Doors of Perception: J. Michael & The Heavy Burden explores folk-rock and winding jams on its debut album


J. Michael and the Heavy Burden group photo.

J. Michael & The Heavy Burden's Chris Peters, Chris Georges, Andrew Pfeiffer, Jeff Brach, and Shannon Lee. Photo courtesy of J. Michael & The Heavy Burden.

When one door closes, another may open.

That was the case in 2021 for J. Michael & The Heavy Burden leader Jeff Brach when he parted ways with one band to start another.

“I’d recently decided to close the chapter on another similar project that went by the name Stella Noon,” said the guitarist and singer. “I asked one of the newer members from that band, [singer] Shannon Lee, to join me in this new project and she soon thereafter introduced me to our drummer, Chris Georges.”

Brach combed through social media to fill out the rest of the band, which includes lead guitarist Andrew Pfeiffer and bassist Chris Peters, and the Ann Arbor area group recorded a few singles in early 2021 at Rooftop Studios in Grand Blanc.

“We fully intended on just having something out there to help garner some gigs until we had more time to record a full album,” said Brach, whose first initial and middle name provide the J. Michael part of The Heavy Burden.

That time finally came toward the end of 2022 when the band returned to Grand Blanc to record its self-titled debut and once again work with David Roof, who ended up joining the band as its keyboardist and plays various other instruments on the album.

“David, who runs Rooftop Studio, did such an amazing job with our first few singles that there was really no question in my mind that we were going to complete the album at his studio,” Brach said of the classically trained University of Michigan School of Music grad.

“He’s worked with many of the local musicians we know and is extremely skilled in terms of sound engineering and production, and I was really leaning on his skills to bring out some of the sounds I was looking to achieve on this album."

J. Michael & The Heavy Burden features 12 original folk-rock songs that will appeal to fans of Mumford and Sons and Dave Matthews.

“Dave Matthews ... had a huge influence on me growing up,” Brach said. “I grew up trying to learn [Matthews'] songs on guitar, and I think my songwriting style also very much follows similar paths as Dave's.”

Other songs on the album lean into more of a Grateful Dead jam-band vibe, altering the perception of J. Michael & The Heavy Burden being primarily a folk-rock group.

“One of my favorite concert memories is my mom taking me and a few friends out to see The Grateful Dead at the Silverdome back in 1995 which turned out to be one of Jerry’s last shows,” said Brach.

Despite just releasing an album, J. Michael & The Heavy Burden has already written a half-dozen more songs it wants to record in the fall. The plan is to road-test the tunes over the summer to gauge audience reactions and perfect the songs live before heading back to the studio and opening those doors once again.

Sean Miller is a Michigan singer-songwriter and freelance arts and entertainment writer.

J. Michael & The Heavy Burden perform at Ziggy’s, 206 West Michigan Avenue, Ypsilanti on Friday, April 14 when they open for Ann Lee’s Co. They’re also looking forward to a busy summer filled with gigs and music festivals around the state.