Grand Rapids musician Dan Rickabus has been playing music for over 17 years. He has been the drummer for indie folk pop rock band The Crane Wives for almost eight years, a bandmate and producer for Michigan Earthworks musicians Seth Bernard, and performs with Gifts and Creatures, and an instrumental band, Public Access.
On Thursday, March 22, Rickabus is performing his album, “Void / Journal” as part of the Concerts Under the Stars series at the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium. The sold-out audio/visual performance is one Rickabus has been dreaming of, and now he is crossing the item off his bucket list.
“The cool thing is this planetarium show will be happening almost exactly on a year anniversary of the album’s recording session at Centennial Sound, which is so cool,” Rickabus said.
According to Rickabus, the album is existentially-charged, inspired by humankind’s relation to space and the cosmos.
“The idea with “Void / Journal,” with the slash in the middle, is that you have the endless void on one side — the uncertainty, and kind of being a metaphor for death. We’re this very small speck in this giant universe,” Rickabus said. “And then ‘journal’ being a human’s intimate experience with themselves and the natural world — natural things and the Michigan wilderness.”
Over the last seven years, Rickabus had been toying with new songs on the ukulele, messing around with open tunings, and distorting with pre-recorded music.
“Eventually, I started to see a common thread of these elements,” Rickabus said. He began working with his wife, Alex, brainstorming and workshopping lyrics to accompany the rhythmic dream folk sounds.
“We kind of always knew it was an album that we were working on, but we never knew what was going to happen to it, or how it was all going to play out.”
In the summer of 2016, the percussionist began piecing together the collection. Later, he enlisted his musical friends to help launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the possible album.
“I had my friend Steve, we worked on a video together, that would kind of pitch this to the audience. The Kickstarter campaign was really risk-free; almost like the community is commissioning it to be made.”
After seven years of collecting material, the production of “Void / Journal” took place over a three-month period.
“I wanted to make sure the album was a collaboration,” Rickabus said. “The task for me was to get out of my own head, and leave room for my friends to build the sound of the album.” Crane Wives bandmate Ben Zito acted as the producer at his studio, Centennial Sound. Then the record was taken to La Luna Sound, using vintage reverb microphones, and was finally mastered in Glen Brown’s GBP studio in East Lansing.
“It was a very fast process. I mixed it in three 10-hour days, which was a little stressful, but it felt right,” Rickabus said. “It felt like after having it be in my head so long, I needed to get a deadline on it.”
The music is loosely constructed, yet cohesive given the thematic elements. During the recording process, the guitarists, vocalists, and violinists weren’t instructed what to play – but rather, tones and sounds as suggestions.
The final product resulted in a dance between spacey and folky sounds. “It ended up being this really cool task to make it have this very ethereal kind of expansive and colorful space element, and also be rooted in this earthy element,” Rickabus said.
The planetarium show will feature a ten-piece band (drums, bass, two guitars, two violins, ukulele, keyboard and samples), coupled with a unique live visual artist and longtime friend, Nate Eizenga.
“It’s really fascinating,” Rickabus said. “He takes this video program and he sources all these elements that he’s going to mix and he kind of lines them up. He’s actually figured out this way to use this controller that would normally be used for electronic music. He’s got it set up so that each knob and each fader is linked up to a parameter. It’s kind of like video DJ-ing.”
Through the live audio/visual performance, Rickabus hopes to inspire the audience and help them realize just how beautiful and wonderful it is to be alive in this universe.
“It’s that feeling of magic,” he said. “Even the mundane things in your life are actually pretty magical.”
Rickabus feels lucky to be a part of the supportive Michigan music scene. “Between the music, art culture, and the craft beer culture, too; everything is artisan. Artisan food and artisan everything from spirits to crafts,” Rickabus said. “There’s an incredible artisan community in Michigan. It’s completely collaborative and cooperative.”