What Tyrants are the definition of high-energy rock 'n' roll
Photo courtesy of the artist
What Tyrants | 7th St. Entry | Tuesday, August 26
One of the more important aspects of being in a band together is trust. It's something that the brothers in What Tyrants have had a lifetime to develop. "Kyle and I have been playing together since second grade," says lead vocalist and guitarist Sean Schultz of his brother Kyle, the band's drummer.
The two are lounging with bass player Garrison Grouse in the basement of his South Minneapolis home, the band's de facto practice space and recording studio during so many all-night sessions. They are taking a break from assembling sleeves for their new 7-inch Hanging Out in Havana, which they will release Tuesday evening at the 7th Street Entry, to talk to Gimme Noise about everything that has led up to this moment.
Photo courtesy of the artist
Sean, who is three years older than Kyle, began taking guitar lessons early on. Not wanting to play the same instrument as his brother, Kyle began taking drum lessons around the same time. "We did a lot of covers," Sean says. "I think the first song we learned to play together was 'Walls,' a Tom Petty song." They went on to play together in several "shitty high school bands," until the first incarnation of What Tyrants, which "was a completely different band," Sean continues. "I played keys, we had a different guitar player and a different bass player as well."
Eventually, the original guitar player left. "He and I hadn't been vibing together for some time," Sean explains. After being unsuccessful in their search for a permanent bass player after Sean left his keyboard behind and jumped in on guitar, the brothers opened their eyes to the talent that had been in front of them this whole time: Grouse, who plays in Sean's other band, Black Diet, and who recorded and produced What Tyrants' material in his basement studio, Grouse Productions.
Since then, the band has gravitated towards a garage rock sound. "There's a lot of people doing something like this, "Sean says,"but we're a little bit different." When asked what the term "garage rock" means to them, the band bring up the Stooges and Ty Segall. We pushed Sean to explain what "garage rock" is without using other bands as a frame of reference.
"It's a lot in the simplicity of the songwriting," he says. "I used to always try to force things. There was kind of a moment where I just saw myself over-thinking and wanted to just let the songs and the chords speak for themselves."
"I'd say simple, high-energy rock 'n' roll," Grouse pitches in. Kyle agrees. "To put it in the simplest of terms, a lot of songs are loud and fast," he says. "We filter it through our own sensibility, and it sounds a bit different inherently through that."
At the moment, Sean handles most of the songwriting. "That's why I was so excited to bring Garrison into the band -- he has more of an ability to take on that role of writing." Grouse actually didn't play bass on Hanging Out in Havana, but he did record it. "I put some slap-back on the vocals to get them to sound more gritty," Grouse says. "You know the band Television? Or the band Death?" he asks. "I wanted it to sound more like that. This band has a very post-punk influence."
Since joining the band, Grouse has tweaked the bass parts a bit to fit his own sensibilities better. Interestingly, Grouse actually met the band at their first performance at the Nomad a couple of years ago. Then, he met Sean again at practice for Black Diet -- the enormously successful garage rock/soul band that actually found many of its original members on Craigslist.
"Black Diet is very soulful, upbeat and happy," Grouse says. "With What Tyrants, it's still high energy but it's grittier and darker sounding. It has more attitude to it."
"It's a place musically where we can break and string and just keep playing," Sean concludes.
Side A of the album features the title track "Hanging Out in Havana," which Sean calls a "cynical" song. At just under 3 minutes, "Hanging Out in Havana" is a simple, hard-hitting post-punk track full of vitriol, backed by elegant, surf-rock reminiscent guitar chords. It's catchy and fun, but certainly has somewhat of a dark undertone. Just when you think the song has dissolved into a sea of feedback, a moment of silence brings you right back into it, with Sean's voice kicking in once again over a seemingly even more aggressive musical landscape. Images of a mosh pit come to mind, as do memories of listening to punk music in Southern California at a bonfire on the beach.
"It's making fun of white people vacations," Sean explains: "In Havana/ On a beach/ Feelin' super/ Feelin' ripped/ So excited/ On the town/ Trying to find my get-around."
"One of my proudest stealing moments was stealing a line from the Sword and the Stone, the cartoon version," Sean says. "I was writing the song and watching the movie, and the wizard says the line, 'Blow me to Bermuda.' I don't like to write about happy things. I like to write about things that make me angry or frustrated. It helps me reconcile."
Side B features "Far Out," a song contemplating the notion of hypocritical judgment. "The lyrics are pretty sharp, and they're directed at somebody," Sean says. "They're also introspective. It's a way to remind myself not to be so critical."
"It's hard to see somebody else and not to judge them sometimes," Kyle comments. "You're not going to get along with everybody, but you've got to remember that somebody is looking at you at the same time... One of my friends had a guy with him once who was talking shit about everyone else. I was like, you don't know them at all! It made me question my friend's choice in company. On the other hand, sometimes you just have to judge people."
"A lot of people judge the fact that I do music for a career, because they think that just because I don't have a 'real' job that I don't do anything," Grouse adds. "That's not true. Because I do music for a job, I'm often doing a shit-ton of little jobs at a time to make it pay, otherwise I'm not going to get paid anything. I usually don't get judged too crucially as far as my appearance, but sometimes when I go out to certain downtown bars I get labeled as some hipster dude who thinks I'm better than them, but that's not the case at all," he argues.
"I like getting myself in situations that are different, because I like all kinds of people. I like being able to go everywhere with my friends," he says.
With Grouse finally a part of the band, it feels like What Tyrants are starting fresh. Their plan is to schedule time once the release show is finished to record their first full-length. They've already written 12 songs, and anticipate writing several more, then choosing their favorites for the future release. "I'm excited for how it turns out," Sean says. "I just hope that people dig the tunes."
What Tyrants celebrates the release of their new 7" Hanging Out in Havana Tuesday, August 26 at the 7th Street Entry with the Shakin' Babies, Little Man and Tree Blood. 8 PM, $5, 18+ Presented by Radio K.
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