The MKE folk singer thinks the city’s strong underground music scene has a problem
Dan Reiner: You moved from Austin to Milwaukee. Why such a drastic change?
Allen Coté: I’ve got family from Wisconsin. A long time ago, I lived in Door County for a year and knew Joe and John Crockett. They play in a band called The Championship and they came through Austin on tour and stayed with me. I just happened to lose a job and my dog and my apartment and my girlfriend all at the same time, so things kind of snowballed and I toured with them and eventually they asked me to move up here.
DR: How long have you lived here?
AC: It’ll be nine years in May.
DR: Do you think you’ll stick around, or are you trying to find something new?
AC: I have a two-year-old daughter now and unless I can talk her mother into moving to Cuba, I feel like I’ll be here. All kidding aside, I bought a house and I’m pretty tied into the community. I’ve gotten a lot more opportunities in Milwaukee than I ever did in Austin, ironically enough. I’ve also gotten a lot more opportunities from Austin since I left Austin, so I feel like maybe I had to leave Austin to find my calling.
DR: Funny how that works.
AC: Yeah. But I’ve gotten tied into a pretty warm and fruitful community and I’ve come to love this city and this area, even if I’ve come to despise the weather.
DR: So you released a new EP at Linneman’s in January and then did a mini tour with it.
AC: It was the third in a series of some EPs that were sessions I’d been sitting on for a while that I needed to get out of my system. I didn’t really have the heart to actually book a tour or press vinyl, so I just booked the gig. I just sent out a few emails and a whole bunch of media outlets got back to me inside of a week. I didn’t see all that coming.
DR: So are you done making new music for a while?
AC: I still have a lot going on musically and will for the foreseeable future. I teach guitar lessons at a Montessori school, I do some music for About Face Media and Wisconsin Foodie on PBS. And I play with some random bands. The four of us in my band have been working on the score for a short film right now.
DR: To fans, Milwaukee is this weird hybrid of grungy underground music and more mainstream stuff. What’s it like from an insider’s perspective?
AC: Like I said, I had to come to Milwaukee of all places to be a successful musician. I want to say there is no better or worse, there is only different. Austin’s music scene is very industry-driven. The biggest contrast and the most difficult part about the music scene in Milwaukee is the lack of enthusiasm on the part of audiences. I think that’s tied into the venues. We have some really wonderful venues—Linneman’s, and what’s happened in the past decade with Pabst/Riverside/Turner has been key. I feel like there would be no music-loving audience if not for what they’ve done with bringing national acts that would otherwise skip through on their way to Minneapolis.
DR: But in Milwaukee, those smaller venues don’t fill up.
AC: I don’t know what to do about it. It sounds like a major conceit coming from a musician like, “Why don’t more people come to gigs?” What can I do and what can we do to make it attractive? It would boost the entire community and the entire city. It’s been shown time and time again in this country that any city that has a major cultural boom has a major economic boom following it. Cactus Club has a certain niche to it. Tonic is an excellent place.There’s a lot of places with great potential.
DR: Do you think that stations like 88Nine and WMSE are helping move that along?
AC: 88Nine does an amazing job when it comes to standing by the community. I have a great amount of respect for them. Likewise, MSE is sort of this integrated member of the community. It’s like that dog you’ve had since you were 4-years-old and he’s almost on the edge of being tired but he’s there all day, every day with all the love in the world. I don’t think they get nearly as much visible recognition as 88 Nine, but they’re still there. They’re something that I think Milwaukee takes for granted. We need to support those stations to grow the community.
DR: Who are some Milwaukee artists we should look out for?
AC: The Calamity Janes and the Thistledown Thunders are two very excellent bluegrass and folk-based groups. Nate, who plays drums with me, also plays with Jonathan Burks, who is one of my favorite songwriters on the face of the planet. Go to Linneman’s any given night of the week because you’re probably going to see great music there.