Your summer is not the summer that the members of Milwaukee band extraordinaire and all-around good-timers Maritime are having. Yours is one of sitting in hammocks and pure laziness. It's three months of throwing hamburger patties, brats, kabobs, veggie burgers, whatever you've got lying around onto a nearby barbeque and letting it sizzle above a pile of hot, Kingsford charcoal briquettes. Then you feed yourself potato chips, baked beans and brownies well beyond moderation. You're all about getting pink fried and boating, drinking beer and boating, fishing and boating, boating, boating, boating. The members of Maritime - while you're out there jerking off and killing time - are having babies (well, their wives and girlfriends are, but even so, being bedside for a labor can't be a picnic either) and still finding time enough to load into a van for a few days here and there to come to a town near you, play a set of songs and engage in some repartee that entertains on so many levels. The shame you feel should be unbearably stifling, pissing the best years of your life right down your leg like a Chicago Cubs big league baseball team (know that the terms "big" and "league," used in conjunction with one another and connecting Chicago Cubs and baseball team are loosely applied).
As a whole, Maritime has produced three babies (and one new record) since the end of May and now, by all accounts, there are as many children as band members, with lead singer and guitarist Davey von Bohlen - self-referentially considering himself the "great adventurer" as the first of his band members to bear offspring -- leading the charge with two sons, the almost two-year-old Wilson and one-week-old Sebastian. The toddler teeter-totter was evened out when von Bohlen's wife gave birth to Sebastian last week, five weeks prematurely. Drummer Dan Didier proudly carries around with him an envelope full of photos of his month-old daughter Miette Rin and former Decibully bassist Justin Klug just barely beat him to having the first baby girl of the band. Guitarist/keyboard squiggler Dan Hinz is set to marry in the fall. Von Bohlen thinks that "he might get some ideas." Suddenly, you hear him lose attention in the phone conversation, turn away and inquire in his oldest, " Wilson, what's on your face? What have you got on yourself? Aww, dude."
"We're of an age where it's not that strange that this is happening and, after all these years, I finally feel like I'm living up to the Midwestern, low-class image of everyone having a million kids," von Bohlen said. "No one who doesn't have kids can understand what it's like having kids, just like no one with a 40-hours-a-week day job can understand what it's like to not have a 40-hours-a-week day job. We haven't played with too many bands in the last few years whose oldest member is 20 years old. We do tell these bands, 'This is the most sleep you guys will get.' The biggest difference between tour sleep and having children sleep is the consecutive hours of sleeping. Six hours - when you have a child -- is something to brag about the next day. The real difference, when you have a kid, is that I really have no say when I do the things I do each day. It does weigh on you a little bit."
Last week's four-day swing through Minneapolis, Iowa City, Lawrence and St. Louis was truncated when von Bohlen received a call informing him that his wife was going into labor. At the end of the St. Louis show, the band packed up, cancelled the hotel room for the night and high-tailed home. He made it in time for the birth, which wound up not happening until a few days later. The few days the guys are gone, playing songs off of the rightly and warmly received second full-length "We, The Vehicles" and 2004's "Glass Floor," feel like eternities. At the second show of the trip, Didier was already missing his little girl.
"There's a little of both," von Bohlen said of the regret and welcome relief that come of jetting off from home and the crying for a few days. "It is indulging in a lot of selfish things. I can get up and I can get coffee and eat and I can do whatever I want. When you're at home, you don't get to do a lot of adult things. But there's no loss of guilt and a desire to be home helping with the family. Especially with new little ones, you leave them for a number of hours and that's a lot."
The sacrifices, while considered extravagancies by many, are necessary to continue making "We, The Vehicles" apparent to those who possibly forgot about von Bohlen and Didier when their old band Promise Ring broke up in 2002. Not only have the two solidified an already lock-tight partnership, but von Bohlen is crafting some of the loveliest melodies and hooks of his career. Last year, the band was forced into a makeover when former Dismemberment Plan bassist Eric Axelson gave a six-month notice that he intended to leave the band to settle down and be with his girlfriend. The rigors of touring and the commute from Washington, D.C., to Milwaukee for band practices was too much to handle.
"I think touring was the main sticking point," Didier said of Axelson's departure. "He just didn't want to be on the road anymore. He was at sort of a turning point in his life. It's not the band was doing so spectacularly that it would be a stupid thing to walk away from."
Moving into Axelson's place was Klug, who'd been a longtime buddy of von Bohlen's and Didier's. Hinz, known around town as a guitar whiz, slid into the permanent second guitar position alongside the southpaw von Bohlen. Now, the four members of the group live within two miles of each other on the south side of Milwaukee, an old Polish neighborhood that von Bohlen said is called "the hipster retirement community" by others in Milwaukee.
"We saw Dan at a local show that we played and he was pretty exceptionally drunk. We told him that we were looking for a guitar player and he said, 'I'll play guitar for you. I'll kill those guitars' - being all sassy. I was like, 'Okay…call me,'" von Bohlen said. "Justin was the last one to come into the band. When it looked like convincing Eric to stay didn't seem like it was going to work, he asked Justin. He'd already told us that he wasn't going to play in Decibully anymore and he'd just found out that his girlfriend was pregnant so he knew his life was about to change dramatically. I told him, 'Eric's already told us he's leaving so if you want to play in a band with a bunch of other dads, you can play with us.'"
Now fathers, von Bohlen and Didier made their names as half of Promise Ring in the late 90s, selling gobs of records and it's right to think that they'll rise again as the records they've made as Maritime have gone where they've never been before, exploring more expressive melodies and synching up the jangly vestiges of the Ring and the gnarly, milkshake smooth rhythm and flow of the new incarnation. Didier said he's moved on from the Promise Ring recordings.
"Of all the records I've ever been a part of, the Vermont record, 'Living Together' is the only one I can even stand listening to now," he said of the largely acoustic, rustic album that he, von Bohlen and Chris Rosenau released on the defunct Kindercore label in 1999. "There were no preconceived notions. It was just us having fun doing whatever. There was no stake in it. With the Promise Ring records, you had to really think about it. You had to think about not living up to expectations. That's the one I can still listen to. I've been listening to 'We, The Vehicles' more now probably just because it's new and I can listen to 'Wood/Water,' but it takes a while to go back to that one. It was my favorite Promise Ring record to record. We, as a band, put everything into that record and it was a financial bust. It's something I just have to get over. It's kind of hard to go back to, though you want to. You know the would ofs, could ofs and should ofs of it. It can bring back memories of the difficulty of being in that band at the end. It will bring back all of that. It's a common smell that totally brings back something from your closet."
Von Bohlen and Didier work as a natural team. The unorganized and the organized, respectively. Didier cuts things in half and blows them up when needed and von Bohlen's gone on record saying that if it wasn't for his friend, he probably wouldn't still be playing music.
"Every time it gets hard, you think about being done, even though you're no where near actually acting on it. Without him, it would be a lot different. He makes the unsolid in my music feel solid. Without him, I'd feel like a musician with a bundle of half-finished songs. I don't necessarily want to play in a band that didn't include him," von Bohlen said. "He's 100-percent quality control. I've been bringing him every melody and every song I've written to him for so many years now, I don't know what it would be like otherwise. Some songs are great until you play them in front of somebody else. He's completely integral."
For the music that's absolutely true, but for the slide steps, the robotic juts and boy band-ish jives with his guitar (which became more comical when J-Lo and 98 Degrees struck) and his rapier's wit are all von Bohlen's.
"I think I would be a de-evolution before I'd ever be an evolution," he said of his swanky live moves. "It's just something I started doing a long time ago to deal with the awkwardness of people staring at you playing an instrument and it was kind of funny. I'd like to say that I've gotten better at it.
"I feel like I didn't sell the idea that I realize that it's a joke well enough when I started doing it. It got to be snider when the boy bands broke. This is the first time ever verbalizing anything about it. I think it adds to all of this. You want to have people enjoy this. Sometimes I'm a stand-up comedian and I'm amplified so I always get the last word. A heckle - that's gold in my world. I'm going to out-do you and that can be a double-edge sword. I talk too much. I think that's a common thread in my life."