“I was planning to meet you in a hooded black robe at the back door and tell you to follow me, then take you to the front, and run back around to the front and say, ‘Sorry I’m late, guys,’” says Garth Blomberg, the lead singer of Holler House. There, he tells me, we’d find the rest of the band “around the table surrounded by candles sitting in the dark.”
Instead, the band members are sitting around a well-lit table underneath a vent wearing identical black satin jackets in a warehouse that used to be Harriet Brewing, where we’ve met to discuss Holler House/Technician Split, the three-song 10-inch split vinyl EP they’re releasing with Minneapolis band Technician. The brewery, in the heart of Longfellow, is gutted, with debris and wood boards sitting in corners of the large, boomy room. Blomberg and his business partners are in the process of designing and building Arbeiter Brewing, a community-based brewery set to open in fall 2018.
“It’s going to be a lot different than Harriet Brewing,” Blomberg says. “These days you have to be aware of everything when you’re building and designing a new place. If I hear the word ‘Instagrammable’ one more time….”
Blomberg and bandmate Mike Novak are designers by day; the two met while studying design at North Dakota State University in the early ’00s. Novak moved to Chicago for work after graduating. In his punk days, Al Erbach’s band would regularly share bills with Blomberg while in Fargo and with Novak while in Chicago. The three would all eventually migrate to the Twin Cities, and began playing together when their bands broke up.
From the start, Holler House was loud, but not loud enough. They wanted more guitar, and they asked Tony Spaaij to join after he and Erbach played in a Misfits cover band at a Halloween show. Each member is an equal partner in the band’s sound, contributing his own parts and finding ways to vary the musical approach.
In addition to the matching jackets, Novak creates different designs to go along with each show. “The concept behind the band is a sort of secret society,” Erbach says. “When we asked Tony to join, we would tease him about banking on this concept. What we were doing was coming together as friends outside of the music. Our first album, Lodge, was a glorified demo, and it was a way to get our own 'lodge,' so to speak. We’re all very close to each other. The band is our escape from home after hours to get together and drink beer.”
The quartet published a zine to accompany downloads of Lodge, and hid copies all over the city, providing clues to the scavenger hunt via haikus and hoping people would be curious enough to explore the notion behind Holler House. While the zines are long gone (and not many people ever contacted the band with their findings), the band continues to experiment.
“A friend and I were chatting, and he said, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t get what you guys are doing,’” Blomberg says. “It befuddled him. He didn’t get why we would want to do more than just write music. We do it because it’s funny and creative and it builds something. What we have is a relationship within the band. The hope with all of this is that people would get it somehow think it’s super fun and be in on the joke with us.”
“It’s not like we’re drinking blood out of a chalice in a basement cellar,” Erbach says.
“That’s only on the third Tuesday of each month,” Novak jokes.
With so many obligations—life, relationships, day jobs—it was hard to find time to write new music, so the band sat on the three tracks that make up their side of the split for a while. While Erbach was visiting House on the Rock with his twin, Dane, the two brainstormed about what to do with the songs. Dane suggested letting him release them on his Chicago-based punk label, Jetsam-Flotsam.
The three tracks are large and dense, even intimidating. At times they collapse under their own mass, before finally climbing back to their rightful, relentless pace. If Lodge was Holler House trying to figure out their sound, the EP is the work of a band hitting its stride.
“We’ll dissect and see what doesn’t work and reform it,” Blomberg says. “At the end of the process, we’re excited about it. It’s like craft beer. We’re not just pumping out shit. We’re taking our time, we’re smelling the songs, and we’re tasting it. Part of getting older is less about writing a million bad songs and one good song. You need quality ingredients to get quality songs.”
Holler House/Technician Split 10” Vinyl
Where: 331 Club
When: 10 p.m. Friday, March 23
Tickets: 21+; free; more info here