May 11 2016 12:10 AM

Wally Pleasant performs ‘Songs About Stuff’ LP at River Rock Concert

Singer/songwriter Wally Pleasant sits in Charlotte at a 1865 Victorian house he's been remodeling for re-sale. The songster performs his landmark 1992 "Songs About Stuff" LP in full on Friday, June 10 at the River Rock Concert, headlining is the Verve Pipe.
Photo by Nicole Rico

Given Wally Pleasant’s D.I.Y. spirit and background, it’s no surprise City Pulse caught up with the songwriter amid one of his massive entrepreneurial undertakings. The local indie-rock legend is in the middle of an ambitious home renovation job.

“It’s a Victorian,” Pleasant said of the stately house he’s restoring.

The home, which he plans to flip, sits in the center of Charlotte just a few blocks from where he lives with his wife and children.

“It’s listed as being built in 1865, but seems older than that to me,” he said, wiping dust from his hands.

While this particular project requires a lot of paint, insulation and elbow grease, Pleasant, 48, still finds time to do what he’s best known for: writing sharp, humorous songs.

The singer/songwriter will revisit some of his best known songs June 10 at the City Pulse River Rock Concert. He opens for the Verve Pipe, who will be performing the platinum-selling “Villains” album live for the first time. Joining the album-centric theme, Pleasant will perform his 1992 album, “Songs About Stuff,” in its entirety.

Throughout the ‘90s, his signature stripped-down, acoustically-driven tunes earned him fans far beyond his launching pad of East Lansing. From politically-inspired ballads to witty ditties about life as a broke college student, his songs draw inspiration from a diverse stack of LPs — from Phil Ochs and Jonathan Richman to Jim Croce and the Violent Femmes. But his sound, sometimes described as “anti-folk,” stands on its own.

Since his debut some 25 years ago, Pleasant has penned a string of underground classics like “Denny’s at 4 a.m.,” “Small Time Drug Dealer,” “Stupid Day Job,” “I Hate Cops,” “I Was a Teenage Republican” and “Dead Rock n Roll Stars,” to name a few.

Another Pleasant classic, 1993’s “The Day Ted Nugent Killed All the Animals,” earned him facetime with the Motor City Madman himself.

“I was on Nugent’s radio show,” Pleasant said. “We played a couple songs together. He was cool about the whole thing. Ted said it would take a day and a half to kill all the animals.”

While Pleasant cut his teeth in the East Lansing scene, he was born in Detroit. In 1987, he enrolled at Michigan State University and moved to East Lansing. Since then, for the most part, he’s called mid-Michigan home. During his time at MSU, his name began popping up on handbills across campus.

“I’d play everything from the Small Planet to the East Lansing Art Festival,” Pleasant said. “Prior to 1992, I played at Castellani's Market, Hobie's on Trowbridge, WhereHouse Records, Erickson Kiva and the MSU Union. I also hosted an open-mic night at The Riv.

“My weekly shows at Cuppa Java usually drew between 30 and 60 people,” he added. “Many times they were high school age kids who weren't old enough to get into other venues.”

Pleasant, who started writing songs for fun as a high school student, started to take his music more seriously after some local encouragement. MSU’s the Impact 88.9FM was an early champion of his first cassette-tape demo.

“Before the Impact, there was a campus radio station but you could only hear it from the dorms,” he said. “Once the Impact started broadcasting and promoting local bands, I remember that really helping attendance at shows.”

Tom Frey, the Impact’s station manager at the time, encouraged Pleasant to send his demo to more stations. Then a shoulder injury at his workplace became an unexpected blessing for Pleasant’s career.

“I got a call from an insurance company,” Pleasant said. “They said they owed me a bunch of money for workman’s comp. After getting the check, I recorded and pressed my first self-released album, ‘Songs About Stuff.’”

Pleasant pumped up promotions, snail-mailing promo copies of the album to around 700 college and community radio stations.

“We tracked where we were getting airplay and contacted the stations directly about whether they would be willing to help promote a show in their area,” he said. “A lot of times, the college radio stations would set shows up.”

Eventually his fan base grew — and so did his reach. He performed as far away as the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

“I’m not sure how many tours I have been on, but between 1992 and 2000 I was probably on the road about six months out of the year,” he said.

The hard work paid off. His albums performed well on CMJ’s college radio charts. He even scored airtime and an in-studio appearance on the legendary “Dr. Demento” radio program.

“My fourth CD, ‘Wally World,’ ended up charting the highest at No. 28 on CMJ’s weekly Top 150 chart,” Pleasant said.

Eventually, his focus on touring waned as family life became a priority. Today, he works as a sales manager and plays three or four gigs each year. But his dad duties have not tempered his passion for songwriting. He’s even started work on an album of country-tinged originals.

“I probably spend just as much time writing as I ever did,” he said. “As for the country record, the late ‘60s and ‘70s is my favorite era of country music. They’re just well-produced and well-written songs.”

Looking back at his early years, Pleasant said he wishes he would’ve learned to delegate the promotional work to others.

“I was pretty focused on CD sales and chart positions and promotion,” he said. “There could've been more focus on the non-business aspects. I probably would’ve had more fun.”

City Pulse River Rock Concert

June 10-11

The Verve Pipe “Villains” 20th Anniversary Concert

with Wally Pleasant and Triple Lindy Friday, June 10 $15/$20 reserved VIP seating

Top of the Town Party

With Elliot Street Lunatic, City Mouse, Stefanie Haapala and James Gardin Saturday, June 11 $12/$17 reserved VIP seating/$5 for TOTT Party/$20 for VIP seating and TOTT party

Two-night combo: $25/$32 VIP reserved seating and TOTT Party (Concert tickets $10 more at the door.)

Adado Riverfront Park, Lansing