Legendary Love

Image courtesy of Damian Strigens

Image courtesy of Damian Strigens

 Words by Erin Wolf

To honor a legend in Milwaukee music, Atomic Records, a slew of legendary Milwaukee bands are joining in the reminiscence and honoring of an establishment that has brought together not only fans of wax, liner notes and signed posters, but of music community, of friendly faces and a place where bands found a haven to conspire and make things happen. Fan-belt talks to former Atomic Records employee and Milwaukee musician (The Frogs, The Lovelies, Testa Rosa, Knit Delicate) Damian Strigens about the event he helped organize  to show one record store a whole lotta love for the past twenty four years.

How did the show all come together: thought-out, or spur-of-the-moment?

After the announcement of the closing of Atomic, I think many of us went through the various stages of grieving: denial, anger, sadness, etc. But after a few weeks went by, people started asking questions on whether or not anyone was doing anything — whether it was a show, or a party or something. 

Scott Johnson [co-owner Fuel, Comet, Hi Hat, etc.] was going to do a party/record spin at Hi Hat, which sounded great, but we all though that the ‘live-band’ element somehow needed to be addressed. So, after a brief discussion with my friend Jon Lyman (Compound Red) at the Bay View Bicycle Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day. I decided to take things into my own hands and put something together.

I had no idea where to begin, but as soon as I got home and logged onto Facebook, I noticed a little blurb/note from one of my former band mates, Liv Mueller from The Lovelies…bing (lightbulb noise, here)! I said, “Hey Liv, how about a Lovelies reunion for Rich [Menning] at Atomic?” Her response: “Sure! Let’s do it.” I pretty much went from there; one thing led to another, and before you know it, bands were jumping onboard. 

Some of these bands haven’t played in years and years. What was it like approaching them to play again?

It was actually pretty easy. I asked them if they’d be interested and they simply said, “Sure!”. I really think that many of the bands playing realized that if there was ever a time to reunite for a show, that this would be the perfect type of event. It’s really a celebration of the past. Most of the bands’ members have gone onto different projects, some of which vary differently from their original bands (Franz from Sometime Sweet Susan is doing Signaldrift, Barb from The Lovelies is playing with Sean Eden from Luna). 

It’s actually been really enjoyable to watch these bands that haven’t played in so long reconnect. I know that personally, I’m excited to play some of the Lovelies tunes again. Some of those songs were real gems, and re-listening to them and re-learning the arrangements has been pretty fun. I put my iPod on and play along with them, all the while realizing how much of  a ‘basher’ of a drummer I was back then — very little finesse.

Which bands/ musicians in the lineup have the strongest ties to Atomic Records’ history?

It’s hard to say whether one band has the ‘strongest ties’, per se. Every band on the bill has a tie to Atomic history in its own way. Liquid Pink’s self-titled debut was released by Atomic back in the late ’80s. Some of the bands that are playing had members that worked at the store at some point (Sometime Sweet Susan, Mighty Deerlick, Boy Dirt Car, The Lovelies, Mark Waldoch). Many of the bands were on the [Atomic Records’] Badger a-Go-Go compilation (Liquid Pink, Cherry Cake, Blowtorch, etc.). If you really though about it, we could have a week-long event with all of the bands that have strong ties with Atomic…Plasticland, Couch Flambeau, Pele, etc.

This show will be seen as the end of an era’, for some. What do you hope for Milwaukee’s musical future as you prepare for an event that showcases a big chunk of the city’s musical history from the ’80s and ’90s?

This is definitely a celebration of the past. One of the things that’s evident looking at the lineup is that with the exception of Boy Dirt Car, the majority of bands on the bill come from a traditional rock/pop guitar, bass and drums approach, albeit with distinctly different sounds. 

I think the newer generation of bands has been more willing to embrace non-traditional approaches to performance and song-craft. Whether it’s an accordion or a saw, or an old organ, were seeing more and more adventurousness and out-there. New bands are weaving post-rock, prog, and kraut-rock influences into their work and turning it upside down on a laptop, which is cool.

I think technology allows for more DIY than ever before. Bands are self-recording, self-releasing and self-promoting, but I don’t think that there will ever be a shortage of the desire to get in front of a good crowd and play live. Half of the spirit of indie music is in the visceral, ‘live’ side of it. That’s why Atomic was so connected to the local artists. We all fed off of it. 

You could walk into that store (and Rush-Mor as well) and learn about a half dozen great new records that you would have never heard of, otherwise. iTunes doesn’t have a Mark Waldoch telling you about The Dears, etc. You can read a review, but hearing it from the guy across the counter that knows your taste is indispensable. I think people will really miss that.


photo of Damain Strigens behind the counter at Atomic circa 1991

photo of Damian Strigens behind the counter at Atomic circa 1991

 Atomic Records benefit/tribute show takes place at The Miramar Theatre (2844 N. Oakland) at 6:30 p.m. Tickets available at Atomic Records.


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One Response to “Legendary Love”

  1. Erin Says:

    Check out a previous interview with Boy Dirt Car from Milwaukee Noise Fest last September:


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