Minneapolis rock quartet Human Kindness packed a lot of ambition into their full-length debut, Not Apathetic. The eleven guitar-fueled songs are catchy, anguished explosions. Longtime Madison friends and bandmates David Lawrence Anderson, Alex Brodsky, and Willem Vander Ark all moved to Minneapolis to attend college, and eventually hooked up with Josh Olson to complete their lineup.
After self-recording their awesomely-titled debut EP, You Are So Loud That I Want To Die, the group enlisted the help of Hollow Boys' Ali Jaafar for their LP, recording it in his sonic playground, Ecstattic Studio. Ahead of their tape release show tonight at the Turf Club (where they will be joined by Gloss and Nancy's Raygun), we spoke about Ali's influence and how the culture of the Midwest helps shape their songs.
Gimme Noise: It didn't take you too long to head back into the studio to record again following your debut EP, You Are So Loud That I Want To Die. Did the songs on Not Apathetic all come together following the release of your EP, or have some of the tracks been kicking around for a while?
Josh Olson: "20 Years" and "Ahoy!" were the first two songs we had together as a band, but most of the songs off this album were written and practiced into the ground throughout the summer and fall of 2014.
David Lawrence Anderson: Four of the songs on Not Apathetic predate You Are So Loud That I Want to Die. I had the basic idea of the album's story for a long time, but we didn't have the time nor the means to write and record the LP (as we have it now) at that moment. The EP was more of an experiment in writing and a way to get our band into the game than a cohesive work.
You self-recorded your debut EP, and went into Ecstattic Studio with Ali Jaafar for your full-length. How did that change and enhance the recording experience for you?
Josh: The difference was day and night. As much fun as we had self-recording, and as much as that was a learning experience for us musically, having someone with you throughout the entire process that brings an outside perspective is a really great thing. Working with Ali specifically has been great because he knew exactly what we are attempting to convey and was able to make the record sound exactly how we wanted.
The band formed in 2012 -- how did you all come together initially?
David: Alex, Willem and I went to the same high school in Madison, Wisconsin. Alex and I played together in all sorts of different bands since we were 13, and we met Willem in our school's jazz combo. At various times in our respective lives, we moved to Minneapolis for college, and we met Josh through a mutual friend.
There are quite a few references to specific places and locations in your songs -- either cities that you've been to, or long to go to ("I want to see Chicago, so I can act like I don't care"). Does that sense of travel inspire you as a songwriter, or is it more of drawing on your familiar experiences in Midwestern towns?
David: The specific locations are a bit of both. When one gets caught in a routine, it can be liberating just to spend a few days out of one's element. It's difficult to develop new ideas or enrich existing ones when one only sees problems and solutions from a singular view, and I think we all see travel as a relatively easy way of bringing in new ideas. But I also have a weird interest in the distinct culture of the Midwest, so the places also work to establish a shared, familiar experience. Sometimes it's voyeurism, sometimes it's a backdrop.
It's interesting that you started the album with the mournful ode, "Dorothy," with references to giving up so easily -- at the start of your first full-length, tangible proof that you are determined to do anything but give up, at least creatively. How does that track help set the tone and themes of the album for you?
David: "Giving up" is an idea that is repeated throughout the album. The character in these songs gives up on himself, gives up on leaving his comfort zone, gives up on his relationship. As the prologue to the album, "Dorothy" presents the characters in their state before change, before conflict. Musically, I think of it as a lullaby before a dream.[page]
The piano, horns, and strings in your arrangements show up at surprising -- and crucial -- moments, and really drive home the poignancy of the tracks they are featured in. How did those sonic elements come into play initially -- did you feel the songs were missing something, or were they always part of the sonic design of the tracks?
David: Some of the non-four-piece-rock-band parts were a little superfluous -- sometimes I would ask Willem to improvise a piano part -- but most of the additional parts were always part of the sonic design. As time progressed and patience waned during the recording of the album, we actually decided to cut horn arrangements from certain songs. The sonic design was always a little horn heavy. We've all done different projects in different styles of music, and those sounds are now just part of our shared song writing tools.
Was your intention to balance out the darker lyrics with more boisterous arrangements to elevate those melancholy moments?
David: I don't know if we ever had the intention of purposefully balancing the lyrics and the music in such a way, but I think that's a good analysis of what is happening with our music and why it hopefully works. A side effect of consuming stories is that one starts to subconsciously develop an understanding of what works, what engages an audience, and why. In The Odyssey, we see Odysseus struggle against all sorts of obstacles, but we never really lose faith that he will best his many challenges and return home. Same thing in any big action movie: the audience is excited because cars are exploding and the score is booming even though the protagonist is suffering.
Is titling the album Not Apathetic your way of dismissing the old guard media's claims that millennials are overly self-involved and disinterested in contributing much to society?
David: Dude, we just put out a 55 minute album composed of whining white kids taking guitar solos. There may be no one more overly self-involved or disinterested in contributing much to society than us.
These songs are very expansive and self-assured for a full-length debut -- did the tracks always have this grand scope to them, or did they start out spare and smaller and grow -- in both length and ambition -- as time went on?
Josh: I think we're all extremely ambitious musicians and songwriters. If we would've been able to do that on our EP, it would have been just as expansive. At the time though, it was clearly just way too ambitious for us to embark on recording ourselves.
David: The album actually shrunk by a couple of tracks; at some point I realized that the whole thing was getting unwieldy and leviathan-like, so we have a few songs that never made it into Ecstattic Studio. The songs never really grew nor shrunk; we had a pretty solid understanding of the scope and function of each song, although I don't think we ever purposefully saw any of the songs as "grand," with the exception of the last song on the album.
How did your recent Midwest tour help these songs coalesce and grow tighter in a live setting, and how excited are you to share these new tunes and your new album with your hometown fans and friends?
Josh: First, the tour was amazing. We got a lot of help from friends in different cities who booked us, put us up, and played with us. Second, I think the tour really helped us hone in these songs in ways that we wouldn't have been able to otherwise. When you play shows here in Minneapolis, your friends and family are gonna be there and they're gonna support whatever you do, even if you play the shittiest set in the whole world. When you're in a brand new place though, playing to 40 people whose faces you have never seen before, it puts your playing into a whole new perspective. You can't win these people over by being friends with them, you just have to go out and play a killer fucking show. We put our all into every show we played on the tour, and I think it paid off greatly for us as a band.
David: It would difficult to play the same songs every night for a week and not improve in some way. Playing so often and to a group of people forced us to tighten up, to be more attentive, to identify and assess problem spots rather than shrug them off saying, "Well, we mostly played that right." At this point most of our close friends have already heard the album, so now we have to think up another way to entertain them.Human Kindness' Not Apathetic tape release show is Thursday, March 26 at Turf Club at 8 p.m., with Gloss and Nancy's Raygun. Tickets are $5.
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