Best You’ve Never Heard: Jen Sygit

Ten o’clock on a Tuesday rolls around and, after some mic checks and level adjustments, Dagwood’s Tavern and Grill begins its weekly transformation from a standard-issue burger and brew joint to a fixture of local acoustic music. Their open mic night begins every week with Jen Sygit, a staple of Lansing folk music. Sygit begins the open mic night with three songs of her own, showcasing her folksy, soulful singing and guitar playing before turning the stage over to whoever put their name down first and changing from performer to cheerleader.
As other performers finish, Sygit cheers along and acts like the biggest fan to everyone that plays. Lansing resident Jonathen Davis, who has attended Dagwood’s open mic night, said that Sygit is one of the best singer song writers in the Lansing area.
“Jen’s one of the more played on the radio folk singers in the area, and she’s probably more popular than most local acts,” Davis said. Davis said that he believes Sygit’s presence has helped the growth of the Lansing area music scene quite a bit.[jen ]
“The fact that she comes to a bar and shares her music every week is phenomenal. She’s a real asset to the greater Lansing area music scene. She converts this sports bar into a completely different scene. She’s amazing.”
Sygit began hosting the open mic night almost five years ago, when a co-worker who was also a bartender at Dagwood’s asked her if she would. After doing the show for so long, she said that she sometimes feels like a den mother to some of the performers.
“I just turned 30 last month, so now, 21, 22 starts sounding young,” Sygit said. “It’s almost 10 years ago. Or younger, we have people who aren’t even 21 come in and play. You definitely feel your age a little more, and I do feel like they ask me for advice and stuff.”
John “Griff” Griffin often plays at Dagwood’s too. He said that Sygit brings an important element to the mic night, and that her presence helps to attract more experienced performers. “She brings a sense of stability to the scene,” Griffin said. “Because of Jen, you have more than just the local college kids playing here. They still come, and they love it, but, because of her presence, you wind up with more experienced musicians that come because they’re her friends.”
Her regular gig hosting at Dagwood’s is far from the only project on Sygit’s plate. She has 9 different performance dates scheduled for March alone —- both by herself and, on occasion with her backing band, Spare Change. She covers most of the lower Michigan area with occasional trips to other states. She’s recently finished her third record, which she says has a different feel from her first two albums.
After working at music store Elderly Instruments Sygit said she became interested in old time bluegrass, Americana and folk roots music. She said that it was that style that inspired her first two albums but for her third she has gone in a more folk rock direction
“It sort of goes back to my original roots, before I started recording,” said Sygit. “Back when I was a youngster, in high school and the first couple years of college, I was into punk, and the band I was in when I moved to Lansing, in 99, the first band I was in in Lansing was a blues rock band, actually. I almost feel like the rock end of things is more what I grew up with and what I started doing.” [davis2]
Sygit said that the shift in style may have also been influenced by the music she was listening to at the time.
“I think it was just an organic process,” Sygit said. “I definitely didn’t have any intention of the album ending up that way. In fact one of the songs we ended up recording started out as a finger style song and just kind of morphed into more of a rocking tune. I don’t know what happens. I’m listening to some records that are a little more rocking than what I’ve listened to in previous years. I guess maybe that’s changed, so that’s possibly influenced my change.”
The album was recorded in both Alma and Lansing. The recordings in Alma took place in Sygit’s fiddle player’s house over two days, and the rest was finished in Lansing. Sygit said that one of the aspects of her new album that she likes the most is the way in which it was recorded.[joshpic ]
“I’m really proud of the new record,” Sygit said. “I feel like I’ve grown. I’m especially enthusiastic about the fact that we recorded it as live as possible. Basically we sat in the living room and played it. Pretty much what you hear is people sitting in a room and playing it the way it is. Very little over-dubbing.”
Sygit said that this lack of dubbing is what she’s most proud of in her new record, with overdubbing occurring on less than five percent of the overall record.
“I definitely think there’s something you can’t achieve unless you’re playing at the same time,” Sygit said. “There’s a certain vibe, if you want to call it. A group energy that you don’t get when you do it separately. You can still make something sound really great, but it’s that energy that I’m looking for and that energy that I’m happy with.”
Sygit also keeps busy with a new side project, a band named Stella.
“It’s myself, Tahmineh Gueramy, my fiddle player and Jo Serrapere, who’s another kind of well-renowned song writer,” Sygit said. “She’s played on Prairie Home Companion and all that good stuff. We’re going to record an album in the spring.”
The planned album is a mixture of music written by Serrapere and Sygit. The producer of the album was involved with Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions, an album composed of music by Pete Seeger, a renowned folk musician.
“We’re recording an album in the spring in New York with some kind of big deal people, I don’t even know they’re names. It’s another exciting project, but it’s hard to focus on both at the same time, like, I’ve got to get the solo album and then I can sort of face to deal with the spring recordings.”
Although her interests continue to expand, and side projects continue to mount, she still plays her music and cheers on other musicians in a cramped bar once a week.

Jen Sygit is at Dagwood’s Tavern and Grill every Tuesday, hosting the open mic night from 10 pm to 1 am. Her website is at http://www.jensygit.com/.

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Best You’ve Never Heard: Fields of Industry

Like many bands that slip through the cracks, Fields of Industry does not fit into a predetermined mold. In fact, that difficulty of description extends to members of the band.
“I have trouble verbalizing [how to describe our sound], because all the terms to describe it are pretty loaded terms,” said Josh Barton, the creator of the band and the primary songwriter. “You could call it folk-rock and put stress on the populism of the term folk, because it’s a very DIY kind of thing, and simplistic, not necessarily ornate in any kind of way. But if you just say folk-rock, people are going to think of, I don’t know, Peter Paul and Mary or something.” [bandphoto]
Barton’s band mate Eric Gallippo echoes Barton’s sentiment. “I always like to call it a pop band, but then people think that I mean ‘NSYNC or something,” Gallippo said.
Barton also said that the band can be defined negatively, listing all the things it is not, until you arrive at a combination that encompasses the stark, minimalist sound they employ. With haunting, sparse guitars, occasional ambient noise and downright ghostly sounding lyrics, Fields of Industry does not fit into a clear category.
Despite the band’s difficulty in summarizing their sound, Fields of Industry has been making that sound for a while. The band began with Barton recording songs in his bedroom on a four-track-recorder in 1999. At his home in Jackson, Barton converted the recordings into tapes he distributed to friends. His side project began to morph into something more when he went to college.
“When I went to school at [the University of Michigan] as an undergraduate, I suddenly realized ‘there’s all these people here who play instruments,'” Barton said. “We all lived together in the same hall in a dorm, so it was just like asking everybody ‘hey, will you help me play these songs?’ I looked for opportunities. To set up shows, and used those shows as an impetus to get a band together. And that’s how it all started, basically, just bringing some sort of performing life to the songs I’d already written.”
Barton said that all the potential instruments available to him became somewhat overwhelming.
“When we first started performing, I think I was aiming pretty high, for really big arrangements, but with no real capacity to make those arrangements,” Barton said. “I was just kind of drunk on the idea of getting as many instruments to play as possible. So, for our first two performances, we had between seven and nine people playing on stage. I did that on the first self title record, when I recorded it all myself and had a few friends come in to try and fill in instruments that I couldn’t play, like horns and things.”
The first, self titled, album from Fields of Industry had a rich arrangement structure that was an outgrowth of that over-reaching early approach, according to Barton. He compared his goals at that stage to Brian Wilson in his Beach Boys days. As members permanently joined the band, Barton began simplifying the songs out of practical limitations.
“When Eric and Joel [Schrauben] joined the band, it started to get more practical for performance purposes. I realized I’m not going to be able to tie down nine people to play these songs,” Barton said.
The shrinking size of the band helped to develop the songs Barton wrote, Gallippo said. “I think something that sort of shifted the direction for a while was that it was just [Barton and me], and just realizing that the songs could be just two guitars and his voice. Going from nine to a band of five for a while, and that was still pretty full, and then all those people needed to do different things, so we were just doing like two people, just playing the songs. I think from there, we’ve kind of built it back up, but around that same composition,” Gallippo said.
When the band was eventually built back up in members, Barton said the shift in songwriting style carried over to the new incarnation, leading to a much more minimal, basic approach that has carried through to their new album, Two Dogs and a Television.
Gallippo met Barton through Barton’s wife, and eventually Gallippo helped Barton perform one of the shows that involved the larger band. As time went on, Gallippo became more involved in the band, becoming a regular member, despite living in a different part of the state at the time.
“For most of the life of the band, performance has really been rehearsal, because rehearsal has really been too costly to do,” Barton said. “It costs so much to do a show already that we rarely break even on gas money for everybody to get there, that was the case before we kind of centralized in the [Lansing] area. Performance was really the time when we got to learn the songs. I think it made the performances kind of interesting because they were different every time. That’s something we’ve really enjoyed; the variance in our approach to the songs. We don’t just do them verbatim, it might vary from show to show… it’s an approach that was born of necessity, because it was too expensive to get together for practice.”
Ron Gibbs, a friend of the band’s who has seen them play quite a few times, echoes the sentiment that Fields of Industry can play to different audiences. He said that one of the strengths of the band is their ability to adapt to the demands of the crowd. [Garvey]
“I’ve seen them in a couple different types of venues,” said Gibbs. “I’ve seen them at coffee shops, or I’ve seen them play like at Mac’s Bar. I think they can really handle just about any setting really well, whether it’s the bar or whatever. They can turn it up a little bit and definitely have that kind of rock and roll, Velvet Underground type of style, but then, seeing them in a coffee shop; they’re just as good in the quieter setting, too. I’d say a lot of their stuff is suitable for that type of an environment, too. That kind of quieter, folksier, acoustic type stuff. For me, they’re really good at both. They can fit into either environment really well.”
“I feel like I have so much personally invested in making music, it’s something that if I wasn’t doing it, I would be really unhappy. Some of our songs, a lot of our songs, I guess, when it comes to emotional content are really heavy, or, maybe emotively kind of depressing or something like that, so there’s a catharsis in that. If I truly am feeling that way without recognizing it, and it comes out in a song, being able to recognize that ‘hey, this heavy, depressing thing came out of me,’ there’s some kind of catharsis or at least existential experience in that,” Barton said.

For more information on Fields of Industry, check out their website, http://www.fieldsofindustry.com/, or their MySpace page, http://www.myspace.com/fieldsofindustry.

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