Look Out for the Wolves
If all bands were as accommodating as the Danforths—and even half as inventive—interviews would be a hell of a lot more fun. "If you're pressed for time, you're pressed for time," Christopher Danforth says on the phone when we're figuring out where to rendezvous. "Downtown tomorrow at seven is fine. We'll be wearing white boutonnieres." The next day, as the band members emerge from Peavey Plaza's upper terrace, I see the white flowers pinned to Tom Kemmer, Neil Fasen, and Danforth's short-sleeved shirts, as per our agreement. In defiance of the evening's unseasonable warmth, I'm wearing a big, black, fake-fur Russian army hat, or ushanka.
"What we had planned if your schedule allowed," Danforth explains as we take a window-side table at Brit's, "was to have a limo pick you up. We have this friend who does this thing he calls Jon Bon Jerry. He'd have been in the limo in a sort of thrift-store superhero costume." Tall and thin, with short, blondish hair and vaguely aristocratic features, Danforth radiates the kind of earnestness that marks him as ringleader. He goes on, describing a Byzantine semi-abduction scene involving Bon Jerry, a roller rink, and guys in white, head-to-toe fake disaster-worker suits.
They'd have done it, too. I'm more than a little touched that, purely for my entertainment, three people who don't know me from Toby Keith took the time to hatch such a complex scheme and would have gladly dropped a bundle to make it happen. But such is the band's appetite for complication; anything they touch turns into a labyrinth—especially things made of sound. Look Out for the Wolves, freshly out on Essay Records (with a limited-edition version released on Modern Radio), finds the trio using indie rock as a base camp for incursions into exotic realms hitherto unvisited by all but a few intrepid souls. Or maybe it's the other way around.
"We don't really consider ourselves hardcore experimentalists," says Danforth, "so much as a band that's incorporating all kinds of different elements: classical arrangements, instruments you don't usually encounter in rock, field recordings, visuals. It's all been done in some form by somebody, but we're trying to combine it in ways that are interesting, to do things that are new to us."
They didn't get their appetite for juxtaposition overnight. Danforth (guitar, vocals), Fason (bass, vocals), and Kemmer (drums, stuff) have been playing together in various configurations since the mid-'90s, when they met while attending Moorhead State. "Fargo-Moorhead is a great place to be a band in," Fason says, spearing a forkful of Scotch egg. "A lot of great shows come through, and you don't have the competition for support slots you have here. A lot of the time, all it takes is a phone call."
But life in the Twin Towns was a little too easy. Inspired by the likes of former Fargoans Hammerhead, they moved individually to St. Paul early in the millennium and ended up forming a band. Except for Fasen (who cites girlfriend preferences), they still live there, and rehearse in one of the practice spaces above Station 4. "Lowertown has the potential to be a really interesting place," says Kemmer. "We really support what Station 4 is doing, branching out beyond just metal shows and bringing in all kinds of different stuff. The place is actually packing out pretty often. They're starting to get a lot of college kids and nerd-rockers."
Given its range, Look Out for the Wolves pushes the band into the latter group by default. Opener "Goodnight in German" starts with Bavarian drinking vocals over sinister electronics and quickly evolves into a pulsating rocker that simultaneously recalls "Jenny Ondioline"-era Stereolab, Kinski, and first-wave Krautrockers Neu. Snippets of field recordings appear in unexpected places on the album, as do orchestral gestures, often abetted by a platoon of guest musicians, which includes cellist Adria Fernandez and saxophonist Mike Selle, as well as Cows and TVBC veteran Freddy Votel (credited in the liner notes with "percussion, junk drum set, pots and pans"). But, no matter how adventurous it gets, the band avoids preciousness. Plus, it's eminently capable of generating straight-ahead indie pop, as on the drum-machine-driven, semi-acoustic "Movies in My Head."
"We love all kinds of music," says Danforth, "from the most bizarre stuff imaginable to Simon and Garfunkel. We used to live in this house we called 'the dormitory,' because it had all these little dorm-type rooms, each with one window. Before we played a show we'd put on the Cars and Huey Lewis. When Sports came on, we'd be like, Okay, we're ready. Huey is telling us we can do this."