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Sat. Nite Duets Put Themselves Out There

Sep. 13, 2016
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Photo by Leigh Burmesch
Milwaukee’s Sat. Night Duets have never demanded that anybody take them seriously. If anything, between their quippy song titles, wry lyrical asides and patchwork album art, they’ve actively discouraged it. That laidback slacker image has given the band a lot of cover as songwriters. Where the rest of the city pegged them as a kind of silly indie-rock act, they were touching on issues of genuine concern: career uncertainty, romantic disillusionment, the burden of cultural expectations and quarter-life malaise in general. And maybe, admits Andrew Jambura, one of the band’s three guitarists, at times they’ve been a little bit too deft at downplaying how earnest their songs were.

“Not that I expect anybody to analyze our songwriting or anything, but it seems like nobody has ever talked about the songs we’ve written that are vulnerable and emotional,” says Jambura. “I think it’s fair to say that, for all of us, that’s been a major concern, wondering, ‘What will someone think of this song?’ Or, ‘Does this seem too revealing?’ It’s hard to say something about yourself in such a public context as a record that’s on the internet, but that kind of expression has always been our motivation for doing this.”

And so for their latest album, Air Guitar, out Sept. 16 on Father/Daughter Records, the band set out to be a little more open. “I think that everything we released in the past was on some level sort of an explanation or a defense of being in your early 20s and not knowing where you were headed with your life, or what was going on around you, and an assurance that that was OK,” Jambura says. “But I think this is a departure from that. It’s more confident. This time we’re just letting it all hang out there, which is why I think Air Guitar is such an apt title.”

It’s hard to make too many generalizations about the band’s songwriting because it’s split so many ways (each of the group’s six members contributes songs, and they probably do the collective tag-team songwriting thing better than any Milwaukee group since the late, great Goodnight Loving). But in general, the songs on Air Guitar, while as buzzy and tunefully askew as ever, are more self-reflective; sometimes they’re downright meta.

“One of the things that this album is a lot about is about being in a band,” says singer-guitarist Joe Guszkowski. “And I can’t speak for the whole band about our identity, but I think it’s certainly changed. The band has taken a different priority in our lives. We kind of look at it differently than we used to.”

Perhaps that’s inevitable. While most members of the band are still only in their mid-20s, the group has been playing together since 2009. They were once one of the most talked about bands in the city—one of the first to gather a little bit of national press at a time when it felt like the entire Milwaukee music scene had been under quarantine—but they’re no longer the hot new things. They’re seasoned veterans, and although there’s some esteem that goes along with that, there’s not a lot of glamour. If they want to keep moving forward with this music thing (and by all indications they do) they’ll be doing it not for the long-shot chance of breaking out, but for themselves.

They touch on that sentiment on Air Guitar’s early standout, “The Last Beer of My Career,” a verse of which lends the album its name: “You’re far from the rock ’n’ roll stage / Where every fucker shows his age / We used to play air guitars in back seats of cars just gunning for a usable rage.” The line can be read as a preemptive kiss-off to whatever career music ambitions the band also had, but also as a promise to keep going.

“One thing I’ve always liked about being in this band is we’ve made this whole mythology,” says Jambura. “The way we write songs is very democratic, and everybody participates. But there are probably 15-20 solo albums that we’ve done or related bands associated with our band, too. So to me, this album is very self-referential. It’s another chapter in this large body of work that spans 12 years, but it also stands alone.”

Sat. Nite Duets play a record release show on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum (220 N. Terrace Ave.) with openers Negative Positive.

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