Milwaukee rockers The Living Statues come to life on their debut EP
For a band called The Living Statues, the locally based three-man rock 'n' roll outfit has done a very poor job of keeping still.
Coming together in their college years, Tommy Shears (guitar and lead vocals), Alex Thornburg (bass and vocals) and Chris Morales (drums and vocals) have spent the past three years playing around Milwaukee and Madison, building an audience and a name for themselves.
The time seemed right, however, to take a break from gigging around the region and put some tracks to tape. The result was "Knockin'," an energetic five-song collection of snarly, Strokes-esque controlled bursts of rock. The EP will be released on Bandcamp and iTunes on April 8, but the Statues will officially ring it in with a release party show – complete with free digital downloads for attendees – at The Exclusive Company at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 12.
Before then, however, OnMilwaukee got a chance to chat with the band about its origins, recording out in Brooklyn and its personal experience bouncing between music scenes in Madison and Milwaukee.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you guys come together?
Tommy Shears: Chris and I had known each other for quite some years. We went to different high schools, but we knew each other through various bands and different music stuff. We just started getting together and writing songs. We started out as a two-piece. We're big fans of The White Stripes and The Black Keys, that kind of guitar-drums duo.
We thought we'd try that, and then in late 2011, Chris introduced me to one of his friends, Alex, who played bass. From there, we knew we had something good. The trio definitely worked with the songs that we had written and with what we wanted to do.
OMC: What is it about bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys that really attracts you guys?
Alex Thornburg: The White Stripes really got me into music. The thing that really attracted me was that raw, gritty power that was coming out of one guitar, and there wasn't like flashy drums. It was a simple sound, yet it was so driving and catchy. I just really like the minimalism of it, and it has its own sophistication about it that way. It's kind of infectious.
Chris Morales: Like Alex was saying, there's this kind of raw, gritty, energy aesthetic that each of us really enjoy. We wanted to push that sound in a new direction, and I think, as a band with this new piece of work, we're taking those elements, those textures and those garage rock moments and pushing them a little bit further, adding our own modern take on that sound.
OMC: What is that direction you really wanted to take it in?
TS: We all brought a lot of influences to the table. Our writing is a very collaborative process, but when we started writing, beyond those influences, a big one for me was the groups of the British Invasion. I'm a huge Beatles fan, so one of the things that I'm really proud of in our music is how we're able to blend the grit and power of the garage rock revivalists with the harmonies, the songwriting and the pop sensibilities of the British Invasion.
Alex said it well, with that elegant simplicity but with more modern power and crunch behind it. So that's definitely one of the directions that we're happy to be skirting in, a fusion of two very distant genres but that seem to work very well in combination.
AT: It seems like a lot of songs are scared of having any kind of empty space, I personally believe. It's a lot of oversaturation, and by adding so much, you're taking away so much.
OMC: How was the recording process for your first EP?
CM: In the past, the three of us have made home demos and stuff like that. Last year, we hit a local studio here in Milwaukee to release our first single, "Our American Cousin." With this new record, we scored some free recording time out at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn. We had four days and five songs that were prepared, so we went in there and just banged it out in the studio.
We worked our butts off in there, and we had the fortune of working with somebody in the studio that understood what we wanted to sound like and yet pushed us even further. It wasn't just like a "You guys go and do whatever you want" type process. It was like, "What if we tried this?" and "Let's make the guitar grittier on this." We did it until we got it at 100 percent.
AT: There was a conflict really between artist and engineer which, in the end, really created a polished final product. It creates a better thing in the end.
TS: Not conflict in a bad way.
CM: It was just very collaborative between producer and artist.
AT: He would test us. Instead of conflict, he would test us and push us.
CM: A healthy push or pull.
OMC: What song did he test or push you guys the most on?
TS: The answer might be different for all of us, but for me, he was honest with me about some of the different guitar tones I was using. There was one part that I recorded in the demo that he pulled aside and said, "Tom, I don't want to embarrass you or anything, but what you're doing right now is not working. Record it as you'd want to do it, but learning ahead, this isn't going to work."
It's hard to swallow at first, but there's no denying he knew what he was talking about. So I'd say probably "Extra Day" – that's the second song on the disc – really shines from his influence.
CM: The first song on the EP, "Knockin'," we probably did that one how many times, guys? Like ten times?
AT: It's one of the most simplistic songs too (laughs).
OMC: Did you guys get to do anything fun while out there recording in New York?
TS: Like I mentioned before, I've been very influenced by The Beatles musically and personally, so we took a few hours to go out to Central Park and visit the Strawberry Fields Memorial to John Lennon. That was my favorite part of the trip.
CM: We enjoyed the city life and worked hard in the studio.
AT: Some members in the band got food poisoning.
TS: Two of the members were sick during recording. We got over it, got through it and still made a bomb-ass EP.
AT: Hopefully you can't hear that in the tracks that we were violently ill (laughs).
OMC: Now you are guys are still based out of Milwaukee. How is the Milwaukee music scene right now, according to you guys?
TS: I feel like I'm possibly the most diplomatic Statue of the group, so I guess I'll say it this way. We kind of have dual citizenship; the guys went to Marquette and I went to Madison, so it's like we have two different hometowns. And this is not a shot against Milwaukee, but there's more of a sense of community within Madison, I've found. Just kind of the way the city is built and all of the students. We've had much more luck in Madison with getting people to shows, getting bigger shows and meeting other folks.
Right now in Milwaukee, I'd say that we haven't matched up or met up with any groups doing the same thing as us, which isn't a bad thing at all. There's a ton of different groups in Milwaukee doing a lot of cool, different things. We haven't found as good of a niche for our style of music that we found in Madison.
That being said, we've played some great shows in Milwaukee. We've been honored to play at Summerfest and Turner (Hall) a couple of times. I hope that as these songs are getting on the radio, we'll find a few more opportunities to connect with other musicians and other fans. I absolutely think there's a lot of potential for a group here like us.
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