When I hear a good power pop band, my heart feels like jumping out of my chest and doing a dance like John Cusack’s cheeseburger did in “Better Off Dead”. It happened when I first heard Cheap Trick, then with The Beat, now The Sugar Stems! The tunes are memorable, and the lyrics are emotionally authentic, which makes the entire package multi coated; so you never get worn-out listening to it. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears, ” you won’t be dissatisfied, because this is timeless pop music. I am confident that decades from now, The Sugar Stems will still be in heavy rotation on many turntables, including mine!
Interview by Jay Castro
Who’s answering the questions here?
It's me! Betsy!
Who is in the band and what instruments do you all play?
Betsy - vocals/guitar
Steph - bass
Andy - keyboard
Drew - guitar
Jonny - drums
Are you all originally from the Milwaukee area? How did the band come together?
We were born and raised in various places around the state, but we've all lived here in Milwaukee for a while except for Drew who has been between here and Sheboygan, WI. We've all been friends for many years and have played in different bands/projects together. We all got together to start this band about 5 years ago and everything just kind of clicked. There were a few changes along the way, most recently we added a keyboard player, our good pal Andy Harris, which we are very excited about!
The bands second LP has just been released, are you surprised by the international attention you have been getting? Where has there the band garnered the most interest that’s come as a surprise to you?
It is always exciting to see and hear the response from all of our fans over-seas. It never gets old! I think the response from Japan has been the most surprising, I think because it is just so far away and so different from here. We really want to tour there some day.
Tell me about the cover art for the new album “Can’t Wait” and the issues it’s caused some people?
We were very excited about it and had a lot of fun making it and putting it together, but we were a little surprised when we read some things online where people were saying how gross it was. I guess they thought it was real worms in the picture. No worms were harmed in the making of "Can't Wait!”
Ha! I love dogs of all kinds, and as far as canines go Golden Retrievers aren't too bad. They are not the smartest but loyal and playful and often get whiter as they age which I think accurately portrays our band. I guess I'd rather be a Golden Retriever than a poodle or a yorkie or some kind of schnauzer mix that relentlessly humps peoples' legs. My cousins had a dog like that when I was little and one time it was humping my leg and my sister said "Look! look! He's dancing with you!" So I guess for me music and dogs have always been linked... Anyways, I think our third album will have more of a pit bull sound.
You recently opened up for Paul Collins’ The Beat. How was that experience? Were you a fan prior to sharing the stage with them?
Yes we are fans! It was really neat and a tiny bit surreal to play a show with someone who you spent so many years listening to. A lot of his songs are so timeless and catchy and I think that is something that every musician, no matter what kind of music they make, aspires to do within their own "scene" or "genre."
You just played Happenin’ Records “Happenin’ Fest” in Huntsville, Alabama and are about to play the Girls Got Rhythm fest in Saint Paul, MN with legendary ladies like Cherie Curry and Penelope Houston of The Avengers. On top of that you are scheduled to play Gonerfest! How did you get involved in all of these festivities? Do you enjoy playing shows like this with so many different bands?
We do, they are always tons of fun. We like to travel and wish we could tour more, but because of our day jobs it's hard to get away for weeks at a time, so we decided to take as many long weekend type trips we could this summer to help promote our album and play for as many people as we can. We have been so fortunate to have been asked to play all of these really cool events and we always look forward to them. Something about playing a "fest" really makes it feel like a vacation and just makes it a lot more fun.
I read that some of you grew up in households that embraced music. Do you think Rock ‘N’ Roll can still be a vital and influential force for kids in such a disposable age?
I think there will always be kids out there who see and hear an instrument like a guitar or some drums and just have to pick it up and give it a try. Parents just need to encourage their kids to play REAL instruments though and not some stupid bullshit plastic video game version. Oh! That sounded like a cranky old woman, didn't it? Anyways, yeah, kids these days….
50 years ago people used to buy music and get their water free; now people pay for water and get their music free. How do you think this affects the music industry?
I don't know fuck about shit when it comes to the music industry. I reckon it's not good though! I am REALLY inspired by all of the independent record labels out there in the world though, especially the little guys who aren't making billions of dollars but are still working super hard to get the music they think is good out there. That's really admirable to me.
Where can people hear the band or purchase Sugar Stems music or merch?
Welllllll, you can download both of our records on this thing called iTunes which I guess sells "MP3’s" or whatever. And you can also download the first album and 2 other singles on Bandcamp.
And of course you can always come see us play live and we will happily sell you records, t-shirts, lip balm, and other misc. merch type things! We'll give you a button for free! And if you just need a hug or some advice, we'll give you that too! For free! At least I will the other guys might charge.
What’s next for the band?More travels - St. Paul, Memphis to name a few this summer, hopefully a West Coast, Europe, or Japan tour some day. Working on stuff for a third album. After that? Who knows! Video game soundtrack? Nickelodeon show for tweens? Or an animated series? Maybe we'll market a Sugar Stems breakfast cereal? Strange opportunities tend to present themselves to this band so a lot of times we never really know what our next step will be.