If you didn't know about their big record deal or their two gigs at First Avenue next week or the fact that their last two local shows sold out, it might sound like things are not going too well for Night Moves.
The trio of former Southwest High School pals currently don't have a record to their name -- nothing to sell and show for the two years and innumerable paychecks the members spent laboring in a recording studio. They also don't know who their permanent drummer is going to be.
They don't even know for sure if their slow-grooving, neo-twangy, cosmically baked band will be named Night Moves a month from now, thanks to possible conflicts with Bob Seger's 1976 hit single and a 1975 movie with the same title. Musicians born in the late 1980s couldn't be expected to know those things.
You won't catch any of them complaining, though.
"We're sitting and waiting on some things," singer/guitarist John Pelant, 23, said, "but we're still sitting in a good position."
Last week, that position was a table at the Driftwood Char Bar, a rugged south Minneapolis watering hole close to their parents' houses and just up the street from the former Nicollet Park Studio. That's where they spent so many days working on the record of theirs that you can't yet buy. They even lived in the studio space for about a month, before the black mold in the basement started giving them runny noses.
They also swore off the Driftwood, they said, after another patron flashed his genitals at them one recent afternoon. "It got real weird real quick," bassist Micky Alfano said.
"I didn't think it was that weird," guitarist/keyboardist Mark Ritsema retorted, which itself was quite weird.
Laid-back, sardonic, hazy-headed dudes who said they first came together over skateboarding and smoking weed, they sounded clearer and more mission-fueled than ever two nights earlier, at a 7th Street Entry gig they later claimed was their best show yet.
Backed by drummer John Evert, the trio churned out an impressively plush and regal blend of atmospheric slide-guitar, warm organ parts, hypnotically heavy bass lines and occasional electronic beats. Pelant sang over all those layers in his high-wavering, sandy-bottomed voice, part Roger Hodgson (Supertramp) and Andrew VanWyngarden (MGMT). It was an impressive live set by a band that will get to make a lot of first impressions later this year.
In December, Night Moves officially joined the roster at the Domino Recording Co., arguably the most promising record deal of any young Twin Cities band right now. The success stories out of Domino's London and New York offices include Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Animal Collective, the Kills, Dan Deacon and the currently buzzing Real Estate.
With that track record -- along with their own admission of being lazy about the business side of their music -- the Night Moves guys say they are thrilled about the deal.
"I think signing a record deal sort of just adds to the classic aspects we wanted in this band," Pelant said.
Night Moves did issue its '70s/Todd Rundgren-styled sonic opus of a debut album last summer. Titled "Colored Emotions," the 10-song collection was available for three months via local indie Afternoon Records -- as a free download, no less.
The point of issuing the album for nothing, the band said, was to aim for everything they have now. A remixed and spruced-up version of said record will be released internationally on Domino probably this summer.
"I feel like nobody ever wants to buy some young band's CD anyway, even if it's just $7 or whatever," said Pelant, who used to perform in the very young, Radio K-adored electronic rock act Battle Royale with Ritsema. Ritsema also played with Alfano in the Pavementy band Mouthful of Bees.
Local fans picked up on the free record. Then Radio K did. Then 89.3 the Current. Paul Gillis, who manages local stars Peter Wolf Crier and Jeremy Messersmith, caught the band's Current in-studio session. He took on Night Moves and brought them to the attention of multiple record labels.
"We had several meetings that were 'Order anything you want' kind of things," Alfano incredulously recalled. He added, "It was the smart move to let the record go for free. But really, we just wanted people to hear it because we had worked on it for so long."
Over the record's two-year making, Night Moves would spend only a few days per month recording -- "whenever we could pool enough money to buy the studio time," Alfano explained. Studio engineer John Miller marveled at the band members' million-dollar ideas.
"They wanted everything to be perfect, to the point where they would spend a couple hours fiddling with their guitar pedals," said Miller, who claims that 100 different parts were recorded for some songs. You'll believe him when you hear densely layered tracks such as the opener "Headlights" (one of only two tracks now available at Night Moves' Bandcamp Web page) or the record's sweeping, dramatic highlight, "Old Friends."
Laughing at the memory now, Miller said of working with the young musicians, "I thought, 'Who do these guys think they are?' But I think they were such perfectionists because they knew they were onto something really good."
Ironically, it was a less-than-perfect live set that sold Night Moves to Domino.
Kris Gillespie, manager at Domino's office in New York, flew to town last August to see the band perform at the Square Lake Festival musical campout -- hardly the kind of place where a band hopes to play a showcase for a prospective label. Not only was it on a makeshift outdoor stage on a rainy and muggy day, but the band also had to perform with a drum machine instead of either of its drummers.
"It certainly was not ideal conditions, but that's a good way of seeing if a band can rise above whatever is thrown at them," Gillespie laughingly recalled. "You could still very much see the band dynamic, and that was worth the weight in gold."
Luckily, the trio had already made a strong impression on label reps with its labored-over recordings. The label now plans a quick and possibly significant overhaul of the album, though. "Colored Emotions" will be remixed, and a song or two will be traded for other songs. Gillespie said the changes will be subtle -- "mostly technical stuff that the Minneapolis fans won't even notice," he said.
"What they did was pretty special, and in no way do we want to change the essence of the recordings."
This, too, doesn't cause Night Moves' laid-back makers to freak out.
"We went through so many different points of view on the way the record should sound. I see this as really just a continuation of that," said Pelant.
The old-pal bandmates still work day jobs and say they have yet to get any label money. Whenever they do get a check, much of it will go toward reimbursing Alfano for their new, used tour van, which will take them take down to South by Southwest in March, and who knows where else. Next week's First Ave gigs, including the Best New Bands showcase Wednesday and the Current's birthday bash next Friday, are like the final exams to their months of steady local gigging.
Touring will add yet another year or two to their album's already lengthy life span. They're cool with that, too.
"I feel like our bands before this were all high school bands, which were short-lived and burned out fast," Pelant said. "We wanted to take this one slower and do something with staying power."
They're in it for the long haul, in other words.
First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2011
- With: Night Moves, Bloodnstuff, Dream Crusher, Fire in the Northern Firs, Gramma's Boyfriend, MaLLy and Sexcat
- When: 7:30 p.m. Wed 1/25
- Where: First Avenue
- Tickets: $7. 18 & older
- More event information
89.3 The Current's 7th Birthday Party (Night 1)
- With: Tapes 'N Tapes, Dead Man Winter, Low and Night Moves.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Fri 1/27
- Where: First Avenue
- Tickets: Sold out
- More event information
More 'Best New Bands'
Two former members of the artier/weirder Economy Team, singer/guitarist Ed Holmberg and drummer Dylan Gouret, go for broke -- as in busted eardrums -- in this punky sludge-metal duo. Of all the names on Wednesday's bill at First Avenue, this is the one that has already proven its prowess as a live act.
Call them the female Har Mar Superstars, (alas) minus the stripping. Singers/strutters Megan Charles and Hannah von der Hoff deliver sexually fueled, party-driving electronic R&B with help from synth-plunking musicmaker Garrett Neal. Their song titles tellingly include "Electric Hypz" and "Sexpot."
Call them the mellow Marijuana Deathsquads. Fort Wilson Riot singer Jacob Mullis and members of Me & My Arrow dabble in moody, hypnotic electronic grooves in this all-improv all-star band, anchored by two drummers (including Night Moves' Jared Isabella) and former Solid Gold member Shon Troth's atmospheric slide-guitar work. You can hear them live Friday on Radio K's "Off the Record" at 4 p.m. (770 AM, 104.5 or 100.7 FM).
FIRE IN THE NORTHERN FIRS
One of the best things about onetime baby buzz band First Communion Afterparty, singer Carin Barno is out front more and echoing the '80s instead of the '60s in this similarly psychedelic group inspired by the likes of Siouxsie & the Banshees and Dead Can Dance.
While he has been one of the harder-hustling rappers in the scene for several years now, Minneapolis-reared, University of St. Thomas-educated, Nas-channeling MC Malik Watkins, 25, broke bigger last year with his "Fifteenth of the Month" download series. Last month's single, "Cloud Culture," was one of the highlights. He's working on a full-length album to follow the boost he's sure to get as an opener on Atmosphere's Welcome to Minnesota Tour next month.
Singer/songwriter Haley Bonar cuts loose in this lighthearted, heavily rocking, New Wavey all-star band, also featuring Bonar's omnipresent guitar-wiz sidemen Jeremy Ylvisaker and Jacob Hanson along with Rogue Valley drummer Luke Anderson. Their chemistry is built in, but the musical elements are wildly different from their other bands -- part of what makes this such a fun side project.