Making pop music from the Millennial blues
James Linck is on stage looking out onto the audience of mostly young adults crowding Forest Street at the 2013 Dally in the Alley. The warm September afternoon welcomed the last big celebration of summertime in Detroit, with students swinging back into semester and the newly employed hoping to better their future.
Standing near the stage was Mic Write, the award-winning Detroit poet and emcee with the group Cold Men Young. Linck calls him up to rap on the song they co-wrote, “Get This Money.” The song is a blend of pop, hip hop and dub styles, and is the third song on Linck’s “Fortress of Solitude” EP. Hundreds were gathered at the stage to watch them with the band, the crowd throwing their hands up to the words.
“And I just hope I can get this money, so I can pay for the years I was thinking there was more important things,” sings Linck. “And I just hope I can this money, so I can pay for the years I laid awake trying to find a way.”
“Broke Phi Broke, we ain’t got it,” raps Mic Write, “f’ that yo, get this profit.”
The song is an anthem for Millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and late 1990s, who have come into a world economic order failing before their eyes. The lyrics describe a young man experiencing his life rather than pursuing money, only later finding himself older and destitute. He and many others of his generation are playing a desperate game of catch-up. Though Linck’s lyrics aren’t necessarily about the conditions of student loans, healthcare or a Wall Street collapse, they are however from his experience making sense of his own time and space.
In the spring of 2012, Linck found himself living in a bedroom of his mother’s house, taking a few seasons to regroup after losing his job and girlfriend. He had dropped out of art school and committed himself to making music. His previous band House Phone, a group he formed with three Wayne State University musicians, had achieved local acclaim with the release of two EPs.
“I started to get more confidence in my composing and playing,” he says. “When that band ended, I made the six songs that (became) my solo recording (2013’s ‘Fortress of Solitude’ EP).”
The room at his mother’s became his “Fortress of Solitude,” the space where he wrote those six songs. The song with Mic Write, who has just released his own “Morris Code” EP, came during a period when he started collaborating more with hip hop artists.
“I want to work more intertwined with rappers,” he says, “and have them on board with the idea of the song instead of just ‘here’s this beat, spit something here,’ and I think the new stuff that I’m doing does that more. I’m trying to make pop that can stray as far away from pop as possible, but yet still be pop.”
Linck just released “Group Photo Volume 1,” which features remixes and covers of his songs, and is preparing a new project “Small World” for 2014. Now living in Hamtramck, he spends most of his free time working on music and witnessing the lives of other Millennials from the social sidelines. “Small World” is based on these experiences.
“In the past year, a lot of people moved in,” Linck says of his Hamtramck neighborhood. “Twenty-somethings going to school, going to the bars. So I met all these kids in this area and got into relationships, platonic and otherwise, and in all kind of different trouble, just partying and playing music. That’s what this record is going to be about. It’s kind of a bummer, so don’t be too excited. It’s not super positive.”
After he repeated the chorus to “Get This Money” and finished his set, the band left the stage and were swept away into the thousands at the Dally in the Alley. The sun set, the air cooled and the crowd dived deeper into cheap beer and liquor as the night wore on.
Linck says he makes his songs detached from the idea they could make him money, knowing the typical musician has to sacrifice for the pleasure of being heard. If a turnaround economy is possible, however, one hopes his well-crafted sound and soulful delivery could help earn him his repayment for the years he “laid awake trying to find a way.”
“Obviously, I would love to make money doing music and not have to wake up in the morning and do manual labor,” says Linck. “But I’m not trying to alter anything I’m doing musically so I can make money off of it. I’m just going to let whatever happens around it happen.”
Purchase and download the “Fortress of Solitude” EP and other music from James Linck at www.jameslinck.bandcamp.com.