Pale Spectre| 7th St. Entry | Saturday, April 25 It's a sunny Sunday afternoon at Bob's Java Hut, and the roar of traffic on Lyndale combines with those of motorcycles pulling up to the spot. We're having an afternoon coffee with several members of Pale Spectre, a fairly new local band preparing to make its big debut at BNLXFest III this Saturday evening at the Entry.
Twenty-one-year-old vocalist Aaron Hammerly fidgets somewhat nervously, the wind tousling his blonde hair. Pale Spectre is his first band, and he's had to get over his stage fright fast at their first show.
"That was at Honey last October," Hammerly recounts. They didn't have much material yet and only played four songs. "The first time I actually sang was in front of these people," he says.
Jeff Cornell and Gunnar Kauth are flanking Hammerly at the picnic table in front of Bob's. Cornell is the frontman of Gloss, and Kauth spent time as drummer in Frankie Teardrop. At the time of Pale Spectre's first show they were already stage veterans.
Hammerly and Cornell spent time two summers ago writing music together, unknowingly conceiving the project. They started inspired by what Hammerly calls "C86 stuff, like Field Mice," and were inspired by '80s music.
Hammerly says that Cornell instructed him to, "just write everything that comes out and we'll work on it, and by the time we play shows we'll have songs that sound similar enough to play." As their songwriting evolved and they got more into post punk, the sound became more streamlined and took a darker turn when they found inspiration in bands like the Cure while also turning to Morrissey for guidance.
After fleshing out some songs, the two were in search of a drummer. At the time, Kauth was playing with Frankie Teardrop, the self-described "Minneapolis shit rock" band that was experiencing early success on the local scene.
"I really enjoyed playing in Frankie Teardrop, but it's not the type of music that I would write if I were to write music," Kauth declares, twirling a spoon in his espresso. "When I heard Aaron's demo I was like, 'yeah, this is definitely something I'd be interested in.'"
When they first started writing, the sound had more of a jangly Gloss-feel than they'd intended, but had intrinsically snuck its way in. "It evolved naturally based on what songs had energy," Cornell says. Some just weren't getting done, or were getting stuck on one guitar riff. "The ones that worked were a little darker, kind of that '80's 4AD-type sound," he says.They aren't trying to limit themselves to a certain genre or tone, and aren't fixed on sounding contemporary either. "It's inherently sort of playful," Kauth says. Everyone adds their own style to it. "Watching Sean [Neppl, guitarist] add something to this song or Jack [Woolsey, bassist] playing a bass in his own style...it's really cool to see," says Hammerly. [page]
Hammerly takes his lyric-writing seriously, and the songs carry weighty messages. He delves into subjects like mental health, gender and sexuality. He's sober, and discusses addiction and alcoholism. He promotes talking about these things openly and without stigma attached so that they aren't seen as a weakness, but rather as a disease.
He's interested in masculine and feminine roles, and is working on a song they haven't recorded yet attacking that subject matter.
"The song is about a guy not being super sexual, as sexual as most men are supposed to be," Hammerly describes. "The woman is the aggressor, and is like, I'm super sexual--and the guy is like no, I'm nervous."
The three are all self-admitted Morrissey worshippers, and admire him for opening doors to this kind of discussion. "The reason why [fans] latch onto someone like Morrissey or these other kinds of figures is because he was challenging gender roles and sexuality at a time when it was not convenient for him to do it."
Pale Spectre has a strikingly nonexistent presence on social media, and we asked the three members why. One reason they divulged was simply being careful about curating what information and recorded material is available on the internet, and as Cornell said it, give each song enough "time to develop" before it gets shared online.
"Maybe I'd rather let our record speak for itself as opposed to doing the talking through Facebook posts and Twitter," Kauth concludes. "All these other sort of instant gratification platforms don't really seem to serve musicians that are intent upon letting their music speak."
As for right now, the music can only speak in a live setting--perhaps rendering it even more powerful.
In this digital age, listeners can become completely distracted from a band's music because of the persona offered up by social media, as their online image takes the place of representing the performers instead of their music. Pale Spectre's trying to avoid this on a very ground level. Perhaps the instant success of bands they're associated with taught them a thing or two about perception.
Right now they're looking forward to playing alongside a great roster of other local bands on the second evening of BNLXFest III this Saturday at the 7th Street Entry, followed by a host of future club and underground shows, with an album release to be expected some time this summer.
"The reason Pale Spectre formed in the first place was that it was like playing the exact type of music that we want to play without boundaries," Kauth says. "Without feeling like we're limiting ourselves."
Cornell agrees. "A lot of people could say the '80s revival came and went. But the music we like...we're not trying to hit on the certain wave, we're not trying to do it because other people like it. We could make a grunge band 'cause the nineties are back or whatever, but we're not doing that." They're instead reeling us in with neo-nostalgia.
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