In our MKE Music Rewind series, we revisit notable Milwaukee music that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
The local music scene seems to operate in cycles. When looking back at specific eras in Milwaukee music, certain bands, rappers, and singer-songwriters serve as touchstones or recorded reference points that remind people what things were like in the scene at that point in time. Now that there’s a little space between the early 2010s and the present day, we can effectively reassess and evaluate the state of Milwaukee a decade prior.
Looking back on it now, it seems like the first few years of the 2010s was a somewhat transitional time in Milwaukee music. The Promise Ring was long gone. Decibully had called it quits in 2010. Despite putting out “the best Milwaukee album” of the early ’10s, Call Me Lightning was about to slow down considerably. Local hip-hop was undeniably in-between moments. Field Report had yet to form and the ink on Jaill‘s Sub Pop deal was still drying.
There’s no clear answers as to whom actually carried the torch for Milwaukee music a decade ago, but The Fatty Acids are at least in the conversation. In fact, the charismatic synth-pop quartet actually might be the most local prolific band from that abbreviated era when taking into account both what they accomplished and the impact its members still have on Milwaukee music today.
The Fatty Acids made their debut with 2010’s Stop Berries, Berries And Berries, Berries. The energetic introductory album featured some lighthearted “scramble-pop” befitting of a record with “berries” in its name four times, but also displayed lyrical depth and a level of musicianship few would expect from a college-age outfit. That first record earned the outfit attention from local entertainment publications, brought newfound awareness to the band, and brought them out of the basement at their “Kribber’s Tiny Kingdom” residence/performance space/recording studio in Riverwest for well-attended shows at venues all over Milwaukee and beyond. It also paved the way for an even better album the following year.
During the summer of 2011, The Fatty Acids put out Leftover Monsterface. The 10-song effort found the young band sounding more dialed-in and more grown-up than ever before. Not only did the Fatties sound bigger this time around, the band was bigger—having added guitarist Matt Pappas and trumpeter Kurt Raether between albums—and willing to venture to strange, unfamiliar, and altogether rewarding territory.
The record starts with “Creature,” a larger than life and near-seven-minute opening track that’s brimming with pent-up energy and an eventual release, followed by overcast early-album standout “Marks We Leave.” Tracks like “Oven Mitts” and “Argentinean Mistresses” perfectly blend poignant lyrics encased inside of infectious melodies with fun and lively instrumentation that, when combined, takes you right back to warm and celebratory nights in Linneman’s crowded back room circa pretty much any weekend in early ’10s. Somehow, “Football Team” manages to drip with raw emotion and earnest lyrics, “Memory Banks” comes off as manic and boisterous, and both earn a spot on this memorable time capsule of a band navigating early adulthood in a world that was few years from immense change.
As The Fatty Acids grew and evolved, they brought Milwaukee music (which, in retrospect, seemed to be dealing with a sort of inferiority complex at the time) upward with them. They toured. They brought out-of-town acts to the city for shows they’d support and actively promote. For subsequent releases, such as the its Torrential Zen split with Sat. Nite Duets (another accomplished contemporary of that time), The Fatty Acids and its then-trumpet player/videographer Raether would self-release some of the most ambitious and impressive music videos the city had seen to that point. The band was a point of local pride, but also a reminder that artists in an oft-overlooked music scene had the ability to do exactly what they wanted and exactly how they wanted if they built it themselves.
When the third-album, Boléro, came out in 2013, The Fatty Acids had hit their stride in terms of its sound and its audience. Now veterans in the revitalized music scene, the band celebrated its biggest sonic swing with a green suit-clad, confetti-covered release show at Pabst Theater. More insanely good videos and summer tours followed.
Around the time, things also began to change with the band’s makeup. Raether left the lineup to focus on film ventures. Joel Van Haren, another member with a film background, moved away to focus on his career. Primary vocalist Josh Evert joined Jaill as the band’s drummer. Pappas started Platinum Boys. And the band’s members as a whole got busy with personal milestones and job changes that tend to come once college concludes. Live outings slowed considerably, reserved almost exclusively for rare shows for benefits (like Arte Para Todos, Evert’s co-creation that raised tens of thousands of dollars for local education programs) and record release shows for other local bands they wanted to champion.
Even though The Fatties put out another album, the great Dogs Of Entertainment, in 2017 and played a select few shows in support of it, the writing is now on the wall that the band’s most productive days are now behind them. Even the band’s Twitter bio says “we’re basically not a band anymore.” Though we could mourn the loss of the 2010s kingpin, we choose to focus on the band’s impact instead.
Pappas’ Platinum Boys are still around and sounding better than ever. Evert is bringing affordable and accessible recording/mixing options to musicians as the co owner of Silver City Studios. Both Evert and Fatty Acids bassist Derek De Vinney have joined forces on a new project called Dinner Set Gang, which has a highly-anticipated album on the way later this year. Drummer Cole Quamme is part of an experimental electronic folk duo called OQ. Raether and Van Haren are still making waves in the film community. Collectively, the “loss” (or significant slowing down) of The Fatty Acids has allowed its members to splay out and impact Milwaukee arts in more ways and in more significant ways.
While the young band from Riverwest probably didn’t set out to be a buoy for a scene that was directionless and drifting, the impact The Fatty Acids had on Milwaukee music a decade ago and the influence its members still have in the city’s creative community today is without debate. And Leftover Monsterface was the band’s first focused effort and its most impactful jolt to a music scene that desperately needed a shot in the arm.