Love is in the air. Even if you don’t buy into the fabricated sham holiday that is Valentine’s Day, the sheer volume of mushy, emotional stuff permeating your senses the second week of each February causes even the most calloused person to take stock of his or her own relationship (or lack thereof) and weigh it against the love lives of those around them. If you’re well-versed in Milwaukee music, you’ll find no shortage of relationships in the local scene.
In a situation that often finds people with a shared passion spending a great deal of time together, the fact that inner-band romances occur is no real shock. Still, one can’t underscore the risk musicians take when simultaneously dangling their hearts and their bands in the balance. Yet with the amount of Milwaukee musicians who take this risk, it must have its rewards. These examples are likely just the tip of the iceberg, but here are eight ongoing instances of couples in current Milwaukee bands.
1. Dixie Jacobs and D.J. Hostettler of Body Futures
Talk about a slow build! Last November, half of Body Futures—Dixie Jacobs (synth, autoharp, vocals) and D.J. Hostettler (drums, vocals)—was joined together in marriage. Though the vows came after the pair was together for just a couple years, the musicians’ marriage was preceded by more than 10 years of friendship. They first started hanging out around 2003, when Jacobs’ band White, Wrench, Conservatory. and Hostettler’s other project IfIHadAHiFi began playing together frequently. When Jacobs was seeking members for a new project, the drummer quickly offered his services. “I had wanted to play in a band with Dixie for a while because I’ve always thought our voices meshed together really well,” Hostettler says. The great harmony is evidenced in HiFi’s “Success! Success! Success!” video. After they were in a band together and the always-tricky timing worked out, the new collaborators also became a couple, adding a heaping dose of emotional fulfillment to match their artistic satisfaction.
“The rock and roll life is sort of all-encompassing, so being able to share every second of it with your best friend and know that they’re just as into it is a powerfully awesome thing,” Hostettler says.
2. Jennifer Boniger Dixon and Kevin Dixon of Brief Candles
Jennifer Boniger Dixon and Kevin Dixon are originally from Illinois, but that hasn’t stopped their band, Brief Candles, from becoming a drone-y staple of the Milwaukee music scene. For more than a decade, the group has given the city a healthy dose of washed-out shoegaze with albums like Fractured Days and Newhouse, as well as a seemingly never-ending stream of shows. “Big news” is being teased by the band for 2015; until then, you can enjoy the single from its lovely Blue Unit side project, or the Ryan Sarnowski-directed clip for Newhouse’s “Terry Nation.”
3. Jeanna Salzer and Alex Bunke of Bright Kind
Some five years ago, the cast of the band that’s now known as Bright Kind went by the name Jeanna Salzer Trio. Though the name has changed, a fourth member has been added, and there’s been a slightly sonic sidestep, one thing has remained constant: two members have been dating. Alex Bunke was originally just Jeanna’s drummer, but—with a nod to Jim “Milwaukee’s Rock Cupid” Linneman—he says the bandmates finally gave into the long-brewing feelings in 2010. Bunke says the best part of being in a band with Salzer is “trying to figure out if a song’s lyrics are about me or some other shady character.”
4. Margaret Butler and Nicholas Ziemann of GGOOLLDD
Louisiana native Margaret Butler originally met Nicholas Ziemann when he was passing through the state while touring with a different band, spawning a long-distance relationship that eventually found her moving to Milwaukee. Though the pair has been dating for the better part of a decade, the GGOOLLDD frontwoman and the band’s bass player have only been playing together for about a year and a half. Last month, Ziemann spoke highly of his main squeeze’s first band, telling us, “Margaret does a great job. I’ve been with her for seven years and I always knew that if she’d ever play with a band, she’d kill it.” On the whole, Milwaukee seems to agree with him.
5. Isa Carini and Anthony Weber of Heavy Hand
In two weeks, Heavy Hand will make the long trek to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to partake in PRF Thundersnow. The journey to play in Escanaba will also double as a couples retreat for two thirds of the band, as singer/guitarist Anthony Weber and bassist Isa Carini have been hitched about two years and, according to drummer/odd man out Chris Roberts, together about five years. It’s hard not to get behind any romance that eventually spawned “Motherfucking Bobcat”’s existence.
6. Wendy Norton and Ryan King of Ramma Lamma
Stop us if you’ve heard it before. Boy meets girl. Girl thinks boy is “a total pain in the ass to deal with.” Within mere months of knowing one another, boy and girl break up with their significant others (and bands they were in at the time) and get married at the courthouse downtown. Pretty standard stuff, right? More than 10 years and three bands later, Wendy Norton and Ryan King are still together and still playing together. The husband-wife combo’s latest project is Ramma Lamma, a punk-tinged glam rock band with vocal duties shared by Norton and King whose “lyrics are obviously about [their] sex life,” King says.
Beyond getting eternal dibs on the best beds and being able to swing votes for food stops while on tour, Norton says one of the biggest benefits of playing with the man she loves is there’s no jealousy. “I see people give up their rock dreams for their partner…then what happens?” Norton says. “The jealous partner gets all like, ‘You’re not the same. You used to be cool and have dreams and be artsy and respected.’ And then both people are unhappy and end up breaking up.”
7. Betty Blexrud-Strigens and Damian Strigens of Testa Rosa
Achingly pretty Milwaukee alt-rock band Testa Rosa was responsible for one of the best Milwaukee albums of 2011 (the simply named II), as well as 2014’s sad-but-pointed anti-Scott Walker track “Bad Wolf.” (What has that dude been up to lately?) Highlighted by the unmistakable vocals of Betty Blexrud-Strigens and the chiming guitar of Damian Strigens, the group is one of Milwaukee’s most versatile and accomplished, effortlessly churning out reverb-drenched minor-key hymns (“Big Girl”) and ’90s-inspired pop-rock gems (“If Only I Had Run”).
8. Jenna Pepitone and Alex Shah of Ugly Brothers
Compared to many of the other couples on this list, the four-month relationship of Ugly Brothers cellist Jenna Pepitone and the band’s primary singer/guitarist Alex Shah is a drop in the bucket. That said, the Riverwest folk scene’s newest power couple have worked together for three years, played together for two, and briefly dated one other time before becoming official (again) late last year. “It’s so much fun making music with your best friend and I think it’s even better when you can have that experience with your significant other,” Pepitone says. “We are fortunate our friendship grew into what we have now.” So far, the second try hasn’t hurt the band dynamic. “They’re just bitter because they wanted to date me, too,” Shah says.