Last Friday, Minneapolis rock star Har Mar Superstar checked in with Jill Riley on The Current’s Morning Show to discuss the rippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic, how you can help musicians stay afloat, and his new Minnesota music coloring book — now available for order, with proceeds going to support the artists and the Twin Cities Music Community Trust.
Jill Riley: I think we’ve been feeling a little punchy this week. I generally like to use humor to deflect anytime I’m feeling uncomfortable, but then when I can use humor to just get through times that are uncertain, and difficult and stressful. It’s like, I can laugh more than cry…I will take the laughter. You know what I mean?
Har Mar Superstar: Oh, yeah, definitely. That’s my mechanism. It’s been a pretty wild, wild few weeks. Honestly, right before we left on tour, like, late February, when Sabrina [Ellis of Heart Bones] came to kind of get things together to start the tour; they had the foresight to kind of know that this was happening, somehow, I think just through friends that were in the medical profession, and kind of prepped me on the fact that this could be way bigger than everybody was making it out to be.
Lo and behold, two weeks into our tour that was going very, very well and a lot of fun and attendance was great. We were selling our new record. We just had to look around one day and be like, you know, today seemed like five years. It seems like it’s going to be shutting down all these cities. We were just closing up, like we were in Boston and New York and all these places that were kind of going into lockdown mode like before the rest of the country, and we just had to make the really difficult decision to postpone the rest of our tour; just for health reasons for everybody, for ourselves. We were thinking about our parents and family members that are immunocompromised and things like that.
After we made our decision I feel like it was kind of just enforced across the board by the next morning, like things just kept changing so fast. A week ago even seems like about two years ago. We were leaving our show in Atlanta, which [we questioned] if we should even play that and then going to play a Friday the 13th show in Birmingham, Alabama, and when we got there, the venue was like: “You know, maybe we should just not do this.” They were nice enough to let us stay in the band apartment upstairs and pay us even for showing up and then we just had to get it together and make the difficult decision to outrun this virus, basically.
We drove from Birmingham to Austin, Texas. The next day [we] dropped off Sabrina safely and then Aaron Baum and Ryan Mach and I got in the van at 6 a.m. the next day from Austin and drove straight to Minneapolis and got here by midnight on Sunday night. It was wild, wild the number of things that had changed in the world by then…and you know, obviously, now we are full-on living in a weird, complete alternate reality.
Exactly, Exactly. I was following along on social media as you were headed back home on the road: I bet you just had that feeling like, I want to get home. And you know, I just want to be inside my house before the world gets even weirder.
It just got more and more serious. As we were driving, even just not wanting to touch a gas pump, there’s things that you take for granted. We were out there just stuck, not at home, while everybody else was starting to self-quarantine. We were wishing we could finally get back to do it and (instead) it just pivoted everything. It’s hard because we self-released our album, so all our money is tied up in this physical record that we’ve made to take on this tour and sell and it was looking like we were gonna like recoup on it. But now, we’re kind of back to square one and definitely depending on the fans to maybe help us pick up the slack and order stuff online.
We’re really excited about the BandCamp gesture they made for today [Friday] about not taking any of their revenue, in favor of the artists getting 100% of what they make on that site today. So, we’re hoping people will buy the Hot Dish record there or we made a deal on our website — we restocked everything at heartbones2.com — where if you buy 30 bucks or more, which is very low, to get some rewards. We are throwing in a free tote bag and an 8×10″ photo and just little things like that. We’re just trying to incentivize the “please help us!” situation.
It’s not dire, we’re not dying out here, but nobody knows what the next two or six or ten months are going to look like. So we’re hoping to have our shows rescheduled for September, but who knows if shows can even happen then. My favorite thing in the world is the State Fair and I’m just like fingers crossed, praying that that happens this year. You know, like, if anything, Lord, don’t take away my State Fair!
Things are just so uncertain and [that] adds to the whole anxiety of the situation.
It’s insane! You know, the only silver lining I can think of is the positive impacts for the environment right now you see, like, you know, the canals of Venice being filled with swans and dolphins again and the water is actually clear enough to see through. I’m wondering if Mother Nature is just telling us to chill out and back off for a second. You have to wonder.
There’s so many things so we’re just trying to figure out what we can do to make this livable and help everybody who’s been laid off, which kind of brings me to like the reason I really wanted to call in today. Fans are wondering, how can I help out my favorite band right now? It’s what you mentioned: when you go to a band’s website and you check out the music and check out their merch, you know, if you can’t buy the concert ticket now you can support them by purchasing the music or buying the t-shirt and/or the tote bag.
You’ve been socially isolating, and you have been talking about it on social media and I just wonder what have you been doing to fill the time in Minneapolis? What are you working on?
Well, kind of crazy in these end times that it feels like. Laura and I have been kind of just cooped up in the house and coming up with ideas. She was drawing these kinds of personalized thank-you notes to local bands’ records; just as something to do and demand got so high that we…just on Tuesday started brainstorming and we’re like, you know, this could be a thing that could help a lot of people out.
So we kind of came up with the idea to make a coloring book of a bunch of local artists including: Dillinger Four, Atmosphere, Nur-D, Gully Boys, Trampled by Turtles. The list goes on: Replacements, Babes in Toyland. [We’re] making a coloring book that’ll benefit the Twin Cities Music Community Trust that First Avenue set up for their staff and the performers that are out of work. So right now, since we came up with that idea on Tuesday, we immediately got a hold of States of Spades and Michael Wong — two of our favorite artists in town — to help us get these drawings together with Laura. I’m kind of coming in as a producer and publisher. I’ve pivoted to coloring book publishing, basically.
That’s a new direction!
That’s what I do in the end times, I just pivot to the most random thing. But basically, we’re going to launch this website on Tuesday or Wednesday. We’re going to press with the book on Monday to print it. And yes, because it’s coloring books for a cause, we’re going to sell each book for like, you know, maybe $20 apiece and I think at least like 60% of that money is going to be going straight to the First Avenue trust for artists and their employees. We figured it’s kind of a double whammy: people can donate but also we’re going to be able to send you directly to your house a bunch of activities for you and your kids, who you might be locked in the house with, to do.
I don’t even know how to talk about it yet, but I just want people to look on my social media and just kind of keep going forward, we’ll tease it. I have to go through and contact all these artists and let them know that they’re going to be in this coloring book, and we hope they’re cool with it. And the benefit really goes to First Avenue and their staff and however that money shakes down to the artists, and then the artists that drew the book, so we’re really excited about that. And we think it has the kind of legs that maybe we can do more of these coloring books to benefit local bars like Grumpy’s or Palmer’s that are going out. Or hairdressers and salons that are unable to do things…we can just make these little books that at least provide a glimpse of some sort of positivity into people’s lives and a way to help. [It’s] also a collectible: end-times, apocalypse comic book!
Laura, by the way…Laura would be your fiancée, and is she a teacher? Is she in the education world?
Yes. So, she’s, while drawing this book, pivoting to figuring out how to get the course load to the kids and preparing for the possibility that maybe school doesn’t go back in session for the year. Imagine being a senior thinking about prom and then your school year disappears. I can’t even imagine. And just like kids who depend on school just to eat two meals a day or a meal a day. It’s just a lot to think about. And I think the community is really kicked into hyperdrive and is doing great, great stuff. But you know, there’s always a lot of things overlooked and a lot of extra work for everybody.