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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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In Music

Although the band hasn't even been together for a year, We The Living has managed to make strides The Profits never did. (PHOTO: Danielle Atkins)

Madison's We The Living matures in time for Summerfest show


It's always sad when a band breaks up. Usually it involves hurt feelings, hostility, melodrama and widespread depression for thousands of innocent bystanders (i.e. the fans.) But, as with most things in life, the end of one thing is just the beginning of another.

For John Paul Roney and Benjamin Schaefer, the break up of their band has led to bigger and better opportunities. Roney and Schaefer were both members of a local band called The Profits, which had a strong following among the college crowds in Madison and Milwaukee. Known for catchy, uptempo songs (including "Sex at Six") and a popular cover of Blackstreet's "No Diggity," the group had a devoted underage following.

"I wouldn't have changed The Profits for the world, but there were times I felt embarrassed when playing with other bands," Roney says. "I never felt we fit in because a lot of our fans were 17- and 18-year-old girls screaming for just one song."

The Profits broke up amicably last year. Roney and Schaefer went on to form We The Living with Matt Holmen on guitar and Stefan Benkowski on bass, and have ditched the gimmicky rock/pop tunes for a mellower, melodic sound with lyrics that feel authentic and lived in. Fans can check out four songs on the band's myspace page, including the Coldplay-esque "Atlantic" and the David Gray-ish "Best Laid Plans."

Not only does We The Living provide a striking contrast to The Profits in sound and musicality, but Roney also says the way the band approaches writing lyrics and music has changed drastically too.

"(With The Profits) I found myself writing songs for particular audience. Now I write songs for myself, songs that I want to play," he says. "We really cut out a lot of the hokey stuff. I mean, a lot of people thought 'Sex at Six' was funny, but I think our songs now have depth and actually mean something to people."

The freedom to write the songs that he wants has given Roney a chance to write about things that are a bit more personal to him. Roney says the bulk of the We The Living songs he's written have similar themes.

"Last record, I kind of wrote about a sense of longing, about something being amiss whether it'd be not getting the girl you want or being stuck in a rut, things like that," he says.

Songwriting doesn't seem to be a laborious, time-consuming process for him, either.

"I'll be thinking about something for a couple of days, and then out of nowhere a more or less entirely written song will come to me. I don't know where it comes from, I don't consciously do it."

We The Living is the thinking man's Profits, not only in sound and lyrics but in the name of the band itself. We The Living took its name from Ayn Rand's philosophy novel of the same name.

"We all have a strong belief in philosophy and thought," Roney says. "We think it's a good time for everyone to consider changing the world we're living in. There's something wrong with America and the only way it will be fixed is if people think, and read, and talk about it."

Although the band hasn't even been together for a year, We The Living has managed to make strides The Profits never did. Former Maverick record company exec Scott Austin, who was involved in the signings and discoveries of Tyler Hilton and Michelle Branch, is the band's manager. We The Living is Austin's only full-time management client, a sure sign of faith on his part that the band is headed for big things.

And after this week, We The Living will be Summerfest veterans, having played three shows leading up to their headline concert at the newly created Chipotle Global Grooves Stage at 10 p.m. on July 6.

"We're really happy to be playing Summerfest," he says. "With The Profits, we worked hard to get our name out there but never got a spot. This year, we thought we missed the deadline, but ended up getting a call that they opened up another stage and wanted us for four dates. We were ecstatic."

After Summerfest, the band is essentially living out of a van until September, touring in cities as close as Madison and as far away as Boston to promote their album "Heights of the Heavens." That album is intended for release nationally sometime in September. After that, Roney doesn't know what will happen, but says he has an end goal in mind.

"It's hard to put success on a timeline. Not every band can be a Panic! at the Disco where Fall Out Boy contacts you on mySpace, takes you on tour and you become an overnight success," he says. "We're proud that we're slowly building a fan base that knows they can come and talk to us after shows. We all aspire to do great things with this band. None of us want it to be just another local band."


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