By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
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By Jack Spencer
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By Emily Weiss
In any entrepreneurial venture, there are few pleasures sweeter than finally spending some company cash. Strolling into Roseville's desolate Crossroads Shopping Center, drummer Nate Perbix makes a call and activates the official Cowboy Curtis check card. There's some discussion of using the new band account to buy a fleet of Dance Dance Revolution arcade games for the quartet's respective homes, or at least test-snooze a few king-sized mattresses. But ultimately the band decides to forgo all things bling. Instead, their first corporate purchases are a pretzel, four cherry slushies, and a few rounds of miniature golf. When the cashier rings up the bill, Nate assures his nervous bandmates that the account can withstand a $30 dent.
The group recently made a more serious acquisition: a tour van to spread the dorm rock of their self-released debut album, Observations/ Assumptions. Next week, they'll play a few shows in the Pacific Northwest. That is, as long as their $400 investment doesn't break down first. "It will be awesome if we can get there," says guitarist Jake Hanson. "Our van--"
"What did you just say?" interrupts Nate, shooting Hanson a look as if he had just called his mother a whore. "Nate's in love with the van," explains the vanophile's brother, vocalist Neal Perbix. "We just got a brand new seat for it today. It's even the right color. We gotta make it now."
While admiring the faded glory of Lava Links' jungle-themed putt-putt course, the band recounts some vaguely Guns N' Rosian trouble with finishing an album. While working on their debut, original bassist Christopher Morrissey was asked to join Mason Jennings's band. Panic ensued, but Morrissey stayed on to finish recording and the group eventually found bassist Ethan Sutton through an open audition. As if to punctuate his introduction, Sutton steals part of Nate's pretzel and reaches for the yellow-green goo masquerading as cheese. "Dude, you're vegan," Neal protests. "There's nothing dairy in that," says Sutton.
After releasing the album in December, Cowboy Curtis sent dozens of promotional copies to radio stations around the country. "We didn't follow up on any of them," says Hanson. "We gotta do that," adds Nate. While the band discusses how to maintain the ideal syrup-to-ice ratio in a slushy (which involves a continuous stabbing motion and a well-made straw), as many as 70 stations could be spinning Observations/ Assumptions. Or as few as one.
Negligent promotion simplified their tour planning. The University of Washington's KEXP put the album in heavy rotation where it peaked at number 20--the sole reason for choosing Seattle for their first out-of-state show. When an influential college station picks up a band that has received little attention in their own hometown, you have to wonder if they owe something to luck. Or maybe to a more recognizable name on the press sheet: Idol-turned-colleague and Hanson's 12Rods bandmate Ev Olcott produced the album. What started as a two-day favor for some friends turned into a serious project for Olcott's Integral Studio. "He said, 'No, this is fun. I hear a lot of things that I want to do to this record,'" explains Hanson. "He's the one that made us take a long time on it."
Some of the songs were written five years ago, when Jake and Neal wrote songs in their parents' basements, and all of the group's material successfully bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood. "You said your sister had a house that we could use," suggests a young Casanova with a girl-unfriendly apartment in "Snapshot Pictures." "Tired" starts out with a slap-happy riff that could have come straight out of a high school ska-punk anthem. That horrifying notion is assuaged when a peek-a-booing synth line pops out like a lost Cars overdub. That faint echo might cause lazy critics to equate synths with new wave, but the group's only real '80s connections are their Pee-Wee's Playhouse eponym and their envy of Short Circuit 2 hero Johnny Five's "robot program not to cry." They owe more to the straightforward pop-rock of the '90s, back when their jangly "People Song" could have fit snugly on the radio between the Gin Blossoms and Better Than Ezra.
As the rest of us navigate our balls around ponds of Stagnant Mall Water (which, Neal notes, would make a pretty good band name), Sutton hangs behind, quietly keeping score. The newest member of Cowboy Curtis has yet to record with the group, something the band hopes to rectify in late summer or fall. "This is the new Cowboy Curtis," Neal declares with mock self-importance. "And we're stronger than we've ever been before." Near the fifth hole, he pauses to add the band's name to a patch of graffiti on a mural teeming with monkeys. Cowboy Curtis have yet to leave a mark on the rest of the world, but they've claimed their own spot on this wall--between "Olivia smells" and a cartoon penis.