City Sounds: Union Pulse beating the drum for no-frills rock

By Michael Swanger

The landscape of rock music today is so convoluted you need an ethnomusicologist's degree to navigate it - unless you're describing Union Pulse.

Though they cite early '90s alternative rock bands like the Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum and Live as primary influences, Union Pulse's straight-ahead rock has a timeless quality to it that prevents it from fitting neatly into one of rock's many subgenres. Lead singer, guitarist and songwriter James Redding says he doesn't think about what style of music he plays when he writes songs. Instead, he lets the music serve the song, which is why his trio is adept at performing acoustic folk-rock as well as balls-to-the-wall electric shows.

"The important thing is to get the message out," he says. "I thought about being a teacher or even going into the priesthood, but I think the best way is being a musician."

The 23-year-old Redding, however, says sharing his message is becoming more difficult to do in the band's hometown of Milwaukee, Wis., where he says audiences don't embrace original rock music liked they used to do. He says cover bands and touring groups have hijacked the city's live music scene, forcing local original bands like his to hit the road in search of appreciative venues and fans.

"Milwaukee doesn't like original music so we try to take our wares elsewhere," says Redding, noting the group plays about 60 shows a year. "They look for the import, something foreign and fancy. I don't think they think it through this much, but I prefer someone who has a real story to tell."

Since its first Java Joes Coffeehouse show in June of 2004, Redding says Union Pulse has found a musical home and a following at the downtown Des Moines venue. The trio, which includes Redding, bassist Ryan Eckert and drummer Nick Bromley, returns to Java Joes on Saturday for a free show at 9:30 p.m.

"They've been kind enough to have us and we've fallen in love with the place," Redding says. "Everyone's been real open to hear our stories. We get people who connect with us."

Earlier this year, Union Pulse hosted a CD release show there to promote its new album, "I Hate You, You Always Do This." The record's predominant theme focuses on Redding's tales of love - lost and won.

"Girls are my downfall," he says. "I have a heart that doesn't know what it wants. And I get a lot of people who tell me they feel the same way at the shows."

Finding true love might be a work in progress for Redding, but he is determined to make a living playing his own music. In May, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology from UM-Milwaukee, but he works as a part-time maintenance man to help pay the bills. He says he earned a college degree to appease his parents, and that Union Pulse, which he formed four years ago, is his true calling. It's a choice, Redding says, that allows him to make the most of abilities and satisfies his yearning to help people.

"I want people to know that they're not alone through my songs," he says. "And I want to make them think. It's all about the stories." CV


Comment on this story | Return to top