Category Archives: Retrospective

Frank and Earnest Farewell 7/1/17

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On July 1st, 2017, Frank and Earnest will be playing its final show as a band at The Avenue Cafe in Lansing, MI. In addition to the great support acts (including GTG-released bands Bong Mountain and Small Parks) this show will also feature a reunion of the “classic”/ Old Francis lineup – Ben, Paul, Otis, and Ryan – of the band which, barring two one-off performances, parted ways in fall 2013.

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Classic.

Full disclosure, I’ve been a member of Frank and Earnest since Otis left in fall 2013 and prior to that I had been heavily involved with recording their output (with the exception the album Modern Country which was recorded by Isaac Vander Schuur, though I did assist with some demos for the album) and being party to many of the band’s shenanigans. “Shenanigans” is an important part of the band’s story (and it’s also probably one member’s favorite Green Day album) – one of the first things I think of in this regard was the time in 2010 or 2011 when the band was doing a radio interview and performance but Ben couldn’t get out of work in time to take part so Otis, Paul, and Ryan went on the radio with me impersonating Ben in an absurd impression, except when I sang one of his songs – “Red and Black,” a clever, catchy and passionate ode to the misery of working as a line cook – which I made it a point to sing as much like myself as possible. To compound this nonsense, Ben then called into the radio station from work, got the DJ to put him on-air so he could call me out as an impostor and we had a “Ben vs Ben” argument on the radio that would have been entertaining had we actually been notable public figures, but pretty much anyone listening to this while driving around Lansing on a Thursday night… well, honestly, they probably stopped listening. I did have a friend later tell me that they turned their radio on right as Ben called in to the show and were baffled that their idiot friends were carrying out this nonsense in a public forum. In a way that anecdote kind of distills the band – the great music that it all revolved around, the opportunities to share it with the public, and the absurd squandering of the opportunity for the band’s own amusement.

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See: the existence of Paul Dubya and The Oak River Bridge Boys Band

We decided to do this final show about two months ago, and in the intervening time I’ve been periodically thinking about how I needed to do one of these essay things about the band in the spirit of some previous writings I’ve done about GTG bands and friends. The thing is, I’m too close to this project to really be able to step back and give an overview, and I’ve been struggling to decide if I wanted to do a blow-by-blow history of the band or get into my own complicated feelings towards the whole thing. I also do a lot of non-music work in the spring and early summer, so I can’t pretend that narrative existential angst has been the primary procrastinating factor here. The strangest thing is probably that this is the first time a band I’ve been in has actually “broken up,” and I’ve played in at least a dozen gigging bands in the last 17 years. Sure, bands have fizzled out, but the only other time a band I played in broke up was 2 Minute Nothing in 2004, and that was an unceremonious after-the-fact acknowledgement with the band basically then turning into My Apology. (Shout out to Timmy who will be the sole reader of this to get excited at my mentioning those bands). Every other time a band I played in went inactive the door was always left open so that when and if we did decide to play again we wouldn’t have to feel like “oh shit, the band is back together and it’s a big deal!” and could just play without baggage, which usually has happened. Does this mean that Frank and Earnest is dying a true and merciful death on Saturday? Hard for me to say, I’m the Ronnie Wood/ Slim Dunlap guy that entered the picture when people stopped caring about the band’s new material.

(But fuck you! This song is great!)

Recently a friend of the band posted on facebook about “Greatest Lansing Music Scene Disappointments” and one of them was “Frank and Earnest Post-Old Francis.” We all saw this while discussing specifics of the final show and basically thought “cool, someone cared enough about something we did to be disappointed later on.” It all returns to Old Francis – most bands never make a record that good. I really, truly mean that. I can say that as a fan, and even though I’m the person that recorded it, I feel like I’m objective enough as the truth is I cringe at most of my production decisions 7 years later and I still love listening to that record. Back in 2010 Razorcake gave it a glowing review comparing it favorably to Iron Chic, D4, and Avail which practically guarantees you a packed room at The Fest and the fact that Frank and Earnest never actually did that is a crime. Speaking of crime, the always-entertaining UK rag Collective Zine gave a less-than-glowing review of the record, calling it “a musical hate crime” which is up there with “shit sandwich” for quality negative reviews. But most people that heard the record were fans of it, and I’ll admit to going back and re-reading the positive review RockFreaks gave it when I’ve been down on my limited production skills. Everyone in Frank and Earnest has played a lot of shows with a lot of bands and as lackadaisical as the band likes to be it feels really fucking good when someone gets what you’re doing, feels some sort of inspiration from it, and lets you know. Old Francis is one of those records and while I’m not a member of the band on that record I did live through making it and it actually pre-dates any of the positive national press I’ve gotten with The Plurals or other GTG projects so it will always have that distinct place in my memory.

My two favorite Frank and Earnest songs have always been those two posted above, “Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done” and “BFF.” Otis and Ben both equally hit all of the points of a punch-you-in-the-heart punk rock song, with both being songs that I can say I wish I was the one that had written them. It’s these kinds of highs that are hard to reach repeatedly, and while I’m committing the same “I love the early stuff” sin that frustrate bands while they keep creating, it’s not knocking any of the other stuff to point out this early stuff is great. But Frank and Earnest is a multiple songwriter band, and I don’t want to leave Paul out. Paul’s the best singer in the band and his songs are the most fun to play live.

The band started unofficially on Bermuda Snohawk 2008, with Otis – off of a few year stint touring as bassist with Michigan punk bands Hell Or Highwater and Matadors of Shame – recording a solo acoustic version of “Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done” under the name Frank & Earnest. Sans ampersand, Otis formed a full band under this name with Ben – a bandless Lansing native who had recently returned from a few years living out of state – and Paul – who had previously played with Otis in Grand Ledge ska punk band Shoelace – a few months later with John Bruce (Cavalcade, Shoelace, etc) on drums for the first show at GTG House on March 21, 2009.
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Here’s Ben singing a cover of “Miami” by Will Smith that for some reason they only did at the first show.

GTG MVP Hattie Mae Danby was the next drummer, playing a run of shows around Lansing in spring of 2009 and recording the first 3 song demo, which I actually can’t find online anywhere. The “true” band lineup was solidified by Ryan Horky (the Cartridge Family, The Ryans, etc) joining as the drummer in June-ish of that year, and the first time I saw them play together was at GTG Fest 2009. I know at one point Ryan ate a watermelon while playing drums and I swore there was a photo of that somewhere but I couldn’t find it. They also opened this show with a ragged version of ZZ Top’s “Legs” for no apparent reason.
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From there things took off. More songs were written, midwest and east coast tours happened, Old Francis, various compilation songs and covers were released, the performance art pop-country alter ego band Paul Dubya and the Oak River Bridge Boys Band staggered into existence and the band was voted Best Band in Lansing by City Pulse readers in 2011 and 2012, to the band’s own confusion. In 2011 Mac’s Bar was also voted the Best Venue in Lansing and shortly after the results came in Frank and Earnest was playing at Mac’s so the marquee (back before the city’s Cartridge Family banning saw the dismantling of the marquee at this famed Lansing institution) triumphantly read something to the effect of “Best Venue In Lansing Hosts Best Band In Lansing.” I ran the door at Mac’s that night and for whatever reason hardly anyone showed up to that show, which the band found profoundly amusing. This was the exception though, the shows were generally packed and raucous during these years and when the band was on point I watched from the audience and thought they were pretty much untouchable.

This is one of many ways in which Frank and Earnest was and maybe still is the most Replacements-esque band I’ve been a part of – with complete sincerity the band could be a tight, passionate, engaging unit onstage, or it could descend into drunken rambling banter with a few songs peppered in, or it could be all country covers performed in character as another band (or AC/DC covers performed in character as that same country band doing an AC/DC tribute set – that one proudly happened during my era!), or sometimes it would just fall flat, but it was all “real” no matter what happened. And maybe that’s why it can’t last forever.

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Much as this award-accepting lineup of the band did not actually exist.

Otis left the band and moved away in fall 2013, but he and the rest of the band wanted it to continue so I officially entered the picture at that point. We had some fun times and played some great sets but the energy was naturally different and the standard ebbs and flows of any band and music scene lowered the band’s profile, but it was still never phoned in. Ryan had to stop playing drums for awhile in 2016 so “original” drummer John Bruce came back for awhile and we started getting into a groove with new material but after awhile he had to leave the band too, hilariously leading to original “replacement” drummer Hattie coming back briefly this spring. The lack of stability had become a little much at this point, so after some deliberation we decided to tie up some loose ends and call it a day with the band. Ryan came back and somehow, insanely, we recorded an EP of new material largely in the last week. Through a semi-finished recording with John from late last year, old house show recordings, and on-the-fly practice and acoustic sessions we were able to get 6 songs finished and recorded that feature everyone who was ever a member of the band, including Otis who came into town late Sunday to sing and add a little guitar to most of the tracks and then sat with me while I mixed it all in a daze. I’ll be posting about the EP more tomorrow since I bet a lot of people haven’t read this far down! Get ready!
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Maybe someday I’ll be able to do a more thorough assessment of the band as, contrary to the relative length of this post, I didn’t really even get to a lot of what I’d like to say. I can just sum it up as saying the friendship felt within this band is some of the best I’ve ever had and I really appreciate the time that we all spent together. Fuck, that wasn’t bad.

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You Heard That We Were Great…

Today, May 11 2017, The Plurals play at Mac’s Bar in Lansing with Local H. Local H is a band that tours hard and has played pretty much everywhere and I’ve had several friends share the stage with them but this is the first time that The Plurals are in this position. In many ways it’s just another show, I’ve been playing for long enough to know that opening for a “national act,” even if it’s one of your favorite bands, rarely “changes” anything, but since this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 17 I’m just happy to achieve a personal goal.

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Local H are in a strange position as they had a moment of strong radio presence at the mid-90s height of “grunge” radio, but they never became top of the bill “stars” and have been in the trenches of independent touring basically since the end of the 90s and the collapse of the music industry as a relentless money vacuum. People that are just aware of their big hit or their minor hit sometimes, in my opinion, unfairly shove them aside with less interesting bands like Candlebox or Collective Soul or even Creed but while the lineage of flannel clad angst is indeed present in their music, a closer listen reveals that they have far more in common with the Replacements than Bush. I myself am not sure if their big hit “Bound For the Floor” really registered with me as a little Plural, but I do remember the now doubly defunct Lansing area alternative station 92.1 the Edge playing “All the Kids Are Right” a lot in the fall of 1998 as I was starting middle school and have always had a strong affinity for that particular tune. A definite lost classic of the 90s if there ever was one.

My love for Local H wasn’t cemented until I saw them live for the first time in 2005. By that point on the recommendation of some of my older friends I had their album As Good As Dead in my CD collection and I had impulsively picked up their 2004 album Whatever Happened to PJ Soles (sidenote – this album is a fucking masterpiece and I won’t hear a word against it; it’s a definite all-time favorite for me) when I unexpectedly came across it in the Ionia pawn shop but I (along with the other nascent Plurals and our friends that formed the original core of GTG Records) went to see them live largely because local heroes XU were opening the show. XU is another essay unto itself, but the main dude from the band runs the label Hot Capicola Records now. Anyway, this first Local H show was a revelation. They hauled their own gear, ran their own merch, had no crew, and played their asses off. Scott Lucas ended the show by crowd surfing to the merch table where he promptly began selling t-shirts. It didn’t seem like they were “has-beens” in any way, more that they had forged their own way after a stint of fleeting major label success. Can you imagine how huge this was to us, as teenagers just beginning to understand the idea of DIY music? These guys didn’t need anyone, and they still don’t. They largely self-release their music and while some of their albums have been licensed to larger labels, they certainly aren’t pandering to anyone else’s commercial interests. It’s no exaggeration to say that The Plurals and GTG would probably not be the same if we hadn’t gone to see Local H when we were in high school.

It didn’t stop in high school though. Hattie and I scrounged together our non-existent “savings” multiple times in our late teens and early 20s to go see Local H live whenever they were within 100-200 miles of us. We gave Scott Lucas so many Plurals CDs, not thinking about the fact that he was just getting burdened with more shit at his shows, but he always was polite and acted interested. So many Plurals “bits” are from the Local H playbook – at one show the fans voted on the setlist via a lottery system before the show, at another show they pulled one of their album titles out of a hat and then played the whole thing (they did PJ Soles that night and it’s still my favorite show of theirs in my personal history), at other shows they would have a “guest singer” come out and do pointless backing vocals but treat it like a serious and integral part of the performance, and, (all right) oh yeah, the Mr. Show references in song titles – but the performance itself from the band has never once been phoned in or jokey. As a teenager their music resonated with me with their early album themes about being a misfit in a nowhere town – in my forever dorky ways I relished the parallel that my nowhere town “Ionia” wasn’t too far off in name from their nowhere town of “Zion” – and I still get a kick out of this wry observance of the darkness in small town aimlessness, but their relentless work ethic and fearlessness in expanding their sonic palette has kept me a fan as I enter my third decade on this earth. We once covered their song “High Fiving MF” at a backyard redneck party at one of our first “shows” ever, an act that surely should have gotten our asses kicked, and now all these years later we finally get to be part of the show. And now they’ll know we’re lame!

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It’s really been a long time coming.

Mystery Garage… RIP!

Music scenes are very fluid constructions: you can have a creatively-rich, supportive, close-knit community one year and the next have infrequent, empty shows with no apparent rhyme or reason to how it changes. Then, out of nowhere, a new crop of bands show up and people appear out of the woodwork and it all starts over again. There’s many reasons for this phenomenon, and the fact that its an endlessly recurring cycle is what leads to so many disenfranchised people talking about how “the scene used to be great, but there’s no good shows anymore” when said person’s tastes inevitably become less of a focal point, and a lot of times it’s hard to even recognize when you’re in the middle of a “high point” in the scene. It’s sort of like the “if you remember it, you weren’t there” bullshit that people like to ascribe to the 70s or any sort of “party” scene.

A Grateful Dead fan enjoys the music before a baseball game

Yeah buddy, I’m SURE it was a great show…

In my (GTG mouthpiece Tommy Plural) fifteen years of performing independent music my awareness of highs-and-lows has been pretty scattered. In 2002 the fact that Drinking Mercury monthly performed in front of 100 high school kids at a rec center in Ionia seemed like we were a part of a huge, dynamic thing but looking back it’s fairly obvious to me that we just happened to stumble into filling a little bit of a void for the background of teenaged socializing, as only a handful of people that were around at the time continued to play or be engaged in DIY music after the 6 months of this being “cool” were up (admittedly, pretty much the entirety of this handful of people later formed the nucleus of GTG Records so perhaps there was something to it… I’ll assume so anyway…). Conversely, for many years I claimed that performing at the Red Light Lounge in Lansing’s Temple Club in 2005/6 was the best local venue experience but it’s impossible to determine if it really was any better than most of the local bar shows I’ve played since as the Red Light Lounge was the first dedicated bar and music venue that the Plurals had any sort of regular/ “scene” presence at so of course my view is going to be rose-colored on that front. I know the Magdalena’s Tea House scene of roughly the same time was a pretty special thing and I still feel a bond with the friends I made in that time even if I don’t see much of them with any regularity (with the exception of the Bermuda Mohawk Productions people that came through this social thread). In some sort of middle ground, we’ve been doing shows at GTG House since 2008 and it’s been through so many incarnations from starting off as living room acoustic shows featuring lots of Earthwork Music Collective artists to general house party location to run-off from Bermuda Mohawk/ Fusion shows to finally coming into its own as a house venue for touring acts and every era has had its ups and downs so its hard for me to say if I’ve ever known when it’s been “thriving.” Most of the time I try and just keep my head down and push onto the next thing and its only years after the fact that I have any real perspective on how well anything went; I just have to hope that the shows we put on are productive for the musicians and enjoyable for the audience.

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GTG Fest is usually pretty obviously fun though.

I mention all of this as exposition to highlight how ephemeral most pillars of local arts scenes can be, and to put into perspective one of the only times where I was aware that we were doing something awesome pretty much the entire time it was happening. In 2012 Isaac from the Hat Madder made good on something he’d been talking about for a couple years and started putting on shows with his fellow sound engineer Eric at a warehouse in Old Town that they had access to. Isaac and Eric launched the space and were gracious enough to invite GTG Records as a collective to be a part of putting on and running the shows. The Hat Madder rehearsed in this space at the time and that was just one of many factors that caused the space to be full of professional audio and lighting gear. This time also coincided with some of the other occupants of the space brewing their own craft beer so when we decided to hold our first event at the space in April 2012 we were also featuring unique craft beer by Mash Pit Brewing, some of which only existed at those shows. Talk about ephemeral…

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Apologies to these people for existing in a photograph in front of the actual door to the Mystery Garage.

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But no apologies to Matt. He knows why.

The first show featured the Claudettes, an instrumental piano-drums duo from Chicago formed by two members of Oh My God that was doing one of their first tours, and locals The Hat Madder and The Plurals (in what was a homecoming show for our second extended west coast tour). Everything was largely in place at this show – with Isaac spearheading the show with the help of other GTG people it basically was turning a bunch of people with many years of experience putting on and playing shows loose into a room that was perfect for putting on a show, with no real “boss” to answer to in terms of how we could run the show. It was sweet! It took a little while to fully utilize the space- there was a lot of extraneous gear and miscellaneous storage items that we had to sort through for the first run of shows, it took us a few tries to find the best location for the bar, and we had to try a few different options for beer supplies – but we basically immediately had a venue not only with all of the best qualities of doing a show in a basement or, uh, garage, but also the facilities to produce a live show that rivaled and in some cases bettered the sound and stage setups of actual bar venues. I’ll always feel bad about the bathroom though… open ceiling and we somehow never got around to replacing the latch to keep the door shut. I guess we can retroactively claim that we were trying to give the space some CBGB-cred.

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Our perhaps ill-advised social media profile picture and thus the image most associated with the Mystery Garage.

We had no name for the venue for the first several shows, just referring to it as “the garage,” “old town garage,” “the warehouse,” “Isaac’s work” and I once tried to get “Hat Box Garage” to take off as it was the Hat Madder’s rehearsal space but it semi-unofficially settled into “The Mystery Garage” around October 2012 when we held GTG Fest 2012 at the space. The space was also known as  the “Local Music Appreciation Club” so that the venue could operate as a private club to maintain legal credibility. The Mystery Garage can certainly be credited with saving GTG Fest and, in reality, establishing it as a true local event. For the first three years of GTG Fest we held it as an all day party on my parents’ property in Ionia, so it was both out-of-the-way and impractical to promote. In 2011 (after my parents were sick of it basically, ha) we held two separate daylong shows at now-defunct Lansing DIY space Basement 414, as well as a GTG House show, and used “GTG Fest” and “GTG Festivus” as a banner to connect all of them. In 2012 we really had no idea when, how, or where we would do GTG Fest and the Mystery Garage popping up made it possible. Finally holding it as a proper event in Lansing and seeing how well it went as a one day thing at the Mystery Garage prompted us to experiment with the multi-day and multi-venue format that we’ve pursued int the years since. Thanks Mystery Garage!

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Fun fact: Isaac and Eric “fired” each other multiple times after this show, and then worked together early the next day.

It’s to the credit of the people of Lansing that we were able to operate the space with little to no problems from the people that attended the shows. Opening up the doors of a private space to people on the street and allowing those over 21 to consume alcohol can have all kinds of risks but everyone seemed to love the space so there was an element of self-policing going on as no one wanted the space to be compromised and all of the organizers of shows kept a pretty good eye on what was going on as well. So our sincerest thanks are owed to all of the amazing people that attended our warehouse venue. I always loved seeing the looks on people’s faces as they entered the venue for the first time; the exterior was so unassuming but then this truly awesome space existed inside. And trying to explain the space to people with little prior experience at DIY spaces was always pretty fun… “wait, so it’s a bar… but just in someone’s warehouse? And bands play?” Yeah, basically… and the bands were diverse and pretty kick ass most of the time, and maybe not even from this country.

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I take any chance I can get to post this picture.

I spent a little while gathering information from the internet and corresponding back and forth with Isaac, and I think I’ve managed to compile a list of every band (plus the group of comedians and the artist that did live caricature drawings whose names are somehow alphabetically right next to each other!) that played the Mystery Garage between April 2012 and February 2016. If I’ve forgotten anyone, let me know… since there was never a regular show calendar it wasn’t the easiest thing to organize. Everyone that performed at the Mystery Garage, in alphabetical order… 

A Couple ‘A Cowboys, Adam Balbo, Aimcriers, Antilogical, Amoeba Boys, The Arrangement, Banned and Burned, BerT, Bobby Meader Music, The Break-Ups, Calliope, Cat Midway, Cavalcade, Cave Needles, Cheap Girls, City Mouse, the Claudettes, Comedy Coven, Corey Marie, The Cost of Living, Couches, Croatone, The Crushtones, Dead Ben Rooster, Distorted Waltz, Drinking Mercury, Elroy Meltzer, Emily & the Complexes, Fencemen, The Fiction Junkies, Fools Rush, Frank and Earnest, the Free Life, The Foreign Resort, Geistlos, Genocya, Ghoulie, Giygas, Hailey Wojcik, The Hat Madder, Honah Lee, The Hunky Newcomers, Hut Two Hike, I Am Sunday, Immanuel Can’t, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur, The Jackpine Snag, Jake Simmons, Jeremy Porter & the Tucos, Jessi Spreitzer, Johnny Unicorn, Jonny Janis, The Lippies, Little American Champ, Lovey Dovey, Mad Moon, middleman, Miski Dee, Mr. Denton on Doomsday, The Mongrels, Mudwest, Narc Out the Reds, Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, The Need You Nows, Newday Dreamers, Nocturnal Aviators in Action, The Plurals, The Plurettes, Provost, Racket Ghost, Re-Evolution, Red Teeth, Sam Goodwill, Scary Women, So Long Naota, Spit For Athena, Stargrazer, Stereo Artifacts, The Stick Arounds, Stonecutters, Summerpunx, Sunn Burn, Terror Terror! Oh My!, Tommy Plural, When Particles Collide, and Worriers. Some of those bands didn’t play too many shows, barely toured, or we were fortunate enough to grab them on an early tour. A lot of talent graced the “stage.”

We also have the lovely what-if alternate universe we can all theorize about in which these bands that were all booked to play a Mystery Garage show but had to cancel for whatever various reasons managed to pull off a set too: Benny the Jet Rodriguez, The Chirps, Elliot Street Lunatic, Murderburgers, People Grinding Axes, The People’s Temple, and Toys That Kill.

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A crowd of people stood and stared.

Too many memorable shows to name them all, but I can write about a couple that immediately come to mind. All of the GTG Fests were memorable shows, and the 2015 Mystery Garage day for GTG Fest was particularly memorable as we had beautiful weather and everyone was essentially basking in what had a been a long but great weekend. At the end of the night, and fest, the few people left – basically the show organizers, Honah Lee, and a handful of night owl attendees – held a multi-hour, adrenaline-filled and alcohol draining dance party that should have certainly ruined someone’s vocal cords but didn’t. City Mouse’s GTG Fest 2013 set featured Hattie and Nich as the rhythm section and watching them from the audience for pretty much the only time was surreal and a personal favorite lineup and performance by one of the bands that I’ve seen and enjoyed the most. Watching Calliope reunite with former bassist Carmen Paradise for a one-off set in that band’s criminally lone Mystery Garage appearance was definitely another highlight for me as were all of the many times the Hat Madder and the Jackpine Snag (definitely the venue’s two most frequent performers) blew the doors off the place. I was on tour when it happened but the Stick Arounds recorded their forthcoming debut album live at two Mystery Garage shows, so that’s a cool future token to look forward to. And I also can’t forget that we used the space as the venue for the “action” in The Plurals “Prolly Knot” music video from last year.

Having a true alternative venue for the people of Lansing and DIY touring bands for four years has definitely been an amazing experience, but as all things must come to an end after February 13th the Mystery Garage shall be no more. Professional and life changes came along, nothing more, and it’s just time to move on. The four years since Eric and Isaac opened the doors have seen the Avenue Cafe rise as a premiere local venue, the opening of the Robin Theatre in REO Town, and Mac’s Bar, GTG House, and various other pop-up house venues and spaces continue to provide many opportunities to stage cool and unique shows so our fine tertiary market that is Lansing is in a good place in 2016. Having the experience of the Mystery Garage with us now has definitely motivated us to maintain high standards for the shows we put on and if things fall in place again hopefully we’ll have another space like it in the future.

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So, with all of that said, I hope to see everyone that can make it come out to the Mystery Garage on Saturday February 13 for one last show. We have a stacked bill of locals that frequented the stage lined up to play one final time and we’ll also be hosting an open mic from 6-8 PM for anyone else that wants to perform in the space one last time. Event page here. Thanks again, people of Lansing, for helping make the venue such a success, Eric and Isaac for opening the doors in the first place, all the people that helped put on the shows, Brandon and the other craft beer enthusiasts for keeping the libations flowing, and every performer that came through the doors. What a run!
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Photo credits: Ben Hassenger, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur, Hattie Danby, Josh David, Bethanne Harms, Daniel Ryan Balderas, Matt Waterman.

Bobby Meader Music / Jan 28!

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Let me ask you a question: have you ever tried to book a show? A fundraiser, a comedy showcase, a large dinner reservation, a dentist appointment? It’s fucking hell. The back-and-forth that goes into trying to capture the attention of anybody on the other end, plus the non-stop volley of times/details/the most boring minutiae, is a long and mind-numbing process. I highly recommend avoiding it! Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in, and as we travel on across the long and winding road of life, we must all take on unpleasant responsibilities, go to the dentist, plan shows, and try to recall all of the details when we’re asked to write blog articles about them years later.

My (Ben Kahlil Hassenger) first introduction to Bobby Meader was sometime in late 2013. I was immersed in the aforementioned unpleasantness of tour-booking while working with my band mates to book the first major tour for The Hunky Newcomers. We were leaving the Midwest and its Polar Vortex for a month and heading West, meeting up with City Mouse for a block of dates in the middle. I found Bobby through a show posting on the website Punks In Vegas. I remember checking out his tunes and thinking, “Yeah, these are fine.” (The endorsements get better as the article goes on, Bobby, I promise!) I shot him an email seeing if he could possibly help us set up a show. To my surprise, he responded almost immediately with information and promised to help. Receiving any answer at all – even a “Hell no!” – when booking a tour is almost a victory in itself, but the fact that somebody was so quick to jump in and ready to help was fantastic and felt really fucking positive. In the end, we ended up booking a different show through another promoter, but Bobby came out with his large beard and even larger smile and greeted us to his fair city. We shot the shit throughout the show and he told us that we’d see him soon.

Since then, we’ve been able to bring him through Lansing on three separate occasions and each time has been a treat, both musically and just in hanging-outs and getting-to-know-yous. My favorite story was when he came and played at The Mystery Garage. He got to Lansing early and made himself at home at GTG, where he was staying for a few days, then picked up a fifth of vodka and a burrito. He ate half of the burrito early on, then drank considerably more than half of the fifth. In his drunken state, he must have polished off the rest of the burrito. However, once we all returned home after the show, Bobby set out to finish his burrito. Upon finding it gone and the wrapper in the trash, he immediately concluded that one of our housemates had eaten the rest of his food. He was pretty pissed about it, going on for quite some time.“Who DOES that?” he cried. I shrugged. Perhaps it was a little mean of me to not remind him that he had, in fact, eaten the entire thing, but I wanted to see how the whole thing played out. I’m an asshole, I know. I did assure him that if anyone at GTG house was going to steal his food, it was probably going to be me – my girlfriend backing me up on my food-stealing tendencies – but he was not persuaded. This went back-and-forth for a year or so, until I finally had to set him straight at GTG Fest 2015 when he was telling his side of the story to the audience. I swear, you call my house and its food thievery into question…

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The horrible vision that went through Bobby’s mind on that fateful night.

Anyway, lest I paint Bobby Meader as merely a drunk who misplaces food, let me get into those glowing endorsements I promised earlier. This guy may be the hardest-working performer I’ve ever met on the DIY circuit. He’s on the road for a solid six months of the year and does everything himself: booking, promoting, interviews, the whole shebang. He has hit me up for dates four/five months in advance; what DIYer is that organized? On top of all of that, he’s an absolute pleasure to work with. Bobby is so laid-back but focused and determined. Can’t forget about the music either: Same description. Never too loud or abrasive, while always managing to kick a hole in your heart. It’s soft and loud simultaneously, emotional and distant… I find myself feeling so many different things throughout the course of each song.

GTG Records is super excited to be bringing Bobby Meader Music back to the Mystery Garage this Thursday, January 28, alongside local favorites Little American Champ and GTG Records artists The Hat Madder and Cat Midway. The show’s going to be pretty rad, with a great lineup and a promise for a pretty special time. More information about the show can be found here. See you this Thursday, and for the love of all that is holy, please don’t eat the guy’s burrito.

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Happy Dickety-Sixteen

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In case you’re just blacking in, six days ago we began a 366 day (for real) cycle that shall be labelled as “2016.” In addition to celebrating the birth of Leap Day William, this year also promises plenty of exciting releases from GTG Records. Red Teeth will be making their label debut with the Light Bender 7-inch, which is at the pressing plant with an early spring release targeted. The Narc Out the Reds 10″ is mastered, the next Hat Madder record is approaching the mixing stage (and the band will be touring the east coast and midwest with When Particles Collide in March), the new Sleeping Timmy-fronted project Carm’s debut is in the tracking stage, and the Plurals just booked studio time (and a tour of the southeast) in late March for a fourth album. Honah Lee will also be hitting the studio in the spring, but first they’ll be doing some midwest tour dates. Plenty to look forward to! We also have some really cool split releases to announce and a few more things in the works so get those turntables warming up! Is that a thing? You probably don’t want to burn out the belts on those things now that I think about it. Clean your ears… yeah, that’ll do.
But before we get too future-fixated, let’s take a look back on the previous year. We released three albums in 2015:
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Honah Lee – 33 On 45 – 12″ LP of 10 catchy as hell punky rock and roll anthems. Reviews earned them comparisons to Superchunk, Lemonheads, Weezer, and more and they put in some serious road time on the east coast and in the midwest, including festival appearances at Death to False Hope Fest and GTG Fest. The LP gained enough traction that Creep Records in Philadelphia took on pressing up a CD version as well.
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The Plurals – An Onion Tied To My Belt – 12″ LP and CD of 12 Plurals-like Plurals songs that we had the pleasure to co-release with Florida’s Infintesmal Records and Arizona’s Diet Pop Records. Tommy Plural is the one writing this update and clearly I’m too close to this record to objectively judge it but we did some coast-to-coast touring with it and people at keyboards (not to assume too much of anyone else’s process) compared it to the Replacements, Husker Du, early 90s DC noise, late 80s SST, and more. And to me it’s a (non) reflection of the style of the time.
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Dreadpool Parker – self titled – CD featuring 11 tracks from New Jersey rap crew consisting of MCs Wade Wilson and Raymond Strife with Dready Mercury making the beats. We go way back with Ray (Nich Plural has potentially the best “first impression” story every involving him, and I basically quit drinking to excess after a blacked-out night with him a few years ago) so when he told us that his new group was doing some touring and putting out an album this year we had to get behind it (and book them for GTG Fest). As it stands it’s not only the first rap release on our label but also just a blast of catchy, witty, and fun music that stands tall among our catalog. Can’t wait for them to tour again!

In addition to these full-length releases we also issued an archival live recording of the Hat Madder from a 2008 tour date in France, a free label sampler (and more) nonsensically called Time to Val Kilmer, a compilation of acoustic artists and recordings, and, as always, capped off the year with the strangely-becoming-a-legacy holiday compilation Bermuda Snohawk. And in addition to these additions we also, additionally, released 10 live music video recordings in the GTG Sessions series that featured, alongside plenty of GTG usual suspects, performances by Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band, The Devils Cut, Logan & Lucille, and Croatone. What a year, and more to come.

I thought about making it a goal to have every band I’m in put out a physical release in 2016, but this is easier said than done as I don’t think a single band I’ve ever been in has actually “broken up” but… I’m hoping for Drinking Mercury, Calliope, and Frank and Earnest to all put out some solid product this year too. Calling it!



Jason Alarm Reunion Show 12/5/2015…. and Tommy Looks in the Mirror and Asks “What Happened?”

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That’s the Jason Alarm photo that I had saved on the website from several years ago. Ha! But it kinda ties into my overall thoughts as we approach their reunion show THIS SATURDAY DECEMBER 5TH AT MAC’S BAR WITH SPECIAL GUESTS THE PLURALS, MR. FOX AND THE HOUNDS, AND DEAD HOUR NOISE of time passing without realizing and how it’s totally okay.

My relationship with Jason Alarm began in early 2008 when my old-but-still-together-sometimes band The Break-Ups played an all ages show at Mac’s Bar that was also the first show by a band from the Grand Ledge high school called Jason Alarm. This show was actually supposed to be at Replay Entertainment Exchange but had to be moved to Mac’s after Replay dropped their show calendar – I forget if it was because they were moving or some other reason. Replay moving to different store locations was kind of a running joke for awhile as in their first two years or so of business they were in four different locations. They’ve been at the same one in East Lansing now for over five years, so that’s another thing that’s changed over time and isn’t really a thing anymore.

Anyway, Jason Alarm were surprisingly good at that show, definitely talented and full of potential, and they made the members of The Break-Ups – old, wizened veterans at the age of 20/21 – feel like rock stars with their youthful enthusiasm for what we were doing. I kind of hate the fact that every time Jason Alarm or any of their members come up I automatically jump into this “those kids” conversation as I’m only five years older than them and I have tons of friendships of equal or greater age difference where that’s not even a thing, but it’s all about context I guess. They don’t deserve to have that vaguely condescending language about them as they totally proved themselves to be an original, hardworking band that did things that bands twice their age never do. And I respect the hell out of them, which I need to state before I go into the self-centered, caffeine-fueled, thought-exorcism that this supposed website update about another band is turning into.

GTG was officially one of the labels that put out Jason Alarm’s EP Engage in 2009 but we didn’t do a single thing to enable the release of that record! Ha! Maybe we encouraged them somehow, I dunno. Back in 2008 this guy Jeremy was a part of GTG and he wanted to produce a Jason Alarm record so he brought them over to the GTG studio and recorded demos but then moved to Boston fairly unceremoniously, so I was left in this awkward position of trying to salvage the friendship with these younger musicians who kind of had the rug pulled under them for their “debut” recording project. Plans were made to record with me but I was busy whenever they wanted to record – what I was doing back then I have no idea… going to school… what else? This was before The Plurals were a touring band and with the way I operate now the only way I wouldn’t make time to work on a recording project, especially one for the label, is if I were on the road and physically unable to be around. Hattie and I were talking at Plurals practice the other day about how we don’t even really remember what being in The Plurals was like before we really dove into touring, and that’s weird because there were several years and songs, shows, and bands we played with that in some weird way don’t even “count” in my mind when it comes to what I’ve done with the band and the label. This doesn’t mean that these things don’t actually matter or are in any way inferior, but my perspective on things has changed so much in the last five years (because everybody remains the same throughout their twenties right? What a terrible fucking world that would be…) that the things I did prior to 2011 when I really went all-in on this music stuff is that all of that was part of some vague “set-up” to what I do now and it’s like a series of blacked out passages with footnotes. And Jason Alarm is squarely in the middle of that bizarrely blacked out part of my mind so the reunion show this Saturday is like my 20-year old self is checking in with my present-day 28 years young person to see what’s up.

And that’s how the show Saturday is going to go in ways: people from previous scenes are going to appear out of thin air with slightly-differently shaped faces, different colored hair, beards, tattoos, glasses… ex-straight edge kids are going to buy me a shot, reformed party animals are going to show me pictures of their healthy, happy children, and I’m going to say that everything is cool, I’m just working on the same stuff. And in my mind I’ve just been stepping on and off stage for five years, jumping back and forth between the same few part-time jobs, seeing the country a few times a year, and thinking about songs, while everyone else will be reminding me that, oh yeah, almost a decade’s worth of things have happened since I met these people. And it’s gonna be a great time! Unlike any so-called “real world” reunion that I mostly succeed at avoiding (sorry 10 year high school reunion).

I’ve always felt bad that GTG Records didn’t really partner up with Jason Alarm in the way that I wanted to. The agreement early on was that I would donate my time to record it,  Cale from Bermuda Mohawk Productions would press the EP, and it would come out as a BMP/GTG co-release. Everyone involved still put the GTG logo and stuff on the release when it did ultimately come out (at the Sun Theater in Grand Ledge with an all ages show featuring Jason Alarm, The Plurals, and Cheap Girls… that’s a show I want to go to now!) without me or anyone else in GTG doing anything, which was cool, but… it was probably one of those watershed moments that made me think “hey, we need to be better at this label thing.” And it took us many more mis-steps before we finally settled into this present day thing that I’m so proud of, so I guess I can thank them for that. But it was also really cool that they excelled on their own, and I got to watch from the sidelines as they broke up once in 2009, reformed a few months later, became more ambitious musicians, had members come and go, toured and put out some singles, and then called it a day a couple years later to move onto other things. And it was awesome to witness the whole evolution of someone else’s adventure, which is something that I really enjoy doing as part of the label and general music community. So while in ways I want to slap twenty-year old me and tell him to just get over himself and make time to record this cool young band, I can appreciate what happened in the non-idealized Tommy-does-whatever-he-should-do reality that we all occupy.

Maybe it’s the arbitrary “year-end” self analysis that I tend to go through every December, but I have a lot of appreciation for everything that happened in the patchwork representation of events that I’ve written about above, and I’m glad that I still get to be a part of it. Enjoy your own adventure, don’t get bogged down by the past, and, seriously, I promise you there’s no reason to shoot anybody. That’s a 2015 timestamp for future readings of this entry if there ever was one. Now, here’s another random photo that I found on the website media archive while looking for that old Jason Alarm photo:

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And I’m also partial to this photo that I used for Josh David & the Dream Jeans for awhile, solely to spite Josh David for harassing me about not updating the page about them enough:

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Thanks for reading if you made it this far! And if you just skipped down here for some reason that’s cool too! – Tommy Plural

GTG 2014 Retrospective!!

As you gear up for your 2014 year finale (one option being to go to The Avenue Cafe in Lansing… hint hint hint) check out this playlist from our youtube channel that gives a sampling of stuff we put out this year. Features songs and music videos from The Plurals, Honah Lee, Frank and Earnest, the Hunky Newcomers, Black Sparrow Press, Cave Needles, the Fiction Junkies, and the Break-Ups. And let me tell you, it feels great to sincerely say that next year will be even better.