In the years before satellite radio and streaming services made music of every genre and era immediately accessible, FM radio was king. This was particularly true in the rural corners of the country, where seemingly every other station played nothing but classic rock. Decades after bands like The Who and Pink Floyd topped the charts, one could still hear them on radios in Upper Midwestern diners and factories.
It was this music that soundtracked Nate Cherrier and Ryan Summers’ collective upbringing in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. These were the songs that were still alive, ever-present, like the close friends who shared them.
Through this shared passion for classic rock—particularly the strange and wonderful moments that flowed through those songs, often overshadowed by shout-along choruses—Nate (living in Phoenix) and Ryan (in central Wisconsin) launched the Midwest Soul Xchange project in 2015. Two guys, separated by 1,800 miles, with a vision. A vision for crafting new songs with the essence, the soul, of the songs they grew up with.
As their critically acclaimed debut release, New American Century, was gathering momentum in the independent music community throughout 2015, these tunesmiths were already looking forward. They didn’t want to simply record 10 songs, sketch out some cover art, and release it into the world. Their next project had to be focused. Cohesive. It had to mean something.
With this in mind, they decided to go back to their first instruments (Nate: percussion, Ryan: piano) and began sifting through their respective song catalogs, re-writing and re-working pieces to go along with new compositions. It didn’t take long before they realized these disparate fragments shared something, musically and thematically. Midwest Soul Xchange had found their sense of direction.
And after three years, the result is an unabashed rock opera: Weakened at the Asylum.
On the surface, this 40-minute album follows a cast of fictional characters at the forefront of the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Underneath, however, there’s a powerful through line: striving for justice amidst unspeakable tragedy. Like the songs on New American Century, earnest, progressive values shine through, but with a playful and colorful approach that never diminishes the heart of these characters.
Like the concept albums and rock operas that make up much of the classic rock canon, Weakened at the Asylum explores essential aspects of humanity through the lens of a tangible, specific time and place. Nate and Ryan recognized the power of this music throughout their formative years, and with their new album, they’ve created a worthy addition to the library of ambitious, thought-provoking rock music.