By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Jan 12, 2005 at 5:23 AM Photography: OnMilwaukee Staff Writers

{image1} A winter storm is well underway as the five members of Milwaukee's The Mustn'ts gather for one last practice before heading to the recording studio. Despite the accumulating snow and lingering head colds, the group's the-show-must-go-on attitude prevails. As they dive into the climactic anthem, "A Well of Balance," it becomes obvious where their drive comes from. They've got something strong and unique going on and they are more than ready to share it with the rest of us.

Even with a sore throat, guitarist/singer Mark Waldoch's vocals resonate with intensity and harmonize nicely with keyboardist/singer Betty Blexrud's softer vocal melodies. The other members -- Damian Strigens (formerly of The Lovelies, The Frogs and The Nerve Twins) on drums, Paul Hancock on bass, and Tegan Kaske on keyboards -- fill out the collaborative quintet. Each member contributes individuality, resulting in a full, yet cohesive, sound drawing from a variety of rock influences such as earlier guitar pop groups like The Wedding Present to newer indie bands like The Decemberists. caught up with them at their practice space to chat about the success of their first performance (opening for the Arcade Fire), recording and their upcoming show at the Cactus Club on Friday, Jan. 14, opening for Maplewood.

OMC: How did this collaboration come to be?

Mark Waldoch: In 2000, Paul and I started playing together in Polite, a band that no one ever saw or cared about except for Damian and Betty. Polite went through three different casts, and finally we just stopped. After that I just played alone a lot. Damian and Betty, apparently, were fans of my music, so we started a band, originally called "The Bride Needs Her Wine." We did one show just the three of us, and then added Paul and Tegan in October. Our first show as a five piece, as the Mustn'ts, was on Nov. 24 at Mad Planet.

OMC: Opening for the Arcade Fire, right? What was that like?

Damian Strigens: It was all trial by fire. You find yourself as the middle slot in front of a sold-out audience, and this is your first show as a five-piece.

Tegan Kaske: It was amazing. The crowd was really into it. There's no better ego boost than having a sold-out crowd pressed up against the stage.

OMC: How did you book that show without even recording anything yet?

DS: You have to look at it from the perspective of Mark's history as a local musician. He's been playing for a while, so a lot of people are already familiar with his work. When I saw that the Arcade Fire was going to book a show in Milwaukee I contacted Marc Solheim, who books the Mad Planet, and told him that I started this band with Mark Waldoch, and that if they end up booking the show, he should give me a call. I didn't really think too much of it at the time. About four weeks later he e-mails me and says, "Got the show. You still interested? By the way, what do you guys sound like?"

Paul Hancock: It was more or less the luck of the draw. Who would have guessed it would sell out?

OMC: As a group what are your goals/visions for this band?

TK: I do it for the shows. They're a lot of fun. The rehearsals in the mornings are grueling, but it's totally worth it.

OMC: The morning?

MW: Yeah. We practiced at 8 a.m. on New Year's Day for four hours. And just to show what kind of players we are, we had a bottle of Dom Perignon on hand. We didn't even drink it, but we had it there.

OMC: Had you guys even slept before that?

DS: We all went out the night before, but we knew we had to do it because we have to record soon. We don't have a lot of time together, you know? We all have jobs and other commitments, so we just thought that this would be a time when we all know we're gonna be off work. Then it was like, "OK, are we insane?"

Betty Blexrud: It's like "The Breakfast Club." We have nothing better to do.

OMC: So, do you have a specific sound that you're trying to create?

DS: Not necessarily. We tend to write songs that are heavier in weight as far as emotion. When we're playing a sad song, we try to pay attention to what inspired it and make sure the feeling is conveyed. But we don't necessarily want to make people sad. We just appreciate the kind of music that carries a certain longevity to it. Sometimes it's sad, but it doesn't make you want to go jump off a bridge or anything. It just carries you through whatever it is that you need to get through. Not to say that that is all we write. We also write thrash jams.

MW: I don't think sad has to be morose. I think people always listen to music for their own reasons. One reason I think people listen to music is because they want to party to it. That was never the case with me. I never liked music to party to. I was growing up and kids were listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers for some reason. I could never make any sense out of that. It's like, it's just f*cking party music. It doesn't do anything for you. It doesn't make you feel better when you listen to it alone. Music should be more personal, and it is. It's so great to go to a concert and find other people who feel that way. It's gotta be just as good when you're alone. That's all we're trying to accomplish.

OMC: What does the future hold for The Mustn'ts?

MW: We've got about eight songs that we've beaten to death that we're going to record at Flowers Studio in Minneapolis. It's just going to be a demo to send places in hopes that someone will want us to record more songs. I've got plenty. Then we're playing a show on Jan. 14 at the Cactus Club, opening up for Maplewood. Davey von Bohlen (The Promise Ring, Maritime) is doing a solo acoustic set.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”