Even for the 15 years Mousetrap was broken up, Patrick Buchanan would sing and play guitar with his original bandmates every few months.
The set would be killer. The grim punk sound would be as overpowering as ever. All was right with the world.
And then the stage would evaporate and Buchanan would wake up. The recurring dreams weren’t premonitions so much as teasing nightmares.
“In the dream, I would always be amazed at how good our band was,” Buchanan says. “I would be on stage looking at Craig and looking at Scott and thinking, ‘Holy shit, we’re the best band on the fucking planet.’”
But when he was pulled from the dreams to find his former bassist Craig Crawford several states (and sometimes countries) away and that he hadn’t heard from drummer Scott Miller since leaving Omaha in 1994, the awakening was rude. There were no tears, just a deep sense of loss and helplessness.
“It’s one of the things that made it so painful the whole time we weren’t together,” Buchanan says. “Every time I would wake up and remember, I just felt so sad with this empty kind of existential sadness.”
So when Mousetrap — one of Omaha’s most influential bands in the first half of the 1990s — did finally reunite in December 2010, the dream returned. Only at the end of this performance, Buchanan didn’t wake up. He stood on stage with Crawford and replacement drummer Mike Mazzola and basked in the remedy of 15 difficult years set right.
“Every time that (Mousetrap) ever played with any other band, never one time did I feel like we got outshined,” he says. “I felt like we were so good and we loved it so much that it was just an absolute tragedy that it ended the way it did. It would be kind of like if your child suddenly dies or disappears.”
A few years prior to the 2010 performance, Buchanan was living in Miami and had completely lost touch with his former bandmates: not because of bad blood but because (to use Buchanan’s analogy) they’d lost a child. Staying in communication would have been a painful reminder. But Crawford reached out for a purely social call to an old friend. Crawford was visiting Miami on business and the two reconnected like a house on fire. And though because of geographic distance, the two-thirds of the band didn’t speak of repairing Mousetrap, the “healing process” began right then.
A reunion became possible when Buchanan relocated to Detroit in 2009. After a pair of comeback shows in Omaha, new material and the possibility of being a proper band was on the table for the revitalized punk trio. But when Buchanan ping-ponged back to Miami with an appealing job offer, the opportunity was temporarily dashed until he bounced back to Detroit once more this year. All options rematerialized for Buchanan and Crawford who this Friday will play The Waiting Room in what you either could call a second reunion show or the delayed continuation of what they began three years earlier.
And if their first time back on stage was ethereal magic, Mousetrap in 2013 is more interested in sustaining their joy and legitimacy through hard-nosed practicality.
“It’s going to feel a little less dream-like and a little more likely reality,” Buchanan predicts. “Because it is reality.”
The 1990s Mousetrap songs were tinted and flavored by an anger that only partially resonates with Crawford and Buchanan as middle-aged men. While he still appreciates most all of the punk rock discography, Buchanan estimates that only four or five of the songs speak to him the way they once did. Looking past Friday’s show, retooling Mousetrap responsibly will require new material. Luckily, for a first step, Buchanan’s years of songwriting (after and independent of his other bands like ICBM, Hot Serpents and Grand Theft Auto) gives Mousetrap a ready pool to draw from.
“(Those songs are) very sort of abstract and unfocused because I never thought I’d have a particular band I’ll be using this with,” says Buchanan of his off-years writing. “It’s really important to make new music. We want to really feel honest about the music.”
Buchanan says the plan is to record and release a full album of new work by the end of 2013. On Friday, Mousetrap will debut a new song from that pool. It’s a tune called “Stalker,” a song with an aura and subject matter that suits the same goals Mousetrap has always had for audience response.
“I think this track had that kind of creepy intensity we always liked,” Buchanan says. “We always liked making music that makes people feel unsettled — like the musical equivalent of a David Lynch movie. This song had that quality, a nice sound with a dark underbelly to the song.”
The singer says “Stalker” passes the test he puts to every piece of music he writes or hears: whether it carries an atmosphere which transcends the the technical and literal qualities of the song. For Buchanan, Mousetrap has always aced that test, part of what makes the band still so appealing for him. The whole of the band — more than any other he played in — feels greater than the sum of the parts.
“When Craig and I get together and I start playing off of him, it feels like we have this mind meld together,” Buchanan explains. “When you look at the greatest bands in history, they always had some kind of thing that if you looked at all the parts all by themselves you look at them and think, ‘Yeah, that would make a pretty good band.’ But when you look at what they actually did, it was magic.”
Mousetrap released three records in the 1990s and toured the East Coast multiple times, accruing an increasingly national underground following in punk communities. Buchanan has previously described the band’s difficulties finding breakout success with frustration. Mousetrap was knocking on the popularity door on the national level, but struggled to find someone at a label to answer.
These days, Buchanan acknowledges that his inner twenty-something feels the pangs of old, unfulfilled goals, but hindsight absolves falling short of fame primarily because of the life Buchanan put together instead. The years since Mousetrap reveal a successful career in advertising, acting, directing and Buchanan living all over the world, including Hungary, Russia and the Philippines.
“I would totally be lying if I said I didn’t want to make it big when I was 25 years old,” he says. “That’s all we wanted. But now that I’m older and I look back, I kind of like the fact that things happened the way they did. Craig and I have both been able to live these really amazing lives and do things we wouldn’t have been able to do if we became rock stars and did one thing every day for the last 20 years.”
And while it might be strange for 25-year-old Patrick to be at peace with a version of Mousetrap that’s content to make a new record even if not “a single person in the world buys our album,” there are creative and emotional freedoms to approaching music as a passion, not a financial mandate.
“The main difference is when we were doing this last time, none of us had any real career,” Buchanan says. “Even though we never wanted to change how we made music for anybody and never wanted to feel like we were selling out, we had to think about the band as our livelihood. That right there is pretty big pressure on anybody. We’ve got the money to spend on our music now. We’ve become completely emancipated.”
Anyone who turns up at The Waiting Room on Friday night is likely to hear a Mousetrap more reminiscent of their shadowy third and final album Dead Air Sound System than the earlier poppier punk that garnered them initial attention in Omaha. Twenty years have passed and the band is short its original drummer (Colby Starck will play percussion on Friday). But age has honed concentration and direction. If Mousetrap were precisely as it was, something would be wrong.
“The one thing I like more than anything else is change and evolution,” Buchanan says.
“The new Mousetrap is a little bit less frenetic and all over the place, but it’s definitely just as dark and intense. We were all kids. The first time around, we were really like children. It doesn’t mean you can’t rock just as hard.”
Chance Solem-Pfeifer is Hear Nebraska’s staff writer. Someone needs to follow up with Patrick on the experience of living in Detroit. He says he really likes it and that’s an untold story these days. Reach Chance at email@example.com.