Yipes! at the 2013 WAMI Awards
Like their Facebook page so accurately states, Yipes! is “power pop from Wisconsin.”
But if you click on the “About” tab, the page also heralds the Milwaukee quintet’s “long-awaited third album,” which is really very long-awaited. The just-released Yipes!!! album, in fact, is the band’s first since 1980’s second of two nationally released albums for RCA/Millenium Records: 1979’s self-titled debut, which made the Billboard album chart, and the 1980 followup A Bit Irrational (its cover of the Beach Boys’ “Darlin’” dented the Billboard singles chart).
Equally surprising, the band, which was inducted into the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Hall of Fame in 2013, hadn’t even played together since their farewell concert in 1981--not including their WAMI induction ceremony performance followed by a reunion show at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 2014, and another, the “Longhorn Bar Reunion“ of mostly local late ‘70s/early ‘80s punk bands in Minneapolis in 2015 (they were on a stellar bill where they and Minneapolis’s Suicide Commandos were the only ones with all living original members).
So 38 years after their last album, Yipes! remains vocalist Pat McCurdy, guitarists Andy Bartel and Mike Hoffmann, bassist Pete Strand and drummer Teddy Freese--and the somehow sound better than ever. They even have a few February tour dates lined up for Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, Chicago, Appleton, Wis. and Palatine, Ill.
It must be muscle memory, and in fact, Strand calls it exactly that.
“Recording the new album was fun and easy,” says Strand. “We discovered that we have muscle memory and residual chemistry when we got together to rehearse for the WAMI induction ceremony, and then the Summerfest show. We felt great rehearsing in the basement, so we decided to see what we could do recording--and we’re all very happy with how it turned out.”
All songs on Yipes!!! are by McCurdy except Jackie DeShannon’s “Each Time” (recorded by The Searchers) and Adam Faith’s 1964 hit “It’s Alright.”
“`It’s Alright is the cornerstone of Yipes!” says Strand. “When Pat and Andy were living in Sheboygan playing with a band called The Rings, they went thrifting a lot and found the 45 single by Adam Faith. They blasted it over and over again in their apartment and said, ‘Let’s start a band that sounds like this record.’”
McCurdy then called Strand and Hoffman, who were in a popular bar band called Slick (other Slick members went on to other noteworthy bands including EIEIO and The Rousers).
“Andy knew Teddy, and after we all said yes, we gathered in Brookfield at Pat’s parents while they were in Hawaii. We woodshedded for three weeks and then hit the road.”
This was in late 1977. Yipes! then proceeded to ply the Midwest, playing hundreds of gigs—sometimes four sets a night, often six nights a week, totaling nearly 300 dates a year and logging thousands of miles.
Freese is now in Italy (McCurdy and Hoffman are still in Milwaukee, Bartel is in Pittsburgh, and Strand is an entertainment lawyer in Chicago), but he came back to record for a week in 2016 and one more week last year.
“The process was very different than the first two albums,” says Strand.
“In the past, we were a working band and had the opportunity to road-test new originals: Pat would play the song and we’d learn it and record it and be done with it. But this time we created a studio in the home of our long-time sound man, who now lives less than a mile from where Pat’s parents lived and we first made noise together. Pat, who still plays mostly solo shows all the time, would show us a song, we’d say yes or no, and if we said yes, we played it a few times to get the feel and the changes down and then record it.”
They laid down the bed tracks over two sessions in 2016, one during a week in March, the other a week in July.
“Mike’s a studio wizard and took the files to his studio in Milwaukee and started adding guitars. Pat would drop by regularly to sing. Then we shipped the files to Andy—another studio wizard--who added his magic and mixed. I overdubbed some bass parts and we were done.”
The Digipak cover art shows two young people in a convertible (with a “Yipes!!!” Wisconsin license plate) driving down a country road, the guy in the passenger seat about to smash an electric guitar on a roadside mailbox.
“It was done by one of my nephews-by-friendship—Owen Wills, the son of a lifelong friend, and an art student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,” says Strand. “I asked him to listen to the tracks and design a cover, and he nailed it.”
The inside black-and-white photo was taken from the wings of the Summerfest reunion gig, while the one in the CD tray was from the Longhorn Bar Reunion. The back cover shows the burned-out remains of Milwaukee’s legendary Palms nightclub, where Wendy O. Williams was famously arrested for public indecency in 1981—the same year that Yipes! performed their farewell concert there.
“We’ve all been playing since the Yipes! days,” says Strand. “I even played during law school! Mike has become a producer of note and played on a few dozen recordings and with several bands. Teddy plays regularly in Italy and aspires to be the first drumming Pope. Andy recently moved to Pittsburgh, and has been playing guitar, writing songs and working on perfecting his martini recipe. Pat’s always somewhere playing.”
“Everything from here on out is gravy,” concludes Strand. “If people like Yipes!!!, great, and if not, well, we do.”
"This is Your Life" from 1979 Yipes! debut album