Not too long ago a local DJ couldn’t stop talking off our ear about the late night show from all-black improv troupe Blackout. And since then, she isn’t the group’s only super-fan we’ve run into. Blackout’s on-the-spot comedic performances—that also involves their audience in dialog on difficult social issues—have entertained and educated many new and returning fans in MPLS + STPL.
This Friday at their regular spot at the Phoenix Theater, Blackout celebrates a busy two years of comedy in which they’ve showcased their informative and interactive act all over town. Before the big party, we sent some quick questions to Co-founder John Gebretatose about all the places they’re performing these days, any difficulty with The North, and what to expect from their big party.
Secrets of the City: Two year anniversary, recently a part of the totally sold out event Charlottesville Revisited, a part of New Griots Festival—what’s it like to be a big-time Improv group?
It’s amazing. We have been killing it and have not stopped since our first show. We work hard, we support each other and make each other look good. We are excited to see where we can take it to next. My personal dream is to sell out First Ave. As well touring our act. In due time.
Do you see Blackout as a part of a larger scene, whether it’s an improv scene or POC arts scene? Or is the group just exceptional?
All the above. We are talented as fuck. Every person on the team has a unique voice and plays with no fear.
Have you been at the Phoenix for the last two years? How has that venue played a role in developing your shows/materials?
Our regular show every 3rd Friday of the month at 10:30 PM has been at the Phoenix. But we’ve been all over the world representing Blackout.
The Phoenix has been wonderful and our partnership is based on honesty and respect. They respect us and allow us the freedom to just do us. That’s really the only way for us to really do what we do.
Dialogues with the audience have been a key part of your shows, have there been any particularly difficult interactions over the past two years? Or did MN Nice keep things civil and repressed?
There’s been shows that follow a tragedy in the black community and we address issues head on. As far the audience, no matter how polite they want to be, we will call out and make fun of whatever we want and need to. People usually come to our show knowing what to expect, but if they don’t what we do and they are MN Nice, well, I guess they have some things to figure out about their life that night. Like who told them they should see Blackout? What is ok to laugh at? How far is the exit door from their seat? And whatever else they are wondering. Obviously, we can’t control that so we just do us. We just be funny, have honest discussions and maybe we all leave learning something new. Maybe.
Scale of 1-10, how crazy is the the Two Year Anniversary Party on Friday going to get, especially by midnight?
10 or higher. We are celebrating Black Excellence!
Tickets still available for Blackout Presents: Two-Year Anniversary Show. Friday, 10:30 PM. $10.
It’s always exciting to see a band that we follow announce a new record, and when the hard-working pop punks The Von Tramps (PS. such a good name) posted their new campaign for an upcoming album, we gleefully looked through their swag we’ll be wearing.
To hear how the recording is going and what to expect from their upcoming full length The Future Is Female, we sent some Quick Questions on the studio, cover songs, and the many, many venues they play to The Von Tramps guitarist-vocalist-producer Jenna Enemy.
Secrets of the City: A title like The Future Is Female makes it seem like there’s going to be a future. Are you that optimistic? (Not sure we are.)
Jenna Enemy: Ha ha ha! Right? I’ve always been an optimist. When we started the adventure of writing and recording a 14 track album we thought it would be self titled. We started going about it in the same way that we went about our EP Fast and Loose thinking that it would be another collection of fun and fast punk pop songs, but there were a series of unfortunate events that happened and made my entire life change course. When my world completely exploded, I looked through the chaos and thank god I found that I always had my bandmate Chelsea at my side. The strength of our friendship is what drove this album. We wanted to empower women through our visibility to pick up rock music again (We are firm believers that if you can see it, you can be it!), we wanted to revolt against the crumbling desperate music industry that’s jamming garbage down our throats, and we wanted to deliver a message of survival and resilience. The Future is Female as a title best described our journey this time around and the men that support that message are the sexiest men.
We’ve been following The Von Tramps’ schedule, it’s crazy busy, which is great. You play all over, what’s your favorite recent show/venue?
Well we love playing at home! When I first started in this industry as a 17 year old kid I was helping out as an intern for The Triple Rock. Being on that stage now is a pretty rad experience. There are so many memories there. I was dressed as a naughty nun behind Fat Mike during the filming of NOFX’s “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock,” I had many talks with one of the T-Rock’s janitor’s Bob the Murderer about The New York Dolls as he cleaned beer-soaked confetti off the floor from the night before, and so many heart-to-hearts with Erik Funk of D4 in that office. That place is my church.
As for out of town, The Keller Bar never disappoints, we loved playing Chicago, and have a soft spot in our hearts for Rushmore Records in Milwaukee. We’re going to be doing intimate in-store appearances in your local record stores to help you get excited about this album being released on vinyl, that’s new for us. We have a ton more dates coming up to support this album’s release and I’m really looking forward to taking these guys to the west coast with me. I’ve been craving In-N-Out ever since I left.
As a pop punk band, The Von Tramps play some requisite fun cover songs. Do you do any versions that are better than the originals? If we get more sponsors and can buy a cover via Pledge Music would you do a cover of AC DC’s “If You Want Blood”?
Can you get us sponsors too? Ha ha ha! I always am amazed when we play a cover and people don’t know it’s a cover. We do a cover of “So Long Farewell” from the Sound of Music. We’ve been playing it so long that people think it’s ours. I know the Vandals covered it once too; I love them but they’re no Maria Von Trapp. We love covering Blink 182 too. Growing up I always wanted to be the female version of Tom Delonge, so being able to play songs like “Mutt” and “Dammit” for people and have it be so well received makes me giddy.
And of course! We’ll cover whatever you want! BYO schoolboy uniforms though. If any readers have odd requests out there; they can request anything they want too! Check it out at pledgemusic.com/thevontramps. Any pledges you make help us finish this album!
It’s very cool to see Dustin Phillips (The Ataris, All the Right Moves) on the production. What’s he’s bringing to the sounds and songs?
Gosh everything! He’s been like my right hand on this whole thing. We started the project ourselves with an engineer from Chicago who ended up having a mental break and sabotaged our project. When we lost our first engineer/producer, Dustin stepped in during absolute chaos and has been an incredible asset to our Tramp team. He’s our producer, engineer, therapist, motivational speaker, and friend. And of course Dustin is a pro musician too (I mean, Dustin’s first drumset was a gift from Phil Collins; so we know there’s magic there!) He plays everything so talking to him about parts and ideas is this awesome brainstorming process. I remember thinking working with him “Is it really THIS easy?!” and that says a lot because recording is hell. A good producer makes it really easy on the artist and it’s been a pretty comfortable process since he jumped on.
I can’t wait for you to hear what we’ve done together. We’re going to be releasing a single within the next couple weeks so please stay posted to our pledge campaign; thevontramps.com; and our facebook page: facebook.com/thevontramps to hear it!
Photo by Erica Rae
How did local rockers Daniel & The Real Feels develop their die hard fan base? Is it their undeniably classic throwback dancey sound? Their overall good vibes? Daniel’s energetic Jagger-like moves? Likely all of the above, all coated in a generous helping of hot lick magic.
Ahead of Friday’s release party for Daniel & The Real Feels’ new album Classic Entertainment—an accurately named collection of songs that also includes a video for “City Girlfriend” directed by Alec Zender—we sent some Quick Questions over to Daniel Olson and Alec Robertson to hear more about the record, the release show, and their stretching routines.
Secrets of the City: What’s new with Classic Entertainment? Any big departures from the last album or more of the same feel good throwback groove? Please tell us that the new album still has the dance beats to keep your dance-y fans happy!
Dan: With Classic Entertainment we decided to record the majority of the music live, all together in the same room. We recorded with August Ogren who runs this awesome studio called The Petting Zoo in NE Minneapolis. It was a wonderful place for us to tap in to some of the sweaty rock and roll vibe of these songs.
Though we feel a dancey element is still found in this set of tunes, we also gave in to our love of guitar licks and vocal harmonies. We teamed up with our old friend/former bandmate/now producer/mixing master Aaron Sunde who’s got a studio based out of Los Angeles and he mixed and mastered the album. We went for an out-front vocal, high energy sound that hopefully gives a nod to power pop acts of the late 70’s early 80’s . . . we also wanted a sprinkle of a little Rocky Horror on top.
How has years of playing together affected the band and your music-creation process, if at all?
Dan: We all grew up together in Fergus Falls, MN. We tend to get sentimental about that fact and we wanted to create an album that was a true collaboration. We hope the listener can hear those deep roots as they listen to Classic Entertainment. We also brought in some fabulous guest musicians to round out the friends/family open door atmosphere.
Alec: Like Dan said, we all grew up together and we’ve also played in each other’s other projects over the years. We also all write songs on our own which I think helps us to be able to craft songs together in a fun way. I think we all really like approaching the music creation process with a sense of togetherness, goofiness, and friendship that we hope is apparent in all of these songs.
We can’t think of a better fit than D&tRFs plus Worldwide Discotheque for a feel good dance party, but you also teased some surprises, can you give us any hints?
Dan: I think a general air of romance will be wafting about in the air so don’t be surprised if you fall in love while watching some classic entertainment.
Alec: We also have Real Feels beer koozies! Oops. I’m terrible at surprises.
You’ve got a big weekend with the release party and then Ssing Ssing at the Cedar. What’s next after this or will you need a break to rest your hips?
Dan: We can’t wait to be part of the show The Cedar show. We are hoping they take us back with them to South Korea. If that doesn’t pan out we have some shows scheduled in Minneapolis, Fargo, and greater MN this fall.
Alec: I don’t think Dan has ever rested his hips. We are also starting to track for a new EP that should be out this fall so be on the lookout for that.
What’s your favorite feel?
Dan & Alec: The one we got when we received this email from Secrets Of The City . . . JOY.
Oh, those guys! You can catch the release of the new record Classic Entertainment at the Nomad on Friday. Music at 9 PM. $5 door.
Imagine how good you have to be for Prince to pick you to play guitar in his band—especially in his later years when he was far into his “guitar god” status himself. Well, Donna Grantis, who played with his Purpleness in the New Power Generation and 3RDEYEGIRL, is just that good, a fact acknowledged by Guitar Player mag to bands she’s shared the stage with: Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae, and more.
Now back making her own music, Grantis debuts her new music—we flipped out when reading the descriptions that cite Miles Davis’ “Electric Period” as a comparison—at the Dakota with two shows this Friday. Before Grantis’s big sonic splash, we sent some Quick Question to her about the new music, creating a look, finding talent, and the prospect of becoming a notable local in MPLS + STPL.
Secrets of the City: We know the Dakota is great, especially for jazz/blues performance, but why specifically did you pick the Dakota as the spot to debut your new band?
Donna Gratis: My first public performance with Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL (before we even had a band name) was at the Dakota. As a band, we often visit to check out live music—it’s a great room for both listening and performing in, and Lowell and everyone involved with the club have always been exceptional. Some of my favorite guitarists, like John Scofield and Bill Frisell, have played there a number of times.
We also know that JT Bates is required on the kit for most jazz shows in MPLS, but how did you go about recruiting the rest of your band? Are they musicians you’ve previously worked with? Musicians who share your vision? Does everyone want to play with you these days?
I scoured the internet and frequented clubs like First Ave and Icehouse for a couple of months looking for players who I thought would best fit the musical direction of this new project. After reaching out, we all got together for three days and jammed some of the compositions I’d been working on over the past 18 months. Then we spent a day at The Terrarium Studio in Minneapolis and recorded most of the upcoming album.
It’s very cool to see Miles Davis’s Electric Period as an influence on your musical direction! What parts of that are most prominent for you? Miles’s modal stylings? John McLaughlin’s jazz guitar work? All the guitars on Get Up With It?
Albums I’ve been diggin’ lately are: On The Corner, Big Fun, Dark Magus, In A Silent Way, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, Live – Evil and Bitches Brew. I love how the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is blended with a jazz sensibility in an exploratory context.
Your gear in 3RDEYEGIRL seemed like a pretty advanced rock guitar set-up, will there be many changes gear wise/effect wise for the new band? What helps make the new Donna Grantis sound?
My guitar tech refers to the pedalboard I used with 3RDEYEGIRL as “The Starship”. It features 21 effects pedals over 3 interconnected boards, all running in-stereo. It’s a pretty wild set-up. For this new project, I again worked with Craig Pattison Rig Design to create a simplified board of 9 essential pedals. One in particular that I’m excited about is the Empress Ecosystem Delay which features duel delay engines and up to 35 presets ranging from classic to obscure sounds.
We’re loving (in a big way) the silk screen posters that are available at the shows and some of the retro-funky visuals in the photos, etc. How much input do you have on the design direction and aesthetic for the band/show?
I think photography, fashion, production, lighting, art and design are all important creative outlets that can communicate an artistic vision. I like to collaborate with photographers, designers, sound and lighting engineers and visual artists to ensure that the creative direction on all fronts matches the vibe of the music. It was a pleasure working with Minneapolis’ own Brian Geihl from Dogfish Media to create the silk screen poster. I’m collaborating with long time friends, Call And Response Clothing in Toronto. They are brilliant designers and so fun to work with! They created so many of our stunning wardrobe pieces for 3RDEYEGIRL and it’s been a blast seeing thru this new artistic vision with them.
One of our hopes is that you’ll be regularly performing in and around MPLS + STPL this year and upcoming year—can we look forward to many more shows from you and your projects?
Yes—Thanks! I’m very happy to be here in MPLS. More music coming soon!
Some tickets still available for the August 4th show at the Dakota; 7 & 9:30 PM. $55-30.
Much like a certain national political party or fans of GLOW, we’ve recently developed an intense love for Russians, thanks to the beautiful, sparse electronic music of StoLyette. The musical trio rework traditional Russian folk songs into emotional soundscapes full of click-pop percussion, heavy effects on the bass line, and singer Irene Ruderman Clark’s gripping vocals delivered in mother Russian.
On Friday, StoLyette release their new album Summer, a project three years in the making that shows some subtle stylistic changes. It is a fantastic album—we have been listening to our copy over and over all week. The event includes a huge lineup of artists: Ryan Olcott (who produced the record), Devata Daun, and some of StoLyette’s label-mates from Totally Gross National Product, Invisible Boy and Andrew Broder. Before the show we sent some adoring questions over to Irene Ruderman Clark to hear more about it all.
Secrets of the City: With yourself, Ben Clark (Pornonono, Votel, tiny deaths) and Mitch Miller (Beasthead, Sun Gods to Gamma Rays), is StoLyette basically a super group? Also how hard is it to schedule rehearsals?
Irene Ruderman Clark: Not supergroup at all. We feel really lucky to get to play music and be able to create songs that we like to listen to. One of our favorite things to do is practice, which is where we create new music and get better at what is already made, so we’re all usually excited for practice night. Maybe most importantly, we really like each other and like to hang out together, which is also very lucky.
With your live theater background, how much of the vocal delivery for StoLyette is a persona? It has this very beautiful personal—engaging, alluring, empathetic—character.
Thank you! My favorite thing in all the world has always been acting and pretending to live in another world. This feels different to me, because many of my lyrics and all of my intentions in the music are very personal and exposing (thankfully mostly in Russian, so not too much for English speaking audiences), so I can’t really hide behind a character and that makes me feel more uncomfortable. Overall, I still get to be theatrical and expressive, but in StoLyette, it’s definitely me on stage, not a persona—maybe a more dramatic and theatrical me, but still me.
What’s the songwriting process like for StoLyette? Is the rhythm line always first, followed by the other layers? With such a sparse sound, how do you know when a song is done?
Typically Ben starts with a loop and develops a musical theme. Then I come in vocally on top of that theme and we improvise. Then Mitch comes in to add fullness and clarity. We’ll record various improv sessions and Ben forms a structure to create an actual song with a beginning, middle and end. Meanwhile, I usually refine and create complete lyrics based on the improv sessions. And then, we come back together, play the song and geek out over how exciting it sounds to us. The last one we make is always our favorite, which is a pretty exciting place to be.
Your new single off of the new album Summer is a little more pop than we expected, but it’s fantastic. Are you all lightening up a little with a warm weather album?
Thank you! So glad you like it. Don’t worry, the words are still super dark. The rest of the album is the same mixture of dark nostalgic dance . . . or something.
What do you only work with producers named Ryan?
So far we’ve worked exclusively with Ryan Olcott on all three records. Ryan Olson is an old friend of Ben’s, supportive and always admired by us for numerous reasons, but he hasn’t worked on any of our music so far.
If we programmed a birthday party it would basically be the lineup for your release party, which is the collision of Ptych and Totally Gross National Product. On a scale of one to ten, how crazy is this show going to get?
Wow! I agree! You should do it, but add a lot! It’ll be incredible—I expect you to do it! As far as our show, I am so excited that we managed to secure such a stellar lineup. I will be there as a huge fan of all the other musicians and I can’t wait to be on the same stage as all these guys. I also can’t wait to share that unparalleled feeling when music fills the air and all of a sudden everyone in the room is connected on an illogical level. It all feels very special and important to me.
Catch StoLyette and the other incredible musicians at the Summer release show at First Avenue’s 7th St Entry on Friday at 8 PM. $7.