With new blood, Dirt Room continually thrives on organic growth.
The Detroit experimental collective of Samuel “SJ” Sprague (vocals, bass), Patrick Norton (guitar, Octatrack), Nate Zonnevylle (synth) and Duncan MacKillop (drums) will cultivate their burgeoning sound through a series of upcoming Nice Place Presents live shows, including Feb. 4 at Small’s in Hamtramck.
“This is a completely new lineup for Dirt Room, but the synergy is there. Their musicianship and enthusiasm inspire me to keep going,” said Sprague, who co-founded the band in 2016.
“Pat has been an absolute rock for me over the past few years. Their ambition and work ethic astounds me, and the music we write together is truly a blessing in my life. Duncan and Nate are the young bloods in the group. They’ve been super enthusiastic about the new music we’re playing together and working really hard to make something special.”
“We’re very fortunate to be playing with such talented local artists, especially after being undercover for so long,” Sprague said. “I’ve known the Who Boy group as well as Mykel Andre for a few years now, so being able to put a show together with these guys is definitely special.”
Fernando Silverio Solis eloquently raises his voice, holds his head high and advocates for solidarity amidst a sea of recurring racial, social and political struggles.
The Flint indie folk singer-songwriter and guitarist speaks volumes about the lingering injustices against people of color and the Black Lives Matter movement’s ongoing fight against an oppressive state on his latest gripping single, “Keep Your Head High.”
“I was just reflecting an expression of what I felt or thought during so many of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and watching the news of people being murdered by police and then watching the police violence unfold. It was also in reaction to the past four years and what the previous administration brought out of people,” Solis said.
Throughout “Keep Your Head High,” Solis thoughtfully shares those reflections as contemplative acoustic guitar, somber pedal steel and placid cello echo his raw, honest sentiments. He quietly sings,” When did we justify to look each other in the eyes/And decide we are strangers/When all is said and done/And we’re sent to kingdom come/Will we see we weren’t so different.”
“I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries with making it about myself or attempting to speak on behalf of anyone. I really did my best to try to present it from a perspective of ‘I’m here, I’m watching, I do have my own reactions, and these are my thoughts regarding my own reactions as to what I’m seeing happen,’” Solis said.
Solis teamed up with several talented collaborators to bring a wistful Americana flavor to “Keep Your Head High” while recording it at Chesaning’s Oneder Studios with Nick Diener. Australian pedal steel player Jy-Perry Banks lends his virtuoso guitar skills while cellist Ian Legge brings a delicate string sensibility to the track.
“After I did the Wake Up Slow EP, there was a window of time before everything got really crazy. I was able to record more music with Nick, and I have another seven songs that haven’t been released yet. At that time, I came across (Banks) on Instagram, and I saw that he was open for sessions,” Solis said.
“I said, ‘Nick, I’ll record these songs with guitar and vocals, and then let’s flesh out the rest.’ That’s when we got to talking and said, ‘Let’s get this real country feel to it.’ Those songs were finished, and then they sat. We had to mix and master them, and as that was happening, the world shut down.”
For Monte Pride, Michigan’s placid sights, sounds and scents invigorate and soothe the soul.
The Lansing folk singer-songwriter and fingerstyle guitarist beautifully encapsulates the state’s sonic sense of tranquility on his latest album, Even in Absence. With magical, pastoral references to the Grand River, Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks and other Great Lakes gems, Pride paints a seasonal, insightful canvas filled with introspective themes of loss, resilience, growth and change.
“I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, and I’m still big into camping, fly-fishing, hiking and all that. Northern Michigan has always been a really special place for me, so it just kind of naturally makes its way in. Whether I know it or not, I process these experiences in nature and in different parts of Michigan. I think they just all kind of fall into place, and they relate to each other somehow,” he said.
Pride intricately stitches personal, transcendental moments through 10 serene Even in Absence tracks, including the calming title track. Twirling acoustic strums, glistening piano, peaceful violin and Pride’s warm vocals soothe listeners as they quietly reflect on a still September night, “Even in the ebb/The flow of going I pine/I strive to mend the losing/To know we won’t/Be parting then/Even in the changing/The fraying thread/In the almost lost/A sentiment sought/A golden friend.”
As Pride’s latest single and album title, “Even in Absence” establishes a timeless, acoustic-centered sonic quality that instantly appeals to folk music aficionados across all generations. Think hints of Simon & Garfunkel, The Tallest Man on Earth and Nick Drake fused with special musical seasonings from a Michigan-made singer-songwriter.
“When I wrote the songs and recorded them, I was only listening to old Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake albums. I think their songwriting style and instrumentation came through in Even in Absence because I had been listening to them so much during that time,” Pride said.
Pride magically captures his vintage folk aesthetic through a contemplative, poignant “Even in Absence” video directed by Shaina Mahler, who also created the album’s artwork. The thoughtful video reflects Pride’s delicate performance as crystal sea-inspired ornaments and hand-held mirrors depict a quiet, dreamy world beyond the looking glass.
“She has an incredible, amazing eye and style. One day we were sitting outside in our backyard, and she decided to start taking some photos, and I just sang along to the song. She brought so much to the video and the album artwork and embroidered all of the writing on the album cover. It was really special that we were able to collaborate on both of those things,” he said.
In this case, the Lansing indie rock quartet’s newest album functions as a sonic potion drenching listeners in soothing waves of vibrant folk-influenced dream pop.
“We knew that was the kind of record we wanted to make. Michael Boyes and I had done a lot of acoustic shows together, or rather where he played acoustic and I played electric,” said Tommy McCord, Drinking Mercury’s guitarist and vocalist, about the band’s latest release out today via GTG Records.
“We had focused on embracing that sort of finger style-like folky guitar playing and bringing that in with more textural and psychedelic stuff. From there, it was a matter of filling in the arrangements, but we all knew we wanted to have the vocals be really prominent and arranged on the album.”
Soaring vocal harmonies intertwined with slow, thumping drumbeats, driving basslines and gentle acoustic and electric guitars abound on the band’s striking follow-up to 2011’s alt-folk debut, “Orcades.”
Recording Drinking Mercury, Split Album with The Soods
To create the album’s laid-back feel, McCord invited longtime friends and bandmates Boyes (guitar, vocals), Timmy Rodriguez (bass, keys, vocals) and Kevin Adams (drums) to his family’s 60-year-old rustic cabin in Bitely last July to record new material.
“It’s like the cliché of getting back to nature to write your masterpiece. My grandpa and some other guys built this cabin in the early ‘50s, so I’ve been going there my whole life. I had thought in a daydream it would be cool to record an album up here,” said McCord, who co-formed Drinking Mercury nearly 20 years ago with Adams while growing up in Ionia.
“It’s not like it’s a big acoustically awesome space. It’s just a pretty simple cabin, but it’s in a beautiful area, and the atmosphere is really relaxed, and your cell phone doesn’t work there, and there’s no internet.”
“All four of us just wanted to get together and make something really magnificent as far as the electronic music scene, and we wanted to bring that more to light, especially with talent that’s been in and around the area,” said Tyler Denig, aka Vest and Tyler, who organized the show.
“The ‘Welcome, Visitors,’ show gives an opportunity to welcome those kinds of people to come out and enjoy electronic music, even in a place like Ann Arbor, where it might not be the first thing you think of in terms of the music scene.”
For the “Welcome, Visitors” show, each artist will assume a different interstellar identity during their set. Dubbed “Digital Satellite Base,” Denig will emerge as a digitized form from late 20th century Earth technology and materialize through a series of beeps and boops with a GameBoy Color in hand.
Meanwhile, Allium, aka Electric Junkyard Moon, will shapeshift into a cyber space priestess and galactic traveler who emits a cyberpunk sound to Earth. Their two companions, Cheska, aka Interstellar Bass Colony, and Hizen, aka Beach Party Planet, will bring raging bass and thumping house music via a beachy vibe to all alien life forms, including an intergalactic bunny.
“Even though we all come from different places, we’re all effectively trying to do the same thing, and we’re all trying to meet the same goal. When I was writing up some of those bios for the event page, I wanted to make sure that people’s individual styles and stories were represented,” Denig said. “Even if we were from just far off and distant planets, we’re all coming to the same place, which is to make music and enjoy it.”
The Stratton Setlist recently traveled to several dimensions to learn more about each artist and their interstellar identity.
For Calum Galt, Ann Arbor represents a bittersweet homecoming.
The former After Hours Radio vocalist will reunite with his old bandmates for Saturday’s show at Club Above. It will be his first appearance with the Ypsilanti progressive groove-heavy indie rock trio of Greg Hughes (bass), Nate Erickson (vocals, guitar) and Mark Dunne (drums) in nearly three years.
“It was actually Greg’s idea to have a reunion show. He reached out to me when he found out I was returning home for the first time in years to see if I was interested, and I agreed right away,” said Galt, who moved from Ann Arbor to Japan in 2014. “I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to play with the band again after so long, and I hope we can recreate some of the same energy our shows had back then.”
Along with Hughes and Erickson, Galt honed his musicianship while attending open mic nights at the University of Michigan’s Nakamura and Luther Buchele co-ops. Together, they formed After Hours Radio and became synonymous with Ann Arbor’s burgeoning underground, do-it-yourself (DIY) music community.
“Forming the band was equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking – I had never really written or performed my own music, which I think is an inherently intimate and scary thing to do,” said Galt, who’s inspired by of Montreal, The Strokes and Radiohead. “I was lucky to be surrounded by supportive friends and be involved in the co-op community, which has always been a fertile environment for budding musicians.”
As After Hours Radio, they recorded their self-titled, six-track debut EP in 2015 before Galt moved to Japan. Four years later, Galt is ready to revisit the EP with his old bandmates through an older, wiser and fresher perspective.
“There are a lot of memories tied up in those songs so revisiting them has been an interesting experience,” said Galt, who graduated from U-M with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian languages and cultures. “I’ve changed a lot in the intervening time so it’s strange to hear those songs, which really encapsulate the weird head-space I was in at the time.”
“We haven’t played at Ghost Light before, but we’re excited to play there and in Hamtramck for the first time. We’ll be able to get some new ‘Lafayette’ EP stuff into our set as well as songs from our ‘No. 1’ album,” said Jacob Bullard, Major Murphy’s vocalist and guitarist. “In Lansing, there’s going to be bands playing all weekend, and it’s in conjunction with the film fest.”
Bullard will join bandmates Jacki Warren (bass) and Brian “Bud” Voortman (drums) to share their 1970s-inspired radio rock with Hamtramck and Lansing crowds. They’ll perform hypnotic, mellow tracks from their latest EP, “Lafayette,” which dropped in February on Winspear, and last year’s full-length debut, “No. 1” as well as a cover of The Beatles “Revolver” classic, “She Said She Said.”
Recorded as demos in Bullard’s Grand Rapids-based house on Lafayette Avenue, the “Lafayette” EP features six songs that chronicle the creative evolution of Major Murphy from a stripped-down solo project to a three-piece rock band.
“I think it’s an extension or a companion to ‘No. 1,’ and we wanted to share stuff that we felt was interesting,” said Bullard, who formed Major Murphy with Warren and Voortman in 2015. “If people listened to ‘No. 1,’ then they might find ‘Lafayette’ extra fun because it’s where the songs started, and it gives them a behind-the-scenes perspective.”
For three tracks on “Lafayette,” each band member plants a promising sonic seed for the growth of “No. 1.” Bullard writes about an open-hearted expression that’s nostalgic and forward-thinking on “Come By Sunday” while Warren provides enchanting harmonies on “When I Go Out.” Meanwhile, Voortman jams for the first time on the initial demo for “No. 1.”
“They were recorded well before we went to Russian Recording, and they were mostly for my own benefit of being able to sketch the songs out,” said Bullard, who’s inspired by The Beatles, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Patti Smith. “I anticipated being able to record them again since they were very lo-fi, and the production was done in my bedroom.”
By 2017, Major Murphy ventured to Russian Recording in Bloomington, Ind., to record 10 nostalgic tracks for “No. 1.” The album’s jangly guitars, shimmering riffs, synth grooves, and dreamy, commanding vocals gently hook and draw listeners into a vintage, yacht rock world.
Together, Major Murphy hones a retro sound filled with harmonic structures, melodic progressions and emotional shifts that rely heavily on concert-like, energetic recordings. A year after “No 1.’s” release, the album stills sounds as refreshing and inspiring as its initial spin.
“I feel really proud of that record, and that’s never happened before. When I’ve made music in the past, I think about how we could have done this differently,” Bullard said. “I think this album is different because we were collaborative by working with Mike Bridavsky at Russian, and we brought in Ben and Aaron in addition to Bud and Jackie.”
With “No. 1” and “Lafayette” under their belt, Major Murphy will return to Russian Recording in July to record their next album. They also plan to release a new single soon.
“I’m super excited to put this next record together and share it with people,” Bullard said. “I’ve written the new songs precisely with all of us in mind and with the knowledge of what a dynamic life is like along with the strengths and weaknesses of that. It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to put out some new music.”
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.”