with video: Ann Arbor's high-energy The Appleseed Collective, at The Ark Thursday, blends Americana, jazz influences
“We like the old stuff—Django (Reinhardt), Stephane Grappelli—we’re trying our best to channel the masters. It’s a long road, ultimately,” said Brandon Smith, who plays violin and mandolin and offers vocals for the band.
“Americana is one of those terms that can mean anything. But roots is a pretty good word too,” Smith added, attempting to categorize the Collective’s high-energy sound.
Besides Smith, The Appleseed Collective—whose members range in age from 18-26—consists of Andrew Brown (guitar, vocals), Sophie Tulip (double bass, vocals), Vince Russo (washboard, vocals) and Katie Lee (banjo, vocals). (Lee is also a member of Orpheum Bell.)
The group—which blends swing, bluegrass, Dixieland and Gypsy-folk—will mark the release of "Baby to Beast," its debut studio album, with a show Thursday night at The Ark. Although the band has played the venue before, opening for The Ragbirds, this will be its first headlining appearance.
“The interesting thing is I don’t think there are a lot of people our age who play this type of music, Smith continued. “That’s something. It’s got soul, you know? I’m not huge on pop music—(this is) music that actually speaks to you, moves you. This album is about everything we’ve been through, everything that’s come before us. It’s all about staying true to our roots.”The Appleseed Collective was formed in November 2010, after a coincidental meeting of the group’s two founders. Smith was playing violin outside Ann Arbor’s Cafe Ambrosia, while a friend was playing guitar. The friend headed inside for a bathroom break, and a total stranger—Andrew Brown—came out and asked if he could play the briefly-abandoned guitar.
“We played a few tunes together and we clicked right away," Smith recalled. “After that, the whole band came together as a unit. . Me and Andrew are also really into improvisation so that’s a large element of what we do. That’s always my goal, to play something I didn’t know I was going to play a moment before I played it that is something original, interesting and new every time.”
The new CD was crowd-funded though the Web site Kickstarter.com, with 132 backers pledging nearly $8,000 toward production costs.
Band members, wanting to give back to the community, will donate half the profits from the first run of CDs to Ann Arbor’s home-based, nonprofit breakfast salon Selma Cafe, appropriate for a group that emerged from underground networks of house shows, DIY fests, and localism enthusiasts in 2010 and 2011.
“Other than the fact that we are into local food, (Selma Cafe) really helped give us our start,” Smith explained. “We used to go down there Friday mornings and play for breakfast, play for tips—we made a lot of great connections through that venue from them letting us play music in their space. That helped us cement who our audience was—people who love food (and who are part of) the local food movement. We’re trying to foster that. It’s a noble cause and an important cause.”
Smith urged the audience to arrive for Thursday’s show in time to catch the opening act, Ann Arbor’s Magdalen Fossum.
“She’s amazing,” he said. “You have to check her out. She’s 11 years old, she plays ukulele and sings. She’s got an incredible voice. If you looked up the phrase ‘old soul’ in the dictionary there should be a picture of her. Even at such a young age she has such depth.”