It was like being inside a washing machine, Bay View Post, on Saturday night. People in the crowded all-ages show were swirling around the moshpit, rubbing against each other, surfing above the crowd, pogoing up and down the audience, music pounding down on the crowd in waves — first from Seven Days from Samsara, then Call Me Lightning, then Since By Man. (I missed Decibully and Kill the Slavemaster, the first two bands on the lineup.) It was hot, it was sweaty, it was loud (hey, it was a hardcore show, what do you expect), but it was a good time, overall.
You wouldn’t think that nostalgia and hardcore go well together, but the bands of the night’s lineup were all musicians, from the time that Since By Man played their first show in 1999. And they all talked about how Milwaukee’s scene wasn’t about which band was passing through — but whose friends were playing at basements that weekend, and how playing for people who cared made their music relevant.
The energy the audience had — expressed by the way the moshpit was a whirling mass of men and women, jerking arms, bodies stretching out onto hands that willingly carried them above crowd, or people hurling themselves into the crowd — made for an awesome farewell to Since By Man.
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 didnâ€™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 donâ€™t want to do this any more, and (the rest of the band saw) no point in getting someone new.Â It sucks that it broke up, but (having the Cave Singers definitely) softened the blow, although I wouldâ€™ve been totally happy doing both. The musicâ€™s so different and there was no problem writing songs for both bands.”
So how do you write songs for The Cave Singers?
“Itâ€™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 weâ€™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. “Iâ€™m not a good guitaristâ€¦I donâ€™t play with lots of guitar strums. Itâ€™s like bass lines with a few more strings to learn with. I’m taking Internet lessons in finger -picking, and Iâ€™m learning how to position my hands.”
â€œI started going on Youtube and just looking up finger picking lessons. It’s all pretty amazing (laughs).â€
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 itâ€¦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 ‘letâ€™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 weâ€™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).
â€œOh 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!â€
If you go
What Wooden Robot, The Cave Singers and The Trusty Knife
Originally from Tel Aviv, it will be a treat when punk trio Monotonix perform at Echo Base on Mar. 27 with Call Me Lightning and Cougar Den. Most of the stories involving the band have some variation of “balls-out” as a gig description (in one YouTube video of their live show, the drummer was lifted up head and shoulders to play drums), so to witness them in action at an underground venue should be special.
We caught up with 43-year-old singer Ami Shalev over the phone, while the band was traveling from Tennessee to Wisconsin to promote their album â€œBody Language,” dropping April 22. Comparisons to Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy are merited, but Shalev says they’re fitting into the tradition of old-school rock ‘n’ with a level of energy that befits 2008. “We try to make our own sound, we don’t want to be similar to anything else,” he added.
It seems to be working. Including SXSW, this tour has packed the most responsive crowds, Shalev said. He also credited their label Drag City with giving them more support publicity-wise. “And we’ve got more experience, more of a following now,” he said.
And sustaining that “balls-out” high night after night, Shalev said, is “not such a big problem to do. Most of the day we are just driving around and resting, and we only need to do it (perform) 40-60 minutes max. After so many shows, we’re used to it. And we’re in good shape — we sleep a lot.”
Maybe Monotonix relishes the rock ‘n’ roll high because “Tel Aviv (where they’re from) is not used to bands that have so much physical acts during their show. Crowds (over there) are a little bit more polite. Here people go wild — rock ‘n’ roll is more in the culture,” Shalev said.
After touring the United States, Monotonix heads off to Europe to support the Silver Jews. “We are very excited about it, they’re kind of a legend for us,” Shalev admitted.
What: Monotonix with Call Me Lightning and Cougar Den