As the upright bass player of Calamity Janes And The Fratney Street Band, Johanna Rose provides the rhythmic backbone and contributes one fourth of the gorgeous and formidable harmonic wave for which the budding Riverwest indie-folk project is locally renowned. As if that’s not enough good work and good will on its own, she also backs rapper (and her brother) Airo Kwil during live sets and co-organized the wildly successful inaugural Bandsketball MKE tournament over the summer. As thin as her various musical workload spreads her already, something was still missing. While laid up while recovering from ACL surgery last year, Rose expanded beyond her songwriting duties with the Janes and decided to let her freak flag fly with the eclectic, genre-jumping, and “shameless” solo recording project. As those self-recorded experiments started to develop, so did her desire to take her pet project outside the comfort of her own home, call on fellow folkers, and expand it into a full band that played publicly.
Before her group, New Boyz Club, takes the stage this weekend for the first time ever, Milwaukee Record spoke with Rose about her reason for starting the new venture, who’s helping to bring it to life in a live setting, and the importance of just sitting backing and “seeing what happens.”
Milwaukee Record: Can you explain the project? What was your reason for wanting to start it?
Johanna Rose: Well, I just couldn’t help it. I had ACL surgery last year and how I write songs for the Janes is I record while I write. I record all the instruments and layer my vocals. So I had all these songs form that and I couldn’t leave my house for two months last winter. I wrote a lot and they got better. People would ask me why I didn’t play these solo songs out, but it’s hard to do a solo set when I always want to be the upright [bass] player. Also, a lot of my songs require drums. I’d much rather have people that I’m playing than loops, plus I need doubles on a lot of my vocals, at least. I finally agreed to do a solo show, which is kind of a gross misuse of the word.
MR: Who are the other people involved?
JR: William [Rose] is drumming—my brother. It’s kind of hard to work with any other drummer. Josh Backes from Grasping At Straws is playing a little electric guitar and a little acoustic. Palmer Shah from Ugly Brothers is playing electric for a song. Jack Tell will play banjo on a couple, and then Katie Lyne from Grasping At Straws is playing piano and singing with me. The core of it is really becoming Will, Josh, me, and Katie Lyne [Salscheider]. We also have a trombone player on three or four songs—Nick Weckman from Stubby Chubbz, which is a full-on brass band.
MR: So it’s like a merger of three of the preeminent Riverwest 20-something folk-bluegrass bands?
JR: Yeah, but we’re not playing folk music.
MR: Where does the project land sonically? Is there any one genre or does it bounce around?
JR: It’s tough to say. I’d have to have people tell me. I’m really into Fiery Furnaces and Of Montreal, rock opera-type stuff. There are a lot of changes. I love tempo changes. I love stops. Sometimes I’ll play part of a song and I won’t go back to that part. It’s not your traditional verse, chorus, verse, chorus. I’ll rampage in the middle sometimes. It’s kind of ballad-y, some songs are really fast, some are circus-like. The aim isn’t always to be pretty. There’s a little bit of shock value to some of it.
(Rose calls this one of the “sketches of what will be played Sunday.”)
MR: What do you get from this that you don’t with the Janes or from your work with other artists? Is this a mental clearinghouse of sorts for everything that has yet to be expressed in other ways?
JR: Yeah. I don’t hold back at all. It can get loud. I often play quieter folk stuff, and playing with an electric guitar is fun. It’s nice to do that. Out of this, Katie Lyne have started writing together and I think it’s probably going to continue. We’re going to give it a name, play a couple more shows, and see what happens. I’m not going to put too much pressure on it. Whatever happens with this project, I’ll be happy with. It’s just really fun. People are having fun playing it.
MR: Since you’ve brought more people into the fold, is there any indication how this will work out in a live setting? Do you have any worries about how your self-written solo stuff will fare will a full band, in a larger setting, and with witnesses?
JR: I have no shame, so whatever happens happens. We’re pretty tight on it already. There’s a lot of stops and a lot of tempo changes and stuff, so people will have to be mindful that it’s just not a bluegrass song.
MR: So you have some shows and the band is learning your songs and helping to write more. Are there any other plans with the project itself like recording or touring soon?
JR: We’re a baby. We were just born. That’s like asking an infant, “Where are you going to college?” I have no idea. We’re just going to play some shows and see what happens with it.