VUCA explores temptation and tragedy; beauty and collaboration; loss and empathy.
A deep dive into temptation, addiction, loss, hope and love with Keller Fitzsimmons, Amanda Huff and Steve Peplin of VUCA, who are performing virtually via Rock the Stream to benefit Meta House on Thursday, October 1 @ 7:30 PM available on RTG's Facebook, YouTube & Twitter.
The word itself seems enigmatic as if it were culled from one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven languages. And there is a mystery to be revealed here. A strange, elaborate puzzle.
A narrative sprung to life through music: an epic, enchanted riddle set to beautiful, eerie music and powerful, magical vocals.
Told by a collaboration of musicians and artists, writers and entrepreneurs, filmmakers and producers.
And the story that is unfolding is one of deep pain and longing, of terrible loss and uncertainty. Yet the purpose of this narrative is an attempt to combat an important, all-too-real, all-too-prevalent American problem: Addiction.
The proceeds of VUCA’s Rock the Stream performance this Thursday will go to Meta House, the mission of which is to help end the generational cycle of addiction by healing women and strengthening families. Meta House has been serving women with substance abuse issues since 1973 and is one of the first residential treatment facilities in the United States tailored for women.
“VUCA and Meta House are very personal to me,” Fitzsimmons explained during our Zoom Meeting, adding, “My mom and sister died within six months of each other of addiction-related causes.” The twin losses of her mother and sister to the illness of addiction took a great toll on her. Fitzsimmons, understandably in distress because of this trauma, lost the ability for a time to concentrate.
“Suddenly I couldn’t work,” Fitzsimmons explained. An executive, who had created and run numerous startup companies, was frightened. She’d always worked hard her whole life. She panicked, thinking, “Who am I if I can’t work?”
But music saved her in two ways. First, she found a creative outlet she’d never had before that soothed her and helped her focus. At first, it was just humming or singing the phrases of songs she’d invented. Then she began writing songs and playing music.
Second, as the pandemic took hold, she began to realize that musicians and artists were hard hit because they literally were unable to perform their work in public.
“I realized that musicians can’t work at all right now. ‘Who are they if they cannot work?’I thought. I wanted to create something sustainable for musicians. Some type of support for artists.”
And so, the entrepreneur and author became a music producer.
“I began to help with Rock the Stream, and I started writing. And then I wanted to collaborate with beautiful brains. And so, I found people with beautiful brains, as Amanda has.”
Amanda is Amanda Huff, an award-winning, Milwaukee-based artist and musician with an incredible set of pipes. As a solo artist, she recently dropped her album “Hemiptera,” through which she earned numerous accolades, including those from the Radio Milwaukee Music Awards, the Milwaukee Film Fest, and the WAMI’s.
“I studied art in Milwaukee at MIAD,” the talented Huff explained, adding,“I got to meet so many creatives there, which was great, and then I began to explore music. I was narrowly focused at first but soon began to branch out, exploring jazz, folk, and hip hop. In terms of genre, I’m kind of all over. I’m interested in creating unique tones in music.”
She is involved in numerous bands, including “Strangelander” and “You Win !!!”. She has made interesting, distinctive music with many musicians, so the VUCA collective is right in her wheelhouse.
“What drew me to ‘Elysian Fields’ was its lyrics,” Huff said. “Part of the narrative of temptation and loss fascinated me. And although I don’t have addiction issues, I am coming at this from a perspective of empathy. I guess I don’t understand drug addiction, but I do understand compulsion, pleasure and fear.”
Her vocals on VUCA’s new single “Elysian Fields” are nothing short of impressive. The VUCA collective cites as inspirations Feist, Torres, St. Vincent, The XX and Cat Power, but listeners of the single may hear something darker in both VUCA’s composition and Huff’s other work, as well as in the character and raw emotion in her vocals.
Milwaukee guitarist Steve Peplin of Strangelander provides some nice pyrotechnics on the recording too. In fact, the entire single’s arrangement is alluring, but it also contains an underlying malice.
Likewise, Huff’s new solo singles “Division” and “Grave Talking” are lovely, dark, and daring. The stylings of her gorgeous and commanding vocals are comparable to those of Amelia Meath, Beth Gibbons, and Elizabeth Fraser and reminds a careful listener as a result of a blend of Sylvan Esso, Portishead, and Massive Attack. Meanwhile, the structure and feel of these two new singles (similar to that of “Elysian Fields” with the collective VUCA and her new single “Shrap.nel” with her brand new band You Win !!!) are reminiscent of Radiohead or Chemical Brothers, perhaps with a dash of Nine Inch Nails for zest and a hint of Billie Eilish for flavor. And quite likely a drop of Marylin Manson to darken things just a bit.
For all her individual talent, Huff is no stranger to collaboration with numerous musicians. She also did a recent tribute concert of Bjork’s work, in which she and Peplin collaborated, to create a huge ensemble with a seventeen-piece orchestra. Huff explained gleefully, “At first it was just me, then I added a string and trumpet. And Steve was like, ‘You can’t just have the one trumpet.’ And so we started adding, and before you knew it, we’d created a Bjorkistra!”
This is the third single that VUCA has released, all of which are part of their upcoming release of their concept album, The Geometry of Lies. Fitzsimmons, Barbara Stephan, WorldWideDG, Lex Allen and Dave Olsen of Deputi all worked on the first two singles, and Barbara Stephen also created the cover art for the single “Elysian Fields.” There are many others involved as well.
As it happens, VUCA is an acronym coined in 1987 to describe or reflect on situations where the outcome (and even the very present state of things) is difficult to comprehend. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Meta House stands in the way of those problems, providing stability and a safe haven for women struggling with addiction.
Meta House’s Dionne Wachowiak is a fan of VUCA and of Rock the Stream. She happily announced that her family has been watching all the Rock the Streams during quarantine and the continuing pandemic.
“It’s an honor to be involved,” she told us. “Rock the Stream has been a saving grace—we’ve had a Rock the Stream dance party in our house each week!”
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ABOUT META HOUSE
Meta House has been blazing new trails in women’s substance abuse treatment since our doors opened in 1963. The agency is noted as one of the first residential treatment facilities in the country designed specifically for women. Knowing that the women served at Meta House want to be good mothers and recognizing that the well-being of children and sobriety of mothers are linked, in 1988, Meta House became one of the first substance abuse treatment centers to include children in the residential setting. Mothers and children live together in our residential facility receiving services simultaneously.
Meta House programs provide a continuum of care that includes: inpatient, residential treatment; a tiered outpatient program; and Meta Housing, a transitional living community at all levels of care, Meta House provides an array of services that help participants address all of the issues they face as women and mothers. In addition to substance abuse treatment, Meta House provides: parenting education and hands-on coaching; prevention and intervention services for the children of the mothers we serve and services to address income, employability, basic skills of daily living, mental and physical health and trauma resolution.