Grace Weber’s Music Lab announces its virtual fall 2020 season

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Grace Weber’s Music Lab, a free music and arts education program for Milwaukee-area high school students, is set to begin a brand new season of youth-driven sessions this fall. While continuing with its established virtual format, the livestreamed sessions will welcome an audience of young singers, rappers, poets, producers, musicians or anyone with an interest in music. Each month, students can hear live performances and interviews from a variety of top national and local artists. Attendees will also have opportunities to:

  • Perform virtually at the open mic
  • Connect and create with other young creatives
  • Ask live questions and learn about the diverse fields and occupations in the music industry
  • Enter monthly equipment giveaways

Special guest artists who will serve as mentors and performers for the fall 2020 season are: 

  • Sept. 25: Lili K., Chicago-based jazz/soul singer-songwriter (Milwaukee-native)
  • Oct. 30: Alex Isley, R&B singer-songwriter, producer, recording artist
  • Nov. 20: Chris Classick, mixing/mastering engineer, owner of Classick Studios in Chicago
Grace Weber’s Music Lab

Sessions will continue to be streamed live on the Grace Weber’s Music Lab Facebook page (facebook.com/gwmusiclab), from 5 to 7 p.m. Programming will include feature performances and demos by guest artists, followed by an interview, live Q&A from students, and teen open mics with guest feedback.

In partnership with IK Multimedia, every Music Lab for the remainder of 2020 will also feature a special giveaway of the iRig Voice Handheld Microphone. Each month, one student will win this piece of equipment that turns their smartphone or tablet into a portable vocal studio. Additional giveaways will feature more Music Lab apparel and hooded sweatshirts from Four The City.

For more information, giveaway entries and RSVPs, high school students can visit www.gwmusiclab.com.

Grace Weber’s Music Lab is presented by 88Nine Radio Milwaukee with support from Daniel M Soref Charitable Trust, Four The City, Educators Credit Union, IK Multimedia, Charles E. Kubly Foundation, Maihaugen Foundation, MPS Partnership for the Arts & Humanities, Presidential Scholars Foundation and Ralph Evinrude Foundation. If you or your business are interested in supporting Grace Weber’s Music Lab, please visit gwmusiclab.com/donate

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Barely Civil heighten the fireworks and the stakes on their sophomore album, ‘I’ll Figure This Out’

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Like so many of the best emo albums of the last decade, Barely Civil’s debut “We Can Live Here Forever” was born of transition. The record documented the group as they scattered across Wisconsin for college, bidding farewell not only to their hometown of Wausau but to some of the formative relationships associated with it. It’s a record about “finding a place in the world and the mixed emotions that come from leaving the past behind, even if the past wasn’t all that great to begin with,” as we wrote in article about Milwaukee’s emo scene for NPR last year.

Today the band releases its roiling sophomore album “I’ll Figure This Out,” which puts to rest any doubt that their debut was a fluke of youth. Produced by Chris Teti of The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, it’s cleaner around the edges than “We Can Live Here Forever” — more focused, more certain and indisputably bigger — but that polish doesn’t come at the expense of everything that made their debut such a sleeper gem: the vulnerability, the inner turmoil, the LiveJournal-ed candor.

Barley Civil | Photo credit: Rachel Malvich

“I’m scared of who I am and who I’ve become,” Connor Erickson sings on “Box For My Organs,” amid swells of searing, soaring guitar. Teti’s production makes the guitars glisten, emphasizing their almost metallic edge. Grand and gorgeous, it’s a huge song from what had seemed, until now, an intrinsically small band.

Milwaukee hangs over the record, too. Two of its songs are titled after street names, “North Newhall” and “Fairmount,” while the enormity of Lake Michigan becomes a stand in for guilt on “Bottom of the Lake.”

Erickson and drummer Isaac Marquardt share an apartment in the city, but as Erickson explained in an interview with Ian Cohen for Stereogum, living somewhere for college isn’t the same as feeling at home there. Being on tour “really solidified that I feel comfortable when I’m away from home and I feel very uncomfortable when I’m at home,” Erickson explained. “I think a lot of this record is trying to navigate, well, then where is home? What does that mean? And if I can’t consider the places where I’m living to be my home, do I have a sense of home?”

The result is a record that captures the unsettled rhythm of those college years, where you cycle from lease to lease, paying rent without ever feeling rooted. A sense of ephemerality hangs over even the best times; your friends are always once job opportunity away from moving, and whatever ambitions you have for yourself hinge on forces beyond your control. “The Worst Part of December,” Erickson confronts a grim image of failure: “If I can’t make it with my own voice, I can’t afford to leave this town.”

The album title “I’ll Figure This Out” suggests hope of sorts, or at least an understanding that these challenges are just part of a phase most of us go through. But that recognition does little to ease these worries in the moment, and that’s where these songs live: in the moment. Few bands right now are chronicling the transience of youth with such play-by-play intensity.

You can stream “I’ll Figure This Out” below, via Soundcloud. It will be out on all major streaming platforms tomorrow.

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Motel Breakfast offer a respite from stressful times with ‘Yelling at the Moon’

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Every week, 88Nine brings you a fresh track from a Milwaukee artist. They send it to us. We post it here. You hear it before everyone else.

For this week’s premiere, we’re excited to share the latest four minutes of blissful, tuneful indie-folk from the Milwaukee ensemble Motel Breakfast. You can stream and read about their new track “Yelling at the Moon” below.

Motel Breakfast | Photo credit: Michael Heinz
Motel Breakfast – “Yelling at the Moon”

Artists’ statement

“Yelling at the Moon” is a meditation on growing both into and away from a relationship; the studio version of the track is an intentionally subtle and meditative few minutes. Recorded at Treehouse Records in Chicago, this song features our old friend and collaborator Maeve Burke joining us in the studio to share lead vocal duties. Next week will see the release of the companion music video.

With 2 songs and 2 music videos out for “Left on Deming” so far, we’ve been overjoyed by the response and are excited to continue the releases into the fall. The music came together quickly and organically, making for a self-produced project that worked largely because we’ve trusted our own intuitions. Each song release is followed one week later by a music video to accompany it, and our friend and collaborator Madeline Houlihan deserves much of the credit for pulling all the videos together. The project has been a respite for these mentally exhausting times, as well as a pillar in which to channel our creative energy in the absence of normalcy. We are itching to get back to the stage and share these songs with people in-person, but for now these recordings will have to tide us all over.

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Maal Himself reconciles the state of the world on ‘Mourning Papers’

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Every week, 88Nine brings you a fresh track from a Milwaukee artist. They send it to us. We post it here. You hear it before everyone else.

Today we’re excited to share the latest from Milwaukee hip-hop vet Maal Himself. His new track “Mourning Papers” manages to stare the woes of the world in the face while still cracking a smile. Touching on the Black Lives Matter movement, the song is at turns good-humored and deeply pensive. “My wife asked my five year plan, and I said I hope me and my baby still alive/Then we both cried/I swear to God I’m so tired,” Maal raps.

Stream and read about it below.

Maal Himself | Courtesy of the artist
Maal Himself – “Mourning Papers”

Artist’s statement

This track happened as a genuine emotional moment where Maal spoke with our children about racism and violence. Literally as he begins to cry, Emmitt James sends a Suraj Busari instrumental that just spoke to the moment with the message “Big bro, this is your intro!! And I better be on it!” and “Mourning Papers” was born so to speak.

The album was recorded/mixed/mastered/ by Renz Young who also produce 50% of the soundscape that is this album. “I Wish You Could See What I See” is a play on anamorphic art, which requires you to use a certain view or perspective to bring out the totality of the piece. Milwaukee native and artist Rontaye Butler really captures the mood of the album to drive the concept home. Features include notable veteran wordsmiths Skyzoo and Mickey Factz, partner in rhyme Renz Young, And frequent collaborator Camb. Production is provided by Renz Young, Suraj Busari, Mike Regal, Dylan Graham, and Kenneth English, and compliment with live instrumentation by Streetlight Society.

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Lex Allen teams with VUCA for a dramatic new single, ‘Shine’

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Every week, 88Nine brings you a fresh track from a Milwaukee artist. They send it to us. We post it here. You hear it before everyone else.

For this week’s premiere, we’re excited to share “Shine,” a Lex Allen collaboration from the artist collective VUCA’s forthcoming concept album “The Geometry of Lies.” Also featuring singers Barbara Stephan and Worldwide DG, “Shine” is a sweeping, cinematic track that tells the story of a posthumous reunion between mother and child.

You can stream and read about the track below.

VUCA featuring Lex Allen – “Shine”
Lex Allen | Photo credit: Lex Allen

Artist’s statement

Lex Allen is performing “Shine,” the second single to be released on VUCA’s upcoming concept album, “The Geometry of Lies.” On “Shine,” Lex Allen plays the role of Jackie, the character at the heart of the concept album, whose unbreakable heart puts the narrative into motion. In “Shine,” Jackie (they/them) wakes to find that they are dead. With this newfound clarity, Jackie is honoring the light within each of us and signaling what truly matters.

In the song, Jackie reunites with their mother, sung by Barbara Stephan, as well as Sam, performed by Worldwide DG. The trio coalesce in the chorus of “Shine,” welcoming Jackie into the light. In a recent interview, Lex shared that they can’t listen to this song without crying. “I’m not going to lie. It’s so personal.”

To support each song, the art collective, VUCA, and is releasing a companion piece of short fiction. To learn more about this project visit inthevuca.com.

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Dramatic Lovers share an unconventional remix album

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Dramatic Lovers probably aren’t the first band you’d expect to release a remix album. The group’s 2019 debut album “You Talk Loud” was a proud, meat-and-potatoes indie-rock record, not really the type of beat-heavy effort that lends itself to re-interpretation. Every song already sounded like the definitive version of itself.

Still, over their years playing in Decibully and related bands, the members of Dramatic Lovers have cultivated a large circle of musician friends, and many of those peers gamely turn out for the group’s new remix record “Utah Cloud,” flipping, inverting and paying homage to songs that, even just a year removed from “You Talk Loud,” already feel like classics. And, really, there are worst ways to spend a summer afternoon during the quarantine than listening to supremely talented people cover songs from one of the best Milwaukee indie-rock records of the last decade.

Dramatic Lovers | facebook.com/dramaticlovers

The record gathers a cast of neighbors, pals and former Polyvinyl label mates, including Mark Waldoch, Collections of Colonies of Bees’ Chris Rosenau, Tim Kinsella (along with Jenny Pulse as Good Fuck), The Hood Internet’s Steve Reidell, Eric & Magill’s Ryan Weber, Maritime’s Dan Didier and more, and this material gives them plenty to work with.

Waldoch reroutes “The Comedown” through a maze of pedals, drenching the track in shimmering, fun-house effects and punching it up with his own voice. Reidell strips “I’m Awake” down to little more than a heady riff then makes synths bloom around it. Rosenau coats “Fast as It’s Made” in sheets of sumptuous, disarmingly infectious post-rock, while Guerilla Ghost give the same track a menacing, industrial edge.

And, as a palette cleanser, Dramatic Lovers singer William Seidel also shares a sparse demo version of “How Do You Want To Be Remembered,” a “You Talk Loud” standout that lends itself to solo treatment. This version would have sounded out of place on amid its crackling companions on “You Talk Loud,” but it fits right at home on “Utah Cloud.” That’s the charm of a project like this: No sound is out of bounds.

You can find the record on all the major streaming services, and stream it below via Bandcamp.

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Billie Eilish, Leon Bridges and The Chicks will perform at the DNC, but no Milwaukee artists will

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Leon Bridges, The Chicks, Billie Eilish, Jennifer Hudson and John Legend will perform at next week’s Democratic National Convention, officials have announced. But like most guests at the largely virtual convention, none of them will actually appear in Milwaukee. All performances will be filmed at remote locations.

A 57-member youth choir will sing the National Anthem on the opening night of the convention. Billy Porter, Maggie Rogers, Prince Royce and Stephen Stills have also been announced as performers, as has rapper Common, despite being accused of sexual assault by singer Jaguar Wright just weeks ago.

No Milwaukee artists were included in the performer announcement, however.

Billie Eilish at the 2020 Grammys | Courtesy NPR

“In just three days, we will kick off a Democratic Convention that will look and feel very different than past conventions. It will truly be a convention across America, and these incredible artists will help us tell the story of where we are as a country today under Donald Trump’s failed leadership, and the promise of what we can and should be with Joe Biden as president,” DNC program executive Stephanie Cutter said in a statement. “These artists are committed to engaging with, registering and mobilizing voters to get us over the finish line in November.”

This month the Democratic party announced that Joe Biden would not be traveling to Milwaukee to accept the nomination here, and that out-of-state speakers would not be attending, either. Some state leaders are petitioning the party to host the 2024 DNC in Milwaukee, though it’s far from guaranteed that the convention would return here.

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Milwaukee rapper Wes Tank debuts musical children’s series

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Multimedia artist Wes Tank went viral with his YouTube performances rapping Dr. Seuss books over Dr. Dre beats with over 10 million views. That success drew attention from popular children’s streaming network Kidoodle.TV, resulting in a new show for kids called “StoryRaps,” premiering today.

The new series is just as energetic and colorful as the Seuss/Dre series in a similar setup, with original lyrics and illustrations based on well-known fairy tales. Created with an all-local team, producer Kurt Ravenwood describes the project as a “… a bit of a family affair to bring each episode home. The most amazing thing is we can fully produce this show in Milwaukee while socially isolated from each other, and that works because we’ve built so much trust. I’m really proud of the team we’ve gathered.” 

Radio Milwaukee called up the creator Wes Tank to find out more about the new series.

You are an artist participating in a variety of media, could you sum up everything you’re doing?

“I’ve been using the term ‘cultural producer,’ and multi-media artist because I’m a filmmaker, editor, actor, drone pilot, producer.”

Congrats on the new series! Can you tell us how “StoryRaps” came about?

“Because of the success of the Seuss videos on YouTube, Kidoodle reached out and wanted to do an original show with me, based on that, but using original, public domain fairytales and nursery rhymes.” 

What is Kidoodle?

“Kidoodle.TV is really awesome, based in Canada. They are a completely free streaming service for kids. All their content is previewed by parents and grandparents. All of their content is for kids. It’s available on all connected TVs, Roku, Fire TV, mobile devices… they have all sorts of cool stuff.

Everyone that works there is super nice. It may have something to do with the Canadian influence. It meant a lot to me that they reached out and wanted to do this, because I think the content is made for kids instead of something like YouTube. Kids data is not being taken like it is on YouTube, you’re not going to see unsavory comments, and you’re not going to go down a rabbit hole where kids end up watching videos they shouldn’t.

It’s highly curated, not user-generated. It’s all stuff they choose from various sources. StoryRaps is the first original content they’ve developed.”

Will it look similar to the Dr. Seuss videos?

“I’ve been writing original raps based on public domain stories. Carol Brandt has been doing illustrations along with Kurt and Lydia Ravenwood. Kurt is also a producer on the show. Carol draws the images, Lydia lays it out like an actual children’s book and Kurt goes into After Effects and animates the layout. Before, when we were doing Dr. Seuss books, we would scan the book and make an animation out of that. Now we don’t have a book, so we had to make one. Hopefully one day it will become a real book.”

Besides visual collaborators, you’re also working with Milwaukee audio producers as well, right?

“Yep. So far I’ve been working with Josh Evert on beats as well as Sean Behling – who I worked with in Antler Antennas. We had some awesome songs and a great live act, but we ended before the scene really blossomed. I feel like the songs we had on that relate to what I’m doing now sonically, more than my WC Tank project. Josh has a distinct sound and Sean does as well.”

Wes Tank | Photo credit: Pat McDonnell

Did you ever see yourself doing this?

“I thought I was done rapping before the Seuss videos. I hadn’t made any new rap songs in a few years, the only rapping I was doing was the live performances of Dr. Seuss songs at Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan. Every year they ask me back to rap at their annual “Happily Haunted” fundraiser. Those songs were the only ones I was performing at that point. I wanted to focus on filmmaking and developing my company TankThink. Rap seemed less and less of the artistic picture for me. I was fine with that, but I knew I had these Dr. Seuss songs and needed to archive them somehow. When quarantine happened and I didn’t have much work, I decided to put these up on YouTube, I didn’t care how they would do, I wanted to have them archived as a project I have done. Lo and behold, that changed everything for me. They are at around 10 million views now.  I was lucky enough to get a deal out of what I was posting there. I feel really, really lucky and blessed to have had this happen. I hope I can continue to make lots of videos with Kidoodle.”

The show premieres on Aug. 6 on the Kidoodle.TV app. To watch the show, download Kidoodle from your favorite app store or smart TV.  

Watch an episode of StoryRaps, “The Three Little Pigs” below:

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Milwaukee rockers Billy Russo channel the anxiety of the times on their debut single, ‘Distant Voices’

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Every week, 88Nine brings you a fresh track from a Milwaukee artist. They send it to us. We post it here. You hear it before everyone else.

Today we’ve got the debut single from the bluesy garage-rock trio Billy Russo. The trio of Nick Pearson (vocals/guitar), Tyler Stefanski (bass/backing vocals) and Chris Struve (drums) met at the Up & Under Pub in Milwaukee, where Stefanski hosted open mic nights and performed with his jam band Honey on the Biscuit. On night, Pearson and and Struve signed up to play, and Stefanski stayed on stage to accompany on bass — they had so much chemistry they decided to start up a project together.

The trio recorded “Distant Voices” at Hi-Five Studio in Riverwest; you can stream and read about the track below.

Billy Russo | Photo credit: Tyler Stefanski
Billy Russo – “Distant Voices”

Artists’ statement

From the opening carnival-esque guitar lick to the flurry of words that follow, “Distant Voices” is a song written in the spirit of the madness we’re inhabiting in this moment. It is a song unafraid to examine our time of unprecedented polarity. The lyrics urge listeners to not be so fixed on our opinions, and to accept that we don’t have all the answers. Songwriter Nick Pearson calls out those who would rather shout out their own opinions than take a moment to listen, those who choose conflict over compromise.

“Distant Voices” is both a head-bopper and a plea: “Listen to the martyrs, listen to our past!” For those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.

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Music video premiere: Watch Amanda Huff’s cinematic ‘Division’

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Radio Milwaukee is teaming up with artist Amanda Huff for a digital video premiere. Watch the hauntingly cinematic music video for her song “Division” below.

The music video aired on our late night TV show, The 414 Live Variety Show, Episode 2. The video beautifully captures vulnerability and navigating mental health through the backdrop of winter. Previously screened on a limited basis, the video is available to the public today.

Artist’s Statement

Milwaukee-based musician Amanda Huff’s second music video is officially released to the public on Friday, July 31. Titled “Division,” the video was a collaboration between Huff and MKE filmmaker Martin Kaszubowski and features Huff torn between a decaying Wisconsin winter and an ethereal black void. The video was nominated for the 2019 music video of the year by 88.9 Radio Milwaukee and was featured at the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival

“Division” was released as the second collaborative single between Huff and This Random Machine’s William Gardiner, and features cello from MSO alum Peter Thomas. Appropriately named for both its lyrical narrative and compositional form, the song explores the defensive mechanisms those dealing with mental health often employ, in this case specifically, autopilot. Shifting between cold, robotic analogies and the organic eruption that follows breaking out of that rigidity, it is a song written with intent to validate both emotional spaces, and acknowledge the complicated darkness that fills the in-between.

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