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:  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Caveman Woodman & Bam Bam Moss - Early Man

Produced by Adam Cox
Photo by Lo-fi Bri
Design by TJ Ghoul
Jett Plastic Recordings 

Detroit's Caveman & Bam Bam might be pegged as a punk duo or a garage duo. They'll be categorized as noisy and maybe just a bit frightful. Because their songs are played and performed as though the entire venue was earth-quaking down to the ground around them and they have just two minutes to bang it out before roof caves in. But their sound is also one that certainly assures you, in its spirit and in its manner, that would that roof come tumbling down, these two...would...not....flinch.

So you can grunt if you wanna... The mayhem is metaphoric, mostly... The fracas is figurative. You won't "Start A Fire," per se, but if you wanna lose your mind for 3 minutes, that's kinda part of the plan.

Caveman & Bam Bam aim to bring out an inner animal nature in you, and push you, cannonballing, into the crude primordial stew of rock 'n' roll. It's not as though you'd literally "Start A Fire..." but the agenda of freeing you up to brew some of that recklessness outta ya for some healthful there.

Look at the song titles on their forthcoming album, Early Man (via Jett Plastic Recordings):
*"What Would A Caveman Do?" The question invites you to unleash something. These are the grunts, the roars, the club-swing-smashes and fire-starting fervor you can't let out of you at your day-job.
**"Let's Start A Fire..." That's a charming, thematic sentiment of inventing a contained heat-source, but when fire spreads, it's wild.
***"Starting A Dance Craze..." My personal favorite: taut, taunty lyrics, angular guitars, feedback storm and tribal drumming; it assures you, in all its ferocity, that you don't have to have your hipster posture, you don't have to worry about sweating through your shirt, this is a communal commotion and you just have to make sure your flailed arms don't spill the drinks of your dancefloor neighbors.

Sayeth the Caveman, himself: The record was all done here in Hamtramck. Written, recorded, mixed, mastered. (Producer) Adam Cox has Hamtramck Sound Studios just two blocks away from my house; he’d worked with King Tuff and Timmy’s Organism. (Moss) and I went in there and bashed out 11 songs. The songs are quick and spiky. There’s some psych-rock influence coming in, for sure, and a track that we made instrumental that wound up kind of surfy. I wrote (Moss) an anthem, “Bam Bam Can...” but I've still got to figure out how to pull off that lick off, live.

Photo by Brian Rozman

The evolved versions of a couple of the songs featured on Caveman & Bam Bam's Bellyache Records debut. The Early Man version of "Dance Craze" is more dynamic and drawn out for a minute-or-so in duration, demonstrating the notable kindred-spirit chemistry that guitarist/singer Frank Woodman and drummer Brandon Moss have cultivated over their three-year-run, particularly in their improvisational surf-rock-psychotic-storm style of jamming out a bit of cathartic, riffy noise.

I also dig "Gotta Do Something," it's a wavier, groovier musical bedrock that provides a fine tide for some of the most manic of vocals. But I love the positive sentiment of this song, as well as nearly all of these 11 songs. The album will be out in early/mid October, (maybe sooner...)

Meanwhile, Caveman is traveling to New York to perform at Otto's Sunken Head, opening up for Moss' other band, Bear Vs Shark. More info. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mountain Babies Premiere: Pointe Aux Barques / Dead Man's Walkin' (dir by Gage O'Barsky)

We've featured Mountain Babies here, before. But now the Port Huron based quartet have sent us their brand new music video to premier for you, and it is delightfully disorienting...! It's silly surrealism, and yet, almost majestic...? And set to the most sublime and psychedelic Americana folk twangs, coiling riffs and crisp, resplendent tones.

There are moments of weird, noodly bends, riffy rock, Beach Boysian harmonies and chamber-pop charm. It sounds as grand as Grizzly Bear and its certainly a distant-fellow-Michigan-cousin of the subdued-dazzles of Breathe Owl Breathe, but there's a signature whimsicality to the sound where Mountain Babies make it all their own. Told in what feels like three or four separate movements, filled out with banjo, clarinet, and brushy jazz drums (at points), and this dreamy amount of delicate reverb drizzled over the vocals, the end result is this.........

"Pointe Aux Barques / Dead Man's Walkin"

Mountain Babies features Dave Peters, Brandon Leyva, Stefan Nisbett, and Ethan Williamson. Their film, which I have to say, shows a fine sensibility for  the utilization of natural light, is directed by Gage O'Barsky.

But things get weird...

"The googley eye trip, along with everything else, just happened so fast," says Peters. "We went to a thrift store on our way up and started grabbing all kinds of outfits and just went with it.

I think too much of our Americana/folk and baroque-inclined acoustic outfits had just gotten too stark in the mid to late 2000's. Mountain Babies are a breath of fresh air, in that regard, keeping the music sounding artful, with a hint of mischief. "Just went with it...," as Peters says about the video, sums it up nicely.

The storyline, loosely, is Peters and Nisbett are going on a spirtual journey together. "We head out to see mother nature and Stefan pulls googley eyes out of his pockets and we take them as though their hits of... something..." and bizarre-ness ensues.

Pointe Aux Barques/ Dead Man's Walkin' by Mountain Babies. Filmed by Gage O'Barsky. Thanks for tuning in to watch it.

Tonight, Sept 3
Mountain Babies
Roche Bar (405 Quay St, Port Huron)
with Watching for Foxes, Silvertongue Devils, and Michael Taggert
10 pm
More info

Friday, September 2, 2016

Frontier Ruckus at El Club: A Chat with Zach and David

Last time I checked in with Frontier Ruckus, singer/guitarist Matthew Milia was eager to talk about the band’s “new” album, Enter the Kingdom. That was a year ago, but we’re still waiting…That doesn’t mean the band hasn’t been busier than ever. The quartet, with Anna Burch on bass/vocals, along with Ypsi-natives David W. Jones on banjo and Zach Nichols on singing-saw/horns/melodica & various electronics, have been touring fairly consistently over the past seven months, including an intimate Living Room Tour throughout the summer months.

Meanwhile, Jones and Nichols talked to the me about the live incarnation of their newest songs (via Enter The Kingdom). “I think we’ve successfully performed six out of the 11 songs (from Kingdom),” says Nichols, who, by the way, has been busy with another project that he started back in 2014 called Shuttershop (which features Jones). “(Frontier Ruckus) has actually never played all the way through, songwise, for any of our album’s releases…, but I’d be happy to do it for this one. But that would require four string players and another trumpet player, to be done right…”

Turns out the wait is almost over, Fruckus-fans…  The band announced, earlier this week, that Enter The Kingdom will be out by February 2017, via Loose Music. Now, you can stream a new single, “27 Dollars” here, or you can stay on this page and watch a live version of that same song, from one of their recent living room concerts….

But the real reason we’re here is not to count the days until Enter The Kingdom’s February release… And it’s not to pressure you into road-tripping over to Wayne County to catch the band at their show, Saturday in Detroit (at El Club). (You should though…)

The real reason we’re here, online, today, is to pick the brains of Jones and Nichols, two Ypsi music mavens who have been in this band for ten years, five albums, dozens of tours and who-knows-how-many shows… (Also, they have a 90% attendance rate at Mittenfest, so far). (ALSO, Jones actually co-founded what became Frontier Ruckus back around 2002, ...but we digress…)

Let’s talk about being in a band like Frontier Ruckus.

“It can be intense in the way that (the four of us) are completely smashed into each other’s lives for months-at-a-time, in some of the smallest quarters possible,” said Jones, who works a professional music teacher (specialized curriculum: banjo) when he’s back home from Fruckus-life. “I think we would lose our minds if we weren’t also such damn good friends. I think the moments we’re always remembering, and cherishing, are the most impossibly spontaneous and random ones; think along the lines of crashing with the sweetly drunken hippie dude that wanders into your spur-of-the-moment back-alley dance party… Imagine that: you’re in Wyoming, and you have nowhere else to say and he basically saves your lives…”

“Yeah, it can be intense,” says Nichols, who, in his time off, has started dipping his toes, recently, into producing potential stories for radio. When I ask him if it’s unavoidably ‘intense,’ this idea of a band being a Voltron-like entity of individuals coming together as one…, he says: “Not as intense as Voltron. But, as with Voltron, Power Rangers, or Friends…after so many tours, we’ve become exaggerated versions of our characters in the ensemble cast.” That’s true, it’s been a few seasons in this Sitcom life, hasn’t it….? “Everyone has a role to play, and expectations to fulfill, which can make it easier on us as we work together, but that’s as long as we remember that we’re human and not characters from a television show.”

Let’s talk about Enter The Kingdom. Their fifth album was recorded in Nashville, in the early summer of 2015, produced with Ken Coomer (Wilco’s founding drummer). This was a first; Frontier Ruckus have never recorded an album outside of Michigan, nor had they ever enlisted anyone outside the band for production collaboration.

“I think (Coomer) would agree,” Nichols says, “that the biggest contribution he added to the record was in the drum department, because he played all of them for this record.” When the band is on the road, they’ve previously enlisted the help of Ryan Clancey (of Stef Chura’s band) to play drums. “On paper, (Enter The Kingdom) should be the most different sounding Frontier Ruckus record, because of the new studio; a new producer; a new drummer, a new bass player, a new engineer; and a string section, but it doesn’t sound too far off from our previous records. My favorite track is ‘Gauche,’ which may tarry somewhat from our norm by including some jazzier chords.”

Coomer’s drumming days with Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) go back to Uncle Tupelo. He has also worked on production for/with Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Jars of Clay and more. Frontier Ruckus, meanwhile, began as a minimalist gothic-Americana outfit, heavy on that banjo and lots of poetic atmosphere, but they’ve blurred the boundaries and entered realms of modern indie-pop, spacey psychedelic folk and some straight-up 90’s college-rock riff-outs. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go with Kingdom…

“It was definitely very different in its level of efficiency and professionalism,” Jones says, looking back on Kingdom. “We cranked out 10 songs in 8 days, I think... That was such a relief for me personally because in the past we've always spread the record-making process out over months and months and it almost feels excruciating. We were a bit apprehensive, to say the least, of working with a producer who might try to exert some crazy creative control over things, but those fears turned out to be unfounded. (Coomer) was on the same page as us almost always, and whatever ideas he did bring to the table we loved. And hell, the dude played drums on my favorite Wilco records. To have that feel on this one is incredible!”

The band is heading back to Nashville at the end of the month for AmericanaFest. Meanwhile, this summer saw them charming exclusively-sized domestic spaces, living rooms, backyards or basements, for one of their signature quirky/cool tours. “They're really some of our favorite shows,” Jones said, “as it just takes all of the bullshit out of the equation. Not that we don't love playing loud club shows to big audiences, but there's obviously something special about just playing your damn instruments in a damn room where people are sitting on the damn floor. Damn, it's fun…”

“There’s something special about the most direct route of the instruments to the audience’s ears,” said Nichols. “In a full-on electric show there are so many layers of separation between the musicians and the audience. I like seeing shows in an acoustic setting and even more I like performing that way.”

But going back to Kingdom’s delay… And, “delay” isn’t the right word. It’s just that it’s difficult to be in a band these days when it comes to figuring out how to distribute your music. Because that question mark of “who…” looms so large on that day you get out of the studio… “Who’sgonna put this out?” The answer finally came: Loose Music.

“I mean…, to say it's frustrating to try and make it work these days would be quite the understatement,” said Jones, concerning the state of the music business and trying to wade into it…

 “A lot of labels are functioning at a level where they’re not signing mid-level or somewhat established artists, but going for several brand new or buzzy bands, hoping one or two hits. We're all scraping by and happy with our lives and the choices we've made. But…, some of our songs have been played or streamed or watched or listened to millions of times and we’ll get the occasional check for like $57…for the whole band.”

“Either way,” Jones says, “we're damn lucky to play music for a living, to have experiences with each other, to travel the world multiple times over. Fans have told us time and time again how what we do makes their lives better, that's all we need in the end…”

“Honestly,” Nichols said, “being on tour with your friends, recording music, and playing late night Hasbro’s Catchphrase in Washington D.C., for example, are rewards unto themselves!”

Frontier Ruckus
El Club (4114 W. Vernor Hwy, Detroit)
5 pm
ft. Minihorse / Samantha Crain
More info