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It's hard to know how much importance to place on a motto. My own is, "It's Cool—They're Laughing With You." The sentiment has served me well, but it's tailored specifically for me; mottos that claim to embody the spirit of multitudes have a tougher job. Just getting your message out there can be hard, as I learned while talking to the four members of Company, Inc.
"Our motto is 'Compatriots Embodied, Compadres or Corpses, Companions Corporeal,'" explains Ollie Dodge, the long-limbed sample-slinger of the band. He's sitting next to me in the appealingly thrift-shop-worn environs of Cahoots Coffee Bar in St. Paul.
Drummer Dave Steindl, normally a bit of a wiseacre, protests. "This is the first I've heard of a motto," he says.
"It's on the board at the practice space," asserts cello-playing singer Emily Dantuma, who does not seem like the sort of woman to sneak a banner over the head of an unsuspecting drummer. (However, she and Dodge married three weeks ago; her husband might well have put her up to it.)
Guitarist Kenny Guenther says nothing to resolve this dispute; he's behind a counter a few feet away, acting in his capacity as an employee of Cahoots.
The band's current motto has the benefit of alliteration and a sense of grandeur. But if I were to suggest a replacement, I would turn to their debut album, Limited Liability, and point to the song title "What Part of No Problem Don't You Understand?" This sweet twist on a confrontational piece of slang neatly sums up the band's esprit. They are "no problem" people in a "no" culture. Open to the experimental and embracing the accidental, they allow ideas to work themselves out over the course of the album's 14 songs.
Some of the things they say "yes" to: guitars that ring like chimes being struck, quickly dampened, and struck again. Also: songs that change time signature with an abruptness appropriate to a secret agent trying to shake a tail during rush-hour traffic. And they don't exactly rule out dissonance, distortion, or waltz-tempo intros fit for the stage-right entrance of a gypsy caravan, either.
The lyrics are meandering, dreamy, and not always discernible. Their main purpose could be to give Dantuma's Corin-Tucker-like nosebleed soprano a chance to howl. Her voice cuts through the lush low end of the band like a klieg through fog. Besides picking out effects on piano, she adds warmth to the helter-skelter arrangements via cello.
The Companions Corporeal fill out their sound through the use of sampled material, although that practice has been curtailed of late.
"There were a lot of samples I was using live, like stuff from movies," Dodge explains before halting abruptly, his verbal path blocked by the boulder of a Wifely Look.
"Looks like I shouldn't be talking about it," he observes. And, indeed, no one in attendance would dispute that it did look as though he should not be talking about it.
The source of the Look explains her position: "If you put it on there," she says of the samples, "and somebody found it, you'd have to recall all the CDs—that's what they make you do."
So the songs have been trimmed of some of their borrowed finery. They're still packed with odds and ends, unusual inventions and surprising effects, good melodies that sometimes deteriorate frustratingly, and a couple of poor melodies that go on too long.
And when a few of his bandmates muse that, musically, there's nothing new under the sun, Dodge issues his own personal rallying cry: "I refuse to believe it's all been done in music, any more than everything is known in physics, or that you can have your finger on what exactly god is."
That's a little too long to fit on a banner, but otherwise, it'll do quite nicely.
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