Due West – Desmond Jones Explores Vibrant Americana Landscape on ‘Why Not?’

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Desmond Jones opts for a cohesive Americana sound on “Why Not?” Photo – Purchase Productions

Desmond Jones boldly explores the sunny, vast terrain of the undiscovered countryside.

The Grand Rapids jam quintet of John Nowak (drums, vocals), Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals), Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), Taylor Watson (bass) and George Falk (sax, vocals) proudly ventures through blazing deserts, rolling hilltops and sprawling mountains on their latest Americana-infused album, Why Not?

“We’re lucky it fell together in a cohesive way because some of the songs were written almost 10 years ago. Others were written two years ago or right before we started recording the album,” Nowak said.

“We tried to collect them in a way that made thematic sense, even though we didn’t write them all together with the intention of releasing a concept album.”

As a refreshing, countrified conceptual immersion and stylistic detour from their funky, glam-jam sound, Desmond Jones’ Why Not? glides through 15 insightful, majestic tracks filled with nomadic adventures, lovelorn moments and bucolic musings.

The addition of warm, folky instrumentation – pedal steel guitars, fiddles, banjos, Dobros and mandolins – and rich four-part harmonies allow the band’s newfangled Americana sound to travel beyond the Midwestern landscape.

“A lot the songs we’ve been performing for over eight years now, and the Americana sound and songwriting style have always been a part of our live show and our catalog. We just never had the opportunity to record a lot of it or package it in that way,” said Nowak about the band’s third album.

“Once we started writing more songs that were a verse-chorus structure and a singer-songwriter style, they started to add up. We realized we had enough material to put it all together in one album, so that it wouldn’t feel as disjointed if we had put some of this stuff together with our funky or more progressive songs.”

Continue reading “Due West – Desmond Jones Explores Vibrant Americana Landscape on ‘Why Not?’”

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

05.10.21 Livin a Lie
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’”

Lunar Magic – Desmond Jones Casts Appalachian Country Twang on ‘Pink Moon’

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Desmond Jones takes a refreshing vintage country detour on “Pink Moon.” Artwork – Daniel Benayun

Desmond Jones elegantly casts twangy lunar magic throughout West Virginia’s sprawling Appalachian Mountains.

The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of John Nowak (drums, vocals), Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals), Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), Taylor Watson (bass) and George Falk (sax, vocals) takes a refreshing vintage country detour on their latest jamboree-filled, celestial single, “Pink Moon.”

“The song is actually named after a music festival that used to be held in West Virginia called ‘The Pink Moon Music Festival.’ The festival was named after the lunar phenomenon we call The Pink Moon, which is a unique yearly full moon that occurred last week,” Bota said.

“I guess you could say it’s a love song I wrote to the moon. It’s meant to be sung while I’m hanging out in the Appalachian Mountains on the outskirts of a small West Virginia mountain town dancing to some wonderful live music under the moon and the stars.”

As a timeless, torchy ode to our favorite pastel-tinged satellite, “Pink Moon” awakens the youthful, nocturnal spirit as swift drums, rich pedal steel, propulsive bass, soulful sax, jubilant mandolin and vigorous violin gallop into a bright summer night.

Bota nostalgically sings, “Once a year, my dear, I’ll spend a night with you/Lookin’ at sunlight through your view/Whistlin’ a tune until the sun’s had enough of you/As you drift into the sky.”

“I wrote the song very late at night five years ago after the second Pink Moon Music Festival that we played and attended. I touched it up over a week or two of playing and singing it solo on my acoustic guitar. We recorded the drums, bass, two guitars and saxophone live at our manager Kevin McKay’s studio in the fall of 2019 three years later,” Bota said.

“The vocals, pedal steel and instrument solos were recorded at everyone’s own homes during the winter of 2020-2021. We have one guest on this track who happens to be one of our favorite Michigan musicians, Don Julin. We had the pleasure to play with Don during two of our sets at the Cowpie Music Festival in 2019, and he agreed to lend his musical talents on this album.”

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Root System – Tree No Leaves Plants Lush Conceptual World on ‘The Eyes of Xylem’ Album

Tree No Leaves plants a vivid, lush conceptual world that challenges widely held notions about the cycle of life on “The Eyes of Xylem.” Artwork – Andy Thomas of Ando Illustration

Last year, Dustin Galish instantly took root in a new adventure.

The Bowling Green, Ohio-based Tree No Leaves vocalist and multi-instrumentalist planted a vivid, lush conceptual world that challenges widely held notions about the cycle of life.

“I had a dream one night, and there was a narrative that showed up and made sense. I wrote it down in the morning and went into work that day, but continued to scribble on this piece of paper that was very small and kept cramming everything on it,” he said.

Galish showed his initial scribbles to artist Andy Thomas of Ando Illustration, and the two carefully cultivated an alternate universe for Tree No Leaves’ new thought-provoking concept album, graphic novel and multimedia experience, The Eyes of Xylem.

“The real raw theme is perception and the cycle of life. At the end of the day, all of us have a very different perception of what that cycle of life is, and it can be religious, spiritual or atheistic. We all deal with that cycle of life, and we’re all trying to come to terms with what it is. Some of us have a very cool explanation for it while others have a sad, barbaric or magical one,” Galish said.

Along with Tree No Leaves bandmates Steven Guerrero (bass, f/x, EBow), Garrett Tanner (sax, recorder), J.P. Stebal IV (drums, electronics) and Billy Gruber (congas, percussion), Galish magically chronicles a condensed life cycle across eight compelling, multi-genre tracks on The Eyes of Xylem, which is now available via all streaming platforms.

Also available as a four-track, clear 7-inch vinyl on Bandcamp, the insightful concept album lyrically and visually depicts the story of anthropomorphic tree characters, Willow and Elder, who rapidly experience a series of life-changing situations in a haunted town. Each track features an accompanying mystical illustration by Thomas that sets the scene for listeners as they join The Eyes of Xylem journey.

“My goal is to have two characters that experience the full cycle of life and death in a short period of time, but in an amazing way. They’re both experiencing things simultaneously while their perspectives of what they’re experiencing are different,” Galish said.

“I researched symbolism relative to trees and what they represented in different cultures. Willow and Elder represent the duality of the world in any place and in anything that exists. I think it’s important to understand people’s perspectives and how we’re all different, but we’re experiencing things together as part of the same cycle. ”

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Fall Fusion – Chirp Leads Stellar Equinox Party Lineup at Grove Studios Saturday

Chirp’s Jay Frydenlund and Sam Naples groove at Danfest in August. Photo – Mark Samano

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.

Frydenlund and his Chirp bandmates Brian Long (bass), Sam Naples (guitar) and Gastón Reggio (drums) will share the Grove Studios stage with some of the area’s most talented musical acts, including Violet Sol, Edison Hollow, Las Drogas, Fernando Silverio Solis, Jackamo, the Steve Somers Band, Ki5 Loops, Diont’e Visible and DJ Nitro.

The Equinox Party will feature seven hours of live music across three mini concerts in a small, socially distanced gathering as well as livestream sets from each artist. Attendees can purchase limited in-studio VIP tickets for afternoon, evening and night shows as well as tickets for individual artist livestream performances to watch at home.

“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.”

Continue reading “Fall Fusion – Chirp Leads Stellar Equinox Party Lineup at Grove Studios Saturday”

‘The Desmond Jones Show’ – Grand Rapids Quintet Drops New Truman-Inspired ‘Major Burbank’ Video

For Desmond Jones, authenticity reigns tried and true.

The Grand Rapids rock-funk-jazz quintet of John Nowak (drums, vocals, guitar), Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, vocals, drums), Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), George Falk (sax, vocals) and Taylor Watson (bass) embraces their holistic selves on “Major Burbank,” a new glistening, groovy video out today. It’s the first new studio material Desmond Jones has released since their Hello, Helou album last July.

The 10-minute slow, transformative jam pays tribute to Jim Carrey’s legendary performance in the 1998 Academy Award-nominated film, “The Truman Show.” As an authentic ode to Carrey, “Major Burbank” majestically combines sparkling guitars, velvety bass, dancy drums and sensuous sax as Berkowitz smoothly sings, “So come back in to/The old world you knew/And although it’s not true/We’re all here for you.”

“With a flawless Jim Carrey performance and the layered philosophical themes present throughout the movie, ‘The Truman Show,’ makes for an excellent flick. We here at Desmond Jones aim to not only remind the listener of these important themes and encourage them to think further and pull back the curtain, but to also gain financially from the film’s popularity as well,” said Berkowitz, who wrote the track.

“We’re really excited to get this song and video out for everyone to enjoy and boogie to. We also encourage anyone who knows Jim Carrey to pass this song along to him because we think he’d dig it.”

Filmed this past winter at Plymouth Rock Recording Company, the “Major Burbank” video beautifully depicts Desmond Jones wearing fun, glitzy outfits and colorful, glam-inspired makeup on a dark, smoky soundstage while vibrant spotlights glow behind them.

Videographers Nick Small, Ryan “Toby” Hyland and Wayne Small eloquently capture the band’s magical instrumentation and rich improvisation from several innovative camera angles.

“That’s one of our newer songs, and the only recording we have is the video we took at Plymouth Rock. We did probably three full live takes, and I think we took the second one. They filmed each one, and when we chose the take we liked most, they put it to film and mixed and mastered it afterward,” Nowak said.

Continue reading “‘The Desmond Jones Show’ – Grand Rapids Quintet Drops New Truman-Inspired ‘Major Burbank’ Video”

Fully Conscious – Pajamas Revitalizes Improvisational Spirit on ‘You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound’ EP

Graham Low, Dan Schuler, Nick Orr and Owen Kellenberger of Pajamas. Photo by Toko Shiiki Santos

Pajamas magically revitalizes the improvisational spirit on their latest EP, You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound.

The Ann Arbor rock-funk quartet seamlessly blends extended guitar grooves, proggy keys, crashing cymbals, rhythmic drums and driving bass into a fluid four-track jam session on their optimistic, improvisational EP, which dropped in January. You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound is a tantalizing live soundtrack that seeps into the unknown spaces in between dreams.

“The overall lyrical message in my opinion is about accepting the things you can’t control and being happy with what and who you are. We played all of them live before releasing the EP, and I even rewrote good portion of the opening track after playing it out live for a while,” said Graham Low, drummer and vocalist for Pajamas.

“Overall, I want people to feel some emotion when they listen to our music. I’m not going to defy the moniker of ‘jam band,’ but I hope people hear ‘jam band’ and understand that to be a band committed to live improvisation and purposeful exploration, not just a bunch of spacey noodling. I think this project sheds light on our songwriting and shows glimpses of the many places we can take our music.”

Recording ‘You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound’

“You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound” EP artwork by Abbas Husain

Pajamas’ hypnotic eight-minute title track opens with an elongated synth that morphs into glistening cymbal crashes, groovy electric guitar and deep bass and slowly explodes into a star-filled prog-tastic multi-verse. Low proudly sings, “You’re awake, you’re alive/And the sun’s in the sky/Stop the hate and the cryin’/There’s a light inside so shine bright.”

“‘You’re Awake’ took me a really long time to write and a long time to rewrite. I’m really pleased with the end product, and I think the recording that we captured was one of the best takes that we’ve ever played of that song,” Low said.

Low joined Pajamas bandmates Nick Orr (guitar, vocals), Dan Schuler (bass, vocals) and Owen Kellenberger (keys, vocals) to record You’re Awake: Live at Willis Sound during a single four-hour session at the iconic Willis-based recording studio last year. They teamed up with Jim Roll to mix and engineer the majestic live project as a follow-up to 2018’s genre-defying, full-length debut, Onesie.

“Jim Roll is a freakin’ magic man. He dialed in each of our sounds and captured everything that makes our timbre unique while also isolating and getting a really clean overall mix,” Low said. “He’s been doing this forever, and it shows in his ability to get great results every time.”

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Groove On – Stormy Chromer Hosts Jam-tastic Blind Pig Show Tonight with Biomassive, RADO

Stormy Chromer will host a fall hometown show tonight in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor will groove three times over tonight with Stormy Chromer at the musical helm.

The Ypsilanti progressive jam quartet will host a fall hometown show at The Blind Pig with Biomassive and RADO filled with danceable improvisational rock, jazz, funk and electronica.

“We have a long list of covers that’s somewhere near 80 or 100 total. Every time we perform one, we log it into an Excel sheet. We’ve been going back over this past summer and looking at it to see which ones we can let fall by the wayside, so we have a few things up our sleeve in terms of things you haven’t heard us play in a long time,” said Ryan King, Stormy Chromer’s bassist.

“In terms of originals, we might have some new stuff for you. We’re not entirely sure if we’re going to be playing some of it live yet, but we have new material in the works.”

Along with bandmates Brendan Collins (lead guitar), Spencer Hanson (lead guitar) and Amin Lanseur (drums), King has grown his improvisational chops during a month-long mini-residency at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids as well as several Michigan-based festivals and a tour out west.

“The goal for a long time was just to be comfortable enough doing it in front of a crowd and to be not doing it where they don’t stop moving,” said King, who’s racked up more than 30 original songs with Stormy Chromer. “I think that’s going to be the direction the band is headed in right now and trying to do something live that’s really unique and special at every show in terms of creating something that’s only gonna be there for that night.”

Together, Stormy Chromer started cutting their improvisational teeth after forming in 2014. Named after an accidental tribute to the legendary Michigan cap company, the band blends complex songwriting with real-time compositions to create a unique live experience. In true jam-style fashion, Stormy Chromer has performed a growing roster of live shows locally and nationally with unique nightly setlists for a dedicated fan base.

Continue reading “Groove On – Stormy Chromer Hosts Jam-tastic Blind Pig Show Tonight with Biomassive, RADO”

Jam-packed – Desmond Jones Mixes Multiples Genres for Latest ‘Hello, Helou’ Album

Desmond Jones’ “Hello, Helou” album features longtime friend and fan Antoine Helou on the cover.

For their latest release, Desmond Jones has fans at “Hello, Helou.”

The Grand Rapids funk-rock-jazz fusion quintet masterfully mixes multiple genres across seven tracks on their second full-length and latest album, “Hello, Helou,” which dropped in July. It includes an eclectic batch of captivating tracks from Desmond Jones’ expansive catalog of more than 40 original songs.

“These songs were already written before we went into the studio, so it wasn’t a collective effort to write all of the music for an album,” said John Nowak, drummer, guitarist and vocalist for Desmond Jones. “Since all of the songs already existed, it was really a matter of choosing which ones we wanted to go on the next album.”

Nowak and bandmates Chris Bota (guitar, vocals), George Falk (saxophone, vocals), Isaac Berkowitz (guitar, drums, vocals) and John Loria (bass, vocals) spent eight months recording “Hello, Helou’s” tracks with manager Kevin McKay of Innovative Music Solutions in Webberville. The band also recorded a few tracks in the band room at East Grand Rapids High School where Nowak and Berkowitz attended.

In typical Desmond Jones fashion, all the tracks from “Hello, Helou” received initial live improvisational treatment before being reimagined as studio versions. With a fun, upbeat sound, the album features a collection of shorter songs compared to tracks from the band’s 2017 self-titled, full-length debut.

Four of the five band members also penned tracks for the album, which include spatial, culinary, relational, existential and fantastical themes. Listeners encounter a dynamic sonic journey while venturing from one track to another.

“In our live shows, we definitely take the liberty to extend songs as long as we want. Some songs are a better platform for that, but songs like ‘Split Again,’ ‘Sylvia’ or ‘Instructional Dance Song’ are similar to how we play them live,” said Nowak, who formed the band in 2012 while attending Michigan State University. “With streaming and attention spans, we want songs that are easily digestible for people to listen to before they come see us.”

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High Times – Stormy Chromer Celebrates ‘420’ Blind Pig Show with Pajamas, Earth Radio

Stormy Chromer performs at The Blind Pig during a New Year’s Eve 2018 show in Ann Arbor. Photo by Evan Greig

Ann Arbor area music fans will inhale good tunes and times Saturday night at The Blind Pig.

Ypsilanti’s Stormy Chromer will host a “420” show with Pajamas and Earth Radio to celebrate a fluid night of live music on the infamous Mary Jane-centric holiday.

“We have a fun lineup, and we haven’t played with Pajamas in Ann Arbor in a couple of years. We’re really happy with how they’ve been progressing as well, and every time we see them, we want to share a bill with them,” said Amin Lanseur, Stormy Chromer’s drummer and vocalist.

“As for Earth Radio, we found them through Purchase Productions, who manage our friends Chirp. They brought Earth Radio to Club Above six months ago, and they really made an impression on some friends of mine.”

It will be the homegrown progressive jam band’s first appearance at The Blind Pig since their New Year’s Eve show. Together, Stormy Chromer will mix elements of rock, jazz, heavy metal, ska and hip hop to perform a danceable set with Pajamas, a Tree Town improvisational rock, funk and fusion trio, and Earth Radio, a Grand Rapids future soul quintet.

“The energy in the room is very loving and fun, and we’re blessed to have the people who come out and see us,” Lanseur said. “We’re striving for that same type of energy for ‘420’ as well, so obviously it will be the whole pot thing.”

Continue reading “High Times – Stormy Chromer Celebrates ‘420’ Blind Pig Show with Pajamas, Earth Radio”