It’s “About Time”: Dexter Singer-Songwriter Jim Bizer Releases First New Solo Album in 20 Years


Jim Bizer stands in a cabin and holds an acoustic guitar.

Jim Bizer features evocative lyrics and earnest folk instrumentation on About Time. Photo courtesy of Jim Bizer.

After two decades, Jim Bizer realized it was time to release a new solo record.

The Dexter singer-songwriter hadn’t focused on his own album since 2004’s Connected and had spent ample time working on several collaborative projects, including a duo with Jan Krist and groups The Yellow Room Gang, Diamonds in the Rust, and Floyd King and The Bushwackers.

“It’s crazy that I’ve taken that long,” said Bizer about his new folk album, About Time. “I’ve done things in between, and the thing I did the most was the duo with Jan, but I wound up in a few different bands and made records with some of them.”

Even as he worked on different projects, Bizer’s songs for About Time started brewing in 2005, and they began accumulating.

He eventually landed on 13 tracks for his third solo album and noticed a theme of time had emerged. On About Time, Bizer brings that theme to life through evocative lyrics and soundtracks it with earnest folk instrumentation.

“Not that every single song deals directly with time, but a fair number of them do. I got a kick out of writing ‘Going Nowhere’ about slowing time down and what that could mean and how that would work,” said Bizer, who produced About Time and played guitar, bass, and guitjo.

“There’s also the fact that it’s been so long since I put out my last record, and time played a piece of that. And I think of these songs as a time capsule of the last 20 years, so time was so much on my mind as I was putting the record together.”

To learn more, I spoke to Bizer about his latest album ahead of a July 7 show at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre.

Q: About Time is your first solo release since 2004’s Connected. Why did you decide to release a new solo album at this point?
A: Since 2004, I’ve been writing songs and saving some of them up because they were things I felt would be appropriate for a solo record. Jan and I think a lot about the duo when we’re writing for the two of us. It wasn’t just a situation where I’d sing a song, she’d sing a song, and then I’d sing a song, but we were working out songs for the two of us.

Working with Jan has been a lot of fun, and it still is because we’re still doing stuff. It’s been a while now since Jan and I have recorded anything. I also produced a few records for other friends and worked as a hired session player. And this [solo album] is something I’ve meant to do for so long, and the songs on this record, some of them are 20 years old.

Q: The 13 tracks featured on About Time were written over 19 years. How did you come to select all these different songs for the album?
A: Some are brand new, and about half were written in the last few years. I wrote 30-some songs for Songsmiths, and that was all in the past three years or so. I won’t record every single one of those. In my estimation, some of those are better than others, but I was happy with a certain number of them too. The intention is to get all of those things out sooner or later at some point.

Q: Many of the songs featured on About Time sound like they’re autobiographical. What proportion of the songs on the album are based on your experiences and the experiences of others?
A: It’s so easy to think of any singer-songwriter’s music as being intensely autobiographical. It always is somewhat, but I have written some songs that are about other people’s experiences. In a way, you could argue maybe they’re autobiographical because I found it interesting and I can only put my spin on it. I wouldn’t know how to write it exactly from their perspective, but there was something about their experience that inspired what that song was about. Some of these are specifically autobiographical, I can say “Man in Your Life” is one of them, and also “My Best Friend.”

Q: The opener, “Driving Me Sane,” encourages letting things happen naturally and going with the flow. What was it like to explore that easygoing mindset throughout the track?
A: That’s absolutely what that’s about. When the bridge comes around, I’m saying, “Well, when I’m able to because sometimes I can’t let it go and I wish I could.”

I almost didn’t write that song and that was the one song on the record that came from Songsmiths in which you write a song every month. There are very stringent rules about being in this songwriting group, and it’s that you have to submit your song on time. Everybody has to write a song from a prompt once a month, and once a year you can skip a month if you’re just too busy or you’re not inspired by the prompt. You can take one month off in a year or you can be late once in a year, but if it happens again, you’re out of the group.

I was on a beach vacation with my family, and I was thinking that I was going to take my month off. I knew what the prompt was, and I was in a chilled-out kind of mood. I was on the beach, and I thought, “I’m not going to chase it; I’m going to let it come to me.” It came and then I thought, “Shoot! Now, I’ve gotta write the song.” I had my guitar with me, and I wrote the song, recorded it on my phone, and sent it to them. I got my song in for the month, and I’m glad I did because I wouldn’t have written that song otherwise. I was happy enough with it to open up the album with it.

Q: “My Best Friend” examines your relationship with yourself, especially your good and bad sides. How did writing this concise track encourage you to fully embrace yourself?
A: The themes in that song are so universal, and everybody has those voices in them. The side of you that takes care of you and the side of you that tears you down.

I used that song as an example in a workshop that I had done recently where I talked about how songwriting is fun. Sometimes we can get bogged down in the seriousness of it and the art of it. Even at our most introspective, sincere, or heavy [moments], the craft of songwriting can be fun. There’s a line in that song, it’s the second verse and then I throw in the alliteration in the third line: “Knows exactly what to say / To lift me up or throw me away / Caress or cut most casually / My best friend and my worst enemy.” I think it’s a strong, powerful line, but it lightens it a little to have the alliteration in it. It’s fun to sing, strangely, and I got a kick out of writing that even though it’s the kind of song that’s more serious and introspective.

The older I get the shorter my songs are on average. For a long time, I would write a lot of four- or five-minute songs, and now I write a lot of songs that are under three minutes. There are two songs, including this one, that are under two minutes. I think it’s a nice thing to be able to cut to the chase, be succinct, and get there. I still enjoy a nice long, meandering piece of music sometimes, but there’s a certain efficiency in getting those messages and boiling them down to their essence.

Q: “Man in Your Life” reflects on your daughter growing up, getting married, and starting her own life. What was it like to write that track from a father’s perspective?
A: I wrote that song in 2015, but unfortunately I didn’t write it in time for the wedding. I was a mess writing it … and I wrote that up at Lamb’s Retreat for Songwriters. When it came time to perform it the next morning, it was like, “Boom!” because I had worked through that. We’ll see if we can get it out there enough that people start to use it [at weddings].

Q: “Animal Husbandry” is a playful tune about a rural romance and the thrill of the chase. How did this fun track come about for you? How did you pack in such descriptive storytelling in under three minutes?
A: That song was another prompt. Jan [Krist] has been doing an annual songwriters’ week at the Grünewald Guild in Washington state. It’s like an art colony out there and most of what they do is visual arts. At one point, Jan was out there doing sculpture work when she suggested doing a songwriting class there. Once a year, Jan would have a class out there and bring another person or two along with her to round out the workshops.

I went out with her one year and the prompts were model names of cars. There are a lot of evocative words—like “Intrepid” and “Comet.” All these different automobile names were used as prompts, and I managed to draw “Studebaker” That song is just loaded with rhymes, but I started with rhymes for “Studebaker” and the line is: “He went to hell’s half-acre in a widow-maker Studebaker.” It was a fun, goofy song to write, and it’s a little acknowledgment of how love and lust move us.

Q: “Midnight Girl” pays tribute to the late vocalist Denise Marie Stein from Floyd King and The Bushwackers. How did writing this track provide you and the band with some closure about her passing? How did bandmates Dennis Kingsbury (vocals, mandolin) and Maggie Ferguson (vocals) contribute to this track as well?
A: For as long as I’d known [Denise], she’d been coping with leukemia, but she had been coping with it surprisingly well. She was living a normal life, and I didn’t even think about her having blood cancer. And once in a while, she’d had to spend some time with the doctor, treatments, and stuff, but she seemed healthy and normal.

And there was a favorite song of hers that she loved to sing, and it was a cover song. It’s a country song, and the name of it is “Midnight Girl / Sunset Town” [by Sweethearts of the Rodeo], and she sang it at most of the gigs. And when I had to think of something to write the song about outside of just her, I remembered that song, and I thought, “Oh, that’s such a nice first line—The midnight girl has met her sunset.” It takes the whole title of that song and turns it into a nutshell of what’s happened. And then the rest of the song is full of images of sunset and nightfall, and I was happy with how that turned out. It was fun to figure out how to use a chunk of that for her song.

Denise died in 2009, and there was a memorial service a few weeks after she died. Her mother asked us to play for the service, and we thought we needed to do something. And I wanted to have Dennis and Maggie on the song because we thought there’d be another Bushwackers album, but the band is mostly retired at this point.

Q: The closer, “Bitchin’ and Moanin’,” is a disguised plea for not giving up on life and reacting to what happens along the way. How does this track serve as an important reminder about being grateful for the positive and negative things that happen in life?
A: I start out saying, “I’m gonna stop all my bitchin’ and moanin’,” but by the end of the first verse I’m saying I’m “gonna bitch and moan my life away.” There are also the titles of five classic soul songs embedded in those lyrics and one of them is very obvious, but the others are not so obvious. … It’s a little Easter egg.

That song is a blast to play, and that was one of those tunes I wrote shortly after I finished the Connected record. I knew that was going to be a solo song for me. I’ve been performing that all this time, but I finally got a recording of it.

Q: You recorded the 13 tracks for About Time at ZoundSound in Dexter, Outpost Studios with Alan Finkbeiner in South Lyon, and Big Sky Recording with Geoff Michael in Ann Arbor. How did the album come together across all three studios?
A: ZoundSound is my home studio, and Jan Krist and Alan Finkbeiner’s home studio is Outpost Studios. And I enjoy working at Big Sky, and Geoff is a great guy to work with.

We cut all the instruments here at my house. And Alan, being recently retired from Sweetwater Sound, has a significantly nicer and bigger mic locker than I do. We auditioned about four different microphones that we thought we might use for my lead vocals, and there was one clear winner. We cut vocals at his house and then we mixed [the album] there because of the sheer amount of software he has from working at Sweetwater.

I went to Big Sky because the two songs I recorded there—“My Best Friend” and “That Mistake”—are short, intimate ones. I wanted to record those where I was going to sing and play guitar at the same time. Most recordings I do these days, I record the music and then I record vocals on top of it. If you can isolate what’s on your music tracks, it’s a lot easier to mix. But sometimes you need to have those things happen live. And on those songs, they needed to happen simultaneously, and Geoff has the right kind of microphones and the knowledge of exactly how to place them so that we could record that way and not have too much cross-talk.

Q: How did you fully realize your creative vision for About Time as a producer?
A: I produced my first two albums that I made more than 20 years ago. I’ve always had this idea of how I want my record to sound, so I go after that. Sometimes it’s me doing a lot of it, and sometimes it’s me playing with a bunch of different people. Both approaches are really fun to do and take you in different directions.

This particular record was intentionally me doing a lot of it—I didn’t do all of it, but I did a whole lot of it. I wasn’t planning on doing so many band tunes; I thought there was going to be more just voice and guitar. There are only three [songs] with one voice and one guitar. I thought that’s how “I Must Be Dreaming” was supposed to turn out. I had planned on just one voice and one guitar on that song, and after I got it recorded, Alan [Finkbeiner] said, “I’m hearing some backup vocals.” We played around with it, and I sang all the parts on it. It wasn’t my idea, but once he suggested it, we started playing with it, and then I liked how that one turned out.

Q: You also collaborated with Jan Krist (vocals), Alan Finkbeiner (drums, percussion), and The Accidentals’ Katie Larson (cello) and Sav Madigan (violin, viola) on About Time. How did they help take those tracks to the next level sonically?
A: Jan sings five words on “Let’s Go to Mars,” and that’s it. For all of the tremendous amount of work that we’ve done together, and I’ve contributed a lot to her records, too, she’s sung quite a bit on my earlier records. Now, Alan plays drums and percussion on the album because I don’t play drums and percussion.

And Sav and Katie from The Accidentals play strings on “Dreamland.” I had met them before, and they were up at Lamb’s Retreat for Songwriters last November. When I wrote that tune, it was in an unusual time signature—it’s in 7/4. Not every musician is comfortable playing in odd time signatures, but Sav and Katie are into stuff like that. They compose stuff in odd time signatures, and they’re accomplished musicians. I came up with the music and the guitar part for that song probably a year or more ago, but I had no lyrics, and it took me a while to get lyrics for it.

But once I did, it sounded like a little chamber group song, and I thought of them. I asked them, and they said they were interested. I didn’t write parts for them, and all I said was, “I want this to sound like it’s a chamber group—like a quartet—and the guitar is one of the voices.” Sav played violin and viola, Katie played cello, and they just came up with parts based on what I was playing. I sent the guitar and vocal track to them and they recorded their parts and sent them back. They’re nice people, they’re very talented, and it was a pleasure working with them.

Q: You’re performing two shows at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre: July 7 opening for Pierce Pettis and July 20 performing with Jan Krist for her birthday concert. You’re also performing July 19 at the Ann Arbor Art Fair as part of a Save the Speakeasy benefit. What do you have planned for those shows?
A: For the July 7 show, I’ll be performing songs mostly from the new album, and it will just be me. I will be doing my own concert at Trinity House in the fall. As for Jan’s show, we’ll be doing some stuff together, and I will be playing in the band. I suspect we’re going to do some stuff from our duo recordings. It’s mostly going to be a full-band show.

A bunch of us local musicians are taking turns busking on street corners during the Ann Arbor Art Fair to raise money for Save the Speakeasy. I’ll be holding forth at the corner of Thayer Street and North University Avenue.

Q: What plans do you have for new material—both solo and with other projects?
A: I’m having a hankering to make another Jim Bizer record—a full-blown rock band record. Diamonds in the Rust wants to make an album, so there’s a strong possibility that will happen. It’s been a while since Jan and I have made a duo record, so that could happen.

Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of

Jim Bizer performs July 7 with Pierce Pettis at Trinity House Theatre, 38840 Six Mile Road in Livonia. For tickets, visit Trinity House Theatre’s website