Moving Forward: pia the band Re-evaluates Life Plans and Priorities on "Getting Better" EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

pia the band lays on a bed wearing an orange sweatshirt and light blue jeans.

Pia-Allison Roa examines personal growth and self-expectations on Getting Better. Photo by Zach Nahshel.

Pia-Allison Roa makes an honest self-assessment on her Getting Better EP.

The Detroit singer-songwriter who performs as pia the band recognizes the importance of re-evaluating life plans and priorities and making changes along the way. 

“These are the four songs that I felt were most ready to be out,” said Roa about her debut EP. “Once we recorded all four and then put it all together, it popped out to me that these are all about overcoming things.” 

As part of that process, pia the band examines past situations and relationships through contemplative lyrics and ethereal indie-rock, dream-pop, and shoegaze-folk instrumentation. 

“It felt good to get all those out … but then it was even more special looking back at what the songs meant, what they could mean now, and how they can be interpreted by other people,” said Roa, who’s also a clinical pharmacist specialist at Wayne Health.

To learn more, I spoke with Roa about Getting Better ahead of her May 28 show at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

Michigan Heritage: Ann Arbor folk singer-songwriter Kitty Donohoe celebrates 50 Years in music with show at The Ark

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Kitty Donohoe wears a denim shirt and clasps her hands together.

Ann Arbor folk singer-songwriter Kitty Donohoe. Photo courtesy of Kitty Donohoe.

Kitty Donohoe is celebrating 50 years of writing and performing a timeless mix of original and traditional folk music, including Celtic, Maritime, Canadian, and other sounds from the British Isles.

“It’s almost crept up on me—50 years down the line from my beginning," said the Ann Arbor multi-instrumentalist. "It’s actually been 52 years, but I’m ignoring those two fruitless COVID years. I’ve performed in so many wonderful spots around the country.”

In the ‘80s, Donohoe ventured east to Cambridge, Massachusetts to perform at Club Passim and The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. But one of her most memorable live shows occurred in Arlington, Virginia on September 11, 2008.

“I sang ‘There Are No Words’ at the Pentagon for the dedication of their 9/11 Memorial,” said Donohoe, who penned the track on the day of the attacks.

“That was almost surreal to be surrounded by then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and others from the cabinet and to be looking out at a sea of regular people who were personally impacted by 9/11. That was a profound experience—I doubt I could top that.”

Another special night will be Donohoe’s May 19 show at The Ark, which will spotlight her professional milestone with a special performance featuring several friends and the acceptance of the 2024 Michigan Heritage Award. The honor recognizes her 30-plus years of entertaining audiences with her original songs about Michigan.

To learn more, I spoke to Donohoe about her music career ahead of her show at The Ark.

Feral Songs: Kat Steih switches gears for a new rock record, "I Am Not My Self"

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A black-and-white head shot of Kat Steih.

Kat Steih features honest lyrics and emotive new-wave, hard-rock, and pop-punk instrumentation on I Am Not My Self. Photo by Hilary Nichols.

Kat Steih takes a bold look beneath the surface on I Am Not My Self.

That deep examination reveals the challenges people often face with presenting one persona externally while wrestling with another self internally.

“Each person has an outer persona and an inner world. Even if my persona is funny and easygoing, what’s really holding the strings is what’s on the inside,” said Steih about her new album out May 17. 

“The puppet master can be in pain while still conducting a pretty, whimsical dance—something nice or fun to amuse herself or to self-soothe. I use music to acknowledge things that I feel. Some may call it bold, and it empowers everybody.”

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter especially shares that courageous and empowering message on the title track, which features fearless electric guitar, bass, and drums. 

Steih sings, “I am the candle, and you are the flame / Fingertip to fingertip, your voice animates me / Tremors I detect in the seismic quake / The look on your face rearranges me.”

The title track also reflects the honest lyrics and emotive new-wave, hard-rock, and pop-punk instrumentation that flows throughout I Am Not My Self’s six tracks.

Pure Michigan: Sophia Orensteen Pays Homage to U-M and Offers Coming-of-Age Tales on “AmericanGirl” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Sophia Orensteen wears a black strapless dress and sings into a microphone.

Sophia Orensteen examines past relationships on AmericanGirl. Photo courtesy of Sophia Orensteen.

Sophia Orensteen’s heart belongs in Ann Arbor.

While the pop-rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hails from New York City, she’s ecstatic about attending the University of Michigan this fall as a freshman to study music.

So much in fact that Orensteen has written a song called “Michigan,” which pays homage to the school and serves as the aspirational opener from her debut album, AmericanGirl.

“This song turned into a way that I could express my love for Michigan even though I had never been there [before] or had never seen it,” she said. 

“I got in contact with the University of Michigan about using my song for their social media. I also sent in the song with my application, and I didn’t even tell my parents I was applying. And then I got in, and they said, ‘What?’”

Despite that surprise, Orensteen learned of her acceptance to U-M in February and has started planning for the fall. 

She shares that sentiment in “Michigan” alongside hopeful acoustic guitar and electric guitar while singing: “I’ve never been to Michigan, but I’ve heard it’s nice / You’re going away, going to college, gonna start a new life / You’ll remember me / When you see my name in lights / And you’ll say, ‘Wow, she was right.’”

“I’ve always loved the University of Michigan, and I wrote this in one of my supplemental essays when I applied there,” said Orensteen, who will graduate from New York City’s Professional Children’s School in June.

“I never told my parents or anybody that I loved the University of Michigan, but I’ve always followed the school and their football team. I never thought I’d go there or get into the school.”

Detroit’s Mike Ward Brings His Inspirational Folk Songs to AADL April 28

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Mike Ward wears a denim shirt and holds an acoustic guitar in his living room.

Detroit folk singer-songwriter Mike Ward. Photo by Danny Ward.

The state of the world weighs heavily on Mike Ward’s mind.

That concern prompted the Detroit singer-songwriter to pen a new folk song called “Why Not,” which sends an encouraging message to help others.

“When I have played it, people get how the song starts out small, gets broader as it goes on, and ends at a point where it’s up to us on a personal level,” said Ward, who’s also a University of Michigan alumnus. 

“One of the things I have to work hard at is trying not to be too preachy, especially when I’m writing about things on a political level. It’s one of the areas where I try to find a balance.”

Backed by hopeful acoustic guitar and cello, he sings, “Why not do some good today with the time that we’ve got / Start with something simple / A lesson learned or to be taught / Plant a seed or lend a hand / A little helps a lot.”

“I’ve also been looking at not only how that affects the world in general, but also how it’s affecting people’s relationships,” Ward said. “It goes as broad as the country, but as narrow as some relationships and the struggles that people are having.”

Why Not” is one of several songs Ward will be performing with Sara Gibson (cello) and Annie Bacon (vocals) at an April 28 show at the Downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Ahead of the show, I spoke with Ward about his current state, his career transition from advertising to music, past albums, his latest songwriting efforts, his setlist for the AADL show, and plans for new material.

Double Vision: DuPont Phillips Combines Catalogs and Influences to Release New “Big Sky Sessions” EP

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Chris DuPont and Kylee Phillips each wear all black and sit next to each other.

Chris DuPont and Kylee Phillips' new DuPont Phillips EP, Big Sky Sessions, features stripped-down instrumentation, emotive duets, and lush harmonies. Photo by Misty Lyn Bergeron.

Ypsilanti’s Chris DuPont and Kylee Phillips decided a joint EP was long overdue.

After several years of performing and recording together, the singer-songwriters pooled their talents, catalogs, and influences to form DuPont Phillips and release Big Sky Sessions.

“This Big Sky Sessions EP was a very natural project. We used stuff that we have, and we used songs from our catalogs that have been out,” DuPont said.

“What feels good to me is that all of these interpretations of our songs that exist live now have a home. This project proved to me that putting out something doesn’t have to make you suffer. … We cut it in two days.”

During those two days at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording, DuPont Phillips reimagined three tracks from prior solo releases and recorded two renditions of Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell classics along with a new song.

“Sometimes it can be hard to explain to people what we’re doing because we’re playing things from our individual catalogs, but we’re supporting one another,” Phillips said. “For me, it’s fun to have something we can show people and say, ‘This is what it is. It’s this cross-pollination of what we both do.’”

Those collaborative efforts have resulted in an intimate folk-pop EP filled with stripped-down instrumentation, emotive duets, and lush harmonies. The six tracks featured on Big Sky Sessions offer vulnerable tales of love, growth, and change.

I recently spoke to the duo about revisiting and reworking older tracks, doing covers, recording a new song, spending time in the studio, preparing for an EP release show, and planning for the future.

Wintry Enchantment: Michael Skib Chronicles a Spiritual Quest for Truth on “This Bewitching Season” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Michael Skib wears a black tank top and holds an electric guitar.

Michael Skib features the hypnotic sounds of progressive rock, heavy metal, and shoegaze on This Bewitching Season. Photo by Alex Hancock.

For Michael Skib, winter brings a sense of enchantment.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer feels most creative during the darkest and quietest time of the year.

“It’s the best time for reflection, introspection, and creation because I’m not going to be out and about,” said Skib, who’s also half of the electronic-experimental duo Mirror Monster.

“I do find myself wanting to try and capture the melancholy that I feel because snow and darkness are beautiful. Those are the reasons why I’m drawn toward this type of music.”

That beautiful melancholy is woven throughout Skib’s latest album, This Bewitching Season, which features the hypnotic sounds of progressive rock, heavy metal, and shoegaze.

“I’m a seasonal person in the sense that there are different types of music that I listen to in different types of seasons,” he said. “I’m very sensitive to the way my environment impacts [my writing].”

Alongside those seasonal influences, Skib chronicles a spiritual quest for truth, peace, redemption, and salvation across the album’s nine tracks. His candid lyrics, ethereal vocals, and fearless instrumentation entice listeners to vicariously accompany him on his journey.

John Sinclair, Renowned Detroit Counterculture Poet, Writer, and Activist, Dies at 82

MUSIC HISTORY

John Sinclair wears a paisley shirt while making a peace sign with his fingers and holds a marijuana legalization sign.

John Sinclair in 1968. Photo by Leni Sinclair.

Poet, writer, and activist John Sinclair has died at age 82.

According to the Metro Times, he died of heart failure this morning at Detroit Receiving Hospital and had been struggling with health problems in recent months.

Born in Flint in 1941, Sinclair was a highly regarded leader in Detroit’s counterculture scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Famous for his radical politics, Sinclair also managed the MC5 and co-founded the White Panther Party and the Ann Arbor Sun.

In 1969, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after offering two joints to an undercover female narcotics officer.

Various public and private protests soon culminated in response to Sinclair’s sentencing, including John Lennon writing a song called “John Sinclair” and the launch of an annual marijuana legalization rally in Ann Arbor that would later become known as Hash Bash.

Little Victories: Jim Cherewick Finds Cathartic Moments in Everyday Life on "Good News" Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Jim Cherewick eats a bag of potato chips while standing in front of a colorful brick wall.

Jim Cherewick shares honest and insightful tales on Good News. Photo by Bryan Lackner of Lucky Penny Media.

Jim Cherewick admits he recently went through a breakup.

But it’s not the kind of breakup that immediately comes to mind.

“A lot of it is about leaving that terrible retail [job],” said Cherewick, who previously worked at a big-box store. “It was such a burden—it was sad and it was scary. Getting out of that was so important and needed.”

Cherewick addresses that professional split on “Frosting on Fire,” the melancholic opener from the Ypsilanti singer-songwriter/visual artist’s latest indie-country-folk album Good News.

Backed by somber acoustic guitar and keys, he sings, “Questions stick to my bones / Like how much longer do we get another try here? / Making every single day a treasure cause I’m awake / And I won’t complain, no I won’t complain / I work at one of those stores.”

“As much as I didn’t want to write about it, I did because I wrote it during [the pandemic],” Cherewick said. “The job sucked, and it was soul-crushing. It was so bad, and then they would cut hours, and then they’d be hiring new people.”

Despite that soul-crushing experience, Cherewick finds fleeting moments of catharsis and gratitude on Good News. The album’s eight tracks reflect on the harsh realities of everyday life and yearn for an escape from drudgery, disappointment, and uncertainty.

Breakneck Speed: Mark Jewett Follows Life's Hectic Pace on "Too Fast" Single Featuring The Accidentals

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Mark Jewett stands with Katie Larson and Sav Madigan of The Accidentals.

Mark Jewett with Katie Larson (left) and Sav Madigan of The Accidentals. Photo courtesy of Mark Jewett.

These days, Mark Jewett moves at warp speed.

The Plymouth singer-songwriter maintains a frantic daily pace on his latest single, “Too Fast.”

“It was more of a general feeling of being closed in and trapped and things just coming at me faster than I could deal with them,” said Jewett about the folk-pop track, which features a collaboration with Sav Madigan and Katie Larson of The Accidentals.

“One day, I just took a break at my desk, and I picked up my guitar. I started doing this chunking rhythm like you hear at the beginning of the song. I was drinking coffee, and I thought, ‘I need some energy,’ and the line just popped into my head.”

That initial opening lyric was “I’ve got a thousand watts of black coffee / Pumpin’ through my veins,” but Jewett upped the ante to “Two thousand watts of black coffee” instead.

Kyle Rasche caught me between shows up at Nor-East’r last year when I was in the merch barn. He said, ‘Man, that’s a great line,’ and he thought I had said something about ‘8,000 watts,’ but it was originally, ‘I’ve got a thousand watts,’” said Jewett, a University of Michigan alumnus, who started writing the track last spring. “I thought maybe there was too much there, so starting it with 2,000 [watts] just punctuates it right at the beginning.”