Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Crazy Wisdom

From Real Detroit Weekly:

Loco Gnosis set out to capture Detroit music history. Now, it's part of history itself, with five solid years operating as a record label and music collective. It's galvanized a varied network of musicians throughout southeast Michigan to continue in what its chieftain Jeff Howitt reveres most: the hallowed/notorious lineage of Detroit rock 'n' roll.

Though the local label/music collective wouldn't officially fly until January 2006, its origins reach back to a fateful jam session in May '99, with old high school friends and loose acquaintances recording a live album in one night. The album, Wang Dang Doodle, featured much of the core for Loco Gnosis' early roster.

Songwriter/Loco Gnosis founder Howitt lived in Phoenix from '99-'04. Back in Detroit, in August '05, there was a second Wang Dang gathering and performance. Then, Howitt realized his friends from that summer night in '99 still hadn't put away their guitars; they might not have been buzzed-about scenesters, but they were still adamantly, incorrigibly, interested and invested in music.

"All of a sudden, there's this new breed of weirdo ... " Howitt says, recalling his epiphany in '05. He'd been gone for the whole of Detroit's garage explosion – now maybe it was time to start something new. He remembered thinking, " ... that, I know all these musicians that don't sound like anything that's popular or like anything that anybody knows ... "

Loco Gnosis as a label (of sorts) would slowly take shape into a loose collective, an umbrella banner for a revolving network of ego-less/un-pretentious "music fans" (who happened to be musicians) steadily spurring each other to start following their muses and put their songs down to tape. Five years later, it's helped forge three dozen releases (albums, EPs and singles), organized about a dozen expansive festivals and spun a web of collaborators and loose affiliates spanning this city's cultural movers and shakers, be they contemporaries or living legends.

On 1/14 and 1/5, Friday and Saturday, Loco Gnosis hosts two separate celebratory concerts, one at the Park Bar in Detroit; and the next night at Woodruff's in Ypsilanti.

"Originally, he had the impetus to document his friends, to capture this stuff that he and his friends were working on, but it eventually blossomed into this whole other scene of musicians," says Brian Rozman, a.k.a., Lo-fi Bri, who performed both Wang Dangs and eventually unearthed his project, Carjack. "Eventually it became ... well, not a label, but, a collective of friends."

"I love how the loose group of people who are with, or affiliated with Loco Gnosis, are some of the weirdest, most kind and inspiring people around," says Brandon Moss, drummer for original LG roster member Wildcatting (currently with Bars of Gold). "These are people who above all love and respect music and art ... and have a good time as well."

Loco Gnosis seems like it was never its own thing, but many things. Contracts were set aside early and replaced with handshakes; there was no overarching style throughout its catalog; there was no ostensible cliquey quartering — LG would throw shows featuring Silverghost, Prussia or even Dan Kroha (Gories) and John Sinclair — it didn't aim to be a repeating carousel.

"What I've always enjoyed most about Loco Gnosis," says songwriter Mike Ross, "and about the city of Detroit at large, is that anything can happen at any time and you can work without a rulebook to make what you want to make." Ross, along with Bored Housewives singer/guitarist Lance T. Sanders, also contributed to both Wang Dangs, and founded noisy art-rock trio Red China. He currently runs Algae Records.

Ross helped found the experimental Pinkeye Orchestra in 2007; the ambitious, amorphous project served as a freak jazz clinic/veritable Loco Gnosis all-star's revue, exploding/destroying and rebuilding cover songs. Pinkeye recorded a live album with John Sinclair, at Corktown Tavern, on the eve of Tiger Stadium's demolition.

"We've always had to make it up as we go along," Ross continues, "and that sort of improvisation is what leads to real revelation. That's the ethos that Loco Gnosis started out with."

Howitt never sought to be a label head. In his eyes, if he wasn't going to at least try something, then who? "Even if somebody might do it better, somebody still had to walk into the canyon first. I might have an idea and I might not execute it the best way, but if my failing in your eyes allows you to see your thing better, I'll take it."

"DIY is a great concept, but you still have to do the work; because if you haven't done it, then you're ultimately unchallenged and un-judged."

LG acted, interchangeably, as a beacon of new ideas in psychedelic art and music, and also like a base camp for a band only stopping along its way up the mountain.

"I think its natural for people to want to be part of a group," says Duende drummer Laura Willem, who is, altogether, bandmate/housemate/girlfriend/soundboard/collaborator of Howitt. "(LG) gives folks confidence and then lets them go into the wild! And to a lesser extent, I think it makes people feel good about doing it in their community." She remarks of the hard work put in to keep LG going: "Most nights, I go to bed, and he is still up working to the wee hours. I'm not sure that people know how much time it takes up for him."

"We were always just fans of music," Rozman says. And that fandom, Willem surmises, bred their "community."

This weekend a blend of original performers and "newer cast members" will perform a two-night/two-city music festival to commemorate the collective. | RDW

Props to my man Jeff Milo on this. Check out his Deep Cutz blog.

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