By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 05, 2015 at 3:01 PM

Testa Rosa is one of Milwaukee's best bands, hands-down.

In large part, that's because of the songwriting, which benefits from Betty Blexrud-Strigens' evocative, poetic lyrics combined with Damian Strigens' equally powerful music.

Last month, the band launched its third full-length LP – and a 7" 45, too – and I asked the duo to share their thoughts on the CD's songs, which appear below, alongside Blexrud-Strigens lyrics, which have the rare distinction among rock and roll lyrics of reading as well in print as they sound when sung.

You can hear and buy the record here.

"Bad Wolf "

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: Some have asked if Bad Wolf is Dr. Who reference. This song was actually inspired by the battles going on in here Wisconsin, namely the changes our governor has made to mining laws here. The damage it will have on our natural resources. People can Google Bad River and AB1/SB1.

Bad Wolf, red river, turning over what he's eating
Down here, there's an island, sort of an inlet with deer feeding
He cries, closes his eyes, for miles around they hear
Look high, up towards the sky, as far as the eye can see
Trees and eagles even

At once he wants a great divide
We fall to our knees and cry
This poor old river was

Bad Wolf came biting, rewriting and deleting
Up here it's a hard life, sort of a bad life we're leading
The blame, a moth to flame, the farmer can’t tame the beast.
Dead game, you feel the shame. He’s lying it at your feet,
You need it, but you won't eat it

At once he wants a great divide
We fall to our knees and cry
This poor old river dries
It’s poison to the river
It pours into the river

"Window Breaker"

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: This song was inspired by the notorious "Wisconsin Window Smasher," Mary Sweeney, featured in the book Wisconsin Death Trip. She was known to compulsively break department store windows. This song wonders if it was her own reflection she really wanted to destroy. Maybe she didn’t like who she had become.

Turned upon us all, she sees her face on the other side
Once a model wife and mother, now she is certified

You'll come upon a clear wall that once was opaque
You'll wake up and think of a million reasons why it has to break
Talking loud for the benefit of everyone in the crowd
At the window pane. To finally see it smash into pieces
It all came down

What is wrong? What seizes her? Just a sudden craze?
Once a model wife and mother, now in her manic phase.

You'll come upon a clear wall that was opaque
You'll wake up and think of a million reasons why it has to break
Talking loud for the benefit of everyone in the crowd
And you feel my pain to finally see it smash into piecesIt all came down

Patches (I Could Have Written That)

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: This song was inspired by years spent working in record stores. The regulars. The conversations that would happen there. The music fans who had as much personality or more than the musicians they followed. The occasional crush. It’s not about anyone in particular, really, but the sad feeling of wondering where they would hang out once the stores had closed.

Back in summer we were bored, working at the record store
Staring at the door, like nothing would ever change

That’s when he came wandering in, a parka with a safety pin
And flipping through the bin, singing "I could have written that."

He always put his hand on mine
I would take it back in time
Obviously then he stole my heart
But I thought something more

He said he could play guitar and sing, he always kept me wondering,
But he never bought a thing, cuz he could have written that

He always put his hand on mine
I could feel him breathe in time
Always put his head against my heart
Just to hear the sound

Now we can’t go there anymore, and there are no more record stores
Well maybe three or four, but that took a little while

No one knew what became of him, as the lights inside them all grew dim
And so it was the end, of I could have written that
Wonder where he is now

Irvine

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: This song started out to be about Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls Wisconsin. This was a beautiful place to camp as a child. You would wake up to the sound of peacocks and the grounds were just lush. I would often see the bigger kids smoking cigarettes, guys in custom cars who always seemed to be playing "Fool in the Rain." The girls who hung out with those guys were always wearing tube-tops. I’d see them in the bathroom putting on make-up, feathering their hair. Then it morphed into a song about those girls and then about Led Zeppelin’s groupies – how they must have felt being left behind after living the high life.

Oh before the day we left the place was quite amazing
Oh the many ways we had to get our dancing days in

We're gonna ride a platinum plane in the sky
Get ready get on now
The future looks so bright.. for you and me

Oh laying on the the lawn
The colors of the day were floating like a swan
Oh we hear the geese crow at dawn
And waking up alone in the morning of a fawn

Uh oh, oh we don't know
What they left us here for
With long looks and now it's time to go
We ought to be careful

But we're gonna ride a platinum plane in the sky
You'll never believe it
The future looks so bright
Yeah, we're gonna ride a shiny silver tram
Get ready and get on now
Taking off for Tomorrowland, whee!

Golden Boat (Rise No More)

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: These lyrics are a sort of parable about greed, exploration, hoarding gold to the point where you drown because of it. Inspired by The Drunken Boat by Rimbaud and Patti Smith’s "Amerigo." More recently, I have been hearing about a different sort of Golden Boat, a gold yacht up at Palmer Johnson in Sturgeon Bay –who is now closing up shop there – and some blame the expense of that gold yacht.

Damian Strigens: This was one of the first demos I did for TR III. January 1st, 2014. I remember it being super cold outside. It began as this pretty, floaty Cocteau Twins kind of idea, I added in the Peter Green-ish ‘Albatross’ style guitar pattern and Betty’s vocals really took on a sort of Karen Carpenter vibe and it became something of it’s own.

Groaning, slowly as she leaves the shore
Getting smaller, until she is seen no more
A north wind is stirring up the foam
And the sun is lowing like an ever-burning dome

Oh the glow
Setting slow
To rise no more

Growing with more than just an overload
Of stones and silver, will it then be stolen or sold?
And knowing as the clouds begin to roll
That she's tipping like an un-footed bowl

All aboard, with your horde
To rise no more
To be sure, here's your cure
To rise no more

The story goes, that it only left her wanting more
So heavy with ice into the night she would go
A golden boat, ever-longing it would overflow
Then giving her pearls back to the world below

She's waiting... the ocean is her darkened home
And sparkling fishes now delighted with their own.

Castaway

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: When Damian wrote the music for this, it was slower. He said he was inspired during a visit to Maui where his son lives – I was swimming in the pool at a building that used to be the Maui Hilton in he 1960’s. I love vintage Hawaiiana, so I wrote this in the voice of tourist info. I name off the villas on site (Coconut, Dolphin, Banyan, Emerald, Aloha) and the things we could do there. It’s basically about the false promise of paradise.

"Visit Ohana!" I saw pictures in a magazine
Flora and fauna, everyday here is a happening
Winter or summer, sitting, sunning in covered chair
On Ka'anapali, I would meet you there

I'm here at the Castaway Lounge
Where the ocean sounds wash away your deepest blues
How can it be over now?
I'm still waiting for you by the swimming pool

Coconut, Dolphin, Banyan, Emerald, Aloha
When you arrive in, it’s better diving from the rock
Out on the ocean I could take you on a dinner cruise
Or we could go dancing, how could you refuse?

I'm here at the Castaway Lounge
Let the ocean sound wash away your deepest blues
How can it be over now?
When I’m still waiting for you by the swimming pool

Fireman At The Well

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: This is a very old song actually, about an overworked relationship, waiting for words and gestures that never come. How when it starts to feel like lonely work, it’s kind of over.

And so I feel this way again
Alone in a crowd
Wondering out loud "why?"
I hardly can believe it
There's strange grey cloud
But you'll stand proud

We might be doing it just cause we disagree
Sounds like work to me
And introducing you with an apology,
Sounds like work to me

I'll say it again
I know where you've been
Nowhere you've been

Oh no, we’re getting along now
The feeling is right
Even when it's wrong, oh whoa
I've really been thinking
Ships pass in the night
Even if they're both sinking

We might be doing it just cause we disagree
Sounds like work to me
And introducing you with an apology,
Sounds like work to me
I'll never be who you think that I ought to be
Sounds like work to me
And overthinking whatever you say to me
Sounds like work too.

The firemen kneeling at the well
No stone unturned, no tale to tell
The sound of someone falling never landing
The silent dimming of the lights
When all the creatures of the night
Strain their ears
For words they never hear

Baby Don't You Know

Betty Blexrud-Strigens:  I thought about Joey Ramone singing this when I wrote it, so in that way, it’s kind of a Ronettes song. I had just finished reading Ronnie Spector’s autobiography, which was a gift from a departed friend.  


Damian Strigens: I once read a quote from Paul McCartney where he said that ballads were easy, and that good, simple pop songs are the hardest to craft. As simple as this song might sound, it was a bit of a struggle and almost didn’t make the record. The foundation of the tune came pretty easily. It started as a sort of a Cure-ish ‘In Between Days’ pop vibe then evolved quickly into a Ronnie Spector-esque thing with Betty’s vocal approach. Applying the right amount of sweetness without getting too syrupy is tricky. But sometimes you just have to accept it for what it is. A nice little pop tune. 

I can hear you saying repeatedly
Love is a game for fools and you're not gonna play it.

That there's no one person meant for you
But then you always do look at me when you say it

Oh baby don’t you know
How to me it seems so obvious
The two of us are putting on a show
Baby don’t you know
If there’s something this reminds you of
It feels a lot like what I've heard is love

I'd be just a friend until infinity
If it made you just a little happy
To be watching you from afar
Just waiting for the day the bell will ring
When just one tiny thing would make you realize
How perfect that we are

Oh baby don't you know
It’s something bigger than the two of us
It's time for you to learn to trust me
Oh baby don't you know
Baby don't you know.
Whoah. Oh

When you're down I'd be there too
Through everything right next to you
And when you fall
I'll prop you up against the wall

I can carry you so lean on me
Why can't you see how it will be tomorrow?

And where you go I'll follow forever
I'm telling you I know
We could make it together
And one day you will know

Leave It On The Side Of The Road

Betty Blexrud-Strigens:  I was still living at home with my parents in La Crosse when I had one of the most vivid nightmares. In it, my sister and I were driving along the river when suddenly missile silos started spring up out of the Mississippi. Little flags of all nations sprouted from them kind of like a Swiss army knife. Locusts filled the sky, very apocalyptic. I tried to draw it with markers when I woke up and still have the drawing somewhere.

Damian Strigens:  This is one of the more aggressive songs on the record and is one of my favorites. I was listening to the Afghan Whigs ‘Gentlemen’ 21-year deluxe release that was released last year around the time that I came up with the music. Not that it lifts any of the music, per se, just that great sense of tension & release. A slightly foreboding energy to it which I think Betty’s lyrics capture well. Nick Berg’s organ part is so badass on this. It really makes the tune.

I'll tell you now it was like this
The clouds were red and amethyst
And in your Gremlin we did ride
Between the bluffs and Riverside

They came here in the night
Dark as black wool
The missiles fell in line
I had to leave it on the side of the road

Into the ditch, into the mud
The Mississippi, turned to blood
They opened up their metal skin
Colors all were alien

They came here in the night
Dark as black wool
The missiles fell in line
Had to leave it on the side of the road

And then the sky filled with bright light
A hope from far away
But in a flash it was gone

The Summer Of We Three

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: This song grew out of our work on the Smith Uncovered event for Alverno Presents. It’s a story about a woman seeking revenge on an abuser. Hardly anything is autobiographical, aside from a few tidbits of dialog. We Three is a favorite Patti Smith song from my late teen years.

Damian Strigens:  The music for this song was inspired by Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s "The Mercy Seat" the way it builds with a slow burn and eventually boils over. Paul Hancock's bass line on this one really cooks. A dark, grinding bass line that digs along with Bill Backes' persistent drum pocket.

My love, my love, my love
He was saying with his arms wide
I fell to my knees and cried
As something hit his side

Oh no, oh no, oh no
There's nothing for you to see here
But my eye caught something I fear
I tried to disappear

So like flames on the water
Wine stains on the altar
Gold chains on a beggar

I didn’t belong there
So afraid to get caught there
I stayed too long

Said I like to play the victim
In denial of what was to come

He said you're different one-on-one
You treat me different one-on-one
You better finish what you’ve begun
Cuz you already should have run  

And when I see you out there having lots of fun
Are you're ignoring me and if I had a gun
No court, I bet no court would convict me

Then he died right here
A grave marker wasn't right for us left behind
Cause all of the time, he'll be right here
With his trademark, a strange darkness,
Parted by the light of a dove
The summer of we three

Lost Loon

Betty Blexrud-Strigens: Many summers we camp with friends in the north woods. There is usually a loon couple to watch out on the lake and, sadly, sometimes they lose a chick to the eagle that also lives nearby. When it happens, people who monitor the loons boat around counting heads. The loons mourn. It’s terribly sad. I am hoping that thinking about the eagle will somehow make it less tragic.

Damian Strigens: I was hoping to close the record with something nocturnal and somewhat dreamlike. I love records that tuck you in at the end of a listening experience the way Ringo’s "Goodnight" does at the end of "The White Album" or Yo La Tengo’s "Night Falls On Hoboken" does. Was thinking of a dark sunset over Soo Lake up in Rhinelander on a hot summer night. Some closure with the credits slowly running down.

It's sounding different
The echoes now
We never really know.
One day you see them all
And turn around,
Another's gone away

It's like they're giving up before they even try
And it all happens under and ordinary sky

Ooh ooh, ooh hoo hoo

You hear the boats now
Under a silver sun
They look for the loon all day
A sad and sorry sound
It looks as if
The eagle had a good day

It's like we're giving up before we even try
And it ll happened under an ordinary sky

Ooh ooh, ooh hoo hoo

It's like we're giving up before we even try
And it ll happened under an ordinary sky

Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Ooh ooh ooh ooh

All lyrics copyright © 2015 Betty Blexrud-Strigens.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.