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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cackle’s New-School Paganism

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Pagans have long had a public relations problem. Where centuries ago they were persecuted as heathens, if not Satanists, today they’re ridiculed as angry outsiders dressed in Renaissance faire costumes.

Perhaps the most unflattering perception about modern pagans is that they’re fundamentally humorless, explains Molly Snyder Edler, the singer and bassist for a group that can safely be called Milwaukee’s only pagan pop-punk band, Cackle.

“Paganism is always depicted as something that is so heavy and goth that people think you have to wear capes and walk around with a walking stick to practice it, but for us it’s not like that,” Edler says. “For us, it’s none of the stereotypes; it’s something that’s light and fun. We study everything from tarot cards to mythology, but we also appreciate the kitschy aspects of the occult, like Pez dispensers shaped like witches.

“There’s a spiritual element to it, but it’s much lighter than paganism and Wicca is usually portrayed,” Edler continues. “We’re taking the basic messages of being kind to nature and appreciating astrology and numerology, and enjoying that stuff as something that can be really fun and interesting, because we feel this stuff is really cool when it’s not misunderstood or over-stereotyped. We wanted to present a new-school face of paganism.”

On songs like “Voodoo Dolly” and “Nancy Reagan Was a Pagan,” Cackle employs humor to defuse the stigma around paganism. The latter track casts the former first lady, an astrology enthusiast, as an unlikely softer face of paganism, then ends with an Adam Sandler, “Hanukkah Song”-styled shout-out to other “pagans” like Charles Dickens and Carl Sagan.

Cackle began as something of a dream for Edler and her friend and coven-mate Renee Bebeau.

“We had an ongoing joke that we were going to start a band when we were 50, and were going to play our 50th birthday party and surprise all our friends, but then when we were in our late 30s we started getting more serious about it,” Edler says.

With guitarist Grant Gunn, they began to practice in Bebeau’s cold Riverwest basement, “with our Schlitz beer, like we were 19 years old,” Edler recalls. Innumerable crude attempts at covering The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” later, the group refined themselves until they began playing private parties. They played their first public show on New Year’s Eve at Art Bar.

Unlike actual 19-year-old musicians, the group doesn’t have the luxury of abundant free time. They have families and careers to balance—Edler, for instance, is a writer for OnMilwaukee.com—but they’re serious about the band, even if they aren’t able to gig every weekend.

“I wanted to be a rock star since the early days of MTV, so being in the band for the past year has been, next to my kids, the high point of my life,” Edler says. “There’s a hundred reasons why we shouldn’t do this, and yet we’re doing this anyway. It’s just really fun and this perfect combination of our personal interests: music, writing, performing, interacting in the community and staying fresh and vivacious and saying ‘fuck you’ to 40, or not even caring about 40. It’s not an age thing; we’re just having a blast.”

Uncle Larry and Cackle share a 9 p.m. bill at Art Bar on Saturday, March 20, celebrating the venue’s sixth anniversary.

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