Milwaukee's best rock band takes a huge step forward with Tommy Stinson-produced sophomore album, "Force of Nurture." Frontman Graham Hunt shares the album's backstory.
“How about another beer?” asks ostensibly every character to John Grant in the 1971 Australian film Wake in Fright. A refusal brings about a stern reaction, and their drinking target always relents under the heightened pressure. Grant, a rural school teacher who’s trying to reach Sydney for Christmas break, is staying the night in the desolate city of Bundanyabba before his plane leaves the next morning. However, he gets stranded in “The Yabba” as a night of drinking leads to bad choices, none as severe as gambling away all his traveling money on a “simple-minded game” where patrons bet on which side two coins land on. He eventually watches his plane fly overhead, while he’s hungover and on his way to the only place that seems to be open—the bar.
“Just drink your beer,” an older man says. “Sit down. Don’t worry.” Penniless, Grant falls into a rowdy crowd of drunken locals, whose spirits are simultaneously happy and terrifying. The townies attempt to indoctrinate him into their daily routine of drinking and depravity. It seems like Grant can never break out of the cycle and actually get to his final destination.
The sprawling eight-minute scorcher closing out Midnight Reruns’ sophomore album, Force of Nurture, uses this underrated horror film as source material. The song is unlike anything the band has recorded in the past. “Great Southern Rail” marches forward at an orderly pace, slowly and precisely clamping down its razor sharp claws until escape is no longer possible. And then it squeezes some more. Guitarist and singer Graham Hunt wrote the song in 15 minutes after watching the movie.
“I think it resonated with me so much because it kind of reminded me of Milwaukee,” he says.
Force of Nurture is a giant step forward for Milwaukee’s best rock band—partly because it feels so effortless and accessible, but perhaps more importantly the album sounds so huge. The improvement in sound quality gives the album an extra punch and the big guitars provide the knockout blow.
The band worked on the record with Tommy Stinson, the legendary bassist for the Replacements, at his home studio in Hudson, NY. Stinson was looking to get into recording. His manager had passed along the Midnight Reruns self-titled debut, which he enjoyed. The pairing made perfect sense.
“We played live the night before we started working,” Hunt remembers, “And he saw us and said, ‘I want the record to sound like what I just saw.’
“The first two days we just set up, mic’d everything and played live. The third day we overdubbed vocals and the last day we got weird with the overdubs. He was encouraging me and Karl [Giehl] to play guitar solos over a bunch of different songs. That ended up adding a whole new element to them that wasn’t previously there.”
They say never meet your idols. But they never said anything about recording with them. It’s obvious that the band didn’t show any anxiety about recording with Stinson because the record displays a rare confidence and swagger.
“We only had four days so we didn’t really have time to be starry-eyed,” Hunt says. “We didn’t talk about the Replacements at all really. One time we got drunk and talked for hours about aliens and how the reverse-engineering of UFOs is the reason for most modern technology.”
The album isn’t all fun and games. Placed right in the middle is one of the most heartbreaking songs in the band’s discography. “It’d be nice just to see your face/ Just to know that sometimes things don’t get fucked up in the end,” Hunt sings right before the song really kicks in. “Richie the Hammer” was written about one of Hunt’s friends struggling with addiction, who later died of an overdose.
“It’s kind of a tough thing to talk about, but I wrote that song before he died,” he says. “It’s about how he moved away to get clean and ended up in more trouble having to wear a wire for the cops. It was written about how I was worried about him. It was a true story according to him, but he stretched the truth a lot and I also used more than a little artistic license.
“When he died, I was thinking about not playing that song anymore. It felt too eerily real, and also I didn’t want to be disrespectful. I decided to keep it in the set because he loved the song so I feel like he would’ve wanted us to play it.”
Midnight Reruns celebrate the release of Force of Nurture on Saturday night at Cactus Club with openers Space Raft and Sat. Nite Duets. Doors open at 9 p.m.