Through the machinations of luck and commerce joined at the hip, I find myself not in Detroit this month, but on tour in Europe. For the small to midsize band, “touring Europe” is a dizzying repetition of glimpses of beauty from the window of your van, occasional walks through cobblestoned antiquity while passing the Warhammer store, and marveling at the differences in gas stations between countries. The Netherlands is the one that keeps their Donald Duck comics at knee-height display next to the hardcore porn, as you do. Germany makes you pay to piss, which used to be a thing in America until crusaders from, of all places, Dayton, Ohio, eradicated this nation- wide practice in the ’70s. Of course, the sensible American response to the end of this (yellow) revenue stream was to just get rid of public bathrooms altogether. Belgium is also here.
There are other quirky differences between countries, but the brain trust at CREEM don’t throw peanuts at me to be the less-cool punk rock Rick Steves—no, they insult my worth through low pay to write about Detroit. So what is going on in Detroit while I’m over in the land of the respect- ful venues that don’t take a cut of merch sales and the toilets with little shelves in them so you can really examine your shit before flushing? Reports are the Belle Isle giant slide cracked some skulls, as it has been doing for years, God bless it. There were weeklong power outages and oppres- sive heat waves and other things that slyly nod to the water wars and mohawk future. So yeah, just another summer in the city. One slightly hidden development, whether due to its underground status or that it’s not as interesting as kids getting absolutely destroyed by a giant slide in a municipal park, was the return of the band Tyvek to Detroit. Tyvek are a band I would call “art punk” and probably get laughed at. But critics and drunks have called them “nervy,” “angular,” “avant-junk,” and all the other epithets that get applied to a rock band that plays fast and loose.
They “returned” as in not really going away, just going quiet for a spell, as many bands have done lately. There’s no money or glory in having no money and catching a coronavirus for drink tickets and a night on a cat-pissed air mattress. So they’ve “returned” as in playing shows again. As in all the members live in Southeast Michigan again. It’s a great development for those of us who like to see their favorite bands carry on and change, to weather the storm of The COVID Years and come out the other side. It’s an aspect I’ve always appreciated about Tyvek. They came up in a world obsessed with blog rock and survived being jok- ingly referred to as “just another shitgaze band” back when even MTV sent Old Man Norris out to sniff around invented microgenres in Brooklyn lofts. They navigated garage-rock turkeys and brutal touring routes through punk basements and dog-filled squat shows. They inexplicably still exist—now in a world chained to streaming, rating websites, and records as aesthetics—still in the basement or the backyard. They are a kind of blueprint for how to be a Detroit band.
So I, homesick for Coney Dogs and the giant slide, Detroit and all the rest of it, realized that with my Official CREEM Writer’s BadgeTM, I could get paid to ask questions. I called up Kevin Boyer, lead and only constant member of Tyvek, to clear things up for you and me.
When and how did Tyvek start?
We started Tyvek in summer 2004. It was Larry Williams, Matt Ziolkowski, and myself. We were friends with free time on our hands who liked to go to shows. We got the idea that it would be fun for the three of us to start a band. I had fronted a couple of bands in high school and college, played guitar okay, and had experience writing songs. Unlike me, Larry and Matt had never played in bands before, and they pretty much had to learn how to play their instruments from square one.
And the name? It Always struck me as an odd one.
That fall we settled on the name Tyvek, inspired by all of the Tyvek HomeWrap we’d see on the many new construction projects in Detroit, and by the end of the year we’d played our first show in an industrial space in Eastern Market, which was then a gallery but is now a fancy pet-supply store that’s rarely open.
What was the Detroit music scene like at that time?
I feel like we’d see the same half a dozen bands over and over again. There were lots of cookie-cutter garage, indie, punk/ HC, and emo boy bands that we’d try to avoid. Fortunately there was also a small but very active scene of weird people making creative music that was much harder to classify.
Do you have a favorite place to play in town?
My favorite place to play in Detroit is Jumbo’s. I hate play- ing in bars and as a rule will avoid it whenever possible, but Jumbo’s is the exception because it’s our home spot. Playing at Jumbo’s is more like setting up a DIY show at your friends’ place than playing a gig at a bar: You have to bring your own PA, you have to work the door, do your own sound, let the regulars in for free, and they just hap- pen to be there selling drinks. Also I love that the place has barely changed since we started going there years ago.
Tyvek seem to be a quintessentially Detroit band, but you have only recently returned after some time in the wilderness (Philly, sadly). I’ve probably asked this question to all my friends at some point: Why’d you move away from Detroit?
I felt there might be more and different opportunities elsewhere—and there were. But Detroit is where my friends are.
I just called Tyvek a “quintessentially Detroit band,” which was probably dumb of me. Thanks for not laughing. Do you have a better example?
Are we allowed to talk about soul music in this rag? I ask because my favorite Detroit group is Ultimate Ovation, a soul vocal group that’s been around since the 1970s and is still active today. Now, before your editor cuts out this paragraph and drops an old Alice Cooper concert review in its place, hear me out: Ultimate Ovation started in Detroit back in the 1970s. They ran their own record label, Ultimate 1999, and released their own singles, all of which are gems with great hooks and idiosyncratic facets galore. I first heard them when they started performing live again in the mid-2000s. They still play out and release music to this day, and their new records are just as exciting as their old ones. I love the self-produced style of their singles, and that reflects the era they come from. The number of great soul and funk records that were recorded and released by independent labels here in Detroit in the second half of the 20th century truly boggles the mind, and it’s the indepen-dent spirit of that music that really strikes a chord with me. The sheer variety of sounds, emotions, styles, ideas, and expressions in these songs is staggering. I compare those records with the music of today, DIY or otherwise, which is almost always overproduced to the point of erasing the unique feelings and voices of the artists, and I find that stark contrast is part of the reason why groups from the past like Ultimate Ovation feel so urgent and relevant.
I’m currently staying at a pisshole hotel in Barcelona staffed by the worst pill-addled fucks you’d ever want to come across. I love it. Got any good Euro tour stories?
At the end of our 2011 European tour a certain member of Tyvek who will remain nameless accidentally threw away an envelope containing 4,100 euros (at that time probably worth about $4,500 U.S.), which was our entire haul from that outing. He had tasked himself with looking after the money and wouldn’t tell any of us where he was stashing it. He only realized it was gone when we were 45 minutes outside of Amsterdam returning the van and gear to the rental company. We’d yet to pay our booking agent or the aforementioned company, so we were looking at a huge deficit. I was losing it, but he reassured me that he was fairly certain he’d thrown out the cash when tidying up the van outside of our last venue in Amsterdam. We hauled ass back to the venue and found the dumpster. He jumped in and then almost instantly popped back out, triumphant, with an envelope full of cash. I had never been so relieved.
I know who it is. That’s Matt Z. He once pissed on me knowingly, so I don’t mind burning him in this interview. Okay, last question. The current iteration of the band is kind of a little supergroup made up of people from interesting Michigan bands. What’s the near future looking like for Tyvek?
Yes! The current lineup of Shelley Salant [Shells, XV], Fred Thomas [Idle Ray], Alex Glendening [Deadbeat Beat], and Emily Roll [XV] is insanely good. Their other bands and proj- ects are basically a short list of my favorite music happening today. We began recording a new album before the pandemic, and now I’m very excited to be finishing up those recordings.
With that, our transatlantic internet wire severed and silence filled my Ibis Economy Hotel room. I double-checked my schedule to see if I would be back home for the next Tyvek show. I sleepily thought about which of their albums were my favorites. Nothing Fits? On loud nights. Origin of What? On quiet mornings. Fast Metabolism? On Triple Beams? One of the tape comps? Some live show put to tape? Then sleep hit me hard and the questions of best or better returned in the morning with the hangover (Skyin is probably their worst).