By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
In 1990, I was in my first year as music editor and columnist at City Pages. We had just completed our annual baseball issue, which included a preseason writers' poll. The issue hit stands on a sunny spring morning, and I was driving to St. Paul when I had the idea to start a similar poll about local music. I wasn't interested in who would win; I was feeling overwhelmed and out of touch and merely wanted to know what bands people were talking about.
Twenty years later, we are inundated with picks and clicks and cliques and what bands people are talking about. Music now competes with the latest crap, app, link, text message, status update, etc., and, one could argue, has never been more disposable. Which is why I'll argue that Picked To Click may matter today more than ever.
To wit: The other night my favorite band was playing the 331 Club. I scanned the room, dark with true music listeners; about 75 people and not a cell phone in sight. A half hour into the set, four young women paraded into the room, sat down at a table in front of the stage, and promptly opened their phones, creating the familiar green-glow campfire of the perma-connected.
Now. Seven feet away from them on stage was a lithe, powerful rhythm section, a fiddle player and trumpet player shadow-dancing with each other, a guitarist playing a sinewy Telecaster, a keyboard player hailing from the church of psychedelia, and an up-from-the-basement-into-the-world singer/songwriter. A live band. Nothing quite like it. Yet all four women, in unison, without looking up at the stage, instinctively, addictively, and wholly out of the moment, needed to see if something else was going on.
Which would have been dispiriting for anyone who believes that bars are the most interesting human zoos we have at our disposal, and that live local music contains the freshest organic ingredients, around which all else revolves. Thankfully, the next day my friend Meg enthusiastically told me about Bring That Shit, a new hardcore/thrash band that sports a ferocious female singer. The following night, I was at the wedding of my friends Brianna Riplinger and James Fitzgerald, where the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, a.k.a brothers Teague and Ian Alexy, made a trippy original racket with guitars, vocals, and stomp boards. The night after that, I sat in the living room of my friends Brianna Lane and Greg Neis, where a potluck dinner turned into a house concert featuring magnificent Wisconsin songwriter Blake Thomas, who recently relocated to the Twin Cities.
This was also the year I discovered Pink Mink, Zoo Animal, the Poor Nobodys, Dark Dark Dark, the Shiny Lights, Blue Sky Blackout, and dozens of others; it must also be said that perhaps the best set I caught all year was turned in by that new-old wonder Curtiss A and his Jerks of Fate on a free Thursday night at the 331. What's more, the best stage farewell I heard this year was from the forever new Gretchen Seichrist, who concluded Patches and Gretchen's opening set for Aimee Mann at the Dakota with, "If there's an orthodontist in the house, come see me. Single mom. Guest list for life."
That's why I still go out. That's why I still listen to many, if not all, of the local CDs I get in the mail. That's why tonight I'll turn out the lights, put on the new Ben Weaver CD, and listen to what the pollsters say.
Jim Walsh is a freelance journalist/columnist and the songwriter/guitarist behind the Mad Ripple traveling rock & roll band. He is also the author of The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History (Voyageur Press) and is currently at work on a history of the first-wave Twin Cities punk scene for the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Or does Picked to Click still matter? Former CP staffer Jim Meyer argues for its retirement on gimmenoiseblog.com
We asked 108 writers, DJs, photographers, bookers, promoters, sound engineers, label owners, and otherwise active participants in the local scene to list their top-five favorite local bands or solo artists who have what it takes to "click." Each voter's top choice was awarded five points, second choice awarded four points, third choice award three points, and so on down the line. Unranked choices received three points each.
The band with the most points was declared the winner, and the acts with the top 10 scores are featured in this issue. For more on this year's voting, a complete list of ballots, and the runners-up for our 20th annual poll, head to gimmenoiseblog.com.
By Andrea Swensson • Photo by Dan Corrigan
Just 10 short months ago, Christy Hunt wanted to call it quits.
Hunt had just wrapped up two solid years on the road playing guitar in the Von Bondies and found herself back home in the dead of winter feeling directionless. "I'm really thinking of hanging up my rock and roll shoes," she wrote on her Facebook page.
Longtime friend Arzu Gokcen, a fierce guitarist in her own right, couldn't believe what she was reading. "I won't let you," she replied. "I will lock you in a room with your guitar and not let you out."
Though neither woman is a stranger to the stage (Gokcen has been featured in the Picked to Click issue at least three times and played in several Twin Cities bands, including the Selby Tigers, Lefty Lucy, and most recently Strut and Shock, while Hunt has flexed her songwriting muscles in Ouija Radio), they suddenly found themselves back at square one, parlaying their Facebook exchange into a real-life jam session.
"It was like re-introducing myself to a person I've already known," says Hunt. "And that moment that you play with somebody in a basement happened all over again: I'm really nervous, I don't know how to approach this, what do you got?" It didn't take long for the nerves to wear off, though. "Within our first practice we had two songs," she adds.
And just like that, Gokcen and Hunt were in a band again. By May, the pair had fleshed out their band with Hunt's husband and Ouija Radio bandmate Charles Gehr on drums and renowned recording engineer Jacques Wait on bass guitar. With almost no time elapsing between conceptualization and execution, Pink Mink started gigging feverishly and winning over audiences with their dynamic stage presence, howling guitar solos, and terse, poppy songwriting. Though their guitar playing hearkens back to pioneering riot grrl bands like Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill, the melodies are joyous and the lyrics nostalgic, paying homage to Twin Cities mainstays with songs like "Hidden Beach" and "Seeking Scott Seekins."
"I'm proud, because Pink Mink is so Minneapolis," says Hunt. "In this band I decided, let's make this fun and write what we know. There's so many things about this town that I can't wait to exploit in a really fun way."
"And use," cracks Wait. "I can't wait to exploit and use!"
"We've all been around the block so many times that it's extremely professional," Gehr says. "When you get into a band like that, that's the band that has staying power. That's the band that can do really cool things." A seasoned vet himself, Gehr grew up drumming for hardcore bands on the East Coast and playing with bands like the Seawhores and Marijuana Deathsquads here in the Cities.
Though the band is still months from being able to offer a finished album to their fans, Pink Mink is ready to bring rock 'n' roll to every corner of the local scene.
"I'm so happy to be playing rock, doing a rock show and doing leg kicks like Arzu and just, like, rocking out," Hunt says, beaming.
"It's all I know, man," Gokcen says, shaking her head. "It's all I know. Leg kicks."
"We are gonna leg-kick it all around the world," Hunt exclaims. "And we're gonna go 'Minneapolis!' Leg kick!"
Wait nods his head in agreement. "We're kicking legs and taking names."
Pink Mink's previous Picked to Click trophies
Lefty Lucy (4th place, 1994)
Selby Tigers (2nd place, 1999)
So Fos (6th place, 2003)
Ouija Radio (runner-up, 2003)
Short Fuses (7th place, 1997)
Ouija Radio (runner-up, 2003)
Marijuana Deathsquads (7th place, 2010)
Magnatone (9th place, 1997)
By Rob van Alstyne • Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Our local music scene has always been long on talent but short on wider recognition, which is why it's exciting when a Twin Cites band breaks through the Land of 10,000 Lakes bubble and registers on the national radar, as happened with Peter Wolf Crier over the course of 2010.
To the untrained eye, the duo of Peter Pisano (vocals/guitar) and Brian Moen (drums/production) appeared to be yet another insta-cool blog-buzz band. But while it's true that PWC went from digitally self-releasing their debut album Inter-Be to signing within an enviably hip record label (Jagjaguwar) and booking international tours in the space of a few short months, that breakthrough came after years of grinding it out in other projects that were unjustly overlooked (the Wars of 1812 and Amateur Love, to name just two).
One listen to Inter-Be kills any unfounded notions of beginner's luck instantly. The rough-hewn recording caught the attention of the fickle music blogerrati for one reason only—it's simply too damn powerful to be ignored. Born out of one long dark-night-of-the-soul writing session from Pisano, it's a harrowing and often jarring listen. The pair cooks up rich, melodic catharsis using a small list of ingredients: Pisano's reverb-drenched howl and lightly distorted guitar strums, Moen's deft drumming and intermittent barrelhouse piano fills. The end result is an album that manages to be simultaneously brash and ethereal, its 11 tracks gentle enough to win over Bon Iver fans, but boasting enough foot-stomping dirty-boogie moments to appease Jack White fanboys.
Honing their craft together on local stages ranging from a rented house to First Avenue's main room over the past year, the pair has morphed from a tentative tandem to a daring duo (they had never played live together until after Inter-Be's release). In the flesh, the dynamism hinted at on record is writ large, the quieter ballads rendered all the more affecting with Pisano's pained rasp stripped bare of effects and the rockier tunes charged with added verve with Moen let off the leash. Peter Wolf Crier's swift ascent may have been abetted by the modern media landscape, but their appeal is timeless. The group's status as one of the Cities most compelling musical acts already feels destined to be long-lived.
By Pat O'Brien • Photo by Mike Minehart
They arrived in early March with a four-song EP, digital-only at first. The "Physical Product Edition," as they put it, arrived shortly thereafter, plainly packaged except for the "BNLX" stamped almost haphazardly across the front of the recycled cardboard sleeve, with the track list stamped equally off-kilter across the back.
The following two EPs (released quarterly as part of their "First One Year" plan—a fourth is on the way) arrived in much the same manner, only with a large "2" and "3," respectively, hand painted on the covers along with the stamp. A goofy 8-bit mohawked—what was that thing? Pirate? Otter? Pirate otter?—started making itself known as some sort of band mascot in the form of stickers included with the physical albums. The press materials read like something out of an Aldous Huxley novel and repeatedly identified the music as "music." They claimed elves made the CDs, and the first EP sold for €2,00 on iTunes (that's $2.77 to us lowly Americans). Just what in the hell was going on here?
Identifying themselves only as e.a. and a.a. in the liner notes and everywhere else, BNLX was soon revealed to be Ed and Ashley Ackerson of Polara and the Mood Swings, and they started coupling the amusing, bizarre press materials and blog posts on the Susstones website with stunning, must-see live shows. The songs are reminiscent of everything from Joy Division to the Damned to '90s lo-fi, yet are a wholly unified body of work at the same time. The EPs, all clocking in at about 13 minutes, give or take, are the types of albums you can just let run over and over again in your CD player until every note is seared into your gray matter. While it's easy for a band to oversaturate in a city like Minneapolis, they have played just the right amount of shows to both win a ton of local attention and pique the interest of everyone who has yet to see them—the live shows are actual experiences rather than just run-of-the-mill shows, and people who have never heard a note of their music are converted into rabid fans by the ends of their sets.
BNLX is looking three steps ahead, but not in that lofty, dreamy, "what if" way that most people do. "Elements of BNLX are unexplained and may remain so," reads a line in their press release, and while we may remain in the dark about what those elements are, there is no doubt that they are crystal clear to the Ackersons.
By Jeff Gage • Photo by Emily Utne
When word spread last winter that Sarah Nienaber and Sarah Rose were in a new band together, it was enough to whet more than a few appetites within the local scene. Simple arithmetic suggested there'd be plenty of sprawling guitar work, perhaps a bit of spaced-out psychedelia, and maybe even some female harmonies thrown in for good measure.
What we got was something altogether different: Nienaber showed up playing bass, and Rose, having long done the same for First Communion Afterparty, picked up guitar. The result was a lean mixture of garage rock and post punk rattling behind Rose's breathy vocals.
"It's really funny, at least for me, to step into that lead songwriter role. I used to be so nervous about putting that much out there, I didn't really expect anything at all," Rose recalls while sitting with the band outside the Kitty Cat Klub. "[When] it started originally, we were like, 'Oh, let's just play house parties and have a good time with this.'"
In fact, the formation of the band was done pretty well on the fly after Rose volunteered to join Nienaber for a solo set at the 331 in August of last year. They recruited Mara Appel, a long-time friend of Rose's and former FCAP drummer, who, Nienaber admits, got "tricked into playing our first show."
"I was pretty down with whatever, any time," Appel says nonchalantly, lounging in the corner and smoking a cigarette. "The whole spur-of-the-moment thing was cool with me because, I mean, shit, I love to play drums."
If Is/Is are taking themselves more seriously than at first, they've lost none of that loose early spirit. Onstage, Nienaber and Appel joke back and forth between songs, and if sometimes the shows get a little ragged, that's part of the fun. Now, having just last month released This Happening—their first EP, recorded with Red Pens' Howard Hamilton—it may not be long before the two Sarahs switch instruments again.
"I tried to learn new songs and then I was like, 'I have some songs'...and they seemed to flow better," Rose says, explaining how she first took on lead duties. "But I've been trying to write songs backwards and write songs on bass. Which is like, it's a challenge, but it's kind of fun to work on that because singing and playing bass, you really got to concentrate when you're doing it. And I want to just be able to do it."
By Jeff Gage • Photo by Erik Hess
The Goondas' plan to coerce their lead singer into showing up on time has either backfired completely or, more likely, paid off handsomely: Brenden Green arrived at Casey's Bar an hour early and proceeded to drink a pitcher of beer by himself. Now, it appears, he's ready to return the favor.
"To me, it's all about impressing my friends," he deadpans with a flourish of his hand, as if to brush aside the very thought that his band—or this interview, for that matter—should be taken very seriously. "All I give a shit about is, like, free stuff. You know?"
Inflammatory words, you may say to yourself, but they shouldn't come as much of a surprise from someone who loves playing on his audience's expectations. Green can often be seen climbing the walls of a venue, strangling himself with his mike cord, or antagonizing his band mates—whichever is most likely to keep people guessing.
"When they tell me to put on a good show, I subconsciously want to put on the worst show ever...I'm going to do the worst thing I could possibly do; I'm going to lie on the ground and do nothing," he says. It's no idle threat, either: While the band was on tour last summer, Green once played dead onstage, prompting guitarist Jackson Atkins to walk on him "like he was a rug."
Such unpredictable behavior helps separate the Goondas as a group with a unique flair for showmanship, which is all the more appropriate given how it complements the ferocity of their snarling garage rock. "It's a show," says Josh Miller, who has himself worn a headdress and covered himself in war paint while drumming. "People are going to see a show. They could throw the album on if they just want to hear the songs."
In his own colorful, if less coherent, state, Green expresses his own thrill for performing.
"That feeling when everyone's on, it's like, fucking, when you swing a baseball bat and you fucking—the ball hits it, like, just right, you know, and it explodes off your arms. And you can just feel it, it just fucking makes your dick hard...."
Green stands up to go to the bathroom and promptly falls over, while Miller (ever so graciously) comes to his defense. "He's not the only one who causes problems; he's just the only one that caused problems this week! It's still a fresh wound so we're going to get him back as much as we can when it's being recorded."
By Andrea Swensson • Photo by Stacy Schwartz
"Just because it's Auto-Tune doesn't mean it ain't sincere."
Justin Vernon is speaking through a vocal effects processor, addressing a sea of Brooklynites at Gayngs' second in a pair of back-to-back gigs in New York City. He is flanked by nine musicians, some from Eau Claire, some from North Carolina, but all woven together through a tangled history of playing in Twin Cities bands and befriending Gayngs string-puller Ryan Olson.
It is the band's sixth show ever. In the past nine months, Gayngs have revealed the intentions of their project; released their debut record (with appearances by at least 24 regional musicians), Relayted, on national indie imprint Jagjaguwar; and sent online music critics into a tizzy over whether or not their mellow, sometimes ambient, sometimes experimental soft-electro jams are supposed to be taken seriously or if they are just one big joke played on us all.
To call Gayngs the 500-pound gorilla of the Picked to Click poll would be an understatement—it may be argued that they have, all things considered, already "clicked." But peel back another layer and discard the marquee names, and Relayted is a phenomenal, immaculately recorded and arranged chill-out record. Live, the band has solidified into a pared-down touring force equally capable of covering Sade, George Michael, and the Alan Parsons Project, a testament to each member's chameleonic ability to play just about anything.
Back in Brooklyn, the whole room is swaying to Parsons's "Eye in the Sky" as Gayngs execute it flawlessly in their first double encore. As their tour manager packs up their gear, the band members race across town to the Knitting Factory and convince the bartender to flip on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon just in time for their performance, taped earlier that day. The young men in the band stand awestruck, most watching themselves on television for the first time. Olson and fellow Gayng member Brad Cook wrap their arms around each other and fight back tears. Two years of writing, rehearsing, recording, and promotion climaxes into one ultimate moment while everyone in the bar, many Twin Cities natives themselves, cheer them on like a hometown team.
If that ain't sincere, I don't know what is. Never mind the hype, the unending discussion of irony, the inevitable backlash—Gayngs are the real deal.
By David Hansen • Photo by Steven Cohen
Building Better Bombs gazed on its own reflection and vanished.
Knee deep in a new album, their vision had blurred, their footing had slackened, as if they had scaled to a great height and now became woozy with altitude sickness—how many interminable miles had they marched from their beginnings in hardcore punk? How many conquests had they made over the genre's fatiguing battlements? Scarrified and haled, Bombs needed new summits. It needed a great becoming.
"Bombs never broke up," says Stefon Alexander. "It just turned into an acid trip."
"We were needing something to do, Ryan [Olson] and I, while P.O.S. was on tour all the time," says Isaac Gale. "We were looking for something interesting. So we had an idea to do a project that could be assembled with anyone, anywhere, anytime." He adds: "A party squad."
Marijuana Deathsquads is a fleet shadow on the Earth—a crush of synthesizer noise, galed by innumerable collaborators into an ungovernable roaring. Yet it is governed. Its tandem drummers, Ben Ivascu and Freddy Votel, nail the music to the mast so that, as they play, a brilliant, unruly banner unspools behind them on fierce winds. And with them, a vast division of musicians, conscripted for their talents, for their savagery, for their unwillingness to be ruled, too many to name. Marijuana Deathsquads, borne of a band, is a band no longer, at once less and more than that old idea.
And like a shadow, Marijuana Deathsquads at once is and is not—it has five members, it has hundreds of members, it has no members at all. Its song is the indelible sketch of a song, and yet a song nonetheless, protean and feral, the voice of a great fire kept by many hands.
"There are parts," says Alexander. "But it's new parts every time. The vision is to see what we could do with all these people and no boundaries. Even when it feels loose, it has a pulse that you can't disconnect from. It's as noisy and jumbled as it can possibly be, but it's there—the heart of it, rattling in time."
In its most fateful hour, Building Better Bombs gazed on its own reflection, and Marijuana Deathsquads gazed back from a disquiet, ruined world, platooned by an army of shades. Now they are burning all the old ways.
An album is forthcoming.
By Nikki Miller • Photo by Emily Utne
When Buffalo Moon welcomed me to their abode one crisp autumn morning, I found them immediately likable.
Was it the coffee they brought me, snapping me out of my hangover haze? Perhaps it was their amiable, easy, even gentle demeanor as they shared the test pressing of their Black Magic/Low Tide Moon 7" being released later this month by Moon Glyph, a warm listen that made me feel as though I was sipping Café Cubano en una playa en Cayo Largo, bossa weaving in and out of psych. Was it the giant portrait of Prince adorning their otherwise smartly decorated home? Or did it happen when they excitedly grabbed for the piece most instrumental in the creation of their first full-length, Wetsuit—"Preston's little sister's synth," which Preston Holm described as follows while he cradled the massive object: "It sounds like shit."
Or a better theory: Members Holm, Sarah Darnall, Joel Schmitz, and Jon Wetzler, though they're known locally for their Latin-influenced music, grew up in—where else?—South Dakota, as did I. As for the Latin-influence, a bit comes from singer Karen Freire, who grew up in Ecuador, where I, for a time, lived. I found myself surrounded no longer by some band, but a band who went to the same camp I did! (Storm Mountain, Black Hills, where Darnall and Holm were campers, Schmitz their counselor.) A band whose first exposure to Latin and jazz was playing in high school band! (As Darnall and Holm did.) And statewide band camp! (Preston and Wetzler.) Add Freire, who speaks furiously about regional differences between her Ecuadorian stomping grounds and mine (Guayaquil vs. Quito), and I realized these were my people.
Bringing the band's biography full circle, Holm met Freire at McNally Smith and, in explaining all jazz band/band camp/church camp connections, "Basically, we were all fuckin' nerds, then we met Karen and became cool."
A drum-influenced native aesthetic gave way to their current dirty bossa samba sound, which Joel describes as sounding intentionally like "knotted guitar cables." The band is currently dabbling in R&B, a little more soulful but where chaos still ensues. The group doesn't identify as Latin musicians, but they exercise respect for the form. Plus, Preston adds, "We also really like Prince."
I would expect nothing less from a bunch of South Dakota kids who cut their teeth on high school jazz bands. Y'hear that, South Dakota governor? If you don't agree Buffalo Moon's proven a good case for keeping up on arts funding in your state, then you should go eat a bison pie.
By Erin Roof • Photo by Julie Runia
It's one in the afternoon, and Phantom Tails look worse for wear. Orion Treon is sucking down coffee, and band mates Logan Kerkhof and Serge Hernandez have only just now realized they are wearing identical plaid shirts. But the bleary eyes are justified.
"For the last 72 hours at our house we've had no less than 10 musicians at any time, strictly writing music," Kerkhof says. "The cops came two nights ago at like 4:30 in the morning. The cop's like, 'What is that—a tuba?'"
The marathon only hints at how all-encompassing music is for Phantom Tails. In just over a year, the three, joined by bassist Dave Dorman, have gone from new to national, releasing an album and clocking some serious time on America's highways.
"We all decided, going into the band, that if anyone can't do the full-time music thing and can't go on tour, you're not in the band," Treon, the band's singer/guitarist, says.
Through this trial by fire came proof of the four's honed metallurgy, lurking in this year's Sounds of the Hunchback Whale. The album, easily at the top of the Cities' 2010 releases, is difficult to describe, much like the band. Hernandez's keyboards sound like they were stolen from the Munsters' abode. Treon's cool, detached vocals are equally sexual and spooky, and his guitar playing is angular and throbbing. Meanwhile Kerkhof's retro drum machining suggests late-night booty shaking. And though Phantom Tails dabble in many genres, they manage to evade every label.
"Apparently people call us garage," Kerkhof says. "I don't see that at all. It has about as much to do with that as it does mid-'90s hip hop."
"That's the next band," Treon half jokes. "And you get your German '70s synth music thrown in there. Your mid- '90s hip hop and your '60s garage rock."
"A little sprinkle of Prince," Kerkhof laughs.
They left on their first tour only a couple of months after starting to practice, with no album or merchandise, just a fiendish desire to soak their self-described "deep space doom funk" across the map. Since then they've barely taken a breath. Now entrenched in their current tour, this weekend they're playing two shows in New York during the CMJ media feeding frenzy. And it would be no surprise if critics sift through the hipster mass hysteria to take notice.
By Andrew Flanagan • Photo by Steven Cohen
"Oh god, we are the dumbest band." —Sam Gerard
"We were actually the original lineup of Motion City Soundtrack." —Jon Tester
Voytek is composed of four lady-loving, wrestling-watching little scamps scratching the itch any well-maladjusted person has behind their ear, next to the gum. The team of Sam and Max Gerard, Jon Tester, and Taylor Harris met each other five years ago by playing in bands like Tora! Tora! Torrance!, Squareshooters, and Charles De Gaulle—all of a sort but far from the distilled and endearing goofiness of their current band—and started playing together in full form this April, after a long winter of percolating and lineup fine-tuning.
The dudes play short and fast and as far from cerebral as an algebra notebook covered in doodles; they've written two songs about boobs so far, but that doesn't mean they're lazy. Their interests just range widely.
Voytek is an especially promising new addition to a rich tradition of straightforward, barely wrought, and perfectly written punk in the Cities that includes Sinks, the Sleaze, Awesome Snakes, Teenage Moods, Selby Tigers, and several thousand no one's ever heard of. In fact, the Cities seem to particularly like this stuff for reasons we'll venture to guess; between Extreme Noise, winter isolation, the Foxfire, the Triple Rock (where two of the Voys work), and the constant ebb and flow of show houses, the Cities have long fostered a culture of honest-to-boogers punk unburdened by genre affiliations or legacy expectations, just how the kids like it.
While we all ride the particularly high-minded, unrepentantly pretentious wave of new music that's being made around town (you know who), bands like Voytek will hold down the part that makes dumb jokes for an hour and calls it an interview. One caveat though: Next time you see them they might have a quarter-inch cable plugged into a circuit-bent, Gameboy-playing horse's ass. It's a long story.
By Jeff Gage • Photo by Nathan Grumdahl
Take a listen to any of the handful of 45s and demos that comprise the Bombay Sweets' still-small body of work and it's not surprising to learn the band got its start with an old reel-to-reel tape deck.
"I bought it from a former gym teacher of mine from elementary school," says band leader Nathan Grumdahl, taking a break from playing cards with some friends during a Sunday afternoon happy hour at Common Roots. "I really bought the reel-to-reel to hear kind of what crazy shit he had recorded on it because he was such an asshole," he laughs, sweeping his long blond bangs to the side.
The tape deck turned out to be something of a bust, as it was scant on recordings and then broke not long after Grumdahl started using it himself. But the former Selby Tigers and Monarques guitarist was inspired to work on a cache of songs that hadn't fit into his other bands, and eventually found a vision for the project from some of the musicians he encountered through his day job, buying and selling vintage instruments. "It would basically be them and like a drum machine, sort of like this old '60s one-man-band thing," he recalls. "And I was like, 'Oh, maybe I shouldn't be afraid to do this.'"
The Sweets' songs crackle with the analog warmth those origins suggest, each one an exercise in spare, guitar-driven garage-punk and delivered in a quick, energetic snap. Grumdahl hands me a mix CD with a sampling of the rockabilly and surf records he had in constant rotation while he was writing, and the band names alone evoke a distinctive sound: Bird Rollins, the Versatones, Jody Reynolds and the Storms. Not that those names necessarily come to mind first for everybody; Grumdahl admits he's been compared to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack on multiple occasions.
Having started as a solo venture, the Sweets quickly expanded into a two-piece to include His Mischief drummer Jeff Brown once they started gigging last year, but the model remains a lean, flexible one. "He just has an ability to change gears in a way that... I feel I can kind of do anything," Grumdahl enthuses. "I could show him a song once and he'd play it perfect the second time."
Which is an ideal situation, given the band's aesthetic: "Some of that sort of polished, rehearsed shit is kind of anti what I'm doing. It's like, I sort of want the songs recorded to be one thing and live to be whatever the fuck they are."