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 things I love about the Rank Strangers is that they're so self-sufficient," says Slim Dunlap. "The music they're making is almost completely from outside interference. That eight-track recorder is a wonderful thing because of its limitations; what you can't do with it makes you a whole lot better. You've got to keep it simple, and there's a lot of real cool refining you can do with simple."

Frank Randall and the Sycamores just finished recording the follow-up to last year's Rag and Bone Shop debut, working exclusively in Wisti's basement studio.

"I had a really good working relationship with Mike," Randall says. "I really like the way that he'll put something under the microscope. He's a great scrutinizer, but he also embraces a good loose quality that really works. It's kind of like a high-wire act.

"Half the stuff out there now, they're trying to make it sound like it was recorded in a basement. It's a trendy sound. What you lack in fidelity you can make up in performance. You have such a luxury of takes. Some of the recordings Mike's done down there are awesome. He can do warm, roomy things like us, and huge rock records like the new Punchdrunk, and everything recorded down there has benefited from Mike's personal relationship with the musicians."

Osterman got the Rank Strangers some money from MCA on a speculative basis, and the band went down in the basement and put together another album's worth of material. Though Osterman intends to send the record around to some labels, the band has finished the artwork, mastered the tape, and is proceeding with plans to release the album themselves in the spring.

Mike Wisti is holding court over midnight beers at Sandy's in south Minnea-polis.

"I'm against athletes in general," Wisti says. "They're all date-rapists, and you can quote me on that. I mean, to me, 10 years later and it's still just like high school; the popular bands are like the sports teams, the in-crowd, like they have these cliques, and they decide what's cool. It says in the rock book of rules that they want wildness, they want erraticism, they want randomness, but when they really get it they ban you from the club. What they want is a performance. You know, one of the greatest rock moments ever was Van Morrison's appearance in The Last Waltz. Here's this totally drunk, 5-foot-tall fat guy wearing, like, this oxford shirt, just out of his mind with energy. He's completely awkward, foolish, stumbling around; the thing about it is not that he's a drunken fool, but that he honestly doesn't give a shit what he looks like or what anyone thinks of him. Or Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live, that fantastic agitation and discomfort. That stuff, that's what rock music's all about. If you can't believe that the person up there's conviction is beyond question, then it isn't working."

Tuesday night is bowling night for Wisti. In the four years he has kept his unofficial bowling league together, 50-some bowlers have participated at one time or another. Each Wednesday morning Wisti sits down to his computer and carefully updates the 23 categories of statistical information he keeps for each bowler, including a Power Rating Index whose complex mathematical formula is of his own creation and is used to crown the much-coveted Bowler of the Week. By Friday all participating bowlers receive two sheets of complete statistics in the mail.

"Sure," Wisti says, "I'm an obsessive. I think things should be duly recorded. The more chronicling I can do the better I feel. I mean, the past just keeps building, out of control, and every day you lose so much. Of course, I'm even a failed obsessive; I keep falling three or four days behind."

Wisti sends out announcements for every show the band plays, plain white postcards usually imprinted with some surreal text that might be the fragment of an overheard conversation, or the solitary ravings of a man too long deprived of his meds.

Let me be brief. I thought we had an understanding. Dear reader, I thought we were developing a relationship. One-sided, albeit; I spoke and you listened, but you said you were used to and comfortable in a submissive relationship. Now you go and... Let us speak no more of it. I forgive the weak and punish the vain. (aside) Could you loosen that a little, please? So where were we? Oh yes, your infidelity. Stop thinking so much. How we will ever reach the nougat, the creamy center, if we can't get past the... Oh, what do you care. Why don't you listen?! I'm begging you. Let me sleep.

There are over 300 people on the Rank Strangers' mailing list. It's safe to say that a fair number of those people have never been to a Rank Strangers show. It's even said that there are people on the mailing list who can't stand the band but can't wait to get their postcards in the mail.

"I talk to people all the time who want to get on that mailing list but have absolutely no other interest in the band," says Mark Downey of Nerve Center Management. "They just want those cards."

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