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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Volunteer Commit Themselves to the Local Heavy Music Scene

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On July 20, the criminally underrated record label Amphetamine Reptile will host a concert in Minneapolis to celebrate its more than 25-year existence. Whereas larger labels like Sub Pop often pushed to become more famous than the artists they promoted, AmRep seemed to cherish its anonymity, pushing the listener to put all of his or her attention on the band itself. Due to such an artist-first approach it’s not surprising that the seminal label convinced legends such as grunge pioneers Mudhoney and hardcore heroes Negative Approach to join the party. AmRep, after all, is where such seminal acts as Halo of Flies, The Melvins, Helmet, Unsane and godheadSilo got their start. Where would heavy music, circa 2013, be without such a history?

It has been reported that Milwaukee’s Die Kreuzen will be making the trek to the Twin Cities to pay homage to all things AmRep. And if the label is looking for another local act to fill out the bill they would be wise to book Volunteer, an up-and-coming three-piece outfit whose members surely have a few AmRep records in their respective collections. The band, featuring Francisco Ramirez on vocals and guitar, Martin DeFatte on bass and Mark Sheppard on drums, are more than upfront about their influences: DeFatte quickly notes that “We’re going for a sound similar to The Melvins or Unsane.” In less talented hands, such motivation would be the kiss of death. But the scene veterans who make up Volunteer (members have previously been in such acts as Traitors, Gasoline Fight, Stock Options and Forstella Ford) are up to the task.

Thankfully, the six songs that will appear on the band’s upcoming 12-inch EP don’t get mired down trying to perfectly replicate a certain sound. Yes, Ramirez does often bark like a young Page Hamilton while pumping out pummeling riffs a la Unsane. But one also hears hints of early-’90s Touch and Go (The Jesus Lizard), mid-’90s metal-core (Kiss it Goodbye and Deadguy come to mind) and straight-up hardcore punk in the band’s sound. There is, in other words, little adherence to any sort of well-defined scene—within the city or elsewhere. As Sheppard explains, “I’ve never really put much thought into how or whether or not we fit into the Milwaukee music scene, because I’d want to do this band either way.”

Such perspective perhaps comes with age, as the members of Volunteer are, as DeFatte diplomatically puts it, “older guys.” Such lifer status also informs the band’s decision to embrace vinyl for their upcoming release. “Personally,” continues DeFatte, “I want to do vinyl because I’m a long-time record collector and I’ve never had any recording I’ve played on before pressed to wax. The other guys have, but, for me, it’s a statement that ‘I have arrived.’” And with noted graphic designer/screen printer Ramirez on board (he runs the Bureau of Print Research and Design, which is producing some of the best gig posters in the Midwest right now), there is little doubt that the finished record will look stunning.

Ramirez’ work with the Bureau of Print Research and Design—along with DeFatte’s involvement with mkepunk.com and history of recording other local acts—illustrates a profound commitment to the health and vibrancy of the Milwaukee music scene. The members of Volunteer, in other words, have been incredibly supportive of what’s been happening in basements and clubs across the city. The quality of their upcoming record suggests it’s time we return the favor.

Volunteer play the Cactus Club with Canadian Rifle, Great Apes and All Eyes West on July 14 at 9 p.m.