By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
In a spacious Merriam Park duplex, Private Dancer pour rounds of red wine. While bassist Jesse Kwakenat recounts a particularly painful defeat in his Tecmo Bowl career, vocalist and guitarist Alex Achen states the obvious. "This is the fun band," he declares.
Between anecdotes of day trips in frigid vans (look up Private Dancer on YouTube for a harrowing video chronicle of a daring winter expedition), of phantom injuries explained only in myth (Achen's middle and ring fingers are narcoleptic, often lapsing into a death grip when weather turns cold), and all the ensuing laughter, there's scarcely the room or the need for a straightforward interview. Like the melodious, exquisitely crafted pop compositions on their debut LP, Trouble Eyes, their boundless kinship speaks for itself.
"All five of us were friends ahead of time," says Kwakenat, "so it was real easy to fall into. It was real easy to play together, and easy to do all the stuff that can sometimes be stressful when you're a really active band."
"Our first practices, we would get there at 7, stay till 2 in the morning," adds guitarist Nate Nelson, flashing a coy grin. "We wouldn't play too terribly much."
"I don't know if much has changed," says guitarist Cory Carlson.
Achen is quick with a rebuttal. "There's less music now."
Drummer Ben Ivascu smiles. "We have a lot of fun at practice."
Schooled in more complex, esoteric acts like STNNNG, Hockey Night, and Signal to Trust, this conspiracy of musicians has turned Private Dancer into a personal Wildlife Refuge, a padded room in which they can exercise their most appealing appetites. Drawing influence from crates of original pressings by Os Mutantes and the Mummies, Private Dancer have fashioned a straightforward, breezy campaign of pop exaltation.
"Every dude in this band has played in much more complicated bands," says Kwakenat. "And this is a lot more straight-ahead. It's super easy to have fun the way that we play right now."
Like a Zen mantra, fun echoes in every bass line, in each of Achen's perspiring dance moves. It is the manifesto that unites them to one another, and to the crowds that power-pack the floors of so many Turf Club Saturdays. And though their approach is a purposeful meander, onstage and on record the band's sense of carefree exploration galvanizes into something far greater than mere whimsy, and the catharsis of their easy collaboration is the God particle that gives the band such appealing meaning.
"As a band," says Kwakenat, "you have to be engaged with what's going on. How many bands do you see that are always playing, looking down, dialed out, having nothing to do with the show? It has a lot to do with how the band relates to each other. Like the Brokedowns, there's bands that you see, and they look at each other, and you can tell that it's really happening for them. That brings you in."
Carlson nods pensively. "Smiles are contagious," he says.
"Yeah," says Achen. "Smiles are the best trick in the book."