Originated in Appleton as a project in which Lawrence University art students incorporated unconventional instruments, mixed media, and percussion provided by actual garbage into their eclectic, genre-jumping sound, Holy Sheboygan has come a long way in its short history. Though just one member remains in the Fox Cities hub and others have since moved to Milwaukee, Madison, Nashville, and even Costa Rica, the band’s collective mentality has allowed Holy Sheboygan to keep going and continue to create in their limited time together. The rare times the widespread group can manage to get together in the same room (let alone the same state), they make it count.
Tomorrow at Cocoon Room, Holy Sheboygan will kick off a five-week U.S. and Canadian tour while formally releasing an EP they recorded the last time they were all together, working, living, and writing together on a rural Wisconsin farm.
Ben DeCorsey—Holy Sheboygan’s guitarist, banjo player, auxiliary percussionist, one of the outfit’s four singers, and one of two Milwaukee-based members—says the nomadic project has never put an emphasis on proximity, and that any three of the band’s seven members being present is enough to constitute a show.
“From the beginning—because we had such a big band and there were so many people and everybody was at different places in their lives—we agreed to make the band more of a collective,” DeCorsey says. “As long as we had a group of songs that we all knew that were Holy Sheboygan songs, people should have the freedom to move around and come back to play that material when they want to.”
Occasionally, every member’s schedule meshes, which allows the long-distance project to embark on lengthy tours and write new material. Last year, following a month-long jaunt, Holy Sheboygan decided to go to The Wormfarm Institute, a “cultureshed” in Reedsburg, WI that serves as an artistic refuge in exchange for agricultural labor. For two months, the band worked together during the day as part of their Wormfarm residence, lived together in a barn, wrote new material, and recorded Holy Sheboygan’s third release, THREE!
“While that much extended proximity was sometimes intense and emotional, it also fostered a great sense of community and working together on one project,” DeCorsey says. “It brought to the forefront for a lot of people in the band their relationship with the band itself, how committed they were to it, and how much of themselves they were willing to put into it. I think for a lot of us, it made us realize how important this project was to us, and that definitely came out in the recording.”
Recorded by Liam O’Brien (vocals, guitar, alto saxophone, tapes, tin whistle, upright bass) in a makeshift band shell constructed from an old grain silo, THREE! is as scattered and difficult to pin down as the band’s members. With an emphasis on every member contributing to the writing process, the seven-song release makes drastic stylistic jumps on a song-by-song basis. Vocal duties vary from female to male, and even group chants.
“It’s not a conscious effort on our part to sound like a million different bands, but I think it comes out on the record. At times, it sounds like totally different bands because there’s so much going on,” DeCorsey says. “That’s definitely a part of the disparate character of the songs.”
With THREE! in the can, Holy Sheboygan will convene in Milwaukee tomorrow for its release/tour kick-off show, and set its sights on getting the album they recorded in such an intimate, personal, and unorthodox manner out into the world. The five-week endeavor will find them traveling through the Midwest, the east coast, and select cities in Canada. Oftentimes, the band will supplement its tour budget by busking on the street or out at bars before or after traditional gigs. DeCorsey says the group considers touring to be a vacation. Oddly enough, the worldly band has yet to make it to the the notorious Wisconsin city in its name.
“I’m the only member of the band who’s actually been to Sheboygan,” DeCorsey says. “Not on purpose.”
Holy Sheboygan will release THREE! at Cocoon Room Friday with an all-ages show that also features Ugly Brothers, Little Red Wolf, and Tonbi Claw. The show begins at 8 p.m. and costs $5 (or $7 for cover at a THREE! cassette).