The Evening Rig

Listening to the Evening Rig is a bit like going back home and eating one of grandma's hearty, home-cooked meals—especially if your grandma is a heavy drinker who has an odd preoccupation with Reckless-era Bryan Adams. You're likely to hear yourself in the music as it fills you up, and chances are that you'll hear the influence of a few decades in Minnesota music as well.

"In my previous bands it was always the 'Dillinger Four Minneapolis Sound'" explains drummer Becky Hanten. "People want to associate [bands] with places, especially now that everyone's sick of globalization and they want to get back to local identity." And without fail, it appears as though the Evening Rig may never escape comparisons to the Twin Cities' musical patriarchs; Hanten and her bandmates are now frequently measured against bands like the Replacements and Soul Asylum.

Following the Evening Rig's first set ever in spring of 2006, Lucero frontman Ben Nichols, who was headlining the show, stepped up to the stage and said, "That boy [singer/guitarist Jason Miller] sure can sing like Paul Westerberg, can't he?" When asked about the stigmatizing comparison, Miller jokingly replied "Oh, we go again." And the implication is right—the comparison is an easy one to make, but there's so much more to the band than a handful of recurring likenesses.

The seed for the Evening Rig was planted early in 2000, when Hanten first moved to Minneapolis. Having already quit his first punk band, the short-lived Peeping Eddie, Miller met Hanten through some mutual friends. The two played a number of shows together, with Miller a member of the Crush and Hanten with Cadillac Blindside and, later, Cardinal Sin.

By late 2005, Hanten and Miller had formed a friendship and started kicking around the idea of starting their own band. "Everyone in the Cardinal Sin was getting tired of it in some way or another," Hanten says. "I felt like we were winding down. When I heard that Jason wanted to start playing music again, I called him." Shortly after agreeing that they were on the same page, they were joined by bassist Jake Jarpey, formerly of the April Epidemic, and guitarist Josh Lynch.

By the fall of 2007 the band had recorded and released its debut album, Never Been'er, through Heart of a Champion, the local label co-owned by Miller's childhood friend Dan Cote.

Hanten says the new band gave her a chance to reassess her style and technique. "I really wanted to minimize the way I was playing. Everyone always says knowing when not to play is even more important than knowing what to play." And if there's any genre noted for its simple approach, it's that "Dillinger Four Minneapolis Sound" Haten mentioned.

"Play what you'd like to listen to," chimes in Lynch.

Such a philosophy carries over to the band's sound to this day. Their latest release, Is Doin' Stuff, is more streamlined than the band's first album. "We were more motivated and better prepared for this one," notes Hanten. "Never Been'er took almost a year to record, and Is Doin' Stuff took two weeks."

Though the lineup had solidified well before the Evening Rig released their debut, Is Doin' Stuff is the band's first real group effort. "When [Josh Lynch] joined the band, most of the songs on Never Been'er had already been written and he added his parts to it," Miller explains. "This time he played a big role in shaping the songs' instrumentation."

Evidence of the band's cohesion sprawls across the new material, as each new song effortlessly bleeds into the next. "The Steve McQueens" opens the album with Miller's raspy wails and broad-shouldered rhythms, and then seamlessly melts into the second track, "Half Asleep." Between the barroom hymns and belly full of songs leaning heavily on rock and country heroes of yore, it becomes clear that the band is far more than the sum of a few local influences.

"In Spite of All That Happened" has a wavy bottleneck that lurks below gentle drums and guitars, commanding a sound similar to that of the Drive-By Trucker's latest album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark. "I haven't given their new one a good listen myself. But certainly the DBT have an immediate influence on how I play music," notes Lynch.

Is Doin' Stuff goes out on a high note with "We Got Tonight." The song leaves an image of the band on stage, hammering out a liquor-fueled encore, kicking holes in their amps and punishing their instruments. "We're by no means trying to reinvent the wheel," Miller says, continuing, "but rather reinterpret rock 'n' roll the way that works for us. And yeah, I would agree that my influences bleed through in certain ways, but let's be honest, you could say that about any band."

Maybe the Evening Rig does ooze Minnesota—it should. The band welcomes the comparisons, acknowledging the similarities between the sound they've built and that of their predecessors. But Is Doin' Stuff is different—it's filling, almost too thick to listen to multiple times in succession. It could be that the band is just too much, they sound too much like every other Minnesota band to ever plug in, led by a boy who can sing like Paul Westerberg. But probably not.

"I think he sounds way more like Bryan Adams," Lynch suggests. "You gotta hear our cover of 'One Night Love Affair.'"

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Fever Ray "Fever Ray" Review

It took over half a decade of creating music together as the Knife before the brother-sister duo of Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer performed in public. Their attempts at removing focus on the individual are as notorious as they are futile. They decided to wear masks when promoting and performing their music, which simply added to the mystique. They boycotted award shows because of gender inequality, and that just attracted attention for being selfless. Combine such acts with an unending creative brilliance and you can see the dilemma; how does one maintain artistic direction when attempting to avoid the unintentional and undesirable effect of celebrity or fame?

Apparently the answer for the Dreijers was to take a few years off, re-brand themselves through personal projects and hope that the hyperbole and acclaim would start to take a back seat to the music. While Olaf’s electronic opera is still a ways off, Karen’s album under the Fever Ray guise reflects a slight evolution from the Knife: it is an immensely satisfying, comparatively accessible album that isn’t far from the Knife in that it uniquely (and successfully, mind you) straddles genres and sounds honest in doing so.

Unlike the album that garnered the Knife six Grammi awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Grammys), and countless “best album” honors, Fever Ray sounds less sharp. Not necessarily smooth, just not as angular as Silent Shout. With Fever Ray, Dreijer continues to electronically extend a gothic sound beyond its comfort zone, offering the cold, empty genre a sense of humanity and care. And in doing so, she maintains the androgynous, often ghostly vocals that characterize the Knife; but Dreijer seems less anonymous in doing so, offering a refreshing tone that reclaims a bit of humanity from the mechanical-sounding lyrics.

Fever Ray is ridden with icy, hollow beats that distinguish its songs from such modern electronic acts as Justice, Diplo, or MSTRKRFT. The album is at times cold and remote — probably as close to honest goth as music might get in today’s transparent mallternative culture. Rather than digging deep for belly-moans, Dreijer accompanies the music with tones both entirely familiar and hauntingly alien. Her range seems less restricted throughout, sounding shrill with “I’m Not Done,” emotional with “Triangle Walks,” seductive with “Now’s The Only Time I Know,” and demonic with “Dry & Dusty.” Despite the shifting tones and techniques, it’s often the words behind them that suggest a different focus within Dreijer’s music.

“When I grow up I want to live near the sea/Crab claws and bottles of rum, that’s what I’ll have/Staring at a seashell, waiting for it to embrace me,” groans Dreijer in the album’s second single, “When I Grow Up.” Such personal emotion throughout the album is reflected within the tone of the vocals; that’s where Fever Ray sounds less rigid than the Knife. “If I had a heart I could love you/If I had a voice I would sing” bellows Dreijer through a foreign, robot-like voice typical to the vocal stylings of the Knife, but the heart beneath the song struggles through, and instead of coming off as a monster breathing through a human, with Fever Ray she sounds like a human trapped within a monster’s body.

Despite being built on the Knife’s minimalist foundation, Fever Ray is as complete and unquestionably heavier than anything the duo has created up to this point. Whereas Dreijer was once a faceless mechanism in a creative machine that produced some of the past decade’s most breathtaking music, her songs now embody a feeling of humanity despite sounding, at times, anything but human. “I think it’s very important to separate the person behind the word from the music,” Dreijer reflected recently. But the polarizing ideology is no longer black and white, and if there is to be another album from the Knife it will likely reflect something closer to Fever Ray; music that is almost entirely unique, but music warped by a billowing sense of humanity and graciousness that is no longer being suppressed below its surface.

His Mischief "The Perfect Lover" Review

The perfect lover. For each individual those words are likely to conjure a variety images. One might dream of Burt Reynolds tastefully covered in Vaseline, wearing nothing but a Speedo and cowboy boots; another, Jamie Lee Curtis erotically knocking back single serving after single serving of Activia Yogurt. And while we may never know what those words mean to each member of St. Paul's His Mischief (the smart money's on the yogurt), The Perfect Lover encapsulates a dozen tracks that are highly unpredictable and uniquely inconsistent.

Opening with "Freaks Up Front," the band immediately takes a firm grip on a tight guitar lick. Lead singer Sheridan Fox dives in moments later, wailing like a Scandinavian Britt Daniels, slightly slurring the lyrics and tossing in "Oh! Oh! Oh!"s as necessary—it worked for "Howlin'" Pete Almquist of the Hives and it works here, too. The following songs distort any clear direction however, Fox's voice fails to rest on any clear sound, and the bassist Jeff Quinn and drummer Jeff Brown follow suit. Crossing between the overcrowded sound of "Don't Bother" to the deliberate guitar of "All That for a Limp Handshake" creates an immediate divide between the two songs, a pattern that is continued throughout. After "Towering Filth," the album's token grunge track, the band again changes directions as it does its best Ben Folds with "Roman Holiday." And though the song sounds out of place in context, the chorus to "Holiday" is a curious earworm that stands out as one of the album's highlights.

While it's not a deal-breaker, the problem that arises from having no fluidity among the album's tracks is that they tend to chop each other off at the knees. Just as it looks to build some momentum with "Veins," the song's energy disappears with the following "Trust or Love." The Perfect Lover is frustrating at times, but its songs refrain from bleeding into one bland sound, instead creating a distinct contrast with one another. It's unpredictable and inconsistent, but at no point does it fail to sound good. And that's probably what His Mischief had in mind when dreaming of the perfect lover; if you went the route of a greased-up mustache-wrangler, more power to you.

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Propagandhi Interview

For over two decades Propagandhi has offered a blunt alternative to the transparent punk that the genre has come to represent. Within the vessel of the Winnipeg-based band’s blistering music are lyrics grounded in a foundation of compassion and humanity that reflect well-considered ideals rather than superficial presumptions. Speaking to Jord Samolesky via email, the band's co-founder discussed animal liberation, eco-terrorism, and war before the discussion eventually shifted to a subject at the heart of all Canadians everywhere: hockey.

As a preview of the album you guys offered a pair of tracks through a “Donate to Download” program. I haven’t heard of any other bands doing anything like this — where did the inspiration behind the idea come from?

Jord Samolesky: Actually, the folks at Smallman Records came up with the idea initially, and encouraged us to figure out a few organizations that were set up well enough to get in touch with their respective memberships to promote the idea. In addition to this, we’ve invited all three organizations to do info-tables at our shows on our current tour of the U.S. east coast (Sea Shepard Society came out to most of our shows in Australia recently as well, in addition to a variety of animal rights/liberation groups).

When I have time outside of the band, I do some awareness raising activities with some local folks at home called the Winnipeg-Haiti Solidarity Group, which operates under the national banner of the Canada-Haiti Action Network… for info please see: Canada Haiti Action or Haiti Action for a U.S. based account of relations with Haiti.

Through this involvement, I became aware of the work of Paul Farmer and of the people who Partners in Health, and have tremendous respect for what they do in Haiti, and in other countries. Far from being a charitable organization, they link poverty and disease to exploitation and the unjust relationship between the first world and the third world. Excessive greed and wealth here, creates abject poverty elsewhere. This is what needs to fundamentally change, not simply a few of us in affluent nations throwing some pocket change and feeling good (or less guilty) about ourselves.

We also back the efforts of Peta2 and Sea Shepard Society immensely. I remember seeing Captain Paul Watson speak in Winnipeg when I was 19… Jesus crap, that was almost 20 years ago!

I’d like to get some more insight from you on Peta. There has been a lot of discussion as to the contradictions within the company, claims against Peta ranging from gross sensationalism to actually having ties with and connection to extreme activists such as Rob Coranado (who was also connected to Sea Shepherd). I’m wondering if there’s a line that can be drawn between saying that you’re animal friendly and promoting “total animal liberation” at what some might say, comes at the cost of others.

Jord Samolesky: Well, let’s just say that I respect Rob Coronado more than I do some of the cheddar cheese generating goofy celebrities that Peta has on board to raise the profile of animal rights issues (ie: Tommy Lee, etc…).

I want to be clear that if people have a sense that they can simply buy their way into a guilt-free lifestyle by consuming green and animal friendly products (although these alternatives are important and preferable to cruelty laden products), that won’t resolve much. I place the animal rights/liberation in an overall struggle against the global capitalist system, which reduces the globe and everything on it to a bunch of numbers in constant need of manipulation. In terms of extremism, or the attention that so called “eco-terrorism” gets in the post 9/11 legal reality, that needs to be contrasted with the state terror and macro level mega destruction that continues with impunity, and is supported actively by our tax dollars. Factory farming and the U.S. military represent true devastation and terror, however banal and normalized they are represented in mass media culture.

With the exception of “Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz)” how have these ideals driven the themes behind Supporting Caste?

Jord Samolesky: In my humble half-baked drummer’s opinion, the quest to demystify and expose the established Orwellian-style mythology that the first world rests on (ie: peace via war, civilization via genocide, progress via ruthless exploitation, etc, etc… ad infinite, ad nauseum) is a fundamental theme to the idea of the Supporting Caste. The asses at the top generate history and reality to those lower down the ladder. Where do you fit into this? What are your obligations as an actor unwillingly incorporated to regenerate the “supporting caste” system? What can we do to get out of this nightmare??

Included in the liner notes is a drawing of the band sitting at a table, drinking wine and dining on corpse. I think the S.N.F.U. ”Cannibal Cafe” (which is probably my favorite song of theirs) reference is funny — is that what’s behind the picture?

Jord Samolesky: Think a visual aid to the song “Human(e) Meat”… also, we’re huge SNFU fans. I remember seeing them when I was 15 years old, blew me away. Jesus crappy, that was 23 years ago… what the fuck?!

For those outside of Canada, who is Ron MacLean and what is “Dear Coach’s Corner” about?

Jord Samolesky: Ron MacLean, the sometimes critical hype man for Don Cherry, who is a reactionary fool, many times combining the idea of the “good Canadian” with imperial warfare and taking orders from the US military in Afghanistan. They have a segment on national Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts on public television (CBC), that tends to regularly co-opt the simplicity of a child’s game, ice hockey, into becoming a platform for jingoistic, male chauvinistic, war propaganda.

Think a (classic Canadian) low production value replication of the insanely ignorant pro-war garbage being hyped at every NFL game in the USA.

What do you think of Hockey Night in Canada changing its theme song last year?

Jord Samolesky: The new song reeks, while the person who wrote the HNiC theme, now on TSN, is probably laughing while she bathes in cash.

With the dwindling interest and finances of teams in Phoenix, Nashville, and Florida, do you think Winnipeg should get another crack at having a team in the NHL?

Jord Samolesky: Being raised on hockey, it is in the back of my mind. I always root against the south US teams, good to see the curse of the Jets is plaguing Phoenix and Wayne McGretzky. If it came down to choosing between a hospital and an NHL franchise, think I would have to choose NHL franchise… whoops! I mean HOSPITAL!