Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Mythics - Australian ChalkAs

The Mythics were started by singer/percussionist Jessica VanAssche and bassist/guitarist/sound-wizard Chad Stocker in 2009 and almost instantly found this nice niche of dream-pop that was apt for the pre-departure, meditative wind-up toward a night of shenanigans at bars and clubs or the post-ruckus wind-down of calming contemplation and light-dimming descenders.

"Ascending into space / shadowplay..." 

As the band's progressed, they've kept the instrumentation to be relatively minimal, while assuring the more amorphous vibe, the ambiance, the mood..., to be maximal!

Saturday, The Mythics celebrate their first proper full length album, Australian Chalk. 

The Mythics
Saturday at The New Way Bar
Australian Chalk (on New Fortune Records)
Doors at 9pm
featuring visuals by Robin Veresh
and performances by The Belle Isles and The Rogue Satellites
More info

Bassist Jon Berz and keyboardist Tina Louise have joined the band recently, but former members that contributed to the songs on this new album include keyboardist Joshua Doolan and bassist Laura Shortt. The band completed the recordings for these songs at Woodshed Studios in Ferndale. Pictured below is a still from the band's performance of the album's title track, during episode 6 of The Milo Show. 

"Love Me Like You" feels like a bittersweet early 60's rock ballad with its striding beats it's steady-climbing/softly-falling vocal melodies throughout its choruses, while that organ augments that charming throwback feel. Then the guitar takes over...! It's a little Fripp-ian with its spacey soaring and cosmic tones, but like every Mythics song, each respective instrumental phrase has such a subtle touch or meticulous manner about it, like it's all serving to sculpt the musical mélange and, frankly, keep things kinda catchy. This isn't a pop band, but like any bewitching dream, you exit each song as though you've just woken up from some refreshing wander on the cerebral plains. Something sweet is stuck in your head! 

Should you Google the phrase: "L'Appel Du Vide," you'll find something pretty bleak, but yet the song by the Mythics is an enchanter, a kind of slightly-revved up slow dancer you could almost waltz to, where, we should  mention, VanAssche's exquisite voice, something that can ribbon and swoon from a softened lullaby to a soulful mid-high intonation weaving around the guitars and backing vocals with finespun harmonization. 

"Dreams are wishes come true..." My favorite is "Wish..." with the echo-y, reverb wrapped guitars almost pealing as they set that hypnotic riff over ambling rhythms and a theatrical vocal delivery that feels whimsical, like a broadway showtune almost, but vibrant with sincerity. And then....!! 

And then, as Stocker and VanAssche always do, they find this interesting (and graceful) swerve, to glide the listener into the bridge. The bridge of most Mythics songs will always feel nearly like it's an entirely different song altogether, only to bring it back to fine familiarity for the final choruses. But with "Wish" the guitars and the synthesized vibes start to merge their ominous/innocent sensations, and the drone settles over like a fog, as though you're not entirely certain, just as any of us are never certain, that this wish, that any wish, could come true... But all gets soothed by the closer, the title track (streaming below inside the Milo Show episode). 

You can watch The Mythics performing at the 2:37 mark of this episode...

You can watch The Mythics interview at the 16:24 mark of THIS episode

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kelly Jean Caldwell Band (Interview) - Downriver LP Release Party Dec 9th

John Szymanski (of the Hentchmen) decided to start his own record label this year, operating out of his Outer Limits Lounge in Hamtramck. Singer/songwriter Kelly Jean Caldwell, who married Szymanski a couple summers ago, thought this was a great idea and wanted to start recording new songs she'd been working on with her band. But, after thinking about it, Caldwell and Szymanski decided that since she already had a whole full-length album recorded, why not release that one first... ?   Right…let’s get back to that!!

The Kelly Jean Caldwell Band celebrates their full length album
Downriver (to be released on the new Outer Limits Lounge Records), Dec 9th

Caldwell started writing her own songs when she was still in elementary school. She was born up in the Upper Peninsula, and eventually wound up moving down to Ann Arbor, where she formally started gigging and recording. From there, she came over to Detroit and has since been in a handful of bands and collaborated with several local artists over the last decade.

Throughout 2009-2011, she was performing regularly with a full band, invariably identified as the Kelly Jean Caldwell Band, Kelly Jean Caldwell & The Mountain Family Band…, or just Kelly Jean Caldwell. Those players included Craig Brown on lead guitar, Brian Blair on bass, Todd McNulty on drums, and Kevin Sullivan on rhythm guitar.

Just as 2010 became 2011, Caldwell released two divine and delightfully dark singles (“Outside Heart” & “Diamonds”), followed by an announcement that she and the band would begin recording soon with producer Derek Stanton (Molten Sound Studio). From there, most of us heard hide-nor-hair of this ostensible album until a couple months ago when Caldwell announced its re-excavation!

Caldwell spoke with me recently, and she told me about the modest-yet-workable recording space that Szymanski recently installed into an area of the Outer Limits Lounge. This is where he and Caldwell have been working on new recordings for the “stoner-rock/occult-band” The Wiccans (which features Szymanski and Caldwell, along with Aran Ruth, Jeff Fournier and Bill Hafer. So…, The Wiccans will be either Outer Limits Lounge Records 2nd or 3rd official vinyl album release (to be pressed, later, at Archer).

This Friday, the Kelly Jean Caldwell band kicks things off for Outer Limits’ new label with the long-awaited Downriver LP.

Dec 9th at Outer Limits Lounge
Kelly Jean Caldwell Band’s Downriver LP release party
with Michael Hurtt’s Haunted Hearts, the Drinkard Sisters, and DJ Eric AllenMore info

What I always loved (and love) about Kelly Jean Caldwell’s songs (and her overall vocal performance) is how spooky and sweet it is at the same time. She’s a charming balladeer who twists classic pop/rock struts, country twangs and Americana janglers just a bit askew into an ethereal, dreamlike realm, yes realm, where, if you close your eyes you might just picture fog machines and ambient moonglow.

I’m probably spellbound by Caldwell’s stylistic equation: she’d had a deep-seeded love of metal and hair metal when she was a tween and teen, then went on to filter those supernatural/sinister tones and vibes through the resplendent riggers of Ann Arbor’s sublime folk/roots/bluegrass scene of the early 2000’s. Her songs are the charming fusion of her early years’ coffee-shop mellow strums and throwback rock nostalgia as it barely tempers the nocturnal menace and theatrically eerie. That being said, her vision is comprehensively realized by the versatile players she’s got backing her up.

Enough from me, let’s chat with Kelly…

On the label and putting out Downriver
“John’s wanted to start a record label for a while, now. Meanwhile, I recorded this album about five years ago. It was in the prime of my band playing out and doing all sorts of stuff. We recorded with Derek Standon and then, just, one thing after another. Brian, the bass player, and I got divorced. I had a kid, then I got married (to Szymanski), and had another kid and it all went on the back burner. I wasn’t sure if everyone was even going to still want to play with me after the whole ‘mom thing…’ But as I reached out to all of them, they each individually said: ‘Hell yeah!’ So, then we started playing together again. John started this label. This album was already done. So, let’s just put it out!’

                Caldwell was approached by the Seraphine Collective for 2014’s Best Fest Forever-fest, to see if she had any new recordings. “Destroyer” is the third track on Downriver.

On returning to songs
“As a songwriter, you’re always looking forward. It can be easy to just write off your old stuff. But I revisited these songs and said… ‘Wow…’ These songs are about a very specific time in my life and I think it’s all kinda encapsulated in those songs, from my time I lived Downriver. It’s like putting on different outfits, I think; you might have an old shirt that you wore the first time you met your ex-boyfriend and you might think of him when you wear it, but….but it’s still a good shirt!” (Laugh) “But it feels good to play these songs with these guys cuz we really did hone them and they really are like a family to me.”

On the recording
“I think (Derek Stanton) really embraced the role of a producer and brought out a lot in the songs. While I hate that one song wound up keeping the title “Fucked Up,” it definitely sticks out in my mind because it is so much the essence of the record. Really spooky, with sort of random noises and this out-of-tune flute that we recorded at two in the morning. I have great memories of recording that song, but it’s a song we’ve never played live and probably won’t, ever…”

On Jeff’s favorite song, “Telepathy”
“That’s probably also my favorite one, because it’s sort of, to me, recalling the time I lived in Nashville. I had a band down there (with Brian) and we had a guitar player and a drummer who were from Nashville and they’d remarked something like: ‘Oh, this is the Detroit Twangasaurus,” or something… I do think there’s a certain soulful thing about the song. Definitely one of my favorites. And I think ‘Water’ is another one I like, where (Stanton) helped orchestrate this Pink-Floydy type of vibe, which is something I never would have thought our band could have....”

On growing up and getting into music
“I’ve always wanted to make music since I was a little girl. I was writing songs back when me and my childhood friends started a band. But, I really thought, at that time, that you had to be a man to be a led singer. Because it was all about Bret Michaels and Vince Neil and David Lee Roth… Ya know, there was Lita Ford and Doro Pesch, but there wasn’t many women. I figured I’d just be the editor of Metal Edge Magazine someday, because I thought a woman could only write about these men. But I think that stayed toward the back of my mind; cuz I got a guitar in 1998 and started writing songs. I moved to Ann Arbor shortly after that and it just sort of happened. There was a lot of house shows back then in Ann Arbor and I’d never even had to buy an amp; I could just show up. Then I transferred, I started doing shows over in Detroit and they were like: ‘Uhh…you need a pickup, an amp, and…a band.’

On The Seraphine Collective
“I don’t think there was anything like this (in the mid-2000’s) and they’ve definitely stepped it up in the last few years. They are a powerful group of women and individuals. I hold all of those girls in the highest respect, especially Shelley (Salant), whom I’ve known since…, I don’t know, she seemed like she was so young when she first showed up. But to see her now become this community leader; I just love it. I couldn’t be more excited about what they’ve got going on…”

On performing
“The first show was with this short-lived band I had called The Marigold Comedown.’ We practiced so much and I remember getting up there and standing on stage for the first song, feeling like: ‘I was wrong! This is terrible! I thought I wanted to do this, but I don’t…’ And all these thoughts are running through my head. But then, by the time we got done with our last song, and we only had about five songs, I felt it! I felt: ‘this was it!!’ And then I never really went back after that. I just realized: Okay, you need to power through that initial stage fright and nervousness. If you start crying in the middle of a song, just go with it; cuz everybody loves drama. Embrace the fear!”

On her band:
“I usually write a whole song and I might have a vibe in mind: like an early Kenny Rogers vibe…! Or I might get specific and ask Craig to play like a C.C. Deville guitar solo… My band are all stellar musicians. Brian is a very musical person. Craig is a phenomenal guitarist and a songwriter in his own right. And Todd is the most musical drummer I’ve ever played with. We really did work together on this album, which is the reason I wanted to call it: The Kelly Jean Caldwell Band…as opposed to just Kelly Jean Caldwell.”

After Wiccans' record, The Hentchmen have started working on new material. Later on in the new year, there's a new batch of material that Caldwell plans on recording with her band. It’s basically a five-album plan, for now; so they’ll see where there at in the middle of next year! Hopefully a year from now I’ll be writing about albums 6, 7, and 8, from Outer Limits. Until then…here's the info on this Friday's show! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Dropout - "Let It go"

Andrew Ficker is still The Dropout. Crowds around here got to know him as one-half of Nigel & The Dropout. But there's something so fragmentary about that ampersand ("&"), almost looming too large in its suggestion of not being individually actualized without another separate half. Last July, Ficker officially set out to start finding and forging who he is as a solo songwriter and producer. 

And this month he's going to be dropping a few new singles, starting with "Let It Go," right here...


For further referential framing, you can listen to his first formal single, produced at Assemble Sound, here

With "Let It Go," he's blend in the surfy with the surreal; tighter percussion and finespun hooks harken to indie-rock, while the mobius-strip-winding synthesizers and ear-splashing reverb invite the escapism of an EDM's endless night into the blissed/blurred early morning hours. Just as he'd started with "Undone," earlier in the summer, the curtains and corners of the song's landscape have some softer, meditative intonations, but spurring down the center of it all is this revved-up and radiant percussive arrangement; the mind is mellowed but the body's unlocked to dance. It's a pretty smooth ride, but it's also nearly a rave! 

And Ficker's vocals, right around the 1:00-minute mark, soar to the top, with this mid-range half-spoken/half-melodic spill of poetry that's threaded with a dazzling amount of reverb that makes it sound like there's four of him talking, each succeeding voice just a millisecond-behind the other. And THEN... it all swells back, brightening, warming, accelerating...

Ficker will be releasing a new song every two weeks this month. His proper debut, live, will be January 27th at El Club. 

Let's chat

Talk about going "solo," as it were... This town had gotten to know you as one-half of another entity, but what are you doing with this project that you feel sets it apart from N&TD?

Nigel & The Dropout had a pretty calculated and dark aesthetic at times and I'm looking to really just let loose and have some fun with this project.  There will obviously be some inevitable similarities, and some unpredictable differences, but I definitely want to establish a more positive vibe, both melodically and lyrically, and then bring that energy to the live show

Have your specific tastes or influences changed notably over the last two years? Are there certain things that you can talk about that you think you've always been drawn to, like when it comes to production, or when it comes to a certain sound or feel…?
My musical taste has always been all over the place. I love and respect something from every genre, this year more than ever. I spent a month this last summer hopping music festivals in Europe and I was exposed to a remarkable amount of culture in a pretty short period of time.

On top of rediscovering my love of saxophone, and working with other talented Artists at Assemble Sound, it's been an inspiring year. My favorite thing about life in general has always been experiencing live music, and my favorite artists to see live are ones that put effort into being as much about the "show" aspect as they are about the music. So…, I’ll say I've got some pretty exciting stuff planned with my lights for the live show!

So tell me about "Let It Go..." What were you going for with this one... those brass sounds are so celebratory-feeling at the bridge. The beat is pretty danceable; the vocals are crisp and up top. How are ya feeling about it? What's the word?
I was going for a song that was uplifting and dreamy, with a little childlike nostalgia. I think its lo-fi toy-ish quality kinda adds to that. (It’s) almost like a song Mike Snow would write in middle school. And I actually had planned to revisit it before releasing it this week, but my computer crashed and I lost all my original files; I kinda had to accept where it was, and let it go, literally. The horns at the end were inspired by a great song by Cataldo called "In Now and Then.” It came out very differently but the horns in that song feel like a big warm hug to me, and I really wanted to emulate that.

What happens next? What are you working on, hoping to do, or looking forward to?

I'm making a challenge to myself to release a song every two weeks for the next six months. So, anyone  can subscribe to my email list to keep updated, or just check my website. I make a point to use a variety of instrumentation with every song and I don't plan on sticking to any one specific mood or genre throughout the process. So, I’m very much looking forward to my debut live performance on January 27th, in the new year, at El Club with some excellent DJ's and my good friends Humons. We're going to make a big party out of it and have a damn good time!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Michigan Music in 2016 (pt 1 of 2)

What a year! You've spent said year reading paragraphs of my thoughts on a lot of the music featured in this playlist. So rather than ramble at you any further, I'll just let the music do the talking. Today is a Saturday, hopefully you've got the day off and can just hang out here for a sec and stream some of the newest songs by artists all around Michigan (albeit mostly Detroit). By next Saturday (the 10th) I'll have "part 2" of the Michigan Music rundown uploaded into a Spotify. 

While it doesn't happen as much as it did more than five years ago, whenever anyone asked why I hadn't left Detroit yet for some other music mecca like a Nashville or an Austin or a Brooklyn, I would always point back to these year-end lists. Each year it blooms bigger, brighter; more vibrant. I'm already writing too many words... Let's get on with "Part One..."
More to come, next weekend. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Grand Design 2: djkage & Mic Phelps

Mic Phelps and djkage both hit considerable creative strides this year. Their latest collaboration, Grand De$ign 2, is coming out in January.

Phelps, the emcee, lyricist, and leader a full band (on piano and vocals) called The Plug, which featured his father as a player, played a slew of shows this year and continued to collaborate with other contemporaries like Macs The Realist and his mates in Cold Men Young.

djkage, meanwhile, is the visionary producer behind the Imports series, which released a 2nd volume earlier this year. An emcee in his own right, he recently demonstrated his versatility against contemporary DJs in the realms of ghettotech, house and hip-hop through events like the Twerk or Die tour.

It was almost two years ago, to the day, that the collaborative duo of Mic Phelps and djkage released the first Grand De$ign.  On Monday, everyone's invited to a listening party for Grand Design 2 at MIX Bricktown. 

This album's predecessor already had a considerable chip on its shoulder, setting an urgent tone that called for substantial change over a soundscape of cerebral jazz samples and cathartic soul swoons. The stakes are raised for the sequel. A song like "WORD" off Grand Design 2 amps you up, with djkage's whirl-o-tilt percussion tightened to a danceable pattern but emitting a palpable aggressiveness, while Phelps... 

The "chip on my shoulder" lyric is even dropped in the album's tremulous hard-rock-guitar sampling, gospel-tinged, ceiling-rattling closer, "HDMD..."
give me justice or give me peace 
get my lawyer or get my piece
i'm gonna raise my son 
you can't touch my wife
you can't give me time 
you can't take my life
you can't stop my friends, i'm young and wild

And as Phelps flies onward, djkage continues to churn these guitars underneath, with this marching beat buried just enough to evoke a heartbeat with its pulse raising ever so steadily. Phelps, as is his signature, speeds up his vocal cadence past the lyrics quoted above to a point of balletic blurs and angular enunciation, punching back various storms of oppression and a declarative digging-in to take claim of his own life until he explosively crescendos with: "fuck "10," I am on "12"

Then there's a song like "Word," with Phelps flaying hypocrites with that satirical refrain, while he further inspires self-empowerment to stay in ones proverbial lane. What's notable here is the syncronicity; Phelps matches up hypnotically with the danceable gear-spin of kage's beats while slices of funky guitar riffs flash in and out to give it this retro feel, half 70's/half 90's. Later, "Make It Real" brings in the pianos again, evoking a bit of jazz glamour and street poetry's imperativeness, a heed, a harangue, a heave to make it real... The horns kage finds are piquant, and Phelps is channeling Gil Scott-Heron. Intense.

But I shouldn't say too much more...because the final shape of this album, its track-list, its sonic ambiance, could be determined by the listening-party, by those who take in the tunes at the MIX Bricktown. But I can tell you that you'll hear cameos from Cold Men Young's steely/suave Blaksmith and Kopelli, as well as impassioned bars from Pierre Anthony. 

Stay tuned for updates about The Grand Design as the month rolls along.

Meanwhile, you can hear it for yourself on Monday evening.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dimensional Riffs

Hey! Great..., you clicked the link and you're on the page. (Thanks). Wanna hang out for about 12 minutes? Click play:

Seems like when I was growing up, online music zines and blogs were so anxious and eager to be the first to tell you about a band! In that spirit, I bring you: Dimensional Riffs

But even then, how insufferably self-aggrandizing would it be of me to presume that I'm discovering this band for you... When all I'm really trying to do is do my very damndest to keep up on all the notable local music produced in-and-around Detroit (& Michigan) year-in and year-out.

THIS.... is Dimensional Riffs

pictured, blurred together: Alex Reynolds (guitar/vocals) Alex Hubert (bass/vocals), Victor Glenn (percussion)

This is finespun fray, tightened-wobbling and shambolic grooviness. This is playful 60's psychedelic sing-songey melodies over distorted fabrics of feedback and racing rhythms. These are earworm choruses who's notes and hooks get stuck in your head, even if the actual lyrics are about filth and anthropomorphized cutlery.

You can't call it garage, even if it sounds nostalgically rough-hewn ("Bathe In Filth"). You can't call it psychedelic just because it has a wavy surrealism ("Growling Spoon"). You can't call it post-punk just because it has moments of artistic-feeling aggression ("Flood's Wave '14.") You can't call it indie just because it has this affable ambling nature to its softer sweet parts ("Simple Question"). You can call it whatever you want, after all of that... My goal was just to get you to let it stream^ while you read my ramblings. I'm taken with the name, I'll say, and their origin mythos of shearing their way through a rift in our space-time continuum to collect themselves inside a breakfast nook for the concoction of mini-ballads

Maybe you heard it here first. Maybe you didn't.

Dimensional Riffs on Facebook 
& on bandcamp 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Six and the Sevens

Six and The Sevens – It Has To Be That Way

Six and The Sevens are a Detroit-based quintet that I used to just think of as that beacon of pure rock 'n' roll... Like a canister of vitamins, it just had everything you needed; driving guitars, snarl/croon/shout vocals, slamming drums and just the right amount of fuzzed-out curtaining and soulful bursts from auxiliary components. I used to think it was the next healthy strain of garage rock, evolving. 

But all six tracks on their latest EP merge in and out of distinct style lanes, switching up tempos, altering instrumental landscapes and mixing up moods...  From the second this EP kicks off, you feel like you’re flying… driving, running, moving, pure power pop with a bit of refreshing grease and grit, this local quintet have some dangerously enticing guitar hooks, classic garage-rock bluster, but sweetened with an earnest baring of hearts on sleeves. 

Some songs feel like 80’s underground-indie (“Nothing To Say”), others like throwback 60’s pop (“You Belong To  Me”), while others trudge some tremendous blues & funk onto the dancefloor (“Go, Go, Go”). And then “By My Side” is full on tsunami of soulful rock, packed with such a full sounding production by Zach Shipps (with a handful of songs also recorded with Jim Diamond). 

So this release party on Wednesday night is not just another rambunctious rendezvous for your pre-Thanksgiving ya-ya's... It's also the fifth anniversary for the band. 

Wed @ Cadieux Cafe
(4300 Cadieux Rd)
with The Messenger Birds  and many more special guests
More info

Friday, November 18, 2016

Zander Michigan - 48018 Release Party 11/26 (Interview)

Zander Michigan – 48108 Release Party
Sat., Nov 26
The Loving Touch
with: The Messenger Birds, The Gasoline Gypsies, and Anthony Retka’s Big Parade
More info

Zander Michigan has started to make a name for himself locally. And with his new album, he’s made a town for himself as well. Yes, the singer/songwriter otherwise known as Zander Melidis realized that his musical moniker already sounded like a place you could find on the map of our mitten-shaped state, so why not register his own zip code?

Next Saturday, Zander Michigan releases his third album, 48108, thirteen songs of his signature folk-rock style, swelling with heart and heavy poetry, and sporadically sparked by a good handful of high-energy ballads.

Every instrument you hear on 48108 was performed by Melidis; sometimes pared back to a quieting ode of acoustic guitar and harmonica, other times firing from every cylinder with a drum kit, guitar and bass. The lyrics can go from a narrow focused introspection to a worry-tossing celebratory romp, from here-and-now heart-torn takeaways to a more existential search that slips beyond the surly bonds of Earth into bigger-picture-looks at life, itself. The poetry and the emotional intonation bent upon the notes have both considerably evolved over the last 3+ years of Zander’s steadily established foothold amid the greater Detroit area music scene.  

You can hear the whole thing now….

But next Saturday, Melidis is throwing an album release party for 48018 at The Loving Touch. Redford-based Cave Radio will be doing a live stream of each performance, along with interviews of bands between sets. Also, local K-9 shelter/intervention/enrichment nonprofit Bark Nation will benefit from a portion of ticket sales, with volunteers setting up a table at the show with information about what they do for dogs in need.

Zander is backed up by Greg Blucher on lead guitar, Johnny Albert Abel on bass and Doug Austin on drums. The exceptional lineup opening up the show features Port Huron’s rock ‘n’ roll phenoms The Gasoline Gypsies, the evocative indie-folk of Anthony Retka’s Big Parade and the trouncing blues-rock storms of The Messenger Birds.

I know Zander would have liked me to get all of that out of the way first, before I go on with the interview… that’s part of his charm. This party isn’t so much about him, he told me, as it is an opportunity to celebrate four unique and hard-working local bands that shine amid their own genres, and for you, the live music fan to “have your life changed, if only in a small way…”

Zander Michigan – 48018 Release Party
Sat., Nov 26
The Loving Touch
with: The Messenger Birds, The Gasoline Gypsies, and Anthony Retka’s Big Parade
More info

Zander’s been playing in bands since he was in high school. He was at that ideal “coming of age” point in his life when The Strokes put out Is This It, and it opened up his eyes to the potential of getting some grit onto bluesy melodies and swaggering a bit of brashness onto the rock ‘n’ roll stage. Even though his first two years on the scene found Zander as a bit of a reverent replica of Bob Dylan, he actually didn’t discover Robert Zimmerman’s Nobel-quality lyricism until later in life, not until he was in college. This was 2012, and that's just when Zander began penning his first proper folk songs.

But Dylan, just like the Strokes, showed Zander that you could draw from a few iconic and unmistakable genre points like folk, punk, or rock, and just bend the notes like a careful craftsman until they fit your natural model. (Speaking of a craft, we should point out that Zander graduated U-M with an engineering degree and now works at Ford… but let’s get back to the music).

Zander really found his voice on 2015’s Zander The Great and it’s continuing to be evident with 48018, audibly throwing his whole voice, with that distinctly rustbelt rasp, into every emotion of any song’s specific story. The lyrics are poetically vague enough to where anyone could relate, but ask him after the show about a certain cut and he’ll tell you the whole story. The town inside 48018 has a lot of stories to tell; a lot of characters to be memorialized; a lot of heartaches to heal… and even some ideological axes to grind. What’s apparent is that the dude pours his whole soul into the words, the music and the recordings; to the point where you kinda feel like you already know this guy even if you haven’t met him yet…

But enough about all that… let’s talk

You’ve been at this for a handful of years now. You’ve released your own albums. You’ve even toured to England at this point!  So what have you learned on the journey so far? What’s been some of your takeaways?
The biggest takeaway, as a musician, is just not to take anything too personally. And, you need some experience before you can actually learn that. But of course, the music industry is a tough industry to try to make your way in, now more than ever. Everyone’s got their own lives, their own agendas, their own things going on, so you have to consider everyone’s perspective, where they’re at and not get upset if anyone doesn’t follow through on anything. So, you gotta know that might happen and instead just keep focusing on what you can do and what you’re able to do. I’m just focused on being a better musician….

And how do you see yourself? People may hear some of your songs and think it fits into folk… But it can also fit into rock, sometimes, or even some indie-pop…
I just want to become an artist and don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into any one genre. As a ‘folk singer’ I think that offers me a flexibility to be “a solo artist” but also follow any path that I choose. I love rock music, and even some pop stuff. I would love to be able to do that more regularly, but I just don’t have the opportunity enough…yet. But, yeah, I don’t think ‘folk singer’ would 100% represent who I am or what I want to be quite yet. I always want to try something new and change up genres.

So when you write a song, are you conscious of what your intentions are, or what you hope that art can…ya know, ‘achieve…’ in terms of engaging a listener?
I think it’s good for a musician to write how they’re feeling, but also make it relatable to anyone, so that they can connect to how you’re feeling, even if indirectly. It doesn’t have to be overt in the message or in the lyrics of the song. For me, when I’m writing… I mean, I’ll write everywhere. I use voice memo and notepad on my phone and I sing melodies into my phone… Never while driving, of course. I don’t necessarily have a desire to just make cool guitar sounds. I use a guitar, I know how to play a guitar, I can touch a pedal and get fuzzy, but I don’t depend on it. For me, it’s all about the lyrics and the message and the creation of the whole art of it, from the music, to the album cover, to the photographs.

Those are the kinds of things that connect with listeners…
It’s all about connecting, for me. And showing this personal side of myself. It’s a way, sort of, to get out my own demons. But to have someone come up and say that a certain song really meant something to them, that’s what matters to me.

You showed this when you went to England with a star-spangled-banner-blazer on…, that you have this sort of ice-breaking sense of humor or theatrical/charismatic way of presenting yourself. It goes against that vein of some DIY/indie-rocking/and-sometimes-Detroit-area musicians who kinda carry themselves as though they’re, ya know, ‘too cool…’ 
I hope I’m not cool! I would never try to be… That defeats the purpose of trying to engage a listener or an audience. It’s through this little bit of self-deprication, a little poke here or there; I don’t want to be offensive or vulgar, I find that off-putting. But I consider myself a very family friendly kind of musician. I try to be respectful of everyone; I do have that sort of campy sense of humor that can get across to everybody. Maybe a bit of vaudeville too, I love it. It’s how I’ve always been and it’s just translated into being a better dressed/semi-more-mature version of myself.

And 48018 –with inventing your own town by registering your own zip code. And the name: Zander Michigan. This place, your home, it’s clearly important to you…
It keeps me grounded. It’s made me respectful of the concept of home—as a place to hang your hat. And I’m kind of a homebody; I have a great, close relationship here with my family. My first record had songs about Michigan, but 48018 really is a Michigan album. I’m Zander Michigan; I’m born and raised. How can you take that away? I won’t let you take it away. I don’t think even if I were to move somewhere else for a period of time that that would change: I’m still a Michigander… Zander-Michigander.


You’ll find zip-code themed t-shirts that you could personalize for yourself at Zander’s merch table next Saturday. Or, if you can’t make it, tune into Cave Radio to stream it…
For more information, follow Zander on Facebook, or listen via soundcloud  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Are You Leaving Everyone? An Interview with Sros Lords

Interview by Stacey Macleod

The spectators stand amongst the tables in front of the stage area at Kelly's Bar in Hamtramck. Morgan Blank, guitarist and vocalist of Sros Lords, arcs over his maple-bodied, Fender Mustang Deluxe,  a multitude of pedals at his feet. His gaze is pensive; each strum is a fuzzing echo. To his left is Johnny Lazer with his synthesizer amalgamating the D&D-punk-world of the Detroit trio’s signature sound with that of the watchful audience. 

A drum kit stands unattended between the two Lords. This is the end of the set, and they are playing "Doom Dragon," a song about Gods, destruction, and Blank's mythological, Santa Claus "The Confessor." Drummer, Jamie Cherry, shirtless and with chin raised, walks righteously to the back of the bar. He is a warrior and this eve, he has played hard.

The congregation is understandably slack jawed as they are a part of the unholy Sros Lords odyssey. When Cherry reaches the stage, he stands before Blank—and speaks their sooth: "Be gone dragon! For though you may tempt me to battle, I would lose far more just by saying your name!" The Sros Lords' live performance is a time of frenzy and an occasion to raise the sacred "horns."

Sros Lords' debut album, Are You Leaving Everyone?, is being distributed by the black metal, London label and artists' collective, Merdumgiriz. Emir Togrul, label founder, will mail you a Sros Lords' cassette or CD; each one handcrafted with a unique design, fitting for an album Togrul calls, "a highly original slab of melodic heaviness and insanity..."

The band's exceptionalism is what motivates me to write this article. The energy they exude begets creativity. Listening to Are You Leaving Everyone? feels like riding in a car with a reckless driver. You know it's wrong not to care about the speed you are traveling, because it's dangerous, but you feel so alive when you succumb to the wildness of the ride.

The Sros Lords play ancient punk of the future. The guitar is the bass; menacing chord progressions are a bed for Blank's primeval lyrics. The songs on Sros Lords' Are You LeavingEveryone?, recorded by Sros and Cait Ash in 2015, are about the paradigms of love, madness, and mortality. All the while, Blank's poetic language is self-aware. His vocals are erosive and cool (to be plain.) The synthesizer often lies on top of the guitar and forges a heavy metal edge. Sometimes, though, the synth clarifies and cuts through the immensity of it all—through the big guitar, the elegiac vocals, and the blitzkrieg of Cherry's drumming. The drums drive relentlessly. They pound and drill, like road construction. The high-hat sizzles. Beer belches dot the recording. The songs are about life's oldest meditations, while being youthful anthems you can dance to.

Interview: Sros Lords

I arrive at the Sros Lords' fourth-floor practice space, at the Russell Industrial Center, to speak with them about the new distribution of their album. When I enter their space, Jamie Cherry puts on a green cape and Johnny Lazer projects a black and white film, called Robot Monster, unto the wall. Morgan Blank immediately gifts me a 32 ounce Miller High Life: "The Champagne of Beers," as well as a copy of Zenophon: The Persian Expedition, a book about the Greeks confronting the "barbarian" world and Zenophon's epic march into the heart of Persia. Here is the enthusiasm of Cherry, whose catch phrase is "Get wild!;" the stoic, edge of Lazer, dressed in all black with his hair on end; and the philosophic Blank, witty with pipe in hand.

Cherry says that the inception of Sros Lords, in 2010 A.D., "felt like fate." Blank and Cherry met at "Bagley Vision" at 14th and Bagley, where Cherry started playing drums "…because they were there." Johnny Lazer, previously of sludgy-synthesizer punk band, Human Eye, recently replaced local sound engineer, Cait Ash, on sythesizer.

One of Sros Lords' earliest sets was played to a large audience, as winners of a contest to play with well-known, Japanese punk band, Peelander Z.  "People liked it," Blank said, downplaying it. "Live performance is my favorite newness." While the Peelander Z show was in Pontiac, Blank says the Sros Lords "like playing Hamtramck...because the spaces seem to fit the crowds."

Cherry, full of zeal, says, "You see us live and it's like you went to another planet...We are bringing our fantasy world to you, live."

According to Cherry, live performances should have the audience wondering, " I gonna get my throat slashed? Is somebody gonna run out in the crowd? Is somebody gonna throw a beer bottle?" As he asks these questions, he suddenly takes apart the drum seat he was sitting on and throws it. He flails around the room.

Lazer, who Blank calls "a notoriously lovable guy," doesn't say a word, and Blank unblinkingly returns the conversation to the subject of Hamtramck: "The Poles are one of the reasons the Detroit music scene is so good...The polka was a pretty good beat, back in its day." Suddenly, Cherry is wearing a wizard's hat, saying: "When I drum, I want to put on a fucking show. I want people to say that I'm a one-trick-pony and my one trick is getting fucking crazy!"

I ask about "Erica," the big, euphoric song about love on Are You Leaving Everyone? On the recording, Blank sings: "Wild desert stallions pound the Earth and shake the ground / but they don't shake Erica.../ The sun it spins and radiates / but every planet gravitates in a ring around Erica.../ Distant mystic wizards whisper sooth / and curse the birth of the one called Erica." The drums recall the trampling of the horses in the lyrics and they clang and shine like the song's "sun." The vocals are made of yells and mewls. Cherry reveals that the ‘Erica’ was one of the first two songs that he and Morgan ever jammed to. Meanwhile, Blank says he thinks it’s “…the best song I've written in my life and I'm happy for that." He wrote the melody and the words, strewn with heroic imagery, while at a job washing dishes. "There's good reverb in the back of a dish tank." The song is about a girl he knew who believed in love and who he wanted to honor because of that.

Killer bees, mutant armies, corpses, fires, guns, and baby chicks: there is a catalogue of images on Are You Leaving Everyone? Blank explains, "At one point I realized I should stop writing literally because it's hard to take me literally." Most of the metaphors Blanks draws during our interview are from medieval texts and Greek history. "I consider now a degenerative state of empire," he says, when I, as the interviewer, wonder about some bands in the Detroit scene who seem to be overly-derivative. Blank launches a lengthy metaphor between art today and in the time of the Romans. Essentially, he says, bands should "look at the heart of the ritual rather than: ‘Oh, we should all wear matching suits!’"

The talk about genre has me wondering: ‘Why do the Sros Lords produce punk?’ Blank enlightens me: "I like punk and I've always been into it. It's easier to play and sing to. God bless metal, but I'm not gonna finger tap on a Mustang." Blank also says that his number one, rock 'n' roll fantasy is to "buy a new guitar." But if the Mustang is the magic guitar he uses to conjure the epic punk of the Sros Lords, may he never play another.

Sros Lords' Are You Leaving Everyone? is available through Merdumgiriz
Sros Lords on Facebook

Sros Lords' next performance is Saturday, December 10 at the Painted Lady in Hamtramck
with Blood Stone and Dear Darkness. 21+ / 9pm ($6)

Ed. It's not often that a writer besides myself, but I always welcome it. You can find more articles by Macleod here

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Humons - Spectra

So many of these music blogs will proselytize the healing powers of music... These five curiosities are just what I need after a week of such anxiety...

With Humons, I want to take my time. There's a lot that crashes over you on his new E.P., distinctive sonic latticework of dissonance or disparate harmonic elements swelling together into one dense strand. There are often several moments of calm, these recurring conveyances of pulse-lowering rhythms, pensively percolating synthesizers and shoulder-relaxing beat patterns, the feet shuffle or the head nods, the breathing stabilizes and the mind is almost eased.

That said, the lyrics on "What I'll Find" are those of a frustrated soul, and it is in fact pretty much a soul song, or some kind of aerodynamic new chrysalis of neo-R&B or "electro..." Humons, the moniker of songwriter/producer Ardalan Sedghi, paired with the mixing and mastering of Jon Zott over at Assemble Sound, seem to be in valleys far beyond the typical ditch-like grooves of post-millennial techno-pop or post-rave-EDM, even if they travel over comparable musical foundation and aesthetic carriages such as the cinematic slither of mood-setting sounds like churning synthesizers and the understated bass-heavy beats...

The pacing at which you are introduced to each new layer of a song like "Try It For Me" is notable, you're pulled in with this steady glide that makes it easy to acclimate to each new percussive arrangement, each new blip, drone or this illusory effect where your ear can't quite keep up with what to pay the most attention to, leading to a rise and fall effect of which beat you nod-to more at which interval, which synth sound entices you more as they all crest together. That's the spectra, the swell of distinct and disparate harmonies into some kind of impossible union.

This is short notice, but the release party for Humons Spectra EP is TONIGHT

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fred Thomas: The Changer Interview

I spoke with Fred Thomas late last week, a wistfully regarded time before the curtains of the apocalypse draped down upon us...

We were discussing his newest album, Changer, (out Jan. 27th via Polyvinyl Records).

While it won't be out for more than two months, I didn't see the purpose of jottnig down an early-review. Instead, Thomas kindly let me pick his brain, once again, over his process of creation, his bluntly poetic lyricism, his unconventional sound-collages and, just, the otherwise impossible emotions he's able to conjure when its just you and his songs.

Without any further ramblings, let's get in to the first single off Changer. 

More than a year ago, now, the Michigan singer/songwriter most famous for his captaining of chamber-pop phenoms Saturday Looks Good To Me, up and moved across the border, in to Canada. He and his wife, singer/songwriter Emily Roll, are set up in Montreal, and that's just one of the many changes in Thomas' life that he's resplendently recounting over gracefully-furious guitars, cathartic drone/groans of synth and the horizon-glowed-sunrise-warmth of vocal harmonization with Roll, as well as singer/songwriter Anna Burch (of Frontier Ruckus).

Thomas has been writing and recording for every week of every calendar year going back to the mid 90's. Saturday Looks Good To Me launched into the indie-pop mythology soon after 2000, and ever since then he's kept busy with various projects, from the surf-rock shambolic sweetness of Swimsuit, to the soul's-midnight-musings of noise projects like City Center. Recently, he's been collaborating with Ann Arbor based Hydropark.

I've said it before, in not as many words, but he's casually cultivated this sagacity about him, like he's got an unconscious mind palace where he secludes himself to excavate profound, if peculiarly-phrased ruminations.

But we should talk about the changes of Changer... 
Before we do, it should be noted that Thomas pretty much blew the bloody doors of the joint with last year's All Are Saved. Let's listen to one song from that album, and then dive in to a discussion of its inevitable 2017-follow-up.

Fred, you've put out a lot of records... And, it's customary of the journalist to be a bit grandiose when he/she sets the stakes and maybe indulge in some hyperbole... But All Are Saved was just kinda tremendous...!  So, have you ever been one to put out a record, ever, and say, huh, wonder how i'll top that? Or, what was your state, your mood, your psyche, going into Changer
Well first off, thanks!

I loved All Are Saved and it took a long time to become what it eventually was. By the time it was released I'd been working on it since four or five years earlier, in a strange way where it was really focused for a few months, then abandoned for a while... So there was a lot of steam and emotional history to it. Going into Changer was kind of the same.

When or how did Changer really start?
I'd written and started playing "Brickwall", the first song from the new record, maybe a year before All Are Saved even saw the light of day. Some of the other songs have been forming for a while before the recording stage even came close, too.

So, they're not exactly separate chapters with a clean break between them?
All Are Saved and Changer are definitely similar volumes, but the order isn't really linear. With Changer it was more about the arc of how the stories got told, where the previous album was kind of one big story. I wasn't thinking about topping the last record, but maybe just expanding on the vibe and pushing it to a place representative of what was going on in my life...

More uncertainty, less bold, connected statements

It seemed to me that All Are Saved was interpersonal... outward, and how one reacts and interacts with others, and what happens if and when that goes horribly wrong or at least half-right.... While Changer seems just personal, more inward, some more mirror gazing and self-analysis... Still relatable, though... "Open Letter To Forever" is a current favorite, over here in in the Milo Dojo 

haha thank you!
Where All Are Saved was a pretty immediate look at one set of feelings, Changer is somewhat more personal in that the songs are drawn from specific different phases in my life. "Open Letter" is a retelling of an actual rough moment from a City Center tour, and the song "2008" is a snapshot of me starving and broke and working at American Apparel in that year,...etc.

I think this record tops All Are Saved for me in the catharsis department. I feel frustration, regret, renewal, doubt... I hear frustration. 

Yeah, there's a weird duality where there are these high pressure rock songs like the ones you mentioned... That represent different times of stress, frustration and pain. And there's a ton of ambient/electronic stuff which was more taken from the headspace I kind of lived in during my first very calm, incredibly cold winter in Montreal...

Talk about how the move to Montreal effected/affected this album....
Well, interestingly, the entire record was made after I moved, with tracking beginning in the fall at my hyper tiny apartment and then expanded on in Athens, Georgia in January of this year.
Moving did play a huge role in creating these songs, as it opened up a big well of remembering for me. I went through a lifetime of photos, books, journals, etc when we were moving in an attempt to get rid of stuff before we left; sold my record collection, etc

That....that could lead to some cognitive dissonance. Some storms of a lot of emotions. 
I got to look at a lot of feelings I'd forgotten and also got to feel parts of them again when faced with brand new considerations. I always daydream about a big cleaned life slate

I also realized you hold onto all of those memories somewhere in your physical body. Trying to read street signs in a language you don't know to figure out where your car got towed to in the town you don't understand at all will remind you how it felt to be young and lost really quick

I'm fascinated with balancing the creative process amid a nuanced haze of stress... Not stress, but ya know? Striking a balletic pose whilst on an escalator 
The artist having to ....respond to a Life-Tornado 
Hahaha it certainly is trying to push in-congruent elements together. I'm curious if a lot of professional truckers work creatively while on long stretches of travel the same way bands write their next record while touring.

Do you ever stress that your constant changing will effect your attempt at making the perfect record?
I was really on the "gotta make a perfect record" train really hard when I was starting out. And I worked myself into a self-obsessed frenzy about it that's really embarrassing to remember
maybe a natural state for someone in their early 20's who's just realizing their own agency as a creative person, but Jesus was I annoying and incapable of talking or thinking about anything but myself and my music career

Huh! Take this as a compliment, but I anticipated you being immune to that, somehow
Like an Xmen power
Well, thank you... I've definitely grown out of it. I also kind of adopted this take on releasing music that i observed from jazz and noise circles; just getting everything out there

You mentioned yourself changing your own definitions of what you feel "best album ever" is or what it can be.... Every time I open up a new Fred Thomas album it's as different as a new season... But not Summer to Winter, it's always a gradual diverging, but a diverging nonetheless... So it makes ME think about what I'm expecting and what I...ultimately... need a record to give me, what am I asking of it, what am I asking of YOU? 

Haha... do you ever get this from other albums? Every time Joe from K9 sniffies sees me play solo he says "getting some serious pollard vibes..." Which is high praise, to be compared to Bob Pollard/GBV, but I wonder if it just sounds like old dude power pop to him (in a friendly way) so that's where his mind categorizes it...?

Pollard's an enigma, I don't think he's properly appreciated as being thus

I felt something like that when Joanna Newsom's Ys came out. I actually felt so many different ways about it I started a zine called "Dear Joanna Newsom", with fake letters to her from all the different perspectives that I could have imagined...

Every interview I do gets to that "why do you make music" point... I feel like a constable with a club poking at a busker on the street... You there, what's all this noise about then, eh!?

I really only make music to better understand myself and the world that surrounds the people I love.
In my time doing this, though, I've realized how smart people are, friends, strangers, enemies, people I'll never meet.. everyone is really smart and complex and they're all always paying attention
So I take that into consideration because I know that musicians aren't actually responsible for how their songs are taken... But it can still help

Being on the constant-touring rollercoaster, where it's one stage to the next... staring out from boomlights to a dark crowd that blurs together....that's disorienting, hard to congeal that perspective of what sounds like a humanist's perspective
My tours are pretty identical to the way you and I are talking now

Until next time... Stay tuned.