Timothy Monger
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Timothy Monger

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States | SELF

Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States | SELF
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Ann Arbor's Old Lonesome Sound"

Folk music. Three syllables that are liable, for the uninitiated, to conjure a montage of soft-focus visuals: be-ribboned tambourines, flower-woven braids, and natural-fiber clad musicians wielding guitars and earnest expressions. While the folk-music stylings of the '60s and '70s are still hale and hardy in southeast Michigan (especially at The Ark), another, stranger, muddier strain has been vying for primacy. Call it what you will: neofolk, alt-country, alt-folk, traditional, roots, folk-noir whatever it is, or isn't - it's trickling out of watering holes and music venues all over town. And it's very, very different.

As Bob Dylan might say, "The times they are a changin".

"Suddenly we all came out and realized there was a 'scene'," says Chris Bathgate, local Americana-luminary and songsmith. Whether strumming solo (heavily looped electric guitar, percussion and Bathgate's single-malt-smooth vocals), or with his band (horns, double drums, pedal steel, cymbals, fiddles), Bathgate's music draws heavily from traditional music (British Isles fiddle tunes, to name one source).

"I'm not sure the term neofolk describes the scene," he explains. "There are many commonalities and many differences." Bathgate's own oeuvre conveys a taste of the genre's fluidity - swaying as it does between Motown, blues, soul, and yes, folk.

Local crooner, drummer, and guitarist Matt Jones says the indie-boom has accelerated in the last five years, with more folk-traditional-alt acts appearing and more interest in general. The shift away from the region's '60s and '70s roots has been dramatic, he says, morphing toward rock, world music, classical, and even punk genres. Overall, more instrumentation cellos, mandolins, electric guitars has nudged traditional folk sounds into new territory. "That's the way things evolve. And it's a lot more interesting than it used to be," he says.

Jones is known for his debut album Black Path. He grew up in Adrian, Mich., and now lives in Ypsilanti. Jones' work appears on many local projects, on which he plays guitar or drums. He and his band have performed all over the country, and have played numerous festivals from MittenFest to SXSW-- and local venues, including the Ark.

With a sweet, lilting voice that belies the often darker message of his lyrics, cascading pianos, cellos, and circus-dark waltzes that Danny Elfman might envy, Jones' music is hard to describe. "It's like if classical music had really good vocals," he laughs. "I'm not saying mine are good, but once in a while they are okay. I have a connection with instruments that don't plug in -- they have a lot more character, and a lot more depth."

And across the board, character and personality seem to be defining aspects of the burgeoning genre: Singer/songwriter Misty Lyn of Misty Lyn and the Big Beautiful describes her music as personal: "It's a connection with the audience," she says. "People that like folk music are looking for a connection with the artist and the crowd instead of simply being played at."

Indeed, Lyn's music exerts a deeper country feel to it in general making it one of the stiffer alt-country selections in the indie-folk scene. Lyn's warming at times haunting voice couples with pedal steel guitar, distorted and/or twanging instruments in a way that verges on the ethereal. Based in Ypsilanti, she and her band perform locally and statewide, making occasional touring forays to the greater Midwest, New York City, and more. Lyn is currently working on her second album with Jim Roll and Back Seat Productions.

So, how many folk bands can one city hold?

"Ann Arbor has more country-folk talent than any other city," says Jim Roll, veteran musician and owner of the Ann Arbor recording studio Back Seat Productions. Roll is known as one of the local indie folk scene's originals. Not only did his experiments help foster today's scene, but his mentorship has helped many young artists, Lake Folk and Matt Jones among them, develop their musical visions.

A musician in his own right, Roll describes the growing indie-folk scene as one that bends and breaks a lot of the rules of folk. His own music alternates traditional folk songs with rock songs. "Sometimes it's a folk song based in rock, and sometimes it's a rock song based in folk," he says.

So what are the rules of folk? There are no rules. You're as likely to hear the mellow drawl of a cello as a banjo, or a fiddle plucked as a twanged guitar. You might hear distorted guitars, calliopes or pianos, sounds from a bygone era or something you've never imagined. Today's folk is a melange of styles that produce distinct sounds that you'd be hard pressed to define.

Exploring the dark side

One band defying description is the year old Lake Folk. Started by two PhD students and an oceanographer, all educated, in part, at Case Western and the University of Michigan, Lake Folk melds acoustic instruments like bright banjos with mourning cellos and melancholy narratives.

"We distinguish ourselves from the folk of the '60s," says lead singer and bassist Erin Shellman. "We call ourselves folk-noir or roots noir." The name fits: Lake Folk's line up of dusky, moody, cello-supported music boasts a handful of traditional murder ballads such as "Lizzie's Waltz."

"We're roots, but the darker side of roots," she laughs.

Shellman had her roots in jazz music, loving Etta James, Big Mamma Thornton, and Billy Holiday. "Jazz can be a little sterile, " she says. "It's about musicianship and being serious about your instrument. Yet folk music is about being expressive. It's a community thing. The tunes are so simple that anyone could come and play. Folk music is something you do together."

Founding band member Eric Anderson (the oceanographer) agrees that his music is a little darker than other indie-folk/alt-country/roots-music bands in the area. Born in Pennsylvania, Anderson is inspired by Midwest stories. "I think the crumbling aspect of Michigan is similar to Pennsylvania. It has the same deteriorating atmosphere."

"This area has definitely been conducive to the growth of this type of music," says Jeremy Peters, co-owner and co-founder of Quite Scientific Records. "There's a lot of friendship between the older vanguard of folk music and the younger. There isn't necessarily a direct influence, but the older generation has laid the groundwork for the new music it's definitely allowed artists like Chris Bathgate and Frontier Ruckus to have a good place to grow as artists."

Peters says the local music scene has a strong foundation of support, with musicians collaborating on records and appearing at each others' shows. It's the nature of the Midwest," he says, "you put your nose to the grindstone and keep working."

Inspired by the great indie-folk scene, Peters started his label in order to push a few of his favorite forward. And so far, the labor of love has done well: "Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti fans are rabid. Even with the economy being what it is, they are buying tickets and albums."

Michigan Meltdown Blues

Timothy Monger is a Michigan native and a co-founding member of The Great Lakes Myth Society, a folk-based group with robust, energetic alt rock-band leanings. The band has two albums and one single; Monger is currently laboring away on what will be his second solo album. Involved in the Ann Arbor rock and folk scene since the mid '90s, he attributes the surge of folk-based creativity to the foundering Michigan economy.

"Everyone is in the same mess right now and there's a lot of really creative stuff coming out of it," he says. "Ann Arbor also has the university and an outlying rural environment I think that both are conducive to singer-songwriters doing their work in folk." Monger also credits mentorship from Back Seat Productions owner Jim Roll, as well as having a world-class live music venue like The Ark nearby.

Perhaps economic struggles lend themselves to the creation of folk at least the kind requiring less equipment: As Matt Jones says, "I try to do as much musically as I can with as little as possible because it's way cheaper."

"There's a lot of beauty here," adds Monger. "Artists can be inspired by the decay, and there is a Midwestern resilience and a loyalty in a lot of us who grew up around here. We are going to stick it out and that's great."

A folk movement by any other name...

Although many of the more popular indie-folk bands have played at larger venues, most of their scene orbits the Blind Pig, the Savoy, Old Town, and even Ann Arbor's repository of fringe entertainment, the Yellow Barn. There is also a healthy festival scene. Monger himself throws a solstice festival at his farm in Britton, Mich., and every year Ann Arbor's nonprofit 826 holds the infamous MittenFest in Ypsilanti to raise money.

"Our scene is edgy we keep reinventing ourselves," says Monger.

Of course, there are countless other bands making the rounds. The most popular right now is Frontier Ruckus, currently touring the nation. Orpheum Bell produces a more traditional variety of '40s-style folk, and Gun Lake is the "finger-picking" genre with a modern twist.

You really have to hear some of the collection to get what's going down but once you do you can count on an indie-folk infection. Just take a tip from Matt Jones and don't change your "look" to fit in with the crowd when you go to listen: According to Jones, the scene has a definite look. "If I see another singer-songwriter wearing a beard and a plaid shirt I'm going to throw up. And layering is out of hand."

What was he wearing when he said that? "Lots of layers, and a beard."

- Leia Menlove - Concentrate Media

"Great Lakes Myth Society Singer Finishing Solo Project"

Harvest time is coming for singer songwriter Timothy Monger’s second solo record.

The frontman of the popular Michigan band the Great Lakes Myth Society moved about 25 miles south of Ann Arbor four years ago to live in the tiny town of Britton where his girlfriend’s family has a farm. Working in a 10-by-10 bedroom, he’s been putting tracks together for his second record.

On a recent night when he’d been at work at his full-time day job at a violin manufacturer in Ann Arbor, he’d come home, finished dinner and at 8 p.m. hoped to get another crack at vocals for two final songs before the night was over.

“Working at home has been liberating and kind of tough too,” he said. “I feel like I am going into battle. I’m going to reluctantly trudge off to my room. I told my girlfriend ‘I’m going to try these songs again. I’ve done the vocals 20, 30 times for each of them and still not right.’ It can be a little bit of a slog.”

Using his Pro Tools recording system, he’s brought in other musicians when needed, but recorded as much as he could on his own. A multi-instrumentalist, Monger plays guitar, accordion, ukulele and banjo.

“I am doing it on a laptop with one decent mike, one not-so-good mike and all my wits,” he said. “In the end, you have to rely on that. Beautiful, amazing records have been done on far less gear than I have. There’s really no excuse, it’s all about the inspiration and the material and the performances.”

For his first solo record in 2004, Summer Cherry Ghosts, the theme was, summer. The DIY project left him worn out and strapped for cash. Also, by the time the record came out he’d become so involved with the Great Lakes Myth Society, there was little time for the first solo project.

“I pressed 1,000 copies,” he said. “I did a release show and I think I did two tour dates. I think I did New York and Burlington Vermont, oddly enough. And that was the extent of my touring for that album… It never got off the ground.”

But it did get him noticed. All Music Guide writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine said,“there's apparent affection in each song, whether it's for songs heard on the radio or lost romances, so it's appropriate that he's given all nine tunes intricately detailed, loving arrangements with echoes of British Invasion, '60s sunshine pop, Donovan, XTC, melancholic folk-rock, psychedelic pop, confessional '70s singer/songwriter, and pastoral pop.”

Where that first record was called lush, pretty and melodic, the second is “a bit more acoustic,” Monger explained.

“I have always wanted to make a folk album or at least a sparse acoustic album, but once I start, I just keep getting ideas and just keep adding to things,” he said. “Everything eventually ends up in my brand of pop music, I guess. It is a little more sparse than the last album and acoustic-based. Altogether, it is a little bit moodier album.”

He’s hoping for an early 2011 release for the record. When he plays the upcoming shows at Mac’s Bar in East Lansing and Rubbles in Mt. Pleasant, he’ll be appearing with Timothy Monger State Park a band including Scott DeRoche, bass, melodica and vocals; Christian Anderson, guitar and vocals; Matt Collar, Trumpet and John Fossum, drums and vocals.

His fans are looking forward to his mid-Michigan appearances. Frequently he plays Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit. Listening to Monger perform is like sitting down for a night of storytelling, said one Mt. Pleasant promoter and also a fan of Monger’s.

“I like the down-on-the-farm feel to his songs, or that you’re somewhere camping in the UP in the summertime, or that you’re anywhere, really, in Michigan,” said Corey Densmore, organizer of the Grand Rapids-based Midwest Fest where Monger has played solo the past two years and played the first year with his band The Great Lakes Myth Society. “You get the Michigan feel from his music and the Great Lakes Myth Society, as well.”

Densmore said Mt. Pleasant area fans are always eager to hear from Monger, who attended Central Michigan University for a year before dropping out to take a full-time job at the legendary Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor.

“He’s just a very charismatic person,” Densmore said. “He has good stories to tell and I always learn something in talking with him. He’s very well-versed in Michigan’s history. He’s very relatable on stage. He gets the crowd into it. It’s more of a storytelling than a concert.”

- Cyndi Lieske - REVUE Mid-Michigan

"DIY Mythmaker"

You can't mention Ann Arbor-area songwriter Tim Monger's name without also invoking the name of the band for which he's best-known, the acclaimed Northern folk-pop quintet, Great Lakes Myth Society. His plaintive, finely detailed, pop-leaning contributions to that band perfectly complement the work of his younger brother Jamie and guitarist Greg McIntosh's compositions. But even those familiar with GLMS may not know that Monger has also been writing, performing and recording solo work pretty much since he was old enough to drive. And now, with a new solo album in the works (as well as GLMS' next record under way), Monger has taken the leap forward fully into the driver's seat, assembling a working band to flesh out his new and old songs and working toward a fall 2010 goal for unveiling his sophomore release.

So what does it sound like when this mythmaker goes DIY? Fans of Great Lakes Myth Society should know that Monger's solo work is more of a refinement and expansion than a departure. The sounds found on his 2004 solo debut Summer Cherry Ghosts were expansive, intricate chamber pop. It was a lush record that gave Monger's meditations on detailed small moments a sonic backdrop that expanded upon GLMS' palette. Although he's been collecting songs for his next solo record over the past four years, he's only about halfway through the album's recording.

"I write songs at a really glacial pace," he says. "Sort of like the Leonard Cohen method of working on songs for 10 years. Adding a little part here and there."

And though he says he works slowly, he works constantly. So it makes sense that during the downtime between Myth Society gigs and recordings, he'd need to keep his creative motor running.

"I thrive on the horrible feeling of waking up every day and feeling nervous about making music," he says.

"The nervous energy must be harnessed. I just have to create new projects if I have too much time on my hands. I go birding. Last year, I ran the Detroit marathon!" he explains. "I said, 'I have no idea what to do, so I'm going to start running.' I'm one of those industrious guys that can't turn it off. I have like 70 interests, so it's a wonder anything gets done. No wonder it's four years between records."

Monger lives and often records on a farm in rural Britton — about 25 miles outside Ann Arbor — where he lives with his girlfriend. It's a working farm (his girlfriend's family rents out the land) and they have a landing strip out their back door (both his girlfriend and her father are pilots). So, as one might expect, the sights, sounds and feel of seasonally dependent Michigan find a voice in the songs he writes.

"I feel like I can't do an album or a song without mentioning a season or a month," he laughs. "It's just something that people can relate to, that can take them into the song, I guess."

"I do a lot of my recording at home, and I have to stop recording when the combine goes by during harvest season. You're very aware of what time of year it is by how high the crops are and what machines are out on the road.

"There's a loneliness and isolation to living someplace rural — and I feel like that comes through [in the music]. It's not anything conceptual, but if there's anything tying [the songs] together, that's it."

Asked if there's any overt thematic thread running through the album, he responds, ending with a chuckle: "There are ballads, mid-tempo rockers and all that. They're mostly situational tracks. A lot of the basic material: Drinking, mining accidents and the open road. It's just a classic record."

He's been cobbling together those bits and pieces, recording wherever he may be with whoever's available with whatever's at hand.

"I'm learning a lot about recording an album the modern way. We've been really fortunate to have a studio, Big Sky, where we've been recording for the last years. We're mixing there, but I've been working on recording this record in basements and bedrooms and barns and even the [GLMS label] Quack! Media office," he continues.

"I'm finding the more I research that more albums are recorded that way. It's tough because you lose some fidelity, but there's a spontaneous feel from recording by the seat of your pants wherever you can with whoever you can."

The results, thus far, have been encouraging, Monger says.

"The new songs are somewhere between the densely arranged pop of the first album and the more folky organic leanings of the Great Lakes Myth Society. I'm trying to be a little more sparse. But because I'm recording this all myself for the first time, I still end up layering and layering and I can't help myself. It's hard to find the self-censoring part of me."

He's also hired a string arranger for the first time too — Paula Kelly, an L.A.-based musician and former labelmate of Monger.

"She sent me the first demos yesterday. It was really exciting to hear. I'm getting a taste of the modern way of recording, I guess. I have a West Coast contingent!"

This is Monger's first foray, too, into assembling a band for the sole purpose of bringing his own specific musical ideas to life. He's enlisted the help of a couple members of the Starling Electric — guitarist Christian Anderson and drummer John Fossum — plus Scott DeRoche, with whom he's played duo shows, and jazz trumpeter Matt Collar.

"I'm just a huge fan of Starling Electric," Monger explains regarding his choice of bandmates. "It's great to get their pop sensibility. And I've played with Scott for years. Matt, who ... for a guy that's the most skilled musician of the bunch, with real jazz chops ... he brings a lot of great pop melodies. And everybody can sing!

"Everybody brings a personality to the band. I'm sure as we start touring, everyone will get their different roles as bands do.

"It's been really fun to play the songs from the first record. I just never got to do them live. They feel like new songs again," he says. "It's a great way to take some old horses from the barn."

Monger — who has grown enthusiastic about discovering new sounds in his own compositions — rightly likens assembling a new band to being in a new relationship.

"It's wonderful and a little scary. I've been part of one group of musicians for most of my adult life, so to have any sort of other project is like having a new girlfriend. It's crazy-exciting at first and you don't know how involved you wanna get. We're taking it casually right now. Having lots of sex," he laughs.

- Chris Handyside

- Metro Times



Timothy Monger - The New Britton Sound (Coming in 2011)
Timothy Monger - Summer Cherry Ghosts (No Bitings Records) 2004


Great Lakes Myth Society - Compass Rose Bouquet (Quack! Media) 2007
Great Lakes Myth Society - Great Lakes Myth Society (Stop, Pop & Roll) 2005



Timothy Monger is best known for his work with Michigan folk/rock group Great Lakes Myth Society (GLMS) which he co-founded with his brother James. The two brothers had played together previously in a similar folk-rock ensemble called The Original Brothers and Sisters of Love, releasing two well-received records for now-defunct Brooklyn indie The Telegraph Company (Stew, Jim Roll) before disbanding in 2003. Just prior to forming GLMS, Monger released his debut solo album Summer Cherry Ghosts in 2004. The lush baroque-pop song cycle earned favorable comparisons to Elliot Smith, Electric Light Orchestra and early Bee Gees and was re-released in Japan the following year. Plans for a follow-up, however, would have to wait as GLMS began to take off with the arrival of their self-titled debut in early 2005.

The success of GLMS's literate folk-tinged rock eventually landed them a deal with Michigan indie Quack! Media in 2006 and their sophomore effort Compass Rose Bouquet was released in 2007 to glowing reviews. The two years that followed included several national tours, appearances at SXSW and shows with Patti Smith, British Sea Power, The Hidden Cameras and The Hold Steady among others.

In 2009, with the members of GLMS taking a mutually agreed hiatus, Monger finally began recording his second solo album and performed regularly both as a solo artist and with his newly formed backing band Timothy Monger State Park.

He currently lives in a small farming village in rural Southern Michigan.