New Minneapolis punk band Sass releases first single, bursts onto scene

Members of the band Sass, from left to right, Willem Vander Ark, Stephanie Jo Murck, Alex McCormick and Joey Hayes, pose in their practice space in the South East Como neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Members of the band Sass, from left to right, Willem Vander Ark, Stephanie Jo Murck, Alex McCormick and Joey Hayes, pose in their practice space in the South East Como neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Joe Cristo

The name “Sass” was not their first choice.

“I wanted to name the band Sassy after my stage name in [Cherry Cola] and the dog in ‘Homeward Bound,’” singer and guitarist Stephanie Jo Murck said. “Unfortunately — or rather fortunately — the name was taken by a soul singer in Fiji. We decided Sass sounded even cooler.”

Murck started Sass so she could sing the songs she’d been writing for the past year. The project was formed in July.

“[Bassist Alex McCormick] and I talked about being in a band together long before I joined my other bands,” Murck said. “He heard me drunkenly play my songs for him in the backyard [one] summer and thought they were cool.”

The band finally came together when Murck met songwriter and guitarist Willem Vander Ark, who had been at several shows that Murck’s other band, Tony Peachka, played.

“I’d been longing to play in a band after my last one broke up,” Vander Ark said. “I told [Murck] if she ever needed a guitar player to hit me up. My unofficial audition happened that night after the show when I played her some of my own songs.”

McCormick, Murck and Vander Ark started practicing together and recruited McCormick’s roommate, Joey Hays, as drummer.

“[Hays] was just gonna fill in for us, but fortunately he was down to become our full-time drummer,” Murck said.

Groups like Speedy Ortiz and Sleater-Kinney inspire Murck’s songwriting. Along with modern rock bands that emphasize pop structures, Sass is heavily influenced by ’70s and ’80s alternative rock like Sonic Youth and Television.

“When I met [Vander Ark] I told him I wanted to start a glam rock band,” Murck said.

Murck usually writes one to three songs a week and then brings them to the band to see which ones fit. The band writes their own parts, and from there, the songs develop from their initial form.

“I write a song at my house, in a moving car or in a closet — wherever the mood hits,” Murck said. “Typically with an acoustic guitar and moody thoughts in my head.”

Recently, the band has been experimenting with how they approach songwriting. Murck and Vander Ark now consider themselves the band’s primary songwriters.

“I think our chemistry is really developed,” Vander Ark said. “But Stephanie is the pivot on which the band revolves and her clear and powerful voice is the lighthouse guiding the rest of us.”

Sass recorded their first single, “Ragged Strawberry” and a few other tracks at The Pearl Recording Studio in Minneapolis. “Ragged Strawberry” will be released digitally near the end of October. The band is planning a Midwest tour for January.

“We’re gonna record more songs in the coming months and release [another] EP in the spring,” Murck said. “We haven’t decided on a title yet. It’ll be released on me and [Vander Ark]’s cassette label, Dangit! Records.”

Sass’s next show is Nov. 5 at the 331 Club with Mrs. and Fiji-13.