To hear Jake and Jeremy Hanson humbly talk about their influence and impact on the Twin Cities music scene over the past decade, you’d think that the pair of brothers were mere bit players in bands that would sound the same without them. But as area music fans are well aware by now, these two talented musicians have helped shape and direct the sound and direction of the local scene for years.
Over happy hour drinks at the 331 Club after a band practice with Josh Grier’s new outfit, Gingko, the two brothers looked back insightfully on their long history with Minnesota music and the countless projects that the pair are involved in today.
The Hanson brothers come from a musically rich family, with their great-grandmother serving as a piano instructor early on, while both their grandfather and father played in country bands throughout the Blue Earth area. In fact, the first gigs that Jake and Jeremy ever played were alongside their father in afternoon country and blues gigs, with 10-year-old Jake on guitar and 7-year-old Jeremy on drums while their dad played bass. And that initial taste of the musical magic that can be found on stage permeated their future plans, with both brothers playing professional gigs while they were still in high school in Mound.
After playing with their father for a few years, Jake messed about in a cover band early on, and when he was just 17 he was recruited by a church friend of his to play guitar in their fledgling reggae band, The Rule, which lead to regular weekly gigs at Famous Dave’s in Uptown.
“I told the guy that I know nothing about reggae, but I thought I’d check it out because I just wanted to play gigs,” Jake says with a laugh. “I went and auditioned and immediately started playing weekly gigs at Famous Dave’s, as well as weddings and private parties. I was a junior in high school and I was out until 2 in the morning, driving home late and then getting up really early to go to school. And my parents were really supportive of the whole thing. It was a crash course in reggae for me.”
Around this time, Jake also started playing in a band with his friend Neil Perbix called Cowboy Curtis (now called Wishbook), which found some local and national success in the early 2000s. “Cowboy Curtis put out a record and we opened for 12 Rods at the Uptown Bar, and after the show, those guys said they were looking to add somebody to their band and asked me if I would be interested in joining the band,” remembers Jake fondly. “So that led to me playing with 12 Rods. From the time I was like 16 to 18, I had already joined three bands. Then I jumped into playing with a bunch of different people after I met Dave King. That was just really welcoming and really inspiring to be a part of when I was just 18 and graduating from high school. And from that point on, it’s just been music, music, music, with a ton of different people.”
And seeing his older brother playing in all these cool bands certainly served as an inspiration to Jeremy as well, who jumped at the chance to start playing shows himself, even learning bass to help enhance his drumming early on. “All of these bands that I played with in high school came and played shows at the Dinkytowner,” Jeremy recalls. “There were other all-ages venues, but that was the right spot for the type of music we were playing.” And it was at the Dinkytowner where Jeremy would form a musical connection that would change his life.
Jake’s new band, Superdanger, were having a CD release show, and a still nascent Tapes ‘n Tapes were the middle act, while Jeremy’s band, Dumptruck, opened the night. “Josh (Grier) saw me play with Dumptruck and dug it,” said Jeremy, and when Tapes original drummer Karl Schweitz moved to Madison, Grier reached out to bring Jeremy in on drums. “I went in and auditioned, and he had given me a copy of the EP, but we ended up playing some new stuff that ended up on The Loon, and I came up with some parts on the spot,” remembers Jeremy. “And after we were done, he said you’re in the band if you want. And a few months later I recorded The Loon right after I graduated from high school. I even played my first out of town show with Tapes ‘n Tapes while I was still in school, doing homework after the show.”
And while Jeremy was in college at his first semester at the U of M, his new band started blowing up. “I remember being in my dorm, checking out the CMJ charts that Josh would send me—I didn’t know what a blog was, and had never heard of Pitchfork, but Josh kept telling me that some cool stuff was happening with the record,” says Jeremy. “I had to make a decision to drop out so I could go out and tour full-time with the band.” As The Loon picked up some favorable reviews and plenty of national buzz, Jeremy and the band never really looked back.
And while brothers typically have a natural competitive streak toward one another, Jake and Jeremy’s relationship has always been an encouraging one rather than anything resembling a contest. “It’s always been a matter of nurturing each others’ careers and helping each other out however you can, and supporting each other,” says Jake. “I think it really helped too that we weren’t necessarily playing the same instrument. I can imagine that if we were two brothers who were both guitarists, or two brothers who were both songwriters trying to compete to promote their own music—that seems a bit trickier to me.”
But even with their respective musical success, the two brothers have continually challenged themselves with new projects and ambitious new sounds. “After 12 Rods and Cowboy Curtis wrapped up, I really had nothing. So I was playing drums at Big V’s on a Wednesday in Superdanger, and all of sudden my brother is playing David Letterman,” jokes Jake warmly. “So Dave [King] called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in joining Halloween, Alaska. I immediately said ‘Of course,’ since I was already a fan, and I knew James [Diers] from Love Cars, and of course I already knew Ev [Olcott] and Dave from 12 Rods. And now, we’ve made a couple of records since then, and I feel like I’m no longer the new guy—I’ve got more of an equal stake in the band.”
And ever since a disastrous high school talent show performance, Jeremy has been exploring his experimental circuit bending leanings, and recently hooked up with Ryan Olson and played on the forthcoming Music Rocks EPs from Marijuana Deathsquads. While both brothers relished the opportunity to play together in Solid Gold’s recent live set up, being in the same band has proven to be quite challenging because of their busy individual schedules, so they don’t get to experience it as much as they’d like. But currently they both find themselves playing in Ginkgo together, as well as an upcoming stint performing alongside Eric Pollard in his Actual Wolf project.
Perhaps the best aspect of having a brother also deeply involved in the music industry is the fact that Jake and Jeremy can bounce ideas off of each other and lean on each other while experiencing the distance and loneliness that occasionally settles in while on tour. “For sure early on in my touring experience, there were many times where I called him for advice on how to deal with things,” Jeremy mentions. “And, later on, when I was on tour with Tapes and he was touring with Mason [Jennings], we were in the same city on the same night, and got to have dinner together. It was really nice.”
And their continuous musical activity doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot. Jake produced the most recent Van Stee record, and is manning the dials on the forthcoming new album from Caroline Smith & the Goodnight Sleeps, as well as performing with the Pines, Wishbook, All Eyes, Guitar Party (with Jeremy Ylvisaker’s 8-year-old daughter Mijah), Gramma’s Boyfriend, All Tomorrow’s Petty, and his first upcoming series of shows with Dead Man Winter.
Both brothers are playing with longtime collaborator Haley Bonar at Icehouse on May 4, where they will do a run through of some songs from her forthcoming record that they both played on—with Jeremy also set to marry Haley’s sister this fall. Jeremy and Jake have also been working with Frankie Lee, with Jeremy splitting time with J.T. Bates on drums. And Jeremy is also putting the finishing touches on a new album with Tungsten, a group that formed out of the ashes of Hildur Victoria along with guitarist Joe Clark and bassist Jef Sundquist.
Chances are, if you go to a local show over the summer months, one if not both of the Hanson brothers will be playing that day, probably with more than one band on the bill. They are just that prolific, and that talented.
At the end of the interview I asked each brother to say something nice about the other, they both jumped at the chance. Jeremy warmly stated, “I’ve been hearing him play guitar my entire life and I still, to this day, get chills when I watch him play.” While Jake returned the compliment: “Jeremy plays what I would want to hear on the drums all the time, which is kind of a narcissistic thing to say. It just totally always feels right.”
Indeed. Hearing both Jake and Jeremy Hanson inventively shape the sound of the Twin Cities has felt right for years now.