Music Issue 2012
Songwriters collaborate to become greater than the sum of their parts
Published: November 7, 2012
The Inside Outlaws was formed in 2005 by Don "Doop" Duprie and Ty Stone. According to Duprie, "The original vision was to get a group of songwriters and musicians together to make good music and really focus on writing great songs."
Since that time, the collective has morphed into a group of musicians who can go out on their own and create music under their own name, but also can come back whenever they want to their artistic home and collaborate with their fellow Inside Outlaws.
In addition to Duprie and Stone, the group of alt-country and Americana musicians now includes Pat V, Katie Grace, Alison Lewis and Matt Dmits.
Meanwhile, three of the best records out of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area the last couple years came from a similarly tight-knit group of friends and songwriters: Chris Bathgate's Salt Year from 2011, Matt Jones & the Reconstructions' Half Poison, Half Pure from earlier this year and Misty Lyn Bergeron & the Big Beautiful's False Honey which just came out last week.
You could give Chris Bathgate, Misty Lyn Bergeron and Matt Jones just an acoustic guitar and they could captivate an entire hall with their timeless songwriting. But there the similarity ends — each of their bands has a singular sound (and an all-star lineup). Chris Bathgate layers his songs with guitar loops, fiddle and heavy percussion. Lyn has a classic Americana sound with guitar badass Ryan Gimpert (of Will Sessions) on guitar and pedal steel with Ann Arbor's scene linchpin-producer Jim Roll on bass. Matt Jones' band features a chamber pop approach with the spirited cello arrangements of Colette Alexander along with Lyn's stunning harmony vocals.
And they all support one another on and off stage. Jones is Lyn's permanent drummer and frequently drums with Bathgate. When they're not playing their own songs they're frequently extolling the brilliance of their friends from the stage.
We spoke to Duprie, Lewis and Grace of the Inside Outlaws to find out what makes this dusty ensemble tick, then we sat down and talked with Jones and Bergeron about their friendship and the scene it inspired.
Metro Times: What do the members of the Inside Outlaws have in common?
Don "Doop" Duprie: I think that we are all very much into songwriting. We take pride in it. We all have the common goal to write the best songs we can. We're not just looking to rhyme a bunch of shit and run around acting goofy. We want to write a song that can touch somebody. That's the stuff I always dug growing up and the stuff I still dig now: the stuff that hits you in the heart. We don't want to half-ass anything.
MT: The Inside Outlaws are based Downriver and in the city of Detroit itself. Does your location affect your music?
Duprie: I think we're a little grittier and gloomier because of where we are. It comes out. I'm from River Rouge, which is a downtrodden area, so you see the darker side of life. That definitely shines through in the music. I'm just talking about what I see — just doing social commentary.
Lewis: I've been back in Detroit for about five years. I was gone on and off for about 10 years, but I'm from Detroit. Now, I live in Corktown. My location definitely affects my music. I think that I write visually based songs. On my last record, there's a song that is literally about the people who lived across the street. I sat on my porch, watched and wrote. Also, Detroit is home.
Grace: I was born and raised in Detroit with good Midwestern qualities. Hardworking, down to earth, and calling things how you see 'em comes through in my songwriting, as well as all the Inside Outlaw collective. It gives us a no-bullshit approach to songwriting. Life ain't about rainbows and butterflies all the time.
MT: What are the benefits of collective songwriting over going it alone?
Lewis: I have spent most of my career working by myself. I think [working collectively] allows you to get out of yourself a little bit. That's nice to do, when you get tired of your own stuff. It can be helpful to get ideas from a totally different perspective. Sometimes when we get together, the song can go in a completely different direction, which is really cool.
Duprie: I enjoy working with people, whether I'm working on a car or painting something, anything. I like the camaraderie, and it makes things a lot easier. With your writing, you're getting that second set of eyes and ears on everything. It helps. You want it to affect everybody, all different groups of people. When you bring somebody else in, you're improving your chances. Sometimes you might just be stuck on something, and they might have that one line that works perfectly for you.
MT: How does an outsider become an Inside Outlaw? Is there an initiation test?
Duprie: Usually what happens is we have listening nights, and I'm always on the prowl for somebody who will stir me inside. If we see somebody and it seems like they'd fit with us, that's when we start writing things. Sometimes it can be weird because people call who want to get involved, but you can't just get into it like that. You have to come out and spend some time in the writer's nights. If you've got it, you've got it.
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