The Jersey City-based band The Milwaukees have toured extensively throughout the States and Europe, yet only very recently have they begun to get local recognition on their home turf – mostly because Jersey City is sorely lacking in available live music venues.
The band, which includes lead singer/guitarist Dylan Clark, guitarist Jeff Nordstedt, drummer Patrick Fusco, and bassist Donovan Cain, recently began playing a monthly gig at Bar Majestic on Grove Street.
“I think Hudson County is starting to embrace us,” said Cain about their local reputation. Guitarist Nordstedt describes the scene at the Majestic as a party-like atmosphere.
“We cover songs we have no business covering,” joked Nordstedt.
They also played at the recent Oktoberfest street festival in downtown Jersey City.
“It was good. It was fun,” said Clark about the festival. “A lot of people were drinking and we are a good band to get drunk to.”
After a recent show at the Saint in Asbury Park, the guys reflected on their recent album American Anthem Vol. 1, recording Vol. 2, and more.
While Clark, who started the band in 2000, and Nordstedt, who joined soon after, have been involved since the beginning, the current lineup has been together for over two years.
“Two and change,” said Cain. “We are 24 months old.”
“We are in our terrible twos,” said Clark.
“We’ve been there a long time,” added Nordstedt.
The easy camaraderie that they share is something that lead singer Clark says is important to him. It is reflected in their music, which is tight, focused and passionate, particularly at a live show.
Their sound is steeped in classic rock with melodies and lyrics that have an almost timeless quality and appeal.
According to Clark, he feels that they sound like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers if they formed today.
Yet Cain calls it American rock and roll.
“We are American and it is rock and roll,” said Cain. “You are either with us or against us.”
Although Cain likes to joke about things, one thing they all take seriously is the music. The guys don’t think that there is one song that is the epitome of the Milwaukees’ sound. Nordstedt feels that three strung together might be closer.
“I feel like you’d have to see us live to get the whole picture,” added Cain.
Recently, the guys began recording songs for their next album at the Pigeon Club in Hoboken. The band previously released three full-length albums and one EP.
While the new album, American Anthem Vol. 2, will have new songs and old, it was actually conceived of when they recorded part one.
“Originally we wrote the material to be a double album,” explained Clark. They plan to have only 10 songs on the album.
“If you want to see our vision, there is nothing like a 10 song album that kicks your a–,” said Fusco.
“I’d say unless you are the Beatles I don’t want to hear past that. We don’t want anyone to skip songs.” said Clark.
According to Nordstedt, their fan base is an almost even split, although he says that more recently their fans are females.
They have fans from all over the world from touring and say that they will make a point to connect with them.
“Well, we don’t ignore people. They’ll contact us and say, ‘I’m coming to the show. Will you play this song?’ ” said Clark. “But we don’t do it for the fans; ultimately, we do it because we love it.”
Songs about life
Clark, who is the primary writer of the songs, says that the songs on American Anthem Vol. 1, were inspired by life and aren’t necessarily autobiographical.
While some of the songs on the album like “Oak Ridge” or “American Girl” speak of a landscape of America that is set in simpler times, Clark says he isn’t nostalgic for the past.
“I don’t really care about what happens in the past,” said Clark, who began playing guitar at 12. “I’m always looking forward. I think most of my songs are not autobiographical – maybe emotional.”
He added, “Writing songs is something I’ve done unconsciously since I was 12.” Yet there is one song on the album that Clark says was inspired by true events. Clark wrote the song “American Girl” as a tribute to his grandfather.
“As a guy, you can’t really repay your grandparents. About the only thing I could really do for him was write a song,” said Clark, who added that his grandfather died.
Clark said that his family, who loved the song, asked him to sing it at the funeral.
He added, “It’s not entirely autobiographical, but I thought it would be a nice little thing. In about 2 minutes I got all the vocals to it. That was probably the most personal song on the record.”
Some of the other songs on the album were sparked by experiences they had on the road. Clark said that he believes that everyone should go on the road before they go to college.
“There are places to see and things going on that aren’t in your world,” said Clark. “Now I don’t think [touring] is hard work. Guys say that it is hard. It’s not hard, but there is a lot of shit that musicians go through.”
He added, “There is this romantic idea of Europe, but we slept on cold floors, didn’t eat much. Once you’ve been through it, you can’t erase it.”
Clark credits Nordstedt with writing the lyrics for “Highway to the Sun” and “Rich & Famous.” “We had about 30 songs and one of the things I like the least is coming up with a concept for a song. And sometimes I can’t string together the right words,” said Clark. “Jeff is kind of like the relief pitcher.”
When Clark has free time, he will sit down and write some songs, but mostly he works on instinct, knowing when it is time to write new material.
“Some days I know it is time. Where I know that there could be two or three songs,” he said.
In your living room
Clark says he is friendly with other musicians, in particular, well-known Val Emmich, who also sang some tracks on the latest album.
“We are as friendly as guys in bands get,” said Clark. “We’ve been playing out with Val since we were all in college. And we’ve always had a mutual respect. We have a great respect for what each other does.”
Clark speaks his mind, which has given him a somewhat questionable reputation. He has been called “charmingly arrogant” and other not-so-charming names. Yet after speaking at length with the talented musician, one understands that he does have some very serious things to say when talking freely about music.
“I know a lot of guys in music don’t like me because I don’t like to bullshit people. But I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really have a lot of time in my life,” said Clark. “We used to drink a lot and I would say stupid things to get a reaction out of people.”
Yet one look at the band’s Web site and it’s clear that fans love them. And fans can hear the band up-close and personal during a private living room concert.
According to Clark, it was Nordstedt’s idea to offer living room concerts to fans.
“We’ll do anything,” said Clark. “We really are a band that will stay at people’s houses. We play and just party with them. People really respond to that. It is kind of a Woody Guthrie kind of thing. It is really great.” Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.