Milo's Trip: Band Chatter and 'Berz' Blur'
The sound ramblings below are the opening bars of a new column on local music, regularly appearing Tuesdays here on the Ferndale Patch. This week, valiant, sleepless DIY songwriter/essayist/aspiring publisher Jonathan Berz (of Songs From The Moon).
Jon Berz is doing it.
He just did it.
It’s done. He needs to sleep.
Berz loves to work. He attacks the art like a house-builder: planks and boards sprinkle down upon the bedrock of his brain and the walls of melodies start reaching and winding upward toward the roof of the bridge, the kitchen's cooking with piano chops and the stairs get stomped in with jaunty beats. The door opens and his voice comes out.
(Good luck getting that word-less chorus out of your head the rest of the day...)
Berz is getting more confident... "in my abilities to come up with something new and just to do it. Just, to make it, whatever I'm thinking. I just do it."
He moved into Ferndale a few years ago. A singer/songwriter/essayist/tutor and future English teacher, he currently co-heads his own record/publishing label (Simple Living Ferndale) while working towards his Master’s at Wayne State University and fronting a recording-experiment / 4-piece anthemic rock band called Songs From The Moon.
Though, I know Berz would slink away from that phrasing: "fronting." After 15 years doing the band thing, Berz is only just now gaining the confidence to take the lead and shuffle forth from his unassuming role intermingled into line-ups as "the rhythm guy."
It's a lot on anyone's plate, but it helps that Berz a.) loves to work and b.) has been spurred forth by the mad and marvelous poetic musings (and dynamic creative tears) of Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams. It's less so that he's on the other side of 30 now and recently had to have that quasi-cliched self-check of what he was doing with his life and more so that his brain has been invaded with ideas, as of late, and his heart is flush with energy.
He’s also writing a book and by the end of the year he wants to have at least nine music albums recorded, mastered and released.
We meet for coffee at Java Hutt and I try to keep up.
Berz opens his backpack and worshipfully waves a 4”x7” spiral notebook, glimpsing at it like it's a golden ticket. He “needs needs-needs” this wherever he goes, filling it up with ideas for songs, half-drafted poems, composition drafts, and chord progressions for songs by The Walking Beat (another band he just joined; Americana-pop revivalists based in Detroit). That notebook's for anything, really, it's how he keeps up with himself, be it the next album title (Blood for Power) or, anything, really; maybe the page number for his favorite Ginsberg quote.
Berz, 31, has been “in bands” for half his life, with most of his wide-eyed teens spent longing to “get the hell out” of his hometown, out in sticks; not even considering college, he says, but really just focusing on music and whatever attainable odd-job(s) that could afford him shelter for further song-slinging.
But heretofore, the DIY-disciple of varying music styles/sensibilities (Descendents, Suicide Machines, but then, also, the Zombies and The Who), has been most comfortable “behind the scenes, as the rhythm guy.” He learned to play keys after joining recently defunct Detroit power-pop quintet Blasé Splee.
Several years ago, friends of friends synched him up with a gig touring as lead guitarist with former Suicide Machines’ pop-minded bassist Royce Nunley’s Blueprint-76. Getting back from the road, scales sorta fell from his eyes, in a good way; he got over that pie in the sky dream of any musician reaching rock stardom and he struck out on his own, flicking on every creative switch in his essence, from the writer (flourished through a columnist gig at a local rag) to the songwriter (flourished by collaborating with newfound song-soulmate Shaun Wisniewski, his Simple Living partner) to the poet/essayist (flourished by his tutoring gig at Oakland Community College and his studies in composition at Wayne).
The guy also makes scratch delivering pizzas. Anything it takes. No wonder he doesn’t sleep.
“Let’s do it," Berz shrugs after the first sip of his second coffee. "Let’s try it."
"I always wanted my own label; so...ya go out, buy some supplies and now I got one. I just never had the confidence. I’m still not sure anything I do is any good, I just do it. I wake up, I do it, I go to bed.”
Over-doing things wins, he says. “My best ideas come at 4 a.m. after staying up two days. If I woulda stopped earlier, then I wouldn’t have had that, the best stuff, so I just push myself.”
"How ya gonna spend your minutes?" he sings on his latest song, "Are You Gonna Beat Around The Bush?" -still in pre-production. "How ya gonna creep along? Are ya gonna push the limits? / or Are ya gonna putz around?"
Berz already answered that question by writing the song.
~His inspiration, he notes, is due in large part to his former collaborators in Blase Splee, along with his set line up in Songs From The Moon (Wisniewski, Ryan Looney and Ed Sertage. Shaun's wife, Julie, it should be noted, helps out as well with Simple Living and the occasional SFTM recording on vocals.
Berz and Wisniewski will perform an outdoor June 14 -around 7 p.m. -outdoors at the Woodland Park Improvement Association Block Party (as Jon From The Moon) and then, Friday June 22 Jon performs solo - at the New Dodge Lounge in Detroit w/ Brandon Frye (of Superbomb) "Existential Bullshit" CD release show (backed by Superbomb w/ Dan Clark), with Future Slang and CAWW.
Up next for Jon and Songs From The Moon:
One solo EP (by Berz); A 7" single (or maybe an EP) from Songs From The Moon; A self-published book/memoir and several other DIY-recordings from both Berz and Wisniewski.
~thanks for reading~