Jeff Cook
Band of the Week

Will Ladders Climb To The Top?

Riverwest band blends rock, folk, country and more into an unpredictable sound.

By - Aug 16th, 2016 04:46 pm
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Ladders. Photo courtesy of the band.

Ladders. Photo courtesy of the band.

With influences as wide ranging as compass points, Ladders is a Milwaukee band that combines every artist they’ve ever listened to and still manages to sound like something new. And they listen to a lot of different music.

Existing somewhere between punk, pop, country and folk without really being in the middle, Ladders is a band that seems to be able to channel all their favorite influences. On “Conclusions,” the first track on their second album Saye Lonnie, released in 2015,  you hear a rhythm guitar that sounds just like U2, while “Please Don’t be Cruel” sounds a lot like The Beatles, and the singer’s voice on “Live Here” is reminiscent of Neil Young.

The group includes Daniel Mitchell (rhythm guitar/vocals), James Sauer (guitar), Dan Oberbruner (bass), and Miles Coyne on drums. Ladders released their first album, Suha, in 2014, which Milwaukee Record‘s Matt Wild called “an excellent debut album… a sweetly sad, twilight-hour album, but it’s never mopey, and certainly never sleepy.”

One year later they released Saye Lonnie, which Milwaukee Journal Sentinel critic Piet Levy saluted as a step up from the first album: “The mellow folk from the debut hasn’t been abandoned completely, but Ladders has extended its sound in several ways, from the mature songwriting and soothing harmonies of “Conclusions” to the stoner-country vibe of “Please Don’t Be Cruel” to the surf-rock cool of “Union.”

Coming out of the Riverwest music scene, Ladders is unpredictable, taking outside influences and blending with them their own ideas to create something special. Ladders frequently plays Milwaukee and I recommend seeing them at your earliest convenience. I got to talk to Oberbruner and ask him a few questions recently. Here’s what he had to say:

How long have you been playing music?

Collectively? We’ve been playing music as a band since 2014. All the players in Ladders have been writing songs and playing in bands since well before then, though.

How did the band come together?

We met at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, which is a cornerstone of the Riverwest music community. It’s a gateway for newcomers to the songwriting scene and a cyclical homebase for the initiated.

Why “Ladders”?

Dan M. is also a visual artist and had just finished a series of pieces depicting ladders, either falling from the sky or being levitated by some unseen force, that everyone seemed to gravitate towards.

Who are some artists that have influenced you musically?

I think it’s different for everyone in the band. James likes a lot of classic rock and is a trained musician, so he gravitates towards more technically complex genres, like jazz, classical and some avant-garde. He’s a huge Beach Boys fan and his favorite Beatle is George Harrison. Dan M. has told me that he grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Allman Brothers, on his brother’s 8-track player. Then he had a hardcore phase for a while and now he’s listening to a lot of Jim O’Rourke. Myles loves chuggy power pop, but he listens to everything he can get his hands on and has some sort of opinion about nearly any artist/band you can throw at him. I grew up listening to the cheesiest folk music you can imagine with my dad, like John Denver, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio and Pete Seeger. Then the internet happened and I discovered mopey indie rock and never looked back.

How would you describe your music?

We all take turns writing songs, so while there are some common things happening from track to track, everyone is bringing their own ideas and backgrounds to the workshop. Some listeners might find elements of classic rock, folk and country, but we ultimately see ourselves as just a rock band.

What’s your creative process like when you’re creating a song?

We’re pretty good at making space for everyone’s input in the creative process, which has helped flip song sketches on their heads and give each of us new perspectives on our own work. We also don’t outright say “no” to any particular song. The songs we play and the songs we record are the ones that feel good to play for people and that we want to revisit again and again.

Do you ever collaborate with other artists?

We do. Chris Porterfield of Field Report made a contribution to our first album, and played that album’s release show. We’re talking with a few of our favorite Riverwest artists about collaborating for a recording session we have scheduled for September for another full-length release.

What’s it like in the studio when you are working/recording?

Our recording sessions usually take place over the course of a long weekend. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with a series of amazing people since we started recording in 2014, including Chuck Zink of Mortgage FreemanIan Harris at futureappletree studio 2 in Rock Island, IL and most recently, Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street here in Milwaukee. Our recording vibe has been described as “almost too laid back” in the past. Our first two albums were meant to be EPs, and we ended up just getting more ideas down in the time we had.

Who else do you listen to?

Cairns and YLLA are band favorites. Old Earth. Our buddies in Valentiger. Adam FaucettIsaac Pierce and the Ten-speed Music gang out in Portland/Seattle/Chicago. Wilder Maker out in New York. Dan M. just picked up that new Kalispell record. Looking forward to the Ugly Brothers and Dead Horses albums. So many more.

Do you usually play Milwaukee?

We play Milwaukee often.

Where else have you toured/played?

We also play Madison and Chicago somewhat regularly. In July we did a week-long tour with our friends in Yahara out to New York and back. That was our second trip out east. We have some upcoming gigs in the U.P. and Minneapolis as well.

Any albums or EPs coming out soon?

Hopefully we’ll have another record out by the end of the year.

What about your plans for the future?

To follow our hearts, shoot for the stars and make our dreams a reality.

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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