Speak No Evil
Alva Star drummer Peter Anderson is a persuasive man. So persuasive, in fact, that he has convinced me to agree to write this article according to his very particular rules.
"We're aware of the fact that every time the local press mentions the band, they mention every other band we've been in," says Anderson, who is conducting this interview in his loft apartment with bandmates John Hermanson and Darren Jackson listening in. "We're not trying to disown our past at all, but if you're afforded a certain amount of paragraphs, we want the focus to be on what we're doing right now."
Point taken: With only five hundred words to work with, I won't mention that frontman Hermanson has already established a loyal fan base from both his solo record and as a member of the folk duo Storyhill. Or that guitarist Jackson (referred to affectionately as "Kid" by his bandmates) has garnered acclaim for his dark solo turn as Kid Dakota. Or even that both Anderson and bassist Brian Roessler have served in rhythm sections for rock outfits Polara and Spymob, respectively. After all, I don't need to mention these things: Alva Star's debut outing, Alligators in the Lobby, is more than enough to lure a listener away from the band members' notable résumés.
The buzz that has already generated around Alligators is an unusual accomplishment for a band that is relatively new on the club and bar circuit and wasn't even truly a band until after the album was cut. While Alligators was being produced, Anderson, Jackson, and Roessler wavered between identifying themselves as part of the group and just standing in as Hermanson's backing band.
"It definitely started out at first being my songs, but now it's more of a whole-group effort," Hermanson says. "For me it's a dream. I've always wanted a group to make what's in my head come to life in a bigger way than I could imagine it. In a way, I've done away with John Hermanson."
So has Hermanson the solo artist met an untimely end because of his overambitious imagination? Or would it be more appropriate to say that he is just fated to be like the band's namesake: Natalie Wood's character in the obscure 1966 classic This Property Is Condemned? The film follows Alva Starr--a distant forerunner to Selma in last year's Dancer in the Dark--as she attempts to lose herself in a fantasy world at odds with the Depression-era South. The lyrics on Alligators generate a similarly eerie atmosphere by employing traces of the film's dialogue. "Living in the frames of a film/You told me/I swear I'm living someone else's life/Not my own," Hermanson intones in the aptly titled "Beautiful." Then a flurry of guitars that could stir up a storm in a snow globe surround Hermanson's vocals.
While Alva Star conduct group therapy with a cinematic dreamer, the Domo Sound are more interested in the anatomical workings of the mind. If axons transmitted space-rock dirges instead of neurochemical impulses, the Domo Sound's latest release, Right Brain, might bridge the gulf behind the mind and the body. Indulge me: I'm a writer and not a neurosurgeon, but I still say that the throbbing medulla of Matthew Freed's bassline mingles intermittently with Christopher Maciolek's synthesized serotonin lulls and drummer Michael Ingebritsen's bursts of adrenaline.
"We're influenced by Radiohead; we have to say it. But [that] doesn't have to come out in the article," says Domo Sound vocalist, lyricist, and guitarist Mark Edwards over a tray of won tons at Minneapolis's Red Dragon restaurant. [Editor's note: Too late.] He explains this very politely, but it is obvious that he's a little tired of such comparisons. After all, every indie rocker, singer-songwriter, and electronic outfit in town has declared allegiance to the Kid A team. In fact, my friends and I, only slightly inebriated, had mistaken the album for a bootlegged copy of Radiohead's hotly anticipated Amnesiac when it recently played between sets at the 400 Bar.
"You need a starting point when describing any band." Edwards admits. "If people use Radiohead as a starting point, that's not a problem with me. If that's where it ends, then, well, that's a problem."
Given the diverse influences branching like dendrites throughout Right Brain, Edwards needn't worry too much about being pigeonholed. On the album's most memorable track, "Eschatological Overtones," a choir sings as if it has been sonically modulated to fall somewhere between the spirited lilt of early Genesis and the brooding heft of later Rammstein. This group of classically trained vocalists belts out chorus after chorus of reverent hallelujahs while Edwards's blissful falsetto wraps around them. Fitting this group of 17 onto the small stage at the 400 Bar--where the band plays every Sunday in May--would be an amusing feat, but Freed and Edwards are typically too busy frantically adjusting their massive line of guitar pedals to conduct a proper evensong.
Though the choir sits out the live shows, Edwards's vocals retain a graceful purity fitting for a gospel group. This is true even now, three years after he made his 1998 debut as a national college-band search winner on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
"You get slapped around with reality pretty quickly after you play Late Night With Conan O'Brien the third month in your career as a band," recounts Edwards about his quick start and slow return to more humble stages. "Right now, there's no outlet for new music other than the live shows. Radio K has done what it can for us, but...it's hard to get your songs out when there's no radio stations that will play them unless you're covering Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition.'"
The members of Alva Star would no doubt agree with this assessment, since they are also Radio K darlings who have only started to receive a little airtime exposure outside of the college radio station (this is mostly due to the fact that they recently landed at No. 158 on CMJ's charts). But at least that means that no one will mention Alva Star's band members' past projects on the air. Or the Domo Sound's similarity to Radiohead. Or the fact that both bands have generated a lot of hype on the local scene in the past few months. I guess that means they'll leave those discussions to be exploited by writers like me. God bless the print media.
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