The news came to me on a Monday morning, in an email with a very improbable headline. In my Monday morning fog, I had to do a double-take to make sure I was seeing things right.
The subject line read: “Fuzzdolly reunion – new album to be released in August 2022.”
I had to blink a couple of times to make sure I’d seen that right. For those who don’t know, Fuzzdolly was a Stevens Point/Madison band last active in 1997. Some of the members went on to play in Mad Trucker Gone Mad. In the years they were active — 1994 to 1997 — the band put out an impressive seven releases, ranging from 7-inch vinyl records to live recordings and full-length albums.
The band was also known for employing a video/visual production group called Super Soar Eye, which lent a unique twist to the shows with projected visuals while the band played and attendees moshed (a dance in the 90s where people basically smashed into each other during the music).
Fuzzdolly was one of the favorites in what was a very different era of local music. They played in the days before one could pull up an artist on Spotify or YouTube and get a sense of them, or watch it after a show. A Wausau or Stevens Point teen or older music lover needed to make their way to either Eli’s Mile High Club on the north end of Wausau or the Mission Coffee House in Stevens Point. For teens of that era, it often meant trying to find a ride out there and potentially finding someone else to get a ride back home.
The email came from Tim Benn, the drummer for Fuzzdolly. Benn is a 1987 graduate of D.C. Everest and a 1992 graduate of UW-Stevens Point. Benn led the drumline at D.C. Everest for a time too. Benn asked if I would be interested in the story.
After the happy shock of getting the email wore off, my response was a resounding yes. The absolute improbability of a locally based band from my youth in the 90s not only getting back together, but getting back together to play a series of shows and put together a new album with new material makes for one heck of a story. I had to know what that story was.
It turned out that the story arose out of coming together around a tragedy.
A lost member
Cover art of Fuzzdolly’s latest album.
The current and original Fuzzdolly lineup consists of Benn, Shannon Schober, Dennis Jackson and Matt Gillis. After Fuzzdolly split up in the 1990s, each member went their separate ways — and until recently, hadn’t even spoken to each other since. It was an amicable breakup, Benn tells City Pages — everyone just kind of got on with their lives.
But there was another member of Fuzzdolly — Dan Dieterich, who played bass for the band in the second half of its life.
Dieterich, a graduate of SPASH, also played bass in Mad Trucker Gone Mad, and bass and vocals in the Madison-based band Brainerd.
When Dieterich died in 2021, Benn found out about it and it hit him like a ton of bricks. But then it occurred to him that other band members, who’d become geographically separated (Gillis, for instance, lives in Nashville where he’s a professor) might not have heard the news. Benn reached out to the other band members, all of whom had an emotional reaction.
“I started crying after he wrote to me,” Gillis says. Gillis, Benn and the other members began to put together a plan to play in honor of Dan, something they hadn’t done as a band in 24 years at that point.
Benn invited everyone to his house in Amherst for a long weekend that summer, to get together, play music and reminisce about Dan. It just happened that Benn had built a home recording studio in his home, and had the perfect space for such a weekend. They call it The Red Room because of its sound absorbers, which are colored red. No one had any idea what to expect, Benn said.
“We clicked that first song, as if we’d never stopped playing,” Benn said with amazement. “My wife and I talked about it, she said ‘it’s like you guys were just playing yesterday, like the band never stopped.’ All the energy and aggression was still there.”
Aggressive would be a good way to describe Fuzzdolly — imagine early Nirvana before Butch Vig, with snarling furious lead guitar lines and a punchy bass, with a deep guitar sound that Gillis put out by playing his guitar through a bass, and you start to get an idea of what Fuzzdolly was all about. It was the age of mosh pits and such, of course.
They stayed in touch over Zoom, and started sharing parts back and forth. Gillis asked himself one day if he could write a new Fuzzdolly song. He shared a riff, playing it on his acoustic for the rest of the band, and everyone loved it.
The idea grew into more than just playing for Dan — they started to envision a bigger set of shows. And a new album.
As it stands, Fuzzdolly now has a set of three shows lined up for August — starting Aug. 11 they’ll play at Whitewater Music Hall (in the interest of full disclosure, I played a hand in helping set up the Whitewater show). They’ll then head to The Encore in Stevens Point the next night, followed by The High Noon Saloon in Madison that Saturday.
If there is one thing Benn is insistent on, it’s that the new version of Fuzzdolly will sound familiar to fans and won’t be some sleepy version of the old act. It’s not ‘oh dad’s getting the old band back together,’ he says.
The new album will have eight new tracks and eight 90s Fuzzdolly songs that never got a proper recording back in the day, Benn says. But they’re thinking beyond the new album and set of shows. Benn says they’ve got 23 parts of songs floating around now.
With modern technology, geographical separation doesn’t impede the recording or songwriting process like it might have once. Sending files of parts around is a pretty common process among musicians these days, and home recording technologies have gotten much more sophisticated. Fuzzdolly has taken full advantage of that.
I’d put out the news about Fuzzdolly’s reunion on Facebook when I’d come across the news. Many people reacted to the news, particularly folks who were teens in the 1990s and remember the band and the scene the band operated in at the time.
“NO WAY! We (Hobnob) played with them on a few occasions,” said Matt Duranceau of The Station. “The Mission Coffee House and Jamnesty to name a couple. Cool!”
Another commenter wrote “It actually made me tear up when I read your post.”
Benn says he was blown away by the reaction to the news. “It’s amazing that anyone even remembers us after all these years.”
Music has changed a lot since the 90s. Mosh pits at local venues don’t really seem to be a thing anymore. The fast-driving, aggressive music that dominated most of the scene back then has been replaced by a more indie, folksy vibe for most music. Young people didn’t go to bluegrass shows, they wore black and colored their hair purple and went to mosh. (Not that there isn’t hard driving music around any more — check out CASHED for instance. But back then it was most local bands.)
And, Benn speculates, there seemed to be a lot more bands. It felt like every block had a band. Push was one block away, Benn says; two blocks away was a band called Edge. “It just seemed like everyone was in a band.”
Gillis fondly remembers the shows at Mission Coffee House, which is now Point Area Bicycle Service (which has hosted some music shows in homage to the old Mission). Fuzzdolly used to practice there.
“The whole scene was really vibrant and self-made,” Gillis says. “It was really wild, all the mics would get knocked over when the crowd rushed forward. I would get my teeth practically knocked out. It was a really amazing energy and magical friendship between us all.”
The band has obviously grown older in those years. Gillis works as a professor. Benn for an insurance company. And their fans are older too.
But everyone is ready to recapture their youth a bit as Fuzzdolly re-enters the scene. And for the band, Deiterich will still be with them in spirit.
“There is an undertone of Dan in all this,” Benn says. “That’s affected us all.”
Fuzzdolly releases on Spotify
Inflatable Live (1997)
Last Hurrah (1996)
Sunfetish/Three Feet Away (1994)
August show lineup
Aug. 11 (Thursday): Whitewater Music Hall, Wausau
Aug. 12 (Friday): The Sugar Bar, Stevens Point
Aug. 13 (Saturday): The High Noon Saloon, Madison