DR. SHRINKER “ Still Blowin’ Chunks!” 

By Theron Moore

Milwaukee’s Dr. Shrinker is definitely one of those bands that SHOULD have been huge. Named after a silly 70’s kid show created by the same folks who did H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville, this odd collection of medical deviants played a uniquely sick brand of death metal that was quite different from the typical DM sounds of Morbid Angel, Obituary and Cannibal Corpse. The degenerate vocals of one Rich Noonan in particular had a sound way different from any other vocalist…high pitched, evil and cartoony, they fit Dr. Shrinker’s gruesome low-fi output to a T.

The band fell apart in the early 90’s but not until they made a strong impression on underground extreme metal fans. In 2013, the band got back together to satisfy the sick cravings of those fans and it’s given the Shrinkers a new lease on life…or is that death?

It doesn’t matter. Here’s a talk with Rich Noonan of the newly revitalized Dr. Shrinker…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Please introduce yourself.

RICH NOONAN: I’m Rich Noonan, vocalist in the band.  I was one of the original members, so, I was in the band from late 1987 til early January 1991.  Then the band split up.  We reformed February 2013.  It’s worth mentioning we’re only 10 months away from being together this time around as we were originally.

WC: Give me your thoughts and recollections on the Milwaukee metal scene of the 80’s / 90’s:

RN: I hear sometimes people mention how big the scene was in the late 80’s and early 90’s but I don’t really think it got bigger until after I walked away.  When I quit the band in Jan 1991 I went back to college, moved to Virginia, and didn’t come back to Milwaukee until September of 1999.  I was really unaware of what the scene was in all those years.  

What I can tell you, is, there were a lot of cool underground local bands such as 9-1-1, Krangkorr, Speed Freaks, Cleveland Bound Death Sentence and Self Denial in the late 80’s.  The ones you mentioned, like Realm, had a good foothold on things prior to 1989.  I thought they were great and achieved some good national exposure.  And Acrophet, I remember going to see them several times prior to Shrinker forming.  

In fact, Shrinker never playeda CD release party / show.  Since I walked away from it all in 1991 I never knew how big they got.  One of my favorite bands from that era was / is Morbid Saint...super kick ass band!  They still bring it hard since their reformation.  We played a few shows with them as well as Realm, forgot to mention that above.  I met the guys from Viogression when they were recording a demo.  I knew all these bands were signed to a label so it seemed like there was good momentum happening, I’m just not sure why the scene didn’t explode since I stepped away from it at the time I did.  

One band that should’ve been huge was Phantasm.  In my opinion they, Blacklist, Realm and Morbid Saint were the best metal bands out of the Wisconsin area of that era.  Also, Die Kreuzen were magnificent!  They’ve done a few short reunions in the last decade.  They were a huge influence on Voi Vod who were a major influence on Dr. Shrinker.  Nowadays the scene seems the same as it was in the late 80’s except we’re older now.  We do a lot of over 21 shows and back in the day it was all under 21 shows for me.  

WC: What kept you from becoming the next Morbid Angel or Cannibal Corpse?  I thought you guys would be huge in the late 80’s / 90’s, can you tell me what happened?

RN: Haha!  Never have even thought to put us in the category with how big those two bands got and still are.  I don’t believe any of us in the band really understood what attention and influence we had throughout the scene.  We did well at local shows and I answered lots of worldwide fan mail but I never thought of us as much more than a local thrash / death metal band.  Also we were far from mature individuals.  

We were seeing other super cool death metal and other acts gets signed and we really never received any bonafide attention.  Now I say that but in 1990 we had two different hopeful deals in the works that never panned out.  One was with Earache, which is why we recorded “The Eponym” in mid-1990, and the other was a branch of Earache called “Necrosis Records.”  I don’t really recall all the variables but the main Earache deal fell through because of an outside person from the label and the band kind of hosed that up.  With Necrosis, I think it just never came to be.

WC: Jack Koshick (Odd Rock Café, Eagles Club, and Milwaukee Metalfest) played a huge role not only in promoting metal but all kinds of music in Milwaukee.  Any interactions with him you can tell us about?

RN: Shrinker played shows at the Odd Rock Café.  We played a majority of our shows there.  A couple of the shows in 1988 / 1989 were for sure some of the best shows we did.  They were just local underground gigs but they were spectacular.  From what I remember Jack Koshick was a businessman who ran the Odd Rock.  I’m sure I was there in some form about 100 times or so over a five year period prior to Shrinker and through 1990.  Those were the days of the “all ages” shows.

Had it not been for “all ages” gigs Shrinker would’ve basically been unknown in the local scene besides those who bought our cassette.  I got to see Death, Sacrifice and Agnostic Front, three of my favorite bands ever there.  I saw Death in the late 80’s probably 6-7 times during the “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy” years, maybe once after that.  When I saw Death at the Odd Rock, there was maybe 50 people in the audience total.  Since we never played Metal Fest I never had any experience with him.  Best show for me though was D.R.I. at the Crystal Palace.

WC: What drove the Milwaukee metal scene to develop as strong and influential as it was in the 80’s / 90’s?  Do you think the alt / punk scene helped or influenced it?

RN: Well, I can say that Dr. Shrinker started as a punk – hardcore – crossover band.  I am really the one true original member.  Jim Potter, the guitarist, joined a week or two later so he’s original by proxy!  Before Jim we cranked out probably 4-6 songs, two of them were on our first demo that we did about four months after we formed.  The demo called “The Recognition,” our “pre demo” demo, had a strong hardcore feel to it.  That was a time when a lot of metal heads were listening to punk and crossover locally and nationally.

Some of my favorite bands at that time were D.R.I., C.O.C., Attitude Adjustment, Agnostic Front, Life Sentence and the heavily influential The Accused.  Many of my friends were in hardcore bands or involved in the hardcore scene.  I just happened to be in a band that quickly became a thrash / death metal band.  If Dr. Shrinker had any outside (Milwaukee) influence it was because I was a huge tape trader and also promoted the heck out of the band by sending the cassette to massive amounts of fanzines and bands.  Plus as you mentioned the bands before, there was a solid representation of different types of metal from the area.

WC: Looking back on the Milwaukee metal scene of the 80’s and 90’s, was it as strong and dynamic as you remember it or if not, how do you remember it and how do you it see now?

RN: From what I remember and what I know now, I don’t think myself and Shrinker really knew or appreciated what was going on here in the scene.  We had no idea that the band and the scene were doing well.  I think with us ending in early 1991 we probably really missed a few more heavy hitting years being active and I don’t really regret it at all.  I’m pretty happy with what we did and what we turned out to be over the next two decades before getting back together.  Maybe the one thing I wish is that we could have played outside the local area.  But we were young and broke kids so that never happened.  I often wonder what it would have been like if we did it for 2-3 more years but by and large I’m glad we stopped on what I think turned out to be a high note “musically.”

WC: What’s the scene like today compared to back then?  Better, worse?

RN: There are a ton more bands now, a ton more shows and much more organization now.  Back then I was young, we were young and full of the unknowns and “what could be.”  Living the scene back then when ’88-’91 is basically the meaty times of death metal is very cool to look back on now and be thankful we were a part of it.  As of now the scene is cool but for me my involvement is just a hobby, a fun thing to do when not occupied by work and home life.  Whatever Shrinker does and accomplishes is hopefully a positive move.  I don’t think I look at the scene as a whole and compare it to anything from the past.  I’ll be 47 in August [2015] so I just like practicing and jamming with the band.  Then playing some shows here and there is cool.  As long as it remains fun I’ll still be a part of this “hobby.”

WC: Tell me about Dr. Shrinker in the 90’s.  It seemed like it was hit and miss. 

RN: HaHa!!!  YEAH, DEFINITELY HIT AND MISS!  It was a hit with some headaches in 1990 but lots of good times.  Then a complete miss the rest of that decade since we disbanded in January 1991.  It wasn’t unitl the 2000’s that we had one of our older songs (from the 90’s) released on a split 7” with Nun Slaughter and also had the “Grotesque Wedlock” compilation released which contained the old demos.   Lots of trials and tribulations.  

Late ’89 / ’90 our drummer was let go and our bassist who’d been with us since inception left (although he came back later that year).  A real “hit” was our 1990 demo “The Eponym” which had Tony Brandt and Scott Mckillop on drums and bass; both members from my favorite Wisconsin metal band ever, “Phantasm.”  Then later in the year we recorded “Our Necropsy” with the lineup when I left.  We got to play some cool local festivals in Waukesha and Milwaukee.  I think one was “Day of Death” and not sure what the other was called.  We didn’t break out big because the luck in the cards wasn’t there for us in terms of label interest.  

At that point I think we started to feel a little jaded.  I know I was also looking for that next step in my life of what my job / career would be.  Thankfully, in retrospect, I left the band and moved forward with college.  The other guys in the band went into bands like “Feck,” etc.  When I look back, I’m glad we were together as long as we were and then ended.  I’m pretty proud of what was accomplished in the band.  

WC:And what convinced you to reunite and give the band a second shot?  What’s the status of the band now?

It was a longtime fan of Shrinker in a local band.  He asked me if I wanted to play with them doing a Dr. Shrinker cover.  Then Jim Potter got involved.  I was hanging out with Jim for the first time in a long time since me, him and other band members went to a baseball game in 2012.  I spoke to Jim about putting the band back together again.  He wanted to take it slow and see what happened, just keep it low key.   So, 2013, right after the Super Bowl, we had our first practice – Me, Jim, our original bassist and the guy who initially approached me to do the cover with his band, he was on drums. 
About 6-7 weeks later we added Jesse Kehoe on drums.  Late 2014 we added Jason Hellman (former Morta Skuld) to the band.  As for the status of the band, we’re in the best shape ever.  2014 was a good year for us.  We played a handful of gigs in other states.  With all of us working 9-5 jobs, it’s all we can do, a few gigs here and there.  After playing “Jersey Death Fest” in October we knew we were taking a break from shows and concentrate on recording.  Last few months we recorded and mixed eight songs at Howl Street Studios with Shane Hochstetler.  Complete success!   Next phase is mastering.  

WC: What label are you on today, what records do you have out and are you considering touring?  And what does 2015 look like for Dr. Shrinker? 
RN: Hopefully a CD release in October of 2015.  Everything’s on schedule now.  We’re doing the record on Dread Records.  We released an old practice sessions cassette (from 1990) earlier this year on Dread Records, a limited release, which is basically sold out – “Contorted Dioramic Palette.”  It has five songs originally on “Wedding the Grotesque.”  One of the songs is an older song from the 1990 practiced sessions cassette called “Repulsive Habits.”  The artwork for the album is being done by Stephan Somers and Putrid Matt Carr.  

In October [2015] we have what I would consider a big “tour” for us -- The Thursday gig is yet to be solidified but we’re playing Buffalo and Brooklyn on Friday and Saturday.  Also in October we have the great honor to be doing a gig in Chicago with Autopsy and Midnight and Bones.  Autopsy is my favorite “extreme” (death) metal band ever.  I’ve been pals with Chris Reifert for a long time, we exchanged lots of mail back in the day so it’s truly a blessing to get to play a gig with them and also that he personally asked if we could and wanted to play this show.

But for anything longer, that’ll never happen not because of our daily commitments but also because financially it gets too expensive to travel and do shows.  Plus at my age I prefer just jamming with the band.  This is really just a hobby for me and I get to do some cool stuff such as record for our first actual full length release ever and play a gig with the almighty Autopsy.  We’ve got a couple of local shows in August / September where we get to jam with Jason Hellman on bass plus people will get to hear some brand new songs.  When the CD gets released in October and we’ve been able to do all our gigs, it’ll all be a success.  Anything after that will just be icing on the cake!