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Keith Pulvermacher Makes the Connections and Gives Back to the Community

Keith Pulvermacher and GiveSong.org

Written by Brooke Billick

Keith Pulvermacher is a passionate man.  He’s passionate about connecting the dots–about making and keeping connections alive with the people who are most important.  He firmly believes that the purpose of music is to give people something to connect with, even or especially when they have nothing else.

Keith is a singer-songwriter from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, who has been playing professionally since 2003.  His music defies specific labels and, instead, reflects the many influences he acknowledges over his life, not the least of which is his father, who was a talented singer in his heyday.  Rather than being labeled as rock, soul or folk, Keith describes his music as Midwestern, which better reflects the melting pot of different genres prevalent in this area of the country.

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Keith sees all of his efforts as interconnected and, to some extent, indistinguishable.  His goal is to have all of his efforts viewed synonymously, as part of the whole instead of as individual parts.

In January, Keith Pulvermacher debuted the website, GiveSong.org.  With GiveSong, Keith has launched the “Always Be Here For You” campaign where, during each month in 2019, a charity will receive $5,000 donated by a local business as well as additional donations through the website.  In return, each donor will receive a download of Keith’s song, “Always Be Here For You.” The song is from Keith’s new release, 45 Story¸ which also debuted in January.

During January, GiveSong linked a donation from Super Excavators, a North American heavy civil construction company, with the MACC Fund, which raises money for research into the effective treatment and cure of childhood cancer and related blood disorders.  In February, Visu-Sewer, an industrial and municipal pipeline maintenance and rehabilitation services company, contributed to The Alzheimer’s Association, in honor of one of the founders of Visu-Sewer.

The month of March saw Urban Manufacturing, Inc., a precision machining company, donate to JDRF International, which fights type 1 diabetes (T1D) by funding research, advocating for policies that accelerate access to new therapies, and providing a support network for millions of people around the world affected by T1D.

The upcoming months will see donation campaigns targeted at childhood autism, fibromuscular dysplasia, melanoma and skin cancer, and childhood cancer.

The charitable causes Keith supports are personal.  He’s lost a family member to leukemia. His father battled terminal cancer.  Keith knows that life is fragile and that we may all be a car accident or major diagnosis away from serious trouble.  Because he views all of us as connected and with a moral responsibility to care for each other, he strives to solidify those connections.  

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When you talk with Keith and learn a bit of his story, you understand that he brings maturity to his songwriting.  His music exposes his experiences and travails in life. He’s been described as an old soul with a young heart. Keith has written songs immediately after facing a crisis, such as “Go Down to the River” when his wife was hospitalized.

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Keith Pulvermacher performed with his full band at Anodyne Coffee in Milwaukee on the other week.  Playing before a crowded house of enthusiastic fans, Keith performed songs from his newest release, 45 Story, as well as his debut album, Midwestern.

Keith’s band includes Rob Anthony on acoustic and electric guitar, John Wheeler on bass, Thea Vorass on electric cello, Dave Adler on keyboards, and John Calarco on drums.

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The set well represented the breadth and depth of Keith Pulvermacher’s music.  From hard-charging rock to soft, sentimental ballads, Pulvermacher poured his passion out to his appreciative fans.  The electric cello of Thea Vorass provided a sweet, lyrical accompaniment to a number of songs, including “I Want a Love.”

In “It Takes Just One Thing (Bacon Song),” Pulvermacher reminisces about times gone by and memories sparked, among other things, by a single thing like the smell of his mother’s cooking.

In “Nevermind,” Pulvermacher sings about how we all need to connect to keep from hardening inside: ”You can see I’m searching for a hope that’s hard to find / while I’m turning into someone who is deaf and dumb and blind / when you ask me how my day went and I tell you that I’m fine / Well you know what I meant is Nevermind.”

Pulvermacher’s personal influences shine through in his music.  “Days Gone By (Campfire Song)”, from his Midwestern CD, has the staccato strains reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  If you closed your eyes as Keith launched into his encore song, “Go Down to the River,” you would swear Jimi Hendrix was shredding the opening riffs.  Despite these influences, Pulvermacher’s songs are uniquely his and born out of his experiences.

Keith closed out the set warmly thanking all of his fans for supporting his music, for supporting GiveSong, and for making the connection.

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It’s been said that to be a successful modern country singer, you can only sing about pickup trucks, girls, beer, jeans, boots, guns, and critters.  The Nashville duo, Carvin Walls, opening for the Keith Pulvermacher Band, breaks down these stereotypes.  Carvin Walls is the married duo of Kelly Carvin Walls and Troy Walls. Kelly and Troy brought their unique version of country music to the stage in support of their debut album, Between Us, released during January 2019.

Carvin Walls songs reflect a playfulness that exists between Troy and Kelly, as well as the deep affection each has for the other.  They come from very different backgrounds. Kelly hails from New Jersey where she performed professionally. Troy is from West Virginia and considers himself to be a true country boy.

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Their different backgrounds form the basis for their song “Hippie,” where Troy exclaims that he “can’t believe a country boy like me fallin’ in love with a hippie.!”  Peace, love and sandy feet, y’all!

Carvin Walls found their connection to Keith Pulvermacher through Ryan Rossebo, the Nashville-based producer who crafted both Between Us and 45 Story.

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A Personal Conversation with Keith Pulvermacher

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I had an opportunity to meet with Keith to talk about GiveSong, his newest release, 45 Story, and his views on life, the need for us all to feel and be connected and to make an impact on our community.  We also talked about the age-old question of “Whatever did happen to Maroon 5’s sound, anyway?” Here are the edited highlights of our conversation:

Tell us about GiveSong and your “Always Be Here for You” campaign

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GiveSong is supposed to work as a network to give people an avenue or vehicle to get involved with a charity they are passionate about.  It’s also an opportunity to connect with corporate sponsors. If you look at the sites of the companies who are donating money, they have lots of opportunities for jobs.

I’m trying to create a culture that’s based upon being here for each other.  Not just metaphorically, but actually putting it into action. It’s about working on those connections with the music tangibly working and showing how it’s raising money.

Right now, GiveSong is set up as an LLC and not a 501c-3 so that I don’t need a board of directors and bylaws.  All of the charities have to be 501c-3 eligible.

I’m still looking for corporate sponsors.  I would like to fund Make-A-Wish and something for veterans.  The corporate sponsor gives $5,000 and right now, all that goes to the charity, which gives the sponsor a tax deduction.  I don’t touch it. We still count that as money we raise because I am helping to connect the dots.

When you solicit sponsorships from a corporate sponsor, are you trying to find the connection a sponsor might have to the charity?

Yes, I think that’s where the contribution will get the most juice.  It also might inspire them to raise more money.

Each of the corporate donors has had some personal connection to the charities, through diabetes, the loss of a child to cancer or other connections.  The donors have been very passionate about these causes and their donations have helped to show how they meet their corporate and personal responsibilities to the world.

It’s keeping alive the inspiration and the purpose of why I believe we are here.  You only have so much time here, what are you going to do with it?

We are all moved by something bigger, so why just think about it.  Why not act on it?

Explain the connection with 45 Story

I’ve had to think about everything as a collective launch.  There are multiple reasons I decided to do the charitable thing and it’s really based on our responsibility to each other.  45 Story is about connecting to myself and expanding my connection with the people I care about, the people I love.  You get into a life and somewhere along the way you turn around and ask “what am I doing?” I’ve been playing music my whole life, I’ve been a full-time musician since 2003.  I have been so focused on being a provider that I’ve felt a little disconnected from myself and those who mean the most to me.

That’s one phase of it.  To create a connection and then to lead by example.  I think that anyone has great talents, great gifts, whether artistic or financial.  Whatever their gift is, I think we are all here to serve each other. It was me creating something where I can lead by example and put my money where my mouth is.

I don’t think the world is as divided as social media would suggest, to put one perspective on it.  I may not agree politically with my neighbors, but I’ll watch their kids, let them use my lawnmower.

I can’t afford to give away my music but I will do it in a way where I can connect with the people who have the resources and the passion behind the cause and get them to give what they can give–whether it’s the donation of the $5,000 for a sponsor or anyone who just wants to be part of a cause through volunteering.

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Where do you hope GiveSong will evolve?

All of this is built on the idea of giving back.  Right now 100% is going to the charities. The more money coming in, the more we can raise and the more I can make a difference, the more we will give away.  I’m still building it. I plan to have other artists, such as Zach Pietrini, get involved by, perhaps, donating songs.

I would like to grow GiveSong into a more sustainable platform that helps create an additional purpose for the music and that is also helping the artist.  A lot of my friends are artists. They get asked to help charities too. They may have their songs on a platform like Spotify, but they aren’t getting paid much.  They aren’t touring or doing shows like I am, so if they make a record they sit on it. There has to be something we can do about that. They are great artists, but you might never know about them because they are struggling to get by.  They are holding down jobs at Uber or Lyft because they are struggling to make ends meet.

Who do you have lined up for future months?

April is Truck Country and the Howard Young Foundation, which funds an autism school up in Minocqua, the Lakeland STAR School/Academy.  May is FMD, which is fibromuscular dysplasia, a rare vascular condition typically affecting women.  This is a tough one because, although it can be fatal, the disease does not get much publicity. I have a couple of friends who will fund that month through their company.

June is Ann’s Hope Foundation, which funds melanoma and skin cancer research.  And then I want to do Gold in September, also called G9, which is another childhood cancer foundation.  Annie Bartosz had a twin brother Jack, who was one of my students, who had neuroblastoma and ultimately passed away.

G9 is a foundation that connects all the resources, so people can find the resources they need to fight the specific cancer they are facing.  They make it easier for people to find what they need, rather than searching all over. This puts it all in one place.

How are you promoting GiveSong and its charitable mission?

I suck at that!  I’m using social media to promote it.  I’m using the charities to promote it. I have some TV and some radio promos coming out.  I’m getting together with a marketing person—an old friend who will help with ideas. To make sure my brand and my message are very easy to understand and that it’s all-encompassing.  It’s like 45 Story is synonymous with GiveSong.  GiveSong is synonymous with Keith Pulvermacher.  All of this is synonymous with my band and all of the people who come to see us.

As long as my message stays consistent, it will translate eventually.  We just have to get the messaging right.

You describe your music as being Midwestern.  Some interviewers have said you can’t put your music within any particular genre.  What do you mean by that?

If you are from the Midwest or Milwaukee, you see what a melting pot this is.  I am influenced by rock, blues, R&B and jazz and grooves, and world music and African and tribal stuff.  So, I don’t think I’m the first person to do Midwestern music—perhaps I am the first person to coin it as Midwestern music.  That was kind of a realization for me and a friend who was my art director. He said my music was not really definable – it’s not really pop.  It’s not really country, but it’s country. It’s folk, but not really. It’s kind of a mix.

I relate to when bands had sounds.  I think of Wilco, and I think of Bowie.  The Violent Femmes was kind of punk-folk, I would say.  I relate to Tom Petty and John Mellencamp.

I relate to when bands didn’t try to be anything other than what they were.  You heard Bruce Hornsby and you knew it was Bruce Hornsby. Nowadays, there’s Mumford & Sons and everyone is trying to sound like Mumford & Sons.  Zac Brown has his own sound and you know it’s Zac Brown–hopefully, that doesn’t change. When Maroon 5 came out, they had a sound and now I don’t know who the fuck they are.  When they came in, they had a thing and I was like “Dude, that’s cool.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arrowsmith, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, Styx, Boston – there is no question who those bands are when you hear them.  That’s what I miss. That’s what I connect with.

So, the Midwestern thing really came from the idea of just being influenced by all of these other sounds.  Just good songs and melodies you could sing along to and listen to over and over again and not throw it out the window.

What I am going for—I want the musicality at times to overtake you.  I want the interplay between the piano and the cello and where the acoustics come in.  you can hear everything you want to hear. If you listen again, you can think, “Wow, I didn’t hear that before.”

Describe how 45 Story was produced

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I surround myself with people I absolutely adore as human beings.  I love my band. When we went to remix the record back down in Nashville, we broke it down to the bones and built it all back up.  It was the most spiritual, loving collaboration I have ever been involved with. And I had to let go of the reigns. I told the band that they came because I completely trusted them.  Dave Adler, the keyboard player, is a genius. Ryan Rossebo, my producer, is also a genius. If you saw them sitting at a table in Nashville, you would completely dismiss them, not knowing that they are amazingly committed musicians.  And they do it because they love the music. They are craftsman—not just some kid spitting out sounds and saying hey that sounds cool.

Everybody who is on that record is playing their asses off.

All the others on the record are fantastic!  Dan Needham, one of the drummers, plays with Michael McDonald.  The engineer, Zach Allen, won 2 Grammys.

I’ve been in bands that have just been toxic.  Being a bandleader now, I don’t freak out over all of the little shit.

This record could have fallen off the rails at any turn.  The first session we had, the pipes burst in my duplex. I had 10 people in the studio, the band, my producer from Nashville.  The session gets canned after a song and a half- and this was the day after Christmas.

Next, I’m flying down to Nashville on January 14.  Everything is set up on Music Row. I had a show on Saturday night.  Sunday morning, the plane was boarding at 6:15. I woke up in Oconomowoc at 5:19.  I made the plane with 3 minutes to spare. I’m hyperventilating, my legs are cramping up and sitting on the plane next to my keyboard player who has a Bloody Mary in his hand and says “You good?”

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When we finally got to Nashville and it was time for the downbeat, I thought to myself “Well, this is easy—we can fix everything we break now”.

Then next time we went down to Nashville to remix the album, my keyboard player is in the wrong concourse, so he almost misses the plane.

The CD release party we book at one venue for two nights—a Thursday and a Friday.  I call the venue three weeks in advance of the date so I can confirm the sound guy and other logistics.  They call me back and said, “Well, Thursday is cool, but Friday is double booked, so you have to find someplace else.”  This was three weeks before the event and I had 250 tickets sold! So, I contacted The Backroom at Colectivo, managed by Pabst Theater Group and they picked the event up in 3 hours.

So, all the little stuff you just have to get beyond.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Developing and continuing on my path.  I want GiveSong to be rolling and engaged and to have the trust of the community.  I want to put out at least an EP each year. Honestly, I want to be better than I was yesterday.  I want to be a better father, husband, and friend. I want to help my kids with their school and be more involved in their lives.  I want to be financially stable. There’s something about when the shit hits the fan, that I’ve found that I thrive in. I don’t freak out—what can I fix right now.

I just hope that I can continue to be a very positive influence in my life.  Maybe causing a little bit of trouble in there, not to hurt anybody, but to have more fun.  You got to have a little bit of rock & roll in there.

I want to make sure that I can continue to inspire as long as I can and as long as my health is good.  Of course, it’s not all up to me.

I absolutely feel that I am on the right path with the philanthropic thing.  I don’t know where that will lead—it might lead somewhere beyond my wildest dreams.  That will be because the stars aligned and I did something right to connect those dots.

I don’t have expectations.  Because if I have expectations, I have limitations.  When I watch people who create great things, I don’t want to put a ceiling on it.  If I have this goal, who’s to say I couldn’t have been here [gesturing with his hand high] if I didn’t put that goal there [lowering his hand].

I want to keep that balance of doing everything that I can with a combination of flying by the seat of my pants and having faith that everything will go where it needs to go.  And not trying to control any of it, while trying to control all of it!

Make a connection with Keith Pulvermacher and GiveSong.

We all need to have someone and something special in our lives and our communities.  We need to feel like we make a difference in our own unique way.

Keith Pulvermacher is a catalyst for making that difference.  Give his music a listen. Visit GiveSong.org and learn about and support those causes.  Make a difference.

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PostScript

While we were wrapping up the production of this piece, Keith Pulvermacher’s father, Jeffrey Pulvermacher, lost his long battle to cancer.

Throughout our conversation a couple of weeks ago, our discussion continued to come back to Keith’s father, the deep love existing between the two, and the lasting impact of a father on his son.  Keith mentioned his dad faced his mortality not with complaint or bitterness, but instead with grace and gratitude about the good life he enjoyed.

Keith went through with a scheduled performance the following night because it was what his father would have wanted.  In Keith’s words, “He wasn’t gone.  He was there. He was smiling.  He wanted me to make people smile tonight.  He gave me who he is tonight.”

See full gallery of the night here!

Brooke Billick is based in Milwaukee. By day, he is a mutual fund securities lawyer dealing with scads and scads of arcane laws, regulations and requirements designed to ensure that client assets are handled and invested appropriately. He is almost always willing to help cure someone’s insomnia through careful and lengthy recitations of the intricacies of modern portfolio theory, dollar-cost averaging, supply side economics, the Oxford comma, and similar topics. By night, he happily haunts crowded bars, taverns and music venues featuring live music while pursuing that perfect artist profile or facial expression. Over the past 40 years, Brooke has been actively photographing everything from scenic landscapes and portraits (including his sons, who typically respond to a camera with their middle finger). He has covered singer-songwriters, bands, and music festivals for several years, and feels energized by the passion and talent of the performing artist. Facing the prospect of retirement from full-time employment head on, Brooke looks forward to expanding his photographic opportunities and takes to heart Tom Petty’s advice – “if you don’t run, you rust.” Brooke’s website is perpetually ‘under construction.’ Until that project is completed (probably after he retires), @brookebillickphotography.

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