Graham Kilmer
Band of the Week

Thistledown Thunders Play Modern Bluegrass

Their lyrics are all about drinking and death. And love, sometimes.

By - Dec 14th, 2015 03:14 pm
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Thistledown Thunders.  Left to Right Krystal Kuehl, Ernest Brusubardis IV, Johanna Rose and Jack Tell. Photo courtesy of the band.

Thistledown Thunders. Left to Right Krystal Kuehl, Ernest Brusubardis IV, Johanna Rose and Jack Tell. Photo courtesy of the band.

Members of a local band are bringing their own brand of bluegrass to a burgeoning traditional music scene here in the cream city. The Thistledown Thunders, which certainly sounds bluegrass-ey, are comprised of Krystal Kuehl on guitar, Johanna Rose on upright bass, Jack Tell on guitar and Ernest Brusubardis IV on the fiddle. They see themselves as practitioners of a traditional form, but updating it for a new generation. You can listen to them at their Facebook page.

Urban Milwaukee talked to Brusubardis about the band and its twangy ways.

When did you begin playing as the Thistledown Thunders?

All members are founding members. We starting playing in January 2014 as Bremen Café’s house band for Bluegrass Wednesdays, and then moved it to Wednesday Nights at High Dive this fall. 

What are some artists that inspire you?

Bill Monroe is a definite influence. Chris Thile and his work with Punch Brothers has been inspiring, and artists as new as Rushad Eggleston or as old as the Stanley Brothers are also in our ears.

Where did your name come from?

We picked he word Thistledown randomly out of a book of poetry we found in Johanna’s house. We wanted something nature themed since bluegrass seems to be the perfect music to play outside, whether that’s on a front porch or in the middle of the woods. After a few tries in the book Thistledown seemed a good choice. After two minutes of brainstorming Thunders seemed to roll of the tongue.

How old are you?

I’m 24. I won’t disclose the age of the rest of my band mates, but I’m the youngest.

How would you describe your music?

We try to incorporate traditional styles, but still have our own edge. While we play bluegrass, we try to have our own sound within the genre, so that you can hear bits and pieces of influences melded into our own unique sound.  In our repertoire we have a wide variety of traditional tunes and instrumentals, as well as original material. In the end, it ain’t your Granny’s Hootenanny.

Any local bands you guys really like?

Art Stevenson & High Water, Chicken Wire Empire, Ugly Brothers, Foreign Goods and some others. There’s a lot to list, but these are some of the main ones.

What do you think of the local music scene?

The local scene is huge. There is so much going on right now, and it’s incredibly diverse. Everyone is super supportive of each other. Each of our members are involved with other projects such as New Boyz Club, Animals in Human Attire, Grasping at Straws, Airo Kwil and Ruth B8r Ginsburg. Just the other night, we played at High Dive, and I saw 15 different friends that are in other bands within the scene, ranging from Hip Hop/Rap to Folk to Rock to Jazz, all blessing us by listening to us play. This kind of support and diversity makes the Milwaukee music scene really special.

What are your lyrics typically about?

Drinking and death. There’s love sometimes, but most of the time drinking and death.

Where do you most often play in Milwaukee?

High Dive on Center and Fratney in Riverwest.

Favorite place to play?

Anodyne Coffee on Bruce Street. It’s a great venue, the owner is really supportive of local music, and the crowd is always great.

Have you toured anywhere?

Not yet! Does Madison count?

Any Albums or EP’s coming out soon?

We will be recording some originals and traditionals this spring. Release date TBA.

What are your plans for the future?

Keep making music. As a band our goal is to grow as musicians and as people. We want to record more, and play more festivals, big and small. I already can’t believe we have been doing this for 2 years this January, and I’m excited to see what we have next. Catch us in 2016 at the Big Thaw March 12, the Horicon Farmer’s Market June 22, and the East Troy Bluegrass Festival September 10.

Cascio Interstate Music is proud to sponsor Urban Milwaukee’s Band of the Week column. Running in tandem with their own Band of the Month program, supporting local music is key to CIM’s mission.

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