|The Reponse. Steve Kerwin is top left.
The year 2002 seems so long ago. America had a white president. The concept of video chatting on our (not-yet smart) phones was something that only existed in the movies – which were available in non-Blu-ray DVDs. Kids were forced to ride 40 miles on their Razor scooters, uphill – both ways! – to school. It was like the dustbowl v2.0 or something. Frankly, I don’t know how we made it.
Also taking place in 2002 was the final formation of Milwaukee pop-punk outfit The Response. Since taking the Cactus Club stage on March 9 of that year, the band put out a pair of albums, toured the U.S. extensively, split stage time with indie notables like Braid and Motion City Soundtrack, and became the best of friends. Sure, the band has its problems. The band parted ways with original drummer Jesse Zuniga, who was replaced by Since By Man drummer Jon Kraft. In time, The Response played dramatically less and focused on other things.
Saturday brings about replay of that March night in 2002, as The Response reunites its first tangible lineup, celebrates its 10th anniversary and, thusly, plays itself out for good. Prior to the band’s last show, Music Notes sat down with The Response’s singer/guitarist Steve Kerwin to talk the band’s beginnings, his favorite moments of the past 10 years and the band’s decision to say goodbye.
How did The Response originate?
We actually met playing a show at the Eighth Note together, and it was a really weird turn of events for me because the show was with my band in high school, Last Flight Home, [and we were] playing with Radio Tokyo and The Response.
A year to that day, I joined Radio Tokyo, then The Response. I still remember that show because Jesse tuned our drummer’s drums for him because we were just in high school and didn’t know what we were doing. It turns out, years later, that Jesse doesn’t really know what he was doing either, but to us it looked awesome because this cool rocker dude with tattoos was fixing our drums for us.
Richard [Bowman] went on to play with Last Place Champs in 2001, so the dudes found themselves in a band without a singer and Peter [Rogers, guitar] was sick of singing and didn’t like where it was going. He called me one day hopped up on his pain meds from getting his wisdom teeth pulled and asked if I wanted to jam. We got together, and I learned some of his songs and taught him some of mine, and that was it.
To you, what was the Milwaukee area music scene like back then opposed to what it’s like now?
If I were to recall back in the day, the Milwaukee scene, when I started playing with The Response, it was this huge outcry of people who would come to every single show. It didn’t matter where. You know, if it was a Wednesday at the Reed Street Station or Cactus Club show with some bands that nobody had ever heard of, it didn’t matter. It just seemed like there was this awesome feeling of community from everybody.
Now there are a lot fewer places to play – you had The Globe and Reed Street and the Legion Halls. The death of the all ages show is what I’ve noticed the most. There are places to play drinking shows, but there’s nowhere to play if you’re a fledgling younger band. It’s kind of sad.
What was it like to be asked to join by Peter? That was your first real, post-high school band.
It was weird for me because I had gone from being the lead singer and songwriter for my band in high school – three chords, nothing that hard – and then I moved on to bass with Radio Tokyo. I took a back seat. I was just there to lay down bass and there wasn’t a whole lot of creative input. With Peter, there was an instant connection with bouncing ideas off of one another. He brought to the table the songs they’ve been doing that he was like: “I’d like to keep these, but I’d like your take on it.” And I was like: “Well, I’ve got these songs that I’d like to keep but I’d like your take on.” It was this really great mix of styles.
What were some of the more memorable shows and opening slots?
Mikey spent most of his days when he worked for a travel agency just booking shows. He’d literally just call up The Rave and be like, “Can we open?” He had his finger on the pulse of all these bands that were already pretty big, but were touring on that record that didn’t get big yet. So we played with Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. We played with Coheed & Cambria, and a lot of huge bands like that. Nada Surf. We got an opportunity to play with these ridiculously awesome bands that nobody should’ve let us play with.
Looking back on all the tours and shows, what moments come to mind?
I tell people our tours were 75 percent bonding and finding that brother connection and 25 percent shows because we’d book the shows on our own and they’d fall through or there would be nobody there or they’d get cancelled, whatever. Most of the time it was just four of us stuck in a van, going to all these major cities and just hanging out. Those were some of the best memories. The weird crazy shows we got to play with amazing local bands in areas we would’ve never gone to otherwise and the hospitality of complete strangers.
How have you and the other members all changed over time?
I joined the band and these guys are already in their mid-20s and have already gone from their underage drinking to drinking phase. I joined this group when they’re already in the midst of “the afterbar” and the late nights where staying out drinking is just normal for them. I jumped on the bandwagon early on, but almost got burnt out too fast. I was the younger kid that was like, "This is awesome,” but at the same time, I was overwhelmed by their scene.
There were a lot of adjustments. We were all working jobs we could easily blow off. The band came first, then we also, as brothers, discovered the girlfriends and had to somehow manage hanging out with them. It was a transition. I’d say within the last four or five years, everyone had hit their stride. I went back to school, Mikey got his job, Jesse went back to school, Peter went back to school and is working on his career. It was one of those things where we all kind of knew the band was taking a back seat. It got to the point where nobody is sore about it; nobody’s mad. We can still hang out together and jam. We all sat down and talked about it and came to this agreement that we all love each other and we’ve all had a great time, but it’s kicking a dead horse. It’s time to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Say goodbye to The Response at the Cactus Club at 10 p.m. Saturday. Bosio opens. $7 cover.