Milwaukee Talks: The Vitrolum Republic's Jordan Waraksa
If you're a fan of the local music scene there is a strong chance you've heard of The Vitrolum Republic. Here, I interview Jordan Waraksa, who formed the band with his brother Nick a few years back. We discuss his music, his amazing woodworking and what it's like to be a part of the Pritzlaff Building scene.
OnMilwaukee.com: Where did you grow up? What hobbies did you have as a kid?
Jordan Waraksa: I grew up here in Milwaukee. My progression from rug rat to teenage riff-raff was as follows: BRIO, LEGO, stealing scrap wood from construction cites with my Radio Flyer to build skate ramps and treehouses.
OMC: What drew you to MIAD?
JW: My upbringing, my family. My parents instilled and encouraged creativity and hard work from day one. Mother was a metalsmith and my grade school art teacher. She was always there to (get me) all set up with the big bin of colored pencils and markers at the kitchen table, and always willing to brainstorm on portfolio projects in high school. Father taught me by example about work ethic, perseverance and pride. All things needed to choose the road less traveled; a life led in creative pursuit. MIAD was my stepping stone.
OMC: When did you know the violin was your instrument?
JW: It was the moment in which I forgot the violin was even there. A subconscious moment when all technicalities of playing the instrument became unknowingly numb, and you're left on stage performing only with your heart.
OMC: The furniture you make is remarkable. Who's influenced you?
JW: Thank you kindly. I admire a lot of the "grandfathers" of American woodworking like Jack Rogers Hopkins, Harry Bertoia, J.B Blunk, Wharton Esherick, James Krenov, George Nakashima, Jere Osgood and Sam Maloof. I am influenced not only by their furniture, but moreover their hand-crafted lifestyle. Many of these mid-century woodworkers built incredible studios and homes for themselves. They built their houses like furniture & their furniture like home.
OMC: Tell me about Vitrolum Republic. When did you start together?
JW: My brother Nick and I grew up with classical music study. We endured an endless amount of lessons and hours practicing violin and piano. It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you're that young. One day our father taught us a few chords on his steelback Ovation acoustic guitar, and it opened our minds to song writing and composition. A short time after that nick and I had written our first song together: "Rowboat Serenade."
OMC: Your shop is in the Pritzlaff Building. Is there a better space to be creative in?
JW: Milwaukee's history is here and so is mine. Sixteen years ago, my mother brought me Downtown to the very spot where my studio is today. At the time, there was a small instrument shop housed in the storefront. We traded in my uncle Leroy's violin for a beautiful french violin from the 1880s. It's the instrument I still play today. I can't think of a better place to be surrounded by history and patina. It is a great backdrop to the work I create, too.
OMC: You recently spent time in Europe. Give me some highlights.
JW: My beloved Cora and I most recently toured through Switzerland and France. Highlights were hiking Mont Blanc in the Alps, the wild boar and lavender fields of Provence, wild swimming in Caynon du-verdon, and climbing through the turquoise calanques (mini-fjords) near Cassis.
OMC: What's your favorite spot to unwind after a long day?
JW: Bring home a box of scrap wood and cut-offs from the days work, and build a fire to sit in front of with my lady and my dog. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and a glass of Jack and ginger won't hurt either.
OMC: How do you find time to stay on top of everything?
JW: Well, it certainly took me a few days to get these interview responses back to you ... so, one thing at a time. When your work is something you love to do, then it doesn't feel like work. And when you are your own boss, there is no punch clock. The work never ends.
OMC: Give me your quintessential Milwaukee experience.
JW: Low brow then high brow, i.e. dinner at Conejito's Place then drinks at the Iron Horse.
OMC: When you're really famous, will you remember me?
JW: Of course! Though not at all interested in fame. More intent on keeping my creative drive and all 10 fingers through this life of playing music and woodworking.
This is the "lovely Cora" here -- I need to make a disclaimer on Jordan's behalf -- I know he intended to say that a Low brow / High brow combo is the way to go, i.e. food at Conjeito's followed by drinks at Iron Horse. NOT that one is better than the other. . . In fact, they are even better together. Like chocolate and peanut butter!
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