Volume One Special Coverage: Pulling Together While Staying Apart

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Reckless Fools

Astrotone Collective drops debut album

Tyler Griggs, photos by Andrea Paulseth

VISUALIZING THE RAWK. The local rockers of Astrotone Collective range in age from 17 to 19.
VISUALIZING THE RAWK. The local rockers of Astrotone Collective range in age from 17 to 19.

In a sleepy neighborhood on the north side of  Eau Claire comes the sound of buzzing guitars, high-hat hisses and a boy’s wail from a blue rambler’s closed garage door. Three cages of rabbits sit outside on the driveway; perhaps the garage is their home when the Collective are away.

Inside a crew of young musicians pound out another jam. It’s about the 20th song written since Astrotone Collective recorded its first full-length album, Fools & the Reckless. The self-released album dropped in June with a CD release show at the House of Rock June 14.

Just a little ways down Highway 93 in Pine Hollow Audio’s cozy re-imagined barn, guitarist and vocalist Collin Peterson, singer Jenny Carlson, guitarists Emily Watkins and Dakota Kitzman, bassist Justin Jarvis, and drummer Mike Kust banged out the 10 songs on Fools and the Reckless in four days last August with local sound engineer Evan Middlesworth.

Fools and the Reckless is a composite picture of a band raised on jazz titans and fuzz pedals, and categorizing themselves as alternative rock is as perfectly acceptable as it is essentially unfulfilling.

With thanks to Evan’s intuition you might even call him their producer, channeling the band’s dreams for its first record into broader horizons and crisper realities. “He sets the bar and jumps you on it,” said Dakota. “Evan doesn’t accept things to be worse than they could be.”

Fools and the Reckless is a composite picture of a band raised on jazz titans and fuzz pedals, and categorizing themselves as alternative rock is as perfectly acceptable as it is essentially unfulfilling. On the album, “Floppy” is driven by acoustic guitars and flourishes with three-part vocal harmonies. “Boom Cannon” features intertwining guitar melodies and familiar stompin’ blues rock licks, while “Soul Injection” seems straight out of a Fiona Apple release, showcasing the soft bluesy stylings of Jenny’s voice with trombone, trumpet, and baritone saxophone flavor crystals. The album closer “Inside and Out” is a swinging acoustic pop rock sing-along.

Operating the band with two primary vocalists is no accident. Collin installs shared vocal responsibilities to create a sense of storytelling, or to create a weighty contextual shift in a song’s tone. “Some songs are more of a conversation between two voices,” says Collin. For example between the smooth thrumming choruses of “Rube Goldberg Machine,” Collin voices a frustrated man’s nitpicking of his own intimate relationship, while Jenny plays a fairer, compassionate character in the same relationship.

Collin’s frustrated young man appears again on the prog-anthem “Owing Low” in which his embittered rage smolders over Dakota’s wall of snarling riffy buzz before a glorious, transcendent extended coda. There, between soft currents of guitar solo, Jenny’s voice soars above the tranquility “like an omnipresent being –  a guardian angel of the person betrayed,” said Collin. “I record my thoughts in life in songs through the lens of duality, that sort of yin-yang. It plays real well with two vocalists: anger and serenity.”

While the band’s members may only be between the ages of 17 and 19, the six of them have already met success in their musical endeavors by competing in Essentially Ellington, a high-profile high school jazz competition attracting young musicians around the world. Instructed by tireless conductor Bruce Herring as the North High Jazz Ensemble I of the 2011-12 school year, the jazz ensemble was picked as a top 15 finalist – a tremendous victory. The jazz band flew to New York to perform before a panel of judges and some of the world’s greatest living jazz musicians.

To meet that victory, Herring worked his concert band hard in strenuous clinics playfully dubbed “knock-down drag-outs,” and occasionally required coming in on weekends, plus re-recording their audition several times for a flawless take. “He worked us hard in those first few years,” said drummer Mike Kust. (In the previous school year, Jazz I auditioned for Essentially Ellington but didn’t get in.)

The lessons learned from that experience resonate in them all today and will into the future. “The hard work and perseverance – the tremendous amount of focus and patience paid off. We devoted ourselves to being the best in that competition and it worked! Now we have that experience. Now we have that dedication and focus to apply to things we freely choose, like Astrotone,” said Collin. “It’s perfectly transferable.”

Stay tuned to Volume One’s print and online calendars for upcoming Astrotone Collective gigs • Find Astrotone Collective on Facebook • Find Fools & the Reckless at The Local Store (205 N. Dewey St.), Revival Records (418 S. Barstow St.), Half Moon Tea & Spice (112 E. Grand Ave.), Azara Hookah (624 Water St.), and online at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, BandCamp, and CD Baby.

Lasker Jewelers
Lasker Jewelers

Pulling Together Partners

The following organizations are currently supporting Volume One’s work in the community during the pandemic:

Lasker Jewelers

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire Inc DECI

University of Wisconsin Eau Claire

Pablo Group

Wisconsin Independent Network

Middle West Management

Bon Iver

Royal Credit Union

Silver Spring

Evergreen Surgical

Charter Bank

Chippewa Valley Technical College

The Murty Henriksen Family

The Larry and Marie Past Family

The Dan and Kerry Kincaid Family

Anton and Rae Schilling-Smets

Brady and Jeanne Foust

If your organization is interested in supporting Volume One during this difficult time, nick@volumeone.orgcontact us.