Sole Transit, Ann Arbor's hottest teen band, combines many musical genres
The group—in various grades at Ann Arbor’s Community High School—recently won a Battle of the Bands contest at the Neutral Zone teen center that had, among various prizes, a recording contract and a mini-tour.
The self-titled CD—which includes a mix of originals and covers, including a funkified interpretation of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”—is out now (e-mail Soletransitband@gmail.com for your own copy, priced at $10). The tour, which will take the teens as far afield as Chicago, kicks off with a gig at Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti Thursday night (they’re the opening act so get there early).
The group’s founding members are Jordan Siden (guitar) and Erez Levin (drums and percussion). The pair started playing music together two years ago, forming the roots of what is now Sole Transit. The ensemble has had various configurations and at one point was a seven-piece. It has had the current lineup for most of this year; besides Siden and Levin, the band includes Daniel Sagher (bass), Leif Gearhart-Hall (trumpet) and Kyle Morrison (aka K-Mo) on tenor sax.“We appeal to an audience that’s not typical for teen music,” Siden said. “The majority of our music comes from us listening to jazz, (although) we listen to some heavy metal (and) a lot of funk and soul. This isn’t music that typically appears on the teen scene, which is usually punk, rock, metal.”
Gearhart-Hall agreed: “We figured out a long time ago that all of us listened to and played lots of different styles. Now we finally figured out how to mix it together really well. It’s kind of hard to classify ... it isn’t really one genre, it’s us playing our music.”
This is the first full-length album from the new Orpheum studio at the Neutral Zone. Mixing, mastering and production was done by NZ teens and studio manager Carlos Garcia.
The horn-driven fivesome has no vocalist, and that’s by design, said Gearhart-Hall: “That leaves room for us to have guests on stage. On most of our shows we’ve had someone sit in. We’ll usually have guest rappers perform with us.”
There are other pluses for being vocalist-less as well, added Siden. That way the band doesn’t have to come up with any song lyrics and, in addition, the configuration “leaves room for horns to take the driving seat, which is typical of jazz music and not that typical of rock music.”
According to Levin, Sole Transit has turned out to be exactly the kind of band he wanted to be in when they started out.
“The original design of the band I thought me and Jordan were forming was a classic rock band. Then Jordan showed me this New Orleans brass-funk band called Bonerama that did all these rock and roll covers with their horn section. He said ‘Erez, we need to get a horn section for our band’ and I said ‘OK.’ .... I think it’s made us a lot more unique that way.”
Any resemblance to that other Ann Arbor-based, horn-driven band, Macpodz, is purely coincidental.
“I didn’t listen to Macpodz until after we played a show with them,” Siden said. “I guess we each have our own individual influences. There isn’t one particular band, except maybe Bonerama in the beginning, that we sat down and listened to and said we want to play this stuff.”
Band members acknowledge the future may be a bit of a challenge, as two of its members graduated from Community High this spring. Morrison will head to Kalamazoo college while Gearhart-Hall is bound for Michigan State University’s jazz program.
“We are planning on still staying a band, just changing the way we operate,” the latter said. “We’re really hoping to record another CD. The thing about this CD is it was recorded mostly last year. From that time we’ve written more songs, we’ve done a lot more work. I think the goal is to release a second CD some time.”
At least one member of Sole Transit has already had a brush with fame. Sagher played in the opening band Space Age Toasters at the recent Iggy and the Stooges Michigan Theater show. “That was probably the best experience of my life. It was cool to be playing the same show as a rock icon in front of 2,000 people,” he said.
Sole Transit has also played live on the University of Michigan student station WCBN’s local music show, had a well-attended gig last year at Top the Park, performed in the Neutral Zone-University Musical Society show “Breaking Curfew,” and heard their song “Shenanigans” played on WEMU radio.
In summation, Siden said, Sole Transit's music “It’s almost like like an introduction to music you don’t typically listen to. I don’t want to say Jazz 101, it’s definitely unique on the teen circuit.”
One final note: If you can't make the Woodruff's show, Sole Transit will finish up its mini-tour at the West Park Band Shell in Ann Arbor on June 19.