Picked to Click XVI

This one goes to 11!

Suddenly remembering that I like microorganisms, I gesture toward MC Crow's glass. "May I have a hit of that?" While years of First Avenue Budweiser have deadened my palate, I can feel the microbe buzz settling into the back of my brain after one sip, and push the brew back to its rightful owner.

MacMillan, with blond hair and an air of casual restlessness, looks so goddamn rock, you'd never guess that he's moonlighted as a drum 'n' bass MC for the better part of the century. I first met him back in 2001, shortly after he started working with DJ Madkid, one of the Midwest's most prominent junglists before he moved to Hollywood a few years ago.

"Madkid's coming back for a visit," MacMillan says. "We're hoping to do a few shows together."

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1. The Alarmists

2. Black Blondie

3. The God Damn Doo Wop Band

4. Chooglin'

5. Maria Isa

6. White Light Riot

7. Gay Beast

8. (tie) Awesome Snakes

Birthday Suits

10. (tie) One for the Team

Vampire Hands

The guitarist isn't the only Alarmist with an electron-filled agenda. The band is also constructing a studio that will host an impressive array of synths, including the Korg MS 20 and MS2000 that provided A Detail of Soldiers with its panorama of subtle bleeps and squiggles. The band's debut EP also brims with more conventional keyboard parts, guitars (lots!), bass, drums, and vocals (more still). All this instrumentation goes to the service of songs that draw equally from American indie rock and a U.K. pop tradition that harks back to the British Invasion. (Guitarist and keyboardist Joe Kuefler, with his new navy Z-Vexx track jacket and dark pop-star locks, certainly looks the part.)

 

Local writers have already compared the Alarmists to a shitload of bands, but one consistent comparison makes me wonder if my colleagues have spent less time with English music over the past decade than Dick Cheney has with Noam Chomsky. More about that in a second.

Drummer Ryan Mach and bassist Tony Njam amble up to the table, beaming sheepishly. Their short hair, long sideburns, and Dutch porn-star moustaches make them look like guys trying to score coke from Lovold's cop character. "Sorry we're late," they say before grabbing chairs and ordering beers. "We took a little detour."

Emboldened by my own bottle of Hacker-Schorr, I pop the question: "What do you guys think of all the Oasis comparisons?" The quintet responds in raggedy unison: "Nyahh!"

"I don't think I've listened to an Oasis record in three years," says Lovald. (Being that all the band members are in their early 20s, three years seems like a long time.) "But I don't really care who anybody compares us to. Smashing Pumpkins are a huge influence for me. And for Ryan. And for Ryan. And for Tony. And for Joe." With each "and," he gestures as broadly as the crowded seating arrangement will allow. "I think every one of us can safely say that we just love them. But we'd never try to write like them or sound like them."

"I'll admit that I do like Oasis," says Mach, leaning forward. "But there is no Oasis influence whatsoever in what we do."

"Obviously, the Beatles are a great source of inspiration for us," Kuefler says gravely, "just as they were for Oasis. Something might be coming through in that sense."

MacMillan joins the fray: "Everybody hears 'New Romans'"—the Alarmists' semi-acoustic, sing-along pop hitlet —"and says, 'sounds like Oasis.' I don't think it sounds like Oasis in the least. I personally like that a few people have said that we sound like the Jam. I'm a big '70s punk fan, so that's pretty sweet."

 

MacMillan's musical interests were significantly different a decade or so ago, back when he, Lovold, and Kuefler were growing up in White Bear Lake.

"When Joe and I were 13 years old," says Lovald, "just out of eighth grade during the summer, we met Ryan, who was playing at a high school talent show. Joe and I went to this event. Ryan and the other guitarist both had wireless rigs. They came onstage from the back of the room, already playing."

"They were playing a Deftones song," Kuefler recalls, "and everybody was like, 'oh—that's Ryan MacMillan—ahhh.'"

Lovold continues, clearly relishing the moment: "After we left, we saw Ryan and our friend Justin, who plays in a metal band called After the Burial. We were like, 'Oh yeah! We gotta start a band.' These kids were amazing guitar players at 13. Joe and I had never played an instrument in our lives and here we are, down by the railroad tracks by my house on our bikes, talking about our band. Within a month, we both had these really shitty Mexican Strats. Years pass. We kinda learn to play. But we never did anything until we were 18."

Plunging every cent into gear, Lovold and Kuefler started writing songs and exploring their instruments in earnest. Like literally hundreds of kids in the metro before and after them, they interned at the Alternative Distribution Alliance with Go Johnny Go sage and local music scholar John Kass.

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