Still On the Road
a new album and a big anniversary for the Drunk Drivers
“We’re just too dumb to stop.” – Chris Weise, a.k.a. Chicken, drummer for the Drunk Drivers
“It’s my son’s first tackle football game today,” says the drummer known as Chicken (real name Chris Weise) beneath his omnipresent Green Bay Packers ball cap, “and I’m missing it to go play rock ’n’ roll. Yeah, Father of the Year, for sure.”
“My daughters are performing at an old folks’ home this afternoon,” grunts guitarist Jon Olstadt, man of a thousand riffs, as he hefts an amp into the back of a van, where the bulk of this interview is to be conducted, ahead of a four-hour traverse to Milwaukee’s Bay View Bash.
These are the dilemmas of middle-aged rockers (and middle-aged writers for that matter, as I am missing out on my son’s first ride sans training wheels – such are the sacrifices sometimes made for the sake of art).
2014 is a watershed year for Eau Claire’s Drunk Drivers. They were recently voted Eau Claire’s best hard rock band (by Volume One readers), they have a new album coming out, It’s Always Weekend, and they are celebrating 20 years as a band. The group came together via the commingling of scene stalwarts Venison and Three Liter Hit, a musical pedigree that hearkens back to the 1980s. I recall watching the Drivers’ early jams in a basement corner of a house on Niagara Street, a practice space which also nurtured the creative madness of Voodoo Love Mint and Touch is Automatic, and feeling an immediate kinship with their sweaty salutations to non-sobriety.
“We were not meant to go 20 years,” admits Olstadt before noting the irony that his crew is all that remains from those halcyon days. “We were supposed to be this party band, yet here we are.”
“We’re just too dumb to stop,” Chicken said to a chorus of chuckles and head nods.
I hop in the back with bassist Greg Robertson, both admiring his Tetris-like packing skills and fearing a few precariously placed pieces of equipment may be poised to topple if we halt suddenly. Despite its deteriorating brown frame, stalactites of foam peeling from the ceiling and lackluster heating, he assures us the van’s shocks are new. Robertson is also celebrating an anniversary: his first year in the Drunk Drivers after replacing previous four-stringer Justin Solberg, a move that seems to have significantly energized the band.
“We gave him 10 songs to learn … he showed up with 12 … and he learned two more that night,” praises Olstadt.
“I loved the band before I was a member. It feels right. It’s fun to play these songs,” smiles Robertson.
And fun certainly underscores album number five (out Oct. 25 via Crustacean Records and recorded at April Base). In fact, the very single-sounding title track (“Weekend”) seems the quintessential Drivers’ tune: catchy, kinetic, and condensed like water droplets along your favorite can of brew.
“We all want to live like a kid in the summertime,” states Olstadt when asked about the album’s principal theme.
“Hey, I treated everyday like it was weekend, and that’s why I don’t drink anymore,” interjects Chicken as he navigates I-94.
So, some things have changed since 1994.
“We’re not 20-somethings just singing about the parties we were living. The track ‘Rum’s Dry’ (on the new album) is about Civil War Southern sympathizers thrown into a river,” Olstadt said.
However, the collective who gave us the brilliantly-titled Bourbon Legend album haven’t abandoned any of their edge. They’re still the Drunk Drivers, and they still bring the party whenever they play (often to packed venues) as Olstadt shares, “We’re the only band to be asked back to the Bay View Bash a second time.” Clearly, “wherever (they) go, it’s always weekend.”
We make good time and meet up with frontman/teller-of-tales Nathan Brelsford at the gig (he drove in from Madison with his family). An uninhibited conversationalist, he and I swerve from Emerson’s essay on “Nature,” that every moment in nature has neither antecessor nor successor, only the now, to his lyrical inspirations for the album: “Imagine sitting in an apartment building and being able to weave yourself into the cracks. Imagine the stories being told, the power in those moments, at that time.” Regarding the band’s longevity, Brelsford reflects, “It has been a good ride with good people.”
With that the Drunk Drivers take to the stage erected in the middle of a blockaded street. I head ’round to the front on this blue, beer-swillin’, chillin’ day. Stretched behind me are throngs of expectant people bookended by buildings all down the block. A church spire looms above Olstadt as the first chords to “Blatz Sabbath” appropriately shudder and call forth the converted.
If “too dumb to stop” means more rock-ous sounds from the inimitable Drivers, here’s to 20 more years of un-enlightenment.
Drunk Drivers + Porcupine + In Black Print + Glassworks Improv • Sat., Oct. 25, 9pm • House of Rock, 422 Water St. • $5 • 21+ • (715) 838-0158 • house-of-rock.com