This year, we’ll be spotlighting a prominent Minnesota musician or band each month with our new Artist of the Month feature. You’ll be able to hear a variety of songs from throughout the artists’ career on both the Local Current stream and the Local Show, and you can read more about the artists’ history and their role in the community right here on the Local Current Blog. Our local artist of the month for July is The Soviettes.
“We’re the number one rock and roll group in the world and we’re gonna see that everything’s gonna be different; it’s all gotta change. The first thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna build a radio station tomorrow and we’re not gonna play any commercials, and no news, just rock and roll and the truth.”
That introduction to “The Land Of Clear Blue Radio” from The Soviettes’ 2003 debut LP has become one of the more definitive lines of the band’s career, not to mention one of their most popular songs. And you really didn’t have to look too far into what it meant: The Soviettes wanted to play loud and fast and “rock it hard” and they totally did without any reservations. It made music criticism about the band really difficult—there weren’t large, lofty statements to decipher. Just good ol’ fashioned, tight, no-holds barred rock. (The reviews were usually always good anyway.)
It was also a weird transitional period in the Twin Cities—punk rock wasn’t necessarily on top of the musical trend hierarchy. However, it was hitting a peak on the West Coast as the next logical progression when the grunge movement started to gradually unravel itself. That meant that The Soviettes had no problem getting their first three records released on labels in California, at once assembling strong fanbases in two different parts of the country. The first two found a home on Billie Joe’s (of Green Day’s) Adeline Records.
The quartet had just one 7” to their name when they started gigging around town in 2002. T.C.C.P. was released on Pop Riot Records, a Minneapolis label run by Max Peters that offered a slew of releases catering to the emo and punk crowds. That thing was two years in the making, with Dillinger Four’s Lane Pederson offering his drum talents early on in the mix before Danny Henry took his place permanently. With that, The Soviettes found their permanent line-up, with three strong women in the forefront—Annie “Sparrows” Holoien, Susy Sharp, and Maren “Sturgeon” Macosko—and Danny lending incredibly effective backing vocals.
The steam behind them continued with a fury, and they gathered that simultaneously cursed and prestigious Picked to Click award in 2002 even before a debut full-length was out. But once LP made the rounds, it didn’t take long for The Soviettes to have enough encouragement to release two more records in the span of two years, eventually switching to San Francisco-based label Fat Wreck Chords. Started by NOFX’s Fat Mike, The Soviettes found themselves alongside a well-regarded roster including Against Me!, Less Than Jake, Descendants and Screeching Weasel. Live shows were raucous, frequent and packed, and The Soviettes could play two entire albums pushing 30 songs in just an hour. That energy inspired others to attempt some form of emulation, but it felt like The Soviettes were really re-pioneering a live experience that made the Twin Cities so vibrant in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Of course all good things never last, and the band surprisingly disbanded in 2006 to the chagrin of local music fans. The abrupt absence had made their rare gigs in the past few years a gem to behold if you get enough notice to even check them out in the first place. However, the parting was completely amicable, chalked up to mostly an extended bout of exhaustion, as evidenced by a 2010 Punk News interview with Annie.
But there have been plenty of options to see the members in other projects since the break-up. Annie and Danny went on to form much-beloved Awesome Snakes before they called it quits in 2010. Danny was in France Has The Bomb, a band that saw a quick stint on the jewel of garage labels, Chicago-based HoZac Records (but we haven’t heard anything from those guys in a long while either). Annie and Danny also played in International Robot, Sturgeon currently plays in The Gateway District (did you catch them at this year’s Girls Got Rhythm Fest?) and Susy has since moved to Los Angeles, making frequent re-united gigs a tough occasion.
There’s video all over the place of recent festival appearances though. And it makes you wonder: maybe The Soviettes will join the ranks of old Minnesota bands reuniting for one more go at a new record?
Watch The Soviettes take over Radio K on the 6th floor of the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center in their music video for “The Land Of Clear Blue Radio.” (Who remembers that shoddy elevator? It’s finally been replaced, by the way.)