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
"We started to accept that things would move at a slower pace," says Bischoff. "It's a really interesting way to be in a band. We're going to be in this band for a long while. There's no rush."
Speaking of, it's October, and Bierden has been on tour with you-know-who for ... well, it feels like forever. Especially to Bischoff. She's Heavy Deeds' singer and tambourinist. She's also Bierden's girlfriend, and they share a house with Molly Hilgenberg, their keyboardist, and a singer, too.
This is what Molly calls "a weird family," meaning the house, its occupants, their friendships, the music they make. Heavy Deeds has all a family's moving parts: leavetaking and reunion, absence and return, ambition and patience. They keep their own time, calmly absorbing one another's needs as a family might. "Go on if you need to. We'll be here." Stitch it in needlepoint, hang it in the foyer. So everything about Heavy Deeds feels exquisitely lived-in, tried-on, worn-well.
No small feat. Bischoff and Hilgenberg walked into Heavy Deeds utter newcomers. Not a minute of band experience between them, unless you count Hilgenberg's opera education as a mezzo soprano. Their bandmates, on the other hand, had the better part of a decade between them as Vampire Hands. If the name rings no bells, go buy a copy of Me and You Cherry Red.
"We're in the room with people who can count off a song by looking at each other," says Hilgenberg. "But it's not intimidating. They're warm and welcoming people. They make you feel like part of the family."
Yet there's also something uncanny in Heavy Deeds — be it in the ring of their guitars, in the rise of their voices. Their songs are little returnings, epic dreams in miniature where everything is just so. Close your eyes and you've come home.
After getting busted for selling pot, Eric Pollard penned 70 songs in the anxious months before his court date. Though Pollard had spent his 20s drumming for Low's Alan Sparhawk and Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek, this was his first serious pursuit of his own sound.
"After my bust I had a lot on my mind, and that directly translated to the tunes — as did getting sober," admits Pollard, 32, who ultimately avoided jail by pleading guilty to lesser charges. "Once things were resolved I was eager to start recording. By that point I didn't have any money, though, due to attorney fees. Luckily Al [Sparhawk] was nice enough to let me record with him for free and just see where it went."
Where it has headed so far is the excellent EP Lightning & the Wolf, Pollard's full-band debut as Actual Wolf. Teaming up with a murderer's row of local scene veterans — Retribution Gospel Choir bassist Steve Garrington, Tapes 'n Tapes drummer Jeremy Hanson, and guitarist Jake Hanson — the EP finds Pollard drawing musical inspiration from '70s country-rock and lyrical insights from his own troubled past ("Always going to owe you favors/I live life in the red/I can't even sell enough reefer/I can't keep none in my head"). His slightly twangy understated tenor fits the material perfectly, and as a longtime sideman himself, Pollard knows most songs shine brightest when the spotlight gets shifted around, hence stunning guitar solos by Hanson and harmonies courtesy of Haley Bonar.
Given how gaga the Twin Cities has gone over similarly pedigreed acts like Dawes, there's reason to believe Actual Wolf could break big, and indeed Pollard's tuneful alt-country has already seen significant airplay on the Current. That doesn't mean he's taking future success for granted: Pollard and the band are already back in the studio hard at work on a new record.
"You always have to be working harder than the next person if you want to succeed in music at all," claims Pollard as our conversation comes to a close. "Right now 90 percent of music fans have ADD and will forget about you unless you're giving them constant stimulation. That's why I'm working so hard, that and because it's really boring to be sober in a bar. If I'm going to be in a bar I want to be playing."
By Jeff Gage
Here's something you don't see every day: a band that prefers to do its interviews via conference call.
Well, okay, maybe that's not Strange Names' preference, per se. It's in part a matter of necessity, given that the band's chief members, singer Liam Benzvi and guitarist Francis Jimenez, live 1,200 miles apart — one in Brooklyn, the other in Minneapolis.
"It's a sign of the times," says Jimenez, from his apartment in Loring Park. "It's how you got to be able to do it. [But] we're also very concerned about our artistic integrity. We like to be involved in the process, like to be proactive."
Proactive is one way to put it. Brooklyn native Benzvi recalls that when he moved back to New York after studying theater at the U of M, where he befriended Jimenez, he read Don Passman's All You Need to Know About the Music Business. Little surprise, then, that living so far apart is a strategic decision as much as anything — a chance to get footholds in different markets, including the biggest one of all.