In the world of pop music, it’s easy to get put in a category; the “edgy” one, the “hot mess,” the “Queen.” Or, if you’re Karli Morehouse of Grand Rapids indie-pop outfit Lipstick Jodi, the “gay” one. The non-binary songwriter and artist has spent years being labeled and pigeonholed because of their identity and is more than ready to break the constricting molds embedded into the foundation of pop music culture. On their latest single, “Take Me Seriously,” premiering today via Audiofemme, Morehouse brings their frustrations and anxieties to the forefront and gives listeners the chance to do the same. Following the band’s previous single “Notice,” as well as a remix by Now Now, “Take Me Seriously” will appear on the band’s sophomore LP More Like Me, out June 4th via Quite Scientific.
As one of the only openly queer kids in their Midwestern high school growing up, Morehouse has grown accustomed to standing out. And as hard as it was to find people like them in their community, it was even harder to find pop artists that reflected them. Aside from one of Morehouse’s all-time favorite artists, Tegan and Sara, it felt like every big pop star adhered to a very specific set of aesthetic and sonic standards. Nevertheless, Morehouse fell in love with everything about pop music. “This is all I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” they explain.
Raised on ’80s icons like Prince, Cher and Pat Benatar, Morehouse’s songwriting is imbued with nostalgic synths and infectious melodies, as is evident on “Take Me Seriously.” Marrying their power pop instincts with a desire for inclusivity, Morehouse’s lyrics are intentionally vague, leaving room for people to imbue the song with their own meaning. “They’re specific to me, but… they’re kind of vague statements that can give whoever is listening something to hold on to,” says Morehouse.
They explain that this elasticity is inspired by seeing themselves and other queer artists get tossed around in an echo chamber instead of breaking through to larger audiences.
“I’ve always found that a lot of queer artists just end up playing to queer people, which is fine,” says Morehouse. “But I wanted to reach across the board and just play to whoever wants to listen.” They explain that well-intentioned playlists and charts highlighting “women in music” and “LBGTQ+ musicians” can further isolate marginalized musicians rather than integrating them into the pop mainstream. “If anyone calls me a ‘female artist’ one more time, I swear to god,” says Morehouse. “Not only am I non-binary, but it doesn’t matter, I’m a musician.”
And as the lead singer/songwriter for Lipstick Jodi, Morehouse flexes their lifetime of diverse musicianship. Aside from absorbing the romance and robustness of ’80s pop, they were interested in piano and guitar from an early age. Their grandfather, a career musician, gave them their first kid-sized piano and encouraged them to explore other instruments. “My mom didn’t want to commit me to anything and make me hate it, ‘cause that’s kind of what happened to her,” says Morehouse.
From there came countless performances, including a LeAnn Rimes cover, forming their first band in ninth grade and hitting up the Grand Rapids, Michigan coffee shop and brewery circuit. They founded Lipstick Jodi back in 2014, but only started honing in on their sparkly, synth-driven sound in the last few years. Starting out, Morehouse was quickly introduced to the closed minds of certain audience members or talent buyers. “They would call us the gay band and the girl band all the time,” they say. “I was just like, good job for recognizing a haircut? I don’t know why you’re upset.”
In “Take Me Seriously,” Morehouse distills a universal angst, applicable to anyone experiencing heartbreak, setbacks or haters. Razor sharp guitars, bold percussion and potent vocals deliver their cathartic message of pain and resilience. “I’m able to put whatever anxiety, whatever depression I’m feeling into a statement,” says Morehouse, “and kind of hide behind it and give it to somebody else.”
“When the walls come down / There’s no hammer and nail / Can fix the dream that holds this child,” sing The Sweet Water Warblers on “Something More,” the track that inspired the title of their debut album The Dream That Holds the Child.
“In our political climate, we’re so focused on putting walls up and boundaries that we’re hiding behind or trying to keep someone out,” explains Lindsay Lou, who writes and sings the Michigan folk trio’s music, along with May Erlewine and Rachael Davis. The lyric, and the rest of the album, are about “being open and sitting with the vision that you have, the dream that you have,” she explains, “and it’s more than just a hammer and nail — it’s a prolonged re-owning of the narrative.”
The gospel-inspired, harmony-driven, soothing ten song collection deals in particular with elevating women. “Right With Me” provides a counter to the message women frequently receive that something’s wrong with them. In “Righteous Road,” the three women sing about continuing their mothers’ legacy by fighting for gender equality and improving the world for the next generation of women and men. “It’s just this journey of womanhood and not feeling less but finding one’s power within it,” says Lou.
The group itself was founded on this principle of women supporting one another. Lou, Erlewine, and Davis met at Michigan’s Hoxeyville Music Festival in 2014, where they were all playing individually until a promoter requested that they perform as a trio. Their voices blended so well together, they decided to form a band, releasing their first LP With You in 2017. “A big part of connecting with the feminine is also connecting with other women,” says Lou. “There’s this feeling that there’s only room enough for one token woman in a band, and women are uplifting women now.”
Their music aims to elevate not just women but “the divine feminine within all of us,” says Erlewine. The first single off the album, “Turn to Stone,” for instance, is a celebration of compassion, with lyrics like “May we hear each other singing/And may we never turn to stone.”
To Lou, the first step to reclaiming the divine feminine is “recognizing the imbalances, which comes with a certain degree of grief and anger and frustration,” she explains. The next step is “moving from that into a place where you appreciate all of the strength of the feminine, being connected to our body and our sexuality in a way that’s not attached to shame, and feeling connected to the mother — the mother that grows us in our bellies and also this great mother Earth that connects us all.”
Another important aspect of gender equality is having language and symbols that represent the divine feminine, says Lou. “There’s just a different consciousness from balancing out the symbology,” she says. That’s one thing The Sweet Water Warblers aim to provide with their music, says Davis. “Although there is a struggle continuing, we’re grateful that we get to address it the way that we do.”
Follow The Sweet Water Warblers on Facebook for ongoing updates.
May Erlewine believes that music means community, and she’s spent her career in service to her Michigan roots. Raised by hippies in Grand Rapids, Erlewine grew up surrounded by music, encouraged to explore her own creativity from every angle. Her new record Mother Lion has the maturity of a woman grounded in her roots, looking forward to the future.
“Get It Back,” Erlewine’s newest track, is a slow boil of a song. My mind couldn’t help but see it played against a dramatic movie scene, in which a character reaches a pivotal crossroads. It speaks of temporary moments, faded memories, photos hidden at the bottom of a musty drawer.
We sat down with May Erlewine to talk about her musical influences and the responsibility of being an artist.
AF: You grew up in Big Rapids, Michigan. Can you tell us a little bit about your family and how music played into your childhood?
ME: My parents both came from artistic families. We lived in Ann Arbor before I was born. They practiced Tibetan Buddhism and were vegetarians. My Dad’s mom was a visual artist and my Dad played in bands. Music and the arts were a big part of everything in my family, so they were very encouraging and supportive of any sort of creativity that I wanted to explore. I was home educated for a while in my childhood, so that was another cool thing, a great way to be able to explore the arts a little bit more than maybe a lot of people get to in public school. Music was always on and around; my Dad was a music appreciator and always showing us different kinds of music. He started The All Music Guide, so when that started there were musicians coming and going to write. So I had a pretty rich and active childhood, as far as lots of people being around. But also my family was definitely a really oddball family in a small town.
AF: Who were some of your earliest music influences in terms of styling and what kind of music you gravitated toward?
ME: My Dad listened to a lot of the soul singers like Irma Thomas, Billie Holiday, Fenton Woods, Sam Cooke, and James Brown. That stuff was on and a ton of blues. But then my mom was in love with the songwriters and the folk tradition; she listened to Bob Dylan, Joni, Pete Seeger and stuff. So those two camps were pretty strong, and sort of were the touchstones for a lot of my first inspiration, melodies, singing, and songwriting for sure.
AF: Your new album Mother Lion was partially funded through Kickstarter. What was that process like?
ME: We’ve used Kickstarter before, but I’ve never asked for as much as I did for this one. I’m lucky – the community in Michigan is very supportive, but since I was going for more, I really wanted to put a lot of intention into the video and into what we were asking for. We had a visual team for this whole project; we really kinda went all out on making the video and our communication and explaining what the album was. I just felt grateful that people got behind it one hundred percent, a lot more than I ever anticipated. It was a really beautiful showing of the community, and then also those people sharing it with others. It had a really broad reach and got a lot of support, with over 600 backers in the end. It was a really moving experience.
I’ve worked in the community here and kinda use my music as a service-oriented job, try to be involved in the community, work with kids, work for environmental access organizations, and also social justice issues. So it was kind of a nice way to see that the music I’ve been making is meaningful, that the community there is ready to support not just my art, but that its independent artists are valued.
AF: “You’ve got to live it, every minute that you have / Cause you won’t get it back.” I love that line from your new single. Can you give us a peek behind the writing process of this song?
ME: This is one of those songs that just came. Sometimes you have to toil over them and sometimes they just show up in one piece. I wrote this song on the piano. The chorus came first and it’s sort of interesting because it’s such a kind of quiet, subtle chorus, and then the song started unfolding. It was at a time in my life that was challenging on a lot of levels, and there was a lot going on in the world around us and a lot of pain. I was struggling with trying to figure out how to continue forward, so the song is about the preciousness of what we have. Even when we’re experiencing loss or grief we still have to show up in the moments that we have. As we get older, I guess you start to look back at time, and you realize it just keeps moving on without you, whether you’re happy or sad. Time keeps moving. So the song is about acknowledging that and trying to grapple with still allowing the preciousness of each moment, even when we’re experiencing pain or loss. It’s a song about loss and grief, and then also embracing what we do have and trying to remain grateful for it.
AF: You have a daughter, Iris. Has your writing process changed at all since becoming a parent?
ME: Having a child really shows you what is important and allows me to live from a richer, more selfless place. Also knowing I am my daughter’s example of what it looks like to be a woman in the world makes me want to do the best that I can.
AF: You are a member of the Earthwork Music Collective, “a group of independent artists who share resources and talents to raise both community and self-awareness, along with facilitating and encouraging original music in the state of Michigan.” How did you first get involved with the collective?
ME: Earthwork Music was founded by my ex-husband, Seth Bernard. We worked together on building the collective over the past thirteen years or more. It’s sort of an umbrella for collaboration and mutual support, while focusing on investing and serving our communities as well.
AF: You spoke earlier about how music and community are so closely intertwined for you as an artist. Do you feel like musicians have a kind of responsibility to act as a mirror, helping to reflect the problems of their time?
ME: I believe that all artists do this, consciously and subconsciously. We digest what’s going on around us and then present it back to the world. For me, I also honor the old-school tradition of the singer-songwriter. I want to be intentional about using my voice for things that need awareness.
AF: Alright, now for a couple speed questions. Favorite album you’re listening to right now!
ME: I really love Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and also I’ve been loving Bobby Charles (self titled) and Joshua Davis has a new record called The Way Back Home, and of course dipping back into Petty, given the news.
AF: Favorite venue to perform in.
ME: That’s a bit of a dangerous one to answer for me. I love intimate listening rooms of 400 or less. I also love playing house concerts. There’s something special about no amplification, just making music in the room. I’ve done a few house concert tours, they are magical.
AF: Mother Lion ends with “Grateful,” a piano ballad that echoes the feeling of standing in a church sanctuary. You sing,“I will be strong / And stronger still / Torn from my hopes / worn from my will / When I speak my truth / You’ll hear me say / I am grateful / at the end of the day.” What message do you hope people get from this album?
ME: The album was written to help people feel. With all of the struggle, emotionally, environmentally, politically, socially, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and out of touch with our feelings. This album is holding space for those feelings, both the sorrow and the joy. Trying to help people to get back in touch with their hearts and the slower, quieter voice within. Also, Tyler Duncan, my producer, was a huge part in creating a safe and nurturing place for these vulnerable sentiments to be expressed.
Keep an ear out for May Erlewine’s 10th studio release Mother Lion, due out November 1, 2017.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Okay, so she’s not from Detroit proper, but we couldn’t help but feel moved by small-town folk songstress May Erlewine’s video for “Never One Thing,” the first single from her forthcoming record Mother Lion. Erlewine comes from a deeply musical family – her father Michael founded AllMusic – that hails from Big Rapids, and she’s released over a dozen records, both solo and with her husband Seth Bernard, since 2003. Now, she’s signaled her return with a quietly empowering anthem for the ever changing, forever incomparable woman, tinged with a honey soaked sweetness only Erlewine can deliver.
“I’m a streetfighter/I’m a prayer for peace/I’m a Holy-roller/I’m a honeybee” croons Erlewine, praising the many roles that women take on, reminding us that it is never just one thing that defines us. The video follows her delicate reign, perched on various thrones wearing a selection of various floral crowns – perhaps a subtle conjuring of Frida Kahlo. But Erlewine shatters the separation of royalty and commoner with graceful tenacity. A poetically restrained roar, “Never One Thing” is more of a mantra than just a simple folk song.
A summer fantasy written in the thick of a Michigan winter, Detroit’s favorite folky foursome Frontier Ruckus delivers a new track “27 Dollars” from their forthcoming LP, just in time to instill premature longing for a summer that still has a few hours on the clock.
Singer-songwriter Matthew Millia is no stranger to volunteering his vulnerabilities by means of his pleasantly troubled troubadour dance with intimacy to the rich, extensive Americana fabric of the Frontier Ruckus catalogue. Joined by David Jones, Zachary Nichols and Anna Burch, Milia and company have tapped into a beloved era of mid-2000’s indie with a modern emotional intelligence that is fit for timelessness. A little Belle & Sebastian, a tad Okkervil River with a dash of seasonal repression and hopeful ennui, “27 Dollars” is an upbeat anthem for restless hearts and empty pockets; a true midwestern cocktail. The track bounces with banjo twang and swaying synths, eliciting a backseat tour through pot hole, pock marked streets with a cracked phone screen that you check incessantly despite finger tip splinters.
Grand Rapids-based dream pop duo, Dear Tracks, excites with their politely warped and shimmery new track “Aligning with the Sun” which debuted earlier this week. Matt Messore and Victoria Ovenden found a way to give a soundtrack to dust particles colliding within a shaft of mid-afternoon light.
The arrangement, which is synth heavy, glitters without much deviation or elevation and manages to avoid sounding monotonous. A refreshingly melodic warble, “Aligning with the Sun” could easily be inspired by the tilt-a-whirl motion of a cassette tape being tangled within the cassette player, dancing with distortion.
The firecracker percussions and the twinkling, distant guitar paired with Ovenden’s misty vocals keeps Dear Tracks in good musical company, such as Real Estate and My Bloody Valentine. The opposite of anxious, the duo’s first track off of their anticipated debut LP (due out on The Native Sound records) is a bitter sweet (though, mostly sweet) end-of-summer breeze.
If you’ve seen the cover of this month’s TIME Magazine or have recently tuned into any national media outlet, you know that Detroit’s sister city, Flint, is in crisis. Due to corrupt government, dangerous mismanagement, and incompetence, thousands of Flint residences have been poisoned by lead through the water system.
Long story short, Flint was getting its water from Detroit until 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder, due to economic disparity, decided that Flint would begin receiving water from the Flint river, despite the water’s highly corrosive makeup and the cities aging, weathered pipeline. The water itself is not poisoned with lead, but is so corrosive that it is stripping the lead pipes. Last fall, auto manufacturers refused the usage of Flint water as it was corroding the auto parts, yet it continued to pump into every household, poisoning an entire city. Despite the President issuing a state of emergency and the allocation of 80 million dollars in FEMA relief funds to assist Flint in its recovery, the damage is irreversible.
I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with music? Well, nothing, really. Other than the fact that I feel that I bear the shared responsibility of social consciousness as an artist and fellow human taking up space on this floating ball in space. I couldn’t help but search for some convoluted way to draw attention to this issue, while also finding personal solace through the only outlet that I knew. I’ve curated a playlist of “water songs” by Michigan artists with the hope of a healthy resolve for the millions of people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, which now include the thousands of children and families of Flint, Michigan. Let these tracks wash over you and extinguish any unwanted fires.
Eddie Logix and Blair French are BLKSHRK. Released last year, Jellyfish on Cassette is an ocean of temperamental pulsations. The project fuses programmed sampled, live takes and improvisation all of which swell. “Arm Floaties (Night Swim)” gives gives the aural allusion of treading deep water.
This alternate take of “Tidal” from 800beloved‘s dreamy sophomore record, Everything Purple, is a trembling and sedated beachside lullaby. Lynch’s breathy vocals paired with the distant and upbeat pop distortions forms the sensation of having a sun stained memory you wish you could return to.
A standout track off of their 2013 album Wormfood, “Water” is drowsy and pleasantly complacent, much like falling asleep in a filled-to-the-rim bathtub. It’s a smug track about the things we normally don’t have the guts to confess about the disinterest in meaningful love and sex. It’s the type of song that demands hydration; a sonic hangover.
Before they dropped the Nascar kitsch, JRJR released Patterns. “Dark Water” is reminiscent of The Shins with hints of Jon Brion, making it both sugary and brooding. The Beach Boys-esque harmonizing and piano crescendo mask the heaviness of the repeated imagery of drowning which makes this bubbly pop track ironic and bittersweet.
One of my favorite Detroit duos, Gosh Pith, channel a sleepy Animal Collective/Vampire Weekend vibe with a track off their 2015 EP, Window. “Waves” challenges the listener to let go, internalizing the symbolic properties of water via a gentle, lapping synth pop track.
The Gories: “Goin’ To The River”
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The Gories formed back in 1986 and were fearless in welding 60’s garage rock with hyper rhythm blues. “Goin’ To The River” from I Know You Fine, but How You Doin’ released in 1990, is defiant and demands rowdiness. This track by The Gories is a perfect example of their lasting and often overlooked influence.
What I consider to be the most under appreciated album in Iggy Pop’s catalogue and one of the most important contributions to post-punk, New Values is full of songs as jutting as this one. “Endless Sea” is particularly provocative. The synth breakdown along with seductive, temperate vocals are the perfect pairing for giving the drugged sensation of literal endlessness.
The Dead Weather: “Will There Be Enough Water”[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]
The Dead Weather may be my favorite collaboration from the diverse repertoire of Detroit’s golden child, Jack White. White along with Alison Mosshart (of The Kills) make for a sexually hypnotic rock experience. “Will There Be Enough Water” is a smokey, blues infused anti-apology that is as thirsty as it is satiated.
The folkiest track on the playlist, “Waterfall” off of Fred Thomas’ Kuma is moody and textured like a messier, sleep deprived Elvis Perkins. The song begs “Come on everyone/it’s time to go see the waterfall” an uplifting chorus partnered with moaning string arrangements keeps “Waterfall” in the heartache category.
This track off of Don’t Wait by experimental pop duo Valley Hush could easily be a secret video game level trudging through sparkling, underwater sludge where Lana Del Rey meets St. Vincent. It’s more sensational than literal, but the ominous gurgling noise is animatedly visual.
If you would like to learn how you can help the residents of Flint, Michigan, click here.
Think John Hughs meets Beach House topped with whipped cream, a cherry, and that mix tape your imaginary boyfriend would have made you in the early 90’s. This is the essence of “All The Outs Are Free,” the new single from Grand Rapids-based dream pop four piece, Dear Tracks. I first met Dear Tracks at an intimate outdoor shoe gaze/indie pop festival I MC’d this past summer. Though their stage presence was quiet and unassuming, their bubbling, contemplative, synth pop vibes filled the open space while I sprawled my bare legs out into the grass, taking note of the toggle of control between the setting sun and the rising moon. I remember being transported, though carefully, to what felt like a video game bonus level, but in real life and real time. Comprised of Matt Messore, Victoria Ovenden, Jacob Juodawlkis and Alex Militello, Dear Tracks are not a force as much as they are a caress (and perhaps even a productive cry behind a steering wheel).
The single from their forthcoming EP Soft Dreams (due out on vinyl and cassette February 26th, 2016) borderline exhausts lyrical platitudes by smashing a series of ambiguous, flighty phrases together: “Don’t drift away/stay if you can/come as you are/I’ll let you in.” This doesn’t come as an insult, though, quite the contrary. “All The Outs Are Free” is a hazy, minimalistic petit four. Paired with swaying synth sounds, their elementary expression of love, loss, and longing is cocooned tightly and effectively. There are no smoke and mirrors, nor any unnecessary details neither lyrically or in regards to composition; there’s no mess to sort through. With this single, Dear Tracks found a way to surprise me in not sounding like they were trying to surprise me. Floating in a sea of seasonal over-orchestrated, heavy handed production, this taste of candied candor is fresh and restorative.