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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Maritime and the Freedom of No Expectations

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­Where a greener band might be giddy with hope after signing to a label like Dangerbird Records—home to bands including the Silversun Pickups and Minus the Bear, and one of a handful of large independent labels that's actually growing during a recessionary time for the music industry—Maritime has learned better. The Milwaukee indie-rock quartet has been the subject of "next big thing" talk for so long that it's become a running joke for the band, and a rather exhausted one at that.

"Every time I hear people say that the next record we make should be our breakthrough, I always say, 'Well, the 12th time's a charm,'" says drummer Dan Didier.

"The truth is, we've never thought of ourselves as being on the brink of anything," says singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen. "We just got so tired of people saying to us, 'You guys are going to happen.' It got to this point where it was like the more people said it, the less we actually expected."

In some respects, the expectations surrounding Maritime predate the band itself. Von Bohlen and Didier played together in The Promise Ring, a guiding force of the '90s emo movement and one of the great white hopes of the Milwaukee music scene before their breakup in 2002. But for as revered as that band remains, particularly by those who came of age listening to them, The Promise Ring never sold nearly as many records as some of the groups they inspired.

"We were in a popular band by whatever stroke of luck or genius," says von Bohlen, "but a lot of what's written about that band is exaggerated. I've heard comparisons equating us with what Death Cab for Cutie is now, and that's just not true. They're playing giant venues, and we never did."

With that history in mind, Maritime is under no illusions that releasing their fourth record, Human Hearts, on Dangerbird Records will finally result in riches and fame. They are glad, however, to be on a label with the budget and organization to properly release and promote the album. They're also thankful that the label took a chance on the album at all, since Maritime won't be able to tour very much in support of it. That would be a deal breaker for most labels, and it might have been for Dangerbird as well, had the band not shared a history with label co-founder Jeff Castelaz, who once managed The Promise Ring.

"This band came together at a time when we all had similar things going in our lives: marriages, families, careers," explains Maritime bassist Justin Klug. "Those shared experiences have helped keep us together in a lot of ways, but they also limit how much we can tour. There's not a lot of just piling in the van and driving for us anymore; we need to be more strategic than that. Where we once could hit the road for a couple weeks, now we can mostly do two- or three-day weekends."

On Human Hearts' opener "It's Casual, "a track that sets the tone for the jaunty, catchy guitar-pop that makes up most of the album, von Bohlen sings about a tentative and possibly fleeting relationship, but the song title could just as easily refer to the increasingly casual nature of his band. He acknowledges that the outside commitments that keep the band off the road now will eventually keep the band from playing together altogether.

"I purposefully don't think much about it, but as the rest of my life expands, the space that I have—and the space that I should have—for the band shrinks," von Bohlen says. "I realize that at some point, all four of our lives may get too big for us to keep going. At some point, it just won't be feasible. Our collective opinion is that this is something we enjoy doing, and it will break out hearts when we one day have to stop doing it."

Von Bohlen takes solace in knowing that day is still a long way off. In the meantime, the group is enjoying the freedom that comes with not worrying about trying to make a career out of music. Where Maritime once strategically limited the number of local shows they played, for instance, they no concern themselves with such logistics.

"I think we've always been working under this old mentality that if you play too much locally people will stop coming out, but last year we realized we are not that band anymore," von Bohlen says. "It's not like in The Promise Ring, where we were always touring behind this cycle of records so we needed to be attentive to where and when we played shows. Now we're going to try to say yes to more shows, and to play a lot more local shows, as well as shows at smaller and stranger venues, since those usually turn out to be the shows we enjoy the most."

There's a sense of relief that comes from being able to play music without worrying about expectations, says Didier.

"We are definitely a band that has nothing to lose," he says. "That's a great position to be in."

Maritime plays an album release show for Human Hearts at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, April 9 at 8 p.m. with openers Sat. Nite Duets and Testa Rosa. ­