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Never Mind the Patriarchy, Here’s New Boyz Club

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

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

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

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

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

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Katie Lyne and Johanna Rose (PHOTO – Amanda Mills)

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

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

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

BASEMENTS AND CHURCH CHOIRS

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

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

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

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Airo Kwil

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

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

TEMPO CHANGE

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

David Rose.
William David Rose

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

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

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

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

Katie Lyne and Django

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

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

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

THE CHARM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is my full-interview with Johanna and Katie.

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

JOHANNA

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

(We clink glasses.)

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

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Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band

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

WiG

Were you playing upright bass with them?

JOHANNA

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

WiG

Where was that?

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

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Aytan Luck (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

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

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

WiG

So you were going to punk basement shows?

JOHANNA

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

Did you make it?

JOHANNA

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

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Poster by Alyssa Wiener

WiG

It’ll be next week Thursday in print.

JOHANNA

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

WiG

What other art projects are you working on?

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

Oh yeah! That was a great summer.

WiG

So the first FemFest was 2015?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

So there was a bit of anticipation?

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

Yeah and I was just a mess the whole time.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

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

WiG

Oh yeah on Water Street.

JOHANNA

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

(Katie Lyne shows up.)

JOHANNA

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

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

That sounds worth it.

KATIE

It was worth it. It was dope.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Go to The Rave and take Molly.

JOHANNA

I guess.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Same here. And then I had a Phish period.

JOHANNA

I skipped that.

WiG

Alpine Valley?

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

Oh yes. That was amazing!

KATIE

I was there too.

WiG

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

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

WiG

Was Will with you?

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

KATIE

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

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

WiG

Your family was all about that too?

KATIE

No, just my school. It was brainwashing basically.

WiG

What school?

KATIE

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

WiG

This was at Catholic school?

KATIE

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

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

WiG

So you transferred?

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Well, what happened was…

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

We went on an adventure.

KATIE

Oh yeah!

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

In the pouring rain.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Had a bottle of Jack.

JOHANNA

Also singing.

KATIE

Definitely singing.

JOHANNA

And then we just started singing…

KATIE

And we never stopped.

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Didn’t even know her name.

WiG

You started harmonizing together randomly?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

So our bands played some shows together.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Right.

Young Johanna and Will Rose
Young Johanna and Will Rose

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Oh yeah. Jesus Christ.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

Exactly.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

You know they ripped that song off?

KATIE

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

WiG

Was that your first time on stage?

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

People said that?

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Maybe.

KATIE

When you sing bluegrass now you do.

JOHANNA

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

WiG

When was that?

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Bedridden. On pain killers.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

That’s how you do it.

newboyzclub_garibaldi_ccandrewfeller_00007-1
Johanna (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

WiG

And when was that bike ride adventure?

KATIE

2014.

JOHANNA

During the Janes hiatus.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

It was the perfect welcoming environment for us actually.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Then we hung out forever.

KATIE

And now I have a baby.

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

KATIE

Tabarnak!

WiG

Nice. I lived in Montreal for about three years.

KATIE

Oh my God!

JOHANNA

I love Montreal!

KATIE

Where?

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

What did you do?

JOHANNA

We went and we saw this crazy band that…

KATIE

There’s a beautiful music scene there.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Yep.

WiG

There’s a lot of Arcade Fire side projects.

JOHANNA

I bet. I bet they’re brilliant too.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

And we were just so sick of being cute.

KATIE

Yeah!

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

(Both laugh)

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Just do it!

JOHANNA

Totally.

KATIE

Like semi-vocal coaching her in this subtle way.

JOHANNA

One hundred percent vocal coaching me, the whole time.

KATIE

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

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

JOHANNA

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

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Is that how it happened?

KATIE

Yes.

(Both laugh)

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

So we didn’t like invite eight people…

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

On some things.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Maybe.

JOHANNA

And then we toured and you were seven months pregnant.

WiG

I remember seeing dispatches from that tour.

KATIE

Yeah that was fun.

WiG

Busking in Pittsburgh…

KATIE

That was the best part of it!

Busking in Pittsburgh (PHOTO – Maggie Iken)

JOHANNA

Busking was the best part.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

The one in Pittsburgh was cool.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Gremlins.

KATIE

I think it was a commune though.

JOHANNA

It was like a punk commune…

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

I saw no attractive guys there.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

I didn’t catch on to that!

KATIE

I did. I was sober the whole time.

WiG

Pregnancy sober, naturally.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Family.

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

KATIE

What did we do? Chicago, Ohio…

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

…Pittsburgh, Madison, Milwaukee.

JOHANNA

Green Bay.

KATIE

Oh yeah. (Laughs)

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Appleton too.

JOHANNA

It was an experience.

KATIE

Cleveland? No! Columbus.

JOHANNA

Illustration by Stephanie Brusabardis.
Illustration by Stephanie Brusabardis.

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

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

KATIE

Yeah, now I work here.

WiG

Company is quite the…

KATIE

I rehearse upstairs…

JOHANNA

It’s the mothership.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

KATIE

I didn’t get to do that show.

JOHANNA

She was having a baby.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

And the rehearsals for that were brutal.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

We talked about it.

KATIE

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

Django and Johanna
Django and Johanna

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Oh yeah. He claps now.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

I go, “Dance Django!”

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

JOHANNA

No!

KATIE

And he twerks his little butt.

JOHANNA

We’re hanging out tomorrow.

KATIE

Of course.

JOHANNA

I’m coming over.

KATIE

I have leftovers in my fridge already.

JOHANNA

Haha…on it!

(Both laugh)

WiG

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

WiG

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

KATIE

Yeah!

JOHANNA

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

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

WiG

George sings on it?

JOHANNA

Oh yeah. Django was there.

KATIE

I was conducting…

JOHANNA

Yeah, she was conducting with Django strapped…

KATIE

He was in a woven wrap strapped to my body.

JOHANNA

And she conducted the whole thing.

KATIE

That’s where I put my degree to use.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

And it’s like a reverb chamber up there.

JOHANNA

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

WiG

Was it in the front room upstairs?

KATIE

Yeah. In that big open space.

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

We were so pumped.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

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

KATIE

Questioning.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

No.

JOHANNA

Like I did all of “Taxes” naked.

WiG

The recording of it?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

The vocal recording.

JOHANNA

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

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

KATIE

And it’s very beautiful.

WiG

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

It was super tedious. I was super nit picky.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

We’re such moody assholes.

KATIE

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

WiG

Was it mostly recorded this summer?

JOHANNA

Heidi and David Rose
Heidi and David Rose

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

KATIE

It’s real and it’s truth.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

It’s pretty cool. We’re pretty lucky.

JOHANNA

Yeah we are.

WiG

I was going to ask you about your dad…

JOHANNA

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

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

KATIE

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

13495107_10208630981684502_4098821722165669244_n
David, Will, and Heidi Rose

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

He liked seeing us play together.

KATIE

And he’s not going to bullshit you either.

JOHANNA

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

WiG

Was that his jam?

Young Johanna and her father
Young Johanna and her father

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

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

WiG

You might have some other things in there.

KATIE

Food from the co-op.

JOHANNA

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

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Oh yeah?

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

It’s okay, I’ll adjust.

KATIE

I can’t drink vodka, oh my God.

WiG

Only in bloodies.

KATIE

Right!

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

KATIE

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

WiG

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

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

KATIE

Is this original?

JOHANNA

Yeah.

KATIE

Oh shit.

WiG

I can already picture it on the streets of Berlin.

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

JOHANNA

So I’m going back to folk.

KATIE

Gypsy folk.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Love fuels it.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

This girl…

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Because it’s hot and it’s beautiful.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Me too!

(Both laugh)

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Yeah, that’s when I said goodbye.

(The song ends.)

WiG

That is fantastic.

KATIE

What?!

JOHANNA

Yeah and I still have to fix it tomorrow.

KATIE

I like how Carl always sings about the devil.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Is that you?

JOHANNA

I wonder who the fuck that is..

(Both laugh)

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Jesus Christ.

JOHANNA

I know, it’s so cheesy.

KATIE

You guys are a fucking movie.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Like, “Do we need to song this out?!”

WiG

Oh, the mechanisms for managing arguments…

JOHANNA

And he doesn’t sing in Milwaukee.

KATIE

He’s very humble.

WiG

Is he from Milwaukee?

JOHANNA

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

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

My friends used to call them “Amish zombies.”

KATIE

Oh!

JOHANNA

Don’t put that in your article.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

From where?

JOHANNA

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

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

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

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

KATIE

It’s too emotional.

JOHANNA

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

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

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

KATIE

And the chemicals they’re inhaling.

JOHANNA

Right.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Especially Wisconsin.

WiG

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

JOHANNA

Of course, it can be completely corrupt.

WiG

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

KATIE

Yeah, that’s power.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Ukraine is not a utopia.

WiG

Berlin now is pretty great.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

But they’re not.

JOHANNA

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

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

WiG

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

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

But there should be so much more.

WiG

American hates to admit its original sin.

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

Did you see that article Cree posted?

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

WiG

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

JOHANNA

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

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

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

The harassment of women.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Constantly.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Thank you.

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

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

KATIE

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

JOHANNA

Now we do whatever we want happily.

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Johanna Rose (PHOTO – Andrew Feller)

Surfrider-Milwaukee celebrates ‘Great Lake’ with art show

As part of its 30 days to Celebrate Our Great Lake event, Surfrider-Milwaukee presents Contained in Water, a mixed media art exhibition at Colectivo Coffee in Shorewood.

An opening reception is 8-11 p.m. July 22 at Colectivo Coffee, 4500 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood.  The show runs through Aug. 28.

Curated by surfer and psychologist Kenneth Cole and environmental artist Melanie Ariens, Contained in Water reflects a love of the Great Lakes.

The show features tiki artwork by Dave Hansen, prints by Tamir Klein, sculptural video projection by Adam Kuhnen, paintings by Jarka Sobiskova, canvas prints by Bodin Sterba and photographs by Ryan Bigelow and Terri Hart-Ellis, as well as work from the show’s curators.

In addition to Contained in Water, Surfrider-Milwaukee’s 30 days to Celebrate Our Great Lake includes:

• A beach cleanup at Bradford Beach, July 30, 9-11 a.m.

• Surfcraft & Draft at Draft and Vessel in Shorewood, Aug. 6, 6-10 p.m.

• Surf @Water, Atwater Beach, Shorewood, August 20, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.. This event celebrates surf, sun and fun with a sunrise paddle, beach yoga, SUP and surf lessons and a surf film festival under the stars.

Surfrider-Milwaukee‘s mission is “to celebrate, protect, and educate the community about our Great Lake, Lake Michigan.” Local surfers Eric Gietzen, Ken Cole, Bodin Sterba, Hans Good and Ryan Bigelow lead the group.

Since 1984, Surfrider Foundation International has been working to protect waters across the globe.

Terri Hart Ellis, Feather, photograph. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Terri Hart-Ellis, Feather, photograph. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Jaroslawa Sobiskova, Luchador #1, mixed-media. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Jarka Sobiskova, Luchador #1, mixed-media. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Bodin Sterba, Surf@Water, digital print. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee
Bodin Sterba, Surf@Water, digital print. — IMAGE: Surfrider-Milwaukee

Wis. Republicans want law barring transgender students from restrooms

Two Republican lawmakers, seeking to rollback reforms in 60 Wisconsin school districts, are pushing a bill to ban transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

The measure — a proposed mandate that school districts designate facilities exclusively for one biological sex or the other — is being circulated for co-sponsors by state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, and state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater.

“This bill reinforces the societal norm in our schools that students born biologically male must not be allowed to enter facilities designated for biological females and vice versa,” Kremer wrote in a memo.

Meanwhile, Democrats Sondy Pope, a representative from Cross Plains, and Nikiya Harris Dodd, a senator from Milwaukee, are seeking co-sponsors for a measure that would require the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to develop a model policy protecting the rights of transgender students. The measure also would require school districts to adopt a policy.

The Democratic lawmakers wrote in a memo, “Recent actions in our state and nationwide indicate that many individuals do not have a clear understanding of the unique issues faced by transgender youth. Adopting a school board-wide policy is necessary to ensure a safe, equal learning environment for transgender students.”

Civil rights groups, education organizations and Democratic lawmakers denounced the bill by Kremer and Nass as mean-spirited, reckless and discriminatory.

“This bill is an unnecessary solution in search of a problem,” said Megin McDonell, the interim executive director of Fair Wisconsin, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “It singles out, isolates and stigmatizes transgender students, who often already face harassment and exclusion at school.”

McDonell said the bill would undermine the advances in many school districts, which “have made allowing students to use facilities and participate in sports and activities consistent with their gender identity.”

State Reps. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, and Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, two of three openly LGBT members of the Assembly, responded in a joint statement. They said the measure proposed by Kremer and Nass reveals a “gross misunderstanding of both biology and gender identity.”

The Democrats also said the measure constituted “the ultimate invasion of privacy. We don’t need big government to check kids’ anatomy before they’re allowed to use the bathroom.”

Dozens of school districts in the state have adopted best practices and modernized nondiscrimination policies, protecting all students.

The Janesville School District, for example, has a policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms assigned to the gender with which they identify, if parents and principals give the OK. Meanwhile, in the Madison School District and at Shorewood High School, policies provide for transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.

None of these districts have reported an incident of a non-transgender student being harassed by the presence of a transgender student, according to GSAFE, a Wisconsin organization that advocates for LGBT students.

“All this bill does is single out transgender and intersex students for increased scrutiny and harassment, directly jeopardizing their safety,” said GSAFE education and policy director Brian Juchems.

Juchems noted that the language in the “bathroom bill” is the same as the language in a draft policy circulated by the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom. 

“Instead of looking outside our state, our Legislature should look at the sample policy drafted by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards,” suggested Juchems. 

In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the state does not ban discrimination based on gender identity.

Frank Lloyd Wright house rediscovered in Shorewood

A Frank Lloyd Wright house has been rediscovered after being hidden in plain sight for years in Shorewood.

“It went from ‘Your house can’t possibly be a Frank Lloyd Wright house” to ‘Your house is most definitely a Frank Lloyd Wright house,’ Pat Wisialowski, who has owned the Shorewood home since 1993, said. “It was very exciting.”

It was constructed in 1917 as an American System-Built House, part of Wright’s effort to develop and market well-designed houses for any income level — his first effort to reach a broader audience.

There are currently 13 others standing in the Midwest, including six in Milwaukee and one in Oshkosh. The venture never really got off the ground with developer, the Richards Co., due to World War I-related economic and financial issues.

The two-bedroom house in Shorewood is a “Model A203,” with the original art glass windows in place. A basement-level garage was added in 1976 and an open porch at the rear of the house was enclosed for added living space at an unknown date. 

Earlier owners knew it was a Wright home because it was advertised as such when it was sold previously. But by the time Wisialowski bought it, she was told it was designed by someone who used to work under Wright.

There it remained until a man drove by the house about five years ago and insisted to Wisialowski’s husband Roger that it was a Wright house. That led to an investigation by another Wright scholar but he later died and the mystery continued.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that her husband mentioned the story while playing the game Sheepshead with Pat Lilek, who happens to be the mother of Mike Lilek, curator of the Wright-designed American System-Built Homes in Milwaukee. 

At first, Mike Lilek said he was skeptical.

“Only 433 Wright designs were executed and they are well-known and carefully researched, so I thought it couldn’t be,” he said. Then he visited the house and saw the Wright similarities. 

But he needed more. So he embarked on a research project.

Among other things, he discovered a lawsuit filed by Wright against the Richards Co., demanding royalties he wasn’t paid.

The lawsuit said Wright was dissatisfied with the way the houses were being built and claimed he wasn’t receiving the full accounting of homes being built, according to Lilek.

Lilek also found the original drawing for the house. He said no one ever connected the dots because the drawing was filed in the archive in an unusual folder — with no name or address. 

Lilek said Wright probably didn’t even know about the house.

“I would say there is a probability there will be more,” he said. 

For Wisialowski, at one point she said she and her husband would have been content just suspecting it was a Wright house. But she is glad they now definitely know.

“Part of it was like a vindication or validating because I’ve been here for 22 years. I always felt it was very special,” she said.

Waxwing flies back

It sounded like just another example of the same sad story: The Waxwing, a consignment shop that offers local artists the chance to sell their wares to eager Shorewood residents, was being forced to close at the height of its success because it wasn’t going to get a lease renewed for another year.

And then, as suddenly as the bad news came, it wasn’t such a sad story after all.

On Jan. 17, only a few weeks after owner and artist Steph Davies announced that The Waxwing would close at the end of February, she reversed course, revealing that her landlord had granted The Waxwing and its artists a one-year reprieve — largely as a result of the outpouring of sadness and support she and the store received in those weeks. 

Davies says she was surprised by the response her initial announcement got — “I had people coming in crying when they found out we were closing,” she says — but the passion of The Waxwing’s customer base hasn’t ever been in question, even from day one.

Davies opened The Waxwing in 2012, replacing the space’s two previous owners and her old bosses. They’d run a smaller-scale version of the shop, Hummingbird Art Boutique, and when they chose to step away from the store, Davies decided to give it a shot. She picked the name “Waxwing” as a loose tie to Sparrow Collective in Bay View, where she had previously sold art, as well as a suggestion of combining two distinct things in the way many of her crafters and artists do.

She’d gotten a lot of encouragement from her friends in the art community, as well as the Shorewood residents who’d stopped in for her soft opening, but when Davies officially opened her doors that March, she didn’t expect anyone to show up. She was mistaken. The store was packed from wall to wall and in that single night, she made enough to cover her rent for the month.

The Waxwing’s flown higher since. Originally home to about 65 artists (including Davies, for whom the shop doubled as a studio until she ran out of space), the store is now packed to the brim with drawings, paintings, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, pottery and handmade gifts of all sorts from 120 artists. 

Initially, Davies herself had to find artists, scouring craft fairs and galleries for art she liked, as well as art she thought would fit well in the store — a distinction she had to cultivate quickly. Now artists find her, and while many of them have been with The Waxwing for years, Davies regularly has to rotate out artists in order to let in new ones.

As a consignment shop, The Waxwing offers artists 60 percent of the earnings on their works. Davies says the percentage is higher than many other boutiques offer. In exchange for that extra amount, though, artists are expected to drop off their work ready to be sold, with labels, packaging and all. When items arrive, Davies and her six-person staff unpack them and take photographs to share on the website and in social media outlets. Most artists bring in items once a month, with the more popular and prolific doing so even more frequently. “In that sense,” Davies says, “it’s more fun than regular retail, because you never know what’s in store.”

Over the past three years, Davies says, she’s had the pleasure of watching many of her regular artists grow as a result of The Waxwing’s presence. Some have simply thanked her for offering them the opportunity to build up their confidence as artists. Others, even luckier, have been able to quit their day jobs, and focus on making their art full-time.

So it was those 120 artists as well as The Waxwing itself that were jeopardized in late 2014, when landlord Nathaniel Davauer told Davies of his hopes to expand Draft & Vessel, the successful tasting room/micro-bar next to The Waxwing. 

Davies says she bore no ill will toward Davauer when he explained his hopes to expand Draft & Vessel, and she understood the tough position he was in as their businesses both grew more successful. “Did it suck that it affected me? Sure. But until I own my own place, I’m always going to be at the mercy of a landlord.”

But she also couldn’t accept the compromise offer he provided at the beginning of the year: to renew her lease under the condition that, if he received a permit to expand from the village of Shorewood, she’d have 60 days to find a new home for The Waxwing. “I couldn’t spend a year looking over my shoulder,” she says. “I’m a rip-the-Band-Aid-off person.”

The community’s response changed that. Just as she sent the last round of messages to her artists, Davaeur sent her an email wanting to talk. Then the two hammered out a deal that would keep The Waxwing in its current location for one more year.

The announcement has given the art community and Shorewood residents hope that The Waxwing can find a new home, and that’s Davies’ goal too. But while she’s keeping her eye out for places in Shorewood, Davies says she’s already come to terms with the prospect of eventually closing the store. It’s not something she wants, but with a year-and-a-half-old daughter at home and no desire to try and start from scratch in a new neighborhood, it’s something she knows is a possibility. “I’m just leaving it in the hands of the universe,” she says.

And if 2016 does find Shorewood without The Waxwing, Davies says that doesn’t make the store’s absence permanent. “Even if this is our last year for now,” she says, “the key is ‘for now.’”

IF YOU GO

The Waxwing will host a three-year Anniversary/Encore Bash 5-10 p.m. on Feb. 28 in celebration of a lease’s extension into 2016. Food and beverage will be provided, along with a performance by the Thriftones. At 4415 N. Oakland Ave. Admission is free. Visit thewaxwing.com for more information.

Walker supporter charged with Wisconsin’s worst case of voter fraud

For years Wisconsin Republicans have trumpeted the unproven charge that voter fraud is rampant in the state — an accusation they use to promote efforts to enact voter ID laws. Good government groups, however, argue that such laws, along with Republican policies that have drastically reduced the hours polls are open, make it disproportionately more difficult for poor people, minorities and students to vote.

All of those constituencies tend to vote Democratic.

But the worst case of voter fraud in the state’s history turns out to have been committed by a staunch Republican, investigators allege. Thirteen counts were filed against Robert Monroe, a 50-year-old health executive. Each count carries a penalty of up to $10,000 in forefeitures and three-and-a-half years in prison, WisPolitics.com reported

Monroe is accused of voting a dozen times in 2011 and 2012, including seven times in the recalls of Scott Walker and his GOP ally Alberta Darling. Wisconsin officials say it’s the worst case of multiple voting in memory, according to a story that appeared in Salon.

The online news magazine reported that Monroe voted twice for Alberta Darling in her 2011 recall, and five times for Walker in the June 2012 recall, using his own name, his son’s name and his son’s girlfriend’s name.

In the November presidential election, Monroe voted first in Shorewood, then again in Lebanon, Indiana, where he also owns a home. It was the vote he cast in Shorewood using his son’s name prompted that prompted the investigation.

Although there’s no way of knowing exactly for whom Monroe voted, he gave money to both Darling and Walker.

Monroe contends that he had temporary amnesia due to attention-deficit disorder and doesn’t remember anything about the elections.

A federal judge threw out Wisconsin’s voter ID law in April after finding no evidence of voter fraud in the state. “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman.

Now Republicans are blaming Monroe’s fraud on Democratic opposition to their voter ID law, which they say would have prevented it. But some studies have suggested the law would actually head to more fraud while disenfranchising the poor. 

Schools work to improve inclusion for all students

Isaac Barnett took a bold step last year: He told teachers and classmates at his Kansas high school that the student they had known as a girl wanted to be accepted as a boy.

His close childhood friend, who also identified as transgender, was ready to come out as well.

With the administration’s blessing, a segment featuring the two friends talking about their transitions aired in the school’s classrooms, alongside a basketball team promotion and a feature on the importance of the arts.

“I didn’t get any questions or hate or put-downs or anything like that,” said Barnett, now 18, adding that they called him Isaac immediately — a drama-free coming-out that would have been extraordinary in schools a decade ago.

Surveys show that schools in districts large and small, conservative and liberal, are working to help transitioning youth fit in without a fuss.

California this year became the first state with a law spelling out the transgender student rights in public schools, including the ability to use restrooms and to play on sports teams that match their expressed genders.

Another 13 states prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in schools. Dozens of districts, from Salt Lake City and Kansas City to Knoxville, Tennessee, and Decatur, Georgia, to Shorewood, Wisconsin, have adopted similar protections. 

Parents are increasingly seeking a comfortable learning environment for their transgender children, according to Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director Michael Silverman.

His group represented the parents of a transgender Colorado grade school girl who was prevented from using the girls’ restroom until state civil rights officials ruled in her favor last year.

There’s “a new generation of parents who grew up in the age of the gay rights movement and are saying, ‘We want to do what is best for our children,’” he said.

The trend is likely to accelerate with help from the federal government.

Last month, the U.S. Education Department alerted districts in a memo on sexual violence that it would investigate civil rights complaints from transgender students under Title IX, the 1972 law that bans gender discrimination at schools.

The guidance gives families new leverage to negotiate access to locker rooms, sports teams and other kinds of accommodations covered under California’s law, said Mark Blom, a National School Boards Association attorney.

He said the memo surprised him, because courts have said Title IX doesn’t provide protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It’s going to create a real problem for school districts because the department has the right to go in and attempt to require the district under threat of losing federal funding to meet the standard the department articulates,” Blom said.

School officials in states without anti-discrimination provisions for transgender residents are also grappling with how to serve students whose needs conflict with traditional views about when and why boys and girls are separated.

The ACLU of Mississippi got involved last year when a high school senior wanted to dress in clothing to match his gender identity. The principal balked, saying the dress code required clothing to conform to his official birth gender, which is female.

The school board relented and stood by its decision, even after some parents and students complained, said Bear Atwood, then the state ACLU’s executive director.

“For a long time they would have told you we don’t have any trans kids here,” Atwood said. “But as more and more kids are coming out everywhere else in the country, that is true in Mississippi as well.

“There is this sense of, ‘We have to start figuring out how to deal with this,’” Atwood said.

Earlier in May, a Christian legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, asked the Louisville, Kentucky, school board to overrule a high school principal who allowed a transgender freshman to start using the girls’ bathrooms.

The principal has since limited the student to using a specific girls’ restroom but said treating her like other female students adhered to the recent Title IX guidance.

“When the issue of gender identity was brought to my attention, I had to educate myself on the issue and what this means in terms of fair and just treatment of transgender people,” Atherton High School principal Thomas Aberli said.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco said schools should instead give transgender students the option of using staff or unisex facilities, as many do.

“The fact that we are in a position culturally where schools are just caving to these demands is very concerning,” he said.

Kim Pearson, training director of Trans Youth Family Allies, estimates that for every case that makes headlines there are dozens that are resolved quietly and easily.

Since she co-founded the support and advocacy group in 2007, Pearson has worked with parents and educators in half of the states. “If a school wants to get it, they will,” Pearson said.

Turnaround initiative

The White House announced in May private-public funding — more than $17 million — to help turn around low-performing schools and narrow the achievement gap. Money will be used to hire arts and music teachers, bring teaching artists, art supplies and music instruments into schools and integrate the arts into other core subjects. “Turnaround artists” include Elton John, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marc Anthony, Rashida Jones, Tim Robbins, Trombone Shorty, Forest Whitaker and Alfre Woodard.

Shorewood School District adopts transgender-supportive policy

The Shorewood School District has become the first in Milwaukee County to adopt a policy recognizing and protecting transgender students.

Shorewood, which lies just north of Milwaukee between the lakefront on the east and the Milwaukee River on the west, is the sixth district in the state to adopt a transgender police. U.S. News & World Report ranks Shorewood High School first in the state.

According to the new policy, complaints of discrimination and bullying against transgender students will be handled in a manner consistent with other complaints. Teachers and staff will address students by their chosen names and use pronouns that reflect their identified gender.

According to Shorewood Now, school principal Tim Kenney organized the effort to create an official transgender policy that will include all four of the district’s schools.

Under the policy, a parent is required to submit a letter to school authorities stating that their child identifies as transgender. In response, the school district will allow students to participate in gym classes and intramural sports appropriate for their gender. Students must comply with the dress codes of their self-identified gender.

The policy will allow transgender students to use locker rooms of the gender they identify with. They can use a unisex bathroom or the bathroom of their self-identified gender.

The policy’s goal is to recognize and protect transgender students by providing appropriate facilities as well as a tool for teachers a tool to enforce their protection.

“I think Shorewood prides itself on being forward and progressive,” school board member Paru Shah told Shorewood Now, adding that “every student in our schools should be in a safe learning environment.”

Acupuncture works like magic – but it works

Imagine: You’re lying in your shorts on a massage table, your face either pointing upward or buried in one of those massage-table doughnut holes. A practitioner enters the room and sticks tiny, hair-thin needles all over your body, turning you into a veritable porcupine. Then he or she lowers the lights, turns on some cosmic New Age music and leaves you there to ponder the universe and wonder what the hell you’re doing. You might find yourself asking, as I did, “What good can possibly come of this?”

In my case, the answer to that question was “a lot.” Thanks to regular acupuncture sessions, I’ve experienced significant pain relief and restored flexibility in my neck. I can turn my head while driving to see if it’s safe to switch lanes without having to rotate my entire body – a potentially life-saving capability.

So how does this 3,500-year-old Eastern medicine work?

“Magic,” smiled Dr. Xiping Zhou (pronounced “joe”), a peripatetic man who almost always radiates a warm, reassuring smile and an unmistakable aura of wisdom.

But before we get to Zhou, I’ll tell you how I wound up in his tranquil, feng-shui perfect, spa-like Shorewood clinic.

At 62, I have degenerative disk disease in my cervical spine and osteoarthritis that’s progressed to what’s termed “end-stage” in my left shoulder. I won’t go on about this – I’m not one to complain – but suffice it to say these conditions can be as crippling as they sound.

The symptoms of my spinal condition include a very stiff, achy neck and shoulders along with radiating nerve pain (known as radiculopathy) down my arms and in my hands. Sometimes the muscles in my upper arms and shoulders twitch and jump around for hours, and sometimes my left index finger feels as if I’ve stuck it into an electrical socket.

For several years, I’ve kept my problem more or less under control through epidural injections of cortisone in my neck. Unfortunately, epidurals can prove less effective over time, particularly when used frequently to battle a degenerating condition.

Enter Dr. Zhou

A couple of months ago, Dr. Zhou visited Wisconsin Gazette to ask about advertising his clinic in Shorewood. He took one look at my neck, instinctively placed his hands on it, massaged around a bit and pronounced grimly, “You’ve got problems.”

“You have no idea,” I replied.

The doctor called his office and booked me an appointment. “I’ll show you, OK?” he smiled. I was impressed with his confidence.

That confidence is rooted in 3,500 to 5,000 years of Chinese medicine and the thousands of patients he’s served. Zhou, who’s a licensed M.D. (neurologist) in China, has practiced acupuncture and related therapies, including acupressure massage, cupping and herbal supplementation, for more than 30 years. In 1999, he became the first acupuncturist in the state to work in a Western hospital (Columbia St. Mary’s). In addition to his relatively new clinic in Shorewood, he also has a popular clinic in Madison.

Zhou also is a venerated educator in his discipline. In 2000, he founded the East-West Healing Arts Institute and in 2008 he started the nonprofit Madison Community Wellness Clinic to expand access to alternative health care to people with limited incomes.

It’s complicated

Acupuncture is complicated to explain, but it’s based on using hair-thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body that can trigger biochemical and physiological conditions. Eastern medicine contends those points are located along channels of energy known as meridians that connect major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of the body’s energy, known as “Qi,” becomes unbalanced or blocked as it moves through the meridians or connecting channels.

Western medicine contends that inserting the tiny needles into acupuncture points stimulates nerves that transmit electrical impulses to the hypothalamic-pituitary system, which releases neurotransmitters and endorphins. Those are the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. In fact, endorphins are said to be 200 times more potent than morphine.

Research has shown acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy, relieves arthritic pain, reduces symptoms of seasonal allergies and benefits many other conditions and complaints as well. There are acupuncture protocols for addressing a broad range of conditions.

The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture for more than 50 health conditions, including stress. The National Institutes of Health reports successful use of acupuncture for a long list of ailments, and the U.S. Air Force treats everything from battlefield wounds to post-traumatic stress disorder with acupuncture.

Zhou believes combining acupuncture and other Eastern healing arts and herbal remedies with Western medicine is the most effective approach for a range of problems, from arthritis to fibromyalgia, anxiety to addiction, obesity to infertility. In fact, there’s very little that traditional Chinese medicine can’t help or cure, according to its adherents.

Back at the clinic

During my first session at Zhou’s clinic, I lay there on my stomach thinking of all the work sitting on my desk and nervously shaking my feet. The time seemed to go on forever. When the needles, which are no thicker than a hair and nearly painless, finally were removed, a massage therapist came in to knead and stretch me. Finally, the doctor himself showed up for a brief round of pummeling. 

When I finally stood up – man, what a surprise. My head had not sat so upright on my shoulders in years. I slowly tested my neck, cautiously rotating to the left and then to the right. It moved!

“Lift your arm up,” Zhou said, pointing to my left arm, which normally moves no higher than Sen. John McCain’s. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I thought.

But to my amazement, I stretched it all the way above my head with only medium pain. My head felt light, as new visions of me in motion raced through my brain. I dreamily imagined my hand exploring the upper reaches of my kitchen cabinet – a place that hasn’t seen visitors in years. What molded treasures might I find?

When I suggested writing a story about acupuncture, focusing on my experience, Zhou began introducing me to other patients. Each one had a different story but they all ended happily. Patients uniformly voiced respect and gratitude for Zhou.

Sarah Bernhard, 65, a retired principal, sought out Zhou’s services after having successful knee replacement surgery. Despite the new knee, the tendons and ligaments in her leg were so sore that she had a hard time climbing stairs. 

According to Bernhard, Zhou helped her with that and more. After going to the Shorewood clinic twice weekly, she was able to return to gardening and found herself practically bounding up stairs, Bernhard said. 

“I always had to do one step at a time, and now I’m doing two steps at a time,” she said. “When I leave here, I’m ready to skip down the highway of life.”

Bernhard said she was perplexed on her first visit, when the doctor put a needle in her head. “I thought what’s he doing in my head, when it’s my knee that’s hurt? I now know that it’s because one’s body is interconnected.” 

Zhou also helped Bernhard with weight control by reducing her appetite through needles placed mid-abdomen, she said.

“I’ve always had sinus issues too,” she added. “I don’t know what he’s doing with that. But my sinuses are better.

Broad uses

One of the more unexpected applications of acupuncture is to combat addictions, including smoking, drugs and alcohol. Zhou introduced me to a 23-year-old suburban woman who’s using acupuncture as part of her recovery program from an opiate addiction.

The young woman (who asked to be identified only as Sarah) had stopped using drugs two years before she started seeing Zhou. She was experiencing anxiety, depression and restless leg syndrome.

At first Sarah was given a generic medication for the restless-leg problem. She was prescribed anti-anxiety meds but declined because they have the potential to become addictive. 

“My problem was drugs, so I didn’t want to take them,” Sarah said. 

At first, Zhou focused on Sarah’s restless-leg problem.

“I really didn’t now what to expect, I just had an open mind,” Sarah said. “The first treatment, I could feel energy moving around in my back and legs – and it just felt really great afterward. I noticed a huge change in my emotions and energy level right away. Now my energy is more stable and my mood is more stable.” 

Zhou said he stimulates Sarah’s vagus nerve, which “stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to make the body feel better – to make her relax.” Among other things, stimulating the nerve releases more of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

As with most acupuncture treatments, the way of achieving this effect seems counterintuitive to the Western mind. Zhou focuses on an acupuncture point on Sarah’s outer wrist. An hour of stimulating this point – known as No. 7 – significantly relaxes Sarah’s body. 

Similarly, Zhou focuses on a point in my left calf to improve the flexibility of my left shoulder. When I asked him how this could work, he grinned and said, “Ancient Chinese secret.”

Skeptics

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the way that many Western medical professionals treat acupuncture. Skeptics dispute research proving its effectiveness. They and competing wealthy interests have succeeded in keeping Medicare from covering acupuncture in Wisconsin and other states. In addition, it is not covered under the Affordable Care Act, and private insurers rarely reimburse for it.

“If people could have access to acupuncture, it would lower the cost of their health care and help them avoid unnecessary medications that can cause bad side effects and overdoses,” Zhou said. “Acupuncture is a natural, non-invasive alternative to help people deal with both illness and mental health conditions.”

On the Web www.acupunctureherbalmd.com

Fifty artists to participate in Shorewood’s first plein art festival

Just like creating a beautiful garden, bringing a new art festival to life requires a lot of patience and nurturing, according to the organizers of Plein Air Shorewood, a three-day event that will bring more than 50 professional artists to the village beginning Sept. 19. 

Some artists will “set up shop” near schools, parks, stores and residences. Others will locate in Shorewood’s well-kept gardens. (Please note: Homeowners and businesses that are open to hosting the artists have signed a list. Artists won’t be wandering through neighborhoods, trampling on anyone’s prize azaleas.)

The art festival’s opening night includes brats, beer and a live polka band at Hubbard Park Lodge. Food and drinks will be available for purchase, but all events are free and open to the public.

The festival’s casual opening is only one of the unique features of this unconventional, first-ever event, which has attracted professional painters from across the Midwest. Nationally known Shorewood plein air artist Don Berg, who headed the artist selection committee, notes with pride that all 50 spots were filled more than two months prior to opening. Berg also runs a design firm in Shorewood.

Berg explains that “plein air,” the French term for “in the open air,” is one of the fastest-growing facets of the art world. And Wisconsin is the nation’s No. 1 spot for plein air events. Second-ranked California doesn’t even come close, Berg says. Wisconsin’s largest and best-known plein air events are held annually in Door County and Cedarburg.

Shorewood carefully scrutinized those two events to determine what made them so successful. “We realized right away that putting the artists first was going to be critical to our success,” says Plein Air Shorewood committee member Jenny Heyden, a local freelance writer and artist. Because Heyden and Berg are artists themselves, they had valuable firsthand knowledge of artists’ needs.

Turning Shorewood into a temporary art colony is more than just a way to attract visitors to the area for one weekend, says committee co-chair Patricia Algiers. “We want to demonstrate that Shorewood embraces the arts. There are a lot of creative people who live here, and I don’t mean just artists. We have writers, musicians, poets and lots of entrepreneurs. We want to position ourselves as an art-friendly community.” 

Each artist participating in the festival will complete three canvases, regardless of the weather. The 150 paintings will be hung Saturday night in a temporary art gallery, designed by Patricia Algiers, in Shorewood’s public library. A jury of painters and art historians will award prizes, and there will be a “public’s choice” award as well. Then the paintings will be offered for sale to the public.

The temporary gallery will also serve as the festival’s headquarters – the place where artists will register and the public can learn where they’ll be painting. 

Some of the Wisconsin artists participating in Plein Air Shorewood include James Hempel, Shelby Keefe, Tom Nachreiner and Johnna Papin. Keefe, a Shorewood resident, recently won the $15,000 top prize for a work she created at a plein air festival in Frederick, Md. She’s featured in a September cover story in the glossy Plein Air Magazine.

The festival’s artists focus on a variety of subjects – cityscapes, lush floral landscapes, local landmarks and so on. Some will undoubtedly be tempted to line up their canvases along Atwater Park, located on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. But Berg says not to expect any two paintings, even paintings of the same subject, to be alike.

“Each artist will interpret the scene according to his/her own talents and perceptions,” he says.

Between Sept. 19’s meet-the-artists reception at Hubbard Park and the gala on Sept. 21, there will be a full schedule of cultural events. In an effort to offer something for everyone, the festival will feature live music, dancers and a fashion show at a Sept. 20 block party at Shorewood’s Kensington Square (off Oakland Avenue). Local fashion designer Miranda K. Levy, a former contestant on TV’s “Project Runway,” says she’s creating a white, canvas dress that artists will be invited to decorate. 

The art festival received seed money from the Shorewood Foundation. Since then, many other local and national sponsors have jumped onboard, providing both cash and in-kind donations. Community groups will play an important role in handling some of the event’s most important tasks, such as registering the artists when they arrive and setting up the Sept. 21 gala.

On the Web

A list of events is available at the festival’s website at pleinairshorewood.com.