Electronic music has often been over looked in Milwaukee. Many smaller working class cities seem to offer undying support for scrappy, earnest rock music and turn its collective heads at more constructed forms of music. Milwaukee has been no exception, but that tide certainly appears to be changing here lately. Much of the transformation is thanks to the help of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, which has promoted more of the pop-orientated electronic musicians, like Kiings, Dashcam and Reyna, by giving them consistent airplay on the station and showcasing them at live events.
Another group cashing in on that newfangled exposure is No No Yeah Okay. The smooth, soulful production and effortlessly cool aesthetic fits right into 88Nine’s wheelhouse. The outfit’s second EP, Cabal, is instantly accessible and breezy. It’s a perfect soundtrack to a rooftop party on a warm summer night. In advance of the EP release party at Company Brewing on Saturday, June 17, singer Colin Plant dishes on the group’s background, the city’s burgeoning electronic music scene and the concept behind the new effort.
The members of No No Yeah Okay all come from different musical backgrounds. How did you get together to form the group?
The short version of this story is that it started with Mark Gage (production) and Chris Quasius (guitar). They (probably after a night of drinking) decided, ‘Hey, let’s try to make some music.’
Mark’s area of expertise resided in the video and design world and Chris’s musical resume included plenty of solitary living room jams with his guitar playing covers of Sublime and Weezer. The two began their musical adventure with, what I was told, was an iPad app. That allowed them to create amateur drum and synth patterns while layering some xx-ish guitar riffs.
Mark had recruited Amber Ruthe to sing vocals over a few of the tracks they had created, and through Amber were introduced to Josh Paynter, who played guitar in a band with Amber called Bright Black. Mark eventually ended up reaching out to me to lay some vocal harmonies over a few of the tracks they had been working on. Mark and I had worked on a few video projects with a few of my previous musical ventures and had remained friends in the time between.
After hearing the backstory and being introduced to the rest of the members, and of course hearing the music, it was with little to no hesitancy that I jumped on board to add some vocal layers. There was a simplicity about the production that allowed for a lot of vocal flexibility, so I was immediately interested. I ended up writing a few songs that would turn into the Dual EP. We decided we needed to start working on our live show. The chemistry was there, so we kept gigging and writing and here we are now about to release the second project, Cabal.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/139942511″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
Do you feel like you’ve discovered a middle ground of all your influences?
I actually do. We were practicing literally an hour before and there was a moment where we were all off in our own space for a transitional break, but the sound was so cohesive at the same time. It felt amazing and like it was really meant to sound like it does. It’s hard to explain but as a musician, it is a very visceral feeling that doesn’t come along all the time. So when it does, you notice it.
What’s a surefire way to start a musical argument among the members?
Live drums or no live drums; distortion or clean; and pretty much anytime Chris references his idea of the best song, band or album.
You mentioned in an interview that the concept for your first EP, Dual, was the evolution of someone’s first serious relationship. Is there a theme for Cabal?
There is actually. Mark is really the architect of these themes, which will develop from the lyrics I unintentionally write. While writing I am usually not focused on consistency or a theme at all, rather just letting the music guide in a direction that feels right.
After probably three songs off of Cabal, Mark had presented this idea of mistaken identity. From a song about wishing I was somewhere and someone else, to a song that referenced a past relationship and the realization that the person I was with wasn’t who I thought, to a number of smaller references, Mark constructed this very logical theme that we honestly had no idea existed. After hearing the idea though, we thought, well damn, that really makes sense.
What’s the starting point for your songs when writing? Do the lyrics or music come first? Or do you build from a basic, shared idea?
Mark’s production will come first—usually just a skeleton. From there I’ll write a concept and eventually structure the lyrical portion of the song. Josh and Chris will write the bass and guitar parts after a vocal melody has been shared. We will usually rehearse the song a bunch and develop ideas from playing together. It starts off very separate and eventually conjoins in a pretty organic way. Mark is the maestro, though. He is constantly tweaking and making adjustments until it feels right to all of us.
How do you see the state of the city’s electro-soul scene?
We can’t speak for the ‘electro-soul’ scene because I feel that was a made-up genre that might not all that accurately describe our sound. To be honest, I’m not sure we even know what our sound is aside from electronic. As for the electronic scene in Milwaukee, we feel it’s really blossoming. With acts like Kiings, the Noh Life collective, Luxi, Dashcam, and a few others I’m forgetting, it seems to be in a great space right now and only getting better. Excited to see where it goes from here for sure.
The Milwaukee music scene has had a tendency (that many smaller sized rustbelt cities share) to be a hotbed for raw, unpretentious rock music. Do you think that makes it harder to get through to people here?
There are a number of challenges that come with successfully sharing music in this this city, and some are really hard to define. There is definitely an audience for many different types of music here, and because of resources like Radio Milwaukee, it’s easier to expose that material. I think people here are open to new sounds, and we continue to evolve our art and music scene, so I guess the answer is: not really. If its decent music, people will listen and hopefully share it with friends.