Genres don’t matter much anymore, so I don’t know how worthwhile it is for me to tell you that The Go Rounds started off as twangy Americana but have lately morphed into groovy psychedelia. Is it still rock? Is it still pop? Yes and yes … and you should check out The Go Rounds latest, Don’t Go Not Changing, because this quartet out of Kalamazoo, MI is bringing a head-clearing common sense to the sometimes senseless head-banging of rock ‘n’ roll. Or maybe they’re here to exterminate cynicism.
The Go Rounds, with Graham A. Parsons, Drew Tyner, Mike Savina and Adam Danis, came of musical age in the unassumingly eclectic scene of Kalamazoo, a close-knit creative community that’s all but a buzz-less mystery when held up to other, more bustling hipster havens around the country. Kalamazoo’s scene “opened a portal,” as Parsons put it, “where we were taught about a path that had more richness, longevity and inspiration and supplemental energy … as opposed to the multitude of life-sucking aspects that can be prevalent when you work as an entertainer, like … drugs, alcohol … dirtbags.”
And before you diagnose Parsons as a small-town Michigan kid whose naivety will inevitably succumb to the Internet pandemic of cynicism, he’ll stop you right there. “Yeah, because I had a long period, before this, of just absolute pessimism, just, being cynical, negative, self-destructive. For years! That was long about but I still hold that side close to me, still, just as a reminder of the opposite of what I want to be now, and doing that can help you. Cuz during that period of cynicism, and, ya know, it’s embarrassing to think now, but, I had a hard time just being sincere. I think it’s too easy to be pessimistic or isolationist in this but if we’re going to evolve as individuals or… I don’t want to get too lofty but, man, even evolve as a species? …then, don’t things have to change? Are we too far down that (cynical) path to turn around and come back? I hope not.”
Why are Parsons and The Go Rounds thinking about all this? Because they’re humble, sure. But also because they don’t have a booking agent and this is all on them to get their own butts across the country. And also because they’re not signed to a typical label but instead are part of a local Michigan music collective called Earthwork Music, which promotes bands that are raising an awareness, “both community awareness and self-awareness” through their albums.
Oh … and because, if you think about it, music can be a pretty difficult lifestyle to explain. The Go Rounds realized this, but it can sometimes be taken for granted when it’s featured here in our music section Q&A’s. We all know that rock ‘n’ roll is ostensibly the pinnacle of coolness and unfailingly inspires the inner teenager in all of us. But rock ‘n’ roll, as a lifestyle, really isn’t relatable and The Go Rounds, coming out of a quietly cool, community-oriented corner of the Midwest, know this all too well.
Parsons, the founding member, openly talks about “not feeling ashamed to live a life of music…” Ya know, this whole Rock thing can seem, as the tired cliché goes, like a roller coaster … or something like a rocket ship , vaulted with fireball ambition towards the stratosphere of success.
Not that they’re going off on any “woe is me” rant about being the indie-musician on the road, but Parsons talks about the difficulties of elucidating a decision such as this to family, friends or even lovers … lovers who might even break up with you because your future is so uncertain. Sure, that fuels material for next week’s lyrics, but it still hurts.
“I don’t blame anyone for having that perspective,” Parsons said. “And for not wanting to live in a funky old house with a bunch of other people, to not know how you’re going to make money during the winter, for not being comfortable sleeping on stranger’s couches when you’re almost 30 and so on…It’s a tale as old as the Kalamazoo River Valley! And, while the ‘misunderstood singer’ or ‘tormented artist’ tropes are wrung out beyond dry, there’s still some petrified truth to those notions.”
Now, we write about the indie-rocker’s roller coaster only considering the mere propulsion of the metaphor, because ascension is inherently exciting. But although the Go Rounds may be in the cart, going through loop-de-loops, they’re expanding their gaze into a 360 degree surveying of their social surroundings.
Parsons, 28, started The Go Rounds six years ago, having had a revolving cast of close collaborators over the years, but solidifying with Tyler, Savina & Danis at the end of 2013. A lot has changed in six years, and even the last two years.
As he mentioned, he used to be cynical and pessimistic, but no longer. “Yeah, we’re taking the long-view and resolving to remain as full spectrum as we can possibly be, so that we can then be as tolerant and as compassionate as you could possibly be. I have to do, personally, that so I don’t spin out in any one direction too quickly before I can brace myself…”
He also has seen the band’s sound fluctuate, from Americana to indie-rock to rootsy folk to a trippy kind of twang. It keeps changing; their sound can’t be contained under the neo-Americana tag any longer, nor the neo-psych-rock tag or space-rock revivalist tag. It’s got a groove to it, that’s for sure, and Parsons has his poignant, soulful falsetto in all applications of their sound.
“It seems like nothing’s changed,“ said Parsons. “People find me and say: ‘Graham, I haven’t seen you in four years, and you’re telling me nothing’s changed?’ I mean, I’ve been through it all but I’m still here, doing this! There’s a vibe here and a style that we’ve each latched onto in Kalamazoo. It’s this psychedelicized, yet classic American songbook-based music. I mean, we’ll always have a love for psych music, but early rock ‘n’ roll too, like the great roots music and blues with some Stax, Motown, Allen Toussaint and Harry Nilsson, all that blended together. It just feels like it’s all been very natural.”
And Parsons doesn’t pretend to have any of this figured out for anyone but himself. Left alone, he’s not sure where he’d be without this band. “Mike Savina, Adam Danis, Drew Tyner … these three jewels are the truth. I’ve learned so much from them. Incredible musicians and even better people … which is insane to think about because (Savina)’s guitar work on the record is so top-notch, unique and forward-thinking and (Danis) & (Tyner) as a rhythm section have that special balance of tightness and fluidity that make it possible for my sometimes crooked songs to thrive.”
“We’re digging in…” Parsons says, talking about taking that “long-view” again. “(We’re) digging in with each other, with this town, with our fans. Everything or nothing. Why not? I mean, I’ve manifested this, so I better own up to it. No shame. I mean, sometimes you get shit on, other times you’re lifted up and adored…valued for the service you provide through music. Full spectrum! We’ve got to take what we share with the world very seriously, with every show, every day, with reverence for the struggle…Grow and change as necessary…”
Change as necessary! The Go Rounds’ latest (and, what we consider, their greatest) album is aptly titled Don’t Go Not Changing. You can find it on Spotify and iTunes.
The Go Rounds, just like many of us, to varying degrees, are up against that “now or never” moment in the mirror. Or at least, they feel like they are. “I feel like, fuck … eventually I’m gonna have to get out of this Bohemian lifestyle and ya know, actually buy another set of sheets or something,” said Parsons. “You run into these lifestyle markers, these status symbols attained from people your own age which are bullshit. I always remind myself to be wary of that; that what it means to be an adult is infinitely unique and different for everybody.”
And if you think they sound naïve, maybe that’s your problem, not theirs. “Just, trying to cause a positive scene or a joyous scene, wherever we tour. I feel like people are beaten down with media and they’re over it. So we’ll keep branching out. This is it. This is our craft; our good that we bring around, it’s what we’ll share with people so let’s knock it out of the park.”
This band kills cynicism.