Sleepless in Detroit 

Thanks to their work with such notable local bands as the Godbullies, Queen Bee and Thrall, Mike Hard and Karen Neal are well-known in the Detroit rock 'n' roll community. They Never Sleep is their latest joint venture, and the band, completed by guitarist David Livingstone and drummer Adam Berg, is finally starting to create some action.

We recently caught up with the four punk vets on a warm summer evening, sitting on the patio of the Belmont in Hamtramck. Hard is a likable and warm soul, although he has a nervous energy and the faintest hint of a facial twitch that aids his image as an unstable frontman and also makes him an interesting interview. Neal, who also manages to find time dancing with the Motor City Rah-Rahs, has cultivated a look that fits neatly somewhere between Iggy Pop and Marilyn Monroe — even if her prowess as a bass guitarist remains unjustly less celebrated. Livingstone and Berg, although less visually striking, are integral cogs in the They Never Sleep machine, and Livingstone, as his bandmates are keen to point out, is their main songwriter.

Although the four have previously worked together in both the Godbullies and Thrall, the concept of re-forming one of those bands never appealed to Hard. "We don't believe in hanging onto a name for the name's sake," he says. "I'm certainly not 'Mike Hard from the Godbullies' anymore. I'm a different person and the music's a different thing. When we did Godbullies, we were all these ideological college kids. That's how we all met — we all went to Western Michigan University together and started this band in Kalamazoo. The music might sound similar because it's the same musicians, but it's a whole different vibe. Every band I've been in — Brainsaw, Thrall — we give it a different name because it's a different thing. I understand when bands cash in on the name, but I think it's really cheap because it's not the same shit."

Neal is keen to point out, however, that future reunion tours aren't completely out of the question. "We've had offers," she admits. "But we're versatile enough musicians and good enough friends that we never get tired of exploring new ideas. We do it because it's fun."

That "exploration of new ideas" is a subject that consistently crops up during the talk. For Hard, They Never Sleep's sound can be defined simplistically: "It's definitely the Bullies mixed with Queen Bee. It has the psychedelic, rock 'n' roll, heavy Bullies sound, but it also has that aggressive rhythm that Karen's always been known to play. She's a very percussive bass player. When you put it all together, it gives it a really good groove."

The band does play groove-heavy punk rock and they are indeed very much a combination of the aforementioned bands. But it's Hard's schizophrenic, tick-driven delivery that makes They Never Sleep stand out in a particularly overcrowded punk rock pack.

And Livingstone believes that this current band finds the four seasoned pros finally reaching their musical peaks. "The thing I like about it is that both the songwriting and the performance come together in a way that they didn't in the Godbullies," he says. "All the parts seem to integrate into the whole and it functions like a seamless machine."

Berg has no qualms risking the wrath of the city when describing the band. "It's like Detroit," he says cryptically, "only better."

Having gigged around the region as often as possible for the past year, the band recently attempted to re-create their spectacular live show in the studio, and they're very happy with the way things have been going. They're hoping to have songs available to download soon, as well as an EP that'll only be available for purchase at their shows. For the lady also known as Queen Bee, this is a way of saying thank you to the city she calls home. "For as much of an oddball as I am, Detroit's been very good to me and I'm very grateful for that," she says.

Friday, Aug. 9, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. With the Ruiners, Circus Boy and Troubleman.

Brett Callwood is a music critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

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