Farewell Milwaukee: Neil Young's Harvest was life-changing
Photo by Sara Montour
Farewell Milwaukee's third album Can't Please You, Can't Please Me is the sort of record you can put on, hit play, and leave on repeat for hours. It's a warm, breezy 12-track collection of refined Americana with a strong '70s country backbone. Barroom sing-alongs cozy up next to mature ballads, and lyrics that stay heartfelt but never cheap.
The title track, which makes its debut here, is a confident, up-tempo rocker that has frontman Ben Lubeck introducing an edgy grit into his otherwise smooth Midwestern lilt. Ahead of the band's CD release show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday, Gimme Noise caught up with Lubeck to talk about the new record, the songs, and what's next for the band.
Gimme Noise: Tell me a little about the new album. What was the recording process like?
Ben Lubeck: We went down to Omaha, Nebraska to record this one... We thought it would be a good idea to get out of town, even though Omaha is still fairly familiar. We recorded with ARC -- Another Recording Company -- which is owned by Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. We went down for ten days and cut all the tracks live there. That's what we did on our last record, and we were able to vibe off each other really well, and we had a blast making it. We've had two new full time members since the last record: "Danger" Dave Strahan on pedal steel and Joey Ryan [of Joey Ryan and the Inks] on bass, and that was great.
Yeah, you're a six-piece now! Was there anything that really surprised you about making this album?
I'm just so happy with how everybody gelled together. Six guys recording live can be a lot... especially when four of us have been playing together for quite a while, but for two new guys to come in and work together so well, that was awesome. Generally when you're making an album, you're putting up a lot of your own money to make it work and you don't have a lot of time to do it, but you want to leave room to have the session breathe and flexible, and that's really what happened. I usually like to have everything plotted out in terms of my songwriting, but a lot of the songs didn't come together as well in the demo stages. I was writing stuff at the breakfast table before we went into the studio for the day.... There was a lot of work done in the studio, and once we were in there it was great. I loved how the songs turned out in the final stages. It was fun.
Tell me about the title track, "Can't Please You, Can't Please Me."
That was a demo that we've been toying with since the last record. It's a song that we've all always liked, and for this record it really fit well... It was one of the first songs that we demoed and put in the pre-production stages. It was one of those things that you didn't have to work too hard to put it together, and we were all excited about it, I think the content lyrically is powerful, and I think we nailed it in the studio.
When I'm reading reviews of your previous records, it seems that your music often gets tagged as alt-country and roots-rock and other such hyphenated amalgamations of genres. I'm wondering how you think of your music?
A lot of those description words are ones that we've used in the past, probably... My primary concern is always that our music holds up with some of our favorite music that we've come to love. I don't want to make anything that we're not proud of, that doesn't stand the test of time. I look at the classic records that I've grown up with, and I know that they're part of me, they're part of my being, and to put out something that we don't totally believe in -- I would rather not do that at all. Our influences, '60s music and '70s music that we've all really gravitated towards... it might sound really cliché, but it's really powerful to us. Whether we're an alt-country or a roots-rock band... When I first heard Neil Young's Harvest record, when he mixed rock and roll with country, when I realized you could do that, that was pretty life-changing for me. I've always gravitated towards that, and I feel like most of the guys would say the same.
You know, the third album is always kind of a tricky thing for a band. It says a lot about the life and vision of the artist. How do you feel about the life of Farewell Milwaukee, five years and three albums in?
I think we're sounding better than ever live, to be honest with you. I think when we have all six guys playing together, I think that is the sound of farewell Milwaukee. That's really important to us, the live product that we're putting out there, that it matches with the recordings. We wouldn't want anyone to come to a show and be disappointed. So, lineup wise, I'm so excited to play these songs live. Our release show at the Cedar on the 14th is gonna be such a huge celebration for us.
Farewell Milwaukee is playing a CD Release show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday, September 14. With Portage and J. E. Sunde. 8 p.m. Tickets here.
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