The Interview: Brian Case, 90 Day Men

By Sarah Dahnke in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 29, 2006 2:00PM

Before Intonation kicked off, some music critics were noting somewhat rare performances that were “not to be missed.” The notable and more prominent performers among these esteemed elite were Roky Erickson and Robert Pollard, but the local press was hyped on Chicago’s own 90 Day Men.
90 Day Men released their last album, titled Panda Park, in 2004 and soon after made the decision to become what has been referred to as a “part-time band.” Their performance last Saturday at Intonation was the second in Chicago in 15 months, preceded by a performance at the Empty Bottle just two weeks before the festival.
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Brian Case, guitarist and vocalist from the band, was kind enough to hang out with Chicagoist and talk about performing at outdoor festivals and the general fate of the band, which we can confirm does not involve an “indefinite hiatus” as some other bands seem to find fashionable these days.

Chicagoist: How did you feel about your general performance at Intonation and performing at an outdoor venue?
B.C.: It’s okay. It’s kind of weird at those things because you get on stage and they’re like, “O.K., start!” You don’t get to check your sound. That is to be expected, though. We’ve definitely played better shows, but it was fine.

Chicagoist: How do you feel about it compared with your performance at the Empty Bottle a couple of weeks ago?
B.C.: I thought the Bottle was much better. It was a much more comfortable environment. We also had our own sound guy with us that couldn’t make it to Intonation, and we got to have a sound check. Plus, we’ve played that place a million times. You know, your nerves are just a little more at ease.

Chicagoist: Are you saying you were a little nervous about the Intonation performance?
B.C.: I was just apprehensive about it, you know? Playing early in a big field and not getting a chance to go through your stuff … I don’t know. We’ve played those songs a million times, but it’s always nice to feel comfortable. But I’m not saying that I thought it was terrible or that I thought it was awesome. It just was what it was.

Chicagoist: I don’t even know of you guys playing outdoors ever.
B.C.: I think it’s happened once. I think the one time we played outdoors was this festival in Spain, but after one song it started raining. And they made us stop. We don’t really have the experience outdoors.

Chicagoist: I’ve read in interviews that you like to let the songs grow and change as you perform them over and over. But since you haven’t been performing live a lot lately, how has the general performing experience been with your past couple of Chicago performances?
B.C.: Well, we spent a bit of time rehearsing before the Bottle show and were going through the songs trying to get them sort of back to where we remember them being before we stopped playing for a while. It was more like we hadn’t played them in so long that we didn’t feel bored playing them, you know what I mean? It wasn’t the same as playing them after we had been on tour for like a month, but because it had been like a year in a half, it felt new to us.

Chicagoist: Because it felt new, was that a comfortable experience?
B.C.: Within the first couple of practices, we were comfortable playing the songs. It was just that it had been so long. We would find ourselves looking at each other kind of laughing and saying, “I can’t believe I remember how to do this!”

Chicagoist: So what have you and the other guys in the band been doing for the past year and a half, and how did the decision come about to become a part-time band now?
B.C.: We had basically been doing the band full time forever. Cayce and I have been doing it since 1995, and Rob and Andy joined on at different times. Our first record came out in 2000, and since then, until about 2005, that was all we were doing. We were either constantly gone or writing or recording or something, but we weren’t here very often. We were gone so much because it was the only way we were making money, which we weren’t making that much of, so we were just constantly gone and broke. So after our last record came out, the first tour on that album was to Europe, and it really didn’t go well. So we decided we needed to take a break, or we were going to hate each other. So we kind of stopped playing for a while, and in that time, we all picked up doing some other things. Rob started some solo stuff under the name Lichen, which he does all of the time. I started playing with The Ponys, and Cayce was doing some stuff. And Andy was taking care of some of his family back in St. Louis who were sick. Those things that we started doing inbetween to make sure we kept playing just sort of took over, so we kinda just rolled all of the efforts we were putting into 90 Day Men into other bands we were doing. Everybody’s schedules got so conflicted that we didn’t really have time. We never really meant for it to be so long before we played again. And then the Intonation thing came up because the Vice guys were always fans of 90 Day Men. And we were like, “Yeah, this seems like kind of a cool thing. We’ve never played anything like that before.” We didn’t really talk about if we were going to do anything more. It’s just one of those things, you know, when the spirit strikes.

Chicagoist: I read some commentary by you and Robert in 2002 where you were both really praising the music scene in Chicago and how it is really supportive. Four years later, do you feel like that’s still the case with the music scene here? What have you seen change over the last four or five years?
B.C.: I don’t know how much I’ve seen change. I’ve definitely seen a continuation of people from different genres of music come together to support each other. I think it’s still the same place. It’s just that people have either moved on from the bands they were with, or they’ve had continued success with what they were doing. A lot of the guys I hung out with when I first came here are still in bands and still trying to make music. One of the things that is so cool about the city is that you can afford to do that if you want to. You don’t have to work 100 hours per week to pay your rent, and there’s always time during the week to figure it out.

Chicagoist: So have you ever thought about relocating to another city?
B.C.: I guess the thing is, I’m always gone, so I like to have a place to come home to. And I like it here.