ARTIST SPOTLIGHTS: TMT, Gaetano Balistreri, Iron Pizza, PILES

The Bremen Block Party occurred Saturday and it was a ton of fun, complete with live music, delicious food, vendors, raffle prizes, community organizations and more. TMT, X-Mosleys, Gaetano Balistreri, Bdwthr, Pay Dirt, Selector Max, Phat Nerdz, Iron Pizza, PILES and Ladybird all performed throughout the day as the Riverwest neighborhood showed up and showed out despite the rain and many other things going on.

We checked in with and got to know a handful of the artists/bands there.

TMT is a singer-songwriter who also performs as a member of bands B8r (formerly Ruth B8r Ginsburg) and Mortgage Freeman. Her set on Saturday she described as mournful yet inspiring, saying, “These are four songs that have sort of been the soundtrack of healing as I’ve been dealing with the loss of my late sister. But they’re also about creating love and what it’s like to just be unconditionally in love with someone, even without their physical being there. The goal is to move people with these songs in more than one way.”

Comparing her songwriting as a solo artist to songwriting with her bands, TMT shares, “I’d say my solo writing is stylistically right in between B8r and Mortgage Freeman; B8r is more folky and soulful while Mortgage Freeman is more rock and roll. Where I come together as TMT, I touch on Americana but it’s meant to be a little more soulful. I think that my individual writing is very heavily influenced by the other projects; every project I’m in is a projection of a part of me and now I’m just getting back to the core of that.”

TMT is currently recording a new album with Mortgage Freeman plus she is currently performing with Cullah’s live band. She hopes to get in the studio soon and track some of her solo material. While TMT doesn’t have any more shows booked as of now, she has mostly been playing shows on the fly, so keep an eye out!

Gaetano Balistreri is a singer-songwriter who has most recently played in bands NeoCaveman and Mountain Ghost; he also plays in the System Of A Down cover band Fight the Heathens.

“I love Bremen because everyone here is so ridiculously supportive of each other,” Balistreri said after his set. “This block party is a huge celebration of community, so when I got to go on stage and play, it felt really good being able to play my new songs and try things that I’ve never done before.”

Balistreri’s songwriting process is heavily influenced by relevant life matters although he finds it very much trial and error; he elaborates, “I feel like everything I write comes from whatever’s happening in my life at the time but I try not to make it too personal. Sometimes it does end up coming out that way so a lot of the newer stuff I’m writing has been going through that experience. Usually, I start writing the music first and then after a riff I have feels really good, I’ll hum some melodies and then the lyrics come after that. Sometimes it sticks with me for a while and sometimes it just doesn’t feel good after like a day (laughs). You could write like 500 songs if you wanted and there might only be ten in there that stick.”

After NeoCaveman dissolved last year and Mountain Ghost’s bass player Jeremy Zelman tragically passed away in April, Balistreri has been taking this time to be patient with himself and get comfortable as a solo artist. “I would like to record these songs I have; I’ve tried doing some scratch things by myself at home but I really don’t like recording by myself and would much rather be in a studio. But financially it’s tough right now to do that, so until then I’m just testing the waters and seeing where things go.”

Gaetano Balistreri has no more shows booked right now although he occasionally plays bass with Elevator Jazz Band. Signing off with some advice for anyone who wants to write music, he shares, “Believe in yourself. It’s so hard to do that when you want everyone to validate what you’re doing, but at the end of the day you just have to enjoy what you’re playing and do what you want to do.”

Iron Pizza consists of vocalist/keyboardist Jarred Nonnemacher, vocalist/tambourine player Rachael Thompson, guitarist Ben Woyak, bassist James Za and drummer Bryce Kedrowicz. The band’s style incorporates power pop, post-punk and synth-driven rock and roll; their name derives from Nonnemacher’s nickname in high school.

Nonnemacher originally started Iron Pizza as a solo project around 2014 before approaching Thompson and Kedrowicz about playing with him; he recalls, “I was playing a Casio keyboard and pressing a little drum button as Iron Pizza. It was just me at first; Bruce had played in a band with me before called Buster Douglas and I asked him if he wanted to play drums. He practiced with me a few times and we played as a two-piece but then we started adding people…that’s when we handed Rachael a tambourine.”

Thompson adds, “I was bartending here at Bremen Cafe and I remember running to the back room to play tambourine with them while I was working (laughs). A couple days later Jarred and Bryce asked me if I wanted to come practice with them, and then we played as a three-piece for a while.”

“I don’t think the band would have progressed if it was just Jarred and I without Rachael,” Kedrowicz said.

In late 2018, Iron Pizza would go on hiatus for a few years. Then they played a reunion show for this very event – the Bremen Block Party – a year ago. They have been playing out since with Za added on bass and Woyak playing guitar.

“Iron Pizza was my favorite band in Milwaukee for a long time,” Za said. “I moved to Chicago for five years, and then when I came back to Milwaukee Iron Pizza had just started playing again so that was when I finally talked my way into the band (laughs).”

“I wanted James to play guitar but he insisted he play bass, so that’s where Ben comes in,” Nonnemacher notes. “He was basically our musical crush for a long time (laughs).”

Woyak responds, “I’ve played in a lot of bands but I wasn’t in one at the time that they asked me to play. I really like all of these people and like Iron Pizza; they played Sin Bad’s release show and Jarred writes awesome songs, so I figured I could write some cool guitar parts to this and sing some backup vocals. It worked out and it feels really good.”

Iron Pizza’s last EP “Nobody’s Fool” came out in 2018; since reuniting they have been writing new material with their new members. “The biggest thing that I’m stoked on about having Ben and James in the band is how it pushes us to do more than we ever have before,” Thompson explains. “We’re all writing together and pushing each other which is really beautiful, and that’s what’s been great about this reform.”

Za adds, “I was on my way to the Riverwest Co-op to work my volunteer shift when I happened upon Jarred playing a piano that was on Center and Fratney for a minute before it got rained on and destroyed (laughs). This was before I joined the band; Jarred was just rocking out and I took a video of it, and I thought that it was really cool and should become something. That turned into one of our new songs, “Sweet Earth.””

On Iron Pizza’s lyrics, Thompson shares, “It’s a lot about everyday things but also about deeper things. Our song “Otis” is about a time me and Jarred watched our friend’s cat for a couple weeks and it was kind of annoying so we wrote about it (laughs). Jarred’s a genius with the lyrics…he’s the heart and soul.”

Iron Pizza play Riverwest Arby’s on August 12th and then they’re at the Yooper Fest up in Michigan, which takes place September 22-24th.

“Today’s set was probably one of the best sets I’ve ever played with Iron Pizza,” Thompson concludes. “A couple people came up to me and said that they got emotional, and that’s cool when you can make someone feel so much.”

PILES consists of vocalist/guitar Jesse Harmon, rhythm guitarist Andrew Worzella, bassist/vocalist Nolan Truttschel and drummer Drew Gricar. Their style could be described as dreamy post-punk. They formed about ten years ago with their debut self-titled album coming out in 2014; Harmon recalls, “I knew Nolan from another band we were in, and Nolan knew Drew as a drummer, and then it went from there.”

On the name “PILES”, Gricar explains, “It’s a term for the guys who skateboard, sleep on the floor and eat gas station food…in an endearing way, of course (laughs).”

The band went on an extended hiatus after releasing their 2017 record “Expeller.” Having not played together for a few years, the members resumed PILES after it was safe enough to do so upon getting their COVID vaccines. “We all weren’t doing anything else at the time so we figured we might as well start jamming again,” Truttschel said.

PILES’ fourth album “5:53” was released earlier this year in May. “It was really us just wanting to write music again,” Harmon said about it. “Some of the songs we individually brought and some were collaborative efforts, but even the ones we brought to the group ended up having elements of collaboration. We were excited to record the new songs; our buddy Andy has a great studio so we worked with him and it was a fun process.”

Truttschel adds, “The lyrics were a lot of freestyling; we record all our practices, so when I’d listen back I’d pick out lines that we could end up using later.”

Gricar shares about the record’s title, “We used to practice later at night but as we’ve gotten older we’ve started practicing earlier, so “5:53″ was kind of a joke we had about what time we were going to meet.”

PILES have primarily been focusing on rehearsing for shows this summer although they’re slowly working on ideas for new songs. They play Milwaukee Record’s Halftime Show at the end of November.

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