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Mousetrap 2009

The Return of Mousetrap

story by tim mcmahan
photos by norm kelly

photo above: from left, Patrick Buchanan, Craig Crawford and Mike Mazzola.


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Lazy-i: Dec. 16, 2009

w/ Mercy Rule, Beep Beep, The Wagon Blasters
Wednesday, Dec. 23, 9 p.m.
The Waiting Room
6212 Maple St.

For the members of seminal '90s punk band Mousetrap, the hardest part about playing again may be finding the angry place in their hearts where their music was born.
"Some songs we don't identify with at all anymore," said Mousetrap frontman Patrick Buchanan from a practice space somewhere in Chicago. "We were all really different when we wrote those songs. The challenge in the performance is how to get back into that mindset of where we were. A lot of that shit is angry and dark, and I'm not angry in the same way anymore."


In the Beginning

Turn back the clock to the early '90s. Punk bands were flourishing in the Omaha/Lincoln music scene, touring the country and recording for national indie labels. Among the highest profile bands were Ritual Device, Mercy Rule, Frontier Trust, and a trio of Omaha kids who cited influences as diverse as Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, Joni Mitchell and Prince, though they sounded nothing like any of them. They were called Mousetrap.

Consisting of Buchanan, bassist Craig Crawford and drummer Scott Miller, Mousetrap recorded a couple 7-inch singles released by local label One Hour Records (owned by The Antiquarium's Dave Sink) before cutting a deal with fledgling indie label Grass Records, who released their debut full-length, Cerebral Revolver, in 1993.

The CD was a collection of blistering, dissonant, brutal punk songs that bordered on experimental, with lyrics that painted violent portraits of relationships gone wrong. "Have Fun in Hell," for instance, opened with the catchy line "Hey baby, well guess what? / Last night you died in my dreams / And even when you kicked off / Your mouth was still wide open." It was the sort of music that could be embraced by your average disassociated punk rock kid. Live, Mousetrap's style was sneering and abrasive, angry and over-the-top. A typical show at The Capitol Bar or Howard Street Tavern featured Buchanan flailing over a loosely slung guitar, spitting into the audience between broken-voice screeches, sweat spraying off his mop of jet-black hair.

Cerebral Revolver would be followed in '94 by Lover, another collection of dark though slightly more tuneful noise-punk, with some tracks featuring Buchanan singing in a newfound falsetto. The Dead Air Sound System, released in '95, would be the band's finale.

Through its four years, Mousetrap would tour the Midwest and East Coast, trying to break into a burgeoning national post-grunge scene. At the same time, they continued to book shows at local halls, all-ages clubs and bars, playing to the impressionable young ears of what would become the next generation of indie bands that would give Omaha's music scene national notoriety. But despite their constant efforts, the band's sound never caught on, and by 1996, Mousetrap began to fade away.

The beginning of the end was their move to Chicago. By then, Scott Miller already had left the band, replaced by drummer Duncan Black, who would eventually be replaced by drummer Mike Hogan.

"When we moved to Chicago, we had to earn a living," Crawford said, adding that they never anticipated the huge difference in costs compared to living in Omaha. "It got so frustrating that one day we stopped playing, and then we stopped calling each other."
"It wasn't a big personal falling out," Buchanan said of the breakup. "We just couldn't take it anymore. This was never a 'Good times, let's party' sort of band. It was our entire life for years and years.
"We always wanted to be successful and make money. The problem was we were too stubborn to do anything other than the way we wanted to do it," Buchanan explained. "We knew if we wrote some real poppy songs and more radio friendly hooks and I screamed less and took cues from the hot band of the moment we could have been more successful."
In fact, shortly after moving to Chicago, Buchanan said he was asked to be a cast member on the second season of The Real World on MTV, a gig lined up through the band's record label that would have given them immediate national exposure. "I said, 'Fuck no I don't want to be on The Real World,'" Buchanan said. "We still believed in the punk rock notion of not selling out to an MTV reality show. We knew the type of thing we would have to do to get noticed in the climate of the time, but didn't give a second thought to not doing those things."
















Mousetrap on the cover of The Note, 1994

"It got so frustrating that one day we stopped playing, and then we stopped calling each other."



















"I've managed to foster a lot of creativity in a lot of areas that aren't music. Music doesn't have to be 100 percent of who I am. I see it all in a different light now."



After Mousetrap
Crawford said he not only stopped playing in Mousetrap, he eventually quit playing in bands altogether. "I kind of got out of it," he said, adding that his focus shifted to his career as an audio visual professional for a national staging company. "It's one of those things where you wake up and 10 years have gone by," he said.
Buchanan, on the other hand, played in a series of bands, beginning with The Hot Serpents in 1997. That was followed by a stint as drummer in The Reports, then as bassist in a '70s punk revival band called Grand Theft Auto that played local gigs in the Chicago area through the last two years of the '90s. The band eventually evolved into Hustler, featuring Buchanan on guitar and lead vocals. Hustler survived for three years while Buchanan formed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile -- or ICBM -- with former Mousetrap drummer Duncan Black.

ICBM went on tour in 2000 with the then relatively unknown Omaha band The Faint, playing a series of house shows and small venues. ICBM broke up shortly afterward when Black moved back to Dallas. Next came The Lust, a band with two bass players (including Buchanan), keyboards, drums and no guitar. Then in 2004, Buchanan came through Omaha with a new bluesy 4-piece called After Dark. 
At that time he said he was unable to listen to Mousetrap songs, and didn't even have copies of the records. "I gave them away," he said back then. "It's another reason why Mousetrap broke up -- the psychic weight of events just got too much to deal with." By 2004, Buchanan and Crawford hadn't spoken to each other in years. The prospect of a Mousetrap reunion seemed remote.
Then Buchanan's life took a dramatic change. He moved to Miami to pursue a job as an advertising copywriter. His new career would take him to Budapest and Manila, where he starred in a number of television and radio commercials. "While in Manila, a tsunami that would have killed me just happened to swerve off to the north," Buchanan said. "Then an ex-general tried to overthrow the government. They told us in the middle of the day that there was an attempted coup going on. I grabbed my camera and watched army tanks roll through downtown."
Buchanan said that those experiences and his new career made him realize that there was more to life than being in a band. "In 2004, I felt the only thing I could do in the world was play music," he said. "I wasn't able to do anything else. Since then, I've managed to foster a lot of creativity in a lot of areas that aren't music. Music doesn't have to be 100 percent of who I am. I see it all in a different light now."
Flash forward to November 2007. Crawford had tracked down Buchanan's phone number through his father, Omaha artist Sydney Buchanan, and left a message on Patrick's phone at his Miami home.
"When (Craig) called me, I felt like I needed to call him back," Buchanan said. "When we first connected, we didn't talk about doing a reunion. We were too busy catching up on everything."


  The Reunion
Buchanan said it was Crawford who eventually instigated the reunion idea. "Craig takes all the credit for making things happen," Buchanan said, "but with me living in Miami, the logistics were impossible."
That would change when Buchanan took a new job at ad agency Campbell - Ewald in Detroit. "Now that I live in Detroit, I can drive in (to Chicago) on Saturday morning and play all day Saturday and Sunday," Buchanan said.
The only thing missing was a drummer. Their first choice was original drummer Scott Miller, but neither Buchanan nor Crawford could track him down. "The last time I talked to Scott was in 1994 at a Cubby's on 13th St.," Crawford said.
Logistics proved to be a problem with the other two former Mousetrap drummers. "We thought about Duncan, but he lived in Dallas and that just wasn't practical," Buchanan said. "Hogan was in Omaha and once again that would have been tough to pull together. I played with Mike Mazzola in The Lust. He's an amazing drummer and I knew he could handle the parts. Mike and Craig both lived in Chicago. It was an obvious choice."
The first step toward playing together was to once again listen to all the classic Mousetrap material. "It was interesting," Crawford said. "Listening to it again was one thing, but playing it was stranger, because some things I instinctively remembered, and others were, like, 'What was I doing?' It was like meeting up with an old girlfriend. You remember all the things you liked and didn't like."
"The first time I listened to all the tracks, I was thinking 'What the fuck was I playing?'" Buchanan said. "The guitar was all over the place. I didn't know the names of the chords the first time around. I played wherever my fingers landed on the fret board. I was honestly pretty scared I wouldn't be able to learn this again."
And then there was the volatile nature of the material itself, written at a time when Buchanan said he "had a lot of hatred for a lot of shit in the world." That anger, it seems, is now gone, which could mean the band will skip some of the most relentless material. "It's a practicality issue," Buchanan said. "We're going to play for an hour, so we're playing our favorites and the ones we can relate to now."
The Legacy
In addition to being a fundraiser for a person central to Mousetrap's career, the Dec. 23 reunion show is an opportunity for modern-day local musicians to pay homage to one of the areas' most influential bands. Almost every significant local band that I've interviewed over the past 10 years -- whether they play punk, hard rock or even singer-songwriter fare -- has name-checked Mousetrap as an influence, including Saddle Creek Records' most successful acts.
Crawford and Buchanan both said that they're flattered to hear that their music has meant something to so many bands. "I'm really happy that people remember the music," Buchanan said. "They probably remember the performances more than the music, because we were crazy live."
"It surprises me, because there was no one at our shows in the old days," Crawford said.
Neither of them, however, was surprised at the success of Saddle Creek Records. "Omaha always had scenes that almost made it," Crawford said. "It was inevitable that someone finally broke through, especially with the Internet. It was hard for us to be taken seriously back then."
"When we told people we were from Nebraska, what we heard everywhere -- from California to New York -- was 'Holy shit, where's your horse?'" Buchanan said. "Location was everything back then. The Internet is the biggest reason that something like Saddle Creek blew up."
Buchanan also is pleased at the diversity of Saddle Creek bands' music, which he said is a carryover from the '90s. "The best thing about the scene back then was that all the bands sounded so different from each other," he said. "Today, so much bullshit is a copy of something else. These dance punk bands trying to copy Gang of Four -- it's a direct rip off. Back then, you could hear the influences, but none of it sounded like a copy."
And none of it sounded like Mousetrap. For Wednesday's show, Crawford and Buchanan said fans will hear a few songs from all three Mousetrap albums, as well as songs from their 7-inch singles.
Crawford said that whatever happens after the reunion, he intends to continue playing music. "The reason I wanted to do this was that there was a music-shaped void in my life," he said. "I'm not happy when I'm not doing this. It gives my life meaning."
As for the future of Mousetrap… "The future is unwritten, as The Clash used to say," Buchanan said. "Maybe one of those famous Saddle Creek bands could hook us up with a tour."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Dec. 16, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Photo Copyright © 2009 Norm Kelly (, used with permission.






















Mousetrap 2009
Mousetrap 2009

"I didn't know the names of the chords the first time around. I played wherever my fingers landed on the fret board. I was honestly pretty scared I wouldn't be able to learn this again."