10 Thousand Sounds 2014: Behind the bands
The second year of 10 Thousand Sounds is upon us. After a rollicking party in downtown Minneapolis last year, we're back in a new spot with the same bold mission: to bring to the stage six musical acts that we think are among the best performers and artists out there today. It's the first time this year that Poliça has played a headlining show. That should be enough of a hook to sway most of you. Here's our rundown on the whole day's entertainment.
Channy Leaneagh's evolution from folk to the synthesizer soul of Poliça has been well documented in these pages already. But how about punk?
"I'm going through my 16-year-old Crass phase right now," Leaneagh says during an hour-long discussion amid the bustle of Spyhouse on Hennepin.
Over iced beverages, we consider the hot, violent summer in north Minneapolis, where she and Poliça co-founder/producer Ryan Olson live. We talk about her daughter Pela starting kindergarten and the music her bandmates blasted in vans criss-crossing the world for the past two years. In that time, they've played at Radio City Music Hall, Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, and dozens of cities on a tour with local cohorts in Marijuana Deathsquads.
"Those guys were playing Men's Recovery Project and Butthole Surfers and Crass and the bands of their youth," she says, the recollection pleasing her. "They all have those songs memorized."
Her short brown hair, streaked with blue, frames a semi-translucent face, and she wears a tiny, black Crystal Castles shirt. On it, the face of Madonna has one of her eyes swollen shut. It's a bit like an errant mid-mosh elbow hit her Madgesty right in the kisser.
Another pop icon got punked up when Poliça began tossing a cover of Lesley Gore's 1963 hit "You Don't Own Me" at the end of sets. Along with three "lost children" from the sessions of their sophomore album, Shulamith, the track anchors this year's Raw Exit EP. Equal parts bleak and beautiful, the updated "You Don't Own Me" is a window into insurgent new live and recorded possibilities.
"It's really a great song," she says. "It's the first time we've ever had a song where people sing along that loudly, and it meant a lot of things to people way before I ever sang it. So that's really powerful. You know, everybody, men, women, children, animals — everybody."
Even as Poliça's stature as touring artists has grown, Leaneagh hasn't settled into a singular way to present herself, and why should she? Her stage presence has broadened to a powerful place, her hair constantly changes color and length, and her attire hasn't hit a predictable note.
"I will start a tour and have something that friends have made for me," she says. "It's nice clothes, hair will be styled, and about a week and a half in I'll say 'fuck it' and just wear jeans on stage. I can't believe that people can't enjoy music unless the female singer is like super hot or is done up. So I'm battling with that in front of people on stage sometimes. The deal with us is you don't always get the same thing, and I guess that's kind of fun. I don't have to be the same person every time I perform.... Kind of going back and forth between trying to play the game, or fight the game."
Poliça discovered an ugly side of the game upon the release of Shulamith last year when iTunes and other retailers censored its cover. It features the back of a woman's head covered in blood, and its immediacy makes it hard to know whether to stare or turn away. "Exploring things that make us afraid is not something you should shy away from," Leaneagh asserts. By censoring the cover, "iTunes is dumbing down the opportunity for musicians to have a voice to speak."
She's tired of thinking about "the man," though. Poliça already have new songs they want to try out, and the future boasts a return to local stages — including this Saturday's 10 Thousand Sounds performance. There's always the possibility of Leaneagh gathering around the table of gear with Marijuana Deathsquads unannounced, as she often does without the pressure to lead the group. Maybe a performance in north Minneapolis, she adds.
"Right now it's like this balance between feeding your older kids," she says, referring to new Poliça material, "and making them interesting and stimulating — while nurturing these babies that haven't been born yet."
So what about that punk influence? Growing up listening to R&B and hitting lot of Kill the Vultures and Atmosphere shows, Leaneagh says her exposure to certain harder sounds was virtually nil until Poliça, but it was easy to see punk's potential for amping up a crowd. She found herself able to relax in a new way after a couple of hours of this raw, unfettered noise.
Turns out, fighting the game in this case had the opposite effect.
"You can set out to do something and then it's cool where it goes," she says. "We set out to make a hardcore record, but it ended up that a lot of the songs are really sweet. It's smoother than the other ones." Read our full interview with Channy Leaneagh at blogs.citypages.com/gimmenoise —Reed Fischer
Sylvan Esso are zipping down the interstate toward New York City in a Prius. There, vocalist Amelia Meath and beatmaker Nicholas Sanborn will perform on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon with the Roots' bandleader ?uestlove adding live drums. They opt for "Coffee," a glitchy, bells-strewn track with a coda referencing Tommy James and the Shondells, but virtually anything off their self-titled debut could spread their organic synth-pop to the masses.
"We created this record totally in a vacuum," says Sanborn, who is riding shotgun. He pauses the interview at one point to hop in back, find their money bag, and pay a toll. "Nobody heard it until it was done, basically. The way we're comfortable working is when it's just the two of us figuring out the song."
Had they sought out second opinions, there'd be a lot of friends to weigh in on this well-traveled pair's new project. Sanborn's past musical allies include indie stylists Decibully and bearded porch-rockers Megafaun, and in Meath's background are Mountain Man's room-filling Appalachian harmonies and the ambient-folk collective BOBBY. She also has harmonized live with Feist, and he has produced beats solo under the Made of Oak moniker.
While creating their album in Sanborn's bedroom in Durham, North Carolina, they mostly listened to Kendrick Lamar. Neck-snapping snares and bludgeoning basslines emerged from Sanborn's twirled knobs, and Meath planted howls, harmonies, and hooks on top of it. "I don't really think about it as rapping," she says. "But I write most of my songs a capella. They become percussive versus other stuff I've done."
Their live chemistry is subtle, yet electric, with Meath roving with a mic and Sanborn bending his torso while manipulating electronics. After mostly playing to rooms of a couple hundred, they've witnessed the added weight their material carries in louder, larger rooms as tUnE-yArDs' opening act this year.
"There is just a certain personality type that this lifestyle makes total sense for," Sanborn says, pausing as an Escalade narrowly misses them. "Probably one-tenth of 1 percent of the population would enjoy this. Both of us are definitely in that place of the population, and I can't imagine doing anything else now." —Reed Fischer
Allan Kingdom doesn't quit. Less than a week after dropping his second full-length album, Future Memoirs (produced primarily by Kingdom, with help from Jonathan Kaslow and Plain Pat of Kid Cudi fame), he was on his way to Canada. The mission? To record with the Standard, his supergroup with like-minded hip-hop experimenters Psymun, Spooky Black, and Bobby Raps.
If you've followed Kingdom over the past few years, this compulsive drive to create should come as no surprise. The 20-year-old was producing at the age of 12, releasing music videos with local legend Ben Hughes at 16, and sealing a management deal with Plain Pat at 17.
"I make music everyday. It's just what I do. It's like eating," Kingdom says. "The better I get at music, the more it makes me want to do more."
Future Memoirs shows new levels of maturity and cohesiveness on the young rapper's part, while retaining the unique free-form elements we've come to know and love. Kingdom attributes the more structured nature of his full-length album to his relationship with Pat.
"My whole process [recording with him in Los Angeles] helped me formulate songs in ways that more people could understand," he says. "Just watching him work and seeing the formula he's used that's worked for him and the people he's worked with, helped me to do the same thing."
Kingdom's sound comes as a breath of fresh air in a local scene dominated by Rhymesayers Entertainment. His transient upbringing — he's from Winnipeg — and the resulting familiarity with a variety of people, places, and ideas, as well as a refusal to let his music stagnate, keep him open and enthusiastic toward change. Kingdom upholds a dynamism that suggests he won't be disappearing anytime soon.—Emily Eveland
After warming up the Triple Rock for a friend's release show, Frankie Teardrop and his boys are celebrating with the first of many post-show Marlboros. The venue's sickly green backdoor light reflects in Frankie's 30-inch gold chain.
It's very much nighttime, but the garage-punk mystery man never takes off his sunglasses. With a laconic delivery that hides a mischievous streak, he spins out a story about a terrifying experience at a McDonald's in Holyoke, Massachusetts, on their recent tour.
"So we pull up to the window and we're about to get the shit, and we hear, like, a full-volume bloodcurdling scream from inside. I wanted to stay because I wanted a fucking McChicken, and they were all like, 'GO!'"
Despite the treacherous drive-through stops, touring really seems to have changed Mr. Teardrop and his band for the better. A growing sense of DIY optimism has taken the place of the disaffected attitude that had become their calling card. Right now, they're jazzed about No Problems, a label that Teardrop formed with photographer and friend Alex Uhrich.
"There's a lot of interesting shit going on under the radar in the Twin Cities, and I think it's worth hyping," the frontman explains. "It's worth giving them a resource, giving them a quality physical product, and forming a community."
Inspired by the connections that he and the band formed on tour, Frankie and Uhrich plan to release multiple tapes from local and national bands, and distribute the catalog to DIY hubs like Chicago's Bric-A-Brac Records.
One release getting special attention is the Raiders EP. The record confronts the latent themes of personal turmoil often buried under layers of braggadocio on Teardrop's 2013 debut EP, Tough Guy, while losing none of his swagger in the process. Between the surging call to action of the title track and the anthemic "100%," which features chiming guitars by Dan English and backing vocals from Howler's Ian Nygaard, Raiders shoots for the moon and pulls it off with ease.
Teardrop sports 100 percent of his ne'er-do-well charm when he looks ahead to 10 Thousand Sounds.
"We get to play downtown, and who the fuck wants to hear us play downtown? That's sick! They're gonna go there expecting one thing; they're not gonna get it from us. If you heard about the 'Drone Not Drones' fiasco, it's gonna be our own fuckin' spin on that, Frankie-style baby, what's up!" —Zach McCormick
For the past six months, Carroll have been sitting pretty atop their debut full-length release. So far, the album's first single, "Bad Water," is the only taste the local indie-rock troupe have publicly shared. "It came out so well," says Carroll frontman Brian Hurlow of the song. "It's like a little pop gem."
It's a muggy late morning in July. Hurlow and guitarist Max Kulicke sit at a bench at Urban Bean, nursing their coffees to the rhythm of the traffic on Lyndale. Carroll are in the midst of a very busy summer, with Saturday's 10 Thousand Sounds Festival right in the heart of a spate of local fest appearances. Plans for a fall tour are underway, but the band continues to seek label backing, and the new album hangs delicately in the balance. After a local DIY approach to last year's Needs EP, they spent 17 days this past January in the Philadelphia studio of acclaimed producer Jonathan Low, who has worked with the National, Sharon Van Etten, and Local Natives.
Still, they're in no rush. "It feels like a good time to be experimenting," Hurlow remarks. Such experiments include innovating elements of interactive lighting, and exerting quality control by employing a steady sound technician.
"I feel like from a purely sonic standpoint, we put on pretty compelling shows," says Kulicke. "In the last couple months we've been talking a lot about what we can do to pull everything back into the fold and exert a little more intention behind it."
The two discuss Carroll like a pair of proud parents. They will soon part ways, each heading to his respective day job. Before saying goodbye, Kulicke stares hard at his friend. "I don't know if this resonates with you," he muses. "But when you want to do something creative it sort of eats at you, and then you just have to do it. You feel a bit compelled and a little crazy-person sometimes but that feeling is also rewarding, because you have a mission when you wake up." —Sarah Stanley-Ayre
It has been one hell of a long day for the noise-rocking boys in Tree Blood. On something like hour 10 of their 11-hour marathon rehearsal, their practice space is starting to look like a sweltering graveyard of empty Stag cans. Despite their tired eyes, drummer Walker Neudorff is quick to point out that the work wasn't quite so grueling as it appears.
"We took a dinner break, but only a few blocks away," he ruefully explains, thinking longingly of a now-digested sandwich. "We had these bones for new songs that we wanted to do on the tape."
That tape, loosely titled Second (or Segundo if Neudorff's wiseass suggestion sticks) is the forthcoming release in Tree Blood's ambitious attempt to write, record, package, and produce one three-track EP per month during the summer. Since the deadline for part two of the series — our 10 Thousand Sounds Festival — is quickly looming, a drastic practice session like this one was necessary.
"It really pushes us to actually create something, but at the same time, it's not jarring," says guitarist Colin Wilkinson of the deadlines. "It's really making us think about what we want to put out."
"This is the first tape that, through and through, is just all co-written material, all just straight Tree Blood," adds baritone guitarist Simon Brooks.
All that co-writing and camaraderie is inspiring some seriously potent playing from the band. As they tear into a new track from Second, Wilkinson and Brooks intertwine their vocals and guitars in a howling harmony that draws from their brotherly relationship, while Neudorff hammers his three-piece kit like a man possessed. The latest incarnation of Tree Blood sounds ferocious and huge enough to burst out from the basement shows that they normally call home.
"That's a part of any art that you produce," Neudorff says. "It's just a purge of emotion, and it's nice to have a collective purge." —Zach McCormick
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