By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
It's not every year that the winner of our Picked to Click poll blows the rest of the competition out of the water, but every so often a band comes along that manages to win over the hearts of the entire music scene. This year, tallying the 109 ballots was downright fun (well, maybe not hammering-four-whiskey-Cokes-and-dancing-at-the-Hex fun, but as far as tabulating votes in a spreadsheet goes, it was a riot), as first-place winners Red Pens scored nearly twice as many points as the second-place contenders.
For the uninitiated, here's how the poll works: We asked every club booker, sound engineer, blogger, DJ, photographer, record-store clerk, music critic, or otherwise devoted slave to the scene to submit a list of top five favorite new local bands. Those who replied were counted, those who ignored us got deleted from our iPhones (kidding!). How they defined "new" was left up to them, but we asked that they give preference to bands that had broken onto the scene in one way or another during the previous 12 months. Each voter's No. 1 pick received five points, the No. 2 pick received four points, and so on. If a voter didn't rank his choices, each band was given three points.
The band with the most points was declared the winner, and the bands with the top 10 scores are featured in this issue. Ladies and gentlemen, our Picked to Click 2009 winners and the points they received in this year's poll:
photo: Nick Vlcek
How Red Pens stole the collective heart of our music scene
It's not always imperative to know about the personal lives of a band's members, but for anyone who has seen the Red Pens play live it's probably not a big surprise to hear that Howard W. Hamilton III and Laura F. Bennett are in love. Which isn't to say that their music is the stuff of dopey balladeers—far from it, actually, as their fuzzy, poppy punk and shoegaze-infused songs are more likely to hit you over the head than to tug at your heartstrings—but their attentiveness to one another while they are playing and the natural call-and-response of their music suggest a connection that runs deeper than one would expect from a pair of platonic bandmates.
Seated at an old diner booth in their vibrantly painted basement apartment, Hamilton and Bennett are recounting the history of their relationship. "Ever since I found you," Bennett says to Hamilton, "and made these songs and the band, I knew. It was like, I'm going to love this no matter what happens."
"We met because of our art," Hamilton says (Bennett is a painter, while Hamilton draws and creates conceptual sculptures). "I saw [her art], and I was just like, 'Oh my god. I've got to meet this person.'"
"I got a MySpace from Howard!" Bennett adds, giggling. "Back when MySpace still wasn't made fun of that much."
"I was like, we should collaborate," Hamilton says. "And then we decided what we'd do is just get together and work on art at the same time."
"You would be sitting across from me, you'd be drawing, I'd be drawing. I had a secret motive," Bennett says. "Part of me was just like, I'm going to hang out with him, and eventually I'm going to be like, 'Do you want to be in a band?' Seriously. It was like collaborate, shmollaborate—I want to play music with you."
"I've been in a million bands," Hamilton says, "and one of the main reasons why I didn't want to do it anymore was, a lot of times, because of the drummer. They were always late, they had all this gear, it was always just a big hassle. And when I started playing with her, I could feel that we were speeding up and slowing down at the same time, and there was this connection—instantly—while we were playing. I was like, 'Okay, I guess maybe I'm going to start playing again.'"
The duo started practicing together and taking any and every gig they could. Even when the audiences were small, the two remained positive and fed off each other's energy.
"We played for a year before anyone saw us," Hamilton says. "We would play the worst shows. We'd have high hopes for them even though we knew they were bad, like maybe somebody will see us tonight..."
"We literally played for each other," Bennett says. "We would have so much fun, and then we'd go back and eat a pizza."
Eventually, though, people started catching on, and mostly by word of mouth Red Pens became one of the most talked-about new bands in town. Their intense live shows, their glowing enthusiasm for their music, and their larger-than-life sound are contagious. Bennett flails her arms as she drums, her mouth hanging partially open in steadfast concentration, while Hamilton plays the role of shy yet focused frontman, his glasses sometimes flying off mid-solo as he leans down over his guitar. Their sound is vast and harmonious, at least doubling the magnitude one would expect from two instruments, and Hamilton's songwriting contrasts tight and catchy pop melodies with a muddy wash of filth, feedback, and fuzz.
Hamilton and Bennett say they are pleasantly surprised and grateful for the success they have had so far, though Hamilton jokes that he can't imagine how they got enough votes to win our Picked to Click poll. "Who are these people?" he laughs. "It must be every single person at every one of our shows, added up."CLICK:
photo: Emily Utne
Zoo Animal put a serious spin on minimalist rock 'n' roll
by Andrea Swensson
A quick scan of this year's Picked to Click winners will reveal that, even though we call this our "best new band" issue, many of the groups aren't necessarily new. Sure, these particular formations of musicians playing under these particular band names have only recently emerged on the scene. But as with so many Twin Cities bands that came before them, many of the members have been in one, two, or even ten previous groups.
Almost everyone, it seems, has a storied past, a list of previous bands that shape who they are today. Red Pens? Yep, that's Howard from the Busy Signals. Leisure Birds are the "new Thunder in the Valley." Whitesand/Badlands is Andy from the Vets, while the Double Bird claim members from at least six pre-existing groups.
In this respect, Zoo Animal stand apart as one of the honest-to-god, brand-spanking-new bands in our poll. Aside from the occasional church music group and a bit of solo songwriting, this is the very first band for Holly Newsom, Tim Abramson, and Thom Burton.
"We're not coming from another successful band," says Newsom, who maintains a deadpan seriousness when she speaks. "We don't play in any other bands. It's almost weird, because I feel like a lot of other musicians are in more than one band, or have been in bands. There's a lot of recycling."
"We won't be this new next time around," Burton quips. "Yeah," Abramson adds, "when we're all in different bands."
For being so green (they formed in early 2008), these young musicians have already accomplished impressive feats. Zoo Animal's debut album, Young Blood, and their intense, moody live shows have earned them a reputation as one of the most promising acts in town. With an emphasis on minimalism and Newsom's elastic, whippoorwill voice, their music is immediately recognizable and distinct, though they often draw comparisons to modern-day acts as far-reaching as the Heartless Bastards, Cat Power, and the Pixies.
But what really sets them apart is the pensive, almost somber attitude with which they approach their music. In concert, Newsom rocks back and forth with her eyes pinched shut, her mouth contorting as words fall out one by one and her bandmates respond with measured bass beats and cymbal crashes. One gets a profound sense that their music is coming from another place altogether.
"When I play a show, I am on the verge of something," she says. "It's so intense. There's something that's inside of me that's pushing to get out, and coming out of my throat and coming out of my hands."
Every element of their live show is carefully considered, right down to the clothes they wear. Newsom's dress code prohibits patterns and logos and requires dark colors that reflect the band's dusky, brooding sound. "I'm not very into party music," she says, "like, 'Let's play rock 'n' roll really loud and get wasted!' That's boring to me, and a waste of my time.
"I decided I wouldn't drink or smoke before we play. If I feel anything or I'm drunk, I want it to be on the music. Focused. I want to go in there like I'm taking a test. We get a lot of comments that we're intense, and I am really intense when I play, because what I'm singing about is from really deep inside me—I can't just throw it away.
"Music's not a hobby to me," she says. "It's art."
photo: Chelsey Roseter
Separating fact from fiction proves impossible with Moonstone
by David Hansen
Moonstone aren't getting much help from NASA. Not much at all. In order to monitor the crystallization process of the tristar, by which they schedule their record releases, they have to book their own time at local observatories, like common schnooks.
But if it bothers Reverend Micah Mackert, Moonstone's spiritual leader and Lunarian mouthpiece, he doesn't show it. He sits perched at the head of the table with a yogi's nonchalance. Around him, the band members sit stalwart, silent, and straight-faced. They don't speak. They don't react. They just are.
Confused? Let's back up—Reverend Mackert says a lot of things. He says Moonstone is an orthodox Lunarian parish. He says they "serve the moon." He says they write songs by divine seizure. He says that the Lunarian parable cycles, on which Moonstone base all their music, represent the oldest extant human writings. He says they all met in 2001 at a Lunarian conference and that, after bathing, prayer ceremonies, and the application of sacred balms, they became spiritually united in an evangelical mission.
But what does it mean?
"The Moonstone continuum is a religion that's been significantly neglected in the last 2,000 years," he says. "It's invasive in personal and bodily ways. The moral lessons of the Moonstone continuum are extraordinarily complex. It's a shifting and changing, living message."
It'd be a phenomenally amusing joke. Only, around the table, no one stifles laughter. No one cracks a smile, and slowly, it dawns on you: They're serious.
Or are they? The members of Moonstone are clearly obsessed with their mythical presence, and it's best not to waste brainpower trying to crack their code. Joking or serious, Moonstone have amassed a body of songs so quickly, and of such high quality, that divine influence shouldn't be ruled out. Their songs reboot the best in '70s prog rock—through lengthy compositions, furious tandem guitar solos pitch Jon Nielsen and Seth Rosetter into headlong shredding. Protracted synth asides, courtesy of Zibra Zibra's Arron Baum, sprawl into a musical netherworld, oozing digital epiphany. And it's all anchored by a rhythm section, with Annika Johnson on drums and Sean Hartman on bass, that keeps the otherwise ethereal musings rooted on solid Earth. Mingling complexity with catchiness is a task that has stymied songwriters in bands twice Moonstone's age and experience, but Moonstone bring it all off with jaw dropping ease.
It's a lot to bite off. And when you add into the picture Reverend Mackert, who administers unfathomable sermons and brandishes smoldering sticks of incense during live performances, it can be difficult to tell the jokes from the truth. But Moonstone prefer that dizzying tightrope walk, and if their musings about moon service and mystical phenomena like the Advent Crossroads are fiction, it's a gag so well realized, so deeply constructed, it becomes indistinguishable from reality.
Let's face it—real life is boring and cruel. But myth is perfect, unassailable, and grand. And anyone who distracts himself with petty suspicions about Moonstone's spiritual agency is missing the point. As Moonstone prove, there are much, much more important things in life than the cold, hard truth.
David Hansen is a staff writer for City Pages and a Gimme Noise contributor.
photo: Nick Vlcek
Taking karaoke lessons and hammering drinks with The Guystorm
by Nikki Miller
It's a bustling karaoke night at Grumpy's when I meet Ryan Norton and Chris DuCharme, guitarists for the Guystorm. We're still waiting on singer Angelo Pennacchio and bassist Tanner Lien. Yes, these are band dudes. You know them. You are them, you've dated them, you've spurned them in favor of doctors and lawyers if you have any sense in that brain of yours.
While waiting, we chat about the band's recent change of drummers. In spite of this little bump in the road for Guystorm, they appear to be in their usual good spirits.
No worries, so DuCharme, Norton, and I slam more drinks. After all, DuCharme has had a successful shift at his day job, so he's buying. I put in to sing a Joe Tex song, and, after a smattering of applause, request Dolly Parton. Grumpy's is a sacred place for the Guystorm. "When we first started hanging out," Norton explains, "Angelo, Tanner, and I would come to sing karaoke. It kind of gave us the confidence to get up and sing. We'd learn to know a song and not be timid with it, so once we started writing our own songs, we'd learned how to emote."
"My first song was 'Lola,'" DuCharme recalls. "I remember singing it shit-ass drunk down on my knees to a super-square Twins fan. 'I'm not the world's most physical guy...and he nearly killed me.'"
DuCharme interrupts, "Doesn't he sing Neil Diamond?"
"No, you're confusing with the Guess Who."
DuCharme pulls out his phone, looking for an absent Lien to help with dispute resolution as Norton gives advice on being a karaoke aficionado in search of a legitimate band. "It's kind of luck finding people you can play and gel with. When things fall into place, they fall into place. I remember sitting in the practice space, and Tanner and Angelo had recorded some demos. We played through a whole song and I was like, holy shit."
DuCharme interrupts, setting down his phone. "'Rock Me Gently.' That was Tanner's song."
"We hit it," Norton continues. "We played a whole song. Now that whole period is nostalgic for me. I remember being mystified knowing we did it. Now that we know we can accomplish certain things, we can set the bar higher."
Discussion devolves from setting a new bar to sitting on a higher bar stool, and we decide it's time to order still more drinks before we discuss the rare occurrence of receiving audience requests at karaoke. DuCharme laughs, "Yeah, 'Stop singing.'"
"I've been asked to sing solo. So low they can't hear me," Norton laughs. "Tenor. Ten or twelve miles away. Grandpa jokes."
Around midnight, Pennacchio and Lien arrive. Lien bellies up to the bar while the rest of us huddle around the songbook. Pennacchio considers trying something new before opting for ELO. He signs up. Shots all around, then Chris attacks Creedence's "Midnight Special," Angelo croons "Sweet Talkin' Woman," and Ryan tackles "Symphony for the Devil." Norton leaves me with some parting wisdom on karaoke no-nos. "I think of it as—and I've done this—like putting in a ten-minute song with a nine-minute guitar solo."
DuCharme shuns such etiquette. "It's karaoke. It's free expression. It's like trying to take a shit with rules. 'Oh, I can't! No! Uh, no! Uh...there it goes!'"
Nikki Miller is a freelance writer and Gimme Noise columnist. Her weekly post, "Are You Ready for the Country," details her fascination with local and national country music.
photo: Sean McKenna
Leisure Birds find joy in their simplicity
by David Hansen
A brief catalog of the lies bandied about by Leisure Birds in the deserted Clown Lounge, where they sit before heading topside to open a weekend Turf Club show, include but are not limited to the following: Drummer Alex Achen has a tail. Their next album is to be titled Megaman II. Guitarist Nick Ryan, sounding something like UHF's tyrannical R.J. Fletcher, declares that the citizens of the Twin Cities are a bunch of boobs and halfwits. As they shotgun amusing half-truths, you can all but hear their tongues clawing through their cheeks.
So when Jake Luck identifies himself as the band tambourinist, and states that he hates writing on piano, the instrument for which he is best known, it's hard to know what to make of it.
"You write on the piano," he says, "and automatically you sound like Elton John. In Leisure Birds, I try to use it sparingly."
Where does fiction end and fact begin? In May 2008, when Leisure Birds played their first show. The four-piece had risen from the ashes of Thunder in the Valley, a top-flight local outfit that made its name penning Americana pop miniatures sodden with grand tragedy before disbanding in 2007.
But Luck and Ryan's taste for cosmic calamity seems to have gone up in the fire—Leisure Birds seem to have few worldly cares; they're a fundamentally fun band whose optimistic attitude is tempered with the ballast of their virtuosic talent. Their songs are so easy on the ears, you might never consciously acknowledge Ryan's strident, reverberant soloing, or Achen's surgically precise drum work. Their musical complexity sneaks through your brain in ninja boots and ski masks while your waking senses are distracted by the dance rhythms careening through your ears in washes of psychedelic reverb. Hearing Leisure Birds is the best kind of fun—the kind that tricks your brain into some heavy lifting so slyly, you'd never notice it happening.
The difference between Thunder in the Valley and Leisure Birds is one of chemistry and youth. Ryan, Luck, and Achen are veterans of band life. They know that, after enough success and ovation, a band has a habit of becoming sentient and vengeful, of turning its members into indentured servants. It happened, so Luck says, in Thunder in the Valley. Ditto in Hockey Night, one of Achen's previous Pyrrhic victories.
But as they laugh together and weave a web of fictions, they have the sly vitality of honeymooners floating through a lost weekend of beer and rock 'n' roll. It inflects everything from their music to their stage presence. Thunder in the Valley, by way of example, rarely smiled onstage. Leisure Birds are ear-to-ear from first note to last, exuding a wry joi de vivre that infects every audience they play before. In that haze of good times, only the simplest themes persevere.
"It's the joy of being in a new band," says bassist Cory Carlson. "Every band starts out simple, and it becomes much more complicated as you go."
Luck nods. "You get to a point where you realize the less complicated the music, the better," he says. "It's the easier way, and it's a healthier way."
photo: Nick Vlcek
Rock 'n' roll algebra with nu-psych rockers Dante and the Lobster
by Steve Marsh
It's often said that a new band is a product of their influences. But being "Picked to Click" is a result of some higher calculus—young bands are put through a sort of critical algorithm, where a jury of local people with good taste choose which bands have the best chance at becoming popular with local indie-rock fans in the future.
Anyway, I'm no visionary. Who's to say who will outgrow their influences, or more importantly, who will be able to pick better ones, staying just on or ahead of indie-rock trends? I sucked at calculus, but algebra was always kind of neat. 3x +1 = 10, so x = 3. So clean! So satisfying! Problem solved. In this way, at least, Dante and the Lobster are pretty easy to figure out.
This is the most common format of rock algebra: "They sound like Syd Barrett-era Floyd + Forever Changes by Love x the PA system at the Hexagon Bar." This kind of equation comes off very clichéd, except with Dante and the Lobster, it's not really—their influences are that specific. All four of them just happen to have been profoundly influenced by their dads' psychedelic rock records, mostly by English bands, but also by some English-sounding bands, from the early psychedelic era, circa the spring of 1966 to the end of 1968.
Dante and the Lobster are led by their tallest member, the 6-foot-1-inch, 28-year-old Cole Claerhout. With attenuated limbs, shaggy dark hair, and an English lead guitar player's nose, his looks might be influenced by Richard Ashcroft's. But I don't mention this, because he already seems defensive about all the influence stuff. "Stylistically, [psychedelic rock] is what comes easiest to me," he says. "I'm going for the universal—I'm not specifically choosing it because it's cool or something."
Claerhout says the most appealing thing to him about psychedelic rock is its total lack of ego. There's nothing more humbling than taking a tab of acid and freaking out about your electric bill for five hours, so he might be onto something here. But then he describes his last trip as "mild and meditative." He cleaned up his house, turned the lights down, and at one point took a half hour to walk across his living room. "I found it almost identical to the clarity I get from TM," he says.
I'm having my own moment of clarity. Are any of the popular indie-rock bands of today influenced by any decade other than the 1960s? When's the last time you heard somebody who sounded like Led Zeppelin IV + Ronnie Wood-era Stones? Or Meat Is Murder x Dead Kennedys? I guess nobody wants to risk sounding like Pearl Jam ever again. Certainly not Claerhout—he harmonizes with his own voice on Dante's new EP, Wonders, and then buries those voices underneath an anxiety attack of guitars. And you can't really decipher every lyric, but most of his songs seem like pretty heavy bummers about girls.
He says it's inevitable that this melancholy emerges in his music (we don't get into which girls influence that). "Besides, are you going to listen to party music all by yourself?" he reasons. "You can't cry to Guystorm."
Steve Marsh is a freelance writer.
photo: Amanda Johnson
Making mixtapes with Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps
Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps got their band name from the usual place.
"A Wendy's drive-thru," says Smith. "Really. I was ordering a spicy chicken sandwich."
This was when she and her bandmates (bassist Jesse Schuster and drummer Arlen Peiffer) were recording their debut album, Backyard Tent Set, over the course of five long days. "We really didn't know what we wanted these songs to sound like," she explains. "We had played them live a bunch, but we weren't satisfied with what we were doing, so we had to tear them apart and put them back together. A good night's sleep was what we hadn't had."
"Caroline just said, 'I didn't get a good night's sleep last night,'" says Schuster. "And I said, 'That's it,' and we were sitting in the car getting Wendy's."
The songs on Backyard Tent Set still bear the marks of being torn apart; they are, after all, mostly songs about heartbreak. The instrumentation is spare, gentle, and mostly acoustic. "You Promised Me" lets a ramshackle backing chorus carry the soft ba-ba's into the tune's chorus, and "Grizzly Bear" invites the world in through the hushed sounds of fingers on strings, passing cars, exhaled breaths, birdsongs outside the window, and bandmates shifting in their seats.
"We just had one mic up in the room," Schuster explains, "and I remember we did a couple takes and Chad [Weiss, producer/engineer] said, 'Imagine this is the last song you'll ever play.'"
To a song, the album is inviting but melancholy, intimate and wistful. Backyard Tent Set is a record on which every song could sit comfortably on a mixtape or a soundtrack, wooing your friends with their beguiling charm. So what are their mixtape staples?
"I can think of two right now," says Smith. "TLC's 'Diggin' on You' and then for some reason, the one that's been on recent ones is Velvet Underground's 'Here She Comes Now.' 'Diggin' on You' is just a big song for me. And Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat is just a really great album. I know that's really hipster to say."
Schuster names "The Four Corners" from Halloween, Alaska's debut album ("We were on tour and talking about what our favorite love songs are," he says by way of explanation) and Peiffer selects "Lizzy" or "Thirteen" by Ben Kweller and "A Dozen Roses," an obscure late-'90s gem by underrated Champaign-Urbana heroes Braid.
When the band members are asked about favorite soundtracks, a scuffle breaks out between Smith and Schuster over the soundtrack to Amelie before Schuster relents and picks The Life Aquatic. "Seu Jorge's renditions [of David Bowie songs] are sick. Wes Anderson always does a really good job with music. Like in The Royal Tenenbaums, when the daughter gets off the bus? And the Nico song ['These Days'] is playing? What a great display of that song!"
None of these bands really sound like theirs, but then again, by her own admission, Smith's music—and her bright, forthright voice—have come from a grab bag of dissimilar sources. "I think it's because finally all of the phases that I went through accumulated into this voice I have now," she says. "So there's Ben Gibbard, there's Ella Fitzgerald, there's Bob Dylan, there's TLC, all these weird phases that I went through that didn't really relate to each other. I feel like this is just what I sound like."
Steve McPherson is a musician, freelancer writer, and Gimme Noise contributor. He pens a weekly column, "Point of Departure," about the local jazz and experimental scene.
photo: Jay Givens
Andy Larson of Whitesand/Badlands shows no signs of slowing down
by Joe Nelson
When I first saw Andy Larson perform, I was 14 years old and he frightened me. Playing with his apocalyptic post-punk trio the Vets—probably one of the loudest bands in the history of Twin Cities rock—Larson had a vein-bulging intensity that I had never experienced from any live musician. A surface-level listen to his newest group, Whitesand/Badlands, might suggest that he's mellowed out. Catch a handful of the band's too-infrequent live shows, however, and you may find yourself rethinking the concept of musical intensity altogether.
After the dissolution of his two previous groups, the Vets and Cave Deaths, Larson was ready for something new. "It's no fun to repeat yourself," he told me on a recent Monday evening during a break from band practice. "You might as well at least try to do different stuff, push yourself in different directions." To that end, the initial lineup of Whitesand/Badlands—which reunited Larson with two previous collaborators, former Vets drummer Ryan Parsons and Cave Deaths multi-instrumentalist Holly Habstritt, along with Huge Rat Attacks bassist Casey Holmgren—explored more contemplative, understated, and melodic territory.
Songs were built from chord progressions and arpeggios on alternate-tuned electric guitars, textured by Habstritt's trumpet and Rhodes piano, anchored by Holmgren's steady low end, and overlaid with Larson's distinctively keening and often harmonized melodies. I could use a number of familiar terms—atmospheric, ominous, hazy—to describe the result, and a comparison with literal badlands might be apt, too. But this would fail to capture Whitesand/Badlands' greatest assets: their use of rhythm and mastery of momentum.
Playing standing up and without a bass drum, Parsons undercuts the relative placidity of the rest of the group with busy, propulsive lines, making the rhythm section a study in maximalist/minimalist contrast. The songs, never surging past mid-tempo, are at once restrained and rushing, with simultaneous tension and release. This is a different kind of intensity, one that comes not just from aggression and volume, but from meticulous and engrossing composition. It's a testament to the impression these songs leave on a live audience that Whitesand/Badlands made it into this issue with no Myspace page, no record out, after a months-long hiatus, and without playing live very often; I myself have only seen them three times over the past 16 months, and I was seeing them every chance I got.
When Habstritt and Parsons left the Twin Cities in mid-2009, Larson and Holmgren had no interest in dissolving the group altogether. "One thing I wanted to do with this band was not have it beholden to certain people," Larson said. "That way it wouldn't have to crack and disassemble itself because of different membership. Instead you get to find different intricacies in the songs." The new and expanded Whitesand/Badlands lineup is a worthy successor to the original, with Katie Grillaert on full-time second guitar and vocals, Steve Earnest on Rhodes and guitar, and another ex-Vets drummer, the always-impressive Adam Patterson, on full drum kit. The band will soon be playing out behind songs from their as-yet-unreleased debut LP, and have already begun writing new material.
The outlook from the reconstituted band is optimistic. "I want to do some stuff going forward where, despite the fact that we have five people, we can all shrink back and play minimally. More people doesn't necessarily have to mean louder," Larson said. "There's a lot of possibilities."
Joe Nelson is co-editor of local music zine TEVS. This Whitesand/Badlands interview was conducted with the help of fellow TEVS co-editor Ezra Silver.
photo: Nick Vlcek
Getting to the bottom of the band name of The Double Bird, esquires
by Erin Roof
The Double Bird's résumé reads like a list of what's hot in the Twin Cities music scene. The trio claims membership in France Has the Bomb, Private Dancer, Building Better Bombs, Total Fucking Blood, Falcon Crest, Superhopper, and even more groups—giving them the chance to pound and strum their way across the entire spectrum of rock 'n' roll. And even with busy concert schedules, and somehow finding the time to work their "real" jobs, Pete Biasi, Ben Ivascu, and David Storberg are now stomping their dirty punk-rock shoes all over our cities with their new venture.
I caught up with the Double Bird (also known as: the Double Bird, esquires) at the Hexagon recently to talk about schedules, shenanigans, and the next big thing.
City Pages: How many bands are you in?
David Storberg: I'm only in one other band.
Pete Biasi: I think I'm in officially three bands with Ben. And then I have a couple other bands I play in, not counting the Double Bird.
CP: Oh, is it the Double Bird?
Biasi: I prefer it that way, but it's not an official thing. It's dealer's choice. As long as it has "Double Bird" in there somewhere.
CP: Can I add anything on the end?
Biasi: You can put "esquires" at the end if you want.
CP: Why did you start the Double Bird, esquires?
Ben Ivascu: Because we were already in a band together. We were in a band called Signal to Trust, and one of the members moved away to go to school. And we still wanted to play in a band together.
Storberg: We had kind of talked about it. We were actually here [at the Hexagon]. Total Fucking Blood was playing and it was February or March of '08. Pete was like, "Let's practice tomorrow."
CP: With your schedules, why did you decide to make time for this?
Biasi: I really like these guys as buddies. It gives us a reason to hang out.
CP: What is it about your personalities that makes you get along so well?
Biasi: We find the same kinds of things funny. We could drive by the same pro-life billboard and look at it and go, "Haaaa. Look at that shit." Or say, "Wouldn't it be funny if that baby had a Hitler moustache?"
Storberg: When we were in Signal, we wanted to keep that brotherhood going. It's an awesome coincidence that aside from these guys being my closest friends, Pete and Ben are the best at what they do in this city without a doubt.
CP: Are you working toward an album?
Storberg: At first, probably more something like a single.
Biasi: You can put this in the article: If anyone wants to pay for us to put a record out, we will make one. I'll lower the cost. If a label could give us $600 for a weekend, we could go in and make an awesome record.
CP: Let's see if that helps. To wrap up, what are your favorite new local bands?
Biasi: Red Pens. Raw Space.
Ivascu: Slapping Purses
Biasi: Mother of Fire.
Biasi: Blackcloud Stallionheart. They're out of control.
Ivascu: Blackcloud Stallionheart—that's easily my favorite thing I have heard out of this town. He's going to happen. He's going to blow up in a big way.
Erin Roof is a freelance writer.
photo: Nick Vlcek
How Teenage Moods went from BFFs to bandmates
by David Hansen
Teenage Moods are friends. No, really. BFF material. Womb to tomb, cradle to crypt. They've worked the same crap jobs together. They've bounced from house to house as roommates together. They've spent their prime years poring over one another's zines, buying up each other's hand-stamped cassettes.
But it took them until 2008 to head to a soundproofed basement and become a band.
"We all respect each other's art," says guitarist Gordon Byrd. "We respect each other's music. We all have fun coming up with dumb ideas. The only thing missing was just picking up instruments."
Sitting on the porch of their three-story house in south Minneapolis—which is also home to members of Kitten Forever—Gordon Byrd, Taylor Motari, and Gillian Schroeder are as quietly convivial as adopted siblings, closely familiar with each other's tics and tropes. It's an intimacy so deep, they even inhabit one another's dreams. When drummer Motari calls Teenage Moods a dream band, he's not just being figurative.
"It is," he says. "I had a dream of being in a band with Gordon and Gillian." Schroeder, bassist, nods in assent. She and Byrd had the very same dream, she says, and starting Teenage Moods, which they did in 2008, felt preordained.
Their music is an example of pop rock's most sound, trusty craftsmanship. Their songs are expertly arranged affairs of four chords, elevated by lyrics that exhibit a shared sense of the truly endearing. Songs like "The Sugar Band" and "Flower Hunting" seem to drip clover honey over every beat; they are miniature odes to man's most cherished sentiments. The band's versatility is audible—with or without electricity, on the Big V's stage or in the basement of the Pocketknife, Teenage Moods find a way. Their music seems to stagger, drunk on its own good will, executed so expertly you might never guess that Schroeder, the Moods' bassist, had never played a note of music before joining the band.
It's the grand expression of their camaraderie, the living, audible proof of their faith in one another. It's their greatest risk, and it's paying huge dividends. After an active year, which has seen them release a handcrafted full-length CD and top numerous bills, Schroeder has become a scholar of her instrument. Motari, who once played bass in local mainstay Baby Guts, laughs sardonically.
"Now," he says, "she's writing our most difficult rock songs."
Schroeder is perched on a ratty recliner, her chin on her knees. Behind a long shroud of hair, she can almost hide completely. "I've always secretly wanted to get in on it," she says with a grin. "It's been intimidating. But it's also easier than I thought it would be. Gordon told me that, if I could learn two chords, I could write a song. You don't have to be the best right off the bat."