Soul Low is in a strange place right now. Following its biggest year to date, the band currently looms in a self-described “vinyl purgatory” that finds it sitting on new material and staying relatively quiet while awaiting the arrival of wax. With time to kill before the (hopefully) August release of its sophomore full-length and old material not exactly getting more fun to play, Soul Low is trying to keep busy in interesting ways.
About a month after adapting Tigernite songs at Local Coverage, the busy band will leave its amps at home and take the stage with expanded string and horn accompaniment at UW-Milwaukee’s Helene Zelazo Center Thursday night for WMSE’s MKE Unplugged concert series. Before the show, Soul Low unveiled a new acoustic music video for “Son,” and bassist Sam Gehkre told Milwaukee Record about the upcoming show, and what the rest of 2016 holds for his band.
Milwaukee Record: So you]re doing an unplugged show at UWM. How did this all come about? I know that you’re involved with Peck School Of The Arts. Did you approach them or did they, with their knowledge of you and your band, come to you?
Sam Gehrke: It was kind of halfway thing, where we were having a couple meetings with WMSE—me and Rebecca [Ottman]—and kind of chatting about bands to plug into the series. From my understanding, it’s been a lot of classical players from the national scene. There hasn’t been as big of an involvement of local bands in the series. We don’t directly book it. It’s booked by another person in the department, so I kind of floated them my two cents, saying, “Hey, if you need a band, Soul Low would want to do it.” We’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while.
MR: So other than being unplugged, what are some other ways this will differ from the normal Soul Low show? Will you be incorporating any other players to accompany you?
SG: Yeah, we’re going to have a violin player, Ernest Brusubardis, from Thistledown Thunders involved. Monique Ross from Sista Strings and Michael Anderson, who is [Foreign Goods member] Jay Anderson’s little brother. Over the last month and a half we’ve restructured a good number of songs. We’re playing a bunch of them we’ve never been able to play out before, songs like “Son” and “Kind Spirit” that have more of a toned-down feel. We don’t really do them live because we usually want our sets to have more energy. We rearranged a couple songs that will be on our new record and doing other songs that won’t be out for a while, and we rearranged songs we haven’t touched in a while, like “Spooky Times.” We just revamped the feel of it.
MR: I know that your appearance in this series is a one-time deal, but are you thinking this might have an impact that you play a few of these songs live going forward? Could knowing you have these versions in your back pocket come into play for other shows?
SG: I think so. We’ve been playing “Spooky Times” more or less the same way for the last three years, so to have this kind of Latin switch to it would be a fun thing to do to keep from it getting too stale. Like you said, it’ll be nice to have these in our back pocket if we ever have the urge to play another acoustic show.
MR: You mentioned you’re playing songs that aren’t out yet. Your new album is done, but like so many other bands, you’re in vinyl limbo right now.
SG: Vinyl purgatory, yeah.
MR: But it’s expected out in August on Gloss Records?
SG: Yeah, it’ll be out on Gloss Records on CD and vinyl with a limited edition tape. August is our goal. We’re going to try to hold ourselves to that. We have our release show penciled in. Hopefully in the spring we’re going to lock down everything. We’re waiting for the test presses to come.
MR: How many songs will be on the record, and how will it differ sonically from previous releases?
SG: It’s a nine-song album. From the people we’ve showed it to, the reaction we’ve gotten is that it’s kind of the sound we’ve had for a while, but it’s more grown up, I guess. It’s a really cliche thing to say on your second record, but UNEASY was written over the course of four years, starting when we were still in high school. So the songs varied in their maturity levels and their sound. This new record is darker but still has our pop and garage elements. I think it’s more complex and more interesting.
MR: So what are you going to be doing in the meantime? You played Local Coverage and you’re doing this, which is a little unorthodox as well. Are you planning to do the festival circuit this year or go on the road more?
SG: We’ll do some regional runs across the Midwest in the next couple months. We’re doing a very small amount of local shows and, yeah, a couple festivals. We’re also bringing back the Soul Low summer cruise on the Vista King, and that’s July 2. All your favorite covers and all your favorite Soul Low songs.
An expanded Soul Low and Hello Death will play WMSE’s MKE Unplugged Presents concert series at UW-Milwaukee’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, February 18. The free show begins at 7:30 p.m.