I was supposed to check out heavy-hearted Midwestern rock 'n' roll band Michigan Rattlers on March 18th at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood. That was the same week I was laid off. That was the same week the global concert business came to a complete standstill. Just like every other artist, they had to postpone their tour due to the pandemic. Everything stopped. And everyone is feeling it. Everything is up in the air, especially for a band whose main reason for getting into music was to write, record, tour, and repeat.
Comprised of Graham Young (guitar), Adam Reed (upright bass), Christian Wilder (piano), and Tony Audia (drums), Michigan Rattlers is a four-piece band from Petoskey, Michigan. I remember when I first heard their music. I was listening to one of my Daily Mixes on Spotify when "Evergreen" came on. That song took me somewhere else. Summer road trips with the windows down. Distant memories. Daydreaming.
One of the things that is helping me keep it all together, most of the time at least, is immersing myself in music. These past few weeks have taught me to appreciate listening on a new level. The way I listen, and what I hear, has completely changed. Typically, when considering an artist’s music, the first thing I do is get in the car and go for a long drive through the city or along the coastline. Listening alone in my apartment has shifted the soundscape and allowed my mind to wander with the music.
Lyrics I’ve heard a thousand times before have taken on new meanings. Every time I listen to “Evergreen,” Graham Young’s impassioned pitch hits me from a different perspective: “I always dreamt of a bigger place / Now I'm wondering why I wanted to escape this.”
There’s no one piece of music that will do the same thing for everyone. But right now, music is everything. It has the power to soothe, uplift, and distract. Music does that for people. You only have to look at the folks in Italy singing and playing music together from their balconies, windows, and rooftops to understand that music is collective. It’s universal. Sure, I miss live music, but perhaps these wild times provide the perfect setting to discover new artists and how to listen with intention.
Following their postponed tour, I had the opportunity to catch up with Graham Young while he was hunkered down in his Los Angeles apartment. We talked about the band’s organic journey of finding and leaning into their sound, embracing fear and the inspiration found deep in the California desert, how their songs have become more meaningful since their release, human perseverance, and what he’s currently reading and listening to while in isolation.
When you listen to their music, my hope is that you’ll find a moment of joy.
Hey, how are things? What are you guys up to at the moment?
I’m doing well. What a strange time! It’s so weird being in the middle of what feels like such a defining time for our country and the world. I am currently holed up in my apartment in Los Angeles, which to be honest isn’t all that different from my normal existence when we’re not touring.
I was really looking forward to catching your show at the Roxy in LA on Wednesday night. Tell me about your guys’ tour before it got postponed. What has the fan response been like?
We had just finished a month-long leg which took us from Buffalo, NY all the way down through Florida and back up to Chicago. The response was great. We hadn’t been to the East Coast in quite a while and it was nice to see that the crowds have gotten bigger. It was also the first time we we’re able to take out a support act. Brent Cowles joined us, and it was nothing short of inspiring getting to watch him perform every night. Talk about being a god damn professional.
When your fans do finally get to check our one of your live shows, what can they expect?
A good time. We want to make you feel good about spending your money.
What are the most memorable moments you guys have experienced on tour?
We pulled out a deep cut Warren Zevon song in Philadelphia and afterwards a guy gave me a pin that said, “my shit’s fucked up,” which is a Zevon song. I promptly pinned it to my jacket. Memorable moments also include: when we’re trying to buy beer after a show, and when we find out that we can’t get any because of whatever-state-we’re-in’s crazy liquor laws. At this point, we’re pretty good at knowing when and where to buy booze in most states.
How’s life when you’re off the road? How do you stay inspired?
Life off the road is pretty quiet for me and the guys. I try to read and write and watch as many movies from the Criterion Channel as I can. I’m making my way through Anna Burns’ novel Milkman. It’s all about the struggles in Northern Ireland during the 70s. Stories rooted in history are always comforting to me. Reading about human perseverance is important right now. I also started watching the episodic version of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. I heard the divorce rate in Sweden skyrocketed when it came out, so you know it’s deeply affecting. I’m excited to get through it.
“Desert Heat” is such a rad single. From first listen, it’s clear that the song is extremely heartfelt. What are the band’s lyrical inspirations?
Lyrically, I find a lot of inspiration in day to day life and in the interactions I have or
interactions I’m witness to. “Desert Heat” comes from the feelings I had going to Joshua Tree for the first time and being so small in a place that felt like it went on forever. Northern Michigan is a world away from the deserts of California. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
What can fans expect in the coming months in terms of new music? I know a new album is on the horizon.
With everybody sort of sitting on their hands right now, and not knowing exactly how to navigate this time of complete shutdown, we feel very lucky to have a nearly completed new record. We finished recording after the new year and are now just finishing up the mixing process. I’m not exactly sure when we’re going to put out more singles but they’re on the way.
If you had to describe the band’s sound to someone who never listened to your music before, what would you say?
We’re a rock 'n' roll band. We’re very influenced by music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. We also have deep Midwestern roots, which I think comes across in our music.
Can you tell me about how you guys found and continue to lean into your sound?
Finding our sound has been a very organic journey. The band started out as an acoustic duo because that’s what we had to work with. Myself on guitar and Adam Reed on the upright bass. It was never a conscious decision; it was just what we had at our disposal. Then, Christian Wilder joined and added the piano and organ sound to the band. Tony Audia on drums followed. We all grew up together and played in a high school band together, and when it was time to take a crack at it for real it was a process of getting the band back together again and using the pieces we had.
People grow a lot in a couple of years. How do you guys still relate to the songs from Evergreen? What have you learned since then?
I think if anything, the songs from Evergreen have become more meaningful to me since their release. I think good art should open itself up to you more and more as time goes on. Certain songs have taken on whole new meanings than they had when first written. We all have different vantage points and perspectives in which we take things in and a lot of times I find out the meaning of things through interactions with the listeners. Which makes putting out new music all that much more exciting and horrifying.
What are you currently listening to? What’s on your playlist?
I’ve been listening to a lot of James Brown’s live recordings. The control and energy he has on stage is out of this world. I’ve also been loving the new Brian Fallon singles. And the Tarzan soundtrack. The songs Phil Collins wrote for that movie are ridiculous. You should go check those out again.
Most relevant childhood memory related to music? Any advice you’d give to your younger self?
Sitting in my basement at 10-years-old and watching AC/DC’s Live at Donington was a defining moment in my childhood. After watching that I knew I needed a guitar. Advice to my younger self would be to consume as much as possible. Read and listen and watch as much as you can. Also, to embrace your fear. Fear is the biggest killer of creativity. Accepting that fear and turning it into something productive is so important.
Featured image: Doug Coombe; Detroit Metro Times