Whether it’s a weekly ritual or an occasional guilty pleasure, almost everyone out there has a love of (or at least tolerance for) karaoke. The pastime allows everyday people to wield a microphone and lay some vocals atop songs hand selected from a big book of mainstream standards that have been deemed to popular enough for inclusion. While everyone has at least one go-to song (or will reluctantly sing “Sweet Caroline” after hours of prodding from friends), people whose musical preferences tend to land on punk and indie rock side of the fence aren’t often considered beyond a few Devo, Romones, and The Clash crossover hits.
Fortunately, Austin, Texas mainstay Karaoke Underground has provided an outlet for the sect of singers since 2003. In recent years, Karaoke Underground‘s Kaleb Asplund has occasionally taken the unique audio amenity he co-founded with his wife Hannah on the road to give punkers outside the Texas capital a chance to try their hand at close to 900 songs from bands like Fugazi, Against Me!, Black Flag, Sleater-Kinney, Misfits, Pavement, and hundreds more. Tuesday night, Asplund—who also plays drums in The Spoils and Math Patrol—will bring his abundance of comparably obscure instrumentals to Milwaukee for the fourth time since 2011, as his Karaoke Underground stops at Frank’s Power Plant. Beforehand, Asplund told Milwaukee Record (via email, during down time after an Upper Michigan gig) about his previous Milwaukee shows, new additions to his catalog this time around, and how he’s a few requests away from adding Die Kreuzen to his songlist.
Milwaukee Record: How many times has Karaoke Underground been to Milwaukee? When and where was the last time?
Kaleb Asplund: Twice, both at Cactus Club. The last one was December 29, 2012, so it’s been a while.
MR: Since that last Milwaukee stop, the catalog has swelled to 896 songs. What are some notable new additions since 2012?
KA: Where do I start? The biggest general thing is that I’ve focused on adding songs from female vocalists. It’s still pretty lopsided, but we’ve got a lot more songs from bigger acts like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, but also groups with smaller catalogs, like Perfect Pussy and The Cell Phones. There are a lot more songs from the 21st century!
MR: How does Milwaukee’s response, turnout, and general enthusiasm for KU compare to most other tour stops?
KA: The first Cactus show in 2011 was insane, as great as anywhere else I’ve been. The second one was pretty sparse. I remember hearing that a lot of people had caught the flu from some big festival the previous week.
MR: What are some of the most popular song choices?
KA: “This Year” by The Mountain Goats is leading the pack so far in 2015. Last year, our top two songs overall were Rilo Kiley’s “Portions For Foxes” and Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon.” Out of two shows, it’s hard to nail down a Milwaukee trend, but there were memorable performances of Refused’s “New Noise” and “Teenage FBI” by Guided By Voices.
MR: I see you have songs from IfIHadAHiFi, Promise Ring, and Violent Femmes on the songlist. Are there any Milwaukee or Wisconsin acts you’d really like to get instrumental song versions of? Maybe we can help.
KA: Die Kreuzen is the obvious one from Milwaukee, and Killdozer from Madison. I’ve been meaning to add both, but nobody’s requested them, so they’ve been sitting on the back burner for a long time. Not sure which particular songs would be best though.
MR: While most of the catalog leans punk, there’s a lot of stuff outside that umbrella. Almost everyone can find at least one song they love. What can you say to ease worries of somebody not being “punk enough” to come out?
KA: Going beyond “punk” was one of the main priorities for us from the beginning. My wife Hannah and I were college radio DJs and managers at KAUR in Sioux Falls, SD, in the late ’90s and wanted to emphasize the free-form nature of the rock underground, like our station did. The first video we made was for “Polar Opposites” by Modest Mouse, and I think the second was Minor Threat’s “Straightedge,” so that should give an idea of where we’re coming from. We were huge devotees of Ian Rans’ old Punk Karaoke show in Minneapolis before we moved to Austin in 2003, and he also had a pretty eclectic list. It was more focused on indisputably “punk” classics, but we also sang songs from pAper chAse and Enon that are probably better described with other adjectives. Basically, we use D. Boon of the Minutemen’s definition: Punk is whatever we made it to be.
MR: Are there any unwritten KU rules of etiquette you’d like to stress?
KA: The only thing we care about is enthusiasm. That’s pretty much it for rules. Don’t break things.
MR: How was Madison last week?
KA: Great. I always love playing at Mickey’s Tavern and there was a good mix of old and new faces. Liz and the crew running that place are wonderful people. It was extra-special getting to play with Dave Norwood of The Gary opening up. He writes powerful, evocative songs and has an incredible presence in delivering them. At the Frank’s show, Dixie from Body Futures will be joining him on a few songs, and I’m really looking forward to that.
MR: What’s your favorite song to sing from your own catalog? And what’s a song you’ve never seen performed that you desperately hope someone attempts soon?
KA: I’ve been really into “I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost” by Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Company probably ever since Jason Molina died a couple years ago, but I just added it last year and sing it a lot. There are so many songs I’d love to see somebody do: “Light From A Dead Star” by Lush, “Fagetarian & Dyke” by Team Dresch, “Return Of The Rat” by Wipers, anything by Minutemen or Poster Children. All the songs are good, though. There are none I don’t want to hear.
Karaoke Underground with opener Dave Norwood (of The Gary) comes to Frank’s Power Plant on Tuesday, February 24 at 9 p.m.