Narco States: We're tired of seeing watered-down bands
Photo courtesy of the artist
Minnesota has a rich history of distinctive garage rock dating back to the Trashmen's surprise hit "Surfin Bird" and the C.A. Quintet's epic Trip Through Hell. Maybe it's our short summers. Fans of the "Soma singles sound" might be surprised to find we're livng in a new golden era, with so many bands blending '60s psychedelic sensibilities with the wild garage rock aesthetic it's hard to keep them straight. (Look for a July 5-6 festival featuring locals like Chatham Rise, Magic Castles, and Panther Ray to get an introduction to some of the best locals.) Or if you prefer your garage rock loud and raucous, check out a four-band bill at Hell's Kitchen tonight, where scene favorites the Goondas will be joined by a few relative newcomers, including Narco States, a quintet that has been establishing a reputation for wild, explosive live performances.
Gimme Noise visited Narco States at their practice space, which we were surprised to find was a basement and not a garage. We weren't surprised to find them jamming along with a mix of classic reverb-rich rock.
Gimme Noise: You guys sound like a classic Minnesota garage band, like your record could have come out on Soma in the '60s.
Nick Sampson: That's the first thing I thought when I heard them.
Michael Meyer: We should go back to the beginning. I decided I wanted to start a band and I put an ad on Craigslist. But I had actually met Aaron at a jazz show a few years ago.
Aaron Robertson: and I had emailed back and forth with Nate a couple years earlier when we lived in Ohio, but we'd fallen out of touch. We had sort of met previously.
MM: I think the scene here is pretty small -- the garage rock scene, the psych scene.
What did the ad say?
AR: The one I responded to said "looking for someone to play garage rock on our vox organ." Which was awesome!
Yeah, the organ is one of the most distinct things about the EP.
MM: a lot of bands do the single note organ part, which is cool, but there aren't a lot of good organ parts.
It's more of a classic garage rock sound.
MM: There seems to be a big following for the White Stripes, and they really brought garage rock to the forefront, but when we started getting together it was like, 'Yeah, you've been listening to this for that long, too.' It wasn't that we all got interested in it because of the White Stripes.
AR: I always thought our leads sounded like Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane.
MM: Yeah, he's definitely one of my inspirations.
Do people expect a garage band to put on a wild show?
MM: Honestly, I don't know if we've had the same people come to two shows in a row, so I don't think anybody has any kind of expectations. I think I have the expectation more than anyone else. I'm tired of seeing watered-down bands with no excitement for what they're doing, for what they've created. They go out there and they try to look really cool, and that's it. There's no joy in that. I expect a singer to let loose, even if they're off key or they're going to fall off time or fall down. I was really into punk rock as a kid, into Lux Interior before I heard Iggy Pop. It's sort of coming at it in reverse, but when you saw them, the singer and even the whole band put on a show. You want to see excitement.
AR: I think a lot of the time when we play a show we don't even know where it's going to go, as far as how we're going to play or how subdued. Our last Hexagon show, it was chaos right until the time we got on stage.
MM: And then it was chaos from that point, Nate's amp blew up. That was the roughest show we ever played but we had so much fun. I think that's the difference, that we have a lot of fun.
There's lower key stuff in your sets, though. "My Only Sin" is a great song.
MM: We told a booker to fuck off because he wanted us to play a show but he didn't want us to play that song.
NS: It seemed like he wanted to bring back a kind of hair metal scene, or a '70s pop metal thing.
MM: He said, 'You guys are really good and I like your sound, but I don't like that song. You shouldn't play anything like that. We just want high-energy numbers.
AR: We'd rather use our own judgement. I mean, we'd play a different set at the Dakota.
Steve Bleed: Or a bar mitzvah, we'd have a whole different set.
AR: But some rock club, there's no reason for somebody to tell us what to do. 'Only upbeat numbers, only songs that sound like the MC5.'
Your EP has a track recorded live at the Hexagon. How'd you record that?
AR: I used a little hand-held recorder that I've got in my toolbox over there. I just put it up in the corner, on top of the TV. They get a pretty good mix in there, if you come back a bit. We had three songs and we wanted to do a seven-inch record, so we had the space and it was a last-minute decision.
MM: We would have loved to have done a 45 with one song on each side, but we weren't sure anyone would ever hear our other songs, or if we could ever release another record, so we wanted to get more out there.
What are your plans for another record now?
MM: We're recording right now. We're halfway through recording the drums and base tracks. We were going to work in a studio, but we set up down here and it sounds fantastic. Aaron knows his stuff. And we're comfortable. That's the problem with a studio, I've never felt comfortable. It's fun, and you feel cool coming in, but you never get comfortable.
NS: I think there is a kind of raw or naive element we're trying to tap into.
MM: The thing is we end up sounding lo-fi, technically, but it's not what we're trying to do. That's become this way to be cool, so bands generate this lo-fi sound on the pretense that it sounds cool. Does that make sense?
NS: They're doing it too deliberately.
MM: Yeah, it's not natural. They're doing it on purpose. They distort the vocals so it sounds like they don't give a shit, but really they're spending a lot of time to get that 'don't give a shit sound.' It's like people with a lot of hair product. They want to look like they have bedhead, like they're partiers, but they spend an hour to do their hair.
How did you connect with Pinata Records?
MM: We didn't know [Pinata Records founder] Damien Tank that well. We shared a practice space, our two bands, years ago.
NM: Wait, who's this playing?
MM: That's Link Wray, man. This is the song I was telling you about. Link Wray is how I learned to play guitar. I just listened to it over and over again. It's just a lot of E (strums). That's the extent of it -- Jimi Hendrix is wailin' and this guy's just playing E for a whole song.
AR: There's a scene in that documentary It Might Get Loud, where Jimmy Page is air guitaring along with "Rumble." Like that was his thing.
NM: That's the one with Jack White and the Edge?
MM: The Edge? Are you serious?
NM: Yeah, that's his name. The Edge.
MM: The Edge. He should get together with The Situation.
NS: So does that answer your question?
Narco States will be performing Friday May 31 at Hell's Kitchen, along with The Goondas, Hevy Syrup and San Dimas. $5, 21+.
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