If you’ve looked at the altogether outstanding lineup for Riverwest FemFest (which begins tonight and runs through Sunday), you’ve probably seen the mysterious “surprise band” slated to take the stage at Company Brewing around 11:15 p.m. on Saturday. Surprise! That band is Appleseeds. After playing what was billed as the punk band’s last show back in May, singer Fly Steffens set out to escape the predictable. She hiked part of the Appalachian Trail before spending time in New York, Massachusetts, and staging a play in Washington D.C.
After about eight months away, she returned to Milwaukee, largely because of FemFest. Before Appleseeds return, Steffens told Milwaukee Record what prompted her lengthy adventure and why she thinks FemFest is incredibly important. The band also allowed us to stream three new, unreleased songs.
Milwaukee Record: So you just got back from out east. What led you there?
Fly Steffens: I went with Milam [Smith], the guitarist in Appleseeds. We left Milwaukee at the end of May of 2015 and we drove through Canada and went to Maine, to northern end of the Appalachian Trail. The intent was to do the entire thing from Maine to Georgia, which is like 2,200 miles. I made it about 100 and we were like, “This is too hard!” So I made it to New York, then I messed up my ankle and stayed in Massachusetts for a month and a half. Milam kept hiking. He went back to Maine and regrouped. The went back to Wisconsin for a while before biking from Stevens Point, Wisconsin to Washington D.C. I’m a playwright, so I had a theater thing going on in D.C. and we hung out there for a while, and we’ve been back here for a couple weeks now.
MR: Why did you decide to leave in the first place?
FS: Early last year, I was just like, “I gotta do something. I need something different.” Certain things came to pass, and I decided I’d get out of here and go for a walk. Olivia [Doyle] was like “But you guys are still going to FemFest, right?” I said I would no matter where I was [living] at the time. So I think that’s actually the main reason why we came back. Originally, we were going to come back for a week, but it’s been nice to come back and have some more time to practice because we haven’t played a show in eight months. We haven’t played any music at all for six. Some of the songs that we’re playing are kind of new still, because we wrote these new songs in April and maybe only played them out twice before we left.
MR: You mentioned Olivia Doyle. She told me that your band and, particularly, you were a major inspiration for starting FemFest. Was there an underlying pressure to make it to this show, even though you don’t live here anymore?
FS: I wouldn’t say pressure. It’s important to me. I think what the fest is for, what it’s about and the message that it sends is important to me as a person and as an artist as well. I would go to the end of the Earth to support that.
MR: Why is it so important to you? Why was it worth shortening your east coast journey?
FS: When I learned that part of the reason why Olivia wanted to do this fest in the first place was to support, enjoy, and feature women in the music scene—it blows my mind that by simply doing this thing that I enjoy and expressing myself through songwriting, it can have an impact on someone. I think it was just an idea that she had that blew up so much because it was so needed, and it brings people together. You get exposed to different styles of music. You need to be able to see yourself in art—to be able to see a representation of your existence reflected back at you, opposed to just being fed an image.
And it’s great to know the organizations that benefit financially from what we make happen in a room. When I heard that this year was benefiting Date Rape Awareness Milwaukee, I would’ve come back anyway, but once I heard that was the beneficiary, it was so important. I don’t know how much people can tell what I’m saying in the song lyrics, but a lot of things that I’ve written about have been in reference to shitty things that I’ve experienced in the world. There’s actually one song on Go Milk Yourself called “Sour Grapes” that’s about my date rape. It was the way I was able to process and take ownership of my feelings. It blows my mind that we’re all going to be in the that room together, and it’s so necessary to cast a lens on that kind of aggression that exists in the world. For everyone in the room, if they haven’t experienced it themselves, there’s someone they know or someone standing next to them who has. I think it’s really important that we’re not only supporting each other musically, but we can try to make people aware.
MR: It is a really necessary thing. You’re on stage and singing “Sour Grapes” and maybe someone out there has dealt with a similarly horrible atrocity and can take some sort of comfort in knowing they’re not alone, even if what they’re not alone in is being victimized.
FS: Yeah, and I think, too, that feeling like you’re not alone is something that the fest iterates. When I first met Olivia, I think that was a point when I started to realize I’m not alone up there and the things I’m saying are affecting and impactful. There are things I’ve experienced. Let’s talk about it in a room with music.
MR: You mentioned that you wrote some new things before you left. What’s the new material like? How does it differ from Go Milk Yourself and earlier work?
FS: I don’t know. I was listening to our first album this morning and we just sounded so little. We sounded like kids. At the beginning, it was very garage and pop-punk and—I don’t want to say simple—even the way I sang was a lot of upper register and kind of naive harmonies. As we’ve progressed, it’s gotten heavier, especially on these new songs. There’s some harder stuff and I feel like the album is a lot more lyrically mature. I was dealing with a lot of heavy shit in my life before I left and I think a lot of that came out in this album. I think Appleseeds 1.0 was fun because I wasn’t dealing with anything. Now that I’m older, I’m tending to explore that shit in the music.
MR: So you’re back for now and you have new songs for an album this year, but what’s next for you and the band? Are you staying here for a while or is there another hike in the works?
FS: Milam and I are moving to Chicago at the end of this month, and a part of the reason we chose Chicago was because of its proximity to Milwaukee, because we all want to keep playing music together. When I think about bands like Tenement, Landlord, and Hot New Mexicans, they all live in different cities, but still play together, make music, and tour. We have no idea what’s going to happen, but that’s kind of been my life for the last year, which is why I think I left in the first place. I knew exactly everything that was happening all of the time. Nothing was new. That’s death. But it’s good to be alive and to not know.
Appleseeds play at Company Brewing on Saturday, January 23 as part of the second annual Riverwest FemFest. The show is $10, with all proceeds going to Milwaukee Women’s Center and Date Rape Awareness Milwaukee.