On a bitterly cold January afternoon, Gay Beast crowd a Spyhouse three-top. Paper scraps riddled with scribblings clutter the table, and before singer Dan Leudtke, a day planner is pinned open. Scanning it, he softly mutters a couple of dates under his breath.
"Part of the reason I want to go do this is to make the touring experience different," he says with a grin. "I mean, just stopping for gas and buying candy will be novel and interesting."
In a matter of days, Gay Beast, who have spent their four active years touring the motherland extensively, will officially become a global property. The year 2009 saw P.O.S., To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie, and In Defence all head abroad, and at the dawn of the new decade, Gay Beast will become the most recent local band to tour Europe, with a raft of a dozen-plus shows up and down the continent.
Their first European tour is the fruit of years of longing for the local three-piece, who have been challenging local ears with their stew of mental math, noise-rock assonance, and bone-deep pop sensibility. Now that it's here, Gay Beast regards it with remarkable aplomb—not a cold foot in sight.
"We're expecting it to be random and weird but for people to be into it," says drummer Angela Gerend. Then she laughs quietly, as if acknowledging the foreboding unknown of so unconventional a band striking land in the Old World. "But maybe not," she says. "Maybe they'll just see us as another weird band coming through."
The last two years have seen multiple major coups for Gay Beast. After winning over local audiences with their debut full-length, Disrobics, in 2006 and exhaustively touring both coasts, Gay Beast courted Skin Graft records, the St. Louis-based out-music label that boosts underground superstars like AIDS Wolf and Tokyo's Melt-Banana. After sending a promotional package to label head Mark Fischer and spearheading a campaign of recommendations from bands he'd already signed, the deal was sealed. Second Wave, Gay Beast's sophomore effort, came out on Skin Graft vinyl, and a wave of national attention followed, including a brief but favorable write-up in The New Yorker.
But Europe remained a more remote goal. Attempts to book there fell flat due to bad timing and poor fortune, and it wasn't until early 2009 that Luedtke approached a European booking agent about the band's prospects abroad.
"His biggest concern was that he thought we were unbookable," says Luedtke. "He said, 'I can't book you on this tour that you want to go on. But we'll send out some feelers to venues and promoters and see who's interested.'" Luedtke shrugs, palms to the ceiling, as if attributing the good break to cosmic forces. "He got positive feedback and said we could work together."
The product they'll be supporting is Charm, their new 7-inch, which will be released at this Friday's show. While Gay Beast have spent the last half-decade stymieing their crowds' capacity for pattern recognition, Charm marks an even more unexpected turn. Here, the songs are slightly more disciplined, geared toward gripping hooks, as if their hyperactive time signatures now roll with a dusting of well-prescribed Ritalin. Halfway into the title track, you'll find an honest-to-God groove, something that the Gay Beast of Disrobics might have regarded with some contempt and bewilderment.
"We took a long time making Second Wave," says Luedtke. "Then, on tour, we had conversations about wanting to make our music a little differently. We wanted to be a little bit slower. A little bit longer. Have more of a groove you could attach to. Something a little less jarring."
The effect is audible. The two tracks on Charm are a sophistication of Gay Beast's math-y origins. Here, Luedtke's saxophone outbursts seem implacably foreshadowed, slotted with nuance into the songs' bridled spasticity. Gerend's drumming is precise as ever, but Luedtke's synth lines more effectively demonstrate the premeditation that's always been present, but perhaps not as perceptible. Over all of the seeming chaos, Isaac Rotto lays down surgical guitar lines in a fine acid drizzle. Charm may be brief, but it's an ecstatic omen of growth within one of the Twin Cities' most tempestuous bands.
Being an eccentric domestic takes courage enough. But transplanting these challenging sounds to a European audience is an act of daring that Gay Beast handle masterfully. To tour Europe is to subject oneself to great and unknowable risks. Will European ears be receptive to such dissonant, arrhythmic bleeps and bloops? Does the cultural divide extend into musical vocabulary? Finding out would be enough to spook even the most iron-nerved. Talk to Gay Beast, and you'd mistake them for a band about to embark on a two-day jaunt to Milwaukee and back. There isn't so much as a twinge of apprehension.
"I mean, I hope that the places we play are not weird austere clubs," admits Luedtke, "but I have no expectations of any larger trajectory, and I'm certainly not worrying about the playing itself."
The very question seems to puzzle Gerend. "Are they going to receive us well?" she muses, shrugging with equal parts confidence and nonchalance. "That's not even a concern."
GAY BEAST play a tour kick-off and 7-inch release show with Seawhores, Daughters of the Sun, and Total Babe on FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, at the 7th ST. ENTRY; 612.332.1775.