Soul Low on the Rise
The Milwaukee group calls itself a ”weird, loud, pop, garage, dark surf…boy band." Hey, it seems to be working.
Soul Low is a local band making quite an impression. Formed by Sam Gehrke, Jake Balistrieri and Charlie Celenza in the fall of 2009, they later added long time friend, saxophonist Sean Hirthe. Soul Low has played at multiple venues around town including the Locust Street Festival and Summer Soulstice on North Ave.
Just guessing, but the group may be the first to place themselves in the ”weird loud pop garage dark surf scrambled into the aesthetic of a boy band” category. The release of their new album Sweet Pea showcases that quirky sound, with songs such as “O.M.G.S.T.D.” We had some questions for the band.
How and why was your band formed?
Jake and I had been in bands together since middle school. We’d always done stuff with folk, jazz, blues and really wanted to do something more rock oriented. Come junior year in high school, Jake hooked up with Charlie and he introduced us. Things took off from there.
Was there a particular band that inspired you?
Violent Femmes, Born Ruffians, Modest Mouse were all huge inspirations. Weird vocals and creative instrumentals/music were and still are very attractive.
How did you come up with your band’s name?
The name came about during a hangout between Jake and Charlie. Jake was adamantly pining to have a name with the word “soul” in it. Eventually the name Soul Low came about and it kinda stuck, for better or worse.
Have you added or lost band members since you began and what’s the age range?
Age range is 22-23. We’ve had the same line-up since day one, with the recent *permanent* addition of saxophonist Sean Hirthe. Sean’s been with Jake and I since we were like, eight or something. We used to do a thing called Informal Blues together. Please don’t look that up.
We’ll try to resist. Who are your influences on the national or international scene?
I’m going to go ahead and say Krill has been popping into our newer songs a little bit. Sometimes a little bit of Women (members are now in Viet Cong). We take cues from a lot of different music: jazz, hip-hop, bluegrass, gypsy, whatever we can get our hands on.
John the Savage (RIP). If you don’t know them go listen to them right now. Seriously.
What are your lyrics about?
Personal issues, self doubt, stories (real or fiction), friends, relationships, fears. Whatever we’re feeling at the moment I guess.
Do you aim for any social or political commentary with your music?
Not necessarily. I think people can relate to our music because it deals with a lot of real stuff. We just want to help people not feel so lonely or weird. We’re all weird. I don’t know.
What do you think of the local music scene?
Everyone is very supportive, everyone knows each other. It’s great that we can do shows with a dude like WebsterX and know that there’s a lot of cross-over, in terms of fanbase. Heck, we even did a song with the guy. I mean, it’s rad to be in a city where an interaction from two completely different genres can be not only possible but encouraged. I personally play in bands with dudes in the jazz scene, jam scene, hip hop scene…it’s rad.
Do you think the city has the potential to become nationally known for its music scene?
Oh heck yeah. There are some people here with the talent and drive to make some massive waves on the national level. Dang, a lot of them are already.
What makes your band uniquely Milwaukee?
Well we have an entire song & video about Blatz beer…
Nice. Where does your band most often play in Milwaukee?
Probably Charlie’s basement *awesome joke, everyone hi fives*
If you had to name one place that is your favorite place to play?
Cactus Club is always great; baller sound, drinks are affordable and the space is always appropriately air-conditioned. Jake, Sean, and I grew up only a few blocks away from there so it holds a special spot in our hearts.
Has your band toured and to where?
In 2013 we did a two week run out to NYC and back. This last January we did a 15-day run down to Austin, over to LA, and back through NV, UT, CO, KS, and IL. We’ve done a handful of smaller Midwest circuits too.
Do you think you’re band has been in any way misunderstood or mis-labeled?
It’s pretty easy to misconstrue our style, but when you see us live it makes sense. We’re weird dudes who play weird pop songs with everything we have, physically and emotionally.
Have you released an album or albums?
We self-released an EP in 2010 called Beauty by Contrast, a full-length through my label, Delaware House Records, called UNEASY, a video EP this past winter called Kind Spirit, and most recently Sweet Pea through Gloss Records & Dark Circles Records.
We try to release each work in an interesting way: UNEASY came with a short story, written by Sean, about our song Sitting by the Fire. Kind Spirit was released as a DVD that included a poster featuring art accompanying each song. Sweet Pea was released on tape with a limited edition Soul Low temporary tattoo. There’s no reason to just put out music; you can accompany your art in so many interesting ways.
Future plans for the band?
Tour, release cool stuff, hang out, try not to be too stressed, keep enjoying coffee.
What is the hardest thing about keeping a band going?
It can be tough dealing with four completely different schedules and personalities, but at the end of the day, it’s always worth it. I spend five hours a day doing this stuff but being able to play music with talented and interesting people for other people is really special. It’s always worth it.
What is the dumbest thing any one has ever asked about your band?
People upon hearing our name always ask “oh, like you’re a solo act?”