by Lee DeVito
From top to bottom: Jax Anderson, Seth Anderson, Bryan Lackner, and Brent Smith pose in the Detroit Bus Co.'s new performance space in Hamtramck.
Church: Revival is the new project by local rap duo Passalacqua (aka Bryan Lackner and Brent Smith), but it's more than just a new Passalacqua release. The rappers teamed up with siblings Jax Anderson (frontwoman of rockers Flint Eastwood) and Seth Anderson, who together form the songwriting team called Syblyng (naturally). The result is a cycle of songs that promises to be darker than Passalacqua's material so far.
The project will make a live debut on Saturday, July 26 at a brand new venue space at the Detroit Bus Co.'s building Eight & Sand, and they will premiere the Right Bros.-directed video for the track "Baptism" as well. Other performances include Tunde Olaniran and Open Mike Eagle, and DJ sets by Nothing Elegant, Dante LaSalle, and Charles Trees.
We met up the two duos at Eight & Sand to check out the new space and to talk about the project with all parties involved.
Metro Times: How long have you been working together?
Jax Anderson: Seth and I are constantly writing songs together. We want to push in the direction of becoming songwriters more frequently. This is our first project that we took on to co-write everything together. We're basically just a songwriting entity. We won't play live that often — this is a one-time thing that we're actually going to play a show. We more or less just want to reach out to other musicians.
MT: How did you meet Passalacqua?
Bryan Lackner: We met Jax and Seth through the Factory in Rochester Hills. We were doing shows there. It started like, "Yeah, we should do songs (together)." We never did them, though! This has been the past three, two and a half years.
MT: What drew you to working with each other? You come from two different genres.
Jax Anderson: I think what drew us to Passalacqua initially was their work ethic. They have the same mindset as us. Like, "Ok, let's just go in and and let's do this real quick and just get it done. Let's have fun with it." It happened naturally. It was a breeze working with these guys. It's kind of the same element that Seth and I have alone, just getting in a room and just figuring it out. That's what we like about working with these guys. They just ooze it. They live their art, which we really respect.
Bryan Lackner: We were going through and doing all these beats and stuff, and [Jax and Seth] are going, "Yeah, we've done a couple hundred songs in the last few years." I was like, oh man, it takes me so long to just knock out a couple. The sheer force that they've been able to get so many songs done, and so many quality songs done, is just very admirable.
MT: Did you find yourself working outside the genre you typically work in?
Jax Andeson: Seth and I have grown together as songwriters. He did beats before I started songwriting. We've always had this weird offset of like, rock songs and hip-hop songs. He's into hip-hop, and I'm really into rock and folk. So we always had this balance. With Flint Eastwood, Seth and I wrote the entire EP. That's solid rock/pop kind of stuff. This was kind of an awesome outlet for us to put our hip-hop songs out somewhere. It was off of the vein of what I'm used to writing in Flint Eastwood but it was definitely in the vein of what we're used to writing.
MT: Would you call it a pure collaboration?
Brent Smith: I think it was 50/50 — well, 25/25/25/25. I think teams of four are strong. I come from a team of four in Cold Men Young. The way that duos can work is just powerful. When you have a strong duo like Jax and Seth, teaming up with a strong duo like (us), it's bound to be something great. It was a really simple formula. The right people can do the right things.
MT: You're playing a one-off show. That's dedication — it seems like a lot of artists record things and it's never intended to actually be played live.
Jax Anderson: I can't speak for everyone, but every time I write a song, I never just finish the song. I'm very conceptual with everything that I do. Whenever I finish a song, I think, "Man, it'd be awesome to do this live, and man, the video would look really cool if we did this, and the lights would be cool with this part." I never just think a song is done when we listen to it on a stereo.
Bryan Lackner: We've been doing some of these songs for a while now. We've had a few songs that have been in the works. "Eagles Fly," which we just kind of did on a whim, we've been doing that [live], and it gets a good response. When we started as a group, we didn't have any plans to do live shows. We didn't know what Passalacqua was going to be. And then we started doing shows and it became a thing where people wanted to see us because they heard about how crazy our shows were. If you're going to perform, put on a show. Make people come out and see something. We're not going to just stand there and rap and then fuck off. We're going to go one hundred percent.
Brent Smith: From that we were able to build a really critical audience. We're able to build an audience that wanted to go there with us. They trust us that this collaboration is going toi be great. We built that from our live show. When it comes to creating music, we think of the live show. We think about what's going to translate directly live. For whatever reason, people don't see hip-hop as live theater, but that's exactly what it is: spoken word. It's very natural for us to do both.
MT: You don't see this project performing as a foursome any time in the future after Saturday?
Jax Anderson: I think to say that it will never happen again is a bit naive. For right now, this is a one-show only thing that we've done.
MT: What can you tell us about this new venue?
Brent Smith: Kim Trombley from the Detroit Bus Co. came in with new ideas, like fresh ideas about the Bus Co. She's also a good friend of mine, so when she introduced the space and I saw the warehouse, I said, "Wow, this is a cool space," and she said they were trying to do a show there. It just kind of spiraled from there.
MT: Bryan and Brent, how long have you been working together?
Bryan Lackner: Since 2011. We put out an EP and an album later that year. We haven't really put out a full length project since then — we haven't had the time to devote to a project. I'd been doing solo stuff before, and Brent had been doing Cold Men Young. I initially needed a hype man for my solo stuff, and we had known each other since grade school. We started doing that, and we started spitballing. We said, "Why don't we do a project and if nothing happens, that's cool." It was the right time, and people really got behind it. We got the Kresge fellowship in 2012. A lot of times people won't do something — it's just a matter of trying. What's the worst that can happen? Fortunately a lot of things unfolded in our favor.
MT: Jax and Seth, how long have you been working together?
Seth Anderson: I had my own stuff that i was working on, and she had her folk stuff that she was working on. We actually didn't come together and start writing until like five or six years ago.
Jax Anderson: We were just doing our separate things and one day he was just playing a beat and I thought, "Hey, this would sound cool on this." Then we realized, "Oh, we can write songs together. That's an option for us!" After that we continued to write songs together. It's weird because no matter how far we stray from what we're into we always end up coming back and finding that common ground in what we enjoy. We've evolved together.
Brent Smith: There's a lot of brotherhood and sisterhood going on. The Right brothers, Sybling.Brian and I got to be brothers sometimes, just out of convenience.
MT: What is the record like?
Bryan Lackner: The last album we did was pretty upbeat. It was cool, but we were getting lumped into being some sort of one-dimensional thing. "Oh, you guys are the fun rap guys! Cool! We need fun rap!" That's fine, but we didn't it doesn't show fully who we are. We do like doing fun raps, but we also have other things on our mind. It shows itself with this project. It's a little bit darker in some respects. We still have the same elements that people like, it's just a more well-rounded idea of who we are as a group. It's just the continuing evolution of both us and the music.
MT: Why's it called "Church?"
Seth Anderson: Well, the main reason is it was actually recorded in a church! I do part-time work at a church, and they let me use it.
Brent Smith: When it comes to creating music, it's our release, it's our catharsis. When you think of a show, or a wedding, or a funeral — anything that brings a lot of people together, where there's a stage, that's church. Whether it's a poetry club or someone rapping on a mic or someone preaching or an activist with a megaphone, that's all a form of communication. With this album, we wanted to be over-communicative. We wanted to make something more translatable. We're in that pulpit. We're preaching that sermon. It's not "mansplaining," or overly trying to preach, but it's just like — we see struggle. We feel struggle. There's got to be some kind of hope and that's the story that this kind of project weaves. We're calling it a concert. There's a lot of moving parts. To call it a show or an event ...
Bryan Lackner: ... would be a disservice. We're going to premiere the video for "Baptism." That'll be the first time you see it.
Jax Anderson: The Right Bros did that, they're making a whole short film. It's looking sick.
Bryan Lackner: The first video that Andy (from the Right Bros.) ever did was for "Been a Minute," which was an old song of ours. I guess people weren't getting back to him — they were just like, "Eh, yeah, whatever," flakin' on him. He was like, "I just want to do a video, so how about 'Been a Minute?'" Ever since, he's been pretty busy with work.
Jax Anderson: He's like the go-to guy if you want a music video right now.
Bryan Lackner: They had the idea in mind for this video for a while. They heard the strength in the song, and it evoked something for them, and they said, "We could make this into a very powerful statement."
Brent Smith: Even when we wrote the song and we recorded it, after we recorded it, Bryan's like, "(it sounds like) it's this really post-apocalyptic thing, like I'm riding a horse." We got a horse (for the video). It all all synchronized at the right time.
MT: Where did you get a horse?
Bryan Lackner: (The Right Bros.) have their ways. We asked for a horse and they got a horse.
MT: Flint Eastwood has been described as having a cinematic quality. Is that something that you think of when you make music?
Jax Anderson: I think definitely. Everytime I create something, I have this vision for it. I never just create something to create it. I always have this mind — how are people going to perceive this? Is it going to affect people in a positive way or a negative way? Everytime I hear music, I have a visual in my mind. I'm sure other people have that to, but for me, I have to get that visual out. Whatever I do live when I play the song is what I pictured when I wrote the song.
Seth Anderson: From the production side of it, it goes along with the church. It's strange. A lot of the tacks from this album were made in a two week span that was supposed to be the death of me making music. I popped out 30 songs in two weeks — all dark, and all super-depressing. It was crazy how the death of me doing music birthed into this. This has now got me back into it like crazy.
MT: You were planning on quitting?
Seth Anderson: I got my real estate license. I had two weeks in between a job and starting real estate, and I thought I was going to just work on music for two weeks straight, non-stop, and that's it. I've been through the ringer with music. But the curse just brought me right back in. Working in those two weeks just brought my work ethic to what it was before and jumpstarted me.
A lot of the tracks that (Passalacqua) are on are from those two weeks. You can kind of hear the darkness of the tracks.
Jax Anderson: It's amazing what can come out of just not caring at all, and letting it flow naturally. It was a lot of not thinking and just doing. None of us set out and said, "we're going to make a record together." We kind of just went.
Brent Smith: Even the project title changed. My original idea was Dirty Mugs. I was obsessed with this idea of feeling filthy. The whole "Baptism" thing is full circle.
MT: This was recorded over the course of three years?
Bryan Lackner: We just worked on some beats in the beginning and made one song.
Jax Anderson: Flint Eastwood took over my life. We were weekend warriors. We had our day jobs and would go crazy on the weekends.
Right before we got it mixed I went back and re-sang all of the hooks. Whenever I first started I remember hating how I sounded. Over the span of three years I started doing vocal warm-ups and paying attention to what my voice was doing at shows. So when I went down to sing those hooks, i could sing them, and enjoy them. before it was nails on a chalboard to me.
MT: Three years is a long time.
Jax Anderson: In three years every human changes. You get new relationships, you change jobs, you change locations, you buy a car — you lose car, I don't know. So much can happen in three years from the start of a project to the end of a project. We took a break in the middle. I feel like that break was very mandatory.
We took a year or and a year half off from it. Life just sunk in. All of us were kind of sick of it. It's like when you fall in love for the first time, and you break up with somebody, you're like, "Ugh, I fuckin' hate that person." Then six months later you check their Instagram, and you're like, "Ahh, maybe they're not so bad."
8 & Sand is located at 3901 Christopher St., Hamtramck; tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. More information on the event can be found here.