Alt-country is a genre of music that allows for realistic personalities and stories to be shared with the masses behind a version of sound that celebrates Americana while not needing to abide by the boundaries of a once-rigid genre like country.
Though country has grown in sound and scope to include more aspects of Southern rock and sugar-sweet pop, it still doesn't allow for as much experimentation with sound as its sub-genre counterpart.
The Snowbirds is a band that enjoys the freedom of their "alt" title and with their newest self-titled release, they achieve a fantastic and warm sound that feels familiar without being redundant.
I talked with Matt Keon and Jason Berken – the latter of which was touring with the Eels – to discuss The Snowbirds' record and their musical motivations.
OnMilwaukee.com: Your album has such a wonderful feel to it. Did you do any analog recording? How did you manage to obtain the warmth found on the self-titled album?
Matt Keon: We recorded at Justin Perkins studio (Mystery Room Mastering) with the assistance of Dan McMahon and Jonathan Rafael Ferrer. Everything was done in ProTools – no analog whatsoever. I'd attribute that sound to great mics, pre-amps, the wizardry of the three previously mentioned and our affliction with good-sounding vintage gear.
OMC: "Dirty Streets of Downtown" sounds like it was an actual experience that someone lived through. Is there any autobiographical nature to this song?
MK: The song is a song of concern for the pace in which we live and the people who fall to the wayside and get forgotten. A look can say a million things. A heart in dire need of breaking can heal itself in your eyes. So I guess we all live through it to a certain extent every day.
OMC: Who are your influences and how would you classify your sound?
Jason Berken: We've always had a sweet tooth for pop, but have gained real appreciation for the timeless elements you find in alt-country music. Songs can be written days or years apart and they still fit together seamlessly. Scott and I were on a long drive to the west coast with a few days off and we dreamt this up. I think some tequila and The Flying Burrito Brothers may have played a part as well.
OMC: Why do you do music? What do you want to come of these songs and the project?
JB: I can't think of a time when we all didn't do music! Jeff and I came from a very musical background. Our mother sang in a rock band up until we were through high school. When we were kids we had tennis rackets but we never played tennis, along with an Everly Brothers 45, they made great guitars.
We will always write and play, it's something we need to do. As far as this project, we've found a great home in it with some great friends. I see us playing regionally for many years to come. Outside of that we will have to see.
OMC: Tell me a little about the writing process of the record. Was it a long process, was it disjointed, or was the record born out of a couple magical weeks in the studio?
JB: It was a long process. Some of these songs were written a few years back, and some were put together with the band. Like I said earlier, there is a flow with this style of music that allows some space in the writing process. I look forward to our next batch of songs written specifically for this project.
OMC: What do you have planned for the rest of the summer and the fall?
JB: My profession puts Scott and I out on the road for months at a time. I'm currently answering these questions in between Toronto and Columbus on a summer tour with the Eels. This makes it hard to make concrete plans, but when I get back this fall we will be doing a number of shows to promote this release.
OMC: Now that you are removed a bit from the release of the album, how do you feel about it on the whole?
JB: As an artist it's hard to be completely satisfied with any record you complete. It was a long process. There are some things I would hash out a bit more and some that I love. Over all we are very satisfied with this record. There are some very hard times documented here and finishing this has really helped me move on from them.
OMC: What's next for The Snowbirds?
MK: We will be playing around this fall to promote this record and hopefully head back into the studio with Justin this winter for the follow-up.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.
As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.
Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.