Fever Marlene

by Joshua Miller
April 2009

Milwaukee's Fever Marlene

Milwaukee's Fever Marlene

Bubbling with a feverish energy layered in melodies, beats, and laid back rock and roll, Milwaukee band FEVER MARLENE ambitiously unearth the limits of where they can take their sound. From a big pop-rock debut to a minimalistic approach and now entering raw rock and roll territory, singer/guitarist Scott Starr and drummer Kevin Dunphy let the situation dictate where their band’s music goes.

“It’s important with us being a two-piece to not put ourselves in a corner with what we can do,” says Starr.  “We can’t force something that’s not really there.”

With this mentality, Fever Marlene has rapidly grown in popularity in their hometown and the Midwest music scene, constantly adding fans, bands (both local and national), and media memorized by how they create such big sound with only two members.  Brian Kramp, morning show co-host on FM 102.1 in Milwaukee, is just one of these people.

“Their mix of vocal harmonies, visual lyrics and dual instrumentation give them a full sound that many four or even five piece bands have a hard time achieving,” Kramp says. “I look forward to their shows because they create an event.  It’s not just another gig; they always want to one up themselves.”

Dejan Kralj, bass player from fellow Milwaukee band The Gufs, shares Kramp’s opinion.  Fever Marlene provides an exciting sound that’s one of a kind, he said. 

“People think of bands like the White Stripes and Black Keys with 2 piece bands but you don’t get that sense because there are a lot of layers and textures that they pull off, even live. They sound much bigger than a guitar and drummer,” Kralj says. ”You could fit them in a couple of different genres but at the end of the day they’ve created quite a unique sound.”

The key to their secret?  Moog Taurus pedals.  Similar to a Hammond organ bass pedals and featuring a synth bass sound that fills the low end and empty space, these pedals help the band give the illusion of having more members.

“I had these pedals that I had used for playing piano and I used to plug them right into my organ. So when we practiced and didn’t have a bass player I would take these pedals and play bass with my feet while we played to fill the sound,” Starr says. “After a little while of experimenting, we found it was actually kind of cool so we’ve kept it that way.”

After learning how to play bass with his feet, sing, and play guitar, Starr says that he now feels “that when I’m not doing it that I should be.” Not able to find new members that fit their system, the 2-piece stuck. That’s alright, Starr says, since he and Dunphy are on the same page musically.
“Playing live and working in the studio is not work, it’s kind of like good times and we know each other so well that we play off each other instantly,” Starr says. “There are no fights like ‘This band’s breaking up.’ It’s kind of like a brotherhood.” 

Starr formed the band in 2003 with longtime friend Dunphy at a bike shop near their campus, the University of Wisconsin. After college, the two traveled across the country searching for the right place to start making music formally. Not able to get the sound they wanted in either Los Angeles or Chicago (not to mention the kind of music scene to be part of), they scraped what they had and moved to Milwaukee.

“We moved to Milwaukee and found this huge 4000 square foot studio space and we built the studio on our own and recorded on our own,” Starr says.

With hard work and a little luck, the band caught fire within a few years. In the middle of a cold January day in 2007 their single “Red Fire” came blaring from Kramp’s FM 102.1 airwaves with its rock anthem-like beat.  With the song in rotation for several months, they became the first unsigned band from Milwaukee since the Gufs to get a song played on a major station in the city.  At that time getting a local band on corporate radio was a rare occurrence.

“Three years later, things have changed a bit, but let me remind you, their [debut] cd wasn’t even done being recorded and mastered and we played it,” Kramp said. “To me, that was the accomplishment they needed to get the confidence to move forward.”

Since then the band has sent four of their songs to 88NINE Radio Milwaukee.  Despite not being on a major label, the band has made their work pay off with their own label, Rev Pop, and help from E Labs Multimedia in Madison.

“A lot of our friends are on big labels and they’re doing just as much as we are but we have freedom to do what we want,” Starr says. “We buy the records ourselves, we sell the records ourselves, and it’s working for now.”

The band first needed a big debut record.  In order to succeed, they made sure they took their time recording, using studio time in Milwaukee and Madison. The sessions became the aptly titled “Civil War.”

“Civil War was more of a ‘let’s show everyone what we can do’ and just release a pop album that’s big and sounds great,” says Starr. “It’s a good way to start off a good solid record so we took our time with it to make sure it that it was better than everyone else’s.”

After three years of working to make an album they could proudly put the Fever Marlene name on, their diligence paid off. They began to attract an increasing number of people intrigued by their sound. Noticing this, a number of music venues from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and even New York made a point to book them.  They got a boost from playing with acts such as The Gufs, Alkaline Trio, Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, and The Redwalls.

Once on stage the band cranks up the energy and spirit of their music while managing to pull off the task of multi-tasking instruments and singing. Marc Solheim, who books shows at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, welcomes the fiery live atmosphere they bring.

“I feel that Fever Marlene’s music transcends and mirrors a time when music hit you right in the soul,” Solheim says. “The band works very hard on their shows and they put a great deal of thought into every aspect of the live experience. There are not many bands, let alone local, that can have you singing along to a chorus halfway through the first listen.”

Not long after the success of “Civil War,” the band set out to make their second album, “White China.” Not wanting to retread their first album, the two friends decided that they should make it quick over a short period of time.  After hearing about the Chelsea Hotel in New York, they decided it was the perfect place to make the introspective, moody album they wanted to make.  They jumped in the van with minimal instruments, taking along their manager and documentary filmmaker Brendan Jones to film the experience.

“Over a week and a couple days we wrote a bunch of songs, recorded them, and that was that,” Starr says of the experience, which they reserved several rooms and incorporated sounds such as a book landing on the ground and New York traffic outside.  “It could have been better but I think we captured the moment for what we were trying to do.”

Now the band is working on their as yet untitled third album, featuring another side of their music:  raw rock and roll. Building on the level of collaboration the two friends adapted during their second album, the new songs surely will be Fever Marlene firing on all cylinders. 

“It might change between now and then but we hope to have it out by the end of this summer,” Starr says.

Fans won’t have to wait to long for a new cd though as the band plans to release their second live album, Live at Turner Hall, at their May 16 show at the Turner Hall Ballroom. While their first live album was recorded in New York City, this one features the show recorded at the venue last November. 

Not long after those albums hit the street, Fever Marlene doesn’t plan to cool off anytime soon.  The band recently played at the South by Southwest musical festival in Austin, Texas, and there’s a possibility of a short European tour this summer and a West Coast tour in the fall.

“At the end, it’s about having fun, making good music, and doing it for the right reasons,” Starr says. “That’s the one way we’re going to last and keep it together.

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