Not Yet Men, Already Rock Stars

Melodious Owl reinvent music, study for SATs

Meadowbrook Elementary School doesn't seem real after midnight. After the sun goes down, all voices and footsteps get vacuumed out through the front door, fluorescent lights dim, and entire concrete structures seem to vanish into the same limbo where the past collapses into the present. The next morning, chalkboards and desks reappear right where teachers left them, but for a few brief in-between hours, anything can happen. Out on the playground, the neighborhood kids can fly.

"Aaahhhhhhh!" John Kuder exclaims, his sneakers hovering a foot above the ground. The bespectacled 16-year-old saxophonist zooms over a dozen squares of foam-cushioned concrete until, abruptly, his momentum short-circuits just a few inches shy of the place he wanted to land. Suddenly, he's stuck in midair. His friends, 17-year-old singer Wes Statler and 16-year-old guitarist Joe Berns, double over in hysterics.

Do ties go with that shake? (L-R) John Kuder, Wes Statler, and Joe Berns of Melodious Owl
Daniel Corrigan
Do ties go with that shake? (L-R) John Kuder, Wes Statler, and Joe Berns of Melodious Owl

"John is hardcore," Statler shouts as Kuder drops down from the zip line where he was hanging. "HARDCORE! That's written in all caps, with a big X and flames coming out of the word." Before Kuder can reply, Berns and Statler are off, racing like superheroes into the dark. But through some time-travel wormhole, Kuder's already five steps ahead, waiting there for them when they reach the slide.

This is the way things happen with the members of Melodious Owl. Talk is fast, movements are faster, and time passes way too quickly. All 14 minutes of the local band's self-titled debut EP speed by in a flurry of drum machine palpitations, anxious saxophone bleats, and spontaneous guitar squawkings. As Statler gasps through the last bah bah bahs of their single "The Church," he's almost hyperventilating; meanwhile Kuder and Berns rush so fervently through the last days of disco that you can almost hear all other Casio-toned bands' 15 minutes of fame ticking down. One day, people may say that the next wave of local synth-pop started at Hopkins High School. For Statler, that time can't come soon enough.

Climbing the ladder to the slide, he takes a deep breath: "Every Friday at Hopkins you can sign up and play music and you have to go on at 7:00 a.m. and be done by 7:42 or something, before anyone really gets there, and the people who are there are pretty easily frustrated, and one day I talked to everyone I knew who played an instrument and I said, 'Come tomorrow and we'll pick a chord, and we'll just go,' and so the next day came and we had two drummers and seven guitar players and two bassists and we were like '1, 2, 3, 4!' and then it was like... grrrrrrrARGHHHHHpffffftttttZOWWWWW..."

"I slept in and I missed it," says Berns.

"...and the first time we played as Melodious Owl, we did 'The Super Bowl Shuffle' by the Chicago Bears and people were shouting at us and those people who weren't shouting were saying, 'Play some Dave Matthews songs!' and it was pathetic...I mean, it was awesome!"

"I don't know if awesome is the right word," says Kuder.

Such verbal explosions punctuate most of Melodious Owl's anecdotes; it's as if they jam the last half of their sentences into an electrical socket and watch the words blow up in a mass of onomatopoeic outbursts and animated hand gestures. Listening to their supercharged conversations, you can hear their music--the way instruments tumble over one another, making you get so charged up you could run all the way from here to New York City and still have the energy left to dance all night at the club. It's their wide-eyed, open-eared passion that makes me want to grab every last music fan in Minneapolis and tell him that John Kuder is an inventor who once created a device that opens and closes his bedroom door, and Joe Berns knows everything there is to know about sci-fi and Stargate SG-1, and Wes Statler's dad Chuck directed Devo videos and is that rare parental escort whom a high schooler is proud to be seen with at concerts, but before I can divulge all of this to the rock intelligentsia, the moon is out and our time is up.

So that's why I'm telling you now: Go see Melodious Owl before colleges like Sarah Lawrence and Columbia rob us of our best new local band. Listen to Wes Statler wail in an urgent, Rapturous tenor about churches that burn down and bad kids who light up. Watch as John Kuder drains his hot-air-balloon lungs into a saxophone and Joe Berns scrapes his guitar strings like he's scratching off winning lottery tickets. Do this right this second. Because by the time you finish this article, these teenagers will be 64-year-old rock stars reminiscing about how young they looked in 2014 when they were on the cover of the critically acclaimed music magazine Gothic Synth-Pop Bands You Should See Before They Get Famous. And you'll be able to say they were awesome when you saw them way back in 2004. Yes, that's the right word: awesome. Write that with a big X and flames coming out of the word.

 
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