As I walk into a disorganized, ice cold, barren room with multiple random wood furnishings cluttered in piles on the cement floor, I am greeted by the young Michael Gerlach, sporting a green-gray jumpsuit with a full head of long, messy blonde hair. “Hey!” he says enthusiastically as he greets me, ready and awaiting the interview that was about to proceed.
The first time I heard Michael Gerlach (a.k.a. King Courteen) play, I was mesmerized. All of my thoughts and worries in that exact prior moment stopped. The rest of the audience fell silent.
With his unique voice and trance-inducing songs, he has slowly but surely been making waves in the Milwaukee music scene. The 21-year-old Milwaukee native has written more than 30 songs, performed at MAM After Dark, Breadfest, frequented Bremen Café and Linneman’s open mics and recently collaborated on a track with WebsterX, Bliss & Alice, and Kiings that will probably drop in early March. King Courteen is definitely not going unnoticed.
I sit down with him in his woodworking shop “Riverwest Compound” on Holton, where he spends most of his time when he’s not creating or performing beautiful music. It is a cold room. Luckily, an hour into the interview, Gerlach remembers he has a space heater — just before my feet start to go numb.
Gerlach begins in a rushed manner, but quickly warms up as we sit and start to talk. He remains humble throughout our discussion, slowly smoking his hookah pen, his legs crossed. He seems to want to answer each question thoughtfully. But his answers also became stream of consciousness stories, possibly because of his ADD, which he tells me about.
The interview becomes more of a storytelling time with Gerlach, and I get to see the goofy Gerlach for what he truly is: “a rare one,” as described by Gerlach’s closest friend.
Q: Who and what is King Courteen?
‘Courteen Seed Company’ was a company from the late 1800’s which stood in an eleven story abandoned warehouse in Walker’s Point. Gerlach discussed his passion for adventuring in to abandoned buildings and discovering vintage goods. He explains the day an old man invited him in to the Courteen Seed Company, “He invited me to look around inside and there was an airplane, and he was a hoarder and there was just some really awesome stuff in there…it was amazing, parts of it were trapped in time.” The story goes on, but this is where it all began.
Q: What did your parents listen to when you were growing up?
Gerlach explains that he has a very religious based background as his Dad is a pastor. “Both my parents were church organists,” Gerlach explains and that, “They mostly listened to sacred music, sometimes Neil Young or Joni Mitchell."
Q: What is your biggest inspiration and favorite bands?
A. “My biggest, only obsession was the Kooks when I first started playing, and I would watch hours of their videos every day and would want to emulate their singer. Radiohead, James Blake, and Mac Demarco are the bands that I listen to mostly right now. “
Q: Who are your favorite Milwaukee musicians?
A. “Some of my favorites are Amanda Huff, Caley Conway, Daniel Mitchell, Kyle Smith and Mike Swan.”
Q: Will you be recording an album any time soon?
A. “There is definitely talk about recording an album soon and I totally want to put out an album. It also scares me in so many ways that an album’s direction can be taken, but I am also really excited for the Kiings x WebsterX x Bliss & Alice single to drop because I don’t think it’s what people are expecting.“
Q: Do you know that when you perform you take the audience to a time and place other than the modern moment? There is this vintage-esque feel to your songs, lyrically and otherwise. Do you intend to do that?
A: “For my song, ‘Borderline’ it was actually inspired by an old duo I was in called, Benny and June. We would get stacks of old vintage photos and take one photo and create a storyline on that photo, or connect five photos and create some sort of story and lyrics.”
Q: Where do you hope to take King Courteen?
“I kind of want to live in Milwaukee forever,” Gerlach discloses and that he wants to do shows in really unique spaces such as City Hall, “Besides being a musician I am a display artist. I make environments and want to make really unique sets for shows. There needs to be a balance between my woodworking and making music.”
Q: If your favorite mood could be turned into a landscape, what would your landscape be?
A: “Nighttime in a forest where you can’t see anything [pause]—because that way you can’t see anything ahead of you” (smiles and chuckles).
Check out King Courteen performing his song ‘City Queen’ filmed by Robert Niesen:
If you haven’t seen King Courteen perform yet, you can check out one of his shows coming up in the Milwaukee area. Give yourself a trip to a pleasant place trapped in time guided by Gerlach’s poetic persona.
February 15 – Bremen Café, 9 p.m. (https://www.facebook.com/events/383053778539520/
February 18 – Linnemans open mic feature performer, 10 p.m.
February 21 – Mad Planet, 9 p.m. (https://www.facebook.com/events/1388691408105396/)
February 27 – Linnemans, 9 p.m.