The musical backgrounds of the psych soul-pop Minneapolis band Story Night look much like a quilt that was lovingly sewn together. Each of the four members of the quartet also play in other local bands - Pho, Robat, Naptaker, and Almitra - and they joined forces to create a self-titled debut album that is gently buzzing with soft static, and the rustle of life’s more routine, quieter moments.
City Pages caught up with members Taylor Christianson and Andrew Smith to chat about how magic and Dungeons & Dragons influenced the sounds on the new record, before their album release at the Triple Rock on Saturday night.
City Pages: How did you all meet and form?
Taylor Christianson: Andrew and I met at a Dungeons and Dragons session with some good friends of ours. I was new to the group, and I thought Andrew was hilarious. He eventually had to leave the group because his character was too much of a wild card for the rest of the players to handle.
Later on he showed me the album we are releasing and mentioned his frustrations with not being able to get a band together, to which I replied, "I play the drums and would like to join your band." Since the music is rather synth-heavy, I asked my friend Patrick Horigan to join the band. We had a different bass player who didn't work out, and that's when we added Henry Ingber to the band. I wanted to play in this band with Andrew, because I enjoyed the music and thought the songs were extremely representative of his off the wall personality.
Sometimes when I see a band play, I get the feeling that they are trying to portray an image that isn't representative of who they actually are, and I find that a bit off-putting. Andrew's songs, on the other hand, are an extension of his humor and passion which makes the music that much more intriguing once you get to know him.
CP: How do you think your varied musical backgrounds filtered into what you all do with Story Night?
Andrew Smith: I wrote the parts, everyone else has translated them somewhat into their own styles with minor embellishments here and there that made them their own, while keeping the original composition intact.
Patrick has added some great harmonic complexity to a few songs, filling out chords and adding extensions that change the emotion they invoke. He has referred to himself as a "harmony guy," and it's totally true.
Andrew has livened the drums up a lot. Most parts started as simple as could be, and he made them warmer, more human, as opposed to my almost minimalist, dreamy, rock beats.
CP: How does magic and Dungeons & Dragons figure into the music?
AS: There's definitely a sort of magic in all music, and we want that to be present in our album and at our shows, but we've never cast any real spells. Though they do exist, and there is a local witch community alive and well in Minneapolis.
D&D was mostly just the venue that Taylor and I met, but there are elements of our music in the game and vice versa. My character was named Petros. He was named after a town on the Greek island of Lesbos (pronounced 'Lez-vohs'), where my 3x great-grandpa came from, and where lyrics and music were supposedly combined for the first time.
Petros' special item was a magic lute that could sway the hearts of those who heard it. When we met characters who were suspicious of our group, the lute could help us get on their good side, and possibly get us some weapons, gold, or a place to stay. I've never written a song about D&D characters or spells, but to me there's an inherent magic to a good listening experience, where a feeling comes out of seemingly nowhere, just from a sound you've heard, and future events can change based on your reaction and mood.
CP: When did you start writing this album?
AS: This album didn't take a very long time to write, but the recording, mixing, and process of finding the right band members did. I wrote most of the songs in 2014, and the members I was playing with more or less dumped me. Everyone was graduating, finding jobs, playing in other bands, and flaking on practice, so I just said I'm gonna finish this album on my own.
I had two members from William Within play on the album. Toby Ramaswamy played drums, and Derek Rohlf on violin, but the rest of the instruments were played by me. I struggled with trying to mix the tracks at home, and then found a job at a studio (Aaron/Stokes) and got to finally use a professional space to mix and record nicer sounding vocals, synth, and guitars in. I'm currently done writing the next album and am starting to plan recording for it.
CP: Tell me about the song "Vice Cadet."
AS: I like for people to be able to interpret their own meaning out of songs, but not sure they really do that often…so here's the uncut tell-all: "Vice Cadet" is about an inner struggle with my addictive personality clashing with my conscience. I was feeling like I was floating through the space, ungrounded, at the whim of a chemical imbalance I had created in my head, and was constantly trying to control.
I tried to acknowledge that, as a lonely or depressed kid, it's easy to fall into drug use, or lose your way. It's not that I'm completely against drug use. I love the idea of it, but I think it works much better for other people than I thought it did for me for about ten years. The lie I was living was one I told myself: "It's okay, do whatever you want, it won't slow you down."
CP: Are there any other songs that stand out to you on this album?
AS: "Scratch Game" is the outlier for me, as it was put together in the most unique way (like a sudo-EDM song), and ended up sounding by far the dancey-est, most ridiculous and fun. The drums are all sampled, there's a scratch guitar loop repeating for most of the song, and there's a heavy Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson influence with the glass bottle clinky-breathy beat.
"Scratch Game" doesn't reflect the overall vibe of the album as a singular piece, but another one we're really happy with is "Seen Your Worth." I feel like that one hit the right balance of rockaway chill, complex polyrhythms, and fun synths/editing.
CP: Since this is your first album , what has been your goal with this project?
AS: I want to pour my heart and soul into this; it's my endeavor to make and do something that makes people happy. I want to write most of the music, with some help from the band, and continue recording and playing as many shows as possible at first to get our name out, then fewer, bigger shows after a year or so. We're definitely open to touring the Midwest and country, but want the tour to be for the right reason (not just a vacation where you play shows).
CP: What are you excited to share at the album release show?
AS: Really just us, most of all. I want my friends to see what we've been working on, why I haven't been coming to D&D as much lately (tear), and why my girlfriend has been having to watch Fargo by herself. We've been practicing for the better part of a year, and I'm just ready to start getting out there. I'm also psyched to show people our physical CDs we're having printed. It will be good to see what songs seem to have the best reception. People are always nice about music up in the 'Sota, but you have to dig a little deeper to get the real scoopinion.
Story Night Story Night Album Release Show
With: Tabah, Daylily, Lunar Bedrooms
Where: Triple Rock Social Club
When: Saturday, June 4, 2016; 9 pm
Tickets: 18+, $5, more information here