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The best kept secret in music


"Dustworks' diversity almost defies categorization"

Let's face it, rock and roll has branched out in lots of directions, but most bands can still be pretty easily described and, sadly, pigeon-holed. So, it's fun to stumble upon a band that, while not rewriting the rock and roll canon, offers at least a little challenge when it comes to being described. Even better when it's a local band.

Formed at UW-Madison by brothers Ryan and Casey Stang, Dustworks -- which also includes keyboardist and laptop guy Adam Dingeldein, keyboardist Tim Larsen, guitarist Joe Muth and drummer Brandon Palmer -- might sound rootsy at first and you'll be tempted to lump them in with Wilco. But then you'll be walloped with a cascading electric guitar glissando and Joy Division's "Atmosphere" will spring to mind. Adding found sounds like crickets and airport public address announcements adds another dimension.

What accounts for this diversity?

"Casey writes most of the material," says Ryan Stang. "He usually comes up with lyrics, melody and an acoustic guitar part. At that point, I take it and arrange it, and figure out what instruments we need to achieve the sound we're looking for."

But with that foundation, according to Stang, the experimentation begins and everyone is involved.

"We've got a ton of guitars, amps, and keyboards, so it's pretty easy to test different sounds as we're trying out new material, and everyone in the band is so good on their instruments, that it's sometimes ridiculously easy to get a song into a finished form."

Despite that ease with writing, Dustworks is still holed up in its studio in Eagle putting the finishing touches on an EP, which the band hopes to release soon, and then will focus on completing a full-length disc, which it aims to release in summer. In the meantime, you can sample some demos on the band's Web site, www.dustworks.net.

"We kind of record in weird ways," says Stang, who also performs with Stick Pony. "Whoever is around, we record the songs that we can get those parts done, so some songs are more done than others from week-to-week. We've also gotten a lot better at recording, so the EP and album will be better-sounding recordings (than the demos), while still retaining that feel. Those demo songs will be on the finished album as of right now -- albeit re-recorded -- but we're still writing stuff that could bump them out, you never know."

The band will take time out from recording this month to play some gigs, including one at Points East Pub, 1501 N. Jackson St., on Fri., Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. with Chicago-based Big Buildings. This will give fans the chance to see how the band approaches live performance of songs that are often awash in effects.

"The finished record is turning out to be a lot more organic-sounding, and not so processed as the demos, which is usually the opposite of how bands do things," Stang says. "But, while the tracks may be turning out to be more 'rootsy' or 'country' or whatever you'd call it, they're also getting weirder, with more found sounds, noises and synths and stuff.

"We played a lot more (in the past) than we have lately because we weren't sure if this stuff would even work live. Then, when we figured out it does work, we hunkered down to explore what we could do with it, and played out less often. Now, we're ready to play more, since we've figured out what the possibilities of this are. I think people like hearing and seeing things that they don't usually get to see. I can't think any other rock band around here that uses Moog, laptops or pedal steel on-stage, much less all three."

-Bobby Tanzilo

- OnMilwaukee.com

"Critics' Choice"

For a taste of alt-country and pop rock at its best check out our own version of Dylan meets the Jayhawks, Dustworks. From the teeming metropolis of Eagle comes a lush mix of guitar, pedal steel and moog synth that is sure to please. Stellar vocals and strong original material will combine for a must-see performance Friday, Feb. 27 at Points East Live with special guests Big Buildings.

-Brian Barney - Shepherd Express

"Creative Dustworks finds comfort in numbers"

Since its formation in 2001, Dustworks has gradually accreted experience, members and songs. Front man Ryan Stang worked with Michelle and Scott Anthony as part of their backing band, Stick Pony, when they recorded Michelle's 2004 solo album "Stand Fall Repeat" with the assistance of ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett. Since then, Dustworks itself has become a six-person group.

After a demo EP in early 2003, the band got the friendly help of Spill bandleader Jack Rodee, who subsequently helped Stang produce "Atlas," the new Dustworks EP. With the gently rasping, twinned vocals of Ryan and his brother Casey, songs like "Midwestern Lights" and "After the Ashes" build atmospheres of introspection: crickets chirp, steel guitars drift along the landscape, and rhythms are as much felt as heard. It's rootless, restless rock across which elements of country and folk move like ghosts.

The Dustworks lineup also includes drummer Brandon Palmer, guitarist and engineer Joe Muth (at whose home studio "Atlas" was recorded), keyboardist Tim Larsen and Moog player Adam Dingeldein. Ryan Stang spoke for the band.

Q. Do you prefer to work in the shorter EP format?

A. With six people having input, it's pretty hard to focus that many people for a long period of time. So I like doing the EP thing, especially because we go through periods where we're all into one thing and then another, so I think it's a better snapshot of what's going on musically. A longer work would be all over the place.

Q. What did you pick up working with Stick Pony?

A. I was really the only one in Stick Pony Mark One, as Michelle puts it. We learned the songs and recorded with her in Chicago. Michelle and Scott are pretty professional, and that's one thing I learned: promo stuff, and how stuff beyond your basement works. We don't have that well-oiled of a promo machine yet, but we're better than we are a year and a half ago.

Q. Why did you self-produce "Atlas"?

A. We have a lot of really good gear, and good gear is one of the reasons you want to go into a studio. We self-produced our three-song demo, and we liked how that turned out, but we got a little better and got some better equipment and decided we might as well do it ourselves. We're idiosyncratic. We all know exactly how we want stuff to sound, and we know how we think we're supposed to sound.

Q. What was Jack Rodee's contribution?

A. He gave us some advice on recording, and I think him mixing it brought out things we hadn't really done as well as we would have liked. We recorded kind of rough. If we settled for a perfect take, and we're anal-retentive about that stuff, we would have been there forever. Jack was able to mix it in a way that improved what we had.

Q. How do you consider Milwaukee as a scene?

A. It seems like a lot of bands aren't really around long enough to do anything. Madison kind of worked better for us, because it's geared to a college scene, and as much college life as there is in Milwaukee, there's never enough people to go out and fill up the clubs.

But I would say the bands are closer here, and that works as far as getting shows. There aren't a lot of similar-sounding bands - 80,000 jam bands or something - and that helps. And people can go and see different bands on the same bill.

Q. What thinking went into the six-person lineup?

A. The larger lineup is just what we thought sounded good, and if it sounds good, we could well be a 15-person band. Whatever works - and it worked out that we had five at the beginning and then added Adam.

Dustworks will open for Michelle Anthony at 10 Friday at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave. Cover is $7.

- Jon M. Gilbertson, Special to the Journal Sentinel

- Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"Dustworks EP arrives after careful germination"

You may have read about alt.country rockers Dustworks in these pages a year or so ago and about the EP they were preparing to release. Well, sometimes good things need time to properly germinate and it has taken a little longer than expected, but "Atlas" is finally here.

"Of the songs that we had that were in for consideration, some were finished as early as 2002, more were written in 2003 and some were even finished in mid-2004," says Ryan, one of the two Stang brothers in the band (Casey is the other one), which was formed in Madison and also includes keyboardist and laptop guy Adam Dingeldein, keyboardist Tim Larsen, guitarist Joe Muth and drummer Brandon Palmer.

"We don't rush anything," admits Casey Stang. "Some songs I've finished in a day, but others may take months. I usually don't worry about the time frame too much. It's very rare that I sit down saying, 'OK, it's time to write or finish a song.' Ideas usually just come up as I'm strumming at home, or out and about and once the initial idea or melody is there, the songs usually finish themselves over time, at any given time. That's why I have piles of paper scraps in almost all of my coat pockets."

The disc was recorded at home, so the pressures of finishing fast didn't exist for Dustworks, and it allowed them to create a good selection of tunes from which to pick the six that made it to the finished disc.

"We kind of rotate all our songs through our live set lists," says Ryan Stang, "so we're really not ones to say 'our newest stuff has to be on the record.' We just went with how they felt, and the ones that felt the best together got the nod. Casey writes really good songs, so our job is to bring them to life in the best way that we can. Sometimes we have too many options -- a lot of instruments and possibilities -- but we usually know when to ease off on the production. It's important that all the instrumental insanity doesn't overpower the narratives."

What makes the band different from the usual suspects in alt.country is that while you'll hear hints of Wilco, there's a post-punk edge to most of the tunes and Dustworks seems as rooted in alternative pop/rock as in Americana.

This certainly grows out of the band's diverse tastes, which emerge in Stang's description of the disc's drum sound.

"The drums remind me of Levon Helm's drums on The Band's brown album, which always remains a touchstone for us, even if we're fixated on listening to The Arcade Fire or Dios from week to week."

As for the full-length that normally trails behind an EP, Ryan Stang has already promised one and, as always, the band is working away.

"There are always a bunch of songs that we're working on," says Casey Stang. "So far this process has worked well for us and produced songs that we're all happy with."

In the meantime, the band plays a CD release party for "Atlas," with pal Michelle Anthony -- who contributed some banjo parts to the EP -- Friday, Jan. 28 at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave. Showtime is 10 p.m.

-Bobby Tanzilo - OnMilwaukee.com


Demos (2003)
Atlas EP (2005)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Dustworks self-released their Atlas EP in January of 2005. A combination of backwoods and backroads, sunlight and shadows, delicate acoustic work and ear-splitting feedback, the Atlas EP echos the work of the Notorious-lineup of The Byrds and Big Pink-era Band, and contains eclectic traces of Dylan, Joy Division, the Everly Brothers, and the Milwaukee press' favorite touchstone, Wilco. Built on the songwriting of Casey Stang, the Atlas EP features the vintage keyboard and guitar onslaught of Tim Larsen and Joe Muth, the rhythm work of Brandon Palmer and Ryan Stang, and the field recordings and synth work of resident oracle Adam Dingeldein. The resulting hangover was mixed by Jack Rodee, and mastered by Trevor Sadler at Mastermind Productions. Also on board was the lovely Michelle Anthony, supplying banjo and giggles. Ask us about Ty.