Video Premiere: Evan Haywood's politically pointed "Do Right by My Kin"

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Evan Haywood's Perfumed Gardens is a gutbucket folk-rock album soaked in reverb and passion. In addition to 11 Haywood originals, he covers songs by Cody ChesnuTT, Gypsy Trips, Dave Bixby, and Roy Acuff, all while evoking Bob Dylan circa his Rolling Thunder Revue stage where he played with loose abandon.

The album came out in August 2018, but the Ann Arbor-based Haywood didn't release a video for songs on the album -- until now.  

"Do Right by My Kin," which premieres here on Pulp, is a screed against the rise of far-right conservatism, racism, and hatred that has increased in the United States since the 2016 election. The song's targets are obvious and so is Haywood's rage when he sings, "Do me a favor and do right by my kin / Better love your neighbor / Or we gonna make you pay for your sin."

I talked with Haywood over email about why he decided to release the video now, how it was created, and the song's influences, as well as the status of two other projects he's working on: the long-delayed new album by the hip-hop collective Tree City and a film he shot about Jamaica's music and politics.

Innovation & Education: "Welcome to Commie High" documents the history and influence of Ann Arbor's legendary school

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Welcome to Commie High

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing teachers and administrators to improvise ways to serve their pupils academically, mostly through virtual learning and online academies. Other imaginative approaches will be introduced as the pandemic drags on, spotlighting the skills of educators and showing how resourceful they can be when not stuck on a treadmill of prepping kids for standardized tests.

But one school in Ann Arbor has been using innovative educational approaches for nearly 50 years.

Ann Arbor's Community High School started in 1972 with a "school without walls" concept. A handful of other schools across the country adopted similar approaches, where structured curricula were abandoned in favor of flexible programs that best fit individual students' needs, with a focus on real-world education.

But the Community model never expanded deeply into the mainstream. 

Until now. (Kinda.)

A heavily modified variation of Community's wall-free education approach is being tested during the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems inevitable that some of these outside-the-box ideas will be incorporated into schools once this over and society deals with our new normal.

Welcome to Commie Higha new documentary by Ypsilanti-based filmmaker Donald Harrison, shows the school's unique approach to education, from its hippie-era beginnings to its place in the modern landscape, talking to students and teachers from the past and present about what makes Community special -- and effective.

The movie was to premiere as part of the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF). But with the entire event being moved to a livestream on Vimeo due to the lockdown, Harrison and the AAFF are are offering Welcome to Commie High as fundraising rental. The movie will be available to rent for $9.99 from 10 am, March 30 to 10 am, April 1; each rental will be active for 48 hours. The rental fee will be split two ways: 50 percent of the proceeds will go to the AAFF to help offset costs and the rest will be put toward the distribution of the documentary. Click here to pre-order the rental.

Harrison answered some questions via email about Welcome to Commie High.

Erin Craig's fantasy-horror YA novel "House of Salt and Sorrows" tells the mysterious story of 12 sisters facing a deathly curse

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Author photo by Cyndi Whipkey.

House of Salt and Sorrows, a fantasy-horror young adult novel, opens with a funeral and a grim question: which of 12 sisters will be the next to fall prey to a supposed curse and die?

This first novel by Erin Craig, a graduate of the University of Michigan, stars a strong female protagonist, Annaleigh Thaumas, who is the sixth of her siblings. As she ponders the latest death -- that of her sister Eulalie, who fell from a cliff -- Annaleigh imagines, "her falling through the air, the look of confusion on her face turning to horror as she realized that there was no escaping this, no way to go back and make it right.”

Annaleigh, however, begins to suspect that foul play is at fault for her sisters’ deaths, instead of a curse. She becomes determined to figure out who is behind the madness before more tragedies overtake her family. Eulalie’s sudden demise prompts Annaleigh to consider that, “Though it was all conjecture, I felt I was on the right path. My sister’s death had not been an accident. It had not been part of some dark curse. She was murdered. And I was going to prove it.”

Following Annaleigh on her search for answers becomes as tempestuous as the seas on which the Thaumas family lives. Along the way, Annaleigh falls in love, dances at balls both magnificent and grotesque, and sees ghosts and gods.

Throughout House of Salt and Sorrows, it becomes increasingly clear that people and places are not what they seem at first glance -- or even at second glance. Whether it all can be righted again is an ongoing question as tragedies continue to befall the Duke of the Salann Islands and his many daughters.

Craig’s novel was published last year. She currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and is planning a return to her Michigan roots. I interviewed her by email about her connection to Ann Arbor, opera background, writing process, reading, and upcoming plans.

Extended Stay: Lotus Hotel offers tranquil indie rock accommodations

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Lotus Hotel

Tim Everett of Lotus Hotel. Photo by Erin Wakeland.

Ann Arbor indie rock singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tim Everett opened the doors to his Lotus Hotel project more than a year ago and began booking a local following with four hypnotic, stirring singles filled with poetic lyrics, soulful vocals, and a sound that strives to transport people away from their everyday lives.

“I love the idea of playing with time and the idea of inviting listeners into a space where it’s completely removed from reality," Everett said. "It’s like a different dimension where you can leave yourself at the door and leave whatever worries you have elsewhere and just kind of be in that nice space with good sounds for a while."

Night Moves & Funny Dudes: Matt Braunger at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Matt Braunger

Matt Braunger thinks Ann Arbor is a hellhole, which is why he does stand-up here a lot.

This interview originally ran on March 9, 2017. Braunger returns to the Ann Arbor Comedy Club from March 12-14, 2020.

Portland-raised, Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian Matt Braunger has been a regular fixture in comedy clubs and on late night talk shows for over 10 years with his brand of introspective observational comedy. Braunger, 42, will be getting married later this year for the first time and is currently working on new material for a new hour-long special during his Enraged to be Married tour that hits Ann Arbor this week.

In the late 1990s, fresh out of college, Braunger moved to Chicago where he worked with improvisational guru Del Close, and along with comedians like Hannibal Buress and Kyle Kinane helped create an alternative comedy scene in a city that didn’t have one. Finally deciding on stand-up instead of improv, Braunger moved to Los Angeles to further his career, eventually landing a spot on the final season of MADtv in 2009.

Since the end of MADtv, Braunger has been a regular on the NBC comedy Up All Night, had a recurring role in the second season of Agent Carter on ABC, and most recently appeared on Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s Seeso comedy Take My Wife. Along with his acting appearances, Braunger has also released three comedy albums and appeared as Bruce Springsteen in the Channel 101 series Yacht Rock.

Braunger will appear Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 March 12-14, 2020, at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and we talked to him about Midwestern comedy scenes, his upcoming special, politics, his podcast, a new Amazon Prime series, and Bob Seger.

Camille Pagán's witty, character-driven "This Won't End Well" follows a woman trying to take control of her life

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Camille Pagan, This Won't End Well

Camille Pagán’s new novel, This Won’t End Well, came to her while she and her family were vacationing in France. 

“[The main character’s] experience in Paris is partially modeled on our last trip to Paris -- particularly the part that [occurs] in Montmartre, the wonderful neighborhood where our family rented an apartment. We spent eight days there, the same week France captured the World Cup, and though this book is wholly fictional, I recreated much of our travel experience in it,” explained Pagán, a University of Michigan alumna who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and two kids. 

But eight days was a lot of family time, according to Pagán, who’s used to spending long stretches alone in front of her computer screen. So the day after her birthday, she went for a walk alone while her husband took their kids to a park on the Seine. 

“I was strolling along the river, watching the water rush wildly and thinking about what a feat it is to successfully manage relationships -- even, or maybe especially, when they’re with people you love the most -- when a single sentence popped into my head: ‘Hello seems like such an innocuous word, but it’s really a portal to loss,’” Pagán said. 

This is the opening sentence to This Won’t End Well, where Pagán introduces her newest character, a chemist named Annie Marks who is unlike any of the protagonists in the author's previous five novels.

Tanya Shaffer and Vienna Teng's musical "The Fourth Messenger" offers a contemporary view of the Buddha  

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Fourth Messenger

Meditation is meant to focus the mind by clearing away random thoughts. But sometimes meditation may inspire a radical new idea.

Playwright Tanya Shaffer had such an inspiration that led to the creation of The Fourth Messenger, an unusual musical about the Buddha that will be given a concert staging at The Ark on March 14 as a fundraiser for the venue's Spotlight Series.

“The idea came to me on a nine-day silent retreat when I was supposed to be clearing my mind,” she said. “I was thinking about the story of Buddha’s enlightenment, where he sat under a tree and vowed not to get up until he found enlightenment. Then for many days and nights, all the temptations of the world are trying to get him up. And it came to me that would be cool as a song and dance, the temptations standing under a tree and then thinking the whole story would be a musical because it has that scale of a hero’s quest and so I got excited on the retreat and for many hours forgot about my breath and I thought about the musical.”

Ann Arbor webcomic creator Bill Kerschbaum builds "Forge" with Hammer and Nail

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Bill Kerschbaum and the cover from the first chapter of Forge

Independent content marketer Bill Kerschbaum encourages his clients to consider a comics format to convey their messages. 

“Video is a powerful way to tell visual stories in marketing, but comics also provide great benefits that no other medium offers. It’s a largely untapped opportunity, but it can deliver great results,” said Kerschbaum, 49, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children. 

He’s also writing a webcomic series called Forge, which is illustrated by Phillip Lowe.

Based on these details, one would assume Kerschbaum’s been a lifelong comics fan, but that’s not the case.

“Actually, I came into comics pretty late," he said. "Only in the last few years. But when I discovered comics as an adult, I was absolutely floored by one series in particular: Rust by Royden Lepp. Stunning artwork and a heart-wrenching story. It’s still one of my all-time favorites."

Water Music: Kat Steih's "Hymns of the Huron" takes inspiration from Ann Arbor's liquid landmark

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Kat Steih

Photo by Jamie Chiu

The Huron River is one of the unifying elements of the greater Ann Arbor area, so it's not surprising that it has provided inspiration to a local singer-songwriter, Kat Steih, for her recent album, Hymns of the Huron: “I’d really like to focus on using my voice as a musician to make connections between things. I’d like to advocate for holistic music/creative education, women in creative fields, and water rights.” 

Steih will get to support water rights when she performs benefit for the Huron River Watershed Council on March 27 at Triple Goddess Tasting Room in Ypsilanti.

Hymns of the Huron features a fully realized sound, led by Steih’s rich, expressive voice. She’s backed on the record by Jesse Morgan, piano; Ben Lorenz, drums (who also produced); Jason Magee, guitar; and Kristin von Bernthal, bass and backup vocals. Steih wrote all the songs on the album. It opens with “Hole in My Heart,” placing sorrowful lyrics against a jaunty melody. The poppy “I Need a Friend” similarly establishes an infectious groove over a serious theme, while “I Haven’t Seen a Couple …” is a thoughtful heartbreak song. A sense of sadness and longing runs throughout much of the album, until “Don’t Push Me Away” brings in a sense of hope and “You’re Not Gonna Lose Me” concludes the record with a reassuring promise. 

Steih answered a few questions via email.

Michigan-based theater artists create "The Call of the Void," a sci-fi audio drama set in New Orleans

THEATER & DANCE INTERVIEW

The Call of the Void

The Call of the Void is a sci-fi audio drama following Topher and Etsy as they look for the truth behind a mysterious illness taking hold of victims in modern-day New Orleans. The audio drama has 10,000 listens in 54 different countries on 14 different streaming platforms -- and it was all created in a living room in Pinckney, Michigan.

Creators, lead voice actors, and engaged couple Josie Eli Lapczynski and Michael Herman are theater artists who are using podcast technology to share their talents with a global audience through a nine-part series podcast audio drama. 

While immersing themselves in sci-fi culture by reading HP Lovecraft, binging shows like Stranger Things and listening to the podcast Rabbits, Lapczynski and Herman decided to make their own sci-fi audio drama.

“We wanted to make a television show for your ears,” said Lapczynski. “In the last year, we've also been getting more and more into cosmic horror. We knew we wanted to create something in this genre and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, but rather than write about Cthulhu, we wanted to make our own monster, and so The Call of the Void was born."