More MKE Than EC
Conrad Plymouth has much to show by way of sincerity — the four-piece folk-rock band has been, one-by-one, adding admirers to a long list in Milwaukee and otherwise, recently opening for North Carolinian experimental-folk pals Megafaun and tear-jerker chamber-folk outfit Crooked Fingers, traveling to SXSW in Austin last March and making new fans by way of local music promoter and writer Ryan Matteson, who gives the band props and press regularly on Muzzle of Bees. Conrad Plymouth’s understated songwriting beautifully brings into focus storytelling lyricism with a Midwestern soul: lots of dusty spaces but also lots of momentum, similar to Mark Kozelek’s [Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon] poetic ramblings that hold a little oomph.
The media focuses a lot on your Eau Claire connections. You’ve been in Milwaukee for over four years, so where do you now feel most connected to as a songwriter?
When I finally limped out of Eau Claire, I had just begun to write songs- I was always a supporting player before. And writing certainly wasn’t something that came easily, especially then. So I feel a deep connection to Milwaukee as far as songwriting goes- I got better here. And I think that my development in that area, as well as my connection with a lot of people in this city, is actually due to Linneman’s.
I remember one of my first nights in town (maybe a Tuesday) and I had picked up an Onion or a Shepherd and was looking for something to do. I saw that some songwriter-y dude was playing at some club called Linneman’s. My brother in law picked me up, and we went down there. We walk into this fantastic listening room in the back, and this dude has a pedal steel player with him.
Now, I used to play pedal steel in DeYarmond Edision in Eau Claire, so immediately I get excited. A few songs in, I realize that this is Eric Heywood. He’d played on records that molded me in my formative years: Richard Buckner, Kathleen Edwards, Son Volt- all that late 90’s/early aughts Americana stuff. And he was playing ten feet away, for me and twenty other people in this dead-quiet, perfect-sounding room on a Tuesday. Sold.
I started showing up to the Wednesday night open stage: trying out new songs, finding my voice, learning how to relate to a microphone. I had never been a primary singer before. I learned so much about myself as a writer and player and performer there. Jim and Marty gave me good feedback and support. They are serious music lovers, and the service they provide for this city- literally a songwriter workshop every week- is an incredible labor of love. I think its been going on for nearly twenty years. If there is anyone in Milwaukee trying their hand at being a songwriter with traditional instruments and they aren’t making a habit of hitting Linneman’s on Wednesdays, they are doing themselves a big disservice. You know the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon? I bet three out of four people I know in Milwaukee are two degrees removed from Linneman’s. It’s been a hugely important place for me. And this is why we are doing the release show there.
Who was your biggest local music influence in Eau Claire? Now, in Milwaukee?
Probably Josh Scott. He had a band called Amateur Love that shared members with DeYarmond Edison, so there were weird parallel universes. He was inimitable and undeniable. Best frontman and songwriter I’ve ever seen. I was talking with Justin [Vernon] last week, and he said that for years; Josh’s songs were the only way he could understand the world. Vernon is starting a reissue label on Jagjaguwar [Records], and Amateur Love is reissue number one, coming this fall. Vern was a big influence on me too, but back then Josh owned him. Josh has been under the radar in Chicago for a few years now, but I talked him into playing a set for our release show. I’m thrilled.
My biggest Milwaukee influence was Todd Umhoefer. He had a project called Old Earth. I met him at Linneman’s, of course, and I took so much from him. He is an artist to his core, and also one of the most loyal, honest, humble people I know. He just moved away, and I miss the shit out of him.
Your music indicates that you might be a bit of an introvert. Is this true or totally misleading?
I like being around people, but I also value some time alone. As far as the music goes, I guess I’m not surprised that it comes across as a bit isolated- those are typically the conditions I write in. I don’t write when I’m having fun or being social- I’m too busy enjoying those moments to reflect. It’s those other times that I get the chance to sit down and dig in.
Tell me about your previous releases and their lining up with the new LP. You’re releasing it on a new, local label [Ryan Matteson’s Ten Atoms] on vinyl. Matteson has been a big supporter of yours with Muzzle of Bees.
I’ve been documenting songs since I started, and occasionally been making them available. Nick Berg, our keyboard player, is a good engineer. We made a few living room EPs. We never really pushed them. A lot of those songs are embarrassing. This whole process for me has been a continuing revelation- keep writing new songs so we can kill off old ones. We still play a few of those old songs though. But this is the first proper release for us. And we’ve been really fortunate to have Ryan’s support; he’s really opened up some doors for us. He’s a pretty well respected arbiter in circles we’ve been finding ourselves in. And he’s a great guy, with a real passion for this city. It’s a privilege to work with him.
What’s the song on your LP that’s nearest and dearest to your heart? Why?
I like “Captain Video”; I think lyrically, it’s well done. It operates on multiple levels, and I like how we’ve been doing it live. Other people seem to like “Fergus Falls” — that’s always a fun song to play. I’m just grateful that people are listening and reacting to something we’ve done.
It’s the day before your big show — butterflies about anything in particular?
We’re pretty well-oiled right now. Probably going to open with a new one, but we’ll be fine. My wife is going to play on a few…[she’s] a great pianist and flautist. I’ve been badgering her to play with me for a long time, and she finally relented. She’ll be covering some of Nick’s mellotron parts on flute while he paints with other colors. She hasn’t played in any bands before — this will be her first foray into pop music, midtempo or otherwise. I think she might be a little nervous for her first midtempo rock show, but she was a champ in rehearsal. We’re good to go.
Conrad Plymouth releases their S/T, four-song 10″ LP this Friday, August 20th at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn (1001 E. Locust) at 9 p.m. with Golden Coins, Knit Delicate (acoustic) and Josh Scott. 9 p.m. 21+