Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Now We're Making It

A retrospective of the work of Detroit filmmaker Colin Duerr from the last 20 years...

"Now We're Making It" ColinDuerr.COM 2015 from Colin Duerr on Vimeo.

Local music fans will recall his work with The Amino Acids, Passalacqua, JP from the HP, The Ded Dave Show and more...

Read up on the latest from Duerr, as he prepares for his first feature length film.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Old Empire: How To Make An Entrance

Old Empire doesn’t know exactly what their “sound” is…and neither do I, but maybe that’s the point. 

There’s always this idea of a band having its own kinda sound. For singer/songwriter Gabe Dodson, it was less about trying to fit a sound or a trend or a style and more so just about writing good songs.

“Make good songs,” he says, “and just exist in a tradition. Listening to music, riffs make you feel good in their release, the hooks, too. But, if then, you can take just a shred of truth or something that resonates with you about being a person, however dark, then that stays with you, that song, you hum that song through your day, with those words and, man, life can be difficult. Most people experience more failures than successes in life and you need some salve for that. Music and art in general has always been a salve for me in that way.”

With Old Empire, Dodson’s been surviving with a sincere proclivity towards writing 3-minute mini popera’s and singing these catchy, jagged blends of proto-punk and sun-blasted Brit-pop in a city otherwise known for its blustery garage rock for several years now. He’s been backed by the rhythm section of Mark Biermann(bass) and Michael Oak (drums), guitarist Charlie McCutcheon and singer Laura Rock for the last few years, with an EP (Tall Ships) that started streaming properly online earlier this year and a forthcoming album called How To Make An Entrance.

“We have lots of speeds,” Dodson said. “We like all the emotions. We wanna have all the feels.”

Dodson’s as wise as he is a wisecracker. He’ll let a lot of quips slip out but he’ll also directly quote Greek philosophers and experimental film directors. He attained his degree in American Studies from Wayne State and once struck out with Kerouacian aspirations to write the next great American novel.

“You can take the Beatles for granted sometimes, like when I say they ‘wrote the book…’ But the people who wrote my favorite chapters in that book, like Lou Reed or John Doe, those guys had the degrees too, it’s just, much like those guys we just got hung up writing poems over music.”

So let’s talk about writing the book. That’s an ideal place to start with an Old Empire song. Dodson often writes as though he’s approaching the penning of a short story with a complete narrative. How To Make An Entrance bursts with pop-rock ebullience, but the lyrics unveil a thought-provoking morality play, in varying narrative tenors evoking nostalgia, self-depreciation, soul-searching stares into the mirror and, above all, sincere takes of hindsight’s stock.

Songwriting, for Dodson and Old Empire, can be used not only to sift through hindsight, but foresight as well. He’s quicker to praise David Berman (of the Silver Jews) than he is the typical deities like Dylan. “(Berman) has a similar keen awareness and observation, and great poetry. He’s talking about the world that I exist in now. It’s about context, for me. I love the Jim Jarmusch quote about originality, how it’s non existent and that authenticity is invaluable. I never believed in originality. The Greeks called it mimesis. We all learn through copying each other.”

But it all comes back to existing within a tradition. And if he’s following Lou Reed or John Doe or, especially, Ray Davies, then Dodson and Old Empire’s tradition is a sugar-coated gut punch of a pop song, the one with a melody that won’t leave your head and with words that’ll haunt you just enough to get you thinking a little harder before you just lose yourself in another ear-pummeling amp-blown evening of headbanging. These are songs to take to heart. They’re fast and some are fierce and they’ve got plenty of gusto guitarsmanship shredding through it, but they should be taken to heart, particularly with the warmth and interplay of their harmonies, the keen sense for boy-girl vocal dynamics traded between Dodson and Rock.

“The best songs, the best lyrics, come when I’m being the least hard on myself,” Dodson says. 

“When I just sit down and talk about things, that’s when the turns-of-phrases flow and I stop scrutinizing whether I’m using too many fifty-cent words. Laura reminds me to just take a breath and let it flow, tell the story you want. She’s got such great harmonies, too. Singing has been her passion her whole life. She’s given me confidence that I’ve never had in my life.”

Confidence is what led Dodson to stop waiting. How To Make An Entrance had to come out and it will be out next month! He hooked up with Kevin Pachla, founder of New Fortune Records, to get the album pressed to vinyl.

But confidence also comes from the Old Empire as an ensemble. “Mark and Mike, they were, since the 90’s, as teenagers, playing as a rhythm section. Their feel for each other is amazing. Charlie always gives the song what it needs. He’s like Johnny Marr in the verses and J. Mascis in the solos, just a natural.”

What How To Make An Entrance demonstrates, is craftsmanship. Pop song craftsmanship, but still… No need for panicked overreaches into trip-hop psychedelia or backwards-inversions of baroque-pop. No need to clutter the composition with obfuscating distortion or crib too much of a twangy surf rock signature. Old Empire, here, figured out how to make their own entrance. There’s a cathartic crackle to Dodsons voice and a poignant sweetness to Rock’s, there’s a playful shimmy to the rhythm and a tightly snapped hook to singe off the verses. And in the middle, like three act plays, we meet fully formed characters, cast with lyrics that say just enough, dropping the dots down for us to connect it all, until we hear something that sounds eerily familiar to our own experience.

How do you create your own identity? What do we make of all these things we know that we actually don’t know we know and all the things we think we know that really aren’t true at all.

“Between (Queen City Quandaries) and Tall Ships, I decided I’d start writing more about myself. Being sincere is definitely a corny thing,” Dodson says. “But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Songwriting is definitely the best way I know how to relate to people. Whether it’s the people in my band or in the audience. I’m high strung, I can talk a lot and I talk fast and I like to talk about things that are not small-talk things. So songwriting, singing, then, is social. That relationship, finding that through songwriting, that drives a lot of my thinking.”

“So… defining our sound?” Dodson pauses for a second. He does talk a lot, and swiftly. But here, he pauses. “I’m so far inside it… that’s for other people to define. I just want to be earnest and connect with the listener. I want to tell a story that resonates. I want to socialize with people. By the time I’m done writing, I want to make sure I haven’t necessarily painted any character as the bad guy or bad girl. It’s just people doing stuff. Living. L-I-V-I-N, as they say…”

You can pick up How To Make An Entrance on vinyl there. It’s available for download May 26.
New Fortune Fest II is May 24 at The New Dodge Lounge
This label showcase featuresDave Bixby / Passalacqua
After Dark Amusement Park / The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre / The Ruiners / The Stomp Rockets / Microphone Phelps / Doctor Illingsworth / Ancient Language Scotty Karate / Jenny Junior & Jackie Rainsticks / Jeremy Porter and the Tucos &The High Strung

For more information, follow NewFortune Records
Old Empire perform in the mid-afternoon at NFF II

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Mexican Knives - S/T (Release Show, Friday)

Let's call it rock n' roll, first and foremost.

Mexican Knives - S/T

We can rabble faux-poetically about all the cool, caustic components cut into the mix: ...the inherent danger of those driving rhythms like a swerving Semi going 90, about to jackknife across the gravel of a dark desert road, or the rusty spark spitting grit of those distorted guitars, varyingly sliced, slithered with a "shimmy-shimmy-shake-shake" riff or extensively storming with a doom-fuzzed drone that sounds positively combustible, or the enchanting, minor-key curling, melodic howl of those lead vocals, cooing hauntingly under a fog of reverb.

We can say all that. But we might as well just call it rock n' roll, especially for all its various energies: from the outburst boogie to its mystical darkness, to the frustration-letting stomp and shake riff-outs and the trippy sheen of atmospheric effects to evoke a sense of ominousness.

How things can be all hectic and hell-fire for one song, like the punk conniptions of a psychedelic surf-rock under curling pipelines ("Nightmare") and then how it rear it in for some venus-in-furs-esque seance of a slow-jam trance-out, swelling with colorful tones that billow with an eerie beauty over a tasteful tumbling of minimalist percussion ("Down To Hell").

Leave it to Chris Koltay (Deerhunter, Akron Family) and Adam Cox (Wasabi Dream), producing half of this record's songs respectively, to imbue each tone, timbre and oscillation with a crisp clarity, allowing the fiery fuzz of "Nightmare" to crackle right into your ears while also balancing things out to percolate the power in those lead vocals as they yowl up against a pounding percussion in "Beach Song."

Mexican Knives - 'Nightmare' [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO] 2014 from erin barry on Vimeo.

The Pixies (and then, more famously, Nirvana) started that whole "quiet-loud-quiet" model of indie-rock. Maybe this Detroit-based quintet, to switch that up a bit, is demonstrating a keen sense for the slow-fast-slow approach... The hip-shaked headbanger at one instance...("Killer Snanke") And the woozy, dreamy-eyed sway and dip during the next instance...("Dissociated").

But let's call it rock n' roll because it just knows exactly what it needs... It's not overly complicating its arrangements, it's not distracting the punch of its essence with too many spacey effects, it's not cribbing any kind of glammy, garagey-revival and it's certainly not trying to sell you a poppy single to singalong to... In that way, it stares right back at you, with all its weirdness bared, not necessarily waiting for you to find the wonder in it, because they'll only play that slow song for another minute longer, until, ready or not, its onto the fast one again...

Mexican Knives - S/T Release Show
Friday, May 8
PJ's Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave, Detroit)
9 PM
ft  Double Winter & Duane The Brand New Dog 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nigel & The Dropout (New album + Interview)

Nigel & The Dropout like to tinker. 

"I find inspiration, really, in messing with things..." says Nigel Hemmye. 

"That's what I hated about school," says Andrew Ficker, the implied 'Dropout,' who actually did as much, before finishing high school. "I realized: I could be doing something more productive right now. I don't want to learn about chemistry right now. I can learn about it myself." 

Hemmye said he enjoys just getting lost in the midst of sound manipulation and finding what he calls "the flow of things." 

Hemmye and Ficker started this group five years ago. One of the first things they did was complete an album's worth of recorded material, none of which they'd ever intended to play live. In fact, they finished the album before playing their first real show together. They had been part of a quartet, previously (back in 2010), but when their band members decided to go to college, these two decided to go back to the practice space. 

"Once they left," says Hemmye, "it was like: 'Well...? How do we fill out the sound?" 

"If we couldn't find anyone to do this for us, let's build something ourselves to compensate." 

From that point on, using a laptop for sequenced beats, synthesizers for bass lines, atmospheric effects and counter-melodies under Ficker's lead vocal and shredding electric guitar, the pair began a five-year long collaboration that would eventually congeal into a close friendship based around music. 

But it's been five years. After two years of solid performances around the region, having established themselves as a name around the scene, lately, they're only just now releasing another album. 

"That makes it sound like nothing's gone to plan," Hemmye says, leading into a self-deprecating chuckle. "But yet, we haven't really had a plan." 

This weekend represents the implementation, finally, of Nigel & The Dropout's grand plan. Release an album, (have a party,) and get right back to work. 

"We've already started working on the next album, so it's hard, thinking back, to these songs. It's still an opportunity to throw a party and show everyone the music we've made. But, the past year, we've been working more on ourselves, as people. I don't think I can quite articulate that, but, there've been a lot of changes. I can hear that in the songs."

Nigel & The Dropout blend a glitzed ambient-pop to stormier space-rock tears, showing sensibilities for glam-rock's enticing darker sides while still sliding in the celebratory danceability of electronica. The fact that there's two of them up there arcing toward a cinematic sounding pop-rock punch and illuminated by an intricate light show could invite reference points like Dale Earnhart Jr Jr, but you'd be closer to the mark if you took that and dove into an glowing emerald-green pool stirring together a trippy blend of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails

But then, that makes them sound overly cerebral or like some kind of industrial-revivalists. It's just a summer, synth-blazed guitar rock that emphasizes rhythm and vocal melody... Call it what you will... Or ask the two dudes themselves...

"I feel like everybody says Radiohead," Ficker said. "So, we're trying to get away from that."

"We're trying to get away from what everyone says," Hemmye pushes it farther. "I don't want to wind up saying the same things and I won't want to go around saying: Hey, I'm Nigel and before you know me or what's happening you should know: I'm in a band! I am band!" 

"I used to think it was a circumstantial kinda thing," Ficker says of their sound and style. "Like, well, we have this gear and it leads us to these certain sounds and that's why we sound like this... I'm realizing more that that's not the case."

Hemmye: "Literally, not the case. It is not in a case..." 

Ficker: "It's something that we're just drawn to, drawn to certain sounds because of who we are and how we approach music and the things we value and because of all of that, these are the sounds that come out..." He pauses for a couple beats. "We sound kinda pretentious coming across like that. It's weird how much I feel that us, the two of us as people, changing, is also changing how our music sounds."

Hemmye: "Definitely weird being aware of that... I wasn't aware of it before. Then, I felt it one day, like: Wow, this sounds like me! Wait that what I sound like?" 

You won't hear an overt influence of NIN or Trent Reznor in Nigel & The Dropout's latest songs, but you can be sure they've been looking up to the alt-rock pioneer of heavy electronica. Ficker and Hemmye attended a NIN concert when they were only 15. Ficker, notable rebel having already "dropped out" of high school, was the first one out of their group to stand up out of their ticket-assigned seats and make a run for the main floor of the Palace of Auburn Hills. Because if he was going to see NIN, he was going to get as close as possible, despite being a lone 15-year-old amid a crowd of "big sweaty, hairy dudes..." Hemmye wound up catching up to him on the ground floor in time for the show to start. 

"(NIN & Reznor) are a big influence for our live performance," Ficker admitted. "Especially with the way we set up our lighting. Our light show is programmed into our equipment; we've got midi signals coming from the pedals and the keyboards going into my computer and translating them into dmx and into the projector. That's a very tedious process, figuring out all the light cues." 

But taking the show up to that next level and making it an experience for the audience remains important for the duo. 

They particularly bonded over the mind-altering substances absorbed together during their trip to Electric Forest in 2013. Afterwards, Hemmye and Ficker started hanging out more, outside of practices or shows and began congealing a tighter chemistry, in terms of how they work (and think) together. 

"I mean, I got inspired to do this light show because I've had certain experiences like that where I was tripping out at a show," Ficker said. "And it can have a huge influence on how someone approaches music. Those experiences are inspiring to me." 

Ficker: "I wanna bring that to someone else." 

Through the experiencing of a live Nigel & The Dropout show? Or, do you wanna spike the kool-aid with LSD or something? 

Ficker: "I would love to spike the kool-aid but I'd get arrested. So, this is the legal way to pursue giving that experience to people. The only thing I could legally do, anyhow, to give them that experience."

Hemmye: "Huh... I didn't even know that. I didn't piece it together. You're like a drug dealer and this is your drug. I'm helping you make that come true. Huh...." 

Nigel & The Dropout - Album Release Show on May 16 at The Loving Touch (22634 Woodward)  -   ft. Ancient Language, Tart, Characteristics and The Ill Itches8 PM / $7 for 21+  ($10 for 18+)  More info: