Interview with The Lake Effects

We love featuring bands from our home state of Michigan here on UBL what makes The Lake Effects a bit more special is that they also attend my alma mater, Grand Valley State University. The foursome have been making sweet brass infused music together since 2013 and released their new EP, My Friends All Left Me, back in September. I got to sit down and chat with the band.

How about we start with the origin story of The Lake Effects? How did you guys meet and then how was the band formed?

Lukas Schroeder: Niko and I have been playing together since in the womb, and formalized our experience with our high school band, Atomic Time Machine. Gabe found his way to us through the music school at GVSU after moving across the pond, and Mak (Mattis), also a music student at GVSU, joined us after we switched up personnel last year.

Gabe Ellis: I was actually a late addition; the twins were already playing in the group when I became friends with Niko and he suggested that I join the group. I actually had this ghastly feud going on with Lukas at the time, but we realized that was all based on a hilarious misunderstanding and squashed our beefs right after I joined. Mak is new as of this spring, when our old drummer moved on to new and greater things.

You guys have a pretty interesting sound, where do you draw inspiration from?

Gabe: Generally, I think it’s hard to pin down our influences because we all have experience with so many different styles – classical, jazz, indie rock, avant-garde music, etc. Which is great, because we can integrate all those styles into our own playing, but it can also be challenging to maintain a cohesive sound in the face of that. I was going to say I don’t know where I personally get inspiration, but actually whenever I try and write music it comes off sounding like 80’s pop. So I guess I must be communicating with Phil Collins on the astral plane or something.

Lukas: A lot of our sound has evolved around the brass instruments we utilize. Personally, I have worked with ideas from other tubists in commercial music – Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson with the Roots and Nat McIntosh with Youngblood Brass Band – since running 8ths notes on tuba doesn’t really work well.

Niko Schroeder: Inspiration comes from so many places for us; I think we’re often each in different auditory spaces, which means everyone can bring something unique to our music, and helps us create a *gasp* (don’t say it—its too cliché) genre-defying sound. For a couple of us, its indie-rock 24/7, but there’s also hip-hop, brass bands, tuba solo repertoire (I wonder who that is), jazz, the avant-garde, polka, and even lute music (on occasion). To sort of bring it all together, we rely on indie-pop classics—the Strokes, Death Cab for Cutie, Foxing, OK Go, David Bowie, and the like, but we certainly don’t try to constrain ourselves too much.

It’s interesting, everything I’ve read about you guys lists you as a ska band. Personally, while I hear some ska inspirations sprinkled throughout your music, I would put you guys closer to a punk, emo, or even indie rock outfit before ska. Do you guys feel like it’s simply because you feature brass so heavily that you’re classified this way?

Niko: Not ska! NOT SKA! NoT sKa!!!!1111!!!1!!!!1!1!!

Lukas: We are not a ska band. Sometimes we refer to ourselves as a ska band because it really bugs Niko, but really the brass sound is about the only way we relate to the genre. I’ve been joking about writing a ska song for us, so stay tuned to see whether Niko will let us play it.

Gabe: Hard to say, but we’ve noticed the same thing too. We’re actually considering calling ourselves art-punk or something like that because our new music seems to be tending that way, but I’ve got no idea where the ska label comes from. I think you’re right that the brass plays a role; I guess we’ll just have to make it clear with our outfits that we’re actually sadboi-punks. I’m due for a radical makeover anyway.

There were a few GVSU bands that I followed back in my day, how is the local music scene at GVSU and in Grand Rapids these days?

Niko: Grand Rapids and greater West Michigan is a happening place for Do-It-Yourself bands. House shows abound, and venues like The Pyramid Scheme, Mulligan’s, the DAAC, and the Intersection actively promote local music. Grand Valley is a different story—with the passing of the likes of Midwest Skies (which was…wow…nearly a decade ago?) things have really slowed down, so we are truly thankful for the healthy scene downtown. Whale Radio and Spotlight Productions are still doing great work out here, but we’re relatively limited by the isolated nature of the Allendale campus.

Lukas: The GVSU scene is still rather small, especially since we are separated from any sense of culture out in Allendale. There are a number of bands playing, but most make there way down to the DIT or venue scene in Grand Rapids, which is really thriving.

I was a frequenter at The Intersection, have you guys had the chance to play there yet?

Lukas: We have not had a chance to play the Intersection yet, but would love to if the opportunity arises!

Are you guys in the GVSU music program? When I was there, the creative programs were all very supportive of one another, do you find that that’s still the case?

Gabe: Yes we are, and it’s absolutely true that there’s a lot of support between the creative programs. We’ve had some great opportunities because of our connections within the department – performing with the GVSU marching band, for instance. I hope to continue that trend by duping the dance studio into performing in my forthcoming rock opera, “Would It Be Unsafe If We Added Some Lizards Just For Fun?” But in all seriousness, we’re lucky to have the opportunities that we do here, and we’re grateful that we have friends and colleagues in all the creative programs here who support us.

Niko: We’re all in the music program, and though we come from different areas—audio production, tuba performance (guess who), musicology, composition, etc.—the department is small enough that it functions as one entity. We’re also able to work with GV photographers and videographers, broadcasting students, and the radio station. Grand Valley’s creative scene epitomizes the meeting-of-the-minds that you would expect of a liberal arts university.

You guys just released My Friends All Left Me, what was the process like of bringing it to life? What’s the writing process like, does the music come first or is it the lyrics?

Gabe: Generally Niko does all the hard work of coming up with music and lyrics, but we all play around with his ideas a bit after he brings us songs. We’ve never written an entire song collaboratively as a band, but that’s only because we can’t all agree on which hallucinogen to take before we start the jam session.

Niko: Most of the structures and lyrics come from me, but the most freeing aspect of working with the Lake Effects is the fluidity with which we can each supply artistic input. As a ‘classical’ composer, the process is very constrained—notate music, send it to performers, they interpret it, and you get a final product. I think we relate more to jazz collaboration, where everyone is able to create parts and give input into arranging the final product. A lot of our rehearsals seems very natural (and a lot of them seem like yelling at each other), but I think that creating original material in a room with other musicians is something that every serious performer should try.

What’s next for you guys? Touring, more new music?

Niko: Of course, making and polishing the product is the most enjoyable part, and getting the word out is the most difficult part. We hope to continue performing around the greater Midwest, but we’re not planning on touring or hitting the studio until we know that we have the musical maturity and presence to make it worthwhile. Weekend warriors for the time being, though I’m sure we’ll take the leap to a deeper schedule soon.

Gabe: We’re learning a few new songs that Niko’s come up with (including our Most Likeable Song Yet), which we’ll be debuting at gigs in the coming months. Other than that, we’re focusing on booking gigs in new cities like East Lansing, which we haven’t hit yet, and returning to Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo where we’ve performed several times.

Make sure to go and pick up My Friends All Left Me over on Bandcamp.