Communist Daughter frontman Johnny Solomon finds small-town sound
Every Wednesday evening in Prescott, Wisconsin, the six members of Communist Daughter take over lead singer Johnny Solomon's bright-red Boxcar restaurant, sprawling out across bar stools and small tables, ordering up bottles of beer and bites to eat, and waiting for Solomon to close the kitchen so they can head downstairs to practice. The Boxcar is a cozy space, just a row of booths and a few corner tables tucked into a main street of dive bars and shops across the St. Croix River from Hastings, just far enough away from the Twin Cities to feel removed from the clatter and bustle of life in the city.
Once inside the bar, it becomes clear that everything hinges on Solomon. The Boxcar is his bar, Communist Daughter is his band, and his mates form a tight, almost impenetrable bond around their lead singer and close friend, speaking about him with a quiet, reverent awe.
"I think of Johnny like Babe Ruth," says drummer Steve Yasgar as we wait for Solomon to finish cooking. "Larger than life."
The rest of the band gathers around, and we slowly start to wind through Solomon's and the band's shared history. After years fronting the moderately successful local power-pop band Friends Like These, Solomon dropped off the map entirely in 2007, his life swallowed up by personal problems that are hinted at but never fully revealed. When he came to, Solomon found himself in Prescott, a town he remembered for its beauty, beaches, and stillness.
"I ended up here because I wanted to leave, but I didn't really want to leave," he says. "I remembered this town that my ex-girlfriend and I used to come to. It's like a resort town, all boats, a huge beach. I was just like, fuck, I'm going there."
Unsure about getting back into the music scene, Solomon poured his energy into opening a bar and restaurant, a daunting undertaking that is more than a full-time job—but the songwriting never stopped. He started playing with Yasgar and met singer Molly Moore, whose angelic harmonies soften Solomon's pop melodies and give Communist Daughter's songs a delicately haunting, otherworldly feel. After recording a few promising demos, Solomon pulled together the rest of his group, including former Friends Like These bandmate Adam Switlick, and decided to slowly ease back into the rock 'n' roll circus.
The result is a gorgeously sad and luscious album, Soundtrack to the End, which the band will release Friday at the Fine Line. Steeped in '60s-era Beach Boy harmonies and expansive, sunny choruses, Solomon's upbeat pop arrangements are contrasted with lyrics about loss, cynicism, and struggle, in a narrative that tells far more than Solomon would ever confess in an interview.
"The music was my life," he sings on album closer "Minnesota Girls." "The bathroom was the place I found it/I lost my friends, I turned off all my lights/It was never quite as fun as it sounded." On "Oceans" he takes a smirking jab at a prominent band that has found popularity in a local scene over which he once reigned: "In the ocean, my heart's on the bottom/And all you kids of autumn wouldn't trade it for Solid Gold."
When Solomon is ready, we all head down the back stairs of the Boxcar and into an apartment tucked underneath, where a drum set, amps, and mic stands crowd Solomon's living room. Despite the cramped setup and the lo-fi system, the band sounds fantastic, set up in a circle and watching Solomon for cues as they sing harmonies, shake tambourines, and pile up layers of sparsely arranged organ and guitar parts. Between songs, the band apologizes for their loudness, their awkwardness, their silliness, self-conscious to be practicing in front of onlookers.
Solomon stops, looking over at my place on the couch. "Do you believe in magic?" he asks, a deadpan expression on his face. "Do you believe that a band is more than just a bunch of dudes playing guitars onstage?"
I pause, though I already know my reply. "Of course."
"Good." And the band plays on.
COMMUNIST DAUGHTER play a CD-release with Idle Hands, the Arms Akimbo, Ten Centuries, and Estate on FRIDAY, APRIL 2, at the FINE LINE MUSIC CAFÉ; 612.338.8100
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