published Friday, April 8th, 2011

Michigan-based picky pop experimentalists at JJ’s


* What: Prussia, Child Bite and Black Painter.

* When: 10 p.m. Sunday.

* Where: JJ’s Bohemia, 231 M.L. King Blvd.

* Admission: $5.

* Phone: 266-1400.

* Venue website:


Q&A with guitarist/songwriter Ryan Spencer


The band now known as Prussia was originally named Russian. Lead singer Ryan Spencer said the name was changed after a Russian DJ using the same name contacted them on MySpace and threatened to sue.


When it comes to writing music, the members of Detroit’s Prussia are as picky as a finicky 4-year-old at dinnertime.

“We all try to impress each other, and we’re all hard to impress, so there’s a lot of arguing and bickering,” said lead singer Ryan Spencer. “When we’re all so picky in what we listen to and expect from each other, it raises the bar for what kind of music we present to each other.”

That exacting approach hasn’t always been the band’s philosophy. When they formed up before New Year’s Eve 2007 in Pontiac, Mich., the members of Prussia were just having a musical lark, preparing a set list to perform at a holiday party for friends.

After the first show went well, they decided to buckle down and focus themselves. The results of their efforts are a sound that defies classification, incorporating everything from waltz rhythms to African percussion into an indie-music framework.

Prussia’s sound, while hard to categorize, gained the attention of the entertainment publication Real Detroit Weekly, which earlier this year named Prussia that city’s best band.

As a result of the band members’ collective inability to settle for second best, the experimental pop quintet’s latest release, “Poor English,” was an exercise in nitpicking.

When it arrives later this year, “Poor English” will be the result of six months and hundreds of hours in the studio. Spencer said the band will perform seven to 10 songs from the album during its set Sunday at JJ’s Bohemia with fellow Motor City residents Child Bite.

To achieve its musical vision for “Poor English,” the band employed many guest session musicians, including string and horn sections. The resulting diversity was difficult to translate into a live setting, but Spencer said they devoted plenty of time to ensuring the live experience met the same high standard of their studio work.

“We actually spent a long time stripping it to a five-piece,” he said. “I think we replicate the album pretty spot-on. I’m pretty surprised by how well it correlates into a live setting.”

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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