By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of the band.
It’s a cold day in Detroit. Derek Stanton chain smokes cigarettes in the barren, icy parking lot of a downtown post office and tries to stay warm. The chill of the city winds can be heard howling through the phone receiver.
“It’s a nice day here,” he says with a laugh. “You know–zero degrees, no sunshine.”
The good-humored Stanton has a reason to be optimistic. As he loads up the last of his instruments and equipment into his van and prepares for an oil change, the songwriter looks forward to traveling once again to New York City–where he will be playing a couple of shows with his new band, Turn to Crime.
A newfound momentum is brewing for the band that not even the ice and sleet can dampen. The trio, completed by longtime best friends Ian Saylor and Dorian Foerg, dropped their debut album Can’t Love just last year. In the midst of steady gigging along the East Coast, the group is already gearing up for another release of original material.
This tour isn’t Stanton’s first musical rodeo. Until recently he was a principal member of the Brooklyn-based trio, Awesome Color. The straightforward rock-and-roll meets garage-psych outfit met considerable success after a world tour supporting the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. Any aspiring musician might look to Stanton green with envy. Surely the young singer-songwriter struck gold.
Sometimes success, however, isn’t so clear cut. In 2010 Stanton decided to pull the plug on Awesome Color. At the time the group was hunkered down in San Francisco, arguing constantly. They were forced to cancel an impending European tour, and couldn’t seem to agree on anything.
“No one was down to push further anymore,” says Stanton. “The drummer and bass player were a couple, so that definitely affected everything. I just kind of realized that the band had run its course.”
The trio played their last show, fittingly, at the Empty Bottle in Chicago, and then split ways unannounced. Former members Michael Troutman and Allison Busch returned to Brooklyn, and Stanton journeyed home to Detroit.
Rather than wallow in defeat, the songwriter hit the ground running. He bought a house and set to work building a recording studio. On top of writing new music and recording it, Stanton also works three jobs. He acknowledges how expensive it can be to release records and publicize them, so he hustles as much as he can to make the music possible in whatever free time remains.
Luckily, Stanton’s work ethic is practically inhuman. By the time his studio was operational, almost three albums worth of material were waiting to taste ears. While Turn to Crime is only beginning to flourish in the public eye, the project has been in existence since 2009. Many of the ideas were written while Awesome Color was in the throes of its final hurrah.
It took that group’s fated collapse, however, to spur the actualization of the new band and vision.
“I wanted to do the exact opposite of Awesome Color,” says Stanton. “I didn’t want to just play rock-and-roll, so it’s anti-rock-and-roll in a strange way. I wanted to find ways to go deep inside my subconscious and write music that doesn’t sound like anyone else. Discover what’s hidden deep inside.”
To aid in this discovery, the songwriter employed unconventional writing habits to help re-imagine sonic possibilities. In the past he almost always started off the writing process on his native instrument, the guitar. This time around Stanton turned to piano and drums first, which allowed him to shed any previous notions of comfort.
When he finally did pick up his axe, Stanton twisted it into wildly inventive tunings. The fret board suddenly transformed itself into a jigsaw puzzle, in which traditional playing and phrasing were completely deconstructed. Nothing was familiar anymore, not even the familiar.
Stanton acknowledges that this is the closest he believes he can get to creating the kind of music he hears in his head and wants to play. There are no rules, lots of negative space, plenty of minimalist ambience, and simultaneously, pop-hooks and sing-along moments. Oh, and there’s the loping psychedelia of 10-plus minute Kraut-rock inspired jams.
If all of this sounds like a beautiful paradox, then you’re right–but it works. The result is Can’t Love, an album that is raw, expansive, and contained all at the same time. At its essence, it’s fully realized, even if that means throwing terms like “polished” out the proverbial window.
“I never do anything polished, it’s just not my style,” says Stanton. “The songs that are just sound like crap to me, because the life of the song ends up getting sucked out by perfection. It’s more about the inspiration and getting things done in a weird way, not the best pre-amp or microphone.”
Speaking of inspiration, Stanton may be a one-man-show when it comes to songwriting, but in terms of execution he works with nothing short of the best. Aside from a top-notch recording studio where he produces both Turn to Crime and other artists’ records, Stanton’s best friends Saylor and Foerg are next to him for musical support every step of the way.
Foerg and Stanton have been friends since they were 16 years old, and accordingly have written more than 500 songs together. Saylor isn’t far behind.
“They’re both way better songwriters and musicians than me. I’m not a big Beatles fan, but it’s like having Lennon and McCartney in the band, and I’m Ringo or some bullshit,” Stanton says with a hearty laugh.
He’s certainly humble, but isn’t afraid to highlight the tunes that are coming down the pipeline. Expect to hear much, much more from Turn to Crime. The remaining three albums worth of material will be surfacing soon, beginning with their second LP Actions in April and Secondary, which will drop in the early fall.
Don’t turn away.
To hear the rest of the interview, tune into this week’s Discovery Corner.
Or find your own way to interpret Turn to Crime by clicking here.