For Anthony Lai, it’s never too late for a fresh start.
The Dearborn vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist boldly weathers life’s painful losses, changes and challenges on his latest hopeful, folk-inspired album, Take Me with You.
“Every song is a very real experience, and some are more specific than others, but they’re all very honest. As I was choosing what songs I’ve written, I kept gravitating toward the honest ones and the ones that gave an emotional response,” Lai said.
“The album just started to take shape, and it ended up having this theme. I originally set out for it to be less themed and more of just a collection of tunes, but it looked like I had a common thread after all.”
In fact, Lai beautifully threads uplifting themes of resilience and renewal throughout eight introspective tracks into his genre-defying tapestry of Take Me with You.
Each thread weaves different tonal colors and instrumental palettes to represent a cohesive sound tinged with hints of pop, rock, bluegrass, classical, choral and folk.
“It feels like this album is finally me saying I understand who I am as a Beatles fan and as someone who has also studied classical music and is a choral director. You can hear all avenues of my life in this album,” Lai said.
As cultural anthropologists, The Mommyheads thoughtfully document the dawning of a new civilization.
The New York City indie pop quartet of Adam Elk (vocals, analog synths, guitar), Michael Holt (electric piano, vocals, synths), Dan Fisherman (drums, vocals) and Jason McNair (bass, recitation) poetically observes, records and shares the everyday habits of people living in newfound COVID-19 solitude.
Together, they produce and present a compelling 10-track report of recent lockdown life known as the Age of Isolation, which runs rampant with TV dinners, ceiling spots, drippy faucets, overgrown facial hair and extended window gazes.
As a follow-up to last year’s New Kings of Pop, The Mommyheads’ cerebral, contemplative 13th album beautifully delves into the psychological, political and social complexities of residing in suspended animation during quarantine. The Age of Isolation also gives new meaning to existential dread during a prolonged era of pandemic-induced uncertainty.
“I always think of records as snapshots or documents of certain time periods. That’s the main reason I like working through the writing and recording process extremely fast. It keeps you in the moment, especially in terms of the feeling and subject matter,” Elk said.
“The LP almost seems like a concept album, but that’s just because it never has the liberty of veering from its theme. I really hope it’s just a time piece and not the new normal.”
Immersed in sophisticated jazzy soul-pop sensibilities and refreshing, colorful sonic textures, Hannah Baiardi beautifully steps outside her comfort zone.
The Ann Arbor vocalist-composer and pianist provides a calm, soulful reassurance to embrace our authentic voice and rediscover our true calling on her latest hopeful single, “Reason.” It’s her first new material since releasing her genre-bending album, Straight from the Soul, in March.
“There’s a lot of weight on our shoulders right now, but it’s also a very inspiring time. Lightworkers are individuals who come with a purpose and are very driven to make social change and be their true selves and not hide their identities out of fear or shame,” Baiardi said.
“I was blown away when I got responses from other musicians saying, ‘Hey, that really resonated with me and made me feel like you’re standing up for the underdog.’ That’s totally my whole MO, even from being in high school and resonating with clique-busting and trying to be a friend to the friendless.”
Throughout “Reason,” shimmering piano, spirited drums, luminous slide guitar, fervent finger snaps, smooth electric bass and Baiardi’s confident vocals drench listeners in a sultry, protective dreamscape while inspiring a renewed, united social consciousness.
Once inside her encouraging, hypnotic sonic realm, Baiardi thoughtfully sings, “You never fit in/Stood out from the crowd/You waited you turn/Took courage to speak out loud/But now’s your time/You have to see/Your worth.”
“If someone feels alone or thinks it’s a really tough period of time … know there are others out there who see them and want to champion them. We’re all in this mess together while riding the waves. Water and waves are a theme in the song, and I’m trying to incorporate more sounds with nature and more sounds that evoke a feeling of tranquility,” Baiardi said.
Baiardi magically creates a peaceful “Reason” atmosphere with producer Marty Gray and bassist Ryan King of Stormy Chromer. Together, Baiardi and Gray spent two to three months recording the track in the studio for a late summer release.
“The rough melody and rough sketch of the lyrics came over a couple of weeks. The magic really happened when I brought it to Marty, and I was introduced to him through a mutual friend, David Magumba,” Baiardi said.
“We knew each other from the University of Michigan, where we were both students. Our paths didn’t really cross because he was a vocal major and I was a jazz major. We got together to work on this track, and instantaneously there was this sense of creative synergy. I came with the bones and left with a wonderful song, thanks to Marty.”
Baiardi also translates “Reason” into a gray-tinged lyric video filled with placid, flowing waters. While watching the video, viewers float above and reflect on their personal challenges as snippers of white light permeate the screen.
“The grayness of it conveys the uncertainty of the murky waters that we’re in right now. My social media manager Melissa (Zhuang) played a huge role in helping me craft that, and she’s very adept with Adobe,” said Baiardi, who’s also working on a new video for “How Do You Want Your Love.”
“I was like, ‘Hey, we just need water and some gray, so run with it.’ I think lyric videos are powerful so that someone can contemplate as they’re watching the visual element.”
Lucas Powell deeply digs into buried experiences and emotions of the past.
The metro Detroit indie folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist delicately exhumes old selves and uncovers entombed painful memories on his cerebral, haunting debut album, Michigan, which dropped in August.
“One of my favorite songwriters as a kid was Jon Foreman because I grew up religious and liked Switchfoot. He once said songwriting is like archaeology for him. He just digs inside and finds something. I saw that in an interview a couple of years ago and realized that’s my songwriting process,” Powell said.
“If I can’t write something, then I know that it’s because I need to meditate and get it out of me. Michigan is very embodying of a young, coming-of-age kid trying to get it all out. I could just see me trying to find the right words to say, and I love it for that reason.”
On Michigan, Powell slowly unearths fragile thoughts about spirituality, growth, self-worth and loss throughout his 12-track personal excavation. Filled with vivid religious imagery and layers of swelling cinematic soundscapes, the album thoughtfully chronicles his cathartic journey toward inner enlightenment and existential freedom.
“I’m exploring those themes to use that language as my own narrative. Artists use Christianity or religion as a way to talk about themselves or question it. It’s a mix of sometimes I’m addressing it, and sometimes I’m just using the language that I have,” Powell said.
The Detroit quintet of Ish Chowdhury (vocals, guitar), Adam Liles (guitar), Niko Kannapell (bass), Markus Kennedy (drums) and Mike Liles (organ, keys) instantly kick-starts dormant souls with a welcoming infusion of vigorous instrumentation, contemplative lyrics and emotive vocals.
“With this band, a goal of ours is to make music that’s a story of 2021. I don’t want a feeling of ‘this reminds me of 1995’ or ‘this takes me back to the ‘70s.’ It’s not like that’s bad or anything. That music is sweet as hell, but I just think we’re trying to make today’s song,” said Chowdhury, who formed the band with Adam Liles and their three bandmates in 2020.
Chowdhury, Adam Liles and their bandmates will bring that modern musical mindset to The Detroit Shipping Company live stage on Oct. 16. They will perform two 45-minute, action-packed sets at the Detroit-based restaurant collective.
“We’re a little over a year in, and with this music that we just put out with this EP, we’re starting to find where the five of us come together to make a sound that’s all of us. That’s compared to last summer when we just were playing and writing whatever came to mind,” Adam Liles said.
Editor’s Note: Proof of full vaccination is required for attending Ohly’s Friday headlining show at The Loving Touch.
For Ohly, Friday’s headlining show is bucket-list worthy.
The Ferndale indie folk rocker will relish performing his growing catalog of vivid, thoughtful tracks with Tom Mihalis (guitar), Matt Jones (keys), Brodie Glaza (drums), Pia Roa (bass, vocals) and Ian Lukas (trombone) at The Loving Touch.
“I’ve been doing music for eight or nine years now, and I started playing at coffee shops when I was 15 or 16. I think this is the first-ever proper headlining show that Ohly has ever done. We’re super excited and trying to invite all of our friends out,” said Christian Ohly, aka Ohly.
As part of Audiotree Presents, Friday’s show will allow Ohly to debut his latest contemplative single, “Steady,” and spotlight songs from his current seven-track EP, Landlines, before a metro Detroit audience.
“There are some songs that I’ve never really played live and definitely haven’t played them live with the ability that we’re at now. I’m really looking forward to playing them with a few years of experience. The more people I have up there, the livelier and more organic it will sound,” Ohly said.
“These are three bands that I’ve looked up to for years. My childhood friend used to be the bassist for Kimball, so he introduced me to them years ago before I was doing original music. I saw them live a couple of times and being on the same bill as them is pretty surreal,” he said.
“Two years ago, Jackamo opened up for Remnose. I heard their set and had to run up to them right afterward. I was like, ‘You guys took my breath away.’ The Michigan Ordinary’s Steve Davis used to be in a band called The Fragile, and I saw him at the coffee shop I used to play when I was 15 or 16. My brother and I grabbed his CD, and we were like, ‘Wow, how is this guy playing in a little coffee shop?’”
Lisa Danaë beautifully carves a refreshing pathway to self-love and personal empowerment.
The Pasadena, California dark pop artist quickly surmounts unexpected peaks and valleys along challenging internal terrain on her latest single, “Focus on Me.”
Throughout “Focus on Me,” pulsating synths, exuberant bass and hopeful electronic drums push Danaë toward a courageous, rewarding future.
She boldly sings, “I’m feeling mesmerized/I don’t know just why/But can’t look away/I need to control my mind/Have so much to say/I won’t be afraid.”
The Stratton Setlist recently chatted with Danaë about her uplifting new single, current releases, background and plans for 2022.
Focus on Me
TSS: “Focus on Me” highlights the importance of being your best authentic self, having a positive mindset and staying true to your dreams. How did those experiences inspire the track for you?
LD: I have been on this journey of self-love and empowerment for the past couple years as I navigated through a huge breakup and dealt with executives in the music industry telling me how to dress, what to sing, etc. I got really tired of non-industry people telling me that a career in music was unattainable, so I started cutting them out over time.
Self-love isn’t something that you achieve and then you’re done, like you will always be in that mindset. It’s a constant roller coaster, but learning how to control it and knowing how to overcome a slump without getting stuck too far in that rabbit hole is the lesson and key to staying there.
You hear that in “Focus On Me,” lyrically and musically. I know that I am great and have purpose, but I’m telling you the story of what makes me forget all of that as well as what snaps me back and the affirmation-like chorus that pulls me out of the dark.
I know how relatable this topic is, and it’s inevitable that you will not lose track of yourself. I hope “Focus On Me” encourages listeners to take time to study their mind and explore methods that can help them get back on track to focus on themselves.
Lilly MacPhee instantly provides a comforting, emotional release for the brokenhearted.
The Brighton indie folk singer-songwriter beautifully soothes and relieves grief-stricken souls on her tender, thoughtful latest single, “Waves,” which serves as a heartfelt tribute to her late uncle Ron.
“For me, songwriting is helpful as an outlet. I saw my family going through the grieving process, so I wrote the chorus really quickly and instantly felt better. I wrote that song within a half-hour after I had the idea for it,” said MacPhee, who lost her uncle to COVID-19 in December.
Throughout “Waves,” MacPhee openly shares her personal sorrow amidst a calming, acoustic-centered folk symphony. Somber, glistening guitar, heavenly strings and contemplative piano soar as grief slowly washes over her.
She elegantly sings, “Can we pause this moment/Freeze for a second/Not make any decisions with mixed emotions/As the waters rise, I try to find/A way to breathe/Full speed it hits me.”
“My family just loved it. At one point, we had gone to visit my aunt and cousins. I had a recording of it on my phone, and I had them listen to it. My aunt was so teary, and she said it really explained the grieving process,” MacPhee said.
While “Waves” boldly captures the raw honesty of MacPhee’s grief, it also reminds listeners to cherish their loved ones and focus on the present.
“Sometimes we need to sit back and really appreciate the small moments, whether it’s having a cup of coffee or going for a drive with someone. Time just goes so fast, and sometimes we forget that. I try to live in the present and not worry too much about the future,” MacPhee said.
As a DIY artist and musician, MacPhee recorded, produced, mixed and mastered “Waves” in her home studio earlier this year. She also released an intimate acoustic video for the track, which features a poignant, memorable live performance.
“That was the first song I recorded and released at home. During the pandemic, I invested in recording equipment and slowly built my own home studio. I thought, ‘I have all this stuff here, so why not give this a go?’” she said.
One summer night, Marty Gray casually walked into a Marquette bar and unexpectedly experienced a life-changing conversation with a random stranger.
The Ann Arbor indie pop artist, multi-instrumentalist and producer went to Flanigan’s Bar with high school friends to sing karaoke and decided to get a drink. Right away, a 36-year-old regular sitting at the bar started chatting with Gray.
“This whole conversation happened the summer before the pandemic. We went on a Wednesday, and there were maybe four people there. This guy says, ‘You have a great voice. Where are you from?’ I said, ‘I’m from Ann Arbor, but I grew up here, and I just wanted to see what this bar was all about,” said Gray about that infamous night in 2019.
“For the next half an hour, the guy starts telling me everything he’s thinking about. His demeanor was friendly and non-weighted. He didn’t present the information like he was suffering or in a bad spot. It was literally, ‘Hey dude, this is what I’m doing. As long as you’re gonna listen, I’ll just keep telling you.”
The regular told Gray about missed opportunities and regrets in his life, including breaking up with his fiancée, being stuck in an unsatisfying job, longing for the carefree days of his youth and feeling scared about the future.
“He clearly felt like he had missed his life, and it was too late for him to experience those early thirties things that all his friends had experienced. The whole conversation left me in a very different mood. It was really nonchalant, but really heavy,” Gray said.
For some reason, that 30-minute interaction resonated with Gray and later served as the inspiration behind his soulful, introspective concept album, The Regular. It beautifully recounts that memorable conversation and glides through the regular’s experiences, preoccupations, choices and uncertainties.
“The whole very human thing that hit me so hard in the gut was that mentality. This guy had been backed into a corner so many times in the last 10 years of his life, and he was in such a desolate, horrible spot where he was just drinking alone at the bar every night or with a couple of friends,” Gray said.
“There’s something about the way he was talking about leaving and the way he was talking about changing something. The whole sentiment was human and on the same wavelength as a fight-or-flight response. You can either lie down and die or give up, or you can make a drastic change.”