Though Milwaukee band The Young Revelators comprises three young musicians, the music they play has deep roots in the blues and blues-based rock and roll.
Brothers Alejandro and Frank Martinez and their friend Ben Michalski got their start playing together in Slinger, but a move to Riverwest helped them make connections that led to a new EP that might surprise some listeners.
The White Stripes and the Black Keys reminded us that the music of the likes of Led Zeppelin – and the even older artists that inspired them – remains relevant for many, and the now-Milwaukee-based Young Revelators are taking inspiration from those stalwarts, too.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us a bit about the history of the band.
Alejandro Martinez: It’s hard to pinpoint where we started as a band. Me and Frank have been playing music together since I was about 11-12 years old; I wanna say he picked up drumming around 10 or 11, too. My dad grew up in Hammond (Indiana) which is just south of Chicago and he loved Buddy Guy growing up so he showed me a bunch of blues and rock from his life, and when he showed me "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" by Jimi Hendrix my mind and heart was set on being a musician no matter what it took. That just changed the course of my life.
My best friend and I started playing guitar, his dad was in bands and taught us stuff and showed us good music. All three of us went to Slinger High School, but I wasn’t really good friends with Ben until after I was already writing music for The Young Revelators. I had a non-permanent bass player from one of our friends’ bands who would let us open up for them and their bassist would play our songs with us. It didn’t work out with him after a short period but Ben seemed like a natural fit for the spot.
So Ben has been with us ever since like mid-July of 2013, and from that point I feel like that’s where we started writing and performing better. We got residencies at Bremen Café and the Up & Under that have been great in getting our name out there a little bit, and since this new EP has came out we’re getting better opportunities with bigger bands than usual.
Ben Michalski: We continued playing some shows in the Washington County area before moving to our Riverwest home, and after some renovations, practice space, as well. Since we've recorded two EPs in our basement and continue to try and network and play just about any gigs we can align, with any bands.
Frank Martinez: It’s been fun to watch this whole thing take form. When Alex and I were still jamming in our parents’ basement we knew right away we wanted to be in a band, so it’s been great to see it actually turn into something.
OMC: Have you guys been in bands before?
AM: In high school Frank and I tried to get something rolling, but it didn’t work out into anything serious or long term with any other musicians. Once I went to college I had a clean slate to start from so that kind of catalyzed my writing, guitar playing, singing, the whole thing. This would be the only real band I’ve ever been in.
BM: Besides jamming throughout high school with friends, I never had a permanent gig with a band. Once starting with Frank and Alejandro, practice and getting shows rolling its been a great journey to be part of.
OMC: I'm curious about the band name. Is there a significance?
AM: When we were deciding what to name the band I wanted people to hear it and almost be able to know what kind of band we were right away. The word Revelator to me is a symbol of the blues. Everybody has heard the Son House version of "John the Revelator" and can feel how powerful and soulful it is. So I wanted people to know we were a band that played blues music and we weren’t old as hell. Might not make sense if we’re a band for a really long time and we actually are old, but, oh well (laughs).
My dad was raised Catholic and he made me go to church as a kid, so Revelations is some pretty scary sh*t talking about Armageddon, basically … and on our new EP I wrote "We’ll Never Learn" with the idea kind of being,"if we as a species, people living on the same planet can’t get our sh*t together, everybody loses. Can we learn from historical mistakes of the past, from crumbled empires, or will we become one inevitably ourselves? At first I just liked the way the name sounded but now it means a little more to me.
OMC: The music is very reminiscent of heavy rock and roll bands from the 1970s like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. What is it about that music that draws you guys to it?
AM: The soul, for one … it’s not in as much modern music for me. I’ve just always been like that since I was younger; I’m like an angry old man inside or something (laughs). My biggest influences were guys who could play the hell out of a guitar or just really captivating songwriters.
I like loud drums, loud guitars and groovy, bluesy rock and roll that’s got soul – Zeppelin, Hendrix, Dylan, Neil Young, and Stevie Ray are forever timeless and undeniably good. Their duality of playing really heavy but also being able to lay back and do something that someone really, intently listens to really made a strong impression on me. They don’t need a bunch of post-production to alter what they actually sound like and I want to do the same thing, I’d rather have something that sounds rough on the edges than fake something in the recording process.
BM: To each of us a deep respect and passion for those who came from the time period is very dominant. Music then seemed to stand for something, it told a story a story I couldn’t and still can’t stop flipping the pages too. It feeds the soul with the timeless pieces inscribed on the vinyl.
FM: Our dad showed us all the greats right away. So by the time we were in high school all the popular music coming out just didn’t have the same impact because of what we already had been listening to.
OMC: Do you ever get older folks who are surprised by your sound?
BM: I think with music it’s always beautiful to be able to cross borders, whether it be by style, culture or time. In today’s day and age it always beneficial to bring people together and see past differences.
AM: Yeah, definitely, they get into it hard especially if we throw in a cover from like the ‘60s or something … sometimes you’ll talk with someone who was at a really monumental show back then, like Monterey (Pop Festival) or something, and that’s pretty cool.
FM: It’s always cool when you have older people tell you how much they enjoyed our set, because it’s clearing out all the gaps. I want people of all age groups to like our music.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the EP and making it.
BM: We began the EP process in our basement with our buds from Behind the Weekend music production. The recording part itself went pretty quick as we laid down the instrumentals in a weekend. To follow was Alejandro overdubbing guitars and vocals to a satisfying point. Alejandro and Frank had worked with Gary on a previous EP, and thought it to be a good idea to get back in touch.
It began with Gary coming by one afternoon to run through some thoughts with the Behind the Weekend boys. This was before heading to what I see as Gary's Mastermind loft at his beautiful home. Working with him was a great experience, we were able to learn a lot, from which hopefully one day will be put back into future music. Having been around in the music scene for years now, his knowledge was very humbling. We can't thank him enough for what he has done and continues to do for us.
AM: This all took a period of like 4-5 months or so because me, Frank and the guys in BTW were in school and it was hard at times to get everybody together, but we were all really pumped when we had everything done because we felt it was turning into something good. Gary mastered all the songs and really did a phenomenal job; he made it sound polished and radio-quality but also kept its original live feel. He’s has seen a lot of bands come and go, so it means a lot to us that he sees potential in our music. Aidan Gouran did the artwork, which was inspired by the lyrics in "Killing Time" and (with) John the Revelator in the center.
OMC: Is there a release party scheduled?
AM: There is not. We sell them at shows for five bucks apiece. I see every single show as a release party as long as someone new hears us for the first time and we’re selling CDs.
The Young Revelators perform March 12 at the Nomad World Pub on Brady Street.
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.