Saturday, April 25, 2009

Taproot vocalist Stephen Richards on latest album

Ann Arbor-based Taproot is best known for early-'00 singles such as "Poem" and "Mine." The band has tons of local support and keeps putting out new material. Here's my interview with vocalist Stephen Richards! Thanks for checking it out! (Courtesy photo)

Ann Arbor alt-rock band went back to basics on latest (Originally published on

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

Taproot lead vocalist Stephen Richards always wanted to be a musician.

"When I was 4, my Mom got me my first drum kit because she noticed me air drumming and realized that even though I didn't know what I was doing, I could keep time," Richards said from his Ann Arbor-area home.

Now, of course, Richards is the part of the Taproot legacy. CD sales in the millions and recording sessions with Billy Corgan make up the Ann Arbor group's back-story. And the guys' sound has matured from nĂ¼-metal to more tight, melodic hard rock.

On its latest album, Our Long Road Home, the band serves up a complex combination of trashy riffs and moody vocals, with a mix of hard-hitters and weighty ballads.

We caught up with Richards to talk.

Anne: People know the name Taproot from your 2002 modern rock hit, "Poem." That song was huge.

Richards: Yes, it's funny because our biggest single was "Poem," and that was a song I wrote in four minutes. It either happens or doesn't. We just try to be creative and see what comes out. And hopefully a single or some success will follow.

-Your new album is called, "Our Long Road Home." There's obviously significance to the title.

-Definitely. Our last albums were released through Atlantic Records, and when we parted ways, we knew that to record or next CD cost effectively, we had to do it close to home. So we moved back to Ann Arbor from L.A. and we approached the recording like we did our old demos. So doing it at home was like our welcome back home and trying to re-find ourselves.

-A few songs on your last album were co-written by Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. Is he nice?

-He is! For being a guy that is so incredibly successful for all the stories of him not being the most approachable guy, I was quite shocked. He was very supportive. He obviously didn't have to work with us, but he told us from the get-go that he respected our talent but thought we had some bad habits. So he tried to help us with the way we make songs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Dear Disco

Detroit/Ann Arbor band My Dear Disco plays Lansing tonight. Here's a story on the group!

My Dear Disco's mad fusion; Michigan band is an indie music rollercoaster

By Anne Erickson (originally published on

Stick a bagpipe player with an electro-disco rock band and you've got My Dear Disco - one of the most buzzed-about acts in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Genre-bending doesn't do justice to describe the band's sound. It's more like an indie music rollercoaster, fusing pop, techno, funk and rock, with Michelle Chamuel's fuzzed-out vocals. Wherever there's monotony, My Dear Disco will be there to meet it head-on, with a punk-filled new-wave tune or a funk-rave lick. And it's music to make you dance.

Curious? My Dear Disco plays Friday night at Club Rush.

We chatted with Tyler Duncan, 23, who plays the synthesizer, tenor saxophone and Irish bagpipes in the band.

• Anne: How did you get the idea to use bagpipes in My Dear Disco?

• Duncan: I grew up playing bagpipes, and even though I play mostly synthesizers in the band, on some songs it's fun to do something that fits our sound but uses the bagpipe as one of our instruments. So it kind of happens simply because I can play them. I modify them to be electronic, so they plug in like an electric guitar. It's funny, when bagpipes are plugged in, it's a screaming hot signal that sounds really similar to an electric guitar. Sometimes I'll hear a guitar solo blasting out from somebody's car and I'll think I'm hearing bagpipes.

• Anne: You guys call your music "dancethink." How did you come up with that term?

• Duncan: When we were starting out, people would always ask us, "What kind of music do you play?" We could never give them a straight answer, and listing off genres and influences wasn't really helping anybody understand what we play. So we were like, "Let's just think up something to call our music." The term "dancethink" means we're striving to find the balance between music that's as effective on the dance floor as it is in headphones. We strive for groovy, funky, danceable and high-energy stuff, but also music that's as compositionally innovative as classical music or jazz, taking into account harmony and melody.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interview: Death Cab for Cutie keeps fans post-Atlantic signing

It's a familiar tale in the music biz: Favorite indie band signs deal with major label, fans reject new "mainstream" approach, band gets shuffled to the bottom of the roster, confusion ensues.

Thankfully, even if this scenario was true in the past, Death Cab for Cutie bass player Nick Harmer says, "no longer."

"We're on Atlantic records, so we're on a major label, but we don't really think about it in terms of making music major-label or indie style," Harmer said, chatting on his cell phone on a rare day off. "When I was younger there was a clear divide between major-label and indie-label and what that meant for bands, but as time has moved on and the Internet has become such a big factor, the lines between labels are blurred.

"I think the live show and overall work ethic matters more than the label releasing the music."

Death Cab - which headlines at the Breslin Center on Saturday - certainly understands the importance of a good live show and working hard. They've lived it. Formed in the late '90s in Bellingham, Wash., the band - Harmer, frontman Ben Gibbard, guitarist Chris Walla and drummer Jason McGerr - had little more to go on than a killer stage performance and catchy, indie-flavored rock tunes. Remember, this was a time before the Internet explosion of the mid-'00s. A time before bands went from zero to 1 million MySpace plays from their parents' basements. A time when gradual success was the way bands made it.

"When we first started out, the Internet was a good tool to use for word-of-mouth, like, 'Go down to the record store to buy this record and check out this band,'" Harmer said. "It didn't have an impact in terms of marketing or any of the other things bands use it for today."

"At first, all we needed was a van, some instruments and to go on the road and just tour, tour, tour."

To this day, Death Cab's music reflects that DIY work approach. Pop in the band's 2008 full-length, "Narrow Stairs," and you'll hear an organic-sounding record: four gents playing in a room, not relying on the studio for tricks, bells or whistles, capturing the energy and spirit of Death Cab, as players. Lyrically and musically darker than previous releases, "Stairs" is uncharted for the band - a pilgrimage from light-hearted melancholy to more somber, mysterious compositions - but it still reflects classic alt-rock influences like the Talking Heads, Concrete Blonde and Weezer.

"Our goal on this record was to get back to some recording basics," Harmer said. "We started recording that way, and as time went on, we added more and more to the process, so we finally said, 'Let's get back to basics.'"

And it worked. The album's first single, "I Will Possess Your Heart" - a charming (and perhaps a little stalk-ish) rock ballad about a boy in love with a girl and determined to get her attention - jetted to No. 1 on the alternative rock chart last year.

Last winter, Death Cab came out with another fan goodie: a 10th-anniversary edition of its debut album, "Something About Airplanes." And now, look for the band's just-released EP, "The Open Door," with tracks that didn't quite fit the mood of "Narrow Stairs."

"We recorded a bunch of songs in the studio but didn't want to make the record 18 songs long," Harmer said. "So the songs that make up the EP are there because we didn't want to them to disappear or become obscure. They deserved a proper home and release."

When asked the best part about being in Death Cab, Harmer says it's simply "the friendship."

"The fact I get to make music with three of my best friends and have all kinds of adventures together, and then we get to come home and talk about them for the rest of our lives, that's awesome. We never imagined we would get to do this as long as we have. We're lucky."
By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ/NOISE

Friday, April 10, 2009

Murph from Dinosaur Jr.: 'We never think about how we're influencing or affecting someone else'

Dinosaur Jr. has East Lansing, Mich. in a tizzy. The groundbreaking indie rock band played Small Planet last night, and the place was uber-packed! The show drew people from all over the state, since this was the only Michigan date on Dino Jr.'s current tour. We even spotted a few guys from Detroit's Lager House checking out the action! It was a fun, loud -- and did I mention loud? -- time!!

I had the chance to interview drummer Murph a week before the show, and he told me all about the band's much-anticipated new album. Here's the Q&A (originally published in the Gannett LSJ/NOISE):

Dinosaur Jr. talks about new album; Indie-rock act excited about E. Lansing gig

By Anne Erickson, Gannett Lansing State Journal

They started the grunge movement way before Kurt Cobain ever sang of "Teen Spirit." And it's possible to hear the band's influence throughout alternative rock.

We're talking about indie rock band Dinosaur Jr., a trio that mixes punk, classic rock and sludgy grunge like no other.

After a near-16 year hiatus, the Amherst, Mass., guys are back in the business of making music, and they have a stop Thursday at the Small Planet in East Lansing. Talk with any local indie fan, and it's obvious the community is stoked.

We chatted with drummer Murph - who at one point was a member of the Lemonheads - about the on-going reunion of Dinosaur Jr. and the band's forthcoming full-length, "Farm."

LSJ: You guys were just at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. What do you like most about going to that kind of marathon music festival?

Murph: I thought it was going to be more mayhem or that people were going to be possessed or something, but it wasn't like that at all. It's not like we're huge stars because there are so many bands, so we're one of a zillion and that's kind of nice. It was just a great experience. We had been to Austin before, but never South by Southwest.

• Dinosaur Jr. got back together about four years ago, and things are going really well. Did you expect the reunion to become such a permanent deal?

• No, I don't think we knew what was going to happen. We always had the attitude just to do this as long as it seemed to be working - and it's working. The fans and our manager have been great, so we figured, why not keep going?

• Your new album, "Farm," is out on June 23.

• Yeah, it's a super big-sounding rock record, and we got great drum sounds on it. I'm just really excited about this record. It's more of a rock record, and there are some great ballads on there. I've been listening to it a lot, and I don't usually do that.

• Cool! So, what's the idea behind your current U.S. tour? It seems like you guys are going through college towns.

• We prefer sometimes to play out-of-the-way places. It's fun, and people get really amped-up for the shows. We're really excited about playing East Lansing, especially Lou (Barlow, bass player), because he grew up in Michigan. He was like, "No way, Lansing?!" We can't wait.

• Dinosaur Jr. has influenced so many bands through the years, especially in alternative rock. Does it boggle your mind to think of that?

• It's funny, we never think about how we're influencing or affecting someone else. We just get material together and put it out there. It's more about the influence people have on us.