detroit’s 208 on turning trauma into shit-fi bangers

On the back patio of Outer Limits Lounge near Detroit, Kyle Edmonds and Shelby Say went deep on the trauma that informs their extremely loud music

detroit’s 208 on turning trauma into shit-fi bangers
208’s Shelby Say and Kyle Edmonds, photo by Evan Minsker

Kyle Edmonds and Shelby Say are drinking beers on the back patio behind Outer Limits Lounge in Hamtramck just outside Detroit. The duo record under the name 208, a duo that just put out a four-track lo-fi rager that lays waste to the listeners’ ears. Shelby recognizes my name from one of the new Goodbye Boozy 7” pre-orders, so the duo hand me my copy in person. There’s a stealy sticker with the number 208 inside the skull; my mind instantly starts searching for a place of honor to put this thing.

It’s chilly and dark in Michigan on a Monday night, so the setting should be exactly right. Seeing as it’s karaoke night at Outer Limits, the mood is also fittingly chaotic; the clientele is half local punks and half karaoke people. In order to bring beers out back, I had to dodge two people grinding while their friend sang “Magic Man” by Heart of all things. Kyle and Shelby chuckle when I tell them this. They’re 27 and 28 respectively, not quite shy; maybe “initially mild-mannered but definitely know how to party.” They’re bandmates who, a couple weeks after we spoke, announced their engagement.

Looking at the sleeve of their new 7”, there are dozens of symbols surrounding a portrait of the duo. It turns out at least most of them mean something. The fingertip, for example, represents Kyle accidentally chopping off the end of his finger at work. Even the band’s name, 208, is a numerology reference. “It equals one—the beginning,” Kyle says. “It’s super heady, but I try to think of the beginning whenever I make anything. The base level, completely based on emotion.” It turns out that emotion, and specifically deeply held trauma, is why their music is so wildly loud.

Content warning: There’s a grisly 19th century murder story in this interview.

What attracts you to making punk records that are blown-out and lo-fi?

Kyle Edmonds: The subject matter of the music comes from trauma, so I try to translate that into its sonic qualities. My dad was this very man’s man kind of person, but at a very young age, he got addicted to drugs because he got in a really bad car crash. In the typical intervention style, you get prescribed a ton of drugs, and then you get addicted to drugs, and you can never stop. It turned into a lifelong thing for him. He was still very much a provider for our family, but it slowly turned really dark. He was doing every drug imaginable to the point where he had a stroke. It absolutely destroyed our family.

Shelby Say: Pandora’s box just exploded. 

Kyle Edmonds: Shelby and I have been dating for almost 10 years, and that was right at the beginning of our relationship. We formed the band at the same time, so I was going through a lot and she was going through it with me. I started to try to tell those stories with songs and create characters that are experiencing these things. Technically, they’re all me. 

Given the darkness behind the music, does it suck to read someone like me praising how much fun the records sound?

Kyle Edmonds: No, not necessarily, because in the end, the goal of the music from the start was to inspire people to express their own stuff. Hopefully my extreme trauma and the darkness in the music affects people like how Black Sabbath or something affected me. Like it’s so intensely dark, but it makes you have a visceral reaction to your own life and have a good time even within anger or sadness. 

How did you two meet?

Kyle Edmonds: I grew up around here in the Detroit suburbs, but I moved to Sarasota, Florida in 2009, and that’s where we met—in high school.

Shelby Say: I was born and raised in Florida. We dated a little bit in high school, but then broke up, and then we started dating again after we graduated. After a few years, Kyle mentioned that he’d been entertaining the idea of moving back to Michigan. We both hated Florida, so I was like, yeah, let's go. We tried playing music down there, but…I don’t know.

Kyle Edmonds: There was absolutely no scene. It was weird—there was a Midwest emo scene somehow.

Shelby Say: And metal bands. Other than that, it’s middle-aged dudes playing in rock cover bands and “Margaritaville”-style stuff. We really felt like we didn’t fit in.

Kyle Edmonds: The reaction to the music when we finally found some people that were mutuals was just people standing and staring. When we finally booked this house show and that happened to us? We were like, We need to get the fuck out of here.

Shelby Say: Detroit feels a lot more like home than Florida did, for sure. When we first moved here I was definitely a lot more nervous to get out and meet people, but Kyle just immediately started going out to shows finding out where shit was happening and getting to know people. We made a lot of friends really fast. Once people found out we were in a band and played music, everyone was just open arms.

How do you make your records sound like this?

Kyle Edmonds: I luckily came across a really nice ’60s Twin, which has a really rich almost dark sound to it. You just crank it to a million, and then I found the Fuzz Face, which is just the very typical Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix-style pedal. I turned the fuzz all the way down and turned the volume all the way up, so it's just another stage of extra volume, which, in that amp, I think that it just makes it sound it still is clear but broken up. And then four-track. The whole thing is having a four track, and it really blasts the sound a lot. 

[Andrew Hecker, friend of 208 and local musician who works at Outer Limits, walks up. He’s had a few.]

Andrew Hecker: This is my wind-down day, but we wound up staying later than we thought. What’s going on here?

Kyle Edmonds: We’re doing an interview.

Andrew Hecker: I'm good at chiming in, but I can go fuck off if you guys want. 

Shelby Say: Hecker’s the interviewer now.

I’m not bothered.

Andrew Hecker: Do you watch Lifetime movies? Dude, they're insane.

What was the last Lifetime movie you watched, Hecker?

Andrew Hecker: It was called Garage Sale Hell. [Ed. note: It’s called Deadly Garage Sale.] The guy in the garage sale became obsessed with the lady, of course. That's how those movies go. But they killed him with nothing, like a steak knife. It didn't make any sense.

Do you guys have an album in you after this single?

Kyle Edmonds: I mean, I have a bunch of songs that I'm working on right now and upgrading our recording equipment. But we tried to record this record on a reel-to-reel eight-track, and it was too hi-fi. We did the whole thing. It took us a month and a half to do it. I was just like, This doesn't sound the way it should. And then we just recorded it in a week and a half on a four-track. It sounds exactly the way I want it to sound. So I'm afraid that that's going to happen again.

What’s going on with the grave on the back of the 7” art?

Kyle Edmonds: Shelby got really into looking up her family history and then when she got way too far into it and she couldn't find any more, she went into mine and she found only three great-grandfathers back. This guy, his name is Gorham. Shelby Say: We went searching for his grave because I couldn’t find any online records of where he was buried. I found where his son and some of his other children were buried. But I couldn't find exactly where he was buried. It's only an hour away in Attica, Michigan, where the family lived and everything, so I knew it was out there, so one day we just went out there and tried searching for his grave.

Kyle Edmonds: But the story behind it, why we were searching for the grave, is this really fucked up story where he was a really bad alcoholic and really angry, crazy drunk. He threatened to kill his family all the time, and all the neighbors knew, it was the 1800s, so they're kind of just like, Ah you know, he's crazy. Shelby found this article.

Shelby Say: This was around 1896. He had a few kids from his first wife and a few kids from a second wife. Both wives had died from illnesses, but his three kids from his second wife were really young. They were all less than 10 years old, and they lived with him. He was a farmer, so they lived with him on the farm. Three kids from the first wife were all old enough to be married and moved away with their own children. So, one day, he just snapped. He tried inviting all of his kids from his first marriage over. Like, he tried wrangling all his kids to come visit him.

Kyle Edmonds: And they're like, No, you're crazy.

Shelby Say: So I don't know, he must have just been drinking and just had a psychotic episode one night, and he ended up killing his three children from his second wife that he lived with. With an ax.

Kyle Edmonds: And not only just hacking, but slicing their throats from ear to ear. This is my third great-grandfather. Not only did he kill his family, in the article, it explains that he went to the sink, washed his hands off, loaded a gun, set the house on fire, and shot himself in the heart. So the house is burning, they put out the fire, and they found all the bodies.

What the fuck!

Both: Yeah.

So this grave on the back cover isn’t Gorham’s?

Shelby Say: He is buried in that cemetery, though. I found out exactly where he's buried, and it's at a cemetery we went to, but we couldn't find his grave.

Kyle Edmonds: I was very inspired. I wanted to go there because I heard the story about Joe Meek and how when he was losing his mind, he would go to graveyards and just record the dead air. For our next record, my plan is to do a double album, one part of it is just a full-on regular record. The other is just a noise record that involves the graveyard recording in the background—continue that story. I recorded an hour or something. We just wandered around the graveyard and I recorded the dead air of us walking around.

That had to be wild, finding this story.

Shelby Say: I was blown away. I was just freaking out when I first found out about that.

Kyle Edmonds: It gave me a lot of affirmations, sort of, on mental health problems I may be having or my immediate family from that side of the family might be having. There might be some throughlines. The other part is no one ever told me or my family or any of my cousins. I have 45 cousins on that side of the family. No one knows the story. No one. And it's not even that far back.

I’m going to be thinking of Gorham for a while. It’s a horror movie.

Kyle Edmonds: We should just make it ourselves. We make everything else.