Posted June 28, 2009

Karen Gauger photo

To most Australians, Milwaukee is famous as the setting of the long-running American sitcom Happy Days (which inadvertently gave the entertainment world the term ‘jumping the shark’), and possibly as the subject of Alice Cooper’s impromptu history lesson in Wayne’s World (culminating Garth and Wayne’s reverential ‘we are not worthy’ chant). While every American city has its local musical attractions, Milwaukee lacks the iconic status of other notable musical locales, such as Memphis, Portland and Washington DC. But maybe Milwaukee garage-folk-basement punk band The Goodnight Loving will elevate the city’s status in the American independent music fraternity – certainly, any band lucky enough to have Greg Cartwright onside must be worth paying attention to.

On the eve of The Goodnight Loving’s first Australian tour, PATRICK EMERY spoke to singer and multi-instrumentalist ANDY K about Milwaukee, beer, Vince Lombardi and two-pronged kangaroo penises.

When and where did the band form?

I have an awful memory, but I think as early as 2004 we were playing music together, although I like to think of us really starting around 2006, when our first record came out. By that point Andy Harris had joined the band, which is sort of a defining moment in the band. We used to be pretty bad. Our drummer would fall over the drum kit drunk. Colin would kick over his pedal steel. By the time we got the offer to make the first record we got our act together a bit.

I read that some (all?) of you come from Green Bay originally. Are the Packers still based in Green Bay?

Andy Harris and Ryan Adams are from Green Bay proper, I (Andy Kavanaugh) am from Appleton, which is about half an hour away from Green Bay. I think when people write about us in reference to Green Bay, they are usually talking about the fact that there was a great music scene in Green Bay. In high school you could see great punk bands all the time thanks to Tom Smith and the Concert Café. For most of us the Concert Café was the first place we played and saw shows, which is the common thread amongst most people I know today, even in Milwaukee.

The Packers are still in Green Bay and if that changed for whatever reason the suicide and murder rate would go through the roof. People in Wisconsin would lose their identity. The Packers are the only community owned pro football team. My mom has her stock certificate hung on the wall and she goes to the shareholder meetings and what not. When the Packer’s lose statistics show that domestic abuse goes up in Wisconsin.

Vince Lombardi is probably the most obvious name to be associated with Green Bay. Have you ever immersed yourself in Lombardi’s classic sporting quotations (‘a winner never quits, and a quitter never wins’ etc)?

I can’t say I immersed myself in the Lombardi philosophy. However, when it comes to winners and losers, the losers are definitely more interesting to me.

Most Australians would know Milwaukee only from Happy Days. What are the best and worst attributes of Milwaukee?

There are a lot of bands around. I don’t know if that makes a “music scene,” because I can’ t really hear many things in common between them, but there are a lot of basement venues, local music stations, dive bars, local record labels. I suppose the common thread in the music scene is the humble nature in which most people here do things. It is a very working class city which I think rubs off on the music and attitudes of people here. The rent is cheap, the beer is always flowing. Milwaukee can be a dangerous place also. It is a very segregated city with a large portion living in poverty.

What’s the best beer in Milwaukee?

Milwaukee is a city of shitty beer. Blatz, Hamms, Pabst, High Life etc. Those are a few of the staples and I will drink them all the time, but I could never call them the “best.” There are some micro brews, but I am not a huge fan. I would have to go a little outside of Milwaukee to New Glarus, Wisconsin and say that New Glarus beer is the best in the state.

Karen Gauger photo

The Goodnight Loving trail runs from Texas through New Mexico to Colorado. Have any of the members of band been on the Goodnight Loving trail – or even herded cattle at any stage of their lives?

Nope. Our old drummer Austin saw a show on PBS about the trail and suggested the name. We just thought it was funny to put the word Loving in a name, because we were still operating with the idea that we were kind of a punk band. We base many decisions on how uncomfortable it makes us feel. People always thinks it means, “Having sex in the night time,” like we are a sexy funk band or something. Which is fine. I’m not going to take that away from them if it makes them happy, but there is a historic reference in the name. The cattle trail kind of represents the American expansion west and manifest destiny, which is a very important and fucked up part of American history and culture.

I read that you recorded one of your records in a log cabin – is that correct? If so, what was that like?

We recorded "Crooked Lake" at my family’s cabin in the woods up north. It was fantastic. It was an A frame so there were nice acoustics. When one of us wasn’t doing a take we would sip whisky old fashions out on the dock or go for a swim. We recorded some songs write around the campfire. We did that right after our first album, which was a studio record. We like to change our approaches to recording all the time.

There’s a strong 60s influence in your music – who are you favourite 60s bands, and why?

We all love that music, probably because we just raided our parent’s record collections. Del Shannon, The Kinks, Beatles, Stones, Creedence, Beach Boys. We take influence from the 60s, but we would never aspire to be a 60’s band. We all write personal songs about the times in which we live, so I think that alone prevents us from being a throwback band. Plus we are not technically good enough to copy anybody. We are only ourselves.

I’ve read your music described as basement punk. What does that term mean to you?

It means bringing your own beer and having people a foot away from you when you play. I would rather play a basement any day but I would never call myself a basement punk.

There’s also a folk aspect to your music. Are you guys hippies? Is that an offensive question?

No, we are not hippies. I am not even sure what that means anymore? I think it is just a fashion statement now. I would say we are more like lumberjacks. We eat lots of pancakes and saw down trees.

Folk music gets a bad rap. I don’t even listen to much “folk music,” but I know stuff like country and bluegrass and blues all have a great integrity to them that comes from having a defiant edge, that gives them a bit of swagger. That is rock n roll. I think even before the genre existed rock n roll was around. Edgar Allen Poe is an American rock n roller. Woody Guthrie is a rocker. Most bands that call themselves folk music or Americana or alt country have forgotten about this and lost their edge. I think that is why we generally end up playing with punk or garage bands, because those bands still have the right attitude.

How did you first meet Greg Cartwright?

I had seen the Reigning Sound before, and met him briefly then. Kevin, who runs Dusty Medical Records simply asked Greg if he would do it. It’s weird how sometimes if you just ask somebody something, no matter how crazy it is, they will actually say yes.

What was it like working with Greg?

He was really laid back. We just sipped beers, he had a little portable turntable and he would play all of these cool 45’s. It was very casual, but I think we learned a lot. Being our first record, I was nervous. I felt like I had written all these songs in private in my bedroom, and now I was making a record I know people were going to listen to because of Greg’s involvement. But just having him there gave me the confidence to record more personal songs, even if they kind of embarrass me. That is something the band has stuck with to this day I think. All of our songs have to have some kernel of personal stuff in them, otherwise they just don’t seem worth doing.

The members of the band all share songwriting duties. How do you guys manage the process of identifying songs for the album? Is it democratic or dictatorial?

It is mostly democratic. For most of our albums we have a huge backlog of songs already written, so it is merely a selection process. Sometimes it gets tough. All of our records have had to have some songs cut, just for length purposes. For every song that makes it to record there are maybe two that have either never been recorded or that just kind of died along the wayside somewhere. With the new record we are recording we are changing that up and sort of writing the record as we slowly record it. This is an interesting process because you can listen to what you have already done, then write a couple songs in response to the ones you have already recorded. You can sort of sculpt the album as you go along.

You’ve toured Europe recently. How did that go?

Our trips to Europe have been really great. They treat you like a working band, as opposed to in America, where you are often treated as if you are just touring around as a hobby. Greatest memory is when a bunch of us shot-gunned beers in front of the Coliseum in Rome. I figure if they murdered people there no one should be offended if we shot-gunned beers.

Your third album has been released in Australia on Off the Hip. How did that deal come about?

I think at first Mickster from Off the Hip wanted to combine our first two records into one package for his label. At the time we were just finishing up our 3rd record, so we thought it would be better for him to release something contemporary. Plus, Dusty Medical only wanted to do a vinyl release, so Mickster did the CDs. It’s worked out great.

How far have you progressed in writing songs for your next album?

We have a 7 inch on Dirtnap Records coming out in October and a EP kinda deal coming out on Wild Honey (Italy) in the fall as well, so those will come out before a new record. We have already recorded 3 songs for a full length and we probably have about 8 more ready to record. We also have a general concept mapped out for the record. Needless to say we are really looking forward to finishing it up.

How did you end up playing on the Flip Out! bill in Australia?

I am not really sure. The gods just smiled upon us I guess. I am assuming Off the Hip had a lot to do with it.

Mikey Young from Eddy Current Suppression Ring said you guys were one of the best live bands he’d seen. To what extent do you try to capture your live sound on your recordings?

Wow that is a great compliment and a great question. We definitely treat recording and playing live like two separate processes. I have very little interest in only recording music that can be duplicated live. So we do sound different live as opposed to on record. We don’t have an organ anymore, which has made us a little bit more of a scrappy guitar rock n roll band in a live setting. We don’t really do much of our folky stuff live unless it is an acoustic show or something. I would like to see us do more acoustic shows in the future, just to switch it up.

What are you looking forward to most when you come to Australia?

I guess just to be in the Southern Hemisphere. I am looking forward to seeing Eddy Current, Ooga Boogas, Pink Reason. Meeting new people, getting drunk with a wombat.

What’s the most obscure fact you know (or urban myth that you’ve heard) about Australia?

I am fascinated by the idea of divergent evolution. Why are all of your mammals marsupials? Fascinating! I also know that Kangaroos have two pronged penises. We only have one pronged penises where we are from, which is pretty boring.