Introducing 'Back to the City,' a podcast devoted to Minnesota music

Mark Mallman

Mark Mallman Wilson Webb

Editor's note: City Pages is proud to be hosting writer Simon Calder's Back to the City: MPLS Music Conversation podcast on a bi-weekly basis. The podcast is recorded and edited independently, and the views expressed by Calder and his guests are their own.

Since broadcasting our first episode one year ago, Back to the City: MPLS Music Conversation has released more than 6,800 minutes of interviews with Minnesota musicians.

Guests have ranged from 2016 Picked to Click favorites Tony Peachka, Fraea, and Lunch Duchess to Flamingo, who celebrated their 40th anniversary this year. We’ve also featured songwriters spanning from John Mark Nelson and Sarah Morris to country/blues legend Charlie Parr and so many others, including Communist Daughter’s Johnny Solomon, Cloud Cult's Craig Minowa, Aby Wolf, Sarah White, and Michael Bland. All of Back to the City's past episodes are streamable, including a two-hour anthology of highlights from our first year. 

Today we are honored to release our first episode in partnership with City Pages. Just as with our first episode for Sianet Radio -- the independent internet radio station that gave birth to Back to the City at the close of its 15 years of service to Twin Cities music -- our first guest is Mark Mallman, whose song “Minneapolis” has served as the show’s theme since its inception.

Mallman’s “Peace on Earth Holiday Show” will hit Icehouse on Saturday with special guests Porcupine (we'll post an interview with singer Casey Virock on Saturday); Josiah Lemanski and Lydia Liza (who co-hosted our second season); Venus DeMars (who’ll play the Bowie to Mallman’s Bing); Maggie Morrison (who’ll be performing “Imagine” with Mark); and even Santa Claus!

In that context, we’ve decided to reassert our commitment to providing deep, artist-led discussions with these two career-spanning interviews with Mark. Collectively, they provide a comprehensive overview of the Minneapolis rock 'n' roll veteran's catalog. Mark also drops hints about two current projects -- first and foremost, a very intriguing book, but also a partially recorded album of songs designed for a musical about moonlit bank robbers.

Following an invitation from City Pages, I -- your host, Simon Calder -- would like to embrace this opportunity to share some personal highlights from our first four seasons as a window into what Back to the City strives and stands for.

The central objective of Back to the City is to enable listeners to overhear accomplished local artists engage in in-depth, detail-oriented discussion of their art. Artists are invited to reflect on the mechanics of songwriting and on nuances in their artistic processes

We often go deeper into past work and projects, hopefully shedding new light on the freshest material in the process. Two especially fun cases of this were when Johnny Solomon and I discussed Communist Daughter in relation to Johnny’s earlier project, Friends Like These, and when Enemy Planes and I discussed their new music in relation to many of their members’ work with Pictures of Then (an earlier, presently dormant, project).

Central to the ethos of Back to the City is our focus on the communal component of our local music scenes. Not surprisingly, then, some of my favorite moments have arisen from small group conversations with -- for example -- Big Cats, Eric Mayson, and Lydia Liza; Alpha Consumer (an episode that provides a fascinating glimpse down the rabbit hole of interlocking Minneapolis music communities); and a forthcoming interview with the Camaraderie Records collective in advance of their fifth annual “Murray [as in Bill Murray!] Christmas Party” at Eagles 34 on December 23.

Hidden gems in the archive include an on-location interview with saxophonist Nelson Devereaux (Catsax, Har Mar Superstar, Bon Iver), who joined me for an “art scavenger hunt” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Throughout that episode, Nelson and I discussed his favorite pieces of art to prompt reflection on corresponding features of the music he creates, including his recent Early Fall LP.

There is also often a live performance component to Back to the City, which has facilitated the live debut of songs by Bad Bad Hats, Lydia Liza, Lunch Duchess, and Courtney Yasmineh; the first-ever performance by Cheap Fantasy (the new project of Jordan Bleau from Frankie Teardrop); and even an improvised rendition of C.M.J.’s “Hit ‘Em With The Rap” involving both Dosh and Ghostband, as well as songwriter Christopher Michael Jensen.

What has proved most rewarding for me, though, have been the moments when our conversation allows artists to arrive at unanticipated insights about their work, a good example of which can be found in the interview with Sean Anonymous that opens the Highlights episode hyper-linked above.

Today’s two interviews with Mark Mallman unite a lot of the features highlighted here, with the first interview involving first close reflection on specific songs (particularly “True Love,” “Tell it to the Judge,” and “Death Wish”), then a discussion of the potency of peaceful music in anticipation of tomorrow’s holiday show.

I hope you enjoy exploring both the archive and these new interviews, which “Back to the City” will now be releasing through City Pages on a bi-weekly basis.

Happy holidays!

Simon Calder, host of Back to the City: MPLS Music Conversation

And here's Part 2: