Good Night Gold Dust couldn’t see where they were going.
Barely outside of Mankato, they were driving through a snowstorm on the way to a January 2016 show at Icehouse.
Colin Scharf (guitar and vocals) had grown excitable about a defective wiper blade that left a thick slurry of ice across their van’s windshield. Calmly, Michelle Roche (drums) told him to stop in St. Peter to buy a new one. Laura Schultz (guitar and vocals) had tuned out the chaos, and Zack Arney (synth) was already in the Cities, though he’s heard the story so many times that it feels like he was there.
While Scharf was inside an auto parts store and Roche was watching a how-to video about wiper blades on YouTube, Schultz listened to the radio.
“It was Mark Wheat on the Current, and he said, ‘This next band is coming to Minneapolis to play one of their first big shows in town,’” according to Schultz. “And I was like, ‘I wonder who that is?’ Then he said, ‘They’re from Mankato, Minnesota.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re from Mankato, Minnesota’—not making the connection.
“Then he said, ‘This is a band called Good Night Gold Dust, with their song ‘Broken Wing.’ And I was just like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.’”
She rolled down the windows and cranked the stereo. Roche stopped messing with the wipers, Scharf left the checkout line, and the three held an impromptu dance party in the parking lot.
That, Scharf says, was the moment they felt like they’d made it.
The band is sitting on the patio at Mankato’s Pub 500 this summer after an all-day practice. Scharf points to another bar patio along a street littered with them. That, he says, is where he met Laura Schultz, not knowing that they would form Good Night Gold Dust and later get married.
This is pretty much where you’d expect such an important moment in the band’s history to happen. This block and a half of South Front St., which some refer to as “the Barmuda Triangle,” is the center of Mankato. Its closeness and familiarity can feel comforting, but also stifling.
Any Minnesota band based outside the Twin Cities metro faces obvious challenges. But with a recently released EP and a show this Friday at Icehouse, Good Night Gold Dust is focusing on the benefits.
For Scharf, this is familiar territory. Growing up in Buffalo, he rooted for the Bills and Sabers, teams that were always expected to lose—and rarely disappointed.
“The whole rustbelt is an underdog, and you carry that around with you,” he says. “It gives you a boost of confidence, in a way, to not be from the big city and still be kicking ass—making really cool music and playing awesome shows.”
It Could Have Been You is the band’s third EP, but the second with this lineup after Roche and Arney joined the band four years ago. On the new six-song album, the band displays traditional rock chops but also experiments confidently with synthesizers, samples, Auto-Tuned vocals, and drum machines. It also showcases the difference between how Schultz and Scharf approach songwriting.
Schultz relies on her singer-songwriter background, despite the emphasis on electronic instrumentation. “Second Moon,” for example, fades in with synth and light guitar, building as Schultz sings, with that mournful sweetness only a folk-singer can manage: “The night’s a cruel companion, one that keeps repeating, ‘It could’ve been you. It could’ve been you.’”
On the other hand, Scharf channels Joe Strummer on tracks heavy with rhythm, guitar riffs, and attitude, such as “Thieves.” Snarling through the song’s backbeat, he sings, “Yeah, we pulled a fast one, clean in the spring air/ No security cameras, ain’t nobody gonna catch us.”
Experimentation, both in practices and in the studio, makes these disparate styles work together. The band had worked with Brett Bullion, who has produced albums for Fog and Bad Bad Hats, on their 2015 self-titled EP, and they booked studio time again with him for It Could Have Been You. But this time, recording was a much different experience.
“The last album, we came in with skeletons of songs, and what we came in with was very different from what we came out with. A lot of it got shaped in the studio,” Arney says. “With this record, we were prepared and knew the sound we wanted.”
It’s a bit tricky for a Mankato-based band to find a venue for its Minneapolis album release and to promote it. Fortunately, Scharf and Schultz can turn to Twin Cities musicians they know, including members of Communist Daughter, Fathom Lane and Field Report.
In 2016, Scharf and Schultz started hosting living room concerts featuring these and other acts. Sometimes they were passing through town, and other times Good Night Gold Dust invited them. In a place where you have to make your own fun, Scharf says, these things just happen.
This is the paradox of being based in Mankato, according to Schultz. “The thing about the living room shows is we were able to establish relationships with artists. Chastity Brown came and played, so we had access to those artists like mentors,” she says. “We would never have had that experience with them if we’d just played a show together at Icehouse.”
Being accepted into the Twin Cities music scene offers validation, even with the novelty that comes from being from Mankato, Scharf says. If Twin Cities recognition is so validating, Good Night Gold Dust should just relocate, right? After all, none of the band members are from Mankato. They all moved to the area from different cities or states for school or work.
But Good Night Gold Dust is staying put for a simple reason: Despite smaller audiences and larger distances to major venues, they love Mankato. Like many others in the area, they want to prove there’s more than the Barmuda Triangle.
“There really is a great network of artists and creators in this city,” Scharf says, mentioning the 410 Project art gallery, the revival of the Old Town district, and musical acts such as folk rock group Bee Balm Field and hip hop artist !ntell!gent Des!gn. “The city just feels like it’s got this creative energy bubbling and bursting.”
Good Night Gold Dust
When: 10:30 p.m. Fri. Oct. 5
Tickets: 21+; $8/$10; more info here