BY KATHRYN SCHUELER | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Nathan Kilen, Jack Rice, Scott Wooldridge, Julie Straszewski Wooldridge and Brian Wooldridge of Wooldridge Brothers
Twenty-seven years have passed since Milwaukee’s Wooldridge Brothers released its first record — and founding member Scott Wooldridge knows what you’re going to ask next.
“Something to Say,” from his 2014 solo release, tries to explain what keeps him in the music game (hint: it’s right there in the title) after three decades. “Why do I carry on like this, what am I trying to prove?” the song laments. “I thought by 30, I would surely quit, but that time, it always seems to move.”
The fact is that Scott — who, along with his brother Brian, makes up the core of Wooldridge Brothers — never wanted to do anything else. “We were very familiar with the concept that we wouldn’t make money,” Scott makes clear prior to the band’s performance this past fall at the Walker’s Point 5th Street Fest. “But music was always important to us. I thought we’d [always] be doing it.”
These days, both Brian and Scott are married and have kids, which has put the expected damper on extensive tours. Shows are usually localized to Milwaukee, or sometimes to Minneapolis, which Scott has called home for several years. Even so, the band has still enjoyed memorable gigs in recent years. Playing for a packed crowd while opening for Ben Folds at Summerfest in 2016 stands out for both brothers, as well as touring with the power-pop super group The Baseball Project the same year. When Scott claims that they “haven’t had too many bad shows, at least not in recent memory,” Brian chimes in with “you have a different filter.” Turns out his definition of a bad show is when Scott kicks over his beer. Call it brotherly love.
In addition to the three Wooldridges — Brian’s wife Julie Straszewski Wooldridge is a backing vocalist — the current lineup also features Jack Rice on bass and Nathan Kilen on drums. While Kilen has only been in the band about a year, replacing Scott Gorsuch, who left due to a shoulder injury, Rice’s tenure dates back to 2008 when “Days Went Around” was released. Despite the passing years, the band hasn’t changed too much. “It’s not as much turnover as you might think, but we’ve been together doing this for long enough that we’ve had maybe a dozen people that we’ve played with,” Scott reflects. Brian clarifies, “It seems like we have a crew and then we’ll do an album and then work that album and then maybe take some time off — and then change players.”
The group’s most recent record, the well-received “Starts at Dusk,” started out as an EP (extended play record) in Minneapolis with Semisonic’s John Munson producing. “Next thing I know, we have more songs than an EP,” Brian laughs. “We’re like, alright, we’ll just make it an album.” Scott adds, “I think when you start recording, it stirs up the juices a little bit, and so I was a little more productive as a songwriter right around the time we were thinking about the album.”
The brothers explain that Wooldridge Brothers songs usually originate with Scott who then passes them on to Brian. Occasionally, the process is reversed, with Scott fitting lyrics to music Brian writes. The process works well, despite what the brothers describe as their very different styles. “I’m a little bit more rootsy, and he’s more sophisticated,” Scott opines. Brian smiles at that, joking that his brother’s definition of sophisticated is “more than two chords.”
“Starts at Dusk,” was co-produced by former drummmer Gorsuch, who the brothers call their “best producer” and credit as instrumental in bringing the project to completion. The result is an immediately addictive listen, instantly recognizable as a Wooldridge Brothers record, but with a pop sheen over their familiar Americana sound.
And it’s proof that, though nearly three decades have passed since the brothers Wooldridge moved to Milwaukee to start a band, they still have something to say. MKE