There's an old cliché about the distinction between good friends and best friends. A good friend, the adage says, will listen to the stories of your greatest capers with enthusiasm, while the best friend will help you tell the story because they were along for the ride.
If that little chestnut is true, then Annie Sparrows, Saumer Kinsey, and Kat Naden are practically blood sisters at this point. The trio forged their close ties during their time together singing in the God Damn Doo Wop Band, while also attending countless punk shows like the one at the Hexagon Bar that we're at tonight for their new band, the Horrible and the Miserable.
Unlike Sparrows's best-known group, the Soviettes, the Doo Wop Band started more or less as a lark for Naden to merge classic sounds from the '50s with a feminist-punk attitude. No one in the band could have predicted that the side project would develop such a strong cult following, taking the trio on a couple of national tours and even landing some time as bumper music on NPR.
After taking the band further than they ever could have pictured, Sparrows, Kinsey, and Naden finally decided to retire the Doo Wop Band last year. But they neglected to consider how their backing band would take the news. Sparrows's partner, Jesse Thorson, often played bass for the GDDWB between tours fronting his own groups — the Slow Death, and Pretty Boy Thorson & the Falling Angels — and immediately started scheming to reunite the band.
"I liked the Doo Wop Band, I didn't think that they should have broken up," Thorson says. "So what I decided to do was trick 'em by starting another band, with almost the exact same members... except me."
Thorson's sly bit of deception led to the formation of the Horrible and the Miserable, with a lineup featuring Naden, Kinsey, and Sparrows, along with a collection of buddies from the other groups Thorson fronts.
"Annie and Jesse said that we would write songs and send them to each other," Naden says of Thorson's initial pitch. "We'll never have to practice, we'll learn the songs on our own, then we'll get together... that's why I said yes."
"We're the only people that we enjoy hanging out with," Kinsey says with a wry smile.
After locking in the new band, Thorson, Sparrows, and Naden set their sights on pulling off a festival to showcase their new group as well as the many other bands in their musical circle. The festival, dubbed "One Last Party," begins on Thursday night at the Hexagon, and continues throughout the weekend with two nighttime shows at the Triple Rock, two brunch shows at Grumpy's downtown, and an acoustic set at Hymie's Vintage Records.[page]
The Horrible and the Miserable will be in good company throughout the festival, with a strong list of headliners, including well-loved locals like Gay Witch Abortion, Nato Coles, and Awesome Snakes (another Sparrows project). Well-regarded national acts like Iron Chic, Mikey Erg, and legendary Gainesville pop-punk outfit Radon — who will make their first appearance north of the Mason-Dixon for the festival — round out the lineup, alongside a host of area bands.
"A lot of the local bands are really cool about wanting this to happen, and are just like, 'Give the money to the touring bands,'" explains Sparrows. "And I think that's really indicative of our town."
"Everybody just likes coming to Minneapolis," Naden adds. "They just kind of need an excuse to do it."
According to Thorson, One Last Party has come together with much of the same ramshackle camaraderie as their new band, and is imbued with the same spirit of irreverence. Last year, he organized a trial run of the festivities, and dubbed it "Fuck Dave Strait Fest," in tribute to his Slow Death bandmate.
An executive decision was made to change the name for this year's iteration in order to save his friend unnecessary grief. One Last Party has subsequently ballooned into a huge undertaking, spanning four days, four venues, and over 40 bands, including the biggest show to date for the Horrible and the Miserable.
"It was an amazingly lofty goal," says organist Dan Johnson, who also plays with Thorson in the Slow Death. "Nothing's worked out the way we planned it. But what else are you going to do on a Friday night?"
Thanks to the enthusiasm and friendship of the people involved, the Horrible and the Miserable have gradually grown into a full-fledged band, with Johnson and Thorson adding their songwriting talents to the already rich partnership of Kinsey, Naden, and Sparrows. The group's sound is an almost perfect split between the muscular, country-flecked punk of Thorson's bands and the tough yet tender harmonies that the Doo Wop Band perfected.
On their single "You're Not Coming Back," Naden paints a picture of heartland heartbreak that recalls Chrissie Hynde, while Sparrows and Kinsey layer soaring harmonies over Thorson's crunching guitar. Despite their immense talent and years in the trenches with countless journeyman punk groups, the members of the Horrible and the Miserable are loath to take their band too seriously. They're content just to enjoy each other's presence, lofty goals be damned.
"It's the same kind of band that we've all quit a million times," cracks Sparrows lovingly.
"It's always been my dream to be in a band where I'm super untalented and it's noticeable," Thorson says with a smirk. "And so I've achieved that now, and the bucket list is done, really."
One Last Party takes place Thursday through Sunday at the Hexagon Bar, 612-722-3454; the Triple Rock Social Club, 612-333-7399; and Grumpy's downtown, 612-340-9738. More info at www.onelastparty.bigcartel.com.