by Randy Erickson August 18, 2018
by Andy Moore September 17, 2017
MADISON AREA MUSIC ASSOCIATION AWARDS
2017 Winners: Rock Performer of the Year
MADISON AREA MUSIC ASSOCIATION AWARDS
2016 Winners: Alternative Performer of the Year
MADISON AREA MUSIC ASSOCIATION AWARDS
2015 Winners: Rock Album of the Year - "Time Machine"
Rock Performer of the Year
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 14, 2014
DOUG HOLTZ - WORT THANK YOU CARD
Thanks for gracing a WORT stage again, this time lighting the Willy Street Fair on FIRE!
You all rocked it, and the crowd swell for your set was proof.
Thanks for making it a great party!
Best-Doug Holtz WORT Community Radio
THURSDAY MARCH 13, 2014
JOSHUA M. MILLER - ISTHMUS
Last year Madison's German Art Students celebrated 15 years together, but if you ask them about their latest LP, Time Machine, you might mistake them for a band just starting out. They're that enthusiastic.
Plus, Time Machine represents something new to get excited about: It's their first full-length album as a trio. The band will release it at the High Noon Saloon on Friday, March 14.
German Art Students were a quartet for most of their time together, but in 2010 original bassist Andy Larson left the band to pursue other projects. The remaining members had to decide whether to continue playing together. They ultimately chose to recalibrate. Time Machine builds on The Power and the Trust, the band's 2011 EP. It shows them becoming a three-piece without missing a beat.
"With this full-length album, I feel like we're really energized again," says drummer Randy Ballwahn. "Even though we're not a new band, it kind of feels that way when we're playing."
Ballwahn is joined by Annelies Howell and Kirk Wall, who can both play guitar and bass. They trade these duties throughout Time Machine. All three musicians also sing and write songs.
"There's no one person who has to write the songs or be up in front all the time," Ballwahn says. "It's obvious that Annelies is a real singer. Kirk and I sing good enough for rock 'n' roll, [and] that can bring a certain charm as well."
True to its name, Time Machine features 10 tracks, some old and some new. Members of the band are fans of Buzzcocks and Big Star, so it makes sense that the album is a humorous, energetic mix of punk and power-pop. Some songs take stock of the past, and some imagine the future in zany ways.
The bandmates revel in opportunities to express their witty weirdness. Fans of WSUM know Ballwahn as the host of a Friday-morning show called Freak Scene, and at least one member of the band cites They Must Be Giants as an influence. But the German Art Students have earned serious praise, too, such as a 2003 Rolling Stone article that called their music "nimble-witted new-wave pop."
To record Time Machine, the German Art Students turned to Audio for the Arts' Mike Zirkel, whom they'd previously worked with at Smart Studios.
"He knows more or less what we want, even if we don't know we want it," Ballwahn says. "He'll bring things to our sound we didn't know we could do.... Mike deserves as much credit for this album as any of us that played on it."
Each member of the band has become a parent over the last few years, so the album has some material they probably wouldn't have written a decade ago, like "It Hurts," a song about Howell's son.
The band's sense of humor also plays a big role on Time Machine. For instance, "Go-Go's Invasion" is about Ballwahn noticing that Jane Wiedlin, a member of the iconic all-female rock band, was living in Madison and later finding out that the group's manager was working at the community-run TV station WYOU. Though the song's story is based in reality, it quickly took a silly turn.
"I just imagined that the Go-Go's were moving to Madison one by one," Ballwahn says.
SATURDAY MARCH 15, 2014
JOHN NOYD - MAXIMUM INK
Rollicking and frolicking with solid dollops of crushing smugness lining deadpan stanzas and whip-smart guitar parts kick-starting tongue-in-cheek peeks into deluded consumers, GAS’ indomitable spirit has flaunted convention and taunted pretensions for fifteen wonderfully spiky years. Recently reduced to a trio, the streamlined version remains a reliable source of rib-tickling quips and punchy fun jet-propelled by bristling riffs and pep-rally sass. A perfect antidote to modern life’s relentless oppression, “Time Machine,” find the band knee-deep in B-movie ironies; reveling in nuclear family melt-downs, rusted robots and twisted tales of love, GAS patches surf-guitar punk to New Wave spunk towards a weirdly workable purpose. Sorting through the ruins of an increasingly absurd world, Madison’s rock rascals still find reason not only to carry on, but rejoice.
TUESDAY MARCH 25, 2014
LAURA DETTINGER - FAN FICTION
I freakin' love it! It passed the "living in the car stereo CD player for days and days" test (yes, I still listen to CDs in the car). Go-Go's Invasion is my new favorite song. (What IF they invaded this town?? You KNOW we'd all get the beat!!) "I only have time to eat mini-carrots" is my new favorite line. Annelies's lush vocals, especially on Time Machine, are an inspiration. And Randy is my new favorite grandma in Community Service Song. I so enjoy the variety of songs, and they already feel like GAS classics. Thanks for still making great music on CD, for kicking ass at High Noon to release it, and for still being my favorite Madison band after all these years. <3
SATURDAY MARCH 22, 2014
Thank you for supporting independent horror filmmaking in Wisconsin! We so appreciate everything you did to make our happy hour kickoff a success!!
-The New World Horror cast and crew
FRIDAY DECEMBER 16, 2011
RICK TVEDT - LOCAL SOUNDS MAGAZINE
I’m not sure what it is but after thirteen years the German Art Students still sound like a new band to me. Six years since their last recorded outing, 2005’s Name Droppers, this four-song EP inspired by the budget bill protests leaves GAS fans with the aural equivalent of sexual foreplay. If the members think they can just go back to family time now they’re probably mistaken. The buzz on the band is back in full force with rave reviews and several placements in local news outlets and television appearances. GAS fans are aroused and they want more!
There is little to dislike about the German Art Students. They’re reasoned in their lyrical approach and straddle the line between pop and punk rock with ease. Even though they lost an integral member when Andy Larson left the group in 2010 the GAS trademarks are still intact; an intelligence and awareness in the music but also a hefty dose of sharp-witted commentary.
Prime case in point is the title track, a song about Walker that somehow manages to evoke more pity than rage. The subject matter is damn funny but, then again, it’s downright pathetic. “He reminds me of somebody I’ve seen before / A scared little boy in the dark on the floor / I don’t think he read 1984 / I’ve seen it before” singer Annelies Howell observes over a folk-song chord sequence. The double-tracked vocal adds punch to the space vacated by Larson, one benefit derived from carrying on as a trio. “I wonder what he did in his sophomore year / Did he have any fun, did he drink any beer / Did he make any friends or just live in fear / His sophomore year” just about nails it. By this time the rest of the band has kicked in, the double-time snare drum on the 3 and 4 in the chorus is just plain cool and a brilliant touch. Like all great songs, it’s simple and to the point.
“HMS Funtime” uses maritime allegory (His Majesty’s Ship) to describe reaction to the political situation. Kirk Wall’s vocal implores “I just wanna get off this boat alive” over an angular guitar riff and a really cool bass line played by (I’m assuming) Howell.
“Jupiter,” is more whimsical and how it plays into the protest theme I haven’t quite put my finger on. No matter, it’s so goddamn catchy I can’t get it out of my head. Like an insatiable sweet tooth, this one satisfies the craving. It rocks just hard enough with a big, bold vocal blend, giving it a soaring quality. Again, the bass line here is central to the song’s propulsion and I’m drawn to it like the comet that hammered the planet some years ago.
The final tune, “Bible Camp” returns to the angular guitar statements found in many of GAS’s songs. It’s a humorous send-up that says what it needs to say in 120 seconds.
No nonsense, no bullshit, and in twelve minutes it’s over. It was fun but it’s like being on the carnival ride; you’re a little pissed that you waited in line so long for such a short excursion. Here’s hoping the success of this teaser will motivate the band to produce more material. Madison needs more of this type of salve. We’re suffering, yes, but the German Art Students have a way of helping us face the world with a smile and a knowing wink that the kids are alright.
MONDAY DECEMBER 12, 2011
My love for GAS is what got me into the Madison Music scene a decade ago. They are my heroes and collaborating with them would be like the Pope collaborating with Jesus. - Adam Schabow, The Shabelles
FRIDAY DECEMBER 09, 2011
Madison acts come and go, but after 12 years together, this pop-punk-rock trio are verging on local legend status.
FRIDAY DECEMBER 09, 2011
ANDY DOWNING - MADISON.COM
The release party for the German Art Students' latest EP, "The Power and the Trust," doubles as the local crew's coming out as a trio following the 2010 departure of bassist Andy Larson.
Longtime fans won't be disappointed. Though somewhat leaner, the EP finds the new wave punks giddily bashing away with their quirky sense of humor intact. Witness "Bible Camp," where singer/guitarist Annelies Howell unravels the tale of a camp-bound teen who "can't read ‘Harry Potter' till (she) makes (her) bible quota."
In advance of the band's record release show at Mickey's Tavern on Saturday, Dec. 10, we spoke with drummer Randy Ballwahn about the decision to continue on after Larson's departure, how Scott Walker transformed him into an activist and what it's like to be in a band with a bunch of bookworms.
Has playing as a trio been a big adjustment?
It has been a little bit. It took us probably a good six months of practicing with just the three of us before we really felt comfortable with the new thing. Annelies and Kirk [Wall] are both guitarists by nature, and the bass isn't all that different. Usually if you can play guitar, technically you can play bass. But there's still a whole other feel to it, and Andy was a very distinctive bass player so there are some songs we can't play anymore because he just contributed so much to them through his vocals or whatever. So there was a certain amount of our catalog we dropped.
We also had a talk about bringing in a new bass player, but it just kind of seemed like, you know, the chemistry that the four of us had and the three of us have now is just so good that it didn't seem like it'd be the same band if we brought in someone else from the outside.
When you guys had those conversations was there any talk of retiring the name or even calling it quits altogether?
It became apparent in the last year or so that (Andy) wasn't quite all there 100% all the time. Even though he wanted to be, he seemed to be moving on to different things. So when he called a meeting it was pretty apparent...that he was going to let us know he wasn't going to be playing anymore.
I personally thought that was going to be the end of the band. But the three of us were sitting there after Andy left and Annelies said, "I still want to play." And Kirk said, "Well, I still want to play." Then I said, "Well, if you guys still want to play I'll definitely still play." Then we talked about, "Well, do we want to have a new name or do we still want to be the German Art Students?" Kirk was in favor of starting over, but in the end it seemed like we had put so much time and effort into the band...that it was like, "Well, we might as well continue being the German Art Students because that's really what we're going to be anyway."
When did you hit on the title track for "The Power and the Trust?"
Well, we were all kind of involved in the protests last spring, and Annelies came to practice with the song and kind of played it acoustically for Kirk and I. She's a teacher, and I'm a state employee and also married to a teacher, so we were all pretty involved. We were just sitting there listening to her play the song and my mouth dropped open, like, "Wow."
I liked how subtle it was. It doesn't actually mention Scott Walker at all. Kirk and I were thinking, "Man, that sounds so powerful you should just play it acoustically." But she wanted us to quirk it up...so we left the first verse more acoustic then had the band kick in and make it more of a rocker.
Had you ventured into politics much as a band previously?
Not really. I mean, we all have had our political views, but musically we haven't done that political stuff, per se. We kind of comment on different things through song, but as far as day-to-day politics go - and specifically with the Wisconsin situation - that was really the first thing that motivated us to write a song around a political topic.
Was it just a matter of how close the issue was to all of you?
I think so. It just really hit home with us. I think I posted on Facebook after the first week of protests, "Thanks, Scott Walker. You turned me from a mild mannered citizen into an activist."
Even so, you don't completely abandon your senses of humor.
And that's important to us. That's basically who we are. I don't know if we ever go and say, "We need to make this funny." Or "We need to be weird with this." That's just what comes out when we sit down to write something. That's just us coming through.
In the past you've always been drawn to the ridiculous, so I guess modern politics is a logical next step.
[Laughs] That's a good point.
Over the course of this EP you mention a quartet of books - "1984," "Fahrenheit 451," "Harry Potter" and the bible - in general, do you consider yourselves bookworms?
Actually, we have exchanged quite a few books at practices, and that stuff comes up a lot where we talk about what we're reading and loan each other books and things like that.
What's one book you think everyone should read?
The book we most recently passed around that I know we would all recommend was "Petal Pusher" by Laurie Lindeen of the band Zuzu's Petals. She's a Madison native and there's a lot of stuff in there about the Madison/Twin Cities scenes in the early '90s.
Considering that the record release party takes place at Mickey's Tavern, I'm curious what drink you think goes best with your music?
Well, there are a couple of band spouses that would say a Jaeger bomb goes best with the German Art Students. They have a little spouse Jaeger bomb tradition. Otherwise I know Kirk is partial to PBR when we play out, mostly because it's usually the beer the band can get for free.
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 07, 2011
JOSHUA JAMES - DANE101.COM
Admittedly, I have been a fan of the German Art Students for a long long time so this review is automatically biased--but I love everything they have released and The Power and the Trust is no different. The only gripe I have with the EP is that it's an EP. Give me 10 or 12 songs to soak in and enjoy because they are long overdue for one.
Power pop can often times be a repetitive genre with the same hooks and tricks but G.A.S. has always made that sound feel fresh for me. I wish that was all I had to write as a "critic" but I wouldn't be doing anyone any justice, so...
The German Art Students often get tagged as being lyrically quirky and a fun band, which is very much true, but I think those categorizations diminish the band's beautiful artistry as being punchy and completely original. The Power and the Trust is the band's first release since Andy Larson hung up his bass and while his presence was always beloved, I think G.A.S. sounds great despite his absence.
Annelies Howell opens the record with the title track, which showcases her vocal chops and sets the table for the songs to come. I don't know if I have grown up or that the German Art Students have but The Power and the Trustfeels more mature than they ever have without losing their playful nature.
G.A.S. works well as a three piece and The Power and the Trust is an excellent comeback since 2008's '79 A.D. EP. The third track from Power, "Jupiter" is the kind of whimsical power pop that has made them a Madison mainstay. Howell again takes over vocal duties, regaling us with tales of her adoration for the universe's behemoth--which is largely a gas planet. See what I did there.
The German Art Students never tire and their fanbase keeps growing with every short player they release. The band has some wear and tear but I don't see them slowing down anytime soon with The Power and the Trust. To be sure, though, you should probably check them out at Mickey's on the Dec. 10 for their CD release show...or if you can't make it that night you can come toThe Frequency on December 16 for the Dane101 Fundraiser show.
THURSDAY DECEMBER 01, 2011
ANDY MOORE - ISTHMUS/THEDAILYPAGE.COM
You could say the German Art Students are now in grad school. Twelve years into their study of punk, pop and cracked cultural philosophy, the Madison band have slimmed down to a trio, thanks to the 2010 departure of bassist Andy Larson, and released a new EP, The Power and the Trust. The disc will be performed at a Mickey's Tavern release party Dec. 10.
I recently gave the Art Students — guitarist/bassist/vocalist Kirk Wall, guitarist/bassist/vocalist Annelies Howell and drummer/vocalist Randy Ballwahn — a blue book exam. Here's how that went.
If you had an eccentric aunt, one who appreciates music but had never heard the German Art Students, how would you describe the sound to her?
Kirk: I would say: Auntie Shirley, we sound like a girl group that crashed into a surf band that someone plugged into an overdrive pedal, but then accidentally unplugged it.
How do you want your audience to feel when they hear your music?
Annelies: The same way I do when I play it: happy, energized, rockin', goofy, irreverent and bouncy.
How are the feel and flow of the band different as a trio from when it was a quartet?
Randy: We joke that now there's more "space" for us to work with. The silence is as important as the notes, and all that. We lost a huge part of the personality of the band when Andy left, and it's impossible to replace that. But when the three of us decided to carry on, it was actually quite invigorating. We got a fresh perspective on many of the older songs because they needed to be rearranged for new instrumentation and vocal coverage. We got excited to write new things specifically for the trio. It's really been a positive experience.
That said, if Andy decided he wanted to play again, we'd take him back in a second.
Explain why the German Arts Students are unique.
Randy: We still have so much fun playing together. In the basement every week, in a club with five people or 200 people, we always have fun. There's no dominant personality in the band that needs all the attention. There's a lot of collaboration. We write fun songs together and play loud pop music because we enjoy it and we enjoy each other. I've talked to a lot of musicians over the years, and there aren't a lot of bands out there that have that.
Twelve years is a long time. Why is the band still a good place to be?
Annelies: I love these guys. They have taught me everything I know about being a rock 'n' roll performer. As a college student, I taught myself guitar chords using Mel Bay books. When I met Kirk and Andy, I was playing open mikes all over town. I felt like I had something to say, but I hadn't really found my voice yet. When I joined GAS, I was given an amazing opportunity to collaborate with some fantastic musicians. I was given an opportunity to write lyrics and music, and to grow as a performer.
Randy, you were music director at WORT. How has the Madison music scene changed over the past dozen years?
Randy: I've been keeping tabs on the local music scene since the mid-'80s, and the more it changes, the more it stays the same. There are always good young bands that break up in a year or two when they don't make it big. There are always good musicians and bands that move elsewhere because the grass is greener. There is always a core of locally appreciated veterans that have been playing around town for years because they love playing and they love Madison. And every once in a while there's a nice success story — Killdozer, Garbage, Bon Iver, Zola Jesus.
Every couple of years there's a story in Isthmus about how maybe this is the crop of musicians that will put Madison or Wisconsin in the national consciousness. And then it doesn't happen. It's a lot like having a Triple A baseball team — watch the phenoms move up, watch the veterans on the way down, and cheer for those who never quite make it to the show. I think we should stop worrying about the Madison scene making it big and enjoy what we have.
What do you look for in a live music act, Annelies?
Annelies: I look for great vocal harmonies, energy and songwriting. I love to rock, but I listen to a lot of folk and alt-country, too. I grew up listening to groups with lots of vocal harmony, including the Beach Boys, the Ronettes, the Mamas & the Papas, and the Beatles. My current favorites to see live include Venus in Furs, Neko Case, the New Pornographers, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Robbie Fulks and Old 97's.
If someone held a gun on you, Randy, and made you pick one person from the field of Republican presidential primary candidates, who would it be?
Randy: Pull the trigger!
What if there was no gun?
Randy: I'm more concerned with local politics at the moment. I dislike the bickering and absolutism that come with party politics. I value reasoned thought and believe that, in government, compromise is the only real way to progress.
AL RITCHIE - ISTHMUS
Tired of egotistical “rock stars”? Sick of pompous posturing…? Well my intolerant friend, you ought to spend more time with the German Art Students.
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 09, 2010
KATJUSA CISAR - THE CAPITAL TIMES/MADISON.COM
When local power pop foursome the German Art Students first starting playing together in the late ’90s, most rock on the radio had edged into goth, nu metal and industrial.
“Music was so dark — Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails. The time was right for some power bands,” said guitarist Kirk Wall (or as his 14-year-old, prog and metal-loving son dismisses it now, “jangly rock”).
Twelve years later, the German Art Students have not only endured but turned out to be one of the best bands out of Madison in the ’00s for their punky, catchy songs, clever lyrics and wry sense of humor. (Hint: they’re not German and they’re not art students.)
After a send-off show this Friday, Feb. 12 at the High Noon, they’re losing a founding member, bassist Andy Larson, to family obligations and other pursuits. But the band promises to forge ahead as a trio, reworking the songs without a bass line.
The band’s “dream big years” were about 10 years ago, said drummer Randy Ballwahn. In 2003, they got some national recognition when Rolling Stone wrote that their “nimble-witted New Wave pop” made Madison one of the top cities for music in the country. But by then they’d decided to keep the group a hobby.
They’re all family-bound townies, held together by a genuine like for each other. It’s a mix of personalities and musical strengths that just “clicks,” he said. The band filters songwriting collectively through a democratic process that draws on their various strengths.
Ballrahn’s background in commercial radio cultivated his ear for arrangements. Plus, he’s not a stereotypical drummer.
“Drummers are notoriously off the frickin’ chain. (Randy) doesn’t borrow rent or hit on your wife. He’s like the foundation,” said Wall, who, for his part, is always trying to get the band to play faster — “I’m really squirmy and I can’t sit still and I love punk rock.”
Keyboardist Annelies Howell recognized the “diamond in the rough,” Wall said, when she joined the band. A math and physics teacher at Verona High School who grew up on the Indigo Girls and campfire sing-a-longs, everyone agrees she’s the “musician” of the band.
For a long time she tried to tame their free-spirited approach to songwriting by admonishing, “You can’t put that chord next to that chord,” she said. “Then I realized that’s what made it cool.”
When the band first started playing, Howell was only 25 and didn’t want her high school students knowing about her private life. Now that she’s a self-described “boring married lady with two kids,” she doesn’t mind revealing her rock ‘n’ roll side.
“It gives me a connection with some of the kids. They say, ‘Ooh, did you go to Woodstock?’” she said, laughing. “I’m 37!”
In the last 12 years, she’s grown up and become an adult: “It’s easier now to be who I am. I no longer stand timidly on the side of the stage,” Howell said.
“She was standing up there shaking,” Ballwahn remembers of the first German Art Students show at a friend’s house party in 1998. “If you go on YouTube, you’ll see she’s not shy onstage anymore.”
They’re going to miss Larson’s role in the band as the “concept man.”
“The guy has a lot of soul. We’re just going to have to pare back. We’ll be a micro band,” said Wall, who was inspired after seeing electronica duo the Ting Tings sound like a much bigger band by using lots of looping during a recent Saturday Night Live performance.
They’re inviting fans to wear outfits inspired by their favorite German Art Students’ song at Larson’s farewell show this Friday, songs like “Nightmare Date,” “Do the Bumblebee” and “Disgruntled Figure Skating Judge.” The last time they tried this, no one dressed as a “Civil War Reenactor,” so they’re “really hoping for that,” said Ballwahn.
“Our songs are humorous,” he added, “but we’re not a joke band. If that’s what we were, we wouldn’t have lasted.”
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 09, 2010
SCOTT GORDON - THE ONION
People who use the term "dad rock" pejoratively would meet their semantic match in quite a few Madison bands. This holds true across genres, too: Anyone who enjoys The Arge, Natty Nation, or The Antiprism, for example, has been rocked at the hands of at least one breeder. In this sense, The German Art Students are a prime example of Madison band-hood. The local four-piece has been writing and playing defiantly fanciful power-pop about getting "Shitty Directions" and tennis star "Bjorn Borg" for 12 years, during which all four members have had kids and led increasingly adult-type lives. Guitarist Annelies Howell and bass player Andy Larson teach at Verona Area High School; guitarist Kirk Wall makes his living as a graphic designer; and drummer Randy Ballwahn works for UW-Madison's Department of Family Medicine. (Full disclosure: Ballwahn is a former A.V. Club contributor.) Perhaps because they generally treat the band as a creative escape, life hasn't worn down their distinctly smart-assed approach to songwriting or sent them off the trail of bright, new-wave guitars and perky rhythms. In fact, The German Art Students have at least one thing in common with younger bands: They've re-discovered the joys of vinyl, releasing two solid songs ("Pompeii" and "Reginald On The High Bike") on a 7-inch entitled 79 AD in 2008. Before the band's Friday show at the High Noon Saloon—Larson's last with the band, after which they'll go on as a three-piece—The A.V. Club asked Wall, Howell, and Ballwahn about balancing rock and adulthood.
The A.V. Club: In the song "Dick Clark," you made up an absurd story about sending a demo to Clark. Does having real-life pressures make it easier to make fun of music careers?
Randy Ballwahn: That came out of the fact that we actually were sort of a semi-finalist for the American Music Awards at one point.
Kirk Wall: It's this unholy alliance between CMJ and Dick Clark Productions. It was the beginning of these "get your friends to vote for you" contest dealies, and I don't know how or why we got into it. Then I got this thing in the mail: "You're an alternate finalist," and stuff. Then when I found out that Dick Clark Productions are involved, I'm laughing my ass off, because I'm thinking, oh, Dick Clark has weaved through all these bands and stuff. I just imagined him saying, "I can't sell this stuff on ABC!"
RB: The band that actually won it was totally lame.
Annelies Howell: They're still around!
AVC: Who was it?
AH: Carbon Leaf! I'm sorry. [All laugh.]
KW: Great! Their brand of Celtic rock is majestic and beautiful!
AVC: Do you ever come to practice all stressed out and try to write an angry serious song?
KW: No. It's weird. It's like, "Oh, good. I'm at band practice now. Everything sucked, now it's okay." I have no angst to bring to the table.
AH: One of the songs that does come from stress at work is "No Peekee." Andy and I were high-school teachers, and there was a phase in the early 2000s when girls were wearing the low-cut jeans and the high-cut tops. Not that there's anything wrong with "No Peekee," but it's definitely not my favorite song, and I wonder if that's because it was born out of anger.
KW: Daddy's girl is sporting a whale-tail! I don't approve.
AVC: It seems like there's a lot more emphasis on stories in most of your songs.
KW: I love stories. That's one of the things I love about Ray Davies. Old Kinks stuff is great. We like doing character profiles and character sketches. You don't have to solve the world's problems with this one little person's story.
RB: But we do use it to comment on things.
KW: Exactly. "Civil War Reenactor," I think that song's great, because I think of how fucked-up Civil War re-enacting is. I think if ghosts from the South could rise up, they'd say, "What the hell is wrong with you? Are you high?" I guess it came out of that. People can romanticize about anything. It's just such a grim, fucked-up time.
AVC: You were mentioned in a Rolling Stone article about college-town music a few years ago. Was it strange to be lumped in with college stuff?
KW: All they did was write a little catchy sentence about each act. On one hand, I think we were able to take it with a pretty good grain of salt, because I know how our name got in there. On the second hand, people often ask, "What kind of music do you play?" and I kind of found it fun for a while to go, "Well, Rolling Stone said that we're 'nimble-witted new-wave pop'!" It was kind of fun playing that up for relatives. But I don't think we ever thought, "Oh, we're in Rolling Stone. We're gonna make it big."
RB: The way we got in there—you know Rokker from Maximum Ink? I wrote for Maximum Ink for a while. They called him and asked his opinion. Basically, that article came from him.
AVC: In 2008 you put out that 7-inch, 79 AD, and it was just two songs instead of an album. Was it kind of a relief to get something out?
KW: I'd be happy just doing 7-inches. To just focus on two songs at a time, I think it's great. It's like the old model, almost.
AH: It goes along with everything you're asking about—trying to fit the band into middle age, or whatever—that if you only need to do two songs at a time, you can spend a weekend on it and have fun and have a good product and have it be affordable. When you're trying to do an album on a budget with limited time, it loses a little bit of the fun. As much as we're all sort of old-school, iTunes and that model is really exciting.
AVC: Annelies, what are the logistics of playing guitar and singing when you're pregnant?
AH: Well, I'm sure fat guys have the same problem.
RB: Ask Frank Black.
AH: The guitar goes to the side. For me when I'm pregnant, there's a host of physical ailments. I get out of breath, and you can't have a drink to take the edge off. Even bending over. I couldn't see my tuner. It's fairly uncomfortable. The baby kicked a lot while I was playing, which is fun. Suck it up, buttercup—that's my motto.
AVC: When you're playing in front of people and you're pregnant, does it become this elephant in the room that you have to address with the crowd?
AH: I don't really think it was—the only elephant was me.
You might expect a band named The German Art Students to sound a lot like the minimalistic, synth-obsessed electronica of Kraftwerk. Think again: They’re more rock ’n’ roll than anything you may have heard in a while. Throw in some jangle-pop guitar hooks and New Wave influences and you’ve got a thoroughly addictive recipe, one that’s been fueling Madison venues for more than a decade.
The four-piece, which friends and critics have likened to the New Pornographers, the Pixies and Guided By Voices, started rocking now-defunct bars and clubs such as Liquid Lyrics Lounge and O’Cayz Corral in the late ’90s. Perhaps even more rock ’n’ roll than their sound is their list of song titles, which includes gems such as “Disgruntled Figure Skating Judge,” “Steve Vai Boyfriend” and “Shitty Directions.” These guys, they call themselves GAS, are out to skewer the very thing naysayers might try to brand them as: excessively serious sensitive-artist types.
While this attitude doesn’t impress everybody -- the band recalls driving an entire crowd out of MATC’s cafeteria and being called “nimble-witted New Wave pop” by Rolling Stone -- it just seems to give them more material.
Over the past few years, the band members have been busy with jobs, side projects and procreation -- drummer Randy Ballwahn was the host of the “Freak Scene” show on WORT, and guitarist-singer-keyboardist Annelies Howell has performed with GAS in numerous stages of pregnancy -- but they recently convened at Smart Studios to record some new tracks for a 7-inch, 79 AD, which was debuted at The Frequency earlier this month. “Pompeii,” one of the tracks on the new release, was inspired by the band’s penchant for reading history books.
“Civilization preserved for centuries in volcanic rock? Sounded like a natural indie-rock topic to us,” says Ballwahn.
The song brings together many of the elements that have won the band fans -- whom they affectionately refer to as GASbags -- over the years: A catchy surf-rock hook, echoed by a distorted, Pixies-style drum-and-guitar riff, plus a few barbs aimed at burned-out punks and wishy-washy hippies. The message? Rock ’n’ roll has been locked in the basement -- by corporate takeover of indie rock and the aforementioned groups’ lack of motivation, perhaps -- and needs to be rescued, damsel-in-distress style, before it becomes a relic. If you’ve got the gusto, GAS will provide the soundtrack.
THURSDAY FEBRUARY 04, 2010
AARON SCHOLZ - DANE101.COM
The quartet of Randy Ballwahn, Annelies Howell, Andy Larson and Kirk Wall has been together as the German Art Students for 12 years. How in the heck does a band stay together that long? "We've always kept what we're doing fun," says Larson, "and I know that none of us would be involved if that wasn't the case." A decade is a long time in life (and in rock and roll) and that kind of commitment means taking time to strike a balance in your life. Somehow the GAS have outlasted all of their contemporaries and are still going strong.
The band has its roots in Larson and Wall, who played together in the mid-90's in Danger Prone Daphne. A few years after that band split, the pair decided to jam in Wall's basement. "We were really comfortable with just hanging out and putting silly songs together," says Larson, “and never felt the urge or pressure to play out." Early sessions yielded several compositions including one called "Brian Warner" (about rocker Marilyn Manson) and another about the joys of doing community service. The pair hooked up with drummer Jonathon Argue and got out of the basement to do a pair of shows at O'Cayz Corral. Howell auditioned for the band in early 1998 by playing one of her 4 track recordings of a capella music. Having never been in a rock band before, she "thought for sure that these guys wouldn't be interested in my 'campfire music.'"
"These guys" apparently liked what they heard and when Ballwahn took over the drum duties a few months later the group knew they had found a perfect match. The GAS played their debut at a friend's apartment in May of 1998. Wall reflects on the show: "It was one of those situations where their neighbors played music really loud late at night and so it seemed like having a band play would fit in perfectly."
At early shows the quartet dressed in black turtlenecks and talked with German accents. "We were doing it as a joke, to separate ourselves from other bands," says Larson. But the gimmick worked (and fooled plenty of audience members) and the band kept the shtick as part of their act for "at least the first couple of years" says Wall. They played out in Madison and throughout southern Wisconsin, gaining notoriety for their high energy shows. Being sort of an oddity in the rock world, the band found themselves on the bill with some strange acts. A show at Quarter's in Milwaukee with Edgar Allen Cash proved to be one of the strangest. "They were, if you can imagine, the cross of Johnny Cash and Edgar Allen Poe," recalls Howell, "and they had this giant on stage with them. Definitely straight out of a David Lynch movie." The band has played out mostly in Madison, doing several stints on the Capitol Square.
While lyrically more akin to acts like Devo or Johnathan Richman, the German Art Students' sound has always been more reminiscent of the pure power pop of the Buzzcocks and the heavy drive of X and the Undertones. Their live shows have always packed a wallop which helps them rise above the "novelty band" that their lyrics suggest. And the intensity of Larson's onstage glare is a perfect foil to Howell's big smile and high kicks. While many bands have a "leader", the GAS pride themselves on taking a group approach to everything, which includes recording, booking shows and songwriting. "Many of our best songs started as an idea that someone brought to practice," says Wall, "and we would all pitch in on lyrics and chord changes." And this approach has worked and has kept the group close not just as bandmates but as friends as well.
So what's next for the German Art Students? Sadly after 12 years, Larson has decided that it's time to hang up his bass and move on. His departure is a sad one for the band but the remaining members have decided to carry on as a trio. "It won't be the same band with (Larson) gone but we're hoping to keep on in the same vein as GAS" says Wall. Regardless of the changes that happen to any band, the German Art Students are survivors and a testament to how you can make your art and eat it too.
- THE ONION
The German Art Students’ members tend to be busy having kids and doing other grown-up stuff, so excuse the local group if they’ve only had time to record two songs recently. Sometimes, The Gas’ subject matter (from “Bjorn Borg” to “Disgruntled Figure Skating Judge”) is the most immediately noticeable thing about their music, but who cares what the hell “Pompeii” is about? This hyper pop tune is bright, joyful, and in parts, stupefyingly catchy. The lyrics are a bigger part of the fun on “Reginald On The High Bike.” (“Back when a man was a man/ recumbent wasn’t an option/ brakes weren’t part of the plan”). Both are available on the new 7-inch 79 AD.
CHRISTOPHER DUDA - SUGARBUZZ MAGAZINE
"Dick Clark is not human. He is a robot created by the industry to constantly shove robotic plastic crap down the unsuspecting victims throat”-unknown source
The more I listen to The German Art Students the more they begin to grow on me like some fungal tropical disease. That doesn’t sound too complimentary but I mean it in the nicest of ways!
Hell, for openers their choice of topics for songs are not your typical boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl breaks up relationship, boy blows his head off standard fare. A German Art Students take on that common theme would be to analyze one facet of the boy’s personality or life and write a song about it. Possibly something like the oral hygiene methods the boy used before he blew his head off!
Okay, I might be stretching it a bit there but who knows I might of just given them an idea for their next lyrical excursion. The fact that the band can write a clever, catchy song about Bjorn Borg and him bringing back the wooden tennis racket should get top honours in originality.
Clever word play, plenty of harmony all filtered through a new wave blender and sprinkled with classic power pop. Taking the new wave induced kitsch of the Revillos/B52’s as well as the song writing capability and unique subject choices of The Pixies; all the while giving it a hard firm kick with their own brand of German made boot makes for a totally infectious final product.
P.S. : they aren’t from Germany!
- MADISON AREA MUSIC AWARDS
Best rock band nominee, 2005
Madison’s Favorite Local Rock/Metal Band 2004…all their off-kilter lo-fi pop-punk songs show an irrepressible joie de vivre as they take on dating, skating and cruise control.
- ROLLING STONE
Bands on the Rise: The German Art Students—nimble witted new wave pop.
GREG SAHAGIAN - THE BIG TAKEOVER
This is a great DIY release. Very minimalist pop-injected songs predominate with demented and twisted lyrics. "Civil War Re-enactor" had me wiggling on the floor to the power pop deliciousness and gut-bustingly ridiculous lyrics.
SAARA MYRENE RAAPANA - ACTIONMANMAGAZINE.COM
A friend of mine tried to argue that they weren't DIY because they’d obviously practiced. This is the attitude that makes indie rock suck so hard. Their technical performance was flawless. Adding to the musical mastery was a line from “Civil War Re-enactor” -- “You drink the whiskey / I’ll cut your leg off.”
- KIKI'S MAGICAL MUSIC REVIEWS
The German Art Students were my first favorite local band. From the time I saw them I was hooked. They aren’t really your typical pop band. They write quirky songs with titles like “Disgruntled Figure Skating Judge” and “Civil War Re-enactor,” but that’s exactly what makes them so entertaining.
- THE ONION
New Wave weirdoes
TOM LASKIN - ISTHMUS
Much like the parade of New Wave bands that spread equal amounts of pop and snot across the late 70’s music scene, the local quartet hold nothing sacred. Civil War reenactments, self-righteous lefty artists, twee baroque-rock bands: They sneer at ‘em all.
MOLLY WEBB - THE BADGER HERALD
The quartet puts a little bit of everything into its music, from punk to new wave to Civil War re-enactments, and everyone is guaranteed to leave a German Art Students show having heard at least something they like. Even Rolling Stone magazine recognizes the greatness of the Art Students -- in the magazine's February 2003 issue, it named the Madison music scene number five in the country, and named the German Art Students one of three bands to keep an eye on.
MARK A. LAWRENCE IV - INMUSICWETRUST.COM
The indie-rock darlings that are The German Art Students bring a bouncy rough edged energy to their album Kissing by the Superconductor. Their sound is a mix of early Belly and the Lemonheads with pop guitar infecting this album from the storytelling of "Steve Vai Boyfriend" to the chaos of "News Nugget" with the songs touched by enough distortion to give it that garage dirty feel. "Jenny Flex" brings together influencing aspects of The B52's and surf guitar of Dick Dale and the Deltones’ Southern California beach sound. You can tell they had fun making this collection of lighthearted tunes and that feel transfers to the listener. Rating: B-.
MARK HUGHSON - NOW WAVE MAGAZINE
Despite the band name The German Art Students are not another Kraftwerk-derived, retro electro band from France. Instead (thankfully) they are a Fastbacks-derived power pop band from Wisconsin. And a damn good one at that. Catchy hooks, well conceived melodies, and great interplay between all instruments...all surrounding a backbone of humor.
JOSEPH MCCOMBS - STARPOLISH.COM
Hailing from Madison, WI, It’s almost a given that the German Art Students should have a quirky, eccentric sense of humor imbued in their musicmaking. A sort of co-ed They Might Be Giants, GAS sports an unsettlingly recondite knowledge of geek anachronist tendencies and ice skating maneuvers. The songs are executed with a gleeful amateurism I haven’t heard since the golden days of the Violent Femmes. Studio “polish” would only take away from these off-kilter pop gems.
ROSE MARSHACK - THE POSTER CHILDREN
The German Art Students, who played before us, were really great. They are from Madison, and sound like a mishmash between the Talking Heads, Jonathan Richman, The Pixies (at times), and some other influences I can’t remember at the moment. Definitely enough of a variety where you don’t notice one band influencing them, and I think that’s really, really good.
They play a kind of raucous comic powerpop which is lots of fun live and which holds up on record. A MySpace comparison with the Rezillos is especially right on. I’d say they are to the New Pornographers as the Rezillos are to the Buzzcocks. Expect lots of tasty hooks, handclaps, and high leg kicks.