Eau Claire quartet Laarks walk fine line between regal and ragged

courtesy of the artists

All great rock albums are a delicate dance between chaos and control. Overly refined recordings with nary a hair out of place feel lifeless after repeated listens, while totally raw affairs wear thin even faster (undercooked charm can only get one so far). It's a tough balance to strike, but one Laarks have managed to pull off their first time out of the gate. An Exaltation of Laarks, the Twin Cities/Eau Claire-based quartet's debut, boasts both bracing immediacy (in the slightly strangled tenor of frontman Ian Jacoby and the barbed-wire tones of guitarist Kyle Flater) and well-mannered melodies (Jacoby's tasteful keyboard textures and Brian Moen's dynamic, precise drumming). The group's tight weaving of electronic and organic rock textures comes off, at times, like a street tough's take on the Postal Service, and it's easy to envision similarly massive success if the right breaks come their way.

That success may come sooner rather than later, as the group recently inked a deal with indie-label heavyweight Absolutely Kosher records, which will give An Exaltation of Laarks a nationwide re-release this November. Jacoby took time out to talk with City Pages about the long road to Laarks' debut, being in a band whose members live in separate cities, and how Bon Iver's rise to global stardom has changed the stakes of the game in the Eau Claire music scene.

City Pages: Laarks existed for three years before officially releasing an album. Did you intentionally want that long seasoning period before putting out a permanent document of your sound?

Ian Jacoby: Part of that was just going through a lot of lineup changes. The only people who have been in the band since the beginning are Brian [Moen, Laarks' drummer and recording engineer] and me. We finally started recording in the spring of 2007, and even then it took forever because we experimented with different guitar tones and keyboard sounds. We were doing it ourselves, and none of us are really professional studio guys so it was a lot of trial and error—sort of, "Let's throw three guitars on there and see if that's cool or gross."

CP: Well, it worked in the end; the record feels produced but still quite visceral. Were you consciously aiming for that balance?

Jacoby: We tried to. Luckily we had a lot of people to bounce ideas off. We used Justin Vernon's microphones for the recording, and whenever he wasn't out on tour with Bon Iver he would check in with us and give his input. Brian actually mixed most of the record while he was out on tour with Land of Talk in Europe. That was really nice for us because they have such a dirty punk sound, and I think that rubbed off on Brian as he worked on our record. Using keyboards is inherently a little bit slick but we wanted the album to still have a bit of an edge.

CP: How does the band's home being split between Eau Claire and the Cities affect the way Laarks operates?

Jacoby: Kyle and I still live in Eau Claire, Zach [Hanson, bassist] is in Minneapolis, and Brian is in St. Paul, but even though it's not always easy to get together we do usually practice at least once a week. In some ways it's actually better because when we are together we know we can't afford to waste time. When we all lived in Eau Claire we definitely fucked around more and would go get hamburgers. It's still super fun now, but it's also way more focused. We have the right combination of personalities in the band that the distance actually works in our favor.

CP: How has Justin Vernon's success with Bon Iver impacted the scene in Eau Claire? It's certainly getting much more attention both here in the Twin Cities and around the country than it was two years ago.

Jacoby: Justin's success has really opened doors for everybody. I'm a couple of years younger so he was never really my peer. He's more like a big brother to the band and very much a guiding force even though our music sounds nothing like his. Just seeing the way he carries himself and how pro-Eau Claire he is has had a big impact. The joke always used to be you had to leave Eau Claire to ever make it big. Then Justin actually made it super big when he finally moved back. Being from Eau Claire has only helped us. I like to think we got signed based on the merits of our own music, but it certainly doesn't hurt that Eau Claire is now on people's radar. I can say for certain the whole big-fish-in-a-small-pond thing does wonders for your self-esteem. When you can always count on 60 to 120 people coming out to the shows and being really into it, you want to get out there and play more. The last time we played in the Cities a whole contingent of Eau Claire people came out to the show and were getting a little too into it. We had to tell them to tone it down, like, "This isn't your hometown. You can't just be obnoxious!" [laughs].

LAARKS play with the Sunny Era, the Arrest, and the Small Cities on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, at the TRIPLE ROCK SOCIAL CLUB; 612.333.7399

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