Friday, April 5, 2024

Wordban'd Creates Collages of Language & Noise - from the Detroit archives

While aspiring young scribes forming poetry bands has become a fashion trend in recent years, few -- if any -- have created a more astute and lyrically passionate fusion of words and music than Mick Vranich and Wordban’d.

Vranich, a Detroit poet poet, musician, and social activist, has been creating his brand of dissident discourse since 1964. During the 1980s, he published two volumes of verse, Radnik Pisar and Boxer’s Break. The notion of poetry as music has always figured into his work.

Wordban’d is most easily understood as an ensemble driven by equal parts spoken word and hybrid rock-n-roll, which creates collages of language and noise. Beyond the primacy of the words, their musical credentials are viscerally evident. Detroit poet George Tysh observes: “Although not in the blues tradition, the band’s music owes much to those roots. In fact, Vranich lays down his poetry vocals like a postmodern John Lee Hooker, talking over two electric basses and percussion and wiring a guitar commentary in counterpoint to his own language.” 

Since Vranich and conga player Bill Gross formed Wordban’d in 1988, they’ve traveled frequently to New York and Chicago on self-produced tours while donating innumerable hours to benefit gigs, raising precious bucks for a host of ecological and indigenous organizations. In 1993 alone, they have organized four benefit concerts ffor imprisoned indigenous activist Leonard Peltier. 

Complementing Vranich’s vocals and guitar playing with dissonant grit, Dean Western wields his bass as a “conduit” of clamor--he is a metaphysician of funk. Western is a veteran of the bands Private Angst, Kuru, Sublime, and Junk Face, just to name a few. 

Gross rounds out Wordban’d and provides much of its depth. As a percussionist, he’s worked the musical gamut, from bluesy bar bands to the world-beat-boogie of the Layabouts. With congas, as opposed to a full drum kit, he provides a luminous versatility which feeds the tribal quality of Vranich’s writing.

The band’s rooted connections to the Corridor neighborhood of Detroit enhances their sonic tremor. “We’ve found when we take this out of town,” explains Western, “that it really does sound like Detroit.” 

Wordban’d negotiates an earthy and eclectic thread of rock-n-roll poetics, political advocacy, and primal mysticism. They regularly lead listeners to discover “what connects your voice to your heart.” (“Facing the Altar”)

With Wordban’d, Vranich is city poet as jazzy MC, owing more to the MC5 than MC Hammer. Vranich hones an urban verisimilitude. 

“They say some music can create a smell.” Wordban’d does. Wordban’d’s brand of performance poetry as music is a peculiar Motown incense, something like sage and sweetgrass momentarily suppressing the incinerator’s stink. Wordban’d uses this aroma in reconstructing rock-n-roll as shamanic ritual. Or as Vranich puts it in his song-poem “Move on the Machine”: “They sing all night/a circle of voices/around the drum.”

Wordban’d breaks down the space between performance and life to discover what breathes through their “Cloak of Skin.” What resounds long after the music stops is their credo, which amounts to a clarion charge: “Don’t kill everything so soon.” Amen. - Andy “Sunfrog” Smith, in Detroit’s Metro Times, 1993 (?)


Listen here:

Stream Teacher On The Radio | Listen to Mick Vranich & Wordban'd - Cloak of Skin playlist online for free on SoundCloud

Cassette recording from my personal collection. 

Shared for archival, educational, & entertainment purposes only.

Ripped from original 31-year-old cassette to Audacity via a Nakamichi tape deck & a Behringer desktop mixer & RCA-to-USB converter.

Mick Vranich (1946-2010) - Voice & Guitar

Bill Gross - Congas

Dean Western - Bass

Charles Smith - Fretless Bass

Recorded & mixed at Woodshed Studios, Detroit

Engineer - Tim Pak

Cover painting - Sherry Hendrick (RIP) 

In Detroit, an international center of poetry where powerful verse is so often heard in the context of idiosyncratic musical accompaniment, Mick Vranich has long been a leading light. His verse is hard, lean, beautifully musical and, always, precisely registered. 

With the formation of WORDBAN’D, Mick has taken his verse another step further. The musical settings he has fashioned with his own muscular yet sensitive guitar, Bill Gross’s soulfully exact conga drums, and the dual bass team presently featured in the ensemble, fill in another-dimension behind the poems, re-placing his verse for us back where it came from -- the music pulsing through his blood, nerves, & flesh, which has always been echoed in the lines & syntax of his poems. 

Now it’s all right here in our ears -- in our own music & bone -- the perfect complete wedding of form & content. Mick Vranich is the bomb.  -John Sinclair, New Orleans, September 27, 1992 

That’s no Rust Belt Buzzsaw. That’s no A-bomb your Mama. That’s Mick Vranich tearing out of Detroit. Laying down the truth like a poem. That drone in the back is WORDBAN’D, like Motown in reverse. 

-Bob Holman

The sacred fires burn in the makeshift altars in that huge backyard where the tribes gather, in the land of the Tombstone Sky, where the Big D connects with the sweatlodges of Norther California. The elders have given their blessings. Our hearts were at once and instantly connected and rooted in the oral tradition. A tradition we are familiar with through the chicano(a) poets. Mick has been a huge inspiration and influence on our work. He is our mentor, a veterano who taught us not to fear but respect the silence between the thunder and the lightning. Cloak of Skin represents a beautiful triumph and continuum of the word! His voice will not allow us to forget the things Mother Earth has taught us. We love this warrior, indeed you will too. To all our relations y que viva la raza. . . .Ho!

-Richard Montoya, Culture Clash, October 5, 1992 

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