After their guitarist’s abrupt departure, the April Fools regroup

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The April Fools Erin Drake

It’s never too late for reinvention.

That’s what local rock vet Brian Drake discovered when he recruited Clay Williams (guitar, lap steel, vocals), Ben Kaplan (drums, vocals), and Scott Hreha (bass) to record a handful of his songs in 2013. The foursome’s creative chemistry resulted in a new genre-hopping band called the April Fools, which released its self-titled debut in 2015. A sophomore album, Colorwheel, followed last month with 10 uncategorizable tracks that jump from ‘70s AM radio to pop to soul to country.

One day after the album release show, Williams announced he was leaving the band. The April Fools have since added new members Brad McLemore and Terri Owens. We spoke to Drake about the reworked lineup ahead of the band’s show at Aster tonight.

City Pages: Why did Clay Williams leave the band?

Brian Drake: There wasn’t any big reason. There wasn’t any drama. Clay is a pretty busy guy, as far as being a gun for hire. I think that by the time we finished the second record, he was slowing down a little bit and wanting more time to travel and things like that with his wife. Honestly, his reasons are evidently personal because we never really got a good explanation.

CP: Were you surprised?

BD: Yeah, we were totally surprised. We had a killer release bash the night before he let us know at the Hook and Ladder – a full house, a really great show. The potential for this band to do some touring, some of the doors that are opening up, may have been more than he wanted to commit to. I really don’t know the reason. There’s no gossip. There’s no fighting. We made two really great records together and we’re all good friends.

CP: Why did you add two new members rather than just another guitarist after Williams exited?

BD: We had the opportunity. Both people were there. Terri brings a lot to the band as a vocalist. We have four singers in the band right now, which is going to be really nice. It helps us branch out in things that we can do stylistically, as far as harmony-type stuff and the pop stuff that we all love with the backup vocals. And Brad was available. He’s been on my radar for a long time. We talked about doing some writing together. When this came up, I asked both of them independently if they’d be interested in getting on board. To our delight, they both said, “Absolutely.” We’re just like, “Hey, this is really going to fun now.” The more the merrier.

CP: Are you the sole songwriter in the band?

BD: Up until this point, the first two records were all my songs. I’m really looking forward to collaboration with the two new folks. We’re getting right back in the studio after the holidays. We’ll have at least an EP ready for release by spring.

CP: That’s quick.

BD: Yeah. We’re going to get right back in. I had, I think, eight songs that we could have put on this record [Colorwheel], but, people’s attention spans…I don’t think we were formidable enough to do a double album.

CP: Lyrically and instrumentally, how does the April Fools compare to other bands you’ve been in in the past, like Idiot Savant, the Fontanas, 60 Cycle Hum, and the Hard Left?

BD: This is more of a classical band in the sense that we write material in a very old-school sense. Because these musicians are so adept and well-versed in different styles, we’re not really stuck with one sort of formula. The first record was all over the board, from straight-up country to fairly hard rock to folky, alternative Americana type stuff. The new record follows suit with that. I think the new one’s probably a little more rockin’. Now, especially with the two new members, the sky is the limit. There’s really not much we can’t handle. One of the songs that didn’t make it on the last record – we just didn’t have time to flesh it out, we couldn’t get the horn section that we really wanted – was a straight-up, stone-cold funk tune. We like to think that we can follow the same lines as NRBQ, be stylistically able to tackle just about anything that we like. Our tastes, on the spectrum of things that we enjoy listening to and things that we’ve been influenced by, is so broad and so wide.

CP: Is it easier to collaborate with musicians who have been playing for a long time or are people set in their ways? Do personalities ever get in the way?

BD: In this band, personalities absolutely do not get in the way. We’re very complementary to each other. Because we come from a lot of the same influences, a lot of the same backgrounds, musically, it’s one of those things [where] we could all sit around swap records and listen to songs. We all like what the other person likes. As far as being set in our ways, I like to think that that’s not the case, either. We’re always buying new music. I love everything from jazz to classical to world music to reggae to rock to pop.

CP: You’ve been on the Minneapolis music scene since the early ‘80s. What keeps you here?

BD: At that time, the scene was so vital here and there was so much happening. There were a couple places – New York, Los Angeles, maybe Austin, and to a degree Nashville – and Minneapolis was in hot competition with all those markets. I ended up here. Now of course with family and friends and being here a long time, it’s become a home. I really haven’t considered relocation for a long time.

CP: Is the local music scene still as vibrant as it used to be?

BD: The music itself is as fun or more fun. Things change, demographics change. You can still go out in Minneapolis seven nights a week and find really good live music. But I think everyone will tell you that everyone’s playing to diminishing numbers. Live music is not what it used to be. I want to say ’86 through ’90, you could go out every night of the week and clubs were packed. And not just one. You could jump from First Avenue to the Cabooze to the Uptown. There were crowds everywhere almost every night of the week. That’s certainly changed. And there’s generational issues as well. I’ve gone to the Nomad on a weeknight just on a whim and have been super surprised at the energy and the number of people and the quality of the music. There’s still great things happening, but in general, I don’t think the numbers are there. The fact that we’ve had a whole string of venues shutting their doors recently kind of attests to that as well.

CP: There seems to be an inverse correlation between the length of time people play music and how much they care about it being successful. It becomes “music for music’s sake” as musicians age. Has that been your experience?

BD: Absolutely. A lot of folks have had a lot of close calls, close brushes, little glimpses of the “big time,” but it’s more about the art. It’s more about putting out really good product and feeling satisfied yourself with what you’re doing.

The April Fools
Where: Aster Café
When: 8 p.m. Thurs. Dec. 28
Tickets: $8; more info here


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