Forty musicians, broken into ten groups…tasked with writing ten original songs…in three months.
Crazy? Maybe a little. Awesome? YES.
CW50 had the chance to catch up with Derek John – a local gallery owner, familiar face in the Detroit music scene, and oh yeah…the mastermind behind DETROIT the Album.
Check it out!
Tell us a little about yourself! Where are you from? Who have you played with…and any current musical projects?
I have a Pop-Up Art Gallery in Ferndale called The StoreFront Gallery. I host weekend events like Art Exhibits, Pop-Up Shops, and Trunk Shows.
I have an event coming up called The “Your Instagram” Exhibit Vol. 2 on April 26th with guest curator Janna Coumoundouros of Lilacpop. The “Your Instagram” Exhibit is a collection of Instagram shots from Local Artist, Musicians, Photographers, Art Students, Fashion Designers, Bartenders, Local Celebrities, & Friends.
Music has always been one of the biggest parts of my life. I’ve played music in Bliss 66, The Whiggers, Millions of Brazilians, Lettercamp, BodyMath, and now I do music/remixes as Live And Die In Detroit. You can hear a remix I did of The Hounds Below HERE.
Talk about DETROIT the Album – how did you come up with this concept? (We dig it, by the way):
So, every time I went to a local show, festival, bar or restaurant, I’d run into people I knew and the conversations would always turn into us talking about our various music projects. We always ended by saying “We should get together and do music soon!” – but this would never happen.
I decided to be inspiring/annoying and actually give all these musicians a time and place to “get together.” I live in a city with some of the most talented people in the world and the vibe of Detroit is so good right now.
Through years of playing music in this city, I’ve never been happier and more proud to be a part of Detroit as I am today. You can see it, especially in our attitudes, the way we feel, it feels good to be a Detroiter right now. You can sense it in the streets, see it in our art, and hear it in our music.
That’s why it was very easy to present this project to my Detroit friends, we aren’t pessimistic anymore, we are trying to do things better, faster, stronger for our city. Also, seems like we’re not depressed anymore.
DETROIT the Album’s “band” names are all retro Michigan sports teams – what gave you that idea?
Well, me being a “huge” sports guy, any time a ball game is happening I scream things like “Sports!” and “Who’s winning the sports match?”
I stopped playing & watching sports matches about 4 weeks after getting my first guitar around the age of 12 – thanks, Santa!
The groups needed names just so I could keep track of them, and I wanted to name them after a reference to Detroit. My first thought was to name them streets (e.g. Woodward, Jefferson, Cass…) but that idea is dumb.
So then, after thinking maybe Major League teams [like] Red Wings or Pistons, I wiki-ed minor league Michigan teams which rendered way better results like Neon or Football Club…which to me…was the way to go!
How did you choose these 40 musicians? From there, how were the individual bands formed from the initial group?
I sent an invite to around 80 musicians to meet at my art gallery, The StoreFront Gallery, in Ferndale.
One thing that Detroit has is an abundance of mind-blowing musicians.
From there, I broke all the musicians into groups. Each group started with a producer, a person that has the capability to record their band’s song. After we had the groups, I posted them and said ‘meet me back here in 3 months with a song!’
Once the bands were locked in, were there any specific instructions? Or just…write a song – GO?
I gave no premises, themes, or stipulations on what to write…just said GO! (And frequently emailed everybody and said keep going!)
A lot of the music was recorded at other locations and emailed to the bands’ producers.
For example, the string composition for Track 2, “One Night Stand,” was completely recorded and sent to Pan!c at The Mansion Studio. Over 40 recorded tracks of cello and violin were played by one man named Thelmer in roughly 48 hour, then were sent via the internets to be mixed into a already existing song…also, that was 5 days before the release date!
Where were the DETROIT the Album tracks recorded and who produced the record?
Neon Safari – Producer John Dion / ShyGuy
Football Club – Producer Pan!c / The Mansion Studio
Red Belles – Producer Zach Shipps / Rancho Verde
Spirits – Producer Carlton Taylor / Manic Studios
Loons – Producer Gregory Beyer & Steve Lehane / Rustbelt Studio
Zephyr – Producers Cheyenne Goff & Ignatius Biondo
Stags – Producer dErek jOhn / Live And Die In Detroit
Arsenal – Producer Ronny Tibbs Wiese / Home
Pet Tiger – Producer George Morris / 310 Studios
Royals – Producer Mike Burridge / Pedophobic Records
Any plans for hard copies…or is the plan to just keep it to digital downloads?
I quit vinyl around four years ago. I sold 500 “pieces of vinyl” to a Ferndale music shop for roughly lunch money. I just don’t enjoy the inconvenience and smell of vinyl, but I know almost every single person involved would love to get this on vinyl! So, if there’s anybody out there who wants to release DETROIT the Album [on vinyl], we would be very excited about that!
In a age that’s all digital and nothing tangible, it is extremely nice to be on album that’s actually vinyl. I hope I can make this happen for everyone.
Feedback so far (from the musicians involved, or from others)?
The response has been overwhelming! Every musician did such a great job by putting all they had into these songs, plus sounds like we all had a absolute blast doing it, too!
Also, we are not selling DETROIT the Album – we are just trying to build a bigger and better Detroit music experience for both the musicians and the music fans. I hope this collaboration helps.
It seems like people are really getting what we tried to do here, that feels good.
Will we be seeing a sophomore release with 40 more musicians…?
I’d love to do it again! We may be doing a DETROIT the Album Showcase for Metro Times Blowout – that is, if everybody can actually get their groups together again! Stay tuned!
How long did each band have to write and record their original song?
The groups had February, March, and April to write, produce, and record an original track.
Do you think something like this would be as successful in other cities?
I gave the idea to my friends in, NYC, L.A., and Denver, so hopefully we’ll see “the Album” in those towns soon!
We’ve all adopted the phrases “Eat Locally” and “Buy Locally” – I’d like everybody to “Fan Locally”!
Mudgie’s Deli is better than Subway, The Rust Belt Market is better than Walmart, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas is, well, way better than a lot of others, for example. I mean this in the nicest way possible by the way, but sorry, Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry – I’ve moved on😉
What are your favorite places in the city to perform?
I’d like to see more shows at happening at Russell Industrial Center. Millions of Brazilians played a halloween show there – we hit the stage around 3:30 am…and it was one my favorite shows we ever played. I was dressed up as Amelia Earhart.
What are your favorite places to hang out in Detroit?
Library Street Collective, the Bronx, I edited track 7 on DETROIT the Album at Great Lakes Coffee, The Whitney for breakfast alone, Cliff Bells,
The Avery House in Woodbridge, Sugar House, and Adam Davis’s place.
Is there a Detroit legend that has been an inspiration for you in your music?
Chad and Keith Thompson, also all of Motown. Hitsville is is one of our greatest gems. Everybody that has recorded there is a legend in my mind, I’m taking my mom there on Saturday.
Top 5 favorite Detroit musicians (past or present)?
History of Panic, Johnny Headband, Revoir, Carl Craig, and Jack White. It really does bum me out that we don’t take more pride in Jack White. I mean, he’s pretty good.
Favorite band(s) you’ve shared the stage with?
Opened for Foals! Love those guys, we almost traded guitars after the show because he liked mine and I like his, I had a Les Paul and he had a blue guitar. I like blue guitars better than red ones, just sound better.
If you had to sum up the city of Detroit in one word, what would it be?
COLD. The Gay Blades said it best – “Winter In Detroit Is Hell.”