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Month: December 2022
Farewell to The Foamers?
November 26th, 2022: thus endeth The Foamers?, the two-piece garage-punk band featuring Travis Pashek (a.k.a. Trash Pavlov) and myself (a.k.a. Klaus Foami, f.k.a. Foam Chomsky). I loved this band and I love Travis like a brother, but heading into this run of fall shows we just completed, we agreed to retire the project. More on that later—first, allow me to recap as much of our frenetic chronicles as I can.
Turns out it’s very tough to remember everything we’ve done, and when and where and with who we did it over the last 11 years. My timeline and recollection are pretty spotty, so for those of you who joined our jerky journey, please correct or add to any of the following claims. (Also, please hit us with any pictures or fliers I may have missed. Thanks!)
When Matty Met Travis
The real catalyst to The Foamers? was one TJ Dewey, whom I met at IQ’s (now Frets & Friends, for the less-than-townie among ye) after he’d seen Muddy Udders and wrote a nice review of us for the long-gone Green Bay Nightlife site. I’d pegged him for this writer-photographer type, but he showed up to an open jam and rocked these totally decent garage tracks—him singing and playing guitar, backed by a terrifically loud drummer. The bass player in me was dying to hear these songs with some low end, but I *think* I held myself back. (Already with the lousy recall.) I really thought I approached TJ about jamming with them after their short set, but according to TJ he asked me to join. Either way, how could I not want to spend more time with these guys?
This was late 2009 or early 2010. I’d just moved back from Milwaukee after finishing college, and playing music was about my only means of earning money or self-respect, so I was trying to do as much of it as I could. Muddy Udders had just finished our second tour and recorded our second album, and I’d also started playing guitar for the Gung Hoes.
TJ’s band was called Pushing Clovers—not my favorite name, but that was kind of the point: as a change from whatever pressures I felt for my role in Muddy Udders, I wanted to take a total backseat and just help these guys be a better band. They had songs, a name, and a place to practice, and I was totally game to just plug into what they were doing.
I showed up to a warehouse in industrial Ashwaubenon where the drummer worked, where they apparently had permission to practice as loud and late as they wanted, and was formally introduced to this heretofore mysterious drummer, Travis. We didn’t talk much; he was pretty business-like in getting things set up and playing these songs. He had punk/hipster vibes, but wasn’t a jerk, just maybe a bit aloof. I actually thought he was older than me—not based on his appearance, but his demeanor. Just totally workmanlike, with a good world-weary sense of humor.
I liked playing with Pushing Clovers from that first practice. Both guys just really got into the music, and the better I learned the songs, the more satisfying it was to bash ’em out. Travis and I instantly locked into some rhythm section chemistry, which alone justified this venture. TJ’s passionate performances often led him into wonderfully unpredictable territories, so Travis and I quickly learned to get on the same page lest the whole thing spiral out. From that first jam Travis showed the kind of musicianship that can’t really be taught—awareness, song knowledge, sharp instincts, effort, and whatever’s the antonym for corniness.
Together we’d play maybe a dozen shows as Pushing Clovers. No matter how off the rails the music got, Travis and I were always on the level. TJ became a great friend; we hung out a lot outside of music and would even get our families together, and he also wound up doing numerous photo shoots and videos for Muddy Udders. The stoic Travis was a bit more of a slow burner; we weren’t fast friends, but he was an interesting cat; he’d already lived in Japan and Ireland, had seen a bunch of cool bands, and had killer taste in music.
Eventually I’d step away from the band, amicably of course, in part because I knew someone else could, and therefore should handle the bass duties—no sense in me hogging another spot in another local band. My good friend Paul Schroeder suggested a guy I’d never met, Tyler Alexander, and we set up an audition/torch passing. Tyler was totally the guy for it, and I’d get together with him one other time to teach him the songs. (Trivia: not long after, I needed a roommate and took a chance on Tyler. It ruled and we’ve been total buds ever since.) Ross Wilson would further bolster the lineup, and Pushing Clovers became a whole new entity. TJ, Tyler, and I would not long after start a new band together called Volksreagan.
Here’s the only picture I can find showing TJ, Travis, and me onstage together—hardly representative, as I’m wearing a suit and Travis a mask for New Year’s Eve. (We’d later do a reunion show of this lineup; here‘s the video from 2015.)
I had a part-time job that covered my rent, and otherwise I was just trying to make music. Muddy Udders released our second album, “Cream City” (I don’t think this one’s online anywhere—as far as I know our third [and my favorite] “Bloody Murders” is on Spotify if that’s your bag—but if you ever want copies of those CDs please ask and they’re yours) and we also did another tour. I was really trying to make the most of being young and having so much time to devote to music, so I wrote quite a bit.
By this point I’d already experienced bringing songs to Muddy Udders that we all maybe liked, but didn’t ultimately fit the band. So I was getting more comfortable with the idea that while it can be inspiring to write for certain bands, it was okay to simply write songs and not worry about which outlet they’d suit.
I’d heard great things about Travis’ band The French Irish Coalition and was pretty floored when I finally saw them. Raucous, grungy blues, steeped in the genre but hardly beheld to it. That they were a two-piece meant Julian could play wherever he wanted on his fret board without having to be followed by, say, a bass player. But most exciteding was their elasticity of rhythm, toying with the tension of it, and their willingness to play into that. I’d just never witnessed that before. Travis’ keenness for song structure was blatant in FIC, with crazy drum fills to accent the guitar work while adding his own hooks throughout. If I was a fan of his from playing together in Pushing Clovers, in FIC he showed something even more advanced.
As I kept working at songs there were a couple that hit a kind of starker, trashier style that I hadn’t really hit before, reveling in it’s own snotty-smart-stupid-sexy existentialism. Whatever these songs had about them, when I showed them to my Muddy mates they didn’t see these tunes fitting our sound. No hard feelings, but I was too excited about this style to not find these songs a home.
Fortunately Travis popped into my head as a potential collaborator on these, based on some of the music I knew we both dug. I also knew he had some recording experience. So the next time I saw him I asked if he wanted to try doing some raw recordings of thsese songs I’d just written, and wouldn’t you know it, he was game. Travis being game, endlessly, by the way, would all but make up the backbone of the project we were unwittingly starting.
The two of us hadn’t really hung out deliberately, it’d always been circumstantial: Pushing Clovers shows, seeing each other’s bands, running into each other at shows. So when he came over we kind of just got to work on the music. The two songs were “I Drew a Dumbass” and “Built to Last”, and we ran through them with me on guitar and singing through a small practice amp, and Travis on drums. The man is a very quick study, so as soon as we were nearly ready (wouldn’t want to get too perfect for these types of songs), Travis set up a single mic to record guitar and drums, then a single mic to record bass, and finally vocals (still singing through the little guitar amp) onto his Tascam four-track cassette recorder.
“I Drew a Dumbass” used only three tracks, whereas we splurged and added a lead guitar, using all four tracks on “Built to Last” (the tambourine I shook as part of the vocal track). And we loved the hell out of the results; we were big fans lo-fi ’70s punk, but neither of us had leaned into the aesthetic to this degree. Quite a thrill to do those tracks in one night.
At first I called the project Instability Breeds (“The” being optional), thinking if “familiarity breeds contempt,” then what does instability breed? (Our Reverbnation page still even has this name in the URL.) With this being a pure recording project, it’s not like it needed a catchy name I’d have to say all the time.
But then Travis hit me with something I hadn’t considered: he had songs he’d written, too. He said fit this style, and asked if we could do them. Huh. Okay.
Admittedly I expected his songs to suck, because, well, he’s a drummer—what would he know about anything?
Right. His songs ruled. The likes of which I’d never be able to come up with on my own but wished I could. And he just let me have at ’em, vocalizing and playing guitar however felt right, sight-singing his lyrics and recording them on my first or second takes. I’d never recorded lyrics I hadn’t personally written, and it was damn liberating. Pretty sure we did “All the Shit You Need” and “Man” first, the latter featuring a slide guitar solo, something else I’d never tried. Really our only restriction was limiting our recordings to four tracks.
Travis was a-workin’ on the railroad at this time, and he blew my mind (and slightly disturbed me) by telling me about the “foamer” culture(/fetish) railworkers had to endure. His stories were a total riot, so I suggested—particularly as Travis’ contributions to this project were now equaling (if not besting) my own efforts—that we rename the “band” The Foamers. (No “?” yet.)
Our friend Patrick Metoxen was one of our earliest Foamers supporters, and he asked us to write a song for his short film about a female mass murderer, called “Concealed Carrie”. We gave a shot at the title track and to this day it’s the most “metal” thing I’ve ever recorded, as the experience proved metal wasn’t quite right for us (or maybe just me; Travis has chops galore). Though the movie was never finished, and the song was just okay, I’m glad we tried it.
The only other songs I surely remember recording in my old basement were “Even in a Pipedream” and “I Can’t Resist”. For the latter, the little magic guitar amp we’d always used for recording vocals had taken a tumble and no longer worked. So for that one we dirtied up the vocals by placing the microphone inside the a soup can with holes poked in it, with a bandana rubber-banded around it.
I’m not clear on our recording timeline beyond the fact that we first started in 2011, overlapping with when Volksreagan started mucking about.
I’d agreed to my first solo show around that time and challenged myself to write all new songs for it, and Muddy Udders started recording “Bloody Murders” in late ’11, so I was finishing songs for that. Travis was jamming with FIC and Pushing Clovers yet. We both had lots of music afoot, but we’d reconvene to work on Foamers tracks whenever we had new songs ready. It was like we had this secret rad project.
Our buddy Ryan Vandevelde asked if he could record a couple of songs for us at his Ryno Room studio and we graciously accepted, laying down “Decalcomania” and “Sum ‘Er Nuthin” with a slightly cleaner sound (not that it’d take much), while still limiting our digital tracks to four or five. (Ed. This session was actually 2015, but the songs were written in ’14.)
Tough to remember when all those Foamers songs were recorded (Ed. Clearly.) as a lot was going on. 2012 saw MU’s release of “Bloody Murders” and a most excellent tour opening for/playing in Fuck Knights. I played bass in Beach Patrol for over a year, while gigging quite a bit with the Gung Hoes and playing Sundays with The Yardbeards. Muddy Udders got hit with some life-altering events across 2013 and 2014. I got a full-time job, got engaged, and bought a house all between February and April of 2014. Travis was playing with more bands, too—possibly Holly & the Nice Lions by then—and his daughter was born.
Surely neither of us needed another band to gig with, did we? Nope. Surely not that.
The Foamers had been recording for about three years. Though we’d overdubbed bass and lead guitar parts, we had no need to bring in other collaborators or “band” mates. So when the great Tom Smith, having somehow heard of our project, asked us to play a show—like, an actual live performance—well… we were stupid enough to agree.
If I recall we wouldn’t have had time to get a bassist or additional guitarist up to speed, nor did we even know who could handle our push-your-talents-to-the-brink style. So we opted to condense our songs into a duo. After all, we’d be playing with Bruiser Queen (who I’d actually met on the MU/F-Knights tour) and Crushed Out, who were both guitar-drums duos, so at the very least our bass-lessness wouldn’t stand out miserably.
But forget how we’d pull off these songs live. One really important question lingered:
WHAT DO I WEAR?!
Consulting the most fashionable human on the planet (my semi-reformed punk then-fiancée), she produced the most exquisite garment I’d ever laid eyes on:
It was made by one of her old acquaintances who, as of this publication, is indefinitely imprisoned after pleading insanity in his homicide trial. Seriously.
Wearing a dress for the show also seemed appropriate, what with both other duos on the bill being coed. I finished it off the ensemble with some combat boots and was set for our live debut. Meanwhile, Travis wore his tastefully audacious, homemade “FUCK ART” shirt, which over the years has offended far more people (who have passionately confronted him) than my devilish denim dress. Seriously! (Ed. Our friend Liz Van Pay actually made this shirt.)
Travis let me play his red Gretsch hollow body, and also found an A-B switch (have I mentioned what a great bandmate he is?) that would allow me to play through a guitar amp and bass amp to boost my sound (not to mention the amount of gear I’d have to haul).
To help us differentiate this new venture from our umpteen other bands, we embraced our noms de guerre (Trash Pavlov and Foam Chomsky, respectively) ahead of the show, by which we hopelessly attempted to refer to one another onstage. Last pre-show detail: we both remember how we sound-checked with James Brown’s “The Payback”.
And just like that, our secret project was no longer secret, Suddenly we were thrashing all six of our songs live.
It was awesome! And it was a total mess. Blame it on whatever wild vibes haunt that garment I donned, or credit a Crunchy Frog crowd that was way excited for us (largely made up of friends who’d dug our recordings), but we went nuts. I had only one guitar pedal to use and still kept messing it up and/or unplugging myself. I screamed like a banshee while Trash bashed like a Bonham on bennies. I blew a perfectly natural snot rocket onstage. And it was all over in under 20 minutes.
Quite a trip. Yet the best part of our inhibition may’ve been our banter. Man, Travis rules.
So does Tom Smith for booking us, and reviewing us:
“The Foamers have a sound that reminds me of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion meets Lawnmother Deth while drinking moonshine after feasting on authentic Cajun chicken.”Timebomb Tom, Scene Newspaper
Who could disagree with that? Still we either figured this was a one-off event, or at the very least that we’d add another member should we ever try another show. But when the same two bands came back a few months later and we got asked to play again, still without having recruited a bassist nor guitarist, we figured, “Why not. We’ve pulled off this exact show before.”
Now, once a band’s played two shows, apparently they’re officially a band. What we’d kept as solely a recording project for three years was now considered a worthy opener for touring bands playing Green Bay, and Toms Smith and Johnson were suddenly offering us spots on copious bills. We of course got ourselves out of town, too. In no particular order:
Bands we played with: Purgatory Hill, James Leg, Holy Shit!, Nobunny, Springa Sonic Droogs, Schizophonics, Fret Rattles, Aluminum Knot Eye, The Ghost Wolves, Crushed Out, Hooten Hallers, Harvey Brown, Bron Sage, Bruiser Queen, Choke Chains, Wood Chickens, Waste, Holly & the Nice Lions, Left Lane Cruiser, Mad Mojo Jett, Of The Moon, Pujol, Tigernite, Bob Log III, Spencer Smet, The French Irish Coalition, Last Sons of Krypton, Rev. Norb & The Onions, Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones, Toxenes, Sons of Kong, Nature Boys, Black Pussy, Stone Cold Killers, Brain Bats, Died & Groom, Devils Teeth, Antique Scream,Body Futures, New Rocket Union, Rev. Rectifier, TS Foss, The Drowns, Symptoms, Brian Hoffman, The New Outfit, The Penske File, Red Head Trauma, Toddarino & the Todds, Peter Hoeffel, Final Ultimate, American Dischord X, Freight Train Rabbit Killer, Impetuous Riff Raff, The Short Timers, Malignance, Scrap Heap Kings, Three Bad Jacks, Molly Gene One Whoaman Band, Tenement, Beach Patrol, Lion Slicer, George’s Bush, The Bastard Assocation, Garbage Man, Future Plans, Silent Drape Runners, Tanzmania, White Trash Blues Revival, Ghost Wolves, New Bomb Turks, Boris the Sprinkler, Death Wish, Tyler Keith, Space Raft, Jetty Boys, Continental, The Jurassics
Venues we played at: Lyric Room, Crunchy Frog, Steel Bridge Songfest (Red Room, Sturgeon Bay), Frets & Friends, The Mutiny (Chicago), Mickey’s (Madison), Dead Modern Villains’ warehouse space, Kingo Farms (Alley Cat’s basement), Gasoline, Quarter’s (Milwaukee), Brewski’s, Low Point (Joe/Pierre’s basement), Reptile Palace (Oshkosh), Eagles Club, Top Spins Records (Appleton), Zozo’s Kitchen, Phat Headz, Rockabilly’s, Badger State Brewing
The Question of the Question Mark
Now, before I finally indulge your pining punctuational curiosity, might I remind you the once-proper approach to the subject:
“…before you ask, yes: the question mark is part of the name. Why, you ask? Because fuck you. When you come across a band this awesome, you don’t ask questions; you damn-well better be answering them.”Big Iron on The Foamers?, BigIron.net
With all due respect to Mr. Iron, it went like this: At a certain point our Facebook page started getting accidentally tagged in posts intended for a British band called “The Foamers” who had been around for “20 years.” Likely story! We got a kick out of being added as event hosts for shows in London, but felt a little bad if it was messing with promo. The band themselves never said anything to us, but we decided to preemptively take a grand effort to distinguish ourselves from them and added a question mark to our name. Our Facebook URL still read “TheFoamersGB”—which we dorkily found entertaining since GB stands for Green Bay but more commonly, Great Britain.
As it stands, we successfully warded off any legal action. There you have it, anyone who wanting to call your band The Rolling Stones?.
We also liked how the question mark mimicked hipster upspeak inflection, i.e. “I’m aaactually(?) like, a huge fan of The Foamers?”
You’re now officially hip to the greatest band name mystery since the Flamin Groovies became the Flamin’ Groovies.
One standout show was the Boozin’ for a Cruisin’ event in 2017, where we didn’t just play after the bike ride, we also partook in the event. As in the whole dang thing: we bicycled 14 miles around town on a route of watering holes, sampling wares along the way, then took the stage. Again, that’s my bandmate Travis being just as willing as I am to…I don’t know, be needlessly foolish and work harder not smarter.
We covered “Attitude” by Bad Brains that day. This band let us cover so many bands we never would’ve otherwise:
Bands we covered: Johnny Thunders, Bad Brains, GG Allin & the Jabbers, Redd Kross, Sheriff & the Ravels, The Buzzcocks, The Ramones, The Cramps, King Khan & BBQ Show, The Fall, The Stooges, Brooks & Dunn, The Doors, whomever composed the “Tales from the Crypt” theme, Billy Childish, The Misfits, The Who, The Sonics, Rob Zombie
Granted, many of those comprised our three all-cover Halloween shows.
Halloweenin’ with The Foamers?
Gasoline in ’17 was a random selection:
-Ramones: “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement”
-Misfits: “20 Eyes”
-The Who: “Boris the Spider”
-Misfits: “Return of The Fly”
-“Theme from ‘Tales from the Crypt'”
-The Sonics: “The Witch”
-King Khan & BBQ Show: “Zombies” (which somehow featured an intro of Santana feat. Rob Thomas’ “Smooth”)
-The Cramps: “What’s Behind the Mask?”
-Ramones: “You’re Gonna Kill That Girl”
-Rob Zombie: “Dragula”
“Dragula” was my wife’s brilliant suggestion. It made for one of my all-time favorite live moments, with people running up to the stage to revel in the absurdity.
Halloween ’19, we wanted to somehow outdo that ’17 set, and somehow succeeded. Of all the hip bands we considered (Billy Childish, Mummies, Hives) we decided to go for a much different type of duo: Brooks & Dunn. Travis had been indulging his love of ’90s country (which is a full-blown obsession these days), and we just went for it, mostly by speeding the songs waaaay up, a la The Plastmatics’ cover of “Dream Lover” and a dash of Hanoi Rocks’ cover of “Around the Bend”. Our “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” was often included in our setlists from there on out. The silliest cover was Travis simply singing the words to B & D’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” while we played 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.
The banter was completely unplanned but we had way too much fun talking like Duke FM DJs. We ended with me saying, “Well, folks, I don’t wanna be Brooks…” and Travis finishing it, knowing right where I was going, with “…but we gotta be Dunn.”
We also played a Stooges cover set that night with Holly Trasti (of Nice Lions fame) on vocals, Michael Zink on guitar, Travis on drums, and me on bass, reconnecting us to that old Pushing Clovers rhythm section feel. Such a fun one. Opening with “Ann” was righteous.
This last Halloween, boy did we have a time trying to come up with another cover set. How would we outdo B & D? We discussed virtually every duo out there (you can imagine the likes), but none hit that right balance of stuff we loved/stuff that’d be fun and interesting to put our spin on. Neil Diamond was actually a strong candidate, but Volksreagan had already done “Solitary Man”. Somehow The Doors came up, and we kept cracking up at our stupid ideas, especially since we lacked their signature keyboard, so that was the winner. The setlist:
-“Hello I Love You” — Fairly straight forward, just faster.
-“Break On Through (To the Other Side)”—Here’s where we showed our hand: we basically played these songs as if Devo were covering them, a la their cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.
-“Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)”—Verses: ska (which killed Travis—you know you’ve got a cool drummer when he can’t play ska!); choruses: hardcore sludge.
-“Light My Fire”—Devo-esque, then instead of singing out the last “Fire!”, we went into The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire”.
-“People Are Strange”—Major-key honky-tonk.
-“LA Woman”—Devo meets the Feelies.
-“Riders on the Storm”—Super straight forward, except we only repeated the lyric “Riders on the Storm.” Loved that bit.
-“Touch Me”—The most absurd, grandest finale possible: Started with an honest-to-goodness cover of The Hives’ “Come On”, then sang the song’s verse lyrics to the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, then sang the song’s chorus lyrics to the melody of the “Star Wars” theme (arguably our real national anthem).
Shows, Reviews, and a Record!
In 2017 The Foamers? played our first show in Madison with our mates Wood Chickens at Mickey’s, which, if I can keep tying all things together, was a venue that hosted the MU/FKs tour (which allegedly resulted in both our bands being forever banned from returning—yikes!). Great show, and we got to crash by our genius-stud buddies from Bron Sage. I can no longer find it, but the show got reviewed by a music blogger who described us as “a band from Green Bay who doesn’t sound like they’re from Green Bay.” GB’s home, but we knew to take it as a compliment. (Ed. Travis found the review; the actual quote:
The Foamers? are a two-piece Green Bay outfit that blow the doors off the conservative stereotype of Northeast Wisconsin. The Black Lips meet Johnny Thunders on some kind of heavily caffeinated beverage.Rick Panneck, Rock of the Arts, February 26, 2017)
Another memorable show was at Lyric Room in 2018. Tom Smith had last-minute asked if The Foamers? could fill in for a band that could no longer open for Left Lane Cruiser, but the show was happening during what was to be a surprise birthday party for Travis. However, I hatched the idea of somehow, with lots of friends’ help and Tom’s agreement, to somehow unwittingly lure Travis from the party to catch the music at Lyric Room—not knowing that we were the music at Lyric Room. Tom played the promotion up masterfully:
While the surprise party went off as planned, we had communication with people at Lyric Room, with a crew of people secretly loading Travis’ drums into the venue. At the party a bunch of us started suggesting to Travis early on how great it’d be to go see the bands at Lyric Room. We somehow timed it out perfectly; I left slightly early to get my gear set up, Julian from FIC and our friend Marcus Cochran helped with Travis’ drums, and everyone else made sure Travis got there on time.
The stage was set. Travis was totally unaware, and had just arrived. I got on the mic and told a very full room how they all needed to yell “Happy birthday, Travis!” when he walked in, in any moment. Any moment now. Aaany moment…
Alas, Travis, ever the social butterfly, spent quiiiite a long time on the back patio chatting it the eff up while everyone in the venue waited, and waited. Finally, he walked in and we hit him with his second, crazier birthday surprise of the night. We then proceeded to rock faces.
Yes, things had been quite cool at Foamers? HQ. We’d written and recorded a number of other songs, including a session at Deep North Studios with Nick Weyers and Sean Smith. There we laid down a track unique to our catalogue in that I’d written the music and Travis wrote the words; usually one guy did it all. Like our session at Ryno Room, this was again us working with futuristic digital technology, and dang if Sean and Nick didn’t turn that baby—“Gotta Run”—into our “Strawberry Fields Forever”. I never caught it, but that one even got played on some local radio broadcasts. (I was pretty uncomfortable when coworkers told me they’d heard it.)
We’d get back to our 4-track DIY roots by recording our songs “Don’t Wanna Know”, “We Live in an Age of Justifiable Paranoia”, and “(Misunderstand My Reluctant Heart-Breakin’) Ass”.
Other than putting (some of) our songs online, we’d never officially released anything, silly as that sounds. In fact our only merch to that point had been some 1″ pins Travis made, that we mostly gave away.
Though we occasionally talked about putting out music, fortune smiled upon our underachieving selves. We were approached rather out of nowhere by an absolute ANGEL named Zach Bundalo. Zach was the brains behind Plant Music Record Company out of Milwaukee, fresh off the label’s maiden release, the Fall 2018 self-titled debut of Car City. For his second release he was looking to put out new material from the Last Sons of Krypton, who we’d played a few shows with. I’m not totally sure how it shook out, but as I understand it LSOK suggested doing a split LP with us. Thank you so much, dudes. (Ed. Travis remembered this better than I did: We were piecing together what would be a 10″ record, when Zach reached out after having seen a clip of us playing “Decalcomania”. He was interested in doing a Foamers? full-length, and was also wanting to do a full-length for LSOK, but since neither band had quite enough minutes of material to justify individual LPs, Joe from LSOK suggested the split.)
What a freaking dream. MU’s “Bloody Murders” had been distributed by Ionik Records out of New York, which was awesome, but we’d paid to have the CDs made. J-Council had a song included on a local vinyl compilation, but it was nearly unlistenable; I think the explanation was that it had been mastered twice. But this… this was like the great claw machine in the sky had randomly selected The Foamers? from a giant bargain bin of bands. For Travis and me, even though we both have huge record collections, this would be the first time either of us had heard songs we’d written on vinyl. And a sweet new local label was even paying for it! Unreal.
Our pal Sara Zarling (of Madylen Photography) took our cover shot, and compatriot Jake Phelps helped us with the design. Both of them just nailed it, all the more crucial because LSOK’s picture for their side was outstanding.
The great Tommy Burns (of Live from Stadium Drive mega-fame) shot and edited a promo/instructional video for the record, and our bands played a release show. LSOK dropped off copies at Exclusive Company, and we dropped off some off at Rock N’ Roll Land. I don’t know the gentleman in this picture, but it’s bloody heartwarming!
Meanwhile Zach diligently sent out copies to be reviewed, and by gum if he didn’t get our name in the funny papers.
The above review was quite kind to us; it felt wild to be “gotten” like that. Unfortunately the reviewer wasn’t as kind about the LSOK side. Then there was a Maximum Rocknroll in June 2019, which I only just discovered recently, which wasn’t nearly as favorable, though it did yield a great description of us: “shit-fi two-guy trash, barely together, but optimum for a basement rager.” Thank you, sir!
From the whole ordeal we’d gotten to spend some time with LSOK/The Onions (with and without the great Rev. Norb) guitarist and all-around prodigious rocker Brad X. Brad approached us after listening to the record, told us he preferred how we sounded with bass, and offered to play bass for us live. That was a big yes on our end! Thus, after some five years of treble-making, we had low end live.
Travis and I trusted Brad implicitly—the man is the best rock’n’roll guitar player in Wisconsin—and he showed up to his first show with us fully prepared, even though we’d never rehearsed. The three of us had never played together before, and yet he fit right in and nailed our songs. We also indulged in having Brad play guitar, with he and I swapping instruments for The Stooges’ “I Got a Right” (seen above).
Later that summer we had another show at Gasoline and Brad was just as game to make the trip from Manitowoc and have another go. Brad recently mentioned that covering The Fall’s (cover of The Other Half’s) “Mr. Pharmacist” at this show was his favorite time jamming with us.
After long accepting life as a trebly two-piece, had we finally found our live bassist? Between the new record, some encouraging press, and being bolstered by a crazy talented player, shouldn’t that have ushered in a golden era for The Foamers??
Well, if you read my last blog, you’ll recall I was getting quite burnt out on playing music in general at this point. It had nothing to do with The Foamers?, so much as my overall passion for music was waning (again, read that last blog if you’re curious).
We had a few months off where Travis and I were both gigging and busy with other bands and life. Then we had a show booked at Lyric Room, again with Brad on bass, but we had to cancel the day of because of an emergency on Travis’ behalf. We’d never done that before, and it felt lousy, unavoidable as it was. Oddly enough we had another show at Lyric Room two days later, playing for an art exhibit where we weren’t getting paid enough to justify Brad making the drive, so we did that as a duo.
The aforementioned Brooks & Dunn/Stooges Halloween show was three weeks later. Then, the world succumbed to coronamania.
Return to Gigging, Kinda
Trying not to overlap with my other blog too much, but I’d considered quitting music altogether even before covid took the choice away for all of 2020. I’d done one outdoor gig in summer of 2021 with Cory Chisel and loved it, but was still totally passive at best about music; I’d consider shows or projects people brought to me, but I didn’t seek them out. Granted, asking people to congregate at the time was still touchy in light of covid.
Graciously, our Minneapolis friends in Mad Mojo Jett asked if one of my bands would open for them at Lyric Room in November ’21, I asked Travis if he were game, and of course he was, because THAT MAN IS ALWAYS GAME, I tell you. He’s one of my best friends, the kind I could call or stop in on anytime of day. I love him like a brother, okay? Sheesh. Further, he made a hilarious promo video for it.
Unfortunately I got stupid sick (not covid) the week of the show, to where I couldn’t even sing (let alone scream) during our two practices leading up to it. This is of course less than ideal when you’re about to sing onstage for the first time in two years. However, with a gut full of grit and a mug full of tea, I bloody well got through it.
Singing without my full vocal prowess left me wanting another shot. But apparently not badly enough to book anything. If I’m being reasonable, I was changing careers, slammed with freelance writing, and had another kid as (last time, I swear) I wrote about recently, so I could cut myself some slack. Travis and I were tight as ever at this point, so it’s not like we didn’t talk about it, and we were as much on the same page as ever (life had been extremely eventful for him, too). Beyond that, we didn’t turn down any shows… it’s just that we weren’t clambering to do Foamers? gigs.
So we didn’t, at least until September 2022. We got asked to do the All Bands on Deck festival in Green Bay. We said yes, conditionally: we’d do it so long as we didn’t play outside or during the day—we are a nighttime CLUB band, and that’s it, capisce? The festival accepted these reasonable terms. They then proceeded to book us at 2pm outside of Brewski’s. Whaddayagonnado.
Further, we learned we were supposed to play an hour and a half—all of 200% longer than any set we’d played before. Okay. Got it. We got this! First show in eight months, no problem.
We contemplated recruiting Julian from FIC play bass with us, but we wound up just listing out every single song we’d ever played and figured we could get through it on the sheer energy of our inexhaustible foolishness, like so many of our other adventures.
To be clear, Brewski’s is not a venue. I’d never even been there before that weekend, but I did play there the night before with The ‘Torches and it was pretty fun. Still, this was 2pm, it was raining, and per Travis who’d gotten there earlier, the band before us played “Hash Pipe” and people liked it. So I drove to Brewksi’s that day fully expecting the worst gig of my life.
We dutifully set up, got into the proper mindset of “welp, here we effin’ go,” endeared ourselves to the crowd with some banter, launched into our first song and… my pedals stopped working. Or was it the amps. Or the guitar. Or the cables. What the heck gives here, Brewski’s?
Apparently their outdoor power outlet couldn’t handle my guitar amp and bass amp at the same time, at least with my pedals all plugged in. Never in eight years had I experienced a single such equipment predicament.
I didn’t get stressed—this was hardly a high-profile gig—but as I sat there fussing with an electric mess I did wonder slightly what the hell I was doing with my life, etc. Many trials and many errors later, including some gracious assistance from the opening act (have I mentioned how much “Hash Pipe” rocks?), and I was able to soldier on minus a couple of my guitar pedals.
Wouldn’t you know it, that show was a blast. We had the best time mixing it up with the Brewski’s regulars. One kind-hearted heckler, a real biker type, was a friggin’ godsend that day. He gave us crap, we gave it right back, and the place had the best vibe. Eventually we made it through (all the banter helped big time). Good lawd. Once again, there’s no one else I would’ve rather been in the trenches with than my man Trash. We even sold a shocking amount of records that day—pretty sure more than we’d ever sold at a show before. At Brewski’s! Wow.
So, admittedly, neither of us had exactly looked forward to that show. If anything we simply prepared for it with a perverse curiosity on how it’d go down, but at the end of the day we just approached it as our next weird gig. Which is to say, at no time before, during, or because of that, Travis and I hadn’t talked about, nor even considered even considered the possibility of ending the band. But as it turned out—bless that little show’s bleary heart—it was the last time The Foamers? played without knowing our last show would be November 26, 2022.
Three Two Shows
Our show opening for The Schizophonics and Fret Rattles had been booked for maybe five months, and I was so stoked for it—two of if not thee top two rock’n’roll bands going today. When I saw Schizophonics at Lyric Room in April ’22 I was floored, and it totally reminded me of Fret Rattles’ energy. Incredibly, Tom Smith asked us to be part of this dream show.
Sometime after the Brewski’s show, Spencer Smet asked The Foamers? to be part of a multi-band bill at Frets for Halloween—no spoiler alert necessary, that’s the one where we did the Doors.
Shortly after we were asked to play another Halloween, show the day after the Frets one, booked by Tom and Pierre from Green Bay UFO Museum Gift Shop and Records, which had us gearing up to learn and perform two different cover/tribute sets in one weekend.
Even for us, energetic fools that we are, this was daunting. So much so that I woke up one morning about four weeks before that Halloween double-header weekend, and a crazy thought popped into my head: maybe we should end this band on this last insane run, culminating with the Schizophonics/Fret Rattles show. As if to reinforce this staggering idea, it occurred to me that after the surprising run on our records at Brewski’s, we now only had three copies left. Zach had unfortunately shuttered PMRC, so these were now out of print. No mo’.
In my morning haze this audacious if not sacrilegious thought didn’t bother me the way it should have. This was seriously uncharted territory… but it made weird sense. I’ve been part of bands that drifted apart with unspoken understanding, and I’ve been honest with bandmates when I’m not interested in booking shows, even indefinitely. But I’d never knowingly played a last show, and it sounded less than fun.
Stewing on it for a couple days, I then found out I’d gotten the two Halloween show dates wrong—that in fact they fell on the very same night. So adding to all this was the prospect of getting ready to play one set of songs we’d never played before, and to directly then drive across town to set up and play another show of songs we’d never played before. I couldn’t fathom it, even for us, or maybe just me.
Travis and I met up at Simonet’s one night to talk shop on who we were going to cover for the Frets show, whereas we’d been assigned a band to cover for the GBUFO show (won’t say who that was; don’t want to spoil their rescheduled event). Expectedly, it sucked suggesting to my rock’n’roll brother we put our battle-tested band to rest. It wasn’t rough because of how Travis took it; if he was mildly taken aback at first, he very much understood where I was coming from, on account of how much we talk. Really, it’s one thing to think about ending a band, and another to speak it aloud, even though doing so made just as much sense then as it had the morning I hatched the idea. I can be pretty sentimental, and I also hate saying no.
I can’t say enough about Travis as a person that I could even have that legitimate chat with him. He’s just all class. And clearly he’s a great bandmate, what with all the bands he’s always in. But it’s out of this respect for him, and our inapropriate reverence for our irreverent band, that I found it worth biting this bullet. The worst thing would be sticking out a band insincerely, dishonestly.
We talked it out and agreed we didn’t need to decide the fate of the band then and there, and turned our attention to who we’d cover for the Frets Halloween show. A few days later we agreed on ending the band on this high note, and covering the Doors. Allow me to chuckle a second as I reread that.
Then, reprieve: The UFO Show got postponed. Still, we held to our plans. We were going to lay waste twice more, at two very different shows, and only we’d know it.
The Last Gig
So Halloween was great. I hadn’t played at Frets in nearly three years and the vibe was fantastic. Surprising people with our Doors interpretations was a friggin’ blast.
In between I had a show with Hang Ten, then did a short tour playing bass on a Boy Howdy/Paisley Fields tour that wrapped up the week of the last show, so I hadn’t been able to indulge in regrets about breaking up The Foamers? or second-guessing our plan.
No, suddenly it had simply arrived: the potentially heavy last show ever. For that we simply decided to play every song either of us could possibly want to play one last time. We wound up compiling a longer-than-usual set for us, but it still probably clocked in at an average band’s set duration. We chose mostly originals, but both wanted to play our Redd Kross and G.G. Allin covers, and our played-only-once, still-stuck-in-our-heads version of “LA Woman” from Halloween.
It felt weird not telling everyone it’d be their last chance to see us, but we just didn’t want that news to hang over the show. I always play every show like it could be my last, but announcing it ahead of time would’ve made things sappy. Nah.
Aaand it’s show night. We set up, sound-check, change clothes, and belly up to the bar for a final Foamers? pre-show shot of whiskey. Holly captured that moment here:
We took the stage, by our dorky request, to WAR’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and it was go time. I felt extra uptight at first, what with the burden of this being our still-secret finale. But with our shows being so strenuous, demanding 100% of mind-body-soul, it took no time for my only focus to become performing—maximally. Really it turned out to be exactly the type of regular-feeling gig we wanted it to be. Much adrenaline and many guitar pedal issues made it feel wonderfully typical.
We (secretly ceremonially) closed the set with the first song we ever recorded, “I Drew a Dumbass”. Then we announced to the crowd that this was our last show, which is admittedly an awkward thing to hit people with, but still less awkward in my opinion than it would’ve been to tell people beforehand. This way we got one last genuine reaction. And with that, we popped some Alka Seltzers and took a final bow:
Our last records sold out very quickly:
Down in the Green Room I looked for where we’d signed the ceiling:
And updated the second of two spots:
People were so cool about the whole thing. I apologized to Tom Smith for not letting him book it as “The Foamers?’ Last Show!” which likely would’ve brought some more people, but it was a pretty packed room as it was. Fret Rattles were outstanding and said some mighty sweet things about us during their set. The Schizophonics, who we’d just met, were understandably a bit flabbergasted by the move. But Pat Beers pointed out what I hadn’t recognized: It was a total Bowie breaking up the Spiders from Mars onstage move. Here I am, this total Bowie freak, and that had never occurred to me. Err… that is, of course I meant to do that! This was a high-minded homage and nothing less! Foamage, even?
Thanks, Foam Folks
Well, just checked—we at least outlasted those watery tart wannabe “Foamers” from across the pond.
I planned to write this memoriam at some point, but then wanted to try and write it for December 6th (which was National Travis Day), and it kept getting longer, so instead I aimed for December 7th (which was Travis’ birthday). Didn’t make it, but most importantly I think this the definitive Foamers? retrospective our throngs of fans no doubt would’ve demanded.
This band never let itself be our side project. It took way too much effort. We were incapable of phoning it in, not unlike how I couldn’t just toss off this blog, apparently. Travis, thanks for reading it, and thanks for making this band worth doing. I’d also like to express gratitude to the so very many of you I mentioned throughout this piece. If anyone else made it reading this far, you’ve got real Foam? in them veins!
Support Travis’ other bands and all kinds of local happenings. Please, will someone cool and competent buy Lyric Room?
If you want The Foamers?’ record you can order it here.
We ain’t done making music together.
Bonus: Album Cover Shot Alternatives