Nick Shoulders & The Okay Crawdad Takes Country Music Back to Its Roots

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nick Shoulders wears a white tank top and sits on a couch holding a violin.

Shoulders is a staple in the current “pseudo-new wave” of Americana/country music that’s been a dominant genre for years now. Photo by Nick Futch.

Nick Shoulders doesn't think the stereotypical images of country music are sexy. 

“We’re living in the same world as red scares, endless wars, pandemics, and bank failures that the origins of country music identified with,” said Shoulders, who's from Fayetteville, Arkansas. “The endless wars and the scary stuff that was forming early country music is far more of the reality I inhabit. That’s what I try to channel through in my craft. I’m not doing this because it's Civil War recreation stuff or because it’s mired in an experience that’s really far away. It’s still with us.”

After going viral during the pandemic with a performance of his track, “Snakes and Waterfalls,” Shoulders has become a beloved token of the best the country/Americana genre has to offer. Having now amassed over 3 million views, the video features Shoulders in his true nature: in the middle of the forest, singing (and yodeling) on a tree stump alongside his dog. 

In 2019, Shoulders released his first full-length album Okay, Crawdad after his 2018 EP, Lonely Like Me. And last year, Shoulder released his fourth record, All Bad, a live-recorded, 14-track showcase of Shoulders at his best. The record was released via Gar Hole Records, the label Shoulders founded and co-owns, and is the first album released with his former band, The Okay Crawdad, since their pandemic hiatus. 

Shoulders is a staple in the current “pseudo-new wave” of Americana/country music that’s been a dominant genre for years now. But with the help of platforms like TikTok, certain songs are lassoing in fans whose only prior exposure to country music might be to the sterile, strangely sexualized tunes that dominate the top charts. But with this success, Shoulders grapples with the cultural challenges the genre faces. 

Mary Gaitskill Reflects on Her Latest Works and Extensive Career During U-M's Zell Visiting Writers Series Event

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

A portrait of Mary Gaitskill wearing a gray sweater.

Mary Gaitskill. Photo courtesy of The Helen Zell Writers' Program.

According to writer and University of Michigan alumna Mary Gaitskill, almost nothing is unbelievable and people are weird. Her work often reflects this notion with morally ambiguous characters, a gritty detailing of misconduct, and a complete rejection of clean-cut, black-and-white narratives. 

Quin, the protagonist of her acclaimed 2019 novella, This Is Pleasure, is one of her weirdest characters. In Quin's mind, his flirtatious workplace actions weren’t all that bad. When women began coming forward about feeling violated, he became caught off guard. 

“There was a cultural landscape for a while at least where he existed—I’m not saying it would be acceptable to everybody,” Gaitskill explained about Quin. “I’m sure he did offend some people, but because of his position, I think he didn’t realize he was offending people.”

Gaitskill shared her latest works and extensive literary experience during a March 21 reading and Q&A at the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Helmut Stern Auditorium. Hosted by the Zell Visiting Writers Series, an annual showcase sponsored by The Helen Zell Writers’ Program, it brings fiction writers and poets to U-M’s campus to host public readings and lectures.

Initially published in The New YorkerThis Is Pleasure dominated literary circles due to its unlikely telling of a story of the “#MeToo” movement, a social campaign aimed at exposing people, especially those in positions of authority, involved in sexual misconduct. 

It offers a complex narrative about two characters, Quin and Margot, who find themselves entwined with the tendrils of a public sexual misconduct scandal. Quin—a husband, father, and New York book editor—loses his career once young women start coming forward about his wrongdoings. Margot is Quin’s former co-worker, and after rejecting his sexual advances early in their working relationship, the two became close friends in the industry. When Quin’s name hits the front pages of tabloids, the two navigate the complex intersections of power, guilt, and manipulation. 

Just like "Heaven": Kingfisher's confident and inventive widescreen debut LP balances intimate vocals and expansive instrumentation

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kingfisher gathered in the Duderstadt studio on U-M's North Campus.

Kingfisher gathered in the Duderstadt studio on U-M's North Campus. Photo courtesy of the band.

For the past few years, Kingfisher has balanced college life with band life. But after the University of Michigan’s spring graduation, some members will head off to other Midwestern areas while others will stick around to complete their degrees.

The band might be closing a chapter but Kingfisher’s story will continue to unfold.

“The plan is to keep going,” said Sam DuBose (vocals, lyrics, guitar). “Things will definitely change. I mean, right now we’re all like three blocks from each other. But we had the conversation a while ago about what we were going to do, and all of us want to continue. We all love this group so much.”

Unlike most college bands though, Kingfisher isn’t fond of covers.

“We’ve actually never played a cover song at a show,” said Tyler Thenstedt (bass, vocals). “It’s been original music since the get-go. I would say that’s what people sort of know us for. A lot of Ann Arbor bands are incredible, but what sets us apart is that it has always been original music.”

From Solitude to the Stage: Post Eden’s debut album is a trip to achieve "Solace in Entropy"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Post Eden pose inside a bar wearing '80s new wave sunglasses.

If you ask the men of Ann Arbor’s Post Eden what their tagline “musical fusion” means, they really couldn’t tell you. More of a tongue-in-cheek umbrella term than an attempt to grasp a genre, the group really only started taking themselves seriously in the past two years.

Just not too seriously. 

“At the end of the day, we’re doing this for fun,” lead guitarist Nick Noteman said. “Yes, we take a lot of the music we write seriously and some of our songs have deep undertones, but music is supposed to be fun—the ‘musical fusion’ is us noting that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Former high school cross-country runners Noteman, Pat Murray (lead vocalist and guitarist), Abe Worth (bassist), and Alex Bowling (drummer) started Post Eden after a year and a half of playing together. 

“There’s a lot of time when you’re stuck in the middle of the woods to sit and talk about stuff,” Murray said. “You’re running for miles, and you become really good friends with people.”

Post Eden’s debut album, Solace in Entropy, came out in January. The record was named after the chaos of life, especially during the COVID-19 era, and the comfort that playing together brought the musicians. Solace in Entropy begins with a series of footsteps that guide listeners to 11 tracks that signify months of hard work and fine-tuning. Post Eden’s sound is a mix of Rage Against the Machine, Pink Floyd, and King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, tied together with ’70s psychedelic and ’90s grunge influences. 

"This Was It": Normal Park Reflects on Its Decade-in-the-Making Debut Album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Ypsilanti fuzz-rock trio Normal Park

Normal Park's Jordan Mosley, McKinnon Main, and Anthony Scott seized making their debut album this was it in Ypsilanti and Wyandotte. Photo courtesy of Normal Park.

“So we’ll take process over outcome,” Jordan Mosley sings—or rather yells— on the sixth track, “settle,” from Normal Park’s this was it.

Mosley is the lead vocalist of an Ypsilanti fuzz-rock band of three high school friends who have been making music together for over a decade. Mosley is joined by drummer McKinnon Main and guitarist Anthony (Tony) Scott. Last October, the group finally finished the process and seized an outcome: its debut album, this was it.

Nestled midway through the album is one of the group’s favorite and most important tracks, “settle.” Like any great Midwest emo song, it begins on the porch. You can practically smell the American Spirits when you tune in.

“‘Cause staying in is much like going out / at least when we still had the choice / but since we don’t we can just make it easier to / settle the mind behind these red-laced bedroom eyes,” the chorus rings. 

Although it may sound like an ode to quarantine, “settle” raises questions about fate, the promise of temporary relief, and what the future holds. It starts with a dance on the porch, teetering between going out and staying in, and by the end, you’re invited inside.

“It was kind of a lynchpin where it seemed to connect all the songs around it,” Scott said. “But it also felt like a real step forward lyrically for us. To step out of our comfort zone instrumentally was also a driving factor, and we really felt like we had something at that point.”