The Interviews: Betsy Ade

An Interview with…

Betsy Ade

In 2023, The Hometown Foundation is excited to bring various musical talents to stages around Washington County. We are looking forward to another year of our annual Homegrown Music Festival on July 9 as well as the debuts of two new festivals – the Homegrown Blues Festival on May 21 and the Homegrown Bluegrass Festival September 24. We also will be continuing our Thursday night Regner Rocks Concert Series at Regner Park (West Bend). You will see many talented folks who call Wisconsin home. Joshua M. Miller interviewed Betsy Ade, who will be featured at the Regner Rocks Concert Series.

Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers, Regner Rocks, West Bend

Josh: Thanks for finding some time away from work to talk to me.

Right now, I’m working, so this is during my little prep time, so the kids get to go out and play and they’re happy about that. 

Where do you work?

Betsy: At Curtis Strange Elementary School. I’m a Special Ed teacher.

That’s neat. It must be a very interesting job.

Yes, it’s very interesting. I have a lot of great personalities.

Have you been able to incorporate your music as a teacher?

Very little. I have a ukulele I bring to school, and sometimes we’ll play some songs together. Sometimes I’ll just play a couple songs for them. We’re doing kind of a Hamilton project where we’re studying, in Social Studies, the time period that Hamilton is based upon, the Broadway musical. So, I brought a group together to sing a couple of their songs and now I’m editing a little video to show the whole school. So, I suppose I use it that way, but I mostly I help kids who have some learning disabilities and need a different strategy to learn the basics. Reading, math, writing.

In 2014 you started collaborating with the band’s guitarist, Joe Adamek, and soon after the two of you formed the band. What was like forming the band and what brought everyone together?

 I was with another band during the time and Joe wanted to collaborate and I tried to advocate for Joe to be in the band that I was in and that didn’t really work out. So, Joe and I started our own band and we just started writing together and it was really easy. If you fall upon or meet some people who are easy to work with and willing to do whatever it takes to make something successful, it’s a really good thing. It’s kind of hard to find.
So, Joe and I have been together ever since and he brought along John, our bassist, John Kulas, and then we found Scott Fox just recently. We’ve been through a couple drummers, a cellist and a guitarist. We’ve been through a couple of people who find other things to do or this isn’t really exactly what they signed up to do, but we have a really solid group right now and we’re happy with it going forward.

What exactly is well-known stranger?

 I think the name Well-Known Strangers came from the idea of when we perform in front of people who may not have seen us or we meet people at shows, we want to…present them with the idea that we’re all connected in some way. Even though we don’t really know each other, we do because we have the love for music. And I think that’s something that’s a really big deal for all of us, is our shows are a really excellent way to bring people together and something that we love to do. So, I think the well-known stranger is we may not know each other very well, but we kind of do because of the music.

The band’s new album is called Dawn, which is your sixth release. Do you know when it’ll be out?

We are releasing singles every once in a while, when we can. We’re doing all the recording ourselves, so our process is a little bit delayed, I guess. But we’ve released four songs already. We’ve released “Forever,” “Working Man,” “Standing By” and “I Don’t Owe You” was the latest. And the next song is going to be called “Get Up,” and that will probably be released in the middle of June maybe, end of June. And hopefully the rest of the songs on the album will be released a few months after each other, but we’re doing it one at a time. We’re not releasing the whole album all at once.

I imagine that releasing a song at a time allows you to focus a lot more attention on each of the songs.

Yeah, for sure. And this is something that we’re new at. We usually go into a studio, and we have an engineer and even someone who works as a producer for us sometimes. But we’re doing this all on our own. Joe has a recording studio in his house right now and we’re just kind of going over there when we can and pumping out some songs. So, it’s a good learning experience. That’s for sure.

Can you talk a little bit about your goals and what you hope to accomplish with this new album?

Yeah, we’re going to be continuing to play some shows for the rest of this year, but I think next year is going to look a little different for us. We’re going to be trying to pull up two or three more albums within the year of 2024, and then we’d like to do more international travel as well as possibly some corporate gigs and just play a little less, but to get in front of more people. We would like to do that. So, we really have to find the places that have the most amount of people. That’s kind of what we’re focusing on. We’re always pumping out music, so that will come in 2024, but the rest of our year in 2023 is pretty chill. We’re going to do a couple house concerts, a few different festivals, but we’re really planning on revving back up in the year 2024.


How do you think the band’s current album is unique sonically and lyrically compared to the previous releases?

This one is a little bit of a book I would say about my life in particular. It’s in chronological order so the first single that we had was called “Forever,” and that was the biggest, most significant thing that I remember happening to me in my childhood. Then the next one was about my dad and how he dealt with my mother [Dawn’s] death. My mom passed when I was nine. My brother was 11. So, it’s kind of chapter by chapter in my life. It’s personal to me, but I think it also speaks to the masses.
Like the first song is called “Forever.” It’s about my mom passing, but it’s also about feeling no matter if somebody passes away or they leave you, they still stay with you in some sort of way. You still hear their voices. You still are inspired by who they were to you when they were here. They kind of just stick in your soul and I think that’s kind of a universal, natural human kind of feeling that we all have. So, it’s personal to me, but also it kind of speaks to other people kind of through my story. If it’s a parent or a cousin or a child, it makes us different. It changes us for the rest of our lives, and it certainly changed me.

So, you’ll have two new albums next year?

We have about four or five more songs for this album to be complete and then we’ll start a new album in 2024. That’s our plan.

Okay. It sounds like it’s been a pretty prolific period with songwriting for you.?

 Yes, absolutely. And we’re trying to figure out a smooth way to record and do it all ourselves. So, this year is kind of a learning year for us. We have to redesign some things and make adjustments, and we’re really excited for the next year. We want to put more strategy into what we’re doing. Like any business, we got to make the best decisions for us for the future, and we’ve almost been together 10 years, so we tried a lot of things. So, we really want to maybe even reach out to an agent or have someone who has been in the business for a long-time kind of giving us some good advice. Especially nowadays with the music business and how it’s changed, we have to relearn some things and make adjustments. So, it’s a learning year for us. I would chalk that up to that, honestly.

The band has an alternative rock and pop sound cello driven. Can you talk about the impact of cello and what it’s like having that kind of unique sound compared to a lot of the other groups out there?

We’ve always loved stringed instruments and I think that separates us from other genres, but it also puts us … We’re not really sure what category we really fit into. Having a cello on stage is wonderful and it appeals to the crowd, and I think the crowd really likes watching a stringed instrument. Especially something like the cello, that if you see an electric cello on stage, it looks a lot different than the regular cello that you’d see in a symphony. So, I mean it’s appealing for our stage performances, and I think it separates us from other bands, but there’s so many great bands around us and we have a wonderful community of people who are supportive. Kenosha-Racine area where we’re from has great venues that always welcome original music and so we feel very supported. No matter what our lineup is, we’re supported.

How has Wisconsin and Kenosha most influenced the band?

I mean definitely the support has always been there. Some of us in the band have been playing live music around our hometown for a couple of decades and it’s always been very welcoming, and I think we worked really hard to make solid relationships and I’m really proud of that. I’m proud of the community we’ve tapped into. Not only do they give to us, but we like to give back as well. So, if there’s benefits or a venue that’s not doing so great, we can play for them, bring some people and help them out. It’s kind of a win-win for everybody around here. So, everybody’s on the grind and I think people understand that the struggle is real. It’s hard to start something especially in this area if you’re not in L.A. or Seattle or somewhere where there’s a ton of people with a lot of money. But this is good for us. We love it. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What are the band members’ most surprising hobbies outside of music?

Joe is retired so he spends a lot of time with his grandkids. John does a lot of social media stuff for the band. So, besides the music, he’s our social media guy and he’s getting pretty good at it.
I’m kind of sporty. I like to do some sports every once in a while, and I like to exercise. And I have a 14-year-old son. He keeps me busy and he’s a baseball player, too, so my other favorite thing to do is sit and watch him play baseball. But other than that, some of us have full-time jobs and we don’t have much time for other things.

Why is the HomeTown Foundation’s mission to help local artists important to you to and the band?

Well, I think the importance is in the name and the mission itself. Any venue or struggling artist, we love to be a part of the support. We love to be a part of the family that kind of makes the foundation, makes the organization successful, and you can’t do it alone. So, for us to be asked to play at Regner Rocks is always an honor. It’ll be, I think, our third show now out there and it’s just a beautiful place to play. Summertime is one of our favorite times because people come out and one of the biggest reasons why we do this music thing is to bring people together, and Hometown is doing exactly that. And we will forever be supportive of that and play whenever we can for what you have set up in the future.

What are a couple of your favorite accomplishments and gigs of late that the band’s played?

We played on the Melissa Etheridge cruise which was a really big deal for us. I think that was our first international type of trip. So, we played three shows on the boat and then we got to stop, and so it was kind of like a working vacation for us. We got to meet a bunch of new artists that we’ve never heard of and kind of create another mini family supportive type of group of people. So, we’re still in contact with some of those people. That was just an amazing experience.
And then we went out to Scotland, which the owner of J.J. McCullough in Racine, he helped us with that tour. We played 14 shows in 13 days, and that in itself was just mind-blowing that we were able to do that. Just our little group of people, J.J. and our tour manager, Vic Cera, he helped. Joe, J.J., and Vic were a big part of the reason why we made that trip. There’s a lot of coordination going on and we made our own sacrifices, but they really did a good job coordinating that, and to kind of submit yourself into another whole culture was really cool to see. And we brought back a lot of what we learned out there home with us and it made us better artists, better musicians, better people.
So that was two of our really big gigs that we’re still in awe that they even happened.
One of the times we were supposed to go to play at Regner, there was a bomb threat. Our show canceled there, so we walked down kind of around the area and we walked past The Bend Theater, and we were like, “Wouldn’t that be cool to play there one day?” And we ended up doing it and that was a really nice venue. You could put that on the list if you want of the cool things we got to do.

I imagine your experience on The Voice had a similar kind of impact on you?

Yeah. That was kind of surreal when I think back on it. It was a couple of years of going back and forth to LA and leaving my family and leaving the band. It was really hard, but I knew that it would give us more visibility than we have, and it’s proven to be very beneficial for us, even though it happened before COVID. So, I came back from The Voice and then COVID happened, so we couldn’t really capitalize on all the visibility. You only have a little bit of a window to continue on that type of platform, but we did our best. I don’t know that I’d ever do it again, but I’m thinking about it.

You’ve been very outspoken and supportive of various causes and use your music to help. Can you talk a little bit about using your platform and music to support others?

Yes. A couple big things, venues that we play for, organizations that we like to support is the fight to end human trafficking. We’ve played handfuls of fundraisers for the awareness of human trafficking, especially around our area because between Chicago and Milwaukee is a big hub for that activity to go on. So, it’s kind of hit hitting our backyard.
We actually made a song called “Voices,” and that is the story of people who have been trafficked, the way how it cuts through a whole community when you hear of someone being groomed as a 12-year-old or 13-year-old, being groomed for a couple of years, and then being taken out and murdered. I mean there have been a handful of people that we know around our area that has happened to, and it’s just devastating. So, it is a social disease that we are very passionate about spreading the awareness for.
And then the other is the LGBTQ community. We are 100% in step with their movement and just to have the visibility and the equality, just to have a seat at the table they’re fighting for, and we’re supportive of that movement and always have been.

Betsy Ade & the Well-Known Strangers, Regner Rocks, West Bend


Author: Joshua Miller

I'm a freelance writer based in Wisconsin who has written about music and culture since 2009. My work has been published in a variety of Wisconsin, Chicago and national publications. I’ve written for many newspapers, magazines, and sites and interviewed a variety of musicians, entertainers and people of interest, including U2 guitarist The Edge, Kiefer Sutherland, Fred Armisen, “Weird Al” Yankovic, William Shatner, Alice Cooper, Idina Menzel, Steve Martin, Steve Miller and Brian Wilson

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