Tag Archives: riverwest

Gauss is emblematic of Milwaukee’s creative current

By Joey Grihalva

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

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

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

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

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

PUNK ROCK ETHICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BIG APRIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO MAKE MUSIC YOUR LIFE

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

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

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

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

Listen to/purchase ‘Thalweg’ by clicking here.

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

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

FULL INTERVIEW BELOW

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

WiG
So you guys live together?

EDDIE
Yeah.

WiG
In Riverwest?

ANDY
Just off of Humboldt not far from Colectivo.

WiG
How do you like that?

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

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

WiG
No.

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

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

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

EDDIE
I am.

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

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

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

EDDIE
Music is still keeping you here to a degree.

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

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

ANDY
I heard Montreal’s pretty cool.

WiG
Montreal is great. But anyways…

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

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

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

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

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

WiG
And you’re from Milwaukee you said?

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

WiG
Going back to school…

EDDIE
Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
It was incredible.

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

EDDIE
It was surreal.

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

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

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

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

ANDY
Right.

WiG
He’s in Blonder too?

ANDY
They’re no longer a band.

EDDIE
Yeah. Our bassist Jimmy was also in Blonder.

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

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

EDDIE
We wanted to give something back.

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

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

WiG
It was mostly a cypher, right?

ANDY
Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
Definitely not like a network of it.

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

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

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

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

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

Gauss
Gauss

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

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
Long, slow songs.

WiG
But I liked it.

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

WiG
How did you guys start playing music?

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

WiG
What is a student-faculty band?

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

EDDIE
It sounds…great.

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

WiG
What were some of the covers you did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
Lots of very abrasive music.

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

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

EDDIE
Go to the library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
Eric Ash just started teaching music in…

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

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

ANDY
They were people we knew for a while…

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

WiG
Frustrating for who?

Gauss
Gauss (PHOTO by Eric Risser)

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

WiG
Feeling good with the six?

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

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

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

ANDY
And John was there.

WiG
What was that like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDY
It was just fun.

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

WiG
And there was free beer too.

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

EDDIE
I didn’t hold back.

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

EDDIE
Yeah I didn’t imagine that.

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

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

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

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

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

WiG
In terms of the masters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDY
They’ll figure it out.

WiG
Bring that baby on tour.

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

ANDY
I just trust him a lot and his input.

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

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

EDDIE
Or “That’s not my job.”

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

EDDIE
He’s a big supporter of the band.

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
Us too. And we were living here.

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

Gauss at Company Brewing.
Gauss at Company Brewing.

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

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

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

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

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

ANDY
The process itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDY
Oh yeah.

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

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

WiG
Was that this year?

EDDIE
No…

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

EDDIE
(Makes a fart noise.)

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

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

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

WiG
I enjoy that part of the creative process too…

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

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

EDDIE
And it didn’t really matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANDY
Yeah that was definitely a thought.

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

ANDY
Yeah, I don’t know…

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

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

EDDIE
It was totally about the music.

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

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

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

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

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

ANDY
Right.

EDDIE
I’ve only ever gone to Summerfest.

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

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
But how about the noon show that Caley played?

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

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

WiG
You’re talking about the shows on MLK?

ANDY
Yeah. What was that place called?

WiG
Lux Bar.

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

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

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

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

EDDIE
Yeah!

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

EDDIE
We would love to too.

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

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

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.

img_5530
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?”

newboyzclub_garibaldi_ccandrewfeller_00024
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)

Arte Para Todos unites musicians and visual artists for arts education

Quality arts education is on the decline in the United States. Publicly funded grants, from the federal to the local level, are on the decline, now standing at the dollar amount of the early Clinton years, despite the far greater number of public school students today.

Worse, state governments across the nation are trimming educational funding for the arts from their budgets. Those cuts are forcing schools to shutter programs that nourish young, talented artists-in-the-making and — as studies repeatedly show — help everyday students become more well-rounded individuals who score better on standardized tests and are better equipped to handle both college and the professional world.

In Wisconsin, school budgets were under pressure even before Gov. Scott Walker took office. Since then, he’s slashed public education funding, which has hit arts education especially hard. The onetime expectation that an average public school would have a basic level of art, music and performance programs is no longer true for most, if not all, inner-city and rural schools, where property taxes can’t make up for state cuts.

Hundreds of Milwaukee artists, musicians and advocates are fed up.

They’ve come together for Arte Para Todos, a weekend-long concert and art series championing “Art For All.” Bands and artists are participating for free, so every cent raised can go to three local schools to expand their arts education programs.

It’s an unprecedented show of support for education from the arts community.

Organizer Chuck Watson didn’t expect such a huge reaction when The Fatty Acids’ singer/keyboardist Josh Evert first brought the idea to him in early November 2014. His initial proposal was just a response to Walker’s re-election, a one-day set of shows meant to protest Walker’s anti-arts and anti-education policies.

But as they talked about it more, Watson says, they realized this could be bigger than a knee-jerk reaction to cuts by Walker and his political allies.

“(Walker) might not be our governor forever,” he says, “but these problems will always be here.”

The solution they came up with was to counter cuts to arts education funding the fastest way possible — by holding a series of benefit concerts, raising a bunch of money and giving it to schools that need it. 

As founder of the cultural advocacy group Made in Milwaukee and its offshoot Bay View Gallery Night, Watson is experienced in this sort of thing. Like many events he’s previously organized, Arte Para Todos will pair visual artists with a set of headlining bands that cross-multiple genres, so patrons interested in a particular artist or band will inadvertently find themselves experiencing a wider variety of creatives.

The final result will bring more than 80 bands and DJs together with 15 artists at 18 venues across the city. It’s an unprecedented lineup for the first-ever installment of a Milwaukee music festival, especially since no one is getting paid for it — except, of course, the three schools selected by Watson and his fellow organizers. 

Each of the three schools — Bay View High School, the East Side’s Tamarack Waldorf High School and Riverwest’s La Escuela Fratney — was selected by a member of the organizing committee who knew of their need. After basic groundwork on the festival began, the Arte Para Todos organizers contacted school administrators and arts educators to make sure they would accept the donations. 

Organizers found that their aid was coming at a critical moment, according to La Escuela Fratney art teacher Sue Pezanoski Browne. Her school, and many within Milwaukee Public Schools, are in temporary budget limbo, due to looming further cuts. If Walker’s 2015–17 budget passes as written, Wisconsin’s public schools stand to lose a large per-pupil appropriation that helped fund schools already struggling with a freeze on raising property taxes (Walker’s proposed budget, in fact, decreases property taxes even further — a total reduction of $280 million).

For MPS, it amounts to more than $12 million, gone in a flash. 

It’s a cut Pezanoski Browne says would certainly result in losses at La Escuela Fratney, and she and her arts colleagues could be the ones in danger. Her school has been operating without a reading resource specialist for years and currently has a music teacher come in just once a week. She’s lucky enough to have a full-time position now, but it’s no guarantee. After Act 10 was passed in 2011, Pezanoski Browne was let go after almost a decade of working at La Escuela Fratney. She was only rehired in 2013, when the school’s governance council was able to restore her former job.

Pezanoski Browne says she’s the exception, however. When she started working at MPS in the late 1990s, she says, parents could expect a complete team of full-time arts educators in just about every K–8 school in the district. By the time she was let go, there were only 11 full-time-equivalent visual art teachers working for MPS’ 117 K–8 schools, some of whom earned their full-time status by working part-time at up to five different schools in a given year. 

Pezanoski Browne says outgoing MPS superintendent Gregory Thornton was working to increase full-time positions for art and music specialists year-by-year, and arts organizations have tried to pick up the slack by offering more community education programs to her school and the rest of MPS. But she thinks people don’t understand that isn’t the same as having teachers who can work with students directly and don’t have to split their efforts among multiple schools.

“It’s really simple,” she says, “Do we value having really full, rich experiences for our students? … And don’t the kids in the inner city of Milwaukee deserve the same thing as the kids who live in more affluent districts?”

Part of the problem, she says, is that one of the primary sources of funding for public schools in Wisconsin is property taxes. Schools in districts with high-value homes get more money, while schools in lower-income districts need other kinds of public funding, like grants or state budget appropriations, to make up the difference.

Or, in this particular case, a gift from musicians and artists who remember how important arts programs were to their own creative development and know how necessary they will be to cultivate the next generation of artists and art consumers.

“If we’re not educating in the arts,” Watson says, “we’ll have old musicians with no one to play to.”

Even with such an important goal, Watson says he was surprised to see so many bands and artists sign on for the fundraiser. As a musician himself, he says performing for free, or for a good cause, isn’t the sort of thing that naturally comes to ego-driven band members. But Milwaukee’s music scene has changed during his time in the city, with artists now more inclined to collaborate than they would have been even five years ago.

“It’s certainly a renaissance in my lifetime,” he says, adding that this is one of the biggest opportunities to leverage the growing spirit of community. “These are new conversations. Many of these performers are 20-somethings who hadn’t taken the time to think about (supporting the arts) yet.”

Once the weekend wraps up, Arte Para Todos organizers will divide the proceeds into thirds and gift them to each of the three schools to support the arts in some way. 

There’s no restrictions on exactly what that means, and Watson suggests whether it goes to something small but vital like art supplies or a larger project may depend largely on what each school’s individual needs are, and how much is actually earned by the series.

Whether that number is big or small, Watson knows Arte Para Todos will be of great benefit to these schools’ arts programs.

“If you’re going to live in a city,” he says, “you have two options to fix a problem: Wait. Or do it yourself.”

Milwaukee’s tired of waiting.

‘The Winter’s Tale’

It might seem a little strange for a theater company dedicated to summer performances to take on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, but Optimist Theatre isn’t going to let a silly thing like seasonal dissonance get in the way of a good story. And The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s best, a romance that begins with a queen wrongly accused of adultery (haven’t we all been there?) and ends with her abandoned daughter, a shepherdess unaware of her royal blood, bringing about her mother’s redemption and finding love of her own. As if that plot didn’t offer enough action, there’s also a bear chasing someone offstage.

At Kadish Park in Riverwest, Milwaukee. Admission is free, and seating can be accessed beginning an hour before the show. Visit optimisttheatre.org for more details.

8 p.m. on Fri., June 13, through Sun, June 29

ART Milwaukee to transform abandoned rail tracks into performance space

Keith Hayes likes playing with words. The architect and activist’s nonprofit organization is called Beintween, for example. He Kickstarted a project last year to develop a new type of walking path surface called “matireal,” created out of thrown-away rubber car tires. Hayes plans to use that matireal to build a new ‘Creational Trail (add the “re-”, you’ll get it) in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.

The trail’s name? The ARTery.

But in his latest endeavor, Hayes isn’t playing with a single word. That’s what he’s asking you to do.

More specifically, Hayes and his allies at ART Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Committee have been trumpeting a call for performance ideas since December. They’re looking for innovative, area-specific ways to bring attention to the developing ARTery, a 2/3-mile extension of Riverwest’s Beerline Trail from Keefe and Richards Streets up to Capitol Drive. The trail will be paved with Beintween’s matireal and outfitted as a public park space.

Over the past year, Hayes has worked with educational consultant Tyrone Dumas, performance artist/activist Dasha Kelly and volunteers to lay out the raw matireal along the ARTery path.

Twenty submissions will be selected for performance on the path. Those winners will share a $40,000 prize from a $350,000 ArtPlace America grant. Beintween co-received the grant along with the GMC and Art Milwaukee in May 2013 to fund the ‘Creational Trails Project. In addition to the ARTery path, ‘Creational Trails includes a similar revitalization of Wisconsin Avenue from the Milwaukee River west to I-43. That project, called The Avenue Project, is helmed by Art Milwaukee president Angela Damiani and will develop what she calls “placemaking residencies” or temporary art installations.

For the ARTery path, Hayes says organizers are “really trying to get core performances that can be emblematic of the neighborhood.” The goal is to help foster a sense of community. Hayes picked up the idea while studying at UWM under Diébédo Francis Kéré, a prize-winning German architect.

Rather than taking the typical architectural mindset — “If you build it, they will come” — Hayes says his goal is to build community and then base the project on what the community can and will be able to do.

Building community is critical in the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods, which are isolated from one another, Hayes says.

Hayes sees a cultural richness in both neighborhoods that’s not reflected in their economic value. He wants to use the ARTery project as a way to tie the neighborhoods together both physically and culturally.

“Harambee means ‘all pull together’ (in Swahili), but who’s pulling?” he asks. “We can’t necessarily change segregation, but what if we could just create a physical connection that would be an extension of this trail?” 

The deadline for submitting ideas for the ARTery project is Feb. 7. Beintween will select 40 entries for a talent show performance on Feb. 22, where a panel of judges will select the winning 20. Most of the money received by winners will be set aside for production and documentation of their performances over the summer.

ARTery will precede the city’s plans to pave the trail in spring 2015. But Hayes says the performances, along with a series of installations organizers hope to set up along the path over the summer, can give the city a guide to follow when they take ownership of the trail.

“(The ARTery) is a blank canvas,” Hayes says. “We have an opportunity to change the impression of what this could be.”

Submissions

Beintween’s call for performance ideas concludes at 5 p.m. Feb. 7. For more information or to submit an idea, visit creationaltrails.com.

New business is cocoon for emerging artists in Riverwest

It’s a Sunday afternoon and Rachel Buth is working on a tank-top design for a client. She’s reducing her design down to two colors with the help of friend and Cocoon Room co-owner Shelia Teruty. Amid the creative idea sharing, Amanda Mills, the store’s third co-owner, is showing a curious passerby the space’s clothing boutique and art section. 

The amorphous Riverwest arts venue is a multi-operational space that functions as an art gallery, boutique store and creative workplace that also transforms into a music venue at dusk. The three co-owners envisioned a venue similar to Foxglove Gallery, which formerly occupied the space. 

All three are engaged in the curating process and they share mutual goals. Each owner acts as an essential leg for the tripod that balances the Cocoon Room.

“We all have our own tastes, but we all agree on what good art is,” Teruty says. “We all went to school for art and design and have been doing these things for a long time. We look for artists who are unique and have different perspectives.”

Founded in November 2012 and launched earlier this year, Cocoon Room aims to fulfill the owners’ belief that the neighborhood needed to continue holding “a place to celebrate the arts and the Riverwest community,” Buth says.

When seeking a name for their multifaceted gallery, Mills was attracted to the concept of a cocoon. 

“The idea behind it is something crawling inside and going through metamorphosis – changing, learning, creating and coming out as something else. Kind of like a transformation,” she says.

During their regular hours, Cocoon Room serves as a small boutique that sells curated pre-owned clothing, as well as new, handmade apparel, jewelry and other accessories. The owners say they don’t want Cocoon to be considered a typical second-hand store, so they choose items that reflect their unique style.

The space also can be rented out at a modest price for both music events and art installations. People can be shopping for clothes, listening to a band and enjoying work by local artists – all at the same time. 

Even before opening, Cocoon Room’s owners showed their hospitality by hosting shows for Riverwest Fest. For gay Pride month in June, the gallery displayed the “Celebrate Queer Milwaukee” artist series. 

In addition to the other activities, Cocoon Room serves as a space for the owners’ other businesses, which include So Passé, a fashion design enterprise, Redish, a photography studio, and Sunshine Acid Designs, which makes jewelry and clothing. Recently, So Passé and Sunshine Acid Designs contributed a fashion editorial for Info* magazine. 

The three entrepreneurs cooperate well in managing the gallery and say they’re excited for future events and endeavors. 

“We all take responsibility and combine our talents and experiences to run it and make it successful,” Buth says. “We encourage people to send in images and ideas for shows. I don’t know how people are hearing about us but we get requests from everywhere – all different states.”

Cocoon Room has just finished installing works by emerging artists Nick Hetzel, Shawn Gurath and Wiliam Arthur. In September, the gallery plans on hosting a fashion photography show. Inspired by her recent experience teaching at Children’s Outing of America, a youth and family center located in Riverwest, Mills plans to offer jewelry-making classes at Cocoon Room. 

Together the owners have created a space that both nurtures and exhibits the growing arts scene in Riverwest.

“Cocoon Room is a haven of good energy and creativity,” Mills says. “We have a work space here and if people want to come in and work on stuff they can. That’s one of the reasons why we’re here.”

On the Web: For more, visit facebook.com/cocoonroommke.

Milwaukee Quakers protest marriage inequality

Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have long been at the forefront of efforts to achieve social justice and peace. The movement played a major role in the abolition of slavery in the United States and the United Kingdom during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Quakers have been so strenuously involved in the anti-war movement over the years that the FBI and the Pentagon have kept various “meetings,” the Quaker equivalent of congregations, under surveillance. Under Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon had a lengthy file on an anti-war group associated with the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla.

Not surprisingly, Quaker groups also have been out front on the issue of marriage equality. Some meetings that perform wedding ceremonies refuse to sign civil marriage certificates, requiring the couples to have them completed by county officials.

The meetings involved in the marriage protest consider their refusal to sign the documents as an act of protest against marriage inequality. They plan to resume signing members’ marriage certificates when same-sex marriage is legalized.

Milwaukee Friends Meeting, 3224 N. Gordon Place, in the Riverwest neighborhood, recently joined the protest against marriage inequality, becoming perhaps the first Quaker group in the state to do so. 

“We will not participate in the civil aspects of any marriage until such time as same-sex couples are able to participate in it,” said Roger Hansen, who’s part of the meeting’s marriage equality committee. He and his husband John Payton became part of the meeting after retiring and moving from Evanston, Ill., to Milwaukee in 2002. The couple also is active in Equality Wisconsin, an LGBT advocacy organization.

Hansen estimates 10-15 percent of the meeting’s approximately 200 affiliates are LGBT.

Although the marriage protest presents some inconvenience for members planning nuptials, they don’t seem to mind, said Janet, the meeting’s immediate past clerk. In fact, she said some members decided to take the action on their own before it became the Quaker equivalent of a policy, in order to show their solidarity with same-sex couples.

Hilliker said that the Quaker decision-making process involves reflection rather than debate. The proposal to join the marriage protest was brought up at two separate meetings, and no one expressed dissent at either.

“We don’t take votes, so it requires a very strong sense of unity” for what is called a “minute” to pass, Hilliker said.

The meeting first began to address LGBT issues when anti-gay forces in Wisconsin began campaigning for what Hilliker calls the “awful” voter referendum to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions in 2006.

“The work against the amendment in 2006 mobilized a number of members, and we passed another minute at that time to reaffirm our commitment to gay and lesbian issues,” Hilliker said. 

Quakers first began welcoming LGBT people in the 1970s and expressed approval for same-sex marriage as far back as 1987, Hansen said. As with other faith groups, not all meetings are in the same place on the conservative-liberal spectrum.

There are four basic sects, and two of them have programmed worship services and follow an evangelical brand of theology, Hilliker said. The Riverwest meeting is casual and has no structured form of worship. Attendees speak when they feel called upon, Hilliker explained, using the old-fashioned forms of address “thee” and “thou,” although they might be wearing jeans.

The Riverwest meeting place is located on a scenic land preserve on the west bank of the Milwaukee River.

On the Web…

For more, go to www.milwaukeequakers.org/visitors/inv_to_worship.html?Op.

Centro Café shows pasta some love


Centro Café
808 E. Center St.
(414) 455-3751
centrocaferiverwest.com

Ever since seeing the movie “Moonstruck,” I’ve yearned to live in an Italian neighborhood. I’m envious of River Westeners who live near Centro Café. The neighborhood isn’t Italian, but they have the most important part of my dream: a cozy trattoria. Since the folks running Centro Café aren’t pretentious, they don’t call it a trattoria.

The café, owned by Pat Moore and Peg Karpfinger, resides in a storefront purchased in 2003. The space shines with the loving care that was given to its several-year restoration. The friendly service, spectacular food and reasonable prices have made it a dining destination for folks in the neighborhood and throughout the Milwaukee metro area.

We visited on one of the last warm evenings of fall without a reservation and were able to snag a table on a busy Saturday night. True, we did have to scrunch four people around a two-top sidewalk table, but as soon as the food arrived we didn’t much care that the table was crowded.

Our friendly and well-informed server was one reason we had such a good time. Ruthie was friendly and jovial without being intrusive – not an easy feat. But the primary reason for our contentment was the food.

The Caesar was perfectly dressed with a light coating of freshly made dressing caressing each leaf of romaine. Freshly shaved parmesan and a few home-made croutons completed the dish. I would have appreciated a few anchovies as well, but other than that it was perfect. At $4 for the smaller dish (which was a generous portion), it was a steal, even by Centro Café’s economical standards. The soup offering on the night of our visit was a vegan roasted eggplant purée. It proved to be fragrant, pleasantly spicy and rich enough that even a carnivore wouldn’t miss the meat. Again the low cost was an unbelievable $3.50 a cup or $5 a bowl (which could easily serve as a meal).

Entrées are equally delicious and well-priced. Pasta dishes start at $7 a serving, with none going for more than $12. The portion sizes were generous without being overly large. If you have a hefty appetite, you won’t go away hungry, and lighter eaters will have enough leftover for another meal. Additionally, any pasta dish can be made with gluten-free pasta, as gluten intolerance seems to be the 21st-century version of the peanut allergy.

Farfalle a la giardiniera paired bow-tie pasta with asparagus, carrots, red pepper, mushroom and basil. The happy marriage managed to be light and satisfying at the same time. Plump and airy gnocchi offered a sizable portion of potato dumplings, roasted red pepper and spinach in a white wine sauce. The day’s pasta special featured tender pasta and fresh salmon bathed in a creamy tomato-based sauce reminiscent of Campbell’s cream of tomato soup (and that’s a good thing).

The spaghetti di frutte di mare tempted me with its promise of calamari, scallops and shrimp in tomato white wine sauce. This was the one disappointing dish of the evening. The shrimp were plentiful, but small and overcooked. I would have preferred fewer, larger shrimp. The calamari and scallops were chopped so small as to be unidentifiable. The sauce, similar to the one on the pasta dish, masked the seafood flavor.

Not that you’ll need them to complete your meal, but the contorni (vegetable side dishes) are remarkably cheap, $2 or less, and perfectly prepared. There is a nice selection of exceptionally well-priced house wines available by the glass or bottle ($5 to $9 a glass, $22 to $30 a bottle) and some high-end options by the bottle. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy the mom and pop hospitality and scrumptious food again. If I’m lucky Cher will walk by, her wig flowing in the wind, kicking an empty can down the middle of Center Street.

‘Girls’ fest comes to Riverwest

After two decades of the Riot Grrrl movement, Milwaukee will host Girls to the Front Fest, Oct. 22 – 24 in the Riverwest neighborhood. The three-day event is open to “all people and all gender identities,” according to the website and will include music, workshops, films, readings and more. Event organizers are still looking for participants, sponsors and volunteers. Go to girlstothefrontmke.blogspot.com.