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When Isaac Mann moved back to the Twin Cities a couple of years ago to start a band, he had only two requirements. One, his new project would be guitar-based, and two, high school bandmate Matt Sairio would be involved. Hevy Syrup, a guttural riff-rock band that never sacrifices attitude for subtlety, makes good on both counts. "Guitars have been pushed to the background lately," Mann says, citing the recent explosion of synth-led rock. "But we wanted them to be the backbone for Hevy Syrup."
play an EP-release show for Chestnuts with the Idle Hands, Rank Strangers, and Tights in the Taxi on Saturday, May 19, at Hell's Kitchen; 612.332.4700
Mann isn't the most obvious guitar hero. His last gig was playing drums for Madison nu-gazers Lasko Stroud, but spending extended time marooned behind the kit seems to have stirred a latent performance impulse. Onstage, Mann attacks the guitar with reckless abandon, producing a series of serrated, slashing tones. Technically, it was Howler guitarist Ian Nygaard who broke an amp borrowed from Mann when their two bands played together late last year, but one suspects it was already plenty beat-up.
For nearly two years, Hevy Syrup's infrequent live shows, as well as personnel changes, have kept them fairly anonymous. But with the lineup cemented by bassist Chance Lunning and drummer Sievert Arsta, and their first proper recording now in hand, the band feel that things are finally starting to fall into place. The Chestnuts EP, recorded over three days with Mike Wisti — frontman for the Minneapolis indie stalwarts Rank Strangers — captures Hevy Syrup as the group was originally conceived: unvarnished and unapologetically loud. Rank Strangers are the most played artist in Sairio's iTunes library, and back in high school, both he and Mann actually opened for the group as members of a short-lived Twin Cities outfit called Lieutenant Girl. "Working with Mike was a dream come true," explains Matt. "And it's nice that my dreams are so easily attainable."
The songs on Chestnuts stay true to the band's guitar-centric sound. Amusingly, the EP's standout track also includes its most prominent keyboard line. "Back to the Boys" has a familiar Hevy Syrup crunch, and it was originally intended to be nothing more than a simple punk exercise. Then Mann heard Sairio's keys laid over the top "and that just did it." The resulting song, with its ringing, alarm-clock intro and urgently driving drumbeat, sounds like something the Boss might have dreamt up if he'd been running in the same circles as the early CBGB's acts. The band members are cagey when asked about the song's meaning — it may or may not actually be about baseball — but "Boys" is, without a doubt, Hevy Syrup's anthem. It's so good that Wisti approached the guys after hearing it at a local show. "He came up afterward and asked, 'Do you know how good that song is?'" Sairo recalls. " And I said, 'Yeah, we know.' I think he was hoping we didn't, because he suddenly got a lot less excited and said, 'Oh, you already know. Well, that's boring.'"
Still, the vote of confidence from Wisti and a couple of spins on the Current aside, there hasn't been much to go to Hevy Syrup's heads yet. Following the upcoming EP-release show, the band has a fairly open calendar. When asked if a reunion date with Howler is in the cards, Mann flashes a mischevious grin, "Honestly, I'd settle for $100 for my busted amp."
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