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INTERVIEW: Midwest Soul Xchange

American/Folk has exploded over the last few years, and for good reason. This is a genre that focuses on honesty and integrity. It exists in the realm of classic rock with a certain charming twist to it. Midwest Soul Xchange brings the best of this genre and fuses it into an experience worth listening to over and over again.

RYAN: Band names are often one of the hardest decisions to make when it comes to a band. How did you come up with this name?

Nate Cherrier: Well, I had been kicking around the name for a few years, but never had the right project to use it on. When Ryan & I started rolling as a “long distance duo”, Midwest Soul Xchange just to fit the vibe.

RYAN: What is the story behind the band and how they formed?

Ryan Summers: Whoa… where to begin?… The mid-to-late 90’s was a hotbed of talent in the Chippewa Valley area of Wisconsin. A lot of musicians from that place and time have gone on to tour nationally and one even won a Grammy.

Nate and I met back in ’96 when we were juniors in high school. I remember Nate was always starting bands. The very first local band I ever heard of was one he had started with a couple guys from my neighborhood. Their drummer, this guy with long, fire-red hair named Kennedy Smith lived a block away from me. They’d rehearse over at Kennedy’s garage and the sound would carry over to my parent’s house. I remember hearing a lot of CCR covers, but also a lot of catchy original material that I didn’t recognize.

I heard through some friends that Nate was starting a new band and was looking for a bass player. I jumped at the opportunity even though I’d never played bass before. I could play keys pretty well and I knew some licks on guitar, but I definitely wasn’t a bass player. We happened to click musically so he kept me around. He even offered to be the bass player instead, and encouraged me to play keys and guitar. In a sense, Nate was my first “in” to this crowd of musicians in the area.

We played in a couple bands throughout high school, but after graduation we went our separate ways. We were in different colleges and eventually moved to different states. I got more involved in music production, while Nate was more focused on live performance and playing drums for bands. But we kept in touch for years via email… More as a way to keep our collective sanity than for any collaborative purpose.

Flash-forward to 2013. Nate mentioned to me that he got a new laptop. For his birthday I got him a condenser mic and USB recording module. Then the demos just started flowing! Originally I was going to include Nate on a project I co-founded called the Cellophane Superstars. We had this avant-garde, electronic rock sound. It was kind of like Butthole Surfers meets NIN. When that project fell apart, Nate and I had a solid album’s worth of our own recordings that weren’t really cut out for that edgy electronic style. It was just a matter of choosing which songs to polish off. The process still took months, but when it was done we realized we had something special. Like Nate said, Midwest Soul Xchange just fit.

RYAN: Most albums have a theme running through them. How would you describe New American Century to anyone that has not heard the album before?

Nate Cherrier: We didn’t have a specific theme in mind when we started out, but noticed a lot of the material was kind of parallel. In a way, it’s like a road trip through the heart of the American Dream, or at least the state of affairs the nation has found itself in since the turn of the century.

RYAN: Your style has elements of some of the classic greats of the past. Who do you gain inspiration from in the industry or out of it?

Nate Cherrier: I consider myself an Anglophile. I get a lot of inspiration from British Rock, and namely Queen. What I’ve always admired most about them is they would have these grand studio recordings, but then they’d still manage to strip down to a power-trio for live performances. We don’t anticipate ever playing with a 5-7 piece band any time soon to duplicate our recordings, but I feel that a lot of our songs still do well in a minimalist sense. Simon & Garfunkel have also been a big inspiration for that same reason too. Not only do we have the short guy/tall guy aesthetic, Simon and Garfunkel songs worked incredibly well stripped down. Even though they had the studio musicians to create full and robust recordings, their songs work just as well when performed as a duo. The Postal Service project between Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello also comes to mind as an inspiration. They showed that you can be successful collaborating musically over long distances.

Ryan Summers: Regarding out-of-industry influences, I get a lot of inspiration from books and other works of art. The song Roots is based on a painting my wife made. The song Revolt Of The Guards is based entirely on Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History Of The United States. The title is actually taken from one of the later chapters in that book.

RYAN: If you could work with anyone in the industry, who would you want to work with?

Ryan Summers: Oh boy… there are a lot of musicians out there that we both admire, but it would probably sound arrogant to list off their names hoping for some long-shot collaboration. I mean, who the hell are we?

We tend to focus our collaboration efforts on working with other instrumentalists mostly. Folks that might not have an established reputation, but still have mad skills.

A little misconception we want to clear up is that New American Century is not technically 100% tracked by us. The brass tracks on “Has Anybody Seen Bob” were contributed by a guy named Jacob Wynn who we met online. We’re hoping that Jacob will contribute to the next project as well.

I could see us possibly collaborating with other local bands too. There’s a nationally touring bluegrass band called Horseshoes and Hand Grenades that’s based close to where I live. I’d love to have those guys into the studio for a jam and a handshake sometime. While I feel at home on the keys and electric guitar, traditional instruments are not my forte.

RYAN: Do you have any words of wisdom to share with bands just starting out?

Nate Cherrier: It’s fucking hard work. It’s hard to keep motivated when it feels like nobody cares. When you’re playing your heart out to an empty bar, you know, doing your thing, and you’re only getting what seems like a tepid response. It can feel like you’re just embarrassing yourself up there. I’ve actually thrown in the towel a few times over the years, but I always keep coming back home. It’s like even your darkest hour feels better than sitting on the sidelines and watching it pass by.

Ryan Summers: Recording music is much the same way. You might spent weeks working on a single song only to have a dozen people listen to it on Soundcloud. There’s just so much music out there it’s hard for anybody who’s starting out at ground zero. The big thing young musicians need to realize is that success in music is a collaborative effort. If you’re looking at playing in a band as some sort of competition, you’re doing it wrong. Surround yourself with a community of musicians first and work on building that. Be humble and try to help others out as much as possible. If people like you, they’ll eventually start to listen.

RYAN: Occupy The Piper was one of my favorite songs on the album. Does the band have a personal favorite and why?

Nate Cherrier: I feel the best songs are those that can be stripped down to the bare bones and still be effective. Occupy The Piper is a good one in that respect. When you can still capture a crowd with just your voice and a guitar, I think that’s a good sign. For the New American Century recordings we took more of a maximized approach. In past bands, studio recording time was always limited. It was more of a “play your piece and get out” routine. During the process of recording the album, Summers made the comment “hey man, tracks are free!” And that’s really the case in home studios. You don’t feel those same time and money constraints. As a result, I would often fill up whole sections of rhythm tracks and send them over to Summers for, what we like to call “the treatment”. What has always worked naturally with us is I’m the pocket, he’s the pizzazz.

RYAN: The Soundcloud revolution is here. How do you feel about the new digital medium being used to sell music and stream it?

Ryan Summers: I’m a big fan of streaming services. I’ve found a lot of good music through Soundcloud, some of which I’ve gone on to purchase. Same with Spotify. It used to be you’d have to go through a record store and blindly buy an album based on a recommendation of a friend, or maybe something you heard on T.V. Now anybody, anywhere, can go and listen to your music with little to no up-front cost. I think it’s a real win for musicians and fans. It helps fans zero in on their musical tastes and support those artists they like instead of accidentally supporting an artist based on a whim.

RYAN: Up to this point, what are some of your greatest moments in the band?

Nate Cherrier: So far, I think the rehearsals have been our greatest moments. We haven’t had a lot of them, maybe 2 or 3 at this point, but when we do get together, it makes my ears smile. It’s not easy to jam living in different states, so when we do get the chance to rehearse together, we’re both hyper focused. We have our parts solid going in, and playing together is more of a way to smooth out any edges. We rehearse to make music, we don’t like to just get buzzed and make noise.

RYAN: Lastly, and thank you for your time. Is there any news from the Midwest Soul Xchange camp that you would like your fans to know about?

Ryan Summers: Thank you very much, Ryan, and Vents Magazine for giving us the opportunity to do this interview! We’re putting together some shows this summer in support of the album. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to road-test some new material as well. Buy the ticket, take the ride!

Aririderide, as the good Doctor says!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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