ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: In Cursive, Graysea, Still Stayer, After Hour Animals

Still Stayer.

A stacked bill of heavy music took place at X-Ray Arcade Friday night, featuring Milwaukee bands In Cursive, Graysea, Still Stayer, and After Hour Animals alongside Minneapolis-based “grungegaze” atmospheric rockers Comatose.

In Cursive are an experimental emo rock sextet consisting of vocalist/guitarist Joe Brandt, guitarist Jake Arndt, guitarist Connor Nash, bassist Graeme Kostich, drummer Joey Koepp, and keyboardist Trent McClanahan. The band’s name was coined by Arndt, who compared the way cursive writing “flows beautifully” as they want their music to. Their influences range from metalcore (As Blood Runs Black, Veil of Maya, August Burns Red) to emo and math rock (Delta Sleep, From First to Last).

They formed in 2017 out of existing musical relationships, as Arndt explains. “All three of us (Arndt, Nash, and Brandt) hung out and played music together for like five years before we finally ended up starting a band. Then Trent came…we lost our original drummer…and then gained Joey…and then gained Graeme and now we’re complete.”

Their most recent single “Lebronny Javo” dropped on Christmas 2021.

Brandt shared, “The title is a mix between Lebron James, Johnny Bravo, and Jon Bon Jovi. That has *nothing* to do with the music. We have a habit of writing really long songs, so we’ve been in the process of getting better at condensing things…not everybody playing all the time…less is more…keeping it short and concise…and I think that’s probably the best we’ve done it so far.”

Arndt added, “Me and Joe had the idea for the song like five years ago and we had him rewrite the chords to make it sound better, and we didn’t feel like we needed lyrics because it just slapped as an instrumental and got people going right away.”

The band is getting ready to release their debut full-length album on April 22nd.

Brandt said, “Even before COVID we were taking our time and had problems with people coming in and out of the band. For a while there it was kind of stop-and-go; we’d get in a groove and then something would come up and we’d have to get a new drummer or bass player and then get the ball rolling again. Then COVID happened, which was also a setback but we pushed through that and kept persevering making music. It’s like five years coming. Just to have something that we can show people and say that it’s us is so exciting. Now we can pick and choose songs in the setlist where in the past we only had like four songs (laughs).”

They recorded in at The Nook Recording Studio in New Lenox, Illinois.

“We’d drive two hours every time and stay over for the weekend,” Arndt said. “The guy makes it real fun. He’d make us coffee too. He really works with you and believes in you as much as you believe in yourself.”

Brandt shares some insight about his lyrics.

“I write them from personal experiences…last year I went through a breakup, and I guess I write a lot from being hurt. I drive a lot for work so pretty much my whole driving is me thinking and writing to shit that we practiced the night before. I record every set that we do at practice…pretty much every practice we’ve had for the last five years is logged up. I’ll start something, then start something else and love that more, so there’s so many things that got thrown in the gutter that we never used.”

In Cursive play April 22nd (day of their record release but not their release show) at Kochanski’s. But they *are* having a record release show, so stay tuned!

Graysea are an emo-metalcore band consisting of vocalist David Tarantino, guitarist Jon Aulgur, bassist Kevin Key, and drummer Trevor Duran. They are known for their entertaining music videos such as “Balloons” and “Cleanse” and were named after a play on Tarantino’s cat’s name. This was their third show as a band; fun fact, Duran broke six drum sticks for this one. They formed from the ashes of Monorail Central, as Tarantino explains.

“Trevor, Jon and I were all in Monorail Central, which split up…but we kept playing together and wanted to do a new project. Originally I was on bass and we wrote a bunch of songs…we went through like five different vocalists overtime and then COVID happened, which was another delay. Eventually we decided that I’d take over vocals, and I really like it…it’s a lot more expression and energy for me, and we write all the music as a group so it’s been cool to collaborate.”

The band has two EPs in the works, the first of which is dropping this Friday. Tarantino shares a bit about his lyrics.

“”The Greatest Weapon” is about religion and my experience going to Catholic school my whole life and a lot of things I don’t agree with about that. “(999) Call to Us” is a play on the Salem Witch Trials and how people get turned against each other. “Balloons” is about a really bad experience with someone, so we use metaphors from “Joker” and “It.” Then “Cleanse” is about feeling like you’re worthless and that your feelings aren’t your own, so we use the metaphor of being an animal in a slaughterhouse…a lot of depression and mental health stuff is addressed in that song. Jon actually wrote the lyrics for “The Times (And I Can’t Stress This Enough) Are A Changin.””

Aulgur explains, “It’s about the differences between generations and having to explain the way you think to people like your parents, and then they explain the way they were thinking, but someone’s always wrong and it shouldn’t be that way.”

On the second EP, Tarantino explains, “We just finished putting all the lyrics to the songs and we’re going to start tracking vocals very soon. Instead of touching on as many world issues, it’s more about personal stuff like relationships with lovers or family members in terms of lyrics.”

Additionally, the band recently recorded a live performance of their new EP in full at Skateland in Waukesha.

“We had a bunch of people shooting us and we had the roller skate lights going on with the disco ball, so it’ll be fun.”

Graysea plan to release their second EP over the summer and to play more regional shows.

Still Stayer are a metalcore band consisting of vocalist Luke Steffens, guitarist Chris Davis, bassist Travis Vrba, and drummer Marcus Czaplewski. This was their very first show and it nearly sold out, filling up almost 200 people in the venue.

“It’s unbelievable to see the reaction that we’d hoped for, for as many months as we’ve been a band,” Steffens said. “We’ve been working very hard at all the music that we’re about to put out and it’s just a great feeling.”

“Me and Travis haven’t played a show in about five years, and for Chris it’s been ten,” Czaplewski said. “It was absolutely euphoric to play again.”

“Tonight was a lot of overwhelming emotions,” Vrba said. “Part of it was me leaving the scene for as long as I did, and basically being welcomed right back into it, and being able to be here with my brothers. I’ve been doing music with Marcus and Luke for so long, and for us to finally have a product to give out to people that we love so much…I have no words for it. “All hearts no breaks” is not just our slogan, it’s what we fucking live by man.”

The band is Davis’ brainchild – he gives the story.

“Back in 2018 I started recording my own music again after not doing it for a while, and about a year after that I got the confidence to just throw it on Facebook in a djent group…and it really took off and I was not expecting that…so I took that and kept doing it and wondered how I could capitalize on it. A few months later Still Stayer became a finalized thing – probably January 2020 at the time – and shortly after, Luke introduced me to Marcus and we started jamming…we took it real slow at first but started moving on it…and then eventually Travis and Luke fell into place. Once all four of us were in that basement working on music, that’s where Still Stayer really started.”

Stefens added, “Travis, Marcus and I have been playing for years together. Chris isn’t from here, and I remember sending Marcus clips of Chris playing being like “dude, this kid’s fucking crazy” and like two years ago I hit Chris up asking him if I could write vocals to his songs, and I sat down with two songs for like a month and I literally messaged him saying “this is too much.” And then me, Marcus and Travis were going to get our old band back together but it didn’t work out and I was really disheartened by that, but that’s when I told Marcus that he should meet Chris since he was like one of the only drummers in the area that could probably keep up with him…so they started jamming together, and they tried getting me involved in the band for months but I was so busy because I had two other bands and my job was absolutely nuts…and then one night we got drunk together and I wrote some random lyrics and then the next day I tracked them…and Chris was like, “you know you’re in my band now, right?” and so I gave it a whirl. From there it just took off. I actually really wanted to play bass but Vrba tried out…and then I was like “fine I’ll do vocals” (laughs).”

The band is gearing up to release their debut record in June. Their single “Focus” – which is separate from the record – dropped in November.

Steffens said about the song, “That’s actually a B-Side, which is funny because that was the second-to-last song that we put together, and it didn’t fit on the album so we didn’t put on there…but the song has a really nice vibe to it that’s like a mixture that anybody could gravitate towards. There’s a lot of singing and screaming.”

“That’s one of our biggest focuses that we’re trying to resonate with people,” Czaplewski explained. “We’re heavy at times but we’re really trying to set that vibe. Some of us are in our thirties and we’re not super into moshing anymore…sometimes we just want people to nod their heads.”

“We hope to give you a rollercoaster of emotion through the whole set,” Vrba added.

Davis shares everything that’s gone into this record.

“There’s so many little moving parts and pieces, but the main parts came from bringing shelved songs to the table that I would record and send to Marcus so he could work on the drums…Travis would figure out what he wants to do with bass…then once the instrumental comes together, we’ve got Luke going crazy on it. We basically did that for all six songs except for the intro. It’s a fire process…everyone’s stamp is on the record. We record ourselves at my house, and for a while we were saying that the way our demos were sounding, we could probably put them out and be happy with it. We went through this six to eight-month process where we would decide to do the production ourselves, and then listen to it for like a month and couldn’t figure out what was missing. But what it did was it kept making the production even better, and we decided to shop it out and get it mixed and mastered by someone else.”

Vrba added, “Our group chat is active every single day. There’s not a day that goes by where we don’t say something about this stuff, and when it comes to our production, we want the absolute best.”

Steffens gives some background to his lyrics.

“This album specifically is an emotional rollercoaster for me. A lot the lyrics are based off of how I was feeling in current situations I was living in…we all go through ups and downs, and a lot of it is about anxiety…I had a pretty wild addiction to amphetamines for about a year that really controlled my life, and I was prescribed to it so it was easy to get. Every time I got my prescription it was gone in six or seven days, and that’s a month-long prescription…I was doing 60-100 milligrams of Adderall every day and it was really starting to tear my life apart…so I kicked it cold turkey one day and I started my own business, and it’s been nothing but up from there. I developed insomnia from it, which I still deal with every day, and so a couple songs are about my struggles with sleep and my anxiety…a couple of them are about my true passion towards my wife and my mom…it’s all generalized around how to uplift yourself and think on the positive side, because life is very hard and everyone’s going through something. Places like this show are where people go to heal. For me, lyrically, this is probably some of the craziest pieces of work that I’ve put into my life and it’s unbelievable to see it all come together.”

Still Stayer have a few music videos in the works, including one that they filmed this weekend on their run with Comatose. They play The Miramar on April 30th.

After Hour Animals are a metalcore band consisting of vocalists Nik Djurdjulov and Armon Hassan, guitarists Jasen Johnson and Bao Vo, bassist Brandon Dent, and drummer Kenneth Clark. The band was originally conceptualized between Djurdjulov and Dent, as Djurdjulov explains.

“It was me and Brando sitting there, showing him all my guitar tabs on my computer that sounded like 8-bit metal (laughs). We thought they could sound cool with real instruments but we needed other people. We’ve cycled through other members – people got other things going on – but we wanted it to keep moving, so we kept finding people that wanted to do it.”

Hassan added, “Brandon started dating someone who was an employee of mine when I worked at Hot Topic, and they asked me if I wanted to try screaming in this band…so I did.”

Clark is the most recent addition to the band; they met him at a solo show Hassan was playing.

At first I was trying to hit them up on Facebook because they were looking for a drummer,” Clark said, “and for some reason God made it happen for me to meet Bao, Nik and Armon at that show. It’s been fate ever since.”

Dent came up with the band’s name. He explained, “I saw it as a song title from another band Norma Jean that I really like, and I started thinking about it a little more. For musicians, when they perform they turn into something different, and I looked at it like a retrospect of people that act differently during the day and night to survive. You’re a different person from when you’re working your 9 to 5 when you go out and do something that you really enjoy.”

The band broke up for a while but then reformed right before COVID hit.

Hassan said, “I was doing a solo run with American Bandit and I had Jasen and Nik come along with me. When we were in Minnesota we partied our asses off with these people I went to high school with, and one of the dudes was really fucked up and said “regenerated” in a robot voice…the next day, we’re in the van and I asked Nik what he was doing and he said “I’m writing the next After Hour Animals song.””

Djurdjulov laughed and said, “That’s literally what happened. The lyrics hold that meaning of moving past problems that you have and struggle with, and you have to work hard and dive within yourself to find what it is that you need to do, and who can help you in order to move forward. Tonight was the first time we played “Regenerated” live and it was an emotional moment.”

Hassan added, “People know us as a party band but with our music, we’re not glorifying substance abuse or anything…it’s something that at one point in our lives we’ve all struggled with…and we write about it and perform it to escape it.”

The band dropped a number of singles last year – “In Your Hands”, “Lose My Head”, “High Strung”, and “My Anxiety.” On “Lose My Head,” Djurdjulov shared, “It’s about trying to chase music and trying to also be in a relationship, and sometimes you don’t always have the money as a musician to provide stability and things that a partner will want. It’s not for selfish reasons or anything; it’s a hard thing to date a musician because their passion is music, and they care about it so much…it isn’t just a job. You end up sometimes taking that person for granted, and it’s an awful thing to think about when you look at the past, but it’s honest and true, and that’s a common thing that happens with artists and creatives. It can make you question what you’re doing, but you can’t do anything else because…what else would you do.”

Their most recent single “Shitshow” dropped in December. Djurdjulov shared, “It’s about trying to let go of mistakes you’ve made and trying to move past them and admitting that you’ve been a “shitshow.””

As far as what they’re working on now, Djurdjulov said, “There’s a lot of demos in the works that we need to finalize with either extra production or lyrics. We were trying really hard to make this show a success and get our live setup going again, and I think tonight showed us that we did that, and that makes me really happy. We’re going to book more shows but also get in the studio and finish recording these songs to pump out new music this year.”

“Regardless of what the future holds, we all try to understand each other, and I think that that reflects in our music,” Hassan added. “We’re all brothers and Milwaukee treats us like home. We love this shit more than anything.”

After Hour Animals do not have any more shows booked as of now but they’re getting on that soon.

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