Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Sat. Nite Duets set out to write a concept album about America. Three years and a sonic trajectory change later, the Milwaukee band found a modicum of national success instead.
In 2009, Duets formed, merging two high school bands, Boyscouts and Two Kids Get New Books. The new band soon gained attention for 2010’s One Nite Only. Since then, the eclectic, frontman-free project of now-22-year-olds Stephen Strupp, Joe Guszkowski, Andrew Jambura, John Guzikowski and 23-year-old Ben Gucciardi has become a rambunctious force, albeit a difficult one to yoke to any single genre. For singer/guitarist Gucciardi, it’s “holdouts from the dad rock tradition” and “five postgraduate dudes playing rock music.” Jambura (keyboard/drums/vocals) cites “a lot of classic rock influences.”
Despite the vagueness, the band’s brand of unkempt indie rock cooked up at the “Throwback Lounge,” also known as Gucciardi’s basement studio, is a recipe all its own: ’90s alternative influence, endearingly lo-fi experimentation and a heavy helping of humor. Take its album covers and homespun music videos, for instance. They showcase the band’s affinity for male nudity, the controversial Four Loko alcoholic energy drink, German subtitles, obscure Wisconsin sports memorabilia and a variety of off-putting masks. Yet Duets doesn’t consider its lighthearted nature a crutch or distraction from the music; rather, a welcome addition to the well-thought construct of accessible, off-kilter American rock ’n’ roll.
“It’s just an extension of our personalities,” Jambura says. “I guess I don’t worry about it being too funny or too jokey. It’s there and present, but it’s not something intentional. We’re not trying to make a Ween record.”
It’s pretty palatable, but loud, says Strupp. “If I was talking to someone’s mom, I feel like I might need to warn them about us.”
That warning might not be necessary. Duets is starting to make the rounds, from local media nods to sizable blurbs in respected national outlets, including GQ magazine and CNN.com, the former deeming Duets a “must listen” and comparing the group to popular ’90s act Pavement.
“We hate Pavement,” Gucciardi says, with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Pavement sucks.”
Still, the attention has helped cultivate an audience for the band outside of Milwaukee while strengthening its appeal within the city. In January, Duets played a release show at Turner Hall for its latest full-length album, Summer of Punishment. That’s rarefied air for local acts. In June, Duets also embarked on a monthlong tour across the states, fittingly returning to play Summerfest July 4. Back in Milwaukee, the band will hit Linneman’s Riverwest Inn Aug. 4, a more common setting for local bands.
“It’s been incremental progress, but pretty remarkable,” Jambura says. “It’s definitely changed our view of what’s possible in a band.”
The possibilities will likely lead to another album, which they say they already have material for and near-future plans to record. The goal? “Make guitars not sound like guitars,” Strupp says. Not too shabby for an outfit that began as two bands and one singular aim of American pride.