STNNNG Q and A
(Photo from www.stnnng.com)
Download: STNNNG - "Dead Sex"
Download: STNNNG - "Grand Island, Neb."
Recently, MFR sat down with Jesse Kwakenat (bass), Jeremy Ward (drums) and Adam Burt (guitar) from Minneapolis quintet STNNNG for a Q and A at the Triple Rock Social Club about their most recent album, Fake Fake, ; their upcoming tour; the Minneapolis music scene; and their explosive live shows. The first tour date (the band has a few one-offs before the offical tour, including a show this Saturday, March 31st, in Eau Claire, WI) is April 20th, in Lawrence, Kansas. Click here to see if STNNNG is coming to a town near you
Minneapolis Fucking Rocks : I noticed that the main difference between Fake Fake and Dignified Sissy is that the songs are more atmospheric, in terms of the guitars having more delay and reverb. Do you think joining the band, as bass player, made you want to write more songs in that style?
Jesse Kwakenat : I think…I think one of the big changes was that Jeremy and I started writing together, right away, even without the guitars. I think [the rest of STNNNG] were ready for a big change and, by adding the bass, I think it made them kind of want to start from scratch. I think that even if you take the bass out on second record, it’s a very different record from the first one.
Jeremy Ward : Yeah, it’s a lot worse, if you take out the bass (laughs).
Jesse: [The bass] just gave the guitars more room to do double-stops against each other.
MFR: Yeah, that’s what I noticed too. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the higher end of the guitar, like in “Grand Island, Neb.,” or “Dubbed Warehousing.” It creates an atmosphere of menace, which makes it a lot more intense record .
Jesse: I really like a lot of Nate’s [Nelson, guitar] lead parts. I think on the first record, since he was holding down the bottom end, there’s these weird hooks underneath. And on the second record, a lot of the hooks are back on top, because now he’s playing these high parts.
MFR: In rehearsals, do you feel pressure to keep the intensity that your live shows are known for?
Jesse: I think...for us, we have a vibe in practice. Sometimes it can be a bit crazy, and sometimes [it can be] a little more chill practice; [that] can be a variable. But for shows, I think not having a setlist…(to Jeremy) I don’t know about you, but when we play shows, I’m pretty casual about it. I don’t really have to psych myself up. It’s just that when it starts, it starts, and we never know what’s gonna be played that night. We never know what’s gonna happen. You just kind of go with it.
MFR: So you improvise the whole live show?
Jesse: Yeah. I mean, there’s no set list or anything. Maybe somebody starts a song, maybe someone calls out a song. But we never have any format.
Jeremy: I had done that in my previous band too. I don’t really like setlists because I feel like if a show’s not going well, or whatever, you look at the list and go, “oh, fuck, we got all these songs to play still.” I feel like you can’t change it as much. Whereas, if you don’t have a setlist, you can kind of do whatever you want.
Adam Burt : Well, especially if you're playing, like, ten songs a set. My last band, we had really long songs. We’d always plan it out and say, “we’re gonna do these five.” It’s nice, for us, not to have to keep one.
MFR: Maybe this is a more appropriate question for Chris [Besinger, vocals/lyrics], but a lot of your songs seem to be from the point-of-view of characters, like “Dead Sex” being about the roach from the “Metamorphosis” thinking about how he can make the best of his situation.
Jeremy: I’ve heard him say this before, so I feel comfortable [paraphrasing]…he said something like…he kind of accidentally wrote theme lyrics for the record, where [the theme is] kind of people changing into things or things changing into people, and things aren’t what they really appear to be. That’s kind of why the artwork looks like it does too.
Jesse: I know that there’s an idea that a lot of the things on the record are two different things at once. Like Jeremy was saying, it kind of lapsed in with the artwork and the whole idea that it’s…just depending on how you view it or much you know about it or how you’re looking at it, it’s two different things.
Jeremy: Or how closely you pay attention. I’ve seen people say that it’s a self-titled record. And if you pay attention to it, it’s not. I’ve heard people say that the liner notes are really hard to read, but if you closed the jewel case, it’s really clear…
Adam: Or that there’s no song titles.
Jeremy (joking): …they’re on there, but we’ve kind of made it a pain-in-the-ass to see them.
Jesse: It seems like a few people have taken it as being a little bit insulting that you have to look for the song titles, but it’s really not.
MFR: It’s a way to try to engage the listener to read more deeply into the songs.
MFR: Since we were talking earlier about themes, something I noticed about both records is that they feature people who are in extreme denial about how bad their circumstances have gotten, or they revel in how bad their circumstances have gotten. What about that theme fascinates you?
Jesse: Well, I have my own personal take on it, but since I don’t write the lyrics, I can’t sit here and pontificate on it.
MFR: What’s your personal take on it then?
Jesse: Uh…To me, personally, [the lyrics are] kind of representative of a lot of stuff that seems to be very prevalent, from a media perspective, right now. For me, personally, it seems like all these people have these outwardly angry views, and they're so adamant about this stuff, and they turn out to be doing the exact same thing they hate so much, whether it’s Haggard [Ted, a vehemently homophobic preacher who recently admitted to, then being cured of, being gay - ed] or people like that. And I don’t know by any means if that’s what Chris is getting at. It’s his own thing. But to me, when I listen to the lyrics, that’s kind of my take on it.
Adam: I love that he gives a voice to these really despicable people…instead of what you’re used to hearing, indicting them or accusing them.
MFR: Is that the point of “New National Anthem”? To give a voice to the voiceless?
Jeremy: I don’t know. I think that song is [is an example] where people took it more seriously that Chris even really (laughs)…I don’t think it was really intended as a political song.
Jesse: I think there’s a degree of…I think when, the stronger [your] stance [is], there has to be a little bit more of a degree of tongue-in-cheek with it. You have to be able to laugh at things, and you have to be able to take stuff a little more lightly, because I think things get too serious, sometimes.
MFR: Based on your musical and your lyrical content, you might say that you are cynical, or apathetic or nihilistic…
Adam: (deadpan) …dangerous…
MFR: …but in talking to you right now, you guys don’t seem like that at all.
Jesse: I think if you see the live show, it’s pretty evident of how we roll. The live show…we’re laughing with each other, and at each other, and we’re having fun with it. I think that that’s the idea; the more serious it gets, the more you have to laugh at it.
MFR: Do you think that sense of humor prevents you from going crazy when you’re paying attention to what’s going on politically, either nationally or locally?
Jesse: I don’t know if that necessarily has a direct connection to our band, specifically. But from a personal perspective? Yeah. I think you have to be able to detach a bit and laugh at the stuff. Because if you really, if you really get yourself sucked into how maddening things are, you will go nuts.
Jeremy: Getting back to the lyrics, I don’t really think Chris is like, “oh, Bush is pissing me off.” (laughs)
MFR: It’s interesting you say that, because as I was listening to “Grand Island, Neb.” I thought it was an allegory, with the row boat captain being like, “you see in years time, I’m right”
Jeremy: I think that kind of stuff has an influence, but I doubt it’s a conscience, “This [incident] relates to this [song], specifically.”
Jesse: You can apply that to so many different scenarios, that someone with so much conviction is driven by something that’s so futile. From my perspective, it seems as if the captain recognizes, or is extremely cognizant of, the situation, that there’s no water. But he’s like, “These sad fucks just don’t get it… I realize what’s going on…Just do what I say.” There’s so many different viewpoints you can take on that.
Adam: I like that it’s not heavy-handed. It just operates so well as a story itself, and there’s nothing too obvious about what it may or may not be getting at, or [what it's] trying to convey.
MFR: Are you nervous about [touring]?
Jesse: Nahhh. That is probably the most natural thing [for a musician]. I would much rather be on tour. I don’t know how it is for all bands, because STNNNG is the only band that I’ve toured with to this extent. But it really is a smooth operation. There’s not a lot of headaches.
Jeremy: You get to play in front of people who haven’t seen you a thousand times already.
Adam: Van rides can be kind of fun, sometimes. Just cuz’ it feels so absurd to be sitting in a van for ten hours straight that we just kind of make it fun.
MFR: So you don’t get into fights or anything like that?
Jesse: No. We really don’t. I think everyone has that mindset, you know, you’re in the van too much [and for us] the tension level is way down when you’re in the van. If something starts to heat up, it really never gets to a point of being a bad thing. It just doesn’t.
MFR: Reading about you guys, you frequently get compared with Jesus Lizard and Shellac. Are you comfortable with that comparison? Is there a band that is an unsung influence on you guys?
Jesse: [I]t surprises me sometimes that we don’t hear Polvo that much, as a comparison. To me, the guitars and the bass [are very similar]…I’m a huge Polvo fan and it seems to me that a lot of times that would be a very easy comparison. You know, the drums in Polvo are a little more straight-ahead, but the guitars and bass sound a lot like that. And I never see that comparison.
Jeremy: Well, my issue with that, more than anything, is that…I’ve seen every noise-rock band get compared with the Jesus Lizard. And it’s just fucking lazy…especially when they limit it to two or three bands, it doesn’t really capture everything [about how a band sounds]. I mean, I’ve seen other things [where] they’re maybe thinking a little more critically about the music. I’ve seen us compared to the Minutemen, which is…
Jeremy:...I don’t see that around as much, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me in the same way. I mean, we like both of those bands. But it’s like…I don’t know why it is, but it’s more flattering to me. Maybe it just seems less obvious.
Jesse: See, to me, the Minutemen [comparison] is way more flattering because the Minutemen were totally the odd-ball out on their label, and in their scene, and in all of that. And I like the idea that anyone would tag you with that.
Adam: They’re not all lot of bands that really sound like [the Minutemen] either.
Jesse: Yeah. They found this big audience…and everyone liked them because, “oh, they’re just the Minutemen.” They’re doing their own thing.
Jeremy: And I would say that Chris’s vocals have more of a D. Boon thing to it, than a David Yow thing, for sure.
Jeremy: I mean…(jokingly) “he’s as crazy as David Yow”. So yeah, if they want to say that, feel free.
Jesse: Crazy as David Yow, with a D. Boon delivery.
Jeremy: I’ll take that. It’s a little more critical.
MFR: Can I steal that?
Jeremy (laughs): Sure
MFR: The thing that Jesus Lizard and Shellac have in common is that they’re both from Chicago. You guys record there. Do you notice a difference between playing in Chicago versus playing in Minneapolis?
Jesse: I think we get great responses in the Midwest.
MFR: But why do you think that is?
Jesse: I really think that there are regional mentalities. I think that there’s a west coast (mentality)…I’ve been out in San Francisco a bunch, and they’ve got an awesome music scene. It’s got something that it’s own little thing. Same thing out in the East coast. I know it seems like it always gets beaten into the ground, how great a scene [Minneapolis has] and stuff. But it’s hard not to say that because you grow up musically, hanging out with all these dudes and you see them go into three or four different bands. A lot of the bands you see right now that are doing well, you’ve seen them in the band before, and the band before that… I think that you get to where you’ve all been around each other in these different modifications of bands with different members. I think that [different] sound infiltrates other bands.
MFR: I read on your website that the vinyl is coming out…
Jeremy: Well, it came out, but then got recalled because the people who pressed them fucked them up, and we didn’t have a chance to realize that until the day of [the release].
MFR: How did they fuck it up?
Jeremy: Well, we ordered 140 gram vinyl and got regular vinyl. The labels were on the wrong side. And the mastering on one side didn’t sound very good. We were told that it was because it was a shitty test press vinyl, but it came back sounding the same way (as we sent it). Which is why there’s a test pressing…
Jesse: Vinyl is a tough animal to work with. I think there’s a big commitment to the vinyl sounding right and we could have let it slide a bit. I mean, it wasn’t as if the vinyl was obviously, completely, flawed. It was to us because we know that it was supposed to sound a lot better than that. I think it was important to us, that if someone bought one of our records, that they get a good record. If I have the chance to buy the record from the band, I’m gonna buy the record. I think that all of us care way too much about it to allow people to get a mediocre vinyl. So it was worth the effort, even though it’s been a massive pain-in-the-ass. It’s totally worth it.
Jeremy: You kind of want to reward LP listeners, versus, like…”Why should I buy the LP over the CD?”
MFR: Can I be the millionth person to ask you if punk is dead?
Jeremy: I think genres are dead. Fuck a genre.
Jesse: I mean, I understand the need for it. I think that when you’re starting out getting into music, like when you’re really young, those genres serve a little more purpose. Because you start to hear a band, and you’re like, “what other bands sound like this?”
Jeremy: Genres are blueprints for making really unoriginal music…
Jesse: They are.
Jeremy: …so punk is dead, metal is dead.
Adam: Whenever people ask me what kind of music my band plays, I just say “loud.”
Jesse (agreeing with Adam): “Loud rock”
Adam: I don’t even say “rock.” I just say loud.
Jeremy: I tell them that we’re loud and annoying.
Jesse (to Adam): And when they ask what you sound like, I just tell them, “Nirvana” (laughs). I honestly do! Because who doesn’t know that band!?
Adam (joking): Well, we do sound like them.
Jeremy: That sounds lazy.
Jesse: LAAaaaaZzyy. (laughs, points to himself) Right here. But I mean, seriously! Someone at your office asks you what you sound like, and they’re listening to god knows what …
MFR: Norah Jones.
Jeremy: I wish they were listening to Norah Jones.
Adam (to Jesse): I wouldn’t be able to say “we sound like Nirvana” without…
Jesse(interrupting):...Oh, I do it all the time. Because, seriously, someone’s aunt asks you, and she lives in western Wisconsin…
Adam: …I just couldn’t say it with a straight face.
MFR: Reading about you guys, the Star-Tribune called you “Rock’s Answer To Tourette’s Syndrome” Why do you think people associate psychological and emotional disorders with your music?
Jesse: I think the live show plays into that. It’s a frantic live show. You want to be able to describe the excitement of it, whether it’s right or wrong. (To Jeremy) I don’t know, what do you think?
Jeremy: Um…the music sounds normal to us, but it’s probably a mindfuck to somebody else, depending on what their musical background is.
Jesse: It’s normal for us. The way that we play, the way that we fit together, and the way we operate is very normal to us. If you were in another town, and we rolled into your town to play a show, I could see how we would catch you off guard a little bit. Because its so high energy and its so aggressive in the way it works, but to us, it’s not.
Adam: We’re not like, “we’re gonna be crazy!” or “we’re gonna write a song’s that’s crazy!”
Jeremy: Everyone’s opinion is based on what they already know anyway
MFR: I imagine that a hostile reaction is better than no reaction at all.
Adam: Oh yeah.
Jeremy: If someone hates you, and they’re talking about it, [the other people reading are] gonna find out about it anyway. It’s like…"ok, I really hate this band, and I’m going to talk about them all the time, [about] how much I hate them." Its like, “well, thanks for talking about us, dude,” because no one’s ever heard of us before…
MFR: That’s basically what the entire blogosphere is about…
Jesse: Right. Right. But I think that I like being in a band like that, to be honest with you. I’ve been in the other type of band, you know, where people don’t have a reaction. I think it helps a lot that we’re confident with each other, all five of us. I respect all the other guys in the group as players. I think that it makes it very easy, because you go into every situation with total confidence. You don’t really think twice about it. It’s not like, “Oh, I hope it doesn’t fall apart.” It’s a total, “this is what we do.”
MFR: I read that the goal of the band was to start the ultimate basement party band.
Jeremy: Yeah, I took that off the website a long time ago. I got tired of people copying that (laughs). That was probably the original intent. I think that any goals or objectives or whatever, things change over time.
Adam: It’s not like we play too many basement parties; they’re pretty rare.
MFR: Are you guys playing in bars now?
Adam: Sometimes we play with other bands at house shows. I really enjoy house shows a lot.
Jeremy: It kind of depends. I think that when we’re on tour, I’d prefer to play in a club. Around town, it’s fun to play house shows. And it’s fun to play house shows, here and there. It just depends on the city, and like, whether there’s a loud, obnoxious band scene or not. It’s not going to be fun to play a house show with pop bands, and no one gives a shit. It’s all relative.
MFR: What are some of your favorite local bands that are playing?
Jeremy: I know Nate likes Sarah Johnson.
Jesse: Nate likes Sarah Johnson.
Jeremy: We played with this band, the Diealones, who I thought were pretty good.
Adam: I like MC/VL.
Jeremy: Otherwise, a lot of the local bands I like have been playing for a few years. Like Kill the Vultures or Signal to Trust.
Adam: I like Arctic Universe.
Jesse: Arctic Universe is pretty awesome. Skoal Kodiak is fucking awesome. That’s an awesome band.
Jeremy: Chambermaids, for sure.
Jesse: The cool thing that I really like is that a lot of bands are a little bit more focused than they have in the past. I’m not saying they’re all professional or careerist. But it’s cool to see bands focused and really trying. Personally, for me, it’s cool to see Gay Beast really trying to do what they’re doing. They put on a good show, the songs are cool, and they’re really working hard on it. It’s nice to see other bands really working...
Adam: It’s kind of this weird mentality of us music nerds…
Jesse: …all trying to be a good band, not just this off-handed thing. To me, that’s exciting. That makes me excited to be doing what I’m doing.
MFR: So it’s sort of like music for its own sake?
Jesse: Music for each other’s sake. It’s kind of awesome to see all these people trying…I’m excited that all these bands…they like what you’re doing, and you can go to their show and get excited for them. You’re like, “wow, you guys are really, really getting this.” That’s the most exciting thing.
Adam: Even if the majority [of people] in attendance are people in other bands or whatever, it doesn’t diminish it at all, for me.
Jesse: That makes me excited, honestly, when you see people from other bands that are there. And if they’re getting into it, that’s a big thing, for me. I guess that’s what excites me about playing locally.
MFR: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you want to make known?
Jesse: I think the one thing I would add is that, for us, we got a lot of stuff going on tourwise; all the new songs are very different. So right now, as far as trajectory [goes], we got a lot of stuff going on.