STNNNG behind the music

Hannah M. Haugberg

STNNNG have spent four years, give or take, writing and recording their new record, Smoke of My Will, and at this point don't seem to care so much about winning or capturing any hearts and minds—or losing them, or whatever. Their two previous full-lengths are vastly overlooked, poetically aggressive experiments, but locally they've been head-and-shoulders favorites for years, universally respected and perennially lauded since their first handful of shows.

After adding Ben Ivascu (Private Dancer, Double Bird, Total Fucking Blood, Marijauna Deathsquads, POS) on drums last fall, Chris Besinger (vocals), Jesse Kwakenat (bass), Adam Burt (lead guitar), and Nate Nelson (lead guitar) were reignited, beginning the process of piecing together Smoke of My Will.

Here's the story in their words.

Chris Besinger: At this point, I'm just glad the thing is done.

Adam Burt: I don't think any of us thought it would take four years, but life happens.

Besinger: I jokingly referred to this record as the weird record we do when nobody's paying attention. Some of these songs have existed in one form or another since before Fake Fake. The actual recording of the record took relatively no time at all. There was a lot of stuff just to get to that point. We were going to do the record ourselves and kind of did that but it wasn't going anywhere...until Ben joined the band.

Jesse Kwakenat: We asked Ben first and he was 100 percent in. We were all tied in together.

Nate Nelson: It just made perfect sense. It was Ben or no one. I think we were maybe languishing a little, and then this change made it, 'Okay, now let's finish this.' And it made it fun to finish it. We were recording some of the new stuff but we didn't really seem satisfied with anything. Then when Ben joined it sounded different. It's hard when you've been in a band for seven years; the third record, it's like, everyone who's going to hear about us in the Twin Cities has heard of us. So there was no sense in trying to get a record out there so people know who we are.

After Diginifed Sissy, it seemed like lots of people liked us, and none of us had been in a band that was so popular before. But we weren't trying to be popular. We're trying to annoy people. So it's cool that you can be so annoying and people want to come see just how annoying you can be. Then Fake Fake came out, and it seemed like all our momentum kind of hit a plateau—we knew Touch and Go passed on us and Sub Pop passed on us. We kind of thought something bigger might happen, and it didn't really. It's not like these people hadn't heard us; they had and they just weren't into it. That was like four years ago. And now it's more like who cares if anyone likes us. That's kind of a nice, liberating feeling. We don't give a shit as long as we like it. Not that we did that before, but maybe it was just more our own expectations, because everything just came so fast.

Burt: [Around the time of Dignified Sissy] we had this surge of creative energy. We were super excited about trying out this new thing. I remember the songs coming together super quickly. Nate and Jeremy were kind of the main songsmiths for that first record. We wanted to do something just kind of, like, sassier and maybe less about quiet-loud dynamic and more about rocking.

Besinger: I think we were really charging after Dignified Sissy. We played a zillion shows. With this record that steam kind of went away and it just took a lot longer to make. That's just a reflection of it being more scattered. I definitely think it's more reflective. It's a moodier record for me.

Kwakenat: With Fake Fake [the first record that Jesse recorded with STNNNG] it was like a laser, we just nailed it really quickly. Smoke of My Will is maybe more thoughtful as a result of the time it took, maybe more progressive.

Burt: There's a lot more of me on the newest record for sure.

Besinger: Adam's just a natural musician.

Nelson: I moved here from Omaha in 1999, and I knew Adam from the Vets. They were awesome. When I first moved here they kind of blew my mind, especially Adam's guitar playing. I was like "no way they're not going to be famous." [Laughs] Adam's a lot better at on-the-spot-writing a cool part when you're in the room...not so much me. I'm not as much of a natural musician as him.

Burt: It's easy to feel just jaded and cynical. I don't feel that and I don't think any of the other four guys feel that way, and that's just what keeps it going. I try not to let any of the scene stuff get me down. Any time someone tells me they like the band it's fucking great. We're not phoning it in.

Besinger: I think rock music is fuckin' awesome.

To read more about STNNNG's origins, check out the extended interview on

STNNNG play a CD-release show with Mother of Fire, Kill the Vultures, and Gay Beast on SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23, at the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486

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Turf Club

1601 University Ave. W.
St. Paul, MN 55104


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