PLAYING DETROIT: JUNGLEFOWL Confront Abuse and Offer Healing on Secret Society EP

Ypsilanti-based rock outfit JUNGLEFOWL breaks its two-year silence this Friday with the release of Secret Society, a hard-hitting survival story that breaks down abuse cycles and finds a way out of them. Melissa Coppola (vocals and drums) and Stefan Carr (guitar) have spent three years writing and fine tuning this EP, resulting in an approachable hardcore sound that can bite but then heal the wound.

Even though JUNGLEFOWL is often billed alongside heavy punk acts, the band breaks the conventional punk mold with Coppola’s tremulous, full-bodied vocals and Carr’s glam-rock guitar riffs. All of Coppola’s lyrics are delivered with a punch, though never too warbled for the listener to miss her message. And that’s what Secret Society is at its core – a message. First, it’s a message to the person or persons who have wronged Coppola, letting them know that she isn’t defeated – she’s channeled any manipulation or abuse into an arsenal of strength which pierces through her music with a vengeance. Second, and most importantly, it’s a message of solidarity to others who have suffered (or are still suffering from) abusive relationships. Coppola stresses that the EP’s story isn’t exclusively autobiographical, but pulls from her and others’ experiences with pain and recovery.

Each song is an opportunity for catharsis for anyone who feels trapped or angry or in need of processing. Secret Society is as much a work of musical art as it is a tool for healing. Take a deep breath, let go, and scream.

We talked with Coppola about the process of making Secret Society and what the EP means to her. The band will celebrate the release on Friday, November 9th at Ghost Light in Hamtramck, Michigan. Read Coppola’s strong and honest words below and stream the EP here, exclusively, before its official release.

AF: I read that this EP was recorded over three years of fine-tuning and adjusting — do you feel like you still relate to these songs the same way three years later? Has anything changed or do you still deeply connect with this music?

MC: I definitely still relate to the songs, though certainly differently now than when we first wrote them. Reflecting back on the whole recording experience, I think the most interesting part for me was how clear the narrative became when we started discussing the track order. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the themes or concept when I was writing them, but in those later conversations, I realized that these songs were a therapeutic unpacking of some traumatic experiences.

AF: In a recent interview, you describe the record as a survivor story. If you feel comfortable discussing, what types of survived experiences do you mean and why did you want to bring them forth?

MC: I think, for the first time in my life, I feel comfortable sharing this publicly, hoping that other survivors might hear some of these themes – and my unpacking of them – in our music. I’m hesitant to call the story entirely autobiographical, though some of it certainly is. I am a survivor of domestic abuse. After a physical assault I endured by an abusive partner years ago, I was connected with SafeHouse Center, and was lucky to receive months of counseling services. I remember learning about the cycle of abuse and the power and control wheel… what was insanely difficult for me was coming to terms with the fact that I was not alone in my experiences. So many others had gone through – and still are going through – the same things, over and over again. I eventually stopped blaming myself for falling into these traps and accepted that it wasn’t my fault for not knowing I was being manipulated. Every now and again, I have conversations with close friends who are also abuse survivors and have gone through similar experiences… and the parallels are always eerie to me.

I decided to call this group of songs Secret Society, inspired by my state of mind after getting out of a bad situation I didn’t ever think was a problem until my life was threatened. It felt like I had been kept underground in a secret cult that consisted of only two people, with no contact with the outside world, and no awareness of the strange and cruel treatment I was being subjected to. Many of these songs change from first-person to third-person within a single section, suggesting how hard it is to know which thoughts are your own and what you’ve been told to believe when you are healing.

The record starts with “Crumble,” a survivor sharing and owning their experiences. The rest of the songs trace backward in time with emotional snapshots; “Bad Habit” is a recognition of the toxic cycle, never feeling good enough, and apathy. “Frontline” is an angry breakup dance done with a smile, while a soundtrack of doubt, regret, and negative talk play steadily in the background. I think “Mojo” has taken on multiple interpretations over the years, but originally, it was a sort of desperate plea for attention while being actively dismissed. “Chopping Block” calls to mind a feeling of being trapped, of being convinced you have no escape.

AF: As a classically trained pianist, do you have to access a different part of yourself to switch gears and write vocal melodies and lyrics?

MC: Absolutely. As a pianist, I really don’t do much composing at all, but I can sight read sheet music easily – so that has allowed me to play and learn from what some of my favorite songwriters do (Carole King, Billy Joel, Ben Folds) and appreciate them on that level. In Junglefowl, I feel totally disconnected from my classical training, which is totally refreshing. I love being creative with writing melodies, and I find that it’s much more like writing poetry than music because I’m usually more focused on lyrics and rhythm than I am with melody.

Since I’m a singing drummer (and not a virtuoso drummer by any means), it’s super important that my lyrics fit into my beats in a reliable way; working around those parameters requires me to be creative already. If I can’t sing my lines and play drums easily, I always keep the option open to change words to make them fit in a way that’s accessible to me and my style.

AF: In “Frontline” you say “I want to have a war with you” – who are you addressing and why the confrontational approach?

MC: For one thing, I think I’ve been learning how to own my anger and feel rightfully indignant, and songs are probably the safest way to express that… But also, I pictured this war as a sort of imaginary one, where you are fluffing your proverbial feathers, telling your friends how “over it” you are, spinning a tough-guy rendition of your breakup and how you’re ready to fight your ex – but inside, you’re insecure, still hearing the echo of their voice saying, “You’ll never make it without me…” and trying to overcome it.

AF: Why do you think you’ve gravitated towards a more hardcore sound as your medium?

MC: I’m not sure. I don’t listen to much hardcore! I think it’s something we’ve settled into over time – Stefan and his guitar style and loud fuzzy tone certainly have a big impact in our overall feel. For this record, I think it fits well, since a lot of the material thematically is heavy, so it is reflected in the sound.

We always have trouble describing our sound to people because it does sort of change from song to song, but I’d agree that we’ve fallen on the heavier side of rock as of late… we’ve definitely been having a lot of fun whipping our hair around. It will likely continue to change as we continue to write and record.

AF: What’s it like creating music and being in a band with a partner? Do you think it makes the creation process easier or harder or neither?

MC: [I’ve been asked this question a few times over the years – and I want to be transparent about the fact that this is not the first time I’ve been in a band with a partner, and the last experience before this one was completely different – absolutely awful. I just want to be clear that I am not speaking generally, like band relationships are the greatest and that everyone should try them.]

I feel super lucky to be able to play in a band with my partner. I think the most important part of being an effective band is mutual trust amongst its members, and that’s definitely something Stefan and I have cultivated over the years in our relationship. By this point we’ve settled into a writing process that works – Stefan writes lead parts, I offer suggestions or tweaks, and we jam and write the form together. We record a rough demo on a phone, and I write lyrics to incorporate at next practice. We make a pretty decent writing team.

That said, we’ve certainly had band and writing disagreements, but I don’t think it’s much different than conflicts we’ve had in other bands we’ve played in (and we both have other projects we’re actively a part of). The most important part of our partnership is that we know how to communicate effectively (or try, at least) and work issues out. Sometimes, that means identifying if there are additional factors – like stressful life things – that are affecting our workflow.

In the recording studio,  I think it’s a huge benefit to be in a band with my partner. I tend to get down on myself if something’s not quite working out the way I want it to, and my partner usually knows what to say to get me past the rut.

Another benefit? Working out who pays for band costs and how much each member gets paid after a gig is never a problem… we share a bank account!

PLAYING DETROIT: Whateverfest Brings Detroit’s Disparate Music Scenes Together

When you think about music festivals, it’s easy to picture giant stages, overcrowded drink lines, and teenagers in various species of headwear. Whateverfest – an all-genre, all-ages DIY festival based in Detroit – is pretty much the opposite of that. Born from a “what if” conversation between friends in 2011, Whateverfest has grown from a few bands occupying every apartment in the Hyesta building to over 40 bands, spanning nearly every genre, playing at the Tangent Gallery. This Saturday, May 12th, the fest is returning for its eighth year and is set to go from 12 pm to 6 am the next day.

The fest’s lineup includes a vast array of Michigan bands as well as acts from Toronto (Rooftop Love Club), Chicago (Aathee Records), and Indianapolis (Gwendolyn Dot). One of the original festival organizers, Soph Sapounas, says that the event’s musical diversity comes from the laissez-faire ethos indicated by its moniker. “Whoever wants to play plays,” says Sapounas. “We’re all just trying to have a good time – it’s whatever. That [word] starts getting thrown around a little too much on the day of but it’s okay.”

Though the organizers strive to be as inclusive as possible, the festival’s popularity attracts a slew of submissions every year, which the team reviews in a democratic fashion. They host listening parties and make sure that the roster of artists performing represents the city as a whole. “We want to be a platform for artists and musicians in Detroit in general. Not just for rock, not just for techno – we want to include all of it,” says Sapounas. “That’s one of the things that keeps recurring, is people telling me that they think it’s really cool to see all the different scenes here and everyone having a good time together and not having that cool kid standoff.”

With groups like Spaceband (a nine-piece experimental funk collective), Ex American (new age electronic), and a handful of techno artists holding down the late-night sessions, the festival undoubtedly reps staple genres Detroit is known for and everything in between. If you’re in or around Detroit, this fest is more than worth checking out. If not, check out some of the amazing under-the-radar artists below – I’m betting they’re more eclectic than your Discover Weekly playlist.