Friday, February 23, 2018

Keeping It Real, One Day At A Time: Streaking In Tongues's New Video - "Wasted Days"

When you hear the music and the voice of Ronnie Ferguson, your pulse slows down. Because something in the room feels heavier. It's an intangible emotion. It's the expansion of empathy, a slower-breathing sensitivity or tenderness that starts coursing through you. Because the guy is spilling his guts, but it's beautiful and delicate, raw, a poetry unvarnished. A minimalist neo-folk arrangement of spindly guitars, woozy organ tones, breathy chimes and a vocal delivery that is the epitome of a healing sigh set to melody...

STREAKING IN TONGUES have been around for a few years, with a couple albums to their name. Ferguson is an Otisville (near Flint)-based singer/songwriter; I recently got to chat with him about the release of the band's new music video, as well as a forthcoming album Kindergarten Prayers. 

Ferguson's songwriting connects to and kindles the honesty and vulnerability of eclectic troubadours who found inventive ways of accessing the ineffable woes or wariness of the human experience - namely Elliott Smith, but also Sufjan Stevens, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Gillian Welch, Tom Waits, Beck, or the original heart-on-the-sleeve stylist, Brian Wilson. He draws a subtle but distinct influence from contemporaries in the Michigan music scene, some still together, some recently disbanded, like Fields of Industry, Lone Wolf & Cub, Long Whisker, and Jim Cherewick. Ferguson tuned in to something about each of his influences - that a recording could have a lo-fi quality, yet be imbued with a poignant intimacy... "that moved me in a way that all the glossy studios and arena shows in the world never will..."


I read a review that name-dropped Daniel Johnston, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, and Mount Eerie...  That's some powerful company... I wonder if those are indicative of your influences? 
Thank you Jeff. That review appeared in Spirit You All and was very encouraging and came as a godsend during a time I felt pretty vulnerable and foolish, like I’d failed again with another passion project. Spirit You All is a unique voice in music because they highlight a lot of artists who have an unapologetic spiritual competent to their work, but they don’t stop there. They go on to analyze the craft of the work on its own terms, while some critics can be easily dismissive of anything that mentions J.C. or the big G-O-D. I’m a fan of all four of the artists mentioned in the review and I’ve listened to most of their albums over the years, though I’ve never tried to sound like someone else. The connections I find to other music that came before mine always seems to come later, after I’ve finished. I can’t listen to other music when I’m writing or recording because it’s too distracting. I find myself humming or tapping along and I don’t get any work done. I can’t even have a television in the house.

What were your earliest songs like? How did you work to find your own voice? 
Pretty much my first songs, for better or worse, are the 14 that I wrote for our first album Knocky-Boo (The Eternal Playground). Taken as a whole, they are an eclectic bunch ranging from simple folk tunes to ten-minute two-chord epics. It wasn’t that I was trying to find my own voice, but more like I wanted my voice to reach out in many directions at the same time, with little regard to sonic continuity or fitting into a genre. It was the original premise for STREAKING IN TONGUES and a big reason why on the first album my friend Rob wrote and sang half of the songs. At the time, the two of us were playing together in two different projects (one for his songs and one for my songs). I thought of it as an experiment and I loved and still love Rob’s songs, though I think to a lot of people the mixing of our songs was just confusing and inaccessible because we’re very different as artists. I’m still proud of it and stand by it despite its many flaws, but I wanted to try something different with Life Support, mainly, something shorter, with one intimate voice, and more sonically cohesive. But, it too has its own set of flaws! Story of an artist.

In regards to visual output, the band has already made more music videos in 3 years than quite a few that I can think of - where does that proclivity/talent/inspiration come from? 
I came to music through writing poetry and working in the theatre. The first music I ever recorded and shared with an audience was for scores for plays I was directing. I think that my background has probably helped and hurt my development as a musician, or at the very least made me naïve about some musical things and hyper-interested in some music-related things that other more trained musicians may not care about, such as music videos.

What do you enjoy most about making videos and what do you appreciate most about putting your music/sounds to images? 
I’ve always thought music videos can be a really inspiring and poetic art form. And the process can be wonderfully low-stress and collaborative.  For example, our very first music video was made by a talented filmmaker named Wes Swartz for a song of mine called “Farewell OCD (You Pesky Bastard)”. Though we had some brief discussion before he conceived it, basically I encouraged him to run with his own interpretation. He came back with this beautiful, quirky video about an alien stranded on a planet far from home. I thought that was a nice poetic interpretation of a person who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (the OCD mentioned in the title). And since then, I’ve encouraged every filmmaker who works on one of our videos to follow their own muse and to not feel handcuffed to a literal interpretation based on the lyrics.       

I'd like to hear your feelings about the way this band and songwriting and the experience of recording have provided any kind of catharsis, whether after the passing of your father, or as a means of finding a deeper consideration of the bond with your son…
My father got sick when I was in high school and died during my senior year. During his months-long fading away in the hospital, I would drive across the state to visit him after school every day that I could. Through the trauma of it all, mental illness really took a hold on my life, mainly chronic depression and bipolar (same stuff my dad struggled with to the end of his life). Alone in my basement, I would lie down on the couch with headphones and listen to the sad, beautiful music of Elliott Smith. This went on for months and months. His music touched me in ways that nothing else could at the time, like it has for many people who suffer. Though I never tried to sound like Elliott Smith (and I don’t think I could if I wanted to), my own musical beginnings were certainly a continuation of that very intimate experience I had with his music. I still feel enormous gratitude for having his music in my life, though I no longer listen to him obsessively.

I dedicated our most recent album Life Support to my dad and to Elliott Smith because it would not exist without them. In fact, I would not exist. My only hope with going to the places I did on Life Support is that it could be a friend to someone who needs one. I guess, really, that’s my greatest hope for everything that STREAKING IN TONGUES has done and will ever do.

What was the experience like, in terms of creating, completing, and releasing that album? 
Making and releasing the album was a way for me to also let go of my dad and grow in wisdom in regards to the mental illness that plagued his life and my own. During the recording of the last song on Life Support, my son Elliott ran in and interrupted the recording. Literally, the last words on the whole album were his: “Daddy, I just have to tell you one more—” and the recording cut off. As I said goodbye to my dad, he barged in to fight for my attention. There, in that moment, I was both a son standing at a gravestone and a father in a living room surrounded by distractions. It made the hairs on my neck stand up, and the whole world seemed to have a sad and touching clarity.

But really it was just the end of a chapter. Chapters since then have been much happier. Elliott and I have a wonderful relationship and often spend time working and playing together. I’ve always been passionate about my interests, but I’ve been careful not to push my interests on him. He is a gifted soccer player and visual artist and I’m his biggest fan. I never played soccer growing up and he’s already surpassed me as a visual artist. I just want to continue to encourage him to do his best, to explore new things and find his own passions along the way. We’ve only recently started collaborating on creative projects.

Let's talk more about your work editing videos to the music...and how you came around to creating something like 'Wasted Days.'
The first music videos I made for STREAKING IN TONGUES all used stock/public domain footage because I didn’t own a video camera, but I still wanted to learn how to edit and go through the whole production process on my own. As I got into the stock/public domain footage world, it was very inspiring to me to find all of these old, forgotten, beautiful pieces of film. I began to think of how I might use the concept of recycling to make something new, not unlike visual artists who use existing sources to make collage. It was so much fun searching for the right accompaniment for a song…it was like searching for a line of poetry in a book of random words. When I saw the right video, I just knew, and would get to work right away on shaping the two together. I did that for a year or so, but eventually purchased my own camera near the end of the Life Support music video series.

How did this video come together? What inspired it? 
I had long planned for the music videos to switch to scripted in-house productions for our forthcoming third album Kindergarten Prayers, but I pitched a script idea for “Wasted Days” to my son, and we both got excited about making it together. My script idea was probably influenced by the British television series Black Mirror, which is to say, it takes place a few minutes or a few years in the future and bends a little more toward the darker truths of life. It explores themes of addiction and withdrawal, as it relates to video games. I don’t want to say more because it will ruin it!

Here's the new STREAKING IN TONGUES music video, "Wasted Days," featuring Ferguson's son, Elliott.

Can you tell us more about 'Kindergarten Prayers?' What did you find most fulfilling or even most challenging about the writing and recording process? 
I started writing new material for Kindergarten Prayers shortly after I finished Life Support, though some of the recordings go back to the very beginning of my musical journey. Elliott recorded with me on the album (this time on purpose), along with some talented musician friends. It’s a far more ambitious album than Life Support, but was considerably less painful to make. It’s sunnier, more playful, and has elements of psychedelic folk. Listening to it now, I think it was probably influenced by Badly Drawn Boy’s Hour of Bewilderbeast, Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois, as well as albums by Flaming Lips, Belle and Sebastian, and The Beatles.

The band's had several members in its live incarnations, previously... But now it's just a duo? 
Yes, STREAKING IN TONGUES is now just Elliott and I, so we’re still discovering how we want to play the music live and also what we want to do for a Kindergarten Prayers video series. We’re not rushing the process. The album will be released in April through our own record label/recording studio, Eternal Playground. We’ve already made plans for a sporadic, low-key tour throughout the year. Along with our music, my first book of poetry is being published in March and Elliott is having his first art show in May. Plus, the new indoor soccer season is starting soon. We’re just trying to keep it real and put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

HMF - Year 5

Wristbands are on sale at venues throughout Hamtramck

You won't immediately notice the "sponsor" of the Hamtramck Music Fest, unless you're really looking... This annual city-wide music event, activating 21 venues of Hamtramck with a lineup of more than 160 local bands, comes together on March 1st for its fifth year. Often, attendees of supersized music festivals like this can expect to see glossy banners from big beer conglomerates or faceless corporate entities. But with the Hamtramck Music Fest, "the sponsor is the people..."

"It's the people working there, at each venue, showing up and volunteering and putting on the show," said Eugune Strobe, a co-founder of the event, and member of its board of volunteer organizers. "It's the bands, the people seeing the show, we are all the sponsors. The people who are actively part of it."

HMF came together when local musicians felt a calling to replace and reproduce a tradition that had been started by the Metro Times Blowout back in 1998. When the 3-day/all-local/multi-venue music festival expanded its format and location, as well as shifted its schedule to the spring, rather than the late winter, something felt lost... It went beyond just the fun, excitement, or even nostalgia of having a sonic holiday every year at a certain time where bands could assemble and get lost in a blur of performances.

Photos by Christopher M. Bjornberg -for the Detroit Free Press

HMF wanted to become something that was for something. Something that was people-powered, a celebration of the local music scene, yes, but also an intended as an infusion of energy into the venues of the city of Hamtramck. This year, proceeds from access-wristbands will go to benefit students of Hamtramck Public Schools' music & arts programs. "We hope that those students, then, can be the ones one day taking over the festival, 20 years from now..." said Strobe, referring to his contemporary members of HMF organizers who are going beyond the "celebrate the current music scene" and expanding it to a consideration of "the next generation."

"It's passing the torch," said Strobe. "That's how we've started seeing something that eventually the next bands, the next artists, the next community activists will take over what we're doing and continue it for the next generation to come."

The Hamtramck Music Fest kicks off March 1st, hosted at Ant Hall.
Friday & Saturday's lineups are packed into various venues throughout the city.
There are other events to watch out for, like a Sunday brunch, and a Saturday matinee at Cafe 1923

Strobe said that it is fulfilling to reach a 5-year marker, but also expressed an appreciation for how things can change up year to year. There are organizers that have been on board for all five years, but there have also been steady transitions of booking contributions from others where there's room to be filled by new volunteers coming in this year to bring their own energies/ideas to the table. It's been a steady kind of growing-pain/trial and error experience, Strobe said, but emphasized an intent to always keep the focus on creating a sizable showcase of all the different types of music being made here in Southeast Michigan.

"Every year is a little different," said Strobe. "Depending on who volunteers and shows up to help out ultimately determines what direction we go in..." And that might shape how individual lineups at each venue might manifest. But expanding outside of the perspective of those more deeply plugged in to the music scene, it still stands as a significant opportunity for the more casual weekend-concert-goer to dive in and become rather intensely acquainted with bands they may have never seen before, or may have never had impetus to go see otherwise.

"The persistence is really nice," said Strobe. "It shows that the community is behind it, and people who are involved, year to year to year are really doing it 'cuz they want to, they want to work on it and make it better. So I think that's an encouraging sign: that the community is still striving to make it happen."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Poetry Of It All: SoulGalaxyGirl

I want to go back to a place of pure emotion. You don't have to throw me back; this is not a throwback... But to hear the voice of Ann Arbor-based singer/songwriter Dani Darling, is to attain a new understanding of just how potent those pure emotions were when they exuded by jazz icons like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, with feathery, lilting melodies, activating the full poignancy of the human voice-as-instrument, emoted as much as performed, a voice that can be as powerful as to quiet all else around you, obscure the cacophonous anxieties of the outside world and tune you in to something primal and beautiful, something laid bare, something vulnerable but transcended, wistful yet still resolute...

Dani Darling performs as SoulGalaxyGirl and is part of the Black Opera Collective. She's preternaturally attuned to affecting a certain kind of subtly vibrant vibe - and I know vibe is an amorphous phenomena that we music writers like to throw in to suggest a kind of evocative atmosphere, but whatever it is, that kind of classically jazzy/neo-soul vibe that impels a listener to close their eyes while listening and let the purple-splashed daydream-like visuals come and cast a contemplatively-escapist spell upon you...whatever that is, that vibe...? SoulGalaxyGirl's got it down.

SoulGalaxyGirl is performing this Saturday in Ypsilanti.
This lineup is curated by Grove Studios, part of their monthly series Live at RAC.
Riverside Arts Center
Athena Johnson / Steve Somers / Duane Wells / The DayNites / Royalé Michael  
Breathe Easy Music Group / Gary Horton / Derick Jerome -


I have to ask about your voice. It's delicate, it's powerful, it's a voice for soul music, but it also feels like something for a choir. Like it could fit in a jazz club or a coffeeshop folk night just as easily as it would in a theater! 
Its funny you said choir because I started out singing in a trio. I’m part of a set of singing triplets, and we started singing at around 4, my grandmother would take us around to sing at retirement homes lol. While church and gospel music was a large part of my musical journey, I’d say that choral music, music theater, and opera also have been large parts of my development. Later on I really got into jazz. As a soloist I would say that Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday are my biggest influences now in terms or vocal aesthetic. I had a very big jazz phase that I never got over!

When did you first start writing songs? Very young! I think the first song I wrote was about my dog dying when I was a kid....and..., so started the angst! (laughs). I started writing songs seriously at about 19.

When you think about your favorite artists, your most formative influences, even your favorite songs, is there something that they achieve, in terms of emotional impact and arrangement, that you try to do with your own work? I think what influences me most is lyrical beauty and a vibe! Sade is my number one favorite songwriter. Radiohead has always been at the top of my list. But classic jazz standards are super romantic and honest about feelings, too. If it's confessional and dreamy? I'm into it! Since I value that the most as a listener, I hope that comes across in my music. The poetry of it all!
So you've got the "Wonder" suite, can you talk about that, it blends that old world jazz sound to contemporary vibes of neo-soul and R&B... There is a whole lofi-music-wave that is gaining momentum, where it's this combination of jazz and movie music, with subtle, understated arrangements. I find it so easy to write to, and that is how those songs emerged. Just hearing the instrumentals and hearing songs that I just felt I had to record and share. The songs that I produced and wrote from top-to-bottom are coming soon!!

What is your experience like, so far, in the local music scene around Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti? Locally, I've just recently begun to approach the music scene and I'm very impressed. I think that Ypsi has a lot going on, right now. I've had really warm receptions and what I find most inspiring is that my music is kind of singular, and yet I still feel like I fit in. Very grateful for that!

You mentioned top-to-bottom productions, what else are you working on or looking forward to in 2018? 
          Yes! I have a music video coming out in the spring! But there's also the All Threads Festival (March 10). This year, I'm focusing on my live show, so you'll be seeing a lot of me around here! I have a proect that I plan to round out the year with, so 2018 will be a big year!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

DEATH - Give It back

Detroit's proto-punk legends DEATH have released a new single today.

 "Give It Back" was recently unearthed from the depths of the DEATH archives. The song's lyrics have a re-energized urgency today, addressing the virtues of being environmentally conscious citizens of this planet and railing against the social dissolution we are all facing in the world today.

DEATH's latest is exemplary of their dynamic rock 'n' roll riffs, soulful grooves, an impassioned vocals, is a charged-up appeal that we, as fellow humans, start acting as a global society, and consider curtailing the status quo of always taking from the Earth, and instead, giving back to her.  , we as a society continue to take form mother Earth and now it's time to give back to her.

DEATH were a once-mythic-but-later-properly-celebrated Detroit rock trio of brothers, formed in 1971--way ahead of their time in terms of pioneering a blend of garage-rock, soul, punk and rock 'n' roll. They reformed in 2009, with a 2012 documentary film following soon after that told their story. More info 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

No More Cover Charge at The New Way Bar

On Friday, January 26, The New Way Bar's owner Jamie D'Angelo announced that there would be no more cover charges to see live music. Weeknights, weekends, any day, any show, free entry.

I just got off the phone with Jamie, and I'll be putting together a proper feature for the print pages of The Ferndale Friends soon, but I want to spoil something right away and tell you that the impetus to "make this leap," he said, came from a genuine belief that this bar is, and should always be, the "host" for local talent.

Without performing bands, Jamie said he wouldn't have been able to sustain his current run of the New Way Bar.

In fact, we're coming up on five years Jamie took over the New Way Bar. Over his first couple years, it became a more and more active spot on the scene for shows. And the idea to go all-free/all-the-time for their scheduled concerts has been gestating in the back of his head for quite a while, now.

It ties in to something I've been considering more and more these past five years - the risk of music and musicians being underappreciated and even devalued. I say "risk of," but I know that in the estimation of lots of artists, it's already happened... ...that music has become white noise in the background of a bar or a club or a gym, or something you trim into the intro's and outro's of podcasts or splash upon car commercials. We're at a moment in time where people expect music to just be accessible, and then just as easily passed-on.

That's why I'm encouraged after seeing Jamie make this move with the New Way Bar. Because, frankly, he had gotten tired of seeing folks come up to the door, see a required cover charge, and then turn away... Of course the hardcore music lovers in the scene will always come out, but it remains difficult to attract the casual club hopping individual who's just exploring the happening spots of a downtown on a given weekend night. If the New Way's door is always open, especially during all local music concerts, than a wider range of audience members can become acquainted with the myriad and diverse bands populating the greater SE Michigan arts community.

Experiencing music in a live incarnation is vital to a comprehensive appreciation of it. It's when you hear it, when you see its creators, live, right there, in the moment, propelled, that it grows from being just you appreciating music, and becomes you celebrating music. More than that, you're celebrating it as a group; you could be surrounded by perfect strangers, or your best friends, but the ceremony is still a shared experience. And that's what makes it memorable.

Don't miss out on making a lasting memory by being exposed to some amplified music from a stage, made by songwriters and bands that may very likely be your neighbor! The next time you visit The New Way Bar to hear some live music, the only thing you'll need to take out of your wallet is your driver's license.

The New Way regularly hosts evens like an Open Mic Night (featuring Ryan Dillaha), and a stand-up comedy night. Follow on Facebook for information on upcoming shows.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Satori Circus: These Are My Friends

"What I see, what I hear...what I's all molded and forged with my imagination, an imagination that was so vivid as a kid and that, now, as an adult, I can't see ever letting it go." - Satori Circus

The artist behind the facepaint, beneath the costumes, the artist that pantomimes and projects his versatile vocal range over a composite of rock showtunes and punk operas and glam-folk waltzes, is always pushing the proverbial envelope. Satori Circus was conceived 30 years ago by musician & performance-artist Russ Taylor, a Detroiter who got his start in the early 80's with punk bands, but would eventually approach the stage with a strong sense for disrupting expectations. As it evolved, it became equal parts Dadaist vaudeville, Buster Keaton charm, DEVO subversiveness, Rocky Horror vamp & camp, and Bowie-like chameleonesque rock 'n' roll transcendence. One never forgets the first time one encountered Satori Cirucs. 

It's about time there was a documentary film that could properly produce a portrait of the agile and imaginative artist, himself. 'Being Satori Circus' is currently in production, by filmmaker Mark Finnell. And as Satori naturally found a home amid the burlesque scene, as well as the dark carnival world of Theatre Bizarre, he's making this weekend's spectacular Crofoot show be an all inclusive celebration.

These Are My Friends will feature the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, as well as 'Pinch and Squeal' of Wizbang Circus, Lushes LaMoan, Josie Pace, Scott Dambacher, The F.A.H. Corps and the extraordinary lounge singer known as Konrad Lee. Satori Circus is going to be performing with the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra, and their set will be recorded live, inside the Crofoot Ballroom, for a forthcoming LP release. The multifaceted entertainments of the evening will be filmed by Finnell, to essentially be a capping sequence/montage for the forthcoming completion of the Satori documentary.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

J.D. Wright - "No Resolutions"

We can get so stuck in the status quo that it starts to feel we're enmeshed in some imperceptible abstraction. Songwriters like Jordan David Wright sing with the wiser wariness of someone who's actively created some distance between himself and loud and ignorant babble of, you name it: social media, a weekend party, talk radio rage...

Separating yourself with that measured amount of distance from the fray to then try and bear witness can take a kind of toll, but it's yielded a hauntingly beautiful batch of songs from JD Wright, each as unsparingly honest as the last. Wright has rendered poetic ruminations from a moment, a whole year really, of spiritual and philosophical strain and evolution in his life, as he's lurched up and out of the enchantment and naivety of the youth of our 20's and into the coarser scrapes and unease that set upon you after giving closer surveying to the profoundly quieting situations and trends that have only been worsening, like weeds around you, all your life.

JD Wright premiered the lead single from his album, Lake Effect, earlier this week on Substream Magazine.

Contemplation comes to you naturally when you work as a librarian. But even as his day job situated Wright inside an otherwise typically quiet environment, he's been spending the better part of the last 10 years' worth of his weekends in supremely amplified rooms, with rambunctious audiences and voluminous punk rock bands.

The librarian-by-day has been a guitarist and vocalist in a handful of bands, including Due North and Cheapshow, but never officially took center stage, so to speak. That changes in the Spring, when he releases Lake Effect on vinyl. The album was recorded during the winter of 2017 in Ferndale, MI, backed by guitarists Eric Plunkard and Alex Errington, bassist Noah Fenton, and drummer Jordan VonZynda.

Wright may have made niche for himself over the years since moving down here to the Metro Detroit area, but he was raised in Northern Michigan. That's a much more rural place, a colder place, a more conservative place, a more religious place; it's a place where the concerns of communities and farmers may come second to things like the Line 5 Pipeline, or where tragic stories of opioid addiction go ignored from the headlines. It's a place where you can feel out of place, pretty quickly, if you start stepping just far enough away to glimpse back. And that brings me back to the toll it's taken....

artwork by Linden
Wright thrived amid the punk rock scene: anthemic ballads at swift tempos with throaty vocals and an overall full-on embrace of emotions and anger...and joy, too. But Wright's record is, essentially, a folk record. It's a folk-ROCK record, at times, with propulsive chord progressions and strong, earworm melodies threaded throughout.  But it's still something closer to a punk rocker that's pondering some of the heavier stuff we'd all rather not talk about or think about in the midst of banging our heads to a beat...think Billy Bragg, or Joe Strummer, or Ted Leo, artists who still have that vigorous style of guitar playing and passionate vocal delivery, but aren't shying away from parsing through vitriol or the small societal calamities that can seep through the cracks of our consideration.

"No Resolutions" references the last night of a given year, and there's something stark about it that suggests, in the sound of Wright's voice and the closeness of the guitar, to where you almost feel like it is 1am, that it is a writer in a room with a world of general dismay and nonsense careening outside; and the startling intimacy comes when you realize that he's allowing himself to say things outloud that he might have been afraid to before...Like he might not even be aware of, or care, whether an audience is going to hear this confessional. It's a powerful kind of catharsis.

Production-wise, it goes from a single acoustic guitar, to a churning guitar that's gliding like a distant jet in the background. When that pares back, we're left with a final verse of Wright admitting a fear of spiritual disrepair, but it's quickly cast aside by one blunt, brutal resolution, the exact wording of which you'll have to wait for when the song finishes.

Lake Effect is coming out this Spring on Save Your Generation Records

Friday, February 2, 2018

Update: Milo Minute & Milo Show

We're one month in to the new year, and I wanted to look back at all the music we've listened to on WDET for the weekly "Milo Minute" segment. Every week, I check in a couple times with Culture Shift Host Amanda LeClaire to give listeners a rundown of what's on my list of must-see live local music events around Detroit.

Below, some of the songs we heard on the air (on weekdays between 12pm & 2pm on 101.9, WDET-FM). Most of these songs came out last year, or even longer ago, but I still think some return-listens are always worthwhile. Coming up next week, I'll be talking about the EP release of Brother Elsey, an expansive vaudeville & music show at the Crofoot featuring Satori Circus, an album release party for journeyman drummer Zach Pliska, and a peek at what's going on at the New Way Bar (which, by the way, just announced that they'd be ditching cover charges entirely for their live local music concerts).

I also just wanted to check in and give you an update on a YouTube Talk Show Series I hosted last year, with videographer Kristi Billings and sound engineer Chad Stocker. That will return, but it's shifting into an audio-only podcast. Our first episode will be out soon, and it kicks off a new format where, instead of four guests per episode, Chad and I will be visiting the studio space of one artist, and talking to them in between a handful of exclusive live performances. Up first & pictured above, is Double Winter

Friday, January 26, 2018

10 Years. 1 Blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Brian Rozman

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Obscura Broadcasting Company (Interview)

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

photo by Steven Wieckowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Girl Fight - Fight Back!

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

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

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

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

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