Amberstein out of Milwaukee went through some recent line up changes and added Ivan Mallory and Brock Betz. Rock Life Magazine interviewed them just prior to their first live performance at The Back Bar in Janesville.
Jake Warne – Lead vocals/bass
Andrew Farrar – Drums/vocals
Ivan Mallory – Guitar/vocals
Brock Betz – Guitar
RL: You’re calling this the “rebirth” of Amberstein. Can you give us a brief history of the band to bring everyone up to speed as to how you got to this point?
JW: It was about 2012 when I started writing songs with a friend, Ross a guitarist. We needed a drummer and Andrew was…I don’t think he knows this, but he was the only drummer we ever jammed with.
AF: Pretty slim pickings when it came to drummers. I was the best of one.
JW: (Laughing) Andrew and I met in the Fall of 2012 through a mutual friend who was working with me when I was in college. We worked in the grounds department, drove around and mowed lawns and whatnot. Andrew was working for the City of Waukesha so we crossed paths at times. He’d be driving a Jeep and I’d be driving a Gator. And my buddy would say “Hey, that’s that really good drummer. If you ever need a drummer, you should call him!” I found myself needing a drummer, and…
AF: So then we had a blind date at a bar, where the 2 of us met. He was like “Do you like music?” I said “I do.” He said “Hey, I’ve got this other guy who plays guitar who likes music.” So we had this weird blind date, Skype date a at a bar…
JW: I had brought my computer so we could Skype with Ross.
AF: The first 2-3 years was this never ending saga of living in different places. Half of us lived in Madison, half of us lived in Milwaukee. We would jam in Madison or jam in Milwaukee, depending on where the jam space was. It’s an hour and a half drive, and we somehow committed to it. From there we brought in a 4th member. We had another guitarist named Jayson.
JW: That was in 2014 when that happened, and he was with us for a while…and then Ross moved away. His life took him to Minneapolis. Jayson took over for…a year and a half – two years. And then this Fall (2017), we started looking for a 4th member again. It was going to be Jayson on lead guitar, and we started recruiting people. That’s when we met Ivan. Through that process of finding a rhythm guitarist, Jayson decided to leave the band. So, we continued to search for a complete lineup. We were convinced we wanted to be a 4-piece.
AF: We had a pretty organic approach, and meet with people to see if there was a chemistry before even picking up any instruments. In the back of our minds we had some thoughts about who might be cool to have in the band, but we were never about poaching people form other bands…NEVER about that.
JW: The way that we ended up with Brock is kinda funny. Andrew and I had been on the same scene with him, seeing him play for 5 years. Since the first time we saw him, we’ve always said “That’s the guy. If we were ever in a position where we needed a guitarist and we had our pick, from our scene…that’s who we would want.” And…we didn’t ask him. We just ended up in situations where it worked out organically. Brock can tell the story of the party we were at.
BB: There was a house party with a bunch of local bands, and I had decided to come on down there. I found out about an hour before that you guys were going to be there, so I was really excited to see you.
JW: And that’s when the band was publicly just me and Andrew. We were working with Ivan, but hadn’t made an announcement yet.
BB: At the party, some of the other bands were playing…and none of us were supposed to play at all. About midnight, everyone was done playing…and there was all this gear sitting down in the basement with no one there.
RL: And I know you, and you can’t resist!
BB: (Laughs) Yeah! So I talked these guys into going down there, and we started playing. And it’s funny, because they said if they could choose a guitar player they would choose me…because I actually had the same feelings about Amberstein. Musically, well more than just musically, I consider you guys friends. There’s mutual respect, and friendship and all that. Plus, they’re good musicians.
JW: I looked back in my email recently, to see all the people we had auditioned, interviewed, and had talked to…to respond to let them know we were no longer looking….and I phrased it as the stars aligned to put us in the right place with the person we have always wanted to play with. That’s why it’s not “Amberstein featuring Brock Betz.” It’s ours together.
BB: When we sit down to write, it’s some of the most organic writing processes I’ve ever been a part of.
JW: It’s the most collaborative I’ve ever experienced.
AF: Crazy enough…we’re going to be playing 2 brand new “the four of us lineup” songs tonight. One of them is the song that we randomly jammed that night in the basement. We developed it into a song.
JW: So, you asked if this was the rebirth of Amberstein. It’s a new evolution of it, but I feel like it’s a rebirth because; while Andrew and I are the only constant thread from the beginning, but as far as guitars go, as far as creativity goes…it’s all new elements. The whole process is new, everything is new.
RL: Tonight is the first show with the new lineup. Are you excited? Nervous? A little of both?
IM: With the first show yeah, you’re a little bit of both. You’re trying to figure out how things are going to go, but at the same time we’re excited. Excited to play new material that we’ve all had ours hands in creating. It’s going to be a fun experience playing with the other bands…and it’s sort of nostalgic that these guys (Jake, Andrew, and Brock) have played here in the past and now they’re playing together here. I think it’s going to be pretty magical.
RL: I know you guys have only had a few practices, but do you have a favorite song to play live? (And that might change after tonight.)
JW: Tonight I think it’s going to be “Hold On.” It’s one of our new songs, toward the end of our set.
BB: The second song…it’s really cool. It’s got sound in there that I can’t even peg the kind of genre, other than maybe a little bit of Rush.
RL: That’s the second song of the set?
JW: We decided to put a brand new song right at the beginning. We’ll open up with a song that we’ve been opening with for a long time, but it isn’t recorded. So, for anyone who has our CD, will be met a song that’s not on there…and then a song that NO ONE has ever heard.
BB: It’s just super cool as a guitar player. Normally, with Brock Betz he’s supposed to shred and play crazy solos all the time, right? That’s what you’d think. In that song, that’s not the case. I pretty much just float around making the thing sound like a synthesizer through most of the song. There is a cool solo in there, which is pretty fast and crazy…but besides that, it’s geared toward making the best sound. And THAT’S what I love about this band.
RL: I was wondering about that…and I wasn’t going to ask the question, but it just kinda came up. You’ve always had a strong personality, with your guitar…on stage. You’ve been independent the whole time I’ve known you…musically. And these guys have had a great thing going on too. It seems like there could be some clashing going on, but I guess not.
AF: It’s a good point. One of the things we were really excited about…obviously a lot of the melody comes from the lead vocals, typically. We were really excited to have a counter melody…not one trumping the other, but shared between the lead guitar and lead vocal. Brock is doing a lot of things…everything we do it very deliberate. He does things on the guitar that are very complimentary. A lot of the times, you might even think the guitar part was written first, and Jake is complimenting it. But, they co-exist is such a perfect space…we were very aware of that idea, and it’s something we’ve been very conscious of.
JW: The best musicians are the best listeners…and Brock hears the song and finds the space where it’s appropriate to take the lead, and where to let the other parts shine.
RL: What are your hobbies outside of music? (To Jake) Well, your whole life is music.
JW: My entire life is music. For me, my goal has always been for every penny I make to be music. That’s what I have done, and that’s what it’s always going to be. Hopefully it’s more performing. I love teaching, and I’m perfectly happy…but I’m also really, really hungry for this to be the main thing. I don’t really do much outside of music, honestly. My hobby is probably baseball…following the Cubs.
AF: I play golf. It can be frustrating, because there’s no one to blame but yourself. One day you can be playing the game of your life, and think “I’m going to do the same thing”…and there’s just one little thing that’s off. It’s very challenging.
IM: I enjoy mixology. I’ve been working in food & beverage environments throughout my life. My mother owns 2 Bed & Breakfasts up North, so I’ve gotten involved in that. Recently, I was managing at the Iron Horse Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, where I learned how to make craft cocktails. I developed a knowledge of all the spirits; gins, whiskeys, scotches, tequilas, rums…everything. On the side, I always enjoy doing that. On top of that, cooking. I like to pair different drinks with food. My dad and I actually have this routine where he’ll come down from up North every so often, and we’ll cook something different every time he comes down. We’ve done Indian food, we’ve done shrimp scampi. We want to do Korean food next time. Just, cook different things all the time. Love doing all that.
BB: The last couple years, I’ve gotten into casting bronze. Smithing – working with metals. More specifically, I’ve found it really challenging to cast bronze, as opposed to pounding on a piece of steel. That does take a certain skill set, but I feel that casting bronze and pouring molten metal; it’s a different world that a lot of people don’t get to experience. My uncle and I, after a lot years of research, figured it all out. It’s been really fun. I made this ring. It looks gold…it’s a proprietary recipe. (laughs) It’s a secret that I don’t want to divulge in this interview. I’ve made crosses…this medallion (that Brock is wearing) is more of a traditional bronze. It’s from my first pour…into some sand. So the back of it is the grains of sand. It was basically a bar, and we drilled this out with a drill press. I sanded down the front down a little bit. So that’s kinda my hobby.
RL: It’s about time to wrap this up. What can we expect from Amberstein in the near future, and going forward?
JW: We’re doing some recording this Summer. We’re also playing some big shows this Summer that we haven’t announced yet. We’ll be playing Summerfest on July 1st. We’ve got a triple header the last weekend in June. We’re doing the Back Bar on June 29th. We’re playing The Frequency’s last show ever, on Saturday June 30th, and then Sunday July 1st, we’re playing Summerfest 7:30-8:30 on the Renegade Stage. Also this Summer, we’re playing Milwaukee County Zoo – A La Carte, which is a tradition. This is our 3rd year. Usually we’re on the main stage, but I don’t know what stage we will be on yet. This isn’t announced yet, but we’re playing XXXXXXX, which will be really cool. We’re also doing a big festival in my hometown (Little Chute, WI) on June 3rd…with my solo project, AND my band that I was in for 10 years before this band. We’re having a 5 year reunion show. So it’s going to be triple header afternoon on the main stage in my hometown at the biggest festival we ever have. It’s like…”The Jake Show.”
AF: It’s still not enough Jake for Jake. (laughs)
JW: Nope. Not enough. Not enough. But also have some local shows sprinkled in, but those are the shows we’re really building our Summer around.
RL: You touched briefly on recording…I want to go back to that.
RL: Do you have an plans to release anything or is that still developing?
JW: We are recording in June. So, our plan for right now…which isn’t fully mapped out yet…is to come out with finished product by the end of Summer. Before, we even release it, record music videos and things like that, and get all the wheels moving. So, when we release, we follow it up with a lot of content. That’s kinda what the tail end of our Summer is going to look like. Between now and then, we’re going to be writing as many songs as we can. Right now the size of the recording project is flexible. It will be at least an EP. We’ll see what it becomes. But, it will be across a couple of weeks in June, and we’ll come out on the other side with something that we’ll be excited and really proud of.
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