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.
Jonah Wilson plays drums for The Red Flags, a Rock County-based, three-piece garage/basement rock band best known for its high-energy sound and rowdy live performances.
Along with bassist Ally Borchardt and guitarist/vocalist Gabe Wilson, who doubles as Jonah’s brother, the band has performed at stages throughout Janesville and Madison. It also maintains a standing gig as host for Open Mic Thursdays at The Back Bar, 1901 Beloit Ave., Janesville.
When they’re not on stage, Borchardt, a Waukesha native, works as a barista/haunted house staffer. Gabe Wilson, a Janesville Parker grad, is a proud Jimmy John’s associate, and Jonah, a Craig High alum, is a senior care provider. The three recognize becoming rock superstars might not be in the cards long term, but having their voices heard is enough to keep them motivated, for now.
“Independent musicians have to sacrifice hobbies and time with loved ones a lot more than the average occupation to maintain success,” Jonah Wilson said. “The easy part is the music. The difficult part is labeling it beyond a hobby and calling it a living.”
For more about The Red Flags and their latest release, visit TheRedFlags Music.com or search for “The Red Flags” on Facebook.
1. You started your band with your brother, Gabe. Have the two of you always been on the same page musically, or have your styles grown together over the years? Getting this out of the way: Gabe is a musician through and through. I’m a little less in touch with music and do things more for the sake of entertainment. We enjoy the same music but, to this day, we always have differences on how we want to get things done in a song. I think us growing apart in certain aspects of writing style spices things up.
2. Where did the name “The Red Flags” come from? The name is linked to our outlandish and unusually energetic live performances. Gabe (guitar and vocals) moves around like a maniac onstage, and we all wonder how he doesn’t collapse or puke mid-set. He just keeps moving, and the crowd is always a mix of freaked out and amazed.
3. What do you do for a living when you’re not busy being a rock star? I work as a caregiver for adults with developmental disabilities. I have a blast at my job every day! But as much as I love my job, the goal is to one day take on the career of a full-time musician, no matter how difficult it gets. And believe me, it is difficult.
4. In 2015, The Red Flags won the Janesville Rec Department’s Battle of the Bands competition. How has the band evolved in the past three years? We are no longer nervous wrecks before live performances. Speaking for myself and not Gabe, I could barely breathe before that show. It had been the second show we had ever done. We’ve also acquired a fabulous bass player named Ally Borchardt who contributes so much to the music and writing process.
5. Name some of the musical acts that have influenced The Red Flags’ style? “Rage Against The Machine” comes directly from me. I listened to them as a kid, watched their live performances online and just bowed to them. Gabe is a massive Jack White fan. We listen to tons of music, but I’d say Ally has the widest taste ranging from old and modern rap such as Webster-X all the way to mainstream metal like Korn.
6. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? Well, Gabe usually forgets something at home, and I give him a lot of crap. Ally usually holds my hair back as I vomit and reassures me I’ll be OK. I also like ties. I prefer to wear a tie.
7. Do you remember the first music album/CD you ever purchased yourself? I got a copy of “Good News For People Who Love Bad News” by the group Modest Mouse, and that album is so phenomenal. I remember hearing the first track and the emotion put into it. That album has been there for me through the good times and the bad. I highly recommend it to everyone.
8. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were a child? Did it influence your future tastes? Gabe and I have been listening to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Rush since we were babies. That’s what our father loves. Our mother likes a bit of everything, but I acquired a love for Elton John and Bob Seger because of her.
9. Which of your songs is your favorite to perform? Our original, “Basement Nasty,” is very special in many ways. Ally has a beautiful voice with some phenomenal backup vocals. Gabe has incredible delivery and lyrics written in. It also goes over so well live with our fans.
10. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I was good at curling. I often practice in my kitchen with my Swiffer wet jet.
11. What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done? It’s a toss-up between getting pepper sprayed by my older brother and doing a back flip off of a boat. (The backflipping off of the boat wasn’t dangerous until I smacked my head on the boat.) Oh yeah ... my brothers and I used to go off of ramps in wheelchairs, too, and have bottle rocket battles on the Fourth of July. Anything that occurs on the Fourth of July is pretty much in the running for most dangerous things.
12. If I could only eat one meal for every meal every day, it would be: Chicken. If there were no chickens, I’d be a lot scrawnier than I already am. At the same time, eating only chicken might one day turn into a sad story because pizza is pretty off the hook, as well.
13. When you’re not playing music, what hobbies do you have? We enjoy building furniture in our garage. It’s never the highest quality, but it saves us a lot of money in the long run. My brothers, Sam and Gabe, just built a Batman-themed TV stand, and I have aspirations of making a coat/hat rack in the very near future.
14. Do you collect anything? Cheeseburger wrappers. I keep them in my car. I also have a sticker collection of local bands on the back of my car that is getting very respectable. Supporting the local music scene in any way possible is essential.
15. Name the one item you own that you could not live without? Me, personally, it would be my snare drum. I got a phenomenal deal on it, and it makes one of the prettiest sounds I’ve ever heard. A close second would be my car, even though it’s usually a jerk.
16. If you could witness any event past, present or future, what would it be? I think being in the disco era would be interesting, just to see exactly why and how people moved around to that stuff. Also the clothes from that era. I really wished we all still dressed like disco dancers.
17. When cheese has its picture taken, what does it say? I’ve had very deep connections with cheese. As a cheese man, I know for a fact it would be the nonconforming member of the picture and not say anything. I think cheese would be one of those guys that doesn’t even smile in pictures. Cheese is very anti-establishment. Don’t let it fool you.
18. Without looking in the dictionary, what would you guess “xerasia” is? It sounds like it has an endless list of side effects. Like you should consult with your doctor before taking xerasia. (Xerasia is excessive dryness of the hair).
19. Who writes the songs for The Red Flags, and what inspires the music? Gabe is an avid songwriter, and he handles the majority of the lyrics and song parts. He presents those parts to Ally and I, and we all structure and piece together said parts. If Ally or I have lyric/vocal ideas, we present them. After that comes Gabe’s lyrics. Many of them are out of humor, and a lot of them are about past experiences. He also has a lot of songs that show his perspective on society. Gabe has a lot to say, and hearing his views through the music we do is genuine and gratifying. It wouldn’t be the art that it is without Gabe’s opinions, views, positivity and humor. The biggest component, though, is the fans’ reaction to our music. The more a crowd reacts to a song, the more we practice it. We have our fans to thank for all of our success. They’re our biggest source of inspiration, hands down.
20. The Red Flags started out as a duo, but you later added a bassist. What does having a third member allow the band to do musically that it couldn’t before? Obviously, the bass is an essential part to most rock groups, but our particular bass player is one in a million. Ally has been playing music all of her life. She’s been consistently performing on stages since she turned 13, and that’s more experience than Gabe and I combined. She writes tons of music for her other project, Emerald Phantoms, so she’s no stranger to songwriting. Along with great bass work, Ally also has lyric ideas, studio efficiency and an amazing voice. She instantly became a great friend and a vital part of our operation. We owe a lot to her.