Now that bands have the ability to record a track in their basement and upload it to Soundcloud instantly, it’s easy to forget how common it once was for bands would gig for years before laying something down on tape. Such was the case for the God Damn Doo Wop Band, who burst onto the scene with such vigor in 2005 that they placed third in City Pages’ Picked to Click poll and were invited to tape a session for the Current’s then-new Local Show, all without so much as a single to their name.
The band did eventually record an album of course—2006’s excellent punk-meets-’60s doo wop Broken Hearts, which featured the iconic album cover with three frilly dress- and Converse-clad girls authoritatively wielding a baseball bat—and continued to climb in notoriety, holding down regular gigs at the Hexagon Bar between more high-profile appearances like the one they made at the Fitzgerald Theater in ’07, when they opened for John Waters.
Over the past few years, things have gotten a lot quieter for the band, with its current members splitting off into all kinds of other projects. Bandleader Kat Naden is in the Okerlunds and the Strait As, singer Annie Sparrows has revived her band the Soviettes, guitarist Dylan Ritchie is now in Prissy Clerks and Teenage Strangler, and both Dan Johnson and Erik Siljander still play in Pretty Boy Thorson and the Fallen Angels.
Just last week, and without much fanfare, the God Damn Doo Wop Band decided to end things once and for; their show at the Hexagon Bar tomorrow night will be their last. As the band’s nine-year run comes to a close, I sat down with their founding frontwoman to talk about how she’ll remember her beloved band.
Local Current: Take me back to the beginning. Can you paint a picture for me of what the scene was like when you first started, and what led to you getting together?
Kat Naden: Jeez. [laughs] It’s been nine years, so… Me and the other two girls that started singing all worked at Muddy Waters. So it ended up being me and this girl Carissa Coudray, she worked at Muddy’s with me, and she lived with Saumer Jackson, who worked with us as well. But originally it was going to be me and Carissa and this girl Alberta, and then something happened where Alberta just kind of stopped showing up and Saumer was like, “Hi!” So she started doing stuff with us.
My friend Ross, who I grew up with in Wisconsin, played guitar, and our friend Luc Parker [played bass], and we didn’t have a drummer, but our friend Dave, who also lived in the house, would have to listen to us practice without a drummer, so eventually he was just like, “Do you guys want someone to drum for you?” And we were like, “Sure!”
That is such a classic Uptown band story.
Yeah, yeah. Three girls workin’ in a coffee shop! Best of friends!
Oh yeah. Everybody that went to Muddys pretty much went to Muddys every day. And anybody that would move out of town for a couple of years and would come back to visit knew that they could just sit at Muddy Waters and everybody that they knew would come by. It was pretty awesome. I ended up working there for 11 years, so people would move away for like 8 years and come back, and be like, “I’ve moved to Seattle and done this and this!” And I’d be like, “Would you like some coffee, still?” That place was very cool. A nice little home.
Looking back over the last nine years of the God Damn Doo Wop Band, can you give me a highlight reel of some of the things that stick out in your mind?
It’s funny that the majority of it is through the Current. We got to open for John Waters, we got to play at the Fair, we got to do a live recording thing, and when we did that, we didn’t even have an album yet. With part of our live recording [for the Current’s Local Show], there was a thing on All Things Considered about it, so I got to hear one of our songs behind the “All Things Considered has been brought to you by…” I was just like, oh my gosh, that’s so cool!
Then we got to open for the Hold Steady, that was like four years ago maybe, they were playing in Madison, and they could have anybody open for them and they picked us. So that was cool. And we’ve gotten to play Gainesville Fest down in Florida to a lot of people, sold out and stuff, and Awesomefest in Florida, which is a little punk thing. We’ve gotten to do lots of neat stuff. A couple tours.
Have you ever come across other bands that were doing what you were doing, combining doo wop and punk rock?
Yeah. A lot of them end up being—not to say we’re really doo woppy or anything—but a lot of them end up being ’60s girl groups. But there was a band called the Carrots from Texas, and there’s a band now called Peach Kelli Pop, that’s from Canada. They’re around.
What drew you to that kind of music?
For me, I was just sitting at home with my four-track and decided to write a doo-woppy song, and I was like, oh, this is a lot like pop punk. I don’t know, who doesn’t like that type of music? It’s so happy! Except for when it’s really depressing, but it still sounds happy! And with Saumer and Carissa, too, they listened to a lot of R&B and soul stuff, and they’re both way more soulful of singers than I am, so it worked out well. It was like, ok, I can write these crappy songs and you guys can sing ’em real good. It’ll be great.
Has it always been the same core members?
No. I tried making a list of all the people that have played with us, it was hard. But the only other singers we’ve had has been this girl Kira, and then we got this other girl, Annie, who was in the Soviettes and Awesome Snakes. Somehow she and Kira ended up switching out a whole bunch, but I don’t really remember how. So it’s only been that many singers.
I feel like at one point I remember you also having a horn section?
We had a saxophone player, this kid named Jon [Kuder]. He was very young. At one point Carissa and I went to see a band and Melodious Owl was opening, and we were just like, oh my gosh, a saxophone player! We should steal him! So we did. And he was with us for a couple of years, he was on the album.
How many albums did you put out all together?
We had a full-length CD and then a 45, and a split-7″.
So why play the last show now? Because it seems like you guys have been quiet for the last year or two.
Yeah, we’ve been quiet a while. I have a son, Carissa has a daughter, our drummer has two kids now and a wife, our bassist has a wife and a house. It’s just to the point where we haven’t been doing too much new stuff—I realized the other day that our new song is two years old and we’ve only played it once, because we don’t know it that well. When it’s time to have band practice and everybody there has other things going on, it’s like, alright, I’m making you guys hang out in a practice space for three hours when you could be with your families, and I could be with my family. And it got to the point where, playing shows, we would say we were going to practice, and then we’d practice once, a week before the show, and not be totally confident in everything we were doing. Why waste everybody’s time? So it just seemed like a good time to be like, we can be done with this. We all might start doing stuff together again, but we want this to die off, so if we do decide to do something, it’s something we’re actually excited about and want to work on.
There’s something kind of poetic about all of you growing up and starting families, and even Muddy Waters has grown up and moved down the street to become a restaurant.
I know. [laughs] What’s funny is I was trying to remember how long we’d been doing this for, and it doesn’t seem like that long, but then I realized my son was 4 when we started, and he’s 13 now. It’s like, whoa. That’s weird.
If someone was going to write a book about Minneapolis music history 20 years from now, what would your chapter look like? What would you want someone to say about you, looking back?
We were incredibly half-assed, but we still got to do a lot of cool stuff. I always like, when people would write about us, that they would say that we were like this doo wop thing, and we could wear these poofy dresses and stuff, but we weren’t kitchy. It wasn’t like a stage show type thing. We all loved what we were doing.
The God Damn Doo Wop Band plays one last show tomorrow night, Thursday, August 15, at the Hexagon Bar with Lipstick Homicide, The Manix, Haddonfield, Apocalypse Meow, Tight Bros., and Braver. 9 p.m. Free. 21+.