“Why sing songs, why suffer on? Why wake up at all?” So ponders singer Benny Koziol on “Crimson,” the opening track of Mittelstadt‘s debut EP Roll Ginger Roll. Those are big questions, to be sure, and if Koziol and company don’t exactly find the answers over the song’s less-than-two-minute runtime they certainly sound good searching for them. Roll Ginger Roll—and Mittelstadt itself—is one of Wisconsin’s great unexpected musical pleasures of 2018.
Another question: Who, exactly, is Mittelstadt? First of all, they’re young. Koziol, 18, is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Drummer Philip Adrian, 18, attends Beloit College. Cellist Enzo Demichele and trumpet player Jack Folstein, 18 and 16, respectively, both attend high school in Milwaukee.
“Philip and I have been great friends and creative collaborators since kindergarten,” Koziol says. “We started making music together when were 13 years old and we’ve been doing basement recordings and one-off shows under various names for a number of years now. This is our most polished, serious outing yet, and the first as Mittelstadt.”
On Roll Ginger Roll, songs like the delicate “Living By The River,” the baroque “The Ghost Of Abraham J. Lincoln,” and the woozy “Jane, Why Do You Hate Me?” score big on a heady mix of Americana, folk, pop, soul, and jazz. Koziol counts George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, The Allman Brothers’ Eat A Peach, and Sting’s solo work as further influences on Roll Ginger Roll, but it’s also easy to hear the eternally youthful (and earnest) Jonathan Richman coursing through the EP’s six tracks.
“Enzo plays in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra,” Koziol explains, “and our shared love and discussion of the Romantic composers like Ravel and Tchaikovsky definitely colored some of our harmonies and arrangements. Much of my writing was inspired by walks around Lake Mendota through the autumn of last year. All of the recording took place in January during school breaks back at home in Milwaukee.”
Taking their name from the German word meaning “middle city” (as well as a “legendary elementary school teacher”), Mittelstadt is a band both youthful and beyond-its-years, whimsical and open-hearted. A full-length album may be released in the near future.
“The nebulous and ambitious goal of the project is to make contemporary indie music with some deep roots,” Koziol says. “We want to bring some of the old forms, the grit, and the richness of the 12-bar blues and the sonata into what often feels like an echo chamber of shallow, cookie-cutter music. It’s a very open-ended dream so far and I find the possibilities of where this project could go very exciting.”