A lucky few bands lead a charmed life. They come together quickly, post a few singles online, and find the blogosphere worshipping at their feet.
Wishbook is not one such band. Despite being one of the sharpest and most instantly accessible indie-rock bands in the Cities, the local quartet of Neal Perbix (guitar/vocals), his older brother Nate (drums), guitarist Jake Hanson, and bassist Chris Morrissey have found that little comes easy for them. Since originally forming more than a decade ago as Cowboy Curtis, the foursome has weathered the usual music-industry ups (serious love from Seattle taste-making station KEXP for their 2003 debut, Observations/Assumptions) and downs (a lack of label support resulted in lengthy delays between Cowboy Curtis albums one and two, as the band gigged heavily in order to scrape together cash for recording). Even with band members busy in other higher-profile projects—Morrissey moved to New York City 18 months ago and is the touring bassist for Ben Kweller and Mason Jennings, Hanson plays guitar for the likes of Haley Bonar and Halloween, Alaska—they've never turned their backs on their original band, making a point to gig when schedules allow.
"I think it helps that there are no expectations on any of it," explains Hanson, huddled together with the Perbix brothers at a local watering hole. "The reason we book a show about every six weeks is mainly so we can get some free drinks and hang out together. The band is just an extension of our relationships and a focused energy born from that. It's really just about as much fun as you can have. We've all played music with other people in other capacities and that can be great too, but it's just not the same thing. I've seen bands where you know they're friends and others where you know they're not and there's a certain chemistry that goes with that."
That chemistry is abundantly evident on the early demos for Happy Garden, the quartet's long-in-the-making debut under the Wishbook banner. On the taut collection of barbed-wire indie-rock, prickly-yet-poppy tunes like "Muscle Car" and "Tail of a Whale" recall Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs, while Neal's wounded poeticism chronicles the feelings of aimlessness and anxiety that define the late 20s, not once slipping into overbearing solipsism. The dark lyrical terrain and muscular arrangements are a far cry from the bouncy and humorous new wave on which Neal first made his mark, a shift in sound strong enough that it necessitated putting the Cowboy Curtis name—with its Pee Wee's Playhouse origins and accompanying youthful sensibility—to bed.
"These songs are coming from a very different place," offers Neal. "Cowboy Curtis had broken up at the time. Everybody else was on tour, and not to be all woe-is-me or anything, but I was also unemployed. These songs just started pouring out of me."
Though Neal was initially uncertain what to do with his newfound inspiration, it wasn't long before informal jamming led to a reformation of the same core group of friends and family that had been playing together since their teens.
"It sounds older because we're older," offers Hanson of the group's natural evolution from boys to men. "We took away some of the cheekiness of our music that Cowboy Curtis had. When you're 20, you're into whatever 20-year-olds are into. I see those people around now and think, 'Oh yeah, I used to be that guy.'"
Still operating independently and facing the same cash crunch that's hit much of the local music community, Wishbook have turned to net-roots-funding upstart Kickstarter to pay for the mixing and mastering of Happy Garden, with the goal of getting their music out into the open sooner rather than later. The site functions as a platform for fans to directly pledge artist support and in effect "buy" the album before it's finished. There's a catch, though—artists must set a specific pledge amount and a deadline. Meet the funding minimum and congrats, you've got the necessary scratch to complete your work; come up short and all the money goes away. Pledges are only collected if the minimum funding threshold is met. Both Martin Devaney and Halloween, Alaska successfully turned to Kickstarter to fund their latest projects.
"They do vet projects, so it's really not that easy to get on the site," explains Neal of Wishbook's Kickstarter effort. "You have to convince them that you're not just like every other indie band out there. I worked really hard on our initial application and didn't hear anything back, so I just decided to email them directly and be really frank and blunt, and somehow that worked. It's sort of a strange thing for us. I feel weird harassing people for money to help us sometimes. It can feel strange."
"It's hard for a band to make a record regardless of their situation," counters Nate. "It can be just as bad being a band on a label that has that financial muscle behind them but also a lot of accompanying pressure to produce something that will 'sell.'"
With $2,415 of a $3,000 goal funded as of this writing and a project deadline of February 21, it appears Wishbook's populist funding gambit just might work. For a local band that's long been held in high esteem by other area musicians and fans, it's only fitting that the tight-knit Minnesota music community appears poised to finally succeed in giving the band a much deserved break.
"People are just excited to hear the record," offers an optimistic Neal as our conversation winds down. "In addition to the pledges we've already received, people keep pulling me aside and telling me how excited they are to hear the album and how they're planning on supporting us. It's been a flattering experience. Who knows—maybe this is finally our time."
WISHBOOK play with Charn on SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19, at CAUSE; 612.822.6000. For more on their fundraising project, head to Kickstarter.com and search "Wishbook"