Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear

class=img_thumbleft>For roughly a decade Matthew Grimm fronted the fabulous New York-based roots rock band, The Hangdogs. When I was in college I used to go see them at their home base, The Rodeo Bar, and it was always a ridiculously fun, boozy time. They were also semi-regular Twin Cities visitors, playing the Turf Club or Lee's Liquor Lounge.

Two year ago The Hangdogs effectively broke up when lead singer Matthew Grimm returned to his home state of Iowa to care for his ailing father. He's now formed a new band, Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear. Last January, Grimm spent two weeks in California recording an album with Pete Anderson, best known for his work with Dwight Yoakum. The resulting (unreleased) CD, Dawn's Early Apocalypse, is a full-throated yelp of political disaffection with song titles like "Hey, Hitler!" and "Kill the Poor." (Sample lyric from the latter: "Kill the poor, kill the poor, put a cap right in their brain.")

This kind of ham-fisted lefty preaching would be tough to stomach if it wasn't packaged with hooks juicy enough that W. might one day find himself inadvertently humming along with his Ipod. Grimm's making his first post-Hangdogs foray to the Twin Cities on the 28th, playing Lee's. I spoke with him yesterday by phone.

City Pages: What are people going to see on the 28th?

Matthew Grimm: It's guitar, guitar, bass, drums. We haven't really got our touring legs under us yet. There's all kinds of fucked issues, with people having babies and the same old bullshit.

CP: Are you doing Hangdogs songs as well?

MG: We will do a handful. Over the last year as we've sort of gotten our feet under us one thing I've tried to do is take the Hangdogs songs that work with this setup, which are like "Meet Me at Tommy's" and "Waiting for the Stars to Fall." And then take some songs I really like and figure out a way to make them more Red Smear songs. There's a song called "She's Leaving You" from the last Hangdogs record, which is kind of a somber, train beat, alt-country song that is now kind of a punk rock song. I love the song, but every now and again you sort of put a shot of B-12 in it and hear it a different way.

CP: What influence did Pete Anderson have on the recording process?

MG: Anderson's a very intimidating guy and he's a very talented guy. Intimidating by his reputation. But while he has a way of doing things—and I've understood in the past that could be very authoritarian and very didactic—for me it was casual from the get go. It was a lot of work but it was fun as fuck. He created an environment where his ideas, the bass player's ideas, the drummer's ideas, melded with the basic meat and bones of the songs that I had brought in. "Armies of the Lost" was a dirgy, Neil Young-y type song when we brought it in and it became something much more haunting. That was Pete hearing a kind of beat that [drummer Josh Day] was doing and saying what if we start with that? It sonically translated the ominous mood of the song.

CP: What prospects, if any, do you have for getting the album released by a label?

MG: Dick. I have dick prospects. I can count them on my dick. And that doesn't mean one. We finished this record at the end of February. So all we've been doing—all my manager's been doing—has been sending shit out. I don't know how many we tried. Every roots-rock thing you can think of. I don't know how desperately we went after the dedicated punk rock labels. I know one extremely edgy label told us the record was too in your face for them to be comfortable with. We tried and it just doesn't seem to be resonating. Maybe the record sucks and I’m too close to see it.

CP: Do you think the chief impediment is that people are scared off by the politics of it?

MG: I think that has a lot to do with it. I write good melodic hooks. That's one of the few things I can say I do good musically. There's a lot of good, well-formed songs on the record that it seems to me are catchy as fuck. There's nothing patently offensive to the aural nature of the product that we produced. I think the politics of the record played a major part in people saying A), Do we really want to take a shot on this? And B), Do we really want to take a shot on this with somebody that nobody's ever heard of? I'm a no name guy out of Iowa City.