Monday, August 27, 2018

More Thoughts on My Dialogue with Music

I am older, but still young. Young enough. I am old enough, now, to be able to look back. And I'm still having the same conversations.

I can look back and realize that I've kept at something, kept at a vocation, of sorts, for a sizable amount of time. At least, that time is sizable when compared to how long I've been alive.

And I have never felt more alive than when I'm in the varying ecstasies of connecting to a piece of music.

I’m at least old enough now to be able to say that my life has become something; become about something... 

It’s become a series of interpretations. I don’t write to create—I write to interpret creations. I have come to appreciate the virtue or value of this work.

An artist can put themselves, their emotions, their disputations, their hopes, their dreams, their loves, their secrets, their pain, their truths... into a piece, like a song, and it can be forthright and candid and certain..., or it can be abstract—either way, there can still be ten or 50 or 100 other meanings that that music will manifest for each unique listener.

What I have always found to be so beautiful about music is not only its capacity as mood-enhancement, but as a supplement for processing emotion, for harvesting meaning out of our experiences, and as a catalyst for discovery, illumination, and enrichment.

Not all music achieves this. Or, not all music that we listen to is required to is required to achieve this. But that such a profound link can, at least, have the possibility to enough for me.

From one mind, the artist’s, discerning meaning from their own human experience and emotions, then to their pen, to their page, to their instrument, to their amp, to the studio, to the mixing, and then performed, and recited, and played for the ears of others, absorbed then, into their experience.

Music is here for you to get in touch with something. We are, as we age, locked our job, our routine, our diets, our habits, our hobbies, and we are locked in to our sense of ourselves. Music, as however fleeting a reverie it can be, unlocks that sense of self. New-feeling muscles of compassion and contemplation can be awakened and stimulated.

Imagine a door at the end of a short, darkened hallway, and from behind, at the edges of the doors frame, light emits. The rectangle glows ever brighter. You can see it. You can almost hear it. That light is music—it can be music, or it can be other profound mediums of artistic expression. Can you say for certain that you always open that door, bathe in the light—to the point where you’re listening with your eyes closed?

It has been a rewarding “life” (or at least a chunk of this life, so far) to be someone who not only always opens that door, but wanders far inward, blinded at first, but attaining visibility...clarity, perspective, studying the light source, especially, and the ultraviolet varieties emanating from that source.    

Inspiration, raw inspiration, is channeled and translated into a piece of art—like music—attaining its own kind of luminescence. It’s the artist revealing themselves to you “in a language we all understand.”

It’s been my role, as interpreter, as interviewer, to find and define what might have been left unsaid. That’s the dialogue with music. It’s never a dull conversation.

And you don’t have to worry about what to say next. Listen.


I never know how long or how much longer I’ll do this. It’s just that a new light always turns on—a new door can be opened. There’s something different to find, to hear, to think about, in each room.

So I’ll keep listening.

And since you visited and read all this, here's a quick playlist of songs I was listening to as I wrote this

Sunday, August 26, 2018


An invigorating new strain of punk has surfaced over the last year and a half with SLOB. Punk, is of course, too reductive to fit most bands, and that's of course the case here: some distinctive qualities are quintessentially unapologetic, raw, confrontational and dissonant, but there is some subtly intricate basslines, nimble guitar phrases and precise percussion, albeit sped to blurring tempos to propel this rollicking war rig through these two minute collision-course songs. A less-eloquent way to put it would be that you feel like you just got your ass kicked after 95 seconds with SLOB.

Valerie Kraft is on drums, coming from the world of SWEAT (ambient metal and heavy rock). Shannon Barnes is on bass (primarily known as the lead singer/songwriter for soul-funk hybrid White Bee). And Taylor Saunders is on guitar/vocals, and when the band completes a song, however brief the seconds, she is breathless with the eyes of disorientation of sudden reentry from some kind of trance. And the magnificent (and almost freaky) thing about that breathlessness is that she's, for the most part, standing still on stage (whilst playing/singing), but what you hear her doing with her voice--able to go from gravelly/demonic, to tuneful/ballady, to deep heavy metal roar--all in one song, makes it feel like she (and you) just ran 12 flights of stairs.

0:53 seconds into "Bleed," the band cruises into a bridge that allows for breathing room and almost sounds like an alt-rock 90's song, slowed down and riffy, with emotional lyrics...until the narrator asks for a place where she can kick, cry,  scream "bitch," and moan as loud as she wants. Suddenly, the pedal is slammed and the song accelerates again until it's as if the gas tank explodes and it's all you can do but jump out of the car.  I don't know where the car metaphor came from--probably because like all great punk/metal bands, SLOB evokes a sense of being in the passenger seat, at the behest of a driver who's eager to find the adventure, the catharsis, the thrill, the jerking the wheel one way..., and then the other. You just have to hold on.

SLOB's new EP is out now. You can find it on Spotify.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Shadow Show

The curtain's rising on a cool new band of faces that will be familiar to fans of the Deadly Vipers. Ava East (guitar/vocals), Kate Derringer (bass/keys) and Kerrigan Pearce (drums) just put out their first single as Shadow Show. Their first show is Sept 15 at the Outer Limits Lounge with Krillin and Moonwalks.

The power trio is veering away from the heavier 70's rock/metal trip with the Vipers and heading into a trippy composite of a shoegazey, goth-rock haunted Desert Sessions inclined toward angular post-punk time signatures. What I always loved about what I've heard/seen from this trio in their previous band is that their arrangements always took things to another level...and then another level. Whether descending into darker spells, or just trudging even further into the fibrous fields of hard rock with surplus crescendos and snaky solos--that tactical and propulsive playing style carries over and then evolves with Shadow Show.

A twangy, reverb-splashed guitar ambles its way out of the introduction before its snatched by the talons of that rhythm section and ascending into a barrel roll. The hi-hats frantically pulse over that snare as the bass bends into expressive waves at high speeds; the guitars vary from fluid and expansive, to tautly reared riffs as the vocals continue that evocation of soaring through the verses, with notes so full and fiery they sound like their casting a spell, until they glide into the chorus and the cadence becomes as tight as the guitar hooks.

And after all of that, the song could easily fade away at the four minute mark and call it a day, but like I said, this trio have always found compelling ways to keep the excursion going, turning on a dime there and flying off to starboard to indulge in tones that feel just the right amount of sinister and dark, as the vocals start to sound like a robot, like... a "machine."

Eager to hear what comes next! Shadow Show will be putting out another single in September. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Radio Wire Empire - 'Lilac'

It's been five years since Radio Wire Empire released an album and seven since any of the works of songwriter/sound-creator Matthew Romanski appeared on this blog. In the interim, my ears were drawn to another band involving Romanski, Earth Engine, wherein he facilitates guitar and lead vocals. From 2010-2013, however, this psych-pop/space-jazz project was an industrious enterprise for Romanski, releasing singles, EPs and even a double-album that blended synths and sequenced beats effervescent enough to keep his finespun vocals afloat through evocative aural atmospheres where he would "let the stars bleed down...," so to speak, in his characteristic lyrical style of blending the tangible and the surreal.

With "Lilac," he embodies a smitten spirit poetically calling out to his love, audibly energized by the bliss that's manifested in their time together. Everything is urgent and adventure is everywhere when you feel that kind of love, which is why we launch and soar into such an ebullient chorus ("Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!") That said, everything coalesces into a splendid pop package: the impassioned intonations of his voice through that chorus, the surfy splach from the guitar pickups/pedals, the dreamy curlicues of the synth melodies and coaxing bass, and then that sweet swelling saxophone through the's like you want it all to linger for two or three more minutes more...

A full album is on the way! Next Friday, Romanski releases the newest Radio Wire Empire--the first in five years. He's joined by Matthew Beyer (of Ancient Language), John Raleeh and Nik Landstrom (of Earth Engine). Beyer is also in a new band called Holiday Flower, and Romanski's on the drums for that project. With all this intermingling, it's only fitting that the August 31st release party is also the occasion to hear Holiday Flower's new album! Duchess, from Chicago, will be joining the lineup at the Outer Limits Lounge. CLICK HERE for more info.

Next Friday Aug 31 - Radio Wire Empire -with Holiday Flower (Dual Album Release Party)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

True Blue - Solitary Queen

You can swap 'true blue' with synonyms like genuine, authentic, unvarnished, straightforward, candid... All of those fit this artist, but what's most endearing about her songs is that they're not preoccupied with trying to fit any specific descriptor, no matter how long you shuffle through your rock-music thesaurus. Singer/songwriter Alexandria Berry writes, records and performs under the moniker True Blue - and what I find so refreshing about the EP that she's releasing this Friday is threefold.

First, her songwriting: the propulsive arrangements of her expressive guitar combined with her melodic voice seem to pull everything with it, the bass, the drums, and you the listener. The harmonic progression of "Firestarter" all but lifts you into the air and flourishes around the tailing vibrato of her gliding vocal melody. 

Second, her rhythmic riffs and guitar fills. Berry's voice attains its own mellifluous elegance on songs like "Look What You've Done," but there's always something about it, maybe it's the mid-low intonations she's swooning into through the bridge, just this twinge of something guttral that calls back to a 90's kind of shambolic indie-rock...But I'm getting off topic, because I want to not only emphasize how she's able to sufficiently fill a soundscape with just her guitar playing, but I also want to indicate that their are some sweet, shreddy, psychedellic-sounding guitar solos coming your way (once you hear it...), giving extra luminescence to the bridge of each of the four songs.

And third, I just have to go back to being this pure, unadorned sound--something that is is! True Blue. The single streaming above is from March, which doesn't appear on the EP, but nevertheless gives you an effective impression of what to expect on Solitary Queen. When she arcs up into the choruses of "Only If You Want To," she hits the kind of sweet, dulcet, vulnerable yet resolute tones that can make you close your eyes as you bend through them...presuming you've got headphones on and presuming you're listening as intently as I am....True Blue!

Alexandria Berry is a Detroit-based singer/songwriter and her debut EP, as True Blue, comes out this Friday, with a show at the Ghost Light in Hamtramck. 

Also at the Ghost Light, you'll see Fight, Dear Darkness, and Gala Delicious. CLICK HERE for more info.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Jenny & Jackie - Summer

After my first time hearing songs like "Apple Tree" and "Whomi Gonna Be," they wound up stuck in my head for a solid two weeks. Jen David and Jeffrey Thomas are Jenny & Jackie and the duo create effervescent pop songs that may be minimalist in instrumentation but maximize melody and groove. Absolutely a groove--even if their percussive element is a drum machine, there's still an expressive bass inviting you to loosen up and sway. Elements of early 60's rock, late 60's reggae, and 90's lo-fi ambient-pop swoon together on the songs making up their new 12" record, Summer. 

David's saxophone comes in for elegant and fluid accompaniments while Thomas' guitar takes a surfy-toned fender and slows it to a slick saunter, giving each of his notes a lot of space to breath and bend into a twangy vibrato. David's voice is something I encountered almost ten years ago in a beloved but bygone band called Illy Mack--it's got that special kind of subtle power, tuneful but radiant with raw emotion. Thomas takes the lead on songs like "Apple Tree," a lower register than David with a bit of a rasp, but still tuned in to a certain cadence in their vocal melodies that lends itself to complete and utter catchy-ness.

And I mentioned Illy Mack just now, but I could just as easily get nostalgic for Thomas' prior project, the garage-rock trio Gardens. But with Jenny & Jackie, they're moving things forward - distinct from either of their prior musical endeavors and creating not just indelible choruses and buoyant rhythms, but this endearing vibe. I hate to sound new-agey, but they do have a vibe, an aura maybe... And maybe it is that you can sense how in love with each other they are--and how that tenderness can unconsciously weave its way into the DNA of their recorded songs (and attain a luminescence in their live shows). Maybe that's too mushy for you? I still think you're going to love their music.

And even though I've heard some of the songs on Jenny & Jackie's forthcoming album (titled Summer) more than two years ago..., I have to remember that these two have been busy! Busy with the one they're building together as a married couple. Busy as new homeowners! Busy as the Third Wave Music store has made a cozy home just off the Wayne State campus on 2nd Avenue (in the Forest Arms apartments,) offering not just instruments, but lessons!

Anyway, it's exciting to see them ready to finally release Summer. 

They'll perform this Thursday, Aug 24, at the Outer Limits Lounge. CLICK HERE for more info.

Oh, and this photo?? < This is when Jenny & Jackie came on to the Milo Show to sing "Apple Tree," back in the spring of 2016, (where they effectively used the actual eating of an apple to augment the aural ambiance).

Friday, August 17, 2018

Holiday Flower - Debut Album: Single Premiere + Interview

In a way, I've written about Zachariah Jarvis (above, left) and Matthew Beyer (right) before..., they're the bassist and vocalist/saxophonist, respectively, from the ambient post-rock ensemble Ancient Language.

Now, the duo are unveiling a new music project they've been developing over the last three years, joined by Matthew Romanski (of Earth Engine) on drums. Holiday Flower's debuts their first album on August 31, with a performance at Outer Limits Lounge. This will actually be a dual-album release, as Romanski's solo project, Radio Wire Empire, also has new material ready to release... (Stay tuned, next week, for more on that!)

"Grey Skies in Berlin" is the lead single from the new Holiday Flower album.

You float through the first 30 seconds of this album and the icy synth tones, ascending vibraphones and pensive piano makes it feel like a cousin of that stratospheric post-rock sound they've already honed with Christopher Jarvis in Ancient Language, but then those rhythms kick in... Zach's buoyant bass all but grabs you by the wrist and coaxes you over to new terrain, a place with an ebullient groove where Beyer's tight but frenetic guitar cascades under those smooth, breathy vocals of his... But what seemed like a tender, pared back bit of space-pop boogie suddenly bursts at the chorus: Romanski's drums thunder in and that soft piano fades to the background while those guitars start to glide with a bit of a gnarly growl.

Holiday Flower's forte is forging that balance of dynamics. Even when those choruses crest voluminously, the bedrock of Jarvis' expressive bassline and Beyer's mellifluous vocals never diminish in radiance - it's as though the arrangement's got a flightplan for your ears, but you never lose sight of the ground, the original rhythmic runway that launched you... Maybe I'm off on a tangent here, but I just think this tune evokes a sense of soaring... But we don't have to read any of my own words about Holiday Flower, because we can flow right into some Q&A with Beyer and Jarvis (below).

How and when did you start making songs as a duo separate from AL?
Zach: A few of the songs on the album have been floating around as skeleton songs on Matt’s computer since 2015. We actually began writing some of these songs before Matt had even joined Ancient Language! But after several months, drifting into early 2016, we slowly expanded on the songs in hopes of releasing something a little bit sooner. But to no avail, Holiday Flower was put on the backburner for nearly a year and a half while we dipped into a plethora of other projects. It wasn’t until we agreed to play at a friends birthday party, New Years Eve of 2017, that we dove back into the material to finish it.

When you did start working together, what did you both feel like you wanted to go for, style-wise, sound-wise, vibe-wise? What were you drawn to, aesthetically, with Holiday Flower that was distinct from AL?
Zach: I think we both wanted to play music with no rules. Holiday Flower embraces lackluster elements and spins them to our advantage. It’s a chaotic maelstrom of ups and downs, instrumentally and lyrically. I think the difference is that Holiday Flower is silly, in and of itself.

Talk about your friendship: how long have you guys known each other? What's it like making music together, what makes that chemistry work..., what kinds of influences you share, and what kinds of influences do you contrast on?
Zach:: We became friends back in 2010, in high school French class. And basically ever since then we've been playing in bands and writing music together. It’s very natural at this point. I think what makes it work is that we don't get too involved, or attached to any one song in any one way. It makes it easier to be open to ideas from one another.

What was the writing and recording process? And, just curious, will the live set up be pretty similar to what you recorded?
Matt: This song, "Grey Skies in Berlin," was written in the same way as a few others on the album. Zach started with the chord progression and I went in and added guitar and drums. The recording process for this song was drawn out, actually. All of the instruments were recorded in my basement over a year ago. The vocal part was all that was needed. Zach wrote the lyrics and I added some melody to them. Vocals tend to always be the last thing both written and recorded when I’m involved. Maybe it’s perfectionism, most likely it’s just procrastination. The live setup will be guitar, keys, bass, and drums with plenty of electronic sampling to cover the other instruments on the album.

What's on the horizon?
Matt: Our next step as a band is releasing this album and performing it more around Detroit. We also have a few remixes and additional material for an electronic dance set, so we won’t always be performing as a rock band. The album's out on August 31st, we're playing at Outer Limits Lounge, and our friend, drummer of Holiday Flower and singer of Earth Engine, Matthew Romanski will also be releasing his latest album from his project Radio Wire Empire that night.

Holiday Flower + Radio Wire Empire - Dual Release Party
August 31
More info

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Third Man Release "A. Moms = Algebra Mothers"

Some records instill a heightened excitement and anticipation to just push play... For example, if you, dear reader, are coming to this blog post having never heard an Algebra Mothers song, then I am a little more geeked than usual to just let it loose for ya...

That guitar sets you off, wobbly yet propulsive; those keys come in and add the appropriate nerviness with their jittery accentuation, eventually going into these hypnotic loop-de-loop melodies as the rhythm section crashes in and starts trundling forward, communicating without question, that this is a certain strain of punk-rock.

The Algebra Mothers were a radiant new-wave punk outfit formed right here in Detroit, back in the late 70's, developing during such a sweet spot of strange experimentation in punk as they we were moving past the ostentatious Dolls, past the speedy riffy Ramones, past the ferocious Clash, past the sloppy cynical Sex Pistols, and now, entering the wiry realms of Dead Kennedys, DEVO, and the Weirdos, with adventurous arrangements, quirky/theatrical vocalizations, and gnarly intonations. Into that world, came The A-Moms 1979 release of the single you're streaming above, "Strawberry Cheesecake" (b/w "Modern Noise" 7"-vinyl), released on their own label, Aftertaste Records.

The A-Moms were formed by four like minded misfits/artists/musicians/friends, (Gerald Collins, Ralph Valdez, Diana Balton, and Kirsten Rogoff), coming out of Detroit's Cass Tech High School. Over their time together, they've played all around Detroit, all around the U.S. and joined prestigious and ferocious rock acts like Destroy All Monsters, Pere Ubu, and Sonic Rendezvous Band. But, in 1984, the band came to an end...or so we all thought. Third Man Records reached out to a couple mothers, contacting Collins (who, at this point, had started a new band, Jeecy and the Jungle), and Valdez (who had a stint as a DJ for WDET) and discovered that they were sitting on at least an entire LP's worth of home studio demos and live recordings.

This Friday, Third Man Records presents A-Moms - Algebra Mothers: 14 never before heard tracks recorded between 1977 and 1984 in various home studios and clubs. It's their first release in nearly 40 years--and only their second ever!

August 17, Third Man's Cass Corridor outlet hosts a release party for the A-Moms, with exclusive pink vinyl versions of the new LP up for grabs. Jimmy Ohio and the Alternate Lovers is opening things up and the Heavy on Trash DJs will spin in between. Click here for more info

Monday, August 13, 2018

Fred Thomas Finds Open-Ended Closure on 'Aftering"

Aftering is the third album that singer/songwriter Fred Thomas has produced in the last five years and it completes the arc of a loose, subtle trilogy. But at the same time, even if a chapter feels like its closing for the Montreal (by-way-of-Michigan) music maker, this album, just as the previous two had before it, allows for anything and anyone to remain and continue feeling incomplete, open, unanswered, unresolved....

"...I have to say, I'm not a big believer in catharsis," said Thomas. "Or, that is, I didn't think I really ever experienced it before."

credit Miles Larson
From the 90's, up until 2013, Thomas was best known for fronting the chamber-pop ensemble Saturday Looks Good To Me. Their notably experimental arrangements could still fit alongside the likes of contemporary neo-baroque stylists like the New Pornographers or Magnetic Fields, but Thomas would also release solo songs of stripped-down lo-fi/ambient-heavy albums, as well as work on electro-noise/spaced-out-orchestrations through groups like City Center or, most recently, Hydropark.

Aftering will be available on Sept 14, (through Polyvinyl), and it lays down laces of confusion, ambiguity, remorse, anxiety, and even elation and nostalgia, laces similar to the knotty strands of 2015's All Are Saved and 2017's Changer. Thomas performs August 16 at El Club. (INFO) 

There's something else going on in this recent incarnation of Thomas' musical style - it's not that it's candid or intensely earnest, but it definitely does represent a bolder alternative in approach and presentation: one of the four extended (and beautifully stark) spacious pieces on side two is "House Party, Late December," demonstrating his newer inclination toward (and experimentation with) melodic spoken word poetry over pensive ambient arrangements of distorted guitar and minimal percussion.

 "It felt really exciting to shift from making indie pop like Saturday Looks Good To Me or noisy, washed-out stuff like City Center into this new kinda thing because it wasn't vague at all." 

Precisely. The 9 minute piano and pizzicato dirge of "Slow Waves" epitomizes a sense of insecurity, only laced with a sort of strychnine from the seething spoken word lyrics that may or may not be Thomas. "...there's kind of an observer character narrating a lot of the records from (the midway point on...") said Thomas. "Not saying it's me, necessarily, but there's a mindset that I've definitely been in that's giving a perspective to songs songs like ("Mother, Daughter, Pharmaprix)", or "Bed Bugs," (from All Are Saved), or "Echolocation" (from Changer).

Aftering can't be put into a box, just as the three albums can't be reduced to the description of a definitively charted path from one point to another. What you can say about Aftering is that after an atmospheric opener, it presents you with four consecutive 3-4 minute rock-oriented songs, providing sort of a comfort food for ears attuned to riffs, choruses, propulsive drums and melody. Then, the proceeding four songs expand like a thick fog, beyond the seven-- the eight-- or even the night-minute mark, closing, finally, with a melancholy nocturne called "What the Sermon Said."

"All three of the records kinda bend present/past/remembering...," said Thomas. "And (Aftering) doesn't land any more in any place than the others. It's certainly not too overt. More so it kinda all ties together: if you made a playlist of the songs with lyrics, you'd start to see a weird connection, kinda like scenes that interlock and come back around."

This five year process defies most of our expectations of a typical creative process. People would be surprised, for example, to hear how quickly Thomas would return to the studio after All Are Saved, or after Changer, but it was all a continuation. He's kept a continuous collection of demos in folders, and even sketches of songs written out... "which, now....feels totally done."

And that brings us to the certain  kind of catharsis he could attain... "When I finished recording these songs I really felt like something left me. Something too heavy, and sad. It was done. It felt beautiful."

Artists, to me, are such interesting processors... They process thoughts in these elaborate, adventurous, expressive, conceptual ways. And that word, a procession, hits home for Thomas. 

"When I started this, I was really excited to start, but I didn't understand it totally," he said. "It was just a reflection of a new time. A procession, yeah! And there are new times always, and it feels really good to have this one more or less defined. For me, it was huge to make music like "All Are Saved" in 2015 because it was VERY VERY different than anything else I'd done." He describes it as "monologues...with music more or less as an afterthought behind it." Adding: "I feel like I've explored that as much as I want to now, and it feels really complete." 

Thomas returned to work with Drew Vandenburg in Athens, GA, to produce/engineer the record. "This was my third record working with Drew Vandenberg in Athens and I actually went there a few times. Originally I had the idea to have the record be 10 really long bummer songs, much like the second half, probably about an hour long...But once we got that kinda in line, it felt wrong. So, we worked in a few of the more upbeat songs and then it just made sense to have it flow from upbeat to a sharp turn to protracted bummers." 

Thomas said that since he started recording bands as a full-time gig, he's working with an increasingly diverse cast of collaborating artists, and Aftering's cameos prove that. "Working all the time with new musicians in the studio, you sometimes strike up a rapport with certain players or connect on some level, hear them do something that you could see working with your music. A lot of the folks who play on this record I met because they played in bands whose records I worked on. Maria from Deadbeat Beat had been in the studio a lot when she played with Best Exes, Jake from Bonny Doon, I toured with and recorded a lot of his bands early material, Ashley Hennen who sings on "Slow Waves", she came in to record some of her own stuff and I just asked her if she'd mind singing on one of my songs. That kinda thing happened a lot over the course of all of the records."

Some artists explore darker territory and it's often regarded as just that: an exploration. Or a detour. Or some other kind of journey where they kind of lose themselves. But not so with Thomas. "This felt so clear to me: I had no doubts about the direction! It really quickly moved from a few experiments into what it became." 

"My hope with some of the more spoken word moments of the past three records has been to just flatly say something, to relay without any window dressing or artistic license how I experienced some part of my life," said Thomas. "It's not blunt to the point of reading like a police report or an insurance claim, but not too far from there! I kinda became disgusted with the way a lot of my earlier songs and lyrics especially felt to me as I got further away from them. They're mostly good, but some of them felt really vacant and vague, like they were aiming for communicating some kind of emotion but not really about anything I'd gone through. With some of these songs I'm going for the opposite of that."

And then I bring up Bjork. How she's able to gracefully unpack
things like pain or anxiety or a disenchantment with events beyond one's control, and not shy away, in fact never shying away, from putting it in a song. Some artists might wrestle with the temptation or the perceived demand to "end on a high note" or "wrap things up nicely" with hope or promise. Is there a pressure or a nervous compulsion to try to break that tension...? Or do we all want to find catharsis?  And am I right to bring in Bjork? 

"I listened to Homogenic the entire time I was making Aftering," said Thomas. "Bjork is an amazing comparison. Good ear. And..., much like her songs, these songs weren't all that worried about being too dark or ending on a high note. All three of the records end on low notes or without closure. Which is kind of the point. It's a statement, but not a product. The statement isn't super cohesive or even all that urgent, though it contains urgent moments..., But the interlocking of weird feelings, mundane moments and processing old times is really the aim of all three records. 

In real life, there aren't there isn't the triumphant, or comforting closure of movie credits scrolling after an emotionally-throttling event. It's all uncertainty and open ended rumination. "Things never wrap up nicely," said Thomas, "not magically in the commercial sense."  

It's more nebulous than that...spilling out of any frame you wanna put it in. 

We're never past anything, or complete. It's like we're always only "aftering…"

More info

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Violent Bloom - Not Anything

Every once in a while I like to expand my ear just beyond Detroit, whether that's Lansing or Kalamazoo, or maybe Windsor. But I can't forget about Toledo, Ohio! Toledo's got it's own scene and it feels like a cousin to us, at times, since lots of our city's artists will make sure to stop there on tour, just as Violent Bloom makes sporadic appearances to perform here in Detroit or Hamtramck.

This piano/bass/drum trio just released their latest EP, Not Anything:

Their specialty is subtlety. Expressive basslines weave and wave above minimalist percussive arrangements that are nevertheless effectively-swaying and pulsing; but that bass rhythm is like the sonic oreo cream, above the supportive drums but humming beneath the intricate piano and lead vocals. The players, I should say at this point, are Kelly Thompson on drums, piano, and vocals, Jon Zens on bass, and Kate Kokonecki on piano, drums, and vocals.

The voices of Kokonecki and Thompson can reach ballad levels, but also pare back to whispering lullabies. It's a bluesy Americana as much as it's a jazzy-folk thing... My quickest reference points would be to draw back to the strongly-charactered creations of Quix*o*Tic, Beth Orton, or even Cat Power. But you can hear that for yourself on their newest EP--which you can check out at their Bandcamp. No Michigan dates yet, but stay tuned via their Facebook page for updates.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sleepology - Video Premiere: "Opening Act"

I feel renewed inspiration after watching this video from Port Huron's Sleepology. Their song, "Opening Act," is a defiant lament, a championing of the underdog slog, overruling the naive daydreams of breaking through some indie-rocker ceiling and embracing every aspect, good, bad, fun, ugly, funny, memorable, annoying, embarrassing, or glorious....yes, every aspect  creating and performing music  for the love of it, for the experience of it. It's the first single a forthcoming album.

There's nothing remarkable about the visuals of this video and yet as a whole--they attain profundity. We're in a practice space, with walls draped in posters and paraphernalia, pictures and rememberances, with four players fit in a 15"-by-15" room cluttered with pedal boards and amps and drums and mics, while we occasionally go for a go-pro ride at the top of their fretboards. We see set lists and flyers from past shows; eventually a sense of their camaraderie just starts to sparkle in the glimpses of their expressions--that sense of the road these guys have traveled together...

...And then we get a montage of intimate footage of previous performances, adventures from tours, shots of bands they've shared stages with...We see the mundane, the silly, the spectacular, we see the green rooms and we see the crowds mingling, we see soundchecks and quickie-mart runs and we see the Uhaul getting stuck in a bog of Michigan snow. And then we hear those lyrics...

...No one's in line for the opening act // Hello! We're HERE! We're the opening act!...

Now when you're in the middle of a sleek and shreddy rock song like this, building the tension on the hi-hats before coming back down on the snares and toms, charging the bass through the bridge while the psychedelically-wa-wa'ed gutiar glides out that sweet solo and the chorus kicks back in...when you are in the middle of THAT......then rock music and the experience of the band's glory is at its zenith.

And Sleepology's new song, to me, is about finding a kind of zen-balance of appreciating every single moment beyond just the narrow hour-glass-sized fleeting four minutes of a song's intensity and experiencing and enjoying every step of the journey, from playing outside of a basement, to playing in front of an audience, to loadig up the shitty cars to go play a song in some backyard... "I never thought we'd get that far..." And yet, a band can keep going farther....

I wanna see Sleepology go farther. And farther. We all get discouraged or disenchanted with our pursuits, but it's because our perspectives might be off, or our motives might be confused. This band, this song, helps me see the light of it again... All of it, the bad, the weird, the fun, it's all part of the experience.

Sleepology is Ryan Miloch, Eddie Lee, James Zimmer, and Jordan Monni.

Recorded at SchwonkSoundStead - Port Huron, MIVideo By MilochMediaLab

Monday, August 6, 2018

Interview with Author/Musician Ari Herstand: How To Make It In The New Music Business

Interview previously published in Ann Arbor's The Current

When Ari Herstand was studying music business in college back in 2005 he quickly realized his professors were “basically teaching a history lesson.” Because since then, the way the music industry works has fundamentally changed, so much so that Herstand looks back at that year as being a paradigm shift, from “the old music business to the new.”
Herstand is an author, actor and blogger who grew up in Minnesota but is now based in L.A. When he got out of business school, he was already seeing enough seismic shifts to the uphill struggles of independent musicians that he was motivated to start an online advice column in 2012. His informative posts helped his fellow musicians find practical ways to make a living in a new industry, as “the digital revolution” rendered the old ways obsolete. No longer could aspiring singer/songwriters hang their naïve hopes upon the ever-elusive record label contract. That’s why his blog, “Ari’s Take,” started tackling answers and providing advice about more modern obstacles that have emerged for DIY music makers over the last decade. That blog would evolve into his first published book, How to Make It in the New Music Business.
The Ann Arbor District Library circulates a copy of this book, if you’d like to check it out! OR, if you are closer to the Dexter Library, you can interloan Herstand’s book from the Ferndale Library‘s new Artist Advancement Collection. You can also find it at Literati.
“I remember leaving school and discovering that nothing I’d been taught was really applicable anymore to actually run a music career,” Herstand recalls. That’s because platforms like YouTube and Myspace began to change all the rules from 2006 onward. Herstand, nevertheless, still recorded his own album and started to tour around that time, but encountered the same frustrations as every musician who wonders how to get to the next level.
“I just started doing everything the hard way,” recalls Herstand. He went out on the road, developed a sturdy fan base, and eventually started selling out venues on national tours, and getting his songs placed onto TV and film soundtracks. Meanwhile, his savvy for the business side of things flourished each year as he cultivated more followers for his blog. That led to Herstand becoming a contributing writer for various digital music news websites, putting him in contact with hundreds of professionals and fellow artists who would subsequently become helpful interview subjects deepening his research for the book.
“Musicians were coming to me in recent years telling me they’d read all of the articles on Ari’s Take, but that they still couldn’t connect the dots,” said Herstand. He recalls one musician asking him online: ‘What books are out there that can walk me through this, step-by-step?’ “…and, I felt like I needed to write this! There really wasn’t any other independent musician out there that had been sharing like this, sharing information like this on a regular basis on a mass-scale format. I fell into that role. And the book was just my duty to continue it.”
Herstand acknowledges that there are other published sources of information and advice, particularly from legal professionals. But what sets his book apart is a nuanced empathy in its presentation. “I’m in it! I’m on the ground, on the front lines. All my friends are musicians! I know how challenging it is to write a bio, or to write your own press release, or take good promotional photos, or make a press-kit. I know the struggles and the blocks that so many musicians come up against.”
Herstand’s book is meticulously detailed, but never gets bogged down. His writing style is almost conversational—as though he was catching you up on all these tips and tricks over a beer after a show. He goes beyond press kits to areas of budgeting and etiquette, social media maintenance and communication skills, crowd interaction and, most important of all, the vast range of options.
“I really believe that anyone can have a career in the music industry if they put in the effort. It’s not about attaining super stardom. There are enough fans and enough money to go around for every musician to have a successful, money-making career, on various scales. It absolutely can happen—but you have to be smart about it and you have to put in the work.”
Herstand’s book was published in late 2016 and is now a centerpiece to the Ferndale Area District Library’s new “Artist Advancement” collection, for creatives of any medium who are resolved not to just sit around and wait for something to happen in their careers. The L.A.-based author/actor/blogger was in Detroit recently, and signed the Ferndale Library’s circulating copy of How To Make It.
Herstand’s book is a page-by-page breakdown of not just how to “put in the work,” so to speak, but where to put in the work. “It can be a reeducation for a lot of musicians,” said Herstand, who has also taken on freelance consultancy to those looking for career advice. “But what it comes down to is every musician has different goals. Most artists, by and large, just want to have a career doing something they love. They don’t care to be famous, they just want to make a living, and that’s who I’m concerned with… If someone wants to ask me: ‘How do you become famous?’ I’m not for you. I’m here to teach (musicians) how they can have a career.”
Written from the perspective of a working musician, How To Make It In The New Music Business is also designed to avoid bands from breaking up before their time. “Some of my favorite bands have gotten to a crossroads, where they just can’t figure out how to make it work, and they break up. I don’t want to see that happen to talented artists. I believe that if you have the talent, the drive, the passion, the dedication, then (the book) can show you how to make it work. But talent is not enough.”
Herstand said he’s gotten some push back when he suggests that “…luck has nothing to do with it…,” when it comes to a music career…. But, when a reader runs through How To Make It, they can see that it’s really about preparation. “Luck is merely when that preparation meets opportunity. It’s about maximizing opportunities—and being prepared for when they arrive.”