Wednesday 09 June @ 13:04:31
by Kate Silver
Photos by Darin Back
The Soviettes have pep. Where kappa-kappa-gamma meets guitar-bass-drums, there's an unflappable spirit charging through the pop-punk quartet's LP II (Adeline).
The liner notes are scribbled like a yearbook inscription, filled with snapshots of the band with friends, extensive thank-you's to everyone from The Turf Club personnel to "Lori the pull tab lady!" for support. When the band -- guitarists Annie Holoien and Maren "Sturgeon" Mocosko, bassist Susy Sharp, and drummer Danny Henry - mixes hyper melodies as irresistible as their upbeat spirit, they could be cheerleaders. Only, if you please, the smoking-in-the-bathroom-type. LP II's opening rouser "Ten" counts off a lover's list of formidable qualities "1. Because you're funny / 2. You're not too fat / 3. You never stand up to anyone's crap".
"Pass the Flashlight" echo's the sentiment, only blowing a kiss to the Twin Cities. Henry calls with a cadence as sharp as his kick-drum, "Hold-tight 'cause we're coming home." "612?" he shouts, "It's right here, Danny" the girls pipe in.
There's plenty of room for shouting along, especially on the supply-your-own-handclaps "#1 is number 2". And the "My Generation"-style "There's a Banana in My Ear".
But before you think The Soviettes are all pop and no circumstance, listen to "Channel X", a D.I.Y "We are the World" for the near-apocalypse. "10 o'clock / 10 o'clock / that's when the world stops!" they chirp, as if itineraries between the Go-Go's "Vacation" and Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia" were somehow switched.
The four-piece turned up on the local scene with as much of a bang as one of their kick-start intros, landing at the top of City Pages' 2002 Picked to Click poll on the strength of a few well-placed power chords from the 7" T.C.C.P. (Pop Riot). 2003's The Soviettes LP (Adeline) was the Minneapolis-equivalent of a top-down summer cruise pop hit. A breath of fresh air when the windows are rolled because the air-conditioning's-conked-out-again. A year, two tours, and a few 7"s later, The Soviettes celebrate the release of LP II, which squeezes fourteen songs, Ramones-style, into 23 minutes. The Soviettes have direction, an innate sense of how they want to sound, and what they want to say, giving the kiss-off to scorned lovers ("Whatever You Want") and scoffing at social inequities ("Channel X").
Like their compatriots on the sidelines, The Soviettes seem to be having the most fun.
Settling into my apartment, the trio (sans Henry) chats with the ease of old friends. Piping in, finishing sentences, and providing the punchlines on everything from backing-vocals and booking tours, to American Idols. And how they'll treat their second act. (Kate Silver)
Pulse-First of all, why don't we talk a little about LP II, how does it differ from your first record?
Annie-It's probably a little bit more rock & roll than the previous one, I think.
Susy-A little bit.
Sturgeon-We didn't all really write together this time. Each person brought a song in. And some of us had writers block and didn't write as many… (laughter)
Susy-...as they should have. Sturgeon would describe the record as…
Sturgeon- I'm really bad at describing things. The first record we made was like a cake, a little more cohesive, a unit. Whereas this time it's more like some really kick-ass cookies. I think, um, there's something about this record that makes it feel more discreet.
Pulse-Do you guys usually write together, then, has that been your practice?
Sturgeon-We still write together, it's the type of thing where someone will come in with 'Ok here's this new song, I think it's gonna go kinda like this, but maybe we should do something different.' I think with the first record, it was more like that, where someone would bring in a piece and we'd make a song together off of the piece. Whereas the second record, I think, as individuals we got better at writing songs so it became easier for us to just be like, 'I have this whole thing in my head,' or 'I've done it already,' because we knew how to do it better as individuals.
Annie-Also, in making the second record, as opposed to the first--
Susy-We didn't have much time.
Annie-We had very little time to do it and there wasn't really much time for dinking around at practice. I mean, we were just like go-go-go--
Susy-The first record was [composed of] some songs we'd had for, like, two years.
Sturgeon-I think, overall the second record was rushed. It didn't feel that way at the time, and it didn't seem like we were rushing, but I think looking back--
Annie-I think there were things we probably over-timed, little things that will come up in a song that would have made 'em better.
Susy-There aren't as many background vocals on this record.
Annie-We didn't really get to listen to them [the mixes] after they were finished.
Sturgeon-I know, for some of the songs, we thought about putting in back-up vocals, we had ideas for them [the songs] but decided not to. There are certain songs where we even took out back-up vocals, but, and I think the fact is, they lend more to the record sounding rushed. But I think, and people have said this to me before, that the first one sounds more intricate and more involved. Perhaps there's some egg-white whipping for that cake. (laughter)
Annie-We had a budget too, for the studio. Of course, you can never have enough time in the studio, even if you do have a budget.
Pulse-Was it a label thing? Did they want you to release it at a certain time?
Annie-We told them we wanted it out before we left for tour, and that it had to be done by X date, in order to have it ready to go at that point.
Sturgeon-They [Adeline Records] have a release schedule, too. I think they do three releases a year, or that's how they schedule big releases so they have enough money budgeted. So, for example, if it wasn't [released] in June, it would have been in October. Overall the recording of the first record started in January and was done in June. This one started a month later and was done at the same time. So there was a month less time for Jacques [Waite] to do his job and listen to it and get copies, and go over the song order, and back up vocals.
Susy-On the first record, it took us a long time to figure out song order, we would really--
Annie- Go back and forth.
Sturgeon-I don't order anything (laughter)
Annie-So far people like it, so that's good.
Pulse-I've read some good reviews of it.
Sturgeon-Oh I think it's a good record, it's just that, it's hard to make a second record because now all of a sudden you've got something to compare it to. And you've got people who have opinions. They have expectations, and they have ideas about what you should sound like for your second record. I didn't really realize that, not that it's hard to write the songs or go to the studio, but all of a sudden when it's all said and done, it's like well shit what are people going to think about this? And what are they going to say in comparison to the old one? I think, especially when you do it a year later, it's still fresh enough in people's minds, and there's going to be a comparison.
Pulse-Is there an underlying theme to the songs?
Annie-A lot of 'em are more about social issues than political issues.
Susy-A variety of things. Whatever we're thinking about.
Annie-More of my songs were about what I was thinking at the time, as opposed to 'that's what I heard about.' There are several that are a rage against the news, war, the President.
Pulse-Is the record more like your live show?
Annie-We spend so much of our time at practice just getting ready, to record or for a show, so we don't get a lot of chances to just play.
Sturgeon-Yeah, we're not good at talking on the microphone, we're not funny or witty.
Susy-We don't do, like, acrobatics, jumping off the amp. (laughter)
Pulse-So did you tour quite a bit between records?
Annie-As much as we could--
Sturgeon-As much as we could, um, some bands go out for eight months a year.
Susy-We went out in the winter, which was weird but it was fun.
Annie-It was fun. I'd rather not do it again. (laughter)
Susy- Driving in the mountains in the wintertime… (grimaces) 'cause we weren't able to do the west coast last year, and we're going this summer. We do Milwaukee a lot, Milwaukee and Chicago, a lot of Midwestern towns.
Sturgeon-Last summer we were out for six or seven weeks.
Susy-It's a learning experience.
Pulse-Didn't you book it yourselves?
Sturgeon-We did the summer one ourselves, and we got a booker who would agree to book us for the winter, which I don't think we could have done that ourselves. It's pretty hard to find shows on Christmas Eve. It was fun, it worked out, and we'll be out for two months this summer.
Pulse-Have you been watching "American Idol"?
Susy-It's awesome! Sturgeon loves American Idol! (laughter)
Sturgeon-We tape it and when we're both around we watch it.
Susy-I love the pop culture phenomenon.
Sturgeon-I think when you have a lot of friends, have a close-knit community - like Hawaii -
Susy- Jasmine [Trias], right?
Sturgeon-It's amazing who lasts and who doesn't, you know. It's interesting, and who's that dude's name, the producer/mogul-
Pulse- [Artista Records'] Clive Davis?
Sturgeon-I wish they would have more people in the industry whose job it is to make this decision.
Susy-What's interesting about it is they do have this TV show, and automatically they are a star-
Sturgeon- Number one on the charts.
Pulse-I think Clive said he was going to record Fantasia [Barrino] anyway.
Sturgeon-Even if she doesn't win, and I'm sure she will, she's going to be a star.
Susy-It's just really interesting, TV, media, their affect…
Annie- ["America's Next] Top Model" is my show.
Pulse- So who would get voted out of the van?
Sturgeon- Our van?
Annie- Me. (laughter)
Susy- Last summer, me.
Annie- It depends on the day, I think at any given day any one of us would say, 'Get out!'
Susy- We're pretty good though, compared to other bands that I've heard about.
Annie- With anybody, put them together, no matter how much you love them, you're going to fight. I think especially if you're close. I think we're pretty good. We yell at each other when we have to.
Pulse-Emotionally, what do you bring to the band?
Susie-Annie's the mother. I'm the-
Susy-I'm the rebellious child. Sturgeon's the-
Annie- Steady hand. And Danny, he's kind of like the cousin. (laughter)
Susy - The family unit, that's what we are.
Annie- Danny's got this amazing way of - if there's ever any conflict - he has this uncanny ability to, instead of putting any input into it, he'll sort of like [twiddles thumbs and looks around, motioning indifference]. He's the smart guy. (laughter)
Pulse-What do you love about the Twin Cities?
Sturgeon-I love that, any kind of creative scene here is really active, but has a good sense of humor about itself. It seems like everyone has their toe in something creative and whether they're good at it or bad, whether they take it seriously or [do it] just for fun, it's not so serious as to strangle it. It's [the scene] active and has good legs, keeps moving, changing, and that makes it humorous or lively. I think the [creative scene] is unusually active and lively for such a small town.
Susy-Yeah, like [punk record store] Extreme Noise has been able to be open for ten years…
Sturgeon-And even, like, Hard Times [café]--to be able to have a coffee shop that's been open since the early seventies that people don't get paid at, really, or they volunteer. There's tons of stuff like that. You've got to have respect for that.
Annie-I think it shows a big part of the Midwest ethic, of family, pulling together to get something done. It's really nice to be able to live in a city that's not overwhelmingly big and to have so many art museums, so many plays all the time. Symphonies that come through, so many venues for shows-
Susy-And then we have a Hard Rock café. (laughter)
Sturgeon-It's fun to do this, in the winter there's nothing to do. I think that's why we have such a great music scene. Once you have a cool scene started, it feeds it self. I mean, thirteen year olds who live in Minneapolis and St. Paul are going to feel like there's easier access to being in a band or being an artist or writer, than someone who lives in a different town. One that's the same size that doesn't have the established scene, just 'cause they see it and it's easy to do, so they go out and do it. And essentially that's it. But I think that, if you don't see it happening than you might not realize that it's so easy. Just go do it, what you want to do.
CD RELEASE SHOW
Radio K (770 AM) presents The Soviettes live on Sun., June 13, at First Avenue. With Sweet J.A.P. and So Fox. 5 p.m. All Ages. $5 adv/ $7 door. 701 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8388.
The Soviettes will also be making an appearance on Radio K’s “Off the Record” program on Fri., June 11, between 4 and 6 p.m.