The Trajectory of Chicago’s Mannequin Men | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

The Trajectory of Chicago's Mannequin Men

INTRO: Some bands form because members seem born to do so, having played instruments since they were little. Others come together by happenstance. Chicago's Mannequin Men were far from virtuosos, in fact some hadn't picked up their respective instruments until they were in their 20s. But as singer Kevin Richard contends, imperfection and having fun is a priority that will hopefully lead to success. Music critic Althea Legaspi has the story.

*PLAY song #1 “Rathole” (0:30 – 0:48-“You don't love me”, chorus: 0:48-1:04, instrumental 0:13-0:25 through next two passages) Six years ago Mannequin Men's singer/guitarist Kevin Richard and his girlfriend were doing well. Things were getting serious. They were looking for a place to live together and then…the unexpected happened.

TRACK 1: Kevin GF: She ended up sleeping with the guy that was showing us our new place. So I kinda bolted on short notice, and didn't have anywhere to go and I had recently had become friends with Seth, our drummer, and he said, “You know you can sleep on our living room floor.” And that was pretty much best option at the time [cut: I had been]

Seth Bohn and Richard were in different bands at the time.

TRACK 2: Kevin sing: In the band I was in, I was singing and playing guitar, it was the first band I'd ever tried to sing in.

*PLAY song #4 “Never Lived By Myself” (0:06-0:38, 1:57- 2:20 play through next couple passages)

Their haven for musicians became a zone for creativity.

TRACK 3: Kevin house: We kind of had a punk rock house thing going on, where we had a bunch of dudes living there where all of them were playing in different things. One of the dudes was a hip-hop producer, one of the guys was a total you know crust punk weirdo kid, and me and Seth. And we just kept turning each other on to records and …it was just a trading thing where we were like finally, “Oh well, let's start a band.” [CUT: and].

They recruited then bassist Rick Berger from Bohn's former band and as a three-piece became Mannequin Men, so-named after songs by punk bands Channel 3 and Wire. Their first demo attempt was not exactly polished. It was fueled by lyrics that were, according to Richard, “unworthily” inspired by his ex.

TRACK 4: Kevin Tang: It sounds like a really bad album that came out on Tang! Or something, but it was fun.

PLAY song #7 “Chopper” (0:12-0:36, chorus 1:54-2:26 play through next couple passages)

And then came Ethan D'ercole.

TRACK 5: Kevin Ethan: When he joined, you know, all of a sudden we have a virtuosic guitar player, which is kind of nice to lean on at a point when you don't have anything going for you and….he opened a lot of doors where there was more interesting things happening than just a guitar, bass and drums like playing three chords because he just refuses to hear music like that.

D'ercole had played and toured with the indie outfit Watchers. And as the only member with serious band experience, D'ercole, expanded their songwriting and also opened them up to new music. They began to solidify their style, which Richard says, was outside of what's popular.

TRACK 6: Kevin Chicago bands: There weren't really any bands in Chicago doing much of anything that was like that interesting [CUT: I mean it was kinda just]

PLAY song #6 “Helpful” (0:37-0:58, chorus 1:26-1:56, instrumental 00-0:30 play through next couple passages)

The release of Mannequin Men's first album still found Richard recovering from his bad breakup. Now on their third album, a new bassist was brought into the fold. Chicago Reader music columnist Miles Raymer picked up bass duties. Now Raymer had no experience playing the bass. According to Richard, it was more important to have friendship than experience.

Their playful approach is also evident in their third and most recent album. It's called Lose Your Illusion, Too. In case you didn't catch it, that's a reference to the Guns ‘N Roses album. Richard says the honor was led by nostalgia.

TRACK 7: Kevin GNR: It's funny to watch where those people go. To watch all those people become “adults” – quote-unquote - like watch what Axel's doing now, like Jesus Christ, man, can you see yourself, can you wake up, do you have a mirror in your house, this is ridiculous, you're ruining it. I think that was kind of our nod to like ruining it eventually for ourselves at some point – but while we still have it, you know (laughing).

And Richard says their mutual love for The Replacements and their accidental success is something Mannequin Men admires.

TRACK 8: Kevin Replacements: There's something to be said for a band that's able to give a nod to the ridiculous nature of being in a band in the first place…

*PLAY song #8 “Kinda Babes” (0-0:42, chorus 0:50-1:22 play through end) So in the young man's game of rock ‘n' roll, does a band who are no longer kids, keep up momentum? Right now, Richard says they have flexible job schedules, but he knows that may not be the case for long.

TRACK 9: Kevin ticking: It's a time thing, clocks ticking, you know we're not going to be able to just leave whenever we want forever either. with us and those guys - well are we gonna do it or not do it? I think at this point now we think the records strong, we like the record a lot and if you're going like blow your life off for something, it might as well be something you believe in.

And while they may not have started proficiently, in fact Richard admits he's not there yet, but he's better – he feels they've come a long way. And perhaps it's their imperfection and naivete of the game that will keep Mannequin Men going strong.

TRACK 10: Kevin end: That is Mannequin Men right there. It's us like kind of not caring if we look like a bunch of idiots, which I think is so important now in music, because everyone's so damn concerned with looking cool and looking on their game. And all the bands I've ever loved in my life were the bands that were really proud of like being off their game, ‘cause that's really who you are and we've always embraced that, and I think that's like one of our biggest successes.

For WBEZ, I'm Althea Legaspi

OUTRO: Mannequin Men's third album, Lose Your Illusion, Too, comes out this week (JUNE 9TH) on Chicago's own Flameshovel Records.

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