Zander Michigan is ready to use the Z-word. That'd be... "zen." Because after five-plus years on the Detroit music scene, with three albums, two EPs, and a tour through London, this singer-songwriter (otherwise known as Zander Melidis) has found the zen of the DIY-musician's life.
"Eventually I just reevaluated my priorities," he says. "I thought about why I do what I do and the reasons I go up on stage every night. They weren't where they were supposed to be."
He recalled feeling preoccupied by the pressure of pushing to reach "point-X" along a certain "career path." "I realized I get up there to make people feel good," he says. "Also to make me feel good — because I'm enjoying it as much as anyone in the audience. And when I realized that, I just felt grateful to be able to have these opportunities to share these songs with people and to keep making music."
Melidis made an impression around the metro area's open mic nights several years ago with his signature charisma and stylish look. His early incarnation found him wearing a straw basher hat, sunglasses, and an admittedly Dylan-esque flourish of harmonica-heavy folk ballads. His 2013 debut album garnered him spots at big local festivals, as well as repeat spins during WDET's weekend shows, but it wasn't long before he started embracing a kitchen-sink mentality when it came to his music.
Zander Michigan is releasing the aptly named Kitchen Sink #2 EP this weekend, part of a planned trilogy exhibiting his recent embrace of a mishmash of rock, pop, folk, indie, and anything else. While a Dylan-esque vibe surely manifests on his first record, his proceeding output found the range of his voice in flux, and freed of the bluesy rasp.
"I'm always looking for something different," he says. "By now, I'm almost tired of the Bob Dylan references. I take it in stride though; I do appreciate it and say thank you. But the new stuff I'm making — I don't know who to compare it to. Someone made a Coldplay reference, someone else told me it sounded like Ben Rechter."
"It's just about following whims," he says. "Mash up all these flavors into the proverbial kitchen sink. Throw everything in and see what comes out." His pop-potpourri approach yields pleasing results on the second Kitchen Sink release, blending up-tempo jaunts with heart-heavy odes.
"It's gotten to the point where I'm really starting to feel comfortable doing whatever I want," says Melidis. "I don't have to answer to anybody — so at the end of the day, if I don't like something then why am I going to put it out? And if people like it? Awesome. If they don't — well then it's just not their cup of tea. I can't control that."
Melidis taps into this new vim and vigor because he's "not a perfectionist." In fact, he believes "it's probably never going to be 'perfect.' So if it feels like a good song — then put it on the record! Some people take years and they marinate on songs for a long time, but I work quickly. I got to put (music) out. It feels good just to finish something! And I hope people do like it and can identify with it, but if they don't — again, I can't control that. At the end of the day, you've got to enjoy what you're doing. You've got to do what you want."
To bring these new tunes to life, he's got three close friends from his high school days backing him up (Greg Blucher, Pete Singel, and Nik Tyckowski). "It's nice to have players that know your songs," he says. "I just really click with them. And we have fun, too, and that's important! It's like: 'Let's go — let's get it done!' It's not pretentious, it's not perfect, it's not polished — but it's exciting. And I like it."
Melidis' day-job is in engineering: He graduated from U-M and now works for Ford when he's not in music mode. You'd think an engineer would be ideal for finding a way to make every kind of song work, but his metaphor to explain it is sports-related. "It's like with hockey — you have to throw the puck at the net," he says. "You can't pass it around forever. You never know who (your songs) might connect with if you never get them done and get them out. You can't learn from any mistake you might make along the way if you don't put it out there. But I do also care about it all, you know? It still all starts here," he says, pointing to his head, "and here," he points to his heart.
Looking to this weekend's release party, all he's certain of is that he'll enjoy the experience of performing with his band. "That's all I can really control," he says. "It's all about balance for me, now. I try to be zen about it. It's important to avoid pressure."
There aren't "too many cooks," so to speak, near this "kitchen sink." So that just means Melidis can serve up whatever he likes. It could be rock, folk, or Americana-twang. It could be a mixed salad of indie-pop. Either way, he indulges another culinary metaphor.
"You really just need the right amount of spice!" he says. "And I've got spice!"
Zander Michigan performs with the Fruits, Shepard Tone, and Twin North on Friday, Oct. 5 at the Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696; thelovingtouchferndale.com; Doors at 8 p.m.; Tickets are $10 (a portion of Proceeds Benefit Forgotten Harvest).
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