This is a band that spans across four decades, if you can believe it. There have been brief periods throughout when the band went on hiatus, but they always came back. My old band, Skaliosis, played a show with them, in October 1997, after a break and before the now-classic Cope EP was released. In 2004, I went to see them play before Jason moved to Chicago for a few years. However, job responsibilities kept me from staying out late that night and I left before they went on. A decision I regret to this day.
A few months ago, I was in Lancaster on the same night Brom Bones was playing a show at American Bar & Grill. This time, I was going to stay as late as necessary to see them. They just released a new album in 2012 which I admittedly only listened to a couple times on Spotify. I went there hoping to hear songs from the Cope era. I left the show wishing they played even more from the new album, 39. The new songs and the band’s performance were top-notch. And I will add that Jason Berlet is arguably the best front man of any Lancaster band – past and present.
I went back to my home in Baltimore and played 39 on repeat for a week. Then, I started working my way back through their discography – Apart, then Cope, then the Motherbox comps. I also found a copy of their second demo tape, RAKU. This was released several years before I first heard Brom Bones. This was the era of two singers. When the idea for this blog was coming together, I knew I had to hear the story of the band’s early years. It has taken me almost two months to collect their stories, but it has been worth the time and effort (borderline harassment considering the high number of emails to the band members).
Thanks to Sean Wolfe (vocals), Jason Berlet (vocals), Matt Rice (bass), Chris Ries (guitar), Casey Wolfe (drums), Bill Zimmerman (studio recording engineer, “Fall From The Monkey Bars”), and Brett “BJ” Rogowski (keep reading to find out his role in the band), for sharing their memories and music.
In their own words, this is the story of Brom Bones – The Early Years.
CASEY: After being kicked out of middle school band for not showing up to the Christmas concert in 6th grade, that year for Xmas, I got a 72′ Rogers drum set. Since that time, Sean and I were recording funny songs on a cheap tape recorder and were just messing around, but we wanted a real band. Sean and I were in several “startup bands” together, some consisting of only 3 people, none ever played shows or anything, more just jamming and messing around.
MATT: In 1988/89, Sean, Casey, and I started playing with another guitarist as Gunther Syndrome. We practiced at the Wolfe house most of the winter and played one show in the spring for a school party.
CASEY: We played Manheim Township “Spring Fling” once as Gunther Syndrome but that was it. Various folks came and went. I was only about 12 so I was at the mercy of whoever my brother would bring home to play.
MATT: We kicked that guitarist out after that show. A friend knew we were looking for a new guitarist and recommended Chris.
SEAN: If I remember correctly, I met Chris Ries through Doug Ashby in high school. The first time he came over to “jam”, he came in carrying his Crate amp and looking like early James Hetfield. I was a little intimidated at first, till I realized we had so many musical influences in common.
MATT: Chris went to a different school. He showed up to a rehearsal and brought Jason along. Chris looked like James Hetfield’s little brother. I loved them both from the start.
SEAN: Chris brought Jason to practice, and it just formed!
JASON: I joined the band by mistake, almost by osmosis if you will. My best friend, Chris Ries, was headed to a garage in Mannheim Township to play with some guys he didn’t know but had heard were looking to start a band. Chris would be replacing their guitar player who was a mutual friend of us all.
CHRIS: We just clicked from day one! It was really cool to meet a group of guys that loved the same music as you did. Jason tagged along with me and we couldn’t keep him off the mic!
JASON: I honestly felt like the Bosstone, at first, who was granted mic time because all of the songs were covers – Misfits, Seven Seconds, Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Green Day, just to name a few. Every Sunday we met up for practice. I became the second singer really without any invites.
SEAN: Jason was EXTREMELY creative… an idea man! We just unofficially accepted Jason into the band. The benefit was, I couldn’t sing so well, but Jason added underlying textures and his lead character-driven voice to balance it out. Whether he sang lead or me, we backed each other to make up for having less than perfect singing voices.
MATT: It was great when he and Sean got along. There was a really cool collaborative spirit between the two of them but there was also a little competitiveness too. It worked. Not only did it work but since they both had lots of friends from two different school districts it exposed us immediately to twice the fans that we may have had with just one of them.
JASON: To set the record straight, I was not meant to be in the band. Sean and I, years later, would chat and I was told, “you were never meant to be in Brom Bones, but you were so damn funny and my brother and I didn’t have the heart to tell you that your services were not needed.” So as time went on we were like the Dean and Jerry of local punk rock, like Avail there were two singers and two egos to deal with. The early Brom Bones recordings leaned heavy on Sean and found me on backing vocals mostly. Every now and then I was thrown a bone and was able to lead a song’s vocals and words.
MATT: I think we recorded the fall of ’89. We used to practice and write constantly at the Wolfe house. Damn near every day, so it didn’t take long to write all the songs. In fact, in those days we had to pick the songs we wanted to record and cut some others.
CHRIS: Those were the days of endless free time and tons of drive. We still have drive now; we just use a lower gear! I remember a big sheet of paper or cardboard we had hanging in the Wolfe garage that we listed all our songs on… there were well over 60 songs on it way back then. I’m sure we don’t even remember a lot of them.
1990 – Fall From the Monkey Bars [1st studio demo]MATT: It took 1 or 2 days. We recorded in the basement of a row home in Lancaster city. Bill Zimmerman (bass player from Dead Love) did it for us. The one thing we all remember about that was the flat, kind of floppy disk looking thing that was the mic for the cymbals.
CASEY: We were doing some drum sound tests; they weren’t sounding very good and Bill asks “Hey, can I try something?”… We all look at each other and say “Sure, you’re the man”… he then proceeds to take all the mics from my drum set and then literally duct tapes this square flat metal type of mic to the front of my shirt. It worked.
BILL Z.: Actually, this was more a product of necessity than innovation. With previous recording projects, I had always recorded all of the instruments and vocals separately. The band, however, wanted to record all of their tracks live and I had never done that before. The only microphones I owned at the time were five Shure SM57’s, certainly not enough to track the whole band at once. I had a PZM (Pressure Zone Microphone) that I had been experimenting with. The PZM was a flat 4” square metal plate with a sensor mounted in the middle. Taping the PZM to Casey’s shirt seemed like a good solution to my microphone shortage problem. It didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.
CHRIS: The chest mic was the best. You could hear Casey’s ghostly backup vocals during some songs.
CASEY: When we would take breaks between tracks, I would have to sit there because I was literally taped into place. It sucked. They all got to smoke cigarettes and I had to sit there sweating. LOL! (I wasn’t into drugs or alcohol or smoking, but it would have been nice to get some fresh air, his basement was pretty stuffy.)
CHRIS: I still don’t know how Bill turned my guitar sound into a keyboard sound. I was playing through an AWFUL Crate solid state amp. I’m sure that didn’t help.
BILL Z.: I recorded to a Fostex A80 analog open reel 8 track. I used a DeltaLab Effectron II flanger/doubler on Chris’s guitar track during mixdown. The idea was to make the guitar sound bigger and widen the stereo image of the final mix. That’s what I was going for, anyway.
MATT: I love the creativity that Bill used to produce it after we recorded. He made the guitar sound like a keyboard. He put the War of the Worlds stuff in before “P.M.N.P.T.B”. He really did an awesome job with the limited equipment. The other thing I love about it is that we kind of just were there to perform – Bill did the rest and called when it was done. That was that. He produced it.
BILL Z.: These were good songs with tremendous potential that a more experienced recording engineer could have made sound even better.
CHRIS: Love the songs and proud of our accomplishments.
SEAN: I think we were doing something no other bands in Lancaster were trying. Most bands were hardcore or 1980’s punk or trying to go mainstream. We played the music which reflected the musical influences we believed in, and I think had a certain charm about our style.
JASON: I drew and designed the TAPE cover art and came up with the name with permission from all members. Our cassette tape was mass produced by all members and it made its way to local college radio.
SEAN: The official release show for the demo was in Matt Rice’s garage. We plastered flyers all over town and our high school, but it ended up being a hand-full of friends.
MATT: The scene was great back then. Lots of kids our age were into it. We used to play a lot of fire hall shows in the Leola and New Holland area. Being in this band introduced me to a lot of really cool people that I would have never known. It gave me a life outside of home and school and really opened my eyes to a little bit of the real world. For better or worse, it’s still my favorite thing to do.
CASEY: I was pretty young and having the opportunity to jam with these older guys and my own brother was sweet. Not only that, but at shows where we played with bands that were “known”, I would always go to the drummers and ask for tips, etc. Most all were very helpful and would give tips and tricks, show licks and advice in general. It was fun seeing the other local area bands’ talent/drummers play.
CHRIS: Tons of similar bands that played shows together all over the area. It was about fun and music. I still feel the same way about it, just less bands doing what we do.
SEAN: We did a lot of putting on our own shows at fire halls. We were also fortunate to be friends with Web of Sound record store owner Bill Tormas. He believed in us, liked our sound, and booked us to open up for the likes of Fugazi and other local heavy-weights.
MATT: My memories of the Fugazi show are sparse. All of us will probably tell you about Ian bitching about all the smoke back stage and blowing his nose on the floor, farmer style.
CHRIS: They were one of our favorites at the time, so an opportunity like this was amazing. Only a year out of high school for me. Sitting backstage at the Chameleon with these guys was crazy. Like a dream come true. Until Ian complained about all the smoking and then proceeded to spit a loogie on the floor. But other than that they were great guys and they treated us with respect.
JASON: Super excited. Ian kind of, well, was Ian. Our roadie and good friend Pete Kirk had on a Minor Threat shirt in which Ian boldly exclaimed, “That’s A Bootleg!” He then kindly asked everyone in the green room to stop smoking and he coughed up some phlegm in front of us all. But once again, he’s freakin’ Ian.
CASEY: Wow… OK, so watching the sound check was so incredible. Our heroes on stage, I remember running to the back of the Chameleon and standing on those benches by the end of the bar on my tip toes and looking out the windows down below and seeing 6 person-wide line going all the way down the block and around the corner, I was like “Holy crap, we have never played in front of this many people”. I was 13 and nervous as a dog shittin’ razor blades.
MATT: I know our set was great and we were a good fit to open for them. A lot of people remember that show.
JASON: Guy was cool, we did a Kingface cover, “Dirty Wings”, and he recognized it and gave us props on it. He also mentioned he was friends with the guys and we did the song justice.
SEAN: I remember the club being so hot; it was like a sauna, especially after we finished our high energy performance. It was definitely an honor and a privilege to open for Fugazi. We were in 7th heaven!
CASEY: When they finally went on, I remember I was in the back and had just begun tearing down my drums, and I went to go out to the front to watch but there were so many people in the club that no one could open the door!!!!!! Yeah, so there was this small square cut into the drywall right behind the drum throne position and I took turns with other people who were also stuck back stage watching it from there! It was a lot of fun watching Brendan’s kick foot! Haha! I remember hearing that the club’s capacity at the time was around 475, and that they over sold and there were like 600+ packed in there!
CHRIS: The crowd was fantastic. We’ve played the Chameleon countless times since then, but never to a crowd like that. Definitely a memorable moment in our history.
1991 – RAKU [2nd studio demo]MATT: We still had tons of songs to pick from on RAKU. We still got together and played and wrote several days a week.
JASON: The playing and song writing was becoming more mature and skilled.
SEAN: I think the main thing that set this demo apart from the first was we definitely starting to branch out into more diverse sounds… incorporating elements of funk was new for us. I think we had grown musically in that our compositions were becoming more complex. We could do more as well due to the fact that playing out a lot helped us to become better musicians.
JASON: RAKU is when I felt I had earned my keep and should have just as many songs to write and sing as Sean, plus Casey, Chris, and Matt were definitely kicking things up a notch.
CHRIS: Well, Monkey Bars was our first effort, it was a rush to get some songs together so we could start playing shows. I don’t think Monkey Bars was bad, but we spent more time writing and perfecting RAKU. Don’t get me wrong, RAKU is still a simple punk album, but our individual influences at the time really shined through on this album. We were still learning our instruments, but we really came together as a functioning band.
MATT: RAKU was only different because we had done it before. We knew what to expect in the studio and we basically recorded it the same way; only this time in the basement of Kenny Heitmueller. He didn’t take the post recording time to do all the interesting sound morphing and sample adding that Bill had done on Monkey Bars so it was less interesting in the end and just a straight forward album.
JASON: Ken was well respected not only as the sound guy at the Chameleon Club but also as a fellow musician and recording engineer. I kind of felt bad for him at times. Sean and I would try to out funny each other a lot either with jokes, foul language, or whatever, and Ken was patient just trying to get the songs down and worked out. He was great and professional and very helpful at letting us know what was and what wasn’t cutting it musically. He was a bit like a manager and a task master at times it seemed. He did us right.
CHRIS: We were set up in the basement for about a week. We had a lot of fun. He had cool old equipment and we tried some creative recording techniques for the time (and our budget). I normally played through a Marshall half stack, but he somehow rigged up a tiny Fender Champ amplifier and got this cool mix. He also did all our multitracking down to a four track cassette deck. I also remember him having some kind of cool oscilloscope running through his rig. Maybe they were common techniques at the time, but we thought it was pretty cool.
CASEY: Looking back I can tell you this: at the time I had no idea how to tune my drums. We couldn’t get a good snare drum sound at first so Kenny came down and started “tuning” my snare drum and basically loosened the head so much that there was a slight ripple all across it. Then, he liked it and that’s what we went with. BUT, after years of drumming experience, (I’m now 38), I know that it was the worst move EVER. If anything it was already too loose, I also prefer the bottom head to be a 3rd or more higher in pitch from to top… So, in my opinion, the drums sounded terrible. I think Bill did a way better job with a single duct taped mic on my chest than Kenny did. On the other hand, at the time, Kenny was the main soundman for the Chameleon club. We were all still learning our craft I guess.
JASON: I learned a lot those days about the whole recording process.
CASEY: Trivia – we once had a trumpet player who played a few shows with us.
CHRIS: When Sean, Jason, and I were all in art school we became good friends with Brett Rogowski, “BJ” or “Beej”, who had played trumpet for many years.
JASON: Chris, Brett, and I were pretty much together a lot during those art school days.
CHRIS: He loved the band and wanted to add some trumpet. So he came to a few practices and jumped in for a song or two at a handful of shows.
MATT: I don’t think we asked him. He would just jump in. I think one time we did know he was going to join us on stage, but I think it was his idea.
BJ: I had approached Chris and Jay with interest in being a vocalist but they were more interested in my talents on the horn. This was the pre-ska era so I think the horn gave a different sound that other alternative bands weren’t using.
BJ: That show was a bit traumatic for me. We planned on starting the show with a blaring version of the Star Spangled Banner but the crowd booed when Jay asked who was feeling “patriotic”. Later during the show, someone in the crowd threw pieces of ice that hit me in the eye. People are cruel. I was embarrassed at that show and decided that wasn’t the life for me. Honestly, after Sean left the band, I was really hoping that the vocalist spot would be offered to me. Dejected – I formed a band of my own that sadly only played a few shows.
CHRIS: It was short-lived but fun. Ska was kinda big at the time and it sounded like a good idea. Ha!
MATT: In the fall of 1991 I went off to college at PSU (Reading campus), so I was still close enough to come back to Lancaster to rehearse. The time line is a little foggy here but basically sometime in late 1991 or 92, Sean was moving to Tyler Art School at Temple. The months leading up to that he was becoming less and less interested in the band. He was not showing up for practices.
SEAN: I was leaning in a different direction musically than the other guys… more towards the raw early Seattle sound. That, and I was moving to Philly to go to school there.
CHRIS: He would miss practices and scheduling shows was becoming difficult and he just seemed out of it. So we asked him to leave.
MATT: I was the one that got to deliver that message on the phone with him while he was at school. Casey stayed on with us for a while.
JASON: Maybe he was tired of sharing the band that I really wasn’t supposed to be a part of, who knows. We were tired of the way we all were not working out and we had no intentions of stopping. It was frustrating, sad and hurtful, but at the same time it gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I could be a solo front man.
CHRIS: It was definitely a natural shift to continue on with Jason as the only singer. Matt and I started picking up the slack on backup vocals and harmonies.
JASON: It was sink or swim, and I took a deep breath and for the past twenty some odd years have belted it out. For the record, I will always love Brom Bones members past and present, and I will always be grateful to Sean and Casey Wolfe for allowing me the opportunity to perform and write and listen.
Thanks again to the guys in Brom Bones, BJ, and Bill Z. It was great hearing about the early days, especially the Fugazi show. Special thanks to Casey for taking the time to scan all the flyers and pictures!
After leaving Brom Bones, Sean and Casey Wolfe would later form Stiletto Boys. On July 4, 2013, they released their third full-length album, Liberator, on Zodiac Killer Records. You can purchase their CD here. Ron, at Zodiac Killer Records, has generously offered to include a copy of the Punks, Skins, & Psychos compilation CD with every purchase of Liberator. Just mention you saw this special offer on SoCenPA.com.
Chris, Matt, and Jason (along with Dustin Huffman on drums) still write, record, and perform. They just released their new album, 39, last year. Click to purchase the CD here or download the tracks here. And listen/download their earlier releases here.
Thanks for reading and listening. More on the way.