In Music

Longacre: Damian Strigens, Claire Chin, Michael DeBoer & Ken Hanson

Creative office sparks Longacre

Even at work, Damian Strigens can't stop joining bands. Over the years, he's been bassist for Nerve Twins and The Frogs, drummer for The Lovelies and multi-instrumentalist for Testa Rosa -- to name but a few -- Strigens is often doing triple-duty in Milwaukee bands (as he is these days).

His latest, Longacre -- which this week releases its self-titled debut CD -- was founded with some friends at Hanson Dodge Creative, where Strigens works as a graphic designer. Singer and keyboardist Claire Chin and bassist Ken Hanson also boast hansondodge.com e-mail addresses. Only guitarist Michael DeBoer isn't on the ad agency's payroll.

But Longacre, Strigens notes is more than an office band and now has been around for a while.

"The band evolved from a project that involved three female singers playing an array of covers, from Leonard Cohen songs to countryish stuff," he recalls. "We can't say the name of that former band because it causes Claire to cringe uncomfortably. There have been a couple of different guitarists along the way as well -- the most recent one played a lot of the chunky Stones-y rhythm guitar on the record but the core of the group is Claire, Michael, Ken and myself."

"What sparked it from my perspective was when Ken and I ran into each other at the Violent Femmes Sri Lanka benefit concert in February, 2005, at The Pabst and got to talking about his new adventures in bass playing and my old adventures in singing and writing," says Chin. "Not long after that Ken invited me and some other musicians to his house to play some music (and) 'see what happens.' Musicians of all types sort of came and went for a few months and Michael and Damian and I stuck."

Longacre's sound certainly gels. The four musicians create an organic, soft base for Chin's lustrous vocals creating a rootsy pop rock sound. Recorded at Madison's Smart Studios, the debut disc is heavily acoustic, warm and melodic.

The music is definitely a departure for Strigens, who usually moves in an edgier rock and roll milieu. And, that he says, has been satisfying.

"Some of the material is much more laid back and rootsier then the stuff I'd played in the past but I enjoy the songs and Michael is a fantastic slide guitar player," he says. "We all have a lot of fun practicing, writing, playing. There are some 'peripheral players' that perform with us on a regular basis. Jahmes Finlayson from the world group 'One Drum', plays percussion with us and he's a real treat to drum (with). I learn a lot from it."

But, one gets the sense that even if she doesn't say it, Chin is the main creative force behind the band that features her voice. The band's repertoire is written almost entirely by her.

"I think it's kind of a group spirit that keeps us going," says Chin. "It's generally collaborative. Michael or I bring a song to the group that's usually like an embryo of a thing. At that stage it usually has the fundamentals: lyrics, vocal melody, chords, rhythm, mood and a skeleton of an arrangement.

"Together we add the bits and pieces -- sonic flavors, tempo, formal arrangement, specific instrumentation, dynamics -- that grow it into a full-grown organism. That's how it worked on most of the songs on the record and is how it seems to be working with the new stuff that we're working up now."

But that doesn't mean that Strigens doesn't get something out of it too, besides the good times. His hectic band resume has another side effect.

"Playing in three different bands playing three different instruments is a lot of work, but it's alot of fun," he says. "And it definitely keeps my chops up."


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