The Milwaukees: An Aberration Story
... playing music is like reaching out and pushing those blocks, but playing for an audience is that blissful moment when the blocks hit the floor.
I've always wondered if musicians share the same creative drive as writers, artists, etc. If it really feels the same. Although we gravitate toward different forms of creativity, surely there's a common thread, a rope we all see and feel.
Sometimes we find that rope around our necks, choking us, trying to say, "Wake up and get over it!" It hurts. Yet, in the end, it seems to be what we reach for, what holds us steady. What pulls us up, rescuing us from a life that might somehow ring empty without it. So we keep hanging on, believing that it's leading somewhere. To quote a Milwaukee's song title, it's our "highway to the sun." And I'm not so sure it matters what that sun represents in the end. It's just bright, warm, and comforting. Something we all long for, despite what road we take.
Happy New Year!
Since music and New Year's go hand in hand (and I have all these questions about ropes and such), I invited The Milwaukees to drop by for a chat. If you haven't heard their music, be sure to visit their site and check them out.
Here's a taste:
If you liked these, go here for a free download of their album, American Anthems, Vol. 1.
So break out the bubbly, kick off your shoes, get comfortable, and hear what Dylan, Donovan, and Jeff have to say about their never ending dance with music. It's in their blood. The won't turn back. Pull up a seat. Relax. Here's a peak at what their highway to the sun is all about.
How long have the Milwaukees been together. Are there core members who've played together prior to creating the Milwaukees? In other words, who's in the band and what's the story?
DONOVAN: The guys found me hitch-hiking on routes 1 & 9 carrying a bass (not true)
DYLAN: Not enough time. Blah Blah Blah. We're in our 30's.
JEFF: Some people are impressed to know that we’ve been at this in one formation or another for ten years. But I think that is something that guys in bands aren’t proud of. It almost feels embarrassing some times – sometimes it feels like Sisyphus. So we tend not to dwell on the gory details. The bottom line is that I joined the band in 2000 right before the release of the first real Milwaukees record. Dylan and I have been playing together as the Milwaukees ever since. We’ve been through a few different players in the rhythm section. I think that changing members has helped us evolve and keep things fresh. We still enjoy making music together now as much as ever. Maybe even more. (That's all that matters.) The Milwaukees are doing quite well in the New York/New Jersey area, which is a large market.
Is it a full time job or do you each have other careers/professions?
DONOVAN: Trust funds (also not true)
DYLAN: Let’s just say we are not strangers to elbow grease when we aren’t playing.
JEFF: Yeah, we all have jobs. The truth is, especially for a band that sounds like us, I wonder if being in such a metropolitan area, in terms of building a career, is as much of a challenge as it is a benefit. New York tends to favor more esoteric, avant garde music. That is not us. We have toured all over the US, Canada, and Europe, and I often wonder if we might make more of a mark if we were in a smaller market. We have always done well in smaller markets when we can muster consistent activity there.
Is the pull to be part of a band driven by the need or urge to create and deliver music, or is it more to do with being on stage? Is it both, and does it differ for each band member?
DYLAN: For me it is about creating music. I like to perform but I wouldn't spend time performing Eurythmics hits just to be on stage.
DONOVAN: I just really like music, and always have. It never occurred to me not to do it.
JEFF: In order to get myself on stage, I think I have distanced myself from the idea that I am performing. It definitely isn’t about the attention for me. I love playing music, and part of that process is the reaction and participation of an audience. If I didn’t play music, I wouldn’t have any desire to perform. Outside of music, I'm more of an observer.
Jeff once said to me, "The choice to be in a band for any length of time is definitely an aberrant behavior." While most probably think it's a cool fantasy life, there is certainly a down side. Can you describe what some of the lows are?
DYLAN: I think the ACDC song “Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock and Roll” about sums it up.
DONOVAN: Every band worth a damn has played a show to three people. That is never fun.
JEFF: Sometimes it makes it hard to listen to new music. I’m listening to what a band is trying to do. I know all of the tricks, and I’ve lost some of the innocence of just reacting to something that sounds good.
Tons of people love to create music; however, they're satisfied to keep it at the level of a hobby, church activity, sitting at a piano in their den, etc. If you've had to deal with and accept these lows/aberrations you've described, why do you keep at it? Is it worth it?
DYLAN: Sometimes it would seems like it's not worth it, but the alternative is just playing fantasy baseball and drinking. Music and drinking seem to be a better life.
DONOVAN: I may never know if it's worth it, but I enjoy doing it anyway. So I'm just going to keep doing it until someone stops me.
JEFF: I read a book called Stumbling on Happiness in which the author said that the purest joy in a child’s life is when they realize they can reach out and, for instance, push on a pile of blocks and the blocks fall to the floor. The realization that they can have an effect is bliss. For me playing music is like reaching out and pushing those blocks, but playing for an audience is that blissful moment when the blocks hit the floor. Trying to enhance that bliss is always worth it.
The The Milwaukee's are not a simple cover band. They create original music. From a creative perspective, what is the Milwaukees philosophy around writing music? Is there anything about the Milwaukees that is unique in this respect?
DYLAN: Nothing really original in the process. We try to let the song be the song. We try not to play too much.
JEFF: We’re real students of the game. We have studied our favorite songwriters. We’re always striving to be as good as the greats. We pride ourselves on song writing.
Is it difficult to maintain long-term relationships given the sort of on-the-road-out-late-at-night lifestyle coupled with daytime careers? Do those closest to you (parents, spouses, kids, girlfriends, etc.) have a hard time fully understand the commitment to the band / music that comes into play? If so, how do you best cope with this?
DYLAN: You've gotta get the right bird dog. Everyone else can go screw.
DONOVAN: I would think that maintaining relationships with people that can't understand my lifestyle would be difficult no matter what I did, so I avoid being around people like that. It's most difficult for me probably because I have to maintain the scheduling. I cope with it by drinking excessively. (That part is probably true).
The music and performing is obviously something you need. Where do you think you'd all be if there was no band, no outlet for what drives you?
DYLAN: Same place. Only jeans that have more room in them.
JEFF: If you watch Spinal Tap all the way through the credits, Rob Reiner asks the guys the same question. It's really tempting to quote them here:
“I’d probably work in a chapeau shop.”
“I’d become a full time dreamer.”
“I’d probably start making a fool of myself in public.”
“Well, as long as there is still sex and drugs…”
Those are the four best answers ever to that question. I can’t top them. I do other things creatively, but they all fill different needs for me. I don’t think that any one of them could replace music. Music is how I am wired.
For me, with my writing and now art, despite all the success that I want and crave, I simply have a need to continue expressing myself in the best way I know how, the way that works for me as an individual. At the end of the day, regardless of potential fame and fortune, what are your common goals? What will you think about once you're literally too old to play? What will give you satisfaction about what you did with your life on that day?
DYLAN: At this point for me, I have no regrets. I have an amazing, happy personal life. I also have great, golden memories of touring and playing with guys who I really care about and love like brothers. I really am satisfied but I'd be lying if I said I don't care that I never got a chance to make records as a job. It makes you bitter as hell and every band is. I still love playing a new song or even hearing a really great tune on the radio, even if it is Allison Krauss and Robert Plant or someone else you're really jealous of.
DONOVAN: Common goals are making good music. I don't plan on ever being too old to play. My styles may change, but I plan on playing until my hands fall off.
JEFF: We are voracious spades players (rhythm section v. guitar players). We play before shows. We play on breaks during recording sessions. We’ve even played while stuck in a traffic jam. I think we need to keep our music interesting enough that there is always another hand of Spades to be played.