tom smith | make green bay weird | april 2018
This month I interview Jamie Koebe of Sweetalk, a local band that is helping make Green Bay weird on two fronts.
How long has Sweetalk been together?
Our first gig together was a house show (Subterranean) in September of 2013 in Appleton, Wis., followed by a show at JD's and the Crunchy Frog. All of which are gone now, sadly.
How did you guys get together?
A friend of mine, Caleb Cheslock, and I were sick of playing in a band that wasn't active enough and decided to move to Green Bay and start an alternative rock project with a little edge to it — heavier than classic rock but not quite metal. We originally started out as a four piece and then Caleb moved off to an audio engineering school in Minneapolis, MN a year or so after we started Sweetalk. Since then, we've been a three-piece. I met Travis Grahn (bass) through mutual friends that also played in a Green Bay band Mollies Way. We met Brian Boelter (drummer) when his band, The Dark Inside, and Sweetalk shared bills together in the Valley.
Does Sweetalk have a band goal or mission?
What will always be the number one priority for us is writing the best possible material we can (and if that means taking time off, we'll do so). There've been adjustments and learning curves along the way but as cliché as it is; I genuinely feel our best work is ahead of us. There's not a day or a rehearsal that goes by where we aren't individually and collectively challenged. Beyond that, we love being able to play with new bands and seeing different parts of the Midwest. Personally, it would be a dream if music could take us to different areas of the country that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. We don't really have other hobbies and interests, we just want to keep creating music and keep this thing rolling.
Which bands or artists inspire Sweetalk?
Two big ones for us have been Thrice and Circa Survive. Those two bands continue to floor us. There are other bands that we get inspired by, not just by how the sound, but the way they write songs, their tendencies, etc . — Norma Jean, Balance and Composure, At the Drive In, Deftones, Soundgarden, Project 86, I the Mighty, Death Cab for Cutie, to name a few. Every practice it seems we introduce each other to bands we haven't heard of before.
How would you describe the Sweetalk sound?
Three-piece alternative rock. It's a hard question to answer, but if we have to label it, alternative rock covers most of what we do. A lot of people compare us to Muse, though none of us listen to them at all.
What are some of the pros and cons of being based in Green Bay?
With Green Bay being a smaller city, the music scene is pretty tight knit which is great. You get to know each other in the community pretty quickly and if there's somebody new playing out, you know almost instantly. It's fantastic to have people in other bands within the same scene showing up to your gigs. That's always been great feeling to be supportive of each other. There may not be a ton of people in the area looking for live music, but within the last couple years, heads have been turning towards the original music scene. It's an exciting time. I hope more people start bands together and join in — we're always looking for new bands to play with.
You guys have put out two CDs correct?
Yes we have. Our most recent release is an EP, 'Mutiny' (2017) and a full length 'Picturesque' (2015). We're currently working on the next release, still sifting through material to figure out if we have another EP or a full length on our hands.
If Sweetalk could open for any artist in the entire world who would it be?
Thrice, most definitely — that would be my vote anyway haha.
Where is your practice space/studio located?
Currently, we practice at Brian's house in Appleton. But I also run a studio with Travis in downtown Green Bay called The I Scream Parlour.
How long have you had recording equipment at your space?
A few things we have now were used on our first record, 'Picturesque.' But around the time we started recording 'Mutiny,' we vastly upgraded in gear and room treatment and it definitely shows on that release.
Your latest CD was recorded in your studio correct?
That's correct. 'Mutiny' was fully tracked and mixed in our studio. We only sent out the mixes to be mastered by the ever-great Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering.
The Royal Blue is currently recording at your studio; how did they hook up with you guys?
They had heard our EP and were looking to change things up a bit this time around for a release of their own. They sent us an email and we invited them down to check out the space and to just hang out a bit. Half a year later and we're midway through tracking what looks to be a full-length album.
Who in the group does the studio engineering?
We all have a hand in the tracking itself. I say 'we all' because Caleb, as I mentioned before, has also been helping out at the studio and working on various projects after graduating from IPR and moving back home from Minneapolis for the time being. So myself, Caleb and Travis all pitch in to help with the tracking. If there is any editing to be done, Travis handles all of that and I take care of most mixing duties.
Along with studio recordings, we also do a 'Live Session Series' for which we track the audio and video of the band playing together and it all gets mixed and edited into an 'episode.' For that, Travis handles the video aspect of things, the shooting itself-multiple camera shots and editing all the footage into what becomes the episode. I take care of the audio: micing, mixing, etc.
What training/education/life experience happened to train whoever does the engineering?
Caleb graduated recently from IPR in Minneapolis, Minn. Travis has a background experience with being in bands and recording in various studios. A lot of that has helped give us a starting point as to how we want to operate. As for myself, ever since I started playing in bands I was trying to record them as soon as we had the songs down. I found it incredible, the way you can manipulate sound and create an environment of sorts. I started out with a small portable boss 4-track to make entire band demos on and now have graduated to a much bigger, intricate operation. I've never had any formal training; everything I've learned has been through experience of recording my own band or others in the area. It's basically been my entire life since I started doing it. On top of working a regular full-time job, every moment of spare time that I have, I'm either writing music or working on a mix, or seeing a show. If I didn't have this, I don't know what I'd be doing- anything else just seems boring.
What kind of equipment do you guys have?
We're digitally based (Mac) and have all the top of the line interfaces and plugins from Universal Audio. Slate Digital, Waves, and Soundtoys are a few brands of native plugins we've got. We also have gear from Ampeg, Fender, Marshall, Mesa, Orange and Vox for when it comes to recording guitar and bass. As well as a plethora of pedals to work with from Strymon, Eventide, Maxon, Boss, MXH, Keeley and many others. Our mic locker hasn't ventured into anything too exotic, but we have all the workhorse standards and are well equipped and prepared to pull great sounds out of drum kits, cabs, vocalists, anything ready to make some noise.
Any other bands besides Sweetalk and Royal Blue record at your studio yet?
Yes, we've had The Dark Inside, Iron Price, The Mustard Tigers and Grim Waters all track for our live sessions. There are a few projects that have been recorded elsewhere but are being mixed at our space — an EP from Minnesota band Broke and also an instrumental album from Servare. I've been writing and tracking an EP with Josh Fuller as well.
If a band wanted to contact you guys about recording what would be the best way to do that?
Our email is usually the best way: firstname.lastname@example.org . The I Scream Parlour Facebook page is also a great way to get ahold of us.
If you could record any artist in the world at your studio who would it be?
David Bowie (RIP) or Prince (RIP). Both immensely talented and both immensely experimental. It would be incredible to work with either of them.
Keep our heads down and try to work with as many bands/artists from as many genres as we can. Try new things out, continue to approach projects in unique ways, and help the band/artist get to the place they never thought they could, sonically.
Anything you would like to add?
Our space isn't the typical 'studio.' It's underground. It's finite. It's anechoic. But it's not a place you have to be invited to in order to record what you've put countless hours into writing and perfecting You don't have to have an 'in,' you don't have to play a certain genre, you don't have to have an epic resume. What gives 'The I Scream Parlour' its unique vibe is our desire and willingness to 'become a member of your band' and help you try to record, mix and even write the release you've envisioned. Check your ego at the door and let's make something great.
Next month in Frankly Green Bay I will be reviewing “Mutiny," Sweetalk's latest album. Live long and shop local for music.
Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.