Awkward Bodies on mixtapes, being geeky, and good band names

Awkward Bodies on mixtapes, being geeky, and good band names
Photo by Sarah Pruchnicki

Awkward may be the best word to describe Awkward Bodies. Growing into their sound, the Minneapolis band has been around for barely a year, but has been making friends while trading mixtapes at their shows. Their first of many releases, the self-titled albumdebuts an indie-rock band that has the trappings of a punk band, but the flavors of pop-rock. Some well-known indie-rock bands are one-note, one-speed and one-dimensional. Here, on their album, the band is the exact opposite.

Gimme Noise spoke with the four members of the band before their album release at the Hexagon Bar on Saturday.

Band Members:
Mason Butler - Vocals and Guitar
Jeannette Kjos -  Bass and Vocals
Jesse Miller - Guitar and Vocals
Nick Vittum - Drums and Vocals

Gimme Noise: Who came up with the name Awkward Bodies, and what's the meaning behind the name?

Mason: The name came from Andrew Jansen in a conversation about good band names. We were having trouble finding a name that stuck or fit after the first few practices. I was pretty focused on the name Mystery Shopper which, in retrospect, was a terrible idea and not very distinct at all. I kind of forced the name on the band because I felt it was memorable in a clunky way and instantly relatable; who doesn't feel awkward about their bodies? Liars, that's who.

Jesse: I joined the band on the strength of the Mystery Shoppers as being a hilarious band name. It took me awhile to warm up to Awkward Bodies. Must have hit too close to home.  

Jeannette: I always thought Mystery Shopper was an absolutely terrible name. I wasn't that sold on Awkward Bodies either, but after I shopped it around a bit people seemed to like it. We were in a rush to come up with a name because our first show was only in a few weeks. We had tentative plans to change it, but that never happened. I'm glad about that because I feel like we've really grown into the name. Maybe we're all just teenagers at heart, stuck in the 90s. 

Nick: I think the name speaks for itself. Who doesn't feel (or at least look) somewhat awkward trying to impress a crowd with his/her musical prowess?

Your shows have been used as a medium for mixtape exchange with other bands and fans. Why do you think this catch on so well for Awkward Bodies? Why not just sell the music outright?

Mason: Initially, it was a way to have something to offer people at our first show. We had quickly come up with a batch of what we felt were pretty good songs and were eager to share them while they were fresh. Each tape contained one original song and other songs by bands we liked. It was and is still sort of a crush tape to potential fans. I love making mixes, especially on tapes, because there's just something so inherently sappy about them. Holding them makes you feel like someone's put a bit of work into getting your attention.

In a way, I guess it's sort of cheating to slip your own music to people like that, but just having a CD-R of practice space demos to toss on a table doesn't hold the same cachet. We didn't want to sell them because a) they weren't finished products and b) most of the music wasn't ours. Recently, we have been selling them for a dollar to cover costs if someone really wants a copy and doesn't have anything to trade. It's been fun to have fans show up with really well-constructed tapes for us and feels like way more of a connection than the regular old cash for goods exchange.

Why release on cassettes?

Mason: I have never had a car new enough to have a CD player and didn't even really own an iPod until a few months ago. The bulk of my away from home and computer listening has been radio and tapes. Sure, tapes kind of suck when they're cheaply made and you don't take care of them just like any other medium, but a slightly crumpled tape in your backpack has a much better chance of still being enjoyable than a scratched CD. Plus, there's sort of a forced listened experience with a cassette that CDs don't have. Tapes seem to come with an inherent feeling of hanging out with your friends or driving your shitty car around... of course, maybe I'm just projecting. I know I've had people tell me that they've been at friends houses and listened to one of our mixes, which is awesome to hear. It feels like the experiment is working.

Also, we invested in a multi-tape high speed dubbing machine, so we're kind of committed to the tapes for a while. I bought the machine along with a ton of blanks and cases from an old church for less than it would've cost us to have the tape professionally duplicated.

Jesse: We also hope that, if there are any fans out there, that these initial tapes become collectables because those old practice-room demos will no longer be available elsewhere. Just give us a cut of your Ebay take. 

What's the name of the new EP, and what's the story behind the songs -- how did they come together, and the meaning behind your favorite one?

Mason: After a lot of internal struggle, we went with the self-titled copout. We managed to find a cover image of us that went pretty well with just having the band name on it and figured we can save the fancy titles for future releases, unless we decide to go all Seal with it and name all of our releases after us.

I'd say half of the songs were written nearly to completion between 2002-2012 and were just waiting for me to have the right band to put the final touches on them. "Jamaica Combs" was written on accident when trying to teach the band a different, less good song. Jeannette misinterpreted the bassline and started playing something that sparked one of those amazing moments where the entire band just falls into place and pulls all of their parts out of thin air. It's lucky that we tape all of our practices because it just came out fully formed. The lyrics were inspired by the kind of dreams everyone has. You know the dreams where you're dealing with a stranger but your brain totally identifies them as some random person you know? Jamaica Combs is a girl that I went to elementary school with who I barely remember, but I had a dream that I'd seen some UFOs, but no one would believe me. For some reason, this girl was there too and had also seen them. I don't know why. Maybe with the song out there, she'll get a hold of us and tell me the other side of the dream, but probably not.

Nick: I think they came together about as fast as we all became friends, which was pretty quickly. Mason had a few songs from years past, but the other ones materialized as we joked around, played our instruments and waited for something to click. Fortunately the 'click' always happens. Thus far, Mason is the head-writer of nearly every song, but all of us have the ability (even Jeannette, if we can ever convince her to do it!). He's always been able to put a good set of lyrics over a decent song.

If I had to pick a favorite, I'd say "Doubt" because the words are so identifiable - the doubt in you is really just the doubt in me. Jesse: That original demo of Jamaica Combs, the 10-minute jam that developed as we spontaneously composed it, is actually available on an obscure on-line comp, lost on the internet somewhere.  See if you can find it!

What does each member bring musically to the table -- on the live show and on the EP?

Nick: Mason and Jeannette are both geeks. They constantly geek out over music that I've never heard and technique that I've never been privy to. When Mason talked Jeannette into picking up a bass again for the first time in years, it was so they could start some sort of psychedelic rock band (i.e. 13th Floor Elevators), but I think once we started playing together we realized that we could craft our own sound.

Mason is great as a frontman. He has the chops, the charm and the voice. Jeannette caught on to our style very quickly and her years of music education has made her able to back up just about anything we throw at her. Jesse was our final addition to the mix. He has an affinity for all things tweaked and manipulated with pedals, and this was his opportunity to shine. What was once a power trio with interesting melodies became something much more special when he came on board.

Jesse: For the EP we really tried to capture what we sound like live, the "pure" Awkward Bodies, so you'll basically hear the same thing live as on the EP.  All of my guitar tracks were recorded in 1 or 2 takes.  My part on "Jamaica Combs" was literally one singular take, and I hadn't even listened to the basic tracks beforehand, to create a more live aura around it. Luckily I somehow didn't screw up. 

Jeannette: Mason is our fearless leader, or at least we like to let him think that. It's just natural for the lead singer to become the main voice for a band. Nick and I work together to keep a solid rhythmic foundation so Mason and Jesse are free to freak out on their guitars as needed. Jesse really is the frosting on the cake with all the noisy noodling he does.

Everyone has a vocal part in the band (musically). How did this come about?

Mason: We just all like singing. It was natural for us to sing together and we didn't even need to give it any thought. I've been in bands with Nick and Jesse before and already know how to sing around them.

Jesse: I'm more like a muppet.  Mason actually does my voice for me.  

How did you meet John Miller and Derek Almstead, and how did you come to working with these two guys?

Mason: I think Nick knows John through friends. I dunno, he came from somewhere when Nick and I made a demo for another band a few years ago. I've recorded with him a few times since. He's a weird and funny dude...mostly weird. Jesse contacted Derek though an old internet connection. He's mastered a lot of records we like, is super easy to work with and cheap.

Jesse: I've always been a fan of Derek's work, being an Elephant 6 fanatic, and I finally had a good excuse to work with him.  

Seems like the band is keeping busy in 2012. What's next for you guys?

Mason: We'll be jumping on the Kickstarter bandwagon like everyone else to try to get these released in a nicer vinyl package. I love vinyl too and John is worried that we're squandering our really nice recordings on a lossy medium .We're just going to keep trying to play more and bigger shows around town and make more friend bands. It's hard for us to tour right now, but we'll definitely be getting out of town soon. We're gonna try to ride the new Minneapolis wave to moderate stardom. Hopefully we'll get licensed to be MTV bumper music or something.

Jesse: All of our songs are actually written specifically to be music-beds.  We're trying to see how many iPod commercials we can get on. 

What can we expect at the album release show?

Mason: FM Bells is promising to bring some over the top psychedelic lighting spectacle. He's being very mysterious about it, but I trust him. Ghosts of Guyana are our friends from Sioux City and they'll be here supporting their new release too. It's really good -- really spacey, but still aggressive. We'll have a stack of tapes to sell. They'll come with free downloads if you want that sort of thing. If you're one of those people that doesn't have a tape deck OR a computer...then I just don't know. Maybe we should start selling refurbished Walkmans too.

Awkward Bodies will release their self-titled album at the Hexagon Bar on Saturday, August 25, 2012 with FM Bells, Millennium Childs, Ghosts of Guyana.
21+, Free, 9 pm

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