Unsung Heroes of Milwaukee Rock and Roll – Justin Perkins

Jusitn Perkins_studioBy Blaine Schultz

Justin Perkins makes his way through a sold out, packed-like-sardines Cactus Club in Milwaukee’s Bayview neighborhood. No one pays him any mind. This is the guy who mixed and mastered former Replacement Tommy Stinson’s new Bash and Pop album. Then he was asked to play bass on the tour.

Ten minutes later the Cactus Club is even  more crowded as Perkins, Stinson, guitarist Steve Selvidge and drummer Joe Sirois make their way to the stage in matching cranberry brocade two-piece suits and deliver a ragged, but bright set that leaves the audience much warmer than the single digit weather outside.

Depending on how you look at it, this is either a profile on how a truck driver’s son from Neenah, Wisconsin grew up to perform on a big time network television show or how the quiet  guy, the one who is brimming with talent, is the one least likely to blow his own horn.

These days Perkins spends his time at Mystery Room Mastering, his audio laboratory where he focuses on mastering,  audio mixing & production and post production video & film. Low key and soft spoken with only a few grey hairs hinting at his age, none of his neighbors would have reason to guess at Perkins’ resume playing with the Yesterday’s Kids, the Blueheels, and The Obsoletes, and as bass pinch hitter with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, Space Raft and the Paul Collins Beat or working with Milwaukee’s Midnight Reruns.

Too young to have seen Bash and Pop the first time around (let alone the Replacements) Perkins’ appreciation for B&P’s debut album, 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me is deep.  He uses the record to test out rooms where he will work his audio alchemy.

Fate found a way to connect Perkins with Stinson when he was asked to mix Milwaukee band The Midnight Reruns’ 2015 album Force of Nurture, which was produced by Stinson.  Then Perkins moved on and kept busy.

In his mastering facility Perkins sits at a virtual console that controls a massive screen.  A decade ago this work situation would be closer to science fiction, than music recording.

From the early days recording in his dad’s basement to Simple Studios in Green Bay, to working projects at Smart Studios in Madison, Perkins has put in his hours, not to mention miles, often making long commutes to work on projects.

Referring to his history with Yesterday’s Kids, Perkins makes a point to note that back when they recorded two albums for Lookout Records (home of Green Day), he realized how spoiled they were.  Green Bay’s Concert Café was a major scene.

“We must have been on Tom’s (promoter Time Bomb Tom Smith) good side because he let us play almost any show we wanted,” Perkins said.  “That was really fortunate. When the time came to go on tour we were expecting to play venues just like that all around the country. We started going to these shows that were nothing like that. Then it dawned on me what a special thing we had up there at the Concert Café.  Basically I owe Tom for where I am at now. That allowed me to meet other bands and start recording them.”

Let the record also show that Perkins worked at the Oshkosh Exclusive Company often interacting with Mr. G. “He always liked to joke around,” Perkins recalls. “All the little things worked together to make for a good music scene.  I just thought it was the norm. But looking back, I think the Fox Valley was something special.”

Of late, Perkins has become “99 percent” focused on mastering, but keeps his producer shingle hanging just the same.

“I made it a goal to work with one band a year,” Perkins said “recording mixing and mastering, just to keep my skills in practice and keep my name out there too. With mastering you don’t get a whole lot of credit, and with digital sales there are no liner notes. Earlier this year I recorded an album with the Midnight Reruns at their cabin in Rhinelander.  I really like their stuff. “

Asked to mix two songs quickly for Stinson’s 2015 LMAO single, Perkins got good feedback.

As the album developed Stinson worked with a select group of musicians recording at his home studio in a few sessions, doing as much live recording as possible.

“Tommy knows his way around the studio pretty well and would call in an engineer if he needed,” Perkins says.

Stinson and his manager decided against calling the project a Stinson solo album when the new material harkened back to the original Bash and Pop sound.

Enter Perkins, who was asked to help out with the mixes and tweaking.

“There was a lull where I had all the songs mixed,” Perkins said “and I was waiting for some final notes. I would take a walk and listen to the mix, get ideas, then come back and lay down acoustic guitar on this song or tambourine on that song.”

These days Perkins is into jumping into existing ‘things’ where he can learn the songs on his own time.

“I can’t really be in a band that is writing new material and practicing every week,” he says. “I’m way too busy in the studio.  But, if something cool jumps up at the last minute, that I don’t want to say ‘no’ to…well?”

Bash & Pop performed on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert January 19th,  which ended with Stinson and Colbert wrestling on the ground.  See the video at

The group released their new record “Anything Could Happen,” on January 20th on Fat Possum Records.

“Friday Night Is Killing Me” was reissued on vinyl January 24th.

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