Flipp's Brynn Arens on Volume's 10th anniversary
Flipp's Brynn Arens
This week marks 10 years since the national release of Minneapolis rock heroes Flipp's Volume. Known for their incredible promotional stunts, the band celebrated the release by playing full concerts in three lucky fans' garages in one day. I happened to be one of those lucky fans. Ten years later, I had the chance to sit down with the band's frontman Brynn Arens (who now plays in the OddFathers) for a look back at Flipp, Volume and their wild rock and roll rollercoaster.
By the mid-'90s you had developed quite the rock reputation with your bands Obsession, Funhouse and Rattling Bones. What was the genesis of Flipp?
I was in New York, playing with Rattling Bones and being continually asked by labels to quit them and join this band or that band. I kept saying "No" because I'm a loyal servant and wanted to stay with my band. We were on a break and I was hired by RCA records to write songs for a guy named Stephen Shareaux who had a band at the time called Kik Tracee. When they mentioned me, he knew who I was as he was from White Bear Lake and we kind of knew each other. We decided to come to Minneapolis to record some demos. One day, I thought it would be fun to do a cover of "My Generation" as if Sonic Youth and Tom Petty jammed on it. Stephen was having problems and wasn't showing up, I started singing everything. My previous bands hadn't even asked me to sing back-up vocals and I had never sung a note in my life, but I wasn't going to show up back in New York with unfinished work that I was paid to do. So, I sang "My Generation," as well as a number of songs myself.
One day, a friend of mine had bought a light show and wanted to try out some of his lights. He asked me if I had anything he could film. Well [future Flipp drummer] Kilo Bale ran the rehearsal room where Stephen and I were working, and I had him drum on a lot of the stuff. Greg Eidem [future Flipp bassist Cherry Forever], who I had been playing with since high school had some to Minneapolis, so I had him play bass on the demos. They happened to be there that day, and within an hour we shot the "My Generation" video. The black/white face comes from a guy named Johnny Johnson, who was a guitarist from the town I grew up in, and one time I saw him playing at grade school with his face half-painted and thought it was so cool. On a whim, I did it that day on "My Generation."
I brought it back to New York and RCA subsequently offered me a record deal. At this point, I didn't have a real "band." I showed the video around, including to a guy named Bill Baker, who was Ace Frehley's guitar-tech, and he knew a guy at MTV who did audio and color corrections who thought he could make it look and sound a little bit better. He fixed it and, as I'm walking out of the Times Square Viacom building, I saw a sign that said "Vicky Augiel- Programming Director: MTV." Without thinking about it, I snuck back in the building with a tourist group, took the elevator to the MTV offices and told the woman at the desk I had an appointment to give a videocassette to Vicky Augiel. The woman calls her, then I see Vicky coming down the hallway with an evil grin on her face and shaking her head. I introduced myself, told her how I snuck in and gave her the video. She told me to wait there, went to watch it, came back and told me it was the greatest homemade video she's ever seen. A few days later, MTV played it and my phone exploded. I was getting deals from every record company, so I flew back to Minneapolis to put the band together. It was a fine line between magic and idiocy, and I like to walk that tightrope.
Flipp's Brynn Arens on the set of "Clone Me"
A lot of early Flipp coverage referred to the band's ensemble as each member representing a different era of rock. Was that intentional?
No. When we showed up for the "My Generation" video, which set the precedent for what the band would be like, we did it on a whim. Cherry just showed up that day like that. We gravitated toward each other because we liked the same stuff and had been playing together since '79-'80, so any words one would need to speak to plan that out had already been spoken. So, no, there was no deliberate plan. With as much interesting and cartoony stuff as we had, it was just cool to me, an extension of the album cover. We were closer to chaos than convulsion. What happened to four guys sitting around saying "know what would be fun? Three garage shows in one day. We'll have two sets of gear, and two crews!"
The garage shows were just another organic idea that came together?
Without question. Everything was. I never thought as a kid, or as an adult, that the shirt I'm wearing has any effect on how I play guitar.
Do you remember much of the garage shows?
I remember being completely tired out at the end. My voice felt fried on the way to the last show, but once we were performing I remember on the second to last song my voice felt strong as ever so I was very pleased. I also remember at one of the garage's, the winner's band played first and they did a punk rock cover of the National American University song, which I thought was pretty cool. They also covered "Leaving on a Jet Plane," which I liked so much, I did it at the next garage show and after that it became a part of our sets.
Did you ever have any promo ideas you didn't get a chance to do?
One. When we dropped cereal on the crowd [from a helicopter at X-Fest] that wasn't the original plan. That was decided two days prior when our original plan fell through. The original plan was to skydive behind the stage, and then run on-stage and play. There were going to be four guys in the helicopter, and us four in the dressing room behind the stage all wearing the same outfits, so everyone would automatically assume it was us, appearing as if we had just skydived on to the stage. That got shut down due to weather reports for that given day. Our sky-divers cancelled on us, and we had already rented the helicopter, so we decided to just drop cereal.
How did the Everclear connection come together?
Awesomely. They were playing in town and we had done another homemade video for "Rock Star" which [Flipp guitarist "Chia Karaoke" and Brynn's brother] Kii gave to Art Alexakis. He loved it, bought out our contract with Rock Steady Records, showed our video to Artemis Records and they signed the band. Art asked me if I could co-produce the record, make it and go on-tour with him. He was just a fan of the band, we hadn't spoken word one until that time.
How much creative freedom did you have over Volume?
It was co-produced down the line, but I didn't have any creative restrictions. Songs were pretty much already written, Art and I co-wrote a few things, but yeah, complete freedom. I didn't hire any of the engineers, but it was really good. "Freak" [the album's lead single] went to #38, we were #1 in eight different cities around the country. As our next single was to be released, Tom Scholz sued Artemis Records for unpaid royaltees, won the lawsuit, Chrissie Hynde caught wind and then also sued, won by default, and that was the end of Artemis Records as our second single was about to drop.
10 years later, how do you feel about Volume?
Without sounding like a complete freakin' happy-ass, awesome. What's not to feel happy about? A big mass of that record was recorded in Minneapolis at Sound Gallery. I feel awesome about it. "Freak," I still love an am very proud of it. "I Still Love Rock and Roll" I'm very proud of. "Zoom," I played every instrument on. "Clone Me," one of the first songs we ever wrote as a band, opened the record, which was pretty cool. I can't come up with a single negative thing from that time. I do have a problem, I am an eternal optimist.
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