by Max Ink
Previews of shows around the Madison, Wisconsin area for March 2017
Previews of shows around the Madison, Wisconsin area for March 2017
New York City’s vibrant SUNFLOWER BEAN channels an almost psychic musical tightness into colorful, combustible chemistry to design serpentine Valentines that seduce in lubricated grooviness while courting fiery desires with a heady mix of acid-etched textures drawn from haunting lyrics, shaman beats and liquid licks. Fresh from a stellar SXSW appearance and riding high from a critically acclaimed debut, the power-trio heads to Madison’s The Frequency, headlining a can’t miss show on April 6th with WEAVES and PILES. Bassist JULIA CUMMINGS and guitarist NICK KIVLEN were kind enough to answer some questions via email about the band’s sound, influences and life on the indie-rock bandwagon.
MAXIMUM INK: Psychedelic seems to be the go to label for rock bands these days, do you think of Sunflower Bean as psychedelic?
NICK KIVLEN: To me psychedelic rock means creative rock. Things that we think of as weird or trippy are things that haven’t been done before or seem strange and new. New experiences make the brain feel confused and “psychedelic”. So new sounds and music people haven’t heard before has the same effect. We don’t take drugs but we want to make something new and fresh. Psych isn’t retro, it’s the future.
MI: Why do you think psychedelic music is trending these days?
JULIA CUMMINGS: Trends kind of happen in cycles, and bands like Thee Oh Sees who are so great, kind of re-ignite some of that passion for guitar music. I’m not sure how “trendy” psych rock is in comparison to other genres like electronic music or rap, but bands like Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (who are some of our favorites) really push the genre forward by making really innovative and ambitious music.
MI: Your debut, “Human Ceremony,” had you laying down songs you’ve played live for quite some time; are there songs you left off the album or will you have to start from scratch for the follow-up?
JC: We are currently writing new music for the second album, when we have off time or during sound checks. There is one fully done song and a few that are close. We didn’t really leave anything off the album, we were basically able to fit everything we wanted to make it cohesive in our minds.
MI: Do your songs come from jamming together or does someone have a song they bring to the group to work on?
JC: Usually Nick brings in riffs or ideas or songs in various degrees of doneness to the basement and we all jam on them and figure out where the song is going to go. Sometimes a song becomes a pet project of one of us, whoever has the most vision for it.
MI: Seems like the band spends a lot of time together, was there an immediate clicking when the three of you first connected?
JC: We were definitely all friends before we started making music together. We got along well and had similar influences and ideas about what we wanted out of a band.
MI: Is there an band or artist that you all agree on?
JC: We love Lou Reed. We are trying to talk about him less in interviews but he is probably the biggest point where we all agree.
MI: You’ve worked the most in New York City where you also live, what’s the oddest thing you’ve confronted on tour outside the city?
JC: Playing the college shows can be a little weird because anything can happen. One time we all slept in a room with an escaped snake
MI: What do you miss the most when you’re away?
JC: Probably our beds!
MI: The buzz on the band skyrocketed rather quickly, have you experienced any perks in all this sudden media attention
JC: We’ve all been playing in bands and making music since we were 13 and 14, so it doesn’t feel as sudden as it may seem on the outside! But it’s definitely an exciting time. We are getting to travel to Japan this summer, which is amazing and we’ve always wanted to do that.
MI: Do you have a strategy for surviving the flash and establishing long-term credentials?
JC: We are going to keep making music!
Wrapped around unstoppable rock and unraveled in homespun dream-pop, lo-fi hospitality greets intimate whimsy in GABRIELLE SMITH’s approachable folk poetry. Her solo project ESKIMEAUX gently mesmerizes in coy joyrides whose occasionally dark detours shake one awake to face forked roads, close calls and near misses. Joining FRANKIE COSMO and YOWLER at Madison’s High Noon Saloon April 26th, the refreshingly perceptive chronicler took time from a busy SXSW schedule to answer a few questions about her songwriting process and her latest release, “Year of the Rabbit.”
MAXIMUM INK: What made you decide on an EP rather than hold off and release a full-length?
GABRIELLE SMITH: All of the songs on “Year of the Rabbit” were written during the recording process of our previous album “O.K.” So we (Double Double Whammy and I) figured by the time I had enough songs to broaden the collection into a full-length album and went through a whole album cycle (plus, at the time vinyl records were taking 8-12 months to get back from pressing plants), these songs, which felt really nice and fresh, would be pretty old! Instead, we thought it would be nice to make a short record, or an EP with no filler material. Plus, it gave us a chance to try a new release medium - a CD inside of a full-color photograph, hardcover book. So, that’s what went into the decision to make this specific EP.
MI: Did last year’s O.K.‘s critical acclaim shape the Year of the Rabbit at all?
GS: Not really! I mean, maybe it gave us the confidence to try out a new kind of release format.
MI: When you write a song, how much comes from the gut and how much from the head?
GS: I’m not really sure…I mean, it all comes from the head, maybe, and then the gut gets put into the performance of each song!
MI: I really like that. What part of the creative process is the most challenging for you?
GS: Having time to record. Most of my time is dedicated to having band practices, traveling to and playing shows, and writing emails. Lately, as well, I’ve added making a few music videos, making show posters, and being on the hunt for a new amp to the mix. So having time to record is definitely the most challenging part.
MI: Is there any artist or musical hero by which you judge your own writing?
GS: No way, that’s a terrible way to go about being an artist. My own art is the standard by which I judge my writing and that’s the way it should be!
MI: Will this be your first time playing Madison WI?
GS: Nope! One time, in 2013, we played at Bright Red Studios.
MI: What’s usually the first thing you do when you get a chance to take in a city you’re playing?
GS: Find tasty donuts
There you have it, tweet, Facebook and Instagram Eskimeaux your favorite place for tasty donuts in Madison.
Jimmy Shaw is a hands-on guy. As producer, songwriter and guitarist for the Canadian band Metric, Shaw has a say in every phase of the operation, right down to picking venues and opening acts for their tours. “I hate lists and links,” he admits, preferring input from a trusted network of friends. “I’ve known our Booking Agent since we were eleven,” Shaw says, “he suggested Joywave as an opener for this current tour.” It also happens that Metric’s current Tour Manager is from Joywave’s hometown of Rochester, N.Y. and seconded the idea. When it was pointed out that in taking control of all these details, Shaw had no one to blame but himself, he was happy to assume that responsibility, preferring by whatever means necessary to maintain the band’s DIY cred that has successfully fostered a creative outlet for himself and co-founder Emily Haines going on twenty years. Asked whether wearing so many hats in the band gives him more power over the other members, Shaw turns diplomatic and replies, “Let’s say I can be very persuasive, if you happen to disagree with me.”
Largely a product of Shaw’s work in his Toronto recording studio, Metric’s latest release, “Pagans in Vegas,” is an electric circus of blitzkrieg beats, neon-lit riffs and sterling hooks. When asked if there was a specific toy that that was behind this album’s genesis Shaw quickly credited the large modular synthesizer Studio 66 from Synthesizers.com; specifically a duophonic patch that allowed him to compose bass lines with his left hand and the melody with his right. The results, he gushed, “were more skeletal than sketches,” and instead of taking his ideas and having to reproduce them over again in the studio, his work with Studio 66 gave him a foundation that just needed to be fleshed out, streamlining the process to completing a song. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Emily was also writing songs, but with the barest of technology, created on acoustic instruments. When Jimmy, Emily, bassist Joshua Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key looked at the pair’s accumulated songs, decided to let each stand alone rather than integrate them.
Soon thereafter the band embarked on a tour opening for Imagine Dragons, where they visited different studios to work on Emily’s songs. Gathering the tapes four months afterwards to review, the tightly-knit quartet discovered something they hadn’t anticipated. Despite their hopping from studio to studio, the songs had a sameness to them that fell short of their individual potential. When asked how this could have happened, Jimmy explains, “You can have a Fender, a Telecaster, whatever, but it comes down to the fingers on the instrument.” “I can get Billy Gibbons’ guitars and amps and use the same studio he uses, but I’m never going to sound like Billy Gibbons,” he reasons. “You can’t duplicate that magic, if you could you’d have dozens of ZZ Tops, hundreds of Beatles!”
While Shaw admitted to having no memory of Metric’s last time playing Madison nine years ago beyond an after-gig drinking game with whiskey, he is ecstatic to be returning to Madison with a tour whose sound and lighting have been recently road-tested with flying colors. “We’ve been playing longer, having lots of fun,” he says and it’s amazing to hear someone who has logged in so many miles playing all around the world, sounding so primed for another tour. Does Shaw do anything except live, sleep and breath music? He laughs, but says when he needs to get away from it all he will pour himself into a frenzy of cooking, racing around town gathering groceries and creating exotic meals without a recipe. It appears as if no matter what Shaw does, he does with gusto. “There are lots of forces in the world to get you down,” he admits, “it’s easy to bum out and hard to keep that naively positive attitude, but you can’t succumb to it, otherwise life is a waste.”
Fasten your seat belts, Metric along with hyper-kinetic techno-rockers Joywave will fill Madison’s Orpheum Theater February 13th with gleaming streams of fierce lyrics and vampish anthems coyly uncoiled inside an explosive dose of rock and roll charisma you will not want to miss.
Labeled lo-fi shoegaze, retro noise-pop and post-modern doo-wop; guitarist Joe Trainor from Baltimore’s WILDHONEY understands how the band’s unique blend of styles defies easy categorization. Citing an eclectic mess of musical influences ranging from the Shangri-La’s to Cocteau Twins and early Madonna, Wildhoney shines most when least predictable, shifting gears and fusing genres to make for an amazing live show. MAXIMUM INK had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Mr. Trainor about their upcoming gig opening up day two of FRZN Fest 2016, January 15th at Madison’s High Noon Saloon and here’s what he had to say.
MAXIMUM INK: What do you think of when you think of Madison, WI?
JOE TRAINOR: Technicolor Teeth, Garbage and a nice coffee shop by The Frequency
MI: What sort of show should Madison expect from the band?
JT: Bring ear plugs for the music, bring acid for the visuals
MI: Nice of you to visit in the middle of winter. How can we make you feel welcome?
JT: Tell the sound guy we are loud, and be nice
MI: How would you describe your sound to somebody not yet tuned into Wildhoney?
JT: The song ” Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer meets Nirvana
For more information check out www.frznfest.com to learn more about Wildhoney and the eleven other bands playing the three day festival.
Held in the depths of winter, FRZN Fest 2016 presents a dozen hot bands that are anything but frozen. Whether erupting within dynamic songs or evolving as artists fusing genres, this year’s three-day explosion contains a fiery blend of underground favorites and rising newbies covering indie-folk, alt-rock, electro-psychedelics and punk-pop. In its fifth year hosted by Madison’s High Noon Saloon FRZN Fest highlights include cyclonic TORRES, who opened up for Garbage this past tour, headlining January 14th, crackling psychedelic blues-rockers ALL THEM WITCHES the 15th and Minnesotan folkie slash beat-pop troubadour JOHN MARK NELSON on the 16th. A frequent visitor Nelson looks forward to returning to Madison. “There is a life and energy to that place that always makes it stick in my mind,” he says, ” every time we have played there, we have been greeted by enthusiastic and sincere listeners, which is a rare and beautiful thing.”
A showcase for emerging acts, this year brings an extra buzz when the final night opens with nineteen year-old folk-rocker JULIEN BAKER, whose, “Sprained Ankle,” has generated interest for its arresting restlessness pitching perceptive sentiments. Ms. Baker was kind enough to answer a few questions to help Madison prepare for her Wisconsin debut.
MAXIMUM INK: A sensitive, articulate college-aged artist, you seem custom-made for Madison. Do you identify with your generation? Is it strange to be thought of as a Voice representing anyone other than yourself?
JULIEN BAKER: I do identify with my own generation; I think it is impossible not to associate oneself with whatever cultural or generational context they exist within, and as an artist that probably is reflected in my work to some degree. I don’t often think of myself as a “voice” necessarily—I am afraid it might be presumptuous to say I speak on behalf of any particular demographic. Perhaps it is better to just say that whatever personal experiences I am candid about in my music might be relatable to other people around my age group, or might touch on issues that other people face. I think as a musician my goal is not to create a specific platform, but just to create relationships and be open about those experiences so that they can be discussed and shared
MI: Did you always want to be a musician?
JB: Absolutely, from when I started playing music in middle school I knew I would want to do it for the rest of my life, whether that meant being in cover-bands at bars or my living room or a stadium.
MI: Having lived in and around Virginia and Tennessee, are you prepare to head north in the middle of winter?
JB: I think I am prepared this time; the first time I went up north through Wisconsin it was last year on a little DIY tour with my friend Ryan Azada. I had never been up North, and I found myself in Ann Arbor, MI in January trudging through snow in only Vans sneakers. We even played a show in Detroit where the venue had no heat, I could barely feel my fingers! I had only toured the south and was not at all accustomed to the weather. But I learned my lesson. This time I am making sure to pack enough warm garments, socks, and boots, haha.
MI: What are your impressions of Madison or Wisconsin in general?
JB: I have never been to Madison, though I have driven through Wisconsin and thought it was beautiful scenery-wise, fields of wheat and corn and the like. That stretch of road gave me a very “American Heartland” vibe, which was nice. As far as Madison in particular, I don’t know much, so I am excited to visit a new city with no existing impressions!
MI: On tour, what’s the first thing you seek out in a town you’ve never been before?
JB: Every time I show up in a new town, I make a beeline for the best coffee - I will have to consult some locals about the best place upon arrival!
Visit www.frznfest.com for more information, including run-downs on psycho-digitbots TOBACCO, six-string minx PALEHOUND, bop-robbers CHARLY BLISS and Anglo-jangle transplants AMERICAN WRESTLERS, among other jaw-dropping acts.
Outspoken and perceptive with a razor-sharp wit, Boston songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ellen Kempner is the creative captain of the gale-force musical cruiser, PALEHOUND. Boundless disregard for tradition turns her recent, “Dry Food,” into a cornucopia of rock and roll riches mixed in a refreshing blend of cut-throat poetry, elliptical guitar and storm-trooper grooves. Out on the road, Ms. Kempner drops into Madison’s The Frequency November 18th along with indie renegade MITSKI and punk-rockers PWR BTTM. We caught Ellen just before her tour and asked her a few questions to prepare for her visit.
MAXIMUM INK: As a female songwriter who plays a mean rock guitar who can I compare you to that would make you blush and who would make you scowl?
ELLEN KEMPNER: Well there are plenty of people you could compare me to that would make me blush, like Albert King, Annie Clark, Matt Sweeney etc.. Honestly, I feel that anyone who plays a “mean rock guitar” has qualities that I don’t feel fit enough to judge to the point of scowling!
MI: Your new album, “Dry Food,” is full of shifting rhythms and unpredictable dynamics. Do songs come to you with these ideas from the start, get worked out in the writing process, in the studio or the stage?
EK: I never perform anything in the studio or on stage until I’m completely confident in what I’ve written, partially because I’m an anxious perfectionist. As far as dynamics go, that’s usually something that comes to me from the start of a song, whereas shifting rhythms tends to be part of the editing/writing process.
MI: Having started out as a solo artist who played most of her instruments what is it like to relinquish control to three other people? What prompted you to make that leap?
EK: I still for the most part consider myself a solo artist actually, because through lineup changes I have retained the majority of creative control. I usually write a song and then demo out all the instruments myself and then leave it to my bandmates to play them better than I can (i.e. Drums haha)
MI: “Dry Food,” seems to speak from the heart, have you ever started a song based on a feeling you since felt was misplaced or trite?
EK: I’ve definitely started plenty of songs that way but those are the ones I tend to discard. Total, I wrote probably at least 40 songs leading up to Dry Food but picked those eight because they seemed the most genuine and expressed what I wanted to express most clearly.
MI: Your lyrics show an appreciation for language’s playful nature, are there any specific books from your childhood still informing your current aesthetic?
EK: Really funny you would ask that because I was just looking over some books in my childhood bedroom last week. I can’t say that I’m directly inspired by those books today but looking back on them I was actually surprised to see how much of the language and strange weirdo plot lines seemed to have stuck with me through the years. The ones that stood out in particular were Caps For Sale, A Bad Case of the Stripes, and The Giant Jam Sandwich.
Like a modern Horatio Alger times two, the musical duo LION’S MOUTH embodied the American Dream, heading West from their Wisconsin home to seek not gold but a golden dream of making music full-time. Equipped with ferocious talent and unflappable attitude, guitarist Chelsea Z. and percussionist Sara Wexler took on the challenge of making their mark in the L.A. music scene and in doing so found themselves releasing a strong self-titled debut they are happily bringing with them on their first national tour that takes them back home. Aptly titled, “The Coming Home Tour,” they play Madison’s The Frequency September 6th with area favorites HEAVY LOOKS, THE MILLENIUM and KAREN WHEELOCK. Before heading on tour, Chelsea was kind enough to talk with MAXIMUM INK about their experience in L.A. and how the move affected their music.
MAXIMUM INK: What were your notions about L.A. before you headed out there and how did they change once you got there?
CHELSEA Z.: We had heard that Los Angeles is full of beautiful, shallow people and that we’d love the weather. Though we found some people to be vapid and self-centered, we also found people who are caring and passionate about what they do. (We also thought we’d be the frumpiest and worst dressed, and that has proven to be correct). The weather is beautiful all year, but as Midwesterners we found ourselves missing a cloudy day. We were also cautioned to not get our hopes up because everyone in L.A. is trying to “make it”. At times we felt overwhelmed by the competitive, individualistic nature of the city, but despite all the negative things we had heard, we found a lot of opportunities. We landed a commercial agent who got us several auditions, we’ve met a lot of talented musicians and played great shows in a lot of famous venues.
M.I.: Did you write the album while you were out there?
C.Z.: The songs on our self-titled album were actually written about two years prior to us moving out to Los Angeles. We have another album’s worth of material that we wrote before and during our time here.
M.I.: Did being in a new stimulating environment change the way you wrote songs?
C.Z.: The songwriting since our debut has become much more collaborative. We definitely honed our sound and how we work together. We think about the structure and impact of the arrangement more than we ever have and we have both become better musicians. Our performances are tighter and our songs are riskier.
M.I. Changes can inspire but also challenge.
C.Z.: We’ve been so busy that starting and finishing songs has taken longer. We had a bumpy start and ended up moving several times before we landed in the place we are now. Because of that our practices had to become more deliberate, “what are we playing at the show?” kind of practices whereas before we would jam a lot more. For a while survival was our number one priority.
As the mastermind behind California pop-rockers THE ORANGE PEELS, guitarist-songwriter ALLEN CLAPP works magic within classic formulas, sorting and transporting pre-assigned designs into unforeseen regions populated in bracing ocean-sprayed melodies atop beautiful six-string maneuvers and electric kinetic harmonies. With Clapp and his musical companions touring the Midwest with alt-rock troubadour MATTHEW SWEET promoting their sixth studio album, the refreshingly fetching, “Begin the Begone,” MAXIMUM INK had the opportunity to toss Allen a few questions in anticipation of The Orange Peels landing in Madison for the very first-time, July 12th at the High Noon Saloon.
MAXIMUM INK: What originally drew you to your particular musical style?
ALLEN CLAPP: I suppose the framework for my idealized version of a pop group came out of the bands in the mid-1980s who were navigating this massive push forward in technology while still being influenced by the melodic dominance 60s and 70s radio. Bands like the Three O’Clock, Camper van Beethoven, XTC, and REM definitely had a foot in both realities, and sort of became templates for how you could put a band together that could evolve and still hold on to your melodic roots. The other thing is, as a child of the 70s, I’ll always remember listening to Top-40 radio on my transistor radio and the feeling of freedom that gave me. I guess it’s a combination of music that frees you somehow, along with being able to evolve.
MI: As a songwriter/pop artist is there a life-long search for hooks, rhymes or harmonies?
AC: Oh, sure! And I’m grateful when those things just fall out of the sky into my path. I’m not very intentional about trying to make those kinds of things happen, and I realize that if I tried harder on that front, I might write more songs. I’ve always had people try to get me into these exercises where you write a song a day, or force yourself to do something creative every day, and I just don’t actually come up with anything good under those circumstances. I have to wait for hooks, rhymes and harmonies to find me, and you never really know when that’s gonna happen, unfortunately.
MI: What is your holy grail in song-writing, the most elusive element in the process for you?
AC: Lyrics take me forever to write. A melody can just hit me on the head and be written in a few moments, but the lyrics always keep me guessing. In the case of our last two albums, we’ve written most of the music together at the house—just stuff that came up in the moment that we crafted into verses, choruses, and bridges—and then I sit with the music for a while until some idea springs to life. On, “Begin the Begone,” I remember having the words to, “Satellite Song,” “Wintergreen,” and, “9,” come rather quickly, while others like, “New Moon,” “Fleeing the Scene,” and, “Embers,” weren’t finished until early last fall. Sometimes it helps to see the direction an album is taking. Late last summer, I already could tell the kind of album this was going to be, so it kind of gave me permission to fill in some of the blanks with these ideas of starting over, escaping some past situation or coming to some sort of realization.
MI: The new album came together after a near fatal car accident, did your survival bring on a life re-evaluation? What surprised you the most in its aftermath?
AC: Yeah, there was a pretty major life re-evaluation in the months following that accident. There are a lot of things we’d been wanting to change, but life’s momentum was just kind of keeping us in our old patterns. Jill and I had been talking about moving to the Santa Cruz Mountains for years, and we’d also been thinking about trying to disengage from our careers a little bit so we could spend more time on creative endeavors. Getting out of Silicon Valley was a way to do both. So we sold our place in Sunnyvale and bought a hexagonal house in Boulder Creek on a couple acres. At the time, I couldn’t believe we were actually doing it, and then when we had to actually put our house on the market and move all our stuff, it was pretty overwhelming. I think surviving the accident kind of empowered us to get through it.
July lights up its musical skies with fireworks all month long as festivals, free shows and rare appearances fill the month with incredible choices. Halfway through July, the 17th fires up three festivals within a few hundred miles of each other. Eaux Claires’ inaugural festival features an impressive line-up ranging from world-class acts SPOON, SUFJAN STEVENS and THE NATIONAL to regional heroes BON IVER, PHOX and FIELD REPORT. Highland WI’s second annual Bluelight Festival focuses on local experimental musicians such as JULIAN LYNCH, TAR PET and NEENS as well as touring bands SCAMMERS and CROWN LARK. Finally, Chicago’s long-established hipster haunt Pitchfork Festival scores appearances from established acts like WILCO and SLEATER-KINNEY plus rising stars such as punk-busker COURTNEY BARNETT and blistering Canadians VIET CONG.
If festivals aren’t your scene, fear not, the assembling festivals mean Madison catches fabulous acts stopping in as they pass through. Club dates for radioactive-crackerjacks MELT-BANANA, precious folk-messenger JESSICA PRATT, feisty feminists EX HEX, indie-folk pioneers INDIGO GIRLS and sultry singer-songsmith NATALIE PRASS orbit various festival schedules. Bargain-hunters should delight in several free shows from mega-spectacular pop-robbers THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS and ferocious alt-rockers BULLY taking over downtown to all-star powerhouse NO BS! BRASS BAND, indie-disco brainchild SHAMIR and bedroom-soul patrollers MR TWIN SISTER lighting up campus.
If only the weeks before or after allowed any down-time. As Milwaukee’s Summerfest winds down, the first half of July has Stoughton’s Catfish River Music Festival heating up with Madison’s Le Fete du Marquette hosting slide-bluesman SONNY LANDRETH along with Cajun party-king CJ CHENIER and swamp-stompers THE REVIVALISTS. The last half presents folk-maelstrom LADY LAMB on campus, lofty pop-sophists SAN FERMIN and CLOUD CULT Live on King Street, Nashville blues-rockers SIMO playing Atwood Fest, Cambodian-fronted psycho-surfers DENGUE FEVER at Olbrich Park and country-rock doctors THE MASCOT THEORY at High Noon’s Summer Patio.
The already overstuffed month brings two anniversary tours to Madison; post-rock apostles THE APPLESEED CAST celebrates the fifteenth anniversary and vinyl reissue of their classic, “Mare Vitalis,” while alt-pop iconoclasts CLAP YOUR HANDS AND SAY YEAH revisit their pivotal self-titled debut from ten years ago. The month also sees rare sightings of California power-pop dreamers THE ORANGE PEELS, psychotropic guitar-rock prophets LAZYEYES and rainbow-pop Aussie LENKA while returning conquerors MATTHEW SWEET, DICK DALE and THE MELVINS also manage to find suitable venues. Sorry all we overlooked, but rock on, it will be over before you know it.
Partners: Rökker Vodka