During rehearsals for the tour at the Goon Lagoon recording studio in Grand Rapids earlier this month, Tobin Sprout and his band joked about whether certain guitar hits or musical passages were “drool worthy” in terms of performance. ‘intensity.
There were certainly plenty of drool-worthy moments as the band kicked off their Midwest tour at the Grand Rapids Listening Room later that same week.
Weaving the psychedelic indie-rock gems of Sprout with understated, Americana-fueled material from 2020’s “Empty Horses,” the band confidently and intelligently unleashed compelling lyrical material driven by infectious melodies, hazy guitar leads and thoughtful and punk-tinged energy balanced by beautiful, sweet ballads.
It’s just the latest chapter in an eventful career for Northern Michigan’s Sprout, who have shifted their approach for their latest album to create a more reserved, folksy collection rooted in American history.
When Sprout was growing up, his grandfather would pull out a Civil War-era gun and fire it every Fourth of July.
“I’ve always been … interested in American history and my grandfather was a big Civil War buff. He took us to Shiloh and he took us to Gettysburg, and he was constantly reading about the Civil War and telling us stories and things about it,” the Leland-based indie rocker and songwriter recalled.
Those childhood memories helped inspire “Empty Horses” in 2020 and sparked the band’s recent tour.
“I kind of wanted to do a Civil War-themed American-themed album and it kind of grew out of these songs that we were writing,” said the Ohio native and former Guided by band member. Voices which has taken up residence in Léland since 1997.
PopMatters described the departure from Sprout’s usual musical focus as “a study in Americana” with “stories that evoke the rich past of similar songwriting”. NarcMagazine praised “the power and magnitude of its magical melancholy” deployed in this “wonderfully beautiful album”.
Yet the tracks on “Empty Horses” are really only half the story of Sprout’s recording sessions with his band at Tommy Schichtel’s Goon Lagoon recording studio in Grand Rapids.
Other “typical rockers” recorded in the studio but that didn’t fit the vibe of “Empty Horses” were released as singles (“Supersonic Chairman”) or shelved for the follow-up album that Sprout hopes to begin ” knock out”. this autumn.
“I think we came together in a different way and I think that will continue with the next album,” Sprout said of the sessions at the all-analog Goon Lagoon.
Sprout’s illustrious career dates back to 1983 when the guitarist and visual artist formed a Dayton new wave band called fig. 4, which opened for touring artists such as The Del Fuegos. Sprout was later invited by Guided By Voices founder Robert Pollard to join the indie-rock/psych-rock band, which garnered buzz and eventually signed with Scat Records in the early 1990s.
“We finally got signed to a label and I was like, ‘Well, OK, that’s it, you know.’ That’s all I wanted to do,” Sprout said. “It goes a little beyond what I imagined.”
Indeed, he has. Beyond his work with Guided By Voices, Sprout released an extensive list of solo albums, published children’s books and continued to paint, with regular exhibitions of his work in art galleries.
He says he’s even gotten into screen printing lately, something he finds “quite exciting. It’s always exciting to start a new medium and learn what you can do with it. So that’s kind of what got me excited.
But the 66-year-old singer and guitarist is also relishing returning to touring and performing after a pandemic shattered the band’s 2020 plans.
“It’s just nice to get back on stage and, you know, feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do it,'” Sprout said of his touring band with Schichtel on guitar, Gary Vermillion. on drums and Vermillion’s brother, Steve, on bass.
“Yeah, it’s good to be there again.”
– Find more Michigan music news and gig listings at LocalSpins.com. Email John Sinkevics at [email protected]