The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.
Elliot Bergman has been displaced. The leader of local band Nomo was originally from Chicago before he came to Ann Arbor to attend the University’s prestigious School of Music. “I came here for Jazz Studies, which is a joke,” Bergman said in jest. “What I learned right away, however, was that Ann Arbor is a very appreciative environment, and really supportive of the arts.”
Five years ago, when Bergman was a freshman, Ann Arbor was at the apex of an avant-garde/improvisation movement with bands Transmission Trio and explosion: cerebral playing regularly to enthusiastic audiences. “When I first got here,” Bergman said. “It was so crazy. It seemed like there were a billion bands and they were all great. It was such a great time.”
Bergman remembers,“There were so many great places to see a show then, every weekend was something enjoyable. I’m excited to see the Halfway Inn returning this year, it’s a great environment for musicians because it’s low-pressure and has a real communal feel to it.”
The Halfway Inn, affectionately called the Half-Ass by local musicians and scenesters, is back in operation this semester after a brief hiatus. Located in the basement of East Quad Residence Hall, the venue has housed local and touring acts since the ’70s. A grill for students by day, on weekend nights the Half-Ass morphs into the sort of close-knit music community that bigger venues like the Blind Pig can’t be. “I have no special affinity for the Blind Pig,” Bergman notes. “It doesn’t feel like a community to me. It never has, really. Instead, it feels like every other rock club in America.”
Bergman was quick to note that houses are his ideal place to play because of the intimacy they entail. “Once, however, when we played a house party, people stole a ton of things from the person’s house including wine, pictures and just everything they could find. It was disastrous,” he laughs.
Although he prefers the smaller atmosphere, Bergman is not unfamiliar with larger venues. “We’ve played with the Tom Tom Club and Wailers in bigger venues and it was fun, but felt really fake. We made some money, but with 20 people, it doesn’t amount to much, but we’re not really playing for big payoffs, anyway.”
Ann Arbor, as Bergman explains, has proved to be beneficial for him artistically. “There’s a special aesthetic to Ann Arbor, especially for musicians. It’s nice to have relationships where someone can be like, ‘Could you play tambourine or glockenspiel for us tonight?’ and there are so many people who’ll just come along with you. People are more interested in musical relationships based on community rather than who’s hottest at the moment.”
Many local artists, including Kelly Caldwell and Michigan dilettante Fred Thomas, have released albums through Ypsilanti Records, which Bergman cites as a byproduct of a growing community. “We have a lot of different bands — Kelly and her guitar, Saturday Looks Good to Me and Nomo are all unique. (Ypsilanti Records) is more of an outlet and the result of us, than a label, if that makes sense.”
Bergman’s own Nomo formed in 2003 during the latest Saturday Looks Good to Me tour and has materialized into a conglomeration of nearly 15 local musicians, all of whom were friends before playing together. “The idea for Nomo came to us on that tour (with Saves the Day) when we were all listening to these Fela Kuti records,” Bergman remembers. “It was a joke, but Fred (Thomas) started taking it seriously and I started working on the project more.”
Later in the year, Nomo released a three-song self-titled EP which, as Bergman explained, was representative of Nomo’s beginnings, both sprawling and disorderly. “When we recorded (the EP), we just gathered everyone we knew and brought them to this house to record,” he remembers. “It was a real loose session with probably 20 people in this living room just playing. It was really fun but disorganized. Everyone learned the music there, that day, and we recorded them all shortly. When we were done, they were all about five times as long as they appear on the record, we cut up the best parts.”
When asked to describe their sound, Bergman was, admittedly, indecisive. “People are always looking for one-word associations, which totally sucks. People like an idea, however, and all I say is that we have a lot of influences. There’s some afro-beat, but a lot of it is jazz-influenced.”
Having a large band doesn’t always mean people attending the show will see every member every time they go. “It takes some convincing to get everyone together for practice. A lot of time, it’s just four of us, and considering two of them live with me, that’s not too impressive. I feel like I have to trick them to get them to come.” On average, Bergman notes, there are usually 10 to 15 members at any given show; but this doesn’t mean the given performance will be lacking. “We get by, usually. If only a few people can make it, we go with it and see what happens.”
“It’s hard to run a band like Nomo,” Bergman says. “With 20 people, it’s hard to let people know their work is appreciated. It seems like before shows, I’m always stressed out. It’s a horrifying experience, running a band like this. Organizing something of this caliber is a wreck.”
According to Bergman, the local scene is in a period of rebirth. “It’s hard to let a real scene grow in a city like Ann Arbor, since there’s such a large turnover. Every four years, you need to start over, basically. I don’t know what I want to do, really. But, for now, I’m comfortable calling Ann Arbor my home. ”
Bergman commented on the state of music in Ann Arbor. “It’s growing, again, definitely. I think there are a lot of good bands out there, but at the same time it feels like nobody is interested. The scene is getting going again — back on its feet