For Greg Paddock, Cotswold’s rolling green hills, quaint stone villages and storybook cottages provide an idyllic creative retreat.
The Detroit alt rock singer-songwriter visited Oxfordshire in the picturesque southwest region of the U.K. last fall to record his six-track debut EP, fittingly titled Cotswold, with guitarist Ryan Harrison and former Dishwalla frontman J.R. Richards.
“I still have dreams about being there and walking through the pathways to the Thames River. I made such a big deal about the village they’re in because there’s a red phone booth, and it was used as a book depository. I’d walk around the village and the fields on the days I wasn’t recording and would listen to music,” said Paddock, who’s a longtime friend of the U.K.-based Richards.
“It was good to have that extra time there because we were able to do a bonus track and do the acoustic version of ‘No One Fights Alone.’ I was able to work more on ‘Sunshine Smile’ and get more into what I want to feel.”
One listen to Paddock’s Cotswold instantly drenches listeners in cathartic waves lapping against the shores of wounded souls. Released in March, the emotional EP poetically addresses internal struggles, family losses, failed relationships and personal recoveries as long, winding sonic roads that eventually lead back home.
“My hope in sharing all of it is there are people out there who hear and can relate to it in their own way. It always helps me cope when we perform the songs at one of our acoustic shows, and I can either see someone reacting in the crowd, or they talk to me afterward. I am so fortunate to be able to live my passion as well as how much it has helped me heal me,” Paddock said.
For Widetrack’s Ron Tippin, a new type of “mirror” reveals our hidden truths in a vast technological world.
That “mirror” doesn’t reflect our human faces, but instead displays our evolving digital personas on social media and the Interweb through multiple computer, tablet and phone screens. In a sense, we’re residing in a parallel world while interacting with one another in a dream-like state.
“The idea of The Unwakening is how we immerse ourselves in this digital landscape, and it just makes all our worst tendencies come out, and we just wallow in it. All of our wisdom just goes out the window and so does our better nature,” said Ron Tippin, Widetrack’s vocalist, guitarist and drummer.
Ron Tippin explores this haunting concept throughout Widetrack’s new otherworldly 12-track, alt-prog album, The Unwakening, which dropped yesterday. As part of a Waterford father-son duo with 16-year-old bassist-guitarist Zach Tippin, he travels through a dozen digital tales to uncover the conflicting dualities of our personal and online identities.
“I look at a show like ‘Black Mirror,’ and I’ve read the reviews, and people say, ‘Oh, I get it, digital media is bad.’ Well, it’s not that simple. It’s a fantastically great tool, it can connect us in ways it never could, and it’s the stuff of my childhood imagination,” said Ron Tippin, who released the album to coincide with his son’s 16th birthday.
Together, father and son plunge headfirst into a ‘Black Mirror-esque’ realm filled with an angry online influencer who trolls social media, online forums and discussion threads to create a polarizing digital culture. Each haunting track on The Unwakening chronicles the influencer’s rapid rise to power and eventual decline in a fickle virtual universe.
For Angelo Coppola, Michigan’s coronavirus quarantine feels more like a creative sabbatical.
The Detroit alt rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist dropped a new banger six-track EP, The Quarantine Sessions, Vol. 1, last week to satisfy growing Motor City cravings for additional releases in world currently without “traditional” live music.
“I’m kind of like a songwriting machine, I just can’t stop, and I have way more songs written than I’m able to put out, or I’m able to play with The Lows. I have this back catalog of 30 to 40 finished songs. All six of these are from the past year or so, but they’ve all been developed over time,” said Coppola, who’s also the frontman for The Lows.
“I thought these were the best of the bunch and didn’t know if The Lows would ever play them, but I just wanted to get something out. I’ve had the time now being home with my dad because he helps produce and mix it, and I can finally get a lot of these songs recorded and out that I didn’t have time for before.”
Throughout The Quarantine Sessions, Coppola seeks tantalizing ‘90s alt rock inspiration from genre-heavy royalty, including Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Oasis. A seamless head-banging fusion of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, charging bass and pounding drums immerse listeners in a grungy underworld.
“All six are a wide variety of genres within the rock genre, and I wanted to spread out the styles on the album. It was kind of random the ones we decided to start, and we have eight more that we started, and that I’m going to put out,” Coppola said.
“We’re going to do The Quarantine Sessions, Vol. 2 for sure in the next couple of weeks. It only took us a week to get all six of these done. It was basically like a song a day working down there, and we’re gonna grind out some more, too.”
For George Shuntov, music embodies a phoenix-like quality.
New music evolves from past encounters and emotions that leave an indelible mark on the soul. In turn, those experiences ignite another musical spark and regenerate the soul into a new creative being.
“George in a sense is like the phoenix, and he’s no longer with us in the physical world, but in an artistic and spiritual one he’s still with us. It’s amazing, and The Phoenix Process is still in effect, and George really is the phoenix,” said Julian Cumpian, Shuntov’s longtime friend and collaborator.
Cumpian reflected on Shuntov’s profound musical legacy Sunday night along with his former bandmates, Brandon Salazar and Théo Caen, in The Phoenix Process. Shuntov, the prolific frontman for the Chicago electro alt-rock quartet and a highly-regarded, do-it-yourself (DIY) music champion, suddenly passed away March 20 at age 34.
“The places where he was active in and in communication with, he did leave an impact, and that’s something that will be remembered and will continue to leave an impact on more people. I’ve been sharing his music with people I know who are artists, and they are floored at the level of musicianship he had and just the way he did everything. He was all self-taught and all self-produced. He didn’t need a lot to make it sound amazing,” Cumpian said.
Cumpian met Shuntov, a Chicago native with Bulgarian and Ecuadorian roots, through a mutual friend on MySpace in 2006. Over the next decade, Cumpian and Shuntov became fast friends and musical collaborators who performed live together. By 2013, Shuntov formed The Phoenix Process with another friend, who soon departed the project, and later brought Cumpian into the fold.
Forming The Phoenix Process
Together, Cumpian and Shuntov developed multi-genre musical concepts and visual elements for The Phoenix Process and created an eclectic live sound built around electronic beats, world influences, electric guitars and hand percussion. In May 2014, they played their first live show in Rogers Park at the now-defunct Red Line Tap.
“It was a good start, and we figured out what worked and what didn’t, and we got people exposed to the sound in a live setting. Fast-forward to 2015, Brandon and Théo joined the band, which continued until 2017,” said Cumpian, who left The Phoenix Process in 2016. “The band didn’t last long, but it lasted long enough I’d say for us to develop a sound, get to know George and have people get to know George’s music. He left a big impact in such a short amount of time.”
Meanwhile, Salazar met Shuntov through a Facebook group called Chicago Musician Exchange after seeing a “want ad” post for a drummer and guitarist. While only age 16 at the time, Salazar reached out to Shuntov about a possible collaboration, and the two started working together with Caen.
“I heard his music, and I was like, ‘This guy is the real deal, this guy is a fucking professional. There’s no way he would take a little guy like me.’ I showed him some of my stuff, and I put myself out there into the world, and he saw me and Théo through that,” said Salazar, drummer and percussionist for The Phoenix Process.
Read the Sun revolves around an ever-changing musical landscape drenched in brilliant rays of experimental indie rock.
The Detroit indie rock quartet of Alexa Gabriel (vocals, guitar), Jon Meyer (guitar), Sean Hussett (bass) and Joseph Jankowski (drums, percussion) beautifully fuses cinematic elements of classic, prog and alt rock to produce a soaring sonic experience on their latest five-track EP, “Living Thru,” which dropped in August.
“Living Thru” opens with a gorgeous instrumental, “Living,” to elegantly blend high-tone guitars and vibrating synths with light cymbal taps for a brief infectious sonic rotation. It seamlessly segues into an intense emotional track, “Brown Shoes,” as a metaphor for the struggle about starting a transition as a transgender woman.
Slow rhythmic drums, vibrant guitars and deep bass echo the struggle depicted throughout “Brown Shoes” – “I could walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes/And find nothing wrong with these other soles/I could take mine away/And leave nothing more.”
“One of the things we wanted to deliver in this EP is our continuous change of sound that we are beginning to solidify. We have started to amplify each of our strengths in the writing process and weed out the desire to imitate. We are currently on a good path towards fully realizing a more consistent sound,” said Read the Sun, whose members are influenced by Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead and Snarky Puppy.
Together, the band recorded “Living Thru” in Gabriel’s bedroom where she runs a portable studio for recording and mixing. They also recorded their striking 2018 debut, “Music for Birds,” over nine months at a family-owned barn up north over a three-day stay. Coincidentally, bird sounds crept into every recording on their first full-length release.
Before they discovered “Music for Birds,” Read the Sun started as a jam session among four Plymouth-Canton high school friends. That jam session solidified into an official project by 2017 as the band members honed themselves as musicians and songwriters and cultivated an evolutionary sonic path.
Along their growing sonic path, Read The Sun continues to solder different sounds on “Living Thru,” including “The SacroMambo,” a dancy six-minute track that shimmies and sways with a symphony of electric guitars, drums, bass, saxophone and percussion.
The Detroit alt rock duo heavily reference “Kevin” in their Facebook and Instagram posts, ranging from “Kevin is a place on earth” (imagine hearing it to the tune of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’) to “Kevin hard at work making a record” to “Lights, Camera, Kevin.”
But who the heck is Kevin, anyway? “Kevin is all of us, Kevin is everywhere,” said Parker Bengry, the band’s vocalist and guitarist.
Chris Williams, drummer and vocalist for The Messenger Birds, esoterically added, “We refer to each other as Kevin, we see ourselves as Kevin, and everybody who listens to our music is Kevin.”
While The Stratton Setlist hasn’t cracked the case about “Kevin” yet, we do know “Kevin” will be invading the Mo Pop Festival Saturday to see his favorite band, The Messenger Birds, play a coveted 1:30 p.m. opening slot on the River Stage.
The Messenger Birds will join 27 other emerging artists, including Vampire Weekend, Tame Impala, Lizzo and Ella Mai, during the two-day indie rock, pop and hip-hop festival this weekend at Detroit’s West Riverfront Park. Nearly 20,000 people are expected to attend the boutique and niche festival, which returns for its seventh year.
Each year, Mo Pop kicks off both festival days with opening performances from Michigan-based artists to expose attendees to some of the area’s rising local acts. The Messenger Birds and Siena Liggins will perform Saturday while The Doozers and the Craig Brown Band will take the stage on Sunday.
It’s been nearly three years in the making for The Messenger Birds to perform at Mo Pop. Back in 2016, festival organizers asked the band to join the lineup after another act dropped out.
The Plymouth singer-songwriter, aka Matt Sauter, combines his down-to-earth indie folk rock roots with lush new alt-rock growth on his latest single, “Back to Normal,” which drops today.
Akin to Kings of Leon and Mumford and Sons, Sauter’s catchy 4.5-minute single features his signature raspy vocals backed by brightly-toned guitars and pulsating drum beats. “Back to Normal’s” clever lyrics include an infectious play on words ranging from “cooking dishes” to “growing lawns” to “breaking fences” to “painting songs.”
“It’s a concept song, first it was kind of like a joke, I was writing it and trying to sing everything backwards,” said Sauter, who wrote the track while attending the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME). “The chord progressions are churchy and powerful, and once we got a full band with it, it became this super, big and powerful song, and we’ve been playing it live for a year now, and it’s one of our fan favorites.”
That live fan favorite also features the talents of Dan Sauter (bass), Jon Staten (drums) and Jimmy Showers (guitar), who now serve as official band members for Adventures with Vultures. He also worked with Jake Rye of Social Recording Company in Adrian to produce and mix the track.
“We go in there with Jake, we plug in, and we play our shit loud,” said Sauter, who originally started as a hip-hop artist and honed his drumming skills while growing up in Plymouth. “We’re going for an early 2000s indie alt rock sound with these new songs.”
Originally, Adventures with Vultures started as an emerging indie folk solo act for Sauter, who released his brilliant, introspective four-song debut EP, “Junction,” in 2017 through Original 1265 Recordings, an independent label owned by CND America, DIME’s parent company.
Sauter expanded the project into a full band after playing a growing roster of live dates in Michigan and going on his first national headlining tour last year. He’s also transitioned from being part of Original 1265 Recordings to becoming an independent, do-it-yourself (DIY) artist.
As a DIY artist, Sauter recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to help support releasing new music as well as an upcoming tour. To date, he’s raised nearly $2,000, thanks to his burgeoning fan base, and sponsoring additional casino bus and golf outing fundraisers.
“Being a DIY artist is more community-based, and it feels more organic,” he said. “With the support of our fans, we’re going to release a new single every three months for the next year.”
As a next step, the band will release a new video soon for “Back to Normal” and return to the studio in April to record their next single.
Adventures with Vultures also will perform a series of upcoming live shows, including April 13 at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor with LVRS and Jackamo, April 26 at New Way Bar as part of Ferndale Spring Fever and May 24 at Mac’s Bar in Lansing with Joshua Powell.
“We’re going to keep course, we’re going to do our thing, but we want to be part of SXSW’s Michigan House next year,” Sauter said. “We’re going to keep the name growing, and people keep telling us to come back down to Nashville and Milwaukee. Every year, more and more keeps happening, and as long as we stay on our path, we’ll be pretty fucking happy.”