by Keith Pille
Eric Kalenze is an unusual man. In a city of several million, the odds are better than decent that he’s the only person to be simultaneously acting as a high school English teacher, a football coach, and a fully self-contained one-man rock band. More unusual than that, possibly, he may be the only person in North America to own a 4-track recorder and actually do something productive with it.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to
guess that maybe one third of the people who consider themselves rock musicians
own a 4-track. It’s a rite of passage—first you get a guitar and
learn to play it, maybe start a band, and then you show the world you’re
getting serious about the songwriting thing by plunking down a few hundred bucks
for a four-track recorder. Sadly, the vast majority of them either sit around
gathering dust, or are used to create hours and hours of turgid, badly-mixed
crimes against music (to drop a personal example, my own 4-track has been boxed
up for the past year or so, ever since I realized just how catastrophically
stupid my master plan to do a keyboards-and-acoustic-guitar recreation of Uncle
Tupelo’s Anodyne was).
cheers for Eric Kalenze. While everyone else is using their home recording gear
to add their own twist to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,”
Kalenze is holing up in his basement and laying down, under the nom de rock
Gawker Slowdown, some of the most accomplished, chilled-out rock in the Twin
I have a space in the basement that’s about as big as
from here to the Heinz bottle on the next table,” Kalenze explained to
me, gesturing around a booth in a south Minneapolis bar. “In the corner,
I have my amp. I have just one electric amp sitting on a chair ... The 4-track
sits right next to that, and then there are assorted guitars and a table with
all kinds of shit on it. I’m a very messy worker.”
Some shockingly well-put-together music comes out of this claustrophobic
space. Kalenze’s newest Gawker Slowdown record, Asterisk, is polished
and confident, full of chilled-out songs with an uncanny sense of space. The
songs flow wonderfully, with a delicate interweave of light guitar and keyboard
parts. The overall feel is just a bit like the Jayhawks’ most recent album,
Rainy Day Music; augmenting this, Kalenze’s singing voice is somewhat
reminiscent of that of Jayhawks co-singer Tim O’Reagan.
The songs come together slowly, built up in snatches when Kalenze
can squeeze out a few hours for musical work. As he explained, “everything
that I’m doing, I do it on weekend nights, mostly. And whenever I have
significant breaks from school, like a four-day weekend or more. After all the
kids are asleep and my wife ... I’ll reserve nights where it’s like
I’m going down, and I have no idea when I’m coming up. So midnight
to four might be one session, and I’ll get one guitar part done. So every
song might come together over the course of a month, working for a few hours
at a time. And obsessing like crazy in between.”.
Kalenze hasn’t always been such a lone wolf. During the
mid nineties, he was the primary songwriter for the band Third Wheel. The group
made quite a bit of headway, edging into the upper strata of Twin Cities bar
bands. But, while he loved working with the other members of Third Wheel, the
grind of moving a band forward in the scene grated on Kalenze.
Honestly, as much as I love those guys, this works so much
better for who I am now,” he said. “I couldn’t be in a band
any more. It has nothing to do with them; it’s more the scene, you know?
When you’re in a band and the four of you make a record, and pour money
into it, you’ve got to get shows. And to get shows, you’ve got to
be out, even when you’re not playing shows. And then you’ve got
to rehearse ... and all that just would not work with who I am now. And all
of those guys are married and starting families, too.”
After a band member took a job out of town, Third Wheel hung
it up and Kalenze decided to record by himself, mainly for his own amusement.
Bringing out songs that he’d always thought the other Third Wheelers would
have found “too different, too soft, too wussy,” he put together
the first Gawker Slowdown record. After getting positive feedback from friends
who heard the album, he went back into the basement and worked up some more
material. Wanting to play live but not wanting to go through the hassle of assembling
a full band and grubbing for club shows, he started playing solo acoustic shows
at coffee shops.
Doing all of this for his own gratification, instead of with the hopes of signing
with a major and rocking for a living, Kalenze is free to enjoy the Gawker Slowdown
ride as it happens. “I’m not shooting for anything,” he said.
“I don’t get hurt if nobody shows up at the coffeehouse on Saturday
night. I still have a jones to play live, but I’m not trying to amass
a fan base or anything.”
In the end, we all win. Kalenze gets to satisfy his urge to
create and perform music without a lot of pressure hanging over him. The rest
of us get to enjoy thoughtful, melodic music. And the 4-track recorder industry
gets to rest easy knowing that at least one guy in Minneapolis is using their
product for something other than reinterpreting AC/DC.
Gawker Slowdown plays a CD release show for Asterisk
on Sat., May 8, at the Acadia Theater with Dan Israel, Diedrich Weiss and James
Coxxman. 8 p.m. All Ages. $5. 1931 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls. 612-874-8702.
You can find out more about Gawker Slowdown on his official website.
Download and mp3 of Gawker Slowdown's The Strongest Steel.