Stefan meets alternative, indie, pop, rock group from SE Wisconsin better known as Well Known Strangers for a quick 1 on 1.
1. You guys describe your sound as: “Cello infused, alternative pop/rock, with-a-tinge-of-country, band sound”, how did you manage to bring together everything so perfectly?
We struggle at times describing our sound as the musical influences across our band are cross-genre and personal based on upbringing, training, and age. It seems as others (media, press, etc.) struggle with categorizing us as well. Alternative, rock, pop, country, folk…we’ve heard it all…and we undoubtedly touch each and every one of those genres in some form or fashion. Cello brings out the country side a bit, our ‘formula’ for writing songs tend to push us into the rock/pop side, and the diverse instrumentation throws us into the alternative genre. Betsy has a heavy influence in folk, so you may hear that influence in some of her vocals, as does the acoustic sound. It just seems to work and I think our passion for creating and playing music together makes ‘blending’ it all a fairly easy process for us.
2. Your band name, Well-known Strangers, is oxymoronically. How did the name come about?
Our name was actually proposed by a dear friend’s teenaged daughter and we immediately loved the oxymoronically catchiness. As we tend to say in other interviews and write-ups, we are all somewhat ‘known’ in the local music circles but amongst ourselves we were mostly ‘strangers’ to each other.
3. Do you all participate in the lyric writing?
We all believe that in order for the passion and energy to come across to the listeners (which is true for each and every role in the band), that the lyrics should be penned by Betsy. This enables her to perhaps ‘feel’ the song a bit more as it can relate personally to something she created. Others have contributed, but we leave the lyrics to Betsy as she’s quite gifted with her creativity and lyrical talents.
4. There are 6 of you, and that’s a lot of personalities and opinions to manage. How do you do it? What’s the best part? The most challenging?
It is challenging, but more from a scheduling standpoint than any other aspect. I initially started the band with Betsy, I manage the band, and I work hard to keep the foundational agreements intact…such as ‘everyone’s opinion matters’ and ‘if we have an idea, let’s try it’. Everyone has a voice and is heard and there’s a mutual respect between all members. Best part is that we all get along and ‘drama’ is rarely present. When we have issues or ‘drama’, we typically address them immediately to keep things from bubbling up later. Our ages and deep experience in previous bands certainly adds a level of maturity, which is a significant difference to that of say some very young bands. Again, most challenging would be scheduling aspects, since at this point we’re all busy (family, work, etc.) outside the band activities.
5. How do you divide the responsibilities?
With responsibilities that include sound, inventory, song-writing, set list creation, communication w/press and fans, social media, scheduling, booking, finances, contracts/legal, and more, we all MUST play a role. Right from the start we took a look at all these responsibilities and made a decision on WHO wanted to do WHAT, and what made the most sense based on experiences, knowledge, availability, and desire. In some cases, such as social media, multiple members are involved and have a common understanding of the “process”.
6. There has to be a group leader, who is yours? Does it change depending on the setting?
As stated earlier, we all have a voice, but I have taken on the role of ‘leader’ of the band. This happened due to initially triggering the start of the band, and owning the actual legal entity. However, many of us play ‘leader’ at times such as working with a venue’s sound engineer. That role is typically held by Theodore, and we make sure that the other members stay out of the communication path at gigs as it can create havoc for a show to have too many voices all hitting up the venue’s sound engineer at once.
7. Do you have any formal musical training? All of you or just certain members?
It’s a mix bag when it comes to formal training. Sacia has a Master’s Degree in Cello Performance and has training in other instrumentation. Theodore has extensive formal music training and is truly gifted with his knowledge of not just guitar, but music in general…including music history. Joe took piano and bass lessons in the past, and Betsy, Roger, and John have all excellent knowledge of their instruments and music in general.
8. What are your greatest influences as a group and as individuals?
Huge question and truly diverse. Massive range in our influences, and the following list will give you a better idea as to how big the range is. Influences include, but certainly not limited to: The Beatles, Jim Croce, Brandi Carlile, Rush, Pearl Jam, Jewel, Yo Yo Ma, Goo Goo Dolls, George Strait, Ani Difranco, Matchbox 20, The Doors, Johnny Cash, in addition to famous composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.).
SO many artists left off that list, but that will at least give you an idea of the range. Individually we are definitely diverse, but with each of us we may lean a bit more towards one genre than another. Betsy is a huge Brandi Carlile and Ani Difranco fan, but has a wide range of influences that helps drive her amazing talent. Sacia loves her country music, in addition to Brandi Carlile and a massive knowledge in and passion towards orchestral compositions. Ted is very diverse, from Rush to Mozart, and has a tremendous grasp on the history of music. Same with Roger…everything from hard rock to country, and deeply influenced by his favorite percussionists. In John’s playlist you may find anything and everything, including some excellent 80’s music from artists like New Order, REM, classic rock like Led Zeppelin, to blues favorites like Stevie Ray Vaughn. I tend to like alternative, 80’s, 90’s, or classic rock, including bands like U2, The Cure, The Beatles, Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Doors.
9. What are some rituals that you do before any performance?
It really becomes an individual thing, be it practicing our specific instrument, warming up our voices, doing a little stretching/exercise (as we tend to be quite energetic on stage), or some of us even can meditate or mentally ‘break free’ from the upcoming performance to bring the pre-show excitement / anxieties on a level that works for each of us individually.
10. What is your favorite city to play in?
At this point, we absolutely love to play our local area simply due to the larger fan base and gig draw, however, we have had amazing experiences in many of the cities we’ve had the opportunity to play in. This includes Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and more. Each and every opportunity brings about new experiences, new cultures, and new fans, and we’re extremely eager to tour.
11. Any plans for Europe or South America?
We’d love to play Europe or South America, and as many other countries as well. In general, it’s a HUGE challenge to stir up a fan base outside the local region, but with social media, a strong management team, strong PR, and excellent gigs, we believe we’re in a great situation to see our travel dreams come true.