By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"We have a great mentor in John," says Kuefler. "Every time we've hit some kind of barrier, he's helped us find our way around it."
"He's never steered us wrong," adds Lovald. "Ed Ackerson has been great for us too. When we recorded with him at Flowers [Studio], he told us: "Here's what you need to do: You need to buy a G4. You need to buy Digital Performer. Then you need to set up camp and learn how to record."
Seduced by the Cars covers that wafted into his band's practice space from across the hall, Mach became an Alarmist a couple of years ago. The band snagged Njam, who grew up in Lebanon and holds a degree in mechanical engineering from the U of M, after seeing him play at a party. Like his bandmates, the nominal bassist is a capable multi-instrumentalist. But he took a very different route to Alarmism.
"In Lebanon, they'd ban metal and hard rock, so you'd have to go to a special shop and get pirated tapes. The first tape I ever got was a Best of Nirvana tape that the guy had just made. I still have it. I know it sounds clichéd, but, when I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit," I was like, 'This is my music.' I probably listened to it 20 times that day. I couldn't get my parents to buy me an acoustic guitar, so I saved my money and got one myself."
As if sensing that we're talking about a cash-for-goods transaction, our waiter produces a check. Lovold fishes his wallet out and says, "I got it, fellas."
"We've written 16 songs since Tony joined," says Kuefler. "We're thinking we'll put the next record out, then start thinking about touring. We don't have a time limit. We don't have any deadlines. We'll take six months if we have to. All we want to do is make it great."
Samahra Linton just got fired. "I was waitressing and I missed a Sunday morning staff meeting," protests the singer. "It wasn't even written on the schedule!" Linton's wide crimson mouth moves rapidly as she spins her misfortune into entertainment for her bandmates, while simultaneously teaching a nearby toddler how to use a toy plastic banana as a phone. The four other members of the genre-fusing group Black Blondie look on from seats on couches and the clean expanses of carpet in a toddler-proofed south Minneapolis living room. Visually, Black Blondie are a Benetton rainbow of multiculti allure; sonically, they're a mélange of trance-inducing rhythm and blues. For a new band, their sound is full and layered; it takes over a room like a dense, sweet cloud of pipe tobacco. Although the group has only performed together for six months, their unusual blend of jazz, hip hop, and R&B has made them so popular that only a few votes separated them from this year's Picked to Click winners.
Curly-haired, olive-skinned Linton is the room's noisy epicenter of jokes, dimples, and attitude. Her perfect counterpoint in temperament is her counterpart in Black Blondie's vocals section—stately Sarah White, the toddler's mother, who has a complexion like caramelized sugar; a smooth, high forehead; and a serious demeanor. Linton and White, who have known each other since their days at Minneapolis's Anthony Middle School a decade ago, started singing together last winter. White had been performing with underground hip-hop act Traditional Methods. Linton, an occasional vocalist with the burlesque variety show Le Cirque Rouge, was "1-800-HipHopHooks," pitching in with local groups including Unknown Prophets and Kanser Troop.
After the women began writing songs, they recruited the rest of the band. Double bassist Liz Draper has a scrappy, childlike build, wide-set prairie-girl eyes, and a formidable head of ash blond dreadlocks. She looks like an unlikely cross between Holly Hobbie and Erykah Badu. The daughter of a professional jazz drummer, she grew up in rural Fairmont, a piss-stop off Interstate 90. "I was considered kind of weird," she says with a shy toughness. "I actually got spit on." ("By who?" interrupts an indignant Linton, threatening, "I'll get my brass knuckles!")
Like Draper, keyboardist Tasha Baron is also a jazz lover with years of formal training. Her experience playing with Atmosphere and Heiruspecs made her a natural fit for the new band. The only real blondie of the group, Baron is an intellectual multi-instrumentalist with a commander-in-chief's sense of organization and purpose. Drummer Kahlil Brewington, a mellow, self-assured graphic designer, is the proud owner of the sole Y chromosome of the group. He was a Craigslist find, a perfect first date who clicked with the band after several other don't-call-us experiences. One gets the impression that being surrounded by women isn't exactly unfamiliar territory for Brewington.
"I was out of town when they first found Khalil, and they were all, 'Wait till you see our new drummer. I was like, 'Guys, how does he sound?'" giggles Linton.