The Goondas: Staying out late with the irreverent rock band

Just another night in the back of a van with the Goondas
Erik Hess for City Pages

It's one in the morning on a Wednesday, and Brenden Green's clothes are falling off. Towering and lanky with sunken gray eyes, Green is wearing not one but three shredded tank tops, layered over one another haphazardly. As he takes a break from singing, he pulls the gauzy fabric of the top tank apart before falling down to the ground, rolling off the 501 Club stage, and army-crawling into an opening underneath.

As bass player Andy Meuwissen steps up to the mic to sing for a song, Green wriggles around, ripped-up denim jean legs protruding from under the stage, and then he disappears. By the end of the song, a blistering blues-rock banger, he has re-emerged out the other side of the stage, covered in dirt, a broken microphone stand clutched in his fist as he clambers back up toward his bandmates.

As bandleaders go, Green is the real deal: irreverent, scoffing, seemingly possessed. He wraps his mic chord around his neck, causing it to come unplugged more than once and distorting his vocal melodies; breaks his mic stand in half and swings it around, nearly knocking out an audience member's teeth; and spends half the time singing on his knees or his back, like he's channeling something from beneath him. Meanwhile, his band burns through short post-punk and gritty rock songs, their mutilated cords and strings creating a crackling, lo-fi sound.

Though the music is reminiscent of contemporaries like the Black Keys, the band's aesthetic is old school; Green's persona is more Velvet Goldmine than Wednesday-night house band.

"We get the Stooges a lot," Green says, while chain-smoking on the patio before the show. "The Stooges, Mick Jagger. Just femme kind of, I guess."

Green speaks in deadpan and raises his eyebrows at his bandmates as they talk over one another and make jokes around him.

"At first, when everyone was saying I was like Iggy Pop, it bugged me a little bit, because you want to be like yourself," he says. "But now I don't care."

"We like to call him Steven Tyler," drummer Josh Miller chimes in with a laugh.

"I don't like that," Green says, barely flinching, an exhale of smoke dissipating into the night sky.

A group of childhood friends from the Chanhassen area, the Goondas first got their start as a cover band in 2008, uniting over their love of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and Eddie Cochran. ("And Jet," Meuwissen tosses in. "It's a crowd-pleaser.") After gigging in the suburbs, they decided it was time to write their own material and move into the city, and Green—though he had never sung in a band before—had a notebook overflowing with lyrics and a willingness to try whatever might work.

"Brenden's got a big fucking book of words that he just opens up and goes, yeah, this looks like it'll work," Miller says.

"Me and Brenden will just sit and drink a bunch of beer and I'll play something, and he'll do his thing," explains Jackson Atkins, the band's guitar player and chief songwriter. "And that's kind of how the originals started, really, was from us doing that."

"Yeah, I just write a lot," Green says, scoffing. "I show it to Jackson, and he tells me if it's shit or not."

"We're pretty blunt with each other," adds Miller. "If stuff sucks, we tell each other. And we've known each other a long time."

The result is a rail-whiskey cocktail of rockabilly, post-punk, and blues riffs that is simultaneously catchy and gritty, an intoxicatingly gruff sound that is documented on the band's first full-length album, The Goondas, out this week. The album cuts to the quick, with each short song blasting into the next, similar to the way the band fires through each song of their live set.

"We cut out our softer songs," Green says. "We just wanted to make a fast, loud, 25-minute record."

"Short and sweet, just like rock 'n' roll," adds Miller.

"And then we decided to slap Andy's ass on the cover," Green says, smirking.

"It's art, you know," says Meuwissen. "We live in Minneapolis."

"If you call it art, you can get away with fucking anything," Miller says. "That's my whole motto for this band."

THE GOONDAS play an all-ages CD-release show with Bethany Larson on SATURDAY, JUNE 5, at SHUGA RECORDS, 612.455.6285; and a 21+ show with Red Daughters and Satellite Voices at 331 CLUB; 612.331.1746

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331 Club

331 13th Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413


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