The Plastic Constellations: Jump in unison, not collision
Wednesday 21 April @ 12:43:26
by Mark Desrosiers
First, let it be known that the Plastic Constellations are no longer teenagers, so we music scribes can cease using that played out angle when writing features on the band. Sure, rock and roll seems to have fed and clothed TPC throughout their adolescence, even giving them an absurd growth spurt (all four members must be at least 6 feet tall now). But now they’re adults in their early 20s, ready to embark on a Midwest tour to promote Mazatlan (2024 Records), their first new album in nearly four years.
Time has wrought significant changes: Back in 1999, when you couldn’t sneeze without spraying a TPC fan on the streets of the Twin Cities, guitarist Aaron Mader got a free muffin at Perkins for his 17th birthday. Now, in 2004, the band is ready to go nationwide, and I’m taking the band to the Viking Bar in order to drain the taps and shoot the shit.
It’s a grey, humid Friday afternoon, and I’m watching the band play on Radio K’s local showcase program “Off the Record.” As the band launches into the tight, stuttering “East Cleveland” (an urban-planning shout-along, if you can believe it), the engineer turns to me and says, “These guys have gotten a lot better since their first album.” Hmm, yeah, I suppose they have. Though they were pretty amazing back in 2000 …
During their brief post-performance interview, the group decides to pool their limited resources in order to buy one Watt for Radio K’s fundraising PowerSurge.
But there’s a problem: Radio K doesn’t accept cash for Watts. This seemingly minor snafu hints at a big theme for the Plastic Constellations, not only on the new album but in their own lives—they ain’t got a lot of money.
After a brief interval of loading gear and looking for parking (during which time I notice that singer/guitarist Jeff Allen and bassist Jordan Roske have wedding bands on their left hands), we stroll into the Viking Bar. The Plastic Constellations have never been here before, and indeed their presence causes the bar’s median age to drop from 45 to about 30. The radio is playing the Stylistics (followed by Smokey Robinson, followed by Spinners) and I toss out my first (and only) Official Interview Question of the night.
“Why the hell,” I begin, “has it taken four years to put out this album?”
Obviously this is not the first time they’ve gotten this particular query, as all four of them start saying in unison, “OK, the rundown.” “Here’s the rundown.” “The rundown.”
The rundown isn’t very exciting. Guitarist Aaron Mader went to Europe, came home, stayed for one year of community college, dropped out, did his “thug thizzle.” Drummer Matt Scharenbroich went to MCAD, also traveled in Europe. Bassist Jordan Roske enrolled in technical college (“I was happy for the break from these guys”). Guitarist Jeff Allen became a sociology major at the University of Minnesota and got married. In sum, the Plastic Constellations veered off in slightly different directions after high school and weren’t together often enough to lay down tracks. Fair enough.
Now, on to the irrelevant stuff.
Scharenbroich is instructing Mader on the art of pouring beer (“Note: bottom third, at an angle, get the body, drop it in”), and I notice he’s undergone a radical transformation since 2000. Back then, he was the “nerdy guy,” bespectacled and quiet, looking positively studious as he thrashed at his kit. Now, unshaven and without specs, he’s a grizzled chain-smoker, still quiet, but obviously more in touch with his “inner drummer.” You can hear it on the new album, where the drumming is funkier, louder, and more ferocious. Along similar lines, Mader—though he still wears an irresistible smile and writes the saddest lyrics—has fallen deeper in love with Hip-Hop over the past four years. His lyrics on Mazatlan are bursting with flow and internal rhymes. Combine them with interlocking guitars, Allen’s strident shouts and Jordan’s tidal bass and you have an album light years beyond their first two efforts. (In the past, their songs alternated between adenoidal ballads, strange indie shout-constructions and driving punk anthems.) Now, it’s as if all these three things have shot into the air, looped around each other, and fallen to Earth as complex, self-contained machines. Riffs turn in circles, gear-like, or teeter on pivots, producing football-chants, rave-ups, even entirely new melodies within the same song. On new classics such as “Oh No, Iowa” and “Davico,” this effect becomes simultaneously ominous, angry and beautiful. By any measure, it’s their most consistent and fascinating album so far.
So, what’s with the title? “Mazatlan’s a state of mind,” says Scharenbroich (boobs, burns and beer?). “I’ve talked to people who’ve done the whole spring break thing,” adds Roske “and they say Mazatlan’s the worst place to go.” Finally Allen cuts through the mystery: “It’s really about the oppression of the Mexican government.”
Well, the song “Mazatlan” is about being too poor to go on Spring Break, in other words, not going to Mazatlan. Is this a sign that TPC are getting all class-conscious and politicized? “We’re not a political band. At all,” insists Allen. “I hate it when bands go up there and get too specific, and they’re like, ‘regressive taxation is ruining our country!’” True enough, though I should mention that Allen’s showcase on the album, “East Cleveland,” seems to be specifically about urbanization and race relations, yet still rocks hard enough to get Mimi Bobeck and Drew Carey slamdancing on the City Hall steps.
Through the evening, the conversation follows a winding trail that only four egoless best friends could beat out for themselves. We discuss how obese Frank Black has become, TPC’s mutual devotion to Bruce Springsteen and the fact that all four members grew up playing alto sax, which is the key to their greatness (“we should be spokesmen for a VH1 Save-the-Music-in-Our-Schools special”). Hopkins mayor Chuck Redepenning gets props because his wife LeRona taught Matt how to play sax. Yes, the band used to listen to Pavement and Archers of Loaf constantly; now they listen to Led Zeppelin and Usher. Mader smiles when I mention his Hip-Hop alter-ego Lazerbeak, who as it happens is very busy as part of the Doomtree collective (“that should be mentioned numerous times in the article”). After reminiscing about their first CD-release concert at the Foxfire half a decade ago (a rock opera in which Sean “Har Mar Superstar” Tillman played an “evil nightmare elf”), they hint at similar “shenanigans” during their upcoming CD release gig at the 7th St. Entry.
And in case there was any doubt, the Plastic Constellations predict a Timberwolves championship: “Wherever we are on our tour—we’re dropping everything and coming back for the ticker-tape parade,” declares Roske with his beer in the air.
The Viking Bar is getting crowded, and the Front Porch Swingin’ Liquor Pigs are starting to set up gear in the tiny corner stage. “I love this place,” says Mader to no one in particular. Allen is theorizing about mosh pits, and proposes a slogan: “Jump in unison, not collision.” It’s hard to tell if the warmth of the Viking is infecting the band, or vice versa, but it’s a sublime moment. And then 2024 records honcho Nate Roise walks in with their new Mazatlan CDs, the final product which the band is seeing for the first time … “Drinks all around” declares Roske. “Wow, four fucking years …”
The Plastic Constellations play the CD release party for Mazatlan on Sat., April 24, at the 7th St. Entry. With Valet, Doomtree and Guitar Band. 5 p.m. $6. All Ages. And again 21+ at 9 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Mpls. 612-338-8388.
You can find out more about The Plastic Constellations on their official website.
Download an mp3 of the Plastic Constellations’ song Davico.