Fun Times with Friends: NEWSKI’s Spirited ‘Friend Rock’ Embraces Music’s Human Element

NEWSKI © Kelly Bolter
NEWSKI © Kelly Bolter
Brett Newski dives into his band’s soaring and spirited new album ‘Friend Rock,’ an indie rock of the times born out of collaboration, community, and friendship.
Stream: “Chemicals” – NEWSKI




In a world of actors, we need a savior – some real star power to sort this out. Macaulay Culkin, where are you now?

NEWSKI’s latest album is charismatically quirky in all the right ways.

Balancing high-minded, heartfelt, and flat-out funny lyrics with a healthy dose of sonically charged indie rock, jangle-pop and power pop, singer/songwriter Brett Newski knows how to grab an audience’s attention and keep them hooked. But the Wisconsin artist’s new record is so much more than an exercise in emotionally-nuanced entertainment, messaging, and cathartic release – though there’s plenty of that as well. At the heart of the consciously-titled Friend Rock are three pillars of music that are too often neglected, disregarded, or altogether forgotten: Collaboration, community, and friendship.

Friend Rock - NEWSKI
Friend Rock – NEWSKI
We’re way too addicted
To the love, hate, tears and pleasure
So if we’re gonna break up,
Let’s make it take forever
I was shootin’ trash whiskey
From a red solo cup
Just to numb the abuse
Don’t you think we’ve had enough?
Gonna die at my desk job
You’re gonna die on the couch
Because it’s the hard conversations
That are too much to talk about

Released April 7, 2023 via Nomad Union, Friend Rock is a resounding reminder of the raw humanity lying at the core of every song. A soaring and spirited record of the times, NEWSKI’s latest studio album finds the Milwaukee artist and bandmates Steve Vorass and Sean Anderson connecting with a slew of longtime friends and musical influences from across the (mostly rock-based) musical spectrum, ultimately producing ten invigorating tracks that hit hard, bleed red, and leave an instant, lasting mark. Featuring members of Guster, Nada Surf, The Verve Pipe, and many more, Friend Rock is almost as fun to listen to as (we can only imagine) it was to make.

NEWSKI © Kelly Bolter
NEWSKI © Kelly Bolter



As Newski explains, Friend Rock is as much a product of collaboration as it is one of persistence.

“During the pando, I had 25 complete studio recordings,” he tells Atwood Magazine. “I knew many of my musical heroes and acquaintances were at home, so I took a swing for the fences and asked many of them to collab. These are the ones that pulled through. I’ve always envied the way hip-hop artists collaborate so much. The same can’t be said about indie rock. It’s a much more insular, introverted genre. I wanted the communal collaborative elements of hip-hop to work in indie rock also. Thus, I tried that model for Friend Rock.”

The experience, he adds, has been no less than inspiring on a deep level.

“Most of my friends I started with in music have since retired, which makes me feel a little like the world has turned and left me here,” he says. “Collaborating with fellow “musician lifers” on this album made me feel less alone and less insane. It’s also been neat to become pals with my musical heroes from childhood.”

We are nothing without our friends.

The album title, Newski explains, is an ode to what it’s all about: “Quite literally playing rock n’ roll with all your friends,” he smiles. “The term was originally documented somewhere in a Sufjan Stevens interview when he was asked what he was listening to… his friends’ bands. My buddy Jeremy Quentin played me the interview on a sidewalk in Mexico City 20 months ago and I loved the terminology.”

NEWSKI © Kelly Bolter
NEWSKI © Kelly Bolter



From end to end, Friend Rock is a roller-coaster of colorful and captivating indie rock with a twist. Opening track “Freak Flag Fly” (featuring Magic Charles, AKA NEWSKI’s longtime friend, collaborator, and producer Matt Spatola) is a call for us to loosen up and be true to ourselves before it’s too late.

No one’s normal in this life; are you?” Newski sings over an intentionally minimalist spread of guitar, bass, and drums. It was important for him to use as few layers as possible to get the point across – and “Freak Flag Fly,” which he cites as his personal favorite song, certainly succeeds at this mission: “Everybody’s pretty weird on the inside. You gotta let that freak flag fly before you die, before you lose your mind.”

I really like my brand new job, uh huh
Helps me forget the things I love, I’m numb
You’re a muse but not amused
When you bottle all that juice
No one’s normal in this life
Dont pretend to…
Everybody’s pretty weird on the inside
You gotta let that freak flag fly before you die
Before you lose your mind


The album’s latest single and second track “Chemicals” is another indisputable high point: A feverish, high-octane eruption of pure passion featuring Matthew Caws of Nada Surf, “Chemicals” is “a hard-driving indie-pop smasher that illuminates how love can be the strongest vice,” to quote Newski himself. The intimate becomes the explosive as NEWSKI and Caws leave it all on the field, pouring themselves into a stunning anthem that’s as catchy as it is cathartic:

Now I’m alone with no serotonin
Thinkin’ of ya
And where you’re goin’
Love should be pretty easy
But we get wasted
On all the alchemy
You are all the Chemicals
Our love just ain’t symmetrical




Additional highlights include the cheeky, if not bittersweet “If We’re Gonna Breakup, Let’s Make it Take Forever” (featuring Miles Nielsen), the volatile, achingly emotive “Flake Town” (featuring South African folk punk band The Shabs), and the visceral, heated, and lyrically charming “Only Macaulay Culkin Can Save Us Now” (featuring Scott Terry of Red Wanting Blue) – which, once again, employs that Brett Newski special sauce to perfectly balance the funny with the all-too serious. “Never trust a man who drinks mountain dew when he wakes up,” Newski sings in a candid, matter-of-fact manner. Damn straight:

We got what we wanted
We’re all micro-celebrities
Who thought it’d feel like penitentiary
Information’s the new religion
I check my “Pocket-God” all day
Don’t care if it’s poison, as long as it’s got some taste
I don’t know who to believe
In a world of actors
We need a savior
Some real star power to sort this out
Macaulay Culkin where are you now?
If we’ve learned anything…
Freedom is real when you stop breathing
I’ll work thru the spiritual material in the morning
Discipline: what a myth
You can still get paid for talking shit
Why strategize, when you can win arguments with volume
Theres no one left to lead, or is there?




Speaking of standout lyrics, Newski’s personal favorite lines come from the song “Nevermind, Not Nirvana”:

I flinch every time you bat your eyes at me
My only self-defense
Is that little rabbit hole under that white picket fence of yours
Concrete around my feet
I’m a poster child for every mafia story end scene
Blowing every red light
Rolling stop signs
You and I could never crash
Nevermind
Hear those famous last words
“It’s not you, it’s me, I love you”
We will be fine, nevermind
Under a sky that’s burning me up
You gave me ozone
Hear our friends say we’re invincible
But they don’t know the Air to us it feels so Marlboro
Thought I could keep you around
Oh God I’m so clever… Nevermind

“I like the lyrics because they sound lazy alongside the slacker vibe of the song,” he explains. “That song was written in 20 minutes, but I’m proud of the lyrics having strange corners.”

There’s a lot to love throughout Friend Rock, but ultimately this is a collection that was meant to be listened to in full, from start to finish. “Hopefully it reinforces that albums are still important in the single-dominated stratosphere,” Newski shares.

Whether you’re in it for the energetic outpourings, or more attuned to that communal, collaborative spirit, Friend Rock is full of fun times and fierce emotions.

NEWSKI and friends hold nothing back in creating a singular journey that enchants, inspires, and enthralls straight through to the end. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside NEWSKI’s Friend Rock with Atwood Magazine as Brett Newski goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his latest album!

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:: stream/purchase Friend Rock here ::
Stream: ‘Friend Rock’ – NEWSKI



:: Inside Friend Rock ::

Friend Rock - NEWSKI

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FREAK FLAG FLY 

Everyone is a bit of a weirdo deep down. For  many, their weirdoism is suppressed by environment; commonly a place of employment, friend circle or societal structure. Even that strait n arrow fella who works at the bank is dying to shred his suit n tie, say the F-word, and fly the freak flag a little. You gotta let that freak flag fly before you die… before you lose your mind. This track (and all the tracks) features the drumming and bass-playing of Spatola aka “Magic Charles.” We have collaborated on music for over 6 years and this track really highlights his rhythm-section mastery. He also engineered and mixed the whole album.



CHEMICALS

In a new relationship, you get the first year for free. It’s that “honeymoon” phase where you are under the chemical sway of love. You and your person can do no wrong. It’s the best. Its too easy. When the chemicals wear off is when you find out how compatible you really are, and how you both handle the challenges when reality rushes in. Love is a great drug, but a drug nonetheless. Just don’t OD 🙂
I was listening to lots of Nada Surf when I wrote the music for this. So it seemed natural to ask Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) to guest on this one. Matthew is a very wise, soft-spoken, kind and generous person. Nada Surf is currently my favorite band.



NEVERMIND, NOT NIRVANA 

Minimalism is really important to me. Not just in music, but life as well. Musically, I try to use as few instruments in a song as possible. In day-to-day life, I try to keep my possessions thin to maintain freedom to roam. While I believe in hard work, I LOVE lazy sounding music. “Nevermind, Not Nirvana” has to be our most slacker rock song to date. The song laughs in the face of my own commitment issues, as a way to improve in this department.

ONLY MACAULAY CULKIN CAN SAVE US NOW

At first glance this song sings like a joke, but it might be the most serious track on here. We can’t agree on anything in the United States, especially politically. Celebrities are now more trusted than career-politicians. In a world of actors, we need a savior. And if there’s one person we can all agree on to lead us, the answer is obvious… Macaulay Culkin.
Red Wanting Blue frontman Scott Terry lends a hand on the chorus backing vocals. Scott is a mighty human with unencumbered optimism. He has the magnetic ability to unite people on a level of which I’ve never seen before. I love him very much.

IF WE’RE GONNA BREAKUP, LET’S MAKE IT TAKE FOREVER

“The scuzzy rocker (Newski) recruits Miles Nielsen (son of Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, and an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right) for this deceitfully sweet single that explores the dysfunction of a longtime relationship that should probably end but, out of complacency and fear, will continue indefinitely.” –Milwaukee Journal
Miles sings verse two. We first hung out at the Rockford YMCA where we played one-on-one basketball for two straight hours, miraculously resulting in a tie. Over the years we would consistently run into each other in random cities all over the Midwest on tour. Once we pulled up to a show in Cincinnati and he was playing next door. In my car I had a 7th grade consolation soccer trophy. I taped over the lettering and gave it to Miles. It said “first place at stuff.” Been pals ever since.



TOO MUCH REALITY 

Ration the air, and auction the seas off. Is climate-change a hoax? Regardless of what you believe, nothing can stop humanity’s hunger for using up resources. We need 10 plastic bags at the grocery store, we throw 30% of our food in the trash. People are lords of producing garbage.
Humans have all the information needed to help the situation, but on a macro-level human greed and gluttony is just too strong of an inertia.
I do believe nature is an organism with some version of a consciousness. It will destroy us to survive when it needs to.
Here I split the verses with my favorite European artist H-Burns (France) in a call-and-response format. H-Burns made one of my all time favorite records called “Night Moves.” I first saw him play in a basement cellar in Hamburg Germany in 2017.

WHY EVEN BOTHER?

“I don’t believe in church, but I do believe in God”. A very drunk nightclub owner said this to me on a Lisbon sidewalk at 8am.
I think religion is a wonderful thing for some people. However, when it is used in super-abundance, individuals often use it to pawn off all self-responsibility to a higher power. Regardless of what we believe in, we gotta take responsibility for our own actions before we harm others.
Brian VanDer Ark (of 90s legends The Verve Pipe) sings harmony. Brian is one of the coolest dudes I know and is a straight up comedian on the “dirt from the road” podcasts we did together. I’ve enlisted him as my godfather should anything happen to my real dad.



AIRPLANE

Guster frontman Ryan Miller and I became friends thru my podcast “Dirt from the Road.” At the end of the episode, he said he would hit me up next time he came thru Milwaukee. People say a lot of shit in the music industry, but Miller actually texted me 6 months later when Guster was playing Summerfest. We hung out in Milwaukee and played fierce ping pong matches in one of the oldest beer halls in the state. He injected a ton of power into the end of this song with the layered harmonies.

FLAKE TOWN

Humans are flakey. I get it, It’s hard to commit to things. The pressure can be a lot. I get anxious. I often don’t wanna go out in a room full of people.
But I do believe if you say you’re gonna do something, ya gotta do it. Don’t commit cause it feels easier than saying NO to someone face to face. Just say ya can’t make it if ya can’t make it. They’ll appreciate the honesty.
I wrote this in Cape Town (aka Flake Town) South Africa with one of my all time best friends Jon Shaban of the Shabs. He sings harmony on this version. Jon is one of my oldest friends and the person I’ve co-written the most songs with.



NEVERMIND

To me, Micah Erenberg (the Secret Beach) is one of the greatest undiscovered songwriters right now. I asked him to sing a verse on this track. But when I heard how rad it sounded, I just asked him to sing the whole thing. Thus, there are two versions of this song on the album. Mine is good, his is better.

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:: stream/purchase Friend Rock here ::



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Friend Rock - NEWSKI

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