By Rob van Alstyne
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By Emily Weiss
Leisure Birds aren't spelling it out for you. If their astral, futuristic sounds beg the question of whether sentient earth creatures are even involved, that's because it's supposed to.
"I want it to exist seemingly in a parallel dimension," singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jake Luck says with a laugh from his front porch in Minneapolis's Kingfield neighborhood. "The imagery that the music conjures up is more important than the people behind it."
"Leisure Birds are mostly concerned with putting out really good records, and what happens beyond that is out of our control," Luck asserts as a steady rain adds a tranquil backdrop to our afternoon coffee conversation. "But with our last record [2012's Globe Master], we almost did that to a fault. We barely did a record-release show, and we barely told anyone that it was coming out. We didn't care as much as we maybe should have."
A close descendent of the ambient rock of Globe Master, the group's synth-drenched third album, Tetrahedron, sounds like Air landed on a moon orbiting 1979-era Gary Numan. Its seven songs generate saturnine, electro-psych grooves that provide plenty of sonic space for the listener to get lost. Layers of electronic effects and synthy flourishes sit atop Carlson and Achen's droning, repetitive beats, but the songs never get bogged down by their own lofty intentions — or how other people perceive them.
"It's an evolving process. There's been a lot written about us that says we're sci-fi, whatever that means," Luck says. "Or people calling us psychedelic. It's just like, 'Okay, great.' I don't totally know what psychedelic means anymore. But I can certainly see how some of our aesthetics come off that way."
When asked to describe his own sound, Luck takes a long, ruminative pause.
"I don't know," he finally says, as he breaks down laughing. "I could describe it as being sci-fi, or goth, or psychedelic, but the reason I feel uncomfortable is that none of these words actually mean anything anymore."
When pressed, he half-heartedly cites the internet and mass communications being behind genre and style descriptions losing their meaning, "or because we're just recycling through old concepts by this point."
Luck articulates a clearer grasp on music business. After he and his wife, Lisa, closed the beloved but short-lived south Minneapolis record shop Yeti Records, Luck was named general manager of the influential Twin Cities music label Totally Gross National Product — home of Lizzo, the Cloak Ox, and Marijuana Deathsquads, among others — just over a year ago. TGNP is co-releasing Tetrahedron with Moon Glyph, the Oakland-via-Minneapolis cassette label.
"When I first started with TGNP, I really struggled with what the overall vibe of the label is, even though I've known these guys forever," Luck says. "But after a while, I just realized that the label is actually so Twin Cities-centric, and that is ultimately what the vibe is. It's not formed around a specific sound or genre, which is what most record labels are based around. TGNP is the sound of what is happening in Minneapolis."
Since Leisure Birds, Luck's creative escape, and his new day job are inextricably linked, there's a tension at play — shadowy artistry versus a responsibility to sell and promote his records.
"I don't think as a band you really need to care," he says. "But for me, as part of a label now, I need to care. Because I run Totally Gross National Product, and Steve [Rosborough] runs Moon Glyph, and as labels we need to care about these records coming out. As bands, you just need to produce music, and you really shouldn't be too concerned about anything else — in an ideal word."