Things were surreal from the get-go Monday night at the Boxcar restaurant in Prescott, Wis., where a band of tattooed, pierced, chain-smoking Minneapolis musicians hung out on quaint, quiet drag of Broad Street in this historic river town.
The night took an even more imaginative feel when a Communist Daughter song suddenly came on the radio. "Weird," said the heavily bearded singer/guitarist Johnny Solomon, as "The Lady Is an Arsonist" filled the restaurant via the Current. "And I was just about to tell you how Molly sang her parts to this song right here in the basement before she was even part of the band."
Things have fallen together in very weird, unplanned ways for Communist Daughter. The band's fluky ascent continues with the release of its captivating debut album, "Soundtrack to the End," a mostly acoustic, lo-fi but highly melodic and inventive folk-rock collection. Solomon, 31, used to front the more electrified and manic group Friends Like These, which fizzled out quickly as he succumbed to drug problems. He retreated to Prescott to get his act together.
"This band is so laid-back and open-ended, and I think a lot of that has to do with us being here" in Prescott, Solomon said. "This is a place people come to hang out, and I think this is very much a hanging-out kind of band."
Drummer Steve Yasgar, who previously played in A Whisper in the Noise (as did new keyboardist Lee Van Lith), started coming to Prescott to help Solomon open the restaurant and wound up recording demos with him downstairs. Singer Molly Moore, who helps sell the tenderness in Solomon's vocals, came into the Boxcar for a drink one night. "I found out she was a singer, and the next thing you know she was downstairs singing with us," Solomon said.
Solomon started writing Communist Daughter songs as solace from the stress of opening the restaurant, but he also had many more issues to sort through: There's his recent divorce, the death of musician friend Jeff Hanson, his addiction problems, plus the long-simmering family issues heard in the standout track "Not the Kid." The latter song was inspired by old family photos that Solomon's mom sent him when she was gravely ill.
Solomon seemed unburdened from all this as he talked cheerily about all those songs while surrounded by his bandmates at the place he now calls home. Of late he has been trying to get more musicians to perform there, the real intent of which is to get into them into the basement to help record a covers album.
"Anybody want to go downstairs and try 'Glad Girls'?" he said Monday, mentioning a Guided by Voices song.
So much for escaping the life of a city-dwelling rock 'n' roller.