Veterans Day

After only one album, the Vets are becoming a local music institution

No more roller rinks. Forget the nascent nacho-bar and disco-ball scene--and, for God's sake, forget the couples' skate! The Vets singer/guitarist Andy Larson is certainly ready to let those things be bygones. In fact, having performed an ill-fated rink concert in Moose Lake with his former combo the Early Americans once, Larson is ready to deny that this particular show ever occurred.

"Man, that didn't happen," he utters.

"That was a bad idea," concurs the Vets other guitarist, Adam Burt, who also played in the Early Americans. Maybe he's right: The only reward an indie rocker might receive in a roller rink would be sending scores of lilting lovebirds careening for the walls in flight from blistering guitars.

This trip around memory's oval is taking place over coffee at St. Paul's unofficial rock clubhouse A Fine Grind, where the two precocious, barely-drinking-age post-rockers are gathered for an interview. (Absent is drummer Adam Patterson.) The barista slips Billy Joel on in the background--which I'm later informed is a joke for my benefit. I admit to a cruise or two round the rink with the piano man. Or maybe it was Elton John.

Eventually, the Vets take to talking about the lack of a proper venue in their sleepy hometown of Moose Lake, agreeing that some of their most forgettable shows occurred there. As Larson says with a shrug, "It seems like fun when you're a band in a small town where there's nothing else to do."

The Vets modestly discuss their self-titled debut (released on local label Modern Radio), a heady fusion of experimental tinkering and free-jazz drumming. Their trademark, tensely controlled guitar work opens The Vets, with "Scars Run up the Flagpole" providing both hushed lyricism and unrestrained commotion. "Everything you love is false," Larson confesses. "Get used to it." More melodic bursts bloom in the cracks of "Equilateral Angel," a classic-rock-tinged tune pocked by spastic twitches of distortion. The aptly titled "Bodies at Rest" momentarily allows respite from the out-of-step rhythm and rage with simple harmonies. But it's "Monorail" that best fits the Vets' bipolar nature: It subverts noise with nuance--and vice versa. The song seemingly yearns to define itself, like any postadolescent searching for an identity.

If the music is still amorphous, the album reflects a group coming into its own. Self-taught musician Larson explains that he fumbles with awkward tuning, in the style of Thurston Moore. Burt--like Larson, a veteran of a high school band--notes that he once took a few lessons from an infamous local Christian rocker. The duo has also trained with more high-profile acts: They encountered Low's Alan Sparhawk in Duluth and briefly backed his neo-blues hoot the Black-Eyed Snakes, before Burt and Larson settled in St. Paul. In fact, The Vets' icily crisp recording was completed in a Chicago home studio with Greg Norman, house engineer at Steve Albini's famed studio Electrical Audio, where some Low tracks were recorded.

Not only legendary indie artists contributed to this creation, though. Burt recalls spotting a concertgoer who was wearing a hat that read "America Is Number One Because of the Vets." Decidedly a gesture of patriotism rather than a tribute to these young indie rockers. Burt follows this anecdote with a laugh, still a little uncertain over the group's quirky and ambiguous moniker. "Having been a band for [only] a year now," he says, "if we've become the vets, then we've accomplished something."

 
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