Buildings have a great new album called You Are Not One of Us that should be recognized as such locally, and if you want to spend your time engaging with a trendier band at some hip venue pouring 12 dollar cocktails, so be it.
But I can’t quite get the band’s singer and guitarist Brian Lake to share my attitude as we’re talking about the band’s upcoming album release show. Lake’s taking a break from his job as a tax auditor to catch his breath and do some press before Buildings embark on their second European tour.
I’m asking, again, if his band’s relative obscurity in the local music market bothers him. Examples of bands who’ve broken through keep popping up. The merits of these others’ success is discussed.
Turns out the subject is a lot less important to Lake than to the journalist prodding him. Instead of expressing animosity or indignation, Lake sees the positive in Buildings' existence outside the local hype machine.
“That stuff doesn’t grow your band,” he says. “You get a bunch of publicity for two years and then what? You break up. I’ve seen it a hundred times in this town. It’s the bands that don’t get the attention you’re talking about that stick around.” He quickly recites a list of Minneapolis punk bands that formed before the Obama administration and are still kicking today.
“We don’t just think of being here,” says Lake. “We think of being in Atlanta or Kansas City or Denver, the East Coast. I think that’s what gives us longevity. We don’t think about being a local band.”
Lake reminds me that there are broader ways to measure success than being on rotation at the Current. It’s a strange for a basement punk project to be recognized at all, or to have its music debuted on a high profile site -- Vice is set to stream You Are Not One of Us later this month. “There’s a worldwide premiere of this record and it's shitty punk rock, that’s all it is. It’s really noisy stuff. I don’t even sing, you know? I scream.”
Since the band's 2011 breakthrough, Melt, Cry, Sleep, Buildings have consistently drawn larger crowds outside of Minnesota. But Lake doesn't seem surprised that Buildings' brash noise rock that doesn’t mesh with the mood of our local media market, where cutesy indie rock, sincere hip-hop and an emerging R&B scene prevail. “We’re not a trendy band,” he says. “It’s never been that way. We’re probably most comfortable in a basement.”
But enough of this hand-wringing about local fame – what about the music? Well here’s the meat for the perhaps appropriately uninitiated public. Buildings is abrasive punk rock that slots in with the kind of guttural noise bands of the 90’s punk scene. The music is loud, fast and immediate – if a little less punishingly pervy than the bands they often get compared to like Jesus Lizard or Big Black. Buildings have always been a little artier, a little more math-rock than their peers. While speed is of the essence in all their recordings, it doesn’t trip up the intricate pieces throughout.
The immediately recognizable component of Buildings, the jagged edges, have always been driven by the charging pace of the band's original core members. Drummer Travis Kuhlman’s frenetic rhythms do most of the heavy lifting – his ability to change speeds on a dime allow the songs to shift in space so that any given song can explore different flavors of Lake’s concise, brutal songwriting with economy. The music itself is texturally sophisticated and a bit headier than Buildings' punk contemporaries, though never pedantic or laborious. There’s no fat here. The runtimes are swift and always have been.
What differentiates the new music from the Buildings of yore is a greater focus on elements outside of treble and precisely pounded tones. You Are Not One of Us has a low end far vaster than what was heard on Melt, Cry Sleep, sticking the bass guitar up front for a more pummeling sound.
Appropriately enough, when Lake tells the band's history he often demarcates time by stating who the bass player was at a particular moment or on a particular recording. The bass was once almost an afterthought, like an endless revolving door only recently shut by Mike Baille, the bassist on You Are Not One of Us. His bass heft provides a more direct punch than Buildings have ever had, a different physicality that’s a real step forward.
And Buildings' evolution is about more than bass. It’s about being a full band and growing with time. Exploring space for the sake of exploring space and arriving somewhere new requires patience. A five-year gap between albums makes logical sense.
There’s nothing haphazard about You Are Not One of Us. Responding to a question about setting up the upcoming European tour and all the bureaucratic hoops that need to jumped through to release and tour for an album on a larger scale, Lake explains that waiting is a crucial part of the process. “We’ve been sitting on this music for a year and a half. Everything is planned out.”
The calculation in that process gets clearer as we talk -- turns out there's more professionalism to “shitty punk” than you might expect. After all, this guy is a tax auditor who happens to makes mathy punk rock. He’s jogging to have the stamina for the tour and drinking tea with honey to protect his scream.
“It’s probably our pinnacle," he says. "If it doesn’t get any better than this I’d be happy because of what’s happening with this record.”
Buildings have some big shows after the European tour in support of the reunited Murder City Devils, and Lake is excited but realistic about the commitment. “They asked us to do all four dates. We could only do two because if we did all of them I’d get fired from my job. I can’t get fired from my job.”
This harkens back to Buildings' larger philosophy of being a sustainable band that doesn’t burn out. The band's lack of concern with broader local recognition isn’t a pose. Buildings are big enough for Buildings. If the result is making great records and letting the music find the people who appreciate it on their own, that’s a satisfying enough result by itself.
Which isn’t to say Buildings won’t be prepared if Buildings get bigger. This is a well-seasoned, well-adjusted band that’s played to big crowds already. When I ask Lake about playing on bigger stages in different cities it’s as if none of this makes any difference whatsoever.
“It still has the same energy. It’s kind of cool not having to worry about running my guitar into the cymbals but nothing changes,” Lake says. “We’re still a band that practices in our basement. We’re still guys that play noisy punk rock. It just so happens that people are starting to hear it.”
When: 8:00 p.m. Fri., April 14
Where: 7th Street Entry
Tickets: 18+, $10/$12; more info here