The People Brothers Band
photo by Jonah Westrich of Isthmus Media Group
I had been speaking to members of The People Brothers Band for a couple months about doing a feature for Maximum Ink, and we agreed that August would be the right time, since their 7th annual “People Fest” music and camping festival was coming up on August 6, 7, & 8 at The Bullpen in Hillsboro, WI, showcasing the largest and most impressive collection of bands to date, from a multitude of genres, and featuring activities scheduled for attendees of all age groups. But what we didn’t know at the time was how apropos the timing really was. The 8-piece group was also just recently recognized for their superb studio release “Middle Of The In Between”, which won the 2015 MAMAs Award for “Pop/R&B Album Of The Year”. People Brothers are truly a group that embody the best and most beautiful things about the Madison music scene: community, collaboration, mutual support, representation, respect, and commitment were all prominent themes in the conversation I had with singer Teresa Marie Scrivens and drummer Greg Schmitt. Rounding out the band are: Robert Gronna - vocals & keyboards, Tim Lochner - guitar & vocals, Scott Lochner - bass, Chris Peters - lead guitar, Anitra Hovelson - saxophone, and Andrew Traverse - trumpet. For more information about People Fest, please visit http://www.peoplebrothers.com/people-fest.html
MAXIMUM INK: Let’s hear about your MAMAs experience. Now that you’ve had time to let it sink in, how does it make you feel?
TERESA MARIE: Honored. It was mind blowing, actually. It was funny to see how big the musical community is. We were sitting in a room with a whole bunch of people that have just as much going on, but we’re not even rolling in the same circles.
GREG SCHMITT: We’re really humbled by it, and it tells us we need to go out and record more. I take it as a challenge. I don’t think we can sit back on our heels. Not because we’ve got to win the award again, it’s just that we’ve got to come back and keep doing what we’re doing, because the bar was set for this album.
TM: It super exceeded every expectation.
MI: Did you know ahead of time that you won?
GS: No, I didn’t think we were going to win anything. It’s fun, and it’s cool to see who gets recognized, and you come away knowing a lot of musicians you hadn’t met before.
TM: I wish more people knew that it’s super important for us, as musicians, to get involved.
GS: I wish everybody would enter, because that pushes everybody. If you knew that everybody is doing really cool stuff, then you have to step your game up. Like, any time a Madison band gets national recognition, it lifts the whole community up. That one of the things I feel honored about. We go out everywhere around the Midwest. Every time we’re on the road, we’re representing People Brothers, but we’re also representing Madison music.
TM: This is the best spot for music. I’ve been doing music in a lot of different areas in the world, and here, it’s such a community and not a competition. Some places are absolutely cut-throat.
GS: It’s a more collaborative thing here. More teamwork. Especially with the scene that we run with.
TM: Everybody genuinely loves each other, as friends outside [of music]. I’ll say that about our band, we are definitely very close. People say we have something special for that reason. It’s how we’re successful [and] we know we can tour, ‘cause we realize, we have families at home, but we do this because it’s what we love to do.
MI: I was blown away by the overall sound of the album, and the way it was engineered.
GS: Landon Arkens, the studio sound engineer of the year [2015 MAMA Awards]. I would recommend Landon and Blast House Studios to everyone in town.
TM: Landon is so talented. We’ve been doing our live gigs and went in to the studio with this mindset that “we got this”. This is going to be easy. But even for me, having been recorded a million times… he made us hear it different. He brought sounds out of us we didn’t even know [existed].
GS: He came up with some really great ideas, but he also just worked with us. Like, what do you think of this, and we’ll work together. He’ll step in as much as you want him too, but he’s got a really good mind and a perfect ear. We wanted to work at Blast House because everyone in town was recommending them, and at the time we were practicing at the Madison Music Foundry, which I support, hardcore. With Landon, we had heard such great stuff. All the studio engineers really make Madison music happen in a way, like, it makes us more alive, and more obtainable for everybody.
TM: And now we’re looking at doing some different things. E.P.s, perhaps.
GS: It makes sense [given] the way people receive music right now.
TM: The reality is, when people get a CD, they have a few songs they like, not just local bands, that’s anybody. Often when you buy an album you get it for certain songs, and those are the songs you listen to. With an E.P. the point is the songs that are your strongest, your moneymakers.
GS: Exactly. Staying current and fresh is a huge thing. If you’re not constantly producing something, playing live, or creating new music videos, you’re going to get buried under the things that are current.
MI: I respect the fact that PBB didn’t rush an album out, and waited to do it right. As a result, every song on the release holds it’s own, and it’s such a powerful product.
GS: Thank you. We’ve been together seven years, so we’ve written a lot of music, and we keep pushing. The end game is to have another album out in a year and a half. Right after we released it, we started writing new material. Our song that we get the biggest reaction from right now, “Honey Please”, isn’t on any album. It starts off with a gospel feel, and then it’s goes in to an almost bluegrassy feel. Bobby and I wrote the lyrics when we were in Boulder on tour in 2013, and it was flooding. FEMA was being called in. Half of the city was flooded. We were playing at a hotel called the Home Of The Blues that night, and it was insane. We got there the night before, and all of the sudden these rains started coming down and flooding half the town. We were lucky because we were on the Southeast part of town before it dips in to the valley. So, we were safe, but all of the sudden the hotel was full of people that were refugees in their own town. It was all these people whose homes were under water, [and] they were in a bad way. It was like the hotel went from being empty, to full, and it was all Boulder residents. And we played that night, and the feeling in the room was just so emotional. That night we were just giving them something different to think about. To just say, there’s not anything we can do right now, let’s all just be together. People had their families in there, and let’s just have the best time we can. Help you out in the best way we can. We were playing, and probably about 45 minutes in to it, the power in the entire hotel went out. No emergency lights, no emergency generator, just complete pitch black. We kept playing, [just] drums and saxophone.
TM: They had candles they started setting everywhere.
GS: Everybody started getting their phones out and lighting them up. The hotel broke out a bunch of glow sticks, randomly. We kept playing for about 15 minutes. We call it “the lights out jam”. Tim grabbed a bucket and started playing it.
TM: Projecting as loud as we could, singing.
GS: Scott and Nick grabbed sticks and were hitting my cymbals and cowbell. Everybody was just having fun. The hotel people were so thankful to us, because it could have been the worst situation. It still was probably a little awkward when it first started, but then everybody just kind of accepted it. It was cool because once the power went out, everybody started coming to the front desk, and the front desk was right by the entrance to the bar, so within 15 minutes everybody in the whole hotel was in the bar with us. And then we took a five minute break, broke out the acoustic guitars, and played for another hour and a half.
MI: What were the beginnings of the People Brothers Band?
GS: The band started in 2008. This is going to be our 7th People Fest, and it was our 7th Charity Jamboree. Tim, our rhythm guitarist, was my roommate for a year. Right after I moved out, I was playing with a couple of other groups in town, and I got asked to do a charity event in Iowa City. None of the other groups I was with could do it, but I told them that “The People Brothers Band” would do it. [laughter] And, I didn’t have a “People Brothers Band”, but I was helping Tim with an open mike, so we grabbed Tim, and another guitarist, a different female lead singer, and we had another friend of mine that lived down there play bass. That was the first People Brothers show! And, right before it closed, we played The Klinic. It just kept going, and we started booking all kinds of shows, every weekend. We were just persistent. We worked hard to promote ourselves, non-stop, and think that attitude still exists in the band today.
TM: We have to say, Tim and his wife Crickett, work so very hard to keep us going. Tim never stops!
GS: Tim’s our secret weapon! The organization and the drive he brings. It lifts everybody else up with him, and drives everybody to be better.
TM: He keeps the business going.
MI: PBB plays a lot outside of Madison.
TM: There are so many places in Madison we’d like to thank, because of the people [here] that were dedicated to come to those places. But now what we aim to do is touch the world with music. That’s no joke, and you have to keep branching out. It’s crazy to me how full of awesome the Midwest is. Every one of those cities we play in, [we] feel at home, they love music every bit as much as we do here.
GS: It’s something that we all really like doing, and is something we did right from the start. Right away we started going up to Winona, Minnesota, that’s like our second hometown.
TM: Decorah, Iowa… shout out to Haymarket!
GS: Yeah, Decorah was like our home away from home for the longest time. It’s fun making different hometowns in different places. Everywhere you go, even if you don’t get the best crowd at first, we stay at it. If we think we can pull something out of a town, we’ll keep coming back. It’s fun because now we can go to all these different towns and pull a good crowd. It’s good to have Madison bands going out and represent the town. When we play The Cabooze in Minneapolis, or Martyr’s in Chicago… the more Madison bands that go down there and show that we can rock it… like, Madison has a good reputation and we owe it to ourselves to live up to it. We just played with a really great high-energy band down in Chicago, Four Star Brass Band, for their CD release party. It’s great to trade off with bands like that. It’s a great strategy for both bands because everybody’s got their hometown draw. We bring in a lot of bands, [like] Nicholas David, he was third on “The Voice”. We brought him in to the Majestic, before he was on “The Voice”. Nobody knew who he was at the time, and like, four years later he’s back there on his tour!
MI: How far out have you gone on tour?
TM: We’ve gone to Colorado twice.
GS: That’s the farthest [but] we’ve got a couple things on the horizon right now.
MI: There is such diversity in the People Brothers’ music.
GS: I think it’s a natural thing for us.
TM: Everyone comes from somewhere different and feels passionate about their influences. We bring them to each other, and feed off each other. We don’t consciously say, “this sound has to be there because that’s our sound”, it’s everybody bringing what they’ve got and it’s magic every time.
GS: And what happens when all that comes together, is we have more fun than anybody else, and the fun spills over. Everybody likes music, and everybody likes to have a good time. No matter what, we’re all going to be performing with each other in some aspect, and having fun doing that. I’ve been in bands before with people who didn’t want to have fun, and sometimes it’s a clash. All of us are extremely social… unprotected friendliness, we are so accepting. That stuff spills out when we’re playing. I think that’s one of the attractions. We try to be a family band. That’s how you keep something going for 30 years - you build a great foundation. The fact that we’re got kids wearing People Brothers shirts, on their first day of first grade… that kind of stuff is awesome, [just] the fact that people bring their kids out. We’ve played high schools before… Bangor High School over by La Crosse, for a friend’s senior project. He chose to have the People Brothers Band come and play! He’s a jazz musician, a trumpet player, and he wanted to do a concert, and brought us up there to play in front of a group, a lot of the jazz bands and their parents were there. It was cool!
TM: It’s mind blowing, who we touch.
GS: We love doing that stuff. We can go play the street festivals, we can play the hippie festivals. That’s how we started.
TM: And want to continue to do.
GS: We can do weddings. We [just] did a wedding [where] we didn’t know the people. We go in to those a couple times a month in the summer, [where] they don’t know us, but we go and make their event so special, because we have a great time, and it just snowballs and elevates everything.
MI: How does that happen?
GS: We’ve got a reputation. [laughing]
TM: A lot of it starts with a fan, and they decide to get married. There’s actually people who met at our show, and now are about to get married. Then, people at their wedding who are getting married and saw us… it keeps connecting.
GS: One time we played a wedding up in Door County, and it was one of the most fun weddings I’ve ever been to. We played for three hours nonstop.
TM: And they danced for three hours nonstop.
GS: They went crazy. Since then, we had three other people that were at that wedding, call us, and say, “make our wedding like Drew & Sophie’s”. That’s become our formula. We do a lot of different private events.
MI: Tell us about People Fest!
TM: This is a huge line-up. What I keep telling people about People Fest, it’s some of the best memories you’ll make, in your life, not just this Summer. Last year was the year that I finally felt like we were in a comfort zone. We got it right and for like two months afterwards I couldn’t shake the feeling of all the love. People, just being there, enjoying musicians, enjoying each other’s company, [and] getting to know each other. Being in the Driftless Region itself is just beautiful. And to have some of the best musicians in the Midwest want to come and play that festival is such an honor. [Also] if people don’t want to go online, they can always get tickets for People Fest at the Up North [Bar] anytime.
MI: Do bands contact you?
GS: It’s been that way since probably the third year. That’s fun and it’s a little bit nerve wracking too.
TM: It hurts because you want to be able to [book] everyone.
GS: That’s why we have 53 bands, it’s so hard to say no to people. Not just friends, but we have so many different bands from all over, mostly Madison and Minneapolis. We’ve got La Crosse, Milwaukee, Iowa City, Duluth… we got a band coming from L.A. that’s on tour. It’s just fun, these are people we play with throughout the year. We get to bring them all together, hang out, and we also get to be with bands that we don’t see a lot, and just chill with.
TM: And actually watch them.
GS: There are some new Madison bands we’re bringing in, like Dolores, and that’s their last show. So they’re going to be out there… Sexy Ester, Family Business, Wheelhouse, Moonhouse… Mustache and Grasshoppers are always there. It’s really a great chance for anybody in Madison to come out and get a smorgasbord of local and Midwest talent. What’s cool about it, is, everybody, in their head, wants to book their own festival.
TM: It’s on a 300 acre farm. Tim’s wife is from that area, and [the people who own] the farm were friends of her family, and through community it just kind of came together like that. They have a bar out there called The Bullpen. We actually played there for a Sunday Funday Meat Raffle Day, on the way back from somewhere else we played. It was a very odd and random thing. That was our first happening there.
GS: They’ve really taken a lot of ownership there, in the community. A lot of people from Organic Valley help us out. But, the people there at The Bullpen have built us this great stage out of old barn wood, and put a flatbed underneath of it. Then they built this stage inside.
TM: They quite literally have built three stages because of us.
GS: They built three stages, and put a drum riser on two of them, because the guy loves drummers, so he’s near to my heart. They even built this outside stage, where they welded together a metal frame, cut down trees with a chainsaw from 50 yards away, stripped them down, let them dry, and then built a stage out of the trees that were like right over there.
TM: It looks like this outdoor tree stage.
GS: The guy sees it as something really cool. Nobody’s doing it to make money. Everybody’s doing it to spread community and because it’s something awesome. It just leaves everybody feeling good. It’s a family thing, kids 12 and under get in free.
TM: We have kid’s events every time. Animals they can look at… chickens and dogs and cats running around.
GS: There’s two llamas, a miniature donkey, a couple of horses, all on the farm. We’ll have games and stuff, and craft hours scheduled this year. We want people to bring their kids out. It sucks, ‘cause as you get older, people have a hard time getting out to the [clubs] when you’re playing late at night. So, it’s cool to say, come out here, and you don’t necessarily have to camp. They can come out for the day, come to the farm, bring your kids out here, or you can camp, we have family camping too.
TM: There are lots of kids.
GS: The cool thing about our crowd is they’re very conscientious of this, and very respectful.
TM: Paying attention to the kids. Obviously we’re all adults, but if we don’t get our kids on board to understand what it is we’ve got to do better in this world, and, for me, and People Brothers, it’s through music. When you see those little kids just watching people, and if we can get to know them and they can see how loving it is, the more kids the merrier.
MI: With children, it’s such pure energy, like… that sense of awe and wonderment, and innocence, when they see the power that music has.
GS: Absolutely. Teresa is notorious too, for bringing kids on stage all the time, and carrying them around while she’s singing. She brings these little girls on stage, and you can just see them thinking, “this is the coolest thing EVER”, because all the sudden they feel like they’re the star. And that feeling lives on. Hopefully you’re inspiring them to want to give it a shot.
TM: I know we are. A prime example, Bobby’s son Thomas has been coming to our festival since he was in the womb, and Thomas has been around us always. Watching, seeing what’s going on, and now Thomas is obsessed with drums. He likes to watch what Greg’s doing, [and] wants to play drums.
GS: One of the reasons we’re more family oriented, like with Bobby, if people are going to have families, we want to have something they can bring their family out to. We get the older crowd, the baby boomers, they like us because we kind of pay tribute to the music of their time, and that strikes a chord within them. I think a lot of us in the band cut our teeth with classic rock and soul, and Teresa was into everything, so, we kind of bring an older element, and freshen it up. Make it our own.
MI: You’ve got a fairly new line-up in the People Brothers Band now.
GS: It’s been cool for us, because we’ve had some line-up switches throughout the last year, where we’ve worked with a couple different guitarists. We’ve brought in some interim guitarists, but we were able to play with this guy Jake Ilika, he plays with a band called Heavyset. Right now he’s also playing with The 4onthefloor, out of Minneapolis. They’re on the Minnesota tourism commercial that plays down here. He’s seriously one of the best guitarists that I’ve been around, and he came to play with us for six months. We had Chad [Thompson] from Electric Spanking come play with us for about 4 or 5 months. Right now we have this guy, Chris Peters, out of Winona, MN, and he’s just doing a great job. That’s what’s kind of fun about being a bigger band, and also about playing around, we did a thing for a couple months where we would go to different areas [and] pick up guitarist from the region. We did that strategically, and it was really fun for us, as a band. Every time, their different voices would bring something different out of us.
TM: It is important for people to know, in our line-up changes, we do have 4 or 5 of us that have been going strong, but the people that left the band are still our family, our good friends. They had different things going on, having families, going to school, that they had to do.
GS: They still come and watch and sit in. Matt, our old sax player, was [just] running sound for us and sitting in two nights in a row. You know, as you get older, it sometimes gets tough to commit yourself full. It’s a huge life commitment. They weren’t able to do it full time, but they can still join us at their leisure. And it’s fun too, because now we’ve been able to bring in these other musicians. We brought in Anitra Hovelson from Electric Spanking, and she’s an amazing saxophone player. We brought in Drew Traverse from The Mustache on trumpet. He’s an amazing musician, and a great piano player too. Like, we had him playing keys, and that’s something you won’t see often.
MI: Anything you’d like to say in conclusion?
TM: Music is what feelings sound like. I have a song written right now, we’re going to start working on, that’s talking about the day and age that we’re in, music is a really huge platform to bring people together. If instruments wouldn’t play together, there wouldn’t be songs, and if people treated people like that… live your life like a song. I think people should embrace that. We wouldn’t have a People Brothers Band if we didn’t connect with people. Spread positivity and love through music, that’s all we ever try to do.
GS: All people are brothers. That’s the feeling behind the name, and the feeling we embody.
• Website • Facebook
People Brothers Band
CD: Middle Of The In Between Record Label: The People Brothers Band, LLC
• Purchase Middle Of The In Between on Amazon
• Download Middle Of The In Between on Amazon