By Justin Bricco and Justin Mitchell
The Oshkosh area music scene is currently at its strongest point in nearly a decade, with a plethora of talented musicians crafting their own, unique sounds and performing live with regularity.
This month we decided to feature some of the performers who have become or are becoming a cornerstone to our live music community.
On the cover shot, we met up with The Traveling Suitcase, who has recently completed the recording of a new album (their third) in Appleton at Rock Garden Studios with Marc Golde. The Traveling Suitcase is a 3-piece 70s inspired rock outfit from Oshkosh who formed in 2010 and features Nicole Rae on drums and vocals, Brandon Domer on bass and keys, and Bill Grasley on guitar. The band is planning on touring once their album is completed, and will continue to be a regular feature in the local live music scene including a set at 2014 Waterfest.
Check out the Suitcase’s facebook page for more info and upcoming show dates. In addition, you can check out a full 30 minute set from their recent performance on Wisconsin Public Television at http://video.wpt.org/video/2365210192/.
Looking to learn a bit more about some of the musicians who make up the local music scene, we posed a handful of questions about their backgrounds, including:
1. At What age did you know you wanted to be a musical artist, songwriter, performer?
2. What was the impetus, early influences, or event(s) that lead you down this path?
3. To what degree are those influences present in your writing/performing today?
4. What was your favorite WI show/performance you witnessed (as audience member) over the last 12 months?
5. What’s on the horizon for your act or band? Special upcoming performance(s)?
1. Nicole: 10, Brandon: 13, Bill: 12
2. Nicole: music videos (radiohead)
Brandon: Beatles Anthology on ABC
Bill: Led Zeppelin in ‘69 on Denmark Radio
3. Nicole: everything’s grown beyond that
Bill: I constantly turn to them, John Paul Jones in particular, when it comes to arranging songs.
4. Nicole: J. Roddy Walston
Brandon: Paul McCartney
5. Nicole: releasing our record “Nobody Wins”, lots and lots of shows in the summer between festivals and tours. Brandon: yahuh Bill: Looking forward to Mile of Music this year.
1) It seems like we all had influences in music from a young age, definitely before the age of 10. At that point in your life, anything seems possible. Aspiring to be a musician is sort of like aspiring to be an astronaut in that sense. Then you learn about how the world really works and that making a career out of music is just as hard, if not harder, than a lot of other career paths. We are fortunate to be in the position we are now, with a great new album coming out, and a lot of live experience under our belts. It’s more than any of us ever expected.
2) All of us in the band are really moved by music, probably more than the average person, and that emerges at a young age. Mix that with an upbringing that embraces art and music and you’ll have a musician in the making. I suppose that is what happened with the four of us. Then, purely by chance, the four of us are playing music and collaborating together. It really comes down to just enjoying music, and then taking the initiative to say “I can do that, and I can do it better!” As far as direct influences, we can thank the likes of Bach to Bob Dylan to the Beatles to bluegrass, and anything in between.
3) We have a healthy mix of influences and they all help certain elements of our music to emerge. More than musical influences, I think we rely on parental influences that have instilled hard work and determination into us. There are so many talented artists out there. Those who make it combine luck with talent, and hard work.
4) We are big fans and friends of a band out of Stevens Point known as Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, and they always put on a great show that is full of energy and soul. We played the Wisconsin Bluegrass Festival with them over the winter, and we were blown away. There have been few crowds as excited and energetic as the crowd at The Majestic that night.
5) We actually just got back from San Francisco where we recorded our latest album with legendary producer Stephen Barncard, at the legendary Hyde Street Studios. It was a fantastic experience filled with great stories and a lot of great music. We were there for about 10 days, and we slept in an empty studio on the second floor, allowing for a very immersive experience. We have not set a date for the album release, but it will likely be in late May or early June, at an undetermined venue near downtown Oshkosh, WI. Be sure to get your tickets early, as they are sure to go quickly!
of The Sleepwalkers
1. 10 or 11 ish
2. Probably a family move from MI to WI. I didn’t know anyone or have any friends, so I began to listen to more music.
3. Still present. I’d say it laid a groundwork for years down the line. Or it didn’t?
4. I think the Screaming Females/Tenement bill at Cactus Club in January is up there. And Jason Isbell/Robert Ellis at the Pabst.
5. East coast tour in May, more midwest/southern dates in July, and a bunch of outdoor regional dates through the summer
(of The Haunted Heads)
1. The first two concerts I went to were a week apart. Soul Asylum, followed by the Replacements in 89’ or 90’. I had already been playing guitar by then, but after those two concerts, being in a band and writing songs wasn’t optional anymore.
2. Skateboarding was the gateway drug into punk rock for me. Most of the cats I would skate with were very coastal with what they listened to. Black Flag, Minor Threat, Descendents, Big Drill Car. It was all great, but when I heard Husker Du and Stiff Little Fingers something really started connecting with me. It was more tangible for some reason. Within a few months of diving into punk rock, noisier slower bands started to come around through Wisconsin clubs. The Fluid, Jesus Lizard, Nirvana and Buffalo Tom all could deliver the same intensity, maybe even more. At the end of the day Bill Janovitz was more relate-able than Henry Rollins to me. Once music gets this kind of hold on you, going backwards is just as incredible as going forward. Remembering the first time I heard King Crimson or Townes Van Zandt were just as mind blowing as dying to hear the newest Jawbox record.
3. When it comes to what influences me, I would think most musicians would answer that the same. It’s absolutely everything. Everything you’ve heard, everything you’ve seen, everywhere you’ve been. The shit that happens, the beauty that happens. But really that’s the same for a painter, a writer, a parent, a teacher. You can’t really quantify influence. It happens just by continuous breathing.
4. This summer and fall will end up being both busy and exciting. I have a new solo record that will be out this month, Holly&Plastic “We Will Give This World Away”. A new Haunted Heads 10” record will be out in July as well. Between both projects I’ll most likely average a show per week thru the fall. The Internets will keep you informed!
5. Best show this year? Califone, Richard Buckner, Christopher Gold, and The Sleepwalkers have all really been some great nights.
NATHANIEL FRANK &
THE WI MAJIC:
1. 8 years old
2. Amon Düül ii
3. Very. We play Krautrock and are very influenced by the above.
4. Bron Sage at peabodys
5. Performing with Asthmatic Kitty recording artist, Chris Schlarb and local artists Bron Sage on August 2nd at the Oshkosh Masonic center.
(Jam Funk Allstars)
1. I started out in elementary school and played trumpet through high school. With the exception of my experience with jazz band, it was a pretty structured approach to music. I attempted performing as a rock and roll trumpet player with several high school band projects but nothing eventful kept my interest. It wasn’t until after I discovered the live music scene that exists to those older than 21 that I was able to make sense of music. I experienced live rock performance and what it takes to play in a band with my first groups Greyleaf & Snook. I started learning piano which allowed me to sing and craft lyrics to original songs. My early experiences with piano allowed for the opportunity to play music as a special guest with other local groups.
2. I have a pretty eclectic taste in music. In my early years of teenage angst I would frequent ska punk shows of Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake as well as metal mosh pits of Korn and Sevendust. My early experiences with jazz have lead me to enjoy improvisation in music. I most enjoy a group that can adapt their musical performance on a nightly basis and allow for the stage chemistry of the group to create new music on the fly.
3. You can see the influences of my past in all the music that I currently perform. I enjoy the music of Phish and The Grateful Dead and that makes up a pretty good chunk of the material at a Jam Funk All-Stars (JFAS) show. We take songs that we all love and make them into our own with unique interpretations and in depth funky reggae jams. JFAS is a cast of musicians that perform in a variety of other groups and we often rotate the roster of melodic instruments that provide new elements on a consistent basis. JFAS started out as a house band that was fun to play in and just felt natural on stage. After close to 150 performances in around three years the group has been one of the best experiences for me to grow musically.
4. I did go see Reel Big Fish recently in Madison and they were just as impressive as I remember. I’m very lucky that I get to spend a lot of time in the local music scene. On a weekly basis I enjoy new acts that have been touring through the area as well as all the great local talent that we already have.
5. Jam Funk All-Stars have a steady schedule and perform the first Thursday of every month at Short Branch Saloon in Neenah and the third Saturday of every month at Peabody’s in Oshkosh. The band is close to their 150 show anniversary and that means that there is an extra special show in the works. The group recently recorded a show that is about to be released online along with music videos too.
JOE SLYZELIA (Sly Joe & The Smooth Operators)
1. I knew I wanted to be a performing musician at 13, when my first band, “Vital Influence” played “November Rain” at the junior high assembly. The wildly enthusiastic response that followed sealed the deal, and made it ever-so-slightly easier to be an awkward teenager.
We started writing songs shortly after and I always enjoyed it, but it was in the aftermath of a tragic car accident when I was 17, that I started to pursue songwriting more seriously and more sensitively. A friend died in the accident, and the rest of us were hospitalized and damaged for some time. From then on, I had a renewed priority to make the best of what we have today, and songwriting proved to be the ideal medium for me to express it.
2. When I was little, I liked to spin in the middle of the living room, watching the ground go around like an LP record while my mom spun Beatles and Jackson 5 albums on Sunday mornings. This became my Melodic Church of Rhythm and Soul. Afterschool I’d practice Chopin, Debussy, and Beethoven on the piano, or sing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with friends on the sidewalks of Wausau. Once teenaged, the guitar became my new ally and Van Halen lit the way through the back alleys of Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam. After those flannel-ly grunge years, I immersed myself in one of my greatest influences- Stevie Wonder. All the while, writing more and more songs.
3. They are woven into the fabric of my soul, and show themselves in varying degrees all the time. Like any human, I’m influenced by so many things; people, music, nature, conversations, books…Consciously, I’ve always strived to write something different and unexpected, though subconsciously these influences are bound to rise to the surface.
4. I loved Jacob Fannin’s performance when he opened our “Inside the Song” show at the Algoma Club in March. Hearing his amusing and enlightening stories helped me to enjoy his songs even more than I previously had. I also love catching Sam Luna’s performances. I feel a kindred connection to his earthy style with songs that are both unusual and captivating. I don’t get out to see many other bands, since we’re all usually playing on the same nights.
5. We just released our 6th album (Miles and Miles to Go) and 1st music video (I’ve Been Found), so I’m excited to see how the music lovers will respond to those. Our song, “Hot Sauce” is going to be featured in an upcoming episode of “Mixology” on ABC. And we’re supporting the band America in the season finale of Oshkosh’s Waterfest.
(of The Guilty Wanted)
1. I never really decided that it was something i wanted to become or pursue, it’s more of a roll that i slipped into as our band developed.
2. For our band, it all started in 2010 with a handful of musicians from my church (Terrace Shores Evangelical Church) were toying with the idea of competing in a local battle of the bands. It never happened but ever since then, Nate took the lead organizing practices, writing sessions, and eventually shows. Back then as a rookie, i never imagined that i’d become a lead singer and song writer in this band with three amazing guys!
3. Today, our members are no longer from the same church, but as 4 christian artists, our faith comes out through our music. And Nate never ceases with pushing our band to new heights.
4. For the most part, we all share an appreciation for similar music and styles, but rarely attend the same concerts. Last year, we had the opportunity to play summerfest, while there i got to catch Buddy Guy! My absolute favorite of the year.
5. Special events coming this year… Busy schedule, some of the highlights include: Headlining at summerfest on the KNE stage June 26th! We’ll be opening for the Gin Blossoms on July 25th, and we’re excited to be back at Mile of Music. Then this fall, we’re looking forward to going beyond our 5 song ep and finally recording our new songs on a full length album!
CONNOR LAMUE (of Midwestern Charm, Sleepwalkers, The Red Hawks, Nate Dengle & The Night Managers)
1. I guess when I graduated college it was solidified (so 23?). I knew I wouldn’t be fulfilled if I went into a cubicle-farm environment or spent my time chasing after objects/money. I saw people I graduated with talking about how much they were making, then in the same breath explain their dissatisfaction. That’s not for me. I need something more, and music has always been in my life. I guess I just put two and two together and decided I wanted to try and carve something out of my time here.
2. I’ve been writing songs and playing in bands since high school. That grew into booking small tours and playing almost every weekend for the past couple of years. I guess music’s the only thing (I’ve identified) that helps me kinda sort out my idiot brain, so I’ll keep doing it.
3. Personal narrative has a strong grasp on my previous writing. I’ve started to dip my toes in a bit further and sharpen my tongue, so I guess we’ll see what falls out.
4. I caught the Tenement/Screaming Females show at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee this past January, that was rad. Tenement is one of my favorite Wisconsin bands so catching them not in a basement was a treat.
5. The Midwestern Charm has a new record ready to be launched at any moment. Trying to get the funds to put it out ourselves or find a home for it with a label. We’re playing around the state til then.
The Sleepwalkers record just came out. We’re doing a couple tours to support it, including a daytrotter session.
RedHawks record is in the mixing stage so that will come out sometime this summer I’m thinking.
Nathan Dengel & The Night Managers EP is mixed, hoping to get that mastered and out this summer as well.
(of Jazz Orgy)
1. I can remember singing and acting like a rock star very young 5 or 6 jamming to the radio or my parents 8 tracks. I remember bouncing around on our couch in the basement using an old cassette recorder microphone. I really liked fooling around on the piano until I was forced to take lessons then all I wanted was a guitar. I think I was bored with the tunes my teacher was making me play. I played a few recitals but what really got me going was when my parents bought me a bass for Christmas 1983. My cousin Phil was a pro studying with Richard Davis was there and he gave me my first few lessons. From that point I knew what I was going to do…become a rock star!
2. I learned lots of songs off the radio and got really good at backing up the needle of my record player. I was still in grade school when I auditioned for a band of guys who were in high school; they gave me a list of songs to learn and told me to give them a call when I got a bigger amp. I saved my lawn mowing money and worked the list. I started taking lessons with Jack Brown, an accordionist who ran his own band; he taught me how to play in different styles and meters and sold me my first PA. I went back to the guys and knowing the songs and loud enough to rock. From there everything snowballed, playing gigs and meeting the other bands from the area. I always was seeking new people to jam so anytime I met other musicians I would suggest that we find a time to play.
3. I like to channel that time of my life when playing in the basement for you and your band mates was the best thing in the world, the joy of the first few gigs. I remember that feeling of being so stoked after a gig would last a week. After playing 10, 000 gigs one can get a little jaded and lose that joy. At times when I get a little down about the music business it is very helpful to dig deep and remember that when it is grooving nothing is better. It doesn’t matter if you are playing for 100 people or for the water heater, it is all about the joy.
4. I play so much that I don’t get much time go and see a band. The best chance I have to see music is to be on a multiple band gig. I love Copperbox, The Traveling suitcase, the Dead Horses and Sly Joe and the smooth operators. There are so many great bands in the Valley we are really blessed, it is not like that everywhere. The last show that really blew me away was bassist Christian Mcbride at the Lawrence Chapel, it was outstanding!
5. You can see the Jazz Orgy every Sunday at Peabody’s ale house in Oshkosh, every Monday at the Copper still Bourbon bar in Neenah, every Tuesday at Cena in Appleton and Every Wednesday at Beckets in Oshkosh. On the other three days of the week you can see us playing with various other duos and trios and bands of every sort. I also play with the talk of the town, the River city six, Salsa Manzana and the Vic Ferrari symphony shows. I am also working on an original music project for the Jazz Orgy to be released later this year. I’m also working with an old collage buddy, Tim Perkins, on a 3 or 4 string bass band that plays hard rock covers in the vein of the WAPL playlist.
STEPHANIE TSCHECH (Auralai, Wilfret & Miss)
1. I started playing cello when I was 9, but it didn’t even really occur to me that I could and SHOULD starting writing songs until I was 17.
2. Honestly, as much as I adored cello, I was bored out of my mind with symphony material. I couldn’t find the passion to play anymore until I started listening to a lot of Damien Rice. I was in love with his song 9 crimes and spent four hours teaching myself how to play it on cello and sing at the same time. Once I finally conquered it I felt incredible. A fire was definitely lit and I started training myself to utilize my cello in different ways.
3. I am still a huge fan of Damien Rice. He is a very honest and emotional performer and I feel strongly that I have absorbed some of those qualities in my writing as well. Damien really has a way of making the listener feel what he is singing, and I write with the objective of moving the audience.
4. I was lucky enough to get to attend the Tom Petty festival on April 23rd. It was incredible.
5. Right now Auralai’s main focus is finishing recording and releasing an album. In the meantime I have been immersing myself in in performing and writing and becoming a full time musician. I am very excited to be part of Mile of Music this year in my other band, Wilfret & Miss and potentially performing as Auralai for the event as well. Wilfret & Miss (witj Nicole Rae of the traveling suitcase) will be working on an album this year as well.
Check out the Scene each month for band profiles, music events, and the areas most comprehensive live music calendar. Check out the Oshkosh Scene facebook page to see updates, videos, and other news about the exciting happenings in the local live music scene.
Justin Mitchell is editor of the Oshkosh Scene, Justin Bricco is Button Cap Booking and manages the live music calendar for Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Appleton, Stevens Point and Green Bay. The Justins are former bandmates who share a passion for music.
Cover photo by Jennifer Newlin for the Scene.