The SCENE (Northeastern WI's News, Arts & Entertainment Newspaper) did a November 2008 feature on several women musicians...one of them being Copper Box's own, Michelle Jerabek. You can pick your own copy of the SCENE at various restaurants, shops, gas stations throughout NE WI. or go to www.scenenewspaper.com for more information.
Interview with Michelle Jerabek by Jim Lundstrom (The SCENE)
The night after her second child was born in May 2003, Michelle Jerabek was back on stage, performing with Copper Box, the popular band she founded with her husband, Danny.
"We were opening for Buckwheat Zydeco, one of my favorites," she said. "I was like..'Ah, I really want to play .' Dan was like, 'No, take care of yourself.' They had a practice to try and do the show without me. I thought maybe that would be best. Let them take it for one night. But I really wanted to play that show, so the day after Maria was born, I checked out of the hospital and played the gig. They at least carried my horn for me."
Can anyone say "trouper" ?
Both Danny and Michelle Jerabek have been on stage since they were youngsters. Both came from musical families and both traveled with their families' polka bands at a young age and eventually became members of those bands.
"We grew up as farmers and musicians," Michelle said. "We'd bale a load of hay and while waiting for the next load to come, we'd have a drink and play on the porch. My family would have music playing every day, and when the family got together they were jamming on instruments. I was going along with Grandpa's band (The Bill Thull Orchestra) each weekend to the dances. My mom said we were dancing before we could walk."
Sometimes Danny's father, Tuba Dan, would fill in with Michelle's grandfather's band.
"I was probably 6 years old when we first met," she said. "Our families knew each other. We saw each other at some of the shows, but we never really got along or talked at that age. When I was going through high school, we met up again and we just got to be really good friends."
Michelle had earned a scholarship in high school to study physical therapy, which she was doing when at age 19 and a college freshman she and Danny decided to get married.
"I just couldn't stand studying the stuff--the bones in your hand, the muscles-while Danny had music going on in the next room. That made it really hard," she said. I thought maybe we could try music. To tell your parents, I'm going to be a musician after giving up one of the top scholarships in high school, and I'm going to get married at 19, well. Sometimes they do say, 'You could have had the benefits of a therapist and could be making some big money, have health insurance and all that other stuff.' But my family is supportive. They are happy that I am happy. That's the main thing. Lord knows, if you're doing music as a career, you're doing it for the love of the music pretty much."
[photo of Michelle wailing on the baritone sax while husband, Danny squeezes along during a gig at Shattuck Park in Neenah. Drummer Jason Van Ryzin is in the background]
"Shortly after being married in August 1997, the couple dropped the other shoe on their respective families.
"A few months after we got married, we decided to break off from our parents' bands and start our own," she said. "I was going to college and working a part-time job and playing with my dad's band on weekends. Danny was working in Appleton, WI. We lived in Slinger at the time and he had an hour and 45 minute commute. He played with his dad's band on the weekends. So basically, we didn't see each other. We got through Oktoberfest season and we realized...we haven't seen each other for the past two months. At that point we had to make a change. We didn't want to upset any side of the family and decide which side would gain two people. So we just decided to break it off on both sides and do our own thing."
In December 1997 their new band, K!CK, was born. K!CK played high-octane polka with modern sensibilities. In 2002, K!CK became Copper Box, a band that rocks as well as it polkas, enabling them to play more originals and more venues.
Michelle said the band is a smooth-running machine because the roles are well defined. Danny serves as front man and Michelle is side woman, as well as booking agent and bookkeeper.
"In the past 11 years now we've been working together and being married as well. I think we work well together," she said. "Danny has some great, great leadership qualities. If you have two people leading the same wagon, it's not going to work. So I try to let Danny do his thing and add my little two cents in. We try to leave everything in the band and when it's family time, leave the band out of it as much as possible. I think we make a good team, and that's important, otherwise we wouldn't have a band together."
But there's also the responsiblity of finding balance between being a mother of two girls while leading the unconventional life of a member of one of the most popular bands in northeastern WI.
"Every weekend they know we're not going to be around at night," she said. "They really want to come along more often. We don't bring them to most of our shows, just because they're not at that age yet. Our oldest would be fine, but together they're still in that in that picking fight mode. We don't want that happening.
"A couple of times the girls have said, "Why don't you guys find different jobs?' I think abou that sometimes. It would make things easier if we had health insurance and regular jobs. At the same time, we're home during the regualr week and we try to make any time we spend with them be quality time. I spend as much time as I can with the kids and still find ways to tap my musical inspiration and keep things fresh."