Reality Check: Milwaukee Hardcore Band Have Big Plans Ahead of Them

(Photo credit: Samer Ghani)

Today, I’m bringing you a conversation with one of my favorite young Midwest bands - Milwaukee’s Reality Check.

While the band played their first set less than a year ago, anyone who goes to shows in Milwaukee will probably recognize several faces here. The members of the band have been in a handful of other acts, including erase//evolve and Wits End - and guitarist JJ Kaiser lends his basement to shows of all kinds, making it one of the few all-ages spaces in the area to see live music. On top of that, they do what every hardcore band expecting to find any kind of success should do - attend and support as many local shows as they possibly can.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the band was teasing the release of their demo, as well as their first show - which, unsurprisingly, had to be delayed. They ended up putting out the 2020 Demonstration the summer of that year, with their first show finally happening on September 11th, 2021 - an awesome free show that featured 4 other locals. Their sound is straight-up heavy hardcore, true to the sound of city they’re from, with lyrics that allow vocalist Emilio Nunez to spit his frustrations with the state of the world, hardcore attitudes, and his mental health.

JJ, Emilio and I spoke about the beginnings and influences of the band, their upcoming split with a fellow local Midwest group, their first appearance in Canada later this year, Milwaukee hardcore, and vegan food in the city. Check it out!

AA: Introduce yourself with your name, what you do in Reality Check,  and a fact about yourself.

JK: My name is JJ Kaiser, and I play guitar & sing in Reality Check. For those who don't know, I do a lot of stuff in the Milwaukee music scene between running a DIY space, working at X-Ray Arcade, playing in bands, and doing the Milwaukee Style compilation album with a couple friends. Very busy.

EN: My name is Emilio Nuñez, and I’m the frontman/vocalist of Reality Check. I like to mosh, but I keep hurting myself.

(Photo credit: Angie Aristodemo)

AA: Who played your first hardcore show? What impact did that have on keeping you involved in hardcore?

JK: This is a good one. My first hardcore show was No Zodiac and Black Ice at the Borg Ward in January, 2013. Neither of those bands got to play, because I was sprayed with a fire extinguisher during one of the opening bands. The room filled with white smoke and the show got shut down. Any sane person would have never come back, but here I am. I think the main thing that kept me involved in hardcore was the energy at the shows. I came up through the metalcore scene, and over time, all the moshing and energy at those shows died down. When I started going to hardcore shows, I realized this is where it all went.

EN: My first straight-up hardcore show had a couple canceled bands, so I’ma leave that part out [laughs] … But it was in 2016, at this community center in Madison, WI. The energy and overall vibe was nothing I’d ever really experienced, and it left me wanting more as soon as the show was over. At that point I had already been listening to hardcore for maybe about 2 years, so to finally experience it was super exciting for me. After that, I tried looking for more shows in the area, but there was never really anything going on, so I started going out to Milwaukee a lot, and then I eventually moved.

AA: What were some of your musical influences for this band?

JK: I really wanted to start a heavier hardcore band. Stuff like King Nine, Detain, Queensway, Suburban Scum, etc. I also drew influence from a lot of the Chicago hardcore bands that were around when I started coming to shows. Stuff like Warhound, Bitter Thoughts, No Regrets, etc.

EN: I don’t play any instruments, but for vocal patterns and shit like that, I honestly try to draw a lot of inspiration from hip hop. I try to incorporate different flows into what I’m doing without having us just turn into a rapcore band or whatever. Rage Against The Machine is my favorite band, so naturally I draw inspiration from Zack de la Rocha. I just try my best to make what I’m saying flow with the drums as well as possible, and then switch it up when I need to. As far as vocal style/intensity/sound/whatever, I still don’t feel like I have that completely figured out yet, so I just do what feels right. I feel like my voice has sounded different in every recording so far. [laughs]

AA: As we all know, Reality Check’s first show was supposed to be in 2020, but the obvious happened - how long were you sitting on these songs before you got to play them?

JK: Little known fact here - most of the stuff on our demo (besides the lyrics) was written in, like, 2018. I've been trying to start this band for a pretty long time, and the current lineup is basically the 4th full lineup of people I tried jamming with - and it (finally) stuck. As Reality Check, it was since mid to late 2019, so around 2 years.

EN: So actually, while JJ was trying to make different versions of this band work, I was trying to make another band work at around the same time. We practiced a few times, had one fully written song, and a couple half-written ones. It didn’t end up working out, and the whole thing was eventually just scrapped. I kept a lot of those lyrics saved in my phone. Over a year goes by, and JJ or Ben [Skowronek, drums] hit me up asking me if I wanted to join a new band, and I said yes. So I took those old lyrics, reworked ‘em so they made sense with the Reality Check songs, wrote like one and a half new ones, and that was the demo.

AA: How did it feel to finally play your first show last September after waiting all that time?

JK: I think all of us can agree that it worked out in the best way possible. We booked a show with a bunch of our friends at a venue we love, and it felt like the start of a new chapter. That whole day was great.

EN: For me, personally, it was a lot of feelings. Everyone else in the band had been in multiple bands at this point, so they knew what to expect for the most part. Reality Check is my first real band when it comes down to it, so I was hella nervous… But our set was everything we could’ve asked for. I couldn’t have asked for a better first show. Perfect first show back for Milwaukee in general.

(Photo credit: Samer Ghani)

AA: Emilio - what kind of things inspired you when writing the lyrics to the demo?

EN: “Spineless” is about abusers and how I think they’re all cowards and should kick rocks.

“Machismo” is written about a specific type of tough guy mentality in hardcore. I don’t have a problem with actual tough motherfuckers, my issue is with people that contribute nothing whose only personality is trying to be a hardass.

“Colonizer” is my written “fuck you” to ICE/immigration laws and racists in general. Nobody is illegal on stolen land.

“Put to Rest” is about spiraling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts, when you feel like you have no one but yourself and your mind. It sounds corny, but you’re never alone, and there’s always a better way.

AA: You’ve been working on a release with Tr3y 5ive for a little while now - tell us a little about how that collaboration came about, as well as what to expect with your side of the split.

JK: Emilio was the one to bring up the idea. We were talking about doing a split for a while, and we couldn't agree on a band to do it with. We knew a couple of those guys from previous bands, and we all liked the music. I also liked the fact that they were a new band (like us) from a different city. This sounds cliche, but these new songs are absolutely the best Reality Check songs yet. I can't wait for everyone to hear.

AA: You guys are going to be playing the Scoped Exposure Five Year Anniversary Fest this August. How do you feel about playing Canada for the first time with such a sick group of bands?

JK: Gottta hand it to Jessa and Spencer, who have continuously put on for us since the band started. I never expected music to take me to a different country. I've never even been to Canada. We are all very grateful and excited for the opportunity.

EN: Yeah, Jessa and Spencer have put on for Reality Check since day one, which is crazy to me, because up until recently I had not met them. Jessa is good friends with my roommate Tom from Enervate, so she’s been coming down to hang out every few months lately. The first time we met, she brought up the idea of bringing the band to Canada. Sounded crazy to me then, and it sounds crazy to me now, but we’re all super stoked to be a part of such a cool lineup. Huge shout out to Scoped Exposure and Damage Control.

AA: What would you like to see more of in Midwest hardcore in the future?

JK: Learn how to fucking play drums, and then start a band. Milwaukee especially needs more hardcore bands. Other than that, it'd be sick to see more kids in high school & college starting bands. And it'd really be cool to see more scenes working together and booking more mixed bills. It's really weird to me to see cities having different little scenes within the genres of hardcore and metal. There are a lot of opportunities there to get different but like-minded people in the same room. They might not all get along, but the end result inevitably grows the community.

EN: What JJ said. More bands and more mixed bills. I also think it would be cool to have more people of color at shows around here. A big part of feeling welcome when I started coming around was not being the only brown person in the room, and it’s only grown since then. 

Twisted Plants in Cudahy, WI

AA: I interviewed Enervate a little while back and asked for their favorite spots in Milwaukee and they gave me a bunch of restaurants, nature spots, etc. - is there anywhere you want to add to that?

JK: Probably has been brought up before, but go to Twisted Plants. Vegan soul food done right. It's nice to have a place like that within walking distance from X-Ray, especially when I have to work a show that night. It's also very nice for bands that roll through the area.

EN: It might be a copout at this point, but Vanguard is my favorite restaurant in Milwaukee.

AA: JJ, you go there enough for me to trust you can answer this one. What’s the best thing to get at Jimmy John’s?

JK: My personal favorite lately has been getting a Beach Club as a lettuce wrap and loading it with veggies. Their lettuce wraps are really good, but usually aren't filling unless you get extra of everything. Good thing extra veggies are free.

EN: I do fuck with the Beach Club as well. That’s just the best one.

AA: Any upcoming plans you’d like to talk about?

JK: We have a bunch of shows coming up. May 17th at Cactus Club in MKE with Gates to Hell and Ballista, May 19th at Cobra Lounge in Chicago with Chamber, May 23rd with Dying Wish in the Quad Cities, June 25th at X-Ray Arcade for the Summer Jam, and a weekend run TBA still. Gonna be busy, and feeling good about it.

AA: Anything else you’d like to add?

JK: Thanks to everyone that's supported us in any capacity so far. This has gone a lot better than I think any of us anticipated, and we're all very stoked and grateful for everyone that cares. Can't wait to play more shows and put out more music.

EN: Hardcore is what you make it. Don’t spend your time tryna be something you’re not. Have fun with it.

Shout out Enervate, World I Hate, Infamy, Bird Law, Payasa, Tr3y 5ive, Suffer No Fools, Prevention, Dose, and Sentenced 2 Die. I’m for sure forgetting some, but I could fill up a whole page with bands we fuck with. 

Shoutout Hardcore.

Thank you to JJ and Emilio for sitting down and doing this interview with me! You can keep up with Reality Check via the links below:

Instagram | Twitter

Stream the 2020 Demonstration below:


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