Michael Ross isn’t interested in the musical notes that are already there; he’s set off to root around in the more cacophonous corners of song-crafts workshop to find the notes that aren’t there.
Too many set out to reinvent the Beatles, but this local sound-collagist (or, experimental songwriter, if you will) has always sought to reinvent something else, what other fixtures, vents or pipes could be installed to bring some fresher, weirder air into the dusty, tired, systematized workshop of music.
It helped that Ross spent much of the last decade working at The Record Collector, flourishing his appreciation for under-the-radar avant-gardists like The Fall, Captain Beefheart and, of course, Sonic Youth. This punk-rabbler, noise-dabbling, art-rock inclined music appreciator approached his songs like a freeform poet or a modernist painter – like Thurston Moore and Charles Bukowski and Jackson Pollock making music (“sound!”) together…
Through the last decade, local audiences might have scoped him at various venues, be they legit or more unconventional, performing with a variety of bands (Pinkeye, Red China, Extra Large Childe), most recently: at the Loving Touch with The Coleman Youngbloods –and, forthcoming, at next week’s Tuesdays In The Forest, with his latest project, Grumble.
Grumble also features instrumentalists Kirk Van Husen, Jeff Spatafora (and, on occasion) Frank Lee. The gist? Freak-jazz! Borderless boogie!
Grumble and Coleman Youngbloods are “sort of the yin and yang” of Ross’s musical universe.
“Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just combine everything into one unifying moniker, but I don’t wanna rush it," he says. "It still feels separate in my mind, between the sort of charged and unhinged electric flights and the more subtle acoustic adventures. Definitely still of the same ilk, though.”
Spatafora, Ross says, (featured in both bands) is “the consummate gentleman, musically and otherwise.” (Ferndale fans can also see him in DevilFish and Crappy Future!)
“He always wants to make sure what he’s playing is ‘right’ and everybody likes it and once he’s got that affirmation he’ll completely RIP into something perfect," he said.
Essentially, (on influences), Ross appreciated artists who told him (from an early age) that “there are no rules in music…do what sounds sweet to you.”
From the gut, from the heart – even if it sounds edgy, weird, wooly or, hell, scary!
“I like that Red China was able to write a ‘folk-song’ and a 45-minute freakout and call it the same thing. That’s when it’s a band and not a ‘project.’”
What I responded to in Ross’s “music” was that it elbowed its way outside of systematization, it wasn’t tied to choruses, verses, or hooks but was interested more so in the thematic and the evocative-ness of ambient sound.
And what’s a chat with a Record Store clerk like without his scope of the current state of the music industry?
“It’s a mess for anybody but the Bieber’s and Gaga’s if you look at it one way, but really, seen another way: it’s perfect now. It’s more like it started out – with lots of small, regional labels putting out stuff they believe in…”
(Ross often puts out stuff he believes in, via his own: Algae Tapes label)
“If you look for it, you can find it all.”
Up next: Ross will DJ at the Loving Touch (with Van Husen) and both will then perform, live, with Spatafora and Lee via Grumble.
“Everybody’s in a million bands around here, I’m guilty too, so it can be hard sometimes to really solidify something; hence, the slippery nature of my own musical résumé," Ross says. "But I have some things I’ve been toying with recently that I may resurrect. I’ve been putting more energy into visual art-stuff lately, but the music is always there.”
Ross’s goal/hope is that someone will view a painting and hear a song (or “piece”) and feel the same thing, almost psychedelic in the true sense of the word, a feeling of otherness.
“Not that someone will see a painting or hear music and think, ‘Oh,…that’s weird!’ What I want is for them to feel the weirdness inside themselves.”
--Grumble (and Ross) - Guests for Dave Lawson's "Tuesday's In The Forest" music-nite @ The Loving Touch.