A lot has changed in the 20-plus years since Quad-Cities rock band Tripmaster Monkey wrote and recorded new material. But something that hasn't changed is the members' love of music and each other.
“This is 25, 30 years later, and we're picking up right where we left off as if no time had passed,” lead singer and lyricist Chris Bernat said in a recent interview. “This feels just like it did before. That's really comforting. There's a chemistry that's always been there.”
Other band members are Wes Haas, Marty Reyhons and Jamie Toal.
“We've all evolved though,” said bassist Haas, who lives in Portland, Ore. “It was important to me that I'm not going to play the bass the same I did 20 years ago. It's a balance of trying to do something new.”
Tripmaster Monkey formed in 1987. Bernat took the name from the 1989 book “Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book,” by Maxine Hong Kingston.
In its storied career, the band put out three major-label releases on Sire/Warner Bros./Reprise Records in the '90s and toured the U.S., while getting MTV airplay and critical acclaim. When the band broke up in 1997, Bernat went on to found Chrash; drummer Reyhons joined Einstein's Sister; and guitarist/songwriter Toal headed to Chicago, then Los Angeles, where he has lived for the past 15 years.
In 1999, Tripmaster Monkey released an album of outtakes and previously unreleased tracks called “Bright Orange End.” The band has reunited several times over the years to play live shows, including an appearance at a 2009 Rock Island Brewing Company 30th anniversary show, which featured Pat Stolley filling in for Haas, and a 2013 benefit at RIBCO for the band's former sound engineer and keyboard player Rob Cimmarusti, who died at age 55 of pancreatic cancer in 2014.
Members also meet for an annual camping trip — nicknamed “boat-el” — with about a dozen other musicians from around the country. They camp along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa.
Toal initiated the idea of recording new songs about two years ago, after his wife suggested he write new stuff.
“Being in advertising 15 years, I needed a creative outlet that was not for everybody else,” he said. “It was what I decided it needed to be, and I would entrust it with people I trusted. So, a lot of it is about getting the five or six of us (five band members and recording engineer Stolley). There is the camaraderie part, the brotherhood. But that only made it better and easier to really focus on the work.
“I'm proud of it. We haven't compromised on the sounds, the songs, the artwork,” Toal said of the 10 new songs he collaborated on. Most of the lyrics are by Bernat.
Toal recorded demos, and since they were working long distance, the band members shared digital files of tracks they recorded separately.
“Google Drive is everything. The demos were recorded in GarageBand, and I'd load them on Google Drive,” Toal said.
“We could work on things, cut parts, move things around digitally and work on our parts, whereas 25 years ago, we'd have to get together in person,” Haas said. “This was much more efficient. It was one of the most fun things.”
Toal recorded some material at L.A. studios, and the band got together last fall and in February to record at Stolley's futureappletree studio in Rock Island. The album is now being mixed by Stolley, and it doesn't yet have a title or cover art.
Jeff Konrad has been a “digital guru” to help Stolley. “All these pieces came together,” Toal said.
“With vocals, I thought this was really cool: You'd record them and years ago, it would be two weeks later you'd get back together and hear what you did,” Bernat said of the change in technology. “I got to listen to them on my way home on my phone, listen to what I just did.”
Reyhons said some of the songs have 30-plus tracks, including many with lots of vocal harmonies.
“I wanted to embrace the wall-of-sound approach,” Toal said. “That's one of the reasons there are a lot of layers. I'm a big believer in using the studio as an instrument, figuring how different layers ... kind of become one sound. I'm very, very into that idea. That's why we have so many tracks.”
Eric Stone — who's performed some live shows with the band over the years — is the new man on the record, playing keyboard and guitar.
“When you're 49 or 47, this is Tripmaster stuff, but it's not. It's of a different time,” he said. “It's not the angst that's already on a CD you've been hearing. It's a different kind. You can tell it's the same voice, but with all this experience behind it. You've calmed down a lot. You're more settled in your life. It's nice to play new stuff.”
To help cover costs for studio time, pressing and licensing — including making vinyl copies — the band has created an online Kickstarter campaign. The $8,000 goal already has been exceeded, and the campaign will remain open through April 21 at https://bit.ly/2VH8oWK.
“It's awesome. ... It's kind of pre-funding the record,” Reyhons said.
“There's positive energy behind it. It's a real boost,” Haas said. “On Kickstarter, you see all these other campaigns. It's a cool way to literally kick-start all these creative projects.”
Tripmaster Monkey has an album-release show scheduled Friday, Sept. 27, at Davenport's Redstone Room, and the day before that, the band will be featured on “Live From Studio One,” a program on Iowa Public Radio station KUNI.
Toal said band members hope to release some songs online before the shows.