Artist Spotlights: Nate John Herlache, Meadowers, Conscious Congress, Mas Verde, The Panoptics

DIY shows are beginning to pop up around Milwaukee’s East Side and Riverwest neighborhoods, and one of the first so far took place under the scorching Saturday sun this past weekend. An all-day backyard fest featuring Nate John Herlache, Valerie Lighthart, Meadowers, Conscious Congress, Demetri Rogers and Cosmic Endeavors, Mas Verde, Will Pfrang and the Good Land Gang, and The Panoptics brought in a solid crowd of eager music lovers to share space for the first time in so long.

“The crowd’s energy was unlike anything we’d ever experienced before,” Ben Plaisted of The Panoptics said post-show. “We really have everyone who played before us to thank for providing the energy and getting the crowd going. We’re just glad we could keep the ball rolling. It helps that a lot of musicians stuck around and it was a very supportive day.”

Nate John Herlache is a singer-songwriter hailing from Port Washington. Relatively new to the Greater Milwaukee scene, his music is best described as country-tinged folk.

“Being a songwriter from a smaller town in Wisconsin, I didn’t really even know many other people wrote songs. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s one of those things you’ve really got to extend those feelers out. I hooked up with Will Pfrang and Jack Fricke from Hit or Miss Studios and Will Pfrang and the Good Land Gang – really talented dudes. We sat down a couple times in a business setting to talk shop and go over the basics of songwriting, and now we’re pretty much inseparable best friends. Being a small-town musician, you’ve really got to find your company, because they are out there. I’m lucky to know those guys.”

Herlache describes the place his songwriting has come from as of late.

“It’s been happy uplifting vibes. I’ve gotten really lucky in the past month with landing a good job and having a woman who puts up with me that I love very much…the sun’s coming out too which is good. In my past four years or so in college, you take the goods with the bads…lots of heartbreak, lots of ups and downs, mood swings…songwriting for me has been a therapeutic outlet. Writing about things that used to tear you up and have people react with enjoyment is something I wish everybody could feel.”

He’s been taking the last few months to work on his debut record.

“It’s been an interesting ride; we started this thing last fall so it’s been hectic. We tried recording it live with drums and we just couldn’t sleep on it, so we went back to the drawing board and re-did a bunch of stuff. Being a self-proclaimed folk artist, I wanted folk instrumentation in there, so like I was saying before I had to extend the feelers. I’ve done a lot of remote file-sharing with people from other bands; I got in touch with a guy from a folk duo out of Dubuque called The Well Pennies and they hooked me up with a cool banjo player who then in turn hooked me up with a cool fiddle player. I just got those recordings in and I’ve got Jack over at Hit or Miss mixing it all up. He’s adding some bass lines while he’s at it and then I’m hoping to announce a single in the next month or so.”

Meadowers are an emo folk duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Ethan Radtke and guitarist/backing vocalist Graham Thomas (not present for the show were bassist Blake Akers and drummer Curtis McKusick). Their debut single “Towers” came out just over a year ago; Saturday was their first time playing together since COVID hit.

“These songs are about four to five years old,” Radtke said about the project. “It’s stuff that I’ve written over the years and I tried collecting people who can pour what they have into the songs, adding more than what I can do myself. Ethan and I have been playing together since our freshman year of high school so we got together and played a few shows pre-COVID. Then we pivoted once it hit and transitioned into more recording, which has been a long process.”

He shares what we can expect from Meadowers in the months to come.

“We’ve been recording an album for about ten months, so we’ll have an eleven-song album hopefully this summer. We’ve been taking our time being intricate with it and borrowing a lot of fun equipment like cool synths, amps, and drums from all of our different friends.”

“Everyone in the band is into audio engineering,” Thomas added. “We’ve been recording it ourselves and it gives us a lot of freedom. It’s emo-fused indie rock with a little hint of country.”

Conscious Congress is a funk rock band comprised of vocalist Andii Heath, guitarist/vocalist Patrick Van Bibber, bassist Brendan Demet, and drummer DL Matthews. Demet explains how the project formed.

“I had wanted to start a band with Patrick for a long time; we’ve been friends for a while. Independently of that idea, Andii wanted to start a funk band, and so I got kind of caught in the middle of those two ideas and tried to put them together. DL had played in a cover band called From Any Angle with Patrick, so he introduced him to the group and we hit it off immediately. It’s been going really well since then.”

In addition to their originals the band plays a myriad of covers, ranging from Gnarls Barkley to Billie Eilish. Demet breaks down the band’s songwriting process.

“Patrick, Andii and myself all write songs. Usually we do that independently but every once in a while we’ll collaborate and make changes to each others’ arrangements. It’s great because we get to trade off lead vocals and everyone has their own creative input that way.”

They are gearing up to record soon.

“We’re looking to do some kind of studio EP or album while playing as many shows as we can this summer while the weather’s nice.”

Conscious Congress plays Bremen Cafe on June 6th.

Mas Verde is a funky psych rock band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Zach Spiegler, rhythm guitarist Jacob Johnson, bassist Jack Fricke, and a rotating cast of drummers. Their debut record “Scrumtrulescent” dropped last July.

Spiegler gives a little history on the band.

“I always wanted to start a band rather than do a solo project; you can do so much more with the instrumentation. In the same way of stuff like Vulfpeck or Snarky Puppy where you just incorporate multiple different musicians instead of just a set group of people. We just want to make good music with no specific genre.”

He shares what the band has been up to since quarantine.

“When it hit we were in the middle of recording our record. We put it out and played some shows; this is the third backyard show we’ve done now. Now we’re writing new music. For a while I wanted to do a cover album but I just keep writing stuff and want to keep it new.”

Spiegler moved to Asheville, North Carolina in the last year but makes it up to Milwaukee to play as much as he can.

“The last five songs we played are all gonna be on an EP that we’ll hopefully put out this year. We want to do a professional job this time around because before I just wanted to get the record out and kind of rushed some of it. We’re taking these songs to a studio with the best quality audio and engineering.”

The Panoptics are a funk rock band featuring vocalist/guitarist Ben Plaisted, guitarist/saxophonist Jacob Johnson, bassist Yishay Levin, drummer/backing vocalist David Purpura, and keyboardist Natan Steigman. Their first album “Songs We Think Should Exist” came out in 2018.

Plaisted explains how his long-term friendship with Purpura was the seed for the band.

“The Panoptics formed after David and I graduated from Wauwatosa East. We wanted to keep playing and writing music after high school where we had a garage rock group named The Trapdoor Triptych. Brent Gastrau has also played bass and written with us since then. We’ve evolved with the pandemic and have been trying to branch out within the Milwaukee scene. It’s really awesome the way things are shaping out with the five-piece as this is the largest our group has ever been.”

Like Conscious Congress and Will Pfrang and the Good Lang Gang, the band’s set is an even mix of covers and originals. Perhaps the climax of Saturday’s show was their rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.”

“We’ve been working on a seven-song LP that will be called “Revitalize.” We’ve been pretty busy preparing for some other events but are aiming at mid-July for the release date. It’s been a long time coming but we realize there’s no rush.”

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