Inside the writing of The Cease Is Increase: An Oral History Of The Milwaukee Punk & Alternative Scene
Thanks in no small part to May’s landmark Lest We Forget concert and the continued efforts of archive sites like milwaukeerockposters.com and mkepunk.com, there has been a resurgence of interest in Milwaukee’s participation in the ’70s punk rock explosion and the independent/alternative scene that subsequently took root in the ’80s. Inspired by this wave of nostalgia, a veteran of that scene, Steve Nodine, has taken it upon himself to create a definitive document of the era. Due out early next year, The Cease Is Increase: An Oral History Of The Milwaukee Punk & Alternative Scene is an ambitious and labor-intensive endeavor, one Nodine was nice enough to take a time out from to answer some burning questions, including how you can get involved.
The A.V. Club: Beyond merely documenting the music, you made a fair amount of it yourself. How did you get involved?
Steve Nodine: I started out as a fan. I would go to Zak’s to see punk bands, and I was an avid music collector and was just really into the scene. My brother played guitar, and one day we were at a show and we just said, “Hey, if these guys can be a band and be onstage, so can we.” So we started a band called Between Walls, which was me, my brother, Bill Stace from the Ama-Dots, and Dave Wolf on keyboards, who was in a lot of other bands back in the ’70s. We got a chance to open for a lot of people, but we never really got to a point where we actually drew a crowd. We did okay as an opening act. [Laughs] Then Dave and I left to start our own band, Dark Façade. We did pretty well, we were popular. We did a tour of Europe and were working with a German record label. When we got back from Germany, Dave Wolf passed away—he had leukemia. His death really bummed me out, and I didn’t really do any more music after that.
AVC: How did you come to revisit that chapter in your life, and once you did, how did it turn into this project?
SN: Facebook came around and I started to reconnect with all these people I used to know. That was kind of what started me thinking about the book. I thought, “All these people have a great story to tell and it should be told for posterity.” Two people that I interviewed have actually passed away since the interviews, Richard LaValliere of the Oil Tasters, and Mark Shurilla, who I interviewed two or three days before his heart attack. So the urgency is there to get this stuff down for the future.
AVC: There were so many people doing so many things—how have you chosen who to interview?
SN: I’m interviewing band members, fans, writers, DJs from WMSE, club owners, promoters, anyone to piece together where this all came from. Most people are eager to talk, but some people will say, “Oh, I’ll talk to you, but I don’t remember anything,” and then I turn my recorder on and they’ll talk for an hour straight without me saying anything. The big job for me is editing it all together into something that makes sense.
AVC: What drew you to the oral history format? It’s a pretty immediate style.
SN: Exactly. It tells a story through the narrative of people who were there instead of somebody writing a book based on research and presenting it in their words. Each person’s interview has its own flavor that I couldn’t reproduce with just a few quotes; it’s really them telling the story.
AVC: There have been a handful of other book-length oral histories of punk, among them Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s New York-centric Please Kill Me and We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story Of LA Punk. What have you borrowed or maybe avoided from those volumes?
SN: I’ve read both of those in the past. We Got The Neutron Bomb, and to a lesser extent, Please Kill Me, include a lot of people badmouthing each other, a lot of dirt. There’s a little bit of that in my book—stories of parties and people getting arrested and whatever—but there’s not any real vindictiveness.
AVC: Even though you were present and active in those days, has anyone revealed anything that surprised you?
SN: There were a lot of things I didn’t know: how bands came to be or what led to their demise, different lineups that I wasn’t aware of. There are some funny stories, too. There was a rumor back in the day that Presley Haskel [of The Haskels] and Damian Zak, who owned Zak’s, were fighting, and Damian was also really upset with Jerome Haskel [again, of The Haskels] because he was trying to take control of part of the club. He was saying, “I’ll hire the doorman, I’ll do this, I’ll do that,” and Zak said, “Wait a minute, this is my club.” So there was an…incident. What I’d always heard was that Damian blew up Presley’s car, but I finally got the truth of that story, which was that it was actually a band’s van and somebody started a fire underneath it while it was parked on the street. But nobody ever really knew whether it was an intentional act or just some hoodlums in the neighborhood on Brady Street.
AVC: How is the book being released? Do you have a publisher?
SN: I’m publishing it myself. It’s going to be available in three formats: PDF, another file type for devices like Nooks and Kindles so you can buy it on Amazon, and then there’s the actual hard cover book with all the photographs. I’ve collected a large number of posters, and I just keep uncovering people who have these stashes of photographs. A lot of that stuff is on Facebook, but I’ve collected some real high quality stuff that I don’t think has been duplicated in that way.
AVC: Beyond photos, there’s also a multimedia aspect to the project, right?
SN: In addition to the book, I’m also working on a short film, some clips of my interviews strung together with music. It will be used partially as a promotional tool, for YouTube and things like that, but when the book’s released it will also be included with the physical copy on DVD. I’ve been trying to film as many interviews as possible, but the people that I’m talking to are anywhere from Holland to New York to New Zealand to Texas. Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes lives in Tasmania.
AVC: If people have stories they want to contribute, how can they contact you? Is there any particular type of material you’re looking for?
SN: I started a Facebook page called The History of Milwaukee’s Underground Scene, and it was interesting to watch it grow from just sending out a couple invites to about 60 or 70 people liking it. People can email me, too, but right now I’m also setting up a system on the website, where people will be able to log in and submit things so I’ll be able to get a little information about the senders instead of just a Facebook post. Really, I’ll take a look at anything people want to send. It’s great to hear stuff from other fans, people I really have no way of knowing who they are unless they come to me. Whoever’s got a story, the space is there for them to tell it.