All the Time: Frontier Ruckus Explores the past, present, and future on new album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Frontier Ruckus' David Jones, Matthew Milia, and Zachary Nichols stand outside on a wintry day with bare trees in the background.

David Jones, Matthew Milia, and Zachary Nichols of Frontier Ruckus. Photo by John Mark Hanson.

For Frontier Ruckus, aging represents a mixture of nostalgia, fear, and hope. 

The Detroit-Ypsilanti folk-rock trio of Matthew Milia, David Jones, and Zachary Nichols explores those feelings alongside the passage of time on its new album, On the Northline.

“The main soundbite that Matt has been saying about the record is that half of the songs were written before he met his wife, Lauren,” said Nichols, who plays trumpet, musical saw, melodica, and air organ on the album.

“He said half of the songs are angsty and half of them are happy. I hear a lot in the lyrics about getting older, looking back, and thinking about the future. I think we all feel a little bit middle-aged now.”

As part of that reflection, Frontier Ruckus engages in deep soul-searching across On the Northline’s dozen tracks. Contemplative lyrics, vivid suburban imagery, and wistful Americana, country, and jazz-inspired instrumentation encourage listeners to ponder their life trajectories.

“The feelings and the ruminations on aging and getting to the point that we’re at in our lives … they’re probably a little conflicted because it’s conflicting for all of us,” said Jones, the band’s banjoist-vocalist. “To a certain extent in Matt’s songs, there’s always a lot of nostalgia in a way that’s positive, but sad as well.”

Despite those conflicting thoughts, Frontier Ruckus forges ahead and finds some solace while revisiting hometown landmarks, adapting to everyday surroundings, and welcoming unexpected changes.

“There’s a certain amount of happiness to be where we are now and be past the turbulent days of our youth when we were in the van all the time,” Jones said. “There’s a level of contentment with being in this place that we’ve all settled in that feels good and more comfortable.”

I recently spoke with Jones and Nichols about waiting seven years between releases, dissecting the album’s introspective themes and tracks, writing and recording the album, preparing for two celebratory shows, and going back out on the road.

Friday Five: Evan Haywood, Flwr.Chld and Kapsoul, Cece June, Far Leys, Dr. Pete Larson

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features psychedelic folk by Evan Haywood, hip-hop by Flwr.Chld and Kapsoul, indie-folk by Cece June and Far Leys, and minimalist techno by Dr. Pete Larson.

Weatherproof: Annie and Rod Capps Celebrate Life’s Highs and Lows on “Love and Rain” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Rod and Annie Capps face each other sitting on a blue couch while holding their acoustic guitars.

Rod and Annie Capps explore the importance of gratitude on Love and Rain. Photo by Jen Prouty.

Annie and Rod Capps weather life’s sunny and stormy moments together on Love and Rain.

Those moments also serve as lighthearted and serious reminders about gratitude on the married duo’s latest album.

“There’s an overarching theme of love and rain being that contrast and balance of life,” said Annie Capps, the duo’s vocalist-guitarist, who’s based in Chelsea with her husband Rod Capps. “It’s about not taking the rough stuff too seriously, yet it’s also about being grateful for the good stuff and not taking things for granted.”

The Capps demonstrate that mindset personally and professionally on Love and Rain, which features 10 tracks filled with perceptive lyrics, vibrant Americana instrumentation, and rich harmonies.

“Annie is fortunate because she has an outlet to write songs about these things,” said Rod Capps, the duo’s guitarist-violinist-violist, who will celebrate 30 years of marriage to Annie Capps in June. “My role in the songwriting is to color around the edges. Annie builds these structures, and I help flesh them in and put filigree in.”

I recently spoke to the Capps about celebrating their anniversary, working with their bandmates, exploring different themes on the album, writing and recording tracks for Love and Rain, preparing for their annual Valentine’s Day show at The Ark, and planning for other performances and projects.

Friday Five: variant, Cedar Bend, Towner, Great Arm, Artdogg

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features space music by variant, indie rock by Cedar Bend and Towner, neo-grunge by Great Arm, and hip-hop by Artdogg.

DIY Approach: Manchester Underground Music and Art Supports Local Artists Through Monthly Live Shows

MUSIC INTERVIEW

“Pistol” Pete Midtgard sings and plays an upright bass with The Twistin' Tarantulas in July at River Raisin Distillery for a Manchester Underground Music and Arts show.

"Pistol" Pete Midtgard performs with The Twistin' Tarantulas in July 2023 at River Raisin Distillery for a Manchester Underground Music and Art show. Photo by Chuck Marshall of Life in Michigan.

Back in 1977, high school friends Steve Girbach and John Mooneyham bonded over listening to Rush, Judas Priest, and AC/DC albums after school.

Those listening sessions at Mooneyham’s house in Manchester eventually turned into serious discussions about forming a band and playing live shows.

It wasn’t until a few years after graduating from Manchester High School that Girbach and Mooneyham put their musical plan into action.

“Steve and I were talking and we said, ‘Why don’t we get some gear and we’ll put on shows and festivals?’ We had all these grand ideas people in their early 20s come up with,” said Mooneyham, who now co-runs the Manchester Underground Music and Art monthly concert series with Girbach.

“About a month later, Steve said, ‘I invited some guys over to your house to play some music and you’re gonna play bass.’”

Together, guitarist Girbach and bassist Mooneyham played in two cover bands, Allister and The DTs, and later hosted a music festival featuring 13 acts at a former amusement park in the Irish Hills.

Not long after that, The DTs called it quits and everyday life took over for Girbach and Mooneyham. What they didn’t realize at the time was that initial music festival helped lay the groundwork for what would become Manchester Underground Music and Art in 2019.

Friday Five: Darrin James, The Eleventh Hour, Paper Petals, Anteomedroma, MC Kadence

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features folk-rock by Darrin James, chamber jazz by The Eleventh Hour, dark ambient by Paper Petals, black metal by Anteomedroma, and hip-hop from MC Kadence.

Friday Five: Latimer Rogland, Premium Rat, Jeremy Frey, S.U.N., DACAMERA

MUSIC FRIDAY FIVE

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Friday Five.

Friday Five highlights music by Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels.

This week features minimalism by Latimer Rogland, pop-punk by Premium Rat, power-pop by Jeremy Frey, hip-hop from S.U.N., and remixes of DACAMERA.

Sense of Adventure: Instrumental Duo Mindful Dynasty Experiments With Different Genres on “The Barn Waltz” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Toshana Grim holds a bass guitar and Jason Wiseley holds an electric guitar on stage at Zerbo's Market and Bistro.

Mindful Dynasty's Toshana Grim and Jason Wiseley at Zerbo's Market and Bistro in Commerce Township. Photo courtesy of Mindful Dynasty.

When it comes to creating music, Mindful Dynasty embraces a choose-your-own-adventure approach on The Barn Waltz.

The South Lyon instrumental duo of Jason Wiseley (guitar, percussion, strings) and Toshana Grim (bass, strings) experiments and improvises with several genres—ranging from psych rock to EDM to flamenco—on its latest double album.

“It’s like going through an adventure, and there are highs and lows; there are also fast parts and slow parts. There are parts that are a little funky and maybe ones that make you laugh a little because there’s a wonky note,” Grim said.

“There are also parts where you might think, ‘This is so beautiful.’ That’s just life—in my opinion—because it is an adventure. The more you can just relax and go with the flow, the more fun you have.”

That carefree attitude and creative mindset flow throughout The Barn Waltz’s 17 tracks, which also feature elements of metal, classical, and funk interspersed with film samples.

“I write for everybody, but in my mind’s eye, it’s [especially] for somebody who plays an instrument. … I just want people to feel inspired. I want people to [hear] our music and think, ‘Oh Jason’s goofy, I can do that, too,’” said Wiseley, who workshopped the album’s tracks live with Grim during a past residency at Zerbo’s Market & Bistro in Commerce Township.

“Part of the reason why The Barn Waltz is dark and has all the movie samples is because I wanted to juxtapose the pretentiousness of the guitar playing. I wanted to put in this silly stuff and put in all of the dance music to pull back the idea that to have that level of fun playing music requires you to actually not have any fun at all.”

I recently spoke with Wiseley and Grim about their backgrounds, the origin of Mindful Dynasty, the evolution of their sound, select tracks from The Barn Waltz, the creative process for the album, and upcoming plans.

Memorialize and Remember: Grey Rose Grant's folk opera "Little Histories" explores the death ritual

MUSIC THEATER & DANCE

Grey Rose Grant. Photo by Karl Otto/TheOttoLab.

Grey Rose Grant. Photo by Karl Otto/TheOttoLab.

Grey Rose Grant puts all of themself into projects. 

Their 2019 folk opera Michigan Trees came out of Grant's experience as a trans-femme person. The 2023 chamber-rock opera The Precipice was based on Grant's poems and songs along with the journals of Karl Ronneberg, their co-founder of Fifth Wall Performing Arts. Even Grant's new work, Little Histories, about a mortician looking back on the life events that made him turn to his profession even as they prepare to host a funeral for a former lover, has its roots in the composer, performer, and librettist's North Carolina childhood.

"Little Histories is deeply connected to personal experience," Grant says. "Back in the day I was surrounded by literary nerds and we went through an autofiction phase which has for sure affected how I want to tell stories within the medium of theater. Every little story told in Little Histories has some truth to it: memories of two of my grandparents' funerals; a memory of witnessing a bird fly into a window in high school; the pet cemetery we had in the woods behind my childhood home. That said, these memories are swirled together, misremembered, and injected with a healthy dose of retold mythologies, the story of the birth of the modern American funeral industry, and more. I enjoy beginning from the personal and moving outward from there."

Fifth Wall Performing Arts' production of Little Histories runs January 26-28 at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, and I asked Grant, a 2016 graduate from the University of Michigan who currently works at Ypsilanti's Riverside Arts Center, about their latest DIY folk opera.

Monday Mix: Father Dukes, Lo Dazz, Ownsey, Terminus, DykeChow

MUSIC MONDAY MIX

Cover art for the albums and singles featured in the Monday Mix.

The Monday Mix is an occasional roundup of mixes, compilations, podcasts, and more by Washtenaw County-associated artists, DJs, radio stations, and record labels. 

For this edition, we have mixes from Father Dukes, Lo Dazz, Ownsey, Terminus, and DykeChow.