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Sharing Nugs with Luna Pier

Dexter Kaufmann(Top Left), Evan Holifield(Bottom Left), Jack Merucci(Top Right), Alex Calderwood(Bottom Right)

This past Friday, a couple of hours before their show, Luna Pier could be found at the local Wendy’s snacking on nugs and chatting with me of all people. The Ann Arbor collective, composed of members Dexter Kaufmann, Alex Calderwood, Evan Holifield, and Jack Merucci are no stranger to playing crowds. As Luna Pier, they have played several sold-out shows at The Blind Pig, The Loving Touch, and other local co-ops respectively. I had the opportunity to sit down with the guys(in a half booth/half table smack in the middle of the dining room) and ask them a few questions with my shitty iPhone voice recorder.

We started out talking about their most streamed song in the country ballad, Jewish Cowboy.

The song, having originated from Kaufmann’s experiences growing up, was released back in 2022.

Kaufmann: “I’m Jewish, let's put that on the record, and I really love country music and I feel there aren't a lot of Jewish people who love country music. I grew up in a very rural town, I was the only Jewish kid in my grade, I could really see myself in the character. Not having many Jews around, that’s changed since I’ve come to Michigan. Themes of loneliness and not having many people around you. 

In my research, I discovered that Dexter is the son of Rich Kaufmann who was a part of the Philadelphia-based band ‘Electric Love Muffin’.

Me: Your dad was in the band ELM, back in the 80’s they tried some experimentation with country sounds. Did that have any impact on you wanting to use that sound, whether it be directly through him or what he played around you?

Kaufmann: He definitely played a lot of country growing up, he was in a band called the Rolling Hayseeds which focused more on country, but yeah, he played a lot of genres and I learned a lot about country from him.

Me: Do you go to him for advice at all? Or maybe even collaboration?

Kaufmann: He’s taught me a lot of good rules, no drinks on the amp, I learned that from him. 

The last time we played here at the Loving Touch, he played acoustic for us. He’s been through the ropes, every kinda sort of famous punk person from the 90s, he’s opened for them once. 

Electric Love Muffin played along with several bands including Flaming Lips, Dead Kennedys, Meat Puppet, and more of your Dad’s favorites.

In this interview and future interviews, I am seeking to find out how location impacts an artist's identity. The following questions are about being a part of the Midwest.

Me: Your name comes from a small town in Ohio, with your name being so entrenched in Midwest culture, how does that play into your identity as a band?

Holifield: I think they’ve added a few members since the band was conceived, me and Jack are two of those. Jack is from Marshall, I’m from Flint-

Merucci: I can do the hand thing (if you know you know)

Holifield: -Not even to mention that we’re from Ann Arbor and learning what to do in the basement scene and the co-op scene like that’s on our face, that’s in our DNA. That’s Midwest as hell, we’re all from UofM. In the midwest, there’s a lot of sleeper hits and I think that part is gonna start to come out when we start to leave our initial base here in Ann Arbor and start to branch out. We’re gonna start to realize that it’s a bigger part of our identity, just cause it’s where we’re from.

Calderwood: We got the name not so much because it’s a midwestern town, it is entrenched in midwest culture that way, but, it’s more because you could divorce the words from the meaning. It’s just two words that sound mysterious and evocative together.

Merucci: It sounds like a band.

It does indeed sound like a band. For this next portion of the interview, I wanted to ask about what it’s like to promote and gain traction as a small band in today’s social media-driven landscape.

Me: You guys have praised the Ann Arbor scene for its closeness and community. Would you say we’re moving away from a word-of-mouth promotion style and more towards the need to have a constant online presence to stay relevant?

Calderwood: Something we’ve been trying to do a lot more, now that we’ve been recording a lot of music and we’re looking to start ramping up towards releases and taking that next step as a band. I think just with the way everything is today, it’s just one of those things where you kind of have to do both. Things can definitely coexist, I think TikTok is great for reaching an audience far and wide, based on people seeing a really specific thing or sound that they like. However, in the local scene, it’s not about having that really specific sound you like, it’s just people who really like music and really like going to shows and that type of culture. It’s really two different kinds of fanbases, you can use these two different strategies to build and they’re both super important.

Merucci: To add onto that, I think the Ann Arbor scene is really great, there’s a lot of young student-based bands, but the specific scene, it doesn’t encapsulate all that we kind of do. Like our sound, even talking about the name, yeah we’re a band from the midwest in Michigan, but we’re not midwest emo. It’s like we kind of use the symbols from the places we’re from to establish that credibility, we’re guys on the map, but we’re not really beholden to that specific sound. Ya know, the scene in Ann Arbor is not quite what we are.

Calderwood: We’ve always tried to stand alone.

Holifield: Even if we do lean towards those stylings of a specific thing, it’s usually just to use it as a frame of reference if we’re trying something new. Like it’s when we’re trying to do something weird with a song, so we throw in something familiar to us. Say this needs a Foo Fighters rhythm guitar or a Beatles drum beat, it’s never just a “Oh let’s go out and do this exactly like our favorite guys.”

Kaufmann: I don’t think we could even if we wanted to, so that’s where our uniqueness comes in.

Merucci: We’re always trying to bring a lot of things together, like I’ve been listening to a lot of early 70s power rock trios, some late Psyche, and Prague rock, we all love that. I have a knack for hip-hop, so when I’m playing basslines, I’m always trying to bring those influences into it. Alex knows anything and everything about pop punk bands and film music, things that I don’t know about and we each have our own thing. So when we bring all of it together it’s sort of an amalgamation of all of our backgrounds.

That’s the beauty of collaboration, the ability to bring in a perspective that’s unique to you. The meshing of different ideologies and backgrounds to make something, there’s nothing like it. The art of collaboration is magic and bands like Luna Pier are seeking to capture it.

For the last question of the interview, I wanted to focus on what it means to be creative and the value of making cool shit.

Me: You all come from musical backgrounds, what can you say about having a creative output?

Kaufmann: You gotta learn how to make art and not even think about releasing it to the broader world. You should just make it for yourself and if you like it enough then let other people see. It’s important to just paint something and throw it in the trash, write a song that nobody will hear, that’s what makes you get better at it.

Holifield: I think you have to have an outlet creatively, it doesn’t even have to be limited to art. If you don’t have any outlets for that in your life, you’re gonna have a heart attack or kill someone. You need to do something with that energy.

Calderwood:  I’m speaking for myself mostly, but I assume it’s the same for all of us. It’s like music just happens to be the thing that I do to respond. If I’m feeling one way or thinking about one thing, I just make a song about it, it’s reflexive. If I were a mechanic, I would go fix a car or knit a sweater or something. Everyone has their own way of putting some otherwise incommunicable part of themselves out into the world. 

Merucci: It’s just art is more pretty to look at and easier to ask questions about after the fact. Artists love it when people do that. It’s not always the case with other people's outlets that aren’t specifically artistic.

Holifield: Some people don’t think about music as purely an artistic form, they think about it as business, a journey-

Calderwood: It’s all of those things.

Merucci: I personally write my best stuff when it just comes out, songwriting is just a tool to help express. That’s how I feel with music, it consumes me in a way that it’s all that I’m thinking about and it frightens me but, when I go to actually do it I feel so relieved. It has to be a necessary gauntlet to run, it's the thing that pushes me forward, and makes me tick.

Holifield:  You have to be able to find what that is for you. There have to be freedoms and opportunities granted to you, like at your house or school.

Merucci: I’ve done a lot to go out of my way to get closer to that. I remember being younger and not having a guitar and realizing I could just go out and get one and start practicing. I come from more of a classical background, we study opera at UofM, where we are very used to regimented practice and things like that, this is different. The way we do our music is unique because nobody can tell us how we’re supposed to do it, when we’re supposed to do it, except ourselves. That’s the thing that’s valuable. That’s what makes it sound as good as it does.

I asked the guys if there were any local bands they wanted to shoutout and received a list of names including but not limited to



Third Degree

Cece June


Lastly, I demanded to know if anything was coming down the pipeline this year and I can confirm that there is an album in the works. Look out for Luna Pier’s debut album sometime in the coming months. 

I want to thank Luna Pier for their time and just overall being chill guys, I also couldn’t have done anything without my partner Emma. This is Ben Larson for Vash Zine, don’t forget to make cool shit. Live long and live VASH.

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