Personal Investment: Blind Liars Explore Self-Worth and Authenticity on “The Ringer” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Blind Liars' Jon Root, Eric Bates, Schala Walls, and Mari Neckar gather together at an arcade.

Blind Liars' Jon Root, Eric Bates, Schala Walls, and Mari Neckar examine self-worth and the deep emotions that accompany it on The Ringer. Photo by Kyla Preissner.

For Blind Liars, a debut album provides a vulnerable outlet for understanding one’s self-worth.

The Ypsilanti indie-rock quartet unearths deep emotions from the human psyche—including shame, disappointment, and loneliness—to reveal an authentic sense of self on The Ringer.

“A decent amount of what we have on the album deals with failure and loss and picking yourself up from it,” said Schala Walls, one of Blind Liars’ lead vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. “The very act of writing this music was kind of an investment in my self-worth, so all of the songs kind of reflect that.” 

Alongside bandmates Jon Root (lead vocals, songwriting, keys, guitar, bass) and Eric Bates (drums, bass, guitar), Walls channels personal experiences of social alienation due to neurodivergence and queerness across eight cerebral tracks. (Bassist Mari Neckar joined after the album was recorded.)

The Ringer features intimate ballads, howling sing-alongs, and emotional tales steeped in ‘60s prog-rock, shoegaze, and a kitchen sink-full of other influences.

We recently spoke to Blind Liars about the band’s formation, its newest member, the album’s theme and sound, the writing and recording process, upcoming album release shows, and future plans.

My Generation: Social Meteor Shares Everyday Struggles of Gen Z and Millennials on Self-Titled Debut Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Social Meteor's Patrick Frawley, Brad Birkle, Jordan Compton, and Paul Robison sit on an orange concrete wall.

Social Meteor explores relationships, losses, and lessons on its self-titled debut album. Photo by Kyla Preissner.

Social Meteor didn’t expect its debut album would speak for a generation—or two.

It started as a creative outlet for documenting each member’s challenges but soon evolved into a collective voice for sharing Gen Z and Millennial struggles.

“All the songs are a reflection of what our lives have been like and the struggles that we go through on a day-to-day basis living in 2023 and the past few years,” said vocalist-keyboardist Jordan Compton about the Ypsilanti indie-rock band’s new self-titled album.

“It’s honest because we didn’t intend to make some grand scheme, and we didn’t know what the theme of this album was gonna be when we picked the songs to go with it. It formed over time and reflects what it’s like to live in modern America as a younger person.”

Those reflections not only come from Compton, but also from his three Social Meteor bandmates: Paul Robison (drums, vocals), Brad Birkle (guitar, vocals), and Patrick Frawley (bass, vocals). Together, they explore relationships, losses, and lessons alongside complex emotions.

“They’re like journal entries, and it’s more of a personal approach. When we are trying to write songs, everyone writes them a little differently,” said Robison, who co-formed the group in 2019 and co-derived the band’s name from a wordplay on the term “social media.”

“The nice part about us is that we can all write songs … and something I’ve taken from them is: ‘Don’t try to pretend and be like somebody else. You can take information in from other people, but don’t fake it; try to make it real.’”

In Summary: Folk-Rocker Jeff Karoub Contemplates Life’s High Points on “Between the Commas” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Jeff Karoub holds a wooden electric guitar while sitting on a stool in an art gallery.

Jeff Karoub shares contemplative tales about life on Between the Commas. Photo by Joe Alcodray.

During his time at The Associated Press in Detroit, Jeff Karoub wrote obituaries about Motown legends, baseball coaches, and other people of note.

Those obituaries recounted life accomplishments and caused the Dearborn singer-songwriter to ponder how he’d best summarize his own life.

“At the AP, we called that ‘between the commas’—the high points of someone’s life. You know, the stuff you might be remembered for—good and bad,” said Karoub, who now works as a senior public relations representative at the University of Michigan.

“Imagine that you’re reading your obituary: What would you like it to say? What’s in there? Pack it in; you don’t have a chance afterward. You only have a chance now to start putting in the good stuff.”

Karoub advocates bringing that “good stuff” to light on the title track from his latest folk-rock album, Between the Commas. Serene electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, keys, and drums echo that sentiment as he sings, “What I offer is just one small thing / Imagine your obituary / Think of what you’d like to say / Something more than ordinary.”

“It’s not that I’m necessarily demanding that you all come gather around and listen to my wisdom; it was as much wisdom to myself,” Karoub said.

“The ideas were coming to me before my mom died [in late 2021]; she wasn’t the inspiration, but she was a catalyst. That makes it more pressing when you lose one of your parents or someone very close to you.”

Heading East: Grand Rapids Outlaw-Country Band The Bootstrap Boys Perform July 22 at Saline's Acoustic Routes Concert Series

MUSIC PREVIEW

The Bootstrap Boys include bassist Jonny Bruha, vocalist-songwriter Jake Stilson, drummer Jeff Knol, and guitarist Nick Alexander. The four men stand on an old wooden wagon during late fall.

The Bootstrap Boys share honest country stories on Hungry & Sober. Photo taken from the band's website.

The Bootstrap Boys are driving their outlaw-country anthems eastward to Saline later this month.

The Grand Rapids quartet plans to unpack rowdy tales from their five-album catalog during a July 22 Acoustic Routes show at Stony Lake Brewing Co.

The show serves as The Bootstrap Boys’ debut appearance at the decade-old Saline concert series. It’s also the only Washtenaw County stop on a current summer tour in support of their latest album, Hungry & Sober.

Throughout the album, vocalist-songwriter Jake Stilson (Big Jake Bootstrap), guitarist Nick Alexander (Nicky Bootstrap), bassist Jonny Bruha (Jonny “Bubba” Bootstrap), and drummer Jeff Knol (Jeff Bootstrap), share “cheerily nihilistic road tunes” and “sincere ruminations on family and queer identity” alongside hard-hitting, country-rock instrumentation.

“This album has more honest poetry to accompany the storytelling that’s always a part of my work,” notes Stilson on the band’s website, which credits Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Bob Wills among the band’s biggest influences. “I edited myself a lot less.”

Dig Deep: Sara Tea Reclaims Pieces From The Past on "Songs for Discarded Souls" EP

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Sara Tea reclaims pieces from the past to move forward on "Songs for Discarded Souls."

Sara Tea finds healing through reflection on Songs for Discarded Souls. Photo courtesy of Sara Tea.

Sara Tea chronicles a cathartic journey of reclamation on Songs for Discarded Souls.

The Chelsea singer-songwriter / producer unearths past fears and forges a new path for the future on her debut EP.

“You get this recipe of thoughts, feelings, and sounds, and you don’t know the impact of it. We do what we have to survive, and it’s a luxury to reflect sometimes,” Tea said.

“We piece together the life we have to get where we have to. The moments that we can reclaim pieces of ourselves … I think there is healing that can come from that. I hope that we all in our own way can do that to the best of our ability.”

Tea suffers from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) dysautonomia, which often begins after a major surgery, trauma, or a viral illness. It causes symptoms when you transition from lying down to standing up, such as a fast heart rate, dizziness, and fatigue, and creating Songs for Discarded Souls was one way she dealt with the symptoms.

Throughout the EP, Tea finds healing through five intimate tracks steeped in experimental soundscapes. Ethereal elements of ambient music, trip-hop, and indietronica seamlessly fuse with her lush vocals.

Big Picture: Ann Arbor songwriter Mark Zhu displays Confidence and Growth on recent Collaborative and Solo Releases

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Mark Zhu and Felix Lahann give listeners a confidence boost on "paint the world red."

Mark Zhu and Felix Lahann give listeners a confidence boost on "paint the world red." Photos courtesy of the artists.

Mark Zhu presents a vivid picture on the song “paint the world red.”

The pop singer-songwriter worked with hip-hop / EDM producer Felix Lahann to showcase growth and determination on this empowering hip-hop anthem.

“By openly sharing our personal experiences, we gain a sense of catharsis and self-acceptance,” said Zhu, who graduated from Ann Arbor’s Skyline High School in June.

“It reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles and that vulnerability can be a powerful tool for personal growth. Writing this track allowed us to express our vulnerabilities and showcase the strength that comes from embracing them. 

“We wanted to create a song that could serve as a source of empowerment and encouragement for listeners, so the idea of ‘painting the world red’ represents how our music, ideas, and confidence is contagious enough to influence others.”

Bold Ambition: Adam Labeaux Explores the Power of Courage and Vulnerability on “Brace Face” Album

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Adam Labeaux sings about the human condition on "Brave Face."

Adam Labeaux sings about the human condition on Brave Face. Photo by Natalia Holtzman.

Adam Labeaux searches for the true meaning of courage in himself and others on Brave Face.

The folk-rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist explores the power of tenacity, vulnerability, and authenticity on his latest album.

“It does have a lot to do with these central themes, and these are things I tend to touch on a lot, including the human condition,” said Labeaux, who resides in Ann Arbor.

“I tend to write dark folk, and I gravitate toward this subject matter and a focal point that maybe people don’t want to look at all the time. But I always have hope, and I always feel there's positivity to come out.”

That positivity and courage shine across Brave Face’s dozen tracks, which feature earnest lyrics, passionate vocals, and ‘70s-inspired folk-rock instrumentation flavored with jazz and soul. Imagine if Labeaux formed a new supergroup with members of the E Street Band, Steely Dan, and Toto.

“I’m the first to admit that sometimes I write songs to give myself words of encouragement that I’m not getting from someone else,” said Labeaux about his fourth album. 

“If nothing else, I find that when I’m at my lowest and when I’m most manic that usually it means I haven’t been writing enough. I haven’t been expressing it, and I really need to get into that space and have that cathartic moment.”

Sounds of the City: Ann Arbor Celebrates Inaugural Make Music Day on Summer Solstice

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Rollie Tussing performs outside AADL's Westgate Branch for Make Music Day.

Rollie Tussing performs outside AADL's Westgate Branch for Make Music Day. Photo by Maddie Fancett.

The international Make Music Day offered sumptuous sounds for the summer solstice.

The inaugural Ann Arbor edition on June 21 included nearly 30 acts at 13 venues across town and celebrated a variety of genres, including jazz, Indian classical, folk, blues, power-pop, R&B, flowerpot music, electronic, and more.

The Ann Arbor District Library coordinated the free daylong music event, which featured amateur and professional musicians performing at theaters, parks, art galleries, coffee shops, and other community spaces.

AADL and the local community captured videos and photos from the Make Music Day performances:

Between the Lines: The City Lines use a mix of Americana, power-pop, and punk to explore emotional 'Memories' on second album

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The City Lines' Skott Schoonover, Bob Zammit, Pat Deneau, Megan Marcoux, and Jason Rhoades perform at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor.

The City Lines' Skott Schoonover, Bob Zammit, Pat Deneau, Megan Marcoux, and Jason Rhoades perform at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Photo by Sam Harms Photography.

The City Lines’ vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter Pat Deneau links personal stories as a father, husband, firefighter, and tribal member into a perceptive collection of songs on his band’s latest album, Analog Memories.

“Particularly, I like the idea that every song—kind of like city lines—butts up to each other … and continues some sort of throughline,” said Deneau, who is a firefighter with the Ann Arbor Fire Department and a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“I like how the first tune ‘Different This Year’ opens up with this thought like, ‘OK, a fresh start,’ and I reference [our first album] Waiting on a Win in the second line. It’s this idea of ‘I’m tired of waiting on wins; I just gotta go out and get one.’

“That feeling is carried through to the end of the record on the final song [‘Finding a Way’] where I’m singing to my daughter. The notion there is I have to be better for her and how do you get there? You just have to find a way.”

While wrestling with existential ideas on Analog Memories’ seven tracks, Deneau finds his way forward through spirited choruses, propulsive power-pop-punk instrumentation, and a touch of classic Americana twang.

“There’s a line from ‘Far Enough’ that says ‘Looking back far enough / So I can move forward,’” said Bob Zammit, The City Lines’ drummer. “If you’re going to grab a lyric and be like, ‘Here’s the creative brief for what we’re doing here after the fact,’ I think it’s that.”

The City Lines will bring their Analog Memories tracks to life on June 21 outside the Downtown Library for Make Music Day, a free musical celebration with concerts by musicians across the city on the summer solstice.

Bandmates Skott Schoonover (bass), Jason Rhoades (lead guitar), and Megan Marcoux (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), will join Deneau and Zammit for the performance.

We recently spoke to Deneau and Zammit about their backgrounds, the band’s formation, the creative process for Analog Memories, select tracks from the album, their Make Music Day performance, and upcoming plans.

Holistic Healing: The Prog-Rockers in Cat Lung Find Slivers of Hope and Connection on “Fragments” Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Cat Lung's Pamela Benetti, David Beauchesne, Diane Crang, and Steven Crang stand outside near two tree stumps with a group of trees behind them.

Cat Lung's Pamela Benetti, David Beauchesne, Diane Crang, and Steven Crang make a plea for healing on Fragments. Photo courtesy of Cat Lung.

After feeling torn apart during the pandemic, Cat Lung assembled a holistic approach to healing on Fragments.

The Ann Arbor prog-rock quartet replaced shards of disillusionment and loss with slivers of hope and connection on its sophomore album.

“I was doing a lot of the lyric writing over the pandemic, and there was a lot of stuff that was going on—societal unrest, oppression, violence, climate change—you name it,” said Diane “Impi P.” Crang, one of the band’s vocalists and a multi-instrumentalist. “There’s so much nastiness in the news, and that’s where the lyric ‘what a world’ came from.’”

That lyric repeatedly appears in Cat Lung’s insightful title track, which features guitarist Pamela “Pammy Whammy” Benetti, bassist Steven “Even Steven” Crang, and drummer-percussionist/vocalist David “Dr. David” Beauchesne with Diane “Impi P.” Crang trying to process a divisive world alongside chaotic instrumentation.

Crang sings, “What a world, what a world / What a world we’re living in / When does sanity begin? / Patience gradually wearing thin / Graciousness can be found within.”

“The music for this track was initially written by Pam about 30 years ago, and we dusted it off, polished it up, and I wrote lyrics for it. The song is an observation, as well as a plea for us all to do better—for ourselves and for each other,” said Crang, who joined the band after husband Steven Crang, Benetti, and Beauchesne met through two different craigslist ads in 2016. “The four of us are all pretty done with the ugliness in the world and hope for better days ahead. In the end, Fragments being the title of the album was one on which we could all agree.”