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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 45.0° F  Light Rain
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Beyond 9 to 5: Some Madison musicians are weekend warriors
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LeeDing Zeroes
LeeDing Zeroes

Almost everyone who's tried to make a living as a musician has heard the old adage: "Don't quit your day job." The thing is, lots of local musicians have great day jobs that they wouldn't dream of ditching, and plenty have found a way to rehearse, perform and create while the rest of us sleep, watch TV and play Wii. We're a town of weekend warriors when it comes to music making.

For some, the weekend warrior lifestyle is a result of family or school responsibilities; for others, it's a byproduct of being a night owl. Then there are those who've stumbled upon it, unsure how it happened but reaping the benefits nonetheless.

Michael James of Midlife Crisis explains that even though the local cover band's serious about performing, they wouldn't be able to sleep at night if the band became more important than their families.

"We love to play, and we play an average of six times a month, but we all have families, too," he says. "As a rule, our families are our number-one priority before the band."

Of course, having kids means finding a way to bring home the bacon. So holding down a decent job is par for the course. For at least some of Midlife Crisis' members, it means being The Office's Jim Halpert between gigs. For another local band, bluesy rockers LeeDing Zeros, it means waitressing, studying nursing, solving computer problems, selling lumber products, teaching school and more. There's even a sax-playing doctor thrown into the mix.

Greg Percy, the band's bass- and keyboard-playing middle school teacher, says the Packers, of all things, are the organizing principle.

"We practice mostly on Sundays, before or after Packers games," he explains. "We also have a master schedule filled in with days that, for one reason or another, one of us is not available. So it's definitely a juggling act."

This setup requires a lot of patience, especially when it comes to big projects like recording a CD, Percy admits. The group's latest CD, Ear Candy, took more than two years to create due to busy schedules. But the hard work was worth it.

"It's great to be in a group where we all realize that we're just doing this for fun," Percy says. "We've all been in enough dysfunctional bands to know a good thing when we see it."

Another set of weekend warriors, the post-punk duo Dick the Bruiser, emerged from P'elvis, a local band that was quite successful around these parts until petering out in 2004.

Guitarist/vocalist Kevin Wade says Dick the Bruiser works, in part, because it's a two-piece, which makes it relatively easy to manage. Even the best-intentioned quartets are more of a logistical challenge, simply because there are twice as many schedules and creative visions.

"It's quite naked-feeling to be in a two-piece after playing with three, four, five people, but me and [drummer] Tony [Sellers], we like that we can work at the pace we want, especially since we've got family and work and whatnot," he says.

For Wade, the work and much of the whatnot happens at Planet Propaganda, the design firm he co-founded in the late '80s. Because he's in a creative line of work, the band is, in some sense, an extension of what he does from 9 to 5.

"It sort of augments what I do [at work]; it's creative but a different kind of creative," he explains. "It's a release, and as long as Tony and I, with our blood-sworn oath, keep it casual and unstressful, it's a real release."

Wade says he and Sellers aren't angling to land a big tour, which helps them keep the strategy simple: Chill out, rock out.

"It doesn't sound very rock 'n' roll, but sometimes your kid has three birthday parties to attend on a Saturday, and these days, we're not exactly built for driving to Poughkeepsie and sleeping in a van," he says. "We're all for bands doing that kind of thing, but we're just trying to make some good music. It's possible to do that and keep it close to home, too."

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