No Filter: Grand Rapids band Lokella challenges genre limitations on new EP Censory Overload

In the social media age, where more content reaches more eyes and ears than ever before, true creativity all too often gets lost in the algorithm.

Defiantly standing up for themselves — and countless independent artists like them — the members of Grand Rapids band Lokella approached their latest EP dead-set on dismantling the distraction that censorship creates in our lives, both online and off, in hopes of making a real connection.

“We’re tied to the media, especially in the age of the Internet that we’ve become heavily immersed in,” Lokella vocalist Jennifer Bartlett told Revue. “Every day, people are fighting to be heard. In this country, we may be lucky to have freedom of speech, but that doesn’t protect us from the consequences of the weight of our words. It’s interesting that the words and images we choose to express ourselves are still controlled by someone else.”

Entitled Censory Overload, the band’s third EP (due out May 17) takes a bold step forward both lyrically and stylistically. The five-song set plays with the concept of genre, incorporating everything from blues tropes to Latin sounds and even some Broadway elements, as the band expands the box of what rock music can be.

Starting back in 2015, following the dissolution of Bartlett’s previous band (the post-hardcore powerhouse Fine Fine Titans), Lokella started as a simple two-person songwriting project, with Bartlett working alongside her husband, bassist Evan Bartlett. 

A year went by without much happening creatively until guitarist Chris Bursley joined in, along with former Fine Fine Titans drummer Nate Jean. The lineup set the stage for the band’s debut, 2016’s The Worst Of EP, which brought the band back out onto the scene.

“We began writing with Chris and Nate and what we created was gratifying,” Bartlett said. 

But the lineup only lasted so long.

“When Nate respectively stepped down to focus on his career, we were happy for him but (were) definitely bummed; worried that we would lose not only the momentum but also that bit of magic we felt we had,” Bartlett said.

Thankfully, the band teamed up with drummer Josh Poel, whom they also had worked with in the past, and soon realized it was a great fit musically and personally.

Writing for Censory Overload began in early 2018, organically developing out of the band’s new lineup. Together, they wrote eight songs in hopes of creating a full-length, but instead decided to release the double-sided single, Set To Flame, earlier this year ahead of the EP’s release.

“Personally, I tried not to have any expectations, as I have a tendency to cling to visions and ideas,” Bartlett said. “I just wanted everyone to explore our dynamic and feel it out in whichever way felt the best for them. In turn, the music was honest.”

The new EP’s release party on May 17 at The Pyramid Scheme will mark the beginning of Lokella’s 2019 tour, which will take the band around the Midwest and into the South.

“We’re definitely coming out of hibernation here,” Bartlett said. “If we had a team of management, publicists or a label, perhaps our workload would lighten to allow us to perform more, but that’s just not our reality and actually, probably not ideal either. We’re happy to be in control of our direction, our sound and outcome, even if that doesn’t ever bring commercial success. 

“So now, as we rear our heads from under the blanket of Michigan winter, we’ve got to get our sea legs back. Though we won’t be on the road for long, it definitely takes a toll on your body and so getting back to the gym and maintaining our regular rehearsal schedule is vital.”

In advance of the EP’s release, Lokella has also reteamed with another past collaborator, Three Goats Moving Pictures, who shot a captivating new video for the lead single Wicked. The band has worked extensively with Three Goats and filmmaker Andy Westra going back to its Fine Fine Titans days, and that reciprocal relationship has created a dark but distinct visual accompaniment to the band’s music.

“As a kid, I preferred watching music videos more than anything else, leaving MTV and VH1 on constant rotation whenever I had the chance to control the television,” Bartlett said. “When music television started shifting into something different and YouTube became a reality, I was ecstatic at the idea of creating and being a part of my own music videos … something I thought an impossible dream as a child.”

Three Goats has another visual in the works for the EP set for release later this year, while Lokella will follow its current tour with another short run in the late summer or fall. 

“We’re not totally sure yet what the rest of the year or 2020 will look like, but we’re riding this wave to see where it takes us, whether it’s to the shore, or to another body of water entirely,” Barlett said. 


Censory Overload Release Party
Wsg. Hail Your Highness, The Autumnatic, Head
The Pyramid Scheme,
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
May 17, 7:30 p.m., $10