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Johanna Rose’s move from Milwaukee to Vermont set new EP in motion

Use it up, wear it out
Make do or do without

“I think the saying is reflected in how Vermonters live,” Johanna Rose said of their newly claimed home. “Vermont has a big history of communal living and is sort of anti-consumerism, reflected in the state's lack of billboards and their encouragement of local farmers and makers.”

The Milwaukee native and musician (formerly of local projects Nickel&Rose and New Boyz Club, currently of B8r — previously known as Ruth B8r Ginsburg) recently made the move to Vermont to get some space and go back to the place where their mother was born and raised.

“I spent a lot of time there in the summer and some holidays growing up,” they explained. “When the pandemic happened and people either couldn't work or could work remotely, my family ended up spending more time out there on some land my mom has.”

And although the change held familiarity, it didn’t come without some adjustments.

“The seasons are harsh, and big-box stores are few and far between if weather permits the trip. So you gotta be creative and resourceful, make things last,” Rose said. “And a lot of folks there try to be careful about waste. Maybe they’re farmers and depend on the land, or they just like it, but most people try to take care when it comes to the land.”

Rose discovered their own care and resourcefulness through a treehouse built with the help of their sister. “It wasn't until last winter that I spent my first winter there,” Rose said. “I heat it with a woodstove and get all my water from a spring nearby. I've probably never spent so much time alone in my life; it was a pretty great experience. I learned a lot quickly.”

Rose’s new digs and lifestyle supplied the vision to hunker down with some solo material. Renowned in the Milwaukee scene and beyond for wielding an upright bass and smoky vocals, Rose says they mixed things up when sitting down to create this time around.

“I historically wrote songs with a band in mind (and on a piano). In 2020, I started playing guitar. I’ve been leaning towards writing more traditional folk tunes that can be fun with a band but still tell a story if they are on their own, on just guitar.”

On “Use It Up” — a song from Rose’s new five-track EP, can’t love you from the ground — their fresh viewpoint and newly found ethos shines. When Rose wrote this particular song, “I was feeling good! There was fresh snow on the ground, I'd just split up a whole bunch of wood and pan-fried some cod and was sitting in front of the fire messing around on the guitar.

“Then I remembered the Bread and Puppet poster of the saying, and it wrote itself. … My neighbors run a printing press out of one of the wood sheds on their farm and print a poster of the saying: ‘Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.’ Sometimes songs come in pieces but this one came all at once, which was pretty satisfying.”
"Use It Up," Johanna Rose

The full-fledged EP features Rose on resonator guitar, upright bass and vocals, as well as plenty of collaborators from their Milwaukee days:

  • Katie Lyne of New Boyz Club, piano
  • Ernest Brusubardis IV of New Boyz Club and Nickel&Rose, fiddle
  • Will Hansen of Old Pup, pedal steel
  • Nick Gamer of Nick Gamer & The Midnight Angels, acoustic guitar and backing vocals
  • Bryan Wollen of Nick Gamer & The Midnight Angels, electric guitar, drums and backing vocals

Rose distilled the overarching message of the EP thusly: “When the loons leave the lake and the world freezes over, all you’re left with is hard work, hopes and dreams … explores the heights and gullies of surviving a disparate late-capitalist world, in arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

You can listen to “Use It Up” above and on 88Nine, whether it’s on-air, on our website or via our app. The track is also part of Johanna Rose’s new EP, which you can pick up via Bandcamp this Friday, Oct. 7.

There are also plans for a 6:30 p.m. backyard show in Riverwest this Friday with Social Caterpillar, A Warmer Language, Comrade Dynamite and Starling Waltz. You can DM Rose on social media ( Instagram, Facebook) to get info on that one. Rose will also tour the West Coast this fall with Nick Gamer & The Midnight Angels.