The inside of the Zeus Jones office in Uptown is a sleek, ultramodern-looking space. Its marble walls and high ceilings show off treated wood and aged brick that contrast smartly with the dark, shining floor below. A long table stretches the length of the main room, filled by a row of computers that line up in a neat row, while a series of large, silver lamps hang overhead.
[jump] Seated on either side of a bright orange table in the meeting room next door are Jon Hunt and Christian Erickson, a designer and an advertising specialist in their late 30s. The two men also comprise the core of a rock band, Blue Sky Blackout, but these are no mere business professionals moonlighting as rock stars. Between them, Hunt and Erickson have decades of experience in the local music scene, although their sound -- stylish and sophisticated, much like the surroundings -- is deeply rooted in that of a very specific time period: the shoegaze and Britpop of the 1980s and early '90s.
Listen: Blue Sky Blackout, "Don't Let it Drag You Down"
"I'm a total marketing anarchist when it comes to music," grins vocalist Erickson, slipping seamlessly from business mode to that of musician. Leaning back crossed-legged in his chair, he wears a black jacket with a low-cut collar and has long bangs swept to the side. "Most stuff I do with this band, I just give away for free. There's no marketing strategy, it's just totally for fun."
Having fun, indeed, seems to be the main goal of this sextet, a veritable supergroup of musicians whose friendships stretch back even further than their time spent gigging with one another in bands like Lunar 9, Medication, and Astronaut Wife. But while their individual histories are thoroughly enmeshed, Blue Sky Blackout's germination took place only a few short years ago, when Hunt was living in Los Angeles.
"I moved out there with my ex, then she dumped me--well, she wasn't my ex, she was my future ex," explains Hunt, prompting Erickson to let out a deep laugh. After meeting his current wife, Hunt continues, "I had this batch of songs that were all kind of the same... so I was like, 'Well, there's an album. I should get some people to play it.'"
As he prepared to return to Minneapolis, Hunt got in touch with drummer Mark Iwanin. At a Zeus Jones office Christmas party, Iwanin casually told Erickson about the project, and it was then that the singer angled his way into the band. "A lot of drinking was going on," Erickson recalls, wryly. "I'd spent the last few years in a band where I'd written the songs but I didn't sing them, so I was like, 'Fire whoever it is you're going to [hire], you guys should have me play."
Erickson sent Hunt some demos and, well, the rest is history.
Last spring, Blue Sky Blackout dropped its first release, which essentially amounted to a three-song single. "A few years ago, Ed Ackerson and I got into a conversation about, if you weren't limited by physical media, what would be a cool format for a single?" says Erickson. "What we decided was really it should be three songs... because then you could have a pop song or rock song, you could do a ballad or some sort of slightly B-track that you like, and then something really weird."
For their new EP, John Hughes, the band decided to move away from such a strict format, but the idea remains essentially the same, as its six songs -- despite their sprawling sound and the aggressive wall of sound built up by a three-guitar onslaught, not to mention Erickson's oversized vocals -- make for a tight-knit and carefully polished batch, whittled down to cut out any excess.
Not that that stopped Hunt -- admittedly notorious for his self-proclaimed "crackpot notions" (one former band "almost mutinied" when he decided to "go country") -- from creating a concept for the record that indulged his love for sci-fi and '80s teen movies. "I had this notion of writing a soundtrack to a fake John Hughes film that didn't exist. Because, you know, those films always had certain types of songs," says Hunt. "But as time went on, that kind of got abandoned."
Erickson concurs. "The concept started to get in the way of picking which songs were the best to put on the album." Then, sitting forward in his chair and pointing across the table at Hunt, Erickson adds, "What I think is awesome is I would never be in a band like this if I was writing the material. All this shit is really fun to sing and really fun to play, so that's what's cool about being in a band with somebody else who comes up with the crackpot ideas for the songs."
Hunt, sitting with arms folded, his black and gray argyle sweater and peppered-black beard making a perfect foil to Erickson, flashes a mischievous smile back at his band mate. "And I kind of deliberately do shit to fuck with people."
BLUE SKY BLACKOUT play a CD-release show with Grant Cutler and Gorgeous Joe Johnson, Original Mark Edwards, and the Seeks, tonight, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18, at CAUSE SPIRITS & SOUNDBAR. 21+. $6. 9 p.m.