by Mike Huberty
December 2008

Madison's Blueheels

Madison's Blueheels

With an Americana sound that varies from alt-country to rock n’ roll to indie rock, Madison-based band Blueheels sound perfectly modern and vintage at the same time. The band has two recordings under their belt (2006’s Long Gone and Lessons in Sunday Driving released in April of 2008), a live album soon to come, and a third studio record in the works. They seem to be keeping themselves busy creatively, while also keeping a regular and extensive performing schedule.

Blueheels formed in the early summer of 2005 in Neenah, WI by Robby Schiller and Justin Bricco; two friends that had connected through the Fox Valley live music scene. Robby (lead vocals/rhythm guitar) and Justin (lead guitar) immediately recruited Tim Schweiger (Tim Schweiger and the Middlemen/Yesterday’s Kids/Obsoletes) on drums, Brett Jannusch on bass guitar, and Rebecca Krafft on harmony vocals to round out the lineup.  Blueheels spent the next year or so writing material for their debut album and gigging semi-frequently.  As the band became more and more serious over the next few years, the lineup changed three times before finally settling on the current cast. During these changes the band relocated to Madison.  The first change included the addition of Adam Cargin on drums in April of 2006, the second saw the addition of Justin Perkins (Yesterdays Kids/The Obsoletes) on bass in early 2007 as Brett and Rebecca left the band to pursue other life endeavors, and the third, in January 2008 saw the addition of Landon Arkens on bass and Teddy Pedriana (Blake Thomas and the Downtown Brown) on keys. 

According to drummer Adam Cargin, “the chemistry (of this lineup) is just awesome. When we added Landon and Teddy, we immediately knew we had something special.” Pedriana was already living in Madison, but Arkens didn’t come easy. He had played bass with Cargin when they were both students at UW Oshkosh, but had moved to New York City in 2005 to become a technician at Legacy Recording Studios. It was Cargin and Bricco’s repeated text messages and emails prodding him to return to the motherland of Wisconsin and join the band that eventually convinced him to give it a try (temporarily). After a summer of performing together, Arkens decided that he had to make the move permanent. “He (Landon) wanted to be a musician again,” said Cargin, “And (he) wasn’t getting to play out at all in New York, so I knew that I had to start trying to lure him back. I just kept on saying, ‘Quit your job. Move back. Join our band’!”

It’s with this solidified lineup that they recently recorded their first live album, headlining two nights at Cranky Pat’s over Thanksgiving Weekend. Their former bassist Justin Perkins was in charge of engineering the recording.  2008 has been a great year for the band (an opening spot for Jakob Dylan at Milwaukee’s Summerfest was the highlight of a summer of heavy touring), according to Cargin, “We really wanted to document this year and thought a live record would be a great way to do that. Cranky Pat’s is the perfect place to record because we have a history there, as well as a very loyal following in the Fox Valley. We thought that Thanksgiving Weekend would be a perfect time because a lot of our friends were going to be home for the holidays.”

For the people that haven’t heard what BLUEHEELS sound like yet, Cargin recommends, “If you’re a fan of Hank Sr., Bob Dylan, The Jayhawks, or Wilco then you’ll definitely enjoy the first album. If you like something with a little more raw energy,  you’ll like our second album.  It’s definitely less alt-country and a bit more rock n’ roll. Take a listen to Lessons in Sunday Driving from beginning to end.  Start it at the first song. “Small Western Town” sort of takes up where Long Gone left off and when the band comes in,  it just takes off.”

If you live in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, or Minnesota, chances are you’ll be able to see BLUEHEELS play somewhere near you very soon. Even if you’re farther away, you might get a chance. They’ve already toured the east coast twice. As Cargin describes the live set, “We take a bunch of different styles of music and mix them up in a way that I don’t feel like anybody has ever heard before. At the end of the day it’s a lot more exciting than seeing a band that exists in one genre. Creatively, we’re never going to shun a musical idea in order to try to fit the band into some sort of scene or genre. I feel like people identify with that honesty… our audiences range from normal everyday working people to complete circus freaks: 15 year old punk rockers to the mayor of Madison. We have fans of all ages and backgrounds. The most important thing to us is that we’re not trying to be famous rock stars (though I don’t think anyone would complain). We’re trying to make great records. We like to try to turn (our shows) into big parties where everyone feels welcome, and everyone has an equally important role.  The relationship between the band and our fans is what makes this so special.”

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