It’s, well, stunning that local artful noise rock outfit STNNNG, favorites of many MPLS + STPL music makers, have been making music as original and powerful as they have, for as long as they have, and as they continue to do—STNNNG’s loud poetic journey continues this Spring with a brand new album, Veterans of Pleasure, which arrives on March 31st.
Before the record’s debut and their sure-to-be wild release show at the Entry on April 14th with Gay Witch Abortion, we checked in with frontman Chris Besinger on the current state of STNNNG, recording with audio legend Steve Albini, their songwriting, and the look of the new record.
Secrets of the City: It’s often impossible to schedule a coffee meeting with just one person, much less five dudes that have been together long enough to do five full length albums. How does STNNNG manage to get together? Project management software? The draw of alcohol?
Chris Besinger: And when you add in other band demands, families, kids, dogs, etc., it can be a struggle. Unless we give ourselves a firm deadline we’d never get anything done. In this case we made a decision write a bunch of songs for a record, booked the studio time and made sure we were basically ready when the dates rolled around. Booze helps.
Why go back to working with quasi-underground recording celebrity Steve Albini? Did you owe him money because he’s a card shark?
I can’t remember if he was playing online poker between all the takes this time or last time, I think that was last time. Steve is very easy to work with, he’s smart, he’s fast, when you say “I want this vocal to sound like this one Ken Nordine record” he not only knows what you are talking about he has the microphone. It seems like people have a lot invested needing him to be an asshole or a larger than life figure or something, he’s basically just about the most mellow person I know. Of course, if you ask for his opinion his going to give it to you, whether you like it or not.
The new album has that mix of classic-intense-energetic-STNNNG on tracks like “King Vulture” and classic-lost-in-the-swelling-ocean-of-sound STNNNG on tracks like “That Other Place”, which is awesome. Do you think STNNNG has a characteristic sound? Is it something the band goes for or avoids or neither?
The best songs just feel right when we are writing them. Sometimes when we are writing the songs an idea will bubble up and someone will say “Naw, that’s too obvious, too much like something we’d do” and other times we will be working on something and it’ll be, “this doesn’t sound like us”. We are just trying to please ourselves and I’m sure we have a signature sound, but I don’t know if I can really identify it, I’m too much in the center of the hurricane to notice. Everyone in the band has their own thing, their own ideas, what they want to add to a tune, so hopefully our sound as it were is all of our voices speaking in unison. Or a less bullshit answer might be, now we just try to write stuff that isn’t super hard to play live.
I remember seeing STNNNG play at MCAD several years ago and thinking “these guys should only play places like student lounges, beaches, prisons, etc., because they’re too good and original for just the same old bars”. Do you think your music is more suited for any types of venues or are you still happy to play shows at the Entry because the sound is really good and they have those big beers and you get a crossover wristband?
The Entry is awesome to play because it is the place to see a band as an audience member, best sound, best lines of sight, best vibe. I enjoy playing the weirder, not exactly-venues-venues as well, they can be a ton of fun and I like to be able to really connect with the audience, physically, psychically. No matter the location I do my best to get our point across. I don’t know if we could deal with a prison, I’d probably get killed. My wife is constantly annoyed, worried, rolling-her-eyes at my onstage behavior. “I hope I have our medical insurance card on me” is her oft repeated line when I try to balance on something high up or aggravate some teenage girls or some other similarly life-threatening act.
And the crossover wristband is not to underrated, I saw Erykah Badu in the Mainroom once!
Is this cover art, the painting “Bacchanalia” by Reynier Llanes, the best album art of the year of any band? It’s just magnificent.
It isn’t just the best album cover of the year, it is the best album cover ever. People should stop making album covers because we just perfected it.
This Friday, PLOT gallery, clothing and accessories store, will host a new group exhibition F.A.M.E.—Female Artists of Minneapolis Exhibit—that features paintings, photography, fashion, and furniture from Suki the Saint, Georgie Jones, and Tessa Warnke. And although the artists have vastly different backgrounds and styles, show curator and PLOT founder Ace Rice mixed the work together to present a timely snapshot of ascending local artists.
Ahead of Friday’s opening from 6-10 PM—the show will only be open for viewing Friday night and Saturday, so bump it up on your social calendar—we sent some quick questions to Rice about the show, gallery, and their neighborhood, which is also ascending.
Secrets of the City: How were the artists in your upcoming F.A.M.E. exhibition selected?
Ace Rice: I have been watching Shame & Suki via social media for over almost 2 years. They have both been on my radar for a bit. Shame actually modeled in our first product shoot for our website, and her aesthetic is super creative and with out bounds. As for Suki, she got on my radar by diligently posting her work on Facebook. I have only recently been introduced to Georgie Jones’ fashion work by Shame, but loved the direction and energy of her pieces.
Did the opportunity to do this show with these artists just now presented itself or did you build the show around the artists? Or both?
I built the show with Shame in mind first and thought Suki would be a great compliment; however, I’ve been trying to put together an art exhibit with Suki for a while.
Is this F.A.M.E. show basically the opposite of the recent Machine Gun Kellyshow?
The F.A.M.E. is really about supporting our mission to be a space for the local arts community. Doing art shows with national artists is fun, but I think some of the art appreciation gets lost in the celebrity buzz of it all. For example in the past we worked with Machine Gun Kelly, his fans are going to be happy just to be in the same room with him and I think the art become a secondary focus. For F.A.M.E. the art is the focus, as we hope through the art displayed attendees will grow to have an appreciation for the artist themselves.
Curating can be a difficult balance between highlighting important and powerful work versus popular exhibitions to bring in an audience. Do you try to do a little of each, keeping them separate? Or does each show for you have to have certain elements?
At this point we try to just focus on presenting art and artists that we like, whether they are popular or not. We hope that all of the artists we work with can bring a crowd, but realistically that can be a challenge for up-and-coming artists, so we try to build and leverage our brand to draw consistent audiences out. It is important for PLOT to be a space for artists to develop their craft/presentation and grow a stronger following. We look at our selves as a bit of a training ground for younger aspiring artists.
Is Near North on Glenwood, where PLOT is located, going to be the next big deal neighborhood in MPLS + STPL?
PLOT is located at 167 James Ave North, Minneapolis MN 5505, near the intersection of Glenwood and Cedar Lake, tucked away behind the dreaded Minneapolis Impound Lot. And yes! This neighborhood is hot, or at least I think so. We are within 1 mile of Downtown, Northside, Southside, Kenwood, Bryn Mawr, and Golden Valley. This area has been neglected by the city for a while, and feels like that perfect place to make our mark.
We want to make sure we highlight your very cool MLK dad hats. Who designed those, what’s the story behind them?
I design all of the merchandise currently on our website. The goal behind the product is to get people to support PLOT even if they can’t buy a huge painting, so we provide more affordable ways to continue to support what our gallery is about. The MLK hat is a part of a collection called Heroes and Heirs, highlighting figures from the past that we feel are deserving of praise due to their contributions to their communities.
PLOT, 167 James Ave North Unit, MPLS; plotting.co
The already pretty exciting race to become MPLS mayor became even more exciting this week when former Hennepin Theater Trust CEO Tom Hoch officially added his name the list of high profile mayoral candidates that includes current Mayor Betsy Hodges, former MPLS NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds, and City Council Member and running enthusiast Jacob Frey.
We wanted to get a feel for Hoch’s campaign right out of the gate, so we sent him a Quick Q+A full of hot topics from our arts and culture coverage.
Secrets of the City: Your announcement says: “We need to get Minneapolis back on track.” What does that track look like? When did we start slowing down on it?
Tom Hoch: The track curves to the left and has “Tom Hoch” in big letters on it. It also comes with a great soundtrack of Steven Sondheim and Cole Porter. I think we started to slow down when I decided not to run for mayor four years ago.
You’ve got the endorsement of John Sweeney, owner of Brave New Workshop—how important is the local theater voting block? As important as the local long-distance runner voting block?
There’s an old saying, “as go the thespians, so goes the nation”. All the runners will be gone by November, so I think John locked this thing up for us.
It’s our opinion—and we’d guess the opinion of most, if not all, of our readers—that downtown MPLS, aside from a few bright spots, is a hassle, prohibitively so. From your years with Hennepin Theater Trust, who needs to do better there, the city government or business leaders?
City government definitely needs to do better right now. After I get elected in November, I expect businesses will need to step up their game, too.
Which sleeve to you wear your Skyway Avoidance Society patch on?
Eric Dayton never mailed mine, and I’m still pretty bitter about it.
The upcoming Super Bowl: How much should residents charge to Air B’n’B their homes for while they get the heck out of town?
I think they should gouge the out-of-town masses as much as possible. Maybe we can use the tax revenue to finally finish Nicollet Mall.
We’re fans of most anything that prolific producer/composer Grant Cutler has worked on throughout the years, from the electro-pop duo Lookbook to his work as Grant Cutler The Gorgeous Lords to many other collaborations with big names in MPLS + STPL music. That said, we’ve never been as in love with his previous projects as we are his partnership with ultra-talented Claire de Lune and their twosome tiny deaths. Their music is moody, but soulful, and contrasts both haunting vocal lines with punching backing beats and tight production work. If you haven’t heard them yet, you’re missing out.
Just off the February 3rd release of elegies, tiny deaths will be playing a can’t-miss show at Icehouse on Friday. To share our excitement about the band, the new album, and the release show, we sent a Quick Q+A with de Lune to get some additional insight into their process and expectations for the music.
Secrets of the City: Is it intimidating to release another EP after your last EP nightflowers was so dang good?
Claire de Lune: Well first of all thank you for the kind words, but Elegies is actually an LP (full length!) It happens to contain all the songs from the night flowers EP on it, so I guess it kind of escapes that issue by default . . .
What’s the songwriting process like for tiny deaths? How much collaboration happens on beats and lyrics?
tiny deaths is super collaborative. Generally, Grant will send me the skeleton of a beat, I’ll write to it, send him back a demo, he’ll flush out the beat based on what I wrote. Then we get in the studio together, I track vocals, and he takes those vocals and what we have of the song so far and finishes it up production wise and works his magic on the vocals. In between all those steps, there’s a ton of bouncing back and forth, I’ll give feedback on the progression of the beats, etc.
One of the best spots a MPLS + STPL band can be have is to open for cool touring musicians, which tiny deaths certain does—Sleigh Bells, Coeur de Pirate, others—PLUS cool local shows like collabs like RONiiA, ACLU fundraiser at Norseman, NYE with KING. What more could you possibly want?
Well, you’re right, we’ve been very lucky. It’s been an honor to share the stage with such amazing bands. Would love to open for Beach House as far as bucket list stuff goes. They blow me away.
Speaking of collabs, the release show at Icehouse also features a set by the fantastic, and in ways similarly sounding LOTT, but also DJ sets from Jeremy Ylvisaker, Al Church, and DOSH, which is great. Is the release show going to be more of a party than a place to hear the new music?
I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive! It’s gonna be both.
tiny deaths play an album release show for their new album elegies at Icehouse on Friday, February 10th, 10:30 PM. $8 advance, $10 doors.
It warms our cold, bitter hearts when a truly talented MPLS + STPL author has a breakout hit, and breakout hit exactly describes The Annie Year, a wonderful and increasingly popular story that’s grounded in the mundane and eclectic lives of small town America. As Secrets of the City fav Stephanie Wilbur Ash‘s novel about a close-to-home tale a married CPA, a ponytailed vo-ag teacher, and exploding meth houses continues to gain in popularity, we thought we better get in a Quick Q+A while she’s still answering emails.
Secrets of the City: How much more money will you make off the likely Amazon Prime original show adaptation of The Annie Year than your books sales?
Stephanie Wilbur Ash: About four bucks.
Do you do your own taxes now that you’ve written a character that’s a CPA?
I could if I wanted to. That’s not just the arrogance talking. One of my jobs at my dad’s CPA office when I was a kid was to take the changes to the U.S. Tax Code—which were printed on loose-leaf, three-hole-punch paper and sent in thick, shrink-wrapped packages—and insert them into the official Tax Code binders. Example: “Replace this page with page 386.4, Statute 8.17, sub-statute A, clause 1, paragraph XXI.vi…” This would take weeeeeeeks. So, yeah. I can do my own taxes and have been able to since I was 12. Also, I am very good at making outlines.
What’s it like to be a local writer who gets press for writing without being a stripper or drug addict?
Can you believe it? And none of my characters are sexually molested, dying of cancer, stuck in outer space, or a dog! The gods have smiled upon me. I am grateful.
Do you think having one of the last hotmail accounts gives you small town street cred?
Listen. I have a gmail account. But I set it up so early I was afraid people wouldn’t know what it was. So I had my gmail account forwarded to my hotmail account and pretty much rarely used the gmail. Three years ago I started the process of forwarding my hotmail to my gmail, but I did so before I stopped my gmail from forwarding to my hotmail. The two emails went into an infinite positive feedback loop and I got 400,000 emails from myself in 90 seconds. If that’s small town, that’s good enough for me.
As a mom with a big professional job, where do you most of your writing, the shower? On your phone in boring meetings?
Mostly I write on notecards held together by a single ring. I write bits of dialogue or an image or a funny situation, and I flip through them when I am bored or lazy or miraculously find myself with four full hours. The last line of my novel was written on a notecard amidst other so-so notecards. Every time I flipped by it, it was more and more perfect. I don’t write in the shower. I have four teenagers, three of whom are boys. I mostly freshen up at the sink with a washcloth.
How are you as notable local artist #resisting in our current political climate?
My novel comes from contemporary rural agrarian economy. That’d be Trump country to—and for—a lot of folks. But I am also grateful to have read two incredible memoirs back to back right before the election: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (all Gustavus first-years read it) and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I resist by getting to know “the other” in the most empathetic ways I can, one of which is through very fine writing.
And, because I went to journalism school, I resist by reading a real goddamn newspaper.