n early 2006, previously unknown Minneapolis indie-rockers Tapes ‘N Tapes found themselves riding high on a proverbial tidal wave of hype. Enthusiastic music bloggers had gotten the band so much attention that indie megalith Pitchfork took notice by slapping an extremely positive 8.3 rating on the band's debut CD The Loon. Fortuitously enough, all of this was happening just as the band was heading for SXSW, where their buzz was only slightly less deafening than that of then-UK-Flavour-of-the-Month the Arctic Monkeys. “It was kind of insane how everything fell into place, like, all at once,” recalls T‘NT vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Josh Grier, still sounding a little incredulous at the band's good fortune.
Right now, though, he's just looking forward to heading back to Texas for this week's show at Numbers. “Actually, right before we played at South By Southwest we did a show at Super Happy Fun Land, and that's actually the only time I've ever been to Houston. I mean, I've been at the airport a few times, but...Super Happy is kind of interesting. They have all these cats there and our keyboard player is really allergic to cats, so he had to hang around outside for the whole rest of the night until it was time for us to play, and when he came in he just immediately got all teary-eyed and everything.”
In late 2006, sharp-eared indie fans might have been surprised to recognize the spastic intro to the Loon track “Jakov's Suite” blaring from their TV sets during prime time as the score to a TV commercial for Nissan (one of the ones where some goofy dude tries to prove he can live in his car for a week). But, in fact, nobody seemed to notice.
“The only response that I've ever gotten to that,” recalls Grier, “was when my parents were watching the World Series and they called me and were like, ‘Oh my God, we just heard your song!' So we haven't got much feedback on it, which is fine by me.”
The subject gives Grier pause as he reflects on the often bogus ethical constraints placed on artists in his band's position. “It's kinda funny, 'cause there's always that stigma if you're an indie band that there are things that you can and can't do. But if you're any other type of band, then you can do whatever the hell you want. Like if you're in hip-hop, it's cool to make like a Sprite or a Gap commercial it means you're doin' well. But if you're an indie band and you do anything like that, it used to be like, ‘Ohhh, what the hell is going on?' But that's totally changing. I mean, Iron and Wine did, like, a Skittles commercial or something. I think that everybody is coming to the realization that indie music has become a lot more mainstream. Also, I don't think anybody's like selling their soul, you know?”
“The other thing, too,” Grier continues, “is it's not like we're selling a million records...Or even half a million records. I think we all feel pretty lucky to be where we are, but at the same time I'm really the only one in the band who still has a day job. And if you want to really focus on music, you have to be able to take money for your music.”
Speaking of music, the main purpose of the current tour is to road-test material for the band's much-anticipated follow-up to The Loon.
“We've written pretty much all the record at this point, and we've demo'd most of it, too, and so the idea is now to take it on the road and try things out in a live setting and see what things work, how everything goes, and have some new songs to play,” Grier elaborates. “We'll be playing a lot of the stuff that we've been playing before, but throwing in a bunch of new material, too, to kind of keep making things nice and new for us.”
The Loon was notable for wearing its indie-rock influences on its sleeve. For example, for most of last year the self-description on the Tapes ‘N Tapes MySpace page referred to them as “The bastard children of Stephen Malkmus and Black Francis” or words to that effect. Are there new, recognizable ingredients in the mix for the new songs?
“I dunno,” retorts Grier. “That's always kind of a hard question to answer in general, at least for us, 'cause we always try to kinda mess around with songs and let every song have its own kinda life, anyways. Obviously it's going to have changed some just because it's been like a year and a half since I've really written anything and I have heard a whole bunch of music since then, so I'm sure it sounds different. It's kinda hard for me to see from kind of an insider's perspective. I think it's good I'm excited about it and about playing it. Hopefully other people, when they hear the songs, will be excited too, but if they're not, at least we're excited.”
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If, by chance, Tapes ‘N Tapes fans aren't as super-pumped by the new material as its creators, never fear: A unique corporate sponsorship will be on hand at the show to help keep boredom at bay.
“Basically, the tour is being sponsored by 2K Sports, their new major league baseball video game,” says Grier. “They'd asked if we wanted to be on the sound track and it was a really good fit, 'cause we're all really into baseball and video games. And the rest of the sound track is kinda insane, like Nirvana and Iggy & the Stooges, so we were like, ‘All right, cool.' We actually felt pretty honored. You always notice when you're playing a video game and a song comes on and the sound track doesn't suck; that's really cool. 'Cause sometimes you're playing and you're like, ‘Ugh, I gotta turn this music off.' I actually like this game. I mean, it would be one thing if it was like a skateboarding game and I...don't know how to skate, I've never skated in my life and that would feel wrong.
“So, in coordination with the video game coming out they wanted to sponsor a tour of one of the bands that was on the sound track,” Grier continues. “And we happened to have a tour that was already lined up, so, wellÉIt sounds good to us, ya' know? The unique thing is that there's gonna be like one or two Xboxes in the venues every night when we play, so people can come and actually play video games, like, before the show. At first that was a little bit of a dilemma. But then I was like, ‘Ya' know what? If I went to a show and there was a video game there, I would totally play it.' I wouldn't think twice about, like, ‘Why is there a video game here?' I'd be like, ‘I wanna play this game!' It's gonna be a lotta fun and hopefully we'll get to play some of the people at the games before the show.”
Tapes ÔN Tapes performs on Sunday, April 22, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 713-526-6551.