For some artists, releasing an album into the world is like having a baby. For Chain of Lakes’ Kyle Rasche – who is expecting his first child with his wife this June, and releasing his third album, Softer Sticks, May 4 at Founders – the two milestones are not even comparable.
“I can see relating the two in terms of nurturing something to fruition, but I would argue a vast difference in importance,” Rasche explained to Recoil last month. “Make good music if you can, but making your kids good people should be mandatory. If everyone committed to it a lot of our problems would go away. I’m not a fan of lousy albums, but I’ll be pissed if your shitty kid grows up and steals my fucking car.”
The news of his impending fatherhood has already changed Rasche’s priorities, and the young singer-songwriter expects his future will include more late-night diaper changes than last call jam sessions.
“Every decision [now] is based on what’s best for my family,” he added. “That being said, we’re committed to raising a person that pursues their passions, artistic or otherwise, so it’d be hypocritical to abandon mine. I imagine I’ll be performing a set of lullabies every night around 7:30 p.m.”
Rasche has nurtured Chain of Lakes for the past four years, growing it from the completely solo effort found on his 2009 self-titled debut into a more-collaborative project with Justin VanHaven on 2011’s Jammie Award-winning sophomore set, Kind of Quiet, and now a full-band for Softer Sticks.
He moved to Grand Rapids from his native Detroit in 2010 and soon found a close-knit group of friends who share his “not quite indie, not quite folk, not quite alternative” approach to gentle songwriting.
“I throw ‘steak and whiskey’ parties every now and again where our friends get together to break bread and get drunk,” he said. “A guitar always seems to surface and we end up playing new ideas for each other.”
Always on hand for such gatherings is fellow GR musician (and Chain of Lakes bassist/vocalist) Mat Churchill, Rasche’s “best pal in town,” as well as a steady rotation of Justin Stover, Brandon Muske and Kevin Fein of The Wallace Collective, Lucas Wilson and Benjamin Riley.
“It’s a shame I don’t remember a fucking thing from these nights because I’m fairly positive that some of our best ideas come to the surface,” Rasche said. “Beyond that I adore Chris Ziebarth and Peter Fox of Halfway House. Those guys are such inspirational movers and shakers, and decent folks to boot.”
For Softer Sticks, Rasche recorded with Churchill, percussionist Phil Tomasello, guitarist/lap steeler Jordan Griffis, vocalist Dana Jackson, drummer Dustin Anderson and violinist Jeffrery Niemeier at Greg Baxter’s studio in Grand Rapids.
“He is so particular in that he won’t work on anything he isn’t passionate about,” Rasche said about Baxter. “So it was an honor just to be offered his space and talent to work with. The fact that this album was a labor of love for both of us really comes through in the product, which we are both very proud of.”
Literally a labor of love in every sense of the word, the album’s title is a nesting metaphor – taken from a lyric to the track “The Heart of It” – and on the whole it embodies themes of nurturing and home.
“Any profound new emotions prove good for my creativity,” Rasche said. “I write a lot about love anyway, and bearing witness to the devotion and sacrifice my wife has given to this pregnancy has bowled me over. This album is completely devoted to her.”
Now nestled here in Michigan, Rasche loves using the cold winters as a time to hole up and write songs that pull from all of the seasons. Outside of the state, and even the country, he’s garnered international attention for his electronic side-project, Jio, with Shanghai beat engineer Yusuke Hama, aka Hamacide, who recorded a four-track version of one of his poems, Statues, Psalms, & Wars, which gained an even wider audience when it was remixed by high-profile producer Prefuse 73.
“As a songwriter it was liberating to write for a project that wasn’t mine,” Rasche said about working on the cross-continental project with Hama. “I love the task of fulfilling a desired result within a construct. Since then I’ve worked similarly with VanHaven on a pop project, arranged vocals for the Wallace Collective EP, and I’m helping Baxter with his record, too. I get a lot of satisfaction out of shifting gears to a supporting role. Mat’s about to start recording his sophomore album and I’ll kill him if he doesn’t let me be a part of it.”
Chain of Lakes will join The Wallace Collective for their dual album release show at Founders May 4, which will also be the band’s first time playing the venue.
“It’s such a rite of passage to play a great show there, I can’t think of a better occasion to make my Founders debut,” Rasche said. “It seems fitting to be releasing it with The Wallace Collective, since we’ve played so many shows together this past year. We played a string of shows together last spring we called the ‘Wallace in Chains’ tour. We are great friends, and are very supportive of one another, so it just seemed natural to do the release in tandem.”
For more on Chain of Lakes and Softer Sticks, click over to chainoflakesband.com.–Eric Mitts