Minneapolis has had no shortage of electro-pop duos in recent years, especially since the popularity spike and subsequent dissolution of Lookbook. But if anything, our embarrassment of electro riches has shown us that the genre is not as narrow as its label might suggest; from Wiping Out Thousands to Weird Visions to Father You See Queen to Meme, the seemingly simple formula of combining an artist who makes beats with an artist who can accompany those beats with a pretty vocal line has steered us down all kinds of new paths.
Meme stands out from the pack for a few reasons. They take a more straightforward pop approach than many of the more experimental electro bands in town, but their music is far from simple. Singer Lizzie Brown’s crystalline voice is often layered on top of itself, at times sounding like an entire choir, and producer and composer Danny Burke cocoons her vocal harmonies in icy synth parts and swathes of whirring atmosphere. And on top of that, Brown and Burke have a shared ear for melody, with songs like “Young” employing hooks that burrow deep into the hippocampus.
Over the past three years, Meme have already recorded three full-length albums, and a few of their songs have even been featured on reality television shows like ABC Family’s “The Lying Game” and the American classic “Snooki and JWOWW.” So why haven’t we heard more about them?
Well, for starters, they’ve only played one live show. It happened at the Kitty Cat Klub this past February, and though Brown was fighting laryngitis the day of that first gig, they still managed to entrance the sizable crowd that had gathered to see them. Additionally, though they have obviously poured countless hours into writing, recording, mixing, and mastering their work, it’s fairly difficult to find much about them online—thanks in no small part to their un-Googleable name.
“It turns out it’s a terrible name,” Burke cracks, laughing over a round of drinks at Bev’s Wine Bar. “We chose the name before it had completely taken off as this new thing. I was reading about how it’s an idea that’s passed on in a Richard Dawkins book, and how one group of people can pass on an idea or a belief, and that was a meme. And then the internet said that it’s also pictures of cats with words on it.”
Brown smiles at him encouragingly across the table and shrugs. “We’re pretty laid back about people’s thoughts about that,” she says.
The pair met almost a decade ago while Burke was still in college. ”I first met her on the stage. I was in the audience, and I saw her on the stage,” he remembers. “I guess, you know, I was infatuated with her, right away.” The two kept in touch over the years as Brown traveled around the globe post-college, and started dating when she returned to Minnesota. It wasn’t until they moved in together, however, that they got the idea to finally start collaborating.
“I think we ended up picking up the vibe of each other,” Brown says. “I just love to be able to sing, and I hadn’t felt like I really found the right pocket for myself until we started doing something together. Then it’s just kind of grown and morphed and done it’s own thing, without us even knowing what’s going on. It’s evolved into what it is.”
Both Brown and Burke discuss their Meme project as if it has a mind of their own. Though they enjoy creating music together, neither one seems too concerned about what comes next; Burke keeps busy composing music at his day job (a commercial music house called In the Groove), while Brown works in education. They say they consider making music just a small part of their relationship with one another.
“We made [the albums] and we hid them, so people don’t know really they exist,” Burke says. “I just like making the music. What to do after that is kind of the more stressful part, to me.” He says he’s wary of the hype that overwhelms many modern-day buzz bands. “The system is like a feedback loop, it just goes so crazy, so immediately. It’s a little scary, from some angles. I guess it’s part of the game, or something. It seems intense though.”
“I don’t know when that whole five minutes of fame thing became real, I feel like that’s something that’s been in my subconscious my whole life, but it’s such a fleeting few moments, and then you’re left with yourself,” Brown adds. “So you’d better find that simmer, rather than the explosion and then the rubble. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that topsy-turvy experience myself… Rather than even think about the hype, I would rather just exist, and whoever happens to hear something, whoever’s lives we touch in any capacity—it’s a one-by-one thing for me.”
Despite their reticence toward receiving too much recognition, things are about to get much busier for Meme. Their second and third live gigs are happening in the span of just a week, and will be followed swiftly by a screening of one of their music videos—Burke’s animation set to their song “I Always Knew”—at this year’s Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Making videos for their songs has become another creative outlet for Burke in recent years, and he’s already proven to be quite good at it. ”I kind of live in my imagination most of the time,” he says, smiling. “And I’ve always loved drawing, so I started getting cameras, and the DSLR revolution has been happening in the past two years, so I got one and started to figure out how to do animation. And then I became a little obsessed.”
“A lot. A lot obsessed,” Brown teases. ”He’s self taught with all of this. It’s really cool to see that it’s so second nature.”
“It just kind of made sense, right away,” Burke says, shrugging.
Which seems to be the case for a lot of things related to Meme: Though they downplay their effort and shy away from the spotlight, they’ve stumbled on an alluring aesthetic and scintillating sound that just makes sense. Right away.
Meme open for Hey Ocean! at the 7th St. Entry this Sunday night, April 7, and perform with Carroll and Aaron & the Sea at Hell’s Kitchen next Friday night, April 12. Their video for “I Always Knew” screens next Monday, April 15 as part of an MSPIFF Minnesota music video showcase at St. Anthony Main.