Photo By Todd V. Wolfson

What Made Milwaukee Famous

"What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me," crooned Jerry Lee Lewis, lamenting his love affair with Schlitz. Unlike the demon brew, Austin's version of What Made Milwaukee Famous won't leave you unshaven, smelling nasty, or estranged from your cousin/wife. What it will do is make you love rock again.

Despite the fact that the local quartet formed shortly after meeting in 2002, What Made Milwaukee Famous spent 2003 in obscurity, only playing out a handful of times. Surprisingly, this isn't something the young band obsesses over in teeth-gnashing frustration.

"You really need that first year to season yourself and get your live show down," says the effervescent John Farmer, the group's bassist. Keyboardist Drew Patrizi concurs. "There's not a big hurry," he shrugs. "We want to develop; we didn't want to get attention initially and not have anything to build on. It's good we've had some time to figure out what we're about."

Once they figured that out, WMMF cut their debut, Trying to Never Catch Up, recorded almost entirely on Patrizi's Mac and instant alienation for singer Michael Kingcaid's immediate neighbors. Nonetheless, Trying is a bona fide rock album that seethes with passion and anger, glistens with wit, and bounces with youthful energy. One of the more striking elements of the LP is Kingcaid's voice, which owes no small debt to the influence of Jeff Buckley.

"I've been singing ever since I was little," he explains. "I became a tenor in college; I was always a baritone. Jeff Buckley taught the world to sing because nobody knew you could do all these wild things with your voice. I learned things I didn't know I was capable of."

But where Buckley's music was often in service to his voice, the opposite is true for What Made Milwaukee Famous; while Kingcaid's voice is impressive, it isn't the centerpiece of their work. The net result is solid rock topped by a voice that happens to be gorgeous.

This year marks the band's second SXSW showcase. Last year, the group played at B.D. Riley's, which only has a 50-person capacity (roughly). "At one point, I looked around and saw a circle of people around the window outside," grins Farmer. That was the high point of their festival. Needless to say, they've got slightly higher hopes for this go-round.

"The main thing we want is more exposure," says Patrizi. "Obviously, we want as many people to hear us as possible."

"Last year, we didn't have any buzz; nobody knew who we were, even though we got in," opines Farmer. "This year we've kind of built up a little buzz around Austin; people are starting to know our name, and ideally that'll help us with our showcase."

"The whole SXSW getting-signed thing is kind of a pipe dream – you can't bank on it," grumps Kingcaid. That said, he has one tiny little wish. "We deserve a label."

SXSW showcase: Saturday, March 19, 11pm @ the Velvet Spade

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What Made Milwaukee Famous

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