Detroit’s Local Artist Community Responds to Quarantine

Curtis Roach Photo Credit: Myron Watkins

It’s been a week since the “Shelter in Place” mandate was issued by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, but many Detroiters have been self-quarantined for much longer. Most businesses have closed their doors, thousands are out of jobs, and you’re likely to see more plastic bags blowing in the wind than actual people on your daily walk. Put simply, shit is getting dark. But, the incredibly thin silver lining to all of this is the output from Detroit’s creative community. Whether it’s pre-planned new releases, quarantine-inspired songs, live streams or covers that are helping them cope, these songs offer a temporary solace from the ‘rona blues.

If you are working from home and have a little extra to spare, don’t forget to support these and other musicians via Bandcamp or by buying merch, as many have lost income due to venue closures/not being able to tour! There are also many artist coalitions you can donate to that will spread the love to those in need – NPR has a great list of those here.

“Just Wait Till Next Year” (John Maus cover) – Primer

Electronic producer and songwriter Primer (Alyssa Midcalf) shares her own haunting rendition of John Maus’s “Just Wait Till Next Year.” Midcalf’s melodramatic vocal style is a perfect match for Maus’s twisted lyrics, which seem more righteously delivered by a female voice anyway. Midcalf’s synth-driven production style adds a lush urgency to the track that feels especially pertinent to the times.

“The song is the most honest and vulnerable song about longing and the frustration and aggravation that comes with it that I’ve heard. It resonated with me, but I also felt I would be able to do it justice. And making music is the only thing I’ve been doing to cope with the reality of being in a global pandemic.” – Alyssa Midcalf

“Bored in the house” – Curtis Roach

Detroit-based hip hop artist Curtis Roach accidentally created a viral TikTok that perfectly sums up what most of us are feeling right now. The sound from the original TikTok has been used by a myriad of celebrities – Tyga, Keke Palmer, Chance the Rapper and more – and has even developed to a full-on Curtis Roach x Tyga compilation. Roach’s sunny personality and inherent sensibility for beat and melody make him a magnetic internet personality, and someone to reference when you need a little cheering up.

“How ‘Bored in the house’ came about… I really made that out of pure boredom. There’s nothing more, nothing less. I make funny tik toks all the time and this was one of those times where I was just bored and didn’t know what to do. I come up with melodies all the time. I’m an artist first off, so it’s natural to me. If I’m going for a walk, I might sing a little melody about me going for a walk, or when I’m brushing my teeth, I might write a melody about that, so it’s like, super natural to me. I made it like a week and half before we were all on lockdown going into quarantine. I didn’t know that all of this was going to happen, this is all new to me like it’s new to everyone else, so the reaction, like everybody using the sound and celebrities posting it…it’s just like tremendous, it’s super incredible it’s crazy, it’s kind of overwhelming. I’m just appreciating the blessings from everything coming from this.” – Curtis Roach

“Beyond” – Anya Baghina

Beloved Detroit songwriter and frontwoman of the band Soviet Girls, Anya Baghina shares a song from her eponymous solo project. The recording is as haunting and distant as the song’s muse. Baghina’s intrinsic talent for detailing ordinary heartbreaks in crystal clear metaphor truly hits from unexpected angles. Ultimately, it’s a song for reflecting, wallowing, moving on.

“Recorded live to a 4 track tape recorder, ‘Beyond’ embodies the desperation of finding the answer in fading relationships. A liberating yet conflicting moment when you realize that something or someone doesn’t hold the same meaning anymore. As our reality is being disrupted and redefined by the pandemic, the things that we value are changing. Maybe just temporarily, but hopefully for the long run too. This song identifies with the feelings of loss through acknowledgment and reflection. Something we can all relate to at this time, unfortunately, because of the shared trauma we are experiencing.” – Anya Baghina

“Steal My Sunshine” (Len cover) – Ben Collins

Minihorse frontman and songwriter Ben Collins blessed our Instagram feeds with a subtle and sweet version of Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” The stripped-down performance is a departure from Minihorse’s lush garage-rock layers and showcases Collins’ calming vocals.

“There were a few songs I used to sing at karaoke with my old bandmates, and ‘Steal My Sunshine’ was something that Leah Diehl (Lightning Love) and I attempted once or twice. It’s an amazing song, but also lyrically dense and nonsensical which I love. I had a bunch of cover requests come in over Instagram, and some were really amazing songs, but as a pathologically lazy jerk, I went for the one I already knew. And with the looper, I’m able to sing my own backups, which is fitting during this lonely apocalypse!” – Ben Collins

“The Ice Creams” – The Ice Creams

Multi-disciplinary artist Emily Roll joined forces with their partner, Fred Thomas, to compose and record an entire punk EP in all of ninety minutes. It’s grungy, ironic, creepy, and, at times, hilarious. I love it.

“So, Emily and I have worked on a bunch of different creative pursuits together over the years, playing together in Tyvek, doing performance pieces, etc, and since a lot of stuff is on hold right now for everyone’s musical output, we just decided to jam in the studio space I work at last Sunday night. A pressure/frustration/anxiety release. We didn’t start playing with any musical concept outside of long ago coming up with ‘The Ice Creams’ as a sick name for a potential future band. We jammed and recorded for about an hour and a half, not really improvising or writing songs, but some weird trance-like version that incorporated both. If we hit on an idea we liked, we’d try it a few times. We recorded the entire session and later pulled out the most realized takes. Emily played synth and sang, I played a floor tom and a snare drum. We posted a few videos on our Instagrams that night and several unrelated people told me it reminded them of the soundtrack from a movie from 1980 called Liquid Sky. We will probably jam again and hopefully play a show or two whenever shows begin again.” – Fred Thomas

“Existence” by Carmel Liburdi

Folk-pop songstress Carmel Liburdi shared her original song “Existence,” a soothing and reassuring tune about harnessing your true self and focusing on gratitude. Liburdi’s charming and sweet demeanor is a perfect match for this uplifting song that sprinkles a little hope into the void. She sang the song for a series called Lullabies for Detroit,”  a Facebook group dedicated to spreading peace and wisdom in the community.

“When I wrote that song I was feeling sentimental about the people and experiences I’ve had in my life and, as cheesy as it may sound, how grateful I am for all of it. It’s such a personal and meaningful song to me, I felt it would be good for Lullabies From Detroit because of that intimate feel. I really want/wanted to offer a sense of comfort and capture the feeling of the ups and downs of life and how we can transcend the tough times. There is so much uncertainty, loneliness, and anxiety in a time of isolation like this, it felt good to connect—even virtually—and share those personal feelings, as a way to tell people I see them, I hear them, I care, and that we’re all connected in our shared human experience.” – Carmel Liburdi

“6-Step Program” – Mathew Daher

Nothing is more welcomed right now than a chance to give your mind a break from the madness. Detroit-based experimental multi-instrumentalist created this truly hypnotizing sonic and visual experience to do exactly that. Entitled “6-Step Program,” the film welcomes the viewer into a mindful meditation exercise. Possibly enjoyed even more if you burn one before watching.

6-Step Program from Matthew Daher on Vimeo.

“‘6-Step Program” is a meditation both about and born of pandemic-induced isolation, uncertainty, and channeling restless energy.

Amidst this social distancing, it feels like ways of social and physical connecting that we’ve taken for granted have become objects of fantasy and longing. I’ve been really curious about what kinds of fantasies of physical togetherness and touch people are having right now. I’ve also been thinking a lot about people in addiction/recovery communities for whom orders to isolate bring up particular challenges to the refuge they take in the community.

This track is built off of raw drum audio that I phone-recorded on a whim as I was blowing off some steam at the drum kit the other day. The grooves mused me into a couple late nights down an electronic rabbit hole. They drew out these layers and textures colored by the surreality and sense of uncertainty that has been unfolding, as well as the digital outpourings of pain, tenderness, and care between people navigating this crisis.” – Matthew Daher

“When the World Ends” – Jack Oats

Justin Erion, aka Jack Oats, channels angst, worry and existential dread on this original song. Erion’s emotive delivery encompasses a universal feeling of anxiety as he says the things we’re all thinking.

“For the first time in many of our lives, we are faced with a sense of impending doom. We’ve learned the history, we’ve heard about the devastation of our ancestors, and now sadly it’s our turn. Some of us have prepared mentally and situationally, some of us are falling apart in disbelief at the collapse of our normalities. Life feels on pause, as we await to continue to grow. Who knows… maybe this is the end of the world. And who knows which world will come to be next.”  – Jack Oats

Avery Leigh’s Night Palace Pairs Opera and Dream Pop on Debut Single

Photo Credit: Bao Ngo

At times like these when it feels like the world is ending, one of the few purely escapist activities we have left is getting lost in music. Avery Leigh’s Night Palace gives us that on “Into the Wake, Mystified,” a lushly arranged meditation on the “gossamer thread that connects us to certain people in our lives forever.” Avery Leigh Draut, songwriter and lead vocalist, explains that the song took many shapes and sounds before settling on the final piece, released on March 10th. The evolution of the band’s first single more or less mirrors the shifting tides of Draut’s own path in music, from classically trained opera singer to frontwoman of a shimmery alt-pop ensemble, to whatever comes next.

Growing up the daughter of two service industry professionals turned business-world parents, Draut hesitated to consider music as a viable career path. Though she and her father would perform in musicals together and singing was always a huge part of her life, she saw it as more of a hobby than a way to earn a living. But when she was applying to universities, her parents surprised her by encouraging her to follow a less conventional path. “I had this chat with my parents and they were like, you love this and you should try to do this,” says Draut. “Their transparency with me about their long time struggles with making ends meet before I was born prepared me and helped me to understand I would need to create a piece-meal, gig-centric way of making a living, with (hopefully) many small sources of income that are (whenever possible) related to my creative endeavors.”

Armed with that knowledge, Draut auditioned last minute for a few music programs and was accepted to the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. She recalls her first lesson in the classically-oriented program: when one of her professors asked her what she liked to sing, she told him of her affinity for musical theatre and jazz. He responded, “No – we’re gonna sing opera.” Luckily, opera proved to be just as enticing to Draut. “I loved it. I totally fell in love with the nuance,” she explains. “Obviously there’s nuance in all music, in so many different ways, but classical music is the most challenging that I have experienced.”

Draut describes the next few years as a means to find her way creatively. After realizing that double majoring in theatre and music was next to impossible, she tabled her love for musical theatre for the moment and exercised her voice through opera. While she loved performing, there was a part of her that always wanted to write music as well, but it was at war with another part that told her she couldn’t. “I always wanted to write my own things, but kind of didn’t really think of it as an option. I was like, ‘other people do that,’” explains Draut. “So, it was kind of just figuring out that that’s not true and all art is for everybody and you can try to do anything.”

After graduating, Draut felt disenchanted by some aspects of the classical music business and found herself in a moment where she wasn’t petrified by the thought of writing a song. Thus, the early iterations of Avery Leigh’s Night Palace were created. She collaborated with musicians she met through the scene in Athens and took years to land on the dreamy, crystallized sound heard on “Into the Wake, Mystified.” “This song has been through a million different lives as you can imagine, existing for four years,” says Draut. “I wrote all of the structures, chords and melodies for the song on this electric organ I had in my living room in Athens called the Magic Genie.”

Draut transformed the stripped-down organ-and-vocals arrangement to a bubbly, orchestral tune filled out with elegantly simple string and woodwind parts, written by Draut herself. Though she views her operatic life and the Night Palace project as two separate worlds, Draut thinks her tendency to seek sweeping arrangements comes from her love of opera and its grand accompanying orchestras. “There’s such lush writing in opera and these huge orchestras and that is so magical and beautiful and I would love to incorporate [that],” Draut says. “I think there are a thousand different directions I’m going at all times with this project, but they’re all closely related and will sound like they make sense.”

Since starting Avery Leigh’s Night Palace, Draut has relocated to Brooklyn, where she works part-time as a production coordinator for the Met Opera and has sung backups on shows for musicians such as Jo Lampert (tUnE-yArDs), Kadhja Bonet, and Eric Bachmann. She travels between New York and Athens, where her band is still located and where she’s currently waiting out the pandemic with her boyfriend and the Magic Genie that astoundingly found its way back to her.

“This organ was living with me in Athens, then when I moved to New York, I moved it into my boyfriend’s house at the time, so it lived in Athens. Then he and I broke up and I didn’t know what happened to the organ,” Draut recounts. “I came back to Athens to visit and went to my friends house and it was sitting there. It turned out that my ex had given it to a friend who had given it to this guy. He was moving, so my boyfriend and I moved it into his apartment in Athens which is where I am right now, with the goats in the yard.”

Avery Leigh’s Night Palace will release more music later this year, and presumably, Draut will brush the dust off her old friend, Magic Genie, in the meantime.

Follow Avery Leigh’s Night Palace on Instagram and  Facebook for ongoing updates.