The phrase “Joy Is Elusive” appeared in Harborcoat’s Matthew Carlson head one day, and the singer/songwriter/guitarist wrote it in black Sharpie on a piece of paper and tacked it to the wall above his studio computer. Those words became a conceptual signpost for the Harborcoat’s sophomore album, aptly titled, Joy Is Elusive.
“Not that joy doesn’t happen, or that we can’t find a lot joy in life and work, but it seems it can be difficult to find these moments and hard work to sustain them,” the Lansing, Michigan artist shares. “I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety all my life and it has always crept into my songwriting as a sort of veiled subtext. With this new batch of songs, I made a conscious effort to write about it more directly. They aren’t mopey or deliberately maudlin, but I think during these times people are feeling a lot anxiety, depression, and they have been grappling with isolation. These topics are part of the human condition.”
Matthew is the main songwriter in Harborcoat. Previously, he led The Pantones for more than a decade, and currently he writes songs and plays and sings in Lansing power pop outfit, The Stick Arounds. In addition, he is the owner and operator of Phonophore Records.
Harborcoat began as a songwriting outlet for Matthew in 2016 for output that didn’t fit with The Stick Arounds. The vision was initially a bedroom artistic venture, but a dear friend suggested Matthew make a real record, and Harborcoat became a functioning band that plays shows and records with an ever-evolving cast of musicians. Previously, Harborcoat issued the 2017 single, “See The Sun,” and the 2019 full-length, Brutal Gravity.
Harborcoat specialize in short stories with chords. The lyrics are novelistic and almost standalone pieces rife with emotive and well-crafted narratives. The band name is pulled from an early R.E.M. gem, and the music brims with nods to Matthew’s heroes. The songs recall the crunchy power pop and harmonies of Teenage Fanclub; the introspection and melodic storytelling of Billy Bragg; and sprinkled in are moments of 80’s esque Brit-Pop or working-class anthems. These influences, however, do not define the record, but are they are merely a strand of DNA in Harborcoat’s collective musical helix.
The songs on Joy Is Elusive are buoyant and energetic and are a powerful juxtaposition to the weighty lyric content. “I wanted there to be a sense of joy and excitement even though the lyrical themes are often terribly dark. There was a direct effort to play to that old maxim of ‘beautiful melodies telling me terrible things,’” Matthew admits. He continues: “On this record I wanted to write more intently about all of our unseen struggles and the baggage we travel with each day. There is a greater thread lyrically and musically rooted within the themes of the album and the fictional town in which they occur. As much as I cringe at the idea of a concept record, this is a record with a pretty clearly defined concept.”
The 12-song album is a cohesive and conceptually immersive collection that warrants a full album listening experience. That said, select record standouts include “Transit Town,” the title track, and “Where The River Bends.” “Transit Town” is a power-pop anthem with Who-style ringing guitars and a rich tapestry of sing-along harmony vocals. The song’s sugar rush is offset by the bummer of the fleeting nature of relationships in a college town. “The story here is of a self-contained world in a mid-sized industrial city not on an upswing where one person comes into town, they partner with someone for a period of time, and then move on, and that other person is stuck and doesn’t want to be where they are,” Matthew shares. This sentiment is epitomized by the lyric: This city is just a stepping stone/And so I guess am I/Everybody else has flown/I’ve got nowhere to fly.
The deeply emotive piano ballad, “Joy Is Elusive,” is a character-driven piece about a mentally ill sibling who does a stint at a state hospital, but is later returned to his family and they have to find a way to build a life together. The song is filled with poignant scene-setting lyrics such as: We picked you up in Traverse City, scars across your arms/Drove along the country roads, you stared out at the farms/Asked you twice if you were hungry you simply shook your head/We inquired if you were better this was all you said. The dynamic and imaginatively arranged literate rocker, “Where The River Bends,” paints a powerful picture of the terror of getting what you want.
The album was tracked at Matthew’s family cabin. Before the sessions began, his father died suddenly, and Matthew thought to cancel, but his family and friends convinced him to proceed with the sessions. “That week of recording was the first time in four weeks that I had managed to find any degree of happiness or hope,” he recalls. “It was cathartic, it was beautiful, and it was the perfect distraction.”
(writeup c/o Phonophore Records)
Local Lansing folk will probably be hip to this now, but GTG is more-or-less booking and promoting the majority of the music at The Avenue Cafe these days. Here’s what we’ve got for the whole month of August:
That’s a good run there, eh? We’ve got the first full-length show by The Wild Honey Collective, the first public Lansing shows from Cavalcade and The Plurals in at least 18 months, a record release by the Cartridge Family(?!?!??), GTG Fest familiars like The Ryne Experience, LVRS, and Marsha, Mike Reed from Small Brown Bike… great stuff all around!
Shows are getting to be a little more commonplace – on top of the above listed we’ve got The Plurals playing Taste of Michigan City (Michigan City, IN) the afternoon of August 7, The Wild Honey Collective play from 5-9 at the Beer Garden at Horrocks Farm Market in Lansing on August 21 as well as an afternoon slot at Sundried Music Fest in Mason on August 28, and then The Stick Arounds take the Horrocks stage themselves on August 28 too. All of these events are free and promise great times. We need ’em! Stay safe out there everyone, masks are still a good thing!
Saturday July 10 will see Cavalcade play the first show at Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids since early 2020. Way to go, boys! Somehow, GTG-affiliated acts are weirdly ushering in the return of live music to the, er, weirdos of the Midwest. Case in point….
Saturday July 10 is also the let’s-not-overstate-it-too-much return of shows to the Avenue Cafe in Lansing, featuring The Hunky Newcomers, Foxgrave, and Jeremy Porter. Geez! That feels good to say. No cover, 21+, 9 PM, just… come and watch! Wow! There’s shows every Saturday in July at the Avenue, and they’ve all got a GTG flavor to them: Saturday July 17 RK Andrews from No Skull opens up for our friends Bloody Butterflies and Bubak, Saturday July 24 Nicholas Weltschmerz opens up for the debut show of the latest Josh David fronted band Frowntown, and on July 31 the Wild Honey Duo will open up for a night of music featuring Michigan mainstay Jen Sygit. Something for everyone, you’re welcome!
The Soods did it again! Following up 2020’s excellent Ornaments of Affection, A Ray Rewired Volume 1 features 7 bursts of dreamy, jangly goodness. In addition to project mastermind Jason Roy and regular members Steven Meltzer, Chris Coble, Matt Ten Clay, Shane Tripp, and Haleigh Potter, A Ray Rewired features Ryne Clarke (The Ryne Experience) and Timmy Rodriguez (Wild Honey, Drinking Mercury, Sleeping, etc) among others. Download at the link above or check it out on Spotify. More Soods to come!
In their 10 plus years as a band, Lansing Michigan’s The Stick Arounds have never shied away from the music that inspired them. Three full-length LPs and a dozen singles later, the influence of the songcraft of bands like Sloan, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, and other power pop luminaries is as evident as ever on their new EP Waiting For The Click.
“We’re Not Even Close” is the painfully familiar tale of failed relationships, told in the most midwest way possible: through rock bombast akin to bands like Cheap Trick and The Replacements.
“Redtail Hawks” couples that same energy with a bit of straight vintage swagger reminiscent of T. Rex, and handclaps directly inspired by Motown records.
The vocal harmonies that have become part of the Stick Arounds signature sound are immediately apparent on “Easy To Take”, as is the Byrdsian guitar approach that harkens back to some of the band’s favorite classic country records and early country rock. Gram Parsons would have loved this.
Simultaneously a call for help and call to arms, “Ode To Kid Marine” is an open love letter to drowning your sorrows in a few beers and a favorite record. Named for a terrific solo Bob Pollard record, this track epitomizes the glory and inherent regret in blasting an album and drinking to make it through the night.
Four tight and taut songs make up this ten minute trip rooted deeply in harmony, threadbare honesty, and the enduring power of rock and roll.
We’re very excited to be hosting This Must Be The Place: Quality Hits From Lansing, a new 24 track compilation of Lansing-area artists performing some of their favorite covers, a project that was spearheaded by acclaimed music writer Rich Tupica (of the definitive Big Star book There Was A Light fame). Lots of old friends here! It’s a little glimpse into what us creative types have been up to with a year of no shows. From the GTG family we’ve got The Plurals, Cavalcade, The Wild Honey Collective, RK Andrews (No Skull/Red Teeth), Counterpunchers (members of Narc Out The Reds), The Stick Arounds, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur (The Hat Madder), Jennifer Toms (Scary Women), and Disappointed Dad, plus lots of old friends throughout like Crystal Drive, Frontier Ruckus, Dylan Rogers, Rodeo Boys, Nonbinary, La La Delivery and plenty more! 24 tracks! Free download!
Here’s what Rich had to say about the project:
“This Must Be the Place: Quality Hits from Lansing is a totally free download of Lansing, Michigan bands performing select songs by artists they love. This is meant to serve as a fun stop-gap between now and the (eventual) return of live shows. So, please: Listen. Download. Repeat. There’s a wide range of covers here because each band/artist chose whichever song they wanted for this collection. The reason? Every band has a good cover in them—perhaps one they’ve always wanted to tackle, but never had a proper reason to. So, the “art of the cover” was fully realized here. With no limitations, it left the tracklist up to them and it made for a bizarre, yet somehow cohesive blend of genres.
Aside from a long roster of area fixtures Like Frontier Ruckus, Cavalcade, Rodeo Boys, The Plurals, Wally Pleasant (and many more!), there’s also new solo tracks and fresh side projects featured here from Lansing vets: RK Andrews (of No Skull, Red Teeth), Jennifer Toms (of Scary Women), Counterpunchers (members of Narc Out the Reds), Dylan Rogers (L.U.V.S), Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur (The Hat Madder), Seth + Modern Sadness (features Seth Rentfrow of Way to Fall, Kyle Daniel), Myron James (Edible Intention), and The Wild Honey Collective (a new GTG super group). Scroll through the selection, and you’ll see plenty of familiar names. Enjoy!”
Holy smokes, has it been a year?!?? Just over a year ago as the stay-at-home order was issued in Michigan we started doing daily videos of GTG family and friends in quarantine. Weird times, but the solidarity experienced was a pretty awesome thing to take in, though we’re not quite ready to start getting pandemic nostalgia. Here’s a playlist of Staying Home With GTG Records from spring 2020, and there are a few more on the GTG facebook that never got uploaded to youtube. Glad we’re all still here!
The pandemic delayed the vinyl, cancelled the release show, and put our first printing option out of business, but at last, Drinking Mercury vinyl is shipping! Those who pre-ordered, thank you so much for your patience! And everyone else… you can get it now! This 12 song album is one of the most critically acclaimed GTG releases – Razorcake said “they do a good job of tugging at a wide range of emotions and memories, which made for an introspective listen,” Local Spins said listening to it was “like finding some hidden classic from decades past,” City Pulse declared it “superb, genre-bending, well-crafted pop with psychedelic meltdowns” and Stratton Setlist called it “soothing waves of vibrant folk-influenced dream pop” – plus it spent a few months in the Top 5 at WYCE in GR earlier this year (and it’s still getting play). So, needless to say, we’re happy to get it on to people’s turntables at last. One minor win for 2020!