Combining chugging garage-rock riffs with caustic wit, local quartet the Mood Swings have come into their own on Recessionista, their soon-to-be-released third album. Head Swinger Ashley Ackerson emerges here as a savvy songwriter keeping a keen eye on her surroundings, whether she's putting a sunny face on cost-cutting consumerism in the cheeky title track ("I'm shopping in my closet") or leveling withering wordplay at entitled youth in "Generation Y" ("No point of view/Why should they care about steering the ship/Until they notice that they're going down").
Humor in rock is always a dangerous proposition—too much and you risk being perceived as a joke band, none at all and things can get overly serious. But Ackerson strikes the right balance. "I personally feel people have enough doom and gloom in their everyday lives right now," she says. "I don't mind injecting a little fun and humor into my songs. People don't want to go out and hear some dark, gloomy band when they're already down. So even if I'm writing a topical song like "Recessionista," I'm trying to approach it from a place of optimism. It's sort of our cheeky take on the goings-on of the day. We don't take ourselves too seriously."
Helping Ashley keep the mood light and the sound heavy is her husband Ed Ackerson, the band's new bassist and a Minneapolis music-scene fixture for the last 20-plus years with Polara and the Susstones record label. While some artist couples would think twice before intertwining their musical and romantic lives, the Ackersons had no such qualms.
"It felt like a pretty natural move," says Ed, who joined the group shortly after the original bassist left amicably to attend law school following the recording of their second album. Ed has served as producer on all three Mood Swings records so far. "We've always had a good musical rapport, back to when I was producing Ashley's first records with the Meg."
Rapport aside, the Ackersons are content to leave all-night joint songwriting jags to other couples. "Ashley thinks things through thoroughly and demos all her ideas pretty comprehensively before I hear them, so I tend stay out of her way for that part of it," explains Ed. "I think she has really good instincts. When it comes to translating the song into a full-band arrangement and the more mechanical aspect of recording, that's more where I come in."
"I've been playing guitar in Polara the last couple of years as well, so we've got a nice back-and-forth thing going," agrees Ashley. "He knows the Mood Swings are my band and Polara is his. We're cool with that separation and respect each other's turf, songwriting-wise. It's fun getting to share that part of our lives."
What the Mood Swings' matrimonial mod-rock attack lacks in originality—the band occasionally sticks a little too closely to its three-chords-and-the-truth template for its own good—it more than makes up for in vocal verve and lyrical bite. Although the Twin Cities remain a hotbed of top-flight female songwriting talent, the Mood Swings are among the few acts with two women strapping on electric guitars and cranking their amps up to 11. While sexism in rock (be it local or otherwise) is unfortunately all too alive and well, it's comforting knowing that Ashley Ackerson's barbed-wire-tough tunes are out there fighting back at incredibly high decibels.
If the Mood Swings sound like one of the few bands bearing the torch for the great girl-rock groups of the early '90s (Babes in Toyland, Zuzu's Petals) that once made the Twin Cities a key part of the burgeoning riot grrrl movement, it's not by accident.
"I moved here to start college in 1993, and feel so lucky I was able to see some of those bands and experience that era firsthand," Ashley says. "I remember getting into St. Thomas and Gustavus and picking St. Thomas just because it was closer to First Avenue [laughs]. I wasn't even a musician then—I didn't start playing guitar until 1996—but it was an incredible time for me, just discovering the music scene here in the Cities. In addition to the local bands I remember seeing so many other great females play: Veruca Salt, L7, Liz Phair. It was completely inspiring. I feel thankful to have lived through that time and been clued in to what was going on."
THE MOOD SWINGS play a CD-release show with First Communion Afterparty, Two Harbors, and Blue Sky Blackout on FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20, at SAUCE; 612.822.6000