Not All Heroes Wear Capes...(but some do)

Milwaukee is full of crazy talented musicians. But it's taken me a long time to acknowledge that. I've been skeptical about the local scene for a long time for a variety of reasons. Despite my love of the city, Milwaukee has never received a free pass on this. I am glad to have finally sorted through the shit and would like to share with you some of my picks for top Milwaukee music. 

Field Report - Thomas Wincek, Devin Drobka, Christopher Porterfield, Barry Clark

Field Report - Thomas Wincek, Devin Drobka, Christopher Porterfield, Barry Clark

1) Field Report - Field Report is an anagram of frontman/songwriter Chris Porterfield's last name. Brilliant! His prior affiliation with Justin Vernon is well-documented, but I have to tell you that that was a reason I was initially skeptical about his music. Back in 2012, I was way into Bon Iver and saw Field Report as a knock off without falsetto. As the folk revival started to die down in 2014, I heard Porterfield do a track by track analysis/interview of his sophomore record with one of our favorite radio stations. At that moment, a switch flipped and I became a super fan. Field Report's third record, Summertime Songs, was released earlier this year and it has only increased my mania. The first things you'll notice about Field Report are Chris's voice and lyrics. Chris has an non-traditional voice that carries his songs through a highly emotional, sometimes pained presentation. His lyrics have enough meaning on the surface to draw in a casual listener, but the depth to give you something new for each subsequent listen. They are specific enough for you to believe every word he sings is autobiographical and true, yet broad enough for you to put yourself in them. In short, the songwriting is simply masterful. Here are a few of my favorite tracks:

"Summons"

"If I Knew"

Buffalo Gospel - Ryan Necci, Kevin Rowe

Buffalo Gospel - Ryan Necci, Kevin Rowe

2) Buffalo Gospel - Here's another band that I was not particularly fond of the first time I heard them a few years ago. It just didn't grab me. Frontman/songwriter Ryan Necci has come a long way in a short amount of time though. I first saw him perform as a part of another event and his passionate performance caught my attention. Earlier this year, Buffalo Gospel released their new record, On the First Bell. I'll spare you the details, but Necci went through some real shit over the last few years. The result was a record with a new approach to songwriting, heartbreaking delivery, and some of the best damned country music you'll ever hear on this side of the Mason-Dixon line. These are tightly constructed songs with memorable hooks and emotions. It's no coincidence that Chris Porterfield is a dear friend of Necci and contributed to the record. Take a listen to these tracks to get you started, but the entire record is fantastic:

"Lonestar"

"Homeless"

GGOOLLDD - Margaret Butler

GGOOLLDD - Margaret Butler

3) GGOOLLDD - While Buffalo Gospel and Field Report represent two of my favorite songwriters in the world, not just Milwaukee, GGOOLLDD is bit different. The Google machine classifies them as an electro-pop band and they're admittedly pretty new to me. I've heard the name for years, wondered if you pronounce each letter, and didn't pay much attention. But recently I started to re-examine "established" Milwaukee bands to see if I was missing out on anything. GGOOLLDD is fronted by Margaret Butler, a cape-wearing powerhouse of a vocalist. Her voice is perfectly complimented by an ensemble of guitars, drums, and synthesizers that match her energy and charisma. These are catchy and unique songs that really stand out. Take a listen and you'll be hooked. The most recent recording is an EP called Teeth, I highly recommend it.

"Undercovers"

"Secrets"

Brett Newski..(.of Brett Newski)

Brett Newski..(.of Brett Newski)

4) Brett Newski - Similar to GGOOLLDD, I've heard about Brett Newski for a long time, but never gave him the time of day. A few weeks ago, I saw an article that contained Newski and a drummer going in to a Wal-Mart and playing a pop up show. They were promptly asked to leave, but I was intrigued. After listening to his most recent work, I found him to be a great mix of straight-forward lyrics and 90s alternative music. I can best describe his work as a mix of the Presidents of the United States of America's "Gump", Ben Folds; "Rocking the Suburbs", and Cake's "Daria." If you know all of those songs (and like them), you'll be a fan. Brett Newski just released a new record called Life Upside Down that I recommend you pick up.

"Ride"

"Can't Get Enough"

 

The Belle Weather - Tom Abromaitis, Eric Cox

The Belle Weather - Tom Abromaitis, Eric Cox

5) The Belle Weather - I met writer and front man Eric Cox at a "Songwriters in the Round" gig. I was immediately impressed by his vocal prowess and storytelling abilities. I know it embarrasses him each time I say it, but I think his voice is reminiscent of Station to Station era David Bowie. It sails over a rich ocean of indie folk/rock that grabs your attention and sets the scene for whatever story he wants to tell, from the folks fighting the good fight in Standing Rock, longings for home, or a "what if" story about the life of crime he almost had. These guys work hard and gig often. I highly suggest you purchase their music and seek them out when they come to your area, because they will. Waukesha, Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Brookfield, wherever. You're never far from the next Belle Weather gig.

"Suitcase"

"The Accomplice"

 

Layers & Layers - Thea Vorass, Tyson Allison, Robert Jokala, Adrian Esguerra

Layers & Layers - Thea Vorass, Tyson Allison, Robert Jokala, Adrian Esguerra

6) Layers & Layers - My friend and former band mate Tyson Allison has been making truly excellent music for much longer than I have. His current band, Layers  & Layers, takes some of the best of the darker side of 90s alternative (Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead) and puts a totally unique spin on it. His songs are instantly memorable without having traditional hooks. And like Field Report, Tyson's lyrics are intensely personal while being completely universal. Layers & Layers is currently recording their debut album. Look out for it, it's going to get some attention. Check out their videos for some live performances.

"Red Rover"

"Songs for Black Swans"

From Studio to Stage

I hung up my gigging boots back in August 2017. After two years of giving it all of my effort as a solo artist, I had fallen out of touch with other aspects of music making that I love so much, including studio work. I'm a man of extremes, so for the next 12 months, I dedicated myself to the studio, releasing new recordings and songs every month. It was the breath of (not so) fresh air that I needed. Being hidden away in my home studio gave me time to experiment, go down some rabbit holes, and find my voice a bit more. But all good things must come to an end. I've opened the door and have my first gig in over a year coming up on Friday.

I now found myself in the position of translating the work I've done in the studio to the stage. Without an approximately 20 piece band at my disposal, I was left with no choice but to make some changes. Every aspect of the music was on the table, including song choice, structure, key, and instrumentation. That can be a bit overwhelming, especially for songs that were written in the studio. Well, it was time to rip off the band-aid! (pun 100% intended.)

 

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I chose to start with instrumentation. I've known for a while that I'm a stronger electric guitar player than acoustic. Add in my desire to keep my set up as simple as possible and I concluded to stick to a single electric guitar, amp, and pedals. This setup would allow me the maximum amount of tones with minimum gear. I always want to be sure that I keep things as interesting as possible for the audiences' ears. I started playing with my pedals (Earthquaker Nightwire, Moog Minifooger Delay, Neunaber Seraphim Mono Shimmer, Boss RC-1 Loop Station, Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive) and came up with some base levels and pleasing combinations.

Next I started playing songs exactly as I did when I recorded/wrote them, but with the electric guitar set up. Using a loop station can certainly free things up for solos and texture building, but it can also be risky and a logistical nuisance. The RC-1 is quite basic, so you essentially get one shot to get it right. For me, it requires a little too much concentration at times, so I decided to use it sparingly. Because I essentially set my restrictions (electric, pedals, voice), the songs started to take shape pretty quickly within those confines and others were cut. The songs had to be dynamic, utilize different effect combinations, and still stay true to the original sentiment and intentions. Not only that, but the effects had to amplify those sentiments. (Again, pun totally intended.) I cut a few intros that depended on lead lines that I couldn't create in this setting, and replaced them with simpler ones that still set the scene/key. For the most part though, the biggest change and focus was dynamics. Overdrive and the Mono Shimmer both do wonders to add that extra push over the edge.

Things sound a lot different, but it's been fun to rework these songs in a new exciting way. I look forward to presenting this smaller version of Next Paperback Hero to new ears in hopes of enticing them in for another listen. 

 

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