Tapes ‘n Tapes has arrived. Having ridden the largest tidal wave of blog buildup that we’ve seen this year (and subsequently being derailed by the New York Times for the hype), the four affable young men from Minneapolis — vocalist/guitarist Josh Grier, keyboardist Matt Kretzmann, bassist Erik Applewick, and drummer Jeremy Hanson — have landed themselves a sweet record deal (with XL), slots on some major summer festivals, and a tour supporting the like-minded Futureheads. We caught up with the guys before their performance at one such festival — the Village Voice’s chaotic Siren Fest — on a muggy day on Coney Island and talked about the road to success, their recently re-released debut, The Loon (they originally released it themselves in October 2005), and the difference a day can make.
You guys having a good time at Coney Island?
Yeah, it’s kind of like being on acid today, all these freaks, and then the indie kids show up…
Josh Grier: [laughs] Yeah.
So are you guys on tour right now?
JG: Well, we’re sort of in between. We got back from about a year of playing, and we’re playing a couple of shows out here, then we go back, then we start another one.
So the Village Voice called you guys “dance-rockers.” What do you think?
JG: [laughs] I think that’s the first time we’ve been called that. Hey, man, if people can dance to it . People can call us whatever they want, if they think we’re fusion jazz. I don’t agree with it …
I’m sure you’re getting this a lot, but it seems like you guys came out of nowhere. Then the blogs helped you take off, then South by Southwest, which led to a contract with XL Recordings. Can you tell me how it all came together?
JG: Well, it’s been a whirlwind, I’d say. Our manager, Gary, put some demos out on the blogs and some tracks from the record out on the blogs, and it kind of took about a day after that…
Just a day?
JG: Yeah, it was about a day after Music for Robots posted about it. After that, it’s just kind of been one thing after another — just trying to keep up with everything — and then the Pitchfork review came out that helped a lot, and everything seemed to build. After that we went to South by Southwest, and that was really crazy.
None of it seems like it’s been major leaps and bounds. It seems like kind of a logical process. If you told me eight months ago that we’d be here, I’d have told you that you were crazy. But it seems like it’s been a natural flow, just really fast.
Tell me about getting on XL. I’d imagine you were courted by everyone.
JG: We talked to a fair amount of people, and it came to them just being the best fit for us on all fronts. There were other people that were great, but at the end of the day it was, like, “All right.”
Did you closely follow the Web progress?
JG: At first. The first couple of things it was like, “Holy shit!” And then after the first week or two, it was like, “Whoa, this stuff is crazy.” And then I kind of phased out of it, and then something else big would happen and we’d be like, “Holy crap, we’re there!”
When was the first time it sunk in that it was gonna be pretty big?
JG: I don’t even know that it’s sunk in yet. It’s definitely way crazier than I ever could have imagined, but at the same time, at least for me, it’s never like, “Well, we did good, let’s take a break. We made it.” [laughs] Its like, “Oh, shit, we have so much more to do.” It’s constantly going, so there hasn’t been that breath of air to be like, “Oh, look what we’ve done.” Every time, a cool opportunity comes along like [playing at Siren Festival] or opening for the Futureheads or something else that’s even crazier.
Let’s talk influences. It seems like your band’s always compared to the Pixies, and Pavement, and Wire. They’re great bands, and you do wear these influences on your sleeves. How do they influence your songwriting process?
JG: Generally what happens is I’ll come up with a song, or ideas for a song, and kind of hash out parts of it to the other band members, and we’ll work on it from there. As far as influences, those are definitely all bands that I’ve listened to, other than Wire. I wouldn’t say that, when people compare us to those bands, it’s flattering. It’s the bands that we love, but I don’t know if you always hear it.
You can pick it out in different songs.
Tell me about the Minneapolis scene. It seems like there’s a lot of devotion there, that it’s a tight scene.
JG: Yeah, especially with the bands. Everyone’s supportive of the bands. It’s a very close-knit group of people. Everybody. You can play six degrees of separation and get to any band in the town.
Did you guys grow up seeing bands like Lifter Puller, bands like that?
Erik Appelwick: I wasn’t really that aware of then in the local scene when I was growing up. It was more the bigger bands like the Replacements, Soul Asylum, that stuff. I wasn’t super nerdy indie kid or whatever. I listened to more like jazz and classic. … Did you ever to go any Lifter Puller shows?
Jeremy Hanson: I never went to a Lifter Puller show, but I listened to a lot of that. I listened to a lot of local stuff; I’d go to shows. A couple venues would have one all-ages night, like a Sunday night.
How did you guys all get together?
JG: Well, me and my college roommate, we talked Matt [Kretzmann] into playing bass, and then my college roommate left — he went to grad school. After we graduated from college, we were living in Minneapolis. We got our first real drummer right about when Steve was leaving, and then the lineup changed and evolved into what it is now. Matt left and came back and now he plays keyboards, and Jeremy we knew ’cause he knew his older brother.
Your favorite question, I bet: How did the name come about?
JG: It was a late-night drunken recording session where we were just improvising and having a kitchen timer tell us when we needed to stop improvising, and that would be the end of a song. On a four track. So after a couple of nights, we had tapes and tapes worth of songs, so… . Thank god none of the songs still exist. [laughs]
And you recorded an earlier EP? Was that one home-recorded?
JG: No, we went up to a parent’s cabin — it was cold, no running water, three days. We had a three-day weekend and just went up there. We got all the equipment I think the day before — it all arrived in the mail. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. [laughs] “Let’s turn on the mikes! I’ve seen people do this before!”
Any of those songs end up on The Loon?
JG: No, no, but we’ll play a couple of ’em today, there’s a couple we still play. We could still play a couple more, but I dunno …
The Loon was recorded in a studio?
JG: Yeah, a friend of ours had a basement studio that he was still working on. It was kind of under construction, so he gave us a really good, cheap deal.
So you guys lost a member recently?
JG: It was the beginning of April, the end of March. It was one of those things where sometimes things may work out fine personally, but sometimes being in a band together doesn’t always work out … .
Have the lineup changes affected the sound or the aesthetic at all?
JG: Not too much; it kind of stayed the same. I think that we’re a bit more professional now than when we were when we first started. But you can’t help it: You play a lot of shows, you aren’t as bad as you used to be. [laughs]
So from here, you tour back to Minneapolis?
JG: Well, we just flew out here, and then we play a show at Maxwell’s tomorrow, fly back, then come back ’cause we’re actually playing Letterman on July 25, and that’s the start of the tour with the Futureheads, ending up in San Diego. We got hooked up with them ’cause we opened for them in Minneapolis when they cane through town, and we hit it off.
After the tour, are there plans for another album? Do you have newer material ready?
JG: The material that didn’t make the album we ended up just trashing, we just let it go. I think it’s for the best. After this tour, we go to Europe for a while. We’re gonna be on the road until I think December, off and on, and then after that we’ll take some time and work on a record.
Do you write on the road?
JG: No. Generally, I need to be sitting alone in a room with my guitar.
And this is your first time really with a long tour.
JG: Yeah, we’ve done a couple-week tours before, but nothing like tour, tour, tour, tour.
When does the album actually come out?
JG: We have a worldwide release on July 24. So like, next week.
How exciting, but too bad everyone already has it!
JG: Yeah. [laughs] Well, I think it’s here; it’s wider distribution. If you don’t buy it online or from us, there are only a handful of stores it’s actually in. This will be wide, national.
Did you guys distribute it yourself?
JG: Yeah, it was just us.
Did you try to shop it?
JG: No. That just seemed like a waste of time to us. We figured, Let’s just put it out, and if people like it enough at the point where we need a label … . But it wasn’t even a discussion. Like, “Oh, let’s shop this around.” We were like, “Oh, we recorded a record; let’s put it out.”
It’s such a different story in bigger cities like New York City, where there are so many bands and they’re all trying to get signed.
JG: Well, yeah, there aren’t really that many labels in Minneapolis at all. There’s a few, but for the most part, it’s not that much different from running it out of your bedroom. What does a label do? It does distribution; it does the stuff that we basically do. We kind of turned into a label.