On Saturday’s sunny afternoon I met Kelsey, a Milwaukeean who’s been on The Current’s staff since August, and asked whether she could have guessed a year ago that she’d be standing on a street corner in South Minneapolis, waiting to go to an attic-bedroom ratpop show. Kelsey shrugged, and we walked up to a house with TVs in the window emblazoned FALL / IN / LOVE.
There used to be a fourth monitor reading DON’T—thus forming the full name of the band Dennis‘s 2014 debut album—but Katie Bolin, answering the door, explained that a recent reversal in her romantic fortunes helped inspire the abbreviation.
“We’ve got a mimosa bar going and pizza rolls in the oven,” said Bolin. “We thought if we were going to have a house show, we’d better invite some people over so this guy doesn’t feel too awkward.”
Kelsey and I followed Bolin up to her attic bedroom, which also functions as the band’s practice space—making Dennis possibly the only bedroom pop band in Minnesota, I observed, who don’t identify themselves as “bedroom pop.” Instead, they call their sound “ratpop”: a little dirty, very DIY, but unmistakably pop.
Dennis are also probably the first local band to cross my radar who explicitly cite Max Martin—the mega-producer behind pop hits for Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and many more—as an influence. “When I discovered who Max Martin was,” Bolin said when I pointed this out, “my mind was blown. I mean, I knew Britney Spears wasn’t just slaving away at a laptop, but…”
Bolin produces all of Dennis’s music—an album and two EPs, with another release well in progress—herself. “I’m really proud of it,” she said, pointing out that underrepresented as women are in music generally, they’re even more so behind the producer’s console.
Dennis started as a solo project by Bolin in 2009, when the Rochester native was still a student at the University of Minnesota and working as a wedding DJ. She bought a MIDI controller and started putting tracks together, but the band didn’t take off until 2011, after Bolin returned from a stint in South America.
Bolin was then joined by multi-instrumentalist Sarah Morrison—who now plays bass in Dennis—and later by percussionist Nigel Carleton. Bolin and Morrison first performed together as Dennis in 2013, and the lineup including Carleton now plays occasional gigs as they assemble their new album.
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What’s with the name? As Bolin explained to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, “I was watching a ton of 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny, and I thought it was funny—any TV show or movie that you see a person named Dennis, it’s just like this horrible man who is doing awful things. So I thought it’d be funny to call myself ‘Dennis’ and make fun, electronic pop music as a girl.”
Several of the band’s friends joined us in the attic—bearing a heaping plate of pizza rolls—as Bolin, Morrison, and Carleton took their places behind disco lights at the far end of the attic. They ran through several tracks, including material from Don’t Fall in Love and a few new songs.
Bolin’s vocals, often electronically processed and alternately soaring and sassy, will feel comfortably familiar to local audiences used to the likes of Poliça and Tiny Deaths. Unlike those bands’ rumbling, atmospheric soundscapes, though, Dennis songs are built on chunky, unapologetically poppy tracks that are pulsingly danceable—as Bolin demonstrated by hopping around her bedroom venue with an arm in the air and her newly brunette mane flying.
For an encore, Dennis busted out their anthem “Get It Bitch,” Bolin cuing the audience to join in on the chorus—which can be interpreted as both a rallying cry and a command.
“Just do it,” said Bolin about the band’s self-produced, self-promoted, self-managed career—which also includes a custom clothing line. “Networking is hard, but you have to just reach out to people on Facebook or Twitter. If you want it, you have to just do it.”