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Initially, longtime pals Al Church and Neal Perbix weren't sure their loose, Friday-morning songwriting jam sessions were anything other than a fun way to kill some time. Slowly and surely, though, sun-baked and hook-heavy songs emerged. Both men front Twin Cities indie-rock outfits — Al Church & State and Wishbook, respectively — but their collaboration as BBGUN takes a surprising turn toward classic rock and country terrain.
Perbix, fellow vocalist/guitarist Church, and drummer Jeremy Hanson met City Pages on the Longfellow Grill patio on a late-August evening to discuss the nine tracks that compose their self-titled debut album.
"It wasn't necessarily that the songs were there instantly," recalls Perbix. "But the energy was. Our focus was on never skipping meetings because we knew something musical would always come out of that time together — even if it wasn't a whole song."
BBGUN play a CD-release show opening for Frankie Lee on Friday, September 13, at Icehouse; 612-276-6523.
Instead of finishing off fairly complete songs, the pair came together with nothing greater than snippets, often writing lyrics in tandem and on the fly, a first for both of the veteran talents.
The sound that eventually emerged was instantly inviting but diverse. Songs like "Pretend" tilt toward classic country, favoring gently strummed acoustic guitars and honky-tonk harmonies. Elsewhere, the sinewy "Heavy" embodies the barrel-chested bravura of Springsteen-saluting bar-rock. Occasional string and horn section overdubs add a new layer of spot-the-classic influence, with a tune like the swooning orchestral-inclined ballad "It's the Way" recalling Brian Wilson at his bummed-out best.
"We had pretty similar experiences growing up in small-town Minnesota," Church says of the pair's powerful songwriting connection. "There's innocence and commonality to that experience. Things like biking down to the grocery store for a can of pop. So we definitely found some common themes to work from."
BBGUN took such a low-key, lower-pressure approach to recording that they didn't even realize when their album-making officially began at the Arden Hills home studio Cat Mansion — "basically a Midwestern basement," according to Church. In between drinking beers and taking swimming breaks in the lake, they inadvertently crafted a stunning debut.
"We all thought we were still demoing," recalls Hanson. "Then a couple of tracks we heard the results back and just loved it. We really stuck with that 'the first idea is the best idea' approach, though. Even once we knew we were actually making the record."
"It was really easy to tap into that carefree feeling like we were all kind of back at our parents' house making music," Church adds of a recording process that found the band frequently switching instruments and generally keeping things loose.
For all the talk of their album's relaxed origins, BBGUN's first recording is too special to be nonchalant about when it comes to promotion. They recently signed on with Josh Sundquist of local artist management heavyweights Middle West, who also rep Bon Iver, to help steer their career.
"The response that we've had so far has been great and really like nothing I've ever felt before," admits an audibly excited Perbix. "It's not like we're all quitting our jobs tomorrow to go on tour. But the underlying buzz we feel about the band is enough to make things real exciting. I don't want it to change too fast. I'm so in love with the way it sounds right now that I'm not sure I want to steer away from that dreamy place yet."