The Trusty Knife cuts its first album
Like many local bands, The Trusty Knife doesn't really care about the "music industry." From constant basement practices and home-based self recordings to scrounging funds to finalize an album representative of its original sound, the band members do it it solely because they want to.
Although the Milwaukee band has been practicing in basements and playing local shows for over three years, it is set to release its first professionally recorded full-length album this Saturday, Dec. 6 with a launch party at The Mad Planet.
"Our sound is pretty pop but the songs on this album in a way are kind of old fashioned. They're sort of ballad like in that they're kind of long," lead singer Zach Pieper says. "But in another sense, they're also obviously American songs with a blend of influences. I like to think of them like little movies or little vignettes."
Band members Pieper, Brock Gourlie, Ross Bachhuber, Anton Sieger, and Annie Killelea acknowledge many musicians disdain the classification of pop music. But just as the scope of The Trusty Knife's music has range and depth, so does its definition and understanding of pop.
"Pop is one of those words people are leery of because it doesn't have a definitive meaning anymore. It doesn't define something stylistically anymore, it means popular music and what's popular is just what's culturally pervasive," Pieper explains. "People use pop to mean something that's catchy and no one wants to be just catchy."
Whether it be the pop of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly or the Beatles, The Trusty Knife's music draws from an array of 20th century pop icons who perceived the genre much in the same way.
"When I say pop I think of if like a '45 record. Something that's good enough in 3 minutes that you want to put it on and listen to it over and over," Sieger says.
And as the band doesn't limit the meaning of pop, its music reflects a much more complex understanding and interpretation of the genre. The narrative imagery of Pieper's lyrics and melodic overtones demand attention with intelligence popular culture generally lacks today.
"It's kind of dance-y but not really dance music. Just good pop songs; a lot more lyrically going on than would be in your average pop song," Sieger says.
"At our shows, we try to create a solid groove and put explosive melodies over that groove. They're never overly rehearsed; it's more about making it new and exciting every time we do it," Pieper continues.
On top of heavy pop undertones, the '60s-infused rock of bands like the Velvet Underground is undoubtedly present in The Trusty Knife's sound.
"The Velvet Underground influenced so many people, so many different ways. Their influence is so diffusive, that it's always hard to say," Sieger says.
"Bands like that feel like an escape to a certain degree if you grow up in a rural Midwestern town. We all have somewhat rural backgrounds except for Annie and I think initially that kind of music just felt slightly urban and mysterious. We romanticized it," Pieper explains.
The band's self-titled album was recorded at Sound-Sound Studio over the course of the last year and a half. Slowly financing the recording and production, The Trusty Knife recorded the album at a low intensity, taking time for overdubs and numerous vocal takes.
A series of shows over the last couple years including the Cactus Club, Locust Street Days and a WMSE radio show are highlighted by a rare performance at Seven Mile Fair earlier this summer.
"The guys from Crappy Dracula always had this dream that we should have a jingle competition at Seven Mile Fair. But needless to say nobody was there. It was almost like something you do to get into a fraternity," Pieper says.
"We couldn't decide if we'd won or lost a bet," Anton laughs.
This supportive often incestuous relationship between bands that tour the same local circuit is something The Trusty Knife appreciates over heavily paid gigs or celebrity style fame.
"There are so many musicians here, whether good or bad, it seems everyone plays rock n'roll and everyone is interested in trying to play together," Killelea explains. "We really just want to keep moving laterally. I honestly think everyone in this band is going to play music for the rest of their lives and that's the main direction we're going."
The concept of a Milwaukee music scene is one the band members prefer to just think of as healthy.
Pieper and Killelea insist the concept implies an overarching larger than life entity where guitarists are recognized on the street and drummers don't have to keep a day job.
And that simply doesn't exist.
Milwaukee's scene might be a bit more low key but for this band, small requests of a minor road tour or unfamiliar fans might be nice, but in no way restrict the lens through which they measure success.
The Trusty Knife plays at The Mad Planet Saturday, Dec. 6 with The Chain, Batten Revue and Hyena Hyena.
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