Vonneguts, Vonneglory

“Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something,” screams Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. to a world where desolation and pain rule over artistic endeavors. So too scream his namesakes as they sit quietly in a room, surrounded by empty packs of Camels, flower wall paper, and a looming Detroit winter. The Vonneguts have just released their first full-length album, which reveals itself to be just what Kurt Vonnegut demands: a collection of songs, dances, stories, and poems (though certainly not lousy ones). And as it was self-produced and written over the span of a year by only the band’s four dedicated members, Miles Hubbell, Mike O’Brien, Joe Myers, and Phill Dage, it is truly something which they have created for creation’s sake.

The recently completed, “Urban Paradise” was the result of both shared time and shared ideas. “We had released singles and EPs before that, and put up songs online,” says guitarist, Phill Dage. “But it’s different to release them in a physical copy.” I had the pleasure of sitting down and listening to that physical copy with three of the band’s members, Miles, Joe, and Phill, along with Miles’ girlfriend Kate. Mike (who is presently living in California) was sorely missed, of course.

 

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Phill reveals that one of the main reasons this album worked out for the band as well as it did lies in the fact that they “were all living together and devoting [their] money to it, so it was a communal effort.” The guys explain that being physically together during the album’s creation helped the music to flow more easily because they were not constrained by the need to plan specific times to work on it. “It doesn’t always work out so easily that bands can just move into a house together and play like that,” says guitarist Joe Myers. “It was pretty cool to come home when we were all done with our days and just make music together.” Phill agrees, saying, “the moment of spontaneity was much more available.” The blessings of living under the same roof seem to have shaped much of the album’s collaborative qualities.

But what about the general idea behind it? Though it would seem like four guys with this much individual intellect couldn’t possibly agree on an idea behind an entire album, they surprised listeners by doing just that.

It all began one day in December of 2013, when the band got together and created something of a storyboard for the album. Their plan organized every aspect of the album, down to instrumentation and key themes on which the songs would focus. “We got our heads together on an idea,” Phill explains. “It was the story of this wandering urban traveler who has these highs and lows.” He reveals that the album dives into many different aspects of the traveler’s life, detailing “different events, like love and hardship.” The band members then showed this blueprint to their producer, Steve Sholtes. They were incredibly grateful to him for being “welcoming to their ideas,” as Phill describes, because “they felt like they could try something new or kind of crazy.” The band had a framework, a place to focus on that framework, and the freedom to expand upon its foundation. They were ready to make their masterpiece.

Because of the collective space and the shared idea behind the project, the album has become “more of a conceptual album,” says Miles, the deep, golden voice behind The Vonneguts. He points out that the second track of the album is essentially three separate songs with soundscapes in between that serve as connective tissue. The song that follows, “Travelogue,” though completely different musically, is similarly a collection of different concepts. The song is a poem read by Phill on top of one of the band’s innumerable jam sessions. It is unique because the music was recorded long before Phill added the poem to it and each member played a role in the lyrics. “I remember one day I decided I wanted to encapsulate what this record is in words on a page and just try to do something I could speak to. The day before we went down to the studio I was asking Miles and Joe what words they would want to have spoken and I was just kind of able to incorporate them into it. I did it a couple of times in the studio to try and get the phrasing right on the music, but I didn’t revise it at all. That song serves the purpose of adding depth to the story.” Joe also notes that “Travelogue” is the song which “kind of brings it all together.”

The nine minute opus and the spoken word poem that follows it both unfold much of the urban traveler’s story in small clips of what the album strives for throughout: connectivity. Each track on the album is meant to lead into the next as the traveler’s story becomes more complex. Joe tells that the band even decided to put the lyrics on their bandcamp page in an effort to help listeners more closely follow this story.

Beyond just creating the theme of the album together, the band also formed its parts as a team. As Joe explains, “

My favorite part about the album, I think, was that it was always changing as to who was playing what instrument.”

When they created each song individually, each member had a mastery of his own instrument, and was also able to take on other roles in order to add something new to the sound. The drummer also reveals that “there were some songs in which Phill would write all of the lyrics and he wouldn’t sing any of the song, or I would write the lyrics, or someone else would. It was very interchangeable. I thought in that way it was much more of a team effort.” This malleable quality of the album’s creation is very present in its substance because the sound is very apparently unconfined by tempos or keys. It also speaks to the album’s subject, as the urban traveler, while devoted to his home, refuses to be limited by it.

While the idea for the album was created from each of the band member’s individual and collective efforts, it is certainly not without musical influences. They name Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as the top two. While the influence of these records may not be obvious at first, “Urban Paradise” does carry a more antique sound overall. “I personally don’t listen to much modern music at all,” says Miles. Not only does this show in his deep, almost Jim-Morrison-esque vocals that weave between retro guitar riffs, but the lyrics also reveal something more simple from the past. “I’m more inclined to be singing words that are kind of traditional as opposed to the modernization of lyrics,” he declares. But it must be noted that, while the lyrics may be somewhat old-fashioned, they are anything but predictable. Their subjects are intended to live outside of time and thus be meaningful for all listeners, not just other millennials.

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But surely, though “Urban Paradise” is not meant to live in a specific time period, it must be what most would call a “Detroit album,” yes? “Ultimately, I think there is definitely Detroit pride in the album,” says Phill. “It was conceived here, but nothing about it is specifically Detroit.” The guys describe that their idea of the Urban traveler is meant to transcend space and time, offering a universal idea of what it’s like to live in any city.

The sound of “Urban Paradise” is distinctly different from the Vonneguts’ previous albums. Miles Hubbell declares the main reason behind this to be that “the harmonies are much more thought-out in this album.” Phill adds that, overall, it seems like the band put more of their collective musical knowledge into this album than they had previously. “We know what’s going on going into the songs. I mean, Joe wrote scores for the string parts,” Phill continues. He says that the album just reveals “more musical knowledge and a more technical understanding of what we’re actually doing.” The band also mixed the album themselves, with some assistance from their beloved producer, Steve Sholtes. Steve allowed the band to be free to make any changes they wanted to, which was something they really enjoyed. Of course, this task put the band’s ability to analyze the minute details of its own songs to the test. “It was tough listening to a song one hundred times,” Joe explains, “but on the hundred-and-first time it was like, ‘that’s the one!’” The sound is altogether new for the band, and they are pleased to present it as such.

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Of course, “People with new ideas, people with the faintest capacity for saying something new, are extremely few in number, extraordinarily so, in fact,” says Rodion Raskolnikov, of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” (who happens to be the fictional character with whom Miles Hubbell most closely associates himself). I think he would agree that each member of the Vonneguts have proven themselves some of those lucky few. Phill’s fictional likeness, Siddhartha of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” grounds himself in his own freedom of mind, a role which Phill certainly played in the band during the creation of the album and continues to play as the band moves forward. When asked which fictional character Joe most closely associates himself, he chose someone quite different: Dumbo, the little elephant who could fly. “Do you know why?” he asks me.

Because everybody doubted that guy, man. Every doubted him and he came back and he flew!

If you ask me, every band would be so lucky to have this cast of characters in its ranks. This combination of personalities is what makes “Urban Paradise” something worth lending both ears to as soon as possible.

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Now that the band has released its pride and joy for the world to hear, they plan to enjoy their achievement to its full extent. They obviously feel their songs need to be heard, but not just on dusty record players. Indeed, they have already begun performing some of these songs, playing Dally in the Alley on September 6th. They also plan to play at a show on October 19th at the New Dodge, one on the 22nd at PJ’s Lager House, and one on the 28th at the Magic Stick. In an effort to preserve the Vonneguts’ unity while Mike is away in California, the guys have decided to take on a new name for some of their shows, calling themselves the Motor City Golden Boys. They miss Mike dearly and await his impending return with bated breath. In the meantime, the band is also running its own DIY venue, called Elijah’s. Right now that venue lives on East Grand Boulevard, where it hosts many well-known local bands. The Vonneguts are incredibly dedicated to maintaining this Detroit venue, and Joe even notes that they are hoping to one day purchase a more permanent location for shows. Clearly the guys are not only dedicated to being able to perform their music in their home, but also giving other up-and-coming bands the opportunity to be heard. After all, even after having travelled and performed in places like Boston, New York City, and Chicago, the band still loves the Detroit music scene most of all. “I just like playing in the Motor City, man,” says Miles. And we couldn’t be happier to have you, Vonneguts.


For All The Bad Mama Jamas

Born in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood in 1952, Carl Carlton spent his childhood in a city that was on the verge of a new musical revolution.  When Motown was founded in 1959, the signature “Motown sound” soon became a model for what everyone aspired to sound like.  Carl Carlton began singing and recording in the mid 1960s after a fed-up neighbor who lived near a field used for baseball by the neighborhood kids heard Carl singing and initially thought that the kids’ radio was turned up too loud.  When that neighbor was told by the other kids that it was actually Carl, he was taken to the Lando Records studio to record his soulful voice under the moniker “Little Carl Carlton” – a play off of the popularity “Little Stevie Wonder” was achieving at the time.  He recorded the songs “I Love True Love,” and “Competition Ain’t Nothing,” the latter going on to achieve some popularity in the area and catch the ear of Don Robey’s Back Beat Records, located in Houston Texas.  Carlton moved to Houston and throughout the 1970s, he recorded for Back Beat and achieved modest success, but it was a collaboration with soul-singer Leon Haywood and a contract with 20th Century that would lead to his biggest success as an artist.  In 1981, 20th Century released “She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” which went gold and stayed at the #2 spot on the charts for eight straight weeks (ironically it was another Detroit native, Diana Ross, who kept him out of the #1 spot on the charts with ‘Endless Love’).  Carl Carlton appeared on Solid Gold, Soul Train, and American Bandstand, but always made it a point to stop in his hometown of Detroit to play whenever the opportunity would arise.

 

Go back to 1981 and groove with Carl Carlton on his biggest hit, “She’s A Bad Mama Jama” below!


Smooth Soul Vibrations

Eric and the Vikings added soulful flavor to the Detroit music scene via Soulhawk records in the late 1960s and 1970s.  The Soulhawk label was owned and operated by Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, who had been influential with Motown from the beginning and now operated as a producer, songwriter, and supporter of Northern Soul.  Members Eryke McClinton, Cliff Moore, and Phil Taylor recorded their biggest hit for the Soulhawk label, titled “Vibrations (Made Us Fall In Love)” which was released in 1970 to large success in the city of Detroit and around the metro area.  The single released by Eric & The Vikings helped propel the group, as well as the Soulhawk label, to achieve success with local Detroit radio stations and “Vibrations” was steadily featured on WKNR/Keener 13.  Eric & The Vikings even opened up for Isaac Hayes during a performance at the University of Detroit event center back in 1970, cementing their local influence and their smooth soul success.

 

Take a listen to Eric and the Vikings with their best-known hit, “Vibrations (Made Us Fall In Love)” below.


The Just Brothers Give Us Northern Soul

Jimmy and Frank Bryant were two brothers from Detroit who worked as session musicians and created a dance-floor hit so groovy, it has been sampled over the years by the likes of British DJ hit-maker Norman Cook (known by most as Fatboy Slim) to create an iconic Northern Soul sound that people for decades have been able to dance to.  After working for a long period of time recording music as a session musician for artists such as Gino Washington and J.J. Barnes while his brother Jimmy was completing service in the military, Frank Bryant was asked to do session work for Winifred Terry of The Drifters, and upon Jimmy’s return, the two brothers began to work and record together.  While recording a session that was intended to produce a single and a B-Side, the Bryant brothers used the opportunity to show Terry their skill as not only musicians, but vocalists.  Subsequently, the original vocalist hired for the songs was taken out and The Just Brothers were able to record their own singles and B-Side.  The songs “Honey,” “She Broke His Heart,” and “Things Will Get Better” featured the vocals of The Just Brothers, and the catchy, surf-rock-meets-soul-power B-Side “Sliced Tomatoes” became an iconic tune sampled over the years by Motown and soul-enthusiast DJs and producers.  “Sliced Tomatoes” was recorded in 1965, but became more widely known in 1972 when the song was re-released on the Music Merchant record label, reaching a new group of listeners who became fascinated and receptive to the up-tempo beats that all at once showcased the best of Northern Soul, influenced by the Tamla Motown sound.

 

Check out a video below featuring Frank Bryant and drummer A.J. Sparks, playing “Sliced Tomatoes” as a tribute to the late, great Jimmy Bryant.


Freda Payne : Detroit Gold

Freda Payne was born in Detroit in 1942 with Motown soul in her genes — both Freda and her sister, former Supreme Scherrie Payne, were blessed with the gift of vocal prowess.  Freda Payne attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts when she was younger and grew up with the influence of female jazz vocalists.  She entered and won many local talent shows around the Detroit area, persuading her to take her voice to New York City to strike it big.  Funny enough, it was the famed trio of Motown writers, Holland-Dozier-Holland, who put Payne on the map by offering her their song, “Band of Gold,” for her to record in 1969.  At the point that Holland-Dozier-Holland offered Payne the song, she had already had 2 jazz albums, a part in a theatre production, and an appearance on The Tonight Show under her belt from the past six years she had been in New York.  Payne recorded “Band of Gold” for Holland-Dozier-Holland’s newly formed label Invictus, and it became her first song to reach a #1 spot on the charts in the UK (the song reached as high as #3 on the US charts).  It was also, appropriately, Freda Payne’s first gold record.

 

Please enjoy Freda Payne performing her most beloved hit in the video below!


Saving R&B with B Williams

B Williams

While only in his early thirties, Grammy Award nominee Brandon “B” Williams has been sharing music with us for a while. As a direct protégé of super producer Michael J. Powell, Brandon has lent his production skills to many artists: Janet Jackson, Pharoahe Monch, Bobby Creekwater, Vickie Winans, Jadakiss, Lin Rountree, Anita Baker, Jay Electronica, Jeymes Samuel, Ryan Leslie, and Amp Fiddler to name a few.

As an artist, Brandon stays busy touring and gigging locally with his group, The B Williams Experiment. But the next big thing for Brandon is his upcoming debut solo project, titled XII. We just saw the first single released, “Stronger”, which has been climbing the charts and acquiring accolades. With the album  slated to drop in 2014, we caught up with the hard-to-catch musician/producer for an in-depth conversation:


  • Brandon, you’ve worked with producer Michael Powell and have been touching various artists albums throughout the past few years, accumulating Grammy nominations and other production awards. How have these building blocks been essential for producing your upcoming solo album XII ?
  • It’s been an absolute blessing to work with and be mentored by him. I’ve been listening to his music literally all my life, so I jumped at the chance when he asked me to collaborate with him on some music. I was actually very surprised. In my mind, I’m thinking… this is Michael J. Powell. The man who produced all of Anita Baker’s hits. He wants me to work with him? It’s been a great relationship ever since. Working with him taught me how to make records versus just making songs.
  • “is on a mission to bring back Classic R&B by any means necessary”. In your opinion what happened to Classic R&B? Why does it need saving and how are you planning on doing it?
  • I’m not exactly sure what happened, but it’s on life-support right now for sure!!

    Most of the artists people are calling R&B (Chris Brown, Trey Songz) are really Pop. You have Frank Ocean and The Weeknd around, but that’s a very different kind of R&B. I’m not a big Miguel fan, but he’s definitely doing it right now. Brandy, Usher, Brian McKnight, Tank, and some others are still around, but you hear much from them.

    Robert Glasper has a new album out that’s VERY R&B!! Brandy and Faith Evans are on there killin’. It needs saving because people miss that 80’s and 90’s R&B sound. People are longing for it. We miss groups like Blackstreet, SWV, Jodeci, Janet (Jackson), etc. I’m just going to continue to do music that “feels “ like that.

  • You do a great job of blending genres, like you do with your band , the B. Williams Experiment, citing influences from Coltrane, Dilla and Radio Head. Is XII going to showcase this side of you, or is XII going to be more strictly a classic R&B project?
  • Thanks!! XII is definitely not an R&B album. I don’t quite know what to call it because there are so many different genres on it. I’m a student of all music, and I’m influenced by it all. Soul, R&B, Jazz, Pop… it’s a wide range of music on the album, but it all still works together. If I had to categorize it, I would simply call it a “soul” album, because that’s where the music is coming from.
  • Tell me about your songwriting process. What do you start with? An idea, guitar lick, bass line? What’s the creative process like and when do you start thinking about which artists to include in your music?
  • Man, I start with any and everything. I remember one time hearing a succession of cars horns and that became a melody. Lol! I play multiple instruments, so I can write on them all. Sometimes I’ll be out and a melody will pop into my head so I’ll just record it into my phone until I can get back in the studio. Normally though, I start with either some chords on piano or a drum pattern.

    I just finished the last song idea for XII, and for that one, I had my keyboard player and good friend Tony Gordon over. I told him to just play some chords. I picked out what I want, then picked up the guitar and started going around those. Came up with a drum pattern, and BOOM! A song was born. It’s feels heavenly too.

    When it comes to picking artists for song, I normally just go with who would work best on the song. Like, for the new single “Stronger”, it’s has a stronger 90’s R&B feel, so, who better to pair with on that than Jean (Baylor). Her group Zhane was huge in the 90’s. All of their music felt great. I’m so honored to have worked with her on that song. Shout out to Marcus Baylor as well, who had a huge part to play in that song. He did her vocal production, and played live drums. It’s a great tune!!

The Big 3:
Detroit musicians that have inspired you, past or present:

• Stevie Wonder,  Karriem Riggins, Charles Wilson III

Other musicians that have inspired you, national or international, past or present:

• Joe Sample, George Duke, Ivan Lins

Ways Detroit has influenced you as a musician:

• Detroit has such a rich musical history. I’m simply inspired to do what I do from that. Lots of greatness has come before me, and I’m planning on continuing with that.

If I had to categorize it, I would simply call XII a “soul” album, because that’s where the music is coming from.


Stay connected with B Williams,

http://www.bwilliamsmusic.com/


An Interview With Saxappeal

Saxappeal

When Detroit Sounds Like This sat down with LaDarrel Johnson for an interview, one of the first things to happen was a show-and-tell about his instrument, custom made and engraved with his ‘Saxappeal’ emblem.  A wealth of pride was evident on his face as he carefully handled his saxophone with loving attention and beamed with happiness as he talked about how it was made just for him.  Johnson handles his alto saxophone in the same fashion in which he plays his music — with attention, pride, and a graceful passion.

Saxappeal does not exclusively work alone; his part in the local Detroit music group Collective Peace allows for him a place to collaborate with like-minded musicians to produce spirited jazz and soul as a multifaceted unit.  Describing Collective Peace in our interview as “a nucleus . . . [members] can go out, record a solo project, then come back home and do a group project.”  Saxappeal  has received international recognition in the contemporary jazz world for his brand of “SaxSoul,” a mix of jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B.

You play it…and you can feel it [soul music].

Get to know more about Saxappeal and how Detroit, his experiences, and Lisa Simpson influenced him to produce the experimental, up-tempo style of sound you will hear in his performance at our Detroit Sounds Like This studio.


The Reflections’ Blue-Eyed Soul

There are multiple musical groups that write and perform under the name, “The Reflections,” but there is only one of those groups with Detroit roots and a catchy hit from 1964 that remains the group’s signature number when they perform to this day.  “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” was penned by songwriters Bob Hamilton and Freddie Gorman (who wrote another classic Motown song performed by The Marvelettes, “Please Mr. Postman”) and when sung by the five members of The Reflections, injected a heavy dose of upbeat, harmonious top-and-bottom Doo-Wop into listeners which resonated and drove the song to classic status.  The Reflections were among several “Blue-Eyed Soul” R&B groups signed to the Detroit label Golden World Records in the early to mid 1960s, but only The Reflections achieved the #6 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with one of their singles.  Lead singer and original member of The Reflections Tony Micale and Detroit-born bassist John Dean still tour as The Reflections to this day and frequently visit the city they achieved their stardom in, playing at several shows and festivals throughout Michigan and keeping the spirit of  oldies and R&B  available to all generations of music fans.  Terry Stewart, President of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, summed up the impact of The Reflections and their staying power very well when he said, “These guys could sing the phone book and still bring the house down”.

 

Please enjoy the classic “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” by The Reflections below.


Robert Glasper Experiment Helping Detroit Sound Beautiful

Robert Glasper

If I would’ve been told in advance, I’m pretty sure I would have been skeptical on hearing a jazz rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” at the recent Detroit Jazz Festival. But then again the Robert Glasper Experiment is known for providing an interesting spin on popular music, check out their “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover if you haven’t yet. The Experiment kicked off the cover super-slowed up, with that melancholic charm and voice a la vocoder they incorporate so well. Genre defying music, jazz is of course the key component, but refreshingly gets edgy in all the right places. From Robert’s website, we’re given a little insight into Black radio 2, that will be dropping in late October, and among a list of killer guest artists, will also feature Detroit’s own Dwele.

“On October 29, RGE ups the ante with the release of Black Radio 2 (Blue Note), another genre-defying effort that takes the Black Radio blueprint and builds to even greater heights. The core remains the Experiment, as astoundingly versatile a band as has ever existed, featuring Robert Glasper on keyboards, Derrick Hodge on bass, Mark Colenburg on drums, and Casey Benjamin on vocoder and saxophone. Providing the vocals throughout is another jaw-dropping roll call of vocalists including CommonPatrick StumpBrandyJill ScottDweleMarsha AmbrosiusAnthony Hamilton,Faith EvansNorah JonesSnoop DoggLupe FiascoLuke JamesEmeli SandéLalah Hathaway, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.”

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Detroit (and Slovenia) vs. Everybody

One of the best parings of newer folks in the electronic scene (YourEDM calls them “unstoppable,” and we’d be hard pressed to disagree) is Detroit’s own GRiZ and Gramatik, who originally hails from the country of Slovenia, and now in the New York borough of Brooklyn). Under the moniker “Grizmatik” their new track, “My People,” is now available free to play and download.

If you don’t know GRiZ, you should. He’s a talented 22 year old from Southfield, who has quickly become a force in the game. He has amazing skills for any age, and when he pulls out the saxophone during a performance, from personal experience I can tell you that it gets insane. And Gramatik? He’s a star of the well-known “Pretty Lights” and has moved over 100,000 tracks on Beatport.. no small feat. From a young age, he was influenced by American funk and soul.

These beat brothers are something to sonically behold, if this electro-soul genre is your type of thing.

As of this writing, “My People” has only been out for a couple hours and it’s already racked up more than 8,000 plays on Soundcloud, and the numbers keep spinning up. If you’re into beats, check out this sound above. It’s more full than dubstep, has serious funk influences, and one could imagine a Hart Plaza full of people moving in unison to this.

 

Originally posted at hellyeahdetroit.com