Surgeons in Heat: Ryan Reeve, Johnathon Mayer and Shawn Pierce (l. to r.)
Johnathon Mayer has two places he calls home: Madison and Milwaukee.
And wherever the singer/songwriter goes, his band, Surgeons in Heat, follows.
“It’s been like that for a while,” says Mayer. “When I lived in Madison there were [band] members who lived in Milwaukee. And we had [former members] who lived in Madison. It feels good to have two scenes to play.”
Mayer plays with a rotating roster of musicians, including drummer Shawn Pierce.
The band, a largely laid-back mix of soul, R&B, pop and rock, released a self-titled EP in 2011 which Isthmus called “20 minutes of rock ’n’ roll you won’t soon forget.” Another EP followed in 2012, and soon thereafter these two releases were combined into a debut full-length album.
But in the past few years Surgeons in Heat seemed to grind to a halt. There was no new music and few shows. This changed in April when the band reemerged with a new album, Disaster, a breezy affair despite the title. They will play a local release show on May 13 at the High Noon Saloon.
So how does a band with ample fans and positive press disappear for such a long time?
“Nothing was going on because we were struggling to keep the band together,” says Mayer. About a year and a half ago, the band returned to the studio but things moved slowly. It didn’t help when one member left the band in the middle of the recording.
Mayer ultimately turned to Vincent Kircher for help. The frontman for Milwaukee surf poppers Jaill, Kircher agreed to help record Disaster, and they finished the production of the album last November.
Kircher, who produced and engineered Surgeons in Heat’s second EP, had a notable influence on Disaster, Mayer says. He also played on it.
“I write the songs, but he’s all over [the album] because he’s recording it and adding his influence,” says Mayer. “He plays a guitar solo different than me. You can definitely tell when he’s playing.”
Mayer says he was particular about which tracks to include on the record. “You might write an album’s worth of material, but you only like three of the songs and you have to cut out the rest,” he says. “That’s why it took a long time. I don’t want to put out something that I don’t feel into. I really want to like them.”
Disaster, he says, combines the best qualities of the band’s first two EPs with what Mayer has since learned. This includes the stripped-down feel of the first release and the retro R&B sound of the second EP, plus a touch of “weirdness” via sound effects added by Kircher. “These are things you wouldn’t expect to hear juxtaposed on a pop song,” says Mayer.
Now that they’re back, Surgeons in Heat appear to be plenty busy. They just recorded a new Daytrotter session and are contemplating a possible East Coast tour in August. Mayer is ready to hit the road: “We’re going out to promote the record and revive interest in our band.”