Music

Boise to Learn About What Made Milwaukee Famous

Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Neurolux

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When you can't hold it together, sometimes the best option is to find some refuge while it all goes to hell. When you finally hit bottom, that's the best time to go all in. That's the choice What Made Milwaukee Famous leader Michael Kingcaid made when his marriage fell apart: He quit his job, left Austin, Texas and invested his 401K in his third album, You Can't Fall Off the Floor.

It's a sometimes dispiriting but ultimately triumphant set of songs--if only for the time-worn truth that you can survive and move on. The album opens with a lonely Kingcaid on an acoustic guitar, chronicling the banal litany of our daily emotional lives.

"We've all got our faults / We've all got our miseries to blow off and do as we please / Are you so desensitized? / Can't even realize / you just regentrify as the blood runs by," he sings on "Silence is the Loudest Answer."

Perhaps you wouldn't consider a double-wide in Conroe, Texas, gentrification but compared to where his soul was going in the immediate aftermath of his divorce, it was a step up. Away from the thrum and temptations of Austin, he recommitted to music with guitarist roomies Jason Davis (who also got divorced) and Kelly Doyle.

"We lived on two acres with eight goats. We'd wake up, record and write music every day for three to four months straight," he said. "I wrote like 30 songs in three months--probably more songs than I have written in the last three years."

Before that, Kingcaid had a good job that he balanced with the band and his relationship. But after coming back from a tour supporting the band's second album, 2008's What Doesn't Kill Us, things began to fall apart.

It should have been a glorious time. The band supported Smashing Pumpkins on several dates and been featured at SXSW, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. But within a few months, his entire touring band moved to different cities and his marriage hit the rocks. Then, after the requisite period of mourning in Austin (read: drinking and sleeping around), Kingcaid rediscovered himself by moving to Conroe.

"If you're married and on the road all the time, when you come back in town, you have to scramble to get back to the day job and try to make ends meet," he said. "I'm not trying to make less of my marriage, but there is something liberating not to have that to answer to. It kind of frees up a lot of pent-up material that you could've been writing songs about, instead of running around chasing your tail trying to keep everything in place."

The "quick and dirty" recording process kept thing fresh, which comes out in the bare-wire emotionality of the songs. Nowhere are these facets better exemplified than on "Grand Entrance, Awkward Exit," a perfect description of divorce, if ever there was one.

Over mournful country-rock guitar and haunted organ, Kingcaid laments, "I think we've gazed more than we can see." The song came together in minutes.

"I was driving home from the bar one night, kind of hauling ass to get home because I wanted to write a Fleetwood Young song or a Neil Mac song (though I don't think there's much Mac in there now), but I got pulled over," he said. "I got a warning and I went inside and I was just electric. We went upstairs. ... Literally, we started writing it and it was done seven minutes later. That's probably the fastest song I've written in my life."

Though the tone is consistently dour on You Can't Fall Off the Floor, the music is varied. It ranges from the shadowy lounge-rock of "Demons & Monkeys (And You & Me. And Me & Me)" to the tender finger-picked folk of "Rosewood" and the greasy punk-funk of "Gone and Done It Now."

Kingcaid enlisted such a variety of talented players, he considered making it a solo album for a while. But after investing so much money and sweat, he couldn't bear the idea of it going unheard.

"[When] nobody can even spell your last name, [it] would be a hard thing to go back out and do a solo career. So, it seemed the wisest decision was to go off the momentum Milwaukee had had the last nine years," he said. "So we switched it back and wrote a few extra songs that kind of tied it in to a band-sounding album."

The record also includes a couple forays into the political realm. The jolly Beatles-esque orchestral pop number "Swift Justice for Christmas" skewers the impulse to stick it to the poor under the pretext that their misfortune has been earned, while the infectious, ironic power-pop ballad "Prescription for Purpose" feels like a miniaturized "Bohemian Rhapsody."

"There's a lot of the divorce that permeates through there, but there's a lot of disillusionment just with what's going on in the world," Kingcaid explained.

The vocally inventive "Prescription for Purpose" features a number of noisy experimental effects, such as the opening, in which the band plugs in and unplugs their instruments. Kingcaid suggested this offers a sneak peek at the material the band is writing right now.

"We are definitely going to be a little closer to the more electronic stuff we've done in the past," he said. "I venture to say it's kind of Portishead meets Queens of the Stone Age."

In the meantime, Kingcaid has reconciled his lot and dedicated himself to music, even if all that's awaiting him is deeper destitution.

"Money can buy you happiness in that it can buy you less stress," he said. "What it doesn't buy you is how it feels when somebody really loves your music and tells you that your album got them through a divorce or a really hard time or the death of a friend. Those kinds of things are what I do it for, and I'm going to do this until it kills me, I don't like it anymore or I can find something else that I can do that makes me as happy at this does."

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