Home / Music / Music Feature / Haunter Keep the Spirit of Slowcore Alive on ‘Worm’

Haunter Keep the Spirit of Slowcore Alive on ‘Worm’

Jan. 10, 2017
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Photo by Elizabeth Smith
Even during its ’90s heyday, slowcore was never the easiest sell. Between its downbeat mindset, leisurely tempos and general mopiness, it was always a niche movement, never intended for the masses. And though slowcore bands like Codeine, Bedhead and Duster all made some fantastic records that still hold up, unlike so many other strains of ’90s underground rock, there hasn’t been a full-on slowcore revival, and there probably won’t be any time soon. In an era when interest in rock music in general is at a relative low, the public isn’t exactly clamoring for something as unappealingly branded as “slowcore.”

Slowcore never made much of a mark on the Milwaukee rock scene, which has historically preferred its guitar music to be loud, direct and bar-friendly, so it’s interesting to find a young band that’s openly embracing the influence. On their new album Worm, the Milwaukee quartet Haunter mines inspiration from the genre’s dejected tempos and wound-licking guitars.

“We’ve always listened to a lot of stuff from the ’90s, like Galaxie 500 and Codeine and stuff like that,” says drummer John Schoneman. “We wanted to make music that drew from that era but wasn’t copying it—something that still had our personalities in.”

Haunter aren’t straight revivalists, then, and especially in its brighter, hookier opening half, Worm resists wallowing in uninterrupted gloom the way classic slowcore records did. There’s a warmth and accessibility to the record that you’d never find on anything Codeine did. Those sweet, catchy songs make sullen dirges like “Play with Bones” and “Ghost” land that much harder, though. They’re the kind of pained, inward rock songs that guitar bands rarely attempt these days.

That barren sound stems partially from a desire to be more honest, explains Aidan Keyes, one of the band’s guitarists and vocalists. On their early releases a couple years back, the band dabbled in shoegaze—a genre that, unlike slowcore, always has and always will have a loyal cult following. And as fun as it was to play around with fuzz and distortion and all those shoegaze trappings, Keyes says, the cleaner, more stripped down songs on Worm are a truer reflection of the band. “We wanted the songs to be pretty simple for this album,” he says. “We wanted it so we could play almost everything on the album live exactly the way we recorded it on the album.”

Now the group is continuing its process of integrating itself into the Milwaukee music scene. The group only recently fully completed its move here from Stevens Point, where they all went to college, and now they’re undertaking the difficult task of trying to build an audience for a style of music that doesn’t have a built-in audience.

Keyes has lived in Milwaukee the longest of the group, and his impression of the scene is that “it feels kind of cliquey.” Gradually, though, a coalition of likeminded-enough acts that they can play with seems to be taking shape. They shared their release show at Quarter’s Rock N’ Roll Palace last month with ambient-drone artist Apollo Vermouth and Blue Unit, a sister band of the Milwaukee shoegaze mainstays Brief Candles, and they’ve got several shows lined up for this month, including a performance on WMSE’s “Local/Live” on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 6 p.m.

“Some of us have only lived here four months, but we’ve been coming to shows here for a while, so we know people from that,” says Schoneman. “It feels like we’re already in the community a little bit because of that. I’ve wanted to live here for a long time, so just being here right now feels cool.”


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