Friday, January 26, 2018

10 Years. 1 Blog.

I started this blog on February 1, 2008. The columns I was alotted by local papers wasn't enough space to capture the full story. So it started out as "uncut" versions of those interviews. I still remember the night someone pushed me to do this. (It was Keith Thompson, from Johnny Headband). And I considered it as a lark. I had no idea then that I'd still be doing it, 10 years later..

And I've never really felt like I had writer's block, when it came to this blog.......until now. Where to start...

I think that at least once a year I usually wind up writing some immersive essay like this.... Sometimes twice a year. The thing is, I'm marking my tenth year, now!

It's usually something soaked with sentiment about why I love music, why music is so powerful, why I love music made in Michigan..., why music made in Michigan is so powerful..., etc...And my fervent words kinda just start curling back on themselves like that until I get worked up into a strange spell of muted ecstasy, only to punch the last period and sigh with a sense of fulfillment, assured once again that I'd never want to be living anywhere else, in any other music scene.

I have so many cherished memories as an attendant of live music in Detroit that stretch back more than 15 years, now.  I'm not sure how many people will have nostalgia pangs quake through them when they look at the photos I have on blogposts from the summer of 2008, but it's all there. My adventures throughout the Detroit music scene, capturing just what was happening at every venue I went to...

Strange though, about memories. Because now I have actual memories tied, albeit abstractly, to this blog.... Specifically tied to writing out pieces for it. Memories flashing back to having my eyes lazered upon a blank post observing as it swiftly, almost manically, would be filled up with a splay of serif fonts, effusive with descriptions of sounds or recounting the energies of a performer.

Writing about music is easy when you can be possessed by it. Album reviews, concert follow-ups, interviews, all of it:, all of the musician interviews, and listening to all of these albums, spinning these albums front to back five times in a row as I furiously type out a sort of transcription of my emotional resonance affected by each piece, be it pop, rap, country, techno or whatever...You have to be possessed. You should be. I was. Still am.

Photos by Brian Rozman

I have memories of waking up on Saturday mornings after a show, fueled on only five hours of sleep, then drinking a pot of coffee, and sifting through my thoughts as the sun came up. I shared my own feelings, but I also, above anything else, just worked to continually tell the story of a diverse and expansive cast of Detroit artists, from different genres and generations, year to year, album to album.

And I discovered, eventually, that I took an equal amount of enjoyment in the art of conversation., as I did writing... Rather, I saw that conversation could be an art. To ask 10+ questions exploring the thoughts and processes of different artists, that in itself was an art; to explore with words. Just as writing could be an art... it came to be that I saw that my real role was asking the best questions.

And back to being possessed. I also discovered that if you want to write about music effectively, if you want to be able to describe it at all, you have to be willing to go somewhere with it. With a song, I mean. Because every song's an invitation. That, or it's a mood-setter, a confession booth, a road trip, a dance rave, a plunge or a launch or an ejection, it's about rejection and it's about love and it's about frustration and it's about everything at all, or nothing at all... It's about need. It's about where the songwriter needs to go at that moment of the time of their writing it, in their lives. And then it's a question about whether you want to go there with them. Cross that threshold, glance behind you, then turn around and indulge imagination with your ears wide open... Then you can start writing. Or...., have some more coffee & then you can start writing.

So, anyway, why am I writing another one of these essays? Because, cliche as it sounds, I can't believe I've sustained it, week to week, for 10 years. But, sappy as this sounds, I'm more astonished that it's not only retained a readership, but actually increased as the year's went on... And so this is a long THANK YOU letter. Music made in Detroit and made in Michigan has been such a huge part of my life, every day, for more than 10 years. Thank you for reading some of my daily dispatches here on this blog, as I've continued to live that life.... a life with one of the best soundtracks ever.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Obscura Broadcasting Company (Interview)

 On Jan 5th, filmmakers Andrew Alden and Christopher Jarvis officially launched a new video production company called the Obscura Broadcasting Company (OBC). 

photo by Steven Wieckowski

Excited to see someone I've known primarily through participation and contributions to the local music scene (that being Jarvis with the band Ancient Language), I was eager to chat with both of them about how OBC got started and to hear about their future plans.

Alden is based in Detroit but is from New England; he's a music composer in his own right and is currently working as a freelance cinematographer. He studied film scoring and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His work has been shown both nationally and internationally, on NBC, and in Nuit Blanche (in Toronto). He's also had his work shown by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Berklee College of Music, Greentopia Film Festival and many more, including more than a hundred other festivals and venues across the US, Canada, and Europe.

Jarvis, meanwhile, went to Specs Howard School of Media Arts to study Digital Media Arts. Both of them have been making films and videos for years. Jarvis has also worked on several short films, music videos, feature films, and documentaries, including “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” which premiered at SXSW in 2016 and went on to become a Vimeo Staff Pick. He's been seen and heard on this blog via projects like Ancient Language.

Every Sunday at 8pm, you can stream a new short film produced by OBC on Facebook. 

"(Alden and I) met when I was looking for a cinematographer to shoot a short film I wrote last year," Jarvis said. "A mutual friend of ours put us in touch and we really got along and worked really well together. There was an immediate shorthand between us that is really rare to come by. We kicked around the idea of starting a production company but after shooting the film I had to go back to Arizona. We kept talking over the next several months and I decided to move back so we could make it happen."

For now, the duo want to stay as productive as possible, with personal creative projects as well as client work. The goal is to eventually grow their business beyond just the two of them. Jarvis' brother, Zachary, his girlfriend Hillary Ilyssa and Teresa (Andrew's wife) work with them on most of their projects, along with a dedicated intern and a bunch of actor friends who put it in a lot of hard work to make each production come together.

"We always try to pull from a diverse actor pool through friends and colleges who put in a lot of hard work that make everything possible," Alden said. "We are fortunate that South Eastern Michigan harbors some really great talent and the goal is to keep making quality work, continue to get our name out there and grow our brand."

Currently, OBC is working on a bunch of short films, including a web series (written by Teresa and Andrew) a feature film, and two documentaries. They shot recently a bar tending contest for Tequila Herradura, while Andrew and Teresa have continued to make branded content for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 

Alden took a second to look back almost a month to the OBC Kickoff Party. "...we have been feeling the afterglow all month!  I feel like we’ve been working so hard to get where we are. I’ve always dreamed of being a part of a dedicated team of creative people and I feel really grateful to have finally found that." Alden added: "You can’t make films or videos alone, it truly is a collaborative effort. I just feel really grateful and excited."

I was most curious to hear about what life is like as an independent filmmaker in the Internet era and Jarvis was very enthusiastic about it. "It’s a great time to explore new stories and subjects that don’t get much attention or recognition," he said. "I think people are opening their eyes to these new stories and are hungry for them. The gear and tools to make films has never been more accessible. Finding an audience is definitely a priority but the beautiful thing about working with a team is that our reach is so much further than just one or two people. We can already reach a lot of people with our content and we only expect that to grow." 

"By the end of the year we want to have an entirely new program of shorts and other videos and hopefully start getting some of our work onto the festival circuit," said Jarvis. 

To catch up on OBC's last couple short films, as well as see the efforts of their production team and actors, click here

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Girl Fight - Fight Back!

It's early in the morning as I listen to this and its effectively quickening my pulse beyond a need or want for caffeine.

Just last night, GIRL FIGHT released their new EP online and it's going to be available on cassette at their next shows.

Furious, flexed, churning punk rock, GIRL FIGHT punches through the plate glass so fast that it has no time for extra frills: just the boom of a floor tom, the snap of a snare, the impassioned vocals that give melodic structure to a human scream while a guitar that literally sounds like it might be on the verge of combustion crackles out classic garage-rock riffs at hyper tempos.

Drummer/singer Ellen Cope and guitarist Jacob Boyle have been playing around town pretty regularly over the last year, but if you haven't caught a live set yet, than FIGHT BACK will still effectively capture that raw energy for your ears. This is feminist punk that will defy, with necessary and voluminous ardor, any pathetically persisting attempts to change that conversation; frenetic, vitally frenetic, and bursting at an average song length of 99 seconds or more. 

GIRL FIGHT will be at El Club TONIGHT (Sorry if you're reading this later in the week), with Detroit noise-rock quartet Teener, and the psych-punk trio Reverend. MORE INFO

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Hamtramck Music Fest 2018 SCHEDULE

Earlier in the week, the official lineup for the 5th Annual Hamtramck Music Fest was announced. Things are set to kick off on Thurs., March 1, with three full nights of music, and some special wrap-up events on Sunday, hosted throughout the city of Hamtramck by several unique bars, venues, restaurants and shops.

This expansive lineup is comprised exclusively of Detroit and Metro-area music artists. HMF enlivens the community of Hamtramck by inviting invididual audience members to hop from venue to venue throughout each night, eitehr by foot, or shuttle (or by car), encountering a unique lineup of 3-4 bands inside each respective building, with measuredly staggered set-times.  You can plot your course by seeing bands that you already count among your favorites, or you can assign yourself a more adventurous schedule and hit up every set time that features a band you haven't yet seen, or heard of yet... I recommend the latter.

Carjack, at Kelly's Bar, during Hamtramck Music Festival, 2016

More than 180 bands will be spread across 20 venues, and a $10 wristband will provide you all-access to three nights of live music. Organized and facilitated by a crew of volunteer music lovers, HMF picked up a veritable torch from the Metro Times Blowout festival, essentially refocusing and rebooting that initial event's design, and shifting a lot more of the emphasis toward the enrichment of the Hamtramck community. Much of the primary focus is celebrating music made here in Michigan and fostering a sense of community amid the participating musicians. HMF states that it strives to provide a safe, diverse, and enjoyable festival for all. And you can find more updates via its Facebook page, as we get nearer to the dates of March 1st - March 4th.

Enough talk
Here's the official schedule

Friday, January 19, 2018

Interview w/ Willa Rae of Girls Rock Detroit on The Women's March One Year Later & Looking Forward

Michiganders are uniting again, one year later, at the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing at 2 pm. This is a day, a weekend, a moment, when the last year's progress can be measured and celebrated, but then lead into plans that look further into the future.

The Women's March on Sunday is a free event / open to the public.

This is a midterm election year, so there is a focus on women gaining more representation in state legislatures. (Women hold less than 25% of the seats here in Michigan). Whether it's for school boards, city councils, community posts, and from any/all political stripe, this March is meant to push for strides toward greater equality.

The March movement states that it is intentionally focused on intersectionality, meaning that it is meant to recognize that class, race, sexual orientation and gender are not separate, but are interwoven experiences, characteristics and viewpoints that have to establish an understanding and a unity in order to work against lasting forms of oppression.

But since this is a music blog, I couldn't help considering the perspective of local artists.

I got in touch with Willa Rae Adamo, co-founder of Girls Rock Detroit, singer/songwriter of Willa Rae & The Minor Arcana, and member of #MuteRKellyDetroit. I wanted to ask her what the Women's March of 2017 meant to her, what it showed her..., and she responded:

Adamo: The Women's March was an awesome, inspiring thing that happened. And this year was full of strides to make the world safer for women, both locally and nationally. Momentum was gained this year, but we still need to keep riding on that momentum, keep moving forward. Conversations need to turn into action, and we need to constantly look at who is being left out of the conversation. Safety, justice, and empowerment need to be sought out for indigenous women, trans women, queer women, women of color, women living in poverty, incarcerated women, differently abled women, sex workers : these are the voices that need to be heard in 2018! 

Girls Rock Detroit is a nonprofit music education program that culminates with summer camps for girls ages 8-15. Instrument instructors, band coaches, and counselors are all female-identifying volunteers, many of whom are involved in the Detroit area music scene. The goal is to provide girls who have no formal musical experience an opportunity to receive instruction, write their own songs, and form bands in a safe, positive space filled with supportive role models.

I went on to ask Adamo whether any of the proceeding events of the year that followed the first Women's March inform her own music or her approach to performing/songwriting in any way?

Adamo: When you have a marginalized identity, you don't ever get a break or a day off. Being a woman impacts all of my life experiences. I look inward when I'm making music, and these experiences, fears and desires are magnified times a million, and is reflected in my songs.

My Minor Arcana project is centered around themes of darkness, sexuality and the esoteric. The songwriting process is cathartic for me in that I'm confronting those parts of myself, and an empowering experience to take ownership of them. But when it turns into performance that is watched by a crowd or a recording for someone else's listening ears, it no longer exists inside of the vacuum of myself, it exists in larger patriarchal society that sexualizes women's bodies and sexualizes violence against women. The message can be misconstrued by those who are consuming it. But I choose to continue on regardless, in hopes that at least one femme in the audience walks away realizing that you do not have to be perfect or powerful to have a voice that deserves to be heard, and your body does not have to look a certain way to be sexy or deserving of love. 

Adamo is currently working on a new project that she's hoping to release in 2018. She has a new batch of songs that explore themes like rape culture, women trusting women, and women continuing to survive. Said Adamo: "It's in the air, you can't get away from it. But it's always been that way for women, everyone else is just paying attention now."

I asked her for her perspective on how different times are today, compared to a decade ago, or more...

Adamo: The voices of women are getting heard more than ever in mainstream music. But still, it's mostly white, skinny, cis-gendered women. We gotta do better. 

And finally, I asked...after the last year's worth of shows, lineups and various album releases, or at other events like music festivals here in Detroit, have any positive changes materialized--? Is there merits to the Detroit scene's cultural shift in this regard, or are there areas where its still uniquely lagging behind?

Adamo: I'm seeing more diverse lineups but I am so often approached by promoters who will explicitly state that they are wanting to add a woman to the lineup. I don't want to be the token girl. "Women" is not a genre of music. 

In the past year, some incredibly brave folks in the Detroit scene have begun to call out men that everyone had known were dangerous and who have repeatedly perpetrated violence against others. 

The question becomes, again, how do we move forward?

Adamo: If you cast someone out of your community, they will just continue to behave in the same way in someone else's community. The myth of the stranger danger rapist in a white van and dark alley is bullshit. We exist in a culture that teaches everyone the wrong way to have sex. How do we hold each other accountable in loving ways, while still honoring the anger and sadness that so many women are carrying around? What kind of language can you use to call out a friend for doing something shitty? How can I make sure that folks are safe when they come to see my band play? 

The Women's March is this Sunday in Lansing. There is also a gathering TODAY, Saturday, at the Diag of the U-M campus in Ann Arbor. 

Meanwhile, this Thurs., Jan 25, #MuteRKellyDetroit is holding a demonstration to protest his upcoming Feb 21 appearance here in Detroit

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Bruised Reed's Latest 'Doubles' Release

The Bruised Reed are back with another installment in their "Doubles" series. They've spaced out a pairing of new singles every several months on their bandcamp. This week, they've got a couple fittingly wintry songs for these late January day's/daze.

photo by Erick Buccholz
The quartet is showing their more shoegazy sides on these two new songs, but still imbuing each with their signature composites indie-rock and dream-pop. With "Emptiest Noise," you'll almost feel like you're being carried away, as Kirstin Wheeler's breathy melodies meld in mesmerizing harmony with the swelling tones of the guitar. The tempo is a slow, woozy waltz that gives space for the bass and drums to crash in at these cathartic crescendos.

There's a balanced sense of detached meditation with these distorted reverb blasts, pairing back in the verses for Wheeler's voice to lilt with its tenderness. Her husband, Josh, meanwhile, sounds like he's really upped his game in terms of production: "The Storm Is Coming's" urgency is palpable in the mix when each instrumental element sustains this dazzling surge across a jogging tempo.

This is where Bruised Reed thrive, this uncanny middle ground where aggressive riffs and feedback crest back against the tenderer, sweetly threaded melodies.

The Bruised Reed will be at Kelly's on Fri., Feb 2nd
with Faux Montreux and Werewolves
More info

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Dropout: New Single "Old Parts, New Beginnings"

I've checked in a handful of times with Andrew Ficker's electro-funk/new-wave-jazz jolted project, The Dropout... And he put on quite a show last summer when he appeared on my talk show. ("I only do first takes...") He's keeping busy, as usual, with a new single out today, the title track from a new EP, Old Parts, New Beginnings, (ft. Nydge, his past collaborator in the duo, Nigel & The Dropout).

Old Parts, New Beginnings comes out February 16.

Ficker has always been about the sonic smorgasbord, which is on display here... Subtle elements from a diverse batch of genre-ingredients get stirred together into the wake of propulsive arrangements of aerobic dance beats, celestial synths, atmospheric guitars, and expressively jolted phrases from a nimbly wielded saxophone.

But Ficker has always brought a bit of the anthropological to his song creation process. He's a markedly more avid live music event attendee than others can claim, particularly being drawn to thousands-crowd-sized/acres-wide spanning spectacle music festivals. It's field research, in a way... Ficker has always been attuned to how powerful live music can be, not just for the audience's engagement, but for the performer to find something of a deeper substance inside themselves, or in their existence. Yeah, it can be powerful. That's why he's singing about contemplative, and even urgent, pressurized notions like the present, the future, and what role any of our "potentials" play in successfully bridging the former to the latter...

The saxophone surging into the choruses on this track gives an uplift into the funkier beats of the bridge. The synths make this ghostly flute-like sound, oscillating in tone as curl up and then slink down a scale, giving space in the verses for a shimmer of guitar to pour in over chopping live drums.

There's all these audible intersections between the instruments, where one part comes up to meet the beginning of another, manifested most powerfully around the 1:45 mark, when the saxophone is at it's most declarative. This song, just like another song on the EP ("Potential,") find Ficker in these very contemplative lyrical moments, giving a sense of a singer on some kind of verge or at some kind of turning point, and feeling as though tailed by doubt. But then you make that turn. That next part begins. "It's a better day to step away...." And the wind at your back can take you home....

Stay tuned

Monday, January 15, 2018

Immerse & then Discover! Interview with Steve Greene (New Album Out Jan 26)

Steve Greene's enthusiasm has always been infectious.  There's a charm to his energy as a composer, even just off the stage, the way he talks about synthesized music!  But to see this tall, broad-shouldered metro Detroiter up on stage, an inclined stance over his galaxy of gear, immersed, entranced...something pure visibly illuminated in his aura, like a would-be protagonist from an 80's sci-fi movie, a hero, inspired, venturing forth on his own epic journey.

Greene has been part of the trio known as Voyag3r for several years, but Electronic Dreams for a Holographic Existence is his first proper solo album. Some of Voyag3r's aesthetic, epic and cinematic vibes, valiantly marching/post-industrial percussion, and alien-sounding operatic drones, continues with his new material (which comes out January 26). But dig the single he put out last week: "Machines, Schemes and Manipulations." 

Whereas Voyag3r could conjure the heavy metal realms of rock, Greene's drawing in that jazzy saxophone, a crashing bass hook, a dazzlingly whirled synth melody, and a striding percussive arrangement that you just as easily dance to as slay a demogorgon.

Greene's inspiration comes from the vivid and imaginative worlds of science fiction and horror: be the classic 60's stuff, the grittier or atmospheric 70's, or the neon-streaked styles of the 80's. Be it The Thing or Alien or Robocop or any other kind of story of the fantastic, with unlikely heroes being pitted against bizarre circumstances, that inherent drama and sense of adventure is what fuels the music of Greene. You're encouraged to close your eyes when you listen to this music; to daydream & imagine your own movie! You'll feel like you're being called to the rescue... That you could save some kind of day, here!

I asked Steve all about his past, his process, and his production style.

How did you first get into creating your own electronic music? 
Around 2006, I purchased an Alesis Ion synthesizer and spent a lot of time scrolling through its sounds and tinkering with its many knobs. And I was also getting familiar with Pro Tools and mixing at that time.  I composed a handful of electronic songs using the Ion and the Expand plug-in that came with Pro Tools. I was having a lot of fun exploring the possibilities of this new-to-me world. It was such a refreshing change from the strictly rock environment that I had been in and I welcomed the wave of rejuvenated creativity and this long past or forgotten set of various sorts of inspirations that just came rushing back to me!

What do you enjoy most about composing electronic music? Every time I am writing or recording it’s exciting, but it’s always a treat when I end up on a path that makes me feel like I did when I got my first synthesizer and spent those many hours immersed in it and discovering old and familiar sounds as well as new sonic textures.

What is it like, as an artist, as someone imagining and composing electronic sounds, to see the ways in which humanity has lurched ever further, immersion-wise, into a Blade Runner/Matrix-like existence? Cuz that's the kind of thing the album's title makes me think about... 
To me, that whole concept of our modern technology is the ultimate double edged sword. For all the good, there is also the negative. If we are looking at this myopically, we trade the wonderful access to all of humanity's acquired knowledge and the ability to easily communicate and spread information with the sacrifice of our privacy, eroding of true, meaningful social behavior and probably most dangerous is an increased vulnerability to disinformation.

If we’re zoomed way out, metaphorically speaking, we may be witnessing our great barrier...Or, if we’re zoomed even further out, is any of this real in the first place?

What makes analog instrumentation special to you, and how can it enhance not just a listening experience, but the experience of the creator in the studio?
All the inspiring records that I grew up with had actual musicians playing real instruments. That is always going to be my base line. I want to hear the notes as they were played, not how the computer quantized them. There are always some exceptions, but that is what inspires me and I believe that when any artist is truly inspired that is when true magic happens. Whether that is music or painting or writing a story, I feel that true inspiration comes from a place of honestly, sincerity and some struggle. I enjoy making hard choices in my writing and recording process; committing to sounds on the way into the recording medium, giving myself hard deadlines and hardware gear naturally makes you have to “earn it” way more than software where you can always go back and edit or redo.

The single you put out seems to be retaning some of the darker, more atmospheric vibes that you had from the film soundtrack you did last year. And it diverges, sorta, from the vibes of Voyag3r... What are some other ways these songs distinguish themselves from anything else you've done?
Voyag3r is definitely a rock band, so I think it will usually be heavier and more aggressive. That being said, I try not to set up restraints or rules for any of the music I do. Electronic Dreams For A Holographic Existence is one snapshot in time that has a certain attitude and color. I hope to capture another unique vibe next time out.

So, rock band singers get to vocalize and project to an audience: guitarists can glance up from their solo and look out at the crowd... but you are often, like, head-down, grinding away, almost in a trance! And the music itself is comparative more trancey than most local bands who might be giving an audience something like a power-pop experience. So, then, what is it that YOU enjoy most about performing works like Holographic Existence for a live setting? Or, what are you looking forward to most about possibly performing these in the near future?
As much as writing and recording, I’ve always loved performing music live. I love to go to concerts and I love to play concerts.When I am performing, either Voyag3r songs or my solo material, there are really two performances happening at the same time. The first is the more obvious one, the playing of the actual notes and chords, usually on multiple synthesizers. The second is the tweaking or changing of sounds, usually while simultaneously performing the music, on-the-fly continual volume mixing and foot dancing on sustain or volume or effects pedals.

It's a lot o' gear to keep your eyes on...

It’s quite an undertaking, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. A reoccurring response that I hear after shows is that the listner sorta “spaced out” during the concert and either visualized movie scenes they love or just made up visuals in their head that the music fed them. That seems A-OK to me!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Seth Bernard: "The Arts Have a Way of Bringing People Together"

Lake City singer/songwriter Seth Bernard is very in tune. But beyond his music, Bernard is very much in tune with humanity, in tune with nature, in tune with social justice, but also in tune with having fun. His newest album, EggtonesFor Fun, is a sprightly composite of folk-pop and Americana, with minstrel waltzes, gypsy jazz and ragtime, and he’ll be performing some of those songs Friday night in Hamtramck. This is a sunnier contrast to last year’s Eggtones Blues, a comparatively more austere and atmospheric collection of electronica and folk, with Bernard’s dulcet tones threading sweet melodies that delivered urgent calls for peace, as well as urgent calls to action.

Bernard is a one of the most prominent and hard-working voices in the Michigan folk music community, as an activist for social justice issues like freshwater rights, primarily for citizens of Flint, or concerns over Enbridge’s Line 5 transporting oil under the Straits of Mackinac. 

This article originally featured in the Detroit Free Press.

When Bernard is not on a stage singing songs, he is working with a multitude of community organizers, nonprofits, and other artists all over Michigan to, more than anything else, educate and inspire.  Hundreds of musicians and thousands of music fans and activists gather each autumn at Earthwork Farm for a festival Bernard started called the Harvest Gathering. He releases his music on his own label, naturally called Earthwork Music.

Bernard, 37, was raised on his parents’ farm, known as Earthwork’s Farm. He spoke to the Free Press about how that upbringing shaped his outlook on life and ignited an evidently eternal flame of compassion in him, a compassion and a reverence for people, for the environment, for animals, for traditions, and for progress; a compassion that’s felt almost instantly when you hear one of his songs (often featuring spoken-word samples from activists like Bill McKibben or the late Grace Lee Boggs).

Next month, Bernard will be getting deeply involved with water rights when he hosts a panel discussion at the SXSW media/music festival in Austin, on March 10, at the Michigan House venue. He’ll be launching a new multifaceted project soon, a year-long social movement that will find several ways and mediums to spread awareness about clean water issues around Michigan.
Bernard talks about wearing several different hats: activist, humanitarian, father, and of course, musician. 

What were some formative experiences that set you on a path towards heightened activism through music and community organizing?
Well, one thing is that I started a free event called The Water Festival as a young adult, and it was aimed at community building and to sort of be this celebratory call to action. I wanted to see if we could create bigger onramps for people to learn about and get involved with things like local watershed stewardship and hopefully join the response to the global fresh water crisis, and using the arts and music as a way to bring people together. It was an extremely positive experience. And I saw that it was refreshing to people to have an arts event aimed at social change that didn’t have a sense of anger or divisiveness built into it. So it’s about our time and our place, being in Michigan and united by something like fresh water, that can unite us in our identity. 

And I think that (events like The Water Festival or the Earthwork Harvest Gathering) can bring people in and develop a sense of becoming problem solvers, and show them that they can respond to the times that we live in in a way that’s a little more localized.

What is the Harvest Gathering festival and how did it get started?
I put together the Harvest Gathering in August of 2001 when I released my first album; it was the beginning of Earthwork Music. And it was about recognizing food and music as these catalysts to bring people together, and then have that coming together be a catalyst to create social change. It’s started out super small, but it’s grown: we had 3,600 people come last year, with 125 bands!  It harkened back to traditions of farmers coming together as a community during a harvest time, and so you had traditional forms of music, like folk music, primarily, but it’s much broader, now, in terms of the musical genres represented. Hopefully we can have more cultural exchanges (at Harvest Gathering), between different communities; we have a lot to learn from Detroit up here. And the older I’ve gotten, the more I see that people’s environmental focus in the north might not be equally relevant to what’s happening elsewhere for Michiganders. So (Harvest Gathering) can be important in that it connects our struggles and connects our (advocacy) work.

You released a new album last week. What can you tell us about EggtonesFor Fun and how it fits in your current Eggtonesseries?
The Eggtonesalbum series has four parts: I started with EggtonesFor Peace, then last year I released Eggtones Blues, now I have Eggtones For Fun, and it concludes with Eggtones for Directions. I like having expressions that are a bit mysterious, or mystical-sounding, so that it can be subjective to whoever hears it to interpret the meaning for themselves; for me it just invokes a sense of possibility. Possibility! Because we have to be writing a new story in these times, where we see an encroachment of end times ideology and that is not a good enough story for our kids, for the youth. I know that, now, with having a 3-year-old daughter who reminds me to be in touch with joy and to be in touch with love. And I want to pay that forward and pass the torch. And so, EggtonesFor Fun, is seeing people everywhere engaged in a lot of serious struggle, and giving them access to joy, and to “fun.” That sense of possibility can be more alive in us if we’re having fun with what we’re doing and feeling inspired and passionate.

As someone who blends art with activism, what is your musical creation process like?
My creative process is extremely regenerative. I feel healthy when I’m feeling creative. I’m more able to express my experiences and emotions, and to navigate my place in the world, through music. And it’s an endless pursuit, really, of finding new pathways of expression. And it’s important to just keep after it, keep working. And I always try to lift up other artists, and to consistently show love to other artists. (Songwriter) Mark Lavengood and I are hosting a “Michigan Room” at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City this February and it’s all about getting Michigan artists onto an international stage, because you and I know there’s just such a treasure trove of music here, such a rich and dense place for artists to dig deep into their process and be supported by their peers. (Songwriting/music) can come easily for me sometimes just because I am so excited about so many other artists, here.

After such a divisive and tense year, how do you, as an artist and activist, stay hopeful and motivated?
It really comes down to having a lot of love for people. Having grown up in a way where my parents were so embedded in our community (Lake City), growing up on a farm and living off the land, but also living with a very close-knit relationship with our neighbors, I realized early on that we were a bit more “alternative” relative to most of rural northern Michigan, but I saw just how my parents had a love for people, and a love for kids and doing lots of hands-on projects with kids and working with local schools. So naturally that passed on to me. The arts have a way of bringing people together so intrinsically, and they can also be a platform for talking about things in a way that is engaging, in a way that can build community. 

It’s been a tough year, but I see people, and I see musicians, really digging deeper into their craft, more than ever before, and activate that solace and that respite that drew us all to music in the first place.

20 Front Street (Venue)
20 E. Front St., Lake Orion (Address)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Rottinghouse: Intentionally Cold & Minimal, But It Still Has To Be Beautiful

Album Release Party
Sat., Feb 3
@ Trixie's Bar
featuring Siamese, Krillin, and Space Skull

Singer/songwriter Jaye Thomas started this dark wave project back in 2014, when a batch of songs he was working on strayed from the aesthetic of Rogue Satellites, his collaboration with singer/songwriter/artist Lisa Poszywak. But as we'll illuminate in this interview, Thomas' alter ego, Rottinghouse, became a multimedia collaboration with musician/artist Courtney Spivak (of Ex American). Spivak uses lighting, costumes, make up, props, and found footage video projection to create a fittingly transportive visual experience.

The Feb 3 show at Trixie's will be a music video premiere for the single "Whatever Helps You Sleep At The Wheel." Spivak, meanwhile, produced several videos to expand and augment the experience of each song. Check out her work for the Rottinghouse song "Soft Satellites"


Just because something dreamy has degrees of dread does not make it a nightmare. The imbittered can reveal sweetened qualities. Something electronic can profoundly connect to the soul. In a literal sense, the percussive arrangements of Rottinghouse can evoke a sense of transportation, but when you experience the music, or especially when you encounter it as a live creation, it can be like being a somewhat strange place that may often eerily resemble what we'd already perceived to be our real world; made to feel cold, albeit, only perhaps because its lyrics are designed on erasing illusions, or excavating the harder truths we try to bury.

Call it post-apocalyptic pop, or gloom-wave, or maybe lullabies for permanent midnights. Rottinghouse will thread indelible melodies into your ears, sung over stimulating, propulsive dance beats and sleek synth hooks. Minor keys may dominate, the bridge of certain songs could accumulate droning clouds, and you won't hear your vocalist hit any capricious falsettos...but still, it pulls you in... It transports... Or is it more that it transforms? The performer manifests in a suit & tie, or in all black, with a glittery golden veneer over his skull; eyes glowing, voice humming... It goes beyond the typical live music experience.

So Rottinghouse songs were, initially, tunes you were working on that just wasn't fitting with Rogue Satellites. What distinguished them?
If I take out the aspects that I think characterize a (Rogue Satellites) song, what's left is this sort of sparse cold wave song.

And what draws you to  'cold wave?'

Thomas: Cold wave is a genre I've always been interested in.  It speaks to a certain part of my personality. The visual aesthetic doesn't come from me. It comes from my partner in Rottinghouse, Courtney Spivak. I really thought the stuff she did for her own band was amazing so I approached her about working on this project with me.

There's always been a dark side to your songs...
Yes, I think Rogue tends to weave in a sort of dark humor within the exuberant framework of a rock n' roll song.  While with Rottinghouse, that darkness is right out front. The process has been very subtractive. Taking away that tendency to be sort of playful with the music has left me with this sort of sparse open thing. It's intentionally cold and minimal but it still has to be beautiful.

What have been some primary musical influences for you?
The Cure has been one of my favorite bands since I was in the 8th grade. The Pornography album specifically was a huge influence to the development of (Rottinghouse') sound. Joy Division was a band I became interested in later, but they are probably equally influential to me now.

So that goes back to post-punk, new wave, goth, glam... What about 'cold wave?'
There are a bunch of contemporary cold wave bands that are making great music currently, or even very recently... Some of my favorites are Soviet Soviet, Skeleton Hands from Cincinnati, and Detroit's 800beloved. Contemporaries were very important because they made me see that people might actually want to listen if I made this music. Because it's very self-indulgent, this type of music... It's like, "I feel like shit, let me tell you about it. You care because..."...It's affirming to think people can still take something positive from it.

What did you take from the songs on Patient Passenger? What was the experience like, for you, to get these songs completed? 
Thomas:  Those songs all deal with separation and isolation in different ways. Some deal with depression, fear, and anxiety but those things are isolating too.  The name Patient Passenger was lifted directly from the lyrics of one of the songs, "Whatever Helps You Sleep at the Wheel," but I thought it spoke to the overall theme of the record. Stepping back when the writing and programming were all done, it seemed like this album was about feeling disconnected in the so-called age of connectivity.

Thomas has already started writing a new Rottinghouse album that will be more guitar oriented, and "...a little more aggressive."

Rogue Satellites, meanwhile, will have a busy 2018: they have two volumes' worth of new music they just recorded.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

River Spirit's New EP Sets Souls Alight

River Spirit's new EP is available digitally this Friday, Jan 5
Physical copies will be at their next show: Friday, Jan 12  @ Third Wave Music

River Spirit's sound is something tender, and yet has commanding presence. Minimalist neo-soul odes carried by powerful lead vocals over composites of electronica/R&B, interlaced with swooning atmospheric guitars and these subtly entrancing percussive patterns. I've been in a room during three live performances by this Detroit trio and each time my memory of several other details of those nights, be it the white noise of loud bar side conversations or even sometimes other bands on the bill, fade in comparison to this rare and understated radiance that the players and their music, a bare bones electro-soul that bares all, emotionally, brought to life on stage. And that's brought to life here....

"You can open doors with your eyes shut / Don't you realize you are one of a kind?"

How many of us are deficient in crucial vitamins of affection and tenderness? I'm not even talking about how winter is a cold, darker, unpredictable season where lots of us turn into hermits and start to go through intimacy-withdrawals, but even on the grander scale of allowing our human interactions to be digitally quarantined to the ethereal commons of the Internet?

Singer/guitarist Vanessa Reynolds, guitarist/vocalist  Dan Steadman and drummer Paul Wilcox were working on these songs during what was a tough year for so many to stormily sail through, and the poetry of the lyrics embrace the innocence of therapeutic expressions of intimacy, even in the face of how hard it is to feel substantive warmth or bliss in this hustled, divided, and sometimes disenchanting world we're all working our way through.

There are individual moments of breathtaking elegance, like the vocals through the bridge of "Dime," or when the guitars and drums take over for the closing instrumental verses of "Winter Song," creating a calmness after what opens with a seemingly restless melody. "Set Alight" is a standout both musically and lyrically; a meditative round of guitars over pulsing sequenced beats as Reynolds' voice soars softly into expressions that bring a relief to weariness.

These are the songs you need to hear, right now. Healing songs. But also fortifying for the soul.

Find the album on River Spirit's Soundcloud page, this Friday...
Here is an earlier version of "Winter Song"

The EP was produced by Scott Murphy, with contributions from Augusta Rose, Jova Lynne, and Leander Johnson. You can see River Spirit next Friday at Third Wave Music--more info