On the morning of Dec. 14, 2005, Ken LaBarre checked into St. Mary's hospital for outpatient knee surgery. But he didn't check out that afternoon as planned.
"The doctor performing the procedure was not as experienced as he should have been," recalls LaBarre, who fronts the Madison rock band Tangy. "He accidentally drilled through a major artery in my leg. They sent me to post-op without knowing I was bleeding internally."
LaBarre spent the next two months at St. Mary's. He endured six surgeries to fight an infection that nearly cost him his leg and his life.
It's been three years since the members of Tangy began work on Sorta Like Very Ultra, the CD they'll be releasing next week. Those three years have been marked by overwhelming personal challenges for the members of the band.
While LaBarre was fighting for his life, his newborn daughter was an inpatient on a different floor of the same hospital, fighting a respiratory infection that threatened her own life.
Guitarist Michael Patrick was coping with the fact that his 2-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with autism.
And drummer Mike Pflieger and his wife were navigating the logistics of adopting a child from overseas.
Sorta Like Very Ultra isn't just about a band overcoming life's burdens to put out a new CD. The CD is about guys who created new songs together as a way to make sense of the separate ordeals each of them experienced.
"There were times when I thought we'd never get this album out," says Patrick. "I can't stress enough how proud I am that we did, and I think the intensity of what we lived through is reflected in the music."
Ultra is passionate hard rock built around catchy hooks that give the music an upbeat, even triumphant sound. That stands in contrast to the CD's cover art depicting a panicked child trying desperately not to drown.
"We were feeling the pain of loss as we were making this album," says Patrick. "But the music was also about rebirth and starting over."
Tangy was formed in 1999 by LaBarre, who grew up in Illinois and has established a career in television and video production. Last January, Fox Sports contracted with him to do camera work for the Packers NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.
When I interviewed LaBarre by phone for this story, he was in California. He'd spent the weekend sitting in a truck, directing cameras for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
"I ended up in television completely by accident," says LaBarre. "I grew up in Palatine, Illinois, and spent most of my childhood feeling like an outcast. There was nothing to do after school, so I used to walk the tracks of the Chicago & Northwestern line to spend the afternoon at a youth center."
Along those walks, LaBarre would glimpse the dead-end patches of town. The images lit a fire in his heart "to get the hell out of Palatine."
It's those kinds of emotions that guide the songs on Tangy's new album. "A Burning Heart Is a Warning" encapsulates LaBarre's youthful restlessness.
Patrick says Ultra also deals with the band's emotions about "the insanity going on in the rest of the world." Tangy's disdain for the Iraq war is clear on the biting chorus of "Captain America":
hear the story
Just the other day
Captain America lost his way
Shot a dog in Fallujah
Just to watch it die
He was staying the course
And he never asked why
After nine years and two CDs, LaBarre says Tangy will move ahead and begin writing new songs. Their identity is largely built around the value of perseverance.
It's a trait that came across one day back in 2005, when Patrick visited LaBarre at the hospital. Convinced he was about to lose his leg, LaBarre doubted the future of Tangy. But Patrick vowed the band would live on.
"Dude," he told LaBarre in the hospital room, "if Def Leppard can have a drummer with one arm, we can have a singer with one leg!"