Many members of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh community might know Paul Van Auken as a professor and chair of the sociology department. He’s been at UW Oshkosh since 2007 and teaches courses on rural sociology, sociology of the modern city, environment and society, population problems and applied sociology, among others. He also conducts research on issues related to community, immigration, land use planning and access to public space, sustainability, and teaching and learning.
What these same people might not know is for most of his life, Van Auken’s been a musician and he’s played in rock bands of some sort since starting high school.
“I wrote and performed my first song in eighth grade, I think, and started a band with some pals the following year,” he said. “I have basically been in some sort of band ever since, mostly playing bass and singing harmonies. I’ve never been the most technically proficient one in the band but have always found a lot of fun and satisfaction in it.”
A native of Iowa, Van Auken grew up in a family of musicians and played trumpet in high school and sang in choirs through college.
Since moving to Wisconsin in 1999, he’s played with a handful of bands—sometimes for several years, others for brief periods—including Spin Spin Coupling, Redshift Headlights, the Angry Seas, the Pull and A Solid Seven. He also now plays in a duo called Stumble Brothers.
Van Auken’s most recent project is an album titled The Beginning of the End Was Before the Beginning from a musical entity called Everything’s Haywire. Everything’s Haywire, as Van Auken explains it, is not really a band, but more of an extended family of collaborators who in several cases have decades of history making music together. Several are in Wisconsin, others are or were scattered about the country and as far away as France.
Among those collaborators is Stephen McCabe, an English lecturer at UWO. (McCabe and Van Auken also played together in Redshift Headlights.) Justin Mitchell, who graduated from UWO in 2006 with a philosophy degree and in 2011 with a master’s in educational leadership, also co-wrote one of the songs.
The album—now available on Bandcamp—is the result of about four years of writing and recording, though many of the songs have roots that reach farther back. It may end up as the only output from Everything’s Haywire. It serves as a document, Van Auken said, of a period in the lives of those involved and the fun they had together.
“This is a recording project that may end up with just this one, sprawling, eclectic album, but we’ll see,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve been the main singer and songwriter, for better or worse, but it was very gratifying to be able to complete it.”