Lorenzo’s Tractor: What I Think I Am

Paul Whyte

It was a snowy night on Friday, May 3 during the 2013 Homegrown weekend. After midnight, Roscoe’s Pioneer Bar was intermixed with a handful of regulars and a few remaining musicians and audience members who decided to stick around and not go down to see Bratwurst at R.T. Quinlan’s. The soft spoken, lanky, long haired Rob Fernquist had just played three or four songs within the hour with his band Lorenzo’s Tractor. At the very end of the show, the owner proceeded to go to the utility closet and pulled the plug to the PA system which resulted in a loud popping sound and blew out a couple of speakers. Although whatever revelry going down at R.T.’s was undoubtable strange, shocking and unique, those who stuck around knew that they had witnessed one of the most out there performances in Homegrown history.
Lorenzo’s Tractor isn’t going to be for everyone. Those who have managed to read my reviews will note how I’ve called certain albums easily approachable or accessible, don’t expect this from Lorenzo’s Tractor. The album “What I Think I Am” actually turned out less weird than what I thought it was going to be, but it should be viewed more as a listening experience than just songs. It carries a dark psychedelic madness that could be loosely compared to The Doors more abstruse material. This album is the opposite of the three or four minute perky pop song. The first track, “Great Big Mine/Drink This,” is 22 minutes long and the last and third track, “What I Think I Am,” is seven minutes long.
While Fernquist has been an active musician for decades he has remained slightly obscure in the Twin Ports’ music scene.  His father, Armond Blackwater, is a writer and musician who goes far back into the history of Twin Ports music. “I really couldn’t get away from it. At home, my living room was a demo studio and rehearsal space, and he was always dragging me up on stage. Folks at the Elk’s Lodge love that kind of crap,” stated Fernquist. “Armond, of course comes first, for all of the encouragement he’s given me my entire life. And gear. And life. That one works against him.”
Besides his father, Fernquist credits Alan Sparhawk of the band Low for some of the direction and influence on the album. “Alan Sparhawk, and the rest of Low, are listed with writing credits for their song ‘Rope,’ which I pretty blatantly stole for the instrumental section after the second verse in ‘Drink This’…I told Al when I handed him his copy that it was all his fault,” stated Fernquist. “Al Sparhawk and John Nichols. Yes, there’s the original stuff they play, but at least as important to me has been the music they turned me on to. John had cable, so he would tape episodes of 120 Minutes with Dave Kendall on Sunday. On Monday we’d go see Zen Identity at the Incline Station and they’d play some originals where Al showed me that a guitar could be used from something other than just playing chord progressions and riffs and leads, and then they’d play some covers from bands we’d never heard of. The rest of the week John and I poured over all of this material, pulling it apart, analyzing. How’d he get that sound? Why does this feel like that? And then we’d experiment with putting it back together in new and interesting ways.”
Fernquist explained, “Lorenzo’s Tractor has always been about that kind of experimentation. What happens if I plug this into that? What if I use an alarm clock for a drum machine? What would happen if you put Robert Smith, Steve Albini and Jah Wobble in a room together and let Beck produce it?” Nothing about the album is really conventional. Parts of it were recorded in an empty house in the woods, according the Fernquist. To dissect or analyze the album fully can’t really be achieved in one page. The album “Ghosts of New York” by Sonic Youth also comes to mind as to the general flow. To just take the first track, it’s fascinating and mixes gritty experimental rock and roll with long droning parts that you only catch a glimpse of in the more abstract songs from bands like Pink Floyd or the Beatles. It floats in waves and takes the listener out and then back again with spoken word verses to gibberish and insanity. It’s a free flowing soundscape of words and sound that really stands out as far as music from this area. Although somewhat simple, there are all sorts of layers of instrument and vocal sounds that are backed up by some pretty tight and intuitive percussion.     
One addition to the songs that I really liked was including Jessica “Vision at Dawn” Miller, from the experimental electronic project, Broken Wing’s Grace. I’ve seen her sing on numerous occasions and have listened to most of their material, but her performance on this album is probably the most powerful work I’ve heard from her and it makes certain parts even more haunting and surreal than they already would have been. “We managed to coordinate our schedules twice, and she just knocked it out. Not exactly what I would have told her to do, but exactly what I wanted. She’s on every track at least twice,” stated Fernquist.
Other artists on the album include keyboard/electronic artist, Tobin Dack as well as musicians that show up to a private jam called the Friday Night Noise Ritual. “Harrison Crane of Timmy Jacks Off, Tobin Dack and Philonious Monk of drOhm (et al), Luke and ERF of Dark Face Prime - assigned them roles and microphones. Then that happened. That was exactly what I wanted,” contributed to the album according to Fernquist.
There are no plans for a CD release or for a show or party to send this album off. This seems pretty fitting for a musician like Fernquist. The album can be listened to on bandcamp.com, just type in “Lorenzo’s Tractor” and you can listen to it online or get the download for under $7.
This album is not radio material. Maybe some certain college DJs will play it but even that is unlikely as the songs are pretty long and it’s fair to say, avant garde. Fernquist has been making music for years and it seems understood that he’s more about creating an experience than creating a CD you can pick up at Electric Fetus. This album challenges what is music and what is art. Or as a quote on the bandcamp page puts it, “It ain’t art, man, it’s life.” This is not the type of music that sticks in your head, but rather it is the type of music that gets in to it when listening.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

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