That snow is finally melting, the ground is thawing, Milwaukee is looking to drink outside - it must be Spring. And with that, there always seems to be rebirth and growth of another nature at this time of the year, and local rockers, Rocket Cat, seem to fit that mold. After coming together randomly in 2016, the band has worked to infuse each other's individual styles and experiences to create something new. Lead singer, Justine Trudeaux has only recently come out of a 26-year music hiatus, and guitar player Chris Guse mentioned that some of the music on their album Radiant Transmission was written back in 1989. With the help of bassist Dave Maurer and drummer Steve Vorass, it seems that Rocket Cat was a long-since frozen entity that they didn't even know existed, and is finally starting to thaw out, right here in MKE.
You can stream Radiant Transmission via Spotify, and can catch them performing at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee on March 30th, for 414Live. We talked with Justine and Chris about the history of Rocket Cat, making music together, and the influence of Milwaukee - read it below.
CG: Chris Guse – guitar
JT: Justine Trudeaux - vocals
MM: How are you doing outside of music? How is life going?
JT: Busy! In addition to getting the band off the ground, I just wrapped up an elementary school variety show for 155 kids and recently started a women’s civic organization whose membership is increasing exponentially. Looking forward to things settling down over the next few weeks so we can get back to songwriting.
MM: Can you give us a background of Rocket Cat? How did you all come together?
CG: A series of random human collisions. I met Dave through a mutual friend who auditioned for my old cover band. Dave pulled me into Parallel where I met Thea Vorass (cello), whose husband is Steve and happened to be available and interested when Rocket Cat needed a new drummer. On a different track, I casually mentioned to another friend that I was considering pulling together a band and needed a singer. This friend knew that Justine was just getting back into music after an extended hiatus and asked if she was interested in connecting with us.
JT: Just a strange turn of events all at the right time. I do some volunteer work at Radio Milwaukee and one of my favorite events is the Fall Ball where they have live band karaoke to raise money for the station. I was watching the performers in 2015 and set a goal for myself to be part of it in 2016. So I started taking voice lessons to see if I still had it in me after a 26-year break. I have a friend whose son plays in a band with my son and she asked if I wanted to meet some guys who looking for a singer to start a new project. I think I said “sure, what have I got to lose”, took a risk and jumped into the great unknown. Before February 2016, I had no idea who any of these people were.
MM: Right now you have a mini LP available, Radiant Transmission, is there work on a full length or some upcoming projects?
JT: We don’t have any concrete recording plans at the moment, although we’ve been working on some new material that will likely end up in a studio in the near future. We continue to debate recording full length albums vs. releasing singles. It seems like people don’t consume music as a whole anymore. Radiant Transmission definitely tells a story and is meant to be listened to as a whole. But the reality is that people download what they like and the rest of the story is lost. We may try recording songs one at a time next time around. Or we may end up taking our time this year and pulling together a full album. We haven’t really discussed the future.
MM: I want to talk about the song "Surrender". It is noticeably different in feel and energy from the rest of the tracks on Radiant Transmission. Would you be able to talk about the songwriting behind it, and what it was like to capture the dynamic changes in the song, as to transcend the emotion throughout?
JT: "Surrender" is a very personal song and my favorite on the CD. It is an emotional journey in three parts. It is transformation. The day the guys sent over the instrumental tracks they recorded in the studio, I cried for a good hour just listening to it over and over. The music so beautifully captured the emotion of the words and melody. At that moment, I knew that these guys truly understood what was behind the vocals and they worked so hard to capture it. When the song hits the crescendo, I see fireworks exploding in my head every time.
CG: I think that while we certainly have a “hook” focus on the EP, we don’t feel that conventional song structures are a requirement and we’re going to do what we feel is interesting and compelling. If that means 6/8 (Surrender) or 7/4 (Gold) time signatures or ballad tempos or minimalist arpeggios (Enlightened Madness) then that’s cool. Surrender was really a case of a musical idea being heavily massaged to fit the lyric and energy of melody - I think we all felt there was something special going on there that demanded full attention. Everything we did musically is there to support the arc of the story being told. I think it’s interesting to note that the majority of the music was written in 1989 and exists as an entirely different song. While I’m proud of what that was, this marriage of a very old and naïve musical idea and the maturity and life experience dripping out of the lyric and melody is very compelling. I used to be concerned that the crescendo never really met the catharsis I was looking for. When we recorded it and were layering in guitar upon guitar and giant bass pads I had a moment of realization that it couldn’t be accomplished - what was in my head is too big for reality. The crescendo is now one of my favorite things about the song.
MM: You recently played at a Milwaukee Bucks Game and have an upcoming show at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee (both flourishing MKE institutions). Do you feel that Milwaukee is growing as a city, and with that a greater acceptance for local music of all varieties?
CG: Milwaukee is certainly supportive of all manner of indie bands. Our extended musical family includes Parallel (Chris & Dave) and Bright Black (Steve). Both are very different from Rocket Cat - on opposite sides of the spectrum - yet they kind of exist in the same world due to the crossover of the members. There’s room for everything.
JT: Milwaukee is cool. I’m not from here and when we were deciding on where to move in 2008, I was not very enthusiastic. All I really knew about Milwaukee was beer and Laverne & Shirley. But a friend sent an article on Milwaukee’s rebirth and I started to pay more attention to what was happening civically and in the arts community. I found Radio Milwaukee right away and contacted them to see how I could get involved. The work they do to bring the city together through music is so powerful. When you dig a little deeper into the city and its culture you find incredible things happening. The arts community is thriving and something for all Milwaukeeans to feel proud about.
MM: Something you want the world to know.
CG: Making songs (and especially recording them) is extremely difficult. It requires a level of patience, detail scrutinization and soul-bearing that is exhausting. Please buy the music you like and support artists any way you can. They all work harder than I had ever imagined.
MM: What do you love about Milwaukee?
JT: I love the lake. I’ve never lived right next to such a huge body of water. How lucky are we to have this precious resource in our community? I also love the winters here. The extreme cold & snow makes for some very cozy times and there’s not the same social pressures of hectic summer months. I also went to Mad Planet for the first time a few months ago for Retro Night. What a blast!
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