Sunday, March 14, 2010

Interview: Phreddy Wischusen - (Brothers Bonanza - Mar 20 - Eagle Theatre, Pontiac)

(Ed. - What follows was an original draft of what was almost a zine...attempted, anyway... but printing wound up being too much of a thorn in my wallet - so I thought I'd just share it here...and simultaneously save paper.)
(words: milo)

Who can sit still at a time like this?

Not when so many are convinced the world is ending.

It is spring time in South East Michigan – and an eerily early verdant green is already returning in this deceptive warm weather.

And I am trying to write about my dreams. And inspiration – and collective goals. And cynicism. And about being young and what does that mean. What do you want out of your writers in this age of dead newspapers, dying personal-computers and stoic Kindles and false-started iPads. Traversing the sterile, spiritless, solemnly glowing screens of whatever medium for which we daily nourish a Stockholm-syndrome engrossment—there are still words being transmitted, via online mags or blogs; there’s even someone, somewhere, in a noisily-humming basement or glass building writing up the copy for the advertisements leeching at the corners of your iTouch’s displays showing Google-map-returns of “Sushi Restaurants; near Royal Oak.”

Who’s writing all this internet-set nonsense now and who even cares? The bigger question it leads to – as this zine steadily eats itself with self-pondering – is how to capture a collective experience of culture when times have lead to such hyper-niche-separation – to the point where a humble zine such as this can happily tell you about an upcoming free show in Pontiac, MI – but its writer, a writer not unlike the many humans who write the fleeting texts we now all blur by on our computers – is driven to lunacy with questions of efficacy.

(pictured L-R: Adam Davis, Candace O’Lear, Phreddy Wischusen) (photo by: Thomas Matich)

One man who might be able to help find the answer is Phreddy Wischusen. Wischusen turns 30 this week. He’s only been in Detroit for five of those years – yet in that window he’s gotten to the point where, not only does more than half the “scene” know his name, but likely that same half is also well acquainted with the seemingly ever-grinning gray-speckled brown-beardy and his imposing presence, character and vociferous call.

Wischusen is the general manager at the Crofoot entertainment complex in Pontiac (1 S. Saginaw)– a role he rose to, steadily from his humble Michigan-set beginnings of dressing up in a giant teddy bear costume for a music video (prophetic, considering his warm demeanor).

Ever-driven towards forging communal collaboration, the Baloo-ish chap often claims you by spoken proclamation, as “Bud,”, or, if you’ve got a Y-chromosome, “…brother.” Thus, Brothers Bonanza – is celebrated this Saturday at the Eagle Theatre (next to the Crofoot) – a free concert featuring some of Detroit’s finest: Manna & Quail / Oblisk / Zoos of Berlin and Prussia – it’s also the big guy’s 30th birthday.

(video: Prussia, filmed by Trever Long)

On a day when I’m contemplating whether we should really expect more life, more zing, more get-up-and-go - from our writers in the ethereal technocalypse of 2010—I ask myself, what more would or should we want? Perhaps an accentuation of advocacy journalism, but– not the opinions-are-like-assholes exasperation of bloggers or the hidden-agenda-via-attention-grabbing-crazy-jabber-ala-loudmouth-TV-pundits – but, perhaps, an honest admittance from this writer could prove to be refreshing (not just for the writer but hopefully for the reader) that Wischusen, a beacon of enthusiasm in this sometimes indiscernible music community where the loudest/strident expressions are those of blogger-comment-posters, has registered inspiration in me – a soul certainly discouraged, but not ready to give up. But maybe, also, not only to document the, pardon if it sounds cheesy, the “power of art,” but documenting a group (that which Wischusen has settled into) that wants to build it to last – as opposed to downplaying/castigating it as fleeting…(…as fleeting as the blur of words through the internets channels…as fleeting as this zine, perhaps). But this writer still believes the power lies with the artists.


Wischusen was born and raised just outside of Snellville, GA. “In the 80’s, there were two t-shirts every kid had air-brushed, either reading “Gatlinburg” (Gatlinburg is the Panama City Beach of the Tennessee State part of the Smoky Mountains) and the other shirt read “Everybody’s Somebody in Snellville”…pretty special.”

“When I was young, there was not much there – a few new neighborhoods and a McDonald’s. Now, it is a suburban nightmare of fallow strip-malls, gas stations and restaurants owned by the Darden Corporation that are rapidly waning in national popularity.”

Wischusen graduated Magna Cum Laude from Florida State University, with a degree in “Classical Civilizations.”

“Wonder what that means?” he quips, “…so did every prospective employer.”

After college, he lived in Atlanta, then spent six months out west in Montana and California. He was in Birmingham, AL for a bit before winding up in metro Detroit. “Some hitch-hiking, gluttony, making bad music and a lot of extremely pretentious pseudo-philosophizing characterize those years…” said Wischusen. “I guess not much changes, huh?”

He steadily entered the arts and music scene through 2005, via friends in Manna & Quail, while he day-jobbed in a fancy restaurant in the sterile and suburban Somerset Collection megamall.

“I started out in music here by appearing as a teddy bear in a Manna and Quail video, and then graduated to becoming their merch guy. Adam Davis (then in M& Q, now with Jessica Hernandez), Steve Saputo (still in M& Q) and Jared Groth (now part of Single Barrel Detroit) started a group called ARC in Pontiac as the result of post-teen/twenties angst, a few late-night conversations, and a genuine desire to get involved in making the kind of communities that we all wanted to live in.”

The group had strong support from the Pontiac Downtown Development Authority, the Crofoot, “countless friends, community members,” artists like Dan DeMaggio and Chris Everhart (the latter of design artists Silent Giants), and thus were able to “build an energy that is still resonating” for Wischusen, “in Pontiac, now.”

“From ARC, Jared and I went on to start PHONOTROPIC at the Crofoot with the help of Ms. Candace O'Leary and Mr. Dan McGowan and the rest as they say is history- I am now lucky enough to work at the Crofoot full-time! We all cut our teeth setting up weird experimental events doing PHONOTROPIC every week, which was an amazing opportunity to explore how much sensory info you can pack into five hours on a Friday! Once Chad Nicefield (M&Q, Wilson) joined the Crofoot team we kicked it up another notch.”

While working in that restaurant in the megamall, eventually edging up to its manager, Wischusen learned “how to talk to people and how to make everyone happy. Once you can spill salsa in a woman’s hair and have her come back again the next week raving about how good everything is, then you’ve hit a stride.”

“I also took a class in college called, ‘Theory and Dynamics of Race and Oppression;’ the class taught us to think critically and to identify, in any situation, where the power dynamics were. Just like in a car when you understand where the power comes from—you can watch how the whole machine works. So, you learn how to make things work.”

“Right now, the power of Detroit is in the passion and creativity of its arts community. I have been trying to learn how to harness that creative power and help it to empower our communities.”

After 5 years as propulsive, positive provocateur around Detroit, I ask, through all the myriad theme-mega-events thrown together at the Crofoot complex, what were some of his most rewarding or favorite experiences:

“The most rewarding so far has been the WOMEN’s Arts event that just happened – the synergy between us and the passion that came together to pull off that was beyond inspirational, it was transformative.”

The show featured a dozen bands (prominently featuring females) as well as art installations and craft displays (and DJ sets) from women artists of the Michigan community.

“Overall the most rewarding thing that has happened is the experience of becoming a part of such a glorious community and to be so embraced by it. I am a weird guy and in the 25 years of life I lived before I came to Detroit, I never felt at home. I never felt like people got what I was about. Here, for some crazy reason, everyone has been so accepting of me and so supportive. I have accomplished more personally because of the love surrounding us here than ever before. I feel like the city has pushed me to live 24-hours-a-day, to love beyond the boundaries of my heart, to enlarge my mind.”

Indeed. So now you see what I was rambling about on the first few pages. But then, I ask him about negativity. Arts apathy, if you will…or the haters of the blog-commentary boards. However ironic or purposely-provoking they are intentionally being…etc etc… When someone encounters such a positive force as Wischusen, one has to wonder…

“As for negativity, I am human – I can be an asshole, I have a series of awkward physical compulsions, body odor (I am definitely the most profuse-sweater in the city), and vacillate between having a monstrously huge ego and being terribly self-effacing. There are plenty of reasons to hat eon me and if I knew me, I would probably do so! …With that in mind it is somewhat easier to deal with negativity, because it is a great lesson: negativity is often a mirror-image of what I have been projecting!”

“It teaches me where I go wrong. It also sharpens my creativity. As for the blogs, most of them are so positive, which I really appreciate, but then…there is Eat This City…amazing haters. It never fails to amaze me how such nice guys can hate so hard and still pull it off so well and leave everyone hysterically laughing – two of the smartest guys in town….their fearlessness is really refreshing.”

“As for the hate-everything-people,” a phrase he repeats to me after I mention it via questioning, “if our society is only as strong as the weakest link, they become the litmus for how we can change consciousness, the measure of our success. Hate on, haterz, the hug-train won’t be missing your stop!”

That the success is a collective change of consciousness. Strength of spirit, open mindedness, positivity.
(pictured: Zoos of Berlin)

I ask him about his own philosophy, when approaching show-organization, or whatever highflying charge he’s apart of next…

“…Joseph Conrad said in the Heart of Darkness, ‘We live as we dream…alone.’ – I believe that is the most important concept in community building and promotion. In finding a way to live together that works, we need to make it so individuals are individually motivated to work together, and before that happens we need to educate and inspire and engage the silent singular dreams of each of us. Collaborative Self-Interest, I suppose is the way of the 21st Century. When each of our dreams, in their glory and ego, takes flight alone and merges with others, like wandering geese, then we will look towards equators of social progress.”

“Make everyone feel welcome and known and they will come back for more and contribute more. If it works at concerts, I believe it can work in our neighborhood and in industry.”

Let’s hope.

So now, Wischusen turns 30. “I feel like it’s a Bar Mitzvah year in an era of extended adolescence, a kintango for perpetual Peter Pans. It’s also coincidentally days from my 5th anniversary living in Michigan so I have a lot to be thankful for.”

(pictured: Manna & Quail)

Wischusen asked Oblisk, Zoos of Berlin, Prussia and Manna & Quail not only because they are some of his personal favorites, but also their strengths in visual presentation; mise en scene as well as music. Each, said Wischusen, “have a heavily visual or poetic style that makes them poster children for the creative community. If you listen to Trevor (Naud of Zoos of Berlin)’s lyrics and intonations, you can see it in his design work! Oblisk are the masters of bringing their music on to a screen and creating an almost Wagnerian majesty at a show. If you haven’t seem Manna & Quail’s latest show, I don’t want to spoil it for you, just get ready to be beamed into the future, it is so amazing.”
(pictured below: Oblisk)

He concludes: “I want this,” this free concert, March 20th at the Eagle Theatre in Pontiac, “to be an explosion of creativity and collaboration that will serve as my thank-you to everyone for making these past five years so wonderful for me.”

I myself, wouldn’t devote, similarly, five full years of writing about Detroit’s arts community, if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly into the insights shared, here, by Wischusen.



Zoos of Berlin:


Manna & Quail:

The Crofoot complex:

Silent Giants:



jayelaudio said...

Great interview. Phreddy is a great guy and Pontiac should be thankful to have him.

Travis R. Wright said...

Seriously enjoyed reading this piece! Great stuff, great arc, great guy, great show.