Detroit trio Young Punk readies its debut album

‘Music is fucking great’

You get an email from someone you don’t know, and the headline simply says “New Young Punk single.” How do you not give it a listen? The song is “Love Abuse,” a clever, skittery track with an echoed-out guitar upfront, blown-out production, and very ace singing. It starts and ends minimally, and you absently listen more than once.

It’s the band that’s called Young Punk; that wasn’t a descriptor. They’re a three-piece now, but were originally a duo: Nick Van Huis and Stephen Stewart plus a formerly revolving cast of singers. A year ago, the two 26-years-olds (who’ve made music together since high school) settled on the most excellent vocalist Taijah Johnson. On the verge of releasing their first album Jan. 19, Metro Times spoke with Young Punk to find out what their deal is.

Metro Times: Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Nick Van Huis: I play guitar and some keys, along with Stephen. I was raised in West Bloomfield and currently live in Detroit with my wife.

Stephen Stewart: I play bass and produce the computer music in the band. I was born in Pontiac, grew up in Beverly Hills, and I currently live in Ferndale.

Taijah Johnson: I'm 25 years old, born in raised in Detroit. I just graduated from Wayne State with a bachelor's in marketing. I love all things music, and I'm into photography and graphic design. I love to paint, long walks on the beach with the sand between my toes. Enough about me — back to the music! Music is fucking great.

MT: Whose idea was this band, initially?

Van Huis: The idea was Stephen's. I grew up in the suburbs and met Stephen in middle school. At the time, I was living in Lansing and planned on moving back to Detroit to move in with my then-girlfriend, now my wife. So, Stephen told me that we should start a band. Before we'd even jammed, he told me he wanted the band to sound like a combination of Grizzly Bear and Snoop Dogg. I didn't argue with him, because that sound was something I'd never experimented with before.

MT: You guys describe yourselves as "an electronic/trip-hop/shoegaze/alt-R&B band." Let's walk through all of that, please.

Van Huis: Those were just the closest signifiers we could think of, really. I think the hardest thing to do as a band is to describe your sound to other people. The "alt-R&B" tag wasn't part of it until Taijah joined.

Stewart: The style of her voice, along with the electronic percussion, is really what brings out the R&B feel. As a bassist, I've always been a fan of funk and soul.

Johnson: Everything that I create comes to me organically. I grew up in a household full of music; I didn't have to look far for musical motivation. I mean, my mom kept the Motown in rotation, my dad plays the bass and electric guitar, and my older brother is a singer/songwriter/pianist.

Stewart: Nick and his pedals are definitely the main source of the shoegaze vibe. He is the real chemist of reverbs and delays.

Van Huis: Some people associate shoegaze with lots of fuzz and a wall of sound, which is definitely a part of it. But I always took more of the atmospheric side of it. And when we first started, I was really into trip-hop like Portishead and Massive Attack; we keep some of those sounds in our DNA.

MT: And the electronic thing — that just goes back to Detroit, doesn't it? I've never lived anywhere in the U.S. where it was so acceptable for young people to be into dance music.

Stewart: Ha ha, yes. Like a lot of other local artists, a part of our sound is the result of warehouse and loft parties.

Johnson: My biggest musical inspiration would have to be my younger brother, Micaiah, who was the electronic producer Caiah Golden. Cai passed away in 2013, but he remains one of the most creative and innovative electronic producers I've ever known.

MT: How did you get hooked up with New Way Bar? How have these shows been going — you've created your own sort of showcase, correct, with these First Thursday events?

Stewart: The inaugural First Thursday happened at the Bosco in Ferndale. I work there and my boss, Jay, always asked if Young Punk could play a show. The show went well, so we did another. Eventually, First Thursdays needed a home, and the New Way was very welcoming.

Van Huis: Jaime at the New Way has been great to us and really supportive. We try to make First Thursdays a showcase, not just for us, but for Detroit music and our friends. There's such an embarrassment of riches in this city and this is our way of trying to get people excited about music, the way we are.

MT: Who are these local bands are you closest friends with, then? Would you consider this a scene?

Van Huis: We're definitely close with Pool. White Bee and Five Pound Snap are also bands that we have played shows with and are really cool people too. Pastel Arsenal is another amazing Detroit artist we've played with a bunch of times, and he's just a really good guy.

Stewart: I personally do not think we belong to a scene. We haven't subscribed to any particular "clique," and we've played shows sharing stages with very diverse genres and crowds.

MT: How did the record come together, then?

Van Huis: The new sound of the music definitely has a lot to do with Jason Daker, our producer. He's a friend and knows what we want from the music, and knows how to get it where we want. It also has a lot to do with Taijah. She has a way of emoting that really brings out the best in the music.

Johnson: Working with Young Punk is awesome because we give each other the creative freedom to do/say/sing/play whatever it is that we feel whenever we feel it.

Van Huis: Stephen and I can be really hesitant to bring new people in to our music because we've been playing music together for so long and our musical instincts are so in sync that we can be reticent to bring an unknown element into that. From the start, she really understood our sound and what we were trying to do, and brought her energy to it.

Johnson: We all work well together — it's hella organic.

Van Huis: This is the first time we've had a cohesive artistic vision and an idea of not only what kind of music we want to make, but what kind of album we want to put out. We've been kicking around ways that we'd like to release it. We're definitely going to put it on bandcamp. And for physical releases, we'll probably give download codes to people that buy t-shirts at the shows. The album is self-titled.

Young Punk plays at the New Way Bar on Thursday, Jan. 7; Doors at 9 p.m.; 23130 Woodward Ave.; 248-541-9870; No cover.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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