1999. Bill Clinton was still in office. Moviegoers were introduced to the concept of man-on-pie relations featured in hit film American Pie. Y2K was an underlying concern—as was running out of lifelines on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” And Milwaukee rock band 1956 was playing some of its first shows. Since ’99, two presidents have served multiple terms, seven more American Pie movies have been made, and we’ve entered a new century with our computers in tact.
All the while, 1956 was there… until they weren’t. Following 12 years as a band, the project quietly took an indefinite hiatus in 2011. Fortunately, circumstances changed to allow this Milwaukee music constant to return to the stage. Prior to Friday’s 1956 reprisal, Music Notes asked all three members about the Milwaukee music scene of yore, the reasoning behind their departure and return, and what the future holds for 1956.
What are some of the differences you’ve noticed, both in the Milwaukee music scene and in your sound, during these last 14 years?
Jay Reimer (vocals, guitar): When we started in ’99, our musical evolution—if you want to call it that—took us to the different types of scenes that were happening here. In ’99 we started as stoner rock. It was pretty sludgy. Because of that we were playing Cactus Club and clubs like that. Members changed, and it became more solid around 2001 when Mike joined the band. We were more interested in the indie side of things, post hardcore and just noisey-er stuff that took us to house parties in Riverwest and legion halls for all ages shows.
Troy Butero (bass): If you’re talking about Milwaukee, when we were playing shows in the '90s, there were bars and clubs you’d try to play at with owners of a different generations. In the early and mid-2000s, there was a new, younger group of people that restored Bay View and what have you. You had these new people who were open to all different kind of music. For me in terms of the Milwaukee music scene, it used to be a lot more political to play places. Now, at least the past five to 10 years, it’s a more communal thing.
After 12 years, there was a sort of hiatus from playing shows. Was that something done intentionally? What’s behind the break?
TB: Ultimately, I moved out of state. We had final shows because I thought I was moving. But I love it here and I wanted to be back in Milwaukee. It’s home.
Where did you move?
TB: Hawaii. And Hawaii has nothing on Milwaukee. You can print that in bold letters. Hawaii has nothing on Milwaukee, especially when it comes to rock and roll.
What prompted the return? Was it just [Troy’s] move back?
JR: By the time Troy left, I was burned out a little bit. But we had gotten a couple opportunities to keep it moving that were pretty good. At the same time, a friend of our contact us about stepping up to play bass with us. Our buddy played with us for about a year. By the time we got done with those things we’d signed up to do, I had really gotten to a point where it just wasn’t the same for me anymore. That’s when things formally shut down.
Mike Mattner (drums): ’56 was done. When we knew Troy was coming back, we still weren’t sure if 1956 was going to happen anymore, we decided to get together and see what happened. We played some old songs to see how it felt. It was fun, so we decided to play a gig. That’s the way the band has always gone. We feel out a situation. We don’t direct it that much. Stuff just happens.
With that, are there any plans for new stuff? Any more shows in the works? A new album?
JR: It’s a low-pressure situation. Like Troy said, what we do together, we do well. We didn’t have to psych ourselves to do this. It felt good. We’re not thinking too hard about writing new stuff because we’ve got 12 years of material to choose from, some of which we haven’t played for a long time. It’s kind of exciting to go back and play that stuff. We’re talking about doing more shows because some of the best times we’ve had together was on the road.
At some point in the near future, I’d like to formally release the last EP that we put out called The Cut Up, which was put out digitally last year but we didn’t actually release it as a hard copy. Just to sort of put closure on it, I’d like to release it in the near future so there’s some sort of tangible thing to hold in your hands and sell at shows.
Speaking of shows, what can we expect to hear Friday? Will it be like a greatest hits show, with a little bit from every album? Mainly newer stuff?
MM: We’re pulling out stuff we haven’t played in years. We’re playing some stuff that I didn’t ever think we’d play again, honestly.
What are some of the highlights in the band’s history, either on stage or off?
TB: For me it was recording at Sun Studio. Just being there and taking it all in. I’m not a religious person, but it was kind of a religious experience for me. The energy in the old building… you can totally feel it.
MM: For me touring was the best time for me. Being on the road with these guys, the stuff we experienced and saw in the middle of nowhere America that we would have never found otherwise is the most memorable to me.
JR: The sum of the whole. Sun [Studio] is an obvious one. We opened for Helmet. That was fun. That was at Vnuk’s in Cudahy.
MM: There are a lot of great bands we opened for that no longer exist. Somehow we’ve stuck around.
Kind of in the vein, what are some of the younger or newer bands in this era of Milwaukee music that you enjoy?
TB: They’re not new, but my favorite Milwaukee band is Testa Rosa. I absolutely love them.
JR: That band Like Like The The The Death. I kind of like what they’re doing. They don’t know us from Adam probably, but I like what I’ve heard.
MM: We played with Elusive Parallelograms a few years back, and they had a horrible show. Their equipment was breaking down and nothing was in tune. But from then to what they are now is amazing. They’ve matured so much. The releases they put out now are really well done. They’ve really come a long way. It’s impressive to me.
1956 headlines a show with Vaudvileins (Chicago) at Friday at Frank’s Power Plant. The show begins at 10 p.m.