The six-piece instrumental band and electronic musician John Kruse upend their compositional process.
Photo: Lovely Socialite’s members, from left to right: Patrick Reinholz, Abe Sorber, Corey Murphy, Ben Willis, Mike Koszewski, and Brian Grimm.
There is much about the music of Lovely Socialite that invites the listener to pick it apart and ponder its inner workings. The band’s six members—spread across Madison, Milwaukee, and Detroit—draw on elements of jazz, modern classical music, rock, hip-hop, and the avant-garde to create instrumentals that bubble with mischief and graceful complexity. The band’s configuration isn’t quite standard for any kind of music: Corey Murphy’s effects-enhanced trombone, cellists Patrick Reinholz and Brian Grimm’s tendency to switch to other stringed instruments (including tenor guitar and a Chinese lute called the pipa), Ben Willis’ array of approaches to electric and acoustic bass, drummer Mike Koszewski’s grasp of rhythms from across the jazz and classical worlds, and vibraphone/keyboard player Abe Sorber’s nimble shadings. (Sorber has occasionally written about jazz for Tone Madison.) Like clever kids with a watch, Lovely Socialite and electronic musician John Kruse were inevitably tempted to open it up and rearrange the components.
Lovely Socialite’s recently released Quarantine Loops EP, the volume first in a planned series, takes its title not from any overt theme dealing with the pandemic, but from the band’s response to simple necessity. Because the band is largely cut off from the chance to workshop music in person, Murphy suggested that everyone agree on a prompt—the A minor pentatonic scale—and create loops based on it. They amassed hours’ worth of recordings in a shared folder.
“We tried to think outside of the box in terms of what we could and couldn’t do during this pandemic and what we came up with was a way that we could still ‘improvise’ with one another from afar,” Murphy says. “Since conversation is such an integral part to that type of performance, it was a fun experiment to see what would happen if we weren’t in the same room when we wrote and recorded each of our parts.”
The language of electronic production became part of the writing process, which isn’t how the band has worked in the past. Usually, a Lovely Socialite piece balances intricate, through-composed passages with bursts of unruly improvisation.
“I’ve always loved the workshop mentality of this group, which naturally grew out of us studying music together,” Willis says. “While it’s been a laboratory space, there has also been a sense of writing things for the voices and personalities of the band. So in composing for the group, we try to pull our favorite things out of each other’s playing. Hearing these loop pieces come together, it feels like a reverse-engineered version of that… It gives us a kind of game to play together.”
They also shared the loops with longtime friend and collaborator Kruse. In addition to his solo work under the name John Praw, Kruse also plays with Reinholz in the ambient duo Nude Human, played with Murphy in the Madison band Pushmi-Pullyu, and put out several Lovely Socialite releases on his Mine All Mine Records label. Once he got ahold of the Quarantine Loops source material, Kruse began playing with the stems and ended up contributing to the production of the EP. “Sometimes they let their guard down, and I’m able to weasel my way in on the fun,” Kruse says of the band.
The fun, on most Lovely Socialite releases, is sprawling and layered. On a track like “There’s The One-Armer Now!” from the 2015 album Toxic Consonance, the band builds up momentum through a series of winding passages, giving listeners some clear melodic themes to hang onto but modifying or upending those themes at a moment’s notice. Even when the band embraced a bit more of the immediacy of rock on its last release, 2017’s DoubleShark EP, it packed in plenty of tension and disorienting twists. The four pieces on Quarantine Loops get to breathe and evolve, just within far more compact structures.
“Our studio records have always involved a process of someone from the band individually writing a piece of music and bringing it to the group,” Grimm says. “Sometimes we workshop those compositions as a band before it takes its final form. Other times, the piece is fully worked out in such a way that all we need to do is enhance its sounds and make it ‘sound like us’—just to give it the ‘Lovely Socialite’ personality and aesthetic. But here we are giving up any sense of there being one, singular composer behind any of the pieces, and taking a more democratic approach.”
When you start with loops, you double down on the repetition that’s already inherent to most music. So many of the sounds are familiar—spacious trombone phrases, the shredded growl of distorted electric bass, the radiant but brittle trilling of the pipa. The way the sounds hang together, though, makes us hear Lovely Socialite from a different angle.
Lovely Socialite and Kruse do a lot more here than simply stack repeating phrases on top of each other. There’s enough arranging going on here, and enough source material to choose from, to create a lively sense of interplay among the different parts, even if they weren’t necessarily created in direct response to one another. The Reinholz-produced “My Soup Shoes,” the EP’s closer and its longest track at 3:41, brings tenor guitar and pipa into a prickly back-and-forth, which pulls back to make way for a quieter but still ominous vibraphone loop. On “Pockets #1,” producer Murphy swirls together multiple cello and bass phrases into a conversation between somberness and urgency.
“As I was working on some loops, I wasn’t thinking about part writing in a traditional sense, but more, ‘What could somebody else make with this?'” Reinholz says. “I attempted to make each of the ‘basics’ when it comes to production, some pads, some lead lines. Not taking up too much space, knowing that there are going to be a whole bunch more sounds eventually. ”
Even working within the bounds of loop-based composition, Lovely Socialite’s rhythm’s feel human and flexible. On “MOUTH TIME (John Praw Mix),” Praw harnesses off-kilter stutters from Koszewski’s drum kit, then slides into eerily floating passages that have more in common with Praw’s ambient work. “There’s always some sort of signature ‘John Praw’ quirk that gets added in as a finishing touch,” Murphy says. “Oftentimes, it’s some kind of unexpected tempo manipulation or layered offset percussion samples thrown in.”
“I really enjoyed the change-up in what I was trying to do as an individual contributor in recording my loops,” Koszewski says. “In normal performance, the task is to create one long statement, with all the inconsistencies and complexities you care to throw in—you are in control and immediately imprinted onto the piece. In these loops, the goal was completely different: provide a varied bag of musical nuggets and make each one tasteful in its own little isolated world….and make sure each one is accessible and usable for the arranger. ”
Lovely Socialite and Kruse are already planning future Quarantine Loops recordings, each of which will use loops based on different key signatures or rhythmic constraints. There is also another Lovely Socialite album coming—Reinholz says is “98 percent done”—but for now this new approach is helping the collaborators cope with the displacement and creative exhaustion just about everyone is feeling these days. Kruse notes that working on Quarantine Loops helped push him out of a rut, inspiring him to start work on new solo recordings.
“I am excited by this project, because in establishing this workflow, we have a pretty cool way to stay productive and make things, come what may,” Willis says. “Maybe [this is] kinda bleak, but I feel like I’m stockpiling skills and workflows in my bunker for some dark years ahead.”
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