“I feel like any artist will tell you there’s a sick satisfaction winning someone over,” Midnight Reruns frontman Graham Hunt says with a wry smile.

Hunt is referring to the about-face I made regarding his band’s music. Initially, I dismissed the Reruns and their celebrated 2015 record Force of Nurture based on a Summerfest performance I checked out while in a bad mood.

Then last fall, following an acoustic performance at UW-Milwaukee and a club show later that week, I completely changed my tune. A standout performance covering the music of Marielle Allschwang at Local Coverage in January cemented my belief that the Reruns are one of the best bands in the Midwest.

In March, the power-pop garage rock heavyweights from Milwaukee released their third full-length, Spectator Sports. The record is another winner, full of angsty, hook-laden, lick-heavy tunes.

The Reruns celebrated the release of Spectator Sports at Mad Planet on April 29, as part of the Arte Para Todos festival. All proceeds from sales of the album are being donated to the ACLU.

“Right when we were getting all of the stuff for this record together is when Trump got elected and I wanted to do something to be on the right side of history,” says Hunt.

‘Uh, do you like punk?’

On Hunt’s first day at Nicolet High School, he was approached by an upperclassman in the hallway.

“Uh, do you like punk?” the older student asked, noticing Hunt’s Operation Ivy shirt.

“Yeah,” Hunt replied.

“You should be in my band,” insisted the boy, who later became the Midnight Reruns original bass player.

The young Hunt was prepared for this on-the-spot recruitment, as he’d already been playing in bands for a couple of years.

Basketball may have been Hunt’s first obsession, but music took over towards the end of middle school.

One afternoon, Hunt’s father took him to a Guitar Center where Sam Reitman’s dad was working. When he heard Hunt playing bass he mentioned that he has a son about Hunt’s age who plays drums. Hunt was ecstatic and immediately got Reitman’s number. From there on, Hunt’s parents drove him across town to jam with Reitman nearly every weekend.

Long before Kelsey Kaufman would book the Midnight Reruns at Cactus Club — where she currently works — she booked Hunt and Reitman’s middle school band at the Logemann Center and a music store in Mequon. It was Hunt and Reitman’s first shows and the precocious Kaufman was only 13-years-old at the time.

Hunt — who is an only child — has early memories of hearing Nirvana, New Order and Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend playing in his house. While his parents and Hunt shared some musical sensibilities and generally supported him, Hunt’s mom kicked him out of the punk band he was recruited for his first day of high school.

“My mom works for UWM and we had a show at this little coffee shop there called 8th Note. I was 14 and all the other kids were like 17. They were all getting wasted and she walks in and sees some dude carrying another guy on his back, like the passed out friend. She freaked out and said she wasn’t driving me to practice anymore.”

A taste of the industry

Hunt eventually found himself back at UWM in 2009 as a student. At the time, he was playing guitar in a friend’s band — Trapper Schoepp — that had just gotten a record deal and were set to open for The Wallflowers on tour. Hunt felt it was a no-brainer to quit school, but considers the move “pretty naive” looking back on it.

While touring with Trapper Schoepp, Hunt rubbed shoulders with people in the music business. He enjoyed seeing many parts of the country for the first time, but his encounters with the industry left a bad taste in his mouth.

“It all sucks. And that was a little bit disappointing. We’ve had managers and booking agents email us but it’s never anything that’s worked out.”

For now, Hunt books all the Reruns shows himself and deals directly with their labels — Forged Artifacts (Minneapolis) and Dusty Medical (Chicago). His reticence to join the ranks of the music industry fuels an ongoing debate with himself between committing fully to music or finding more stable employment elsewhere.

“It’s hard to make music your job without making compromises. But there are people that have it both ways, like Tenement from Appleton. They do everything exactly how they want it and have never had a booking agent or manager.”

‘Just another asshole like me’

Hunt’s experience with Trapper Schoepp may have turned him off to the music industry, but it yielded a major benefit for the Reruns. At the time, Trapper’s manager — Milwaukee-native Ben Perlstein — was also managing power-pop icon Tommy Stinson of the seminal Minneapolis band The Replacements.

One day, Perlstein handed Stinson a copy of the Reruns self-titled 2013 record. Stinson dug it.

“It was right around the time that he was trying to build up his home studio and get bands to record there. He thought our record was cool and he figured if we were willing to drive out to his place we could make a record with him. And we’re like, ‘Uh, yeah. We’ll do that!’”

The Reruns reveled in their experience recording at Stinson’s home studio in Hudson, New York. Rather than layering the instruments, Stinson had them play most of it live, which gives the recordings an irreplaceable sense of urgency. For Hunt, it was also a chance to work with one of his heroes.

“It was awesome. I’ve heard people say never meet your idols because they’re just going to let you down. And I agree that most of the time, at least from the people that I’ve met, the image you have in your mind of them is going to be ruined. But I think that’s good and healthy to realize that this person is just another asshole like me.”

While The Replacements were one of Hunt’s most beloved bands growing up, Hunt didn’t immediately take to their music.

“Most of my favorite stuff didn’t grab me at first, but grew on me. The thing that makes that kind of music sustainable and interesting for a long time is that there are little things that you don’t notice at first.”

Hunt has a similar approach to crafting songs for the Reruns. He puts a lot of thought into the lyrics and concepts for the songs, which have up until the new record focused primarily on his anxieties and inner life.

“I guess this is the first one where I’m making up stories. That’s why 'Spectator Sports' sounded kind of cool and fit. In terms of being a spectator to things that are going on.” 

Hunt was excited to have their record release show be a part of the Arte Para Todos (APT) festival, which raised over $20,000 for local art and music school programs. APT also puts an emphasis on mixed-genre lineups, something Hunt has been happy to see these last few years in Milwaukee.

“It’s cool how the Milwaukee scene is progressing. I feel like lately we’ve had more people going out of their way to check stuff out that they might not normally like. People digging on music instead of just sticking to their one genre.”

ON STAGE

Sunday, June 25 - “The Little Gig” street festival outside DanDan in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

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