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Why are so many Minnesota musicians moving to Los Angeles?

Tess Weinberg and Chris White of No Kim

Tess Weinberg and Chris White of No Kim Tess Weinberg

It took more than a year of saving, two weeks in an Airbnb, and five days in a rented trailer driven by two supportive parents. But the end of the journey was a dream realized: Tess Weinberg and Chris White moved into their new apartment in Echo Park, Los Angeles.

Native Minneapolitans, Weinberg and White were twice-successful local musicians, first with now-defunct goth-rockers Murder Shoes, more recently as gloom-pop duo No Kim. They’d reached an enviable plateau, with enough name recognition, connections, and resources to build a comfortable, long-term career in the Twin Cities. But three weeks after they dropped the first No Kim LP, they sold half their furniture and fled west.

“There’s such great Midwest momentum towards, ‘Get a house! Get a dog!,’ but I don’t feel ready for that,” Weinberg says. “I wanted to feel scared again. I wanted that to happen for our music, too.”

“We’re in survival mode for sure,” White adds, with a glint of determination. “But it feels pretty good.”

There’s nothing new about local music luminaries moving out to Los Angeles: Prince famously lived there for much of the ’00s. But more recently, the exodus has grown in numbers, as homegrown hitmakers like Caroline Smith, Tickle Torture, and Howler have heeded the call. So what does Los Angeles offer young musicians that the Twin Cities can’t?

“Minneapolis has a smaller, more centralized community,” says former Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith. “That means the focus is more on certain individuals or certain groups. Out here, you can do your own thing and not worry about your peers too much.”

Gatesmith, who now plays with the band Wellness, has lived in L.A. since 2015. Though he disavows the notion that there’s a glass ceiling for artists based in Minnesota—Howler secured international praise and a deal with London’s Rough Trade when Gatesmith was only 20—he knew L.A. was the next best step for him.

On Howler’s various tours through California, Gatesmith had seen how the arts scene there propagates in small, passionate cloisters, and, with the strong encouragement of his L.A.-based publisher, he set aside his aesthetic qualms (“I always thought [Los Angeles] was kinda dirty,” he says) and made the move. Now he spends all his time making music—not only with Wellness but also with former Morrissey songwriting partner Alain Whyte.

“I really learned to love this city a lot,” Gatesmith says. “Words like ‘career,’ I don’t really know what that means, but it’s been a positive move for my life.”

Ask Minnesota expats why they moved to L.A. and one of the first words you’ll hear is “infrastructure.” It’s the kind of vague jargon that makes life in Los Angeles seem unquestionably important. But what does infrastructure mean when it comes to living your life as a working musician?

Tiny Deaths songwriter Claire de Lune, 10 years a Minnesotan and a Californian for the last nine months, puts it plainly: “In Iowa, their export is corn. In L.A., it’s entertainment.”

In Los Angeles, money doesn’t just talk—it sings. Where you might see billboards for auto dealerships or church radio in Minnesota, in L.A. it’s new albums and DJ sets. In the Twin Cities you might have to moonlight as a bartender to pay for studio time, but Los Angeles has such a need for musicians that you can pay rent by working as session player.

De Lune first caught a glimpse of the opportunities the biz presented when she started contracting Tiny Deaths songs for TV ad placement. Soon, she was selling pop songs on spec.

“I’ve never been interested in writing bubblegum pop songs for myself,” she says. “I did a little bit of songwriting with some of my friends from L.A. [while I was] in Minneapolis, but there’s just a whole industry here. It’s hard to break in here, but it’s almost impossible to break into from far away.”

Brooklyn Park rapper Finding Novyon was on his way to being Minnesota’s next homegrown hip-hop star after finishing sixth in 2016’s Picked to Click competition and claiming Best Hip-Hop Verse in the following year’s Best of the Twin Cities. In 2016, he dropped the downright spartan mixtape Believe in MPLS , a collaboration with L.A. producer J.KELR. Less than a year later, he bought a one-way ticket to LAX.

“I love Minnesota, but I felt like, when I was there the last couple months, I was so unmotivated, so over everything,” Novyon says. “I was getting depressed in the winter, and that was a big burden on my emotions, and it stifled my creativity.”

Novyon originally planned to make the move with So Cold Records labelmates Drelli and Allan Kingdom. These were among the most talented, exciting young performers to emerge from Minnesota since GRRRL PRTY, and they wanted to test their mass appeal together. But when their 2017 national tour was canceled after only a few dates, those designs fell apart. Drelli and Kingdom took off for California together, leaving Novyon to find his own way.

Novyon scored a sublet in a five-bedroom apartment before finding a smaller place in North Hollywood. He got a management company and booking agents to help him get local shows and make sure he gets a fair takeaway. He caught on with fellow Minneapolitan-at-large Angelo Bombay, who set him up with a gig running sessions at a friend’s Hollywood studio.

“It’s been really motivating and a really dope experience for me,” he says. “Right now, it feels like when I was just first coming up, when I was opening up for Mike the Martyr and Metasota and meeting all the older people who knew the scene and I looked up to.”

Sunshine and legal marijuana certainly help, but the collectivist energy in Los Angeles has also rejuvenated the once-dejected Novyon. He’s a man transformed, something that cannot be ignored on his beachy, affable new single “What’s Best.”

“Here, not as many people know what I’ve done, so it’s just easier for me to create,” Novyon says. “I find myself being more expressive and more transparent. I can really take a step back and look at things from a different angle.”

Novyon hits on the thread that unites all Minnesota-born musicians living in L.A. Yes, the city may be a gateway to 9-5-ing your passions, but more than that, it’s an escape. No one musician I spoke with expressed a desire to stay in Los Angeles forever, and most had designs on an eventual Minneapolis return. But universally, they were thankful for something new.

“I had this feeling of, ‘If we don’t get out now, maybe we never will,’” Weinberg says. “I felt like, if I died in Minneapolis never having left, well, that’d be sad.”