Marty E. relishes returning to his old childhood stomping grounds in the Upper Midwest.
The Bessemer, Michigan garage-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist-drummer recently relocated to the western Upper Peninsula near Ironwood after living in New York City for more than 20 years.
“Everybody asks me, ‘Why did you move from New York City to goddamn Ironwood?’ The reason is I grew up in northern Minnesota, and my parents and grandparents all grew up in this area, like Ironwood, Michigan and the Hurley, Wisconsin area,” said Marty E., who’s also known as Marty Erspamer and hails from Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
“My great-grandfather had emigrated from Tyrol in Austria, and he went to Cleveland, but had heard the mining business was booming up here. Along with his brother and his cousin, he jumped a train, hitchhiked and somehow got here. The three of them started building houses up here, so I have deep roots here.”
Those deep, familial roots inspired some of the raw, honest tracks on Marty E.’s debut solo EP, Benevolent Criminal, which is now available on vinyl. The six-track EP features a seamless blend of gritty, lo-fi alt-rock, punk-rock and garage-rock instrumentation fused with introspective lyrics about change, loss and renewal.
“When I was singing, Jaime [Hansen] and Keith [Killoren] both really helped pull workable performances out of me and [taught me] how to think about it and how not to freak yourself out and have a whiskey or have a beer,” said Marty E., who’s inspired by The Replacements, the New York Dolls and The Velvet Underground.
“You want it to come out how you hear it in your head. Hindsight is always 20/20 when you’re recording, and you’re like, ‘I could have done this better, and I could have done that better.’ What it is … is a snapshot of the time, and I’m just really happy that I was able to come up with a recording that what you hear reflects what was here.”
The Detroit vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and founding member of Bill Grogan’s Goat fuses noble elements of Celtic music, hard rock, jazz and folk with political and mythological themes on his latest album.
“I love that line, ‘Lullabies in an Ancient Tongue,’ it’s from King Crimson’s song, ‘The Court of the Crimson King,’” said Smith, who plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, bodhrán, tin whistle and concertina. “I also had an idea for a lullaby rolling around in my head for a long time; it’s ‘Sweet Dreams and Soft Mornings.’”
Throughout Lullabies in an Ancient Tongue, Smith embarks on a prog-rock odyssey filled with pursuits for justice, courage and truth. The album’s storyline seamlessly shifts from fantasy to reality alongside melodic instrumentation, complex time signatures and world soundscapes.
“This album is a collection of songs, but these are all themes that I think about a lot. It’s the idea of the stress of living your life with political dissent,” he said. “It’s especially true with the way the lyrics fall out in ‘Standing Stones’ and the whole idea of propaganda and how people cannot think critically when they want to be part of a [group].”
Lullabies in an Ancient Tongue
Devoted to his cause, Smith challenges groupthink from the George W. Bush era and encourages allies to unite against lingering oppression on the steadfast opener, “Standing Stones.”
Determined electric guitar, bass, drums and uillean pipes rally behind Smith as he sings, “Division tears our people asunder / The vortex of lies pulls us under / Let’s put an end to this nightmare reign / And lift our land to the light again.”
“The way intellectually that I’ve always approached thinking about what goes on in this country and the absolute bullshit that his entire administration was throwing around … it’s like how would anybody believe this crap?” he said.
“That was back when people started this [idea] of … ‘We’re gonna take our country back.’ Well, it’s not your country; it’s our country. You gotta get on the stick and work with everybody else because it’s not [just] your country.”
Next, Smith shifts his resolve inward on the 10-minute anti-stress anthem, “Breathe,” which charges alongside fiery electric guitar, bass, organ and drums. It’s akin to Jethro Tull, Rush and Porcupine Tree uniting for an epic prog-rock track that urges releasing past troubles.
Smith sings, “Remember just to laugh, when you feel like you might cry / Don’t forget to live, when the script says you should die / Remember you must save, resist the urge to buy / Continue to speak truth, stand up to those who lie.”
“It originally started out as two separate ideas, and then I realized that those two ideas belonged together. For the beginning half, I tried to make it so that it gets more and more stressful to listen to it,” said Smith about the longest track from Lullabies in an Ancient Tongue.
“The whole concept of the song is about the stress of your life, and if you breathe, it will calm your stress down … and that’s also what the second half of the song is about. I’m pretty sure lyrically the back half mirrors the front half.”
Smith continues to destress on the summery acoustic ballad, “Sweet Dreams and Soft Mornings,” as serene acoustic guitar, viola, cello, harmonium, percussion and a chirping cricket provide peaceful sounds for a welcome night’s slumber.
The atmospheric, Steve Hackett-esque track also soars into the heavens, thanks to the backing vocals of Maggie McCabe, the viola and cello of V. Rose Cieri and the harmonium of Curvey.
Smith sings, “When the leaves rustle in the breeze / And Luna starts to make her rise / Moonbeams filter through the trees / And cotton clouds march through the skies.”
“I wasn’t thinking that it could have been influenced by [being a parent], but it could have been because it has the same kind of feel to it of ‘I hope my children are good to go,’” said Smith, who also included a single edit of the track on the album.
“That was supposed to be the simplest song on the album … we thought it would end up being acoustic guitar and voice for the whole thing. As we started working on it, it probably used more inputs than anything else. There’s so much going on in there.”
Intrepid electric guitar, bass and drums rise into the skies as he sings, “Come to me now, dove on your shoulder / White flame of love burns on your breath / Oh I am ready for flight / Oh my wings are so ripe / Come wake me / Take me from the nest.”
“One day my brother and I were at this market in Capac called Jolly Jim’s, and they had a little rack with cut-out records on it. There was this cut-out of a compilation from Columbia called The Music People,” said Smith about discovering Spheeris’ 1971 track.
“I dug into some stuff just from listening to this three-album set, and that was one of the songs. It sounds so mystical and everything; I was just totally enthralled by that song. I had always wanted to do a cover of this song to see how it would sound in a rock form.”
“Paco had just started opening the studio, so we started to get together to go through some stuff and then the pandemic hit. We did it over Zoom and exchanged ideas over email,” said Smith, who’s inspired by Jethro Tull, Blue Öyster Cult and Rory Gallagher.
“We went back into the studio later and did the drums and the bass stuff together. Working with Paco was fantastic … I would just kinda say, ‘You know what, do you know what I’m thinking right now?’ and he would say, ‘Weirdly enough, I think I do.’”
The duo assembled a talented cast of collaborators to solidify the prog-rock sensibilities of Lullabies in an Ancient Tongue. Musicians included Tom Phillips (bass), Timothy Seisser (bass), Justin Velic (drums), Simen Sandnes (drums) V. Rose Cieri (viola, cello), Curvey (harmonium), Patrick Grant (synth), Ryan Yunck (organ), Alex Kane (guitar), Colleen Shanks (uilleann pipes) Maggie McCabe (vocals).
“V. did her stuff in the studio and then Tom and Justin were there … we did all that stuff together [with them]. Maggie also came in to do that vocal part, which I thought turned out beautiful because it’s so angelic,” Smith said.
“Alex never left Arizona when he was doing that; he’s been the touring guitar player for Stars. He totally brought something that neither myself nor Paco would have thought of on ‘Standing Stones.’”
While Lullabies in an Ancient Tongue is currently satisfying the musical appetites of prog-rock fans, Smith is already considering his next release. He has a bunch of lyrics and music coming together for a concept album about growing up in the country.
“I want it to be like [Jethro Tull’s] Thick as a Brick where it’s all one song or like Porcupine Tree’s The Incident,” Smith said. “That’s a great piece of work right there.”
Outside of songwriting, Smith performs live regularly in metro Detroit at venues like Sullivan’s Public House in Oxford and The Celtic Knot in Leonard, including a St. Patrick’s Day weekend show on March 18.
The Detroit indie-rocker strikes an optimal balance between wit and sincerity on his refreshing new album.
“I’m a really goofy guy in my personal life, and I love making jokes and stuff. I wanted this album to be goofy and funny, but I still wanted the subject matter to be important,” VanZandt said.
“For artists, especially early on, everything can feel like it’s the art school film where it’s black and white and super serious. The big lesson I learned between the last album and this one is that a lot of my favorite serious art still has a lot of humor in it … and some of my favorite comedies are tearjerkers and have a real serious side to them.”
That ideal mindset flows throughout the 11 authentic tracks featured on Music to Your Ears. Filled with vivid tales of youth, nostalgia, and the passage of time, the album whisks listeners along from one memorable VanZandt adventure to the next.
Zany escapades occur at rock ‘n’ roll history museums, Wendy’s, Bruce Springsteen on ice shows, the Stranger Zone, mountaintops and other locales. Collectively, those stops provide greater insight into VanZandt’s past, present and future.
VanZandt also features brands and music artists as his ironic sidekicks throughout Music to Your Ears. These “pals” include AC/DC, Guitar Center, Jamba Juice, Eagles, Vineyard Vines, Enclave, Cat Power, Google Earth, McDonald’s and others to distinctly set each track’s scene and mood.
“When you go outside, it’s not like forests and rivers anymore, it’s Subway and Domino’s. If you’re going to do a modern-day landscape painting, like Jake Longstreth, it’s a painting of an abandoned Circuit City,” said VanZandt, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in art history from Wayne State University.
“I wanted it to have that feel and also in a pop-art way, like ‘What do brands mean and signify?’ That’s a big 21st century anxiety that we all deal with. I wanted it to feel true to actual modern life, and there’s something I love about how banal all that stuff is.”
“It’s definitely kind of like a prayer and an asking; I wrote it on my birthday, which is kind of funny,” said Talmers, a University of Michigan alumna.
“But I think the central image of the song is thinking about unfolding as a human … and it’s very vulnerable to be a human. It’s just admitting that and feeling often like when we bring our full selves to other people it’s hard to do that and not be embarrassed.”
Surrounded by wistful nylon guitar and strings, she sings, “So please excuse the hardness of my softening / If I’m unworthy, Lord, I swear I’ll fake it good.”
“It’s this image of wanting to be your full little sweet self and feeling ashamed of that,” Talmers said. “It’s also oscillating between those two things, like ‘I want to go back into the womb, and I don’t want to interact with anyone,’ and wanting to fully be with people and be loving and brave.”
The In a Daydream lead vocalist-guitarist candidly addresses the everyday challenges of recovering from addiction on the Detroit emo/indie-rock quintet’s latest single.
Alongside vulnerable synth and courageous electric guitar, bass and drums, Porter sings, “Yeah, I wanna say I’m all right today / But ‘clean’ feels like the wrong word to use / When it’s not just ‘what’ but ‘who’ you abuse.”
“I wanted this song to be the first one I put out after the last record, so I wanted to directly reference the last song on the last record. Toward the end of ‘Everything Hurt Beautifully (So It Goes),’ I sing, ‘I wanna say I’m alright today,’ and so I use those lyrics again in this song,” he said.
“The part where I say, ‘But ‘clean’ feels like the wrong word to use,’ means I’m not using drugs, like I’m technically clean, but that it doesn’t feel right still, and my work isn’t done.”
To learn more about In a Daydream’s strong work ethic, I chatted with Porter about his background, the band’s last full-length album, his road to recovery, the band’s latest single and their plans for the future.
The Waterford blues-rock quintet’s debut album reveals personal thoughts about loss, growth and ambition, especially from lead vocalist-guitarist Frank Grimaldi and organist Peter Zajicek.
“I wrote ‘Lonely Hearts Club’ when I was 17 after my first bad breakup. It’s just a heartbroken kid who thinks he’s never gonna fall in love again. ‘Long Road Ahead’ was me trying to write a song that sounded like a Jimi Hendrix song,” Grimaldi said.
“What comes out from me lyrically are things that I don’t have the courage to say directly to people, or they’re something I just wanna get off my chest. They’re also mantras, even if they’re negative. I feel like Pete [Zajicek] writes out of frustration as well.”
Those shared experiences from Grimaldi and Zajicek truly produce “something good” for Slowfoot listeners.
With bandmates Mike Conley (guitar), Kris Grieg (bass) and Tony DiDio (drums), they present a profound release filled with soulful vocals, introspective lyrics, vintage Hammond organ solos and bluesy instrumentation.
“If you asked all five members of the group, you would get five different favorite bands. There’s a lot of different stuff melting into our sound, and you know who wrote what song,” said Grimaldi, who’s influenced by Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin and Derek Trucks.
“It’s only me and Pete who have been writing the songs, but you can feel my writing tendencies versus Pete’s. He has a lot of words in his songs … and my songs are more Hemingway in their approach.”
The Alto, Michigan indie-folk singer-songwriter candidly shares honest stories about self-acceptance, familial love and the passage of time on his latest album, Songs That Didn’t Make the Record.
“I’ve consciously been trying to not worry about how a song is gonna come off. The second I stopped trying to be cool, audiences started responding,” said Kyle Rasche, aka Chain of Lakes.
“When I play my ‘Worm’ song from the [upcoming] kids’ record because that’s the last one I finished, people wanna see who you are—good, bad, ugly. You’re just more interesting that way when you’re yourself.”
The album’s 10 tender tracks showcase Rasche’s increasing growth and strength over different points in time. Whether it’s his last day on earth or his ideal day at the beach, his wise lyrics, sentimental stories, and earnest instrumentation reflect his evolutionary mindset.
“I do write a lot, so these were all from that same season of writing. I think it makes sense there’s a theme throughout because I have been writing a lot about my family. I have been writing a lot about discontent on not being able to fully dive into art,” Rasche said.
“I use a lot of imagery … sunsets on a chapter, day or period. I didn’t consciously make these songs to be a batch that comes out like this by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it makes sense if they sound like that because they were all made in the same time period of a writer that was writing a lot.”
A prolific songwriter, Rasche’s Songs That Didn’t Make the Record serves as his second full-length Chain of Lakes release in over six months. In May, he dropped Catch, an introspective album that recounts personal tales of heartwarming comfort and raw vulnerability.
“Thematically, Catch was more cohesive as it was than if we had just thrown a random ‘Sunset’ song on there or a very sweet love song that wouldn’t really fit,” Rasche said. “Catch is about coming of age and nostalgia and finding reconciliation with parts of yourself.”
Amidst that reconciliation, Rasche compiled a timeless gem of an album with producer Josh Kaufman for Songs That Didn’t Make the Record. However, don’t let the album’s title fool you—there’s nothing ephemeral about any of its tracks.
“I put this record out because I love these songs too much to not have them on a record. I’m very, very proud of them, and now I have a little bit of regret on that name. If it sounds like these are reject songs … that last record was made to be that record, and this means those weren’t for it. I think this one is a little lighter,” he said.
“Calling this Songs That Didn’t Make the Record took so much pressure off of having it be a cohesive album because everybody just gives me liberties of it being the next songs.”
“It really does come from my past albums and dealing with all the controversy and disagreement in the world. What has gotten me through these last few years has been love and the relationships with my wife, my family and my friends. In a way, while it seems like a departure, it’s really part of the same story,” Alter said.
“How many times have you spent your whole day watching whatever news channel you watch? I did a lot of that, and what got me away from that and allowed me to deal with things emotionally and intellectually was turning back to the people I could count on in my life.”
ThroughoutLove and All That Comes With It, Alter revisits past and present relationships alongside reflective lyrics and atmospheric folk-jazz-rock instrumentation. Each track encourages listeners to take an emotional and spiritual look at the love in their lives.
“Some of the songs on the album were written a while ago, but a lot of them were rewritten where I repurposed lyrics and things like that. There were songs I wasn’t happy with, but I liked certain concepts in them,” Alter said.
“The first song really written for this album was ‘Love and All That Comes With It.’ It has the line, ‘With love you can deal with it,’ and it’s a continuation of my previous statements.”
To expand on those statements, we recently chatted with Alter about writing and recording tracks for his recent release.
The Lansing indie-folk quartet follow spirited wisdom from the late congressman and musician about taking risks and making changes in life.
Lewis and Bowie’s encouragement about “getting in good trouble” and “going a little further into the water” inspired the band’s hopeful opener, “Where It Gets Exciting,” from their new album One More Drop.
“I wrote this song in 2020 during one of the Black Lives Matter movements,” said Austin Kaufmann, the band’s co-lead vocalist, guitarist, mandolinist and harmonicist.
“I was talking through this with my children, attending some of these rallies with them and processing that. You talk big to your kids and realize, ‘I really need to live up to this stuff, and I need to put myself out there.’”
The track also resonates with Tamiko Rothhorn, the band’s co-lead vocalist, cornetist and ukulelist.
“I lived in Germany for a while, and I did work with Peace Brigades International and trained with the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed,” she said. “There’s a word called ‘civil courage’ that’s about speaking out and taking action against injustice or oppression, whether that is on a bus, at a school or in a community.”
Along with Dangling Participles bandmates Tim Patterson (vocals, bass, piano) and Dan Moreno (vocals, percussion), Kaufmann and Rothhorn convey that “Where It Gets Exciting” determination through eager acoustic guitar, cornet, saxophone, bass and percussion.
Kaufmann sings, “And I’m right where I need to be / To up my game, fight complacency / In the deep end, there’s no hiding / This is where it gets exciting.”
“That song is a reminder that I need to do more than just treading water,” he said. “I need to intentionally jump into that deep end because if I don’t, then I’m not living my life the way I want to live it.”
The metro Detroit rock-soul trio of Josh Clemens (lead vocals, guitar), Mike Schneider (vocals, bass) and Bobby Jankowski (drums) share heartfelt truths of the past and find the way forward on their latest album.
“Falling Back Again is when you’re trapped in a cycle, and you’re falling back into the same old patterns,” Clemens said.
“In a relationship, it can be like, ‘We’re fine; we’re doing really good,’ but then it’s like, ‘We’re back to square one,’ and finally it’s like, ‘Are you leaving? No, I’m staying.’”
That cyclical nature of Falling Back Again elicits eight personal tales of love, self-acceptance and heartbreak against a backdrop of soulful instrumentation and Motown-rich sensibilities. Each track accepts one circumstance and prepares for the challenges of the next.
“It’s just this vicious cycle, and it never stops. When you’re Falling Back Again, you’re falling back to the beginning of the cycle, which has a ‘with or without you’ vibe,” Clemens said