In any scene, music or otherwise, there are names that everyone knows, and names that somehow seem to slip through the cracks. There isn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason to most of it, and it certainly isn’t a fair and just process. And while he has had a fair amount of success, the quality and breadth of Jeremy Ylvisaker’s work has been largely overlooked. Jeremy Ylvisaker has made (and continues to make) an incredible amount of meaningful, thought provoking music, yet his band Alpha Consumer (along with bassist Mike Lewis and drummer JT Bates), and other various side projects, deserve to be heard by a much wider audience.
Let me start out by saying that if you’ve listened to Eyedea and Abilities final album, By the Throat, you’ve heard Jeremy as he plays guitar on “Spin Cycle,” “Junk,” “This Story” and “By the Throat.” You’ve also heard Jeremy’s lyrics if you’ve heard the Micheal Larsen version of “storms coming (sleep tight).” from his acoustic album When in Rome, Kill the King, because it’s an Alpha Consumer cover. You also may have seen Jeremy touring with Andrew Bird or Dosh.
The first time I saw Jeremy play was January of 2007 at the Varsity Theatre, which was also the first time I saw Micheal outside of Eyedea & Abilites, and the first time I saw pretty much everyone closely associated with him musically during the last five years of his life–Kristoff Krane, JT Bates, Casey O’Brien, Graham O’Brien. That show opened up my eyes to a completely new section of the local music scene: bands and musicians that weren’t afraid to explore and create across genres with no regard for the financial payoff. It would have made much more sense financially for Micheal to do an Eyedea and Abilities show, but rock music was what he wanted to make, so he did just that. It was also the first time that I realized that Max wasn’t the only ridiculously talented person that Micheal chose to make music with.
Jeremy’s comments on Face Candy
I don’t mean to rub it in for those who missed out, but Carbon Carousel was an absolutely amazing live band. Though they only played something like a dozen shows, every time I saw them they had a completely different energy and delivery to their chaotic stage. To refer to Carbon Carousel as “Eyedea’s rock band” is to sell short the three other equal parts of the band–bassist Casey O’Brien, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and drummer JT Bates. Part of their kinetic live energy was due to the expectations the audience had when they entered the venue. People often expected rapping and/or freestyling, but were greeted instead by loud guitars, abrasive lyrics and jazz drumming. Even while on stage, it was clear the admiration Micheal had for his bandmates, as there were times during instrumental jams where he would simply take in what they were doing, almost as though he were part of the crowd instead of the performance. As seen in the video below, Jeremy’s guitar playing perfectly accentuates Micheal’s grungy lyrics, and it was probably his feedback guitar sounds that drew comparisons to Nirvana (I still don’t understand why people thought that was a bad thing).
Carbon Carousel at the 7th Street Entry in March of 2007
The last time I saw Jeremy, Micheal, and JT share a stage was the final performance of Micheal’s life, at the Cedar for the second annual Modern Guitar Festival on Saturday, October 9th, 2010. For months Micheal had been excitedly telling me about Guitar Party, a band featuring Jeremy’s first grade daughter, Mijah, on vocals. “It’s Mijah fucking screaming into a microphone, you HAVE to check it out” he’d tell me (complete with dramatic hand motions). Seeing Guitar Party, and seeing the interactions between Micheal, Jeremy, and Mijah as they did a short set on the floor of the Cedar, was an oddly fitting final performance for someone who many consider to be the best “battle rapper” on the planet. Maybe he was the best at that, but he certainly didn’t stop there once he was. Instead his final appearance was playing guitar with some of his best friends and helping a 6-year old feel comfortable performing in front of people. He always pushed the comfort level of himself and others, and I think Guitar Party pushes everyone’s expectations, without being a gimmick. If you haven’t checked out their album, “Birthday” it’s a truly unique experience, and you can stream and download it for free from their BandCamp page.
For more on Guitar Party check out this City Pages interview with Mijah from May of 2011
So what makes Alpha Consumer special and why were they one of Micheal’s favorite bands? The answer to that question lies somewhere between their wit, their honest, genuine approach to rock music, their willingness to take risks, and their musicianship. But what also comes across in their songs is the fact that they’re fundamentally good people, and they don’t let ego dictate their music. I think the lack or presence of ego in music is the distinction that most people confuse when they discuss “underground vs. mainstream” music; most people express disinterest in artists who talk about cars and women as though certain subject matter should just be off limits, when really what they dislike is that someone isn’t willing to express what’s really going on in their lives. In this sense the three members of Alpha Consumer create music with an acute sense of honesty and awareness, and the end result is music that intends to make sense of their own problems and problems they see in others around them. After all, we all have flaws and insecurities, so why not start making some sense of why we hurt?
I often like to think of them as the perfect rock band for music nerds–and it’s true, Alpha Consumer has a quiet cult following. But I think it’s time we value the voices of artists like Jeremy and his bandmates in Alpha Consumer by listening to their music and attending their shows. I’ve been to far too many under-attended Alpha Consumer shows, and they’re an incredible experience in which the between-song banter is somehow on par with the incredible songs they’ve written.
Alpha Consumer has three albums and one mega single, and all are equally deserving of your attention.:
Alpha Consumer (2006) [CD]