Moving backwards: Minneapolis band Fort Wilson Riot

Fort Wilson Riot began as a performance art collective, and the duo refined their psych-pop sound for their upcoming show at 7th Street Entry.

Spouses Amy Hager and Jacob Mullis pose in their manger's house in Southeast Minneapolis Sunday night. Their band, For Wilson Riot, will be performing Thursday at the 7th Street Entry.

Spouses Amy Hager and Jacob Mullis pose in their manger’s house in Southeast Minneapolis Sunday night. Their band, For Wilson Riot, will be performing Thursday at the 7th Street Entry.

Jared Hemming

For Minneapolis duo Fort Wilson Riot, avoiding the status quo also meant forgoing typical indie rock band structure.

The band — which originally formed as a four-piece performance art collective in 2005 — debuted an hourlong theater piece with its first album.

“The first record we did was a full-on concept,” singer-guitarist Jacob Mullis said. “We joke sometimes about how most bands will start out with their simple records and then eventually they’ll do their ridiculous concept record.”

His long-time partner, singer and multi-instrumentalist Amy Hager, agreed.

“We got that out of our system,” Hager said. “It’s fun to be prog-y and everything, but I’m over that.”

When the band officially became a duo in 2010, they hit the road for a four-year period. Now, the group is bringing its homed psychedelic-pop sound to Minneapolis with a hometown gig at 7th Street Entry.

Mullis said the pair draws on ’80s influences, like Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club and Tom Waits, and relies on the compactness of their partnership to keep their tunes fluid.

“I love it when bands can blend really weird things with pop music,” Mullis said.

Mullis and Hager cited a new obsession with Prince as inspiration for their refined songwriting.

“We started experimental; it’s more poppy now,” Hager said. “We were like, ‘No, we don’t want to make pop music.’ So we went backwards.”

Fort Wilson Riot’s latest album, this year’s “Trilliun,” veers from smooth R&B to lo-fi, reverb-drenched waves of jangle-pop.

Hager said her University of Minnesota music therapy degree has influenced her musicianship.

“I was really shy before. I would never have played anything, ever, for anyone,” Hager said. “I had to start playing guitar and performing because that’s what music therapy was. It broke the ice for me.”

Though Mullis and Hager both hail from Wisconsin, the couple met in Minneapolis and began dating soon after they formed Fort Wilson Riot with friends.

The couple, which just bought a house together, said their frugality helped keep Fort Wilson Riot afloat for nearly 10 years.

“We just don’t go out unless we’re playing shows,” Hager said. “Our friends probably think we’re boring.”

Mullis said their four years on tour made them see that a career in indie rock doesn’t necessarily bring a large fortune.

“It’s really hard to make money in music unless you’re at the absolute top,” Mullis said. “A high percentage of it is luck. Just being at the right place at the right time.”

Mullis and Hager struggled to find an independent record label to fund a campaign for “Trilliun,” so they decided to self-release.

“The coolest thing about music now is that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make the music,” Mullis said. “You just have to have a laptop, and then you can make anything that you want to.”

Now as veterans of the Twin Cities scene, Mullis said members of the group have seen numerous bands go through the music success cycle, so they approach the professional musician’s life with caution.

“For the amount of time that we’ve been around, we’ve seen so many good bands in Minneapolis that start to blow up and then fall apart,” Mullis said. “As far as local bands, the bands that have ‘made it’ haven’t really.”

Being on Domino Records, which is a well-endowed independent label, doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, he said.

“You’re still working your ass off,” Mullis said.

Most bands in the city’s local scene “all work day jobs,” Hager said.

Despite the difficulty that comes with the independent music hierarchy, Mullis and Hager said their friendships with members of Twin Cities bands like Night Moves, White Boyfriend and the Sex Rays have been worth weathering the professional musician’s grind.

“In Minneapolis, if you’re dedicated to what you do, and you just want to make something interesting and good … you’ll probably find a niche.” Hager said.

Now, the homeowners said they can start returning favors to touring bands that they’ve met on the road and have let them crash on their couches.

“We probably should have real jobs,” Hager said. “But we don’t really have real jobs. We’re just really good at saving money.”


What: Fort Wilson Riot at the Mass Nerve Management Artist Showcase

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: 7th Street Entry, 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: $7

Age: 18+