Gay Beast talks art, politics, records, and touring Europe
It's a busy and exciting time for Gay Beast. On Friday they play an LP release show at 7th St. Entry and, just four days later, will be playing in Cologne, Germany. Work began on the new record, their third, about a year and a half ago. To Smithereens explores familiar territory for the band, creating challenging rock that deconstructs convention as much as it grips its listeners with hooks.
The band, consisting of Angela Gerend, Dan Leudtke, and Isaac Rotto, approaches songwriting by attacking a different concept for each song, favoring subtle structural arrangement over kitchen-sink hyperactivity. The new record sees the band moving their politics a bit closer to the surface, but it remains a subtle and artful expression that favors substance over slogan.
Gimme Noise spoke with the band about how they chose their name, the politics of art and, of course, about To Smithereens and the European tour.
Gimme Noise: What are the origins of the band's name?
Angela Gerend: At first I was a bit nervous about such an "in your face" name, but it really made a lot of sense considering how Dan and I decided to start the band after a conversation at the 19 (gay bar!) about how we both felt held back creatively & personally by prevailing blah blah conditions around us.
Dan Leudtke: We had a placeholder bandname for a while that none of us were really that happy with. I was living in Chicago, coming back to play shows periodically. One night in Chicago I was watching some Japanese New Wave film that I can't remember the name of. The story was about a woman who falls in love with this guy who was terrible to her, always referring to her as a beast. At this time, Angela and other friends of mine had been having a lot of frustrations and dialog about gay marriage. It seemed as though gay marriage was the ONLY gay right to be had, and we were uncomfortable with the attitude that if gays could get married, and win the bid for mainstream acceptance, that it would make everything better for all gay people. We felt that the presentation of "gay" or "queer" as trying to be like heterosexuals was not only annihilating of a powerful position of dissidence, but also pandering and conservative. Gay Beast was a play on those things, to both become a "beast" like the woman in the story, who is abject and denied, and also a "beast," who is menacing to conservatives within the gay community. We debated the name a bit, and then appeared on Radio K, and asked anyone to call in and vote on which name we should take. One person, Ollie Stench, called in and said "Gay Beast....DUH!" that was it.
You're a pretty politically minded bunch, but your songs aren't, as you've said in the past, "message-based." How do you approach mixing art with politics?
Dan Leudtke: Making art is political. One must never forget this. We do political things in our daily lives that very much inform the music we make in Gay Beast. Recently, we have all been involved in a new community art center called Madame in south Minneapolis. It's where we rehearse, organize other art events, and host lectures and other community organizing. The vocals are a little higher in the mix on To Smithereens and I am interested in letting people hear more of the words within the songs. There are overtly political songs about the poverty industry, open relationships, etc., but the tone seems to be a little more personal. Still without slogan, but the words are a bit more clear.
This is your second European tour. Are you playing similar venues as last time, or will this be a whole new experience? What do you expect to be different?
Dan Leudtke: We are playing a few of the same venues, but almost all of them are different. I'm personally excited to play more cities in Italy (4!). We're going to play a string of dates with our friends Child Abuse, which will be great, and different. We did a little bit more of a promotional push, so we'll see if that helps with attendance.
Will you bring your equipment overseas, or borrow from a connection there?
Dan Leudtke: We bring the essentials overseas: keyboards, electronics, pedals, guitar, sax, but the rest we rent at the same place we get our amazing Mercedes Sprinter van. It's called Smoeff in the Netherlands. Gijs, the guy who owns the place is the greatest dollface of a gentleman.
Isaac Rotto: I am kinda hoping he comes along with us for the first few dates. There's a humorously faithful drawing of his head in the tour van that a previous band made and left on the dash who knows how long ago, so I suppose he'll be with us always, in a sense. Maybe to look on approvingly as we avoid setting off the traffic cameras all along the highway system.
How is a European tour different than a US tour? Does it feel more like work or tourism?
Dan Leudtke: More like tourism! Well, at least it did the first time. Touring in continental Europe is very luxurious and amazing: warm meal every show, nice van to drive around in, generous hospitality and sleeping arrangements. It feels more "pro." Because of language barriers and cultural distance, it is harder to make immediate connections with people (like when we tour in the US), but the difference and novelty of everyday occurances injects some freshness into the touring experience.
Isaac Rotto: It's more like work in that we don't often have much time to really relax and see sights, though it continues to be an ongoing goal of ours to see more of the cities we play in. We are, of course, very grateful to those we've met who have shown our poor selves around: Gijs, Maurizio in Torino, many generous others. Sam McPheeters wrote in a recent Vice article that touring is a great way to see the world--if by "world" one means stages and highways and restrooms. There's a great deal of truth to that, but the journeys from one such location to the next in Europe are definitely more interesting, and sometimes far stranger, than their parallels here in the U.S.
Gay Beast play at 7th Street Entry on Friday, January 21st with Tips for Twat, Condominium, and Camden.
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