My friend Kayla Chaffee introduced me to this band. A few months ago I saw that she was booking shows at The Elbo Room up in Chicago, Illinois. Talk about a cool job… I love that space, and they get some big bands through there. It’s sort of like the Birdy’s Bar & Grill of Chicago. Anyway, I approached her with an idea. Since she was booking bands, and I like interviewing bands here on the blog, why not work together? She liked the idea, and the first band she introduced me to was excited for an interview. I had a lot of fun getting to know them, and learning their music. With songs like She Moves Like Rain and Sunshine, these guys are sure to please no matter what style of music you like. They mix a little blues in there… a touch of classic rock. But they call themselves “vintage”. Ever wonder what a vintage band sounds like? Check these guys out… because it makes sense. I can’t explain it, but the music screams vintage. They are from Iowa (not sure I have met anyone from Iowa before) and were kind enough to sit down for an interview. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the hard working band that is Item 9 & the Mad Hatters.
The name… that’s not a typical band name. I love it though! Where did the name come from? Does the 9 mean anything?
A few years ago we used to be a cover band called Old Style. After making a few original songs we decided to try our shot at being an original band. We figured we’d need a name change being our old one wasn’t very original (just our favorite kind of beer!) After a bit of deliberation, while sitting around in the band room, we decided on Item 9 & the Mad Hatters, a combo of movie references from two popular movies at the time. We felt it’d be best to have the most random/weird name we could think of that also rolls off the tongue easy. Although Item 9 does come straight from a movie, the number 9 does have different meanings to each member individual… Revolution 9, trifecta of 3, triforce, backwards “p”, John Lennon’s favorite number…
Your logo has a hat in it… that makes sense! Who designed the logo?
We use 3 different logos primarily, and yes they all have top hats in them. You can’t be a Mad Hatter without one. Our first logo was designed by Miranda Buckner, a co-worker of mine at The University of Iowa web development department. Our second logo was made by my lovely girlfriend Kelsey Huebner. It’s also the design for the cover of our album “Old Style”. We like using this one on flyers; it’s easy to pick out and see from a distance.
Our third logo was designed by my cousin Joe Lower. It’s pretty awesome, but we haven’t had a chance to use it yet.
Where are you guys originally from?
Originally the band came out of Riverside, Iowa. The 3 founding members are from there. While in college, I met Matt Bryks, one of the guitar players, who lived across the hall from me in my dorm. He’s from Chicago. Our singer is from North Liberty, Iowa and was found on craigslist. Our current drummer is from Richmond, Indiana. We met him one night while playing at an open jam at the Yacht Club in Iowa City. Our original drummer (who still plays with us on occasion), my brother Henri, is still in high school and decided he needed time off to play sports and finish school.
How does “vintage” rock differ from… from rock?
Vintage means “characterized by excellence, maturity, and enduring appeal; classic.” We grew up listening to classic rock; we love classic rock. We’re trying to bring it back while still using influences and techniques from newer artists.
The band just released the debut album. Tell me a little bit more about the album, the production of the album, and the expectations of the new release.
The album took a little more than a year to produce, start to finish. We had won a day of recording time at Flat Black Studios by placing 2nd in the 2010 Yacht Club Battle of the Bands, so we decided we’d buy 3 more days and record an entire album. Recording at Flat Black was great; the owner/operator Luke Tweedy is one hell of a sound engineer and a great guy. He gave us a lot of good advice and was a big part in making the album turn out as well as it did. We had the album mastered by Carl Saff of Saff Mastering and the duplication was done by Sooper Dooper. We really liked working with both of these companies, they gave us a great deal and made everything easy. Kelsey Huebner designed the album and created the album artwork; we’re very thankful for this because it looks awesome and had it not been for her we’d probably have ripped of the Beatles and released a white.
Our expectations for the release party were totally blown away by the actual turnout. We enlisted 5 of our favorite local bands to come rock with us, we had a local radio DJ Jason Larson MC the night, we had an art show by Kelsey Huebner and our photographer Kodi McQuillen, we had a free raffle with prizes, and to top it all off we had a killer light/fog show. The night was epic, to say the least. Many people saying it had been the best rock show they had seen in Iowa City in years, if not ever. Out of the 100 copies we got initially we’re down to our last 20 and are in the process of ordering more.
It looks like you guys are on the road a lot. Do you ever get sick of traveling around so much?
No, we just get a little tired of driving. We know what we’re trying to accomplish and being on the road is a big part of it. We’re just happy to be able to be on the road entertaining people with our music.
I am a good friends with the lady that books The Elbo Room in Chicago. I love that venue, by the way. Did you enjoy the show? How was the turnout up there in the Windy City?
We love the venue too; best place we’ve played in Chicago so far. We really had a great time at the show. The crowd and other bands were great. I’d estimate there were 40-50 people there; not bad for a black Friday far from home.
What’s the biggest crowd you have ever played for?
We’ve played for 300+ people during a dubstep festival in Cedar Falls called GlowStock, put on by the University of Northern Iowa. Initially the crowd was hesitant because we were a rock band in between sets of dubstep DJs, but we had them raging by the end of the show. We got pretty close to this number at our CD release party and 2011 Yacht Club Battle of the bands.
You guys won the 2011 AMA Battle of the Bands. How many bands were in that?
That’s an interesting story. There were supposed to be 7 or 8 other bands… but all except us and another dropped out on the day of the event. It wasn’t the most organized show we’ve played, but it was still fun to be a part of. We’re pretty proud of having won the 2011 Yacht Club Battle of the Bands by a landslide in October. Also, we’ve been nominated as finalists in a local newspaper (Iowa City Press Citizen) as Iowa City’s “Best Band”. We’re pretty excited and honored about this and can’t wait to hear the final results.
They do a battle here in Indianapolis every year. It’s pretty popular. What was the prize?
Because of low turnout, they weren’t able to give us a prize… so I guess the prize was publicity. As for the other battle, we won a week of studio time at Minstrel Recording Studios in Iowa City. I’ll have to check out that venue in Indianapolis and try to get us on.
Who writes all of your lyrics?
Pete has written most of the lyrics followed by Adam Maxwell, although it’s a joint effort with other band members and friends giving their suggestions and input.
Do you guys play all originals, or do you work in a cover song here and there?
We’ll usually throw in a cover or two at every show. We feel this is very important in helping us win over new fans and coming up with ideas for new songs.
In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the way people absorb music?
The Internet has liberated the music industry and the world. We love it.
What would you be doing if you were not performing?
I have not seen you guys live yet, but what can someone expect from a live show?
A wall of modern classic rock sound. High energy vocals and instrumental solos by all members. I guarantee we’ll have you cheering at some point, saying, “Where has this band been my whole life?”
Do you guys have jobs outside of music?
Yes, but they’re nothing to brag about.
Let me guess… Pete and Henri are related.
You are correct. If you’re trying to start a band and your little brother won’t stop following you around, you might as well have him be the drummer. Recently Henri has handed over drum responsibilities to Rob Abrams. Henri is still in high school and decided to focus on his studies until he graduates. During our CD release party we did the double drummer thing, it was awesome and we’ll be surely doing it more often in the future.
What’s next for you guys… what does 2012 have in store for the band?
We’ll be recording our second album, hopefully having it released by the end of the world or at least by the end of 2012 if the Mayans were wrong. We’ll also keep on gigging around Iowa and the Midwest hopefully coming to a city near you soon.
How are you promoting the new album? I see you are on Facebook and Twitter… anything else up your sleeve?
Primarily word of mouth. We’re happy to see the album has been promoting itself as well; a lot of people have been saying good things about it and burning it for their friends. Hopefully we can start getting it circulated on the interwebs…
When this is all said and done, and you are no longer playing, what do you want to be remembered for? What’ the Mad Hatter legacy?
Bringing back the solo, the band, and rock n’ roll in general baby..
Thanks for taking the time to answer these. I know you guys are busy. In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
First of all we’d like to thank you for showing interest in us and making the interview possible. Also we’d like to thank anyone who read this far! Please check out some of our stuff online and come to a show.