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The Puke, The Party, The Rock

By DA Fisher

Fort Wayne Reader


Receiving an e-mail from Kevin Kujawa, aka Kevin Richard, aka one of two frontmen from Chicago rockers Mannequin Men, stands as my own minor thrill in 2012. So far. That said, it was a thrill I had to work through the clouds to find.

I first heard about said Men via my least favorite music website, Spin.com, when the mag's staff selected a Mannequin Men track as their favorite new single back in October. I loved that cut — titled "Hobby Girl" and sung by Kevin's partner in crime, Seth Bohn — before the Spin stream hit the one-minute mark, next ordering what I thought was the crew's latest LP, a garage opus called Lose Your Illusion, Too, before the sun set and the boozing and raging got real. Cute title, killer cut.

But look, I've got memory issues. So by the time the record hit my doorstep I'd already let loose the details. Regardless, the disc hit the needle, the bottle drained the pain and the volume hit the roof. Loud-ish, rocking and spirited, Illusion felt alright. It sounded kind of like The Stooges, if The Stooges weren't so leather-clad, tail-chasing and obvious. But also kind of like The Sonics and my man Sam Sham. All the raging big boys.

The cut I really wanted to hear, the above-mentioned "Hobby Girl," was nowhere in sight, nor was the sensitive tone of said cut I was hoping could save my soul. And so I stumbled down to the library and dug through the alien 'Net space, eventually re-visiting the original Spin.com page, which informed me that the song I so desired was on a brand new eponymous Men record that had just hit the dusty shelves. The fridge was stocked, so … BAM, ordered, Done. Another life achievement.

And eventually, goddamn weeks later, the record arrived, packaged in colorful children's art and pressed on beer-colored vinyl. Forgiven. And it rocked. But it rocked differently than Illusion had. Calmer. Sweeter. More, err, mature. And while those words might frighten my many Sham-y readers, trust me when I say that the songs, the tone, the mood, the perspective and the AMC (Adult Male Comfort) reminded me very much of a little monster called Exile On Main St. The eponymous plate in question, however, is tighter than that rambling mess of a boozer's bible. A brilliant ode to the rambling rockers, the bad boyfriends, the failed lovers and the high timers. Chugging and dusty, organic rock tunes for the poppy part of your soul that loves The Clean and The 'Mats.

The fandom really showed its teeth the minute my publisher, Bubba Sums, forwarded me an e-mail from a guy named Fanger who'd recently booked the Men for a second show in Fort Wayne. Wait … Fanger? Bubba? Fort Wayne? Second show? Turns out the Men played a drunken, puke-y set at The Brass Rail a few months before I came to town. Word is that Kevs even ralphed on a merch-buying fan after the show. SKILLS.

"You want to write about this?" the bossman asked. And so Kujawa/Richard and I started typing letters each other’s way. First things first, I had to ask about, ya know, the adult sound of the new record.

"As unfortunate and boring as it sounds, we're older now. We're less pissed off," Richard typed. "We're less likely to start a fight or date a psychopath. That's where these tunes came from. I think our fans kinda understand the tinge of false emotion involved in those things and are relieved to hear us being ourselves. If not, then they can listen to Iceage."

For their slower, poppier, post-Iceage new tunes the Man Men stomped and twanged and soared with hottie studio duo Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins at their Key Club Recording Co., located about 90 minutes from the heart of Chicago — a studio decked out with a Flickinger console that was originally custom built for some guy called Sly. Sly Stone. Kev wrote some tracks, Seth wrote some tracks. Friends forevah.

"Seth is my brother, pretty much. I'm really really lucky to have someone that tempers my insanity and someone that understands me as simply as he does," Richard told me. "Sounds like we're in love, I know, but honestly the kid is just great. Incredibly talented and he's got those biting, panty-dropper, sweet-as-sugar lyrics that just kill it. We've been playing music together since we met and have been roommates up until pretty recently, when we both got live-in girlfriends."

Word is that the two shacked up bros — and their other two bros, Ethan D'Ercole and Miles Raymer — chowed burgers and slammed brews with Fort-area locals before barfing it up at the Rail in the fall of 2009.

"Oh boy," Kev said when asked about his last visit to Fort Wayne. "[That show] is always the boys' favorite way to dog on me. I definitely remember how nice everyone was and we were so overwhelmed that there was a BBQ and people hanging out and a fridge full of beer that we maybe overindulged a bit. I know I was the most guilty of this. The show must've been bad because the story that the boys like to razz me on most is me thinking my guitar was broken during the set when it wasn't. I honestly don't remember this, but apparently it happened.

"In all honesty, it's Miles' dumb ass fault. He had apparently just found out that Leonard Cohen's drink was something called a Red Needle, which is pretty much tequila and cranberry juice. After a few of those everything just shut down. I remember talking to someone out by the van, selling a T-shirt or whatever after the show, then totally barfing mid-sentence. Good times," Kevs giggled. "I woke up on the way home, laying on the floor of the van with an open four-pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups smashed under my face as a pillow. It was a disgusting night. We'll hopefully display some restraint this time and put on a good show."

They'd better not.

For Mannequin Men the boys also switched labels, working this time around with up-and-comers Addenda.

"OuR old label, Flameshovel, got hit pretty hard when Touch and Go went under," Richard explained. "So the last record we did was the last record that they made. Sign Mannequin Men and we'll submarine your business. Addenda was really excited about the project and we get to keep ownership of everything so it ended up working out for the best. They're great people aside from music and that really is what matters most. It's not just a business relationship."

Listening to the beer-colored platter over and over again, I couldn't help but wonder how tracks like Kev's incredible foot stomper "Flyin' Blind" aren't known by the masses. Or at least the kids with the specs and the gals with the crummy boyfriends. That vocal. That chug. Oh man. I mean, I know the world is full of philistines and blow-hards, but how can should-be classics like "Dark Sunglasses," "Don't Grow" and "OK" slip under the radar despite Spin.com mentions and Black Lips shout-outs on MTV? I had to ask. Because that's my job in this situation …

"We've gotten close to that point. See, the thing is, if we didn't have day jobs we'd be able to tour more and make more money. But it's just hard to make that leap, even though the 16-year-old in me screams in my ear 'DO IT!' every day," Kevs said in response to my possibly offensive, certainly intrusive question about missing fame. "But I kinda think 16-year-old me was an idiot," he continued, "so I'm a bit tepid to do such a thing. We have a great booking agent out in L.A. who has been great to us. Our next outing is going down to the shit storm of an asshole convention that is SXSW."

Yes! The swears! The rage! I was waiting for those typed letters to finally appear. Rock n' roll. Turn it up. Drink it down. Puke again! Do it! I'll have the camera ready! The YouTube Rockers are ready and waiting!

But really, I wanted to know how it felt to be so damn good at something and have to sit calmly while the Iceage kids score the big bucks and tour the world.

"We could do a whole lot of things better, but we're trying," Kevs continued. "Success stopped being the hope for us somewhere in the middle of Lose Your Illusion, Too, and instead we just tried to focus on being honest with each other in what we want. I think what we want is to not feel disingenuous about what we do for the sake of success or popularity. We've been a band for eight years now and we're still making records - in my eyes, our best records - so all the haters can just fade. I mean, look at bands like Wavves or to a lesser extent Surfer Blood. Insert garage buzz band brand here. They had success and then they popped. I'd rather have it our way any day."

Seeing as how the Men aren't yet working on a new record - and I can't find any better way to gush over or describe the new tunes (Kevs calls 'em "Swell Maps, as fronted by Bobby Darin," but I can't dig on that) - I figured I'd close out this one-way love fest by asking The Rocker about his hometown rock n' roll scene.

"There's actually a great scene here now, again. HoZac records is centered here so we have those guys who have cultivated a really interesting thing. It's not all for me but it's hard to deny that they are great at recognizing what makes music interesting and supporting the bands that are doing it," Kevin told me about his hometown of Chicago. "Outer Minds are from here and they'll be the next band that really blips the radar of these kids who are garage hungry. And they actually have songs. Radar Eyes just put a great record out. Heavy Times put the best record of last year out. Things are going really really well in Chicago and I hope it continues. I love this city in a way that some would call unnatural."

Wait, I thought Mannequin Men put out the best record last year? Now I have to head out to the library and look up Heavy Times and Radar Eyes and Outer Mind and all the other two-name Chi-town rockers.

And on Saturday, February 25 I'll head out the Rail to check out the Men as they share the stage with two-word rockers Proto Idiot (Fort Wayne) and Apache Dropout (Bloomington).

I'll be the bad character who - depending on how many drinks I can suck down - knows the words by heart.

You'll be the one watching Fort Wayne's Show of the Year.

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