Music, like any art form, seems to follow a sort of pattern. Movements and genres ebb and flow.
The most groundbreaking art is a reaction. Sometimes artists react to something by moving against it – bucking trends and standing for what they believe in. Or they might choose to take what inspires them – and add their own spin – making it different and often better.
Oshkosh rock band The Traveling Suitcase is doing both. This trio of musicians is at the heart of a musical movement in the Fox Valley. Their sound is simultaneously steeped in tradition and unmistakably unique.
This band just might be able to ride a wave to some serious success. But they’ll need the support of music lovers like you.
Nicole Rae (drums and vocals), Bill Grasley (guitar) and Brandon Domer (bass and keyboards) are in the process of finishing their third album. They’ve been working on the project with Appleton’s Marc Golde of Rock Garden Studio – and are hoping fans new and old help them finish the job that started two years ago.
What’s The Traveling Suitcase All About?
At WhooNEW, we found out about The Traveling Suitcase when writer Zak Bruss saw them perform at the first-ever Mile of Music Festival in Appleton.
They were a local band that stood out – even among many nationally-recognizable independent acts. Zak wrote…
“For me, the biggest surprise was one that was right under my nose. The Traveling Suitcase was simply mesmerizing…I think it’s amazing that Mile of Music not only helped me discover artists from across the country, but also helped me find a gem right in my own backyard.”
- Check out 2013 Mile of Music – The College Ave Interviews for pics and videos
While The Traveling Suitcase was far from new to the local music scene, Mile of Music gave the group a remarkable platform. Nicole Rae says the band feels proud and privileged to be part of the festival.
“Everyone helped instill the success of the event, it’s still buzzing with energy as we embark into the second year already”, she says. “We are grateful to be at the helm alongside of (Cory) Chisel, the whole Mile of Music crew, and Golde has been recording me since I was 14. So he’s just fricken stuck with me”
She adds that it’s exciting and inspiring to see the eyes of people in the Fox Valley opening to different kinds of music.
The current success of The Traveling Suitcase didn’t come over night. There’s a long story behind the journey to becoming the three-piece rock outfit they are today.
Nicole Rae and Brandon Domer, who Rae describes as an “overall genius,” started making music together as teenagers.
“Domer was the first person I was ever in a band with,” Nicole says. “We met in high school jazz band and recorded in my parents’ basement almost every weekend until he graduated.”
After high school, Domer and Rae went their separate ways for a time, but reunited in 2010 to form their current band.
At first, the number of people involved in The Traveling Suitcase grew fairly large. There were as many as seven members at one point. But that was an important part of the band’s growth process.
Rae and Domer brought together their friends and favorite musicians for creative collaboration. Nicole says everyone was sharing what they had to offer as artists and performers.
Then – eventually things started falling into place and “transcended naturally,” as Nicole puts it.
“We fell into our destiny and instrumentation by surrendering to creating with so many people,” she explains. “As the final shift leaves us as a three-piece, we are more dynamically tight and full than ever. Less is more. In the beginning we were speed dating each other – now we are in a healthy, committed threesome relationship.”
Rounding out the threesome with Domer and Rae is guitarist Bill Grassley. He was first a fan of the band before joining, and later found out he’s also a third cousin to Nicole.
Nicole was originally playing guitar in a more typical lead role. But when the band’s drummer left town, she moved to the drum-set. That coincidental move may have been the most fortuitous of all.
3 Reasons Why The Traveling Suitcase Really Rocks
1. An Unconventional Look and Sound
When people talk about what it’s like to watch The Traveling Suitcase perform live, they’ll use words like “mesmerizing, energetic, passionate” and even “cinematic.” This band makes you feel something.
When you hear their original music, there’s no denying the fact that Domer, Grassley and Rae are a talented and tightly-knit group. But the thing that turns heads is a female lead singer playing drums at the same time. Nicole belts out the songs with intense emotion, banging her head between lyrics with a shock of blue hair whipping the air.
That’s also part of what makes it hard to turn away.
If you’re a musician – you realize how difficult performing in such a way is to pull off. Drummers have to keep multiple rhythms with all four limbs. Now imagine also singing the way Rae does.
Of course, this is no one-woman-show. Domer and Grassley complete a trio that provides ear-pleasing guitar riffs and driving bass lines.
2. A Respect for Real Rock Music
While the Traveling Suitcase defies tradition, they also draw from it.
The band says their influences include legendary acts like Led Zeppelin and The Doors. It’s also hard to experience Nicole’s gritty, bluesy vocals without thinking of notable female rockers – like Janis Joplin or Joan Jett.
What’s interesting about that is Northeast Wisconsin is a very Classic Rock kind of place. A quick flip through the radio dial is all you’ll need to realize that’s true. By blending those timeless sounds with their own style, The Traveling Suitcase is creating music people identify with – but it still sounds extremely fresh.
3. A Break from Wisconsin’s Current Music Stars
When you listen to The Traveling Suitcase play, you’re bound to say to yourself – “Now that’s rock and roll.”
But if you were to follow the paths of two of the most-successful recent recording artist from Wisconsin – the way of rock and roll might not be your first choice.
Appleton’s Cory Chisel and Eau Claire’s Justin Vernon of Bon Iver definitely lean more towards melancholy folk music side than straight up rock music. Some of the songs from the beginnings of The Traveling Suitcase had more of a folksy feel too… and it sounds amazing. (Check out the video below shot in Minocqua in 2010)
However, as they’ve emerged in the past few years, the band seems to have found a comfortable place in the arms of rock and roll. They’ve become an exciting complement to the musical talent pool Northeast Wisconsin has to offer.
It’s obvious the members of this group have the ability to take on just about any genre of music. Don’t forget – this all started in high school jazz band.
The New Traveling Suitcase Album & a Kickstarter Campaign
According to the band, songs on their upcoming untitled album “have endured member changes, re-instrumentation, and been stripped down to their bare bones to find their truest incarnations.”
That includes familiar tunes as well as new ones.
Now that The Traveling Suitcase has come into it’s own, fans can expect this project to reflect what the trio wants to be – at least what they want to be for now.
But what will it mean for fans of The Suitcase’s live shows?
We asked Nicole about the possibility that some of the energy and charisma could get lost in the recording process. She says fans shouldn’t expect to hear the same thing on the album as they do from the stage. But record producer Marc Golde worked with the band to make sure the passion still comes through. Nicole even pretended to drum when she laid down vocals.
“The recording process was really natural, we cut basic tracks live, and generally I like to rehearse without vocals to keep my throat and chords healthy,” Nicole says.
“Also everyone has opinions, it is a record not a live show. That is a pretty obvious difference in how the art is being made at the time of its creations. For me personally, to get the right deliverance of vocal tone and rhythm inflections, air drumming while I cut vocals went on.”
Now that the songs have all been written and recorded, Rae, Domer and Grassley are turning to their fans and music lovers everywhere to help them with the final push.
They launched a Kickstarter campaign asking for financial support, which will go toward mixing and mastering the album as well as CD and vinyl production. The so-called “Backers” can receive rewards/thank-you-gifts that range from a digital download of the album, to Nicole’s hand-painted drum-head, to a private acoustic performance from the band.
“I am very proud of our executions, and think for me that’s enough,” Nicole says of the nearly-finished product. “Our fans will decide the rest, and we try very hard to make them have a good experience.”
The Traveling Suitcase strives to be loyal to their fans, as well as to their hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Nicole says she and her band-mates are thankful for the support – and no matter where they may go next – they’ll always be home in the Fox Valley.
“Success is such a personal feeling, and varies within each being’s outlook,” she says.
“We plan to always tour, love for the road and playing shows is what’s its all about. At this point leaving our family and strong fan support would not be a logical move – musically or financially speaking. Any success we experience is a big reflection of who we are and who we are is where we are from. I love this city even if it isn’t perfect for us. Whatever is in store for our future is not clear, but we are so alive and grateful for the lessons inside our journey as friends and The Traveling Suitcase.”
Connect With the Traveling Suitcase Online
- Support the band’s Kickstarter Campaign
- Like The Traveling Suitcase on Facebook
- Check out their Bandcamp Page
- Watch More Videos on Brandon Domer’s YouTube Channel
Upcoming Traveling Suitcase Shows – Spring 2014
- 3/20 Reptile Palace in Oshkosh
- 3/22 Linneman’s in Milwaukee
- 4/12 The Up and Under in Milwaukee
- 4/16 331 Club in Minneapolis
- 4/18 Cranky Pat’s in Neenah
- 4/19 Linneman’s in Milwaukee (The Sleepwalkers Album Release)
- 4/25 The Hideout in Chicago (w/Mutts)
You can also catch Nicole Rae’s acoustic, solo show this Friday night (March 21) at The Chandelier Club in Appleton.
Featured Image: Courtesy Allison Lenz/Lumen Naturale Photography