The Miami Dolphins are seated around a picnic table outside drummer Joe Scott's house shortly before sunset. They're shy and seem reluctant to talk about themselves, choosing instead to poke at the assortment of wooden planks piled high on the table. To break through their ingrained modesty, they're asked to take turns describing the person sitting next to them.
"Pat's band dad," singer Beth Bambery says of guitarist Patrick Larkin. "He's the one with the plan, and we all trust him enough to go through with it." The downside is that his plans often involve sticking around after shows to clean up and talk to people, she adds, grinning up from her shoulder-length curls.
"Dad makes us stay up late," bassist Ronnie Lee chimes in.
Larkin and Scott formed the Miami Dolphins while living at the Moose Womb, their former house in northeast Minneapolis named after the giant plush moose hanging from the ceiling. Larkin has since taken it upon himself to handle the band's business affairs. As a writer and news editor for St. Paul's East Side Review and a house manager at the Cedar Cultural Center, he finds the administrative role fitting.
When it's Scott's turn to describe Bambery, he takes a moment to reflect. "She has a good sense of humor," he says. "Sometimes she'll tell jokes in between songs if a string breaks."
She strengthens Scott's assessment by giggling. Bambery was in choir during her school years and took voice lessons growing up. Her classical roots are apparent in her vocals, which shift rapidly from Riot Grrrl to Bjork-inspired.
"I was trying to do something that would match whatever these guys were playing, or how much energy they put into things," Bambery says of singing with the band. "It seemed really weird to me, so I tried to do something weird, too."
We move on. Lee describes Scott as being "zany, a little unpredictable. Like a wild card, but not in a bad way." With some prying, Scott reveals that he once collected fingernails, eventually filling a small box with his own clippings.
When the Miami Dolphins began, Scott struggled to remember drum parts. Being entirely self-taught, he was accustomed to playing a beat for no more than a few seconds before moving on to another. Scott now remembers his parts, but remnants of his spastic style remain fundamental to the band's sound.
It's Larkin's turn to describe Lee, which is impossible without mentioning his involvement in numerous local bands. Lee is currently in only two groups, Miami Dolphins and Vats, but has played in 15 to 20, including Is/Is, Nallo, and Panda Teeth.
"Ronnie's got a good ear and he's pretty patient with me and Joe," Larkin says. "I play really clean — I don't use a lot of distortion or anything. If it was just me and Joe, it would be empty."
The Miami Dolphins are equal parts discord, grace, and melted mint ice cream on a sunny day. The band intentionally keep their music free of foul language, attempting to remain both family-friendly and eloquent. Their lyrics, often churned out in screaming harmonies between Bambery and Larkin, are primarily image-driven, revolving around things like popsicles, citrus, and a girl named Becky, the namesake of their newest album.
Becky, which was recorded by Kyle Swanson of MPR in Lee's basement, is the band's fourth and longest release at 28 minutes. It's also the third release on FPE Records, a new label out of Chicago. Larkin met Swanson at a Daniel Johnston show, where Swanson told a "really cheesy joke" and the two hit it off. After a series of jam sessions in Swanson's practice space, he asked Larkin if he could record Becky. The same thing happened with FPE Records. The founder of the label read a Miami Dolphins writeup in the Chicago Reader and approached them on his own accord about releasing their next album.
Becky revolves around a law school student who has a full-time boyfriend and goes dancing all night, but still does things she's not proud of, the band explains. But is she real?
"Maybe," Larkin says. "She's like the album. Some of it's very dark, some of it's lighthearted, some of it's conceptual.... She's someone we've all been obsessed with from a distance."
Despite all efforts to crack their occasional stoicism, the Miami Dolphins remain relentlessly enigmatic — an attribute apparent in their personalities, lyrics, and performances. They're not exactly a hardcore band, but their punk roots keep them from fully embracing pop or surf-rock territory. Just when you think you've pinned them down, either personally or musically, they burst from your grip, zipping chaotically back and forth above your head.