Algernon upholds grunge

By Jerome Stuart Nichols | Life Editor
Added January 25, 2012 at 8:51 pm

When Kurt Cobain, the lead singer and guitarist for grunge-rock band Nirvana, died in April of 1994, many people proclaimed that grunge music died along with him.

In the ensuing years, it turned out the proclamation was mostly true. Cobain’s death did signal the end innocence for the young genre. But through it all, the dream of the movement is alive and well. Although long dead, the music of the day still seems to inspire a new generation of grunge artists.

Nowhere is that more true than here in Ypsilanti, where the local music scene has witnessed a growing resurgence of the Seattle-originated grunge genre. While new to the scene, Ypsilanti-based band Algernon is doing their part to resurrect the late and beloved genre.

Taking their name from the 1966 Keyes science-fiction novel “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, Algernon was founded in 2009. This indie progressive grunge rock quartet consists of Lee Renaud on vocals, Phil Boos on guitar, Ryan Jurado on drums and Roy Jackson on bass.

Trying to find a witty, faux knowledgeable or, at least, print-worthy anecdote or comparison to describe Algernon’s sound is a lesson in futility. Classifying their rough, raw and soulful sound as grunge works, but it fails to encapsulate their dynamic sound.

Just from listening to their 2010 four-track EP, Parts of Ourselves, you’re treated to a collection of incredibly varied styles: rock, soul, grunge, and punk.

The opening track, “Parts of the Mirror,” is a textbook rock song in the vein of Disturbed or Puddle of Mud. But even that song, which one would expect to color within the lines, surprises the listener with a funky bass line that channels a bit of Deep Purple’s iconic 1975 rock hit “Smoke on the Water.”

Track two, “My Body, My Mind,” opens with a surprisingly mellow bass-driven melody, which serves as a well-suited stage for Renaud’s haunting and, at moments, pained vocals.

“Taxidermy Stan,” track three, is a smaller shift. While still mellow, it has moments of bar-shaking sex appeal and other moments of conscious bluegrass sensibilities. No only is the song is twanging, but the sophisticated simplicity of the licks speaks to a wide array of influences.

“Us,” the EP’s closer, sees another stylistic change. This time around, they’re channeling a bit of Red Hot Chilli Peppers circa “Californication,” along with some voice lessons from Ozzy Osbourne circa “Never Say Die!”

One of the most striking things about their music is singer Lee Rinaud’s voice.

When meeting this thin, reserved and rather unassuming fellow in real life, one would hardly assume that he has packing some rather impressive pipes. But, much like the late Amy Winehouse, once Rinaud has a microphone in his hands, the meek veneer is quickly stripped away to reveal a powerful and soulful voice.

With their far reaching and varied sound, it makes sense that each member of this Mötley Crüe would have equally varied influences.

“We all like different things, so we try to include everything,” Rinaud said. “I listen to a lot of symphonic metal from across the sea… A lot
of it is very intricate and hard to play. ”

“I come from a variety of backgrounds. Most recently I’ve been playing jazz and afrobeat,” Jurado said.

Not only are the members of Algernon varied style and influences, but they also have wildly varied interests.

“I’m an MSU [Michigan State University] graduate. I studied psychology, film, and English,” Jurado said.

“I’m at WCC in the animation program,” Rinaud said.

“I just got into the music program here [Eastern Michigan University],” Boos said.

Even though they each have their own separate passions and interests, they all share the common interest of creating and sharing their music. That passion is most of the reason why they play.

“I play because I play,” Jurado said.

“To play is a really great experience,” Boos said. “Being on the stage with three other people creating some… You know, being on stage, hitting a note and then watching that come out to an audience who responds to it. It’s this fun communication without words.”

While Boos and Jurado have a more philosophical approach, Renaud has a much simpler explanation: “It’s fun. What else do you need?”

The purity of their desire to play aside, the boys still have aspirations to make it to the big leagues.

“I’d like to tour at some point. I’d like to be a professional musician at some point,” Jurado said. “That’s a common goal for us.”

Success is one of their aspirations, but they’re definitely not looking to be the next Nickleback.

We want to bring “more of the underground into the mainstream,” Rinaud said.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m interested in making music that people enjoy, music that means something to people,” Jurado said. “I want to play music professionally because I want the opportunity to do that as much as possible.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m doing it underground. It doesn’t matter if I do it mainstream. I could care less about the cultural politics of it. I just want to make something that people enjoy listening to and that enriches their lives in some way.”

While Algernon might still be in their infancy, their history is already a bit cloudy. Through its short history, Algernon has seen a lot of stops and starts. Most recently, in the summer of 2011, they suffered the loss of their founding drummer Tedd Windorf.

“I’ve known him since I was like 5. It’s kind of weird. It’s weird to have known somebody that long and then not to have them be there anymore,” Rinaud said.

“It’s bizzare,” Boos said.

During that period of mourning, the band understandably took a step back from music.

“Over the summer, we just stopped playing,” Boos said. “That was directly related to Tedd’s death.”

Tragic setbacks behind them, they’re back and working it to make their passion into a career.

“Coming forward, we’re looking to record an album fresh,” Jurado said. “We’re looking to play more shows, put out press releases and reconnect with our fans. ”