Desaparecidos kick off their tour in Minneapolis

Can you pick Conor Oberst out of this lineup?
Zach Hollowell

Among Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst's rosary of multi-project LPs, none of his releases have been so wonderfully against type as his one-year tenure fronting the post-hardcore act, Desaparecidos. The band released Read Music/Speak Spanish on February 12, 2002 — four months after September 11. With grandstanding horribly out of fashion, the vitriolic group of twentysomethings might as well have been strumming from a stack of five soapboxes. But their friendly feuding guitars carried clout that their words couldn't at the time.

Much of that aural inspiration can be accredited to lead guitarist Denver Dalley, whose Jade Tree Records pedigree attests to much of the sonic abrasion found on record. Ten years later, Desaparecidos' lyrical misfires are starting to boast an added resonance. As the band prepare to launch their first tour in a decade from Minneapolis's cozy 400 Bar, Dalley spoke with City Pages on growing finer with age.

City Pages: Compared to the other stops on the tour, this 400 Bar show seems to be an intimate setting.

Denver Dalley: Yeah, one of the [400 Bar] owners, Bill Sullivan, is an old friend of ours. He actually did some tour managing or something for Bright Eyes. We always just had a loyalty there whenever we've been through town. As much as we would have liked to have had something at First Ave so that no one would get turned away, I think we just have a lot of respect there. And it's a band that translates best in a setting like that. It's a sweaty, loud rock show. We talked about adding another show at the 400 Bar, but we just couldn't pull it off with the time constraints.

CP: What led you guys to decide to play shows again? The fact that it's an election year seems like more than a coincidence.

DD: We've all been talking about doing it for a long time and have been kind of waiting for schedules to align. I think the election was also a motivating factor. People would say to us, and we would kind of say to each other, that there's so much stuff going on right now that people are fired up about. And it seemed like a perfect time to do this. Before, it didn't feel right. There were pressures and expectations.

CP: So when September 11 happened, where were you guys with recording Read Music/Speak Spanish?

DD: We had already written it, and we were in the studio glued to the TV between takes. I think we went in a couple days after when they were looping the footage and still bringing in pieces as the story developed. It was that whole week where you couldn't turn the TV on without seeing the towers fall. It was a crazy thing to go back and forth between the studio and that.

CP: Did you guys have to rethink any of the subject matter once you saw the state of America change?

DD: We had them all written and finalized at that point. It's a little hard to remember since it's been 10 years. We did talk about that brush of people that were so motivated by 9/11 but not enlisted or anything, and it was more so of an anger at the time like the lyrics [in "Happiest Place on Earth"] say about just kind of wanting to kill something. And it was one of those logical avenues where as soon as you finish high school, you go to college and get a job. That's another route that's pushed toward you is the military.

CP: Ten years later, are there any moments in the recordings that you guys roll your eyes at?

DD: Yeah, there's one that was a B-side on "The Happiest Place on Earth," called "Gimme the Pen." I think it may say something about it that even at the time we weren't super stoked about it, so we put it as a B-side to the single. That song is an example for the new tour where we were like, "Maybe, let's not relearn that one." That's actually something we talked about getting back together. Would it be better to leave the songs how they were and have the memory? But we just have so much fun playing them.

CP: Read Music/Speak Spanish has barely any points of hopefulness. Do you guys see optimism in that record's message at all?

DD: I mean, it's pretty bleak. I don't think that was intentional. I think it was just more of the mindset. Maybe subconsciously we thought that it was too expected that we would have the uplifting ballad. I think it is important to focus on the good and not just the bad, but at times there's so much that bothers you. It's like how people don't appreciate their health until they get sick. We are all very privileged and fortunate and lucky to live where we live, but there's almost a guilt that comes with that, too, that forces you to point out what you think is wrong.

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