Between fronting the successful Detroit band The Sights and serving as one of the music directors at School of Rock, Eddie Baranek has his bases covered when it comes to contributing to Detroit’s rock ‘n’ roll past, present, and future. If you’ve seen Eddie perform live, his energy is contagious, and it’s no wonder he’s working to inspire young musicians to embrace their musical talents. When we told Eddie about our effort to put a spotlight on local film and music, he jumped on board without batting an eye…
Tell us a little about yourself! Where are you from? How did you get involved in music – and in your style of music?
I grew up on the east side in the suburbs, and my parents still live in the house I grew up in. My parents were into Motown, The Beatles, The Monkees– all the pop stuff. And my older sisters…they were a huge influence on me. With my oldest sister, I can remember hearing Queen, Jimi Hendrix, and The Faces for the first time with her. And my other sister, she’d play me New Order, Erasure, and the Psychedelic Furs, so I got a great pop music education at an early age. From those roots, you can see how I then got into deeper stuff in my early teens: less popular British Invasion, ’50s R&B, ’60s Soul. At 16, I thought I was a mod and dressed the part. I didn’t know anyone else in town like me. But when The Sights started playing the downtown bars when we were in high school, we discovered all these people that liked the same rock ‘n’ roll we did. They liked The Jam, they knew who Curtis Mayfield was. See, the 16 year-olds I went to school with didn’t care about that stuff, but I did. It was and still is my life.
Describe The Sights’ musical style.
The Sights come from Detroit, and certainly have a “Detroit energy” or rawness that comes from being around here. We soaked in the local flavor that we saw when we were just starting out in the late ’90s. It was wild, and very exciting as a wide-eyed 17-year old. There were no rules, and we took note of that and began finding something for us. I like to think we bridge British Invasion power pop with Motown melodies all played with high energy to create our sound.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project(s)? What’s next for The Sights?
We’ve had full-time sax for a while, but recently we’ve added Liz and Chrissy on backing vocals. It’s really opened us up and we sound like the All Things Must Pass LP, but again a bit more revved up. This line-up will be promoting the release of our Taken Alive book/dvd. We are compiling a tour diary I wrote on last year’s US/European tour along with a live show we filmed and recorded at the Park Bar. It will be one release. It’s exciting because I haven’t seen something like that done recently. That gig is July 27th at the New Center Park Stage – an amazing outdoor venue.
How does Detroit compare to other places you’ve performed?
Detroit crowd’s are tough, and I really appreciate that because it’s made us a better band. Playing a lot in Detroit in the beginning was a huge help, and with so many great bands (Detroit Cobras, The Dirtbombs, Clone Defects, Paybacks, etc) it was a great school to learn in. I wouldn’t want to be from anywhere else.
What are your favorite places in the city to perform?
Great question! I like weird, not traditional-type venues. I like cramming a rock ‘n’ roll band in a place where strollers are whizzing by and watching the worlds collide. Too much of this world is compartmentalizing things, and when the paths cross, it’s so beautiful. That said, I like what PJ’s done with the Lager House, the Magic Stick because of so much history we have there, and the one time we played Belle Isle was fun.
Most unusual Detroit-area performance of yours?
For me, it was playing bass in Bootsey X and the Lovemasters on the back of a flatbed truck for the Noir Leather float at Royal Oak’s Thanksgiving Parade a few years back. It was 18 degrees, I was in a full Pilgrim outfit, and I was laughing so hard I was crying. Bootsey was in all silver and Ricky Rat had warpaint and a full Indian headdress on. Families were staring at us while Bootsey was singing about “Santa dropping a bomb on whitey.”
Is there a Detroit legend that has been an inspiration for you in your music?
I love Scott Morgan/The Rationals, Mick Collins and Dan Kroha, early Bob Seger, all the usual suspects…
Favorite band(s) you’ve shared the stage with?
I’ll always love The Dirtbombs and the six-week tour we did with them in ’03/’04.
You just toured with Tenacious D. What was that like? Best story from the tour?
It was great to be relevant again. To be loved. Isn’t that what we all want? After clawing our way back by taking a few years off, to playing Red Rocks (Amphitheater in Colorado) in front of a sold-out crowd, it doesn’t get much more real than that. I am very grateful for Jack and the D for taking us through the US and Europe. Every single night with The Sights in front of thousands – thousands you had to win over – that was an awesome challenge. I welcome that stuff.
What makes you proud being a musician in Detroit?
We have Hooker, MC5, Aretha, James Jamerson, Mitch Ryder, Edwin Starr… again, the list goes on and on. I’m just trying to continue that thread of talent.
You also teach music to future Detroit rockers at School of Rock, right? Talk a little about that.
I love it. I love talking to a kid about which era of The Who is the best (mid-’60s period). I love watching a kid hear Ornette Coleman for the first time and just watching their mind get blown. I love watching them tell me they can’t do something and then 2 months later, they’re doing it. I want to be around passion. I don’t want to be around lifeless people.
As an experienced Detroit musician, you’ve been a great mentor to some up and coming acts – most recently, Blaire Alise & The Bombshells…you even welcomed Blaire on stage with you for a song at this year’s Metro Times Blowout. How did you get connected to Blaire and what is it like knowing you can make a difference to someone just breaking out?
I love Blaire, because she gets it. She’s 16 years old, but writes and sings like she’s much older. She is the next generation of Detroit music. Blaire and some of her members are graduates from School of Rock. I can relate to them, in that when I started out at 16 playing in Detroit, it was a huge learning experience.
Sometimes you do a Sights “Waltz,” rotating different guest singers in and out of your set. How did you get started doing this, and what do you love about it?
Well, I love The Band, so it was a cop of The Band’s “Last Waltz.” We invited people we’ve played with in the past, present, and artists we never played with, but wanted to. That’s how “The Waltz” was born. I was so busy during the two-set, 36-song show, that I had more fun in the rehearsals. The rehearsals at my place in December leading up to the gig were great because you’d have soul singer Buddy Smith bumping into one-man-machine Carjack. Then Kenny Tudrick would show up for some honky tonk and slip past the dudes from Passalacqua. It was crazy.