Complex, funky, edgy, and cerebral, the jazz-rock-fusion vibrations emanating from Nathaniel Frank & The Wisconsin Magic need no words to tunnel through your skin. A self-aware composer brimming with passion, sincerity and purpose, Frank shared some of the thought processes related to his artistic journey in this recent interview:
JD: WHAT IS THE COOLEST THING ABOUT “THE WISCONSIN MAGIC”?
NF: The band is comprised of a rotating group of passionate, extremely talented players, many of whom have their own projects. Jay Spanbauer (drums), is lead guitarist for The Dynasty, while guys like Dean Hoffman (rhythm guitar/Rhodes electric piano) and Matthew Priewe (bass) are members of Spy versus Spy. Chris Felts (saxophone/aux percussion) plays in more bands than I can remember. So the unique thing is that everyone has a different background and comes in to play already written pieces. Regardless that their parts are pre-written, they still make them their own.
JD: WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO SHARE AND CREATE MUSIC?
NF: Everything motivates me, mostly my children, but the primary driving factor has always been selfish or for my own gratification. The fact there is an audience or listener is merely a bonus. The ability to compose a complex work, and be able to hear it live for the first time as a cohesive piece is probably the other major factor. I have never been of the opinion that my music demands to be heard, but rather that it demands to exist for my own needs.
JD: HOW HAS YOUR ARTISTRY CHANGED OR EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
NF: I think like anything, art needs to evolve and music is no exception. For instance, when I got the first group together to perform the early material, it was very in-your-face jazz fusion. A very “take no prisoners,” approach to songwriting with absolutely no regard for the audience nor attentive listener. This wasn’t done for shock value, but merely displayed what I was feeling at the time. Now, the focus has been working on compositions that involve much more melody,and layered complexity to better the overall piece. It’s a change in looking at a piece of music as a true composition and conveying an idea to its fullest extent, versus riffy jazz fusion.
JD: WHAT ARE YOUR PERCEPTIONS OF THE LOCAL MUSIC SCENE AND HOW IT’S CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
NF: My first, or knee jerk, reaction to that question is, “We have a music scene?” I think that the talent level of the local artists has always been there. Oshkosh specifically has always had one of the best sources for talented musicians and bands anywhere in Wisconsin. What is unfortunate is that now, in 2015, venues in the area are much more choosy and less willing to give bands playing original compositions a chance. In the old days, not only were there many more venues, but also a willingness of owners to try anything. You still had to sell yourself, but if you proved you could either draw a crowd, or keep the crowd there, you were in. That innocence is gone now as it’s become more about who is in the band, or who knows who, rather than originality.
JD: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE VENUES TO PLAY IN WISCONSIN?
NF: Reptile Palace hands down period. Beth and Clint are amazingly gracious and always willing to give bands a chance. The small, intimate size makes it fantastic too. It just gets tough with 6-8 people on stage (laugh).
JD: TELL ME SOMETHING YOUR FANS MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU?
NF: I am left-handed, but play guitar, drums, and bass right handed. I also dislike monkeys.
JD: LATEST PROJECTS OR TOURS WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
NF: In May, I just finished recording my new album at All Welcome Studios in Los Angeles with producer Chris Schlarb (Asthmatic Kitty/Joyful Noise Recordings). Guest musicians on the album are; legendary jazz trumpeter Kris Tiner, baritone sax legend Curt Oren, and violin virtuoso Phillip Glenn. The process involved me tracking each instrument for the composition, and then bringing in these fantastic musicians to perform solos as well as melodies. We are currently planning a release tour for 2017, and the large portion of material for the follow up to this next album is already written and being taught to the Wisconsin Magic.
JD: GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?
NF: Just to keep writing and bettering my themes to push myself compositionally.
JD: ANY MUSES, COLLABORATIONS OR FORCES OF INSPIRATION OF NOTE?
NF: I would say there are three major inspirations which are a constant driving force for me: Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Amon Düül II are definitely the reason I write how I write, and have made me the musician I have become. But even Sufjan Stevens, Rowland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, etc. are almost as huge from an influential aspect. For collaborations I would say that working with so many amazing session musicians on recording this latest album has been a huge inspiration. As aforementioned, Kris Tiner, Curt Oren, Chris Schlarb, Chris Felts, Phillip Glenn. Each of those musicians inspired me for a long time and to be able to perform with them was a dream come true. Kris Tiner, for example, is the only trumpet player to bring tears to my eyes. His performances are legendary and his talent knows no bounds.
NATHANIEL FRANK & THE WISCONSIN MAGIC Band Members: Nathaniel Frank// Jay Spanbauer// Matthew Priewe// Chris Felts// Dean Hoffman// Corey LaFontaine//
BAND BIO: Formed in 2007 as a way for Nathaniel Frank to perform his solo compositions, The Wisconsin Magic is based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and comprises three main members, along with a cast of revolving musicians to help perform these complex jazz fusion compositions. Nathaniel Frank has performed in recordings and live with Sufjan Stevens, Dave Easley (Brian Blade fellowship), Liky and Madeline, David Longstength (Dirty Projectors), and Nels Cline (solo/Wilco). Frank recently completed recording of a new album “Hyacinth Thrash Quarter” produced by Asthmatic Kitty/Joyful Noise Recordings artist Chris Schlarb.
“Light on the Heavy” available on vinyl now – listen for free: http://nathanielfrankthewisconsinmagic.bandcamp.com/