Your guide to 10 Thousand Sounds Festival
When City Pages set out to launch a new music festival in downtown Minneapolis — one that was chic, dynamic, and vibrant — we picked a name to reflect that: 10 Thousand Sounds. After all, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is as fertile in arts and culture as it is in natural resources.
As a leading voice within the Twin Cities music community, we felt responsible to hold the festival to the highest standards — not only for a diverse lineup and gorgeous gig poster, but also for affordability, accessibility, and plenty of food and drink. Put together, these pieces encapsulate everything we love about our fair cities in the summer.
The rationale for our headliners at this inaugural installment goes without saying, but the local artists on the bill hold a special place in our hearts too — each scooped from regular Gimme Noise coverage and our yearly Picked to Click poll. With a caravan of food trucks on hand, this is a day to eat, drink, be merry, and (wink) be surprised. But above all, it's a love letter to you, Minnesota.
On a late morning in St. Louis over 100 years ago, three newsboys with their shirt collars popped out of their sack coats are puffing cigarettes. Photographed in 1910, the oddly alluring scowls in Lewis Hine's "Newsies at Skeeter Branch" showed that society needed child labor reform and tobacco regulations — but also rock bands like the Walkmen.
Nearly a century later, the East Coast indie act used the black-and-white shot for the cover of their first full-length album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. Instead of just another record by a group of party-hungry art school buddies, the 2002 record inhabits these scrappy, resourceful newsboys. Except today, they're not "Age 19 with some dumb haircut from 1960" as described in the album's centerpiece "We've Been Had."
"I think it's funny — it's a different life," frontman Hamilton Leithauser says. "It's a business. We have a family and have to pay the bills, you know? But it's also like, I didn't want this to become just some job that I'm stuck in, that I don't enjoy."
Led by Leithauser's fractured tenor, the rest of the band — Paul Maroon, Peter Bauer, Walt Martin, and Matt Barrick — wrenched atmospheric, embittered melodies out of dusty electric guitars, vintage organs, a haunted piano, and a Ludwig drum set. In the ensuing years Maroon's guitar has softened, glistening brass arrangements have emerged, and that teeth-gritting urgency of their early songs has gradually evolved into a kind of haberdashery folk-rock found on last year's Heaven.
Even as their musical style has refined, the Walkmen have stuck to earning their hustle in button-up coats, albeit nicer ones. "I don't know if I have a choice, though," Leithauser says of his wardrobe during a call with City Pages from the home he shares with his wife and young daughter in Brooklyn. Seeing a band in that more formal garb — even if the guys play like they're fighting their way out of it — is an intense reminder that a rock concert is a show, after all.
The occupational hazards of developing a signature — be it a choice in attire or a particular guitar pedal — showed up with the Walkmen's most successful song, "The Rat." Released in 2004, it was a roaring, goosebump-inducing hit that paid the bills for a while, according to Leithauser. Major League Baseball used it for dramatic highlight reel promos for years. The song's buzzy vitriol has never been replicated on five subsequent albums, and perhaps that's why Leithauser still likes playing it. "It is annoying sometimes when all the drunk guys are just screaming, 'Play "The Rat"' when you're trying to play some quiet song," he says, and then quickly deflates. "But, you know, whatever. It's just another one of our songs."
For any expert on the Walkmen, it is just one of their songs. From their novelty "Christmas Party" single, to the chipper horns on "Louisiana," to the meditative "Southern Heart," theirs is a rippling catalogue that holds up in solitary listening or a packed, live squall. Credit the consistent recording output to an unchanged lineup. They've survived large and small record deals since they formed from the shards of Jonathan Fire*Eater and the Recoys during New York's early-aughts alt-rock boom. Since then, they're more apt to draw comparisons to the chameleonic songwriting careers of Johnny Cash, Harry Nilsson, and Leonard Cohen as opposed to, say, the Strokes.
After releasing their last two via Fat Possum, Leithauser says they're ironing out yet another label deal now, and the plan is to hit the studio for their eighth album in July with "big orchestral material" inspired by Cohen and Frank Sinatra he's been stockpiling at home.
Even as a new dad, Leithauser still commands his words with the competitive fire of a guy dressing up to win over yet another crowd: himself. Five guys who were just those kids in the sack coats puffing smokes now have kids, and an artistic legacy, of their own. "There used to be a point where it would be a big blast of a show, a party for us, and kind of a wild night," Leithauser says. "That doesn't happen as much anymore, but you find other ways of liking it a lot better — and you play better. Any one way will get old after a while." —Reed Fischer
For a lot of us, Free Energy is already that band. The dance-rock group with heavy Minnesota ties — singer Paul Sprangers, lead guitarist Scott Wells, and bassist Evan Wells are all Red Wing-bred vets of Hockey Night — has a reputation for making people move their bodies, and it seems that it's catching on everywhere they go.
"In the '50s, the rock 'n' roll show was where you went to dance, and rock music was danceable," Sprangers tells City Pages. "Riffs can be danceable, and that is definitely something we talk about and is a conscious decision."
Appropriately, Love Sign, the Philly-based act's latest, is brimming with cowbell, sing-along choruses, and those charged-up guitar riffs. It's a formula that confirms that, yes, it's time to debut that move you've been trying out in front of the fogged-up bathroom mirror for weeks now. Mining the stadium spectacle of '70s-era rock anthems, local radio staple "Electric Fever," as well as "Dance All Night" and "Girls Want Rock" do plenty to show where the collective mindset is at.
For their next project, Wells has sent some demos over to Sprangers for new material. Once they wrap touring, they plan to record, and hope to get an EP out by the end of summer. Ever charting the group's progress, Sprangers notes that the addition of guitarist Sheridan Fox in 2011 is when Free Energy started clicking, and they're a much sharper unit than they were even in September.
"Since January, at every show now people are dancing, and it's awesome," Sprangers says. "I don't care what I look like. I can look like an idiot and dance like a monkey. I think it relieves people of any kind of tension, and then they feel comfortable and start dancing, and then it's just a party, which is ideal." —Justin Baker
Named City Pages' Best Hip-Hop Artist of 2013, Minneapolis rapper Greg Grease has embraced high-concept inspiration throughout his burgeoning solo career — a Laurence Fishburne movie, the mighty wordsmith Shel Silverstein, and now one of the first successful black singers, Nat King Cole.
"I'm partially just giving him props," 26-year-old Grease says of this spring's Black King Cole EP. "He was existing when he was the only one doing what he was doing. That's like me saying, 'I'm doing the same thing.' Obviously my name isn't Nat King Cole, but what I'm trying to do is something that no one else has ever done, and exist equally."
Last December, Grease dropped a surprise entry into the race for 2012's finest local album, which has ruled much of this year too. Cornbread, Pearl, and G loads up on intricate lyricism, and basks in soulful production that crackles and warms you like a campfire. With Black King Cole, a few more folks saw him coming. But its off-kilter electronic beats — by Grease, Myke Shevy, Javi, Woolley, JHard, and GMO — show a guy who isn't ready for a specific niche just yet.
"My music is for people who like to use their minds," he says. "It'll trigger your mind when you listen to it. You might listen to it 20 times — and then all of a sudden on the 21st time you're like [affecting seriousness], 'Whoa, what did he just say? This is a smokin' song.'"
Want more proof? In addition to opening slots for rap heavyweights like the Coup and Cam'ron around town, Grease has recently done some live collaboration with with Marijuana Deathsquads, including at their recent show in Brooklyn. It all comes from a place of pushing himself to win over crowds who are strangers to his style.
"When I played out in St. Paul at the Amsterdam Bar [for the Local Current Live show], it was a crowd that had no clue what I'm going to sound like. Never heard me and don't listen to music that I make. I like to change people's minds. People be like, 'I don't listen to rap, but Greg Grease? I listen to Greg Grease, though.'" —Reed Fischer
Strange Names have slowly built momentum in the Twin Cities and beyond, and even placed seventh in our Picked To Click poll in 2012. The inventive electro-pop duo of Liam Benzvi and Francis Jimenez bonded over a love of music while sharing a dorm at the U of M.
"We were in the same sort of crowd," Jiminez explains. "We knew each other and had spoken and hung out and listened to music together, but it wasn't until we moved out of the university into our own apartments and started getting together that we started actually making music."
Both were in their own bands at that point, and shared bills in Benzvi's basement and other DIY venues in Minneapolis. Initially, Jiminez sent Benzvi the instrumental for what would become "Luxury Child" with the note, "This is pop music. People love it." It was intended as a joke. "I heard it and didn't understand that it was a joke at all," Benzvi recalls. "I thought, 'Oh, this is amazing.' And I went ahead and wrote the chorus for that track, and then we both realized that it was actually really good, and we both started to care about it."
That creative partnership blossomed in fall of 2011, with the group starting to play live in March 2012, drawing from raw but riveting bedroom recordings — including the local radio sensation "Potential Wife" — and now a more-polished 7-inch recently recorded at White Iris Studios in Los Angeles. Joined in a live setting by Andre Borka and Fletcher Aleckson, the amiable twosome have several high-profile summer festival appearances planned, including a slot at our 10 Thousand Sounds Festival.
Later this year, Strange Names are finally on target to release a full-length album based upon extensive recent writing sessions. They hope to be done recording it by fall and then shop it to labels. "We're literally about to start recording it in about a week," Benzvi says. "And hopefully the studio vibe will help us work towards a cohesive piece of music. We're really excited to go from, like, A to Z, where we start at A and see how it carries us throughout the entire arc of the album." —Erik Thompson
The buzz surrounding Prissy Clerks has grown so steadily that this spring the Minneapolis indie rockers even played a show at Shea Stadium. Granted, it wasn't the same Shea Stadium that the Beatles and the '86 Mets made famous — no, this was an underground club in Brooklyn that "borrows" its name wryly from the legendary but long-lamented ballpark. But still, it confirms that Prissy Clerks have grown a wide audience far beyond Minnesota.
The gig came about after lead singer Clara Salyer sent a copy of their sensational debut record, Bruise or Be Bruised, to Lio Kanine [founder of Brooklyn-based Kanine Records]. The album was released via boutique indie label Forged Artifacts last year, and was the first piece of vinyl of Total Babe vet Salyer's career. "It took me until after it was pressed, and I actually had a chance to hear it before it really sunk in," she says. "And I realized that people aren't being douchebags when they say, 'It sounds better on vinyl.' I mean, it really sounds better on vinyl — I would prefer to hear it that way every single time."
At the end of March, an unexpected e-mail back from Kanine arrived inviting Salyer, bassist Howard Hamilton III, guitarist Dylan Ritchie, drummer Tim Leick Jr., and accordian player/keyboardist Emily Lazear to open for a band the label was already planning to sign. But the show was in only a month. "Immediately, I thought, 'We have to find a way to do this,'" Salyer says. So the band crammed into Salyer's little station wagon with borrowed gear and set out. "In my head, I thought, 'We're going to drive to New York, and Lio Kanine is going to sign us, and it's going to be this total fairy tale.'"
The gig didn't turn into a signing, but it was cool in its own right — a bonding experience and a chance to put one over on their parents. "Both Dylan's dad and my dad thought that we were actually playing the Shea Stadium," she says. "I only corrected my dad last week — I let him think for so long that we really played Shea Stadium."
The band's summer agenda includes an appearance at Des Moines's 80/35 Festival, a Music & Movies series performance at Walker Art Center, and, of course, a place at our very own 10 Thousand Sounds Festival this weekend. Devotees can expect new material sprinkled into the set, and a quick 7-inch or an EP could result soon. Salyer notes, "Our new songs are possibly a little heavier." — Erik Thompson
Hosts: The Chalice
Could there be a better group than the Chalice to host 10 Thousand Sounds’ first go around? In short, no. These three ladies — with their brash, sassy, and fun-loving brand of hip hop, their brightly colored outfits, and their choreographed dance moves — have quickly set themselves apart as sheer entertainers. In fact, despite dropping their first single, “Push It,” just 12 months ago, the collective of Lizzo, Claire de Lune, and Sophia Eris have quickly left a mark, topping City Pages’ Picked to Click poll last fall. So it comes as no surprise that they’re ready to party.
“I see it as us having a party, and people being a part of our party,” says de Lune of the group’s upcoming hosting duties.
Indeed, the members of the Chalice are plenty busy these days. Lizzo, for one, has her debut solo record, a much buzzed-about collaboration with Lazerbeak and Ryan Olson called LIZZOBANGERS, due out this fall. De Lune, too, is working on her own solo record with Grant Cutler, and Eris and Lizzo have already put out tracks as a duo called Absynthe. Still, more Chalice songs are coming, and judging by their fierce performance at Soundset, the group is tighter as a live act than they were even a couple of months back.
So 10 Thousand Sounds is just another chance for them to do what they do best. “As long as there’s drinks,” Lizzo says, “we’ll be straight.” —Jeff Gage
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