Run Westy Run: There are going to be a lot of surprises happening on stage
If there's anything that can be said for Minnesota music in 2013, it will forever be minted as the year of the 80's Minneapolis "Heyday" band reunions.
Famously, the Replacements reunited after years of nagging from their fans. Soul Asylum continued to soldier on in an amalgamation of themselves. Most impressively, the Suburbs released new music and presciently created the theme song for marriage equality in Minnesota. As if this weren't enough, there's one last big one from the local music vaults before the calendar turns over to a new year, as psychedelic indie swamp punks, Run Westy Run recently announced two shows of their own happening on both sides of the river next week.
Sprouting about in the 80's, Run Westy Run were led by the three brothers Johnson: Kraig Jarret, Kirk Justin and Kyle Jay. Signed to national indie label, SST Records, the band road the wave that carried so many great, difficult to categorize, punk spirited rock bands from the time. They really stuck out in Minneapolis as a sound completely unlike their typically sappy contemporaries with a rough, rugged, often weird, blues inspired take among their DIY roots method.
Coupled with artful stage antics and creatively crafted cover art and flier visuals, Run Westy Run captured a loyal following in the Twin Cities. Gaining traction from touring, eventually they cut a deal with A&M Records in the mid-90's major label rush to sign anything remotely cool. As we already knew, the Westies were plenty cool.
Like so many bands post-Nirvana, their imminent exposure to the greater masses came to a screeching halt and their major debut, Cockroach Park, never came out -- leaving the band to dissolve in 1998. Kirk and Kraig moved on with bassist Tom Merkel, and formed the short lived Iffy in 2001, making just one incredibly funky record.
After releasing some of his own solo material, as well as playing and touring in Golden Smog, the Jayhawks and alongside singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur, guitarist Kraig Jarret pulled up stakes from the Twin Cities for New York City five years ago. Talking to him by phone this week it appeared not much has really changed in Johnson's life.
With an excitement that beemed through our loose connection, it sounded like Kraig is as busy in music as ever. Juggling a full schedule with the people he plays with, Johnson also books and currates an open mic evening in the Village that attracts all types -- including Peter Buck, Lenny Kaye, Mike Mills, Bela Fleck, Kevin Kinney and Craig Finn. Fortunately we got Johnson to take a minute to lay out the details on how next week's reunion came about.
Gimme Noise: So of course the big news of this year was the Replacements reunion. But I think everyone was expecting that sooner or later. I think the vibe is how everybody was caught a little off guard and kinda more excited about this one.
Kraig Jarret Johnson: Haha, yeah. It's been kind of on the back burner for a while. We always talked about playing again.
In a way, you guys never really broke up. Just kind of stopped doing gigs.
Yeah, I mean it just came down to we just were never all in the same place at the same time. It was like hey come on man, my brother Kirk was out here for a while but is then out in California. When we're all in town here in New York, it always ended up someone was busy. Then we were like "We should do one around Christmas!" It just so happened that everyone could do it this time. (Guitarist)Terry got it rolling and really wanted to do it. Tommy Merkl plays bass but lives in Holland and is back for the holidays.
Awesome. So you really haven't even rehearsed yet I suppose, probably won't until right before the shows?
We start reheasals this weekend. We're doing two shows so we want to make them each a little different. I been listening to the CD's. I haven't played there with anybody in a while. So it's going to be really fun for me. I think we could end up doing more a stripped down thing at the Turf. We're trying do something theatrical with lights as that was really something that was always important to us.
I remember the first time I saw you guys, I think with Hüsker Dü in the Mainroom and Kirk had a bunch of burning incense sticks in his hair.
Yep, that would be him. I like the shows we did with plastic in front of the stage and we would slowly break through it during the show. I'm psyched to play First Avenue, I haven't been there in a long time.
Did the 'Mats reunion give you guys the idea maybe you need to fire it up again?
Seriously, it's all coincidence. I know Tommy, I just talked to him and said how great you guys are doing those shows and had heard how great the shows were. I know everyone's hoping the Replacements would play in Minneapolis. But we used to always do Christmas shows so when this came together it just felt right. The main thing about it was just to get together in a room to see what happens. Half the band was my family. I grew up with Terry. It's more like hey, let's just get together.
When was the last gig you guys did? Was there a reason you guys stopped playing?
I had to call Bill Sullivan to remember the last time we played, he thought it was 1998. During that time I was touring with the Jayhawks, Kirk and Tommy started Iffy. But I started doing my own thing. There was the Golden Smog records. Then I joined Iffy with those guys. Everybody just kept doing other things. We went over to Europe. We'd still go out and do tours with Firehose and stuff. But then we'd get slowed down when our record didn't come out. We rerecorded stuff, we were just happy doing our art. I guess we weren't really focused, had a contact with A&M, but we spent a lot of time making that record.
The whole label deal thing for every band was a strange thing. You guys seemed to just do your thing.
Exactly. Back in the day when you could actually sign a record. Everybody just got more into "Let's do this for what we were doing this for." We weren't trying to be stars. We shot a lot of stars. We did a lot of things we wanted to do. We played a lot of great shows.
So Cockroach Park is your lost record. It's never been released?
Yeah, we were signed to A&M and they never released it. There was some promo CD's of 8 songs that came out. I know there's like 70 of them still that people have had in storage. I'll save a copy for you.
Dude, that'd be sweet. Could you put the record out now in some form if you wanted to?
We can release the record. There's lots of things people been asking about. People are paying $25 for some of the SST records on Ebay. We haven't been all together long enough to talk about it. Eventually we'll set up a site where people can get that music. Trying to figure out what to do there's so much people haven't heard in a while. Plus we're going to record the shows coming up too.
I hate to say it but listening to some other bands from that era, I don't think some have aged well. Going back to some of these songs, I think this stuff stands up.
Thanks. Yeah, I was listening to Green Cat Island the other day and was surprised of some of what I'd forgotten. Every once in a while I'll put it on, sitting down with a guitar and headphones. It's kind of fun knowing like boom, it comes back to you.
Speaking of coming back. do you ever come back to Minnesota? What are you looking forward to?
Last time I was there was last Thanksgiving. I look forward to seeing friends, hanging out. People are freaking out here when it's 35 degrees and none of the snow stays. Honestly, I'm looking forward to it being cold and seeing snow. We have one guy in Holland, one in Duluth, one guy in New york, Los Angeles and two in Minneapolis. I'm just looking forward to hanging out and putting on a couple good shows. There are going to be a lot of surprises happening on stage.
Run Westy Run performs Friday, 12/27 at the First Avenue Mainroom and Saturday 12/28 at the Turf Club in Saint Paul. For ticket information check out the First Avenue website.
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