Chemical Elements : March On, Comrade Ready New Album ‘Our Peaceful Atoms’

March On, Comrade are a hell of a band. They’ve been a band since 2015 when indie pop band Ordinary Van disbanded, but a few of the members decided to keep things going. Ryan Holquist, Charles P. Davis, and Chris Leonard started up March On, Comrade with John Ptak and Ben Robinson. They cut a great self-titled album in 2016, and then at the beginning of this year they played the Sums & Differences show with a 12 piece chamber orchestra. They recorded that concert and released it a month later.

In a relatively short amount of time they’ve achieved quite a lot.

But what do they sound like? They travel in post-rock terrain, but they embellish with crystalline pop hooks. Imagine This Will Destroy You, Sigur Ros, Auburn Lull, and the studio curiosity of Brian Wilson all rolled into one comfortable blanket of noise. It’s dense enough for the headiest of space cadets but there’s an air of romanticism that reels in even the casual channel surfer.

The guys took some time over the spring and summer and wrote and recorded their new album, titled Our Peaceful Atoms. They don’t retool their sound more than they hone it in on all the buzzing beauty and pop confections that they’ve created and culled over the last two years. March On, Comrade have made a lean and precise 6-song album that will go well with both existential pondering alone in the dark, and as a background score to conversations and beers.

I spoke to Charlie and Ryan about the Sums & Differences show, the new album, how it came together, and what we have to look forward to in 2018.


J. Hubner: The last time we spoke March On, Comrade were gearing up for the Sums & Differences show at Artslab. For those that don’t know, this was the March On, Comrade with a 12-piece chamber orchestra show. How did the performance end up? Were you all happy with how it turned out? Is it something March On, Comrade would consider doing again?

Charlie Davis: It turned out great! It actually surpassed my expectations. I expected us to have a good turnout but we were the only band on the bill and it was more expensive than a typical local show so for it to actually sell out in advance was amazing. We got terrific feedback on it. I think we’d like to do something like that again but we also don’t just want to do the same show twice so it is a matter of finding the time to come up with a way to do something similar but unique.

Ryan Holquist: It was very rewarding.  It came together really well, and it’s flattering how well-received it was.  We quietly snuck the audio onto Spotify and Bandcamp.  The only down side of the experience is that we set the bar pretty high for ourselves, and now every time we play we want to have an orchestra and video projection.  We didn’t want to record the exact same arrangements, but we were happy to have the same string quartet and percussionist on the new album.  Sums & Differences definitely changed our compositional style, and you can hear those elements a lot more on Our Peaceful Atoms.

J. Hubner: So with “performing live with a chamber orchestra” marked off the band’s bucket list, you guys headed back into writing mode and we are now getting ready for the brand new March On, Comrade album Our Peaceful Atoms. How did the album come together? Where did the band record the record?

Charlie Davis: We had started working on a lot of new song ideas around the time of the Sums and Differences show, and that show really gave us a lot of inspiration moving forward. We wrapped up songwriting in early summer and started recording around July and August. We recorded drums at the rehearsal space of our friend Jon Ross, which sadly just burnt down. The rest was done at our own home studios, primarily John Ptak’s and my own.

Ryan Holquist: A couple of the songs basically finished writing themselves as they were recorded.  We committed to leaving a certain amount of space and replaced some more standard guitar/drums/keyboard parts with other instruments and atmospheric sounds, such as accordion, kalimba, electronic percussion, and effected samples.  We also gave a lot of leeway and freedom to Robert Cheek, who mixed the album.  There’s a huge benefit to having outside ears involved in some capacity, and we knew we could trust Robert’s decisions based on his aesthetic and resume (Band of Horses, Tera Melos, Doombird, By Sunlight).

J. Hubner: Four of the six tracks on Our Peaceful Atoms were performed live for the Sums and Differences performance. Do they differ, if any, from those first live renditions? How long have those tracks been around? Do “Path” and “Lost” go back as well or are those newer songs?

Charlie Davis: Of the new songs we played at Sums and Differences, only one had been played at multiple shows before that so the others were definitely in infancy and have had some tweaks done to them since. Doing that show really showed us how well the orchestral arrangements filled them out, so doing them in a way that would leave room for those elements to be recorded was something we made a conscious decision about. “Path” is one we’ve been working on for awhile and has been played out a couple of times now, while “Lost” has never been played live and is the newest song.

Ryan Holquist: A recording puts things under a microscope, so there’s less need to fill things in with extra strums and drum fills.  A couple of the songs are pretty close to the live arrangements (“Westlake” and “Terra”), but even some of the others we’ve played live have an intentionally different vibe on the album.

Photo by Jen Hancock

 

J. Hubner: Stylistically you guys still balance nicely between post-rock and dream pop. I’m hearing a lot more Auburn Lull than say, This Will Destroy You, especially with the vocals. Maybe neither of them play into the sound (could just be my old dude ears), but you guys have done a great job on Our Peaceful Atoms of creating these expansive songs while still giving them a very modern and inviting lean. You seem to be having the cake and eating it too while offering a slice to everyone else.

Going into this record, what were you guys wanting to achieve this time around? What were some influences and inspirations?

Charlie Davis: I don’t know that we set out to achieve anything specifically but we all wanted to push on the boundaries of the last record and see if we could do something different. We weren’t looking for a genre shift or anything like that, but we didn’t want to make songs that would be confused for anything on the last album. I think we accomplished that. These new songs seem to fit into our live show perfectly but if you listen to the two albums they have some very clear differences.

Ryan Holquist:  I think we’ll always have a desire to keep certain post-rock elements, but we’re not so committed to that genre that we want to ignore appealing melodies or pop-oriented song structures.

J. Hubner:  If you can, could you dissect the creative process with the track “Path”? I’m hearing a lot of electronic flourishes in this tune. How did this track come together? What were some of the artistic inspirations behind the song?

Charlie Davis: Ben was doing some work with a new sampler and came up with this really ear-grabbing beat that sounded like something heavy trudging along. He made a demo that he sent to us that had that beat along with some keys and other electronic elements. We all loved it right away and were actually able to finish that song very quickly. Any band at some point can start to feel a little formulaic in their songwriting and having something that started from a more electronic standpoint was very inspiring and allowed everything else to come about very naturally.

Ryan Holquist: Ben came into the band after most of the songs on the first EP had been written, so he was largely trying to squeeze into the gaps and create atmosphere.  “Path” is a great example of how his contributions have morphed our sound, as is the presence of a lot more piano and prominenet synth parts.  Ben’s chord progression and electro twiddlies from the OP1 made us all think outside our usual boxes for ways to contribute, which bled into our parts and overall approach to some of the other songs.  It’s also pretty obvious that at least a couple of us really love the Valtari album by Sigur Rós…

J. Hubner: “Westlake” reminds me of The Beach Boys. To my ears, Smile is one of the most complex pop albums ever made. “Westlake” has moments that put me in mind of the song “Surf’s Up”. You guys pull off both progressive rock leanings while still making this a beautifully spaced-out pop song. Besnard Lakes do that very well, too. How does pop music play into the writing process in March On, Comrade?

Charlie Davis: We all listen to it in some form or another so I’m sure it finds it’s place in our music. There are a few parts of that song that Ryan would tell you are essentially Genesis tributes, so maybe we get some influence from the pop of other eras as well. Most pop music nowadays is very computer oriented in terms of the songwriting process as well as the instrumentation and arrangements. This album definitely has a larger emphasis on electronic elements that could be found in a lot of pop music while still sounding like a rock band.

Ryan Holquist: Beach Boys, interesting! I wrote most of “Westlake,” and I don’t know that I had any particular vibe in mind for it.  When Robert was mixing it, he warned me that he was going for full-on Fleetwood Mac.  I think I’m the only band member who would count himself as a particular fan of progressive rock, and as Charlie mentioned, I ended up with a subconscious nod to Steve Hackett (Genesis) in my guitar part.  I suppose it’s fair to say that on “Westlake” in particular, we played pop-oriented harmonic content and groove, in a progressive rock arc, with enough space and ambience to qualify as post-rock.

J. Hubner: On December 8th March On, Comrade will be having a CD release show at the Brass Rail. Can you give us some details on that show? Who’s playing with you guys? What sort of merch will be available? Will minds be expanded?

Charlie Davis: We just completed the line-up recently, and we’ll be playing with our friends in Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. We’ve played with both bands before and they’re both amazing bands with their own unique sounds. We’ll be selling whatever is left of our t-shirts, old EP, and of course we’ll have copies of the new album. Since most of the new songs have either not been played live much, or never, we’re hoping everyone will really enjoy them and maybe get some mind expansion from them.

Ryan Holquist: To give you an idea of how much minds will be expanded, Our Peaceful Atoms will be born on the same date as Diego Rivera, Nicki Minaj, Sinead O’Connor, and Ann Coulter.

J. Hubner: Are there any other shows on the books for March On, Comrade you can tell us about?

Charlie Davis: We have a couple other shows on the books at this point. We didn’t get to play out much this last year due to our own scheduling conflicts so I’m hoping we can be a bit more consistent in 2018. Our next show after this will be on January 20 and is a benefit show for a good friend of ours who is trying to raise money for her and her husband to adopt and we have some great bands in store for that one as well.

J. Hubner: We’ve almost put another year behind us. 2017 has been kind of a dumpster fire to say the least, with a few moments of beauty scattered here and there. What do we have to look forward to in 2018?

Ryan Holquist: If we would have known when we first started playing together in 2015 that there would be so much talk about ties to Russia, we might have reconsidered our name!  We are proud to have had no part in the dumpster fire of 2017.

Charlie Davis: It was a very intense year to say the least. I’m hoping it will be an exciting year for Fort Wayne music. I’m sure the veteran bands will continue to put out great music and there are always new bands getting started that amaze us with their creativity. As for March On, Comrade, we have no plans of stopping anytime soon so I’m looking forward to working on new songs, playing shows, and seeing what the five of us can continue to come up with going forward.


Don’t forget to get out to the Brass Rail on December 8th for March On, Comrade’s CD release show for Our Peaceful Atoms. They’ll be playing with Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. And be sure to grab a copy of the CD. If you can’t make it or you are weird about physical media, then just go to https://marchoncomrade.bandcamp.com/album/our-peaceful-atoms and download it on December 8th.

Witches Brew : Water Witches Return To Fort Wayne September 29th

by EA Poorman

Cover Photo by Michelle Waters

So what are you supposed to do after something like Middle Waves? How can you go back to a normal existence when all of your senses have been electrified and your heart and mind filled with so much musical goodness? How can you go back to punching the clock, sitting at a desk, and staring blankly at a computer screen when memories of Headwaters Park linger in your brain? Well, you just keep moving. There will shows to see my friends. New rock and roll freak happenings to expand your psyche a bit. In fact, on September 29th there’s going to be one hell of a mind melter going down at CS3. This ones going to be a doozy.

Athens, Ohio’s Water Witches are making their way across the Indiana/Ohio line and are invading CS3 for what will surely be a full on rock and roll experience. They’re bringing along Columbus’ Bummers and are meeting up with the always delightfully freaky Heaven’s Gateway Drugs and post-punk titans Streetlamps For Spotlights. I feel like I don’t need to say you should go to this show, but you should go to this show. Like, get tickets right after you’re done reading this.

So you’re not familiar with our Ohio brethren? Well let me fill you in.

Bummers is a four-piece from Columbus, Ohio. The band consists of Chris Steris, Steven Sikes-Gilbert, Cody Smith and Jeff Pearl. On first listen to their newest release, 2017s Dolores, you’re treated to a fuzzy, psychedelic shot of noise and melody. Imagine Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Jesus and Mary Chain, and late 80s/early 90s indie bands like Dino Jr, Pixies, and Sebadoh. Opening track “Black Halo” comes out screaming with squealing guitars and lots of angst. Then “The One You Love” has an almost Elephant 6 vibe. Very Neutral Milk Hotel-ish. Basically, if you were into college radio in the 90s or Ty Segall’s garage rock renaissance then Bummers are gonna be your jam.

Water Witches are no strangers to Fort Wayne. There’s a good chance you caught them on one of their jaunts through the Fort already, but if you haven’t CS3 is a great place to catch ’em. Asked last year about how the band got together the Water Witches, which consist of Ethan Bartman, Charlie Touvell, and Matt Clouston, had this to say, “Our first Nelsonville Music Fest 2014. That summer we all continued to jam because we like to hang out together. We formed two bands that were different sides of the same coin. One was a freak folk project called Feathers, the other, a psych rock band by the name of Halcyon. We decided to fuse the two to make everything simpler. We felt  this new direction needed a new name, so we held a séance during a set we played at a house show. The spirits gave us the name Water Witches.” Their sound is a mix of psych folk, late 60s garage rock, and a whole lot of Midwest weird that makes it all the more special. When describing the band’s sound, the guys listed influences running the gamut from musicians to writers and the otherworldly, as the band pointed out last year, “Tarot Cards, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Wooden Indian Burial Ground (amazing psych surf from Portland), Robert Anton Wilson, David Lynch, the Source Family, Henry Miller, Dr. Dog, the D-Rays, Velvet Underground, Aphrodite’s Child, John Waters.”

The band are currently touring in support of their newest release, Halcyon, which was released this past July. Dropping the needle on this record you’re treated to fuzzed-out psych rock(“cut”), Ty Segall-like acid freakouts(“Totality”), Philly soul grooves(“Soul BDSM”), and Athens weird that only Water Witches can give(“devil”). Halcyon has a nice bit of grit on it, giving it an aged feel. Like some strange vinyl artifact you found at the bottom of some grizzled cedar chest that was located in an abandoned house in the middle of a desolate forest. It’s music that feels timeless, yet definitely has some ghostly vibes that you can only get when your music’s been blessed by spirits from the other side. Water Witches put on a great show, so you don’t want to miss them this time around.

So we’ve got Athens and Columbus, Ohio represented on the 29th. What about the Fort? Well we’ve got our home turf covered as well. Our resident freaks Heaven’s Gateway Drugs will be blowing minds that night, just coming off a pretty stellar set at the  Kaleidoscope Eye Festival in Chicago a couple weeks ago. These guys have come a hell of a long way in 4 years. They were one of my highlights last year at Middle Waves. If you haven’t seen them lately then you should get out and check ’em out.

Streetlamps For Spotlights will also be hitting the CS3 stage. Another staple of the Fort Wayne rock scene, Jason Davis’ flagship band are one of the best in town. I was able to see them a few years ago at NNN Records on RSD and they blew me away. A little post-punk, a little classic indie, and all three-piece magic, this band will blow you away live.

So you may be suffering from post-Middle Waves blues two weeks from now, so the best way to cure those blues is to get out there and see some more shows. CS3 has you covered for September 29th. Water Witches, Bummers, Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, and Streetlamps For Spotlights will be blowing minds promptly at 9pm. Don’t be late.

 

 

Sad Man Noble Poet : Steve Henn Talks About His New Book, New Perspective

 

by J. Hubner

Photo by Joni Earl

Sometimes the most interesting minds are hiding in plain sight. Maybe it’s some guy at work in the break room quietly reading A Confederacy Of Dunces while FOX News blasts in the background. Maybe that guy at the local Starbucks making you a peppermint mocha has a Masters in Psychology and has written nine unpublished novels but fell on hard times. Or possibly that woman in your kitchen that wakes you up in the mornings to go to school who’s currently making your dinner. Maybe she used to travel the world and was passionate about the dada movement and had dreams of being an artist and living in a mud hut off the grid before you showed up. Or maybe that teacher of yours. The one you have for 5th period that quotes Vonnegut and you see reading George Saunders short stories at his desk before class. Maybe he’s a gifted poet that writes about life’s ironies and tragedies in a humanistic way.

Well that last one might just be Mr. Steve Henn. Henn’s a Midwestern poet who teaches high school English by day, raises four smart kids, and when time allows writes poems about life(yours and his, and everyone else’s that’s ever felt both the swelling sting and innate beauty of living.) Henn has been published in the past(check out his works at http://www.therealstevehenn.com) and he recently released his newest collection called Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year through Wolfson Press.

Steve and I sat down and talked about the new book, his inspiration, and a particularly nasty bout of Vertigo.

 

J. Hubner: You recently released onto the world your newest collection of poetry called ‘Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year’. How did this one come together? Is this your first book with Wolfson Press?

Steve Henn: I was invited by an editor at Wolfson to submit a manuscript, although it was made clear that an offer to look at a manuscript was not a guarantee of acceptance – that would be up to the Wolfson editorial board. Thankfully, they took it, and from there there was a lot more work involved with Joe Chaney as the lead editor for my book, Sky Santiago as the designer, and several others involved in the process as well. This is my first book with Wolfson – my first full book not on the NYQBooks label. Wolfson Press is a university press at IUSB. I’m very happy with the care and attention all parties involved gave to the book – at times the process felt laborious, but the end product is worth the effort.

J. Hubner: Are the poems in this collection all fairly recent pieces? Or are there some that date back before your second book ‘And God Said: Let The Be Evolution!’?

Steve Henn: The poems are mostly 2013-2015 poems. One of the oldest ones in the book is “Poem for the Girl Next Door” which was written a few weeks before Lydia (my ex-wife, mother of my children) died [in August 2013]. I don’t think there’s much, if anything, in the book that predates that poem.

J. Hubner: When you go into putting poems together for a book, is there a common theme between the writing? You seem to use your own life, both when you were younger and now, as origin points for your poems. But is there a concept to the book? 

Steve Henn: This one was very much influenced by the era of my life in which I was writing – after Lydia died, as I was acclimating myself to the pressures and challenges of full time single fatherhood. I found myself looking back to my own childhood, and also found I wanted to catalog experiences with my children – I wanted to think about what Lydia had chosen to leave behind. There’s not a distinct intention to form a certain theme or concept to the book, but the finished product suggests that family and fatherhood were big ideas I was ruminating over in many of the book’s poems.

J. Hubner: Where did the title of the book come from? 

Steve Henn: The title of the book comes from one of the early poems (I think it appears 3rd) called “What Facebook Knows.” The “Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year” award is a facetious award I grant myself for my status as single dad, in that poem.

J. Hubner: Besides your writing, the book was illustrated by your children Franny, Lucy, Oren, and Zaya. Were they aware they’d be illustrating ‘Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year’? Was it the plan from the beginning to make it a family affair?

Steve Henn: I encountered a book of poems by the excellent young poet Franny Choi called Floating, Brilliant, Gone. The book included some illustrations that linked up with the poems they illustrated somehow. We had originally discussed including some of Lydia’s artwork in the book – some of her paintings, which are amazing, are still hanging at the Blue Pearl in Pierceton – but the feel of the art didn’t seem to fit the feel of the poems quite right. So I suggested bringing in a bunch of drawings by the kids and seeing if any of that worked. It was really the book designer, Sky Santiago, who is responsible for the ingenious pairings of poems and illustrations in this book – page after page, there’s some element or another in the drawings that seem to sort of comment on or compliment the poem it’s lined up with. I really think that aspect of the design – the selecting of drawings to compliment the poems – was so excellently handled by Sky. I’m glad the kids had a hand in the book too – the book is dedicated to the kids. I suppose I wanted the book, in part, to codify how much I appreciate having them in my life – without my kids I’m certain I’d be a great big mess and be making all sorts of stupid choices. Or would have, at least, if they’d not placed a necessary and providential burden of responsibility on me.

J. Hubner: Now you’re also doing a few readings to promote the release of the book. How has the feedback been so far?

Steve Henn: It’s been fun to do readings. Probably the best one so far has been in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, at the University of Pitt-Greensburg campus. I read to a roomful of Lori Jakiela’s energetic and talented senior creative writing students. We spent about an hour together and it was worth the 14 hours or so round trip. For a bunch of creative writers, poets, etc., the kids seemed abnormally sunny, well adjusted, and supportive of each other. A real good group.

J. Hubner: Reading your piece ‘On The Presidential Election Of 2016’ I could totally relate to the panic you had in those moments, thinking you were dying. I had some bouts of anxiety for the first time in my life back in 2014. That feeling of helplessness and the feeling of the world closing in on you is a terrible one. I can only imagine that first bout vertigo is a similar feeling. Have you had any more bouts since the day before the election?

Steve Henn: Cool, that’s on my blog then, the existential humorist on tumblr – which I’ve neglected since that post. It seems maybe sort of ridiculous, maudlin looking back on it but as it was happening I was truly worried my heart was failing. Suddenly being super aware of all one’s physical sensations is a strange place to be for a writer used to spending so much time exclusively between his ears. I have had ongoing vertigo issues since – nothing as catastrophic or as alarming as that particular day mentioned on the blog, but less alarming versions of vertigo occur often enough now that it’s the new normal for me. Hooray for growing older.

J. Hubner: I loved your poem “Requiem”. Beautiful ruminations of your childhood and memories of your father. I particularly love the line “I wanna travel down the telephone cord from the kitchen to the living room where my mother sat in her chair telling her mother a little too loudly how the kids were doing in school.” It’s a scene I can recall in my own childhood. Do you still take to rights out of the neighborhood and go visit your dad at Oakwood? 

Steve Henn: No, I actually never visited my dad beyond attempting to a handful of times in the month or two following his death way back in 1991. I felt foolish standing there trying to talk to a plaque in the ground. I never felt like he was really there. I generally don’t experience his presence as any sort of awareness or sensation at the gravesite or elsewhere, but I do remember certain scenes and situations from time to time. I used to get very sad or sometimes angry thinking about the end of his life and his death but anymore, mostly, I’m happy that there are scenes that stuck, that I recall, and that generally remind me that he was an honest man doing the best he could. I don’t feel comfortable at his grave. I’d rather imagine him sitting in his big black recliner cracking up while reading essays by Andy Rooney.

J. Hubner:  If there’s some sort of life learnt wisdom you’d like to bestow upon your children, what would it be? 

Steve Henn: I suppose the only wisdom I can claim about life is knowing what most of the poets are trying to tell us, which is that it has an end. It has an end, and as the poet and essayist Thomas Lynch reminds us in The Undertaking, it’s a good idea to maintain an awareness of that. Understanding that we will die encourages us to live with care and attention and kindness, and, if we haven’t been, to understand and accept that we’ve only got so long to get better at this before we’re done.


Steve will be reading at Voyageur Book Shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Friday July 21st with Wisconsin writer Troy Schoultz. There is also talk of a book release in South Bend where it will be a kid-friendly event, though this is still in the works. If it happens, it will happen in May. Check out www.therealstevehenn.com often for event dates. Indiana Noble Sad Man Of The Year is available now at Amazon.com or contact Steve through his website. Steve will also have ‘Sad Man’ tour t-shirts available through his website as well. Grab one while you can.

 

Flyover State Of Mind

So you guys fans of podcasts? Oh yeah? So am I! I love having someone’s voice in my head besides the one that tells me to order records online and drink one more beer. That voice usually fools me into thinking those are good ideas. At least with a podcast I can get lost in someone else’s thoughts for a bit. Hear an interesting interview, story, or just hear a perspective on things I may not have been familiar with before.

Well a good friend of mine asked me if I’d ever consider doing a podcast. At first I thought that the idea was appealing, but that trying to get people to come down in my basement and chat it up for an hour would be daunting. And worse yet, the idea of sitting downstairs and talking into a microphone by myself seemed even sadder. So I suggested to my friend we should try and make a podcast together. What have we got to lose? Our dignity? Shit, we lost that years ago. Besides, at this point in life we could care a less how foolish we look to people(we really do care…I lied.)

So last Saturday my friend Jason came over to the house and we headed down to the studio and talked into a couple mics for a bit. The result is here, our first ever episode of our podcast, Flyover State. It’s two middle aged dudes talking about whatever comes to mind. Subjects may include weird dreams, favorite albums, aliens, Bigfoot, favorite war films, Kurt Vonnegut, Humanism, David Cronenberg, high school trauma, and so much more.

Jason and I usually have some sort of epic conversation every time we get together, so we figured why not just record these conversations and share them with the world? We’ve got nothing better to do on a Sunday morning.

So click that link above and head over to Flyover State’s blog page and hit play. Here us chat it up. And hey, share some of your weird dreams with us. That’s our next topic of discussion. Email us at flyoverstate2017@gmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled program tomorrow. 

“We Are Teamwork” : The Return Of Sankofa

Photography by Bambi Guthrie

I’ve mulled around the music scene in Fort Wayne for a few years now. I barely stuck a toe in the waters, as it were, but from a distance I feel I’ve seen genuine greatness come from the Fort. It seems to be this microcosm of musical minds not willing to let anyone write their narrative but themselves. Pushing through the “local artist” name badge and saying the hell with it. Dive bars and pizza joints become the Orpheum and the Chicago Theater. There’s a pride in hailing from the Fort, but it doesn’t define these guys and gals. It’s a starting point in their creativity. It’s a place to call home when you’re not.

One of these Fort Wayne artists is Stephen Bryden, aka rapper Sankofa. I’ve known of Stephen for years, but only at a distance. Hearing bits of his work over these years I’ve only come away in awe. He’s a hell of a rapper and a hell of a writer. He’s written about everything from his life, to the irreparable damage Mike Pence has done to the state of Indiana(a great music video came of this as well), to Bravas hot dogs. His Bandcamp page tells the tale of a man with the urge to create. Bryden has an extensive collection of LPs, singles, and EPs to his name, and after a bit of a hiatus and an inspired performance at this year’s Middle Waves Music Festival Sankofa has returned with the excellent Ink From Rust.

With the album release show coming up at the Brass Rail on March 11th, I sat down to talk with Stephen about the return of Sankofa, the new album, the release show, and the beauty of collaboration. But first, we talked about his recent performance at Down The Line.

J. Hubner: So tell about Down The Line. How did you get involved? Was INXS your choice?

Stephen Bryden: Jared at the Embassy had spoken to me about the possibility of playing 2016’s Down The Line and it had not come to pass. During our conversation, I’d half-jokingly suggested INXS, as I’d long been a fan of Kick and realized (after singing karaoke at Nate Utesch’s wedding-thanks Aaron Butts for the reminder) that my vocal range was fairly similar to that of Michael Hutchence and “Never Tear Us Apart” is a classic song.

J. Hubner: There were no rap artists you wanted to cover?

I was loathe to cover a rap group because it would go against the code of biting which had made me reluctant to actively pursue an earlier Down the Line role.  The expectations for each performer was 25 minutes of cover songs and one original song to last not longer than 5 minutes.  Honestly, I was on the fence about performing, until I realized that if I worked with Jared Andrews on keyboard (being that Kick was primarily synth and drum machine driven) it could prove to make for an interesting performance.  Jared’s a good guy and we’ve done a handful of shows on the same bill.

When Jared of the Embassy gave the go ahead, I got back to Jared Andrews and began rehearsing.  The true selling point for my participation was that 1 original song.  I realized I could perform a new song from Ink From Rust that would leave quite an impression.  Oftentimes, I plan and rarely does the outcome match my projection.  This outcome smashed whatever bar had been set.  Before we began rehearsal, I’d sent Jared Andrews the playlist and he asked about Kid Gloves, as he couldn’t find it in INXS’s catalog.  I explained to him that’s the song which will make out participation in the evening worth it.  Once I told him the focus, he was intrigued and-best as I can tell-as excited as me.

J. Hubner: So how did the audience take to the INXS set?

Stephen Bryden: The Down the Line crowd was quite participatory and loose during the INXS portion, then the botoxed moms kind of looked blankly while still dancing as my original song commenced.  It was then that Sankofa and not some funny guy trying to sing INXS songs showed up.  I know my live shows are lyrically dense, which made the ending of the song a perfect closure.  The people who had laughed with me up until that point then split into those excited to realize what I was doing versus the people who voted for Trump.  The song closes on a remarkably simple joke I’m overly proud of having made up:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Trump.

Trump Who?

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Trump.

Trump Who?

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Orange

Orange Who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say Trump?

J. Hubner: So, how did that go over?

Stephen Bryden: To say portions of the audience were furious is an understatement.  I had been invited to play my biggest show ever in the heart of Indiana and here I was dissecting number 45.  Bambi came backstage after our set and said people in the audience were furious.  She feared for our well-being.  Mitch Fraizer (our backstage plus one) made it a point to remove his backstage pass which said “Sankofa.” Jared’s friend texted him that he overheard people calling us names which would not be fit to print. Someone I knew in attendance that night said the people in front of her began flipping off the stage.

J. Hubner: So it sounds like it went over better than you ever could’ve imagined. 

Stephen Bryden: Andy Kaufman 101 and man did it feel glorious.  The Sankofa facebook page has a post from an amazingly incensed gentleman whose furor I screen capped then posted to Instagram for posterity.

img_1481J. Hubner: With a gig like that under your belt you could pretty much retire happily from music altogether, but you seem to just be getting started. Tell me about your new album Ink From Rust. Has fatherhood played a part in the inspiration?

Stephen Bryden: Fatherhood inspired the realization that if I didn’t take whatever shreds of time were available to me when inspiration yet lived, that this album would never get completed.  Honestly, it took a lot of planning.  I spoke to Bambi about shooting a video, got a timeframe for when to shoot it, how long to edit it, when to release it and then leave a month before the release show (this after confirming at date for the Brass Rail).  This process is essentially a Rube Goldberg machine leading up to March 11th.  I’ve compared said process to the building of old war planes-a lot of people had a hand in making key components, but very few were aware of the entire project (be that the warplane or this album).

J. Hubner: Let’s get into the nuts and bolts. Where did you record? Are these a new batch of tunes or are they ones that have been incubating for some time?

Stephen Bryden: I recorded at Tempel Studios.  Tom is a great guy with whom I’d worked before having home recording facilities and, upon selling off my gear to “retire” (yep, my wife Jenn and former collaborator El Keter told me I wasn’t done), I had been asked by a former collaborator in Switzerland about doing a track.

Post Middle Waves, I was amped to create new works, as I’ve been performing the same songs for so long and I truly felt there were pieces I wished to share with energy provided by the electricity of what Middle Waves represented to a city I love.  There are a couple songs I’d been holding onto fragments, never to see the light of a sound booth, in particular 32 Kennebec’s two lines “I only said I loved you, I never claimed to care,” and “You’re the first person to teach me that a smile could lie.”  As for timetable, I was making headway on two projects (both temporarily sidelined for Ink From Rust to develop) when Greg Locke mentioned he’d be willing to do artwork if I was to make another album.  I had confided in him (I like to keep things pretty secretive) about my other two projects and lamented that I’d already lined up artists for those pieces.  Within 24 hours of my grieving, a producer from Detroit named John Stone had liked a track I recorded to a beat he’d sent me whose recording I’d piggybacked on the Switzerland session.  I’d played with John’s group, The Prime Eights, twice-once at the Berlin and the second time at the Brass Rail.  John said he enjoyed the song and would be willing to produce an album for me.  Well, timing being what it was, I said YES and relayed the same word to Greg.  From that point, John sent me beats, I worked many words to them until I had what I felt to be fitting pieces for each beat.  John envisioned 10 tracks, whereas I foresaw a 5-6 song output.  I told him if he sent me beats and I was inspired, there would be more songs.  He sent me a file containing 30 something beats and I went to town.  All but the first song (Ras Kass) which started Ink From Rust were recorded in one marathon four hour session.

Artwork by Greg W. Locke
Artwork by Greg W. Locke

J. Hubner: Can you explain the name ‘Ink From Rust’?

Stephen Bryden: It came from the realization I had not created in ages and thus my pen was out of use.  It’s a simple way of saying I’ve been absent from the creative process for a long time.

J. Hubner: “Crimson Feather” is the first single and video. It’s a powerful song, man. Can you tell me a little about it? 

Stephen Bryden: It’s essentially my “what if” song, where the hook is about why didn’t I follow those paths and see where they could take my music?  It’s fairly boilerplate artistic self-flagellation, but it rings true. My mind state making that song was closest to that of my earlier works with production team Suspended Animators (ognihs and Manic Depressive) on an EP called SA-2.  Very dense material.

J. Hubner: Bambi Guthrie did a great job on the video.

Stephen Bryden: Bambi did an incredible job with the video and she is one of a near countless amount of people who helped make this project possible.

J. Hubner: So what you’re saying is you got by with a little help from your friends.

Stephen Bryden: I’m a rapper, I have a voice.  I don’t make beats, I don’t shoot videos, I can’t draw very well, I don’t know how to make graphics on a computer.  The last song on Ink From Rust (creatively enough called Ink From Rust) is my attempt to recall as many names of people who helped me get to this point.  I am one person and the amount of people who made what is considered to be my music expands way beyond some guy currently answering your questions.  It brings me great joy and no small measure of humility to realize how fortunate I am to have so many talented friends who are willing to help bring my visions to life.  My oldest son Arthur once said “we are teamwork” (naturally, I was helping him pick up his toys) and I have adopted that as a motto of sorts.  The people in the Crimson Feather video showed up having absolutely no idea what I was doing.  It was when they arrived that I explained I’d returned to making music and wanted them to be in a video I was shooting that day. The video was originally slated to be released February 11, but once I was invited to Down the Line, I pushed it back until the following day.  Turns out, that was a tremendous call.

J. Hubner: Speaking of tremendous things, Ink From Rust’s album release show is March 11th at the Brass Rail. What do you have planned for that momentous occasion?

Stephen Bryden: The CD drops 3/11.  The digital release will occur a week later.  I want people to be there, to experience the joy and moment of what will be an incredible night of music with friends.  If you want the shirts I’m debuting that night, show up. If you want to buy a CD with all the fun stuff, show up. If you want to see me pour my guts out on stage and do my damndest to put on one hell of a show, show up.  Far as merch, I will have packs-CD, poster, magnet, pen, sticker for $13. My long time friends Sub-Surface are playing and that alone is worth the six dollar admission.  wolfbearhawk is a band comprised of my friends (many of whom were in I, Wombat, whose last album I still play the life out of) and I wanted to include them on the bill to kick off the night.  The Prime Eights will be coming in from Detroit and then I get to play.  I’m not trying to be coy, but I’ve got stuff planned to make this a decidedly memorable evening.  The day of the show there will be a listening party at Bravas from 11-2 with an event-specific menu item and a coloring contest.  The winner of that contest will get a tee shirt.  I plan on having a limited number of CDs available for sale there for folk who may not be able to later get to the Rail.

img_1466-2J. Hubner: I wanted to ask you about “#doubledownondumb”, a track you released over the summer in response to former Governor Mike Pence’s obliteration of Indiana’s educational system and gutting of Glenda Ritz’ ability to do her job. How did that (great)track come about? I’m sure with you being an educator(and parent) yourself this hit especially close to home. 

Stephen Bryden: That song wrote itself.  During my “retirement,” only Bravas, NeighborLink and the idiocy of Pence could get me to find studio facilities (usually Nate Utesch’s basement).  The song had been gestating for a long time, but the original producer (Geno) is a guy who loves collecting vintage gear-at one point he had a mixing board autographed by the RZA-more than he does completing songs.  He’d produced my Sarah Palin song Lipstick Fangs years prior; Geno made a beat snippet and I looped it. Geno had been sitting on my Pence track vocals for an excruciating length of time and when it seemed like Pence was going to be Trump’s veep pick, I got the vocals over to ognihs and he came through with a beat in about as short an order as Bambi made the subsequent video.

J. Hubner: I imagine you probably have been influenced by all kinds of music and art in general, but when did hip hop make its mark on you? 

Stephen Bryden: Morris Minor and the Majors’ Stutter Rap.  Just like most true stories, it’s fairly embarrassing.  That was the first vinyl I bought (K-Mart, 7”, I believe it was 1987).  They were a spoof group who were modeling the track after The Beastie Boys (admittedly, not at that point serious artists themselves).  Stutter Rap was my gateway drug, leading up to a Walkman birthday gift with Run DMC’s Tougher than Leather and the DOC’s No One Can Do It Better its first two tapes.

J. Hubner: If you had to pick just one album that made the biggest impression on you, what album would that be? What was it about that record that affected you so much?

Stephen Bryden: My cop out answer is the biggest influence on my perspective of music is my mom-her constant dancing to however many records and tapes she would play.  She loved and still loves music, it gives her life.  Motown, Beatles, Stones, Spirit, Iron Butterfly, the West Side Story soundtrack, Dragon, Simon & Garfunkel…  She lived music and that passion made an impression on me.  I have found that the music I loved as a high schooler and college student still holds great emotional sway with me to this day.


Stephen Bryden, aka Sankofa, is the real deal. A down to earth dude that puts 100% of himself in everything he does. Head out to the Brass Rail March 11th and check out what will surely be one of the best shows of the year in Fort Wayne.  If you want the good stuff(t-shirts, CDs, magnets, pens, stickers) then get to the Brass Rail that night and reap your rewards. Hit up Bravas from 11-2 on the 11th for a listening party and goodies created just for that day. Keep up with Sankofa at his Facebook page, and get acquainted with the tunes at Bandcamp. Maybe drop a few monies for some solid tunes. Do it.

 

 

A Few Words On RSD 2016*

Okay, so for the last four years I’ve been pretty active in RSD(Record Store Day for you folks not familiar.) And when I say active I mean I get up early on a Saturday morning in April and head into a record shop to wait in line for exclusive records. My first year was 2012. I hit up a couple record shops in Fort Wayne. Waited in line and got nothing. Pretty much picked over by the time my daughter and I got in the building. Granted,  I wasn’t going to be waiting in line at 1 am to get some exclusive record. Sorry. Won’t do it. Still, I snagged a 7″ at another shop and on the way out of town stopped at one more and ended up getting the record I really wanted(Flaming Lips Heady Fwends.)

It’s fun, and agonizing. The thrill of the hunt, but the anger is quite bitter tasting in the mouth when you’re out hunted by a bunch of people camping out for the whole night like its 1981 and they’re waiting for the box office to open so then can snag Springsteen tickets. I’m too old for that shit.

IMG_1775So from 2013 on I’ve been celebrating at my local record shop. Karma Records of Warsaw. It’s run by a super cool guy named John(very cool name) and a small crew of music fans and record collectors. Everyone’s tastes differ and that’s a really cool thing. John has been working in music retail for a few years now. I first met him when he was much younger and worked at our Sam Goody. Him and a cat named Justin kept the shelves interesting with Pavement, The Clash, Built to Spill CDs alongside the usual schlock the corporate schills forced them to have boxes of in the back. Anyways, John was a cool dude to run into there when I was looking for something. They closed their doors in early 2009 and then about a year and a half later I run into John at the newly opened Karma Records(in a new location with new owners.) Karma was the go-to music shop back in high school, but by the time it was at its near demise the music was allocated to what amounted a tiny kiosk in the middle of the shop while the rest of the place was for 18 year olds to come in and get tattoos and piercings, talk about how cool Black Veil Brides were and mope I assume. It was pathetic. So when I wandered in at the end of 2010 and John was working it was a nice surprise. New location and they were at least trying to make an attempt to get back to music selling. By then I was rarely buying CDs, but I did buy a Black Angels disc for the heck of it(and an Of Montreal CD back in the fall.) The vinyl was pretty meek in there, but over the next couple of years they began growing the vinyl section, both new and used. John had said if I wanted to special order something to just let him know and he’d get it in. So I gave him a shot and the first two records I bought from him were The Soft Moon’s Zeros and Wild Nothing’s Nocturne, both he special ordered in for me. I haven’t looked back since. Ownership changed hand and John Vance became the Big Kahuna at Karma Records of Warsaw. He’s turned a joke of a record shop from 6, 7 years ago into one of the premier places to get vinyl(as well as skateboards, incense, tobacco products, smiles and hugs.)

FullSizeRender (78)I still have love and respect for Morrison Agen at Neat Neat Neat Records and Bob Roets at Wooden Nickel Music in Fort Wayne, as well as all the independent record store owners I’ve met over the years. That’s what today is about. It’s about showing those guys and gals that they are still appreciated. Appreciated by us music lovers. Music is music, whether you’re downloading or buying a physical copy, sure. But there’s still a few of us left that appreciate the interaction with other weirdos like ourselves. The conversations and quirky personalities you run into as you browse those 12″ sleeves. The surprise purchase just because it catches your eye, and of course the physicality of something to hold and carry out the door with you. The collector in us needs that item to hold and feel is our own. There’s so much to appreciate in that kind of transaction. So much more to it than clicking “buy” and “download”. Is it impractical in these times of 64 gig iPhones and 500 gig external harddrives? Maybe, but there’s nothing practical about art, music, and the obsessing over of those things. It’d be much easier to hit “random play” on an iPod at a get together, but for my money I’d much rather get up and flip the side. An excuse to grab another beer anyways.

So today is about money. It’s about sales, sure. That’s how these brick and mortars keep the lights on the other 364 days out of the year, folks. But there’s cool stuff, too. Me, I snagged the Lush vinyl box set. I’m listening to it right now. I feel like I’m 17 years old driving from my girlfriend’s house as I listened to Spooky as loud as my Nova would allow. I also grabbed a split 7″ with Metz covering Mission of Burma’s “Good Not Great”and Mission of Burma covering Metz’ “Get Off”. Super cool. As usual, the Karma crew did a great job of keeping things orderly and they had their best turnout yet. John was out greeting the folks prior to opening the doors. He’s a nice guy like that.

So another RSD down. I still believe in it. Underneath all the bitter comments about overpriced exclusives and the lines and blah blah blah, the principals of the day are still alive and well, at least in Warsaw(and I’m sure in Fort Wayne, too.) Like-minded folks chatting and having a good time and buying some great, exclusive vinyl and showing our local brick and mortars some serious love.

*Alright…more than a few words. Sue me!

 

 

 

 

 

Plaxton and the Void are ‘Still Alive’

plaxton

 

by E.A. Poorman

In the quaint little seaside town known as Warsaw, IN there lives a band called Plaxton and the Void. You know of them? Well, you should if you don’t. They’re making some pretty epic music amongst the treasure trove of orthopedic takeovers, karaoke on Thursdays, and a church for every non-affiliated, non-denominational moderately conservative weekend warrior this side of Kosciusko county, USA. If you’re not privy, let me fill you in: Plaxton and the Void make big, cavernous indie rock that takes equal parts The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, and a touch of A.M.-era Wilco, and serve it up with a hefty portion of Midwestern matter-of-fact grit. They released their debut full-length Ides late in 2012 as the snow fell over Pike, Center, and Winona Lake. It was a great beginning for a band hungry to write and play. After a couple years of gigs and writing they have just released the excellent follow-up to Ides, the aptly titled e.p. Still Alive. I spoke to the band about the new e.p. and how the last two years have gone.

“We began writing and arranging the new songs right as Ides was being released” says the guys in Plaxton and the Void when I ask about the process of writing and recording Still Alive. “Spring 2013 was mostly writing and learning new songs. Then we were working on the Kosciusko’s Got Talent competition. After we won that, a Stacey Page Online(a Kosciusko County online-based news source)reporter interviewed us. That guy was John Faulkner. We had been looking for a keys player and we kind of interviewed him back during that interview and found out that he had just moved here from Nashville and was a keys player and went to recording school down there. We tried him out and he was a good fit, so most of the rest of the summer and fall was teaching him the songs and getting him up to speed. We were able to integrate and write some new keys parts to all the new songs before we started recording. Back in October, Joel started a business with his old boss (the Light Rail Cafe in Winona Lake) so that has been owning him and putting a crimp on his availability for recording and playing shows. We began recording Still Alive in December. We’ve been busy with that process for the first half of the year.”

There is a definite sonic change from Ides to Still Alive. I asked the guys if they went in going for a particular sound, or if they just let things happen naturally. “We have been focusing more on quality and on perfecting arrangements. it is becoming more important with a fifth member in the band to really nail the arrangements. Joel is also maturing as a writer, even as his time is more limited… so we are getting that distilled flavor of a more powerfully concentrated spirit. We wouldn’t say the individual songs on Still Alive are leaner. There’s a lot of instrumentation, like organs and strings, that you don’t hear on Ides. We were trying to do what best served the songs. So if that meant paring down some parts to make other things more powerful, that was what we did.”

The album was recorded at Squidtown Music, which is bassist Dave McCall’s basement studio, as well as recording some drum tracks in an old chapel which gave the drums some great, massive sound. Song-wise, there seems to be some heavier themes of loss and healing. Singer, guitarist, and lyricist Joel Squiers explained further. “I think this album is a bit darker because at the time when I was writing some of the songs I was going through some major life changes and battling with whether or not I’d made the right decisions. Also I was trying to write less from personal experiences and draw from things outside of myself in the writing. Also, this winter sucked and I think a lot of people were thinking darker than they might normally.”

Now Plaxton and the Void have a great new set of songs to share, are there going to be some shows to see them at? “Now that the EP is finally wrapped up, we’re actively booking new shows. Nothing is confirmed yet, but we’ve got a few in the works. We’ll also be hosting a show of our own to launch the EP. We’re hoping to get some Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Goshen shows lined up soon (in addition to hometown Warsaw shows). All our booking info is on our Facebook page if anyone is interested in us playing at a specific event or venue.”

Speaking of playing shows, Plaxton and the Void had actually won a Battle of the Bands in their hometown of Warsaw, IN. I asked them for some details about this. “We’ve won two big contests. The first was in 2013 when we won the Kosciusko’s Got Talent contest put on by the largest online news source in our county(Kosciusko), staceypageonline.com. That one was a youtube video contest for videos under 3 minutes, so we had to rearrange (to fit within the time limit) and record a song and video for that. More recently we won the Judge’s Choice award in the Cancer Care Fund fundraiser (put on by the K21 organization). We raised a lot of money for the fund and had a lot of fun performing for the crowd and judges. That one was a live performance competition.”

Okay, so a great new 6-song EP done and ready for ears, hometown accolades and county-wide recognition for the band and their skills; both in songwriting and live performance. What’s next? ” We’re just five guys with day jobs that love writing and playing original music. We have fun doing our best and sharing that with our friends and community. We’re hoping to share that with a few more communities in 2014. But ultimately, it is up to the fans to spread the word and share our music with their friends. We live in a viral world.”

Indeed we do live in a viral world, so I’m about to cough and not cover my mouth. Check out Plaxton and the Void’s Still Alive at http://plaxtonandthevoid.bandcamp.com/. And keep up with everything Plaxton and the Void at https://www.facebook.com/plaxtonandthevoid.