1.04.11 / Hellmouth
9.08.10 / Dally in the Alley
8.18.10 / Fred Thomas
7.21.10 / The Suicide Machines
7.21.10 / Daniel Ambrose
7.14.10 / Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
6.23.10 / Meat Puppets
6.23.10 / Melvins
6.23.10 / Andrew Davis
6.08.10 / The New Pornographers
6.08.10 / The Dutchess and the Duke
10.23.07 / Ween
6.05.07 / Bell’s Brewery
2.14.07 / Craigslist
1.24.07 / The Millionaire
1.10.07 / Smart
12.23.06 / Bedford Drive
12.23.06 / Unwritten Law
12.06.06 / The Lemonheads
12.06.06 / Jeremy Enigk
11.29.06 / Anathallo and Page France
11.15.06 / Jason Anderson
Hellmouth / Metal/Hardcore Artist of the Year
“Hellmouth’s hard to do,” says vocalist Jay Navarro. “It’s hard to do it and walk away in one piece.” On Gravestone Skylines, one of the year’s most abrasive and invigorating socio-political statements, the rhythms are pummeling, the guitars are monumental, the songwriting was largely a collaborative effort and the whole thing seemed to come together on its own at the very last minute. “Justin (Malek, drums) stepped it up beyond belief. He breathed a ton of life into the songs,” Navarro concedes.
“We tried melding all these different types of genres into our music… and we played with all these different types of bands and genres, and really tried bringing other bands to meet other bands and go hey, you know what? So what if I’m in a punk band. I’m gonna totally go play with this rock ‘n’ roll band, and a stoner rock band, or this metal band, or this pop-punk band, or a ska band… all the bands should be playing together.
“I think that’s what we set out to do with Hellmouth… reintroduce people to the idea of everyone not being so segregated in their own little social clique scene… put people in touch with each other. I think they’re starting to move on their own,” he says. “There’s no boundaries or borders or walls to cross with Hellmouth.”
I asked Navarro how he would describe Hellmouth to somebody’s grandmother. “It’s where everything bad in the world, as far as anything you can possibly think of gets sucked into Hell, and there’s monsters there that are waiting to fuck you up the ass, do whatever it is you do not want done to you. Fuckin’ torture you. It could be something dumb that you completely and entirely hate is going to happen to you. For eternity. I don’t even believe in Hell but… if I were to imagine what Hellmouth really is, I would say Hellmouth is that hole.
“And thinking about the plight of Detroit, thinking about what Detroit has turned into,” he ruminates, “if you were to ask me what Detroit sounds like, it sounds like Hellmouth.”
City Beat / Dally in the Alley: Celebrating Detroit’s Salvation
Detroit’s Dally in the Alley street festival, a project of the North Cass Community Union, began as a block fair in 1977 to fight against the removal of historic buildings at Forest and Second Avenue. Its purpose has since evolved into the restoration of The Dodge brothers’ original neighborhood garage (likely where the first Dodge automobile was built; its bricks were pilfered in 1989) and the installment of a community garden park. Other funds are diverted toward music scholarships for local children and the legal battle against Detroit’s trash incinerator. Over the last 33 years it has grown to encompass the Second Avenue block between Forest and Hancock and includes dozens of vendors (all local wares, nothing mass-produced), a sampling of Detroit’s finest restaurants and three stages of music.
Dally showcases a diversity of musicianship. This Saturday’s lineup includes local indie acts Legendary Creatures, Pink Lightning, Cetan Clawson, Fur, Moon Pool & Dead Band, The Summer Pledge and Tone & Niche, plus some solid hip-hop performers such as The Regiment and Lady Te. The kids’ fair, taking place between noon and 5pm will include a children’s march led by the Detroit Party Marching Band.
This year’s co-chairpersons Shayne and Cass each have vested interests in the neighborhood. Shayne, a resident of Woodbridge, first assisted in 2007 by picking up trash, and Cass believes she’s been to every single Dally in her 27 years. “We used to live in this neighborhood when I was a baby,” she states. “It’s a totally different festival but it’s definitely grown in a good way.”
Beyond a core of less than ten organizers, Dally in the Alley relies heavily on volunteers. “We have good people this year… everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing and it’s making it super easy,” remarks Cass. “A lot of it depends on established relationships—people we’ve worked with for a long time who will continuously be there to help.”
“A lot of people just step forward,” Shayne points out. “The guy that does the electricity is the guy that does the electricity everywhere. We get the beer from the people who make the good stuff right around the corner (Motor City Brewing Works). I feel like that’s kind of how it runs itself, because you pass each other in the street and it’s like, oh hey, do you want to do this? Yes. Or… you just make a phone call. Are you still alive? Yes—I’ll be there.”
Aside from hand-to-hand flyering, advertising is mostly unnecessary. Rarely will you find an ad in the local press, and most Dally posters are printed as collector’s items and don’t end up being hung for promotion. At this point, the festival’s organizers are simply responding to the people’s expectations. “If no one organized it, 10,000 people would show up in the alley the weekend after Labor Day, and just be like, hey, where’s the beer and the bands?” Cass claims.
“We really work hard at making sure that we’re a non-corporate festival,” she stresses. “In fact I’ve been fighting it off in email.” This fervent refusal of corporate dollars has been in place since the festival’s beginning.
“You can’t have a corporate sponsored community,” says Shayne. “Lots of community-based type shit has to rely on corporate sponsored money. What’s the point? It’s not a grass-roots movement if… you rely on the top. I mean, maybe you get what you want out of it, but…”
“You gotta keep the critters off the Dally,” he emphasizes. “It’s like a good swimming hole. You can’t tell everybody about it otherwise you can’t swim there anymore.”
33rd annual Dally in the Alley street fair • 9/11 (rain date 9/12), noon-11pm • Second Avenue between Forest and Hancock • free, all ages • dallyinthealley.com
photo by Cass Hidgen
DIY Detroit / Home Recording with Fred Thomas
Longstanding indie stalwart Fred Thomas (of the lo-fi, genre-bending City Center and elemental pop collective Saturday Looks Good to Me, proprietor of Ypsilanti Records, occasional extensive workhorse with His Name is Alive, Nomo and more) has a history of making music that runs deeper than most in this town. Recently transplanting himself from Ypsilanti to Brooklyn and back again, Thomas has primarily been focusing his attention at the national level, after SLGTM’s critically acclaimed All Your Summer Songs (Polyvinyl, 2003), Fill Up the Room (K, 2007), and his 2008 solo release Flood (Magic Marker/Leroy Street). Michigan is where Thomas’s roots remain firmly planted, if not always by his physical presence, by the impression left behind as an inspiration to Detroit’s pivotal DIY movement.
“I started recording really young, in the same way a lot of people start out—graduating from boom box to four-track and eventually to other means. At this point I’ve lost count of all the records I’ve worked on, but it’s probably at least in the dozens or so? I feel like recording is a pretty deeply embedded part of my life at this point, and something I’m usually doing or getting ready to do.”
Most of the techniques that Thomas has employed in the releases he’s been involved with are the result of years of experimentation and ingenuity. “I’m a big fan of integrating lots of different setups at once… or employing really conflicting means of capturing sound,” says Thomas. “I spent maybe 12 or 13 years working solely with various busted cassette four-tracks…. I learned a myriad of cool tricks to make a four-track recording sound really otherworldly and intricate.”
“The huge advantage is that recording your own music means it’s completely on your terms and you answer to no one, pay no one, think about no outside influence. I appreciate and respect recording studios and all the endless hard work it takes to launch and maintain one, but from an artist’s standpoint, it can be really difficult to keep the mission of your art in mind in an environment where you’re so on the clock. It’s expensive to record with someone else, and I’ve definitely made some shitty music as a result of hastily trying to save some money in a studio. Also, the environment is inherently foreign, no matter how comfortable. Recording at home or in a place of your own making means that it’s all you and your personality can shine.”
But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Home recording has plenty of shortcomings. “The main drawback is the same thing as the main advantage—it’s all on you. You may not know as much about making a recording sound great as someone who’s worked professionally in a studio for years, and sometimes that outside set of ears can really be essential in terms of perspective. Also, I know a bunch of motherfuckers out there with half-finished records that they’re just chipping away on in their spare time, or reworking for years until it’s ‘perfect’.”
Thomas plans to stay busy throughout the rest of the year. “I’ve been hyper productive with recording stuff right now for my new label Life Like. I’ve been doing lots of tapes and working towards a few limited-run LPs and whatnot for more experimental and noise stuff like Billowing, Strangebrew, Child, Patient to Patient and lots of other basement/attic jammers.” Both of his current bands, City Center & Swimsuit plan on “finishing full-length records and playing some shows, having fun and enjoying the natural world,” as the natural world eagerly awaits the fruits of Thomas’s homespun efforts.
Swimsuit w/ Procedure Club & Winter Ruby 8/30, 9 p.m. • The CAID • 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit • thecaid.org • all ages
photos by Sarah Cass
The Suicide Machines / Wanna Say So Long
Since disbanding in ’06, members of the Suicide Machines have each moved on to different projects and different lives, yet vocalist Jay Navarro (currently of Hellmouth) admits he’s not entirely prepared to hang it up for good. “Hellmouth’s the fuckin’ pissed off dark side of me, and the Suicide Machines is the happy, ‘let everything loose and have a fun time’ side of me,” says Navarro. “I need that balance… It’s good to do something fun and carefree.”
The not-quite-reunited group performed pair of low-key benefit shows last year at the Trumbullplex and the Old Miami. “You really had to be in the know to come to those shows last year,” says Navarro. “[They] brought out the true believers within the Michigan area.” This Saturday, the current lineup (with Ryan Vandeberghe, Rich Tschirhart and Justin Malek) will bring a set of classic and definitive Detroit hardcore ska-punk to St. Andrew’s Hall. “We wanted to do a show for the people who aren’t really in tune… that’s what this one is—your last chance to dance. You’re not going to see us on the Warped Tour or anything like that.”
“The Suicide Machines was heading down a road to where it was just becoming this dark, bummed out entity, and it never should have… I wish Dan (Lukacinsky, guitarist) could be here from Japan to enjoy it and do it with us, to be honest. I know we had a falling out but I would still do it with him regardless.”
The Suicide Machines w/ Wreak Havoc!, We Are the Union, The Bill Bondsmen and The Code • 6/24, 6:30 p.m. • St. Andrew’s Hall • 431 E. Congress, Detroit • 313.961.MELT• $10
City Beat / Busted?! Beating the Rap with Defense Attorney Daniel Ambrose
“Most people think that being a lawyer is such a big, rich job,” but in reality, says local attorney Daniel Ambrose, “it’s long hours, low pay, and a lot of pressure.”
Ambrose and the attorneys on his staff specialize in criminal, family and bankruptcy law and regularly attend trial defense training courses around the country. While not all cases end up going to trial, he feels that he and his firm are always prepared for when they do. “We’re all at the office late working on the cross examination as a group… trying to get the best piece of persuasion that we can.” Sometimes his attorneys will assume different positions to best try and predict a variety of outcomes, which Ambrose claims is at least partially key to their success. “I’ve got all these attorneys working with me now, and they’re developing what took me, skills-wise, 14 years to get.”
Ambrose stresses the importance of having a good trial lawyer with the proper experience in developing a strong defense. To him, trial defense is about saving lives. “I cannot live with the blood of an innocent man on my hands unless I know I did everything I could to prevent it. If I still wasn’t successful, I’d have to live with my own personal shortcomings… that’s why we constantly train every week—even when we don’t have trials—because we have to get ready. There’s always these battles.”
Recently, Ambrose and his associates have coordinated with local advocate Stacey Chamberlin to produce the booklet Street Smart Law, intended on dispelling myths and spreading information regarding topics ranging from drunk driving, narcotics possession, personal injury, business law and contracts. “There’s just so many things that people don’t know that can hurt them,” says Ambrose.
“No matter how many cases we try, no matter what success we have, we keep striving for perfection… which is a lifelong journey. If a person’s accused of a crime, and they’re innocent, I know for a fact that there is nobody better than us to be by their side, because we will take the time to listen to the story, to figure out the truth of the story and communicate the truth to a jury so that no matter what odds they’re facing, the strong likelihood is that they will prevail, because the truth, I believe, if it can be revealed, will prevail in the courtroom.”
Contact Ambrose Law Group at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or ambroselawgroup.com
The following information is derived from issue #2 of Street Smart Law and may be useful in a pinch.
• We all know the legal limit—.08%. Our bodies process alcohol at roughly .015% per hour. The issue contains a chart that will help calculate when you’re safe to drive, depending on weight. According to it, a 120 pound woman who consumes 4 drinks in 2 hours will likely blow a .095%, while a 180 pound male who consumes 5 drinks in 2 hours will blow around a .075%.
• When in doubt, take the breathalyzer. Breath tests are easier to defend than blood tests as their results are not admissible in court, plus refusing a breathalyzer at the station automatically results in loss of a license for one year. Ambrose offers to loan breathalyzers to party hosts for peace of mind. Contact Stacey@streetsmartlaw.com for inquiry.
• The legal limit for operating a boat or jet-ski is .10%. While many of the penalties for first-time offenses are similar (6-18 months probation, 20-50 hours community service, counseling and fines), convictions will not lead to restrictions or suspension of a driver’s license.
• Always remember—you have the right to remain silent!
For more tips and info visit streetsmartlaw.com
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti / Enters the Digital Age
Recently a self-described “chillwave” movement has crept up through the cracks in the art-house floor, and many lo- and no-fi experimental pop artists began to cite Ariel Rosenberg’s years of weird work as a major influencing factor. More than ten years of songwriting, home recording and self-releasing cassettes and CD-Rs has authenticated Rosenberg as a type of anti-hero of outsider bedroom pop.
In 2004, Animal Collective released The Doldrums via their upstart Paw Tracks imprint, an album Rosenberg recorded at home in 1999 and credited as #2 of his Haunted Graffiti series. Reissues of Worn Copy and House Arrest (#8 and #5 of the series, respectively) followed over the next two years, while dozens more Ariel Pink releases were attributed to various independent labels. Rosenberg eventually caught the eye of London’s 4AD, and along with a spattering of musicians from an assortment of other bands which comprised an incarnation of his live show, entered into a “real” recording studio to make something of his body of work.
What Rosenberg calls his first album is more appropriately a best-of collection spanning his musical career. “There was a fair amount of sourcing from all sorts of places,” says Rosenberg. “Some of the songs weren’t even mine; some of the songs were recorded years ago [with] just me playing all of the instruments in demo form. And then we had a few songs that were just kind of built from the ground up in the studio—a fair mixed bag of all aspects of music. Some of it was improvised, some of it was planned… there’s no focus, really.”
Sifted through scraps of dozens of straight-to-boombox releases, sparse elements of brilliance present in Rosenberg’s collected works were given the full-band shimmer and studio shine, and Before Today emerged as one of the most innovative records of the year. “What I’m used to is not having any material, not having any know-how and just working from the ground up without knowing what I’m doing. In that sense, I was doing the same thing.”
Before Today is an odd collection of musical textures, many hardly utilized since the days of the Reagan administration. Out of two years of working with bands and producers came a tasteful and refined blend of 60s psychedelia, freak-disco and 80s pop. “I was kind of in unfamiliar waters with digital,” says Rosenberg. “A lot of things were out of my control. There were plenty of things about the record that I would change already. I’m never always 100% happy with anything, but that’s just the nature of the beast. I’ll try harder next time, I guess.”
“It was kind of daunting to jump head-first into songwriting with everybody. It can’t be a democratic process exactly. It was kind of a trial thing, and I think now we’re on better footing.” Rosenberg doesn’t know what the future will hold for Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti now that they’ve established themselves as a band, which consists of Rosenberg, Kenny Gilmore, Cole M. Greif-Neill and Aaron Sperske (of Beachwood Sparks and Lilys). He remains open to the idea of bigger and better things and continued collaborative work. “It might be better for the band to just kind of take direction from me, or other people’s songs might be showcased into the fore, or it could be a product of everybody collaborating. It could go any way at any time. I really appreciate having everybody that I do staying on the trip with me, because that means that they’re there because they want to be there—and that’s kind of key to the whole thing.”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti w/Magic Kids and Puro Instinct •7/21, 8 p.m. • The Pike Room • 1 South Saginaw, Pontiac • 248.858.9333 • thecrofoot.com • $10
Meat Puppets / Uphill from Here
Arizona’s Meat Puppets spent the 1980s releasing a string of records on indie punk label SST while developing their sound into a brazen blend of punk and psychedelic rock with alt-country leanings, often described as “desert rock” or “cowpunk.” The band received a well-deserved bump in 1993 when brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood were invited to perform a trio of songs from 1984’s Meat Puppets II alongside Nirvana as part of their illustrious MTV Unplugged performance, empowering their eighth release, 1994’s Too High to Die and its single “Blackwater” to achieve moderate alternative radio success. Shortly after, the brothers suffered a string of setbacks that would result in a near-decade without contact. RDW recently spoke with bassist Cris Kirkwood about the tribulations of his life and what his experiences have taught him about “the resiliency of the human spirit.”
“I made it so that Curt could no longer play with me.” The Kirkwoods are not ones to shy away from the influence drugs had on their earlier career, but the propensity toward abuse long consumed Cris’s life. “I became somebody that couldn’t do what we did.”
During the years following 1995’s No Joke!, Cris lived in a secluded world diluted by perpetual devastation. After a lengthy period of isolation inside their Tempe home, Cris’s wife died of a drug overdose in 1998. Years of ongoing cocaine and heroin addiction followed until a fateful day in 2003 when a scuffle in a post office parking lot ended with Cris in the hospital, shot in the belly by a security guard. He spent the next eighteen months in jail. “You can definitely go back and pinpoint specific points where you go, well, I could have taken a divergent path there, but, you know, I didn’t.”
Even with his brother out of the equation, guitarist and songwriter Curt kept working at a steady pace, releasing 2000’s Golden Lies with an all new lineup, followed by a release with Eyes Adrift (with Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic and Sublime’s Bud Gaugh) and a 2005 solo album. “Curt’s a hard working guy with a vision, but he fuckin’ let his half-wit brother come into the mix and spoil his chances at… I don’t know what.”
Cris has been clean since his release in 2005. “The fact that I’m able to play music and talk to you is just fuckin’ miraculous considering how seriously low-down I got. It just rewired my reality to have my wife die. It took a fucking pointless, an avoidable… a death brought on by your own fuckin’ stupid behavior. Jesus Christ, that’s a fuckin’ hard pill to swallow.” After twelve years, the rehabilitated and reunited Kirkwoods released Rise from Your Knees in 2007 and have been working together ever since.
These days, Cris remains in good spirits, and as a self-described “big picture kind of guy,” he recognizes the magnitude of hardships that humanity has faced and considers his experiences to be negligible in scope. Overall he’s proud of the niche that he and his brother have been able to carve out for themselves. “It’s a really neat framework within which to examine one’s life… it’s definitely been like a cool little petri dish, what you can do with your world, and that’s what we did with ours. It’s trippy.”
The band released Sewn Together in 2009, and along with drummer Shandon Sahm already has a new album in the works. “I’m just very pleased with the degree that music has come back into my life. It was always there in a way. I’m really having a fuckin’ good time with music these days.”
The Meat Puppets w/Dirty Filthy Mugs • 6/25, 9 p.m. • The Blind Pig • 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor • 734.996.8555 • blindpigmusic.com • $15
photo by Jaime Butler
Melvins / Kingmakers
Saying that the 1990s Seattle scene might not have happened if not for the Melvins is probably an understatement, as it was frontman Buzz Osborne that once denied a young Kurt Cobain a spot in his band and later introduced him to a promising drummer named Dave Grohl. From the early 1980s, the Melvins’ fusion of metal and punk helped give birth to a scene that would inspire an entire generation of misfit musicians. After relocating to San Francisco, the band slid into Atlantic Records upon the runaway success of the grunge fad and released a pair of powerhouse records, 1993’s Houdini and 1994’s Stoner Witch, and were treated with a certain dignity virtually unknown in the world of the majors.
“We didn’t really do anything that we wouldn’t have done anyway on Atlantic,” Osborne told RDW. “I mean, we never let them tell us what to do or any of that bullshit… I guess the only thing that’s really changed is we don’t get as big of a recording budget. That’s for sure.”
Since 1999, the band has released a number of records through Mike Patton’s infamous Ipecac Recordings and has joined up with Jello Biafra for a pair of collaborative releases through his own Alternative Tentacles. Osborne also performs alongside Patton in the experimental avant-garde metal supergroup Fantômas.
“I’m a lot better at it than I used to be, that’s for sure,” says Osborne. “I tend to have a better idea of what I want to do sometimes. I think we’re all better players, better singers, everything.”
Along with their most recent release, The Bride Screamed Murder, the band heads into Detroit on the steam of a self-released boxed set which comprises thirteen of their recent and lesser-known works. “They’re very hyper-limited… They’re all handmade by me and my wife. It’s all handmade on a letterpress press from the 1800s… It’s a very special item. It came out great.”
Osborne remains realistic about how a typical audience may perceive them. “If they’re completely unfamiliar with our work, they may not like it, cos we’re not bright squeaky pop tunes, or some by-the-numbers type of band. But if they’re at all open minded in any way they should have a good time and appreciate the kinds of things that we’re doing. But we’re not a run-of-the-mill, everyday type of thing and I understand that. It’s not for everybody. It’s just not.”
Melvins (special 2 set show) w/ Totimoshi • 6/24, 8 p.m. • Small’s • 10339 Conant, Hamtramck • 313.873.1117 • smallsbardetroit.com • $15 adv. • all ages
DIY Detroit / Throwing the Show with Andrew Davis
The “Do-It-Yourself” ethos has never been stronger than it is today in Detroit’s independent music scene. Responding to the tribulations of the music industry, performers appearing in recent years have begun to rewrite or completely abandon the rules of playing shows more now than ever before. RDW recently met up with Andrew Davis, sampler-operator of the Summer Pledge, drummer of Legendary Creatures, curator/sound engineer of the popular monthly Cass Collective concert series at Cass Cafe and co-host of recent monthly showings at the Post Bar (Ferndale) to discuss what it’s like to bring the show to the people.
“Maybe around the mid 90s, things shifted with record labels and nobody knew what to do anymore, so DIY became part of this terminology. A lot of people still don’t know what that means—it’s when you do things on your own steam. I think there’s a lot of beauty in the idea.” The spirit of DIY offers bands an opportunity to discover audiences that may be otherwise inaccessible while highlighting the genius of Detroit at its greatest potential. “I really don’t want to rely on other people to do stuff for me. It’s a lot of work, it stresses you out, but it’s on your back. Nothing moves if you don’t move, so you gotta keep moving. I don’t know. I love it.”
In addition to bringing shows to bars or restaurants that aren’t typically equipped with a stage and PA, bands often abandon this strategy altogether and seek out other types of places to perform, such as art galleries, warehouse lofts and movie theatres. Local folk-punk troubadours Noman have fashioned themselves a makeshift living/rehearsal space in Woodbridge called the Shack and regularly host shows for both local and national acts. Upstarts Macrame Tiger have transformed the bottom floors of an abandoned Detroit high-rise into a venue/rehearsal space/art gallery they call Sparklewood, and have recently coordinated their efforts with local DIY party-bringers Deastro and Haute to Death. Many of the events that occur at these types of places are free from the constraints of the typical showspace: admission is often free (or cheap) and all ages (and even pets) are almost always welcome.
“You have control, and if you’re motivated enough to do cool things with that control, I think a lot of really good things can come from it. Also, it seems to provide a better opportunity to meet people, and that’s the bottom line I think. All this isn’t really about the money, cos there isn’t any really involved, or the glory… nobody’s getting huge or anything, that’s kinda not the point. You get to meet so many interesting people and find a lot of other people are doing things on a similar level, whether it’s just with their band and trying to book their own shows and their own tours, put out their own records, other little labels creeping up… there’s kind of this simmering family-like network that’s the metro Detroit underground. You couldn’t put a name to it, it’s not like it has that consciousness, but it is a reality.”
Many of Detroit’s most treasured venues began with a similar mentality—a big idea and a lot of hard work. There is no formula for success when flying by your own rules. The magic is in the discoveries, the connections made, the favors traded, the welcoming free flow of ideas and the spirit of cooperation. “Everybody’s welcome to play. What do I want to get out of it?” asks Davis. “Just for it to keep going, really.”
The Cause, Dedzkinz, Eleanora & House Phone • 6/17, 7pm • The Post Bar • 22828 Woodward, Ferndale • postbars.com • free // Cass Collective XXXI: Noman, The State Lottery & more TBA • 6/27 • Cass Cafe • 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit • casscafe.com • free
The New Pornographers / Put-Put-Put Their Heads Together
Following up on 2007’s largely lackluster Challengers, The New Pornographers’ fifth release Together (Matador) continues in the tradition of the anthemic, stadium-ready, up-tempo power-chord pop that defined the Canadian supergroup’s sound with their exceptional 2000 debut Mass Romantic and 2005’s epochal Twin Cinema. Spearhead Carl (A.C.) Newman, who last year released his second solo album Get Guilty, co-fronts the band alongside songwriters Dan Bejar (Destroyer, Swan Lake) and Neko Case. Vocalist/keyboardist Kathryn Calder checked in with RDW from a restaurant in Toulouse, France over tater tots and “massive carafes of wine” to tell a little about what it’s like to be a New Pornographer.
“Carl’s in charge of course—he’s the mastermind behind it.” Together continues to highlight the band’s collaborative spirit and includes further implementation of Case’s authoritative delivery and Bejar’s elvish wail, and even allows some room for Calder (whose debut album is set to be released in August) to take the occasional lead. String arrangements accentuate many of the album’s catchiest melodies, but when The New Pornographers truly shine is when their efforts intertwine. “It’s always been a group effort,” Calder writes, “we all add our own parts and contribute.”
“Both Dan and Carl are very prolific writers. For Dan’s songs, how it usually goes is Dan will give some songs in demo form to Carl and then Carl chooses ones that he thinks would most translate into New Pornographers’ songs. As for Carl, he’s constantly writing and listening to music and getting ideas. He was still writing parts to songs and rewriting lyrics right up until the final days of mixing for Together. One day a song will have one main melody, and the next day he’s decided to change it to something completely different. That’s just how he works.”
At the heart of it, Together is as impressive and clear-cut as any New Pornographers record and sounds like little else. The band has effectively settled into their terrain and rarely branches out unless to reach for layers that best emphasize the elements that comprise their sound (contributors on this release include members of Beirut, St. Vincent, Okkervil River, and the Dap-Kings). Summing up their first decade of releasing music, Together does contain a few misses, but overall is a further strengthening of their musical convictions, giving credence to their earned status as one of the heavyweight champs of indie rock while showing little signs of the weariness that typically comes with age.
The New Pornographers w/ The Dodos & The Dutchess and the Duke • 6/14, 7 p.m. • The Crofoot Ballroom • 1 South Saginaw, Pontiac • 248.858.9333 • thecrofoot.com • $25
The Dutchess and the Duke / Natural Aristocrats
Honest and simple songs, traditional progressions, a pair of voices and a pair of guitars comprise Seattle’s The Dutchess and the Duke. Duo Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison’s sophomore effort Sunset / Sunrise (Hardly Art), recorded by Greg Ashley (The Gris Gris) at The Creamery in Oakland, California continues to meet with critical acclaim, and the band returns to Michigan on Monday with a new-found clout.
“It was nice to record out of town because we were able to spend all day working on it and didn’t have the usual distractions we would have had at home,” Morrison wrote from the Netherlands. Sunset/Sunrise builds on but rarely strays from the simplicity of their 2008 debut, She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke. Minimalistic, heavily echo-chambered drums and tambourines accompany Lortz’s somber and sincere blues-laden garage-folk while an air of confidence pervades every track. “Writing this record was easy,” claims Lortz. “Living with the consequences is the hard part.”
This time around, they’ll be bringing along Oscar Michel (also of The Gris Gris) on percussion. “We like to trick our friends into playing with us so we can travel around getting drunk with them,” wrote Morrison. “Mostly, we’re looking forward to seeing friends in other cities and having adventures.”
The Dutchess and the Duke w/ The New Pornographers and The Dodos • 6/14, 7 p.m. • The Crofoot Ballroom • 1 South Saginaw, Pontiac • 248.858.9333 • thecrofoot.com • $25
Ween / Still Pushin’ Up Daisies
Gene Ween (aka Aaron Freeman) doesn’t have much to say about his band. It’s not that he leads a boring life, that he has any regrets, and it’s probably not that he’s annoyed to have to be talking to me (even though I’m pretty sure I was butting into their soundcheck time, but that’s beside the point). The simple fact is that there really isn’t all that much to say. It’s as if these guys have somehow stunted their growth and have remained 15 for the last 24 years. “It’s been a long time. When it comes down to it, it’s still just sitting with your guitar and writing a song,” Gene says. “Mickey (Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween) and I get together and we’ll just bounce stuff off of each other. At this point, we don’t even really need to speak too much about it.”
While most, if not all, modern pop rock bands are constantly feeling pressure from record labels, fans and the potential to discover the right mix of “influence” to move as many units as possible, Ween has never had any sort of issue with this. They exist on an entirely different spectrum of modern music. They exist solely to fill up some minuscule pocket, some tiny little hole in the universe that is light years away from contemporary pop culture, but somehow this existence is essential for the universe to be complete. Their longevity is truly an inspiration. “It’s pretty much the same as it was when we were 15,” Gene says. “We like to get together, we like to hear ourselves on tape and we like to make a cool song — that’s it. And we still do that. Really, for us, it’s cathartic; it’s something that’s natural. It’s different than with a five piece band. Being that there are only two of us, the relationship has stayed the same,” he says.
Ween is weird. Is it even cool to like them? Here are four really good examples of why it might be:
1. Their biggest hit to date, “Push th’ Little Daisies,” was recorded on a Tascam 4-track, and probably wouldn’t have even done anything if it weren’t for Beavis and Butthead.
2. They were in the movie It’s Pat (which currently has an IMDB user rating of 2.3 out of 10).
3. Lyrics such as “Now you’re up shit’s creek with a turd for a paddle.”
4. Upon Pizza Hut’s six-time rejection of their promotional jingle “Where’d The Cheese Go?” they felt it completely necessary to record an explicit remix titled “Where’d the Motherfuckin’ Cheese Go At?”
Yesterday marked the release of their eleventh album, La Cucaracha, recorded on a budget generated by Internet T-shirt sales without any label support whatsoever. Rounder Records has picked this one up, and although it has little to no reference to pissing up ropes or to either of their dicks waving in the wind, I don’t believe these guys have grown up one bit.
“We’ve both committed to be Ween,” Gene says. “I think [we] want to dominate the world and sort of change the face of culture and music. I think neither of us are going to back out until it’s done. The Ween fucks with everybody.”
Schlemiel! Schlemazl! / A Day at the Bell’s Brewery
When I first heard news of an issue devoted to drinking, I spent a couple of weeks trying to dig up old memories that involved booze, its multitude of consequences, repercussions or injuries sustained. I tried to recall how many times I’ve hugged the toilet at the Magic Stick, puked behind the dumpster at the Lager House, or whenever we’d tread through glass in some Windsor back alley trying to find where we parked the car in that strange and alternate universe at three o’clock in the morning. After days, nay, weeks of racking my brain, I decided to look no further than my own basement to find the ultimate inspiration for my contribution.
My interest was piqued while gathering the returnables. Sure, there were hundreds of empty cans of PBR and High Life, but occasionally I’d come across a random bottle of Oberon (or when I’d pull shit away from the walls, Winter White), Two Hearted Ale, Kalamazoo Stout or Bell’s Lager Beer. I realized where my heart truly lies, remembered those summer days at the Oak Café in Wyandotte where my friends first introduced me to the sometimes fruity, usually hearty, always satisfying and potent pitcher of Michigan’s finest.
I decided I had to make the trek out west, visit the brewery, possibly find some sweet college girls to go wild with. After a hard night of homemade mojitos and Veronica Mars on DVD, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the train out to Kalamazoo. Four hours passed, I was sandwiched between the blur of passing trees and the sounds and smells of the dude next to me constantly blowing his nose and farting. I called my contact, none other than founder Larry Bell himself, who picked me up to give me a tour and the detailed history of Bell’s beer that I had so anxiously been awaiting.
“Well … it was settled in 1829,” he began, after I stated that I had never been to Kalamazoo. A history of the city soon followed. “I’m almost a local,” he laughed, as I peered out the window and observed the upper peninsula-like landscape as we headed out of downtown, toward Comstock, the newest home of Bell’s brewery.
We stepped out of the car and the first thing I noticed was the smell. It was definitely not the type of smell I thought would come from a 32,000 square foot brewery. The smell was good, not the stench of “last night’s house party with dudes still crashed out on the couch in their wifebeaters” that I’d expected to smell. This smell was somewhat citrusey, a bit nutty, anything but stale. The smell continued into the offices, down the main hallway and into the “education room” where I donned my pair of protective goggles before making our way into the guts of the building.
The bulk of it was made up of giant tanks, a multitude of bellies within this massive beast. I wasn’t exactly sure what each of them was used for but I imagined that something truly magical was taking place. He showed me the hops cooler, where over a dozen plastic bins full of what looked like bits of multi-colored rabbit food were kept, and described the use of them in the creation of the many different flavors and types of brews. I inquired as to what made up my favorite, Oberon, to which he replied, “a blend of hops,” in a manner one might have when describing what’s in something someone’s daring you to eat, with a similarly secretive smirk on his face.
“My dad made homemade wine. He was always interested in different alcohols.” During his college years, Larry explains, “I wound up working at a small European style bakery here in town, one of the other bakers one day invited me over to his house for ‘home beer.’ It wasn’t very good beer, but he wasn’t necessarily a very good baker.” Shortly thereafter, he began brewing beer of his own.
Beginning in 1983 with $200 in birthday money, Larry Bell soon started brewing his beer in larger quantities and selling it to the public. “I used $35 to do my own incorporation. I went to an attorney and set up a stock sale … and traded six shares of stock for six months rent to a guy that had an empty building. I used the other $165 for inventory and started a home brewery supply company … and started selling stock to unsuspecting home brewers.”
Larry became acquainted with Paul Todd of Kalamazoo Spice Extraction, “a major player for hops worldwide,” who agreed to invest in the company. “We wound up [raising] … $39,000. Rule of thumb at the time was not to start with less than a quarter of a million. We were basically a legalized home brewery. I had a 15 gallon soup pot on a two ring burner for a brew kettle and I had eight 40 gallon Rubbermaid plastic garbage pails for fermenting … it was very crude, but we learned a lot.”
In 1985, he began selling his beer to the public, “and it wasn’t [yet] in bottles. It was in these things called cubitaners, a one-gallon collapsible bladder in a corrugated box. Nobody would sell me bottles. I had no money and there was nobody selling less than truckload quantities of bottles. There was nobody that would sell me less than three truckloads, with cash in advance … so we had to wash our own bottles. I would sell this really inexpensive beer out of the store … people would bring them back for the deposit and we’d wash them all by hand, sterilize them, fill them, crown them, label them, it was an incredible amount of work.”
The next year, Larry began hitting the road, selling cases of his beer out of the back of his van to bars around the metro Detroit area such as Ye Olde Tap Room, Tom’s Oyster Bar and Union Street.
Twenty years and many expansions later, Bell’s is now Michigan’s oldest and largest brewery and supplies its beer to 13 states. Ninety-five thousand barrels are estimated to be shipped this year, ranking them No. 24 out of 1,400 American brewers. Its unique taste and impressive variety has since become a staple of many Detroit bars, and Larry has plans for further development. “There’s plenty of room for growth here.”
The original Kalamazoo brewing facility now houses Bell’s Eccentric Café, a smoke-free, TV-free bar featuring every flavor known to Detroit and then some. The bar reflects Larry’s eccentric personality, with his collections of world maps and masks on the wall, and the spacious beer garden out back with its trellises draped in hops. My tour ended here, Larry generously providing me with a tall glass of Oberon followed by a sampler platter of six beers of my choice.
It was 2 p.m. when I stumbled out, still disheveled from the night before and feeling less than prepared for going any type of wild with anyone at all on campus. I remember something about a big burrito before I crashed early on my friend’s couch. I was eager to get back home, lay around in a wifebeater and indulge in what ultimately denotes summertime, that first sighting of those sunny, beautiful, orange and blue labels.
Craigslist Love / In Search of that Special Valentine
I was on a quest this year. A quest for love. A quest to find a Valentine on this holiest of holidays. Feeling as if I had exhausted all means of finding potential attachment at bars, shows, work and school, I decided to search not only for my one true soulmate, but also for a free couch to do it on.
I scoured the pages of detroit.craigslist.org (a free site for classified-type ads) for days, through all the sections: Women Seeking Men, Casual Encounters, Miscellaneous Romance, Strictly Platonic, even Missed Connections (you never know!). What I found was that most women were not capable of filling this void that has been left in my life. Many just wanted to give me a blowjob in a motel room, which sounded appealing at first, but what I really wanted was to be treated like a prince on Valentine’s Day. I deserve to be spoiled with flowers, candy, a wonderful candlelit dinner and THEN maybe a blowjob in a motel room. I decided to take matters into my own hands and let the Internet know what I was really searching for.
I falsified my name, my age, my occupation, my income, everything about my looks, my background, the town I live in and did a Google image search to procure the sexiest slice of man-meat I could find to accompany my ad, knowing full well that this is the only way to get ahead in cyberspace and find the honest, true, real love I want and deserve. I went from a full-time student working 22 hours a week to a professional photographer making six figures a year. Within seconds, I had expanded my waist from 29 to 34 inches, instantaneously sprouted a nice set of pecs, the six-pack went from the fridge to the abdomen and all of a sudden I was the king of Craigslist, shirtless and flexing.
I explained in my series of posts that I really didn’t have any problem meeting women, but what I was searching for was someone to be completely honest and open with, to share my life’s experiences with, someone to take on cruises and backpacking trips down the Appalachian Trail. I wanted a woman who was into movies, sports, live music, dancing, books, romance, nature, fancy wine, fancy restaurants, baby kitties and cuddling up by the fireplace.
The responses I received ranged from courteous and caring to downright desperate. I received head-shots, leg-shots, boob-shots (and one crotch-shot); all accompanied by anything from a line to a novelette, with the women describing themselves as openly and honestly as I had described myself. I found at least a dozen women who claimed to be my soulmate. Many agreed to meet for a drink at some bar that I made up in some town that I made up, 40 minutes outside of whatever city’s site I had decided to post on at random. I knew one of these girls had to be The One.
The attention I got from these ads made me feel like a hundred bucks, but something was missing. The satisfaction was not there; I had yet to find that special person who I would like to spark up the night with. With three days left in my search, I posted the following ad — exposing the true me — and waited patiently by my Inbox:
“Nearsighted mediocre freelance writer, little to no income, no car, aspiring couch-potato, looking for someone who will buy me dinner, will do my laundry for me and drive me to work four times a week. I enjoy PBR and Schwarzenegger flicks. Will you be my Valentine?”
To my surprise, the response never arrived. eharmony.com, here I come. Although I did find a free couch — now I just need to find someone to drive me to Wixom to pick it up.
When the Lights Go Down in the City / The World Heavyweight Champion of Karaoke: The Millionaire Matt Welz
Whether it was by some freak nuclear accident or genetic mutation, our own type of superhero has found his way to the streets of Detroit. Mild-mannered special-needs drama teacher by day, karaoke superstar by night, The Millionaire (aka Matt Welz) possesses powers that few of us can ever hope to acquire.
Under a shroud of darkness, I descended the steps to his top-secret underground lair. I had to show my credentials for his assistant to let me in the door; I was early, so I took a seat and waited. The assistant offered me a beverage. Armed with a mobile version of a utility belt, The Millionaire appeared shortly after, presumably from some hidden entrance in the back of the establishment. Later, this lair would be filled with supporters of his cause, and video monitors displaying instructions in varying colors set to hypnotic, perhaps subliminal, images of wolves howling at the moonlight, and of cowboys riding into the sunset. Over the years, this man has become something of a local legend, and my assignment was to dig up some dirt on him, find out where he came from and how he hopes to save our city and clean up our streets, one grimy dive bar at a time.
“I guess it’s never dawned on me at any point in my life as much as I’ve just done it,” The Millionaire claims of when he realized he had the power to entertain. “It’s pretty much just in me all the time. If someone woke me up in the middle of the night and was like, ‘Oh my god, hurry up, you gotta sing this song!’ for whatever reason, I could probably get up and rock it out.”
Growing up in the Welz house, as a younger version (merely a thousandaire), our hero attributes the possible origin of his heightened ability to his older siblings. “I was the youngest of four. I guess my first roots of karaoke were when my sisters would bring their friends over and make me do ‘Roxanne, Roxanne’ by UTFO on the mantle. I was probably eight or so.”
Years later, our hero first tested his abilities on the public, and his powers have been increasing ever since. “My friend Chad and I went up to do ‘Hair of the Dog,’ and I got to yell ‘son of a bitch.’ And like with every other person who’s ever done karaoke, the instant you go up there once, you’re hooked for the rest of your life. It’s worse than crack or heroin. Or sushi.”
The Millionaire now hosts a number of karaoke nights all over town. I inquired as to what someone might expect to see at one of these events as opposed to any other. “To be thoroughly entertained,” he replied, “I’m not a singer. I don’t go up there and sing, I get up there and entertain. All those other places, people aren’t enthused about it. I try to get people enthused about it. All I ask for in a karaoke performance is the tiniest bit of heart. If you use the tiniest bit of heart, how could it not be entertaining? Whether you suck or you’re awesome, it doesn’t matter. If you give it your heart, it means that you’re trying, and that’s what makes it entertaining.”
When asked how much his talents have evolved (much like his DNA strand — far beyond normal human capability) over the years, he replied, “Far less screaming; more singing, more crooning. It’s for the ladies.”
Choosing a life of solitude seems to have worked best for our hero. Some entertainers work well in groups, playing off of each others abilities for the benefit of the greater good. Although he has shared the stage with many bands, opening for Melt Banana and Dalek and having the Amino Acids open up for him, emceeing many events such as this year’s Zombie Dance Party, and performing for “people as far as the eye could see” at this year’s Dally in the Alley, The Millionaire seems to work best on his own. “I figured that if I was in a band, I’d want to control it too much, and who wants one controlling person in a band? … I went straight for the jugular. I went right to the karaoke.”
“Being un-sober helps, but it’s not mandatory,” The Millionaire admits. “There’s a lot you can take from … allowing stuff to just happen. It’s not even having trust in your own ability, it’s just letting your ability do what it does.”
On any given Sunday at Northern Lights Lounge in Detroit, or Tuesday at Gracie’s Underground in Ferndale, The Millionaire can now be found, accompanied by his set of trusty sidekicks (a shot, a beer and a microphone), most likely serenading the citizens of Motown with “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” perfectly snapping along with the drum solo to “Tom Sawyer,” donning his championship belt and giving the world a chance to show off their own — albeit far inferior — talents. When asked about what the future might have in store, he hopes to “probably someday rule the world, in a good way. I’d run for office of Ruler of North America and I would sing everything, rock it out. Really get into it. The music alone would be kissing babies and shaking hands.”
And the origin behind his title? “It’s merely a witty moniker,” he says, “You don’t need a million bucks to live like you have a million bucks.”
Even superheroes have myspace accounts. Visit his at myspace.com/themillionairemattwelz.
The Millionaire’s Twelve Steps to (Karaoke) Success / A Training Regimen
By The Millionaire Matt Welz
1. Don’t think, FEEL! ‘Tis far more important to ENTERTAIN than to sing. Be the song!
2. If you sing in the shower or your car, YOU CAN KARAOKE!
3. It’s always better to pick a song you know.
4. The TV knows the words so you don’t have to.
5. CLAP for everyone! Who doesn’t love support?
6. Check inhibitions at the door, besides who wants to live in FEAR?
7. EVERYBODY has to listen to you when you’re holding the mic.
8. If you lose your place, mumble or Elvis your way back to where you know.
9. If you think you’re going to suck, you will! BE POSITIVE (it’s all in your own head)!!
10. No downtime with the mic, guitar and drum solos are for drinking or skatting.
11. Either sing like nobody’s watching, or like a stadium’s worth of people are hanging on your every word.
12. Release your inner rock star!
City Beat / Smart? Motorless in the Motor City
I get shocked looks whenever I tell someone I don’t own a car. For years, I was heavily dependent on the automobile; usually one to offer up rides anywhere, always down for spontaneous road trips, and I even spent five years in the “transportation business” (OK, pizza delivery). I was filling up my gas tank twice a week and changing the oil every six. My car was my sanctuary, and whatever room or couch I was crashing on, my home away from home. Everything was always 20 minutes away and my backseat was more cluttered than my parents’ attic.
Due to circumstances that were not exactly “beyond my control,” I have been without a car since last summer. At first, like most Michiganders, the thought of life on foot seemed ludicrous. I felt stuck, shipwrecked, lost at sea, abandoned on a desert island, surrounded by sharks, electric eels, poisonous jellyfish, miles of spiked coral lining the coastline and I had somehow lost my shoes along the way. My initial thought: “How the fuck am I going to get to school? To work?”
Over the course of the last six months, I have realized that almost every preconceived notion I had about the Detroit public transportation system was false (with the exception of the People Mover, which is little more than a glorified carnival ride). I have yet to find someplace I’ve wanted to go to that was impossible to get to via the Smart Bus. Sure, it takes an hour to go from Royal Oak to Southfield at noon, but waking up an hour earlier inhibits very little. Being on foot or on bike offers the freedom to slow down, take in the scenery and discover new parts of our beloved city that go unnoticed when you’re speeding down I-96.
Some of the benefits are obvious. You save money; I make less than I’ve ever made and live in a much nicer place than I ever have. I walk from two to six miles a day (sometimes 10, when it’s nice out), and that early 10-block walk to work is infinitely more invigorating than the three cups of coffee I used to require to start the day. And I don’t need to get into the environmental aspects of it all.
Sometimes I do miss those 3 a.m. trips to Taco Bell, midnight trips to Meijer or the bi-monthly cleaning out of the back seat, which usually left me with 15 bucks worth of bottle returns. Getting caught in the rain, a 45-minute wait for a transfer or having to carry around three classes’ worth of textbooks for 10 hours all bum me out, but there’s almost always someplace nearby that I can duck into to warm up or recharge, usually someplace that would have gone undiscovered to my old, oblivious, driver’s seat self.
Public transportation in Detroit obviously isn’t nearly up to the standards set in other major cities, but I already feel like using this system is less of an inconvenience and more of a complete change of lifestyle. I’ve experienced blown out tires on the side of I-75. I’ve endured smoke bellowing from the hood on the side of Telegraph. I once spent over $1,700 on transmission work. Owning a car is becoming lower and lower on my immediate list of priorities as time goes by and as I discover more and more routes.
We live in the Motor City. East Jefferson, Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River and Michigan Ave. and Fort Street are all laid out like spokes of a wheel, signifying what our city stands for and the reason it was built. Unintentionally, I’ve learned to grow more appreciative of my surroundings, whether it’s that coffee shop, used bookstore, organic grocer or dive bar that I’ve never noticed, or whatever’s playing on my iPod while I’m waiting at the stop. Taking the time to slow down, taking a look between the spokes, there’s a lot more this city has to offer off the heavily trafficked path.
1.10.07 / Real Detroit Weekly
Bedford Drive / Everything You Want and More
Born and raised in south Detroit (well, downriver), Bedford Drive has managed to maintain their local credibility for nearly 10 years. Hosting five successful Turkeyfests (an all-day event that has taken place at various halls around the downriver area the day after Thanksgiving), sharing the stage with Motion City Soundtrack, Brazil, Brandston and the Suicide Girls, performing at the State Theater for this year’s 89X Birthday Bash alongside AFI, Dashboard Confessional, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more has led to some recent national exposure and an all new audience of listeners patiently waiting for another record.
2001 saw the release of the hyper-pop The Last Time I Saw The Stars, eight bright, shiny, glittery, Kurt Halsey-ish songs of love, bitterness and playful sarcasm, containing some of the most original and catchy pop melodies Michigan’s heard in years. The officially self-titled Bearsuit EP (2004) showcases a slightly darker, yet even more playful BD, and contains their biggest hit to date, “Four Years Later” (which, as this is being written, has been the 89X People’s Choice champ for more than a week).
After taking notice of them in Alternative Press Magazine’s list of the top 10 best unsigned bands in America (2005), Hot Rod Circuit’s Mike Poorman invited Bedford Drive out to Vermont to record The In-Between, due out in January. This five-song EP shows just how much they have grown and matured over the last six years alongside their loyal fan base, appealing to the adult versions of those who have stuck with them since the beginning. Lead vocalist/guitarist Scott Anger and I met up in their van outside of the Magic Stick to discuss this new record. “One of my friends, John, the guy in the bearsuit, he says it’s the most dynamic and emotionally varied amount of music that you can put into just five songs, which is kind of cool … the whole point of it is to be a taste of what’s to come. We hope that somebody picks up and catches on to what we’re doing and we can actually write more songs, and put out something bigger than a five-song EP.”
“I drive myself crazy, but it’s still fun. If I didn’t have music, I’d probably be insane, or dead, or in jail or something like that. I hate my job, I do love my family, music just takes me away from everything and let’s me do exactly what I want to do. Almost.”
Bedford Drive • December 31 • Hyatt Regency Dearborn
12.23.06 / Real Detroit Weekly
Seein’ Green / Unwritten Law
Sixteen years, six records and five record labels are under the collective belt of San Diego’s Unwritten Law, one of many California punk bands to have reached mainstream success in the late-‘90s. A regular to the Warped Tour lineup, they are one of those bands that are always under the radar, with their songs featured in the background of movies, television shows and video games, and Elva’s “Seein’ Red” reaching No. 1 on the U.S. modern rock chart.
After a few member losses attributed to creative differences, substance problems and on-stage fist-fights, and spending years trying to settle in with various major labels, UL has decided to go their own way. The Hit List, a collection of their best songs spanning their entire career, completely re-recorded and modernized, will be released in January, with a world tour following their stop in Dearborn to ring in the new year. Real Detroit spoke to guitarist Steve Morris, while he was on his way to Los Angeles for band practice, about the new record and the trials and tribulations of major label support.
Real Detroit: Your next record, The Hit List, is a unique approach to a greatest hits collection. What was involved in the recording and planning process, and what made you decide to do it this way?
Steve Morris: We’d done six studio albums, it seemed like the right time to do it. Instead of having to pay all the different record companies, trying to license the songs and getting our shitty ass royalty rate, we just said “fuck you, we’re just going to go back and re-record them all.” That way, we own the masters, we own everything, we don’t have to pay anybody a goddamn cent. We can keep it within the band and the ex-members can get their share too … It was cool to go back and re-do them and make them more current, better sounding, the way we are now.
RD: How has your experience been working with primarily major labels as opposed to indie labels?
SM: Major labels are basically just like a bank. They pay for shit and you gotta pay it back … Now, since we’re not on a label, it’s cool that we can just do it all ourselves, and we can really do whatever the fuck we want, we don’t have to worry about some bureaucracy trying to control things, and tell us what and when, when and where we can’t do certain things. We have total freedom now, which is great.
RD: Do you think being on a major label and on MTV puts more pressure on you as a songwriter than your average independent punk band?
SM: Yeah, probably. But at the end of the day, you really just put the pressure on yourselves to write the best music that you possibly can, regardless of what label you’re on. I think any label, indie or major, are going to put some kind of pressure on you, probably more a major than an indie. I’m sure a lot of indie labels will let bands just put out whatever crap they come up with, whereas a major will be like “well, we don’t hear a fucking single” or whatever. It has it’s ups and downs, that’s for sure.
RD: There’s another greatest hits collection that’s come out recently?
SM: Yeah! Fucking Interscope, they initially came to us with a terrible, terrible offer a fucking monkey wouldn’t sign, to do a greatest hits. We basically told them “thanks, but no thanks” and they got pissed and annoyed with us … so they put out one of their own (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection). But it’s only two records worth of songs, it doesn’t have any of the early stuff or any of the later stuff. It’s a record company being a fucking record company, doing something out of spite just to try to fuck you. It’s not like they’re making millions of dollars off it, there’s no reason for them to do it other than spite. They try to make a better name for themselves and say they’re not corporate, and they go and pull shit like this on people. It’s really pathetic, it makes them look like a bunch of egotistical morons. Fuck ‘em.
Unwritten Law • December 31 • Hyatt Regency Dearborn
12.23.06 / Real Detroit Weekly
Sweet and Sour / The Lemonheads
While most bands from the ‘80s are simply trying to recreate the environment they established in their heyday, putting out flops of albums merely as novelties to try to maintain their credibility as musicians (coming to town to “promote” said record, but really, who are we kidding? The reason the Crüe still plays DTE is because “Kickstart My Heart” still kicks ass, and there’s no better venue to hear those songs than at the arenas they were crafted for) the mid-‘90s were a different story.
Most of the bands that defined the “alternative” sound of the time have been forgotten. Bands like Soul Asylum and Toad the Wet Sprocket had a major impact on what was the industry standard for popular radio rock music, but are now struggling to fill even the smallest of clubs. Some, like The Lemonheads, are carrying on, still putting out credible records after all these years, trying to capture an all new audience while at the same time attempting to re-capture those of us who are now pushing 30. Frontman Evan Dando had some brief answers to some wordy questions, regarding his first new record in nearly 10 years (The Lemonheads, produced by Bill Stevenson of Descendents/ALL/Black Flag, Vagrant Records).
Real Detroit: What have you been up to the last 10 years since Car Button Cloth?
Evan Dando: I made a solo record, Baby I’m Bored, in 2003. I’ve been playing solo acoustic shows all over the world. I went on tour with DKT/MC5 which was fantastic, and I also got married!
RD: How did you get involved with Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez for the recording of your new album?
ED: The first Lemonheads reunion tour was in South America in 2004 and the band All Systems Go, in which Karl was playing bass, opened for us. We got talking and the rest is history. I also saw Bill in Fort Collins on the DKT tour and that was when we decided we were definitely going to do it.
RD: How long has this new album been in the works? Are these primarily older or newer songs?
ED: It took a month and a half over a year and a half to finish the record. All the songs I wrote are new songs. There are two songs by Tom Morgan from about 1991 and 1994, and Bill’s songs are pretty recent.
RD: What can those who haven’t kept up with your career expect to hear when they pick up your new record, or come see you on this tour?
ED: I think they might like it, if they are familiar with the old stuff.
RD: How did you deal with the popularity you achieved in the mid-‘90s with “Mrs. Robinson,” and did having a hit cover song bring in a lot of pressure to try and achieve that same success with an original?
ED: “Mrs. Robinson” was a record company invented catalyst to get our name out there, and it worked, amazingly. As long as I don’t have to play that song again … .
RD: What is your primary interest now, as a professional touring musician re-forming The Lemonheads? Are you more so trying to re-capture the audience you had in the mid-‘90s, or are you more so starting from scratch, with Vagrant, to try to reach a whole new audience?
ED: A bit of both.
RD: What are your plans for the future?
ED: Finish the tour successfully, and then go on a long vacation, tour some more, then make another record!
RD: And I have to ask … do you still have a copy of the People Magazine that named you one of the sexiest men alive? Is it on display?
ED: It sure ain’t on display, but I think I may have a copy somewhere.
The Lemonheads • December 10 • Magic Stick
12.06.06 / Real Detroit Weekly
Second Coming / Jeremy Enigk
Call it what you will, indie, emo, what have you, Sunny Day Real Estate was one of the most important bands of the ‘90s in helping to create an entire subculture of underground music that still influences hundreds of bands.
Frontman Jeremy Enigk has been keeping busy over the years, releasing his solo record, Return of the Frog Queen, in 1996 during a short break from SDRE, and going on to form The Fire Theft after SDRE’s 2001 official breakup.
Now, with The Fire Theft left without a label to call home, Jeremy has finally gotten around to releasing his follow up to Frog Queen, titled World Waits.
Real Detroit: What made you do this second solo record now as opposed to doing another record with The Fire Theft?
Jeremy Enigk: Rykodisc didn’t use their option to do another record with The Fire Theft, so we were free from any label. I (wasn’t) about ready to start hunting for a label with The Fire Theft, and I had two more records to do on Sub Pop … I went to Sub Pop, and they decided not to use the option to have me as well. So basically, in a week or two period, both labels decided that they didn’t really want to exercise another record, and that’s ultimately why I started Lewis Hollow.
RD: Over the years, how has your songwriting process changed or evolved?
JE: I think that I’ve become a little more mature. The more you do something, the better you exercise that creative mind … anything you do, if you do it a lot, you just improve. Also, my lyrics have become more literal. The lyrics I wrote before were really wrapped up in imagery … but these days, I’m a little more blunt and straightforward. That was a discovery I found through not having Dan Hoerner … who was a primary writer as far as lyrics in Sunny Day Real Estate, and not having him there really started to make me focus on my own style again.
RD: Is it easier or more difficult for you now without the help of Dan as a co-lyricist?
JE: It’s a lot easier to come up with a song right away when it’s with two guys, and there’s two minds focusing on one song … when it’s just me, it’s all me, and if I don’t know how to solve a problem, then it takes a lot longer. But it also at times can be more liberating doing it by myself, I end up doing exactly what I want to do.
RD: What was the inspiration behind the title track (“World Waits”)?
JE: It seemed to encompass all the songs … where I was at the time of recording. I was pretty wrapped up in the state of the world … there are all these problems in the world, and I think they all have really simple solutions, but no one’s really doing anything to really change it … what are we waiting for? The world is waiting, and it’s breaking my heart that no one can come together and live in peace … that’s ultimately the inspiration behind the song “World Waits.”
RD: The album opens with “A New Beginning.” What kind of new beginnings for you does this mark?
JE: I feel like I have a second shot at doing my music as I want to do it, as a solo musician … I’ve grown up in many ways, I’ve let go of a lot of the baggage of my past, and, you know, onward and upward.
Jeremy Enigk • December 9 • The Shelter
12.06.06 / Real Detroit Weekly
Windblown World / Anathallo and Page France
The year is almost over, and I’m having a difficult time compiling my year-end top 10 best records list. Out of all the albums that have impressed me this year, two spots on my list, I already know, are reserved for Anathallo’s Floating World and Page France’s Hello, Dear Wind.
Anathallo’s record is a bit challenging to absorb all at once, with it’s wide array of instrumentation (and other various noisemakers), lyrics that retell parables of the prodigal son and Japanese folklore, and sounding overall a bit much like the soundtrack to a musical scored by The Arcade Fire and directed by Sufjan Stevens.
These aspects are what drew me back to this record multiple times (that and the fact that these kids are from Mount Pleasant intrigued me as well), and made me ultimately appreciate its magnificence. You can tell, from the first click of the drumsticks to that last line that singer Matt Joynt almost whispers, that an incredible amount of passion was involved in the writing and recording process of Floating World.
Hello, Dear Wind is another little gem of a record, re-released on Suicide Squeeze records in September (a re-release can count as this year’s release, right?) by Maryland’s Page France. This may just be my “feel good record of the year,” much simpler and more accessible than Anathallo’s, but equally as brilliant. Half of the songs are just as catchy as anything from The Shins’ or Beulah’s respective catalogs, and a wide spectrum of inspiration spanning many decades of pop music shines through.
These bands are currently on tour together, and Real Detroit checked in with Andrew Dost, pianist/flugelhornist and co-founder of Anathallo, and Michael Nau, lead singer and songwriter of Page France, about their individual aspirations and the joys of hitting the road with friends.
Real Detroit: How did you initially become acquainted and what led to doing this tour together?
Michael Nau: We spent some time with Anathallo in their hometown, did a few shows together and realized that we all got along well. It just seemed natural to do a tour together. They had this tour booked and were kind enough to drag us along.
Andrew Dost: We actually met through MySpace! We had been in contact off and on, and when it came time to play our CD release shows, we invited Page France to play them and just hang out for the week in between. We kind of knew somehow that we’d be friends, and fortunately, it really worked out that way. After that week together we’ve just been hoping for the timing to work out so we could go out on the road together, and finally we got the chance, and it’s a lot of fun.
RD: How is this tour different than previous tours you’ve been on?
AD: We’re seeing posters up on the walls of clubs. Plus, it’s the first full tour that we didn’t book ourselves. We have a booking agent now, so in general it’s been much easier.
MN: It’s nice to be out for a long period of time with folks that you care about on a personal level. It feels comfortable, which is something that we’ve never experienced on a long-winded tour. The shows have been good too, which is an obvious bonus.
RD: What are some of your biggest musical or personal inspirations?
MN: I really enjoy late-‘60s pop and folk. I guess those influences bleed through. I live in a rural part of Maryland, so it’s pretty chill, for the most part, which usually brings me to a comfortable state of mind.
AD: For me personally, the music of Tin Pan Alley, and stuff influenced by it, like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, has been blowing my mind. Also the Beatles and the Beach Boys are constantly inspiring me. It’s always amazing to hear so many complex things bundled up in pop songs, social issues, emotions, wit and wordplay, all with sparkling melodies and orchestration.
RD: How has your music evolved over the years?
AD: I think we’ve gradually gotten more and more theatrical. There’s also much more of a sense of thematic consistency now. By that I mean that before, there was maybe a tendency to do everything, all the time, and be as loud and big as possible and now we’re starting to learn to be truer to what the song or album needs and what fits with the story best.
MN: There has been a natural progression. We’ve tried to work something new in each time around. It feels more like a “band” now, to me. I think that we have a better idea of what we are doing, and what we are trying to accomplish now, more so than we did at the start.
RD: What’s next for you, after this tour is over?
AD: We’re going to take the first few months of 2007 to write and record a new album, then from there we’ll see what happens. I think things are pretty wide-open at this point, but we’re hoping to release the album by fall or early winter of the new year.
MN: We’d just like to continue making records for as long as we possibly can. We’ve always taken it a day at a time, though it’s hard to not get ahead of oneself when it’s something that you enjoy doing so much. I would like to continue doing it casually, and I don’t believe that we have any big goals or anything. I’m just excited about the music we’re making, and am having a good time doing so.
Maybe it’s because it’s the holiday season, a time for family gatherings and delicious desserts of all sorts, but Anathallo makes me think of this 12-layer Jell-O dessert my grandmother makes and brings to almost every holiday dinner. Each layer is colorful and delicious by itself, but all stacked on top of each other, it’s like no other dessert I’ve ever had before. Somehow they have figured out how to add a seemingly endless amount of layers without possibly being able to overdo it.
Page France is more like my other grandmother’s apple pie. Everybody loves apple pie, it’s a classic dessert enjoyed by everyone, no matter what the occasion. But there’s something about this pie, some kind of top-secret ingredient that makes me look forward to it all year round, and there’s something about these guys, all 12 of them, that make what they do so much more appealing than your generic, store-bought rock ‘n’ roll.
Anathallo w/ Page France, Those Transatlantics & Javelins • December 9 • Magic Stick
11.29.06 / Real Detroit Weekly
Jason Anderson / Everywhere, All at Once
Over the course of his last five releases, Jason Anderson has transcended from his pop-rock alter-ego Wolf Colonel and settled into his own name as an indie-folk singer-songwriter. His latest release, The Wreath, showcases the range that he has developed over the years, and plays like a “greatest hits” record of songs that had never before been released.
Anderson’s shows are along the lines of campfire singalongs. Most of the time, he performs alone, from sitting cross-legged on the floor to standing atop the highest of chairs, interrupting the set with monologues and taking time to teach the audience parts to sing. In another life, Jason could have been a motivational speaker, if he had never seen Elliott Smith perform in a Portland coffeehouse in 1996 and become inspired to mold his personal experiences and philosophies into beautifully catchy pop songs.
Even via e-mail, Jason exudes positivity. His excitement for living, traveling, singing and making friends is evident.
Seven months of his year is spent on the road. Touring, for him, “totally transcends just singing songs and selling CDs.” He went on to say, “I love exploring new towns, finding awesome mom and pop restaurants, and staying up late with my friends, having talks about politics and life. It’s a great experience.”
“I think that life is all about trying to be IN THE MOMENT, and focusing on the present tense; I feel that travel — right now, in my life — is a very vibrant conduit for this. I am so lucky to have these experiences. … I am really hoping to keep using music as a catalyst to explore and grow. Life rules.”
Jason Anderson • November 18 • Dreamland Theatre (Ypsilanti)
11.15.06 / Real Detroit Weekly