Arts and Culture

6 Madison music acts to know

These local acts are taking the town by storm


Distant Cuzins

The high-energy pop-punk of Distant Cuzins, all four members of which are seniors at Oregon High School, got people thrashing on the dance floor at a recent show at The Frequency. 
 
Having played more than 100 shows in their five years together—including the Harley Davidson stage at Summerfest—they had no problem starting their set after 10 p.m. on a school night. 
 
“Whatever. It’s second semester, senior year,” drummer Ben Lokuta said with a smile and a shrug.
 
That means the Distant Cuzins—Lokuta, Sam Miess on lead guitar, Nic Tierman on lead vocals and bass and Nate Krause on rhythm guitar—will have to decide what will become of the band after graduation. Lokuta already knows he’s heading to McNally Smith School of Music on a scholarship.
 
At The Frequency show, the band played a song so new it didn’t have a name. “Let’s call it ‘Teenage Angst,’” Tierman says. And after singing another Cuzins original, “Sweet Sweet Special One (I Never Want to See You Again),” Miess told the audience, “What else am I going to write about? I’m in high school.”
 
That won’t be true for much longer. But these road dogs are too seasoned and have too much fun playing together not to figure out what will come next.
 
 

Late Harvest

Late Harvest started as an acoustic duo with vocalist Liz Fleig and guitarist Travis Ziegler. They named themselves after a type of riesling, a bottle of wine which they shared during an early song writing session.
 
“A lot of our songs still have an acoustic feel. We’re versatile like that,” says drummer Aidan Murphy, a business intelligence developer at Epic Systems. He said the band, which also includes Nathan Holmes on bass, can easily strip down its sound for coffeeshop gigs.
 
While Late Harvest has played its folksy indie rock at The Frequency a few times, the band has played Funk’s Pub in Fitchburg more often. They’ve also livened up a Madison Museum of Modern Art fund-raising event and the official opening of a Middleton apartment building.
 
“People want to know what we charge, and we just want to play,” says Ziegler.
 
Murphy quickly adds, “It would be nice to be paid enough and more regularly. We’re rehearsing after our 8- to 10-hour work days, after all.”
 
Fleig says the band would love to play the Memorial Union Terrace and the Majestic Theatre. They have booked  five shows the Capital Brewery beer garden in Middleton between May and September. 
 
 

Shawndell Marks

Shawndell Marks, 40, said her first regular gig was singing at the Wisconsin Opry in Baraboo at the age of 15. May to September, six nights a week, she sang Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton songs. Knowing that makes it all the sweeter when hearing Marks’ cover of Parton’s “Jolene” on her new album, “Broken Dam.” 
 
When she was still just 18, Marks joined her future husband’s cover band Thunder Road, and over the ensuing 11 years, the band opened for the likes of George Jones and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. She said she started seriously writing her own music at 23, which resulted in 2005’s “Remnants of Crazy,” an album she wrote to process her father’s tragic struggle with mental illness.
 
Since then, Marks has been content to play keys in several other bands, including cover bands of Fleetwood Mac and Alana Morrissette, and in the house band for the semiannual Chick Singer Night at The Brink Lounge. She has also worked with Girls Rock Camp Madison and Art in the Dark in Baraboo. 
 
Marks has a studio in Reedsburg where she gives voice and piano lessons and teaches songwriting. She has seven students ranging in age from 6 to 78.
 
More recently she has been out playing acoustic sets with two other women, Beth Kille and Jen Farley, as Gin, Chocolate and Bottle Rockets.
 
“I’m in a number of female groups. As a woman in music you have to have grit to deal with drunken men who want to carry your gear,” she says.
 
 

Gabe Burdulis

“I wanted to get out of the bar scene while I was still in high school,” says Madison-raised singer-songwriter Gabe Burdulis. That makes sense when you realize Burdulis was 14 when he started playing bars in town. “I pretty much had to beg my dad to let me stay up and take me because they wouldn’t let me in without a parent,” recalls Burdulis.
 
In 2012 and again in 2014—the year he graduated from Madison West High School—Burdulis won the Launchpad youth music competition. He has released three solo records and won multiple Madison Area Music Awards, too.
 
Burdulis, now 20, turned down a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston and instead moved to Nashville. Music school “wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says. “Rather than sit in a classroom and learn about how to do what I wanted to do, I thought I’d just do it and watch what happens.”
 
 

Sincere Life

Sincere Life, whose given name is Craig Smith, said he fell in love with creating his own music when, in eighth grade, he “sold” the first verse he wrote to a rapper friend for two Michael Jordan basketball cards. “That’s my fondest and first rap memory,” he says. 
 
Smith, 32, grew up in Chicago. He was still in middle school in 1996 when his father was killed in a car crash. Music helped him cope with the loss, but he didn’t get serious about creating his own until after he moved to Madison in 2004.
 
Sincere Life has since put out several albums’ worth of material, much of it on his own rap label ILL-NOIS Nation, which stands for “intelligent lyrical legends neglecting oppression and inspiring society.” He delivers smooth and fast, impossibly long lyrical flows. It’s aggressive and autobiographical rap, but ultimately communicates positive messages.
 


Lacouir Yancey

A dancer before he taught himself how to play bass, Lacouir Yancey is a founding member of the Black Poets Society—a popular Madison hip-hop group in the early 1990s.
 
BPS played at several long-gone Madison venues, recorded at Smart Studios and opened for big-name acts it admired, including De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Guru and Ben Harper.
 
“Live hip-hop was unusual in Madison,” says Yancey. “We had super eclectic crowds [but] with a high percentage being black.”
 
Yancey took a break from the band and hip-hop to study jazz, most notably under world-renowned bassist Richard Davis. Yancey continues to play bass regularly with blues musician Johnny Chimes at Louisianne’s Etc. Restaurant in Middleton. 
 
BPS has played two well-received reunion shows at the High Noon Saloon.
 
In the meantime, Yancey is juggling his massage therapy and personal training business, Y Massage in Fitchburg, while performing in Peggy Choy’s Dance Company, recently touring in New York City. Yancey, now 43, a fit and fluid dancer, starred in Choy’s documentary film “The Greatest: A Dance Tribute to Muhammad Ali,” shown on PBS stations last fall.
 
 

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