The Jackson band recently released a new album, “Sitting With the Unknown,” and continues to play shows and find inspiration in its hometown. Learn more about LVRS in this Local Spins Artist Spotlight.
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Jackson is a town with colorful walls and strong bones. It’s home to what was once the world’s largest walled prison. Growing up there, even outside the walls, can, at times, feel prison-like. There’s not a whole lot to do for kids in middle school and high school … at least, there didn’t use to be.
Wandering teenagers would often find themselves aimlessly perusing the aisles of Wal-Mart after appetizers at Applebee’s. “Looking for trouble,” the adults might think, when merely it’s distilled boredom that drives kids to shoot Nerf guns at each other under fluorescent lights and ride miniature bicycles down long aisles.
But the town is flourishing now, growing every day. Once a ghost town, downtown is now chock full of new restaurants and adorned by vibrant murals from the Bright Walls Festival. Couples walk the streets under strung light bulbs. Skater kids now have to classically dodge pedestrians and cops.
It’s early spring and I’m at another Jackson landmark: Cascades Falls, which also used to be, quite symbolically, walled in by 10-foot concrete. But Jackson’s walls are crumbling (or being knocked down deliberately). I’m walking through the park with the band LVRS as we look back on the city’s evolution.
“I like it, because it’s such a small community, and you can get to know people who are like you,” says Olivia DeJonghe, who fronts the alternative indie-rock band and plays guitar.
“It’s more intimate. I don’t know. I feel like the genres are so different from other communities. To me, that makes Jackson so rich. It’s inspiring.”
Simultaneously, LVRS — pronounced “lovers” — fields some downsides of living in a tight-knit, blue-collar community. A fairly quiet town, Jackson’s nightlife consists of restaurant hopping and beer tasting.
Live music often arrives as an afterthought. A band might play at a brewery where conversation takes the precedent and music is relinquished to the background. But a burgeoning arts scene persists, with many who support it.
“As much sincerity as there is here, there aren’t a ton of people. So it’s hard to keep a scene going or be really active,” says bassist Jedidiah Thompson. “There’s not something happening every night. But I think so many people try so hard to make things here. And Jackson is growing, so I think it’s on that path of creating a scene.”
PLAYING OUT AND THE BENEFITS OF WORKING AS A TRIO
Jackson’s music scene has waned over the last decade. At one point DIY venues such as Cuppa Coffee cultivated an artistic oasis that was truly inspiring. Bird Alley existed as a venue in an underground scene (literally), bunkered in the basement of a decrepit house that’s since been torn down. In Jackson County, LVRS has performed at The Fourth Wall, Ironbark Brewing Co., Jackson Coffee Co. and Sandhill Crane Vineyards.
LVRS returns to Ironbark Brewing in Jackson on May 14 and at Chicago’s Magoo’s Bar on May 29.
The band mentions how venues in Jackson have transitioned from an underground, listening-oriented scene to restaurants and breweries, a shift that can make playing loud rock ‘n’ roll a bit challenging.
The group also frequents Grand Rapids, where it has played The Pyramid Scheme and recorded a session with Dogtown Studios. It’s also cultivated an audience in West Michigan that propelled its 2018 album, “Now Is Light,” to No. 1 on the Local Spins Hot Top 5 chart, representing the regional album that earned the most radio airplay at WYCE (88.1 FM).
On its new record, “Sitting With the Unknown,” recorded at Social Recording Company with producer Jake Rye and released in early March, guitars scream while drums and bass punch out polished indie-rock. DeJonghe’s voice is the perfect mix of shoegaze and punk-rock apathy.
LISTEN: “Fata Morgana,” LVRS (from “Sitting With the Unknown”)
The album also lends itself to the kind of dance-worthy rhythms perfect for flailing in a gymnasium at an awkward high school prom. With the record out, the group reflects on its completion.
“We’ve already lived in it so much. It’s not like we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re done with it.’ But it’s, ‘I’ve gotten a lot out of this already,’ ” says DeJonghe. “So I’m ready to move through stuff. And I feel like the goal is to do things more quickly.”
As a three-piece, the creative process comes with fewer moving parts than larger outfits. There’s less ego and less musical opinions to filter through. It’s simpler. With recording and rehearsals, the band can work like a well-oiled musical machine.
“From my perspective, just the comparison of working with a small group as opposed to working with an octet, the communication is easier,” says drummer Nicholas Chard, who attends Michigan State for jazz studies. “Creative ideas are more easily noticed. And we can all try it out. If it was ten people, it would take an hour to move through one idea. Communication is easier.”
For upcoming records, the band plans to keep as many components as possible in-house. The creative process naturally becomes cleaner and more intentional when doing so.
“Getting to have like, your hands in it. And having more control. You can be more deliberate with your choices,” says Chard. “You learn a lot just by making mistakes on your own, you’re like, ‘oh, that totally didn’t work, what did I do wrong?’ Being the one who made the mistake, it’s more clear, and you can figure out what you wanted to do originally.”
Thompson adds that a cornerstone of self-recording is the learning process. It’s part of the journey and experience. New instruments, colorful guitar pedals with dizzying knobs, and various blaring amps lend themselves to explorative creativity. The band plans to release a new single by the fall.
“Yeah. It’s just been acquiring knowledge and to gear, to the point where we realized a lot of time doing stuff in-house is not only better for us, but like creatively, like artistically better. It’s really good for us.
“It’s just really super stimulating and cool to be able to say, we did all the artwork and all the photos and everything. I feel like we were pretty particular.”
Listen to more tracks from LVRS at bandcamp.com.
VIDEO: LVRS, “Familiar Poison”
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