Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Happy to rock in top-notch tribute band for arena rock

Live show sets Hairball apart from also-rans

Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 12, 2020

Mike “Happy” Schneider’s nickname came from not seeming all that happy.

“It’s a ‘jumbo shrimp’ sort of thing,” the guitarist for the band Hairball said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “It came from being more of a perfectionist.”

Schneider’s tendency to pore over every detail during sound check and insist on adjustments has, at times, been rewarded with sarcasm from band’s technical crew.

“It’s always like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Happy,” Schneider said, quoting one the scoffers.

The irony here that the Schneider is rarely happier than when he’s being persnickety.

“Inside, I really was happy because I was doing the work I loved,” he said. “I was just being intense about it.”

Intense cover band

If being intense about a cover band named Hairball sounds like overkill to you, you don’t know Hairball.

Hairball, scheduled to appear at the 13-24 Drive-In on Aug. 20, is unlike any cover band you’ve ever seen, unless you’ve already seen Hairball.

It pays tribute to hard rock and heavy metal of the 1970s and ’80s. It has three lead singers (sometimes four) who take turns at the mic dressed as the legendary (or merely notorious) frontmen from that musical epoch.

They not only dress like who they’re trying to sound like, they sound like who they’re dressed like: Gene Simmons, David Lee Roth, Dee Snider, Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose, Ozzy Osborne, and Brian Johnson (among others).

Hairball started as a parody band filled with purposefully muffed lyrics and other shenanigans.

Schneider wanted no part of it, but his buddies in the band convinced him to get involved temporarily. Ultimately, Hairball became something else altogether.

“Slowly what happened is that it went from being a complete spoof to a re-creation that was more accurate,” Schneider said.

Interestingly, the band’s popularity grew in proportion to the earnestness of its rationale.

“Fans started taking to it because a lot of these groups we are portraying are groups you just can’t see anymore,” Schneider said.

High production values

One thing that separates Hairball from other tribute acts is production values. The band employs pyrotechnics and video screens of the sort that its forebears fancied.

When Schneider joined Hairball, he had been pursuing his own career interests and saw the band as a brief, lucrative respite from continuing to pursue his own career interests.

Eventually, he decided to stop looking down on it.

“I decided to lose the attitude about it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why am I talking myself out of this right now? Why not just go with it and enjoy it?’ And it slowly evolved into the coolest thing I have ever done.”

A few years back, Schneider had a hip replaced. In the course of that surgery and the subsequent recovery process, doctors discovered esophageal cancer.

He is currently in remission. He describes the years that have elapsed since that diagnosis as some of the best of his life.

“The grass is greener and the flowers smell better,” he said.

More than a dozen years ago, Hairball helped raise money for a young cancer sufferer named Elena Desserich.

When Schneider started grappling with his own cancer, he thought about how frightened young cancer sufferers like Desserich must be.

“It forced me into a positive mental outlook,” he said. “Because I was being watched and I knew what I wanted to represent to other people, especially kids.

“Elena did end up dying, which was really hard on me,” Schneider said. “I can’t even imagine how hard it was on her parents. I try to live in such a way that I am paying tribute to people who have to fight for every day. I want anybody who has any challenges to see me fighting, too.”

Madness in the mindset

Schneider said there is madness in his mindset these days, albeit a healthy, life-affirming madness.

“I was never afraid of the big, tough guy,” he said. “It was always that little crazy guy who scared me. It’s the power of denial. Denial is the strongest force in the universe. Somebody who would run into that brick wall because he honestly believes he can bust through it.

“That’s the attitude I like to take when I go on stage,” Schneider said. “I harness the power of denial. I believe I can fly and that all things are possible.”

Hairball is one of the few bands still touring during the summer of COVID-19. It has managed to stay on the road by performing at atypical venues, like drive-in theaters.

Strange days, indeed. But Schneider said he doesn’t let himself get too philosophical, prognosticative, or political these days.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get hit by a meteor,” he said. “Or Yellowstone erupts and turns into a volcano. It’s ‘one day at a time’ for me. I have a short game plan.

“I’m not worried about the touchdown right now,” Schneider said. “I’m just going for the first down.”

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