The Goondas engineer the Dog Show
Think of the Goondas' notorious lead singer Brenden Green, and one word immediately springs to mind: chaos. Wearing tattered clothes and affecting complete disregard for his own well-being, he climbs walls, crawls on the floor, and crashes into his bandmates during performances.
But Green is also one of the most underrated vocalists in the Twin Cities. His deep, gravelly voice is not only immediately distinctive, but his delivery — snarling, sneering, and made to feel completely off-the-cuff — is perfectly suited to his brash, self-aggrandizing lyrics.
"We've been reading a lot of interviews that are like, 'The Goondas: Iggy Pop copycats,'" says bassist Andy Meuwissen. He and guitarist Jackson Atkins recline in the living room of the Minneapolis house where the band practices. "It's just so funny. If people only knew Brenden had no idea who Iggy Pop was." Beyond all the antics, Meuwissen sees a sharp, perceptive lyricist, especially on their newest album, Dog Show. "He's got some really clever lines — he's got some really filthy lines — but a lot of the songs I thought Brenden was really writing about us. It was kind of eye-opening."
Green, however, isn't around to speak up for himself. He's three hours away in Brainerd — having "forgot" about his band's interview. (The band's fourth member, Josh Miller, was expected to be absent.) As haphazard as Green's life may seem, he's not always the borderline train wreck he embodies on stage; most of the time, he's laid-back, even mellow.
"In the first year, year and a half that we played original material in Minneapolis, Brenden didn't move," recalls Meuwissen, leaning forward on the edge of the couch with his hands clasped together. "He moved a little bit, but just kind of stood there at the mic stand. Jackson and I had to go up to him and be like, 'Loosen up a little bit, man. Have some fun.'"
"And look what that turned into," Atkins interjects, with a half-bemused laugh.
Such fun is in large supply on Dog Show. Their third release — after their debut full-length and an EP — follows a familiar whiskey-soaked trail of bluesy garage rock. But for a band so easily misunderstood and out of step with the music around them, the album shows growth, and a keen sense of self-awareness.
It took more than a year for this record to see the light of day. "The Goondas are kind of a failed experiment in democracy," says Meuwissen. "We agree on things musically, but when it comes to other things, someone's got to take charge."
Dog Show came together differently from previous recordings. Namely, it wasn't just Atkins bringing riffs to the band; album-closer "Newton's Apple," for instance, came from Meuwissen. And, rather than just cobbling together songs, the band sat down with the intent of writing a new album from the outset. "This one, we worked with Jacques [Wait] and went with his take on it," says Atkins. He gives a shrug. "It's not like, 'Hey, we're trying to sound like a live band.' It's just a rock 'n' roll record."
Both bluesier and, at times, mellower than what's come before, the more-balanced Dog Show doesn't scramble through every song — even if most clock in at under three minutes. Now the rockers stand out alongside the slower ones. "Personally, when we started the band, I always wanted to play music inspired by old blues," Atkins says. (Meuwissen, who rattles off musical trivia, calls himself a "purist," before correcting himself.) "I'd say this one is just that. It's the music I wanted to do."
More than that, it's a record that the band members feel speaks to — and of — them directly. "When I thought of the band in general, [Dog Show] seemed to kind of fit," says Atkins, who points out that Meuwissen initially came up with the title, although it was he who eventually had to push for it. "I feel like the shows have become a thing where people are expecting to see something."
Several songs on the album seem to speak directly to their live spectacles, quite literally with a song like "Mangy Boys" ("Watch the mangy boys come alive/It's what you want"), or more obliquely with the tongue-in-cheek "Born in a Barn." Meuwissen, for his part, singles out the title track, where Green's lyric plays on that perception before the bridge — "If only I could show them what I see" — serves as an unexpected counterpoint.
"Isn't that what we're all trying do?" Meuwissen says thoughtfully of that line. "Is open ourselves up so people are like, 'Oh, so this is what you're all about?'"
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