Adam Kennedy unexpectedly became a globetrotter during the pandemic.
The Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K. music photojournalist ventured to Finland, the U.S., Australia, Russia, Israel, Italy, Japan and other far-flung locations to shoot established and emerging artists – all from the comfort of his own home.
In fact, Kennedy’s international photographic jaunts have occurred online as part of a successful virtual photo shoot project he launched in April 2020. To date, he’s conducted more than 570 virtual photo shoots with rock, metal, jazz and blues artists over Facebook, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and other online platforms.
“It’s just to create a feel of coming together online and being in the moment. After an hour, you usually have something cool. Every session has been completely different, and every artist brings something different to the table,” he said.
“Every environment is different because I’m not working in a studio. I’m predominantly working out of someone’s home, or a person takes me out on location. I’ve been in Los Angeles on the strip, in Sochi overlooking the Black Sea, in Jerusalem at a park and in Victoria near the Great Ocean Road.”
For Matthew Milia, Keego Harbor represents a nostalgic, winding metro Detroit pathway from youth to adulthood and back again.
The Detroit indie folk singer-songwriter and Frontier Ruckus frontman eloquently drifts through deep childhood recollections, gritty suburban landmarks and dichotomous neighborhood adventures on his well-crafted second solo album.
“This has been a lifelong obsession, especially with the suburban world. It’s inspired by the fact that the suburban experience is not monolithic. It’s all these mingling beautiful dualities and contradictions of the human experience that live in this space,” said Milia, who grew up in Keego Harbor.
“I’m juxtaposing Pontiac and Bloomfield Hills because those places are contiguous, and they couldn’t be more different. That’s a hard thing for people that don’t live in this area to understand. My endless personal quest is to give as much vivid description and detail of these contradictions that I’ve experienced.”
Throughout Keego Harbor, Milia intricately constructs snapshots of mundane Michigan experiences – junk mail, rotten mulch and phone chargers – and static places – party stores, drive-thru lanes and nail salons – across 10 introspective tracks to capture a beautiful legacy of life unchanged.
“I think this record is a bit more about generational inheritance. My parents met in Keego Harbor at a place called the Back Seat Saloon that’s no longer there, and the first placed they lived together was in a little loft above a house. The age I am now is when they were doing all that. It’s a bit of time travel while seeing myself as my parents and all the things that entails,” he said.
While much of Keego Harbor remains in the rear-view mirror of the mind’s eye, another portion welcomes the uncertain future with outstretched arms. It’s a matter of looking toward the past to better understand who you’ve become and where you’re headed, whether that’s in a city or a suburb.
“I’m also thinking on another level about my experience in the music industry. It’s such a weird commerce to toil in, and my life since 2006 has been writing these songs and making these records with my friends and putting them out into the world and seeing where they take me,” Milia said.
“I think that a major trope of this record is the recalibration of one’s dreams and expectations. And knowing that immense beauty and surprise can be hiding there. Once you recalibrate what you think you wanted or were working toward, you might just find something even more rewarding.”
“Every record that I’ve made has ended with the same conversation – ‘Hey, I’ve got a record, but what do I do now?’ I’ve been producing about 12 to 15 albums a year for more than a decade, and in total, I’ve probably been part of over 200,” said Roof, who also owns and operates Rooftop Recording.
“I know the time-intensive efforts that go into what musicians have to do to promote a record. There aren’t many formal resources for musicians to consult to answer that question. I sensed there was a void in filling that need for musicians.”
Roof shared that thought with his business and creative network and quickly connected with Reed through Chris McCall, an Ann Arbor singer-songwriter, voice coach and meditation counselor.
“I had been working with Chris on her marketing, website and social media and learned through her that Dave was looking for someone who did this kind of marketing,” said Reed, an experienced marketing, creative and business development executive/consultant.
Within a few weeks, Reed and Roof assembled a business plan and company framework to launch South Main Street Marketing, which is named after Ann Arbor’s famed downtown thoroughfare and honors both Reed and Roof growing up in Michigan.
Each new artist relationship begins with a discovery session to identify goals, expectations and next steps. An artist can choose from à la carte or bundled services depending on their needs and budget.
“I use the same philosophy I’ve used with all my clients through the decades. Our goal is to discover who a client is and where they’re coming from as well as their goals and voice. We give them the plan, tools and encouragement needed to have their voices heard,” Reed said.
“South Main Street Marketing’s operating premise is to listen to people, provide the resources they need, and educate and set them free. We want artists to not feel tethered. We’re all about supporting an artist’s individual needs and goals.”
Additionally, the firm’s focus allows artists to spend valuable time honing their musical craft instead of getting absorbed in ancillary activities. At South Main Street Marketing, Reed and Roof want musicians to take back their opportunity costs.
“All the time that musicians spend marketing themselves is not time they’re practicing their instrument, writing a new song or experiencing the world. If we can help take that burden off of people, then we’re helping create more art by freeing up artists’ time,” Roof said.
Looking ahead, South Main Street Marketing will continue meeting their goal of quietly remaining behind the scenes to ensure artists stay front and center. As part of a collaborative approach, they’re creating clear plans to elevate artists and support their uniqueness while helping grow the music community.
The mid-Michigan and metro Detroit power pop trio of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith combines sunny melodies, lush harmonies and spirited instrumentation over a dozen contemplative tracks chronicling the pandemic, politics and personal struggles on Chapter Three.
“Music lovers value music even more now than they did before the pandemic. We hope people enjoy this record, and that it’s another decent thing that’s come out of this crappy time. We want people to put their ears on it and give it a chance, and we think there’s a little bit of something there for everybody,” Reed said.
Now available via Klingensmith’s Futureman Records, Chapter Three serves as The Legal Matters’ third infectious, compelling release since 2014. Each track provides an intimate, thoughtful perspective about moving forward in today’s ambivalent, precarious world.
“This record was mentally one of the most helpful things through all of this because it gave the three of us a chance to work on something that we really enjoy doing. We’re ridiculously pleased with the results,” Reed said.
Last spring, Skywerth watched a bewildered nation quickly unravel before his stunned eyes.
The Detroit multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter felt overwhelmed by the social, economic and political upheaval arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had just watched Ahmaud Arbery getting shot down in his own neighborhood and the music industry crumbling overnight all while looking at the incredible divide and conspiracy theories being pushed on social media,” he said.
That lingering frustration, disappointment and anger prompted Skywerth to pen his latest striking multi-genre, emotional-fueled single, “Waves,” featuring Hamtramck indie folk duo Jackamo.
“It was so apocalyptic, so I just wrote exactly what I was observing. Social media is tailored for you, so if anything pops up on your feed that is outside of your belief system, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, and your friends are going to say it’s wrong, too. No matter what it is, you are constantly being told that you’re right.” he said.
Now available on all streaming platforms, “Waves” elegantly rises with the genre-bending tides of metal, psych rock, industrial, prog and hip-hop into a symphonic tsunami. Thumping drums, tingling cymbals, swirling electric guitars, crawling bass and expansive synths quickly engulf listeners in a welcoming sense of relief and escape.
Skywerth reflects, “Alone in the waves with your eyes open wide, living in a paradise/Stare into the light/Hands upon the shore, eyes are getting sore/Here we are, caught in the eye of the storm/As the rain starts to fall, as the rain starts.”
“Lyrically, it’s a bit of a pessimistic song. If the song can make two people put their phones down and reconnect with one another in real life for two days, then it would make the year for me,” he said.
Skywerth also forges a beautiful musical connection with Jackamo’s Alison and Tessa Wiercioch, who provide somber, thoughtful harmonies on “Waves.”
“I fell in love with Jackamo the moment I heard them. We have mutual friends, and they also work with Steve (Lehane) at Rustbelt Studios. After writing the lyrics, I knew Ali, Tessa and I could do something pretty cool,” he said.
Along with Jackamo, Skywerth collaborated with Eric Hoegemeyer (soundscapes, synths), Matt Voss (drums) and co-producer Steve Lehane (bass, drum machines, production) on “Waves,” which initially started as an instrumental track.
“After the pandemic hit and I wrote the lyrics, I had this sort of organized chaos. Instead of being consumed by this confusion surrounding me, I had all my thoughts and observations laid out on something that was familiar and felt like home to me,” said Skywerth, who recorded the track at Royal Oak’s Rustbelt Studios and credited Lehane with transforming “Waves” into a vocal track.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to weave all of these (multi-genre) elements together. I’ve got a bit of ADD, so when something sounds the same for several minutes I get bored. I need to change things a bit to keep me interested. I think the dynamics of the tune help outline the emotions felt from the pandemic.”
Skywerth brings those heavy emotions to life in his wistful new video for “Waves” as he ponders the pandemic’s ongoing impact with Alison Wiercioch in Hamtramck. Filmed and edited by Sara Showers and Cheyenne Comerford, the video also features footage of Skywerth performing live inside a vacant Magic Bag in Ferndale.
“We started tossing around ideas for a video in late 2020, and we shot at The Magic Bag in February. It was quite unsettling being in the venue during the pandemic. We also shot in Hamtramck back in the spring, and it was a group of friends running around with a camera,” he said.
“We went in there with the idea of recreating the tracks. It’s a cool way to revisit the songs and get together with the boys. There are only three people that can play ‘Next Few Winters,’ ‘Black Ice’ and ‘Where It Starts,’ and it’s us recreating that space sonically while being in the same room together,” said Kyle Rasche, aka Chain of Lakes.
Rasche (vocals, guitar) teamed up with Jeffrey Niemeier (violin) and Kyle VanderVeen (ambient guitar) to record the intimate live show at Grand Rapids’ Second Story Sound in June. Mixed and mastered by Greg Baxter and filmed and edited by Drew VanderVeen, the video features Chain of Lakes performing inside a dimly lit, wood-paneled, red-walled studio.
“I was not envisioning sweating in shorts and a tank top while I was practicing for Next Few Winters. We had to dress a little warmer for the video so people might actually believe it was recorded back in the winter,” said Rasche with a laugh.
Drenched in psychedelic sensibilities, space-age rhythms and funky prog-jazz fusions, Dani Darling vividly constructs an insightful time machine that revisits past reflections and welcomes future possibilities.
The Ann Arbor chanteuse-guitarist instantly transports listeners to a boundless cosmic frontier filled with vintage-neo soundscapes and never-ending stories on The Future EP, which dropped June 25.
“The kind of energy we need is that kind of New Year’s Eve vibe, like having a fresh start, feeling adventurous and wanting to see what’s out there. When it comes to these current times, I think it’s about being hopeful for the future and the energy that people have when they’re anticipating it and feeling positive about it,” said Danielle Davis, aka Dani Darling.
“That’s why New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday; that whole energy is unmatched when everyone is hoping for something greater and looking forward to letting go of what’s in the past.”
Darling initially envisioned The Future during a winter solstice 2020 recording session at Ypsilanti’s Grove Studios. At the time, she recorded the album’s astral, improvisational jam, “The Age,” and embraced the hypnotic, psychedelic sound that emerged.
“After we all finished playing it, we stopped and looked at each other and said, ‘Whoa that was exactly it.’ Then we were like, ‘Let’s do it again,’ and the New Year’s Eve session was the one heard around the whole project. It was a seven-hour lock-in, and most of it came out of that,” said Davis about her third release and follow-up to 2020’s mystical Mage EP.
“I was also thinking about the next phase of Dani Darling coming from a very lo-fi, toned-down sound where I’m pretty limited with my resources to suddenly having this ability to bring my friends and people I really respect in musically. That really changed the game.”