The cosmic balance of Detroit’s Rogue Satellites

Jaye Allen Thomas and Lisa Poszywak.
Jaye Allen Thomas and Lisa Poszywak. Lisa Poszywak

The music of Lisa Poszywak and Jaye Allen Thomas — better known as the duo Rogue Satellites — tempers unnerving existential dread with a surreally soothing reverie and cathartic sonic exertion.

We're chatting in their home studio in Detroit about the band's new EP, Baby I'm Jeff, out this week.

"I think the original ideas behind most of the Rogue Satellites' music was kind of a social satire," says Thomas, noting that much of it was inspired by the self-serious pageantry of music scenes. "Recently it's been reacting to the world at large, though..."

The band's signature sound of sugar-coating gloom and observing oblivions through softened sheens of the sublime comes from the certain catalyst that could only occur in the musical laboratory of its members' shared domicile. The overlap of the pair's artistic venn diagram is that they do both appreciate some of the darker avant-garde, but also can't deny indulgence of melodic pop — not that these are adrenaline-raising dance-tunes, but there is a strangely tranquil sense of restoration when you waltz through one of their dreamy, dirgey tunes. It's where electro-rock, psychedelic folk, and apocalyptic pop meld together. But there's something else to their formula.

"Having an art school background, I've always appreciated when something is hard to define," Poszywak says. Unique to Rogue Satellites, Thomas lays the lyrics and skeletal arrangements down as a songwriter on guitar, but then Poszywak, as a painter and visual artist, effectively "colors in" the song, be it with vocal harmonies, synthesizer, bass, or even taking the lead melody. "It's a balance between polished and unpolished. I've grown to dislike super-clean production, because it just loses the life of the song."

"I've always loved music and art that was rough, yet beautiful," says Thomas. "I like things that are ugly and pretty at the same time. I've always appreciated artists who have that juxtaposition of the dark and the light, heavy and soft, noisy and calming. That feels like life to me."

The EP's title is a loose threading of political commentary and art gallery double dares. Photographer Jeff Cancelosi playacted for the artistic couple during a reception they hosted at Corktown Studios, mocking archetypal dude-bros as if he would ever sidle up to a bar accosting ladies with "Hey baby, I'm Jeff!" Thomas remembers telling Cancelosi that he and Poszywak half-jokingly promised to make that the title for their next release, but it expanded in its commentary when they detected that same kind of toxic strain of entitled machismo that Cancelosi satirized on display in the news during the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh. "So the title track is a fictitious song about an imaginary douchebag," Thomas says, "who was inspired by a real life douchebag."

Poszywak served as Gallery Director for eight years at Detroit's Corktown Studios up until 2017; she graduated from CCS and has since exhibited works in notable shows locally and nationally. Poszywak stepped back from that position to focus on, among other things, working with Thomas on developing the duo's new creative headquarters in northwest Detroit. With her painting gallery upstairs and Thomas' cornucopia of recording gear and instruments downstairs, the two were able to focus on these five dazzling, drifting, space-rock splendors, bouncing them back and forth to producer (and musician) Eric Oppitz (of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor), at first for input and recommendations, then for mixing, and finally mastering.

"Eric's production really took this EP up a notch," Thomas says. "I was really impressed with what he was able to extract from what we did ... I was really surprised at the difference between what we sent him and what we got back. It did become quite collaborative."

Oppitz is a skilled engineer who has worked on several other recordings, but he has a deepened familiarity with Poszywak and Thomas, because he's been listening to their musical evolution for more than eight years now. Rogue Satellites started out with Thomas and drummer Scottie Stone back in 2007, combining guitar, drums, and a sequencer, but when their collaboration ended, Poszywak stepped in.

"We've been together, as a couple, for almost 10 years now," Poszywak says. "And I know that just from the (artistic) proximity, while we've worked obviously the most on Rogue Satellites material, but we have done some visual art together, I just think that I've become more relaxed and that (Thomas) has become a little more organized. I'm more about structure and linear progression, and he's kind of the opposite. We accept that and we've learned from each other."

"We do come to a middle ground," Thomas says. "My favorite metaphor for every way in which (Poszywak) has affected me is that before she was in the band, we never had setlists..."

"That was the first thing to do when I was just learning this shit," she says, as they both laugh. "I can't just go on stage and not know what song's coming next."

This is the duo's fourth proper release, following up last year's fever-dream of fuzz and foreboding earworms, Black Wings. In fact, these songs were written before the last album came out. That's actually another reason the couple stepped away from Corktown; Thomas' cache of songs and lyrics was spilling out, and they needed the necessary time (and solitude) to organize their creations so that one year's album isn't tripping over premature installations of future albums.

But now, an equilibrium has been achieved.

"We like working together as a duo; we wouldn't want to shift that balance," Poszywak says. "We just want to keep it as simple as possible."

Beyond that, Thomas says, gesturing to the recording studio's sound-proofed sanctuary, "I love that we're able to do this on our own, and on our own terms."

Rogue Satellites celebrate an EP release show with VSTRS and Huddy Bolly on Saturday, Nov. 9 at Outer Limits Lounge; 5507 Caniff St., Detroit; 313-826-0456; Doors at 8 p.m. Cover is $5.

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