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You Should Know: Meadowers

There’s a lot of twang on Meadowers’ debut album “Nothing Wrong And I Trust You,” even if most of it is implied rather than explicit. A rousing record about quarter-life anxieties and navigating the constant transitions that your early 20s throw at you, it’s an unusual album that’s as indebted to Midwest emo as it is heartland rock, with crashing guitars that break open its songs whenever they threaten to retreat too far inward.

Songwriter Ethan Radtke spoke about the anxieties that inspired these songs and the collaborative spirit that shaped the record.

Meadowers | Courtesy photo

Can you tell me how the new album came about?

It's kind of a culmination of a bunch of my work that I've made over time. I kind of just gathered a bunch of my friends that I've met over the years to make it a project. I’ve recorded music all by myself, playing all the instruments before, and I got really frustrated with how it was turning out. I really loved what happened when I played with other people and so I wanted to put together a project where I just kind of came up with a core of a song and then let other people take ownership it.

What do you mean when you say take ownership?

So in terms of songwriting, I'll come with chords and lyrics, but I try not to be restrictive in terms of the overall vision for where I want it to go. I just think when you get in a room with a bunch of people and you hand ownership of a drum part or the feel of the rhythm section to somebody else, it can change things in ways you can’t expect. So that was the idea behind the band. I wanted to find people who I trust the songwriting process and the arrangement process with.

Was the album mostly recorded and written during the pandemic?

Yeah, entirely. We all did it like in our home studio spaces, and so that enabled us. I was living with my drummer for a while, so that enabled us to get a lot of work done during the pandemic but it also enabled us to take a really slow approach with writing and recording a lot of these songs. Some of them are from like 2017. I take a really slow approach – maybe not even by choice but just songs happen super slowly for me and we've taken a slow approach with the recording process. 

What was on your mind when you were writing these songs?

They've been written probably over a span of I'd say four years. There are some general themes that I've been able to pull out which I think are kind of cool, but they've all been written during different seasons of my life. One of the bigger themes that I think I talk about and kind of wrestle with through the songs is the fear of change in my life. I'm in my early 20s, and so I've just had constant change in my past like four or five years, just through job changes and living situation changes, relationship stuff. So fear of change and wrestling with the acceptance of change being a constant part of my life is a big thing that I talk about a lot, and one of the bigger things that I talk about on this album and kind of I come to terms with is that change is non-negotiable, I’m always going to be in some sort of state of change. A lot of the songs are about my now-fiance and just learning how to love her and how to be loved by her. 

Is she the person you're alluding to in the title “Nothing Wrong And I Trust You”?

I think that that's maybe something slightly more general or maybe holistic of a title, over kind of my last four or five years because that's kind of like something that. I've kind of had to keep coming back to you kind of that statement that comes out of a line that says “there's nothing wrong and I trust you but I'm just terrified of change,” which is thing that I've kind of had to keep repeating to myself through whatever life change is happening, like there's nothing wrong here like these things are good, I'm very thankful I'm in an okay place and I trust you. It could also be a higher power thing. It’s just about having trust that things will work out the way they should.

Did you have a general idea of how you wanted the band to sound?

Yeah there are some pretty strong influences in my music. I tried to find people who I related to those influences and who listen to the kinds of things that I listen to and care about, things like lyrical depth and song journey. 

What were those influences?

One of the big ones would be Pinegrove. They’re there in the lyrics and the rhythmic intricacies throughout their songs. They've got these interesting harmonies that are a big influence on my songwriting. Also early ‘00s Death Cab is a really big influence for me. I also pull a lot of guitar stuff from Ruston Kelly. I don’t know how much twang can be detected on the album, but that’s probably one of the bigger influences. 

Did you grow up listening to emo, too?

Yeah, I'd say so. I still really love Midwest emo things, like American Football. Things like that are a big influence, for sure. There have been so many cool Midwestern emo bands.

How are you planning to promote the album?

So we haven't played any shows since the pandemic. When we were writing it and recording it, I think the idea was we'd pull all of our friends together and do a big release show with a bunch of our Milwaukee band friends.. But we've had a hard time finding a venue with all of the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, and especially recently we've had a hard time feeling good making that happen. A lot of our friends who have been playing shows recently have had them canceled, so right now the idea is just to put the album out there and let it breathe. Hopefully it’ll be heard and resonate with people. I’m hoping it’s helpful and people will relate to it. Some of the things that I’ve wrestled with, I’ve found it very helpful to wrestle through these things through these songs. 

You mentioned some bands you feel kinship with some local bands. Do you feel like you’re part of a scene here?

I think so, yeah. My best friend Luke Breese is the primary songwriter in North Warren, and I’ve played a bunch of guitars on his music and have played a bunch of shows with him too. So that's one band that we're super close with. They're super awesome people. Their drummer did all of our album art. He's a great guy. Another one would be LO/ST. Our drummer is the drummer in LO/ST, and their bass player mixed our album. Their primary songwriter Stephanie sang on our album and their guitar player Logan played a bunch of guitars on our album, too. It was super cool that we got to invite all of those people into the process and have them put their fingerprint on the songs.  

That used to be how I would discover new bands. I’d look at the album credits and see some musicians and find out they were in their own bands, then check those bands out. There was something romantic about that, seeing how collaborative scenes could be.

Yeah, absolutely, and Milwaukee's so cool for that. There are so many cool bands that I've either known for a long time or I've met like, this drummer who plays in that band, who knows that person. It’s so tight knit. And those are some of my favorite bands in general, and they’re my friends. 

Does it feel like you can do what you need to with this band in a city like Milwaukee?

Yeah. I try to be somewhat humble in my approach. I try not to throw it in people’s faces. I just want it to be received well, and I think Milwaukee’s a great place for that. You know, I’ve lived in Milwaukee my whole life, so I don’t have a ton of experience elsewhere, but I feel like I’m so connected to the people here. It’s definitely a city where you can take a collection of songs and put it out there, and people will listen to it. I’m really excited about that.