It was a relatively warm day in early May last year in Wisconsin. Singer Graham Hunt and his band of five years, Midnight Reruns, began to feel some butterflies in the hours leading to their show at the Eagles Ballroom. They were opening for one of their favorite bands, The Replacements, who were in the midst of their reunion tour and about to play Milwaukee for the first time since breaking up in 1991. As the band started preparing to play, Hunt peered out into the ballroom and saw people pouring in at a exponential pace.
“It was definitely surreal going out in front of like 3,000 people,” Hunt recalls. “We got comfortable pretty fast. People seem to respond really well to it. There were a few moments where I could only see the first two rows, and I think that’s what got us comfortable. And then there’d be a big light, and I’d see 3,000 people, and I’d be like, ‘Oh shit, there’s actually 3,000 people here!’”
Opening for The Replacements was one of many highlights that marked Midnight Reruns’ eventful 2015. It was a dream opening spot, made possible thanks in part to the band recording their sophomore album, Force of Nurture, with Replacements bass player Tommy Stinson about five months prior.
For Hunt, it felt like things had come full circle with his favorite band. He got into The Replacements in middle school after his father, who had seen the band in college, suggested he listen to them. When he was in 6th or 7th grade, Hunt bought a copy of the Replacements’ Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash on a whim and quickly became a fan. He promptly chose their song “I Hate Music” to write about in music class and later grew more fond of their music into high school. They opened him to new possibilities in music.
“They were the band that opened me to other things besides punk,” he says. “They were influenced by The Rolling Stones and Big Star and all this classic rock stuff. They were that bridge between punk rock and everything else. I identified with them, because they didn’t fit in with any niche. They were doing their own thing. It was an outsider thing that that really resonated with me.”
While it’s too early to make definitive comparisons, Midnight Reruns has already shown adventurous tenacity in doing things their way and crafting their own unique brand of guitar drenched power pop and rock and roll. Force of Nurture, released in October, features a diverse collection of songs driven by the members’ different influences. Many of Midnight Reruns’ songs are given an added punch by the dueling guitars of Hunt and guitarist Karl Giehl.
“It’s very guitar-oriented,” says Hunt. “That’s a big part of our sound is me and Karl playing guitar together. Some of our favorite bands are Television and Thin Lizzy with dueling guitars.”
Stinson is a fan.
“It’s melodic, smart and snotty. Which is pretty much how I like my rock,” he says.
Thanks to its members’ experience playing in bands and friendships since they were teenagers, the band exudes a confident and tight chemistry. Hunt has known drummer Sam Reitman since they were 12 and Giehl since they were about 14 or 15. Their newest member, Brady Murphy, has been with the band for three years but has quickly gotten on the same page as the others. Around 2010, the then teenage members of Midnight Reruns formed out of another band called Sleazy Beats. Since he wasn’t the singer of that band, Hunt started feeling the urge to start singing the songs he had been writing.
Hunt quickly felt at ease with his new band. It’s a fun and lighthearted atmosphere around the others, he says, and they often jam together and switch instruments to keep things interesting during practices.
“Half our practices are us just messing around like that,” he says. “We’ve been doing that the entire time we’ve been a band, just jamming and goofing off. It’s still fun; it’s not stale. We can play off each other and come up with really cool parts that way.”
For about the first year of the band, Hunt also played guitar with Trapper Schoepp and the Shades to fill in for their guitarist who couldn’t tour. While he enjoyed that experience, that band was on the road a lot. He quit the band in 2011 to focus on his own band. When asked if he wanted to put all his eggs in one basket so to speak with this band, Hunt was quick to note that beyond creative fulfillment, he’s pretty modest when it comes to expectations of success.
“If you have expectations beyond making yourself happy with what you do, you’re going to get let down. I’m going to try to do what I want to do creatively. I don’t have any expectations.”
While Midnight Reruns came as a result of the band needing a name for a show, Hunt says it still fits them today, even if it’s “such a teenage punk band name.”
“It’s cool it stuck, because in some ways, it feels like it did back then even if we are doing things a little bit differently,” he says.
It was late 2014, and Midnight Reruns were looking forward to record their sophomore album. Hunt talked to Ben Perlstein, manager of Trapper Schoepp and the Shades, to see if he had any suggestions. Perlstein shared the band’s first album to Stinson, another client he managed, and Stinson really liked what he heard.
“Ben and I were on a long car ride when he played me the demos, and I liked the songs a lot. I thought that their sound had come a long way from their first record,” says Stinson.
Stinson was looking to record some bands, so he told them if they wanted to come out to his house in upstate New York that he wanted to record them.
“I thought I could capture what makes them special as well as push them just enough to get a great record out of them,” Stinson says. “I dig the process of working in the studio and collaborating with other people. I like trying to capture the lightning in a bottle. That element will always be the difference between a good record and a great record.”
The band jumped at that opportunity, and in November 2014 they drove out to his house to record the album. They tracked it mostly live together in his den over four days with minimal overdubs.
“We recorded the entire record over the course of a weekend, which is the best way to make records I think,” says Stinson. “This way, you leave no room for over-thinking anything, which again goes to capturing a moment. If you think you have all the time in the world, you tend to think too much about shit no-one is ever going to care about or hear.”
Hunt says the den was small and sparse, which fit the sessions. The sessions were very loose and sometimes unhinged, he says, with “audio bleed everywhere” and “amps only separated by a couple makeshift barriers.”
“It was comfortable for us, and we could play off each other,” Hunt says. “That’s how we rehearsed is playing all the songs together. I feel like it took the pressure off. When you do it track by track you’re like, ‘Oh man we’re making a record, everything needs to be perfect.’ It was more of a hangout vibe.”
On the final day, they bought a bottle of whiskey and had a raucous and eventful night finishing everything up.
“On the last day, we were there we bought a bottle of whiskey and got hammered while we overdubbed any weird thing we could think of. It was mostly guitar solos. Tommy was yelling and cheering as me and Karl tried to outdo each other,” Hunt recalls. “He was like, ‘you have to do a guitar solo over this and this.’ Some of the stuff we got from last couple hours is pretty awesome. It’s definitely loose that’s for sure.”
After Stinson did a couple quick mixes, the band turned to Justin Perkins, who frequently plays with Stinson and also lives in Milwaukee. Hunt says he was able to easily work with Perkins at his Mystery Room Mastering studio.
“He took a stab at it, and it was much easier that way, because I could just go over to his house and tell him what I wanted instead of communicate halfway across the country through e-mail,” he says. “After a month mixing it sounded really good.”
Midnight Reruns have since opened for a number of Stinson’s Midwest tour dates. Hunt feels they learned a lot working with him. For example, he taught them they could embellish a guitar riff or rhythm with something melodic or a guitar solo to best utilize that sonic space.
“We never thought about that, and now we’re coming up with different parts for areas of the songs that could use them, like learning to arrange them a little more meticulously but don’t be uptight about it and treating everything loosely,” he says. “He encouraged us to not stray away from how we sound live. The first album did everything separately. We have a spark when we all play together, and we should not shy away from that when recording.”
Force of Nurture finds the band taking many new steps as a band. Sonically, the album features a diverse-sounding 10 songs.
“That’s not really intentional, but it’s something that everyone likes about our band, because we like all different types of music,” he says. “I think all the songs sound like us, but we like the fact that none of the songs really sound the same. All our songs have a different vibe to them.”
Thematically, Force of Nurture talks about dealing with negativity and anxiety.
“It’s about having higher expectations of yourself and other people and failing and seeing other people fail but being aware of it,” he says. “There’s a weird comfortable feeling you get from being stagnant or depressed or doing the same thing and falling into a routine. It’s not something you’re born with, but it’s something you get used to because you fall into habits.”
On a personal level, while they were writing this album, two of Hunt’s friends died of a heroin overdose, his parents got divorced and he discovered he had panic disorder where he’s had to deal with panic attacks without the use of medication (“There’s an Animal Upstairs” is about the latter).
When it comes to writing lyrics, Hunt isn’t going to write about just anything. He doesn’t want them to be filler and take up space.
“If there are going to be words, they have to serve some kind of purpose,” he says. “I don’t like to call a song done until I’m happy with the lyrics. I like to have an idea about what it’s going to be about or what the vibe is going to be instead of writing nonsense…I procrastinate writing lyrics, because I know when I sit down to fit words to the songs, they have to say something. I can’t let myself off the hook.”
Hunt typically draws from the small details from life to inspire his lyrics.
“I like to start with the details and that will grow into a full blown idea. I like mundane things with an unusual twist. I’ll notice something someone does or says that piques my interest, and I’ll make a note of it in my phone and use it in a line,” he says. “I like lyrics that sound like an everyday conversation that people have. Some people can do abstract stuff… but when I try to do it, it feels like it’s bullshit. I like things that paint a picture in your mind immediately instead of some weird abstract sounding thing.”
Last year was a busy year of touring for the band. They went on their longest tours to date out to the East Coast. It was a tour they booked.
“We came back with enough money to give each member like 100 bucks. We’ve never gotten paid from a tour. We’ve always broken even,” he says. “It felt like ‘we’re going in the right direction here, probably shouldn’t stop doing this I guess.’”
Any chance they have to make new fans is special, Hunt says.
“To know somebody you don’t know really cares about your band, it’s a good feeling because it’s motivation not to stop,” he says. “It’s tempting to say I’m not going to put as much time in this is as I am now so I can get a better job. It brings you back, and you’re like ‘cool, what we’re doing is not worthless.’”
Other notable shows the band has played include opening for Best Coast and Diarrhea Planet.
Currently the band is wrapping up their February tour across the country and plan to play as much they can and get to places they haven’t been to. In April, they’re planning to record their new album. Hunt says his songwriting is “a little more focused” this time and some of the songs are a little shorter but are spontaneous and diverse in true Midnight Reruns fashion. While details are still being worked out, Hunt thinks they might travel to Rhinelander with Perkins to record the new material in a cabin.
“It’s best to keep doing what you’re doing and see what happens,” Hunt says. “I make demos for songs, and everyone likes the feel of those demos, so I want to bring that feel in to the new songs but make them sound sonically better than that.”
The band is thankful for local label Dusty Medical Records, who has released the band’s music, as well as support from their hometown.
”[Label owner] Kevin [Meyer] is a great guy and puts out great music and has been very helpful to us,” Hunt says. “It’s really nice to represent the city, because there are a lot of great bands in Milwaukee, and I feel it’s not really known nationally. There’s a lot of talent here, and nobody really thinks about Milwaukee when they think about music. Maybe the rest of the country will catch on to it eventually.”