Ypsilanti musician Watabou works on new projects, shows

6957_wantabouoTravis Jarosz is a pretty common name in the Ypsilanti music scene. He’s been involved in a few musical projects, ranging from metal bands to some short-lived jazz projects. He’s currently working with indie band Walk Your Bike, electro-punk Crochetcatpause and his electronic side project, Watabou. Watabou started in April 2009 as a general outlet for Jarosz’s musical ideas. He was involved in a couple of bands, but many of his bandmates were focused on the sound their band was creating or weren’t able to fully dedicate themselves to being in a band.

“That’s not to say that they weren’t good friends or talented musicians though,” Jarosz said. “So I stayed a part of those bands while trying to create electronic music as an outlet for my creative ideas that I felt weren’t being properly expressed.”

Jarosz was avidly studying music, learning new instruments and discovering new musicians, which helped him gain his fairly new appreciation for electronic music. Since he was new to electronic music, he wasn’t sure how to go about creating his own. He sought out the help of Steve Metz, a teacher at the Ann Arbor Music Center who knew plenty about electronic music composition and Matt Morden of the electronic project, Bubblegum Octopus.

“From there I was able to create, learn and network alongside many newfound friends who had similar ambitions to me,” he said. “I’ll never be able to thank them enough.”

It’s hard to put Watabou into a concrete genre. Jarosz’s focus is always different, but he’s always had four themes consistent in everything he’s done: love, nature, energy and discovery.

“It’s sort of hard for me to define Watabou without going into detail about its past because it’s never remained stagnant for too long,” he said. “At one point it was essentially a metal project using digital synths instead of guitars, it’s been a pop project, an IDM project, an industrial project, but aside from style it’s varied in intentions and ambitions greatly.”

Though Jarosz has played plenty of Ypsilanti venues with other bands he’s been involved in, Watabou has frequented house parties and shows. He’s played in Ypsi attics, basements and even kitchens. That’s just fine with him, though.

“I actually somewhat prefer house shows while performing as a solo act, it really allows me to interact with other people during the performance and doesn’t feel like I’m isolated from anyone else,” he said. “There’s usually no defined stage or anything, which really helps break down the barriers that sometimes get subconsciously created between the performer and the audience.”

Jarosz has just recently returned from a series of out-of-state performances at the beginning of March with Watabou. He prefers to travel in the winter and has been taking this time to incorporate more into his live show, so that by the spring he’ll have a whole new stage performance to unveil for Ypsilanti. He also wants to record more of his live sets.

Three EP splits with other artists have been released, but Watabou hasn’t released any full length records yet. That’s on Jarosz’s to-do list, though.

“I have album after album of songs and song concepts that I haven’t managed to finish out of a goofy sense of perfectionism about my sound,” he said.

“Along the way, I’ve met people who have radically helped shift the intentions of Watabou from being a self-serving delivery of creative energy to a community and socially oriented multi-media project centered around musical composition and performance,” Jarosz said. “It took a long time and is still happening more and more every day, but over the past few years Watabou’s managed to drastically alter my perception of music as well as my perception of my own ability to grow and learn. There’s still so much more to learn through the project and I’m really excited to see what the future holds, but I know whatever it is that it will help me develop my ambitions and better express my compassion.”

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Weekend jamming creates Congress

It was approximately 10:45 on a gray Saturday morning in January 2011 when Jim Cherewick, Eric Gallippo, Ed Golembiewski and Aaron Quillen met at Ypsilanti’s Hen House and wrote six songs. This was
the day that Congress was officially born.

“I was not entirely stoked on the idea of what I thought was going to be a random day of jamming and nothing else,” said Quillen.

“However, something magical happened, and we churned out six full, completely arranged songs in three hours or less. By the end of that jam session, all four of us were extremely excited about the music we created and agreed on our status as a real band.”

Congress is a local band based out of Ypsilanti. It features Cherewick on vocals, Gallippo on guitar and backup vocals, Golembiewski on bass, and Quillen on drums.

“We played our first show in June 2011,” said Gallippo. “We all knew each other and had all played with at least one of the other guys in some other project before, which I think made it come together really easily.”

R.E.M. and The Jesus Lizard are huge influences on the band, and they consider them when they think of a music genre to describe Congress.

“We liked to call it domesticated punk rock at first, but I think we could probably now safely call it punk domesticated,” said Golembiewski.

Cherewick described the band as, “Rock ‘n’ roll and punk. ‘Punk ‘n’ roll.’”

In the area, Congress has taken the stage at Woodruff’s, Café Ollie and the Blind Pig. They’ve also performed at Ypsilanti’s Ypsifest, Mittenfest and in Hamtramck, Mich. for the Metrotimes Blowout.

“Last year we made it out to Grand Rapids [Mich.] to play a festival and we were fortunate enough to share a stage with Trans Am, Jaill and Future Islands,” said Golembiewski. “Blown away by this fact, as it was our third show, we were amused when everybody vanished to see George Clinton when our set time started.”

They’re planning to play in Chicago sometime within the next year.
Last fall, Congress wrapped up the recording of their EP “Maker” at Dreamland Theater with Brad Perkins of Wormfarm Recordings, it was released this past September. They’re currently in the process of recording a split with another local band, Green Lights at SPUR Studios.

“My hope is that we record a full-length record before the end of 2013 as well, though interest has been expressed internally about just being a singles and EPs band. We’ll see,” said Quillen.

Before their EP was recorded, though, Congress did release 25 copies of a cassette tape that they recorded. It was very exclusive, for people driving cars that still have cassette players in them. They didn’t even get to give their moms copies.

It hasn’t all been music, fun and festivals for Congress, though. Beer has been a big part of their development.

“I’m glad that we chose the name Congress and not Beer Dads. I love beer, but I ain’t your dad,” said Cherewick.

“It bears note that we really truly miss Kid Rock’s Bad Ass beer. We almost had to break up the band when that stopped being available,” said Golembiewski. “Serious. But I think we all feel really fortunate to be playing exactly what we want to in a band of good friends. This band is a true partnership of four people with unique contributions and perspective. Hopefully we keep it up cuz being in your 30s is boring without loud stuff going on in your basement.”

You can check Congress out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/congressband, and listen to their EP at congressmusic.bandcamp.com.

View the original post at the Eastern Echo.

The Vagrant Symphony celebrates 9th anniversary with show at Blind Pig

It’s been nine years since the idea for local outfit The Vagrant Symphony was formed on Eastern Michigan University’s campus in 2003. Chris “Chewy” Anderson, the founder, Joe O’Dell, the 12th member, Alexis King, the 13th member and Bennie Phinisee, the 14th member, are the backbone of the giant psychedelic folk band that’ll be celebrating its ninth anniversary in December.

“We wanted to call it a traveling symphony or mobile symphony, then we came across ‘vagrant,’ which was like a random thesaurus find,” Anderson said. “Vagrant’s not necessarily a term of endearment; it’s like a homeless man.”

Anderson founded The Vagrant Symphony, and over the years members have come and gone. Some have even been dubbed “honorary members” by the band. The list of past, present and honorary members of The Vagrant Symphony just recently hit 20, most of whom have been involved with other local bands, but Anderson insists that he’s extremely picky when it comes to the members that he chooses.

Everyone who performs during a Vagrant Symphony set doesn’t play a set instrument. O’Dell usually plays guitar, though, and King frequents the drums, but she’s been playing bass a lot lately.
Anderson started as a solo artist before he put the Vagrant Symphony together.

“I was like a shaky leaf on stage,” Anderson said. “I couldn’t get through a song effectively and having a band helps, hugely. You’ve got to have backing. It’s hard to be a Bob Dylan.”

Other than Bob Dylan, The Vagrant Symphony takes inspiration from Motown music, Pink Floyd and The Doors. They try to go for a low-fi, old school sound at their shows. While they hope to release a 7-inch vinyl recording soon, The Vagrant Symphony is focusing on their live show.

Having gone on a few tours, including a brewery tour that extended to Illinois and Wisconsin, they’re back in Ypsilanti, playing shows all over the area.

“Woodruff’s is one of our favorites,” King said.

“But in terms of old-school Ypsilanti,” Anderson said, “My roots definitely lie with the Elbow Room.”

“There was this one time we played Crossroads, and he [Anderson] wanted to open up the show out front, so we had an acoustic set outside opening the show. It’s all about the shows at our shows,” King said. “Chewy is an amazing visionary. He envisions these awesome shows and gets so many people booked. People are dancing, everybody’s hugging each other and things really come together. It’s a beautiful thing.”

On Dec. 28, The Vagrant Symphony will be celebrating their ninth anniversary with a show at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Nine bands will be accompanying them, and they plan on breaking the Blind Pig’s record of most people performing on stage at once, which is currently 17.

“Our music isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is the people we’re spending our time with at the shows,” O’Dell said. “Our music is important to us, but it’s more important to get together with the bands so they can get coverage and be seen too.”
They’ll even cut their sets short to allow more time for the other bands, or to fit more acts in at a show.

“We’re all about having fun, letting loose and being yourself,” King said. “It’s about the music, it’s about the local people, it’s about the community. Just bringing people together.”

Up next for The Vagrant Symphony is another tour. This time they’ll be with Bowling Green, another local Ypsilanti band, and they plan to hit every Bowling Green in the country, including Ohio, Kentucky, Virgina and anywhere else where there’s a Bowling Green.
You can check out The Vagrant Symphony’s music and news at http://www.facebook.com/thevagrantsymphony and www.soundcloud.com/vagrantsymphony.

View the original post at the Eastern Echo.

Ypsilanti houses diverse, friendly music community

Ypsilanti has never fallen short when it comes to diversity.

The same can be said when it comes to the music scene. Iggy Pop was raised here, Sufjan Stevens wrote a song called “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti,” and even Elvis Costello has mentioned Ypsi in his song “Sulphur to Sugarcane.” Ypsilanti has a rich musical history and it’s growing more and more as the years go by.

“Ypsi is between Detroit and Ann Arbor and those crowds sort of meet in the middle here,” Phil Boos, EMU student and guitarist of local progressive grunge group Algernon, said. “In Ypsi, you can find a lot of indie folk and soft rock stuff from the Ann Arbor area, but also some hard rock, like us, some hip-hop stuff, art rock/musical poets, funk, and even some electronica stuff.”

Ypsilanti’s many music venues have housed acts, ranging from punk and hardcore bands like Lovesick to rap musicians like the guys on Smoking Good Entertainment and indie bands like Little Island Lake.

“When I first think of the Ypsilanti music scene the first thing that comes to mind is a diverse community. Everyone is incredibly friendly and supportive out here,” Boos said. “This may have to do with the fact that most of the audience and concert goers are musicians and vice-versa, but this makes the scene a little tighter knit.”

Algernon consists of Boos on guitar, Lee Renaud on vocals, Roy Jackson on bass, and Ryan Jurado on drums. Jurado took over as Algernon’s drummer in October 2011, following the fatal car crash in April 2011 that took the life of former drummer Ted Weindorf.

“Music for us is very communal, transcending and fun for us and we—well, at least for me; I can’t speak entirely for the whole band now, can I?—can always rely on the jam to help unify us and to celebrate life,” Boos said. “For me, there’s no greater experience than jamming with this three great guys. It’s as if it’s a spiritual experience and a party at once.”

A big part of Ypsilanti’s music scene is the Poke Tri Rx House. It’s a mock fraternity located on College Place that gives local artists and musicians a place to mingle and hang out, housing concerts and other events. Many local acts perform there on a regular basis, along with national touring acts.

Some of the Poke Tri Rx’s regulars include Ypsilanti’s Clara Balmer, a ukulele player and an EMU student, and Walk Your Bike, which includes Seth Weddle, EMU student and Poke Tri Rx organizer. He also runs Sweddle Records and Community in the Poke Tri Rx House. He manages, records and books the bands on the label.

“In addition to playing, his main goal in the music scene is to create this sense of community,” Boos said of Weddle. “I feel he’s doing a good job of it.”

“It seems that anyone and everyone who plays an instrument in this town knows each other, either from a show, a street performance, a party or some other means such as the six degrees of separation,” Boos said.

In addition to performing and recording with Walk Your Bike and organizing the events at the Poke Tri Rx House, Weddle also hosts open mic nights at EMU.

The Ypsilanti music scene might not get the kind of publicity that the Ann Arbor or Detroit scenes do, but we have our own special thing going on here. With a great music program at EMU, the people involved learn from the best. It’s light and genuine and it’s fun for the performers and the fans.

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Little Island Lake: Local band with unique, folksy sound

Regulars at Ypsilanti’s Woodruff’s and Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig know of local indie band Little Island Lake, who are celebrating the end of the school year along with the rest of us.

401003_10150604317319935_168685766_nListing all sorts of influences from Pink Floyd and Motown to Chromeo and My Morning Jacket, Little Island Lake consists of Bobby Voorhies on the banjo, acoustic guitar and vocals; JT Garfield on electric guitar and vocals; Mary Fraser on mandolin, organ, acoustic guitar and vocals; Zach Harris on bass and Eric Hurd on drums. The combination of the not-so-common instruments gives them a folksy, unique sound that not many bands around here have.

The band started in 2009, when Voorhies wrote a few songs, which ended up being a part of their debut album, “Jawbones,” and posted an advertisement on Craigslist saying he was looking to start a band. “Hey, that stuff can actually work,” Fraser said.

She responded to the ad and set up a meeting with Voorhies at Ypsilanti’s Ugly Mug to discuss the direction and concepts of Little Island Lake. A mutual friend introduced them to JT Garfield and the band began as a trio.

Harris became a part of Little Island Lake before their album debut, and while
they were recording “Jawbones,” Fraser played percussion. They planned on touring and playing live shows, though, in order to do that they would need a drummer. That was when Harris’ roommate, Hurd, entered the picture as Little Island Lake’s drummer.

“We just do what we love and let things unfold how they will,” said Garfield. “And as a band, I would say we love to ride bikes more than any other band in Ypsi,” he added.

“Jawbones” was released in July 2011, and since then, Little Island Lake has also recorded a live session album with Detroit’s up-and-coming Groovebox Recordings this past February. “GBS is doing some great things with independent artists,” Fraser said. “They help them raise money through a kickstarter to record a live album, all shot in one take. They also include a video.”

In addition to the regular Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor hotspots, Little Island Lake has also performed at the Corner Brewery and the Dreamland Theater, and festivals like The Totally Awesome Fest, The Michigan Roots Jamboree and Frog Holler Farm’s Holler Fest.

“We’ve also played more acoustic-type shows at Beezy’s Cafe, Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor,” Fraser said.

Little Island Lake is venturing outside their comfort zone as well, playing shows in Kalamazoo, Lansing and even Traverse City.

“We don’t have any grand vision of world domination or anything of the sort. We don’t approach our music as a profit-making venture. Good music is the first priority,” said Voorhies.

Right now, Little Island Lake is in the process of recording a new album, which will feature vocals split evenly between Voorhies, Garfield and Fraser. They’ve been collaborating on songwriting as well. They’re very excited for the release, but don’t have a set date yet. It’ll be quite a bit different than “Jawbones,” because they’ll be using a full drumset. “It’ll have a more rock, live feel than the chill ‘Jawbones,’ ” said Fraser.

While their main focus is on their album right now, Little Island Lake will be playing at Woodruff’s and other places throughout the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas in the coming months. Keep an eye out for them and check out their albums, “Jawbones” and “Live at GBS” at http://www.littleislandlake.bandcamp.com.

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HighMay keeps it not quite indie, not quite folk

421189_10150663430884313_549225183_nIt was in 2010 that metro-Detroit indie band, HighMay was formed. The three-piece group that describes themselves as “eclectic,” consists of Eastern Michigan University alum Julian Fraser on drums, Jimmy Atton on lead vocals and guitar and Stephan K. on mandolin, violin, keys and vocals. In the past two years, they’ve played shows across the country, including Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh to name a few.

Whilst touring, “The Upside,” their debut album released Jan. 3 on local label Off The Records, was written. Some of HighMay’s influences are Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket and Citizen Cope.

It’s clear that while HighMay is heavily influenced by indie and folk sounding musicians and that they’ve adopted a somewhat similar sound, something sets them apart: they’re pretty upbeat.

“The Upside” isn’t an album to help you through a breakup like a lot of indie albums, nor is it trying to be particularly deep like a lot of folk albums try to be. Comprised of light beats, a lot of rhymes and some witty lines, “The Upside,” for the most part, is a feel-good album.

Opening with “Collar,” a song about a breakup, even accompanied with violins, it doesn’t sound like the typical song that would get a chuckle. But with the chorus consisting of the line, “I thought I was the only one, but I was such a fool, back when flipping up your collar was cool,” you really can’t help but laugh to yourself.

It’s not all wit and rhymes on “The Upside,” though. An album wouldn’t be complete without a romantic song too. “Dust” covers that, being the song any girl would want written about her, complete with the acoustic guitar. “I’ve got six new strings, I’ve got ten missed calls, whatever this night brings, wherever our dust falls.” Umm, swoon.

Some other songs on “The Upside” that stood out to me are “Stay 4 Hours,” “X-Mas Gifts (Jack’s Song),” both of which include a female vocalist as well. Naturally, I loved these ones, because I’m a sucker for male/female duets. The woman singing in these songs had a very smooth voice; I would even listen to her sing alone.

HighMay doesn’t stick with the generic guitarist, bassist, drummer, line up. Throwing a mandolin and a violin into the mix does a great job of giving them a sound that sets them apart from most other indie bands. As stated on their Facebook page, “Eclectic rock music. Original. HighMay is a mystery, yet not.” That sounds about right.

HighMay has established a sound that works for them, which is the first step in making it in the biz. On “The Upside,” they don’t veer too far away from it. While not necessarily a bad thing, (if it’s not broke, don’t fix it), on future HighMay albums it’ll be interesting to hear what other sounds and styles they come up with.

Though it’s easy to decipher where they derived some inspiration, it’s hard to put a finger on specific bands I would say they sound like. Check them out for yourselves, “The Upside” is available for your listening pleasure at http://www.highmay.bandcamp.com and if you dig it, you can purchase it.

View the original post at the Eastern Echo.