Mick Bassett performs Tuesday, May 8, at the Pike Room in the Crofoot, with the Features and Elliot Street Lunatic. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; $12, $10 advance.
At 20, you think you're Lennon, says Mick Bassett. But you're not. You're only still becoming whatever you is.
The singer-songwriter had to get away from music for a minute, as he puts it. He broke up his band and escaped to New York, returning after four months not any less disillusioned. He sought sanctuary at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, focusing on literature and trying to get back to why he started writing songs in the first place. What began with an acoustic guitar, a desk and a sparsely furnished bedroom somehow became too unwieldy; his band burgeoned, got restaffed then stalled.
Standing on the Magic Stick patio at the edge of the shuffleboard paint, hugged by a tight white T-shirt and red pants, dragging one last cigarette before he plays an abbreviated set of White Stripes songs for a special night of cover performances, Bassett's the first to admit he doesn't know what the answer is. But no longer will he force an answer, no longer is he going to force a certain sound, style — or any song. The songwriter who cut his teeth as an 18-year-old at the end of Detroit's "garage" days posits whether he and many of the twentysomethings playing around here 10 years on from that are part of a "lost generation" of musicians.
The post-recession, post-Internet chaos is increasingly frustrating for any band. Success, Bassett says, is gauged more starkly than ever. But he's channeling it. "I made music a big part of my life, but I believe in learning from your mistakes. I wouldn't trade any of the time, though, because of the experience, the people I've met and because of how it helped me. I'm having more fun with music now, honestly."
That said, "It is strange to me," Bassett says, thinking back to those weird and exciting 2003 days when Seymour Stein was checking out local shows by his high school band, the Dollfaces, "I don't consider myself to be a veteran or something; I think I'm just starting. Strange, to be approached like an old man of the scene, like: 'Oh, I remember the garage days,' heh. ... I feel like this is all in preparation for what I do next."
What Bassett will do next, immediately, is perform release shows for what he considers his first proper album, Here Lies the Lion That Lied in Your Bed, a collection of mostly new and some older, reworked songs penned either in his post-New York days, or those that he never brought out live during his time leading the Marthas from '06 to '10, a collective that churned out a capricious blend of New Orleans-tinged folk psyche.
"I could never find my voice with all that going on," he says of the Marthas.
The Detroit night sky shows stars bleached by light pollution, and Bassett's bandmate, Anthony Kanakri (also the Kickstand Band) dons fake boobs to be Meg White. Bassett considers his future and repeats the words: "comfortable, fun, confident ... willing to change."
Armed with an English degree, Bassett talks more about "writing" than he does music, divulging his true focus: "Writing is hard, it's not fun, but ... it kinda is. Not fun like going to the circus, but fun because it's important to do, on some spiritual level, as a pressure release."
Lion is Bassett finding his voice, presenting it raw over jangly, acoustic guitar purity. "I think good things are coming, now, because I'm not afraid to leave any comfort zone. I don't wanna get stuck being content with just having a good weekend. I'm always trying to learn. I'm always looking."