In recent years, it seems that when a band “graduates” to performing on larger stages their turning point often hinges on playing a show in First Avenue’s Mainroom. Tonight, for example, Pert Near Sandstone will test their drawing power in that big, black room after playing two back-to-back nights at the Cedar earlier in the year. Often the excitement surrounding the band’s inaugural Mainroom appearance will be enough to bring out the far corners of their fanbase. But what happens when the group is invited back for round two?
Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps are about to find out. After selling out the club last fall for their CD-release show, the band is returning to the Mainroom tomorrow night, Saturday, April 7, to see if they’ve still got it.
“It’s terrifying,” Smith laughs, chattering animatedly. “I want to just scream to the world, like, we’re not confident! We still need you!” She and bassist Jesse Schuster are seated at a high-top at Nina’s Coffee Cafe, taking advantage of a rare quiet moment at home between legs of their seemingly neverending tour. “Something I’m realizing is that we were kind of like the stars of the junior varsity team, you know what I mean? And then we graduated up to the varsity venues, like First Ave, and now we’re like the small fry again. So that’s kind of hard. We’re playing in bigger venues, but we’re back to struggling.”
Smith says her band’s recent tour has been an emotional roller coaster as successful nights are quickly followed by gigs with lower turnouts in other cities. “Here’s the truth — we do well in cities that people from Minneapolis move to,” she says. Schuster quickly agrees, adding that they’ve become part of a circuit of Twin Cities bands who hit the road and network in other cities.
“Minneapolis is really kind to us,” Smith continues. “I don’t feel like we’re the starlets of Minneapolis, like we aren’t like Lookbook or 4onthefloor, but we definitely have a really supportive fanbase here and that’s awesome. And the fanbase here and the amount of support we get from Minneapolis press and radio stations allows us to tour. Because with a fanbase here, and with everybody from Minneapolis moving everywhere else it really makes it possible. There are bands that tour and tour and tour and then they hear about our success in Minneapolis and they’re like, f***. That happens? Nobody has that in any other city. I don’t know of one other band that draws 1,000 people in their hometown, in terms of smaller bands.”
“Everyone’s like, what’s it like to be in Minneapolis?,” says Schuster, who tours with the Good Night Sleeps as well as Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. “And I always say, it’s the best city that you can possibly be a band in. I really do think, more than Portland — nobody goes to shows in Portland, because everybody’s in a band. New York is supportive of its music scene, I think Austin is too, but I seriously think Minneapolis is on the map because of the institutions. It wants to help bands out, and I think it’s created this greater listener’s community. People that aren’t scenesters and don’t play music, they still come out to shows. Teachers and doctors and moms and dads, they just like it. It’s really cool… I mean, look at this,” he says, holding up a City Pages, “look at the concert calendar, I promise you every band is going to have a good handful of people out, and there’s going to be like 20 different shows. It’s so cool.”
“The attitude here is unlike any city,” Smith says. “I think just overall as a community people are more excited about the pride of Minneapolis’s bands. They really want to claim things as Minneapolis’s and support it, it’s just like a shared mentality here.”
But is Minneapolis sometimes too supportive of its “starlets,” as she calls them? I ask her and Schuster if our hometown pride and nurturing attitude toward popular acts ever prevents bands trying to push themselves out onto the road, and though they haven’t fallen prey to that side effect themselves they both nod empathetically.
“We played our release show [at First Ave] and it was sold out, 1700 people through the door. Two days later, we play in Omaha to 15 people,” Schuster laughs. “It can be really easy to be a star here and then be treated like a normal person anywhere else and be like well, I don’t want to tour. Touring isn’t fun because nobody gives a sh*t. And I think the other thing is that — and this is a criticism, but I’m accepting of it — I do think that we aren’t necessarily so aware of national shows. Like, bands our size that are coming through and playing Minneapolis, they kind of go under the radar because somebody else is playing that you can count on.”
Smith agrees. “Something I would like to see more in Minneapolis is a local headliner that draws a lot with two touring bands opening for them,” she says. “That’s really helpful for the touring bands. It’s always local bills.”
With the Good Night Sleeps nearing the end seven months spent on the road, Smith says their gig in the Mainroom will serve as a homecoming celebration before they hunker down to hammer out the rest of the songs for their next record this summer. She adds that this show won’t feature one of her much-talked-about covers.
“I feel this pressure to do this really funky cover, but the truth is, those covers are totally organic. I just love the song when I hear it once and I’m like, that would be rad! And then we cover it. But for this show I haven’t had that. So we’re not going to cover a song, and I think people are going to be disappointed by that. I can’t disingenuously do a cover that I don’t think is really rad.
Smith has been known to toy with songs by everyone from Rod Steward to Kanye West live, causing quite the stir last fall with her faithful rendition of West’s “POWER.”
“I wasn’t nervous about rapping because I rap all the time,” Smith reveals, and Schuster nods his head in confirmation. “But the thing that I was nervous about was like, if you’re off from nailing it even a little bit, the whole thing just falls flat.”
“Did you feel weird about the N-word?,” Schuster asks.
“I decided to say the N-word because I thought it would be more of an insult to be scared to say it, or over-recognize the word, or something,” she responds pensively. “Being like, ‘I don’t want to offend you and — oh.’ Plus, what are you going to do? Is one of the bouncers at First Ave going to beat me up?”
With no cover songs planned, Smith says they plan on filling in the set with some of their new material.
“We’re writing at a marked rate,” she says. “We’re writing faster than we’ve ever written — but that’s not to say we’re writing all gold. We’re forging through the writing process to be able to select the ones we like most. And it’s been really fun, for the first time we’re writing with our new band member and it’s been working out really, really well.”
Tune into 89.3 The Current at 11 a.m. today for a live session with Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps (archived online here), and catch them live with Retribution Gospel Choir and Crimes tomorrow night, Saturday, April 7, at First Avenue.