Catching Up with Milwaukee Songstress Sugar Ransom

Sugar Ransom &theworkersparty performing at Company Brewing in January. Photo by Joe Kirschling.

A touch of Voltaire, Leonard Cohen and Milwaukee rock club life will accompany the arrival of Sugar Ransom (AKA Sarah Marie Gilbert) and her backing band, theworkersparty, during their gig at Door County Makers Space this weekend.

Gilbert, the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist of the Milwaukee band, describes her musical writings as suicide western, dark Americana and crybaby cringerock – a sarcastic homage to listeners who continually encourage the musician to lighten up.

Her most recent project, hopefiend, came out in September 2016 and as with her first two albums (Mercy Hunt in 2014 and Shine On, Shadow in 2013), the project’s end marked a new beginning for the songstress, who will perform her second gig with her newest backing band, theworkersparty.

The band takes the stage at 8 pm on Saturday, March 25 at Door County Makers Space, 26 N. Third Ave. in Sturgeon Bay. Seats are $15 and guests are welcome to bring their own food and drink. For more information visit For more on Sugar Ransom, visit


PP: What’s behind the name Sugar Ransom?

SG: Ransom is the price for a man’s life. Most of the Atlantic slave trade revolved around the sugar industry and Candide, the play by Voltaire, I forget where the main character was but he runs into this man who is a slave and he’s like, oh my god, what happened to you? And he’s says, well this is the price you pay for sugar in Europe. All of that stuff has been sitting around in my head for a while and then I just came up with the name. Originally it was just going to be the name of an EP or a record and then I decided to use it as a nom de plume.


PP: Your backing band is theworkersparty, but credits on your last two albums also go to the Violent Mood Swings and the Secret Pistols.

SG: The band name changes with each project. I know that that’s confusing for people and it gets on everybody’s nerves but it’s what I decided to do so I’m doing it. Incidentally the lineup has also been changing after every album gets finished so it’s kind of working out. I did the first record, Mercy Hunt, with the Violent Mood Swings and then after that, some things kind of changed with the band lineup and once I had the idea for another album, I changed the name to the Secret Pistols and we worked on a record and then we finished a record and after the record was done, the lineup changed. It’s also, life happens, people finish a project with me and then they’re like okay, I have to focus on work now. That’s what happened so we just released a record in September [hopefiend] and the lineup changed and now that we’re playing shows again, it’s theworkersparty.


PP: Is there anything you are particularly excited about with this new lineup?

SG: We added a new guitar player, his name is Joe Cannon…the other cute part about the new name is there’s a really good band in Milwaukee named WORK and I’ve had the same rhythm section the whole time so they were in the band WORK which is fronted by my really good friend Joe Cannon. Two of the Secret Pistols needed to focus on some other stuff for a while so Joe came on and so now my backing band is basically this band WORK but I decided to sort of stylize it. If someone was curious, WORK is kind of an edgier punk band but Joe has a lot of country influence and western stuff so we’re still staying in the same realm we’ve always been in but with Joe Cannon. We’re pretty excited about it. It’s going to be good. People in Door County usually see me play solo or at the theater shows at TAP [Third Avenue Playhouse]. It’s definitely going to be different from that because when I write those songs up there, I like them to stand on their own while I’m still figuring out what they are but then I bring them to the band and we spend a lot of time arranging them so I’m still there, people will hopefully still get the same experience people normally get from me but it’s got all these added layers and atmosphere and stuff like that.


PP: What’s behind the self-imposed genres?

SG: I toured solo for awhile before I settled back in Milwaukee and had a band again and a lot of people would come up to me and tell me that I needed to write more upbeat songs. Just a whole bunch of unsolicited advice about how my music was way too sad and so I decided to embrace it in this snarky way.


PP: What kind of music inspires you?

SG: A lot of Leonard Cohen stuff…really old folk and soul music. Something about Leonard Cohen that I’ve always liked is his authenticity, that’s always been something I’m going for. And ‘20s jazz and old soul music and early rock.


PP: What do you write about?

SG: I go through a lot of different phases. Lately I’ve been trying to write about political stuff and there are clearly depressing things happening in the world. I write a lot about mental illness because I’ve had a major depressive disorder for most of my life. Social justice issues and mental illness, which is a social justice issue, play a major role in my songwriting.


PP: What is your connection to Door County?

SG: For the past couple of years I’ve been going up to Steel Bridge and the associated events like Love on Holiday and Dark Songs. I had gone through a pretty bad dry spell before I started going to those so they kind of helped me get back to it and consistently revitalize me. As a byproduct, I appreciate Door County a lot and try to keep in touch with that local culture. It’s a little far away from Milwaukee so it’s a little hard to do but I’ve made some pretty good friends in town.


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