Chain of Lakes beautifully recreates the cozy, peaceful feel of winter in the midst of summer.
The Alto indie folk singer-songwriter brings a relaxed, reflective mood to a new live virtual performance of his latest EP, Next Few Winters, premiering 8 p.m. Sunday via The Stratton Setlist’s Facebook page and newly launched YouTube channel.
“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.
The Comfort of Next Few Winters
While paying homage to winter might seem odd in July, there’s a timeless sentiment about commemorating the all-weather experiences of home, relationships and family. Chain of Lakes’ Next Few Winters EP pinpoints vivid, seasonal recollections of white moon glows, shoreline wood, ice glass waves, black ice and hearths under the fire across three poignant, thoughtful tracks.
“They weren’t written to be a cohesive piece. I consciously picked those three to be on the EP, but I didn’t write them together. There’s a theme of pride in those three songs that makes you a little harder, especially while living through our winters in Michigan. It’s guaranteed in this part of the world that it’s going to get cold, so embrace it,” Rasche said.
Rasche quickly reaches for winter’s icy grip on the cinematic title track as ethereal ambient guitars, solemn violin and contemplative acoustic strums quietly envelope listeners. In a sense, it’s the sonic equivalent of standing alone outside during a peaceful, nighttime snowfall.
He sings, “My north peninsula/I feel inclined to defend our picture perfect winter/It’s my home/And the wise dress warm/We know this to be true/The next few winters will be cold here, too.”
“I know I’m going to like playing this song for a long time. I’m never going to change my mind about loving my home state and how I feel about everybody complaining about winter. I get protective about my beloved winters,” said Rasche, who wrote the track in 2019 for a Grand Rapids winter-themed show.
“We live out in the middle of the country and have a pond. We can walk out on the ice and get some low-hanging wood that’s inaccessible during the rest of the year. We use it for firewood because I love having a fire every single night in my house.”
While “Next Few Winters” elegantly celebrates the season’s warm, internal moments, “Black Ice” retraces the demise of past relationships. The track’s introspective, nostalgic acoustic strums invite listeners to fondly reflect with a sense of gratitude.
Rasche shares, “Our heads never left their perch over our heels/Maybe that’s the time to take a dive/Before it gets real/But if we weren’t growing together we sure spun a wicked wheel/Some love needs to leave to be revealed.”
“It’s about looking back and realizing just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean that it wasn’t great. It doesn’t have to be negative; sometimes moving on is a growth rather than a resignation,” he said.
That wise outlook seamlessly transfers to “Where It Starts,” the EP’s atmospheric, appreciative ode to living in the moment and solidifying a long-term love. Tranquil ambient guitars, jubilant acoustic strums, breezy violin and perceptive piano instantly infuse serenity into the heart and mind.
Rasche reveals, “When our tired eyes finally meet/And the day has culled our quiet peace/I’ll frisk the night and find your hand/My pearl there in the dampened sand.”
“It’s a love song to my wife, and I wrote that on Mother’s Day. It’s about home being someone instead of somewhere,” he said.
Rasche didn’t venture too far from home to record Chain of Lakes’ Next Few Winters EP. He spent time laying down the project’s three tracks last year at Good Old Days in Grand Rapids with Eric Raby and Kevin Fein.
With Raby (bass, piano) and Fein at the recording helm, Rasche also invited Jeffrey Niemeier (violin) and Kyle VanderVeen (ambient guitar) to collaborate on the project. Together, they created an expansive, folky sound that injected new life into Rasche’s emotive, homegrown tracks.
“We had the multi-track due to the pandemic, but it was really easy to do it with those songs because they’re so minimal. There’s so much space in those tracks that it made sense to do it that way. This group of songs lent itself pretty well to quarantine recording,” Rasche said.
“When Kyle and Jeffrey were recording their parts, we all looked at each other in the booth. The hairs on our arms were standing up because everything sounded colder due to the vibrato and tension they added to some of the chords.”
Strike a Chord
Long before becoming Chain of Lakes, Rasche first struck a chord in seventh grade while growing up in Okemos. At the time, he picked up his father’s guitar and learned Dan Fogelberg songs over the course of a summer.
“By the time my father caught me playing his guitar, I was as good as he was at it. He saw that I was using my time wisely,” said Rasche, who also played piano and sang in school choir.
Rasche also absorbed an eclectic mix of influences from his father, sister and friends, including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, Green Day and The Grateful Dead.
“I lived with a guy in college who was a hip-hop historian, so I listened to that a lot. I also loved musical theater, especially ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Sound of Music,’” he said.
Rasche continued to hone his musical talent while attending Michigan State University. Even though he didn’t major in music, Rasche sang in the men’s glee club, studied in the music therapy department and joined a band.
After college, he relocated to metro Detroit with his wife and played a series of cover gigs to help pay the bills. At the time, he wrote the songs that would later appear on his Chain of Lakes debut album in 2010.
“I recorded the album with Jim Roll at Backseat Studios in Ann Arbor, and I thought there was a label that was interested in putting it out, so I put some money into it. I had this record made, but I didn’t have a band and knew that nobody could say my last name by looking at it,” said Rasche, who adopted the artist moniker Chain of Lakes.
“My godmother owns property up on the Chain of Lakes in Central Lake, and my parents bought property right down the street when I was really young. I went up to the Chain of Lakes during weekends, summers and school breaks to play guitar and enjoy bonfires.”
As Chain of Lakes, Rasche released a series of heartfelt, thoughtful projects over the next eight years, including his tender 2018 album, In&In. The nine-track project chronicles his growing family and concerns about the state of his future.
“I started writing it shortly after Softer Sticks, and then my wife got pregnant with twins. That slowed it way down, and it was a big nesting time in my life of creating a safe space to build a family. I had these girls who were now my responsibility while trying to maintain the relationship that I had always had with my wife,” said Rasche, who now has three young daughters.
With six releases to his name, Rasche continues to write new material (44 new songs to date) and perform a growing roster of live shows. He’s ready to drop another three-track EP this year, and he’s four songs into another full-length album due in 2022.
“A lot of the songs I’ve written are for other people, including Kari (Lynch) and Sav (Buist) from The Accidentals. I also have a musical that I’m writing with a friend, who’s a playwright out of DC. It’s not all Chain of Lakes songs, which has been kinda nice,” said Rasche, who also will perform at Wheatland Music Festival in September.
Sunday, July 11 | 8 p.m.