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.
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.”
Act Casual eloquently recounts the everyday struggles of overcoming a romantic rough patch.
The metro Detroit jam fusion quartet of Ryan Yoskovich (drums, vocals), Ryan Stafford (keys, sax), Will Richardson (guitar, vocals) and Danny Flynn (bass, vocals) addresses these mounting interpersonal encounters on their latest soulful, funkified single, “Livin’ a Lie.”
Throughout “Livin’ a Lie,” vivid, wah-wah electric guitars, climbing bass, fluid drums, tingly cymbals and sheeny synths engulf love-stricken listeners and provide them with bluesy-induced relief.
Act Casual reflects, “Never the one/Now it’s all done/Trying to flee with nowhere to run/I’m a livin’ a lie/A total loss/But at what cost/Thinking about all that I’ve lost/I’m livin’ a lie.”
The Stratton Setlist recently chatted with Act Casual about their first studio release in nearly four years as well as their background, previous projects and upcoming live shows.
AC: It was an initial exercise of just trying to write a set of lyrics to a groove we had been working on. The lyrics started coming together about disagreeing and arguing with a lover; it was in hopes of showing that everyone has the same arguments and quarrels with the ones we love. No one is alone in feeling some of the emotions played out in the song.
TSS: How long did you spend writing and recording the track?
AC: We spent a few weeks writing the song itself, which also developed as we played it out live. We spent two days in the studio laying down the majority of the tracks, following up with a couple of more sessions for vocals. The track was recorded at Plymouth Rock Recording Co. with Ryan Hyland as the head engineer.
TSS: What was it like to translate “Livin’ a Lie” from the stage to the studio? Any plans to release a video for the track soon?
AC: The track didn’t take on too many alterations for the studio recording. However, we did add vocal harmonies during the recording process, which stuck with us for live performances afterward. We filmed some of the recording process and plan on releasing a music video in the fall.
AC: We will be dropping another single entitled “Fresh (Out the Shower)” in October as well as another single in November with the full album dropping in the winter.
We will continue to work with Ryan (Hyland) at Plymouth Rock Recording Co. to finish any additional touches, and with Max Preissner, who has been helping us with the promotion and release of these songs as well as building our presence online. People can expect to hear more vocal-driven songs like “Livin’ a Lie” as well as instrumental pieces.
The Ypsilanti alt-rock trio of Jerry Heiss (vocals, guitar, keys, percussion and programming), James Johnson (bass) and Danarus Greene (drums) spotlight that fervent rise, fall and resurgence of romantic love throughout their latest reflective, five-track EP, Worth the Trouble.
“I did realize in retrospect that these songs fit together because it is a roller coaster ride of the different feelings you have with losing someone, breaking up or apologizing. I put a pretty vague story to the album myself of trying to link the songs together and seeing if it was coming from one point of view in chronological order. That wasn’t necessarily the intention, but I’m glad it does feel that way,” said Heiss, aka Jeremiah Mack.
“The same way that writing these songs was kind of therapeutic for me, I hope that other people are able to listen to them and feel that same wave of relief that someone else has gone through this and that it’s been OK.”
Each poignant track seamlessly flows from one encounter to the next against an expansive sonic backdrop filled with pop-rock, emo-rock, alt-rock and folk-rock sensibilities.
“I try to make each song that I write like a different kind of song, and Worth the Trouble does jump from genre to genre for each song. I never want someone to listen to two of my songs and say, ‘Well, that song sounds like the other songs.’ It keeps me entertained because I like a bunch of different styles, and it’s fun for me to play in all these different styles,” Heiss said.
The Flint indie folk rock singer-songwriter will perform his first headlining set in nearly 18 months at the Hamtramck venue.
“I can’t even express how good it feels to be playing shows again. I really hadn’t considered how vital that type of experience was in my life until it went away. I really had to push it away for a while when we didn’t know a timetable for the return of live music,” said Dylan Grantham, aka Young Ritual.
“Once the show was announced, all of those feelings came flooding back. I just want to make this night a loud and beautiful entry back into the music scene out here for Young Ritual.”
Hosted in partnership with Audiotree Presents, the show will allow Young Ritual to debut several new tracks since releasing his introspective, two-track A/B EP in March. He’ll be joined by Fenton indie pop singer-songwriter Au Gres, aka Josh Kemp, and Detroit indie folk singer-songwriter Emma Guzman.
“They are all pretty driving rock songs because that’s where my intent in writing has been, and the one I’m most excited about is called ‘Julianna.’ The song is kind of Springsteen and The Killers, but absolutely Young Ritual top to bottom,” said Grantham, who will include Au Gres as part of his live band.
“Josh from Au Gres is one of my closest friends, and I adore his band. He writes the sleekest indie pop imaginable and is just a pleasure to have around. I haven’t met Emma yet, but I’m a huge fan of what she’s been doing, so I’m really excited to have her on board.”
“My music has a strong element of escapism. I’ll be in the middle of an experience that I don’t want to be having, feeling that inner roar of resistance, and then suddenly a melody with words and a vibe will pop right into my head,” Steih said.
“A big part of musical journey is increasing my skills so that I can capture those ideas to convey them to others. It’s really important to me to share (the ideas) because they arrive like gifts from the universe.”
Throughout her latest release, Steih packs an expansive, cerebral and folky sound across four hypnotic, ethereal tracks while venturing through past experiences, changing relationships, personal growth and long-awaited renewal. It’s a mesmerizing, introspective follow-up to her breathtaking, spiritual 2019 Americana album, Hymns of the Huron.
“I’ve always loved theatrical music production like Pink Floyd, Queen and Kate Bush. The sound of this album is influenced by my collaboration with Samn Johnson while the sound of Hymns of the Huron was very influenced by the band that Ben Lorenz put together,” she said.
“I bring the melodies and chord progressions, but the final product is colored by who’s there and the vibe of the environment we’re in.”
For Bill Edwards, the basement provides the ideal music lab and creation space.
The Ann Arbor country singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist retreated to his subterranean studio during the pandemic and experimented with his recording gear.
“When we went into lockdown and realized we weren’t going to be playing live for several months, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of my recording software. I wanted to get better acquainted with MIDI instruments, or musical instrument digital interfaces,” Edwards said.
“MIDI instruments have come a long way since their invention, and the sampled instruments that are available now are just incredible. It gave me the opportunity to do things like drums, bass and pedal steel, and a whole world opened up.”
Eighteen months later, Edwards’ MIDI software explorations have resulted in an ambitious, yet prolific 30-track double album, Whole Cloth, out Friday via Regaltone Records.
“It feels like birthing a very large baby, and I’m really proud of it for a lot of reasons. I think the songs are good, and the fact that I was able to do it all by myself feels like a pretty big accomplishment,” said Edwards, who spent 15 months writing and recording his new album.
“Over that period, I probably had 70 songs, and I would finish one and then move on to the next and start building it together. I didn’t plan to do a double CD, but then I had all this stuff, and I thought, ‘Well, why not just put it all out?”
George Montrelle elegantly celebrates a life filled with love, beauty and tranquility.
The Ferndale rock-soul singer-songwriter and guitarist shares that personal mindset on his latest electrifying single, “Paradise,” as a romantic, grateful ode to his longtime partner.
“I’ve had that song more since the beginning of my relationship with my partner, and I wanted to validate how much I appreciate his love for me. This was one of the songs I felt strongest about early on, and I’ve been showing it to people for a while now,” said George Wilson, aka George Montrelle.
Montrelle beautifully chronicles his gratifying “Paradise” journey of true love and commitment as propulsive drums, crashing cymbals, fiery electric guitars and galvanic bass surround him.
He reveals, “Here for you till the end/Amaranthine love my friend/The very heart on which you can depend/Here for you for the rest our lives without a stress/Baby, forever, we will love no less.”
“I’ve tried to record this song a handful of times, and I finally just said, ‘I just need to get this done.’ I decided not to overanalyze it, but I also gave it my best,” said Wilson, who recorded and produced the track in his home studio.
“I didn’t have a steady band all the time, so when I wanted to put this song out, I was either gonna hire a drummer and record all the guitars myself, which I did. Or I was gonna track the drums using the sequencer in Ableton, and that’s what’s on the release,” Wilson said.
“I tried to embody what might feel good on stage, and I tried different arrangements. I also developed the verses so it felt progressively fluent throughout the whole song and understood how the drums and guitars needed to work while the vocals sat through everything.”
The Fraser folk rock singer-songwriter and guitarist will return to his family’s old stomping grounds to perform Friday night at the Polish Village Café.
“It feels pretty nostalgic to be playing in Hamtramck since my mother was raised there. She graduated from St. Florian High School. My grandparents lived in Hamtramck until they reached their 80s, and I have memories of visiting there when I was a child,” Alter said.
“Some of those memories are captured in my song, ‘Hamtramck.’ I grew up in suburban East Detroit, which was a very different environment. When visiting Hamtramck, my siblings and I were exposed to a very different culture, even with my grandparents speaking another language through much of our visit.”
Alter quickly revisits his childhood on 2018’s “Hamtramck” as sentimental acoustic strums, sunny electric guitars and ruminative bass repaint loving scenes from the past. He reflects, “Visit from suburbia/Dropped into this urban dream/It’s a new diversity/In the streets with rising steam/I feel this city claiming me.”
“I think that experience gave me an appreciation for the many cultures that make up our nation. I released the song, ‘Hamtramck,’ on Bandcamp a few years ago. Since then, I have played it as an acoustic piece, and I plan to release a new version similar to my live performance on a new album I’m working on now,” said Alter, who also performs as part of the soul-jazz-rock duo After Blue with Katie Williamson.
“It’s been just about a year since John Lewis passed. I think the impact of the equal justice protests of 2020 still resonate today, but unfortunately at a somewhat lower volume. I want to continue to put a light on John Lewis’ life and that cause in my own way,” he said.