Michigan singer-songwriter John Salvage brings 15 years' worth of music to life on debut solo record

Easy tiger

click to enlarge John Salvage. - Justin Ames
Justin Ames
John Salvage.

Hamtramck-based singer-songwriter John Salvage has had a big box of 7-inch records in his living room since May of last year. The records are all copies of the 33-year-old's debut solo record, the acoustic-leaning, Jason Isbell-steeped, modern Americana-influenced Coyote Hasten. And then, of course, the pandemic hit. So the records sit and Salvage anticipates Jan. 29, the record's release date, which is nearly a year after he had originally intended to release the music that, if he's being honest, has been occupying valuable real estate in his head for more than a decade.

"Revisiting it wasn't so much the issue," Salvage says. "It was more that it felt great to finally get it out. And then that got me inspired. So a couple of the songs on it I wrote for the album, and they're definitely some of my favorite ones on it. So yeah, I'm really happy with how it turned out. It's a good solo record to start off with, I think."

Salvage, a Toledo native who relocated to the Detroit area 10 years ago, says his time in grad school and taking on internships was when he realized that he had stopped playing music, something he's done since the age of 12 or 13, when he formed his first band and, later, when he became a regular solo performer on the acoustic circuit when he was 18. The realization ended up being a heavy one — one that walked so Coyote Hasten could run. So, he quit grad school and started taking music as seriously as he had always intended to.

"So I just kind of went like, alright, well, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this," he says. "And because I've just been spending, like, 10 years just partying and having a really fun time and being in grad school for a little bit, I was like, if I spent this much time on music, I probably could accomplish some things."

For the most part, save for the whole pandemic thing, his plan worked — and while he awaits the release of Coyote Hasten, he already has a second one in the works and is eager to get out. Though it will have a blend of solo tunes and a few with a full band (he assembled Kirk Scarborough, Josh Bud, and Evan Eklund as his bandmates during the pandemic), the follow-up will steer away from his acoustic roots, which are essentially the glue that binds Coyote Hasten into one cohesive, swelling, and reflective package. Salvage says to brace for more instrumentation and experimental loops.

"I've been playing in bands for 20 years, but I've been doing, like, solo acoustic stuff since I was 18 and I'm 33," he says. "So it was definitely important to have that be documented, per se. That was a long time of my life. I haven't moved from it, by any means, but I've kind of incorporated more stuff. But for a long time, that was a big focus of mine, just doing shows. So I wanted that to be the first thing that I released. I guess ... that even though I've been doing that since I was 18, I only had 11 songs worth putting out," he says with a laugh. "There are a lot of songs that did not make the cut because once I started to record, I'm like, 'This song sucks.'"

Before Coyote Hasten became a reality, Salvage rearranged some priorities. For one, he stopped ringing up hefty bar tabs and stopped being, as he says, "leisurely all the time." He also got a dog with his partner, with whom he had briefly considered moving out of Detroit.

"It took me 10 years to get to where I'm at now, and it's like, I don't regret that because it was a wild 10 years, and it was so much fun," he says. "But I don't know if I want to do it again." 

At the end of the day for Salvage, consistency is a key motivator as is, paradoxically, a boundless restlessness, as the record's sweeping single "Trade Coyote" suggests.

"I was very content with a life of leisure," he says of the time leading up to the record. "I had a job. Emily and I found each other and had been dating for a while. We have a great dog. I have the bars that I go to, we get takeout, like this is a great life. But then at the end of the day, you're like, yeah, but there's some things that I would like to achieve that I probably should probably focus on a little bit," he says. "Leave something behind if you have an itch to scratch."

Part of our cover story, "12 metro Detroit acts we think will do big things in 2021."

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