Murder in Small Town X

Whence the Dark Powers of the Midnight Evils?

Maybe it's the isolation, the need to fill the quiet with something loud, that makes small-town boys love rock 'n' roll--the kind with fast guitars and angry drums. Maybe grabbing a noisy instrument and beating the hell out of it has something to do with being surrounded by farm equipment and big trucks all day long. Or maybe I'm just trying to make a connection here that doesn't exist. Maybe I'm just full of shit.

The Midnight Evils--one of the noisiest, most caustic sounding punk rock bands in the Twin Cities at the moment--are all from small towns in the Midwest, so any of the above hypotheses could apply. According to the band, the one in which I'm just full of it seems to be most plausible. Made up of Steve Cooper and Brian Vanderwerf on guitars, Curan Folsum on bass, Jesse Tomlinson on drums, and Jonny Evans on vocals, the Midnight Evils insist that their eponymous debut (Dart Records) is motivated by loftier themes than just your usual small-town-boy interests.

"This album is about liquor!" explains Tomlinson during an interview at my Minneapolis apartment. (Getting loaded does seem to be a consistent thread in the album: Titles include "Loaded and Lonely," "Drinkin' With the Enemy," "Turpentine," and "Terminal Haze.")

"This album is powered by alcohol and diesel fumes!" says Vanderwerf. "It was recorded in an old diesel-truck repair shop [Diesel Lab Studios in Fargo, North Dakota], and the place just reeked of spilled fuel. We got so fucked up in there!" he adds, laughing.

That could partly explain the lurching, evil quality of the album. (The closest thing to a love song is "Bitch Like You," which opens with "When she left me, I said 'go!'" and leads to the repeated refrain "I don't need a bitch like you!"). The Midnight Evils have a raw quality that translates well into their live, inebriation-inspiring shows. That doesn't mean the album is slapped together haphazardly: The band is tight both in and out of the studio. And their dedication to the music is apparent in their willingness to drive all the way out to St. Cloud every single weekend to practice in Cooper's house, even in the middle of winter. Perhaps this is where growing up in a small town has made the most difference to the band members: Could the legendary work ethic of rural kids be the fuel for their determination to practice and tour and perform no matter what?

Again, that notion is shrugged off by the rock stars. "It always made it more of a challenge to create music, coming from a small town," offers Cooper, perhaps trying to make a compromise between reality and my crazy persistent theories. "There weren't lots of cool independent record stores to find things in, for one thing. You had to really hunt down alternative music. The only time you really got to hear new music was if someone had it on a mix tape, because it was pretty rare to hear it on the radio. When I was a kid, [and I found out about] shit like the Sex Pistols--even though it was a million years old already--it was like seeing a whole different world."

Whatever is at the root of the band's work ethic, it's certainly starting to pay off. Despite having the release of their album detained for nearly two years because of problems with studios and record labels, the Midnight Evils have become a favorite of many clubs on the Midwest tour circuit, leading to a series of regular weekend shows in Chicago and throughout Wisconsin. Later this year, the band takes off on a West Coast tour that includes much of Oregon and California.

For now, though, locals can still catch the Midnight Evils playing shows around the Twin Cities. And if you can get out and see them, then you probably should: I suspect it may not be too long before this band joins the rolls of great acts that head out on tour and never come back.

 
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