The Etiquette prepares its follow-up
A lot has changed in the six years since The Etiquette released its only EP, very little of it in the band's favor.
In 2002's bullish music market, labels were still feverishly signing bands, particularly garage-rock bands with names that started with "The." On the strength of Ages, a hyper-hooky EP that however accidentally coincided with the era's rock revival, The Etiquette captured the interest of music managers and promoters, and found support on college radio and at CMJ magazine.
It was, in hindsight, a rare window of opportunity for the Milwaukee band, one that frontman Eugene III (he prefers to keep his last name private) admits he was slow to seize.
"I think about it all the time," Eugene says. "We were really, really close. But we were young, and I didn't know what to think. I would look at contracts in front of us and get scared, like, 'Oh, if we sign this, this guy is going to get money from us for the next seven years.' Now if that contract had been put in front of us, I would have said, 'Screw it.' I'd sign it in a flash."
There were other bad decisions. In a particularly misguided move, the band dropped its manager, who at the time handled only one other fledgling band. That band was The Killers.
Stifled by an unending string of lineup changes, The Etiquette never made it into the studio for a follow-up. Meanwhile, the garage-rock revival came and went, and the music industry fell on hard times.
"When I saw that we'd missed the boat a little bit," Eugene says, "I just kept writing new songs."
Last year The Etiquette finally began to record some of those songs they'd been stockpiling over the past half decade, piecing together the band's first full-length, Highly Unstable, for self-release in early 2009. The album title better describes the band than the actual songs, which are as steady as they are nimble, anchored by huge choruses and the gargantuan pairing of twin guitars and double tracked vocals.
"Since the beginning, we knew we wanted this band to have the gnarly-ness and grittiness of garage rock, but most importantly, we wanted there to be hooks," Eugene says. "We like music you can crank from your stereo and have people singing along."
If there's a silver lining to The Etiquette's false start, it's that they avoided being lumped in with the short-lived garage-rock revival. That movement was fueled largely by nostalgia and novelty, but there's nothing overtly retro about The Etiquette's style of rock 'n' roll. If anything, Eugene says, it's part of a long line of Midwest rock that never went out of fashion.
"When I think of Midwest rock I think of The Replacements, Cheap Trick and old Soul Asylum," he says. "Very straight-forward beats; intense, soulful vocals; songs about love and destruction. There's almost a punk-rock vibe, and usually it's just a four-piece band with a Fender guitar and a Marshall Stax. In the Midwest, we're known for drinking beer and having fun, and when you listen to The Replacements, it's beer-drinking music.
"There's always going to be an audience for that," he adds. "It's just like blue jeans and leather jackets: It'll never die."
The Etiquette headlines a 10 p.m. show at the Cactus Club with The Response on Wednesday, Nov. 26.