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How Adorner sprung from a lifetime of music and one undeniable dream

Madeline Stadel

The beginning stages of a musical project are often the toughest but can also be among the most exciting, sometimes proving to be almost mystical in nature. That doesn’t happen often, as the majority of bands’ origin stories don’t include dreams and visitations. Adorner’s does.

The Milwaukee pop-rock trio pulled that name from a vivid dream but didn’t spend too much time in the clouds after that. Using the downtime of the pandemic, they incubated songs that group leader Madeline Stadel had written over many years and stashed away, only playing their first show when it was finally safe to do so.

This year sees Adorner stepping into the reality of a fuller, more cohesive project anchored by Stadel’s powerful vocals, intricate choir-rooted harmonies, prog-y synths and jam-y electric guitars. Our wide-ranging chat covered that wild journey and how the band will bring their years of cocooning to fruition via a full-length album set for release later in 2024.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I got to catch your set for the opening of Milwaukee's newest music venue, the Vivarium, where you opened up for Wave Chappelle. Can you describe what it was like breaking in a brand new venue?

Well, for one, it sounded incredible up there. I mean, new venue, new everything, new sound system. I don't know if I'm used to hearing myself that clearly; it was just the energy in the room. The crowd was super responsive, everybody was so nice and excited. The whole team — the Pabst Theater Group team — what an incredible team. We’re so lucky to have them here for this scene. It was amazing. Wave is amazing. He's so kind. It was one of the best nights of my life, easily.

I felt the love in the room, and it sounded great. How long have you played the keys? Did you start out with piano or were you always more into keyboards and synths?

Well, actually, neither. I was a singer from an early age. My mom used to hold me when I was a baby and sing to me, and I would breathe with her. I would wait until she would breathe, and then we would breathe together. It's one of our most special memories. So even before I was singing, I was singing.

That's kind of how it started out. And I'm the daughter of two musicians. My mom plays piano, so she was my first teacher. I started when I was like 5 or 6, I want to say. And it wasn't until maybe a little bit later in my childhood where she taught me more about chord theory, and then I just kind of took that and ran with it. So I've been singing and playing piano pretty much my entire life.

That's cool because then it becomes like second nature when you're up there singing and playing piano at the same time, right?

Oh my gosh, yes. That's where I feel most myself.

I love that. What was on the home turntable or like on the home radio when you were growing up? What were some of the sounds that your parents or your household was listening to?

Well, my parents met at music school. My mom was a classical pianist, and my dad was a rock guitar player. So you can definitely hear that in my sound today. My dad was playing lots of Led Zeppelin and Rush and the band Yes and those progressive heavy rock sounds. And then on the other side, my mom definitely was exposing us to classical music, and we used to attend live classical music a lot.

And then of course you have the greats. Like when we would be cleaning on Saturday mornings, we'd have Stevie Wonder on. The older I get and the more I write, I really hear those influences coming through, and they become more and more cherished to me.

I hear all of that, especially like the prog elements that creep into your compositions with some of the synth sounds.

Yes, that's my love — especially because, again, the classical thing. I went to music school, so then that classical style was really instilled in me. I love that progressive style of writing. That's just … it's my favorite.

Your music doesn't really belong to any one era. It seems to pull from, like you said, the sounds you grew up with, like some ’70s, ’80s and I even hear a little bit of ’90s. Who are some of your biggest influences and musical heroes — not just the stuff you grew up listening to, but things that really made a mark on you when you were young.

Well, when I was a teenager, I discovered Radiohead. Actually, I got into Radiohead from the Kid A album. “Idioteque” is what got me. Then, after that, I did a deep dive. It's been most of my life that I've been a Radiohead fan, and you can really hear that. People tell me that quite a bit.

A little bit later on, like after Tame Impala came out with Currents, is when I really got on the Tame Impala train. But even back when I was a young teenager, I was listening to the Innerspeaker album, and “Lucidity” is really what got me into Tame. And then Rush. I still listen to a lot of Rush. I just love it.

So those are kind of my “big three.” I’m trying to remember if there might be one more? I also love a lot of neo-soul music, so I do have to throw Erykah Badu in there. I really love her lyricism and her style of vocalizing. All those influences are pretty cerebral and spiritual. I really, really like that vibe.

That comes across in your music. Your recordings feature really intricate vocal harmonies. Have you always been attracted to vocal harmonies when you've been more of a listener? And were you ever in choir?

My mom would sing with me at an early age, and we learned how to harmonize that way, so it would become a habit. I'd turn on my favorite songs, and I’d harmonize. I've even had dreams, especially with Thom Yorke, I've had a dream so many times of harmonizing with him onstage.

And then the training comes in there. I've been a musician my whole life. I've been in choir most of my life, all the way up even through my education at UW-Milwaukee. One of the greatest choir things I got to do is sing with Andrea Bocelli at Fiserv Forum with my choir, and that's a core memory forever. I love choir.

I just think that being in that experience has actually amped up my vocal harmonies in my recordings. I can feel myself using those trainings that I had throughout middle school, high school and college. I'm not in a choir currently, but I think that it's something I will likely go back to in my life. I have such a love for it. It's such a community, and it's such a powerful spiritual experience. I mean, that vibration and that connection and breathing together, it's so sacred. It's so important. I think that more people should be in choir, even if they're not “good” at singing.

Yeah, I agree with that. You can create vibrations and tones with other humans. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to have some meaning and vibe behind it.

Yeah, absolutely.

Adorner’s compositions are pretty intricate in general. Is that a result of you being a longtime composer, or is it a “meeting of the minds” sort of thing where you all collaborate on writing your songs together?

It’s definitely a mix. I've been writing most of my life. The song that I'm planning to release in May called “Every Night,” I wrote it when I was 14, and I haven't changed anything about it since I wrote it. The only thing that's different is the fact that there's drums and guitar with it now.

So I would say that a lot of the time I do kind of come in with a very clear idea of how it should go. Sometimes I'll write with drum loops, and then there's other times that I go to my drummer Kay — she was part of the original trio. She doesn't always drum with me now, but that's just because she’s such an incredible musician. She does so many things. So sometimes I'll have people fill in. But she was there for most of the writing process with a lot of songs.

So, as far as process, I would come with an idea, and then in true Adorner fashion she would “adorn” my ideas and decorate them. It's the same thing with the guitar players I work with. I welcome my collaborators to take what I give them and to add and create beauty and to adorn those things. And it just all works together. All of it is intentional. Sometimes I have a clear idea, then there's other times where I'm just like, “Well, this is what's happening in this section. Could you add something here?” And we'll try it out and go back and forth. It really depends on the song.

Sometimes I can hear elements. I can definitely tell ahead of time the effect that I want to come across. Because usually the music heavily parallels the lyrics, and I write music and lyrics at the same time — they go together. They have to match. Everything is very intentional, and it's about creating a space and a story for the listener, so I'd say that it's a good combination of both, you know? I'm very lucky that I work with the people that I do, though. I definitely need to feel like I vibe with my collaborators on a deeper level, for sure.

I'm guessing that's where the band name actually comes from, right? Adorner? Because it seems like you're leading me there.

It came from a dream.

OK, tell me about this dream.

Like I said, I've been a songwriter my whole life. And in the beginning of college, I actually stopped writing. I think that technical, classical, this-is-what-music-is approach kind of killed my creativity for the first two years, and then I came back to it.

When it really hit me was when lockdown happened. I was still in college, and we found out that we weren't going to come back. And as a music major, not being in person as a singer, it's like … what do you do? So, I took the next semester off … because I was like, “OK, if I don't do something about my ideas now, when am I ever going to?” Like, I have space, and I have time, and I'm feeling all these things. I needed to start.

Then I was approaching people and auditioning my first two bandmates because we started as a trio. I remember I woke up, and it was a dark morning, like a dark spring morning. And I couldn't tell if it was day or night outside. But I woke up from this dream, and it stuck with me.

I remembered it very clearly. And then it wasn’t even really much of a dream as much as it was kind of like a vision because I dreamt of darkness, but I saw gold and the darkness, too. And I saw the word “adorner,” like, written out in text. It's very similar to the text that I use for our logo now. I'm very much honoring that vision and our branding. I saw “adorner,” and I saw it surrounded by dried flowers, like preserved flowers. When I saw it, I felt like I was being called by my name, but I hadn't heard it before, but I knew it was for me.

So I went to my bandmates the next day, and I was like, “I know what this project needs to be called. It's ‘Adorner’ — to create beauty for the sake of beauty alone, to be one who adorns, to be one who creates.” And then just ever since then, they were just like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense. Knowing you, that makes sense.’ And it's just become a way of life now. I mean, everything I do, everywhere I go and even how I see the world, I see it as an “adorner,” you know?

That sounds like a very vivid dream. Like, how do you not use that in your art?


And now it's your mantra, right?


So your project formed and blossomed during the pandemic, which seems like it was the case for a lot of artists. A lot of projects sprouted up during the pandemic. How did Adorner’s members join up and come together? Was it during the pandemic, or was it before that, or did you just blossom during the pandemic?

The pandemic started in March, and I was writing songs and having ideas. That's when I approached my guitar player a few months after, and we started rehearsing together. It wasn't until about a year later, like the latter end of 2021, that venues were opening back up and booking, so we started kind of in the thick of the pandemic when we could.

There were definitely times where we couldn't meet for a while ’cause of people getting sick and stuff, but when it was safe we were meeting and basically just trying to get a set together. And then in 2021 is when we started actually playing live shows. It was at X-Ray Arcade in October 2021. That’s when we played our first show. And since then, we’ve just kept going.

When I first listened to your songs, they felt very intricate, so it almost came across as a studio project. But the way you sing on the record with all the vocal layers, it translates very well into just being one voice on stage. I was kind of wondering how that would all work, but it all balances.

That's really good to hear.

What’s been the most enjoyable part of being part of this specific group of people called Adorner? What’s been the most rewarding thing about being part of this project?

If I get too into it, I will get emotional. But becoming Adorner has changed my life, and it was my dream ever since I could dream to write music that moves people and gives people space and to also perform.

And I've had to sacrifice a lot to keep the project going. For example, when it was a situation with bandmates wanting to move on or bandmates wanting to not necessarily have to just commit to the one project, I didn’t want to say no to gigs, and it was very hard for me to own it and to be like, “Yes, I AM Adorner.” And It was hard because I felt like I was having to stand alone, and now I don't feel that way.

I’m kind of on the other side of it, as I have a pool of collaborators that I pull from so I know that I can sustain this project. But I've had to discipline myself in ways that are almost unexplainable. I've had to believe in myself, even when it felt like nobody was watching.

There's been so many times where I felt almost ignored and just that grit of, like, I refuse to be ignored. I refuse to stop doing this. It doesn't matter if there's three people in the room. I'm going to play like there's thousands. I’m doing this because it is my lifeblood, and to just wrap my life sort of around this project and to truly become Adorner has meant that I've had to change and grow and believe in myself as a person.

I think that's what I'm most thankful for with this project. It's given me belief in myself after a life of depression and trauma and all those kinds of things that you hear songwriters talking about in their music. I’m not an exception. And it’s been there for me, and it’s been my outlet to not only process things and to not only accept things, but to also grow and ascend from them. It's very much this journey of my spirit in this life.

It’s a vehicle for catharsis, to say the least. It’s necessary; it's not just something trivial. 

Looking forward to Adorner's future, what is one of the biggest highlights of being a band in Milwaukee right now? Because it seems really exciting to be part of the local scene more now than any time in memory of the Milwaukee music scene. To you, what’s so special about being part of this music community right now?

It's truly an amazing scene. You know how we’re referred to as “Smallwaukee?” There’s just so much camaraderie, and there’s so much friendship in the scene. I think that one of the most rewarding things is the ability to create opportunities to lift each other up in ways that we haven't before.

I think that the world is more hungry than ever for connection, and in Milwaukee, in our communities, we can do that here and now by showing up for each other, supporting each other, working with each other. That’s one of the things that I think is so special is the amount of special relationships and moments that I've experienced. Just people being people through this avenue of music. It's astounding. It means so much when somebody else supports your project. It makes you want to go right back and support them even harder.

Speaking of support, where can folks find you coming up in the next few months? What does Adorner have planned for the summer? Do you have any big summer plans like releases, singles, shows, anything like that?

All of the above. There's one that comes to mind. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to announce it yet, though, but just be looking out for Adorner on some pretty big Milwaukee stages this summer. I have multiple singles leading up to a large, full release coming out this year.

That's kind of what we were focusing on through this last fall and winter was really just delving into the creation process and just sending out a new wave of discography — higher quality, more intricacy, a cohesive, full project.

Lots of shows in Milwaukee, but also in the area where we're hitting some new regional areas that we haven't yet. We're going to be hitting Appleton. We're going to be hitting Madison again, Chicago. I have something coming up in Kansas City. We're not confirmed yet, but yeah, it’s going to be good because we're kind of shifting from local to more regional and that's a lot of work.

It’s really nice because it’s felt kind of like pushing a rock up a mountain for the last few years, but now things are kind of starting to flood in, so we have a lot of good stuff coming up — more music, more shows, more opportunities to collaborate and support and just share. Because I just want to create space for people to just feel and delve deep within themselves. And I just can't wait to do that.

88Nine Music Director / On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee