Lyrical Locale

local bands shout out their ’hoods through the magic of song

Tyler Griggs, Eric Christenson

The Jim Pullman Band at the Eau Claire House of Rock.
The Jim Pullman Band at the Eau Claire House of Rock.

Jim Pullman Band

“Fiasco A Go-Go” // “Downtown Summertime”
“We’re at the Grand Illusion/Exile on Water Street ...” starts the second verse of “Fiasco A Go-Go.” Bandleader Jim Pullman sings the line over clanging guitars and drummer Joey Gunderson and bassist Eric Thompson’s tempered beats. And in “Downtown Summertime,” the references to local people and places come fast like fireworks over Phoenix Park, including hanging out at Spindle’s place and girls dancing at the Brat Kabin. But it’s not enough to list them all individually – lyrically, the song is a weave of summery experiences fondly remembered, featuring Billy Angel on keys and Bill Hamilton on guitar.

Breakneck the Mage

The rapper is not shy about referencing Eau Claire in a myriad of songs, particularly in “Wisconsinality” – a tune which tosses out binge-drinking, dairy-farming generalities while also getting uber-specific with a Water Street shoutout: “An Asian restaurant on every corner / Quick Wok.”

Adelyn Rose

A soft standout of the psych-alternative group’s early stuff is called “Fields,” which references Corydon Park on the south side, near where singer Addie Strei grew up.

The Jaggernauts

“Free Weeze ” // “Shawtown, Population: You” // “Highway 53 Revisited" // “Stealing the Visions” // “Safe” // “Sunday Punch”
While we could go on a while about all of these songs, let’s just talk about “Free Weezee” because it’s so good. This melancholic pop rock song memorializes growing up and playing music in Eau Claire in the late ’80s and ’90s. “Union Records and Tapes was the best place to get music. If we couldn’t it there, you had to drive to the Cities,” said Jaggernauts bandleader Noel Hanson. Heartfelt from beginning to end, “Free Weezee” is a song about a small-town musician with arena-sized dreams: From the starting quip “You’ve been lookin’ for me high and low/you won’t find me on your radio/they don’t play my band in this town” to the tender swell of applause before song’s closing solo, it’s as though the song is happening only in the mind of a teenager jamming on a Fender in his bedroom all along.

Bon Iver

“Holocene” // “Towers”
I guess we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention these few local gems off of the Justin Vernon-fronted, Grammy-winning Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album. “Holocene” mentions a house on Third and Lake Street where Vernon used to live which burned up, and “Towers” references the UWEC dormitory where Vernon divulged he lost his virginity.

The Blue Room

“Highway X”
Alternative rockers The Blue Room turn to hard rock for their road-ravaged fireball “Highway X”. The song is a dedication to cruising the Chippewa Valley’s backroads, and considering its acrobatic intro and outtro, ferocious riffs, and snarling vocals, this song ideal at high speeds with the windows down. If you take the title less literally, “Highway X” twists the Chippewa Falls thoroughfare into a brutal wilderness enjoyed from behind a windshield, pedal to the metal, long and far away from the rest of the world. Musing over the song’s meaning, singer/lyricist Joe Samolinski said he is fond of drives out into the Chippewa Valley’s country roads, “you get views you wouldn’t get to by yourself. You can get lost, not knowing your way back.” Pleasant as that sounds, The Blue Room’s Highway X feels more like a motorcycle gang at a Clutch concert.

Phil Circle

“Living in the Chippewa Valley”
“They got music, cheap-ass beer, strangers that wave as they pass ...” Well that about covers it, right? That’s the start of the chorus of Chicago songwriter Phil Circle. He and wife Megan Corse (singing backup vocals) moved to Eau Claire back in 2010 and kicked out this charming acoustic jam a year or two after, reflecting fondly on the area’s natural woodland beauty and signature waterways. Phil Circle’s heartfelt tribute is easy to sing along to, fitting well alongside summertime picnics and campfires. Sincere and likeable, this jam feels like throwing a frisbee between friends at Owen Park or sipping lemonade and relaxing in your backyard.

Letters From Earth

This song is a late-night love letter to one of Eau Claire’s most notable downtown streets, with Tyler Griggs’s protagonist making his way on foot from Clancy’s on Barstow towards his home. The city’s rivers may look best at sunrise or sunset, but Barstowaway’s downtown streets glow with a street-lit nostalgia at bar close.

Wisconsin Built

“Church Bells”
Anyone who has taken a leisurely Sunday morning stroll around Eau Claire’s downtown is likely familiar with the bells at Christ Church Cathedral on South Farwell Street. Wisconsin Built’s Eric Christenson found inspiration in their dependable chimes as they routinely woke him from his Sunday morning beauty rest, and turned that into a two-minute meditation on the patterns of work, eat, and sleep.

Smack Davis

“Avoiding My Friends”
While lead singer Kyle Skarich doesn’t specifically mention any Eau Claire landmarks in this track, the song takes place in a series of Eau Claire bars. Given the names dropped throughout the course of the song, downtown seems like a good place to find these characters.

Honorable Mentions