Devil Met Contention learned to take their time on 'Wait'
All December, Radio Milwaukee is paying tribute to our favorite Milwaukee releases of 2020 and speaking with the musicians who made them. This is Milwaukee Music’s 20 of 2020, presented by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and sponsored by the Harley-Davidson Museum.
2020 has been a tough go for musicians the world over with opportunities as limited as the next lockdown and social distancing putting live shows in limbo. But where there’s struggles there are also opportunities and Milwaukee’s Devil Met Contention, true to their name, have found a way through the year’s bedevilment to not only work, produce and promote a new album, but actually take the existential-ness of the times and use the space to re-calibrate, experiment and refine.
I had the chance to rap with Nez, the band’s drummer, about their process on their excellent and aptly titled new EP "Wait." I must admit that though we’d not met, the vibe was friendly and I gained a greater appreciation for the outfit’s headspace. We’d really dug the album, our listeners agreed and Devil Met Contention were an easy choice for our Milwaukee Music's 20 of 2020, but we wanted to know more…
Marcus: Throughout the month of December, Radio Milwaukee is celebrating Milwaukee Music's 20 of 2020, the best releases of 2020 from Milwaukee musicians. And I am joined by Nez of the band Devil Met Contention.
Nez: Oh, it is my pleasure, Marcus. Thank you for having me.
Marcus: You're 100% welcome. It's nice to connect with people. 2020 has been so weird. I don't even know who I am anymore.
Nez: Yeah. You know that feeling. I know what you mean. That feeling is tough, especially in a city like Milwaukee, where a lot of the musicians and the people in this business know each other and we hang out, we see each other at taco trucks and and Riverwest swap meets and all those things. And it's been so hard this year to kind of live in your bubble. It's like, we all need those Flaming Lips bubbles to walk around in where we could like roll around and maybe like high-five each other through the plastic or something. I don't know.
Marcus: One of the things that has been great about this year has been the fact that Milwaukee musicians have not given up there have been tons of new releases. There's been a lot of great stuff. And your band Devil Met Contention has picked up kind of where they left off.
One thing I sort of felt like was when I heard the new album, it was like, what is this band? They sound a little different. I'm wondering if you can speak to, what's been going on between the last album and this album, and where this album came from. I feel like you guys like literally went into the kitchen and came up with something totally different.
Nez: It's funny that you mentioned that. We rehearsed for a long time at David Schuyler, our guitarist's house, and the basement. And it was a really small space. So we were all like physically very close together and we would just no make tapes of like rehearsals and ideas or Sam would come in with an idea and we'd kind of beat it up. And so what we decided this time around and is that we were just gonna make a bunch of music and, and this was in 2019, you know, we were going to make a bunch of music and then figure out how we were gonna do it later on as far as like the release schedule. So we really weren't limiting ourselves to any kind of sound or instrumentation or anything.
And because we kind of did it on our own, it really gave us the freedom to kind of explore a little bit more. You know, when you go into a studio, the clock is always ticking and you're like, "alright, we have to play these songs perfectly exactly this way." And we take them home and listen to them for a week and see where they're going to go. And so I think having control of that whole recording process from beginning to end, really let us like stretch out and kind of open up more.
Marcus: I definitely think that's a part of a lot of a lot of artists' and bands' journeys. And I liked the fact that it sounds like you freeing yourself up from the studio where it's kind of like the ticker is always running. Once you get into the studio and money is being spent with every minute. When you're recording at home, it seems like it affords you a certain amount of freedom. Was that a deliberate thing that you wanted to do or was it just kind of how it ended up?
Nez: I think I would say it's a little bit of both. You know, we did our previous single ourselves, because that was like a quick thing. But before that we had done a little work with Daniel Holter before he left town in his wonderful studio Wire & Vice. And that was a great experience and he is a fantastic person to work with. But even doing two songs with him and really trying to get it right and not worry about what the price tag is, you start to think about all the songs that you have in the can that you still want to work on. And you start to look at the like the bill, you know, especially for bands where we are. It's not like we're making a ton of money as a band, and everybody kind of pitches in on their own to kind of help pay for other expenses. And then with no money coming in at all in 2020, it just made sense for us to do as much as can on our own.
Marcus: It sounds like you're working on process a lot right now. What direction do you feel like you're moving into? I know it's hard to talk about a future that's not written, but how much is intentional where you guys are going and how much of it is maybe exploration?
Nez: You know, that's a really good question, especially because with this band there's always been like little threads. We're all very different people as band members, but where we connect musically and like artistically is very much in, you know, a little bit of a fantastic or futuristic kind of way. So I think it's really natural for us to make music that has like more space maybe than other people would be interested in and not being afraid to like release a song, you know, wait, like, there's one track. That's like two songs put together and it's pretty long. And you know, it's kind of an exploration where you'd have to kind of go on the journey where the song takes you. And so I think a lot of the exploration is kinda more built into our process than it used to be when we were playing a show and let's say, you're like, "Oh, we've got a show in April and we have to put a set together and we've got, you know, like 45 minutes, let's like drill the song."
So everything's really tight. We don't waste a lot of time between songs. You just want to get max music out there, you know, but when you know that there's no shows and you just kind of have like a deadline in your head of like, "Hey guys, we want to have this music ready to release by this time." It gives you a little bit more room to explore, you know, maybe try different sounds or, or do just music that other people might think of your band as not being in that direction. And I think for us, it's kind of interesting because each one of these kind of groups of songs that we worked on together, I think there's four altogether, four groups. Each one of them might end up kind of having a feel. But at the time that we were creating them, maybe we didn't realize that they were connected.
And then when you listen to like 12 songs to get realize, "Oh yeah, there's a connection here. These four go together or these three to go with, go together." ... I think we're thinking about it a little bit more because you want to make sure that people enjoy the music on all levels ... That's my favorite thing as a drummer. If I can play a show and I see people popping their heads or moving their feet, then I feel like I'm doing my job. You know, then it's up to the rest of the band to, to tickle their ears. But I'm just, I'm trying to get the body moving, you know?