by Jeff Milo
S’Mittenfest – a fundraiser concert for 826Michigan – July 20th at the Magic Stick in Detroit 4140 Woodward Ave. - $10 - All proceeds support 826michigan’s free literacy and literary arts programs in Detroit schools – Drunken Barn Dance, Clear Soul Forces, The Kickstand Band, Deadbeat Beat, Breezee One, Caveman (Woodman) James Linck, Pewter Cub, Silent Lions, In Fact, Timothy Monger State Park, The Anonymous, Jah Connery, Truman, Twine Time, Santa Monica Swim & Dive Club, Red Pill, Hand In The Ocean, The Campenellis, Young Punk
Never miss a Mittenfest. Scott Sellwood hasn’t, even while living as far away as both ocean coasts, thousands of miles away from Michigan, his adopted home. The annual local music festival started seven years ago, raising funds for 826Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit writing/tutoring organization.
This Saturday, at S’Mittenfest, singer/songwriter Sellwood, coming from San Francisco, will join his musical mates, a quartet of super sidemen, fellow-songwriters and producers themselves, to sing his heart out with their band, Drunken Barn Dance. They’ve sustained four years with their frontman bouncing around the country and often only get one, maybe two, local performances. Mittenfest, for once, gets two chances also, with S’Mittenfest.
Mittenfest proper has always been a multi-day festival during the peak of wintertime, hosted in Ypsilanti. Now, Detroit is treated to a bonus “summer-time Mittenfest.” The 20-band bill commemorates the volunteer-enforced group’s expansion of free literacy and literary arts programming into Detroit schools.
Sellwood, an acoustic-reverent troubadour keen on adding more live-wire fieriness to the live folk music experience, was raised on the west coast and spent his early adult life over in New York. He spent what he considers his most formative and inspiring years (2000-2010) here in Michigan, where he finally felt a sense of home.
Sellwood’s main band, Drunken Barn Dance is the musical embodiment of jarring fireflies, with a recording scheme that’s all live, no overdubs, with each song given three takes in the studio. If one doesn’t work, they trash it and move onto the next one; all the while, steadily increasing their intakes of beer and/or whiskey. The resulting rock-reverent folk style they strike is edged with warm roars of reverb and dirty distortion, dazzled with Sellwood’s wispy nasal crackling its cool autumn breezes atop their graceful ruckus.
Metro Times: You’ve lived all-over the country, but doesn’t this, in a way, feel like a homecoming still?
Scott Sellwood: Drunken Barn Dance is and always will be a Michigan-band. It was conceived and forged based on the creativity and the vibe among the musicians in Michigan. My guys (producer/bassist Jim Roll, guitarist Greg McIntosh, guitarist Scott DeRoche, drummer Ryan Howard) are there, the studio’s there (Ann Arbor,) the state just gives me such a sense of place, which is important to me as a songwriter. If this band somehow grows to some gigantic globally popular monster band, that monster’s roots will always be based at Packard and Stadium Street.
Metro Times: You don’t get to have homecomings very often, but it seems you’re always back for Mittenfest’s. Or, if not for that, it's your usual wild-night recording sessions.
Scott Sellwood: We’re so psyched to be playing S’Mittenfest, this is gonna be the best. It’s even more special for us, because we usually do a show every April, too, but missed that this year. We’ll be recording, also, when I get back into town. I’ve been feverishly writing, it took a while, to get my sense of place back (in San Francisco), but, we’re gonna record the next E.P. this month.
Metro Times: The Sequoia E.P. is your 2nd release this year alone, the guys have been rolling along and ready for you – how’s that feel to have that supportive collaboration?
Scott Sellwood: Lucky, of course. They’re so talented, you could hand them a song, walk away and it would come out amazing. But, their attitude is so joyous while they’re working, and working so hard to move into what I’m trying to present, to where I want, overall, Drunken Barn Dance, to go. It’s truly collaborative.
Metro Times: And a sustained collaboration, six-plus year’s now. Have you noticed shifts in your experience of DBD’s creative process, whether in recording or songwriting?
Scott Sellwood: This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing music. I wish we woulda’ found this when we were all 20. Now Jim’s got a baby, I’m super busy working, Scott’s got a new job
And I think, with writing and playing music, it has to be changing. I’m changing day to day, I guess. I should be! I certainly don’t feel more philosophical about things but also don’t feel any more curmudgeonly. If anything, I’m more open to all kinds of different viewpoints and ideas. If this band could just find some time to tour, even a month, man, I don’t know what would come out the other side, it would be incredible! Maybe someday.