by Nathan Hall
Picture, if you will, a young man fighting with his inner critic, eventually allowing himself to connect with a middle-aged woman he is smitten with over the course of the night at a house party. Then you realize that your storyteller for the evening is, shall we say, highly unreliable. In fact, the story is not about that at all. Instead, it concerns the sorrowful, 110 percent non-ironic mourning of some long-dead house pets.
Welcome to the wonderful and wacky world of the Narrator, a hard-working but still relatively new-ish Chicago-based indie rock band currently signed to Flame Shovel Records.
Download an mp3 of The Narrator’s song “Pregnant Boys.”
at the seams with the aforementioned red herring lyrical imagery, the Narrator
was founded by lead singer Sam Axelrod in 2002. They played their first show
on Halloween Eve 2002 at an establishment called the Mutiny. Shortly thereafter,
a self-titled 7-inch slab of vinyl and a CD EP (Youth City Fire) hit
the streets. Both said titles were released through the Chicago-based independent
label Flame Shovel Records, home to such fledgling college rock names as Chin
Up Chin Up, Joan of Arse and Make Believe, amongst many others.
It would probably be prudent now to mention that Narrator guitarist Jesse Woghin
is co-founder of the 4-years-and-running Flame Shovel. Some of the seed money
was provided by savings from a well-paid position at a commercial real estate
firm that auctioned off gas stations and convenience stores. Flame Shovel currently
shares an office building with another record label (File 13), two public relations
firms and a booking agency; all conveniently situated upstairs from the famed
Empty Bottle nightclub.
The Flame Shovel-backed debut full-length, Such Triumph, will be released
domestically on June 28. The standout track, “Pregnant Boys,” is
highly reminiscent of the lo-fi, barely-holding-it-together inspired musical
chaos of We Vs. The Shark or old school Pavement. Lines like “Start a
band and kill yourself/There’s no better reason than no reason at all”
help the cause tremendously.
In addition to doubling as what would make the best soundtrack for an Insound.com
television commercial ever, equally strong best-cut-on-the-disc contender “The
Party’s Over” positively shines with a healthy dose of equal parts
hearty whoo-hoos, Cap’N Jazz-brand vocal histrionics, tongue-in-cheek
martyr posturing, progressive politics and drunken answering machine message
The jarring rhythmic interplay between drummer Nathan Henethan and bassist James
Barron certainly gives …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead a run
for their money as well. Comparisons might also reasonably be drawn to the abrasive,
druggy excesses of the Constantines, whom the Narrator has opened for on at
least one occasion.
About to head out touring the West Coast in support of the new CD (the 23-city
trek is humbly entitled Support Our Dream 2005), I reached headman Axelrod
via cell phone from his desk at his temp day job. Unfortunately, answers to
the mysteries buried within the puzzling lyric sheets were not forthcoming this
Axelrod is a polite enough chap but mums the word on obtuse song meanings, clues
behind the cryptic album title or even simply the origin of the band’s
name. This could all be Neo-Nazi propaganda, for all I know.
Upon further prodding, Axelrod introduces himself as being largely of Austrian/German/Russian
descent. Originally hailing from Manhattan, he relocated to Chicago for what
can be assumed are non-musical reasons roughly six years ago.
“I started playing guitar when I was 14,” explains Axelrod. “Modest
Mouse was probably everyone’s favorite band (for us) in high school…As
far as influences go, Unwound for sure. We rip them off pretty frequently.”
The Narrator’s sound is also often dismissed by lazy rock critics as emo,
nowadays a dreaded pejorative term seemingly no one has the courage to own up
to, Narrator included. “I don’t really understand how someone could
compare us to the Promise Ring,” states Axelrod. “That said, every
once in awhile I’ll throw on [The Promise Ring’s 1997 album] Nothing
Feels Good—and there’s no harm, no foul there either.”
Aside from being a huge Hüsker Dü fan, Axelrod’s strongest memory
of the Twin Cities remains their first show in St. Paul. “We were booked
at Big V’s and for whatever reason we played last so that meant start
time was 1 A.M.,” says Axelrod. “We had been drinking for several
hours at that point so we decided to set up everything on the floor. The sound
was horrible and I ended up peeling Jesse off the floor at the end of the night.”
borderline bacchanalian affairs have also become somewhat of a signature for
the group thus far. There is the story about the upstate New York barn that
collapsed and imploded mid-concert. There is also the one about the unsupervised
Ivy League house party in which a keg was stolen and sold to an old friend to
compensate for being stiffed by the soiree’s shady organizer.
“Our last show was only 13 minutes long, which I think is a personal record
for us,” jokes Axelrod. “I broke a string on the first note of the
first song and James did too soon after so he ended up doing air bass for two
songs…I guess you could say we are pretty inconsistent live, kind of like
the Replacements. Not that we are as good as they are or even that I saw them
play. More just in the sense that sometimes we’re really good and sometimes
we’re really not.”
Axelrod insists he is not trying to be melodramatic when avoiding explication
of his obtuse lyricism, it’s just that it’s all open to interpretation,
clichés be damned. This album could potentially be about Conan O’Brien’s
sidekick, a motorcycle road trip, head banging Canadians with mullets, the fall
of the Roman empire, the dropping of an atom bomb or any number of other things.
My money is on lost childhood and the previously mentioned dearly departed dogs
and cats. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. ||
The Narrator plays on Sun. June 12 at the 7th St. Entry with local acts
Superdanger and Passions. 9 p.m. 21+. $5. 701 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8388.
Find out more about the Narrator on their official website
on over to our mp3 page to download hundreds of songs, including The Narrator’s
song “Pregnant Boys.”