It’s been nearly eight years since I started The Stratton Setlist, and I’ve heard a barrage of wonderful new music from independent artists during that time. While I’ve written hundreds of features on different artists across multiple genres, I wanted to find a way to showcase more people through a new monthly series called “The Soundcheck.”
And welcome to “The Soundcheck.” Each month, I’ll compile a roundup of newly released singles, EPs and albums from local artists inside (and outside) Michigan. I’m proud to share the inaugural edition, which features electropop from Soundslikeotto and indie-folk from Ohly and Tom Alter. Plus, this edition celebrates my favorite season of spring.
Sit back, breathe in the spring air and enjoy these refreshing sounds.
Soundslikeotto, “So High”
Soundslikeotto delivers an infectious helping of ‘80s electropop on their latest single, “So High.” The Detroit indie-pop sextet of Chesney Walters (vocals), Jonny Walker (guitar), Nate Dornfried (keys), Ryan Freitas (bass), Connor Maggio (guitar) and Austin Howard (drums) dropped their addictive new single in March after releasing their debut EP Still Picture You last summer. (It’s especially effervescent on cassette.)
On “So High,” the band fuses hyperactive synth, electric guitar, bass and drums with a bold storyline about being in an intoxicating relationship. Walters sings, “No control / You tighten your chemical hold / So hot and so cold / And I can’t get enough, get enough, get enough.”
Honestly, I can’t get enough of this single and its instant adrenaline rush each time I play it. Soundslikeotto’s confessional single belongs on a clear Memorex mixtape alongside Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” and “Don’t Lose My Number.” Dust off that boombox, insert mixtape and let the addiction begin!
Pia thoughtfully shares a personal snapshot in time.
The Detroit indie rock singer-songwriter reminisces about a past friendship and recalls vivid moments of connection on her nostalgic new single, “Old Days.”
“It’s the singular event of a friendship not really ending, but dissipating and changing the way that it used to look. It’s a shorter realization of like, ‘Oh wow, this person that I used to either talk to every day or had this certain relationship with, it’s now different,’” she said.
Throughout “Old Days,” Pia wonders what her friend drinks for breakfast and whether they remember summertime highway jaunts or stolen firewood adventures.
Alongside those inquiries, an emotive swell of wistful electric guitar, quavering bass, thumping drums, shiny cymbals and jingly tambourine seamlessly transport Pia to the past.
She sings, “It makes me sad something changed in your eyes/Ask how you’re doing seems like a big disguise/December’s long and we both know/That the sun is coming and it’s melting the snow.”
“When I reached the end of writing ‘Old Days,’ it helped that I similarly was realizing, ‘Oh friendships and relationships end, but not always for the worst, and that time is still special,’” Pia said.
Pia penned her sentimental track in May and recorded it with a talented team of collaborators, including producer John Katona of JK (Not Kidding Studios), Minihorse’s Ben Collins (lead guitar), Tom Mihalis (lead guitar), Stoop Lee’s Ade Olaniran (drums) and Matt Jones (bass).
“I recorded the demo and basis of the whole song with Ben Collins and myself on guitar and vocals and Ade of Stoop Lee on drums. Then, I sat on the song for a little because I got busy with residency, and then ended up finishing it up at John Katona’s,” said Pia, who’s also a pharmacist.
To accompany the release of “Old Days,” Pia dropped a thoughtful new lyric video, which features her roaming around Belle Isle.
“I asked my 16-year-old sister to videotape me doing random stuff on my friend Matt’s camcorder. She was like, ‘Oh, I get to use a camcorder?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, try it out.’ She followed me around, and I used that footage in the video,” she said.
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?’”
“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.”
He will open for critically-acclaimed folk singer-songwriter Seth Glier and play tracks from his 2017 self-titled debut EP. Andrew Harness will join Ohly on guitar and piano while Megan McKay will provide vocals.
“We’re going to do some new songs, some old songs, and we’re going to do a cover as well,” said Ohly, who originally hails from Rochester and currently attends the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. “It’s going to be pretty moving, so I’m really looking forward to it. A little bit of everything.”
Ohly released his heartfelt six-song self-titled debut EP last October and included an emotionally-charged, introspective package of musical tales focused on relationships, loss and growth.
“There’s a lot of songs about my family on there. I wanted to do more of an acoustic folk sound, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a whole band,” he said. “It was a cool start, and I’m glad some people like it. I’m excited for the next stuff I put out there.”
Ohly penned the EP’s tracks on an acoustic guitar in his Jackson College dorm room and teamed up with producer John Katona to add drums and beats. He’s especially proud of “Home” and “Thursday Night.”
“‘Home’ is probably my favorite because that’s had the most success. I feel like it turned out the way that I pictured it the most,” said Ohly, who’s influenced by his older musical brothers as well as The Head and the Heart, The Avett Brothers, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel.
“‘Thursday Night’ is the other one that I like a lot because it’s probably the most unique, and based off other music blogs I’ve spoken to, they agree with me. That’s actually the producer’s favorite song.”
Ohly is writing new material and getting ready to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He also plans to play some local shows with his Hilo-based band and will eventually return to metro Detroit to record his next project.
“I think I’ll have a single out this spring. I really want to make sure that the next EP or album that I release is kind of the way I want it rather than the previous EP, where I had to play the drums and throw a lot of stuff together over a year,” he said. “For the next EP or album, I’d really like to have a band that knows each part, so they can go into the studio and record in a couple of days because we’ve already practiced and played shows previously.”