Conrad Plymouth: Loathe, Love, Blame, Defend

Conrad Plymouth playing at Summerfest

Conrad Plymouth playing at Summerfest

Words by Rob Vosters

Sometimes Fan-Belt doesn’t have to seek out great music — instead, it comes to us. This was precisely the case last week when Conrad Plymouth kindly provided Fan-Belt with a sneak preview of his first EP Loathe, Love, Blame, Defend.

Having occasionally played pedal steel in Justin Vernon’s band preceding Bon Iver, DeYarmond Edison, Conrad moved to Milwaukee from Eau Claire, WI in 2006 around the same time DeYarmond moved to Raleigh, NC.  Since the move he’s been carefully cultivating his plaintive sound at open mics and gradually acquiring band mates along the way, culminating in the current lineup of Nick Berg on keyboard, Travis Whitty on bass and Todd Umhoefer on drums.

Possessing a voice that could be compared to Jeff Tweedy’s, Conrad Plymouth’s songs convey a blue-collar sensibility with intelligently distilled lyrics that are complemented by a backing ensemble more than capable of turning their delicately layered contributions into something greater than just demure musical framework for Conrad’s vocals. But for how wonderfully put-together Loathe, Love, Blame, Defend can sound at times, it was actually created in the course of just one week in early August; a true testament to Conrad’s folk sensibility of eschewing the perfect take — a desire he described best in our interview: “Songs and people I will be patient with, but I’ll take a moment of honesty over perfection every time.” 

  Conrad Plymouth, “Decision Day”

You have five shows under your belt. What’s been your process of development since moving to Milwaukee?

I was writing and playing from the beginning.  It has been a real struggle finding the right people to play with though; that’s why this thing has taken so long to get off the ground.  Open mics, like Linneman’s, really were the only thing I was doing for a while.  And through that, I met some hugely influential people on me in the “scene,” some of my best friends in town.  Jim Linneman did more to support me in Milwaukee than anybody else for a long time, just by hosting the open mics, and being supportive of what I was doing.

How did you meet your band mates?

I stayed patient and finally got lucky.  Everybody in the band is a great songwriter, and they all have been willing to support what I am doing.  Nick Berg (who I met through Craigslist) is on keys, Travis Whitty on bass, and Todd Umhoefer on drums, both of whom I met at open mics.

What are your plans for the EP?

I want as many people to hear it and have it and feel like it belongs to them, or at least something in it speaks for them, as are willing to listen.  We literally both conceived the idea to record and immediately started it on July 30th.  We got together a couple of evenings, and it was what it is today by the following Thursday.  We’ll hopefully use it to get more shows in the area.  If nothing else, it’s documentation of a band in a time and place.

What musicians do you feel have influenced your sound the most?

Sonically, I would say people like Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters), Tweedy, people that, while they don’t stray to far from the folk idiom, aren’t afraid to add texture or weirdness, and get a little ‘out’ lyrically and still keep it honest. I borrow heavily from the Neil Young handbook, in that, I don’t have a lot of patience with gear or recording or nailing a perfect take.  Songs and people I will be patient with, but I’ll take a moment of honesty over perfection every time.

Do you stay in touch with Justin [Vernon] and Brad [Cook]?

I got email from both of them in the last week, actually.  It ebbs and flows, as they are both keeping busy.  I can’t tell you how proud of them and their respective projects I am.

Any local bands you’re fond of?

I’ve been devastated by the upcoming Old Earth record (Todd Umhoefer’s project); we are playing that release show at Linneman’s on September 4.  Jay Flash is up to really good things.  I’m sad that French Horn Rebellion has moved on; I accidentally saw them once and danced through my pants.  I love The Maze guys, the Juniper Tar guys, the Vega Star guys, Time Since Western.  Everybody is very supportive.  There are good things happening around here on the songwriter front.

Where/what do you look to for inspiration for your songs?

I don’t really look for it; for me if I’m grasping for something to say, I don’t have anything to say.  It usually starts as a line or a phrase that I find interesting.  Then I sit with that for a few days, and it starts to make sense and take on meaning within in the context of my present headspace.  There is usually a nine dollar bottle of Corby’s ‘blended American whiskey’ involved somewhere.

Lastly, what’s your favorite Silver Jews lyric?

I really can’t think of a better opening lyrical salvo than “Random Rules”:  “In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection / slowly screwing my way across Europe, they had to make a correction.”

I saw them in Chicago a few years back, and it was a transformative experience.  Berman seemed really comfortable as the singer in a touring rock band, and he was just dishing his words with this incredible balance of self-awareness and fuck-all.  Just awesome. 

Conrad Plymouth will be performing at Linneman’s on September 4th at 9 p.m. with Jay Flash and Old Earth.    







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