Interview with Chicken Wire Empire
MILWAUKEE - (Mar. 12, 2019) - Chicken Wire Empire are on the cutting edge of a vibrant and thriving Milwaukee Americana and roots music scene. The group which consists of founding member, Jordan Krueger (bass), along with Ryan Ogburn (mandolin), Jon Peik (banjo), Ernest Brusubardis IV (fiddle), and Greg Brundage (guitar) has never been tighter as a group. Their latest record, What Moves Mountains, is the band’s sophomore LP, and a truly stellar release that positions the quintet as a premier contemporary bluegrass outfit, on-par with many of the genres best regional and national acts. Driven by exquisitely precise picking, steady bass grooves, beautiful vocal harmonies and, most of all, a true sense of joy, What Moves Mountains is a record that transports the listener into the epic bluegrass tales provided in the songs.
Chicken Wire Empire has become one of the region’s hottest acts. For New Year’s 2019, the band played at the Pabst Theater along with their friends Horseshoes and Handgrenades, and they have many noteworthy gigs and festivals slotted for 2019 including the Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (June 13-15th), and the Moon Dance Festival in Gleason, Wisconsin (July 18-19th), along with a headlining gig at Milwaukee’s Cooperage on March 29th. Like many modern bluegrass bands, Chicken Wire Empire honor history and push forward by combing originally composed tracks alongside a thoughtful array of rearranged covers on the record. Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” Bill Monroe’s “Old Dangerfield,” Bad Livers’ “Lumpy Beanpole and Dirt,” and Woody Guthrie’s “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” (which was popularized by the Grateful Dead) are all given clever and honest reworkings by the group. Original numbers like “Summer and Me,” “Still In Love With You,” and “Reckless,” are foot-tapping, booty-shaking and head-bobbing treats. The groups shows its dexterity with placing those tracks alongside more narrative storytelling tunes like “Maker,” “Rope,” and “Shotguns and Doublewides,”
Green living and keeping an eco-friendly lifestyle has become a habit for Chicken Wire Empire, and has been for quite some time. We recently caught up with bass player and vocalist, Jordan Kruger and mandolinist and vocalist, Ryan Ogburn, to talk about the importance of raising awareness about the importance of preserving nature’s beauty and helping the environment.
Rock the Green: As you know, Rock the Green is an organization that is committed to raising awareness of environmental issues, especially those that pertain to Milwaukee and the Great Lakes region. Can you please talk to us a bit about your thoughts on the importance of preserving the natural beauty of our region? Ogburn: The Great Lakes region is especially important because of the vast fresh water supply that it provides. As Lake Michigan’s neighbor, we have an increased responsibility to be mindful of our actions and how they affect our environment and water. It’s crucial that being good citizens of the land is taught within the family and brought to children at a young age. It’s important to teach kids the importance of being environmentally responsible and ask them hard questions like, “Why would people treat their parks and national wooded areas like a garbage can?” Creating environmentally aware youth teaches them respect our planet and community. I used to get mad seeing people litter; now I just catch myself thinking, “what is the thought process going on in the person’s head who is tossing a bag of fast food waste out the window or a soda can on the ground?” I cannot understand why anyone would do that, and have even asked litterers that very question when I have seen people toss a can into the woods in my neighborhood. Littering is disrespectful to our community. Environmentalism is part of mindful living. As individuals we have a small impact on the earth, but collectively we can do a lot.
Kroeger: Environmental issues are super important. If we could raise awareness and be a little more eco-minded as a community overall, think about the kind of destination city Milwaukee could become? Our rivers and lakes provide us with so much natural beauty and as a means for recreation too. I enjoy kayaking on the Milwaukee River. Protecting our waterways and the Great Lakes is simply essential as citizens of this part of the state and country.
Rock the Green: Are there any things you do as artists individually and with your band to be “green” so to speak as musicians and people? Ogburn: It starts with asking yourself, what is necessary and what is there solely for convenience, and then thinking about what are some little steps you can take to reduce your own waste and carbon footprint. We are mindful as both individual people and as a band about our impact on the environment. Often times it starts with simple things like carpooling as much as possible to rehearsals and performances. Another big thing is bringing our own water bottles. Water is something everyone needs to have on a daily basis. Sometimes when we’re doing shows, venues provide us with rider items like a case of water bottles. We ask specifically NOT to have these because of their waste. We use travel coffee mugs and water bottles. It is gross, in so many meanings of word, about being on the road and how much garbage a band can accumulate over the course of a weekend. We pack our own coolers and reusable lunch boxes. The little daily choices we can make as individuals or a group are both economically and environmentally responsible.
Kroeger: We all are very into green initiatives. We are super excited to play the Rock the Green event for this reason most of all. We’re pumped to play the bike-powered stage and have been doing gigs to promote environmental awareness for a long time. We’re proud to be involved with going green since our earliest days as a band. It’s always been part of our personal missions as people, and we all encourage each other to be mindful of the earth and its resources. We’ve always enjoyed taking part in festivals and gigs that promote environmental awareness. Events like “Jam for Jam,” “Boats and Bluegrass,” and “Blue Ox,” all are festivals that support environmental initiatives by selling reusable cups and/or using biodegradable containers. As a bluegrass and Americana scene, we have noticed that a lot of other bands share the same values we do about the environment. We really hope as a scene that we can all do our parts to raise awareness. The whole bluegrass and Americana scene is really progressive in this respect.
Ultimately, it comes down to people making conscientious little choices like, turning off the water while brushing your teeth, bringing your own bags to the store, and thinking mindfully about the amount of garbage we create. Our daily choices have a huge impact on the city around us. As a society we need to stop sacrificing our planet for minor consumer conveniences.
Rock the Green: Do you have any thoughts to share about the current issues with plastics in the waterways? I saw your reusable water bottles on stage when you were performing recently, and really dug that.
Ogburn: The biggest impact we can have as individuals and consumers is to just not buy products with excessive plastics. Just don’t buy plastic water bottles. They create a ton of waste. They make it so easy for us to use single use plastics and throw them away. It’s garbage. It’s non-biodegradable and the market is flooded with it. It’s cheaper to buy a gallon of water than a bottle of Aquafina at the convenience store or grocery store. As consumers, the more that we purchase single use plastics the more people will buy make these products. The plastics do end up in the water ways. Out of sight out of mind is such an ancient way of thinking. It is important that we evolve as a species to help save this planet. We need to be more in control of this and make decisions where we spend our money and how we teach our kids. I think that it is essential that we teach students about responsibility. It doesn’t matter if you threw the garbage next to the river trail; it’s our responsibility to keep things clean. We really have to teach basic environmental lessons to our children so that they grow up to be both mindful and respectful citizens. Our environment reflects our mood and personality and the world would be a lot happier of a place with less trash and plastic on the ground. I’m really hoping that we see things change, starting off with banning plastic bags. There are so many alternatives… plant-based biodegradable products for instance, that we can easily switch to, and in doing so, make a huge difference on the impact on our environment. We have the knowledge, it’s just about letting go of these old ways that we hold so tightly. Kroeger: It’s important to just reduce the amount of plastics we use in general. I have a hydro flask at work to fill up. We live in a consumer culture and these are things people don’t really think about. The more waste we can cut out of our lives, the better.
Don’t miss Chicken Wire Empire at Estabrook Park at noon on Saturday afternoon, April 27th at Noon. They’ll be bringing their great music to promote a great cause and are a perfect band to celebrate Earth Day with!
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About Rock the Green
Rock the Green is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and empowering the community to take actionable steps to live sustainably. Rock the Green accomplishes its mission through engagement and entertainment. Leveraging near-zero waste efforts, Rock the Green produces engaging events with a minimal eco-footprint. Rock the Green educates through example, through spotlighting other environmental leaders in communities and by sharing experiences and eco-education with our fans. For more information about Rock the Green, go to www.rockthegreen.com.