Puppies & Trains released their first single in July--a split with Dragons Power Up!--but the band members are far more active than their discography leaves one to believe. Consisting of ex-Superhopper members Kermit Carter and Math Piasecki along with drummer Jimmy Olson, the power-pop trio takes their craft seriously, even if other obligations sometimes get in the way. As Math and Jimmy raise their kids, frontman Carter has been busy with his live podcast Kermit's Corner: a blend of local music talk, humor and, yes, fan fiction.
Gimme Noise got hold of Carter to ask about the band's formation and motivation, along with the origin story of Kermit's Corner. If his story isn't interesting enough, write your own fan fiction about it. I'm sure he'll take submissions.[jump]
Gimme Noise: Where does the name "Puppies & Trains" come from?
Kermit: The phrase "puppies and trains" has been around my family's house for years. My sister, whenever asked what she would like for her birthday or Christmas, would respond with "puppies and trains." I just thought it was the most wonderful and awesome expression/phrase. When it came time to naming the group, I asked the dudes what they thought of it and no one had a better idea. Puppies & Trains it is!
It's been a few years since you formed, yet you only have the one release and don't play around town all that often. Is that something you had planned when Puppies & Trains was started?
In all honesty, yes. The band's bass player Math P. and drummer Jimmy Olson both have families with children. I so badly wanted to continue writing with Math P. and knew that I truly loved playing with Jimmy, that I wanted to make sure that this band fit into their schedules, first and foremost. We struggle to find time, but in turn it makes the time that we are together all the more exciting. I really am blessed to play with two truly inspiring musicians. With all of that said, it would be wonderful to play more, but I have been blessed to have done a lot of different shows over the years with other bands and Jimmy and Math P. have as well, so I feel like we can be a bit relaxed in our show schedule. I think we are past the point of proving to people how many shows we can play, we need only impress them with the strength of our songs and how we perform and connect with an audience.
What are the biggest differences for you between Puppies & Trains and Superhopper?
Superhopper was certainly a group effort and through the sum of the parts we became what we were. Because of who was in the band, many different influences were brought in and it molded and shaped the songwriting. We were also a very conscientious band with a pretty intense filter for ideas, sometimes second and third guessing choices. But, in the end, I think it all ended up sounding like Superhopper, for better or worse. There was a progression and a maturation of songwriting within Superhopper that I am certainly proud of, but with Puppies & Trains we truly feel like we can do whatever we want. We do a lot of improvising, usually not for riffs or songs, but tone and texture. The idea of feeling and mood is front and center for this band.
I think that, personally, I have been so focused on the craft of songwriting that the change in approach has been incredibly freeing as far as an artistic exercise goes. It took years, but I really think that all of us trust their own and each other's instincts, so that when it comes to decision time, I implicitly trust them and they me.
I know Superhopper played at the original Eclipse it played a vital role in St. Paul's scene. With the store re-opening, can you talk about how they have helped shape you as a musician?
As Joe P. Furth, owner/operator of Eclipse Records says, "The record store that wouldn't die." I am very excited for him as a friend. He is a great person that never gives up. I admire him truly.
To answer your question, Eclipse allowed a very diverse group of young musicians to play shows in a casual and relaxed environment. It offered us a chance to learn how to perform, get to know each other as people and musicians, and we all got to learn our craft in a very organic and real way. So many of those bands that Superhopper used to play with and who, as individuals, I still get to share stages with, got to really work out the kinks in front of sympathetic ears. From there we all started to really appreciate what each other were doing, ask questions and, above everything else, we really became friends. It was our musical college, with Joe P. Furth and crew as our laissez-faire professors.
I will always look to that time in my life and my musical development as the "good times." It was before booze and drugs took over anyone's life, before we cared that we were broke, before we knew that we could make money at playing music, before we had any real pre-conceived notions of how scary the world was, we knew we could always stop in and see one of our friends, either shopping, rocking, or holding it down behind the counter.
How did Kermit's Corner get started?
Partly as a way to fill up some Sunday nights at the Triple Rock and also as a way to hang out and work with some really interesting people. However sad as it may sound, I rarely spend time with people outside of work or other projects that I am involved in. God forbid I hang out with people like a normal person, but I really don't excel at that.
Anyhoo, Triple Rock owner Erik Funk offhandedly suggested I host a live podcast. This podcast idea has been bashing around in my brain for awhile now, at one point the other owner, Gretchen, and I were going to do a Triple Rock-centric show, just the two of us. So the concept was not there, but the idea was firmly entrenched. We wanted to come up with some sort of "Winter Series" on Sundays at the bar and I told him that I was going to host a radio show every other weekend and would do a stand-up comedy show on the other weeks. By the grace of the great magnet in the sky, he said go for it.
While all of that was happening I had been having meetings (with alcohol) with a couple of friends of mine, Aaron Connor and Tom Lloyd, talking about comedy, the process, the approach, what makes us laugh that doesn't make other people laugh, and we thought that maybe 6 or 7 people would want to hear us blather on about nothing. We brought in Aaron's old partner from announcing at the North Star Roller Girls, the fabulously talented Karli Pepper, and it turns out there were like 25 people that cared. Good enough for us.
Along with our technical crew, we got it done. We are a little bit at the mercy of the wonderful musical acts that we get to grace our stage, so look for us back again full force this winter, but to tide over our many fans, next show is 9/11 - should be a good one!
You have a bit of a thing for fan fiction on Kermit's Corner. Did you write any as a kid?
I did not write any fan fiction as a kid and only in the last few years did I become aware of it. I was pretty blown away when I first stumbled upon it. I was more intrigued with why they would take the time to write this? Can't they just imagine Harry Potter making out with Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of writing a damn short story about it?
With that said, though, I love how pure and genuine it all is. They write these stories for themselves and their friends. They are not writing it for profit, purely entertainment. I find it very refreshing and incredibly imaginative. Why not extend the story into another world. What was I thinking when I just assumed the cast of Friends stayed in New York? I respect it, but at the same time, I really think a lot of it is absolutely absurd and should be shared with as wide an audience at possible because it is fun to laugh.
You're also in Blood, Sweat and Beards. Care to talk a little about that project?
Blood, Sweat and Beards is a band that I also play guitar and sing in. It is active and we are just finishing up the artwork for an 8-song release this winter. It is a band with Anthony Foye Wallin and Blain Finders (who were in a band called April Epidemic together) and Sean Stewart (who used to play bass in the band Heads & Bodies). Superhopper had played with both of those bands over the years and all the dudes either worked or hung out at the Triple Rock so we just kind of casually got the band together. It has been a wonderful experience and allows me to use my more muscular, hard rock side of the brain. I can't think about the Beach Boys and Brian Eno all the time.
The next episode of Kermit's Corner will be performed at Triple Rock on Sunday Sept. 11, featuring Aaron R. Connor, Karli Pepper, Good Guy Tom Lloyd, and Kermit Carter.
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