Ryan Schleicher is top left, Aaron Schleicher is seated in the middle.
Photo by C.J. Foeckler.
If you haven’t heard of Juniper Tar, allow us to welcome you to Music Notes, as this must be your first time on this site. After all, our archives have more than 30 posts mentioning the band in some way – and with good reason. Prior to the release of its tremendous full-length, Since Before, this spring, the band played a series of weekly shows during a residency at The Hotel Foster. It recorded a song as part of a tribute album to mark the 20th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, as well as a session in the rarefied air of Daytrotter’s studio. Following a proper album release show at Turner Hall, the band hit the local festival circuit hard, worked in a few club shows and transformed from middling Milwaukee outfit to Cream City’s crème de la crème along the way.
With the band set to draw the curtain on its most accomplished year of its near eight-year existence with a pair of autumn shows (including a show at Club Garibaldi tomorrow), we spoke with Aaron and Ryan Schleicher – guitar and bass, respectively – about Juniper Tar’s crazy 2012, its hopes for the years to come, juggling fatherhood, work and music, and (after the recorder was turned off) baseball.
You guys had a really big year until now. Up to this point, how has this year been different from other years in the band’s history?
Ryan Schleicher: Well, it’s been very different, both band-wise and personally. Personally, I have a 10-month-old kid, and our singer Jason [Mohr] is having a kid in February. [Drummer] Tuc [Krueger] just bought a house, so we’re balancing very serious life things with music.
Musically, we really just wanted to do something different locally. In previous years, it’d be, “Here’s the release show,” and play some shows, have some fun. This year we wanted to involve the Milwaukee music community in our release, so we did the residency for a month, then the Turner Hall release show. I kind of like that we were able to explore other local bands, and welcome them into our band as well.
Aaron Schleicher: It was an odd year musically because we did all this [Hotel] Foster residency stuff leading up to the show. Then after the shows, everything kind of tailed off for a while. But it ended up leading into a different realm, in Alverno Presents, with the Stephen Foster Project on Feb. 2.
RS: Stephen Foster was the first American pop star. He was the first American musician who was nationally known. At the time, it was through sheet music, but he was the first American musician around which there was a common culture. We were asked to curate a group of local and national musicians to re-interpret, re-imagine and respond to the work of Stephen Foster. After the whole residency and release show, we did what we always do, kind of take a bunch of festival gigs. Any band will tell you those gigs help you pay for your year. They pay well; they get in front of people you’re not normally in front of. It kind of takes the pressure off, where you know you don’t have to generate your own audience. It’s fun, and it’s a good way to go about the summer. For us, it’s also a little bit of a letdown because we’re not focusing on anything new. We’re just re-hashing the same set, and we’re not writing. So after the residency and Turner Hall shows, there was kind of a letdown. I think everybody in the band will say that. It’s not a let down in that the record didn’t take off or whatever. It was an internal letdown because we stopped being creative for a while, which is why the Stephen Foster project is kind of reinvigorating a little bit. We get to do something creative, while Jason prepares to be a father…
AS: And write songs. It’s great because we literally haven’t had an opportunity in the last eight months to sit down and work on the next record, which, there is another record in us that’s going to be better than this last record. And we’re growing as a band. When you hit a creative halt as a band, you need to write more songs. Now, with this Foster thing coming up, and Jason having his kid, Jason can take this time – and working on the same routine we’ve been on – he can stay home and begin to write the songs for the next record, then bring them to the group and have something ready to go after the Foster project happens.
It’s an interesting process when you have five guys who have normal lives, who can’t just get out and tour, and who have jobs that are important, then figure out how to write songs when they have time. And we haven’t had the time. That’s where I feel we’ve all hit the frustration point. We’re not doing anything new or creative, outside of playing shows. It’ll be nice to take a little bit of a break, work on something new, and after the New Year, bring it back to the city and see how it responds. And this city’s really tough, like, if you take a break, you could be forgotten or they anticipate something.
Back to the album, it seems as if this album has gotten a lot more local attention and appreciation. Is there anything different, a different view or approach you put into recording it?
RS: We didn’t say, “What does Milwaukee think we should be?” or anything. But when Aaron said we had a better record in us even after this one, after the last EP and after the first album, that’s exactly what we said at the time. We have more in ourselves, we can explore new material, we can explore things people maybe don’t think Juniper Tar sounds like.
AS: Going into this new record, we had this thought that we don’t want to be classified as an alternative country band. Up until that point, we always just got tossed in this alt-country realm. Going into this new record, we thought, “You know what, we’ve never been an alternative country band. What can we do to demolish that tag?” Everybody in the band brought in their true influences, and there was no kickback from anybody. We all listen to a lot of different music. This record showed a lot more leniency. We opened the floodgates and thought, “Let’s see how this works. Let’s see what happens if we all bring our influences in.”
RS: As for why Milwaukee liked it better, I don’t know. I think… we worked harder to market it [laughs]. A lot more people wrote about it. More radio stations played it. It’s a nice ego boost, but unless your goal is to be big in Milwaukee – like there’s the joke “We’re big in Japan” – if that’s your goal, it’s awesome.
It seems like you’re working toward something bigger, looking to get your music to more people, people outside the state. Yet you have these large occurrences in your lives – you’re buying homes, becoming husbands and fathers – so what’s the balance between fatherhood and cultivating your band.
RS: I don’t think we have the answer that. I think the only thing we can say is that we’re going to try really hard to write another good record. As we figure out adulthood – you know, we talked with the Maritime guys, who are all dads, and they have very targeted touring. Maybe we don’t have that time, we’ll find out. But we also have really great families who will support decisions if they need to happen.
AS: Our main focus is that for pretty much eight years, we’ve had this thing that allows us to get together, write music, and once or twice a week hang out with my best friends in the world, then get out there to share what we create with the world. And that makes us feel great, but we want to take that somewhere else.
Juniper Tar will play two more shows this year. Saturday, they headline a Club Garibaldi show, which also features Nonagon, Water Liars and Frontier Ruckus. Oct. 18, they top a Hotel Foster bill that also includes Futurebirds. The band (sans singer Jason Mohr) is to curate The Foster Project, part of the Alverno Presents series, Feb. 2.