- The Walking Beat (from l: Danny Kanka, Steve McCauley, Jonathan Berz, Stephanie Selvaggio, Joe Lavis).
Wiggle & Jam It Series (Part II) with the Walking Beat, the Hounds Below, and Mick Bassett is Tuesday, Aug. 14, at PJ's Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668; pjslagerhouse.com
Just a week before his birthday Jesse Shepherd-Bates was getting disillusioned.
Some friends joked that the characteristically enthusiastic Woodbridge-based singer-songwriter-bassist-guitarist was "retiring" from the music scene. Really, he was longing for something more substantial than the typical gig, where friends show up, drink, listen to a band, then bail. This was back in April, and, Shepherd-Bates, who's played in or fronted a handful of bands — including work with the Satin Peaches, Hounds Below and Mick Bassett — was only turning 25.
So he threw himself an ambitious 16-band birthday party at the Lager House, somehow finding renewed inspiration in that unwieldy cacophony, and he's kept the momentum going all summer long, aligning himself with a new collaborative of 10 musician-composers.
"Everybody involved has a really intense energy behind what they're doing," Shepherd-Bates says. "Crazy kids doing crazy shit. Helping each other in a more constructive way beyond just getting drunk at each other's shows."
Prominent among his new musical allies are producer-composer Topher Horn and musician-Lager House talent booker Sarena Ridley. Their new project is an experimental concert-documentary series called Wiggle & Jam It.
Their rallying cry is "Music community over music scene!"
"And ya know, I just realized," Shepherd-Bates says, looking back on his birthday party and looking ahead to work with his Wiggle collaborators, "I'm the old man in this equation."
This equation was worked out in Horn's Midtown studio, Room 103, where a collaborative of 10 young songwriters spread across four bands (including Patrick Davy & the Ghosts, Body Holographic and a newer superhero-themed scuzz-rock band called the Boy Wonders) started laying down tracks and sound-boarding ideas. Horn, now finishing his music composition-theory degree at Wayne State, also records and performs (on bass) with Nam Kook & the Typhoon, where he's joined by 103 co-producer Max Bauhof on drums and Adam Padden (one of Davy's Ghosts) on lead vocals and guitar.
The slew of musicians, enthusiastic about these 103 sessions, is hoping to start "a new tradition, rather than just another fest or album release party or any other fleeting half-hour on a stage," Shepherd-Bates says. Wiggle & Jam It "is all about cross-promotion."
Shepherd-Bates and Horn held one Wiggle concert last month, and have two set for this month, (Aug. 14 and 28) and plan six more in the fall and winter. Shepherd-Bates envisions "an endless snowballing of fan base cross-pollinating."
There's also a "documentary" component to this series.
Horn records Wiggle performances, providing each band with produced mixes of their full live set, for free, to use as they choose. Meanwhile, Shepherd-Bates and Horn will compile a Wiggle CD compilation featuring their favorite single song from each performance. The first three Wiggle concerts will then be showcased on a nine-song CD, available for free in the recently installed record store in the Lager House basement. This Tuesday's lineup features the Walking Beat, Mick Bassett and the Hounds Below.
"The biggest goal for this series is capturing performances as honestly as possible," Horn says. "I'm lucky to have such an incredible group of people to work with."
"And even if you miss the first few shows," Shepherd-Bates says, "you still get exposed to every other band that's played so far." The organizers hope to feature touring non-Detroit acts in the future.
"It's way simpler than any label-type thing," Shepherd-Bates adds. "We don't need money to do this; I think that's the part people will gravitate toward."
He sums it up: "Free merch rules!"
Jeff Milo is a freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.