Rosco Wuestewald: Moving Onward

From the archives of Deitra Issue 06 comes this in depth interview with Rosco Wuestewald of folk band Onward Etc. A rising indie music star out of Springfield, Missouri, Rosco has gone on to tour the world since publication of this article in October 2013. We can't wait to feature him again and find out where he has traveled, who he has met and how things have changed in his personal and professional life. But in the meantime, enjoy this intimate look into the Old Soul.  

written by Tamara Styer | photographed by Matt Loveland

IT’S A WARM, SUNNY day in Springfield, MO, and Deitra Mag meets up with Rosco Wuestewald of Onward, Etc. for a cold beverage on the patio of J.O.B. Whiskey Lounge. Rosco has just gotten back from a national tour, having visited cities in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. His second day back into town, he finally gets a moment to relax.
     Rosco is the kind of guy that’s friends with everybody. He’s the one cheering on other bands at shows and hugging everyone he knows. Always warm, friendly and an exuberant ball of energy, he loves to laugh and tell stories, as well as listen to everyone else’s.
As we find a corner on the buzzing patio, Rosco sits on top of a table cross-legged and happily tells us about his recent tour.
     “I get so mixed up anymore that I just have to go by the state, because it gets so difficult to remember every city,” he says.
     They got to party with Gogol Bordello and The Lumineers. “It was so awesome, man. It’s good to meet people of that caliber and know how real they are,” says Rosco. “They’re really nice people.”

     When it comes to his band Onward, Etc., along with Tom Pearson and KC Olsen, their debut album, Old Soul, has spurred tons of fans across the country.
     And now fans will have something new to look forward to. Onward, Etc. landed a record deal with DC-Jam Records out of L.A. and will be recording their new album as this article goes to press.
     DC-Jam Records produces guys like Richie Ramone of the Ramones, Fishbone and Government Issue, among others, and several up and comers including Dirty Filthy, The Generators and Machine 22.
     “We had to go through a discussion about whether we wanted to take that path and sign our music over. The record company is amazing. They want to work together to make this us. They’ve got our back majorly, so we’re super stoked about it. We’ve got a whole new team of people; a brand new merchandise manager and a whole new booking team. Derek O’Brien from Social Distortion is going to produce our album. It’s super awesome.”
     A punk rock drummer, O’Brien was also involved in D.I. and performed in the film Suburbia. He has worked in the studio with recording artists such as Flogging Molly and Coldwater Canyon Band.
     “Derek is a professional,” says Rosco. “He’s done some major albums. Albums that we all grew up with. He is a master. He knows exactly what to do, so it’s going to be a lot easier for us to work with somebody of that caliber. He’s going to create the album into something that we had never imagined. It’s going to be good. And we’ve got so much new material that it’s just fucking awesome. I’m so excited for it. The best part about it is when you have somebody at that caliber that you’ve looked up to, somebody that’s been in a band that you’ve listened to since you were a child, and to know how excited they are to produce your music! It just lights a whole new fire.”

     Rosco and his band Onward, Etc. will start touring in October and head over to L.A. to begin recording in the studio. They plan on having several guest musicians on the new album, all of whom you’ll recognize. It’s an exciting undertaking for this midwest band.
     “It’s happened so quick,” says Rosco. “I remember always hearing about these deals that happened, and now it’s like, holy shit we’re doing it. We can do this. I always hoped for this, but I never thought that it would work out in the way that it has. It’s like a dream world.”
     Which brings us to the band’s name, Onward, Etc. There are many fables about the way Rosco came up with it, but here’s the real story.
     It has to do with a recurring dream that Rosco has had for years. He would go into a dream world and find an object, like a desk or a tree, with the word “onward” carved into it. The word was even carved into somebody’s skin at one point. Every time he dreamed, the entire landscape of the dream would be different, but it would revolve around the word, “onward.” After baffling over where that word was coming from in his psyche, he realized that it was his brain’s way of saying that whatever you’re doing you need to keep doing it, and expand it and take it farther. Move past “onward” and see what’s beyond that. That’s where the “etc” came in.
     “There’s something kind of spiritual in a sense about finding what you love most in your subconscious,” says Rosco, “and really digging into it there rather than in reality, because I think sometimes your subconscious pushes the real world in a better way than you had in real life.”
     Having this recurring dream not only gave Rosco the name of his musical project, but it changed the direction of his creative endeavors.
     “It was absolutely substantial for my life. I was at a point where I was going in two different directions. I had just gotten out of photography school as well, and I couldn’t decide which way I wanted to go, either professional photography or professional music.”
 One day the decision seemed to make itself. Music was definitely the path he would choose.

     Rosco has been playing music since his early teens. He got his first guitar when he was 13 and started self teaching.
     “I didn’t get serious with it until probably 19 or 20. I always played it, but I wasn’t thinking that I could do anything with it until then. The music just overwhelmed everything. It became a way of life rather than just a sound.”
     Originally Rosco created Onward, Etc. as a solo act and traveled to different parts of the country to form different versions of the ensemble. He had a different band on the West coast than he had on the East and so on. That’s the way it ran for a while, jumping from an 8-piece group to a three-piece overnight, and vice versa. As time went by, he met violinist KC Olsen, who became the first permanent member of Onward, Etc.
     “He was the first one that I asked, ‘Will you do this forever? Are you willing to jump on this pirate ship and ride through crazy, wavy seas with me?’ And he was all about it.”
     Rosco and Olsen toured together for about two years before they met drummer Tom Pearson. They had been using a kick drum and a suitcase for percussion, which has it’s cool vibe and expressive qualities, but it was time for another addition to Onward, Etc. The band still reaches out to those musicians who have backed Rosco in the past. They’ll tour to a city and connect with a bassist or a banjo player, and enjoy the addition of those instruments for a night.
     “It’s always a different thing that keeps it interesting. It’s always a pleasure for the crowd too, I think. It’s always like, ‘Shat’s it going to be like this time?’”
     The music is captivating; heartfelt songwriting and lyrics and an old folk sound. Rosco’s voice – both smooth and gravelly – mingles with his acoustic guitar like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. The violin chimes in its harmony in ballads as well as foot stomping beats. It’s no wonder why fans are flocking to their shows. But beyond the album, it’s their stage presence that makes people want to keep coming to see it again and again.
     “I love our album Old Soul, but I know that it does absolutely no justice for our live show. And that’s what we want to accomplish with this next album. We really want to make you think, ‘Holy shit these guys are crazy,’ and then when you come to a show, you’ll know that it’s going to be absolutely ballistic and fun and a party. You can enjoy yourself and walk in with a smile and walk out with a smile. We are a party band. We want to bring a party. We want people to leave a show and say, ‘That was a fucking good show and a good party.’ We want to bring a memorable night.”

     They’re always on top of a table or jumping into the crowd, which is not generally what you see with acoustic singer-songwriter folk music. There’s always something interesting going on at their shows, including the rowdy fans dancing like hippies and singing the lyrics as Rosco shouts them back down from the stage.
     “It’s weird how quickly that catches on,” Rosco says. “It’s even weirder when you go to a place that you’ve never been before, with people you’ve never met, and you’ve got an entire crowd just screaming the lyrics back at you. It’s unbelievable. It’s the whole reason I do it. It’s just that feeling when you’re affecting people’s lives. It’s the best feeling when you have somebody come up to you and say, ‘Your song has changed my life.’ That’s the best thing when I hear that.”
     When he was younger, Rosco’s songwriting was very personal. He primarily wrote about things he had experienced. His songwriting has kept much of that element but has evolved into writing about stories based on the things he sees, reads or hears around him. He will pick up on something that he thinks is a cool topic or something interesting that affects his life.
     “I write lyrics in a way that I understand them. But at the same time I don’t expect anyone else to understand them in the way that I do. I like when people take my lyrics and make them their own. My experience might turn into something that happened in their life that strikes up a memory. I think that’s what I aim for in a sense; trying to be able to strike memories in other people’s lives. Bring up a good time in life, or a sad time in life or a loved one.”
     Rosco played in a punk rock band years ago, then felt that the style of music couldn’t bring him any further, so he started studying songwriters like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and old folk musicians.
     “I became involved in loving that and blending them all together, which has become our generation’s sound. There’s so many bands that are coming out with that sound. I love it.”
     Touring with bands like Larry and his Flask and Flogging Molly, Rosco is looking forward to his upcoming projects. But life on the road is not what it seems from the outside. Huge tour buses and jets, throngs of screaming fans, penthouse suites and red carpet events are not the norm for the touring musician.
     “There’s nothing glamorous about it right now, guys,” says Rosco. “There’s still so much work to do. It’s a hard industry. And I think a thing that a lot of people don’t understand about the music industry is that it’s insanely difficult to get into. It’s insanely difficult to run your life by. It blows my mind sometimes that people are still doing it. You can get to that point where it’s smooth sailing from then on, but you have to work your ass off to get there.”
     Everything that could have gone wrong seems to have while Onward, etc. are on tour, from their van breaking down and being stranded on the side of the road for days to scrounging for dinner out of a garbage can.
     “I chose the route that the majority of human beings don’t choose. And I did it because I just had a feeling. I think about if I would have failed, I would be screwed right now!”

     Rosco grew up in Yankton, South Dakota, and when he decided not to go to college, it was an upsetting thing for for his surrounding community.
     “It was really hard for them to understand. It was hard for me to talk to people about it without them trying to talk me out of it. I had so many people try to talk me out of going down the route that I did, and try to change my route in a sense, and now after all these years, it seems like all these people have come back and embraced it. That is a really good feeling to know that I’ve made people proud that were worried about me. People would literally go out of their way to tell me that they were worried about that path that I was taking in life – going and being a musician and trying to go spend my life on the road and make this happen. And I can’t blame them. That’s a terrifying thing for a 17 year old kid to do. But now going back home, those same people that were worried about me come up to me and tell me that they’re proud of me. It’s just great.”
     This year Rosco held a music festival in his hometown, inviting 12 bands from all over the country to play. There were over 1,000 people in attendance.
     “It was so amazing. Everyone came out. And everybody loved it and they want to do it again. It was a perfect way of giving a gift back, and even better to have people saying, ‘We needed this. This town needs this.’”
     Giving back to his hometown community was the perfect way for Rosco to show everyone what following your passions can do. He wouldn’t change his decision to go down that road less traveled for anything. He holds the strong belief that if you want something in your life, you have to go after it. After much hard work and dedication to his music, the hard times are paying off.
     “We’re floating on a cloud right now,” says Rosco. “We’re in a great position compared to where we used to be. But it’s going to be years and years touring in a shitty van still.”
     We mention that it’s awesome that he accepts that. So many bands expect to bypass all the hard work and go straight into the money, tour buses and sold out arenas.
     “It does happen for some people, sure, but 98 percent of bands around, you have to go through the broken down nights,” says Rosco. “You really have to have a state of mind where you know that you’re going to be poor. There’s a chance that someday you’ll maybe be alright. But it’s going to be decades of being poor. You can’t worry about the money.”
     After years of hard work and dedication, Onward, etc. is breaking the surface of the sea that is the music industry. They constantly go out on tour, reaching more fans with their music every time they play.
     “We played a show one time in Salt Lake City, that we literally played to the bartender, the cook and then one other person that came in to pick up their to go order. For the whole set. But the last song we were playing, I see out of the corner of my eye this group of people, like 7 or 8 people rushing across the street, running at the venue. And they run into the venue and come right to the stage and I realize that I knew every single one of them. And they were just walking by the venue randomly in Salt Lake City and heard my music that they knew and ran up. So they missed the whole set, but that’s so cool, man. It was super random.”

     Onward, Etc. keep finding people around all over the world that love their music. They sell out Alaska and Hawaii every time they go, and have a strong grasp on many cities across the U.S. They have also had much success when touring across Europe in countries like Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, Holland, U.K. and Ireland.
     “Music is its own language,” says Rosco. “So whether or not you’re in another country, people are going to either love it or not, and that’s how it is everywhere. A funny thing about being a road warrior, is that the world collapses in on itself and gets so small. Everywhere you go, people you know are there now, people that know this person or know that person. It’s a huge web of relations that’s constantly out there for everyone. That’s super amazing to come across.”
     Rosco is the example of going after your dreams. His passion for music has brought him through many tough times, but he has always kept a positive attitude, constantly looking forward.
     “Just don’t stop and you will be successful,” he says. “That’s the way that I’ve always done it. When you stop, you die. If you don’t stop, you will achieve what you want. It’s the art of war. You just keep pushing, no matter what. There’s one of you and 100,000 of them, you just have to keep up. You’ll win the war. It’s an awesome position to be in though, because then you look back whenever you have gotten to where you see things happening and you know it’s going to be okay. You look back on those days and you’re like, ‘Yeah I totally did it!’”   DM

To see the digital version of Deitra Issue 06 featuring Rosco Wuestewald of Onward, Etc., head to!

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