Zoo Animal, Gospel Gossip, and Red Pens prep for Loring Theater gig


While Picked to Click alums Red Pens, Zoo Animal, and Gospel Gossip are frequently spotted around town headlining their own gigs, Thursday night's show at the Loring Theater (formerly the Music Box) will be a rare chance to catch all three stellar live acts on one bill.

To get our brains in gear for the show, we rounded up the members from all three bands and asked them to interview one another while we eavesdropped on their conversation.

Gimme Noise: Do you feel like you approach your music in similar ways? Or are there other similarities between the three bands?

Holly Newsom (Zoo Animal): I think us three bands, to me, have similar approach because - it sounds cheesy, but I feel like we have feeling.

Thom Burton (Zoo Animal): It's thoughtful, like there's a seriousness to it.

Howard Hamilton (Red Pens): I think there's bands that just write rock 'n' roll songs, and then there's bands that express themselves. We're kind of secretly doing it at the same time.

Sarah Nienaber (Gospel Gossip): I think it's good both ways, but I think we all happen to fall on one side of it.

Gimme Noise: What are your thoughts about the Loring Theater? Have you seen a show there?

Newsom: I haven't seen a show there, we recorded our album there though. It's a good room because it's a big space, but it's kind of dead still. And I think all our bands need a dead room, where it's really loud... The sound can breathe, you feel like it's as big as it really is, and it's not just echoing off the walls. It's designed for Triple Espresso, so we figured we'd be a good fit.

Hamilton: We have a couple scenes from Triple Espresso that we're gonna do.

Tim Abramson (Zoo Animal): I think it's a good space for watching shows, too, it's not too big. But it's also, you can fit a lot of people in there and there's a nice intimacy to it.

Newsom: I didn't like loud music until I watched these bands. I feel like a dork saying that, but I didn't used to like going to shows because I'm a wimp, and I'd get annoyed with how loud it was. And I actually remember the times I first saw both of your bands, I was like, 'this is so loud.' And I was kind of mad. But I like, learned - it's kind of dorky - but you know how a lot of people don't appreciate classical music because they don't get it? I was like an idiot toward rock 'n' roll or something, and these two bands made me understand what that's about. I'm more influenced by live music than recorded music, so I think, subconsciously, because I've seen both these bands so many times, it's totally affected my writing and the way I think about dynamics. I really think, if it weren't for these two bands, I'd be a much lamer Minneapolis resident... Now I know what it's like, when you're in a small bar and you feel like the sound is just completely almost assaulting you, like learning to actually like that - I didn't understand that before. Maybe someday I'll get a bigger amp.

Holly Newsom of Zoo Animal
Holly Newsom of Zoo Animal
Photo by Erik Hess

Nienaber: I think it's cool when music can be, even though it's totally basic and can seem like it's void of meaning, to be just visceral and nauseating. Like, sometimes life feels that way. You know? It's just like UGH, GOD! Huge.

Bennett: Yeah, it's nice to get a little upset in a good way. You can't have sweet without the sour, hot without the cold.

Nienaber: Right, but when it's not any of those things - when it's just overwhelming to the point that you don't know if it's good or bad.

Bennett: I've found a way to like it, though. I don't know if this is good or bad, but I'm feeling something. It gets you all riled up.

Hamilton [to Nienaber]: Did you hate quiet music before you saw Zoo Animal?

Nienaber: No. [laughing]

Ollie Moltaji (Gospel Gossip): I like how we're all relatively small bands.

Bennett: We're like little snack packs.

Nienaber: Zoo Animal or Gospel Gossip, who weighs more?

Newsom: We're the same, we're the exact same. Our bands weigh the same. I think it was two pounds different.

Nienaber: I have a question for you guys. Do you feel - and this is a serious problem that I have - everything that you create, after about two years passes, you absolutely hate it and are embarrassed by it?

Bennett: I would feel that way about artwork in the past, but then I'd kind of forget about it, and I'd look back and go, oh, I can see how that's part of what I do now. I just keep everything as a reminder that it's all a process. Document everything.

Nienaber: I feel like I can't appreciate anything that I do for longer than a year or two.

Hamilton: I feel like I definitely take that into consideration at this point. I've written batches of songs that I've been super embarrassed about two years later. And now I'm like, ok, I'm not even going to finish this song - in two years, I'm going to be embarrassed by this. Like I can preview it in my head.

Nienaber: I have no foresight. Everything that I do, I'm positive that it's awesome at the time.

Newsom: A lot of stuff that I did, I'm embarrassed by. It's not even embarrassed, I just don't think it's that good.

Nienaber: I guess embarrassed isn't the word, it's just like, ugh.

Ollie Moltaji and Sarah Nienaber of Gospel Gossip
Ollie Moltaji and Sarah Nienaber of Gospel Gossip
Photo by Erik Hess

Newsom: But then, it's kind of weird, because there's things that I wrote when I was juvenile that I don't think I'd have the guts to write today. Like the song "Muddy Bloody," I would have never, ever, ever played that live, then Tim was like, hey, remember that song you wrote in high school? Maybe we should play it. And I'm like, really? I remember the first time I played it, I was playing by myself at the 331 and I was like, what are people going to do? It's so blatant about things. I don't know. And everyone was into it, and you realize that human beings always relate to each other, no matter what it is. There's a really old song that we might play called "The Beast," and some of those songs, I feel like - there's something about it, before you're playing out and you're just writing songs because you're feeling something, you have the guts to say what you really think. I think I've kind of lost that a little bit, I've learned to censor my thoughts so I don't bother someone or whatever. Going back to those things, even if some of the songs I don't like, it's good to be reminded that, like, don't worry about what's going to happen when other people here it. Write it, have integrity, because that's what most people really want. They want an artist and performer to like have honesty and integrity and be creative in the way themselves.

Nienaber: Everyone has different ways of explaining the way that they feel. And when a performer is able to get, in some way, to the raw core, you know, without lying, then people will enjoy it, even if they don't necessarily relate to the way that the artist is saying it.

Newsom: Sometimes the audience doesn't know how to appreciate it right away. That's how I was. I just didn't get it. Even watching a band like Retribution Gospel Choir, when Alan is just going psycho and you feel like you're brain is going to explode, it's so loud, they're just wailing on their instruments for 15, 20 minutes, being a song-oriented person I 'm like, really? But the more you watch them, the more you understand that they're just totally -- there's some sort of freedom. It's like watching somebody explode. You realize that's something you should appreciate, that they're not dumbing it down for you. And I feel like that's what I don't want to do. I want to get back to when I wasn't like, well I better dumb this down for people. Just be super raw and just be like, if the audience doesn't get it now, someday they might and they'll probably appreciate it, because I know I feel that way with artists.

Hamilton: Holly, do you ever feel like you're writing a song for an audience to enjoy? Like, instead of expressing yourself and saying it's raw or it's going to be too much for everybody, do you ever write it from the angle where it's like you're saying, 'they're going to really like this'?

Howard Hamilton and Laura Bennett of Red Pens
Howard Hamilton and Laura Bennett of Red Pens
Photo by Erik Hess

Newsom: I do that more now than I've done before. Actually, on Young Blood, there was three very specific songs I wrote thinking, like, I'm going to write a pop song, almost cynically. And those three songs, nobody really likes.

Hamilton: See what I do is go 'I'm going to write a pop song, express myself,' AND it's going to be a little bit raw, AND people might like it.

Newsom: I think that's the best way. I'm glad I've learned to dial back. I don't want it to be painful. I don't want somebody to watch us play and be like, is she ok? I want them to know I'm fine, I'm just expressing myself.

Hamilton: What about you Sarah? What is your approach? Is it whatever comes out?

Nienaber: I think we only know how to write what sounds good to us. It's cool that sometimes people happen to think it sounds good too. But how can you possibly know what people are going to like?

Bennett: That's why you have to start by playing for yourself.

Nienaber: I mean, there's certain songs where I write them, and I know right away. Like wow, people are definitely going to like this a lot. And I'm always right.

Thom Burton (Zoo Animal): I've got a question. What do you guys feel like the future is going to hold? Do you have a direction that you're going?

Hamilton: For us, we haven't gone out on the road at all. That's what we're looking at right now.

Moltaji: I don't think we really have a plan. Just keep writing and recording.

Nienaber: I don't think there's anything more we can do, other than what we've already done for ourselves. You know what I mean? Like I feel like it's not up to me whether I can only do this. Even though it's all I want to do, I feel like I can't do anything more than I've already done to make it possible.

Hamilton: I've got some solo stuff that I'm working on, just me looping stuff, trying to sound like a whole band with just one person instead of two people.

Newsom: I did a solo record.

Nienaber: I should do a solo record!

Abramson: We should make a supergroup, just all of us forming one band.

Newsom: We'll be a really big band that sounds like just one person.

Nienaber: No one's ever done that before! That's a really good idea.

Hamilton: It'll sound like the smallest band ever.

Nienaber: We'll have three guitars going, but it sounds like one riff. One string on each... It would actually be something that people would be really into.

Newsom: The drummers each have one drum. Bass players each have two strings. Our guitarists have two strings each.

Nienaber: It would almost be really cool.

Newsom: Almost.

Bennett: That's the band name: Almost.

Zoo Animal, Red Pens, and Gospel Gossip, a.k.a. new supergroup "Almost"
Zoo Animal, Red Pens, and Gospel Gossip, a.k.a. new supergroup "Almost"
Photo by Erik Hess

ZOO ANIMAL, RED PENS, and GOSPEL GOSSIP perform on THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3, at the LORING THEATER. All ages. $13. 7 p.m.

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