Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

DANIEL SMITH, CORNERSTONE, AND THE LIFE I HOPE TO LIVE

Last night at Dwellings, the new church that I’m a part of, we hosted the first of three movie screenings in a film series called Contineo. Contineo is a Latin word meaning “to connect or join together”. The heart of the Contineo Film Series is to connect people together through discussions on faith, art, and community as we explore some interesting movies together.

As I sat in the Flint Local 432 watching the first film in the series, Danielson: A Family Movie (or Make a Joyful Noise Here), I was reminded of the place that this idea was born. In 2006, my wife and I made our second trip to the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, IL. The festival was an experiment that began in 1984 by a group of Christian/hippy/rockers from a commune in Chicago called Jesus People USA. Cornerstone was created to provide a space for Christian music that fell outside of the mainstream by gathering annually to celebrate the diversity of God’s people. Over the years, Cornerstone added different elements to the festival experience including a film festival called Flickerings.

During our first trip to Cornerstone in 2004, I was so excited to see every band possible that we ran around like crazy people. While it was a memorable experience, it was exhausting! So when we went back to Cornerstone two years later, we realized that we wanted to have a more restful experience. It was out of this desire for restfulness and a slower pace that we stumbled on Flickerings. On the second day of the fest we crawled out of our hot, sticky tent and made our way to see a documentary about a quirky musician from New Jersey named Daniel Smith.

That morning I was struck by the beauty, creativity, and honestly that the filmmaker, JL Aronson, was able to capture. I remember being inspired to think of Christianity in new ways. I saw Daniel living out an authentic faith apart from the Christian subculture that so often seems to seek to shelter and protect people from the world around them. Daniel seemed driven to create art from who he was and share it with anyone who would listen. He was true to himself even though the sounds he creates aren’t always the most pleasant for casual listening. As a new Christian, the experience of Cornerstone and watching Danielson: A Family Movie were formational events for me. I began to dream about how I could live my life with the kind of integrity displayed by Daniel. I wondered how I could live my faith in a way that didn’t scare away those who had different ideas and desires than I did. I wondered how art could be used to build relationships and nurture productive conversations.

So six years later, these are still the kinds of questions I wrestle with. And I think with every new day and each step I take I’m moving towards the kind of life I started dreaming about down in Bushnell, Il. Now, that Cornerstone has called it a day (the final Cornerstone Festival took place in July of 2012), I hope that Dwellings will help to create that kind of safe space for people to question and connect with God that Cornerstone, and artists like Daniel Smith, have provided for me, at least did in my little corner of the world.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some experiences or pieces of art that have moved your towards the kind of life you want to live?

If you are interested joining us for the next installment of Contineo, can get more info here.

ART ASKS GOOD QUESTIONS

I went to see some bands play this past week at Flint Local 432, the local  all ages art space in my city. I had been looking forward to seeing a band from Atlanta called The Wild. I’d been listening to their record, Set Ourselves Free, for the last year or so. The record is good but it didn’t really sink in all that deeply. Seeing them live really took their music to the next level for me. The energy and emotion came through in a big way even though there were only 30 other people in the room.

One song in particualr struck me in a powerful way. Here’s a snippet of some lyrics to their song “The Saddest Thing I Ever Saw”:

       on the corner there once stood a church full of sound, you could hear songs escape at night. they’d sing praise be to him for what we have built… a home, a community, a life. but it broke. now stands a high-rise. I can’t take back what I’ve done. so we danced around the room to an old familiar tune, and I looked deep in your eyes, and I thought about the fact that we are lucky for what we have, but I wonder what’s the price.

For me, good art asks good questions. It leads to reflection, about self and the world around us. The Wild helped me to ask some good questions the other night.

As I stood bobbing my head to the music, I wondered about the ways that our choices shape our world.How do our shopping habits impact our sense of community? How does the shape of the spaces we inhabit influence our thinking about things like security and safety? How often do we abandon something good for something quick and easy? Summing up the question that The Wild asks in the song; what’s the cost of what we’ve got?

Good art doesn’t always have to give you the answers. Sometimes just getting the conversation going is enough. It allows us the opportunity to search out the answers for ourselves. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m grateful for the encouragement to wrestle with them. I’m grateful for art that asks good questions.

How has art encouraged reflection about your life or community? 

WE TALK OCCASIONALLY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DESTROY NATE ALLEN

My friends Nate and Tessa are at it again! Today marks the release of their new full length records, “With Our Powers Combined“. For this release they have taken their unique brand of “interactive sing-a-long fun punk” to a new level by enlisting the help of Asian Man Records’ Gnarboots to serve as their back-up band. Usually performing as a two-piece, Destroy Nate Allen has evolved from a solo act to a husband/wife team constantly putting out new records and travelling the country. They are one of the sweetest/hardest working couples I know. I love them and you might, too.

Check out what Nate had to say about the new record, the importance of community, and their upcoming plans.

1. Tell me a little bit about your journey from being a show promoter to a nearly full-time touring musician.

Haha. I liked that you used the word nearly. There is too much truth in that. I started promoting shows when I was 17. It quickly became a passion and something I very much enjoy to this day. For many years I was mainly a promoter and thus I grew to approach music from a very business-y standpoint. I never thought I’d be touring musician in fact I don’t even really remember it being a pipe dream. From 2002-2004, I ran non-profit just focusing on all-ages events and I thought I would do it forever, and then I decided to move to San Francisco.

Over the course of my first few months there I plunged into a severe depression and playing music took on a new role in my life. I stopped playing music as a hobby and started playing it for survival. After a while I had a sort of light bulb moment, I realized through prayer and circumstance that I’d built my life’s foundation on bitterness, fear, and reaction… and that bad fuel was running out. I was challenged by a friend to stop performing music for a season and focus on personal growth. I took his advice. Looking back it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Not playing shows for a year allowed me to focus on deeper core issues… and in a strange twist when I started playing guitar again everything was different. Before my songs just sounded like crappy Johnny Cash rip offs… now people sang-a-long. It was weird. I decided to add Destroy (in front of my current performing name of Nate Allen) and recorded an album.

As fate would have it I decided to get in a van and try my hand at touring… I tend to be an all-or-nothing sort of guy so my first US tour was 6 months long. I was alone for most of it. I came back a different person and nearly full-time touring musician.

2. You started out doing Destroy Nate Allen as a solo act and later, after you got married, added your wife Tessa to the act. Can you tell me a little bit about that evolution? What have you learned from collaborating with your wife in music and on the road?

To be quite honest you are partly to blame for me adding Tessa to the act. I’m not sure she would have ever been allowed in the band if we hadn’t spent a week playing shows together. During that week, I witnessed your evolution of allowing Lisa to play music with you. I don’t remember if you actually said the words but I recall some sort of dialogue along the lines of you realizing you were just having fun in a crappy little band, and there was no good reason Lisa couldn’t have fun right along side you.

That made an impact and when we got married I invited Tessa to join the band. We figured we’d just learn to make it work for our crappy little band. She likes to say that the first year she learned to play tambourine and the next year she learned to sing, but the important part was we were living out our adventures together. It has been priceless.

We like to say that being in band is harder than being married. Having to learn how to construct art together has been difficult. We are very different people. We’ve spent nearly half our marriage together in a van and working in very close quarters… I think that can be exhausting to Tessa because I have a pretty big appetite for conversation. I can confidently say though that the process has been well worth it. We are a stronger couple because of the decision to travel together. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone but more artists should be traveling with there partners and not leaving the people they love most behind.

3. What is it that keeps pushing you along making music and touring? Why do you do what you do? Continue reading

THE OAK STREET CHRONICLES: MY FIRST TIME (A Flint Local 432 Story)

The Oak Street Chronicles tell the stories of my time in Downtown Flint, learning to live and learning to love.

I moved to Oak Street to help out a friend who was going travelling. He wanted me to keep an eye on his house while he was away. I wanted a chance to live closer to the heart of the music scene that I was becoming more and more immersed in with each passing year. The Flint Local 432 was a hub for this vibrant and diverse music community. It’s the kind of thing that leads a suburban, white kid to relocate to the hood.
I had gotten involved in the music scene in a participatory way when I was 14. I remember my first time like it was yesterday…

My best friend Mike and I had just joined our first band (technically, Mike played in a Metallica cover band first but let’s not count that) after replying to a sort of help wanted article in a teen-written section of the Flint Journal called Word Up. Mike was a drummer and I wanted to sing. I liked singing. That’s all you really need, right? Passion and desire. Nevermind that whole talent thing.

We connected with Phil, a Grand Blanc kid who actually took guitar lessons and liked a lot of the same alternative and grunge bands that Mike and I were getting into. After reading his article we were sure that we were soul-mates so we started “jamming” in Mike’s Grandmother’s garage.

One time Phil showed up with an article from the newspaper about a new all ages music club that was opening. The article advertised a show with the Rubgy Mothers and Offense A.D., I think. It was two bands I had seen before; one at the Capitol Theater and the other at the Capitol Lobby. A friend’s older brother had taken us to some shows Downtown a year or so earlier. We all decided we needed to check out the show and see if we could try to book our first real gig!

We arrived a Kinelo’s Cafe and the room was pretty full. I felt like one of the youngest kids there but I didn’t care. When the bands started playing I had found a new home.

Mike came up to me later in the evening and told me had just met the guy who managed the Rugby Mothers gigs and asked him how we could get a show of our own. Mike rounded up the rest of us and introduced us to a guy named Joel.

I had actually met Joel earlier in the evening. I had twisted my ankle pretty bad bouncing around in the “pit” during Offense A.D.’s set and Joel found me a chair so I could sit down for a while.

When Mike took us to talk to Joel about booking a show, Joel pulled out a paper schedule and offered us a spot on a show right there on the spot. It was that easy. He hadn’t even heard us. That probably was a good thing.

The next time we had a rehearsal we played with more purpose than ever before. We put together a set of 8 songs including 7 originals and a Lemonheads cover. We practiced every week getting the set ready for our show. It was about a month away so we kept going down to shows every weekend until then.

One night when we showed up to see Rats of Unusual Size (a band all the way from New York!), and Matt Ratza (the original bass player from Burnt Toast!), we arrived at Kinelo’s and it was pretty empty. The stage wasn’t set up and the table hadn’t been moved out of the way. We were a little confused but we saw some lights coming from another building down the otherwise empty street.  We heard some music coming from the building, too. Sound check! We made our way down to 432 S. Saginaw Street. The space wasn’t as nice as the cafe but it was awesome to know that Joel had gotten his own building. The Flint Local 432 seemed like it was something that was going to be around for a while.

We saw bands like Melange, Day 28, Beatnik Mecca, and my personal favorite Burnt Toast, who I had convinced to let me sing one of my favorite songs with them on stage one time. What a rush! I was learning that I could be a part of something that I loved in a personal way.

When our first gig came, I was super nervous so when we got on stage I did my best Eddie Vedder impression, holding on to the mic stand with both hands, not letting go for our entire 30 minute set. I swayed back and forth a little, too. The coolest part of that show wasn’t the performance itself. It was seeing the guys from Burnt Toast and Melange had come to see us play. My new heroes were becoming my new friends.

In my school, I didn’t really feel comfortable. I wasn’t that cool. I had friends but still didn’t feel like I really fit in. Flint Local 432 fixed that for me. It gave me a place. It gave me direction. It gave me experiences that have shaped my life. And it gave me a really cool collection of cassette tapes from local bands.

The Flint Local 432 is reopening soon! Get more info here!

CONSOLIDATED BARBERSHOP: AN INTERVIEW WITH ZAC MINOCK

My friend Zac took a chance on my city. He hung out his shingle, opening Consolidated Barbershop in the basement of one of Flint’s most well-known tattoo shops, Consolidated Ink and Steel. Zac’s shop isn’t just a place to get a shave or a trim, though. Consolidated Barbershop is becoming a hub that’s connecting people and rekindling a sense of community, especially among those involved in Flint’s underground music scene and those that are a part of the downtown culture.

While the shop is tucked out of sight below the tattoo shop, it’s well worth seeking out. After descending the stairs and stepping onto the black and white checkerboard tile you’ll experience a clean shop that is decorated simply with a row of old theater seating on one wall and a few framed punk rock records hanging on the another. The focal point of the room seems to be the small table in the corner that holds a record player and a couple of milk crates filled with Zac’s personal record collection. I was lucky enough to get to choose the music before my last haircut. I’ve also heard of folks bringing their favorite records from home to set the tone for their new looks. Who would have thought  getting a haircut would be such a fun experience?

Check out the indie-film quality promo video for the shop that was shot by Ethan June and then check out the conversation we had below.


1.How did you wind up becoming a barber and opening up shop in Flint, Michigan?

I was at a point in my life where I felt like I needed to make a change. After a few failed college attempts I realized I wasn’t the college sort of dude and I was searching for a trade. I had a conversation with my barber and he kind of just brought it up so after talking to some people about it and getting info from the barber college (Flint Institute of Barbering) I felt like I had to do it! The college itself is extremely demanding and I had to give up my full time job to go to school so I guess I really had no other choice but dive in all the way. I’m sure people thought I was nuts for doing this! The entire school experience was great though. Everyone at that school is great and helped me out so much…with barbering, and also with life as well. They taught me a lot there and I have so much respect for what they do.

What led me into opening up in Flint is something I will get more in depth with in the upcoming question. But, basically, I was hanging out at the tattoo shop for years and years and I just asked them if they would be into it. The fact that I am a part of that place is really surreal and I can honestly say I have the best job ever!!

2. What services do you offer at Consolidated Barbershop?

Right now it’s kinda limited. I do $10 haircuts…any haircut! Man, women, child, it doesn’t matter. Ten bucks. And then a straight razor shave is also $10…but, for you dudes, you can get both a cut and a shave for 15. Down the line I will be offering coloring services, but I’m just not to that point yet.

3. What is it about running a barber shop that you love the most?

The environment rules. I get to hang out with my friends all day long…its great! There is some level of responsibility that goes with it but for the most part its very laid back and easy-going.

4. What do you love the most about living and working in Flint?

I grew up in Fenton but it was the culture of Flint that attracted me to it. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for Joel Rash and the entire Flint Local 432 I would have NO idea where I would be at today. Continue reading

THE IN-BETWEEN TIMES: JASON GUITARSTRING AND THE MOTH AND RUST BAND

Click on the album cover to listen and download!

So this here journey started sometime around 2003 when I found my life taking a major turn when I began my journey as a follower of Christ. I was playing in a band called South Bay Bessie at the time and really was having the time of my life. I was making fun punk rock music and playing lots of show with the band. I had just gotten married so that was an adventure in itself. I was apart of a church community, Wildwind Community Church. I was loving life.

As my faither journey continued, a batch of news song started springing up in me. The songs were focused on my new life with God and didn’t really fit with what we were doing in South Bay Bessie, a lighthearted band that took cues from the Ramones and AC/DC. These new songs became my own expression of worship. I still played and wrote like I was in a punk band but with an acoustic guitar. I used what I had to connect with God in a way that meant something to me.

Just for fun, I recorded some of the songs on my cassette 4-track recorder for posterity’s sake and never really planned to make them public. But this all changed shortly after I left South Bay Bessie. I still desired to play out and share my music with folks in my community but didn’t really want to put in the kind of time that being in a semi-full-time band called for. I figured lugging around my acoustic guitar and showing up at a few open mic nights on my own schedule sounded like the rhythm I was looking for.

I got involved in the open mic scene around Flint for a little while. It was a lot of fun. After a while, I had made friends with Ron Moore who was hosting a regular open mic night at the local Borders store. He asked me to fill-in as the host a few times when he was on the road playing gigs of his own. It was a neat scene and I decided to release my 4-track recording as a CDEP called “This Basement Sanctuary” as a way to connect with people at the shows and share a little bit of my story.

When I was getting more involved in this scene  and writing more songs my old friend Tom Wyatt approached me about recording in his new home studio. He offered me some free recording time if I’d be willing to be the guinea pig for his new equipment and space. So in January of 2006 or 2007 (time gets all mushy for me when I try to recall how these events unfolded) I went to Tom’s house to record a full-length album. If was free, so I figured, “what the heck?”

I laid down some basic tracks and vocals in a day and drove home late that night. I was exhausted but beaming as I thought about the prospects of giving shape to my new life as an acoustic musician. That night, at about two in the morning my home phone rang. The person on the other end of the line was a social worker from  Genysys Hospital in Grand Blanc, Michigan. She called to share the news that my mom, who had been on dialysis for a couple years, came into the hospital earlier in the evening not feeling well and had passed away. Talk about throwing a wrench in your plans. My life took a shift for a time and I couldn’t find the time to get back in to the studio to finish up.

Over the next year, I didn’t really play out much apart from a couple shows Tom was putting together for his church, The Salvation Army’s Flint Citadel. We thought it would be fun to put together a full band for these shows. Tom offered to play drums and I rounded up a few other folks. My friend Zac, who I worked with a Mott College Bookstore, with my played bass. My wife Lisa sang with me and we asked our friend, Tony, from church/high school to play tuba and bells for the shows. We rehearsed a couple times and played to a combined total of 15 people but it still was a lot of fun.

So the next January came and we decided to redo a few of the songs we recorded with a full-band so we booked a day and headed back in to give it a go. It took a little longer to get everything set up and recorded with all the extra musicians but  we still only spent about a day in the studio. We just did less songs this time around. On the way home from the studio that night, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous, remembering what had happened the year before. And fate would have it I was nervous for a good reason. I made a left turn just as another car was running through a red light and smashed up my car to the tune of $1300  and a hike in insurance rates for the next year. I continue to get nervous that tragedy is going to strike every January but keep pressing on anyway.

A couple weeks passed and Tom sent me some rough mixes. He had done some “producing” jazzing up the songs with ambient guitar sounds and added drums to some of the songs from the session we did the previous year. Some of the “producing” was a little much for me but it was cool to have someone to collaborate with in this way. I noted songs that I wanted to redo vocals on, or at least clean up my mistakes and big-ideas-gone-wrong a bit. We talked about when we could get together to finish the record. We had both invested so much time that we just wanted to be done with it.

The next round of studio time never happened though. Tom’s computer that we used for the recording crashed and he lost the original track files that could be edited and remixed. He was at least able to salvage some of the rough mix files from another hard drive but several of the songs were still missing. Luckily, I had uploaded the missing songs to my MySpace (What’s that?) page and was recently able to retrieve them by using third party software to (ahem) borrow them from myself since Myspace will let you upload your songs but they won’t let you have them back.

So here we are five year later and I’m releasing The In-Between Times. I was originally planning to dump the whole project since I couldn’t fix the imperfections or do a final mix. I reconsidered recently as I’ve begun thinking about my next musical project. I just didn’t want to leave this undone before moving on to the next thing.

The In-Betwwen Times was recorded during bits and pieces of stolen time in 2007, 2008, and 2009. It was never officially finished. While the sounds and performances are not perfect, this album gives you a picture of a particular time and a particular group of people having fun with creativity and collaboration.

I’m giving it away on a “pay what you want” basis. You can even download it for free if you want to. If you do decide to buy the album in the next two weeks (until March 9th, 2012) I’ll be giving all of the proceeds to an organization called SEED and My Brother’s Keeper. SEED is a ministry that faciliatates sustainable business development for groups of people needing opportunities. Check out their website to get a glimpse of the awesome work they are doing.  My Brother’s Keeper is a shelter that provides a meal, a bed, and hope for homeless men  in Flint. I hope you will consider supporting these important organizations.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my project. I hope you’ll share it with a friend over the next couple of week.

 

IN THE PRESS: FLINT LOCAL 432 INTERVIEW

I spent a few minutes talking with Scott Atkinson of the Flint Journal about the re-opening of the Flint Local 432. Flint Local 432 is the all ages concert space where I have spent nearly a third of all of my weekends on this earth. This place is important for our city and I’m so glad I had the chance to be a part of the conversation surrounding the club’s re-opening this year. Here’s what I had to say:

Jason Kotarski, 32, is an associate pastor for Wildwind Community Church in Flint Township and said when he was younger, the Local gave him a place to fit in.

“I didn’t really feel like I had a place, and the local gave me that. They were just normal guys playing guitars making music of their own and that was really compelling to me,” he said.

Kotarski now volunteers on Saturdays, cleaning the place to help Whitcomb and other workers keep making progress.

“It just really made a difference in my life and I think it’s affected me in such a huge way that I wanted to make sure that other kids like me have a place to go in their spare time,” he said.

You can read the rest of the article and learn more about Flint Local 432 here.

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