When Modern Lady Fitness first went into Ann Arbor’s Driverside Studios to record, producer/engineer Dave Niles described the initial bursts as “…if Marc Bolan (T-Rex) and David Byrne (Talking Heads) got together and wrote some songs for the Violent Femmes.”
This was back in the fall of 2013, when guitarist/singer Chris Sandon, drummer Morgan Cox, and bassist Casey Dawson began work on what would later become their debut album, Every Day Like The Last. The minimalist, tone-focused, percussive indie-rock trio currently features Craig Johnson on bass, and the sound continues the graceful frenzy that’s suggestive of a Bolan/Byrne/Violent Femmes recipe, but their influences are more accurately drawn from eccentrically psychedelic-punk groups like The Butthole Surfers, or cerebrally dark and driving rock outfits like Protomartyr.
Their songs coolly careen like post-punk spinning tops, tumbling with primal drums, lassoing bass grooves and taut, jangly guitars slinging under impassioned vocals that can often be laced with a sharp sense for satirical commentary. This Ypsilanti trio performs Sunday, Sept 24th, at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, with fellow Ypsi-punk stylists Gruesome Twosome.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way different beats relate to each other,” Sandon says. “Like when you play the preset beats on keyboards and switch from bossa nova to a rock beat, or whatever. I like to structure songs that change direction in an unexpected way.”
“Modern Lady Fitness songs allow me to be percussive, textural and synth-like, sometimes all in a single song,” adds Johnson. “By the time I hear new songs, (Sandon/Cox) have their parts mapped out. That’s when I get to focus on who I need to reinforce.”
Describing his writing process, Sandon says he often writes as soon as he wakes up in the morning, “so the lyrics can feel stream-of-consciousness, vulnerable, or even absurd. I tackle existential themes with some dark humor, for sure. It’s more dramatic and fun that way, albeit, paradoxical at times.”
Sandon honed his sensibilities for gritty poetic subversions with an avant-garde group called Larval, doing improv performances at EMU in the early/mid 2000’s. He enhanced his visual and performance art skills at Dreamland Theatre, at one point even creating an “electro-trash” alter ego known as Das Chritz.
Cox, meanwhile, grew up in a musical family (her dad was a band teacher), and primarily played oboe. Sandon actually suggested she try drums to help get acclimated to an accordion he’d recently given her; and she’s since become known for her precise percussive style. Johnson, a multi-instrumentalist with a stacked local music resumé – including a one-man doom metal band called Laserbeams Of Boredom – joined MLF in 2015 after Dawson left.
The band’s keen balance of sprinting urgency and sudden crescendos mixed with subtly catchy melodies and entrancing rhythms sharpened even further with 2016’s Awake, (recorded at Chris Koltay’s High Bias Studios in Detroit, and then engineered by Niles and Nicholas Albert).
At most MLF live shows, you can anticipate playful elements like trippy video projections, flamboyant costumes, and giant balloons filled with merch offsetting some of the heaviness of the music.
The band releases recordings on their own label, Nervosa Records, which recently put out a 7” vinyl single (“Awake” / “O Dreams”) with a fluorescent overlap and gold-speckled top-coating. “It’s got this summertime 1950’s film negatives meets future glitch apocalypse look to it that vibes nicely with the track,” says Sandon.
The band is heading back into the studio later this year.
See them live on Sunday, Sept. 24th at the Blind Pig