With their garage rock energy and Marshall Crenshaw-esque affection for what some would call the lost art of "the song," the Singles should've been ready-made for some serious local success followed by some national (and international) indie renown. But after 10 years of what lead singer and guitarist Vince Frederick refers to as "going in circles," the band — which is completed by bassist Ryan Hurnevich and drummer Brian Thunders — is packing its bags and heading off to the washed-up cultural wasteland called Los Angeles, the city where bullshit not only talks, it still maintains a strong control of the music industry. So why are these on-the-surface smart young men making what appears to be the worst decision in Detroit since Kwame Kilpatrick sent those texts? But, first, perhaps to know their backstory is to better understand it all:
The Singles formed in Detroit in 1999 when Vince Frederick was inspired to start his band by his love for the Beatles. "I always wanted to do a band like the Beatles," he says without the slightest trace of irony. "I had the name before I even had the band. Before that, I answered an ad — it was actually a Metro Times classified ad — to join a band called Electricity. That band played about four shows before the Singles were formed using the same members.
"I immediately loved the art of writing songs," he continues. "My influences there run the whole rock-and-pop gamut. When I got into music, it was all about those great guitar groups from the '60s, like the Stones and the Who. Nowadays, though, I'm listening to songs from anywhere and everywhere. It could the current radio hits or current rock bands — there's still so much great music out there. But throughout it all, we've remained a three-piece, back to basics, rock 'n' roll band with straightforward songs. There are no tricks here. There's nothing glitzy about us, except maybe our stage gear."
The Singles' life in Michigan hasn't been without its high points, no matter how jaded Frederick is feeling toward the Mitten and Detroit right now.
"One of our best achievements was releasing Start Again, our second album," he acknowledges. The album became known within the cultish power-pop crowd as one of the finest of that genre from Detroit; in fact, it was named two years ago in writer John Borack's Shake Some Action book, which listed the top 200 power-pop records of all time.
"We recorded it in 2006. It took a while for us to make that record, though, because I was actually looking for a new band at the same time. But it happened fast when I got the [current] band members together. There was immediately a spark."
Another highlight was last year's European tour. "I got a distribution deal for the album and there was a booking agent in Germany that was really interested in working with us," he says. "Once we got the distribution, he was able to put a tour together and it was fantastic. We did really well overseas. It made me realize that's a territory we need to go to more often."
And then, for "the hat trick," as Frederick calls it, the band played Little Steven's first and only garage rock fest in New York several years ago. "Yeah, that was cool," the singer says, still perhaps slightly star-struck. "The Stooges were also playing the fest, so it was awesome."
With such achievements to his credit, what on earth possessed Frederick to take his band away from what many of us consider "the home of rock 'n' roll" in favor of Los Angeles, where they will very likely be swallowed up an unforgiving industry that's more concerned with hair, tans and teeth than the quality of the music? The classic L.A. story, after all, is that, if a great band goes to the City of Angels, that same band will suck six months down the line. So one has to wonder if the admittedly amiable singer has chosen which Hollywood or Valley coffee shop he's going to be working at yet. Frederick believes he has all of the answers.
"There is a producer, Todd Burke, who we've had mix our last three singles, and he lives out in Los Angeles," he explains. "A long story short — we now want to make a full-length record with him. He asked us to move to L.A., and I said, 'OK, that sounds like a good idea.' He also invited us to live with him, and I thought that was OK too.
"The main thing for me right now is to make the third album. It's not like I feel like I'm going to become an L.A. native, although I don't know. I say that now and I'll probably be living there for 25 years. Right now, though, I have no intentions of living there and settling down. The main thing is to make the record and then take it from there. I really want to record a good record, put together a touring unit and then just go for it. We want to be an actual working band. In Detroit, ever since I started the Singles, it's been like being in a circle. Things get rolling … and then boom! You stop. It's too start-stop. I'm just going. That's it."
But with all of the respect in the world due, Frederick doesn't necessarily have that "L.A. look." With his big glasses and shaggy mop of hair, his "geek-chic" thing may not cut it in the liposuction land. The singer isn't intimidated, though, and he answers with a laugh. "I think I'm really going to get into the plastic surgery thing! I'll be unrecognizable then. Hair extensions, collagen — the whole nine yards. As for the sun, I'm very pale and white so I like to layer up. I like to wear a jacket on a jacket — so they'll just have to deal with that. I'll wear a Red Wings jacket over a Tigers jacket, with a Lions jacket on the top." He gets a little more serious. "One L.A. trap I won't fall into, though, is the whole 'pay-to-play' thing. No way! We're just not going to do that. So we won't be playing at the Whisky or the Roxy." He pauses. "We'll probably be playing at the coffee shop that I'll be working at!"
So what is the leader of the Singles going to miss most about Detroit? The singer becomes defiant, wanting to come across as hard-nosed about the whole situation. Still, he can't help but get a little emotional. "As of right now, I will miss the nightspots that are personal favorites to me," he admits. "I like White Castle hamburgers and that's indigenous to the metro Detroit area. I'm gonna miss those a lot. [Editor's note: In-N-Out Burgers are better! You'll adjust!] I'll miss my folks and my friends, of course. I like the nitty-gritty and the rawness of Detroit and I think that builds character into you. So I think I'll take that with me wherever I go. L.A. might be sterile, but, you know, I'll have Detroit with me. That gives me a definite advantage. There's that little bit of Detroit edge that I think rock 'n' roll music is all about."
One must wonder if he's concerned about a Jack White-esque backlash against his band, but he's not anticipating any such thing. "I don't think that the Singles and myself are viewed as Jack White kind of people," he chuckles. "I mean, he's done Coca-Cola commercials and we're nowhere near that level. People might say 'Oh, the Singles have gone.' Whatever. That's fine." He pauses. "The thing is, I might do a total 180 and start slamming Detroit in the press. I don't feel like that right now, though. I just feel like this is a logical move to take this band to the next level. We need to try something different. And this isn't change solely for change's sake. There's a producer who's hooked us up. We're not just going there sight unseen to 'try to make it.'"
So that's obviously that, but Frederick surely must have some parting words for the city that gave him a home and a career so far. "I really don't have any parting words," he laughs again. "We're not vanishing. We'll be on the Internet. And then the next thing you know, we'll be at Madison Square Gardens. At that point, I'll say, 'Listen everybody, I'm glad I left. You're all jerks.' We're out of here, and I won't see you later. Try to keep the place clean!'"
What a joker!
The Singles' latest single, "Around Your Love," is out now via Sound Artifacts Music.Brett Callwood is a music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org