Common Shiner strives for style, universal appeal
The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS — Common Shiner takes the commonplace and makes it unique.
Whether it’s having fun, feeling spiritual or knowing bitterness, the Grand Rapids five-piece tries to reflect the human condition in its pop-glossed, folk-rock style of music.
“We wanted to write songs that relate to the human experience and relate to common people,” said Morgan Foster, lead singer, rhythm guitarist and songwriter for Common Shiner.
Humor is part of the picture, too, such as singing about a sudden crush on a store clerk in the “Bookstore Girl” track.
“The goal is reflecting the beauty in the common experience. I would say that applies to most of our songs,” Foster said.
Celebrating shared experiences was Foster’s initial impetus in selecting the band’s name, in 2002, when the group was an acoustic duo of Foster and fellow Calvin College graduate Tim Haig.
Common Shiner — a type of minnow found far and wide — seemed to sum up the purpose and lyrical direction of the group, Foster said.
Foster said people often inquire about the group’s name, but he doesn’t push the fish angle that much.
“I say, ‘What do you think it means?’ And they say something, and I say, ‘That’s exactly what it means,'” he explained.
“It can mean a lot of different things, and I think that’s fantastic,” he said, noting that the name’s natural open-endedness also was attractive.
Open-endedness is a philosophy that preoccupies the group, which includes Calvin students or graduates Andrew Huisjen (electric guitar, vocals), Vijay Bangalore (drums), Zach Hache (bass) and Mike Brooks (keyboards, vocals).
Even though spirituality arises in Common Shiner’s lyrics, the group resists being pigeonholed as a Christian band.
“We definitely are Christians in a band, but I don’t define us as a Christian band,” Foster said. “The idea of being a Christian band these days has taken on a different meaning and has taken on a meaning I wish it didn’t.
The group’s lyrics and music simply don’t fit into a specific category, Foster emphasized. Talking about God in one song could be juxtaposed with drinking and smoking in a bar in the next.
“We’re not afraid to dabble in different genres and just allow different music we listen to to just influence our songwriting,” he said. “We can appeal to just about anybody. We’re not a niche-market kind of thing.”
First full-length CD
The band recently released its first professionally cut, full-length CD, “So Long …,” in late June. It is available via iTunes, CDBaby.com and Schuler Books and Music. And the group will play Cincinnati’s Midpoint Music Festival in September.
“That’s what I’m most excited about right now,” Bangalore said of the indie music event.
Bangalore said he believes the band’s contribution to the Grand Rapids music scene rests in each member’s musical virtuosity as well as the honest and mature Common Shiner lyrics.
“Morgan’s lyrics are so accessible, and they have a pop sensibility to them that people can really latch on to.”