Practice, practice, practice

The “loft” practice space compound is a scene in itself. It is surreptitiously attached to the Big Lots on Grand River in Redford. Once you step inside the unmarked gray door leading to the spacious warehouse divided into about 50 semisoundproofed rooms, you’re immediately overwhelmed. Besides the curious scent — a potpourri of stale urine, sawdust and toasted amps — there’s that menacing gated freight elevator, and there are stray flyers, posters and graffiti promoting gigs every night of the week, everywhere from the Wired Frog to the State Theatre.

And then, of course, there’s the music. Behind each well-stickered door lie the beginning strains of countless songs in the making and covers to come — metal thrashes, three-part harmonies, Durst-esque screams, the beginning guitar wail of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” over and over and over again. So many dreams, so many beer bottles, so many earplugs, so many crazy rockers walking down the hallway, checking out the other bands, helping them out, creating community. Not to sound corny or anything, but it’s really beautiful.

I convinced the denim-clad modsters, Moods for Moderns, to let me infiltrate one of their Tuesday practices at the Redford Oaks Shopping Center loft. They were between a short tour and some East Lansing gigs, and I got a chance to really see what goes on behind those closed doors.

“You missed the sweet part of practicing where we come in, drink a couple beers, sit on the couch and talk about our hair,” Dave Shettler (M4M drummer) tells me when I walk in with Ben Force (the bassist). “And how sweet we are,” adds Nathan Beale, the band’s guitarist and main vocalist.

“I like the top, dude. It’s cut nice and short, looks pretty sweet,” Force says to Shettler, making up for what we missed. “I think the sides are too long,” Shettler responds. “Yeah, you totally need to, like, Supergrass it out or something.”

“You need to totally Luke Skywalker it out, actually,” Beale concludes. And after some laughter, he adds, “Then we talk about how sweet we’d be if we were actually practicing. Like, ‘Man, if we were playing our instruments right now, we’d be getting so good.’”

Seriously, though, the band has three nights a week at the space they share with the Atomic Numbers and Out By Tuesday. And when they’re not on tour, you can usually find them using their nights wisely: experimenting with new material, practicing old stuff, working out harmonies and then coalescing into some kind of bluesy “Funk #49” jam.

And it shows. The guys are only in their early 20s and they’re already live favorites on the Detroit scene. And after their debut full-length, Loud & Clear (recorded endearingly by Jim Diamond, who at the band’s request used only analog equipment made before 1979), is released on Doghouse Records April 27, they’ll hit the road again to pick up some new fans.

Moods for Moderns came into existence just a few years ago when King for a Day (Force’s old band) and Empire State Games (Shettler and Beale’s old band) both broke up.

“Our first practice didn’t meet up to any of our expectations,” Force admits. But all it took was a little practice. “You can be a really good musician and be really good on your instrument, but to sound good together is something that you need to practice a lot no matter how good you are,” Beale explains. “We practice exactly how we set up at a show. Some bands might practice facing each other, but we’re just rehearsing for a gig, and if you can’t do it like this, how are you going to do it at a gig?”

So after they talk about their hair and the new jean jackets they bought that week, what happens?

“Have you ever seen ‘Making the Band’? Yeah, ’cause it’s basically like that. Lou Pearlman comes in …,” Shettler jokes. “Hey, guys, I’m not feeling those leg kicks,” Beale adds in his best Lou Pearlman voice.

But before they can finish the joke, the band next door starts in on “Sweet Child o’ Mine” again, and everyone has to run out to hear it. Then it’s over — can’t seem to get past the first guitar part yet. “Stop teasing me, man,” Shettler sighs as we walk back into the M4M room. Then it’s time for Beale to say, “You know, if we were playing our instruments right now, we’d be getting so good.” And they set up and play through a few covers, laughing at each other as they try to remember the funny harmonies in Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

As they play, I recall a joke Force made earlier in a stoner voice about the part of practice, usually after a cool jam, where someone always says, “Man, I wish people could see this.” And as I glanced around the room, the egg carton-covered walls, the words “make rock” spray painted on the far wall, an illustration of Star Trek’s Enterprise vs. Star Wars’ Pod Fighter on the close wall, and the looks of pure enthusiasm on their faces as they create on the spot, I think: Man, I wish everyone could see this.

For more information about renting a Redford Oaks practice space, call 313-255-6400.

Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times music writer. E-mail her at [email protected]
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