Of the four Twin Cities-based bands chosen to play Harriet Island this past weekend for the inaugural River’s Edge Music Festival (which also included industry stalwarts Motion City Soundtrack and Quietdrive, plus buzzy newcomers Poliça), the Rope could easily be considered the underdog. They have certainly grown a following for themselves locally, but the new wave-influenced Minneapolis quintet only have one EP to their name and typically play smaller clubs.
To find out more about this blossoming act, I sat down with four of the Rope’s five members — frontman Jesse Hagon, guitarist Mike Browning, bassist Sam Richardson, and drummer Matt Evans — for a chat backstage at River’s Edge.
Local Current: Tell me about your band’s history. When did you first start collaborating?
Jesse Hagon: Well, Sam and Mike and myself and another guy started a band called Repo that was kind of a stripped-down punk rock band. We played for about a year — we played Stasiu’s, and I think we played the Uptown Bar, but it was honestly kind of an excuse to get together with your buddies and drink beer and not play video games, just feel like you’re doing something productive. And then things with our drummer weren’t really working out, he ended up leaving the band. We were still practicing and still trying to write songs throughout that summer, and then we did a Craigslist thing and Matt came.
Matt Evans: Yeah, I was between bands and I was looking and I saw “One word: Ramones.” And I called them. That’s all I needed to see.
How long have you been the Rope?
Mike Browning: The Rope, officially? About two years.
Evans: We were Repo before that for about a year.
Hagon: [Matt Evans] was an airline pilot and had a hellish month of flying back and forth from Japan, so we were kind of out of practice but we were still writing. And the writing just took a real turn, and we were no longer playing just punk rock stuff, it was a little more ambient. More shimmery guitars here and there. So the old name didn’t really work anymore, and the Rope had always been kind of an idea of a side project of Mike and mine.
Browning: When we first started playing together, Jesse, Sam, and myself — on the side sometimes we would mess around, and in the beginning we didn’t really know what kind of style we wanted to play. We were just playing whatever we liked. And we all had passion for the post-punk era of bands. So we actually wrote a couple songs where it was heading more in that direction at the very beginning, and we had a lot more songs that were just punk rock songs.
Evans: We liked all kinds of basically rock-based songs, so at the end of the day it kind of didn’t matter, initially. But we went down one path and it just kind of naturally came around to something more complex than punk rock.
Do you have other bands that you consider notable influences?
Hagon: Early on, when we were still doing the punk rock stuff, we could list off stuff like the Ramones —
Evans: They tricked me!
Hagon: Yeah, and then we pulled a big switcheroo on him. Oh, he’s in Japan! Let’s change our sound!
So if someone shows up wearing something besides black, do they get kicked out of the band?
Evans: Well you’ll notice, Sam’s the color guy. He’s got the green tie.
Sam Richardson: [deadpan] I’ve got to lighten things up a little bit.
How did the opportunity to play River’s Edge come up?
Hagon: A friend of mine, who is good friends with Andy Ward — who is part of AEG and runs the Target Center — he played our music for Andy and Andy really liked it. I chatted with Andy a couple of times and he’s good friends with Tommy with Live Nation, and it kind of just fell in our lap.
Browning: Yeah, for lack of a better way to say it, it fell in our lap.
Hagon: We’re lucky as H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
What do you think this kind of opportunity can do for a local band?
Evans: We’ve had lots of publicity leading up to the festival — television, radio.
Browning: It’s really cool to play on an island, too.
Evans: We’ve really got our eyes on Europe, actually.
Hagon: We have distribution through Spiral Cords, in Europe, and that seems to be going kind of well.
Browning: We have a fan in Portugal, don’t we?
Evans: Yeah, a few!
You have one record out now?
Hagon: We have an EP; April 21, 2011 was the official release date.
Browning: We’ve been working on a full-length for the last couple months.
Do you know when that might be released?
Hagon: Late September. We don’t have anything really scheduled now until that’s done. We built a studio in one of our houses and we’re getting good sounds. So we’re about 50% of the way done. The bass and drum tracking is done, and most of the guitar tracking is done. And then we went and wrote another song that we all liked, so we may have to go and do basic tracking again, but we’re still shooting for late September.