The Spirit of Mittenfest (plus – Q&A with Jamaican Queens)
Jamaican Queens are one of 40 bands set to perform the annual 5-day music festival, Mittenfest, in Ypsilanti this weekend. Cover charges raise funds for non-profit expository writing education organization 826Michigan. For the full line up – click here.
Jamaican Queens think that it’s a good time to not give a fuck about what people think. Because, as bassist, singer and producer Adam Pressley puts it, DIY-music makers are liberated to try out anything they want via the world-sized scene fostered by the internet. So, rest assured: “…someone out there will give a fuck.”
This Detroit-based duo sprung into a storm cloud of blog buzz when they released their debut album wormfood earlier this year.
The group, rounded out by Ryan Clancy on drums, might have gotten a modest leg-up from Pressley and Spencer’s past tenure in the now defunct indie-rock outfit Prussia. JQ, though, are a quite a different beast than Prussia and a pretty far cry from contemporary pop, even though their song structures and melodies follow pop-music’s characteristic catchiness; they’re distinguished by a dirtier layer of weird synth effects and sequenced drum-machine beats denting their ditties with a heavily hip-hop-inclined sensibility.
Their set up is strange: Clancy plays a live kit that sometimes intertwines with a programmed drum machine, while acoustic guitars are strummed over growling synthesizers. A variety of effects may sharpen, sweeten or utterly distort their instruments and their voices, depending on what feels right, regardless of how strange it might be… But, then, as Spencer and Pressley see it, maybe now’s the time to be as truly strange as they can be.
They’re looking forward to Mittenfest next week, an annual five-day music festival raising funds for 826Michigan, an Ann Arbor based non-profit education/writing organization. The Ypsi-based fest doubles as a grand summit for the state’s various scenes, featuring 40 bands from all over (from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor, Detroit and elsewhere). As they see it, just as with the music industry at large, there’s no signifying club, band, sound or trend predominating Detroit’s scene. In their eyes, there may not even be a “scene” to speak of, but more like “a galaxy of facets,” as Pressley puts it. Spencer expands on that succinctly: “it’s just…everyone’s scattered working on their own shit.”
Pressley and Spencer have spent 200 days on the road this year, leading them to feel disconnected, but also inspired. They’ve just returned from 10 days in Europe where they found a warm reception, particularly in Paris.
Listen: Jamaican Queens’ wormfood
Metro Times: So how was your Euro trip?
Adam Pressley: We landed at 6am which was , like, midnight Detroit-time. We took a day to rest before our first show. For a band that isn’t on a major label to go oversees, you’re expecting the same things you’d expect in, I dunno, New York or Pittsburg, but you can hope and play them the best and luckily we got some really awesome shows in Europe.
Ryan Spencer: Turnouts in Paris were incredible, people were really into the music and responsive.
MT: Were you aware how varying or strange of an album you were making, with wormfood?
Spencer: There were times we thought, man, this is kinda weird! But, then other times I felt, well, maybe it’s just normal now. There’s traditional things about it.
Pressley: So many people listen to way more far out shit that I just can’t wrap my head around. To them we might sound like Miley Cyrus!
MT: There’s no sense in chasing any trends anymore because not only do they change so fast, there doesn’t even seem to be a predominant one…
Spencer: I acknowledge trends, I don’t understand them, though. We would never change our music to fit one thing or another.
Pressley: Some of my favorite bands are bands that don’t fit in with what was happening, like Pixies or Violent Femmes. Or, like Animal Collective a few years ago, but they ended up being…
Spencer: …some kind of trend-setter. But, basically, we’re making pop songs that are structurally weird.
Pressley: It’s following sounds that we’ve never heard before, not like trying something just to get a reaction out of people.
Spencer: Is this one less weird? Ah, no, I think it’s turning out to be way weirder.
MT: Is the recording still as electro/computer-based as the first one?
Pressley: It’s been pretty electronic because between work here at home we’ve only been able to work on music on tour. But, now that I’m set up here, I just tracked live drums recently and felt, like, ‘Man, I wanna do more live shit. It sounds so much more human!’
MT: What impact did all this year’s touring have on you?
Spencer: We met so many people, all these different lives. Our life has become so strange. It’s un-relatable, these feelings of being disconnected. But that’s inspiring for me to write.
MT: Jamaican Queens said their hoping for a springtime release of wormfood’s follow up.
Mittenfest: This is Mittenfest’s 8th year, featuring five nights of live music at Woodruff’s Bar in Ypsilanti. A ten dollar donation raises funds for 826Michigan, a non-profit organization offering expository writing tutorship programs and partnerships with local public schools. Forty bands are on the bill, with eight bands performing each night, including Saturday Looks Good To Me, Frontier Ruckus, Tunde Olaniran, Cold Men Young, Kickstand Band and many more.
826Michigan’s Exectuive Director Amanda Uhle says this is a rare opportunity for people to engage in their community in a tangible way that can benefit our local education system; the “Spirit of Mittenfest,” as she calls it, is all about “giving back, great music, and celebrating all-things-Michigan.” Uhle, along with organizers Jeremy Peters, Autumn Maison and Brandon Zwagerman, emphasize the good cheer radiating in the room (at Woodruffs) each night of Mittenfest.
“I used to think it was just ‘cuz of the holidays, but it’s about all these people reconnecting, the creative spirit of musicians donating their time, the sense that it can be really fun to help give back by supporting 826.” Uhle, with 826 program director Amy Sumerton, emphasize the vitality of (and reiterate their gratitude for) the enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, both at 826 and for Mittenfest’s event-planning.
Find out more at mittenfest.org