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Not only is Pennyroyal one of the best new local bands you probably haven't heard, but it also has one of the best stories you'll ever hear about how two people met to form a band.
Angie Oase, the group's blonde mohawk-haired frontwoman, was playing solo sets around town in 2009 when she started covering a song called "Sarah," by an obscure Seattle songwriter named Ethan Rutherford. She got his CD from a friend of a friend. As Rutherford quipped, "My mom and sister were the only other two people who'd heard it."
Lo and behold, one night while Oase performed the song at Anodyne coffee shop in south Minneapolis, there sat a flabbergasted Rutherford, who had just relocated here to attend grad school at the University of Minnesota. Oase, too, was a transplant, having moved from Minot, N.D., to attend Macalester College.
"It was one of those things where you go, 'What are the chances?'" Rutherford said. "We had to do something together after that."
Finding each other across thousands of miles was just the start. Pennyroyal would go on to bridge a cross-section of musical influences to become a band that's hard to peg but easy to appreciate -- part Pretenders-style sass, part Velvet Underground-ian drone, part modern alt-twang.
Rutherford, the guitarist and part-time singer, is the Velvets nut in the group. Oase (pronounced like "ohs") grew up on old-school country and channels Patsy Cline better than a lot of pure-twang singers -- never mind that she looks as if she should be in a riot-grrrl act or Wendy O. Williams tribute band. Bassist Bill Hoben and drummer Jake Mohan are metalheads who also play in an instrumental hard-rock band, Wizard Fight.
These seemingly disparate influences were part of what made Pennyroyal's 2010 debut album, "Sad Face/Glad Face," such an interesting listen. Now, though, the quartet sounds much more coalesced and solidified on its follow-up EP, "Places," which it will promote Friday at Cause Spirits & Soundbar.
"A lot of the songs on our first album we learned while we were still getting to know each other, personally and musically," Oase recalled before a rehearsal session last week.
Soft-spoken and quick to laugh, the 28-year-old singer now knows her bandmates well enough for them to brag about her having her high-school basketball team's record for most three-pointers in a season. When it's suggested a yearbook be dug up for confirmation, she shot down the idea.
"You'll see why I have a mohawk," she cracked. "I've always had the worst haircuts."
The visual and emotional focal point of Pennyroyal, Oase was dealing with conflicted feelings about moving to a big city and coming out as a lesbian when the band formed. Those feelings of alienation could be heard throughout the debut and are especially prominent in the newer, Spoon-like gem, "Minot." In it, she sings, "A Minot of broken strings / A Minot of lost endings / I untie myself of these things."
"Minot" was originally released as a benefit single last summer when flooding ravaged Oase's hometown. It then became the basis for "Places," a five-song collection referencing different towns. "Mad City" is based on a trip to Madison, Wis., where a gig unknowingly got canceled. "New York Kids" riffs on the pursuit of coolness around Brooklyn. Cleveland and New Orleans are the EP's other two stops.
While the "city" songs were all written coincidentally, Oase sees one loose thematic tie: "There's a sense of escapism in them, of wanting to be somewhere else," she said.
Pennyroyal appears quite content staying put in Minneapolis in the coming months. Other upcoming gigs include a May 13 in-store at Hymie's Records (3 p.m.) and a May 18 slot during the 331 Club's Art-a-Whirl bash. One reason for putting out the EP now was to round out all these set lists.
Ironically, one song the band never includes in its sets is "Sarah," the one that originally brought its leaders together. "We've tried it, but it just doesn't work," Oase said.
Rutherford, who's married (to a woman not named Sarah), laughingly added, "I've moved on anyway."
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