Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pink Lightning - Blue Skies

A Murmuration: Beautifully Risky, Madcap Music 
Blue Skies LP : Record Release Show this Saturday
PJ's Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave) with Beekeepers and The Potions, with DJ Bill Spencer

An Interview (of sorts)

 “We often feel we’re creating a new language entirely when we’re writing these songs…”

Pink Lightning’s drummer, Neal Parks calls the band’s latest album “an awesome collaboration between many talented people,” and proclaims how he loves playing music with these four other “great humans” that he calls friends.

photo by Andrea Zarzycki

The Players

Chris Butterfield sings (as much as he surges) up front, slithery and snapping his body as much as he does his voice.

Leo McWilliams’ dynamism on the accordion invites adjectives usually reserved to describe the wild valiancy of punk-rock styles.

Parks, meanwhile, back there on drums, is pure frenetika, keeping time but pummeling in some fierce fills with limbs like a pinwheel, usually overheating himself to the point of necessary shirtlessness.

Tom Bahorski is simply the wizard, a guitar hybrid of blurring punk shreds and oozy blues, psyche-rock sensationalism with tasteful atmospheric distortions.

That leaves Everette Rinehart, on the bass, the heart, the pulse, the soul, standing cool in the eye of the Pink Lightning storm, (with his own eyes behind sunglasses),nodding lightly, focused, deploying the grooviest waves while the rubbery Butterfield pingpongs off of him and into Bahorski.

But what’s it sound like? Tweaked rock. Dark pop. Weird punk. It waves here and there to nuanced extremes of mutated genres: a sound with vigorous rhythms, vibrant guitar effusions, and soaring accordions under warbled falsettos and bellowed crooning.

It’s a sound that only the players comprehend fully. Even if you think you’ve decoded it as you’re 
taken with the tumbling fervor of the varyingly danceable tempos, you still might not speak the special “language” developed between the five players in Pink Lightning.

“It’s constantly challenging, our process…” Butterfield says. “It’s not a paint-by-numbers sound. There’s never conversations about ‘what needs to be there’ in a song, for the sake of the listener or for listen-ability. It’s more intuition; we make it how we intuitively know it should be.”


The signature cohesiveness of Pink Lightning’s collaboration, when writing, recording or performing, is something altogether erratic, forceful and yet, in unison. “Yeah,” Butterfield nods to that as I suggest it to him. “It feels like that…like how starlings get into those massive cloud-like formations that wave here and there across the sky…” He pauses to Google the right word for it: 

“Murmuration!” he shouts.

Murmuration aside, says Bahorski, the album, Blue Skies, went through “…a lot of permutations!” 

Because it took two years to be completed, Bahorski says, that opened the door to “gradually ease in some more ideas,” says Bahorski. The specific “door” that opened was Scott Masson’s door, into his home studio in Ferndale, where the band did post-production work with the certain “permutations” enhancing your listening experience including pianos, organs, mandolins, banjos, along with some saxophone, tambourine and Rinehart stand-up bass.

The listening experience evokes a sense of being right up by the amplifiers, close enough to feel the singer’s sweat or to have to duck a pivoting bass neck. Kinetic and tension-building, as rock should be, rickety and rabid, as punk could be, grappling with catchy hooks, ebullient rhythms and enticing melodies, as pop needs to be…but, just, weirder, wilder. Always in formation, though.  

Canned Energy

“We all write as a team,” says McWilliams, “that’s why things might get really frantic, sometimes. Our process is very energetic to begin with. We’re all trying to get our ideas out and it all comes out at once, allowing for lots of different influences and styles to come out. I think we weave all those things together and it turns into some weird Pink-Lightning-tapestry.”

“It’s definitely a challenge to try to can energy, like that,” says Rinehart.

“We’ll tweak a song over the course of weeks so when we sit down and play we merge ideas,” says Parks.

“Slow…” Bahorski nods, “…long…not painful, though! Just painfully slow, maybe?”

“But even then,” says Parks, “another song was written and recorded in just eight hours…”

“I’m so manic I don’t know what I think about anything,” Butterfield shakes his head at himself. “I work so slow! This album should have been completed last year, but, it is what it is. But, really, there has been an evolution since the last album.”

This band was formed on a baseball field near midtown Detroit. But, really, it grew out of McWilliams, Rinehart and Parks busking as a jazz-trio (complete with washtub bass) on the corners of Eastern Market, where they fatefully encountered Butterfield. The official vows, some Musketeer-like raising of arms and bats to show their commitment, happened later during a pickup softball game. The group, with guitarist Matt Paw, recorded and released 2011’s First Rodeo EP (a post-punk inclined declaration of their angsty-waltzing styles) followed by the somewhat scattershot, if still potent full length Happy To Be Here in 2012.

“I think with (Happy), we were just trying to get it finished so that we could start working on (Blue Skies),” Rinehart says. “Not intentionally, though. We learned a lot making that first record, we were looking for our style and it came through at a few points, but (Blue Skies) truly defines what Pink Lightning is, as a band.”

The tracks were laid down in 2013 at Tapwater Productions in Detroit with Dilan Wade. The energy was then enhanced by Masson with instrumentations later “tinkered” with by Bahorski.

Led By Intuition

Rinehart: “We’ve certainly improved individually as musicians.”

McWilliams: “We’re getting more comfortable as a band with taking risks. We think music is beautiful like that and I think we’re getting better at harnessing those opportunities.”

Rinehart: “And (Bahorski) seems to truly live to create music and that’s certainly challenged the rest of us to keep up.”

Bahorski: “I like to tinker! Song cycles! They’re vital! But, I don’t’ know, I still feel like ‘the new guy.’”

Rinehart: “More importantly, (Bahorski)’s become one of my best friends.”

Butterfield: “I don’t know what else I can say about (Blue Skies) other than what I put into it, what I’ve says on it. It does feel cohesive, the whole thing. Pushing in different directions together to see what comes of it, still being led by our intuition. That’s a good place to be.”

Pink Lightning performs Dec. 13th @ PJ’s Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave, Detroit) with The Potions, Scott Masson, DJ Bill Spencer and visuals by State Bird. 9pm/$8 -

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