The members of the Detroit rock band known as The Messenger Birds don’t call themselves a rock band. Guitarist Parker Bengry and drummer Chris Williams nonchalantly refer to themselves as “just two guys” (though you’d think they were a four-piece based on their multi-layered sound). As far as their music goes, though, if you refer to their style as garage rock, grunge, or, their favorite genre, “doom blues,” they won’t stop you. All titles aside, with almost 150,000 listeners on Spotify and a performance at Mo Pop scheduled this month, perhaps the best thing to call them right now is simply, popular.
Bengry and Williams have been playing music together since 2006, when the pair met during a pre-high school hockey camp at St. Mary’s Preparatory in Orchard Lake. In addition to a love for skating, the two found they also shared a passion for grunge bands like Nirvana and more lighthearted music like Tenacious D. They started jamming in Williams’ basement, recording on a karaoke machine and listening to their impromptu riffs on the way to practice. Back then, neither of the musicians took their duo seriously, but in 2013, they realized they’d hit on something. “We started experimenting with this low-end, blast-you-in-the-face sound,” Bengry says. “We combined six or seven different genres and just made what we wanted, and we liked it.”
“Tomorrow, there could be another artist just as talented and they might make it or they might not.” —Parker Bengry, guitarist
Over the next few years, the duo honed their craft and fans throughout metro Detroit latched on. They played a variety of bars and art shows and opened for rockers like Hinds and The Fall of Troy. In 2016, the band was invited to play at Mo Pop as a last-minute replacement, but Bengry was in New York City and wouldn’t make it back in time for the performance. Now, three years later, they’re on the lineup for the July 27 and 28 festival beneath familiar names like Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend. “We feel like we’ve earned it since that missed opportunity,” Williams says. “It feels like the right time, right place.”
They’ve certainly earned a larger audience. In 2018, the band released their most popular single “Phantom Limb” — a gruff, loud, and energetic meditation on the crippling effects of anxiety and depression that has more than 2.2 million plays on Spotify. The song has marked a jumping-off point for the duo, but both members have managed to spend long enough in the industry to remain levelheaded about the attention. “It still doesn’t really mean a lot,” Bengry says. “It’s just a step. Everything is just one step after the other.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that they don’t enjoy their growing number of followers. They do. But like any authentic rock band, popularity isn’t the goal. “We’re trying to explore and push what two guys can do on stage,” Bengry says. “We’ve never made music for other people, but I don’t think we would be in this if we didn’t think it could go somewhere.”
After the Messenger Birds play Mo Pop, they hope to expand their reach even further. Amidst the momentum of the festival, they’ll embark on a Midwest and East Coast tour and release their new album Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually — a fitting title for a pair that humbly recognizes the role that chance plays in a musician’s success. “You could be Billie Eilish or Beyoncé or any big artist in the world,” Bengry says. “But tomorrow, there could be another artist just as talented and they might make it, or they might not. You never know what’s going to happen.”
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