The Poor Nobodys: Traveling with a band is like herding cats

Minneapolis band The Poor Nobodys tap into that old-timey sound you might find at an outdoor Parisian café on their new album, Ink No Ink. Arriving in the form of pieces that transcend time, the songs feature accordions and upright bass to bring in the old-world flavor, yet has traces of bluegrass in them.  

The band is currently touring through Europe, but took the time during a stay in Berlin to talk to Gimme Noise about the origins of their sound and why traveling with so many people is like trying to milk chickens.

Band Members: Chris Hepola (piano), Eric Struve (upright bass), Albert Perez (electric guitar), Christa Schneider (cello, vocals), Aaron Cantine (acoustic guitar, banjo), Chris Duba (mandolin), Jenna Wyse (vocals, accordion)

Gimme Noise: You play what I would deem folk music, but it has so many different inflections. Where do you think these influences came from?

Chris Hepola: We draw on many musical traditions -- both traditional and abstract. I love using acoustic instruments in surprising and unusual ways.

Christa Schneider: Exactly. We like to think outside of the box to try to push the familiar into new territories, and we also try to push our musical abilities into areas that are challenging for us. Blending classical instruments together with folk instruments, I think it just is natural that the sensibilities and ways of playing those. Along with our combined musical experiences, makes these instruments come together to create a varied style of music.

Tracks like "Reality Distortion Field" and "Hologram," -- and a lot of your music -- brings to mind old time Europe. Have you spent a lot of time there? The band is going there to tour with this album as a pre-release. Why did you decide to do it this way? Do you have a big following overseas?

Chris Hepola: I have always loved European folk music, especially Roma and French café music.

Eric Struve: The timing of the European tour and the album release is a coincidence and it amounted to a healthy workload.

Jenna Wyse: Yeah, somehow everything we've been working on happened to wrap up in the same month. We figured we could consider our European tour a "pre-release" and really celebrate the release and our homecoming at the Cedar.

Chris Hepola: We have been touring the U.S. with Poor Nobodys and other bands for over a decade. It seemed exciting to do what we have always done, across the ocean. We love adventure! Europe seems like the next frontier.

Gimme Noise: Have you been to Europe before? What are you most looking forward to seeing?

Chris Hepola: Some of us have been. I love the ancient architecture and street culture.

Eric Struve: Yeah, I am interested in seeing cities, music, streets and buildings.

Christa Schneider: I've been to Europe a number of times and really enjoy seeing the different ways that people live life, whether in the city or in the country. It's always fun to step into a whole culture's everyday life, and on this trip we are going to be stepping into five. I've never been in Amsterdam and Paris, and am excited to experience those cities. My German is getting a workout right now!

Jenna Wyse: This is my first time in Europe! Already we've met quite a few musicians at the clubs and hostels we've been to. I guess I'm most excited about that- meeting like-minded folks and playing the music -- and trying out the languages.

Gimme Noise: What's it like traveling with so many people? Is it difficult coordinating that many people even in town?

Chris Hepola: It is like herding cats or stuffing chicken wire into a burlap sack.

Albert Perez: Or milking chickens.

Jenna Wyse: Yes, it is difficult! Scheduling, making decisions and trying to still be democratic about it. The group has a good energy, though and can improvise in any given situation. Already, we've had to do some troubleshooting here in Berlin.

Chris Hepola: It can get confusing, but it works because we want it to. [page]

Gimme Noise: With so much work that goes into this band, what makes it rewarding to you to work within this particular group of people?

Eric Struve: It's rewarding to be a part of a band that is interested in creating music that I find adventurous and exploratory.

Chris Hepola: We are very open about changing the arrangements and working together for a good outcome. We don't worry about a genre; we care very much about creating our own musical sound and vocabulary.

Jenna Wyse: Yes, we all view this band as an outlet, I think. The music is so our own. Also, not musically speaking, I can't think of other people l'd want to run around Europe with.

Gimme Noise: There are some tracks with no lyrics. How do you know when to keep a track purely instrumental? Is it easier or more difficult to tell a story without lyrics?

Albert Perez: We've been writing a lot of music for film over the past few years.

Chris Hepola: Some of our music is specifically meant to be instrumental and written for film, while other songs are vocally driven from the start.

Jenna Wyse: Sometimes the idea for a song takes shape pretty quickly and it can be difficult to create a vocal line on top of it. We all run into that obstacle, though. Trying to figure out where to fit and leaving enough space for everyone else works the best for us. Even the lyrics don't add much to the story that is already there in the song -- it ends up being just another instrument.

Gimme Noise: What is your favorite track off the new album? 

Chris Hepola: "Dark Fast Walt," I wanted to write an epic build like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but vocally driven with many interlocking melodies.

Jenna Wyse: I am excited to hear this whole album on vinyl. Like Chris said, some of these songs really take their time and the two-sides you get with vinyl helps that flow. We have a song like "Dark Fast Walt" and then something quirky and light like "Amusements." I love "Waking Still Asleep" because it's got that throw-back feel and I get to sing with our cellist, Christa.

Gimme Noise: What can we expect to see at the album release show at the Cedar? 

Chris Hepola: We will be performing live with projections of abstract films by local filmmakers. We hope to create an open atmosphere that allows people to get what they want out of the music. We are also collaborating with local artists to create a feeling of being surrounded by art, film, music and creative energy.

The Poor Nobodys will release Ink No Ink at the Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday, May 31, 2014 with the Murder of Crows and Anonymous Choir.
AA, $10 adv, $12 door, 7 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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