ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: Dora Diamond, West Nile Crows, Klassik

Cactus Club celebrated 414 Day with an eclectic bill featuring Dora Diamond, West Nile Crows, Funk Summit Bass Team, Diet Lite, and Klassik. The room remained filled with cheer, excitement, and supportive energy all evening.

Dora Diamond came up in Milwaukee performing drag and burlesque before her inception into the music scene over the last few years. Her sound marries vintage pop with trip hop and industrial electronica, making you want to dance at times while ensnaring you with a cosmic melancholy at others.

“Tonight felt like a dream,” Diamond said after her set. “It was so fun and I really felt like the audience didn’t know what to make of me at first but I wanted to make a striking impression visually, and I think by the time I hit that first belt on “Call Me By My Name”, people knew what they were in for.”

Her debut EP “Flesh” dropped in October 2019; she gives some background on its creation.

“I knew that I wanted to put out an EP because I didn’t want to wait until I had enough music to fill out an album…I felt very strongly about the music in that moment and really I was brand new to the medium. I had these three songs that sounded really good together; they have a similarly dark, sultry, sexy vibe. So I recorded them, mastered it myself, and put it out on Bandcamp just as a tentative “hello” and that’s kind of it. My influences like Portishead and industrial-trip hop music from the 90’s were very much speaking to me at that time.”

On the place where she feels her songwriting has come from, Diamond said, “99.9% of my music has been me tackling tough feelings that I’ve had in my experience as a trans woman. “Call Me By My Name” I wrote when I was feeling frustrated by people who shortly after my transition were choosing not to acknowledge who I was, and thankfully I’m here to say that those people were very, very few. There’s still that rage that you feel where the entire community that you belong to is not perceived as human or real by a lot of mainstream society, and I wanted to communicate those feelings through music because I feel like I can get my emotions out much more effectively through singing. People take music more to heart than if I were to just stand on the street with a bullhorn; I can say what I want to say in a way that’s going to hopefully take root in peoples’ hearts.”

She shares what she’s working on now.

“I’m working on my album, which I’m independently producing with a friend of mine. We’re sort of collaborating and learning together about how to make an album, and I’m doing re-recordings and remastering of all the songs from “Flesh” because there’s different vocal choices that I’ve been doing with them in shows.”

Dora Diamond will be performing at Milwaukee PrideFest, which is June 2-4th.

West Nile Crows comprises of vocalist/guitarist Hans Jaeger, bassist Tyler Zachow, guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Sablay, and drummer Garrett Holm. Originally a home recording project of Jaeger’s in the mid 2010’s, he revived it into a fully-fledged band from the ashes of previous band Deep State Park. Shoegaze, psychedelia, dream pop, and alternative rock all intersect to define their style; embedded in their set was a cover of “Doused” by DIIV.

Jaeger explained, “The year was 2020 and I had just quit a band I was playing with, and I had an established Facebook page for West Nile Crows from when I was coming out of high school. I had released some demos on a CD that people seemed to enjoy, and then I moved on to do other things and play in different bands. But then when the pandemic hit, the page kept getting double-digit visits and I decided that it might be worth doing again…so I started writing, finished a song, had a bunch of really vivid and great dreams with recurring themes…I knew I had to do it.”

Sablay added, “I had saved the song “Come Easy” that Hans had put out on my phone to listen to, and it came on shuffle one day when I was driving and I thought it slapped. I reached out to him asking if he needed any help with this…and here we are.”

Jaeger continued, “I put a status out on Facebook as a general inquiry seeing if there were any drummers out there that were down to get serious. Then Garrett hit me up and was like “hi, I just picked up drumming not too long ago” and he turned out to be incredible (laughs). Then Tyler was one of the guys who we drafted to play when someone was absent; he played with us for a show back in November, but then when our bassist Kenny Conway had to take a hiatus, he picked up bass and added his own flare to it.”

Their first single “Come Easy” dropped in February 2021. Jaeger explains that it’s a song about mindset and possibilities.

“It’s a very hopeful song written by discovering that maybe I don’t need to suffer so much striving to find what I’ve been looking for when I’m looking at what I already have. I’d been discovering this love that I never thought was possible.”

Then their second single “Collector” dropped last July. Jaeger said, “That’s a very angry song. I had just gotten my heart broken by an ex-partner and I was distraught, thinking “how could anyone ever love me” and stuff like that. As I thought about and meditated on it more, I realized that it’s not healthy to dwell in that negative headspace, so I wrote a song about those feelings of remorse and heartbreak. Somebody can give you the impression that you mean a lot to them, but then turn around and be like “I don’t care” and tell you to go your own way. Then you’re expected to just deal with the pain that people inflict on you, and that song is about that search for accountability.”

He shares what the band has spent the last few months working on.

“We’ve been recording our first EP, which is going to be five songs and we’re eyeing up the release of another single in the near future.”

West Nile Crows are playing MKE Music Night at the end of May at Linneman’s.

Klassik has been performing for over a decade, sonically blending hip hop, soul, and jazz while incorporating experimental and poetic ingredients to make for a truly unique creative process. He never plays the same set twice, making each performance inventive and special.

He said after the show, “The energy tonight was contagious…you could feel that people wanted to be here. It feels like back when you used to have to pick between shows and figure out what was going on for the night, and to have this many people here sticking around and being really into the show, it was a magical night for sure.”

414 Day is an important occasion to him; it’s also the day before his birthday.

“I don’t say this lightly, but I think it really is a reminder that being here is the thing to do. 414 Day is a celebration of everything that I celebrate already in my music and what makes me who I am as an artist. Being by this body of water, being a product of MPS, growing up here and working here, knowing the ins and outs and the ups and downs…414 Day is all of those things. As the great Samer Ghani says, people are dynamic and places are dynamic, and Milwaukee is a very dynamic place. There’s a lot of duality at play and it’s less “either-or” and more “and.” Milwaukee has a lot of “and.” There’s a lot of things that are “this” and “this” and “that” and “this.” Even though we have all these barriers and things that keep us separated all the way up to the political level, to have us come together like this – that’s what this day is for me.”

His latest single “Black Holiday” was released on Juneteenth last year. About the song, Klassik said, “This is probably the most upfront I’ve been; there was nothing clouded in the message of the song. It’s a celebration of being Black in response to the lists that are far too disgustingly long to keep recounting. I started working on that song post-George Floyd watching the people in the streets and thinking about the fact that the greatest form of resistance in Black liberation is Black joy. That’s a super Black thing, growing up in the church and facing the obstacles and intricacies as a Black man in this city. I wanted to articulate that and speak to people who also felt that. The constriction of whiteness – especially here and in the country at large – we can say “fuck that”; no one can steal your joy. People can make you unhappy and angry, but joy is something that lives way deeper, and it’s something that the current times will have you fooled that there’s a lack of joy or no reason to be joyful. It’s a protest song meant to stick with you and be aggressive in its urgency.”

He shares what he’s been working on since his last full-length album “Quiet”, which was released in 2019.

“During the pandemic I built up a lot of experience in the artist educator realm, because of the virtual world we’re in and the day job at Lynden Sculpture Garden I have, we’ve been doing a lot of education work and virtual field trips. I started doing more stuff with Arts @ Large at the time and I most recently did the collaboration with Milwaukee Art Museum. I’m on a couple boards and I’m really being about places seeing change and demanding that, being my most authentic self and having confidence and firmness in that. I deserve to be here and want people to listen to what I have to say because a lot of people haven’t been listening – to any of us. I’ve also recorded a lot of music so there’s an album being mixed right now…there will be more about that soon. I’ve been meeting with a gospel choir to put a little razzle-dazzle on it. I’m not rushing it but I definitely think that there’ll be new music this year.”

Happy 414 Day, Milwaukee!

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