White Boyfriend | 7th St. Entry | Friday, January 16
Close college friends Katharine Seggerman, Dan Hansen, and Nicky Leingang have spent an intense few days figuring out the future of their synthesizer-bass-drums-and-occasional-banjo ensemble. They're about to be formerly known as White Boyfriend. As the Beatles (f.k.a. the Quarrymen), Linkin Park (f.k.a. Hybrid Theory), and fka Twigs (f.k.a. Twigs) illustrate, a new moniker doesn't signal the end of budding success, but it's still a process.
During an hour-long conversation at Seward Cafe, the three musicians and Gimme Noise say the words "white" and "boyfriend" in dozens of contexts as the brainstorming for re-conceptualizing their genre-bucking art continues. Why? It turns out the two words they chose for a project rife with humor, harmony, and open discussion of gender and race were having the opposite effect. Update: Here's the new name!
The festivities marking the release of White Boyfriend's self-titled debut album at 7th St. Entry could be the very last time their name appears on a flyer, but the mood seems cautiously optimistic.[jump]
Rebranding has yielded a very long list thus far, including a ton of fan submissions and several with the "Goth" prefix. But the "Boyfriend" concept sure hasn't been easy to shake.
Soon, the Twin Cities underground scene that has embraced the band over the past 12 months might instead be listening to Boyf, Caucasian American Male Partner aka C.A.M.P., White Ex-Boyfriend, Wife Boyfriend, Why Boyfriend, or Caucasian-American Boyfriend.
When they appeared on Radio K recently, the host introduced them with different boyfriend derivatives each time, so add Fort Wilson Boyfriend, Crouching Boyfriend, Hidden Boyfriend, Benedict Cumberboyfriend, and Sexually Transmitted Boyfriend.
"Maybe we should just be "****" Boyfriend," notes Leingang.
"It's not very Googleable," deadpans Hansen.
Seggerman says that a lot of what they've said so far is not serious, but the process has made her introspective about what White Boyfriend is actually about. "It's goofy and snarky and has commentary embedded in it," she says. "Now we're trying to find those elements in a different name."
How the Name Conflict Began
This decision, which hasn't been an easy one, came about in the past couple of weeks. In a Facebook post announcing the intention to change, they said: "When we chose this name, we imagined it as a sarcastic commentary on the normalization of whiteness: white people don't usually have to hear themselves being described based on their race, and we liked the idea that our band name would make white people think about that privilege."
Instead, a woman told them that the moniker made her feel she'd be unwelcome at their shows. A discussion about white supremacy and race in the Twin Cities music scene followed.
"The way that she put it is that she was already feeling uncomfortable about going to a mostly aggressively white space, and that seeing a band name like White Boyfriend only promotes that segregation," Leingang says.
"After that, we solicited opinions from friends and we heard some similar stories," Seggerman adds. "People mentioning the name and a black friend being like 'Oh, White Boyfriend, really?'"
The story continues on the next page.
This isn't the first time the trio have made a transformation, though. They met as undergraduates at Yale and performed together with what had been Hansen's solo project Howly Dogs.
After graduation, North Dakota native Leingang moved out to Minneapolis to join his brother Matt, a vet of bands like Serenghetto and Casual User, and fell in love with the punk scene. He urged Boston-bred Seggerman and Hansen, who is originally from Northern California, to join him. For the first year, they lived together on Powderhorn Park, and hung out writing songs all the time. (Now they live in separate spots and practice at Seggerman's place, which she shares with Ranelle Johnson, a.k.a. Bae Tigre.)
Early on, Hansen says the group needed a new name to reflect their redefined collaborative identity. They settled on White Boyfriend because they liked it. "I stopped playing guitar," he says. "I was writing kind of sad, narrative, confessional songs, but this band has more of a sense of humor."
Case in point, from "The Feathered Frontier" off last year's Twins EP, "Do you know so much? / Is it all in ink and chalk? / Have you felt so proud to get the meaning of the shit we talk?" Hansen leads this infectious pop morsel, and counter harmonies from Seggerman and Leingang eventually swell to overtake him.
White Boyfriend's first Twin Cities show was at the Hexagon Bar. Hansen took up the bass, and the stage embellishments included Seggerman's drum kit decorated with the word "betch" and Leingang's keyboard stand proclaiming "you wish." These details added to the plucky swagger of inventive synthesizer pop songs that were already coming into focus.
More local shows followed, and the trio eventually recorded their self-titled debut this past June at the Sound Gallery with the help of Jacob Mullis (Fort Wilson Riot), Aaron Baum, and Jacob Grun (Me and My Arrow).
White Boyfriend, The Album
The album is split up by several skits, including an ESPN level laugh on "Sports!" ("Look at those fucking calves"), but there's always serious musicianship at play underneath the blanket of black humor. Seggerman takes the lead for "The First," a swoop into a string-adorned chamber pop that swells to become the album's emotional center. On the other extreme is the tempo-shifting Bee Gees-style blitz of their single "I'm Breaking Up With Mr. Smiles."
The vocals are studiously witty on a Magnetic Fields level, but delivered with punk playfulness a la Micachu and the Shapes. Impressively, they dart cleanly from disco beats, to lounge, to gospel a cappella, and back around without scraping any guard rails. ("There's a difference between singing without music and a cappella, which is horrible bros making horrible music," Hansen clarifies. "It's like the difference between folk and Mumford and Sons.")
"Some of the songs are just about us being genuine to our emotions," Leingang says. "Because Dan and I are queer and Katharine's a woman, that immediately makes our identities and perspectives mean something different than a band of four straight guys singing about their love interests."
According to their friend Ali Jaafar, Hollow Boys frontman and operator of Ecstattic Studio, their attempts to broach issues of gender and race in their material is part of the reason that their name has raised red flags.
"If you are a band who tries to be socially conscious, and tries in a very vague way to do the right thing, then you're going to get more criticism based upon that -- compared to a band that doesn't give a shit," he says, citing anarchist post-rockers Godspeed! You Black Emperor. When White Boyfriend decided to make their name change, the group consulted him.
"The thing I was telling them was you can't always let your audience define who you are," Jaafar continues. "You have to take your artistic intention as the first and most important thing about your art. Then you start to consider the audience's perspective... Also, all band names are dumb."
No matter what name is next for the group, the plan is to keep White Boyfriend as the title of their current album, and record their next one with Jaafar at Ecstattic Studio later this year. Seggerman says they can't wait to start playing their new stuff, which reflects even more artistic exploration.
"We'll still be making the same sounds, but hopefully better ones," Hansen says. "We never want to be confined to one way of making fun of boyfriends."
White Boyfriend. With Fort Wilson Riot, Yoni Yum, LOTT, and DJ Minnie Blanco. Friday, January 16 at 7th St. Entry. Info.
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