16-Piece Band From Milwaukee Hopes To Make Impression At SXSW

Group Of The Altos Draws From Horror, Heavy Metal Music As Influences

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Group of the Altos — a band that’s been described as “post rock,” or avant-garde, with influences of horror, heavy metal, and 1970s AM radio rock — is one of many Wisconsin artists performing at this year’s South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

Wisconsin Public Radio’s Terry Bell recently spoke with the group’s frontman Daniel Spack and singer Marielle Allschwang. He first asked them about the group’s origins.

Daniel Spack: Yeah, it was me and Tom Duffey got together, and we were just screwing around, basically. And we would write one long composition, and as soon as we felt we had it pretty good, we would stop playing it, and then try another one. Then Sean Stefany showed up, and thought it was totally interesting — so then we had a member. And it’s like, “Ah, maybe we’re a band.”

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TB: And now you’re 16 members! How did that original concept get so big?

DS: Yeah, we very pushedly grabbed certain members. Like Marielle — we actually saw her perform one night, and I was not accepting “no” for an answer.

Marielle Allschwang: I was playing a solo show, and one of our members was in sort of a string quartet-y kind of number. We were sharing a bill, so she brought a lot of members of Altos there, and yeah, Daniel came and talked to me, and I was charmed.

TB: You collaborated with Justin Vernon in Volcano Choir. Most people would know Justin from Bon Iver. How much of an influence did he have on you?

DS: Oh yeah, it was massive. I just learned zillions about working with vocalists. I had never really worked with vocalists in my life, so it shaped a lot about how I figured out phrasing and everything. And just the idea that vocals could be this other instrument that you used.

TB: You saw yourself as an instrumentalist, first and foremost. You were really reluctant to sing.

DS: Yeah, yeah. Horribly reluctant. There was never a thing in my head or heart that said I should even attempt it.

TRB: Your music is described as “post rock”, which is a label you say doesn’t mean a lot to you, but you seem OK with your songs being described as having a dark side.

DS: That first record is a little dark, and it has a lot to do with — I mean everybody’s lives at that time.

TB: Well, I’ve heard that horror is a big influence on your music. What is that about?

DS: That’s a great question, and if you asked everyone in the group, you would get a different answer.

TB: Now, you’re at SXSW, do you see this as an opportunity?

DS: Oh yeah, for sure. I seek out every opportunity, you know? We just came out with a record that I think is really great. And hopefully that means something, you know? So, if we don’t do everything that we can to get it somewhere, then, you know, shame on us.