De Stijl's Clint Simonson talks music and rates cocktails at Icehouse
It's happy hour at the Icehouse on Eat Street in Minneapolis. Clint Simonson, owner and operator of the small indie label, De Stijl has already found a home at the bar.
"Hey man, how you been?" he asks giving me a hug as I sit down. "Have I gotten you this Robust Worlds CD yet?"
Checking out the artwork I'm excited, "Oh awesome. Saw him at the Modern Radio night at the Kitty Cat Club. I like what I've heard online from this for sure. Yeah, pumped to hear about more what's up with the label. That and well, to have some drinks!"
Getting antsy at the bar our bartender, Icehouse's Johnny Michaels saunters in, "Thanks for waiting guys."
"Oh are you our mixologist?" I ask Michaels.
"Uh, no i'm not a mixologist. I make drinks," he deadpans, pouring our first.
On the Playing Make Up Wearing Guitars: Taking a cautious sip, "I might not have the words for this until I'm done with the drink." Simonson gasps.
Essentially a Manhattan with Cherry Cola bitters Michaels tells a story of serving Bob Stinson, "Laughing uncontrollably after finally gathering himself, he'd ask for 'Something Hot!'" he says, having served in the Twin Cities for 20 years. "At La Belle Vie I made something similar I called 'We Choose to go to the Moon' that was served as a Manhattan, this one is served as a shot."
Its musical equivalent: Simonson gets serious with Michaels "You know, you are like an artist and these are your songs. I can tell there's some deep local roots. This drink reminds me of Soul Asylum and that Jägermeister logo they used to use. As far as a Replacements song I'd say this is more like "Nowhere is My Home."
Michaels responds, "I can see that. Or 'Raised in the City,' I suppose."
Originally from Iowa, Simonson came to the Twin Cities in '91.
"After I finished school in Iowa City I had this friend in Madison who had a connection to a studio and said he could get me an internship. However I decided to move to Minneapolis. Only later though did I find out I would have been interning at the studio during the time Nirvana were recording demos for Nevermind there that summer." he explains with a laugh, "So instead I came here and got a job at the French Meadow. Oh well."
Currently Simonson splits his time between Minneapolis with summers spent in Bovina, New York.
"It's about 40 miles West of Woodstock." Simonson explains showing me a house that sits on stilts above a rocky hill. "Fortunately, I can work on the label from wherever I have my laptop. It's the best part of working for yourself."
On the Solid Gold Margarita: Introducing the drink, Michaels describes his love and friendship of the local band for whom the drink is named after. "They played a really cool electronic set down here last Thursday night." he tells us as he pours the tangerine concoction on the rocks.
It's Musical Equivalent: "Man, this tastes like the early budding days of a romance when you spend your time together listening to the Smiths or Moon Duo." Simonson responds after taking a hearty sip. Passing the drink to a woman who's overheard our conversation and confessed to being a fellow Iowan, Simonson gets even more enthralled with the drink. "I don't know, this is good. Could say it's right up there with Fleetwood Mac!"
Another really cool looking CD on De Stijl Simonson hands me is from someone named CS Yeh. I get curious, "Oh yeah, is this a band? What on earth is CS Yeh?"
"Oh man, he's great. The single and cassette I did with him were very experimental. He's really made a career out of avant garde music." Simonson says with excitement. "He's usually very dissonant. This just came out though and it's actually very much more of a pop record than he's done before."
With artists like Yeh, Samara Lubelski(who's played with Thurston Moore) and Iowa City's Wet Hair De Stijl, the label Simonson started in 1995, tends to showcase a certain kind of musical artist who often fall under an experimental musical category but manage to inflect a degree of traditional rock structure that can teeter beyond the typical radio friendly styles of indie rock favoring a greater degree of pure expression. With De Stijl though there is the tendency to expose much more of the latter.
I ask Simonson about his label's philosophy.
"There's really no philosophy. Really it's just to grow I suppose. I have an employee now who lives out in New York, Mike Wolf. He's interesting because he's a case study for independent rock and roll." Simonson explains. "He worked at AmRep here and also Flying Nun and Time Out in New York. He's been instrumental in getting the David Kilgour re-issue we just did out."
Michaels gets another ready for us. "This one is sort of boring to make. I made it for the Dessa Lipstick launch we had here at the Icehouse." he tells us showing a photo of Dessa holding a bottle of the Rum with Chocolate, Vanilla and Blood Orange and a whisper of Spice drink, something Michael has called the Angel of Doom.
On the Angel of Doom:"There's a lot going on here." Simonson says while savoring the tasty beverage. "Quite the group ensemble here. Like Sun Ra's Solar Myth Orchestra stuff. I can certainly taste the lipstick."
While much of the music on De Stijl can occupy the same bombastic deliverance as pioneers of experimental music, like Sun Ra or Twin Cities' own Michael Yonkers but there is also a drive for innate melodies and a spacey production of sound that is very prevelent on De Stijl latest local release from Robust Worlds.
Simonson explains, "I think he's wonderful. I saw him in Vampire Hands a million times and was always drawn to what he was doing specifically."
Before Michaels has a chance to pour us one last drink another local label stalwart, Chris Berry of Soft Abuse walks into the bar. "Hey I heard you guys were trying some cocktails today. You need some help?"
Berry and Simonson have collaborated on presenting music together in the past and this weekend have outdone themselves once again bringing in British folk singer/songwriter Michael Chapman to the Icehouse.
"I booked the Black Twig Pickers from Virginia. They just toured with Chapman." Berry elaborates. "They told me stories how great the experience was. How he's the consumate partier."
Simonson agrees, "Oh yeah, and he shows up to play a gig and kills every night!"
Michaels' final drink, a zesty Rum, Jazzberry phosphate punch with vanilla cream foam, appropiately called The Little Richard: "So fruity I can't even believe it. Johnny is clearly an artist." Simonson notes the tiny picture of Little Richard that sits up top the billowing foam.
It's musical equivalent: "It's Really good! But it's so fruity. You know that second Only Ones record? It's kind of like that. The one served before you is better."
De Stijl and Soft Abuse present Michael Chapman tonight at the Icehouse. 7pm $10
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