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However, once I gave The Trouble We're In, Call Me Lightning's debut, a proper listen, my perceptions shifted. In fact, having never expected the herky-jerky art punk tunes that I was hearing, I was floored. It was like the first time I heard Mission of Burma, but this time it was being played through the big-shouldered suit of David Byrne. It was crazy, it was fun, and it was good. After reviewing the album, more research ensued and, after some email chatter with guitarist and vocalist Nathan Lilley, I learned that Call Me Lightning operated out of Wisconsin and came to my neck of the woods (Chicago) to play fairly often. Before long I was meeting up with the Milwaukee trio for an interview, and the personal association further solidified their standing as a personal favorite.
Now, several years later, the time has come to play a game of catch up, as Call Me Lightning's sophomore album, Soft Skeletons, will be released via the art punk brokers at French Kiss later this month. Nathan Lilley was kind enough to fill me on where they're at as a band and how they arrived here.
LAS: How did you guys get hooked up with French Kiss?
Lilley: We played a show with Thunderbirds Are Now! and we got along, so Ryan [Allen, erstwhile LAS staffer] gave the label the heads up that we'd be sending them some demos of our new stuff. They came out to see us play and must have liked it. It also didn't hurt that Steve, the label manager, is from the Midwest and has seen all of us play in bands over the past ten years and even booked an old band's show, but that was basically that. We're really happy it worked out. They're all top dogs over there.
LAS: The last time we hung out in Chicago, you guys were talking about writing new songs. Now you've got the new album completed, how was the process?
Lilley: It was pretty regular. You know, come up with riffs, take forever to finish the lyrics, et cetera. It stretched out over a long time, but it was really satisfying in the end and rarely got tedious.
LAS: Are you still a fan of The Who?
Lilley: Despite their recent crimes, yeah, definitely. I'm really into the late 60's era right now. Their performance of "Tommy" on the deluxe edition of Live at Leeds is awesome. I just pretend that they stopped existing after the 70s.
LAS: At what point in your life did you realize music had a different sort of effect on you?
Nathan Lilley: I discovered the underground punk and indie scene in Milwaukee pretty early - around 12 - and that led me to the larger world of independent music pretty quickly, which got me to start a shitty punk band almost immediately. I felt like I had entered a secret society through mail order and little shows, and I became obsessed. I wasn't particularly very popular in school, so I really latched on to that scene and discovered a lot of great things, musically and politically. But that was as much a social outlet as a musical one. It's really within the past couple years, as an adult in my late twenties, that I've discovered the different sort of effect that music has on me, because I'm still essentially doing the same thing that I was doing when I was 12.
LAS: If Weird Al were to parody any of your songs, which would you hope he'd choose, and what could he change it to?
Lilley: There's a song called "Pizza Party" on our last album, about a haunted pizza party and a cursed dog. It would be cool if he parodied it and changed it to something silly.
LAS: What are your favorite cover songs to play?
Lilley: We don't really know any covers, but Bill constantly plays Iron Maiden bass lines at practice. I suppose those are my favorite, though I'd be happy to never hear him play them again. We are actually doing a split seven-inch with a thrash band called Get Rad, on which we cover each others' songs, like the Born Against/Screeching Weasel split. I hope we're more like Born Against than Screeching Weasel, though.
LAS: What is the worst album in your home collection right now?
Lilley: I have a burned copy of a recent Radiohead album that I've been thinking of throwing in the garbage.
LAS: Do you guys have any superstitions, individual or collectively?
Lilley: Anytime anything good happens, something twice as bad is just around the corner. I guess that's not really a superstition, just pessimism. "Don't fart on a dead horse or your dick will fall off" - how's that?
LAS: Where is the greatest place you guys have played?
Lilley: I really like the Warehouse Next Door in DC. It's a really nice model for what a DIY all ages space should be. Good people that are excited about new music. O'Leavers in Omaha was great because we got to sleep on the bar floor after we were done playing. Best of all, though, will always be Cactus Club in Milwaukee. That's our bar.
LAS: If you could re-score any film, which would you choose and why?
Lilley: The Last Waltz, because it would be funny and because it makes a funny answer to your question.
LAS: Milwaukee is known for its beer and cheese. Which are your favorite beers and cheeses?
Lilley: Bill and I like Point, which is made a little north of here. It's cheap and it's good. All Miller is shit except High Life, which is good. Schlitz is good if it's off a clean tap, which usually doesn't happen. Lakefront and Sprecher are good local microbrews, but I usually don't order them. Pabst tastes good, but it's also the beer that betrayed Milwaukee in the 90s. They shut down their plant with no notice and cut off their retirees' pension and benefits. Bars refused to carry PBR for a long time around here because of what they did to the city. It's funny how quickly everyone forgot that. My favorite cheese is melted cheese.
LAS: If you could live one full day as somebody else, or collectively as another band - whom would you pick and why?
Lilley: Abraham Lincoln, so I could be a skeleton with a top hat, just like that drawing of Slash on my old Guns and Roses t-shirt.
LAS: What does the future hold for Call Me Lightning?
Lilley: That is my least favorite question to answer. Eating and working.
With a month-long tour kicking off on Saturday, chances are that the boys on Call Me Lightning will be visiting your neck of the woods soon. Be on the lookout, and on Tuesday be sure to check out Soft Skeletons. It may be just what you've been (unexpectedly) waiting for. SEE ALSO: www.callmelightning.com
SEE ALSO: www.frenchkissrecords.com
Having been introduced to good music by his sister in the early years, Bob Ladewig has been searching out all the best in indie music ever since. He also rides a skateboard and performs/directs comedy shows and, like all great men, he's afraid of really growing up.
See other articles by Bob Ladewig.
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