STNNNG's Nate Nelson revisits his basement show past

Here's Nate Nelson at the end of a Rick show in 2000.
Here's Nate Nelson at the end of a Rick show in 2000.

By Kyle Imes

There has always been an underground music scene in the Twin Cities in some capacity, but it's easy to overlook. Before Facebook and MySpace, finding the basement, loft, or re-purposed public space was largely word-of-mouth. Thanks to a friend's older brother, I was allowed to tag along to my first basement shows in the late '90s. These often completely unhinged shows changed my perception of what live music could look and sound like. Basement Alumni is a column to revisit the nascent days for many of our local musicians. 

Guitarist Nate Nelson (STNNNG, Pony Trash, Chambermaids, among others) was a regular at a good chunk of the shows that I attended back in the late '90s and early '00s. He played in Rick, Pennie Arcade, United Snakes, and Church of Gravitron
 in those days, and was in the audience on plenty of other occasions. In a conversation with Gimme Noise, he recalls those formative years.
Gimme Noise: What are the best memories you have from those days?

Nate Nelson: One of my favorite crazy shows was Pink and Brown at the Church. (The Church was an actual church converted into a venue located in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.) Before [frontman John Dwyer formed] Thee Oh Sees, before Coachwhips, there was Pink and Brown. Rick played that show, and I remember our drummer got naked and stood on stage with Pink and Brown. I think Jason Wade (of Faggot/Cock Esp), held his nuts in a spoon.

I also saw Pink and Brown play a house called Captain Black's, which was a house I didn't much care for cause one of the dudes living there fooled around with my then-girlfriend and they were all Christian dorks in my mind. (Captain Black's aka Pretzelvania is a house venue located in St. Paul.) Dwyer knocked out every one of the ceiling tiles in the basement and I remember looking over at the Christian dorks and they were not happy. Which I delighted in. Lightning Bolt also played the show and totally destroyed. This is one of those shows that you always hear people say they were at, but I don't remember more than 20-30 people there, not including people who played.

Do you remember which basement was your favorite to play in, or which one hosted some of the most interesting or memorable shows?

Nate: My favorite place to play was always the House of Knives. (House of Knives was a house venue located in Southeast Minneapolis.) It sounded great in there and we really loved the people involved. Most importantly though, they always let me put on shows there and no one else really did at the time.

Knife World at the Church in 2005 or 2006.
Knife World at the Church in 2005 or 2006.

What is the legacy of your time doing house shows?

I think this is still happening today. There are still houses and underground spaces that do shows. There are still insanely creative and challenging bands making new music and there are still relatively few people exposed to it. I don't think the late '90s or early '00s were necessarily more interesting for underground music, but I was at a very impressionable age at the time and definitely my fondest memories of going to see underground/basement shows are from that time. Hardly any bars or clubs at the time seemed to book my favorite bands so this was the avenue that most of them had to go through.
When did you decide that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

There was a place in Omaha called the Cog Factory which was an all-ages DIY non-bar/club type venue. The very first show I ever saw was Built to Spill in 1995. I had heard of Built to Spill before so I figured they must be pretty big. Kind of figured in my mind that the venue would look like Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" video. It was a little room that didn't even have much of a stage. Conor Oberst's band at the time opened and they looked like normal people, like me and my friends. BTS got on stage and looked like normal people too.

At that moment, I realized you didn't have to be a rock star to get up on stage and play music for people. I guess that was my light bulb flashing moment and I knew that if I put a band together, I could probably get up on that stage someday. So I put one together and played that stage many times. The same stage so many of my favorite bands played. There was no separation between you and these bands you loved so much. It destroyed all my preconceptions about what it was like to be in a band. You didn't have to act like or look like Guns N' Roses. I've really only played music this long because I can't stand to do anything else.

STNNNG hosts a 10-year anniversary show at Turf Club, Big V's, Midway House, and another spot TBA on Saturday, February 23. Vampire Hands will reunite for the occasion. Other bands scheduled include Signal to Trust, Tight Phantomz, Gay Witch Abortion, Buildings, Weakwick, and Animal Lover. More info here.

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