Gauss is emblematic of Milwaukee’s creative current

 In 2015 my girlfriend and I went to so many local concerts in Milwaukee we created a hashtag to accompany our social media posts: #alloftheshows. It was our year of discovery. We became familiar with the burgeoning Milwaukee sound. We tirelessly supported our favorite artists. We developed friendships that we cherish to this day. But by the end of the year, some aspects of the scene had grown stale.

While I was helping put together a compilation for the Arte Para Todos (APT) festival this year I was sent a single from a band called Gauss. The beautifully brooding track (“Soft Face, Soft Gaze”) immediately grabbed my attention. “Who is this band?” I wondered to myself. And how had I never heard them before?

Eager to see the band live, I volunteered to work the door for their set at Arte Para Todos. Gauss was scheduled to play the Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts with hip-hop acts Von Alexander and Pizzle. It was fitting that the show was held at an all-ages venue, as their audience was barely out of college.

Gauss’ set was more lively and dynamic than I expected. It was another one of those memorable nights that stoked my fire for local music. At the APT after party I got the chance to chat with frontman Eddie Chapman and organist Brandon Miller.

The Gauss guys and I share an appreciation for Wisconsin’s emerging artistic identity, which had drawn them to stay in Milwaukee after high school and college. Such a pull wasn’t present when I turned 18 in the early 2000s, but Gauss is emblematic of the creative current that flows through Milwaukee today.

PUNK ROCK ETHICS

Eddie Chapman was born on the southside of Milwaukee and grew up in Shorewood. A theater kid in high school, he maintains a penchant for showmanship. He remembers loving progressive and classic rock, especially bands like Led Zeppelin and Metallica. Chapman played in a band with high school friends, but they never performed for anyone else.

Andy Grygiel is originally from Montana and moved around the country during high school pursuing competitive ice hockey. His athleticism comes across in his rapid-fire drumming, which he started playing in middle school. Grygiel was in student-faculty bands at Lake Forest Academy. When it was his turn to select cover songs for them to perform he chose “Trailer Trash” by Modest Mouse and “El Scorcho” by Weezer. The Mars Volta was his entry point into “math rock and all of sorts of weird sub genres” characterized by an abrasive sound.

In college at UW-Milwaukee Chapman fell in with the anarchist and communist crowd, who were into punk music. He became part of a network of punk rock houses on the East Side and Riverwest, which is how Chapman met Grygiel and Jimmy Brickner. This community is also how they met current Gauss members Brandon Miller, Eric Ash, and John Larkin.

Chapman at a house show with Gauss.
Chapman at a house show with Gauss.

“I wasn’t initially and am still not super into punk music,” says Chapman. “But those years made me appreciate punk ethics. The spirit of picking up an instrument and just doing it. Nobody cares if you’re bad. It’s about creating a space where you can exist, where you can be who you want to be. Where you can ask questions and challenge things and be loud. That’s found in all music but I first experienced it through punk,” says Chapman.

While active in various punk projects, Chapman and Grygiel started jamming one night in 2012. Grygiel’s roommate, Brickner, popped his head in and asked if he could join. They named the group after German mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss. Their first few recordings mixed their punk sensibilities with Chapman’s prog-rock influences, resulting in a collection of experimental “long, slow songs.”

“Playing punk music was very liberatory and was such a great way to start playing music, but it also became a set of conventions that we needed to push past, which I think was still in the spirit of punk. Questioning things like, ‘Why can’t we have violins and trumpets? Why can’t we play pretty, catchy songs?’” says Chapman.

A BIG APRIL

In the the fall of 2014about a year after Grygiel decided to stay in Milwaukee rather than move out westGauss fell into a creative slump. The thought of quitting the project was on various members’ minds.

“It ended with us starting to record the single that went on the Arte tape and being asked to play on Local/Live with Erin and Cal at WMSE. Suddenly we had deadlines and had to force ourselves to reinvent. Now when those periods come around it’s kind of exciting, because you have to push harder and trust that you’re going to find that creative spark again,” says Chapman.

The momentum of the single and appearance on 91.7 inspired Gauss to stay active, with plans for a new EP. This April they found themselves in a perfect storm of activity. Gauss was mostly playing basements, house shows, Bremen Cafe and Quarters Rock N Roll Palace up to that point. In April they played their first show at Company Brewing, which was originally scheduled for Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, but an incident of transphobia prompted a venue change and added an advocacy and awareness element.

Freespace artwork by Janice Vogt.
Freespace artwork by Janice Vogt.

Less than a week after the Arte Para Todos show Gauss played the Jazz Gallery once again, becoming the first non-hip hop act to perform at Freespace. Though the band had long known one of the organizersVincent Gaathrough the punk scene, they were still nervous. The hope was to play a few originals then provide music for a freestyle cypher. As soon as Chapman mentioned this to the crowd a kid in the front row enthusiastically raised his hand. A spirited ten-minute cypher followed.

“That was probably one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in a musical sense,” says Grygiel.

“It was a really cool energy. It wasn’t a bunch of white dudes, which is what we were used to in the punk scene. It showed that people really need that space. They want a platform to express themselves. It was cool to be able to provide that and let people do their thing,” adds Grygiel.

HOW TO MAKE MUSIC YOUR LIFE

Gauss’ “Soft Face, Soft Charm” single was recorded by Kevin Dixon in his analog basement studio (HumDrum). Chapman knew Dixon and his partner Jenifer Boniger as members of the band Brief Candles. Dixon approached Gauss about recording the single, which led to their partnership producing the excellent new Gauss EP, Thalweg.

“Recording was a very pleasant experience. It was never stressful. We trust Kevin’s ideas and he understands where we’re coming from with our sound. He’s a big supporter of the band,” says Chapman.  

'Thalweg' release show poster. Album art by Zach Lewis.
‘Thalweg’ release show poster.

“It’s cool to see people like Kevin and Jenifer who are at a different point in their life [than us]. They have jobs, they own a house, now they have a kid, but they also play in a band that rocks and goes on tour. So much about music is youth-oriented, but it’s not sustainable if that’s all it’s about. If music is your passion, how are you going to make it your life?” asks Chapman.

Listen to/purchase ‘Thalweg’ by clicking here.

On October 8, Gauss will celebrate the release of ‘Thalweg’ at Club Timbuktu in Milwaukee with Nickel&Rose, Honeymooners, and the Miami Dolphins (MPLS).

In November, Brief Candles and Gauss will go on a weekend tour of Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

FULL INTERVIEW BELOW

(Eddie Chapman and Andy Grygiel stopped by my place in Walker’s Point a couple weeks ago and we had this chat on the balcony.)

WiG
So you guys live together?

EDDIE
Yeah.

WiG
In Riverwest?

ANDY
Just off of Humboldt not far from Colectivo.

WiG
How do you like that?

EDDIE
It’s great, relatively quiet. We live above our friends so it’s a big house.

ANDY
I like it. Have you ever lived over there?

WiG
No.

ANDY
I like the neighborhood a lot. I just like the energy and the dynamic of it. There’s just something about it. It’s a hard thing to articulate.

WiG
I love that neighborhood too. So the last time we spoke was at the Arte Para Todos after party. What stuck out to me about our conversation was this sense that there’s something happening culturally in Milwaukee that is compelling young people to stay in town.

When I was in high school there wasn’t a strong sense of that. Granted, I wasn’t tapped into what was happening on the East Side and in Riverwest, but even my friends who grew up in those neighborhoods and knew the hip spots in Milwaukee, they still wanted to get out. It just feels like there’s more of a pull for young people to stay in Milwaukee. Are both of you from here originally?

EDDIE
I am.

ANDY
I’m not originally. I’m from Montana. Well different parts of the West, but my folks live in Montana. I moved out here in 2009-2010 and went to MSOE. I met different folks through music and activism a couple years later.

WiG
What I’m saying about the pull to stay in Milwaukee can apply to after college as well.

ANDY
Oh totally. I almost bailed in 2013. Not bailed, but I was going to move back out West then I changed my mind because of music and my friends. That whole nucleus of what kept me here eventually kind of changed, but that’s just part of the process. Those kinds of things are fluid and transient processes.

EDDIE
Music is still keeping you here to a degree.

ANDY
Totally. But there’s still something in a different way that I didn’t anticipate that I think is really special about Milwaukee. There’s an opportunity for people who care about art and music and personal expression. Are you from Milwaukee originally?

WiG
Yeah. I took off when I was 18 and went to college in Minneapolis. Lived in Europe for a year, lived in Montreal for about three years, then moved back to Milwaukee almost three years now.

ANDY
I heard Montreal’s pretty cool.

WiG
Montreal is great. But anyways…

EDDIE
I definitely think there’s something going on here with music. The musical surroundings that we were associated with a couple years ago are not the same. We mostly played basements and DIY punk spaces. We didn’t peek our heads up outside of that much. We never paid attention to who was playing at the bars and the clubs when we were doing basements all the time. To us that’s not where there were fun shows. Fun shows were in the basements.

But there’s been a change over the last two years. Now it seems like there’s a lot of cool bands that have come around that aren’t punk, they’re more musician oriented, and I think that’s cool. I miss some things about the punk scene. But I do like that there are a lot of different people involved, they’re not all college kids. That’s how the punk people we knew got into it, through college. And it was mostly white dudes. That’s who played in bands at least. That’s how we met all the people in our band.

There’s a lot more going on now and it’s fun to come to it as an outsider. Because I’ve played music in Milwaukee for 5 or 6 years and to go to these shows and all these people know each other and I don’t know any of them and I think their music is so cool, it’s like re-experiencing the city.

WiG
That reminds me of my experience moving back to the city after being gone for almost a decade. I rediscovered the city as an adult.

EDDIE
For me it was like within my own neighborhood. The last couple of years I had been passing by these bars and clubs and was seeing packed shows. I remember thinking, “When did they start having packed shows?” Then again, I wasn’t following it super closely, but music has definitely kept me in Milwaukee.

WiG
And you’re from Milwaukee you said?

EDDIE
Yeah. I was born on the south side and I grew up in Shorewood. Moved to Riverwest when I was 18 or 19. Went to UWM, graduated, and just went back this semester for library science.

WiG
Going back to school…

EDDIE
Yep.

WiG
I did it too. I would love to just be in school…

EDDIE
I like being in school. But some of my classes are kind of boring.

WiG
Sure, that’s always a downside. But if you can get into a program that you can sink your teeth into, that’s exciting. Then again, if you can get a job that you love, that works too.

EDDIE
I’m getting a job that I love. I’m trying to do both of it. Enjoy the setting, but keep my eye on becoming a librarian.

WiG
What I’m hearing is that you were heavily invested in the all-ages, basement DIY punk scene in the beginning and then in the last two years you’ve sort of peeked your heads up. I remember that not even a week after the Arte Para Todos festival this Spring you guys played one of the higher profile, public all-ages events, which is Freespace. And you were the first rock band to play Freespace. What was that experience like?

EDDIE
It was incredible.

ANDY
It was probably one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in a musical sense.

EDDIE
It was surreal.

ANDY
Going into it we were really nervous. Excuse me, I should just speak for myself. I was really nervous going into playing Freespace. Eddie and I had experienced it together going to Borg Ward. That was like their second or third show they’d ever done, September or October of last year.

We were so used to going to shows where we’d know everybody and it was almost like this weird overwhelming feeling where I know so many people and then it was a complete spin at the Freespace show. I didn’t know almost anyone there, but it was really cool music. It was not a bunch of white dudes and it was this really cool energy that I hadn’t experienced in a really long time.

The DIY stuff eventually burnt out and kind of disseminated and broke up. Because that’s just how it goes, whether it’s the nature of it or not. I don’t know. But so seeing Freespace at Borg Ward and then going to a couple other Freespace shows, and I should say for context, our friend Vince, I used to play music with Vince [Gaa, one of the organizer’s of Freespace]…

EDDIE
We’ve known Vince for a long time. Andy played in a band with Vince and our bassist Jimmy that was called Cheekbone, five years ago before Vince was a teacher, before he was doing anything with hip-hop or Freespace. So we go way back with him and it was cool to be like, so what are you up to now Vince? And he’s got this whole new world.

ANDY
Right.

WiG
He’s in Blonder too?

ANDY
They’re no longer a band.

EDDIE
Yeah. Our bassist Jimmy was also in Blonder.

ANDY
But yeah, it was cool just to be offered the chance. He talked to us and said he’d love to have us play a show. And we said, “Yeah, that would be awesome.” Because it’s like a totally different crowd and environment to play in than we’ve ever experienced. Going into it we were like, “What are we going to play? How should we do this?”

It continues to evolve as it’s developing as a space but it seemed like initially it was very hip-hop driven, though it’s not as simple as that now. But that was my perception of it so going into it we wanted to try to do something where we could throw a song up and have people come up and do a freestyle cypher…

EDDIE
We wanted to give something back.

ANDY
Right. And to provide that space. I was like, “I don’t know if it’s going to be reciprocated.”

EDDIE
And we had contingency plans like, “Okay, if they don’t like this then we’ll play this song after.” But we didn’t need to use those.

WiG
It was mostly a cypher, right?

ANDY
Oh yeah.

EDDIE
We played two songs of our own and then I was like, “So on the next song I’m going to step away and if you wanna take the mic…” and before I had even finished the sentence this kid in the front row was like, “Me, me, me, I’m first!” And he took the mic and it started and it was amazing.

ANDY
To me it showed that people just need that space. They want a platform to do their thing and express themselves. That’s something that I take for granted I think in the position that I’m in and my identity and I have that platform pretty easily, but not everyone has that. So like you said, it was cool to be a part of that space and provide that and let people do their thing.

EDDIE
And there’s something to be said about the boundaries that you think are there, whether it’s music or people’s life experiences, backgrounds, where they live, especially in a place like Milwaukee, but all those things can be broken in a minute with something like that where you all share a musical experience together. It felt really, really good. Everybody felt really good in that room.

WiG
I had some hardcore FOMO when I saw dispatches from it on social media. I’ve been meaning to take Julien (my girlfriend’s 11-year-old) to all Freespace events, we’ve been to a handful of them, but scheduling issues come up. The one you played though was tough to miss.

EDDIE
Yeah there was one tonight and we didn’t make it.

ANDY
That space is just so awesome and I want to try and support it as much as I can, but yeah, sometimes it’s tough, life gets busy. But it’s a space that I still really want to be involved in, at least to just go to and be there. Spaces like that are really special. The idea is maybe not that unusual, but it’s not an easy thing to execute. It’s got a lot of traction and a lot of good things going for it now and I’m really excited to see where it’s going.

EDDIE
To bring it back to your original question about what’s going on in Milwaukee in a general sense, I think we were pretty sheltered in terms of our own musical outlook and where we were playing and what we considered “happening.” But it totally feels like there are more opportunities, more people know about those opportunities, and more people are excited about it than ever before. We’re really excited about it both as onlookers and participants.

WiG
At the same time it seems like a lot of the DIY all-ages spaces have closed.

EDDIE
You can’t get around that. Because you need that to sustain the next generation. That’s why things like Freespace are cool, but Freespace is still pretty limited in its resources. Not every kid who wants to play music can have a chance at Freespace. It’s three acts a month and it’s not built to be that sort of thing. It’s a showcase.

We need a place like the Cocoon Room, somewhere there can be a show every other night with any band. Where it truly doesn’t matter who you are, you could be a bunch of high schoolers and have your friends and your moms or whoever come out. Just to get experience and to get over that first initial hurdle of being like, “We can play a show.”

WiG
Did you all play Cocoon Room when it was active?

ANDY
I don’t think Gauss ever did, but we did with different projects.

EDDIE
And we went there a lot. It was definitely a central part of our lives. Some of our friends helped run it.

ANDY
It was a central location. And talking about Freespace, before that there was the Center Street Free Space, which was a space right next to where Impala Lounge was and now there’s a tattoo shop in that building. But that was also a pretty central space for music…

EDDIE
It was essentially the same thing as Freespace but it was more of an anarchist infoshop. Because it came from the Cream City Collectives. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but that was across the street from the Riverwest Co-Op and was like an anarchist book place, event space. So it was sort of a lineage of DIY all-ages spaces that kind of ended with Cocoon Room. It was a lot of the same people kind of putting it on, you know? And I think after Cocoon Room it just kind of lost momentum.

ANDY
It’s interesting to think about a lot of those space have been functioning on not being a legitimate space, because it’s a lot of work to go through all the permits. To make a legitimate all-ages space takes a significant amount of work, grants, and funding.

EDDIE
It’s stacked against it. And I don’t think there’s any mechanism in the city, in terms of whatever laws or just the opinions of the business owners and politicians, whoever’s in charge, I don’t think it’s well set up to run an all-ages venue.

WiG
And the liquor laws are so restrictive for bars to have all-ages shows.

EDDIE
Right. It’s in nobody’s interest to do it, except for the youth. But they don’t have any power and that’s a real shame.

ANDY
I feel like when I first met all the people that I did, there were like four or five houses that were doing shows. That’s what really sustained that scene. Then outside of that you start meeting other people and finding other places. At this point, not that there’s an entire absence of it, but I’m not aware of it. In terms of underground venues that are happening on a regular basis.

EDDIE
Definitely not like a network of it.

ANDY
Yeah. I’m sure there are shows happening but I’m not aware of a network of basement shows. And for us that allowed a lot of very cool things to happen and some real community development.

WiG
I’m curious in terms of the underground basement shows if that’s something you grow out of as you become of drinking age

EDDIE
Yeah and you get sick of living in a punk house.

ANDY
Right. And you get neighbors who get sick of you. I have no desire to live in a punk house now, but two or three years ago I still was.

WiG
It sounds like you guys have been in other projects?

Gauss
Gauss

EDDIE
Yeah. Gauss has been our longest project but we definitely played in a number of punk bands in that scene playing basements. Gauss has been the longest and the one with the most musical development and the one we’ve pushed the hardest. But with other projects we’ve toured. We never tour with Gauss.

ANDY
Yeah not a whole lot of getting outside of Milwaukee…

EDDIE
That’s part of having six people in a band.

ANDY
For me it’s a project that I’m part of the origin. It started as Eddie and I jamming in 2012 and my roommate Jimmy heard us playing and peaked his head in and asked if he could jam with us. Then it just kind of grew from there.

WiG
I checked out some of the earlier recorded stuff and it seemed looser and more psychedelic…

EDDIE
Long, slow songs.

WiG
But I liked it.

EDDIE
Yeah, it was cool. And that’s what we set out to play; long, slow songs. But we started to get sick out it. On our newest EP we’ve pretty much gone for the opposite and did shorter songs.

WiG
How did you guys start playing music?

ANDY
Growing up I played piano for a year, trumpet for a few years then got sick of that and started playing drums. Played snare in middle school band. Then I got a set and started playing more. Never played in bands or anything like that until I was in college. But I played with orchestra and in a student-faculty band in high school, which is a little weird but I did that for a couple of years. It was an experience.

WiG
What is a student-faculty band?

ANDY
Basically how that works is there’s students and teachers and we do covers. We had a teacher who was the main person who curated a lot of it.

EDDIE
It sounds…great.

ANDY
It was weird. I mean it was fun in the moment, but then I tried to go listen back to that stuff a couple years ago and it was bad.

WiG
What were some of the covers you did?

ANDY
Some of the covers that I chose when I had the seniority to choose were “Trailer Trash” by Modest Mouse and “El Scorcho” by Weezer. I played on The Strokes “Last Night,” and some songs I would never go out of my way to cover. But that stuff is good in that it pushes you in a way you never would. When I got to college that’s when I finally started playing with bands. I feel like Eddie’s experience and a lot of the people I played with were starting before me. I feel like I was delayed playing in bands. What was your experience Eddie?

EDDIE
I played saxophone from 5th grade to 8th grade and I liked it, but I didn’t keep up with it. Quit that in high school and I didn’t know that I loved music then. I knew that it was something that came kind of easily to me and it was a good way to express myself. But you can’t really get too creative when you’re on the saxophone in middle school, not in band. I picked up guitar and played in a band in high school just with my friends in a basement. We never played any shows or anything.

I had a little bit of experience but I think it was really punk music that gave both of us the opportunity to play in a band. The idea was that you don’t really need to invest much into it, but you do. It was important to realize that the bar was a lot lower for playing shows than we thought. It was like, “Just start a band! Come play this show. It’s okay, you don’t have to be good. Nobody’s expecting you to be good.”

Because I didn’t like punk music growing up. I liked classic rock, I liked Led Zeppelin and Metallica. When I got to college a lot of my friends, because I fell in with the anarchists and the communists, they were all like, “Well, we like punk music!” And I was like, “Aren’t you all supposed to be done with punk music by now?” And they’re like, “No! Punk music is the best.” So I was like, “Alright, I guess I’ll try to listen to it. I mean, I like prog-rock, but okay!”

I got more into liking it, but I’m still not super into punk music. What it made me appreciate was punk ethics, the whole spirit of picking up a fucking instrument and just doing it. Nobody cares if you’re bad. You’re going to get better every time you do it. Even more, is that it’s not even really about the music. It’s about the people. It’s about creating a space where you can exist, where you can be who you want to be. Where you can ask questions and challenge things and be loud. That’s found in all music but I first experienced it through punk.

WiG
And what were you listening to in high school Andy?

ANDY
I was into classic rock in early high school. My dad was listening to a lot of grunge and alternative stuff, so I was influenced by that listening to Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, stuff like that. I feel like a big gateway for me was when I started getting into The Mars Volta in late high school then finding programs like Last.FM. It’s a music program that tracks what you’re listening to through your media player and then suggests bands. That was really cool and that was when I started diving into math rock and all these weird genres. Different punk and screamo stuff.

EDDIE
Lots of very abrasive music.

ANDY
Right. Eventually I was looking for the most abrasive stuff, and I still like that stuff, but I feel like now I definitely don’t go out of my way to listen to it anymore. There was two or three years though where I was very into it. I was very into punk and subgenres of punk for a while. Today I try to listen to different stuff and discover new kinds of music.

The thing about music is that it’s so vast and it’s crazy how much stuff is out there. I’m not actively seeking it out as much as I once did because the Internet has changed. Downloading is just harder now and there’s more risk. They make it more tricky to find it. With file sharing, there was like MediaFire and MegaUpload and all those websites, I was constantly just getting .RAR files and .ZIP files. Now you can find it but it takes a lot more work.

EDDIE
Go to the library.

ANDY
Yeah there’s definitely ways to find music but my approach is different. I think it’s more word of mouth now. Where I used to just hunker down and dive into the blogs.

WiG
I could feel that sort of abrasive influence in your drumming last night.

EDDIE
Andy is an athletic drummer. He played two sets last night, back-to-back. Both intense.

ANDY
I think that part has definitely influenced the way I play, but I’m also trying to be more mindful. With any instrument, but drums especially, there’s so much to do with the touch and the way you accentuate things. Gauss has definitely pushed me more than anything else to do that. Cheekbone was more of an emo band, it was either really loud or really quiet. I’m definitely trying to explore more as a musician with Gauss. It’s been an awesome vehicle to explore that.

WiG
With you Eddie, at the end of your set last night at Cactus, I dug the reverb stuff you were doing with your guitar.

EDDIE
That’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing in Gauss, just making a lot of noise. Turning on the distortion really loud and letting it feedback, but kind of like control it. Because I don’t know how to solo. I’ve never been a lead guitarist. I really like playing rhythm guitar, I like playing chords. People think that rhythm guitar is the boring part, that you’re waiting to take a solo. But that’s my soloing, making that noise. It’s fun. You don’t need to know how to play guitar to do that.

ANDY
I like the fact that there’s not really soloing. It’s like anti-soloing. I was trying to describe some of the stuff that you do. Guitar is the prominent thing but it’s not a typical solo, I really appreciate that. Not that solos can’t be cool…

EDDIE
That comes from our punk background. Everybody in Gauss played in punk bands at one point or another. I guess we all kind of have some shared conventions, but we try to push ourselves on that stuff too. Where we’ll be like, “Fuck solos!” or whatever, but then we’re like, “Well, maybe we should think about that another way? Maybe it could be cool.” Like I introduced the band last night and I’ve only done that two or three times and a couple of the band members were like, “Ah, you don’t need to do that dude.”

I think for us playing punk music was very liberatory and was such a great way to start playing music but it also became a set of conventions that we needed to push past and that was carrying the spirit of punk, to question those things. And to be like, “Why can’t we have violins and trumpets? Why can’t we play pretty, catchy songs? And maybe we can have some solos?” But then it starts to be like, “Well, that’s not punk anymore.” But that’s not what matters. What matters is always pushing and always trying to change and that’s what punk is to us.

ANDY
And it’s still always rooted in something that we are, it’s a part of our essence. Whether it’s punk or whatever it is, even whatever we’re trying to go for in a song, some of them have these stupid, vague names. Like this is “The Jazz Song,” even though it’s not really a jazz song at all, but it’s like what we perceive as our interpretation of doing a jazz song. I think it’s cool that we’re trying to push ourselves but we also have our roots and our base that’s still there and you can’t necessarily escape that.

WiG
That speaks to what was going to be my next question about incorporating the strings and trumpet…

EDDIE
That’s come from a couple different factors. Some of it is that we’ve got friends who play those things and they’re great musicians and it’s really fun to play music with them. It also comes from pushing and trying to expand our sound and songwriting. A three-piece can only do so much. Especially because the guitar, bass and drums in the band, we’re the punkest of the group because we’re the ones that know our instruments in the most rudimentary ways. We don’t really know what we’re doing as well, we just kind of feel it out.

But the other three are really good musicians. I can be like, “Play this chord,” or “Play this note,” and we’ll have to ask them what the key is and stuff like that. Two of them went to school for music. Two of them are music teachers. Brandon Miller, the organ player, he just started. Do you know where?

ANDY
It’s a school on the south side. I forgot where. I think it’s off 17th and Morgan. It’s a K-8 school. First year at an MPS school.

EDDIE
Eric Ash just started teaching music in…

ANDY
Greenfield. It’s like a middle or high school.

EDDIE
They’re both first year teachers. They’re good. John Larkin on trumpet, he plays in a bunch of bands. They’re like musicians. So we kind of brought them in to augment our sound.

ANDY
They were people we knew for a while…

EDDIE
And we played with them and they used to play guitars. And we were like, “You’re really good at guitar, but can you play the trumpet?” And that was sort of frustrating at first I think. It’s tricky to incorporate those instruments. But we’ve added them one year at a time.

WiG
Frustrating for who?

Gauss
Gauss (PHOTO by Eric Risser)

EDDIE
For me I guess. Because I’ll come with song ideas and bring them to the band. So it was kind of frustrating trying to incorporate it all in. But that’s why we added more and more people, but now we’re good. We don’t need to add anymore people.

WiG
Feeling good with the six?

EDDIE
Hmmm…I kind of want to add more vocals. But that’s TBA.

WiG
Speaking of vocalists, I know some of you or all of you were a part of the 24-person choir for New Boyz Club’s recording of “The Police State Will Fall” above Company Brewing…

EDDIE
Yes. At least Jimmy and Andy and I and John…

ANDY
And John was there.

WiG
What was that like?

EDDIE
That was fun. I used to sing in a choir in middle school so it was cool. I like singing. I used to sing in church. That was the only thing I liked about going to church. So I hadn’t sang with a group for a long time. It felt really good, it felt like coming home.

ANDY
I didn’t anticipate even doing it. I remember going to practice and John, he plays in New Boyz Club, he mentioned to us that this was happening after and we were invited. I guess I didn’t really understand what was going on but once we got there I recognized some of the people. It was a cool space to be in with a lot of people who are involved in different aspects of music in Milwaukee trying to do this piece. And it was not necessarily easy because we did quite a few takes.

EDDIE
It was a little tricky, especially because we couldn’t all hear. Were you there?

WiG
No I wasn’t but I interviewed Johanna and Katie and they were saying how there were only a few headphones and a couple tempo changes.

EDDIE
Right, so it was a little tricky but it worked and I heard it and it sounds so good.

ANDY
Does it? I haven’t got to hear it yet.

EDDIE
It’s huge! All the reverb in the room was great.

ANDY
It was just fun.

EDDIE
We think all those people are cool. We don’t know all of them, so it was fun to be a part of it.

WiG
And there was free beer too.

ANDY
Yeah, I didn’t drink that much but I just liked being there.

EDDIE
I didn’t hold back.

ANDY
I feel like our bassist Jimmy, to see him in that space…

EDDIE
Yeah I didn’t imagine that.

ANDY
I was surprised he did it and it’s cool to think about how those kinds of situations happen. I was glad to be a part of it.

WiG
Speaking of recording, tell me about the process for the new EP.

EDDIE
We started it about nine months ago. It took a little longer than we thought just because various things came up, but we worked with Kevin Dixon. He’s our friend and does recordings as HumDrum Studios. He’s got a basement studio and it’s mostly analog. We recorded with him and put out a single in the Spring of 2015.

We had known Kevin for a while because he plays in the band Brief Candles and we really like them. So we had been friends for a while and he heard the two songs that ended up being the singles and was like, “Hey, can I record those songs?” We didn’t really have any plans for them so it was a really good mutual interest where we were all just there to do it and it worked really well.

We came back with an EP’s worth this February. It was a little more rushed than those songs were but we got it done. It was actually about the same time frame from start to finish as his baby, Ingrid. She was born a few days ago just as the album finished. It was getting a little scary that it wasn’t all going to get done by the time the baby came.

WiG
In terms of the masters?

Album artwork by Zach Lewis.
Album artwork by Zach Lewis.

EDDIE
Yeah. And it was like, “Oh wow, can you do this? Do you have time for this?” But it all worked out perfect. So I think we’re going to dedicate the album to her because it was all happening at exactly the same time. He doesn’t record people a lot, but he’s been doing it a long time. It was very relaxed in his basement. He’s played in bands since the ‘90s so he has a lot of experience with it. I think he understands where we’re coming from with our sound.

ANDY
As I’ve gotten to know him over the years I just really appreciate and admire who he is as a person because he’s been married for a while, now he has a kid, he works, but still makes music a priority in his life and has a big heart for it. He’s someone, I don’t know if “childish” is the right word, but he has this childish approach to music. He’s just so excited and passionate about it.

EDDIE
Him and his partner Jen both play in Brief Candles and it’s cool to see people who are at a different point in their life, who are not in their 20s or whatever and don’t know what they’re doing with their life. They’re on a path, they have jobs, they own a house, and now they have a kid, but they also play in a band that rocks and they go on tour.

Because there’s so many examples of the opposite of that where it’s like, “Well, I was really stoked about that once, but you know, I don’t do that now.” And whether it’s music or whatever, I’m always really inspired when I see people who can stay excited and passionate about things throughout their whole life. I think that’s super important because so much about music is youth-oriented and that’s cool, but it’s not sustainable if that’s all it’s about. If it’s your passion and it’s what you love, how are you going to make it your life?

ANDY
They are definitely people who are true to their roots. It’ll be interesting to see how it transforms now with the kid…

EDDIE
Well, we’re going on tour with them in November. Just a weekend, Chicago and Kalamazoo. But it’s still a little tour.

ANDY
They’ll figure it out.

WiG
Bring that baby on tour.

EDDIE
But yeah, recording was a very pleasant experience. It was never stressful. It was fun to be there and that’s a good thing. Because I feel like for a lot of people it can be a stressful thing, especially if you don’t really know the people recording you.

ANDY
I just trust him a lot and his input.

EDDIE
That’s a big part of it. We’re not over his shoulder or anything. We trust his ideas. That’s a huge thing for recording and working with people in general. It makes it much easier.

ANDY
Or just like saying, “What do you think about this?” And he’ll be honest about it. That’s something I don’t take for granted because other times I’ve recorded with people I don’t know as well, I would ask them what they thought and they’d be like, “I don’t know.”

EDDIE
Or “That’s not my job.”

ANDY
“I’m just here to record you. I guess it sounds fine. I don’t know what you’re going for.” But with Kevin a lot of times he was the voice of reason or just reassured us that we were going in the right direction.

EDDIE
He’s a big supporter of the band.

WiG
It’s really good. I’ve listened to it a few times since you sent it to me and I’m excited for the release show.

EDDIE
We are too. Other releases we’ve done we had like a basement show and had a couple of tapes. But this time we’re trying to push it a little harder and make it more of an event. We have a bigger reach now from poking our heads up from the basement. I think more people know about us now and support us.

And it’s still all of our friends from the basement times who come out and see us. And so I think our shows are a way to bring all those people together. We’re trying to make it a big party at Club Timbuktu, that’s a great venue that I don’t think really gets enough attention in Milwaukee. I think the sound is great there and they’re very community-oriented.

WiG
The single that you were mentioning before that we put on the Arte compilation, that was one of my favorite things on that tape. With 2015 being sort of my discovery year of Milwaukee music…

EDDIE
Us too. And we were living here.

WiG
…I just discovered so many bands in 2015 and went to so many shows and things eventually got to be a little stale at the beginning of this year, but then when I discovered you guys that was really exciting for me.

Gauss at Company Brewing.
Gauss at Company Brewing.

EDDIE
That’s really cool. The month of April was very big for us. We mostly played Bremen,  Quarters, and basements up to that point. And just in that month we had three back-to-back shows. We played with Ruth B8r Ginsburg at Company. It was a show that was going to be at Linneman’s, but there was this incident of transphobia. We were the next show booked there and so I reached out to Johanna even though I didn’t know her or anyone in that band yet.

It turned into this event where we had all these speakers come and poets and it was originally not going to be like that. So that was really cool. And then we played Arte.  And then we played Freespace. So it was these three shows in a row that were totally different crowds than we were used to playing and it felt so good and we were meeting new people each time and to us that was our introduction to the music scene that emerged in 2015.  

Because I saw it happen and I felt like there was something going on and I didn’t know how to be a part of it but I need to do it. And it put me in a funk creatively. Because I know it wasn’t about punk music anymore, that wasn’t doing it for me.  I needed to push and I got kind of depressed and was making this weird music on my computer.  I got sick of the guitar for a while. But I came back to it and it’s all good. Now I feel like we’ve got a little place in that scene. It’s a good time to play music in Milwaukee.

WiG
I think with a band like New Boyz Club there’s definitely a shared sensibility with Gauss. And I know Johanna I came to that band from the perspective of being tired of playing folk, she had been wanting to play something with a punk edge, something she could play in a basement show.

EDDIE
Yeah, they’re like a folk band playing punk music, sort of. And we’re a punk band getting away from that a little bit. But it’s not about where you’re coming from and where you’re going, it’s the movement…

ANDY
The process itself.

EDDIE
Right. And that what we can connect over. That’s what makes me excited about it, when they are pushing themselves to do new things. It’s something I would like to see a little bit more in the Milwaukee scene. Everybody does this who is in a band, but you  have a set that you play, you play it again and again and again. Especially if you have a lot of shows back-to-back. You run out of time to write new music. But I would like to see people put themselves out there more. And I think New Boyz Club does that. I can’t really categorize their music.

WiG
I see what you’re saying with maybe not reinventing your set each time but trying to make it a little more dynamic…

Eddie Chapman in a high school theater production.
Eddie Chapman in a high school theater production.

EDDIE
And we are trying to. Even knowing that new people are going to see you and they’re not going to know that you didn’t play the same set the last time, half the people won’t even notice, but still being like, “No, it’s my duty,” or “Why am I doing this if I’m not doing that?” Cuz then it’s like you just play music so you can play shows and be on stage. I did theater in high school so I like being on a stage, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the craft.

ANDY
I felt that way a little bit this summer. There was the article in Milwaukee Record about the festival circuit being oversaturated by the same bands. Obviously those people all keep very active in different projects so when you have all these festivals going on it can be hard to take time. Summer is probably a very difficult time to sit down and be intentional about your music writing. I feel like it’s a great time to just play a lot of shows, so why not? But I can totally understand where you’re coming from.

That’s something that I think we’ve always pushed for ever since we started. Not that we’ve always been dissatisfied but we’ve  always wanted to do something different…

EDDIE
And that’s pushed us into a funk sometimes.

ANDY
Oh yeah.

EDDIE
Yeah we’ll have a number of weeks of feeling like practice is just no fun and get frustrated. And those times have brought us close to stopping. Never really seriously wanting to end it, but I’m sure we all thought about it at one point or another.

ANDY
It was like a month or two where we didn’t really play together. Jimmy and I were jamming but we didn’t really play together as a band  because it was kind of a creative plateau.

WiG
Was that this year?

EDDIE
No…

ANDY
I remember it well because it was literally the winter after I chose not to move away.  I was like, “Oh I’m going to stay here and it’s going to be great,” and then the winter was just like…

EDDIE
(Makes a fart noise.)

ANDY
It was one of our biggest lows. The spring of 2014 we were just in a slump.

EDDIE
It ended with us starting to record the single with Kevin that was on the Arte tape and also being asked to play on Local/Live with Erin and Cal at WMSE. So suddenly it was like, “We got deadlines. Let’s get on this.” And then we had to force ourselves to reinvent.

Now when those periods come around it’s kind of exciting. We’re not in one right now because we’re working, we got shit coming up, but now when we get in the creative slump I know we need to push harder. And we trust that we’re going to find that creative spark again. But it’s almost kind of fun because it’s like where is it going to be found next?

WiG
I enjoy that part of the creative process too…

EDDIE
But it takes a long time to get comfortable enough to appreciate the slumps, because they’re frustrating…

ANDY
I can notice that now because this is the longest project I’ve been a part of. I think everyone has expectations and the way you communicate those things at practice sometimes, we feel like we’re not doing a good job of communicating it, and I feel like I’m just getting frustrated, it’s interesting looking at the way that we communicate now versus early on when we were a punk band and we didn’t really know what we are doing.

EDDIE
And it didn’t really matter.

ANDY
Now it just seems a lot more intentional. Sometimes that can create conflict,  and sometimes that’s okay. But you have to embrace that. You’re not going to agree on everything and you have to have a discourse about it. As a musician I think that’s really important. I mean it’s important in life in general, but especially for music.

WiG
One of the things that came to mind just now when you were talking about seeing the same band do the same set and things getting stale and wanting bands to put more care into each set, is that two things can change to make it more dynamic: the band’s set or the venue. And I know you guys are involved with this river series, so tell me a little bit about that.

EDDIE
It’s actually less formal than that. Both of us will book a couple shows a year, just from being in punk bands you become part of a circuit, though I don’t see it so much anymore. In the punk scene it doesn’t matter if you’re good yet or if anyone knows who you are, you just get a van, drive to the next town and set up a show because it’s fun.

So we’ve made friends over the years who want to come play Milwaukee. And some don’t want to play a bar, and it’s gotten harder and harder to book a show that’s not at a bar. One of my favorite things about Riverwest is the river. And if you go down to the west side of the river you’re in the wilderness. Nobody’s stopping you, you can do whatever you want, for good or bad.

I’ve been to punk acoustic shows down there and it’s just a great environment. I had to book a band last summer. I had a friend who’s got a generator so I figured I’d just haul that down there. And it went really well. It was super cool. Apollo Vermouth played, my friend Neil did some noise stuff. It was cool to hear electronic noise in the forest because anyone passing by would be like “Whaaat?” It doesn’t necessarily sound like a guitar, it’s more like screeches.

That was a big hit because everybody wants to go down to the river and it’s a cool environment because nobody is going to leave. You don’t have to worry about the order of the bands or do that, “Please stick around!” You’re already down there, you’re not going anywhere. I did it twice this year, the first time was really good, there was a lot of people there for a two-piece queer punk band from Olympia called Ugly Lovers and we had some people do poetry and spoken word. KJ [Prodigy] did some spoken word.

I did it again for this band Shahman from Toronto, who have put out our tapes. They run a tape label called Art of the Uncarved Block. They put out our single and they’re going to be distributing our new EP as well. But that night we got rained out. It was the only night it rained for like two weeks, so we moved it under the bridge. And not only was it a really great spot acoustically to hear a band, but they play pretty meditative music that lulls you into a trance, and the coolest thing was that right at the end of their set it started pouring. It was just trickling at first and everybody was kind of like, “Is it raining?”And everyone looked up and started smiling and then it started pouring and all the drains from the bridge created these waterfalls. And it happened during the last song. It was a special moment and everybody felt it. It was pretty cool and then the cops came. But we were packing up and they were not being assholes. They could’ve been, but we were doing what they wanted us to do.

WiG
That sounds like it was a nice little turn of fate.

EDDIE
Yeah, it was cool! It made it really special. I’d like to keep doing it. It was sort of born out of necessity, which is how punk music always is. I wish it could just be down there because you wanted it to be down there, not because there’s nowhere else to do it. But it’s something I definitely want to keep doing.

I’d like to get another show in before it gets too cold. You don’t even need a generator. You can just go down there with some acoustic guitars or whatever. It doesn’t even need to be a show, just have a campfire. It’s awesome down there. And I had people messaging me saying, “Hey, I heard you’re doing a generator show. Can I do that?” And I was like, “It’s not my river.” You know? Like they wanted my permission or something. So I was like, “Yeah, go for it!”

WiG
I’d definitely like to see more shows at different, weird, nontraditional venues.

EDDIE
Yeah…rivers, basements, living rooms, block parties. There’s something about not having it be at a bar I think is really important.

ANDY
Somewhere non-traditional, like somewhere you wouldn’t expect. I was trying to push that for the release, but I think Club Timbuktu is a great place to do it.

EDDIE
We were thinking about doing it at the Jazz Gallery though.

ANDY
Yeah that was definitely a thought.

EDDIE
But it’s a Saturday night, people want to stay out late. People want to drink.

ANDY
Yeah, I don’t know…

EDDIE
But that’s what it becomes about, the drinking. And that’s why it’s important to have alternatives because it can become toxic.

ANDY
Not to go off on a tangent but I think what got me inspired to do a house venue, because I used to do a house venue on the East Side when I was in college, is that I got inspired by a venue in Chicago called Strange Light. No drinking, no drugs, nothing. It was very punctual, things just ran really well. And I thought that was cool and legit.

EDDIE
It was totally about the music.

ANDY
It was just about the music. It wasn’t like, “Oh, it’s a party.” Lots of people came because cool bands were playing and people cared about the music. That’s the intent with shows, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Nothing against if it’s a party, that’s not necessarily a bad thing…

EDDIE
No it’s fun. And that’s something I like about the Riverwest music scene now is that it’s like a party, people dress up, it feels very social, especially from a relative outsiders perspective who just wants to see the music. But I like that people dress up. All the punk shows everyone is like, “Why aren’t you wearing all black and Vans?” Where’s your uniform? And it’s like, “That’s what punk is? Okay…”

ANDY
Yeah I feel weird at a punk show if I’m not wearing all black.

EDDIE
And I like to dress up a little bit when I’m on stage. I’ve been pushing the other members to have a little flair. Yeah you know, I think that’s cool.

WiG
It’s a fine line, you know, with the strict non-drinking all-ages stuff. I’ve been to the Eaux Claires music festival two years in a row, and I’ve only been to like two other big festivals, but Eaux Claires is all about the music. Very few people spend a bunch of time in line waiting for a beer, you hardly see anyone wasted, and that is really refreshing. But at the same time you don’t want to make it non-drinking because they generate so much revenue from alcohol sales.

ANDY
Right.

EDDIE
I’ve only ever gone to Summerfest.

WiG
Which is like the complete opposite. I was talking to Mark Waldoch about this for my Eaux Claires write-up. I mean he’s obviously a little biased because he’s part of the Justin Vernon camp and he’s the guitar tech for Volcano Choir. But he was like, “It’s so crazy that you have these two music festivals happening in the same state that are so diametrically opposed in terms of one being almost all about the music and the other being almost all about the party.”

ANDY
But there’s definitely things that I feel like bridge those. To me Arte Para Todos did a really good job, like they had different venues. We got to play an all-ages show at the Jazz Gallery that was really fun and we got to play with two hip-hop acts that we normally don’t get to do. So that was cool.

And they also had shows that were at clubs but people still went because of the music, but also the party. There was a lot going on with it, but I thought that was a cool bridge of having it be about the music but also having the other cause of being arts in schools, because everything is being cut from schools, especially art and other things that are not core subjects. So that part was cool too. But then obviously there was a few shows and venues that people came out not necessarily for the music but because it looked like fun.

EDDIE
It seemed like there was a lot of people there who read about it in the newspaper who didn’t know most of the bands, and that’s pretty cool too.

ANDY
Every show that at least I went to seemed well attended. Just like being in Bay View on Friday and going to a few different venues.

EDDIE
But how about the noon show that Caley played?

ANDY
Yeah okay, there was not a lot of people there.

EDDIE
The morning after all the late night shows in Bay View.

WiG
You’re talking about the shows on MLK?

ANDY
Yeah. What was that place called?

WiG
Lux Bar.

EDDIE
There were people there and it was a good show.

WiG
A pretty good crowd turned out for the Fattys and the Rashida Joneses and Christopher Porterfield.

EDDIE
It was cool. I’m hoping to do it again.

WiG
I think we’re definitely going to do it again. Johanna is going to be in Europe for a while, but last year Josh was in South America. For me the most exciting thing was the in-school performance series.

EDDIE
Yeah!

WiG
I would love to get you guys in next year.

EDDIE
We would love to too.

ANDY
Oh yeah. I teach at a school on the north west side and I’ve already expressed interest in doing something like that. Especially with things like Freespace, which is tied to youth. I just want to bring in people that the kids will be inspired by. I’m inspired by that and I just want other people to be able to see what’s going on in the city. That’s what Freespace is really about to me.

There is so much going on in this city that doesn’t get recognized and we just don’t get a chance to see because the platform isn’t there. But bring it to a school. Bring it right there and make it happen. That’s a big goal of mine, to make that happen in some form or another.

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