“At home, there’s this little coffee shop … our friend owns it … his dad used to own it but he passed it down to his son, and his son is super chill and he’s like, ‘We need to start throwing shows here.’ So we threw a show,” said Alex Stoitsiadis, lead singer of a local Ann Arbor band, Dogleg, which also includes Chase Macinski on bass and Parker Grissom on drums.
“It went over really well. And then we threw another show at the end of summer and like 200 people showed up. In this little coffee shop, they all just piled in. And it was one of the craziest nights of our lives.”
It’s hard to describe exactly what the people in that impromptu venue heard when they saw Dogleg perform for the first time. As a band, they’ve developed a sound that’s difficult to pin down. A blend of driving energy, powerful vocals and instrumentation that leaves you speechless, Dogleg’s music dares you to try and neatly categorize it. The rush of color and catharsis that burst to life in that little coffee shop must have shaken the very foundations of the building: an aftermath of toppled-over chairs and cracked coffee cups.
It’s not surprising in the least to hear that such a large crowd came to watch the second performance.
The different elements in each of Dogleg’s songs are unrestrained, allowing their two albums to spark with a distinct dynamism. Songs are almost like scrapbooks in the way they are pieced together. “Star 67” from Remember Alderaan? hangs off the edge of spiking crescendos and jagged vocals. The mellow intro of “11 AM Drunk” from Dogleg trips into a racing tempo that jolts toward the finish line. Untraditional but not amateurish, irregular but not haphazard, it’s art that is redefined.
Even though this very broad label can encompass a variety of different aspects, the importance of DIY comes in the fact that, at its core, it allows art to be malleable, deconstructing the unyielding stone of more traditional definitions in order for people to create their own systems of production. DIY is art at its most accessible and ingenuity at its finest. Still-life paintings can be made out of instant coffee and water. Movies can be filmed in backyards.
Music can be recorded in basements.
“Dogleg was just me, initially,” Stoitsiadis said as he explained the band’s beginning. “The friend of mine who was in the old band let me borrow his recording equipment, which was literally just a little box that could record two microphones at a time.”
It wasn’t music production in the conventional sense, but it worked.
“I would just record stuff on there and just kind of make it as good as possible … just kind of working with the limits,” he said.
Even with limitations, Stoitsiadis found the feedback he received after publicly releasing his music to be overwhelmingly positive.
“I didn’t really expect (the music) to go anywhere,” he said. “I threw it out online and pretty soon people were really liking it a lot and I was like, ‘I should start playing shows. I should start actually mobilizing this thing.’”
Dogleg emerged from the inconspicuous form of a piece of borrowed recording equipment; Stoitsiadis’s ingenuity and passion empowered his music to grow into the established band it is today.
“My old friends, we went to music school together: School of Rock,” he said. “So I called them up … they’re itching to play in a band. So, we get together and everything just gels completely. We’re all on the same exact page as to what we want to do, where we want to go, how we want to sound and things just exponentially took off from there.”
Yet, even as Dogleg continue to branch out, the band never strays too far from Stoitsiadis’s original means of music production.
“I would go and write five different riff or song ideas, just in one day,” he explained. “And then the next day I would come back to them and see what can I change, what can I put together, what can I piece apart.”
It’s a casual process.
Even when writing vocals, the component that gives Stoitsiadis the most trouble during the creation of new songs, a rigid schedule is never set.
“I’ve always felt limited by writing vocals,” he said. “Writing words, I would just stay up until 3 a.m. until something came to me and something just came out and was like this is what sounds good here and it should happen.”
It’s a decisively informal creative process that fits Stoitsiadis’s style well, paralleling the decisively informal way he first started to make music.
However, while the method has remained constant, the way Stoitsiadis personally defines DIY music is something that has changed significantly over the years.
“When I first started,” he said, “DIY was sort of just doing it all by yourself … and kind of rejecting any help you can get. But, as I’ve kind of grown and the band has grown, and we’ve been exposed to this community of people who believe the same way; it’s kind of like now you’ve got to open yourself up to others and you’ve got to take inspiration from others and give inspiration to them.”
It’s a constructive back-and-forth of ideas, a connection that seems integral to the expansion of DIY music.
Out of basements, living rooms and cafe corners, music is being made. It’s not perfect. Like all forms of art, it has its shortcomings. But no matter what your opinion is on this type of sound, there is no denying the passion and resourcefulness behind these underground explorations of artistic expression.
There is no denying the significance of bands like Dogleg. Especially during live shows, their preference to play smaller venues allows them to easily build a level of intimacy with the crowd.
“We always prefer to play houses,” Stoitsiadis said. “It just allows us to get close with the crowd and talk to people, like right after and during the show. And just be more connected.”
In addition, the way Dogleg genuinely seem to appreciate and become motivated by the support of listeners allows them, and potentially the rest of the DIY music community, to be seen as approachable.
“I think just knowing that somebody out there is listening to us,” he said, “and just like really connecting with us is what makes me keep wanting to write more songs.”
It’s this selfless gratitude that highlights the strength of groups like Dogleg; their dedication has the potential to influence others to strive and create similar DIY spaces in Ann Arbor.
Above all else, DIY art simply empowers creativity: the ability to take that initial low-quality recording device and turn it into something that is so much more.