End of the Road, End of the Rods

They got hassled by the FBI. Todd Rundgren drank all their Foster's. And now they're breaking up. After teetering on the edge of big-time success for over a decade, 12 Rods remember what it's like to be a popular Twin Cities band--and what it's like to pa

 There was always a lot of pressure on 12 Rods to be more than just a local band. For recent Minnesota transplants and kids born too late to see Hüsker Dü flip their wigs or to watch the Replacements rock in the days of wine (not guns) and roses, 12 Rods represented a chance to put Minneapolis back in the national music rags. Through three albums and a rotating cast of band members, the group won over fans and frustrated publicists with a sound too tech-savvy to be grunge, too soulful to be synth pop. Now, after 12 years, they're calling it quits. To ensure their place in local music history, they're turning 12rods.com into a museum complete with photos, interviews, and every song they've ever recorded available as $.99 downloads. On the eve of their final show, we dropped by Tracks Bar & Grill with singer/guitarist Ryan Olcott, keyboardist Ev Olcott, bassist Bill Shaw, guitarist Jake Hansen, and drummer George Marich to talk about the birth and death of a local legend.

 

City Pages: Let's start from the beginning...

Are we famous yet? The beleaguered gentlemen of 12 Rods (L to R): George Marich, Jake Hansen, Ryan Olcott, Ev Olcott, and Bill Shaw
David Fick
Are we famous yet? The beleaguered gentlemen of 12 Rods (L to R): George Marich, Jake Hansen, Ryan Olcott, Ev Olcott, and Bill Shaw

Ryan Olcott: It officially started at Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, with me, Matt Flynn, Christopher McGuire, and Dan Perlin. We weren't even a band, but Dan got us a gig playing at Field Fest.

Ev Olcott: "Field Fest" was in some girl's backyard.

Ryan Olcott: She lived in the middle of nowhere. There were chaperones in the house, the kids were out back getting fucked up. And it was KFC-catered. Our first gig was for KFC heirs. Christopher and I both played drums, so I said, okay, I'll play guitar and write some songs really quickly. Matt Flynn named us Ryan'z Bihg Hed.

Ev Olcott: I had just graduated from college. I was in charge of the P.A. and I had a boom box. A couple days afterward, we made a tape.

Ryan Olcott: I left for college. I was doing the orchestral, legit thing, but I kind of wanted to play rock music.

Ev Olcott: I'd taken an internship at Metro [Studios], which is now Oarfin [Records]. I played the tape for a guy and he said, "I can totally hear you've got something. You guys should make a demo." I was excited because that meant I'd get to record a band. So Ryan decided not to go another semester. Mom and Dad said, "Okay. He probably wasn't going to finish school anyway."

Ryan Olcott: I went back to Oxford and spent a few months recording the demos. Matt Flynn named us 12 Rods. Christopher and I were in my room after practice, trying to think of a stupid name, something ambiguous. I had a children's Bible in my room and I was just flipping through pages and there it was.

Ev Olcott: They came up and did the demo in February of '93. That became the first full-length record. It was done at Metro in a weekend and they called it Bliss. Early versions of "I Am Faster," "Repeat," and "Stella" are on there.

Ryan Olcott: We sold 500 copies pretty quickly.

Ev Olcott: Mostly in Cincinnati, but I brought a few up here.

Ryan Olcott: Then we broke up because Matt Flynn wasn't happy. So Christopher and I got a number from Chris Stromquist who was in a funk band that Ev was playing sax in. They were called the LippaBoogieGaroovians.

Ev Olcott: I was bored, I needed something to do!

Ryan Olcott: Chris knew Matt Foust.

Ev Olcott: Matt [Foust] was looking for a drummer for [his band] Ether Bunny. So Matt called Ryan and Ryan said, "Yeah, I'll play in your band." He was going in surreptitiously to find out who their bass player was and take him.

Ryan Olcott: Matt was the guitarist, but he agreed to play bass with the Rods. Christopher moved to town in the beginning of '95. Our first show was in March at the Purple Onion.

Ev Olcott: Two 45-minute sets, low volume. Our first loud show was at Blues Alley soon after that.

Ryan Olcott: I remember someone wrote me a note on a napkin that said, "Stop mumbling in the microphone." Then we recorded the first half of the Gay? EP, which at the time was called A Very Special Christmas. Gay? came out and REV105 put it into heavy rotation. Matt quit, so instead of a bass player we had a DAT machine. Some labels started courting the hell out of us and we were 20, 21, 22 [years old]. We were the first American band signed to V2, and it was a big deal. At the same time, we were so overwhelmed with all the business stuff. If we were given the option, we would've signed to a smaller label, but the major labels were the first to step up to the plate. James Diers at the Twin Cities Reader put the bug into a lot of A&R people who were calling about Minneapolis bands, asking what was the next big thing. We didn't even have to go to New York or anything. People were flying in from L.A. to see us.

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