dressing up and having fake people in the band since the inception. We were both just ready to do something creative with a live show, but never take it too seriously, and I've always liked the paradox of that dynamic. Like the music is fast, thrash-y, brash and heavy handed with politics and propaganda and yet, there's obviously two normal guys wearing wigs and sunglasses and weird outfits on stage…”

And then, on its ‘evolution,’ Wisniewski concluded… “We didn't start as a goldfish and change into a bird. I feel like we started as a goldfish and turned into a whale…. I think what Carjack does live, and the things that The Amino Acids have accomplished have, for me at least, been like an open door for us as well as a personal inspiration. But more than that, and I think bands like our band know this to be true, when you're not "you" in a band, it just completely changes how you act on stage, the things you'll try as a band, what you can say, and so much more. It's a freedom that's usually only offered at Halloween parties when you're in some anonymous mask and no one knows your true identity. 

No rules + Absolute Creativity Allowed. “We will always be reaching for ways to make it more exciting for both ourselves,” says Berz, “and the audience.”

From here, the band will start working on their third album, almost immediately. Actually, it’s already written and ready to go; 19 songs, called Good Company Man, something of a rock-opera.

For the foreseeable future, The Counter Elites will continue to make whatever musical, artistic and literary products we can that are easy to whip up on a no-string budget on its way to inevitable Total Global Ownership.

The Counter Elites’ Pledge of Aggrievance Release Show Friday, Oct 14th at the New Way Bar

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fallout Fest IV: Interview with ARC PELT

Let’s break it down. The trajectory curves, its velocity’s unpredictable, arcing… then it hits you harder than you’d anticipated… pelted. 

With headphones on, hearing Liz Wittman belt out these haunting incantations with this icy reverb coating her inflection, I feel pulled between dimensions, it’s something mesmeric about the ornate menace of these swelling tones, the caustic casio, the apocalyptic bass, the stratospheric voice. Not noise. Not metal. Hypnotic but not “catchy…” I’ll say artfully abrasive, a balletic cacophony.

And, in fact, something of a left-field curve… “I hope it is left-field!” Wittzman said. “I like that it is different, that was the idea. I’m a bass player, so I’m obviously partial to that instrument…and have always wanted it louder, gnarly-er, or even just audible! (With Arc Pelt), I feel like I get to step into that a lot more. Pairing it with vocals has been challenging…. finding the right vibe and stuff. It’s been an awakening for me, sort of a primal scream.”

The bass conquers. It’s bellicose and eruptive. It agitates, while Wittman’s voice gales and growls like a storm. Zach Shipps (who many know from engineering myriad music recordings for a variety of local bands), is on drums and casio, while Wittman (from past groups like Lettercamp, Friendly Foes, and Kiddo), leads on vocals and bass. George Morris (of the Gypsy Chorus) is on second bass, and the project is currently left open to welcome in any other collaborators when circumstances necessitate.

This weekend, Arc Pelt joins the 4th Fallout Fest at the Loving Touch.
Oct 1
with Queen Kwong / Zoos of Berlin / Earth Engine / ISLÀ / The Erers / Honeybabe / and the Boy Wonders
Visual Artists featured include: Joe Mazzola, Katie Foreman, Kimberly Tomlin, Brent Szczygielski and Calvin VanKeersbilck.
The Loving Touch
More info

“Arc Pelt has been sort of a ghost floating around for a while between Zach and I,” Wittman said. “Then it came together pretty quickly and spontaneously, throwing ideas around.” The group made their live debut in early June, releasing the three songs EP soon after. “We just wanted to do something different, and heavy and trippy…”

Arc Pelt, to some degree, is a reaction against the pop-inclined projects that both Wittman and Shipps had been involved in or lead in the past. Lettercamp, from the late 00’s, showed some initial signs of embracing a bit more of an ambient-experimentalism, that used rhythm and vocal intonation in interesting ways. It was still electro-pop, for the most part.

Arc Pelt, meanwhile, follows into the melee-and-murk aesthetic, heavy on drone and finespun feedback, that artists such as Jenny Hval, Chelsea Wolfe and Cross Record have dug into… But STILL… Arc Pelt is STILL heavier. That bass is straight up tremulous.

“It’s nice having a blank slate,” Wittman said. “But, also intimidating. Cuz this was a big blank slate!”

Wittman stepped away from the music scene for nearly five years, following Lettercamp. She was dedicating her time to raising her two children, with Shipps continuing to work out of their home studio in Ferndale. “I had reached a full-stop and reluctantly came to terms with it. Which…was liberating! And it allowed me to start fresh without expectations and just do it for purely selfish reasons. I loved it and I let it go…and it came back. That’s basically what happened.”

The band’s energy, it’s character, it’s vibe—if you will, came into vitalizing and sharpened relief when Morris joined to fill out the sound.

“The biggest change, as far as my influences,” Wittman said, “has been that I appreciate silence a lot more, now. I used to fill my ears constantly with music…but, for whatever reason, I’m cool, now, with silence. I think that stillness allowed me to appreciate slowing down the tempo (for Arc Pelt) and digging into this deeper sound. Arc Pelt is actually soothing music, to me…”

Listen close. Let it hit you.

Fallout Fest IV at the Loving Touch.
Oct 1
with Arc Pelt, Queen Kwong / Zoos of Berlin / Earth Engine /
ISLÀ / The Erers / Honeybabe / and the Boy Wonders
Visual Artists featured include: Joe Mazzola, Katie Foreman, Kimberly Tomlin, Brent Szczygielski and Calvin VanKeersbilck.
The Loving Touch
More info

Monday, September 19, 2016

Once a Basement Punk, Always a Basement Punk: Interview w/ Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms

Things are a little more rough around the edges for Ryan Allen on his latest album.

"This time, I guess I really connected with my inner-Bob-Mould or something..."

After 2015's Heart String Soul, it sounds as though Ryan Allen's seen the light. And illumination, literal or metaphoric, might be harder to catch when you're working on all your songs late at night in a basement, of all places. 

It's a Tuesday; your son's off to his bedtime and you've got the pinch of hours before midnight to hone a song or two toward  near completion before the day-job calls in the morning and you have to reshuffle your brain again to compartmentalize all these kinetic, coiling melodies until you can get back to that basement. But after a year, what you'll wind up with is something like this...

On Sept 30, Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms release his third solo album, Basement Punk (Save Your Generation Records); performing at the New Way Bar, with FAWNN and Lawnmower

"A lot of the first shows I played, early in my life, were spent in basements," says Allen. "And all my band practises too, even if it was in my parent's basement. That's where things start; basements... ...I mean, almost every significant musical moment that I've had, in terms of sparking ideas for songs, is derived from being in a basement, somewhere..."

Early on, he was in an agit-pop group with his brother, Scott, called Red Shirt Brigade. The band that broke him into the indie-rock world was Thunderbirds Are Now!, and they contemporaries of others from the curious batch of early 2000's math-rock/indie-punk & post-emo outfits like Les Savy Fav and Enon, so they did some extensive touring... Allen has played on big stages in front of hundreds of people before... But there was never anything that equaled the nuanced thrill of being crammed in a basement.

We're talking about jostling into the performance space provided by the Vegan Grocer in Pontiac during the late 90's, or another DIY venue in Ann Arbor called The Pirate House. The finespun feral spill of those urban cavern concerts cultivated a blur of integral experiences of nuanced inhibitions that would inform Allen's musical mindset.

"I'll never forget when Red Shirt Brigade played at The Pirate House. It was with Ted Leo, Lovesick and Q & Not a basement! I remember feeling uncool walking into this hip basement...until I see Ted Leo down there helping out with this sledgehammer. He's getting ready to knock a wall out of this house in the basement so that they'll have more room for people...because there was going to be up to 100 people at the show. Seeing this person that you'd already looked up to (Leo) at the time, down there, with a sledgehammer...just...being a basement punk! He's knocking a wall down in this house just so that we can play a show."

I said earlier that it sounded like Allen had seen the light. I think it's more that he just never lost his way. Or, that he never really left the basement. I mean that as a poignant metaphor, of course, because clearly Allen's been out in the world. He's currently in another band, Destroy This Place, which has been storming along for about five years now (with three albums already under their collective belts). Before that, as Thunderbirds Are Now were tailing out, he married his lifelong sweetheart, Angela, and now their son, Emitt, is starting kindergarten. Life has happened. Even if all those precarious, poorly-lit, poorly-ventilated basements remain in his heart.

Last March, he could have very easily released a Dad Rock album... Not that he would want to or intentionally do so... Heart String Soul wound up being the most tender of taunts, a way to divulge and yet dare any doubters. He made album that discarded any pretense and put his life story into jangle-heavy, hand-clappable, fist-pumped poetry. Imagine that, sincerity and nostalgia, honest emotions and no-second-thoughts over vulnerability, rocked into a power-pop album. It's was like: worry about sounding candid, instead of sounding cool.

"That ability to be fragile and fierce at the same time...that soft center with this rough outer crunch, all of us have that, to a degree, as humans, but for me, playing with that duality in an organic way, not doing it because you think it'll give you some kind of image or some identity. To actually be you, to be the person you are, there is a sincerity to me, but there's also that, kinda...caution... Or, I guess what I'm saying is, I may not want you to get too close. That's why, what I've done with Basement Punks is use the volume, the fullness of the sound, the loudness, to make you step back a little bit, but still keep these lyrics that can pull you closer. That ebb and flow...that's what makes the music that I love and come back to..."

There's fragility behind the noise. The self titled song on this album is a 150-second cycloner with crashing hooks and spidery fret scrapes curtaining the soaring solos. "Gimme Some More" has these effusive guitar hooks that build towards these pounded minor-keys under the chorus that aren't so much riffed as they are hammered, corresponding to the resoluteness of the lyrics, snarling with the moxie of unhinged youth but cooled with the outlook of a higher age, a second wind at a time when you've got more sense, a fresh store of serotonin shoots to the brain but you're wiser about how to use it; this is the wild-sounding rock you make when you're no longer naive, but far from disenchanted.

And then there's "Alex Whiz..." Allen is very aware of his inclinations towards late 90's post-emo intonations and mid-90's underground-rock scruff. Instead of only dabbling with it or blending it with six other half-genres, he's inhabiting the specific rock sound he finds himself most drawn to... Wearing it like a band t-shirt. And that's what makes the stuff sound so authentic, we said: sincere.

Allen said that he had to make Heart String Soul, almost as if it were a sonic keepsake, an overt memoir, through music. But while that album told a lot of Allen's past, Basement Punks seems to be meditations on the present and the inevitable arrival of the future. In that way, with the energy of the guitars and the self-assertive resoluteness of the lyrics, this is the sound of one from the basement punk species sliding closer to a more secured self-esteem with one's place... Yes, I'm in a basement in the suburbs...But, also yes...I'm going to pour my heart into these coarse rockers and curled melodies...

"That's the overall snapshot of what the record is about... Basement Punks... It's this acceptance of that being a good thing and being okay with that. People have aspirations, they want to play big venues like The Filmore and they want a ton of fans and they wanna sell a bunch of merch. Which, I'd never turn down any of those things, but at the same time, you come to this realization of it being okay if none of that happens, or if it used to happen and it just doesn't, anymore. I'm gonna be alright, where I'm at..."

Allen and I start talking about what it's like to truly "evolve" as a musician. I'm not talking about from your first album some band made when they were 21 to their third album when they all turned 24... What happens when you stay on this road...and just continue... What happens is an album like Basement Punks. 

"In any trajectory or vocation in life, the older you get the more rewarded you usually are, except for in music...and, that's not any sort of revelatory statement. But, some older bands, and I'm not naming names, but they just look silly, or there's that feeling like they should just stop, their music isn't anything relevant anymore. But...."

"But then you have a guy like Bob Mould or J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr), or John Davis of Superdrag, or even the band Beach Slang. Davis is in a band called The Lees of Memory. He's got a family, a job, maybe he can't tour as much. So what? Doesn't mean he can't crank out a fucking great song! And Mould? From his solo stuff, to Sugar, and I fucking loved Husker Du. I am into that idea that somebody can still sell (music) as they continue on. As a musician, you can still make something viable, no matter what age they're at..."

The overdue acclaim that came Beach Slang's way for 2015's The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, was a particular inspiration for Allen, as he got started on Basement Punks. (Beach Slang singer) James Alex is another I can relate to, he's also a father and I'm closer to him in age and he still wants to go out there and fucking kick ass and take names. I have to believe that that band is "big" now because of that last record's particular perspective, the perspective that he has now at this point in life. Somebody making the exact same music who might be in their early 20's might not be able to put the same spin on that..."

Some of Bob Mould's very recent songs could have been written by a 20-something-year-old Mould, because the energy is still there. The enthusiasm for rough-and-tumble power pop is still there for Allen, as well, with Basement Punks. But like Mould, they've both got broadened perspectives.

Meanwhile, Allen still performs and writes with Destroy This Place. "Which is an incredibly loud band. That's another reason that (Heart String Soul) was a softer record; I wanted you to have to turn it up a little bit and hear it, closely. This time, with Basement Punks, I wanted to shake that up and make a bit more of a sonic statement. A lot of what brings me back to records by Sugar, or Lemondheads, or Dinosaur Jr...and a lot of it is the fullness of the songs, acoustic and electric combined. The last record had no guitar effects... But this one, I brought them all out and said: 'Let's fucking do this...' Last time I almost tried to make an indie-rock version of a Tom Petty record; but this time, I just wanted to make a fucking rock 'n' roll record about me and my life!"

Sept 30, Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms release his third solo albumBasement Punk (Save Your Generation Records); performing at the New Way Bar, with FAWNN and Lawnmower.

***Backing Allen up for the live incarnation of the Extra Arms is drummer Sean Sommer (of Destroy This Place), bassist Ryan Marshall (of PALACES), and guitarist Mike Gallacher (of Monarchs). 
More info: