About Retoff, McKenzie, Butler & Pierce
Bill Retoff and Dan McKenzie met each other in the Spring of 1987 while trying to assemble a band to play a Monkees convention that summer in Michigan. They put together a quartet tentatively called the Seen and rehearsed several Monkees songs. The convention gig ultimately fell through, but Retoff and McKenzie became instant friends. By July, the two were laying down some tracks together in the Arthur, IL, studio of Dennis Miller, who would become a consistent friend and backer through the intervening years. The situation remained, however, that Retoff lived over 100 miles away from McKenzie and Miller, making any kind of prolonged recording unit seemingly impossible to maintain.
On New Year's Eve of that year, McKenzie and bassist friend Jamie Lehman joined the full-time ranks of Champaign-Urbana band Red Pop, which was the brainchild of guitarist/singer/songwriter Dave Butler and drummer Ed Pierce. Halfway across the state, Retoff was going it alone, demoing his increasing number of original songs while learning the recording process with the purchase of a four-track recorder. McKenzie was forced to leave Red Pop when he found a new day job, but it also brought him within 30 miles of Retoff, and their partnership was reestablished. With the addition of a couple musicians, they settled on the name the Insomniacs (after a handful of performances as Saints & Romeos) and played semi-regular gigs, but more importantly they spent a large amount of time in Miller's studio.
In their first incarnation from late 1988 into 1991, the duo saw various members come and go. In 1989, they released a single, "Her Love Is Like Jade"/"If I'm Not Your Man," on Maize Records, a label they created principally to circulate their music. By the end of 1991, the band had been basically distilled down to just Retoff and McKenzie. Unfazed, they entered the studio with Miller to record their first album, These Are Happenin' Times. It was released as a cassette at the beginning of 1992, soon thereafter earning a positive review in the pop zine Yellow Pills. A glowing review from quintessential pop zine queen Beverly Patterson followed weeks later in her Pop Sunday Newsletter, as did a write-up in Goldmine. The buzz created was enough to earn the duo orders for the album and even fan mail (which would gradually grow into a dedicated if limited following that extended across the Atlantic to Europe). In the spring of the year, Retoff and McKenzie were joined by Dave Butler and Ed Pierce to form the official Retoff, McKenzie, Butler & Pierce, although they continued to go by the Insomniacs moniker. They began creating their first recordings as a full group soon thereafter in Miller's Arthur studio. A cassette single of three songs came out on Maize that summer. The band also began playing occasional gigs. By the fall they began working on their first full-length album together, a planned 14-song effort to be titled Now Can We Meet the Maharishi? after a caption reference in Kicks music zine to obscure Midwestern surf band the Bleach Boys who, unlike their near namesakes the Beach Boys, never got the opportunity to meet the Maharishi. The album took an eventful year and a half to record, finally seeing release on cassette in the summer of 1994. During the recording period, the band also struck up a relationship with French radio hosts (and future founders of Pop the Balloon Records) Gilles Raffier and Gerard Girard, who, as fans, began spreading it through the French indie pop underground.
The bandmembers, however, were spread over a distance of 125 miles, and the amount of travel it took just to rehearse or record together finally took its toll, as did Retoff's subsequent contraction of spinal meningitis, an ordeal that sent him into a coma and brought him very near death. He spent more than two months in the hospital recovering before he could be released. The ensemble had completely fragmented by that point, with Now Can We Meet the Maharishi? left unfinished. To add insult to injury, the Insomniacs had already been copyrighted by another band, so the quartet chose the name Retoff, McKenzie, Butler & Pierce and released a ten-song version of the album before taking an indefinite sabbatical.
McKenzie, Butler, and Pierce formed a new quartet calling themselves the Original Darren before finally settling for the name Billy Blastoff and releasing a Retoff-produced album, Some Hotshot. Retoff on his own recorded two solo albums, 1996's Pop Jewelry and 2000's Reanimation. In the summer of 2000, the band reassembled to begin a new recording project, In the Moment, with the intention of making the entire album a do-it-yourself effort, from recording to burning the CDs to doing the graphics. ~ Stanton Swihart, Rovi