Saturday, October 29, 2016

Diving In with Josh Malerman: New Novella out on Halloween-Day

Monday is Halloween and Josh Malerman’s newest book will be available via UK-based This Is Horror. I’ll tell you, I was a hundred pages in to A House at the Bottom of a Lake when I realized my right arm had crooked up over my face to grasp the left shoulder, the forearm muzzling my mouth; I blinked to de-bulge my eyes; I was alone and apparently self-conscious of exerting an audibly frightened yelp noise from my mouth.

Click here to pre-order this novella
And find more info here, via This Is Horror

Malerman’s latest follows-up 2014’s stark, nerve-shredding Bird Box, which had a simple yet brilliant narrative scheme forcing its protagonists to keep their eyes blindfolded or risk uncanny madness. Not to spoil anything, but while some can argue Bird Box being “post-apocalyptic,” it’s just as easy to deny those postulations with the mere fact that no one in this book can ever see the outside world again, unless they have an utter death wish. Bird Box was nominated for 2014’s Bram Stoker Award and won the This Is Horror award.

Now we dive in to A House at the Bottom of a Lake, part of This Is Horror’s annual Halloween’s Day Novella series. You can pre-order it here: 

Whereas Bird Box kept us mostly indoors with a strategic utilization of the “it’s scarier if you don’t see it” approach, House/Lake is entirely outdoors and draws a curtain of creepiness across the idylls of nature, trees, grass, shorelines, mountains, and yes, water…

James and Amelia are two painfully relatable 17-year-olds out on their first day, quaking with awkwardness and self-consciousness. Dinner and a movie would be too cliché, so why not borrow a canoe and take in the majesty of those two nearby lakes? Wait…when a mysterious canal appears to lead to a smaller third lake, the pair of would-be lovebirds spontaneously decide to say “yes” to everything… Sure, let’s scrape up James’ Uncle’s canoe by navigating a treacherously narrow tunnel, let’s go over and observe that strange road along the shore, let’s row over to that part of the lake and see if….WAIT… What is THAT? Down there? In the murky water? A roof? Windows? A Door? A porch, a pathway…shutters… IT’S A HOUSE! Yes. At the bottom of a lake… Should we investigate it, they ask? YES.

The pair’s unconventional courtship finds them bonding over a mantra of not asking how or why… As if that would deter them from exploring any further… But just because a house is under the water doesn’t mean it, also, can’t be just as haunted as its terrestrial counterparts. James and Amelia get some scuba gear to swim inside and explore this fully furnished house only to find… Oh, god, you don’t even want to know…

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A House at the Bottom of a Lake: Interview with Josh Malerman
"It’s cold down there. It’s dark, isolated, and everything you see is distorted..."

There's something refreshingly regressive about distinctively placing adult readers back to that oh-so-young age of 17. You focus on the awkwardness. You focus on being scared of spiders or noises. That's a scaredy-cat feeling that I think a lot of us forget once we're in our 20's and beyond... Dating, in itself, is scary, particularly at that age.
Josh Malerman:
Arrested development is a magnificent quality in an artist. Some of us keep our inner-teens chained up in a room nobody is allowed to look into, while others let him run loud about the house.  My teenager answers the door and sometimes doesn’t even call for me to come downstairs. When James and Amelia meet they’re at that sweet-spot, the moment in time when your personal scales of bravery and scared shitlessness are in a dead heat and won’t tip either way for many moons. James had to ask her out because he’d go nuts if he didn’t and Amelia had to say yes because she wasn’t living if she said no. So right from the start they’re balancing; worried how they’re coming off, worried whether or not they’re smart enough, funny enough, and open enough, too, to the big hidden options of living. My regrets in life are not for the things I have done, but things I haven’t. James and Amelia or on that same swing-set.

It made me wonder if you had the metaphor splash over you, of the lake's surface being the exterior of a person you've just met...and the strange house at the bottom of it, their subconscious, the unknowable, the emobidment of all the skeletons in their respective closet(s)...
Yep. That’s it alright. And while it’s easy enough to dive in, most people freak out at the sight of the submerged furnishings. And can you blame them? There are so many different mind-types out there... you wanna make sure you’re hanging with one you can swim with, yeah? I think early on with A House at the Bottom of a Lake I was aware of the two present layers: the house of horrors and the fresh love affair. I’d like to say it was a juggling act but really, horror and love go so well together, they danced themselves from page to page without much intrusion by me.

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Did you consider bringing back a sort of Grimm's Fairytale vibe? Hansel, Gretel, or sneaking into the Three Bears’ House with their porridge, as it were...? What was the root of this stories inspiration?
Malerman: The words ‘fairy tale’ can often send a horror reader running. Who wants frogs and magic horses? And yet, when we read these old platform stories we’re as turned on as we’re ever gonna get. Because a lot of them are legitimately scary. And so many of them are just brilliant ideas.
So there’s a duality there, of course, wanting and not wanting a fairy tale. When I recognized a slash of that color on my canvas I had to decide what to do with it. Use it? Spread it around? Contain it? Keep it like a signature, a little wink in the corner of an otherwise much darker story? I opted for not worrying about it too much either way. Meaning: I didn’t enhance that angle and I didn’t intentionally diminish it either. What could I do? I had two teenagers madly in love playing house at the bottom of a lake. Sometimes it felt like I was their chaperone, but the kind of chaperone who was off drinking a beer in the woods while they faced unspeakable horrors below.

My scare-levels rose at the sentence: "The tunnel makes for a slow getaway"
There’s certainly a sense of ‘staying put out there…’ Whether you think you should or not. Especially once the raft is tethered.

Let’s think about the idea of trespassing…under the water… And talk about the paranoia that strikes these kids, the anxiety of discovering this kind of secret…
Well, that’s teenage bravado right there. This place isn’t ours??? We might get caught and get busted??? Screw it, what’s the worst that can happen? Adults would work out the logistics, the consequences and fines, the what-ifs. But teenagers have a great supply of willful bliss. And you know, it works out most the time in their favor.

Some say that if you ask the Universe, the Universe will respond. Maybe it’s like that. If you think you can get away with the little things, you do. Like sneaking a pack of gum from the local store. What thieves we all were! Of course, it isn’t the local authorities or land owners James and Amelia needed to be conscious of. They were trespassing on much deeper ground. Neck deep. And the only thing capable of scaring them off the land didn’t necessarily want them to leave. Or did it?

Talk about how much harder it's getting to write horror or imagine marketable, buzz-building scenarios for a horror story... I love the line James agrees to that seems to strike at the new/old/new formula for finding good horror: "No how's or whys."
Well this goes back to the silly thing people say when they say they’re more afraid of ‘fact’ than they are of fiction. The trick (one trick) with horror is to leave those whys and hows in the car. Or just throw them away completely. If it’s the unknown that scares us so deeply, and if it’s true that some of us want to be scared, then what does an explanation do other than remove the scare entirely?

Now, in the case of James and Amelia, they decided early on not to ask the big questions because they didn’t want the house of cards to fall to the tabletop in a heap. Just like love, you know. You start asking yourself who is she and who am I and, shit, the whole thing rises to the sky in a swarm of ash with the snap of two fingers. Presto. Gone. You gotta be careful, huh? Recently, at a book-fair in Haverhill, MA, a brilliant woman in the audience suggested that us modern agers are afraid of the unknown because there’s nothing we can’t look up online!

Without giving anything away, we should just ruminate on how inexplicably creepy it can feel being inside an empty house, even ones’ own house…But when you closed your eyes during a break of paragraphs while writing this, what scared YOU the most?
The natural uncanniness of the setting. It’s cold down there. It’s dark, isolated, and everything you see is distorted by unseen waves. You only get the house in pieces, as the flashlight allows you. And there’s only one door. One in and out. Couple all that with the unmistakable edginess of being in somebody else’s house when they’re not home, and you’ve got an awfully freaky place to be.

Let’s not forget that  most 17 year olds might just opt to take a picture of the house and post it to instagram and leave…? Or, worse, that most 17 year olds wouldn't be out in the great outdoors? Talk about that 80's outdoorsy Michigan upbringing of yours and how that informed this books tacit theme of unquestioned adventurousness…
I think the love side of things acted as a bubble in this way. It’s almost as if the young love protected the house because it asked the two teens not to tell anyone of its existence. And I do think growing up in Michigan did something for me here. Every state has its natural wonders, but Michigan does seem particularly gifted. Woods, dunes, beaches, big cities, small towns, the U.P. All my life I’ve been coming up with stories that could take place at each of these locales. I remember walking around summer camp just counting the short stories I had to write. ‘There’s the woods-one. There’s the lake-one.’ As if the story couldn’t take place in both. Haha

I can't help but feel this book is very much about the unconscious mind, deep psychological shit…beneath the symbolic waves and currents, submerged fears and anxieties. Do we even know when we are scared, at all, until it's too late?
I do think the book suddenly closes its doors on you. Not that there’s a twist or some kind of sudden deep dark surprise, but, like love, when you’re in deep you’re in deep… and you don’t realize how far down you’ve sunk till you look up and the surface looks like a kite in a high sky and just as impossible to touch.

You’ve got quite a rhythm with your sentences here. It's like a play or a radio serial where the tempo of the suspense picks up. It lends itself so well to read-aloud narration. Henry James, just saying, can thread-on-and-thread-on…but you keep these sentences to 9 words tops, sometimes. Talk about the writer's voice as a musical instrument, something that propels, something that has melody, RESTS, harsh staccatos... Talk about your influences in terms of voice.
There’s no doubt that I played to a different drummer with A House at the Bottom of a Lake than I did with (2014)’s Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel (out May, 2017). I’ve been noticing a thing recently with the books I’ve been reading, where the scariest moments just kinda... come. There is no “and then.” There is no “Look out!” The scare isn’t there and, presto, it’s there. And it works particularly well for Amelia and James because they’re already in a two-fold dream here: love and horror. Their worlds are so distorted, so different from what they were only a few months back, that how could they even recognize a scare until it was already upon them? And the drummer behind this one, whatever rhythm I fell into, seemed to push and pull along with them. He seemed to, as you said, ‘rest’ when they rested. But sometimes he’d come back a hair early, hit the crash, and Amelia and James would look up and... well, maybe it was too late. They were already in love. They were already in horror.

These kids become fixated… And I thought, Frankenstein, Re-Animator, Fright Night, so much of horror is about characters who are fixated on something, a mystery, a monster, a goal, a secret… Fixation!
I hadn’t thought of that myself but yeah, there’s no doubt is there? Dozens of books come to mind. Of course you’ve got the mad scientist variety of fixation (poor Henry Jekyll) but there are so many others. Fixation on a girl, a guy, a house, eternal life, a new job, a new face, a new identity, a new reputation, the future, the past, machines, nature, the unknown, the half-known, proof, notoriety, love. And the artist has his/her own fixations to manage. Like finishing works of art.
I believe these momentums, an album, a book, are soul-balm for the artist. A House at the Bottom of a Lake is a soul-drop for me, the best medicine I’ve ever had. And maybe that’s where the fixations of so many characters comes from: the obsessions of the writers themselves. Of course we all know how out of hand fixations can get. And when they do, you’ve lost control. There are few things scarier than losing control. Because if you aren’t driving this scooter... who the hell is?

What is this book really about? Isn't just about falling in love? The madness of love, the sometimes impermanence of it all? What if it's all wax? What if you ask: "how?"
I think it’d be silly of me to try to add anything to the perfect question you just asked: What if it’s all wax?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lin-Say Premiers New Single Next Week

The Magic Stick began re-opening its doors recently to feature regular performances of local bands and artists spanning genres of rock, pop, electronica, hip-hop, techno... you name it. No longer a club zone exclusively featuring DJs or hosting dance nights (when it was "Populux" for a matter of months), the original Magic Stick comes back to life this Thursday night with a substantial lineup of local talent, featuring Britney Stoney, Martez, Weirdoz Gang and Dominique Pari.

The big occasion is the premier of a new single from singer/songwriter & genre-splicer Lin-Say. "2Thou" is a follow-up to last Spring's Shut Up and Pick Me Up LP.

Lin-Say (Linsay Gould) brings soul and jazz-pop balladry to a bit of hip-hop swagger and pop's effervescent frolic. Raised around Metro Detroit, the Motown influence is inevitable, but she also imbues the heavy-hearted intonations of Carole King, the edginess of Amy Winehouse and the classy style of Etta James, tastefully twisting introspective wistfulness with a bit of 80's-pop whimsy.

Lin-Say - joined by T Money Green
Thursday at the Magic Stick
More info 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Two Cheers Find Their Home Base: Singles Series Continues November 8th

Two Cheers
Friday - Oct 28
with The Philter / Rottinghouse / The Counter Elites
The Painted Lady (2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck)

Two Cheers are two-thirds of the way through their current series of singles, with "Black Hole" set to debut on November 8. They're performing in Hamtramck next weekend, and you can listen to "Fireball," which came out just two weeks ago. Assemble premiered the song and had some words to share about it, here.

"Fireball" opens with this gliding synth, while an urgent guitar streaks neon-cool riffs above it; distinguished from previous singles like "Splendor," for winding down the aerobic tempos and setting a bit of a shuffle, a slow dance, a ponderous pop ballad. The chorus sails with those harmonized backing vocals while the verses have a bruised and blunt confessional spill. "Pepper Tree," a b-side on the latest single, brings it back to their coiled burst signature, aerodynamic guitars and jet rhythms while lead singer Brian Akcasu goes from soft croon to ceiling swinging belt.

The band, Austin Lutzke, Carlton White, Megan Marcoux and Owen Bickford, has been steadily gigging at local venues over the last year, while they whittle at the 50+ new songs that Akcasu has been developing. I wanted to catch-up with band leader Akcasu about re-planting his roots back into the Detroit scene after a long stretch of establishing his music career out in L.A.

Definite change in tones and themes in the lyrics after you've moved back and started this latest batch of songs with the group. Tell me about what has kept you motivated most of all, and what was it like, those first couple months back, to come back to Detroit and get Two Cheers its footing into this scene
Some things have been difficult since moving back, like losing my grandmother who cared for me everyday when I was a boy and also my mom getting a very rare and stubborn form of cancer. Also it's very weird being away from my friends, who are all spread out now. On the other hand, a lot of great things have happened this year with the band. Everyone who knows me knows I beat myself up about everything and am generally very impatient about accomplishing my goals! But I mean, within the first couple months back I had found my wonderful new band members and we are writing and recording lots of new music for an LP to release and tour behind in the Spring of next year. We've also played some awesome shows this year. We’ve met a lot of excellent people and made some real friends in the area. Playing both Hamtramck Music Fest and Dally In The Alley was awesome, and we are so grateful for those opportunities! Meanwhile, we teamed up with former members of Two Cheers to create these new singles we’ve been releasing. So, it’s actually been going great and I have no right to complain about anything!

Here's another one of those recent singles...


“Condos” has some of your most contemplative and, at points, existential lyrics. The guitars are very expressive as well.... And“Fireball,” just as a title, suggests something vibrant, fast, but possibly fleeting..., and something that ultimately crashes….! And I haven’t heard “Black Hole,” yet, but that, again, is a bit of a foreboding title. Can you talk about the catharsis your finding with these songs and what you’ve found most fulfilling about the creation process?
As far as the lyrics, I would agree that most of them have an existential bent and a sense of approaching doom. It was like that on Splendor as well to some degree. It comes from my obsession with the ephemeral nature of life and the fact that I don’t know how long I really have to live. But it isn’t pessimism or resignation, I am always using those dark elements to bring every day life into greater relief in my lyrics.

When you can vividly feel something ending or passing, it makes you realize how precious things are right now in this place and time. It’s a way of remembering to take nothing for granted and to burn brightly for the people around you, like a fireball, every day. So, for me it’s part catharsis, as you suggest, but also a way to simply remind myself to look at life in a holistic, broad-spectrum kind of way. As I said, I tend to beat myself up about details so maybe I need these little reminders even more! The most fulfilling part of doing these songs was writing and recording them very quickly… Perhaps even too quickly. I treated the demo process as the final recording session, for instance I had all the good amps and good microphones going all the time in my studio, so that I could capture those initial sparks of creativity that are hard to recreate later.

Between LA to Detroit, what have you learned, most of all? What’s been your biggest takeaway? Does it matter, anymore, where a band is…where they’re based, in order for them to forge an eventual career or tour? And what are some misconceptions about LA that you could dispel for us…
I can’t really speak for other bands, but for Two Cheers it made more sense both pragmatically and emotionally to leave Los Angeles even though it’s a music hub and it’s where I’d spent 15 years of my life. Los Angeles is crowded with bands, it’s expensive to live there, it’s geographically enormous, it’s always awake, it’s extremely hot for 9 months out of the year, the people are very-much big city people, etc. That’s just not for me, and I wanted to be close to my family again as they start to get older.  For a lot of people, Los Angeles is just right.

But I moved back to Michigan on the hunch that the pace of life was a little mellower here, I could have more space in my home for recording and rehearsing, the cost of living would be more artist-friendly so I could work less at a day job/commute less and spend more time on music, and there would be more camaraderie and less cliquishness within the scene. So far, I think I was right about most of that. That’s the biggest takeaway. I love it here so far. I feel like we have a great home base here!

See Two Cheers this weekend.
"Black Hole" is available Nov 8
Two CheersFriday - Oct 28
with The Philter / Rottinghouse / The Counter Elites
The Painted Lady (2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A World That's Bigger: Interview with Mike Vial

photo credit: Amy Lumbert

On October 3rd, Ann Arbor-based singer/songwriter Mike Vial released A World That’s Bigger, a full length record of his most poignant and soulful batch of acoustic folk tunes to date. On October 6th he was struck by a car, crossing Huron St on foot, making his way to the Ark to play at the Vets for 

Peace John Lennon tribute. “Ironically, my world has gotten smaller since the accident,” said Vial, who has been recovering at home, since.

Vial is still celebrating the release of A World That’s Bigger with next Saturday’s performance (10/29) at The Ark, opening for the Appleseed Collective.

The Appleseed Collective & Mike Vial
Oct 29 at The Ark
 Read my interview with The Appleseed Collective via Current Magazine online next Monday

“I’d emotionally forgotten that I actually released a record. I’ve since been a present father at home, spending time with my daughter. I get really upset thinking she could have grown up without her dad.”

Vial has been releasing music regularly for almost 10 years. He’s been performing around our state and across the country for more than several years, having surpassed 1,000 performances. His voice, his performances, his tuneful guitar strums and his sentimental & ponderous lyricism makes him one of the most endearing artists of the last decade.

The album is a warm, crisp collage of Americana coiled with lots of contemplative lyrics narrated by an artist who sounds like he’s enjoying the radiant sunrise after a proverbial dark night of the soul. 

This is the album that finds the (very melodic) peacefulness echoing an existential investigation of the day-in/day-out anxieties so many of us go through. To me, it felt like an album bathed in the calming light shone down from the exit of a tunnel. But then….just as he reached that exit point of ease, Vial had the accident.

There are a lot of literary and Biblical allusions within the lyrics of the record, and they are spinning in my head,” said Vial. “The song “We’re Not Here Anymore,” which is contemplating fate and death, is on my mind, lately: “There’s a ghost on the sidewalk, a devil in the street. One will never welcome, one we’re meant to meet…”

Vial was carrying his main guitar, a Taylor 514ce which he’s had for 15 years, and luckily it survived. This was the guitar he used on the recordings, produced with Mike Gentry up in a cabin in Indian River. In addressing the lyrics, Vial said that he could only hope that listeners can find comparable catharsis through these “universal challenges of adulthood.” Vial is a former school teacher, and there’s this nuanced affability with the way he presents his musical ruminations, much like a guide (or teacher) would to a curious class, but with a humbleness underlying a poet’s submission to certainly not having all the answers. “This record tackles weighty topics, like miscarriage, leaving one’s job, losing a family member…doubt…”

“Recording with Mike Gentry was a perfect mentorship and the cabin provided the best reflective setting,” Vial said. “The cabin is covered in knotty pine. It felt like recording in the bellow of a guitar-ship. I was chasing a certain sound with this record, like Captain Ahab chased the whale in Moby Dick. I was consumed by this record because I had something to prove to myself. All of my previous recording experiences have been fun, but I have never captured my live performance’s emotion on tape.”

photo credit: Anne Glista

A World That’s Bigger was done completely live: no overdubs, no fixing, no click-track. Vial wanted the same emotion and energy as his live performances captured on the record. That mean 150, repeat, 150 takes, and collecting the ten best. “I had road-tested nine of the ten songs, and consumed a lot of classic 70s era records, especially Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. I knew exactly how I wanted this to sound. But getting it live was a gamble.”

“I’ve always viewed recording sessions as snapshots of where a musical artist is at that moment. A World That’s Bigger is very much that type of snapshot.”

Famously, Vial’s wife, journalist Natalie Burg, said she would not marry him unless he quit his teaching job to pursue music full time. I still feel like that prior experience informs his charismatic manner and literary lyrics. “Previously, I was focused on the guitar portion of my shows. Now I’m in a new chapter—a folk tradition, sense of community, storytelling….”

“I tell a lot more stories in the set. I’m very aware of not becoming A Mighty Wind, but stories can hook people into the song. And being a teacher allowed me to find an animated self. I learned how to keep 36 freshmen students’ attention for 90 minutes. That experience has seeped into my pacing of a gig; and a lesson plan models a set list for me.”

Once Vial is fully healed, he knows he’ll feel compelled to make up for lost time, since he’d previously planned on substantial touring for World. “But, I’ve been doing more than 200 gigs a year for quite a while, and now that I have a family, I’m discovering how much we can handle. The accident is making me respect time even more.”

It seems, after the accident, like another journey down yet another tunnel toward a new source of light is in the works… That said, I’ll add this, editorially, I adore the way Vial muses on the art of songwriting: “Songs come in spurts for me, I don’t chase muse. I ran track in high school; the last thing I need is music to become a race. Don’t get me wrong, I work on music daily, but if songs ideas don’t come, I don’t force them. Instead, songwriting for me is like collecting rainwater in buckets, until they overflow.”

The city of Ann Arbor, where he lives, and the splendor it exudes in the peak of autumn’s display polychromatic charms, has been particularly therapeutic for the Vial family at this time. The fine folks of the community as well, over Facebook through supportive messages, and in person at venues, are cheering him on… “Normally, I don’t get to see many concerts since I’m constantly gigging. I’ve been finding time to hobble on crutches to shows during the fall. I just saw my friends in Sedgewick play at Café Verde, and my friends Frances Luke Accord play at the Ark. I’ve been reading Nick Hornby’s Songbook, a set of essays about his favorite songs. I’m reconnecting to music. The buckets are getting full. I’m going to have a burst of new songs soon.”

Vial said he’s trying to find his way, deeply respectful and conscious of all of the talent, history here in Ann Arbor, and the energetic wave of talent, year to year, that serenades its music halls. “I enjoy many fruits because people have invested in this community for many decades, including the arts. So I want to engage in a positive manner, and bring something to the table.”

Release Show at the Ark is still on:
October 29, the Ark
opening for Appleseed Collective

Tickets: $15 on sale here

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Sound of Eleven

There are, at least, four key aspects to the experience of acquainting oneself with pieces of music, by which I mean contemporary compositions, artful dispatches from the DIY breed encountered across the expanse of the Internet.

The way that music endears itself to you includes, of course, its essence. That's the part where I describe to you what it sounds like. The part you already understand, yourself, deep down; that visceral reaction you have to the midnight gusts of the vocals: soft and sinewy at the same time, the growl of these droning synths forging an enveloping canopy careful to keep to the peripheries so as not to block out the lilting melodies but just enough to stoke a certain tension, or the patchwork of minor keys, the swell of tones that risk eclipsing the piece but always leave a thin mantle, whether at the top of the mix or delicately buried, for the percussive element to punch its way through...

The next part you connect with is, inevitably, the human element. Who are these people and what is their collective story... Funny that, the enterprise of bands tends to trim much  nuance and combine four people's individual lives into some kind of hybrid, a troupe with a single voice demonstrated in 4-minute chapters or as a synchronized ensemble upon a stage (more on that later). But whereas we know these players from previous bands, I feel like bringing up résumés would distract from the point of this project. 

You're listening to Sound of Eleven And the album's title, in itself, denies you the assistance of deciphering its aesthetic for yourself by suggesting there is no artist and there is no name... 

The third aspect involves the vibe, the look, the message. This is specific from the way the music sounds, the way it feels. This involves the artifice that you, yourself, get to receive and keep from the artist; particularly the album cover....and the lyrics. 

This land is heaving hell 
with a price on time 
we don’t do what we can 

The secret’s out 

Not every end connects 
but it’s all we have 
and all we seem to need 

And then you look at that album cover. It could be the surface of the moon or an irradiated orange peel. It could be a still-frame from Eraserhead or it could be just a glimpse of a terrible fantasy landscape you've once found yourself flying over in the middle of a dream of potent disorientation. This is uncharted terrain. That's the point. And when you pare back the ideas of being able to identify the band, and you disregard prior projects, then the lyrics, such as "Clocks," can hit home harder.

But what we have is a sublime interweaving of dark ambient meditations, apocalyptic folk, post-industrial slow dancers and strung-out post-rock. What we have is something to wade into...sift, at points, have to come up out of...

And then there's that four aspect... Seeing the band live, seeing their faces, their eyes, the way they perform together, their body language, their dynamic abilities on display, whether at a drum kit, on guitar frets or in front of a microphone. And, as of right now, you do not get to have that opportunity with this band.

You can only listen to this album.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Back in July, I checked in with Adam Pressley about the future of Ohtis. Now..., here in October, that future is starting to actually happen, more and more, day by day. The band's creative energies flow from itinerant singer/songwriter Sam Swinson, with Pressely based here in Michigan, keeping touch and consistently collaborating on song-construction. 

Swinson (currently based in L.A.) and Pressley once had a full band behind them, originally based out of Illinois, that toured and released music throughout the mid/late 2000's. From 2009-2015, the duo were not working on any music, but that changed when Ohtis was essentially jumpstarted again for recent (and forthcoming) tours. 

It's since paired down to a duo, but they continue to make splendidly skewed country and abstract folk meditations, with inventive percussive patterns and evocative intonations in the vocal department. 

Ohtis is kicking off a tour with singer/songwriter Anna Burch (of Frontier Ruckus) tonight at Donovan's Pub. Meanwhile, they premiered a new music video today (streaming below). Tour dates at: 

Milo: Adam..., tell me..., how's all things: Ohtis? 

Adam Pressley: Things are superb.  We're currently doing the pre-tour scramble, today...Gotta package these tour CD's, buy a drum head, get the oil changed, practice the set, feed the cat, water the plants..., And I need to buy a new pair of shoes.

Milo: And Sam came in to town? Did he travel by motorcycle? Did he hitchhike?  
Pressley: Funny you should ask.  Sam was actually driving his dad's truck here from LA a couple days ago, but it broke down in Nebraska.  So, he had to take a 22-hour Greyhound bus trip to Detroit.

Milo: What kind of groove, what kind of mindset, what kind of creative rhythm, does one have to set in to, when one is in Ohtis, i.e., one dude in Michigan, one dude in L.A? What is that work experience like as an artist/musician? 
Pressley: Sam wrote lot of songs in the 6 years we weren't playing music together, and more are still coming.  Since we have an album's worth of songs ready for release, and the bones of another album's worth of songs tracked, we have the luxury of being able to flesh out new material when inspiration strikes.

Milo: What are you guys working on lately? 
Pressley: We're mixing a collection of songs with Colin Dupuis (of Zoos of Berlin), and continuing to write and record more new songs.

Milo: And what are you most stoked for, hopeful-about, in the near future? 
Pressley: Stoked for: Sam just started a pot of coffee..., and my eyeballs feel dry right now....  Hopeful-about:  ...there being enough coffee for us both to have a sufficient amount.  It was the bottom of the bag, so it's possible I will only be able to have about a half a cup or so...


Update: Adam got a full cup of coffee

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Watching For Foxes - Undone Bird

Watching For Foxes

I never get over to Grand Rapids as much as I should...  And it's rare that our Detroit ears stretch over that far to check in on the local scene's latest releases. Watching For Foxes are quite distinct from other west-side-Mitten bands like Heaters, Greensky Bluegrass or The Go Rounds. There's this alluring fury to some of their folk-rock songs, this striding blaze and sharp churned stride, the guitars pealing with this elemental clangor, and the vocals intonated with this ineffable urgency, an arpeggio of all the heart's strings, while the drums and bass, the pianos and atmospheric pedals, effectively pull the listener in, pushes you forward...

Watching For Foxes make every song feel like it's that half-triumphant, half-weary, all-around cathartic march up the hilly knoll towards the unknowable-yet-still-hope-splashed horizon, as if every song were the build up to the closing credits of the indie-arthouse film of the story to your life. And Undone Bird is very much an aural anthology of soundtracks to a life, a life dented and sweetened by moments of soul-searching, of sacrifice and loss, of refreshed perspectives and outlook-altering questions...of, above all, resoluteness. The music, like the motives and moxie of the band, churns on, onward... 

I also enjoy the ambient wooziness, the half-in-a-dream stagger, of some of the more atmospheric sounds captured on this production. I love how succinct and profound the percussive elements can be, providing just the right amount of propulsion. I love how the lead vocals and the guitars can be so uniquely expressive, and yet sound as though they were both comparable lost souls propping each other up in arms in this undeterred forging forth. 

Blues and rootsy country vibes meet space-orbiting avant-garde shreds; heart-on-the-sleeve folk with the American Underground, nostalgic troubador ballads for the quiet twilight wanders and cinematic glides into the mind-blowing wide open empyrean. Be ready to have it pared back for some minimal banjo odes, or some slower-building tempos under some star lyrical fair. Be ready for, above all, emotion, the heavy evocations, the kinds of moments in your life that can't be put into words yet can be excellently encapsulated by a song, by its notes, by its tones, by its tempo. Watching For Foxes really forged something here; one can feel the fire. 

Watching For Foxes join the lineup at Putnam's HalloweenFriday, Oct 21
with Jack & The BearShapes & Colors and many more
starting at 6pm
At The Crofoot (Hosted by Eternally Nocturnal)
More info

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful (Friday at Chelsea Alehouse)

Misty Lyn & the Big Beautiful
Oct 14 (Fri)
Chelsea Alehouse (420 N. Main St., Chelsea)

Every Misty Lyn performance is memorable, for me. I can only catch 3-4 out of a year, but they're always cherished occurrences.

And I wish that word, "memorable," had more impact, in a world of Hallmark cards and critics concocting blurbs, raves and praises. I wish, traversing the synthetic terrain of the Internet, that I could cultivate even half as much of the sweet sincerity that I typically try to keep for myself, that I consistently find in Misty's music.

I wish, or at least I'll hope, that when I tell you these moments of Misty Lyn concerts are memorable, that it is an ineffable evocation of calmness: a reassurance, I'd say, that you are finally certain, in a world of merry-go-round status-shuffles and f.o.m.o.-induced neuogenic atrophy, certain that there is no other room you have to be in..., no other appointment to rush to..., no other song you should be thinking about... Friends, I have never checked my phone during a Misty Lyn & The Big Beautiful set. I appreciate how disconcerting that accomplishment is in a 2016 world...and even then, I'm guilty of recently instagramming one of her songs... But still.

I met her seven years ago, but had been listening to her music as long as eight years prior and I found my younger self using the word "autumnal" when I described her music. We later had a, yes, memorable interview, where she gracefully shifted my perspective on what the hell I would have even been vaguely implying by that.

But I was pretty sure I figured it out... There is no other time of year, Autumn, where I feel I am more present... The perfect days between October 7th and, let's say October 21st, when the weather isn't cold yet, when all the color is in, when woodsmoke and cinnamon is in the air and the suburban squirrels are still bustling, when a tinge of pale sets in but there is still vibrancy... It is, and I will debate you on this till the cows come home, it IS THE perfect time of year. The moment I want frozen and framed.

That's what I thought, anyhow. I don't need to stay stuck in one moment, I don't need it captured in amber and worshiped as fleeting perfection. When I listen to a Misty Lyn song, every noise in my head, the worries, the self-doubts, the anxious gazes toward the future, is extinguished. My sense of autumn was always a nervous one: I have to enjoy it because it'll be gone in a week. And so you start moving and busying and fidgeting and it all blows by you.

When I listen to a Misty song, it's a tremendous and delicate shove into sharpened relief: how much I've been missing. It's a deep sigh. It's the goosebumps and it's the refocusing of the soul's lens. This is where I should be and this is exactly the song I want to be hearing right now.

This is a blog, so I will be as candid as I damn well please. A friend of mine asked me, morbid as it sounds, to pick a selection of songs I'd want played at my own funeral. These wouldn't be dirges or hymns, they wouldn't have to be tearjerkers. They'd have to be songs that you felt were utter celebrations of life, as it is; songs that you would want your friends to commiserate to, sing along to, together...

Well, should I go out anytime soon, make sure this is on the playlist...

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dear Darkness: Aggressively Engage

Dear Darkness could blow your mind. They could throw you off, entirely. You might get the wrong idea. You might get it, instantaneously. Even as I write this, though, I’m not, myself, purporting to distill or fasten any authoritative interpretation upon this local duo, with singer/guitarist Stacey MacLeod and drummer/singer Samantha Linn.

Photo by Chantal Elise Roeske

Dear Darkness perform Sat, Oct 15
Infowith Blood Stone, Sros Lords, and Car Phone
at Kelly's in Hamtramck

“I think that rock audiences in Detroit just want to have a good time,” MacLeod said, “to let go, and truly be entertained. (Linn) and I prefer to play fast, fun songs with strong narratives—lyrically and musically. The thing I love about the band, most of all, is the way it allows me to tune out and live out my rock ‘n’ roll fantasies. We want to take people’s minds off shit.”

Dear Darkness a minimalist punk-rock that channels the theatrics of glam, the solemn poetry of 90’s alt-rock, the riffs of indie-pop. It’s expressive, it’s energetic, it’s got fight and it’s got charisma. It has sweet venom about it, indulging in down-stroke guitar scuffs, foot stomp/snare-punch drums and empowering/cathartic sing/scream intonations that trill over the riffs. It’s not implicitly furious, but it can be.

So relax: you are supposed to be having a good time at a Dear Darkness set. That said, it’s also intense!

“(Linn) and I have pushed and supported each other into becoming dynamic performers,” said MacLeod. “We want to encourage audiences to give themselves over to who they are and to their own forms of expression, to be wild and daring about what parts of themselves they expose. I’m dying to know who people really are. So, what (Dear Darkness) does when we perform, now, is surrender…even if it’s ugly, even if it’s a desperate shambles of a performance, at least we are vital and trying to connect!”  

“As a band,” said Linn, “our pace of evolution is more rapid than any other creative project I’ve been a part of…” Linn met MacLeod in 2007, when they both worked at Whole Foods. They soon formed a band together, Looms, and reconvened for another project called The Heaven & Hell Cotillion. Linn, meanwhile, drummed for iconic Detroit garage-pop outfit Outrageous Cherry in the past. “We ask a lot of questions: What is Dear Darkness? WHY does it exist? What’s our role in its creation? We try to keep it fresh and check in with each other a lot to make sure we’re both still having fun.”

MacLeod lives a stone’s throw from downtown Ferndale with her family, while Linn is a former Ferndale resident currently based in Redford. This year finds them with an uptick of momentum, having played their first show in 2014 (in a backyard); they’re now performing at large local festivals, hip joints downtown like the Marble Bar, large gallery openings and even in the storefront of Found Sound on Nine Mile.

You can hear their latest EP Get It Here online at: They’ve been on a creative tear ever since a year ago when they released the fierce and rousing EP Be Nice Honey.

In the near future, they’ll put out an art book, Strange Noise To Keep, with MacLeod’s poetry and Linn’s photography. Meanwhile, they perform October 29th in Ypsilanti at the Dreamland Theatre. They start recording in December with Jim Diamond in Detroit.

The next issue of The Ferndale Friends Newspaper
will be out on Oct 12, where you can read more about Dear Darkness

“Though it’s only me and (Linn) up there on stage, I don’t think people notice anymore. Our sound is minimal, but we fill in the gaps with our desire. But also, we’ve been friends for more than nine years and we’ve worked hard to understand each other. We love each other and people can sense that.” 

The other thing some people are going to immediately sense is that this is a no-frills, caustic-cut, collar-throttling rock outfit powered by two dynamic women. “To tell you the truth, I am somewhat tired of being pegged as a ‘girl group…’” said MacLeod. “A few writers have called us ‘riot grrrl,’ but we aren’t. We don’t have that particular sound. And that sound isn’t bad, but it’s just not what 
comes out of us.”

Both Linn and MacLeod are supporters of the important work of local organizations like Girls Rock Detroit and the feminist-inspired, inclusivity-expanding Seraphine Collective, both fostering more equality in the scene. Because, as MacLeod points out, men still dominate the Detroit rock scene; that said, Dear Darkness have encountered male musicians around town as welcoming peers.

But we writers need to stop falling back on that lazy qualifier of “Oh…it sounds like early 90’s Riot Grrrl….” That narrows dozens of unique bands and musicians into a box with no room for their unique characteristics… “For sure, these organizations of women musicians make the expression of our female-identified selves more comfortable. Female musicians need each other’s support, no doubt, but we can make our own marks as individual artists that accedes that generalization….”

“Dear Darkness is revolutionary because we are ourselves. Most of the lyrics are unapologetically sexual and predatory. Rock ‘n’ roll can make beautiful beasts of us all, if we let it. We aren’t political, outright, but we practice truth. We don’t conform to the expectations of anyone in the Detroit scene—male or female.”

“We’re lucky to be women in the 21st century,” Linn said. “As performers, we are free to take the stage and act as we choose and celebrate the power of the female body. It’s inspiring to see other women in the community taking charge and leading the way to a bright musical future for southeastern Michigan. I don’t think we’re trying to defy or disrupt anything with our music. We’re just trying to push ourselves to be the best performers and artists we can be”

A lot of writers will use the word “raw” with Dear Darkness, but Linn and MacLeod are both skilled musicians with a complex blend of cerebral influences (musically, as well as in literature), but it’s the intention… “I don’t play guitar to impress people,” MacLeod said. “I do it because I have good rhythm and it allows me to physically connect with my lyrics.”

“Brett Anderson (Suede) and Adam Ant inspire me, vocally. I was a classical voice major in college, before I started my first band and started smoking, partying and dropped out for a time. I know the way I’m ‘supposed-to’ sing. I use that to inform my breathing and that gives my voice strength. But I’ve been singing acapella from the stage, lately, and people love that. It’s a bare, unfiltered human voice in their ears—a real technology-free moment of connection. I try to use the faults in my voice to my advantage and aggressively engage.”

Aggressively engage…! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Counter Elites: Pledge of Aggrievance - Oct 14

Pick up next week's copy of
The Ferndale Friends Newspaper (Out Oct 12th), to find this interview in print

Ferndale has its own manifestation of ferocious hardcore punk rock that’s’ aspiring toward the pantheon of Dead Kennedys, Black Flag or Flipper, so memorize the name: Counter Elites.

There’s something grim-chic about a Counter Elites concert: the music is aerodynamic and wound like a coiled spring, the tones are ominous the drums are tremulous and everything about it feels full blast. Jonny Genocide (under a protruding pompadour and sunglasses) sings (screams) and plays (attacks the) bass, while Switchblade Watson (concealed behind a bandana/baseball-cap and distinguished by his frenetic flails), plays drums. 

Crowds at metro area rock venues have swapped conjectures that the two sweat-beaded miscreants behind those outrageous guises are likely local musicians Jonathan Berz and Shaun Wisniewski , longtime friends and collaborators on previous projects/bands. The duo released their 2nd full length album, Pledge of Aggrievance, this month, after a considerably busy year that fostered significant evolutions for the implicitly-provocative, dada-inspired, art-of-the-hyper honing, propaganda-satirists.

Just like seminal/first-wave hardcore punk outfits, The Counter Elites were careful to present a striking iconography that could inspire as equally as intimidate, or perhaps incite. When Berz and Wisniewski are in character, they’re zeal for this disestablishmentarian dogma they’ve fosters (for fictional theatre’s sake…mostly,) can create characters that seem almost psychotic in their intensity. And that’s why it’s so fun to be at their shows. Fun…and loud.

The Counter Elites’ Pledge of Aggrievance Release Show Friday, Oct 14th at the New Way Bar

“Misfit…is probably a better term, without sounding so obviously ‘punk,’” Berz said. “Most people don’t understand what we do, or why, or maybe even don’t perceive it as music, and we are totally OK with that. But for the people that we do fit with, we seem to fit surprisingly well, and those people are almost always odd birds, or misfits.”

Wisniewski recalls a show they played with a not-so-theatrical/more-straight-ahead hardcore punk band. The drummer came to him and said something about being ready to walk out during the first half of their set, taking offense at their irreverence toward the punk rock lifestyle…but the more they played, the more it dawned on this drummer that the Counter Elites were something more intricate than that, a composite of a few rather sophisticated (and even philosophical) concepts that could cultivate a much-needed social commentary… (If by way of manifesting a mythology that includes a fictional organization with preposterous aims…)

“We get a lot of that,” said Wisniewski. “People who are confused. And, honestly, it’s just about putting on an entertaining show and being good at what we do. So, I don’t think we really fit in. Punk bands thing we’re making fun of them. Metal bands think we’re soft for wearing costumes. Most indie bands think we’re too loud and aggressive. I’m fine with this… I’m happy to know that if we’re on a five-band bill, we’re going to be the one you remember next month when you’re trying to remember who played that show.” 

The band has begun to fit in, here and there, with shows primarily hosted in Hamtramck, often paired with comparable envelope-pushers and psychedelic performance artists like The Amino Acids and Carjack! “We do, once or twice,” Berz said, “get to play for an unusually large crowd, at least by our standards, and almost every time that happens, it’s exclusively due to the support of Scott Boyink (Advanced Fish & Chicken Systems Screen Printing).

Other influences to hint at their specific aggressive/raw sound would be Sonic Youth, Minutemen, or even epically costumed thrashers GWAR. These are bands you couldn’t actually corral into the “punk” pasture; there was undeniable musicality, versatility, and authenticity about those bands, just as Counter Elites aspire to an overall presentation (visually, aurally, in personality and in declaration) that would be “powerful and unmistakable.”

“I think we always had the theatre/art aspect of live shows in mind,” Wisniewski said, looking back to their debut performance (Jan, 2013). “It was never supposed to be just a punk band. I feel like from our inception, the posters we make, the album art and music videos, our social media posts, the stage antics, (the fact that (Berz) and I have, maybe only one or two times, publicly stated that we are the Counter Elites and usually play-dumb when asked about it…) All of those things are just as engaging as the music and the message.”

The early songs were short (35 seconds at most), but newer ones have evolved into broader spans… “Even if a song is short, we make it a point to create something complex and interesting,” Berz said. The duo had been in a space-pop ensemble called Songs From The Moon, when they started sliding more and more towards experimentation, genre-splicing, and defiance of convention. They’ve abandoned any strict demand for verses or choruses and instead flourish poetic (yes, poetic) stanzas (of anarchic evangelizing) over break-neck hooks, swift cinder-block breaks and mean bass riffs.

“I do hope that the degrees to which we take our art inspire other individuals similarly stricken with apathy and steamlessness to run with some wild ideas of their own,” said Berz.

At this point in the interview, the alter ego, drummer Switchblade Watson, took over to say that “… (Pledge of Aggrievance) is going to bring (the Counter Elites) one step closer in (their) plan for global ownership…” Watson continued, saying “I can’t give away our secrets, but we had literally hundreds of unpaid interns working 60+ hours per week to make this the best record you never knew you loved.”

“Now you know…”

 The duo are pulling away from the “tiny song” as a fixture for them. “I never really had it in my mind that we only had to have one sound, or only short songs,” Berz said. “So, I guess this is less of a ‘punk record…’ Our sound has gotten huger and easier to craft, but we are still just playing with melodies, rhythms, and convoluted political or cultural criticism.”

Pledge is the album that finds this eclectically rambunctious duo after they’ve matured (somewhat) and grown by way of negotiating their antics and energies inside a lot of different physical spaces. But be sure, even if their early songs could cyclone right by you, there wass the minutest of subtleties sutured in… “So,” says Berz, “we, at first, would reduce the songs, just on bass and drum, to the barest hyper-punctuation of the syllables.” (Berz has a Master’s in English Composition and is an adjunct instructor at Oakland Community College and Macomb Community College). “So… every syllable must have a three-pronged-hit…vocal, bass, note, drum. It helped that (Wisniewski) was a poet, and does not drum like a drummer but drums like a poet. He is highly syllabically-aware in his compositional batter, and knows how to best articulate that.”

In fact, this band was born out of a research project into punk rock music and protest movements. Berz had been invited to contribute writing on aggressive music for Eric Abbey, a local musician (1592) and professor at OCC. As Berz was studying punk bands of the 70’s, he was also taking classes on Dadaism, surrealism, and independently scouring books filled with interviews, zine collections, and listening to hundreds of albums from the genre/movement.

“I started writing stanzas…” Berz said, recalling that he never completed the actual writing project, but instead wound up building what would become the first songs of The Counter Elites. “And I came up with the idea for our own type of radical political performance poetics, like the stuff I had been studying.

“A lot of the iconography came from the image studies I was doing, and the propaganda campaigns I was researching, and the hundreds of flyers I found from books like Why Be Something That You’re Not, and collections like Sniffing Glue, Maximum Rocknroll and Touch and Go. I was equally as involved in “old-school punk studies” as composition studies for those years.“

“For me,” says Wisniewksi, “punk rock was a giant animal that I was never too heavily involved in. That includes listening as well as playing. As a kid in the early 90s I was big into the heavy metal of the time, and that turned to grunge in the mid-90s, and diving deeper into that music opened me up to a lot of the more experimental and weird stuff of that era, but for whatever reason I never slid over to punk rock…”

On the origins Wisniewski expounded… “We discussed dressing up and having fake people in the band since the inception. We were both just ready to do something creative with a live show, but never take it too seriously, and I've always liked the paradox of that dynamic. Like the music is fast, thrash-y, brash and heavy handed with politics and propaganda and yet, there's obviously two normal guys wearing wigs and sunglasses and weird outfits on stage…”

And then, on its ‘evolution,’ Wisniewski concluded… “We didn't start as a goldfish and change into a bird. I feel like we started as a goldfish and turned into a whale…. I think what Carjack does live, and the things that The Amino Acids have accomplished have, for me at least, been like an open door for us as well as a personal inspiration. But more than that, and I think bands like our band know this to be true, when you're not "you" in a band, it just completely changes how you act on stage, the things you'll try as a band, what you can say, and so much more. It's a freedom that's usually only offered at Halloween parties when you're in some anonymous mask and no one knows your true identity. 

No rules + Absolute Creativity Allowed. “We will always be reaching for ways to make it more exciting for both ourselves,” says Berz, “and the audience.”

From here, the band will start working on their third album, almost immediately. Actually, it’s already written and ready to go; 19 songs, called Good Company Man, something of a rock-opera.

For the foreseeable future, The Counter Elites will continue to make whatever musical, artistic and literary products we can that are easy to whip up on a no-string budget on its way to inevitable Total Global Ownership.

The Counter Elites’ Pledge of Aggrievance Release Show Friday, Oct 14th at the New Way Bar