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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

An Expanded Fever Marlene

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If you haven’t seen Fever Marlene for a while—and, given the group’s relative silence over the last few years, that’s a strong possibility—then you might not recognize them anymore. It’s been five years since the once-ubiquitous Milwaukee alt-rock band released its last studio album, 2008’s White China, and the group has gone through some substantial changes in that time, expanding from a duo to a five-piece. As big of a transition as that is, it’s one that the group has always been open to, explains singer-guitarist Scott Starr, who has co-anchored the band with singer-drummer Kevin Dunphy since it began in 2003.

“Believe it or not, Kevin and I never meant to be a two-piece,” Starr says. “From the beginning, we’d always wanted a full band, but we’d never found the right candidates to fill those other roles. We’re not the kind of people to go on Craigslist or to post a flyer for a bass player or organ player. Kevin and I have always been better friends than bandmates, so we wanted to keep that dynamic in the band. We wanted the band to grow organically; it had to fall into our lap.”

The band took on their new members during the recording of the new album, Medicated Friends. Rather than rent studio time and work with outside producers like they had for White China and 2007’s Civil War, Starr and Dunphy built their own studio in Starr’s attic in Bay View, so they could record, mix and master the album themselves. They were aided at times during those leisurely sessions by keyboardist Ryan Gardiner, guitarist Christian Hansen and bassist Dan Mahony. “When we booked our first show after finishing the album, Kevin and I were like, ‘You guys played all over the record, you might as well join the band,’” Starr says. “It couldn’t have happened more naturally.”

The additional members haven’t dramatically changed Fever Marlene’s sound, which is still bigger, sunnier and more major-label-minded than most everything else in Milwaukee’s indie-centric music scene, but Starr says they’ve helped the band realize the sound he’d always imaged in his head. “I never felt that our first two records captured our sound,” he says. “I never felt like if I weren’t in the band that I’d pick up those records and listen to them. That’s not to say that I didn’t like what we were doing, but I didn’t feel like it was our genre. But after playing for years and years and having our own studio, I feel like we were able to achieve the sound we’ve always envisioned.

“This record feels like a debut album to me, in that regard,” Starr continues. “In fact, we re-recorded a few older tracks during these sessions that we didn’t originally intend to be on this record, because the past recordings either weren’t fulfilling or didn’t come out as we imagined. Like on the original recording of ‘We Are All Colors,’ Kevin didn’t play drums, but we really liked how full it came out when we played it live, so we wanted to redo it. There was obviously a fear that someone already familiar with us might hear the record and think, ‘OK, I’m already sick of these songs—give us something new,’ but we had to remove ourselves from that thought process and remind ourselves that there are a lot of people who haven’t heard these songs yet, and we want them to hear them the way we’d envisioned them.”

Fever Marlene play a release show for Medicated Friends on Thursday, April 11 at the Oriental Theatre at 10 p.m. with opener Mark Waldoch. Proceeds from the show will go to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.