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.”
Interested artists or bands from any genre can enter the contest through Feb. 28. To be considered, entrants can submit audio demos/recordings that best demonstrate their musicality and artistry.
“Submissions can be any type of audio,” said Katona, producer-engineer for Bird Fight Records and owner of JK (Not Kidding) Studios. “It’s more about the songwriting than it is about production. We’ll take it from wherever it is to a fully produced song.”
The winning artist or band will have their material produced by JK (Not Kidding) Studios and released via Bird Fight Records. They also will receive marketing and video production support as part of the winning package.
“The people in Michigan and Detroit are so talented,” said Penn, graphic designer and social media manager for Bird Fight Records. “There are so many incredible artists around … we don’t want them to go unrecognized.”
Editor’s Note: Proof of full vaccination is required for attending Ohly’s Friday headlining show at The Loving Touch.
For Ohly, Friday’s headlining show is bucket-list worthy.
The Ferndale indie folk rocker will relish performing his growing catalog of vivid, thoughtful tracks with Tom Mihalis (guitar), Matt Jones (keys), Brodie Glaza (drums), Pia Roa (bass, vocals) and Ian Lukas (trombone) at The Loving Touch.
“I’ve been doing music for eight or nine years now, and I started playing at coffee shops when I was 15 or 16. I think this is the first-ever proper headlining show that Ohly has ever done. We’re super excited and trying to invite all of our friends out,” said Christian Ohly, aka Ohly.
As part of Audiotree Presents, Friday’s show will allow Ohly to debut his latest contemplative single, “Steady,” and spotlight songs from his current seven-track EP, Landlines, before a metro Detroit audience.
“There are some songs that I’ve never really played live and definitely haven’t played them live with the ability that we’re at now. I’m really looking forward to playing them with a few years of experience. The more people I have up there, the livelier and more organic it will sound,” Ohly said.
“These are three bands that I’ve looked up to for years. My childhood friend used to be the bassist for Kimball, so he introduced me to them years ago before I was doing original music. I saw them live a couple of times and being on the same bill as them is pretty surreal,” he said.
“Two years ago, Jackamo opened up for Remnose. I heard their set and had to run up to them right afterward. I was like, ‘You guys took my breath away.’ The Michigan Ordinary’s Steve Davis used to be in a band called The Fragile, and I saw him at the coffee shop I used to play when I was 15 or 16. My brother and I grabbed his CD, and we were like, ‘Wow, how is this guy playing in a little coffee shop?’”
Last spring, Skywerth watched a bewildered nation quickly unravel before his stunned eyes.
The Detroit multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter felt overwhelmed by the social, economic and political upheaval arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had just watched Ahmaud Arbery getting shot down in his own neighborhood and the music industry crumbling overnight all while looking at the incredible divide and conspiracy theories being pushed on social media,” he said.
That lingering frustration, disappointment and anger prompted Skywerth to pen his latest striking multi-genre, emotional-fueled single, “Waves,” featuring Hamtramck indie folk duo Jackamo.
“It was so apocalyptic, so I just wrote exactly what I was observing. Social media is tailored for you, so if anything pops up on your feed that is outside of your belief system, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, and your friends are going to say it’s wrong, too. No matter what it is, you are constantly being told that you’re right.” he said.
Now available on all streaming platforms, “Waves” elegantly rises with the genre-bending tides of metal, psych rock, industrial, prog and hip-hop into a symphonic tsunami. Thumping drums, tingling cymbals, swirling electric guitars, crawling bass and expansive synths quickly engulf listeners in a welcoming sense of relief and escape.
Skywerth reflects, “Alone in the waves with your eyes open wide, living in a paradise/Stare into the light/Hands upon the shore, eyes are getting sore/Here we are, caught in the eye of the storm/As the rain starts to fall, as the rain starts.”
“Lyrically, it’s a bit of a pessimistic song. If the song can make two people put their phones down and reconnect with one another in real life for two days, then it would make the year for me,” he said.
Skywerth also forges a beautiful musical connection with Jackamo’s Alison and Tessa Wiercioch, who provide somber, thoughtful harmonies on “Waves.”
“I fell in love with Jackamo the moment I heard them. We have mutual friends, and they also work with Steve (Lehane) at Rustbelt Studios. After writing the lyrics, I knew Ali, Tessa and I could do something pretty cool,” he said.
Along with Jackamo, Skywerth collaborated with Eric Hoegemeyer (soundscapes, synths), Matt Voss (drums) and co-producer Steve Lehane (bass, drum machines, production) on “Waves,” which initially started as an instrumental track.
“After the pandemic hit and I wrote the lyrics, I had this sort of organized chaos. Instead of being consumed by this confusion surrounding me, I had all my thoughts and observations laid out on something that was familiar and felt like home to me,” said Skywerth, who recorded the track at Royal Oak’s Rustbelt Studios and credited Lehane with transforming “Waves” into a vocal track.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to weave all of these (multi-genre) elements together. I’ve got a bit of ADD, so when something sounds the same for several minutes I get bored. I need to change things a bit to keep me interested. I think the dynamics of the tune help outline the emotions felt from the pandemic.”
Skywerth brings those heavy emotions to life in his wistful new video for “Waves” as he ponders the pandemic’s ongoing impact with Alison Wiercioch in Hamtramck. Filmed and edited by Sara Showers and Cheyenne Comerford, the video also features footage of Skywerth performing live inside a vacant Magic Bag in Ferndale.
“We started tossing around ideas for a video in late 2020, and we shot at The Magic Bag in February. It was quite unsettling being in the venue during the pandemic. We also shot in Hamtramck back in the spring, and it was a group of friends running around with a camera,” he said.
“We decided to create the Barebones Music Festival with the intention of leveling the playing field for local artists. The pandemic has put a hold on in-person events, and we have been trying to come up with new ways to virtually bring artists together,” said Joseph Corless, Old Main Records’ incoming president.
“A common problem we came across was that many artists did not possess the recording equipment necessary to perform virtually. We decided to embrace this and set the criteria for submissions to utilize only a cell phone with audio and video recording capabilities.”
In response, interested artists submitted individual performance videos for consideration regardless of genre. Next, the Old Main Records team assembled artist submissions into two cohesive virtual music showcases.
“This allows the songs themselves to shine and not be filtered by editing techniques and mixing. Artists had to be creative in their spacing to have a sonic balance between instruments. These limitations forced artists to think outside the box when choosing the song’s instrumentation and performance location,” Corless said.
“We chose artists whose songs could easily flow into one another while still utilizing various genres. Their choices of lighting and filming locations added to the ambiance of their individual styles.”
The Barebones Music Festival is one of several recent virtual events hosted by Old Main Records since the pandemic hit last year. With the shutdown of in-person live music events, the WSU student-run record label has flourished with a series of online artist shows and conversations, music industry panels, songwriter summits, and jazz and dance performances.
“It’s a nice way to bring together many of our past collaborators in a platform showcasing them all individually. I would personally love to see this festival grow into an in-person event in the future, but some changes may need to be made to its format,” said Corless, a WSU business management and music technology student and drummer for Detroit metal band Passing Thought.
“With venues and in-person events opening back up, I would love to start setting up more live shows. I also would like to see us branching out into different genres. Detroit has some phenomenal punk, hardcore and metal scenes that we have barely tapped into.”
Old Main Records hasn’t hosted an in-person live event since their multimedia launch party in January 2020. The party showcased a series of local artists who expressed interest in signing with the label, which is named after the iconic 19th century WSU academic building at Cass and Warren avenues.
“Chris Simpson, our departing president, has taken the lead in getting Old Main Records back up and running despite the pandemic. Darcy Moran, Calder Laidlaw, Anna George and several others have taken the lead in various other projects for the label,” Corless said.
“Wayne State is also slowly opening up again, and it would be great to utilize our recording studio. Old Main Records has been recruiting new members, and their enthusiasm to be more involved in our organization has truly been inspiring.”
Released today, the video adds an emotive, solid layer to the Hamtramck indie folk sibling duo’s wistful debut single, which dropped Feb. 19. It features sisters Alison Wiercioch and Tessa Wiercioch firmly planted in the middle of a sparsely furnished living room while people and objects move around them.
“We’re going to give our roommate Molly a shout-out. We were sitting together back in October, and we said, ‘Gosh, we really want to do a video for this song, but we have no idea what we should do.’ We were shooting off ideas, and Molly said, ‘How cool would it be if you two were in a room and things were moving around you, but you remained at a standstill,” said Alison Wiercioch.
With an initial video blueprint in mind, Jackamo contacted high school friend and director Zach Noonan to bring the “Foundations” concept to life. The Wiercioch sisters developed the video’s storyline and creative approach with Noonan over multiple Zoom calls until he emerged with a script.
“Zach drove around listening to the song, and that’s how he found his creative juices. The song really resonated with him, and when we got his script idea, we were enamored. Zach was the one who had the idea of having different sets,” said Tessa Wiercioch.
Throughout the “Foundations” video, Jackamo and Noonan seamlessly showcase three visual scenes to bring the track’s raw vulnerability to life. The initial living room scene features the Wiercioch sisters singing next to each other as a large stone fireplace provides additional emotional support.
Next, it quickly transitions to the gallery scene as Jackamo kneels together singing on the floor while extras move pieces of their mother’s artwork in and out of the room. The camera continues to circle around the duo into the “nothing scene” as they strongly embrace one another while the extras struggle to pry them apart.
“Zach brought his friend Liam Adams in as the videographer. The entire video is one shot, and they made that light themselves. We told Zach we wanted it to look like the golden hour, and he said, ‘I can definitely make that happen.’ They had their lights fixed up, and that’s the light that’s showing in the camera,” said Alison Wiercioch.
Along with Noonan, Adams and a cast of extras, the Wiercioch sisters filmed the “Foundations” video inside their Howell childhood home. One of the video’s most eye-catching objects includes a white two-story birdhouse that’s shifted throughout the living room. In a sense, the birdhouse captures the structural spirit of the larger home and encapsulates the essence of the track.
“That was Zach’s idea, and he clung on to the fact that we want our song to be taken however the listener takes it. The birdhouse was another object that we could move, but the table it sits on is still there. Somebody moves the table at one point, and that spoke to me. The house is already gone, but the table or the foundation is still there,” said Tessa Wiercioch.
Jackamo keeps their “Foundations” intact as they lie together on the home’s hardwood floor at the video’s close. It’s a subtle reminder the Wiercioch sisters are ready to build additional levels throughout their evolving musical framework.
“We hope it doesn’t make anybody think too much of what they’re supposed to feel in the song. We’ve had a couple of people who have said and thought different things about the video. It’s fun and exciting for us to hear people’s new perspectives,” said Tessa Wiercioch.
The Hamtramck indie folk sibling duo of Alison Wiercioch and Tessa Wiercioch seamlessly constructs a resilient emotional framework comprised of growth, wisdom and reflection on their poignant debut single, “Foundations.”
“We both hope this song helps people to find closure. No matter what, if you keep trying, and you keep working at something, you don’t have to give up just because of the foundation being cracked,” said Tessa Wiercioch, who formed Jackamo with Alison in 2019.
Together, Jackamo instantly seals delicate “Foundations” cracks as sorrowful acoustic strums, thumping drums, pensive strings, tearful electric guitar, thoughtful bass and heavenly First Aid Kit-esque harmonies solidify the soul.
Alison Wiercioch reveals, “I’ve been trying lately/Caught up on the other side/And I’ve been crying lately/Trying to do what they think is right/And I’ve been crying, I’ve been crying/But it’s the fire that makes the ore/And I’ve been dying, I’ve been dying/But I’m tired and I’m sore.”
“I hope all of our songs bring comfort and that people feel something through our music. It’s a huge thing that we always keep in mind when we’re writing and putting music out,” said Alison Wiercioch, who’s the elder sibling by three years.
The Wiercioch sisters invited a team of metro Detroit musical architects to design and shape “Foundations” at Royal Oak’s Rustbelt Studios in 2019. Sammy Boller (guitar), Jimmy Showers (guitar), Steve Lehane (bass) and Steve Stetson (drums) created an emotive, folky infrastructure while Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd (string arrangements), Sarah Cleveland (cello), John Madison (viola) and Joe Deller (violin) added cinematic soundscapes.
“When we had material to record, we thought about who we wanted to work with, and Steve Lehane immediately popped into our heads. We went out to coffee with Steve, and he was this ray of light. Steve was beaming with creativity, and he wanted to see us play our songs. He wanted to bring his friend Sammy along and said they both wanted to work with us,” said Alison Wiercioch.
With Lehane and Boller at the production helm, Jackamo recorded five initial tracks at Rustbelt Studios to lay the groundwork for the duo’s timeless, all-weather sound. They continued to write additional material and perform live throughout the Motor City until COVID-19 shuttered music venues last March.
“Something Ali and I have both realized about these songs is that they haven’t aged a bit. We’re hoping that comes across to others as well. It’s been two years, but we still love them the same. We want to make sure that our music is timeless because we like artists from every decade, and we hope our music won’t have an expiration date,” said Tessa Wiercioch.
Mike Ward eloquently strikes a balance between the past and the future.
The Detroit Americana singer-songwriter thoughtfully uncovers the delicate midpoint between two opposing forces in time and emotion on his reflective third album, The Darkness and The Light.
“I think it has a lot to do with my age; I got started in this late. I think it comes from a lot of experience and examination of that. I come from a really big family; we’ve had some losses and struggles over the last 10 years. These songs were all written well before the pandemic, but they tee up the emotions that people have,” Ward said.
“Since my dad passed and my mom died almost 10 years before that, I’ve been on that path of examining life as it is, life as it was and life after I go. I archived about 10,000 slides and photographs from my dad’s collection because he was an amateur photographer, and you can’t do that without diving into the faces, the eyes, the smiles and the tears. All those stories ruminate around, and I think for me as a writer I’ve realized that’s the way things have to happen for me.”
Ward’s initial ruminations unfold into 10 insightful tales about wisdom, gratitude, reality and altruism throughout The Darkness and The Light. As a majestic successor to 2018’s We Wonder, each Darkness and Light track sashays from shadows of struggle to flashes of hope as listeners travel from one experience to the next.
“I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything, and I’m not trying to be Pollyanna. Even when I sing ‘Our Turn to Shine,’ it’s done in a way that suggests taking it upon yourself. When one of us shines, we can all shine, and bringing a little light to the world is a good thing even as messed up as it is. That’s what I hope people will get from it. I’ve been told by a number of people who’ve listened to it that it’s calming and gives them a sense of relaxation,” Ward said.
Filled with progtastic, funkified fusion, Chirp will bring upbeat, dancy grooves to celebrate autumn’s upcoming arrival Saturday at Ypsilanti’s Grove Studios.
The Ann Arbor prog-funk-jazz jam quartet will headline the Ypsi rehearsal and recording space’s annual fall-themed Equinox Party before intimate in-person studio and virtual livestream audiences.
“Ypsi audiences are always some of our favorites to play for, so we are extremely excited to play our first show at Grove Studios. It has a great music/arts scene, and my favorite part of playing for Ypsi audiences is all the creative folks we get to bump shoulders with at our shows there,” said Jay Frydenlund, Chirp’s vocalist and guitarist.
“The Equinox Party is our annual anniversary celebration and largest event of the year where we showcase a diverse collection of artists, many of whom we’ve worked with or met throughout the year,” said Erich Friebel, Grove Studios co-founder and director of community engagement.
“We’ve decided to really blow it up with the Equinox Party this year. We’ll be hosting three, two-and-a-half-hour shows with three to four artists each and an hour of transition in between shows to cycle the artists and audiences in and out to follow the 25-person gathering rule Ypsi is currently under.”
Grove Studios has flourished in the virtual music space since launching Grove Sessions, a regular livestream performance and interview series, in March. The sessions spotlight a range of emerging and established artists and musicians in Washtenaw County and metro Detroit.
“We’re already six months into our third year on Railroad Street in Ypsilanti, which is super dope considering we’re still weathering the effects of a global pandemic and a previous three-month shutdown,” Friebel said.
“That reality, along with social distancing and gathering restrictions, encouraged us to rethink how we support the music community by moving our events to a virtual format and becoming a burgeoning media production company. We also activated our outdoor courtyard stage in May with audio and video production, which has evolved into a high-tech livestream performance format with small in-studio audiences.”
The Detroit Americana folk singer-songwriter marks the passage of time in month-long increments, especially while hunkering down in quarantine.
Last month, Ward tested his creative prowess by writing and recording 31 new acoustic-based tracks at home as part of 30 Songs in 30 Dayssongwriting challenge with New York City folk rock singer-songwriter Paul Weinfield.
“When Paul set out the challenge, he put it in a post and said, ‘OK, who’s up for this? You have to write at least a verse and a chorus, and you have to record it and post it.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m up for that.’ The very first one was the most daunting, and it was like, ‘Well, where do I start?’” said Ward, who released his last album, We Wonder, in 2018.
“I keep a lot of notes on my phone that I use to record audio notes and melodies, and I also keep a lot of typed notes of starts of songs. I’ve kept them compiled for years, and this gave me a reason to go back to a lot of those notes. I also began exploring feelings of what’s happening, and the very first thing that was recorded was ‘The New Normal.’”
For Ward, “The New Normal” serves as a prevailing folk anthem for staying optimistic during increasing times of uncertainty and unpredictability. The 4.5-minute poignant track features thoughtful, churning acoustic strums as Ward reflectively sings, “Got my love, got my faith/Only hope it’s enough to get us through these days/No human contract, touch of a hand/Six feet of distance across the land/Open skies and open hearts/As we close our doors, do our part.”
“The New Normal” also opened Ward’s creative floodgates and pushed him deeper into the songwriting trenches. A refreshing series of lyrics, melodies and chords flowed from Ward each day.
“The one thing I was cognizant of, but I didn’t go back day to day and say, ‘Oh, did I use those chords in that song? Does this song sound too much like this one?’” said Ward, who submitted an acoustic video of “The New Normal” for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest.
“I honestly didn’t do that much because I felt like otherwise I wouldn’t finish, and if there was something I liked about one particular song, I could always go back and rework it if I needed to. At the same time, I tried to do some different things from a playing standpoint.”