Artist Spotlight: Jesse Guten, Conundrum


Psychedelic prog-jam band Conundrum played along with Stevens Point-based rockers The Shuntz and singer-songwriter Jesse Guten at Brady Street’s Up & Under Friday night.

“Even though there’s not a ton of people here, especially as a solo artist with a lot of original material I’m working on I’d rather have a smaller crowd of people really listening than a huge crowd of people partying,” Guten said post-show. “It’s Friday the thirteen and a full moon out – especially for art, it’s a great energy tonight.”

Jesse Guten played all originals. He had been in funk-surf rock band Sun Tantrick, although its fate is currently up in the air.

“It’s really refreshing because usually I end up playing a couple covers. A lot of these songs are either over ten years old or from the last year. I’m working with a loop station, which is new to me but I have a knack for it. It can be overwhelming using that technology…I started out writing songs with a four-track tape recorder. (Sun Tantrick’s) bassist Dan moved to Boston for Berklee College of Music…we were lucky to cut a five-song EP. Sun Tantrick is kind of a brand I’m working on and I’m always willing to start it back up if I find the right players.”

Guten describes another project he is currently working on.

“Right now I’m playing with a group called Jesse James; it’s me and a guy named James Melchior. We started this company called PressPlay MKE; it does all sorts of entertainment stuff…we’ve done Star Wars trivia with a live band playing Star Wars music. Jesse James does covers and originals and we’re hosting the open mic at Thurman’s the first Tuesday of every month. I’m not playing quite as many shows as I used to because I’m getting older and its harder to be out really late.”

Guten talks about his songwriting lately.

“Recently my grandmother passed away so I wrote a song. I always write poetry and my songs carry that…I also write with my fiance Brittany Anne – she writes poetry as well. One of my songs is called “Scar City” and it’s actually about economics, which is a cold science – I’m in school right now learning about that so I wanted to give a heartfelt expression of watching economic decline and then rebirth, in a city like Milwaukee.”

PressPlay MKE is hosting live music at Fresh Thyme Market on September 21st.

Conundrum consists of vocalist/bassist Owen Reed, guitarist Alex Klosterman, drummer Charlie Celenza, and keyboardist Eric Klosterman. They have been around since 2011 and take elements from jazz, funk, hard rock, and neo-psychedelia in addition to jamming. Their last album “Physiognomy” came out in 2016 and their set Friday consisted of material they went into the studio with this past weekend for their next EP.

“We’ve been rehearsing a lot getting ready to record, so it feels pretty tight when you practice three times a week,” Alex laughed.”We wrote it over the past few months and we’re doing it at Silver City Studios.”

“One of the songs we wrote for the EP was basically the first thing (Owen, Charlie, and Alex) basically ever played together,” Eric said.

“I’m really nervous nailing these takes tomorrow,” Celenza said. “Tonight was really our chance to play these songs and not have the pressure of playing them perfectly. We were able to hold out some sections and actually transition some of our older songs into our newer songs and jam in between.”

“It’s always good when the studio responds and is like “oh yeah…you guys are still good to come in”,” Reed added.

The band describes how their new material departs from older stuff. For one, Eric is relatively new addition.

“Being the fresh eyes of the band and hearing how different we sound from these guys’ first effort is how we’re experimenting more with mixing genres together,” Eric said. “You might’ve heard tonight the newer songs experiment with more Latin rhythms, one song is more jazzy, we’ve got some space-y songs…it’s been fun allowing ourselves to be free to experiment with whatever genre we want and blend them together.”

“It’s half super old songs and half songs the four of us have written together,” Celenza added. “This band started out almost all improvised; there were a lot of shows where we’d have one rough structure of a song and then the rest of the show is all improvised. We’ve tried to really figure out how to structure songs better and know when it’s appropriate to improvise. Having Eric as a fourth member really helps with that.”

“Once we get this EP out we definitely wanna keep cranking out more songs,” Alex said.

One of their new songs is called “Phlat Earth” – the band is fascinated by conspiracy theories.

“The song is about the conflict between two camps…there’s a lot of tension in the middle of the song and then it’s bookend-ed by two chiller sections,” Alex said.

“None of us are conspiracy theorists at all but we’re heavily influenced by prog rock, long songs, and huge concepts,” Reed said. “We try to push ourselves and play like Genesis and King Crimson as best as we can.”

Conundrum hopes to play more shows in support of their upcoming EP.

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