Interview: Red Pens

With their inventive art rock and love-charged harmony, Red Pens are leaving their mark on the local music scene.

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stRedPens

Mark Brenden

Red Pens WHERE: 8 p.m., Oct. 22 WHEN: The Hexagon Bar, 2600 27th Ave. S., Minneapolis TICKETS: Free If ours were a just world, there would be rewards for artists who paid their dues with years and years of labor and sacrifices to the gods of art. Unfortunately for most, ours turns out to be an unjust world in which artists are habitually banished to the gauntlet of dumpster-diving desperation and âÄúWhat are you gonna do with that major?âÄù interrogations. Thankfully, there are a few instances where industrious artists reap what they sow. Take the art rock duo Red Pens, who, by way of a landslide, won over City Pages this year. A band that consists of two veteran artists of the Minneapolis community who decided to channel the creativity shown in their visual art into a dynamic rock ‘n’ roll two-piece whose work owes as much to Andy Warhol as it does to the Pixies And as if that werenâÄôt cute enough, they fell in love in the process. Given their male guitarist/ female drummer setup, White Stripes comparisons are inevitable. But their similarities end with their anatomy. Red Pens’ first release âÄúReasonsâÄú is like taking the White Stripes and sprawling Jackson Pollack-esque scribbles of bright colors all over them, and then having Thurston Moore come and kick them in the shins. The pair, who will be playing Oct. 22 at the Hexagon with Northfield thrashers Gospel Gossip for fellow Pixies disciples at Kill to Kill’s CD release show, welcomed A&E into their colorful abode âÄî walls enshrined with radiant original art âÄî to discuss their Sonic Youth influences, their recent successes and their unique love. Describe your sound in your own words. Howard Hamilton: 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 âÄî 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. Laura Bennett: Your rock ‘n’ roll subconscious. HH: Right. And there’s a lot of things I’ve learned over the course of time. For a while, 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 possibly 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 alongside him. I was pretty simple; I wasn’t as experienced. Drums are my only instrument. I think as we jammed and practiced more, I got more and more ideas, and I drew from my influences. 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. You are both painters. How does the art reflect the music or vice 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. JB: It’s kind of like picking up your first sword and going, âÄúI own the world!âÄù You won City Pages’ âÄúPicked to ClickâÄù best new band of 2009. What has that meant to you? JB: I was doing dishes when he told me. We were just humble; hoping people would like our songs, hoping people would like our record. We thought, âÄúWouldn’t it be fun to be in ‘Picked to Click?’ To just be number 10 or something?âÄù We didn’t think about it again. Then he comes home, and he’s like, âÄúGuess who’s ‘Picked to ClickâÄô?âÄù 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. 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 music 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. 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 weâÄôre 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 toward 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. Think you’ll stay in Minneapolis? JB: I don’t see us moving. HH: There’s no place better, really. I am pretty shocked, however, 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.