Staying Power – Lisa Danaë Tackles Challenging Internal Terrain on ‘Focus on Me’ Single

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Lisa Danaë surmounts unexpected personal peaks and valleys on “Focus on Me.” Photo – Sam Scarce

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.

Continue reading “Staying Power – Lisa Danaë Tackles Challenging Internal Terrain on ‘Focus on Me’ Single”

Wash Over – Lilly MacPhee Provides Comforting Relief on ‘Waves’ Single

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.

Continue reading “Wash Over – Lilly MacPhee Provides Comforting Relief on ‘Waves’ Single”

Conversation Piece – Marty Gray Recounts Memorable Bar Interaction on ‘The Regular’

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.”

Continue reading “Conversation Piece – Marty Gray Recounts Memorable Bar Interaction on ‘The Regular’”

In Full Swing – Nine Mile Shakers Bring Bluesy Sounds to Novi’s Beerhead Bar & Eatery Friday

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Nine Mile Shakers’ Daniel Bloink, Thomas Chance, Maggie Robinson and Kenny Schabow gather for a practice session.

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.”

Continue reading “In Full Swing – Nine Mile Shakers Bring Bluesy Sounds to Novi’s Beerhead Bar & Eatery Friday”

‘Who You Gonna Call?’ – Ray Parker Jr. Premieres New Documentary at Detroit’s Redford Theatre

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Ray Parker Jr.’s new “Who You Gonna Call?” documentary chronicles his longtime career as an influential artist, songwriter and guitarist.

Ray Parker Jr. found his groove way before 1984’s mega-smash, “Ghostbusters.”

The R&B-pop vocalist, songwriter and guitarist strummed his way into Motown studios and onto live stages recording and performing with Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and other legends in the late 1960s as a teenager.

A Detroit native and guitar prodigy, Parker brought a signature rhythmic groove to his session work that quickly captured the attention of arrangers, songwriters, artists and musicians.

“For me, I was just trying to play the guitar the best I could to get everybody to like it. Now, in hindsight, it’s becoming, ‘Oh, he was doing great rhythm guitar.’ But at the time, I didn’t really think of it like that. I was just trying to play a guitar part or something that would work on the record,” he said.

Parker revisits his five-plus decades in music through a compelling new 90-minute documentary, “Who You Gonna Call? A Portrait of Ray Parker Jr.,” which premiered Thursday night at Detroit’s Redford Theatre as part of the Freep Film Festival.

Directed by Fran Strine (“Hired Gun”), the documentary “traces Parker’s path from the segregated streets of Detroit in the 1960s to the top of the charts and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, offering a candid look at a complicated artist whose musical legacy is overdue for wider appreciation.”

“That’s what this film is about. I mean, ‘Ghostbusters’ came out, and it was such a huge hit. It just overshadowed everything; people didn’t even know I played the guitar or where I came from,” said Parker, who attended the documentary’s premiere with Strine. (Another screening without Parker will be shown Sunday at Emagine Birmingham 8.)

“They were like, ‘Where did he come from? He was born under a broccoli patch, and he just appeared one day.’ This film actually takes you back and says, ‘There was a lot more going on before that. It didn’t just sprout out of nowhere.’”

Continue reading ‘Who You Gonna Call?’ – Ray Parker Jr. Premieres New Documentary at Detroit’s Redford Theatre

Deep Cuts – ASNT Heals Internal Wounds on ‘Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow’ Album

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ASNT’s “Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow” embarks on an emotive journey to release negative feelings of the past.

Backed by propulsive electric guitars, melodic vocals and gritty soundscapes, ASNT beautifully unearths the tender, vulnerable side of deep-seated pain.

The Irvine, California dark hard rock and husband-wife duo of Christina Baldwin (vocals) and Bruce Baldwin (guitar, drums, bass, piano) embarks on an emotive journey to release the guilt, shame and despair of the past on their latest album, Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow.

“‘Bleed Like Us’ is about ‘Westworld,’ and it’s about machines that look and bleed like us. That ended up being the name of the album on Bruce’s urging because it captures the theme of the whole thing. There is a certain bleeding happening in one way or another, but then there’s a positive resolution in some,” said Christina Baldwin.

Together, the Baldwins slowly slice through tightly sealed internal wounds to provide long-term relief and acceptance across 15 haunting, ruminative Bleed Like Us tracks. For ASNT (pronounced as “Ascent”), it’s an intense, therapeutic path for tackling mental health struggles, destructive relationships and regrettable actions.

“It depends where I am, the kind of writing that I do. I tend to go toward the dark side; it comes easier to me, and I have more words for dark things than I do for light. It’s a dark album, but it’s the evolution of sorrow, which means there is an end,” said Christina Baldwin, who’s inspired by Melissa Etheridge and Ann Wilson.

Continue reading “Deep Cuts – ASNT Heals Internal Wounds on ‘Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow’ Album”

Moment of Truth – Act Casual Uncovers Everyday Romantic Struggles on ‘Livin’ a Lie’

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Act Casual’s “Livin’ a Lie” is the band’s first new studio release in nearly four years. Artwork – Sam Flynn

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.

New Single

TSS: What initially inspired “Livin’ a Lie” for you?

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.

TSS: You mentioned in your Dunesville Music Festival live set that “Livin’ a Lie” is also the name of your upcoming album. What work do you have left to complete on the album?

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.

Continue reading “Moment of Truth – Act Casual Uncovers Everyday Romantic Struggles on ‘Livin’ a Lie’”

Let’s Dance – The Dropout Brings Fierce Grooves, Infectious Hooks to ‘Bubble Boy’ EP

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The Dropout’s “Bubble Boy” EP shares insightful tales of overcoming addiction, finding renewal and instilling vitality in others.

The Dropout instantly transforms any space into a nonstop, explosive dance party.

The Orlando, Florida indie pop, post-EDM singer-songwriter and saxophonist employs fierce grooves, infectious hooks and lush soundscapes on his latest EP, Bubble Boy, to get fans moving.

“This (EP) has more of a dancey vibe, and it feels more like a pop EDM-like crossover. It has pop song structures, but EDM sort of tones underlining live instrumentation and my vocals. It feels like Dropout songs, but they have an energetic, live feeling,” said Ficker, who’s originally from metro Detroit.

The Dropout captures that contagious, hopeful spirit across six dazzling Bubble Boy tracks, which chronicle a highly personal journey filled with insightful tales of overcoming addiction, finding renewal and instilling vitality in others.

“I like to think by the time the songwriting happens, the learning is already done. It’s almost like the life experiences have been chewed on and now I’m fully digesting them. I definitely tried to be more intentional about the inspirational themes, but if I had to write about everything I learned this year, this might end up being a lot of text to read through,” said Ficker with a laugh.

As a follow-up to 2018’s magnetic, groove-filled Old Parts, New Beginning EP, The Dropout spent three years writing and recording Bubble Boy’s tracks in his home studio. He nailed the saxophone, guitar and vocal parts while collaborating remotely with longtime friend Bob Lemon, who provided the project’s hypnotic, spirited beats.

“We grew up in the same area and had mutual friends, but never really crossed paths. (Bob) reached out to me one day online with a remix of an older song I did (‘Old Parts, New Beginning’), and I was blown away. We immediately started working together on new music and haven’t stopped since,” Ficker said.

Continue reading “Let’s Dance – The Dropout Brings Fierce Grooves, Infectious Hooks to ‘Bubble Boy’ EP”

Perfect Match – Jake LeMond, Juliane Bednarz Combine Songwriting Powers for Hickey Eyes ‘Nosey’ Single

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Hickey Eyes’ Jake LeMond and Juliane Bednarz sparkle on their latest single, “Nosey.” Photo – Alayna Currey

Jake LeMond and Juliane Bednarz serve as an emerging, magical songwriting team.

The Hickey Eyes indie rock duo and real-life couple meld enchanting, lush harmonies with infectious, glistening pop soundscapes on their latest single, “Nosey.”

“‘Nosey’ started off as just a chorus I came up with. That same night I was on the phone with Juliane joking about how she’s nosey, and we thought it would be funny to use that as an idea for another Hickey Eyes song,” said LeMond, who’s based in Detroit.

“I sang her a melody of how I thought the verses should go, and she sent me the whole first verse. I thought her words were perfect, so all I had to do was write a second verse.”

Throughout “Nosey,” breezy, sleek Mellotron seamlessly fuses with ascending, vibrant acoustic strums, tranquil slide guitar, steady drums and mellow bass to overcome potential relationship challenges.

LeMond sings, “Electric start/I head for the airport/Every goodbye seems to be cut short/Wish we could talk/Dead on the weekends/Against the clock/Gone off the deep end.”

“Collaborating with Jules on this one was fun because I would just send her voice memos of my progress throughout the night while I was writing, and she sent a verse, so it all came pretty fast since the chorus was already written,” he said.

“We share music ideas with each other as they come to us, and being that we’re so close, we’re not afraid to share honest opinions. Jules is new to songwriting, so she is still figuring out her style.”

LeMond and Bednarz also expanded their Hickey Eyes “Nosey” collaboration to include Ian Ruhala (slide guitar, Mellotron), Chris Koo (vocal editing), Ben Fisher (drum editing), Jake Rye (mixing) and Mike Cervantes (mastering).

“I spent a good chunk of time demoing out this one in my bedroom while learning how to use Logic. It started out much slower and sounded pretty sad to be honest. Jules wasn’t all that crazy about that version, so I tried to give it more energy to balance out the somewhat sad lyrics,” LeMond said.

“I (also) tracked slide guitar and Mellotron at my friend Ian Ruhala’s house. Ben Fisher who mixed ‘Spoon Me’ helped edit drums. Chris Koo, who I’ve had the opportunity to write with a lot for this year for his project Yueku, edited vocals, and he’s definitely inspired me to put out more music recently with how consistent he’s been with his releases.”

Continue reading “Perfect Match – Jake LeMond, Juliane Bednarz Combine Songwriting Powers for Hickey Eyes ‘Nosey’ Single”

Back in the Day – Ben Yost Unearths Deep Cuts for ‘Kickpop Records Sampler No. 1’ EP

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A new alt-folk/emo/indie rock compilation project transports Ben Yost back to past shows, favorite venues and life-changing friendships.

The Blank Tape Tax vocalist-guitarist specially curated the five-track EP via Kickpop Records to share deep cuts from Greet Death’s Logan Gaval, For Once in My Life, The Flaks and Broadacre as well as his current band.

“The most important music to me is my music and the music of my friends because it’s the soundtrack to my life. It makes me think of old venues like the Genesis, the old Sanctuary, Toepfer House and Elijah’s (Q-Nails),” said Yost, who’s based in Detroit.

“It also makes me think of our friendships and our time together as a family. Starting Kickpop Records is about releasing music for me and my friends and to maintain the catalogs of a few artists so their music will always be out there to listen to.”

Yost launched Kickpop Records, a small DIY label, during the pandemic and released his first project, KP-005, or Kickpop Records Sampler No. 1, on 10-inch vinyl earlier this summer. While the vinyl release quickly sold out, listeners can still spin the compelling, cerebral project via Spotify.

KP-005 (or Kickpop Records Sampler No. 1) is just a little taste of what you might expect to hear in the future from Kickpop Records. The first three songs (Logan Gaval, Blank Tape Tax and For Once in My Life) all stick to a theme and were recorded on a Tascam Portatstudio. The last two songs are from out-of-print records of the two bands I drummed and wrote for – The Flaks and Broadacre,” Yost said.

“The idea for the (compilation) came from Broadacre bassist Matt Farrett. Matt and I were talking about releasing the nine-song Broadacre project, and he suggested we test the waters on a (compilation) first.”

Continue reading “Back in the Day – Ben Yost Unearths Deep Cuts for ‘Kickpop Records Sampler No. 1’ EP”