Tightwire chop punk down to its essentials—and then keep chopping


Tightwire Photo provided by the artist

“We sound like nicotine gum that got stuck behind the fridge,” says Tightwire singer and guitarist Paul Kettler. Then, suddenly, everyone’s talking at once: “A little bit dirty, still kinda sweet, a little fuzzy, gives you a buzz?”

And that, in words and action, pretty much sums up Tightwire: three guys chronically addicted to Ramones-style pop-punk essentials, all talking over each other, and still coming up with a killer line. (Also, clearly, three guys who have never actually tasted nicotine gum.) The band is celebrating the release of their first full-length, Six Feet Deep, on the Chicago label Red Scare Industries Tuesday night at the Entry.

Let me be reiterate: Tightwire—Kettler, bassist/vocalist Tane Graves, and drummer Parker Thompson— play “Ramones formula pop-punk,” as Graves puts it. “As much energy and fun as you can pack into one thing,” says Kettler. “Super concentrated, sickeningly-sweet.” It’s a genre overrun with thoughtless rip-offs, and it’s not a sound that even in its best cloned versions inspires a lot of critical examination or accolades.

Tightwire could give a shit. Where everyone else shoots for depth, they look to distill. They aren’t looking to complicate; they want to strip away everything but the absolute earworms.

“In other bands, the challenge was trying to make everything different or unique,” says Graves. “With Tightwire, we’re like ‘Fuck that shit, we’re just going to see how many times we can make this chord progression work for a thousand songs!’—and that in itself is actually pretty fucking hard.”

“It’s fun to write this way,” says Thompson. “Let’s cut the fat, take the best parts of some songs, and make them into one song.”

“It’s go for the jugular,” says Kettler. “It’s ‘I love this one part. I want the entire song to be this one part.’ So obviously, that also makes for shorter songs.”

That shortness—absurd even by punk standards—is what sets Tightwire apart from some of the more obvious comparisons their brand of pop might draw. Of Six Feet Deep’s 13 songs, only two pass the two-minute mark. It’s an aggressively intentional all-killer-no-filler approach. So intentional the band jokes about it. “Try doing five shots of Jameson and even remembering what song you’re playing when they all use the same chord progression,” says Graves.

Before Tightwire was Tightwire, Kettler was some kid who showed up at punk house shows in Milwaukee with an acoustic guitar and a standing offer to play in the kitchen between bands. He called himself Drones. After he relocated to the Twin Cities, Drones became a full band. And once Thompson and Graves settled in as the rhythm section, there was yet one more Twin Cities band made up entirely of people not from Minnesota.

Drones established themselves with a ton of shows at Triple Rock (where Graves worked), Mortimer’s, and the Hexagon. With the LP, however, there was a problem: There was a British band named Drones, Red Scare owner Toby Jeg put the band’s alternatives this way: Keep the name, and if the record sells at all, it’ll be a problem. Or just change the name now.

So, Drones who weren’t the U.K. Drones and aren’t associated with Drone not Drones, because they don’t play drone, came up with Tightwire just in time to play a series of East Coast shows with Dillinger Four. Graves had never been to New York City before, and here he was playing a sold-out show on a boat around the Statue of Liberty.

Tightwire’s accomplished this rise almost as quickly as they finish their songs, and even the band seems a little surprised. But they’re leaning into it, with plans for the next batch of songs.

“Right now, we’re pretty standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus,” says Graves. “Going forward, I really want to cut that to just ‘chorus and we’re out.’”

With: Butcher’s Union, Arms Aloft, Supportive Parents
Where: 7th St. Entry
When: 7 p.m. Tues. Nov. 27
Tickets: 18+; $10/$12; more info here