FULL Red Pens Interview

by Mark Brenden

Hello, pals. Here is my full conversation with City Pages "Picked to Click" winners Red Pens. Enjoy.

Mark Brenden: How do you guys like living in uptown?

Howard Hamilton: We love it. It’s like living too close to Kwolski’s and Walgreen’s, it’s 24 hours, it’s kinda crazy. Everybody’s constantly over there every time they want one little thing.

Laura Bennett: I don’t drive, so I wanted to live where I could walk to anything I needed — the grocery store, Walgreen’s.

MB: How long have you lived here?

LB: I think I moved into this apartment last summer, and you [gestures at Howard] moved in last spring? Yeah. But I’ve also lived in uptown. I think I’ve lived here like ten years or something, and I lived in Northeast for a little while too and I love it there. I love it all over the place. It’s really hard to afford to live in uptown, but since we have this unique basement-style apartment I’ll call it, it’s a little more affordable than, say, the apartments upstairs, which, maybe someday we could get more natural light if we moved up there.

MB: So have you seen uptown change over the last decade then?

LB: Yeah, I guess. I remember coming up here a lot from Wisconsin, where I’m from, and I was always excited about, you know, Minneapolis and I still love it but I see more condos and less ma and pa stores. I just have a big heart for the independent businesses and record stores, and it’s cool to see them kinda still hangin’ out, fighting for the right to sell vinyl.

MB: Fightin’ the good fight.

LB: Exactly.

MB: So how and why did you guys form?

HH: [Thoughtful pause]. We met and we were just trying to make art together, like visual art. And it ended up being — uh — it just didn’t really work.

LB: Well we wanted to be all like, "Let’s get together and collaborate." Or he’d draw on something, and I’d draw on something. And I didn’t know how to draw on his art; I liked his art the way it was. So he did his and I did mine and we just kinda sat across from each other with different sketch books, drawing. He’d seen my art; I’d seen his. I knew of him through mutual friends long before he knew me, because of the music he did in the past. I was like, "Oh it’s Howard from Busy Signals." Then I got to meet him and I thought he was really cool and wondered if he’d play music with me. I didn’t think it would ever happen but I figured what the hell I’ll ask anyway. So I think he’d figured, "Ok, you’re fun. We’ll jam someday."

MB: How long have you been a band?

HH: It’s been about two years.

MB: Is "Reasons" your first album?

LB: Yeah. We’ve put out an EP before but "Reasons" is our only record.

MB: I think it kicks ass by the way.

LB: Thank you. It sounds like how I felt at the time. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. I feel the luckiest I’ve ever felt.

MB: Building on that, I’ll ask you to describe your sound in your own words.

LB: [To Howard] You describe your sound first and I’ll describe the way I build around it.

HH: You know of the course of my life I’ve listened to tons of music, and I’d just take a band and end up taking a little bit. So I’ve taken a little from all the music I’ve worshipped, from classic rock to Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, all that stuff. Not to like rip it off — I just wanted to show their influence on me. It’s actually there, you know. When you listen to music enough, without even trying the music you listen to comes through in your music.

LB: Your rock ‘n’ roll subconscious.

HH: Right, and there’s a lot of things I’ve learned over the course of time. For awhile I just did music that was based around loops. And now I incorporate the loops — there’s background loops in this band, but the whole thing isn’t based around loops. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve learned on guitar. I make up my own tunings, and a lot of that is what’s important to our sound. You know, there’s nobody else that could have possible done these tunings before or by chance be using these tunings.

LB: [To Howard] You are the most amazing person, musically, that I’ve met so that kinda made my drumming. I sorta formed along side him. I was pretty simple; I wasn’t as experienced. Drums are my only instrument. I was playing pretty simple and I think as we jammed and practiced more I got more and more ideas and I drew from my influence. Like I love the Beatles. I love Guided by Voices. And I love simple drums, but ones that actually play with the song and don’t fight the song. I wanted to sort of blend in and frame, sink into what he’s doing because we started reading off each other so well. [Our music] is just like some happy ping pong.

MB: I love Guided by Voices as well.

LB: Hell yeah, they make me crazy. They’re one of those bands that made me want to really try to go for being in a band long before I actually could.

MB: You cite My Bloody Valentine, Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth as influences on your Myspace but there is one band that stands out from the rest — Pink Floyd. Where is that in your sound?

HH: Well that first Pink Floyd record, "Piper at the Gates of Dawn."

JB: Syd Barret!

HH: Some of the delay sounds and the squawking that happens in that is totally deep inside my subconscious. I wish I could be that cool. I wish that influence would shine through.

MB: You are both painters. How does the art reflect the music or vise versa?

JB: I have been painting and drawing for a long time. Sometimes I’m painting what I think the music looks like. It’s what sounds look like to me. I also like painting things that look like radios or things that transmit sound. I’ve always been obsessed with old radios and things like that. And I also was a total geek for album covers for a long time, and I wanted to do art that people would want on their records. So every once in a while someone will ask me to do some art for their band’s cover or a poster. I jump at it. I want to have a way to unite art and music.

MB: Interchangeable visual and auditory sounds, huh? Is that the same way with the lyrics too? For example, your song "Blue Lighters" kind of sounds like finding a blue lighter.

HH: Everything definitely goes together. Like I’ll have a drawing and it’ll have a caption under it, and that caption will end up being used in a song. And the music will end up sounding like the drawing. When that’s done right, that’s what we’re trying to achieve. That’s the ultimate goal: to make the music sound like the art, and have the lyrics come through and be interconnected. It just seems normal to us. With a song like "Blue Lighters," it’s really nice to hear you say that, because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. When I was in kindergarten there was a girl who was trying to be a girlfriend. We got off the school bus, holding hands, and there was a blue lighter on the ground and she handed it to me. So here I was, a five-year-old kid with a lighter.

JB: It’s kind of like picking up for first sword and going, "I own the world!"

MB: So what bands have you been into lately?

HH: We’ve been listening to a lot of Gospel Gossip lately. We’ve been nuts over that.

JB: Baby Guts is another one that has been fun to listen to, too. Joy Division, Pixies, Modern Lovers — stuff like that.

MB: You won Citypages "Picked to Click" best new band of 2009. What has that meant to you?

JB: I was doing dished when he told me. We were just humble, hoping people would like our songs, hoping people would like our record. We thought, "Wouldn’t it be fun to be in ‘Picked to Click?’ To just be number ten or something?" We didn’t think about it again. Then he comes home and he’s like, "Guess who’s ‘Picked to Click?’"

HH: We still don’t have a lot of people come to our shows. We are still waiting for a crowd to come. So it really came as a surprise. There still hasn’t been an instance where we’ve packed them in.

LB: Yeah, back in the day people used to not be afraid to stand in the front and dance and look silly.

MB: Now we just kinda loiter in the back.

LB: Yeah I find myself doing it to and I start to think, "This band’s gonna think I’m not into them but really my back just hurts … But now that I’ve been in a band and seen what it’s like, I try to stand as close to the stage as I can.

MB: How big do you guys want to get?

HH: We want to get big enough to where we have a nice van we can tour in, maybe pay our rent with the band and be able to take a few months here and there where we can just make art, and not worry about selling the work to make a living.

MB: You guys have a show on the 22nd at the Hexagon.

HH: Yeah I think it is Kill to Kill’s release show, and Gospel Gossip will be playing too, and we shouldn’t ever play behind them. So I think deductively we will be playing first.

MB: The Hexagon’s a good place.

JB: Yeah it’s always fun to see all the punk rockers and the art kids and the hippies — all of whom I love.

MB: Which of those demographics do you think you belong to?

JB: I want to say that we are straight up rock ‘n’ roll. But I want the punkers to like it too. I feel like I’m a little bit of all of them. I’m definitely a hippie. I love things from the ’50s to the ’70s, so it’s hard to say what exactly we are. But I know what’s made us get here.

HH: I think I consider myself what you might call an "ex-punk rocker." When you don’t know what you are anymore — you’re just everything, ya know?

MB: So what’s on your horizons?

JB: We have some new songs we’ve been working on. But not right away. I don’t want to be one of those bands that puts out six records in a year. So now I think were just thinking about which songs we will have on our next record. Obviously we would like to go play out of the country someday, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen until we actually play in another state. [laughs]

HH: I think what we’re working towards is making it through the winter alive and then take the country in the spring. Just take a little time and spread the word around nationally. Hopefully get a better vehicle and hit the road in the spring time.

MB: Think you’ll stay in Minneapolis?

JB: I don’t see us moving.

HH: There’s no place better, really.

MB: How do you feel about the Minneapolis scene compared to other ones you’ve seen?

HH: I’m pretty shocked at the low attendance at some of the shows. People aren’t coming out much, but there is a lot to be excited about. I think everybody must be at band practice.