Besides making a go of it as a local heavy metal band, the five members of Kill Junior are trying to keep time with their dayjobs. Trouble is, they say, lately the economy has been as bruising as some of their songs.
Bassist Paul Collins changes oil in cars for a living. "The place I work for used to give 50-cent raises once every six months if you were doing a good job," he says. "Now it's once every year."
Lead vocalist Cory Kastner paints houses full time. With new construction "dead in the water," he says, "I've been spending a lot of time painting older homes."
For Kastner, the catharsis of loud music is an antidote to "the gripes we all share as common people - those of us who are still trying to achieve middle-class status." So Kastner thought it would be a good idea to release Kill Junior's debut CD on the night of the 2008 presidential election.
"The reason behind it is with the anxiety of the American voter during this financial crisis, I thought it would be a positive thing to have a party," he told me during my interview with the band in a dark and smoky cigar bar last weekend.
Whatever fate the nation chooses that night, Kill Junior fans can drink it all down with a free glass of beer and a free CD. They're both included with the $7 cover charge.
Kastner says the event isn't intended to be "a rally for either candidate." But it's pretty clear that Kill Junior isn't too enamored with the incumbent.
"We had someone come up to us and ask if the name of the band meant the president," says lead guitarist Joe Kuckuk. "It doesn't. We don't hide our contempt for him, but we're not going to waste the name of the band on George Bush."
Kill Junior has emerged as one of Madison's most passionate and ambitious hard-rock bands. "We started the band five years ago," explained Kuckuk. "But Cory came on board as our new vocalist two years ago, and we've been writing songs differently since then."
The tracks on Kill Junior's new CD, Confusiotomy, are a mix of metal and punk rock. Waves of growling guitar are blended with fast-tempo, choppy chords. Pounding drums and atonal vocals frequently support the raw intensity that defines their sound.
The words to these songs can't be easily heard, but Kastner's delivery often progresses from loud to quiet and back to loud. His style mixes brooding reflection and anger. Those feelings are inseparable in most Kill Junior songs.
"I say horrible, dangerous, malicious things," says Kastner. "But when you hear those lyrics, I'm not that person."
The edgy lyrics, he says, are part of the mystique: "It adds to our definition and our character that our music is getting more chaotic and sporadic and punk rock."
By day, Kill Junior's world is equally rough. Drummer Brian Martinez earns his living mixing mole poison in a lab. Rhythm guitarist Paul Lueloff noted that Martinez often comes to practice "smelling like a combination of chicken and piss" from the chemicals he uses.
Still, hard music is an oasis in which the members of Kill Junior take comfort. Collins says after changing oil for 40 hours a week, he goes home, takes a shower and heads to the studio.
"It's cool when you're playing and see somebody feeling it," says Kuckuk. "You see them catching the vibe of the song, having it speak to them the same way it speaks to us. That feeds us. We play better then."
While they're watching the election returns between sets next Tuesday, Kill Junior might even debate Kastner's proposal for curing the current credit crisis. "I thought it would be patriotic if the oil and drug lobbies bailed out the banks," he says. "But no, they're private companies," he adds cynically. "They're not part of our government."