White-collar punk band defies every stereotype of the genre

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2013 - 4:16 PM

Think of every stereotype that applies to punk rockers, then turn it inside out. The result is a band that boasts white collars and advanced degrees.

A  university professor, a doctor and a lawyer walk into a punk rock bar.

That’s not the start of a joke; it’s the start of the night’s entertainment.

They’re members of the band the 99ers. Half them are old enough to join AARP, and they have enough college degrees among them to wallpaper the stage. Add that the fourth member of the group is a stay-at-home dad and the manager is a corporate insurance analyst, and there isn’t a punk band stereotype that they don’t defy.

“We’re not looking for fame,” said Dr. Christopher Schoonover, the drummer. “Most of us don’t have time for that, anyway. I can’t drive to New Jersey in a van for two months. We’re doing this because we love it. It’s a break from what we do during the day.”

It’s the kind of band where the atypical is typical — unless there are other bands in which the drummer uses a break during rehearsal to check a message from the hospital on his pager.

“Do we have a medical emergency?” asked bass-playing attorney Doug Heeschen, wondering if the session was about to be cut short. “No, we’re OK,” Schoonover assured, returning to his drum set.

They take their music very seriously, but themselves much less so. That tone is set by the group’s founder, Prof. Stephen Brookfield, who holds national and international awards for his research in education, but this night was more interested in talking about the time he was kicked out of First Avenue after getting into an argument with a bouncer.

“It was very unacademic,” he admitted of his ejection from the Minneapolis club. “My wife was embarrassed by it. She was still inside, so I texted her that I had been kicked out. She decided to stay and hear the concert.”

Unlike his wife, Brookfield is not embarrassed. In fact, he’s written a song about it, “Thrown out of First Avenue,” that will be included in the band’s next CD, its fifth. Titled “Spark,” recording will wrap up by the end of December for a March release.

Despite the First Avenue incident — which came when Brookfield was tired from having just gotten off a flight after making a presentation at an educational conference — the band eschews the stereotypical image of troublemaking, egomaniacal performers.

“We’re embarrassingly nice guys,” insisted Schoonover, who had arrived late for rehearsal because he was held up at work. “I’m the most delinquent of the group because I got here at 8:08 instead of 8 o’clock.”

Their music is written primarily by Brookfield and stay-at-home dad Erik Kaiser-Crist. Their repertoire stresses the group’s local roots, with titles that include “Minnesota Day,” “St. Paul Girl” and “No Surfing in Fridley.” They define it as pop punk — punk music with a strong pop influence.

“The music we play is not that far out of the realm of what mainstream radio was playing 20 years ago,” Kaiser-Crist said.

Despite the Minnesota-centric titles, the songs tend to fare better elsewhere, manager Derek Kosky said. KFAI has played their stuff, but other radio stations haven’t been as interested.

“We get more airplay on the East Coast than here,” he said. “We seem to have a good rapport with the radio stations there. They like our style.”

They have played most of the local music venues in town, however. “Everything except the Xcel Center, Target Center and the Metrodome,” Brookfield quipped, turning more serious as he added: “The Twin Cities has an incredible number of places to play live music. It’s way better than New York as a place to be in a band.”

Sweet origins

Because of their name, the 99ers often are mistakenly assumed to be connected with the Occupy movement, Brookfield said, but the name actually predates that by several years. It’s a reference to an ice cream treat in Brookfield’s native England, basically a soft-serve cone with a small chocolate bar jabbed into the ice cream. A survey of the band revealed that Brookfield is the only one who actually has eaten one.

  • related content

  • Stephen Brookfield rehearsed with his band, the 99ers. By day a professor at the University of St. Thomas, at night he turns into a singer-songwriter fronting a band that is made up of people whom most punk rock fans would never expect to see on a bar stage.

  • The 99ers are, from left, Erik Kaiser-Crist (guitar & vocals), Christopher Schoonover (drums), Doug Heeschen (bass) and Stephen Brookfield (guitar & vocals). They’ve cut back on their gigs in order to concentrate on cutting a new album. They also manage to hold down white-collar jobs by day.

  • Brookfield worked on his guitar fingering while the band practiced a song it’s preparing to record this month for a new CD, the group’s fifth.

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