Strange But True

The Rank Strangers have terrific--if bizarre--chemistry, a trunkful of hooks, and a singer/songwriter who says he lives "in an Old Testament world." They may be the best local band you've never heard of.

One of the bargain highlights of every Rank Strangers show are the moments between songs when Wait steps up to the microphone and blurts some inscrutable punchline from the Chance the Gardener school of wisdom.

"I didn't sign no motherfucking contract!" he shouted one night. A comment on the Contract With America? A dig at Mike or the club management? Another night it might be, "Who has a bigger head than God?" or "Any asshole can be an American!"

It aggravates the hell out of Mike, and often as not gets the chemistry boiling.

"All that tension is honest stuff," Wait says. "It's never put on. I just get annoyed with Mike's sternness sometimes; it gets a little heavier than it needs to be, and I'll say that stuff just to try to loosen him up. It doesn't ever work, but for some reason it gives me some sort of perverse satisfaction."

By every account Wisti and Wait are something more extreme than just an odd couple. Wisti is a guy given to epic songwriting and reams of lyrics. Wait is a classic three-minute pop man, a hook guy who likes the way a record sounds--"the look of a record," he calls it--more than what it says. Their stage chemistry is that of two guys who do nothing but baffle and annoy each other. That's fairly close to the truth.

Asked about his relationship with Wait, Wisti finally allows that "when he wants to be, he's a real sharp dresser. I guess the irritation of knowing that we have to collaborate is probably the key to our relationship. I mean, he's my partner in the band, his ideas generally run counter to mine, and we're both control freaks, so you get the idea.

"Jacques is an odd case, and he's also an amazing musician. My tendency is to just slop through it. Jacques is extremely critical and has great instincts. He brings a real technical obsessiveness to everything we do. I guess we're like Kirk and Spock. I'm probably as difficult as he is."

"Mike and Jacques tend to be excessive in different ways," drummer Doug Durbin says. "And what they do well is temper each other's excesses. Mike will bring in a song that's eight minutes long and Jacques will start chopping."

"I'm always like, 'There are four bars here, man, where are you gonna put all these extra words?'" Wait says. "Song economy is a paramount issue with me, which runs counter to Mike's instincts as a songwriter. I spend a lot of time trying to trim the fat. If you have any appreciation for some of the timeless pop music through the years then you've got to realize that there are some awfully substantial tunes that can cram a lot into under three minutes. Economy in itself is a skill."

"Economy is a challenge," Wisti says, and leaves it at that.

"Even people who've only seen the band a few times will notice the agitation thing between those guys," says Odegaard. "People are like, 'Were those two guys having a fight or something?' And, you know, no--it's like that every show.

"It took me quite a long time to get used to the weird chemistry of the band. These guys agitate over everything, and in a weird way the music focuses the agitation. This definitely isn't one of those bands people always talk about where everybody's great friends. I don't feel like I really know any of these guys."

Durbin has been in bands with Wisti since high school. They grew up together. He describes their relationship this way: "I guess we're friends in an odd sort of way. But do I know him? No. I can't say I really do. Personally, I don't think any of us knows any of the others at all. I'm an analyst at Dain Bosworth, and I get a sort of kick out of the fact that when I go my own way at night nobody in the band has any idea what the hell I do."

Larry Osterman is a Minneapolis entertainment lawyer who has worked with the Rank Strangers for several years. The band had come to him for some legal advice back in the Crackpot days. "I listened to that first record, and I heard something in it that made me believe the band had a lot of potential. When I met them it was obvious that they weren't just doing this to kill time, have fun, or meet girls. Mike and Jacques are both pretty intense, serious guys. In the period after they made that record they improved tenfold. The second recording they did--the one they made in the basement, Weeds--blew my mind. It was three steps beyond Far Cry From Here."

The band had purchased a one-inch eight-track machine from Tom Herbers and set up a studio in the basement of Wisti's house, alongside the washer and dryer. Mike and Jacques set about becoming studio rats with characteristic zeal, the studio allowing them the luxury to endlessly rework their own tunes while also taking on side projects for other bands.

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