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Music

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Detroit-centric queries involving kickin' CityFest performers

Seun Kuti
Tally Hall
Colin Blunstone (right) of the Zombies.
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Published 7/2/2008

Calexico prepares for more "Detroit (manhole) Steam"
by Fred Mills

Tucson's Calexico — formed more than a decade ago around the nucleus of guitarist-vocalist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino while they were still members of Giant Sand — has a new album, Carried to Dust, due in September and featuring a host of guest artists. We caught up with Convertino a week before Calexico was scheduled to hit Detroit.

Metro Times: Since collaborations are so much a part of the Calexico aesthetic, are there any Detroit musicians you'd like to work with?
John Convertino: Well, Elvin Jones and Hank Jones got their musical start in Detroit. Elvin [was] one of my heroes. And his brother Hank is one of the last living jazz pianists from that era. So anybody I'd want to work with? Hell, yeah — Hank Jones!

MT: Any abiding memories of playing Detroit in the past?

Convertino: On Tool Box [album], there's a song called "Detroit Steam," and I titled that song because it reminded me of when Giant Sand played Detroit. We were downtown. It was very empty, very ghost town-like. And in the middle of winter, you had steam coming up through the cracks in the streets. I had this old brick camera and I took a bunch of pictures of Detroit on that winter day when all that steam was coming up.

MT: You're playing a lot of summer festival dates, but most of them are folk-blues-jazz festivals — are the big, jamming rock fests like Bonnaroo and Coachella played out?

Convertino: We're not the super hard-hitting rock band — even though we did just play two really huge rock festivals in Germany. I think sometimes the rock festivals go, ‘Oh, it's great to have Calexico because they're a little different.' And then the blues and jazz festivals go, ‘Oh, it's great to have Calexico because … they're a little different!' [laughs]

MT: Why did it take two years since your last album, Garden Ruin?

Convertino: That's been kind of our pattern: Tour a record for a year solid, and then take some time off. And that's when we start collecting new material and I start working with Joey one-on-one. But you really gotta give yourself a break after all that touring. You gotta put the sticks away. It's definitely not for lack of material.

MT: Do journalists work the geography angle too much when writing about you?

Convertino: Somewhat. If you listen to the music, there's a lot else going on. The mariachi influence and the trumpet fanfare has been overly focused on. That's where Garden Ruin was coming from. It was kinda like, hey, we got some other influences too.

Calexico play Saturday, July 5, at 8:30 p.m. on the Motor City Casino stage.


Seun Kuti's Afrobeat legacy takes wing
by Chris Handyside

What becomes an heir most? In the case of Seun Kuti, the youngest son of legendary Nigerian Afrobeat bandleader and political firebrand Fela Kuti, it's carrying on the legacy that's his birthright. While elder brother Femi has found success mixing his father's music with a fusion of Western genres, the younger Kuti has is carrying on his father's music in its purest form — a heady brew of funk, soul and indigenous African rhythms, vocals and instruments. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 — the same band his father led at the time of his death in 1997 — have just released their debut album, Many Things (Tot Ou Tard Records). We caught up with him via a spotty cell phone connection between dates on his current North American tour.

Metro Times: Do you feel a lot of pressure carrying the flag for Afrobeat?
Seun Kuti: Oh, no. Not pressure — this is what I do. This music is my life. It seems harder when you're outside looking in than when you're inside looking out. It's my life. Africa's going through the same thing it's been going through for 40 years now, so the reality is the same. And the message is the same. It's a shame, really, but it's our reality.

MT: This is your first record, but you've been working with the band for about 10 years. What was the thought behind waiting so long to release your debut?

Kuti: It was really that I wanted to be ready to have my record out. Egypt 80 isn't a new band, it's an international band with a reputation and I had to wait until the material was right and the time was right.

MT:  Have any of Detroit's musical exports — Motown, techno, rock 'n' roll, hip hop — influenced your music?

Kuti: No. But I like your rapper from Detroit, Eminem. But that's mostly for my music at home. [With Egypt 80], I'm mostly influenced by music from my father.

MT:  You cite Chuck D and Dr. Dre as influences. Does their influence bring anything to your interpretation of Afrobeat?

Kuti: No. My Afrobeat music is an original genre. I don't believe in being influenced by modern music. I don't believe in combining Western music with my music. My music is whole as it is. I like the music to listen to at home, as a hip-hop producer at home. I have a hip-hop band at home, but not for my main gig.

MT:  Do you see any connection — political or cultural — between Detroit and Nigeria in that we produce cars that consume so much of the oil that comes from the turmoil in your country?

Kuti: Well, it's not only Detroit, not only the U.S. where cars are made. It's the U.K. and Europe. Detroit isn't the only place that makes cars. And it's not just about oil. It's bigger than that. Africa is the richest continent in the world in terms of resources, but we're the poorest in terms of wealth. When I'm at home and the services aren't working, power and buses and other things, it's not just oil that's the problem. It's everything that's mismanaged.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 play Friday, July 4, at 5:30 p.m. on the Motor City Casino Stage.


I talked with a Zombie...
by Gregg Turner

As incredible as it may seem, 40 years after the release of  "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No"  (well, perhaps not so incredible; they're Zombies after all!), the mainstays of the band —  lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboard player Rod Argent — are still at it.  Actually, they've been playing together for the last few years, primarily reviving tunes from their late '60s pop-psychedelic masterpiece, Odyssey and Oracle. We recently chatted with Blunstone for five questions.

Metro Times: I saw the show a few years ago in Cleveland. Will this Detroit gig be basically the same?  Same lineup? 

Colin Blunstone: It will be the same lineup.  Rod and I will be the only members from the original band. We'll be the only Zombies.  However, we've expanded the repertoire of songs that we play — more different songs.

MT: Detroit has always been known for its gritty guitar workups and tough R&B sound.   Are you guys sitting on a couple of rap songs just in case the audience gets restless?

Blunstone: (laughs) Maybe we should start thinking about that. …

MT: Ray Davies once credited Odyssey and Oracle as being one of more influential pop albums of its time. Were you equally influence by Ray Davies?

Blunstone: Oh, I mean, how could you not be? Absolutely. Back in 1964, '65  the Kinks were the model. We were always big fans of the Kinks and Ray.

MT: Arthur Lee opened for you at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.      Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. It seems appropriate to now speculate on a Zombie curse. Do you think your opening acts in Detroit are nervous about this?

Blunstone: Now, wait a minute! There have been lots of opening acts we've played with and they haven't died. 

MT: Thanks, Colin, for putting up with this.

Blunstone: Thank you, mate.  I've enjoyed it! Looking forward to Detroit. Or New Mexico? Detroit, right?

The Zombies play Thursday, July 3, at 8:30 p.m. on the Motor City Casino Stage.


The Dead Bodies live!
by Laura Witkowski


Ask anybody with a musical attention span and they'll say the Dead Bodies are one of the best things going in the Motor City. Its sound is a genre-bending trip, hinting at everything in rock's past and present, but cleverly twisted into fantastic shapes. We chatted with singer-guitarist Jonathan Weier, bassist Nic Childers and drummer Adam Cox.

Metro Times: You're popular in Detroit, but your MySpace page lists "Shelby Township" as your hometown. What the hell?

Nic Childers: Jon and Adam live in Shelby, less than a mile from one another, and we practice at Jon's house. I live in Rochester, a border town of Shelby, while Jason has the longest ride, from Madison Heights.

MT: What are the most exciting things about Detroit's music scene now?

Jonathan Weier: It feels like you can book a pretty eclectic group of bands to play one show together and pull it off successfully. Genre seems to be a lot less important to people than it has been in the past. 

Childers: You don't find yourself at shows watching three bands do the exact same thing. You find yourself watching something new.

MT: What Detroit-area bands fed your head when you were growing up and who are you into currently?

Weier: I never really listened to local music until I started playing shows four years ago. The first bands I liked were Johnny Headband, PAS/CAL, Nice Device, Human Eye and the Beggars. More recently, Deastro, Serenity Court and Mick Bassett have caught my attention. I'm into the genre-muddling stuff.

Adam Cox: Currently, I like Tommy James, PAS/CAL, anything Motown, Mick Bassett. Terrible Twos seem pretty awesome too.

MT: Your CCCCXX album is self-released and available as a free download. Do you think that's been a successful venture and how do you measure the success of a free record?

Weier: I think it was a good idea. I like to think that some people have heard it that wouldn't have paid 5 or 10 bucks for a CD from a band they don't know well. I don't know how to measure the success other than checking snatch amounts on torrent sites. A couple people who aren't my friends or my mom said they like it. That's pretty sweet.

Cox: Seems to me that more people have heard our new record than other records we've done.

MT: What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Cox: Barbecues, swimming, wave pools, bonfires, festivals, and long days spent recording in a dark basement. ...

Childers: Outdoor shows with barbecues and camping.

Weier: Drinking on patios!

The Dead Bodies play Wednesday, July 2, at 8:30 p.m. on the Pure Detroit stage.


Tally ho!
by Laura Witkowski


Tally Hall's bright, shiny and harmonic, OK?    In fact, the Ann Arbor band's debut album, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, is named after the densely packed, eclectic arcade in Farmington Hills. MT talked to Zubin Sedghi (vocals-bass) … or if you're more apt to recognize them by their trademark colors, he's the dude with the blue tie.

Metro Times: Name a few differences and similarities between music in Ann Arbor and Detroit?

Zubin Sedghi: The main difference is Ann Arbor is such a college town so a lot of younger ideas are flowing. We grew up half way in-between the two — so we see a lot of Ann Arbor bands play Detroit and vice versa. It seems more like a "Michigan music scene," since no particular genre really defines the difference between the two cities.

MT: What are the most exciting things about it?

Sedghi: We've seen a lot of up and coming labels that support area independent music.  As the music industry changes, you can really see the benefits of that. You don't need the big backing because you have this whole community that's growing independent of larger players. Particularly in Ann Arbor — it's easy to reach out to your "friends" via school and social networking and get the word out about events.

MT: What Detroit-area bands fed your head when you were growing up and who are you into currently?

Sedghi: Growing up, I listened to Eminem — he has a real talent for lyric writing.  Now, we're kinda friends with some of the bands that are from this area, like Great Lakes Myth Society and the Hard Lessons. We really like both of them. 

MT: Has the rerelease of your album this past April on Atlantic helped renew interest and expand your reach at all? 

Sedghi: Hopefully, yes. It's hard yet to determine since it's so new. This other [video] project we're working on — Tally Hall's Internet Show — we're doing in conjunction with the rerelease. About a year has gone into it and we're about ready to complete and release it. We hope fans will watch and think it's funny.

MT: What are you most looking forward to this summer? 

Sedghi: We're all excited to be playing Cityfest on the same stage as the Zombies — that's an honor. Since we have family here, this is a show they can come to and enjoy. The whole summer will be kinda this unfolding story. We'll just see how it goes and try to enjoy it!

Tally Hall plays Thursday, July 3, at 7 p.m. on the Motor City Casino stage.

Chris Handyside, Fred Mills, Gregg Turner and Laura Witkowski write about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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