The Curious Journey of Midwest Beat
Formed in Madison, now based in Milwaukee, the band specializes in what its members have dubbed “Angry Bubblegum” music.
As they took a trip into the studio to record their third full-length album, Free of Being, the Midwest Beat – founded nearly a decade ago in Madison but now mostly based in Milwaukee – decided to pack more lightly for a change, says drummer Christopher “Chopper” Capelle.
“In the past, we’ve always planned ahead and had most songs written prior to recording,” he explains. “Mostly because it costs money to record so pre-planning is helpful. However, for the recording of Free of Being we did the opposite and, to our surprise, it worked great. I think it surprised all of us that we could make a record with only a few ideas and lyrics to start with. As the drummer, things tend to be better and more spontaneous when I don’t know what I’m doing ahead of time.”
Guitarist/ vocalist Kyle Denton says the less structured approach was necessary in part because of band members’ often conflicting schedules. Bassist Tim Schweiger regularly backs Tommy Stinson and Paul Collins on their tours and has recently put out a solo album. Meanwhile, Denton’s fellow guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Matt Joyce lives in Madison, while Capelle also is a member of local bands Pow Wow and Static Eyes.
But it all worked out well, Denton says.
“A lot of our stuff kind of came together as we were brainstorming in the studio, and it came out wonderfully. It was a really great way of doing it,” he says.
The album’s title came from a poem by spiritual teacher and Timothy Leary associate Ram Dass in his book Be Here Now, which the band found in the studio. The brief title track, the Midwest Beat’s musical interpretation of the poem, opens the album, with lyrics that begin, “There is nowhere to go/there is nothing to do.”
Free of Being is due out in September on an LP on Milwaukee-based Dusty Medical Records. It’s also being released in Italy by Wild Honey Records and on CD by Japan’s Waterslide Records. The 14-track effort showcases the band’s fun, engaging mix of ‘60s pop and country with garage and psychedelic touches, along with terrific harmony vocals. The Midwest Beat has dubbed the genre they fit into as “angry bubblegum.”
Capelle says he thinks the album stands up as a unified collection of songs better than past Midwest Beat albums.
“The Gone Not Lost LP (the band’s last full-length from 2011) was mostly ‘pop’ songs with one or two slower songs stuck in,” he says. “Having Tim Schweiger on bass has allowed us to do a lot of different stuff. This record has more folk and country stuff … more acoustic guitars, piano, percussion than previous songs. In the past, our records have been compared to an LP consisting of singles. On Free of Being it’s definitely one big, intertwined project. All the songs fit together as a whole.”
Denton says the recording experience benefited the band itself in addition to making the album more cohesive.
“The best experience about was being able to work really well as a band and as a unit of songwriters that were really able to make things happen,” he says. “Because we’re sitting in the studio we paid for, and have to make decisions now, they were done. I don’t know. I just felt more inspired.”
Capelle and Denton credited Kyle Motor, who recorded and mixed Free of Being, for his efforts over the years in helping craft the Midwest Beat’s sound.
“We’ve been really lucky to have Kyle Motor recording us for almost 10 years now,” Capelle says. “I’ve never met a more patient, focused and talented recording engineer. He’s a jack-of-all-trades. If anyone ever comments on liking the ‘sound’ of our records, it’s all because of Kyle Motor and his method of recording to 8-track tape using a limited amount of equipment.” Adds Denton: “He’s a really, really integral part of the recorded Midwest Beat over time.” With a couple exceptions, he noted, the band has been recorded “almost exclusively” by Motor.
The band has already released “High Life” from the album and put out a video for it produced by Milwaukee’s High Frequency Media and recorded at Riverwest’s Circle A bar. The song, which finds Midwest Beat at its most country-sounding, is based on lyrics Joyce wrote on a camping trip about 10 years ago, Denton says.
“There’s actually two versions of that song that were recorded,” Denton says. “The other version didn’t make the album, but maybe in the future it will be on a single or something. It’s more glam, Slade-sounding kind of like. It’s definitely changed a lot. And that’s kind of what we like to do because we don’t have a lot of time to practice so we kind of monkey around a couple of different versions and see what sounds best.”
Capelle and Joyce started the Midwest Beat in 2005 with original members Logan Kayne and Ryan Boyd. They almost broke up after their first show, but Denton says it’s Capelle who has always kept the band together.
“He is definitely the person who balances everything, from our accounts, to emails, to booking shows, to if there needs to be a good ‘mitigator’ of arguments,” he says. “If there’s three guys on stage that have had too much to drink, or partied too much before the show, he’s definitely not going to be one of them ever. It’s really nice to have that kind of leadership. He’s very silent. He doesn’t sing. He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t take a lot of credit for what he does, but he does a ton of work.”
Aside from drumming, Capelle says he sees his job in the band as anything not associated with music.
“I can’t write songs or sing or play instruments anywhere near as good as the other guys so I try to make up for it by booking, planning, organizing, and promoting the band,” he says. “I also do most of the poster artwork and album artwork.”
The record release show for Free of Being is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 6 at the Riverwest Public House Cooperative. The Midwest Beat also has upcoming performances in Milwaukee on Aug. 6 at Treats Tavern and Aug 24 at Linneman’s. More information about Midwest Beat can be found at themidwestbeat.bandcamp.com/.