VUCA is an artistic collective featuring some of Milwaukee’s finest musical minds who describe their project as “the embodiment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.” It is a coalition of diverse performers, writers, and creators who found a sense of magic connecting and collaborating with likeminded people. The collective features lyricist/vocalist, Keller Fitzsimmons, songwriters Barbara Stephan, WorldWideDG, Lex Allen, and producer Dave Olson of Deputi, among others. This eclectic ensemble is working on a project like none other, releasing “The Geometry of Lies,” a concept album that is being released over the next year as both a collection of songs as well as a book. “Each month we plan to release a song as well as a Kindle Single,” Keller Fitzsimmons shared enthusiastically on a recent Zoom with Rock the Green, “It is a concept album with a book or a book with a musical score… it’s truly a multimedia project on all levels.”
VUCA was a project that started off with Fitzsimmons writing lyrics and connecting with the multi-faceted songwriter, Barabara Stephan. “I started about three years ago writing lyrics when I was sick and had to take a major sabbatical from work. This led me to reach out to Barbara who is like a musical soul-sister to me,” Fitzsimmons stated. Stephan added, “When we first got together we had this goosebumpy, soul-sister vibe. Keller’s lyrics and references were so on point that it was almost as if she extracted the songs from me musically. It was like two witches getting together and stirring the cauldron together. It was pure magic.” The two soul-sisters then connected with Dave Olson, a long-time fixture in Milwaukee’s music and creative arts community. “Dave glued things together,” Fitzsimmons added with a broad grin, “he gave us so much creative freedom.” Olson brought in WorldWideDG, a hip-hop artist who’s been working with Olson since his days of performing with The Figureheads, a hip-hop collective that played gigs at schools all around the state and beyond, spreading positivity and community-minded service through music. “I had been yearning to make more connections and collaborate with more people in the community,” Olson shared, “this project helped bring all of that together.”
While the musical and artistic styles among the members of VUCA are incredibly diverse, a big uniting force for the group is its lifelong commitment to community outreach and service to others. “All of the proceeds of this project are going to benefit local nonprofit organizations,” Fitzsimmons added, “One of our intentions is not to wait until you’re successful to give back to the community… giving is in the foundation of this project itself. Artists thrive due to the community they live in and the community thrives due to the arts.” Vocalist and songwriter Lex Allen further elaborated on the Zoom call, “Connectivity is key to everything we do as artists, and being able to create and share a space together while helping raise awareness and improve our community is an amazing opportunity for all of us. There is this wonderful experience that we all have together...finding yourself in music and words. This project allows everyone to shine as artists and meld our creative voices together.”
For their performance on this week’s Rock the Stream, VUCA has chosen two organizations to support: The Next Door Foundation and Mothers for Justice United. Hannah Harris of the Next Door Foundation explained on a recent Zoom call, “We are a long-standing community organization that is committed to helping out folks throughout the city and strengthening our community especially through increased literacy. We work with very young people and our early childhood programs provide books and literacy services for children and families. This year, even with the COVID19 pandemic, we still hope to reach our goal of collecting and distributing 75,000 books for kids, just as we have done in years past. We have moved to virtual learning and support over the phone, but getting books into the hands of kids and families is still at the heart of our program.”
Fitzsimmons continued, “The Next Door Foundation has provided critical services, including literacy education, to some of our most vulnerable members of our community for many years.” She shared that one of the reasons VUCA picked the Next Door Foundation was that it linked directly into the theme of their first single, “Lovely Child,” which was released on Monday, June 29th.
“I have been connected with the Next Door Foundation since I was a student in Middle and Upper School at University School of Milwaukee,” explained Fitzsimmons, “I remember the impact it had on me doing work with Next Door Foundation as a young person. One of the themes of “Lovely Child” is what happens if a mother is not able to be there with her child, and this made me think about the wonderful and important work that the Next Door Foundation does each day.”
With their debut single, "Lovely Child", VUCA delivers a powerful and emotional tale of a mother reaching out to connect with her child after passing away. Barbara Stephan's soaring vocals layered over Dave Olson's hauntingly mesmerizing keyboard melody, grip the listener and thrust them into the narrative of the song, making the emotions of the characters in the song seem palpable. It will be great to see where VUCA goes from here as they continue to unfold their concept album and book over the next several months.
In addition to Next Door Foundation, VUCA will be donating proceeds to Mothers for Justice United, an organization started by Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton who was killed by police in April 2014. “I really connected with Maria’s story,” Fitzsimmons explained, “I cannot imagine, not for one second, what it’s like to lost a child due to police violence.”
Be sure to check out the juggernaut of creativity known as VUCA on this week’s Rock the Stream at 7PM, July 1,Emcee'd by Rock the Stream alum, Kaylee Crossfire
WorldWideDG: performs EP, "Threaded", produced by Dave Olson & Deputi
Barbara Stephan performs "Lovely Child"
'The Blood is at the Doorstep' film trailer - Directed by Erik Ljung. Premiered at SXSW (2017), earning the critics' pick from The Hollywood Reporter
Lex Allen performs "Shine" with Barbara Stephan Music & WorldWideDG
ABOUT NEXT DOOR FOUNDATION: DONATE HERE
Next Door - Milwaukee supports Milwaukee’s central city education.
Mission: Next Door supports the intellectual, physical and emotional development of children by partnering with their families for success in school and the community.
Vision: Next Door’s vision is to position neighborhood children and families for long-term success.
ABOUT MOTHERS FOR JUSTICE UNITED: DONATE HERE
Mothers For Justice United is comprised of mothers whose unarmed children have been killed by police officers and white vigilantes. It is also made up of concerned mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, clergy, and other citizens nationwide who care about the loss of these valuable lives cut short unnecessarily. We are committed to the halting the epidemic of the killing of unarmed people of color by police and white vigilantes in this country through direct action, legislation, and community building.