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Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010

Surgeons in Heat Hit the Ground Running

Upstart trio quickly becomes one of Milwaukee’s most visible bands

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A band’s first months are a period usually reserved for false starts, the scrapping of potential names and learning how to play together as one. Evidently, Surgeons in Heat—a 6-month-old Milwaukee transplant that’s already played more than 25 shows, recorded and tirelessly promoted itself—wasn’t aware of that.

When singer and guitarist Johnathon Mayer left Appleton and relocated to Bay View in September, he and longtime friend and drummer Ryan Rougeux enlisted the help of Milwaukee bassist William Schultz for a new band. The trio met through mutual friends and by sharing bills in the Fox Cities, where they all once lived.

Almost immediately, Surgeons in Heat set out to make their mark on their new city, one energetic power-pop performance at a time. 

“We just instantly got along musically,” Schultz says.

The introductory gap was bridged by Mayer and Rougeux’s past. The pair had previously played together in projects like The Runner Ups and Cartwalkers. The significance of that was not lost on the band’s newest member.

“They’ve been playing for a while together,” Schultz says. “So it’s kind of cool to see how they can work with one another so well. To see how they interact to be productive is helpful.”

The importance of the new variable, too, is evident to the longtime band mates.

“William is a very rare breed,” Rougeux says. “He is an exceptional musician, but not a cock about it. Every band should have a guy like that.”

Together, Surgeons in Heat incorporate a variety of sounds that range from garage rock distortion to pop falsettos into their music. They cite The Rolling Stones, Graham Parker, The Replacements, Spoon and Elvis Costello as influences.

“To me, it sounds like we're trying to write songs that were mainstream 40 years ago,” Mayer says.

Beyond a shared musical vision for Surgeons in Heat, the band’s members share a collective mentality in terms of the importance of promotion, playing out and constantly moving.

“It’s very important,” Mayer says. “The types of things bands can do now independently are amazing. The main goal we have right now is to develop our band and just have fun with it and experiment.”

They currently play almost a show a week in Milwaukee, and have also played a number of shows in Madison and in the Fox Valley (where Rougeux still resides). Members feel the relentless grassroots approach is an important factor both in improving musically and gaining exposure. 

“I think we all agree that if [you] play out a lot you can get fans, more press, and you learn what works live,” Schultz says. “There’s a lot of bands that don’t play out a lot to not overdo it, but those things are essential in getting somewhere and they’re only obtained by playing live.”

Apart from the stage, their music has also been featured on the radio station WMSE and the music blog Muzzle of Bees. And it’s difficult to go out in Bay View or on Milwaukee’s East Side without seeing a Surgeons in Heat flier.

Thus far, the band is starting 2010 off the way it left 2009—in motion. They recently played a string of shows, including two last week where they shared the stage with Grant Hart of Hsker D. Saturday, they’ll play alongside Blueheels and Tim Schweiger and The Middlemen at Mad Planet.

One of Milwaukee’s newest and hardest-working acts has no plans of slowing, either. Mayer says the band hopes to play 75 shows this year. The focus is obvious, but the aim isn’t as apparent. There’s no mention of record labels or big breaks, but, instead, playing more shows and the chance to write and record more music to play to new faces in new places.

“It is cool to show every side of your band and just keep doing stuff regardless of how it currently sounds,” Rougeux says. “Shows, recordings ... It’s just a better mentality than a band that sits on a bunch of material polishing it until they have a product that they somehow believe defines their band.”

Blueheels, Surgeons in Heat and Tim Schweiger share a 10 p.m. bill at Mad Planet on Saturday, Jan. 30.


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