This Sunday, April 16, ArtRat Gallery will host Americana Sundays: An Evening with Chris Bathgate. This edition of ArtRat’s monthly concert series runs 3-5pm at 46 Division Ave. S in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. (Admission $15; tickets available from Eventbrite.)

Chris Bathgate is an American singer-songwriter born in rural Iowa, raised in rural Illinois, and currently residing in Michigan. He began drawing attention as a solo artist in 2005 upon the release of his first album, Silence is for Suckers, after a slew of self-produced EPs / Singles and a stint in the short-lived (but much-loved) group The Descent of the Holy Ghost Church. The Significance of Peaches (2021) is Chris' sixth full-length album.

Portrait of Chris Bathgate outdoors.

Ahead of Sunday’s show, ArtRat asked Chris about the ways his influences, techniques and growing family shape his music.

You started out playing heavy metal in your teens. How did those early learnings inform your writing and performance? 

I think those early learnings carried me more into an open mind and curiosity about chord voicing. Deftones would be a good example of heavier music using interesting voicings. They have some more mellow moments happening too, dissonance, fun open tunings — I could say the same of Joni Mitchell. Bands like Deftones speak to a certain youthful angst, which also holds a lesson about attitude being a consideration in songwriting. 

Which comes first for you: lyrics or music? Or is it a combination?

All of the above. On rare occasions, the song (its core at least) is just suddenly there all at once. Whatever the first spark is, writing further happens in a relational dance. The music and lyrics both limit and inspire each other. 

Chris Bathgate performing on stage.

Your music combines traditional instruments with electronic techniques like e-bow and looping. How do you approach arranging — do you have an idea about instrumentation while writing a song, or do you experiment after it's written? 

Yes, both. In terms of arrangement, I’m a person who writes for and during in-studio recording — that’s the first landing pad for the writing process. I have an idea about studio instrumentation during writing, but intentionally leave space for ideas to be pursued in studio. The studio I’m in (and its benefits and limitations) is often an inseparable part of the process. The idea of a thing and the thing you make are never identical because making it changes it. The place you make it in changes it, too. 

Despite always considering an in-studio version of a song when writing, live performance inspires ongoing arrangement. It also has an impact on arrangements for in studio recordings: It goes backwards. Live performance arrangements have snuck in before a recording, and have been developed alongside the recording process, and certainly change after. My songs might live in multiple worlds: the idea of them, the recording of them, and the live embodiment of them. They are rarely identical in presentation. They’re all different; they’re all the same.

Chris Bathgate playing guitar on stage.

You recently became a dad. (Congratulations!) Has parenthood influenced your artistic perspective (and your work schedule)? 


The schedule, oh my. That’s certainly changed. 

My artistic perspective has certainly been influenced — yes. I have lot of strong feelings about that fact.

I think what I understand now about it is that the influence is in process. I’m not sure if it ever stops, like a flux state that I’m just now getting used to being in. Clumsily, It feels like a story I’m reading that never ends — and occasionally when I look back at the earlier pages they have changed, or how I feel about them has changed, or both.

 It’s so lovely and bizarre to be writing songs with my sons here. It feels notably different. It’s always different having family, people who know you a certain kind of way, in the audience. They’re in the audience, for all of it. My oldest knows and likes “Bruises”. He’s been in studio, in utero. He’s yet to see a live performance (but he will this year), but the fact that they’re here is enough to drastically change how I feel about it.

What do you like about performing in downtown GR? 

I love being in and performing in downtown Grand Rapids. I lived in Grand Rapids for a while, and grew to enjoy what downtown has to offer. As a visitor I’m mostly thrilled to be able stop by Fishlads — their stock is comparatively outstanding. I’ll swing by to snag a branzino and salmon jerky (at the very least) before I head home. It’s certain I’ll be sipping Madcap before the show. 


May 21: Kyle Rasche (Chain of Lakes) and Dan Bracken. Kyle Rasche is a father, husband, and songwriter who has released his seven albums under the moniker Chain of Lakes. Kyle writes what he knows: family, friendship, and the beauty and strife that comes with an unflinching compulsion to sing about his feelings. Joining Kyle for the Americana Sundays series is songwriter and finger-style guitarist Daniel Bracken. Dan plays music informed by his rich history as a recordist and producer for Public Media, and as a performer in the US and Ireland. (Admission $20; tickets available on Eventbrite.) 

June 11: Hearth & Hymn. Celebrate Pride Month with Hearth & Hymn! Hearth & Hymn is a close-harmony, minimalist folk project produced by songwriters, song collectors and multi-instrumentalists Samantha Cooper and Elisabeth Pixley-Fink. Beloved artists in the Michigan folk scene, their masterful harmonies and seamless vocal blend capture a room. Raiding family songbooks and sharing old tunes, Hearth & Hymn reimagines songs that move them through a queer, feminist lens. (Admission $20; tickets available on Eventbrite.) 

July 9: Jes Kramer. A stack of battery-powered keyboards disguised as a woman, woven together by big emotions and standing upright with the help of the nostalgic sounds from childhood. Having played shows for over half of her life, Kramer invites you to share the comfort of this space with her at every show, including you into the process as she builds songs layer by layer in front of the audience.  (Admission $15; tickets available on Eventbrite.)

August 20: The Wild Honey Collective. The Wild Honey Collective formed in the summer of 2020 to perform original songs and traditional American folk music. Singers and songwriters Tommy McCord, Danielle Gyger, Timmy Rodriguez and Dan O’Brien — joined shortly thereafter by pedal steel guitarist Adam Aymor — launched the project in rural Michigan as a back-porch acoustic gathering purely for the love of music in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wild Honey Collective is ever-evolving and encompasses sounds of traditional string band music, rowdy country rock, psychedelia, classic pop and more to preserve and nurture the lineage of Cosmic American Music. (Admission $20; tickets available on Eventbrite.)

Sept. 17: Nic Gareiss. One of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” Nic Gareiss (he/they) is swiftly becoming recognized for his singular voice in the realm of dance, music, and the traditional arts. A child of the folk revival, Gareiss grew up being dragged to folk festivals in the Midwest. At these events Nic learned Appalachian, Irish, English, and Canadian percussive dance surrounded by fiddlers, banjo-players, balladeers, and folksingers. This mix of movement, instrumental melodies, and traditional songs from rural places has become the heart of Nic's creative work.  Informed by 25 years of ethnographic study and performance, Gareiss’ work draws from many percussive dance practices to weave together a technique facilitating his love of improvisation; clog, flatfoot and step dance vocabulary; and musical collaboration. (Admission $20; tickets available on Eventbrite.) 

Oct. 15: Tiyi Schippers. Join author and storyteller Spooky Ms. Tiyi for an evening/afternoon of true ghost stories based on her own encounters with the otherworld sure to rattle your senses and chill you to the bone.Tiyi is an educator, storyteller, author and poet. She grew up in the middle of the 20th century, the third child in a family of 10 kids. Hers was the fourth generation to live in a Victorian home on the northwest side of Chicago. They did not dwell there alone however. The house claimed an array of ghosts and spirits consisting of both her ancestors, as well as those who lived there before her ancestors acquired the home at the end of the 19th century. (Admission $20; tickets available on Eventbrite.)