When it comes to live shows, a new metro Detroit blues quartet is getting into the swing of things.
Known as the Nine Mile Shakers, the smooth bluesy sounds of Kenny Schabow (guitar), Maggie Robinson (vocals), Daniel Bloink (bass) and Thomas Chance (drums) will flow Friday throughout Novi’s Beerhead Bar & Eatery. It’s the band’s first in-person show after performing a series of livestreams during the pandemic.
“We’re doing our thing with the livestreams, but we want to play for an audience. We’re all dancers, and there’s that conversation, right? When you’re dancing with someone, there’s a conversation, and it’s not just a constant one-way,” said Schabow, who met his bandmates at local swing dance events.
“It’s back and forth, and we want that with our audiences, too. But we can’t do that with the kind of dynamic that we want through online streams. We don’t get the feedback until after. You can tell when the audience is like, ‘This is really good,’ and they’re waiting for the next song.”
Throughout their three-hour set, the Nine Mile Shakers will share a mix of bluesy originals as well as bops, bangers and genre classics.
“We have a lot of originals. Thomas and I have been writing together, and his songs are all very cryptic. We love asking people, ‘What do you think this song is about?’ and nobody can figure it out. My songs usually have a really obvious meaning and a hidden meaning,” said Schabow with a laugh.
Schabow created his own musical meaning after forming the Nine Mile Shakers with Robinson, Bloink and Chance in 2020. The four friends and swing dancers decided to start their own project filled with timeless blues, swing and hard rock sounds.
“We participate in a livestream called Third Friday Blues, which was born from the (blues) dances in Ypsilanti. That relationship between dancers and musicians is just so important, and I wanted to create an avenue for the artists to still perform,” said Schabow, who used to jam at similar events hosted at Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center.
“It’s really targeted toward swing and blues dancers, but it’s grown to people who aren’t in that community. It’s provided more exposure for some of those artists to get their music out there.”
The Quarantined in Distress
Outside of Nine Mile Shakers, Schabow released his debut solo single, “If We Ever Get Out of Quarantine,” earlier this year. Filled with punky, hard rock flavors, the lively track explores the frustrations of being stuck with the wrong person in a pandemic-fueled lockdown.
Distorted, fuzzy electric guitars, driving bass, crashing cymbals and thumping drums instantly expel pent-up, fiery energy as Schabow screams, “I don’t need your charity/The case is closed/I see with new clarity/Your trap exposed.”
“I wrote the song about the frustration of the experience. When you listen to it, it’s not about physically being in a pandemic. It’s really open to interpretation, but there’s a story and some emotion there,” Schabow said.
“The lyric, ‘Feelin’ stuck…,’ has more duration each time in terms of how long the note is held. It’s just like real life. If you’re feeling stuck, and after a year or two years in a situation where you can’t leave, it drags on you.”
Initially inspired by Robinson, Schabow recorded “If We Ever Get Out of Quarantine” at his Farmington Hills-based Nine Mile Studios. He played all the instruments on the track and received guidance from Chance on the drum fills.
“Maggie was writing me, ‘If we ever get out of quarantine, let’s start performing and learning these songs.’ I read her text, and I had a melody just like that. Like any artist, you just stop and pursue that idea. The song was like autocomplete for me,” said Schabow, who also mixed and mastered the track.
“I just started writing it out, and I wrote it on a slip of paper we were using to document PayPal payments. My fiancée Johannah was writing a letter of recommendation for someone, and it was just a scratch piece of paper where I wrote it out.”
To celebrate his latest single, Schabow released a fun-spirited, five-minute mockumentary called “How Do We Start The Song?” In the vein of “Wayne’s World” and “This is Spinal Tap,” the video features Schabow playing several different “Kennys” from a fictional band. Together, they discuss how to write and record the track.
“We went for a really dry humor that musicians and a lot of music fans like. They’re the ones who are going to get the jokes,” said Schabow, who recorded the video with Chance.
Since releasing “If We Ever Get Out of Quarantine,” Schabow has started writing and recording a new emotive track called “Freedom is in Distress.” The song is a poignant reaction to the murder of George Floyd and calls for global accountability, peace and unity.
“I’d like to collaborate with someone in a meaningful way on the song, so they can bring their voice to it. Because of the technology that’s out there, I’m not limited to people in my area. I’ve got to get the song to enough of a point where someone can actually work with me on it,” he said.
Nine Mile Studios
Schabow discovered his love of music while growing up in suburban Chicago. At age 14, he wanted to play drums, but his father bought him a guitar instead.
“My dad said, ‘Well, we live in an apartment, you can’t do that. Maybe we can get you an electronic drum kit?’ I was already a little pretentious at that point, and I was like, ‘I want to play a real drum kit,’” Schabow said.
“He got the absolute cheapest guitar you could get from the Sears catalog, and it was powered by a battery. I tried to learn on it, but it was buzzing everywhere. I did write my first songs on it. From the beginning, I didn’t want to play other people’s songs. I wanted to play mine.”
Schabow continued to hone his guitar and songwriting chops through high school and sought inspiration from classic rock, soul and jazz artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Nina Simone and Miles Davis.
After high school, Schabow studied engineering at Flint’s Kettering University and strummed his guitar amidst a heavy courseload. He landed an automotive engineering internship at Ford Motor Co. and received a full-time position upon graduation.
By 2012, he bought a house in Farmington Hills and started building a recording studio in his basement. Over the next eight years, Schabow added recording equipment, acoustic panels and instruments, including a drum kit, electric guitars and Hammond organ, to his burgeoning home studio.
“I bought this house in the middle of nowhere, and I’ve got three acres around me. I don’t have to worry about people getting upset at me for playing late at night. I get an idea, I run down the stairs, and I record it real quickly,” said Schabow, who now runs Nine Mile Studios.
“My plan for 2020 was to perform live music more often, but my plans got 2020’ed. The second goal was to finish the studio and turn it into an actual business. I invested all my time into learning mixing and mastering, and I got a lot better last year.”
At Nine Mile Studios, Schabow records his own material, including solo tracks and Nine Mile Shakers songs. He also produces two singer-songwriters, including a pop-blues artist based in Amsterdam and a local folk artist, and plans to make the studio a collaborative space for creatives.
“The folk artist hasn’t been in the studio yet because of COVID, so I’ve been producing the songs. He’s going to sing over them. That’s what I’m doing with the woman in Amsterdam as well. It’s fun because I don’t want to be a one-trick pony with just hard rock music,” Schabow said.
“Thomas and I have been composing, and we’ve got about a dozen songs that we’ve written. I’ve got a 100 from my backlog.”
6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1
Beerhead Bar & Eatery, 44375 W. 12 Mile Road in Novi