Ben Lubeck, the lead singer of the Minneapolis-based indie folk rock band Farewell Milwaukee, grew up in a log cabin on the border of Mequon and Cedarburg. During our interview, he noted that he had a good childhood and had fond memories of Milwaukee. So why does his band’s name seem so eager to say goodbye?
OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Lubeck to find out why the band is bidding adieu to Brew City (is it the yeast smell? Because the Red Star Yeast plant is closed …) and to find out more about their new album, "Can’t Please You, Can’t Please Me."
OMC: How was your time in Milwaukee, and when did you move out?
BL: It was pretty good. I moved when I was 18 up to Minneapolis. I started to get into music around when I was in high school. I learned the guitar when I was a junior in high school. I went to Homestead High School. So I was a little bit of a late bloomer in terms of learning how to play guitar. I tried to learn a lot but would always get frustrated and give up.
Then one time out at my parents’ house, I heard a Neil Young song entitled "Tell Me Why," and I decided then that I needed to learn the guitar once and for all.
OMC: Now how did you guys form this band, Farewell Milwaukee? Did you guys meet in Minneapolis, or did you meet here and move there?
BL: We all met up in the Twin Cities area. Four of the current members now formed the band probably five or six years ago. We met a couple of the other guys along the way.
Joey Ryan plays in another Twin Cities band. He plays bass for us now, but he’s the frontman in a band called Joey Ryan and the Inks. And then Danger Dave plays in another band in the Twin Cities called Romantica. We brought Dave in to play electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. He’s actually been learning pedal steel, playing it live with us and becoming quite great.
But yeah, we’re all from the Midwest. Most of the guys are from the Twin Cities. Dave’s from Ames, Iowa. We all have Midwestern connections.
OMC: So if a lot of you guys are from Minneapolis, why the name Farewell Milwaukee?
BL: The name came about because we all wanted a Midwestern nod to our roots. Farewell Milwaukee didn’t really come about because I’m from there or anything like that, which is kind of confusing for most people. It’s very understandable; we kind set ourselves up that way.
But we wanted a name that encompassed where we were from and that would highlight that region. I think originally it was going to be Milwaukee, Minnesota. We thought that was kind of a cool name. But it turned out that was a movie that we had all seen that we had forgotten about with Randy Quaid in it. It was about a mentally handicapped ice fisherman, and Randy Quaid was a devious character who tried to steal this kid’s ice fishing winnings that he won in a contest.
So we had that, and we had Milwaukee on the brain when we were naming the band. I think our drummer Brad suggested Farewell Milwaukee. We all liked the way that it sounded. And the rest is kind of history.
OMC: You guys have a new album, "Can’t Please You, Can’t Please Me," coming out today. What was your inspiration for this third album?
BL: I think a lot of the inspirations for this new record came from learning to play live together as a six-piece. A few new guys were added into the band full-time. We had kind of just been exploring how to do that and wanted to translate that onto a record, that live sound of all six guys as one whole band. And I think hopefully we’ve done that successfully. I’m really excited for this new record to come out.
OMC: In the press notes, it says that it’s you’re most confident. Would you say that that’s accurate?
BL: I think so. I think we’re confident in a way that things came together in the studio so well. After a take, we’d all kind of look at each other, and it was just kind of hard to put your finger on it. It just felt so natural, the way the songs came together, which was not the case in pre-production and the demo stages. There was actually quite a struggle getting ready to play the songs in the studio. But once we got to the studio, it felt right. So in that sense, we just felt great about it. I think this is Farewell Milwaukee now. I think we kind of found ourselves.
OMC: Why was it such a struggle in the demo stage?
BL: The pre-production stage is, I think, the hardest part. We were just talking about that the other night. I think that that is far harder than actually going into the studio to record because you’re trying to figure out exactly what you’re going to play, and you have to experiment with so many types of arrangements and make hard decisions and tell people things that they don’t want to hear. And you have to be ready to take criticism that’s hard to hear yourself.
So it’s a very … it’s an environment that is creative, and you’re working your hardest to come up with beautiful arrangements and melodies and things like that. But it’s a very hard process, at least I’ll speak for myself. I think the other guys would agree too. Once you get down to the studio, you get to put all those pieces together and actually play them. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s kind of how this record went together.
OMC: You say that you wrote a lot of your personal life into this album, more so than before. Can you describe how you did that and what inspired that more personal input into the music?
BL: This record has a lot of songs that deal with my take on observations generationally. My wife and I just had a little girl seven months ago, so a lot of the songs were written with that on my mind, me being a future dad at the time and reflecting on my upbringing and my mother’s upbringing and my dad’s upbringing. A lot of those generational struggles and the heartache that encompasses relationships with family. Some of the songs were looking at those different aspects and being really honest about those things.
OMC: You noted that you all play together in the recording. You don’t do different tracks and build off. Is it easier that way for you? Or more difficult as well?
BL: It’s a much more natural process. I think you over-think things a lot less. You actually are playing off of each other, and things come together in the studio in a way that they wouldn’t if you were recording track by track. You really learn how to trust each other in the band. You learn how to take chances together as well.
One of the downfalls of recording the other way would be that you might over-think things and want to add too much or spend too much time on a certain part. Those can all be positive too, but this is the way that we’ve found that we really like to play. We don’t want to put anything on our record that we couldn’t recreate live. We’re excited to play it in front of other people now.
OMC: Does this mean you might be coming back to Milwaukee sometime soon?
BL: Absolutely. We’d love to get down to Chicago and play Milwaukee. We’ve had some great times playing both cities. We’re going to take a little bit of a break immediately after the release and then we’re going to hit the road stronger in the later fall.
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.