Local Current Blog

Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith clarifies his views on Minneapolis

Credit: Nate Ryan/MPR

It’s been called #Gatesmithgate. It’s consumed our Twitter feeds and Facebook page timelines, not to mention the comments section on this very blog. And it’s led to a heated, multi-generational, multi-platform dialog between far-flung participants in the Twin Cities music community. 

Despite 20-year-old Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith’s insistence that he can’t be bothered to care about much beyond his music these days, he’s managed to single-handedly steer the course of local music discussion this week. 

It all started, of course, with a podcast — Alexis Petridis of the Guardian’s podcast, to be more specific, where Gatesmith was asked to give a sort of State of the Union address on the Minneapolis scene. He then proceeded to assert that the Twin Cities has had a 30-year “lull period” since the Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, save for a brief spike with the popularity of Tapes ‘n Tapes, and went on to single out the 4onthefloor as a band he hates from the area and one who he feels serves as an example of groups who achieve success on the homefront but never manage to break out nationally or internationally. 

After poring over the various threads of discourse this week, it seems like most common responses to Gatesmith’s argument were as follows:

  1. Howler sucks! and/or HOW DARE HE.
  2. Dude has a point, but it was kinda harsh to pick on one band.
  3. Howler is awesome. The 4onthefloor sucks!
  4. Howler and the 4onthefloor both suck!
  5. The local media sucks and it’s all their fault!

Personally, I gravitated toward the second tier of popular rebuttal (imagine that), especially when placed in context with interviews Gatesmith has conducted locally, like the one this past January when he told MPR’s Chris Roberts that “Minneapolis is where dreams go to die.” I sensed that he had a strong point to be made — one that probably could have been argued more eloquently when he spoke to the Guardian, but a point nonetheless. 

To get his take, I met up with Gatesmith last night at a coffee shop in Uptown, just hours before he was scheduled to pack up and hit the road again for his band’s first tour of the U.S.

“I think I wasn’t very articulate about it, but I do actually have something to say, or something that I believe in,” he begins, smiling a sideways grin and slouching over the table in a shiny leather motorcycle jacket. “Maybe it was uncalled for, for me to pick out a certain band, and I’m sorry for that, but I do believe that there’s a lot of politics I don’t exactly agree with here. I think the only thing is, there’s so much good music, but I feel like there’s a lot of important things really get looked over. And I think it’s a generational thing, honestly.”

When asked what he means by the word generational, he continues: “I mean, this is going to be hard, I feel like someone needs to say it though,” he says. “The last — I said 30 years, but I meant 20 years — there’s been a sort of post-Replacements lull in Minneapolis. A lot of people got together after that, I think a lot of musicians, and they kind of banded together and formed a whole new Minneapolis music scene. I think there’s been a lot of critics that have come out of that sort of scene, right after the Replacements, they’ve kind of hung around. And I think they’ve all banded together over the last 10 or 20 years, and I feel like now, it’s kind of time to make a little bit more room for the younger generation. I just think there’s a lot of young bands around town that don’t exactly get the spotlight that they deserve.”

To clarify the argument a bit, I asked him if he was specifically referring to a particular fraction of the music world. 

“Yeah, I would say the local rock scene,” he says. I mention that I was especially surprised that Rhymesayers’ massive influence on hip-hop internationally didn’t register as a blip on his radar, and he laughs. “No, I’ll stay out of Rhymesayers completely, it’s not really my territory at all.”

With our focus narrowed, I return to the issue at hand. So if Gatesmith says we had a 20-year lull in the rock scene following the now-folkloric ‘Mats/Hüsker heyday — one he likely heard quite a bit about living next door to Karl Mueller of Soul Asylum growing up and having Paul Westerberg drop by his house throughout his childhood — does he think he’s the one sounding the reveille and waking us from our slumber?

“Trust me, I don’t want to sound pretentious or egotistical at all,” he says, “but you know, I did my thing, and I think Night Moves followed that up right away, and I think that’s amazing. There’s Poliça doing their own thing right now, but I really think it’s time that Minneapolis took a look at the kids my age, the kids like right before me and the kids a little bit older than me, and really kind of paid attention, because I think they’re the ones that are going to be steering the scene in the right direction right now. And I just think that they’ve been looked over, totally passed by.”

When asked for specific examples, he pauses to collect his thoughts. “This is a more deep-rooted question for me, because this is something I’ve been thinking about for the last year, even before we got signed, which is a whole other issue — because now we’re kind of the bullies, all of a sudden. But really, the last year I saw, and I think Howler was kind of part of it, but there’s also bands like Teenage Moods, Elite Gymnastics, bands like the Word Party or even Jack Campbell, who is a really cool musician. Excuse Me, Princess, and Clara Salyer doing the Prissy Clerks thing. I just think that a lot of these artists, even Nice Purse, deserve some more attention, and some more push, that just never seem to get it.”

Gatesmith’s selection of Prissy Clerks surprises me, given that they just took home the blue ribbon in last weekend’s Are You Local? best-new-bands competition, but it does seem like he’s just trying to give props to the crop of late-teen and barely-twentysomethings that he used to gig with around town. The mention of Elite Gymnastics is interesting, too, given that they have bucked the trend of Minneapolis bands who have “paid their dues” by playing sparsely attended gigs on the club circuit before gaining enough momentum to break out nationally — a trajectory quite similar to Howler’s.

One strand of dialog that has especially intrigued me over the past few days is the idea that Minnesota has one unified, impenetrable music scene, and that bands are promoted to the forefront of “the scene” by a set of unidentified, ominous gatekeepers. To close out our chat, I ask Gatesmith what he thinks about the culture of the Minneapolis rock community, specifically how positive our press tends to be and how vehemently we respond to criticisms that harsh our hometown-pride buzz. Are we too bandwagon-brained and thin-skinned?

“I mean, there’s definitely a Minnesota Nice thing about it,” he says. “But I think it’s fine. Personally, I just think some really good things have been looked over, and that’s what I’m angry about. That’s it,” he says, scoffing. “And I have a sort of strong opinion about that, and I come off as a prick sometimes, but you know, I’m a 20-year-old snot-nosed kid, so what do I know?”

Listen to audio from the Morning Show segment discussing this interview:

Meanwhile, the 4onthefloor are taking advantage of the boost in exposure and have released a video in response to Gatesmith calling them “Mumford & Sons crap”: