Tripping into the void 

This brisk summer evening finds me driving southbound at 90 miles per hour on I-75, unaware of the gathering speed of my four-door Saturn. Flashing lights in my rearview mirror. A police officer with a crew cut. Shit. Pulled over for speeding, the fuzz says.

Blame it on Aquarius Void.

Warning: Listening to Aquarius Void while behind the wheel can be hazardous to your driving record.

But then again, you may never face this problem. I was listening to a demo that was made in somebody’s basement. Who knows whether Aquarius Void will ever find time for a commercial release?

“Those guys are on the road a lot,” says frontman, vocalist and keyboard player Ross Westerbur (500 Feet of Pipe) of his band mates, Mike Alonso (Five Horse Johnson, the Christpunchers, Speedball) and Zach Shipps (Electric Six, Brendan Benson and the Wellfed Boys, The Atomic Numbers). The trio is the sum of three very different parts and for Alonso and Shipps — two of the most sought-after and frequently touring rock musicians in the D — being home for any significant amount of time is becoming rarer and rarer.

When they do have a chance to jam, Westerbur explains, it’s “really just for good times,” but given the impressive stack of credentials that accompanies this threesome, it’s no wonder why lots of people are interested. And even though they have only played a total of two live shows together, the story behind this kick ass ensemble should be told.

As the trippy moniker suggests, Aquarius Void’s sound is psychedelia — keyboard-driven in this case. The music also conflates rock drumming, assed-out, fuzz-toned guitar, “banshee vocals” (as Shipps refers to them) and epic lyrics. It is the grand tradition that is full-fledged cock rock.

But unlike his semi-transient counterparts, Westerbur is a something of a homebody. The University of Michigan-Dearborn math faculty member is serene and polite. He has quiet eyes and wears wire-rimmed glasses — he is just about the unlikeliest rock ’n’ roll frontman one can imagine. But once he begins to sing, an almost bizarre transmutation occurs; barrel-lunged vocals in the style of Dave Grohl circa The Colour and the Shape erupt from the modest mathematician. He describes the songs — which home in on the fundamentals of heavy music — as a “massive simplification.” He says that when they write their songs, the main focus is to “avoid things that complicate the issue.” As far as the polar shift from modest mien to screamo wizard goes, Westerbur replies dryly, “If someone is paying admission, it just wouldn’t make sense to be my mellow self.” He amends the statement shortly thereafter to explain that this kind of music requires a certain vocal resonance to work.

And he learned from the best. Westerbur recalls the watershed moments when music of this ilk really began to affect him. Hearing bands like Black Sabbath for the first time initiated the fascination, but as Westerbur recalls, “I was driving in my car, and this song came on the radio. The song was “Asphalt Risin’” [by Fu Manchu]. I can’t remember if I pulled over, or if I just didn’t shut my car engine off, but I waited until the end of the segment to find out who that was.”

Both Alonso and Shipps are also fans of the hard rock and agree that playing this kind of music is a nice change.

“I always wanted to play with a keyboard player,” says Alonso, a drummer whose reputation as a guy with chops precedes him. “With Five Horse Johnson, there is a much more bluesy feel and with Speedball it’s more punk.” He says that he has been eager to book another show with Aquarius Void — and he’d love to do it more — but distance keeps the band in limbo. In reference to guitar player Shipps, he explains, “When I am home, he’s off on the other side of the world and vice versa.”

Shipps, a local music supporter for years — whose generosity and skills as a rock ’n’ roll musician have earned him producing credits for many a fledgling band — took on the gig as a replacement guitar player for the Electric Six about 18 months ago and as a result has spent a good portion of the past few months traveling everywhere from Moscow to Japan. While home for a stint, this shredder at heart is excited to play with his old pals.

Westerbur explains, “It’s brotherly.”


See Aquarius Void on Saturday, Aug. 28, at Small’s (10339 Conant, Hamtramck) with Brant Bjork. Call 313-873-1117 for more information.

Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail

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