About Hamster Theatre
HAMSTER THEATRE was first formed in 1993 by Dave Willey, who had previously played in Mark Fuller’s group Big Foot Torso with Jon Stubbs. Dave had quit Big Foot to travel to Europe, where he was exposed to music not often encouraged in the states. A lot of free improv, but also post "RIO" bands such as Nimal, and Lars Hollmer’s folk-influenced group Fem Soker En Skaat.
Dave and Jon formed the group on Dave’s return, and the original lineup was Dave on keyboards, guitar and melodeon, Jon on bass, Deborah Perry on keyboards and vocals, Steve Doyle on guitar, Greg LaLiberte on saxes and flute, and Josh Wright on drums. They mixed covers of Lars Hollmer tunes with originals by Dave and Steve, some of which appeared on Dave’s first CD, "Songs from the Hamster Theatre," and most of which remain in the current group’s repertoire.
Hamster Theatre’s first gig was at the Penny Lane coffeehouse on August 20th, 1993, the group augmented by Jay Trolinger on percussion. For some reason, the house was full, and afterwards they did a spate of gigs in the basement of the West End Tavern.
Skyrocketing housing prices, failed love and both questionable and not-so-questionable opportunities drove some key members of the band away to different climes. Josh Wright was replaced by Mark McCoin on drums. But when Steve and Deborah left, everything fell apart.
In 1995, Arnie Swenson released "Songs from the Hamster Theatre" on his label, Prolific Records. There was a lot of support for this little disc, even though it was recorded on a 4-track cassette and mixed very badly by Dave. Jon worked late into the night trying to make it all better. Did it work? You be the judge! Local papers, Option magazine, and various Web reviewers quite enjoyed the disc.
Dave and Jon formed a new band in 1996, the lineup of which exists today, save for one member. The group was Dave and Jon, Mark Harris on winds and reeds, Mike Johnson on guitar, Mike Fitzmaurice on bass, and Raoul Rossiter, drums. Their first gig was at the Boulder Public Library in January of 1997.
Mike Johnson and Mark Harris were (and are) both members of the internationally feared Thinking Plague, who are tightly connected with both Mark Fuller (see above) and Dave Kerman, and who Dave and Deborah joined as bassist and singer, respectively. Slowly, the Plague influence began to creep into Hamsters’ music…
For a while, this group had a fairly high profile, thanks to organizations like Creative Music Works and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Dave and Jon both became immersed in the local modern dance scene, composing pieces for various companies, many of which became Hamster Theatre tunes. And, some of the songs from "Songs from the Hamster Theatre" were used in various modern dance and performance art pieces.
This group recorded the live disc "Siege on Hamburger City" at the Mercury Cafe in 1998. The disc was recorded by Mark Fuller and David Gittleman and put together at Mark McCoin and Jon"s studio, Brave New Audio.
Around this time, work began for what was to become "Carnival Detournement". Dave and Jon would work on their hard-disc recorders at home and then bring the tracks to Brave New Audio or September School for sensitive parts like drums. Slowly they amassed a Cds worth of songs. The process was slow and arduous. A new standard had been set; after the praise the band had gotten, they felt that their new disc should have more sonic depth, more attention to detail, and get the treatment that a release on Cuneiform records would deserve. At the same time, Dave had stumbled upon the music of Pascal Comelade, Look de Bouk, Toupidek Limonade and Klimperei, which was diametrically opposed to any vision of a slickly-produced release. The tension between these two approaches can be felt on both Carnival Detournement and the new CD, "The Unpublished Exploits of Mr. Personality", or whatever.
Many of the songs on Carnival Detournement are aural documents of actual events or stages in the (non-musical) lives of the composers, i.e., if they had lyrics they would tell you about a situation, a feeling, a girl, a problem, an exorcism (!), a near-deadly bug-bite, a cat, a joy, but as they don’t have lyrics, the effect is left to the imagination of the listener. As there were many significant personal events for everyone during the making of Carnival Detournement, the group tried to present an emotionally sequential ride through the topsy-turvy world in a way that would leave the listener feeling shaken, but not alone.
Since it was to be a Cuneiform release, and since Mike and Mark and Dave were all now in Thinking Plague, who was a better choice to mix the disc than Bob Drake? Bob, the visionary who co-founded Plague with Mike, was now the house-mixing guy for ReR, and he has a recognizable aural stamp no matter what he contributes to. This was a very lucky and wonderful thing. Unfortunately, Dave and Jon decided to mess with Bob’s master, significantly squashing the sonic palette he had created. He was understandably very upset, and it was a mistake the group does not repeat on the new disc, "Mr. Personality is a Crimean Warlord", or whatever. Bob mixed that one, too.
After the recording of Carnival, personal issues took more of a front seat to certain members of the band, and the economy grew yet even horribly more difficult to navigate for itinerant musicians. So, Dave and Jon both took on other projects. Jon co-produced a CD with songwriter Kimmer Macarus, and Dave co-produced a CD with songwriter Lorna Hunt. They are both very good. But as there was money involved, and the projects were very time-consuming, Hamster Theatre lay by the wayside for a time.
Not helping this was Dave’s decision to replace Mike Fitzmaurice. Mike was possibly the most dedicated Hamster, a very in-demand bassist who made Hamster Theatre a priority to balance his in-demand bass player life. But Dave felt there was a thread that Mike didn’t grasp. So, without a replacement, Dave let Mike go. Legend has it that it took Dave five beers to have that conversation, but I digress...
This left Hamster Theatre bass-less. One of the most horrific moments in the life of the band was when Jon and Dave alternated bass parts at the expense of an inner harmony, and poor Raoul had to accommodate the different bass grooves all night. Thankfully hardly anyone was there.
Boulder is teeming with great musicians, not the least of whom are bass players. Trouble is, they work all the time, and Hamster Theatre doesn’t make money. The band understands this, but to this day, the band does not have a regular bass player. They have a book of charts, and people will play bass in Hamster until they have to make a living. So it goes.
Brian MacDougal has known Raoul for a very long time. They were once together in a band called Frogpile (with the amazing guitarist Eben Grace) in the ‘80’s. On Raoul’s recommendation Brian came in as the new bassist and stepped the groove up 120 notches. Evidence of this exists on the new CD "Mr. Quasi Personality’s Day Room, and the Horse it Rode In On", or whatever. But of course, "life called" and Brian was whisked away to Florida, where he made a CD with his wife, Nika Garcia, and scads of hot Cuban musicians.
Brian was replaced by Erik Thorin, another groove-meister. But when Erik joined Open Road, it was all over. Open Road had a long road ahead of them; they even have a disc on Rounder Records, and Gosh only knows what fancy venues they’ve done been parlay to. So that story ended, or did it?
Matt Spencer replaced Erik Thorin, and his second gig was opening up for Chris Cutler and Tom DiMuzio for the inauguration of Dave Kerman’s ReRUSA label. Tough company, but Matt pulled it off with flying colors. Now Matt lives in California, so Hamster is bass-less again, BUT...
Erik Thorin came back to town; Open Road is done touring, and he wants to be a rodent again! Yay!
But I am getting ahead of myself. What is this Quasi Day Room?
Quasi Day Room is an imagined choral piece that has never been written. Fears put to rest by the great tearcaker in da sky. Or not.
So what the fuck is "Mr. Personality’s got a Crush on My Little Sister", or whatever? Who is Mr. Personality? Why was he executed? Why was it public?
It remains to be seen. Both Jon and Dave are fairly reticent about the subject. But this writer has her own guess as to what this may be about. I have been researching this for 4 years, and when I'm finished with my piece I will regurgitate it to you, my darling masses... yours,
Maura Trauer, ISC