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Just Don't Call Them "Rockabilly"
Liar's Trial drummer Chuck Engel talks country-punk and Riverwest Fest

Photo courtesy of the band's Facebook page

The third installment of Riverwest Fest (Dec. 21-22) brings together 65 bands playing 17 shows in nine venues over the course of two days, highlighting one of Milwaukee’s most vibrant neighborhoods. The lineup runs the gamut of style and sound. Liar’s Trial is but one of the bands which speaks to the Fest’s variety. The Milwaukee outfit melds punk rock and country influence to form a distinct sound all its own. That sound, combined with the lineup’s decades of combined experience has found Liar’s Trial playing a strange variety of shows with an array of different bands in its first 15 months on the scene.

Prior to its show at Quarter’s Rock ‘N Roll Palace on Saturday, Music Notes caught up with Liar’s Trial drummer Chuck Engel to talk about the band’s formation, how it arrived at the country punk sound and what the second full year of Liar’s Trial will bring.

The band was initially formed for a benefit?
The way it all came together, almost 10 years ago, I played with Bryan [Kroes] and Chris [Johnson] called Silentium Amoris and we did that for probably a year. I mean, I was in three different bands at the time and eventually just cut that out. I got to be too busy. We kind of went our separate ways. Then two years ago around February, they asked me to play a reunion show with them for some band they’d started after I had quit that band. Kind of complicated stuff [laughs].

Anyhow, they asked me to do it, and I wasn’t really playing in a band at the point. I’ve always liked Bryan’s songwriting. He has a great ear for melody. He needs feedback. I felt like we wrote really great songs together, even 10 years ago. I did a reunion with them for The Church Of Abject Sorrow, and I insisted that first they’d have to change the name. Eventually, they changed it. We kept at it and talked to Erv [Aaron Larry], who wanted to play bass, and eight months after that, he joined and we started playing out as Liar’s Trial. We’re still playing some songs that The Church Of Abject Sorrow wrote, but we changed the arrangement around, simplified them and sped them up.

How did you land on the country punk sound?
That’s vaguely what Church Of Abject Sorrow was. It was two guitar players – one electric, one acoustic, sometimes two electric, or one electric and one banjo and a drummer. They didn’t have bass or a huge backbone to what they were doing. But they had a lot of the songs there, and when I came in, we just fleshed out a lot of the sound. Church Of Abject Sorrow sounded like demo tapes to what we’re doing, basically. The sound that we want was there, and as we started writing our own Liar’s Trial songs, they all started following a similar tone, you know, like Supersuckers and things like that. If anyone ever calls us “rockabilly,” I’ll punch them in the nose.

It seems that the mixture of drastically different influences rolled into one kind of allows you to play with a myriad of different acts –from punk and rock ’n’ roll bands to bands like The WhiskeyBelles, bands with more of a classic country influence. Was that intentional?
It’s one of those things where those roots make you stick where you go. We’re the kind of band that can peek up on a bill. We’ve got a little bit of this sound, a little bit of that sound and somebody might appreciate that. Also, someone might not appreciate that. We played a show in Chicago last weekend where the entire room except our five friends in Chicago cleared out during us and repopulated after for some run-of-the-mill, cookie-monster hardcore band that could’ve existed 10 years ago or now. They all had fancy haircuts and their friends didn’t like us, so I don’t know. Where was I going with that?


Has the genre crossing helped you or hurt you? Both?

I think it’s been a little bit of both. It helps us get onto bills, to get on to different shows. There will always be that one guy with a pompadour that comes up and is like, “Wow, I didn’t expect you guys to be playing,” or something like that, which is always kind of cool. I personally don’t think too much about genre anymore or how a show will come together. I just think about things like volume level.

What does the next year-plus hold for the band, in terms of goals you have?

We finished recording finally. We’ve got all the tracks mixed; it’s just a matter of mastering and sequencing them. We want to put out a record. We’ve got some funds saved up, but we’re trying to get a label or two involved in putting it out on vinyl.

So you don’t know when it will be out? You’re just exploring the label avenue and playing a bunch to save up?

We’re still trying to get funding for it basically. You know we’ve played two shows recently and we have like three or four shows lined up through January. It’s fun and exciting to do, and it also helps us save up and try to find a way to put out this record.

What can you tell us about Riverwest Fest?

I know that Kelsey [Kaufmann] from Centipedes is kind of spearheading all this. I think it’s a really great thing to involve the businesses in it also and get a little bit of sponsorship and a grassroots level music festival. This is how a lot of great things started. And to make it to a third year and to only seemingly be getting bigger is really impressive. It’s a great thing for the city and a great thing for the neighborhood. I honestly hope it keeps growing. I hope 10 years from now it’s still carrying on, generations of scene followers later, it would be really great.

Engel’s former band, White Problems, will also play Riverwest Fest, filling in for Death Dream at the Rio West Cantina in support of John The Savage’s album release show Friday. The entire Riverwest Fest 3 schedule can be seen here.

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