Ten years is a long life for a band. Sure, many have gone to last much longer and many more have lasted far less, but for a regional band with modest success on the national circuit -- and no help from a major record label -- ten years is a pretty good run. Many people have said to us that they thought we should have "made it" or "hit it big," but the meaning of those phrases changes if and when you start to understand what it takes to be a successful band. "Success," is also a debatable term. For now we'll use the simple idea that each band member needs to make enough money to live comfortably enough to afford a car, a home (or at least part of one), health insurance and have some left for life's pleasures.
The biggest lesson I've learned from our experience in the music industry is that a self-managed band is really an 80-hour-a-week job: the first 40 hours are spent writing music, rehearsing, and playing gigs; the next 40 hours are spent promoting, booking, budgeting, and tour managing. Here is where I risk sounding cynical: the biggest impediment to the success of a band is playing shows "for fun." Of course we play music because we enjoy it, (why else would we?) but that pleasure must be converted into motivation, and then focused on a goal. If you treat your music like a hobby, it will always remain so, and if you treat it like a job, you just might be successful. Clubs, promoters, and even other bands will walk all over you (perhaps unconsciously) if you are willing to play just for the enjoyment of it. (A good, local musicians union can help with this, but that's for another article.)
In the beginning
The Kissers started for fun. I considered it a side project to my main band, Little Blue Crunchy Things. On March 17, 1998 we played 25 Pogues tunes in the basement of a friend's house. In June of that year I got a call from Cathy Dethmers asking if we'd like to take over the Monday night weekly slot at O'Cayz Corral. Two and a half years later, when the club sadly burned down, we found ourselves with a decent fan base in Madison and surrounding areas. At that point, we decided to turn "fun" into "work." We hired new members who were willing to dedicate the time needed for success (time needed = every waking hour). We traveled on a couple of self-booked tours and eventually found a booking agent. We toured nationally, sometimes hiring a promotion agent and sometimes even bringing along a sound engineer. We did well in Wisconsin, and in a dozen other states around the country.
We also tried a couple of creative ideas. In January of 2005 we moved to Boston to try to develop a fan base in a larger city. We decided to run the van on straight vegetable oil (SVO). After several years of not seeing any sustainable profit in touring, though, we began scaling back, playing the "weekend warrior" routine. Last year Nate told me that he and Kari were planning a move to New York City in the summer of 2008. I saw their desire to leave Madison not as a catalyst that would lead to the break up of the band, but rather as a symptom of the decline we were already experiencing. After all, I could have decided to hire new members (as we've done many times before), but my motivation was greatly diminished: by that time I was engaged to be married, and I was truly enjoying staying in Madison-not traveling to and from it.
So we decided to play our last show on June 7, 2008 at the High Noon (appropriate of course since it is the new incarnation of O'Cayz). Coincidentally this show will almost exactly mark the ten-year anniversary of our weekly gig at O'Cayz. At least six of the ten previous band members will sit in with the current six-person lineup. We are grateful for the wonderful support we've received from our Madison fans. There is no doubt that our success here is what propelled us to travel the country.
Onward and upward
I'll say briefly what everyone else is up to, but leave it to them to fill in the details. As stated above, Nate and Kari are moving to New York in part for the experience and in part to explore the vast well of musical opportunities the city offers. Joe Bernstein is the drummer of the instrumental trio El Valiente and is working as the Operations Coordinator for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. Mike Cammilleri is getting married and continuing various projects including his organ trio King Cruiser. Sean Michael Dargan will continue doing what he does best: fronting his own Sean Michael Dargan Band in their style of "tall and stylish pop." I'm going back to school. Eleven years since my undergrad, I'm getting an MBA in Arts Administration here at UW-Madison. I'll continue playing with various former Kissers in the Whiskey Lash All-Stars, which is in the same vein as the Irish pub rock of The Kissers.
By far the hardest part about breaking the band up is telling our fans, friends and family members. I'm saddened and strangely flattered by the disappointment expressed by so many regarding our farewell show. I've received a number of choked up "Thank you's" and "Wish you guys the best" that really seemed to say, "We don't like it, but we understand." That you understand is really all we can ask.
If you're one inclined to fret, don't do it too hard. This is after all a "Farewell For Now" show. We just can't seem to figure out anything else to do on St. Patrick's Day of 2009, so if Cathy will have us back for a reunion...
Thank you, Madison for a decade of coming out to our shows, buying our CDs, wearing our t-shirts, and telling your friends.
You are as much The Kissers as we are.
Ken Fitzsimmons Vocals/Bass