Teammates: Our band is most efficient when we can't feel our hands

Teammates: Our band is most efficient when we can't feel our hands
Photo by Rita Skamser-O'Neil

There's no "i" in Teammates. The four guys that make up the Minneapolis experimental rock band teamed together in 2010, and went through a few iterations before landing on their current name and sound. Now, they're set to release their debut EP, recorded on the third floor of the Soap Factory. The album, Art Thief, is gorgeously odd, light and thin, like a supermodel. Understated as they come, the album pulses ahead with bursts of color and light.

Before the band's album release at the Nomad, Gimme Noise spoke with the quartet about the secret behind their sound and the difficult times that led up to finalizing their band.

Band Members: Dan Kasper, John Acarregui, Alan Skamser-O'Neil, Brady Mielke

Gimme Noise: Is this a debut album for the band? Some the members of Teammates used to be in the same band prior to this one; how does this music differ from your old band, Human Bear Trap?

Brady Mielke: We are all more competent musicians/producers now than we were in the HBT days. This has led to more competent song writing and the more interesting inclusion of samples and synth loops into the songs.

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: This is the debut. We did one recording session as Human Bear Trap, but basically could not come to terms with the result. Once we lost Adam (former drummer), there was a desire to move out of that zone and into something new. I guess I would be comfortable calling what we did as HBT indie rock, although we were already kind of dancing through multiple genres. Near the end of HBT, we were frequently questioning whether we should stick with a guitar-driven core or push the electronica thing forward. Once we had the chance to reboot, we chose the latter. Also, as Brady says, we are just way better at playing together as a band at this point, which allows us to more successfully incorporate the electronic elements.

John Acarregui: This is my first album with Teammates. I recorded and produced an album with my old band (TIGER VS - Lone Wolf) before this. Both bands are very electronic oriented, but Teammates has a raw rock/guitar element. It made for a different recording and mixing process, really trying to capture some of the live energy; I hope it worked. We're pretty excited for the Art Thief release. We dig the sound; we hope the people do as well.

Gimme Noise: What drew you to this dreamy, electronic feel?

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: It seemed really natural. It had been there since we started in 2010 or whatever year that was, practicing in the dining room of Brady and Dan's house on Como. A lot of my favorite moments from that time involved freaking out on pedals and gear, creating loops and pissing off everyone else in the house late at night with noisy drone shit. But then the next day at practice, we'd pick up our guitars and ignore those pieces for the most part. It was kind of a background thing until we dove full into the loop-based stuff as Teammates.

John Acarregui: When I joined the band, Teammates had already started to incorporate heavy electronic elements -- synths, textures, beats. I know this was partially due to a lack of a consistent drummer. I didn't want to lose the drive of the drum loops and sequenced electronics. I wanted to play drum parts that work with the loops and electronics. This allows Alan and Brady to come up with some wild guitar parts, and to move off the grid a bit, since that constant electronic/rhythmic backbone is there. All of that combined gives us a tight groove and nice drive, while having a great range of textures from dreamy and atmospheric to a loud aggressive walls of noise.

Brady Mielke: I love left-field electronic music and noisy guitar rock in equal amounts, so those two elements kind of bleed into each other in the creation of the songs.

Gimme Noise: You guys didn't have a drummer for a while. What was the difference in playing with loops than from having a live drummer?

John Acarregui: Obviously I wasn't with Teammates during their drummerless phase. I can say when they started showing me the songs, I wanted to work with the loops and electronics, instead of completely redoing all the songs just to fit a new drummer. Changes were eventually made to the material, but what resulted was a pretty cool mix of electronic and rock.

Brady Mielke: There is a strict rigidity to playing along with a drum machine in a live setting. I love the sound and feel of a drum machine, but it just wasn't dynamic enough for the kind of music we were/are trying to make. John adds so much more energy into songs that we are unable to obtain using solely drum loops.

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: The click-track thing: you really can't bend the tempo much, which helped us tighten up our shit quite a bit. I totally agree that we would not be happy having one without the other at this point. The mix of live dynamic drums over rigid electronic beats is a lot of fun, especially with John's ability.

Gimme Noise: In that transition where you trying to find a new drummer, when you were at your most discouraged, what kept you going and creating?

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: For me playing in a band is a basic need emotionally, so the discouragement was really tough. But when playing is a need -- and specifically with this band -- the question of stopping never comes up.

Brady Mielke: I think for me, it was easy to keep going because we are such close friends, have been for a while. So even at its most discouraging moments, when we would get together, it was still just friends meeting up to drink beer and make noise.
Gimme Noise: Does this album capture any of those emotions from that time?

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: I guess that question probably pertains mostly to me. I am by no means the sole writer in this group, we pretty much all write our parts and shape the songs. But as the person standing up there trying to channel lyrics and emotional energy, I need to be able to tap that stuff. So the short answer is yes, and every time we book a show I really look forward to shaking it out and feeling a little freer the next day. I use a bit of everything I sense though, so the frustration from that period is just one fraction of the overall inspiration.

John Acarregui: This album has a lot of neat emotional contrasts throughout that I think really gives it a unique feel. There are moments when soft, dreamy synths are paired with distorted noise guitar. There's beauty, but also a lot of grit. For every great moment we as a band have experienced, it seems there were ten other things trying to get in the way, or derail us, or bring us down. This EP ends on a triumphant note, without a doubt, but that doesn't come without some angst, sorrows, and raw aggression along the way. I think Art Thief covers this spectrum quite well.

Gimme Noise: Are there any particular songs on the album that you're proud of?

Brady Mielke: I am really partial to "Danny Glover" because it has changed so, so many times, and it is such a weird song that covers a lot of stylistic ground in a very short time span. There was a time in the song writing process when I hated it, but now it is one of my favorite songs on the ep.

John Acarregui: I'm proud of all of them. That said, "Danny Glover" sticks out to me.

Gimme Noise: You guys recorded at the Soap Factory. Why was the third floor of the Soap Factory so significant to the band?

Brady Mielke: It was free to use. Oh, and it was freezing up there. I feel like our band is at its most efficient when we can't feel our hands.

John Acarregui: For me, that's where all the magic happened. Going back to the emotions the album captured, it's perfectly befitting of the way this was recorded, and where it was recorded. During our weekend there, it was snow/sleeting the whole time. The building wasn't heated; it must have been no more than 40 degrees on that floor. Not to mention all the red tape Alan had to go through to set it up and all the rules we had to follow. It was beautiful finally getting recording done, and having this big space to do it. It was also one of the more miserable weekends I've had in recent memory. In a way that made it all the sweeter though and was probably the only befitting way this album could have been recording.

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: I had an internship there the previous summer, and during the orientation they talked up their open-mindedness and willingness to work with artists who want to try ideas. I figured I would give that a test, so I asked them if I could have my band record on the 3rd essentially storage space. I saw it almost as a rhetorical challenge, but they said yes so then we had to do it. The only time they could have us up there was during early spring so yeah it was fucking cold, but it's a big open warehouse space with a rough wood floor, uncovered brick, big wooden support beams, and a peaked roof so I also just sincerely wanted to try making music up there. Thank you for giving us the weekend, TSF.

Gimme Noise: Who wrote the band statement? Most bands don't have one; it's almost poetic and a summation of what you represent. Why even have one?

Brady Mielke: Alan wrote it. He's a poet.

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: I did write it, impulsively. Why have one? I guess it felt relevant at the time and still floor which is does. I would rather use that as our biography, though I understand that it's not really what people are looking for when they ask for a bio. It just strikes at what we believe we're doing. If anyone asked me simply, "Why are you doing Teammates?" I would give them that statement.

Gimme Noise: What can we expect to see at the album release show?

Alan Skamser-O'Neil: I think Dan's gonna wear a fedora. Other than that, the Nomad is one of our favorite spots right now. We like them, and they like us. You will also see two bands I really respect in Bollywood and Myotis. Expect a noisy night.

John Acarregui: Besides being able to see and pick up our brand new EP, you are going to see one hell of a show. We're super pumped about this, and have been for months. We'll be bringing our A game, and intend to rock the fuck out of the Nomad.

Brady Mielke: Choreographed dance sequences.

Teammates will release Art Thief at the Nomad World Pub on Friday, November 22, 2013 with Myotis and Bollywood.
21+, $5, 9 pm

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