Charlie Werber, Shane Prendiville and Tom Kelly cradle their pints as they gather together in Merlin's Rest and consider what it's taken to get this far. The three musicians who combine their talents to create the driving, avant-garde rock sound of Guzzlemug are about to premiere their debut CD, Away With the Wind and Noise, with a January 21st release show planned for the Hexagon, and on the eve of what will likely be the biggest Minneapolis show they've ever played, they're excited to talk about themselves: Who they are, what they've been and where they're going.
"Shane and I were both from Appleton, Wisconsin" recalls bassist Tom, "He played in a band called Zen Barfight and I played in a band called Tetra. In Appleton, if you play weird music, you end up playing shows together at some point. That's how that scene works. So we knew each other from that."
Shane adds, "Zen Barfight had a bass player that didn't want to tour, so we asked Tom to sit in for him." "And we did some other stuff together," says Tom, "that was just sort of crazy improvisational stuff."
Shane left Wisconsin for Minneapolis in the summer of 2005, both for a much-needed change of surroundings and for the broader, more diverse array of musical opportunities the city offered. Over the next few months, he stayed with friends and got his feet wet in the waters of the city's underground rock scene, all the while searching for just the right mix of musicians to compliment the unique style he had developed in his guitar playing. In February, 2006, Tom moved to Minneapolis as well and the two soon reunited, beginning work on one of Tom's unfinished songs while bouncing new ideas off of each other. The first result of their collaboration was the song Parmesan Luggage, a nine minute twenty-three second symphony filled with Claypoolesque bass riffs that bounces between time signatures and invokes the feel of classic fringe rockers the likes of Yes or Zappa.
The final piece of the band came into play when Shane enrolled at McNally Smith College of Music. There, he overheard Charlie Werber drumming along to John Zorn's Naked City album and literally asked him, "Who are you, and what are you doing?" Charlie had saved an ad from Criaglsist that called for a drummer because it struck him as something from the kind of musicians he could really anjoy joining and, unbeknownst to either of them, Shane had posted that ad. After talking about their creative goals and bringing him in for an audition, they soon agreed that Charlie was right for the music that the others wanted to make, and the three of them began to write and practice under the Guzzlemug banner.
On Halloween, 2007, Guzzlemug made their first live appearance and garnered an overwhelming reception from their audience. As their following grew, they found themselves billed with modern prog-rock mainstays including Powermad, Don Caballero, Gay Witch Abortion, Dysrhythmia and Cheer Accident. In the years that followed, they kept working on their music, refining their presence and preparing to make their first album.
Away With the Wind and Noise is a collection of meticulously-mastered tracks, featuring professionally polished production that belies the homemade nature of the disc. The band recorded the album with help from Shane's friend and fellow McNally Smith alumnus, Wes Jones, tracking parts of it in the studios at McNally before finishing it at Jones' home.
"He did a lot of the meat and potatoes stuff," says Shane of Jones' involvement, "like guitars, bass and drums. Then I did the whipped cream. That's the voice, violin and accordian. I also recorded a guy playing tuba. I just had him play notes and then I put them together myself. I played the accordian, Tom did the trumpet and we all did some vocals."
Vocals are a new aspect of Guzzlemug's stage show, so new that they've never been done before. "I think I just called it at practice," Tom explains. "We were on our way to a live show and the question was asked about us playing I Punch Holes Through Souls, and I said not unless we're singing, so we haven't done singing live yet." The band's first live singing will take place at their CD Release show at The Hexagon.
The band readily acknowledge that their sound strongly resembles that of some of their influences. Charlie and Shane both feel a strong influence from a particular era of King Crimson. "We liked their heavier stuff when we were young," they say, "but we didn't get into songs like Elephant Talk because we were more into metal then. We also weren't heavily influenced by their seventies stuff, which was great, but it had a lot of orchestral elements that we're not going to do with a three-piece band."
"We also like Pink Floyd," says Charlie.
"Despite the d-bag contingent of their following," Tom adds with a grin.
"They're a big band," explains Shane, "and like other bands that are big enough, they're big enough to have a d-bag following. That's because a big band will appeal to a lot of people, and a lot of people are d-bags."
Among their other influences and points of comparison, Primus is prominent. Tom attributes the comparison to a playing style he developed while still in Appleton, playing in a band that did Primus covers. "A lot of what I do is very slap and tap oriented," he agrees, "so I can see that." His being a bass player who frequently stands in front, and writing parts that frequently feature in the forefront of the band's arrangements, stand as other similarities. Charlie adds the french band Magma and David King of the Minneapolis band Happy Apple to his list of influences, noting that he also looks up to a few jazz drummers, while Shane attributes his style to musicians from David Gilmour and Django Reinhardt to Megadeth and Morbid Angel.
Now, with the album finished and up for sale, Guzzlemug are poised to take their next big steps. Tom smiles as he talks about finally having his song, I Punch Holes Through Souls, recorded. "I've just been dorking out on listening to this album. A lot of our songs have a build-up and an intro. They're intricate and long compositions and they're gorgeous, and really fun to play, but this song is just like a silver platter with a gigantic cheeseburger, with bacon and all the fixin's handed right to you, right in your lap."
"No appetizers," says Shane.
"Right. No Appetizers, no desert."
"A lot of hot sauce, though," Shane offers. "It's also the closest thing we have to a pop song on our album, because it's our shortest. It's also probably the most aggressive one, being very metal, so we're surprised at how popular it is. We all put a lot of heart into our music but I sometimes get surprised at how much people like it. Just cause it's not exactly the most commercial. I think people really appreciate the fact that it's not the same as everything else out there. But it's not so different that they can't identify. There's a lot of familiarity in it, too."
Guzzlemug will celebrate the release of their debut album on Thursday, January 21st at The Hexagon, with opening bands Slainte, Hardcore Crayons and Bouncer Fighter. The doors open at 9pm and there is no cover. The Hexagon is at 2600 27th Ave. S in Minneapolis and has more information online at http://www.hexagonbar.com