Unions just released an album yesterday. You may not have heard of these guys and this post should serve to remedy that. Most of you are already familiar with one of the members, Michael Jackson, who shares the duties of pounding on guitars with Jason Kutchma in Red Collar. When Mike contacted me about having me listen to the record I was pretty stoked to put it in my ears. This review will be a little different because I asked Mike for the story behind Unions and I’ll be damned if he didn’t provide an awesome story, it’s so good I didn’t want to chop it and retell it. So here’s my review, and below the fold is most of the story Mike told me.
While I mentioned I was excited to listen to this record, I really didn’t know what to expect. Mike said he didn’t think it was 9B’s usual fare so I had no clue what to expect going in. Was I getting in to a 40-year-old rock and roller doing hip hop, was this going to be Red Collar redux, or who knows what other insanity? I am happy to report it was none of that, although I think Astronautalis proves that older white guys rapping isn’t always bad. I put on my headphones and was drowned in the cacophonous beginning to what is officially one of my favorite records this year. How an album starts is important for it is this moment, the first time the music reaches the ears of the listener, that promises are made for the rest of the album and Unions fucking nails it! Those instrument abusing first strains set the stage and their promises weren’t broken once over the course of all nine tracks.
From that description of the opening you may have visions of a noise album, an all out assault on the senses, but you’d be wrong. Baby Let Your Heart Be Humble is, to me, a perfect combination of driving rock n roll, garage, and punk. It’s fun to listen to and the music alone makes you want to do something, I don’t mean anything in particular, but rather just to be doing. It’s the sort of record you’ll put on over and over when you need that kick in the ass only good music can give you. It may not be twangy but I think that 9B is more than just twang and that this is exactly what we write about: music that makes you feel something.
Lyrically this is an album that fits its musical aspirations rather neatly. These songs are much more about the feeling than the storytelling and you should trust me when I say that they much more than fun tunes. The emotions run deep here and the connection with the listener is such that you aren’t an outside looking in but rather a participant in the experience. What these songs mean will be different to each listener and that’s, at least in part, by design. It takes a real artist to craft lyrics in such a way that it allows the listener to attach their own experiences and emotions and it’s apparent that the feel of this album, from start to finish, is a purposefully crafted experience. For that reason and all of the other reasons I’ve mention, and the fact that I fucking love this album, Baby Let Your Heart Be Humble is Essential Listening.
In the fall of 2010 my wife, Kim Patient*, and I moved from Durham, NC to a small Appalachia mountain town in the far west of the state, eight month old son in tow. After a few months in the mountains the idea was floated that since we didn’t have much to do with our evenings perhaps we should try to play music together. We spent two years there and the seeds for most of the songs that make up Baby Let Your Heart Be Humble were sown on quiet mountain nights. By the time we moved to Bloomington, IN it had been decided that upon our arrival we would start a rock and roll band.
We had barely unpacked when we started looking for people to join our nascent band. One of my first nights out in Bloomington I met Dagan Thogerson, the drummer for Murder By Death. We chatted about being new in town, life in Bloomington, music, etc. He’s a super rad guy offered to introduce me around. Somehow it came up that I wanted to start a band and was looking for a drummer and bassist. Dagan introduced me to Josh Morrow, who is sort of a local drumming legend, though I didn’t know it at the time. I had just finished putting Josh’s number into my phone when this guy Mike, who I had met before and had a connection to through a Durham band, said, “you don’t want to play with that guy, I know the best drummer in town and he isn’t playing with anyone right now.” Turned out Mike was in a band with Josh called Memory Map, but Josh was also in several other bands in town. At the time I thought Mike’s motivation was that he didn’t want his drummer in yet another band. Now I have come to view Mike as existing between this world and another dimension, a metaphysical being. I think this partly because he is a great musician, record engineer, and producer all of which basically seem like magic to me, but also because Mike happens to be the owner of the famous internet cat Lil Bub; who as everyone knows is a bonafide metaphysical being. In that sense I shouldn’t say “owner”, you do not come to own Lil Bub, you are chosen, and that must be for a reason.
Long story short, the number Mike gives me is Mike Hoggatt’s. Mike and Mike and another guy named Mike were in the band Push-Pull together. I called him up, said, “Hey I am new to town. My wife and I want to start a rock and roll band.” That was it, drummer found. Also, metaphysical Mike was right. Mike Hoggatt is the best drummer in town. Oh, and funny side note on Josh, the first drummer who Dagan introduced me too, he ended up playing drums with Red Collar at Holiday Hangout (2014) when our regular drummer couldn’t do it.
Later, I met Jeremy, our bassist at the same bar. He knows a lot about obscure hip-hop, is a fan of my favorite artist, William De Kooning, and is just an all around rad dude, and all of this on top of being a great player. Also, one of his past bands was named Tremendous Fucking; he had to play with us. For good measure we added another Jackson, cause you can’t have too many.
The rest is kind of standard band stuff. Write songs, re-write songs, practice those songs, drink beer, play shows. Have the time of your life. What more could you ask for. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to play music with great people. It’s a thrill. Always.
One more thing. I am 40 years-old. I am a husband and dad. I work a pretty straight job at a major university. Sometimes I ask myself, “why the fuck do you keep doing this?” The answer, is why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t you? Wasn’t that the lesson of punk rock? You don’t have to shred, you don’t have to be connected, cool, hip, whatever. Doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. Black or white. American or not. You don’t need permission. Take what you have and build what you want.