Loose and languid country rock isn't the first music style that comes to mind when Detroit pops up in conversation. But while Bonny Doon sound like they could come from the beaches of California or the woods of Massachusetts, over the last few years, the four-piece have established a solid position in the Detroit music scene.
"I See You", the first track from their self-titled debut album sounds like something from the Woodist records catalogue and the video is an even more chilled affair. Featuring friends hanging out at summer swimming holes and lyrics about drinking green chartreuse from plastic cups, it's like a visual neck massage.
Anyone familiar with legendary Australian comedy The Castle, would marvel at the clip's 'serenity'.
We had a chat to Bobby Colombo, who along with Bill Lennox takes care of the band's vocal duties, about the album and video.
Noisey: Where is the swimming spot? Would you describe it as serene?
Bobby Colombo: There are actually a handful of swimming spots and they are all serene. The video is just random things I filmed in the summer of 2014 after I bought a VHS camcorder at a thrift store. I lived in Ithaca, NY part of that summer, so one is there. Another one is outside Ann Arbor and the last one is Lake Huron.
I understand the spelling is different but have you seen the Australian comedy The Castle, where the town of Bonnie Doon features?
I haven't but basically since our first show people have been asking us if we are named after it. I have been meaning to watch it for years now.
It's taken you three years to release your debut album. Do you think this wait has helped you in finding your songs and recording?
We started recording this record after we had been a band for only about a year, then it just happened to take almost a year to finish and then another year to come out. So it's more of a snapshot of where we were at when we started working on it.
Bill and you are the main songwriters. How do you work it out?
We started the band thinking Bill would be the only singer, but soon the rest of the band encouraged me to start writing and singing as well. We have a really collaborative relationship. We often pass songs back and forth until they feel right. I may write some music and he will end up singing the song, or vice versa, or sometimes we will write lyrics for each other. A lot of songs evolve from very minimal ideas, so Josh and Jake also play large roles in writing.
I just finished reading a novel You Don't Have to Live Like This which is about young investors buying up neighbourhoods of Detroit as some kind of social experiment. Your earlier track "Stop Your Wagon" seems like it was written around things like this and the 'Detroit renaissance'.
I'm not familiar with the book or its premise, but that summary is definitely horrifying. There needs to be more discourse around the morality of real estate. In Detroit, because property is relatively cheap, a lot of people with no stake in a community buy property because it's seen as a good investment, which leads to all sorts of problems. Just because you can buy something, doesn't mean you should. I think that, collectively, we should be more actively challenging the ethic of capitalism. We have all spent basically our whole lives here, so we are sensitive to narratives that seem manufactured to serve specific interests."Stop Your Wagon" is kind of taking stock of how the stories told about Detroit have changed over the last 10 or so years, and speaks to a thread of entitlement in those stories.
You practice at the Russell Industrial Center. Was that building redeveloped for creative arts?
Yes, it is a really massive facility that is probably the biggest arts redevelopment project in the city. We were there for a while and we recorded some of this record there. A family friend that plays in Bob Seger's band had a huge studio there that he let us share. Before that we were in a former school, which can be seen in the video. Everyone in the building was getting evicted so we had our friend film a practice just to have something to remember the space by. Currently we practice in a former optometrist's office.
Some of you played in Craycrays with Beren Ekine who also played in Tyvek with you. The new Bonny Doon album was produced by Fred Thomas who also did the new Tyvek album. For a decent sized city is the indie rock/punk scene pretty tight?
Yes, Beren is a good friend and she played a role in me joining Tyvek. Fred is kind of a special case since he has probably collaborated in some way with almost everyone in Michigan, us being no exception. He has been a really important friend, collaborator, and mentor for us. But yeah, it's probably kind of a surprisingly small scene. A lot of people say Detroit has a strangely small town feel to it.
How important have bands like Tyvek and Protomartyr been to Detroit music over the last 10 years?
While there is certainly a lot more to the ecology of a music scene than the few bands that find larger audiences, I do think both those bands are important to Detroit. I don't think either of them could have come from another context, so there is definitely some hometown pride attached to them. But beyond that, in the case of Protomartyr, I think watching your friends have success at doing what they love can inspire you to lean into what you're doing more.