Field Study – The Mommyheads Examine Pandemic-Induced Society on ‘Age of Isolation’

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The Mommyheads’ “Age of Isolation” chronicles pandemic-induced uncertainty. Photo – Kevin Condon

As cultural anthropologists, The Mommyheads thoughtfully document the dawning of a new civilization.

The New York City indie pop quartet of Adam Elk (vocals, analog synths, guitar), Michael Holt (electric piano, vocals, synths), Dan Fisherman (drums, vocals) and Jason McNair (bass, recitation) poetically observes, records and shares the everyday habits of people living in newfound COVID-19 solitude.

Together, they produce and present a compelling 10-track report of recent lockdown life known as the Age of Isolation, which runs rampant with TV dinners, ceiling spots, drippy faucets, overgrown facial hair and extended window gazes.

As a follow-up to last year’s New Kings of Pop, The Mommyheads’ cerebral, contemplative 13th album beautifully delves into the psychological, political and social complexities of residing in suspended animation during quarantine. The Age of Isolation also gives new meaning to existential dread during a prolonged era of pandemic-induced uncertainty.

“I always think of records as snapshots or documents of certain time periods. That’s the main reason I like working through the writing and recording process extremely fast. It keeps you in the moment, especially in terms of the feeling and subject matter,” Elk said.

“The LP almost seems like a concept album, but that’s just because it never has the liberty of veering from its theme. I really hope it’s just a time piece and not the new normal.”

Continue reading “Field Study – The Mommyheads Examine Pandemic-Induced Society on ‘Age of Isolation’”

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’”

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”

Light Year – Michigander Rediscovers Purpose on ‘Everything Will Be OK Eventually’ EP

Michigander Press Photo 2021
Michigander’s “Everything Will Be OK Eventually” EP offers hope and optimism for the future. Photo – Kris Herrmann

For Michigander, a new release lights the way after a dark year.

The Detroit indie pop singer-songwriter shares a renewed sense of personal and creative purpose on his third optimistic, six-track EP, Everything Will Be OK Eventually, out today on all streaming platforms.

“I’m hoping these songs will become a soundtrack of a return to normal. I tend to write sad music, but it sounds nice and happy, and that usually kind of tricks people. People resonate with each EP and every song coming out at certain time frames in their lives,” said Jason Singer, aka Michigander.

“It feels weird to know this one will do the same thing, and I know one day I’ll look back on this time, so I try to enjoy it now. I hope it serves as a time stamp and takes people back to where we are right now.”

Released via C3 Records, Michigander’s Everything Will Be OK Eventually instantly transports pandemic-fatigued listeners to a hopeful nearby future filled with highly anticipated face-to-face interactions and group gatherings. Each melodic, expansive track allows people to release pent-up sighs of relief and shed lingering worries as they progress from one song to the next.

That cathartic return to normalcy starts with Singer’s latest exhilarating, spirited single, “Better,” as ascending, vibrant synths, roaring electric guitars, pounding drums and buoyant bass reveal a promising road ahead and a peaceful disruption in time.

Singer reflects, “You’re always scared of getting caught/Always questioning your thoughts/But you can’t hide how you feel/I wanna know how you feel/Feels like time is moving quicker, but I’m getting slower/Guess that’s just a part of getting older/Wish I could look away.”

“I tend to write music with the intention of knowing what’s the opener and what’s the ender, and I fill everything in the middle. ‘Better’ and ‘Together’ are purposely where they’re at on the EP, and it was very intentional to open it massively and close it softly. My favorite albums have great openers and great endings, and it’s something I always want to replicate when I make my music,” he said.

Continue reading “Light Year – Michigander Rediscovers Purpose on ‘Everything Will Be OK Eventually’ EP”

Pain Relief – Au Gres Finds Comfort on New ‘At Home in the Dark’ Single

Josh Kemp embraces uncertainty on his latest Au Gres single, “At Home in the Dark.” Photo – Kris Herrmann

For Au Gres, not every problem requires an immediate solution.

Instead, the Fenton indie pop singer-songwriter finds instant relief in uncertainty on his latest introspective, self-comfort single, “At Home in the Dark,” which dropped Feb. 26 via all streaming platforms.

“I hope this song might encourage others to be more present with each other during hard times, though not necessarily in the physical sense, pandemic and all. I wrote it specifically about someone dealing with depression, but I think it applies to much more than that,” said Josh Kemp, aka Au Gres.

“These moments don’t always call for ‘solutions.’ Sometimes the best thing to do for someone is just let them know you’re available to talk and reassure them that they aren’t ‘broken.’”

Au Gres beautifully provides a sense of solace as ascending, sheeny synths, thoughtful electric guitar, delicate drums and soft bass surround listeners while they’re feeling “At Home in the Dark.” Kemp reveals, “I wanna be there when it rains/I wanna know you on your bad days, baby/I wanna be there when you start/To think the wrong things in the right time frame.”

“So much of this track is inspired by my experience with depression (i.e., the dark). I’ve had moments in my life where I really needed someone to help me feel less alone. I’ve also been the one to do that for others,” said Kemp, who’s inspired by Passion Pit, Phoenix and The Smashing Pumpkins.

“The thing about depression is that it’s usually episodic, and when you’re in it, you usually don’t want or need to hear solutions. Sometimes the best thing to do for someone is just sit with them while they’re in it. Bringing over a cheap bottle of wine often helps, too.”

Continue reading “Pain Relief – Au Gres Finds Comfort on New ‘At Home in the Dark’ Single”

Buried Pop Treasure – The Mommyheads Unearth Experimental ‘Coming Into Beauty’ Album

The Mommyheads travel back to 1992 for the reissue of “Coming Into Beauty.” Photo – Tina Lane

For The Mommyheads, it’s time to unbury a past sonic treasure.

The New York City indie pop quartet of Adam Elk (vocals, guitar), Michael Holt (vocals, keys), Dan Fisherman (drums, percussion, vocals) and Jason McNair (bass) recently excavated and restored their experimental sophomore album, Coming Into Beauty, after nearly three decades.

“It’s a trip reintroducing this lost record. In all honesty, I’ve always been embarrassed by the recording quality and artwork of the original version. Most people who knew about it called it the quietest record in their collection. It was the closest thing to looking at those horrible pictures of yourself in high school before shoving them back into the attic,” said Elk, who co-founded the band in 1987.

“It was such a relief to commission new artwork. Marc Strömberg in Stockholm has done an amazing job coming up with designs for the last batch of records. On this one, he fused five different songs into the cover image. In this day and age, when everything is so accessible, it just didn’t make any sense to keep having this gem off the radar any longer.”

Now available on all streaming platforms, Coming Into Beauty features a refreshing, remastered sound across 15 quirky, inventive tracks from The Mommyheads’ formative years. Originally released in 1992 via Small Machines, Elk co-wrote and recorded the project across two cities with two iterations of the band, including then-bassist Matt Patrick and then-drummer Jan Kotik as well as Fisherman and Holt.

“It’s the closest thing to stepping into a time machine and hitting one of those big brass Victorian H.G. Wells buttons for us. This really is an album about pushing the boundaries. It also helps to know that we were only 18-20 years of age at the time and didn’t know why boundaries and formulas even existed,” Elk said.

The Mommyheads push those creative boundaries through zippy electric guitars, spirited acoustic strums, bouncy bass, pulsating drums and flavorful keys while exploring timeless pop sensibilities and unconventional storytelling.

Originally recorded at New York City’s 6/8 Studios and Cloud 9 Studios in Chico, California, Coming Into Beauty eloquently depicts growth, relationships, self-worth and animal symbolism through the lenses of five eclectic musicians ripe for early adulthood.

Coming Into Beauty’s whole purpose is about taking chances, and it really makes it a fun listen all these years later. There were so many studios and environments involved that it’s really developed a sonic patchwork of sorts. Even the engineers all had extremely different styles of recording, ranging from experimental to conservative,” Elk said.

“Matt (Patrick) and I had very different approaches to songwriting. Matt was more of an emotionally intuitive writer, where I had a more quirky, mental and angular approach to songsmithing.”

Continue reading “Buried Pop Treasure – The Mommyheads Unearth Experimental ‘Coming Into Beauty’ Album”

Necessary Nourishment – The Stratton Playlist November 2020 Edition Refuels for Road Ahead

With November’s upcoming arrival, some soulful sonic nourishment is needed to weather and withstand the remainder of 2020.

Fortifying morsels of lo-fi folk, shiny indie pop, fiery classic rock, breezy dance, garage-filled indie rock, heartfelt acoustic ballads and groovy, emotive hip-hop strengthen the mind and spirit for the unknown road ahead.

The latest edition of The Stratton Playlist shares a satiating sonic respite before the chaotic journey resumes. Featured sonic companions include Grooblen, Au Gres, Michael Snyder-Barker and The Mighty Rhythm Bandits, The Kodaks with Jemmi Hazeman and Quells, Lily Talmers, Louis Picasso & The Gallery and more.

Interested in becoming part of The Stratton Playlist on Spotify? Send your submissions to strattonsetlist@yahoo.com. All artists and genres welcome.

Break the Ice – Au Gres Finds Instant Romantic Comfort on New ‘Nervous’ Single

Au Gres’ Josh Kemp celebrates a new relationship on “Nervous.”

Au Gres instantly creates the proverbial comfort zone.

The Fenton indie pop singer-songwriter quickly throws anxiety, hesitation and doubt aside in his latest warm, dreamy pro-soulmate single, “Nervous,” which dropped Oct. 16.

“The song was inspired by my girlfriend, and I don’t usually set out to write a song. Instead, I mess around with progressions until I get an idea of what I want it to be about, and the song kind of writes itself. But for this one, I just felt so comfortable with her, like right off the bat, and I wanted to write something that felt that way,” said Josh Kemp, aka Au Gres.

“I sat in my room for a long time, and I wrote that bendy hook and everything else around it because it felt perfect to me. It was just me with my laptop in my room. I think I wrote most of it in an afternoon, and then I came back to it quite some time later and added more and more to it.”

With glistening acoustic strums, whimsical electric guitars, vivid bass, pulsating drums and atmospheric synths, “Nervous” serves as the ideal romantic icebreaker that immediately puts apprehensive partners at ease. It’s the melodic, soaring anthem everyone longs to hear on a magical first date.

Throughout the Mac DeMarco-like track, Kemp reveals, “I think I overstayed my welcome/But I think you want me to/Stick around/To bring you coffee or a cigarette/I don’t think we’re done yet/Not for now.”

“It’s a reminder that the reward is worth it so to speak, and I’m talking about long-lasting, real relationships. It’s tough to make yourself vulnerable with people, and sometimes if you want to have that kind of relationship, then you have to be the one to take the plunge and let your walls come down,” said Kemp, who’s inspired by Passion Pit and Phoenix.

Eight months ago, Kemp shared bedroom laptop demos of “Nervous” with Jake Rye at Adrian’s Social Recording Company. Rye solidified the track’s final version while Noah de Leon (guitars, keys, synth) and Kemp (guitar, keys, synth) handled the arrangements and invited drummer Brodie Glaza.

“Noah and I had most of the arrangements filled out, but Jake would take a look at certain parts and help fill in the gaps a little bit. He gave things a lift where they needed and dove into those melancholic, indie feels. He was really good at drawing that part out,” Kemp said.

“I think it really grew into what I had in my head, like when I was in my bedroom. And to hear it come alive with real drums because I was just using samples, and even now listening to it and thinking about that experience, like COVID, and how strange it is to be back working on music, but also at the same time it felt very right and very good. It finally felt like a slice of something very nice.”

Last week, Kemp shared another slice of “Nervous” through a new lyric video recorded with Darity’s Linsley Hartenstein. The quirky video shows Kemp enthusiastically performing multiple parts on a flashy, portable ‘80s color TV (akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s 1981 “Trouble” video).

“It’s a little silly, and it’s my first go ever using a green screen,” said Kemp with a laugh. “We wanted to have fun with it.”

Continue reading “Break the Ice – Au Gres Finds Instant Romantic Comfort on New ‘Nervous’ Single”

‘Better’ Days – Olivia Dear Releases New TIDAL Single, Headlines March 20 Farmington Civic Theater Show

Olivia Dear is releasing new music through the inaugural TIDAL Unplugged program.

Olivia Dear has never been better.

The Rochester indie pop singer-songwriter has released an inspirational new single, “Better,” introduced a new artist name (from Olivia Millerschin to Olivia Dear) and received a grant from the TIDAL music streaming service.

“This has really given me a shot to do that. I know that what I’m gonna do is gonna always be me. ‘Olivia Dear’ is great because it separates me-the-artist from me-the-person because ‘Olivia Millerschin’ felt like I couldn’t release anything that ‘Olivia Millerschin’ wouldn’t think of or make,” Dear said.

“‘Olivia Dear’ has allowed me to take a step back personally from it. I think in general the music is gonna be the singer-songwriter, pop and indie side of things, but just a little bit more produced than my previous work.”

Dear will share a wealth of new and old favorites from her three-album catalog during her March 20 “LIVE!” headlining set at the Farmington Civic Theater in Farmington. She’ll be joined by longtime bandmates James Pyne (trombone, vocals), Brian Reilly (guitar) and Bob Mervak (keys, vocals) while West Bloomfield singer-songwriter Adam Liebman will open the show.

“For a show with a quartet in a nice, intimate room, we’ll do mostly like broken-down versions of the new music and my last record. The band and I have been working on some new cover stuff, so we might throw one or two of those in there just for fun,” said Dear, who also plays ukulele, piano and guitar.

Continue reading “‘Better’ Days – Olivia Dear Releases New TIDAL Single, Headlines March 20 Farmington Civic Theater Show”

Unplugged – Caleb Peters to Open for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys Feb. 21 in Farmington

Livonia’s Caleb Peters will share acoustic renditions of his indie pop music Feb. 21 at the Farmington Civic Theater. Photo courtesy of Caleb Peters

Caleb Peters knows how to beautifully translate catchy indie pop into stripped-down acoustic tunes.

The Livonia singer-songwriter will make his first live appearance at the Farmington Civic Theater Feb. 21 to open for Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys as part of the “LIVE!” 2020 winter concert series. Special guest Rochelle Clark also will open the show.

“I think I’m doing four of my own songs, one of which is out called ‘Hellbent,’ and ‘Catch You,’ which is a song I haven’t released yet, and another one that’s not released, which is called ‘When You Were Mine,’ and one that is released called ‘Jane Doe,’” said Peters, who will perform solo with just an acoustic guitar. “I’ve been watching videos of people performing there just to get an idea of what it’s like.”

At age 16, Peters has amassed an impressive collection of shimmering indie pop music with five singles and a five-track EP, “Exaggerated Experiences, Part One,” in 2019 alone. He comes from a creative family with both parents as musicians and a father who’s a trained opera singer and vocal coach.

While growing up, Peters played piano and started singing in eighth grade to impress girls. Now a Stevenson High School junior, he writes and records regularly in his home studio with older brother Christian, who’s a music technology sophomore at Wayne State University.

“We basically renovated our basement with the intention of having a studio down there as soon as I started getting into writing music. We basically just made a little booth in the closet with a bunch of blankets, and that’s our setup,” Peters said.

“Parties” single artwork

Peters recently recorded and released his latest single, “Parties,” a groovy synth-filled cautionary tale about growing up too soon – “You can’t wait for college, but that shit ain’t about knowledge/It’s just a way out, this small town feels too crowded/You hate the masses, no one has your back/You drink yourself to madness/What do you want, what do you want?”

“It’s kind of like thinking that everything is OK in the moment when you’re doing a bunch of things off the cuff. It’s like saying it seems fine now, but it might not work out, and you might lose people in the process. It’s like a happy-sounding song, but it’s like a warning from a friend,” said Peters, who’s inspired by singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin.

Peters also released the emotional track, “Hellbent,” which features vibrant acoustic guitar and sparse piano interspersed with dreamy vocals – “Sitting in the basement, wondering where the time went/Thinking about the time spent, I’m old enough to face it/But not enough to forget cuz you know I’m hellbent.”

“It’s more personal about me and stuff that I’ve gone through,” Peters said. “Hellbent is more about feeling betrayed by someone.”

Three other striking tracks, “Six Speed,” “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” nicely showcase Peters’ continued growth as an emerging singer-songwriter and producer. He’s continuing to experiment with different songwriting styles and production techniques to hone his sound for additional single releases as well as another EP or a full-length album.

“Originally, I had a whole album planned out and everything, but I’ve made so many more songs that I’m happy with that I’m kind of figuring out a different track list,” Peters said. “I’m still probably going to have those songs on the album because that was the idea with those singles – ‘Parties,’ ‘Hellbent’ and ‘Six Speed.’ They probably still will. I think I’m going to release one more single and then a project.”

Show details:

Craig “Bones” Maki and the Blue Water Boys with Rochelle Clark and Caleb Peters

Friday, Feb. 21 | Doors 7:30 p.m. | Show 8 p.m.

Farmington Civic Theater, 33332 Grand Rive Ave. in Farmington

Tickets: $16