It's Thursday night at the Lion's Pause, a big, cubical concert hall on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, and Tiki Obmar, the most celebrated band of teenagers in all of Minnesota this year, are onstage. The ceiling, two floors up, is laced with lights, most of which are either dark or casting a dim blue glow on the boys in Tiki while they play their brand of semi-live jazz-tronica.
The song comes to a lull. A curious student pokes his head through the doorways, then retreats. Someone coughs.
Perched on a stool at the soundboard is 18-year-old freshman Ian Anderson ("My dad was a Jethro Tull fan," he explains), co-owner of Afternoon Records and guitarist and vocalist for the band Aneuretical. He's alternately tweaking knobs, pushing up his glasses, and scribbling in a notebook on his lap. He's transfixed, partly by the hypnotic waves billowing from the venue's immense speakers--though he's quick to point out that he doesn't usually listen to electronic music--and partly because he's working on an article about the band for St. Olaf's student newspaper, the Manitou Messenger.
"It's just convenient," Anderson says of the synergy he's devised between his gigs as the Pause's soundman and the newspaper's arts reporter. He shrugs, speaking as he often does with his shoulders, and jots down another note.
It's more than just convenient, of course. This double-booked efficiency is clever and opportunistic, yet also a demonstration of a deep and uncomplicated love of music. In other words, it's typical Ian Anderson.
In the seven months since Anderson first entertained notions of starting a record label, Afternoon Records has positioned itself as the leading local label to cater almost exclusively to teen bands and the dedicated all-age crowds they draw. It may also be the only such label.
"I want Afternoon to be a group of really solid, young indie-rock bands that have a lot of potential in creating something great down the road," he says. He calls it "investing young."
"Ian has really got it done," says Noah Paster, 18, drummer for Aneuretical, bassist for Nero, and primary booking agent for Afternoon Records. "When he first told me he was starting a label, I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.' But now I realize the potential it has. He's the most organized 18-year-old I've ever met."
True to that description, Anderson's schedule requires him to be hyperorganized. In addition to his jobs at the Pause and the Messenger, he hosts a weekly radio show called The Indie Rock Elitist on the student-run WSTO (a radio station with such limited range that Anderson can barely hear it in his dorm, which is across a parking lot from the transmitter), he volunteers with the campus's literary magazine, and he was elected senator of his dorm (he ran unopposed), for which he attends weekly meetings. He's taking five classes, with a double major in English and cello performance. (He wanted to study guitar but it's not offered at St. Olaf; he started listening to Yo Yo Ma and picked up the cello four weeks before classes began.) He attends editorial meetings at the newspaper, despite the fact that as a freshman he's not an editor. And since the college forbids its students to have cars, he regularly endures the two-hour bus ride into the Cities to see his favorite bands, like Built to Spill, Q & Not U, and Signal to Trust. He plays guitar and sings with Aneuretical. He sleeps an average of four hours a night. And as if the comparison weren't already inevitable, he even looks like Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore: nice sweater, framed "emo-rimmed glasses," and a mop of black hair that hangs awkwardly into his eyes. He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, and, he admits with a heavy sigh, he doesn't have a girlfriend.
"Maybe that's why I stay so busy," he shrugs.
"When I was young and started a band," he says--as if 18 were no longer young--"I really wanted someone to help me, to tell me how to get a gig or how to make a promo packet, how to get your CD in stores. I figured it would be nice to help the [Afternoon Records] bands, and hopefully they'll grow and mature as writers to the point where they have found their voice. Hopefully this sort of 'coming of age' for these bands will result in an indie-rock movement consisting of kids that love music and want to be part of something."
He adds with a smile, "I basically want tons of awkward-looking indie kids wearing button-up cowboy shirts waiting in unnecessarily long lines to come to our shows."
As the clock rolls around to 11:00 p.m., it's time for the club to close, but Tiki Obmar's looped drums and back-fed guitars are still seething with frenzied noise. Anderson debates raising the house lights, then decides to let the band finish. They do minutes later to a smattering of applause. Anderson raises the lights to reveal four guys in the front row and an otherwise empty house.
"Nobody here knows who they are," Anderson says of the band. "But," he adds, recounting an adage he's fond of, "you know what they say: A gig's a gig."