photo by DeWook
It’s amazing to me how much in common that we all have with each other. The parallels between your life and the life of someone you hardly know can be breathtaking. Whether you have completely different jobs or you’re learning photography or finding that unique sound, you each begin to push your boundaries and find those parameters. Eventually after exploring enough ground, you discover that sweet spot—that flavor that is all your own.
When I began my research on Wise Jennings it was a bit vague. Between a third-person review on their website and a short bio on Facebook, I had so many unanswered questions about this couple originally from northwestern Wisconsin. I took the time to listen to every track I could find on Spotify, discovering their evolution and intently comparing what they described themselves as to what I was hearing. To put things bluntly, I was amazed. The music has ups, downs, lefts, and rights. The lyrics were intertwined with the arrangements, giving me more then what I expected. Although I listened to the entire catalog, I was still left with so many questions about who, what, where, how, and why.
I reached out to Wise Jennings to see if they would like to entertain an interview with DeWook Tour. Their reply was as welcoming as their music…
Dewook: Dewook here with Wise Jennings’ Melissa and Jeff in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Thanks for meeting with me. Really appreciate it. Wise Fest is kicking off here on September 18th & 19th on Rising Moon Farm in Hebron, Illinois. What started this festival? (tickets and event info at Eventbrite.com)
Melissa: We started Wise Fest 2018. We moved to Lake Geneva 6 years ago. And when we moved here we weren’t doing music. After we started doing music I always said this property is the perfect spot to host music out here because it’s so beautiful. In 2018 we did our first Wise Fest and we did it here on our property. It was primarily because of being original artists we found it hard to get shows, festivals, and meet people. So we thought we can start something so that we can give other people an opportunity to get in front of a crowd that they normally wouldn’t get to. So that was the birth of it. And it’s gone from there. Wise Farm Productions has just grown.
DeWook: And very kid friendly from what I’ve read!
Melissa: Yes, very family friendly!
DeWook: Anything new this year?
Melissa: So we were in a big snafu this year! So we live in Walworth County. And Walworth county has been cracking down on people for hosting private events. What’s new is that we actually got a citation for the last concert we held out here so we are moving the event to a new location just south over the border In Hebron, Illinois. Just 15 Minutes from here [Lake Geneva] onto a 90 acre horse farm In beautiful northern Illinois. We get to take Wise Farm on the road. So that’s our snafu for this year, it just means we have to do things differently. We have all sorts of stuff in the works. We are not going to let the man bring us down. We aren’t going to stop. It was a bit of a blow when we first found out. But we have a stage trailer, and we will move the stage and will follow. We are lucky enough to have really great supporters that want to be a part of what we’re creating down here. Everyone wants to help. So we’ve been lifted up by the generosity and support of other people. This year has been great.
Jeff: When this all happened, Mellissa was devastated, as was I.
DeWook: Did they come here to talk to you?
Melissa: Yes, the zoning commissioner for the county came to the front door.
Jeff: We let it breathe for a few days. I was on my way home from work on a Monday or Tuesday and called Melissa because she was so depressed. And I realized that we have a whole community of people that want to figure this out with us. This is not you by yourself. You don’t know it yet but when you start reaching out to people everyone is going to jump in and say I got an idea. And that’s exactly what happened. Within a day of that conversation we were on the phone with all kinds of people, driving all over the place. We had our answer of how we’re going to adjust in just a few days.. And what was so cool is that people we know, but we don’t really know just stepped up and said, “Let’s have it here”! “Let’s do this” .and people are coming out of the woodwork saying “We’ll work on this with you” and “We’ll help you do that”. That’s one of the coolest unexpected pieces of Wise Farm that we started off by watching these bands in Milwaukee. We got to show everyone over here all of these bands. Cuz there’s nowhere for them to play. We can’t wait for people to hear Cullah, The Milbillies, or Craig Baumann and The Story. And then it turns into a community that has coalesced. And that’s been an unexpected beautiful thing and that’s really what it’s become. It’s a community.
Dewook: Any big announcements this season?
Jeff: We got accepted in the White Wall Sessions which is in Sioux Falls, North Dakota.
So they choose maybe 25 artists around the country. They bring them into their studio and they tape it and put it out all over the country. We got into this pre-covid so we get to fulfill our time there.
Melissa: Yes! And to boot we’re actually doing it with Craig Baumann and The Story so we’re doing a little tour out of it. We’re doing a weekend run with CB and The Story. We’re all going to probably pile into our RV and drive up to Sioux Falls and do a few gigs along the way. That’s in October.
Dewook: What is Wise Jennings’ origin story? How did you meet? How did this all start?
Melissa: Jeff and I met in a band about 20 years ago. He was a keyboard player and I joined that band as a singer. Fast forward, we ended up together, got married. Stopped doing music completely. Moved from Eau Claire, Wisconsin down to Chicago. There we had our kids. And didn’t do any music for about 15 years! And then when we moved back to Wisconsin, it was at that point our kids were older - we decided that we should do some music together. It was how we met and it was always a good piece of our history.
Dewook: What has been the stand out memory you two have had performing on stage.
Jeff: Yeah! This year at Mackey’s Hideout. You [DeWook] shot that show for everyone including us of course.. (High Hawks, CB and The Story, Miles over Mountains) We played at 11:30pm at night. I was onstage and my back was to the audience. Melissa put a call out for a PBR.
Melissa: I said, “Someone buy me a PBR!” I think that’s what I said.
Jeff: And two guys come up with PBR’s. And then there was a 3rd guy who looked like Tim Carbone (violinist of Railroad Earth / High Hawks) I thought it was just uncanny. Not thinking it was Tim Carbone. Anyway, I turn around at the end of the night. Tim Carbone, Vince Herman (guitarist of Leftover Salmon) and the entire band were sitting there and they watched our set. And afterwards, I talked to Tim for about 30 minutes and he gushed about our songwriting and us as a band. I won’t tell you the details of our conversation. But it was the most special moment I’ve had as a musician. It was pretty cool.
DeWook: Wise Jennings has put out 5 albums in 4 years! That is impressive. How and where do you record? Have you gone to a local studio or a home studio?
Melissa: The early albums we did with Axis Recording. Vinny did an awesome job. He was our introduction into a recording studio. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. Vinny helped us along. Spit the Bit album we did with Mike Stone. Mike Stone is a world renowned guitarist. He used to live in Lake Geneva. He’s played with many bands as well as Queensrÿche. He’s also put out several albums himself. So we got to be friends with him because he lived in Lake Geneva. He did that album. And our most recent albums The Madness Inside Vol 1. We actually did it with our friend Michael Castle. He is in the band Pretty Beggar. They used to be a Milwaukee Staple a few years ago. He’s moved from there now. However, he has a mobile recording studio that he does. And he comes to our house, he sets up in the basement, and he’ll come live with us for a week! And we spent the whole week recording the album. It’s so comfortable. And for us, our schedules are just nuts. To carve out as much time needed to go into a studio just to have Michael come here and record us is what has really allowed us to make The Madness Inside Vol 1. album and then turn around and record Volume 2 right away. It just fits our schedule. Michael knows us so well now that he knows exactly what to do with our mixes.
DeWook: Anything you want to say to your fans?
Jeff: Number one. We are not used to being the focus of attention. Every time we see someone with a Wise Jennings shirt or puts a like on something online. I feel such gratitude. I appreciate it so much. We get such support from so many people. I don’t know how much people understand how important they are in that they fuel what we do.
After our discussion, I went to get my camera to snap a picture of them for this article. I thought to myself how much I actually have in common with them, how Wise Jennings and DeWook were both on the same path and we never knew it. In my opinion, it brought us both closer together.
In the end my questions were answered. I was left realizing how close we have been this entire time.
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