For the local artists formerly known as the Teeth, the name Victory Ship is apt. As they arrived at neither their new name nor their new record, Before the Fall, easily, the moniker seems an homage to the series of small triumphs that have kept the band sailing toward some undefined but expansive creative horizon.
It's also an open door to the one about being long, hard, and full of seamen.
In a story of musical love at first sight, Victory Ship helmsmen Derek Helland and Pat Mazurek met at Apple Valley's Eastview High School, where they quickly assessed each other's chops. Obsessed with acts like the Allman Brothers Band, Jimi Hendrix, and assorted jam bands, the two dwelled in similar musical neighborhoods and appreciated each other's guitar-playing styles.
"I listened to him play awhile and thought, 'Yeah, he's better than me. We need to play together,'" reflects Mazurek.
The two united to form a covers group, then a classic-rock-style jam band before settling into what would become Victory Ship. The two recruited U of M jazz drummer Tom Hilde three years ago, and went through several bassists, eventually settling on Michael Fruncillo. They met Fruncillo through his band Otis Smiles, who shared a practice space with Victory Ship.
"I developed a man crush on Mike," admits Hilde.
While Helland and Mazurek split songwriting duties, the band is highly collaborative in fleshing out material for recordings and live performance.
Fruncillo jokes, "We share duties, but not in a jam band way."
While Victory Ship may look the jam band part, their songs do not scream Phish. Rather, upon listening to Before the Fall, names like the Beatles, Guided By Voices, and Faces come to mind. Shimmery major chords à la Tom Petty play off lively acoustic fingerpicking à la Johnny Cash. Given this, Victory Ship's greatest achievement might be encompassing slivers of so many classic and contemporary artists without really sounding like any of them.
"We're into writing pop songs and melodies," says Helland. "We get irritated with those seemingly perfect recordings."
Victory Ship, in fact, sport melodies so intricately crafted and impressively sung one would swear these twentysomethings were 10 years older. From the record's standout opener "Rod Stewart" (a nod to writer Helland's obsession with the ex-Faces frontman), which combines stark, almost Sabbath-like guitars with a Ringo Starr drum line and ultra-catchy falsetto, to the Mazurek-penned "To Be Old," an up-tempo, radio-friendly number sung in a near yodel, each track is further proof that Victory Ship is not wanting for songwriting talent.
The seven-track Before the Fall represents nearly six years of work; it took most of that time to flesh out and record the disc. The band laid the groundwork with their own equipment, then worked with approximately seven engineers in searching for the right sound before Ben Durrant stepped in to bring the record's elements together. "Ben was the glue," says Helland.
Victory Ship completed the record at about the same time they decided on a name change. It seems an East Coast act had been using the Teeth for years. "It was harder than making the record," claims Mazurek.
For Victory Ship, the record's release couldn't have come too soon.
"It was tough to explain to people the way we sounded, that we were good," says Mazurek. "Now we have proof."
VICTORY SHIP play with Ben Glaros, Camel of the Sea, and Middle States on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12, at the UPTOWN BAR; 612.823.4719