By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Sep 01, 2006 at 5:17 AM
It's been almost 10 years now since a trio of musicians going to school in Madison did what millions of other college students did: formed a band.

But little did Caithlin De Marrais, Kyle Fischer and William Kuehn know at the time that their poet-inspired project, Rainer Maria, would quickly become a large part of a fledging scene that would inevitably leave a major mark on the music world.

The band's first album, "Past Worn Searching," came out in 1997 to the tune of Marrais and Fisher harmo-screaming melodically over noodley guitars. This, at the time, was emo -- and sometimes it takes a good decade of imitators and subsequent mass production to fully realize how big it was.

Rainer Maria was undoubtedly a pioneering band, but, even now in the wake of its second wave of success thanks to this year's lauded "Catastrophe Keeps Us Together," the members have a hard time admitting it.

"We never really thought about it that way," says drummer Kuehn. "We didn't have any kind of expectations, we were just three kids making music in the basement and we were doing what we wanted to do."

Above all, Rainer Maria just wanted to make good music, and what it ended up doing -- though unknowingly at the time -- has since laid a foundation for countless new bands.

"We weren't necessarily trying to achieve anything and maybe that's why the outcome of our efforts was original and different," says Kuehn. "We were just ourselves -- three people coming from totally different places -- making music together and it did create something really wonderful and unique."

That was 1997 and over the span of its career, Rainer Maria -- never once straying from its three original members -- has allowed its music to grow and change parallel to the maturing of the members themselves.

After a 2003's "Long Knives Drawn" the band took three years to perfect its next project. With "Catastrophe" the band reintroduced itself -- not as a "new band," but as a more self-realized, patient version of the same musicians they were in college.

"We're all growing as people constantly, and as musicians as well, and there's been a natural progression and evolution throughout our existence," says Kuehn. "We took our time and actually had time to not only write but also revisit the songs. I think it made a big difference in the outcome and the general feel of 'Catastrophe.' It feels like it is much more fine tuned than the past recordings."

What resulted is indeed a polished collection of songs -- something that undoubtedly caught old fans off guard -- but still present is Marrais's intensely hopeful and passionate poetry, though this time hers is the only voice heard and she carries almost every song with smooth, sweeping vocals as opposed to her signature angsty snaps.

Everything about "Catastrophe" is decidedly softer than anything we've heard from Rainer Maria, most notably the airy album closer -- the Bob Dylan-penned Nico cover "I'll Keep You Mine."

"There's just something about that song that speaks to all of us the way our own music speaks to us," says Kuehn of the band's choice of covers. "I think that was the first time that ever happened. We went in to record it, not really knowing what we were going to do with it, and it turned out great so it ended up on the record."

Rainer Maria comes to very familiar territory on Wednesday, Sept. 6 for a show with Brief Candles at The Miramar Theater. (The show was originally scheduled for The Pabst Theater and tickets purchased from The Pabst will be honored at The Miramar.)

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”