Tag Archives: freedom

Never Mind the Patriarchy, Here’s New Boyz Club

The day Johanna Rose and Katie Lyne met outside of Bremen Cafe they began singing together — even before learning each other’s name.  Shortly thereafter they went on an adventure, biking to an abandoned building in the rain with a bottle of whiskey and ending up at a gay bar, singing all the while. Their friendship blossomed and it wasn’t long before Rose and Lyne were developing the songs Rose had written.

“We’d just be playing and our friends would come over and be like, ‘Can I sit in?’,” says Lyne of New Boyz Club’s genesis.

“I wanted New Boyz Club to be like a punkier Arcade Fire. We just turned everything up as loud as we could for our first shows, because we had no idea what we were doing,” says Rose.

New Boyz Club received press coverage even before their debut. The band quickly gained traction. “There was an appreciation for the songs I did with the Janes and then to have all us folk kids playing super loud instruments was a thrill in itself,” says Rose.

“I’ll never forget what you said when I asked you how we should describe ourselves,” says singer/keyboardist Katie Lyne to her “musical soulmate” and fellow New Boyz Club singer/upright bassist Johanna Rose.

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Katie Lyne and Johanna Rose (PHOTO – Amanda Mills)

“You told me, ‘Just say we’re a nudge at the patriarchy.’ And in the beginning that’s what we were. We had to be gentle. Now it’s a ‘Fuck you!’ to the patriarchy. Middle fingers up,” adds Lyne.

“We were sick of being called ‘cute,’ which is what happens to girls in the folk scene. When I started writing my own songs I knew I wanted to rebel against my folk roots and play really loud music,” says Rose.

I sat down with Rose and Lyne over drinks on the Company Brewing patio on the eve of their first official release, G l O r Y g L o R y, the initial “Trilogy of Trilogies” and one of the most highly anticipated Milwaukee music projects in recent memory.  

BASEMENTS AND CHURCH CHOIRS

Johanna Rose was a classically-trained, punk-rock inclined child. Her parents house was part of a “bizarre Shorewood basement scene” that saw the likes of Juiceboxxx and Doom Buggy (members of Dogs in Ecstasy).

Rose’s ancestors are Jews from Ukraine who joined the Communist worker’s struggle upon arriving in the United States. Subsequent generations took up the civil rights cause. Her parents instilled a strong sense of social justice in both Rose, her sisters and their brother Will.

Johanna and Will were influenced by two uncles who started playing in ‘80s bands and touring at the age of 15. In high school Will was drumming in punk bands and began a hip-hop project while in college in Madison. When Will moved back to Milwaukee his sister accompanied him on bass. It was her first taste of playing loud.

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Airo Kwil

Rose first gained recognition in Milwaukee playing with indie-folk group the Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band and Will’s hip-hop project Airo Kwil. In November 2014 she was asked to play a solo show based on songs she had written and recorded herself and put online. Rose showed up with an 8-piece genre-defying band called New Boyz Club, who have quickly become one of the most electrifying forces in Wisconsin music.

Katie Lyne grew up in Green Bay, but her appreciation for music comes from her French-Canadian family in Montreal. She learned how to play piano from a “really angry Polish woman.” Before performing in dive bars and clubs around Milwaukee the young Lyne was singing in front of thousands in church choirs. A lapsed Catholic school girl, Lyne studied jazz and opera vocal performance in college, which is when she met Rose.

TEMPO CHANGE

New Boyz Club’s music is characterized by multiple tempo and genre changes. For example, the first song on G l O r Y g L o R y, “The Police State,” goes from a choral piece to a blues walk to a punk jam. It is anthemic, cathartic music well-suited for shouting at the heavens. For Rose, there is someone in particular she is singing to; her late father — David William Rose.

David Rose.
William David Rose

“The project might have ended completely after my father passed in May 2015. But I found it so ironic that our next show was in support of Hello Death’s album release. So I said ‘Fuck it,’ and we carried on,” says Rose.

“First thing I did was go nuts and not sleep for a week. I was skateboarding around and spray painting messages to my father on surfaces that were open to the sky. I think the only way me and Will could have gotten through that was by spending shit tons of time playing music together. That’s all we did. We just jammed it out. We just played music, constantly. And we’re still going,” says Rose.

Five months after the patriarch of the Rose family passed, Lyne and Marcus Doucette were blessed with a baby boy, Django, who Rose calls her “new best friend.”

“Pre-pregnancy performing was really emotion oriented and I almost left my body during those shows,” says Lyne.

Katie Lyne and Django

“During my pregnancy I was so focused inwards because I was creating a life. I remember feeling this beautiful cycle of energy flowing out through the audience and then back in. After having a baby, I don’t have the same energy that I did when I was partying and going crazy. There’s a balance of inward and outward energy that I can give to the audience.”

Like the ups and downs in their music, the New Boyz Club family has gone through major life changes throughout their two years as a band and as friends. Guitarist Joshua Backes was recently married and Rose and violinist Ernest Brusabardis IV played the wedding. Lyne, Brusabardis and Backes played Rose’s father’s funeral.

The first time I saw New Boyz Club was at the Jazz Estate in June 2015. Rose wrote a song for her father that was only performed at that show. After their set Rose folded up the paper and tossed it inside her bass, where it is to this day.

THE CHARM

When I arrived at Company Brewing for our interview the first thing Rose and I discussed was how both of us were in a negative head space.

“That’s perfect. The New Boyz Club trilogies are not about being in a good head space. Cheers!” says Rose as we clink our glasses.

In fact, when she first wrote the songs that would become New Boyz Club’s material Rose was bedridden for two months. In the winter of 2013 she tore her ACL and got a blood clot from the surgery. Later while performing onstage her leg began internally bleeding and she was forced to start her recovery process over again. With a piano at her bedside she created some of the songs that will finally see the light of day in a form that she is proud of.

G l O r Y g L o R y is the result of a tedious recording process marked by Rose’s neuroses. It is actually the third attempt at recording her songs. The second attempt was nearly finished, but Rose scrapped it because she wasn’t satisfied with the energy. This time around she enlisted the help of Ian Olvera and Liam O’Brien.

“The Police State” was recorded above Company Brewing with a 24-person choir that included members of Gauss, Foreign Goods, Ladders, Zed Kenzo, D’Amato,Wavy V, and Sista Strings, conducted by Lyne with Django strapped to the front of her body. “Taxes” was written in the midst of a manic episode. In trying to capture that spirit Rose recorded her vocals drunk and naked.

Rose has a visual art background and has created lyric zines for her songs. She is working on a large booklet that will be available at the G l O r Y g L o R y release on September 30 at Company Brewing.

“There’s a storyline that will build across all three trilogies. It’s talking about how systematic oppression plays out in interpersonal relationships. The trilogies will touch on racism in America, economic struggle in America, but at the end of the day I can only really speak as a woman in America,” says Rose.

“And it’s not just being called ‘cute’ at folk shows. I’m talking about being pushed around or facing domestic abuse or rape. The kinds of things that women face on a daily basis that are not commonly addressed because people don’t feel comfortable talking about them. This music is talking about that. And the intimate details of it will have to be up to the listener,” adds Rose.

“I remember being afraid to tell people I was in this band,” says Lyne. “Because it’s kind of radical.”

“Now we do whatever we want happily,” says Rose.

A version of this story appeared in the September 22, 2016, print edition of the Wisconsin Gazette.

New Boyz Club will play the G l O r Y g L o R y release show on September 30 at Company Brewing with Hello Death, Fox Face, and Sista Strings.

Watch below for a taste of their live performance, courtesy of Hear Here Presents.

Below is my full-interview with Johanna and Katie.

(When I sat down on the Company Brewing patio a couple weeks ago to talk with Johanna the first thing we discussed was how both of us were in a negative head space at that moment. I had a dark beer and she had a whiskey on the rocks.)

JOHANNA

That’s perfect. The New Boyz Club trilogies are not about being in a good head space. Cheers!

(We clink glasses.)

WiG

Granted I’ve only been back in Milwaukee for about three years now. But as far as New Boyz Club goes, there’s not another band that I’ve seen out as much, that has impressed me as much, and that still hasn’t put out a proper project. It feels like it’s been quite the incubation period.

JOHANNA

Right now in Milwaukee it seems like every weekend someone’s having a release show. Oh! (Johanna looks at her phone.) Katie Lyne’s on her way! She’s hard to get ahold of right now because she lost her phone in Ecuador. And I was recording earlier so I forgot that there was a world outside.

But shit, it took a lot of work just to do those three songs. I wanted to do them right. And that was the third time I attempted to record them. Technically, we started as a band in November 2014.

WiG

How did you all get together? I mean you and your brother Will have obviously been playing music forever…

JOHANNA

We were playing together in a band called Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band. Will was drumming in that. It was a collaborative project between Lizzy Altman, Krystal Kuehl, myself, Allison Darbo, Ernest Brusabardis IV, and William.

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Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band

Me, Krystal and Lizzie were the songwriters. It was very folk and I love that project. I still play with Krystal in Thistledown [Thunders]. But the Janes went on hiatus for a little while. Lizzy went to New York, Krystal went to Central or South America. And then Myles Coyne asked me to play a solo show because I had these songs that I had put up on SoundCloud that were too rock-y or weird to play with the Janes. They weren’t Janes songs really.

WiG

Were you playing upright bass with them?

JOHANNA

Yeah. I felt like I was always playing folk music. As I started writing more myself, which didn’t really happen until 2013, but I knew that I kind of wanted to rebel against my folk roots and play really loud music. New Boyz Club was my version of a punk band, that’s what it is. I was asked to play solo and I showed up with an 8-piece band, that’s basically what happened.

WiG

Where was that?

JOHANNA

At Public House. November 2014. I guess it’s been two years, just about. It was really fun. The lineup for that first show had Jack Tell on banjo. Ernie played violin and Josh played acoustic and electric guitar. Palmer was on electric guitar too. Katie Lynn was on piano and Will was playing really hard drums and that was a big thing, that Will was getting to rock out.

WiG

Is he doing his rap project by that point? I know Airo Kwil had a different name before…

JOHANNA

Airythmatic. But that was more when he was living in Madison. When I started playing upright in Airo Kwil that kind of led the way to New Boyz Club in that it showed me I could play the bass loud. It was part of the exploration of playing bass in different genres. And I have to be really, really loud to play with Airo Kwil.

WiG

So that was your first step outside of the folk trajectory?

JOHANNA

Right. And I realized how loud I could get the upright and that was killer. Then we kind of stepped back and said, “Okay, we got this together for this one show but who wants to make this a project? Who wants to commit to practicing and developing these songs?”

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Aytan Luck (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

We broke it down to a cast of Aytan [on trumpet], because I also knew I wanted strings and horns. Ernie was really busy with school so he stepped out for a minute but eventually he ended up in New Boyz Club. Aytan, Palmer, Josh, me, Katie and Will. I had string aspects by being on the bass and having the horns but then we kind of grew with a small horn section adding Jay and the small string section with me and Ernie.

Originally I intended to stick more to the basement scene. I feel like the emergence of folk, hip-hop, punk and rock, like how we have such eclectic bills now, that hadn’t quite happened yet. So I would go to punk shows and I really wanted to have a band that I could play with at those shows.

WiG

So you were going to punk basement shows?

JOHANNA

Yeah and I feel like that has dwindled down a little bit. There was this band Brat Sounds, they were part of the first FemFest, which was really punky. That was one of our first few shows too actually.

JOHANNA

You said this is going to be out like next week sometime? The flyer is almost done.

WiG

Did you make it?

JOHANNA

No my friend Alyssa did the flyer but it’s my concept. (Shows me the in-progress flyer on her phone.) Those are police officers parachuting on sunflowers.

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Poster by Alyssa Wiener

WiG

It’ll be next week Thursday in print.

JOHANNA

Cool. I’m really excited. With all the other art that I’m doing I needed help. And she’s an old high school friend so we know each other from advanced art class at Shorewood.

WiG

What other art projects are you working on?

(She picks up one of the song zines I asked her to bring.)  

JOHANNA

These are the original versions of the zines, but I’m working on a big, thicker one for the release. I haven’t printed it yet so I can’t show it to you. I’m probably not going to  give it to anyone before the release show. “What if I?” is on this trilogy and “I Don’t Believe in God” will be on the next one.

WiG

Did you make one for “We All Go to Heaven on a Sinking Ship”?

JOHANNA

I did. But I couldn’t find a copy of it today.

WiG

I remember looking through it the first time I saw you at the Jazz Estate.

JOHANNA

Oh yeah! That was a great summer.

WiG

So the first FemFest was 2015?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

New Boyz Club on 88Nine's "414 Live"
New Boyz Club on 88Nine’s “414 Live”

WiG

First FemFest and first Arte [Para Todos]. Kristina heard you on 88Nine doing a 414 Live before I saw you live.

JOHANNA

Yeah we did that really quick after we started playing as a band.

WiG

But most of you had notoriety from being in other projects.

JOHANNA

Yeah I mean Milwaukee Record ran an article about our first show. Something like, “Johanna Rose let’s New Boyz Club out of the room or closet,” or something like that.

WiG

So there was a bit of anticipation?

JOHANNA

I think that there was an appreciation for the songs that I did for the Janes and then to have all of us folk kids playing these super loud instruments was a thrill in itself.  Now we’ve toned it down a little bit. I think we just turned everything up as loud as we could for our first shows, because we had no idea what we were doing.

WiG

But that’s the vibe you get at a New Boyz Club show. It’s anthemic. It’s music you scream at the heavens.

JOHANNA

That’s nice. It’s a passion project to the T. Recording it was a headache though.

WiG

To try and reign it all in and make it sound just right?

JOHANNA

Yeah and I was just a mess the whole time.

WiG

Where you were in your life or dealing with the process?

JOHANNA

John Larkin and Ernest Brusabardis IV (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
John Larkin and Ernest Brusabardis IV (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

Dealing with the process mostly. Like I said, it was the third time I attempted to record these songs. The second time I had a lot of it done but I didn’t like the energy so I started all over. I’m very neurotic. Recording is hard. So I got a team and the third time was the charm. Besides thinking about trying to record it myself, which would have been even worse, I got Ian Olvera and Liam O’Brien and they worked together to record it. We worked out of Ian Olvera’s studio. The ladybug studios, that’s what I call it.

WiG

Oh yeah on Water Street.

JOHANNA

And we also recorded at lots of different places all over.

(Katie Lyne shows up.)

JOHANNA

Oh my God, you’re home! (Turns to me.) I haven’t seen her yet.

(Johanna gets up and gives Katie a big hug.)

KATIE

So my wallet was taken in a mosh pit. It was called Fiesta de Guapulo and there were these fireworks. It looked like Burning Man. There was this huge wooden structure spitting fireworks. Literally you had to duck and cover. People were running around in a circle around this huge fireworks structure and someone just jacked it.

JOHANNA

That sounds worth it.

KATIE

It was worth it. It was dope.

WiG

I’d like to take it back for a second. I’m curious about what you were listening to in high school and what you were getting up to while in high school here in Milwaukee.

JOHANNA

I’m actually going to do an ode to one of my favorite high school bands at the [release] show, but that’s a surprise. I played classical music and Will was always drumming in punk bands and we had shows in my parents basement. There was kind of a bizarre Shorewood basement scene were like Juicebox played in my parents basement. And Doom Buggy. A couple of the members of that band, if not all, are now in Dogs in Ecstasy. So I was connected and exposed to that music scene and I hung around here a lot when I was a teenager. Because there was a great basement scene here. I don’t know what kids do these days.

KATIE

Go to The Rave and take Molly.

JOHANNA

I guess.

WiG

I grew up in the city but I wasn’t like a hip East Side-Riverwest kid. I was just going to The Rave to see hip-hop shows pretty much.

JOHANNA

I was doing that too. I went to like five Atmosphere concerts in a period of like two years or something like that.

KATIE

Same here. And then I had a Phish period.

JOHANNA

I skipped that.

WiG

Alpine Valley?

KATIE

Yeah and then I went on tour, like five shows in a row. It was so stupid. I was in love. It was my first.

JOHANNA

Naturally. But yeah I loved At the Drive-In and Fugazi and that kind of stuff. And then I loved Atmosphere and the whole slew of Minneapolis rappers.

WiG

Did you go to that Turner Hall show during the God Loves Ugly tour?

JOHANNA

Oh yes. That was amazing!

KATIE

I was there too.

WiG

Really? You would have been a baby. Because I’m like six years older than you and I was about 15. This was 2002.

KATIE

Oh no. I guess I went to a different one at Turner Hall.

JOHANNA

I went to that one and there were still holes in the ceiling, weren’t there?

WiG

Oh yeah. It was wild. That was my first time in Turner Hall.  

Will Rose (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
Will Rose (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

WiG

Was Will with you?

JOHANNA

No he was too young. He’s two years younger. He was at home, probably playing video games.

WiG

So Katie, I’m interested to hear about your musical background. How’d you get on the keys?

KATIE

It started when I was really young.  My whole family on my mom’s side, my French Canadian side, they are almost all musicians in Montreal. my godmother and my aunt are music teachers at McGill. My grandmother is a classical music lover. So my mom introduced me to piano first.

I was five and I started taking lessons with this really angry polish woman name Dorota Zak. She straddled a fine line between being really aggressive and being really encouraging. She saw that I had talent. I kind of hated it and I loved it at the same time. So piano first, then I started singing in the church choir. Like hardcore, because I went to Catholic school. there was a phase in my life when I was going to church every day. I was super into God.

WiG

Your family was all about that too?

KATIE

No, just my school. It was brainwashing basically.

WiG

What school?

KATIE

I’m from Green Bay, so it was Notre Dame Academy. It was very strange. And then I had one teacher who was like, “You need to question your faith. Is this really what you think?”

WiG

This was at Catholic school?

KATIE

Yeah. He was like the hippie world religions teacher who taught Buddhism and Hinduism and Native religions. And I became pretty close with him and he was like, “You should explore other things.” And then I stopped singing in church choir because I was like, “Fuck it. I’m an atheist.” Then I was super into musicals.

I still continued with piano, so I was doing classical, playing Beethoven’s sonatas, just super into it. When I realized that singing was more my passion after high school I went to Columbia College in Chicago and studied jazz there. And then I was like, “Fuck it, I want to sing opera.” So I went to UWM and I graduated with my music BA in vocal performance.

WiG

So you transferred?

KATIE

Yeah. I transferred because it was too expensive and Chicago was weird.

JOHANNA

You’re going to be doing a lot more opera on the next trilogy…

KATIE

That’s my thing. So I was a junior in college and I met Josh Backes and I met Johanna…

JOHANNA

Well, what happened was…

KATIE

I don’t really remember, I may have been drunk some of that time.

JOHANNA

We went on an adventure.

KATIE

Oh yeah!

JOHANNA

We went on a bike ride to…what is it? The building that was torn down recently for the new water research school site. We rode our bikes there…

KATIE

In the pouring rain.

JOHANNA

…and there’s crazy graffiti on these torn down buildings.

KATIE

Had a bottle of Jack.

JOHANNA

Also singing.

KATIE

Definitely singing.

JOHANNA

And then we just started singing…

KATIE

And we never stopped.

Katie and Johanna.
Katie and Johanna (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

JOHANNA

That was the first time we hung out. We met each other singing outside of Bremen beforehand…

KATIE

Didn’t even know her name.

WiG

You started harmonizing together randomly?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

And I was already into the Grasping At Straws, which is like a folk band. So that was my first introduction to the Riverwest scene and that’s why I went to Bremen, because of that band. Then I met you. And you were in the Calamity Janes then…

JOHANNA

So our bands played some shows together.

KATIE

And basically I was still studying opera and voice and I was like, “Wait, this is really amazing. The energy in this music scene is more me.” So I kind of put that on hold and jumped into this scene.

JOHANNA

It wasn’t so unfamiliar now that I think about it…

KATIE

Right.

Young Johanna and Will Rose
Young Johanna and Will Rose

JOHANNA

…when you said your family was into music. Me and Will come from an ‘80s hair band rock family. Our uncles started bands together. One of my uncles is a keyboard player and singer and his brother plays drums. And they started going on tour when they were 15 and just did that for like 20 years. They played throughout all the genres of the ‘80s. They did them all. Even a little bit into the ‘90s, they even did some rap rock. Remember when rap rock happened?

KATIE

Oh yeah. Jesus Christ.

WiG

For my middle school talent show me and my friends did Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie.” I was the DJ pretending to scratch on one lone turntable.

JOHANNA

Exactly.

KATIE

Adorable. In 7th grade my friend and I sang “Stairway to Heaven.” We had a foreign exchange student from Korea…

JOHANNA

You know they ripped that song off?

KATIE

No. But it was him on electric violin and some little kid, 12-year-old on drums, and me singing. No guitar, nothing else. The foreign exchange kid was like a savant, so it was awesome. That was strange…Catholic school talent show.

WiG

Was that your first time on stage?

KATIE

No. The church choir I came from, you’d sing in front of thousands of people. And they had little concerts they’d put on. Our school had about 30 people in each class so I was like the only one who could sing. I was always the soloist. I was kind of pushed by everyone: my teachers, my parents, my parents friends. It’s kind of annoying. When I’m at family gatherings people always want me to sing. I get so embarrassed when people ask me that. Did you ever have your family do that?

JOHANNA

Are you kidding? I didn’t sing until I met you. I sang on my bedroom recordings and then I kind of sang with the Janes, but I was always told my voice was so weird.

KATIE

People said that?

JOHANNA

Especially that I didn’t have a country or folk voice.

KATIE

No, no, no. Well yeah, now you do.

JOHANNA

Maybe.

KATIE

When you sing bluegrass now you do.

JOHANNA

Yeah cuz you practice and you pick it up. But I was always really embarrassed of singing. I think the first time I sang on stage it was right before I got my knee operation. I was bedridden for two months basically.

WiG

When was that?

JOHANNA

It was in the middle of the Janes. And this is how I started playing my songs with the Janes. It would be January 2013. I tore my ACL and then I got a blood clot from surgery. Then one day during a show, because I still played of course, just on one leg. So during the show my leg started internally bleeding and I had to go to the ER at three in the morning and they were like, “If you hadn’t come in you would’ve lost your leg.” I had to restart my whole rehab of my leg and I was literally in my bed for a month.  That was when I really started writing most of these [New Boyz Club] songs.

KATIE

Bedridden. On pain killers.

JOHANNA

On pain killers. I had a piano on my bed. I had a double bed and I slept next to the piano and just started writing songs.

KATIE

That’s how you do it.

newboyzclub_garibaldi_ccandrewfeller_00007-1
Johanna (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

WiG

And when was that bike ride adventure?

KATIE

2014.

JOHANNA

During the Janes hiatus.

KATIE

We went to this gay bar after the weird abandoned warehouse. There was like shirtless men there.

JOHANNA

It was the perfect welcoming environment for us actually.

KATIE

Then we just bar hopped and road home in the pouring rain.

JOHANNA

Then we hung out forever.

KATIE

And now I have a baby.

JOHANNA

Now you have a baby! And I’m going to Germany. And that’s how life happens.

WiG

So Katie, do you know the French-Canadian curse words? Like “Tabarnak?” “Câlisse?”

KATIE

Tabarnak!

WiG

Nice. I lived in Montreal for about three years.

KATIE

Oh my God!

JOHANNA

I love Montreal!

KATIE

Where?

WiG

My ex is French-Canadian. We lived in the West End. I went to Concordia. Got my graduate degree in journalism.

JOHANNA

Me and William spent the best 24 hours of our lives in Montreal.

KATIE

What did you do?

JOHANNA

We went and we saw this crazy band that…

KATIE

There’s a beautiful music scene there.

JOHANNA

Such a great music scene, that’s like really horn-centric. Or at least it was 10 years ago when we went on this crazy adventure. And I always kept that in my mind for later. We saw the trumpet player for Arcade Fire’s other project, Bell Orchestre or something.

KATIE

Yep.

WiG

There’s a lot of Arcade Fire side projects.

JOHANNA

I bet. I bet they’re brilliant too.

WiG

My friend and I went to a loft party and saw The Luyas, which Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire plays in that band. There were a few other Arcade Fire members at that crowded, hot, sweaty, fantastic show.

JOHANNA

I wanted New Boyz Club to be like Arcade Fire. Like a punkier Arcade Fire.

KATIE

That’s what I imagined when we started writing these songs.

JOHANNA

And we were just so sick of being cute.

KATIE

Yeah!

JOHANNA

We were so sick of like being called “cute.” Because there’s something about playing folk music as a girl that people kept saying, “Oh you’re so cute.” And you get that a lot as a woman musician, that you’re supposed to be pleasing and adorable.

KATIE

Still to this day I hear people, grown men usually, that come up to you and are like, “Oh my God. A woman on upright bass, that’s so fucking hot.” Okay, sure.

JOHANNA

Actually what they say is, “Oh my God. A woman on the cello.”

(Both laugh)

KATIE

And you’re like, “Go fuck yourself.” It’s just so bizarre, but also not surprising.

JOHANNA

We felt very unwelcomed from doing what we wanted to do with New Boyz Club in the beginning. I don’t know if Tigernite was happening yet. We wanted to be really loud. That’s why we called ourselves New Boyz Club. And there’s no way this would have happened if Katie Lyne hadn’t like sat next to me the whole time and been like, “You sound good! You can sing. No, just be loud…”

KATIE

Just do it!

JOHANNA

Totally.

KATIE

Like semi-vocal coaching her in this subtle way.

JOHANNA

One hundred percent vocal coaching me, the whole time.

KATIE

I was like, “Nope, you can do it better.” So yeah, it was really interesting to use the skills I learned in these collegiate formal settings, but in a very natural, real place.

Joshua Backes (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
Joshua Backes (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

JOHANNA

All the music we had been playing, you with Grasping at Straws, me with the Janes or Thistledown, and then our duo exploration in jazz, because we would just spend hours and hours on one jazz tune, the two of us dissecting it and figuring out how to play this music, we used all of those influences for New Boyz Club.

We would insert little parts of each into our songs. Like “The Police State Will Fall” will go from a choral piece to a blues walk to a punk jam. We didn’t even try to do that. It was a result of incorporating all the things that we’ve learned on our different musical journeys to come up with the shit show that is New Boyz Club.

KATIE

Because how it happened was it was just us two and we’d be playing and our friends would come over and be like, “Can I sit in?”

JOHANNA

Is that how it happened?

KATIE

Yes.

(Both laugh)

KATIE

Palmer was living at your house so he was just sitting there like, “Um, can I play?” And then Jack Tell…

JOHANNA

So we didn’t like invite eight people…

KATIE

No! They just came to the house when we were playing.

JOHANNA

I have no proper recollection. Okay, Katie Lyne has a much better grasp on reality than I do.

KATIE

On some things.

JOHANNA

I was busy like drawing pictures of what we were playing. So Katie Lyne probably knows what actually was going on.

KATIE

Maybe.

JOHANNA

And then we toured and you were seven months pregnant.

WiG

I remember seeing dispatches from that tour.

KATIE

Yeah that was fun.

WiG

Busking in Pittsburgh…

KATIE

That was the best part of it!

Busking in Pittsburgh (PHOTO – Maggie Iken)

JOHANNA

Busking was the best part.

KATIE

Yeah, because all the shows we booked were very strange. Some of them were good, but some of them were…

JOHANNA

The one in Pittsburgh was cool.

KATIE

Cuz those were our people. They were like crusty little…

JOHANNA

Gremlins.

KATIE

I think it was a commune though.

JOHANNA

It was like a punk commune…

KATIE

There was a leader. That really attractive guy with the long hair and the beard.

JOHANNA

I saw no attractive guys there.

KATIE

I did. But it was just like this weird vibe when I walked into the house. It seemed like he had this harem of girls just fawning over him. If we were in Roman times they would all be fanning him and feeding him grapes.

JOHANNA

I didn’t catch on to that!

KATIE

I did. I was sober the whole time.

WiG

Pregnancy sober, naturally.

KATIE

And the rest of you were all over the place. And he was like, “You’re a goddess, pregnancy!” I mean, thank you. But that was so weird. It was the best show though.

JOHANNA

That was the best show. Madison was cool too. It was just fun being on the road with our best friends. Ernie and Stephanie came so it was like…

KATIE

Family.

JOHANNA

…and my brother and Josh and Aytan and Palmer. That was fun as hell.

WiG

So you went out East and then back through the Midwest?

KATIE

What did we do? Chicago, Ohio…

JOHANNA

Again, I never really know what’s going on.

KATIE

…Pittsburgh, Madison, Milwaukee.

JOHANNA

Green Bay.

KATIE

Oh yeah. (Laughs)

JOHANNA

And then some shit town. Like Whitewater, but it wasn’t Whitewater.

KATIE

Appleton too.

JOHANNA

It was an experience.

KATIE

Cleveland? No! Columbus.

JOHANNA

Illustration by Stephanie Brusabardis.
Illustration by Stephanie Brusabardis.

It was kind of like learning how to survive with our busking. Because we were playing mostly house, punk DIY shows so we weren’t really making mad cash. But those shows tend to try and take care of touring bands more so. The punk scene is really good at that, taking care of touring bands. That’s why you have shows, because people are traveling and playing music. So you center all your shows around touring bands. I love that about punk bands and the punk scene and I think that’s how it should be with club shows too.

The shows that I have lined up before I leave outside of the release, and Cree Myles birthday party, and a fundraiser to end gun violence, everything else is centered around sweet touring bands that are coming through and just trying to make sure they have a good time. I think every show I’m playing is at Company Brewing almost. Pretty much.

KATIE

Yeah, now I work here.

WiG

Company is quite the…

KATIE

I rehearse upstairs…

JOHANNA

It’s the mothership.

KATIE

Now it is, yeah. Because George is the shit.

JOHANNA

Yeah because Katie is in Ruth B8r Ginsburg now too. That happened early summer. So…musical soulmates.

WiG

What you were saying before about the genre-bending that happens on New Boyz Club songs is interesting because the first time I saw you was at the Jazz Estate. You totally fit at the Jazz Estate, because you have these jazz elements. But you could also fit at a punk basement show, or on an indie rock show at Public House, or at an Alverno Presents Prince Uncovered show. It all works.

KATIE

I didn’t get to do that show.

JOHANNA

She was having a baby.

KATIE

I gave birth a week later. I opted out because I knew the baby was going to be on time. He was born on his due date.

JOHANNA

And the rehearsals for that were brutal.

KATIE

And I knew it. Because I knew exactly what the rehearsal process would be.

JOHANNA

We talked about it.

KATIE

And there was no time. I had to just fucking sit on my ass on the couch.

Django and Johanna
Django and Johanna

JOHANNA

You had the most beautiful wonderful life to create. Katie Lyne is my best friend. But then she had Django. And now I think Django might be my best friend.

KATIE

I think so too, especially in how they interact. He took his first steps in her arms.

JOHANNA

I love that baby! He’s the best. I think he’s a drummer.

KATIE

Oh yeah. He claps now.

JOHANNA

See, that’s the thing. You miss two weeks of a child’s life and they’re clapping suddenly.

KATIE

I go, “Dance Django!”

(Katie acts out how Django bobs up and down while clapping.)

JOHANNA

No!

KATIE

And he twerks his little butt.

JOHANNA

We’re hanging out tomorrow.

KATIE

Of course.

JOHANNA

I’m coming over.

KATIE

I have leftovers in my fridge already.

JOHANNA

Haha…on it!

(Both laugh)

WiG

Do you think your playing changed at all pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and post-pregnancy?

KATIE

Yes. Pre-pregnancy it was really emotion oriented and I almost left my body during the shows. During my pregnancy I was so focused inwards because I was creating a life. I just remember feeling this beautiful cycle of energy flowing out through the audience and then back in. It was just like some other worldly shit.

JOHANNA

Django went on tour with us. He practically wrote the whole album.

KATIE

But now after having a baby, I don’t have the same energy that I did when I was just partying and going crazy. So now it’s a balance of inward and outward energy that I can give to the audience. It’s really cool seeing the spectrum of it.

WiG

I think with your music and the lyrics, songs like “The Police State Will Fall,” they seem to be very aware of and concerned for the future and like what the world will be and could be for Django and everyone else.

KATIE

Yeah!

JOHANNA

There’s a storyline that will build across all three trilogies. It’s talking about how systematic oppression plays out in interpersonal relationships. So “The Police State Will Fall” was a direct reaction to Ferguson. I was in Portland, Oregon when that happened and it was an acapella effort at first.

When Katie and I got together she pointed out it was a blues walk, the vocal line when it does the switch. (Johanna starts singing “the police sta-aaate.”) Then I knew that I wanted to have this punch at the end. And we recorded it with a choir of 24 people. Gauss was there. All of Ladders was there. Zed Kenzo was there. George was there.

WiG

George sings on it?

JOHANNA

Oh yeah. Django was there.

KATIE

I was conducting…

JOHANNA

Yeah, she was conducting with Django strapped…

KATIE

He was in a woven wrap strapped to my body.

JOHANNA

And she conducted the whole thing.

KATIE

That’s where I put my degree to use.

JOHANNA

It was really tricky. There was only a few headphones so there were only so many people within the choir who had headphones who were helping keep the tempo, because it speeds up.

KATIE

And it’s like a reverb chamber up there.

JOHANNA

The minute I walked up in that room I was like, “This is going to happen here.” And I can’t believe it actually happened, but it did.

WiG

Was it in the front room upstairs?

KATIE

Yeah. In that big open space.

Jay Anderson (PHOTO - Andrew Feller)
Jay Anderson (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

JOHANNA

There were so many awesome people there. Klassik was there. D’Amato was there. Great artists that we work with. Jay Anderson. Ernest Brusabardis. Aytan is in this other band called Wavy V and they were there. Sista Strings of course. It was so gorgeous. We had this half barrel of beer and just got the drunken ruckus choir that we needed for that track.

KATIE

We sang it for about an hour or two and it was so affirming. Saying it over and over and over again like, “Glory fucking glory!” It’s really uplifting.

JOHANNA

We were so pumped.

KATIE

We had hope. We left that recording with so much hope.

JOHANNA

I felt something in the air. It was right at the beginning of this summer that we just had with police brutality being what it is. So afterwards, I think it was Klassik, Trecy from Ruth B8r Ginsburg, Yasmine, Chauntee, D’Amato, I don’t know if anyone else did…mainly those people. But so we had an open session where we played it back, they listened to the choir, what they had just did, and then we asked them to shout out what the police state means to them.  

If you listen closely to “The Police State Will Fall” you’ll hear little intermittents of like, “Shut it down!” “We want justice!” Those clips are from people reacting to the choir they just recorded. They are just letting out what the police state means to them. There’s some really intense stuff. Chauntee shouted “I can’t breathe,” which we put through a delayed fuzzed out amp and then laid it under the whole thing to capture the energy of her amazingness. So there’s a little bit of witchcraft in the whole thing. A lot of superstition.

KATIE

Questioning.

JOHANNA

We weren’t just recording these sounds. We were recording these moments. It’s not all clear what we’re doing but there’s different ways that things had to be recorded in order for it to be right. But maybe I’m just crazy.

KATIE

No.

JOHANNA

Like I did all of “Taxes” naked.

WiG

The recording of it?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

The vocal recording.

JOHANNA

The vocal recording, not the bass. That would be weird…but it’s such a vulnerable song, “Taxes.” I wrote it in the midst of a manic episode where I was freaking out about financial struggle. I was supposed to do my taxes but I got screwed so I owed all this money. I was like, “How is the proletariat supposed to survive and exist in this universe? There’s no place for us.” That song came out and it mixes with all these other things that were happening in life and this idea at the end where it’s like, “Don’t look at me, I don’t feel right.”

In a way, that’s how you feel whenever you go on stage. Or maybe just being a woman. So I guess in order to do that vocal take correctly, to capture the original intent and feeling of the song, I got naked and drank a lot of whiskey before the last part, the “Don’t look at me” part. It was all recorded with me laying on the floor at the end of my literal wits for the night. It was like two in the morning and there was nothing else that could have happened besides me trying to finish that song. And we did.

KATIE

And it’s very beautiful.

WiG

It’s so beautiful. You sent me those songs and I couldn’t believe it. There’s so much power. And it’s like I was telling Johanna before you came Katie, I don’t know if there’s another band in Milwaukee that I’ve loved as much before hearing a recorded project from. And now for this to be the project…it just fucking nails it in so many ways.

KATIE

Thank you. That’s why we didn’t rush it.

JOHANNA

It was super tedious. I was super nit picky.

KATIE

And when it comes down to it, recording depends on our emotional state. Recording was hard.

JOHANNA

We’re such moody assholes.

KATIE

It was in the middle of a really hard time for you.

WiG

Was it mostly recorded this summer?

JOHANNA

Heidi and David Rose
Heidi and David Rose

I mean, New Boyz Club might have ended as a project completely when my father passed away a year-and-a-half ago. The next show we had scheduled after my father passed was with Hello Death, who is playing our release as well. If I hadn’t found it so ironic that we were going to play a show with a band called “Hello Death,” I wouldn’t have done it. I really love them and we hadn’t done the Prince Uncovered show yet, which only bonded us even more with that band. But it just seemed right. So I said, “Fuck it, let’s carry on.”

KATIE

It’s real and it’s truth.

JOHANNA

I mean Josh from New Boyz Club and Ernie and Katie Lyne all played my father’s funeral. We’re not just connected as musicians, we’re all really good friends. We’ve triumphed and celebrated the different things that have happened in our lives. Like Josh just got married, me and Ernie played his wedding, and Katie Lynn having Django, all these giant life events we have gone through not just as musicians and as a band, but also his friends. It’s been incredible.

KATIE

It’s pretty cool. We’re pretty lucky.

JOHANNA

Yeah we are.

WiG

I was going to ask you about your dad…

JOHANNA

Yeah, I’m trying to think of where in all of this that happened because it was May 2015…it just happened so quickly. Because he was sick and then he was really sick and then he was okay and then he got really sick all of a sudden again. We had just gone through FemFest and Arte Para Todos and then I was on my way to take my ridiculous dollhouse to an art show and I got the call that my father had had a stroke. I think I just spent the next month or so of my life in the hospital until May 18th when he passed.

I think that the only way me and Will could have gotten through that was by spending shit tons of time playing music together. That’s all we did. We just jammed it out. We just played music, constantly. And we’re still going.

KATIE

Well you never stopped. With grief, that’s how some people cope.

13495107_10208630981684502_4098821722165669244_n
David, Will, and Heidi Rose

JOHANNA

It’s also a point for our family to rally around. My mother comes to all of our shows and our cousins and sisters and aunts and uncles, it’s a reason to get together for us as a family. It does that for us in a way. After someone passes sometimes you see families drift apart, especially such a key member of the family.

KATIE

And your dad was always so supportive. He was so cool. Like he came to Quarters.

JOHANNA

My father, with stage four cancer, came to Quarters for Arte Para Todos.

KATIE

He always had this look of approval and he was so happy. Seeing him watch his children was amazing.

JOHANNA

He liked seeing us play together.

KATIE

And he’s not going to bullshit you either.

JOHANNA

He especially loved the bluegrass-y, folk-y stuff.

WiG

Was that his jam?

Young Johanna and her father
Young Johanna and her father

JOHANNA

He loved Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” of course. But he also loved Van Morrison & the Chieftains. He loved really old music too. Some of the stuff that me and Carl have been working on we have picked a little bit from the jams he liked. I try to think about the songs that he likes.

KATIE

That’s the beauty of being a musician though. You get to have that outlet.

JOHANNA

The first thing I did was go nuts and not sleep for a week. I was skateboarding around and spray painting messages to my father on surfaces that were open to the sky and my bedroom wall. Naturally, I am not perfect at handling grief. But I wrote a song which we played at the Jazz Estate and that was the only time we ever played it. I wrote that song three days after my dad passed away. After we played it I folded it up and I put it inside of my bass and it’s still inside there.

I won’t take it out. There was one day that I thought maybe I should take it out and Ernie was like, “Why?” And Ernie takes really good care of his instruments and probably would never do something like that. So if Ernie thinks I shouldn’t take it out then it’s staying in there for life. Just rattling around. Sometimes I have to shake it around so it doesn’t rattle during recordings. Totally worth it. Who knows? Basses  have a lot of space and things just collect in there.  

WiG

You might have some other things in there.

KATIE

Food from the co-op.

JOHANNA

Cigarette butts. But actually I’ve taken an iPhone flashlight to it and I’m pretty sure it’s just the song in there. Maybe a guitar pick from the one time I tried to play my bass like a guitar.

(Johanna goes to order another round of drinks while Katie tells me about her time in Ecuador.)

JOHANNA

I had to teach Mike Swan and Rosco how to do shots in Ukraine. I’ve been practicing.

KATIE

Oh yeah?

JOHANNA

I think I should switch to vodka. All they drink over there is vodka.

WiG

It’s a lot of clear liquors in Eastern Europe.

JOHANNA

I know and I’m such a whiskey girl…because of the folk scene!

KATIE

They’re not going to have that there for you.

JOHANNA

It’s okay, I’ll adjust.

KATIE

I can’t drink vodka, oh my God.

WiG

Only in bloodies.

KATIE

Right!

(We share stories about our first time becoming sick from alcohol and more about Katie’s trip to Ecuador.)

KATIE

The family we stayed with was so close knit and amazing but in general they weren’t very warm to tourists, they spot you right away.

JOHANNA

I’m hoping that dragging an upright bass behind me helps with that in Romania. It’s a real ice breaker.

WiG

There’s so much music in Eastern Europe, especially folk-y gypsy busking and classical music. There’s such an appreciation for it. When I was in Prague and Vienna there were concerts and buskers everywhere.

KATIE

It’s my dream to go to Prague. I want to sing classical music in some beautiful hall there.

WiG

You know how in New York City there are aspiring comedians walking around Times Square handing out little flyers for what’s called “bringer” shows? It’s like that in Prague but with classical music concerts.

KATIE

I’ve never been to Europe, but it’s so alluring to me.

JOHANNA

You gotta come visit me is what you have to do.

(Johanna plays us a recording she and her lover Carl made earlier that day. They are called “Nickels & Rose.” It’s a preview of the music they will be playing on the streets of Europe. Carl, who I’ve only seen play guitar with New Age Narcissism, is singing and sounds terrific.)

KATIE

Is this original?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

Oh shit.

WiG

I can already picture it on the streets of Berlin.

(When Johanna’s voice comes in and they sing together it’s devastatingly beautiful.)

JOHANNA

So I’m going back to folk.

KATIE

Gypsy folk.

JOHANNA

I didn’t know that Carl existed. But I really hoped for a long time that Carl existed. That I would find someone that I could play music with as like a duet and we would also be in love.

KATIE

Love fuels it.

JOHANNA

I’ve dated enough of my band mates and ruined bands over my lifetime…

KATIE

This girl…

JOHANNA

It just happens, you only want to date people who play music because…

KATIE

Because it’s hot and it’s beautiful.

JOHANNA

Also it’s the only thing I can talk about.

KATIE

Me too!

(Both laugh)

JOHANNA

I dated one person who didn’t play music, but they were a big music lover so still we talked about music.

KATIE

Me too, but still we argued all the time. That was the Phish head. He tried to explain to me that Phish was the greatest and I was like, “I don’t think so.” He told me I was “an entitled classical bitch.”

JOHANNA

The minute he called you a “bitch” is the minute he was out.

KATIE

Yeah, that’s when I said goodbye.

(The song ends.)

WiG

That is fantastic.

KATIE

What?!

JOHANNA

Yeah and I still have to fix it tomorrow.

KATIE

I like how Carl always sings about the devil.

JOHANNA

He does! About a woman who’s taking him to the devil…

KATIE

Is that you?

JOHANNA

I wonder who the fuck that is..

(Both laugh)

JOHANNA

We’ll get into arguments and then write a song about it.

KATIE

Jesus Christ.

JOHANNA

I know, it’s so cheesy.

KATIE

You guys are a fucking movie.

JOHANNA

We’ll have verses where we’re playing out our argument through song, but then we resolve it in the end and then we’re on a high and we’re happy because we wrote a song.

KATIE

It’s perfect. Then you forgot about what you did.

JOHANNA

Like, “Do we need to song this out?!”

WiG

Oh, the mechanisms for managing arguments…

JOHANNA

And he doesn’t sing in Milwaukee.

KATIE

He’s very humble.

WiG

Is he from Milwaukee?

JOHANNA

Yeah. He’s from the North Side. The night of Sherman Park we had been jamming when we heard about it. Then we got in the car and drove down there. We drove through all the neighborhoods that were burning. I have no conclusions from it or I do or maybe I don’t. I guess we went and drove there because we wanted to see exactly what was happening with our own eyes instead of whatever the media was reporting.

My family lives on the East Side, yet so many of them, including myself, were getting text messages from people who know us around the country asking if we’re okay. But Sherman Park is such an isolated neighborhood.

WiG

It’s so crazy to me that that happens, as if this one neighborhood touches all of the city.

JOHANNA

Right and that was the night that the Strange Fruit festival was happening. To have all these people throughout the nation texting their East Side white relatives, they just have no concept of how segregated Milwaukee is. Whereas it was so relevant for Carl’s sister to text him and ask if he was okay. There’s a lot of Milwaukees.

WiG

No doubt. It’s even crazier because my parents live seven blocks from that gas station. I grew up there, yet their house is on this informal border between the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood to the west and the black neighborhood to the east.

JOHANNA

And that’s what Carl was saying when we were driving around and he was like, “Now we’re in the Jewish neighborhood.” And I was like, “How do you know they’re Jewish?” And he’s like, “Because they wear the hats and how they dress.” And I was like, “Oh, they’re like super Jewish! I got you.”

WiG

My friends used to call them “Amish zombies.”

KATIE

Oh!

JOHANNA

Don’t put that in your article.

WiG

I mean, we were kids and they didn’t know better. My friends came over for sleepovers on the weekend during the Sabbath when they can’t drive or use any electrical things and so they’d be walking all around late at night.

JOHANNA

Yeah, you can’t do shit on the Sabbath. You light your candles, you eat your food and you chill. I grew up across from a synagogue and my Jewish family were super liberal Jewish. But it’s kind of been honed in because my sister and her wife are moving to Tel Aviv in 15 days. She’s really connected to her Jewish faith in a way. Our family came to America around 1901 and moved to New York because they were persecuted.

WiG

From where?

JOHANNA

Ukraine. Which is why Carl and I are going to Ukraine on this journey. I’m going to try and find some kind of roots. There’s no roots because World War II pretty much wiped out all the roots. But I want to and Carl’s been awesome and supportive in trying to go to the neighborhoods where we can try to kind of pinpoint where they were. And so we’re going to Ukraine to chill there. There’s a great art scene there too. DakhaBrakha is there, they’re an amazing band. Dakh Daughters are there. The Dakh underground is amazing.

Then there’s like parts of Lithuania, because Ukraine has such a crazy history of being a part of Russia and then not and then Lithuania. It was constantly being conquered and redefined. My mother pulled out a map last night and tried to trace our journey and I was like,  “Mom, this map has Ukraine being a part of Russia. Get the Internet out!”  

commiegrandma
Johanna’s great-grandmother being hauled off by the police.

But I want to see these things. I can feel it in my family and I see it in my family where if they hadn’t left when they left they would have been totally screwed and probably murdered for their faith or for what they were born into. Then they came here and they joined the worker’s struggle. They became Communist union organizers and then the next generation joined the Civil Rights struggle. They identified with that because of the struggle they came from. They saw themselves in the struggle of Black America fighting for their rights and their freedom in this country. They saw the similarities from where they came from and then kind of saw religion as a crutch in that fight. Religion can separate you from people and that’s why I think Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” My family made a clear point to say that religion doesn’t fucking matter when we’re talking about human rights. It’s too messy.

KATIE

It’s too emotional.

JOHANNA

Because then you’re getting into the rights of the Holy and the Unholy. You have to understand that all people are worth something because they’re human. And so they became civil rights activists. My grandfather was actually blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Johanna's grandfather (holding the "CHOICE" sign).
Johanna’s grandfather (holding the “CHOICE” sign).

My original ancestors that got here were like the people who kicked people’s asses for not joining the union. They were like union thugs. And then the next generation were speakers. Like [my great-grandfather] William Winestone is in textbooks for his union activism. So is my grandfather. But it took a lot of ass kicking to make things happen. And shit, they have been torn to pieces, the unions. And factory jobs are horrible.

KATIE

And the chemicals they’re inhaling.

JOHANNA

Right.

KATIE

I used to live across from a factory and I could smell it in my house sometimes. It was a tannery across the street.

JOHANNA

They have to do something about it. Unions…there needs to be a revolution. There needs to be something. The state of America is ridiculous right now.

KATIE

Especially Wisconsin.

WiG

I agree and I don’t meant to play devil’s advocate, but you look at the abuse within unions, the gangsterism…

JOHANNA

Of course, it can be completely corrupt.

WiG

But it’s like any institution that becomes an institution is liable to become corrupt.

KATIE

Yeah, that’s power.

JOHANNA

We have never realized a perfect state of being. However, we have been on a constant cycle of exploitation since the beginning of time. And that needs to change.

KATIE

I remember in high school my French teacher was from Ukraine. I was raised in a conservative family so we were taught to hate Communism and Russia. But hearing her side of it, she was like, “You know, it is utopia. It is perfect. If everyone is equal.” And I was just like, “Whoa. What?” It was just these opposite views that I grew up with.

JOHANNA

Ukraine is not a utopia.

WiG

Berlin now is pretty great.

JOHANNA

Berlin is not perfect. Western Europe has all this money and these societies that seem perfect…

KATIE

But they’re not.

JOHANNA

But where did they make this money? They made this money from colonization. They colonized the shit out of Africa and South America. When people have such a free society it’s usually at the expense of a whole other people. And like NGO’s are the new colonialism. There are a couple good intro films on Netflix like Poverty, Inc. That’s a good one.

It’s just like Europe arranges a really good deal for themselves and flood poor markets with free rice and totally fuck all the farmers in these Third World countries. And who’s benefiting from this? And that term “Third World” is so gross because it was made up by the exploiters. So is anyone benefiting? Are you going to be happy in your so-called perfect society knowing it was at the expense of another nation?

WiG

I remember being super stoned in Amsterdam and taking a light rail train to the end of its line. It dropped me off by this inlet of water. I sat down on the dock and rested my feet on this boat and let my body sway and I was like meditating. Then it hit me; that was where slaves first came like 500 years ago.

That was the spot where the Transatlantic Slave Trade began. That was so heavy. Because I realized that the society I had been enjoying those few days—eating great food, drinking great beer, smoking great weed, riding bikes along the canals, seeing great art—it was so great, but it was at the expense of millions of slaves.

JOHANNA

There are good and bad points in these communities where like how Germany has put up constant reminders of the Holocaust and the genocide of these people. Whereas America has nothing like that.

WiG

We used to have that [Black Holocaust] museum here.

JOHANNA

But there should be so much more.

WiG

American hates to admit its original sin.

JOHANNA

Yeah, America hates to admit it. And that’s why you get tons of Facebook posts like, “Why are black people still upset? Slavery is over.”

KATIE

Did you see that article Cree posted?

JOHANNA

Yes! This black woman wrote an article that basically said, “I’m not going to tip white servers anymore,” and the Internet exploded and it went viral and people said all sorts of terrible things about her. And what she was doing was showing exactly the context of what white privilege is.

KATIE

Because she wasn’t actually making that claim. She was proving a point about how white people would react.

JOHANNA

It was so clever of her. But even if she was dead serious I wouldn’t care. My first reaction was, “Yeah, redistribution of wealth.” That’s what America needs. There really needs to be some major change otherwise we’re going to stay on the slow train to hell.

WiG

Well, we started this interview on a such an upbeat tone and now we’re ending it on another positive tone. I’m being sarcastic obviously.

JOHANNA

Well, I mean, there is hope in songs like “The Police State Will Fall. This trilogies will touch on racism in America, economic struggle in America, but at the end of the day I can only really speak as a woman in America. So when I say it talks about systematic oppression and how it plays out in interpersonal relationships I’m talking about being a woman and how those things affect you.

Not just being called “cute” at folk shows, I’m talking about being pushed around or facing domestic abuse or rape. The kinds of things that women face on a daily basis that are not commonly addressed because people don’t feel comfortable talking about them. This music is talking about it. It will talk about it more.

I would say the first trilogy is somewhat light compared to the next one. Then the third one has a resolve that certainly doesn’t resolve domestic violence or rape culture in America, but those are the things I can focus on the most because that’s the point of view I’m speaking from. The intimate details of it will have to be up to the listener. There will be solid messages throughout the trilogies that you know, “This isn’t okay. We have to learn how to respect women. We have to learn how to treat women like people.”

KATIE

I remember being afraid to tell people I was in this band. Because it’s kind of radical. And I was like, “How should we describe ourselves?” And you said, “Just say we’re a nudge at the patriarchy.” The fact that I felt fear in being in a band that was against…

JOHANNA

The harassment of women.

KATIE

Patriarchy, right! It’s like we feel fear all the time.

JOHANNA

Constantly.

KATIE

There’s no way around it. And we have to be gentle about it. It’s a nudge to the patriarchy…no, it’s a “Fuck you!” to the fucking patriarchy.

JOHANNA

Thank you.

KATIE

It’s not just a nudge. That’s how we were at the beginning. It was a nudge. Now it’s middle fingers up.

JOHANNA

It was scary. And maybe it’s not scary for other people initially, but it was scary for us at first.

KATIE

It was for me. I’ve never done that before. I’ve never questioned my existence as a woman.

JOHANNA

We felt like we had to fit our gender roles and we were so compelled. We were successfully fitting our gender roles, but we felt so uncomfortable with it to a degree that we rebelled against it and it came out as this.

KATIE

And culturally, women or “womyn,” however you want to spell it, it’s being redefined to be very inclusive and welcoming.

JOHANNA

And this was before the first FemFest when we came about this. After FemFest was when we realized there was a whole bunch of people who felt the same way. But we had no idea before. We were just kind of in the dark about everything. Things have blossomed and there’s much more support for women in music here these days. But a couple years ago it was kind of nuts.

KATIE

It was weird. It was uncomfortable. Like, “Am I a sex symbol? Am I just a cute girl?” I remember feeling so satisfied when someone would come up to me, and this is when I was single, and say, “You’re so beautiful up there.” And I would think, “Yes!” But then I was like, “Wait, is that my goal?” And I started questioning why I was on stage. Am I on stage just to be this object? What? Now I don’t give a fuck.

JOHANNA

Now we do whatever we want happily.

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Johanna Rose (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad’ picked for Winfrey book club

Oprah Winfrey has a new book club pick: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a historical novel that imagines the network of safe houses and passages that helped slaves escape to free territory is an actual train.

Winfrey told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview that she knew from the first sentence that she would want to share her passion with her audience, an impulse she has relied on with uncommon success for 20 years.

“I was blown away by it,” Winfrey said. “’Blown away’ is an often-used expression, but with this book it was to the point of sometimes putting it down and saying, ‘I can’t read anymore. I don’t want to turn the page. I want to know what happens, but I don’t want to know what happens.’”

The Underground Railroad was scheduled to come out in September, but after learning of Winfrey’s decision, Doubleday moved up the release date to this week and more than doubled the announced first printing, from 75,000 to 200,000.

An interview with Whitehead appears in the September issue of Winfrey’s magazine, “O.”

Winfrey’s website, Oprah.com, will include a reading guide and Winfrey’s comments, and Underground Railroad will be featured on the social media site Goodreads (Goodreads.com/OprahsBookClub).

Whitehead, 46, is the author of highly regarded novels such as The Intuitionist and John Henry Days, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award.

In The Underground Railroad, his sixth novel, he imagines that the network of safe houses and passages that enabled slaves to reach free territory is an actual train.

The book was already highly anticipated, with the trade publication Kirkus Reviews calling it “startlingly original” and praising Whitehead for examining “race mythology and history with rousing audacity and razor-sharp ingenuity.”

Winfrey said the novel was so vivid she double-checked her history books to make sure the rail system didn’t exist.

During a recent telephone interview, Whitehead said that he swore out loud — while on a plane — when he learned his book had joined Winfrey’s pantheon of favorites.

“I was in high school when her show became national,” he said. “She was an ambassador from black America and, obviously, a huge presence.”

Winfrey started her club in 1996 with Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean, and laughs as she recalls her early doubts that you could use a television show to talk about a novel. Her choices would sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and sometimes millions, but Winfrey originally saw the club as an extension of what she did in person, when she handed out copies of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to passersby near where her program was taped in Chicago.

“I would walk home across Wacker Drive every evening,” she said. “I would take my backpack full of books and say, ‘Excuse me, have you read The Color Purple? This is a great book.”

Her criteria, books she feels compelled to talk about, has remained constant. But the club has evolved often. At first, she announced a new book every month, a pace she acknowledged was unsustainable. She suspended the club briefly in 2002 and for a time only picked older works, such as John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. She suspended it again after her syndicated television program ended in 2011.

Whitehead’s book is Winfrey’s fifth pick since she relaunched her club in 2012 as “Oprah 2.0,” calling it “an interactive, online club for our digital world.” Although she has boosted sales for Cynthia Bond’s Ruby and other works, Winfrey acknowledged that her choices don’t have the same effect as when she revealed them on her show. (When she chose Anna Karenina, in 2004, Penguin announced a first printing of 800,000.)

“There is a diminished sales impact because I don’t have the platform to reach millions of people at one time,” she said, adding that she had to “let that go” and appreciate that what mattered was getting more people to read.

“I’m an exposure agent, trying to get the word out. I feel that the language of books and what they represent in our lives is important in our culture.”

Looming abortion ruling could be ‘dangerous’

As a U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion rights is highly anticipated, few are as uniquely positioned to assess its impact as reproductive rights attorney Kathryn Kolbert, who argued the last major abortion case before the high court.

In that 1992 challenge, the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion survived, but the Supreme Court allowed for such state regulations as waiting periods.

The decision was written by Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter, who have retired, and Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy is seen as pivotal in the current case which picks up, in a sense, where the earlier case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, left off.

This time, the court is deciding if Texas has created an undue burden for women by imposing stiff regulations on abortion clinics and doctors. Critics say the rules are a backdoor means to restrict access to abortion, known as TRAP laws.

More than half of Texas’ clinics have closed, leaving fewer than 20, advocates say, to serve the state of 27 million people.

Hardest hit have been rural, poor women for whom distance and cost have put abortions out of reach, they say.

Supporters of the laws claim they protect women’s health. The regulations require clinics to upgrade to hospital standards and doctors performing abortions to have formal agreements to admit patients to local hospitals.

Kolbert, who heads the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at New York’s Barnard College, talked with the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the Supreme Court and abortion rights.

She co-founded the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, which is representing Whole Women’s Health, the chain of clinics challenging the Texas regulations.

THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION: It seems the issues being addressed in the Texas case come out of the Casey case, that the regulations are an undue burden.

KOLBERT: The main issue in the case is how the undue burden standard will be interpreted going forward.

The whole question comes down to Justice Kennedy and how he sees that standard, and he frankly is much more in the middle.

Does he come back to what he articulated in Casey, or is he pushed a little bit to the right with the influence of the other justices? For me, the biggest concern is Justice O’Connor, who he clearly listened to, is no longer on the court.

TRF: What do you think in essence underlies the abortion issue?

KOLBERT: It’s an issue that ties together the coalitions on the right, the fundamentalists, the Catholics, the people who basically are business conservatives.

It’s about power. It’s about equality. There’s a lot of pushback in America still about giving women the ability to go beyond what they are, their life as a wife and mother, which is the culturally dominant view.

TRF: TRAP laws are often hard to explain because they seem so benign.

KOLBERT: That’s a strategy. Those who are writing these restrictions are looking for things that sound reasonable but in practice are incredibly problematic for women, particularly those who have less political power. So young women and poor women are the first that are going to be affected negatively.

If you look at every restriction that’s been introduced since 1973, they are all under the guise of reasonableness.

TRF: Texas is the case being tested. Is it safe to say there are similar situations in other states?

KOLBERT: All over the country, yes. Frankly, if this is upheld the same statute will be enacted in 25 states within three years. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

TRF: What are the possibilities of what the Supreme Court could do?

KOLBERT: Remember the court has got only eight justices right now, so the option is really one of three.

We win five to three, which means that we have (Justice Elena) Kagan, (Justice Stephen) Breyer, (Justice Sonia) Sotomayor, (Justice Ruth) Ginsberg and Kennedy…. Kennedy wrote Casey, so that’s a reasonable assumption.

The second possibility is that the court would not make a decision right now and would send the case back for taking of additional evidence … which is what I think of as looking for an out.

They could remand the case for a determination of whether or not there are a sufficient number of clinics within the state to handle the excess capacity of women needing abortions that would happen when you close so many clinics.

So we could win, there could be an ‘out’ or we could lose. If the court divided four-four…, then the lower court decision would be upheld.

That would be interpreted as a major win for the anti-abortion groups, and we would see laws like this in every state in the country.

TRF: If you had to put your money on any of those three options, which one do you see more likely?

KOLBERT: I certainly hope that we can keep Justice Kennedy. If not, then I think they’ll send it back for more evidence.

TRF: What’s it like to argue a case before the Supreme Court?

KOLBERT: It’s pretty awesome, it’s scary. For me though it was all about the women we were representing. It’s the doctors and the clinics, the providers who do the hard work, who meet with women facing unintended pregnancies every single day.

It was being able to be a spokesperson for them and to explain their plight and explain what they’re going through that was the most gratifying part of the job.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Ros Russell; with credit to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Supreme Court lineup fit for an election year

The Supreme Court’s lineup of new cases is fit for an election year.

Affirmative action, abortion and another look at the Obama health care law all are before the court, and they could well be joined by immigration, giving the justices a run of cases that reads like a campaign platform.

Also coming; disputes involving public-sector labor unions, the death penalty and the way electoral districts are drawn.

Decisions in these high-profile cases almost certainly will split the court along ideological lines, mirroring the country’s stark partisan split. What’s more, the most contentious issues won’t be resolved until late June, barely four months before the 2016 presidential election.

What started as a somewhat sleepy term – especially following major decisions last June on health care and same-sex marriage – has become much more interesting, says University of Pennsylvania law dean Theodore Ruger.

“This is a court that remains very assertive in its role in declaring what the law is,” Ruger said.

The accumulation of wrenching social issues and pointed policy disputes at the Supreme Court at this moment is mostly a matter of chance. A legal fight over the regulation of abortion clinics in Texas has been underway for two and a half years. President Barack Obama’s plan to shield from deportation millions of immigrants who are living in the country illegally was rolled out a year ago and almost immediately challenged in court. Faith-based groups that say they are forced to be complicit in providing objectionable birth control to women covered under their health plans have been challenging the Obama administration for more than three years.

It is still is possible the immigration dispute will not be heard until next fall, if at all.

Now that the cases are at the marble courthouse atop Capitol Hill, the justices’ decisions could feed campaign rhetoric that already has been heated on abortion and immigration, to name just two issues.

In June 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts provided the decisive vote that saved Obama’s health care overhaul in the midst of the president’s campaign for re-election.

A short time later, Republican candidate Mitt Romney proclaimed that as president he would do what the high court failed to do that June – get rid of the health care law. Obama won re-election, and the law survived.

Ruger said the chief justice wrote a nuanced opinion that appeared to show some sensitivity to the looming election.

“I think Roberts recognized this was going to be an issue in front of the voters,” Ruger said. The electorate ultimately would decide the health care law’s fate, he said.

Court decisions close to an election, especially when they produce big changes in the law, also can increase attention paid to those issues.

This is part of what Texas A&M University political scientist Joseph Ura called the court’s agenda-setting effect. Ura pointed to Brown v. Board of Education’s outlawing of racial segregation in public schools and Lawrence v. Texas’ ban on state anti-sodomy laws as examples of past decisions that altered “the existing arrangement of material or symbolic benefits in our political system.” Researchers found that those decisions “led to a large, sustained increase in the media’s attention” to those issues, Ura said.

Last term’s big rulings on health care and same-sex marriage already have prompted criticism of the court, and of Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy in particular, from several Republican presidential candidates. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, has said that putting Roberts on the court was a mistake, even though Cruz endorsed his nomination in 2005.

The court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United that led to a flood of what critics call “dark money” in political campaigns remains controversial, and Democratic candidates have pledged to try to undo it.

The Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to an abortion produced a backlash that eventually showed up in election returns, said Sara Benesh, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “A lot of scholars say (President Ronald) Reagan got elected because of Roe v. Wade. Pro-life forces really got him moving in his campaign,” Benesh said.

But there is little evidence that the court itself will become an issue in the campaign, except perhaps on the margins, she said.

The court and the justices are little known to the public. “It seems to me a long, drawn-out relationship between any decision the court might make and any decision an individual might make in the voting booth,” Benesh said.

Every four years, interest groups across the political spectrum try to make that connection for voters. Elections matter, they say, because the winner may get to choose justices who will serve for the next quarter century or longer.

Indeed, with four justices in their late 70s or early 80s, and the court so closely and fiercely divided, any appointment could dramatically change the court’s direction.

Food safety advocates sue Agriculture Dept. for withholding records

Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service under the Freedom of Information Act. The group alleges that APHIS violated FOIA by routinely failing to respond to requests for records related to genetically engineered crops, unlawfully delaying its responses and withholding public disclosure of information.

APHIS has failed to provide a timely final response to at least 29 of CFS’s FOIA requests or appeals, according to a news release from the organization. Of these, APHIS has entirely failed to provide a final response to 10 requests and two appeals. The lawsuit asked the court to direct APHIS to promptly provide CFS with the requested information and to order APHIS to stop its practice of failing to respond to FOIA requests related to GE crops.

“APHIS has a track record of irresponsible and inadequate regulation of GE crops. In the absence of thorough government oversight, public access to information about these crops becomes all the more critical,” said Cristina Stella, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety. “This lawsuit is necessary to stop APHIS from continuing to ignore its duty to provide the public with information that affects farmers, communities, and the environment.”

CFS said GE crops are known to cause agronomic and environmental harms, such as transgenic contamination of traditional and organic crops. The vast majority of GE crops are engineered to be resistant to pesticides and as a consequence, their introduction has dramatically increased the total pesticide use in U.S. agriculture.

APHIS still oversees GE crops under regulations drafted in the 1990s and, in March, suddenly abandoned plans to update its GE crop regulations, which the agency had proposed to do since 2004.

Under the current regulations, experimental field trials of GE crops have repeatedly been found to escape containment and APHIS has refused to monitor or regulate GE crops once they are commercialized.

“The longer APHIS fails to use its full authority to regulate the environmental and agricultural harms from GE crops, such as transgenic contamination of nearby crops, pesticide drift, and endangerment of protected species, the more these harms will occur,” said Stella. “CFS has been seeking information about these harms for over ten years—and for over ten years, APHIS has continually ignored our requests. It cannot continue to do so.”

The following examples of APHIS’s failure to comply with FOIA illustrate the potential for damage:

New crops evading regulation: APHIS failed to respond to a FOIA request related to GE sorghum, a crop that has evaded review and regulation. GE developers are increasingly avoiding regulation by engineering GE crops without inserting transgenes from APHIS’s “plant pest” list. USDA has declared these types of GE crops beyond its authority to regulate, so they receive no federal oversight before potential commercialization. This loophole makes public disclosure of all information related to the unregulated GE crop, like GE sorghum, all the more crucial.

Crops escaping field trials: GE crops that escape the confines of field trials, called “unauthorized releases,” are of particular concern because these GE plants can live in the wild and cross with native plants, or contaminate related conventional or organic crops. Timely public disclosure of information related to releases from field trials is essential for mitigation of these potential harms. CFS has filed several FOIA requests regarding field trials to which APHIS failed to provide timely responses, jeopardizing local farmers and environments.

In 2004, CFS filed a FOIA request related to field trials of GE “Roundup Ready” creeping bentgrass. APHIS delayed its response for over four years; meanwhile, the state of Oregon is still trying to find and destroy escaped feral populations of the GE bentgrass. CFS made another FOIA request regarding GE bentgrass in 2010, to which APHIS took over 5 years to respond.

CFS has made three requests regarding GE wheat field trials since 2002 and APHIS has failed to provide a timely respond each time. In the first instance, CFS had to file a lawsuit to compel APHIS to respond. To date, APHIS has failed to make any response to date to CFS’s most recent request. GE wheat contaminated an Oregon wheat field in 2013, causing millions of dollars of lost revenue for wheat growers in the subsequent years as sensitive foreign markets temporally shut down.

This is the fourth time CFS has had to sue APHIS to compel compliance with FOIA, and is the most extensive challenge to APHIS’s pattern of unreasonable delays to date.

Democracies die behind closed doors

Before the ink was dry on Wisconsin’s 2015–17 budget, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP were planning to tighten their stranglehold on state government.

With comfortable majorities in both houses of the Legislature and a Supreme Court majority bought with campaign cash, the GOP had free rein to slash revenue, de-fund public education and services, end regulations protecting the environment and give millions more to private voucher schools and phantom “job creators.”

Despite cuts to programs most Badgers hold near and dear, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows the final budget with a $210 million deficit. (On the presidential campaign trail, Walker is bragging it shows a $500 million surplus.) How did fiscally responsible Republicans create a deficit? Because of the huge tax cuts they instituted in the last budget that will roll out over the next few years.

Republican legislators tucked into the budget dozens of non-fiscal policy changes with no notice or public hearings. When media reps and citizens asked where these originated and who wrote them, they stonewalled, saying — unbelievably — that they had no idea.

Annoyed by requests for accountability, Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos responded with a proposal to gut Wisconsin’s open records law. His proposal would have made secret all records related to any deliberations about legislative proposals. It even declared that this veil of secrecy applied to all legislative deliberations for the past century! 

Republican leadership shamelessly introduced this item at 5 p.m. on the day before the three-day Fourth of July weekend, hoping no one would notice. The state’s media and watchdog groups spread the word quickly, and a firestorm of protest forced the GOP to drop the measure.

The GOP majority is likely to re-introduce this open records repeal, probably in a modified form to reduce opposition and to achieve its goal in an incremental fashion. GOP leaders have already indicated they hope to eliminate two other pillars of non-partisan public oversight: the Legislative Audit Bureau and the Government Accountability Board.

The Legislative Audit Bureau reviews state-funded programs and contracts for compliance with budget allocations and proper accounting practices. LAB audits revealed that UW System campuses were sitting on $648 million in reserve. LAB exposed the lack of paperwork and follow-up at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp, which has given millions to companies that were supposed to create jobs.

The Government Accountability Board has a broad mandate, and I expect the GOP to try to peel away and then eliminate its responsibilities one by one. GAB is charged with oversight of Wisconsin’s elections, including campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws. Its website is amazing. You can find out where to vote, how to run for office, how to file an ethics complaint. You can look up campaign contributions and violations, review lobbying activity reports and much more.

Targeting the open records law and the work of the LAB and GAB constitutes an all-out assault on public oversight that will lead to a more brazen, dictatorial one party state.

“Democracies die behind closed doors,” said federal Judge Damian J. Keith in a 2002 ruling. “When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation. The Framers of the First Amendment ‘did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us.’ …They protected the people against secret government.”

Jonathan Franzen’s fifth novel — ‘Purity’ — due in the fall

Writing has become no easier for Jonathan Franzen, whose fifth novel comes out this fall.

And neither, apparently, have interviews.

“I hope never to become glib,” the prize-winning and private author of “Freedom” and “The Corrections” said as he spoke before hundreds at BookExpo America at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where he made his first promotional appearance for his novel “Purity.”

Franzen appears more than capable of keeping that promise, often spending as much time critiquing the questions he was asked as he did actually answering them.  For longtime followers of the 55-year-old author, the hour-long discussion was vintage Franzen — witty and self-deprecating, digressive and self-conscious, the conversation ranging from basketball to Russian literary theory to the difficulties of talking about his work.

“Wheels are turning desperately in my head,” Franzen said when asked at the start of the discussion by interviewer Laura Miller of Salon.com whether “Purity” was more “playful” and “adventurous” than his recent books. The author, wearing jeans and a blazer and his familiar dark-rimmed glasses, explained that he had recently returned from East Africa and was struggling to figure out “cogent ways” to talk about “Purity.”

“I beg everyone’s indulgence because I haven’t figured it out,” he said.

Not everyone stayed with him. The crowd was standing room only at the start, but numerous seats were empty by the time the conversation was opened to questions from the audience. Those who left early missed a highlight of the event, a self-described “rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut” telling Franzen that “The Corrections” was the basis for her project on the “depressed male protagonist in post-9/11 literature.”

“Say no more,” answered a surprised, but amused Franzen.

Expectations are understandably high for “Purity,” a 500-plus page novel set everywhere from East Germany to South America to a community of anarchists in Northern California. “Freedom” and “The Corrections” were critically acclaimed best-sellers, both endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, that made Franzen a grateful and reluctant success.

He has written about his desire for literary fiction to be accessible to a broad audience and also expressed skepticism whether he wants his own books to be read by a broad audience. He began a promotional video for “Freedom” by stating his “profound discomfort” with making videos “like this.” He often has criticized Internet culture, dismissing Twitter as “the ultimate irresponsible medium.” He even questioned the title of his new book, saying he was reluctant to tell people he had written a novel called “Purity.”

“You can sometimes present yourself as somewhat misanthropic,” Miller said. “Do you agree with that, a little bit?”

“No,” said Franzen, smiling nervously, the audience laughing “No. Not at all. What makes you even say that?”

The title character of “Purity” is a young woman of uncertain parenthood known to most people as “Pip,” her name and background an apparent reference to Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” The novel also features an East German refugee who runs a Wikileaks-like news organization out of South America and flashbacks to Germany during the Cold War. “Purity” is often bleak, its plot including murder, suicide and numerous betrayals, but also leaves open the chance for love and family reconciliation.

“I see tension between your sometimes curmudgeonly-ness and your love for your characters,” Miller said to Franzen.

“The thing is dead in the water if I don’t find characters I can love,” he responded. “That’s what I’ve got, as a writer, is these characters that I love. To me, that’s what defines my work, is characters that I love.”

With a tone both friendly and hurt, he asked Miller, “Really, misanthropic?”

Walker Watch: Walker defends abortion policy while campaigning in New Hampshire

Challenged by a New Hampshire woman, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held firm on his recent comments about ultrasounds and defended Wisconsin’s law that requires doctors to conduct them before performing abortions.

“I’m pro-life, but if someone’s pro-choice don’t you want an informed choice?” Walker said in response to a question from Mary Heslin of Concord.

Walker’s remarks came during a Q-and-A-style gathering on a two-day swing through New Hampshire, which hosts the first presidential primary contest.

Speaking about abortion policy on a recent talk radio show, Walker touted his pro-life record, including a law he signed in 2013 that requires abortion providers to offer ultrasounds. He’s drawn fire from pro-abortion rights groups for saying that ultrasounds are “just a cool thing out there.”

Walker reiterated those comments on May 30 and charged the media with twisting the facts around Wisconsin’s law.

“I think for most people that ultrasound picture that many of us have and many of us have seen of our children and grandchildren now is a wonderful thing and a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

Walker ended his exchange with Heslin by telling the crowd he won’t back away from his positions on controversial issues.

“I think what you need are people who aren’t going to pander just because someone agrees or disagrees with them,” he said to applause.

Heslin said she typically votes Democratic but tries to attend as many candidate events as possible. She appreciated Walker’s frankness and said she plans to look up the details on Wisconsin’s ultrasound law, as well as a number of other stats Walker referenced about Wisconsin’s economy.

“I wouldn’t back down from where I stand either, so that’s fine,” she said. “I can respect that, but it’s bad when you have a stand that restricts (rights).”

Walker’s trip to New Hampshire also included two events with county Republican parties.

Refuse faith-based discrimination

As religious leaders from bountiful and diverse faith communities, we are concerned with the recent flood of state-level religious refusal bills that have potentially harmful and unintended consequences for the people we serve.

As people of faith who have embraced God’s free will as a gift to us all, we have great respect for the religious freedom of all Americans.

As faith leaders, we hold sacred the long-established First Amendment right of persons to worship based on their own beliefs and convictions.

This intentional means of living in community with others is how we best demonstrate that we are all God’s children. It is part of what makes this country great and it is this core tenet of our faiths that resists any action that seeks to limit the freedom of others.

We know there is a difference between worship space and public space. When providing services to the public, our religious freedom does not allow us to pick and choose whom we will serve. Our hands and our hearts must be open to all.

We do not believe it necessary for the state to pass religious refusal bills because:

• Our freedom of religion is already guaranteed and protected by the Constitution.

• Legislation that purports to protect people of faith could unleash a wave of costly lawsuits that will add undue burdens on the courts,  businesses and taxpayers.

  State-level religious refusals could cause harm in unintended but practical ways:

• A paramedic could refuse to provide life-saving services to a person who self-identifies as LGBT.

• A police officer could refuse to protect synagogues and mosques.

• A counselor could refuse to offer guidance to a teenager who is   LGBT, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh.

• A public servant could refuse services to interracial, interfaith, divorced and same-gender loving couples.

We are a pluralistic nation by choice, one of the most religiously diverse and devout in the world. Every day, we take steps forward on our journey toward “a more perfect union.” We are called to respect the fundamental dignity and worth of all.  While we may have different views on a variety of issues, we unite ourselves in the condemnation of discrimination and in firm support of equal protections as guaranteed by the Constitution.

We strongly encourage our elected officials not to support these unnecessary bills that cast wide the net for exclusion and division. Furthermore, we call on all legislatures to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to their civil rights laws and to explicitly forbid discrimination or denial of services to anyone.

The Revs. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Anthony Spearman Greensboro, North Carolina; the Revs. Al Sharpton and Rev. Chloe Breyer and Rabbi Denise Eger New York City; the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins and Imam Daayiee Abdullah, Washington, D.C.; the Rev. Ann Pittman, Lexington, Kentucky; the Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, Dallas; the Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton, Baltimore; Dr. Iva Carruthers, Chicago; the Rev. Lynn Ellsworth, Mount Pleasant, Iowa; the Rev. Dr. Delman Coates; Clinton, Maryland; Bishop Yvette Flunder, Oakland, California; Bishop Tonyia Rawls, Charlotte, North Carolina; the Rev. Dr. Wendell Griffin, Little Rock, Arkansas

Wisconsin May Day solidarity march set for May 1

The National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights — Wisconsin May Day Solidarity March for Immigrant and Worker Rights is set for 11 a.m. on May 1 in Milwaukee.

An announcement from Voces de la Frontera said there will be a rally at 11 a.m. at Voces de la Frontera, 1027 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee, followed by a march to the Milwaukee County Courthouse at 10th and Wells and then a closing program.

Organizers expect Elvira Arellano, the internationally recognized immigrant rights leader to join thousands of student, immigrant, labor and faith community activists and elected officials to attend the action to demand:

• Implementation of administrative immigration relief now.

• Immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

• Protections for public schools.

• The freedom to organize in the workplace.

• Living wages for all.

For more, go to Voces de la Frontera on Facebook.