Tag Archives: Cactus Club

Derek Fudesco used to be the bassist of the now-defunct art-punk band Pretty Girls Make Graves. Now he’s the guitar player for The Cave Singers. It might seem like a stretch, but the leap from gut-wrenching punk rock to gut-wrenching folk music isn’t that big, he said. Over the phone from not-quite-sunny Seattle, Fudesco talks about PGMG’s break up, writing folk songs and why he makes it a point to stop at Milwaukee every time he goes on tour.

Which came first, PGMG’s break up or The Cave Singers?
The Cave Singers has existed for over two years, Fudesco said. “(Singer) Pete (Quirk, of Hint Hint) and I started wirting songs and recording them, and I guess that counts as the Cave Singers, but our first show was actually a year and a half ago.” Originally, the duo didn’t have plans to perform live. After they began writing different parts, they decided to get another member to help them play everything. “Marty (Lund of Cobra High) was our neighbor, so it worked out pretty well,” Fudesco said, laughing.

What happened with PGMG exactly?
Fudesco says the Cave Singers existed before Pretty Girls broke up in January 2007. “Nick (Dewitt, the drummer) quit unexpectedly. He said ‘I don’t want to do this any more, and (the rest of the band saw) no point in getting someone new. It sucks that it broke up, but (having the Cave Singers definitely) softened the blow, although I would’ve been totally happy doing both. The music’s so different and there was no problem writing songs for both bands.”

So how do you write songs for The Cave Singers?
“It’s different now (with Marty), but with the songs on (the Cave Singers’ debut) “Invitation Songs,” I would write (the songs) and Pete would write the vocal melody. Now we’re starting to write more with Marty”.

Was it difficult to shift from playing bass to guitar?
“I just started playing guitar. I played bass my whole life. When we first started I just picked up a parlour guitar, which is smaller than an acoustic.I wrote something on it and Pete sang on it. It started the whole band. When he sang on it, it was sounded so different, so new. It was the first time I moved over to that instrument.” For Fudesco, who’s played the bass guitar since he was 13, writing on a guitar makes everything new. “Our guitar lines are all bass lines,” he said apologetically. “I’m not a good guitarist…I don’t play with lots of guitar strums. It’s like bass lines with a few more strings to learn with. I’m taking Internet lessons in finger -picking, and I’m learning how to position my hands.”

Internet lessons?
“I started going on Youtube and just looking up finger picking lessons. It’s all pretty amazing (laughs).”

Your music is usually labeled folk-country, Appalachian folk. What do you think of that? What were you listening to when you wrote those songs?
“People always have to throw something on it…what I was listening to had no bearing on what I was writing. I was listening to Television and Les Savy Fav — stuff I still like and listen to. But I was recording music in my bedroom for a movie my friend was doing, and Pete was doing a lot of vocal music.

So I recorded “Bellmar” (it’s not on the record) into a recorder, and I went on tour with PGMG. When I came back, he had done vocals over it. The two of us turned it into something weird. It was never a conscious decision, like ‘let’s be in a folk band.’ It was just super -stripped, and as far as where the sound came from, it just sort of changed.

I like to think we’re doing our own thing.”

At this point, Fudesco stops and asks me if I know Faythe Levine, who is one of the most awesome Milwaukee subjects I’ve ever interviewed. I tell him that, then ask if she’s the reason the Cave Singers is stopping at Milwaukee (PGMG lead singer Andrea Zollo and Levine are best friends from childhood).

“Oh yeah, we’re stopping at Milwaukee because of Faythe. She is pretty inspiring. We just went on vacation to Mexico with her and Nathan (Lilley of Call Me Lightning) — we’re actually playing with her band, Wooden Robot!”

If you go

What Wooden Robot, The Cave Singers and The Trusty Knife

Where The Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave.

When 10 p.m., Saturday,  April 26

This was a tough decision: Juniper Tar played Turner Hall, and XYZ Affair (fronted by ILL Groove Movement) was at Stonefly. In the end it was the bombastic video of Nicole Atkins performing her hit “The Way It Is” on Letterman (watch it on YouTube ) that helped me decide to trek out to Bay View and watch Atkins with her band (called the Sea) at the Cactus Club. I got there at 11 p.m., just in time to catch Testa Rosa set the atmosphere. Betty Blexrud-Strigens admitted she was kind of nervous afterward, but it was totally enjoyable set.

Although Nicole Atkins and the Sea started their show at midnight, it was worth the wait. Surprisingly, Atkins was a tiny singer with musical chops — her voice was full and clear, like a bell, but she could belt notes out effortlessly. She was a cross between Liza Minelli and Hope Sandoval, and her songs were updated takes classic torch and ’60s pop genres. It didn’t seem like she was just a frontwoman, either: her whole band — which included a lapsteel player and a stellar keyboardist — was singing along to ALL the songs, like it was pure joy to perform with her.

It was pure joy to watch, as well. She did the stage banter without being forced or fake (she also said she was lethargic from eating a Palomino “Velvet Elvis.”) It was a really great show. After  “Neptune City,” her last song,  she told an audience member that there was no encore because her throat killing her. No one in the audience could tell at all. Highlights of the show included “The Way It Is,” of course, and “Headlights” (which, if I remember correctly is a new song) and “Brooklyn’s On Fire” which also has a happy gang-chorus singalong.

I was going to ask her a few questions after the show but she was accosted by a gaggle of fans. Two of whom, I overheard, saw her live at the Letterman show in October as well — except they had seen her in the actual studio, instead of on YouTube.

Singer Rohner Segnitz‘s band Division Day has never been to Milwaukee, but he knows what local music sounds like; he was a big fan of the Promise Ring (and also Dismemberment Plan, which isn’t local but whose bassist was in Maritime). In the last year, they’ve also been compared Davey Von Bohlen’s Maritime. “None of (the comparisons) is stuff that bothers me…it’s innovative and held up well over time, but I haven’t listened to Promise Ring in about a million years, even though in my formative years I spent a fair amount of time listening to them,” he said.

As a musician, that’s all you can hope for your music to do — have staying power.

For the band, at least, “Beartrap Island,” the debut recorded in 2005, does just that. After it was released independently in 2006, Division Day was signed by an indie label that went under. “”It has been around for awhile, we’re totally aware of that,” he explained. “We’ve been living with the record for a while, but we didn’t have an interest in doing it over.”

Luckily, the record label execs at Eenie Meenie agreed, and reissued it last year. “We wanted to give the album a sort of a proper release to give it justice.”  The  re-release is remastered, with three new songs and an  iTunes exclusive. Still, the band is looking ahead: “We’re writing for the next release after we finish touring this,” Segnitz said.

What will it sound like? “The sound is always changing, but it’s not like the next one is going to be a house record,” Segnitz laughed. “If I had my way, it would be like an  avant metal band. I’m really into that, I’m obssessed with death metal and black metal.”

If you go

Division Day

When 9:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 25

Where Mad Planet, 533 E Center St.

How much $8


When Slaraffenland, the Danish five-piece described as “Sun Ra meets Broken Social Scene” and “Animal Collective meets This Heat” stopped at the Cactus Club in October to perform with Collections of Colonies of Bees, we were transfixed. Their album “Private Cinema,” released in June, featured awesome artwork from Friends With You, and their live show was stellar.

In an e-mail exchange with Christian Taagehoej, bassist and flutist (shown here playing the flute at their Cactus Club show), he talked about where their name comes from, and why Milwaukee was such a great city to perform in.
Christian Taagehoej

1. What does Slaraffenland mean?

Slaraffenland can be translated to Land of Milk and Honey… My dictionary says another medieval English word is Land of Cockaigne. In Danish the word has a duality to it that is lost in translation. Slaraffenland is the place Pinnochio goes with the bad boys to play and eat candy all day — but at evening they all grow donkey-ears. It’s a good place but don’t stay there too long… Guess it’s bad advertising actually. But I think the name’s good and bad duality reflects our music quite well. We’ve always worked a lot with duality– loud and soft, melody and noise, light and dark.

2. How did you like America?

We’ve been in America four times as a band now. And we love it over there (I’m back in Copenhagen right now). We love the openness of the American audience. People are not so worried with what kind of music you play. If they like it, they like it. Over here we always hear things like “you have horns — you must play jazz then….” People and the pres really want to be able to put a label on us over here.

Our beloved record label Hometapes is based in Boulder, Colorado, so fortunately we will return a lot of times in the future. Right now we are planning a Danish-dynamite tour of US in May with our friends and fellow danes Efterklang. Hope it works out.

3. At your live show, everyone played at least two instruments. How many instruments does everyone play?

How many do we play… Well we all have our mains: guitar, bass, drums, saxophone and trombone respectively. That’s the instruments that we based our first two albums on. But the recent years all of us have taken up various instruments. Mike (my twin) and I started out playing flute and clarinet 20 years ago before we picked up bass and guitar so that wasn’t so hard to come back to. Niklas Antonson has taken up electronics as his new main thing you might say. He’s got a nice table of various effects/samplers/stuff. On top of that he recently started playing trumpet, tuba, guitars and percussion. Jeppe Skjold has extended his reed arsenal to various clarinets and saxophones, plus he recently started playing guitars, lap-steel and percussion live. Besides being our fantastic drummer, Bjorn Heebøll is our keyboardist — on the record, at least. Live he plays a lot of keyboard stuff on a melodica instead.

You might think that it’s a goal for us to feature as many instruments as we can… But really it’s not. Our songwriting process is based very much on the recording process. We like to be able to listen to the song and figure out what instrumentation the song needs. Earlier we wrote the songs while practicing and the instrumentation sort of was limited to what we could play at the same time.

When we play live now we sort of try to imitate ourself on recording. For example I like to put a lot of guitar tracks on the records but I can only play one live. So I think all the four others have played guitar live because of that. And it’s the same with horns and percussion.

4. What is it like having your twin in the band? Does it make touring easier?

Can’t really say it makes things easier. Mike and I are twins and off course we know each other so well. But we tend to argue a lot… I think we allow ourselves to say things to each other that we wouldn’t say to the others in the band. I think this is hard sometimes but to be able to say everything to each other is good thing too. But it isn’t really that bad. The five of us are best friends. We spend so much time with each other outside the band and our girlfriends are good friends too. So touring is easy. Everybody looks out for each other.


5. What is your songwriting process like?

Like I said, the songwriting or at least the arranging is now based a lot on the recording process.  One of us presents an idea that all of us sort of arranges on. Sometimes a song is written very quickly but sometimes it drags out forever. The song “Watch Out” from our new album took something like three months of at least 15 hours of work every week to finish. We just never got it right. But at the end it was one of the main songs on the album.

Another song from the album called “Polaroids” is very old. We wrote it around our first album but weren’t happy with it. So we put it away for some time. For the second album we tried it again put stored it once more. Actually it was the last song we featured on the latest album and then it ended up being the #1 single from that album. It was #1 on the Danish chart for alternative music for four to five weeks this spring.

6. How did you get involved in the Radiohead /”OK Computer ” tribute for Stereogum (with John Vanderslice, Vampire Weekend, Cold War Kids, The Twilight Sad, David Bazan)? Are you big Radiohead fans? Did you like “In Rainbows”?

Radiohead is a big influence of everyone today aren’t they? Off course we’ve heard them a lot. We have talked a lot about Thom York’s frazing when we record horn melodies for example…  But there’s a lot of bands that have meant just as much to us.

We were contacted by Stereogum through our label. They have written about us before and featured us in their band to watch section. It was our first cover song and we loved doing it. It sort of made us realize what our own sound is and how we could make Paranoid Android sound like us. I’m very happy with the result!

“In rainbows”… Just heard it and I love it. Not as good as “Amnesiac” and “Kid A” but I think it might be a grower though…

7. How did you guys form?

We’ve all known each other for quite some time now. Mike and I met Bjorn in kindergarten when we were four years old and have been friends since then. We’ve played in various bands together before Slaraffenland. The three of us met Jeppe and Niklas about six years ago. They were roommates.

8. In a previous conversation, you said Milwaukee was one of the funnest places you performed at…why is that?

I think we played about 20 shows in the states. All the places were very different.
When people asked us where we were going next and we said Milwaukee people were like “why the f… are you going there?”. So I think we didn’t know what to expect when we went to Milwaukee. But it was one of the shows were we got the best response from the audience. On top of that I think the show with Canyons of Static and Collections of Colonies of Bees was one of the best matches we had on the tour.

We had the same experience when we told people we were going to Fayetteville (Arkansas) and Cleveland (Ohio). Both places a lot of people came and actually knew the lyrics to some of our songs.

I don’t know if some bands underestimate the “smaller” cities – but we by far had the best crowds outside the large cities like Chicago and Los Angeles.