The Heart of the Skeptics
Adventures on Earth
There are few dorm rooms, I would imagine, in which rock-star success was never planned, never sketched out—and few college roommates who haven't been alienated by the musical ambitions of the talentless jerk on the bunk below. But these universal dreams are almost universally abandoned—and who can say what went wrong? Certainly, the first guess would not be, "You didn't send your demo to commercial composition agencies."
But that's probably because you haven't talked to professional production duo the Skeptics, who met as students at the University of St. Thomas. They aren't that far from their dorm-room days—although now they share a calm, orderly recording studio in downtown Minneapolis, where they make a decent living producing scores for TV commercials and movie trailers. After a few years of writing for pay, they're ready to release their first post-graduate creative work, under the band name Glorious Monster.
"Not a lot of people know we exist," admits blond-haired Brian Casey. "I think sometimes people think I'm lying when I say, 'I write music.'"
Danny Burke, the dark-haired half of the group, nods in agreement. When he tells people he's a producer, they react as if he'd said he was aspiring to be a producer: "You gotta meet my friend's boyfriend's cousin, he produces some awesome stuff," they might say, helpfully.
"We stumbled into a niche that's a way to make a living as a musician—even my teachers in school didn't know how to break into it," Casey says. They began like everyone else, pulling fruitless stunts. Burke recalls a trip the boys took to visit Casey's brother in Los Angeles.
"We were like, 'We're gonna meet music executives,'" he says, imitating their wide-eyed naiveté as Casey cracks up laughing.
"We actually slipped a CD under the door at Capitol Records, like, 'This is gonna blow their minds!'" If minds were blown, the fatalities must not have been properly credited, for the team found their break back home in Minnesota, when local agency In the Groove Music used their work in a Coca-Cola commercial.
Four years later, the two have their own studio space, where they collaborate on TV and movie scores. "We have stuff in the trailers for The Curse of the Golden Flower, Rescue Dawn, Breakfast on Pluto," Burke says.
Casey interjects, "We wrote the theme for Parental Control on MTV. It was only 12 seconds long—but for a few years, it was on all the time."
Yet when they have a chance to compose for themselves, they use their music to explore ideas, rather than sell them. The duo have created a mascot for the Glorious Monster concept—he's a little scruffy-faced, lost-looking cartoon critter who wanders the earth as if exploring an uncertain and perilous place, where the easy fun of MTV is hard to come by. The music is a perfect soundtrack to the creature's lonely ramblings—it's dreamy, yearning, and atmospheric. The vocals are story-hour quiet and breathy, blended together like notes in a chord. Synthesized tones echo in space, occasionally refracting a bit of light before they dissolve.
But how do you measure success? For the kid swinging a guitar around at an all-ages show, the question might be as simple as, "Will other kids want to touch me now?" For the twentysomething whose band draws crowds to the Triple Rock, street cred compensates for scant wages. But eventually, "making it" refers to a mortgage payment—and it's the rare musician who doesn't eventually abandon the stage for the day-job lifestyle. Glorious Monster are in an unusual position; they don't just have talent, they have earnings. Yet they lack a group of fans with an emotional connection to their art. And so they must send their debut out into the world feeling the same mix of hope and uncertainty as the next-to-last band playing the Entry on a quiet Tuesday night.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.