When it comes to languorous indie rock, there's a certain value in half-interviewing a band that only half feels like being interviewed--or in half-listening to a band that only half seems to be playing, or in half-reading an article that only half appears to be written. (You with me so far?)
Until recently, the apotheosis of this sensibility--at least in local pop--was a band exercise so effortless (and effort-free) that the music seemed in danger of being only half there. Valet's bassist didn't own a bass, which was a problem. He also lived in Stillwater with no car, which was another problem, as Valet is based in Minneapolis. Eventually, the group had to replace him--the last straw, his mates say, was when he didn't show up for the one practice Valet requires before a show. Enter bassist Kris Lightner, another talented friend, who lives here and even has the truth-in-advertising cachet of being an actual valet.
With Lightner in tow, the quartet has vowed to practice, and even agreed to a serious interview with this meandering reporter at downtown Minneapolis's Pizza Lucé. Meeting for beers last December, the band members claimed that their only recent media intercourse involved lying to a small-town newspaper. Rochester residents apparently now believe that keyboardist Paul Fuglestad plays the triangle, that the band hates senior citizens, and that singer-guitarist Robin Kyle writes all his lyrics at McDonald's.
In other words, Valet know how to amuse themselves. In the space of three minutes, they tell six Michael Jackson pedophile jokes, and they enjoy talking loudly over one another's sentences--especially if they're feeling defensive about the band's alleged musical slackness.
"It's not like we don't care," says Kyle, the moppy-topped frontman who might represent some Jane ideal of indie-boy beauty. (Even better, he sounds like Elliott Smith with a Pogues brogue.) "We enjoy music," he says. "But if it becomes something we have to do, then the fun goes out of it."
"It's indie rock," adds drummer Judd Hildreth. "There are no perfectionists in this band." Which is why the group had to school über-professional producer Ev Olcott (of 12Rods) on the serendipities of working without a click-track (a kind of studio metronome) over the leisurely year and a half that it took to record Valet's full-length debut. The self-released result, ironically titled The Glamour Is Contagious, is deceptively plain. With two-note musical figurines just barely augmented by theremin- style synths, the shimmering sound is a suitably minimalist backdrop for Kyle's simple but instantly memorable vocal melodies. The songs are delivered so soberly that you're surprised to notice his lyrics are about sex, drugs, and violence.
Particularly affecting is "Mental List," which reads like a credible letter to a friend who has fallen in with terrorists. "I hope you joined for the excitement/Not some deep-rooted conviction," he sings, as guest musician Eric Heywood weeps on lap steel. "You've been beating around with the wrong crew."
The scenario perhaps isn't as alien to Kyle's experience as you'd think. He lived in Belfast until 1994, when he emigrated with family at the age of 17. ("He loves green," quip his bandmates, perhaps sensing that this Irish thing will be milked by the press. "He eats Lucky Charms.") Wiping a Guinness mustache from his lip, he informs me that his parents are Hilary and Paul Kyle, touring Irish folk musicians with a following in Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. (Dad's song "The Flame" became a hit down under two years ago, when the Olympic torch was passing through.)
Valet have no such global touring ambitions at the moment: Road work would transform music into something they have to do. But the band did tour once, using an e-mail list of contacts provided by the Plastic Constellations. As a result, the subtlest band in Minneapolis found itself playing to a communal house full of gutter-punks in small-town Virginia--last on a bill that included indie-rockers the Movies and three hardcore bands.
"When we got there we thought we were going to be killed," says Kyle. "But they were so drunk that they loved us." The band played "Mental List," its halcyon ballad of wayward adulthood, and the green-haired punks tenderly slow-danced to it. The audience met the music more than halfway.
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