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Grammy-winning U-M grad pens "love letter" to Ann Arbor

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Friday, February 15, 2019

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Martin Kierszenbaum was raised in East Lansing, where his father worked for Michigan State University.

But after graduating high school the veteran music songwriter, producer and executive traded his green-and-white for maize-and-blue, and he's just released "My Ann Arbor," an ode to his time spent at the University of Michigan.

"Ann Arbor was a very formative place for me," Kierszenbaum, 51, says by phone from his Cherrytree Music Company offices, where runs a record label, handles music publishing and represents artists such as Sting and Shaggy. He also co-wrote seven songs on that duo's Grammy Award winning 2018 album and he's also written and produced for Lady Gaga, Madonna, Robyn and more.

"Ann Arbor represented a lot to me -- not only a rich history with Iggy (Pop) and the MC5, who were heroes of mine, but still a pretty vibrant music scene. And the proximity to Detroit was important as well. This is hard to imagine but it was before the Internet and you had to be places in order to know what was going on and be part of it. I got to do all that from Ann Arbor and received a lot of support and encouragement there.

"That's why I always remember it fondly."

During his time there Kierszenbaum was part of a funk band, Custom Blend, and under the moniker MK Chilly Dog., formed a rap duo called Maroon that got national attention with singles such as "I Ain't Runnin' For Pope" and "Let The Music Take You Higher," as well as its lone album "The Funky Record," which Kierszenbaum re-released last year to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

That coming-of-age is channeled into "My Ann Arbor," an upbeat and melodic track that hews towards pop and New Ave, as Kierszenbaum name-checks South Main and Liberty Street and salutes the town as a place "where truth and memories collide."

"I just wanted to write a love letter to Ann Arbor," says Kierszenbaum, who recorded the song with members of the Last Bandoleros and has released it via all digital services. "A memory and a place and a time is what it's about, which is a universal feeling. I think everyone has an Ann Arbor in their life. It's the momentum I go there that led me here."

Recording the songs, meanwhile, Kierszenbaum "definitely infused it with my Michigan influence, sonically, the power of pop-rock, maybe of the era I was there. That urgent kind of rocky nature reminds me of my time there."

Kierszenbaum certainly has plenty on his plate at Cherrytree, including the Last Bandoleros and singer Alexander Stewart from Toronto, with a new Shaggy album coming May 10. And he says that being "surrounded by talented, and nice, people" may be firing his own muse these days.

"I wish I could be more forensic about what inspires me, 'cause then I could recreate things," Kierszenbaum says with a laugh. "I spend a lot of my time helping other musicians, which is an honor. I really love serving like that. Feeling like I help someone like Sting, who is an icon, is such a great feeling.

"But every once in awhile a song will surge out of me -- sometimes at an inopportune time because I'm busy. But I've learned to compartmentalize and make even a little time to catch it. I never want to say no to inspiration, and fortunately I'm around people who understand that -- plus I'm always up earlier than they are, so I can carve out some time to do it."

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