By Jason McDowell Creative Director Published Mar 22, 2013 at 3:10 PM

The Scarring Party is known for their tin can microphone, shiny tuba, eclectic instrumentation—which ranges from a typewriter to a customized whirring vibraphone—and, most importantly, lead singer Daniel Bullock’s thoughtful, incisive lyrics, which work hard to fight off the idea that this band is just a gimmick. Their songs have roots in the early days of radio jazz, but the tone is more foreboding, as if one was being stalked by guard dogs in a walled French city while on the way to a burlesque show in Hell. Equal parts exciting, unnerving, and devious.

The last time we heard from the band they had released their third full-length album, culminating in "Losing Teeth" and a free digital EP, "Woke Up With Fangs," which comprised of a group of songs written for fans who supported their Kickstarter-funded West coast tour.

Then came the hiatus. The band sat dormant for a year and a half, but that didn’t mean the group stopped working. Tubaist Isa Carini and drummer Chris Roberts teamed up with Carini’s future husband Anthony Weber to form Heavy Hand a band that takes a sonic stance opposite the Scarring Party, while Bullock struck out on his own with Little Otik, a folky, country affair.

Both projects continue on, but Sunday, March 24, marks the triumphant return of The Scarring Party when they will play their first show at Hotel Foster. I met up with Bullock and Carini to discuss the forked path down which they now travel. So the Scarring Party is back together. This is being received as something of a surprising return.

Daniel Bullock: I don’t think it’s that surprising.

Isa Carini: I cannot recall ever once telling anyone that we broke up. Or that we were thinking about breaking up. Or that we were ever going to break up. But everyone thought the band broke up.

OMC: It kinda seemed like one of those things where it couldn’t continue on because it couldn’t make enough money.

DB: I think we can’t really make a lot of money here in Milwaukee. One thing that became clear on our West coast tour is that if we worked over there, we would kill. Some people on the West coast said they’d been waiting four or five years for us to go out there.

IC: We could probably quit our jobs. Here we have the steampunk scene, or Madison, where there is that sort of dominatrix-y, burlesque thing, but there we met acrobats, who have acrobats insurance who do acrobatics for a living.

OMC: What about the reaction been out east?

IC: With cities like Cincinnati or Philly or even Dubuque people bring their friends. We played someone’s house in Pittsburgh and they got all their friends to come out. It was really inconvenient and awkward to set up, but it was also a lot of fun. We’ve kept in touch with those people, too.

DB: Here we’re a just local band. Out there we’re just a band. Milwaukee is a pretty rock-oriented town. There’s some Americana, but if you’re not one of those two things, you’re just a novelty act. That worked for us early on because we don’t compete with other bands. You don’t have to deal with the egos and other BS. But when you view something as a novelty it eventually wears off. But when we play places like San Francisco and San Diego we can do a sold-out show in a place we’ve never been. That’s when we feel pretty confident that we’re on to something. In Milwaukee it’s been the inverse. Every record we felt like we were getting better, but attendance just kept dwindling. We used that as a nice push to get us to play out of town more often. I think more of Milwaukee’s bands would survive if they went out to the middle of Ohio or Indiana or Iowa, places that are really receptive to something that sounds unique. They might be smaller, but there’s less to compete with. It’s a quieter scene. It doesn’t mean it’ll be received well, but at least you’re given the attention.

OMC: So after a year and a half you started practicing together again. How did that go?

IC: It’s fun to go back. It’s like the first day of school. In between this and our last practice I still saw everybody pretty regularly, but as a group it’s nice to get back together and make the first jokes about murdered hobos and splattering internal organs. Ah, I’m home again.

DB: When we first practiced I was bracing myself, because we hadn’t been together for a year or so, but that first practice was extremely painless. I was really shocked.

IC: A few weeks before first practice, I dug the CDs out to listen to them, wondering if I’m actually going to remember any of this. But listening to it is different compared to actually touching your instrument. It just flows back more naturally. It comes from all the years of practice and comfort that we developed before. But now we’re getting a new banjo player.

OMC: Yeah? William Smith is moving on?

IC: Will loves us, but he doesn’t want to play with us anymore. There’s no awkwardness or hard feelings, it’s just not what he wants to do right now.

DB: We found him a nice family, with a farm...

IC: We always have this fear when we replace people. We don’t want to end up with someone who is annoyed all the time because we aren’t always playing all the fun rock shows. But sometimes you gotta do the book reading at Alverno College.

DB: Where the lights will be on and there will be moms and their kids reading books.

IC: We’ve played at a medical oddities museum and a monster art gallery.

DB: That gallery was very distracting. I’m looking around the room while trying to remember every lyric and I see a woman mounting a tiger. Like, "that" way. And yes it is the most distracting thing imaginable. And yes I did totally forget like two lines of that song. Who wouldn’t? I’m not that stoic.

IC: We also played in Boone, Iowa.

DB: But our new guy will bring in some new instrumentation. It probably won’t affect older songs, but maybe newer ones. We’ll see. I’m writing right now. Usually I write twice the length of a record and then cut half of it. I’ve got about 12 songs now.Kickstarter is a crowd funding site that allows fans to chip in money for future creative output, but the funds are only officially deducted from a donor’s bank account provided the stated goal has been met. So if 100 people say they’ll pledge $10, but that equals only half of your goal nobody loses money on an underfunded project.

Often there are gift levels to help encourage funds. These can range from thank-you acknowledgements to records to autographed works. Or in the case of The Scarring Party, who used Kickstarter to fund their west coast tour, a set of teeth and a personally written song portrait.

IC: We had people complaining that we raised this money through Kickstarter.

DB: They were calling it a fund your life vacation. If you think going on tour is a vacation, you’re probably doing it incorrectly. I worked harder than anyone for that Kickstarter money. It’s commissioned work. Doesn’t that sound so easy?

IC: Then we had to record them.

OMC: How does one write a song portrait?

DB: I did interviews with the six patrons who donated, then based the song off of them. At first I was very...I wouldn’t say complimentary, but I felt like I was complicit with the narrative they wanted to tell, the part of their life they wanted to sensationalize and see a biography of. And about two or three in I said "Ah screw it" and decided to be contrary and do my own thing.

IC: I think if you like this band enough to get a song written, you probably understand there’s a lot of satire and good sarcasm. You have to expect it’s going to be kind of snarky.

OMC: Yeah, I’d want the best output even if it’s not...

DB: ...flattering?

IC: I would want someone to say some hilarious terrible $#!t about me.

DB: The hardest song to do, which ended up being the title track, was for a friend of mine. He was going through some really rough stuff which ended in divorce. I didn’t want to beat up somebody who was already on the mat, but I felt there was this really excellent song there that I thought might be therapeutic. I had very good aims with it. And afterward I was really worried he was going to be upset, so I offered to refund him every cent if he didn’t like it. But I didn’t hear back from anyone who said they didn’t like their song. They ended up listening to their songs over and over because of these inside jokes that only came out in the interview. It was really neat to put in a reference that only one person is ever going to understand. I enjoyed it, but it was really hard work.

Five of the six portraits were bundled together along with a cover of Echo and the Bunnyman’s "Killing Moon" and made available for free download on Bandcamp.

IC: And after the backlash with the Kickstarter thing we got to say, "Oh, here’s all these songs for free. You can have this, even though you didn’t support us."

DB: And the next time we record, we’ll probably go through Kickstarter again, because we’d really like to pay the musicians who work on it.

IC: I’m really glad we found Shane Hochstetler [of Howl Street Recording Studio in Bay View].

DB: He’s pretty amazing. You’d be lucky to find an engineer and a studio like that in any city. But we have that right here. Somebody was telling me, "I was thinking of using him, but everybody uses him." You know why? Because he’s the best.

IC: He tries to find what you would actually like and not what he would like to tell you what you would like to like.

DB: We’ve been offered to record studios for free. That’s a huge boon and any band should take that. But now that we’ve recorded with Shane, there’s no way we’re not going to do that. We could travel halfway across the country, but we want to support local business and we want to support people who are awesome.

OMC: So, Little Otik. Can you talk about that?

DB: Not without crying.

OMC: Is it done?

DB: It’s never going to be done. Creative torpor would be what I would call it. It’s like a coma, under the ground. I was asked to do a show with Scarring Party in Cincinnati next week, opening as Little Otik, but I said no. The booker didn’t understand why but I told him, "Because it’s too much me."

OMC: And what’s happening with Heavy Hand?

IC: I am actually playing the Acme Records show on Friday for The Scarring Party, a Heavy Hands show on Saturday, and then Sunday we’re doing Scarring Party again at Hotel Foster.

DB: Yeah, I pulled Isa away from her only free day this week and f***** it up with this interview.

The Scarring Party will be warming up with a small, in-store show tonight, March 22 at 7pm at Acme Records and their official first show at Hotel Foster on Sunday, March 24th. You can RSVP at the Facebook event below.

Jason McDowell Creative Director

Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.

In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.

Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.