Pet Engine has established a reputation as one of Milwaukee's finest bands. Though a record deal has, for some reason, eluded them, they continually write smart and catchy rock songs.
Recently, rumors have surfaced that the band has called it quits. As of this writing, however, they appear to be very much together. We talked with Steve (vocals/guitar), Micah (drums) and Clem (bass) about their past, present, future and much more.
OMC: Has the band been recording lately? When can we expect some new music?
Micah: The band hasn't really been recording anything since we did "Megahurtz." Steve has been throwing down some ideas on his hard disk recorder but as a band we're not quite there yet. There are a lot of new songs that we've been working on in the practice space. We probably will start doing first draft demos/pre-production kind of stuff really soon. As far as a new record? We're still debating what we want to do. We could put out a new one next month if we really wanted to, and there have been ideas kicked around about doing another LP. Otherwise maybe an EP with some re-mixes or a greatest "should-have-been" hits record. We could also record new stuff to shop to the labels that are interested and not worry about releasing it right away. Who knows?
OMC: For "Megahurtz," you wrote something like 30 songs. Are you approaching the new music the same way? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method?
Steve: "Megahurtz" was a very organized project. We had specific goals and we had a pretty good idea of what kind of record we were trying to make. Right now, I think we're trying to figure out what we want to do next. We have a bunch of songs that we are really excited about. We just have to figure out what we want to do with them.
Micah: The advantage is there are a lot of songs to pick from so you probably end up with a stronger collection of songs. You also get into a kind of song-writing mode where each successive song you write comes together faster and easier than the ones before. The disadvantage is that it collectively takes quite a while to write that many songs and you tend to like your most recent stuff the best. It's easy to lose perspective on the stuff written first.
OMC: Does the new music sound similar to "Megahurtz" or are you going in a different direction?
Steve: I think the songwriting process will never change. I don't like to be calculated in a process that relies on inspiration. Instead we are interested in changing the production, the way we play the songs. I don't like the idea, at least not yet, of sitting down to write with a certain style or idea in mind. It works for some people, but not for us. I'd rather leave the writing process alone.
OMC: Any thoughts about ever releasing a live album?
Micah: That's probably the one avenue we wouldn't pursue. It would be hard to capture what a Pet Engine show is like without having the visuals. If anything we might embed a live video into the next CD so that you could play it on your computer or DVD player.
OMC: Milwaukee has a reputation for not embracing new music or liking something unless other people from outside the city validate it. Do you agree with this? How do you feel about the local music scene?
Micah: I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. I know a lot of people who are always seeking out new music, stuff that is not being played on the radio yet or never will be. Steve and Al (guitar/vocals) are both really like that. I can't speak for everyone else in the city though. As far as the state of the local music scene is concerned, I think people around the scene complain about it too much. It may not be as good as Chicago, New York or L.A., but it's a whole lot better than Manitowoc, WI or Dubuque, IA. If you really want to make it in the music business and don't feel that you can do it from Milwaukee, then you should move, and best of luck to you. I don't feel that way so I'm still here.
OMC: When you started the band, did you have any specific goals? If so, have you met them?
Clem: Ever since middle school when my friend Henry knocked on my door and told me to buy a guitar so I could play in the band he was starting, I've had the same goal, to become a rock star and provide music that people like to listen to. I've never hidden that goal. It may have matured some, but the underlying theme remains the same. I want this band to get a record deal, tour the country and have music widely available and enjoyed by many people.
To continue on the honesty kick, we do not have a major record deal. We are not touring the country, and our music is not widely available. Keep in mind that those are the ultimate goals of mine. Many other goals have been met along the way. We've recorded several albums that we are proud of. I play in a band with guys that are great at what they do and produce smart music. We've been fortunate enough to play many shows that have had us standing on stage in front of thousands of people, playing our music. We have fans that enjoy our music, whether they're motivated by it or simply entertained. Most importantly, we are now at a point where we are writing good music and can play it well. It's too bad an article I just read said we played our last show a couple nights ago. I think we're in our prime and we barely practice once a week. I'd love to see what we could do if this were our full time jobs.
Micah: In the beginning we thought the only goal or way to have any success was to get a record deal. We no longer think that way. Whether we've met all of our goals or not, if the band were to break up tomorrow (and rumor has it we are), I don't think any of us would feel that we weren't successful. We've reached a lot of goals and had many successes that we never knew were available until they came to be. Who would have guessed when we started that we would get airplay on KROQ in L.A. without a record deal? Most importantly, we've had a lot of fun along the way. We've had some amazing experiences that most people will never have.
OMC: What does the future have in store for the band?
Clem: It depends on which band member you ask. I'm always keeping our ultimate goals in mind. I think the future of the record and radio industries will have a lot to do with that. If record companies would get their heads out of their asses and sign bands that have talent and then actually promote them, we might stand a chance at surviving. The radio stations would also need to move their heads and start taking chances by playing different music, as opposed to what their research groups tell them about what the people want to hear. I'm not blaming our lack of not reaching our ultimate goals on these industries. I'm just saying they don't help at all. Maybe mp3's and the Internet will somehow play a bigger role for independent bands in the future, but I can't imagine record companies letting that happen because they'd lose money. I despise record company weasels. I pity the fool that actually tries to someday offer us a sub-par deal. Sorry for the mini-rant.
Micah: Clem, I didn't know you had that in you. My guess is that we'll eat good food, find fun, and make music. What else is there?
OMC: What are your favorite things to do in Milwaukee? What do you do for fun around here?
Clem: My friends, this band, Summerfest, the East Side, Harley-Davidson, and the Packers. Define fun? I enjoy hanging out with friends. We eat, drink, see bands, and ride Micah's jet ski.
Steve: I've been in Milwaukee for 11 years and I love it. I love to travel, but I always love coming back to Milwaukee. It's not the best place to be an aspiring musician. It's hard to get noticed here, but it's a great place to grow unaffected as an artist.
For fun I eat, drink and shop. I love Soup Brothers. It's right near our rehearsal space, and they have amazing food and play cool music. I'm heavily biased, but I love Harry's and The Knick. They both have great menus, theyre open late and the people are very friendly. I love to shop at Detour on Brady St., Phase II on Farwell Ave. and Value Village on MLK Dr. and North Ave.
OMC: Good music seems to be hard to find these days. Who are you guys into now?
Clem: I disagree. There is good music everywhere. You have to know where to find it. In my opinion, it's not on the radio. I'm fortunate enough to have a group of friends and band mates that have a wide scope of musical tastes. We recommend music to each other and feed off it. For example a couple years ago Steve introduced me to (the band) Travis. I can't thank him enough. It's all I listened to this summer.
Steve: I like The Strokes record and the new Ben Folds solo record. The new Ryan Adams is also pretty impressive. I'm a huge Guided By Voices fan. Weezer, Travis and Radiohead are three bands who have achieved the ultimate creative and critical success combined with big time record sales. I'm not a true indie guy. My dream is to turn on KISS FM and hear Built to Spill, Elliot Smith, Wilco, you get what I'm saying. I don't want to keep the best music underground. I want to run crappy bands like Three Doors Down and matchbox twenty out of town and rid the planet of mediocre music.
OMC: What kind of response have you gotten on a nationwide level?
Steve: It has been very positive. Everyone who hears the record loves it. It's just a matter of getting it to more people and timing. Most record company people have been playing it safe, trying to find the next Creed or Limp Bizkit. That's nothing new. We will just keep doing our thing, and maybe our time will come. If it doesn't, oh well. We'll always have our songs. That is the most important thing.
OMC: Any shows scheduled in the near future?
Micah: We'll be at The Globe on Thurs., Dec. 14. After that, check out our web site, www.petengine.com. I know we'll be rehearsing every week down on S. 1st St. Stop by if you want.