THE HAVES HAVE IT
Jenn Gallup slouches on a sofa, her feet widely planted in a repose that is at once relaxed and distantly imposing. A shocking redhead with biceps emblazoned with a galaxy of freckles, the 28-year-old bassist for the Minneapolis three-piece the Haves Have It speaks brazenly about her first meeting with Portia Richardson, the band's guitarist and principal songwriter.
"Of course, I instantly hated her," she says.
It's a snide but familial confession permissible between sisters, which Richardson and Gallup, though lacking a blood relation, essentially are. A moment later, Gallup's snark melts away.
"I learned how to play my instrument to be in this band," she says. "I'd never played music before. Never played an instrument, always been a spectator." She looks at Richardson, who sits cross-legged before her, sipping a Newcastle. "There're no excuses there. It's that girl right there I owe all that to."
Unusually demure, Richardson admits, "I had the songs. But Jenn had the attitude and bravado it took to push us out there."
Their three-year career has been a protracted period of creative gestation for the Haves Have It, one in which their fans have watched them learn to walk, then run, to speak and then to bellow, to string a guitar and then artfully break it. They have become a difficult band, the indomitable contrarian of a melodic, moody cousinry, which includes locals like Vampire Hands and the now-defunct Thunder in the Valley. Echoing their way through infallible pop hooks and defiant, harshly detuned mid-song asides, the Haves Have It make a low priority of giving their audience an easy listen.
And with the imminent release of Friction, their long-awaited full-length debut, they brim with confidence, no longer obligated to the modesty that is often imposed upon bands lacking a major release.
"We've been very deliberate," says Kelly Pollock, the band's drummer, lone male, and, at the age of 33, elder statesman. "We've been careful not to rush our decisions."
"I feel confident and proud now to be releasing the album," says Richardson of their lengthy maturation. "Earlier on, when we were more insecure about our abilities, I would have cared a lot more what people think. But I'm proud of this." Lapsing into a quiet defiance, she adds, "I'm not releasing it to prove something."
With not a home-towner among them (Gallup hails from Illinois, Pollock from Iowa, Richardson from Kansas), the Haves Have It relied on each other, and their resulting camaraderie was tempered in a crucible of socio-political tensions. During the 2004 presidential election, Gallup and Richardson canvassed for the Fund for Public Interest Research, a left-wing nonprofit organization.
"A lot of the first songs came out of us being very cynical, angry activists," Richardson recalls. "We were getting doors slammed in our faces every day. We were a lot angrier and more unrestrained earlier on." After a moment's contemplation, she adds, "We've matured."
Growing up is no easy thing, and Friction bears the scar tissue of three years spent defining itself, of bloody strumming through post-punk riffs that combust with attack, of slinking into icy, remote vocal melodies that blanch with reverb, of bursting into staccato, clap-along classic-rock anthems and solemn, reflective acoustic arias. An album is too often a static thing, an obelisk erected to a particular time or place. But Friction is a living story that one can hear being written and rewritten as the album proceeds.
However grueling those formative years were, the recording itself was swift, and Pollock explains why. "In the songwriting process," he says, "the tension is what gets the song to where it needs to be. But instead of wasting studio time trying to get it to that special spot, we were able to get it to the sweet spot before we went into the studio."
Discovering an identity is a task charged to all bands, but the Haves Have It are haunted by a specter whose banality does not lessen its ability to defame. In the 21st century, the term "girl band" is a pejorative. Though Richardson and Gallup firmly insist that gender will never be made a centerpiece, they don't shirk the duty forced upon them by the prejudices of rock audiences.
"We're women being extremely loud and brutally honest about who we are," says Gallup with nonchalance, "and I hope that's inspiring to both men and women. My crusade is to do anything I can to make women feel like they have a place in being loud and honest and being heard without having to be angry or spiteful. We love seeing women in the audience."
"Yeah," chimes Richardson. "Everybody has a better time when there's girls in the audience."
It's a masterful handling of a tiresome subject, but their music makes for an even more masterful handling. In the face of their soaring melodies and the fearless, indefatigable profile they strike while playing live, gender is immaterial.
"I'm playing in a band with my two best friends," says Richardson. "We live together. We're each other's family. That's the story I want to come across."
Gallup nods. "It is a story," she says. "And it's not easy. It's not Tom Clancy. It's Thomas Pynchon."
THE HAVES HAVE IT perform a CD-release party with National Bird, Splinter Cells, and Communist Daughter on FRIDAY, MARCH 28, at the HEXAGON BAR; 612.722.3454