The rockstar lifestyle sometimes looks like five young Wisconsinites, bundled in blankets on an L-shaped couch, and bassist Raina Bock placing her pot of miso soup in rotation to cut the edge off a frostbitten Sunday morning. The soup’s complimented by a little weed, some wool and plenty of weariness on their faces.
The soup’s complimented by a little weed, some wool and plenty of weariness on their faces. The members of Disq were in London under 48 hours ago; it was everyone’s first time overseas, and no one knew Abbey Road was a functional road until their arrival. Nevertheless, lead guitarist/vocalist Isaac deBroux-Slone went barefoot for accuracy in the group’s reenactment of the infamous Beatles snapshot. He’s wearing a t-shirt from the Abbey Road gift shop as we speak.
In that same gift shop, a full-circle moment: Isaac spotted the D19 microphone used in many Beatles recordings, as noted in a Disq signature record of the same name. Thankfully, a strongly-worded eBay message earned a young Issac his money back from the Englishman who sold him the dysfunctional D19 many years ago. Of the two sold-out London showcases Disq played, no one could confirm the eBay Englishman’s presence at either… just a bushel of stiff industry people one night, and an enthusiastic crowd for the other.
As they recall, the brief EU romp wasn’t all beans-on-toast and tourist traps. Isaac temporarily got lost in an Icelandic airport. The whole band took Xanax to sleep through a flight, uninspired by Drake a la “SICKO MODE.” They even smoked weed out of a breadstick with their A&R. This is the life of Disq: a Wisconsin-bred five-piece, commonly referred to as a buzz band in digital media indie rock parlance.
Logan Severson: I feel like [success] only occasionally crosses over into tangibility when you can see the results of things.
Isaac deBroux-Slone: We’re on Fresh Finds this week. That felt...pretty buzzy.
Raina Bock: That felt like a Buzz Band move.
Shannon Connor: Yeah, definitely. We’re making more Buzz Band moves. We’re dialing it in!
In the taxonomy of guitar music, the buzz band position marks an ascension point from relative obscurity to rapid visibility, often catalyzed by a storm of breakout records, frequent touring with bigger artists, and industry attention. From a bird’s eye view, Disq is poised to become the next Madison-tied band to catch their moment in a new wave of Wisconsin-based indie rock breakthroughs. Trajectory aside, the expectations remain in their hands alone, and the buzz band reality is a construct as tired as guitarist Shannon Connor looks in his pajamas under a warm weighted blanket.
Disq began as a high school two-piece between Isaac and Raina, friends since toddlers and musical since youth. After an adolescence rife with experimentation and running the local gamut, they released 2016’s Disq I, laying a blistering blueprint for their shapeshifting rock that’s driving and direct, yet sweet around the edges. This undoubtable potential led to Isaac and Raina swerving an album deal gone wrong, returning to their DIY ethos, and expanding into five members, adding guitarist Logan Severson, drummer Brendan Manley, and guitarist Shannon Connor. With a cast of young veterans of the Madison indie rock scene — a wide scope of bands and personal projects between them — and the backing of esteemed rock label Saddle Creek, Disq is on the verge of releasing their industry debut Collector: a lean 10-track that plays like the ceaseless inner monologue of a young adult growing in the Internet age. Every anxiety is amplified, every misfortune elevated to the dramatic. A sentence from months ago can embarrass you today, but thankfully, you’re not who you were two years ago.
“I think less so in terms of music, but just on a personal level, I think we’re definitely obsessed with nostalgia right now,” Severson says. “I think people are always obsessed with it: it’s warm, it’s comfortable, but it’s not reality. It’s looking back at things with a rose-colored lens, and I think it’s more important to be in the present.”
Collector revels in nostalgia by paying tribute to the ugly realities of yesteryear, without the sepia glow solely outlining one’s happiness. While the group jokingly likens its arc to the decade-spanning Linklater drama Boyhood, they pulled from several years of demos and ideas to give the album its memory lane backbone. There’s an inviting intimacy to anyone who’s gone through the proverbial It, even as the music often feels like the listener’s playing spectator to a series of spiraling moments and heavy recoveries. Power pop can easily swan dive into pop-punk, then back into psychedelic, every moment brimming with excitement so you can never turn away from the wreckage in the distance.
On the contrary, Collector was tracked during two weeks of rock and dissociation in Los Angeles with producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith, The Vines, Foo Fighters) behind the boards. Sessions often went “from noon to infinity,” their downtime spent in search of dollar tacos and playing Knockout Kings on N64 over Modelos on the back patio. This marked another first time in the name of Disq: managing the newfound pressure of meeting their own expectations, bundled with having a famous producer at the helm, and a supportive label spend growing amounts of money and time to ensure their success. And with a crew of young folks with their music journeys inextricably linked to Internet access — and all the communities, or lack thereof, found within — they’ve had to traverse the inevitable melding of personal and political brand as their careers reach an incline. All the while, they know they’re not invincible from the merciless grind of the hype machine.
“Back on the buzz band tip, that’s probably the absolute worst thing that comes outta the Internet music listening culture: people labeling bands as buzz bands, and discarding them,” Connor says. “And I’ve definitely seen that happen: being a fucking nerd reading Stereogum and Pitchfork way back, I can remember all these bands that got hyped up and just trashed a year later. That has a lot to do with how disposable culture is in general now, with cheap thrills. It’s fuckin’ lame.”
For all their songs often spanning over the four-minute mark, Collector rewards its listener by packing painstaking details into scintillating moments that greet whomever allows them to be unveiled. It swerves the notion of brevity as normalcy, favoring slow-cooked anthems that’d pack an arena of strangers as easily as it would an earbud. Such versatility enables Disq to tuck their worst fears in plain sight: “Daily Routine,” the first single and album opener, begins as a pendulum swing between the necessity and monotony of basic survival skills, and has one singing about suicidal ideation, without breaking the melody as an audible trainwreck approaches. “Loneliness” functions on a similar level, forecasting dread in the wake of a broken connection, but offering its namesake as an inevitability that likely sounds sweeter than it feels. Is loneliness a joyful relief or just another terrible mistake? The list continues: sleeping until darkness on an empty stomach, hoarding memories like useless souvenirs, the song “I Wanna Die” about just that, and more.
With every pretty melody and painful chant, Disq operates via sleight of hand by default; by opening their wounds on tempo, our commiseration soothes over, enabling the healing potential of such vulnerability. It’s a big job with bigger risks, considering many of the band members battle with depression and anxiety on a regular basis. These songs are documents of self, the album a proof of concept for people in progress.
“For me, writing’s definitely a big coping mechanism,” deBroux-Slone says. “And I was kinda feeling like… I would probably feel a lot better if I had the strength to say what I’m thinking about to a group of strangers, or whoever’s listening to it on the Internet. I think that makes it a lot better for me: acknowledging it and bringing it into the real world more. It’s kinda just like talking about it with somebody, even though [it’s different.]”
But none of this (and no one in Disq) would function without the right sense of humor to smoothen the seriousness. In Collector’s cover art, some bandmates are holding rye crackers in their mouths to feed deer in the Wisconsin Dells. Any random deep-dive conversation consists of jokes bordering the oddest niches of music fandom and pop culture overload, often spilling into their digital presence. At press time, @newphonewhodisq posted a Mannequin Challenge video — in the year 2020 — to commemorate a recent Vans sponsorship. Playing out, said humor only translates in subtle onstage quips and near-deadpan banter that cuts through the thick of a live environment with an awkward charm that’s quickly offset by the five’s immutable skill. They stand like superheroes from the farmlands and cul-de-sacs of Midwestern lore, maximizing feelings with the sound barrier under siege.
I once wrote that Disq sounds like the kind of band that makes me feel “how washed-up Aerosmith heads feel on some ‘REAL ROCK ‘N’ ROLL’ shit!” This still rings true, minus the archaic obsession with rockstar virtues that’ve long departed from guitar music. One glance at the landscape only confirms how there’s minimal (dare i say marginal) subversion occurring in the realm of white rock bands. Disq — a white rock band — reassures me they’re just as bored with it, and have played with bands just boring enough to fit the profile. Rest assured, they’re more dedicated to the innovation of the craft than the bygone appeal of being popular assholes.
Collector sounds this way: vicious with intention, seeking truth at lightspeed.
Disq records are the patchwork of college dropouts and never-attendees, shitposting through breakdowns and working dead-end jobs between the tours. They eat brunch on Sundays, fall into YouTube holes, and post silliness all in the name of good content. On their best days, they’re sharing the cringe of living until it’s more bearable. On their worst, they may manage to do it anyway. These kids are the kids from your high school: the ones in the band tees, fuming in uncertainty, dreaming of meaning enough to someone the way they’ve learned to mean the most to each other.
Disq is a labor of love, overdriven for adrift citizens of a fucked-up world.
Shannon Connor: The bond in this band definitely keeps me going. As someone who has self-destructive and isolative tendencies, having this as a guaranteed something to look forward to — and being in a group of people — is a good security blanket. It’s really something I value.
Raina Bock: It was definitely something for me to come to terms with this year: these are gonna be my important interpersonal relationships in my life. Because I’ve definitely had a lot of moments of freaking out ‘cause I’ve felt like “Oh, I feel like I’m never gonna be able to have a family, or a serious relationship ,‘cause we’re gonna have to be touring all the time to support ourselves.” [I’ve been] realizing that, and being okay with that.
Logan Severson: I’ve said it before, but I’ve never really felt something click in my life in the same way as this five becoming a band together. When we first really went hard at Raina’s house — collective laughter — [doing] that big practice marathon in Viroqua, things have clicked. And ever since then, I feel like we’ve been on the path.
Photos by Bryan Iglesias
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.