It all started when Chad Helminak decided to bring his guitar to the training conference he attended after taking a new job at the Wisconsin Credit Union League in 2009. Helminak's guitar got the attention of Chris Morris, who was new on staff at the National Credit Union Foundation and was attending the conference, too.
"We just started talking," recalls Helminak. "We realized we both lived in Madison, we both loved music and we both worked for credit unions."
Over the past year, Helminak, 28, and Morris, 33, have turned their shared interest in music and credit unions into an enterprise. They've formed the Disclosures, an acoustic rock duo whose original compositions sing the praises of financial institutions that are not-for-profit, member-owned and community-based.
"I know my bank is a business; they need to make money to survive," sings Helminak in "Movin' on with My Money." "But I don't like it when the big bonuses are coming from my nine to five."
Morris says he and Helminak first got the idea to blend songwriting and credit union advocacy from a contest. A credit union marketing firm sent out a challenge to credit union employees everywhere: Send us a two-minute video espousing the industry's ideals in a creative way.
That's what prompted the Disclosures to write "Movin' on with My Money." The video was viewed thousands of times online after being picked up by the Huffington Post.
"We were very happy with how that turned out," says Morris. "We thought, 'Wow, this works,' and we decided to write more songs like that."
Two weeks ago, the Disclosures released their seven-song debut EP, (Hey, We're) The Disclosures. Each track sheds a different light on the history and philosophy of financial cooperatives.
"The Ballad of Friederich Raiffeisen" tells the story of a 19th-century mayor in Germany who fought against loan sharks by pooling community funds. Today, Raiffeisen is known as the father of the credit union movement.
"Seven Good Reasons" enumerates the principles that make Helminak and Morris passionate about the industry in which they work. "We've got volunteer directors, voted in by our electors, also known as the owners, who of course is you," sings Helminak.
The songs are backed by the duo's brisk and lively acoustic guitar interplay. The music is uncomplicated roots rock that defers to the larger lyrical messages.
The Disclosures are proof that in a crowded field of local music, it never hurts to carve out a niche audience. "Some credit unions have asked us to come play at their staff meetings," says Helminak. "We've kind of turned our songs into an educational presentation. We'll talk about who Raiffeisen was, then we'll play our song about him."
Another credit union bought dozens of the duo's new EP and plans to distribute them as part of their new employee training packet.
The Disclosures claim they've invented a new pop music genre: thrift rock. "Nobody else we know of is writing songs like these," says Helminak. Madison is a natural place for the duo to call home. Both the national and international credit union trade associations are located here.
Looking ahead, the Disclosures say they'll continue to spread a musical message about the merits of credit unions because they believe in it.
"I've gotten to see what credit unions do firsthand in my job," says Helminak. "They help people with small loans that don't drive profit but are just done for the good of the person. That's really satisfying to the soul."