It's a cold, quiet weeknight at the Turf Club in St. Paul. There's no show tonight, but a few regulars are taking refuge in a pint. Even at rest, there's an undeniable atmosphere that draws guys like Mystery Date's Johnny Eggerman to the bar like sinners to Sunday mass.
Eggerman moved from Kansas City to the Twin Cities about five years ago and put down roots in St. Paul after a stint in Northeast. He and bassist Steve Splettstazer live together at Midway House, a DIY venue and residence that's previously hosted groups like Royal Headache and Acid Baby Jesus. They inherited the house from the previous owners, who built the basement's reputation, but Eggerman jokes that things have calmed down somewhat now. It's part of why he's proud to call the neighborhood home. He's within stumbling distance of the Turf Club, after all.
Having a venue in your basement has some advantages. For one, you've always got a fallback gig, and Mystery Date's sound thrives in spaces like it. It's power-pop in the classic sense, when the style was still sharing real estate with garage and early punk. Like Eggerman's other group, Real Numbers, Mystery Date is stripped-down by way of necessity. Drummer Grady Appleton rounds out the trio, and while all three are active players that fill up a lot space, their music has the spartan quality of a hot-rodded Nerves record.
"We're always digging for stuff," Eggerman says of the collecting habits of the band. "I think I've gone a little farther into '70s punk and power-pop, but Grady just gave me a live tape by the Jam." When queried on the details the tall, dreadlocked drummer reclines and says, "Recorded in Boston in '79," with a note of pride.
This exchange no doubt occurred during one of the group's regular post-practice music-sharing sessions, when Mystery Date's three members while the night away getting drunk and turning each other on to their favorite records, new and old. Much of the inspiration for their lean, melodic music comes from these records, but Mystery Date sound anything but dated. Catchy guitar rock never really goes out of style, and has seen a resurgence on indies like Burger Records. For Appleton, it's all cyclical.
"It just goes in waves, you know?" the drummer muses further. "It just seems like... I dunno, afros and jeans. They're back in style. It's just on everybody's minds right now."
The same could be said of Mystery Date's labelmates at Piñata Records, a label run by members of local soul-pop group Southside Desire. Piñata is also home to Black Diet and Narco States, taking inspiration from classic sounds and making them modern by way of presentation and intention. Mystery Date met the members of Southside Desire after a show at Memory Lanes, and they've found a happy home within the label's familial atmosphere, despite being harder-edged than their colleagues.
"I feel like their roster all fits," Eggerman explains. "If you like the Undertones and you like the Jam, then you probably like soul music too, and you almost assuredly like '60s garage and psych; it all makes sense as genres that tend to cluster together."
Piñata has helped Mystery Date get a better grip on the business of releasing music, volunteering to put out "You and Your Sister," a three-track 7-inch of songs that had been left in the can for several years after an aborted attempt to make a full-length with Neil Weir at Blackberry Way studios a few years ago. This release will add to their "Dreaming in Black and White" single released last year, which was engineered by Matt Castore of Condominium. Mystery Date were so happy with how that one turned out that they're headed back there this month to cut a full-length. Don't worry though, they plan on keeping their perfect sound just the way it is. "Production notes: Just do same thing you did last time," Eggerman jokes.
All of those records, save the newest material, should be available at the Piñata showcase on Saturday at the 331 Club, where Mystery Date and the entire label roster will perform in another Twin Cities dive with a vibe like the Turf's. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about for Johnny, Grady, and Steve.
"Anything I do is from that time when I was in high school, sitting in my room with nothing to do but put a record on," Eggerman summarizes, of his band. "You've got all these stupid power-pop and punk records from the '70s that really resonate with you, alone in your room at your mom's house. That's the feeling we're trying to capture."