By the time D’Amato takes the Cactus Club stage Friday night at Arte Para Todos, it will no longer be Friday night. With a 1 a.m. set time, it will be solidly Saturday morning, closer to sunrise on day three than sunset on day two.
If there was a performer primed to take on such an imposing early-morning slot, however, the grooving, genre-blending Milwaukee rapper, with his livewire energy yet laid-back lyricism with the live shows to match, would probably make the shortlist. For evidence, just watch the music video – released just this month – for his 2015 track "B.P.A. Free," which manages to feel bright, fun and free despite being solely in black and white. Having its stars literally dance their pants off definitely helps, too, of course.
Before he closes out day two of Arte Para Todos tonight – tomorrow morning – we sat down with D’Amato to chat about his new video, keeping up the energy on stage (with the help of some acid one time) and whether social media is good or evil.
OnMilwaukee: You just released a music video this month. Where did the idea come from for that, and how was the shoot?
D’Amato: My adopted parents live in Brooklyn – they’re not really my adopted parents; I call them my adopted parents, but they’re two of my dearest friends – and they’re always coming up with ideas for videos. Earl is a graphic designer and writes comic books, and then Allie is just, out-the-gate, she’s 27 now, and she’s the senior photo editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. Just some incredibly artistic people – and more than that, their business sense and getting sh*t done is much stronger than mine.
So I went out to New York in November 2015, and we just kicked around ideas. We had all these grand ideas, and then it boiled down to "Let’s just have it be performance-based." Nothing too fancy or special effects or fancy shots. Let’s get a rich black-and-white color and let’s just have fun and get our Milwaukee people out there.
So the day comes, we had all these people lined up to come out, and it was the worst snowstorm. Horrible snowstorm. But still, you see the video, and enough people made it out. So we shot it, and we had somebody editing it – one of their friends in New York – but he got hired for something and he had to drop it.
So it was like, all right, and it took a while to find another one of their friends to do it. And then I held onto it for a while because I hate looking at myself, and it just kind of felt like old news. But it’s old news for me, not for everyone else. With Arte coming up and other summer shows, I thought it was a good time to release it.
What is your favorite show that you’ve ever performed?
I don’t know. I’ve been playing shows since I was 15, and there’s been a lot. There’s so many categories.
We played a house show in Eau Claire once, and merely getting into Eau Claire – we didn’t take any drugs, I remember that – arriving at this house, it was honestly like everyone was on this high. It was strange. It felt gold. And this house party followed suit. I’m playing this show, and I didn’t have a band at the time – I just had my backing tracks coming off a laptop – and it was like this house was erupting.
It was beautiful. It was just amazing and a lot of dancing. And we stopped at this club in Eau Claire, this bar that used to have all these jazz greats come by and play, so we were drinking there. It’s no longer that, but yeah, it was fun.
But there’s no one (favorite show). It’s yet to come.
How do you maintain your energy on stage, show after show after show? How do you keep it from becoming routine?
Don’t go in with preconceived ideas of what you’re going to say. Allow and embrace weird things to happen. Try to trip your band up a little bit.
In some respects. Nothing crazy, but keep ‘em on their toes. Stay physically fit. That’s incredibly important. I would not be able to go up on stage and do that – and I’ve learned that the hard way. You fall in and out of fitness, and sometimes you’re in a show like, "Oh, man, I’m not on top of my game." That’s big, just being able to keep up and translate the movement in mind to your body. That’s the thing with a band: It can be different each show.
And I perform sober, and just because there’s nothing that compares. Drinking afterwards, it’s like the comedown. You’ve got so much pent-up energy afterwards, you just keep going and going and going; you’re not being hired for sets that long, and also on a local scale, people’s attention spans are only so long. So you get off stage and you’re just so wound up for hours and hours.
The last show that we played, though, for the first time ever, I took some acid before the set – just to see, because this is either going to go really well or really poorly. And it went really well. One thing I love being in this group is that we sound checked, and it was a sold-out Cactus Club – it was for Abby Jeanne’s record release – which looks gorgeous, just wall-to-wall bodies. It’s beautiful. And in sound check, I turned to one of my band mates, and I was like, "Yo man, I’m tripping right now; I took some acid." And he’s like, "What? Me too!" (laughs)
What’s next for you?
One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is that I’m horrible at social media. It gives me the worst anxiety. Those things, I’ve never caught on, and it’s something I want to do better. So I either need to put up and just do it and quit complaining, or I need to hire somebody – and I don’t have any money, at least not money for that.
I need to get a groove because I really want to do music for a career, to support my life, and there’s no plan B. There’s nothing else to do. So just being proactive. If I want to make this a career, I can’t just be alone in my house just making music for hours. At least not yet. I so desire that part of my career (laughs). Just to be able to not have to deal with the promotion.
That’s the thing: I’m like, "Oh, I’m going to make this post on Facebook," and then I’m like, wait, I’m going to die. And everybody who’s going to read this is going to die. And this doesn’t mean anything. This post doesn’t mean anything. So maybe I won’t post about it. And the people who are at that show will get to have that experience. They’ll get to die with that experience, not this Facebook post.
And it’s stupid because people do it well! There’s a good way to do it. I just don’t know.
Is social media good or evil?
Nothing is so black and white, but I do think it creates kind of a sense of false community, a pack mentality about some things. It’s not helping our attention spans, and I don’t think it’s a sustainable source of happiness. It’s just another thing for people to spend time doing rather than the things they need to be doing, things they really want to be doing. Because it’s easy. How many times should I be writing my music and all of a sudden I’m like, "I’m gonna check my Instagram!" I’m not even doing anything!
So I can’t say if it’s good or evil – and it’s not my decision, because it is what it is. It’s how you use it, just like anything. A gun isn’t good or evil; it’s how you use it. That being said: F*ck guns.
It is Arte Para Todos time, so was there a teacher or class that you remember really inspiring you or pushing you into the arts?
No, not really. It really was fueled from home and from the mind at a young age. But the thing is I had access to much of that. Even though I don’t do visual art, I went to Mrs. Hawkins’ art class – and she was crazy as sh*t; as a third grader, we knew she was crazy – and I had access to, "Hey, you want to be in band? What do you want to play?" So I played the saxophone in the fifth grade.
Ultimately it was education that made me stop playing the saxophone, because I didn’t want to march in high school, and you could only do concert and jazz band if you marched as well. But it wasn’t really a class or a teacher who did it for me; it was the access, which I think is important, just expanding the mind.
Arte is incredibly important, and you can’t reach every school, but anything helps. Art education is one thing, but would I encourage 18-year-olds to go to art school? I wouldn’t. I’d say just go do art. It works for some people, doesn’t for others. I didn’t do it; I don’t have a college education, so who am I to tell anyone anything? But I think the most important thing is that you’re setting up kids in a place to enhance that imagination, give them that opportunity to realize what you can do with your brain.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.