Friday, May 22, 2009

The Suburbs vs. The New Standards

It’s a distracting day in the newsroom. The boss brought in doughnuts and a copy desker brought in brownies and other treats, which is enough to cause giddy stampedes to the center island and spark conversation amongst the staff.

Although I was as grateful as anyone to see (and eat) the treats, it just wasn’t a good day for distractions. It’s very hard to write with people milling around carrying on conversations, especially when it’s a story you’re sort of stuck on.

Interviewing and writing about musicians and/or celebs is the funnest parts of my job. It’s also the toughest. These are bands that some of my readers will know all about, so if the tone of the article is off, they’ll be able to tell. When it’s a band I don’t know much about from personal experience, I have to rely on research and a 20-minute interview to get a feel for them. And it’s hard to size anybody up in 20 minutes.

This week I faced a different kind of problem in this area. I interviewed Chan Poling, formerly of The Suburbs. He and John Munson (formerly of Trip Shakespeare and the multi-platinum Semisonic) and Steve Roehm (Billy Goat and Electropolis) have formed The New Standards, a band playing the Red Sky Lounge on the 29th.

You can’t just wing it when you interview someone famous. You look ill prepared and uninterested if you say, “So, what kind of music do you play? Have you recorded any albums?” These are the kind of questions you ask a Mankato band just getting started. With established bands, you read up about them and prepare your questions accordingly. You know all the answers to the obvious questions, and you ask the questions that aren’t so obvious.

I had a bit of trouble with Poling. There is surprisingly little information about The Suburbs on the Web. There’s a Wikipedia entry (which is certainly dangerous to go by), there’s a tiny blurb on Twin/Tone’s Web site and a few other interviews and things. I ran into similar problems with Trip Shakespeare, Billy Goat and Electropolis. Trying to find images of any of the bands (even Semisonic) large enough to reproduce in the newspaper was nearly impossible.

Luckily, Poling was an incredly nice guy. Totally down to earth and happy to talk at length about the past and the formation of his new band. That certainly makes a difference between an article that includes just the basics (brief band history, show date and location, musical style and recordings, and a couple of short quotes) and one that provides a look at the personality of a musician and the spirit of a band, their foundation and their drive.

But I’m not sure I quite have a handle on the heyday of The Suburbs in the late 1970s and ‘80s. I would have been in elementary school, so I didn’t own any albums. I certainly didn’t go to any of their club shows at First Ave or Longhorn’s. The comparison between that loud, original, punk-rock scene and the drastically different scene of The New Standards -- quieter, jazz-infused cover tunes -- is an important part of the story.

Luckily, again, I have two coworkers who were big Suburbs and Trip Shakespeare fans. They’ll be able to tell me if I got it right.

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