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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Milwaukee Embraces The Delphines

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Getting some momentum going behind a band is usually a challenging ordeal, involving lots of tedious hard work and perseverance without any guarantee of success. In certain rare cases though, things seem to move almost with a mind of their own. You can call it serendipity or even dumb luck, but more often than not, the bands that hit the ground running do so because they happen to hit on a particular sound that clicks perfectly with their particular time and place. Take The Delphines, who, as of this writing, have only been together for a bit more than six months, but already have several EPs and singles under their belt as well as a substantial following, both locally and beyond, and are looking forward to high-profile gigs supporting the likes of Peach Kelli Pop and Deerhoof. You can’t call it unearned—the tunes are there to back it all up—but you’ve got to wonder what their secret is. To hear them tell it though, it’s less about anything they’re doing and more about what Milwaukee is doing.

“There is a sense of it being a constant whirlwind of unexpected, great things happening for us,” says drummer Jeremy Ault. “But a lot of that has been support based; the support of the Milwaukee community has been fantastic for us in every way, shape and form.” The band wasn’t exactly well connected in the local live music scene to begin with, formed as it was by four grad students, Ault, bassist Lucas Riddle, guitarist Harrison Colby and singer Jami Eaton (Riddle, hailing from Stoughton, being the local boy by comparison), all of whom are recent transplants to the area with busy lives outside of performing. An academic connection turned into a social one, and then a musical one over a series of parties and open mic nights at Linneman’s in Riverwest, where the quartet found shared interests and a release from the pressures of higher education, or as Eaton puts it, “a break from things like comp exams.”

When they were ready to perform live, they did so every chance they got. “We just got really excited about playing and wanted to play out as much as we possibly could,” explains Riddle. “Then we basically didn’t stop playing and people started showing up.” Why people started showing up isn’t hard to discern; there are a lot of back-to-basics rock acts out there, but The Delphines bring it down to an almost elemental level. Riddle and Colby don’t use any guitar pedals, no distortion or feedback, and Ault only plays two drums, lending a bright sort of clarity to every catchy guitar line and a spaciousness to every song, even as it rushes by you in two or three minutes. “It’s a basic, simple sound, but you can get a lot out of it,” says Ault. “There’s a lot of things you can do creatively within that simplicity.” This efficient minimalism extends to their recordings, which are done on a laptop without even the benefit of an external microphone, but mysteriously turn that digital tininess into an asset.

Even a great sound and superb song-craft only explain part of The Delphines’ expedited transition from scene newcomers to leading lights, and the group is quick to credit the rest to its adopted home. To be honest, the way they gush about how great the city’s musical landscape is feels a little foreign, and extremely refreshing, to one accustomed to the usual discontented grumblings. It’s hard not to hear Eaton describe “an attitude here that you don’t necessarily see in a lot of places, where it’s not that people aren’t competitive, but they don’t try to pull each other down” and not feel good about the city’s musical future, which makes you want to root for the band—who, by the way, have a string of dates and a 7-inch on Thread Pull Records coming up—even more. Milwaukee seems to be simply reciprocating the enthusiasm put out by the band, and if they can keep that up, The Delphines’ future should be very bright indeed.
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