Pennyroyal: All of these songs are about breakups, even the danceable ones

Pennyroyal: All of these songs are about breakups, even the danceable ones
Photo by Heather Kraft

Pennyroyal's lead singer Angie Oase (pronounced "Ohs") doesn't look like the typical folk rocker. And the Minneapolis group's latest album, Baby I'm Against It, doesn't play out like typical folk or rock. On Baby, the band has a particular theme of loss and leaving coursing through it, but each song has its own story and sound.

Before the band's album release at Icehouse on Tuesday, Gimme Noise spoke with Ethan Rutherford and Angie about working with Ed Ackerson and how the band has collectively grown since their last album.

Band Members: Angie Oase, Ethan Rutherford, William Hoben, Jake Mohan, Brian Cameron

Gimme Noise: It's been about two years since your last album, Sad Face/Glad Face, was released; how has the band progressed musically since then? What outside forces do you feel contributed to the change?

Ethan: We recorded and released the Places EP in early 2012, which definitely took us in a new direction collaboratively -- people bring in snippets of songs, and we all hammer at them until we get something unexpected. It was something that we never would have come up with without everyone doing their part. That was the first opportunity we had to really sit down and write songs as a band, which is how we wanted to do things going forward, and is how a lot of the music on Baby I'm Against It came to be written as well. Lyrics, sure, they are usually done by one person, but the music is collaborative.

Angie: Ya, we had a lot of ballads and harmonica duos on Sad Face/Glad Face -- kept them very much along the lines of our singer/songwriter/solo performer pasts. However, Places was like, "Let's get a little bit louder and let the drums and bass have some fun." I mean, when you've got a bass player that likes to do the splits you don't hide that away! Come on, right?

Really though, we saw and felt the reaction at our shows, people were now moving instead of just listening. This sort of pushed me into wanting to do more songs where I felt more comfortable dancing and that of course brought up my love of disco! I told Jake (drums) and he didn't laugh me out of the room; he just busted out the theme from -- I don't know -- People's Court? Looking back, he did that almost too easily! 

Gimme Noise: Angie and Ethan, you guys do a lot of the writing in the band. What does everyone else bring to the music? Was there collaboration on this album, or was most of it written before it was brought to the band?

Ethan: Well, some of the lyrics were written years ago, but the music was a collaboration with everyone. The way we work in the band is that someone brings an idea in, and then we just sort of hammer it out until we're all happy with it. Angie is always pushing for something more transcendent and complicated. Somehow it works; it's impossible to say how. I think of our band sort of like the Voltron lion -- one part Metal (Bill), one part loud prog-rocky danceable drums (Jake), one part drone (Ethan), one part lead guitar (Brian), and one blonde-mohawked head melody lion, with a heart o' gold (Angie). We are the band we are, because we come from such disparate musical landscapes.

Gimme Noise: Angie, because of your rock star appearance, are people ever surprised by the folky music that comes out of you when they hear you play? How do you respond?

Angie: Yep, I hear it a lot. It's been an occurrence my whole life -- this sort of reaction I get from people after they have decided what I'm going to be like, but then we get to talking and I guess I pleasantly surprise them. Or maybe I just make really bad first impressions? I mean, it's not too far of a stretch. I'm from small town North Dakota, and I was going to punk shows in high school -- the only live music we could get at, thank god. Minot has had a healthy punk rock scene on and off for decades, and I was a huge jock. I was worried I was too out of place, but I had all of these feelings about the music, and I had a very special way of connecting and always held those experiences very close. I guess it came through most in my appearance -- at least in Pennyroyal -- and let's just be happy that I was able to work the mohawk because I've had some pretty awful haircuts in my time!

Gimme Noise: How did you come to meet Ed [Ackerson] and choose him for this project?

Angie: Is "The CC Club" too cheesy of an answer? Let's just say I had a good friend there looking out for me. She listened to all my highs and lows; she said she wanted to help but didn't know how. A few days later she gave me Ed's email and told me to write to him and ask him if I could meet with him. I guess he thought I was okay, or -- I don't know -- maybe he owed my friend a favor. Ha. We met, and Ed is so on point; he really can streamline the most difficult stuff about trying to make a band work and sound like what you envision.

At the time, however, we were recording our EP Places at SoundGallery with Jeff Marcovis. Which turned out awesome. That EP captured everything we were at the moment and it's just as good of work as our album. Those songs were solid, and we were ready for them. On Baby I'm Against It, we were starting fresh. It was a combo of bringing in new songs and convincing one another to bring back old songs and rework them. We basically celebrated the EP release in June, and by July I was sending Ed and the guys ideas for songs. I was orchestrating them on my iPad as simply as possible just to get the idea across. By January we had recording dates set up with Ed; he and I went back and forth on songs the whole winter and the guys learned four or five different versions of them. It was hard for me to be patient and let the songs sink in -- let each member sort of figure their own personality into the songs -- but I knew it would be well worth the wait. When we got to Ed, he added his magic and really shined them up.

Gimme Noise: How do you think he shaped the music on this album?

Angie: Ed's a music guy through and through. He knows where stuff should and can go, but the thing I think he wants most is to follow the artist's vision as closely as possible. Our mistakes were sometimes our markers for where the song really wanted to go. The real amazing part was how easily he got to know all of our strengths and styles in such a short amount of time, and then figured it into what we really needed to get done to make an awesome album. I mean we gave him a pretty tight budget and time-frame! Two days in January and three days in April was all.

Gimme Noise: What's the story behind the name Baby I'm Against It? What are you really against?

Angie: My version of the story is that I secretly was listening to Ethan's old MySpace which had his solo home-recordings on it. I'm pretty sure he forgot about it, but, ya know, that's how we met. I was covering his songs, and that's an important part of this album: old songs of Ethan's that got me through last winter. I had my doubts about him accepting these ideas, but I think he was flattered. "Baby I'm Against It" is a song Ethan wrote and recorded on piano. It's a killer, I mean, this guy can make you sob!

As we finished up gathering our songs for the second recording session, it sort of hit us -- all of these songs were about break-ups with everyone -- even ourselves. This was also along the time-frame when Ethan broke news that he would have to move to Ohio for a while, and well, we were against it.

Ethan: You shouldn't tell people about that MySpace, because I can't figure out how to delete it. I agree with Angie, a lot of the naming of the record was the timing of the recording; we recorded knowing I would have to leave Minneapolis, and it sort of became a way for us to say, "Well, this isn't great timing, but let's see what we can do." The songs are all breakup songs, even the danceable ones, and there was something both intimate and forthright in the title to that song that seemed to suit the album as it was taking shape.

Gimme Noise: Each song is so different than the last on this record. Which song off of Baby I'm Against It best represents where the band is right now?

Angie: "Last I Had." It's also one of the oldest songs in terms of when Ethan wrote it, and when we started as a band we played it, too. As we wrote and recorded more of our first album, we were playing "Last I Had"less and less. Both Ethan and I had brought up the idea of revisiting the song, and believe me, we tried. We just kept getting stuck on the walk-down; it was too repetitive. I told him during one writing session, "This is how I want to sing it," and we worked from the a capella version. We were still pretty unsure when we met with Ed, but he just kept encouraging us to play it again and again. Now, once it's all shined up it makes so much sense; it's a very well produced song and I think we just weren't used to that. I've always liked not having a chorus or refrain in our songs.
Ethan: I think "Did You Really Mean It" is the best song we've ever done, and that's 100 percent due to Angie's performance on that track.
Angie: Ya, well, I had to channel every breakup that ever happened in the world -- ever! So ya, it's supposed to make you cry, or maybe just me? [laughs]

Gimme Noise: Any songs you like performing live?

Angie: "An Official Statement." It's been a long-time coming to get that song filled with the emotion I felt when I wrote it, and then turning that sadness/enlightenment into a production- of both my vocal strengths and each member's own strengths. The guys really dial in to it, the music swelling and dying with the lyrics.

Ethan: I like "M List," because it really allows Jake and Bill to cut loose. They both play really hard -- as in, my ears don't work as well as they used to -- and that opening, where the two of them lock in on each other, it's just a pleasure to come in on top of that. Any time those two get in a groove -- "Minot," "Tuesday," etc. -- it's just great to be around that. Any time Bill kicks out his metal stance, I know things are going well in bass land. And as anyone with any sense can tell you, when things are going well in bass land, they're going well in music land.

Gimme Noise: What can we expect to see at the album release show?

Angie: Well, I'll probably still have a blonde mohawk. Ethan will be flying in a few days before. Like I said, he relocated to Ohio, and he probably doesn't want to talk about it [laughs] even though it was for very good reasons -- but he will be there! Incidentally, our newest member, Brian Cameron, who we recruited to help out while Ethan is gone, and is now a permanent fixture, will be strumming it up real good for us. The biggest news is that former Minneapolis musician, Scott Laurent, will be coming up from Nashville to support our release! He's been publishing and recording a new album. I'm also excited to be joining him for a few of his tunes. Also, we just received word that our albums are pressed and ready for shipment, we were sort of worried they wouldn't get here in time!

Pennyroyal will release Baby I'm Against It at Icehouse on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 with Scott Laurent.
21+, $10, 9 pm

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