Preaching to the choir

A&E spends a month with Northfield Shoegazers Gospel Gossip

Justin Flower

Gospel Gossip has been receiving a lot of hype after releasing their debut album, “Sing into My Mouth” last year on local label Guilt Ridden Pop. They were asked to play First Avenue’s best new bands of 2007 showcase and achieved good reviews in several local publications.

A&E decided to go to all their shows in April to find out if they are worth the hype. The first one was at Big V’s on April 4 and then we went to the 7th St. Entry on the 6th. April 18 they played the Hexagon, the 19th it was a house party in their hometown of Northfield and the last show was at First Avenue on the main stage. Audiences varied anywhere from 30 to 200. Sometimes the stage was nonexistent; other times it was the mammoth 4-foot high stage at First Avenue. Like following the Grateful Dead, it’s A&E’s model that you only really get to know a band after you have gone to more than five of their shows.

Because of the interaction over a fairly long period of time, A&E wanted to hear what Gospel Gossip thought about the interview process, so we sent it to them and we have added their comments over the top. Here’s how it went.

Friday April 4 Big V’s

They had arrived at 8 p.m. just like they said they would. I had been patiently waiting at the bar, sipping beer from a plastic cup before they came in through the back. Ollie Moltaji was holding the door; he told me over the phone he had broken his ankle earlier this winter I broke my ankle in the middle of March. Had to get plates and screws all up my leg. (OLLIE MOLTAJI) by slipping on a patch of ice in front of his house. When I arrived I knew it was him because he was on crutches. Moltaji is the drummer of Gospel Gossip.

Most of the bar is empty. There are a few old-timers around, but none of the other bands have arrived yet. Gospel Gossip is set to play last. Justin Plank, the bassist, and Sarah Nienaber, the singer and guitarist enter through the open door carrying cases of equipment.

“We usually show up early and at a lot of the shows lately, we have been playing last,” Moltaji said.

Moltaji is the most approachable person in the band; he has a perpetual grin, similar to the smile you get from an old friend after not seeing them for several years.

A broken ankle can be a huge setback for a band if it happens to the drummer. Moltaji had his right ankle in a cast, the one most drummers play the kick with, forcing him to rearrange his set and learn to play with his left foot.

When Gospel Gossip went on around 1 a.m. the crowd had thinned out a bit, there were maybe two dozen people on the dance floor, and another dozen people spread around in the rest of the bar. As soon as the music started everyone was paying attention; Gospel Gossip’s presence commands attention.

Sunday April 6 7th St. Entry

An evening in the life of Gospel Gossip: preparing to play in front of a packed house of 150.

7:36 p.m. – On the corner of Chicago and Franklin the van pulls up quick, Plank’s at the wheel. It’s his van.

7:39 p.m. – We are all squeezed in tight, Deanna Steege GG’s keyboardist, Plank, Moltaji, Neinabar and I, plus all the gear. I feel like John Dunbar from “Dances with Wolves,” documenting the Native Americans AWESOME! I happen to be Native (MOLTAJI) and narrating in my mind.

Neinabar and Moltaji met as students at Carlton College, Steege used to study in Northfield and Plank, the oldest of the group, grew up there.

“I met Deanna through Unicorn Basement (Steege’s other band). They asked my old band if we could play with them while they were still based in Northfield. That didn’t happen and they moved to the cities. I played a house show with them in a band I sort of formed with my friend Marvin (owner of music Web-zine Tiny Mixtapes) and stayed in contact since. Then came Gospel Gossip and the rest’s history.” Moltaji said.

7:42 – They are talking about “Big Brother.” We were also talking about Lost, our favorite show (MOLTAJI)

7:47 – Gear unloaded, about 20 people in line outside, doors are set to open at 8 p.m.

8:04 – Doors have not opened. The band Why? is still soundchecking. Steege, Neinabar and I are outside smoking cigarettes. Neinabar is calling up friends that she could not fit on the guest list.

Neinabar has a shy demeanor off stage, but as soon as she is onstage her persona changes and her guitar screams. The guitar It’s a 1966 Fender Jaguar that she bought for a reasonable price at Twin Town guitars. (MOLTAJI) has a very classic Hendrix-style wail and tone. It screeches and howls and holds onto notes with a death-like grip. During a crescendo Neinabar rattles off notes machine-gun fast, creating a cacophony of sound mixed in with Plank’s rolling bass, Steege’s keys and Moltaji’s frenetic drumming. This rampage can be heard best in their song “Shadows are Bent,” with its dynamic range falling to whisper vocals and plucked guitar and rising to a wall of noise.

Neinabar plays her guitar the way she sings; loud, soft, loud and full of emotion. She has a tone similar to Karen O. of the YeahYeahYeahs; it catches your ear and forces you to pay attention.

8:11 – Why? still has all their gear on the stage debating how Gospel Gossip should set up theirs. Doors are still not open. Ollie has just finished nicely folding 11 Gospel Gossip T-shirts, which he sets next to their CDs and buttons.

8:35 – GG’s in the basement of the 7th street with one of the guys from Why?. His name is Austin, and he has a broken ankle from a skating accident. Austin plays bass.

8:45 – Plank polishes off a bottle of Guinness and starts on a Sierra Nevada and tells me about his right wrist after I ask about the bandage around it. “Tendonitis,” he responds. Two Heiruspecs guys come downstairs. Austin asks them about Atmosphere. Plank talks to me about the soundcheck that they didn’t get to do, because they were rushed.

“Soundcheck is like a slap in the face, we just prefer to go up there – 1, 2, 3, go,” Plank snaps his fingers as he says the word go.

“It never sounds the same,” Moltaji adds. Plank heads upstairs to check out the crowd, Ollie starts talking about the Prince show last summer. The one at First Ave. Sarah & Ollie had to wait for 30 hrs to get tickets. (JUSTIN PLANK)

9:13 – Plank comes back downstairs and reports on the sold-out show.

“We’ve never played a sold-out show,” Moltaji says. I ask him how much they will be getting paid for this and the answer is surprisingly little That’s usually how it goes when supporting national bands. Usually it’s worth it (MOLTAJI). Meanwhile Plank is applying eyeliner on Neinabar; there isn’t a mirror in the bathroom. Outside, people are being turned away at the door.

I meet Dan Ries, the fifth member of the band, who plays guitar with them intermittently. Ollie tells me the story about how Ries got involved with the band.

“We met Dan through our friends in Dragons Power Up!, whom we first played with last spring. It was a fortuitous meeting because we all knew we were going to like each other. Dan’s the drummer’s brother. That’s how he got into the band. But after seeing him play, hanging out with him, and experiencing how much he knows about music we really wanted to have him play with us on special occasions. The first time was at the Best New Bands showcase at First Avenue.” Moltaji said.

9:22 – Plank is talking about beer with one of the Heiruspecs guys. Plank really likes beer. When I’m in the right mood. I don’t want people to think I am an alcoholic (PLANK)

Plank is the outlaw of the bunch; it says so on his motorcycle jacket. He is also the oldest, and debatably the handsomest.

“Justin played bass in one of my older bands, Torn Anus (aka Rainbow Magical). He came into Gospel Gossip once we formed. That was about a year or two ago. We all actually just met each other at the time. Didn’t take long for us to be friends I guess,” Moltaji said.

9:27 – Gospel Gossip takes the stage. Some guy in the crowd yells “Freebird” between songs. This same guy comes to their show at the Hexagon later on in the month.

10:15 – Gospel Gossip has just finished their set. Steege is smoking a cigarette outside. The stage is being cleared so that Heiruspecs can set up.

10:35 – Heiruspecs are on their second song. Plank is talking to his ex-girlfriend of four years. She is tall and slender with curly black hair and very cute. Don’t even think about it Justin. (PLANK)

11:02 – Plank, his ex, and another guy (a friend of the ex, maybe more, I never asked) are walking to Pizza Luce Carleton Grad, a mutual friend of everyone’s. (PLANK). Plank is telling stories about delivering pizzas and driving with his left foot out of boredom. He goes on to tell me about his fake fingernail on the index finger of his strumming hand.

This is because, even with the use of a pick, his fingernail wears away from constantly playing hard.

12:00 a.m. – Moltaji has just made his slow perilous trek downstairs, again, and is now taking huge bites of pizza while propped up on his crutches. Finishing, he tosses a piece of crust at Steege; Neinabar gives Steege a bite of her slice. Moltaji informs me he is classically trained on the Glockenspiel. Vibraphone actually. (MOLTAJI)

12:49 – Why? has just finished their set. Austin the bass player with a broken ankle bought one of the Gospel Gossip shirts and wore it while he played.

1:36 a.m. – Finished loading the van, they still have an hourlong drive to Northfield.

Friday, April 18 Hexagon

The Hexagon was the oddest of their shows, mostly because one drunk guy was making an ass of himself on the dance floor, even throwing things. About 30 people looked on as this guy acted a fool. The sound was also the worst of all their shows. I really liked seeing him out of the corner of my eye. This guy made the show for me. (PLANK)

Afterwards, the band was talking about the drunk guy; Plank got a kick out of it for some reason. Steege asked me if I heard the guy yelling “Freebird.” It was hard to miss.

Saturday, April 19 Northfield

We go to a concert at Carlton College’s venue. The Cave: USA’s longest student-run pub. We all work there. It’s where we got our start. (MOLTAJI) Gospel Gossip is playing the after-party in an apartment with very clean white carpet. By 1 a.m. the party is in full swing, the apartment is packed with 40-50 people and extremely hot and sweaty, even though it is rather cold outside. The carpet will never be the same again. The Death Set were to play the Cave earlier that night w/ ENON and Singer. They couldn’t make it in time because of van troubles. They played the house show at 2 a.m. (MOLTAJI)

Friday, April 25 First Avenue

Gospel Gossip is back on the main stage at First Avenue to play for “Drinking with Ian.” They had previously played the main stage Jan. 18 for the Best New Bands showcase. A couple hundred people turned out for the filming of tonight’s show. Moltaji had his cast taken off earlier in the week, but he is still using one crutch to hobble around, waiting to regain strength in his foot. I’m off crutches now and am playing with my right leg. The University show on Saturday will be the first time back. (MOLTAJI)

Plank tore off his fake fingernail during their set; it seems Gospel Gossip is injury-prone. Along with most of the real one. That glue is unbelievably strong. (PLANK)