Milwaukee psych-rock vets start over
Chris Vos admits the timing of his epiphany wasn't ideal. Vos' band, Freshwater Collins, had just spent the last year and a half writing and prepping their new album, saving up the cash to record it at Madison's Smart Studios with producer Beau Sorenson, who has worked on recent albums by Death Cab for Cutie, and to perfect its artwork and packaging.With just two weeks until the album was to go to press, the band was driving home from a show opening for the Secret Machines when Vos shared his revelation with his band mates: "Guys, we're changing the name of the band."
"When we'd finally finished recording and I heard the album, I realized that it sounded nothing like Freshwater Collins," Vos recalls. "It was the work of a completely different band."
In truth, it had been years since Freshwater Collins had sounded like Freshwater Collins-or at least the Freshwater Collins that most remember. That band spent the better part of the decade as one of Milwaukee's most visible bands. With their swampy but nimble funk-rock, they found a ready audience in the then-burgeoning jam scene, sharing bills with genre titans like Gov't Mule, Big Wu and the Jerry Garcia Band. But even long after the group outgrew their early sound, taking a particularly un-jammy turn toward the loud and heavy four years ago when Vos and his brother Brian recruited a new guitarist (Josh Tovar) and drummer (Justin Krol), their reputation as a jam band persisted.
"I really don't have anything against that scene, but we didn't fit into it," Vos says. "Here we were playing this big, huge, extremely loud rock with a psychedelic twist, and that scene just wasn't into it. That was proven time and time again. We'd get booked at particular festivals, and when we began to play people would literally begin running from the stage."
Too heavy to keep their existing fans, too pigeonholed to make new ones, the band gambled that a complete re-branding was the only way to find the right audience, so this fall they delayed their new album, overhauling all its artwork to reflect their new name. The giant, black letters on the cover that once read FRESHWATER COLLINS now spell INVADE ROME.
The inaugural Invade Rome album, Light Eyed & Villainous, finally saw release last week. Clocking in at just under a half-hour, it's tighter and more visceral than anything the band recorded as Freshwater Collins, a burly, muscular rock 'n' roll album that recalls a more ferocious Kings of Leon, or a hard-charging My Morning Jacket. Vos' bluesy groan remains, but now the music is nervier, the production more modern. The disc's oversized drums could have been ripped from a Dave Fridmann Flaming Lips album.
Though Vos was apprehensive about jettisoning the name he'd been playing under for 13 years, members of Invade Rome were reassured they'd made the right decision weeks later by their like-minded tour-mates Dead Confederate. That Athens, Ga., group had existed stagnantly for years under a different, infinitely less-distinct band name-The Redbelly Band-only to see their career take off when they adopted the new moniker.
"Hearing another band had done the same thing, changing their name, throwing out all their old material and putting out a new record," Vos says, "that gave us a lot of needed encouragement.
"When my brother and I formed Freshwater, we were just kids trying to learn how to write songs," he continues. "But this new record has nothing to do with what we recorded in the past. I wanted it to belong to the four of us, and not be compared to the music we used to make. I felt strongly enough about that that I was willing to start over after 13 years."
Invade Rome plays a 10 p.m. CD-release show at the Cactus Club on Jan. 17 with Juniper Tar.