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Jazz

Slithering horns

Ripping and soaring with the Odd Clouds

Photo: Doug Coombe
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Published 3/1/2006

Standing against a wall, trombone dangling from his arm, Glen Morren fidgets from side to side. He's tall, thin, bearded, wearing thick glasses and has freshly coiffed, mid-'70s-style hair.

A young woman steps up to ask what kind of music his band plays.

"Uh, um, ..." Morren starts.

"Is it jazz?" she presses, looking down at his instrument.

"Oh, no, yeah, not really," says Morren, collecting the right words. "We play more like improvisational, freak-out jams, free, weird stuff. Really odd music."

"Cool," she says, appearing slightly puzzled, then walks away.

"Cool," Morren says.

Morren and the three other members of Odd Clouds are at a bar in Ferndale for a photo shoot. They look out of place here amid Ted Nugent look-alikes, pudgy fortysomething rock 'n' roll couples and the perky, petite barmaid who keeps circling back, trying to make a sale.

"You sure I can't get you guys a drink? You ready yet?"

"What's the special?" asks Jamie Easter, 30, the oldest and perhaps oddest of the four.

"Three-dollar bottles of beer," she says.

"Uh, nah," Easter says after fixing a long stare into the girl's face. Looking as if she has just seen a demon in the flesh, she quickly bounces away.

Easter and his bandmates appear less interested in beer than they are in "slithering" into the men's room together.

"You ready?" Easter asks Chris Pottinger, 24, the youngest member of the band. Pottinger is holding a sax; Easter has another trombone.

"Let's do it," Pottinger says, leading Morren, Easter and fourth member Heath Moerland, who is carrying a clarinet, into the tiny room. The door is shut, the lights switched off. The horns begin to blast and blurt, squawk and squeal. It's a perfect little chamber for this racket, with sound careening off porcelain, ceramic tile and metal. In about three minutes, it's over. When the lights come back on a guy who came in to use the toilet is looking a bit awestruck. "Wow," he says. "Wow."

"Thanks, dude," Pottinger says, leading the group out the door.

Odd Clouds have the look, the attitude and the sound of something else coming. Though the musicians borrow from influences like free jazz, prog rock, krautrock, punk and noise, they don't mimic. They fit most comfortably in the margins of outsider art, where they can be left alone to do whatever the hell they want.

Pottinger, who is from Lake Orion and graduated from Wayne State University after studying graphic design, says he can listen to natural sounds ("the forest, frogs, humpback whales") and Kentucky hillbilly music endlessly. He met Easter at Noise Camp about five years ago. The sonic art-driven camp for all ages is put on each year by Time Stereo's Warn Defever (His Name is Alive) and Davin Brainard (Princess Dragon Mom, Metal Dungeon).

"Jamie and I got to be friends through art," Pottinger says. "One day a package arrived and there was all this cool, original stuff that he made." Pottinger and Easter make vivid drawings, paintings and other works that contain creatures with bulging eyes and vomiting slugs emerging from human heads. Pottinger's designs grace the covers of releases for his other project, Cotton Museum. A split 12-inch record with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore is out now on Pottinger's Tasty Soil label.

Easter might be best known as the former singer in the Piranhas, an art-punk band that inspired many in Detroit's small glam-noise scene to grow out their sideburns, pick up instruments, mixers and effects pedals and confront audiences all over town. Easter, who grew up in Detroit and Redford, has a solo EP out on Tasty Soil called The Will of the Serpent Sundial. He also plays drums and other percussion instruments in Odd Clouds.

In addition to clarinet, Moerland plays bass and tapes. He also has a solo project called Sick Llama, where he uses tapes, mixer and amplified clarinet. Morren plays guitar and organ when he puts down the trombone. Both are 28 and originally from Grand Rapids.

At a show last spring, Odd Clouds was joined by about seven other musicians, who banged on gongs and boxes in an Ann Arbor living room. Easter started behind his drum kit, then bolted up from his chair and began ripping savage notes on his trombone. That wasn't all he was ripping: Within a few minutes, he was rolling naked on the floor, blowing and pumping his horn, dozens of kids mashing their bodies above him.

"We're a super horny band," Easter says.

After a recent gig in Kalamazoo, Easter says the group walked the streets looking to "slither" at some random spot, which is the whole point. Four guys with horns ready to party anytime, anywhere.

"We showed up at a couple of house parties and just started jamming," Easter says. "Some people loved it, some didn't. Some guys wanted to fight us. If we showed up to play at your house at 2 a.m. wouldn't you think that was cool?"

"And that was at the supposed 'Kalamazoo punk house,'" Moerland says.

Pottinger says members of the band have all experienced people who react with force when challenged by their music.

"Some guy in Bowling Green, Ohio, threatened to pour his drink on my equipment," says Pottinger, referring to a Cotton Museum performance. "He was drunk and couldn't deal."

"I got arrested by cops who busted a party I was playing in Grand Rapids," Moerland says. "They said I assaulted them with the clarinet, but all I did was just keep playing when these guys crashed the party; I didn't even know they were cops. Ha-ha-ha. But the charges were dropped."

The Clouds have performed in the oddest places. In December, they played at a screening of a "psychedelic science" film at the Roeper School in Birmingham. In January, they played at Detroit's Bohemian National Home in a small den jammed with 60 or 70 people.

Easter says the band would like to do a weeklong performance piece where "we all live like hobos on the street, dirty and hungry and smelling bad, and then we walk into a show and play. That could be so awesome."

The group's first LP is out this spring on Ypsilanti Records.

Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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