“We are the anti-temperance league”

The University string quartet combines gypsy jazz, vampires and vests for a manic pirate feeling.

by Mary Reller

When they’re wearing matching vests and old time-y hats, they’re the Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League — a string quartet with University of Minnesota ties that plays gypsy tunes.

But without the getup, they’re just a quirky bunch of dudes with a fondness for drinking and obscurities.

“Hey Pete, if you get up right now I’ll buy you a sandwich and a small Redbull,” University alum Dan Rosen said to band mate Pete Whiteman as he coaxed him out of bed last Saturday morning.

Rosen, the band’s main lyricist, is a science fiction freelance writer by day. So it’s no surprise that he writes songs about vampires and manipulative virtual girlfriends.

“When we say we write songs about virtual reality and vampires … I think it could be very easy to get the wrong idea,” Rosen said. “I use that kind of construction because it makes it easier to abstract a message. That way, it’s not hitting you over the head with whatever the core issue is.”

A song about a Japanese cartoon girlfriend, for example, is about a man living in a virtual reality. The character’s cyber world girlfriend tells him he needs to change his gender online.

Rosen said although it may seem unusual, the songs’ topics are, in fact, about more serious issues like gender identity and relationship struggles.

The group’s lyrics send a message on a deep level, University student Whiteman said. But even he said he’s sometimes unsure what the messages are before they’re developed.

One of Whiteman’s favorite hard-hitting tunes is titled “Millennial Blues.”

“It’s all like, ‘I’m borrowing all this money from my dad, and I’m spending it all, and I don’t know how to make my life, so I just take selfies all day,’” Whiteman said. “We were playing that up in Duluth, at one point, and my dad was like, ‘Did you write that song?’ and I’m like, ‘No, Dad, but sometimes I think it was written about me.’”

The song also talks about having a family and then losing it because you don’t understand the intrinsic value of relationships, Rosen said.

In addition to unconventional lyrics, the band has an eclectic image that they present on stage. They call their music “prohibition swing,” and they dress up to fit the part.

“We have fun. We aren’t afraid to look like a bunch of dorks,” University alum Alan Peterson said.

Rosen said he is always a gentleman, but when he wears all the gear, he makes a pretty loud statement.

“A lot of bands will wear what I consider to be a costume,” Rosen said. “Like, what’s the difference between this and wearing a deep ‘V’ with my chest tattoo [showing] and some piercings?”

The suits help the Gentlemen’s Anti-Temperance League maintain a cohesive identity and professional demeanor, Whiteman said. The outfits have also perhaps helped them behave like gentlemen when shady booking managers refuse to pay them after a show.

“[If they don’t want to pay us], we will stick around there until they [do],” Rosen said. “Or they won’t, and we’ll play for them again and hope they pay us the second time,” Rosen said.

The band’s sound makes it easy to get bookings because it’s unique, Rosen said. They play alongside bands of all genres, including bluegrass, rock and metal, Rosen said.

One time, a girl described the band’s sound as pirate music, Whiteman said.

The complexity of the gypsy jazz genre demands a lot of practice time for the band, but Peterson said the musicians try to make it look effortless to the audience.

Rosen and Whiteman said it is impossible to play shows intoxicated, especially if the band wants to sustain its tight level of precision.

Rosen said he chose the band’s name because he thought it would be funny.

It’s a reference to a league of excessive drinking, drug-using gentlemen, he said. But because of its length and complexity, people often get confused by it.

“I’ve got to come clean,” Whiteman said. “I didn’t even know what our band name meant for at least a couple months. I had to Google ‘temperance.’”