Knol Tate: musical chameleon or mental case? Over the years he's messed around in some of the local scene's favorite genres, moving from Kill Sadie's hardcore to the Hidden Chord's anxious pre-punk to Askeleton's lo-fi pop. The last is ready to release (Happy) Album (Goodnight Records), the third in a trilogy that includes Sad Album and Angry Album--or--Psychic Songs. (Happy) Album is less lo-fi than the others, with members of the Swiss Army, Ela, and Aneuretical accompanying Tate's removed lyrics about nameless, faceless "people." ("People emulate each other's voices," "These people are sleeping in cars," "They are the people who take pills," etc.)
So how happy is he? In "You and Your New Me," he claims to be "full of hate and despair." "But then I say, 'I don't care,'" counters Tate, sitting in his St. Paul recording studio. "So that's pretty happy, right?" Hmm. In an attempt to tap into Tate's brain and perhaps clarify the new album's emotional vantage, I play him a mix CD and ask him to free-associate under hypnosis. He says no, but agrees to offer commentary. Fittingly, his studio is equipped with black faux leather couches of the type often found in psychiatrists' offices. Sitting across from him with notebook and pen in hand, I resist the urge to ask, "So how does Brian Eno make you feel?"
Minor Threat, "12XU" from Complete Discography
Knol Tate: I heard the band they're covering before I ever heard Minor Threat. And I thought, "This is the worst Wire cover I've ever heard."
City Pages: So, what were you listening to when you were in Kill Sadie?
Tate: Black Flag and Pink Floyd. We used delay pedals but we were also very angry.
The Count Five, "Psychotic Reaction" available on Nuggets: A Classic Collection from the Psychedelic Sixties
Tate: Is this old? Nuggets stuff?
Tate: People have been ripping off Nuggets for a long time. These are the bands in the '60s that couldn't play, just like punk rock was the bands in the '70s that couldn't play.
CP: The Hidden Chord seemed to have a garage-rock influence.
Tate: I guess, but we didn't really listen to garage-rock bands. Garage rock came from people who couldn't play music trying to play like other people who could. In the same way, we loved the Who and a lot of mod rock but we couldn't play as well as those guys. So it ended up sounding kind of like garage rock.
XTC, "Respectable Street" from Black Sea
Tate: I love this band. Still freak out about them all the time. I think English Settlement is my favorite. It has the best sounding low end, all fretless bass. It's amazing how many bands are influenced by XTC now but don't know it. Who's that new new-wave band that are actually really awesome? Their songs have a million harmonies and a million parts.
Tate: That's it. Their fans are like, "This sounds like XTC?" Yeah, go listen to White Music, it sounds just like that [Futureheads'] record.
Can, "Outside My Door" from Monster Movie
Tate: While we were doing the Hidden Chord, people were like, "Wow, you guys really like Can, don't you?" And Brian [Severns] and I were like, "Yeah. [whispering] We should probably go buy some Can records." We'd never heard them before.
CP: So you were kind of like those new new-wave bands that don't know they sound like XTC.
Tate: Yeah, kind of. Can was like the one obvious band that we never paid any attention to until somebody said we sounded like them. I think they were also an influence on the second Askeleton record.
Brian Eno, "St. Elmo's Fire" from Another Green World
Tate: Eno? Which album is this from?
CP: Another Green World.
Tate: [Checking iTunes on his laptop] Yeah, I don't have that one.
CP: You should get it, it's good.
Tate: I hardly own any CDs anymore. I did when I had a real job and I would again if I had money. But I've sold a ton of CDs in the last couple years. It's like, Listen to Fugazi or eat a sandwich? I'm going to eat a sandwich. Sorry, Fugazi.
Neutral Milk Hotel, "The King of Carrot Flowers Part 1" from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Tate: [Sings along] I never really liked them that much until way after this record came out. I liked a lot of other Elephant 6 bands but their early stuff was...
CP: Too lo-fi?
Tate: Yeah, but this record's super good. [Jeff Mangum] hasn't really done anything since. It's like, "I created my masterpiece. I can never make another record." It is a sweet record, probably even a masterpiece. But whatever, make another one.
Minus the Bear, "Dog Park" from They Make Beer Commercials Like This
Tate: That's my brother's [former Kill Sadie bandmate Erin Tate's] band.
CP: Are you guys close?
Tate: Oh yeah. We did a tour with them that was really fun. A lot of whiskey was had on that tour. He told me once that his ultimatum for being in the band was, "I'm only going to do this if you let me name every single song." That's why all the early stuff has the stupidest song titles.
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