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Despite the excitement of releasing their debut album, the members of STNNNG are having a hard time focusing on themselves for the duration of an interview. Sitting in Chris Besinger's Uptown Minneapolis apartment, they're all periodically distracted by the vocalist's nervous but affectionate Chihuahua. Guitarist Nathan Nelson even points out that Henry the skittish pup could pose as a better mascot for Dignified Sissy than the poor guy trapped in the jaws of a polar bear on the album's cover. "You're not really a sissy just because you can't take a polar bear," observes guitarist Adam Burt.
Man-to-bear combat aside, the noise punkers released the album two years to the day after their first live performance. "We played five songs in twelve minutes," drummer J. Michael Ward says of that first gig at Big V's. Since then, they've slightly augmented their set times and personnel, having acquired Jesse Kwakenat, a bassist brimming with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
"There are certain people in town who are like free agents," says Besinger. "We weren't even looking for a bass player, but Jesse became free so we thought we'd have dibs on him for a while."
Flyer watchers take note: The band also recently made the official change from the Stunning to the Google-search-friendly STNNNG so as not to be confused with an early-'90s Irish rock band. A few abrasive licks from Dignified Sissy quickly clears up that mistake. STNNNG sound like a Lifter Puller bender where the sex is replaced with a street fight, and the weapons of choice are the dark, jagged edges of Shellac, a band that's plastered across Besinger's living room courtesy of a half-dozen gig posters.
Over a tangle of stinging guitar lines, Besinger launches caustic rants detailing his disgust with the state of the nation, glass-strewn urban landscapes, and the general stupidity of people. His delivery ranges from stubborn soapboxing to paranoid shrieks. While sneering contempt is a vehicle so familiar in punk that it sometimes loses its edge, Besinger adds a touch of reflection, pausing long enough to mutter, "I'm gonna do something about it."
"Because of how the music is written with lots of short parts, fast tempos, and almost nothing repeated in any conventional way, the lyrics take on a fragmented, cut-up style," says Besinger. "I'm trying to fit as much as I can in the song without cluttering it up."
STNNNG complement their sonic tirades by doling out frenzied live shows during which band members frequently end up bloodied and audience members walk away unnerved.
"I remember reading a review of the Screamers, who were an L.A. punk band in the late '70s, and their singer had really prolonged eye contact with audience members," says Besinger. "I started doing it onstage and it's hard to do but it's really awesome. It makes people feel really uncomfortable."
"I can't look at anybody in the crowd," says Burt, before resuming his hushed coos to the Chihuahua. The lanky guitarist is the band's quietest member, a cautious observer to the chaos going on around him, both onstage and in rehearsal.
"Not that long ago, Nate dove off his amplifier during practice for no reason," says Besinger. "All of a sudden I turn around and he's climbing on top of his amp--and his amp is really tall, almost like a bass cabinet--and he dives off."
"I was thinking Should I jump? and then, well, Adam thought so," says Nelson.
"I remember right before you did that, I gave you that knowing glance," says Burt.
If he holds that kind of power over his bandmates, maybe we should be worried about the way he's whispering to the dog.