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Animal House
A quirky local band blends more than the recommended amount of humor with its indie-pop sound.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

In the living room of a nondescript home on Weil Street in Riverwest, a group of 20-somethings gather on a Friday evening, as they often do. One dispatches cans of Miller High Life from a 12-pack and receives thanks in butchered impressions of Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks. Magazine cutouts of actor Jake Gyllenhaal (with his eyes removed, no less) loom creepily in the background.

One man goes through the kitchen and opens the basement door by poking his finger into a hole that once held a knob. The rest of the quintet follow his lead, navigating a thin corridor that features empty beer cans from practices past, a poster of an ’80s babe clutching a bottle of Olde English 800 and a “recording booth” –  a nook soundproofed by egg cartons and books like Color Healing nailed to its walls. Just that quickly, the men have undergone the silent metamorphosis from carefree slacker friends to The Fatty Acids – arguably, the city’s hardest-working band.

Check out behind-the-scenes photos of our shoot with the Fatty Acids.

What began as an outlet for a group of transplanted Milwaukee students has quickly become a crown jewel in the local music scene. The Fatty Acids are even catching on beyond state lines. They’re putting the finishing touches on a long-awaited third album that could vault the band to much greater things.

In 2007, frontman Josh Evert, drummer Cole Quamme and bassist Derek De Vinney founded the band after striking up a friendship at UW-Milwaukee. After adding guitarist and roommate Joel Van Haren (who has since relocated to Washington, D.C.), the band members moved into their Weil Street home and practice space that they’ve affectionately named Kribber’s Tiny Kingdom, after Evert’s deceased childhood cat. That tiny kingdom is where the band self-recorded its debut album, Stop Berries, Berries, and Berries, Berries in 2010.

“It was insane because when we were recording Berries, none of us had any idea what we were doing,” says Evert, who also plays keyboard and auxiliary percussion for the upbeat indie-pop outfit. “We locked ourselves in here for a week and busted out 80 percent of the recording in a few days.”

Shortly after the album’s release, the band called upon new roommate Kurt Raether – who had previously filmed some humorous music videos for the band – to play trumpet and asked mutual friend Matt Pappas to play guitar.

“It’s been a weird ride that I almost feel like I’m a hitchhiker on,” Raether says. “The musical genius coming from the guys really blows me away.”

Evert attributes the expanded band’s “manic depressive” 2011 follow-up, Leftover Monsterface, to helping The Fatty Acids’ reputation grow locally.

Matt Wild, who has served as editor of A.V. Club Milwaukee for two years, first heard them at a live show. “The thing that impressed me is that they combined a bunch of elements I usually hate – like being really happy and joyous on stage, keyboard and trumpets – and they somehow made it work.”

The Fatties’ boisterous brand of pop also impressed Andy Nelson, who handles public relations for Pabst Theater, Turner Hall and Riverside Theater. He saw them at Club Garibaldi in 2010, shortly after their lineup solidified.

“In a live sense, they were just so fun to watch,” Nelson says. “It’s fun, weird music that sounds like a mix of Flaming Lips and Frank Zappa and stuff coming out today, like Foxygen, with this young, unbridled energy.”

The Fatty Acids have played Pabst venues four times, including a supporting slot at the January 2012 album release show for fellow Milwaukee band Sat. Nite Duets at Turner Hall Ballroom.

“It was immediately clear that they were some of the funniest guys I’ve ever met,” says Stephen Strupp, guitarist for Sat. Nite Duets.

The Fatties and Sat. Nite Duets toured the Midwest and East Coast last summer in the
Acids’ ancient brown van, “The Daymare.” And they waged war against one another in a self-made music video, complete with dance choreography, for a split 45 record late in 2012.

But now that the bandmates are no longer undergrads, only Raether and Evert live in Kribber’s Tiny Kingdom. Careers make practice and touring difficult, but this goofy cast of pals still manages to spend time together in the kingdom while working on their next percussive and politically charged record (working title: Little Brother Syndrome) due this summer.

But don’t wait until then to indulge. The Fatties will bring their campy sound to Buckhead Saloon (1044 N. Old World Third St.) April 13 and Bay View’s Cactus Club (2496 S. Wentworth Ave.) April 26.

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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