Sonic Journey: Gastón Reggio Ventures From "Michigan" to North Carolina on New Jazz-Fusion Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Gastón Reggio wears a green hat and white shirt while holding a cymbal. He stands in front of a mural.

Gastón Reggio chronicles an inspirational sonic journey on his new jazz-fusion album, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Gastón Reggio.

For Gastón ReggioMichigan represents the ideal name for his second full-length album.

The Uruguayan jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist penned most of the album’s tracks while living in Ann Arbor and wanted to capture those experiences from 2019 to 2021.

“Each song has and [strives] to tell a story about things that happened during that time. Particularly, I was looking for an [album] name that worked well in English and Spanish,” said Reggio, who previously drummed with Chirp and is now based in Durham, North Carolina.

“My producer Rodrigo [Cotelo] … mentioned naming the album after the song ‘Michigan’ because it summarized my [time] here and served as the basis for some of the stories that are [sonically] told through my songs.”

On Michigan, Reggio chronicles an inspirational sonic journey filled with jazz, prog rock, and world music influences. The album starts in the Great Lakes state and whisks listeners across the Appalachians to find new musical adventures in North Carolina.

“I just let the ideas for the songs come without any restrictions, and I like to combine all of my influences to create a [personal] way to express myself through music,” he said. “I hope listeners realize the depth and honesty of this music; it’s a part of me, and if you listen to it, you will get to know me a little bit more.”

To learn more about Reggio, I recently spoke with him about growing up in Uruguay, studying music and jazz drums in Brazil, coming to Ann Arbor and joining Chirp, relocating to North Carolina, working on Michigan, and preparing for several upcoming live shows.

Everyday Monsters: Fangs and Twang Shares the Horrors and Delights of Michigan and Out-of-State Creatures on Latest Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Fangs and Twang's Joe Bertoletti, Billy LaLonde, and Andy Benes stand together in huddle in the street at night.

Fangs and Twang's Joe Bertoletti, Billy LaLonde, and Andy Benes uncover a new group of beasts on You Monster. Photo courtesy of Fangs and Twang.

After years of writing about monsters, Fangs and Twang didn’t expect to find them in human form.

The country-rock trio of Billy LaLonde (drums, vocals), Andy Benes (guitar, vocals), and Joe Bertoletti (bass, vocals) discovered some people started spreading monstrous misinformation at the height of the pandemic.

In response, Benes channeled that disbelief and frustration into the Ypsilanti band’s opening track, “You Monster,” from its fourth album of the same name.

Alongside explosive electric guitar, organ, and fiddle, he sings, “It’s hard to be you and me / When we can’t tell what’s true / It seems to me that we can’t agree / Even that the sky is blue.”

“That song came to me … and it was done in 20 minutes,” Benes said. “All of the lyrics and all of the music just came out, and that was what was on my mind. [It’s about] not having a common set of facts or a common language that we’re speaking anymore as people and how horrible that is.”

The title track also lays the groundwork thematically for the horrors and delights Fangs and Twang uncovers on You Monster.

The Voice Within: Mike Green Follows His Instincts on “Listening for the Bell” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Mike Green wears a burgundy T-shirt and stands in front of a brick wall.

Mike Green sings about life choices and lessons on Listening for the Bell. Photo courtesy of Mike Green.

Mike Green listened to his inner voice but wasn’t sure where it would take him.

The folk singer-songwriter, guitarist, and booking agent ruminated for years about how to share his life experiences.

“I always thought as a younger adult that I wanted to write a book of my personal philosophy, but I never had anything to say,” said Green, who resides in Ann Arbor. “Then when I started writing these songs [during the pandemic] … and all these things I’ve always thought about, they just sort of came out in poetic ways.”

What resulted were 12 insightful tales for his debut album, Listening for the Bell, which explores the ups and downs of following your instincts.

“There’s a bunch of those songs that were written that way, and I just trusted it,” said Green, who started as a touring musician in 1978. “And then what I realized early on—after studying all of this—is that I had been in songwriting school for nearly 40 years.”

That schooling came from representing artists like Utah PhillipsCarrie NewcomerJesse Winchester, and John McCutcheon as a booking agent and listening to singer-songwriters like Greg BrownKenny WhiteChris Smither, and Stephen Fearing.

“Chris Smither, probably more than anybody, is the gold standard to me on how you marry lyrics and words and have them come out … to be that way,” said Green, who started as a booking agent in 1986 and opened his own agency in 2004. “There’s no other way you can say it, and if you don’t say it just the right way, it doesn’t fit.”

The Archivist's Tale: Evan Haywood Digs Through His Past to Help Define His Musical Future On New Live Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Evan Haywood sits in his Black Ram Treehouse studio holding a red Gibson SG electric guitar.

Evan Haywood features a compelling juxtaposition of sound and genre on his latest live album, Canterbury Tales. Photo by Doug Coombe.

Evan Haywood remembers his first live solo show at Canterbury House in 2014.

The producer, musician, songwriter, rapper, visual artist, filmmaker, and digital archivist recalled feeling nervous about sharing vulnerable folk songs and playing a nylon-string guitar at the Ann Arbor venue.

“It was such a jarring experience almost to go from performing in sweaty clubs and bars where everybody’s dancing … and having a good time to this very stark, acoustic performance where I’m baring my soul,” said Haywood, a University of Michigan alumnus who had previously performed live with the local hip-hop group Tree City.

“I feel like that performance was some sort of watershed moment for me because I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I had never done a performance like that with just an acoustic guitar and myself.”

Fortunately, Haywood’s intimate performance was recorded on cassette by Fred Thomas and initially released on limited-edition tape through Thomas’ Life Like label in 2015. Today, part of that performance now appears on Haywood’s latest live album, Canterbury Tales.

“I spent the past 10 years or so honing them and working on the mixes and cleaning up some of the noise and things like that to get them to the point they’re at now,” Haywood said.

“When you’re dealing with tape, you have fewer options, so you really have to work in a detailed way to be able to massage those recordings and get the good stuff out and take some of the noise down. That’s something I’ve been tinkering with—those Canterbury House recordings—and I feel like now my tinkering is done.”

The Amplify Project and Spin Inc. Bring Detroit Electronic Music Conference to Washtenaw Community College on March 2

MUSIC INTERVIEW

The Detroit Electronic Music Conference logo shows the letters "DEMC" written in red with a gray and red cityscape outline above it.

Detroit Electronic Music Conference promotional poster detail.

After the Detroit Electronic Music Conference was put on hold last year due to a lack of venue, Rod Wallace and Ron “DJ Jungle” Johnson decided to bring the music production and DJ education event to Washtenaw County.

The heads of music nonprofits the Amplify Project and Spin Inc. will co-host the Detroit Electronic Music Conference (or “D Mack”) on March 2 at Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence Building.

“I first met DJ Jungle, who’s the executive director of Spin Inc., at a meeting with Grove [Studios], and they were looking for some opportunities to partner. Spin Inc. came and participated in our TAP IN event in 2023 and we talked about how we could collaborate,” said Wallace. about the free conference, which takes place March 2 and last occurred at the now-defunct Detroit Institute of Music Education in 2022.

“We had a conversation about his interest in bringing back the ‘D Mack,’ and I said, ‘Well, listen, we have a great partner in WCC … and [we can] tie it in with the arts management coursework that we’re teaching.’”

As part of D Mack’s preparations, the Amplify Project and Spin Inc. have enlisted WCC arts management students to help run the conference since their capstone class is built around event creation, collaboration, and execution.

Clear and Present: Darrin James looks at marriage, family, and loss on “See Right Through”

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Darrin James wears sunglasses and holds an acoustic guitar while standing next to a river.

Darrin James explores a gamut of emotions on See Right Through. Photo by Doug Coombe.

When it comes to writing about love and loss, Darrin James believes in being crystal clear.

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter and producer shares honest and vulnerable stories about marriage, family, death, and uncertainty on his latest album, See Right Through.

“A lot of people say it’s heart-on-your-sleeve. I think that’s true and it’s always how I’ve kinda written. This album came from the more reflective side of things, and you have to embrace the vulnerability to write an honest song,” said James, who plays guitar, piano, organ, and synth on his fourth full-length release.

“Sometimes those tropes can express really true feelings … and sometimes when you’re being honest, a song is easier to write. It comes out more like a diary … and you’re staring at it thinking, ‘Now that it came out of me, that’s the song—it’s done.

On See Right Through, James reveals a gamut of emotions ranging from gratitude to joy to grief to hopelessness across seven tracks. Those raw feelings come to life through the album’s personal lyrics, heartfelt roots-rock instrumentation, and dreamy synth and horn textures.

“Those were personal songs that I waited until I had [them], and it made more sense after I had the love songs to counter the sad songs. I thought, ‘Now the whole album can have an arc of not just being a sad story,’” he said.

“Because [the songs] are more personal, they’re also more universal and timeless … Those themes I’m trying to deal with are ones that everyone [experiences].”

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.