Tapes 'n Tapes frontman Josh Grier is having car troubles.
"Sorry if there's a beeping noise in the background," he says via cell, pulling out of a gas station in rural Nebraska. "There's a warning that the driver needs to wear his seatbelt. For the first 10 minutes after you get in the car, it just likes to beep every 30 seconds."
It is a frigid January day. Grier is heading west through the belly of the heartland; a crystalline, wind-chilled tundra. "Loading gear yesterday morning at like, 8 a.m., was not the most fun," he says with a good-natured laugh. Excusing freezing climates, broken seatbelt sensors, and ice-slick roads, Tapes' most recent tour has kicked off to a great start. "We had our first show last night in Omaha; it was the best show we've ever had there," Grier brags.
Keeping in the spirit of greatness, Minneapolis indie-rockers Tapes 'n Tapes have emerged, over the course of the past few years, as a solid rock band—local or otherwise. They've received 2008 best-of nods from the Star Tribune and MPR; released two full-length albums, The Loon in 2006 and 2008's Walk It Off; played Letterman, Conan, amped-up South by Southwest sets; and more or less toured exhaustively.
Walk It Off is a musically diverse album. Grier's voice is strong and melodious, tempos are energetic, guitars rock. Nothing feels maudlin or queasily orchestrated, despite high production value. "Headshock" is all rhythm and surging guitars. "Hang Them All" is a powerhouse to be listened to after quitting your job, while exiting the building.
Tapes' lyrics tend to be vague and open-ended. Though the album's title, Walk It Off, is also a lyric in the song "Lines," drummer Jeremy Hanson chose the phrase based on the album's cover art, and the idea that people can take it to mean what they will.
Their recording trajectory is less vague: Tapes turned pro quick. First came their EP, recorded in a remote, Webster, Wisconsin, cabin. Then bassist Erik Appelwick engineered, produced, and recorded The Loon at Darren Jackson's Shortman Studio in northeast Minneapolis. The Loon recording sessions have a friendly, intimate feel: Shortman Studio is in Jackson's house. Jackson, a.k.a. Kid Dakota, and bassist Appelwick, were once in the band the Hopefuls together.
In contrast, Walk It Off is Hollywood-slick. Superstar producer Dave Fridmann, who has recorded with the Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse, and MGMT, recorded Walk It Off at his Tarbox Road Studios in Upstate New York.
"It was interesting to work with someone I didn't know," Grier says. "Going out to New York, we were working with Dave, who has made a lot of records I really love. And at first there's this intimidation factor...here's this 'name' as opposed to a person. Then, when we actually met him, he's like the most chill, nice dude ever, and we all got along with him really well. The process of recording was really relaxed. He helped us get where we wanted to go."
In the past, Minnesota winters—lulling, dark, tedious—were creative times for Tapes. Being on the road "makes a little less time to sit home and mope and write songs," Grier says. But this tour might be different. "We've been working on new songs and stuff, just messing around. We're doing a lot of writing."
After a pause, he adds, "We have yet to write our clichéd band-on-the-road ballad."
What they do have time for is food. The band recently devoted a section of their Facebook page to a discussion board in which fans are encouraged to recommend restaurants to sample while on tour.
Pragmatically, Tapes tour heavily but maintain a solid base of friends, family, and property in the Twin Cities. Grier is something of a Clark Kent: a moonlighting musician working by day as a data analyst.
"Yes, it's very exciting work. I have to change my attire a little bit," he laughs. "As crazy as it may sound, when we're done touring, I have a totally different thing to do, it exercises a different part of my brain, and it's fun. I enjoy the people I work with."
Pausing from waxing poetic on office life, Grier quickly redirects. "All of us are excited about this tour. I'm really excited—we're playing our show in Minneapolis in the middle of our tour. When you're out playing on the road, night after night, for a couple weeks, you get into a really good rhythm with things, and we're going to be right in rhythm when we get in town. I'm super excited about it."
And about sleeping in his own bed?
TAPES 'N TAPES play with Wild Light, Solid Gold, and DJ's TRL and Wes Winship on FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6 at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775