In the spring of 2003 four youngsters fresh out of college crowded around an old CD player in their Minneapolis basement, trying to keep pace with the pre-programmed beats blearing out of its tiny speakers. Three years and innumerable line-up changes later, Tapes ‘n Tapes have released their debut album, ‘The Loon’, to almost universal critical acclaim.
The band have come a long way since their days of recording messy grunge tunes, sans drummer, on a four-track. They are now riding the crest of a post-Pixies wave of alt-indie that has crashed onto these shores and is hitting coastlines around the world as you read this article. In the intermittent years band members came, went, swapped instruments and the faithful drumming CD player was ditched for a real sticksman. “The music has stayed in a similar vein though,” nods lead singer and guitarist Josh Grier. “It’s just evolved and now we’ve got the strongest line up we’ve had so far.”
It all started at the American music showcase/excuse for industry moguls to snort, smoke and swallow any substances they can lay their hands on - SXSW. “It was cool, we crashed into there and played nine shows in four days,” laughs Josh. “We were just running around and playing for 30 minutes then running straight off to our next gig and playing another 30 minutes.”
As the band whipped up a cloud of desert dirt and hype in Austin, Texas, they were oblivious to the impact their snappy off-kilter tunes were having on the assembled industry movers and shakers. “It wasn’t something where we thought everyone was following us around, I guess when you’re involved that deeply in something, you can’t see it from the outside. I don’t think we really expected it,” grins Josh. But it should have come as no surprise. The band’s up-tempo blend of Spanish tinged guitar, pounding drums and stabs of skittering lead was sure to propel them to centre stage. Especially when you graft on Josh yelping like the bastard son of Frank Black and Conor Oberst.
The foursome have a staple selection of left-of-centre American indie influences uniting them, including Pavement, the Flaming Lips and alt-country trail-blazers Wilco. But collectively their tastes veer and clash wildly. Josh is more of punk man, while bass player Erik Applewick is a sucker for the soothing twang of Gram Parsons, and drummer, Jeremy Hanson, can often be found subjecting everyone to the aural assaults of noisemongers Lightening Bolt and stoner pioneers/Josh Homme’s first band, Kyuss.
But it is this diverse range of music that keeps the band pushing boundaries. “We are open to anything sonically and having so many different styles in the band hasn’t given us any problems, it’s really opened things up for us,” says Josh. “I think we allow ourselves to do whatever we want with the songs, and because we all have different tastes we are willing to try anything musically. If that means a song needs some crashing electronic drum beat, then we would do it,” laughs Josh. “We haven’t done it so far, but if we’ve got a song that needs it, we will do it.”
From the high-noon gallop of ‘Insistor’, which brings to mind the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone more than the angular hair cuts of the current crop of indie hopefuls, to the instrumental scuzz of ‘Crazy Eights’, and the broken-voiced fragility of ‘Omaha’, the range on their debut is immediately apparent. But the high point of the album for Tapes ‘n Tapes is that they don’t have to promote and post out copies of ‘The Loon’ themselves. The band come from a strong DIY background, initially sparked by groundbreaking labels SST and Dischord, formed in the aftermath of US punk, but it is not something they are sorry to leave behind.
"When you’ve got the choice between filling CD orders and doing anything else, we would be doing anything else."
“Up until now we’ve done all our own distribution, but now we are gearing up for a world wide release and that means the label will be doing all that for us, instead of us sitting in a bedroom trying to get the record out there,” beams Josh. “When you’ve got the choice between filling CD orders and doing anything else, we would be doing anything else. That was one of the man reasons for us wanting to get a record deal, but I guess filling any CD orders is better than not filling them because no one wants to hear your record.”
And not only do people want to hear the record, but after critical praise in British institutions from Radio 1 to the Guardian, the crowds flocked to bands live dates in May. “Most of the shows were sold out, which is pretty amazing for us because it was our first time here,” says a surprised Josh. “I think it depends on what the city is to the reaction we get though, we had a show in Glasgow and everyone was just going crazy, then some of the other shows people just stand back and cross their arms and nod their heads.”
But if you missed Tapes ‘n Tapes’ debut gigs on these shores, fear not, they will be back in the UK this summer to play the Leeds and Reading festivals. And although ‘The Loon’ will only be a couple of months old, the band will be debuting new material. “The songs are quite similar to the stuff on the record, but a lot of that was written on my own,” says Josh. “When we come up with stuff now, I bring in an idea and we will all work on it until we’ve got something really good. And the stuff we are writing is the best material we’ve produced so far.”