Photos by J. Scott Kunkel (@scotify)
Milwaukee has been accused of a lot of things, but no one could ever call it – “it” being the city, the region and the “idea” – a non-descript location.
Of all its historical and present faults, Milwaukee is genuinely unlike almost anywhere else in the world and features a host of, sometimes, contradictory descriptors.
It is a beer town.
It is a beach town.
It is a beacon for manufacturing.
A river runs through it.
A train yard divides it.
It had three socialist mayors.
It was 99 degrees yesterday.
It will be 59 degrees tomorrow.
In this author’s own experience, I was oft scoffed at by “Coastie” pals when I was quick to compare the Cream City to Portland, Oregon, Baltimore or even Melbourne, Australia.
“That seems like a stretch,” they would say, in a needlessly snotty tone which, I promise, the chip-on-my-shoulder that I earned growing up here did not exaggerate.
The comment was made from a South Shore Park picnic table that sat at the forefront of a Lake Michigan harbor; sailboats bobbed atop gentle ripples in the water with downtown’s skyline standing stoic and livid in the distance.
“My roommate surfs in the dead of winter. That’s why I feel like coming here was a good call,” he said, definitively.
Ah, yes. Milwaukee. The eternal “good call.”
Goitia, whose father is Argentinean and his mother English, grew up in Whitefish Bay (minus a few formative years in South America) and dabbled with leaving Milwaukee behind (as we all do) as an adult.
No place – Madison or London – really ever satisfied expectations or provided the support Goitia longed for.
Then it hit him like a gallon of freshwater across the backside of his head.
“If this isn’t the nicest little mini-ocean, I don’t know what is,” he said, exasperated at Lake Michigan’s beauty. “I can’t look past the horizon, so what’s the fucking difference between this and the ocean?”
Goitia is also not non-descript.
That means I could describe him, but I am not going to. It is 2021, and if you are reading this and desperately need to know, I am quite confident my friends at Hear Here have included an image along with this text. You could also perform an Internet search.
Take your time.
Now that you have an idea what this character looks like, let us move on.
At first listen of any Sleepy Gaucho record, including the newly released EP, “Sueños que Sobran,” the influences are perfectly palpable.
“Thanks, man!” exclaimed Goitia, almost immediately after I tell him how much his music sounds like the Beatles (which is, of course, the correct response). “That means a lot.”
He added that his affinity for the Fab Four was made more special, because it was his father that introduced the music to him.
Goitia has endured several comparisons to Harrison and the others, but what is unique about Goitia’s take on “that ‘60s’ sound” is the breadth of other influences present in his music.
“[My music] is definitely nostalgic in its tendencies,” said Goitia, who also named Bob Dylan, Neil Young and David Bowie as relevant influences.
Close listeners will also hear elements of folk, early-2000s indie rock and Spanish-language traditional music.
It is a tribute to Goitia’s nature and nurture, but he also credits his home.
“[Milwaukee] really is a great place to be an artist and actually survive,” he said, championing the city’s affordability, cultivation of the arts and manageable size. “Having that comfort and not the outside pressure of a [second] job. Isn’t that the whole point, and what an artist asks for?”
It is what Goitia had been asking for and has since received via a newfound adoration for his childhood home. He currently lives in Riverwest.
“Artists often forget that the point is to make art,” said Goitia, being careful not to oversimplify anyone else’s ambitions. “Anyone going out to Los Angeles or New York, chasing a scene, doing something to try and ‘make it’… It’s about having that freedom to just make the art, and Milwaukee has that, right now.”
The concept of a “music scene” in the Goodland has been discussed like a mythical creature for decades. In the wake of prominent musicians emerging from the city circa the 1990s’ and 2000s’ grunge and alternative scenes, Milwaukee’s “sound” (which, it never really had) disappeared from the mainstream and was dubbed “extinct” by, let’s just say, 2008.
What happened, in reality, was a radically changing city (post economic recession) looked inward for inspiration, and what grew organically were pioneers in Americana, roots-blues, R&B and hip-hop. Anyone who claims Milwaukee does not have viciously talented artists in these genres is, frankly, an imbecile.
In 2018, Goitia, as Sleepy Gaucho, released “Another Time,” the moniker’s first LP, which was lauded for Goitia’s side-of-the-mouth vocal delivery, invitingly wooly lyrics and pysch-twang guitar.
His second LP, “Morning Light,” was released on June 2nd 2020, which ironically ended up being “Blackout Tuesday,” the date music industry professionals stood in solidarity with BLM Movement by not posting on social media.
Even without being able to follow the album’s original promotion plan, Morning Light was recognized in “Radio Milwaukee’s Top 25 Albums of 2020.“
With his newest release, Goitia further cements his amorphous quality as a songwriter, as he features several songs in the Spanish language.
What results are songs in a beautiful form of “Spanglish,” which might inspire some listeners to recall early Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderón collaborations.
“It’s like finding another side of yourself. Poetry and lyricism in Spanish is just a lot different than in English,” he said. “It unlocks this: ‘Well, I am sick of writing in English, I’ll just write in Spanish!’”
Even though Goitia looked forward to the release of his EP, he was also quick to talk about progress he has made on a future LP.
“It’s big for me to move forward into the next sound,” said Goitia, who added that his mother and sister encouraged him to shake things up by singing in Spanish, a language he has known since he was a child. “I do see the future and the sound of all the records changing. The stuff that [is coming out after “Sueños que Sobran”] – I’m looking at boats – and it’s kind of like this late-70s, Fleetwood Mac, yacht-rock sound.”
For Goitia, there is a release in discovering new sounds. He said in jamming with his band-mates, discovering new progressions and resonance is always more rewarding than “sticking to a formula.”
He said he aspires to be more like a “Bowie” and less of a “Dylan”, in that, he hopes to be able to switch gears at the drop of a hat, should the metaphorical winds push him in any direction.
“That’s what I love about a Daivd Bowie-type. It’s really all over the place. Now, I’m really trying to shift… and move [the music]. We do just get sick of the same old sound,” he said.
Perhaps therein informs Goitia’s desire for the freshwater “ocean” that is Lake Michigan. While the salty shores of the sea leave a crystal residue that can grow and remain for centuries, the line of the lake leaves nothing but a shadow, or a memory; a nice reminder in the form of a line of demarcation.
That seems to mirror Goitia’s demeanor; he does not look back with anxiety nor forward with uncertainty. He simply looks at what is there.
“Musically, there is that aspect where you do want to challenge yourself. With the sound that I’ve been exploring in the past, I think I could pretty easily come up with [another album] that is kind of like that, but I want to try and shift it even more.”
In a town full of possible descriptions, in the mind of a talent like Goitia, there is no telling what Sleepy Gaucho will sound like next, but I am happy to stick around for as long as it takes to hear what that is.
With regard to those who do not have the patience to hang out in this beer/beach/hot/frozen utopia until then:
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