[This interview also appears in issue zero of our sister publication, RJKT. Pick up a hard copy at any of downtown Mankato’s finer alcohol, coffee, and tattoo distributors.]
Minneapolis trio Fury Things have spent the past few years whipping up a storm of DIY activity, bashing out colossal riffs (and bigger hooks) at a pace that teeters between blue collar and breakneck. Their prolificacy has paid dividends. In 2015, City Pages named them Best Rock Band, and they’re riding into 2016 with the rare momentum of a young band that’s constantly rewarding their fans. With their latest release, VHS, Fury Things doubled down on melodies without losing an ounce of fuzz-fueled fire, and the result is their most fully-realized statement to date.
In the run-up to the band’s appearance in Mankato at PHE 9, we reached out to guitarist/vocalist Kyle Werstein to talk about the new record, nostalgia, CASH MONEY, and other things that kick ass.
2015 seemed like quite the year for you guys. An EP, a high-profile First Avenue set in support of Bob Mould, and a full-length that dropped in December. Is 2016 just going to be about hitting the road and flexing some muscles on the strength of last year’s momentum? Or do you have any fresh tricks up your sleeve?
I think we’ll be doing a bit of both. Success for us as a band involves maintaining momentum. So, yeah, I want us to get out there and play more shows outside the Twin Cities. We’re definitely looking to do some touring around the album and play out more regionally. At the same time, we’ve got some other songs recorded, I’m working on new material and we’re going to be releasing another video before spring. It’s tough to juggle everything, but we’re just trying to stay as productive as we can.
Most music scribblers, when pressed to find descriptors for the Fury Things sound, reach back in time for obvious touchstones, such as Dinosaur Jr. and Husker Du. In titling your new record VHS, is there any fear that you’ll be perceived as a throwback act? Or is that the intention? Or doesn’t it matter?
The whole VHS concept was kind of a joke that stuck. It’s kinda hilarious to us to see a record with the art of a blank cassette tape. I never particularly intended for us to sound like any band or consciously seem like we’re of a certain era. We got together and the songs sound the way they sound. I’m always trying to write songs I’m proud of and that I hope others enjoy. The same extends to the artwork and design concept of the record. I want people to form their own opinions about our music. If one person thinks we’re trying to be a throwback, that’s cool. It’s totally not my intention, but I can’t control the experience of others. I would hope that for every one person like that, there’s another that simply enjoys the tunes.
VHS, at least in terms of title and cover art, taps into an 80s/90s vibe that’s hypercool right now, as evidenced in retrowave (Makeup and Vanity Set, Perturbator), synthpop (M83, Carly Rae Jepsen), and even animated comedies. Are we a doomed generation of suckers that are just as susceptible to the pangs of nostalgia that befell our lame-ass parents and grandparents? Or did that era of pop culture truly, honestly kick that much ass?
Who knows? I don’t think you can make a blanket statement about the rise of the 80s/90s vibe. Personally, I just like what I like. I’ve always been fascinated with infomercials and consumer culture and media in general. I love Tim and Eric and the Found Footage Festival and I think there’s something warm and tactile and otherworldly about blank cassette tapes. As a graphic designer, the aesthetic has always been influential to me. And vaporwave, as a genre, piqued my interest, too. But what I get out of it may be different than what you or Carly Rae Jepsen gets out of it. Obviously for some, the use of the aesthetic stems from borrowing nostalgia because they want to be a certain way. I guess I’m reluctant to say we’re all doomed suckers, but I feel like the tiny details are what separates those who really found something in all that pop culture that resonated with them, from someone just doing it to be ‘cool’. Like, I love Com Truise from a musical and visual perspective because his vision of this neon 80s/90s synth wave world feels so real. There’s a difference between someone like him and someone casually applying filters to their videos in an app. The same goes for Tim and Eric or anyone trying to speak that visual language.
But then there’s also an equally big part of me that wants everyone to create things. Like, who am I to judge? I feel like we’re all doing our thing and it’s important to have taste, but not be overly judgmental of others at the same time. So. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
This is your fifth release, but first LP. How important is the EP format in this interconnected Age of Too Much Goddamn Information?
The EP is important, for sure, but more important than that is just releasing stuff consistently. Our LP came together naturally. It actually started as our third EP, but material just kept coming together. We release just about everything we write and that consistency is important for progressing as a band. I think our releases will continue to be a mix of longer and shorter collections, but it really doesn’t matter what it is as long as we keep at it.
The final song on Saskatchewan is called “Money’s Dumb.” How dumb is it, and why will it expedite the eventual unraveling of humanity?
The full-line is “money’s dumb when you have none,” and I think that’s true as a creative and a twentysomething and as a passive observer to this strange-ass existence in 2016. I think one of the toughest things you face as an independent musician is the feeling that so much is just out of reach for financial reasons. But we’re a DIY band and we make the most out of every opportunity. We hand-make a lot of our merch and we travel light and make the most of the time we can take off work. But still, people scoff at you when you say you want to be a musician. It’s tough out there.
I imagine money’s pretty sweet when you have enough of it. Or if you live in a country where people see the value in musicians and artists. I have friends in other countries who can’t understand why we don’t tour more because they have things like publicly funded higher education and single-payer healthcare. The song is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but it stemmed from some bitterness toward the system.
Final shout to the Mankato masses: Five Minnesota bands that are killing it right now and why:
It’s really, REALLY tough to narrow down a list to five, since there are a lot of cool bands doing cool stuff. But here are a few acts we’ve been thinking about lately:
Strange Relations: I saw these wonderful humans open for The Thermals at the Entry and had zero idea they were a local act. Instant band crush for me. I was mesmerized by the depressingly beautiful melodies they were kicking out and incredibly impressed by drummer/singer Casey’s ability to hold such complex rhythms while totally belting these awesome vocals.
Kitten Forever: They consistently kill it and deserve every bit of praise they receive. For me, their ability to energize a room is extremely inspirational. Also, they throw down harder than almost any other band I can think of. Super important messaging and songs. Also, it’s just fun. They played our record release show and it was kind of a dream come true. Recently they opened for Babes in Toyland in the Mainroom at First Avenue after like a decade as a band and I’m sitting here thinking, “Why the hell did it take this long to get them on that stage?”
Ego Death: These are some of the hardest working musicians in the Twin Cities right now. They totally beat us in the sheer number of shows they play per month. The songs are beautiful. Jeremy’s a great guitarist. They tour a bunch and you can feel their heart in the music. That’s super important to me. Also, they’re some of the nicest people you could ever meet.
Waveless: The first time I saw Waveless, I could have thought I was floating. Plus, I saw Lou Barlow mention their record and it made me incredibly happy. The way the harmonies sit atop this crazy pile of noise…the way it translates live. Their new album, Spirit Island, is definitely worth a listen.
The Blind Shake: Everyone should know about The Blind Shake by now. If I had to pick a singular band in the Twin Cities that I idolized from sheerly their performance, it would be The Blind Shake. It’s incredibly humbling that we get to play with them in April, because every time I get to watch them, I think, “Damn, how can I do that?”
It’s Thursday already, so let’s get down to business. While most of this weekend’s festivities are going to be quite familiar to locals (more on that later), if you’re into the whole “live music” thing, Kato’s going to be on fire this Friday.
2nd Annual NYDM 5SRC Toys for Tots Drive (Busters, 9 p.m.; $8 cover, $3 with toy donation)
Scheduled well in advance at Busters after the What’s Up Lounge reopened with a “no hip-hop or extreme metal” policy (which has since been rescinded because money), this benefit is headlined by Mankato death metal heavyweights Face of Oblivion. This will be their second (?) show featuring new vocalist Jesse Watson, who replaced ex-Origin vocalist James Lee earlier this year.
It’s rare for a Midwestern town of Mankato’s size to boast a DM act of this caliber, so it’s cool to see the five-piece ramping up their activity.
Rounding out the bill are local-ish metalcore upstarts HeirAfire, Anoka ReverbNationals Beauty of Decay, and MPLS melodeath manipulators Echoes of the Fallen.
The Last Revel & Charlie Parr (Mankato Brewery, 7 p.m.; $7 advance, $10 door)
Sneakily, Mankato Brewery has become one of our city’s hottest spots for live music. (An ample stage, quality sound, and a steady flow of fresh beer seem to be working in their favor.) Bluegrass / folk shredders The Last Revel have been absolutely buzzing over the course of the last eighteen months, peerlessly triggering shoeless sashaying and mirthful pogo-ing amongst artsy Caucasians.
While The Last Revel have styled themselves as a semi-regular attraction, Charlie Parr’s trips down from Duluth are rare, so this is your best opportunity to catch the crusty folk legend without having to endure the Solstice marathon.
[It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot in the Brewery, but if the Mad Butcher IPA is still on tap, CAPITALIZE. While MB may have stumbled out of the gate, the release of this Haymaker killer, along with last summer’s delightful, surprising Kato Lager, means that our hometown beermongers are officially on a roll. Extra bonus: Lola‘s totally righteous food truck is lumbering in from New Ulm, so y’all are SET.]
Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band (NaKato, 10 p.m.; no cover)
This is almost a last-minute booking at the NaKato, with the event page surfacing on FaceDUMBRACISTYELLINGbook just yesterday. At first glance, it looked like this might’ve been another tough Lower North gig for Nato & Co. (their last NaKato appearance was during Boogie on Belgrade and attendance was lackluster), but hey: That Brewery show starts at 7. Nato throws down at 10. If you’re on the right side of the bridge, a doubleheader is mandatory, because this is the best rock n’ roll band that travels to our southern wasteland on the reg. Those that caught their set opening for Cheap Trick at RibFest this summer already know what’s up.
Let’s do this shit…
Yeah, this entire post looks really familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s not a copy-and-paste job. Our scene is just getting that stagnant.
After a little over a year of writing (sporadically) about Mankato nightlife, this blog has been losing steam. Frankly, it’s not that exciting to write about local and regional music when there hasn’t been anything new or fresh that has blown our doors off in ages.
Mankato’s music scene has been in a transitional period for the past year-plus, but the reaction of bookers and promoters hasn’t been one of injecting newfound adventure and excitement. Instead, they’ve displayed trepidation and restraint. While there have been a couple of highlights in 2015, the last time this town was blessed with truly buzzworthy Minnesota music was the Fury Things / Hardcore Crayons show last winter.
Many were clinging to the hope that the What’s Up would jumpstart the scenery once it reopened under new management, but quality bookings have been sparse. The Kult of the Wizard / Highgraves show was a gem, sure, but we’ve either been subjected to scenester stuff that doesn’t appeal to the 21+ crowd or outdated mallrock for the painfully uncool. Their big “get” to close 2015 is “National Recording Artist” Saliva, whose sole hit, 2001’s “Click Click Boom,” likely only triggers excitement among people that watched Sons of Anarchy for the chase sequences. At this stage, it feels less like a hotspot and more like a reanimated corpse.
Meanwhile, most bars seem to be treating live music as an afterthought. Chopps has been doing well with hip hop, and Moonshiner seems to finally be stretching its wings a bit, but as a city, we’re stuck in a rut. The formulas that are working right now are only going to work for a finite period of time, and if bars and venues don’t take risks, the cautious, cyclical booking they’ve been riding for the past 12 months may wear dangerously thin on an increasingly-jaded populace.
Let’s get out there and light some fires, Mankato.
Let’s be real: February sucks.
Even the hardiest Minnesotans grow weary of winter. After three-ish months of steely resolve, defenses break down, and a -37 degree wind chill crosses the threshold from “well, this is kinda bullshit” into “I’d rather dine on hot garbage with Dinesh D’Souza than step outside for thirteen goddamn seconds because I feel like my skin is going to die.”
You’re sick. You’re tired. You’re cold.
Fear not. This weekend, Mankato is burning.
Friday will generate its fair share of late-winter warmth, as the 410 Project hosts its Annual Juried Exhibition at 7 p.m, featuring music from Des Moines’ Noremac McCarthy.
Meanwhile, less-cerebral legions will be partying across the river, where an earlybird 21+ show is going down at Benderz, AKA The Only Bar on the Planet That Still Thinks Hosting A “Ladies Night” With The Tagline “ALL YOU CAN HANDLE!” Isn’t Totally Sexist And/Or Predatory.
Thankfully, the bands have gifted the venue with the Futurama-themed flyer we’ve all been screaming for:
These might seem like conflicting events at first blush, but it’s wholly possible to hit both, even if you might miss out on Bring The Sun‘s shimmering nu-isms and the acoustic-driven, post-grunge dirge of Angry Waters. The most magnetic draw at Benderzzzz is the headlining act, WarRooster.
Recently, the band pushed fresh wares upon the greater public, releasing a new LP, Bilderberg Workshop, on the 45th anniversary of Black Sabbath‘s genre-spawning debut.
Anyway, once you shake off your hangover (and the sideways glances from the Benderz regulars), gear up for Saturday night, where Buster’s takes a break from REO Speedwagon cover bands and amateur “boxing” to host the STACKED-est lineup we’ve had in months:
But Fury Things, people. Fury Things is the business. Especially if you throw down on fuzzy, dreamy garage rock that swings hooks like hammers:
They recently opened for freaking Bob Mould at First Avenue, so when you’re presented with the opportunity to see them in a strip-mall sports bar, the best course of action is to capitalize.
See, it works like this: Cool bands come to Mankato. We go see the cool bands. And the cool bands come back. That’s how you build something…and have fun doing it.
See you this weekend, Mankato.
In the wake of the What’s Up’s closing, February’s events have been viewed as crucial for the Mankato music scene’s short-term survival. The month’s most vital shows, Hardcore Crayons / Fury Things / Crash Cuddle and PHE 8, have found new homes at Busters and the Mankato Event Center, respectively. With these events in safe standing–and, arguably, in situations more conducive to robust attendance than they were originally–the RJKT scope settled upon Lower North, where a pair of all-ages shows at Benderz commanded unusual attention.
Two weekends. Two shows. Two stories.
The first show was previewed on these pages, and by most accounts, it was a rousing success. Even when presented with a vibrant, enthusiastic crowd, Benderz seemed to have a decent system worked out, with the bar’s architecture making it much easier for the staff to work the door. Essentially, the building is a wide-angled “v”, with the entry at the vertex. Show-goers were diverted to the back room on the right, which was solely dedicated to music, while bar patrons could avoid a punk rock assault by taking a sharp left upon entry.
The place was near capacity that evening, for a few reasons: On one side, Old Towne Ghosts are one of the town’s biggest draws. On the other, the bar was airing UFC 183. (Following the death of the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, Benderz is the only establishment in Mankato tuning into UFC events. And with the diluted, top-heavy cards Zuffa has been cranking out, even hardcores are opting to watch PPVs for the price of a few PBRs.)
But the biggest reason? The all-ages crowd came out in force. By the time Minneapolis’ Remo Drive triggered one of the most kinetic, spontaneous kid-pits I’d ever witnessed, it was clear that reports of the Mankato music scene’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
All told, it was a great night, one that was enabled by a largely hospitable and accessible venue. Even if one didn’t feel like watching an entire band’s set, drifting over to the bar side was smooth, and the waitstaff seemed to genuinely appreciate our business. It was a welcoming atmosphere.
At the following week’s show, however, blemishes began to surface. And we’re not talking zits. Straight-up leprosy.
Comparatively, attendance was sparse, possibly due to the illness-related cancellation of headliners Arms for Elephants. As we walked in, a group of kids were pounding out a scraggly brand of post-grunge, so I dragged my lawyer, Adam, to the bar side to throw back some Jagermeister like distinguished adults.
We quickly realized that our presence was less than welcome.
Our status as interlopers wasn’t immediately apparent. But, scanning the scene, we stuck out from the crowd, and not by virtue of our own weirdness. In a contrast to the previous week, the bar’s population had been reduced to regulars: Shitfaced-at-eight-o-clock, physical-activity-averse, camo-and-fossil-fuel-worshiping rednecks.
We took a pair of open seats at the bar. A few minutes into our conversation about the potential Legend of Zelda Netflix series, a grumble emerged from the woman seated to my right. The first part of her sentence was unintelligible, but it finished with “…stay the fuck on the other side.” As the phrase snagged my ear, I looked over to see her furiously scraping away at a stack of lottery tickets with a three-inch folding knife.
(Call me “liberal” like it’s actually a pejorative if you must, but even if someone spent their very last scratching quarters at the Kwik Trip Casino, I’m not sure that flinging around an open blade is acceptable behavior in an establishment that specializes in serving alcohol, regardless of said establishment’s affinity for blaze orange and motorsports.)
Soon after, we stepped outside for a smoke. Almost immediately, she threw her purse on my seat. We took the hint. So we hit the sidewalk.
Clearly, our semi-sober presence wasn’t welcome; in stark contrast, of course, to the sweaty, walking heart attack the bartender managed to overserve before 9 o’clock. We later saw this same mouthbreather behind the wheel of a vehicle in the parking lot of PJ’s Liquor. (And we’re 100% sure it was the same dude, too, because he actually got out of his car to greet us with some kind of primal, jubilant grunt of familiarity, even though we hadn’t even spoken a goddamn word to each other previously.)
Needless to say, this experience didn’t get generate a whole lot of excitement for a return visit.
Admittedly, this two-weekend sample size is small. But it’s pretty safe to conclude that, failing a special draw such as a notable punk rock show and/or Anderson Silva’s (steroid-aided) return from a horrific leg injury, Benderz has a problem: Their clientele. If their obvious indifference to regulation continues, their long-term viability as a venue is in significant jeopardy.
Music isn’t the issue. People are.