Like a sonic boom, it all happened so fast, and then it was over.
That’s a good description of the transformation of Austin’s Gear Daddies from local garage band to alternative music darlings in the late-’80s and early ’90s
“It was kind of confusing,” Nick Ciola, the band’s bassist, said of the sudden fame that came with the band’s first album, “Let’s Go Scare Al” in 1988. “It happened so easy for us. All of a sudden, I didn’t have to work, just play music, and my bills got paid.”
Ciola and the Gear Daddies — Martin Zellar, Billy Dankert and Randy Broughten — basically disappeared after a dispute with their record company in the early ’90s, but re-emerged a few years later and now play about 20 shows a year. They’ll play Friday night at the Wicked Moose in Rochester as part of a brief tour of the Upper Midwest.
“That ought to bring us back to the old days, playing three days in a row,” Ciola said.
In the “old days” the Gear Daddies and their songs about small-town life were favorites of critics and audiences alike. “Stupid Boy,” “Sonic Boom,” “Wear Your Crown,” “Color of Her Eyes,” “I Wanna Drive the Zamboni” and others, expressed the aspirations of kids who were looking for an escape while also feeling the pull of home and family. Most of the songs were written by Zellar.
Along the way, the Gear Daddies gave inspiration to other young, rural bands looking to follow in their foot steps.
“The Gear Daddies were a very important band for us when we were growing up just down the road,” said Brandon Sampson, of Six Mile Grove, the opening band for Friday’s show. ” We looked up to them because they were so good at capturing the sound of that part of our little world in southern Minnesota.”
Ciola talked by phone from the cab of his pickup truck in the Twin Cities.
How often do you guys get together to rehearse these days?
Just about never. People want to hear all the old songs, and it’s the same four guys in the band. We know all the songs. We don’t even have a set list. Martin calls out the songs. Sometimes we hear him, sometimes we don’t, and if we don’t, we just wait a few seconds to see what it is.
What happened to cause the band to go dark at the height of your success?
We had a big budget record deal, making demos, working on videos. But then the new vice-president of the company started telling Martin how to write songs. God bless Martin for keeping his integrity. He said, “No way.” It sucked at the time, but we all had faith in our leader.
How long did it take you to start playing again?
We waited three or four years to start playing together. In ’99, my friend Dan O’Gara asked us to do an outdoor festival. It was huge, 20,000 people came. After that, the offers started coming in and they were too good to turn down. We had all missed it. One we played together again, it was like putting on old shoes. It was very comfortable. We’re technically better now, but I don’t think it matters. We play for fun.
These songs of yours are almost 30 years old, but they still resonate with audiences. People relate to them.
I don’t always get it, but I sure as hell appreciate it. Martin wrote songs about life and everybody relates to life. We’re all very thankful. We’re in our 30th year together, the same four guys, and that doesn’t happen too often.
Do you ever try to work new songs or covers into the show?
We’re talking about new stuff again, which is good. We do four, five, six covers in every set. We just learned “Monster Mash,” so, see, we’re not that lazy.
If you go
What: The Gear Daddies, with Six Mile Grove opening
When: Doors 7 p.m., music at 8:45 p.m. Friday May 13
Where: Wicked Moose