Singer-songwriter Justin Jagler, 21, never set out to write songs about Milwaukee. But like any artist, he was inevitably influenced by his surroundings.
"I live in the Milwaukee area; it just kind of happened," he said. "That’s where a lot of the situations took place."
His song "Annie" contains a reference to Brady Street. "I’ve just always liked hanging out on Brady Street on the weekends and I’ve seen a lot of interesting people there. It’s a composite character; Annie’s a lot of people."
Jagler’s been playing guitar and writing his own tunes since the age of 13, but in the last few months he’s been getting some major attention for his sound – an indie-folksy-rock mash-up heavily influenced by his idols Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
Jagler currently lives in Oak Creek and plays consistently around the area. Tonight he’ll be performing at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery at 6 p.m. It's one of his favorite haunts. "They’re really cool people there," he said. He also likes to frequent Oak Creek establishments like The Cellar Pub & Grill, where he often performs.
So how does a kid barely out of his teens convince his parents to let him drop out of UWM to make music his full-time career?
"There wasn’t anything I was studying there that was going to help me with my music career," he said. "I live for it (music). I don’t know what else I can do. So my parents weren’t against it. Of course it’s not the traditional career path, no parent is going to be 100 percent positive that their kid is dropping out of school. But they’ve been supportive."
For Jagler, songwriting is partly intentional and partly incidental.
"It’s a difficult thing to describe, for sure. It’s kind of something you can’t force. It just happens," he said.
"When I write a song I think is good, I feel like part of it came from me but part of it was something I couldn’t control. I’ve heard other musicians try to describe it but you can’t; it’s a tough one. It could be the smallest thing that could inspire an idea. You see somebody walking down the sidewalk and notice something about their shoe or something, and before you know it you have a song written. Or all of a sudden if I’m watching TV right away I’ll want to get the pen and paper and start trying to capture this idea."
Jagler just recorded his first demo in May at National Recording on the South Side. The demo consists of four tracks, all laced with Milwaukee color (one of them is named "South of Milwaukee").
To learn more about Jagler’s budding career and where you can see him live, check out his website.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.