Goth - it’s a darker kind of rock perhaps better known for its style than its music. Back in the late 90's and early 2000's, the Kalamazoo goth band Amaranth was a pretty big deal. Dressed in black clothes and plenty of eyeliner - they played Chicago, Detroit, and all over southwest Michigan.
Now, 13 years later, the band is back together. Amaranth is making a new album, going on a European tour, and celebrating the lead singer’s 40th birthday. They’ll play Saturday, August 12th at Shakespeare’s Pub in Kalamazoo. The show starts at 9 p.m.
“We were playing goth music which was pretty different from what a lot of other people were doing in town then, but I think that really played to our advantage," says lead singer Ken Magerman also known as Precious Ken.
“We were pretty theatrical. We wore a lot of the gear - the eyeliner and spiked-out hair and the whole bit - and I think that lent well too. I always say we were popular before we were good because the image that we portrayed got a lot of people to show up at the shows, and then eventually we got good enough to warrant that.”
Magerman says Amaranth had a good run, but in 2004 the band decided it was time to move on. He says the keyboard player was struggling with some health issues. The drummer’s culinary career was taking off. And as for Magerman, he wanted to be taken seriously as a teacher. Though he now works for a bank.
Magerman recalls his first day student teaching at Portage Northern High School. A young man in a pink mohawk recognized him from the band:
“And he goes, ‘You’re Precious Ken! You’re Precious Ken from Amaranth!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. You know it would probably be better for the rest of class if you called me Mr. Magerman. If you want to come up after class to talk about guitars or music that’s totally cool, but it’s probably better if you call me Mr. Magerman. And he goes, ‘I’ve seen you wear eyeliner!’ ‘Ok, everybody except for that kid, please call me Mr. Magerman.’ And it was that and a series of other moments that made us think we were going to take a step away from doing it.”
Fast forward to September of last year - Magerman and his fiancée are in Greece and he decides to visit a Goth club in Athens. He says this wasn't like the pretentious goth clubs he had been to in the U.S.
“Everybody there was just in jeans and a black t-shirt, knew every song but were so open and welcoming. I ended up meeting this gentlemen there and he was in one of the biggest goth bands in Athens,” says Magerman.
That man was Nick Koustakas from the band Scoria. Magerman says Koustakas encouraged him to come back to Europe and play with his band.
“At first I kind of laughed it off, but then he got talking to me more and I said I want to do this,” he says.
So, Magerman called up Amaranth's original guitarist and now lead of Crash City Saints, Joshua Garman. And they brought on new members: Collin Schiper - who plays bass and keyboard, keyboardist Ian Pool, and drummer Kamesha Rolan.
The band’s plan is to produce a new album and take it on tour with Scoria in Europe early next year.
Magerman says the new iteration of the band still has that goth sound, but now it has elements of other genres too - like metal and even dance music. Bassist Schiper is also producing the band’s new album.
“It’s hard to admit but I think a lot of us listen to a lot more pop music now than we ever would dare to when we were younger and wanted to be so different," says Schiper.
Schiper says there's more of a pop sensibility and smoother production in the new songs.
"It’s very different than I think the older stuff that was trying to be more edgy and experimental. And not that we’re not still putting in those elements, but I think in a lot more tasteful way,” he says.
Back in the day, Magerman was the primary songwriter. But in the new Amaranth, everyone contributes. Magerman says it’s a better band with a lot more meaning in the music:
“I go back and hear those old lyrics and they sounded cool. I wrote things that maybe had an abstract, interesting feel, but to be honest I don’t think they really had that much meaning. Whereas now, if I was talking about any of these songs, I could really say this song means exactly this. This is what when people ask you what does your song mean, there’s an answer to that question now. And all of them I think have a music and a lyrical content that paint a picture of something real and less abstract.”
But even with a more polished sound, will younger generations go for goth music - a style that had its heyday more than two decades ago? Keyboardist Ian Pool says the idea isn’t that far-fetched.
“Lately I’ve noticed a resurgence of other genres dating back to that era - like with this whole synth wave and retro wave,” says Pool.
Magerman says perhaps the reason Goth music isn’t thriving in the U.S. today is because it’s so rooted in the past. He says he hopes Amaranth helps to inspire new, unique bands in the genre. Magerman and Schipper have even discussed creating their own record label.
“I don’t know how many more years - being 40 - that I would have to want to get in a van and go on tour or anything like that. But I have decided now that I want to be a part of making music and this might be a way that we can continue to do this,” says Magerman.