If you thought the prominent and now-fortuitous use of a Science Museum of Minnesota sweatshirt in "Stranger Things" was weird, how about this: The little-remembered '80s Minneapolis band Swing Set has landed a song in the second season of the hit Netflix TV show, featured alongside the likes of the Clash, Devo and the Police.
Titled "Blackout," the moody 1986 tune is featured in the second episode of Season 2 in a scene where the show's lead "strange kid," Will (Noah Schnapp), is riding in a car with his older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton).
"Stranger things have happened," quipped Mike Nilles, the St. Paul-based former frontman of Swing Set. Nilles still plays music around town with a newer group, the Badinovs, and even has a well-timed new album.
A Beatles-influenced, new wavy quintet, Swing Set regularly played clubs like 7th Street Entry and the Uptown Bar and earned a smattering of radio play back in the day. The post-"Blackout" era of the band also featured the late Kevin Foley on bass, who later played in Tommy Stinson's first post-Replacements group, Bash & Pop.
Swing Set broke up in 1993 and has remained inactive since then. As Nilles put it, "We went quietly into the sunset."
The band came to light again, though, thanks to the founder of its old record label, Mike Owens of Blackberry Way Records. Owens has been hustling behind the scenes in recent years getting his vinyl-era releases onto digital streaming sites and — it turns out — in TV shows.
"I've been working for about five years getting all that stuff updated and on people's radars," said Owens, whose roster of bands in the '80s also included the Flamin' Ohs and the Idle Strand. The label was an offshoot of Blackberry Way Studio in Dinkytown, where the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Soul Asylum recorded their early albums.
"The publishing side of the business is about the only place to make money these days, so that's what I've been focused on," Owens explained, referring to the money paid for use in shows, commercials, etc.
He featured "Blackout" on a 2014 compilation album, "Mini Hits of Minneapolis, Vol. 2: The Best of Blackberry Way," which caught the attention of a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in TV and film song placement. Some of the other tunes from Owens' collection have been used in the Amazon TV show "Red Oaks," including three Swing Set tunes.
"Red Oaks" is no "Stranger Things," though. Fans of the sci-fi show pore over the music in the series. Attention for Swing Set has been trickling in online, including a bump in viewership of an old video for "Blackout."
A video editor by trade, Nilles said the song — which originally appeared on Swing Set's debut album, "Life Speeds Up" — is unforeseeably appropriate for the TV show, since he wrote it while holed up by himself in a hotel in Bismarck, N.D., working on a job there. "It kind of has that lonely, barren, dark tone, like the show," he said.
While he's amused by the newfound attention, Nilles said he doubts much will come of it — even if the song should wind up on an official "Stranger Things, Season 2" soundtrack like the one issued off Season 1.
He's more focused on his current band, the Badinovs, which he formed with Pat Olberding, his bandmate from his pre-Swing Set group Smart Alex, who were regulars at the Longhorn Bar in the late-'70s. The Badinovs will play the Hook & Ladder Theater on Jan. 13 with Johnny Rey & the Reaction to tout their second album, "The Big Picture" (8 p.m., $10).
Nilles did recently reunite with his Swing Set bandmates at Maxwell's in downtown Minneapolis to celebrate and cash in the flat fee they got off the "Stranger Things" placement (after Owens took his deserved cut).
"I used the money to take them all out for beer and wings, which is what we always used to do on our rehearsal nights," Nilles said, adding that he expects at least a few more trips to Maxwell's from the prospective royalty payments off the TV show.
Hey, nothing strange about wanting more beer and wings.