20Q: Catching up with singer Joel Brockwell


Anthony Wahl

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Joel Brockwell

Brockwell is frontman for the Switch Track Alley band, a local group that plays everything from Southern rock to rhythm and blues. Before that, he played on and off for the country band The Blue Country. His foray into music began at age 13 as a member of The Shadows of Doubt.

Brockwell also performed as part of The Café Society Band, a group that also featured Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra music director Rob Tomaro. It opened for The Beach Boys in both 2008 and 2009 at Beloit Riverfest.

Today, Brockwell has teamed with drummer Eric Wirth, guitarists Tom Carlson and Alan David and bass player Matt Tedesco.

Brockwell has four kids: Amber, Heather, Haley and Collin, the last of whom is a singer and songwriter himself who has produced four of his own CDs. Brockwell also has nine grandchildren.

For more information about Switch Track Alley and its performance schedule, visit the band's Facebook page. For booking, call Brockwell at 608-921-1676 or email joel.brockwell@gmail.com.

1. Have you had any “formal” music training? No, I just picked up the guitar when I was 8 or 9. I never was a great guitarist, but I learned to play because I really liked singing.

2. If you could tour with any band, which would it be? I don't think I could choose a specific band, but it would be something soulful. Country is what I feel I'm best suited to vocally, but anything soulful works for me, too.

3. Share something musicians go through that most people wouldn't understand. There are many types of hardships musicians go through, but one I can relate to is that it's very hard on family life. Most musicians have regular jobs and then play on the side. Obviously, recording artists don't have the same problem, but I'm sure it's still relatable.

4. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were young? Country music was all I heard growing up. My first band, The Shadows of Doubt, was primarily a '60s rock band. My mother loved any music I played but would always say, “You should play country.”

5. Do you have any superstitions? Not in the traditional sense, but I do have a weird thought process at times.

6. How long has the band been together? This particular group has been together roughly five months. Eric Wirth, Tom Carlson and myself are the three original members, and we have been together about 18 months. We went through four bass players and four guitar players in that time span. With the addition of Alan David and Matt Tedesco, we now feel we have the mix we were trying to find.

7. Anything big on the horizon for Switch Track Alley? We are continuing to build a following since we finally have a group of great people and musicians. We want to play some big festivals, and we are now booking in the Rockford, Illinois, market. This is new territory for us. One goal we have talked about is playing the House of Blues in Chicago.

8. What's the strangest thing you've ever had happen on stage? There have been a few. I've seen everything from former band members almost getting into a fist fight during a performance to—my personal favorite—seeing a woman come on stage and expose herself.

9. In your opinion, what is the most underrated/overrated band of all time? For underrated, I would say Storyville—a band I knew nothing about until our drummer got me acquainted with them. For overrated, and I'm probably going to tick some people off with this, I'd say KISS. They put on a great show and have some great marketing but, personally, I never had any interest in seeing them. I have a tough time listening to even one of their songs all the way through. But that's just me, and I think we can all learn a lot from what they did.

10. What should the former GM plant be used for? Anything that will bring more jobs to the area. Lots of people could sure use the work and the income.

11. I hate to admit it, but I actually enjoy the music of: That's a trick question for me. If I enjoy someone's music, I'd never hate to admit it

12. If a presidential candidate asked to use one of your original songs during his or her campaign, would you let him or her, or would you consider that selling out? If anyone running for president wanted to use one of my songs, I would need to support that candidate. It's a good thing they didn't ask for one of my songs in this election because none of my songs are bad enough to be associated with this year's election.

13. What song/band could you go your entire life without ever hearing again? “American Pie” by Don McLean, although it represents music history with the losses of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. It's not my kind of song to listen to for 8½ minutes. I don't want to name any more bands I don't care for. KISS already hates me.

14. What's the best thing about being in the music business? I finally have time to enjoy one of my greatest passions in life. Over the years, working every day and raising a family made it difficult to enjoy the time I had to try and play music. At one point, I was struck with depression, and the majority of it was caused by not being able to express myself. I think I'm better now, but I'm sure some of my bandmates would have other opinions.

15. People assume the life of a musician is a non-stop party. Is that true? Most people don't understand what goes into being a good band. All they see is the time every musician lives for—the time between set-up and tear down. There are endless hours of rehearsal and lots of going out to promote, book shows and sell merchandise. Most musicians have trouble sleeping after a gig because the brain doesn't want to shut down because you're still full of adrenaline. There's actually more work than actual fun in performing.

16. After equipment and payroll, what is Switch Track Alley's greatest expense? Probably the sound people we hire. We did our own sound and lights for a while, but it was too much along with everything else involved, and it took the fun out of (performing). We made a little more money per guy, but it wasn't worth it.

17. Bands tend to get off work pretty late. Would you be more likely to head to the bar, head out for breakfast or head back home to sleep? We might have a drink when we finish a show because we don't drink much while performing. We all take the music more seriously than that. Sometimes we go and eat breakfast, but more often than not, we finish the gig and go home.

18. Besides playing music, what do you do for fun? I ride my Harley when the weather is good and play golf. I like to have family and friends over and cook for them. Life, for me, is all about the people you share it with. Without that, there just isn't much to it.

19. Do you believe in karma? I actually do. What goes around comes around. Grand Funk Railroad had a portion of a song (“I Can Feel Him in the Morning”) that said, “If you are good, you will live forever. If you are bad, you die when you die.” To me, that's karma.

20. Name the one thing you couldn't live without. Love. Without it, what's the point?

Know someone involved in the local arts/entertainment community you think would be a great subject for 20Q? Email kicks Editor Greg Little at glittle@gazettextra.com.

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