Milwaukee Talks: John Hauser of The LoveMonkeys
It has been 20 years since John Hauser and a few coworkers formed a band for what they thought would be a one-time-only performance at a company party. Two decades later, Hauser – along with a completely new lineup of musicians – plays more than 100 shows a year as The LoveMonkeys.
The current lineup is Hauser (vocals), Jason Koziol (drums, vocals), Nick Grider (bass, vocals), Daryl Muma (guitars, vocals), Carlos Adames (percussion), Andy Palen (guitars, vocals), Dave Adler (guest keyboardist) and JD Rankin' (guest vocalist).
Although the band plays five or six original songs every show, for the most part, The LoveMonkeys are a rock, reggae and country music cover band. This creates a lot of wide-ranging opinions, from devoted fans who love to hear familiar songs to "original" musicians who don't see cover bands as equals.
Hauser understands both sides of this and in this segment of Milwaukee Talks he provides thoughtful insight into the Milwaukee music scene and why cover bands are so popular in this town.
OnMilwaukee.com: So when did the band form? Other than you, is anyone who's currently in the band also an original member?
John Hauser: The band recently celebrated 20 years together, which requires us to facetiously follow up with "we actually started the band when we were 9 years old." I'm the sole original member but many of us have been performing together for 10 years or more.
OMC: So how did it all begin?
JH: The band originated as a group of co-workers who put together some entertainment for our company holiday party. Truth is, it was a young company, there was an open bar and somebody always said something or acted in a way that put them in the doghouse the following Monday morning. We just found a way to not be one of those individuals.
We pulled a selection of rare R&B Christmas songs from Paul Cebar's annual holiday show on WMSE and presented it for our fellow coworkers. Tim Sullivan, our company VP at the time, asked us to perform his wedding the following August. We almost turned the offer down as many of us were unsure if we wanted to commit to learning so much material for another "one-off" show. After much discussion and lineup tweaking, we made the decision to move ahead. That was in late 1991.
OMC: How has the band evolved over the years?
JH: I think the vision has remained the same over the years even though the members have not whereas we try to offer a different cup of tea. We've actually evolved into a more organic band over time.
OMC: Why do you think the LoveMonkeys remained popular all of these years?
JH: That's all subjective. I do feel, as a musician, that it's truly an honor and privilege to perform for people – especially during these difficult economic times. People don't choose to spend their time and money just anywhere. When I consider they are spending it with The LoveMonkeys, that's additional incentive to never mail it in. Our shows are extremely carefree and loose. We may be too loose at times.
OMC: How many gigs a year do you perform? Where are your favorite places to gig?
JH: With rehearsal and shows, we're definitely playing 100-plus nights per year with a busy summer festival season about to kick in. Our families are pretty gracious to us in regards to musical time. We've got some amazing shows in Dubuque, Madison, Milwaukee, Tosa and the Fox Valley. As much as we'd like to favor one, each gig has it's own special feel. Of course, Bastille Days is the first big local event we've ever performed so it's near and dear to our hearts. Summerfest is it's own monster. Every local musician dreams about playing that gig at some point and every Milwaukeean can relate to it. It kind of sets the bar and makes a band feel legitimate so it still feels quite special to us.
OMC: You were just in Jamaica. What were you doing there?
JH: Negril, Jamaica is my "go-to getaway" as I'm addicted to the atmosphere the island has to offer. I usually like to plan annual adventures to Negril to just hang out and deflate. No phones. No computers. No attachment to life back home. There's a great little beach front hotel I stay at named Coco La Palm which allows me to roam as I please, hang with the wonderful Jamaican people and practice my novice photography skills. My wife and I eloped in 2006 and were married beside the Negril Lighthouse. I've got several destinations on my bucket list but Jamaica keeps calling my name.
OMC: What music / musicians are you personally inspired by? What did you grow up listening to?
JH: Currently, I rarely listen to mainstream radio and usually have 88.9 and 91.7 on my dial as well as streaming radio out of New York and L.A..
Being raised on the three-minute pop song that AM radio had to offer back in the day, I still kick myself for letting my old K-Tel albums find their way out of my vinyl collection. I was fortunate enough to have older brothers and sisters who exposed me to so much rock a la the early FM days of WZMF and R&B/Motown that it's allowed me to be musically open minded. But tastes evolve and I found myself getting turned on to Joe Jackson, The English Beat and anything unique that had a great hook.
WMSE's early years had a very strong influence on me as it exposed me to so much of the local scene which I still support today. I am still star struck when I meet a respected local musician who I've followed over the years. I remember babbling non-stop to Mike Benign a couple of years ago telling him about my Blue in the Face cassette. All in all, music's been in my family since I was born and all nine of my siblings have been musically inclined. Some still are quite active with it. I jokingly refer to myself as "musically declined."
OMC: What are your thoughts on the Milwaukee music scene in general? Is it supportive? Does it need improvement?
JH: It's supportive within it's circles and every scene has it's individual cliques whether it's cover or original. I think 88.9 and 91.7 have garnished the scene tremendously with their support of local music and given some worthy acts some great recognition. Juniper Tar and Kings Go Forth doing major shows at Turner Hall is a big indication of the strides Milwaukee has made over the years. I feel the downside is social media has turned into one giant puddle of shameless self promotion and a lot of the good stuff goes unnoticed. The other issue is quite a few of the venues no longer charge cover for bands which equates to people not really putting a value on live entertainment. People more often than not will pay for something when it's good – or at least perceived to be good. In order for any band to survive and create some form of longevity, you need to work to that level.
OMC: Do you have kids? Where do you live?
JH: My wife Julie, son Charlie and I currently live in Milwaukee's Cooper Park neighborhood. She's quite the vocalist, as well. I just love Milwaukee and need to be near/in the city. My father was a Downtown letter carrier back in the day and he exposed me to so much of what Milwaukee has to offer. I have a difficult time imagining a different living situation. Currently, I work with many local musicians booking and promoting bands and acts at TEC – The Entertainment Company in New Berlin, so I guess one would say I'm surrounded by it 24/7. I wish I could help everybody but there's only so much to go around.
OMC: Are you a cover band? How do you feel about the word "cover band?" Do you think people write off "cover bands" too quickly?
JH: I guess it just is what it is and we do what we do. As a musician, it was a big turning point in my life when I realized and accepted not everybody's going to like you because as musicians we all really want everybody to like us no matter what dish we're serving up. It's a fun observation on our end as we're perceived as a "cover band" by many on the original scene yet we don't do extreme Billboard hits to click with the people that love cover bands. I think our delivery is original even though we mostly perform the material of others. Plus, we can self indulgently incorporate five or six originals on any given night and are not afraid to bust out some Toots and the Maytals or The Smiths to offset the night. Some people are open to it. Others are not. So I guess you'd call us a "cover band with benefits."
Every member of this band has gone the original route so we've all cut our teeth at Linneman's, Shank Hall (Teddy's), The Globe (Boardwalk) and more. Some of the guys are still doing it when time allows. We have tremendous respect for and continue to support the original scene but I feel both scenes can learn from one another. One offers originality and the other offers entertainment so it's not wise to write off either. The early years of The LoveMonkeys were heavily influenced by the likes of Paul Cebar, World Roots, The Gufs, Wild Kingdom and anything Terry Tanger was doing at the time. There just comes a time when some musicians, me, digest the fact they're not very good songwriters and the cover band becomes the musical release.
OMC: Why are cover bands so popular in Milwaukee? Do you think they are more popular here than in other cities?
JH: In general, many people are not as adventurous as they think they are – musically or otherwise. It's why you have millions of people watching "American Idol" this week and seeing Jesse Malin open Alejandro Escovedo at Turner Hall isn't even on their radar. It's why Olive Garden is a brand name but the Milwaukee staple The Pasta Tree is a restaurant 80 percent or more of Milwaukee has never dined at. People like the safe choice. It's in every city and Milwaukee is no exception.
OMC: What are your goals for the band? How long do you see the group staying together?
JH: Our goals have remained the same for 10 years now. "Let's play the year and see how we feel in January." It's that simple.
OMC: Why the name "The LoveMonkeys"?
JH: "The LoveMonkeys" was simply a joke phrase we used at our old place of employment before the band started. Being a young company with many single folks in the mix, there was a work hard / play hard attitude that often carried over to happy hour several times per week. The rest of the story is left to the imagination.
OMC: What advice would you give to cover bands, or any band, that's just starting out?
JH: To any band starting out, I'd simply offer the following advice: Enjoy it as you have no idea how long the ride will last. Remember why you love to do it. And for every person that loves your band, it's probable there are 5-10 people who don't and a world of others who have something more important to think about. I think that advice applies to life in general.
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