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A VOLUBLE AND borderline hyperactive interviewee, if one had to peg Joe Winterer's music based on his personality they could easily be forgiven for assuming he was a party-starting rave DJ or pogo-sticking pop-punk front man. They certainly wouldn't anticipate the pristine and chilled out indie rock of Fake Places, the combo Winterer launched alongside Garrett Neal after spending a decade as a bass-playing sideman in a series of local rock combos. The band's richly textured debut, This Vision is a Trick, is a densely woven space-rock tapestry, aiming for Soft-Bulletin-style grandeur and more often than not hitting the mark. And the Twin Cites music community has Craigslist to thank.
"I had had this idea of Fake Places in my head for awhile, and knew I wanted to do something spacey and saturated," explains Winterer, 28, of the band's online origins in early 2008. "I reached out to Garrett after seeing his Craigslist posting (Winterer was the sole respondent to Neal's post looking for TV on the Radio and Minus the Bear fans in the Twin Cities with a need to create). We instantly hit it off despite being perfect strangers. It was like Balki and Cousin Larry with a Pro Tools set up."
Neal, a 27-year-old Baltimore transplant temporarily living in the Twin Cities while working on a hip-hop project, was similarly smitten. "It felt really good right off the bat. Normally it takes awhile to build up the kind of personal relationship where you feel comfortable creating together, but we just hit the ground running."
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Within a week of meeting, the duo had holed up together in the attic of an old Victorian house near downtown Minneapolis, working all hours of the day and night tracking the basic elements of the record. Originally intending to stay in the Cities just a month, Neal stayed on for four more. Eventually, however, the real world came calling and Neal packed his bags for Baltimore.
Back in the digital dark ages, Neal's departure surely would have signaled Fake Places' demise, but the power of the web kept the project pushing forward, even as Winterer and Neal were separated by hundreds of miles. With neither looking to quit the group, they began a frenzied exchange of digital sound files and marathon telephone conversations.
"We were on the phone together all the time," recalls Neal, reflecting on the year they spent as a long-distance band. "Joe would call me and send me an mp3 of a new record he was loving, or just describe certain ideas, and I would play things for him live over the phone. We always had a shared vocabulary."
With Winterer using the time apart to hone his chops as a first-time lead singer, he eventually decided to go all-in on Fake Places with Neal by his side—an endeavor that meant lining up an apartment and two jobs for his bandmate in order to convince him to move back to the Cities.
All the massive phone bills and cross-country commutes for recording sessions ultimately paid off; This Vision is a Trick is a true gem, a polished, headphone-friendly affair that nevertheless features plenty of pulse-quickening pop moments. The gauzy synthesizers and sensual rhythms of tracks such as "English Channels" recall Air's European lounge-lizard charms, while the skittering-drum-samples-set-to-big-hearted-choruses equation of "Ode to Ramatay" is pure Postal Service in its marriage of organic rock and electro-pop elements. The variety of tones conjured by Neal out of his array of synthesizers is downright dizzying, and Winterer manages to come up with similarly inventive, effects-treated fretwork throughout. With their ambitiously sculpted debut album finally in the can, the pair are now faced with the challenge of translating its enormous sound to tiny club stages as they make their first forays into live performance.
"It was like turning a video game into a movie," offers the ever-effusive Winterer on the band's first—and thus far only—live gig at the Triple Rock Social Club back in May. "Like when they made Mario Brothers into a film and had to get John Leguizamo to live out that Luigi character and put on the white hat and green shirt. You better own that motherfucker if you're going to make it work."
The fiery Winterer and laid-back Neal have gone from "Balki and Cousin Larry, with Pro Tools" to one of the Twin Cities most promising new musical projects in just over two years time—and now that they've finally brought their project out of the shadows of the recording studio and into the light of day, they don't plan on going back into hiding. "We just demoed a new song earlier today and plan a new release by early 2011," says Winterer, his rapid-fire patter speeding up as our interview winds down. "We want to make it even more over-the-top. I'm still in search of my dream come true musically, but we're getting close."