By Adam Turner
It’s official: Folk music is back in the mainstream. Thanks to a surprisingly aggressive musical movement, a number of popular and influential bands in recent years have hailed from the typically alternative stylings of roots music, Americana, bluegrass and country. One such band looking to join the fold is Doug Mains & the City Folk. Recently, I spoke with singer-songwriter Mains about his band, their tour and their upcoming performance at Purdy’s Coffee (located on Main Street in downtown Richmond).
Who’s in the band? What instruments do you feature?
Yeah, well I am Doug Mains, I play acoustic guitar and sing. I’m kind of the singer-songwriter of the group. Then we have Josh Michels, and he is our cellist and out accordion player, so he switches between the two. Then we have Rob Germeroth who plays percussion. We’re just touring as a three-piece, but we also have a violinist and an upright bassist.
Where are you guys based?
Lansing, Michigan. Everyone has gone to Michigan State University, except for me. I’m the only one who’s actually from Lansing, the others just moved here for school.
Any albums out so far?
Yeah, yeah. We released our album, The Mountain King, about a year ago. And that was just a collection of songs that I’ve written over the course of a couple years, and we finally put it together. So we’re currently talking and working toward a second album as well. We have an EP, a live EP that we recorded in Detroit. Then we had an EP released in 2010 I think.
How long has the band been together?
We…it’s kind of one of those long stories, there’s no quick answer. But myself and our violinist have been playing together for about five years now, and we met at an open mic in Lansing. That was right around the time I started doing my solo stuff. I ran an open mic in Lansing. I always loved the strings, and with our music, you really feel dynamics and the flexibility of the strings and the ability to swell in and out, and so she was kind of the first piece of the puzzle I guess. For a while we worked together, we ended up getting a four-piece together with our first drummer and our first cellist. This group, after a couple switch-over and in-and-outs, has been together for about two years.
How long have you been writing and performing?
I started playing and got my first guitar when I was 10. I never took lessons, so I just taught myself. I’ve told people that I’ve never had the discipline for songwriting, playing guitar and singing, I’ve just always loved it so much, so that’s kind of what drove me. Also at high school I would write songs, but I would never perform those. Kinda grew up a quieter kid. So I never performed for anyone besides my grandma and mom (laughs). But it was my senior year in 2006 that I had an opportunity to perform a song for some people, and it went well. There was encouraging feedback and it just snowballed from there. I didn’t actively start being an active participant of local music until about five years ago. That was when not only was I finally comfortable performing for people, but also started pursuing my career in music.
How would you describe your music?
The easy answer is indie-folk. But we’ve started to bring together this indie-classical side of it as well. We’re Doug Mains & the City Folk, and city folk kinda describes the music we feel, where it’s very front porch jam, rootsy-folk, kind of mixed with classical sophistication. But me being an untrained singer-songwriter, I call myself a liberal musician. I totally know all the rules, but I just feel that what I sing sounds good and it works. So almost like this conservative element coming in from these really classically trained members of the band and also this liberal, anything goes, more creative side coming from me, I think it all comes together well.
What’s the name of the tour?
South for Winter Tour. Essentially, I hate the snow (laughs), so I figured it’s the perfect time to tour the south.
What inspires you in your songwriting?
I love to think. For me, it’s one of my favorite things about myself and one of the most frustrating things about myself, in that I love to think and sometimes I can’t stop. And songwriting is kind of my outlet of not just feelings, but thoughts as well. And so a lot of times I’m just kind of thinking out loud with my music. Because of that, I have a lot of thoughts about how we as people can…be better (laughs). It’s somewhat challenging music sometimes. I hope that I can inspire others to think as well, challenge thought in others. I love art that makes me think and I hope through my lyrics and through our songs we can do that.
As far as themes for a lot of my songs, I write a lot of contrasting and contradicting ideas. I love the beauty in brokenness theme; I’ve had a lot of thoughts of just finding potential and hope and beauty in very broken, ugly things. So we have a track on our last album which is called “Broken Windows,” a song that I wrote about Detroit because, being from Michigan, Detroit is in a rough spot right now. I know that in Michigan, even people that aren’t from Detroit think they know the city, and a lot of people write it off as this awful place with the attitude that if you go there, you’ll get shot. And in the song I think I was challenged to have a different mindset of the city, to see it in a different way. And as I was challenged and worked through it writing the song, it turned into self-reflection as well as a call to action to see hope in broken places such as Detroit.
Do you have any favorite musicians or influences?
I know when I first started writing I would always find songwriters, and I’d really wanna write like them. Early influences were like Cat Stevens, I really liked David Gray early on. And I grew up around a lot of music like James Taylor, kind of the 70’s folk-ish people. Taylor, Stevens, Jim Croce. I started kind of developing these artists I respected. After a couple years of trying to write like this artist for a while and trying to write like this artist for a while, I like to think that my own sound has come out. I try to keep it as a very Frankenstein of all the people I appreciate. I hope at least we have some original elements by now. I’m not one of those people stuck in the 70’s at all (laughs).
When’s the event? Where? When?
It’s in Richmond at Purdy’s Coffee. The time is at 7 p.m. and it’s $3 at the door. Tuesday, Jan. 22nd.
For more information, check out the band’s site at dougmainsmusic.com or like the group on Facebook.