Freaks and Geeks
When I mention Elvis Presley, their eyes light up. When I drop the name of Elvis's first guitarist, the No-No's bassist Matt Von Ende (".matt") drops the name of his bassist and drummer. It isn't every day I interview a punk quartet who can name the King's original lineup, let alone that he rocked the Louisiana Hayride in '54. And it isn't just the thirtysomething Von Ende who is excited; 21-year-old guitarist Ryan Hoemke ("Notorious L.U.C.") is hip, too. I rub my eyes, lean a bit closer, and attempt to decipher the secrets of this mixed-bag rock band.
I laugh at the strange bar setup that has us sitting nearly knee-to-knee at close range, the four of them squeezed into an old sofa like odd peas in a poorly upholstered pod. Alone on my couch, it is the weirdest blind date I've ever been on. Through small talk it becomes evident that Von Ende, the group's elder statesman, is de facto PR guy. He tells me the No-No's formed last fall after drummer Nats Babel ("**NATS**"), a psychology master's student, and vocalist Katie Kramarczuk ("KtK") answered his Craigslist advert. The band vision he posted was simple: "Think of the Ramones' first record." After a brief misfire, the group hired ax man Hoemke from local punkers the Cretins and began blazing a trail.
"Originally Ryan hit me up to drum for the Cretins, but things went the other way and he came to play with us," says Babel. "We liked their band and they liked ours, so it just kind of worked."
The No-No's are odd ducks in terms of workload, with drummer Babel penning most of the music and some of the lyrics; it turns out he is a guitar player by nature and a banger of skins by default. "I got tired of dealing with fucking drummers," he says curtly. Although Babel's less-than-seasoned drum skills are evident on the group's debut disc, Long Play Recording, self-released this month, this means the No-No's are in no danger of having their punk-rock passports revoked.
Long Play Recording is about what one would expect from a Midwestern punk debut. The songs are frenetic, sometimes herky-jerky, and pulsing with vigor. Counterintuitively, the record builds as it progresses, with some of the best songs ("Loose Tooth," "Stuff," and "Friday") creeping in near the finish. It is worth noting that the catchy "Stuff" is one of the album's only songs credited to the entire band. Punk fundamentalists will be pleased—no sonic doorsteps are swept, no railings left polished. Upon listening to an early mix of the record, which included light effects and compression, Babel instructed the engineer to remove them at once. The result is an almost totally dry mix in which the songs stand on nothing but their own merits.
The naked presentation of these 12 tracks is a testament to Kramarczuk's vocals, which fight through the loud guitars with a throaty boom. Tonight she is a blushing, shy creature you might well mistake for your sister, if you had one. She seems the sort of girl with whom you might get along swimmingly if only either of you had the courage to say hello.
"You have to catch her on stage," says Babel. "Gemini are always more reserved, and front people are notoriously quiet."
I try to imagine the serene young woman before me knocking around a filthy stage, belting phrases like, "Beer tub bitch/End up in a ditch" into the faces of drunkards.
The decision to hire a female singer in the vein of Debbie Harry or Pat Benatar was an easy one, says Von Ende, as male punk-rock singers are often difficult to tell apart. That Kramarczuk was also an avid skateboarder simply drizzled icing on the rock 'n' roll cake.
"I've developed a lot of energy on stage," she says proudly. "I'm moving around more, engaging the audience."
It is just that—engaging the audience—at which the No-No's seem to excel. "People tell us, 'You look like you're really having fun up there,'" says Von Ende. "It's all about energy transfer. We're incredibly reactive to the audience."
People might better understand the ease with which the No-No's play to an audience if they perused the group's list of anthem-producing influences, which includes Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Mötley Crüe. The band shots accompanying the record's liner notes look straight from the cutting-room floor of Warrant's Cherry Pie sessions, complete with bare chests and Flying V's.
Still, the No-No's are serious about their band, as unorthodox as it might seem, and they're unwilling to pander.
"We're totally anti-clique and anti-scene, even locally," says Babel.
It's probably for the best. Even musically, the freaks and geeks are often the ones who surprise us.
THE NO-NO'S perform a CD-release show with the Hostages, Mommy S3Z No, the Pistols at Dawn, the Milk Carton Kids, and Pretty Ugly on SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, at the NOMAD WORLD PUB; 612.338.6424
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.