ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: Hallowtribe, Ellie Jackson, Next Paperback Hero

An intimate evening of live music took place at Circle A on Saturday night. Singer-songwriters Hallowtribe, Ellie Jackson, and Next Paperback Hero all played wonderful sets to a warm crowd.

Hallowtribe is the project of John Justus. He’s originally from Australia but was raised in Nebraska, then lived in Arkansas and Tennessee before moving to Wisconsin. Hallowtribe started in the last year; Justus gives some background about his inspiration.

“I separated from my wife in December 2020 and was just kind of rethinking everything. I moved to Australia and had always wanted to do music, so I gave myself permission after holding back on writing a lot of music. I was trying to figure out what would be a good concept, so I mashed up a bunch of stuff that I felt like I wanted to put out into the world and finding a group of people that can help you become your best self, which is what “Hallowtribe” means. “Hallow” is like above and beyond and “tribe” is a group of people. It’s been about a year and I’m still not super sure what kind of music I want to play; it’s been a bit of a range.”

Justus moved to Australia last June and returned to Milwaukee in August. Since then, he’s been slowly bringing his music to life.

“I go to the Linneman’s open mic pretty much every week, so I’ve met a bunch of musicians through that. I’m also in Wisconsin Music Ventures so I’ve met some other people through that. I’ve just been trying to put different iterations of a band together because I feel a lot of my music would sound better with more people (laughs). I was playing with a couple friends of mine but they’re more on the hobbyist side – which is totally fine – they just can’t commit to playing a bunch of shows. So, I’m working on finding new people right now; I picked up a bass player from Bremen Cafe so that’ll be cool, plus I got a new drummer and we jammed last week. Hopefully we can get some songs put together in the next couple months.”

His set Saturday consisted of originals plus a rendition of “The Office” theme song as well as an MGMT cover. Justus shares what place his songwriting has come from as of late.

“Lately, it’s been from the doldrums of trying to figure out if being a full-time musician makes any sense at all. I had some savings so I decided to really focus on this, and what ended up happening was just me staying in my apartment and not doing anything for like several months. Now I’m trying to wrench myself back into productivity. The new song I played tonight I wrote literally at the open mic at Linneman’s and it’s a lot of allegory; the idea was about just barely hanging on and doing whatever you can do to try to coast through existence. Some of my songs are about the concept of time and how it keeps rolling regardless of what we do. It’s very easy to squander if you don’t have a goal in mind.”

Hallowtribe plays Dead Bird Brewing on April 24th and plans to record once Justus secures a full band.

Ellie Jackson is a vocalist and guitarist who describes her music as “folk pop,” writing from a place of determined vulnerability while juxtaposing harmony with dissonance. She shares how she came to be in the Milwaukee scene.

“I had played covers at open mics for years and years but maybe the past five years I’ve been playing my own stuff out. There are new iterations of it depending on how I’m feeling and who I’m able to bring into the project. Caley Conway and Joe Kirschling play with me now, and that’s been fresh since this fall. It’s changing and growing all the time.”

Jackson’s most recent single “Underneath Us” was released in December 2020.

“I wrote it I believe the year prior, and there was a group of houseless people that were living under the Interstate, and for many months it was all I could think about…what are they doing, what do they need, why is this happening…and just how many people go on with their day to day lives – myself included – not having to experience that and having the privilege of a home to live in. I wrote the song and then forgot about it, and then while protesting in summer of 2020 I ran into Josh Evert and asked him if I could record it, so we did. Cheston VanHuss also was integral in making that happen.”

Since then, Jackson shares what she’s been working on.

“I’ve been feeling a shift. The music I’m writing now has a lot more to do with self-reflection and less to do with social issues, or maybe they’re a bit one in the same with how we participate in the world. I’ve been trying to figure out who I am and what I want and what I’m doing here, and a lot of my music is coming from that place of exploration. Working with Caley and Joe has been like growing a community of musicians that are very talented with musical knowledge and ability.”

Ellie Jackson is slowly chipping away at recording an album that she hopes will be out later this year. She’s playing with Humbird at Anodyne on April 21st and with Social Caterpillar for their album release party at Cactus Club on April 29th. She and Caley Conway also plan to play more shows outside Milwaukee.

Next Paperback Hero is the project of Nathan Honore, exploring a heartfelt brand of indie folk. He shares how it came to be.

“I had a number of bands before this, and I found that I was relying on the sound of the band to cover up the songwriting…not that the songwriting was bad or anything but the environment was shaping the art in ways that I didn’t love. I recognized that I needed to work on my songwriting so I took it back to solo and I was playing under my own name, but nobody can pronounce my last name (laughs). I wanted to make something that felt positive and authentic, and I was thinking a lot about how Field Report is an anagram of Chris Porterfield’s name; my name doesn’t anagram to anything so I used my initials and stream-of-consciousness to come up with these words that meant something to me in the way that they come together.”

His album “Morning Skies & Heavy Eyes” was released last September.

“As much as I don’t want to label it a pandemic record, it wouldn’t have happened without it. I felt the need to create something during that time and it originally started as an EP idea, and then I got kind of consumed by the idea of putting a record out and making it sound the way I envisioned. All of it was recorded at my house with like a $350 interface with two microphones. I took it to Ian Olvera for mixing and he took it beyond the bedroom recording; he needed very little input from me and understood what I was trying to do. He took a lot of the influences that I had and infused them in there, and just made it all cohesive and sound like the record that I’ve wanted to make for a long time.”

He explains the title.

“It came from the track “Heavy Eyes.” I was trying to think about what I wanted to call the record and I was spending a lot of time at Seven Bridges, and the reflection of the sky on the lake would be so beautiful but I also felt drained all the time, especially in the first two or three months of quarantine. I felt that sentiment – both hope and hopelessness – in a lot of the songs. I felt that it summed up a lot of what I was trying to do.”

In January he released a music video for “Don’t Take My Energy” directed by Joe Ludwig.

“I actually had no idea for what it would look like; I just knew that I wanted to do a video and work with Joe Ludwig. I reached out to him and he pitched me some really solid ideas, so we filmed it all around Milwaukee and that beautiful theater in Watertown. Joe took a lot of curveballs; we actually wanted to have a plane landing but the plane we were looking for never landed but they kept taking off by us, so he ended up shooting it differently. Shit like that just kept happening but he made the most out of it, so I can take very little credit on that. He really did an amazing job.”

Next Paperback Hero plays Milwaukee Record’s Midweek Music Series at Crafty Cow in April.

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