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The Teddy Holidays: Radiohead are a beacon of creativity

The Teddy Holidays: Radiohead are a beacon of creativity
Photo via artist

Bands get touchy when you tell them that they remind you of another band. Not so for Minneapolis band The Teddy Holidays. The group has their own catalog of original songs, which are incredibly wonderful and catchy in their own right, but are known for expansive takes on the material of other bands -- not just one or two songs, but actual albums in their entirety. This time around, the quartet covers Radiohead's In Rainbows, their ode to a band that has played a big part in their lives.

Before their show at Icehouse on Sunday, Gimme Noise spoke with J.T. and Brendan Viele about covering such a legendary band.

Band Members:  J.T. Viele (vocals, guitar, drums, keys), Brendan Viele (guitar, vocals, cello), Dan Horvath (drums), Jesse Monson (bass)  

Guest Musicians for this show: Andrew Maxwell (bass), Trevor Webster (keys, vocals), David Sutton (violin), Robin Viele (guitar), Mathias Hertel (beat-box)

Gimme Noise:This is not the first time the band has done a show around a band's entire album -- the first time being Weezer's

Blue Album

. Who came up with this idea? It's a pretty big feat to learn a whole album. Why not just cover a few songs?

J.T. Viele: In February 2011 we played Weezer's Blue Album in its entirety, and later that year we did the Beatles' Rubber Soul. Then in March 2012 we did Weezer's Pinkerton. The idea to try playing a full album was Brendan's.

Brendan Viele: We had already been playing a handful of Weezer and Beatles' songs regularly, but with a show at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater on the horizon we wanted to try something that would both be a challenge for ourselves musically, and a show worthy of undivided attention, as opposed to your typical bar/venue gigs where people are usually talking, dancing, otherwise at least partially distracted.

In learning the Blue Album and subsequently Pinkerton and Rubber Soul, I realized that we were forced to learn playing styles, chords, and licks that we would never have learned by simply cherry picking individual tracks, or to an even greater extent by writing guitar parts, where often you naturally gravitate towards songs and parts that are more in your wheelhouse. In really studying these records I came to realize that some of the deeper cuts are some of the true gems and that they offered me the opportunity to expand and challenge my abilities as a musician.

When you ask many musicians, "Who inspires you the most?" Radiohead is on that list a lot. How does Radiohead play into what the Teddy Holidays do? 

J.T. Viele: I know a lot of people find Radiohead's sound too abrasive -- and I used to count myself among that group, so I can't blame them -- but if you can get past that, you discover a group of super-humans that seem to have figured out all the things that you have been struggling to figure out your whole life. They are a beacon of creativity, intelligence, and sincerity, and they've raised the bar for all musicians. Even when I have a hard time getting into a Radiohead song, or I have no idea what the lyrics are about, there's still some sort of next-level quality to it that makes me feel like it's my fault, not theirs.

What is it about In Rainbows that made you want to cover that particular album?

J.T. Viele: In Rainbows was the first Radiohead album that really clicked for me. To a die-hard Radiohead fan, I realize that sounds insane. On some level I always knew they were a great band, but I never really felt it in my bones until In Rainbows. Initially it was mostly just "Reckoner" and "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" (which are still among my favorite songs anyone has ever written), but eventually I fell in love with the whole record. Somehow, even after a thousand listens, I enjoy it even more every time I hear it. I'm listening to it right now, and I'm still hearing some details for the first time. To me, In Rainbows is about as good as an album can be, and it's been a dream of mine for a long time to perform the whole thing. Also, frankly, most of the other great Radiohead albums would have been even more of a logistical nightmare to take on than this one. I have no idea how Kid Villain is going to pull off Kid A. My hat is off to them for even trying.

How do you translate a Radiohead song but still keep a Teddy Holidays flavor to it? Are you scared that people will be upset that you're "butchering a classic"?

J.T. Viele: No matter how reverent we try to be, there will inevitably be a Teddy Holidays flavor to anything we touch. There's only so much I can make my voice sound like Thom Yorke's, or our bass sound like Colin Greenwood's -- and god only knows how they achieved some of the more exotic sounds on the record. With that said, we are making an enormous effort to get the feel and texture of every song just right, and to be as detail-oriented as possible. If it turns out that we "butchered a classic," it certainly won't be from a lack of effort.

What's the prep process for a show like this? Do you sit and listen to the album, or do you break each part down and just try it without overthinking it?

J.T. Viele: The prep process has been kind of a kitchen-sink, anything-and-everything approach. We started by making a list of all the parts we were hearing in each song, and coming up with a plan for who was going to handle what. It became immediately clear that four guys weren't going to come close to cutting it, so we reached out to a bunch of friends (string players, pianists, etc.). I also found it necessary to decimate my bank account buying new gear (money I should have been spending on Christmas presents for my family). With so many musicians involved, it's been impossible to get everybody in the same room very often, but we've been meeting relentlessly in twos and threes to hammer out particular parts. It's been a major challenge to stay on top of everything. I spent four hours yesterday just working on the intro to "15 step." In Rainbows is without question the most ambitious show we've ever taken on. Rubber Soul was tough, but it was nothing compared to this.

What can we expect to see at the show?

J.T. Viele: Drums, two acoustic guitars, two electric guitars, drum samplers, tambourine, shakers, piano, synthesizers, a beat boxer, xylophone, nature sounds, electric violin with an extensive array of pedal effects, cello, four vocalists, my best Thom Yorke dance moves, and a partridge in a pear tree. And, of course, all the tricks Kid Villain has up their sleeve.

The Teddy Holidays will perform In Rainbows at Icehouse on Sunday, December 29, 2013 with Kid Villain.
21+, $10, 9pm

Click here for tickets.

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