PLAYING DETROIT: decliner Set Expectations Ablaze on Debut EP Remember

Playing Detroit
Photo Credit: Sidd Finch

The members of brand-new Detroit trio decliner can’t decide if they’re a punk band or not. “I don’t consider decliner punk,” says bassist and beat-maker Steve Stravropoulous. “I think there’s a difference between Tim and I because Tim thinks it’s a punk band and I don’t… the more he thinks it’s punk the more I try to make it not that.” Genre label aside, the group – made up of Stavropoulous, Rob Luzynski (vocals), and Tim Barret (guitar) – certainly embodied the punk lifestyle whilst making their debut EP, Remember, out today on FXHE records.

The recording process, which is generally known to be long and arduous, took decliner about four hours and was produced and engineered by notable Detroit producer and techno artist Omar S, aka Alexander Omar Smith. The experience boiled down to two distinct lenses for the members of decliner. “I was drunk and having fun so I wasn’t stressed,” says Luzynski. “I was drunk and stressed,” adds Stavropoulous. The stress element was mostly due to the shock of the fact that the band was actually recording. They went into the session with the idea that they were going to show Smith a couple songs, see if he liked them, and leave. Instead, they went in, recorded one track of each song live to a Tascam 16-track recorder, and had an EP. “I was like, ‘damn, I’m not sure how I feel about this,’ because it’s just not how Steve and I usually work,” says Barret.

Without the ability to add overdubs or edit the tracks after the fact, the band had one shot to get it right, and they laid everything on the line. “You can hear in some of the tracks that my voice is giving out basically,” says Luzynski. “Like, in ‘Know,’ that’s me almost passed out…like I almost passed out from doing that.” For someone whose entire musical career up to this point has been making rap music, it makes sense that Luzynski felt winded after a few hours straight of deep, guttural singing. But despite that it was his first time dabbling in this uncharted vocal register, Luzynski’s disquieting vocals sound like they’ve been brewing in the depths of his soul all along, waiting for the right time to come out. 

On “Burn,” the first and only single from the EP, decliner encapsulates the isolation of dead winter and the destructive paths we can go down to try and escape it. Barret’s whirring guitar and Stavropoulous’s unabating bass-line paint a vivid picture of quotidian mundanity. January in Detroit, when this EP was recorded, is always one of the most desolate months, especially during a pandemic. Plagued with iced over streets and sparse sunlight, a stillness sweeps over the city, making it easy for loneliness to make its bed in your home. Luzynski captures this bleakness with his blunt lyricism: “Man this weather’s really something/I can barely feel my face/I keep falling, someone catch me/Before I go up in flames.” 

Luzynski explains that the song is a capsule for how he was feeling at the time they recorded, and also serves as a vague warning for the things that lure us in at times of darkness. “It’s thinking about the moth to the flame… things that can save you but also be your demise,” says Luzynski.

The video for “burn,” out exclusively via Playground Detroit last Friday, personifies this sentiment without allowing the band to fall too deep into despair. It starts by introducing the band hanging out in an attic, getting ready to record. Luzynski drinks a mysterious liquid and is transported into another realm, presumably by the UFO that makes frequent appearances. In this barren realm, Luzynski is found alone and desperate, climbing to nowhere and constantly being set ablaze. It honestly just kind of seems like an acid trip gone terribly wrong. But we find moments of levity when the camera pans back to the attic, watching the band play while Luzynski sits in a trance state, or finding the friends clinking beers on a sunny day. These brief moments of reprieve serve as a reminder that the dark times don’t last forever. 

In that same vein, decliner don’t aim to take themselves too seriously. As musicians with multiple projects, the artists started decliner more or less on a whim, prompted by a few texts from Omar S. “Omar was texting me like, ‘I wanna record your band,’” says Stavropoulous, “and was simultaneously texting Rob, ‘I wanna record your band.’” Luzynski adds, “We didn’t have a band yet.” So, the two thought it was the perfect opportunity to join creative forces, because when Omar S. says he wants to record your band, you show up with a band. The preparation for the actual session was minimal. Stavropoulous and Barret had skeletons for the tracks and thought that Luzynski’s energetic stage presence would be a good match. Again, having only used his voice for rapping previously, it was a bit of a process for Luzynski to finalize his vocal style. But he had Smith to guide him in the right direction. “He said ‘I want you to sing like you’re watching your house burn down or someone just put out a cigarette in your eye,’” remembers Luzynski.  

Up to the challenge, Luzynski said he used his trademark method of “kush and push” – smoking a joint and doing some push ups – before recording, and it more or less worked out. “I totally did push ups in Conant Gardens party store to get ready as I was relatively inebriated on PBRs,” says Luzynski. His straining vocals make a novel pair to the undulating instrumentation and four on the floor techno beats, marrying the sensation of dissociating at a basement rave with the relentless energy of moshing at a hardcore show. The group describes the project as an “exploration of sound” that pulls from their varied musical backgrounds. Put simply, Stavropoulous adds, “We’re just dumb boys doing our thing. We’re doing our best and we’re gonna try.” Sounds pretty punk to me. 

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