The Hamburgers were a pop punk band from Appleton, Wisconsin that I recall existing between the years 2004 and 2005. My high school band, Social Classics, often played locally with them at coffee shops and VFW halls; in basements and fast food joint parking lots. For me, at sixteen years old, they filled a void where no energetic, melodic, and slightly juvenile music existed anymore in the Northeast Wisconsin region. They encompassed the idea of fun and did it without an air of pretension. They seemed almost like a cartoon strip in band form and I think managed to make an impression on a lot of young minds in spite of themselves. As the years have passed, Walt and I continue to evolve into such different people, but I still consider him one of my closest friends; a madman at the wheel that somehow manages to continue to steer himself toward his own personal success. He’s released two solo albums on Lagwagon front-man Joey Cape‘s record label One Week Records, crosses the ocean yearly to play for international fans, and finds purpose at home running his own non profit organization dedicated helping animals in need. This weekend, The Hamburgers are reuniting at Appleton, Wisconsin’s Mile Of Music Festival for their first performance in nine years.
-Amos Pitsch, July 2019
Check out Amos and Walt’s interview below!
Amos Pitsch: State your name please.
Walt Hamburger: It’s 6 pm on July 23rd, uh… my name is Walt… Hamburger.
A: Who were “The Hamburgers”? How did they come together as a group?
W: So, uh… I wanted to do a band- I was in a band called H.A.T. And uh… we had just- blah blah blah, ANYWAY.
A: What does H.A.T. stand for?
W: Honor Amongst Thieves- anyway, so we were- I was playing in a band called Lobot’s Task with Mike Sirola and I wanted to do more punk rock stuff, and I found Ben Kastner on the internet. He played bass, Mike played drums, I played guitar. And uh… it came to be then.
A: So then, who’s Ben and who’s Mike?
W: Ben plays bass. He was from Appleton. He was in high school when we started the band and he lives in Chicago now. And Mike is… he’s the drummer; I went to high school with Mike, and we played in jazz bands together. Mike moved to Georgia right when The Hamburgers ended and he just moved back which is why we wanted to do… (pause) This is going well…
W: (laughs) EVERYTHING SHOULD… AT THE END, JUST BE LIKE- DOT DOT DOT…
A: SO… Was there a particular sound that you personally had in mind for The Hamburgers when it started, or was it a band where the sound was dictated by all the members? Where Ben and Mike’s input crucial to the overall sound?
W: Yeah, I think that we all had.. VERY different favorite bands- uhm, and that made for an interesting dynamic. We wanted to be… pop punk; very melodic; lotsa harmonies- that sorta thing, but between Mike loving the Beach Boys, and Led Zeppelin, and Queen, and… I mean- there were like 3 bands that we all really liked together. There was like… Andrew W.K., The Marked Men, and Queen. Those were the only things we could all ever agree on in the van. So I think we all had very different backgrounds- Ben’s more of that 60’s sort of sound, and Mike’s more of the 70’s sort of sound, and I’m more like the 90’s sort of sound.
A: How did your influences at the time that you made the first Hamburgers record (edit: “Songs In The Key Of Beef”) compare to the things you had done before then, or even the things you’ve been doing lately?
W: I mean, I don’t know- I think this is the one that seemed to work the best, out of any of the bands I’d ever done. It was all complimentary; we all had kind of… classic music training. So it was… It was all really easy with that band. Like, uh- I don’t know! Influe- I don’t know! I don’t know.
A: I mean- when I was a kid, and I saw you guys play, I guess all my favorite bands were on Lookout Records or whatever. And that’s how I interpreted what you guys were playing. Is that the kind of sound you were going for, or something else?
W: Uhm- you know, I think- with this band I’m not sure we were ever going for a sound. The band I was in before that- Honor Amongst Thieves- we were more of… we kind of wanted to be like a Strung Out sorta band- like technical punk rock stuff. But we were never like… good so we were kind of just like… darker sloppy… I guess I’d call that? And the last couple of songs I wrote in that band were more in the pop punk variety. Probably more along the lines of uh… (sighs) I don’t know! I mean, it wasn’t really like Lillingtons, it wasn’t really Mr. T (edit: Experience) but I would guess that between the three labels we were closer to being a Lookout band. Between that and Epitaph and Fat. Of any of them- these days, maybe like a Red Scare or something; I don’t know! Alotta I don’t know’s in here.
A: Well- I feel like The Hamburgers were more melodic in a sense- Like you said, your sound was based on… several eras of music including the 60’s as well. And that’s kind of how I saw Lookout Records when I was younger. With The Hi-Fives and The Phantom Surfers. And also! The Mr. T Experience and The Groovie Ghoulies. And so- that’s how I saw you guys. But I could see how that Fat Wreck Chords influence was also a big piece of it.
W: I think it was everything- I mean it was… I’ve done other bands where we- we wanna sound kinda like this band. Like with Obvious Man Hands, we kinda had that Ramones/Lillingtons kinda vibe. Like… we wanna do downstrokes. And that was an idea behind the songs but- Ben wrote a lot of the songs and I wrote a lot of the songs before we even had a band. So we had ideas of what we were trying to make it. A lot of the stuff that Ben has on the records were just little demos he had by himself and I was like… “we can turn this into this”, and I kind of arranged them. And vice-versa with my songs with him. And you know Mike- he’s a brilliant drummer, and I’m like the worst guitar player in The Hamburgers and I’m the guitar player in The Hamburgers. Like- they’re both really good musicians so it was real easy to come together with really interesting songs while sticking to a basic rock and roll formula.
A: Do you think that the music you do now is a natural progression from what you did when you were in The Hamburgers? Or is there a certain disconnect between those two eras?
W: I think it’s different now a little bit. I mean, I’m still writing the songs I would have wrote then, now- but for different instrumentation I guess. I think some of the stuff with The Hamburgers was a little more goofy too…
A: I mean there was that song on “Songs In The Key Of Beef”, uh… “Pretty Alright? That sounds like something you might do now.
W: Yeah- Ben wrote that one. (laughs) Uh… you know like we had The Hamburger Shuffle, The Hamburger Rock, Hamburger Helper, uh… we were kind of goofy. I don’t think I do as quite of goofy stuff now? But- certainly songs like “Extra Pickles, Hold The Peanuts” are more similar to what I’ve been doing…
A: …Which was covered by St. Cloud anarchist folk-punk band, Ring Of Truth.
W: (laughs) (laughs) (laughs) How did you know that?! HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT?? HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT??? (laughs) IN THE ARTICLE! I WANT YOU TO PUT THAT I SAID ‘HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT’ THREE TIMES!
W: YEAH! That happened! Have you ever heard that?!
A: (laughs) No…
W: You GOTTA give it a listen! I encourage you to give that a listen.
A: They also have songs on that record called “The Dead Babies” and “The Dead Babies (remix)”
W: (laughing, still) YEAH! Remix?
A: Uh, so… Why “The Hamburgers”? Why did you call the band “The Hamburgers”? And do you regret- now that you’re a vegetarian- all of the years that you endorsed the idea of eating meat?
W: Uh, yes. I do regret that. I’m a pescetarian now- just so I don’t offend the wrong people. Good luck spelling that… And ah… the NAME I thought was just one of those CLASSIC band names that I thought I couldn’t believe that it didn’t already exist. Like The Beatles, or The Monkees, or whatever. And what’s more American than like… Hamburgers. You know, I mean- finding a band name now is like… nearly impossible and I couldn’t believe that name was out there. So it just was a natural thing. It’s a great graphic too. You know, it’s like… cartoon hamburgers are always really interesting to me. If I could do it all over again, we would have been The Pizzas. ‘Cause I’m more of a pizza guy than a burger guy now.
A: So thinking of the graphics… Was the cover art for “Songs In The Key Of Beef” a piece of ironic conceptual humor, or was it your honest crack at making a great piece of art?
W: Honest crack… not at art, just to make an album cover…
A: I think it’s a great cover! I love it.
W: I’m pretty sure I drew that and just… uh… colored it in.
A: On MS Paint.
W: Probably, yeah. (laughs) Yeah, judging by the way the letters are- I don’t really remember, but yeah. (pause) Thank you! It’s probably the only “art” I have out there.
A: Uhm… do you think your lifestyle at the time of The Hamburgers was reflected in the music itself?
W: Sure- I mean, I write pretty autobiographically.
A: I mean, did The Hamburgers have a drinking problem?
W: (laughs) (laughs) You’re referring to our many references to the “kegerator” I assume? (laughs) Including a song we dragged you out of high school to sing on? (laughs) Put that in there for sure! Yeah! Uh, yeah. Ben, I remember- this is a great quote- very early in our career; like the first couple practices, he’s like- to me and Mike who were- you know, he was like a senior in high school still, just finishing up when we started, so he was eighteen I think- and he was like “Yeah guys, I can drive home from shows…”, like “It’ll be great” and then like three shows later I think we were carrying HIM to the van so we could drive him home. His parents are going to love that part, but… yeah! We definitely uh… ruined his life, and Mike and I were well on our way to ruining our own, so…
A: I mean, I think the alcohol is a very Midwestern thing with bands like The Replacements, or whoever else. It seems like a very Midwestern trend to be alcoholics in a rock band with sort of… transgressive behavior.
W: Put this as the first question. (laughs) (laughs) “We sat down with Walt Hamburger to ask him about alcoholism!” Uh… so, I mean- I think some of it has to do with the weather. Uh, especially the winters. ‘Cause we don’t go anywhere. And none of us really have any money. And we all kind of have social anxiety. So there are lots of ways to deal with it. Some of us- as soon as we finish a set in a basement, we go across the street and buy a soda from the Kwik Trip, uh… leaving the drums and everyone in their house… At The BFG… Some of us… you know… hit the bottle! (belch) Sorry that was… a beer burp.
A: Seymour, Wisconsin is the birthplace of the hamburger. Do you consider The Hamburgers a cultural vessel such as the Happy Schnapps Combo or Da Yoopers?
W: (laughs) (laughs) FIRST of all! Seymour claims to have invented the hamburger! But if you go to any food experts, they don’t even bring it up! They bring up two other places- one in like… New York, and one somewhere else!
A: Well, they obviously just don’t know.
W: Yeah, well we have TRIED to play at Seymour’s Hamburger Fest many times. We emailed THE MAYOR back in the day- no response. So that’s never going to happen. Anyway, what was the question?! Do we think we’re important like The Happy Schnapps Combo?!
A: Yeah! Do you think you’re bringing a specific aspect of our culture in this region of the world to the people via your music?
A: Ok, uh..
W: (laughs) I don’t think we were that important! I don’t think we’re that important now, and I don’t think we were that important then. I think we contributed to a cool thing at the time, but I don’t think it mattered to our “culture” so to speak- maybe to like- 50 to 500 kids across Northeast Wisconsin.
A: Speaking of those kids, who was your audience when you were a band and how will newcomers to the band via your reunion interpret the music as compared to your more well known solo material?
W: Damn, that’s a good question. Uhm… the audience at the time- back then, it felt like you just played shows with familiar bands a lot. So we would play with… The Leghounds, or your band, Social Classics, or The Rumours, The Vertebreakers, Offend Your Friends, Beast Barter System, uh… what else was there? I mean, like- Bob Burns And The Breakups. And you’d go to their city. We went up to Shawano a bunch; Green Bay, uhm. Stevens Point, Manitowoc. And, you know- Neenah, obviously. And Milwaukee. Maybe a little bit in like, St. Cloud or something. So you’d kind of just like… play to their friends in their city and your friends in your city, and there were certain places like… Kewaunee for some reason- Fond Du Lac, Green Bay, Shawano- where there was just a fan base for this KIND of music. We always did pretty well there. I don’t know how our music will be interpreted NOW. It certainly- like, one of the things we had going for us was that a lot of the bands we were playing with were quite a bit younger. I mean, we weren’t old. We were like, 22 or something. So, uhm- we were playing with bands that still had friends that lived in town and stuff. Like when we played with you guys, you were still in high school. I don’t know if anybody who listened to us back then will even know about these shows. Because Facebook didn’t exist back then. And everybody moved. And as far as how other people will interpret it- I just hope we don’t SUCK. It will be different than what people are used to seeing me do ’cause it’s rock and roll, loud, electric, punk rock, situational music. But I just- you know- hope we don’t suck. I hope everybody shows up. You know- Ben lives in Chicago, Tim lives in Milwaukee, Mike lives in Appleton now. So I hope they come.
A: What does Ben do in Chicago now?
W: Ben’s a bike messenger. Seems to be enjoying it- he’s a part owner in this thing, somehow.
A: And does he play in any bands currently?
W: He’s in a band called MAMA. All CAPS possibly? And uh… he plays guitar for them. I think they’re doing pretty well. He isn’t always financially able to go to all their shows, but they… they play all over.
A: Uhm, You ran a record label for a time- that kind of, in large part, functioned as The Hamburgers’ record label. Is it still a thing? Who else was involved?
W: Technically, it’s still around. I mean, it’s called My Brother Stole My Records. I started it with a guy named John Wallace, who was the drummer of Honor Amongst Thieves. He sold his half of the company to me for two hundred bucks, like… a year later. We came up with the idea because he had a screen printing shop. And we realized we could make merch, like shirts and CDs and patches for bands around the area that we knew would sell the merch because alot of people came to their shows. And we would just make like two dollars off of everything that happened. It was always more important back then to have a little like… label logo on the back of your CD. It always made you feel a little more important. And we kind of started a little community out of that. Social Classics was on there. Offend Your Friends. 88 Mph. Which is a band I forgot to mention earlier. I’m still friends with people in all those bands. I mean, it was small- it was mostly just to put out our own stuff too. And you know, it was also a way to get Wallace business for his new screen printing shop.
A: So you guys were friends with bands like The Obsoletes. What role did The Obsoletes play in The Hamburgers?
W: So, you know- Tim and Justin from The Obsoletes and Yesterday’s Kids- we all grew up together. I didn’t meet them until high school. But we all grew up in Neenah and uh… we were friends but we started playing music together- I think… they were doing Jeff Caissie and The Beat Rats for awhile… I don’t remember if that was between Yesterday’s Kids and The Obsoletes or whatever, but like… we’ve been playing shows together as long as I can remember. And they’ve been doing it longer than me. But we definitely played a lot of shows together. They were kind of our best friends in the scene and they were our age too, so that was nice. And we did an Appleton Art Center show where we were actually an exhibit of art- they were the band that opened for us, we did some road stuff together, and I don’t know- they were just kind of like a best friend band to us…
A: How did they contribute to The Hamburgers’ records?
W: Well, Tim (Schweiger) was a producer on the first record, and Justin (Perkins) recorded both of them. He worked at Simple Studios in Green Bay. Which is still, I think, my favorite studio I’ve ever recorded at. They used like… a movie editing program- they used the audio portion of it. I don’t know how they made everything sound so good there but it was just like… when we did Hamburgers records, we told Justin- the first record we told Justin- which was a twelve track record- we were there to do two songs, and we did TWELVE. In like TWO days. And the second one in like THREE days, we told him we were gonna do FOUR and we did like TWENTY. And Justin just like… made it work. I think he mixed the second record with like… a mixing program. Like, didn’t even go through it. Like… the time table I gave him- I didn’t understand the process at all! Even though it was like the third time I was at Simple. And I was like… “Yeah! We’ll just record for two days and then you can just mix it. Right?” ‘Cause I wanted it pressed like two days later or something and we had two records come out in the same year! Uhm, but like… those guys both were like… yeah- they were very involved. And like Tim, is now- he played some lead on the first record and sang some harmonies, and he’s played drums and lead guitar with us before live, so for the reunion he’s coming up to play guitar with us as well.
A: Uhm, did you ever think of…
[DOOR OPENS] [Julia Blair from Dusk enters room, inquiring about a meal she’s currently cooking]
J: Walt, do you like any vegetables at ALL?
J: Like, which ones??
W: I don’t know!
J: I got kale, peas, fennel…
W: Who doesn’t like fennel? Fennel’s awesome!
A: Ok, uh… starting again here… Did you ever think of possibly exploiting your band name as a means to sell mediocre food at cheap prices for a local burger chain?
W: (laughs) (laughs) YES! I DID! NEXT QUESTION! (laughs) We even wrote a song for ’em! Yeah, Tom’s Drive In! It’s delicious; we still go there all the time.
A: Uh, ok… ah… I guess uhm… How did the Hamburgers end? Did they implode? Was it dramatic?
W: This actually ties into the last question. Uhm… We had three shows on one day- I remember this- and it was the day before Easter one year. So I guess 2005, probably? And we had two shows at Tom’s Garage in Appleton. One was like… the all ages shows they were doing at the time. Remember those? On the record? Yes? He’s nodding his head everybody. And then we had gotten to a second round of a battle of the bands, but like… the rules of the battle of the bands had a lot to do with ticket sales and the band that we were battling had like 120 tickets sold or something and we had 2. So like, doing into it, we knew we couldn’t win. So we threw the set- we did covers, which were against the rules… just, I don’t know. So that was set two and then we played at The Main Stage (in Green Bay, Wisconsin) that night and I remember on the ride home, it was one of the few times that I wasn’t driving the van I own- the Hamburgers’ van thing- and I uh… told the guys that I had met with the people that run Tom’s, who had sponsored us a little bit- and they were willing to turn our instruments into a… like, a fries, soda, and a hamburger- and that’s when Ben and Mike, they both just turned around to me and they were both like… “Yeah, we both quit. Like, this is The End”. (laughs) And we were all so tired from that ridiculous day that I was like, “Dude, I get it.”. And, uhm… we did the last run we had- like, the last couple of months we had scheduled throughout the summer, and uh… Mike, all of a sudden, was just in this relationship he was in with this girl and all of a sudden he just moved to uh… Georgia. And so Ben and I still played together a little bit. He played in my next band a little bit. But eventually he moved too. And we did the one reunion where we flew Mike back- well, nine years ago. Whatever that was. It was supposed to be with The Dollyrots, but it wasn’t- because Kelly had a vocal injury. And uh… Mike’s just not been around so we never really thought about it since. But with Mile Of Music being what it is, and Appleton being our hometown, This felt like the right time to have one. last. show.
A: So you released two full length albums in your lifespan as a band. Do you plan on recording more material now?
W: No- I mean, we did three albums. The last record we sold a whopping three copies of. It was called “We’re Done, Get Over It” (laughs), it has “Three Tattoos” on it, which is one of our best songs, and I think most of the record is like… live stuff from the Appleton Arts Center show we did and this basement show that was bootlegged by the people that ran it, and we only played for the other band because they were the only people that showed up. And we didn’t know they were recording so the whole time we were trashing other bands in the area… and so- I don’t know where you could find that. Three people bought it at our last show ever at Park Rock (punk festival in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin), and uh- one of our many last show ever’s- And uh… But, new music? I don’t know. Probably not. Mike and I have been talking about doing something up here and- he’s been playing occasionally with me for the solo stuff when bigger bands come through and we want to play a show. It just kind of matches up a little better. So we’re gonna start doing that a little bit. But I don’t know. I guess if there’s a billion dollars or something in it-
A: Well, ah…
A: Over and out, Walt Hamburger!
W: (trailing away) I’ll do anything for money, I guess.
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