Interview with Milwaukee-Based Band Alley Eyes

New+Milwaukee-based+band+Alley+Eyes+poses+for+their+Instagram+debut.+The+band+focuses+on+creating+a+Milwaukee-based+sound.+

New Milwaukee-based band Alley Eyes poses for their Instagram debut. The band focuses on creating a Milwaukee-based sound.

Last month, the MUR Music Department had the opportunity to chat with Colton Schroetter, Jake Grimes, and AJ Folino, all former MU students and members of Alley Eyes, a local Milwaukee band, about their music, their Marquette experience and everything in between. 

 

MUR: If you guys could all introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about your own background as well as your background as a band that would be awesome! 

Colton: Yeah! So, I’m Colton, I’m the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. I’ve been playing guitar since middle school and since elementary school, I’ve been singing in different choirs or school groups. I came up here to Marquette and met these guys, which is where we started. 

Jake: Yeah, so I’m Jake. I’m lead guitarist and background vocals. I do a little drumming here and there. I’ve been playing guitar for a long time, probably the same deal, middle school, and elementary school. I came to Marquette for engineering and did five years. [Colton and I] were both in a band previously at Marquette, The Red Doors, and that kind of morphed into what we do now. 

AJ: And I’m AJ. I play bass in the band. I didn’t start playing bass until after college, but I really fell in love with music, and now I hang out with these hooligans. 

Colton: And we are missing our drummer, Matt, today. He couldn’t make it. 

MUR: So, you all are Marquette grads. Is that how you all met, or how did this band form? 

Colton: Yeah, so Jake and I were in a band previously with our same drummer and a different bassist and guitarist. After we all graduated, I went back home for a while and our other bassist left. And then I came back last January and wanted to know if they had reconnected because we all met in engineering together. They needed a new bassist at the time and they found AJ because AJ was an Evans Scholar, and we played for a couple of their parties. 

Jake: I was thinking about it, I met Matt through Marquette Running Club my freshman year. I met Colton through living in O’Donnell together freshman year. I will never forget the things that I witnessed in O’Donnell. AJ, I was actually a physics discussion partner with my freshman year. So I’ve known everybody in the band for a long time, which is kind of cool to see how they drift in and out and have different roles. 

MUR: We know you touched on this a little bit, but we were curious how long you have been playing music and what got you into it. What influences the music that you do, and what artists really inspire you? 

AJ: It’s going to be different across the table. 

Jake: How long do you have? 

Colton: I started singing from a young age because both of my parents sang in choirs and my mom does musicals. And so, at a young age, I got really into singing. And then when I hit late elementary school and early middle school, I was very into pop-punk at the time, Green Day, those kinds of bands. And so I begged my parents to get me a guitar. They did, and it took me a while to get into it, but I’ve been playing since about sixth grade. The tastes have changed, definitely. I’d say a pretty wide palate of, like, classic rock, alt-rock, and rap influences. Yeah, I mean that’s me.  

Jake: Yeah, I’ve been playing guitar since probably fourth grade or something like that. I’ve been playing guitar a long time. But prior to picking it up, I spent time around a lot of my cousins who played in bands and wanted to be cool, looking up to them. And they all played, so it was always something I wanted to do. So, I kind of just started playing and did the whole lessons deal for grade school and middle school. And then in high school, I played around, not really in any bands, but I just jammed around. Coming up to college, I was in my first real band, first real gig experiences, those sorts of things. Music influences? Kind of a wide range. Classic rock, alt-rock, a little bit of country, and folk sort of stuff too. That’s it for me.  

AJ: Yeah, and I guess I’m a little different than those two. I graduated from Marquette and had some time to kill before I started my first job, so I was like, okay what’s one thing that I really love that I’ve never actually tried to do? And I was like, well I’ve never played an instrument or really gotten into music. I always grew up loving music. I was kind of a similar deal, big pop-punk, an emo kid growing up. My Chemical Romance, Agatha’s Kill, whatever. Those are my big things growing up. And then I got into playing bass, wanted to do something different than playing guitar, and I’ve been in love ever since. Music inspirations of late have probably been The Strokes and The Killers.  

MUR: Could you guys tell us a little bit about the name, Alley Eyes? Is there a story behind it? 

Colton: Yeah, so we’ve been trying for the longest time to find a new name because we started out calling ourselves The Red Doors when we were playing together in college, but we had enough new members that we wanted to call ourselves something new, distinguish ourselves. I had the idea of the name Alley Eyes. I didn’t intend it as a band name at first. We wanted to start writing and recording music because we had always been just a cover band up to this point, and I had the idea for the name Alley Eyes because I had the idea for a sort of horror movie/slasher theme style of music. So the image of eyes peering out at you from a dark alley, I thought it would just be the name for the album or project, but I told these guys and they both really liked the name. We all just sort of latched onto it and decided to make that the band name.  

AJ: I think Colton presented it on our front porch on a cold winter night and we were all standing there like, yeah let’s do that as a band. 

Jake: Well we were trying to do this for, like, a year. 

Colton: We’d spent so much time hating everybody else’s ideas. And this was the first one that we were like, we don’t hate that, let’s do it.  

MUR: I know you guys touched on how you used to be a cover band, and when you started producing your own music is when you changed the scene a little bit. What kind of music do you like to play? Do you have a lot of original releases right now, or what’s on the horizon for you guys? 

Colton: Yeah, so we still practice and have a collection of covers that we do, but the focus has been writing more for the past two to three months. So we have maybe two or three originals that are almost ready to put out there for everyone to listen, and then probably another six or seven that just need some more work before they’re ready for release. 

AJ: We’re trying to work in parallel, I guess. We have some recording stuff that we’ve been doing at home. We’ll probably put out some covers or maybe some bare-bones original demos here soon, but we’re trying to do some stuff the right way. Better than we can do in our room on a laptop.  

MUR: Do you guys think you will be collecting all those original songs and putting out an album anytime soon? 

Colton: Yeah, I mean soon is relative. We still definitely need time to fine-tune, and maybe raise money to go into an actual studio. But I think the hope is that in a year or so we’re going to have an album with original songs that we’re ready and happy with to put out.  

AJ: We have nine or ten really solid ideas. 

Colton: They just need more work.  

MUR: Obviously, there are upsides and downsides to quarantine, but we’ve heard a lot of artists say that it’s nice to have this time to devote to songwriting.  

Colton: Well, we’re very close with another band that’s on campus, Saving the Suburbs. We’re not talking to them constantly, but we’ll see them and play with them occasionally. And so, over quarantine, we went from hearing them covering other songs to getting to hear one or two of their originals. It was nice to know that we weren’t the only ones trying to take this time to just write since that’s all you can really do now. 

MUR: Do you guys have a songwriting process that you use when you’re working out new ideas? 

Colton: I think it’s happened a lot of different ways. There’s no one way. Sometimes it starts with someone coming up with a chord progression and bringing it to the rest of the band. I end up doing a lot of the lyric writing, and sometimes before I even have an idea for what it’s going to sound like I just have ideas for the words. It depends. Every time has been different.  

AJ: Colton will come with really strong lyric ideas, and maybe a riff or a melody idea, and Jake and I will kind of go from there.  

Jake: We kind of take it and make it a structured song, a full piece, and then turn it back to him. 

AJ: Like Colton said, too, there have been other ones written other ways. One of the first ones we wrote, Jake just came with a chord progression and we built it from there. We’ll just kick Colton and say, all right, on the spot, write some words.  

MUR: Well, we’re very excited to hear any new music that you guys will have coming out. We did listen to your original song, “Nothing At All,” that you played for the Interstate Music Contest back in January. Could you guys talk a little bit about the experience of participating in that contest? 

Colton: Yeah! AJ was the one who found it. It wasn’t a particularly widely advertised contest, but he let us know there was a big cash prize. And we’d been writing and practicing covers, but we had nothing to work towards because we didn’t know when we’d be able to perform live again. So this contest was great because it gave us something to work towards. So that’s when we really started getting equipment and starting to actually record performances. 

AJ: I just stumbled across it while trying to look at music gear at work. I think I texted the guys the link, like hey there’s this thing. And then Jake was like, we should do it. And I was like, no, you know what, I don’t want to do this, because at the time we didn’t have any of the gear to do it legitimately and do it the right way, in my opinion. We would have been recording on an iPhone, and I didn’t want to put anything out there if that was the case. But we had probably like two or three weeks before the submission came up, and it lit a fire under our ass.  

Colton: We spent all of the next three weeks practicing, buying all the right equipment. 

AJ: We had some good help. We had a friend from Marquette who majored in digital media. She filmed, and then she and I sat down and did all of the editings together, mostly her with me just giving direction. So we had some really great help from the people who support us as well.  

Jake: It was great for us. This competition had us at a level where we went out and did a band photo shoot, so there were a bunch of pictures and we were able to roll out social media and get that going. Then we could have a bunch of content for weekly posts and interviews with band members, and we got the logos were drawn up and everything else. Basically, this competition forced us to just do it. It finally forced us to put it all down and get it started.  

AJ: It made it all feel a little more legitimate. It’s like, oh, well we went from just playing in a basement to now we have a logo, we have a name, we have a video that’s out there.  

Colton: And sometime in the next two months we’ll actually be going to that company who ran the contest and doing a live stream with them. 

MUR: We were wondering, what was your live performance experience like prior to quarantine? 

Colton: I mean, when Jake and I were playing with the band when we were still attending Marquette we had played a couple of parties and really the place we would go back to was Murphy’s on campus. We ended up being the unofficial house band there for about a year. Every month or every other month for a while there. That was us. 

AJ: I only played two gigs back then. There was a giant transition period between what was originally The Red Doors, where I was like a sideline fanboy drinking at Murphy’s, watching them play. And then over a year or two, the band just shifted, and we played two shows with a different group of people. We’re still friends with all those people, but it just condensed down to us four.  

Colton: The last gig we did right before quarantine hit was that we played a show for a charity auction at the Public Market. 

MUR: Do you have any goals for venues that you would love to play at post-COVID? 

Colton: When things open back up, I think there’s going to be such a rush of people. We’ve been cooped up so long, you want to start going out, and I think there will be a big demand for live music. Take your pick of bars in Milwaukee that we could at least go to and ask if they would be interested. I know we all have that itch to play because it’s been so long, but a dream venue is probably The Rave, for me. There’s just such cool energy there. The crowds get really excited and really into it. That would probably be the first big, big stage we would ever play at. 

AJ: Turner Hall would be my pick. You can apply to play at Summerfest, so we’re going to try and do that too, but Summerfest got moved back to September, so we’ll see.  

Jake: Otherwise, I’d say the street festivals. Brady Street Days, I’ve always wanted to play Brady Street Days. The Summer Soulstice, that’s another big street festival you usually see bands playing. That’s something I would love to do.  

AJ: Chill on the Hill in Bayview, or something like that. There’s a ton of music opportunities in Milwaukee. The Marquette community is so far and away from the music scene, I feel like. By Brady Street and River West and Bayview, there are so many more venues and much more of a music scene over here. 

Colton: I know that the focus is writing and recording right now, but if there was just one week where everything was open again, I would be happy to do a show or two a week. 

MUR: Do you guys have a favorite memory from your time at Marquette, either as students or as a band? 

Colton: As a band, I can think of one funny one for us. When we were still the previous band, our senior year we played at the talent show, just a small, two-song set, and at one point I sort of got to run out into the audience because President Lovell was sitting front row. And so I just, like, made a point of going over and giving him a small high five and then struggling to run back on stage before I had to sing again. 

MUR: What was his reaction to that? 

Colton: I think he was a little shocked, but when we came on he could probably see my eyes locked on his. Like, he knew I was coming and I wanted the high five. So, a little surprised, but he seemed to take it well. He laughed. Everyone could see me making a beeline for him, so everyone knew it was coming.  

AJ: I lived in the Evans house, so my Marquette memories are probably just based around the pals I made from living there. I think the senior year we spent a lot of time at Murphy’s, so Murphy’s is a home away from home, I feel like.  

Colton: I guess another favorite memory would be when the Cubs won the World Series because we have such a huge Illinois population. I remember people just going crazy and dancing in the streets. And pretty much every professor I had was like, don’t worry about coming to class tomorrow, just have fun. 

MUR: Speaking of Marquette memories, do you have any advice for current Marquette students based on things you learned during your years here? 

Colton: I would say there’s almost sort of a feeling in the air when you hit your last semester. So, if you’re a senior, if you have the opportunity, this is all you’ve got now for the rest of your college career, so just make the most of it. Anything that you’ve wanted to do that you haven’t done yet, take a hold of it, do it, you know? Any classes you wanted to take or drop, any last new experiences you want. The last couple of months, you don’t gain anything by not going for it. 

Jake: I would say, along a similar line, really for anybody in college, everyone really tends to put their nose to the grindstone and really grind as far as doing all their work and all their classes and everything, but you’ve just got to also be aware to pick yourself up from that and really enjoy the atmosphere while you’re in there. Because this is the last time you’re going to be free to do all this stuff and be around so many people of your age group and similar interests. So, kind of what [Colton’s] saying, if you want to do something with people of a similar mindset, get it going while you’re there. It’s an awesome opportunity for that.  

AJ: I don’t want to beat a dead horse either, but I don’t know. I was pretty serious about the school side of things at school, and at the end of the day, no matter whether or not you have a 4.0 or a 2.0, as long as you graduate, the things you’re going to remember are not being in the library till 3 in the morning. What you’re going to remember is, like, those Thursday nights with your friends when you decided, hey let’s go to the bar and just sort of suffer through Friday classes versus going to bed early another night. Those are the things you’re going to remember, your experiences with your closest friends from college. For freshmen, high school is behind you, so take that opportunity in a new place, a new town, I guess to reinvent yourself if you want to.  

MUR: If you guys were all in a zombie apocalypse, who would die first, who would die last, and would any of you have specific roles? 

Colton: I think, he’s not here, but our drummer Matt would probably die first because he’s just too nice. He’s the nicest out of any of us. I don’t think he’d be ready to defend himself, necessarily. He would be the one to sacrifice himself for us.  

AJ: One of those two would survive the longest. At some point, I feel like I would just give up and be like, okay whatever.  

Colton: I would very much try. I don’t know if I would last the longest, but I think I’d have the most fun with it. Nothing else matters at that point so you might as well have fun, kill a couple of zombies, do all the crazy things you could never do if there wasn’t a zombie apocalypse going on. 

MUR: Do you guys have any guilty pleasures? Either music, food, TV shows, or anything else? 

Colton: Yeah, I mean, music-wise, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” is an absolute jam. If you’re sort of a rock band person saying that everyone would probably judge you, but I think that song rocks. Recently my girlfriend has gotten me into reality TV a little bit. It was something I hated before then, but now I love watching all these awful people say the funniest things I could ever imagine.  

MUR: Any particular show? 

Colton: Yes, it was Flavor of Love, which was Flavor Flav’s dating show. You know, he’s just such a weird dude, but it was amazing. I loved it.  

Jake: Guilty pleasure? A song off the top of my head that [Colton] showed me that I just haven’t been able to get over is Miley Cyrus’s cover of “Heart of Glass.” It’s on repeat. I want more of rock Miley, like big-time. The new album is good. Otherwise, my guilty pleasure is gardening. I’m a big gardening guy.  

AJ: So wholesome, right?  

MUR: Yeah, as far as guilty pleasures go, those aren’t very guilty.  

AJ: I think musically, my guilty pleasure, I definitely had a big phase in high school, and I think college, where I got really into, like, early 5SOS and early One Direction. I don’t dabble as much anymore as I used to, but I think I was definitely a Directioner at one point in my life.  

Colton: I don’t listen to them as a band, but all of their solo careers I have loved.  

AJ: Big Harry Styles and Zayn fans. 

MUR: Just to wrap up, as listeners and supporters of music, what can we do to support you guys and grow your platform? 

Colton: I mean, I don’t want to tell anyone to do anything if they don’t genuinely like us, but any sharing of our content, even if it’s not putting it on social media, but just playing us when you’re hanging out with friends so people might happen to say, oh this is okay, who is this? Who are they?  

AJ: I think we’re at such an early stage that for supporting us, social media is our only real thing that’s out there right now. 

Jake: Yeah, boost the Instagram following. We’re trying to put stuff out on there, like, twice a week. 

Colton: Once things are finally opened back up, if ever, absolutely come and see us! 

 

This story was written by Grace Flynn and she can be reached at grace.a.flynn@marquette.edu.