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.
Music is life for Seth Lambert.
For the last 11 years, the Janesville man has been the driving force behind The Leptons, a local rock trio that also features McKenna Dodson and Justice Toberman. Along with its first release, “Hurricane Gospel,” the band last year dropped a second album, “Pseudonym,” that features songs Lambert penned.
“’Pseudonym’ comes from the nature of the project. I recorded all the instruments myself,” he explained. “It’s very much a reflection of me, and reflections are distorted versions ourselves. It’s not a perfect image of me; it’s an image of my id.”
Along with the album, The Leptons also released a music video for their first single, “Ballad of an Evil Twin,” and for“Extraordinary People,” which also features other local musicians performing in front of the city’s former General Motors plant as a tribute to the 10-year anniversary of its closure and as “a celebration of our city’s resilience.”
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lambert has lived most of his life in Janesville. The 2008 Parker grad’s family includes his wife, Danielle; their four children, Henry, Margaret, Daisy and Nora, and two dogs, Haiti and Digger.
The Leptons’ albums are available on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, Bandcamp and other streaming services, and Lambert also is known to hand out free, handmade CDs at performances. To learn more, search for “The Leptons” on Facebook.
1. According to your band’s Facebook page, your music is “for bitter, anxious weirdos.” What genre does that fall into? Everyone who is in music kind of bats around the same influences, and we end up getting subdivided into these ideological camps. If I say we’re punk, there are kids that will say we’re not hard enough. Garage rock bands tend to be a little more kitschy than we are. To me, it just seems like a good message to let people know if our music is for them. Anxiety is something I deal with daily, and I have a tendency to feel uneasy in a room full of people. And bitterness is a state none of us like to be in, but sometimes it takes a lot to get away from those feelings of cynicism and powerlessness. Our songs—we play them too fast. It’s confrontational, but I mean to take people on a trip with us. We’ve got a song that says, “You’re all extraordinary people, but you’re killing me.” It can be exhausting just to step away from the rat race, and if you want someone to commiserate with—someone who identifies with that—we might be the band for you.
2. When did you first become interested in music? My earliest music memory is when I found my dad’s Boston CD. I remember hearing “More Than A Feeling” and just being astounded by the sound of it. The vocal harmonies and the propulsive guitar riff transported me a million miles away. I remember somewhat timidly approaching my dad with the CD in hand and saying, “What is this? Can I keep it?”
3. What do you do for a living outside of music? I’m a computer programmer. I graduated from UW-Whitewater with a computer science degree. Engineering and programming specifically are creative disciplines. It’s about meeting requirements within limitation. In that way, it’s very similar to what I do musically. I have a tendency to be limited in my musicality, you could say.
4. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? We always wait to write the set list until about an hour before we go on stage. I usually drink a few cups of coffee. I’m very competitive when it comes to performing, and my anxiety level depends on the bands that play before us. For example, if we’re sharing the stage with The Red Flags on a particular night, I’m like a prisoner preparing for an execution. They bring it so intensely at every show, I just can’t compete.
5. Name a musical act you enjoy that might surprise fans of your music. I think people mistake us for lunatics a lot of the time because of the speed and the intensity we play with. They might be surprised to learn how much I love Lady Gaga. My 2-year-old daughter demands “Bad Romance” almost daily.
6. Do you understand music theory or do you perform by ear? I studied music theory in high school and college. I’m incredibly pretentious about it, as well, even though I’m a terrible piano player, and my grades were not exceptional. Eventually, I’d like to get a real music degree, but it’ll most likely be in my 70s. If I’m lucky enough to make it that far.
7. What are you most afraid of? Excluding anything excessively grim, I’m unreasonably afraid of misremembering someone’s name. There was a span of several years where I refused to say anyone else’s name because I fully believed I would blurt out the wrong one.
8. Name a skill you wish you had. I often oversell my skills as a carpenter. Growing up, we always had construction projects around the house, and my dad and I would build these complex models for school projects. In my adult life as a homeowner, it’s a lot of duct tape and quick fixes. I’d love to have skills to craft some ornate furniture or beautifully detailed pieces like you see in historic homes.
9. Most people are surprised to find out that I: Am a musician. I’m not especially outgoing in social interactions, and I’m not a flashy dresser. I don’t self-promote well, and I prefer to fade into a crowd. On top of that, people are sometimes shocked to hear my songs. I have a modesty in life that melts away when I’m in a performance. Once, while performing at The Looking Glass’ open mic, the emcee declared me a “punk rock dark horse” because my on-stage volume is nothing like my social voice.
10. Name a musical act today that is quite popular but doesn’t at all appeal to you. I’m not really into tearing down other people’s music, but I can say I just don’t get what’s going on with Greta Van Fleet. Some people are hailing them as rock ‘n’ saviors, but you’re not going to “save” rock music by reheating Zeppelin II in the microwave. They’re great musicians, but it’s just a tribute band.
11. Do you collect anything? I have a little collection of coffee mugs. My most recent addition is covered in Kurt Vonnegut quotes.
12. If you had to change your name, what would you change it to? Pete Christmas. It’s got a good ring to it. I picked it out a long time ago. I don’t even like the Christmas holiday; I just like the sound of it.
13. Name your favorite Muppet. I’m a Kermit fan. “Rainbow Connection” is a really moving song. I love the first Muppets movie. I think we have very few totally perfect things in the world, and that’s one of them.
14. What was the first concert you ever attended? My dad took me to a Cher concert during the “Believe” era. I remember the show was bombastic in a Cirque du Soleil style. It also was the first time I saw someone in drag, which was amazing.
15. What is your most prized possession? I’ve got a beautiful Fender Jazzmaster that was given to me by my mother-in-law, who passed away in 2016. She was a monumental figure in my life. She showed me how to truly care for your family, and how essential that is. That guitar was the last gift she gave me, and it is my most sacred possession. I play it daily and, in a lot of ways, my guitar playing is my true voice. In a fire, the first thing I’d do is save my family and my pets. The next thing I’d grab is that guitar.
16. How many instruments do you play? I played saxophone in school through my first year of college, but it never moved me when I played it. I idolized Clarence Clemons and jazzers such as (John) Coltrane and Ornette (Coleman), but the stuff they play in school isn’t like that. A lot of composers use saxophones tonally as filler, chordal tones. It’s an essential element, sure, but when you’re 16, you’d much rather learn to play “Jungleland” or “Tequila.” I sometimes sing well, must mostly not. The words and the feeling are always most important to me in the vocal delivery. My main instrument is guitar, preferably played through a fuzz pedal at high volumes. On the new record, I also play drums, bass, organ and harmonica ... all with varying degrees of tunefulness.
17. If you could perform in any venue in the world, which would you choose? It’s my dream to perform on “Saturday Night Live.” My family watches every episode together. My son’s favorite thing is when they introduce the cast members. He has all their names memorized. It would blow his mind to be there live.
18. Would you rather be a poor band playing the music you love, or a rich band playing what the record label tells you to? The Leptons is therapy for me. It will always be a platform for making exactly the music I want to make, regardless of any business interests. For something else though, I’d very happily gig with a professional band. To be able to make a living entertaining people with music would be an awesome achievement.
19. If it weren’t for music, how else would you express your creativity? I like to draw little cartoon characters. There’s a few I’ve created based on our songs. Sometimes I post them on social media. Recently I’ve been bouncing around ideas of different ways to feature them. Could be animation or a comic strip.
20. What is your ultimate goal as it pertains to music? I plan to write and play music until I die. The goal is to live a life that allows that to happen. Whether it’s to a huge audience or at home with my kids, I’ll never stop. Music is the only thing that I have in my life that could come close to being considered a religion. I think it’s the purest and most sacred human art, and it’s elemental in its beauty and grace. There’s very little chance I’ll ever get to call music my career. I don’t make money from my art now, and I probably never will, but creation is a reward in itself. Unfortunately, those that own the channels that funnel money and power to the smallest groups of people know artists feel this way. The “starving artist” cliche is one our society views as the norm. That probably won’t change in my lifetime.