Tag Archives: automatic

The many strides of AUTOMatic

By Joey Grihalva

The late 1980s and early 1990s is considered the golden era of hip-hop, when jazz and soul laid a sonic foundation for boom bap beats and clever wordsmiths. In the last decade hip-hop has drawn influence from electronic music, veering into abstract melodic territory.

Of all the Wisconsin artists doing an updated version of golden era hip-hop, no one does it quite as well as AUTOMatic. Made up of emcee A.P.R.I.M.E. (Darius Windom) and producer Trellmatic (Montrell Sallis), AUTOMatic has a new album — Marathon — that cements its status as one of Milwaukee’s finest hip-hop acts.

I sat down with Windom — whose rap alias stands for “Armond’s Phenomenal Rhymes Incite Mind Elevation” — at Vanguard in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood and a week later I went to the Marathon release show at Cactus Club.


If young Windom had found friends who could sing, he may never have started a rap career. He might instead be in a “baby New Edition” R&B group.

“My mom really wanted me to like New Edition,” recalls Windom. “We went to every last New Edition tour that came through town, all the way up to when they came in 2012. I used to sing in the choir, I used to sing all the time. Honestly, I used to have a dope voice.”


Windom’s older sister and cousin exposed him to hip-hop. He remembers being taken to his first rap show in 1988, at the age of 6. The lineup included Public Enemy, Ice-T, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and was headlined by Eric B. & Rakim. Windom can still picture the rapper-producer duo walking out on the Mecca (now the Panther Arena) stage to a laser-light show.

“I really loved the DJs — K LA Boss who was EPMD’s DJ and Public Enemy’s DJ Terminator X. It wasn’t until A Tribe Called Quest that I really started digging it. But when Gang Starr put out ‘DWYCK’ is when I absolutely had to be a part of it,” says Windom.

His reverence for DJ Premier led Windom to model his sound after the Gang Starr producer when he started making his own music. But long before that, Windom found his rap calling. It came one night in his grandmother’s basement while hanging out with his sister and cousin.

“My cousin kicked it off and I went after him. I kind of went blank. I don’t know what I was saying, I couldn’t hear anything. I could only see their faces. Whatever I was saying was creating this astonishment on their faces. Then my sister ran upstairs and told my mom I could rap.”


Following years of writing verse upon verse and rapping for fun, Windom got up the nerve to start making his own music after dropping out of college. He found a producer that was asking $600 per beat. Startled by the price, he opted instead to buy an MPC 2000 drum machine, went half on mixers and mics with a friend, and recorded a demo on the friend’s computer.

In 2003, Windom saw Black Elephant, one of the hottest Milwaukee groups in the early 2000s underground hip-hop scene. He bought their CD and found their manager’s contact information in the liner notes.

The manager — Geraud Blanks, currently a programmer with the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Black Lens program — ended up booking Windom for a show at what is now Riverwest Public House. A new fan asked Windom when he would be releasing an album. He told the fan, “Probably the next show,” thinking it would be months away.

“But it turned out to about two weeks later, so I just went hard. My boy Jonathan Frost had a recording setup at his crib so I linked up with him and wrote and recorded the album in two weeks,” says Windom. The result was 2004 Writer’s Block, his only true solo project.


For a time, there was a venue called bSide in Walker’s Point. In 2004, DJs Kid Cut Up and Why B started No Request Fridays there, which became a gathering place for Milwaukee’s hip-hop community. Windom met Seoul K at bSide and they formed the short lived group Class:Sick.

At bSide Windom also met Milwaukee rapper Dana Coppa, one of the original members of the Rusty Pelicans, the godfathers of Milwaukee hip-hop. Coppa suggested Windom meet Montrell Sallis (Trellmatic), who was making beats similar to his. Windom’s girlfriend at the time also ran into Sallis at a party and felt the two should meet.

“At the time I wasn’t really interested in working with someone that made music similar to me. Why would I do that when I could just do it myself?” Windom wondered at the time.

A.P.R.I.M.E. & Trellmatic
A.P.R.I.M.E. & Trellmatic

After meeting Sallis at bSide one night Windom got over his hesitancy, the two hit it off, and they formed AUTOMatic in 2007. They became a part of the collective House of M, which also included Dana Coppa, Professor Ecks, Haz Solo, and others. During their first performances Windom was a nervous wreck and performed with a mask.

“I have stage fright. Back then it was pretty crippling,” says Windom. “I’m an introvert. I don’t like the spotlight. So I’m kind of a walking contradiction in that way.”

Since teaming up AUTOMatic has released four albums, a mixtape and an EP. Windom has continued to work on solo material and earlier this year he released his first EP under the 3099 alias, which was a collaboration with DJ/producer JDL Rockwell and delves into more electro-R&B-rap territory. Local soul pop singer Lex Allen is featured on two of the songs off the 3099 EP.

“I wrote everything,” says Windom. “I honestly just want to be a writer-producer. If I was put in a situation where AUTOMatic was offered a record deal, but then I was offered a publishing deal to write, I would take the publishing deal.”


While the pool of talented Milwaukee-born emcees has grown over the last decade, it was a short list in the 1990s and 2000s. Atop that list was Todd “Speech” Thomas, who moved to Atlanta for college and formed the progressive hip-hop group Arrested Development in 1988.

A few years back Thomas — a two-time Grammy winner — was listening to 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and heard a song by AUTOMatic. He recognized a lyrical and stylistic kinship and called the radio station. Jordan Lee passed along AUTOMatic’s contact but Windom lost the email. Two years later he took a shot in the dark and reached out to Thomas.

A.P.R.I.M.E. & JC Poppe at Mile of Music's first hip-hop showcase.
A.P.R.I.M.E. & JC Poppe at Mile of Music’s first hip-hop showcase.

“He emailed me back the next morning and was like, ‘Yeah dude, it’s been long enough. It’s been two years!’ I said sorry and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Everything happens in God’s time.’ Then we started emailing each other back and forth.”

“Speech has become like a mentor of sorts,” says Windom. “Anytime that I have feelings of doubt, he lifts me up. Honestly, before [JC] Poppe came back to manage us in December of last year I was ready to be done. I told Speech that and he was like, ‘Nope. I’m not hearing it. You are too good. Don’t quit because you’re frustrated. Quit when you’re wack.’”

Not only has Speech helped to motivate Windom on his artistic journey, he also contributed a verse on the track “Rising Sun” off of AUTOMatic’s 2015 EP ARISING.


One reason there was four-year break between full-length albums is Windom lost trust with a former collaborator.

“My music is everything to me. I don’t have any children, so that’s how deep I feel about this. If you flub something with my music that’s ultimately like dropping my baby,” says Windom.

When Marathon was conceived it was originally meant to be another EP. But during the writing process Windom hit a stride and before he knew it he had 17 songs. Luckily, Windom’s friend and fellow Milwaukee musician Colin Plant (No No Yeah Okay) offered his home studio.

“That was very freeing. It allowed me to sing and do some things I really wanted to do, that I might not have done not if I was in front of people,” says Windom.

Because of their work schedules, Sallis and Windom were barely able to be in the studio at the same time, but sent each other material and feedback for Marathon. The result is their best project yet.

This time around Windom is doing less battle rapping and being open and honest about subjects that some other rappers might not touch. What stands out is Windom’s sharp rhyme and storytelling skills. He even flexes his singing voice on a few of the tracks.

'Marathon' release show at Cactus Club.
‘Marathon’ release show at Cactus Club.

“We’re trying to make good music that anybody can relate to. It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of money or a certain kind of car. I try to relate the human experience above all,” says Windom.

At the recent release show, Windom closed the night with a heartfelt message about the need for unity and love in these times of tense political division, before playing the feel-good single “Talkin’ Bout Love.”

Coincidentally, Marathon was released the same day as the final album from A Tribe Called Quest, their first in 18 years. AUTOMatic paid homage to ATCQ near the end of their set. As Windom rapped and the crowd responded, I could feel the spirit of Phife Dawg — ATCQ member who passed earlier this year — in the building.  




What follows is a transcript of my full-interview with Darius Windom (A.P.R.I.M.E. 3099) at Vanguard in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood a few weeks ago. I enjoyed a delicious buffalo chicken poutine while we talked.

I just read the article you did on Enrique. I thought that was pretty dope.

Cool, cool. Do you know those dudes?

We’re Facebook friends but I don’t know them personally. I like what they’re doing. IshDARR is definitely one of the pieces of hope here.

It seems like the Milwaukee hip-hop scene is better than ever.

Definitely there is a lot more of what seems to be…unity. I graced the scene in 2004. That’s when I put out my first album, but that was more on the Northside. I was an opener for this group that was pretty big then called Black Elephant.

Yeah I remember Black Elephant.

I used to do shows with them all the time. Through them I ended up meeting the Rusty Ps and Def Harmonic and I ended up just kind of coming on what we called “the East Side scene.” I started doing a bunch of shows between there and the South Side. I was in a group called Class:Sick with my friend Seoul K. We were doing that and we did about two projects together and then the same year that we disbanded is when I ended up meeting Trell and we formed AUTOMatic.

Did you grow up on the North Side?

I’m from Brown Deer.

Did you go to Brown Deer High School?

Nah. I went to Hamilton and North Division. I ended up hanging with this one guy that was a friend of my girlfriend at the time. He invited me to this show that was at a spot that’s not there anymore. Black Elephant was on the bill and I ended up buying their CD. I’m one of those people that go through the liner notes. I ended up seeing that they had a manager so at the time I had a little demo. I wasn’t really doing many shows or anything like that.

Were you in high school at this time?

No I was out of high school. I started doing music probably a year or two after I left college. I only went to college for like a year.

What year did you graduate high school?

2000. So this was probably like 2003/2004 that I ended up calling their manager.

Do you remember what that venue was called where you first saw Black Elephant?

Damn, nah I don’t remember.

What part of town?

It was on the North Side. It was on like 76th Street right off Good Hope…

I can picture that part of town, but I don’t know of any venues that were there. Was it a bar?

Yeah it was. They didn’t have a stage. The performance was in this room right next to some pool tables and everybody was gathered around and they had strobe lights. But yeah, so Black Elephant performed and I was like, “Dude, they kinda nice.” So you know, they were selling the CD so I bought it, looked in the liner notes, saw they had a manager, peeped his contact information, and I hit him up and told him I was looking for representation.

He and I ended up meeting up at the Jalisco on North and I gave him my demo and started talking to him about some stuff and he was like, “Well, you know, we’ll see. I got my hands full with Black Elephant so I don’t know, we’ll see.” He ended up hitting me up the next day and was like, “Hey, we got a show at Riverwest Commons…”

Which is now Public House.

Right. So I ended up meeting him there and he introduced me to Black Elephant. One of the co-managers from Black Elephant at the time, when he introduced him to me he was like, “Oh this is the dude that you were talking about?!” And so it’s funny because the way that Geraud is, he’s not the type that will give you props straight up. It’s almost like a backhanded compliment. He’d be like, “Yeah alright, it’s cool. I guess you got potential.” But then when I met the other guy he was like, “Dude said you are dope!” And I’m like, “Really? Because he tried to downplay it.” So that was kind of like the rapport that me and Geraud had. It wasn’t until fairly recently that he actually started straight up giving me props.

What has he been up to lately?

Nothing music related. He’s been working with the film festival. He hasn’t done music stuff in a while.

Oh yeah, I know who he is. Tarik introduced me to him this summer at Chic one night. He heads up the Black Lens program?


Yep. He’s pretty cool. So yeah, me and Trell formed AUTOMatic in 2007.

How’d you meet Trell?

bSide. It was actually something in the making…

What was bSide?

bSide was one of the hottest hip-hop spots. They used to do a Friday night there. Kid Cut Up, Why B, Steve Marks, the No Request cats, they used to have a Fright night. It was on 2nd and Virginia I believe. It was like upstairs from this restaurant. It was set up kind of like loft style. But yeah man, that place was crackin. It was people going through there all the time.

Mid 2000s?

Yeah, yeah. It was pretty live. That’s actually where I met Seoul K and Trell. I used to frequent bSide and they would have performances here and there. I came across Dana Coppa there one night. It was a night I was performing and he liked my beats. I was producing at the time. And he was like, “Dude, I know a guy who makes beats similar to yours and he’s pretty dope.” He kept telling me that he wanted to make the intro but it didn’t happen for a while.

So then this girl that I was seeing at the time, she must have ran into him at a random party or something like that, because she came back and was telling me that I should meet this dude Trellmatic. And I was like, “Yeeeeah, I don’t know about that.” Especially because Dana already told me that he makes beats similar to mine. At that time I wasn’t really interested in working with someone who made music similar to me. Why would I work with someone doing something similar to me when I could just do it myself?

Were you doing more production at the time or more rapping?

It was pretty even. The way that I ended up making beats in the first place was that there was this one guy that I met who had two pretty cool beats, but he was trying to charge like $600 a beat. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” So then I just kind of went online and did some research and told him, “So you expect me to pay thousands of dollars so you can produce an EP for me?”

At that time the MPC 2000 was just like a grand, so I figured I’ll just get the equipment myself. One of my best friends was singing at the time and he kind of wanted to get into it too…

Who was that?

His name is Dino. He doesn’t really sing much anymore, but he ended up buying a computer, I bought the MPC, we went half on some mixers and mics and just got the equipment. I was going over to his house like every single night making three or four beats a night. But I had to make about 50 beats before I got something I was comfortable rapping to. Then I just continued with that pace making several beats a night. It came around to it where it was like I would meet producers and they would give me tips. Then I set aside the ones that I really liked and then before I knew it I had about twenty beats that I really dug and started recording a demo.

After Geraud liked to my demo I ended up doing a few shows with Black Elephant. And there was this one guy who was asking me where my album was and I told him it wasn’t out yet. And he was like, “When’s it coming out?” and I said, “Probably the next show.” Because I was thinking it would be a long time before Geraud called me for a show again.

But it turned out to be two or three weeks later, so I just went hard. My boy Jonathan Frost had a recording setup at the crib so I ended up linking up with him and I wrote an album and recorded the album in two weeks. And it was actually not that bad for the two weeks.

What was the name of that project?

It was called Writer’s Block. It’s like my only true solo project.

What year did come out?

That was 2004. But I do cringe a little bit listening to it. I’ve improved so much since then.

And you did all of the production?

Yeah except for one that was produced by Jonathan Frost.

Let’s take it back a second. Growing up, what did you hear in the house? What were your parents listening to?

Okay so I was born in Milwaukee, raised Brown Deer. I lived with my aunt who is like my second mom. My parents were in the army. I remember Saturday morning was the day to clean up the house so they would play all kinds of stuff, a lot of Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, there was a lot of Frankie Beverly, Isaac Hayes, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder.

How about your aunt? What did she listen to?

My aunt was more into R&B. She liked Freddie Jackson, The Whispers, René and Angela, that type of thing. My aunt was definitely more into modern stuff at the time. I used to do this trick actually, once I started becoming an avid listener of music. Because initially hip-hop wasn’t for me. My mom really wanted me to like New Edition. She chose New Edition to be my group. They were like my Temptations. We went to every last New Edition tour that came through town, all the way up to when they came in 2012.  We went to every single New Edition show, she made sure that.

I used to sing back in the day. Honestly, I used to have a dope voice. I used to sing in the choir, I used to sing all the time. I probably would have been a singer if things had worked out. But I didn’t have any friends that could actually sing, so I couldn’t really set up the baby New Edition. My cousin used to rap and used to be super into hip-hop. He wanted me to love hip-hop. So he used to take me to concerts, stuff that I couldn’t really appreciate at the time.  I remember him bringing home 45’ singles. Eric B. & Rakim were one of his favorite groups. I remember he brought home the “Follow the Leader” single. On the B-side of that single there was the instrumental and the acapella. The acapella still had the hook with the cuts and everything, so that was super dope.

I really loved the DJs. DJs were kind of the way that I ended up liking hip-hop. During that time it was pretty much standard to have cuts. K LA Boss who was EPMD’s DJ, Terminator X was Public Enemy’s DJ. The DJs are the way that I got into it. It wasn’t until A Tribe Called Quest came out that I really started digging it. When I heard “Bonita Applebum” there was just something about it that made me get into it.

But when Gang Starr put out “DWYCK” is when I absolutely had to be a part of it. DJ Premier was it for me. Back when I started making beats that was my goal. I needed to learn how to make beats like DJ Premier. So the first thing I learned was how to chop samples. I would listen to his stuff and chop up a sample exactly like that. That was my whole thing. I didn’t care if someone called me a biter. I was going to make beats that sounded like DJ Premier. There’s a few on Writer’s Block that are indicative of that.

Before you were saying that you had this trick with your aunt…

Oh yeah. She would ask me about certain songs when we were driving in the car and they came on the radio. She’d be like, “Oh who is this?” And I would say, “That’s such and such, and definitely you’ll like the whole album. The whole album is good.” Then she’d buy the album. I don’t even know if she would listen to it, but I would just keep it.

It got to the point where I would suggest so much good music to her that she just ended up blindly trusting me. It would just be like a bunch of stuff that I would sneak in. I would be like, “Oh the New Edition album is out. The new 112 album is out, but also I know you’re going to like this Jay-Z.” That would be my whole thing. She had so much music so I figured she wouldn’t know that the Jay-Z album wasn’t there.

Did you have any siblings growing up?

Yeah I have three sisters. My older sister is a hip-hop head straight up. A lot of the things that she listened to had a great influence on me.

Who were some of her favorites?

She listened to some of everything. She would be into the Geto Boys, N.W.A., and then turn around and flip it and be into Kwamé, Nice & Smooth, Tribe, De La, Souls of Mischief, Del the Funky Homosapien, and a lot of different stuff. My cousin did as well. He introduced me to the super lyricists, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane. He put me up on some of the West Coast artists like DJ Quik, C-Bo, Pac definitely, and Dogg Pound.

You said he was taking you to shows. Are there any shows that stand out in your mind?

I used to fall asleep during the opening acts for like every single show. Even the New Edition joints. I would like fall asleep and then my mom would wake me up. But I remember he took me to this one show, I want to say Public Enemy was there, Ice-T, I feel like Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince were there. I just know that Eric B. & Rakim were headlining and that was awesome. I don’t know how I remember this so much but the way that they came out was to “Eric B. Never Scared,” and they had some kind of laser light show. There was like a laser animation of Eric B. and then he came out and then the same thing for Rakim.

Do you remember where that was?


I think I was like 6. It had to be at the Mecca.

You were six years old?


Damn. Do you remember if Eric B. or Rakim had to leave the show with a medical emergency?


Do you know Mikal Floyd-Pruitt? MC Mikal?


So Mikal’s dad is one of the top Black doctors in the city. There was an Eric B. & Rakim show in town, I don’t know where or what year, but one of them had a medical emergency and was rushed to Mikal’s parents house. Mikal was a little kid so he didn’t go to the show, but he remembers waking up and going downstairs and seeing this famous hip-hop star being treated in his house.

Oh word. That is crazy. Not to my recollection, I don’t think either of them had an emergency.

I’m sure they played Milwaukee a few times.

But yeah I was like 6, so that had to be ‘88. That was like a milestone year for hip-hop.

Blueprint made a whole album about it.

Yep. So it was a lot of that type of stuff. Once I got into hip-hop there was no turning back. But I still wanted to be a DJ. Rapping wasn’t the thing for me at first. I actually started rapping in a real strange way. We were at my grandmother’s house. We would always hang out in my grandmother’s basement. It was my big sister, my cousin, and we basically would just be chilling. He used to always throw on instrumentals and he would start rapping. I used to memorize different rapper’s lines, so I was really into the Death Row stuff, I was really into EPMD, Redman, Gang Starr, stuff like that.

My cousin was like, “I want you to rap with me.” He kicked it off and I went after him. This is where the story gets interesting. I just kind of went blank. I don’t know what I was saying, I couldn’t really hear anything. I could only see their faces. Whatever I was saying was creating this astonishment on their faces. When I was done they were like, “Whoooooa.” Then my sister ran upstairs and told my mom that I could rap.

The feeling of that situation just kind of made me want to continue to do it. So that’s when I actually sat down and started to write raps. I would just write verses upon versus. I didn’t know anything about counting bars. To be frank with you, I don’t count bars now. Whenever I feel like the verse should end, that’s when I end it. Sometimes if a producer gives me a beat with set verses then I just kind of go with that, but a lot of times it’s just me ending it whenever I feel like I’m done saying whatever I want to say.

So in terms of performance, I read that you performed with a mask at one point?

I did. I really have stage fright. Back then it was pretty crippling. I was in a collective called House of M. It was a bunch of us…

Dana Coppa was in that?

Yes. We used to do shows together. The way that it was set up it was like a round-robin type thing. Dana would do a couple solo songs and then we’ll switch to the next group and then AUTOMatic would do a couple, then Haz [Solo] will do a few. But whenever it was AUTOMatic’s turn to do it, oh my goodness, sometimes I would be rapping and I would literally forget a line because I would just be shaking in my boots.

So I’m kind of a walking contradiction in that way. Because I’m an introvert. I really do not like to be made a fuss of. I don’t really like birthday parties. I don’t like the spotlight on me at all. So for me to be utilizing my talent in this manner is kind of crazy. But at the same time my end game is not to be in front of the mic. I honestly just want to be like a writer-producer. If I was put in a situation where AUTOMatic was offered a record deal, but then I was offered a publishing deal to write, I would take the publishing deal. I don’t really like a lot of attention.

I know that you write hooks and other song elements. Like on the 3099 project that came out this year, Lex Allen sings on two tracks. Did you write those?

I wrote everything.

Speaking of 3099, tell me about the short story that inspired that name.

Well, without giving too much away, because I’m planning on tweaking it and utilizing it for the basis for the 3099 album. The story is basically about a guy who breaks up with his girlfriend.  They have tons of mutual friends and everybody knows them as a couple. He tries to go to spots and they’re always asking where she is. And if he says that they’re not together, people just keep asking him about it. He never really got a chance to get over the breakup.  

3099He used to take walks to clear his mind and one time he comes across this campus and they have a flyer up for some kind of government testing that is going on. He volunteers for the testing and 3099 is the subject number that they gave him. I really liked the way that “3099” sounds. It feels real random. I just started adding that to my name. One of my aliases was Prime 3099. When I decided to veer off and do some experimental stuff I figured I would really give 3099 an identity, a personality if you will. I have tons of random aliases and I plan on giving all of them a personality. I’m really like George Clinton in that way.

Speaking of breakups, when your manager wrote me about the new album, which I’m a big fan of by the way, he sent it to me last night…

You listened to it already?

Yeah, I been bumping it all day. But he said a lot happened in between your last album that came out in 2012 and the new album. He said there were some stories behind why it took four years. Breakups, friendships going bad, stuff like that…

We used to record with one of the guys that I was in the [House of] M with. I’d rather not say his name. We used to do stuff together all the time and there was a situation where we were working on Art Imitates Life and there was a song that needed to be mixed. He was our primary engineer at the time. We signed a contract with someone in New York and that person was supposed to be like our liaison with the labels, helping us put out good products. We had this one song that was a banger. My man mixed it, 88Nine wanted to play it, and some other radio stations wanted to play it.

So then we send it to 88Nine and they tell me that the mix sounds rudimentary. I was like, “Wow dude, seriously?” And I sent it to our guy in New York and he said, “Yeah, you need to get this re-mixed. You should let me have one of my guys do it out here. This mix sucks.” And I’m like, “Really?” So I ended up talking to my man about it and was like, “It’s the funniest thing, I was talking to these people about it and they were saying that the mix is wack. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”  

Honestly, I didn’t know what they were talking about, the mix sounded fine to me. So I told him about it and he was just like, “Yeah, it’s not good.” And I was like, “What do you mean it’s not good?” He was like, “It’s not a good mix.” And I was like, “What do you mean, you gave me a bad mix?” And he was like, “Well, I’m just saying it’s not good.” And I was like, “Word.” So that just made me stop trusting him. I’m the type of person that you can talk about my mom or you can take a swing at me and we can still go back to being what it is. But once you start messing with my music…music is everything to me.

My music is everything to me. I don’t have any children, so that’s how deep I feel about this. If you flub something with my music that’s ultimately like dropping my baby. So I really can’t trust him in the same manner. We just kind’ve parted ways creatively. We were still friends, but I couldn’t trust him with my music. So me and our DJ at the time, JDL Rockwell, we ended up pooling our equipment together and recording. He just recently moved away.

JDL moved away?

Yeah. I mean he still comes back into town, but he lives up in Shawano outside of Green Bay. He left right when we were discussing doing a new album, so that left us without a recording home.  We tried to link up with different people to get the album done and it just didn’t link up. Thank God my man Colin Plant has some equipment at the crib and he was like, “Come record with me.” I had some experience recording with my former guy and I ended up just going ahead and recording it myself for the whole project.

That was very freeing. It allowed me to do some of the things that I really wanted to do. Like I said before, I’m pretty introverted, so that gave me an opportunity to do some things like sing a little bit more. Things that I probably wouldn’t have done if I was in front of people. So it kind of worked out in that way.

You mentioned 88Nine. I read that they connected you with Speech from Arrested Development, is that right?

Yeah. They played one of our songs and Speech called in to talk to one of the DJs there. It was Jordan [Lee] and they asked if he knew us or how to get in contact with us. And he was like, “Yeah.”  So he definitely hit up [Jonathan] Poppe. Poppe ended up sending me Speech’s email and somehow I missed it. Two years later we were just talking one night and Speech came up and I was like, “Dude, I thought we were supposed to be doing something with him?”

Poppe reminded me he had sent me his email so I went through my emails and ended up coming across the email. Then I took a shot in the dark and emailed Speech. I was just like, “Hey, I’m from AUTOMatic and I heard you were a fan of our music. I know it’s been awhile but I just wanted to know if that’s still true.” He emailed me the next morning and was like, “Yeah dude, it’s been long enough. It’s been two years!” I said sorry and he said, “Don’t worry about it, everything happens in God’s time.” Then we started emailing each other back and forth.

Basically it was months of doing that and then finally I got up the courage to send him a song that was merely just to listen to and give me feedback on. But he sent me his feedback with a verse. He said he was inspired by the song and if I liked the verse I could use it, but if not, no harm. And definitely it was dope.

That was on the EP right?

Yeah, “Rising Sun” is the song.

Okay. I’m one of the organizers of Arte Para Todos…

Oh word, okay.

…and actually I’m the main one that put together the compilation. That was the track you gave us for the compilation. It was definitely one of my favorite tracks.

Word up. I appreciate that.

I feel like having Speech on there elevated the compilation project.

Speech has been like a mentor of sorts. Anytime that I have feelings of doubt, he lifts me up. I won’t talk to him for weeks and then he’ll hit me up a month after we last talked and be like, “Yo, I was doing this, that and the other, and I was just thinking about this,” and he’ll basically tell me what I need to hear at that time to keep going.

Honestly, before Poppe came back to manage us in December of last year I was ready to be done. I was just thinking I was going to be a regular dude. But yeah I told Speech that and he was like, “Nope. I’m not hearing it. You are too good. And this coming from me. I’m inspired when I hear you rap. Don’t quit because you’re frustrated. Quit when you’re wack.” And he was also like, “You improve immensely every time I hear something from you. Don’t quit.”

At the time when you were thinking about quitting did you have Marathon recorded or in the works?

No. Marathon was exclusively recorded two months ago. Just finished literally two weeks ago. Initially it wasn’t going to be an album at all, it was supposed to be an EP. And we were supposed to do another 3099 EP. But then I was just like, “Wait, I don’t want to do another EP, I want to do a full album.” I wrote enough material for an EP and then I just kept going. I had set a deadline for myself and when I hit it I kept writing. Once I hit my stride of about five or six songs before I knew it I had 17 joints. At that point we had to do an album.

How does the process work with an AUTOMatic album?

We started this project towards the tail end of the 3099 sessions. JDL was playing me a couple beats he had in mind for 3099. So there was this original joint that he had but he flipped it on top of something else. He unfiltered this sample from a song called “The Blessing” by Michael Smith.  It became a song I would listen to all the time. I used to listen to it to clean up the crib, clear my mind, that type of thing. I ended up giving that song to Trell and he chopped it up and I told him the drums I wanted to use for it and he chopped those up and put them in there and ultimately that became the instrumental for “Talking About Love.”  

“Talking About Love” was the first song that  was written for it, followed by “Speak To Me.” I had been performing both of those during my 3099 performances. He would give me beats, I would send him samples, and we would just go back and forth. It was collabing in that sense. But we weren’t really in the studio together much. Just because we had different schedules. I was working third shift. I have like three different jobs, so it was difficult to get in the studio at the same time.

So what’s the plan now? You got the new project finished, you got the release show coming up. Is Poppe moving to Eau Claire? I saw a Facebook status about that…

Yeah he is. Our movement doesn’t stop. Poppe has always been the invisible hand. As long as he has WiFi he can get the job done. He does a lot from there. And it’s always been like that.  When he first started managing us we hadn’t even met. We didn’t meet until two or three months into the relationship. At that time he was living out in Trempealeau. He started managing us near the end of 2009 until the fall of 2012. He left to go back to school shortly after Art Imitates Life, so there was that hiatus for about three years.

Cool. Anything else you wanna add?

The album is dope.

Are you excited for the new Tribe album that was just announced?

I am. I’m not excited for the date though. I wish it would have came out this Friday instead of the same day as our album. We’re always in Tribe’s shadow, so that’s kind of crazy. But as a fan I love it. Other than that, we put our heart and soul into this album and you can probably hear it. I’m doing less battle rapping on it. I’m being open and honest about things, touching on subjects that some other rappers would not touch.

We’re trying to make good music that anybody can relate to. You don’t have to have “racks on racks on racks” to be able to listen to it. Someone told me that’s the reason they love AUTOMatic’s music, because they can listen to it and feel good. Whereas every other rapper is talking about “I got this much money, you broke,” or “I drive this kind of car, you drive that kind of car.” “I’m going to take your girl” type stuff. That’s never the case when it comes to us. It doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of money or a certain kind of car. I’d rather pick topics that anybody can relate to so it doesn’t matter if you have millions or you don’t have two nickels to rub together. I try to relate the human experience above all.

I appreciate it.

Thank you.

AUTOMatic performs at Chill on the Hill in Bay View.
AUTOMatic performs at Chill on the Hill in Bay View.

Wisconsin Sound #8


At the end of September the Oshkosh-born/Milwaukee-based acoustic folk band Dead Horses released their new album Cartoon Moon. The beautiful and thoughtful 10-track project was recorded at Cartoon Moon Studios in Nashville with former Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer. Last month they hit the road on a 10-state, 14-date tour in support of Mandolin Orange. I spoke with lead singer Sarah Vos during the band’s day off in Charleston, South Carolina.

Dead Horses
Dead Horses

We are going to go to the beach and see the ocean today. I haven’t seen the Atlantic for quite some time so I’m pretty excited.

How has the road been?

It’s awesome because we’re playing all these new cities and they’re pretty nice rooms, and really, really receptive crowds. So it’s been a blast.

How was it returning to Nashville where the new album was recorded?

There was a cool coming around with that it being almost exactly a year later. It was really fun. Our producer Ken Coomer came out to the show with his wife and his son and we got to hang out with him backstage. It felt very special. I’m a big fan of Nashville. It’s going to be a main stop for us for touring in the future. We’ve started to make friends down there.

It was a good show?

It was a great show, one of our best in Nashville. We’ve done the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, so that was pretty cool. We got to play at The Station Inn,  which is kind of a historic bluegrass venue.  To do that as part of the festival was really neat. You have all these dreams and goals, as soon as you reach one goal you kind of got your eye on the next one and you never quite make it to the horizon. But I always try to remind the guys in the band that we should be celebrating because we are very blessed.

I read that Cartoon Moon is the record that you really want people to hear. What sets it apart and what makes it so special for you?

I think it’s a patient record. It shows how we have matured through the years. I feel that it’s crafted a lot more, it’s more deliberate than other things we’ve done. That’s something that I want to continue to do as we keep making records. Because you know in the industry they talk about how bands don’t make as much money from records anymore.

But when I look at the way music has affected me and the reasons that I even wanted to be a musician, it was growing up and listening to records. To this day I’m always searching for new things to listen to and I love that. Recording it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love having this very focused project that was collaboration between the members of the band and the producer and the sound engineer.  

Have you been writing new songs while you’ve been on tour or performing any new material?

Dead Horses live at Anodyne Coffee. [PHOTO - DeWook Photography]
Dead Horses live at Anodyne Coffee. [PHOTO – DeWook Photography]
Usually when I write it’s pretty private, at least when I start the songs. But at the Nashville show I was very inspired by all the things that we’ve seen touring and the people we’ve met. Traveling right now across the country during such a crazy time in politics and things that are happening in the country, I’ve been telling the audiences at every show that I think regardless of where you stand, a lot of people feel pretty disheartened by the state of things. But we’ve been meeting such compassionate and wonderful people everywhere. So I’ve been trying to remind people at all the shows that it’s going to be ok. Don’t lose hope because things are going to work out.

But yeah, I always write a lot, I journal a lot, and a lot of times I just write down little snippets of things. Or even just word combinations that strike my fancy. As far as actual songs I’m not sure exactly how the new record that we’re beginning to dream up is going to go, but I just feel very confident that everything that we need is already there. I can’t wait to make another one.

Click here to listen to Dead Horses on WUWM.


In the fall of 2004 I saw Jill Scott in concert at the Chicago Theatre. That performance remains the most emotionally resonant live music experience of my life. The songstress regaled us with poignant stories in between beautiful songs performed with a full band and mini orchestra. My friend and I were brought to tears and compelled to call our loved ones immediately after the show.

'Ode 2 a Luv Affair' artwork
‘Ode 2 a Luv Affair’ artwork

Listening to the latest record by Milwaukee R&B singer B~Free (Britney Farr-Freeman) reminds me of that autumn night in Chicago. Ode 2 A Luv Affair is B-Free’s second studio album. It takes listeners on a journey through the trials and tribulations of love. The recording process was challenging for a couple of reasons. Freeman, who also works as an educator, contracted a throat illness from one of her students that required surgery.

“It was difficult for me to allow myself to be as comfortable in that space as I once was. There were a lot of moments of rawness and vulnerability that I wasn’t quite ready to deal with. For example, when I was recording ‘The Vow’ I was pretty much crying the whole time,” Freeman tells me.

I first saw B~Free at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn last year when she shared a bill with Klassik, who was being backed by Foreign Goods. Freeman is now a member of Foreign Goods, which she credits with allowing her to be more comfortable collaborating and playing in front of larger audiences. Last week she was joined by her bandmates at Turner Hall to see Esperanza Spalding, an experience as affecting for her as the Jill Scott concert was for me in 2004.

B-Free [PHOTO - Mahdi Gransberry]
B-Free [PHOTO – Mahdi Gransberry]
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” says Freeman. “I was so inspired and moved emotionally and musically. It made me sincerely question my own existence. It was so deep without even trying to be. She conveys such a strong message about finding your own path and putting everything that you’ve been taught or forced to believe to the wayside. That’s always something that I’ve been aiming towards in my own life and artistry. I want to be able to wield that same power with whatever I put out into the world.”

The response to Ode 2 A Luv Affair has been positive, albeit a few detailed critiques on the album’s iTunes page. She is in the early stages of developing her next record, but before that she will go into the studio with Foreign Goods to record their first album this winter.

“It’s our goal to have it be a project that highlights everyone’s talents. There will definitely be some rap on there, some jazz, some harmonies, vocals, R&B, just a mixture of everything that we do. So we’re excited and we’re gearing up for the process,” says Freeman.

Tonight you can see B~Free with Foreign Goods for free at Club Garibaldi for a live broadcast of 91.7 WMSE’s Local/Live. Erin Wolf and Cal Roach will talk to B~Free and take audience questions in between a live performance. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the segment runs from 6 to 7 p.m. If you can’t make the show you can tune in at 91.7FM or go online wmse.org.


Unbeknownst to many Wisconsin music fans, Milwaukee has a storied jazz history. The scene has gone through its ups and downs and is currently experiencing a resurgence. One of those reasons was the temporary closing of the Jazz Estate.

Jazz Estate exterior
Jazz Estate exterior

The historic East Side haunt became the focal point of the Milwaukee jazz scene in the 2000s. When it closed its doors last year a few venues began hosting live jazz. After much anticipation and a few delays, the Estate officially reopens tonight.

In November 2015 the Jazz Estate was sold to John Dye, owner and operator of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge since 2008. I spoke with Dye at his acclaimed South Side lounge while they were hosting a Jazz Estate cocktail preview.

“It’s always been one of the places in Milwaukee that I’ve been interested in, but they approached me,” says Dye of his new business venture.

“We’re going to do some really nice versions of classic cocktails from the ‘70s and ‘80s, ones that nobody really touches. They’re good drinks, but they’re just a little uninspired,” says Dye. You might say he’s done the same thing with the Estate.

Opened in 1977, the building fell into disrepair over the years. The Estate’s reopening was originally slated for July, but more renovations were required than anticipated. Given his dedication to preserving history, Dye took his time to do it right. Last week I attended the club’s soft opening and I’m happy to report he’s done just that.

Jazz Estate interior
Jazz Estate interior

As soon as I walked into the Estate there was a “new club smell.” It’s as if Dye’s team polished every inch of the club and then added a few of their own flourishes, like the tin ceiling in the front room and the house drum kit. The vintage looking lights and register give the bar a Bryant’s vibe. The seating and sightlines in the back area are improved as well. And the acoustics are excellent.

The Jazz Estate will feature live music on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with cover ranging from $5 to $12 in the first month. There is no cover for the grand opening Thursday night. DJs and pre-recorded old school soul and jazz will play the other nights at the Estate, which is better than ever.Click here for more information and to view their calendar.


Soul Low at Cactus Club
Soul Low at Cactus Club

In my second feature for WiG I wrote about the young Milwaukee pop rockers of Soul Low. The success of their debut record (Uneasy) and acclaim for their latest effort (Nosebleeds) has put them in an exclusive category of Wisconsin music, alongside only a few other bands. One of those is The Violent Femmes. With lead singer Jake Balistreri’s quivering falsetto so similar to the Femme’s Gordon Gano, it was just a matter of time before the Soul Low boys paid homage to their Milwaukee music ancestors by covering “Blister in the Sun,” the Femmes’ biggest hit. I had heard the song was in Soul Low’s repertoire, but hadn’t experienced it live until last Friday night at Cactus Club. It was Night One of Gloss Records’ Halloween Spooktacular. Soul Low — half of whom were dressed as Power Rangers — closed their set with the rollicking, fine-tuned cover.

161027_vddp_posterPerforming right before Soul Low at Cactus Club  was Rio Turbo, Milwaukee’s premier trash pop dance party. Joey Turbo  dressed in neon orange hunter regalia — and his Turbette dancers debuted three new songs to kick off their set. “No He Can’t” is an instant hit, with a driving beat that my feet couldn’t deny. “Ballad” is a trippy, airy track that made me think of The Flaming Lips, with Turbo sounding a bit like Wayne Coyne. Rio Turbo also debuted their sick new neon sign, which sat on the table in front of DJ SPACE BAR, the latest edition to the Turbo lineup.

Also on Friday I announced the Beyonce + Jay Z vs. Rihanna + Drake dance party at Company Brewing on Saturday, November 26. I’m producing this event with my girlfriend and visual artist Kristina Rolander, which Rio Turbo will be making a special appearance at. The event also includes an all-star lineup of DJs (Bizzon, Annalog, Optimist, Turtle Sooup), host Lex Allen, cocktail specials and an original photo backdrop by Kristina.  Click here for more information and to RSVP.


Artwork by Janice Vogt
Artwork by Janice Vogt

Experimental hip-hop artist WebsterX has released his first song of the year, “Blue Streak.” Since putting out his debut project Desperate Youth in 2013, the most high profile member of the New Age Narcissism collective released some major “loosies” (singles not attached to a larger project) with 2014’s “doomsday (feat. siren),” 2015’s “Lately” and “Kinfolk (feat. Allan Kingdom).” Not to mention, last fall’s excellent 3-track, Radiohead-inspired collaboration with Q the Sun entitled KidX.

Thankfully for fans, the Four Giants produced “Blue Streak” does not continue the “loosie” trend. It is the first single from what will be WebsterX’s debut studio album. Upon the song’s release WebsterX also announced that he agreed to a distribution deal with Chicago-based label Closed Sessions. The outfit was responsible for helping the early career development of Chicago rappers like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. WebsterX will maintain 100% ownership of his masters and will benefit from the label’s influence and reach. Click here to listen to “Blue Streak.”

"Hold Me Down" artwork by Jessica Yimenez
“Hold Me Down” artwork by Jessica Yimenez

Milwaukee bassist, New Age Narcissism member and music scene all-star Bo Triplex released a new single as part of the Nightmare on Center Street II playlist. “Hold Me Down” is from Bo Triplex and His Beautiful Band’s forthcoming EP deux, which has an early February release date. Bo says of the track, “‘Hold Me Down’ is a clash of worlds. Bo has been captured by those he came to defeat and though they taunt him so he refuses to give up. For he knows y’all are holding him down. Special thanks to Beathouse Music Inc. and Yessica Jimenez for the art.” Click here to listen to “Hold Me Down.”

“For the 3rd single from their upcoming full length, Marathon (11.11.16), smooth hip-hop group AUTOMatic brings the classic early 90’s R&B vibes with their certified slow jam, “You Don’t Love Me.” Emcee APRIME explores what it’s like to be caught in the trap of a love/hate relationship – something all of us have been in at least once in our life. Producer Trellmatic’s production is top notch and he adds updated drums to the retro groove. This one is for everybody that grew up with the Quiet Storm radio show playing in the background, late at night.” Click here to listen to “You Don’t Love Me.”


Last WiG issue’s featured artist IshDARR released the first video (“Locals” directed by Damien Blue) from his latest project Broken Hearts & Bankrolls, which has received over 4 million streams in its first 3 weeks. Metal band Hot Coffin spent a late night making a freaky video in The Oriental Theatre for their song “Whistle, Hawk & Spit,” which was directed and edited by Jed Schlegelmilch. Burlington-native Chris Vos’ wildly successful LA-based blues rock band The Record Company released a lighthearted, hula hoop-centric video for their hit “Rita Mae Young.” Also, local chill wave rockers No No Yeah Okay put out an eerie Ryan Bilinski directed video for “Great Scott” from their debut EP Dual.

Robots organize your photos, so you can procrastinate

If you’re like many people, you have thousands of photos on your phone, long forgotten after you’ve posted a few on Instagram or Facebook.

They don’t have to stay forgotten. Apple and Google are both applying a form of artificial intelligence called “machine learning” to organize your pictures and video _ and along the way, help you rediscover last year’s vacation, dinner with close friends and a casual summer outing to the park.

Apple’s tools are part of last month’s iOS 10 system update for iPhones and iPads. The Google Photos app for Apple and Android devices has a digital assistant to automatically organize these memories _ and Google signaled last week that it will only get smarter. And on Wednesday, Google introduced additional features for rediscovery.

Here’s a look at how they take you down memory lane:


Apple’s new Memories feature automatically generates video highlights around a theme, such as a trip or birthday party. Individual photos and snippets from video are chosen for you, as is the music, though you can change it to reflect a different mood.

This isn’t just a slideshow. There’s slow zooming and panning, reminiscent of Ken Burns historical documentaries. Some of the photos also come to life, at least on newer iPhones that automatically take three seconds of video with every photo.

When you’re ready to share, the app creates a standard movie file _ so it works on Windows and Android devices, too.

For me, Apple’s app created a “Florida to Illinois” package for a three-week trip in January and one for a day trip to Philadelphia last November. But Apple goes beyond date and location. Apple created a “Together” package for shots with family over the past two years. It also created an “At The Beach” package with beach photos since 2013. Other scenic themes could include mountains, lakes and sunsets.

Apple offers up to three new Memories a day. You can create more based on photos you add to an album and generate new automated ones by scrolling down to “Related.” You can also add or delete images within Memories _ in my experience, a few included mundane screenshots I had to get rid of.

Nothing will ever replace the human touch. But let’s face it, even though I keep meaning to organize my photos, I never find the time. The machine-generated selections aren’t necessarily ones I’d choose myself, but with a small amount of tweaking, they’re presentable and will tide me over until I get around to catching up manually … someday.



Google Photos has been at this longer and offers more types of packages. With collages, Google combines smaller versions of several shots into one layout . Animations combine a bunch of photos taken in succession so that they resemble as a moving image . Unlike typical “GIF” animation files, Google applies its magic to align successive shots, so buildings and bridges look steady _ without the shake common with handheld video. Google also offers albums and video highlights, though without the Ken Burns effect.

Google’s Assistant generates much of this for you automatically. You can edit auto-generated albums and video highlights, but not collages or animation _ although you can create your own from scratch. (That does defeat the purpose of letting the robots do the work, though.)

Sharing is easy and doesn’t require recipients to have Google Photos.

The results vary in quality. I tend to take several shots of the same subject, just in case some are blurry. Yet I get collages and animations out of those repetitive shots. The albums and video highlights I got are grouped by location and date, though Google says it will be doing more with themes , such as following a kid growing up.

Most of my computer-generated creations are animations and collages. As with Apple, Google’s choices aren’t necessarily ones I’d make, if only I had the time. But some are good enough that I look forward to alerts for new ones to check out.

I also enjoyed a feature called “Rediscover this day.” Google will automatically create collages from shots taken on a day, say, two years ago. On Wednesday, Google said it will apply that to people, too, so you’ll get collages of you with a specific friend or family member.



Apple and Google are both getting better at image recognition. Apple’s version tends to be more conservative. While Apple found four photos in a search for fireworks, Google found dozens. Google also found more photos with hats, though one was actually a strange hairdo and a few were of a headband. Then again, Apple thought an illustration of a hut was a hat.

Google is also bolder with face recognition. Its technology is smart enough to recognize the same child at 2 months and 6 years, while Apple often separates the same child into multiple identities (you can merge them, and things will be fine after that).

Google has an edge over Apple in part because it taps its powerful servers to process photos. Apple leaves all the machine thinking to your device as a privacy measure. But Apple says it also favors being right more than complete to reduce the work people need to do to fix things. Being wrong can also have consequences: Google had to apologize last year after its software got too aggressive and mistakenly labeled two black people as gorillas.



To free up space, both services will automatically clear photos from your phone after uploading them to the internet, once you activate the option. You still have a lower-resolution version on the device and can get the sharper image anytime, as long as you’re online.

Google Photos offers unlimited online storage of photos at up to 16 megapixels and videos at 1080p high definition _ good enough for most people. It will compress larger photos, or you can store the original and have it count toward your Google Drive limit, which starts at 15 gigabytes for free. Apple’s iCloud Photo Library requires paying once you exceed 5 gigabytes, which is enough for a few thousand photos.


On the Web

Apple Memories video from January trip.

Google animation of fountains.

Google collage.

Wisconsin Sound #5


Official MKE Film Fest 2016 poster.
Official MKE Film Fest 2016 poster.

Returning for its 8th installment, the Milwaukee Film Festival is simply one of Wisconsin’s finest cultural institutions. This year 282 films will be screened between September 22 and October 6, plus a number of panels, speakers, guest appearances, post-film conversations, education screenings, and happy hours. In the spirit of this column I’ve compiled a guide for the best of the festival’s music-related films.

I must admit that my adoration for the Film Fest is colored by the fact that I met my girlfriend on the red carpet walking out of the Opening Night party two years ago. As such, the Opening Night party is a can’t miss event. This year Milwaukee’s premier music collective—New Age Narcissism (NAN)will perform at the party on September 22 in the Kenilworth Building.

The next night—September 23—you can catch three videos from NAN members at the Milwaukee Music Video Show (9:45 p.m., Oriental). There will be 16 entries in total, from the likes of Canopies, Busdriver, Group of the Altos, WC Tank, Devil Met Contention, Fox Face, Rio Turbo, and more, plus a video premier from Maritime.

A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story
A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story

The centerpiece of the fest’s music movies is the much beloved Sound Vision program, which features eight films his year. They include subjects such as the blues (I Am The Blues), a legendary writer and producer (Bang! The Bert Berns Story), a soul singer’s triumph over cancer (Miss Sharon Jones!), a viral sensation (Presenting Princess Shaw), PBS’ long-running concert program (A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story), an Afghan girl rapper (Sonita), a notorious Madison alternative recording house (The Smart Studios Story), plus the dance party tradition that is Jonathan Demme’s seminal Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.

Speaking of film fest traditions, the Alloy Orchestra will accompany the classic 1927 sci-fi silent film Metropolis. Alloy Orchestra’s performance will be inspired by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s upcoming “Haunted Screens” exhibit.

Two Trains Runnin’ is not the first documentary about the summer of 1964 to play at the Film Fest. Rather than focus on the Freedom Riders who bused into the segregated south to register voters, Two Trains Runnin’ tells the story of a group of young blues fans who also head into unfriendly territory in search of mysterious blues musicians, with hopes of bringing their music out of obscurity.

The Violin Teacher
The Violin Teacher

An aspiring classical musician blows his audition for the Sao Paulo Orchestra and finds his calling teaching the youth of Brazil’s largest favela in The Violin Teacher. This film is part of one of the fest’s newest programs, Cine Sin Fronteras, which showcases the rich and vibrant Latinx diaspora.

Christopher Darling is a Milwaukee-made dark comedy tracking the escapades of a self-destructive leader of a modestly popular rock band. Local actor John Glowacki takes on one of his most interesting roles in Scott Cary and Martin Kaszubowski’s feature debut.

Afghanistan’s first rock band are scheduled to play with Metallica on a San Francisco-based Iranian radio station in Radio Dreams. Things don’t go as planned in this droll comedy as the staff waits for a jam session that may never happen.

Carmin Tropical
Carmin Tropical

Carmin Tropical is an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery noir centering on a Mexican transgender nightclub singer investigating her best friend’s death.

Closing Night film, Morris from America, centers on an American boy living with his dad in Germany who relies on his love of hip-hop to cope with his outsider status.

Apart from the music-minded films, there are many excellent features and shorts to see. For theater locations and showtimes pick up a Film Fest program or visit their website. The box office is now open and located inside the Oriental Theatre.

Think of the MKE Film Fest as the first part of a double feature, considering the (31st) Milwaukee LGBT Film Fest follows right after from October 12 to the 23. In the next issue of WiG I’ll have a guide for its music-related films and events.  

And though it’s not officially part of the Film Fest, members of the Ruby Yacht label will be performing in the Moon Room at nearby Landmark Lanes on September 22.


During my first visit to our nation’s capital my friend took me to the Bohemian Caverns, a renowned jazz club. We arrived in time for the late set by a trio from Paris. The plates had long been cleared, but the (now-closed) Bohemian Caverns featured dinner as part of their entertainment experience.

miles-davisCompany Brewing in Milwaukee has brought this time-honored tradition to the Riverwest neighborhood. Their Supper Club Jazz series features a free performance and an exclusive menu on Wednesday nights. They also have special editions of Supper Club Jazz every so often on the weekend.

While jazz has been relegated to background music in hotel lobbies and restaurants around the country, Company’s series is reminiscent of jazz’s heyday. The performance is the main attraction, along with an artful meal prepared by head Chef Rosy Rodriguez.  

“We wanted to have live jazz be a part of what we do at Company Brewing, but we wanted to do it the right way,” owner George Bregar tells me.

“We reached out to Jamie Breiwick to pick his brain. He was very helpful in that he knows the jazz scene really well and knows what it needs. Then we brought in Jay Anderson for some extra positive energy. Personally, I like it so much that we schedule our brew nights around it,” adds Bregar.

The first Supper Club Jazz special edition took place in April. It was a tribute to Miles Davis featuring the illustrious Russ Johnson on trumpet, easily one of my favorite concerts of the year.

“The Miles Davis show was the archetype of what the series can be,” says Bregar. “We had a full dining room of people eating, but there was also this jazz show happening that definitely delivered.”

The second special edition performance took place on September 10. It was a tribute to saxophonist Ornette Coleman, an innovator of the free jazz movement of the 1960s. Lenard Simpson played saxophone along with Jamie Breiwick on trumpet, Tim Ibsen on bass, and Devin Drobka on drums.

A Tribute to Ornette Coleman (PHOTO - Mahdi Gransberry)
Lenard Simpson (left) and Jamie Breiwick (right) perform at A Tribute to Ornette Coleman (PHOTO – Mahdi Gransberry)

For the Ornette Coleman show my girlfriend and I made dinner reservations. The entree for the Supper Club menu was lake trout. Since we had gone to Seven Seas on Nagawicka Lake for fish fry the night before, we ordered off Company’s standard dinner menu. The roasted pork shoulder with Puerto Rican rice and plantains was incredible.

Our delicious meal was matched with a fantastic live performance. As the band took the stage host Jay Anderson brought a painting of Coleman and hung it onstage. The painting was done by an Iowa artist named Wayne Deutsch and brought by Kevin Lynch, former jazz writer for the Journal Sentinel. The band, dubbed The Century Quartet, performed Coleman tunes including “Dee Dee,” “The Blessing,” “Broadway Blues,” and an original arrangement by Breiwick dedicated to trumpeter Don Cherry.

img_7259This Friday—September 23—will be the third Supper Club Jazz special edition. Though it is being presented on the day of John Coltrane’s birth, rather than pay tribute to the jazz icon, 88Nine’s Tarik Moody (producer of the Unlooped series) presents “Jazzmatazz 414 – Hip Hop to Bebop,” a tribute to hip-hop classics performed by Milwaukee jazz musicians.

Other upcoming Supper Club Jazz performances at Company Brewing will feature MRS. FUN, Rick Aaron, Caroline Davis (NYC), Eric Jacobson, Neil Davis, Stomata, and Mitch Shiner. Special editions will be led by Cecilio Negron Jr., Reel Feels (NYC), and Andrew Neesly. Plus, Jamie Breiwick’s Lesser Lakes Trio will do two live recordings, the first of which is tonight—September 21.


Two issues back I wrote about the closing of the Hotel Foster (or “HoFo” as it is lovingly referred to). For five years HoFo was one of the best bars and occasional music venues on Milwaukee’s East Side. It hosted many unforgettable performances, especially during the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival.

John Revord’s AM/FM.

John Revord, owner of Boone & Crockett and one of the original owners of HoFo, will reopen 2o28 East North Avenue for one night on September 24. It turns out HoFo’s liquor license doesn’t expire until the end of the month. Revord reached out to his old business partner Doug Williams and they came to an agreement that will bring one night of live music, specialty cocktails, tap beers, DJs, and projected art to the space.

The night is being called “AM/FM.” When I first saw the event I was suspicious about its resemblance to the online magazine “amfm” produced by Milwaukee-native Ciera McKissick, to which I have contributed. I wondered if it might be one of McKissick’s events. When McKissick stumbled upon a Milwaukee Record article about the event she actually thought they were writing about her project.

Ciera McKIssick's amfm magazine logo.
Ciera McKissick’s amfm.

Initially McKissick was perturbed and started a Facebook conversation about it on a friend’s wall. As the feed grew Revord became aware of it and reached out to McKissick. Revord says he felt bad and was unaware of McKissick’s project, which has been based in Chicago for about two years. They talked and decided to work together.

“The event aligns with the things I do, so it was no question to collaborate,” McKissick wrote me in an email. “It actually turned into a dope opportunity. And I have been saying for quite some time that I wanted to do an event back home since it had been so long. I think this was the universe’s way of making that a reality.”

The bar is currently empty, stripped of the decor that defined the Hotel Foster. McKissick will be curating a pop-up art gallery in the downstairs space, with a live painting element on large canvas upstairs. She has reached out to some of her former Milwaukee artist friends including Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, CK Ledesma, and the From Here to Her collective.

The music lineup for the event includes DJs Asher Gray, Why-B, and Slim Brit, with performances by Whips, Rusty Pelicans, and a secret band. Video Villains will project visuals. Revord and Chef Mitch Ciohon’s Gypsy Taco truck will become Weezy Burger for the night and will be parked out front. All told, it will be another eclectic and electric night at 2028 East North Avenue.


All-ages venues are a key component to a healthy music scene. While Milwaukee’s music scene is the most vibrant it has been in decades, a dearth of all-ages venues limits its potential. Much of this is due to our antiquated, restrictive liquor laws, which could be changed. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.)


Last year saw the demise of three important all-ages DIY spaces: the Cocoon Room, Lucky Cat and Borg Ward. However, 2015 also saw the rise of FREESPACE, a monthly (mostly) hip-hop showcase and interview series featuring up-and-coming youth musicians and established artists. It was recently featured on FOX6 and WUWM’s Lake Effect.

FREESPACE is the brainchild of high school English teacher Vincent Gaa and hip-hop artist WebsterX (Sam Ahmed). It provides an opportunity for youth to learn from and interact with professional musicians, as well as their peers. In its first year FREESPACE brought in renowned artists like IshDARR, Wave Chappelle, and Lili K., plus youth artists like Vital E$$ence, Riqo, and LeanBeatz.

The FREESPACE team also includes KaneTheRapper (Darius Briggs) and artist Janice Vogt. I emailed Vogt about what stood out for her from the first year of FREESPACE and what she is looking forward to in year two.

freespace“What amazes me the most about FREESPACE is the community. We’re all a huge team – Kane has referred to it as family, which I like – and we support each other, appreciate each other and hold one another accountable. I never thought FREESPACE would become so tight knit. It’s a blessing!”

“We are looking forward to pushing more limits and breaking more barriers! There is so much to tackle. At the same time, we’ve been taking opportunities and learning lessons as they come, so while we have visions for the coming months, I think we will leave more than enough room for surprises,” wrote Vogt.

FREESPACE returns tonight—September 21—with Von Alexander, Ar Wesley, and Wayward. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. inside the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.


Back in April the second annual Arte Para Todos festival took over four Milwaukee neighborhoods over a four-day weekend, bringing almost 100 music acts and artists to 24 venues. The festival began in 2015 as a way to raise awareness and resources for struggling art and music programs in Milwaukee schools.

As one of the organizers of Arte Para Todos 2016 my primary responsibility was coordinating our in-school performance series—six concerts and Q&As with local musicians just for students. We originally had an in-school lined up at Golda Meir but it fell through. Administration asked if we could reschedule for the beginning of this school year. Assistant Principal Deb Causey even put in an artist request—her former 6th grade math student Vincent Wallace-Haygood, better known as hip-hop producer/rapper Vincent VanGREAT.

Vincent VanGREAT performs at Golda Meir School.
Vincent VanGREAT performs at Golda Meir School.

In my first feature for WiG I wrote about Queen Tut and six of the best Wisconsin hip-hop releases of 2016 so far. VanGREAT’s long-awaited album UnGREATful sits squarely among the six. The SAFS Crew member’s joyful spirit and hunger for success can be heard throughout the 15-track project, which includes well-crafted live instrumentation. For his performance at Golda Meir on September 16 VanGREAT brought his drummer and keyboard player.

Before he addressed the middle and high school students VanGREAT was greeted by his former teacher backstage. It was beautiful to see a teacher embrace her former student and hear VanGREAT share his journey with the students at Golda. They responded with tons of enthusiasm. One aspiring rapper was even invited onstage to freestyle.

“That was awesome. The kids had a lot of energy. Honestly, we never had musicians come to our school and perform for us. I’m very grateful that they had me here and this auditorium is beautiful,” said VanGREAT after the performance.

Vincent VanGREAT and Eric Andre.
Vincent VanGREAT and Eric Andre.

A few days before the Golda Meir in-school performance VanGREAT was invited to appear on Eric Andre Live! Originally tapped to be a guest on the Milwaukee stop of Adult Swim’s wildly subversive and hilarious anti-talk show The Eric Andre Show, VanGREAT had a scheduling conflict and was instead added to their show in Pontiac, Michigan.

“I had a ten minute segment up there with him. He was asking all types of crazy ass questions and doing a bunch of crazy stuff. Then he started crowd surfing and I just used that time to steal the show and get the crowd turned up. It was an epic experience,” said VanGREAT.

VanGREAT will perform at Cactus Club on September 29 as part of their hip-hop showcase series “MKE Live,” and again at Cactus Club on November 11 in support of AUTOMatic’s album release show.



WiG favorite Lex Allen released a new song entitled “Keep It Movin” last week. The track is produced by Q the Sun and engineered by Daniel Holter from Wire & Vice. It has more of a deep, dance club feel than previous soul-pop offerings from Allen. The song was written as Allen was coming out of the depression he fell into following his mother’s passing. Allen says about the song, “The message is to tell people to push through any situation and see the brighter things to come, while shaking their ass happily.” Listen to it here.

Milwaukee hip-hop duo AUTOMatic recently announced they will be putting out their first full-length album in four years. Marathon will be out November 11, with a release show at Cactus Club featuring Vincent VanGREAT, El Shareef, and DJ Optimist. The first single, “Talkin Bout Love,” is out now. The track “identifies the need for more love in this world and takes time to express love for people of all walks of life.” Listen to it here.

Okay, electro-pop luminaries Sylvan Esso are not technically a Wisconsin band. The duo is based in North Carolina. However, producer Nick Sanborn is a Middleton-native who cut his teeth in beloved Milwaukee band Decibully. Not to mention, Sanborn first met singer Amelia Meath when they were sharing a bill at Cactus Club. For those reasons we will continue to hold Sylvan Esso as one of our own. Their incredible debut album remains one of the best records of the last decade. During their live performances last summer they introduced a badass new song entitled “Radio.” A year later a recorded version is out and it is fan-fucking-tastic. Listen below.


September 15 saw the release of two Milwaukee hip-hop music videos. One is for the song “We Like” from local hip-hop legends the Rusty Pelicans, off their recently released album Apartment 7, which is another one of the six best Wisconsin hip-hop projects of the year so far. The video is directed by Kelly Anderson.

The other hip-hop video released on September 15 is the first visual offering from one of Milwaukee’s most intriguing new characters, Dad. The lovable father figure crashes a Civil War reenacted for his Mammyth produced track “17th Century.” The video is directed by Dad and edited by Cellar Dweller.

Underground electronic mastermind Lorn—who relocated from Milwaukee to the woods somewhere outside Eau Claire a few years ago—released a new video for his song “Anvil,” off his 2015 album Vessel. The animated video is set in the year 2100 and fuses Japanese and Belgian comic influences, providing haunting visuals for Lorn’s visceral sound.

The video is directed by Hélène Jeudy and Antoine Caëcke (aka Geriko), with design and animation by Antoine Caëcke and Hélène Jeudy, plus character animation by Anthony Lejeune and Manddy Wyckens.


The pride of Eau Claire, Bon Iver, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on September 14 to perform the song “8 (Circle).” Watch the performance here. The song is off Bon Iver’s forthcoming third album 22, A Million, which was debuted in its entirety last month at the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival

WiG RECOMMENDED EVENTS [click hyperlinks for more info]

SEPT 21: Freespace (all ages) with Von Alexander, Ar Wesley, and Wayward at Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts.

SEPT 21: Supper Club Jazz at Company Brewing with Lesser Lakes Trio (live recording).

SEPT 21: NO/NO + Fire Retarded + The Rashida Joneses at Bremen Cafe.

14352078_10210898853177170_5166804781792231411_oSEPT 22: Milwaukee Film Festival Opening Night party featuring New Age Narcissism and Rio Turbo at the Kenilworth Building.

SEPT 22: Ruby Yacht label night featuring Scallops Hotel, Antilia Raid and s.al in the Moon Room at Landmark Lanes.

SEPT 23: Jazzmatazz 414 – Hip Hop to Bebop featuring Klassik, Mike Regal, Ar Wesley, Olen Franklin, Afton Johnson, Quinten Farr, B-Free, and Jay Anderson at Company Brewing.

SEPT 24: AM/FM pop-up night at former Hotel Foster site with amfm Magazine, Video Villains, Whips, Rusty Pelicans, a secret band, plus DJs Asher Gray, Why-B, Slim Brit.

SEPT 24: WebsterX’s Golden Gala birthday bash at secret all-ages location.

SEPT 24: Tacocat w/ Dude York + The Pukes at Cactus Club.

SEPT 25: CHVRCHES at The Riverside Theater.

SEPT 25: Count Bass D // Q the Sun // Jay Anderson at Bremen Cafe.

SEPT 29: MKE Live ft. Mike Regal, Vincent VanGREAT, 3rd Dimension, Camb Music, Cleo Fox II, Sam Rothstein, DJ Markus X.

SEPT 30: Sat. Nite Duets record release at Villa Terrace with Negative/Positive.

SEPT 30: New Boyz Club EP release at Company Brewing with Hello Death, Fox Face, and Sista Strings. (More on New Boyz Club in my upcoming feature in this issue of WiG.)

SEPT 30: Bremenhain: DEEP DARK DANCE at Bremen Cafe.

OCT 1: B-Free album release at Company Brewing with Abby Jeanne, D’Amato, Kyndal J., Klassik, and DJ Moses.

Oregon Senate passes landmark automatic ‘Motor Voter’ registration

The Oregon State Senate this week passed a bill enhancing the state’s Motor Voter registration system to automatically register every driver in the state who is eligible to vote.

A broad coalition of progressive groups backed the legislation, which already has passed in the House and is on the way to Gov. Kate Brown, who has been an advocate of universal voter registration and championed the bill.

“When you make it convenient to vote, people participate,” said Laura Terrill Patten, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. “We are thrilled about the passage of this bill and the opportunity to get a ballot in the hands of all eligible Oregon voters. While other states are rolling back access to voting rights and women’s health, Oregon continues to lead the way by making voter registration more accessible, more accurate and more secure.”

The state has a goal of registering every person eligible to vote, and could quickly add 300,000 people to its rolls.

On March 5, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, “This legislation is a huge victory for everyone who agrees with the fundamentally American idea that every citizen should have the same opportunity to have their voice heard in our democracy.”

Brune continued, “When hurdles that keep Americans from the polls are in place, it empowers those big polluters and corporations that already have a massively outsized influence on our government. And, all too often, these obstacles disenfranchise low income people and communities of color who are facing the worst assaults on clean air, clean water, and public health launched by those same polluters.”

“This legislation is an important paradigm shift on voter registration,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. She added, “This is a bold new standard that other states should work toward as a model for reform.”

Oregon, Washington state and Colorado hold elections by mail and all registered voters receive ballots before Election Day. 

And, already, Oregon’s voter turnout is among the highest in the country.

Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, said, “Oregon is blazing a trail today toward a stronger democracy for its citizens and the rest of the country. By adding newly licensed drivers and those renewing their licenses to the voter rolls, the state is making it simpler and easier for Oregonians to vote,” Rapoport said. “It’s estimated that this reform could add 300,000 people to the electorate in Oregon alone, cutting in half the number of people there who are eligible to register but haven’t done so. This is a step every state should take, and the sooner the better.”