Death to Our Enemies say punk's not dead

Death to Our Enemies' Chuck Terhark, Matt Coffee, and Ken Tyborski
Emily Utne

"Rabbits tore apart Ken's relationship," says Death to Our Enemies drummer Chuck Terhark of his bandmate, bassist Ken Tyborski, over a tall Pabst Blue Ribbon. Instantly, my weeks of fevered research on the Minneapolis band—jotting notes about Red Stripe beer and Glen Danzig, meditating upon ear-splitting records—come together. The lyrical curiosities and noise-driven conundrums have an answer: These guys really mean it.

Anyone paying attention to Death to Our Enemies' recent self-titled Learning Curve Records release will hear a band torn from the tattered cloth of punk forbearers the Misfits and the Stooges, bleached and weathered by the frantic sincerity of early-'90s stalwarts like Nirvana and Mudhoney. It is a headbanger of an album, wrought with devotion and sarcasm, slacker sentimentality and pure ambition. Those extremes complement the music, give it authenticity.

The same dichotomies are evident in the personalities of the trio. Take lead singer/guitarist and punk-rock aficionado Matt Coffee's upbringing as the son of a touring soundman: His parents met at a Foghat concert; his father worked for the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Dylan. "As far as I was concerned, those guys were just my uncles," Coffee says. Nevertheless, his band's shows exist at the opposite end of the glamour spectrum, and it is there that Coffee and company thrive.

The gangly lead singer met drummer Terhark in a Fargo, North Dakota, junior high school and the two quickly bonded. "The Fargo scene used to be awesome," Coffee gushes sans irony. "Bands en route from Minneapolis to Seattle would stop to play. It was all about all-ages shows back then. Around there, the only thing left to do was grab a couple friends and form a band."

Though the two never played together in Fargo, their friendship continued into their days at the U of M, where they met Milwaukee native Tyborski and formed Death to Our Enemies, named for a fictional scooter gang.

"Ken and I lived in the second-dirtiest apartment in America," Terhark brags. "Channel 5 was in our living room broadcasting live—just in case people question our punkness."

Indeed, those willing to doubt the punk-rock cred of Death to Our Enemies should naysay elsewhere. As we talk rock philosophy on the tiny patio of a northeast Minneapolis dive, it becomes evident the crew's tastes are more hit than miss, that their energy is more naked excitement than stage persona. The enthusiasm translates vibrantly on the record.

The Jacques Wait-produced album, recorded locally at the Terrarium, is a convincing homage to and logical extension of the last great indie explosion. Its innards sport a sort of sonic grime, a grit that its sparkling hooks won't wash away. Growling bass lines chug alongside bombastic guitars and drum production that would make Steve Albini giddy.

The band recorded the album, a product of six years' work, primarily live and exclusively to two-inch magnetic tape. "Jacques was awesome," says Coffee. "He would sleep at the studio just to be ready for us. He said, 'No good rock albums are made before 3 a.m.' He did a good job capturing what we feel like live."

A cursory glance at the track list reveals what seems to be a hodgepodge of random words and nonsense phrases; upon closer inspection, one finds a conglomerate of wizards, dragons, ninjas, and robots. The band members explain this phenomenon as a byproduct of their misfit youths. "Too much Dungeons and Dragons, maybe," says Coffee. "The theme here is none of this stuff fits in. It's campy horror movies and secret handshakes, the imagination of a 10-year-old."

But, as the band reassures me, there's serious shit in there. Coffee's lyrics are deeply personal, autobiographical, and private to the extent that not even his bandmates can confirm their meaning. As the beer flows, he lets slip that the sweet but raucous "Karate Bike" is not about a girl, but the band itself. "This is the first time we're hearing this," says a shocked Tyborski. "We're a band of best friends," proclaims Coffee. "We'll torture each other but we won't let it fall apart."

Whether one catches Death to Our Enemies onstage at a local dive or swigging PBR at one—and whether or not it is true in a literal sense—it is evident that these guys, this band, were born in a garage. Their music and their spirits seem to live in that place away from glitzy facades, where rock is its own reason and its own end, where inside jokes and jamming with the boys are the coins of the realm.

It is a place, it seems, that will exist for a long time to come.

"Rock and roll is as dead as it's ever been," says Coffee. "We need to keep it alive." 

DEATH TO OUR ENEMIES perform on THURSDAY, JULY 31, at the MINNESOTA MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, 651.266.1030; and on SATURDAY, AUGUST 2, at the 7th ST. ENTRY, 612.332.1775

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