Every musician has a different story about how he or she made it big. For some, it’s a song that’s released at just the right time and becomes a huge hit. Sometimes, it’s one particularly engaging performance that takes their popularity over the edge.
For still others – including Walk the Moon, X Ambassadors and Misterwives – part of their rise to fame was being featured in the Emerging Artist Series, which takes place every day of Summerfest on the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage. During the series, fans can vote for their 11 favorite acts, creating engagement and buzz.
Today, you can join 88Nine Radio Milwaukee for a special public launch party kicking off the Emerging Artists series. The event, which takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. at the 88Nine studio, 220 E. Pittsburgh Ave., will include performances by three of the featured acts in the upcoming Emerging Artists Series: No No Yeah Okay, Ray Nitti and Kyle Feerick.
OnMilwaukee had the opportunity to talk with the artists and get to know them a bit better before the show. Here’s what they told us.
Tell us about your musical journey leading up to being a Summerfest emerging artist.
Mark Gage of No No Yeah Okay: It’s been wild and moving quicker than any of us expected or were prepared for. The group started as a bit of a “let’s just have a few beers and make some noise” between Chris [Quasius] (guitar) and me (producer) … no pressure. Then, as we started logging away a few instrumentals, we felt like even if nothing came from it we wanted to push it further and try to develop a project. That’s when we started seeking out and enlisting the help of Josh [Paynter] (bass) and Colin [Plant] (vocals).
Each of us came from completely different (or non-existent, in my case) musical backgrounds. So we spent the first few months just trying to get our sound figured out. We’ve only recently gotten a better handle on that. Then after we built enough songs to do shows, we started small. We weren’t even really promoting the shows, because we just wanted to get a few performances under our belt and work out the kinks. So we played a bunch of “secret shows,” we’ll call them.
They were only secret because nobody knew about us (laughs). But 88Nine picked up on a few songs of ours and then next thing we knew, we were playing and winning awards at their award show for our debut EP “Dual.” From there, we’ve been given the chance for some pretty memorable shows, namely, playing for the Buck’s halftime show when Kobe and the Lakers were in town. It’s been wild.
Ray Nitti: Moving to Milwaukee from St. Thomas U.S. Virgin Islands at the age of 13, music was an outlet for me that began as poetry. I was able to express some of my struggles growing up and and transitioning to the states. As time continued, I was able to work with Cincere, a local artist from Milwaukee who was generous enough to take me under his wing. I was then afforded an opportunity to go overseas With the Armed Forces Entertainment to perform for our troops.
In 2009 I released a No. 1 single called “Bow,” that gained me my national exposure and my first major deal. Some people would say it’s a Milwaukee classic. To this day “Bow” is still picking up in new markets, surprisingly. I guess slow and steady wins the race.
I have a funny story about “Bow.” I remember one year attending Summerfest to see Wiz Khalifa perform – 2012, maybe – it had to be about a hundred thousand people out there, or it at least seemed like it (laughs). I was just out in the audience as a normal fan of music waiting for Wiz to come on stage. DJ Kid Cut Up was spinning some records entertaining the masses, and out of nowhere he plays “Bow.” The crowd goes insane!
I was looking around at all these people singing the lyrics to my song. Nobody knew who I was, or that I was right there next to them. I had always wanted to perform “Bow” at Summerfest, but never had a chance to, and that situation made me want to work even harder … so that one day the biggest music festival in the world would know who I was, and that I was right in their backyard. Now here I am in 2016 finally getting to live this dream out.
Kyle Feerick: For the last 10 years I have been performing with as many musicians as I could, learning as much as I could from each of them. Music is about evolving and trying new things, styles and genres. I hope my second full-length album, “Heart,” which is set to come out this summer, shows some of this journey
What are your hopes of coming out of this emerging artists series?
Gage: Everyone is going to say that their goal will be to reach more people, and I hope that that happens for us. But really, for me, and probably for the whole group, this is about continued validation. Two years ago, I had never made music. Chris played guitar but never in a band. Colin was rapping in a few groups, and Josh was working exclusively in his band Bright Black which is more post-punk. So to unify all of those different backgrounds and try to come up with something unique was tough.
When we put out “Dual,” we had no idea how it was going to be received. Every time that we get offered to do a bigger and better show than our last, it’s just a reminder that we’re doing something right. It’s encouragement to keep moving in whatever direction it is that we’re going. That’s what this series is to us, because we truly are emerging; both within the music community as well as emerging our own sound.
Nitti: My hopes coming out of this series is that I want people to appreciate my growth and really receive the messages in the new music. I’m using my platform to not only entertain but to also educate and inspire others. I want to connect with the fans. I want to be able to get my music in ears of those that may have never heard of me if it wasn’t for this opportunity.
Feerick: I suppose my hope for being a part of the Emerging Artist Series, like any band, is for people to be able to hear to my music live. Although – more than anything – I hope to have a great time and play well with the musicians I’ll be performing with!
What musicians do you look up to that have been in this series before and why?
Gage: Kiings. We’ve known Chris [Siegel] and Sean [Foran] for a few years and have collaborated individually with them in different ways. Colin is featured on a few of their tracks and I’ve helped them with a few visual/design things. These guys are extremely talented and are able to tackle a wide wide wide range of sounds but still keep them under the musical umbrella of Kiings. They are able to make beautifully and carefully crafted songs that stir up some real emotion, and that’s what we inspire to do as well. But then, you see them at a show, and it’s a crazy hyped up DJ set that gets people moving. That ability to be perfectionists of their own sound but also switch gears and appeal to the dancey vibe is awesome. I can’t think of anyone from Milwaukee, who is more deserving of widely acclaimed success than them.
Nitti: Being honest, I literally only know of two of the artists from the past series going back to 2006. So, I’d have to say I look up to every single one of these artist for the simple fact that they are chasing their dreams just like me and they were able to pave a way for someone like myself and others to come. Knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of artists who could’ve been selected, I’m grateful to be on the list, along with those who came before me.
Feerick: Fever Marlene is a great Milwaukee group who performed in the series. Kevin Dunphy is an incredible drummer. I remember seeing their performance at Summerfest that year, and it blew me away. Since then Kevin and I have become good friends. He recorded drums on my debut album, “The Sky, It Moves,” as well as on my upcoming sophomore album, “Heart.”
Another great group who has performed as part of the series is Twin Brother. Lodewijk Broekhuizen, who plays guitar with Twin Brother, engineered and played violin on my last album. He will also be playing violin with my group when we play the Emerging Artist Series at Summerfest on July 7 at 1:45 p.m. on the Johnson Controls stage.