Remote Start – Otto’s ‘Still Picture You’ Debut EP Born from Virtual Songwriting Sessions

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Otto’s Nate Dornfried, Chesney Walters, Jonny Walker and Austin Howard create an ’80s-inspired pop sound on “Still Picture You.” (Not pictured: Ryan Freitas) Photo – Brooke Tiller

For Otto, a series of virtual songwriting sessions provided unexpected creativity and camaraderie.

The Detroit indie-pop quintet of Chesney Walters (vocals), Jonny Walker (guitar), Nate Dornfried (keys), Ryan Freitas (bass) and Austin Howard (drums) instantly gelled while penning new tracks over Zoom for their infectious debut EP, Still Picture You.

“In 2019, I was ready to call it quits with music, and then two weeks later, I just changed my mind. Austin and I decided to start doing our own project, and we started writing with no end-game in mind. And I knew Nate from where we grew up, and I ran into him and asked if he wanted to be a part of it,” said Walker, who previously played with Howard in another project.

“The three of us wrote together for a year and a half and auditioned 10 different singers, but couldn’t find anyone we were happy with. I was ready to call it quits (again) because we just couldn’t find anyone, and then Chesney just came out of nowhere. Austin and I also have known Ryan for a while. He ended up playing bass with us for one show, and now he’s here.”

With the right lineup intact, Otto started compiling a new batch of earnest tracks in 2020. Walters met regularly with Walker to write and refine the ‘80s-inspired, synth-pop songs that would become Still Picture You.

“I was living with my family at the time in the suburbs, and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere except to Jonny’s house to write music,” Walters said. “We would just write and write for months while there was nothing else to do.”

During their writing sessions, Walters and Walker collaborated remotely with other Otto members until the pandemic subsided. It would be another six months before the entire band would meet in person.

“I hadn’t met them for months once we started, and we would all rotate at Jonny’s house and be there at different times,” Walters said. “But the first time we were all together in the same place was when we went to Nashville in March 2021 to record.”

Continue reading “Remote Start – Otto’s ‘Still Picture You’ Debut EP Born from Virtual Songwriting Sessions”

Pithy Tales – Blank Tape Tax Chronicles Self-Empowerment on ‘Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool’ Album

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Blank Tape Tax’s Hayley McNichol and Ben Yost overcome adversity on “Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool.” Courtesy photo

Ben Yost thoughtfully constructs personal vignettes of self-empowerment.

The Detroit punk-rock vocalist-guitarist-drummer vividly recounts past struggles to overcome adversity on Blank Tape Tax’s new pithy, punchy album, Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool, via Kickpop Records.

“There’s a quote from Ezra Pound where he says, ‘The image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.’ The mission of my writing is to use imagery,” said Yost, who’s inspired by the late 20th century American poet’s development of imagism, a movement that stressed the precision and economy of language.

Alongside Blank Tape Tax bassist Hayley McNichol, Yost employs astute, concise lyrics and raw, brisk instrumentation to address internal challenges with mental health, relationships and loss. While only 21 minutes long, Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool provides a detailed analysis beneath the surface.

“‘Hospital’ is about me having a mental breakdown, but it’s also about a number of other things,” Yost said. “I have my interpretation as the author, but you, the listener, may have another interpretation based on the words, and your interpretation is just as valid an interpretation as mine is.”

Continue reading “Pithy Tales – Blank Tape Tax Chronicles Self-Empowerment on ‘Plastic Vapid Sexual Cool’ Album”

Recovery Time – Linen Ray’s ‘On the Mend’ Album Brings Comfort and Closure

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Linen Ray’s “On the Mend” reveals a majestic, internal transformation fueled by love, hope and gratitude. Photo – Mike Frieseman/Package design – Stephanie Eatherly

Linen Ray slowly breathes a long-awaited sigh of relief.

The Nashville, Tennessee married folk-rock duo of Rebekah Craft (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Gabriel Craft (drums, backing vocals) releases deeply buried tensions and inner struggles on their latest cathartic album, On the Mend.

“We’re in a full-circle moment now … there’s been some closure and healing in different areas. We’ve never written anything more meaningful to us that’s so close to our hearts,” said Rebekah Craft, who relocated to Music City from Ypsilanti with her husband and children in 2018.

“When we were moving to Nashville, there were so many unknowns, but we knew we had to do it. And, now looking back, we can see that this move has been really good for our family. We got to step away from some of those situations to really look at it and see the whole picture now.”

Inside that new On the Mend picture, Linen Ray finds comfort and rejuvenation after weathering personal stress and pandemic challenges. Each therapeutic track reveals a majestic, internal transformation fueled by hope, love and gratitude.

“We can see more clearly now because we’re all human, and we all make our choices,” said Rebekah Craft. “Now … we have way more grace, compassion and understanding than we had before when we were living through those moments in Michigan.”

Continue reading “Recovery Time – Linen Ray’s ‘On the Mend’ Album Brings Comfort and Closure”

The Quest – Adam Padden Searches for Life’s Definitive Answers on ‘Dreamer’ Single

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Adam Padden gets introspective on his latest EP, “Oh No! It’s the Rapture.” Photo – Liz Wittman

Adam Padden boldly searches for change and truth in an uncertain world.

The Detroit post-punk rocker and multi-instrumentalist demands life’s clear-cut answers while trying to distinguish fantasy from reality on his latest turbo-charged single, “Dreamer.”

Punchy drums, hectic cymbals, intrepid bass, spirited keys and fiery electric guitars release an inner fury as Padden sings, “You better stop and ask why/The secrets always disguised/Another flimsy attempt/Was it just something you dreamt?”

In reality, Padden relishes the release of “Dreamer” alongside his insightful new EP, Oh No! It’s the Rapture, which dropped June 3.

The Stratton Setlist recently chatted with Padden about the EP, his June 10 show in Detroit, his roles in Tart and Handgrenades, his background and upcoming plans.

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TSS: Your new EP, Oh No! It’s the Rapture, explores internal and spiritual challenges with taking risks, making changes and searching for truth in life. How did this EP help you embark on a quest of self-discovery? 

AP: In short, no, I did not purposely write these songs with that theme in mind. I think that turning 30 during a global pandemic made me a little introspective, to say the least. The lyrics to most of these songs came out super-fast. I honestly think I’m still deciphering what some of these songs are about.

TSS: How did a 10-day quarantine help produce the 7 tracks that would become Oh No! It’s the Rapture? What was it like to focus solely on writing and recording your own material during that time?

AP: I guess I was lucky enough to have the songwriting gates burst open when I had all the time in the world to write songs. It doesn’t always happen that way! It was a fantastic learning experience to write and record a collection of songs in such a short window of time.

Continue reading “The Quest – Adam Padden Searches for Life’s Definitive Answers on ‘Dreamer’ Single”

Evolutionary Perspective – Mike Ward Examines Passage of Time on ‘Particles to Pearls’ Album

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Mike Ward highlights the fleeting passage of time on “Particles to Pearls.” Photo – Danny Ward

For Mike Ward, a new album chronicles a thoughtful evolution of sound.

The Detroit Americana singer-songwriter carefully transforms a dozen acoustic tracks into an earnest collection of expansive tales on Particles to Pearls.

“I think the first track we added any instruments to was ‘All We Have Are Words.’ David Roof played the electric guitar on it, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s what this can sound like.’ I’d been playing that by myself for two years,” said Ward about his third Psychosongs album.

“Because it’s been two years since I wrote most of those songs, and that’s right about now, every day on Facebook there’s a memory of the song, and I get to hear how I first wrote it.”

During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, Ward penned 31 new tracks as part of a 30 Songs in 30 Days songwriting challenge with New York City folk-rock singer-songwriter Paul Winfield. The poignant tracks opened his creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches.

“They’re all moments in time. The album has a number of those songs,” Ward said. “I’m pretty happy with the end results. David Roof plays bass on everything, but he also plays a 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar on ‘Back Again.’ We wanted a Byrds/Roger McGuinn-style sound on it.”

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Mood Music – Bart Moore Creates Folky, Dystopian World on ‘Graveyards Wind & War’ Album

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Bart Moore embarks on a storied folk journey through history and beyond on “Graveyards Wind & War.” Photo – Jen Hovey

In early 2020, Bart Moore tried to see the bright side of the pandemic.

The Grand Ledge, Michigan alt-folk singer-songwriter and guitarist noticed a burning desire to write new material and responded with a creative zeal. Instead, an unexpected feeling emerged.

“It’s interesting to me how everything is kind of shaped by the mood of the pandemic. When I would write a song, I would think, ‘This is pretty dystopian. I’d better write something that’s a little bit brighter,’” Moore said.

“Then, I would write another song, and it would turn out to be also kind of dystopian. I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of a recurring theme here.’ It was hard to get out of that kind of dark tone to the songs.”

That dark tone produced Moore’s new otherworldly album, Graveyards Wind & War, which embarks on a storied folk journey through history and beyond.

Throughout his latest release via Nature Boy Records, Moore seamlessly transports listeners to Gettysburg, Dublin and San Francisco while encountering the spirits of Winfield Scott Hancock, Chris Cornell and “Marcelena.”

Immersed in acoustic introspection, Graveyards Wind & War’s memorable tales also land at the intersection of fantasy and reality and explore the possibilities of the future.

“That definitely influenced the content … the whole pandemic thing and going into the 2020 election thinking, ‘Good God, what fate is in store for us, depending on how this all goes?’ That fear and that tension were there,” said Moore, who expressed concern about the likelihood of another Trump-era administration.

“If I’m going to suffer through this, then I’m going to at least get some good music out of it. This is gonna inspire some good writing and push me to be as eloquent as I can be to write about this stuff or just get my thoughts out there.”

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Double Vision – Hollow Head Unites Creative Forces on ‘A Spark of Madness’ Album

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Hollow Head’s Elliott Miller and Jim Adame reassess the valleys of the past and explore the peaks of the future on “A Spark of Madness.” Photo – Josiah Walker

Last year, Jim Adame and Elliott Miller opted to double their musical odds.

The longtime friends and collaborators pooled their talent, ingenuity and resources to form Hollow Head, a new Denver-based indie-folk duo.

“Elliott and I started releasing music independently and closely around each other. He started writing songs a year or two before I did, and when I moved out to Colorado initially, that’s when I started getting back into writing music and releasing it,” said Adame, Hollow Head’s vocalist-guitarist who hails from Midland, Michigan.

“I released my EP, and Elliott released his EP. On my EP, Elliott did all the drum work and the lead guitar, and he was already a pretty big part of that project. At a certain point, we realized our songs had a lot in common, and the subject matter was similar as well. Since we had already enjoyed collaborating, we decided to take the plunge and make it a duo project.”

Together, their creative Hollow Head forces produced A Spark of Madness, an emotive debut album immersed in ethereal soundscapes, earnest lyrics, ear-catching harmonies and expansive instrumentation.

“We put words on paper, and then a lot of that came from subconscious thoughts, and we found out what it meant later,” said Miller, Hollow Head’s vocalist-guitarist-drummer who also grew up in Midland and met Adame in 2015.

Each track provides a contemplative, out-of-body experience that allows listeners to deeply reflect on internal struggles, old relationships and life lessons. It’s the ideal sonic companion for a solo Rocky Mountain road trip to reassess the valleys of the past and explore the peaks of the future.

“We revisited the songs, so they’re all more cohesive and share the two of us,” Adame said. “That’s how they all play out. And then, two of the songs, ‘Gasoline’ and ‘January,’ are the ones we wrote while we were in the middle of forming Hollow Head.”

Continue reading “Double Vision – Hollow Head Unites Creative Forces on ‘A Spark of Madness’ Album”

Timeless Nostalgia – Suburban HiFi Creates Modern Fusion of Vintage Sounds on ‘Superimposition’ Album

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Suburban HiFi’s Greg Addington provides a memorable mood-lifter on “Superimposition.” Album package design – Krys Penney at Strange Paradise Design

Suburban HiFi brings an infectious, timeless nostalgia to late ‘70s-tinged rock, pop and disco.

The Whitmore Lake power-pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist eloquently fuses vintage Britpop instrumentation with earworm melodies and introspective lyrics on his latest propulsive album, Superimposition, via Futureman Records.

“At first, when I was thinking about doing it, I thought it would be autobiographical, and I’d do these songs that were about some point in my history. Songs like ‘Vinyl on the Radio’ were things like that, and then I realized it would only mean something to me,” said Greg Addington, aka Suburban HiFi.

“It’s kind of boring from that perspective to say I’m going to do these 11 autobiographical songs. It turned into something different, but there are hints of that on here. It started as a nostalgia trip down amnesia lane.”

At first listen, Suburban HiFi’s Superimposition seamlessly shifts to a memorable mood-lifter that instantly elevates the mind, body and soul. Each irresistible track grooves, sways and lingers alongside relatable tales that explore life choices, changes and aspirations.

“I didn’t want it be … ‘Oh, let’s make this sound like a song from 1978.’ It was more like, ‘Let’s put it in a modern setting.’ If ‘The Space Between Us’ hints at the disco-rock thing that was done around that time, then that’s fine, but let’s try to modernize it,” said Addington, who’s also vocalist-guitarist with The Hangabouts.

“And the song, ‘Here Comes the Blood,’ could have been a Hangabouts song, but the way I chose to do it was to dance it up a little bit. ‘In Her Reverie’ is pretty much all guitar-based pop with a riff that drove the song.”

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Loud and Clear – TJ Zindle Finds Inner Fire on Mighty ‘Now Let Go’ Album

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TJ Zindle produces an undeniable musical force on “Now Let Go.” Photo – Jeff Baker

Two years ago, TJ Zindle discovered an unexpected clarity.

With a quiet mind and a fresh creative spark, the Ann Arbor indie-rock artist and guitarist immersed himself in a pandemic-induced songwriting retreat.

“The first couple of months during the shutdown everything felt clear. All the noise was gone, and I was just writing a ton. A lot of it was about mental health stuff and trying to figure that out … because all of sudden, I had time to think,” said Zindle, who’s also a vocalist-guitarist with Erin Zindle & The Ragbirds.

“The hum of life was gone for a bit, and I wrote about 45-50 songs for this record. I also have another record coming out later this year with some friends from another band.”

Those sessions produced Now Let Go, Zindle’s first new album since 2017’s Hold On with All Your Might. Filled with nine insightful tracks, it features an emotive narrative chronicling personal and societal reflections on life, growth and change.

“I’m at the point where it’s not so difficult to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m a real fucking musician,’ which is something that I had never felt like all my life. We all fight that imposter syndrome … we’re all there, every single human,” he said.

“But to be like, ‘I made a pretty damn good record on my own,’ and I got a lot of stuff out … I honestly know I did my best, and it was just me. There was just a lot of power in that.”

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Spiritual Awakening – Taylor DeRousse Releases Haunted Past on ‘Winter Ghost’ Single

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Taylor DeRousse experiences an emotional transformation on “Winter Ghost.” Artwork – Taylor DeRousse

Taylor DeRousse slowly expels the lingering spirits of a haunted past.

The Royal Oak indie-rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist calmly exhales former selves and bygone relationships in her latest heart-melting single, “Winter Ghost.”

“The writing of this song was a cool experience for me. Last winter, I tried writing a song a day for a while to challenge myself,” DeRousse said. “This song came from that. It was snowing outside, and I got the first line in my head … ‘It snowed today.’”

Throughout “Winter Ghost,” DeRousse thaws frozen memories and warms icy self-doubt as ethereal synths, pensive electric guitar and sanguine acoustic guitar prompt a spiritual awakening.

She sings, “I saw the sun today/It’s mid-July, and now I’m feeling the weight of you wash away/White was the world in my heartbreak/And pale as snow was my skin while the ghost of you remained/Saw the color come back into my face.”

“And then I thought, ‘Why would someone not like the snow?’” DeRousse said. “Then, as it all came together, I was like, ‘This is definitely an experience that I’ve had in my life, but the details are different,’ and yet the theme is still the same.”

DeRousse seamlessly carries “Winter Ghost’s” transformational theme forward while Traverse City producer John Piatek conjures an otherworldly soundscape.

“When I go up and record, and by the time I make it home, John has sent me something. I remember he had sent me the rough track of it … and I listened to it, and I was just floored,” she said.

“The vocals that he adds on that track are my favorite part of the whole song. It felt like, ‘Wow, this is how it was supposed to always be,’ but I could have never gotten it there myself.”

Continue reading “Spiritual Awakening – Taylor DeRousse Releases Haunted Past on ‘Winter Ghost’ Single”