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The Promise Ring Reunites and Reminisces

Feb. 22, 2012
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Waxing nostalgic is inevitable with any reunion, and Dan Didier, drummer for lauded Milwaukee band The Promise Ring, has more than good reason to do so. "There was a small-knit community here," he says, remembering a Milwaukee that regularly hosted independent shows at venues like The Globe and The Miramar and in-stores at Atomic Records. "Bands like Loomis and Alligator Gun and Compound Red and Pele: Those bands were the kind of bands we admired, liked and played shows with."

Didier is speaking of Milwaukee between 1995-2002, the span of The Promise Ring's seven-year career, but he's especially focused on the quartet's glory years, right when "emo" broke fast and furious in Milwaukee and beyond, and when the band's lineup finally solidified to its final members of singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen, guitarist Jason Gnewikow, bassist Scott Schoenbeck and Didier. It was this lineup that Didier recalls most fondly.

"My favorite tour that we ever did was a full month in Europe," Didier says. "There were two weeks where we brought out Jets to Brazil when they first were going out and those European dates were the first shows they played. ... Two of them used to be in Texas Is the Reason and took us out on our first full U.S. tour. And Scott Schoenbeck was in the band. Basically, when Scott Schoenbeck was in the band has been my favorite period of that time. We finally had solidified ourselves, like, 'This is the band.' We had kind of a tumultuous bass player situation up until we had him, and then it finally felt like that was the four-piece we always should've been."

The growing pains of lineup changes with two departing bassists (Scott Beschta and Tim Burton) and gaining sea legs together had bonded the final four even to this day, though distance (Gnewikow now lives in New York) and other commitments (jobs, kids) had prevented the band from reuniting. Von Bohlen and Didier have both maintained their skills as part of the Milwaukee pop band Maritime, which formed soon after The Promise Ring disbanded, while Schoenbeck has kept busy with Dashboard Confessional and, most recently, Milwaukee's Snowbirds.

"We did get together for a one-off show in 2005 as a favor for Tim Edwards, our booking agent," Didier says. "Ever since then, people have kept asking us and we had to say 'no' because it just wasn't the right time. Maritime was too busy, Jason couldn't do it or Scott was too busy with Dashboard. It never really seemed to work out. Then, it all seemed to align for this year. Everyone was in a position that it made sense to attempt it."

To relearn about 25 Promise Ring songs has been more of an exercise in memory than it has been brushing up on their chops, Didier says. "What I've learned throughout the years has made me a totally different drummer now than what I was back then," he says. "[When the band began] it was kind of like throwing spaghetti at the walls, but instead of spaghetti it was my arms attached to drumsticks, and it wasn't a wall—they were actual drums," Didier says with a laugh. "I was like, 'I kinda know what I'm doing?'"

As with every young band starting out, there are awkward years, but that was a big part of the appeal of The Promise Ring—their unpolished moments came off as sincere and drew some die-hard fans.

"When we started the band, we were built on experimentation and trying new things and trying new sounds," Didier says. "That's why when you look back at our records, every one sounds different than the one previous and the one after it. In the beginning, it was trying a bunch of stuff, because that was what this band was built on."

And it's precisely that experimental spirit that the band wants to pay tribute to during its upcoming reunion shows.

"I'm trying to keep it close to the way I played it back then, to remember how that felt and get that into my body," Didier says. "We've all been playing since breaking up, so it's not like we have to relearn how to play; it's like we need to relearn how to play these specific songs. It was a great experience, and now going back, it's now kind of fun to remember that old type of playing."

The Promise Ring reunites for a show at Milwaukee's Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, Feb. 24, with The Celebrated Workingman. The band has plans for shows in Chicago and New York and will release a rarities compilation on Dangerbird Records this year.


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