Do yourself a favor and go see Wizard of Cause @ Cactus Club tonight

J. Todd’s take on grungy noise-rock kills it. Here’s an interview I did with J. Todd; it was for a different publication, but they edited out a bunch of the best stuff. Before his show with Lookbook, Daylight Robbery and Johnny Prophylactic, I encourage you to read it in full. So, here it is …

J. Todd is the kind of artist that perpetually re-invents himself, working under different names, in different genres, with different people. Part producer, part musician, he’s among the elites of the Milwaukee underground – known for fusing funky electro into hip-hop as Def Harmonic, then applying it to synthy pop-rock as Leo Minor. His latest project Wizard of Cause, he says, explores the direction that Leo Minor had started to gravitate – a turn toward noise rock that trades digital sequences for layers of fuzzed-out guitar and lo-fi sonic texturing. With the release of the self-titled debut earlier this month and a follow-up expected by the end of summer, J. Todd talks about his latest next big thing.

Adam Lovinus: You’re working with two band mates from Leo Minor. The new sound represents the direction Leo Minor had been moving towards. What made you decide to work under a different name with this project?

J. Todd: I think that the whole reason for doing Wizard of Cause was because Leo Minor started taking on two different identities – one in the U.K. and one here – and I just couldn’t reconcile it.

AL: How’s that?

JT: It was weird. We got contacted by Domino Records, a U.K. based label that works with Arctic Monkeys and all that, and set up this really small development deal that in the end kinda didn’t go anywhere. It was something I was focused on for about a year, trying to make it happen. It was a couple years ago when the industry was collapsing; everyone was freaking out, all the A&Rs were getting fired, so it was, like, a horrible time to think you’re getting a record deal. People were interested and not ready to sign. And that’s fine. I wasn’t looking for anything really. I’m an American – I think that’s a strike against me right there, because that doesn’t really work on the U.K. pop scene [laughs].

AL:: So why not keep the name as long as you’re working in the U.S.?

JT: I just needed to have a creative break from that whole project. And I wanted to do something that was just a noise pop/rock, home recorded-style thing. And Leo Minor was very pop-oriented and electronic. I wanted to use guitars and have a band.

AL: There’s a definite lo-fi underground influence, even some shoegaze elements. That’s a new angle for you.

JT: Well, sort of. When I was a teenager, I was really into that. I had a band together that did basically what we’re doing now except way less competent. I was like 17, the band was called Address Unknown. It was a pretty embarrassing group [laughs].

AL: What artists did you look to when returning to that type of sound?

JT: A lot of people are doing really interesting things with it right now. I’m really inspired by Ariel Pink. A Place to Bury Strangers I’m really into right now. Also R. Stevie Moore, a guy from the ‘70’s who was doing home recording stuff is another important influence. Sonic Youth is one of my really old influences

AL: You’re one of the most prolific artists in the city …

JT: [Interrupts] I think it’s just that I’m old …

AL: … or you’re always doing something. Do you ever get writer’s block?

JT: No. Never. Well, for certain styles I do. I can’t write raps anymore. I mean, after you do enough songs feeling the same way, there’s just no real reason to do it anymore. If I don’t change, I’d be that same guy playing in that band when I was 17, and I’d be 37. And that’d be fucked up.

AL: What’s your trick for staying creative?

JT: It’s more like a nervous habit, to go in the studio and record. I try to stay in touch with what’s happening in music to keep myself inspired. It’s hard to explain: Trying to find a sound you’ve never heard before, something that’s familiar but new, but not a totally cop-off or totally experimental.

AL: Any plans for touring with this band?

JT: I don’t know. Touring is very expensive. I would totally do it if I had the right hookup. I would totally do a tour of basement shows before I would do anything else. Maybe two or three weeks. I’ve done supporting tours for bigger acts and it’s kinda disheartening – people aren’t there to see you, and sometimes booking agents book really terrible shows at weird bars. Mostly I just want to play Milwaukee.

AL: Are you hoping to get signed to a label?

JT: Absolutely not.

AL: So you’re not shopping the record to A&R types or anything like that?

JT: I wouldn’t know how to do that. I’ll mail it to everybody I have contacts with, but I don’t think labels would know what do with this. I’m totally uninterested in playing that game – writing material, having it get rejected, trying to make music for the radio. When that’s on my mind trying to write music, that fucks me up. I can’t work that way. I’m really just about having a band in my hometown.

AL: Do you feel like you’ve maxed out in Milwaukee as an artist?

JT: I don’t think so. Like, I don’t have any way to play for the basement show scene here, the kids that are younger than me. I’m really going to try to do that. So we’re playing the Borg Ward in July and I would love to take this band into a basement setting eventually. I fucking hate playing in bars for ever show. It sucks. As far as Milwaukee goes, I feel like there’s a lot more for me to do here.

AL: Do you consider moving somewhere else to pursue music?

JT: I lived in the San Francisco and New Orleans, but I’m really not interested in that. I’m running a restaurant and that’s a huge part of my life. Moving somewhere for music right now honestly wouldn’t do me any good. It’d be like playing to a different set of 100 people, all these people I don’t know, and having to re-make new friends. It’s like, eh, I’d rather be here. If what I’m doing is good enough, those people there will hear it. And if they don’t that’s fine.

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