It's about 10:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday, and the live-music room at Cause Spirits & Soundbar is full. Headliners the Rockford Mules are playing later, but the band most people came to see is taking the stage now. A wiry figure in a sleeveless denim jacket creeps up to the microphone and tells the crowd something it already knows.
"We're the Japhies and we play rock 'n'roll," lead singer Reed Wilkerson declares matter-of-factly, before thrusting -- literally -- into a rowdy set that would find him and his bandmates on the floor, on top of the bar and flicking off passersby through the window. By the third song, tufts of hair are flying -- on stage and in the crowd -- and the skinny frontman is parading around as much as the small stage permits, feeding off bassist Matt Homan's energy with arena-rock panache.
Wilkerson's simple, declarative statement is the only introduction needed for a band whose songs operate on such a primal level. It's the kind of loud, recalcitrant rock music that once upon a time made guys want to pick up guitars, if only to look cool and impress girls. Think late-'70s Aerosmith speedballing liquid adrenaline, with "Appetite"-era Guns N' Roses swagger and a hint of the Stooges.
By the end of the night the quartet, rounded out by Ben Hovorka on guitar and drummer Anthony Gore, has sold all of its merch, and we firm up plans to meet at their Minneapolis studio for an interview. After unloading gear and several minutes of jokes with "Don't print that" appendages, we settle into their shared space around 2:45 a.m. to chain-smoke and, you know, talk about the band.
"Most of us are kind of at an age where all our friends are graduating college, getting good jobs, starting families, and none of that really has any type of appeal to us, because we have [the band] and this is what we want to do," Wilkerson says, over the sound of a crappy prog-metal band practicing in a nearby room.
For a band with an uncanny ability to make every night feel like Saturday night -- and a band named for a character in Jack Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums" -- the Japhies are a disciplined group of rocker dudes, actively setting goals and working diligently toward them. This work ethic has served the stentorian foursome well, as they say they now have a contingency of fans (not friends) who come to every show, and they belong to the slim company of bands that have received airplay on both 93X and the Current. Now they're one of three new bands selected to play Vita.mn's Are You Local? contest on Friday.
The Japhies are a celebration of all the fun, rock 'n' roll clichés that have fallen out of favor with the indie generation -- cool hair, ostentatious tattoos, a cocky onstage demeanor and our-dicks-are-bigger-than-yours riffs -- and because of this, Wilkerson says they've gotten flak from other bands in town for not being artsy or "MCAD-approved."
"Look at a band like AC/DC," Homan interjects, slouched on the floor with his Van Halen chest tattoo peeking through his open jacket and his girlfriend draped over his shoulder. "That is not artistic music. It's super simple, but they connect with a lot of people."
And that is precisely the band's chief objective: making accessibly raucous music to reach people with diverse palates, regardless of how many people dog them for it.
With an album in the works to follow up last year's debut EP, a strict adherence to traditional rock tenets can be expected from this band of Led Zeppelin fans, even if that's unfashionable during music's Pitchfork period. "Rock 'n' roll will never die," Wilkerson says. "It just goes to sleep for a while and comes back and rips people's faces open."
As the interview winds down, I gather my things and thank them for staying up after the show to talk with me until 4 a.m.
"I was going to be up anyway trying to see how many girls friended me on Facebook," Wilkerson jokes.
Someone informs him there were three.