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Monday, Jan. 11, 2010

The Maze Gets Lost in the Depths of Folk

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When it comes to mining the depths of folk music, the members of Milwaukee’s alt-folk band The Maze would like to think of themselves as explorers trudging through the dense musical jungles with no predetermined route.

With a try-anything mentality where electric guitars are often traded for ukuleles, The Maze has quietly (and occasionally loudly) found a following in the city and around the Midwest.

“[Our music has] always been folk-based, but we’ve always done little twists here and there—maybe instead of a guitar I’ll play a ukulele and maybe the drummer will not play the drums and instead play the saw,” says lead singer Rob Hansen. “The band name kind of suits it because not even we know what we’re going to do sometimes.”

The path to the band’s first album, Awakens, released last summer, found the group weaving through genre barriers and exploring what it could do with folk music.

Inspired by anything from 1920s and ’30s folk music to variations of rock and contemporary pop, The Maze journeys outside the box, always trying to think of ways to put its own spin on the music.

“After learning some of the [’20s and ’30s] songs, I decided to write some songs and different variations thereof and slowly incorporated elements of noise rock or just straight rock and roll and some contemporary pop every now and then,” Hansen says.

As this experimentation went on, Hansen discovered that he could add a whole new element to the band with his voice. With fairly deep-ranged vocals that can move with the band’s ever-shifting sonic landscape, Hansen’s poignant and poetic lyrics add an emotional punch to songs about life and loss.

Awakens’ central theme, brought on partly by Hansen’s divorce last year, explores the realization of awaking to discover you still have plenty to live for.

“The guy is in love and gets his heart broken and everything goes to hell,” Hansen says of the album’s protagonist. “Awakens is what happens when you come out of it, with a realization of what you accomplished for yourself.”

The band’s members, never ones to stop refining their music, are working on new songs that they hope to record this spring for a potential mid-summer or fall release. In the meantime, they’ll have plenty of gigs in which to test new material, as well as keep busy doing what they enjoy.

“I’ll get a nice adrenaline rush where, if I’m having a good night, I’ll get the feeling I’m about to black out almost, but it’s kind of like being in some sort of zone,” Hansen says. “I’ll be sweaty and banging away and hitting everything right for some reason.”

The Maze tops an 8 p.m. bill with The Vega Star and Hayward Williams at Shank Hall on Friday, Jan. 15.

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