12 Detroit bands to watch in 2018 

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What do you get when you cross an angsty hip-hop dreamer, an improvisational electronica jazz composer, and a group of space rebels using Earth as a temporary hideout? No, this isn't some sonic acid trip — it's Metro Times' annual roundup of bands and artists you should (and will) have on your radar in the coming year. And this year, it's getting surreal.

Just how does one qualify for such a prestigious honor? Well, it's simple. The band (or solo artist) must be destined for greatness. Like, that's pretty much it. Just by being recognized on this list pretty much guarantees that. We're not making shit up. The truth is, we have an ear for this sort of thing.

Look at our 2017 list: Anna Burch and Stef Chura have since scored record deals (with Polyvinyl and Saddle Creek, respectively), Valley Hush moved to the West Coast, and a slew of others from our list have become staples of the circuit and are gearing up for some surprises this year, too.

Based on our findings this time around, we can assure you that 2018 will provide one hell of a soundtrack thanks to these 12 artists. We can't wait to hear what that might sound like. 



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Krillin

"I don't know how you want to do this interview because you should know that this is not a normal band." This is how my conversation with Krillin bassist and rare species of alien Leyline Slime, er, Anastasiya Metesheva begins.

"Well, I fell onto nuclear trash planet so my body has turned into sludge. It's temporary, though," Metesheva explains. "I can harness all elemental powers which is why the space government is searching for me. I just joined Krillin as a hideout."

The story of psychedelic-fiction rockers (or "psy-fi") Krillin is more than a collection of sounds. It's a story that's totally out of this world. The group of multidimensional extraterrestrials from the Underspace who are wanted for being a rogue group of chaos-makers across the cosmos formed in 2015 when Metesheva was asked by a friend to play at her wedding.

Which is exactly what she did. Well, sort of.

"Literally this band was created to play their wedding. They are the prince and princess of the Moon," Metesheva says. "So, when Krillin hears about a rare treasure in their castle they assault the band that is scheduled to play and infiltrates the wedding to find treasure."

But since its inception, the story of Krillin has evolved far beyond a wedding band. You see, drummer Solar Scum (Michelle Thibodeau) is a cat humanoid and intergalactic thief. The Void (Cassidy Stewart) plays guitar while being a possessed parasitic life-form. And then there's Capt. Earwig Twitch (Eric Wilson), also on guitar, but his caveat is that his body is always twitching and randomly transforming into things, and as the only one who can fly the ship, he gets Krillin into trouble.

Layering experimental noise, droning synths, an unworldly sense of togetherness, and elaborate, ever-changing storylines based on real events, venues, and people to create inter-dimensional doorways and improvisational "music to get chased to," Metesheva explains that Krillin is based on intuition and feeling. As for their live show, well, that's just something you have to see for yourself. To call it a transportive and totally fucking surreal experience merely skims the surface.

"We want to play one show a month in 2018," Metesheva says. "But since we're maintaining a low profile from the space police, we are going to record more material and are working on a few projects that tell the story of Krillin in a way that a new audience could enjoy." As for what's to come, she adds, "Krillin can't predict the future, but we can travel to the past."

— Jerilyn Jordan

Listen: krillinband.bandcamp.com



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Sam Austins

The first time MT caught a musical whiff of Sam Austins was on Nov. 11, 2015, at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit. That night a teenaged Austins (who was opening for Casey Veggies and Dom Kennedy) stirred up the crowd in a mosh-pit bass-heavy frenzy as he performed a set of tracks from his debut project, Goat. Although the project made the noise Austins wanted it to make, he fell into a weird space afterward.

"I was deep in my own mind. Musically, I felt fresh and ready to go, with new ideas, but considering the means I had to work on more content, I felt very limited in what I could do," he explains. "I wasn't sure of my next step, and in a sense, I felt kind of lost after I released Goat. It was so many dope (and some not-so-dope) things going on around me with no real process. I'm thankful to have learned so much from that period, and to be able to apply it toward this current stage."

Enter the 2017 release of Angst, a six-cut EP that's much different sonically from Goat as Austin finds a hip-hop space between Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, riding on more of a slow-paced melodic vibe that's more soul-stirring than trunk-rattling.

"I think it's in its own pocket where it's different enough to stand out in this weird genre I kind of tapped into," Austins says. "Yet it's familiar enough where it can sit alongside the Big Sean, Tee Grizzley, and Payroll Giovanni-type projects. I represent a certain sound of the city that hasn't been heard until now, and Angst is just the beginning of where I'm going to take it."

Austins is correct on his assessment of Detroit hip-hop. He has definitely found a lane that only he occupies, but he still sees the city's hip-hop scene as a movement that is constantly evolving and feels the best is yet to come.

"I've been keeping my ear to a couple new artists coming out of here, like Daniel Hex, Daniel Eugene, Supakaine, and more. I've also been rocking with more known names in the city like Bandgang, Sada Baby, and others on that end. I want to work more with Daniel Hex. He's such an undiscovered gem that I think is capable of pushing this Detroit culture to a new level," he says.

"Detroit music has been thriving and I feel like we're finally about to see a breakthrough on a larger scale."

— Kahn Santori Davison

Listen: samaustins.com



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  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Molly Jones

When you ask a musician what their main influences are and the first two names she excitedly states are saxophonists Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, you know you're talking to the real deal. Molly Jones is, without a doubt, the real deal; her roving compositions and improvisations are a very welcome component to the flourishing creative jazz scene in the city.

Jones is a Detroit transplant, having moved to Michigan from Indianapolis to study saxophone at the University of Michigan. She's been playing since sixth grade, but during college she decided to pick up flute as well, and later had the opportunity to study it at the University of California, Irvine with Nicole Mitchell, a flutist, composer, and former (and first female) president of the Association for Chicago's Advancement of Creative Musicians.

2017 saw the release of Jones' first album as Microliths. When I ask about the relationship between composition and improvisation in her work, she explains they inform each other; this is immediately evident when you listen to Microliths.

"I'm surrounded by people who just know how to create music out of thin air," she says. The pieces she writes are structures designed to facilitate that. Microliths is free jazz, but it swings at times, too; the emphasis on collective improvisation gives the septet's instruments plenty of space to ramble in and out, weaving sonic embroidery within and beyond each other until the string is pulled and it all collapses in on itself to begin anew.

Jones is currently working on a solo set that involves electronics, saxophones, a flute, toys, and videos of her own making. She plans to workshop that project around town for a while, developing it slowly as she goes along. But when asked if she thinks that will be completed in 2018, she throws us for a loop with an even larger project she has in the works.

"I'm writing an opera," she says. She says she had the idea to write this opera some time ago, and knew she wanted to work with so many of the "amazing people who live here." After approaching her potential future collaborators, and after several of them said yes, she went ahead and started Untoward Co., an LLC that is an opera company.

The goal is for the opera to come out in early winter; her vision for it is of a multimedia spectacle that involves animation and dance as well as music. Sonically, the opera will be an exploration of two very distinct styles that speak to her sensibilities: brass brand meets electronic glitch.

"I have to find a way to combine those two in a way that makes sense," she says. We can't wait to see the results.

— Ana Gavrilovska

Listen: mollyjones.bandcamp.com



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  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Jonathan Franco

Local musician Jonathan Franco sees the world as a giant soundscape. The 26-year-old Dearborn native occasionally departs from traditional instruments and finds himself collecting sounds from eclectic objects like a fake Christmas tree or a subway air conditioner to create textured layers that beget specific places or feelings. This unorthodox approach to instrumentation, combined with Franco's poetic lyricism and interest in '60s rock, makes for a captivating debut album — one that has been five years in the making.

Slated for an early 2018 release, Franco's debut album is a diaristic body of work that has been written, rewritten, deconstructed, and rewritten again. Franco explains that this tedious process isn't in pursuit of a cookie cutter sound, but a specific sentiment.

"I've been taking so long on the album, which makes it seem like I've been sitting here trying to get every note perfect, but that's not what I'm obsessed with," he says. "The big thing with me lately is trying to capture moments or feelings... a moment or a few hours will stick out to me and I'll want to figure out how to make a song that feels like that. I don't know if it will ever come across, but it's a fun thing to chase."

Franco comes close to, if not arrives at, this goal in his song "A Topiary," named after an un-made epic film by sci-fi writer and director Shane Carruth. The deeply intricate and imaginative 300-page script — coined as one of the "Best Films Never Made" — was eventually shelved because of its $20 million estimated budget. "Nobody wanted to fund it so he ended up just shelving it and saying he would never make it and moved on to other projects," Franco explains. "It kind of felt like this album for a while, so I always felt really connected to it." The song is held down by steady guitar strums and layered with sounds from a pitched bell tower, loose piano strings, and old voicemails from close friends. With these elements, Franco captures both the warmth and longing that nostalgia can bring.

Franco, whose eccentric songwriting style stems from an exhaustive and diverse list of influences, gravitated toward experimental music at an early age. Although he grew up on '60s staples like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he says he was always drawn to songs like "Revolution 9," rather than the band's more mainstream tunes. "I didn't have any external forces telling me it was weird or different," says Franco. "I just liked it and that led me to more collage-seeming stuff." Franco looks to poets including Leonard Cohen, David Berman, Yuan Mei, and Billy Collins for lyrical inspiration while citing artists like the Microphones, Bedhead, Hiroshi Yoshimura, Luc Ferrari and "a lot of Japanese minimalist composers from the '80s" as influences on the musical side.

With such a mixed bag of musical influences and a knack for turning inanimate objects into instruments, Franco has created a body of work that glides through genres and generations and is undoubtedly worth the wait.

— Sara Barron

Listen: facebook.com/JonathanFrancoDetroit



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

MotorKam

Watching Motorkam perform is like watching a hip-hop love child of DJ Assault, George Clinton, and Zapp. Any millennial who goes by the alter ego "BlackDaddy" is definitely some sort of funk time traveler.

The Detroit-born emcee has had quite the year. He released his album BlackDaddy: Greatest Hits at the beginning of 2017 and followed it up with an EP, BlackDaddy's Birthday Suite in July. He also performed at the Lamp Light Festival, Electric Forest, and opened up for the Lox, Flint Eastwood, and Goapele.

The Summit Academy graduate likes the diversity of his performances. "Seeing that most of the shows this year had drastically different feels, I'd give myself a B+," he says. "I felt the various performances gave me an opportunity to gage my demographic and broaden my versatility. At the year's end I now feel like I'm able to play any room and shine doing it. I do know there's room for improvement and I'm excited to see big growth in 2018."

MT first caught up with Motorkam back in February, where he talked about his use of Detroit ghettotech, synthesized voice effects, and old-school vibes mixed with a little bit of trap and boom-bap. His sound is an ambiguous form of hip-hop and he could easily pop up in at least four different playlist genres.

Motorkam admits that fitting inside of a box has been the main challenge this year, but that he has come to realize that maybe he doesn't need a box at all. "I don't feel the need to change that because it's what separates me from the next artist," he says. "I found my own lane and now it's time for me to continue to expand on it. I can admit that maybe we were a little ahead of the curve with the BlackDaddy stuff and some people spent a lot of time trying to figure it out before they caught on. By now I've gotten used to the confused stares and the unsure head nods, I realize people are just processing something they've never heard before, which usually ends in them coming to me saying how they loved my set (and it being so different). Some people get it right away though."

Motorkam's next album, NewBlackCity, will be released next year. Motorkam promises more of the same, but also an upgrade. The album will feature production from Kaido, Marshall Law, and Landman Dxn. "NewBlackCity will be more centered around hip-hop instead of blending it with various dance elements," he explains. "After establishing BlackDaddy I wanted to focus on becoming a better lyricist. This new album will serve as a behind-the-scenes look on the tribulations and conflicts I had while making BlackDaddy's Greatest Hits. It's like, how does a young black creative find his or her place in a rapidly gentrifying city that's on the brink of dividing itself in half?"

— Kahn Santori Davison

Listen: soundcloud.com/motorkam



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Shortly

When 21-year old Alexandria Maniak went to the studio last summer to record what would be her first single as her moniker Shortly, what surfaced was completely unexpected — and it just so happened to land her a record deal.

"I wrote 'Matthew' so quickly. Emotions had spurred the song the day before I was going to record a different song," Maniak says. "It's just a simple E-chord, but it worked because the emotions are more raw and unfiltered. I want to embrace that feeling moving forward. I really want to embrace the idea of failure."

Maniak's breathy and fraught siren-esque vocals invite comparisons to artists like Anna Ash or Lana Del Rey. When asked about where she might place herself on the spectrum, Maniak says her brand is a bit of a mood board. "Right now it's vibrance through melancholy but my brand has been changing a lot because I've had an identity crisis and if I have an identity crisis so does my brand, because my brand is me," she explains.

Though Shortly is still a relatively new project, Maniak is no stranger to writing or performing. Having made music under her name for years, Maniak admits she felt pressured to create music that was both upbeat and marketable and that she may have been taken advantage of early on as a female artist. Both a manifestation of rebellion and self-awareness, Maniak's rebirth as Shortly was a product of time's design and her desire to be heard.

"It became an internal argument," she says. "Eventually I said, 'I'm going to cut my hair and dye it the color I want it to be and do the things with my body I want to do and ultimately, I want to do the things with my voice that I have wanted to do."

"The word 'shortly' embodied things I had been waiting to talk about," she explains.

In November, Shortly signed to independent New York City-based label Triple Crown Records. Despite having only one single to promote and several other labels nipping at her feet, she says it was a matter of intuition and trust that drove her to sign with Triple Crown. With one bucket list item already achieved, Maniak says her only wish is to keep going.

"I'm terrified that I could be at my peak right now just because people care," Maniak confesses. "There are a lot of things I would like to do with my project, but all of them stem from growth... moving forward, as both a person and an artist. I want to communicate with more people through my music."

— Jerilyn Jordan

Listen: shortly.bandcamp.com



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Double Winter

There are few band names that seem more "Detroit" than Double Winter. Appropriately, our interview was conducted in the back of El Club on the first major snowstorm of the year, with the band dressed in all white.

The four piece avant-garde rock band — made up of metro-Detroiters Holly Johnson (vocals and bass), Morgan McPeak (drums), Augusta Morrison (electric violin), and Vittorio Vettraino (guitar) — say they plan to follow their well-received 2016 EP, Watching Eye, with a two-song 7-inch and full-length record in the new year, drawing from some of their favorite genres like doo-wop, Motown, funk, and psychedelic rock.

The new material will follow Watching Eye's lo-fi surf and garage-rock sound, displaying each band member's unique tastes and talents. Vettraino's distorted surf-rock riffs and Morrison's scratchy violin bring the grit, while Johnson and McPeak hold down the percussion section with funk, jazz, and boogie-inspired beats.

After playing together for almost four years, the band members say they feel like they are finally finding their stride. "We're coming into our own as songwriters more," says Vettraino. "When we sit down to write new stuff, we take our time with it and every single part is there for a reason."

The 7-inch, entitled Friends With Bad Ideas, showcases the band's energetic crowd-pleasers "Fall on Your Face" and "Oxen's Eye." "When we play live, there are the songs where we notice people starting to nod along," says Johnson. While the songs are undeniably catchy, Johnson explains there's more to them than a memorable hook and reason to headbang.

"The 'Oxen's Eye' is actually a symbol for the masculine gaze that many people have to deal with on a daily basis," says Johnson. "It's having to do with dismantling that... and confronting an uncomfortable situation."

As a band containing three amazing female musicians, it's not surprising that they look to artists like Nots, the Raincoats, Patti Smith, and the Breeders for inspiration. As a frontwoman, Johnson's vocals fluctuate between haunting and apathetic, paring gracefully with the other instrumentation. The band's ability to meld each other's musical preferences and playing styles introduces a much-needed fresh perspective to the indie-sphere.

— Sara Barron

Listen: doublewinter.bandcamp.com



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Emile Vincent

In 2012, the hip-hop group Clear Soul Forces blew a breath of fresh air through Detroit's music scene. The boom-bap quartet was more about beats and rhymes rather than the genre mainstays of materialism and drugs — an updated version of Jurassic 5 with a sprinkle of Slum Village. Its album, Detroit Revolution(s), is considered a Detroit classic.

Enter Emile Vincent. The Crockett graduate and founding member of Clear Soul Forces is closing out 2017 with the release of his solo album, All N My Head. Vincent's first single, "The Box" dropped Nov. 6 — a lyrical odyssey with production that sounds like it was taken out of a Digable Planets playbook.

"I know my worth and plus there's purpose in the melody/ Channel heavenly verbiage artillery out the basement ain't no prison on this plantation capturing my imagination," Vincent raps. The cut was produced by DJ Dez and the full album debuted on Dec. 15 and featured production from ILLingsworth, Astronote, Ilajide, and Neo Heru.

Vincent explains that All N My Head is very personal. "I wanted to put together a well-rounded body of work so the production varies to show different styles and to experiment with different approaches," he says. "I like the fact that putting this project out offers a new range of experiences, [and] introduces a new vibe to the culture than what's currently available to the listeners. I like that it feels complete to me, one of those front-to-back, 'make your drive home from work better' projects. It differs in that I was just able to approach each song with a more open mindset and meddle with song structures. I think it makes for an interesting listen."

Vincent also hints to a "possible" Clear Soul Forces album coming soon and states that rumors of his disappearance from the group have been greatly exaggerated. "I haven't ventured off, but I did want to put out a body of work that was more personal and more of a reflection of my life experiences, views, and opinions," he says.

Vincent credits J Dilla and Madlib as two of his many inspirations and is wistful when considering the current and future state of Detroit hip-hop. "I love it, it's something for everybody," he says. "I am not sure of the future, nobody can tell, but I hope one day we can turn around this artist-to-fan ratio for sure."

— Kahn Santori Davison

Listen: fatbeatsrecords.bandcamp.com



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Nydge

Nigel Hemmye is a bit of a synth-darling.

Though composer and producer Hemmye wears many masks as a collaborator and has his hands on many a mixing board, it is his solo project and moniker, Nydge, that garnered a spot on our list.

With an impeccable knack for sophisticated hooks and shoulder-shimmying pop sensibilities, Nydge juggles accessibility without conceding his innately distinct electronic flair.

"I'm most interested in synthesizers and seeing how much emotion I can coax out of them," Hemmye explains. "Pop music is fun to me. I enjoy the math and structure it provides. For the longest time, I was afraid of doing it and hated on it. It came down to ego."

It must be noted that among the many qualities that make Nydge stand out it is his fountain of influences. After all, who else admits to the Barenaked Ladies as their earliest memory of music? Hemmye confesses to being shamelessly moved by a range of influences from Sylvan Esso, Nine Inch Nails, and even Skrillex-era Bieber.

"I listen to that mariachi band cover of 'Hotel California' featured in The Big Lebowski way more often than I would care to admit," he laughs. "But it's so thorough."

Beyond synth-pop, what Nydge represents is Hemmye's affection for collaborative challenges with loops, layers, and basslines. He traces his own evolution to his induction into the Assemble Sound family, admitting that since he joined the collective his sound has gone from "charmingly disorganized and neurotic" to "structured, purposeful, and inclusive." He adds that having access to gear, space, and producer Jon Zott through Assemble Sound has further helped him fine-tune the science of his mastering.

"It always helps me to have someone else in the room or else I end up producing myself into a corner, or get distracted," he says. "I tried to make music alone in a cabin on Lake Michigan once and just ended up with an eight-bar loop and a lot of sand in my pockets."

It's safe to say that Nydge, who has only released singles, remixes, and an EP so far, has a lot more to offer. So, what does he have up his sleeve for 2018?

"I know of at least three projects I had a heavy hand in creating are set for release. But one will have to be a surprise for now," he teases. He says he'll be supporting Flint Eastwood on a Northeast tour in January and February. "Oh, and merch is coming," he says. Though Hemmye's got a lot on his plate, he says what he's looking most forward to is not having to deliver pizzas anymore. "I'm hoping my car will smell less like garlic and mozzarella in 2018," he says.

— Jerilyn Jordan

Listen: soundcloud.com/nydge



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Serration Pulse

A powerful laser cuts a sheet of iron into hundreds of small, perfectly formed pieces with wistful emotions and mournful voices. They hum and throb and dance as the laser separates them from one into many, and what emanates is the eerie distorted sonic palpitations of Serration Pulse.

The duo is made up of Daniel Tomczak on synths and Kayla Anderson on synths and vocals. Both are metro Detroit natives who currently live in the city, having recently moved back after some years spent in Nashville.

Serration Pulse cohered as a tangible group in 2012, and have played numerous shows in the years since — including a recent perfect bill opening for ADULT. at Third Man's Nashville location. But 2018 marks the band's first official release, a self-titled EP that they wrote, recorded, and produced themselves, which will be pressed here in Detroit and released on Third Man Records.

When we ask Tomczak what influences him musically, his answer is a great summation of what gives Serration Pulse their particular force: "Sounds of machines and things in radios that you don't normally listen to if you're a normal person," he says. "Humming along with the vacuum cleaner when you're young. You're already into drone music and you don't know it."

The duo's only instruments are synths, including a Soviet-era Polivoks which they found on eBay and had to rebuild themselves. They're also fond of samples and enjoy combining sounds in their own specific ways. Tomczak played synth in Terrible Twos' frenetic punk rock band many moons ago, but a stint working on live sound with Jim Gibbons, who he describes as the go-to person for live techno or DJs in the city, gave him a fresh perspective and opened his eyes to other music scenes that were happening in Detroit.

"Once you're comfortable with the basics of the technical side, you can be experimental," he says. He's talking about live sound in particular, but the sentiment applies to music in general, and definitely to Serration Pulse.

Anderson writes all the lyrics, and it is her ethereal voice that gives Serration Pulse its unmistakably human side. When asked about her influences, she hits on the possibility contained within performance: "When I first started going to shows, I always thought that I could do that," she says. "And then I tried it and became obsessed. I thought, 'Oh, I can do that. Why am I not doing that?' It's part of who I am now."

— Ana Gavrilovska

Listen: serrationpulse.bandcamp.com



NOAH ELLIOTT MORRISON
  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Minihorse

When Ben Collins alludes to his strange behavior, it is admittedly hard to tell whether he is being humble or completely self-deprecating. But when it comes to crafting songs for his lo-fi band Minihorse it's clear that he's just being himself.

"I mostly write the songs thus far, but I'm open to not doing that. It either comes all at once into my head or doesn't happen at all," he explains. "I have to trick my brain into having an idea. Sometimes I try not sleeping, or meditating, or connecting my head to electricity. My favorite song I've written literally came to me while I was throwing up. This isn't sustainable."

Collins wryly describes Minihorse as "Oasish" and lovingly refers to bandmates Christian Anderson and John Fossum as "idiots" for starting a band with him. But what he fails to mention is just how fucking good they are. Case in point: See the band's 2016 EP Big Lack, where they toggle between languid and caffeinated, channeling the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Guided by Voices. Fuzz pedals and sticky drums grant Collins' vocals full permission to bleed and disperse against the nostalgic haze that sounds totally Detroit.

OK, they're technically from Ypsilanti. "It feels like a TV show here. We have great recurring characters. I always run into Cre and ask him about his robots, or I see Greg McIntosh or Davey Jones playing guitar on a porch and go hang out," Collins explains. "I love Detroit, too. But It feels cheap co-opting Detroit and its image to promote the band. I'd rather not be the musical version of Shinola."

Ypsilanti serves as more than just a home base for Collins, but a home studio. He records everything reel-to-reel and when we say "everything" we mean everyone, too — he's worked with everyone from Casual Sweetheart, Dear Darkness, and Double Winter to Matthew Milia of Frontier Ruckus and Fred Thomas.

"I always feel bad for bands who come record with me, because it's definitely not a traditional studio experience," Collins says. "I'm basically spending 50 percent of my time apologizing for stuff being broken. But it does have its own sound."

As for what's to come for Minihorse proper, they have an LP recorded and pegged for a 2018 release (and they may or may not recruit Jon Auer from the Posies to help mix it).

Given his impressive resume and sharp tongue, we figured it wasn't off-base to ask Collins for some words of wisdom for the new year.

"Normally I don't like to give sweeping life advice, but I think I will just this once," he concedes. "In my experience, it's generally a good idea to start a band called Minihorse with your friends John and Christian. It can be fun."

— Jerilyn Jordan

Listen: minihorseband.com



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  • Noah Elliott Morrison

Aplus

As singer-songwriter duo Aplus, Antea Shelton and Anesha Birchett have written and co-written songs for some of the biggest names in pop music over the past decade. But in 2018, the sisters are poised to step out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight with a debut record of their own.

Antea and Anesha had humble beginnings as gospel singers in Detroit, where, along with sister Angela, they were known simply as the Birchett Sisters. "We used to sing at churches and nursing homes and we would do local talent search-type shows," Antea says. "And we sang together a bit and then we started writing together, and it just spun out from there. So it's been music since birth for both of us."

But when Angela left for college, the remaining sisters continued to work together, and things began to snowball. (Angela has since become a Broadway actress, currently on tour with The Color Purple.) Eventually, they were discovered by Grammy-winning producer Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild, who offered them a high-profile publishing contract in 2005. Under Jerkins, the sisters co-wrote R&B and pop songs for the likes of Beyoncé, Danity Kane, and Ciara. When that deal ended, the sisters then signed to Universal Music Publishing Group in 2009, where they wrote songs for Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, and others.

These days, Antea works as the head of songwriting at the Detroit Institute of Music Education, where she is helping to train a new generation of Detroit songwriters. And though Anesha moved to Nashville four years ago, the sisters still collaborate, thanks to the help of technology and frequent visits back to Detroit. They've since also partnered back up with Jerkins to work on music for the TV shows Empire and Star.

"For us, it's not different, because we both are self-sufficient," Anesha explains. "In Nashville, I have my own little home studio. I engineer and record my own stuff, mix it, send it over to her. We both know how to do everything, so it isn't really an issue. We just get it done the best way we can."

Through DIME's record label, Original 1265 Recordings, the sisters will soon release their debut album, Pride Liberty Detroit, slated for a Feb. 9 release. (A single, "Strangers," was released Dec. 15.) The duo is planning a string of live shows in support of the record as well.

Recorded in just three days, the album is fleshed out with lush instrumentation, thanks to the production help from DIME co-founder Kevin Nixon. "The songs that we chose were fairly acoustic," Anesha says. "And we went in with Kevin and just made major adjustments. It was really cool to work with someone who is a producer, and not just kind of holding that title — someone who actually knows how to go in with the artists and piece it together and create a sound. Because we write top 40 and commercial music, we don't get a lot of opportunity to be with that type of producer — one who can play instruments, who has an ear for mixing and vocals, and can actually oversee an entire project."

For the sisters, it was perhaps an inevitable next step after so many years of working together. "These are all songs that were compiled based off of our catalogue of music, and we have so, so many songs within our catalogue," Anesha explains. "We picked the best things that we felt comprised a really great album that was conducive to our lives."

—Lee DeVito

Listen: facebook.com/aplusmusicgroup


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