MAY/JUNE 2004 COVER STORY – Haymarket Riot: If They Didn’t Have Bad Luck…

There really isn’t a set time frame for a band to release a follow up album to their last effort. Normally it is anywhere from a year or two, sometimes longer. In the ’80s, at the height of their career, Def Leppard took eight years to deliver two albums. Their drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in an auto accident after Pyromania. After the next album, Adrenalize, lead guitarist Steve Clark died of alcoholism. And God only knows what the hell went wrong with Axl Rose since the last Guns ‘N Roses album back in 1992.

For Chicago’s post-punk indie kids Haymarket Riot it has been one of those latter horror stories in between albums. When I talked with singer/guitarist Kevin J. Frank, I had to ask where the band had been hiding out. That simple question turned into one of the most interesting, yet painful stories I have ever heard.

“Oh my God, where shall I start?” Kevin said in a deep breath. “Well let’s start from the last time I saw you at the Highdive. We left for our European tour for a few weeks then came back to the US and toured the West Coast. Our last show in California, or next to last show of the tour, I’m not sure, but our drummer Billy (Smith) decided he didn’t want to be in the band anymore, so he left after the tour.

“It wasn’t a bad split with us or anything. He just didn’t like being on tour and away from home so much. We still talk and he came to see us in Chicago and we brought him on stage to play and it was a lot of fun. The timing was bad, but we are still friends.”

After the band got home from the tour and Smith officially left, things only got worse for Haymarket Riot, particularly Kevin. “Literally five days after I got home from the tour I got in an accident. I was on my bike and riding down the street when a car door flew open and the next thing I know I was flying 10-15 feet in the air, landing on my right side, and my bike was crashing down on me.

“I saw the door open but it was too late. All I remember is saying ‘Oh Fuck…’ and flying in the air. I tried to get up but I saw blood all over my shirt and knew something wasn’t right. I looked at my right hand and it was mangled, pretty deformed.”

On the bright side of the accident, the driver took Kevin to the hospital with his bike in the back and even waited to give him a ride home. But that wasn’t nearly the end of it. Kevin had to have surgery to realign his hand and wrist. The surgeons put two screws in his hand. Physical therapy was inevitable for the guitarist as he spent three months of grueling and very painful treatment to get his hand somewhat back to normal.

“I pushed myself really hard. I knew if I didn’t this was it for playing guitar and the band. I had no other choice, it was work hard or nothing,” Frank said confidently.

The future of the band was in doubt, but Kevin never worried too much about it because he knew he wouldn’t quit. After the physical therapy Kevin got back to playing guitar before the Oil sessions for a song on the Thick Records compilation.
“Contrary to popular belief, I do know how to play my instrument,” Kevin joked. “But I had to get my strength in my hand back. My hand will never be 100 percent, but I am very lucky.”

Still a minor problem, the band had no drummer and their bass player Fred Popolo was doing construction work throughout the United States. The band had to find another drummer to fill in the vacancy left by Smith, so they brought in long time friend Shane Hochstetler. When all felt right to record for the Oil Compilation another bomb was about to drop. Two weeks before they were to go into the studio guitarist Mike Bennett quit and moved to California.

“This split wasn’t so good,” Kevin explained. I heard a rumor that Mike was leaving the band and he had never said anything. So one day I talked to him and asked him and he said he was leaving. I knew nothing about this. I have only seen him once since then and haven’t talked to him in three years.”

So at the time this is where Haymarket Riot stood. They just filled the drum slot but their long time guitarist walked out without proper notice and their bassist was all over America doing construction. On top of that, they were supposed to record a song in two weeks.

“Fred couldn’t make the sessions so I filled in on bass and played both guitar parts for the song,” Kevin explained.

After the sessions, Kevin had to have another surgery on his hand to help the healing process. Then the band started writing the new album under the working title MOG.

With Frank in Chicago, Hochstetler in Milwaukee and Fred out of town, it was a little difficult to start writing a new album. But the band managed. They recruited Quinn Goodwillie of Mt. St. Helens to fill in at guitar, but he couldn’t do another European tour so they picked up Michael Graff. Fred would fly in from wherever he was doing construction every two weeks for rehearsals. They would make several trips to Milwaukee to rehearse because that was where Shane was living. Once they got the new songs down for an album, they went to SxSW in 2003 and did another European tour.

“Halfway through the tour, things weren’t really clicking with Michael.” Kevin said. “He is a great guy with a heart of gold but we weren’t shaking hands musically.”

So now Graff was out as guitarist. If you are keeping score at home, Haymarket Riot had six different line-ups in a span of 15 months. Fortunately for Haymarket Riot, their long time friend Chris Daly was in Sweep the Leg Johnny, who was breaking up. He came on board and now is a solid member in the band.

“We got Chris at the end of July and started practicing then went to record with Steve Albini in November,” Kevin explained. This was the first time recording with Albini for Haymarket Riot and they knocked the whole album out in five days. The new masterpiece is entitled MOG and it could possibly be the best record Haymarket Riot has put out.

“We do what comes to us,” Kevin said of MOG. “We don’t really set out to do a certain type of album. This record is more rock with more umph to it.

“Our approach was going in with five days and recording pretty much live with very little overdubs. 95 percent was live. We did months and months of demos and recorded every time we practiced. We had to be really prepared due to time and money restrictions. We laid our ground work and mapped it out before we went in to record.”

With MOG, Haymarket Riot has recorded nine songs that are a freight train of musical bliss. They have solidified themselves as one of the Windy City’s most explosive bands in underground music today. Haymarket Riot is unpredictable with their post punk sound. They take you through a plethora of passionate musical dynamics with multifaceted arrangements and clean cut elements.

More importantly, the band obviously has a no-quit attitude and a strong passion for music to keep them going through any obstacle. Where most bands would give up and throw in the towel, Haymarket Riot just embraces the bad situations and turns them into a positive to make them an even better band.