Influenced by contemporaries Ryan Adams, Iron & Wine and Wilco, infused with a fervor for Spanish flamenco, and impassioned by a love of folk rock, Will Phalen and the Stereo Addicts headline the first-ever Midwestern Folk Rock Revival on Friday at Linneman's in Riverwest.
Joining the Stereo Addicts is A Paper Cup Band, from Minneapolis, and Sunday Morning Chameleon, from Chicago. The revival marks an idea of Phalen's finally coming to fruition.
"We were thinking there's so much good music here in the Midwest and Milwaukee and we really wanted to do something to call attention to that," Phalen says. "(With the Revival) we're just trying to let people know there's some great music here and hopefully people will respond."
Will Phalen and the Stereo Addicts have had an influx of members in the past, with as many as nine musicians recording the debut album, "Visions & Revisions." When performing live, the band comprises lead singer Phalen, guitarist Andy Gulotta, bassist Joe Ledger and drummer Fritz Washabaugh. The live lineup has been practicing together since November 2006, and has toured in Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee in support of the album, which was released in late March.
While the band's sound is undeniably folk rock, Phalen says they add a sort of psychedelic element, too.
"The 1960s country rocker Gram Parsons coined the term 'cosmic American music' and that's what we use to describe our sound. It's a beautiful description. As I was making the album, I took it a step further. The cosmic element to us means having a psychedelic edge to the sound, with flourishes, drones and textures and lyrics that take you to another place."
If the 'folk' and 'rock' part of the upcoming revival concert are apparent in the Stereo Addicts' music, then the 'Midwest' part is evident through Phalen's lyrics. While writing the debut album, Mequon native Phalen looked inward toward his own life and the experiences he had growing up in a commonplace neighborhood in a commonplace suburb in Midwestern America.
"The first song on the album is actually a story about a few of the bright and talented kids I went to high school with who have died of drug overdoses since graduation," Phalen says. "It's just kind of shocking. You come from this place where everyone seems to be pretty well off and there's plenty of opportunities. It's sad to see those opportunities squandered. You can't blame them; it's something that's happening quite a bit now. I just wanted to talk about it and investigate what is going on in this part of my world."
Beyond that, Phalen's recent lyrics in general are more personal and introspective than anything he's ever written before. The introspection of the Stereo Addicts' songs represents a stark contrast to the songs of Phalen's first band, Madison-based The Mosaic.
"The Mosaic was sort of an upbeat funk blues/rock band that played to the party crowd in Madison. I sang (along with a female singer) and I had a great time. But after school ended, the band ended and we all went our separate ways. After that I knew I wanted to do something different, something that didn't have to rely on people getting up to dance."
Around the time Phalen was playing with The Mosaic, he also spent six months studying abroad in Spain. While traversing the streets and plazas, he started to take an active interest in flamenco music.
"I bought a guitar and took some lessons with some great players there. I really got into it. I started studying the whole cultural in general, of gypsies and the importance of their music," Phalen says. "I was never a phenomenal flamenco guitar player, but I really enjoyed it. It taught me a lot about rhythm and about music in general."
All the influences Phalen's had -- the funk and blues origins of his first band, the exotic strums of his Spanish guitar background, and the songs of the folk rock legends of the past like Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash -- manifest themselves in the Stereo Addicts. Yet, Phalen says the band, at its core, makes simple, accessible folk rock music.
Phalen hopes Friday's concert at Linneman's will be the first of hopefully many folk rock revivals to come and, in fact, a second date is already scheduled in September.
Meanwhile, Phalen says the band is taking each step slowly at the moment, focusing on promoting the album on the radio and in the media instead of cramming in gig after gig.
"We would love to tour nationally, but we're trying to take our time and do it right. We're going to wait it out and see what happens. Everyone in the band is really committed to doing all we can with this group. We want to make a career out of this."